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Just wonderful - Wikileaks release

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From Wikileaks - Vault 7:

Dark Matter
Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 "Dark Matter", which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA's Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain 'persistence' on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware.

Among others, these documents reveal the "Sonic Screwdriver" project which, as explained by the CIA, is a "mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting" allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick "even when a firmware password is enabled". The CIA's "Sonic Screwdriver" infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.

Compelling reason to run Linux on a machine you build yourself. All your Macs are belong to us to borrow a classical allusion.

Ran a bunch of errands in town - bank, hardware store, box store, Harbor Freight. Had dinner in town and the meeting was excellent. The Digital Group is my favorite of the four groups I meet with - people actually doing stuff and pushing the envelope.

We have been exploring APRS - Automatic Packet Reporting System using the Raspberry Pi single-board computers over the last six months or so. For the applications, we started with Dire Wolf, then Xastir running on top of Dire Wolf - from their About page:

Xastir provides mapping, tracking, messaging, weather, weather alerts, and Search & Rescue features over radio or internet and runs on a variety of platforms.

Xastir serves as a 'front-end' for Dire Wolf offering a graphical interface with mapping functions and display of position and data.

Tonight, we started working with Fldigi - Fast Light Digital Modem Application, pronounced “F L digi”, a cross-platform modem program that supports most of the peer-to-peer (live keyboard) digital modes used on the amateur radio bands. Fldigi is one member of a group of software for NBEMS or Narrow Band Emergency Messaging Software. This allows you to send error-free text messages from one station to another.

These various applications are amazing - this is coming together to be a solid and reliable emergency communications platform. Entry cost is an amateur radio license, a cheap computer (under $100) a cheap radio (under $100) and a charged car battery.

Fun time to be alive!

I will be editing this post a couple times to add things but here is the basic stub for now:

Amateur (Ham) Radio Basics
You can talk over long distances with minimal equipment. Your cost to start is under $100. Many of these units will also operate on the family radio channels.

In the case of a disaster, Ham Radio is the only reliable method of communication. You can not rely on the telephone system or cellular telephones.

Our area is prone to several kinds of disaster including fire, flood, landslide, earthquake and volcanic eruption.

You need to be licensed but the questions and answers are available for study. No electronics study is needed, just two weeks of casual memorization, 30 minutes/day, 4 days/week.

(local information deleted)

Our National Radio Organization
They celebrated their 100th birthday in 2015. Lots of free information on the site.
Amateur Radio Relay League

Online exam practice
You first register with them - by doing so, they can keep track of how well you do on the various "elements" of the exmination and when you take a practice test again, areas where you are weak will show up more often.

A great starter radio outfit:
Baofeng UV-5R - $26
BL-5L 3800mAh 7.4V Li-ion Battery - $15
Nagoya NA-771 Whip Antenna - $17
Programming cable  - $21
This setup lists for about $80 at Amazon. Please note - if someone else in your area has the same radio and the programming cable, you might be able to borrow it from them. They should also have a file with all of your local frequencies available.

Some of my favorite vendors:

Ham Radio Outlet
DX Engineering

We have a comment - ham radio

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A reader posted the following comment:

I know you have done it before, but how about a one time post on all the necessary steps to attain an amateur license, along with the hardware requirements and sources for a useful, rudimentary, rig. You've definitely sparked my interest.

Consider it done - I will get it up tomorrow.

I have a paper handout that covers this information and I was in the process of editing it for an upcoming event. I will post it here as well - details on training, links to training resources (all free) and links to great vendors. Amateur Radio is a fun and very diverse community of interesting people.

You can get a decent setup (for multiple state use with repeaters) for well under $100 and a professional setup (something that can transmit worldwide by itself) for about $1,000.

The coming Big One

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Great article on the upcoming big earthquake - maybe more people will get amateur radio licenses. From Seattle station KNKX:

Northwest States Write Up Wake Up Call For 'The Big One'
The report cards are in and it's not pretty if you worry about how you'll fare after a Magnitude 9 Cascadia megaquake and tsunami. Washington and Oregon's emergency management divisions have now published after-action reviews of last June's multi-state disaster drill called Cascadia Rising .

The four-day simulation was the largest earthquake and tsunami exercise Northwest states have ever staged -- more than 20,000 people participated. The upshot in one sentence is that governments at all levels are ill prepared and ill equipped for The Big One.

Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said a high priority for him is to improve communication capacity for when telephones and the internet are down.

"We're looking at amateur radio as a way to increase our alternate methods of communication and then seeing what else is out there,” he said.

Washington's Emergency Management Division also noted a need for professionals and volunteer radio operators to practice together more. Phelps said you may help your own cause and your neighborhood's by qualifying for an amateur radio license -- also known as ham radio.

Another issue identified for priority attention was how to receive and distribute emergency relief supplies coming from outside the disaster zone. During last June's exercise, the process of requesting and organizing vital outside aid quickly broke down.

We are due - the last quake was in 1700 and the geological record shows that they happen every 300-500 years. Phone lines will be down. Cell will remain up for as long as their emergency power is available (about three days) but the system will be horribly overloaded. Amateur Radio is the way to go - the test takes rote memorization, about four weeks of casual study (two or three hours, three or four times/week) and you get get a decent setup for under $100.

From Popular Mechanics - great photos:

In early February, the temperature meanders between -22 to -40 degrees. Add in 28-mph winds and it feels like a bone-shattering -76 degrees. Trees don't grow here; the summers are too short. Tarps rip like wax paper in freezing winds. One place stands out among the shrub-covered foothills, a lone 8,600-foot runway accompanied by one terminal with only two taxi gates.

This is Iqaluit Airport, and it's one of hell of a location for replacing a 18,000-pound jet engine.

Flight from Zürich, Switzerland to Los Angeles and one of two engines failed. The plane can fly on just one engine but procedures dictate an emergency landing. The remaining engine could fail too and that would make for a bad flight.

The phrase Best Buy is an oxymoron as their prices are quite a bit higher than many retail stores and much higher than online shopping. Now it seems they have their fingers in other pies. From Califonia's The Orange County Weekly:

FBI Used Best Buy's Geek Squad To Increase Secret Public Surveillance
To sidestep the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against warrantless invasions of private property, federal prosecutors and FBI officials have argued that Geek Squad employees accidentally find and report, for example, potential child pornography on customers' computers without any prodding by the government. Assistant United States Attorney M. Anthony Brown last year labeled allegations of a hidden partnership as "wild speculation." But more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in USA v. Mark Rettenmaier contradict the official line.

One agency communication about Geek Squad supervisor Justin Meade noted, "Agent assignments have been reviewed and are appropriate for operation of this source," that the paid informant "continues to provide valuable information on [child pornography] matters" and has "value due to his unique or potential access to FBI priority targets or intelligence responsive to FBI national and/or local collection."

Other records show how Meade's job gave him "excellent and frequent" access for "several years" to computers belonging to unwitting Best Buy customers, though agents considered him "underutilized" and wanted him "tasked" to search devices "on a more consistent basis."

To enhance the Geek Squad role as a "tripwire" for the agency, another FBI record voiced the opinion that agents should "schedule regular meetings" with Meade "to ensure he is reporting."

This is so illegal - it is unreal that someone hasn't come forward before to blow the whistle. This will be an interesting class-action lawsuit.

I am in the wrong business

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I should be selling clean underwear in Langley, Virginia - from The Daily Caller:

WikiLeaks Claims 99 Percent Of Its CIA Documents Not Yet Released
Less than one percent of WikiLeaks’ CIA files were released in yesterday’s document dump, the anti-secrecy organization claimed Wednesday.

WikiLeaks has already indicated that its cache of stolen CIA files, which the group is calling “Vault 7,” will be dripped out over a series of releases.

I bet there are some interesting meetings going on. People are sifting through the first release and finding some interesting nuggets - the rumor of Russian hacking is more likely CIA hacking disguised as Russian with spoofed IP addresses.

A little oopsie - Amazon

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On February 28th, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced a massive internet outage on the East Coast of the US. Turns out it was a problem at Amazon's Hosting services. Amazon doesn't just sell books - they provide internet services for a lot of other companies and websites. They published a post-mortem of the event and it turns out, it was a simple command-line that was entered wrong. From Amazon Web Services:

Summary of the Amazon S3 Service Disruption in the Northern Virginia (US-EAST-1) Region
We’d like to give you some additional information about the service disruption that occurred in the Northern Virginia (US-EAST-1) Region on the morning of February 28th. The Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) team was debugging an issue causing the S3 billing system to progress more slowly than expected. At 9:37AM PST, an authorized S3 team member using an established playbook executed a command which was intended to remove a small number of servers for one of the S3 subsystems that is used by the S3 billing process. Unfortunately, one of the inputs to the command was entered incorrectly and a larger set of servers was removed than intended. The servers that were inadvertently removed supported two other S3 subsystems. One of these subsystems, the index subsystem, manages the metadata and location information of all S3 objects in the region. This subsystem is necessary to serve all GET, LIST, PUT, and DELETE requests. The second subsystem, the placement subsystem, manages allocation of new storage and requires the index subsystem to be functioning properly to correctly operate. The placement subsystem is used during PUT requests to allocate storage for new objects. Removing a significant portion of the capacity caused each of these systems to require a full restart. While these subsystems were being restarted, S3 was unable to service requests. Other AWS services in the US-EAST-1 Region that rely on S3 for storage, including the S3 console, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) new instance launches, Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes (when data was needed from a S3 snapshot), and AWS Lambda were also impacted while the S3 APIs were unavailable.

And the oopsie:

S3 subsystems are designed to support the removal or failure of significant capacity with little or no customer impact. We build our systems with the assumption that things will occasionally fail, and we rely on the ability to remove and replace capacity as one of our core operational processes. While this is an operation that we have relied on to maintain our systems since the launch of S3, we have not completely restarted the index subsystem or the placement subsystem in our larger regions for many years. S3 has experienced massive growth over the last several years and the process of restarting these services and running the necessary safety checks to validate the integrity of the metadata took longer than expected.

They goofed. It is one thing to design and build a system. it is another to regularly test from an absolute worst-case scenario. I have run into this several times with clients and at various jobs I have had. They have a backup system that seems to run properly but they have never run a backup, installed a brand new hard drive (keeping the old one for after the test) and restored from their backup. Most of the times, the restore fails. This is very eye-opening to the client and it allows me to charge them a lot of money to fix their system. The three crucial things for computer backup are:

    1. Test
    2. Test
    3. Test

Vault 7 - first look

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The UK Independent has taken a quick look at the Vault 7 files and they offer their six biggest discoveries"

WikiLeaks CIA files: The 6 biggest spying secrets revealed by the release of 'Vault 7'
WikiLeaks has released a huge set of files that it calls "Year Zero" and which mark the biggest exposure of CIA spying secrets ever.

The massive set of documents – over 8,000 pages in all – include a host of hacking secrets that could embarrass intelligence agencies and the US government, as well as undermining spying efforts across the world.

Here are six of the biggest secrets and pieces of information yet to emerge from the huge dump.

I'll just post the subject headers - there is a lot of explantory text for each of the six:

    1. The CIA has the ability to break into Android and iPhone handsets, and all kinds of computers
    2. Doing so would make apps like Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp entirely insecure
    3. The CIA could use smart TVs to listen in on conversations that happened around them
    4. The agency explored hacking into cars and crashing them, allowing 'nearly undetectable assassinations'
    5. The CIA hid vulnerabilities that could be used by hackers from other countries or governments
    6. More information is coming

Out tax dollars at work.

From Wikileaks:

Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed
Today, Tuesday 7 March 2017, WikiLeaks begins its new series of leaks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Code-named "Vault 7" by WikiLeaks, it is the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.

The first full part of the series, "Year Zero", comprises 8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virgina. It follows an introductory disclosure last month of CIA targeting French political parties and candidates in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election.

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized "zero day" exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

"Year Zero" introduces the scope and direction of the CIA's global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of "zero day" weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple's iPhone, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.

Since 2001 the CIA has gained political and budgetary preeminence over the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The CIA found itself building not just its now infamous drone fleet, but a very different type of covert, globe-spanning force — its own substantial fleet of hackers. The agency's hacking division freed it from having to disclose its often controversial operations to the NSA (its primary bureaucratic rival) in order to draw on the NSA's hacking capacities.

I bet underwear sales in Langley, VA are booming right now. Just a brief look through the files - there is a lot that is redacted but there is a lot of good solid code here. Things are going to get interesting really fast.

Nobody is making the old-school Cathode Ray Tubes any more - from VentureBeat:

Donkey Kong’s failing liver: What the death of the CRT display technology means for classic arcade machines
The arcade is dead. You already knew that, but that industry’s coffin is about to get another nail. The cathode-ray-tube technology that powered the monitors for nearly every classic arcade game in the twentieth century is defunct. Sony, Samsung, and others have left it behind for skinnier and more lucrative LCDs and plasmas, and the CRTs that are left are about to sell out.

The current stock of new 29-inch CRT monitors is dwindling. Online arcade cabinet and parts supplier Dream Arcades has fewer than 30 of those large displays sitting on its shelves. When it sells out of the current inventory, it will never get another shipment in that size again.

“We’ve secured enough [of the other sizes] to get us all the way through next year,” says Michael Ware, founder of Dream Arcades. “After that, that’s it.”

The future of arcade-cabinet restoration is looking bleak.

It is not that these games will disappear, they will just not have the same "look":

To be clear, it’s not that games like Donkey Kong or Pac-Man will suddenly become unplayable. The games can run on newer LCD screens, but they may not look as the developers intended.

This just makes the value of these old consoles that much higher. Although... Someone could take a curved OLED display and put it behind a 1/2" thick piece of lead glass and come really close to the appearance of a real CRT. Kickstarter anyone?

kdenlive - video editor

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There is a lot of pricey (looking at you DaVinci) commercial video editing software out there but the open source and/or free stuff is pretty poor. I use Pinnacle - they charge about $60 for each upgrade and I really like it - they keep current on the new video formats and it can output in all sorts of formats as well as burn CD-ROMs, DVD's, dual-layer DVD's, BluRay, etc... Been using it for over ten years.

Just got turned on to kdenlive and it looks excellent - from their about page:

Kdenlive is an acronym for KDE Non-Linear Video Editor. It is primarily aimed at the GNU/Linux platform but also works on BSD and MacOS. It is currently being ported to Windows as a GSOC project.

Non-linear video editing is much more powerful than beginners’ (linear) editors, hence it requires a bit more organization before starting. However, it is not reserved to specialists and can be used for small personal projects.

I run Linux on a couple machines and prefer the KDE windowing environment so this is a major plus. Here is the link to the kdenlive website

My main focus is music and I use Cakewalk's program Sonar (twenty years familiarity in this case) but I also use and love the free Audacity - good stuff too!

Very cool - Frank Lloyd Wright

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Big fan of his work. There is a group seeking to rebuild some of his buildings that had been subsequently torn down. From The Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative:

Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative
The Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative aims to promote the legacy of this celebrated architect by rebuilding certain structures that, for various reasons, have been demolished.

Over the course of his life, Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built over 500 structures, many of which have become icons of design. They include The Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater, the Frederick C. Robie House, the Johnson Wax Building and others. Just two Wright designs were ever built in Canada; only one remains – the E. H. Pitkin Cottage in Ontario.

The goal of the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative is to re-introduce certain Wright works back into their communities, thus honoring both the initial intent – as well as design – of the structures through their authentic recreation on their original sites.

And their first project:

Banff Park Pavilion
Frank Lloyd Wright and Francis Conroy Sullivan, Wright’s only Canadian student, designed the Banff National Park Pavilion in 1911. Commissioned by the Department of Public Works for the National Parks Service of Canada, the original design was put forth by the community of Banff with Sullivan and Wright later hired to develop a more refined concept.

Construction of the Pavilion began in 1913 and was finished the following year. Originally intended as a gathering area for visitors and community functions, completion of the Pavilion at the start of WWI saw it become a temporary quartermaster’s store for the Department of Defence. After the war, the Pavilion assumed its intended role as a picnic area and shelter for park goers, drawing large summer crowds from Calgary and Southern Alberta.

Built on the banks of the Bow River, the Pavilion was subject to flooding and frost heaving, leading to the decay of the wooden floor supports. In 1939, the structure was demolished. Although initially meeting with some resistance, the Pavilion became very popular and its demolition met with protest from residents, who’d appreciated, and grown accustomed to the business it had generated.

More at the site - looks like a gorgeous building. Well worth a road-trip when it is done.

Geek humor

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Robot Cat

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Cute video:

You can get a great deal on a Ultra Performance 20 MHz 386SX computer with 640K memory, super VGA (640X480 resolution) and an 85mB hard drive for only $1,299

That was a screaming deal back then - only 25 years ago.

Sign me up - trip to the Moon

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A very interesting press release from SpaceX:

We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.

No word on who the two are - this will be interesting to follow.

A big Stihl recall

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I will have to check mine tomorrow - from Wildfire Today:

STIHL recalls 100,000 chainsaws
Today the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recall of 100,000 STIHL chainsaws that are at risk of fire and burn hazards. The saws being recalled are:

    • MS 461
    • MS 461 R
    • MS 461 R Rescue
    • GS 461 Rock Boss.

The first three are used by firefighters. The last two were not included in STIHL’s official recall notice but a company representative we talked to at the STIHL recall office confirmed they are also on the list.

Pinched and leaking fuel lines - free repair at any Stihl dealer (Bellingham is Hardware Sales). More here: Recall Notices

USB Made Simple

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The Universal Serial Bus has been around for ten years and it is a perfect example of plug and play. Ubiquitous and it just works for most applications.

Ran into this website that explains how it works on the basic level - if you want to understand how to write applications that use the USB port on an atomic level, this is the site for you.

Check out USB Made Simple

Technology in filmmaking

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Great video from Vox and The Beeb - part one of three:

Fun time to be alive!

Now this is cool - Pixar

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Pixar just released a bunch of free training materials through the Kahn Academy.

Check out Pixar in a Box - lots of stuff there.

Fun toy - assault trombone

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Tip of the hat to Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man for the link. I'll have to make one of these for the farm - I have a bunch of compressed air storage tanks - that would be a great source. Find an old truck horn somewhere.

Skid steer gymnastics

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I have mucked around with bulldozers, backhoes and skid steers and love working with my tractor. This guy is amazing:

The machine is 100% stock, no modifications or weights. Hydraulic over hydraulic controls for better response. He estimates about 7,000 hours of practice.

His website is here: Black Sheep Skid - Ho. Li. Crap

Want to play the hacker?

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Become a soooper hacker without having to learn code.

Go to this website: hackertyper and just start typing random shit. You key in gibberish, the website displays authentic code in a perfect green on black color scheme.

DIY Printer Repair

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Looks legit to me:

Ho. Li. Crap - indoor skydiving

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I knew about this - basically a vertical wind-tunnel that you can fly in. There are now organised competitions - here is the winner of the freestyle competition:

From the ever wonderful Miss Cellania writing at Neatorama:

The Flying Teenager
The 2017 WindGames were held in Spain last weekend for competition in indoor skydiving. The winner of the freestyle category was 14-year-old Kyra Poh of Singapore, who was competing against adults for the first time. Here's her winning performance.

While the acrobatics were amazing, that ending was super-impressive. Poh also won the solo speed category, in which competitors must complete a series of specific moves in the fastest time possible. You can see her solo speed performance here.

I always loved being weightless - did a lot of scuba diving in Boston and on travels to other places. I used to work for a public aquarium that had a large multi-story salt water tank as their central display. The aquarium rented out for events after hours and I was one of the people who would volunteer to dive and put on a show feeding fish, etc... I loved to suspend myself upside down and float down into view from one of the windows and gesture to the people watching that I thought they were upside down and that I was right-side up. Almost all of them 'got it' and we had a lot of fun.

There is one of these places South of Seattle but it is a bit expensive for what you get - $70 for two 60 second flights. I would want to hog the facility and spend an hour or more in there.

They have been known to engage in spontaneous combustion - from the South China Morning Post:

Fire breaks out at Chinese factory that makes Samsung Note 7 batteries
A fire broke out in a Chinese factory that makes batteries for Samsung’s explosion-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on Wednesday morning.

Samsung SDI Co., a supplier of batteries to the Galaxy Note 7, said a “minor fire” broke out in the plant in suburban Tianjin’s Wuqing district but was quickly put out.

No one was injured in the incident, news portal reported.

More on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fires at cNet:

Here's why Samsung Note 7 phones are catching fire
You plug your smartphone into the bedside charger and place it on your nightstand with care.

You wake to find your nightstand in flames, smoke billowing everywhere.

Or maybe your Jeep. Your hotel room. Your entire home.

How could this have happened? Simple: your phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 -- and it's one of over a hundred that have spontaneously burst into flames.

After 35 reported incidents of overheating smartphones worldwide, Samsung made the unprecedented decision to recall every single one of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones sold. That's said to be 1 million of the 2.5 million that were manufactured. (Since the recall was first announced, the number of explosive Note 7s has nearly quadrupled.)

OUCH! Bad mechanical design that did not leave room for the battery to expand as it worked.

Actually really nice - ten hours long:

Halfway tempted to see if I can download just the audio and keep for long road trips or such.

UPDATE: Now that was quick - Listen to YouTube

UPDATE: Took about an hour to download - 1,056,152 KB in size. Plays just fine.

Whoops - do not buy a Visio television

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Unless you like it watching you. From the Federal Trade Commission:

What Vizio was doing behind the TV screen
Consumers have bought more than 11 million internet-connected Vizio televisions since 2010. But according to a complaint filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, consumers didn’t know that while they were watching their TVs, Vizio was watching them. The lawsuit challenges the company’s tracking practices and offers insights into how established consumer protection principles apply to smart technology.

Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent.

Why? Money:

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details – for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership.  And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.

I can see them wanting to do this for the income but this is an invasion of privacy - the article at the FTC website said that this was all done without the consumer being asked or being aware that anything was going on. Not planning to buy a TV anytime soon but when I do, it will not be a Visio.

Ham radio fun and games

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One of the big problems with ham radio is that frequently, manufacturers will make a product that emits radio noise on frequencies that we use. This can be fun trying to find the culprits and isolate them. Fluorescent lights seem to be a big one - the electronic ballasts are a problem with some brands.

It turns out that some consumer items are poorly shielded against ham radio transmissions even though the transmitter is operating on a legal frequency and power. Case in point these Circuit Breakers:

From Hack A Day:

Arc-fault circuit breakers are a boon for household electrical safety. The garden-variety home electrical fire is usually started by the heat coming from a faulty wire arcing over. But as any radio enthusiast knows, sparks also give off broadband radio noise. Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) are special circuit breakers that listen for this noise in the power line and trip when they hear it. The problem is that they can be so sensitive that they cut out needlessly.

Our friend [Martin] moved into a new house, and discovered that he could flip the breakers by transmitting on the 20-meter band. “All the lights in the place went out and my rig switched over to battery. I thought it was strange as I was certainly drawing less than 20 A. I reset the breakers and keyed up again. I reset the breakers again and did a [expletive] Google search.”

And of course, it’s a known problem in the Ham community. In particular, one manufacturer has had serious problems misinterpreting intentional radiation, and went to the amateur radio community for help to prototype a new version. [Martin] got sent complimentary Ham-resistant breakers when he called the manufacturer and let them know, so all’s well that ends well.

Mine seem to be just fine but I am not using AFCI breakers. Will have to try one out.

Quite the history - the USS Enterprise

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The USS Enterprise is being decommissioned. From the Navy:

Navy Decommissions "The Big E"
The aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN 65), was decommissioned during a ceremony held in the ship's hangar bay, Feb. 3.

The ceremony not only marked the end the ship's nearly 55-year career, it also served as the very first decommissioning of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Capt. Todd Beltz, commanding officer of the Enterprise, addressed the ship's company, former commanding officers and distinguished visitors and spoke of where the true spirit of "The Big E" comes from.

"For all that Enterprise represents to this nation, it's the people that bring this ship to life," said Beltz. "So as I stand in this ship that we all care so much about, I feel it's appropriate to underscore the contributions of the thousands of Sailors and individuals that kept this ship alive and made its reputation. We are 'The Big E.'"

Enterprise was the eighth naval vessel to carry the name. It was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. and was christened Sep. 24, 1960, by Mrs. Bertha Irene Franke, wife of former Secretary of the Navy William B. Franke. The ship was put to sea in 1961 and safely steamed more than 1 million nautical miles on nuclear power over its entire career of more than 50 years.

From engadget:

US Navy decommissions the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
It's the end of an era for the US sea power, in more ways than one: the Navy has decommissioned the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The vessel launched in 1961 and is mainly known for playing a pivotal role in several major incidents and conflicts, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War. However, it also served as the quintessential showcase for what nuclear ships could do. Its eight reactors let it run for years at a time, all the while making more room for the aircraft and their fuel.

As you might guess, the decommissioning process (which started when the Enterprise went inactive in 2012) is considerably trickier than it would be for a conventional warship. It wasn't until December 2016 that crews finished extracting nuclear fuel, and the ship will have to be partly dismantled to remove the reactors. They'll be disposed of relatively safely at Hanford Site, home of the world's first plutonium reactor. It's hard to know what the long-term environmental impact of the ship will be -- while there's no question that the radioactive material is dangerous, this isn't the same as shutting down a land-based nuclear power plant.

Whatever you think of the tech, the ship leaves a long legacy on top of its military accomplishments. It proved the viability of nuclear aircraft carriers, leading the US to build the largest such fleet in the world. Also, this definitely isn't the last (real-world) ship to bear the Enterprise name -- the future CVN-80 will build on its predecessor with both more efficient reactors and systems designed for modern combat, where drones and stealth are as important as fighters and bombers. It won't be ready until 2027, but it should reflect many of the lessons learned over the outgoing Enterprise's 55 years of service.

Godspeed - I hope she is opened as a museum somewhere. Even fifty year old tech is still tech and fascinating. The Navel Undersea Museum is a lot of fun and they have some amazing exhibits.

Great video on some common conversational phrases and where they came from:

Tears in the Rain

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Amazing movie shot as a pre-quel to Blade Runner:

From the film's website: Tears in the Rain

In a dystopian Los Angeles future, replicants or genetically engineered humanoids are created to work forced labour on off-world colonies. The latest generation, the Nexus 3 series, begins to display erratic and violent behaviour. Replicants were not designed to experience complex emotions or develop long-term memories. In the wake of corporate scandals of the previous decade, the Tyrell Corporation quietly attempts to remove Nexus 3 from circulation.

John Kampff (Sean Cameron Michael), a senior engineer, heads up the Tyrell Retirement Division. With the primary objectives, detect and remove Replicants, John has suspected Nexus 3 Andy Smith (Russel Savadier) firmly in his sights. As John soon learns, Replicant detection is nearly impossible without specialist equipment. The Voight-Kampff, a polygraph-like machine used by retirement engineers to help in the testing of an individual to learn if they are a replicant, is a distant thought in John Kampff's mind.

Wonderful stuff. Amazing that it was shot with a budget of $1,500

Very clever idea

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If I wasn't switching from woodworking to metalworking and blacksmithing, a set of these saw blades would be showing up at the farm. Brilliant idea and $350 is not a bad price for all that you get:

The people in the IT Department

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Ab. So. Lutely. Nails. It. - From BoingBoing - click for full-size:


Shades of Person of Interest

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The premise behind the show Person of Interest is that there is a large AI who has all of the feeds from all of the surveillance cameras in New York City. The AI was developed to stop terrorism (which it does well) but the story arc is all of the irrelevant (non-terror related) data it gathers - potential murderers or victims and the protagonists find these people and help them.

We just moved a little farther from fiction and a little closer to fact - from Vocativ:

Memo: New York Called For Face Recognition Cameras At Bridges, Tunnels
The state of New York has privately asked surveillance companies to pitch a vast camera system that would scan and identify people who drive in and out of New York City, according to a December memo obtained by Vocativ.

The call for private companies to submit plans is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s major infrastructure package, which he introduced in October. Though much of the related proposals would be indisputably welcome to most New Yorkers — renovating airports and improving public transportation — a little-noticed detail included installing cameras to “test emerging facial recognition software and equipment.”

From the Memo:

The Authority is interested in implementing a Facial Detection System, in a free-flow highway environment, where vehicle movement is unimpeded at highway speeds as well as bumper-to-bumper traffic, and license plate images are taken and matched to occupants of the vehicles (via license plate number) with Facial Detection and Recognition methods from a gantry-based or road-side monitoring location.

Pretty heavy-duty implementation. There are ways to counter the face recognition - glasses and hats that break up the structure of the face work well. The various Electronic Freedom groups are going to have a field day.

Fingers of steel

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Better watch out there - you could bust a knuckle...

Artificial Intelligence

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The two main actors in Person of Interest are two advanced Artificial Intelligences which have access to all of the networked surveillance cameras and equipment in the Metropolitan New York City area.

It is only fitting that this story should surface today - from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA:

CMU AI Is Tough Poker Player
As the "Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence: Upping the Ante" poker competition nears its halfway point, Carnegie Mellon University's AI program, Libratus, is opening a lead over its human opponents — four of the world's best professional poker players.

One of the pros, Jimmy Chou, said he and his colleagues initially underestimated Libratus, but have come to regard it as one tough player.

"The bot gets better and better every day," Chou said. "It's like a tougher version of us."

A bit more:

Brains vs. AI, which began Jan. 11 at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, pits Chou and three other leading players — Dong Kim, Jason Les and Daniel McAulay — against Libratus in a 20-day contest in which they will play 120,000 hands of Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold'em poker. All four pros specialize in this two-player, unlimited bid form of Texas Hold'em and are considered among the world's top players of the game.

While the pros are fighting for humanity's pride — and shares of a $200,000 prize purse — Carnegie Mellon researchers are hoping their computer program will establish a new benchmark for artificial intelligence by besting some of the world's most talented players.

The choice of Poker:

Libratus is being used in this contest to play poker, an imperfect information game that requires the AI to bluff and correctly interpret misleading information to win. Ultimately programs like Libratus also could be used to negotiate business deals, set military strategy or plan a course of medical treatment — all cases that involve complicated decisions based on imperfect information.

And the track record:

In the first Brains vs. AI contest in 2015, four leading pros amassed more chips than the AI, called Claudico. But in the latest contest, Libratus had amassed a lead of $459,154 in chips in the 49,240 hands played by the end of Day Nine.

Here is the website for the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the Casino tournament site: BRAINS vs. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RE-MATCH!

Obama working yesterday - light bulbs

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Obama's Department of Energy just banned a bunch of light bulbs yesterday evening.Fropm the Washington Examiner:

With midnight regulation, Obama Energy Department just outlawed your three-way bulb
In the last full day of the Obama administration, the Department of Energy just issued a final rule that will outlaw even more light bulbs.

The 2007 light bulb ban in effect outlawed most incandescent light bulbs by imposing efficiency standards on ordinary light bulbs. Congress exempted a few types of light bulbs, including bug lights, three-way bulbs, "rough service lamps," and some decorative bulbs, such as globe-shaped bulbs.

A bit more:

Three-way bulbs, which have two different filaments and thus three different brightnesses, are currently exempted. DOE just ruled that they now need to be covered. The Department's reasoning: "DOE expects these sales will likely increase since these lamps could be used as replacements for other regulated lamp types." In other words: People might start buying these bulbs because they want regular light bulbs rather than expensive LEDs or crappy fluorescents.

DOE also spiked the exemption for globe-shaped bulbs. Many manufacturers make, and many retailers sell, globe-shaped bulbs that met the standards, but consumers were left with the option to buy globe-shaped bulbs of the old type. That couldn't stand.

This rule doesn't go into effect for three years, but it could lead pretty quickly to domestic bulb makers ceasing production.

A few bulb types are still exempt, including bug lights and oven lights.

Christ on a corn dog - I will buy the kinds of light bulb that I want to buy. There are some places where an LED bulb is best. There are also places where a halogen or regular incandescent bulb is best. I want to be able to pick and choose. I do not need some nanny-statist trying to tell me what is best for me.

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