Category Archives: Techie

Anything of particular interest to the techie crowd.

Blender 2.66

One of my favorite applications is sadly one for which I have no capacity to master. I’m speaking of the outstanding, open-source modeling tool Blender. Version 2.66 of this fantastic tool has just been announced. And while I’m sure almost everyone who uses the tool already knows about it, I mention it just in case someone drops by here and isn’t familiar with the tool but possesses the skills necessary to create something great with it.

Laptop 64 – Ben Heck strikes again

Commodore-64 portablized
Commodore-64 portablized

Is there anyone else out there capable of pulling off the work Ben Heck does? Honestly, I’ve seen a few people do similar mods to portablize game consoles or vintage computers, but no one with the breadth of neat hacks that Ben has done. The latest bit from him is the rejiggering of “Classic” computer the Commodore 64.

While I can’t say I personally would want one, this really is a pretty cool project for folks who have to get their retro on. (via MAKEZine)

[tags]Ben Heck, Retro, Commodore 64, Hardware hacks, MAKEZine[/tags]

OSSTMM version 3 coming soon?

In a previous life, I was a computer security specialist.  I had a really cool job, and worked with really, really damn cool people (hi Gerald, Doug, Jon, et al).  I read (a tiny fraction of) all the cool security news.  I kept up to date on as many security topics as I could.  I read security books.  I studied a lot of security web sites.  I took training from SANS.  I subscribed to a few security mailing lists, although much of the detail in many vulnerability announcements messages was above my understanding.

But in all that reading, research, study, training, and other learning, one of the coolest things I ever consumed was the OSSTMM project. Rather than try to explain this project, I’ll just snag the introductory text from the project home site:

The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) is a peer-reviewed methodology for performing security tests and metrics. The OSSTMM test cases are divided into five channels (sections) which collectively test: information and data controls, personnel security awareness levels, fraud and social engineering control levels, computer and telecommunications networks, wireless devices, mobile devices, physical security access controls, security processes, and physical locations such as buildings, perimeters, and military bases.

The OSSTMM focuses on the technical details of exactly which items need to be tested, what to do before, during, and after a security test, and how to measure the results. New tests for international best practices, laws, regulations, and ethical concerns are regularly added and updated.

The version I read when I first found this was 2.2.  It has been years since I used it, and I periodically check in for updates on the version 3.0 release.  I haven’t seen an update on the web site, and I’m not a team member/subscriber to the service, so I didn’t expect I would know unless I checked in on my own.  Well tonight, while catching up on email, I get this message from the project:

Continue reading OSSTMM version 3 coming soon?

Cool new type of laser?

Since we haven’t covered any really cool laser news in a while, it’s time to throw out our shark-powered story-hounds (and yes, I recognize the incongruity of that analogy) and see what pops up.

Looks here like there is a story out on a new type of laser. While studying laser generation from a device called a quantum cascade laser, scientists noticed that a secondary laser with some unusual properties was generated.

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2008) — A Princeton-led team of researchers has discovered an entirely new mechanism for making common electronic materials emit laser beams. The finding could lead to lasers that operate more efficiently and at higher temperatures than existing devices, and find applications in environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics.

In particular, this new type of laser apparently requires less energy to produce than a traditional laser. While the story in question makes no mention of strapping these frikkin’ lasers to frikkin’ sharks’ heads, I suspect a lower power draw would come in quite handy in any world take-over attempts based on such a premise. Assuming the scientists in question can figure out how to create this secondary laser without the primary laser still being there, of course.

The new laser phenomenon has some interesting features. For instance, in a conventional laser relying on low momentum electrons, electrons often reabsorb the emitted photons, and this reduces overall efficiency. In the new type of laser, however, this absorption is reduced by 90%, said Franz. This could potentially allow the device to run at lower currents, and also makes it less vulnerable to temperature changes. “It should let us dramatically improve laser performance,” he said.

The device used in the study does not fully attain this level of performance, because the conventional, low-efficiency laser mechanism dominates. To take full advantage of the new discovery, therefore, the conventional mechanism would need to be turned off. The researchers have started to work on methods to achieve this outcome, said Franz.

So work is still underway. And has been for a while, in fact. Word from the brains behind this work is they actually discovered this effect sometime last year, but have been working on perfecting or improving it since then. My current suspicions are if this doesn’t end up in shark-based warfare, it will be part of the coming robot uprising. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords (unless the zombies take over first).

[tags]Lasers, Frikkin’ sharks, Throw me a bone, Robots, Quantum something I don’t understand, Science Daily[/tags]

The Kudos Society – My take on the Open Source community

I am working on a set of posts in which I want to talk about Open Source products. Given how long just my introduction to these has grown, I will probably move them over to separate pages on the Blahg. To begin, I am writing a bit on why I am such a fan of Open Source, what tools I use and what tools I recommend for others, and why I try to participate in parts of the Open Source movement. The overall community of Open Source developers, users, and other contributors is something I call “The Kudos Society,” which may deserve at least a small bit of explanation as well.

All that said, what follows below the break is some of my personal history in joining this movement, which hopefully sheds some light on why I care so much about the status and health of Open Source overall.

Continue reading The Kudos Society – My take on the Open Source community

Start slicing stuff – no sharks included

So long, we have failed to talk lasers here on the Blahg.  If you’ve been around long, you know it’s one of our favorite topics.  But what is happening in the laser world?  What goes on when the Blahg doesn’t mention lasers?  If someone puts out news on a laser, and the Blahg doesn’t cover it, does it deserve to be mounted on the head of a friggin’ shark?  Well yes.  Yes it does.  Every laser deserves a shark of its own.

That out of the way, what good news to we have?  Well, how about a guide to building your own laser cutter?  Would you be interested in getting a knife made of focused light?  And what if it was less than $50?

This project demonstrates a simple hack to create a large format laser cutter utilizing all the scrap electronics you may have lying around. If you have a broken scanner or two, the cost can be just about 30 dollars for the entire project.

I totally need to build one of these, even if it isn’t actually a hand-held laser knife.  It sounds cool enough that it could go in to The Best of Instructables book, although it looks like it didn’t make the first volume.  Maybe volume 2?

So we’ll try to get you up date on the coolest or most useless new laser news in the coming days.  And as always, we’ll watch for news of advances on the friggin’ shark front.

[tags]lasers, laser, shark, Instructables, Laser knife[/tags]

32G key, cheap

Man, I soooo totally need to buy one of these.  I may just be in need of an upgrade of my 8 Gig USB key.

DataTraveler 150 USB Flash drive is big news in mobile storage. With a capacity of 32GB, it lets you store more digital files than ever before on one drive. DataTraveler 150 from Kingston helps budget-conscious users break storage barriers, allowing them to easily store and move files in a 32GB device no bigger than a pocketknife. As easy as click and drag, DataTraveler 150 can hold just about any file you can think of term papers, theses, digital images, spreadsheets or other important documents.

And the cool thing?  It’s dang cheap – just under $60.  Pop half a dozen compressed DVD images on there, and still have room for pr0n or portables apps and games.

[tags]USB, Storage, Kingston, PortableApps, Portables, Pr0n[/tags]

Mathematics: A visual exploration

While checking out the latest news on some of the geeky things that interest me, I found a link to this visual walk through of mathematics. The most interesting facet of the Dimensions Math page to me, and what made me think I needed to post about it, is that the 2 hour video that is the visual walkthrough of math was created entirely with the raytracing program POV-Ray. The entire video is available for free online, can be purchased on DVD, and is licensed for distribution under a Creative Commons license.

A film for a wide audience!

Nine chapters, two hours of maths, that take you gradually up to the fourth dimension.
Mathematical vertigo guaranteed! Background information on every
chapter: see “Details“.

Here is the sample video for the visual walk-through:

Watching this, seeing that it was made with POV-Ray, and thinking of the power of legally freely available tools like this makes me feel that I owe my readers a write-up of some of the many free tools and toys I use on my computer at home and for work.

[tags]Dimensions, Mathematics, POV-Ray, Video[/tags]

Techies: MBA for big money

Hey, good news if you are thinking about heading back to school for further degree studies.  It seems that techies who get business degrees are better able to overcome the communication gap between managers and worker-grunts.  The end result?  An MBA nearly doubles IT Pros’ salaries.

For years, IT professionals looking to increase their job security, expand their career horizons and potentially climb a couple pay grades have been told to take business courses or get an MBA, but the evidence to support these assertions has been little more than anecdotal.

Now, however, a study published in the March issue of “Management Science” from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business finds that an IT professional with an MBA degree earns 46 percent more than one with only a bachelor’s degree, and 37 percent more than an IT professional with any other type of master’s degree.

Of course, that nearly doubles salaries thing doesn’t sound quite right when you read that the IT professional with MBA earns 46 percent more, does it?  So according to this study, the MBA nearly doubles IT Pros’ salaries, when 46% means 100%.  Still – a near 50% earnings benefit sounds pretty solid justification for the higher degree.

[tags]IT, Salaries, MBA, When +50% equals double?!?[/tags]

F-Secure HealthCheck application patch security tool

In a past career, I was big in to computer security, and got paid well for doing the work. Since I’m now elsewhere professionally, I’m less in touch with the security industry than I used to be. However, I still keep up with a few important resources, and like to pass along really useful tips when I find them. Today in reading some security news and trying to catch up, I caught word of the F-Secure HealthCheck application patches scanning system. While this is unfortunately an Internet Explorer only tool currently, the site indicates work is in process for supporting other (and better, in my opinion, BTW) browsers. Hopefully that will happen soon.

Run HealthCheck to get a scan of applications on your system along with checks for patches and updates to those applications. This should help you track down security problems that have fixes available. If you keep up to date on these patches, it should help significantly with avoiding your machines getting taken over by a ‘bot-network. The tool appears to have been developed or at least re-announced (I’m not familiar enough with HealthCheck and it’s history nor age to know which is the correct term) as a result of an F-Secure poll regarding application patching.

It appears that many people are uncertain if their computers are fully patched when there are third party updates involved.

Q — What can you do about it?
A — F-Secure Health Check.

Health Check is a free online tool designed to help consumers identify security updates needed on their computers.

I will point out that HealthCheck requires installation of an ActiveX control in your Internet Explorer window. I personally trust the eggheads at F-Secure to not do malice as a result of this, but you need to understand that installing an ActiveX control is a security risk which gives the control vendor pretty much full access to your operating system. While *I* personally trust the F-Secure worker-bees to not corrupt, control, nor destroy my system, you’ll have to make that decision for yourself.

After running the test, here’s a snip of what I got as a result:

healthcheck_clip.jpg

In my case, I’m on a work computer without anti-virus and anti-spyware protection. Sadly, I am not allowed to correct this flaw. I make up for it by using the PortableApps version of ClamWin, and regularly scan my system. I also run Firefox for my browser (actually, I use the PortableApps version of this application, too) and stick mostly to web sites I know and trust. I save my home computer for more risky online activity.

If you are unsatisfied with your HealthCheck scan results and the problem turns out to be a browser security issue, can I suggest you update to FireFox?

[tags]security, healthcheck, scanning, vulnerability, patch, Windows, Internet Explorer, FireFox[/tags]

Moebius transformations revealed

Today, the Blahg will help smartify you.  You may be a part of the large group of people who consider themselves non-mathified and non-mathy capable.  But with the help of the YouTube experts (and honestly, that’s two words you will rarely see together in a legitimate context), you can learn how Moebius transformations work.

So simple to understand visually, but probably still ass-kicking hard for most of us to do numerically.  Still, I just thought it looked so cool that I needed to share.

[tags]Moebius, Transformations, Mathified, Mathy, Moebius Transformations, YouTube, experts, Mind blowing[/tags]