Friday, September 28, 2012

With Great Art, Comes Great Fun!!!

The Librarian
Our local elementary school has a program called Great Artist, where a parent volunteer goes into the classroom, presents either an artist or a type or art, and then the kids get a chance to make their own work based on the artist or type of art.

Yesterday, I went to my daughter's class and discussed Giuseppe Arcimboldo.  Arcimboldo was an Italian artist who lived in the 1500s.  He worked on stained glass and tapestries as a young man, then he began to paint portraits of people and ideas using found objects.  He worked in the courts of three different emperors before dying in 1593.

Now comes the twist in the story.  Most of Arcimboldo's paintings were captured/stolen by the Swedish Army during the Thirty Year War, leaving Arcimboldo lost in history until the early 1900s.  That's when artists in the Surrealist movement found the paintings (I don't know the story of the finding).  One of the artists was Salvador Dali, who studied and was influenced what we call The Arcimboldo Effect.

Yesterday, the kids were also influenced by the Arcimboldo Effect.  We looked at several of his paintings, discussing what objects he used to depict eyes, noses, mouths, and ears.  Then came the fun - I asked the kids to draw a face using found objects, preferably with a theme (such as the elements or seasons).  What happened next was pure magic.  One child drew a face with butterflies; another used junk food.  A couple of  kids used sports as the theme to make portraits.  My daughter used red as the theme and created Bloody Mary (the queen, not the drink).  Basically, the kids created more interesting portraits than I even considered.

That's why I love doing Great Artist - to see the look of wonder as the kids create something that even they didn't know they could.

Happy Friday!

By the way, if you want to see the paintings that I showed the kids, you can find them at

A Pen Drawing of Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Game Review: Torchlight II

Last Thursday, Runic Games released Torchlight II - an  action RPG that follows in the footsteps of Torchlight.  As a big fan of Torchlight, I prepurchased Torchlight II months ago on Steam and then forgot about the game instead of checking everyday for the announced release date, which was my first impulse.  But I could try and put it out of mind, ergo outside of the compulsive wondering zone, because Steam announces new releases loudly, so I knew that I would not miss the date.

Not only did I not miss the date, but I finished the main quest line of the game two days ago.

I love this game!!!  The creators of Torchlight II managed to carry over the great gaming aspects of Torchlight while changing the few elements that needed changing (an open world to walk around and explore, different character types, more pet types,...)  The best part is that even though I finished the main quest line, the game offers significantly more gameplay; I am not even close to finishing the game.  How, you ask?  After finishing the main quest line, you have two options:

  1. Restart the main quest line with your current character, including all the loot, armor, and upgrades that you collected the first time around.
  2. Go to Mapworks, a new place where you can purchase maps and then go exploring.  The maps not only give you more areas to go, but most of the maps alter the game with special conditions.  For example, on an easier map, you take 15% less damage.  On a harder map, the enemies are 10% harder to kill.
These options mean that the game continues on well after you finish the main quest, but it feels like regular gameplay.

As for playing the game itself, here are what I consider the main good parts:
  • The game offers a mostly point-and-click interface, so you can use the mouse to do the majority of your movement and fighting.  But the ability to use the keyboard to heal yourself, switch spells, and replenish your mana is fabulous.
  • Your pet not only can sell off excess loot while you continue to explore, but now it can buy standard items, such as identify scrolls and healing potions.
  • When your character goes behind the scenery, which only happens occasionally, your character and pet show up as blue wire frames while enemies show up as red wire frames.  
  • If you die, the game lets you choose where to resurrect.  Actually, this should read "when you die" but I realize that there might exist someone who doesn't die during the game.  Sadly, that person is not me.
  • You can customize your character into four different classes, and each class had a unique set of skills. Replaying the game as a different character class gives a whole different feel to the gameplay.
  • The game makers had a sense of humor, which shows up in the story lines for side quests.
  • Did I mention the very cool, interesting loot? 
  • I am waiting on headsets so that I can play co-op with my kids properly (not yelling across the house).  But the little bit of co-op I've done was also great - the guys at Runic Games understand gamers.  Each person in  a co-op games gets separate loot drops, so you can pick up everything that you see.
So far, I haven't run into anything I don't like.  Okay, they don't have a tutorial, which might be bad if I didn't play the original Torchlight.  But they do prove tips during gameplay for beginners, as well as a "Casual" mode.  

Otherwise, I love this game!  And I'm looking forward to playing more Torchlight II in the near future.
The female Engineer with a pit bull 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must admit - I am not a huge baseball fan. I went to several games growing up; living in Ohio we rooted for the Cincinnati Reds. After moving to Tampa, I watched the New York Yankees farm team play. My baseball roots actually go back to my great-Grandfather Yoder, who was both a business partner and a friend to Mr. William Wrigley Jr. My great-Grandfather occasionally drove to Wrigley field with a truck full of popcorn, which he gave away to the fans. I like thinking about baseball back then, before the free agent business began and the world of baseball became the world of money ball.

But in "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game", Billy Beam remembers that the game is about playing well, not paying the most money. The book follows Billy from his unsuccessful playing career to his very, famously successful career as the general manager for the Oakland As. Along the way, the reader gets a glimpse into traditional baseball scouting, the psychology of the locker room, and the methods by which Billy Beam found amazing players that the rest of the league snubbed.

I quite enjoyed reading "Moneyball", laughing along with Billy and his Harvard protege as they snatch the most valuable players using statistics that show historically great performances (Spoiler: The rest of the baseball leagues use the wrong statistics and gut feel, leading them to bad decisions.) I also found the psychological aspects intriguing, how a person can literally think themselves either into or out of a game.

But I think that a person who loves baseball and knows the people in the book will love this book more than I did, which is why I recommend "Moneyball" to any baseball fans with a passion to understand a bit more about the game.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Amazing Apple Maps App! (Not Really)

I am a Google person.  I own an Android phone, an Android pad, and my website is hosted by Google.  So I generally ignore announcements from Apple or news about Apple because they just don't apply to me.

According to Apple Maps, Berlin is actually in Antarctica.
From The Amazing iOS 6 Maps Tumblr Blog
But even I have heard about the very BIG mistake Apple made in iOS 6 with the introduction of their own, homegrown map application. In case you haven't heard, Apple Maps is more likely to lead you astray than to give you either an accurate map or accurate directions.  The maps are wrong in multiple ways that are more amusing then informative.  For instance, in the above picture, Berlin is listed in Antarctica.  But that's better than the fate of Mumbai and Gutenberg, which just don't exist anymore.

Here are some of my favorite mistakes:

Where's the bridge???

The Holy Ghost of Incurables, began in 1895, changed its name. Twice.

Apple Maps offers three routes from the green pin to the red pin.
Only none of the routes actually goes to the red pin.

I pulled all of these images from The Amazing iOS 6 Maps - but there are literally hundreds of more images.  If you visit the blog and listen very carefully, you can hear Google laughing.

Freaky Friday News - September 21, 2012

Ig Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Elena Bodnar demonstrates her invention (abrassiere that can quickly convert into a pair of protective face masks) assisted by Nobel laureates Wolfgang Ketterle (left), Orhan Pamuk, andPaul Krugman (right). Photo credit: Alexey Eliseev, 2009 Ig Nobel Ceremony
Tuesday of this week, our Internet mysteriously went away.  (I blame space aliens and solar flares, personally.)   Now that it's back, I apologize for the break and present to you.... Freaky Friday News!!!
  • Leading up this week's Freaky News is an updated on the Ervin McKinness story.  No, this is not the beginning of the zombie apocalypse; he's still dead as are the passengers in his car.  I personally expected this to be the end of the story, but now a much smaller controversy popped up.  Who was really driving the car?  Whomever took over Mr. McKinness' Twitter account started making statements saying that Mr. McKinness was a passenger in the car, and not the driver.  When I first heard this, my exact response went, "Seriously??? Who cares!  They're all dead anyway!!!" Then I realized who cares - the insurance companies.  So now people are arguing over who is responsible for the tragedy, potentially dragging a somewhat innocent person's name through the proverbial mud all in the name of money.  The tragedy in this story seems never-ending.

  • On Wednesday, two elephants from the Circus Benneweis decided it would be a nice day for a walk. So they took a stroll down a street in Copenhagen.  According to Reuters, they only walked about 200 meters (or 605 feet, for us silly Americans) before their trainer caught up to them.  Everyone took the event in stride. (Pun intended.)

  • Yesterday was the 22nd First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes!!  For those who've never heard about these prizes, let me explain.  The organization Improbable Research and several clubs at Harvard look for  current research that "makes people laugh and then think."  The top ones in each of 10 categories get the prize, presented by real Nobel prize winners.  I've copied the winners directly from the website, because I don't really know how to paraphrase "minimize the chance their patients will explode".
    • PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan [THE NETHERLANDS] and Tulio Guadalupe [PERU, RUSSIA, and THE NETHERLANDS] for their study "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller"
    • PEACE PRIZE: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.
    • ACOUSTICS PRIZE: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada [JAPAN] for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person's speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.
    • NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.
    • CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.
    • LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
    • PHYSICS PRIZE: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.
    • FLUID DYNAMICS PRIZE: Rouslan Krechetnikov [USA, RUSSIA, CANADA] and Hans Mayer [USA] for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.
    • ANATOMY PRIZE: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.
    • MEDICINE PRIZE: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode. 
Have a great weekend!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

On Monday, If the Sky is Blue, I find I have a thought or two...

Here are the random thoughts of the day:
  • On September 2, aspiring rapper Ervin McKiness tweeted about driving drunk at 120 mph, justifying the action with "yolo"  (you only live once).  A few minutes later, he died. What strikes me about this news story is.. that it's a news story!  I mean, I expect someone drunk driving at those speeds to crash into a large, stationary object on the side of the road, potentially dying himself and those in the vehicle with him, which is exactly what happened.  That's not news, that's physics and common sense.
  • I read another article where someone ranted about getting the U.N.   For those petitioning to  "get the U.S. out of the U.N", please read your history books.  The U.S. started the U.N. It's our creation, started after World War II to prevent World War III.  That's why the headquarters are in New York, NY.   
  • A baby panda was born at the National Zoo yesterday.  Squee!!!!
  • Today is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.  If you want to read this important document, click here for an online copy.  If you grew up in the seventies, you already know the Preamble.  Sing it with me - "We the People, In order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution, for the United States of America."
Have a good Monday!!!

The Battle for Our Future

Unrest in the Middle East, potential economic breakdown, bank foreclosures on family homes, wobbly unemployment numbers, abortion, gay marriage - these topics dominate headlines these days as the presidential election goes into its final weeks.  Which candidate will help the economy the most?  Which candidate will strength the U.S. position in the world more?  Which candidate will protect the moral fiber of our country?  Which candidate will help me the most?

Romney or Obama??

Obama or Romney???


Okay, that might be a bit overly dramatic, but that's the feeling generated by the media these days.  And yet, I believe the biggest threat lies not in the Middle East, nor in Asia, or even the U.N.  The biggest threat lies not in the Democratic party or their so-called "socialist" agenda.  The biggest threat lies not with the Republican party or their fiscally conservative ways.  (I would put "so-called" here, but real Republicans are fiscally conservative.)

The real threat, the basic problem underlying the vast majority of our nation's problem, venerated as a media darling, guaranteed to sell newspapers or garner viewership, the one constant so prevalent in our lives that we take it for granted, is fear.

We promote "Stranger Danger" in elementary schools, even though statistically strangers are safer than family members.

We pass zero tolerance laws because we are afraid that if we "tolerant" anything the world will end.

We don't trust men, any man, to photograph children in public, or walk with children in public, or be associated with children at all.  Why?  Because all men are assumed to be predators unless otherwise proven safe.

We fear people who are different, passing laws on immigration and homosexuality based not on moral or financial reasons, but on fear.

Fear begat racial profiling.

Fear begat hover parenting.

Fear begat the Tea Party, otherwise known as The American Taliban.  (View this video if you want to know why I view the Tea Party this way.)

Fear led a city to ask a deaf child to change his name from Hunter to anything else, so long as the sign for the name did not offend anyone.

Fear led to a man looking for his lost dog to get approach by the police, who got phone calls reporting him as a sexual predator.

Fear led to adults no longer being allowed to sit in park with playgrounds unless they are with a child.

Fear led to children being discouraged from walking to school or biking around the neighborhood, unless they have a parent with them.

Fear led to our county not allowing any child under 8 off the bus without an adult to supervise them.

Fear led to a man being arrested for allowing his two sons to play by themselves at a park while he ran errands nearby.

Every day, fear erodes away at our personal liberties and freedoms, convincing the general public that the cost of those freedoms will be the DEATH of our child or of the American way, which is ironic considering that this same fear is killing the American way.

What can we do against such power as this fear?  How can anyone make a difference, change the fear into trust?

Franklin D. Roosevelt put it best in his first Inguinal speech:
This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Recognize the fear in you.  If you do not acknowledge and conquer your own fear, your fear will control your actions.

Recognize the fear in society.  Personally, I read and support the Free Range Kids blog, because I believe that Lenore's work helps people to see how ridiculous this fear is.  I also write about my forays into Free Range parenting, though to be honest it doesn't feel any different from how I was raised.

Lastly, work to fight the fear.  If presented with a vote, choose the option that promotes trust, not fear.  Stop calling the police every time you see an unknown man around a child.  Encourage your own children to go out and explore the world without needing your physical presence.  Organize "Leave Your Child at the Park" days in your community.

Just do something.  Otherwise, the fear will never go away.  And your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren,... will have to live, smothered by this all-encompassing fear.

To modify a famous quote:  "Fear only triumphs when good people stand by and do nothing."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Conundrum of Racial Profiling

I must start out by saying that I, personally, have never been a victim of racial profiling. In fact, I might have benefited from reverse racial profiling occasionally since I'm white (for the record, my genetic makeup is over half Germanic, with Scottish and Irish thrown in for good measure). I believe racial profiling hurts everyone in a community, which is ironic since the people who use racial profiling firmly believe that the practice helps communities.

First, let me provide my own internal definition of racial profiling:
racial profiling:  the practice of law enforcement to use a person's ethnicity or race to determine whether or not to engage the individual (e.g. traffic stop)
I have a friend, Tiffany, who lives in a nearby community, Acworth, GA.  Tiffany and her brother get stopped by the local law enforcement about 2 dozen times every year for the same crime - DWB.

Never heard of DWB before?  Then chances are that you are white, because DWB stands for Driving While Black.

Tiffany and her brother always have the same conversation with the officers:
Yes, I live around here.  Yes, I have a driver's license.  No, you may not search my vehicle.  Why did you pull me over?  Oh, because you thought my brake light was out.  Wow - it seems to be working now.
They never get tickets, but they have gotten the message that the police do not like black people in Acworth.

That is problem number one with racial profiling - the practice leads the people who fit the profile feeling as though the local law enforcement is negatively biased towards them (which they are.).  That leads people to mistrust the police, causing a whole new raft of problems.

Problem number two is the real conundrum - racial profiling creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Think about it. If a police officer pulls over black people two times more than white people, simple probability says that the officer will find two times as many black criminals.   That leads to more racial profiling, leading to bigger probabilities of finding black criminals v.s. white criminals, leading to more racial profiling.  The vast majority of today's "statistics" that support racial profiling rest on this type of biased information.

How does this hurt communities?  Yes, and here's how:
  1. Racial profiling does not lessen the number of criminals in non-profiled groups.  It may lead a police officer to pull over the wrong vehicle or overlook the real criminals in search of profiled citizens. 
  2. As I stated before, racial profiling leads to distrust of the police, which leads people to handle situations better handled by the police because the people don't want the police involved since they cannot be trusted to do what is right.   
  3. A basic principle of our legal system is presumption of innocence - a person is considered innocent until proven guilty.  Racial profiling goes directly against this principle - people are presumed guilty until the officer finds them innocent.    
So why am I writing this post?  Why do I care?

I care because if we ever want this practice to stop, we all need to stand up and acknowledge the truth of what is going on.  Because I feel like I am silently condoning this practice if I do nothing.  Because I want my children and grandchildren to live in a better world, and getting rid of racial profiling would be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: "Commitment Hour" by James Alan Gardner

Commitment HourCommitment Hour by James Alan Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Commitment Hour" by James Alan Gardner explores a special day in the life of Fullin, a resident of Tober Cover. The residents of Tober Cove switch genders from birth until Commitment Day in their twentieth year, when they choose male, female, or both.

The story begins the night before Commitment Day, with Fullin and Cappie separately sitting vigil in the surrounding area, attempting to reason out which gender each wants to choose. Two strangers arrive and the world as everyone knows it implodes.

The author explores several concepts in the book, such as gender roles and sexual identity, without getting bogged down in either details or answers. He wants the readers to think about these concepts as well, and come to their own answers.

I love how each character grows, gains depth as the events unfold. I must admit, two different times towards the end of the book I felt surprised/shocked by what was happening. The events unfolded in a natural way, but there was little foreshadowing. I did not feel like the author cheated. Instead, I think that he did a fantastic job of setting everything up to be surprising without sacrificing credibility.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 10, 2012

Beware!! Math Ahead!!!

(Or A Proof for Password Security)

Here's a quick mathematical explanation on password security.  First, let's define some terms:
U: the set of possible passwords
||:  denotes the size of a set
a: the available character set
n: the length of the password

The formula for determining the possible set of all passwords is U = {a}n

For example, if you can only use the last three letters of the alphabet for passwords, and you have a password length of 2, then
U = {x, y, z}2, or U = {xx, xy, xz, yy, yx, yz, zz, zx, zy}
Therefore, the size of U is the number of elements in a raised by the length of the password, or
|U| = |a|n
Therefore, the more elements you have in a and the longer n, the larger the size for U, or the more possibilities you have for any given password.

How does this relate to password security?

Most hackers use a guessing algorithm to attempt to guess a user's password.  If you only use letters or numbers, you severely limit the possible password set and make the hacker's job easier.  But if you use both letters and numbers, you make the hacker's job harder.  Add in special characters, and the work load goes up exponentially.

For example, let's say you need to create an 8 character password.
  • Using only numbers, |U| = 108, or 100 million
  • Using only letters, |U| = 268, or over 208 billion
  • Using all alphanumeric characters, |U| = 368, or over 288 trillion 
  • Using alphanumeric and special characters, |U| = 468, or so big you need to use scientific notation
I typically use a password length of 16, so even if I only use numbers there is still 1016, or 1 quadrillion possible passwords.

This is why security experts want you to use long passwords with a combination of alphanumeric and special characters.

Chrome App Review: Password Hasher Plus

Every week, it feels like I read a new story about new schemes to get user password, or a new story about how a hacker got a password and heavily damaged someone else's life.  A few months ago,  I decided that I needed a new method to create and remember passwords.  Even though I followed the rules to create strong passwords and I kept a local password file, I didn't like it.  What happens if someone gets the password file?  What if I need a password but I can't get to the file?

First, I decided on my requirements.  I wanted an application that helped me create password using the following rules for creating a strong password:
  1. Do not use all or part of your username as a password.
  2. Do not use dictionary words as a password.
  3. Use the maximum amount of letters allowed by the website for a password, not the minimum.
  4. Include numbers and special characters if the option is available.
  5. Do not reuse passwords across multiple websites.
  6. Do not use your real name, nor the real names of anyone close to you (e.g. family members, pets, ...)
But I do not want the application to store the password itself anywhere.  I also wanted the application to work on my Android devices as well as my desktop.  

Second, I perused the Chrome Web Store.  I love this place - every time I look, I find more interesting apps there to try out.  Searching for "password" brought up a list of various apps, but I didn't find what I wanted until I got to Password Hasher Plus.

Password Hasher Plus is an app that creates password for you through a hashing algorithm using a master key, site tag (based on the URL), and a secret word.   The app also lets you set length that you want as well as the set of characters available to use for each password (numeric only, alphanumeric only, or alphanumeric and special characters).

After you install this app, when you log in to a website, you enter the secret word in the password field.  Password Hasher Plus then calculates your password, switching the contents of the password field to the new, hashed password.  Víolá!!  You have a new, unguessable password.

The key to all of this is the secret word.  You can use the same secret word for multiple websites, but you will still get unique passwords for each website because of the hashing algorithm.  That means you only need to remember one or two secret words to get strong passwords everywhere.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Freaky Friday News

Homeland Security is using the threat of a zombie
apocalypse to spread information on how to
prepare for disasters.  Read the full story here.
When I began to write today's post, I realized that several bizarre news stories broke this week.  I tried to pick one that I liked or disliked the most to investigate and write about; then I decided I would tell you about all of them and let you pick which ones you want to learn more about.

First up is the worst way to propose marriage that I've ever hear of.  Alexey Bykov wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Irena Kolokov, but he also wanted to be sure she loved him.  So Alexey hired a film director, stunt men, a make-up artist, and other people, then he staged his own death.  Irena showed up to meet Alexey only to find a supposedly horrible car accident that killed her boyfriend.  Upon seeing his "dead" body, Irena burst into tears.  That's when Alexey recovered and proposed marriage.  Irena, first angry, actually agreed to marry Alexey.

The worst part?  Alexey told Orange News, "I wanted her to realise how empty her life would be without me and how life would have no meaning without me."

Can you say, "Narcissistic sociopathic control freak"?

The second story rates as bizarre to me, partly because I live in the U.S. and not in Turkey, where women's rights basically don't exist.  A young woman, Nevin Yildirim, shot, killed, and beheaded an older man who raped and impregnated her.  This man, Nurettin Gider, was the 35 year-old husband to her husband's aunt.  You can read the details about the case here, because thinking about what Gider did makes my blood boil.  The reaction of the Turkish government also angers me; instead of giving this woman a medal and allowing her to abort the unwanted child, they put her in jail and are making her carry the baby to term.  But the government and societal norms are the reason this man got away with raping her for months; in Turkey, a rape victim is considered to be dishonorable, not the rapist.  If Nevin reported the rapist, chances are high that her family would stone her to death to restore honor to the family name.  And no one would punish Gider.

There are truly no words to describe how just messed up that situation is.

Moving on, the third story today is about conspiracies, the government, and hacking groups.  On September 3rd, the hackers AntiSec released a statement in which they attached a list of one million Apple UDIDs (unique device identifiers), stating that they got the information off an FBI laptop. Here's the original text:

  1. During the second week of March 2012, a Dell Vostro notebook, used by
  2. Supervisor Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl from FBI Regional Cyber Action
  3. Team and New York FBI Office Evidence Response Team was breached using the
  4. AtomicReferenceArray vulnerability on Java, during the shell session some files
  5. were downloaded from his Desktop folder one of them with the name of
  6. "NCFTA_iOS_devices_intel.csv" turned to be a list of 12,367,232 Apple iOS
  7. devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID), user names, name of device,
  8. type of device, Apple Push Notification Service tokens, zipcodes, cellphone
  9. numbers, addresses, etc. the personal details fields referring to people
  10. appears many times empty leaving the whole list incompleted on many parts. no
  11. other file on the same folder makes mention about this list or its purpose.
Proving not to be anti-social, the hackers removed the personal information before distributing their version of the list, because they merely wanted to let people know that the government was collecting data.  Today, the FBI released a statement denying any knowledge of the theft, an action that AntiSec predicted would happen.

Who do you believe?

This story segues in the fourth story today.  AntiSec used a well-known Java security hole to access the FBI laptop; in fact, there are several well-known security holes in Java and several well-known programs that use these security holes to access and/or control people's computers.  Let's be honest, Oracle has been battling security holes for a long time.  Last year, they released a patch that fixed 21 security holes, that would be almost two dozen; a behavior that they repeated last week to fix day 0 security holes with Java 7.  You can read the current story of this saga at ZDNet, but security experts are advised people to disable Java in their web browsers.

The last story is either funnier or scarier, it depends on how much pancakes mean to you.  Last week, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FQMSP) announced that over 5,000 tons of maple syrup have been stolen from their warehouses.  The FQMSP fears that the thief or thieves took the syrup to sell, because the U.S. maple syrup industry had a bad year.

Holey syrup, Batman!  What a sticky situation!

That's all for now. Have a great weekend, and I'll be back on Monday with a post about a Chrome extension that makes password management easy.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Revelations about Organic Food??? Not Really.

Stanford University released a study this week, in which researchers there correlated the data from about 240 other studies on organic versus non-organic food.   The good people at Stanford discovered that organic foods do not provide a nutritional advantage over non-organic;  but organic produce does test for approximately 30% less pesticides that traditionally grown produce.

While I read several opinions of shock over the finding, personally I think it falls in the "no duh" category.  The amount of sunshine and water plants receive, as well as soil quality, determine nutritional value of fruits and vegetables; pesticides... well, not so much.  The chemicals keep bugs and such off the plants, but don't really add or subtract anything otherwise.

So why do so many people think that pesticides change the nutritional content?

I have no answer to that question.  Maybe the belief stems from our removal from the growth process; generally speaking people don't grow their own food anymore.  Maybe it's the media repeating how much better organic food is supposed to be; it something gets repeated enough people tend to believe it.

Either way, food is food, nutritionally speaking.

As for pesticides, both organic and non-organic had levels below the regulated standards.  Of course, now people are arguing over the standards, but that's another story.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Moraea Loubseri

Moraea Loubseri - Discovered in 1973 by Johan W. Loubser, South Africa
I learned about this beautiful flower from a friend of mine who happens to be Johan W. Loubser's daughter-in-law.  The flower grows in the southwest Cape, and was thought to be extinct sometime in the mid 2000s.  But then last year, someone found two specimens!  Hopefully, we can keep this beauty from extinction for a while longer.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New High School Graduation Requirements in Georgia

Last week, I received an email inviting me to review the new, proposed high school graduation requirements.  From the accompanying introductory letter, I assume that the current graduation requirements do not satisfy the current legislation (Georgia Code O.C.G.A. § 20-2-140 and 20-2-159.1 through 20-2-159.4).  These will effect anyone entering ninth grade in the 2013-2014 school year and beyond, which translates to both of my children.  After reading the requirements, I had the option to fill out an online survey where I could enter my opinion about the requirements.

After reading the requirements document, I not only filled out the survey, but I also called the office of Pamela Smith to speak with someone.  Why?  Because I have several issues with the proposed graduation requirements, starting with the idea of a "Capstone Project".

Basically, the new requirements include having all seniors do a Capstone Project, which is:
a final and in-depth project that allows a student to synthesize and apply the skills and knowledge acquired from previous educational experiences and academic or career-based course work to demonstrate  achievement, proficiency in written and/or oral communication, financial literacy, workplace skills, and the ability to think critically and creatively to solve real-world problems. This is a rigorous culminating project at the end of a pathway related to a chosen academic, career, technical and agricultural education, fine arts, or world language interest.
So, passing all of the classes and the standardized testing isn't enough?  Now, we require seniors to do a thesis to get a diploma, with an optional thesis presentation?

Is this because we don't have enough kids dropping out, so we need to up the ante? Or is this because Georgia does poorly overall and in comparison to other states, so instead of fixing the problem we try to prove to everyone how brilliant our students are by making them produce a thesis?

This is not a fix, by the way, because the problem is not senior year of high school.  As far as I can tell, the problem with the Georgia education system comes down to two factors: the extent to which the parent or parents value education and the extent to which the surrounding community values education.  The more the parent and community value education, the more the student values education and therefore more the student works in school.  The less the parent and community value education, the less the student values education and therefore the less the student works in school.

If you want to fix the problem with drop-outs and kids not educated enough, you need to fix the home environment first.  Waiting until a kid gets to their senior year is just a bit too late.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Battle Over Digital Content - Who Owns It?

Bruce Willis I assume that you've heard the Big News this weekend; Bruce Willis is bringing a lawsuit against Apple for ownership of his music collection.  According to the terms of service, Apple retains ownership on everything and purchasing a song on iTunes merely allows the purchaser listening rights.

When I read about this, my first thought was, "Woohoo!  Go Bruce Willis!", because we need someone with the clout and the money to start the fight.  My second thought was about how much time and money I've put into buying digital content - books and music mostly - and wondering if I own the things I assume I own. Instead of worrying, I checked.

The answer saddens me.  According to the website, books and games sold for the Kindle do not belong to me because, and I quote, "Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider."  Basically, all the books on my Kindle that I assumed I own I don't really own.  They are merely "licensed " to me.

As for the music, I searched through several pages, and I think that I actually own the music.  Yeah, I think.

As for Barnes and Noble, I don't own a Nook, but I check out their website.  I could not find a clear answer, so I chatted with them.  Nook books are also "licensed for use" and not purchased.

Okay, I understand that people need to read the terms of service, but do you know how much time I put into  merely finding the terms of service for these sellers?  As for reading them, iTunes has multiple terms of service per country; Amazon has separate terms of service for each of their digital content offerings; I'm not even certain how many terms of service exist for Barnes and Noble since I read through a few before giving up and going the chat route to find my answer.

And it feels as though all three content providers are attempting to trick the buyers, because on all three websites to get this "licensed" content you press a button labeled "Buy" - even though you are not buying anything, unless you want to word smith their use of buy into license.  I can do that, but I still think it's wrong.

Am I the only one worried about this?  Or do you want to be able to buy and own books, regardless of format?

Civil Rights Alert: New Police Device Can Extract Your Cell Phone Data

I know that technology offers brand new ways for the average Joe to interact with the world, but sometimes a new piece of technology comes along and I have to wonder why.  Why did someone make this?  What were they thinking?

Auto Clipart Images This weekend, I read an article about a new piece of technology that falls into that category:  the Cellebrite UFED Touch Ultimate.  Created by the company Cellebrite, this box of goodies lets any local law enforcement officer hook up to just about any mobile device - cellphone, smart phone, tablet, e reader - and extract all the data inside said mobile device.  And by "all the data" I mean emails, passwords, text messages, contact information, account information, even items that you previously deleted!

Now, I understand that such a device is more than useful for the police when investigating a crime.  But I object to regular police officers, driving around doing traffic stops, carrying these devices with them.  The police need to have a warrant to get this type of access, so there is no reason for an officer to carry such a device around unless the officer is going to attempt to get that information otherwise.

Which is a basic abuse of the trust that the public puts into the police.  People want to help the police, or at least don't want to argue or say "no".  Abusing the tendency of people to say "yes" to gather such large quantities of personal information is immoral, even if it's technically legal since the person "volunteered" to give the officer his or her mobile device.

It's still wrong for the police to extract personal information from another person's mobile device, unless the police have enough evidence to get a proper warrant.

What can we do about this?  Know your rights. I suggest you check out the YouTube channel FlexYourRights.  You do not have to let an officer search your car, your purse, or your cell phone.  Learn how to politely say "no".   You only have to let an officer see your driver's license if you are driving a car;  there is no federal mandate requiring ID for walking around.  Some states do require you tell the police officer your name if asked, but saying your name is different from producing ID.

Why not cooperate?  Won't these new extraction devices make the world safer?

First, getting these quantities of data won't help a police officer on the spot.  The data needs to be uploaded to a computer, typically back at the police station, for the proprietary software to decode everything.  So there is no immediate gain in safety.  And safety does not come from the police knowing everyone's text messages, or viewing everyone's pictures.

Second, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, people who give up their civil liberties for the illusion of security deserved neither liberty nor security.  And I am not willing to give up my civil liberties.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Musings - Drunk Driving

Strange, it's Labor Day again, but my sense of time seems to have left me, for inside it still feels like the middle of summer.  Perhaps that's because we had no real winter last year - my sense of time has been off since January.  Or perhaps that's because this summer went by so quickly.

The very first Labor Day weekend that we spent in Georgia was sadly memorable.  My husband worked at The Weather Channel for a nice guy named Scott.  Late Saturday morning, Scott was riding his motorcycle into work when a car struck him.  The driver was a very drunk woman - amazingly drunk considering the time.  Scott left behind a wife who needed to wear a wig to the funeral because she was on her third bout with cancer, and a daughter about the age of 10.  Considering the wife's bad life expectancy, I hope the daughter is okay.  But we had a new baby, our own 8 year old, and a new house to set up, so I never knew what happened to her.

Fast forward six years, and I'm at home with my three-year old daughter, wanting for her six year old brother to come home from school.  Looking out the dining room window, I see a strange minivan in our driveway.  The driver's door opens, but no one comes out.  The entire situation gives me the creeps, so I call 911 and wait what feels like forever for Cobb County Police to show up.  (Truthfully, the police officer arrived in less than three minutes; it just felt much longer.).  It turns out the strange minivan belonged to a man so drunk that he fell asleep between opening the driver's door and getting out of the van.  The man swore he was in his ex-wife's driveway, because he was too drunk to notice that he was nowhere near his ex-wife's house.

If that man showed up 15 minutes later, he would have been driving on the road with the school buses and all of the elementary kids.

Lately, I noticed several commercials telling people that buzzed drinking is the same as drunk driving.  When I see these commercials, I think about Scott, his widow, and his potentially-now-an-orphan daughter.  I think about the man in my driveway, who couldn't walk a straight line.  I think about how many people go out to drink and never plan ahead.  Everyone knows that alcohol impairs judgement, so why don't people make their plans for getting home before tasting that first drink?  

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

Los Angeles County Gives a Young Resident a Unicorn License Last month, a resident of Los Angeles county, Miss Madeline, sent a handwritte...