August 2007 Archives

Ah, the Life Ambitions of Youth...

If only we could all have lives like Zits... honestly, I wonder how many people had/have dreams like this? What's keeping us from living these dreams? Some sort of false obligation to the working world? Food for thought...

Line Silence Explainer

Just a quickie to the one person who might have wondered "hey, why no posts?" I've been:
- sick
- worn out from travel
- suffering through environment AND food allergies
- burned out on work
- sick
- in need of a break

So, I'm chilling. I'll be back after Labor Day (and a visit to the US Open in NYC). Until then, enjoy your (unofficially) last few days of Summer!

Thoughts on Leadership...

I've found myself wondering at length lately about what it means to be a leader and what good leadership is. I certainly don't think that I'm a very good leader these days because my attitude, frankly, sucks. It's certainly not an easy thing to be a leader, though there are certain behaviors that I think are endemic to leadership that should be taken as serious factors.

First off, I think it's instructive to explore where I think that I've succeeded and failed as a leader myself. In terms of failure, as already mentioned, my current attitude is not productive or useful, though it may be understandable, and even excusable, to a degree. To be quite honest, I'm a little burned out these days, not just from work load, but also from what seems like a lack of good, quality leadership around me. Let me come back to that.

Where I think that I've succeeded as a leader is in not accepting first answers as a given, in being a good example for performance (attitude aside), and in becoming moderate in emotion (most of the time), while maintaining passion and direction. I try very hard to ask thought-provoking questions, and I simply do not accept "that's the way it's always been" or "that's how we do things here" as valid explanations. If you weren't present for the decision to do something, and you don't understand why the decision was made, then you should be asking questions, not defending it. I digress...

A Kettlebell Full House

kb-set.jpgWell, we've done it! We've ordered - and taken delivery of - more kettlebells! Hanna indicated that she was interested in trying them out, so we got her an 8kg bell (18 lbs). At the same time, I order a pair of 24kg bells as the 16kg bell was starting to feel light. I've already started working them into my workouts (swings, in particular). What a nice set these make!

If you're tired of going to the gym (or, rather, paying for a gym membership that you're not using), then it's time to check out kettlebells! If you've always hated dedicated aerobic exercise - for the sake of getting a little cardio - then it's time to check out kettlebells! They're an excellent one-stop-shop for strength and cardio. Get the workout hardware that helped make the men of the movie 300.


Trying for New Revenue Streams...

In an attempt to create additional revenue to support this site, I've built my first aStore over at Amazon. Click here to check it out, or click on "My aStore" on the right.

Rep's Response to REAL ID Query

About a month or so ago I sent out an EFF form letter to my local Congressman about the Real ID Act of 2005. The Act sets ridiculous requirements for State-issued IDs, such as driver's license. Of course, in keeping with the current administration's absurd behavior, no funding has been provided to meet these requirements. Moreover, the legislation is yet another knee-jerk reaction to 9/11. Of course, I find it extremely unlikely that Real ID would have stopped 9/11 from occurring, or, for that matter, that a lack of an American ID would have any impact, either.

See the form-letter response below. For more information on this worthless legislation, please see the EFF Real ID Act page.

Environment + Politics = WWIII?

We've all probably guessed that the next major global armed conflict will revolve around access to natural resources, much as the last regional conflicts in the Middle East have been. But, did you ever stop to think that such a conflict (possibly even WW III) might be spurred on by the receding polar ice cap and global climate change? I've noticed several articles in the past few weeks, including this one from the BBC, that show Russia, Canada, and the US (among others) beginning to enter a somewhat tetchy standoff over who has rights to the resources under the Artic.

Call me paranoid, but if I were to guess at the cause of WWIII, this would be it. Especially given the strong posturing Russia has been doing lately, such as over the proposed American anti-missle defense system in Europe, I'm strongly reminded of the Cold War era. Add in economic instability globally, as we have today, with the significant economic influence of the Asian Tigers, and you have the ingredients for quite the mess.

Food for thought...

Ok, phishing is not the "official" threat of the month, but if you follow any security blogs, you'll notice that the topic is coming up in several circles at the moment. First out was Symantec's "A Brief History of Phishing" Part I and Part II. Then came a piece from the Think Smarter blog titled Balancing Security and Usability: The Human Factor. And, lastly, Bruce Schneier has posted a piece citing two new bits of research on phishing. What does it all mean?

I'm increasingly motivated to study Cognitive Psychology, and this is an excellent example of why: engineers often take for granted what they're designing, oftentimes with unintended consequences or side-effects. A quick summary of the article here:

There's a problem with most of the highway signs currently being used in the U.S.: Overglow. The signs are fairly legible in the daytime, but at night, when they're illuminated solely by the reflected light from car headlights, reading becomes trickier.

My interest in this subject (Cognitive Psychology) extends to computers and information security. What design decisions are being made by software engineers that have the net effect of undermining security? And I'm not just limiting that question to poor coding practices that introduce buffer overflows or XSS or SQL injection attacks. Instead, I'm talking about the much higher level question of how the UI is designed, how prompts are written, and what expectations technical people have of non-technical people to understand what their computers are doing and/or telling them. I think the average software engineer grossly overestimates the ability of the average, reasonable person to understand what these demented engineers were thinking when they created something in a certain way.

Our First European Adventure

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In July 2007 we (being Hanna and I) undertook our first big international adventure with a tour to Italy and Greece. As I'd never been to Europe before, we opted to do a managed tour with a company (Contiki) that caters to 18-35 year olds, which was preferable in our minds to tagging along with the oldies. :) We settled on the Rome, Sorrento, Athens tour while we were skiing at Crested Butte. It was a decent deal, all things considered, and a good time.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken (1915)

I've finally gotten around to posting pictures from my trip. I also had a few videos, mainly of the Musei Vaticani where flashes were not permitted. Oh, also, by popular demand, I have setup a Facebook site using my primary email address.

Our tour itinerary from Contiki was as follows

* Day 1: Depart for Europe
* Day 2: Arrive Rome
* Day 3: Rome
* Day 4: Rome
* Day 5: Rome to Sorrento
* Day 6: Sorrento - Isle of Capri
* Day 7: Sorrento to Adriatic Ferry
* Day 8: Adriatic Ferry to Athens
* Day 9: Athens
* Day 10: End Athens

The rest of this blog entry (extensive as it is) will follow this itinerary outline as I reflect on our time abroad. Before I launch into that, however, I just want to say that we really enjoyed our trip, and are in fact actively planning our next adventure abroad. We would ideally like to spend a month or more in Europe, though we may also like to live abroad, such as in Germany. Only time will tell where we'll end up, though I assure that we'll be selecting our own path, and hopefully following the one less traveled by.

Security is Cute and Cuddly

Check out this flash animation short by Mark Fiore about the "updates" to FISA (or, the total elimination thereof).


Hat tip to Network Security Blog.

Getting Off of Windows...

As my home-built Windows PC begins to teeter on the brink of failure (the USB bus has been unstable for a couple years now), I've finally made the decision to essentially ditch Windows once and for all (mostly). I say "mostly" because I plan to install Parallels in case I have need for Windows at some point. Anyway, that being said, I've evaluated my needs and opted to get a new Mac Mini with the following kit from Apple:
   * Processor 065-7427 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
   * Memory 065-7429 2GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM - 2x1GB
   * Hard Drive 065-7432 160GB Serial ATA drive
   * Optical Drive 065-7434 SuperDrive 8x(DVD±R/DL/DVD±RW)
   * Apple Software Solutions 065-6200 None
   * MAC OS LANGUAGE 065-7436 Mac OS X
   * Country Kit 065-7437 Country Kit
It's worth noting that the new 2.0 version of the Mini comes with the Core 2 Due chip set. I had hesitated to purchase before vacation because it was still on the older, slower Core Duo processors, and was instead agonizing over shelling out US$3k to buy either a high-end Macbook Pro laptop or, more outlandish, an actual full-sized Mac Pro. What wonderful timing, then, that the Mini has just now been upgraded to the Core 2 Duo chips.

Why YouTube Sucks Donkey

I made my first attempt at uploading videos to YouTube tonight. At first, everything was grand. Then I realized that more than half my uploads were failing conversion. wtf? I tried dumping the AVIs to MP4s, but this still resulted in a very high fail rate. So, completely annoyed, I decided to try AOL's Uncut Video. It was a little slower, and the upload process was much more processor-intensive, but there's no denying the end-result: all uploads were successful on the first try, regardless of AVI or MP4.

You can check out my videos here. Thus far I've posted vids from my Bangalore trip (crazy traffic!) and from the Capitol 4th celebration in DC. Coming later Sunday will be my Europe videos. I'll post a note here when those go up as I'll also be posting several photo updates to my site around the same time.


It is a day to celebrate! All the madness in the SCO v sanity trials has come to a screeching halt, and SCO, I expect, will cease to exist very, very soon. Oh, and all those allies (Microsoft, you know we're talking about you) who propped SCO up and played license bully? They now stand to owe Novell a ton o' money. Ha ha ha!!

PJ has a good summary over on Groklaw here. Story also covered here and here.

Well, you've undoubtedly heard by now that our brilliant legislators apparently lost their freaking minds last week before then fleeing for Summer break. Yes, indeed, it's true: I left town and the prats passed legislation removing most of the FISA limitations to prevent the NSA from spying on everybody under the sun (well, ok, a "foreigner" must be involved, technically).

Susan Landau at the Washington Post has a great write-up on why this is such a remarkably bad deal. Bruce Schneier tags on
with a few references to the recently uncovered Greek telecomm snooping debacle. Most other security sites have already touched on this, too, so I won't say really anything more than I have already.

If you're righteous indignation (or outright anger) about this, then I highly encourage that you take a stand and do something about it!



Yes, I'm feeling crufty these days... I've finally taken the big steps of creating a Facebook account (as yet to be fully setup, of course) and, perhaps more importantly, I've begun setup of Google Reader. Why?

Well, in terms of Facebook, it was brought on by a desire to see travel pics from some of the other folks on our Europe tour (a summary of which is forthcoming with my own pics and vids this weekend, I hope). At least half of the folks on the tour seemed to think of the Facebook as being roughly equivalent to the Internet, it seems. I remember a time when that was AOL... anyway...

As for Google Reader, well, it's quite simple, really. I've now reached the point that it's simply too hard to keep track of everything I'd like to read (news sites, blogs, etc.). So, this will hopefully allow me to more effectively manage the inundation of information. We'll see. :)

Unsuited For Space

Here's one for the weird science files. According to Slate, you can survive in space for a limited time without a space suit. Just make sure you don't hold your breath when you try it, and make sure your exposure is less than 15 seconds. Nonetheless, you might instead want to wear a suit if you think your exposure will be longer than that.

To that end, MIT aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems diva professor Dava Newman is leading the development of a new skin-tight suit that will greatly reduce the bulk of suits, increasing the agility possible while on a space walk. These suits remind me of those worn in the space walk scene of the movie Star Trek: First Contact.


On the return flight from Europe, I was able to read the 7th and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). This was yet another strong work from J.K. Rowling and a fitting end to an overall series. Before getting into my thoughts on the book (including spoilers below the crease!), I wanted to recap some of my thoughts on the movies compared to the books.

In the couple weeks preceeding HP7, I re-read the original 6 books. What I found most striking is that the first 3 movies stayed fairly true to the writing. However, the 4th book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)), was significantly different in film. First and foremost, the movie makes Neville Longbottom out to be something other than awkward and bumbling, providing Harry with information on gillyweed and displaying phenomenal dance prowess. Just the opposite is true in the book.

Tonight I blog on a few different topics. Tomorrow morning I hope to post my thoughts on the Harry Potter books and movies, including a summary of thoughts on HP7: The Deathly Hallows (which will be heavily labelled "spoiler alert"!!). I also hope to get my Europe travel photos processed and posted on my photos site by the end of the weekend, along with a lengthy post about the trip. Lots to do! First and foremost, I just to start doing a brain dump...

So, first up, my favorite workout implement: kettlebells! I mentioned a couple weeks ago that Hanna was interested in trying them out. So, as promised, I ordered an 8kg bell for her yesterday, along with a pair of 24kg bells for myself. I highly recommend this workout system to everybody, young or old! Start light if you need to, there's no shame in that. The shame is in not doing anything. These wonderful tools provide a full body workout with only a few simple exercises. To quote Pavel:

When we say "strength," we mean "kettlebell." When we say "kettlebell," we mean "strength."


Home Again, And Then Some...

We made it back home yesterday and are officially in a state of exhaustion. I'll be posting more in the next couple weeks on the trip, including pictures. For now, it's just a matter of getting my feet back under me.

Incidentally, I completed my quest to re-read all the Harry Potter books and then read HP7 in about a day (mostly on the flight yesterday). The ending seemed ok, though a agree with Hanna's comment that it is a bit of a let-down being done with the series. I'm now quite curious how the HP6 and HP7 movies will turn out, since they've made such significant changed in HP4 and HP5 (like, what happened to Dobby's prevalent role?!?). Ah, well...

(Note: just noticed on 8/8 that this post never got published, so have just published it now)

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