Latest Toys

Latest techno gadget acquisitions:

I have to admit that the Google Voice system is pretty awesome, but I find that I probably have a limited use for it. The biggest feature is that it can ring multiple numbers at once to find you wherever you are. This is great if you want it to try your office, home, and cell together to try to track you down. Unfortunately, I don’t have an office or a home number, so really all it does is forward to my cell. But there are some other neat features like automatic voice mail transcription to email that I’d like to try out.

The D300 on the other hand is a unqualified success, as I expected. Took some test shots with it tonight, and the focusing is fast and the 51 point auto-focus is a big improvement over the D200. The main reason I bought it though? Self-cleaning sensor! My D200 has had chronic problems with dust, pollen, and other stuff getting on the sensor. Hopefully the D300 signals the end of those problems. I’ll be taking it and the D200 to New York City next week. The D200 is going to be Cindy’s “training camera” while I get more familiar with the D300. So look forward to updated photos in the coming weeks!

Shooting Again!

This last Sunday I got a chance to pull out the cameras and do some real shooting for the first time in a long time. My friend CLT organized a “meet & greet” style photo shoot with some relatively local photographers and models. We hung out on the Old Town Mall for a while, then we went back to CLT’s studio and shot some more. It was a blast to get to do some modeling shots, check out some other folks portfolios, play with some new equipment and just generally have a good time with some other shutterbugs. I’m slowly working through the images from that shoot now (when I’m not studying for my certification test). The shot above is the latest to be posted. You can check out the others on my Flickr photostream!

Rant: Who watches the watchers?

Computer security can be an arcane subject, especial for the “uninitiated” who don’t know what phrases like “risk mitigation”, “threat profile”, and “single-loss-expectancy” are talking about. But a lot of computer security boils down to fundamental ideas about trust and security that we’re used to in the real world. This week at work I was handed a very frustrating example of these fundamentals.

In security jargon, we talk about “controls” – especially “technical controls” vs. “procedural controls”. Let me break that down into plain English for you. Procedural control basically means “we told someone not to do a bad thing, and we trust that they’ll listen to us.” Technical control means “we don’t have to trust someone, because the system won’t do the bad thing even if the person wants to.” In the security world, technical controls are almost always preferable, since they allow your organization to take someone’s trustworthiness out of the equation.

A simple real life example of these two types of controls are locks on doors. In some situations, for example college roommates who grew up together, locking doors isn’t necessary because the people involved are trustworthy. But in another situation, the exterior door on your apartment, you can’t trust the other people and you demand a reasonable lock to secure your living space. And in further extremes, like protecting weapons or biological agents, the people involved are trustworthy but the possible damages are so high that strong locks and other controls (guards, video cameras, fences, etc.) are required.

As you can see from the examples, just because the people involved are trustworthy doesn’t mean systems with lax controls are adequate. If the risk of damage is large, prudence demands that we design a system that “watches the watchers” so to speak.

The example from work wasn’t nearly as dangerous as biological agents. But it was all the more frustrating because I had pointed out the ease with which the operations team could implement better controls on their patching process just a few days ago. Then yesterday it came up that the swing shift operators had installed software patches on the wrong boxes – an error facilitated by the lack of technical control and the attitude from the operations leader that the problem was “reminding the swing shift guys they shouldn’t patch those machines.”

No, the problem is you aren’t even willing to learn from your mistakes and implement new controls even after you’ve been burned once…

Culture Shock

If you’ve never left your “comfort zone”, you’ve probably never experienced culture shock. Culture shock is quite simply when you find yourself in an environment where people act differently than you’re used to acting. It can be as big as going from America to Japan, or as simple as going from Boston to Virginia. The geographic version of culture shock is the easiest to understand and the most commonly experienced. But when you work in an insular community, espescially one with rigid social rules, you can experience culture shock too.

In my case, I spend time on military bases as part of my job. Most of the time, the bases seem just like working at any other big organization. But sometimes there’s the unexpected culture shock that hits you from left field.

Yesterday, I left work and jumped in the car. It was about 95 degrees out, so I had the AC turned all the way up. There was a red pickup ahead of me as we left the parking lot, and when he got up to the road he just stopped. After a few seconds, I was resisting the urge to honk at him “Boston style”. But as it dragged on, I finally decided to drive around him. I had no idea what he was doing, and didn’t really care.

As I pulled alongside him, I noticed he had his window down and was waving at me. Thinking he needed directions or something, I rolled down my window. I couldn’t hear what he said at first – I had to turn down the AC too. As soon as I did, I realized what he was saying. “The music’s playing…”

On military bases, the base PA system will play music at the end of the day, normally 5:00pm. When that music plays, everybody on base stops what they’re doing and listens until the music finishes – if you’re driving, you stop in place on the road and listen. It’s definitely surreal the first time you get caugh up in it. I had been caught in it before, but because of my AC I didn’t hear the music while I was sitting in the car. Fortunately, I only made an ass out of myself to that one guy instead of the whole base! But having to conform to unexpected social norms is eerily similar whether it’s in a foreign land like Japan, or just around the block at a military base…

When it rains, it pours

Started this morning off late, then had to run to the car through a monsoon. Left my coat in the car last night, so I was thoroughly soaked by the time I made it. Then noticed what looked like a parking ticket on the windshield. Got pissed, because I was parked legally. Got back out into the rain to pull the ticket out from under the wiper. As I’m literally dripping wet sitting in the car (ruining the leather seats, I’m sure), I see it’s a “public awareness” notice from the police reminding me to keep valuables out of my car at night.

Wow, thanks.

Got to work late and found out that someone was already looking for me. Then the boss-man came by and wanted to hold a meeting to find out what’s been going on. Which is great, because I’m certainly not in charge of this circus! So called my boss, who basically said “Well, I don’t have anything to help you with your meeting, so good luck.” Great, thanks for the assist. Went to the meeting and survived. Then found out that the documentation I thought I was done with needs to have a software upgrade process drafted and added to it. And the guy who is nominally in charge of that software and did the upgrades in the past is out of town for the rest of the week.

Don’t you wish you had it this good?

Misery

Cindy‘s getting her wisdom teeth taken out tomorrow. Which on top of the physical misery that will entail, we are both feeling like crap because we’re apart right now. I really wish I could be there to feed her Frosties! But thanks to the vagaries of my job, I’m stuck in Alabama for the rest of the week. (And then I’m unemployed for the week after that.) But I’m desperately looking forward to when we will be meeting up in New York City for her birthday!

Being apart still really sucks until then…

VFF

I spent today wearing my Vibram FiveFingers – a “shoe” that fits each toe separately. It was the most popular conversation topic in the elevator. Complete strangers randomly asked me about them all day, which is pretty fun in my book. There was even one guy who recognized them and told me he had tried a pair before but they didn’t fit his feet very well.

Cindy and I bought a pair of them back when we were in Virginia for the July 4th weekend. Here’s our feet for comparison purposes. 😉

Parkinson’s Law

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

A simple observation published by Cyril Parkinson in 1955. The implications are as simple as they are far reaching. Psychologically, we need deadlines and commitments to keep us sharp. So don’t be afraid of setting goals, the more aggressive the better. You may not hit your goals, but the pressure from the deadline will keep you focused and guarantee that you will achieve far more than you would have otherwise.

I’ve observed and experienced this first-hand on numerous occasions. Most recently, my stalled attempts to update my certifications is largely due to the fact that it’s too easy to put off the studying an extra day or two when I don’t have a deadline. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’m setting aggressive goals and deadlines for a wireless project. And now I have a meeting with the Director of Economic Development next Monday to talk about how to make that project happen.

So the personal lesson here, is that I need to set a goal for my certifications. But the broader lesson is that we all need goals and deadlines to focus us on what needs done. Life is too short to procrastinate on things that are important. If it’s important enough to do, set a deadline for it. If it’s not important enough for a deadline, why are you even spending time on it?