Month: September 2015
I got the Jack
I enjoy the song at the ending credits of Bojack Horseman. In this Netflix cartoon show, Will Arnett plays a has been, washed up actor from 1990’s sitcoms in which he plays a horse. I am comfortable with him this way, and it ranks among the face cards in a deck of Will Arnett-themed playing cards.
I came to this conclusion because I tend to always see Arnett as different versions of Gob Bluth from Arrested Development. In 30 Rock he played the villainous Devon Banks. Although wearing more expensive suits and even more frustrated at his own incompetence, Will just seemed to be playing a version of Gob that exists on a darker time line. So the cartoon version of Will Arnett in horse form is an easy re-calibration of him into the Bojack of Gobs.
The single most important part of my day is when I am alone in my car driving to work. Alone I listen to the thoughts of the day and prepare my thoughts, getting some interesting fodder for future talking points. This format, sitting in car listening to the radio, is a place I have been many times, and the first thing that I remember when I wonder why it is so important to me is that I feel like everyone is a blank slate.
We all start out the day in much the same way as Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. We all get to wake up, hit the snooze alarm, take a shower, drive to work, and all this is not often imitated purposefully, but is often the same process through which our bodies go every day. I feel lots of times in my life I am just carrying myself from one place to the next, in my pod, which happens to be a red pickup truck. Tons of places later, I still have my little space ship to listen to whatever I want, retort aloud to some ridiculous thing I heard on the radio, and no one can touch me. I feel it is a bit like living in the vacuum of space, where there is no feedback but one’s own input.
I feel like this isn’t the first thing I thought about when trying to answer why I ranked radio as my favorite form of media. I feel a little hesitant to admit that I instantly recalled that day fifteen years ago when I had just filled up my car at the gas station. I had been listening to the radio describe a plane that had flown into the World Trade tower. I recall in my mind, but maybe not on the radio the shape of the plane. Was it a cessna? Who was the pilot? Was he flying too low and missed his mark over the building, or was it engine failure? I flew that plane in my mind, thinking about how many people fly everyday, so what’s so different about this flight that he crashed?
After thinking those thoughts I got back in my car and drove over to the library. I remember talking to one of the librarians, or maybe she just spoke into the air, about there being two planes. How moments after I had gotten into my car, a second plane had hit. I remember the rest of that day in trips I took around the city, wondering about the tallest buildings in the country, and how many of them were safe. I remember thinking about moving to Canada. I ran around town with my thoughts in my little balloon and I was afforded the luxury of having no one else say anything back, no one else to wonder, except me.
There lies a steel drving man.
I used to worry more about automation. Where humans were John Henry and robots represented the steam engine, I envisioned an end-of-days scenario that played out like a man holding a hammer having just been beat by a locomotive. The symbolism in this story is that computers, the ever-present sidekick in the process of mechanization, are all too often taking the wheel in slow but steady ways. I look around and see Red Box, a computerized kiosk that provides movie goers with DVDs to take home for a night or two. There is no human there, simply an invisible hand that helps paying customers reach their dream of autonomous consumption.
By autonomous, I mean the person who wants to buy something does not need to interact with a human interface. Rather, one can simply press a series of buttons to get the prize. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime are much the same way, providing online streaming and/or physical copies of TV entertainment in exchange for a fee. You do not even have to leave your home, let alone say hello to another person. You’d think we were all extinct. To some people all this mechanized labor translates into a good thing: convenience, autonomy, and faster service. To others, it means you are out of a job. How people are affected by computerization will inform their impression of technology, good or bad.
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s my mother was a bookkeeper. This is one profession that has largely disappeared due to computers. Sure, there’s still someone who calls in asking for hours so we all get paychecks, but the proprietary software one could order off Amazon provides a more than adequate stand-in for an accountant. The formulas that extract income tax, exact wages, calculate FICA tax, are all standard features, and are arguably more accurate than any human hand.
Another job that has gone missing thanks to computers is the meat laborer. Although the centralized system that the FDA allows permits computerized factories to act like farms, this is not unlike the robots taking away your mothers’ jobs.
If you follow the food chain back from those shrink-wrapped packages of meat, you find a very different reality. The reality is a factory. It's not a farm. It's a factory. That meat is being processed by huge multinational corporations that have very little to do with ranches and farmers. Now your food is coming from enormous assembly lines...You've got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system. ("Food, Inc.," n.d.)
"In the 1970s, the top five beef-packers controlled only about 25% of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80% of the market" ("Food, Inc.," n.d.). The engineers in the factory farming industry deal with problems so the consumer does not have to deal with them. Eldon Roth explains how he remotely controls all of his meat packing plants from a single location. Although this demonstrates the modern convenience of computer technology, it also illustrates how through the process of mass production certain important details are overlooked. Eldon Roth says,
This is our operations center. We control all of our plants from here. Where's Chicago? Here's Chicago, Georgia, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, L.A., Ohio. We control all levels of the gearboxes, the speed of motors--we can change those all from here. We built something that--from a food-safety standpoint, we think we're ahead of everybody. We think we can lessen the incidents of E. coli 0157:h7. But I just started working with ammonia and ammonia hydroxide. Ammonia kills bacteria, so it became a processing tool. I'm really a mechanic. That's really what I am. We design our own machinery. ("Food, Inc.," n.d.)
The USDA signed off on the procedure of bathing beef in ammonia in order to clean it. Although I don’t think there would be a better way to clean laundry, this method for ridding red meat of impurities seems lie a sanctioned way of permitting poison into the food chain. Many people may have never heard of Eldon Roth, but may know him for his invention of finely textured beef, otherwise known as pink slime. The media coverage of this led to bans in school lunch menus and a public backlash that nearly dissolved Roth’s livelihood (Campbell & Gruley, 2012). This is one of the major setbacks of factory farming: it has to deal with the problem of feeding massive amounts of people. When you have cows who eat corn, this produces E coli in their gut (“Food, Inc.,” n.d.). As a result, when they are sent to be slaughtered, their hides are covered in waste, so the E coli gets washed into the meat (“Food, Inc.,” n.d.).
Why can’t we just feed the cows grass instead of corn, you ask? Two reasons prevent our break from corn: the federal government subsidizes farmers for growing corn. They have so much corn they feed it to the cows. It’s an easy solution for them. They’re getting paid to feed their livestock. Also, corn fattens up cows. It is a carbohydrate that is rich in empty calories. What it does is boost your blood sugar levels over a short period of time. The unused calories get stored as fat. Then the body crashes and craves more corn. The more corn you eat, the more weight you gain. Corn is just a cheap and simple way to fatten up the food supply, and computer farming helps, in its own way, by filling massive demands for the world’s consumption of meat. We shall see how future legislation and regulation will change the way factory farming works. Who knows? Maybe the federal government will subsidize grass, and we’ll start seeing more grass-fed beef. Or the more likely outcome will come about through consumer demands for change through boycott and selective consumption.
Campbell, E. and Gruley, B. 2012. The Sliming of Pink Slime’s Creator. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2012-04-12/the-sliming-of-pink-slimes-creator
Food, Inc. Script – Dialogue Transcript. n.d. Retrieved from http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/f/food-inc-script-transcript.html
I’ve been yelping for a while and I never used to do it, but I think it just emerged as a pattern for me. I like to give only positive reviews. It’s not that I’ll give them on purpose, but I will tend to give whatever bad experience I may have had a cooling off period. I feel like sometimes I get into this vortex wherein all my feelings build upon themselves, forming this spiraling inferno that is not complimentary and does not really do much but to create negativity. Instead of this, I’ll ignore those feelings and go back to the place again after a few months and then decide if I like the place. Although statistically unlikely, I often feel like the best time you could possibly have is bound to happen, or could happen next time.
While I was writing this I remembered a review for pizza that is in an episode of the TV show Community.
I have never been part of a focus group, but I have an idea in my mind of how one would work. In one of my favorite TV shows, 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin’s character leads a focus group asking which new name would be best for The Girly Show wherein Jack Donaghy flashes a carton of hot pizza in front of a group of people, saying,
“If you say you like TGS better, I’ll give you some pizza. Everyone likes pizza.”
And herein lies the focus group: there is a point on the Venn Diagram in which what you want to hear and what they want to know correlates with free food.
The Man Who Got No Whammies
“Winning that game show was the start of [Michael’s] downfall,” Larson’s brother, James, would later say. “It made him think he could trick anybody, and do just about anything he pleased.”
But it was also a feat that brought out the best in a man who was otherwise a delinquent: Recognizing the board’s flaws required keen observation skills. Mastering the timing of the generator took a unique combination of patience, dedication, and can-do mentality. And performing under pressure in front of a live studio audience demanded a special breed of composure.
In many ways, “gaming” Press Your Luck was the most honest endeavor Michael Larson ever undertook.
This story was written by Zachary Crockett.
Source: The Man Who Got No Whammies
Changing the headline
When I think about security, I wonder about how things are affected by it. Simply from the appearance of something feeling safe, one might do a number of things: take a walk at dusk; let a baby pet a pit bull; use a zip line over a thirty feet drop over rocks. At one time or another, someone decided these things were OK to do so they did them. Without the appearance of something being dangerous, someone still might reflect on those risks and brave the consequences. You don’t have to be brave to do them, but knowing what you do can result in injury is one component that someone may or may not consider before doing anything.
I know a girl who rode a zip line in Vermont who fell onto a pile of rocks. She suffered a concussion that changed her ability to process loud noises. For a year and a half after the fall, she could not read or use the computer for more than minutes at a time. She could not be in the same room as two other people who were speaking in regular volume. Indoor lights bothered her, so she wore sunglasses during the day. Before her accident, she was able to process sound, read books, and log onto Facebook without experiencing illness or needing to wear protective eyewear. She could run, jump, and yell and she was like a wild animal, but her injury changed her, if for a moment.
I feel like people know so much nowadays, about the dangers of things. The risks involved in anything are so great. We know how in an instant all we thought to be guaranteed might vanish or somehow slip away. This is not unlike how when we use the computer, we assume things will be secure. The simple click of a button affords us this. Now and again I realize how with simplicity I rely on convenience to be there, technology never to fail, and people to go on how they did the day before and the day before that.
Because as people we are reliant on our past experiences to help predict future outcomes, since yesterday was somehow fine, I am confident that tomorrow will be the same way. This is a human error, how we can be so over-confident on the future based on past results. This is how people can do seemingly silly things based on the appearance of security, the mark of one day being measured by the prior day’s success. What we can see with our failed logic is a pattern that reads similarly to a gambler in a casino, or a thrill seeker in life. The measure of security is not from the precautions we have taken to assure we are immune to threat, but the ignorance of real attacks that might happen in the absence of any precaution whatsoever.
The inability for people who use wireless technology to protect their connection is a gamble that everyone takes. In a study published in the Communications of the ACM, Chenowith, Minch, and Tabor used a college campus to study the behavior (Chenowith, Minch, & Tabor, 2006, p. 135). The study examined “wireless user vulnerabilities” and “security practices” in an attempt at measuring the users whose connections are not protected (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135). The study also tallied the wireless devices “compromised by malicious applications”, such as viruses, worms, and surveillance software (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135).
Our goal was to directly investigate how well wireless users are securing their computers and the threat level associated with wireless networks. Using a university campus wireless network, we performed a vulnerability scan of systems shortly after users associated to campus access points. The scans were performed using Nmap (www.insecure.org), a popular open source scanning tool. The results of the Nmap scans were used to determine the proportion of wireless users not using a firewall, the prevalence of malicious applications, and the proportion of users with open ports. (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135)
The reason the surveyors used the population they did was its direct representation of use of wireless networks by the general population. Other than user authentication, there are no security measures (such as WEP) in place on the wireless network, although users agree at login that their system patches are current, that they are using an anti- virus program, and that they understand they are subject to university computing policies (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135). If users desire additional security, they must provide it themselves (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135). This environment of minimal network-level security and heavy reliance on user initiative makes the campus wireless network reasonably representative of public hotspot-based wireless networks in general (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135).
Subjects for the study were authorized users of the campus wireless network. The total university population includes 18,599 students and approximately 2,100 faculty and staff. The university is a commuter campus with a non-traditional population of 15,779 undergraduate students (average age 26) and 1,663 graduate students (average age 36), with 54% female and 45% male (1% unspecified). Most students live off campus, and many have part-time jobs or full-time careers, often with one of several local high-tech firms. We view the non-traditional nature of the student subjects as a positive factor for the study as we believe it makes them more representative of the general public and workforce than traditional students would be. (Chenowith, et al, 2006, p. 135)
Since the study is a mirror of the real world, the results are used as a measurement of the steps people take or do not take to secure their wireless connections in the general population.
The results of the study are illuminating. The data of the Nmap scan shows that 304 computers (9.13% of the 3,331 computers) were not using a firewall (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136). Even with a firewall enabled, systems can have open ports (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136).
Since any open port is a potential security risk (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136), the study measured open ports, and found 287 computers (8.62% ) scanned had at least one detectable open port (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136). Of the 287 computers with detectable open ports, 189 (65.85%) had at least one open port with well-known vulnerabilities. Of the 287 computers with detectable open ports, 98 (34.15%) had no open ports with well-known vulnerabilities (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136). Simply put, when a user had open ports, more than 65% of the time at least one of these was a port that posed an important security risk (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136).
The most frequently open ports are also some of the most dangerous. The top three open ports were designed for file and print sharing across computer clusters and can potentially be exploited by attackers through null sessions. (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136)
Individual systems can use “null sessions” (no username or password required) to establish connections between computers using these ports. It is well known within the security community that it is possible for an attacker to exploit null sessions and gain access to a system through one of these ports. (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 135)
Malware can do a lot of things, including keystroke logging, username and password detection, and online monitoring of web activity. What this does is allow someone else besides yourself to silently view and capture your personal information, including credit card accounts, personal emails, google search history, and social security number.
A total of 17 computers (0.5% of the computers scanned) had at least one malware application installed. Although a small number relative to the total number of wireless users, the existence of malware is important because any one of these infected systems may be used to launch attacks against the larger client population. (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136)
Many infected computers had multiple malware applications present. Of particular interest, and somewhat alarming, is the presence of network monitoring and packet sniffing applications. Of the 17 infected computers, 12 also had at least one network monitoring/packet sniffing application. The most common network monitoring tools found were Nessus, Bigbrother, and Netsaint. (Chenowith, et al., 2006, p. 136)
Are the vulnerabilities in a system consistent within every user? No. However, on shared networks, the connection is only as secure as its most vulnerable link. In the cases where 17 computers were already infected with malware, these hubs were bastions for potential attacks on every other computer in all 3,331 computers. If everyone is as ignorant as the least protected user, then everyone is under threat of attack.
Is the technology worth the risk? This question is asked in a more meaningful way, especially when users who also carry work laptops and mobile devices with them outside of work expose their company to security breaches. The threat is real, but the question remains. Is it worth it? Do you feel lucky? I am reminded of so many things when I think about this risk, among them an episode of the NBC TV show 30 Rock. In one episode, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) are talking about how to change the public’s perception of Tracy.
Everyone thought Prince Hal was a drunken wastrel. But when he became king he transformed himself into a wise and just ruler. He changed the headline. That’s what you have to do, Tracy. If you’re open to it, I’m very good at giving advice. For instance, with your obit[uary] problem. You’ve spent years creating a certain public image, but you can change that. You just have to do what Prince Hal did.
You know something, Jackie D? That thing I said earlier about Prince Hal got me thinking. I have to change my headline.
Yes, that’s what I just said. Now if I can help you…
No, no, no Jackie D. I don’t need your help. I’m Tracy Jordan. When I go to sleep, nothing happens in the world. (Gentlemen’s Intermission)
Sometimes we all want to be Prince Hal. If we go to sleep, nothing happens in the world. We are not at risk. Nothing bad happens. This is the same approach that so many take when securing their computers at home. If the risk never comes to bear, it all might be best left to chance.
Chenowith, T., Minch, R., & Tabor, S. (2010). Wireless Insecurity: Examining User
Security Behavior on Public Networks. Communications of the ACM, 53(2), 134-138. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=043d2ad0-0c4c-47a3-b75a-0d0faef42c18%40sessionmgr4004&vid=1&hid=4210.
Gentleman’s Intermission. (2015). Retrieved from
I bought a pair of shoes at the Salvation Army last week. It was the last thing I bought from that store before it closed. I guess I didn’t realize it was empty when I rolled into the parking lot yesterday. As I sat in my truck, I waited for a moment, sipping a Frappuccino. I watched a man wheel another man in a wheelchair. The automatic door swung open on an empty line of white walls with nothing on them. The pictures were no longer hanging, and racks of missing clothing revealed the floors were white.
It looked more like a clinic, or a place where people go to get well, a hospital with no beds, from what I could make out. A man just inside with a blue apron on sent the customers back to their car and they wheeled out, on their way, past this old, dead building. They didn’t need this place anymore. It served no purpose to them.
You wouldn’t know it from looking at it that it was closed, but you never could really see into that place. The windows were mirrors that reflected light onto cellophane back in a crackly, flashbulb hue. I could never really see into the store front, but I always assumed it would be open. I don’t know why, but it makes me think about how sad it is when your favorite stores close, sadness that turns into a mystery of why a place came to be, or how it was ever there in the first place.
This sad wonder only adds myth to the legend of a place long gone. So often it is that when we look up at the stars at night we do not see the light of today, but rather light centuries back, pushing into reverse, into being the days of Abraham Lincoln or some dead saint. What we hoped would always be there is not but ancient dust reflecting back for your eyes to behold, at least for a moment.
And I think about the times I was there, what I bought there that has provided meaning and significance to my life, and the life of things. What I can know and see I can buy, and that says a lot to the testament of belongings. That I can still wear that T-shirt with the rainbow color bars in the shape of an Apple icon says something. I bought that shirt there, and I think it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever bought for various reasons: because it’s a dead logo; Apple discontinued the colored bars apple design in 1999; because I still place value on the Apple brand; and much of what I have purchased in the past five years, excluding my education, has been Apple products. Because I think that what I buy makes me a bit cooler than who I am, it’s the wonder in a disgruntled realization that makes me who I am; not me, actually.
What we can see in things is a testament to the reality of now, how in computers we can have a second sense. With the use of subtle instruments, one can monitor connections, crossing other networks into the great unknown. For this week’s research, I examined three computer monitoring software devices: Wireshark, Pandora FMS, and Angry IP Scanner.
Wireshark is a free, online network monitoring tool usable on either a Linux, PC, or Mac operating system (Hak5, 2012). You can inspect data passing through your interface, whether it be Ethernet, LAN, or wireless radio (Hak5, 2012). Wireshark can open and decode the data packets in the TCP/IP layer (Hak5, 2012). Administrators can determine whether the data is being sent securely, and, conversely, Wireshark can be used by hackers on an open network or company computers (Hak5, 2012).
This monitoring tool shows much of what a network traceroute will show: the flow of traffic, where data gets congested, and in which node the data transmission stops (routergods, 2014). Wireshark offers a feature called Interface List, which displays which devices are sending packets and analyzes the data (Hak5, 2012). You can view the source IP address; view by modes, i.e. by monitor mode, which shows you all traffic that the Wi-Fi adapter can receive, in addition to the IEEE 802.11 headers or radio information, or promiscuous mode, which allows the network adapter to capture all traffic that network, above and beyond the traffic sent to its own network address; also filter information by very specific parameters, including by website and update data using real time (Hak5, 2012).
Contrasting Wireshark with Pandora FMS, the two are different in several ways. Pandora FMS lets you create a network agent, which is lets you independently view and monitor activity from the network of your choice (Pandora FMS, 2012a). What’s quite different from Wireshark is Pandora FMS compiles useful and visually pleasing charts, graphs, reports, and predictive diagrams based on current and future data (Pandora FMS, 2012b). This feature makes the information sticky and reusable for corporations and small businesses whose IT department may depend on such vital information. Pandora FMS costs nothing and allows you to keep track of applications and communications, sends alerts based on specific events and send notifications to administrators (Pandora FMS, 2012a), and is a cross-platform option that runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows (Pandora FMS, 2012a).
A third type of network monitoring tool is Angry IP Scanner, which, in contrast of the previous two options, is free and requires no installation (Rajaram, 2012). It is an executable file that can be executed from a USB flash drive. By definition, IP scanning allows you to scan a network to locate network devices and other nodes on a network (Rajaram, 2012). The main purpose of using IP scanning software is to find out whether or not a specific node is active on a network (Rajaram, 2012). Scanning involves pinging an IP address, port scanning, and gathering specific information (Rajaram, 2012). The following information can be found using IP scanning: status of node, dead or alive; packet round-trip time; host name and domain names using DNS reverse lookup of the IP address; NetBIOS information; operating system type and version; TCP ports opened on a node (Rajaram, 2012). Angry IP Scanner can be used to monitor one’s own devices, and also as an offensive tool to prey on unsuspecting open ports of other networks.
So much of life is mulling through the detritus until we salvage meaning, which has been the key to unlocking so many unknowns. The unknowable variable in any constant is your own mind, so taking comfort in a thing relieves some of the angst and fear of all your own, unexplored space.
My shoes are printed space. There is a photograph of the Milky Way that was printed onto this pair of Vans with white soles and black laces. I stare at them now and lose myself in them, staring into my own shoes as if they have the answers that I can stare into like an abyss and retrieve something, make up for the lost time of my misspent life, travail into my imagination and bring back someone’s favorite hat or a misplaced set of keys. Sometimes I like to think there is a missing plane of existence that everyone hops into and out of, intermittently, through the ages, and this place is for everyone, leaves no one out, and rebuilds something that is not there.
Hak5. 2012. How to Capture Packets with Wireshark – Getting Started. Retrieved from
Pandora FMS. 2012a. Pandora FMS – Video Tutorial – 02 – Monitoring setup. Retrieved
Pandora FMS. 2012b. Pandora FMS – Video Tutorial – 05 – Remote access. Retrieved
Rajaram, Kevin. 2012. How to use Angry IP Scanner. Retrieved from
Routergods. 2014. Wireshark Certified Network Analyst Class #1. Retrieved from