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Archive for September 2011

Failing at life

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Today I feel like I failed a test of character.

I was walking to my car when I heard the telltale signs of a flat tire drive by and I did nothing to alert the driver of the issue. (Neither did any of my co-workers I was walking with, so we may have experienced the bystander effect.) There was a stop sign and we were in a parking lot so I had a decent chance of stopping the driver. We even commented on it as the car went by, but a few seconds later the car was out of our reach.

Those seconds were some of the longest seconds in my life. Every bone in my body was saying I should say something, but I didn’t do it. Was I too scared of making myself seem like a fool in front of my peers if I was wrong about the flat tire? I don’t really know why I didn’t do anything.

But I know that afterward I felt like a failure.

I hope that this doesn’t happen again.

I feel like these small tests of character come up often in my life. Nearly every day, I have at least one opportunity to directly impact somebody’s life and the choices I make during these opportunities determines the kind of person I am. Some days are good and I walk a bit taller knowing that I helped somebody. Some days… not so much.

I think heroes are the people who make the choice to be that helpful person, to directly impact somebody’s life for the better without regard to self. The easy choice is to stand by and do nothing. Heroes change the world, perhaps only in some small way, but they should be called heroes nonetheless.


Written by notatypewriter

2011 September 23 at 1:41 am

Posted in Thoughts

Reviews of two more chairs

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I went down to Design Within Reach to check out one more chair, the Knoll Generation. I also saw the Eames Lounge Chair and I could not resist trying it out. Please check out my previous review of about ten other office chairs.

The store is quite a drive from here, so to be really honest, I just wanted to get out and see Bethesda, since I’ve never been. It’s a pretty rich place (saw numerous Benz AMGs, Porsches, a Maybach dealership, and one Maserati) and the people are angry angry drivers. I don’t remember when I’ve ever heard more honking, even in NYC. Nevertheless, Bethesda is really nice with lots of food around. There is ample parking in downtown and the downtown is very walkable. Great place.

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Written by notatypewriter

2011 September 10 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Nerding out

Tagged with , , , ,

Reviews of a few office chairs

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Every programmer knows the importance of a good chair. To find my perfect chair, I tried out ten task chairs today at the local HealthyBack store (as an aside, customer service was non-existent, which is good if you like to fiddle with the chairs without some salesman yapping at you): Haworth Very, Haworth Zody, Herman Miller Aeron, Herman Miller Embody, Herman Miller Mirra, Humanscale Freedom, Humanscale Liberty, Nightingale CXO, and the Steelcase Leap. I also have some experience with the Steelcase Think.

First some general thoughts.

  • I was surprised by the uselessness of headrests. Whenever I reclined, the headrests would just get in the way of my head leaning back and keeping the spine straight.
  • Seat depth is really important. If your seat is too long, then there’s a lot of potential to start slouching by sitting away from the back of the chair. I feel it should be shallow enough so that sitting too far forward is uncomfortable, but long enough so that you’re still balanced over the center. I’ve read that if you can put three fingers between the back of knee and the front of the seat pan, you’re good
  • See if the lumbar support adjusts when you recline. Many chairs do not do so. It might also be a sign that you’re not sitting far back enough, eg, the fulcrum of the chair’s recliner is not close enough to your hip, which is your body’s fulcrum.
  • If you’re thin, look for adjustable arms.
  • Read OSHA’s guide to seat ergonomics
  • Watch the videos on each chair’s website to understand how to adjust the chair. Might be impossible to remember if you’re doing 10 chairs though… Make two trips!

Here are some thoughts on each, gathered from fiddling with the knobs and sitting on it for approximately 5 minutes. A more comprehensive test is probably best before you blow $1000 on one.

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Written by notatypewriter

2011 September 9 at 8:30 pm

Lecture Notes: UMD Cybersecurity Seminar “The Argument for Data-driven Security” by Prof Stefan Savage, UCSD

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I attended a lecture (video) given by Professor Stefan Savage at the Google & University of Maryland Cybersecurity Seminar Series on the need for data in computer security.

He says the computer security field today is driven by patching or mitigating the vulnerability of the week. Presenters at the premiere computer security conferences like Black Hat and DEFCON talk about their latest exploit. Savage says this approach is ineffective at actually keeping people secure. Savage proposes that viewing security problems through the lens of business and economics can be used to gain insight into the effectiveness of measures taken to protect against or attack the computer criminals and those who enable them.


  • Savage says in the business context, the effectiveness of security is not a yes-no answer (Did it work?) but rather it should be phrased in a cost-benefit analysis. By how much did a security measure increase costs for the bad guys? Does a security measure trash the investments the bad guys made into their infrastructure? In the case of takedowns, can the bad guys quickly switch to another provider of services you just took down? Economics and business can help us understand mitigations.
  • I would tend to agree. His analysis of the spam ecosystem made sense, not that it has been put into practice… yet. I do agree with the need for more data.
  • Savage’s data collection infrastructure is massive and awesome. He claims to be able to view 1% of global Internet traffic. Thousands of instances of Firefox clicking on millions of spams. Dozens of Internet connections distributed across the world used to browse spammer’s sites. Automatic clustering and classification of illegal pharmacy sites to tie these sites to the affiliate marketer that made the site. Without this infrastructure, Savage’s research and ultimate recommendation would not have been possible.
  • “Before we had cloud, we had botnets.”
  • Apparently, bank scams can be run out of Iran. It wasn’t clear whether this was officially sanctioned, officially ignored, or just the result of lax enforcement.
  • Kill the illegal payment processors now.

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Written by notatypewriter

2011 September 2 at 12:30 am

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