Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'computers'

Building a Chain of Chum, Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 04, 2017 @ 10:22 am PDT

Observation StewOver the past few weeks, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of news chum (that is, links and articles that I found interesting) that refuse to theme or create a longer post. So let’s just clear the chum, and for fun, let’s see if we can build a chain connecting one article to the other. To start the screw, so to speak, let’s begin with…

  • High Tech Condoms. I don’t know where I’m going on this, but I know what’s coming, excuse me, cumming. I mean, this brings the Internet of Things to its logical climax. I mean, it’s thrust — what it pounds into you — is that not everything needs to be connected. I’m talking, of course, about the i.Con — the First Internet Connected Condom. I’m sure that you, like me, is asking — but why? According to the article: The i.Con tracks speed, “average thrust velocity,” duration, skin temperature, girth, calories burned (no joke) and frequency of sessions. Most importantly for many, no doubt, will be how a wearer stacks up to the average and “best” performers — though a sexual partner will likely have an insight or two about that. Statistics are tracked via an i.Con app. The i.Con is also supposed to be able to sense sexually transmitted diseases [but what if the technology gets a virus?].  The ring will come with a one-year warranty and have a micro-USB charging port to provide up to eight hours of juice after a single hour of being plugged in. Supposedly “all data will be kept anonymous, but users will have the option to share their recent data with friends, or, indeed the world.”
  • Security of Medical Data. Of course, we all know our medical data is secure, right? Right? RIGHT? Well, not really. I found an interesting article this week on Medjack, a medical trojan. The problem is that the proliferation of literally insecurable medical systems running orphaned operating systems with thousands of know, unpatchable defects provides a soft target for identity thieves looked to pillage your health records. One trojan, Medjack, enters healthcare facilities by penetrating these badly secured diagnostic and administrative systems and then fans out across the network, cracking patient record systems. These records are used for tax fraud and identity theft, and to steal narcotics prescriptions that can be filled from online pharmacies and then resold on the black market.  Security firm Trapx says that “every time” they visit a healthcare facility, they find Medjack infections running rampant on the network, using exploits designed to take over Windows 2000 systems to seize control of the creaking, non-upgradeable systems that are inevitably found in these facilities.
  • Google Maps Data. Speaking of data, have you ever wondered how Google Maps gets its accurate traffic data. Of course, the answer is from you.  The Google Maps app on Android and iOS constantly send back real-time traffic data to Google. The data received from any particular smartphone is then compared to data received from other smartphones in the same area, and the higher the number of Google Maps users in an area, the more accurate the traffic prediction. Using the historical data it has compiled over the years and traffic data from mobile devices using the Google Maps app, the company is able to create models for traffic predictions for different periods. For example, the modelling techniques would be able to predict that certain roads would experience more traffic during rains than other times of the year. Google also takes traffic reports from transportation departments, road sensors, and private data providers to keep its information up to date. The accuracy of location data is unmatched only because of its users, since the billion Google Maps users on the road act as sensors for the app, which make the service as precise as possible.
  • Bus Disposal. One way to avoid traffic is to take the bus. But have you ever wondered what happens with buses when they die? Here’s an interesting article on what happens to Muni Buses in San Francisco when they are retired. Some, of course, are scrapped. Others are reincarnated as mobile showers for the homeless, airport shuttles and odd uses all across the Bay Area — even after accruing more than 400,000 miles on the road apiece. That’s due to the ingenuity of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 300 or so mechanics. This all occurs in Muni’s Islais Creek Yard, a bus yard in San Francisco’s south side, that serves as a staging area for buses that are set to be sold, scrapped or otherwise discarded. One of the more interesting conversions, after the bus was stripped of useful parts, was for the nonprofit Lava Mae, which converted four old Muni buses into mobile showers for San Francisco’s homeless residents.
  • A Flight of Angels. Of course, talk of buses takes us to other forms of transit such as trains. One unique train that existed in Los Angeles is coming back to life, again. It appears that Angels Flight, a tiny funicular in downtown LA, will be running again by Labor Day. A nonprofit has been in charge of the attraction for more than a decade, but a new private operator, ACS Infrastructure Development, Inc., is taking over for the next 30 years.  The funicular is over 100 years old, and has been inoperative since 2013 due to an accident.
  • Clintons on Broadway. Of course, talk of trains takes us to subways, and no where are subways more popular than in New York. However, I doubt that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton take the subway when they go to Broadway. Since losing the election, Hillary has been regularly attending Broadway shows, usually to a very receptive crowd. At least four times since November. At each theater appearance, Mrs. Clinton is greeted as a vanquished hero — standing ovations, selfies, shouted adulation. Mrs. Clinton has been attending Broadway shows for years, often when she has had a personal connection to an artist, a producer, or to a show’s subject matter. As for Obama, he was seen on Broadway taking his daughter, Malia, to “The Price”. The daddy-daughter duo headed backstage after the play — a new revival of the Arthur Miller classic — and met with the cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Danny DeVito, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht.  Contrast this with Trump and Pence. Since the election, only Pence has been to Broadway — to see Hamilton, and we all know what happened there.
  • Sushi. If you’re going to a show, naturally  you have dinner first? How about sushi? Here’s an interesting history of Sushi in the United States. Although there were a few restaurants experimenting with raw fish in 1963 in New York, Los Angeles was the first American home of authentic Japanese sushi. In 1966, a Japanese businessman named Noritoshi Kanai brought a sushi chef and his wife from Japan, and opened a nigiri sushi bar with them inside a Japanese restaurant known as Kawafuku in LA’s Little Tokyo. The restaurant was popular, but only with Japanese immigrants, not with American clientele. However, as more sushi spots opened in Little Tokyo, word got back to Japan that there was money to be made in America. Young chefs, tired of the rigorous and restrictive traditional culture of sushi making in Japan, struck out on their own in LA. The first sushi bar outside of the Little Tokyo neighborhood popped up in 1970, next to the 20th Century Fox studio. And then came Shōgun, … and you can predict the rest.
  • … and Beer. If you are having sushi, you are likely having beer, wine, or saki. These beverages come in bottles of colored glass, and have you wondered how glass gets its color? Here’s an infographic explaining how different chemicals result in different glass colors.
  • … on a Table. Additionally, you are likely sitting at a table to eat that sushi and drink your beverage. Speaking of tables, here’s a collection of interesting periodic tables.
  • Plus Size Fashions. To finish off the chain, if you eat too much at that table, you get fat. We know a lot about size acceptance for women, but what about men (and us CBGs — chubby bearded guys). Here’s an interesting article on plus-size fashion… for men.


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Bringing Things Back

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 14, 2017 @ 6:33 am PDT

Today’s news chum post looks at a number of things from the past (some of which are being brought back):

P.S.: While working on this post, I was reading my FB Pages feed, and I discovered that Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) is bringing back my buddy Thomas and his friends in April (April 1-2, 8-9). This was a surprise to me; upon investigation, I discovered that OERM is now your only place to see Thomas in SoCal, and that he’ll be back as usual in November as well. We can’t make it to volunteer in April as our schedule is too booked up (you’ll see why in my theatre post tomorrow), but you should if you’re into the Really Useful Engine. We’ll be there as usual in November.

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The Impact of Technology

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 31, 2016 @ 10:36 am PDT

In another tab I’m working on my final news chum stew of the year (look for it shortly), when I realized I had a sufficient set of articles for a themed post — specifically one looking at some unexpected impacts of technology:

  • Self-Driving Cars and Organ Donation. Slashdot had an interesting piece on the impact of self-driving cars: It will significantly impact the availability of organs for donation. The basic thesis is as follows: A primary source of organs in good shape for donations is auto accidents, where the victims have indicated they are organ donors. Self-driving cars will reduce the number of auto accidents, and hence the number of healthy donors. We’ll be left with those that die in hospitals, where donors tend to be less healthy.
  • The Amazon Echo and Privacy . I recently was gifted with an Amazon Echo Dot. I’ve installed it, even though I’m not quite sure what it is good for, especially as I don’t do streaming music. But there are interesting privacy implications (independent of the insecurity of the Internet of Things): there is now a murder case out there where the question has been raised of requesting the audio captured by the Amazon Dot as evidence. So, for those that have the device, don’t talk about committing crimes where it can overhear you.
  • Streaming Media and Extras. There are those that believe the move to streaming media is good — you’ve got your music and video everywhere. That’s good, right? Right? I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, given my iPod Classic is nearing 40,000 songs, but I have streaming quality as they are all MP3s or AACs. An article from Vox looks at the problem with respect to video, and concludes TV on DVD is increasingly important. They provide significantly higher video quality than Internet transmission can support, and provide video extras (commentary, outtakes, alternate audio tracks, superior audio quality) that streaming can’t support. Plus, you own the content, as opposed to leasing it (which is why I still like my iPod Classic). That reminds me: I still need to order Lou Grant, now that it is available. Yes, there are series that are still just being re-released.
  • The Internet Kills Typography. Slashdot has another interesting discussion: this time, on how the Internet has killed the curly quote (e.g., “ and ”, in favor of the straight quotation marks). Deeper in the discussion, the larger point is made that the Internet is killing typography in general: people don’t think about the differences between inter-letter spacing (do you know the difference between “ ” (en-space), “ ” (em-space), “ ” (thin space), “‌” (zero-width non-joiner), ” ” (no-break space), “” (soft-hyphen), and ” ” (normal space)? Did you ever write “␣” for space?); often the distinction between the various hyphens are lost, and even the difference between the -, –, and — is being lost (that’s hyphen, en-dash, and em-dash). I remember the days when one got curly quotes by using “ and ”, and depended on programs like troff to fix things up. Is it better these days? I don’t know.


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How To Be Smarter Than a Democrat?

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 19, 2016 @ 6:14 pm PDT

Well, sorry to say (from my point of view), but it looks like Donald Trump has won the electoral college vote. We won’t know for sure until the votes are counted by the House in January, but I’m sure that election won’t be hacked.

Yup, sure.

Unlike, say, how the election that got us Trump was hacked. We may never know whether what the Russians did was sufficient to change votes, but we know how they did it, and some of the ways the influence occured. So, let’s see if you can be smarter than a Democrat. Note that I’m not saying “Democrats” in general, but some specific Democrats in Hillary’s organization.

How did they basically do it? Social engineering. Read the New York Times account of the hack. Podesta was phished, and the starting place was a purported message from Google indicating an account had been hacked, and a password needed to be changed.  That, combined with a warning message that mistyped “illegitimate” as “legitimate”, and the damage was done.

See, what people forget is that the weakest link in the security chain is the human link. It is incredibly easy to do a social engineering attack. Our nature is such that we want to be helpful, and we fall for it. Here’s an example: During our recent security conference, one of the banquet staff found a USB drive that someone left behind, and he asked us to return it to its owner. We promptly tossed it. What would you do? Many people would put it in their computer to find the owner — and potentially be hacked. Or they would just announce it and hand it to the owner, letting them be hacked. One never knows what changes were made to that drive when it was out of your sight (this, by the way, is a good reason to use encrypted USB drives).

What about other attacks? Those ads you see on webpages? They can insert malware into your router without you knowing it. They could bring in ransomware? My malware dectector has frequently intercepted malicious ads on non-malicious sites. Sites you go to every day. These sites often don’t have control of their ad networks.

By the way, you do have regular backups, right? Not always connected to your computer? Not in the cloud? Could you survive the sudden loss of your data?

As they say, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and…. well, we’ve just seen the fool get elected. Let’s not be fooled again.

P.S.: And what should you do about the fool? The answer is not to use your computer to sign a petition or send an email. The answer is to take time and write your congresscritters and senators, and as many other congressional people as you can, a hand-written letter. Legibly. This shows that the issue is important for you to take the time. Send it to their local office, or call. Insist that Congress hold Trump to the exact same standards of ethics, no conflicts of interest, and highest quality of minimally-partisan appointments to which they held Obama. Different Presidents should not have different standards. And, just like with Obama and Bill Clinton, they should investigate the littlest impropriety or questionable action by the President or any member of his administration. All Presidents and his staff should be held to the same standards.

PS: And if you don’t hold with that position, then please explain why Trump should not be held to the same standard. Party shouldn’t make a difference in how we expect the President to behave, so you must have some other reason. Our President should be the role model for the country, someone that our children can look up to see how a leader behaves.

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Pre-Labor Day Sale on News Chum! Get It Here! New Low Price!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 28, 2016 @ 8:22 am PDT

Observation StewLabor Day weekend is less than a week away. Here’s some tasty news chum to get you through the week:

  • Relaxen und vatch das blinkenlights! Back in the 1960s, you knew it was a computer if it had loads and loads of blinking lights. In fact, a popular meme (mimeographed educational memo exaggerated) going around read: “ACHTUNG! Alles touristen und non-technischen looken peepers! Das machine control is nicht fur gerfinger-poken und mittengrabben. Oderwise is easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowen fuse, und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Der machine is diggen by experten only. Is nicht fur geverken by das dummkopfen. Das rubbernecken sightseenen keepen das cotten picken hands in das pockets, so relaxen und watchen das blinkenlights.” I mention this because the Lost in Space computer prop has recently been reconstructed. What caught my eye for this article was (a) that the Lost in Space computer was later used as the Batcomputer, and (b) that the TV shows of the 1960s used surplus, 1950s-era Burroughs B205s whenever they needed something cool and blinkenlighty.
  • The Nodpod. Ever attempt to fall asleep on an airplane or vanpool? Your head droops forward and back as your neck gets sore. There’s a proposed solution. The nodpod. The NodPod, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, claims to provide a more comfortable, upright snooze by holding your head at a 90 degree angle. The cushioned sling attaches to your headrest (without blocking the screen of the person sitting behind you) and can be adjusted to keep your noggin snug in place.
  • Lint in our Oceans. We’ve all seen lint in the lint trap, and worried about how dryers are destroying our clothes through friction. Washers have the same problem, especially for clothes made of plastic — and polyester is plastic. Microfibers wash off, go into the oceans, and harm sealife. The linked article purports to solve the problem through a magic ball that captures polyester microfibers. Potentially interesting.
  • Scary Math. Does math scare you? How about mathemagic involving the (horrors) number of the beast (not his better half, 333, or the neighbor of the beast, 667). I’m talking about Belphegor’s Prime, a supposedly sinister numeric palindrome that has a NUMBER of odd qualities. Or at least that’s what one mathematic trickster would have you believe. The number known as Belphegor’s Prime is exactly, 1,000,000,000,000,066,600,000,000,000,001. For those without the fortitude to stare directly at the infernal number, that’s a one, followed by 13 zeroes, followed by the traditional Number of the Beast, 666, followed by yet another 13 zeroes, and a trailing one. Learn all about it here.
  • Kosher Frozen Custard. If you’ve ever been to St. Louis, you likely know about Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard — a classic on Route 66. Did you know it was Kosher? Here’s the story of how that came to be.
  • Daugs in Northridge. IHOP has been on the move in recent years: it vacated its long-time location on Reseda Blvd for the former Rosies at Tampa and Nordhoff. So what is happening with the former IHOP? It is becoming Daug House, a restaurant for craft hot dogs. Dog Haus emphasizes community engagement and support through the outreach programs which connects with organizations around the area, such as schools, churches, nonprofit organizations, and little leagues. The menu includes all beef skinless Haus dogs, hand-crafted Haus sausages, a proprietary grind of chuck and brisket Haus burgers, sliders, sides and desserts. While we’re on the valley, here is Eater LA’s list of great Valley restaurants, almost all of which are clustered around Ventura Blvd, because we all know that for the foodie crowd, there is no life in the valley north of US 101.

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A Programming Challenge: Fringe Scheduling

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 14, 2016 @ 11:41 am PDT

userpic=fringeuserpic=toshibaIf you haven’t figured it out yet by reading my blog, we’re in the midst of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), meaning almost 300 shows and events spread over Hollywood and West Hollywood during the month of June. It is impossible to figure out the best way to schedule the shows you want to see in the time you have.

Or is it.

Now I’m not an actor, director, producer, or anything connected with the theatre industry, other than an audience member. I am, however, a computer scientist. I’m a software engineer, and I know how to draw up specifications for problems to be solved. Scheduling the Fringe is a solvable problem: after all, I had kids at the California State Science Fair doing something similar with school assignments.

So here’s my challenge to you: I’m going to lay out the problem as I see it. Can you develop an app or a web page that can solve the problem in a usable fashion? No pay involved other than the glory of the challenge, but I will pass any good results on to the folks at the Fringe to consider next year.

Here’s the problem:

  • You have a database of shows and events. Each show has webpage link, a title, a venue, a ticket price, a running time, and some set of performance times.
  • You have a database of venues, each with a street address (which you can likely use a Google interface to get GPS coordinates and walk time).
  • You have a list of shows and events that someone is interested in, together with what we’ll call an interest level: 0 – no interest to 3 – must see.  This could be an added parameter on the current Favorites list (go to the website, create a user, and then you can save favorites), or it might be entered in some other way.
  • You have a list of times for which the person is available, including some times marked a “meal breaks”. For example, I might be available weekends between 11am and 11pm, with a 1 hour dinner break after 5pm. You get to determine the most user friendly way to specify this.  Perhaps this could interface with Google Calendar?
  • You have a desired dollar amount they want to spend on tickets.

Given these inputs, produce a best fit schedule, that includes as many of the highest priority shows as possible, then as many of the next priority tier down, and so on for priorities 1-3. You need to take into account walking time between venues, or if the distance between venues exceeds the walking time by 15 minutes, driving and parking time (parking can take up to 15 minutes if you aren’t lucky). You need to take into account meal breaks. Allocate 10 minutes before a show to allow time to check in and get seated. Make sure the total cost does not exceed what the user has indicated.

Ideally, this tool might even connect to the ticketing system (including purchasing Fringe buttons) such that once a schedule is set, it can be ticketed. There might be the need to adjust if a show is sold out of tickets. Ideally, whatever it ticketed could then be saved to Google Calendar or whatever the Mac folks use.

For now, build the databases as you see fit. If you need, I can talk to the Fringe folks and get you information on the JSON/XML API to interface with their site.  Ideally, this should be something usable by folks used to normal websites (i.e., not a complicated interface).

I think this is a solvable problem, and might actually be a good assignment for a class as an example of a real world problem. Feel free to post questions here, and either I’ll answer them based on my experience, or I’ll pass them to the Fringe for resolution.

OK, Go….

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Technology Tricking You

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 17, 2016 @ 7:08 am PDT

userpic=toshibaTechnology is sometimes straight-forward. Sometimes, however, it befuddles you and doesn’t do what you want. Here’s are some articles about some useful things to know, in advance:

  • The 7-10 Split. You’re on Windows 7. You’re not sure if you want to move to Windows 10. First, you should know  that some updates from Microsoft can bork your Windows 7 installation, especially if you have an ASUS motherboard. Assuming you survive that, next comes the update question: Move to Windows 10 or not. Here’s one way to lock in that free upgrade, and still stay on Windows 7. Of course, it involves moving to Windows 10 and then backing it out. Of course, you might not have a choice. It appears that Microsoft is forcing people to move to Windows 10 by scheduling the updates without telling them. Forewarded is forearmed. Watch closely to see how to avoid it. Further, the article confirms why Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 so hard, and why it is free. The answer: It is that old adage: if you get it for free, you are not the customer, you are the product. From the article: “When Microsoft created Windows 10, it tied in numerous monitoring and data collection tools. The operating system is capable of gathering your search history, web usage, Windows Store usage, details of what applications you use, voice recordings, emails, geographic information and just about anything else that is on your PC. This information is gathered in part for improving Windows-based services, but it is also used for market research and advertising purposes. Because each user on Windows 10 increases the amount of advertising information available to Microsoft, which in turn enables Microsoft to earn more revenue from selling this data, it is not surprising that Microsoft wants everyone to use its new OS.” In a related note, Microsoft is adding more ads to the Windows 10 Start screen that you can’t remove.
  • Booting from USB. If you get hit by malware, you might need to boot from a USB drive. The problem is: it’s not always that easy. Here’s how to boot from a USB drive. It is not as easy as it was in the old days, when you could boot from a floppy (or in some cases, a CD). Today’s PCs come with a lot of protection—which is good—but it can get in the way. Somewhere in your BIOS setup screen, you’ll almost certainly find a Secure Boot option. If you can’t boot from a flash drive, turn it off. UEFI can also be a problem. Finally, most of today’s PCs boot immediately from the internal hard drive or SSD, without looking for bootable external media first. You have to do something special to make them look, and what you have to do depends on your PC.
  • When “Buy Now” Isn’t. When you go to Amazon or iTunes and click “Buy Now”, I bet you think you’re actually buying something. That’s what most people think. The problem is: “Buy Now” sometimes doesn’t buy anything at all. As a recent study shows, when it came to physical goods, the shoppers pretty much knew exactly what they thought they were getting. But when it came to digital goods, there was a violent mismatch between what the customers thought they were buying (something they could resell, lend, or give away) and what the small print said they were getting (an extremely limited copyright license that required them to use their media in conjunction with special restrictive players that prohibited all these activities).  In short: people are buying things because they have mistaken beliefs about what they’re getting, and if they knew better, they wouldn’t buy those things on those terms.


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CyberChum: Selected Technological Links of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 07, 2016 @ 12:54 pm PDT

userpic=cyborgOver lunch, let’s continue the clearing of the accumulated links. This collection of links all relates to technology in some way:

  • Safe Exchanges. Have you ever purchased something over Craigslist, but then been worried about meeting the other person in a safe place to exchange the items. If so, did you know that many cities have established safe exchange zones, where the exchanges can take place under a security camera in a public place.  You can find the safe exchange location near you by clicking here.
  • Google Keyboard Updates. Google is updating its Android keyboard again. For example, one of the most useful changes is a fine cursor control: just tap and hold on the space bar and you can slide the cursor to where you want it to go. Suggestions are also smarter, as you can touch and drag away one that you don’t like to the trash. This can cut down on those typos that got saved into Google’s memory. There’s a one handed mode, and a 9-key layout for entering numbers.
  • Extending Gmail. Another Google related article: 5 Chrome extensions that enhance Gmail.
  • Cables: Keep or Toss. Here’s a good explanation of all those cables you find around the house. I disagree a bit with his recommendations on what to keep or toss. For example, I’ll keep 30-pin Apple connection cables, but that’s simply because we have 3 iPod Classics in this house. I also would tend to keep VGA, but that’s simply because the ACSAC projectors use VGA. We also still tend to use RCA/Composite cables, but that’s because we haven’t gone to digital TVs.
  • Hacking Airplanes. The aviation industry is waking up to the need for cybersecurity. About damn time.
  • Ransomware. Ransomware is now the biggest cybersecurity threat. It certainly is a large worry for me, especially when I see a lot of disk activity or a file goes missing. Here are some good tips to stop ransomware in its tracks. I particularly like the advice to backup to an external drive that does not remain connected to your system. That’s what I’ve been doing of late.


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