Dr. Srinidhi Varadarajan, the head of Virginia Tech‘s recent construction of a 1,100-node Power Mac G5-based supercomputer (currently tentatively ranked as the 3rd fastest supercomputer in the word) gave a presentation at the O’Reilly Mac OS X conference this week. Lots of interesting little technical tidbits in the article, detailing just how they were able to get the project up and running.

If you’ve ever sat with a TiBook in your lap, you understand that there is a further significant issue. As hot as a G4 runs, a G5 runs hotter. With a traditional air-conditioning setup, the calculations showed that instead of emptying out the air three times an hour as would be typical, they would need to empty the air three times per minute. Computers tend to each cool front to back. So the plan was to arrange the computers in rows back to back and pull the hot air out of the hot aisle. This would have required wind velocity under the floor of more than 60 miles per hour and still would have resulted in some hot spots. They decided instead to use a refrigerator-like system. Chillers cool water to 40 degrees to 50 degrees, which is then used to chill refrigerant, which is piped into a matrix of copper pipes. Effectively, you have a distributed refrigerator.

As I start to get caught up with my e-mail and get back into the swing of things, I’ve been bouncing around my usual haunts. What in the world happened to Boing Boing? While the current page is certainly friendly and cheerful, it’s not quite the Boing Boing I’m familiar with.

Odd. I just hope everything’s okay over there.

The NRA has a 19-page ‘blacklist‘ of groups, associations, companies and individuals known to support gun control legislation posted on their website. Feeling left out ’cause you’re not on it? Sign up to be added!

(via MeFi and Dad)

Bonus link: The truth about the Second Amendment.

As a matter of law, the meaning of the Second Amendment has been settled since the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). In that case, the High Court wrote that the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was “to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness” of the state militia. The Court added that the Amendment “must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.” Since Miller, the Supreme Court has addressed the Second Amendment in two cases. In Burton v. Sills, 394 U.S. 812 (1969), the Court dismissed the appeal of a state court ruling upholding New Jersey’s strict gun control law, finding the appeal failed to present a “substantial federal question.” And in Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55 (1980), the Court upheld the federal law banning felons from possessing guns. The Court found no “constitutionally protected liberties” infringed by the federal law.

In addition, in Maryland v. United States, 381 U.S. 41 (1965) and Perpich v. Department of Defense, 496 U.S. 334 (1990), cases not involving the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court has affirmed that today’s militia is the National Guard.

Since Miller was decided, lower federal and state courts have addressed the meaning of the Second Amendment in more than thirty cases. In every case, the courts have decided that the Amendment guarantees a right to be armed only in connection with service in a “well regulated Militia.” The courts unanimously have rejected the NRA’s view that the Second Amendment is about the self-defense or sporting uses of guns. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit wrote, the courts “have analyzed the Second Amendment purely in terms of protecting state militias, rather than individual rights.” United States v. Nelson, 859 F.2d 1318 (1988).

(via [fold_and_mutilate])

Wired has two articles worth reading on e-voting machines and the security issues (specifically, the frightening lack of any) involved with them.

E-Vote Protest Gains Momentum

Swarthmore College students embroiled in a legal battle against voting machine-maker Diebold Election Systems have received a ground swell of support from universities and colleges nationwide.

The memos suggest the company knew about security problems with its voting machines long before it sold the machines to various states, including California, Georgia and, most recently, Maryland. The memos have popped up on numerous websites since August, despite attempts by Diebold to force ISPs and webmasters to remove them from the Internet.

E-Vote Software Leaked Online

Software used by an electronic voting system manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems has been left unprotected on a publicly available server, raising concerns about the possibility of vote tampering in future elections.

The security breach means that anyone with a minimal amount of technical knowledge could see how the code works and potentially exploit it. According to a computer programmer who discovered the unprotected server, the files also contain Visual Basic script and code for voting system databases that could allow someone to learn how to rig voting results. The programmer spoke on condition of anonymity.

Electronic voting can be more secure and accurate than the systems that we’ve had such trouble with over the past few years, but only if the companies can be trusted, the systems are verified secure by a third-party review, and if there’s an additional printed “receipt” that can be tallied in case of recounts. The security breaches and known vulnerabilities of the current E-voting systems make it clear that in their present state, they cannot be trusted — and I, for one, would greatly prefer it if I could be sure that my vote in 2004 goes to the candidate I intend it to.

I have no idea whether or not this is a standard feature in other Unix systems, but it appears that there’s a very handy little “under-the-radar” feature in Mac OS X 10.3/Panther — automatic file defragmentation.

Everytime an application opens a file for reading, HFS+ checks if the file is fragmented and is less than 20MB in size. If so, it copies the file’s contents to a continuous region on the disk and frees up the previously allocated blocks.

What a wonderfully convenient feature. Even nicer, when someone asked if there were any official confirmation from Apple about the feature, someone else posted the source code from the Darwin (command-line only open source) version of the core system.

(via MacSlash)

Secret Spells Barbie

New from Mattel, just in time for Halloween — Secret Spells Barbie!

By day, Barbie, Christie and Kayla are fashionable school girls, by night they turn into magical enchantresses. Each doll comes with 2 outfits, spell book, case, edible potions and potion cups. Transform Barbie from an ordinary girl to one of the Charm Girls. Just put on Barbie’s enchanted Charm Girl jacket and she’s ready to mix up delicious potions that you can really drink. Barbie comes with costume, dragonfly, mixing pot, stand, spoon, stirrer, three bottles, book with a secret compartment, and two packets of magic powder (sugar-based mixes you mix with water). Barbie measures approximately 11.5 inches tall.

Just imagine all the fun you could have! Mixing up “love potions” with your friends. Finding spells to turn all the clothing of your best friends (or worst enemies) bright pink. Having tea parties with your Secret Spells Barbie, Hermione and Harry Potter (isn’t he the lucky little stiff?). Painting pink pentacles on your body as you dance around the bonfire in your backyard under the full moon.

Hrm. Did I just go too far?

(via Mark Morford, via Burningbird)

#1 and #2 on Blogdex!

Wow. The past day has been absolutely incredible — naïve as it may seem, I really didn’t expect all of this response to come from my little adventure.

While I had to give up on linking back to every site that linked to my post simply because there were too many of them to keep track of, some of the biggest so far have been MetaFilter, The Register, and Slashdot. Crazy. I’ve also had interviews today with both MSNBC (ironic, no?) and the Seattle P-I — I’ll post links to those articles when they become available.

Seattle PI Front Page, 10/30/03

Update: The article in the Seattle P-I is now online (and it’s on the front page of the print edition — yikes!).

Update 2: The MSNBC article is also online.

Following up on some of the many comments that have been left on my site and others where this has been mentioned:

Yes — I made a mistake

This has been pointed out many times, sometimes more politely than others. My posting of a photo taken at the Microsoft campus was (most likely) a breach of contract. The only reason I qualify that with “most likely” is that, due to my particular employment situation (a temp worker contracted to a vendor who had an account at Microsoft), I never went through any Microsoft-specific orientation or “rules and regulations” session, so I can’t say for certain that there is a “no cameras” clause as a condition of working at or for Microsoft.

No cameras?

Now, even without knowing about a “no cameras” clause, common sense does come into play here. Had I been foolish enough to take pictures inside any of Microsoft’s buildings, of the buildings themselves, of the offices of any of the employees, or anything similar, than I would fully expect to be terminated. As I mentioned in my Of blogging and unemployment post, I thought that the picture was taken in such a way that it would not cause any issues, revealing only an unmarked truck with some computers, and a small section of loading dock that could be nearly any loading dock on any building across America.

In fact, it may very well be that the picture itself is not what caused Microsoft to decide that I was no longer welcome on their campus. Again, as I mentioned in the ‘Of blogging and unemployment’ post, it appears that it was the combination of the picture with the information about what building I was at when I took the picture that prompted them to make the decision that they did.

NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements)

Many people have posited that my ultimate downfall was a breach of an NDA. This may or may not be the case. Again, because of the circumstances of my position at Microsoft, I never signed a Microsoft-specific NDA — however, this does not mean that I was not bound by an NDA. I would not be at all surprised if there were some form of NDA clause as part of the contract between Microsoft and their vendors. Now, I’m not sure if my post, the picture, or the combination of the two would constitute a breach of any NDA clause that I may have been bound to. I didn’t think so when I made the post, however given recent events, that may very well have been where I was wrong.

Who’s to blame?

In the end — me. I really don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. By my best guess, they saw me as breaking the rules — whether those rules were a “no cameras” clause, an NDA, or something entirely different — and decided that rather than give me a second chance and run the risk of me doing something similar in the future, it would be better to just cut me loose before I could do any more damage.

I can (and would) swear up and down that I would never divulge any internal Microsoft information. Heck, during my tenure at the printshop, I saw a lot of information that would have gotten me fired faster than this did if I’d been so foolish as to publish it. As “evil” as Microsoft may be popularly perceived, I don’t think it’s any secret that they have many incredibly intelligent people working for them, who come up with some truly astounding ideas. I’ve seen advertising campaigns in their preplanning stages weeks before they hit the press, I’ve seen internal documentation on programs that are still in development, and I’ve seen ideas and technologies that I would love to have available on my Mac at home. None of those have ever been mentioned here in my weblog, and even now, this is the most I intend to say about them.

However — while I may not have seen my post as violating Microsoft’s security standards, someone there did. Because of that, they may feel that it’s not worth the risk of continuing to allow me access to proprietary information that I could, in theory, leak to the world.

I may not like the way that they handled this. While I didn’t plan for my post to generate the amount of attention that it’s received, it has, and now Microsoft is facing a certain amount of bad press because of that. It may have been far better for them (on a PR level) to reprimand me and have me take the post down. However, I cannot fault them for making the decision that they did, however much I wish that that they had made a different decision.

I goofed. I regret it, but the damage is done. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. ;)

Future employment

I’ve seen a lot of comments suggesting that I apply to Apple — even some stating that Apple should just give me a job. As amusing as this idea is, I have to say that even I find it entirely unrealistic.

First off, as some have pointed out, my post could be seen as indicating that I have a propensity for disclosing internal company information. That’s not likely to put me very high on the list of prospective candidates for any business, let alone one run as tightly as Apple.

More importantly, though, is the simple fact that as my resumé shows, I’m woefully under-qualified for many computer-based positions. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t have any sort of computer certification. Aside from the past eight months, I haven’t even held a position that was primarily computer based. Instead, I’ve spent ten years working in the quick-print industry, running high-end digital copiers.

This isn’t to say that I’m a computer illiterate, of course. I’ve been a fairly typical “computer geek” for most of my life. I have experience with a wide range of systems, starting with CP/M on an Osborne 1, a few different flavors of *nix, DOS and Windows based PCs, and my primary focus, Apple Macintosh computers. I like learning about how all of the bits and pieces work, and how they work together. I’ve been fascinated with HTML for years — my first website went up in 1995, and I’ve been “blogging” in one form or another since 1998 or 1999, though I only have archives dating back to November of 2000 — and while I may not be much of a designer, if I may toot my own horn for just a moment, I think that my HTML code is damn good. I’ve spent a little time mucking around with Perl, Java, and Javascript, not enough to be a programmer (by any stretch of the imagination), but enough that I can take a look at the code and at least get a general feel for what it’s doing.

All of this, though, is self-taught. And self-taught doesn’t really get you jack, for the most part, especially when it doesn’t show on your resumé. My biggest regret with all of this is that, as my position for the past eight months has been working in a prepress environment, getting digital files print ready, I was finally getting some resumé experience that could show that I really did know something about computers. Now, however, I’ve lost that position, and I’ll just have to hope that if I’m lucky, those eight months might be enough for someone to give me a chance again at some point.

In the end, it all comes down to hitting the streets, throwing my resumé around town, and seeing what comes up — and hoping that when an interviewer googles my name, all this brouhaha doesn’t scare them off!

Rent (or “Wow — you all rock.”)

While I’m sure after reading the article at The Register that many people will find this hard to believe, I originally only mentioned financial matters because I had had enough people inquire that it was easier to do it in a single post than e-mail everyone. I’ve never expected donations in the past, and I wasn’t expecting donations this time.

Quite honestly, I’m floored.

An incredible number of people have tossed a few dollars my way, and I really don’t know how to thank you all. It’s enough to ensure that my rent for the month is taken care of without having to hit my emergency stash, and just a little over (which will go for good cheap eats — like Top Ramen, the bachelor’s/college student’s/first-time-apartment-dweller’s food of choice!). Many, many thanks, karma points, and mojo out to all of you. You rock.

Surviving Slashdotting (or, “Commercial time!”)

Lastly, but definitely not least, I’ve had quite a few people inquire about the weblog itself — specifically, who hosts it, and how it’s managed to stand up to the abuse of a Slashdotting as well as it has.

My site is hosted by TypePad, from the same good people that produce MovableType. I used MovableType for quite a few years on a personal server running out of my apartment (thank goodness I’m not using that setup now — my poor lil’ G3 webserver would be in puddles on the floor by now!), moved to TypePad when I got the invitation to be part of their public beta test — and have stuck with it since.

As I’m a confessed HTML geek, I find TypePad’s pro level perfect for me. They take care of all the niggling little details of server management, and I still have full control over all the HTML code produced by the system. I can be as picky (ahem…anal) as I want about the code that my site produces, and I do what I can to ensure that the pages are as clean as possible — minimal graphics, standards compliant code that’s easy to read if someone should dive into the source, CSS for presentation, and all the rest of the current buzzword goodies.

I can’t recommend TypePad enough — or MovableType, if you prefer to handle the server end of things yourself. I’m also very grateful to them for handling my Slashdotting (their first, apparently!) with such aplomb. As far as I know, there were very few glitches over the course of the day.


So what have I learned from all of this? Well, firstly, and most importantly — keep my big fat mouth shut! ;)

Some people have made comments along the lines of, “this is why I blog anonymously.” I have to say, that I don’t honestly think that that’s necessarily a perfect solution. Given the well-known power of Google, it’s very easy for me to believe that many anonymous blogs are — or at least could be — far less anonymous than their authors might believe. A comment here, a phrase there, a certain choice of words, and suddenly, someone’s put the pieces together (“They said that their birthday was on or around this date, they got together with this group of friends here, they took a trip to Disneyland here…”) and they are suddenly “outed”.

I made the conscious choice a few months back not to blog anonymously. Prompted by a post by Anil Dash, I decided that given the All-Seeing Eye of Google, I would rather do what I could to “own” my own name. I stopped using my prior online pseudonym of ‘djwudi’, began using my given name of Michael Hanscom whenever leaving comments on sites, and registered the www.michaelhanscom.com domain name. To me, the ability to have some amount of control in ensuring that information that is connected to my name is actually connected to me is worth the risk of situations like what I just went through.

Basically, it all boils down to making sure that you know just what your employer would or would not be comfortable with you mentioning on your weblog — and if there’s any doubt, don’t mention it. I didn’t, and it got me canned. You shouldn’t let the same thing happen to you.

Thanks much for all the attention, comments, and food for thought over the past few days. It’s been a bit overwhelming, but one hell of a ride.