Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Smugglin' Drugs

My 7-year old daughter takes Claritin for her allergies to grasses, trees, cats, etc. Until today it required a prescription to purchase.

Now that Claritin is an Over-The-Counter (OTC) drug, its price will drop considerably, from the $90 I was paying for a 30-day supply.

Now that I am self-employed, my insurance coverage isn't as good as before. Even though that is of little consequence. You still pay for the whole shooting match, whether in higher taxes, or higher premiums to your employer that don't go into the salary bucket. But I wasn't looking forward to paying that much a month anyway. My old insurance only covered 50% of the $90, so it was still expensive.

A have some very good friends in Canada where Claritin is an OTC drug. I was working a barter with one of them. He needed an iPod that Apple wouldn't ship to him, and I needed Claritin, which was 75% cheaper up there.

We ran into some problems trying to get it shipped. The FDA allows US citizens to order 90-day supplies of medication from outside the country. But there's the OTC vs. Rx thing going on. It's OTC in Canada, and Rx here (before today). So you have to generate this FDA Product Code which goes on the outside of the package. Even if you do all this, it still can be stopped at the border and detained.

I learned a lot doing the research on getting it shipped down here. FedEx ships from Canada to the US, but when my friend gave the package to the courier and told her what it was, she wouldn't touch it. Said that they would stop it at the border, and they were even stopping Tylenol.

The only Tylenol you'd order from Canada to the US would have Codeine in it, which is a controlled substance, and therefore would be stopped for good reason.

I did check around, and found that some shipments of Claritin were being stopped because they were a prescription drug. Others were let through with no problem.

One of the people interviewed for the Fox article starts to whine about how now that people are going to have to buy Claritin with thier own money. Isn't this how things work? When you have a headache, you go to the store to buy aspirin and you don't expect the insurance company to cover it. People expect too much to be handed to them, and think its somehow 'free'. If you think your insurance coverage is free, try running your own business or buying your own coverage. Everytime you use the Emergency Room as a doctor's office for non-emergencies, you raise the price of insurance for everyone else.

So quit it.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Kid's Nightmare

Imagine you're 11-years old again and you like playing with BB-guns. Your Mom has taken away yours, since you have a habit of shooting neighborhood birds. She wisely decides that you're not responsible enough yet to have one.

So what do you do? You get with your miscreant friends, borrow one of theirs, and resume killing birds.

Only this time you're standing in front of your friends house, you sight in on a bird.......squeeze the trigger........and BLAM! You miss the bird, but hit the passenger's side window of a passing passenger van, shattering it into thousands of pieces as the safety glass does what it is designed to do.

"Oh Shit!" is what goes through your mind.

You stand there, frozen. "You didn't really do that," your mind tells you, "you just imagined it, you were shooting at a bird. Somebody else must have shot that window out."

Now you see a 6' 2" man in a long black duster coat get out of the van and come toward you. You feebly try to hide the pump action BB rifle behind your leg, hoping that it won't be seen. The guy is moving towards you fast, and you're like a deer-in-headlights. Frozen. Unable to move. The man starts yelling at you to drop the gun and stay there. You can't do anything but comply. You're guilty...and you look it too. Standing in the front yard, weapon in hand, shattered glass in the roadway in front of you.

You get hustled home under the watchful eyes of all the neighbors, and you find out that they guy who's window you just shot out is an former 11-year veteran of the largest police department in the area. You start crying uncontrollably, thinking that you're going to be Bubba's cell-mate.

After its all over, you are $211+ poorer - well, that money will come out of your next two Christmas' gifts, and you are grounded for life.

Ahhh.....I remember when I was 11. That kid won't forget this day for a long time.

Just goes to show, you can take the weapons away from criminals, and even if they don't have the power to buy new ones, they manage to get their hands on them and still do something stupid.

Saturday, November 23, 2002


Can't take credit for this find. Have to give credit to my cohorts over at Chaos Theory.

But....well, not but.

Suuuuuure he was wearing trousers and underpants.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Your E-mail Will Tattle-tale On You

Zdnet has an interesting article about business e-mail. In court cases, discovery requests are made for all documentation pertinent to a court case. This includes all electronic documents and e-mail.

"So what?" You say.

Well, I'll tell you what. Having run a very large network myself, I grew tired of unjamming e-mailboxes full of jokes, attachments, and other nonsense that filled up my logs and my server space. Even though I asked nicely - several times - people would think that the messages I sent asking them to curtail non-business use of the e-mail system was not applicable to them. I didn't ask for it to stop completely, just to slow to a more reasonable level, and to not trade the same stupid 'fart-pager' commercial 2000 times which took 10GB of storage on the e-mail servers at a time when 10GB used to be a lot of space. So, I imagine if I had gotten a discovery for certain e-mails that pertained to a court case from our attorneys I would have done the same thing as the Network Managers do in the article.

I would have sent them the whole damn message store.

Less work for me to go through the millions of messages looking for specific items. Easier to send it off to the lawyers to look at.

So what if it embarrasses someone, I had asked nicely many times for them to "knock it off" and they ignored me.

So now all those potentially career-threatening messages are out in the open. Remember that e-mail you sent about that jerk of a boss you hate? Or the new "meal" you had at the expense of your boyfriend getting out to everyone? (Yes, this was a hoax, but it could be real.)

Think about it people. If you want to send junk mail around, keep it at home, or use servers outside of your network. And don't sign e-mails with your work credentials. Sheesh. Use your brain.

Or write a letter. But if you are like me, you've forgotten how.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Low Carb For Life

A new article at Foxnews talks about surprising benefits of the Atkins diet. It is not all that suprising to me.

I have been on the Atkins Diet since July 1, 2001.

Now, if you are about to go on a hysterical rant about how dangerous the diet it, please either get a little more informed (read the article, and others) or move along. I've heard quite enough of the "baloney" about a low-carb diet. Those of you who say low-carb dieting can kill you, in reference to the liquid protein diet that was around in the 60's and 70's can read this article on what really caused the deaths. That diet, while low-carb, was nothing like the Atkins diet.

In the time I have been on the diet, I have lost 125 pounds, went from a 54" to 40" waist, lowered my cholesterol from the high 190's to the low 140's, and my triglycerides are down to 35 from over 200. I'm still losing weight now.

People I haven't seen in a while don't recognize me. I look at old pictures and can't believe what I see. I had gotten very, very fat. I'm not going to sugar-coat it with words like 'obese' or 'overweight'. Some people need a slap in the face to get moving, and I was one of those people.

It is a life choice though to go low-carb. You can't ever go back to a high-carb diet. Your body is too good at remembering, and will store all the carbs once you start the intake again. Ladies, my wife is on the diet as well and went from a Size 16-18 to a Size 8-10. She used to be tired all the time, and was showing signs of hypoglycemia. She has none of those symptoms now, and neither of us has had heartburn since we've been on the diet, even though we eat spicy foods.

Try it for 6 weeks. It can be hard, but nothing worth it is easy. A typical day includes eggs and bacon for breakfast, triple decker hamburgers without the bun or ketchup (but with all the other toppings) for lunch, and steak and salad or stir-fried asparagus with bernaise sauce for dinner. Hard, eh? Giving up white flour, sugar, and caffiene can be daunting for some, but once you get over the initial period, its not nearly as hard.

If you need advice on going low-carb, drop me a line.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Prepare For Ludicrous Speed!

Computing power has increased at such a rate as to be almost incomprehensible. A new supercomputer, that can perform 35.86 trillion calculations per second was announced recently.The first computer invented in 1948 that had all of the functionality we would consider of a basic computer, performed 1 instruction ever 1.2 milliseconds, or approximately 833.33 operations per second.

So the new system is around 43 billion times faster than its ancestor. If the rate of speed increase were linear instead of geometrical, that would be an increase in computing speed of almost 91 thousand times, every hour. If this is true, in the next 50 years, computing speed will increase by a factor of at least 1,190,684,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Of course progression has indeed been geometrical, so we'll probably exceed that. One wonders when the limit will be reached. With the advances in medical science, we might be around to find out what it is like.

Friday, November 15, 2002

But He Was Just Looking for Mulder and Scully (Or Doggett and Reyes)

Gary McKinnon was arrested in the UK for taking control of over 90 US Military computer systems for over a year. I have heard from some that the 'cyber-threat' from terrorist organizations is overblown. How and why did this Super-Hacker do what he did?

He was looking for UFOs.

More precisely, he was looking for hidden information (X-Files) and evidence from US Government computers that Extraterrestrial Aliens really exist. He did this all from the computer in his home. He even dressed up for the occasion - as the article states - wearing clothes like David Bowie did during his Ziggy Stardust phase.

My favorite section of the article reads thus:

"...Gary should have known that the US is extremely protective about keeping secure its Top Secret UFO files... even the Drunken Hamster knows that from watching the X-Files TV show. No wonder the US is in such a rush to extradite him to US soil... a chip implant and an alien anal probe await at the hands of the smoking man...

..One cyber break-in, just 12 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, caused a week-long shutdown of 300 computers at a naval weapons station in New Jersey."

Now, here's one crackpot who spends a lot of his time fanatically looking for information on aliens. How unrealistic is it to believe that some terrorist organizations haven't sent many of their agents to computer security schools, maybe even getting some their CISSP Certification.

These agents don't have to even work in the US to do damage. Not that they'd have a lot to worry about from the INS if they were here.

And that is the crux of the problem.

The incompetence that exists in the INS that is being exposed in the media is just a small slice of the overall incompetence of many government workers. In my own personal experience, there are about 5-10% of government employees that are excellent at what they do. However, they are severly overloaded and suffer burnout quickly. The other 90-95% are sitting there, taking up space and taking as many bathroom and smoke breaks as they can get away with.

And with the sad state of management in government, its not hard for them to get away with a lot.

Many of these 90-95% are in charge of securing, administrating, and managing government security systems. There is just too much for the 5-10% to do.

That's why we are so vulnerable to attacks. And with Linux gaining popularity it is under the scrutinizing eyes of hackers all over the world who are finding a plethora of vulnerabilities in the supposed 'secure' operating system. With a wholesale movement of systems from Windows to Linux, many systems are being left even more wide-open, because even the most incompetent can run Windows Update once in a while and get lucky. There isn't the same obvious tool in Linux, though the latest versions of Red Hat Linux are getting better at it. These admins can barely administer a point-and-click OS like Windows. They aren't going to have a clue about *nix based systems. So now we'll have even more vulnerable systems that can launch even more powerful attacks against other computers on the Internet or government Intranet sites.

Its really frightening if you think about the scale of it all and the number of systems that these networks touch.

BTW - If you do use Windows Update after reading this article and realizing that you've never done it before. DO NOT do the "drivers" updates unless you are ABSOLUTELY SURE that the new drivers are correct for your hardware. More often than not, they just muck things up so bad that your system won't boot. I've never used the drivers update, and I've been fine.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

More Dangerous Than Murder

An article at Cnet speaks about new legislation that could possibly jail a 'malicious' hacker for life. If you read the actual bill the hacking would have to be such that is causes a risk to someone's life or health. Script kiddies cracking home computers with DSL and Cable Modems can breathe easy. The Feds won't be putting you in jail for life. However, they could put you in for 10 to 20 years. Longer than some scum of the earth get for "accidentally" killing their own children.

I never understood how it could be anything other than purposeful to cause a child's death through some sort of abuse.

I'm all for stiff penalties, but this is a little excessive I think.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Two Tin Cans But No Wire

If you've had high-speed Internet access (I refuse to call it by the misnomer broadband) for a while, you've probably all but blocked out the sound of two modems handshaking to complete a 56Kbps connection over your phone line to your ISP that hangs up on you from time-to-time. However, most of the US and the world still uses POTS lines (Plain Old Telephone System) for their main access to the global public network.

It is just too expensive and labor intensive for everyone to get high-speed access quickly. With the recent Telecom 'crash', it's going to be even longer.

Some ISPs (many of whom have gone out of business) tried to offer high-speed wireless Internet access. They figured it was cheaper to 'beam' the information through the air instead of digging up the ground and laying fiber optic cable. However, many problems doomed it to fail. Limited frequencies were available for use, geographic obtacles blocked the ability to cover wide areas, and additional antennas had to be deployed. It required a lot of money to build these towers, and using existing cell-phone towers proved to be a challenge.

Recently, many people have created wireless "freenets" to share Cable and DSL connections using the now popular 802.11b Wireless 'Wi-Fi' hardware. 802.11b suffers the same problems that the big providers found, and its range is quite limited (just a few hundred feet under the best of conditions).

Recently, someone was able to send an 802.11b signal over 72 miles. They used 2-foot parabolic antennas. Startup cost around $3,000 - a little pricey for Farmer Joe out in the boonies.

Even at this range, the throughput is only 1Mb/s - two-thirds of a T1 - not too bad for some commercial startups to supply high-speed access to those people who might otherwise never have it.

As you may have heard, wireless hackers have figured out how to make long-range wireless antennas for their laptops and home computers out of pringles cans. They have even had better results using tin coffee cans!

The ingenuity of people never ceases to amaze me. It won't be long before they find the right 'object' to get these signals 72 miles or futher using common household items. I'm even thinking of building one of the coffee can antennas myself and maybe do a little Wardriving.

But that could be illegal, and I would never do such a thing.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Two Steps forward, One Step Back

Or maybe "Totally Tubular" would have been more appropriate.

I'm not going to link to everything, since its common knowledge amongst any of you that aren't still in diapers or listening to boy-band music, but it used to be that electronics were full of vacuum tubes. Televisions, radios, etc. All used vacuum tubes before the transistor was invented.

Now we're going back.

There has been a movement among audiophiles (those people that think they can hear a difference in sound quality on their 2 gazillion dollar stereo systems) to go back to systems with vacuum tubes as it produces a sound that is more "rich".

These are the same people that miss the turntable and 'record albums' because of the hiss and pops. No thanks, I'll stick with my strictly digital sound.

For you audiophiles who want to listen to music on your computer (if you can get your nose down out of the air long enough to actually consider doing such a thing), AOpen just just released a new motherboard with an integrated sound card that uses....yes....vacuum tubes.

So if you buy one, and H.G. Wells happens to visit from the past in his Time Machine, you can make them feel right at home when you crack open the case on your new computer. Or you can get a clear computer case so you don't have to open it up.

I might just have to get one of those cases if I win the lottery. I wonder how well it protects you from the radiation.

Starfleet Update

Don't know how long it will be there, but here is a link to a photo of the laser weapon used to shoot down an artillery shell in flight. I mentioned it in this post earlier.

Doesn't look like it would fit too well, might be a little too large other than mounting it in the shuttle's bay. It would take too long to deploy and leave the shuttle too vulnerable to attack. We're going to have to build something much bigger.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Getting Axed From Your IT Career

In my work as an Independent IT Consultant, I often find myself at people's homes working on systems that access business' networks remotely. These systems are the 'weak-point' in a secure network, for if they are compromised they provide a direct ingress into a companies network.

I left the world of working for someone else, as I tired of the politics and the pointy-haired bosses that seem to infest all companies whether public or private. Job security is non-existant in this day and age, and the advantage of working for yourself is that you'll never have the heart-break of losing your job due to downsizing. However, as this article states, you still can get 'axed'.

So be careful the next time you are asked by a friend to work on their system if they ask. You might end up with some unplanned surgery.

Friday, November 08, 2002

The eGreat Wall of China

The People's Republic of China has always been interested in restricting its citizens access to the Internet. Apparently they have been employing U.S. Corporation's technology in doing so as this article states.

Another case of "What do you do?".

China has been granted favored trading status by the U.S. Government and admitted into the World Trade Organization. They are simply buying technology from U.S. Corporations that can be used to meet their own internal needs, as repugnant as a free society might find them. As long as U.S. Corporations don't export 'secret' technology, they are simply obeying the law and attempting to make inroads to a new market. After all, this is the whole purpose behind a corporation, to make money for its shareholders. As much as some of you want to believe that Corporations have to act in any other manner, this is simply not the case. The way to control a Corporations actions is either through the public witholding funds and refusing to buy the companies products or stock, or through legislation.

I prefer the former solution. I have observed that public pressure is far more effective than adding to the plethora of bureaucratic rules and regulations that are almost always inefficiently enforced. However, this situation begs for legislative action. Should we allow corporations to export this sort of technology to the PRC that will allow them to more efficiently repress free expression in their country.

However, where do you draw the line? What technology or products do you "ban"? Where do you draw the line and who decides where that line is? I am a firm believer in the "Slippery Slope" effect. Once you start down a path that involves Governmental intervention, it soon grows beyond its original scope and new restrictions creep into the system. Once entrenched, they are almost impossible to remove and soon are used not for their original purpose, but to forward someone's political agenda.

It would be interesting if Corporations also added the ability for the censoring/spying functions to be "turned off" remotely. However if this were discovered, they wouldn't be able to sell their products anywhere as there would be no trust in the items to be free from outside control.

I'm glad I don't have to make these decisions. However, I do not like American companies selling this sort of technology to the PRC, and if given the chance I would let involved corporations know about it.

Quantum Drive

Quantum Computing has been a topic of recent interest. There are many articles that describe this next level of computing power that I think will make AI possible. This article describes a new method of encrypting data using Quantum Mechanics that will make it just about impossible to crack the encryption (unless you steal the 'secret key'). However, their methods and claims are self-defeating.

And I'll tell you why...

(I'm stealing this analogy from another source, and I can't remember who did it, so if you find it let me know who originally did it.)

Right now, imagine that you are standing in front of a skyscraper that is 100 stories tall with 1000 offices per story. In one of the offices is a briefcase that you need to acquire. As it is now, you have to search each office one-by-one until you find the briefcase you are looking for. It would take a long time, wouldn't it?

That's how computers work today. When you are looking for a certain piece of data, it has to search through each possible location of that data one-by-one. Computers are just fast enough to make it seem quite speedy.

Now imaging you are still in front of that skyscraper, only now you have developed magical powers and you can instantly clone yourself 99,999 times and therefore be able to search all the offices simultaneously.

That's how Quantum Computing works. You can in effect, find the data instantly, no matter where it is. Same thing goes to doing computations by Quantum Computing.

So what? What does that have to do with all this?

Think about it, we're now using Quantum Mechanics to almost instantly encrypt data so that its impossible to calculate all of the possible keys and apply them to try to 'decrypt' the data stream ('decode' is the wrong term, but that's another story). With Quantum Computing, you will be able to calculate all the possible keys almost as quickly, thus rendering all encryption useless.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Better Home Protection Than a Dog?

Besides a shotgun, the best thing for home defense is a large dog with a loud, deep bark (If you can tolerate the downside to owning such an animal). Maybe this device could be a good substitute when armed with the proper sound file and a big enough speaker system.
Cube Farm Snooping

Another article from the same site as the below two articles. Anyway, seems that the proliferation of wireless devices can get you in trouble, or 'expose' your thoughts to a co-worker without you knowing it.

While it would be very unusual for an RF signal from one of these keyboards to make it 150 meters (about 500 feet for those of you who can't do metric), it wouldn't be for those stuck in a cube farm. So take care what you type at work if you have one of those devices.
Moving the Internet back to 50's Playboy

Silly article found out and about that says that we need more 'softcore' pr0n (That's '1337 for "porn") on the Internet.

The usual "Since it's going to happen anyway, we might as well control the exposure" argument that is simply 'giving-up' before you fight (France anyone?). But interesting nonetheless.
Another Reason Gun Control Doesn't Work

I should have forwarded this over to James' site for him to post about. Seems a London Squirrel is terrorizing people in the area. Its latest victim was a toddler. If the kids parents had a concealed weapon, they wouldn't be hunting the squirrel.

I wonder what they are using to 'hunt' it with since firearms are banned.

Reminds me of back in the day when I was on the force, and we had a law on the books (since repealed) that stated that it was against the law to "chase, harrass, or otherwise harm a squirrel" in the parks around town. It was a 3rd degree misdemeanor, punishable with jail time if the magistrate was so inclined. I always said I was going to collar someone for violating this section of the code, but they repealed it before I had the chance.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Let's Mount This On The Shuttle

Technology continues it sprint forward. Found an article where the US Military has destroyed artillery rounds with a high powered laser. We just need to mount some of these on the space shuttle and we'll have the beginnings of Star Fleet. This is just the kind of breakthrough we need to help us move towards a missile defense system. We aren't going to be able to keep countries from builing ICBMs forever, so we need something to make them obsolete.