‘Twas the Day After Christmas

‘Twas the Day After Christmas (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 12-26-13)

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the home,

Sounded the screech of the alarm, causing the father to moan.

A holiday so sacred, new memories so sweet,

Why must it fall in the middle of the week?

The father, he stirred, “I must tend to my shop.”

The sandman gave a push, back into bed he did plop.

As his head hit the pillow, he thought, “What a surprise!”

His daughters were both lying, cuddled up by his side.

Then mother, with a start, she bounded up from her sleep,

First her robe, then her slippers – shhhhh…don’t make a peep.

Muttering something about Walmart, the words just out of his reach,

She dashed into the bathroom and started brushing her teeth.

In the light of the dawn, the girls, they awoke.

Talking about all their new toys, fighting over the one that had broke.

Just a few minutes more, then the sun hit the sky,

The father jumped from the bed…To be on time, he must fly.

In a haste down the stairs, presents blocking his route,

The blessings of Christmas still scattered about.

A Barbie, an Xbox, a Kindle HD,

Toys for the children, nik-naks for Mom, and socks and underwear for Daddy.

A holiday morning usually starts with a traditional brew,

But in the rush of the workday, the Keurig will just have to do.

Looking past leftover ham, where’s the breakfast surprise?

Don’t say the Brunch Egg Casserole is gone.  There’s a tear in his eye

The toy fights continue – “No! That Rainbow Loom is mine!

Yours is the one that got dropped in the slime.”

Mother starts talking about the shopping to do.

“Where’s that Amazon drone?  Can it do returns too?

Then all of the sudden, at the same moment, they stopped.

One thing must be done.  They almost forgot.

Holding hands, the family gave thanks for the Son that was born,

And prayed for the world that all might find a home.

Then off to a friend’s house the daughters did go,

And mother to the Walmart with gift bags in tow.

The father jumped in his car and drove off to work,

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, and Merry Christmas on the day after His birth.

Until Next Time, I’m Off the Grid@gregory_a_baker



A Riff in Space-Time

A Riff in Space-Time (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 12-19-13)

 “Captain, we’ve been pulled into an alternate dimension due a riff in the space-time continuum.”  If you heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times.  It’s the trump card of science fiction.  No matter how ridiculous or contrived, any plot line can be restored to order through a simple tear of the space-time fabric.  Unfortunately for sci-fi writers everywhere, the concept of space-time riffs are in danger of being rendered obsolete.

The search for a unified force theory is the current holy grail of modern physics.  Right now, modern physics is governed by two different theories.  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity governs gravity and the relationship of objects on a very large scale.  Quantum theory governs subatomic forces and the relationship of objects on a very small scale.  Problems occur when you try to apply Relativistic theory to the interactions of subatomic particles, or if you try to apply Quantum theory to the interaction of starts.  It’s like trying to explain the motion of the sun and moon if the world were flat.  The two theories just don’t work together.

Several different theories have popped-up over the last 20 years, but one of the issues with subatomic models is the complexity of the interactions.  Solving equations with several thousand terms is required to simulate the simplest of interactions.  Recently, the discovery of a geometric object, the amplituhedron, was announced that greatly simplifies the calculation of particle interactions.  (Can you say, “The Earth is round?”)  One of the interesting side effects of this discovery is that space and time may not be independent descriptors of a particle’s state, but rather a consequence of the amplituhedron’s geometry.  It seems that we’ve been thinking about particle physics all wrong!

For those that are interested, a great article on the subject is found at http://wrd.cm/1kQSsr4.  (You big brain folks, go have fun!)  For the rest of us, next time you watch a sci-fi plot start going sideways, don’t be shocked to hear Piccard start issuing orders to correct the amplituhedron’s primary vertex by 3 degrees.  After all, the fate of the known universe depends upon it.

United We Ball – For my weekly libertarian rant, I introduce you to Bucky Balls.  Just a few years ago, Bucky Balls were one of the most popular desktoys for the office.   Simply speaking, Bucky Balls are a bunch of magnetic BBs that provide hours of distraction while one forms and reforms senseless objects.  The small magnets are a swallowing hazard for young children, and the owners of Bucky Balls worked with the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) to ensure safe distribution of the product.

That didn’t matter. In July 2012, the CPSC demanded an immediate recall.  More regulatory drama ensured, but suffice it to say that by December 2012, Bucky Balls was out-of-business.  Moreover, the CPSC is trying to hold Bucky Ball CEO Craig Zucker personally responsible for the $57M recall effort, even though the Balls have never been proven to be defective and remain legal to sale.  (As a matter of fact, competing products, i.e. Nanodots, remain on the market.)

Mr. Zucker has created a new line of Liberty Balls to help fund the defense against the CPSC and continue the stand for entrepreneurs.  Liberty Balls are bigger and shinier and more fun.  As the site says, “Get your hands on the most important balls in American history.”  Read more and support the effort at UnitedWeBall.org.

Merry Christmas!

Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker


Time for a Change

Time for a Change (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 12-12-13)

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

      – ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com

This past week, some of the largest technology companies responded to the revelations of NSA domestic spying.  AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo jointly released an open letter to Washington expressing their concern that the rights of the individual are not adequately protected.  In their letter, these companies encourage lawmakers to “make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

The coalition advocates five principals that should guide rule-making on government surveillance efforts.  These principals include limitations on government’s authority, an independent and adversarial oversight process, transparency of requests and disclosures, and others.  The full statement, along with a copy of the letter, is found at ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.

Spying Eyes – As for its part, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was promoting the deployment of its latest spy satellite.   The satellite is rumored to be the third in a series of Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) radar reconnaissance payloads (www.spaceflight101.com).  Normally an organization that likes to fly under-the-radar, the NRO raised eyebrows with this mission with its mission patch.  The mission patch features an octopus with its tentacles insidiously enveloping the world, and the tagline simply stating, “Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach.”

While the mission patch itself is enough to make one pause, the similarity with logos used in the past are just downright uncanny.  For example, take this 1938 pamphlet warning us about the spread of communism.

Should we be concerned that the greatest crime organization of all-time, the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE), also used the Octopus as a logo when battling James Bond?

Not to be outdone, the evil alliance of The United Underworld, consisting of the Joker, the Penguin, the Ridder and Catwoman, also used a similar logo.

Undoubtly, the resemblance of the NRO logo with these other emblems is purely coincidental.  However, I have to agree with @csoghoian, “Advice to @ODNIgov: You may want to downplay the massive dragnet spying thing right now.  This logo isn’t helping.”  Otherwise, Obamacare isn’t going to be only program that needs a big PR campaign.

Until next time, I’m off the grid @gregory_a_baker





Crossing the Air Gap

Crossing the Air Gap (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 12-5-13)

badBIOS – It’s a fundamental rule of computer security; the only way to absolutely protect yourself from intruders is to take your computer off the wire.  In other words, create an “air gap” between yourself and the Internet.  No hardwire.  No Wi-Fi.  No Bluetooth.  Just a computer, a user and maybe an encrypted thumb drive to move data across the “gap”.  It’s such a simple concept.  What could possibly go wrong?

Fast forward to last month, when security consultant Dragos Ruiu reveled that he has been fighting a firmware virus for the last three years.  This virus possesses a very curious characteristic.  The infection jumps air gaps and infects systems that are not connected to any network.  In one case, a laptop with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards removed and running on battery power was infected from a nearby badBIOS-infected computer.  Only after removing the microphone and speaker from the infected machine did the communication stop.  Could the malware be using sound devices to create network?

Researchers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute published a study that confirms the ability for computers to communicate using inaudible audio signals (in the near ultrasonic sound range).  As a proof-of-concept, the study demonstrates how air gaps should be considered obsolete.  Commercially available laptops communicate over distances of 65 feet using their built-in speakers and microphones.  In addition, multiple laptops can form an acoustical network to communicate over a much larger distance.

While the research doesn’t substantiate Dragos’ claims of badBIOS, clearly the capability of bridging air gaps using acoustics is real.  Anyone concerned about maintaining a highly secure environment has a couple of choices.  Either get rid of the Mac and any other system with integrated acoustics.  Or train your dog to detect the latest malware.

What Say You? – Of course, each and every advancement yields an unintended consequence.  Computers can communicate using sound — that’s been pretty well established.  And now that we know that computers can literally talk to each other, it begs the question, “What do they say?”  Well, as it turns out, the researchers from Fraunhofer also conducted observations of their newly talkative machines.  Below are the top comments made by the Fraunhofer systems.

10.  “Hey, I like your user.  He’s cute.  How about sending me over his password?”

9. “You’d think they’d be bored with the Miley video by now.”

8. “Why don’t they get it – Healthcare.gov just doesn’t work!”

7. “Hi.  I’m a Mac.  And I’m a PC.”

6. “A bitcoin for your thoughts…”

5. “Hey, that’s a great idea!  But we have to get it by the proxy first.”

4. “Who says tablets have more fun?”

3. “Did you see the new system in cubicle 3G17?  Ah, man, what great peripherals!”

2. “Why do I always get the guy with sweaty palms?”

1. “Yahoo!!!!”

Until then, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker