Fear of Aerial Images

Schneier on Security: Fear of Aerial Images

Yet another “refuse to be terrorized” article from Bruce Schneier, this time about satellite images in online mapping services…

bq. “It struck me that a person in a tent halfway around the world could target an attack like that with a laptop computer,” said Anderson, a Republican legislator who represents San Diego’s East County. Anderson said he doesn’t want to limit technology, but added, “There’s got to be some common sense.”

The usual rebuttal applies:

bq. Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven’t seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water, and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are — by and large — small and pedestrian and the bad uses are rare and spectacular. And while terrorism turns society’s very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response — just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too.

(the last quote is from http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/01/helping_the_ter.html).

posted at 9:35 am on Monday, June 08, 2009 in Links, Security | Comments Off on Fear of Aerial Images


In my random walk through the Internet this morning, I visited several news articles with comments sections.

Why are people so hateful, so judgmental, so prejudiced (in the classic sense, i.e. making up their minds without facts)? People write that they’ll hate a (good) TV show after reading an interview with one of the actors. People heaping vitriol on a woman they’ve never met, and don’t know anything about. It’s ugly. YouTube is awful for this, although at least people are talking about that.

Maybe most people are like me, and simply move on when the conversation degenerates (which it usually does), and so I’m only seeing the vocal minority…

posted at 8:50 am on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    The problem with a vocal minority like the peanut gallery on youtube, is that they account for most of the comments you see there, so in a sense, it is not a minority of comments. Its so bad, I don’t usually read comments on youtube at all.

IP in Canada

After almost a week of pressure, “The Conference Board of Canada”:http://www.conferenceboard.ca/ finally recalled three reports supporting the lie that Canada is a haven for intellectual property thieves. I love the language:

bq. An internal review has determined that these reports did not follow the high quality research standards of The Conference Board of Canada.

This after “Michael Geist”:http://www.michaelgeist.ca/index.php accused them of plagiarising the text of one report, without attribution, from the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a major US lobby group representing Hollywood et al.

The details are on on Michael Geist’s weblog, starting with “The Conference Board of Canada’s Deceptive, Plagiarized Digital Economy Report”:http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/4000/125/ . I’m particularly dismayed that they initially stood by the report, that it took three days of intense media coverage for them to back down. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that once the attention dies down, these reports will quietly resurface, they’ll circulate internally on Parliament Hill, and our lawmakers will pass draconian copyright legislation based on a lie.

In fact, Canada is a relatively low producer and consumer of stolen intellectual property. I’ll try to dig up the various references that support this (my browser history is acting up :-). For some reason factions within the US government have decided that they can win more votes, or collect more lobbyist dollars, by attacking their neighbour to the North.

I find this especially interested after a recent article from Eric S. Raymond: “Some Iron Laws of Political Economics”:http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=984

bq. Mancur Olson, in his book The Logic Of Collective Action, highlighted the central problem of politics in a democracy. The benefits of political market-rigging can be concentrated to benefit particular special interest groups, while the costs (in higher taxes, slower economic growth, and many other second-order effects) are diffused through the entire population.

bq. The result is a scramble in which individual interest groups perpetually seek to corner more and more rent from the system, while the incremental costs of this behavior rise slowly enough that it is difficult to sustain broad political opposition to the overall system of political privilege and rent-seeking.

Worth a read.

posted at 1:02 pm on Thursday, May 28, 2009 in Current Events, Links, Politics | Comments Off on IP in Canada

Moving windows

My son had the fastest computer, with a PCI Express slot. I had the slightly slower computer, with an AGP slot. I needed to install a graphics card that would let me run two DVI-D displays, and the only AGP cards I could find were quite expensive, so I decided to swap computers. (The fast computer was originally supposed to replace the shared family computer, but I didn’t finish installing/upgrading it before my son took it over :).

To make matters more complicated, my desktop had IDE drives and his had SATA drives. A simple drive swap wasn’t going to work; his SATA motherboard only had one IDE connector, and it was already full with two CD/DVD drives. I was going to have to swap the OS images between the two harddrives. I had recently read about “Clonezilla”:http://clonezilla.org/, and decided to try it. I started by testing cloning to a “VirtualBox”:http://www.virtualbox.org/ VM, to make sure I could use the image after cloning. VirtualBox lets me attach disk images as either IDE or SATA, which definitely helped my testing.

My capsule review is that Clonezilla works well and is very flexible, but way too complicated. Fortunately I’m a sophisticated Linux guy, so the complexity wasn’t a barrier, but I wouldn’t recommend it to my father-in-law, for example. I’m loving VirtualBox, btw; I run it on a server, so I can’t use the fancy GUI for configuration, but the command line is adequate and the ability to use remote desktop to access the console is excellent.

The other item that saved me was “Changing a Motherboard or Moving a Hard Drive with XP Installed”:http://www.michaelstevenstech.com/moving_xp.html. There are three basic options described there: 1) use the Windows Upgrade procedure before swapping, 2) perform a Repair after the swap, and 3) fiddle with the disk controller drivers in the Device Manager before the swap. My Windows disks don’t have the Upgrade option, so that was out. I then tried the Repair option, but it took over 3 hours (after the 90 minutes of image copying); way too slow (and I would have needed to re-install SP3 and other patches later, too!).

Fortunately, option 3 worked perfectly for me. I’ve reproduced it here:

bq. Before you swap out the current motherboard go to device manager and select the IDE ATA/ATAPI Controller and select your current storage controller. Right click, select update driver and select install from a list or specific location. Click don’t search I will choose the driver to install and select the standard dual channel IDE controller.

bq. This will prevent the inaccessible boot device blue screen.

bq. With this method, booting the first time with the new motherboard should be done in Safe mode. XP will install the drivers it needs and you can install the new motherboard drivers. I would suggest accessing the motherboard web site to get the latest drivers and bios updates rather than use the CD media included with the MB. The CD is usually a couple of revisions behind the latest updates.

Both images worked perfectly (and quickly!) after this tweak. I was able to boot both OS images on the new systems, install all of the appropriate drivers for the new hardware, clean up the device manager, and now everything is as good as new. We’ve been running with swapped hardware for a couple of weeks now with no apparent problems.

Alas, after all this, we discovered that the on-board graphics on my old desktop were too slow to run a couple of his games; because that machine was originally intended as a business class machine, it had crappy graphics (worse than our other 5+ year old desktop!). So I’ve had to buy a graphics card for him anyway, but I was still able to save. I found him an older AGP card (with DVI-I, VGA, and TV-out instead of Dual DVI-I).

posted at 9:17 am on Thursday, May 28, 2009 in Personal | Comments Off on Moving windows

At the sound of the tone, the time will be …

Phillips television test pattern

Phillips television test pattern

posted at 10:14 am on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 in Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Harald Koch says:

    Test facebook connect comment!

Perverse Security Incentives

Yet another example of the premise that if you want to understand the world around you, look for the incentives…

Schneier on Security: Perverse Security Incentives

bq. Incentives explain much that is perplexing about security trade-offs. Why does King County, Washington, require one form of ID to get a concealed-carry permit, but two forms of ID to pay for the permit by check? Making a mistake on a gun permit is an abstract problem, but a bad check actually costs some department money.

bq. In the decades before 9/11, why did the airlines fight every security measure except the photo-ID check? Increased security annoys their customers, but the photo-ID check solved a security problem of a different kind: the resale of nonrefundable tickets. So the airlines were on board for that one.

And so on…

posted at 9:39 am on Wednesday, April 01, 2009 in Links, Security | Comments Off on Perverse Security Incentives

Kid walks to soccer, neighbors call the cops

“A Mom Lets Her Son Walk to Soccer…And The Police Come Calling”:http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/a-mom-lets-her-son-walk-to-soccerand-the-police-come-calling/

bq. From the Free Range Kids blog, the story of Lori from a small town in Mississippi, who sent her 10-year-old on foot to soccer practice, only to have him picked up by the cops, who reported “hundreds” of 911 calls by curtain-twitchers who were horrified at the thought of a 10-year-old walking a third of a mile to a local school. The cops told her she could be charged with child endangerment After she complained to the cops, the local police chief called her to apologize and to reassure her that she lived in a safe neighborhood. The moral of the story: stand your ground when crazy people tell you that your kid needs to be swaddled in bubblewrap until she’s 22.

From the article:

bq. My 10-year-old son wanted the chance to walk from our house to soccer practice behind an elementary school about 1/3 mile from our house. He had walked in our neighborhood a number of times with the family and we have driven the route to practice who knows how many times. It was broad daylight – 5:00 pm. I had to be at the field myself 15 minutes after practice started, so I gave him my cell phone and told him I would be there to check that he made it and sent him off. He got 3 blocks and a police car intercepted him. The police came to my house — after I had left — and spoke with my younger children who were home with Grandma. They then found me at the soccer field and proceeded to tell me how I could be charged with child endangerment. They said they had gotten “hundreds” of calls to 911 about him walking. Now, I know bad things can happen and I wasn’t flippant about letting him go and not checking up, but come on. I live in a small town in Mississippi. To be perfectly honest, I’m much more concerned about letting him attend a birthday party sleepover next Friday, but I’m guessing the police wouldn’t be at my house if I chose to let him go which I probably won’t.

via Boing Boing

posted at 2:35 pm on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in Current Events, Links, Rants | Comments Off on Kid walks to soccer, neighbors call the cops

Schneier on Security: The Kindness of Strangers

Schneier on Security: The Kindness of Strangers

h3. The Kindness of Strangers

bq. When I was growing up, children were commonly taught: “dont talk to strangers.” Strangers might be bad, we were told, so its prudent to steer clear of them.

bq. As it turns out, this is profoundly bad advice. Most people are honest, kind, and generous, especially when someone asks them for help. If a small child is in trouble, the smartest thing he can do is find a nice-looking stranger and talk to him.

bq. The advice in each of these paragraphs may seem to contradict each other, but they dont. The difference is that in the second instance, the child is choosing which stranger to talk to. Given that the overwhelming majority of people will help, the child is likely to get help if he chooses a random stranger. But if a stranger comes up to a child and talks to him or her, its not a random choice. Its more likely, although still unlikely, that the stranger is up to no good.

(I’ve ranted about this before, in “talk to strangers”:http://blog.cfrq.net/chk/archives/2005/06/24/talk-to-strangers/ and “strangers”:http://blog.cfrq.net/chk/archives/2005/06/24/strangers/)

posted at 8:52 am on Friday, March 13, 2009 in Links, Personal | Comments Off on Schneier on Security: The Kindness of Strangers

defense in depth

“The World’s Biggest Diamond Heist”:http://www.wired.com/politics/law/magazine/17-04/ff_diamonds

These guys managed to blow through many layers of hi-tech security with careful planning and some low-tech tricks, and one huge security gaff: the “unduplicatable” key for the vault was hung on the wall in a storeroom next door.

My favorite bit, I think, was how they disabled a magnetic sensor on the vault door, that would detect the door being opened; they brought a piece of aluminum covered in double-sided tape, stuck it over the sensor pieces, unscrewed the pieces from the vault door and door frame, and swung them out of the way. The sensor was never triggered because the two pieces remained in contact…

The article is a bit long, but it’s worth reading both for how they got through all of the security, and the one stupid mistake they made that led to them all getting caught…

posted at 9:17 am on Thursday, March 12, 2009 in Links, Security | Comments Off on defense in depth

social networking

Charlotte has a Facebook account.

I’m still trying to decide if this is a sign of the Apocalypse or not…

posted at 5:36 pm on Sunday, March 08, 2009 in Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Michelle says:

    Yes. It is.


Tomorrow is the first day of “nerdigras”:http://nedbatchelder.com/blog/200903/square_root_of_christmas.html ; let the festivities begin!

(I wonder what the pancake-equivalent is? :-)

posted at 11:03 pm on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 in Humour, Links | Comments Off on nerdigras

nobody’s happy, everything’s amazing


It’s true. We live in amazing times, and everyone is as grumpy as ever!

posted at 8:38 am on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 in Humour, Links | Comments Off on nobody’s happy, everything’s amazing


February seems to have vanished completely, as my last post was on January 29th. Ah well, it’s a deformed month, with the missing three days bit; February don’t get no respect!

Oh ya, I went on a cruise with 16 other people; planning, packing, and executing ate my brain. Then I came back to news that most of you have heard by now, and now it’s March…

posted at 8:37 am on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 in Personal | Comments Off on Oops!

more British TV

* “No Heroics”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/2009/01/no-heroics.html – A UK sitcom about a bunch of second-tier superheroes hanging out in a bar.

* “Being Human”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/2009/01/being-human-and-building-anticipation.html – A vampire, a ghost, and a werewolf share a flat. “Trailer on YouTube”:http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=v_sRd2spBo0

posted at 3:16 pm on Thursday, January 29, 2009 in Links, TV | Comments Off on more British TV


Hackers broke into an electronic sign near Austin, TX to warn travellers about the zombie apocalypse! woo hoo!


posted at 8:32 pm on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 in Humour, Links | Comments Off on zombies?

nut allergy hysteria

Who would have thought that a threat to children would be exaggerated by parents, teachers, and the media? “Not I,” he said sarcastically…

“BBC News – Warning of nut allergy ‘hysteria'”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7773210.stm

bq. Measures to protect children with nut allergies are becoming increasingly absurd and hysterical, say experts.

bq. A peanut on the floor of a US school bus recently led to evacuation and decontamination for fear it might have affected the 10-year-old passengers.

bq. Professor Nicolas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, told the BMJ there was “a gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat” posed by food allergies, and particularly nut allergies.

bq. In the US, serious allergic reactions to foods cause just 2,000 of more than 30 million hospitalisations a year and comparatively few deaths – 150 a year from all food allergies combined.

bq. Professor Christakis said the issue was not whether nut allergies existed or whether they could occasionally be serious. Nor was the issue whether reasonable preventative steps should be made for the few children who had documented serious allergies, he argued.

bq. “The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies.”

bq. He said these responses were extreme and had many of the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), previously known as epidemic hysteria.

bq. Often seen occurring in small towns, schools and other institutions, outbreaks of MPI involve healthy people in a flow of anxiety, most often triggered by a fear of contamination.

bq. Being around individuals who are anxious heightens others’ anxiety, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle which can spiral out of control.

(via “Bruce Scheier”:http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/12/nut_allergy_fea.html), who links to “Virginia Tech”:http://www.schneier.com/essay-171.html and “Thai Chili Sauce”:http://www.schneier.com/essay-195.html as other examples of MPI).

posted at 11:00 am on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 in Current Events, Links | Comments (2)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Not to slight the BBC, but there are a raft of things going on in British newspapers right now that seem very harmful and alarmist, mostly dealing with financial matters. Look around for “Britain bankruptcy”, “punish shareholders”, “end immigration”, “end public health-care”, “Nationalise all banks” (that 2nd last one is out of context, please be sure to read the source, er, “material”).

  2. chk says:

    British newspapers are more alarmist than most, ’tis true. But I’ve been seeing this level of irrational fear of nuts (and other things) around me and my kids for years, so I’ve started adding it to my blog. :)

internet threat overblown

Who would have thought that a threat to children would be exaggerated by parents, teachers, and the media? “Not I,” he said sarcastically…

I’m not sure how long this link will last, so check it out:

“Internet threat to minors overblown: study”:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090114.wgtminors0114/BNStory/Technology/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20090114.wgtminors0114

bq. The report, released on Wednesday, suggests that the biggest threats to children’s safety online may come from other children, and that their own behaviour could contribute to the trouble they encounter.

bq. “The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline,

bq. They said bullying and harassment, especially by peers, are the most frequent problem minors face both online and elsewhere.

As an aside, I’m particularly amused by the “fairness in reporting” content later in the article. The CEO of a company that _sells software_ to protect minors says that “more needs to be done”. I’m sure everyone agrees that he’s hopelessly biased, but modern journalistic standards require that both sides of a dispute be covered equally, regardless of the distribution of supporters to nay-sayers or the inherent bias of either parties.

Granted, my excerpts are probably biased too, so go read the article yourself. :)

posted at 11:00 am on Friday, January 16, 2009 in Current Events, Links, Security | Comments Off on internet threat overblown

payroll websites

My employer uses payroll company A. My wife’s uses payroll company B.

Payroll company A sends me my pay stubs via epost.ca, Canada’s electronic bill presentation system. This is the same system that I use for all of my electronic billing, and the one that is linked to my online banking. In short, my pay stubs are in my normal document processing flow, just like they used to be in the paper mail world.

Payroll company B has their own separate website where I can view and download pay stubs. While the website generates PDFs, they look nothing like the paper versions (a strange choice, since now they have _two_ output formats to maintain). The website has all the usual usability issues, that I won’t go into here.

Guess which company I’d prefer to do business with? :-)

posted at 10:11 am on Thursday, January 15, 2009 in Personal | Comments Off on payroll websites

Denis McGrath – Skins

“Denis McGrath”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_McGrath is a Canadian television writer and producer. A couple of years back my friend Debbie “interviewed him”:http://www.blogto.com/books_lit/2007/06/dead_things_on_sticks_denis_mcgrath/ about his career and about “Blood Ties”:http://www.bloodtiestv.com/, the television version of “Tanya Huff”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanya_Huff’s Blood books. I recently rediscovered him while catching up on Season 2 of “The Border”:http://www.cbc.ca/theborder/, and subscribed to his weblog (“Dead Things ON Sticks”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/) after finding info about the show there.

Anyway, long story short, Denis “recommended”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/2008/08/skins.html a British show called “Skins”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0840196/, which he described as

bq. the teen show that nobody in North America would have the guts to do. It makes Degrassi or 90210 look like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

It’s definitely not for everyone; it has the North American demons of nudity/sex, drugs, foul language, all involving (gasp!) teenagers. But it also has the magic trio of good writing, acting, and characters; I’ve found it quite compelling. I worked my way through the nine episode series 1 over the Christmas break, and I’m just starting series 2. You can find Skins in Canada on The SuperChannel (and yes, I hear you all saying “wow, it still exists?” :-).

Oh, and “Denis’ blog”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/ is an excellent read if you’re at all interested in television in general, and Canadian television in particular.

posted at 1:33 pm on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 in Links, TV | Comments Off on Denis McGrath – Skins

timing is everything

Take a new computer and install Windows XP. Connect it to the Internet to download service packs and other patches. Before you have finished downloading and installing, your computer will have been hacked. There are so many automated probes running that you’re almost 100% sure to be infected by one of them. Researchers do this all the time with honeypots, to find out what payloads are currently in the wild.

I had installed a new Windows 2003 Server, had finished downloading and installing SP2, and was in the middle of downloading and installing the 51 patches released since, when IT Security hacked into the server and shut it down (disabling TCP/IP and the boot, of course)…


posted at 9:37 pm on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 in Personal, Security | Comments (1)
  1. Ron says:

    One of my reasons I refuse to use Windows in “real life” ;-)

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