No longer excited about OLPC
2008-Feb-15 00:24:10 +0000 @058

I eagerly ordered one of the One Laptop Per Child laptops in late November. While the unit looks really novel and many features (daylight readable screen, long battery life, swivel to e-book reader screen) make me drool, I’m a lot less enchanted this week.

For starters, my November order still hasn’t arrived. After spending 55 minutes on hold last week, I was told that the reason for the delay was that I listed a post office box for an address (it had to match my credit card) and that they weren’t equipped for that until just a few weeks ago. But after reviewing my bank statements, it appears they refunded the donation back in December. Why are they still shipping it if it isn’t paid for?

I have had the opportunity to see a few units from friends, and while they are all very impressed with the unit, I’ve been underwhelmed by the speed. It seems like you spend a lot of time waiting. It frequently runs so slow that they just reboot it. Granted, my friends mostly try to stretch the limit on hardware, but I have yet to see it load anything quickly, even the bundled applications.

The feature that really made the deal worth it was the free year of T-mobile HotSpot service. I already buy that service, so the laptop was just a few bucks more. But this week, Starbucks announced that they will switch to AT&T (which I think will provide crappier service), so the T-mobile service looks less appealing.

For a company backed by so many tech people, their web site can’t tell you if your order shipped or not. Right now, after entering my tracking number, it says “Your donation is ready to be shipped and is in our shipping queue. Please check back with us every few days for updates If you have received this same response after several days (2 weeks or more) please contact Donor Services to verify your shipping information.” Why it would still say it is shipping to me when they refunded my money is beyond me.

So, I really don’t know if I’m getting one or not… but I this point, I kind of don’t care anymore. If it arrives, I’m sure it will be useful at Burning Man. If not, it’s $400 towards my next iBook.

Anyway, this is why I was excited about it several months ago, but am not talking about it anymore these days.

Learning Sign Language
2007-Oct-07 22:59:17 +0000 @999

Over the summer I took a class in American Sign Language. I was very impressed and enjoyed it a lot. It’s always been one of those skills I wanted to pick up (along with other languages, flying, etc.) so I finally did it.

I have taken foreign language classes before, but always found them to be very difficult. In particular, I never did well with the so called “immersion” classes where they don’t speak any English, just whatever language you are learning. Supposedly this is good “because that’s how you learned your first language; however if we had to learn everything from scratch I don’t think we would know as much. After taking this immersion class, I think the success or failure of the students largely rests on the skill of the instructor. In our case, the instructor was excellent and walking us through our mistakes until we understood them. My brain hurt after each class, but I can use more ASL after one semester than I could use Spanish after five semesters. The language itself is rather neat, but it is pretty hard to learn on your own. There aren’t any dictionaries that you can use to look up an unfamiliar sign that you see, and the ones for you to look up the sign for a word you know are often not very clear (video based ones on-line are much better.) Similarly, there’s no easy way to “take notes” in class.

ASL is “American Sign Language.” Sign language varies from one country to the next. ASL is based more on French Sign Language than on others. It is not very international, which was disappointing. No one knows for sure, but the best studies I have seen are that there are maybe 500,000 signers in the U.S. I’m betting that number will increase with the aging population and the Walkman and iPod generations loud music habits catching up with them. Despite Rush Limbaugh praising his cochlear implant, fixing deafness is not a quick, overnight, LASIK-like procedure.

Even though I use my fingers to type all the time, it was surprising how sore your hands could get after a few hours. Also, your eyes get sore from constant tracking. I’m sure it was good exercise.

With practice, it seemed pretty easy to pick up and after a few weeks I started having moments where I thought “hey, I can sign what I just said.”

Sadly, I’m not continuing with the classes because they were excessively inconvenient. They started in the middle of rush hour and were only in Clarkston. I can’t find any classes that go beyond one semester other than Georgia Perimeter College, and they only offer classes at the Clarkston campus.

I also really need some friends to do it too. Flipping through my notes, I realize that in just a few short months I have forgotten a lot of it. You really need to be able to use it to maintain it as a skill – it’s not like riding a bicycle.

If you want to learn sign language, start with fingerspelling. It is the first thing you will learn, and you will use it everyday. Proficient signers fingerspell so fast it is almost a blur. Find someone to practice with as reading it is much harder than signing it. With time, you will develop a Scrabble like mentality where you can miss some letters and will still figure out what it is. And, if you talk to someone who is deaf and don’t understand a sign, just repeat the sign back with a quizzical look and they’ll spell it out for you. :)

Perhaps if enough people are interested, we can hire an interpreter and get a class started in Dunwoody, Roswell, or Marietta? It wouldn’t be “accredited,” but it beats the pants off traffic. Let me know!

DefCon 15 Review
2007-Aug-06 19:01:35 +0000 @834

I’m at McCarren airport now, ready to fly out from DefCon 15 where a good time was had by all. I learned a few things, met a lot of interesting people, and had a great time geeking out with everyone and look forward to going again next year. The organizers have a lot of experience and the con went very smoothly as a result.

I haven’t been to DefCon in five years and a lot of things changed.

First, of course, is the change of venue to the Riviera. The Riv has a lot more space that allowed the convention to run five tracks, plus have breakout spaces for Q&A to continue after each panel – a very nice touch. It is spread out more, which made it seem like a smaller crowd at times, but the crowd at the closing ceremony was huge and I think Dark Tangent’s estimate of 7,500 people is probably about right.

While larger, the crowd has really changed. DefCon, overall, was much more subdued than in years past. To some degree, this was a necessity for DefCon to continue as some aspects were a out of control. I remember talking to Priest and DT before DC10 and the general opinion was that if were anything like DC9 that it would be the conference’s last year. There are some other reasons as well. For sure, money came and went from the scene, but it was still striking how the cDc’s presentation went from being nearly a rock concert to “hi, I’m with Cult of the Dead Cow. Here’s our presentation.”

The average age of a DefCon attendee has gone up. I don’t know if they are all the same people, but I think the average age is now around 33-35 and a good number of people have 2.5 kids, etc. so people are a little more responsible, I think. Someone said that Jinx sold out of all the kid/baby sized shirts in just a few hours.

There were also more women. Some of this is attributed us guys getting older and bringing significant others, but there were also quite a few women attending the show on their own. More power to you all. Bring your friends.

The Black and White Ball really shrunk, although it was still worthwhile and I had a great time. I enjoyed seeing Karen again and I hope some of the other DJs post mp3s.

No fire marshal problems this year. The goons were mostly well behaved. Even Priest has calmed down a little – complete with a running joke about being to “sensitivity training.”

Number of contests has really increased. The awards took almost 2 hours. The badges were cool (although a little large) and had a small LED sign that was programmable/hackable. Sadly, they ran out of the mod kits for them which included wireless and a 3 axis accelerometer!

Lock picking, while ever present at DefCon, was really big this year. DefCon provided permanent space for several “villages” including one for hacker spaces, wireless, and lock-picking.

My biggest complaint is that many of the panels ran out of time – largely because panelists didn’t appear to have tested or practiced their presentation. Sometimes this was due to loading or seating issues, and that isn’t the panelist’s fault. But, hey, I understand that it’s a little nerve-racking to stand up in front of a few thousand people – so if they get a little off track, that’s life. I just think that a few more of the presentations should have been two hour blocks – especially for a certain Shmoo who has great rants but always runs into overtime. Same goes for the Meet the Fed panel, which only had about 20 minutes of actual Q&A (is that a conspiracy?)


  • Toxic BBQ looked really cool (or hot, depending on your point of view) and I wished I could have made it.

  • Beer cooling contest (the winner only cooled at 2 degrees/second… surely I can do better? Nice excuse for a liquid nitrogen pump!)
  • High security lock review – The Mul-T-Lock picking tool was just fantastic. I enjoyed showing my key ring to several people seated near me as many people have never even seen the keys for the locks talked about in the presentation.
  • Update on radio scanning technologies.
  • Several presentations on Tor issues., confirming all of my suspicions of various propellerhead vulnerabilities – and some cool ones I had not thought of.
  • Review of quasi-multi-factor authentication for banks. Since I’m a security-application web developer, I didn’t learn anything new that I can apply to my own practice (i.e., I didn’t leave screaming “oh, shit, I need to login to my servers and fix this!), but I had no idea just how crappy some of these new systems were. I screamed at my bank a little and told them how stupid I thought it was, but quickly realized that this was the direction the industry was going and getting them to change would be like abolishing ATM fees. I really need to just start my own bank.
  • I learned a lot in the Reanimating Hard Drives panel.
  • The legal panels confirmed that I have a pretty good grasp on the areas that affect me.
  • Black and White Balls were lots of fun. It was a small crowd, but the DJs were pretty good and there was a lot of cool people to dance with. Mad props to the two people who were contact juggling while dancing. Just, WOW! I would think you pretty much have to be able to do it with your eyes closed in order to not be distracted by strobes, etc. Very impressive.

How much ink is in an inkjet cartridge?
2007-Jul-27 14:35:16 +0000 @649

I have an Epson R300 Inkjet I use for printing CD labels and just replaced one of the color cartridges. You can feel a difference in the mass of a used one and new one. I weighed them just for fun and found that you use 11 grams of ink – 39 grams new, 28 grams used. (This was an Epson T048220 Cyan cartridge. )

So, that’s your factoid of the day.

Volunteer Filters
2007-Mar-18 12:46:29 +0000 @573

Recently I’ve started to not volunteer for things directly. Instead, when I tell someone that I have whatever special skill they are looking for that they should email me or call me the next day and “remind me,” otherwise I’ll forget or think they have it covered.

Normally I’m a pretty self-starting guy. If I say I will do things, they will get done. People are always amazed when I come through and are generally delighted. Being the kind of person who like praise, I continued to do things.

What I have noticed since I started not automatically doing things is that most people don’t follow up. While people are very appreciative after the fact, they don’t seem to really need or want volunteer assistance enough to spend 30 seconds getting it.

Our recent annual homeowners’ meeting was a great example. Lots of different problems were discussed and I had complete or partial solutions to several of them. For example, the Board complained that they did not know who owned some homes. As it turns out, I obtained a copy of all the title records from the County so I could send Christmas cards to neighbors. I wrote a program to do it and would be happy to run it again. There were questions about security (cameras, guards, locks, etc.) that I had experience with. One person wanted their old mailbox back. The HOA replaced them all last month and I snagged the old ones for an art project. I gave my email address and phone number to at least five people, and not one of them followed up. I’m certainly glad that I didn’t spend time actually getting information for people or doing it for them.

There have been a dozen other times I have observed the same effect. People actually follow-up less than 5% of the time. I’m not sure why this is the case. I’m hoping that it’s just because people get distracted by other things. In the worst case people have just been telling me they like my idea and would appreciate it because they wanted to be polite. I’m not sure that is the case, or at least all the time.

The experiment has certainly been worthwhile, however, as it has saved me a lot of time.

Where’s My Wireless Laptop (and My Flying Car)?
2007-Jan-14 23:54:10 +0000 @037

iBook Wires So much for “wireless.” This is the cluster of cables stuck to the side of my iBook. Note that one of them has another splitter on it and that the power cable is on the other side. Since I’m out of USB ports, I’m hot swapping between devices. I’m too cheap to buy a hub. Anyway, when is this stuff going wireless? Since Bluetooth isn’t secure, I don’t think that will replace all of this stuff anytime soon.

Overbooking Airlines Caught with Pants Down
2006-Dec-23 07:38:37 +0000 @360

Screen shot of airline ticketing site
Denver is currently experiencing a severe snowstorm. 2,000 flights have been cancelled in the last four days. With that many postponements and passengers sleeping on the airport floor that all flights would be full. To see who overbooks and who doesn’t, I tried to buy a ticket flying from Denver today. Well, if you are American Airlines, Midwest, or Northwest you must have plenty of seats left to still be selling them. America West and United are also implicated.

I think it is very clear that these three airlines are overselling their planes on purpose – during the holidays no less. I can’t think of any other way to describe this than rat bastards.

On the up side, I’m really glad to not see my favorite airlines like Southwest and AirTran participating in this practice. I’m also very surprised to not see Delta on the list. While it doesn’t surprise me that some airlines just got caught overbooking, I’m really glad to see that most airlines, too numerous to mention individually, are all playing it straight.

While this sample just shows flights to Atlanta, I tried other major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Washington D.C. The same airlines are implicated. I also checked their individual web sites and each offered a ticket, so they can’t blame the SABRE network.

Overbooking airlines claim that all airlines overbook. Obviously, that is not the case. Look, stuff happens. Every airline in Denver today is overbooked due to the weather. Mechanical delays and other issues can cause it to happen to the best of airlines. But now, armed with this information, you know whether or not it is a routine practice. So, if you are in Denver today (or anywhere else) and not flying on one of these airlines, cut the gate agents a little slack. Whatever delayed or overbooked your flight is an act of God. Take it up with him. And if you are on one of the above airlines, $800 and your seat belongs to me.

XM Radio Hack is an Urban Myth
2006-Dec-17 13:35:32 +0000 @608

It has been reported that XM Radios have an internal bit for being subscribed or not, that when you unsubscribe they transmit a signal to your radio for a period of time, and that if your radio is off for the weeks that they transmit your code that your radio will continue to work.

I have tested this an found it to not be the case on my Delphi Roady. More than a year ago, I disconnected my radio and put it in a box. I then called and canceled. When I powered it back on today, it was immediately in “demo” mode as if it were not subscribed.

I do suspect that the service is not difficult to steal. At the same time, just listening to the demo reminded me of how much I didn’t care for the sound quality. Someone else might try to break it, but I don’t plan to bother.

No Last-minute On-line Shopping This Holiday
2006-Dec-08 16:21:25 +0000 @723

Normally, on-line shopping is my last-bastion of hope for shopping during the holidays. Federal Express is my friend. This year, however, I’m seeing signs of retail supply chain stretchmarks, even though there are more than two shopping weeks left. My advice is that if you have any on-line shopping to do, do it right away and here’s why:

  • Holiday sales seem to be up and retailers are unprepared. I’ve placed several orders for business needs and they are all being shipped late.

  • Shipping companies are delivering things late. I currently have an overnight UPS package that is two days late and some Express Mail that is late. My customers are showing a higher-than-normal late-rate on Federal Express as well, though not as bad as the other carriers.

  • Some of the web sites I was planning to order from already have notices to expect delivery in 2-4 weeks!

  • Amazon is actually out of some rather mundane items (not just PS3 and Wii machines)

So, get your shopping done now, call vendors to make sure they have your items in stock and will ship quickly. Don’t bet on express carriers saving you this year. And most of all, don’t overspend :).

Paying with Pennies Works! – Causes Change
2006-Sep-27 00:07:34 +0000 @046

After paying my car tag in pennies for several years, we’re finally seeing some change. The Tax Commissioner’s office has finally linked up the insurance and emissions databases and allowed us to do the paperwork on-line. They did charge me a $4.60 fee, but usually there is a $1.00 mail-in fee anyway. The $3.60 is about what it would cost me to send it certified mail, so, since I’m running late this year it seemed to make sense.

The on-line thing it still doesn’t allow you to do a change of address, but I was pleased that I did not have to enter any information about my insurance or my emissions inspection – it pulled that up automatically. The system even allows you to purchase the “special” tags on-line, although I did not see an option for vanity plates.

The system does require you to enter a number from your registration papers, so if you didn’t get them you are shit out of luck and get to stand in the line on your birthday. Well, it’s progress even if it isn’t perfection. Best part for them… there’s no way to pay with pennies over the Internet.


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