Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas Movies NOT About Christmas

I missed this by a couple of days but here it goes anyway...

The top 12 non-Christmas movies that happen during Christmas, mention Christmas, or have some portrayal of Christmas. Watch one movie per day until Christmas. You might have to double-up on a few to finish them all in 2011. These are presented in "top 12" order.

Day 1: Edward Scissorhands - not many people knew what to think of this movie when it came out, my parents included. Hence I didn't see it until I went to college. Still one of Johnny Depp's best roles.

Day 2: Ghostbusters II - The much-lessor of the Ghostbusters movie, this one is kind of fun with a good message.

Day 3: Any of the "Harry Potter" movies - They all have a Christmas scene. Watch one of them and you're covered. Watching all of them is not required, unless you are on Christmas break with nothing better to do.

Day 4: Nightmare Before Christmas - Gotta love a Halloween movie about Christmas. We watch this one just about every year. And then I have to put up with a week of my kids singing the Oogie-Boogie song.

Day 5: Trading Places - One of my favorite comedies of all time. Works on the question of nurture vs. nature with comedic results.

Day 6: Lethal Weapon - Gotta love an action flick with Christmas in it.

Day 7: The Family Man - Arguably the most ultra-pro-family movie EVER. Yes, I cried the first time I saw it. And the second. Very well written and acted. Best Nicolas Cage movie by a long shot. An interesting take on the "It's a Wonderful Life" formula, but with life choices.

Day 8: Die Hard, Die Hard 2 - Explosions, guns, Alan Rickman, and Christmas. How can you top that?

Day 9: Red - This is how you beat Die Hard. To the amazing Bruce Willis you add Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Karl Urban. Even Ernest Borgnine gets into the act. Amazing.

Day 10: Gremlins - The first nightmare I ever remember having was about this movie. It still holds up after all these years, except for the special effects. The book has the best chapter ever, only 2 words long: "Billy forgot."

Day 11: Catch Me If You Can - One of my favorite movies of all time. The Christmas scenes are quite touching and emotional, showing how isolated and alone each of the main characters really are.

Day 12: The Star Wars Holiday Special - One night when I was young my parents let us stay up late to watch a show that had "Star Wars" in the title. After a few minutes my folks lost interest and left me and my sisters to finish the entire show. We were blown away as only pre-8 year olds can be with Han, Leia, and Luke. The following morning my parents thought we were insane when we told them about the rest of the show (song/dance numbers, a cartoon with Boba Fet, Chewbacca's home world). My father continued in disbelief for decades until I found a boot-leg copy at a flee market and showed it to him. Now we have the interwebs to help us remember what Anthony Daniels joking calls, "The horrible Holiday Special that nobody talks about."

"OK" Choices
These will work in a pinch but I can't totally recommend them for various reasons...

Sleepless in Seattle - What some people call the ultimate chick-flick. It has some charming moments but you won't see me running out to watch it again.

While You Were Sleeping - Hmmm, another movie with Bill Pullman? Yet another chick flick but with a very pro-family message. Worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

Steel Magnolias - The movie my wife quotes the most. What does she quote the most? Tom Skerrit's line, "I have to get rid of about a zillion birds before Shelby’s reception this afternoon, or I will have to deal with my wife. And I make it a point never to deal with my wife!"

Home Alone - I remember watching this in the theater as a teenager and having a good laugh. Years later it doesn't hold up that well but I'll eventually show it to my kids.

Bad choices - Some folks like these movies but I cannot recommend them.

Batman Returns - Wow. Like so many other Batman films, it had so much potential but was squandered in the end.

Bridget Jones Diary - Not going to dignify this one with a link or trailer.

Now go out and celebrate Life Day!

er, I mean Christmas!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Geek Links of the Week - 19DEC2011

It's never really "safe" to come back to my site (i.e. go on the web), but don't take my word for it. Now for the good stuff...

My Geek Links of the Week!

Link #1: Universal Says It Can’t Be Sued for Bogus Megaupload Video Takedown
“Universal Music acknowledged late Thursday that it was responsible for taking down from YouTube the infamous Megaupload video in which pop stars — from Mary J. Blige to Kanye West and others — sing the praises of the notorious file-sharing service. But the record label said there’s nothing Megaupload can do about Universal Music taking down the video, even if Universal doesn’t own the rights to it.”
This is the story that keeps on giving. It started when the website Megaupload released a promotional video on YouTube featuring many popular artists, including Will-i-am, P Diddy, and Jamie Foxx. Universal Music decided, for some strange reason, that the video infringed on some rights of theirs and used the YouTube Content Management System (CMS) to delete it. When Tech News Today, a daily tech news podcast and one of my favorites, played part of the video their newscast was censored from YouTube by UMG as well.

Universal has clearly overstepped their bounds and they have partially admitted that they were wrong but have also said that Megaupload has no recourse and should not be able to sue for damages. I think most judges will disagree.

Rich Warren and daughter
Link #2: Father’s open letter to Google: ‘Thanks for making my daughter cry’
“Father Rich Warren sounded off Sunday on social media sites Reddit and Google+ about his upsetting morning: He had woken up to find that Google had suddenly, without warning, shut down his daughter’s e-mail account and blog. His daughter had used her Gmail to send e-mail to her grandparents, friends and classmates, and had started the Blogger blog as a class project.” - Elizabeth Frock, Washington Post
This is a tricky one. How do you weigh the online protection of a child while allowing them to express themselves online? Google has responded (see original article), saying that their policies are not to allow children under the age of 13 to sign up for Google services unless it is done under the guise of their educational product suite through their school. There are some laws on the books, particularly COPPA, that do limit the amount of information that can be collected about children under 13 unless supervised by a parent/guardian.  My young kids, all under 10 years old, already asking about getting Gmail, Windows Live Messenger, and Facebook accounts. 13 sounds like a good age to start, in my book, but there should still be parental supervision.

Link #3: How to thwart the high priests of IT
“There are a lot of good IT pros who earnestly want to help their employer do well by providing and maintaining the technology systems that conduct so much of business today. Then there are those who are the company's enemies, whether they realize it or not.”
Disclosure- I'm an Elder, not a High Priest. And I'm have been in IT at a Fortune 500 company for nearly 11 years, 4 more at a start-up in the dot-com era.

I hesitated to even include this story but I can't help myself. This train wreck of a blog post, which would be mistaken for a comment-troll on my blog, is arguably one of the worst IT hit-pieces of recent memory. The comments from the article and on on the Slashdot article are not kind but reflect the same sentiment I have for the article and its author.

I think this guy is fishing for readers and hoping to increase his ad revenue: that's the only scenario that makes sense. I have yet to find a serious IT or programmer who agrees with him. Even the /. nerds are crucifying him, which says a lot about just how ridiculous his premise ultimately is. His aim in starting the blog was to talk frankly about the "consumerization of IT" but instead his opening salvo has not only missed the target but gone outside the firing range and hit the very people he was trying to persuade: developers and technology enthusiasts.

My favorite comment from the article: "Author needs less amphetamines. Someone's been up for days raging because they couldn't bring their toys in to work."

Link #4: Paul Allen space venture begins with 'largest aircraft ever constructed'
“Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen on Tuesday launched a speculative space-travel business that calls for building "the largest aircraft ever constructed." The twin-fuselage, composite-plastic plane, using systems cannibalized from two 747s and powered by six jumbo-jet engines, is intended to fly to an altitude of about 30,000 feet before launching into orbit a rocket slung underneath its wing.”
This is just TOO COOL. Paul Allen and company are going to build the world's largest plan, longest runway, and do it all in the name of privately-funded space industrialism. YES! Finally someone with some really big plans is stepping up and it isn't NASA or affiliated with any governmental organization. I love the idea of using existing engineering (i.e. cannibalizing existing planes and engines) and laying new designs on top of it to reduce cost (why re-invent the wheel?). I hope they are successful. This could end up being the grand-child of the space-shuttle program.

Link #5: Silicon Valley Library Lends Google Chromebooks
“If you find yourself in Silicon Valley and you need a laptop, try the library. In a first-of-its-kind pilot project, the Palo Alto, California Library will soon be loaning Google Chromebook computers to library patrons for as long as one week at a time. The program highlights the Chromebook’s ability to operate as a kind of “disposable computer,” as Google puts it. With the Chromebook, most all data and applications reside on the Web — not the local machine — so it can easily be passed from person-to-person. It’s a very Googly setup, and the search giant hopes it will reinvent the way businesses use computers.”
I like it. It was only a matter of time before a library somewhere picked up this idea. Using it as a platform that can be checked out is like a tool checkout at a workplace: you use it and give it back when you are done, up to a week in this case. When it is returned the user state information is easily wiped since the whole point of the Chromebook is to store everything on various cloud-based services, like Google or iCloud.

While this is a good idea I'm not sure how far this will spread until tablet/laptop prices fall below $200, maybe even sub-$100. The best market for devices like this are poor areas but they usually lack the funding for expensive tech projects. Sounds like yet another pet-project for a state-senator somewhere...


Monday, December 12, 2011

Geek Links of the Week - 12DEC2011

Just when you thought it was safe to come back to my site, I bring you...

My Geek Links of the Week!

Link #1: The MythBusters Cannonball Saga Explained

By now you have no doubt seen the video or read the news story about the MythBusters team and their unfortunate incident with the cannon. No, I'm not talking about a Canon, like my PowerShot A710, I'm talking about a real, home made cannon that fires projectiles at high speeds to cause varying levels of destruction and mayhem. If not read the story above and check out the map to see just how out of control this little experiment became.

Having been a big fan of the MythBusters for quite some time, it is obvious that they take safety very seriously. The most unfortunate part of this entire incident is that, according to the news story above, the episode with the cannon will not be aired. Bummer. I love their explosion episodes.

Now check out the explanation of the math involved to see just how much force was exerted to make the cannonball go that far, that fast, and through that many objects.

Link #2: Sorry, Folks, Bill Gates Is Not Coming Back to Microsoft
"While it is fun to play “what if” games, the fact is that Bill Gates is not planning a return to Microsoft, the software giant he founded with Paul Allen decades ago."
 -Ina Fried, All Things D

Earlier last week Fortune Magazine published a story from a "prominent Chief Executive" who heard that uber-geek himself might be staging a come-back to help a struggling MSFT. Yes, Fortune published a story based on the word of someone who "heard from someone close to Gates that he might be considering such a move."

An un-named source heard it second hand? Wow, that's authoritative. While I would LOVE to see BillG back at MSFT I doubt it will ever happen. He has his sites set on Malaria, AIDS, and Education, three of the biggest challenges in the world today. Probably not going to happen but it would be cool if it did happen.

Link #3: How to Gamble If You're In a Hurry
"The beautiful theory of statistical gambling... has mostly been studied under the unrealistic assumption that we live in a continuous world, that money is indefinitely divisible, and that our life is indefinitely long. Here we study these fascinating problems from a purely discrete, finitistic, and computational, viewpoint, using Both Symbol-Crunching and Number-Crunching (and simulation just for checking purposes)."
Short summary: how to win at gambling if you don't have infinite money or time. Check out the math if you are into that kind of thing. Gambling is a fun practical application of math, of which I always do poorly, hence my tendency to avoid participation. I do enjoy watching others lose participate. Now someone has taken that love of math and come up with a pretty good analysis of how to gamble optimally in a short amount of time.

Link #4: 2012: Siri Is a Stunner, Amazon Is Amazin’ and Security Gets Spendy
"It means a whole lot of stuff that needs to be integrated. We don’t need anything new at all. There’s so much work that needs to be done with the existing tool sets. Steve Jobs didn’t really invent anything at all. But he was great at integrating things into a product. There’s a lot more of that work to do. We have to do it in the phone world and the TV world and the health care world. We have lots of devices and lots of chips and lots of operating systems and lots of content. The bigger question is, how do human beings use it all efficiently?"
- Mark Anderson, CEO of Strategic News Service

Things he missed-

  • Death of Nokia? I'm not totally sold on this one. Perhaps they are in the smartphone world but they own the down-market phones (i.e. almost-smart phones). His line about smartphones taking over the world is right on but combine this with Nokia's brand recognition and market penetration in the non-smartphone world and you have a great story. If they can take Windows Phone 7 and make a smartphone for "every-man" now you are talking serious $$$.
  • Voice differentiation - He makes a big deal about voice recognition taking over the world but there is one thing he is missing, as seen in the Dilbert comic below: differentiating voices. How do you get your phone/car/TV/device to recognize your voice if there are other voices present. Imagine trying to talk to your car while your pre-teen in the back seat is belting out the latest Justin Beiber tune. Or trying to get a drink recommendation at a bar filled with people. If you can solve that problem then I believe that tech like Siri can solve world hunger.
  • An Amazon monopoly? Amazing is a growing behemoth that is taking over and owning a large piece of the online shopping world with its sites on online entertainment. Combining markets and products can get you into big trouble. Just ask Microsoft, Google, etc.

Link #5: Are You Better At Math Than a 4th (or 10th) Grader? (linked via Slashdot)
“A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.”

-Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
This is interesting but kind of sad at the same time. I like the fact that a public official is trying to set an example by taking the standardized test and publishing his results. The sad part is that he failed to correctly answer any of them without guessing. I took the sample questions myself and came out with a perfect score. If the score wasn't perfect I would have committed grievous bodily harm to my keyboard. Remembering back on my high school math classes these questions are perfectly appropriate and worded well. We need to have our students pass tests like this if they are to compete in the real world. The math questions were not too hard. An adult school administrator with poor math skills? Say it isn't so!

Math is right up there with reading and speaking abilities when it comes to success in life: the more complex the math that you can understand the more likely you are to get a higher paying job than someone who doesn't.

Link #6: World's first 128Gb 20nm NAND flash could pack 2TB into a 2.5" SSD
"Intel and Micron's joint venture IMFT has announced that it has produced a 128Gb die. A package combining eight such dies together would be small enough to fit on a fingertip and boast an unprecedented 128GB capacity. Mass production will start in the first half of next year, and devices using the new dies are likely to start shipping in 2013."

HUGE SSD drives are on the way. SWEET! It's only a matter of time before SSD drives of various types take over for the various types of spinning hard drives we use every day. Now that consumer devices like tablets and phones are starting to use them the prices are falling precipitously.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The LDS life of an LDS President

Apostles Visit UK and Ireland Saints, Build Faith

Joseph Smith was the first one way back in 1844. George Romney was the second one (Yes, Mitt's father). Midas Udal was third in 1972 followed by Bo Gritz in 1992, Orin Hatch in 2000, and Mitt Romney in 2008 and again for the 2012 election. They are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, who have run for President of the United States.

Lee Davidson of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a news article detailing past church member candidates for President of the United States, or "POTUS" for short: interesting history and well worth the read.

It's fun using the term POTUS because in the Mormon church we sometimes refer to the Prophet as the "President," since he is the President of the church and head of the "First Presidency." It also sounds pretty cool when you say, "POTUS." Go ahead and try it 5 times fast and tell me it doesn't sound cool?

A couple days ago my wife and I were toying with a another topic: how would the life of an active member of the church change, in regards to the church-related aspects of their life, if they were elected President of the United States? Even if Romney misses his opportunity to be POTUS the odds of another member of the church running for the office again are quite high given the number of church members in Congress and politics in general.

The culture of the church is quite different than most other Christian religions in that the church has many cultural aspects that integrate with doctrinal principles. Living our religion is more than just going to church on Sunday. Many aspects of regular worship, doctrinal adherence, and sociality would be adversely affected by the rigorous schedule, daunting logistics, and intense security associated with the office of the President. Here is my take on some of those issues and impacts.

Instead of explaining each aspect in depth I only address the issues and impacts. Follow the linked title of each section to read more about the details of this part of our faith at Mormon.org.

Sunday worship
  • Assigned Ward: The assigned ward for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is the Washington DC 3rd Ward, Washington, DC Stake (according to LDS.org). Would their membership records remain in their pre-election home ward, go to this new ward in Washington, or some other ward? Since their residence will be the White House I assume it would be the Washington D.C. 3rd Ward. Although some people prefer to keep their membership records at their "home ward" when they travel abroad or move for short-term missions (1-2 years), the term of the presidency (4-8 years) would most likely necessitate them moving their records to their new home.
  • Actually getting there: Weekly attendance at church services for the first family could be weekly but POTUS may only be able to attend up to a couple of times per month due to scheduling. Visiting other wards/branches is another option given the schedule and travel concerns but site security becomes an issue.
  • Site security and screening: The entire church building would have be cleared in advance of the presidential visit (think bomb-sniffing dogs), along with screening of everyone entering the church. Does this create too much hassle/disruption to the rest of the ward to allow POTUS regular sacrament meeting attendance? It did for President Reagan. Imagine everyone, including 80-year-old widows and little 2-year-old boys/girls getting a pat-down every time they came to church. 
  • Sacrament at the White House: Assuming that attending a regular family ward every week is not possible or practical, it would be MUCH easier to bring the sacrament to the White House every week. You simply screen a group of Aaronic Priesthood brethren, along with their parents, and choose a few of them to visit the White House each week on a rotating schedule.
  • Sacramental bread/water: the sacramental bread/water would have to be screened before consumption just like any other food served to the POTUS.
  • What about Camp David? Camp David has a chapel which has been used by past presidents and could be used for sacrament services. Pres. George W. Bush used it frequently for church services. The only snag is getting other people there to join in the service. Which Bishopric would you invite to preside, the  Washington D.C. 3rd Ward or the Frederick 1st Ward, Frederick Maryland Stake, where Camp David is located? The Church usually defers to local (i.e. geographic) authorities to be the presiding authorities at meetings. If this becomes the church location of choice local authorities may ask that the membership records be moved to the Frederick 1st Ward.
  • I would assume that all callings for POTUS would be off the table. Their entire time in office would be more than filled with the requirements of office.
  • First family: First Lady most likely will not have any callings but older children may be able to serve (i.e. Aaronic Priesthood quorum or YW presidency). Imagine a family in the same age ranges as the Kennedys or Obamas? How would their kids participate in primary and youth activities?
Home Teaching, Visiting Teaching
  • Can POTUS be a Home Teacher? The short answer: no. There is simply not enough time available for this calling. It would be cool if he tried but I think his schedule would be too full to get in even a few visits every year. And the site security question always comes up if POTUS is going to a private home so he would probably have to perform these visits in the White House.
  • Can the First Lady be a VT? She might be able to fill this calling but it is very schedule dependent. Security is also an issue but not to the same degree as the POTUS.
  • Receiving visits from Home or Visiting Teachers: very schedule dependent but also very doable. HT/VT persons would be required to go through all security protocols for visiting the White House. Can you imagine going to the White House every month to present a message and ask, “Is there anything we or the Ward can do to better meet your spiritual needs?” or “Have you been holding FHE?” "How's your food storage?" "When was the last time you invited someone to attend church with you?" The comedic possibilities are endless.
  • Presidential records: Would these HT/VT visits be considered “public record” of the Office of the President and need to be recorded? Not sure how that plays out. I would hope that personal activities such as this would not need to be public record.
Family Home Evening
  • Scheduling: Good luck getting the entire first family in the White House one day a week, let alone the same day every week.
  • Security: no real issue here since only the first family would be invited.
Scripture Reading
  • Personal Scripture Study: Scheduling is the only issue. Past presidents have done regular scripture study, George W. Bush most recently (not sure on Obama).
  • Family Scripture Study: Once again scheduling is the only real issue. Regular family scripture study will be a problem.
Priesthood Interviews: Temple Recommend, PPIs, and Tithing Settlement
  • POTUS alone in a room with a Bishop or Stake Pres. (confidentiality of recommend interviews): Not impossible but the Bishop and Stake Pres. would be required to go through all security protocols to see the POTUS. This may be a problem if the Bishop or Stake Pres. cannot pass the background check: counselors that can pass the background check could substitute.
  • Location: Similar to church visits. May be easier to just do it at the White House or Camp David.
Temple Attendance – This is the toughest nut to crack.
  • Support Staff: Would require all Secret Service, White House Staff, and other support personnel (i.e. medics, military, etc) entering the temple to be recommend-carrying members of the church. All personnel outside the temple can be non-members.
  • Site prep: Same issues as church attendance but on a larger scale. One of the smaller temples would be a MUCH better option in terms of site security. You could designate a single day reserved for the POTUS and his entourage and have a much smaller staff to screen. It would also impact far fewer temple patrons. Would the church allow bomb-sniffing dogs inside the temple?
  • Location: DC is closest temple to the White House but its sheer size presents a problem. Next closest is NYC/Manhattan but that has the complexities of a very large metro city. Other options are Rochester, NY; Columbus, OH; and Raleigh, NC. POTUS may also elect to visit smaller temples around the US/World based on his travel schedule.
  • Best Bet: Schedule a smaller temple in the US, randomly chosen, and pick a day and time that works. Temporarily close the temple for a day or so and keep it private and low-key: only a few key people at the temple, such as the Temple President, need to know exactly who is coming. Let everyone else be surprised and honored to meet the sitting POTUS. There are some pretty remote temples around the US that would fit the bill.
Word of Wisdom
  • Not really an issue: George W. Bush was a recovering alcoholic and this did not appear to be a show stopper. Presidents are not required to drink alcoholic beverages.
Ward Activities/Socials
  • Basketball: Many presidents have been physically active, including President Obama, so the act of playing basketball is not a problem. Might not be able to participate in church ball due to scheduling and security issues.
  • Ward Socials: Same issues with scheduling and security as sacrament attendance. A one-time visit may be possible but recurring visits may be impossible. Perhaps the best idea would be to hold the ward social at the White House?
Post-Term Issues – impacts after POTUS leaves office and returns to “normal” life, or as normal as it gets for a former President.
  1. Secret Service escort: former presidents receive secret service protection after leaving office. This makes for fun times at church, in the temple, and any private priesthood interviews, as I have described above, but on a somewhat smaller scale.
  2. Callings: given the need for security even after leaving office, there may be additional headaches to serving in the church later in life. Imagine a mission or temple president with a secret service escort? How about an Apostle? (might be a stretch for a politician but not impossible)
As I was writing this post, my wife sent me this which addresses a lot of the same issues: http://thisweekinmormons.com/tag/temple-attendance/

So the main point here is that trying to live a "normal" church-attending life for a member of the Church would be nearly impossible. The commitment level of the person filling the office of the POTUS must weighed against the rigorous religious observance and practices, which will be left to fall behind while in office. This is a sacrifice one makes with that level of commitment. Think of it as the opposite of what happens with General Authorities: they give up everything but their church and their families to focus on their jobs. The President of the United States makes a similar sacrifice to serve the people in the greatest nation on earth.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Geek Links of the Week - 05DEC2011

Just when you thought it was safe to come back to my site, I bring you...

My Geek Links of the Week!

Link #1: Your Android Phone Is Secretly Recording Everything You Do
"If you have any decently modern Android phone, everything you do is being recorded by hidden software lurking inside. It even circumvents web encryption and grabs everything—including your passwords and Google queries."

This "Carrier IQ" controversy is just now blowing up. I won't belabor you with links to other summaries because there simply are too many. This may not only affect Android but the jury is still out on that one.

Here's my take on it- the developer of the software missed a key feature: turning it off. What it does makes sense as a feature-improvement data gathering service similar to other features in Windows, MS Office, MacOS, iOS, and countless other products that count how many times you use a specific feature and how you use it. The one things most of them have: a way to turn it off. The big problem here isn't that there is a piece of technology to track how you use the device and send back usage stats and data to a 3rd party, it's the fact that there is no way to disable the feature once the user has  decided NOT to consent to this "feature."

This will blow over soon but it is a major breach of trust in a very popular platform.

Link #2: Why Hypercard Had to Die
"Does anyone really believe that Mr. Jobs genuinely 'thought you could do everything in Cocoa and ProjectBuilder that you could do with HyperCard'? He was far too intelligent a man to believe any such thing.  One may as well say that you could do everything with a magnetized needle and a steady hand that you could do with a text editor. Or that you could do anything with Roman numerals that you could do with Arabic numerals. Or that you could do anything in INTERCAL that you could do in Common Lisp.  And so forth.  Jobs was almost certainly familiar with HyperCard and its capabilities. And he killed it anyway. Wouldn’t you love to know why?"

-Stanislav Datskovskiy

I used Hypercard for about a month when I was about 12. My "Computers" professor (yes, I had a class in Junior High simply called "Computers") got his hands on a couple of them and we played with it for several weeks before they had to go back to wherever it was he "borrowed" them from.

My second favorite quote from the article...
"Jobs supposedly claimed that he intended his personal computer to be a “bicycle for the mind.” But what he really sold us was a (fairly comfortable) train for the mind. A train which goes only where rails have been laid down, like any train, and can travel elsewhere only after rivers of sweat pour forth from armies of laborers. (Preferably in Cupertino.)"

This is what bothers me about Apple today and its current slate of products: they look the same, they all work the same, and most of the apps on the iPhone/iPad can generally be classified into several categories. What is different about that? How can you think "outside the box," to continue the overuse of an over-used pun, when the box is a wall-in garden and overseen by an army of overseers that must approve your app? Unfortunately I see too many other platform manufacturers going this direction as well (Windows Phone, Android to a certain extent, etc). What made the PC so cool 20 years ago was the ability to customize it to the n'th degree and write code or develop a periferal device to make it do whatever you wanted. I think that utopia died in 1994 when we connected everything to the internet. OK, now I'm sounding like an old geek-fart.

Link #3: The Psychology of Nakedness
"Looking at a naked person filled us with sexual desire, and that desire induced a form of mindblindness. Instead of seeing the individual as having agency, he or she became a means to an end, nothing but a vessel for our satisfaction. Kant was describing a phenomenon known as objectification, in which seeing a body turns the entire person into a physical object."

This may seem to fall into the "well-DUH!" category until you read the entire article and realize the impact of exactly what they are saying. When a person reveals even slightly more skin than they did just a moment before the brain shifts more toward objectification. I can't summarize it better than that. Read the article... }B^)

Link #4: Complaint: medical "copyright over your comments" contracts are illegal
“When I walked into the offices of <the Doctor>, I was looking for cleaner teeth, not material for an Ars Technica story. I needed a new dentist, and Yelp says <the Doctor> is one of the best in the Philadelphia area. The receptionist handed me a clipboard with forms to fill out. After the usual patient information form, there was a "mutual privacy agreement" that asked me to transfer ownership of any public commentary I might write in the future to <the Doctor>. Surprised and a little outraged by this, I got into a lengthy discussion with <the Doctor>'s office manager that ended in me refusing to sign and her showing me the door.”

-Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica staff writer

Amazing. You go to a dentist's/doctor's office and give away your right to publicly say anything about the services rendered? I doubt this will pass legal scrutiny but the idea is simply absurd. I'm not going to pay for a product or service if I cannot tell others in person, in print, or online, what I think about it. Most of the time I don't but that's not the point.

Link #5: Institutional memory and reverse smuggling
"Institutional memory comes in two forms: people and documentation. People remember how things work and why. Sometimes they write it down and store that information somewhere. Institutional amnesia works similarly. The people leave and the documents disappear, rot, or just become forgotten (as it were)." -an engineer

What would it be like if you were a new engineer and given a set of 30 year old specs and schematics. Your new job is to figure out what the heck this thing/plant/process is all about and be able to not only explain it to someone but redesign part of it or add a new feature/thing to it. Sounds totally cool. This guy almost had to do it in real life, except he wrote most of the specs/schematics he was now studying. The company had lost many of the docs but this engineer had "unofficially" made his own archive. How does he now smuggle the intel BACK into the company? Great geek read.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Geek Links of the Week - 28NOV2011

Returning to a feature that I though up a while back, I bring you...

My Geek Links of the Week!

Link #1: How your brain cells might be sabotaging your diet
"It might be tough to stick to a diet because of the activity of self-cannibalizing neurons in the brain. "

That's the word from a new study that essentially says that when you dramatically reduce your food intake, hunger-causing neurons in the brain start to canabalize each other which, in turn, makes you incredibly hungry. So when you go on a binge diet your body turns against itself and you eat more, which makes you gain weight or break your diet. Yes, you are hard wired to fail at fad diets.

Sidenote: Earthsky.org is one of my favorite websites for all things science but them seem to specialize in natural and astronomical sciences.

Link #2: Seven Questions for Seagate CEO Steve Luczo About the Effects of the Thailand Floods
"By the end of 2012 you’re back to being close to industry demand. But even then, you’ve not included the impact of that missed 100 million units. And that will take another year to absorb, because it’s not like the industry is building new factories to chase that demand." -Steve Luczo, Seagate

AllThingsD.com has a good interview with the CEO of Seagate, maker of various types of disk drives and data storage systems, to find out the impact of the floods in southeast Asia. The main point of the article is that supply chain and inventory shortages are going to persist well into 2012 and possibly even until 2013. This holiday season will be somewhat affected by the shortages (i.e. low inventories and higher prices on some electronics items) but the next holiday season could be even worse unless people start working NOW to find alternatives or make repairs to existing facilities. You can't exactly build a new fabrication facility in 10 months.

Link #3: Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High
“As technology changes and advances, it is especially vital to keep up or be at the forefront, I believe that Amateur Radio has done just that! The measurable results are our indisputable license numbers. It amazes me after all these years how important and relevant Amateur Radio remains. I am proud to be one of the 700,221 licensees and to see this historic and important milestone.”

-ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma

It's 100 years later and we just hit an all-time high for Ham radio licenses. It's amazing how, even with the internet and mobile smartphones, Ham radio continues to increase in popularity, not decrease. Granted, they only added 17,000 over the last 10 years but that number is up over 200,000 in the last 20 years. If you look at the numbers we have leveled off but it's amazing how an old-school tech continues to thive.

Link #4: 10 Mesmerizing Time-Lapse Videos
"With the use of high-quality DSLR cameras, computer-driven timers and tripods, it’s never been easier to achieve these images. Professionals and hobbyists alike are creating stunning views of our world — from the cosmos to the Truckasaurus."

These videos are astounding. It isn't just the ability to capture these videos that makes them so cool it is the framing, lighting, pacing, and sync to music that seems to transcend the normal, natural world. The "Stars in Motion" and "Metal Heart" videos are my favorites.

Link #5: The 2011 InfoWorld geek IQ test
"Dust off your pocket protector, suck face with your closest Ewok doll, and dig into your Bag of Holding to bring forth the answers to our nerdiest set of 20 questions yet"

Infoworld is one of the quintessential geek trade rags. Leave it to them to come up with a test like this that only the incredible uber-dorks could pass. I only scored 16/20.

KE7UYN, clear.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Summer Pain of Snow Days

Today is June 22, 2011, and it is the last day of school for my kids. Their cousins in Utah have been out since late May. Up until today, every time they chat with each other online via Skype, XBox Live, etc, the Utah cousins say something to the effect of, "You're still in school? That's totally lame."

I am inclined to agree. Running the school year out 2/3 of the way through June and one day past the official start of summer borders on torturous.

What causes this summer pain? Snow days. We typically have 2-3 snow days every year. In a good year we have 0 and in a bad year we have 6. This year was 3.5 (yes, they did a half day back in November). This March the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) sent out a news release and letter to parents announcing the revised schedule.

An excerpt from the article: "The district is required by state law to provide 180 days of school.... One of the November snow days was a scheduled half day and the last day of school was scheduled as a half day. If both half days were combined into one full day, the district would only be offering 179 days of school. This unusual schedule, with two half days at the end of the school year, keeps the district in compliance with state law."

Yes, there are a state-mandated number of days and hours that students must be in class. This makes a difficult position for the principals/superintendent. They have to balance the safety of transporting students to school during winter weather with the state-mandated time spent with "butts in the seats," to use a travel industry term.

In the Seattle area we don't get enough snow to have an army of plows at the ready every time it snows like they do in mid-west and other northern states that have severe winter for months at a time. The low amount of snow we get every year (average 12" TOTAL for a year) and it typically melts off within 24-72 hours anyway. Some people call it "inclement weather" but it's only "inclement" if it doesn't happen every year, which it almost always does.

To make up for the missed snow days some districts have to build in a certain number of "snow day make-up days" through the year. In the LWSD they do not have this policy. They do have 10 school days off for winter break, 3 days off for "mid-winter break" (some call it "ski weekend", I call it Presidents Day Weekend), 5 days off for "spring break," and 3 other days spread throughout the year for "teacher training" (LEAP days). These days off are written into teacher contracts and "not negotiable". In other words, if there is a snow day they tack it onto the end of the year instead of cancelling mid-winter break, shortening Spring Break, or cancelling a LEAP day. Gotta love those teacher's unions.

So what do our students do during these make-up days? In LWSD final grades for the year are due on June 15. That was 5 school days ago. What have they been doing for the past 5 days? Let me put it this way...

The next time there's a day that is "almost" a snow day, I'm going to call the principle and ask him what movie my kids will be watching during their class party. ...because all they do on snow make-up days is have parties and watch @#$%! movies!!! No, I'm not kidding. I'll post an update later with the list of movies that my kids watched in their STATE MANDATED snow make-up days.
Here's an issue my wife brought up: "Last Monday (2 school days ago) our oldest son's class cleaned the classroom and stacked the desks. Um...They have two more days. Just what are they going to do? Oh right, copyrighted movies distributed for home use. See the mandatory warning at the beginning of the DVD you ...can't skip? Thank you LWSD for teaching my kids how to ignore the law. I asked one of the teachers and they brushed it off. Why can't they turn it into a learning experience? Yes they watched a few movies based on books they read during the year, how was it different from the book? Can they write about the locations seen in the movie? Would you like to lived there? etc.  ARGGGGG."

OK, I'm done venting. It feels good to finally put this out in the public sphere. Maybe someday I'll tone down my remarks a bit and send them off to Randy Dorn, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction. If they are going to extend the school year, TEACH my children, don't entertain them. If I want them entertained I'll keep them home and give them my own supervised entertainment like I do every Family Night.

Sony PSN and Data Security

This got lost in my "Drafts" folder...

I work at a large company doing data systems engineering and architecture. One of the major components of my job is data security so when I hear of a security breach at a major online service my ears perk up.

The news doesn't look good. What Sony initially acknowledged only as a service interruption has escalated into an "external intrusion." In other words, they were hacked. PWN3D. People are already complaining about fraud and the lawsuits are lining up even before the dust settles. What did the hackers get? The investigation is ongoing but this is the list so far-

  • Your personal profile information: Name, email, birthday

  • Your PSN login information (username/password and answers to security questions)

What might have been taken-

  • Your purchase history on PSN

  • Your billing information: home address

Was credit card data access? Yes, but it was encrypted. Were the hackers able to read the encrypted data? Sony is still investigating.

Even though Sony has a major black eye right now, here is where Sony is shining:

  • They are doing a complete service rebuild from the ground up. This is Security 101: when you are compromised in a major way instead of trying to ferret out every intrusion point, malware, and hacked admin account, just rebuild the entire thing. They are maintaining evidence where necessary to investigate and cooperate with law enforcement but they also have a service to run. The only way to know that your service is not compromised is to go back to a known good state. Which means re-imaging every server in your datacenter from a known-good copy and start fresh.

  • They are being open and honest about what happened and the possible consequences to the point of advising everyone to watch their credit reports and credit card accounts for unusual activity.

It took weeks to recover and bring the site back up only to be taken town again... and again... and again.

What does this mean to the information security world?

  1. Encrypt or at least hash your passwords BEFORE you store them in the DB.

  2. Teach your IT guys appropriate security practices

  3. AUDIT, AUDIT, AUDIT. And when you are done, AUDIT SOME MORE.

  4. Teach your users to TRUST NO ONE. When you receive an attachment from someone call them up and ask them: did you mean to send me this document (in Excel format with an embedded malicious flash component)? (that's how RSA was hacked)

Will the Sony debacle blow over? Of course. Will people every forgive them for screwing up and come back to the PSN? Of course they will. People want to play games and Sony has a popular (albeit #2) game console. The public forgets all the time. They will eventually forget with the next ultra-cool, can't-miss games comes out as a PS3 exclusive.

But will the industry ever be the same? People are already calling 2011 the "Golden Age of Hacking." Exploits are no longer being bragged about by hackers to show who is the best: they are hiding them close to the vest and selling them off to the highest bidder or embedding them in malware that is then sold on the web to spammers and would-be botnet controllers.

Wake up people, tighten your belts and gird your loins. The advanced persistent threat is here to stay. Only good development practices, sound security policies, and self-analysis will win the day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pains of Geekdom

Sometimes being a geek has it's issues. Today's issue involves airline travel and smartphone apps and what happens when the two collide in an uncomfortable way. I am flying home tonight on an American Airlines flight. Out of curiosity I pulled out my smartphone to try out a new app called "Tail Tracker". It's quite simple: you enter the tail number of a plane (N566AA in this case) and it pulls up the owner information and airplane info as well as any pictures or history available in public databases.

This particular plane is a McDonnell-Douglas MD-83 manufactured 15.53 years ago with 172 seats and 2 Pratt & Whitney jet engines. The current owner is Wilmington Trust Company out of Delaware leased to American Airlines.

Why is this uncomfortable? I'm about to get on a plane for a 2.5 hour trip. Said plane is over 15 years old. Maybe I'm paranoid but that makes it older than my car, which I may replace in the next year or so. My car is pretty reliable but it hasn't logged hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of miles flying 170+ people for the last 15 years.

Am I paranoid? Would I have even thought about this had it not been for my geeky curiosity?


Update #1 - It's never a good thing when an airport fire truck comes running up to your plane rolling code 3 (lights+sirens). They just sat behind the plane for a few minutes then drove off without getting out. I hope that's a good thing but I'm delayed an hour which means I miss my connecting flight to SeaTac. Ugg. This doesn't help my earlier issue with the plane information. Nervous factor: 5 out of 10.

Update #2 - Made my connecting flight because all flights in/out of DFW were delayed due to a huge thunderstorm. Made it home by 4 am which makes it a 25 hour day. No, I don't sleep in terminals or planes.

Friday, April 29, 2011

(Old) Geek Links of the Week - 29APR2011

News Roundup for January 2011, something I have also put off for too long.  I found a bunch of bookmarks that I forgot about until recently...

Star Wars is coming to Blu-Ray

You would think that, as a self-respecting Star Wars fan, that I would be super excited to run out and buy the Blu-Ray edition of the best movie series ever (yes, that includes Eps. 1-3). My reaction? YAWN. During the HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray debate many people asked "what will be the next disc format?" The answer was clear: nothing. Blu-ray sales have not been beaten DVD players. Am I excited to see Star Wars in HD? Sure but I'll wait until I can download it rather than pay $140 for the set. The only reason I have a Blu-ray player (I have 2) is that it came with my computer.

New Cars Vulnerable to Wireless Theft

Now seriously, who didn't see this one coming? Keyless entry systems rely on rolling numeric keys to unlock your car, roll down the windows, open the sunroof, and even start the engine. GM first added keyless entry systems to their luxury car lines in 1989. Now, 22 years later, even new cars with the latest technology are being hacked in new and creative ways. Now someone can do things like lock/unlock doors, start the engine (i.e. drive off), or even kill the engine while you are driving. Fun stuff. They can even do it using your car's antenna.

Android Phone Gets Driver Out of Ticket

This one caught my attention since it blends technology and the law, specifically that someone got out of a ticket using their smartphone's GPS (or any GPS for that matter). A guy supposedly used the GPS data from his smartphone to get a speeding ticket dismissed because his GPS said he wasn't doing 40 in a 25 zone but was actually doing no more than 26 MPH (highest speed recorded by the GPS software). And then I investigated further and actually went to the source...
The judge took a moment and declared that I was not guilty, but he had an unusual statement that followed. To avoid any misinterpretations about his ruling, he chose to clarify his decision by citing the lack of evidence on the officer’s part. He mentioned that he was not familiar enough with GPS technology to make a decision based on my evidence, but I can’t help but imagine that it was an important factor.

So the Droid didn’t clear his name: lack of appropriate evidence on the part of the officer was the reason the case was dismissed. The questions he asked are standard questions that should be asked by any ticket defendant if you go to court to contest a ticket. THIS IS A NON-STORY. The fact that he tried to use his GPS data to prove innocence is interesting but not relevant. GPS devices are not accurate enough to provide convincing data for contesting a traffic ticket in a court of law. A radar gun (properly used, calibrated, etc) provides an instantaneous data point that is very accurate. Unless you have a corresponding data point at or very near the same timestamp then you probably don’t have enough data to provide a defense. He would have had better luck with his car’s telemetry data, assuming it is equipped with this feature (lots of luxury and sports cars already have this feature although you need a mechanic who can download the data for you or hardware/knowledge to do it yourself). The jury is still out on this topic, so to speak. Someday there will be legal precedent but this isn't it.

Microsoft Puts a Datacenter in a Barn.

As an IT geek this immediately caught my eye. Most "modern" datacenters are engineering marvels with a lot of fixed costs: virtually sealed buildings with hardened walls, raised floors, and forced air cooling. Microsoft designers used a wholly different strategy to build the new DC that utilizes outside air (virtually unfiltered, at least at the micron level) and much less structural integrity. The GM of DC R&D at MSFT recently referred the "disappearing datacenter." I have to say I like it. The DCs of even 5 years ago were patterned after the old-school building methods that started with mainframe datacenters where you had to have constant temperatures, usually in the 62-65F range, with very low tolerances for dust and humidity. Not anymore. They even ran a test where the servers were literally in the parking lot of the datacenter covered by only a tent for 8 months. Seriously. It's a brave new world in the datacenters these days.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2010 News Roundup

OK, so I'm a bit late (like 4 months late). These are articles I found near the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011 on Wired.com.

Vaporware 2010: The Great White Duke

Like a broken record, Duke Nukem once again makes the 2010 Vaporware awards. The big news? It's not #1. That spot is taken by the white iPhone.

Wired's top 10 space/science stories of 2010

Some very cool stories this year: water on Mars, giant iceburg collisions, Hubble is 20 years old, and giant spiders from the Middle East. Wow, what a year. The spiders can creep you out but they are totally cool.

Wired's top science images of 2010

To go along with the top science images, here are the top science images. I'm a sucker for cool pics and this one doesn't dissapoint. From crazy fractal patterns and smoke to worms and cute ZooBorns.

Cars we lost in 2010

Will you miss these cars that were discontinued in 2010? Will you even notice? I have driven several of the models (PT Cruiser, Grand Marquis, and Kia Borego) and I actually owned a Volvo V70 a few years back.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

First off, my favorite version of Danny Boy...

I'm not sure I can say, "Happy St. Patrick's Day" because it is actually the commemoration of the death of St. Patrick. Around our house we sometimes just say, "Happy Patrick's Day!" for Patrick, my son, who is indeed named after the patron saint of Ireland. With a name like "Donnahoo" it seemed only fitting to name my first son with a traditional Irish name. Do we have any real Irish blood in our family? I'm not sure yet: the genealogical jury is still out on that one. My Dad and Aunt Penny are still working on it. One of these days we'll find out when the O'Donaghue family crossed over and became Donnahoo. We are back as far as the early 1800s in the southeast US but no hint of immigration in that family line.

I'm sure you have read a lot about Saint Patrick. Did he really run the snakes out of Ireland? Probably not. But he did help bring Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. And he did it through faith and love, not by force, as many countries were converted around that time.

So I wore green to work but I raised a glass of sparkling water in his honor. What did you expect from a Mormon? }B^)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Donnahoo.com is transferred...

After some quick economic calculations the decision was made to transfer the donnahoo.com website. I'll be posting family updates, links to new photo sets on flickr, posts on my companion blog Normalguytri.com, and lots of other sundry thoughts and commentary.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled madness/neuroses.

A word on economics: the old price to host my website was $15/month for a service I haven't updated in years due to poor technology integration (i.e. it was hard to post updates). With Wordpress it's only $12/year. No, I didn't have to think about that decision for more than about 10 seconds, but it did take me almost a year to get off my duff and do something about it.