Archive for the ‘Two-bit Column’ Category

  • 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

  • Tunneling for neutrality: Concerning streams of consciousness

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

    By Justin Agrell My wife and I are “cord cutters.” We found that the alternatives to paying for television finally grew too numerous to continue paying a premium for the commercial-filled, product-placed offerings of our cable company. We pay for just internet now and for services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. We’ve been free from our cable television ties for more than three years and will never look back. Once you’re used to streaming, you’ll wonder how you ever put up with the way things were before. We now watch whatever we want whenever we want to. The movies are feature-length and not “edited for television,” and we do not have the commercials wasting our time. Recently we noticed something strange, though. Youtube channels and other streaming sources began to buffer (pause to catch up due to a slow connection) far more often and would no longer just play through without interruption. We assumed it was an upset “in the cloud” and learned to ignore it until a good friend of mine recommended using something called a VPN (Virtual Private Network). He told us that our local internet provider was slowing the connection to streaming sites and that once he subscribed to a VPN service he could watch his shows without issue. Now, being in the tech industry, I was aware of VPNs. They’ve been around for decades. In my

  • READY. An ode to a garage queen

    Jul 25, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell Many people will be familiar with the term garage queen. It refers to an object (generally a vehicle) that sits in someone’s garage and is kept in excellent shape, hardly ever used in order to avoid the wear and tear. A garage queen must be loved to exist but many consider it wrong to not use a machine regularly and instead pamper it and admire its very existence. I myself am victim to such attachment and have a machine that is very dear to me. Near my workbench, next to several old boxes of 5-and-a-quarter inch floppy disks, is my beloved Commodore SX-64 Executive. She was released in 1984 and runs at 1 megahertz. Packing the 64 thousand bytes of memory that made the Commodore platform famous there are limitations to be sure but there are also bucket loads of potential. There is no hard drive and unlike the normal Commodore 64 units of the eighties this unit was a “luggable” that took the shape of a briefcase. It had a small 5 inch color screen and a small speaker built right into the frame. But that is not all that makes it special. More than its name or history these old systems represent to me a time when computers were built for people who were excited about computers. Much like the cars and motorcycles of days

  • Passable key words: Simplify your life by seed-ing passwords

    Jun 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell I remember the day my password was no longer good enough. I’d used it for everything going all the way back to my America On Line account. One day, when creating a new account for my bank, they told me I couldn’t use it. My password, which was perfectly good enough before, was now too “weak” and too “insecure.” Suddenly, I was presented with the issue of having more than one password to remember. I wasn’t pleased. Fast forward to a few years ago when I was at a security conference. By then, I was an adult used to a hefty collection of passwords scribbled on all sorts of odds and ends scattered about my office. All of that was about to change, however, when the speaker began to describe a new popular method in the technology world called “seed passwords.” You see it had been recognized that the common user will stick with the same password as long as it was allowed. A popular example is a person using their pet’s name. When that wasn’t secure enough, they would simply add some important number to the end like when they got married or were born. This variation of a user’s password would then populate every account the person owned and that is when the worst possible thing can happen. The future is mostly automated requiring only

  • Taking shortcuts: You “Alt” + “Tab”-ed your way into my heart

    Jun 2, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell You know what’s frustrating? Watching someone slowly use a computer. You know what’s better? Watching another person watching someone slowly use a computer — especially when the watcher is someone younger with short patience. They’ll gaze on as the mouse cursor slowly ambles to the login page. After the user enters a name, the mouse begins to move again and the watcher’s internal scream becomes a barely audible rush of three syllables. “Just. Hit. Tab.” Next comes the password. It is entered, then the mouse begins to inch toward the “Submit” or “Login” button. “Just. Hit. Enter.” Okay. Mission accomplished. Everyone moves on. But wait, please, indulge me a second. I am writing this to suggest a better way. Not just to make casual observers safe from witnessing a slow interaction but to work faster and give you more time in your life. Let’s pretend that the scenario is carried out on a computer running Windows. A new user generally isn’t aware of alternative browsers such as Firefox or Chrome, so they will try and open the blue “e” icon on the desktop. The default mouse settings for Windows call for a quick double-left-click of an icon. Many new users intuitively only single click the icon, and when that does nothing they tend to rapidly click the icon until something shows up. In many cases That’s why

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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