or at least, we think so

Words to leak by …

The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media.  (Like this one?)

This wasn’t “smart.”  Obviously some “pork” barrel project dreamed up by the DHS “authorities” “team” (“Hail” to them!) who are now “sick”ly sorry they looked into “cloud” computing “response.”  They are going to learn more than they ever wanted to know about “exercise” fanatics going through the “drill.”

Hopefully this message won’t “spillover” and “crash” their “collapse”d parsing app, possibly “strain”ing a data “leak.”  You can probably “plot” the failures at the NSA as the terms “flood” in.  They should have asked us for “help,” or at least “aid.”

Excuse, me, according to the time on my “watch,” I have to leave off working on this message, “wave” bye-bye, and get some “gas” in the car, and then get a “Subway” for the “nuclear” family’s dinner.  Afterwards, we’re playing “Twister”!

(“Dedicated denial of service”?  Really?)

Phecal photo phorensics

I suppose I really can’t let this one … pass …

Last weekend a young woman fell to her death while on a tandem hang glider ride with an experienced pilot.  The pilot, owner of a company that takes people on hang gliding rides for kicks, promises video of the event: the hang glider is equipped with some kind of boom-mounted camera pointed at the riders.

Somehow the police investigating the incident suspected that the pilot had swallowed the memory card from the video camera.  (Presumably the video was running, and presumably the pilot knew it would show something unfortunate.)  This was later confirmed by x-rays.

So, this week we have all been on “memory card movement” watch.

And it has cr… I mean, come out all right.

Flash! TSA bans bread!

Following the explosions in two BC sawmills, which experts are speculating may have been caused by fine sawdust caused by excessively dry wood, the TSA has banned any particulate materials, such as sawdust, flour, and icing sugar, to be banned from all flights.

Also included in the ban are any objects made from particulate materials, such as particleboard, bread, and icing sugar dusted donuts.  (The union representing TSA workers had argued, unsuccessfully, against this last item.)  The TSA’s Director Of Really Dangerous Stuff also noted that materials with larger particle sizes, such as table salt and sand, were also being included in the ban.

At press time, we were still awaiting word on whether computer equipment was to be included in the ban, since silicon chips are commonly said to be made of sand.

(Yeah, yeah, I know, don’t give the TSA ideas …)

Paper safe

I first saw this, appropriately enough, on Improbable Research.  It’s appropriate, because, when you see it, first it makes you laugh.  Then it makes you think.

This guy has created a paper safe.  Yeah, you got that right.  A safe, made out of paper.  No, not special paper: plain, ordinary paper, the kind you have in your recycling bin.  He’s even posted a video on YouTube showing how it works.

Right, so everyone’s going to have a good laugh, yes?  Paper isn’t going to provide any protection, right?  It’s a useless oddity, of interest only to those with an interest in origami, and more free time on their hands than any security professional is likely to get.

Except, then you start thinking about it (if you are any kind of security pro.)  First off, it’s a nice illustration of at least one form of combination lock.  And then you realize that the lock is going to be useless unless it’s obscured.  So that brings up the topic of maybe security-by-obscurity does have a function sometimes.

Then you start thinking that maybe it isn’t great as a preventive control, but it sure works as a detective control.  Yeah, it’s easy to smash and get out whatever was in there.  But it’ll sure be obvious if you do.

So that brings up different types of controls, and the reasons you might want different controls in different situations, and whether some perfectly adequate controls may be a) overkill, or b) useless under certain conditions.

It’s not just a cute toy.  It’s pretty educational, too.  No, I’m not going to keep my money in it.  But it makes you think …

Happy Merry.

It seems to be getting harder to give … greetings at this time of the year.  There’s a bit of risk involved.  Lots of people think we are exclusive to be simply wishing everyone to enjoy our holiday.  (Of course, if you think that, you have no right to use the word “holiday,” now, do you?  :-)

I had thought I’d made a decent attempt with “Merry Mid-Winter Party Period.”  Until some in the southern hemisphere took exception to the seasonal-centredness of that phrase.

Recently one of our local columnists came up with “non-denominational-culturally-palatable-holiday-seasonal-politically-correct-racially-inoffensive-ritual-drained-of-all-religious-meaning-so-as-to-be-acceptable-to-every-creed-festival.”

So, never mind.  Merry Christmas.  Whether you like it or not.  (If not, you can have a Happy New Year anyway  :-)

In keeping with Christmas itself, I wanted to give you a Christmas present.  Maybe before some of you disappear into family time and last minute tasks for the Exmas Rush.  You don’t have to wait until December 25th if you don’t want to.

Very cute, but possibly not completely original.  A great many people have apparently done a “Silent Monks” version.  Still, this seems the most involved and active.  The earliest versions I could find were from 2008Slight variation.

Slightly more seriously.  And, in response to the commercialization of it all.

For those who want lighter fare.  Or, slightly geekier.  Or, for those trying to keep warm.  Or, for those deeply into their devices.

REVIEW: “Good Night Old Man”, George Campbell

BKGNOM.RVW   20111128

“Good Night Old Man”, George Campbell, 2011, 978-9878319-0-3, C$19.95
%A   George Campbell
%C   PO Box 57083 RPO Eastgate, Sherwood Park, AB Canada T8A 5L7
%D   2011
%G   978-9878319-0-3
%I   Dream Write Publishing
%O   C$19.95  780-445-0991
%O   Audience i+ Tech 2 Writing 3 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   342 p.
%T   “Good Night Old Man”

On page 114 the author asserts that even learning to use Morse code “bestowed on us instant acceptance into a society whose members regularly performed tasks too difficult for most others to even attempt.”  This statement will be instantly recognizable by anyone in any technical field.  This is because in the beginning was the telegraph.  And the telegraph begat teletype (and baudot code) and the telephone.  And telephone company research labs (in large measure) begat computers.  And teletype begat the Internet.  And wireless telegraphy begat radio.  And radio and the telephone and the Internet and computers begat 4G.  (Or, at least, it will begat it once they get it right.)  But it all started with the telegraph.

As the author states, any communications textbook will mention the telegraph.  Most will tell you Morse code began on May 24th, 1844.  Some might mention that it isn’t in use anymore.  A few crypto books might let you know that commercial nomenklators were used not just for confidentiality, but to reduce word counts (and thus costs) when sending telegrams.  (The odd data representation text might relay the trivium that Morse code is not a binary code of dots and dashes, but a trinary code of dots, dashes, and silence.)

But they won’t tell you anything about what it was like to be a telegrapher, to actually communicate, and help other people communicate with Morse code.  How you got started, what the work was, and what your career might be like.  This book does.

I am not going to pretend to be objective with this review.  George Campbell is my wife’s (favourite) uncle.  He’s always liked telling stories, has a fund of stories to tell, and tells them well.  For example, he was the first person in North America to know about the German surrender in Europe, since he was the (Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve) telegrapher who received the message from Europe and passed it on.  Of course, the message was in code.  But everyone knew it was coming, and he knew who the message was from, and who it was going to.  You can learn a lot with simple traffic analysis.

There are lots of good stories in the book.  There are lots of funny stories in the book.  If you know technology, it is intriguing to see the beginnings of all kinds of things we use today.  Standard protocols, flow control, error correction, and data compression.  Oh, and script kiddies, too.  (Well, I don’t know what else you would call people who don’t understand what they are working with, but do know that if you follow *this* script, then *that* will happen.)  It is fascinating to see all of this being developed in an informal fashion by people who are just trying to get on with their jobs.

The title, “Good Night Old Man,” comes from a code the telegraphers themselves used.  “GN” (and a “call sign”) was sent when the telegrapher signed off his station for the night.  Morse code is no longer used commercially.  Within a few years, the last of the “native” speakers will have died off.  Morse will become a dead language, possibly studied by some hobbyists and academics, who can tease legibility out of a sample, or laboriously create a message in that form, but without anything like the facility achieved by those who had to use it day in and day out.

This is a last chance to learn a part of history.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2011     BKGNOM.RVW   20111128

Aurasma: Graffiti meets YouTube

A company called Autonomy, which has been selling image search technology, has launched an apparently freely available (open?) project called Aurasma.  At the moment only available on iPhone 4, this allows you to “augment” the reality (that the mobile device sees) by adding video to overlay it.

In this article, a BBC reporter/commentator opines that this is a cute trick, but only that.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this assessment is short-sighted (albeit only if the technology expands to other platforms).  Given that YouTube users are uploading 48 hours of video to the site every minute of the day, I suspect that the ability to create video graffiti, and “tag” it to any vista, location, or object, will be irresistable.

Apparently the company thinks this will be a platform that companies will use to create ads, to promote their products or shops at related locations.  They probably will.  However, myriad users will be creating other content, for the same images, and we will have SEO (Search Engine Optimization) battles that will make the malware and phishing sites we see now pale in comparison.  The Tokyo Chamber of Commerce or tourism board may wish to overlay video over certain landscapes or landmarks, but how will they stand up against thousands of geeks who’ve all seen Godzilla?

WARNING: Word Processor Keeps Keyboard Data

This is totally serious.  You should be aware that, for years now, just about every commercial word processing program on the market [1], and a number of the open source ones as well, have been intercepting your keystrokes, storing them, and even displaying them *on the screen*!

Email programs are even worse, since a number of them will actually send your keystrokes to someone else, *over the Internet*! [2]


[1] Except for Word, which simply collates random data.
[2] Except for Outlook, which regularly deletes all stored data.
[3] Yes, I am, of course, poking fun at the furor over the iPhone location data file.