Thursday, September 1, 2016
For the first time in my life, my primary computer (my work laptop) is a Mac, specifically a MacBook Pro, which is really nice hardware and a great (retina) screen. It's pretty similar to working on a Windows 7 machine, really, although Microsoft Office (specifically, Outlook) is missing a lot of features. And I've had to learn a bunch of new shortcuts, etc. One thing I really missed was being able to create .NET apps, and using a nice IDE like Visual Studio. Between that and the missing Office features, I started looking at buying my own ThinkPad, and getting it imaged with the Amazon corporate OS image (we can't hook it up to the network otherwise). I also have an Amazon-provided virtualized Windows machine (via Amazon Workspaces) accessed via the RDP-like Workspaces client. That's usually good enough if bandwidth is okay, and I installed Visual Studio 2015 Community edition on it, etc.
On my Mac, though, I installed Visual Studio Code, a stripped-down IDE, sometime in May I think. But it wasn't until today that I decided to try out the new c# plug-in for it, and the .NET Core install for Mac OS X. Along with a few other tools (Yeoman, installed via npm), it actually allowed me to create a new ASP.NET MVC project (complete with skeleton views and controllers, and HTML, and Boostrap for UI), and run it. On a Mac. If you remember Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft, you know why this sorta blows my mind.
Here's the screenshot (note the localhost URL):
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Crater Lake on the last weekend in July (the file is wrongly named "crater-lake-august"), and the picture of Haystack Rock, which is near Cape Kiwanda, back in June. I live just over 90 minutes from the coast, and about 90 minutes from Mount Hood, and around 2 or 2 ½ hours from Mount Saint Helens, which famously blew its top in a massive eruption back in 1980.
winning the great tablet wars". I'm not so convinced they can do more than grab a share of the enterprise market being this late to the game - given that the tablet market grew a lot faster than I thought it would - but at least it should give them a foot in the door.
So I will be keeping this for the name of my blog, since (a) it's a cool name, and I like it and (b) who knows, we might move back to Thailand at some point. Plus, no changing domain names. When I do find time to post something relevant, if there's a Thai angle to it, I'll probably work that in as well.
Friday, December 16, 2011
So anyway, the tablet is obviously an early, limited edition production run, but the hardware seems very well done anyway - it's ridiculously thin and light for a machine packing a Core i5, and a 1366x768 display. It also has a mini-HDMI port which works with the mini-HDMI to HDMI cable that came with my Motorola Atrix, which I think would be great for doing presentations - although the tablet supports WiDi (WiFi Direct), for connecting to compatible wireless displays/projectors that way.
But anyway - today I actually put it in the dock, hooked up the dock to my 22" monitor and set the desktop to "extend" (and plugged my big Microsoft ergonomic keyboard into the extra USB port in the dock, and a trackball into the USB on the tablet itself). The dock has a full-sized HDMI port - for anyone else planning to use this combo, just note that seating the tablet in the dock disables the mini-HDMI port on the tablet. When in the dock, the full-sized HDMI port on the dock is active. So anyway. I noticed an extra little icon on my taskbar (see below, I added the red arrow in the Paint utility program, since I haven't installed much else on this thing yet).
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Conventional wisdom, judging from what I read in the blogosphere and even in respected techie magazines, is that Microsoft and its Windows operating system are in terminal decline, about to be eaten alive by Apple’s iPad (and iPad 2, etc). Proponents of this view point to the exploding market for iPads versus the sluggish growth in the PC market overall, and to be fair, they do have some history on their side: Microsoft has tried for years to sell consumers and businesses on the idea of tablet computers, even renaming them as “UMPCs” (ultra-mobile PCs) to try to undo the negative history that tablets had - due in no smart part to Microsoft’s own failures in creating a successful tablet.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I had seen on Gizmodo (or was it Engadget?) that the update was rolling out, but I hadn't read what it included. Well, one thing it definitely includes is a more business-oriented Exchange security policy enforcement. There was a new message in my status-message tray that said, "Security Settings Update", next to the email icon. Tapping that brings up the screen (shown in two shots below, since it scrolls some). The long and short of it is, in order to use your phone with an Exchange account with a version of Microsoft Exchange configured with security policies, you have "activate device administrator". This allows remote wipe, password policy enforcement, monitoring failed login attempts, and remote force lock.
The small text at the bottom of the second screen shot says, "Enables server-specified security settings". So, this update appears to be aimed squarely at the enterprise market - now corporate IT managers will be able to enforce corporate security policies for their drones' Android mobiles. Oops, did I say drones? I meant, happy, productive workers!
Saturday, August 28, 2010
So if anyone has any thoughts, comments, constructive criticism (or the other kind, really), let me know. I'm deciding whether or not to try to flesh this out into a full-fledged "short story" or novella, and if so, what to do with it then (so, if my writing really just sucks, let me know, so I don't waste too much time on another lost cause). If it's too long or boring to bother, feel free to mention that in the comments also :-)
Aidan hated throwing things away - especially old computer equipment. But his growing collection of 1980s and 1990s server carcasses, old iOmega zip drives, and automated tape drives was spilling out of the spare room and advancing on his living-room couch.
“Ooof! Heavy piece of… oh, hi Morgan!”, he waved as he hauled an old Sun SPARCstation through the morning sunshine, out towards the green plastic dumpster.
“Hey Mister Kumar, what’s that? Finally cleaning out your closet? Is that like, an antique?”
He sighed inside - if the old Sun machine was an antique, what did that make him? He remembered playing with one almost like this at his dad’s work, back in the early 90s. Or maybe it was 1990. Morgan was 15, and sometimes far too cool to say hello - especially if any of her friends were around. Today, though, she seemed harmless enough.
“It’s an old server - a workstation actually - from about 1990. I hate to get rid of it, but I just don’t have room for it anymore, and I’m going to another auction tomorrow.”
“Oh, cool! It’s even older than me! Well, are you throwing anything else out? I can help you carry some stuff if you want”, she said, looking hopeful. He nodded, and grunted as he heaved the SPARCstation into the dumpster’s maw.
“Sure - just make sure you only take the stuff I pulled into the living room.” Morgan followed him through the front door, and picked up some old backup tapes.
“Are these VHS? God, my mom still has some of those. What’s on ‘em? Old movies?” Morgan spied another on the floor, and laughed. “Did you write this? It says ‘WTF’. Does that mean what I think it means?”
Aidan looked at the tape. It was actually labeled, ‘WTF!?’ with a black magic marker on the label. It was an old 20GB tape, which fell out of a tape-carousal system he picked up at an auction in 2002, after a dot-com storage company went bust. “No, it’s not a movie; it’s a back-up tape for a computer. Actually, I have no idea what’s on it, probably nothing, or some old bank data or something.”
Morgan looked intrigued. “So, why does it say ‘what the eff’ then?” she asked. “Can we check it - maybe it’s somebody’s diary or something?” She looked down long enough to update her location, talking quietly to her phone, “Helping Mister Kumar take his old computer junk to the trash”. Pause while she made sure everything was spelled right. “So, how can we check?”
He had wondered about that tape before, but never enough to check. But what the hell - it was a long weekend, he had nothing else to do, and doing some snooping through somebody else’s old files seemed - barely - more interesting than throwing away more old equipment. “This is going to take a few minutes to set up, I need to hook up a tape-reader to my computer that can read this.” he said. It actually only took him five minutes to get everything ready, but five minutes, it turns out, was about the attention-span of a 15 year old. Morgan’s phone was chirping and buzzing - clearly she had important places to be.
“Let me know what you find, okay? And do you think you can help me with my history homework tomorrow? We’re supposed to write an essay on India’s independence, and… “. She just smiled hopefully again.
“You do know I’m only half-Indian, right? I mean - I’m ‘Swindian’ - my father’s Swiss, and my mother’s from India, but I’m not exactly an expert, Morgan”. He wondered if Morgan’s offer to help was a plan to get his help with her paper all along, not that he would have said no anyway - her father was something of a friend.
“Well, that’s half an Indian more than my dad! Anyway, I bet you know tons, my dad says you’re really smart.” Morgan was an expert at manipulating grown-ups, and Aidan knew it, but found himself saying “Ok, ok, stop by tomorrow and I’ll help. But write a draft first, ok?” He said down and popped the tape in the drive.
After an hour, thought he knew why somebody had written ‘WTF’ on the tape. What the fuck indeed? The tape had two files - and one of them shouldn’t have been there. He turned to his notebook, and did a quick search on AES encryption. AES, or “Advanced Encryption Standard” was announced by NIST in November 2001, and he had bought a crate of equipment - including the tape - at an auction in 2002. The company that had once owned it went bust in 2001. But one of the files was encrypted with AES, and the date-time stamp on the file was from February of 1993. Impossible. It must have been encrypted with AES in 2001, on a computer with the date set wrong. Probably just an accident, but it still didn’t explain the second file. It was also dated 1993, but looked to be encrypted with DES, the old encryption standard that dated back to the 1970s, and the file was almost 4GB. If you had access to AES, which had never been broken, why would you bother using DES on another file, which could be cracked in an hour?
He decided he’d crack the DES file, and spent the next few hours downloading open-source cracking software, copying files to his home server, setting up the brute-force attack. It would take up to five hours, according to the readme, and in the meantime, he had to eat. He headed out for a very late lunch, or early dinner. Pinching some fat that was slowly growing around his midsection, Aidan made the decision to aloud: “Let’s call it early dinner, and not eat anything after that, right?”
The last bite of the enormous burrito was barely settling into his stomach, when his phone chirped. It was an automated email from his home server: the cracking software had guessed the right key to decrypt the DES-encrypted file. Looking at his watch, it was barely two hours since he’d pulled up the terminal window and started it.
Back home, he flipped on the TV in his home office, and toggled back and forth between the History Channel and the news. The news, as usual, was uniformly bad. History Channel it is, then. He turned to his keyboard and display, and opened up the folder. Oh good grief - the cracking software had spit out the encryption key, but didn’t actually decrypt the file. He used a free utility to do the actual decryption using the key - another 15 minutes put into what was probably a gigantic waste of time. His TV droned on, detailing the super-weapons of the Nazis. “World War II history never really got old”, he thought to himself. Then he laughed at his own pun.
Finally - the progress bar reached 100%, and he had his prize - with the filename, “20231117-1755.MTS.” MTS was a video format , and the file’s properties showed it was a pretty run-of-the mill 1080p video, shot with a Sony DSX-S6. And again with the screwy dates - the “date recorded” metadata showed November 17, 2022, which matched up with the obviously-wrong filename. “Curioser and curiouser, cried Alice”, he muttered. So far, he had two encrypted files that had date-time stamps from 1993 - one of which was encrypted with an algorithm that wasn’t available until 2001, and the other a video shot from a camera whose date was set to 2023. He double-clicked the file, which started playing in a window, and on his other screen, google’d the camera’s model number. No matches, although a lot of models that were close.
The video itself was a bit odd - it was a man who was obviously filming himself, standing in some kind of long hallway. The background panned wildly to the left, until the side of the hallway (tunnel?) was showing. It was black and reflective, like glass, so you could see the man’s head, with a couple of bright pin-pricks off to one side. Marks on the glass? Aiden turned up the audio.
“You can see the system is completely clear behind me, and there are only four stars visible. There are dozens of dwarfs that are visible in IR, but even those are mostly cold. I can communicate with some of the other sophonts, there’s some sort of automated translation going on.” The man turned again, and started walking down the hallway. Something about the perspective was off, like a cheap 3D movie, somehow. And what’s a sophont? He paused the video and looked up the term - the word meant an intelligent being, as smart as a person or smarter. It also turned up in some reviews of books by Poul Anderson and Vernor Vinge, and some medical terminology that he’d never heard of.
An hour later, Aiden didn’t have much more of a clue as to what the tape was, but it seemed like it might have been some low-budget sci-fi movie that never made it to editing. But it was shot in 1080p, so how low-budget could it have really been? In 2001, that would have been a really expensive camera. Maybe this really was from some abandoned film project - something along the lines of Cloverfield, with that first-person video “feel” to it. Somebody must know something - he decided to post some clips and find out.
“Great,” he thought. It’s Saturday night, and instead of going out with friends to DC for a drink - and some small chance of meeting a girl - he was exporting clips from a decade-old video and uploading them to YouTube. He put up two 20-minutes clips in 720p, and posted a plea for anybody who knew where it came from to let him know, in the description section. Maybe there was time for a beer anyway - Jay had sent him a couple of sms messages while he was working. It was definitely time for a break from the mystery of the files, and he wasn’t going to get any further tonight.
Somewhere between his fourth whiskey-and-coke, and his last, uncounted one, the Gmail icon on his phone showed up. And then the envelope icon that signified his work email appeared. He slid down the notification area - two unread messages in each account.
“Aiden, what are you doing - it’s Saturday. Plus, that really cute girl over there keeps looking at us”, Jay nagged. She was cute, or really, more pretty than cute. His phone buzzed - an sms from an unknown number. Spam again? He tapped his phone, and read the sms: “Read your emails - hurry.”
“Sorry Jay, somebody’s trying desperately to annoy me.” He tapped onto his work email, and read.
“Aiden - I’ve just sent this same message to your gmail account. You need to take down the videos you put up on YouTube, and if you’re home, leave as soon as you get this. I don’t know how you got that video - you have no idea what you’ve done. Don’t reply to this message, it’s a dummy account I created to send this email. Take down the video, and if you’re smart, you’ll delete any copy of it that you have and forget it.
- Xie (not my real name!!)”
A chill started creeping up his spine. Xie, or whatever his name was - sent this to his work email. And sent him an sms.
“What’s up? You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something”, Jay asked. Aiden showed the message to Jay. “What video? Did you post some pics of you and that girl from last year? What was her name, Mira something?”
Aiden explained, in his best semi-drunken slur, the story of the encrypted file on the old tape, and the video. “1080p my ass, nobody was recording that with a camcorder back in 2001, I think your neighbor, what’s her name, Morgan, is playing a joke on your or something. Maybe the video is a school project?”
He considered that for a second - would Morgan play a joke on him? No, but that didn’t explain the emails, and the sms. Not that it would be that hard to get his contact info, it was spread all over the web, but still. Morgan would never carry a joke this far.
“I’m gonna head home, Jay, and we’ve pretty much killed this bottle anyway.” Jay tried to cajole him into staying longer, and tried - unsuccessfully - to rally the cute girl from the end of the bar to his cause. Aiden ended up calling a taxi, and leaving his car parked at the bar. Later, much later, he realized that might have been the best decision he’d made all day.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. A giant mosquito seemed to be circling his head. Buzz. Buzz. Finally, he opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the sound. Turning was not something his head was quite up for, and the dizziness almost made him sick. His mobile was still ringing, on vibrate mode, on the glass coffee-table. He didn’t even look at his watch - morning sunlight was trickling in through his living-room window and onto the couch, where he evidently decided to sleep last night.
“Is this Aiden Kumar?” a man with a very slight eastern European - maybe Russian - accent asked.
Aiden tried to remember if he had given a card out last night. He didn’t remember anything, and his head felt like somebody smashed it with a velvet-covered brick. “This is me, can I help you?”
“Mister Kumar,” the man said very formally. “I believe you might have something - a data backup tape - that belongs to me. I’d like very much to get it back, and I’m willing to pay you for the trouble.”Memories of the odd sms messages, and the emails from last night, drifted up from the fog of last night.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
By now, pretty much everybody knows what the "doomsday" scenario is - if you ever sat through Kevin Costner's "Waterworld", then you know the Hollywood version. In real life, the ocean might, at worst, rise by something like a half-meter to a meter (roughly 20" to 3 feet) by 2100. Which is 90 years away. So, it's worth doing something about now - like moving from dumping hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 into the air - but we're not all going to be growing gills and living on boats, either.
So the likely "worst case" scenario is going to involve a long, boring (to most people) shift away from burning coal and oil for power - which is a waste of good oil in any case - to energy sources for buildings, cars and industry that doesn't dump as much exhaust into the air (and prop up Middle-East autocracies, for that matter). Sure, a lot of the world's poor will be adversely affected - since a lot of them live in coastal areas that already flood a lot (read: Bangladesh, India, parts of Africa), but if you're reading my blog, well, that's more of a moral issue than it is something that's going to ruin your life, personally. Not that I don't care, or you shouldn't, but if the sea does rise 20" over 90 years, I have no doubt that the world's middle class isn't going to suffer horribly.
That brings us to the outlier scenarios - the ones that are really unlikely to actually happen, but which make for a lot more interesting thinking! Sort of like the "zombie apocalpse" - sure, I know it's not really gonna happen, but I love every variation on that theme, from "28 Days Later" to "I Am Legend". So - what are these outlier scenarios? I thought you'd never ask ;-)
One of the things that makes climate change so hard to predict, is that the environment has so many variables, and lots of them interact. And sort of like a snowflake (or any other fractal), the closer you look, the more variables there are. On top of that, sometimes two or more different variables affect each other in what's called a "positive feedback loop", so that as variable A increases, it increases variable B. And as variable B increases, it pushes A up even more - until you get some crazy runaway affect that goes unchecked until some other fact - call it variable C - intervenes. Then the whole system - in this case our climate - settles into a new stable pattern... maybe unlivable for us, but still, stable. Look at Venus (depicted above/right) - you could melt lead on the surface, but it's stable. The whole shebang is called a non-linear system, since a small change in A (like, 5%) might lead to a much larger change in B, and in A itself, much much higher than 5%. In a linear system, on the other hand, if A increases by a certain amount, B increases by some other amount - and if you increase A again, B increases by the same amount again. So non-linear means "harder to predict" for our purposes.
Okay - so there are some different feedback loops we know about. One of them is the melting of polar ice and glaciers. Ice is really shiny and white - so it reflects a lot of sun back into space. But when ice melts due to rising temperatures, the darker ocean (or land) that's left behind soaks up more sunlight than the ice did - which raises the temperate a little bit more. Which melts more ice, and so on. Another feedback loop is frozen tundra, aka "permafrost"; it turns out that there are literally billions of tons of CO2 gas and methane (which is even better at trapping heat). Permafrost gets its name because (duh), it's usually frozen. But in the past decade, some of the permafrost in Siberia, and Canada, Alaska, etc., has started to permanently thaw - see photo - which releases all that frozen gas. And the newly-liberated gas goes straight into the atmosphere, which raises the temperate a little bit more. You can see where that's heading.
The upshot of all this is that, while scientists are pretty confident it'll take centuries for it to really jack up the temperature, they're not 100% sure. So it's just barely possible that some tipping might might be reached in 10 years, or 20 years, or maybe even it already happened. Let's say it's happening right now - and that a combination of thawing permafrost and a melting antarctic polar cap starts increasing our world's temperature at a rate of about 1° F every other year, or ten degrees over the next 20 years. That would be a catastrophe, as crops failed, coasts flooded, and mass migrations of people started heading towards the poles (and most of the world's rich people live in the very spots that everybody else is going to be heading for). Do I panic yet? Not really...
Rich countries (including soon-to-be rich countries, like China) don't have any interest in seeing a global catastrophe like this, and - this is the key part - they have lots of money. Look at how much the U.S. alone spends on its military every year (about $700 billion). Granted, that's like 40% of the world's total "defense" (cough) spending, but either way, the planet could - in a pinch - cough up a half-trillion USD a year for a decade if we really needed to. And in our hypothetical runaway-warming scenario, we'd really need to.
Past mega-projects that were done in a hurry - things like the "Manahatten Project", or the Apollo program to put men on the moon in 10 years, would pale in comparison to the effort that would go into a last-ditch "save the world" project. And there are things that we could do to cool the planet down quickly - they're what scientists call "geo-engineering". For a long time, climate scientists didn't even want to talk about geo-engineering, since they were afraid that would make people, and governments, lazy about changing their coal & oil habit by making it seem like there was some technological "fix" down the road. Where the scientists were wrong, of course, was in thinking that humans wouldn't be lazy about changing anyway. This is where "hacking the planet" literally would happen. We might:
- Paint a huge area of uninhabited land with reflective white or silver paint, to do what the glaciers and polar caps were doing before (reflect sunlight)
- Intentionally dump tons of sulfur compounds into the air, continuously, to help block the sun's rays from reaching ground (where they would warm it up).
- Build thousands (or tens of thousands) giant CO2-scrubbers that would operate night and day, pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, and then compressing it into a liquid, and storing it - someplace. Maybe pumping it down into the empty oil-wells that started a lot of the mess in the first place
- Genetically engineer some super-algae or super-plant that grows ultra-fast, and so uses lots of CO2. Plants suck CO2 out of the air (during photosynthesis) in order to get the carbon, which makes up most of the plant. So, imagine some super-kelp or algae that we'd grow in an area of ocean the size of the Mediteranean sea, busy sucking CO2 out of the air. Even better if the plant is engineered to sink to the sea-floor when it does, taking the carbon with it.
- Build thousands of "cloud generators" that take water-vapor, and shoot it high enough into the air that clouds would form. This would help, because clouds are white - and reflect sunlight. On the downside, there would be a lot fewer nice "picnic" days...
- Deploy a set of enormous, orbiting reflective mylar sheets. These would have to be either very huge, or very numerous, in order to reflect enough sunlight away to have any effect. Depending on where in orbit we put them, we'd have a whole new set of shadows drifting across the sky, but on the plus side, they wouldn't involve us mucking about with the make-up of the air or the sea. Downside is never a perfectly sunny day again, until we fix the long-term problem and can take them down.
The only real scenario I can see where we're all gonna die (except me, of course!), is if our civilization falls while in the middle of viscious warming circle, where the Earth ends up like Venus (and the surviving humans would be underground in Antartica with nuclear-powered air-conditioning). And that would mean some all-out global war that destroys our ability to do a mega-project (like, an all-out nuclear war, or a bio-war that kills off enough people, etc), or else some other unlikely catastrophe, like a killer asteroid or solar flare - in which case, our goose is pretty cooked anyway. And the odds of us having two planet-threatening disasters at the same time, one of which prevents us from handling the other one, seem pretty low. I'm not losing any sleep.
If things do start getting toasty, though, definitely look into property in Canada, anywhere near the Rocky Mountains, or the Urals, or Finland, anywhere that's cold and not right on the beach, really. New Zealand might be good - the last thing you want is a horde of fleeing refugees from central America or South Asia over-running your "global warming last stand", and New Zealand has high mountains, is cold, and far, far from anywhere else.
Okay, so, none of that is very likely to happen. Yes, the planet is warming, and yes, we (as a species) need to change our energy sources, but it's looking like we've got decades to get the transition done before "we're all gonna die!", so it'll probably be boring, and most of us will be dead of old age before it's done. But you just never know....