How many bits of secrecy does a typical person have in memory?

After thinking long and hard, I came to the conclusion that all security ends up being physical security. Currently we assume a person’s body is physically secure, with memory being the most secure part of all. Common security systems, such as passwords, try to extract as much of this secrecy out of us as possible and store it somewhere less secure like on a remote server. This is horrible. I don’t care that it’s stored in hashed form: if we only have a finite amount of secrecy to give, then once we reveal it in a form that can be brute-forced, Moore’s Law will ensure that at some point it will be brute-forced and will no longer be secret.
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phone vs. tablet vs. laptop vs. desktop vs. server

It seems that Microsoft’s all-in-one strategy on support for different devices is still progressing. Windows 8 will have interfaces for both the desktop and touchscreen devices. This is akin to how Windows Media Center works. This model must have an unusual level of attraction to Microsoft due to the large base of existing applications, but it makes assumption that you’d want to use all the applications on all the devices, if only you could — that may turn out not to be right.

Microsoft has for years tried to get into mobile devices. Here you see Bill Gates really uncomfortable with the notion that Apple has succeeded more than Microsoft in this space. He is not wrong, since for a time Windows phones and tablets were the only ones out there, while Apple’s Newton was forgotten memory. Those devices either used a slightly modified Windows OS or one that copied all of its metaphors. The latest Windows phones are an exception, but with Windows 8, it will no longer be. It cannot be disputed that there are important applications that do not exist on mobile devices (currently), and therefore mobile devices are not complete (currently). So people argue that mobile devices will be full-fledged computers or desktops will not die. The idea of a dual interface seems to be aimed in this direction. However, a third possibility exists. Applications, after all, merely solve real life problems. They are not themselves holy. If there were a different way of accomplishing the same things, the applications could be replaced. One could argue that data is the rather more holy object. Back to this later.
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Cell synthesized

Scientists create synthetic cell, version 1.0 | [paper]

Our synthetic genomic approach stands in sharp contrast to a variety of other approaches to genome engineering that modify natural genomes by introducing multiple insertions, substitutions, or deletions (18–22). This work provides a proof of principle for producing cells based upon genome sequences designed in the computer. DNA sequencing of a cellular genome allows storage of the genetic instructions for life as a digital file.

This seems significant, equivalent to booting up the first stored-program computer.

Scientists who were not involved in the study are cautioning that the new species is not a truly synthetic life form because its genome was put into an existing cell.

That’s sour grapes, because the original cell cytoplasm decays to zero exponentially fast in the number of replications, a point well made in the paper. It’s only needed for booting. What’s more useful to know is how much of the 1.08Mbp genome consists of existing genes. The paper says it’s a close copy of M. mycoides:

The synthetic genome described in this paper has only limited modifications from the naturally occurring M. mycoides genome. However, the approach we have developed should be applicable to the synthesis and transplantation of more.

The next step will be a basic cell with a minimal genome, a barebones cell OS, if you will. Then, on to synthetic functions. Pretty soon we’ll have cell API’s, fancy-pants programming frameworks, and bugs and viruses. I mean real ones.

mosquito-shooting laser

So this video of a mosquito-shooting laser in the article here has been making the Youtube rounds recently. This isn’t really new, is it? It was already demonstrated last year, as described in this article. I was curious about the technology that supposedly you can assemble from eBay-acquired parts, and it turns out to be kind of lame…

Demonstrating the technology recently, Dr. Kare, Mr. Myhrvold and other researchers stood below a small shelf mounted on the wall about 10 feet off the ground. On the shelf were five Maglite flashlights, a zoom lens from a 35mm camera, and the laser itself — a little black box with an assortment of small lenses and mirrors. On the floor below sat a Dell personal computer that is the laser’s brain.

To locate individual mosquitoes, light from the flashlights hits the tank across the room, creating tiny mosquito silhouettes on reflective material behind it. The zoom lens picks up the shadows and feeds the data to the computer, which controls the laser and fires it at the bug.

I’m sorry, but having a screen behind to form an image for detection is cheating and makes this much less exciting. How is this going to work in the field (cheaply) and be something more relevant than a net?

black magic marker

This has got to be a joke.

The program has also been plagued by heavy demand that has overwhelmed the computer system and review process NHTSA set up. The agency has since hired more staff to process claims and has increased the capacity of the computer network….

Government officials a big hitch has been that dealers are not following proper procedures by filing incomplete or inaccurate materials. For example, one of the main reasons Cash for Clunkers deals were rejected early on was because dealers failed to write “Junk Automobile,” in black magic marker on the title of the older cars that buyers were trading in.

Also this was obviously not edited, since I see a missing verb.

Audio through the PC Speaker

At work, sound comes from inside the computer and has a terrible quality, so I wondered if it used the PC speaker. Years ago when I didn’t have a sound card on a 486 computer, I used a PC speaker driver to play sound.

To my surprise, this driver is still available.

However, I didn’t realize at the time how playing sound through the PC speaker required an interesting hack. You see, the PC speaker could only be put into two states, on and off. So it was easy to make single pitches (which we all did, didn’t we? beep beep) So technically the PC speaker could only generate square waves of various duty cycles. Here’s how the PC speaker is controlled.

Then how was it able to play arbitrary wave files? Well, it turns out 8-bit sound is supposedly generated by pulse code modulation like this, like a light dimmer. The idea is to get “half on” you turn it on half the time. But it really shouldn’t work that way if you think about it, at least not so trivially, since what is being set is the amplitude, not the average power.
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laptop lcd turns bloody red (part 0)

… then pitch black.

This is part of the laptop backlight repair documentation.

So a few months ago, my 4-year-old Dell laptop screen started getting a red hue when the screen first got turned on. It happens to be the first sign of CCFL failure — failure of the fluorescent backlight that is the light source for the screen. The second symptom soon after was the backlight going off by itself, especially when light level was set high. You can stall this process somewhat by lowering the light level but eventually the backlight will go off so frequently that the only choice is replacement.
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I tried a whole bunch of things, and all that (part 2)

This is part of the hard disk recovery documentation.

Part 2.

I tried a whole bunch of things (most that didn’t work), and all that.

What is there to do? Data recovery services that run into the thousands of dollars can probably get most of the data back — they have a track record of that. My data isn’t worth nearly that much, sad to say. But I don’t feel like abandoning perfectly good data, either. Yes, there is probably McNorton ViralGhostSpy or whatever this bloatware is called these days; I don’t know… I prefer more flexibility so I’ll take the trouble to proceed with free or freely available tools.
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