Archive for the ‘Two-bit Column’ Category

  • Two-bit Column: A better shell game

    Jun 29, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell Once upon a time there was RUNCOM. In 1964 Louis Pouzin developed a system that allowed computers to run commands from a script instead of having to type them all out one at a time. The term “shell” was coined for this breakthrough in productivity — a metaphorical description of its encapsulation capability. This nascent shell slowly evolved from Multics to Unix and eventually became part of every major operating system in existence. The first major adopter of the Unix shell was actually a clone called GNU Linux. Frowning upon the restrictive pricing of Unix tools, Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman started a movement to create a free Unix. Because of them — and people who started similar projects — today there’s now a Unix shell on the majority of servers running the internet and a few billion mobile devices like cellphones and tablets worldwide. By the late 1990s, Apple was desperately trying to gain market share. To entice developers, they switched to a Unix-based operating system and by 2001 OS X 10.0, “Cheetah,” was released. It had a true command line interface app called Terminal which ran the tools many had already been using for more than 20 years. Now, when an application is created, it’s easily translated into Unix, Linux, and OS X, which all function similarly. Microsoft took a little longer to accept that

  • Two-bit Column: Not-so-crypto-logic, cryptocurrency, & you

    Jun 1, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell It’s hard to ignore the presence of cryptocurrency these days. About 30 years ago, cryptocurrency was really only discussed in cryptography circles and by those working on the conundrum of taking payments over the internet. Now it’s everywhere. People with little to no knowledge of technology are getting involved simply as a means of investment. So what does this mean for you? Cryptocurrency is simply a modern evolution of money. From seashells to rare metals, money has always taken effort to collect and distribute. The most important aspect of money, however, is faith. For any object to be considered a currency, it takes the belief of a community that the object is actually reliably traded for goods and services. This is especially true with our modern fiat currencies which have evolved from notes that were backed by resources such as gold. This fiat system has worked for some time without any issue simply because of our faith. Cryptocurrency further evolves money by using advanced technology to verify its transactions and distribution, removing the need for banks and reserves for management and decreasing the abuses of market manipulation. The currency not being tied to any singular government or country helps keep taxation and regulation away. This makes cryptocurrency attractive to many — including those who enjoy equal trade across all borders, and criminals trying to remain anonymous. There

  • Two-bit Column: The reality of virtual reality

    May 4, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell For well over a year, the Prescott PC Gamers Group has hosted gaming events that feature virtual reality devices. The most popular is the HTC Vive. I’ve had many experiences that solidified my belief in the future of virtual reality, but one definitely stands out in particular. Several regular members had decided to join a game called “Eleven Assassins” where we each played a bow-wielding elf defending a castle against various fantastic beasts. Our play extended for well over an hour and by the end of our session we were bemoaning our sore arm and leg muscles. We were physically exhausted. The best part of the experience is that we were completely unaware of the intense workout we were getting at the time. Sure, we could feel tiredness and pain in our limbs, but apparently muscle damage is of lower priority than an axe rapidly approaching your face. You dodge the attack without hesitation out of sheer instinct. It was the best leg workout I’ve ever had. When all was said and done, I must’ve done at least 24 quick squats not to mention the other leans and arm lifting performed to function my virtual bow and to avoid dragon’s breath. Incredibly, I now look forward to exercise instead of considering it a chore necessary for my health. When we show off our VR equipment at our

  • Two-bit Column: Cut to the quick: Considering the cable cabal

    Mar 30, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell We were stunned. How long had it been? Four years? At least three, to be sure. We were over at my wife’s family’s house and had just settled in to watch a program. Suddenly, the show stopped and commercials started to play (and play (and play)). We must’ve spent at least five minutes staring at advertisements until we finally just left the room. Was this really the norm that everyone dealt with for so many years? Yes, for many of us, it is clear that cable television is dead. Technology will always evolve and moving pictures are no exception. From silent films to drive-in movies to large air-conditioned theaters, we’ve witnessed a steady change in how we consume video. First, we were forced to go to theaters. Eventually, we took in video at home. Television grew more advanced as we demanded more channels and bigger screens. We fought ads and annoying antenna alignments by adopting a shiny new technology called cable. The cable companies promised an advertisement-free experience without the need for antennas via cable boxes and monthly payments. Later, a technology war ensued and we watched a to-the-death struggle between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS portable video tape standards and we bought movies to watch at home. By then, cable had somehow snuck commercials back in to the viewing experience. By the time DVDs became popular,

  • Two-bit Column: Clickety-clack

    Mar 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell I remember how happy my friend was showing off the latest addition to his collection: a real life, honest-to-goodness, IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M is a rare keyboard in that it uses a spring that buckles outwardly creating a nice loud “thwack” on the inside of the key whenever it’s depressed. These types of mechanisms have become rare; modern keyboards simply use rubber and plastic to save money. Many computer industry veterans prefer the old loud actuation because it makes clear that the computer had received your input before the key bottomed out, giving you a slight speed advantage over those using the now-standard plastic- and rubber-backed keyboard. To say nothing of the classic clickety-clack sound that many relate to retro computing. It’s easy to get into the habit of buying and using whatever models are readily available or on sale, but there are definitely times when researching your options and selecting something more in line with your preferences will make you happier. In fact, I believe a certain coffee shop chain has based its entire business model around that very idea. It pains me to know that there are many of you out there who have only typed an email on your phone’s touch screen. You have options; you have colors and switch types; you have the entire skill of touch-typing right at your

  • Two-bit Column: By a particular measure

    Feb 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell Metrics are salient in plenty of fields, but especially computers. But when you stop and consider metrics, at large — whether that be an idea or a physical object or process — they don’t always add up. When you take the time to see which ones measure up, you’ll find you might be obsessing over the wrong ideas. Take, for instance, the Megahertz Myth. For a long time, Intel pushed clock-rate (i.e., how many times per second a processor can process an instruction) as the supreme unit of computing power. They had (mostly) convinced their customers that the faster the clock, the better the computer was as a whole. However, in the vast majority of cases, this metric is useless when comparing cutting-edge processors. But explaining the intricacies of how computer processors function proved too complicated to put into advertising, so Intel’s plan worked out for them. Consumers were baffled by the overload of benchmark comparisons explaining how the competition was better and, in the end, most people simply preferred the simpler metric. Clock-rate, memory, storage capacity, number of ports, weight, and size are the most common measures of a computer. Every processor being sold for general purpose computing now clocks in at billions of hertz and it has been proven that, given efficient enough software, we have surpassed the power required for day-to-day tasks. Memory and

  • Two-bit Column: Pelcgbtencul

    Dec 29, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell I was at Prescott’s 2600 Hacker Quarterly meet up when I first got to see a man-in-the-middle attack in real life. A malicious network was made using two wireless antennas attached to a laptop. The first antenna was used to connect to the cafe’s real Wifi and the second to create a spoof wireless network. When someone connects to the fake network all of the traffic can be analyzed. I was the guinea pig. I simply needed to connect and use the internet as usual to see what could be discovered. I connected and was able to watch all of the traffic my computer generated communicating to the internet on the host the laptop. Credentials used to log on to popular websites were safe, protected by the HTTPS protocol, my email accounts were also safe as they were protected by TLS encryption, but my file server had no encryption and as soon as I logged in everything showed up in the stream of data. My username and password were both in plain text and clearly readable. Everyone watching saw my password and could now use it to access my file server. It’s demonstrations like these that really display the importance of encryption and how it protects us and our information. Being able to communicate securely has been important for thousands of years. One of the earliest known

  • ‘That’s not real art’: Considering game theory, art, art theory, and video games

    Dec 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell The first game that blew my mind was “Doom.” If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it was one of the first 3-D computer games available for later DOS computer systems. (It also featured quite a lot of pixelated violence; it was the mid-’90s and I was a young boy, after all.) When I discovered “Doom,” my mind was transported there, to Mars, fighting Hell-demons. The visuals and speed of interaction were ground-breaking. Thinking back, it wasn’t books or music or paintings or film that gripped my interest so firmly. It was video games. You may dismiss or reject them as works of art, but stop and think about that for a second. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, some context. My first passion was drawing. In elementary school I sketched throughout the day. At first my sloppy doodles littered whatever spare surface was available to me, hardly representing the nonsensical images in my mind. They were purely for my entertainment and to pass the time. As time progressed so did my skill, and by the end of the 5th grade I had reached the point of classmates paying me for sketches with their lunch money. When I think about art, I remember this time in my life. OK, back to video games and art. When I first went to college, I wanted to create games but

  • House of (invisible, fnord) leaves: An unsettling not-at-all-tall-tale for an unsettling time

    Nov 3, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell Imagine a world where every new building has a secret room. Not a private workshop nor an armory, not a gift wrapping room nor an underground railroad hostel. The owner of the building has no control over the room. It has no windows or doors. There’s no way in or out. Its purpose is protected and unknown and the owner must pay for the power and utilities the room uses. If it’s damaged or deleted, all utilities cease to function and the building becomes unusable immediately. What you’ve heard about the rooms, officially, is that they’re for commercial monitoring and remote control access specifically and that only the rooms being used by professional utility companies and technical businesses are active and all others remain dormant and secure. There’s nothing to worry about. The rumors, however, are much more sinister than that. “The government uses the rooms to spy on us,” you hear. “The rooms are never dormant and can be activated at any time,” they add, and, “Hackers can use the rooms to steal information from us.” So why have the room? Why have them in normal homes if they’re only for commercial use? The rooms aren’t mandated by any government but are simply installed by all home construction companies. How is it that all builders have come to agree that a secret room is needed? Wouldn’t

  • Playing it safe: Tips & tricks toward better cyber security

    Oct 6, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell With all of the news of hackers hacking and identities being spirited away, you might feel a little uneasy about your knowledge of proper security measures. I’ve compiled a collection of advice to begin you on your quest to becoming more hacker resistant and, hopefully, allow you to sleep a little better at night. We begin with a stern look and finger-wagging toward those who are over-broadcasting their lives on social media. While this mostly applies to younger, less wary generations, it helps if you’re leery of providing personal information to websites. While stalking is certainly a scary consideration, most of us are far more likely to either have our identity stolen or our house robbed when the world knows we’re out and about eating delicious delicacies and snapping senseless selfies. There’s nothing wrong with posting every meal and adventure online — just make sure you limit who can view your content. Many websites and services use security questions as a form of authentication. These days, figuring out Fluffy’s name or what schools you’ve attended is trivial. Private investigators have never had it easier, and it’s up to you to choose those questions that don’t have easily discoverable answers. Also consider — and I’ll try not to shock you too much — that you can fib, jumble answers, or just enter gobbledegook for security questions. As long

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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