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Monday
Aug252003

Monday WiFi Tidbits

Pere Marquette parkFriday at lunch, I decided to meet my good friend (and unix admin) Jon for lunch, to see if we could access the City of Milwaukee's WiFi network in Pere Marquette park (mentioned in earlier posts: Milwaukee: Brats, Beer, Harleys and Wi-Fi Hotspots and Weekend Wi-Fi Tidbits) with a Palm Tungsten C.

Using NetChaser (a utility that scans for WiFi networks), we were successful finding the network itself. The network called 'MILWIFI' had a strong signal, accessible on the bridge just East of the park. We found a picnic table and enjoyed our lunches while trying to log into the WiFi access point. Using Handspring's Blazer, I had no success; I kept getting blank pages. When I switched back to the Tungsten C's built-in Web application the login page for the network came right up. Apparently this welcome page relied on JavaScript, which Blazer doesn't do.

However, after repeated attempts to click the 'accept' button, I kept getting a bad password error on the page. Not quite sure what the deal was, but I suspect the Tungsten C's web browser must have just not supported the right specs for the page. I'd guess the login page was designed with laptops, not handhelds in mind. At least not the Tungsten C. So, while we were successful in proving that the network was active, we couldn't make any use of it. Bummer!

My second tidbit comes from Lorenz Szabo, who forwarded a link to the eye-opening article Dispelling the Myth of Wireless Security by Rob Flickenger (author of the soon to be released Wireless Hacks). Seems that Rob was able to hack into an AirPort Extreme base station within 1.5 hours using a few WiFi utilities -- yes, that includes faking MAC addressing and cracking WEP encryption. Kinda wakes you up to how insecure stock WiFi equipment is. The upshot: don't rely on built in security, but rather, rely on application level security (PGP Mail encryption, Secure FTP, etc.) to protect sensitive information transfers.

Lastly, I should comment on all of the open WiFi networks I've encountered while driving or walking around with the Tungsten C and NetChaser. Craig Froehle has already commented on this at GearBits, listing some of the more interesting access point network names. The most common WiFi network name I've seen is 'linksys' followed closely by 'default'.

While the Rob Flickenger tidbit (above) clearly shows WiFi networks can be hacked relatively easily by high-level users, using MAC address filtering or WEP encryption will at least keep out casual the casual passer-by with a WiFi equipped device. That is unless you don't mind sharing your cable or DSL connection with the world. :-)

Friday
Aug222003

Mmmm... Sushi!

Sushi CircleAnd now for something completely different... Sushi. I was reminded of the first time I had sushi because a friend and I visited Nanakusa, a Milwaukee sushi bar this week for lunch. I thought sharing my story might encourage you to try sushi too. Here goes...

For a long time, I wanted to try sushi. Yeah, the idea of eating raw fish seems odd, but I'm a curious guy, and wanted to try sushi before dismissing it out-of-hand. I thought, "never know... might be good!"

Well, about 3 years ago while on a business trip to Germany I had an opportunity to give sushi a try. One of my work colleagues in Germany named Rafael, was a sushi enthusiast, driving to the Frankfurt airport on weekends or into downtown Frankfurt to get a weekly fix of sushi. He lobbied me heavily to give sushi a try and being curious about it, I agreed, but not after some thought and contemplation.

After all, I was in Germany and was concerned about heath risks of sushi, especially since I still had meetings to attend and still needed to fly home to the US. Rafael did a great job of telling me about the healthfulness of sushi. I decided to give sushi a try.

So, Rafael, myself, and another work colleague made a trek to downtown Frankfurt to see the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable at the Frankfurt English-language theater. Following the film, we visited one of Rafael's favorite sushi bars called Sushi Circle.

What a cool place! Sushi Circle had a rectangular sushi bar with rounded corners, with sushi chefs preparing selections in the center, behind the bar. Meanwhile, a conveyor belt wound its way around the top of the bar, separating sushi-eaters from the sushi-makers. Once a chef completed a dish he would place it on the conveyor on a plate with one of several color-coded edges, each designating the price. As dishes came around the "circle" you could let them pass, or grab one off the conveyor and enjoy it.

SushiWe started dinner with miso soup and hot green tea, then began watching the conveyor belt for the most attractive dishes. My first taste of sushi was a California roll, made of rice and vegetables wrapped in a seaweed strip, followed by an 'Inside out" roll with rice surrounding the vegetables in the center, rather than seaweed. I especially enjoyed the wasabi (a special green horseradish paste) and dipping my sushi into soy sauce with chopsticks. After getting into a groove on the sushi thing, I started to try a few sushi dishes like tuna and salmon which were all extremely tasty!

I had built up the idea that sushi would be very "fishy" tasting but was I quite wrong. The flavor of raw fish was very mild and the texture was smooth as silk. What a surprise! i could really understand how this could be a delicacy. We spent the next hour and a half enjoying different selections and trying more of our favorites.

We stayed until closing time at Sushi Circle and were rewarded with some "freebies" by the chefs, who had been watching the three of us enjoying their hard work. Each one of us received at least 3 free selections from our chefs -- I assumed the free sushi dishes we were given most likely wouldn't be any good the next day. I really appreciated that these chefs would rather see customers enjoy their good sushi than toss it away.

When the time came to depart, payment was quite easy: we just brought our stack of plates to the register, where the hostess added up the cost by plate edge colors. Now, sushi is pricey because it's a delicacy, handmade by trained chefs, but I felt the extra cost was worth it. I figured I wouldn't be having sushi every day, and splurged a bit.

So, if you every have the opportunity to give sushi a try, I can highly recommend it, particularly if you enjoy seafood. You might be surprised too. :-)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday
Aug212003

Ownership Has its Benefits & Demands

Was just thinking the other day about the benefits to owning things, when I was reminded that along with the "benefits" of owning things there are also "demands" which things place on their owners. Of course this is true with most anything, and for each thing we own we must find the balance between its benefits and demands.

I was thinking more about ownership benefits/demands in terms of technology, but I think this idea applies to anything that can be owned. For instance, owning a handheld is a great thing: I can track my time, read e-books, play games and many other wonderful things which can truly enrich my life. On the other hand, a handheld is a time drain that "demands" my time, energy, memory, or what I call "care and feeding".

For instance, I have to remember to carry my Clie along when I go out so I have my phone numbers or can check dates or setup spur-of-the-moment appointments. I'm required to drop my handheld in the cradle every now and then to top up the battery or it might just up and die on me. I have to sync it with my Mac weekly (if not daily), to keep my work time recording up to date. And of course I should back up regularly or I might risk spending more time, energy and memory cells rebuilding the Clie from older backups.

That doesn't even take into account time spent finding, installing and learning to use third party software, or troubleshooting problems and errors, both of which are time energy demands. After a while all of these "care and feeding" issues start adding up.

On the monetary side of things, you might want to buy accessories, like a protective case, a travel sync cable, memory card(s), a nice stylus, third party software and so on. Pretty soon even the most basic handheld can begin to get pricey if you don't watch it.

Now don't get me wrong -- I love my handheld and think it's a wonderful addition to my life. I keep much better track of my time, I have immediate access to all of my contacts when I'm on the go and can read e-books anywhere.

What I'm trying to point out is this: anything you own (which in this example case happens to be a handheld) will place demands on your time and energy. Because we all live in an ownership-oriented, materialistic and advertising-driven culture, we often fail to take this "demands" aspect of material things into account, because we are often more focused on the "benefits" an object may offer.

When I weigh the "care and feeding" demands of a handheld against its benefits, I think it's a pretty decent trade-off, but maybe something else isn't a good trade off -- I want to be more aware of that. I'm happy to find I am starting to do this kind of weigh-off more and more. I believe it's just a habit you need to be foster in yourself, if you feel knowing the "total cost of ownership" of an object is valuable to your decision making.

Anyway, just something to consider... :-)

Tuesday
Aug192003

Cheap Internet Voice Calls

SIPphoneLast week on Gizmodo I came across the SIPphone, a desktop phone with an Ethernet jack instead of a regular phone jack -- a great idea for far away friends who both have broadband Internet service. Each phone has a set phone number, which other SIPphone callers can call to reach you.

The idea is this -- you and a far away friend split the cost of two SIPphones for $130. You keep one phone and send the other phone to the friend with whom you spend lots of cash calling with long distance. Great idea if you both have differing operating systems (say Windows and Mac OS) and make lots of calls. It'd be especially attractive for say one friend in the US and another in New Zealand, since in the long run it would save vs. international long distance.

Of course, if you're a Mac OS X user, iChat AV (in public beta, soon to be sold for $30) does pretty much the same thing with optional video capabilities. In fact, my friend Andy in London and I have just about weekly voice chats via iChat AV with pretty good sound quality, saving us tons of money over international long distance calls. I can tell you that it's a great feeling being able to call Andy whenever he's around and have a voice (or video) chat rather than pounding out an email.

Yahoo Messenger seems to at least offer voice chatting capabilities, but it's much more like a walkie-talkie instead of a regular telephone with full-duplex like iChat AV. Yuck! Yeah, it works but it's just another hassle... I want to have my service act just like my telephone does.

Which brings me back to the SIPphone. Yes it's a bit more costly than software for your Mac, PC or Linux box, but I see it as the kind of dedicated, nearly-brainless technology that just works. SIPphone is perfect for two or more computer users regardless of the OS they run and only depends on your cable connection: not your Mac, PC or Linux box, which for the right people, could be a perfect solution.

Monday
Aug182003

Palm Becomes palmOne

palmOneJust heard the news a little bit ago that Palm, Inc. has now renamed themselves palmOne and have launched their new site with the logomark in place.

As a graphic designer, my first impression of the logo is positive. I see palmOne has used very different color scheme of maroon and orange. It's nice to see that the design firm and palmOne wasn't afraid to use a little orange, a color I really like. You can also see that the "L" of palm looks alot like a numeral "1" too... a nice touch.

I think the only thing that'll screw up writers is the lower cased "p" of the palmOne. I suppose this is to emphasize the "One" instead of "palm" though it creates problems at the start of sentences and just feels kinda awkward. I do recall this kind of middle-cap approach being used in programming -- maybe that's part of where the inspiration is from. Either that or middle-capped brand names are the hip, new cool designery thing these days.

So, now I have to wonder... exactly how does one correctly pronounce the new name? I was thinking maybe it'd be fun to add an Italian flair and say it like this:

"PalmmOOOHhhnayy!"

Just think Pepperonni or Pizzone... hey this is kinda fun! ;-)