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November 28, 2005

Homework, Homework, I Loathe Thee

I have a really nasty homework assignment for my computer security class right now. We were given the source code for two programs: a server that performs a trivial operation and a client that requests that the server perform that operation. By analyzing the source code for the server program but not changing it, we are to modify the client program to exploit any one weakness we find in the server program. The end result must be that the client will actually be able to steal any file from anywhere on the server computer.

The difficulty is in finding the weakness(es). We were told there is at least one buffer overflow problem in the server code, and there is a format-string violation that we can exploit for extra credit. So far, all I've been able to do has been to clean up the code. It was so poorly written, I couldn't even really figure out what was going on. Anyway, once I find the weakness(es), modifying the client to exploit them should be a breeze.

Because I'm going to Washington Thursday morning, I have less than 2.5 days to do this. It's due next Monday at 4:30. Ugh.

Oh, and Katy, Tristram, and Jay are all eating sushi on the south side right now. Grrrr.

November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Food-ish-ness

Thanksgiving week is over, and I had tons of fun with all the family that showed up here. It was also very nice to have Katy around for a lot of the stuff we did.

Le Pommier served a fantastic prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner, and Isabela was even better on Friday night. We had four days of excellent dining, drinking, discourse, and Dorian. Now, Dorian the World Traveler is in Houston, breaking things at my parents' house and awaiting my mid-December arrival.

Katy and I went to the Strip District yesterday to do a bit of grocery shopping. One of the more remarkable things we purchased was a 9.29 lb. bag of 89% lean ground beef. Yes, a bag. Of ground beef. At the incredibly low price of $20. It has since been divided into eight smaller bags and frozen. What a deal! We also got some neat spices (seems there's a lot of Indian curry in our future), some fan-freakin'-tastic baba ghanouj, 1.5 lbs. of slab bacon, bulk hot Italian sausage, and a bunch of other stuff.

Katy's purchases there included the ingredients for shrimp spring rolls, which Tristram joined us to eat last night. They were very good, and so was the chili bok choy I insisted she make. :)

Mmm, food. I just wish all the good stuff had less bad cholesterol.

November 23, 2005

On This Day in History

Oh, The Onion, you are so irreverent.

November 22, 2005

Snow Picture

Well, here it is: snow.

Click to enlarge.

November 20, 2005

Wish List

Just in time for the holidays, I've added a link to my Amazon.com wish list to the top of this page. :)

I wasn't really sure which Amazon.com URL to use for it. I tested the one I'm using while logged in and while not logged in, and it worked fine. Would one of you test it while logged in as yourself and see if it still works? Thanks.

My VLSI CAD homework, which is due tomorrow at 5 PM, is complete and very pretty. It also has a drawing of a penguin waving on the front page (does anyone submit homeworks without penguins these days?). Now, on to Computer Security homework...

November 18, 2005

English Genius

English Genius
You scored 100% Beginner, 100% Intermediate, 100% Advanced, and 100% Expert!
You did so extremely well, even I can't find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don't. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you're not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!

Thank you so much for taking my test. I hope you enjoyed it!

For the complete Answer Key, visit my blog: http://shortredhead78.blogspot.com/.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
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You scored higher than 69% on Beginner
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You scored higher than 48% on Intermediate
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You scored higher than 81% on Advanced
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You scored higher than 95% on Expert
Link: The Commonly Confused Words Test written by shortredhead78 on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Well, it wasn't exactly difficult.

Snowy Physician's Disease

After much ado, hubbub, and rumpus, it finally snowed here yesterday morning. It didn't stick, and by the time I left the house, there was no evidence of any snow fall. So, I apologize to those of you who wanted pictures of the first snow fall -- you're not going to get them.

Yesterday's high was 31F, and last night's low was 17F. Right now, the temperature is 29F, and it "feels like" 25F with wind chill.


The current forecast for next week is snow from Tuesday to Friday, with temperatures ranging from 26F to 39F. If you're one of the lucky people who is visiting here for Thanksgiving, be sure you pack some warm clothing. :)

In other news, the acronym PCPID, as I knew it when I woke up today, stands for Primary Care Physician Identification. I noticed earlier today that it also stands for President's Committee for People with Intellectual Diseases, which is some pork created in 1961 by President Kennedy for placating the 2-3% of Americans who are mentally retarded or suffer from another form of "intellectual disease." It seems this committee is mostly responsible for writing reports and delivering them to the president, whose responsibility, in turn, it is to add the report to the heaps of paper the White House recycles every day. Even the title of the 2004 report, A Charge We Have to Keep, reeks of people who just don't care. But, their web site does have a link to the Department of Homeland Security, so you can be certain you're still part of a terror machine, even while reading the latest White House fireplace fodder. Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.

November 15, 2005

Morality Debate: Part II

Last Tuesday, I posted a blog entry that generated a lot of interest among the visitors to my blog. The following is a summary of the debate so far. If you have any further comments, please feel free to post them against this entry, rather than the original.

I started the debate by saying Katy believes in a society wherein there exists one particular set of morals that is correct, and I disagree: every person maintains a set of morals, and if one person's morals differ from another person's morals, that's fine, and nobody can say one set of morals is correct and another is not.

arc followed that by saying he agrees with me, but there exist certain ideas which are universally immoral, such as taking an action that results in harm being done to another person and denying someone equal rights. He also noted the end result of this discussion might not be entirely divergent from Orwellian thought.

Katy then wrote that people can be incorrect in their evaluation of things as moral and immoral. She also noted she does not think there is an objective truth about morality, but a moral code is a system in which there exist no ideas that anybody could reasonably reject as a standard for action. She conceded there is a possibility that two people could have divergent but simultaneously correct morals in a small number of cases, but in most of these cases, the issues at stake are unimportant.

I followed up by stating arc's idea of universal immorality is good but that it still does not necessitate the formation of a standard set of morals; i.e. if something is, indeed, universally immoral, then all people will consider that thing immoral, regardless of whether it's written down anywhere. I also agreed with arc's Orwell observation in a more 1984-ish sense than an Animal Farm-ish sense. I brought up some questions about the ability for a "bad" society (e.g. Nazi Germany) to create moral standards and what the impact of that might be on its citizens.

tlt began her response by saying she is troubled by the idea that absolute sets of morals could exist. She then asserted a moral standard should evolve over time and disagreed with Katy's assertion that a judicial system is based on morals: she believes a judicial system tends to reflect the needs of a society rather than the morals of those who enforce the laws. tlt also said the concept of universal immorality may blind the society that holds those beliefs to their consequences in other societies.

Katy then stated tlt was incorrect in assuming she believed in absolute sets of morals. She said she, instead, believes there is one correct way to judge whether a set of morals is legitimate: namely, if anybody could reasonably reject it, then it is not good.

tlt offered several examples to illustrate the alleged invalidity and possible abuses of an assumption that a group in power must consider all beings which it is morally obligated to consider and related points.

phyzics used a (botched but fixed later) logical argument, based on Quine, to demonstrate that Katy's assertions imply that a moral code is subject to a tribunal of experience. He referred to this as a double-edged sword on the basis of the possible underdetermination of a moral theory based on cultural differences. He then dropped a few more names and concluded it is snobbery to assume a suitable moral code can be created by the careful study of intellectuals.

Katy responded that she could not understand why phyzics was using a logical argument to support a theory that is based on empirical evidence. She also said she believes phyzics is incorrect in his assertion that a culture is unable to create a theory that is valid across all cultures. She went on to say that, because of societal differences, it's OK for standardized morals to be applied differently across societies and thus yield different results, so long as those moral maxims are constant (I'm going to call this theory propagation now.).

phyzics's next argument was based on possibly conflicting definitions of existence and truth by way of examining the logical existential quantifier. He asserted that a group of people can, indeed, define a theory that is true across all cultures (which seems to contradict an earlier argument of his; cf. previous paragraph). He then said the concepts of right, just, and moral are subject to the tribunal of experience.

Katy, in disagreeing with phyzics's formalization of her previous idea about theory propagation, reworded her theory in logical form. She stated disagreements on the definitions of existence and truth are irrelevant to this discussion. She also asserted her theory is eminently applicable, specifically regardless of time and the evolution of human thought.

phyzics responded with a clarification of his goals: he noted a theory based on observations is only correct to within a margin of error. He also reasserted that there exists a disagreement over the definition of "existence."

OK, my head hurts now.

Pomegranate Wasabi

With 15 rather long comments, Spicy Morality Cat is, by far, the most commented blog post I've ever written. The comments raise some very good points and counter-points, and I'd like to see the discussion continue. I expect that later today, at some point after I get back from my VLSI CAD class, I'll be able to organize the issues presented into a coherent summary and post another blog entry about it, against which more discussion will be warmly welcomed.

[ Update (5:32 PM EST): the morality debate is now summarized here. ]

First, however, I must tell you about dinner last night.

I love sushi. Anyone who has ever eaten sushi with me is well aware of this. I have had sushi in many forms, in many places, and under a wide variety of circumstances. I have had bad sushi, good sushi, and fantastic sushi. I have introduced people to sushi and been thoroughly entertained by their expressions after trying each of the fish that particular restaurant had on offer. I've even eaten sushi in Colorado Springs and Vail, hundreds of miles from an ocean.

I know many other people who also love sushi, but I've never known anyone other than professional sushi chefs who have actually made sushi at home. I did that last night.

Step one is to buy a hunk of fish meat that looks particularly nice and put it in the freezer for a few days to kill any nasty stuff that might be lurking in it. Then, thaw it, and you're well on your way to becoming a homegrown sushi chef. I was worried I'd have no idea how to cut the fish to make it the proper shape, but it turned out to be really easy. Diagonal cuts down the bulk of the steak work very well for this. My only problem was that some of the slices ended up being a bit thin. Oh, I'd also imagine it would be difficult to cut a fish steak well without something very sharp. My Wüsthof Classic Chef's Knife didn't let me down.

Step two is to make rice. I bought special sushi rice at Whole Foods Market (for lack of anywhere better), but I think any rice that has a short grain and is really sticky should be fine. Cook to taste, yada yada, you should know how to make rice by now. For the love of Dog, do not add salt. After the rice has finished cooking, it's only necessary to let it cool down to a temperature at which it won't burn you if you handle it with your hands. I was surprised at how easy it was to form the rice so that a slice of fish would fit comfortably on top.

Step three is to make all the other stuff you want. In my case, I wanted wasabi. I would have wanted ginger, too, but I would have had to go far out of my way to get it with such late notice. I bought my wasabi powder at Whole Foods Market, and I made sure to get the kind with the most actual wasabi in the powder (Sushi Sonic wasabi powder has 45% "genuine wasabi"). It seems some brands use a bunch of dried horseradish and mustard but not a lot of real wasabi. The idea is to mix the powder with enough water to make a paste. If you've never actually eaten wasabi before, go do that, and then you'll know what the consistency of the paste should be.

Water, though, seemed like a drag once I caught sight of the pomegranates in my fruit bowl. So, Katy and I painfully peeled one of those suckers, carefully extracted all the stupid little seed things, and juiced them. That yielded about half a cup of pomegranate juice, which was way more than enough for the wasabi I was about to make.

So, we ate a bunch of tuna sushi with organic soy sauce and pomegranate wasabi, and it was absolutely amazing. If you're in the Pittsburgh area and would like to sample pomegranate wasabi, I still have some in my refrigerator, which I may use to crust the tuna steaks I made from the leftover tuna last night (the limiting factor in sushi-making was rice -- I thought I cooked way too much, but I, in fact, cooked way too little). Yum!

November 14, 2005

Blog Changes and Firefox RC2

This entry is slightly geeky. You are warned.

In the individual entry pages on this site, you'll notice comments now contain posters' names at the beginning in addition to the end. I noticed reading comments and keeping the posters straight could get a bit confusing when the comments got particularly long. I'm also planning to write a summary of that morality thing, but I don't want to do it just yet.

Also, our friends over at Mozilla have released Firefox Release Candidate 2 (RC2). If you're still using Internet Explorer, you really need to get with the times and start using Firefox, which is, hands down, more featureful, safer, cleaner, prettier, and all-around better than IE. It will even import all your cookies, settings, saved passwords, bookmarks, and everything else, so the change is completely seamless.

If you're running Windows x64, there is a slightly older release of Firefox, the Deer Park Alpha 2, available for download. I've been running it a few days now and haven't had any problems with it.

You might also be interested in FlashBlock, a super-spiffy plug-in for Firefox that replaces all the Flash content on web pages with little logo things that you can click if you actually want to see the content. You'll notice a severe drop in the annoyance level of a lot of sites, as many obnoxious advertisements come in the form of Flash. It's also pretty simple to add sites to a whitelist, which will prevent FlashBlock from blocking content on those sites. That feature is particularly nice for web sites that use Flash in a non-annoying manner. Alas, that is usually the exception to the rule.

In other news, the current installation of my VLSI CAD homework (number five!) is roughly 25% complete, and it's due Thursday. It's shaping up to be yet another pretty assignment. :)

November 10, 2005

Pittsburgh Weather

I learned two things about recent weather conditions in Pittsburgh in the past five minutes. First, it snowed for at least one hour this morning (0700-0800) at the airport. Second, the forecasted low temperature for tomorrow has dropped by about ten degrees to "the upper 20s," according to NOAA.

Also, according to NOAA, tomorrow is Veterans Day. I don't really know what that means... we're supposed to think a bit about the enlisted men and women who helped make America the biggest, most bad-ass war machine ever? Well, that's cool. I've heard people in my family have been in the service, and that works for me. I just think America's recent armed excursions have been a bit off the deep end.

The morality debate rages on.

November 08, 2005

Spicy Morality Cat

It's 7:40 AM, and I've been up long enough to have had an espresso an hour ago. Yeah, weird. This is probably the second or third time I've been up before 9:00 or so since I've moved to Pittsburgh, and it's the first time I've actually gotten up and stayed up because of Dorian. He just wouldn't calm down this morning, and after three hours of sleep and one hour of trying to get him to shut up, I figured what the hell, I'll just get up and make some coffee. I needed to be up early anyway... just not that early.

Katy and I ate at Mad Mex a couple nights ago, and it turned out to be a triumph of cuisine in Pittsburgh. I had really been getting worried about the state of affairs in the food realm here, but I'm optimistic again after eating there. Excellent food, neat and unique atmosphere, and a huge dude with dreadlocks behind the bar serving the, er, $9 margaritas. I found it amusing but entirely politically incorrect (ugh.) that the "medium" size margarita, which retails at $7, is affectionately called the "ladies margarita" on the bill, as Katy indirectly discovered. You must try the pork.

Also, Katy is doing this thing on morality for one of her classes, and she informed me last night that she thinks there is a standard set of "correct" morals. So, for example, if you believe wearing blue clothing is morally good, but the moral standard says wearing blue clothing is bad, then despite any convictions you may have about your own morals, that particular one is objectively wrong. I, on the other hand, think having standardized morals is absurd and anyone's morals are perfectly fine and entirely correct.

Not being a particularly moral person, perhaps my amorality is distorting my view on the subject, but I firmly believe that if my moral code says I can wear blue clothing, and your moral code says I can't, then I'm being just as moral in wearing blue clothing as you are in not wearing blue clothing, and having a moral standard that says one is correct and the other is incorrect is a really bad idea. This seems especially bad once it extends to religion, government, and so on. Can I get some of your thoughts on this? Perhaps Katy would also like to post a comment to clarify her point of view on this?

November 05, 2005

Dorian's Chair

I'm not the only one who enjoys my new recliner...

Click to enlarge.

Dr. Trout

Tamara defended her dissertation yesterday in front of her committee of boring, old men, and I guess she did pretty well because she called me after it, and the first thing she said was, "I'm a doctor, and you're not!" Cute. She deserves it. Now, she needs a job. Not a j-o-b, but a job. At a university. Not at Starbucks. Doing physics. Not making espresso. Is anyone hiring broken, tired, stressed, but eminently educated cosmologists?

November 03, 2005

Not Much

Not a lot has been going on the past few days, aside from homework, sleep, and the occasional ingestion of proteins and carbohydrates.

I guess Tamara is defending her dissertation tomorrow, which is cool, since that means she'll finally have her doctorate, and she'll go on to wonderful things like wearing a really disgusting green, gold, orange, and black gown at graduation in December. If any of you know anyone who's hiring physics doctor types, I'm sure she would love to hear from you right now.

Katy got a new housemate today. This housemate is allegedly a guy from Detroit who is starting as an assistant manager at some steak house out by Pittsburgh Mills. Why someone moves 300 miles to work at a restaurant that's not even profitable enough to sustain itself without having a mall next door (I know, I know, I'm jumping to conclusions) is beyond me, but whatever. I'm apparently joining them for dinner in about an hour. Which I don't particularly want to do because it means we'll be eating in Bloomfield, which is where I got food poisoning last week, and now that my immune system has proclaimed its mortality, my fear of dodgy restaurants (like those in BloomfieldPittsburgh) has resurfaced. Yeccch.

My recliner is coming tomorrow, some time before noon. I'm going to go make room for it.