Saturday, December 28, 2002

Dystopia Now!

Somewhere in the eighties and nineties, whenever a director/writer wanted to paint a dystopian media future, they'd show impoverished populations watching crazy fascist newscast, interspersed with creepy gameshows offering the way out for a very lucky few. Whether it was Orwell's 1984 -- that only did the fascist newscast -- or Running Man, Robocop, Max Headroom, Starship Troopers, etc. (Ok, so Paul Verhoeven's very big on this. He thought it was funny, hysterical, on the edge, a parody.)

Last week I come down to the gym and Fox News's big screen caption is "WHY WE ARE STRONGER" and there is this blond bimbo announcer basically reading military bomb tech of a list, stumbling over the names, and after every item she looks up and goes "So this is better than what we had, right?" and some real enlisted active start-powered military guy would talk about how, well, yes, this new bomb/plane is smarter and five times more stealthy than what we had in, what he called, I kid you not, Desert Storm One.

This wasn't news. This Was Not News. This was propaganda, war-mongering, populace-management. "WHY WE ARE STONGER"

Interspersed with this were endless clips of how one guy Had Made It Out by winning millions upon millions of dollars, why, it was miracle. He was elevated, achieved, rich. Next item: how unemployment benefits will simply stop, just stop, next week, for many recently unemployed, just stop, and Our President implored Congress to get it together now that everyone's in recess and he himself had forgotten to care and implore when it still mattered a couple of months ago. Switch channel, there's Our Lucky Winner who made it out again, while in my head I know the latest data about how the salaries in this country are stratifying into a large group that has not seen wealth effectively go up since, oh, what, 1976? and a big minority like me technoyuppiepimps who are comfortable and a tiny minority of the super-rich who have such a horrible, horrible tax burden as we are told, that it must be lowered now or the country will really sink into a recession. No really. Around 35 or so of them ended up in the government this last election. Because they know how people live who have to work two jobs to afford their education hoping to get out, out, out of this place where debt keeps sucking you back in over and over again, this place of never having quite enough to be able to sleep at night and not have to worry about the next week without having to numb yourself with a little consumption that will only push yourself down more.

Switch newscast: talking head talking about how the hundreds of "enemy combatants" not in Camp X-Ray are currently being sleep deprived, stressed, mistreated by agents of the US government, or handed over to governments where outright torture is known to be used. Talking head smirks. Smirks.

I have days that I believe I cannot possibly stay here. My mother-in-law was appalled when we announced we were keeping our options to move open, "You have to stay to fight the good fight!"

Honest question: have any of you decided when you are taking to the streets, yet? What your breaking point is? Which newscast makes you double over in horror?

Oceania, 'tis for thee...

Friday, December 13, 2002

An Announcement

Porn by MMS on a 7650 / 3650 type screen works.

And I can't say how happy I am that my friends here have helped me receive man flesh on my work phone. Instead of the cute cat pix we all keep exchanging with each other here.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Bluetooth Spam

Anyway, I wanted to take this moment and alert us all to the evil of Bluetooth spam. In case you aren't a technopimp like me, Bluetooth is a standard for short-range wireless communication between devices as a replacement for cables. So you'd walk into your home and your bluetooth PDA would sync up with your bluetooth-equipped computer, and when you are on the road your bluetooth laptop can use your bluetooth phone as a modem while one is still in your pocket. No line of sight necessary, just radiowaves. Low bandwidth, it is not very fast, but good enough that your bluetooth headphones can be used as a headset for the bluetooth cellphone which you threw in the back of the car while you are driving.

I have a bluetooth set. And found something disturbing: with the click of some keys, I can scan the 20 or so feet radius of my bluetooth range, and find all devices that go "Pick me! Pick me! Please pick me! I am here!" and send them stuff. I tried this at work, where we were all testing these cellphones. I just started picking random entries of that list and sending them pictures of my cat. And people would come up and go "Did you just send something to my phone?" and I'd say "How did you know?" and they'd go "Because you set your phone to say 'FJ!!'s 3650' and that is you."

Recently I was in a meeting and my phone beeped. Incoming bluetooth message; accept/reject? From whom? Someone who had set their name to 'Unknown'. I accepted, it was a picture of a cute tux cat, so I knew it came from Matt. That, and he had a guilty look on his face.

I am waiting for shops to set up a bluetooth computer that just promiscuously sends images of coupons. You walk past em and your phone beeps, accept/reject? So you check, go in now and show this image for 4 bucks off a pizza. Haha, fun the first time. A year later you can't walk past a shop in the mall while using your bluetooth headest -- which means bluetooth is set to on -- without your phone constantly being spammed by coupons and teenagers sending you scat pix.

Then again, I want to go to Helsinki or London or Copenhagen or Goteborg where I know there are already versions of these phones out, and spam people with cute smileys or funny cartoons. Just a little anonymous gift for the day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Cam Entrepeneur

After seeing CAT CAM and then noting that there is a whole webring of these, I am starting to think that Dean's idea of may be viable. A little dark with that cam in the litterbox, but viable.

I was thinking that it would be interesting to attach a small wireless cam to R's Q, so you could see horse's-eye view all the time. They don't have the upload bandwidth, I suspect.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

3650 Fu Continues

Well, even though I have discovered all manner of disturbing WAP services testing this GPRS color phone -- I can now check my POP3, Yahoo, and AOL accounts and various messengers -- I still prefer my laptop for all my wireless on-the-go needs. So I checked all the data plans and decided my old Verizon 11Kbps CDPD is still the best way to go. I have a new card, a Sierra 300 from eBay, and it scares me, because I paid 33 bucks for it, and new it costs around, oh, say, ten times as much minimum and other CDPD cards on eBay run 120 bucks.

It is a rugged and strong antenna, and quality drivers, unlike the previous Merlin and Spider cards. I cannot help but think that I am working with hardware that "fell off the back of a truck". Still, I'd better leave some good feedback.

(And I am posting over CDPD as a test. Since I am home, after this it is right back to standard 802.11b)

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Social FJ!!

Tuesday was the meetup of the socio-political comment board We've had one national meetup before, where members in towns all over the world met up in their cities, and I was in the first one in Boston. It was such fun, three strangers, Xiamin and sydneyschafer and me. We hung out for hours and we just talked and we seemed to connect and it was fun.

So Tuesday Plastic and us did it again. I got to the Someday cafe in Davis Square first, the kind of place I like, with steamed everythings, no alcohol, some Toscanini's ice-cream, and all the chairs are mismatched comfy chairs. There was nowhere to sit close to where we agreed on, but my old instincts of a thousand tiny gay coffeeshops in Amsterdam kicked in, my stalking instinct, my I'll-just-sit-here-on-this-stool-tillyou-leave skills. In a crowded cafe I had a table in ten minutes. Xiamin and sydneyschaefer came in, one by one, and we just easily connected again.

With an interruption. Four guys were very busy setting stuff up, but we didn'y understand what, and there it was: a big loudspeaker connected to a taperecorder, a full big drum kit, and a base guitar. So the two guys in black -- the base player even wore a baret and small dark sunglasses -- would play their drums and guitar, somewhat abstractly melody- and rhyth-wise over a backdrop of spoken word records from the fifties and sixties. The first one was a smoking-cessation record by a voice sounding so earnest it sounded like Dick Nixon, telling us that we will allow positive suggestions to enter our mind, and we will be free of the need to smoke, hypnotically, over and over. The other was a record of two sexologists ostensibly talking about preparing your children for sex but mostly about the evils of dancing.

The band was so completly earnest about this irony-laden sophistry that it became completly post-ironic. We ended up actually being able to evaluate it without giggling too much, just because they and the audience knew it was such a ludicrous idea.

I am not making this up. Any of it.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

So Much For Stable Backup

The CD-R that contains all that I have of my work at Children's and my best mail from when I just joined motss and all my writings I wanted to keep -- most supremely embarrassing -- developed a scratch. In the foil. I can see through it.

I believe in leaving stuff behind, and detaching from cruft, but I'd like to do it on my own time instead of Gladys'. I'm mostly pissed about my Children's stuff -- I wanted to show it as part of a portfolio, antique as it was.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Jeff Bezos Can't Win

After years of being called a huckster, a money-burner, and a dot-com hype machine, today he was on Fox News' Neil Cavuto show to proudly talk about how well Amazon is doing. Neil Cavuto has just done a segment on how DC / Maryland / VA commerce has been devastated in the last three weeks by nobody going out of the home due to the sniper crisis. Neil Cavuto's lead in questions to Bezos? Something along the lines on whether Amazon has seen an upturn in the last 3 weeks in shipments to that area, and whether this kind of homeland terrorism would make Amazon a more profitable company since no-one wants to go out and shop.

Bezos quickly passed that over to talk about his company is executing well on the plans of selection, price, and shipment. "So Mr Bezos, Amazon is doing well. Are you dancing on the graves of DC booksellers?"

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Dad's Keyboard 7 Timezones Away


Dad called this afternoon, it must have been midnight over there. For what? His keyboard was not typing the letters he saw on the keys, and I had fixed that the last time I was over in July. I barely remembered what I did, but I talked him through setting his locality to NL, but his keyboard layout ot US English 101 in his properties. Since that went well, I also had to diagnose why he was getting no sound, ending up with teaching him how to make the sound icon appear in his task bar, setting the volume with the mouse, and using the special keys on his Compaq keyboard to adjust volume and mute. I told him this was a very expensive support call, he said not at all, if he wanted this support he would have to have someone come over for an hours minimum at 40 euros. I am kinda used to calls like these, my mother used to call me all the time to talk her through programming the VCR. Of course, that wasn't trans-atlantic.

Sometimes I have visions of standing in front of computer professionals and doing the Steve Balmer monkey dance, but yelling "USERS! USERS! USERS! USERS! USERS! USERS!" instead. I understand the sentiment of wanting to instill on a crowd something you think is incredibly vital: the identification of which population is the most underserved and is the key to getting the checks in the mail. In my case it is "USERS! USERS! USERS! USERS! USERS!"

Monday, October 14, 2002


So the new laptop came in from the insurance for the break in. Of course, the BestBuy claims handling dept.'s best match for our decrepit box comes in with a 30 gig disk, a 1400x1035 screen, and a 1.1 GHz chip. It's just a little overspecified to be our print server. A tad. I think Dean should migrate to it. Only problem is that this low-end Compaq laptop weighs plenty much.

Have to say that it was a joy to set up. Bright screen, and XP grew on me fast, actually. There's a very designed balance about its sensibilities: still cartoony like all WIMP environments are, but less superfluous 3D, less un-necessary constricting little black lines around everything, more letting solid colors function as boundaries. (In fact, it looks like Dean is migrating to it. The screen just renders text beautifully.) Tufte once wrote a tract for IBM of how he thought a WIMP environment should look. I think I could pummel XP into actually coming damn close to his vision.

Makes me want a big screen to work on too. The picturebook travels so well, but feels ... restricting. I can drive an external screen up 1600x1200 with it. Maybe I should get an LCD I ca attach to an arm on the wall in my little office corner in the room, so it can be swung out of the way when I am not working. Need more money. Then again LCDs be attached to standard VGA connectors?

New digicam came in too, the best they coukd patch my DSC-P1 with was a DSC-P7. O-kay!

Been reading Life of Riley, a webcomic influenced by Penny Arcade, but still finding its form. About as bad at gags as Penny A -- which is saying something -- but great mythical storyline. The kids in it make me want to partially dye my hair again. Feels ridiculois because a) my hairs is currently too short for foils, and foils is the only way to go for a good-looking partial job b) I am so past the station of a gaming kid starting out in adulthood that I think I'll end up looking like I am trying too hard c) can a lead integrator for a Nokia product group look like a gaming kid and still get people to take him seriously?

Christ, I need to be a researcher again. Industry is limiting my fashion choices.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Weekend FJ!!

Bought an MP3 player today (Their English site is down, so I had to link there). It does indeed need a special program to upload files to it, instead of just appearing as hard disk on the desktop and allowing drags. The management program is not obnoxious like OpenMG for Sony, the management program that decides to recode your MP3s to ATRAC before you can move them onto the Memory Stick for Stick walkmans. Meanwhile, audio dragged onto Sticks put into Sony's Palm machines play just fine. It totally turned me off a Memory Stick MP3 player, which I considered since my comp does Memory Sticks natively and I used them for my ex-camera.

I actually wanted the Nomad Muvo, which is a USB keychain drive that will just play MP3 files it finds. It needs no programs to upload data, and that would also make it a good floppy solution for my floppy-less Picturebook. But this iRiver 100 is cute and has a FM radio. 128MB internal, non upgradeable. I'll get to listen to radio statiosn again (my country kick will continue!) and load hard dance tracks to lift by.

Friday, September 27, 2002

LAN (again)

So I am looking on and on for good boxes to route and firewall the internal LAN with. I find that there's this site where all these cheap boxes reviewed and user-commented, and wondered why anyone would ever want to buy the 350 bucks D-link box if all these cheap 150-or-so-tops webboxes are available. Then I realized that the cheapest ones only did NAT firewalling, and the ones that did actually do stateful inspection barely ever allow you to make rules to check the protocol of the packet before forwarding it to a port on a specific machine. Of the cheap boxes, few seems to compare to the sophistication of inspection on my OpenBSD box, and many have problems with keeping up a reliable DSL connection, according to user comments.

The web is so cool, where would I have found an repository of knowledge like this five years ago?

From there I also found an automated service to do a LAN security check, with a pretty thorough set of tests -- not just a standard portscan. They allow you to run the whole test for free but won't tell you of your highest-risk vulerabilities, just that you have them. They will show you your low- and medium-risk holes. So I thought I was pretty safe, anyway, I would only get low-riskers, and ran the thing.

11 high risk problems. I am in the third percentile of the systems they have tested over the last year. I sprung for the report -- I was curious -- by entering my credit card. They called later to say the card issuer wanted a little more info, like my address. Not surprising since I have the you-are-a-loser secured card, I always get this. I gave it, but also asked him if he knew what time it was where I was. He did not. 12:30 AM. We had already gone to bed. Oops, global web!

All the high risk vulnerabilities seem to be not in my firewall but in the web server Dino set up behind it that I forward to for mail/web/ssh, more specifically mostly in the versions of software that allow buffer- and root-exploits. We would never have known had I not found these tests. It was confused by the LISP webserver though, and thought it was a very, very strange IIS server. I should tell them about it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Firewall More

So I have been looking at Firewall applicances. Seems many small businesses have the same problems I do. Linksys is out, because they will not allow creation of a DMZ if you are on a DHCP-client connection, the idea being, presumably, that why the hell do you need to create web or mail-servers if you are constantly switching IP addresses? Well, because the nice people at NoIP, for example, will keep track of your changing IP address and reset their DNS to use it. Heck, they even allow me to circumvent Verizon's braindead port 80 filter.

It was very cool of Linksys to put this user's guide on the web, so I could read it. They may have missed a sale because of it, but it would have been a bad sale, a return. Now I need to find out if either D-link or SMCs boxes will do what I want. I am not inclined to use SMCs since they do virtual DMZs, whatever the hell that is. I am more partial to D-Link's box because it actually has a dedicated jack for a DMZ.

You know, if this headache is taken care of and works well (unfortunatly, it will take a month or two before I have the 350 bucks to spare, we also need to start saving for the annual T-day pilgrimage to Ohio) I'd consider saving some money and putting there. Would be cheaper, since Verizon's DSL does not charge me by bandwidth-usage, like my hoster,, does.

Sunday, September 22, 2002


So because we have DSL and Dean has a LISP-based almost-custom webserver and we have a gazillion laptops of our own, I set up my own firewall using an old box and OpenBSD 2.9. I followed the book, I have a three-legged firewall with one locked down internal zone for the laptops to browse over the wireless network and the webserver in a DMZ. If you try to webserve, ssh, or mail us, it'll go automatically to the DMZ, the laptops are supposed to only be connecting over channels they open and not the other way round, etc, etc, etc.

It's been one fucking pain after another to figure this out. Everyone out there has their own rulesets for their firewalls, and all the rules in the rulesets work together in intricate ways so it is hard to say, well this rule does only this and this rule does that, no, each filtering set is carefully pieced together. And so I did my own, through trial and error. Every piece of writing on OpenBSD touts how secure it is but is extremely unfriendly towards users who actually don't enjoy being a sysadm and are starting from nowehere. Manpages are terse and hostile to be read by actual humans approaching this new. Setting up 'named' properly took forever because of our needs. Setting PPPoE was a pain, because it breaks in undocumented ways the tricks for hardening the firewall. Everybody has opinions on what to do, but they don't all work together, and I end up borrowing and following HOW-TOs, if I can find them, halfway with every step having to make sure I don't break something new this time.

The result is that I actually don't even know whether my firewall and the computers behind them are actually that secure against attacks -- sure, the portscans show up like I expect, but that's just the portscan -- and I can't seem to modify my ruleset to let the DMZ open a connection to send mail. cannot send out mail, just receive it. Never mind what I really shoud be doing, which is setting up ipsec between the firewall and the wireless win2K portables so nobody can read the packets going over the air.

I am useless at this. Useless. It takes forever in between all the reboots I have to do to test things out (No, I cannot just do "sh ./netstart", that actually has a different effect sometimes on my routing than rebooting, and if I don't test by rebooting, the next time I reboot for a real reason it may turn out that my setup wasn't working right. Yes, I am sure it always works perfectly the same for you.), I am not sure what to tweak, and the pages of help are being updated and dwindling because everyone is migrating to OpenBSD 3.1 and writing help documentation for that. I have no idea how to upgrade easily short of re-installing, and since the syntax has changed on many packages, I really. Don't. Want. To. It'll take me two weeks again.

Fuck freeware. It just simply isn't worth my time.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Florida Voting Mess

So this time the primaries got fucked up. Bad. Voting had to be extended, one precint voted 100% Republican, and affiliations were wrong. All human error you'd say, but the story kept coming back that so many voting touch screen machines were not functioning. Hmmmmm.

(I'm partly plagiarizing myself here from my entry on Plastic.)

As I was reading The Miami Herald link, I could sense there also was a Human Factors problem, I could just feel it. We can these days make a box that can withstand shipping and just switches on. In fact, it is pretty hard not to. And yet all these machines not working, and an article mentioning undertrained operators of what should be an idiot-proof machine... And there it was:

Each device must be booted up with an activator cartridge that must remain in the machine for six minutes. Many workers apparently pulled out those cartridges too soon, crashing the machines.

''A lot of the poll workers were not patient,'' Salas said.

Michael Limas, chief operating officer for Election Systems & Software, which made the machines, claimed that his equipment was blameless.

''When our technicians have gone to polling places, they haven't been repairing machines,'' he said. ``They've had to start the machines over for people.''

He said the failure to properly use the activator cartridges was like ``putting a floppy disk in your computer to copy a large file and popping it out before it's finished.''

Classic. Cla-ssic.

My bet is this machine did not actually give any feedback that it was reading the cartridge properly or that you can shouldn't the cartridge out until it was finished. Five minutes to switch something on is actually a looooong time for what look like glorified televisions. Especially if you have many to switch on in a precinct. Of course people expected 'instant on', just look at all other equipment they use, and what they have to get acomplished. But they weren't getting it.

A human-centered, or humane, interface should manage people's expectations by either not allowing them to not take out the cartridge, or letting them know this initializing is on track and how bad a result aborting would create. To extend the OS analogy, a good UI on an OS won't allow the user to yank out the floppy unless the user is aware of that there will be a bad result (like MacOS; you would have to Cancel the copy and then eject the disk) or at least let you know that the copy was in progress and going well, and show a clean way to abort if necessary (windows, most X11 interfaces, et al).

Blaming operators for not being adequatly trained is the easy way out, but won't do anything to alleviate the problem next time. What is be cheaper, a human-centered machine, or more classes? And it would have averted a PR disaster for the manufacturer: they are now the ones who delivered 'bad' or 'difficult' machines, no matter how much they try to blame operators.

And the mistake is so elementary. No human should need to know to wait exactly or around six minutes to switch something on, the machine should tell them, because the machine knows. No human should need to keep track of what a machine knows, but the machine should help remind the human. I am sure Donald Norman is investigating for a new anecdote as we speak.

- * * * -

I got my values wrong for sending me text messages over LJ, so anyone who sent me a message requesting my new mobile number will probably have to try again. Sorry. I really am, but who knew I shouldn't enter my telephone number with soaces -- just like everyone enters their number on every paper and electronic form out there?

And remember, I don't know from who the message is. Add an SMS number back. Many, many mobile phones actually accept SMS messages as pages.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002


Plastic had its first international meetup. I had some trials to find it, including walking for blocks into deserted no man's land in Roxbury, a cab with no clue, checking mapquest, and finally making it late. We were three in total, here in Boston, but had such fun. Turns out we had plenty to talk about, for three semi-strangers.

Monday, August 19, 2002

The E-Business Chutzpah Still Lives!

So get a load of this blurb. I know it is long, but bear with me:
Affinnova enables consumer goods companies to improve their products’ success by including the “voice of the customer” quickly and effectively at any stage of the product development process. With Affinnova, consumers are no longer limited by static and abstracted Q&A market research instruments, but can participate directly in the design of new products by "evolving" preferred designs individually or as a group. At the heart of Affinnova’s platform is its patent-pending Interactive Evolutionary Design Algorithm (IDEA TM) technology that enables consumers to visually explore and react to high-quality images of potential product and packaging designs via the Internet. Based on simple “I like it”/”I don’t like it” feedback to holistic images, the Affinnova platform dynamically evolves the product’s color, shape, configuration, branding, and messaging to generate a new design with a greater affinity to the consumer’s preferences. As a result, Affinnova’s clients receive validated designs and rich market insights for new product innovations, product updates or brand extensions.
Yup, somebody is trying to build a market reasearch company by taking the "Am I Hot Or Not" paradigm and applying it to product development.

I think I know how to claim prior art to the patent: it sounds remarkably like the preview User Interface in the plastic surgery station in "Logan's Run", you know, where Farrah had her cameo.

Yes, I evaluate and remember UIs I see in movies.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Geeek city

Apple's new announcements look sweet. I am very disturbed they dropped Garamond from their corporate identity. The parts that I like most is their integration into a digital hub, allowing for quick synching between PDAs, phones, iPods, websites, cameras. That makes life so much easier. RIght now I am just looking at what I have to do to show some pix I took from my trip here, and it is such a hassle: move, edit, thumbnail, move, href... for each one. It should just go like I want it. I'm ready for MacOS X.

OTOH, I love small form factors. I take my picturebook everywhere, especially in the new tiny backpack I found for it in NYC. So convenient, to have everything with me, all my music (well, until I ripped my entire collection and moved it all onto a backup), my contacts, my email, my news, my connections to all the info I have distributed on websites. I hardly store stuff locally since I lose harddisks periodically.

All I need is a phoneline to be home with everyone who matters to me. Sometimes the airwaves are enough.

But the key is the small size. I have to want to take it along on every trip. Which is why I am in lust for my next target: the Sony Vaio U1. But gawd, another set of years with microsoft OS. I'd really like MacOS X.

OTOH, maybe I need a really decked out Palm or something. With which I can read Mail and Usenet. And go to all my banking, personal, sex-meet sites. And do full AOL. Uses 802.11, CDPD, POTS, Cat 5. Naaaah.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Airport LiveJournal

I can't be the first person to make an enty in his LiveJournal from the airport, but I might be the first to make it over CDPD wireless. Found an outlet next to a set quite close to our boarding area for the flight to Amsterdam. I feel better about the trip back since Delta does indeed have all flights in adjacent walkable terminals. I might be able to come back and make my connection.

We forgot to leave a lot of food for Piruli, so we tried to call Alec or Beth. No luck. He'll now eat Twinkie's food. We also didn't brush his teeth last night, as we should have.

Hey Beth, wanna brush some cat teeth? Every week, I get to say "My kitty's breath smells like cat-toothpaste!"

I keep losing connection.

Monday, July 08, 2002

The Web Is A Strange Place

While the article about a new electronic angle to the loss and mourning of stillborns is quite powerful, I am not sure about what to make of Wired, of all places, putting up pictures of dead babies. I am not making this up.

Proving yet again that the difference between and respectable publications truly is simply the context they create.