Archive for the ‘project_e’ Category

More on Blue Hydra.

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Earlier, I wrote “It runs! It works! Mostly. Kind of.”

I’ve been banging on Blue Hydra in my spare time since Thursday, and I stand by that statement. Here’s what I’ve run into so far.

The README is pretty clear, and I didn’t have any problems installing the required packages. (I don’t have an Ubertooth, so I skipped that one. We’ll come back to the Ubertooth later.)

First problem, which was actually very tiny: I know next to nothing about Ruby, other than that cartoon foxes are somehow involved, so the phrase “With ruby installed add the bundler gem” was more like “I don’t speak your crazy moon language”. Google cleared that up pretty quickly: the magic words are gem install bundler.

Next problem: running bundle install resulted in an error stating that it couldn’t find the Ruby header files. It turns out that, while my Ubuntu installation had Ruby 2.1 installed, it didn’t have the ruby-dev package installed. sudo apt-get install ruby-dev fixed that issue.

Next problem: the SQLIte Ruby gem failed to install when I ran bundle install. It turns out that I also needed the sqlite3-dev package as well. And with that installed, the bundle built, and I could do ./bin/blue_hydra.

Which gave an error stating that it didn’t have permissions to open a handle for write. Okay, let’s try sudo ./bin/blue_hydra (because I always run code from strangers as root on my machine; everyone knows strangers have the best candy). And that actually worked: Blue Hydra launched and ran just fine. In fairness, this may be a configuration issue on my machine, and not an issue with the software itself.

In playing with it, I’ve found that it does what it claims to do. Sort of. It’s been able to detect devices in my small lab environment with Bluetooth discovery turned off, which is impressive. I also like the fact that it stores data into an SQLite database; other Bluetooth scanning tools I’ve played with didn’t do that.

However, it seems to take a while to detect my iPhone; in some instances, it doesn’t detect it at all until I go into Settings->Bluetooth. Once I’m in the Bluetooth settings, even if I don’t make a change, Blue Hydra seems to pick up the iPhone. Blue Hydra also has totally failed to detect another smart phone in my small lab environment (and I have verified that Bluetooth was both on and set to discoverable.)

Now, to be fair, there may be some other things going on:

  • I’ve also observed previously that Bluetooth under Ubuntu 15.10 didn’t work very well. At all. So at one point on Saturday, just for giggles, I upgraded Project e to Ubuntu 16.01.1 LTS. And shockingly (at least for me) Bluetooth works much much better. As in, I can actually pair my phone with Ubuntu and do other Bluetooth related stuff that didn’t work with 15.10. That seems to have mitigated the discovery issues I was seeing with Blue Hydra a little, but not as much as I would have liked. (Edited to add 8/8: Forgot to mention: after I upgraded, I did have to rerun bundle install to get Blue Hydra working again. But the second time, it ran without incident or error, and Blue Hydra worked immediately aftewards (though it still required root).)
  • I was using the Asus built-in Bluetooth adapter in my testing. Also just for giggles, I switched Blue Hydra to use an external USB adapter as well. That didn’t seem to make a difference.
  • In fairness, Blue Hydra may be designed to work best with an Ubertooth One. The temptation is great to pick one of those up. It is also tempting to pick up a BCM20702A0 based external adapter (like this one) partly to see if that works better, partly because I don’t have a Bluetooth LE compatible adapter (and this one is cheap) and partly because the Bluetooth lock stuff is based on that adapter. (Edited to add 8/8: I’m also tempted by this Sena UD100 adapter. It is a little more expensive, but also high power and has a SMA antenna connector. That could be useful.)
  • It may also be that I have an unreasonable expectation. Project e is seven years old at this point, and, while it still runs Ubuntu reasonably well, I do feel some slowness. Also, I think the battery life is slipping, and I’m not sure if replacements are available. I’ve been thinking off and on about replacing it with something gently used from Discount Electronics: something like a Core i5 or Core i7 machine with USB3 and a GPU that will work with hashcat. Maybe. We’ll see. Point is, some of my issues may just be “limits of old hardware” rather than bugs.
  • And who knows? There may very well be some bugs that get fixed after DEFCON.

tl, dr: Blue Hydra is nice, but I’m not yet convinced it is the second coming of Christ that I’ve been waiting for.

New toy! New project!

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

I was out and about earlier today with my mom and my nephew: we stopped by Hobby Lobby because I was looking for something. I’ll be posting about that something later on, but while we were there, I found one of these and ended up getting a screaming deal on it with the 40% off coupon.

Which is great, but that looks like a manual control box, right? How do you control it with a PC? Lots of soldering and a custom circuit board?

Ah. Nope. They have a USB device interface for the OWI-535. Isn’t that nifty?

But wait! The included software only runs on a PC! How do you control it with a Mac, or a LINUX system?

Surprise! People have reverse-engineered the control protocol! For example, this guy! (I love that blog title, by the way.) It looks like most of the other control examples I’ve found all loop back to Vadim Zaliva’s work documenting the protocol for the OWI-535. (He’s also documented the control protocol for the OWI-007 here.)

And look! Here’s control code in Python. running on a Raspberry Pi! Isn’t that a clever cleaver!

We’ll see if I can get the arm together and working without breaking it. Bad news: I don’t have that much mechanical aptitude. Good news: they claim all you need is needle-nosed pliers, diagonal cutters, and a Phillips screwdriver. No soldering required, which is good. I could probably solder my way out of a paper bag if someone held a gun to my head, but I’ve never been what you could call “good”, or even “competent” at it…

(As a side note, I’ve been trying to get back to “Talkin’ GPS Blues“. Unfortunately, I also decided to upgrade Project e to Ubuntu 15.10…and Bluetooth apparently doesn’t work well on 15.10, at least as of when I completed the upgrade. So once I get Bluetooth working again, and have some more time, I intend to revisit GPS, this time with some skanky Perl, Python, and possibly even Java code. We’ll see.)

After action report: Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Monday, November 17th, 2014

I’ve sort of hinted at this, but now the full story can be told.

Mike the Musicologist and I went on a road trip to Oklahoma the weekend of November 8th.


On the road again…

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Heading home. Travel day. In the meantime:

1. Go read this post by Tam. There are echos in it of something some less smart person wrote a couple of years ago.

2. I didn’t realize until the middle of last week that this year is the 50th anniversary of the .41 Magnum. (Ask me about my Model 57.)

3. I took a fair number of photos yesterday while running around with my aunt and uncle (who graciously drove the two hours each way from Cleveland to spend part of the day with me; thanks again, guys!). I’m waiting until I get back to do the post-processing and uploading, but I thought I’d throw one up here that I played with last night.


I took this with the D40X and the 18-55 kit zoom. It was cropped and the exposure adjusted slightly using Shotwell on Project e. I’m actually pretty happy with the end product, though I may make a second pass over it once I’m in front of iPhoto.

Ubuntu blues.

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Documenting this here for the record.

I think I have finally resolved the “the system is running in low graphics mode” error I’ve been getting on Project e (which, I will remind you, is an Asus 1005HA with an integrated Intel 950 graphics adapter) since upgrading to Ubuntu 13.04.

This particular document is comprehensive and ultimately useless. I tried every suggestion in it, with no success at all.

What finally seems to have resolved the problem was a suggestion in this thread. Specifically, brucey99’s suggestion to edit /etc/init/lightdm.conf and add

sleep 10


exec lightdm

seems to have done the trick. (I used “sleep 20” instead of “sleep 10”. What’s the harm, 10 seconds more boot time? I can always change it later.)

It also seems like the

sudo service lightdm restart

command from a terminal window works to get things back to normal if the machine does start in low graphics mode.

And I’m not sure it made any difference, but just to document: I also created a xorg.conf file (from xorg.conf.failsafe) and edited the “Device” section:

Section "Device"
Identifier "Intel Graphics"
Driver "intel"
Option "AccelMethod" "UXA"

After restarting about a half-dozen times, it hasn’t come up in low graphics mode yet. I’ll see how it goes.

As David Brin once said, “Let the next guy know what killed you.” And thanks, brucey99.

Stuff and things.

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Last week was not a good week. This coming week is shaping up to be pretty hectic (though I am hoping not as personally unpleasant), so there may be a blogging slowdown.

I spent all day yesterday at the 2013 edition of the Texas LINUX Fest. I haven’t been since 2010, but that had less to do with my frustrations with the 2010 organization and more to do with personal issues. (In 2011, that just turned out to be a bad weekend, with having to get my car inspected and deal with other things. Last year, it was in San Antonio; while that may be a welcome change of pace, the schedule wasn’t compelling enough to make me drive 150 miles round trip.)

I thought about doing detailed summaries of each session I attended, but frankly I’m a little worn out and a little lazy. I’d rather mention a handful of panels I did like. (There were some others that I went to, but don’t feel I can fairly evaluate because they weren’t what I was expecting, or I was distracted by other issues (see below), or, in one case, I just think it’d be a jerk move to badmouth the presenter.)

I really enjoyed Theo Schlossnagle’s “Scaling: Lessons Learned and Their Applications to Apache Culture” keynote speech, which covered a lot of good points about complex systems. He sees commonalities between building scalable systems and building communities to support them. Many of the points he made may not be hot news flashes but are worth repeating. Among those:

  • People get so caught up in how awesome it it to build stuff that they forget what the real world looks like.
  • Code is just a tool. It isn’t a child or a family member. You don’t have loyalty to it.
  • Engineers have a tendency to focus on the technology they love instead of the actual problems they face.
  • At the core of things, your job is to tell the computer what to do.
  • Unbalanced hyperspecialization leads to poorly constructed solutions.
  • The biggest challenge is that increasing scale and increasing performance demands lead to increased complexity.
  • Technological complexity is an emergent property of complex and changing business problems. This complexity has to be understood and managed, which is difficult for specialists.
  • If you don’t provide value, your [stuff] doesn’t matter.
  • In order to survive, we need generalists. Schlossnagle didn’t quote Heinlein, but he might as well have.

David Stokes from Oracle did what I thought was an excellent talk on “The Proper Care and Feeding of a MySQL Database”. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been dabbling in MySQL, so I got a lot out of this. Some of it may have been obvious (more RAM, more disks, good things. Use decent hardware, not something you scavenged from the admin assistant because it was too slow to run the latest Office), but the two things we learn from history are that too many people don’t learn from history, and that the obvious often isn’t.

Philip Ballew’s “Ubuntu; Where We Were, and Where We Are” presentation was…amusing, shall we say, mostly for the level of skepticism directed at Ballew from the audience, many of whom seem to be skeptical about recent Ubuntu decisions like the replacement of X. I’m becoming increasingly skeptical of Ubuntu myself; I just upgraded to 13.04, and now I’m running into the “The system is running in low-graphics mode” error, which I haven’t had time to fully debug. The worst part is that I’m getting this only intermittently; I think it may be a timing issue, possibly with some Virtual Box kernel extensions.

Owen Delong’s “IPv6 – It’s Easy on LINUX” presentation was also very good. I haven’t even started to configure my systems for IPv6 (and I’m not sure everything supports it: I’m sure about the Mac and Project e, but less sure about some older gear), so I found Delong’s talk useful. I was surprised, though, that there was even more hostility and skepticism from the crowd than there was at the Ubuntu panel. Why is IPv6 an issue in 2013? And many of the questions from the crowd seemed to boil down to “How do I emulate this particular thing I do in IPv4 using IPv6, even though the reason this is needed in IPv4 is because we have a limited number of IPv4 addresses available, where in IPv6 we could give every single atom in the universe a unique address and not run out?”

Okay, that was a long question, but you get the point.

Brad Richardson’s “GPU based password recovery on LINUX” lightning talk is worth checking out. He was able to do the talk in about five minutes, instead of the allotted ten, and the subject is interesting; using reasonably priced GPUs, you can rapidly break MD5 hashes, orders of magnitude faster than throwing a general purpose CPU at the problem. (Richardson’s slides give specific performance figures: try 16 hours 46 minutes to brute-force a “8 character password with lowercase, uppercase, and numbers”, versus an estimated 36 days for a CPU based attack.)

Anyway. Tomorrow is the start (for me) of Yet Another Perl Conference 2013. (I registered for the conference itself, but couldn’t afford any of the training going on over the weekend or after the conference. Plus the training conflicted with the LINUX Fest.) I expect to be pretty tied up Monday through Wednesday, though I will try to blog from YAPC as downtime and network connectivity permits. I may even try to blog YAPC 2013 itself, but I can’t promise that.

Edited to add: Why did I not have a “Perl” category on this blog, but did have a “Python” category, given that I use Perl more often than Python? Fixed.

Edited to add 2: Thinking some more about it, it made sense to have a “Programming Languages” category and make Perl, Python, and others sub-categories below that. I’m still thinking about whether it makes sense to put the languages category under “CompSci”, but that way lies TJIC madness.

Edited to add 3: I realized there were two other points I wanted to make.

  1. I was much more favorably impressed with the organization of TXLF this year than I was in 2010. Of course, they’ve had four of these, so you would expect them to have the bugs fixed. Still, I was impressed at how smoothly almost everything from registration onwards ran. The only problem I saw was an unexplained 20 minute delay in the start of the lightning talks, but I didn’t feel that was a major issue.
  2. The quantity of tchotchkes available at TXLF? Very high. The quality of tchotchkes available? Still evaluating that, but I’m decently impressed. Favorites: the microfiber cleaning cloths from OrangeFS, and the SavvisDirect USB/12V adapters. Special mention goes to Hostgator, who were giving away a much wider variety of tchotchkes than any other single vendor.

Lessons learned.

Monday, August 6th, 2012

So…somebody I know was having problems with their netbook running Ubuntu.

The somebody in question decided (for good and sufficient reasons) that part of the problem might be due to them having done several upgrade installs of recent Ubuntu versions which left cruft on the system. This somebody thought the best thing to do was to make a backup of /home, reformat the box, and reinstall Ubuntu 12.04 from scratch, blowing away all the existing data and partitions.

Which they did.

The somebody in question had a MySQL database on the box that had somewhere around ~2,500 records in it. It was a fairly simple database, probably overkill for MySQL: one table, a few columns.

It turns out that MySQL doesn’t store databases in /home. MySQL stores databases in /var/lib/mysql by default, and the somebody in question never changed the default. (This vaguely makes sense if you think about it; after all, MySQL is intended to be a multi-user database, so why would you store databases under an individual user’s home directory by default?)

The somebody in question found this out after blowing everything away. And, of course, the somebody in question only backed up /home.

Fortunately, the database isn’t that important, and much of the data on it can be recovered from older .CSV files that were used to import the data into MySQL.

But next time, the somebody in question is going to backup every damn thing, not just /home.

The somebody in question is also going to try to get out of the habit of making assumptions about where things are stored.


Friday, August 3rd, 2012

In the DEFCON 20 day 2 notes discussing the ADS-B presentation by Renderman, I alluded to some work on using USB TV tuners to pick up ADS-B broadcasts.

I did a little more research on this earlier today, just to satisfy my own curiosity.

The RTL2832U outputs 8-bit I/Q-samples, and the highest theoretically possible sample-rate is 3.2 MS/s, however, the highest sample-rate without lost samples that has been tested so far is 2.8 MS/s. The frequency range is highly dependent of the used tuner, dongles that use the Elonics E4000 offer the widest possible range (64 – 1700 MHz with a gap from approx. 1100 – 1250 MHz). When used out-of-spec, a tuning range of approx. 50 MHz – 2.2 GHz is possible (with gap). [Emphasis in the original – DB]

Holy cow! I’ve been wanting to mess with software defined radio, but the $1,500 cost for hardware is a bit discouraging. This looks like an excellent way to get started for about $20 instead. The necessary software is linked from the rtl-sdr page, and you can even get a script that will build gnuradio with the proper components.

What has been successfully tested so far is the reception of Broadcast FM and air traffic AM radio, TETRA, GMR, GSM, ADS-B and POCSAG.


Edited to add 8/4: We are not amused. In the past two days, we have been to Fry’s. The shelves at Fry’s were almost completely stripped bare of USB TV adapters. We have also been to three different branches of Discount Electronics; none of them had any of the listed adapters. We have checked Google, and all of the adapters listed with the E4000 tuner do not appear to be available from vendors in the United States. The only adapter on rtl-sdr’s list that we were able to find was the Ezcap EZTV645 DVB-T Digital TV USB 2.0 Dongle with FM/DAB/Remote Controller which DealExtreme sells. However:

  1. There are conflicting reports as to whether this is the one rtl-sdr is talking about, and whether this one has the E4000 tuner.
  2. There are a lot of reports that DealExtreme is slow in shipping; as in, a month or longer.

I’ve ordered the Newsky TV28T that’s listed on the sysmocom site (linked from the rtl-sdr page). With shipping, it came out to 23.30 euros, or about $28.86 in dollars. That’s still well within my price range for tinkering with SDR. I’ll update when the device gets here.

In the meantime, if anyone has any GNURadio or general SDR tips, advice, or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in comments or shoot me an email. Contact addresses are in the usual place.

(And thanks, Borepatch.)

After action report: Las Vegas, NV 2012.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

I don’t have much new to report as far as equipment, but I do have a couple of notes on existing stuff. DEFCON for the past few years has run a “secure” network using MSCHAPv2 authentication.

  1. This worked fine on the Kindle Fire. I was able to log in and browse whenever the network was working. However, there seems to be some sort of bug in the Kindle Fire: after a certain amount of time, the wifi setting on the Fire would either stop responding completely (on/off switch wouldn’t do anything) or would immediately crash (with an error message) as soon as I tried to open the setting.
  2. The default Network Manager on Ubuntu 12.04 would not connect to the “secure” network at all, but just constantly brought up the authentication prompt. Google turned up more than a few reports of Ubuntu issues with Network Manager and MS-CHAPv2 authenticated networks, so it seems this is a known issue. I worked around this by downloading and installing wicd, which was able to connect. However, wicd does not appear to save network settings, so every time I wanted to connect to the network, I had to re-enter the configuration.

(In general, I’m seeing more and more problems with project e and Ubuntu 12.04. I suspect some of these may be issues caused by doing several upgrade installs in succession, so I may try doing a backup of /home, reformatting project e, and doing a scratch install and restore of 12.04.)

Food: I had excellent meals at Lotus of Siam (the sea bass drunken noodles) and at Piero’s Italian Cuisine, which is a very old-school Italian restaurant near the convention center.

That was some swell osso bucco. And I don’t think I paid much more for it than I paid for osso bucco at Ciola’s when they were still open.

I also broke with one of my rules and went back to Shabu Shabu Paradise again. In my defense:

  1. I really like these people and want them to be enormously successful.
  2. I haven’t been there since my last trip with Andrew and Mike the Musicologist.
  3. I kind of have a tiny little crush on the waitress. Who, by the way, recognized me from my previous visits, even though I was clean-shaven last time. (I think she’s married to the chef, so nothing’s going to come of that.)

I also had a good meal at Mint Indian Bistro, and very good breakfasts at Blueberry Hill on Flamingo and The Egg and I on Sahara. (The rule doesn’t apply to breakfast, as it is very very hard to find good breakfast places that aren’t casino buffets, Denny’s, or IHOPs in Vegas. If anybody does have a recommendation for a good breakfast place in Las Vegas, please feel free to drop it into the comments.)

I’ve been driving past Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas for years now, considering giving them a try and then not going after all. This time, thanks to Tam inspiring a German food craving in me, I thought I’d give it a shot. The verdict: meh. It wasn’t a horrible meal. The service was pleasant and efficient. But it seemed like I paid a fair amount of money for pretty average food. Walburg is better and cheaper and really not that bad a drive if I go there from work. (You’d be hard-pressed to spend $50+ at Walburg without either being too full to move or too drunk to drive.)

I drove past Flavor Flav’s House of Flavor several times (it is very close to my preferred ATM in Las Vegas, which, in turn, is far enough away from DEFCON that I’m not any more paranoid than usual about using that ATM), and I regret not getting a photo.

I did get some photos (but they didn’t come out well) of “Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer“. BBQ and beer? I can haz both?

(By the way, I was never offered a full can of soda on any of my Southwest flights. But I did get a full can of drinking water between PHX and AUS.)

Thanks to: Everyone at DEFCON 20 (staff, goons, presenters, and attendees), the folks at Shabu Shabu Paradise, Lotus of Siam, the Egg and I, Blueberry Hill, and Mint Indian Bistro, the Mob Museum, Amber Unicorn Books, Greyhound’s Books, Borepatch for linky-love, and anyone else I missed.

0-day DEFCON 20 notes.

Friday, July 27th, 2012

I got in line for my badge around 7:30 AM. Registration opened at 8 AM, according to the schedule.

I got my badge at 9:30 AM. I have no idea how many people were in line, but it was packed. We were told that folks started camping out for badges at 10:30 PM Wednesday night.

But, hey! I got mine!

After what was (in my opinion) last year’s badge fail, they went back to an electronic badge this year, still tied in to a “crypto-mystery” game, but at least the badge does something useful.

Or perhaps can do something useful, would be a better way of putting it. The designer calls it a “development platform”: there’s holes for I/O pins at the top, and we were issued VGA (1) and PS/2 connectors (2) with the badge to attach ourselves. And remember my inquiry a while back about microcontrollers? The badge CPU is a Parallax Propeller.

(I haven’t been able to get the badge and Project E talking yet. I suspect a bad or wrong USB cable.)

I hit two panels today. Worth noting is that today’s theme was “DEFCON 101”: there was only one programming track, and the theme of those items was more “introduction to” rather than “deep dive.”

DaKahuna’s “Wireless Security: Breaking Wireless Encryption Keys” wasn’t quite what I expected, in that he didn’t do a live demo. (Though he did suggest that there would be systems available for practice in the Wireless Village.) Rather, this was something of a “view from 10,000 feet” presentation, giving a basic introduction to hardware requirements and tools for attacking wireless keys, along with explanations of how WEP and WPA keys work, and where the vulnerabilities are. A lot of this stuff I already knew from my academic studies, but then again, I wasn’t the target audience here, and I did pick up a few tips.

The presenters for “Intro to Digital Forensics: Tools and Tactics” sold me in the first five minutes by pointing out that:

  • Not everyone knows everything.
  • It would behoove the community to stop acting like dicks when people ask reasonable questions, like “What switches should I use for NMap?”.

The presenters then proceeded to give example usages for what they considered to be the top five tools for testing and exploration:

  • The Metasploit framework, which they sadly ran out of time while discussing.
  • Ntop, the network traffic analyzer.
  • Nmap, for doing port scans and OS fingerprinting. For example:
    #nmap -v -sT -F -A -oG 10.x.x.x/24
    What does this mean?
    -v turns on verbose mode
    -sT forces NMap to do a full TCP connection to each host
    -F enables fast scan mode
    -A tells NMap to do OS fingerprinting
    -oG tells NMap to output in a format grep can work with,
    10.x.x.x/24 tells NMap the range of hosts to scan.
  • tcpdump, which captures packets on a given network interface.
    tcpdump -i eth1 -n -x
    -i specifies the interface
    -n turns off /etc/services translation, so instead of displaying the service name (ftp, telnet, etc.) it just shows the port number.
    -x dumps hex output to the screen
  • Netcat, which creates TCP sockets that can be used for communications between systems. But that’s a little misleading. Let’s say we have two systems, our localhost and a machine at On the .128 machine, we run:
    nc -l -p 2800 -e cmd.exe
    -l tells netcat to listen for a connection
    -p tells netcat to listen for that connection on port 2800
    -e tells netcat to run a command when a connection is made on that port: in this case, netcat will run cmd.exe.
    On the local system:
    nc 2800 connect
    which establishes a connection between our system and the remote system. The remote system will run cmd.exe, which (on a Windows system) should give us a command shell on the remote system that we can use from our localhost.

I took the rest of the day off to visit a couple of bookstores (both are still there, pretty much unchanged) and the Mob Museum.

My first thought was that $18 seems a bit stiff. Then again, the Atomic Testing Museum is $14, And the Mob Museum seems to have more people on staff, and may possibly be a little larger than the ATM. (I can’t tell for sure, but the Mob Musuem bascially has that entire building: all three floors.) ($5 for parking cheesed me off a bit, though.)

Anyway, while the Atomic Testing Museum is still my favorite Vegas musuem, the Mob Museum is well worth visiting, especially if you have an interest in organized crime in the United States. (Not just in Vegas, though that is a key focus; the museum also talks about organized crime in other areas, including NYC and Cleveland.) There is a lot of emphasis on Estes Kefauver, perhaps just a little more than I thought was warranted.(I admit, I chuckled at the “Oscar Goodman” display.)

Two things that surprised me:

  1. The number of families with small children at the Mob Museum. Parents, would you take your kids to a museum devoted to organized crime? (There’s some pretty graphic stuff, but the Museum confines it all to one section, warns you before you enter the section, and gives you an option to skip past it.) (And I feel kind of hypocritical saying this: if my parents had taken me to the Mob Museum when I was, say, 10, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me out of there.)
  2. The popularity among small children of the firearms simulator. Kids were having a lot of fun pretending to be cops, running through various scenarios (like a domestic dispute) and busting caps in bad guys. (I didn’t tell any of the kids that, had they actually been out on the street, they’d be dead before they got their first shot off. Do I look like an asshole?)

Tomorrow is when things start for real. Look for an update, but probably late in the evening.

(Oh, I did want to mention Chad Everett’s death yesterday, but I was using the Kindle to blog, which was a pain, and things got kind of sideways leaving LAX and arriving in Vegas, so consider this your obit watch.)

I heartily endorse this event or product. (#7 in a series)

Friday, February 3rd, 2012


Back in May of last year, I wrote about upgrading my wireless router to a dual-band Netgear WNDR3700, and the problem posed by the lack of a dual-band wireless adapter in the Project e netbook.

Since then, I’ve been looking for a dual-band 2.4GHz – 5GHz 802.11N USB adapter that was fully supported by Ubuntu out of the box; no NDIS wrapper, just straight plug it in and have it work. I actually bought and returned one adapter that ended up not meeting those requirements. I kept looking, and kept beating my head against a wall.

The last time the issue came up, I noticed a mention of ThinkPenguin on the Ubuntu “WifiDocs/WirelessCardsSupported” page. “Okay,” I said to myself. “Why not check to see what they have?”

Sure enough, ThinkPenguin offered a dual-band USB wireless 802.11N adapter that they claimed would work right out of the box with all current versions of Ubuntu. It was a little more expensive than the 802.11N adapters that you find on sale at Fry’s, but by this point I was willing to pay a few extra dollars for something that would Just. Freaking. Work. So I placed an order.

I picked up the adapter last night, booted up the netbook, plugged it in, and…

…It. Just. Works. Right out of the box. Ubuntu had no problems recognizing the device, I had no problems connecting to my 5 GHz network (even without external antennas; more on this in a moment), and I’m getting the expected substantial speed improvement. If I get a chance, I’ll see if I can post some direct speed comparisons between ThinkPenguin’s adapter and the Asus built-in one.

I’ve also had occasion to communicate with ThinkPenguin support, and I was extremely impressed with the speed of their response; using their online support form, I got a response back to my questions in less than one hour. I consider that outstanding.

I will concede, as I said above, that ThinkPenguin’s offerings are a little more expensive than the stuff you find at Fry’s. I paid $64 for the adapter I ordered (plus about $6 for priority mail shipping); dual-band adapters at Fry’s typically seem to run about $40 (plus local tax of 8.25%) for name brands. The thing is, my time is worth more than $20/hour to me; I’m willing to pay for stuff that works right away, and does what I want it to do without limits.

If that’s the way you feel, I recommend you check out ThinkPenguin.

(One other point: you’ll note that I didn’t offer a specific link to the adapter I bought. That’s because, according to ThinkPenguin support, they’ve dropped that adapter from their catalog. TP states they plan to introduce a new adapter in the next month or two, as soon as they can raise funds to get the adapter produced. In the meantime, while the adapter I ordered is not listed on their site, TP still has a small stock available, and you can purchase it by contacting them through their website or calling 1-888-39-THINK (84465). Please note that I haven’t received any freebies from TP; I’m just a very satisfied customer.)

(Edited to add: Also, if you’re going to order an adapter that supports external antennas, just a note: it is easier to order both the adapter and the antennas at the same time. TP will still sell you the antennas as a separate item; they just don’t have them cataloged, and it will require an email/phone call.)

Talkin’ GPS Blues (part 1).

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

A long time ago, my great and good friend Glen pointed me in the direction of a Steven Jay Gould essay about his encounter with Richard Feynman. Gould’s point in that essay was that he thought Feynman wasted a lot of time trying to understand evolution from the ground up, time that Feynman could have spent making valuable contributions to the theory instead. My response is that I think I understand where Feynman was coming from; the only way he felt like he could contribute something was to start from first principles and work his way forward until he understood each step. I’m not anywhere near as smart as Feynman or Gould, but I feel much the same way as Feynman did. Hence, the long and rambling nature of this entry.

I have six GPS systems. That’s probably more than any one sane person needs, but we can leave that discussion for another time.