Where there is money, a will and a way will follow

I found this on Bruce Schneier’s blog:

Fingerprinting Computers By Making Them Draw Images

Here’s a new way to identify individual computers over the Internet. The page instructs the browser to draw an image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, this can be used to uniquely identify each computer. This is a big deal, because there’s no way to block this right now.

I glanced at the paper and it is a bit interesting. By getting your computer’s hardware to produce an image they can identify the machine with a high degree of accuracy. Of course, one would presume that that level of hardware access would be blocked by the browser sandbox, but they found a clever way to step around that limitation. This approach will, of course, be quickly blocked by many of the browser writers (I am sure that the Firefox developers are almost done with a patch), but there is a HUGE amount of money out there for products such as these and I have no doubt that variations on a theme will be blasting out soon. It is interesting to me, though, that the very success with tools such as these puts a hard lifetime on their success. There are quite a few groups out there that are ultra paranoid about every byte that traverses their networks and they work to identify the source for each and every one, so something that becomes successful will rapidly rise into the targeting aperture of these organizations and be stomped on. It is interesting to observe the cat and mouse game (where ‘cat’ and ‘mouse’ switch roles from time to time) from the sidelines, I am quite happy to not put in 36 hour days figuring out some of these things.

Posted in InformationTechnology, Infosec | Leave a comment

Take out the messenger

FedEx indicted for shipping drugs sold online
http://money.cnn.com/2014/07/17/news/companies/fedex-indictment-drugs/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Since the government can’t do its job properly it decides to go after someone it can reach in its laziness. I like this quote from FedEx:

“We continue to stand ready and willing to support and assist law enforcement,” said spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald. “We cannot, however, do the job of law enforcement ourselves.”

Last Sunday I managed to cut off the very tip (about a millimeter) of my pinky finger doing something stupid (does anyone injure themselves doing something smart?). I was cutting part of a stud to make room for a medicine cabinet and I guess because I was worried about the plumbing pipes I wasn’t focused on where all my fingers were and that damn lazy good-for-nothing pinky wandered into the danger zone (stupid pinky, doesn’t it know about these things?). It bled remarkably little, but sure does hurt. It is remarkable how much I use that pinky when typing, I have slowed down quite a bit. I didn’t post a couple of times earlier in the week because I couldn’t bear the thought of all the typing.

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“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

Why the GOP really wants to defund IRS
Hint: It’s not about punishing administrative incompetence.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/07/01/why-the-gop-really-wants-to-defund-irs/

Back from my week long ‘vacation’ (the bulk of which was 10-12 hours a day of back breaking work (in sauna-like temps) to get ready for the July 4th party) and catching up on the news. The above article is quite interesting to me (really! it is worth a read!) and apropos given that I got this from a good friend yesterday:

Education Profiteering; Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-faux/education-wall-street_b_1919727.html

Which reminded me of a few past posts that are all related to the steady and largely successful efforts by the elite to extract tax dollars from the middle class while simultaneously maximizing polarization in our country:

http://sol-biotech.com/wordpress/2011/10/27/the-educational-industrial-complex/
http://sol-biotech.com/wordpress/2012/01/25/more-educational-industrial-complex/

Also prison privatization is ‘great’ for profit as well:

http://sol-biotech.com/wordpress/2012/01/27/usa-the-prison-society/
http://sol-biotech.com/wordpress/2013/09/23/low-crime-tax/

There is also good reason to think the shenanigans with the post office are all about union busting:

http://sol-biotech.com/wordpress/2012/03/15/political-destruction-of-the-us-post-office/

After that bit of shameless plugging of my own posts I will say that the party was pretty much an unqualified success. My primary goal of getting the cooks out of the house was a roaring success and all greeted the pavilion with excitement and approval. I was able to relax from the 4th on (we also took off yesterday (Monday) as well) and sit around, eat and smoke cigars (and watch the Tour de France live). The weather also moderated nicely for the weekend as well. I will try to get updated pictures on my web site soon and post back here…

Posted in Business, Economics, Education, Government, Politics, Society | Leave a comment

Sorry for the quiet

I have been readjusting to being a working stiff again (though that doesn’t explain why I was so quiet when I was on the dole) and haven’t been keeping up with news very much. I read an interesting (older) article at Salon (I don’t visit there as much now that Greenwald has left; they seem to be largely the opposite of Fox: many articles (at least their titles) read like hysterical left-wing versions of the hysterical right-wing nonsense at Fox) that thoughtfully discusses several aspects of Snowden’s leaks and interestingly weaves in McVeigh and his bombing:

The empire strikes back: How Brandeis foreshadowed Snowden and Greenwald
So-called liberals attack the whistle-blower duo — and a brilliant Supreme Court justice saw it all coming
http://www.salon.com/2014/05/24/the_empire_strikes_back_greenwald_snowden_and_the_lessons_of_louis_brandeis/

I figured I would use this as an excuse to write an update, though I encourage my reader(s) to check the article out.

The job is pretty much a bait-and-switch, I am to program in Ruby and use something called RSpec for testing instead of the C++ we talked almost exclusively about during the interview. I am not in a very good position to be upset about this, so am working through the learning curve now. Supposedly there exists the chance for me to switch to the development team where the work is done in either C or C++ (I am fine with either) in 6-ish months when the testing framework has been completed, we will see what happens. Naturally I can’t talk much about what I do, though it is nice sometimes to be able to talk freely inside the scif with my co-workers about things, though with some stuff being ECI (Exceptionally Controlled Information) even some of our inside conversations get neutered. The wonderful world of working in the IC.

All next week will be devoted to preping for our big party on July 4th. Lots of landscaping I need to get caught up on, and of course work on the greenhouse/pool (or rather the pavilion of said project). We almost completed the half bath last weekend, but when I went to turn the water on it turns out that I didn’t completely insulate the pipes as I had thought and there is a 3/4 inch gash in the side of a 1 inch pipe that spewed lots of water until I turned it off. I will fix that this weekend. I feel pretty confident that everything in the pavilion will be functional (but not to my wife’s desired state, meaning lacking trim, etc. in places) for the party, though there are at least a couple of day’s worth of work to do.

We got the carpenters (Danny and Danny) back on the job, they are working on the siding now so hopefully it will look finished when people drive up. Still many months of work to go before it is complete, but I think having it ready for aquaponics early this Fall is very feasible. We still have the insulation inspection for the greenhouse/pool area, then the final inspection, so we are still looking at a whole lot of work yet to be officially done.

A few days ago I learned about Nickel-Iron batteries (NiFe). Also called ‘Edison batteries’ they were very profitable for the Edison company, but that division was bought by a lead-acid battery company and discontinued. The main problem with them? Believe it or not, the main problem is that the damn things seem to last forever (some are still going after 80+ years!). They are very tolerant of abuse (over charging, complete discharging), though have some technical aspects that put them at a slight disadvantage to lead-acid. The big problem today: they are several times more expensive than lead-acid and are only made in China and India. What interests me so much is that it seems entirely feasible to fabricate them DIY, so I am thinking about doing some research into fabricating them. If I can make them cheap enough myself (and thus, can maintain/repair them if needed) then I believe they might become a viable way to go off-grid. Lead-acid batteries, at least as built today, can’t be fabricated (or repaired) by a regular DIY-er, not to mention they are quite toxic. I am not too excited about the sodium-sulfur batteries because they have to operate so hot, the elements (sodium) can catch fire when exposed to air and, oh yes, I recently learned that sometimes they explode! Super capacitors are still not ready for prime time. I haven’t done any work on my osmotic energy because I have been too damn tired after all the construction (sometimes it takes me until Wednesday to recover from the weekend’s efforts). Hopefully this winter.

I am suddenly quite interested in growing hickory trees. Of course it takes so very long for them to produce (from seedlings it is not out of the question to take 40 years to start producing), but I think I can get grafted versions that might bear in ‘only’ 5-7 years. I sort of accidentally learned that my chestnuts might be growing so damn slow because they like acid soil and since we are in an area of plenty of limestone, they might not be happy. I use sulfur to acidify the soil for my blueberries (and azaleas and rhododendrons), it is simple to sprinkle some around the chestnuts to see if that will get them on the ball. Though I have been having problems getting my bare-root fruit trees to bear fruit (no pun intended), they have grown _very_ nicely and in many cases are 12+ feet tall and several inches in diameter in the trunk, yet the chestnuts are basically the exact same size as when I planted the damn things.

I have pretty much recovered from my sprained ankle now, but haven’t been able to keep jogging for longer than about 2.5 miles for some reason. Besides, of course, being fat and out of shape. I had reason to actually _look_ at myself in the mirror the other day, man am I a fat blob. Stuff hanging out all over the place! Pretty embarrassing, good thing stuff like that doesn’t mortify me or I might never get out of the house.

Yall have a most excellent day now, yahea?

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Finally! A start date!

After almost exactly 3 months on the dole and almost a month since I signed on the dotted line, I finally have a start date. The agency is nothing if not inefficient and cumbersome! They canceled my badge because I wasn’t using it every day, then took nearly two weeks to schedule a new one after the two weeks to approve my clearance transfer. It sure helps that there is a 40% premium for working at the agency, though I was really close to giving that up to avoid dealing with this nonsense. I will be writing a system to test a high-speed network processing system much like the one I worked on before, but with different hardware (an OCTEON II CPU instead of the Tilera). The job I almost took with the 40% less pay would have had me in a dream position of optimizing a new distributed, yet ACID complaint database, but that reduction in pay would have forced us to sell one of our houses. My wife actually suggested we sell our Maryland house and make the insane 4 hour-a-day commute from our place in Shenandoah. It was not a simple choice, but the money we would save from not having to pay the mortgages for our MD house was almost exactly the premium for leaving the IC, so the decision boiled down to the commute and we just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for that.

We have been making some nice progress on our construction, at least insofar as the pavilion/kitchen is concerned. We have the floor down, the kitchen island in place, the propane hooked up, and last weekend installed the three exhaust fans. Small wrinkle with the exhaust fans: somehow after spending an _entire_ day ‘dry fitting’ everything to calculate the height of the structure to hold the fans, we were a foot too high. We lost a day building little boxes to hang the fans a foot lower, though I believe it looks reasonably good so few will likely notice. We tested all the stoves and the griddle at the same time, the gas pressure is just a wee bit low with everything going at once. It turns out that I had a large gap in my knowledge about gas: I had thought that the lines carried 2 PSI to the appliance, it is instead a quarter PSI and the lines were not sized correctly for that. Fortunately it is extremely unlikely that _everything_ will be running full-blast at once, so we will probably never run into this situation in practice, though the flames were only diminished a bit. Hopefully now we can finally get our carpenters back for a couple of weeks and get some help getting ready for our big party on July 4th.

I did some sensitivity analysis regarding my aquaponics (the joys of having a spreadsheet) and with 80% less output from the plants and half the output from the fish we can still turn a (calculated) profit high enough to justify going commercial. Also, I have been pleasantly surprised to see greenhouse grown produce in Costco (where I do a lot of comparison shopping) that has price/lb at or above my target, so I am now quite optimistic. I still totally lack anything but a wild assed guess on the labor to process, hopefully I will have that by next summer and we can finally decide if we want to take this to the next level. I did some calculations and I believe we can afford to build the first commercial greenhouse (12,500 square feet, presuming we are able to get the zoning variance we will need) without going to lenders (or rather, by relying on our credit cards, once paid off from refinancing our current construction), which should simplify the next steps. It is hard to get my wife/business partner to seriously think about these steps, she has a hard time thinking about things so far off in the future. In my mind we are already done with our 100K sqft (8 total houses) and are moving towards our ‘big box store’ sized greenhouses. I am already working on plans for going nation-wide and thence global, thinking about when to have an IPO, how to phrase the marketing literature, which key skills I need to recruit, etc. Just the way my mind works, I guess.

Just as I was finally starting to see some belly shrinkage I badly sprained my ankle on a jog a couple of weeks ago. I have done a few long (4 mile) walks so far, but haven’t started any jogging yet, it is still a bit sore and very painful if I twist it just so. Really dumb, I was going down a hill and had to go out into the street because some asshole had parked blocking the sidewalk and as I was angling back toward the sidewalk I was telling myself I should slow down so I wouldn’t sprain my ankle and Bamm! on my ass badly scratching up my leg and arm on the other side. Then, I had to walk a quarter mile to get home, man was I in agony that day! If I could only act on that good advice I give myself!

I have had two people try to convince me to consider growing pot in my greenhouse since it seems clear that it will become legal in Virginia soon. I have tried to explain that since I am way behind the learning curve in that aspect and there are people who have been doing it for decades who already have distribution pathways in place I would have a very tough time making a dent. Besides, the big companies (apparently the company behind Marlboro has already started selling joints in Colorado) are going to push all but the elite of niche marketers right out of business in a few years and I suspect only those niche marketers with a 30 year track record are going to be able to keep their margins high enough to justify being in business (or at least the sort of business I consider worth while).

I am actually very glad to be getting back to work. I believe I would’t have any trouble with not having a regular job as long as we don’t bleed money so profusely; if I had a few bucks to experiment with I am sure I would be really busy, but we are on a financial starvation diet so I have been a bit bored. Interestingly (frustratingly) I have been finding this period of unemployment has me in some sort of wedge state mentally, I haven’t been able to do a lick of programming on any of my projects. Quite sad, I could have made a lot of progress in 3 months if I had just got my head out of my ass.

This was a strange winter this year. It has been colder in the past, but when that happened before there was snow on the ground. This time it was almost as cold but with no insulating cover and I had quite a few plants die back to the roots (and a couple that haven’t shown any signs of life yet so probably died). Most have made a comeback, though, but it might be a couple of years before they have recovered enough to flower and/or set fruit. Speaking of fruit, the apple orchard next to our property just got bulldozed, the trees are only about a decade old which seems rather young, but a couple of locals have heard the trees were diseased somehow so that may explain it. Things sure look different without those trees there! My orchard was almost completely without flowers this spring, my research indicates that it may have been because I fertilized two falls ago. It seems that trees make the decision to flower the year before and they were so busy growing last year they didn’t bother with flowers. I am getting quite frustrated with the lack, I have put in a lot of time and energy so far and have almost nothing to show for it as yet.

I hope all my reader(s) are doing well!

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Oh yes, lets use Helium!

Meet the BAT, an airborne wind turbine
http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/12/tech/innovation/big-idea-airborne-wind-turbines/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

At first the idea of a lighter-than-air product to reach the higher energy winds at higher altitude makes a great deal of sense, but the use of helium makes it a really dumb idea. There is a helium shortage made increasingly worse by our dysfunctional government decisions (sometimes it is hard to accept that there are any ‘functional’ government decisions). Though helium is the second most abundant element in the universe (about 24% by mass, with hydrogen making a bit less than 74%; yes that is right, all the other matter in the universe makes up just a wee bit more than 2% by weight), because it is so light it tends to float to the top of our atmosphere and then gets picked off by solar radiation making it among the rarest of elements on our planet. Hydrogen, in addition to be plentiful (water is made of hydrogen and oxygen, doanchano) is ‘larger’ in its normal state (being a dimer of two hydrogen atoms) and thus leaks a lot less (helium is notorious for leaking through even the most air-tight containers). Yes, hydrogen has an unfortunate tendency to explode (see Hindenburg), but only if mixed with oxygen (air be 23% oxygen by mass of course) is it a problem. The simplest solution (though naturally one Americans would fight tooth and nail with their NIMBY fixation) would be to use hydrogen even though it is a bit less efficient and reserve our helium reserves for things that can’t do without it (such as MRIs).

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A step towards synthetic life

Augmenting the Genetic Alphabet
For the first time, synthetic DNA base pairs are replicated within living bacteria.
http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/39913/title/Augmenting-the-Genetic-Alphabet/

Scary? Perhaps, but going down this path opens up a revolution in biotech that makes what has come before look like the difference between the stone age and the industrial revolution. It was thinking about stuff like this that got me interested in biochemistry in the first place (how I wound up a programmer is something I often wonder about). It is a short article, give it a read…

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But a company can’t to go jail!

Feds wrestle with ‘too big to jail’
http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/05/investing/too-big-to-jail/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

I talk about “too big to jail” here from time to time. The core of the problem remains this idiotic notion of a corporate entity being ‘human’. You can’t put a company in jail, it has no physical form. Besides, since the company doesn’t have a brain, it can’t make decisions that lead to illegal activity. So, in our ‘great’ society, humans (that are rich enough) can break laws willy nilly and the stock holders of the companies get fucked in the wallet while those humans get even fatter bonuses. Ain’t America great?!

Anyway, so now our (in)justice system is considering the idea of formally charging this piece of paper with a crime thinking that somehow that will serve as a deterrent to all these other pieces of paper that are ‘committing’ these various crimes. And yet the sheeple just shrug their shoulders and turn to the sports page…

Posted in Business, Economics, Government, Law, Politics | 2 Comments

HFT

A nice explanation for how high frequency trading makes its outsized gains:

Trading in Milliseconds: When Correlations Break Down
http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/trading-in-milliseconds-when-correlations-break-down/

In the comments (most of the comments on his blog are intelligent) is another nice analogy:

http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/trading-in-milliseconds-when-correlations-break-down/#comment-2146150:

It would be like someone standing between you and the cashier. Anytime they see that the price tag on your can of beans is higher than what the cash register expects (the stock boy hadn’t gotten that far with new price tags) they step in the middle and take the difference. They pay the cashier the 95cents the store is now charging and then take your 98cents. Except not just anyone can set themselves up to stand between customers and cashiers. It takes having many billions of dollars of capital to back up those brief moments of holding the product. So only people who are already extremely fat and happy can get into this no-lose skimming position.

This week I am promised feedback on two positions I have interviewed for, one back in Columbia, MD another in Vienna, VA. Both unclassified, I haven’t had the slightest nibble for an IC job. The push-back on the IC pay rates has been very aggressive: I am looking at a $30K per year cut on most of the positions I have looked at, yet on the outside I might only need to take additional $5-10K cut. I suspect I am not the only one deciding now is the perfect time to get out from the ‘golden handcuffs’ and the intelligence community is going to have a very substantial brain drain over the next year or so.

Because of the rather draconian pay cut I am looking at when (increasingly ‘if’) I get a job, we have been forced into some rather depressing calculations. We are increasingly unlikely to be able to continue to afford our two houses (that we never intended to have). About a week ago my beautiful wife came up with a rather astounding idea: rather than sell our house in Virginia, where we have invested so much sweat, tears and blood (mostly mine), not to mention lots and lots of money, lets sell our house in MD and she can make the insane 4 hours a day commute from Shenandoah. If I shift my job search to Virginia, she can drop me off and pick me up on her too-ing and fro-ing, so I don’t have to drive at all (except those odd days when she is sick or whatever). Since I married her because I want to be with her, sitting in a car 4 hours a day, as long as it is with her, is a reasonable alternative to selling the house we have worked so hard on.

Yesterday my beautiful genius came up with an even more intriquing alternative: sell our place here in MD and then rent a basement appt. That eliminates the commute and she insists she has seen places for well under a grand. I figure it costs us around $3,300 a month to keep this place (I estimate at least $50K in pre-tax dollars), so saving 2/3 of that is a substantial amount of money. If I take a pay cut _less_ than that amount, it is as if I got a net pay _increase_, thus making the search for unclass jobs so much easier to contemplate. Of course, I might get lucky now that I have shifted my job search to the NOVA area and find an IC job that pays a nice premium over unclass, but it won’t matter so much.

Of course, if I don’t get an offer from either company this week (one has me very hopful, the other not so much) then I would shift my focus to prepping our MD house for sale (not that it will really eat in to my job search efforts, last week was nearly a total zero based on the job ads) and hope we can have it sold by the end of summer. My wife would start that insane commute, but then I would have each day to work on the greenhouse construction, so there is still a reasonable chance we could be doing aquaponics by this fall. Lots of options by moving to Shen (and making that insane commute, why we haven’t considered it to this point), according to my budget spreadsheet, we could be ‘bleeding’ around $2K a month (as opposed to bleeding by about $6,500 a month at the moment; knocking that extra grand off would be by giving up such things as satellite TV) so it wouldn’t take much for me to make up that shortfall. Indeed, if our house sells for what Zillow thinks it is worth, we could net around $40K out of the deal which would easily pay for me to be out of a regular job for a couple of years, more than enough time to get something going.

My DNA efforts are surprisingly going quite well. I have a company that has expressed genuine interest in paying for the test chip fabrication (not a working prototype, but a test for the element most critical to overall success), though they want me to pony up for the testing. I got quotes from my fab guy and testing guy at the end of last week (just as I was suffering from some sort of virus that had me on the toilet 20+ times a day), now I have to put everything together and send it to the interested parties and see if they will indeed cut a check. I would be a lot more excited about this if I had a job, right now it is a bit difficult to get enthusiastic.

Posted in Business, Economics, Government, InformationTechnology | Leave a comment

Microbiome being hacked away by antibiotics

The antibiotics that could kill you
http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/22/opinion/blaser-antibiotic-winter/index.html?hpt=hp_t4

I talk about the dangers associated with antibiotics from time to time, this is an opinion piece that sort of wraps things up, but in a more personal nature. I am now pretty much against taking antibiotics except in serious life threatening situations; first I have read a number of studies that indicates that in some of cases where they are prescribed there is no measureable benefit (e.g., ear or sinus infections). Second, I have personally have had long-term discomfort after taking antibiotics (I had the runs for over 6 months once) and according to my math, another day or so of discomfort with the infection is well worth the sacrafice to avoid all those hours sitting on the toilet.

As the article discusses, we are ripe for a global pandemic that has the potential to wipe out huge chunks of our population (though not enough, I am quite certain, to change, even slightly, our environmental destroying trajectory). Given the abuse we have been putting on antibiotics (and the few antivirals) when we need them they will be of no value. Sadly, I am sure, the coming pandemic will take out people largely equally (though the wealthy will, of course, get preferential treatments, I doubt they will have any better luck buying their way out of antibiotic resistance than the poor), which means the geniuses as well as the morons.

Of course, much like solar flares or impacts from comets, there is no way to predict when it will happen with any usefulness, so it is just sit around and either cower in fear, continue as usual or potentially waste a huge amount of resources (a la ‘preppers’) for something that might not even happen in your lifetime.

Posted in Environment, Healthcare, Science, Society | Leave a comment