Archive for May, 2005

Watergate Source Revealed

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

This was me, circa 1984, I am not a crook.Ha! Just last week I was thinking about that mythic figure of Watergate lore, Deep Throat, and thinking that it was possible that his identity might not ever be revealed within my lifetime.

And now here it is.

Seriously, I’m still numb. I’m not sure how I should be feeling. This has been a huge secret for thirty years now, and suddenly all those years of speculation are over.

Watergate was a huge defining backdrop for some very formative years of my life: The break-in happened right before my senior year in high school, and the scandal dominated the news during my freshman year in college.

I was in summer school when Nixon resigned. Several of us in the dorm watched his resignation speech on TV, drinking cokes from glass bottles, with the room dark and, befitting the solemnity of the occasion, “Pomp and Circumstance” (from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack) playing in the background.

Just when I was at that age where I could comprehend that snake-filled labyrinth that is our federal government, and suddenly I was faced with a constitutional crisis — with the only resignation of a president in U.S. history.

My entire view of politics, even today, was shaped by Watergate.

And now a huge chapter has closed.

In a way, it’s sort of a letdown: Mark Felt? Who the heck is he? Just an FBI honcho, who apparently acted out of retribution for the stalling of his career.

But the important thing is that the secret is finally out in the open.

I’ve been waiting the entire span of my political awareness for this.

“Dark” Days

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Kevin Rose, one of the best things about Attack of the Show on G4TV, has left that series to work on his new project, Systm.org. Kevin’s specialty on AOTS was “Dark Tips”, like the Coke machine hack that I mentioned back in February.

Friday was his last day on the show, and his last Dark Tip was showing off his homemade device for warspying — a fancy, hip term for seeking out unencrypted wireless webcams.

Warspying is nothing new, but Kevin’s contraption takes it to new heights. The basic component is the receiver circuitry from an X-10 wireless webcam system, mounted in a project box (in this case, a modified 1-by-9-inch cash box), along with channel scanner circuity, and an uninterruptable power supply. The outside of the box has a video-out port, an external antenna port, a power port for plugging into a car’s cigarette lighter, and a viewing screen, using the kind of LCD like you’d find in a standard SUV entertainment system.

Finally, the external antenna is mounted inside a metal juice can to make it directional, and voila — you’re ready to snoop in on people’s webcams.

AOTS doesn’t have anything information on this tip in the show notes, strangely enough, but you can go here to download a video of the construction and demonstration of the device. You can watch Kevin and his partner taking the detector out on the town and finding two unencrypted cameras (both of the finds were external security cameras, so you don’t get to spy into people’s homes), driving home the need to encrypt everything you do that’s wireless — because if it’s in the open, someone is going to hack it. It’s just a matter of time.

(By the way, when you go to the Systm.com site, the download links (via Bittorrent) are on the front page. Just pick your media type and large or small format, and do a mouse-hover on the link of your choice to make sure it has “warspying” in the file name — because the links are not otherwise labeled to subject matter.)

The first Kevin-Rose-deprived episodes of AOTS start tomorrow. I don’t know how they’re going to replace him, but I hope they can come close.

“Lost” Secrets

Friday, May 27th, 2005

Checkout the (fictional) Oceanic Airlines website, which is actually run by the folks behind the Lost TV show and includes lots of cool “Easter Eggs” — like this (probably faded) script page that offers a supposed description of the monster.

That site also has a seating chart that will display some of the characters’ names when you click on their seat assignments. But the big find on the chart is that if you punch in the “mystery numbers” (4,8,15,16,23,42, duh) on the row listing, you’ll get a sneak peek at a trailer for season two. It doesn’t really show you much, but the sentence that’s repeated several times with emphasis on certain words and phrases is certainly thought-provoking. (Let’s just say that it confirms my Purgatory theory.)

Don’t be surprised if the above links are very slow, or aren’t working at all when you try to get into them. As word spreads, the servers are going to get crushed.

In the meantime, check out Sledgeweb’s “Lost” Site, which has a page listing everything that is currently known about the connections between the survivors, and even listing what little is known about Scott/Steve and Steve/Scott.

There are some pretty interesting tidbits there — maybe even enough to get us through the summer without any new episodes …

The Golden Age of BBS

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Jason Scott, sysop of Textfiles.com, has produced BBS: The Documentary, a film about the Golden Age of Bulletin Board Systems, which reached its peak between 1985 and 1995.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, it was Bulletin Board Systems — and not online services like AOL — that were the immediate ancestor of the modern internet, before the browser came along. BBS’s were small servers that you could log onto and chat, post messages, play games, and download files. Graphics were limited to ASCII and ANSI, and most of the people you were chatting with were local.

In Dallas, the local free technology magazines would be distributed at bookstores around the city, and I would snap them up for their listings of BBS numbers.

Textfiles.com lists almost all BBS’s in North America, even though most of the ones listed are defunct. I browsed the listings in the 214 area code, and it was a definite stroll down memory lane: Koyaanisqatsi BBS, Twilight at the Boreal Feast, Crysalis, Diamond Lil’s Saloon, Lunatic Fringe — and those are just the ones whose names I can remember.

The World Wide Web, of course, spelled doom for the BBS movement, but there are still some that are alive and kicking. If you want a taste of the old days, blow the dust off that old 56K modem and check out one of the few still in operation.

BBS Mates maintains a list similar to Textfiles.com, but you can also search by area code, and limit your search to existing boards. There are 14 in the 972 area code, and and three in 214 — including Eclectic BBS, which was another one I would haunt occasionally.

Attack of the Show also runs a BBS, out of geek principles, mainly, although it’s a toll call, but if you’re on an unlimited calling plan on your land line (like I am, ha!), then definitely check it out by dialing into 310-979-2699.

(Via BoingBoing .)

The End of Photography?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

Digital photography is everywhere these days, with new models coming out all the time, and camera-phones becoming as common as regular cell phones.

At the same time, the government is making it harder and harder to take photos legally. The Christian Science Monitor reports that, four years after the Trade Center bombings, terrorism is being used as an excuse to ban photography from more and more public places — even when the connection with terrorist activities is non-existent:

[The vice president of the National Press Photographers Association] offers the example of a small-town photojournalist in Victoria, Texas, who was taking shots of potholes for a newspaper story last year when a police officer drove by several times. Finally, the officer stopped and questioned him and, even after running an ID check, bluntly declared the photographer’s actions suspicious and intimated he’d be keeping an eye on him, the photographer recalls.

And even when legislatures can’t pass laws to prohibit taking pictures, the Patriot Act has a wide enough definition of “suspicious activity” to allow law enforcement officials to harrass just about anyone with a camera.

Is that what this is coming to? Are we so terror-skittish that we’re willing to give up our rights to take vacation photos?

Because I’ve got news for you: That wouldn’t stop terrorists. They could take pictures of anything if they wanted to, and they could also find a way to blow up anything without scouting shots.

The government knows this perfectly well; they just want to take one more form of power out of our hands.

Add to this the recent flap in Chicago about the banning of photographs of a “copyrighted work” in a public park, and the recent copyrighting of the lights on the Eiffel Tower (so that taking a picture of it at night without a permit is illegal!), and you can start to see where we’re headed.

Cameras might not become illegal, you just won’t be able to use them.

And this is especially scary because you know that the bastards will have cameras on YOU.

And I’m not saying this as a rant against Republicans, even though they’re the ones that seem to be pushing the laws. The Clintons, for all their rhetoric, have never been champions of your privacy, and John Kerry’s stump speeches were about everything but your eroding freedoms. If they’re in government as a career, in any country in the world, they want to keep their power, and taking yours is their surest way of cementing their job security.

You just watch.

Sith Happens

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

I posted this earlier on my other blog, but it’s so cool and addictive, I had to post it here too: Challenge Darth Vader to a game of 20 questions. It’s fascinating to watch the AI in action, processing your answers as it narrows down the possibilities.

Plus, 20 Questions is so much more fun with Darth’s theme pounding away in the background, and the Helmeted One taunting you while you click the answers.

It’s so cool you won’t even mind that it’s a Burger King ad.

Links and Notes, Step Right Up …

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005
  • I’m having trouble getting my floated images showing up in Firefox (thanks to Yay Kim for pointing it out!). I’ve got an SOS in to the WordPress forums, so maybe I’ll have it fixed soon …
  • Check out this week-long series on “Tiny Music”, a look into the origins of some of the extremely short music used in advertising, computing and the media, like the “Intel Inside” chimes.
  • This bears some looking into when I get a chance: Internet Movie Script Database.

    (Via Look at This.)

  • One of my favorite comics strips, Get Fuzzy, is being sued by some sportscaster in Boston because it strongly implied that he goes on the air in an inebriated state.

    Here’s a clue for all you lawsuit-happy jackals: I remember reading that particular strip, but I didn’t know who “Lobel” was, and I had already forgotten about it … until I heard about the lawsuit.

    Now, I have no doubt as to who allegedly goes on the air appearing snockered.

    Shouldn’t he have just let it drop?

  • Speaking of people being ticked off about what appears in print: In the yearbook group picture of the honor students of Waxahachie High School, the only black girl in the picture is listed as “Black Girl”.

    Is it just my imagination, or does this kind of mindless crap only happen in Texas?

  • Life is Just a Bowl

    Monday, May 23rd, 2005

    ... bowl of cherries!

    Ha! I couldn’t resist!

    It’s close to 100 degrees here, for the third day in a row, so I’m having a big cool bowl of fruit … and I thought Hey, I haven’t posted any photos on the new blog yet!

    So here it is.

    Ha!

    Doing the Wave

    Saturday, May 21st, 2005

    This is cool: Portugal to build the world’s first tidal-energy “wave farm”.

    That’s good news, of course, but on the other hand, it’s a bit disappointing that after all these years, alternative energy plans are still always in the form of giant “farms” or “complexes”. Shouldn’t we have small solar collectors or wind generators on individual houses by now, instead of giant, centralized facilities?

    Keeping energy huge and centralized just tends to keep it in the hands of energy companies.

    And duh, that’s not alternative.

    (Link via Sploid.)

    WELCOME!

    Friday, May 20th, 2005

    Welcome, visitors from The Presurfer!

    The blog’s not quite ready yet, so check out my old blog, which I plan to keep going for the forseeable future …

    But definitely bookmark this page, because it WILL develop …