Author Archives: josh

Nature strip computer For The Win!

I found a computer on the nature strip; it was enormous, but had a couple of DVD-RWs, dual DVI connectors and USB3, so I figured it was reasonably modern.

When I got it home and inspected it closely, I realised it wasn’t USB3 but eSATA instead, and my hopes deflated. Booting it up showed a BIOS from 2006 and I figured I just bought myself another trip to the council’s transfer station. However, checking out the CPU (Intel i7 920), full-height full-length graphics card (MSI ) and RAM (6Gb of DDR3) I realised I had found something special. Dropping in a SATA drive that I salvaged from a machine we decided was past its use-by date, I built it into a Linux Mint box.

Yet again, the most powerful machine in the house was found in hard rubbish.  It’s twice as powerful as the last computer we bought, and nearly twice as powerful as the most recent desktop machine.  The RAM is a bit light-on, but DDR3 is still widely available.  The TPD (power consumed by the CPU) is 130 watts, which is… a lot.  Not a machine to run in a small room on a hot day.

At the end of last year I found my local primary school had unceremoniously tossed about a dozen PCs into a dumpster filled with detritus such as broken plastic tubs, desks without legs and out-of-favour books (like a perfectly good Macquarie dictionary). Figuring I could cannibalize multiple machines into a single working machine, I pulled a half dozen monitors and three computers out and loaded them into the car. When tested at home, everything worked just fine. Everything. Confronting the authorities the next day, I was told that the PCs were “broken”, but after some haranguing I got a concession that next time the machines would be donated to a computing charity. As a result of this find I have a three-computer cluster of dedicated Minecraft machines, which now provide adequate performance after extensive tweaking.

Have you found anything good, or would you never take home strange hardware?

Unhelpful web help

Just… just… wrong. So wrong.

FlickrHelp
Firstly, note the error message “Enter a valid email addresss”. Where, pray tell, ought I do this?  Why do I need to upload any attachment again?  Why do I have to prove I’m a human time-after-time, when all I’m doing is wrestling with your completely broken attempt at a web form?

Have they noticed that no-one is submitting help requests via this form, what with its refusal to accept said requests?

Dear Flickr: stop sucking balls.

Summer 2014/2015 starts

Saturday 18 October             Max 26    Partly cloudy.
Sunday 19 October     Min 17    Max 29    Afternoon cool change.
Monday 20 October     Min 12    Max 23    Mostly sunny.
Tuesday 21 October    Min 10    Max 28    Sunny.
Wednesday 22 October  Min 16    Max 31    Possible shower.
Thursday 23 October   Min 15    Max 20    Possible shower.
Friday 24 October     Min 13    Max 22    Cloudy.

Winter 2014 ends

I’ve tried to use the same technique to determine winter the same way I do summer; I decided back in June that winter started. And in August, it’s over.

Tuesday   19 August Max 15 Possible light shower.
Wednesday 20 August Min 7 Max 15 Cloudy.
Thursday  21 August Min 5 Max 18 Mostly sunny.
Friday    22 August Min 6 Max 19 Mostly sunny.
Saturday  23 August Min 7 Max 19 Mostly sunny.
Sunday    24 August Min 8 Max 18 Mostly sunny.
Monday    25 August Min 6 Max 18 Mostly sunny.

A couple of days later the forecast was extended out to

Tuesday   26 August  Min 8 Max 19 Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 27 August  Min 9 Max 21 Mostly sunny.

Airliner shootdowns ought to be technically impossible

Using missile to shoot down an airliner ought to be made impossible.  It may be a lack of imagination on my part, but I can’t think of a circumstance where a military force needs the ability to shoot down civilian aircraft.  There aren’t a lot of manufacturers of surface-to-air missile systems, regardless of their level of sophistication and range – shoulder launched or vehicle-mounted – so changing those designs to prevent civilian shootdowns ought not be a big deal. Admittedly there are many more means of bringing down aircraft beyond SAMs, but not a lot of them have the reach to bring down cruising airliners.

Civilian airliners have carried IFF transponders since World War II, so there’s the infrastructure in place already for the identification of non-military aircraft.  Furthermore, it’s a violation of Article 37 1.c of the Geneva Conventions to pretend you’re a civilian – that is, it’s a war crime with all the international condemnation that goes with that, so it’s reasonable to make weapons that refuse to down aircraft that identify themselves as civilian.

So, why is this still happening?

Retroactive HECS fees

I think it’s about time we introduced HECS fees for all those people who obtained degrees without contributing to the cost of those degrees.

The argument is that educating tertiary students costs the taxpayer money, and what’s in it for the taxpayers – why ought they fund some snotty kid’s education?  By the same argument, those who got those free educations between 1974 and 1989 ought to cough up and return the same portion of the cost of that education back to the people of Australia.

Winter 2014 starts

So I’m trying to declare Winter. I’m going to try something like Summer, but with a 16 degree ceiling, which we just hit here in Melbourne.

Monday    16 June             Max 16    Rain at times, easing.
Tuesday   17 June    Min 10   Max 16    Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 18 June    Min 8    Max 16    Mostly cloudy.
Thursday  19 June    Min 8    Max 16    Partly cloudy.
Friday    20 June    Min 10   Max 15    Shower or two developing.
Saturday  21 June    Min 9    Max 15    Morning shower or two.
Sunday    22 June    Min 9    Max 16    Partly cloudy.

I also offer the observation that you know it’s Winter when it doesn’t feel cold anymore.

Note: The 15 degree ceiling was hit on Friday 4 July 2014, 14 degree on Wednesday 9 July..

Disable PayPass or PayWave RFID with a light globe, a pen and a drill bit

I got a new credit card in the mail, and I noticed the PayPass logo in the top right corner.  I’m no fan of RFID, especially with so many documented weaknesses. Also troubling is the loss of two-factor authentification that we’ve had for decades in Australia; both Visa and Mastercard require only the presence of the card for EMV transactions under $100. I like my credit card, I don’t like that other people can spend my money with it.  I thought about trying to convince my bank to give me one that wasn’t PayPass enabled, but Mastercard won’t issue cards without PayPass, so it seems I need to make my new credit card compliant with my privacy and security policies.

Admittedly, all the exploits for RFID enabled cards seem to affect cards in the USA, whose banking system (as best I can tell) is run by a bunch of morons. I assume that the cards in Australia leak no information other than an identifying card number… but even that. RFID can allow unintended transactions, so I’d prefer my transactions to be intentional. I considered killing the whole chip in the microwave, but there’s a risk that would affect the mag-stripe.  You don’t need a radiographer to lend you an xray machine to locate the RFID antenna.  Turns out that a light globe is plenty bright enough to spot the antenna tracks, or the sun (if you can spot it at this time of year).

I lay my card on a horizontal compact fluorescent light globe, and look what I could see:

Disable drill-point marked on a credit card
Just drill out the point where the tracks narrow down, and the antenna is toast

I dutifully marked the point where the antenna traces all converged on the one location, then drilled that point out with a hole made with a 3mm drill bit.  I took it off to my local Kmart, and it worked.  However, it failed at the Coles, and every subsequent retailer (dozens) I’ve tried using it.  Apart from that one Kmart (others haven’t worked) the PayPass functionality is now turned off.

I’ll update here if I make additional modifications that are successful.