Protecting that last mile

OpenDNS, which provides alternative DNS services for those of us who occasionally can’t persuade the ISP to serve up a page, came up with a Mac product last year called DNSCrypt, for reasons like this:

That critical path between you and your DNS servers is often referred to as the “last mile.” It’s in this “last mile” that bad things are most likely to happen — snooping, tampering, or even hijacking traffic. Anyone who knows what they’re doing can eavesdrop on your Internet activity and see exactly which domains you are resolving, and in many cases, what websites you’re visiting. Worse, sophisticated attackers can modify responses and redirect you to malicious sites. We have always used various techniques to thwart this, but none as iron-clad as simply encrypting all the communication between you and OpenDNS.

This strikes me as a boon for the traveler with a notebook, especially now that they’ve turned loose a Windows version for those of us who haven’t crossed the aisle yet.

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Running out of minutes

As expected, Erik Spoelstra made some adjustments for Game 2: a couple of different sets, matchups timed slightly differently, and perhaps most important, the return of Chris Bosh to the starting lineup. (Udonis Haslem was barely visible most of the night.) Bosh responded by delivering a double-double before halftime, and Miami had things under control well into the fourth quarter. The Thunder mounted a rally, as they always do, and finally got within two at 98-96 on a Kevin Durant trey. But LeBron James put it out of reach with two free throws — his eleventh and twelfth in a row — with seven seconds left. So the Heat head home with a 100-96 win and a 1-1 tie in the series.

Lots of factors here, although Durant’s early fifth foul didn’t seem to be one of them, inasmuch as he rattled down 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. The radio crew seemed to think it was due to a pair of non-calls on the last Thunder possession. But go back to the first half, when they got behind by 17 points several times. (Seventeen points, incidentally, is exactly what Shane Battier dropped in from the corner, shooting 6-8, 5-7 from beyond the arc.) The deeper the hole, the harder it is to climb out of it. It didn’t help that OKC missed seven of 26 free throws, while the Heat missed three of 25, leaving a differential of, um, four points.

And there’s LeBron, who, they say, can play any of the five positions, and who tonight seemed to be in two or three of them at any given moment. He finished with 32; Dwyane Wade contributed 24 more. The Miami bench wasn’t a factor, but they didn’t have to be.

James Harden, after a fairly terrible Game 1, was in better form, hitting for 21. And after a fairly terrible first quarter, Russell Westbrook came to life, coming up with 27. (For those who keep track: seven assists against two turnovers.) One might argue that taking a third of your shots (26 of 79) from the three-point line is probably not the best approach, especially if you’re going to miss 17 of them, but points in the paint were few and far between.

Next three games will be in Miami. The Thunder will have to get at least one or it’s over. And they can do that, if they can avoid things like falling behind 18-2 in the first quarter, which is definitely sub-optimal.

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Check your lab coat, ma’am?

STEMinist, subtitled “Women in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math,” has proclaimed the following goals:

  • Increase the visibility of women in STEM
  • Promote and elevate the perspective of women in these traditionally underrepresented fields
  • Encourage younger women and girls to pursue careers in STEM
  • Capture a social media snapshot of what’s trending for women in STEM

The site’s been up for two years, though I admit to not knowing about it until they ran a profile of a friend of mine this week.

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Added to the current rotation

Operation VR, hailed here for their single “Remorse,” has returned with a new track called “Regrets of the Past,” which is just as experimental but perhaps a little more conventional: “a little more classical roots, taking note to appreciate modern music,” they say. It’s on their Bandcamp page. Among their officially unpurchasable but YouTube-able music: the two-part “Vinyl’s Visions,” divided into “Fear” and “Pride”.

Utterly unlike OpVR is VivaceCapriccioso, whom I happened upon while — well, never mind where I found her. Perhaps her best-known piece so far is “Octavia’s Waltz,” which isn’t technically a waltz, but no matter. She plays all the parts in the string ensemble: “I was planning to play each part on either violin or cello, and mix each track together, but my cello needs repairs.” Five tracks are currently available on her YouTube channel.

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“Town” is a four-letter word

Speaking of four-letter words, you probably don’t want to utter any in Middleborough, Massachusetts:

At a town meeting Monday night, residents voted 183-50 to approve a proposal from the police chief to impose a $20 fine on public profanity.

“I’m really happy about it,” Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman, said after the vote. “I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary.”

Bill Quick, a big fan of free speech, understandably demurs:

Yeah, you wadded up the First Amendment, took a crap on it, and then set it on fire.

An actual resident of Middleborough is, if possible, even less impressed:

[L]et me tell you that the first person who suggests that I should have been at the meeting if I disapprove so much is going to hear some very loud and public profanity, because you know what? I was at work, supporting my fucking family. I could always quit and go on the dole instead so I’d have time for this petty bullshit, but I’ve got more pride than that.

At the last Census, Middleborough had about 23,000 people. If even half of them had shown up at town hall, instead of the 1 percent (!) who did, I suspect the board of selectmen would have done something much more unsanitary than merely swearing.

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Not that I could have stockpiled any

An observation from February:

I wander into Braum’s a couple of times a month for various things from their side-of-the-store market: for instance, I am fond of their 9-Grain Bread, and I prefer their pickle slices for my own sandwiches.

The pickles, at least, can still be had, but the 9-Grain Bread apparently is history, replaced by none of these, if you ask me, and the so-called “artisan” stuff commands, or at least requests, a price 50 percent higher.

I am not, of course, above paying $6 for a loaf of specialty bread — but for making a week’s worth of PB&Js? I don’t think so.

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Very high hybrid

In much of the world, Toyota’s Prius, despite its modest price, is something of a halo car: it is far and away the most successful of the hybrids, and the Big T seldom has to resort to incentives to move the metal.

This is not, however, the case in India:

For the first four months of 2012, Toyota sold zero units of the Prius in the Indian market. Last month, they managed (don’t ask how) to sell one unit.

One reason, apparently, is India’s tariff on imported motor vehicles. If you’re not going to build them here, New Delhi reasons, the least you can do is send us CKD kits so we can assemble them ourselves. The Prius, with its complicated powertrain, is sent only as a completed vehicle, and is therefore hit with a tariff of over 100 percent, pushing the price tag to the equivalent of $60,000.

With projected annual sales of somewhere between two and three, it’s a wonder Toyota bothers at all. Then again, they didn’t get to be the behemoth of the Japanese auto industry by turning down customers.

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Prepare the bass cannon

Vinyl Scratch display at Licensing ExpoI tell you, this turned my Smile Reflex up to 11: DJ Pon-3, Ponyville’s leading disk jockey — for all I know, she might be Ponyville’s only disk jockey, but no matter — on display at the Hasbro booth at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, with a theme unabashedly swiped from Spinal Tap. Under her “real” name, yet. EqD’s Sethisto noted that “they don’t appear to be going for the typical little girl’s TV that you would expect from a My Little Pony show!” Indeed.

Hard-nosed cynicism requires me to mention that the guys in their 20s who make up the bulk of bronydom likely buy way more merch than the grade-school girls at whom the show is officially aimed. Personally, I really don’t give a flying feather about Hasbro’s motivations, so long as they keep dishing up the Good Stuff. (Picture taken by The Angry Otaku; if you missed the last appearance of the bass cannon — strictly unofficial, of course — catch up here.)

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Wrench dressing

Do not approach Francis W. Porretto with your newfangled computer language:

If these “researchers” were to ask me why I haven’t troubled to learn C#, or Ruby, or Python, or whatever the hot language fad is just now, I could tell them in a single sentence: They’re irrelevant to my problem domain.

My group’s problem domain is real-time simulation. For that domain, nothing has come along that bests C++ and the available supports for it. There are other domains, some of which are more efficiently addressed with other languages and support systems. (I wouldn’t dream of addressing a database problem or an artificial-intelligence project with C++.) A good engineer strives always to use the right tool for the job before him.

Inasmuch as our particular domain is database manipulation on IBM i, we’re an RPG shop, although RPG IV bears little resemblance to the Report Program Generator Big Blue came up with in 1959. I write hardly any source code, though I’m pretty handy with the control language and several of the system utilities, and that’s what they pay me for. (I write a lot more HTML, mostly because I have to toss stuff up on the corporate Web site now and then.) The oldest routines on site have been rewritten or replaced, but we still have a ton of legacy stuff to support.

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The art of misdirection

A one-page letter received from the gas company yesterday begins this way:

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is scheduled to begin hearings on an Oklahoma Natural Gas rate increase request on June 28, 2012, at 10:30 am in Courtoom B, 1st Floor of the Jim Thorpe Office Building, 2101 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73105. Interested persons may appear at the hearing and make public comment if they so desire.

If you’ve been here long enough, you know that the utility is routinely expected to estimate the impact on the customers’ bills somewhere inside the announcement. And this version of the standard estimate seems particularly artful:

The proposed increase would raise an average residential customer’s monthly service charge by approximately $1.71. However, with the recent elimination of riders and consideration of natural gas costs, it is estimated that the average residential customer will pay $105.42 less in 2012 than in 2010.

Similar paragraphs are provided for commercial and industrial customers. If you’re not paying close attention — I wasn’t when I first skimmed the letter — you might think that the $105.42 you’re supposed to save this year is a direct result of the new rates being requested. Oppose a deal like that? Not a chance.

In fact, in 2010 spot prices on the commodity exchanges were in the $5 range; in the spring of 2012 they dropped below $2, though they’ve since risen to near $2.40. Over that same period, ONG’s price for previously banked gas supplies, which tends to lag the exchange price by a couple of years, has fallen from $7ish to around $4.50. No wonder bills are going down.

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Can’t afford Nunavut

Nunavut is a Canadian territory north of all the provinces and south of — well, the North Pole. It’s perhaps not a place you’d want to become a locavore, since not a heck of a lot grows there; the standard argument is that it costs a lot to ship food that far, and therefore prices will be high, although twenty-eight loonies for a single head of cabbage seems to dance past “high” on the way to “absurd.” In fact:

According to one comment on the Facebook group, it’s often more cost-effective to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, do your shopping there, and fly home. (That alone is a pretty good indication that shipping costs are not exclusively to blame.)

Wonder how much they allow for carry-on baggage?

Anyway, the ill-fed are now fed up:

People in the area have begun protesting outside stores and have started a petition on Change.org asking the Canadian government to enact “concrete, effective change that will address poverty and food insecurity in our communities.”

As you might expect, the population numbers are fairly stable: the birth rate is high, but so is the rate of outmigration.

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Twice the Bing, none of the Bada

In this week’s Rule 5 Sunday roundup, trusty compiler Wombat-socho noted, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that yours truly “finds the names nobody else looks for!” Which is, of course, true to a certain extent: you may have noticed that I posted about Anoushka Shankar on Natalie Portman’s birthday.

With that in mind, we give you Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, 30, hawking hosiery:

Fan Bingbing for Shirou

About her I knew essentially nothing, until I stumbled upon a quarter-page in this month’s Vanity Fair, which told me this:

When Fan was a little girl, her mother owned a boutique, and she grew up devouring fashion magazines. “I fell in love with dressing myself up,” she says.

Fan Bingbing’s first inspiration was Greta Garbo, but today her aesthetic is a seamless fusion of Dita Von Teese’s high-gloss pimp doll and Lady Gaga’s demented artiste. Yet her look is wholly her own, that of a kooky sophisticate whose favorite designer remains Alexander McQueen.

There was no way I was going to read that and not hit the search button.

Incidentally, this picture was swiped from Asian Celebrity. (And Kristen Stewart is on the cover of that issue of V. F., but surely someone will serve up some K. Stew for next weekend.)

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Don’t get cocky, kids

The Heat were supposed to walk away with the first one. The Thunder had zero experience in the Finals, and LeBron James has been playing on a supernatural level of late. King James, you may be sure, lived up to his billing — he finished with 30 points, nine rebounds — and Oklahoma City slogged through the mud through the first two quarters and most of the third.

And then. If there’s any two-word phrase that characterizes OKC’s playoff run, it’s “And then”: somehow, when time grows short, the Thunder manage to stand tall. Down seven at the half, they were up one after three, and every minute or so after that, they stretched that lead one more point. With 29 seconds left, LeBron quietly retreated to the bench; Mike Miller got a bucket in his place, but it didn’t matter anymore. Oklahoma City 105, Miami 94, and the Finals are off to a roaring start.

If you were wondering if anyone other than Miami’s Big Three could score, be assured that they could: Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 29 points, and Shane Battier (who started at the four instead of Bosh) and Mario Chalmers added 29 more. The Heat shot decently, at 46 percent, knocking down eight of 21 long balls — Battier had four of them, seemingly on demand — and missed only four free throws all night. And Udonis Haslem had more rebounds than anybody, reeling in 11.

What does it take to beat that? Thirty-six points from Kevin Durant, 27 from Russell Westbrook (a double-double with 11 assists), 52 percent shooting, +8 on the boards — the ever-tenacious Nick Collison had ten rebounds — and Thabo Sefolosha putting the suffocation moves on LeBron in the fourth quarter, holding King James to six points.

This wasn’t a night for blocking shots: the Thunder swatted away only three, the Heat just one. Nor was it a night for turnovers: both teams threw it away ten times. It was, however, a night for drawing a line in the sand, and there’s a lot of sand downtown, half the roads being torn up these days. It will be Thursday before we see if Miami will step over it.

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And reasonably so

The Chicagoist story on the local version of the World Naked Bike Ride is titled “Profiles in Chafing,” which implies that someone on staff is aware of the, um, physical conditions.

Although the URL suggests that the title on first publication was actually “Profiles in Sweaty Flesh,” which presumably also works.

(Either way, consider this Not Safe For Most Places.)

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Driving off with the goal posts

Or at least they’ve been moved a whole heck of a lot in a decade and a third:

Currently, the {Mercedes-Benz] C300 4Matic is powered by a sluggish 3.0-liter V6, only putting out 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That, combined with a 3,737-pound curb weight, is why the current model takes 7.1 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour and only returns fuel economy ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg highway.

And then I look out in my garage, where I see a 3.0-liter V6 putting out 227 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. It was the most powerful machine in its class back in the day, and now apparently it’s down there among the “sluggish.” (Current EPA rating is 17/25.) It might be able to do 0-60 in 7.1, though. And yes, I’ve griped about this before.

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Julius would not be pleased

If you were thinking that orange was such a happy color — which, of course, it is — you have to allow for the possibility that not everyone has a high tolerance for it:

Went to a wedding reception last night where orange was a prominent color. The bride’s older sister was wearing a bright orange skirt, the bride’s father was wearing a bright orange tie, my wife was wearing a flowered blouse thing with several orange flowers, and the tables were decorated with large sheets of paper, the topmost of which was orange. I credit my noticing all this orangeness to Dustbury’s continued posting of pictures of people wearing orange stuff, and what do I see when I open his blog this morning?

Scootaloo in a non-mellow moodWhat he saw was this. And well, yeah, there’s a lot of orange stuff here. I am always willing to do, redo, and eventually overdo a premise, much to the apparent dismay of little Scootaloo here. (Yes, a My Little Pony reference; see previous sentence.)

Speaking of Scootaloo, McDonald’s in Germany held a contest a few months back, asking customers to create and name a new sandwich. The winning entry was in fact named for this young pegasus filly; amusingly, it’s a chicken sandwich.

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