About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

28 October 2006

Freak House

Halloween seems to be very popular in the US, and this being Halloween weekend, there seems to be quite a few themed events happening around here. I came across "Freak House" in one of the free newspapers here, and as the website bills it "Torture. Murder. Shark attack. You'll scream your tits off!!"; it was just too tempting.

It is similar to London Dungeon in concept; although, more adult in nature. Basically, they have taken a whole three story house and converted it into a 9 roomed, scary/freak show. In many of the rooms, audience participation is almost pre-requisite; and I am sure a psychologist would have a field day in analysing how people react to certain situations. It was very cool, although London Dungeon is certainly more polished.

Rights and Repression

Being the capital of the world's most powerful country, it has also been the scene of many civil rights protests, and with America's thirst for storing history, it has also preserved a lot. The day before, yesterday ended up being quite a sobering tourist attraction day - as I ended up going through the Holocaust Museum and also going through various neighbourhoods involved in the Civil Rights movement. I also went up the Washington Monument, which was closed for renovation in my previous two visits.

The visit to the Holocaust Museum was sad, and at the same time, it did have a ray of hope in the end. The detailed examination of what happened to minority groups before and during WW2 is downright frightening ... how can fellow human beings really do that? But what was most frightening is not that it happened; but the reactions of the other countries in the world to the plight of the persecuted. Not only did they not chose to interfere earlier; but countries like the USA, sent refugees back, and, during WW2, refused to bomb gas chambers in some concentration camps even if it was physically possible. It is the indifference that really shocks - and the scary thing is - we haven't really learned anything since. After all; Rwanda happened and the world stood by - and Darfur is happening - and the world still refuses to take action.

The ray of hope, however tiny, is that the Holocaust museum is starting to document other holocausts - and trying to raise awareness of pressing issues like Darfur. I hope that it is not too late - otherwise 50 years from now; we will have another museum to add to the list.

Walking around Adams-Morgan, U Street precinct in DC was less strenuous on the mind, although not less worthy. One guidebook I read while browsing at Exclusive Books before arriving, claimed that Washington DC is predominantly black and latino. Moving around in downtown DC, you wouldn't believe that. Thus walking around suburbia was interesting in itself - and gives a very different view of a city ... A lot of the old buildings are preserved, and the contrast in architecture and style is amazing.

27 October 2006

Drug Free Zone

I came across this while walking around in DC suburbia ... and I was instantly reminded of various episodes in Season 2 of Weeds. There didn't seem to be any surveillance cameras though

25 October 2006

Reflections: WESII

For the last two days, I have been attending the The Workshop on the Economics of Securing the Information Infrastructure, sponsored by I3P. It was quite an interesting conference bringing together people from different disciplines including computer security, economics and social sciences. A lot of the content did revolve around policies; but unlike ISSA, the content was much more constructive, and dare I say, more useful.

There were a few really interesting discussions and topics; so I will briefly discuss them - maybe some of you have something to say about them ...

First up, there was a panel discussion on DNSSec, including a very quick demonstration on how quick and easy it is to actually commit DNS spoofing attacks. Considering the fact that DNS forms the backbone of the Internet (from the users perspective), a secure DNS solution is really important. In summary, DNS entries themselves are not verifiable, and like the paper I am going to present next week at the DRM workshop; there is no verification service currently available for DNS. This means that a man in the middle attack is very possible scenario for DNS - because in the current DNS setup; the first response received from a DNS query is taken to be the correct query. For a spoofer, it is therefore possible to redirect any DNS query, and a malicious attacker can really cause a lot more damage than phishing attacks. DNSSec seems like a good solution; but implementation is the problem as it requires every top level domain controller to actually do it; and also enforce others to carry on.

Two papers at the end of the first day were also quite interesting. There was a discussion on modeling black markets for software vulnerabilities; a scenario that already exists with botnets - but can seemingly also extend to any malicious intent; just like the arms trade I suppose.

But it is the last paper that I am really excited about. Bob Briscoe from British Telecoms presented an idea on how to control congestion on the Internet; allowing users an equal share of the bandwidth pie. The proposal raises the potential for real quality of service guarantees for Internet access; but at the same time provide a very real solution for denial of service attacks. It is a very neat idea, and is definitely a paper I intend following up on.

One of the interesting papers from today was the analylis of the value of data, using techniques similar to the insurance industry. The paper discussed how data can be valued, and why the valuation easily explains why the uptake for some security products like disk encryption and email encryption is so low. Can't really say I agreed with the values; but the approach made sense overall.

24 October 2006

Virgin Atlantic's Infight Entertainment System

In terms of intent; Virgin Atlantic's inflight entertainment system is quite amazing: on demand music, video and games - including playing games against other passengers on the plane. But after seeing a number of failures on both of my flights so far, I am convinced that the design is flawed.

Basically, the inflight entertainment system uses a very thin (anorexiac?) client which seems to process input and provide output only and one server (well atleast one per class anyway ... can't confirm about business class). Because the thin client performs no operations - the server does tend to become overloaded - and rebooting it; requires an inactivity period of over 30 minutes for most users. Furthermore, if too many users are using a certain feature - like the mapping service - then the system also becomes overloaded or too slow. In fact, there are a number of instances where the system (from the user's perspective) is just too slow or unresponsive.

In my opinion, it would be a better design in incorporate much of the interface processing components, like the menus on the client side. This way - the server does not have to do everything and the response time would be increased. Furthermore, if there are problems with one or two clients; it will not require the entire system to be rebooted. Just a few thoughts ... anyone else used a similar system?

How evil are you?

A link from Carl ... must say; many of the things listed are not really evil ...

You Are 58% Evil

You are evil, but you haven't yet mastered the dark side.
Fear not though - you are on your way to world domination.

Movie: A Scanner Darkly

This is an adaptation of possibly Phillip K Dick's most personal novel - chronicling his own experiences in drug use. It is a celebrated novel; but I found it the most difficult to understand and follow of the ones I have read. The movie on the other hand is quite precise and easy to follow - a feat in itself.

The most obvious and impressive aspect of the movie is the technology used in merging live action and animation (almost painterly in nature) into one seamless movie. This gives the movie itself a certain look; which it self enhances the whole "drug use" genre in some respects.

The story itself is good - and like most other Phillip K Dick stories; it explores the various interconnections between various aspects of life taken to extremities - in this case surveillance, corporate influence and friendship. Keanu Reeves plays an undercover agent seeking out a drug cartel behind a very toxic and addictive drug - substance D.

Unlike some of the more blockbuster movies made from Phillip K Dick movies, like Minority Report and Blade Runner - this focuses more on the poor and the disenfranchised - and very much less explosive. None the less it is an amazing movie because it is made so well and even Keanu manages to show some expressions (although that could have been animation)

Movie: The Notorious Bettie Page

I did not really know much about Bettie Page - a pinup model from the 50's who has been apparently photographed more than some of her more famous and well known counterparts like Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford. The movie is effectively a biopic about her heydays when she was a major, well known model.

What is really interesting is that she was a force before the so called sexual revolution; so some of her reactions and the reactions of the society in general is quite interesting. In particular, Bettie Page was a well known fetish model; and the movie stresses that she was not into the fetish lifestyle itself; and how she rationalises what she does - esp in the light of being quite a strong Christian.

Movie: An Inconvenient Truth

A few quick reviews on the movies I watched while there was nothing else to do on the plane.

Trailers in Ster-Kinekor put the movie as the most terrifying movie ever made. As a documentary it is - mainly because you soon realise that what you can do as a person may not be enough; because 6.5 billion people also have to do the same thing. Climate change and global warming ... it is a fact; and it is terrifying what the future could be if we can't stop the degradation. As the movie states - do we have political will to do it? And more importantly - do all countries have the political will to do it?

Unfortunately, like many other "movies that have to be seen" the people who really need to see it; will no doubt not see it.