Week of 11 February 2008
Update: Sunday, 17 February 2008
Other than some time off this weekend working on household projects,
I've spent the last couple of days working on the teacher's guide for
the home chem lab book. There are several dozen lab sessions in the
book, and each session concludes with anything from two or three to six
or seven review questions. I'll publish the answers to those questions
in a teacher's guide as a PDF, which has to be available by the time
the book hits the stores.
I realize now that I should have taken
notes as I went along to remind me what I was thinking. Many of the
questions are easy to answer, for me if not necessarily for readers,
but some of them are kind of subtle or open-ended, and it's for those
that I wish I'd kept notes. For example, I might ask for two or three
alternative methods to accomplish something, so each time I encounter
such a question I have to think it through completely. I'm always
worried that I'll overlook something that I'd thought of at the time I
wrote the question.
Once I finish the teacher's guide, I'll ask
Mary and Paul to read it to catch any errors I've made as well as to
suggest additional material. With them reviewing it, it's unlikely that
any gross errors or omissions will slip through.
working on scripts for the videos, as well as a series of supplemental
lab sessions that'll be available in PDF form. And I'm working on the
home forensics lab book as well. My to-do list is not a pretty sight.
It'll be nice when I can finally mark some of these items as done.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
I'm still working on the teacher's guide. I did find out one nice thing
about OpenOffice.org. I wanted this document to have a "live" table of
contents via hyperlinks in the document, or, alternatively, a TOC in
the left pane of the PDF display. OOo allows me to insert bookmarks in
the document at the top of each section. I'm making a TOC list starting
on page 2 of the document, and OOo allows me to make each of the
entries in the TOC a hyperlink to the corresponding bookmark. On the
Save-As PDF option in OOo, there's a checkbox that if marked saves
structure information with the PDF. With that checkbox enabled, the PDF
that OOo produces indeed makes the TOC live, so that clicking on any
entry immediately jumps to the corresponding section of the document.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
I keep reading articles about people's laptops and other personal
electronics being searched by customs agents when they attempt to enter
the United States. Some people have even had laptops confiscated, and
despite promises that they'd be returned within a few weeks (which is
certainly bad enough) at least one person's laptop is still in the possession of the
feds a year after it was confiscated.
Despite the fact that it's clearly
a violation of the Fourth Amendment, no one seriously questions the
right of customs agents to do physical searches of people and material
entering the US. Making sure there are no drugs or explosives concealed
in a laptop is one thing, but these searches go further. Customs agents
are looking at the contents of the hard drives in laptops, and
attempting to compel people who have password-protected their data to
give up those passwords. That's simply unacceptable, Constitutionally
and otherwise. Furthermore, there are reports that people's audio
players are being examined for "pirated" music. Jesus. Even the Gestapo
didn't concern themselves with copyright violations.
If I were
traveling outside the US, which I don't plan to do other than possibly
a one-way trip if and when things become entirely unacceptable here, I
wouldn't carry a laptop or other personal electronics. Instead, I'd zip
up my data with strong encryption and upload it to my web server. When
I reached my destination, I'd rent or borrow a laptop, download my data
from my server, work with it as needed, upload any changes to the
server (after encrypting the files), do a secure wipe on the data I'd
put on the laptop, and return it to reclaim my deposit.
some reason I absolutely had to carry a laptop across the border into
the US, I'd use steganography to conceal any important data in
innocuous digital camera vacation images or camcorder files. They can't
find it if they don't know it's there.
I see that Obama is kicking Clinton's ass, not that it'll ultimately
matter. The bad news for the Democrats is that they have two possible
candidates, neither of whom is electable. The good news for the
Democrats is that they have a third candidate, John McCain, who is a
center-left Democrat in everything but name. It looks like, as usual,
come November we'll have no real choice at all.
Thursday, 14 February
- Microsoft has launched a new FUD attack,
this one threatening jail time for teenagers who download software,
music tracks, and other copyrighted material illegally. They've done a
survey that purports to show that teenagers' downloading activity can
be curtailed merely by educating them about copyright law. Yeah, right.
surveyed about 500 middle-school and high-school kids to determine
their attitudes about downloading copyrighted files. They then
"educated" the kids about copyright law and questioned them to
determine what effect that "education" had had. There are some problems
with their methodology, though. First, as everyone knows, people lie on
surveys. A more accurate figure for the percentage of kids who trade
software and music would be, I estimate, 100%. Second, consider the
makeup of the group they surveyed. All of them are school kids, who are
constantly conditioned to listen to what they're told and then
regurgitate the expected answers on tests. So, after Microsoft
"educated" these kids, the kids knew exactly what the expected
responses were. Not surprisingly, many of them gave those expected
responses on the follow-up survey. What's surprising to me is that so
few of them gave the expected responses. I estimate that, after being
"educated", the percentage of those kids who will continue to trade
software and music files illegally is about 100%.
As adults, I
think it's our responsibility to teach children about what's illegal
and what's morally wrong, and the difference between those two
concepts. For actions that are illegal but not morally wrong, such as
trading music files, we need to teach kids an important lesson. How to
do it without getting caught. That can be as simple as explaining to
them the dangers of p2p networks and teaching them to use safe
alternatives such as darknets. And, of course, encouraging them to
abandon Windows and other proprietary commercial software in favor of
Linux and other OSS alternatives.
We survived the Great Blizzard of 2008. Here's what our front yard
looked like Wednesday evening, just as the snow was starting to fall
dogs had a good time with the snow while it lasted. Duncan makes what
Barbara calls snow paws, spreading his toes out to make his feet about
twice the normal size. Then, when he comes indoors, he has to chew and
lick his paws to get rid of the ice between his toes. Malcolm likes to
do his snow plow routine. He lowers his head to bury his snout in the
snow and then runs across the yard, plowing a furrow in the snow.
I took them for their first walk yesterday morning, I took them
off-leash for the first time in a long time. There was an inch or two
of snow on the ground and a lot of black ice on the pavement, so the
law be damned. I wasn't about to try to hold onto two 70-pound dogs who
were both using four-paw drive.
By yesterday afternoon, most of
the snow had disappeared and by evening the only sign that remained was
a few small forlorn piles of snow in shady areas. Today's high is to be
61F (16C). So much for the Great Blizzard of 2008.
Saturday, 16 February
- Barbara and I are taking a break from cleaning out my office.
a little-known fact that my office almost made it into Greek mythology.
Among his Twelve Labors, Herakles was offered a choice: "Do you want to
clean Thompson's Office or the Augean Stables?" Unfortunately, that day
my office was really a mess. Herakles picked the Augean Stables
and my office missed its chance to become a part of Greek mythology.
My office still isn't completely cleaned out, although there's now
literally a couple hundred pounds (call it 100 kilos) of stuff sitting
in the library awaiting trash collection and Goodwill. I'll have more
stuff for Goodwill when we get to my workroom, including scanners,
printers, CRT monitors, PCs (less their hard drives), and so on.
The PCs are mostly Pentium 4s and Athlon 64s, typically with 512 MB or
1 GB of RAM and almost no time on them, although there's probably a
dual-core system or two in there as well.
We didn't get the
cleanup done in one day, as Herakles did, but on the other hand I
didn't run a river through my office, either.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert