Wednesday, 21 January 2009
As many of you know, I teach Computer security, Linux, and various computer stuff. Because so much of my life is Hi tech, it is great to have a laptop that I can carry around with me. This used to mean hauling around the 17" Asus Z71V that I built from a kit several years ago. This was a great laptop, but had a few drawbacks. First, it is large and heavy. Second, it has a horrible battery, which means hauling around the power brick (and that adds more weight - the brick is pretty heavy in and of itself.
Being an adjunct professor, I can't afford a pricey ultra portable laptop. I mean these things cost thousands! This holiday season I arrived at what seems like a perfect solution: The eee pc 1000. This machine isn't a powerhouse. It isn't going to play the latest games, but that really isn't the purpose, is it? It has a 1.6 Ghz Atom processor. This processor sips energy. It is very competent to do what I need. It comes with 1Gig of RAM, which I have upgraded to 2 Gig. It also has an 8 Gig and 32 Gig solid state hard drive. Much like your usb flash drives, this hard drive has no moving parts, which means that I won't crash my hard drive if I manage to be clumsy while operating the machine. It has a SD card reader, wireless, bluetooth, and a 1.3 Mp web cam. Very nice! It will run Windows, but this version comes with a specialized version of Xandros Linux designed to work with the eeepc. Not bad, but too limited for me.
So after some research, I trashed the Xandros Linux and installed a different operating system. The only negative here is that I lost the 30Gigs of online storage that came with the machine, as that only works with Windows or Xandros. I installed a version of Ubuntu designed specifically for the Eee pc called Eeebuntu. Have to love Linux, there is a variant out there for just about every need you might have! I also installed Fedora 10 on another partition, but am having some issues with the wireless. I also have several different OSes installed on SDHC cards, so I can change my OS with my mood! I have Backtrack 3 on one, but am having similar issues that I had with Fedora. I also have Puppy Linux installed on another SDHC card, and it runs beautifully with very little tweaking! I was very pleased.
So Eeebuntu was perhaps the easiest OS install I have ever done. REally almost no issues. Once I installed a program called eee-control, I also had access to all the specialized eee functions the machine is capable of! My hot buttons all work, and are customizable! I can throttle the CPU up or down to save power or speed up the machine. I can disable the wireless, camera, bluetooth, or card reader to save on energy. Very nice!
The battery is amazing! It will last about three and a half hours with the proceesor cranked and me doing some heavy duty work, and will last 5+ hours when I am on power saving mode! This means I can go all day at work without worrying about carrying the brick with me! Not that the brick weighs much! The 1000 is one of the larger eee pcs, with a 10" screen, and weighing a little under three pounds. It hits a tad over three pounds with the brick. That is amazing!
I have a couple burst discs in my back. Now I can carry around my computer and not have to worry about killing my back by the end of the day. The ten inch screen is large enough for me to see without straining myself, and the keyboard is large enough so that it is comfortable while typing. It has plenty of power for surfing the web, doing spreadsheets, blogging, or even working with security related apps. Not bad for under $400!
If you would like a computer that you can truly take with you, and that won't break your bank, take a look at the Asus Eee pc. This isn't a toy. It is a serious computing machine. Apple and Sony have been bad mouthing the Netbooks as peices of garbage. The truth is that they can't release a decent computer that costs under $1,200, so all they can do is sit back and bad mouth. Asus produces quality machines, and has been known for their superior motherboards for ages. The Eee pc is a wonderful little machine!
Saturday, 08 November 2008
There has been a lot of talk about the things that President-elect Obama wants to do. Foremost among these is: Where will he get the money? I think I know the answer. The question is: Does our government have the intestinal fortitude to actually do it?
Do you realize that approximately 50% of our budget yearly goes to defense spending? A lot of this money is necessary to keep us safe. A lot of it isn't. A number of prominent people have come forward, including a lot of retired brass, and they have stated that a lot of that money is tied up in programs that simply are not needed anymore. We have a lot of programs held over from the cold war that simply aren't necessary right now. These programs are geared towards fighting a war against the soviet block. The chances of that happening are minimal, to say the least. Even if Russia became ambitious enough to start trying to take over other countries, they wouldn't exactly be welcomed, and their money and resources would be tied up in trying to tame those areas. These countries are not in the same position that they were at the end of World War 2. We could easily cut the military budget by 60 billion with no ill effects on our current security. Some have estimated that it may actually make us safer! However politicians are very hesitant to take on the military complex, it is very large and very powerful. That 60 billion could be shifted to fund those programs that could spur our economic stimulus.
Furthermore, our military has always been responsible for the push of technologies that spur our economic growth. However, this process is slow, and it takes a long time for technologies to come out of the black hole of secrecy. This is often necessary, because we do not want our "enemies" to catch up to where we are technologically quickly. We might want to take a look at streamlining the process, taking a look at all classified technologies, and see what can be fast tracked for release to the public. This could spur a new era of growth, while only posing a minimal security risk, if any, if done properly. When you think about it, risk is actually made smaller, because if our country is not sound economically, we are at much greater risk from those enemies, as our ability to fight a war depends greatly on our ability to fund those wars. Speaking of which, ending the war in Iraq, which has been requested by the government of Iraq, could save us around $100 Billion a year. Additionally, we need to go through the Defense budget, and immediately stop private or quasi private companies from fleecing the government by charging the US ridiculous amounts of money for services that should come with a greatly reduced price tag.
There are doubtless other areas within the government that could save us money, but this is a place to begin. We can start the economic recovery simply by taking a look at how we spend money. No country, at least no free, democratic nation, should be spending half of its budget, about $463 Billion dollars, on military spending. That is ridiculous, and needs to change.
The question is, does our government have the courage to do what is right and necessary?
Sunday, 26 October 2008
It looks like America is finally waking up. Several things are happening that are very good for this country. The first is that the Republican party is being forced back to a stage where they need to reinvent themselves. This is a good thing. The radical religious right has had an undue influence over them for some time, and that needs to end. Any time a radical religious group has too much influence in any party this is a very bad thing for this country. Hopefully they will be able to reinvent themselves as a group that thinks before it leaps, and is willing to work with others to get things done, rather than adopt a "my way or the highway" approach. In their current form they are only a hindrance to getting anything done. The radical element is looking more like other religious radical groups in the world, wanting to force their religious view of the world onto others.
In the mean time, it looks like the Republicans will be a mere afterthought in the next political cycle, with not enough influence to get anything done. or stop anything from happening. Normally this is very bad, but in this case is very good. Because of their current radical influences, they are an obstruction to progress. Right now in this country we need to get things done. Since the current Republican party is more interested in getting things done their way or not at all, they would only stop progress. Once they have restructured as a party that is more inclusive, perhaps they can be a benefit to the country once again. Unfortunately that is not the case now, so the only way to get anything done is to remove them from influence, and institute overwhelming Democratic majorities.
Another thing I see happening is the rejection of the "common man" president. We are seeing a rejection of the uneducated politician, the politician of moderate intelligence. We have seen what happens when we have people who can not, or do not think deeply as leadership. Americans are showing that they want smart, educated people running this country, and that is a good thing. They are beginning to reject the politicians that graduated at the bottom of their classes, or that haven't gone very far in their education. This is a good thing, and I hope that this trend continues. I am not saying that educated people are perfect, or that smart people never make mistakes, I do think that they make much more capable leaders. They know how to think and analyze situations. They know how to research, and come to conclusions based on all available evidence. This often leads to better decisions. Too often we have had leaders that base their decisions on instinct alone, or by party lines, or by their "beliefs," rather than by careful analysis. How many times in the past have we seen decisions based on things like this? How many times have conclusions been reached first, and then the research is done based on supporting those conclusions, rather than doing research first and coming to conclusions based on ALL available data?
Someone put it nicely recently, after the hoopla about Biden saying that Obama would be tested. All new presidents are tested. How do you think McCain would have handled the Cuban missile crisis? Kennedy and crew handled this crisis through intelligence and analysis rather than by instinct and gut reactions, and a devastating war was avoided. At least Obama has that type of intelligence and analytical ability, and would surround himself with thinkers. He has an open mind, willing to look at all available data. McCain would continue the tradition of reacting by instinct, believing that a fast, reflexive action is preferable to thoughtful analysis. He would surround himself with like minded people, and has shown his disdain for anyone who dares to have a differing opinion. This is not what we need in a leader, not now. I am glad that the country is beginning to wake up, and realize that the decisions we make as a country are too important. We can not run amuck in the world imposing our will in a reflexive manner unless we want to drag this world under. We can not allow the radical religious of ANY faith to run the world based upon their doctrines, or we are no better than AlQueda.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Again today we have more news about the vulnerability of the existing electronic voting machines. This is scary. We still have no confidence in a large portion of these systems. In fact, there is plenty of evidence out there that the machines have been used to rig elections in some areas of the country! This is silly, scary, and stupid. It is relatively easy to create an electronic voting machine that is accurate, and has enough safeguards to ensure that the vote is accurate, every single time.
The Problem: The machines that are in use in many parts of this country are unreliable. They have no paper trail, which means that there is no way to tell if the vote is accurate. If someone had altered the machine to favor one candidate over another, there simply is no way to tell. Furthermore the programs in these machines is considered "proprietary." That means that no one, not even a government official, can check the code to make sure that the computer is doing what it is supposed to! In any democracy this is simply unacceptable. Fortunately I have a solution. All I need is a company willing to fund the project, and make it work. Bear in mind I am indeed qualified to create such a system. I have my Master's in Information Assurance.
The Solution: The system I have designed is pretty straight forward, and should be pretty foolproof. First, there is no computer in the voting booth with the voter, only a touch screen. Instead, the actual computer is in another room. It has a multiple user Operating System, meaning that one computer can service many booths. In the booth is only the touch screen, and a box with a glass front. The user makes his or her votes, and a ballot is produced behind the glass screen. The voter then is asked to verify their paper ballot, to make sure their choices were recorded correctly. After the voter has verified their own ballot, the voter pulls a lever (which can only be used once per voter) and the ballot is then sent through a scanner. At the end of the day, the scanned tally is compared to the computer tally for accuracy. If needed, the paper ballots can even be used to make sure there is an accurate count! The system works, because if there is any question, or any problem, you can always go back to the paper ballots, which have all been independently verified by the voters themselves!
The program itself would be Open Source. This means that anyone can check and make sure that the program is doing exactly what it should, without bias. That means that Government officials, watchdog groups, and even ordinary citizens can check the code that runs the computer to ensure it is good. None of that can be done currently.
The machine itself can not be accessed physically by hackers, as it isn't available to them. The chances that it could be hacked into remotely is small. Access is tightly restricted, and the machines can accept no input from a remote source unless it is first requested by an operator at the machine. That operator, and election official, would be required to access the machine via a smart card and password, and then request a download. These downloads are from a specific source, on a specific port, which remains closed until the request is made. The operator can not change where the download comes from, helping to further eliminate voting fraud. Even if somehow the machine was accessed by a hacker, and if somehow they changed the program without setting off the tripwire mechanisms (which shuts the program down until someone with physical access and credentials resets it), they can not alter the outcome of the vote. Why? Because each ballot is verified by the voter! The scanner tally MUST match the computer tally, and the ballots themselves can be counted manually if there is further question!
The system is simple, beautiful, and best of all, is much less expensive then existing machines, because one computer can run MANY voting booths, instead of each booth having its own computer.
Please, if anyone knows someone that can help, I want to get this idea out to a company that is interested in producing a failsafe voting system for the future. I also welcome comments if you have further ideas for modification, or you think you might have a way to defeat it. We are always improving! By the way, the ideas in this blog are my own, and are protected by copyright. I am very interested in working with someone to make it happen.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Today we are witnessing a new, troubling turn in politics. Palin today talked about being in pro-American parts of the country, meaning that there are parts of this country that are anti-American. Michelle Bachmann, congresswoman from Minnesota went on a long rant about liberal, left-wing anti-American people, including Obama and other members of congress, as well as teachers, professors, and others. She called for a media expose to root out the "anti-American members of congress. This is scary, and harkens to some very dark times in this country.
We have been here before. The McCarthy era brought people before congress to expose them as Communists. Having ideas that were not mainstream meant that you could be dragged before Congress and ruined, because some people didn't like they way you thought. People who were opposed to the Vietnam war were roundly criticized as "anti-American" and were treated very poorly. After 9/11 anyone who opposed anything the government did were accused of the same thing. The result? The government did what it wanted, including erasing some of the very rights that make us Americans.
Now, in an effort to demonize a political candidate, we are going here again. The Republican party is scared, because they are not only in danger of losing the Executive Branch of the government, but may well see their influence in congress dwindle even more. So now, in an effort to cling to their power, they are denouncing their opponents as "anti-American," even stating that these people HATE this country! It is wrong, and dangerous. This kind of Dark Ages thinking leads to withchunts, and when have you ever seen a witchunt be a good thing?
This all started with Obama's tenuous connection to Ayers, the one time "terrorist" whose group planted bombs in federal buildings to protest the Vietnam war. While I agree that these acts were horrible, do they necessarily mean that Ayers HATED America? While he was certainly misguided, I don't think his group staged these attacks because they HATED this country. In fact, they saw what they thought was this country going wrong, and they wanted to call attention to it. It sounds to me like they actually LIKED this country, but used the language and tactics of hate to deliver their message. I could be wrong. Maybe they did and do hate this country, but my point is that just because someone acts in a heinous way does not mean that they hate the country. The Bush administration took away some of the basic freedoms that define us as Americans. They spied on its citizens illegally, and started a war that one could argue is very "anti-American" in the way they went about it. I wouldn't say though that they HATE our country. I think that they do LOVE our country. They just did some very bad and ultimately un-American things.
Speaking of un-American things, since when is being a Democrat, or a liberal, ANTI-American? Is it not my fundamental American right to choose my own political party, and elect leaders that will guide the country on what I think is the right path? Since when does that mean I HATE this country? I LOVE this country. My family has a long history of serving this country. My grandfather received a Silver Star for his heroic actions in WW1. My uncle stormed the beach at Normandy in WW2. My brother fought in Vietnam, and my nephew fought in Iraq. I am proud of their service, and I am a proud American. I just happen to think some things that the Congresswoman would call me a hater of AMerica for. What are those things? I think we should provide health care for all Americans, not just those who can afford it. I don't think that any AMerican should be afraid to get help for medical issues, because it would bankrupt them. I think that the wealthy should have a higher tax burden. After all, history shows that when the wealthy don't pay higher taxes relative to everyone else, democracies fall apart. The more you get from society, the more you should pay back. The less you get from society, the more you should be given. I think that AMericans should engage in war only as a last resort to protect its citizens, or as part of an international effort to stop atrocities. I think that American should have access to decent education, no matter their economic status. Yet somehow I HATE this country because I believe those things?
The congresswoman, Palin, and McCain have made the same accusations about Obama because of his "associations." You know, the fact that he served on a board with Ayers some 40 years after the bombings, and long after Ayers turned his act around and became a respected person in his community. Calling someone Anti-American because of associations, rather than actions or words spoken directly by the person, is a dangerous path to follow. Let me give you some examples. Obama is called anti-American because of his associations with Ayers, Rezko, and Wright. They say that if McCain or Palin had similar associations then the press and the "liberals" would be screaming about it. Since you bring it up congresswoman, let us take a good look at those associations. You know, the ones we HAVEN'T been screaming about. The ones we are NOT passing around in flyers, robo-calls, and stump speeches. Remember congresswoman, YOU are the one that brought up the challenge.
McCain - Member of the Keating 5, found to have made bad ethical decisions in pressuring regulators to back off Lincoln savings and loan, despite the fact that he was briefed fully about their illegal activities, which eventually cost Americans a LOT of money.
McCain - Regular appearances on G. Liddy's radio show. Liddy calls him an "old friend." Liddy served time resulting from the Watergate affair. He planned the assassination of a reporter, and the kidnapping of elected officials.
McCain - served on a board with ties to Nazi sympathizers, death squads in foreign countries, and ties to the Iran-Contra scandal.
McCain- People central to his campaign were long time lobbyists for Fannie May and Freddie Mac. Lobbyists for foreign governments, including Georgia, and dictators with ties to terrorists. His campaign transition chief was on of three lobbyists (two of whom are in jail) who lobbied on the behalf of Saddam Hussein to lessen sanctions against the Iraq government.
Palin - Recently was found guilty of ethics violations and abuse of power resulting from an investigation of her involvement in firing an official in the Alaskan government who refused to do her bidding.
Palin - Recently gave praise in a speech to a group whose goals include the secession of Alaska from the United States. The founder of which stated openly that he HATED America, and eventually dies while trying to buy explosives illegally.
Palin - Stated that one of her pastors is partly responsible for bringing her to power. The man in question wants to install radical Christians in all aspects of society in order to make America not just a Christian nation, but a Christian nation that adheres to their very strict interpretation of Christianity. Essentially removing all state-church boundaries.
McCain - Credited several evangelicals with helping form his views. These include some pastors that have said nasty things about the holocaust, and that New Orleans suffered God's wrath via Katrina because they had left God's path.
McCain - made numerous anti-American propaganda tapes for HAnoi during the Vietnam war. Sure, they were the result of torture, and I don't blame him one bit. I would have done the same, and probably a lot faster, but as long as we are throwing out ridiculous accusations against liberals, why not include this?
There are others. These are just a few "associations." Does this mean that McCain, or even Palin, is anti-American? By the congresswoman's standards, absolutely. By the normal, rational, fair minded person, absolutely not. This is the point. Just about anyone can be accused of being "anti-American" by these standards. After all, who among us has not criticized some bone-headed decision by our government, or at least, has known someone who has? You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't criticized our country, or knows someone who has. By these criteria, we are all "anti-American." We can claim ANYONE is a traitor by these standards. This is why the congresswoman also threw in the terms "left," and "liberal." You see, all that is left is to decide who gets to decide whose thinking is correct, and whose is "anti-American." As long as you agree with that person, you are safe. Otherwise, you can be called out because of your "associations" and called a traitor. I would guess that the congresswoman gets to decide what those criterion are. So as long as you believe in the Republican way, the neocon way, you are safe. If you think like a Democrat, a liberal,you are wrong, and are a threat to this country. How convenient.
Do not buy into this kind of hate. We can not afford it in this country right now. We are facing a crisis which demands that all of us band together to come up with the very best ideas to pull us out of this mess. Accusing those who do not agree with you of being "anti-American" will only assure that nothing gets done, and that good ideas get dismissed out of hand as treasonous, simply because the person speaking does not agree with every one of your positions. This way lies hatred, economic ruin, witch hunts, and civil war. I kid you not. I urge you to remove these kinds of hate mongers from office post haste. We can not afford this kind of close minded bigotry. Congresswoman, I urge you to read up on how this country was founded. That the very ability to disagree and think differently is why we are here. That the freedom to express our ideas without prosecution is a fundamental right, and that all men are created equal. Then look yourself in the mirror, and ask yourself who is really being "anti-American." That goes for you too Palin, and for whomever is really running Senator Meccans campaign nowadays.
We are ALL Americans, and we ALL love our country. The fact that Palin and this congresswoman suggests otherwise sickens and disgusts me. When people like this get into power, it really makes me wonder just how far we have gotten, as a country, from our goals, dreams, and American values.
I am an American, and a liberal (so they tell me), and I am proud of my country.
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Teacher, MSIA - Norwich University, BA - Vassar College.