Thursday, February 15, 2018

Whether that dedicated server room is secure (or not) hinges on something simple

I enjoy reading stories in the Shark Tank series of articles at Computerworld. My latest laugh came from one on January 25, 2018 titled Throwback Thursday: Oops!

A company had finished building a dedicated secure server room. Then they proudly gave a grand-opening tour. That room had a raised floor (in case of flooding), and a fireproof and reinforced door with an electronic security lock. But as the tour group left, and they began to close that door the article author noticed that, as is shown above, the two removable hinge pins were located on the outside of the door. The locked room could easily be entered just by using a flat-bladed screwdriver or pry bar to remove them. A week later a contractor fixed the hinges.
That story reminded me of another story about safes that were unsafe – because the combination never was reset from one supplied by the factory. It appears in Richard P. Feynman’s 1985 book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, at the end of a chapter titled Safecracker Meets Safecracker. At Los Alamos Feynman met a locksmith who had been asked to drill a safe. But it turned out he didn’t have to:

“Oh, yeah. I knew that the locks come from the factory set at 25-0-25 or 50-25-50, so I thought, who knows; maybe the guy didn’t bother to change the combination,’ and the second one worked…

[Then Feynman said]

I went from office to office in my building, trying those two factory combinations, and I opened about one safe in five.”

How about locks with keys? The beginning of that chapter says:

“It turns out that picking ordinary tumbler locks—like Yale locks—is easy. You try to turn the lock by putting a screwdriver in the hole (you have to push from the side in order to leave the hole open). It doesn’t turn because there are some pins inside which have to be lifted to just the right height (by the key). Because it is not made perfectly, the lock is held more by one pin than the others. Now, if you push a little wire gadget—maybe a paper clip with a slight bump at the end—and jiggle it back and forth inside the lock, you’ll eventually push that one pin that’s doing the most holding, up to the right height. The lock gives, just a little bit, so the first pin stays up—it’s caught on the edge. Now most of the load is held by another pin, and you repeat the same random process for a few more minutes, until all the pins are pushed up.….What is not really appreciated by most people is that they’re perpetually locking themselves in with locks everywhere, and it’s not very hard to pick them.” 

Now it is even worse since there is a faster procedure (using a special key) called lock bumping.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

11 Table Topics questions from the 2017 book Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss

Last year there was a book by Timothy Ferriss titled Tribe of Mentors (and subtitled short life advice from the best in the world) in which he asked a bunch of people to answer some of the following eleven questions:

1] What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

2] What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

3] How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a ‘favorite failure’ of yours?

4] If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

5] What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

6] What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

7] In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

8] What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the ‘real world’? What advice should they ignore?

9] What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

10] In the past five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

11] When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I found out about those questions from a February 12th LinkedIn Pulse article by Timo Lorenzen titled “The tribe of mentors” by Timothy Ferris. He had posted about it on the The Official Toastmasters International Group at LinkedIn under the title Timothy Ferris’ questions also are great for Table Topics! (Table Topics is the question-answering impromptu speaking portion of a Toastmasters club meeting).

But Timo didn’t always post the entire questions that Mr. Ferriss had asked. For example, for No. 4 he just listed the first sentence but left off:

“It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)”

Mr. Ferriss also had later said:

“Self-explanatory, so I’ll skip the commentary. For would-be interviewers, though, the ‘if helpful…’ portion is often critical for getting good answers.”

And for No. 8 Timo listed just the first sentence:

“What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the ‘real world’?”

but left off the second:

“What advice should they ignore?”

Mr. Ferriss’s discussion of that question had said that:

“The second ‘ignore’ sub question is essential. We’re prone to asking ‘What should I do?’ but less prone to asking ‘What shouldn’t I do?’ Since what we don’t do determines what we can do, I like asking about not-to-do lists.”  

Mr. Ferriss’s longer, clearer versions are better questions than Mr. Lorenzen’s truncated ones. This is another example of why when using quotations it is important to go back to the source.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Falling in love and Table Topics questions

On January 9, 2015 there was a very popular article by Mandy Len Catron in the New York Times titled To fall in love with anyone do this. She wrote about applying a technique from an article by Arthur Aron et al titled The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: a procedure and some preliminary findings which had appeared in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin way back in April 1997 (Volume 23, Issue 4). On January 16, 2015 co-author Elaine Aron blogged at Huffington Post about 36 Questions for intimacy, back story.

That article described a procedure where two people play a sharing game using 36 slips of paper, each with a question (organized into 3 increasingly personal sets).  One reads the question, and then both do what it asks. They alternate who reads aloud. Another New York Times article listed the questions, and there also was an app. Reader’s Digest also published the list. Here are those questions.

Set I

N01] Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

N02] Would you like to be famous? In what way?

N03] Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

N04] What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

N05] When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

N06] If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

N07] Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

N08] Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common?

N09] For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

N10] If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

N11] Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

N12] If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II

N13] If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

N14] Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

N15] What’s the greatest accomplishment of your life?

N16] What do you value most in a friendship?

N17] What is your most treasured memory?

N18] What is your most terrible memory?

N19] If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

N20] What does friendship mean to you?

N21] What roles do love and affection play in your life?

N22] Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items.

N23] How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

N24] How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?


N25] Make 3 true ‘we’ statements each. For instance ‘WE are both in this room feeling…’

N26] Complete this sentence ‘I wish I had someone with whom I could share…’

N27] If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

N28] Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

N29] Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

N30] When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

N31] Tell your partner about something you like about them already.

N32] What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

N33] If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

N34] Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

N35] Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

N36] Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

These are excellent impromptu (Table Topics) questions for a Toastmasters club meeting, except for N11 which is an Icebreaker speech. On January 26, 2015 there was an article in The New Yorker by Susanna Wolff titled To fall out of love, do this which flipped the questions over, and instead both began and ended with:

“Given a choice of anyone in the world, whom would you like to punch in the face?”

The question sounds like something that Rat might say in a Pearls Before Swine cartoon.

An Appendix at the end of the Aron et al article listed another set of 36 questions for a small-talk condition. Some of them refer to the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Set I

S01] When was the last time you walked for more than an hour? Describe where you went and what you saw.

S02] What was the best gift you ever received and why?

S03] If you gad to move from California where would you go, and what would you miss the most about California?

S04] How did you celebrate last Halloween?

S05] Do you read a newspaper often and which do you prefer? Why?

S06] What is a good number to have in a student household and why?

S07] If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?

S08] What is the best restaurant you’ve been to in the last month that your partner hasn’t been to? Tell your partner about it.

S09] Describe the last pet you owned.

S10] What is your favorite holiday? Why?

S11] Tell your partner the funniest thing that ever happened to you when you were a yound child.

S12] What gifts did you receive on your last birthday?

Set II

S13] Describe the last time you went to the zoo.

S14] Tell the names and ages of your family members, include grandparents, aunts and uncles, and where they were born (to the extent you know this information).

S15] One of you say a word, the next say a word that starts with the last letter of the word just said. Do this until you have said 50 words. Any words will do – you aren’t making a sentence.

S16] Do you like to get up early or stay up late? Is there anything funny that has resulted from this?

S17] Where are you from? Name all the places you’ve lived.

S18] What is your favorite class at UCSC so far? Why?

S19] What did you do this summer?

S20] What gifts did you receive last Christmas/Hanukkah?

S21] Who is your favorite actor of your own gender? Describe a favorite scene in which this person has acted.

S22] What was your impression of UCSC the first time you ever came here?

S23] What is the best TV show you’ve seen in the last month that your partner hasn’t seen. Tell your partner about it.

S24] What is your favorite holiday? Why?


S25] Where did you go to high school? What was your high school like?

S26] What is the best book you’ve read in the past three months that your partner hasn’t read. Tell your partner about it.

S27] What foreign country would you most like to visit? What attracts you to this place?

S28] Do you prefer digital watches and clocks or the kind with hands? WHY?

S29] Describe your mother’s best friend.

S30] What are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial Christmas trees?

S31] How often do you get your hair cut? Where do you go? Have you ever had a really bad haircut experience?

S32] Did you have a class pet when you were in elementary school? Do you remember the pet’s name?

S33] Do you think left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people?

S34] What is the last concert you saw? How many of that band’s albums do you own? Have you seen them before? Where?

S35] Do you subscribe to any magazines? Which ones? What have you subscribed to in the past?

S36] Were you ever in a school play? What was your role? What was the plot of the play? Did anything funny ever happen when you were on stage?

I recently ran across a discussion of the 36 questions on page 243 of Chip and Dan Heath’s 2017 book The Power of Moments. The Hearts for Valentine’s Day came from Openclipart.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Our president has almost no hair!

Every once-in-a-while a fresh wind comes in, and the carefully stage-managed illusions of pomp and circumstance are blown aside to momentarily reveal the truth. On February 2nd a 7-mimute video recording was made of a Marine Helicopter arriving and Air Force One preparing to depart. Some sharp-eyed folks edited a cropped version. On February 7th we finally got to see a brief clip of what Donald Trump’s hair really looks like (without the usual Make America Great Again cap holding it in place). Watch at the 3-minute mark to see his comb-over blow over into a mohawk.

The media had a field day. At the New York Post Mark Moore had an article titled Trump’s bad hair day gets worse after gust of wind. The next day there was another article by Gabrielle Fonrouge on how Trump’s very bad hair day is gold for late-night comics. Snopes had an article titled Is this Trump’s hair blowing in the wind? which proclaimed it indeed was TRUE. Suitable sound track music would be Randy Newman’s song, You Can Leave Your Hat On.

I suspect this may be a defining moment of his presidency. So sad! :)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What does it mean that Facebook usage is down by 50 million hours a day?

Sometimes we find headlines which are obviously nonsense. A piece is missing so the story being told becomes an unfinished puzzle. A good example is a January 31, 2018 post by Jane Genova on her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog titled Facebook – Usage Down 50 Million Hours a Day. There are exactly 24 hours a day, so she must have meant something else. And that would be user hours per day. But we have no idea what that 50 million really means. To understand it we would need to know two things – how many daily Facebook users there are, and also how many hours per day each one was on there in the fourth quarter of 2017.  

She linked to an article at Business Insider by Troy Wolverton titled Facebook says its users are spending 50 million fewer hours a day on the platform. Mr. Wolverton’s article shows a bar chart indicating the number of Daily Active Users (DAUs) was 1,401,000,000. But his article doesn’t say how many hours per day there were for the average Facebook user. That’s the missing piece we need in order to make this puzzle meaningful. If we assume it was one hour, then there would be 1,401,000,000, and being down by 50,000,000 would be a ratio of 0.0356, or a drop of just 3.56%. That isn’t negligible, but is not very serious.

I didn’t find how many hours a day there were for the average Facebook user in the fourth quarter of 2017. But a May 5, 2016 article in the New York Times by James B. Stewart has the headline that Facebook has 50 minutes of your time each day. It wants more. If we use that 5/6 hour instead, then it would be a ratio of 0.0428, or a drop of 4.28%.

When I run low on ideas for posts, I just look at Jane’s blog. Over at Speaking Pro Central there are 37 trending articles and 25 of them are hers. But quantity sure does not mean quality.

Monday, February 5, 2018

How would you line the sloping walls of a large irrigation canal with concrete?

Near where I live there is a large road and intersection construction project in progress. The intersection of Cole Road and Lake Hazel Road is being redone, and Lake Hazel Road will be extended eastward, and cross over the ~45 foot wide, century old, New York Canal via a bridge (which has not been built yet). The New York Canal takes Boise Project water from the Boise River to Lake Lowell in Nampa. It runs for ~40 miles. A few days ago a crew from the Concrete Placing Co. was also finishing lining the canal walls upstream and beneath the bridge. Lining the canal is less than 10% of the road project.

Lining the flat canal bottom is like a bigger version of putting in a sidewalk, driveway, or patio. You likely are familiar with that. The area is dug out, and the edges of the patio are walled with forms to contain the concrete. Then concrete is brought to the site by a mixer transport truck, and delivered via an attached chute (or with wheelbarrows). As is shown above, two guys use a 2x4 board as a screed to strike off the top of the concrete level with the tops of the forms. Then the top can be finished further with a float and edger.  

If you wanted to demonstrate ‘striking off’ to a small audience you might use a 9” square cake pan as the form, a 12” long ruler as the screed, and a granular solid like kitty litter to represent concrete. Pictures or videos work better for a larger audience.

What about the sides of the canal? As shown above (viewed from one bank looking southeast) the sides were divided into panels ~12 feet wide. Half of them were poured using forms, and then the other half were filled in. You can see the welded steel wire reinforcement mesh laid where the new concrete will be placed. A chute from the concrete truck delivers a very stiff mix. Then a Deere tracked excavator uses a pair of ropes to pull a metal screed rod up the wall starting from the canal bottom. That rod is guided by two men using the panels already on both sides to support the ends. You also can see a concrete abutment for the new bridge at the very right.

The image of screeding came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

George gives his cousin ‘a hand’

AlejAndro Anastasio has a web site titled One Hand Speaks. On November 14, 2017 I blogged about listening to his podcast. Starting on January 1st of this year he is writing 40 blogs about his 30 podcasts. To celebrate that I have a one-handed story to tell him and you from four decades ago.

Back in the seventies (1972 – 1978) I was a medic in the Air Force Reserve. For the last year I worked one weekend a month in the hospital at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit. On a Saturday morning in early summer both the Tactical Hospital unit I belonged to and the corresponding Air National Guard unit were sharing that same old red brick hospital building.

That Air Guard was doing a disaster exercise. Back on September 11, 2012 I blogged about Disasters and triage. Now, it is very hard to make an exercise seem real. You need to shake people out of their mindset that This Isn’t Real – It’s Only a Drill.

In that blog post I mentioned an exercise I’d gone through in tech school down in Texas. They set the scene up as a plane crash after sundown – in a cow pasture outside of Burkburnett. We got dropped off the back of a truck and told to run over a hill. There was a broken fuselage lit only by burning jet fuel. A bunch of ‘victims’ were made up with realistic looking prefabricated rubber wounds or burns – a branch of special effects known as moulage. Some were moaning, and others were screaming. It smelled, sounded, and looked real.

But how would you make your ‘disaster’ seem real on a sunlit morning? One of the guardsmen had a teen-aged cousin I will call George. His right arm stopped above the elbow. George came out to Selfridge with his cousin. He had volunteered to be the first ‘victim’ the medics would encounter. George wore a tank top and shorts, and they made his right arm up as a fresh amputation. It looked startlingly real, so it worked beautifully.

His cousin took George around the hospital to show my reserve unit their makeup masterpiece. George was grinning from ear to ear. He said this had been more fun than he’d ever had on Halloween.  

The military ambulance image came from Wikimedia Commons.