Feb. 25th, 2010 05:48 pm:
Next Quarter's Classes

16 exciting units of:

  • User Authentication Systems and Role-Based Security
  • Network Security, Firewalls and VPN's
  • Auditing E-Commerce Systems and IT Infrastructure
  • Contemporary World Culture

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Jan. 13th, 2010 09:05 am:
Barbie, ¿Que?

The Mattel Corporation, makers of Barbie, have produced an online poll asking people to vote on the next occupation of "teenage-fashion model doll" Barbie. Choices are "Environmentalist," (although a doll made entirely out of plastic might be a poor spokesperson for this career), Surgeon, Architect, News Anchor, or, drumroll please: "Computer Engineer."

Seriously. Go vote for "Computer Engineer." Whether you believe Barbie’s influence on young girls to be positive or negative, you cannot deny that there is an influence. And Computer Engineer will go a long way towards correcting the "Math class is tough" version of Barbie.

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Dec. 21st, 2009 08:47 am:
Please take the time to answer


Poll #1501740 Readership Poll

Does anyone still read this?

Not really

LiveJournal User?

Yes, I read your entries from my friends page
Yes, but I don't log in, I just read the journals that interest me
No, I have to check your journal for updates

Frequency of checking my journal?

2+ times a day, I stalk you
Once a day, it's part of my routine
Once a week, or however often you show up on my friends page
Once a month, or whenever I remember that some people still have LiveJournals
I have no idea, once every couple of months, maybe
Never, I answered 'No' before

Should I take the time to redo my layout?

No, I only ever read your entries from my friends page
Yes, the vintage look is getting old
No, I come for the content, not the design
Yes, you're only asking because you want to validate the time needed
I don't care, really I don't, I don't even know why I'm filling out this poll

What type of entries would you like to see from me in the new year? (check all that apply)

Entries about how your day went and how you're doing
Informative essays about controversial topics
Entries about what's new in technology and science
Entries with photos
Whatever's on your mind; whatever you want to write about
I don't care! I don't read your LJ. Stop asking my questions!

Anything else?

Feeling: [mood icon] curious

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Dec. 17th, 2009 09:10 am:
Distributed Denial of Satire

IT professionals are often familiar with the Network/Server/Application blame game. "Whatever the problem, it’s never our problem." The avoidance of this blame game is one of the key reasons network monitoring and network management products exist; to avoid the blame game and get straight to the root cause of a problem.

But if you were to give an award for the mother of all network performance blame games, a good candidate for the honor would be the spat AT&T and Apple are having regarding whether Apple’s iPhone design, Apple’s iPhone users, or AT&T’s network are the cause of problems like dropped calls and slow data transfer speeds.

In the midst of all of this, satirist, "The Fake Steve Jobs," a.k.a. Newsweek’s Dan Lyons, proposed to his users that in order to protest "AT&T’s bastardly behavior over bandwidth usage," that users should attempt to overwhelm the AT&T 3G data network at Friday, December 18th, at noon PST, by using the most data-heavy apps possible.

The intention, I believe, is to "send a message" to AT&T about their service – and a spike of traffic at that time would be a quick way to give AT&T hard numbers on how many of their customers are ticked off.

An AT&T spokesman responded by saying:

"We understand that fakesteve.net is primarily a satirical forum, but there is nothing amusing about advocating that customers attempt to deliberately degrade service on a network that provides critical communications services for more than 80 million customers. We know that the vast majority of customers will see this action for what it is: an irresponsible and pointless scheme to draw attention to a blog."
Lyons, as Fake Steve Jobs, on the other hand, claimed that the CEO of AT&T tried to call him, but:
"He started shouting, but just then — I’m not kidding — the call got dropped, because, see, I was on my goddamn iPhone and the damn thing can’t hold on to a call in downtown Palo Alto.

I tried moving six inches to my left, and got a signal. Then I moved back, and I lost it. This took place in downtown Palo Alto at my yoga studio. I tried going outside, and got a signal again. Randall [Stephenson] called, I picked up, got dropped. I walked down the block, and dialed him back. Finally got him. He’s like, "Just don’t f***ing move, okay? Just stand right where you are and let me shout at you for a minute." I was like, Fine, whatever, shout away, and I put the phone down on a bench and did some stretches.
Which to me implies three life lessons. Number one, when you know you’re going to have an abnormal influx of traffic due to some event, monitor it and be prepared to switch it over to a different class of service in order to maintain mission critical applications. Number two, be proactive in avoiding network performance problems rather than playing the blame game. And number three, never, ever pick a fight with a satirist.

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Nov. 23rd, 2009 10:45 am:
Dad, can I use the IBM computer tonight?

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Nov. 4th, 2009 09:19 am:
This is war!

Achordants http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIeoNP5VB4k
Menage-A-Cappella http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So9e9wD11PM
MIT Logarhythms http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9zb_Gr8iLc
UCSD Beat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqowQIZU5bI
Umass Dynamics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dK2Qrvhh8A
UMD TrebleMakers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Nzgniv7QQ

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Oct. 12th, 2009 05:13 pm:
Wisdom Through Pain

Note to self, x-rays don't scan for shit.

Anyways, the following are why I was crying like a little girl today:

Hard to see, I know. But those are from the bottom left and bottom right of my jaw. In both x-rays you see 2 teeth that are nicely aligned (and their fillings) and then there's this 3rd... "tooth" that's coming in low like a defensive linebacker. They call it "impacted" I call it a series of expletives and other colorful language that I won't repeat here.

Oral surgeon tomorrow for the eval, hopefully get these things taken out soon after. There's not enough Orajel in the world for this.

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Sep. 8th, 2009 11:50 am:
The United States Already Spends More Per Capita On Socialized Medicine

In this video Al Franken is not exactly "talking down an angry mob" but he and the people who disagree strongly with him seem to be having a fairly reasonable discussion. I consider this remarkable considering that the level of political discourse between partisans has not been particularly inspiring lately.

At the 5:54 mark the woman on the left asks a good question: "Do you honestly feel, given how everything is, that it can be paid for by the government and by the taxpayers and by all of us?" This question brings me to a recent realization that I've been meaning to mention.

The United States does not offer universal health care to its citizens, but our government does spend some amount of taxpayer money on socialized medicine in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA system. The government also reimburses hospitals for deadbeat patients who have, for example, visited the emergency room where health care is most expensive and provided a fictitious name or accounts which are otherwise unbillable.

How much money does the United States pay for its limited version of socialized medicine? Let's look at the numbers from the 2009 World Health Statistics report.

In the United States $6719 is spent per capita on health care, $3076 of which was government spending.
In Canada $3673 was spent per capita on health care, $2587 of which was government spending.

In other words the United States spends more money per taxpayer providing national health care to some of its citizens than Canada spends per taxpayer providing all of its citizens with health care. And Canada is not even a particularly efficient example. Here's a table I made from this data comparing per capita public health care expenditures. Every country except Denmark spends less tax money toward health care, and Denmark still beats us in both quality and total health care expenditures.

So in answer to lady-sitting-to-the-left-of-Al yes, I absolutely believe that "given how everything is" universal health care could be paid for by the government. The lady wearing the "Taxed Enough Already" t-shirt will be happy to know that the average taxpayer would get a ~$550 tax cut, we (or our employers) would pay ~$3000 less out of pocket, we'd be getting 10% better health care than we have now, and everyone would be getting it rather than just veterans, poor people, and old people. And that's just if we do an average job. If we're able to provide universal health care not particularly well.

You want best case? France gets credit for being #1 but the real cost/benefit superstar is Italy. If America adopted the Italian health care system we'd all get a $1045 tax cut, we (or our employers) would pay $3000 less out of pocket, and we'd get health care that's 18% better than what we have now. I should add that Italy somehow manages this even though it's a gateway to Europe for Africa and the Middle East and is flooded with illegal immigrants.

- We're talking about local expenditures not financial flows so I'm using PPP exchange rates not dollar exchange rates.
- I selected the countries on the list at random. If there's a country you'd like to see in the table I can add it.
- Italians might have better numbers due to diet and lifestyle.
- The most recent cost figures are from 2006 but the most recent quality ratings are from 2000 so it's possible things have changed.
- OSX 10.6 / Safari users who click on the WHO's pdf might crash their browser. This bug has been reported.

I just added Ireland, which is an interesting case. Their total health care spending is only $2034 per capita and the government covers a little more than half of that, but for $1938 less tax money and a mere $896 out of pocket per year they still manage to rank 10% better than the USA in quality. I'd also like to know why Norway ends up spending so much.


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Sep. 3rd, 2009 08:09 am:
A blog post on the necessity of distrac—hey, a squirrel!

One of the big concerns that companies have when setting up IT departments is how much freedom to give to the workforce when it comes to the Internet.

There are two major philosophical ideas on the subject. The first is that employees are paid to work, not paid to surf the web, and that as such, any possibly distracting Internet sites that are not required to do the job should be off limits – or at least, harshly discouraged. The second is that if you treat your employees like robots, they’ll resent it, leading to on-the-job unhappiness, lost morale, loss of top talent, and therefore, overall loss of productivity.

It’s hard to find hard numbers supporting either theory though – until now. As it turns out, Dr. Brent Coker at the University of Melbourne studied the effects of "Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing" (or "Recreational Traffic" as I’ve come to call it), and found that "employees that surf the Internet for fun at work are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t."

The attraction of WILB, according to Dr Coker, can be attributed to people’s imperfect concentration. "People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture – after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored.

"It’s the same in the work place. Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity."
This result is similar to an effect noted by Jackie Andrade, a professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth – people bored in meetings often "doodle" – because the brain needs to constantly process information, and doodling provides just enough brain-juice during a boring task to prevent the mind from running off into a full-scale daydream.
"You wouldn't want the brain to just switch off, because a bear might walk up behind you and attack you; you need to be on the lookout for something happening," Andrade says.
A point of clarification – Andrade was talking about the evolutionary basis of doodling. No one has any reason to fear bear attacks during business meetings... yet.

Now, there may be security related reasons why one would want to not give desktop administrator access to employees, though this can be a pain, and reasons why you might block certain harmful Web sites and domains. But beyond that, there really isn’t a gain in blocking the distractions of the Internet; Facebook and IM and blogs and the like.

Reddit.com has the story of "Lou" whose company blocked instant messaging, using the line that IMs could spread viruses. (This is technically, possibly true, because IM clients are executable files... but plaintext? Not so much.) So, to stay in contact with other people at the company where he worked, he wrote a proxy page and hosted it on his own external Web server.
"I was the information systems intern, with the web design experience, so I hacked together a script hosted on my own server that allowed us to chat with each other and with any friends that wanted to visit the link. It worked because it was browser based and no one had to install anything. But I messed up. The script would refresh the page every 10 seconds… and the IT guy in charge of the network soon noticed that certain computers were making hundreds of requests to my server per day. When he found out what we were doing, he logged into the script just long enough to say "There is no chatting allowed on the company network. Goodbye."He then banned my domain for the rest of the summer."
So instead of providing a new way for inter-departmental communication, the IT department just shut down that avenue and prompted resentment among employees. In fact, Lou goes on to write:
I'm glad I don't work there anymore, and since then I've only worked for smaller firms that don't do this kind of crippling to your computer usage.
Which really is the whole point – employees don’t want to feel like children – like they can’t be trusted, and have to be kept away from anything interesting. So the smart people – that is, the people who are worth the most to your business – are less likely to work for you, rather than your competitors, if you treat them that way.

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Aug. 20th, 2009 04:16 pm:
I knew they were real!

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