Monday, December 26, 2011

SOPA Supporters - A list

Sopa Supporters list

Here is a link to a list of SOPA supporters - i.e. companies I will be boycotting for the foreseeable future.

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Be a HERO and Help STOP SOPA Now!!

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer?


Terrific article on security theater. As a "recovering hacker" I find it hard not to laugh or cry all the way through each and every encounter I have with air travel.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

If you are struggling to understand #OWS - you need to read this:

My name is Patrick Meighan, and I’m a husband, a father, a writer on the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy”, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.

I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400 heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted “We Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”

As we sat there, encircled, a separate team of LAPD officers used knives to slice open every personal tent in the park. They forcibly removed anyone sleeping inside, and then yanked out and destroyed any personal property inside those tents, scattering the contents across the park. They then did the same with the communal property of the Occupy LA movement. For example, I watched as the LAPD destroyed a pop-up canopy tent that, until that moment, had been serving as Occupy LA’s First Aid and Wellness tent, in which volunteer health professionals gave free medical care to absolutely anyone who requested it. As it happens, my family had personally contributed that exact canopy tent to Occupy LA, at a cost of several hundred of my family’s dollars. As I watched, the LAPD sliced that canopy tent to shreds, broke the telescoping poles into pieces and scattered the detritus across the park. Note that these were the objects described in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of garbage” that was “abandoned” by Occupy LA: personal property forcibly stolen from us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.

When the LAPD finally began arresting those of us interlocked around the symbolic tent, we were all ordered by the LAPD to unlink from each other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had the following done to him: an LAPD officer would forcibly extend the protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the LAPD officer would grab the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbor.

It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the rest of us. At least I was sufficiently terrorized. I unlinked my arms voluntarily and informed the LAPD officers that I would go peacefully and cooperatively. I stood as instructed, and then I had my arms wrenched behind my back, and an officer hyperextended my wrists into my inner arms. It was super violent, it hurt really really bad, and he was doing it on purpose. When I involuntarily recoiled from the pain, the LAPD officer threw me face-first to the pavement. He had my hands behind my back, so I landed right on my face. The officer dropped with his knee on my back and ground my face into the pavement. It really, really hurt and my face started bleeding and I was very scared. I begged for mercy and I promised that I was honestly not resisting and would not resist.

My hands were then zipcuffed very tightly behind my back, where they turned blue. I am now suffering nerve damage in my right thumb and palm.

I was put on a paddywagon with other nonviolent protestors and taken to a parking garage in Parker Center. They forced us to kneel on the hard pavement of that parking garage for seven straight hours with our hands still tightly zipcuffed behind our backs. Some began to pass out. One man rolled to the ground and vomited for a long, long time before falling unconscious. The LAPD officers watched and did nothing.

At 9 a.m. we were finally taken from the pavement into the station to be processed. The charge was sitting in the park after the police said not to. It’s a misdemeanor. Almost always, for a misdemeanor, the police just give you a ticket and let you go. It costs you a couple hundred dollars. Apparently, that’s what happened with most every other misdemeanor arrest in LA that day.

With us Occupy LA protestors, however, they set bail at $5,000 and booked us into jail. Almost none of the protesters could afford to bail themselves out. I’m lucky and I could afford it, except the LAPD spent all day refusing to actually *accept* the bail they set. If you were an accused murderer or a rapist in LAPD custody that day, you could bail yourself right out and be back on the street, no problem. But if you were a nonviolent Occupy LA protestor with bail money in hand, you were held long into the following morning, with absolutely no access to a lawyer.

I spent most of my day and night crammed into an eight-man jail cell, along with sixteen other Occupy LA protesters. My sleeping spot was on the floor next to the toilet.

Finally, at 2:30 the next morning, after twenty-five hours in custody, I was released on bail. But there were at least 200 Occupy LA protestors who couldn’t afford the bail. The LAPD chose to keep those peaceful, non-violent protesters in prison for two full days… the absolute legal maximum that the LAPD is allowed to detain someone on misdemeanor charges.

As a reminder, Antonio Villaraigosa has referred to all of this as “the LAPD’s finest hour.”

So that’s what happened to the 292 women and men were arrested last Wednesday. Now let’s talk about a man who was not arrested last Wednesday. He is former Citigroup CEO Charles Prince. Under Charles Prince, Citigroup was guilty of massive, coordinated securities fraud.

Citigroup spent years intentionally buying up every bad mortgage loan it could find, creating bad securities out of those bad loans and then selling shares in those bad securities to duped investors. And then they sometimes secretly bet *against* their *own* bad securities to make even more money. For one such bad Citigroup security, Citigroup executives were internally calling it, quote, “a collection of dogshit”. To investors, however, they called it, quote, “an attractive investment rigorously selected by an independent investment adviser”.

This is fraud, and it’s a felony, and the Charles Princes of the world spent several years doing it again and again: knowingly writing bad mortgages, and then packaging them into fraudulent securities which they then sold to suckers and then repeating the process. This is a big part of why your property values went up so fast. But then the bubble burst, and that’s why our economy is now shattered for a generation, and it’s also why your home is now underwater. Or at least mine is.

Anyway, if your retirement fund lost a decade’s-worth of gains overnight, this is why.

If your son’s middle school has added furlough days because the school district can’t afford to keep its doors open for a full school year, this is why.

If your daughter has come out of college with a degree only to discover that there are no jobs for her, this is why.

But back to Charles Prince. For his four years of in charge of massive, repeated fraud at Citigroup, he received fifty-three million dollars in salary and also received another ninety-four million dollars in stock holdings. What Charles Prince has *not* received is a pair of zipcuffs. The nerves in his thumb are fine. No cop has thrown Charles Prince into the pavement, face-first. Each and every peaceful, nonviolent Occupy LA protester arrested last week has has spent more time sleeping on a jail floor than every single Charles Prince on Wall Street, combined.

The more I think about that, the madder I get. What does it say about our country that nonviolent protesters are given the bottom of a police boot while those who steal hundreds of billions, do trillions worth of damage to our economy and shatter our social fabric for a generation are not only spared the zipcuffs but showered with rewards?

In any event, believe it or not, I’m really not angry that I got arrested. I chose to get arrested. And I’m not even angry that the mayor and the LAPD decided to give non-violent protestors like me a little extra shiv in jail (although I’m not especially grateful for it either).

I’m just really angry that every single Charles Prince wasn’t in jail with me.

Thank you for letting me share that anger with you today.

Patrick Meighan

Original post titled "My Occupy LA Arrest, by Patrick Meighan"

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Unsung Heroes of Ham Radio and their work on Sept. 11

  911r4 by skymaster600

Originally from BBC 4.

High court troubled by warrantless GPS tracking


At first blush my brain screams that this is a fourth amendment violation. Upon further thought however - this really is no different than if the feds, police or even your ex-girlfriend just follows you. As they say, you "have no reasonable expectation of privacy in your public movements".

The thing is the same rule applies in the other direction. Police / feds also have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their public movements. If this is allowed to stand it would be perfectly legal for a citizen to "equip" every police and federal vehicle with a tracker and setup a website showing those locations in real time.

Lets watch the watchers!

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Global Warming 'Confirmed' By Independent (conservitive funded) Study

Global Warming 'Confirmed' By Independent Study

Okay Koch brothers - prepare to be lumped in with the "liberal media". Snort, guffaw...

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

My new favorite Android app.

This is the least flashy - maybe even dull app I've ever stumped - but it does something so useful and does it so well.  It's SMS Backup+.  What it does is automatically (or on demand) backup all of your SMS messages to a label in your Gmail account. Simple. Awesome. 

Within that label the messages are stored as standard Gmail "conversations" with each person and even include any photos.  You can set the timing of the backups and limit the backups to only occur when wifi connected if you are on a limited bandwidth plan.

I primarily use txt messages for things like phone, model, and serial numbers or addresses.  Discrete bits of information.  Or for photos - mostly to and from my sons.  I very often want to go back and look up a specific message.  The problem is that phones have finite storage space.  Especially my OG Droid.  I need to clear the txt message space fairly often.  Sometimes just for security sake.

Until June I was relying on and very happy with WaveSecure from Symantec.  Something changed at the end of June and my backups stopped working.  When I contacted them about the problem the support engineer asked me for my EIN. Very suspicious (to say the least) and just not going to happen.  I have since changed my recovery software to Prey (which I am very happy with on my Laptops) and just recently started to use SMS Backup+. 

It works.  Does not seem to eat memory, and I love having the messages right there.  I love that I don't have to log into another site.  Highest recommendation!

Install it here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Motorcyles, home automation and Linix

Ok so here is a weird crossover between things I regularly spout off about.  A friend of mine has recently become a motorcycle owner and as such is facing some of the unique problems associated therein.   Like, how do you get the garage door open / closed from the bike.  (I personally have an opener permanently stationed in a saddle bag)

After a conversation with my friend and a little thought here is the start of a simple solution I came up with while waiting for computers to do their job this afternoon. 

Assume the following - you have x10 or similar home automation system.  You own a smart phone.  You have a home wifi network. 

The solution looks like this:

  • Add an x10 switch for the garage door.
  • On your network - assign a fixed IP to your phone. 
  • On your linux server - use cron to run a script that pings for the address.  When you get home and your phone connects to your network the script gets a ping response from your phone - it does an http put or get to your web based home control server to open the door (or just sends the appropriate heyu command if your linux box is also the automation server).
The simple beginings:

Cron entries - the first runs the script every minute for an hour starting at 5pm.  At 6pm the second deletes the semaphore file created when the script opens the door (so it only opens the door once) to reset for the next day.

* 17 * * 1-5 /home/mydir/ 2>&1 1>/dev/null
0 18 * * 1-5 rm -f /home/mydir/garagedoor.txt 2>&1 1>/dev/null

The script - checks for the existence of the semaphore file.  If it exists it exits, otherwise it sends a single ping and opens the door if there is a response.  If it opens the door it creates the semaphore.

if [ ! -f /home/mydir/garagedoor.txt ]
     if ping -c1 -q
          then wget #or heyu command...

That's it.  Of course you could take this as far as you want but this would at least wait for you to get home from work and open the door as a start.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This could be BAD!

Prevent the forcible closure of Occupy Wall Street

Tell Bloomberg: Don't Foreclose the Occupation.


This is an emergency situation. Please take a minute to read this, and please take action and spread the word far and wide.
Occupy Wall Street is gaining momentum, with occupation actions now happening in cities across the world.
But last night Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD notified Occupy Wall Street participants about plans to “clean the park”—the site of the Wall Street protests—tomorrow starting at 7am. "Cleaning" was used as a pretext to shut down “Bloombergville” a few months back, and to shut down peaceful occupations elsewhere.
Bloomberg says that the park will be open for public usage following the cleaning, but with a notable caveat: Occupy Wall Street participants must follow the “rules”.

NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said that they will move in to clear us and we will not be allowed to take sleeping bags, tarps, personal items or gear back into the park.

This is it—this is their attempt to shut down #OWS for good.


1) Call 311 (or +1 (212) NEW-YORK if you're out of town) and tell Bloomberg to support our right to assemble and to not interfere with #OWS.

2) Come to #OWS TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT to defend the occupation from eviction.
For those of you who plan to help us hold our ground—which we hope will be all of you—make sure you understand the possible consequences. Be prepared to not get much sleep. Be prepared for possible arrest. Make sure your items are together and ready to go (or already out of the park.) We are pursuing all possible strategies; this is a message of solidarity.
Click here to learn nonviolent tactics for holding ground.
Occupy Wall Street is committed to keeping the park clean and safe—we even have a Sanitation Working Group whose purpose this is. We are organizing major cleaning operations today and will do so regularly.
If Bloomberg truly cares about sanitation here he should support the installation of portopans and dumpsters. #OWS allies have been working to secure these things to support our efforts.
We know where the real dirt is: on Wall Street. Billionaire Bloomberg is beholden to bankers.
We won't allow Bloomberg and the NYPD to foreclose our occupation. This is an occupation, not a permitted picnic.
Worried that this could become really bloody. My hopes are that cooler heads prevail on all sides.

Update:  So glad that cooler heads did prevail after all.   I'm glad both sides were smart on this one.

Another Giant Passes...

Network World - Dennis Ritchie, the software developer who brought the world the C programming language and Unix operating system, has died at the age of 70.

Ritchie (known by the username "dmr") was part of a dynamic software development duo with Ken Thompson at Bell Labs, which they joined in 1967 and 1966, respectively. Ritchie created the C programming language, which replaced the B programming language Thompson invented.

The two later went on to create Unix, initially for minicomputers and written in assembly language, in 1969, and written in C in 1973. Unix went on to become key software for critical computing infrastructure around the world, though wasn't for everyone.

Ritchie once said: "UNIX is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity." Unix , of course, became the inspiration for newer operating systems including Linux and Apple's iOS.

UNIX AT 40: The past, present and future of a revolutionary OS

BACKGROUND: Whirlwind tour of computing and telecom's major awards, prizes and honors

In fact, Unix supporters are out in force on social media networks this week, making sure that Ritchie's accomplishments are recognized.

Jon "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, tweeted: "all programmers owe him a moment of silence."

Rob Pike, who worked with Ritchie at Bell Labs, including on Unix descendent Plan 9, wrote on Google+: "He was a quiet and mostly private man, but he was also my friend, colleague, and collaborator, and the world has lost a truly great mind."

Many others made mention of The C Programming Language book that Ritchie and Brian Kernighan co-authored and first published in 1978, noting it's still sitting on their bookshelves for easy reference. The book is commonly referred to as K&R in honor of the authors last names.

Ritchie during his lifetime was recognized for his accomplishments many times over. Most recently, he and Thompson won the $600,000 Japan Prize for their work on Unix.

Ritchie and Thompson previously won the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1983, and the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1998, presented to them by President Bill Clinton. The two also were named Computer History Museum fellows in 1997.

Ritchie retired from Lucent Technologies in 2007. Bell Labs is now Alcatel-Lucent's R&D arm. Ritchie's passing marks the third death of a technology industry giants in the past week. Steve Jobs died last week at the age of 56 and former Motorola CEO and cell phone industry leader Robert W. Galvin died earlier this week at the age of 89.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A giant has passed.


Thank you for the magic, wonder and spectacle. Rest in peace.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roku Review

As promised (on Twitter) - the full Roku review.

Sorry for the little delay but I prefer to use things for at least a few days and give them a good going over before I do a writeup.  Done and done.  I've had the box for a little more than a week now and in short.  I love it.  I love it about as much as I love my Squeezebox in fact.  These kind of streaming devices are definitely the future.

Purchase experience:
I previously mentioned via Twitter ( @ninjahippie ) that I had an amazingly satisfying experience with the support and purchase experience on the Roku site.  I'll elaborate a little here to explain.

I have an older HD tv.  It's one of those rear projection monsters.  In fact it's about the size of a small car.  It's got an amazing picture however and the screen is about 65" so I rather like it.  The downside is that being older - the only HD inputs on the beast are component.  There is no HDMI on the old gal at all.

This being the case I knew that the older Roku XDS model had a component option but I could find no mention of it regarding the new Roku 2 models.  So I clicked the "live chat" option on the Roku website and was put into a queue - the first thing I liked was that the chat app kept me informed about my place in line and gave an estimated wait time.  After about 3 minutes I was greeted by a rep who answered my question immediately without any extraneous jabber or more importantly - no sales pressure.

I then went to their online store and - since the new generation does not support component connections - put an older XDS model and component cable in my cart and proceeded to check out.  I notice immediately that they take PayPal.  I prefer this online for so many reasons.  The two biggest are convenience related.  First, I just need to know my password.  No digging about for a credit card and pecking in numbers and such.  Second, PayPal sends a "ship to" address so I don't have to type it all in.

Most sites hose up this last one.  They make you type in everything and then send you to PayPal.  Not Roku.  PayPal first.  At the end they asked me if they should use the address provided by my account or if I wanted to enter a different shipping address.  Dead solid perfect.

Shipping was free and immediate.  I had the box in 3 days thanks to the USPS priority mail service.

Setup and use:

In the box:  A remote, batteries, composite cable, getting started guide and the unit itself.  (Note: composite and component are very different animals)  An HDMI is not included.  Also if you need the component cable - don't forget to grab a TOSLINK cable for digital audio output.

The Roku is like a toaster.  If you have HDMI - one cable to the TV and one power cord.  In my case, three cables.

Put the TV on the appropriate input and you are greeted with a simple step by step process to get connected to your network.  In doing the initial setup you will want to be close to your computer as you will need to create an account on the Roku site and link the box to it and then do the same with any of the Paid streaming services you may use.  Linking is simple.  The Roku will display a short code and the URL to visit on the appropriate site.  Once you enter the code - your Roku is linked to your account.

I hooked the box up to both my old TV via the component cable, and my newer set via HDMI.  Both worked flawlessly.  The only niggle that I found was that if you set a resolution that your set cannot support you're stuck.  You must either hook the box to a TV that does support that resolution or do a factory reset and begin from scratch.  The one thing I would recommend to Roku is to add a "do you want to keep this resolution" question after you change it.  Similar to the way windows and Linux handle these changes.  If the question goes unanswered it reverts to the previous setting...

Watching stuff:

Besides Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc there are TONS of other "channels" in the store.  It's a bit overwhelming in fact. Beyond that there are "private" channels that can be added from your account on the web site and dozens of apps that do things like let you stream from your home media server / PC.  Games, screen savers etc.

In a week of watching Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and shows from Revision3 and live streams from the only video glitchs (re-buffering) I've had were with the live stream from  And that was just twice in an hour long show.

Overall impressions:

Physically the box is tiny.  Smaller even than an AppleTV.  It's simple to setup.  The user interface is mostly simple (some of the channels - like Hulu - are a little odd). The content is simply amazing.  Roku knocks it out of the park and gets my highest recommendation.

If you have a newer TV with HDMI connections or older sets with composite or s-video connections just get one of the latest boxes.  However, if you are in my boat and have an older HD set and need the XDS you can purchase it directly from Roku like I did.  You must do it from the "accessories" page as they aren't shown on the main site any more.  You can also get them from Amazon and other vendors.  You will also need the component adapter cable - available only from Roku (also on the accessories page) as far as I know.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Amazing fiery motorcycle rescue! - YouTube

Okay so my faith in mankind has been restored somewhat this morning. The whole story can be found here:

Posted via email from ninjahippie's (pre) posterous

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

The truest thing you will read today.

iTunes / PayPal scam?

So a couple of years ago I went through the painful process of setting up iTunes so that my kids purchases from their iPods would be paid for via my PayPal account.  The process was so annoying and the experience of dealing with Apple "support" so abysmal that I swore off purchasing any more Apple products.

Over the weekend I was rewarded by seeing charges appear on my PayPal account that could not have been made by either one of my sons as one 'pod died a watery death and the other has been abandoned and uncharged for months due to the acquisition of an Android phone by my oldest.

So this morning - after another story confirmed my decision by detailing mysterious (but different) charges on iTunes - I canceled my payment agreement with the iTunes store. 

Apple has seen my last dollar.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Howto: Run the Alinco DJ-G7 Clone tool in WINE

Well - I did this today. 

Just thought I'd throw it out on the interwebs so that the other 1 or 2 total geeks that own this radio AND run Linux out there somewhere have a chance of finding it and saving some time:

For the 99.999% of those reading this - Yes it's a ham radio.  Fairly obscure even at that - but a very unique and even pretty awesome rig once you get onto how to program it.  For details please visit the Alinco website.

Once you have read the manual 6 or 7 hundred times and are still confused,  you will easily lay out the funds for a programming cable and download the "Clone Tool".  Which will let you program the radio on your pc.  

If you are one of the Windows running sheeple - you are all set.  Good luck finding and installing and then re-installing the driver for the USB to serial chipset in the cable. You have been warned. Now go away.

If you are running a Mac. Just do this in Parallels or some other virtualization software.  Yes you will need to install the drivers twice to get them working.  Yes Windows sucks that way.  That's why you use a Mac.  Deal.

Going the virtualization route also works on Linux of course.  You will need the full version of Virtualbox - not the OSE edition.  (On any recent distro you won't need the Linux driver) You will need to give access to the USB device in Virtualbox and go through the aforementioned windows driver hell though.

Now, on to the good stuff:  To run this most efficiently and natively on LInux under Wine - here are my notes.  (I'm assuming you already have WINE installed and running other things or you wouldn't still be reading this story.)

Running on my Ubuntu 10.10 laptop.

The software installs like any other Windows app and runs without a hitch.  If using the USB cable however you will need to do the following:

Plug in the cable and see what device it is assigned:

ls -l /dev/ttyUSB*

Normally it will be assigned ttyUSB0 but do the ls -l to check the time stamp and make sure you don't point WINE at your internal modem or something.

Then create a symlink for WINE by running:

ln -s /dev/ttyUSB0 ~/.wine/dosdevices/com1

Then run the clone tool and configure it to use com1.  Easy peasy.

When done (before unplugging the cable from the system) remember to remove the symlink by running:

rm ~/.wine/dosdevices/com1

That's it.  Too bad USB to Serial adapters are such weird beasts with no real standards so that wine could do all of this for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Steffen Method" of Airplane Boarding

Hey dude/tts in charge of boarding proceedured for airlines... Watch this!!

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Heathkit back in the kit business??? Oh lets hope so...



Our educational and training materials are developed with a proven philosophy of learning and integrate visual, auditory, and hands-on exercises. We call it "The Heathkit Approach to Learning".

At Heathkit Educational Systems, we've been preparing people for success in technology careers for over 75 years.




By popular demand, Heathkit is bringing back the kit building tradition.  Successfully building your own products provides a sense of pride and accomplishment, not realized by simply buying something off the shelf.

In late August, Heathkit will debut their new line of Do-it-Yourself kits for common around-the-house items.  The first kit will be a Garage Parking Assistant (GPA).  The Garage Parking assistant kit lets you build your own system that uses ultrasonic sound waves to locate your car as it enters the garage.  The system signals to the driver using LED lights mounted on the wall when the car is detected and in the perfect spot for parking.


The GPA-100 kit consists of two primary assemblies - The LED Display in kit form and the pre-assembled ultrasonic range module.  the kit will include everything you need to complete the project except a soldering iron and hand tools.

Next on the market will be a Wireless Swimming Pool Monitor kit followed by many more.  Heathkit wants to continue to bring to its customers interesting, unique Heathkit products.  Heathkit is interested in learning what types of products kit builders would like to build.  Kit builders can submit their suggestions through this website using the Contact Us email.









Oh how those of us that grew up with the Heathkit catalog hope this will be true... More power to ya Heath!

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

OMG! Terrorist Ravens! RUNNNN!

Raven rampage cuts power to 1,600 in Wyoming town

Raven rampage cuts power to 1,600 in Wyoming town

By JEREMY FUGLEBERG Star-Tribune energy reporter | Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 12:30 pm | No Comments Posted

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A raven which somehow made its way into an electricity substation cut power to more than 1,600 customers in Worland for several hours Tuesday night.

The bird's damage to the Rocky Mountain Power substation chopped power to the utility's customers in the southern part of Worland and to the south of the town at 8:43 p.m., said utility spokeswoman Margaret Ohler.

"Our folks repaired that damage and all Rocky Mountain Power customers were restored at 10:39 pm," she said.

The outage also affected some other electricity users in the area who were not Rocky Mountain Power customers, but Ohler said she wasn't sure of the number.

It was the second outage for Worland in six weeks. On July 4, a wind storm knocked down three power poles in the area, cutting power to 10 customers for more than a day.

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen said it's not unusual for animals to seek out warm places, which can include transformers and substations.

While the company tries to avoid any animal-related problems for both animal safety and outage concerns, incidents do happen, including in substations, he said.

"Substations are a little more difficult," he said. "If they touch two of the wrong things at the same moment, they complete the circuit."

So what happened to the raven that cut power to Worland?

"When that happens, they do not survive," Eskelsen said.

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter: @jerenegy.

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in State-and-regional, Energy, Updates on Thursday, August 11, 2011 12:30 pm | Tags: Electric Power, Electrical Substation, Power Outage, Margaret Ohler, Pacificorp, Dave Eskelsen, Rocky Mountain Power, Raven, Electricity, Jeremy Fugleberg

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Tee'd Off: Right-Wing Extremists Tricked by Trojan Shirts - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

Has cancer been cured?

This may just have amazing impact.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

System 76 Gazzelle Review

My oldest son is shortly planning on attending college.  For his high school graduation his mother and I decided to get him a new laptop.  He and I are both avid Ubuntu fans so System 76 was a natural choice.

The system arrived in about a week - which is impressive considering that S76 practices "just in time" fulfillment.  That is, the systems are manufactured to meet orders as they come in.  Packaging is a plain box with really nice protection for the system.  It arrived with a simple case, power supply, and the oft mentioned sheet of Ubuntu stickers.

Initial impressions:
  • The system itself is beautiful.  If batman has a laptop it's surely a s76. 
  • The screen is gorgeous.  Rivals the best Dell or Mac monitor easily.
  • The sound is loud for a laptop. (it's THX certified)
  • There is no stinking widows key.  (It has the Ubuntu logo on it)
His system arrived with 11.04 installed even though it was ordered only a few days after Natty was released.  Just like the other S76 reviews - yes everything works out of the box.  Including suspend/resume - the webcam - and the fingerprint reader.  It's beautiful. 

My son has only briefly allowed me to touch it but my impression of the keyboard and trackpad are that they are at least as good if not better than the many Dell laptops I routinely peck away on.  The trackpad is fully multi-touch allowing you to do the goofy two finger scroll etc. Battery life is at least several (3?) hours.  We watched Dr. Strangelove in it's entirety and still showed at least a third of the battery available. 

The only problem to be had so far are the occasional display issues common to the new Unity interface.  We also never did get the HDMI output working to the one TV we tried it with.  Not sure if it's the TV or our inexperience and impatience wanting to watch our movie.  Had we been a little more determined to get it going I most likely would have called System 76 support - which I've been told is awesome.

I will definitely buy from System 76 again. 

Geek tip: Business Cards

It's been a while since I've done one of these...

Today is a simple but crazy useful one.  Geek business cards.  Yes really.

Unless you are a plumber, hair dresser, or maybe a locksmith dealing primarily with retired homeowners, pretty much anyone you need to exchange business cards with will have a smartphone and/or email.  Why deal with the paper?  Here's how to get setup and handle it when someone wants your card...

On your phone, create a contact for yourself in your address book.  Make sure the contact has the appropriate detail.  Maybe make one for personal and one for business use.  Then when someone asks for your info just pull up that contact, and select "share".  On both Android and iOS you will have many choices of how to do that.  Among the choices will be Email, Bluetooth, and the coolest / simplest choice, barcode.  Selecting barcode will produce a QR code on your screen that can be scanned by any smartphone and instantly recognized as vcard data.  Very slick.


If the recipient does not have a smartphone (or is so completely inept running it) then the next best choice is email.  Selecting this will allow you to address a message with your vcard attached.  Then when your new friend (or leg humping sales drone) gets to their computer (or even the mail app on their phone) all they need do is click the attached file to have it added to their address book.

To make things quick on my Droid I've created a desktop shortcut for my contact.  I touch that, then the little index card icon to bring up the contact. Hit menu, share, barcode, and then hold the phone up to be scanned.  Done and done. 

On each of the smartphone platforms - especially Android and iOS - there are many apps that will scan barcodes (and hence QR coded cards) directly into your contacts.  On Android you probably already have Google Goggles.  It will work great for the QR codes and just about as well for the paper versions too. Just shoot a pic of the (paper) card and it's in your contacts.  I've stunned many salesdrones in meetings when I just shoot a picture of their card and hand it back.

Hopefully once again I've made your increasingly geek life simpler.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

How Facial Recognition Technology Can Be Used To Get Your Social Security Number - Kashmir Hill - The Not-So Private Parts - Forbes

faces, for ingy

What does your face give away?

Those freaked out by facial recognition technology have fresh fodder: a study from Carnegie Mellon University in which researchers were able to predict people’s social security numbers after taking a photo of them with a cheap webcam.

At the head of the research team was Alessandro Acquisti, a CMU professor who pointed out in 2009 that the social security number system has a huge security flaw — social security numbers are predictable if you know a person’s hometown and date of birth. This study essentially adds a facial recognition component to that study. Acquisti, Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman ran three experiments. In the first, they data mined Facebook for photos of people with searchable profiles. They then used that database of faces and identities when applying off-the-shelf facial recognition technology (PittPatt) to “anonymous” singles on a popular dating site. Acquisti told me in an interview last month that they were able to reidentify 15% of the digital Cupids.

In the second experiment, they used a $35 webcam to take photos of CMU students. They then asked the 93 participants to take a quick online survey. While they did that, the facial recognition software went to work figuring out who they were. Acquisti told me that 42% of those participants were linked to their Facebook profiles.

Finally, the third experiment was the one to link faces to their unique nine digits…

For those participants who had date of birth and city publicly available on their account, the researchers could predict a social security number (based on the work from their 2009 study). The researchers sent a follow-up survey to their student participants asking them whether the first five digits of the social security number their algorithm predicted was correct. One problem with this part of the study was that “60% of the CMU students were foreign and don’t have social security numbers,” said Acquisti. Though researchers were still able to tell them all about their interests and favorite movies based on what they got from their Facebook profile pages.

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Beautiful demonstration of how meta-data can be, and is used against you and your puny encryption and obfuscation techniques.

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House Committee Approves Bill Mandating That Internet Companies Spy on Their Users | Electronic Frontier Foundation

House Committee Approves Bill Mandating That Internet Companies Spy on Their Users

Despite serious privacy concerns being voiced by both Democratic and Republican leaders and by thousands of digital rights activists using EFF's Action Center, this afternoon the House Judiciary Committee voted 19 to 10 to recommend passage of H.R. 1981. That bill contains a mandatory data retention provision that would require your Internet service providers to retain 12 months' worth of personal information that could be used to identify what web sites you visit and what content you post online. EFF had previously joined with 29 other civil liberties and consumer privacy groups in signing a letter to the Committee members that condemned the bill as a "direct assault on the privacy of Internet users."

EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston had this to say about today's vote:

The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized. Requiring Internet companies to redesign and reconfigure their systems to facilitate government surveillance of Americans' expressive activities is simply un-American. Such a scheme would be as objectionable to our Founders as the requiring of licenses for printing presses or the banning of anonymous pamphlets. Today's vote is therefore very disappointing, but we are especially thankful to GOP Representatives Sensenbrenner, Issa and Chaffetz, who chose principle over party-line in opposing this dangerous tech mandate. We hope that bipartisan opposition will grow as the bill makes its way to the House floor and more lawmakers are educated about this anti-privacy, anti-free speech, anti-innovation proposal.

Please help us defeat this legislation before it is made law by contacting your Representative today.

Related Issues: Mandatory Data RetentionPrivacy


Please, Please use the handy form linked at the bottom of the article to contact your representative.

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XKCD - The CIA was hacked!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names | Kalzumeus Software

Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names

Posted on June 17, 2010 by in Uncategorized

John Graham-Cumming wrote an article today complaining about how a computer system he was working with described his last name as having invalid characters.  It of course does not, because anything someone tells you is their name is — by definition — an appropriate identifier for them.  John was understandably vexed about this situation, and he has every right to be, because names are central to our identities, virtually by definition.

I have lived in Japan for several years, programming in a professional capacity, and I have broken many systems by the simple expedient of being introduced into them.  (Most people call me Patrick McKenzie, but I’ll acknowledge as correct any of six different “full” names, any many systems I deal with will accept precisely none of them.) Similarly, I’ve worked with Big Freaking Enterprises which, by dint of doing business globally, have theoretically designed their systems to allow all names to work in them.  I have never seen a computer system which handles names properly and doubt one exists, anywhere.

So, as a public service, I’m going to list assumptions your systems probably make about names.  All of these assumptions are wrong.  Try to make less of them next time you write a system which touches names.

  1. People have exactly one canonical full name.
  2. People have exactly one full name which they go by.
  3. People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.
  4. People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.
  5. People have exactly N names, for any value of N.
  6. People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.
  7. People’s names do not change.
  8. People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
  9. People’s names are written in ASCII.
  10. People’s names are written in any single character set.
  11. People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points.
  12. People’s names are case sensitive.
  13. People’s names are case insensitive.
  14. People’s names sometimes have prefixes or suffixes, but you can safely ignore those.
  15. People’s names do not contain numbers.
  16. People’s names are not written in ALL CAPS.
  17. People’s names are not written in all lower case letters.
  18. People’s names have an order to them.  Picking any ordering scheme will automatically result in consistent ordering among all systems, as long as both use the same ordering scheme for the same name.
  19. People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.
  20. People have last names, family names, or anything else which is shared by folks recognized as their relatives.
  21. People’s names are globally unique.
  22. People’s names are almost globally unique.
  23. Alright alright but surely people’s names are diverse enough such that no million people share the same name.
  24. My system will never have to deal with names from China.
  25. Or Japan.
  26. Or Korea.
  27. Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have “weird” naming schemes in common use.
  28. That Klingon Empire thing was a joke, right?
  29. Confound your cultural relativism!  People in my society, at least, agree on one commonly accepted standard for names.
  30. There exists an algorithm which transforms names and can be reversed losslessly.  (Yes, yes, you can do it if your algorithm returns the input.  You get a gold star.)
  31. I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it.
  32. People’s names are assigned at birth.
  33. OK, maybe not at birth, but at least pretty close to birth.
  34. Alright, alright, within a year or so of birth.
  35. Five years?
  36. You’re kidding me, right?
  37. Two different systems containing data about the same person will use the same name for that person.
  38. Two different data entry operators, given a person’s name, will by necessity enter bitwise equivalent strings on any single system, if the system is well-designed.
  39. People whose names break my system are weird outliers.  They should have had solid, acceptable names, like 田中太郎.
  40. People have names.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  If you need examples of real names which disprove any of the above commonly held misconceptions, I will happily introduce you to several.  Feel free to add other misconceptions in the comments, and refer people to this post the next time they suggest a genius idea like a database table with a first_name and last_name column.

This blog is about the business aspects of running Bingo Card Creator, a small software company. Want more great articles? I keep a list of my best work curated. A brief summary of the last few years is available here. If you like what you see, I encourage you to sign up for the RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

If you deal with code or systems that keep databases - this is worth the read. I do health care IT and I think probably only the government and the credit card industry would have more contact with this problem.

I've written many, many algorithms to deal with names and I agree with every item on this list.

For anyone still reading this that doesn't deal with this kind of system. Here's an example I had to deal with: Most systems in the US assume either one long string (50 characters, really?) or three separate ones. Okay. Then deal with this name... Little John Running Bear - the third. Which one is a last name? Are you sure? Which is the middle inital? How do you differentiate "him" from dad and grandfather. They all list their address as "general delivery" at the reservation post office. Oh and he also goes by "Little John", "Little Bear" and "R.B. Three". Good luck.

(BTW this is not a real name AFAIK but it's very close to one and an exact functional example from my past)

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Victory for evolution in Texas | NCSE

Pop the champagne corks. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution. In 14-0* vote, the board today approved scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers--and did not approve the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

"This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers," said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who testified at the hearings this week. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements--recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators--without amendments, and to reject International Database's creationist submission. The board did just that, and asked for only minimal changes to the approved supplements.

In hearings yesterday, NCSE members and allies showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the supplements as written, versus those opposing the supplements or demanding significant changes.

One hot button: the supplement from Holt McDougal. A creationist member of the review panel released a list of Holt's supposed errors involving evolution and common descent. But in today's hearing, the Texas Education Agency pointed out that the full membership of the review panel had not signed off on the list.

Ultimately, the board approved the Holt supplement, and directed Commissioner of Education Robert Scott to review the list of supposed errors, and to develop amended language for Holt to incorporate. NCSE and Texas education groups are confident Scott's revisions will reflect the current state of evolutionary biology, and not any creationist alternatives.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, NCSE's Executive Director is celebrating the decision. "These supplements reflect the overwhelming scientific consensus that evolution is the core of modern biology, and is a central and vital concept in any biology class. That these supplements were adopted unanimously reflects a long overdue change in the board. I commend the board for its refusal to politicize science education."

* Correction: This story initially reported the vote as 8-0. The board has 15 members, with one (Mary Helen Berlanga) away on vacation.

There is hope. Way to go Texas school board!

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