I’m moving this stuff to a new blogging engine.
But I’ve been very curious for a long time about the book that made Caro famous: his biography of Robert Moses.
It’s impossible to spend any amount of time in New York City without your local guide mentioning Robert Moses. “Robert Moses created the parkways,” they’ll say. Or, “Robert Moses destroyed entire neighborhoods to build the BQE.” (At this point you say “Tut, tut,” because you’re not sure what a BQE is.) “Robert Moses built the pyramids! Robert Moses brought down the Ten Commandments!”
I’m pretty sure that the last two are about a different Moses.
I like the New York parkways. They’re pretty and picturesque. They’re what I imagine Storrow Drive should look like if only someone with power had built it. So I thought I’d give The Power Broker a try.
Have you seen the size of this thing? I mean look at it! It’s over 1300 pages long. That is more that the first three Harry Potter books put together. Which I also haven’t read.
I wish to marvel at Mose’s deft handling of power. I long to read about the legal structure of the Triborough Bridge Commission.
But there are some problems:
the book is huge
it has a lot pages
I can only check it out for three weeks
So I decided to return the book to the library. But just as soon as it’s available as an eBook, I’ll pick it back up.
A few days ago when I picked up the boy at school, he told me that one of his friends had read Catch-22. “She said it was funny, Dad. I want to read it.”
“Gosh, son,” I said, “I’m not sure that that book is appropriate for you at this point. Are you sure that she read it?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s about some rule that you can’t … well, I don’t remember, but she said it was funny. What’s not appropriate about it?”
“Well, I haven’t read it myself, but I know of it. I think I started it once but got fed up pretty early on. But knowing generally what it’s about, it probably has stuff in it that you’re not quite ready for.”
“You mean like sex stuff?”
“Yeah, that, but other stuff as well.”
What I was thinking was “Things like jaded post-war cynicism and absurd nihilism. Things you shouldn’t get into until you’re around 15 or so.”
“Tell you what,” I said. “Let me read it first, and after I’ve read it, I’ll let you know whether I think it’s OK for you. That sound like a good plan?”
“Yeah,” he said.
I picked it up at my favorite library, and read the first fifty pages or so before I got fed up with it.
But just as soon as I finish it, I’ll let the boy know whether he can read it.
I’ve been reading Boing Boing for years. It’s usually more convenient for me to read it through an RSS aggregator like Reeder or Google Reader, so I rarely go to the site itself.
Lately, whenever I do go to the site, I notice on their sidebar a picture and a link to the Future of Science 2021. This is what the picture looks like in the sidebar:
The image is supposed to be a map of some sort, but that’s not what I see. But that’s not what I see. I see this instead:
Some twenty or thirty pages in, I lost track of where I was,
but not in that “lost in a good book” way. Something to do with a book. And something to do with Inanna.
I may have to create a new category for this kind of book: Books I’m Not Sure I Started.
I never talk about politics with my friends, with my family, or on Facebook. Well, I’ll touch on the topic: “How ‘bout them politicians?” or “That’s a humdinger of a case SCOTUS decided to hear, huh?” In other words, I’ll discuss politics about the same way I discuss the weather.
But if you want to get deeper into what I think, what I believe, and how I vote, it’s not likely to happen.
See, it’s not me. It’s you.
If you agree with me politically, we’ll just pat ourselves on the back, marvel at the wonderful insights we share about the human condition, and revel in the snug smugness of being right and of being humble and magnanimous about it
If we disagree, we’ll both get that queasy nausea upon discovering that a close friend and confidant is a not only an idiot, a hopeless degenerate, and a closet bedwetter, but also the owner of a meticulously curated collection of tin foil hats.
And I would just hate to think that about you.
Late last month, Eric Butler, a software developer from Seattle, released a Firefox plugin called Firesheep. The plugin analyzes traffic on a local network segment, looking for traffic to well known sites. If the traffic includes user information, the plugin displays the user’s name and the name of the service. And if the traffic includes a cookie that lets the site know that the user has already been authenticated, double-clicking on the user information lets you log into the user’s account on the service.
Firesheep can do this because many sites use encryption only to authenticate users. Once that’s done, the site gives your browser a cookie. The next time you need information from the site, it just checks whether your browser has a valid cookie. The problem is that although your username and password might have been encrypted when you logged in, the cookie is transmitted in the clear, without encryption. Firesheep can easily create its own cookie and use it to connect to the site. The site sees a valid cookie and assumes that authentication has already taken place.
As Butler points out, there is nothing new here. Network savvy people have long known that any information transmitted in the clear on a local network can easily be intercepted. What’s different about Firesheep, is that it makes getting the information dead easy without learning how to use network analysis tools.
The solution is pretty clear. All communication on between a browser and a web site should be encrypted. The companies that manage the web sites that Firesheep looks for, choose to encrypt only the the login portion of the user’s communication. They could choose to encrypt the entire transaction. This is what Google mail does, and it better be what your bank is doing.
So now that you’re worried about all your data floating around in the clear, what do you do?
First, don’t worry so much. Second, worry a little bit.
The wireless network in your house is probably OK as long as you have secured it with some sort of encryption like WPA. Someone would have to actually be on the network to sniff traffic on it. Keep your network password-protected, and let only trusted people use it.
What if you like to take advantage of the open WiFi access in cafes, libraries, hotels, and so on? In those places, you can take some basic precautions. Eric Butler offers some good ideas in his day-after followup. The entire post is well worth reading.
My solution was to use a SSH tunnel. As Butler notes, this just moves the issue from one network to another. That’s OK with me because I’m tunneling from a known insecure network, to a network I’m reasonably secure in: my house.
My Macintosh at home is set up to allow remote logins over SSH. When I’m working at the library or some other place where the WiFi is insecure, I create a tunnel from my laptop using SSH’s dynamic port forwarding. In a Terminal window I type this:
ssh -fCqND 8998 email@example.com
The fCqN flags tell SSH to run in the background, compress the data, run quietly, and not execute any commands after connecting. The D flag tells SSH use port 8998 for the tunnel. 22.214.171.124 is the IP address of my Mac at home, and “user” is my login name on that machine. (It isn’t really, and there isn’t a key under my doormat, either.) Although I’m using my home machine as my tunnel endpoint, you can use any machine on a trusted network as the tunnel endpoint as long as it’s running OpenSSH and can get to the internet.
This means that all traffic that my laptop sends to port 8998 is redirected to my home machine, which is acting as a proxy server.
Now I just need to tell my laptop to send all network traffic to port 8998 instead of its usual port. To do this, I open the Network panel in System Preferences and click Advanced, and do the following:
Choose SOCKS Proxy
Enter localhost : 8998 as my proxy server (that’s the tunnel to my Mac at home)
The thing to keep in mind about this is that the connection is encrypted only from one end of the tunnel to the other. It does not magically add encryption all the way to the web site that might be leaking cookies. All I’m doing is moving the vulnerability from a network I know I don’t trust to one that I do trust.
Sometimes, people have a hard time telling whether I’m looking at them. I’ll be talking to someone, and the person standing to their left will start answering. Or the person I’m talking to will wait for the person to their left to respond.
This is because only one of my eyes works.
When I was a teen, I developed a cataract in my left eye, and at the age of 16, it was removed. For a few years, I used contact lenses. The one in the left eye had a very strong setting (+something) and the one in my right eye was for my regular nearsightedness. Because the lenses were right on top of my eyes, the images projected on my retina were about the same size, and I was able to see stereoscopically.
Wearing hard contacts is a pain. So in college, I gave them up, and just wore glasses. In retrospect, this wasn’t such a good idea. I made a lot of bad choices in college, and as things go, this one was not the worst. (The worst was going to college when and where I did, but that’s a different story.)
Over time, my brain stopped processing data from my left eye. I still see shapes and colors. I can see the outlines of facial features at 3 feet, but at 100 feet, I can’t distinguish trees from each other, and large structures appear as colored blobs.
I don’t have stereoscopic vision, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have depth perception. Stereoscopic vision is just one way of seeing depth. I rely on the relative size of objects, shading, movement, experience, and common sense. It’s not usually a problem except in specific circumstances. If you hand me a pencil over a uniformly colored table, I might reach slightly ahead or slightly behind because I’ve misjudged where in space the pencil is. When I pour wine in a dark restaurant, I usually place the neck of the bottle against the glass. Otherwise, I might end up pouring in front of or behind the glass, onto the table. (As I said, experience is a big issue in helping me determine depth.)
Through years of disuse, my brain and body have decided that my left eye deserves very little attention. I use it for peripheral vision on my left side, and because I can still see shapes, I do get subtle cues about what’s around me.
I’m comfortable with my monocularity, and never felt disenfranchised by the stereoscopically able. Until this year.
The 3-D Movie
I took my son to see Avatar. It was playing on a real movie screen and on a 3-D screen. The only time that worked for us was the 3-D showing. Even though I don’t see out of my left eye, I still needed the 3-D glasses so that the movie wouldn’t be fuzzy. But because my left eye still sees some light, I was going to have to watch the movie with one eye closed. Otherwise, the slightly different images would drive me nuts.
I can’t imagine that the 3-D effects made the movie any more enjoyable. It certainly didn’t add anything from my point of view. Watching a movie with one eye closed is annoying. And on top of everything, the movie was pretty bad.
When it was the odd movie that featured a bit of 3-D here and there, it didn’t matter to me. More and more movies, however, are coming out in 3-D though. So far, they tend to be animated or action movies I’d skip anyway, but it’s only a matter of time that someone makes a decent film in 3-D. That’s likely to be the end of movies for me.
Katzenberg says that “if you look at the history of film, there have now been three great revolutions. The first was silent to talkies. The second was black-and-white to color, 70 years ago. And this is the third great revolution, a quantum leap. We’re at the top of the waterfall with 3-D. And this is going to cascade down into virtually every facet of our lives where we are encountering video imagery or even photography.”
And to make sure everyone gets the memo, Dowd ends her column with:
Just as we had to be dragged into acknowledging that sound and color made movies more realistic, now we must get accustomed to films where, with apologies to a colleague, the world is not flat.
Maureen’s being a little disingenuous with that “we.” She never experienced the transition from silent to sound, and while she may have seen movies that were intentionally filmed in black and white, she never experienced the change herself.
But I imagine that for the deaf, the hard of hearing, and the color blind, neither sound nor color enhanced their movie going experience. I would guess that if anything, it detracted from it.
I’ve come to accept that, as I get older, some things will pass out of the range of my ability. The other day my son said to me, “I can put my big toe in my mouth.” It never even occurred to me to ask him how he knew that or why he’d tried. I already knew.
“Can you do that, dad?” he asked.
“Not since I was your age,” I said.
I used to boast that I could work in 10-point text on a 1600x1200 pixel display. Now I work with 12-point text at much lower resolution, and still sometimes I have to lean close to distinguish a period from a comma. I find that I’m saying, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you,” more often. My memory has become pockmarked with odd lacunae.
It’s true, I only see a few movies a year. My fondness for sitting with strangers in the dark isn’t what it once was. Nonetheless, I still feel left out, left behind, slightly discarded. And I find this particular loss of ability frustrating. Because of a change in technology, not nature and not age, my idiosyncratic eyesight, which was never more than a minor inconvenience may turn into a disability that would prevent me from watching movies.