May 17, 2007

Warranties

Four years, three hundred and fifty four days into a five year warranty and our tape drive fails. Five year warranties usually don't pay off. Today, this one did. But then again, the tape drive that we got replaced is completely inadequate for our capacity needs but by gum we got ourselves a new inadequate one inside of 4 hours.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:54 PM

February 01, 2006

Expensive Wrapping

The call newspaper fishwrap. But what do you wrap newspapers in? If you're the Boston Globe, it appears you wrap it in you customers' private financial data. 240,000 credit card numbers and 1,100 check routing codes went out to 2000 retailers and 390 paper carriers totalling 9,000 bundles of inappropriate bundle wrapping.

The mind boggles.

It's hard to imagine trusting your financial data to these jokers in future. Perhaps paying in cash will be making a minor comeback?

Posted by TMLutas at 10:12 PM

January 10, 2006

Small Effects Consistency

The crux of the global warming position is the assertion that the small amounts of human inputs into weather systems via pollution of various types are sufficient to measurably change the weather. It occurs to me that nobody ever really gives us the relevant % that human activity contributes to these systems. The reason to want to know that number is to examine proposed large human projects and see if their effects will trip the threshold. For instance, how much of the earth's surface can you cover with solar cells before you start affecting the weather? Will it be a warming or cooling effect? How much energy can you extract out of wind, tidal surge, or river current before you achieve the same altering effects?

Are renewable energy sources really the environmentalist free lunch that everybody makes them out to be. It would be painful to find out that we've ripped out our infrastructure to make room for vast "green" energy structures that had their own nasty climate forcing effects. It would not surprise me in the least to find near zero studies on the subject.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:57 AM

December 21, 2005

Jehovah's Witness Telemarketers

This is providing an entirely new impetus for me to get a phone switch. I'm planning to install a unilateral contract so that if I'm solicited over the phone and they don't say that they're a telemarketer ahead of time, they owe me $500 a call (believe it or not, this sort of thing has been adjudicated). Those that admit to being solictors go to voice mail.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:44 PM

November 25, 2005

Zap! Goes the Shower

God loves fools. Proof positive is that the people who wire their showers to provide their hot water haven't died out yet. That's just a Darwin award waiting to happen but apparently is common in Latin America.

Yikes.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:29 PM

September 30, 2005

Memo to Self

If you're going to forward a new employee's extension to his cell phone, tell him first. I think I just surprised somebody.

On second thought, you should insert a "I'm transferring to Xs cell phone" too. I was surprised as well to not get voice mail.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:51 PM

March 31, 2005

The Coming Death of TV II

It turns out that the problem with viewing The Strand isn't in format but rather in DRM. Microsoft has not created the facility to play its current DRM in the Macintosh as far as I can tell so Mac users are being held at bay by Microsoft.

Things are not so simple though. Ambrosia Software makes a wonderful screen capture utility called SnapzProX that's now able to capture not only screen stills but also moving pictures. You can get a 30 day demo but it's commercial software at $69.

A Mac user with a much faster Mac than my own (G4 800Mhz, don't laugh just send me money) could run VirtualPC, run the Strand inside that virtual session, and capture the episode to an unprotected quicktime movie using SnapzProX. Today, it would be foolish to do it because it's a considerable amount of pain for just a little gain but if DRM protected content gets to be popular, there will be people who strip the DRM out just to gain the ability to play on their platform just as DeCSS was created in order to make sure that Linux users could use their DVDs.

All that need happen is that one subscriber possess the right hardware/software to view it himself and be annoyed enough to record it and put the now unprotected content on P2P.

By the way, it's fairly trivial to beat the P2P networks as a practical matter. You just make it easy and cheap to buy your stuff and put enough bogus copies (of the right length) out on the networks that the pain to get a watchable pirated copy is greater than the cost of the legitimate product.

The Strand project has got much of the game down. They only have to sort out how to not tick off the minority platform people and they've got a winning formula.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:44 AM

February 06, 2005

That ratty rat race

Bombarded by demands far in excess of what was true in the past, we lose perspective, we make poor decisions, we are frazzled.

Sounds like we need better support systems that generate less noise to signal. More on this theme later. I just wanted to put the link above as a note on Decisions Support Systems (DSS)/Thought Support Ssystems (TSS) for future use.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:31 PM

July 05, 2004

Extraordinary CERT Alert

US-CERT Vulnerability Alert 713878 is a real jaw dropper. It talks about one more in a long line of vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft Internet technology extensions. These technology extensions are at the heart of Microsoft's highly successful strategy for dominating the web browser market. By providing highly useful functionality that only works with MS internet technology and not releasing it as a standard, Microsoft tempts many site developers to use their technology extensions and shut out alternative providers both in the application space (mail readers) and the OS space.

There is no practical fix for this, and several other holes at time of writing that lets you continue business as usual and it doesn't look like there's going to be a practical fix anytime soon as you're talking about stuff that's deep in the guts of MS' Internet technology suite. It's quite likely that a lot of neat and useful stuff depends on the broken services remaining broken.

Furthermore, since Microsoft made the decision to integrate these technologies into Windows itself, other code can invoke the broken technology. No longer using IE and Outlook is a reasonable solution for a medium level institution but for high security need installations such as banks, the only solution is to drop IE, Outlook, and Windows itself.

What's more astounding is that US-CERT is essentially the US government. It's a public/private partnership with the public part being the US Department of Homeland Security.

Unfortunately, some commentary doesn't quite get it and only remarks on the "get rid of IE" portion of the last abatement recommendation. That's fine, as far as it goes, but as long as the unsecure code is on your system and isn't likely to get fixed, it's irresponsible not to extricate your company from using Windows as soon as possible.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:27 AM

June 08, 2004

Get Rid of 80% of Spam

A new study estimates that 80% of spam out on the 'net today is from compromised MS Windows systems. Spam is now the majority of email messages sent and a huge source of lost productivity and daily annoyance. It's time to start shifting the customers who are highly likely to be compromised out of Windows. If Grandma and Grandpa want to get on the Internet, by all means encourage them. But also encourage them to get a Macintosh.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:58 AM

December 10, 2003

Fighting Internet Censorship

Glenn Reynold's latest TCS column addresses the threat of government censorship of the Internet. There is something that we can do here to make it perfectly clear how we feel about government censorship of the Internet. We can declare technical end-runs around government censorship political acts and any negative consequences for content neutral actions (putting in a surreptitious router that doesn't go through filtering mechanisms or turning off the filters themselves) to be prima facie cases of political repression and grant a presumptive visa to anybody who is caught doing this on the condition that they keep working on the problem once they are here.

The details, like how to overcome that presumption of visa, what safeguards have to be in place to oversee those overrides, etc. can all be worked out in the next two years when this issue will rise again at another UN conference. But the US and the rest of the free world have an obligation to recognize and encourage these anti-censorship engineers with whatever support that they can. The first and foremost thing that they can do is offer safe haven if they are caught.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:46 AM

August 15, 2003

Destructive Secrets

Since about October 2001, I've known that power lines could be a simple Al Queda target that would not cost them assets (as suicide operations would) but could bring down the US economy. But I kept my mouth shut about it because I didn't have a way of saying it without drawing a roadmap for the terrorists where they could read it. Today, Stratfor, wrote up an article on the Al Queda implications of the current blackout. They write "Al Qaeda no doubt is watching for any opportune U.S. flaws that they might someday exploit. Now it has become obvious that if one hits the U.S. -- or Canadian -- power grid in the right spot at the right time, the heart of the American economy -- including Wall Street -- can be hurled into the dark. " After that, I don't particularly feel restrained anymore about this particular threat (though I'll still keep my mouth shut over the other easy targets I know about).

It's pretty obvious that anybody with a map and a walking stick can walk the perimeter of a city and identify where all the high tension lines coming into the city come in. This is assuming that the electrical line maps aren't available and you can't just look it up in a library. Further walking can identify choke points. It's actually quite easy to take down a power line. A little explosive work at a tower or just throwing a properly thick metal cable over the lines when one end is securely grounded and you have downed that power route.

Part of the problem is that too much power is produced long distances away from where the power is needed. Some of that is unavoidable but certainly not to the extent that exists today. One difficulty arises from the fact that the usage ends (at the meter) are too dumb. Meters generally only pass power in one direction. They are dumb mechanical machines that exclusively serve the interest of the electric company as seller to the business and residential public who are only buyers.

But what if smart meters existed? What if people could participate in the electrical markets as a matter of course, buying the way that the major users buy based on the current market value of their juice at that time. What if you could just plug in a generator and automatically have your power flow into the grid and get compensated for it at the spot market price. What if every electrical device had a smart switch that could selectively cut the wall current to the backup battery units and the overhead lights in the offices but keep the electricity running for the elevators to get out of the building. What if all these devices could talk to each other and sort out what needed doing when there was a service reduction or outright cut.

All of a sudden the entire grid system looks different, much more local, more complex, and vastly more resilient. The incentives for local power generation increase as it becomes easier to do and you not only get stable power but also have profit potential. Pulling cheap juice in the evening and feeding it back at peak demand becomes an economic opportunity. And when a neighborhood loses its external juice, local power sources can be prioritized so that the more important uses get priority and bad effects are minimized. Whether these local sources are a bank of batteries, fuel cells, microturbine generators, or standard gas or diesel models, with a universal communications method and pre-made rules created by their owners, you end up with a very important adjunct that increases the ability of people to make fine power adjustments.

The overall effect is to make the electrical system look more like the robust Internet with these smart meters serving to intelligently route around failure while enabling a wider variety of configurations. This sort of solution isn't going to get rolled out overnight but either this, or something very like it, will be necessary for the inevitable era of electrical system attacks to come.

The benefits go far beyond national security. With GM explicitly looking to market their future fuel cell cars as energy sources, a smart meter system could allow these cars to earn money while you're at work by plugging them in as small peaker plants running on pre-defined rules, supplying electricity when profitable to their owners and dropping out while they still have enough fuel left in the tank to get home. This would increase generating capacity exactly where it would need to be, at commercial and industrial centers during peak usage hours.

The level of intelligence needed to participate in a smart electrical network is fairly constant. With Moore's law continuing to operate for the near to medium term, it's likely that the basics of it could be done today. Some of the finer refinements like light fixtures that turn themselves off during energy crunches according to predefined rules could wait for another few iterations of Moore's law to make them cheap enough to put in such high volume usages.

Creating self-organizing neighborhoods of small grids of electrical consumers and producers would is not beyond us but it's unrealistic to think that anything but a national security emergency would get the incumbent electrical producers to radically lower the barriers to entry into their business. We now have our national security emergency. Let's get to it.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:32 AM

August 07, 2003

'Netting 2nd class

Steven Den Beste readers are having a tough time right now as SDB's net access is not working exactly right. The nature of the problem and the the service level that he's talking about in his report indicate that SDB's part of the great unwashed, the 2nd class Internet.

What does that mean? Well, first let's look at 1st class service to see what 2nd class is not.

1st class service has the service provider testing the line frequently 24/7. 1st class service has a connectivity log that shows uptime provided by the ISP. 1st class service has a service level agreement (SLA) which would provide for compensation for downtime which means that they start work on repairs fast and outages rarely last long enough to reduce company revenues. 1st class service is symmetrical (upload speed = download speed), persistent (no getting knocked off or having your session timed out), and uses a fixed IP scheme.

The USS Clueless has persistent service with a fixed IP but it's a cable modem which means that download speeds will greatly exceed upload speeds. There is no enforceable SLA offered by RoadRunner or other internet cable providers and from the story, you can tell that SDB has to chase after them to get service and he's not exactly at the top of their priority list.

3rd class service is dialup based. I ran a 3rd class service server many years ago. My top level page was out on a 1st class server at my ISP and my back end, which held the bulk of content was on my own machine. Every time I lost connection the machine dialed back in, figured out its new IP, and changed the front page links to point to the correct machine.

So why does one man's ISP troubles deserve such comment? Well, they don't per se but they're indicative of a larger trend in the Internet, the stratification of service. It used to be bandwidth and connectivity were the great differentiators. You had a good quality fat pipe or you didn't. But just as with airlines, stratification of service permits you to serve a great deal more customers.

The difference between telecom and air travel is in cost trend lines. The airline industry never figured out how to get a persistent downward cost trend. Every flight has a high fixed cost of flying the plane and a low variable cost of adding passengers. They end up playing the ticket distribution game like maestros because that's their persistent reality, they'll always have to do that.

Technology infrastructure has a different reality, one of constantly collapsing prices driven by Moore's law, the proposition that every year you can do cram twice the transistors into the same space. The corollary of the law that the old density is half as expensive every year makes for very nice negative cost curves over time for technology consumers and drives everybody's cost basis down to some degree with steeper curves coming to sectors that use more technology. Moore's law won't last forever but it's here for the short and medium term.

The three tier internet service is currently conceived as business lines (generally on the T or OC scale but also fixed point wireless), broadband (Wi-fi, cable modem or DSL), and dialup (56k, 28.8k) with business lines generally restricted to business dialup for mobile business and poor consumers and broadband for ultra-small businesses and well to do consumers.

So are we, as individuals, doomed to a perpetual 2nd class Internet existence? I don't think so. Eventually, incomes will rise and costs will fall to the point where 1st class service is available to pretty much everyone with the slow wireless access being generally available as a community amenity. The really interesting question is when will we get there?

Update: SDB informs me that he likes his cable service asymmetrical (though not with such a poor SLA, I'm sure) as he wants a faster download speed than upload speed and assumes that a symmetric service would be more expensive.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:41 PM

A modest proposal for the MATRIX

With greater power, comes the need for greater restraint. This article outlines how modern technology is being used to increase the efficiency of police work to the point where it's actually giving them qualitatively new capabilities. Databases are combined, information can be correlated from disparate sources and all with an ease that rivals the best of private enterprises business intelligence systems.

The old, practical barriers of inefficiency are falling rapidly. But there is a war on so perhaps new capabilities are needed. But at the same time abuse must be rooted out and never tolerated. The experience of UK CCTV is telling, people viewing those cameras capture a great many more women's breasts than they do terrorists or even petty criminals. The negatives of such systems has even led to at least one site that will map out routes on the web that will avoid cameras.

But the MATRIX system of combining databases is not so easy to conduct oversight on. Perhaps providing yearly notification of how many times your name came up as a hit on the search, why you were investigated. and who was investigating you would serve to minimize fishing expeditions.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:12 AM