Coolest program I've run across today

I spent part of the day reading Wireless Hacks in hopes of building a sweet antenna to score free wireless in Palo Alto (or at least for the BAMF factor). Before the antenna section, they had a list of some software that would be useful: Kismet, Wireshark, aircrack-ng, tcpdump... the standards.

Then they showed Driftnet, a simple program that passively listens for traffic, scans for images (JPEG and GIF), and displays the images as it finds them.


It's a really simple concept, but is a lot more interesting than following TCP streams in Wireshark. The book mentioned a really cool use for this too: keep people honest by putting this in a public location. Would you surf racy web sites from work if you knew all the images would show up in the reception area? I mean, I would, but that's what tunneling traffic over http is for :) </nerd>

Driftnet was pretty easy to set up on my system (Ubuntu 7.10). Because you're building form source, you need build-essential and gcc and all that good junk, plus gtk-config, libgif/libungif, libjpeg. Play around with `apt-cache search` until you find the appropriate packages to allow you build.

I'm not going to get into an ethics discussion, but don't worry: this is passive capturing as far as I can tell, and as such is undetectable over wireless (despite what some Chief Information Security Officers would have you believe)


Even if Geico can't save you money on car insurance, maybe I can

For personal reference, this is what I've learned over the last month in shopping for auto insurance:

1. If you've had violations, check your driving record so you know what you have to report. Personal Plans, a company partnered with IBM, told me I couldn't get insurance through their two carriers since I wasn't considered a California Good Driver -- which mean, I've had 2 violations in the last three years. He was able to tell me what showed up when my driving record was checked, and I found out I was within a day of having one go off my record. Don't report more than you're required to!

2. Shop around. I know everyone says this, but it's true. There was about a $700/year difference between the lowest and highest rates I got, and those weren't the first and second places I tried. I contacted directly about 8 places and used Lower Auto Insurance to send my information to a number of different carriers. I thought it would be ineffective (like eSurance), but I received a number of phone calls with substantially lower rates than the other.

3. Let them know if you're in college, a college graduate, and what degree you have. A number of places gave me a discount just for having an engineering degree.

4. If your car isn't worth much, don't cover it. My car is probably only worth $3000, so if I hit someone, I'll just pay to fix it or get a new car. Insurance wouldn't pay me more than the value of the car, and getting that coverage isn't worth the increased premiums.

5. If you have health insurance, opt out of medical coverage. This was something that was on my dad's policy that he recommended, getting about $5000 of medical coverage per accident. After talking to some of the insurance representatives, it sounds like that won't even come into play if you have decent health insurance.

6. See if your company has deals worked out with insurance providers. I didn't qualify because I'm not a "California Good Driver", but I'll recheck with Personal Plans this summer when another ticket goes off my record. Check Beneplace to see if you get any discounts (this site will also list eligible discounts at other stores, like Circuit City, so definitely check it out!)

7. Consider public transit to work. I'm not sure how much this affected my rates, but after signing my apartment lease, I'm pretty sure I'll be using public transit to commute to work -- work commutes are something they take into account when they figure your rate.

If I've listed something that's illegal... let me know. But I think it's legit.


Palo Alto!

Google Street View


Flickr Pictures

We're signing the lease this afternoon -- I'm really excited!

Pics from Pacific Coast Highway

This is the last load of road trip pictures, sorry it took so long to post them. I got lazy. The sets aren't completely finalized -- some pictures need some rotating and cropping, and there are some dupes for some reason. Anyway, I think a lot of the pics still turned out pretty stellar.

Driving up PCH

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Next post: new apartment in Palo Alto!


Lake Havasu to Bermuda Dunes

Lake Havasu was a short 200 mile drive to Bermuda Dunes, where Lia's parents and little brother live. On the highway to I-10, a train track parallels the highway. The train tracks are elevated on little hills, and the entire way is graffitied with messages on the side of that hill written in rocks. As an added attraction, every time there's a bridge over a dried up creek, there's an extra slanted surface to write on that's much closer to the road. Lia and I made our own contribution.

Pictures from the trip to Bermuda Dunes

We got to Lia's house in the middle of the day and her little brother was home. When her mom got home, we went to the Verizon store to get Lia a replacement one. She ended up with a Samsung Juke, which I think it really cool. It has a plate the spins clockwise off the phone to open it and has a really skinny screen. I like it, but it's not the phone for me. Since I'm looking to upgrade, I checked out the Voyager and other QWERTY phones -- I'm sick of T9 and Motorola's iTAP. We had dinner at Lia's house and then saw Juno with her brother. Juno was a lot less comedy and a lot more Little Miss Sunshine than I was expecting. The soundtrack is pretty good though.


Grand Canyon National Park

After Carlsbad, we drove to Gallup on the New Mexico/Arizona border. As we pulled in, we realized it was a lot colder than we thought: there was snow on the ground. The guy at the front desk said it had been there a couple of weeks and it hadn't thawed yet.

We got to the Grand Canyon at about 2:00pm on the 16th. I decided to buy a season pass for the national parks, hoping that it will motivate me to go to Yosemite (like how gym memberships cajole people into going to the gym). They have a photo contest with the winning photo being displayed on the next years park pass. Hmm...

Just like Gallup, the Grand Canyon had snow but also an added bonus: wind. This terrible twosome made it miserable to be outside for more than 5 minutes. Luckily, the road that goes through Yosemite had a bunch of turnoff points for scenic overlooks. We stopped at about 5 of them over the course of 2 or 3 hours. The sky was a little overcast for most of the day, but as it began to set, the colors became a bit richer. I think shots in the summer would turn out much better, but I still think I got some neat ones.


Raven in flight

All the Grand Canyon National Park pictures

After leaving the Grand Canyon, we stopped at the Road Kill Cafe on Route 66. Mediocre food at high prices. Yea, blame the interstate all you want, Route 66, but you need to step it up. While looking for a place to camp for the night, Lia recognized a place she had gone to when she was growing up: Lake Havasu. We called the Crazy Horse Campgrounds (actually note a strip club) and reserved a site. When we got there, we realized that wouldn't be necessary because no one else was dumb enough to camp there in the winter. The camp sites were in sand by the lake, which got a slammed wind into the tent all night long. The fire wasn't bad, but we also had to buy all the wood to use in it, which was lame and expensive.

Route Recalculation...

17 Wednesday: To the grand canyon! Google map route. Spend rest of morning and day there until the sun goes down. Drive halfway to Palm Springs and camp
18 Thursday: drive to Palm Springs
19 Friday: Drive to San Diego (hour and a half) go to Tijuana
20 Saturday: Drive halfway up PCH
20 Sunday: Finish! Arrive in San Francisco! (early evening)
21 Monday: Lia flies back to Cleveland :(


Coolest cave pictures you'll see all day

Since we didn't go out last night, we were able to get on the road by 9:30 this morning. The weather didn't look to good, but after a couple of hours, we had out run the storm, and also entered New Mexico. We got to White's City, the nearest city to Carlsbad Cavern, and bought tickets to the Cavern. Tickets are only $6/person! And this is in our country! If you're in the area, you need to stop there. Avoid the restaurant though, it's the same quality as a Pilot Gas station. Do hit the grocery store though, they have rock candy and cherry cider (although the latter I noticed after I had checked out, so I didn't buy it).

There were two ways to enter the cave: the natural entrance that took about an hour and an elevator down 800 feet that took about 3 minutes. Since there was a lot to do below the 800 foot mark, we decided to take the elevator and give ourselves the option of walking back up to the top. The employee at the elevator asked us to get rid of any food or chewing gum, because it can attact animals that can't live there, end up dying, and need to be cleaned up by the staff. Also, there was a small one foot stalagmite that he told us to touch to get it out of the way -- and please don't touch any of the structures in the cave because it would cause them to stop growing.

We exited the elevator and Lia commented that the area just looked like museums and stuff decorated to look like a cave. This was in the food court area (impressive in itself, since it was 800 feet below the surface). It quickly turned into a real cave. Oh man, what a cave! I don't want to waste your time talking about it, you should really check out the pictures. Here's a couple to entice you:


(this is a must see at original size)

(this got favorited on Flickr after less than an hour)

Carlsbad Cavern Set on Flickr

Attention reddit army: I've posted this on reddit! Help it make it's way to the front page! Coolest cave pictures you'll see all day [visit Carlsbad! It's only $6!]


Texas and Ghost Towns

Charles sent me a link for ghost towns and said that we would be driving through ghost town central, Texas. Knowing that I wanted to end up a couple of hours from Carlsbad Caverns, I chose McCulloch county because it had a handful of ghost towns, including Salt Gap.

After a quick lunch at Taco Cabana in Houston, we hit the road on I-10 West, but not for long. When we hit Columbus, we took 71 north (no, seriously) towards Brady, Texas. When we got to Brady, we stopped to ask for directions to a Salt Gap. The first lady I talked to at a gas station was really confused -- she thought I wanted polo shirts. The second lady also didn't know about Salt Gap (this is in their county!), but the third guy did. It was on a county map, so we just found the relevant intersection and plugged it into the GPS.
It wasn't the type of ghost town I was expecting. The web site had said something about an abandoned post office, which we didn't see. Also, it looked like at least one of the houses was still inhabited. Off a side road though, I did find two collapsing buildings that yielded some good photos.



Here's the rest of the pictures on Flickr.

We decided to get a hotel in Odessa, TX, which was surprisingly big, considering I couldn't find anything special about the town.

Day 1: Cleveland to Memphis

This trip was the anticipated amount of boring. Lia and I have both driven the Cleveland to Cincinnati stretch, and just extending it down further south isn't too interesting. We saw the Florence Ya'll water tower in Kentucky. Our hotel in memphis was right by Beale St., and we met up with Lisa and some of her friends there.

Beale St. is really a cool looking place. I've heard it picks up later in the night, but we were only there until about 2am. The bars all stay open until 5am, and then the cops force everyone out. It's a little like Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy in that sense ... but only in that sense, really.

All the pics


Cross Country Road Trip #4

It's that time again -- time for me to make another cross country road trip in the Nissan, although this will probably be the last one for a while. Here's the tentative schedule:

Day 1 [Jan 12] - Cleveland to Memphis (visiting Lisa Keung)
Day 2 [Jan 13] - Memphis to Houston (visiting Charles Larrabee)
Day 3 [Jan 14] - Houston to El Paso (for no reason other than the song)
Day 4 [Jan 15] - El Paso to Vegas
Day 5 [Jan 16] - Vegas to Palm Springs
Day 6 [Jan 17] - Palm Springs to {somewhere between LA and SF on PCH}
Day 7 [Jan 18] - PCH to San Francisco
Day 8 [Jan 19] -
Day 9 [Jan 20] - Spend the day in San Francisco
Day 10 [Jan 21] - Lia flies back to Cleveland
Google Map

So... it looks like we have a day of play in the schedule. Suggestions?


Thinkpad Trackpoint on Xubuntu

After chasing many rabbits down many rabbit holes, I figured out that it's actually -really- easy to get the Trackpoint working in Xubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) on my Z60t. Open /etc/X11/xorg.conf and look for InputDevice with the Identifier `Configured Mouse`. Add:

Option   "EmulateWheel"   "true"
Option "EmulateWheelButton" "2"

As an added bonus to make all your Mac friends green, find the InputDevice with Identifier `Synaptics Touchpad` and add:
Option  "VertTwoFingerScroll"   "True"
Option "HorizTwoFingerScroll" "True"

and now you have that nifty two finger scrolling ability.