Untraceable was Quite Traceable

I a am sucker for techno-trillers so the plot for Untraceable intrigued me. It was not enough to get me to go to the theater to see it but I did rent it from NetFlix when it came out on DVD. From the advertisements I knew that it was a cross between Saw and Seven. I liked Diane Lane in her FBI character. I’m not sure why we had to see her three times in the shower. Was there some symbolism there that I missed? Perhaps it was her character’s way to feel clean? The bad guy who we do not get to meet until the end of the move was broadcasting live video on his web site to an ever-increasing number of viewers. The characters go into a description early on in the film as to why the web site is untraceable. The FBI agent receiving this explanation responds “I have no idea what you just said’. The description was relatively plausible.

What they claim is that the bad guy has control over a botnet. This bot net has infiltrated many unsuspecting computers via a freely downloadable game that even our hero’s kid was enticed into downloading. Do not you have a very large botnet that even a cyber-crime FBI agent does not know how to spot.

Next they say that the bad guy has set his TTL very low. They never say how low. My experience is that some DNS servers reject really low TTL value (Microsoft DNS for example). Lets assume just a few seconds. If DNS server would allow it that would mean that every DNS query would be thrown away almost as soon as the connection was made.

They also tell us that the DNS servers are in Russia and of course our FBI agents have no jurisdiction. Since the bad guy is intentionally blocking international viewer to his web site the NSA claims they cannot get involved. Did anyone call the Russian ISP? I would think they would want to not be on the international stage. Also it would seem to me that a call to ICANN would disable the .com and take the DNS out of the loop.

So let’s pretend that the DNS is updating every second. So now we need a video client that can dynamically switch data sources. This could be accomplished if every viewer was also a transmitter of that data. Security aside this is the only way that there would be enough bandwidth to maintain.

Technology aside the plot was very predictable. There were no twists. You have bad thing happen after bad thing. The FBI plods through the evidence. There was very little originality. For instance at one point the bad guy is using heat lamps as a deadly weapon. They thought they new where the bad guy was and were rushing to get there. Why not cut power to that whole neighborhood. That’s what Luke Skywalker would have done – “shut them all down”.

Diane Lane’s character did do something that I wish we would see other thrillers – send her family away. You know the bad guy is coming after you, you make sure your family is safe. Her boss tried to do that with her.

In the end the movie was pretty good. If you like thrillers like Seven then you’ll like this one. Don’t worry about the technology too much but at least it got the basic technology right — better than Die Hard IV or Swordfish for example. Enjoy it as a rental.

George Chase’s Aerial Lifts

A web site for the re-sale of industrial lift equipment. The challenge on this site was to create an existing site with an existing design and turn it into a dynamic site with a product database. The user can now edit products in the database in real time. Each product can have pictures and detail descriptions. The web site also features a mascot, Monte on several pages. The hardest part of this project was updating legacy Flash components to read their content from the database.

Homemade Sushi

I had my first experience making homemade sushi this weekend for my daughter’s school project. I had the rolling mat and directions from a book but I had never made maki before. I found a kid-friendly recipe and headed off to the store. The first grocery store did not sell nori seaweed paper so I had to drive to Fort Worth to go to Central Market. Is it really $2.99 for a single cucumber? So they are a little expensive but they had all the ingredients I needed. My wallet was $16 lighter leaving that store.

Following the directions was easy. I need to figure out a better way to cook the rice because I ended up with a layer of toasted rice on the bottom of the pot when done. I wonder if a double boiler would have worked better. I was really amazed how the rice reacted to the vinegar and became workable. I was worried about the way they were looking right up until the final cut when at last it began to look like sushi. I hope her class likes it.

Into the Wild

I just finished watching Into the Wild. It has been out for a while but I am finding it harder to sit down and just watch movies and TV anymore. I wanted to watch this one because I had heard good things and I also liked the soundtrack. I was struck by the fact that the main character portrayed was about the same age I am. I recognized his rebellion not in myself but in my peers although not to the same extreme. I recommend this movie.

The story flips back and forth through time but always comes back to a place and time known in the story as the Magic School Bus. The story earns its ‘R’ rating for a few nude hippie scenes and some language. What makes the story so strong is in its simplicity. The character floats, sometime literally, around the western part of the US reacting to what is thrown at him.

What make this story so strong is that it is a true story. This point is driven home during the credits and epilogue. Rent it but be prepared.

Experience with MyBook Studio II

After a nearly catastrophic experience with a LaCie drive I was once again back in the market to buy a 1TB hard drive. I have about 750GB of stuff that I need to backup on a regular basis. The LaCie was working perfectly until it just stopped. I was able to cajole it into working just one more time so I could recover my data. I looked around and found the perfect solution, a Drobo. Unfortunately the Drobo is a bit out of my price range. I love the idea of a Drobo and maybe someday I can revisit it. On the bargain side of the isle I found the My Book.

I had heard some horror stories about My Book from coworkers. They reported that their My Book drives stopped working one day with Leopard. I did some research and found similar complaints online. I recently borrowed a My Book 1TB drive to use as a temporary backup. It was very noisy when it first powered on. It has its own fan in its case. Once the computer connected to it the noise went away. The Studio II features user-serviceable drives so long as you stay with match caviar drives. This sounded like a good thing especially since I am interested in the RAID 1 feature. In the end I relented because of the price, the built-in RAID and finally the Warranty. A 5-year warranty is just about right. In 5-years I can see where we are with ZFS and Drobo for my next purchase.

One thing that I had read about and knew that I would not like is the use of a custom RAID manager. I always advise against installing vendor software. This drive has a hardware RAID and the only way to change it from RAID 0 to RAID 1 is to use their software. I wanted HFS+. The only other format is FAT32. There is no NTFS support in the Mac version of the software. If you want NTFS, you need to connect and format using a PC before you bring it back to your Mac.

I inserted the CD. On the CD are two folders. One is for some backup program and the other is the Drive Manager installer. I opened the Drive Manager Installer folder and found a DMG file. I mounted the DMG folder and found the installer. I’m not sure they could have made it any more complicated. Why not just put the application on the Disk? I ran the installer and agreed to the usual licensing screens. The installer ran and completed. I proceeded to go find this Drive Manager program. I looked in my Applications and Utilities folders under both “D” and “WD” and could not find it. Maybe I missed something. I ran the installer again and still could not find the installed program. I went back to the CD and found a folder called Documentation. I opened the folder and found 23 items inside it. The first three folders’ names were visible: ARA, CHS, CHT. Inside the ARA folder was a PDF labeled UserGuilde.pdf. I opened it up and the entire document was in Arabic. OK, so ARA means Arabic. I went back up a folder level, changed the view to something that shows more than just 3 folders and found the ENG folder. There was also a QicGuide.pdf that I found later. Finally on Page 16 I found a reference to the “WD” menu that had been installed. There is no application to find. So I was wrong, Western Digital could make it more complicated.

I chose “Launch WD RAID Manager” from the WD menu. This gave me a window that listed all the WD hardware connected to my computer or at least it would have if I had more than just this one drive attached. There was a line for the My Book that showed its capacity and RAID level. Down in the lower right-hand corner was a button labeled “Configure…”. I clicked it and got a message about the risk of changing settings or something. I did not read it that closely. It did not look at important. It gave me two button choices, Cancel and Configure. I clicked “Configure” thinking that I would be taken to the configuration screen. I had not see anything to configure yet.

When I clicked Configure, the window went away and the drive manage proceeded to erase the whole hard drive. I was not sure what had just happened. I expected a new window that would let me see the configuration and make changes. Instead, I got an erased hard drive. Fortunately for me I did not have any data entrusted on the drive. This is a very bad UI experience. I checked on the web and found several other people who were similarly fooled but actually lost data.

Back on the previous screen I found only one thing that could be changed. I could change the RAID format. I chose RAID 1 and now intentionally chose Configure. The drive now has half the capacity but should now be redundant. I immediately uninstalled the WD software. No need to keep that around, especially if it is that easy to wipe out the entire drive with just two clicks.

I copied the installer DMG to a safe place so I would not need the CD again. I ejected the CD and put it in a safe place. I keep a binder with key software like disk utilities and OS installers.

If you go into the purchase of a My Book with your eyes open it is a good value. There are very few products in the 2TB range and the built-in RAID is a real coup. I have configured Time Machine and it is already busy backing up my primary and secondary storage.

A Step in Time

This web site was redesigned to give the owner the ability to edit content directly on the web site and enhance communication with current customers. In addition to the web site the customer now uses their domain for email communication.

Iron Man

The summer of 2008 looks like it will be a great movie season if Iron Man is any indication. I loved the action. The special effects did not get in the way of the story. It made me nostalgic for RoboCop. Robert Downey Jr. brought the right amount of sarcasm and wit to the role.