Archive for the ‘(A)musing’ category

Shadowy Business!

11 October 2012

shadowy business!I had an odd dream last night. Something like a very G rated, kid friendly version of Mission Impossible. The dream left me musing about cyber-espionage and China. So I sat down to write this post and my made-in-China netbook wouldn’t boot. How’s that for coincidence!?

There was news recently about Canada needing to replace a super secure federal network that was irreparably compromised by cyber-attacks out of China in 2010. A US intelligence committee head warned that we should not use the Chinese company Huawei for this work. Harper is not saying whether the national security exemption will exclude Huawei from this government work. Huawei currently provides high-speed networks for Bell Canada, Telus, SaskTel and Wind Mobile. The US committee head suggested that Huawei might embed back doors and bugs into networks and even consumer hardware.

What if, eh? I have a Huawei tablet with front and rear cameras. Does it watch me while I use it? How about our modems and routers? People probably don’t often think of modems and routers as computers, but they are. They have an operating system and data storage capacity and obvious networking capability. If some kind of malware was built in at the factory, as has happened with PCs, attempts to make good use of a router’s security features could be for naught! Could surveillance on the scale of consumer electronics be done?

There would be a massive amount of data to mine for the relatively few crumbs of industrially or politically useful stuff that might be found. It would take something on the scale of the NSA’s new surveillance centre to handle all the data. I suppose if the NSA can build such a thing, so could China.

All that data going to Beijing would be sure to raise some eyebrows though. How would you hide it? Maybe buy the US’s second largest theatre chain. Might that holding’s online traffic be big enough to obscure traffic from a very large and secret botnet?

Maybe add some energy company purchases, such as the CNOOC/Nexen deal. Surely that would give China plenty of capacity to handle network traffic within North America and plenty of reason for traffic back to Beijing. They’d also be that much more embedded in Canada’s energy infrastructure, an infrastructure already threatened and perhaps compromised by cyber-attacks.

Meanwhile our federal government is cozying up to China with a trade deal that some describe as a sell-out. CSIS has warned that China holds influence over Canadian politicians of all levels. If this deal is as bad as some suggest, one can’t help wondering whether that influence might include our PM.

If the digital systems our society runs on were compromised at the level of their BIOSes, how would we know? After all, Nortel was compromised for years and apparently no one knew till after the company fell apart. If a tech company like Nortel didn’t know, how are most PC and cell phone users to know? If it was happening and we did find out, what would we do? Faced with such questions, what is the line between caution and tin-hat paranoia?

I have few answers to these questions, but it’s certain that trying to get a handle on it could be an interesting game of cat and mouse!

Missed signs

10 June 2012

Walking on Granville Island yesterday, Cary said “Look!”

Looking up I was treated to the awe-inspiring sight of a bald eagle flying right over us.

When I looked down again, directly in front of us was a store named Eagle Spirit Gallery.

bald eagle

Could this be a sign? The guiding hand of fate? The fork in the road that would lead to my destiny?

Probably. I totally missed it though, distracted by the sights, sounds and smells of Granville island.

So, perhaps I missed my destiny, but we did find a really great place to buy an umbrella!

The Umbrella Shop, owned by third generation umbrella maker Glen Flader. His grandparents Ida and Isy Flader began making umbrellas in Vancouver in 1935. According to the store’s business card they are the only umbrella manufacturer left in Canada.

The lady who helped us was super helpful. Umbrellas ranged from dainty, delicate things to ones that seemed like they were made of tent canvas. Some were truly beautiful and prices were very reasonable even by my stingy standards. Their website does not do the store justice, so you really need to see their wares in person.

If you’re in the neighbourhood of Granville Island, check it out. Maybe you’ll even find your destiny!

On Becoming An Oenophile

7 June 2012

First off; no, becoming an oenophile will not necessarily get you thrown in jail. An oenophile is a connoisseur of wine. Trust fancy winos to come up with a fancy word for themselves.

Anyway, I’ve been learning a bit about wine lately. I don’t expect that I’ll pursue it to oenophile status, but for what it’s worth I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.

– When someone has their nose in a glass of wine and is talking about notes of blueberry and whatever, it is ok to ask “Do they put blueberries and whatever in it?” The connoisseur will be patient with your ignorance and simply answer “No.” with perhaps a hint of a condescending smile.

– It is not ok to follow that with the question “Then where do notes of blueberry and whatever come from?” That will get you a frown. I think the answer is that notes of this and hints of that are entirely in the imagination of the one whose nose is in the glass and real wine people don’t like their fantasies challenged.

Contrast this with scotch, where peatiness comes from actual peat fires used to dry the malted barley. This very real presence of peat phenols can lead to a very peaty scotch being described as tasting like ‘licking a campfire’.

– You know it was good wine if you’re pregnant after. With really good wine you may go directly into labour. Really! It happened to my brother. Hard to believe, I know.

They say “drink what you like”. I like scotch.

Stephen Harper – “greenhouse gas fighting F-35!”

24 October 2011

In an incredible about-face, Stephen Harper has committed to making Canada a world leader in the war against climate change! “Just think of me as a greenhouse gas fighting F-35!” said the Prime Minister! “Sorry I didn’t tackle this sooner. It’s just that I’m an economist … it took me a while to realize the environment was not an externality.”

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says world leaders must avoid adopting a “patchwork solution” to the environmental crisis now sweeping the globe, or a much larger catastrophe might unfold — with reverberations felt right here, in Canada.

Harper made the comment in a candid interview with me Monday in his Parliament Hill office as world leaders are poised to gather Wednesday for a critical meeting to settle environmental uncertainty after decades of failed attempts.

“The tar sands may not be the only storm cloud on the horizon, but it is clearly the one that is most pressing and the most threatening,” said Harper.

“And I think we have been clear to say that the issue really has to be dealt with. I know that’s easy to say, and I know that our European friends have taken great efforts over the past two or three years to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But I think we’re at the stage where simply patchwork solutions are not going to keep us avoiding a CO2 tipping point event.”

Harper said the environmental crisis that has now gripped the world is a “serious threat” to life. World leaders are grappling with a mix of possible options to stem the global meltdown, including: establishing a massive green investment fund of perhaps US$1-trillion to help countries switch from fossil fuels; requiring energy companies to quickly pump more capital into their green technologies; and persuading banks that hold government bonds to support investment in green technology.

A global deal is considered critical for the world to proceed with its environmental plans, as leaders of the powerful G20 organization prepare for a Nov. 2011 summit in Durban, South Africa.

In the interview Monday, Harper stressed that he remains “relatively optimistic” about the future — saying he expects a global environment that continues to warm slowly, and with Canada’s mitigation outperforming that of many other major advanced developed countries.

“Let me be very clear that I don’t think we’re going to have a second chance to stop global climate change. I think that’s important to say.”

Nonetheless, he did note that Canada’s environmental problems aren’t confined to the continent, and that they pose an “immediate” threat to global environmental recovery.
Moreover, he spoke bluntly about how Canada will have to make the tough decisions itself, before natural forces impose their own more draconian solution.

“You have already seen over the past few weeks, there is significant lack of confidence in global environment — not just warming, but fish stocks, biodiversity. And we are seeking a solution. And as I have said before, I anticipate a solution will involve some pain to some actors but I think, at the moment, the nations are looking for not a pain-free solution. They’re looking for a solution that provides some certainty and some clarity as to what that pain will be.”

Harper said he understands that the environmental challenges faced by the world in its crisis are complex and that there are many causes to be resolved.

Still, he insisted politicians will be doing the better thing for their countries if they take decisive action now.

“These are not easy times for leaders,” he said.

“Many leaders are taking very difficult decisions. We’ve had to take a couple here. But look, what I always say is individual difficult decisions are less painful than global armageddon. And so, let’s take what is clearly the better solution. And that is to have something that at least moves us forward. In the end, I think electorates judge you on overall performance, as opposed to individual decisions.”

“So if the decisions are right, even if they are painful, I think they will pay dividends down the road. But if you don’t take decisions and you end up with a bad result, voters will never forgive you for that.”

Harper castigated the opposition parties in Ottawa for fossil fuel job-creation demands that he said would put the federal government into even deeper gas emissions and abandon targets for a sustainable future.

In fact, he said his government’s policies — targeted spending and a plan to eliminate the tar sands in three years — are appropriate for the current climate.

Still, he reiterated that if Canada experiences “markedly different” environmental circumstances, his government would make “appropriate”changes to its policies.

“As I have said repeatedly to Canadians, if things change considerably, we’ll adapt. We’ll have the appropriate policies. We’re not going to be rigid. We’ll make sure the policy matches the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

As Harper prepares for the climate conference in Durban, he is hoping for progress in five areas:

• Clear and concrete greenhouse gas reduction plans, as leaders promised with Kyoto.

“Countries, all countries, including our friends south of the border, should be putting in place plans to have medium term GHG reduction and CO2 stabilization,” stressed Harper.

• Meaningful action from some large GHG surplus countries — such as China — to adopt more flexible carbon exchange rates. Harper said fixed carbon exchange rates create situations where some countries have a permanent trade surplus, while others always have a trade deficit.

“This is just an unhealthy situation,” he said.

“Our view is very clear that an economy as large as China, and other large economies, can’t practise policies that are not systematically sound. The policy has to be sound in terms of the global environment as a whole, not just in terms of one country’s interests.”

• Structural reforms to boost environmental sustainability.

• Implementation of energy-sector reform agreed to in previous summits.

“The energy sector can’t just write its own rules. The BP oil spill made very clear that there must be credible regulatory systems on the energy sector or it can lead us in a position where we don’t want to be.”

• A commitment to resist trade protectionist measures.

“These are all things that are essential to avoiding global catastrophe,” said Harper.

“Some are of immediate import, but all of these things, if not handled properly, could lead us to global catastrophe.”

Meanwhile on the economic front …

Q&A: ‘Europe may not be the only storm cloud on the horizon’: Harper

(The above is of course satire. Stephen Harper would never take climate change seriously. “US$1-trillion” to save the global climate, ha ha! A bank bailout maybe. Or a war, but the environment! Ha ha! I laugh till I pee!)

Stupid is as ….

3 February 2011

An excerpt from a Vanlug list thread. The OP’s dial-up modem would not connect to Telus service.

All that was required was to set

Stupid Mode = 1

in /etc/wvdial.conf and it worked. Seriously, that WAS the solution.

Here is the man entry

Stupid Mode
When wvdial is in Stupid Mode, it does not attempt to interpret any prompts from the terminal server. It starts pppd immediately after the modem connects. Apparently there are ISP’s that actually give you a login prompt, but work only if you start PPP, rather than logging in. Go figure. Stupid Mode is (naturally) disabled by default.

If only that Telus tech had told me:

“What’s that your running sir, Linux you say?!?… Oh, I know problem. Linux is too smart for our systems. You need to make your system more Stupid. Then it will work.”

Reading my Ebook

14 August 2010

oil-painting-Tete-De-Femme-by-Spanish-Painter-Pablo-PicassoI’ve made some progress reading my test-case ebook. Copied the freed file to my Mandriva netbook to read in spare moments using FBReader. Won’t go so far as to do a book review, at least not yet. But will share one quote…

In fact, in the first three months of life, a baby’s visual ability to recognize faces is greater than at any other time in its life. An infant can recognize a jumbled photograph of her mother as quickly as an intact photograph—older children are not as adept at this exercise.

Interesting. Might this explain Picasso?

GPS, Today & Tomorrow

21 January 2010

A lot of technology comes into general use after being developed or applied for military purposes. GPS is one of these.

I finally got an in-car GPS yesterday. A bit behind the times, I know. I had been making do with OpenStreetMaps on my N800. Yesterday morning while trying to find a customer in an unfamiliar area, with one eye on the road, one eye on a tailgater, one eye on the street signs and one eye on the PDA (and I don’t even wear glasses!) I finally decided I might try a GPS.

At the end of the day most roads in the region were clogged due to a surplus of accidents. The traffic helicopter lady sounded quite overwhelmed and it seemed unlikely that I could get home from where I was. So, I went shopping instead.

Bought a GPS. Should have bought a GPS a long time ago. It can tell me where the nearest Tim Horton’s is and guide me right to it! Most important — I can keep my eyes on the road while it tells me where and which way to turn.

Occasional glances at the screen show me what to expect ahead along with time, ETA, direction, speed, etc, etc. I found that I do like the 3D view better than the 2D view.. After a couple of hours though it occurred to me that a bit more military developed hardware could enhance the GPS.

Drones. A GPS should have an available personal drone aircraft.

The drone could fly over my vehicle and give a birds-eye view of the traffic around me. Particular hazards, such as erratic drivers, could be highlighted in yellow. Animals or pedestrians poised to enter the roadway ahead could be highlighted in orange. Approaching emergency vehicles could be highlighted in red and maybe flash as they get close in case their siren is not heard. Maybe the drone could have a spotlight to deploy when approaching dark-haired, dark-clothed, helmetless, lightless cyclists on dark roads at night. (Do those cyclists not think that being seen is prerequisite to not being hit?)

A driver’s space on the road would grow to include the airspace overhead, and the sky above busy roads would become pretty busy. Drones would have to be able to hover over traffic jams. If each drone remained over it’s associated vehicle though, there should be no (or few) mid-air collisions. Some autonomous obstacle avoidance would be necessary of course, lest trolley wires become the robotic equivalent of bug zappers. With all the military and law enforcement experience with drones in recent years we should be able to adapt drones to civilian use without too much trouble.

I love my new GPS, but I look forward to the drone upgrade.