Category Archives: Events

Flow of things

A very long time has passed since I last posted anything. In that time, I’ve done an ass ton (metric, in imperial that’d be approximately 45/64th’s of one quarter cup liquid ounce of.. inches?)  of work, been to Switzerland and back, had my son start elementary school, and various other bits and bobs. Maybe that’s why? Anyway, I’ll start rambling off things that come to mind.

So I went to Switzerland, Geneva to be more exact. And to be even more exact, I visited CERN! The inner geek in me is still excited. That place is, to put it bluntly, amazing. We started by checking in at the visitor center, where we got our badges. I took the opportunity (at the recommendation of one of our hosts), to visit the gift shop and pick up a t-shirt and coffee mug. The mug has the four component formulas for, well, everything important, i.e. the Standard Model Lagrangian. Don’t ask me to explain it, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. The t-shirt I can explain. Not only was it made somewhere in Asia, but it also has on it the original Tim Berners Lee proposal for the world wide web. The back has his boss’s comment “Vague, but exciting”, on it. Both items are in frequent use.

At CERN, I visited the control room for ATLAS, one of the experiments using the large hadron collider. The LHC itself was being upgraded to allow for higher energy level collisions in the future. Pity we couldn’t visit the actual detector, or see the actual uhm.. tube where the particles travel in a circle before hitting each other every once in a while. We also visited the computer center.  As a computer guy, I was pretty darn impressed. The amount of hardware that’s in there is staggering, and the connections to the outside world are even more impressive. I was told there wasn’t “much” science going on, and still the aggregate bandwidth of connections to and from the facility and to research facilities around the world was at over 7 GiB, with over 200 000 running jobs. They told us it gets to around 13-15 GiB when there’s a real buzz. There was a nifty touch screen in the lobby of the computer center, built around google earth, that you could spin around to see the different connections around the globe. Finland’s share? A meager 0,3% of the computing being done. Meh. The lobby also had some display cases with various old hardware: old modems, fiber optics, hard drives and so on.

Geneva was a nice place in general. The climate was nice, the views spectacular and the people generally very nice. I had that same nagging feeling that I had in Paris in 07, where the French speaking people were just acting.. weird. We had a waiter that was muttering something under his breath the whole time he was serving us. There was that same air of arrogance and displeasure at having to speak English. The hotel was a refreshing exception (as it was in Paris), and I can easily recommend it for anyone looking for a reasonably priced hotel in Geneva. We stayed at, *drumroll* the Hotel de Geneve! Located at 1, pl. Isaac Mercier, Geneva 1201, Switzerland, it seemed to be a fairly central location. It was a short 10 minute walk from the train station, and not far from the river for instance.

On our second day, we took the train to Lausanne. I had perch. Nice expensive looking place by the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). The train ride was maybe an hour, or a little less and very smooth. Saw an Aston Martin Vanquish drive by. The whole place seemed to be in a perpetual slow motion, and somehow at ease or at rest. Didn’t really see much of the city, we just had lunch, but what little I saw was nice.

The journey back was eventless, if it wasn’t for the small incident at the airfield in Geneva. We were taken to our plane (an Embraer 190) by bus, and had to wait outside the plane for a considerable amount of time as the idiots piled into the plane (how hard is it to just find your place, and stow your luggage?). While waiting, I figured I’d take a few pictures. I took a picture of one of my traveling companions, with the plane in the background, and then turned around to take a picture of the scenic mountains that basically surround the whole place. At this point, one of the yellow vested… whatever she was, told me to put the phone away. No pictures! Put it your bag! I told her there were no signs posted anywhere that I couldn’t take a picture, but she would have none of it, and I yielded, putting my phone in my pocket.

Now, I am aware that standing on the tarmac, there is in theory a risk that something will happen that requires my attention. On the other hand, if a plan lands on us, I doubt I would have time to do some kind of Die Hard-type jump to safety, phone or no phone. There were also no spinning propellers that I could accidentally walk into. I think there was even a small roped fence thing preventing us from wandering onto the runway or other areas around the plane.

I was not given any reason for why I couldn’t take a picture. This always irks me. If there is no sign prohibiting photography, or an announcement, and I have used my common sense to assess that taking a picture does not pose a risk to my or anyone elses health, I’m going to take pictures. I have no reason to fight with airport people. They are doing their job. I still fail to see how my photography could cause any harm. Also note, the queue into the plane was *not* moving, so I was not holding up the plane, telling everyone “hold on, I need to tweet this shit!”.

“Is this not a reasonable place to park?”

Enough about travel again! Seems I can’t get enough of it. Later this year, though, I’m flying over to Edinburgh, which might be the place to be now that they are voting for independence! I might get a chance to visit the newest independent country in the world. Or maybe not, in case the No-vote is the winner.  The vote might be today?

On the hardware side of life, I’ve been doing some upgrades for my backup and storage infrastructure. For local onsite backups, I now have an Iomega IX2-200 (cloud edition), with twin 3TB Western Digital Red drives, in RAID1. It’s not the newest or the fastest NAS out there, but it works. On my main workstation I have replaced the previous 2x1TB RAID1 set with a 2x2TB RAID1 set. Just added one terabyte. I now have a bunch of spare 1TB disks, which will probably be incorporated into a FreeNAS build I’m working on. I had some issues trying it out earlier this month, but I think it was just Samba misbehaving. It would disconnect in the middle of a file transfer, and tell me the path is not accessible. According to FreeNAS, things were a-ok. It’s not like I’m a FreeNAS guru or anything, so I’ll have to put in more hours to that build to get it working. It might end up being up to 8x1TB. Currently I have only 8GB of RAM (ECC, though), but I’ll probably want to upgrade that to at least 16, maybe even 32. The thing is, that means I have to get a different motherboard, processor and.. Oh well.

 

Airline travel, again

This year I flew to Las Vegas for EMC World 2014. Same as last year. The trip was less gruesome, as we had only one layover in Heathrow, both ways. The trip still takes nearly a day, including time spent waiting at airports, sitting in cabs etc. Not something I’d like to do multiple times a year.

Anyways. Travel. In Finland, things were as “easy” as they have been. No hassles at security. When you leave, you step into this booth (self service), get your picture taken and stored (for..some amount of time?). When you come back, the same process is repeated. I suppose they can track people and say “this person left, and came back”. Plus they have images of the people who are not in the country, and who are in the country. Handy if you need to track someone down.

At London Heathrow, there was a small kind of security screening thing. Get you and your bags scanned, again, and your passport looked at. Nothing too intensive.

The flight to vegas and back was on a British Airways 747-400. Personal entertainment system at each seat. Complementary crappy headphones, but on the other hand, they have used standard 3.5mm stereo plugs, so you can use your own headphones. Which is a nice change from the weird two-pronged airline fuckeries, deployed by most airlines. But, BA has no inflight internet. Blows. 10.5 hours between London and Las Vegas means.. well, being offline these days, even in the air, is a pain. Granted, you can use more gadgets in-flight than you previously could. Most devices can be on even during take off, but for some reason, phones can’t. Even if they are in airplane mode. Airplane mode means: no signals going in or out. Other than EM field generated by the various components of the device itself. But then, why would an e-book reader be any different? It has an airplane mode, and some of them even have 3G functionality, making them essentially big phones. So why can they stay on during the entire flight, including take off and landing? Mysterious.

Security at Las Vegas was about the same as usual. We were the only flight in at that time, so we only waited for about.. 15 minutes going through immigrations. Not a whole lot of questions this time around.

CBP person – “So, why are you here?”

Me: “A conference”

CBP person – “What conference?”

Me: “EMC World, at the Venetian”

CBP person – “Welcome to the United States”

That was about the extent of our conversation. Fastest entry of any of my trips to the States.

What eats me alive is that stupid “Welcome to America!”-video that plays, apparently, at all airfields when you are waiting in line for the Customs and Border Protection.

Leaving Las Vegas, there were people who were put through the Rapiscan thing (nudie-scanner), and some, like me, who were put through a standard metal detector. There was a lady in the line next to me who opted out of the rapiscan, and that wasn’t an issue for the TSA guys. No hassle, as far as I could tell.

Not once were any of my bags opened, and I wasn’t subject to any intense scruitny or questioning. Then again, why should I? I’ve never been selected for ‘random screening’, where as I have heard that some people are almost always subjected to the completely unbiased non-discriminatory ‘random screening’. I guess I’m just lucky.

Then again, few countries have any issues with Finland or  Finnish people. We’re not a threat to anyone, and we’re not interesting to most people. Most don’t even know where we are. That makes it pretty easy for us to get around the world.

That is, except for airline personel. We actually managed to drink all the gin that was on that plane (though, I do believe first- and business class has their own stash). Note, it’s a British airline, so they are bound to have a metric (or imperial?) fuckton of gin onboard. But when you get a group of Finns, that order not one, or two, but three drinks every time that unlucky flight attendant passes us..

At one point the stewardess that mostly took care of our piece of the plane started to suggest that some in our party maybe order one drink at a time, instead of two or three. And when we were above the continental US, she started pretty much ignoring some people in our group. “Hey xxxxx!” (they started calling her by name), and she’d be all like “Just a moment!”, and then never coming back. I hate traveling with that certain type of Finnish people, who need four galons of beer and booze to survive a flight. Not saying we’re all like that! Just 98% of us…

 

Movement

The move starts in a few days. We’re pretty much all packed now, just a few things from the kitchen, some clothes, some stuff on the balcony left. We’re living on microwave dinners and plastic utensils. We got rid of our dishwasher because the new place has one already. We still have a 120cm bed, and a desk (the desk is gone, thanks M!) that need a new owner. Should we not find one, we’ll take em to Kierrätyskeskus or somewhere, so they can be resold or recycled. If you know me, and want either or both, and can pick them up, just get a hold of me before the weekend.

Not really looking forward to the actual move this weekend. It’ll be tough, long days. And after that, a week of things finding their correct places, living out of boxes.. Bleh.

What I am looking forward to, is the new home office. I’ve already made some plans in my head as to the networking in the house. There’s an 8 or 10 port patch panel in the foyer, which I can use to network the different rooms at least to some degree if necessary, though, I will be taking my cable internet connection with me. My carrier also offers “ethernet” to my apartment, at 100/10 (the cable connection is 200/15 or something), and I might end up switching to that, should the cable connection prove shitty or unreliable, or uncomfortable to connect. I’m not sure whether I can get the cable modem near the patch panel, then take the ethernet from the cable modem to the patch that goes to the home office. There, from the wall, it’ll go to the OpenBSD pf-machine, and from there to my home network. If I can’t get the cable modem near the patch panel (depends on whether there is an antenna connection in there), it’ll have to go somewhere near the antenna wall sockets (there’s one in every room, luckily), and then onward from there.

I’d like to have the modem in there, near the patch panel obviously. There’s a power outlet there, and plenty of space. But I forgot (being the idiot that I am) to check if there’s an antenna output in there.

I could go all crazy and get the ethernet as a redundant connection and do some magic on the pf-box so I can switch to that if the cable connection goes down. It was like 35 bucks a month for the 100/10, I think. There was a slower, cheaper alternative, which could function well as a redundant connection, or say, I could provide an airgapped guest WLAN or something absurd like that.

I’m thinking of mounting the TV on the wall. I might just do that, too. Expect pictures.

I’m still reading ‘Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson. Last 30 pages or so. I think I see the endgame already, but I’m not entirely sure. It’s gotten pretty convoluted, in a cool way. I’m pretty sure I’ll tackle “The Baghdad Blog” next. Should be a quick read.

The Vee Arr and Assembly 2013 wrap-up

Assembly 2013 came and went. All in all a less-than-average Assembly, but it wasn’t all a waste. Let me talk to you about the Occulus Rift.

Occulus Rift is a set of VR goggles, that are in the process of coming to the market (with a consumer release probably happening in 2014), and is now making the rounds  in the form of a dev unit. The dev unit is a pair of goggles, slightly larger than proper diving goggles, and they are not very heavy. There was a comfortable strap that wrapped over and around the head. The development version has a resolution of 640×800 pixels per eye, while the consumer version will be (hopefully) 1080p. The development version also need separate headphones to play audio. It was hooked via wire (or wires) to a computer. The consumer version, again, will hopefully be wireless. In addition to the goggles and the headphones, I used a game-pad to control my character in the VR environment.

There were a few different applications on display. I tried one of them, which was a virtual space, which housed a small yard and a building with a few rooms. It had moving objects, such as ceiling fans, and directional audio playing in the different rooms. The first thing I noticed was the low resolution. I kept trying to focus, as if looking through a pair of binoculars or eyeglasses, but it was just the resolution which was poor. It felt out of focus at times. The first instinct was to look around. This worked great. You had a fair amount of freedom of motion: you could look at the ceiling, down at the ground, you could tilt your head and “bend” your body, to say, look behind a corner.

After a brief adjustment, I thought, wow. This is really immersive. I quickly forgot where I was in the real world, though keeping your balance IRL felt strange. As I steered my character around the yard and inside the building, I felt my body try to maintain balance in the real world. It felt strange, and slightly disorienting. I avoided a wall in the virtual world, and noticed that I made that same movement (albeit a less extreme one) in the real world. Also not really walking around felt a bit weird. You used an analog stick to move and turn the character inside the VR world, and your perspective sort of “floated” around, with your view at head-height.  I did not try if there was a jump or crouch function: I only used the analog sticks.

The other two applications were a game called Jink, that ended up taking third place in the gamedev competition at Assembly 2013, and some kind of rollercoaster application, which my friend M tried out. He’ll hopefully read this, and give us his take in the comments.

The dev kit supports Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS and Android (so that takes care of most of the platforms this’d ever be used on). The estimated price (this is just a guess, and has not been confirmed AFAIK), would be 300 or less. A price I will gladly pay once this comes out. The amount of applications that could run on this, plus the wireless nature will make this a killer device for any tech-head. The Occulus Rift homepage is telling me that Half-Life 2 (and I assume any and all games with the same engine, at least eventually (I hope!)) will be officially supported for the Rift.

Oh. Wow!

Also, apparently anyone can get the dev kit right now for the 300 dollars + what ever applicable fees to your  country.

On to Assembly. This year we were there with a four person crew. We had machine seats, and brought our own computers to the party. To sum things up:

  • The network worked well with just a few glitches during the 72+ hours.
  • The audio was great, despite certain microphone tomfoolery (which happens at all such events, I’m sure, not just Assembly!)
  • The big screen worked fine, though, the encircling LEDs were like… super bright and murder in the midst of the otherwise dark arena floor.
  • Intros & Demos & Music:
    • Music kicked ass in all categories. Good entries.
    • 1K and 4K Intros were of excellent quality
    • Short film and Real Wild were great, I really admired the work done on the reverse engineered Helsinki Metro sign, and the associated Real Wild entry “Next train takes no passengers”
    • Demo and Oldskool categories were disappointing, really. Demo only had 7 entries and one that I would consider good, a second one that was so-so, and the rest being of ‘meh’-quality.
    • It’s not that they were outright bad, but they just didn’t have the Wow!-factor.
  • Game of the year seemed to be League of Legends (or LoL) as well as SC2.
  • No clear new memes that I could pick up.
  • More girls than ever
  • Younger kids
  • Fatter kids
  • Cory Doctorow KICKED ASS. Great speaker.

I can’t be asked to write more. I spent the nights at home, like a true old curmudgeon, but I was there for all but a few compo entries. And that’s the main reason I go anyway, since I don’t need permission from mommy to play games all day at home.

Best quote? “These tickets cost me 145 euros, so you will do exactly as I say!”, by a mother to a kid in the long line to get into the arena.

Peace out.

 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occulus_Rift
http://www.oculusvr.com/
http://www.assembly.org/summer13/news/final-competition-results
http://archive.assembly.org/2013/real-wild-demo/next-train-takes-no-passengers-by-sooda
http://archive.assembly.org/2013/gamedev/jink-by-taat-2013
http://www.assembly.org/summer13/

 

Credibility

Credibility… It’s the only currency that means anything on this kind of playing field. Dean’s got the tape, and he’s gonna come out with it. And when he does, I want his credibility. I want people to know he’s lying before they hear what he says.

That’s a quote from the 1998 movie ‘Enemy of the State’, spoken by NSA man ‘Thomas Reynolds’, played by Jon Voight. To miss the parallels between this movie and what is happening to Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and others, would be foolish! Foolish I say.

Is the general public so blind as to get completely sidetracked from the real issues by the media and the government throwing us crap about how Snowden never graduated from high-school, or how his girlfriend is a pole-dancer? Or how Manning is a homosexual or whatever? What does that have to do with.. well anything? Credibility. If you break the character, anything he or she says will be interpreted in that broken light. Surely anything that stinking homo-sexual says can’t be taken seriously! (/sarcasm, in case it wasn’t clear enough).

On the note of credibility, this week saw former vice president of the United States Dick Cheney call Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’ and possibly a spy for china. That’s rich! Coming from a man who lied to an entire nation about the reasons to go to war in Iraq. How come he has credibility enough to spew crap like that? Well for one, he’s a politician. He’s wealthy. He has a name for himself. Snowden on the other hand is a nobody, and therefore easier to break.

This week we also had the Director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee (part of the US Congress as I understand). The gist of the thing was denial, of course, but behind it all, I (and others) sense a play on words and semantics. Gen. Alexander is denying that the NSA is actually actively looking at the data. Quote:

“It’s a very deliberate process,” Alexander said. “We don’t get to look at the data. We don’t get to swim through the data.”

This has been repeated multiple times, worded differently.. This doesn’t say the NSA doesn’t collected the data. It says they don’t actively look at the data. They are separating collection from examination. The key issue is that you can’t look at data that you never collected. Once you have that data, it’s easier to go back and say “Ok, let’s see what we have”. This is the same as with many other issues, some of which I have discussed on this blog in the past (such as the Finnish national fingerprint database for passport holders).

Other comments of note are:

“I think what we’re doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing,” he said. “We aren’t trying to hide it. We’re trying to protect America.”

Ding ding ding. Protect America. After that we can just do whatever the hell. And you’re not trying to hide it? That’s probably why the program (and I’m sure) many other such programs are classified, and legal permissions to do this are decided in a secret court. Actually, it’s called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is apparently the place where they rubber stamp approvals for NSA surveilance. Rubber stamping you say? Doesn’t the court actually review the warrants before accepting them? They may. We don’t know. Because it’s like, classified. This list here, by the EPIC (eletronic privacy information center) tells a story. Observe closely the columns “Applications Presented” and “Applications approved”.

Another play on words happens during the hearing when some questions presented to Gen. Alexander, namely “Is the NSA on private companies servers as defined under these two programs?”, “Does the NSA have the ability to listen to Americans phone calls or read their emails under these two programs?”, and “Does the NSA have the ability to flip a switch by some analyst to listen to Americans phone calls or read their emails?”. These questions were asked by the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. The answers to all three questions were “No”. But not just a simple no, the answers were, “The NSA does not have the authority to do so.” The question was whether the NSA has the ability or not. The answer was about the authority to do so. Also note the phrasing of the first question: Is the NSA on company servers? I could think of a number of ways that they could look at the data without being “on their servers”. He’s most certainly being truthful. If that was a real hearing, say in a court of law, there would have been a follow-up question to General Alexander, something like: “Sir, please answer the question as asked?”. The answer to the question of whether the NSA has the ability, is most probably yes. Is this the whole “We are not trying to hide it”-part? The two programs mentioned in the question are ‘215’ and ‘702’, the former being the “Verizon-wiretapping“-thing, and the latter being Prism.

That whole Verizon thing is curious, too. It seems to do exactly the opposite of what Gen. Alexander said. Except there was another play on words. “Can they listen to phone calls” -“No”. Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that’s the case. The Verizon wiretapping was about the meta-data of the phone calls, not the audio of the call itself. I would argue the meta-data can be even more harmful, because it tells you locations of potentially both parties, it tells you information on the handset etc. I would venture that once you know the cell-site your target is in, the discussions could then be captured using any number means (other than wiretapping, which I do not believe for a second they aren’t doing), like your standard parabolic microphone, HUMINT resources, boots on the ground, you know that sort of thing? Like somebody said (it’s too late in the night (2:12) for me to dig up the source for this one, sorry), “In order to find a needle in a haystack, you first need to have a haystack.”

But according to General Alexander, these programs have prevented “50+” terrorist attacks. Which attacks? Oh well. Attacks. Just general attacks. Around. Two of the planned attacks were mentioned (the plans to attack the New York subway, and the financial district). That leaves “48+” attacks. Where is the transparency? What is the damage in telling the public exactly which terror attacks, by which terrorists, in which countries? What can the terrorists gain by knowing which terroris attacks were prevented by US Surveilance programs? I’m pretty sure it’s not a secret that the US conducts foreign and domestic surveilance. I think there was the comment that “talking about the specifics of the cases would reveal details about the surveilance programs, which would help terrorists circumvent the surveilance”. If I was an American, I would have some questions for my elected officials.

Ok before I’m completely wrapped in tinfoil, let me conclude this post by saying: There’s credibility, and then there is credibility. When you reach a certain position, you can do or say whatever you want.

Some notes from the road

First I want to talk a little bit about airport security. This was the first trip that I was ‘nude-scanned’. The scanner was at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The device doing the scanning is a ProVision ATD. The type of scanner this is, is a millimeter-wave scanner. Unlike the X-ray backscatter type machines, these should not pose any health risks, as the radiation is not ionizing. There’s a comparison of the two technologies here.  When we flew in to the US, I saw the same machines deployed at O’Hare in Chicago, however, for some reason they were not being used. A regular metal detector was used instead. At LAS when leaving, they put some passangers through the millimeter-wave scanner, and some people through the metal detector. When it was my turn, four people had just passed through the metal detector. For no apparent reason (I didn’t notice a pattern), they closed the metal detector, and put me through the millimeter-wave scanner. You step into the device, and turn 90 degrees to face a set of instructions. There are spots on the floor marked for where your feet go, and you are instructed by a picture to hold your hands above your head. The device appears to do a sweep (looks like the door is closing on the round device), and then the TSA attendant asks you to step out.

Later, they also switched it around, bringing some people through the metal detector, and some through the scanner. Shit. Almost wrote scammer, there. An associate of mine walked through the scanner after me, and after that, he was patted down by the TSA agent. Why? Was he armed to the teeth? No, he was carrying a standard Finnish passport in his pocket. So the gorillion dollar device can’t distinguish between a passport and something that can be used as a weapon? Looking at some of the images of the user interface, and what I was able to see myself, the screen that they look at doesn’t show an image of a person when he or she is being scanned. Just a grey screen, which appeared to turn green when everything was okay. I didn’t see the “failed” scan, but i assume it might have shown the location of the suspected item. But, a passport? For reals? I felt a whole lot less secure after seeing that…

Also, how do they pick who gets the scanner, and who gets the metal detector?

A noteworthy detail is that there was a sheet of paper outside the machine which explained the technology, and the last row was something like “The use of this technology is optional”. Optional, when you’re four steps from the machine? I’m sure declining at that point would set off zero rectal search alarms? I was planning on declining myself, but I guess I might have chickened out / noticed the note a bit too late. I guess it would have meant the metal detector + a pat down, even if nothing beeped. And some gruntled TSA personel.

There were also new “rules and regulations” on the inbound flight. The Lufhansa flight attendants were ‘required’ to tell us that “grouping in the aisle or near the toilets or the kitchen during the flight is not permitted”. There was an incident on our Frankfurt -> O’Hare  747-400 type airplane where two people were using their phones near the toilets (both were of non-caucasian descent, if that matters), and the flight attendants announced, apparently due to this, that no loitering near the toilets was allowed. The two men declined to move, or didn’t listen, and a flight attendant was there very quickly, asking them to take their seats. After that, the captain turned on the fasten seat-belts sign. There was a rather clear connection between the two events. There was no turbulence, and we were thousands of miles from O’Hare.

You’re wondering about them using their phones? The flight had (paid) WLAN on it. The only caveat was that you were not allowed to use VOIP type applications, as per the terms of service that you accepted when you bought the service. 1 hour was 9,50 €, and 24 hours was 19,90. The connection was provided by satellite, and the service provider was T-mobile out of Germany. Latencies from the middle of the atlantic (or geostationary orbit i suppose?) to Finland were around 600-800 milliseconds. Downspeed was ~3Mbps, and up was 0.03 Mbps, according to Speedtest.net.

The connection worked very well in general, if you didn’t mind the slow upspeed, buying the service was easy with credit card. A notable detail is that when you associated with the AP, you had DNS resolution, so you could maybe have, contrary to the service agreement, have tunneled out using DNS, and something like NSTX. I didn’t poke around more, nor did I take too many other details off of the connection, but those are my notes.

I just had to edit this again to add this: God damn it it grinds my gears when people do not behave on aircraft. Jesus Herbert Christ! On the return flight to Helsinki, we had an awesome flight attendant. Funny, well spoken and approachable. When we were wheelsdown in Helsinki, still taxiing to our gate, a guy just decides to stand up to get his stuff. She told him “Sir, sit down!”. He did. Before we were completely stopped, and the captain had turned off the seat-belt light, there were at least ten mobile phones powering on, and seatbelts clicking lose.

People: You do not get off the airplane any faster by doing these dumb things. And if you tumble and fall, or drop some luggage on me while doing this shit, I will go medieval.

After we had come to a complete stop, I told the flight attendant “Same thing every time, huh?”, and she said “YEAH! Every time! Why do they keep thinking they’ll get off the plane faster?” She then turned to the man who had stood up during taxi, and asked him, “Sir, why did you stand up? Why? You could get seriously hurt!”, and he just shrugged and avoided her very piercing gaze, mumbling something under his breath.

P.P.S. Oh, and also, there are no bookshops on the Strip in Vegas. Just a hint to anyone who wants to maybe, I don’t know, make some money. I asked the concierge at the hotel we were staying at, and she said I’d probably have to get a cab to get to the nearest book store…

..and rather unsurprisingly: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

So here I am! The mystery second trip for this year. I didn’t want to write about it until all the details were confirmed and I was actually going.

The plane trip was about the most excruciating thing you can imagine. 20 hours between leaving my apartment in the morning at 5, to ariving at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Helsinki to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Chicago, Chicago to Las Vegas. The return trip will be pretty much the same, except through.. Denver I think. Horrible. And with the 10 hour time difference, I am utterly and completely fucked.

The first night we dined at I Love Burgers, right here in the Venetian. Excellent burgers, although I was so tired, and so .. lost, I wasn’t able to finish my ‘Ultimate Cheese Burger’. Tasted great though. After that, I didn’t stick around for any nightclubs or bars. I went straight to bed. Then, I woke up at three in the morning local time. Two hours of whatever, half a sleeping pill, back to bed after that kicked in. Wake up late. Croissant and a coffee. Bought a pair of very nice Maui Jim sunglasses from Optica. It’s about time I got proper sunglasses. I’ve been running on cheap 10-20 buck sunglasses for the.. well all my life, and now I have proper sunglasses, polarized, with a proper warranty that covers a lot of breakage.

After that, we took Detours of Las Vegas to Hoover Dam. Nice trip, although hellishly windy. I mean, it was literally hard to stand up at times. Visited the new bridge that crosses the Colorado river, and then the Hoover Dam complex. Walked over the Dam to the Arizona side, and then back again. So I’ve now visited two states during this trip 🙂 . The Detours driver/guide was an awesome guy, kept giving us great bits of info as we were driving to the dam and back.

I guess I faded after that. I wanted to take a short nap around four in the afternoon, and wake up for our organized evening activities at seven, but that failed spectacularly. I woke up at 2300. Again, a few hours of whatever (I think I actually did some work), and then back to bed. Sleep late. Miss breakfast. Time for the actual conference.

I won’t get into much details, it’s mostly corporate and very like… industry specific stuff. Sufficed to say, I’ve collected a nasty amount of t-shirts and other free schwag, which is always one of my primary goals at any conference. After that was done, it was time to concentrate on the lectures, breakout sessions, keynote speaches and workshops.

Monday night was spent at Gilly’s (Gilleys?), which was a western/cowboy/cowgirl themed restaurant on the strip. The waitresses wore..well, bikinis and chaps, and cowboy boots. There was line-dancing. There was mexican food (excellent by the way, and so was the servce). We stayed there until the kitchen closed, and then headed our separate ways. For me, that way was…. bed. A wholesome night of sleep.

Wake up to a bunch of work stuff, including urgent disasters. Fix problems. Take bath. Head out to the conference.

As I’m writing this, it is Tuesday afternoon. Last lecutre of the day, about NAS. Then it’s time for Hooters. Ho-boy. I wonder what that’ll be like. I’m dead-tired, surprise surprise, so I guess I’ll go grab something to eat, maybe one drink, and then bed.

I’m not sure why I am not scaling like some of the other people, who seem to be up 24/7 drinking and eating and whatever. I just can’t.

There are .. so… many… people… here. I can’t guess at the total amount of attendees here at EMC World 2013. Last year saw 13,000 attendees, at least. This is at least as big. The crowds are nigh impenetrable. WLAN is spotty at best (well any system trying to run this many subscribers will be…). Lucky the rooms have wired broadband, which seems to work mostly, and fairly well.

Ok. Time to call this post. More on the trip later.

 

End of a year

The last day of 2012. The world didn’t, much to everyones dismay, end. Or maybe it should have already happened, as the Mayans didn’t account for leap-years, which were implemented much later (and have happened some 500 times since). If those are added in, the world shoul have ended 7 months ago or something. Of course the whole issue was a bunch of horse shit to begin with, but that’s not important now.

A lot of things happened this year for me. I traveled to New York for a second time for HOPE 9. I’ve learned a lot of neat tricks on my own time, and at work. Mostly related to, what else, computers. Assembly 2012 Summer came and went, and i found myself thinking about 2013’s Assembly a few days ago. Tickets come on sale in like, 6 months! I got a few certificates. My grandfather passed away. My son turned five. I moved from AMD to Intel for the first time since 1999.

What’s in store for 2013 then? My father turns 60, and we’re celebrating that in a big way. Work goes on, I hope, and i’ll become even more proficient at what I do. But that’s a constant process, really. There’s so much to learn, and luckily I’m still very young. And I don’t even have a brain tumor, as an MRI pointed out! See, I participated in this voluntary study, in the control group and..

I haven’t written very much in the past few months and that’s all really down to “being busy”. I’m not entirely sure that I have been more busy, but work has certainly been taking up a lot of my time lately. I haven’t had much time to work on personal projects, although I’ve done some which I’ll detail later. I got rid of the Primera for instance, and am now sporting a brand new Honda Civic, which delights me greatly. The Primera served me well, don’t get me wrong, but it was getting a bit too old for my tastes. I needed blue LEDs.

About the projects. My HTPC has gone through a number of updates, which I’ll probably write a separate blogpost about. To sum things up, I’ve upgraded to a 3TB Western Digital Caviar Red, and even more recently, to XBMC 12 ‘Frodo’. Both have been stellar so far. As I said, I upgraded my personal PC to an Intel Core i5, which I’ve already written about. The SSD is still rocking like a champ, and makes using the machine so much more flexible. I also added 8GB of RAM just because I felt like it. Having that 16GB just feels right, you know? Oh, and I updated my home gateway to OpenBSD 5.2 yesterday.

Today will be spent among friends, but also with my boy. Hopefully it will be a relaxing time. Like, Suntory time?

I don’t know what else to say right now, and end-of-year wrap-up’s are boring to read anyhow. But I will mention some of the upcoming posts that I have brewing:

  • The HTPC now
  • I’d imagine a few posts about vSphere 5 since that’s been a bane and a blessing of this year
  • Something esoteric and quasi-existential about Solaris, BSD and maybe Linux
  • Probably something wildly ranting and political in nature that i’ve been taking notes about in my hipster Moleskine Pacman 30-year aniversary notebook

In all, the year in hindsight was not all rotten and shit.

Have a good 2013.

Assembly 2012

This is a post that is late, but I decided to write it anyway. Assembly 2012 was a Demoscene event organized between 2-5.8.2012 at Hartwal Areena in Helsinki, Finland. A short description of what one might mean by “Demoscene” is as follows: Competitions or ‘compos’ for short, in various categories such as music, drawn graphics, programmed animated shorts, or even filmed material. Different compos have different rules and restrictions to make things interesting. This year, there was a new category called 1K Intro. An intro is a short programmed visual (sometimes with music too) presentation. 1K refers to the limit of the executable program, i.e. 1024 bytes. This was awesome because this is the smallest compo category so far, and pushes the skills of the programmers to the very limits of what is possible. Some were silent, some had a basic soundtrack. All in 1K or less.

Other categories include 64K intro, Demo, Fast Graphics (you get a theme and 1.5 hours of time), Fast music (similar, but with a set of notes that have to be included), Listening-  and dance music compos. Ok but enough about that. I’m not involved in the demoscene, but I very much enjoy watching and listening to what these people create each year. This was my..  fifth Assembly I think? I could hypothetically have participated in every single Assembly (the first one was organized in Kaunianen, less than 5km from my childhood home) in 1992. Therefore, this was the 20th aniversary, and something I simply could not miss.

Other goings-on at Assembly include the Art Tech seminars on various subjects. I attended one, which was a short presentation on Bitcoin. Others were about game design and marketing and.. all manner of topics. There were two Angry Birds competitions. I participated in the second one, and came in second in the finals! There are various gaming competitions (which are becoming a main-stay at the Assembly events), and even actual physical sports, such as soccer, basket ball and floppy-disk throwing. Rovio had an Angry Birds stand where you could play AB with giant boxes and various AB toys to throw around. There were stands by people like EFFI (whom I whole-heartedly support), and vendor stands by companies like Jimm’s PC Store,  Asus and others.

Four days of all manner of shenanigans, and like 4000-5000 participants, 3000 of which have computers with them. It’s quite a sight if you’ve never seen it before. I was mostly looking at the democompos, and playing some games like Battlefield Bad Company 2, Max Payne 3 and a few others. I had my significant other, U, with me. This was her second Assembly, and she really liked it I think. I think I’ll go one more time. Just.. one more? I say this every year. And then I end up going anyway. And besides, it was a nice place to try out my new Intel Core i5 build, which performed excellently, despite a small Truecrypt snafu by yours truly.

There were two concerts during the event  (no raves like the previous years, which I do not like!). The first was by Poets of the Fall. They are special in that two (?) members of the band have been active in the demo scene, and started out at assembly years back. They are also significant because they became famous by making the theme to Max Payne 2, which came out in..2003, and was made by Finnish game developers Remedy.

The second concert was volumes more awesome, by ‘Jeroen Tel’, maker of dozens of game themes and soundtracks. Even though most of those games preceed me by years, I enjoyed the “chiptune” concert very much.

Okay, enough chit-chat. I have some pictures, which I will post later to this same post. I just have to go through them first.

[nggallery id=6]

NYC – A Post-Mortem

A writeup on my trip to New York in July 2012. I’ve separated it into a few topics, so you can read what you want, or all of it if you are bored.

Travel, Security & Airports

Finnair gets a slap

First of all, i’d like to slap Finnair with a huge wet fish. I had some .. curious issues trying to fill in my data for the flight. By data, I mean the supplementary data that is required to travel to the US. I did my ESTA-thing, and was approved for travel. That system, even thought it costs actual big-people money, works fairly well. Finnair on the other hand, which took 742 euros of my money for a roundtrip, did not work too well. I got an e-mail a 2 weeks before my trip telling me that I need to add some information. I was provided with a link to do so. I edit my information and hit save. Nothing happens, though it did submit something. Close the little window, and hit confirm on the main page: “Your reservation number 123456 could not be found”. Yes, literally that message. Tried IE. Tried Chrome. Tried Firefox. Same result.

So I decide to call Finnair. The phone-call costs 3.15€ per call, plus local per-minute fees. Not exactly cheap, considering that Finnair isn’t usually the cheapest choice in tickets either…

A peppy-sounding woman answers, and I describe the issue to her. She offers to take my information and feed it to the system over the phone. I tell her every single item, and spell any names and such. I didn’t spell New York to her, but more on that later. So i ask her whether the information is on time, and she tells me she doesn’t know, but that she thinks it’s 72 hours prior to travel. This actually applies to the ESTA-form, afaik, and not this supplementary information that the airlines send to the relevant US authorities.

At the end of the call, she tells me to check the website again to see if the information is there and correct.

Rest assured, it was not. Let me itemize some of the things that were either missing or incorrectly typed:

  1. My middle name was missing, even though i gave it
  2. My passport number was missing two characters
  3. My passport expiry date was incorrect (i even got an error saying that my passport is now expired and that i should contact Finnair!!). She typed 2012 when she was supposed to type 2013, making my passport expired
  4. The destination city was typed incorrectly. Now, i may be anal about this, but if you work for an airline, or in the travel industry, even as a temp, you should know how to spell New York.Hell, if you are a human being in the western hemisphere, you should know! But no. She spelled it New Yourk. In my mind, this was the stupidest, though perhaps the smallest, of all the faults she had made.

So after a short moment of perplexion, i redial the Finnair customer support number. I think I got the same Woman, because she neither confirmed or denied when I inquired about whether she was the one I talked to earlier. I tell her the information is incorrect, and start out with the ‘New Yourk’-issue, because that stumped me the most. She started out by telling me: “Oh that’s a small mistake..but I’ll go ahead and correct it anyway”. I then described the other three issues (perhaps not so minor, eh Finnair?) which I asked her to read back to me once she’d typed them in. She then tried to cover her ass by saying “Some of the information we type into our systems don’t show up on the website, so don’t worry”. I could understand if it was my choice of meals on the plane, or what color luggage I was planning on checking in, but what would be the point of having two separate systems that integrate partially? I  mean you could do it that way, but it just sounds weird to me. Then, I’ll disclaim that I’m not a code monkey so i don’t know how they (don’t?) think.

I still didn’t trust her, but decided not to check the information online anyway. I had this theory where, if i open the thing online, it wipes out some of the fields she’s typed in on their end. Sounded plausible at the time..

Now, I am a cautious person by nature. Some might call me neurotic (and be correct in their statement), or even paranoid. But when it comes to dealing with US three-letter-agencies, I tend to want to err on the side of caution. They’ve turned away people at the border for tweeting jokes, so what would happen if my passport number was incorrect? I also bet that Finnair is completely void of any responsibility for any missing or mis-typed information, through some EULA or other agreement I must have mentally signed when I woke up that morning and thought of Finnair. And the amount of .. emotion I would have felt should I have been turned back at the border after paying for everything.. would have been substantial.

I also sent in a complaint to Finnair through their webform (yeah yeah, the irony). I checked the box saying “Yes, I want to be contacted on this issue”. After a while, i got an e-mail saying (or maybe it was on the website after i submitted the form?) that their complaints department is very busy right now, and that someone would get back to me within 28 days. Two weeks after I have returned from my flight. OK, fine, I’ll wait. I’ll also blog about what they say.

The funny did not stop here. A short while later, i get an SMS from Finnair, saying, roughly: “Hello! You’ve recently sent some feedback to us. Would you like to fill in a questionaire on your experience? You could win Finnair Plus gift-cards (or some such trinkets /note) for your troubles!”. Needless to say, I filled in the questionaire, vitriolic content flowing through my literary veins.

I don’t think I’ll win any gift-cards.

Samsonite gets a cookie

I bought my single most expensive piece of luggage before the trip. I was getting tired of lending bags, or using crappy supermarket-quality bags. I bought the second best Samsonite they had on display, at roughly 200€. A black, hard-shell stroller with four wheels. 10 year warranty. Absolutely worth the money. Lightweight, tough, easy to move around. And the obligatory TSA-approved lock, so they can open my bag when they want to!

Equipment

The plane both ways was a Finnair-owned Airbus A330-300 (tail number OH-LTO i think?). The planes were clean, looked “right-out-of-the-factory” for the most part. Neatest part for a geek? Every seat, even in economy, had their own entertainment system in the seat in front of you. And best of all? It ran linux. I’ll add some pics later, which I was able to snag when the guy in front of me fell asleep on his screen, causing it to reboot. The screens got fairly hot, but all in all they worked flawlessly. The screens were resistive touchscreens, maybe 8 inches in size? Also included was a small wired remote with a small lcd-screen. The flipside of the remote had a qwerty-keyboard. The features that I looked at and tested were, in no particular order:

  • SMS (send/receive)
  • E-mail (send)
  • Movies and other video-type entertainment

SMS and E-mail cost two dollars a pop, which is highway (uh.. mile high?) robbery. It costs a shit and a nickle for them to send it out, seriously. I’m gonna look at the email headers later to see what i can deduce from that, as to the route it took etc. Sending and receiving was fairly straight forward, and it asked you to swipe a major credit-card before you started. This felt a bit odd, but since it confirmed each charge separately, I felt pretty safe using it. There’s something about sending an SMS at 11 km above Greenland that tickles my geek-buds.

Also offered was a phone-call option, (the remote/keyboard would have functioned as phone). Sure, phones have been on planes since.. the 80’s? But anyway, first flight i’ve been on that has these ammenities in economy class.

Linux on a Finnair Airbus A330-300

Movies had a fair selection (maybe 30 movies in different categories), all worked fine. Earbuds were included and waiting on the seat on both flights. Again an improvement from the rip-off 5 or 10 dollar charge for those shitty 2 cent chinese headphones on most flights.

So all in all,  Finnair gets points for the flight.

Airports

The airport at Helsinki-Vantaa here in Finland is pretty much the same. They’ve added a new security measure, which involves scanning your passport, then walking into a small booth (not a scanner as far as I know), and then facing a camera which takes your picture. It automatically adjusted for height, and when the picture was taken, it opened the other side so you could pass.

JFK was about the same too, though the TSA has changed some of their uh.. policies. I was at Terminal 8, which is the Finnair terminal, both ways. No nudie-scanners that I could see, so I didn’t need to decline any such invasive radiation based scanning of my body. Too bad, I wanted to see how that worked out, declining that is. I mean, a trans-altantic flight gives you enough of a dose as it is. I see no reason why anyone would like to get irradiated a second time at the airport with technology that is possibly unsafe (or at least not extensively tested), and not even effective.

The TSA signs were pretty funny, stuff like: “Good news! If you’re under 12 years old, tighten your shoelaces! You won’t have to take off your shoes at the security checkpoint!” and “If you are born on or before this date  in the year 1937, you will not have to take off your jacket and shoes”. I for one am thrilled. In only fourty some odd years, i’ll be able to travel without taking off my shoes!

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was pretty much the same, though I was processed by a rather humorless TSA “officer” (why do these guys and gals still have badges? I’m pretty sure they are not all law enforcement trained). He took my passport, scanned it, and asked some questions. I’m not sure he looked at me in the eyes once. Would that be a sign of weakness? Was he just not interested? What was the score here. I don’t know, but it felt rather strange. And for some reason, he stamped the “Welcome to the USA” stamp in the middle of two pages. Was he looking away when he did the stamping? Perhaps.

On the way back we experienced a heavy thunderstorm which hit JFK head-on. Eventually, a blue light started flashing outside, and they announced that the airport was now closed. All eight terminals of JFK. In the end our plane was like two hours late.

During the wait, we were sitting in the Mastercard lounge, which didn’t have wifi. That was the first thing they announced when we got to the lounge. Most people turned around after hearing this, but we just came for the comfortable leather seats. The wifi would have been pretty great though, but it appears nobody had internet at the airport, not wirelessly at least.

Back at Helsinki-Vantaa, we went through the same “airlock” with the self-adjusting camera. Fast and easy, though I fail to see how this increases security.

Hackers on planet Earth 9

So 13-15th of July was Hope #9. The theme was surveilance. Oh boy, where to start?

So the layout was the same as most years, with a few minor changes. There were three main tracks, and a fourth un-scheduled track. The tracks ran on the 18th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York. We also had the Penn Pavilion for us, which consisted of a ground floor, and a mezzanine level. The ground floor had signin and security, as well as the music area, and the mezzanine had vendors, hackerspace area, chillout area, art installations and a bunch of other stuff.

I volunteered again, as I did during the Next Hope (the last hope, in 2010.. yeah, the names are confusing :), though this years experience was, I’m afraid, a bit less exciting. Maybe I’ve changed, or maybe it was really different? I helped out during loadin on thursday, and then did some shifts helping out the AV crew during friday-sunday. This year though, the organizers were either too distracted or there were “too many” volunteers. Work was harder to come by than in 2010, and it was hard to find the people who actually knew what they were doing, and what needed to be done. Also, there was a certain.. clique this year. People who had banded together and gotten special vests (STAFF!), special “all areas access”-cards and such paraphenelia that they paid for themselves. That’s okay, I’m all for that, but it kind of serves as a separator between the have’s and have-not’s. And yeah, I’m probably being too serious, as people always keep telling me, but some of the guys there were clearly above the rest. Man, some of the volunteers were hard to even talk to or get eye-contact, because they were so into their role. Think earbuds and CB-radio. Think walking around like you own the place.

And by no means does this apply to all of the volunteers. Just a select few. Anyway, I felt a little out of my league, and out of place. I didn’t do nearly as much work as last time around. Didn’t really feel like it either.

Okay, but enough whining. On to the talks. There were so many talks that i attended, that it is hard to pick out the best ones. I really liked the Prometheus Radio Project talk, the William Binney keynote (ex NSA dude), and Space Rogue’s Media Hype talk (Great hacks that never happened). There were other great ones as well, but there’s some of them. There were over 100 talks, of which you could see roughly.. a fourth maybe? Unless you were Schrödinger’s Cat or something. The talks were all filmed and recorded, and you can buy them from the 2600 store. Some of the speakers have released their slides, look on twitter for instance. Check the #hope9 tag for some of them.

The tickets this year were not electronic. Instead, we got a purple “Passport”. Inside you could affix stickers, or get stamps from different groups or people. My definite favorite was the one I got from Space Rogue; the L0pht Heavy Industries-stamp. Here are some pics of the passport and stuff:

Hope 9 Passport and plain-jane Volunteer card
First and second page of the passport
Some of the stickers and stamps, including the coveted l0pht stamp
Stamp from a weird “russian” 🙂

In the vendor-area there were some new faces. Hackers for Charity (the Johnny Long-project if i’m not mistaken?), the EFF, the FSF and others were present.

I got a bunch of schwag from the conference, mainly stickers and shirts that i bought or received through donations to the non-profits. I was sad that I couldn’t get some of the EFF shirts without becoming a member. That’d be kind of pointless (and not even possible?), since  I’m already a member of EFFI here in Finland. But we need cooler shirts here too damn it! The “I Fight For The User” shirt was especially nice.

Stickers from Hope 9

New York in general

On the last full day, we went to see the World Trade Center site. The new building, One World Trade Center, was looking mighty fine. It’s now the tallest building in New York, and it’s not even finished yet. Awesome building!

We also visited the Museum of Natural History in the uh.. upper west side of town (i think that’s what it’s called), which was well worth the 19 dollar entry fee. So many exhibits and things to look at you would have needed hours to go through it all.

Wireless was still a pain to find. The hotel apparently had some kind of deal, which was 10 dollars a day. I wish I had seen that when i checked in. Oh well. I resorted mostly to the classic “attwlan” or whatever the Starbucks one is called, and other such places (Burger King was pretty good with Wifi too). Intertubes were slow, and laggy. I don’t have roaming data in my contract, because it’s usually prohibitively expensive. Not that we should complain. The Americans are getting ass-raped by their carriers. They pay some insane sums to get small scraps of data. Sure, they have uh.. “4G”, (not really), but who cares if you have a 1G cap? Even residential DSL connections are capped, which is something I will not stand for, even if I don’t download a lot of stuff…

I set one goal for the trip: Try as many fast-food places as possible. I tried: Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Five Guys burgers and fries. Out of those, Five Guys had perhaps the best burgers, while Taco Bell had the most bang for the buck (cheap as hell, and rather filling). Burger King had good fries at times, and KFC had tasty little Chicken Bits. Pizza Hut had just released the garlic bread pizza, which we of course had to try. It was pretty good too.

TV over there is still insane. Like five or six commercial breaks per  hour of programming. And the ads are so fucking inane. Two seconds of content and the rest is warnings and advisories. Why, I had no idea that Cialis doesn’t prevent me from getting HIV!

All in all we walked a lot, and saw the city. I plotted some of the walks we did, and ended up at nearly 40 kilometers of walking, just inside one city and about four days. Great trip, but I don’t know when I’ll be back. It’s pretty darn expensive to go there, and Hope is now kind of.. I don’t know, been-there-done-that? A 3000 euro trip for the two of us is not something you can just go out and do. It takes saving and planning.

I think I’m going to look at the European conferences next. CCC or some of those events? At least the flights are cheaper.

Ok, this is one monster of apost, best to end it here.