High Tech Passport Failure

It seems the UK version of the high tech passport has failed the first hurtle — a writer at the Guardian and a tech expert managed to crack the passport security with relative ease. Seem those who hatched the security scheme made the rather naive mistake of going to great lengths to secure the communications between the RFID reader and the passport, but used information that is available on the printed passport as the ‘key’ to unlocking that communication. Just dumb.

Fatally, however, the ICAO suggested that the key needed to access the data on the chips should be comprised of, in the following order, the passport number, the holder’s date of birth and the passport expiry date, all of which are contained on the printed page of the passport on a “machine readable zone.” When an immigration official swipes the passport through a reader, this feeds in the key, which allows a microchip reader to communicate with the RFID chip. The data this contains, including the holder’s picture, is then displayed on the official’s screen. The assumption at this stage is that this document is as authentic as it is super-secure. And, as we shall see later, this could be highly significant.

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The Depressive Brain

I came across this fascinating article that indicates that the brain structure of people with depression is structurally different that the brains of people who don’t experience depression. It seems that depressive people have an area of the brain which handles negative emotions that were 20 percent larger than normal.

Makes me curious where they go with this observation. Is this something that can be screened for an monitored appropriately? How strong an indicator is this of depression (after all, there were only 49 people in the study)? How will this influence future treatment of this condition? More to come, I’m sure.

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Let The Price Gouging Begin!

I predict that this well timed incident by BP will have gas prices at or near $3.25USD by the end of today in the Cincinnati area (currently gas is around $2.98USD). I further predict that big oil’s goal is to have the price at the pump flirting with $4USD just in time for the Labor Day/end of summer driving push — just as they manipulated prices up to the current $3USD range last year in this same period.

Clearly an industry that is in need of regulation (and also clearly not something that will happen with the current administration).

Back Again

It has been a bit quiet here for the last two weeks or so because I have been on vacation.  Just got back last night and still a bit jet lagged.  Finally got around to uploading some of the pictures to flickr, but still need to go about the task of inserting titles, descriptions and tags.

Things should pick up this weekend (or next week) as I recover from the backlog.

Google Sketchup

Today Google has released Sketchup, a 3D drawing desktop application. From the little demo animation that they have on the linked page, this looks like the rare combination of a very powerful, yet easy to use tool for creating 3D renderings. Renderings can also be used in conjunction with Google Earth, presumably as some sort of a layer or overlay.

Unfortunately, the Mac version of it is ‘coming soon’ even though the pre-Google acquisition product already ran on OS X. I’ll have to wait for the Mac release to get into this any further. I hope that the delay is something a simple as switching over the branding and a few other minor tasks it truly will be available RSN.

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Critical Thinking Is Not Optional

Graham Glass has an excellent anecdote about a lesson he learned in high school regarding critical thinking.

…Once the pleasantries were out of the way, he started the first lecture, which was about the composition of the atmosphere. Everyone started taking copious notes. He told us that Nitrogen was 78% of the air we breath, with Oxygen accounting for 21% and the remainder taken up by Argon, Carbon Dioxide, and other gases.

He then proceeded to explain that Nitrogen had a pink color and a slightly sweet smell. Like good students, we continued to record this valuable information into our study notes. After several more minutes of lecture he stopped, and then exclaimed “are you students morons??!!”. Needless to say, this caught our attention and we instantly brought our heads out of our books.

He continued: “If Nitrogen was pink and formed 78% of the air, the classroom would look pink! Are your brains even turned on right now?!” He proceeded to berate us for being so gullible, and then used the situation to segue into a discussion of the ingredients of science; observation, theory, and rigorous testing.

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Handwriting

An interesting article at the Guardian on The Death of Handwriting. I have definitely seen a trend in this direction at work, especially now that wireless access is available throughout the entire campus. People bring their laptops to meetings presumably to take notes, but more often to check email, IM and do other things rather than focus on the meeting. I am a bit of an oddball in that I show up with my (paper) notebook and pen to take notes and jot down diagrams. I find good old paper and ink to be much more expressive and versatile in this situation.

I have noticed that with all of the time I have spent on the computer over the years that my penmanship has deteriorated and I am making a concerted effort to do more writing (versus typing). When I was in college I was proud of how well I wrote and even had several profs comment on the legibility and layout of written work.

I guess it is in the same vein as my using an analog watch; I find myself drawn to good ole paper and ink to capture my thoughts during the day. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

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Word Of The Day from the OED

I just discovered that you can get the ‘word of the day’ emailed to you by no less than the folks who bring the world the Oxford English Dictionary.

I find the OED a great resource to have around. We have the Compact OED version of it that has 9 pages reduced onto a single page (versus the pricy 20 volume edition). To read the entries you need to use this sort of half crystal ball magnifier that is provided along with the Compact OED. It’s a little funky, but thats part of the fun.

If you are curious as to what went into producing the OED, I highly recommend The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.

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Most Expensive Cities

I am not surprised that Oslo, Norway has taken over first place as the most expensive city in the world (knocking Tokyo out of first place). We vacationed in Norway a few summers ago. While Norway was quite beautiful, it was easily the most expensive place that we have traveled to. I remember sitting in a restaurant in Bergen after having just ordered a hamburger. I calculated in my head that the burger was going to cost me over $20USD (probably even more expensive now). Oh, well, it costs what is costs. All in all I enjoyed Norway much more than Alaska (Alaska being a very poor value for the money) and would return to Norway before Alaska any day.

Of the other cities on the list, I found Copenhagen to be the most ‘affordable’ of the Scandinavian cities I have visited, London is certainly expensive (an not a great value, either). I don’t recall Geneva being overly expensive, just cold, rainy and desperately boring (it was December, granted). Commentary on Paris will be reserved until we return from a short trip there mid-February. Tokyo and Reykjavik both remain on our ‘someday’ travel list, expense aside.

Here is the list from the Guardian:

Most expensive cities
(Last year in brackets)

1 (3) Oslo
2 (1) Tokyo
3 (8) Reykjavik
4 (2) Osaka Kobe
4 (4) Paris
6 (5) Copenhagen
7 (7) London
8 (6) Zurich
9 (8) Geneva
10 (10) Helsinki

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Still Struggling to Define Web 2.0

I really enjoy the World Wide Words web site. A recent entry is struggling with a familiar issue: how does one define ‘web 2.0’. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) they don’t have much more success than others who have tried.

That aside, I find the site fascinating — but, I have always been interested in linguistics and word origins. For example, you can find out why the abbreviation for pounds is lb, and whether the word shot (as in a shot of whiskey) has anything to do with cowboys buying liquor with bullets.

They have a site feed, so why not give it a try? It may be just the thing to get some beneficial stimulation for your brain.

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Effects of Learning and Lack of Sleep on the Brain

New research confirms something that many probably already knew: Learning new things helps to ‘rejuvenate’ the brain while lack of sleep undoes that effect.

I can definitely attest to the sleep deprivation part. There have been a few really long plane flights (New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand) combined with time zone shifts and minimal sleep that have left me struggling to do simple things like calculating the gratuity to add to a bill or to maintain any sense of direction once we are on the ground. A good nights sleep does quite a bit toward addressing this.

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