The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Getting your pocket picked without your knowledge

Bruce Schneier linked to this Wired article about Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags. It will fascinate or terrify you, depending on how thorough and disciplined you think the implementations will be. Choice passage:

"I was at a hotel that used smartcards, so I copied one and put the data into my computer," Grunwald says. "Then I used RFDump to upload the room key card data to the price chip on a box of cream cheese from the Future Store. And I opened my hotel room with the cream cheese!"


Really frustrating part about being out of town

My office building decided to wash windows today. I am not in my office building; I am, in fact, 1,330 km (826 mi) away. Despite clear instructions to be careful with the Inner Drive Webcam, and to replace it when done washing the windows...well... Let's see what happens in the next hour, because I don't want to stare at this for the next four days:

This is on top of a strange "image freeze" issue I've had for about three weeks. I'm looking into that as well, as much as possible from New Hampshire.

The damn thing ran flawlessly for four months. This is most aggravating. Nothing has changed—except possibly a Windows 2000 patch mid-April, which may be the source of the problems.

Update (10:25 CT/15:25 UTC): My building manager is on top of it. The window washers are apparently taking a long time. She graciously turned the webcam for me so that it now points to something more interesting: the other wall.

Schneier on who owns your computer

Security expert Bruce Schneier has a good article today about threats to your computer (hint: Sony is one):

There are all sorts of interests vying for control of your computer. There are media companies that want to control what you can do with the music and videos they sell you. There are companies that use software as a conduit to collect marketing information, deliver advertising or do whatever it is their real owners require. And there are software companies that are trying to make money by pleasing not only their customers, but other companies they ally themselves with. All these companies want to own your computer.

This essay originally appeared on

Net neutrality threatened; Mike McCurry on wrong side

The New York Times editorial page today reminded everyone who values the Internet to call their representatives in Congress and demand continued net neutrality:

One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like.

And over on Huffington, Adam Green has some things to say about Mike McCurry's activities helping the big telcos:

Mike McCurry knows that the free and open Internet most Americans think is the "status quo" is actually GONE in 3 months. So it's more than a little bit deceptive when McCurry asks, "What service is being degraded? What is not right with the Internet that you are trying to cure?" McCurry is implying the exact opposite of what he knows to be true.That's a lie, and it's a genuinely sad sight for those who once admired him.

It's possible that, in three months, not only will Iraq be shattered, but also the Internet. Then Iran? Maybe India? Anyone for Indiana? Why does the Administration (993 days, 21 hours) hate things that start with "I?"

Air travel through Borowitz

Andy Borowitz reports on a new revenue model for airlines:

Struggling with rising fuel costs and sagging profits, several leading airlines announced today that they would attempt to boost their revenues by stowing passengers in their aircrafts’ overhead bins.
After Airbus announced earlier this week that it was toying with the idea of introducing standing room areas for passengers in the rear of their planes, the airlines decided that the time was right to pitch the idea of stowing passengers in a part of the plane that has customarily been reserved for carry-on luggage.

Jokes aside, I figured out why overhead space is so dear on airplanes (remember I deal with this every week). Simply, the airlines encourage carry-on baggage because it frees up space in the hold. Even with a full passenger load, transport-category airplanes have lots of capacity for cargo, which earns significantly more revenue per kilo than passengers do.

So I'll keep running on the elite-status hamster wheel to ensure that, when I fly, I can at least find a spot for my tiny carry-on bags.

Cool toy from ThinkGeek

I had to stop myself from snapping up this USB GPS device:

This small GPS gadget can easily be placed in a car, boat, land speeder, or just about any moving object and will record its own time, date, location, speed, direction and altitude. The recorded information can then be downloaded to your computer through the USB port and optionally integrated with Google Earth or Mapquest. This feature allows you to "playback" the location points of the TrackStick and see a visual mapped history of its travels.
Containing 1MB of memory it can store up to 4000 records allowing for months of travel. When the TrackStick is not moving, memory is not used. The record interval is adjustable to anything between 1 and 15 minutes (this is used to save memory and will not extend the battery life). It’s so small you can hide it for covert applications. There are no special software applications to buy and the raw data can be exported in RTF, XLS, HTML, or Google Earth KML formats.

It's $250 from ThinkGeek. Maybe I'll get it for myself as a bonus if I beat my revenue projection this month.

Update, 6 June 2006 5:36p CT (22:36 UTC): Bruce Schneier has picked up on the security ramifications of this device.

Joel Spolsky's 12 rules to better software

My project manager sent around this link to Joel Spolsky's rules for software management:

I've come up with my own, highly irresponsible, sloppy test to rate the quality of a software team. The great part about it is that it takes about 3 minutes. The neat thing about The Joel Test is that it's easy to get a quick yes or no to each question. You don't have to figure out lines-of-code-per-day or average-bugs-per-inflection-point.

I totally agree with Spolsky's list. I have never been on a project that scored better than 7 until now (which scores 9, IMO, but we're moving toward 11), and only one, ever, has answered "yes" to #8 (quiet working conditions).

Window vs. Aisle

I promised earlier to discuss the joys and sorrows of traveling for business. I had some time this morning in the airplane to do so.

Every week, I fly back and forth between Boston and Chicago. This morning I caught the bleary-eyed special leaving Chicago before 7, and I still missed my 11:30 Scrum. Between that, having to get out of bed slightly before 5am, and a general feeling of lethargy that no amount of coffee can cure, not to mention the lost billable hours, I'm going to start returning to Boston on Sunday nights.

Neither Anne nor I is thrilled with the arrangement. But then, we're not ecstatic about the 100% travel to begin with. The compromise is for me to be home no less than 48 hours a week, and for her to come out to Boston every so often.

A funny thing happened to Anne recently. She used to be an Aisle Person. She's becoming a Window Person, possibly because I have been one for the 30 years I've been flying.

Aisle People don't really like to fly. It's a means to an end. I'm here, I need to go there, this requires sitting in an aluminum tube for several hours; best to sit in the asile to minimize the aluminum-tube time.

I, on the other hand, always take a window seat. The very first time I got in an airplane, before I could even spell my name, I think my nose was pressed against the window for four hours. I've never gotten over how cool it is to look down 10 km (6 mi) and see...everything.

As I write this, we're over Lake St. Clair, just passing into Ontario. I can see that Lake St. Clair has two distinct currents, one direct from Lake Huron, which is dark green, and the other from the marshes on the Canadian side, which is muddy brown. The two flow in parallel down the Detroit River almost to the Renaissance Center, where turbulence from Belle Isle finally mingles them in swirling eddies of what I can only assume are heavily-polluted mud.

Ten minutes more and we're over the great swirling sandbar jutting out into Lake Erie right in the middle of the Canadian shore. I can actually see the sand flowing past it, lengthening it, creating a huge sandy beach upstream and a hazard to navigation downstream. Just a few minutes past that and we're over Buffalo, N.Y. There's Niagara Falls, identifiable from the cloud of mist hanging over it, and Toronto, barely discernable through the morning haze. Next, over Western New York and the Finger Lakes, deep valleys scooped out only a few thousand years ago by the southern edges of the massive ice sheets that dug out the Great Lakes. Finally, depending on our approach, I'll either get a terrific view of Nashua, N.H., from about 2,000 m (6,000 ft), or we'll get up close and personal with downtown Boston.

This is why I always get the window seat. And Anne, who finds herself flying a lot more than before we met, has started to agree.

Photo: Cape Ann, Mass., on downwind to Logan on today's flight.