Welcome to Cor & Julie's journal

Een berg dode kanaries (Computers, Hackers, Rants, XS4ALL)

In kolenmijnen was het vroeger normaal om een kanarie mee te nemen. Deze kanarie had de belangrijke rol om vroegtijdig koolmonoxide in de lucht te detecteren zodat er geen doden vielen.

Bij veel van de grote automatiseringsprojecten van de laatste jaren hebben hackers (en onderzoekers) een soortgelijke functie vervuld. De waarschuwingen waren duidelijk en gingen over zaken als paspoorten die onveilig bleken, stemcomputers die oncontroleerbaar waren, persoonlijke medische gegevens die gemakkelijk in te zien waren en een OV-chipkaart met bar slechte beveiliging. Het antwoord van de verantwoordelijken op die waarschuwingen was en is steevast hetzelfde. Het loopt allemaal zo’n vaart niet, het is te ingewikkeld voor de gewone mens, de impact is klein. Het pad van veel grote automatiseringsprojecten ligt zo bezaaid met genegeerde kanaries.

In ‘Alles kunnen hacken is niet fijn’ (Opinie & Debat, 29 januari 2011) gaat David Hessing nog een stapje verder. Hij maakt gewoon de kanaries verantwoordelijk voor de koolmonoxide, door te suggereren dat de problemen met de OV-chipkaart er niet zouden zijn als de hackers, die anonieme, onbegrijpelijke en daardoor kennelijk onbetrouwbare groep, gewoon met hun vingers overal af zouden blijven. Zonder hackers had niemand immers geweten dat de OV-chipkaart onveilig is en zou niemand daar misbruik van maken. Daarbij wordt ook het morele kompas van hackers in twijfel getrokken. Vergeten wordt dat het juist hackers zijn die dit soort onderwerpen op de maatschappelijke en politieke agenda zetten en zorgen voor verbeterde en veiligere oplossingen. Wees blij dat er nog iemand aandacht aan besteedt. Nu is het een OV-kaart, straks is het misschien je eigen medische dossier dat door gebrek aan deugdelijke beveiliging door iedereen is in te zien.

Ik ben bijna 20 jaar geleden met een groep hackers een bedrijf begonnen. In dit bedrijf staat, ook nu nog, de hacker-mentaliteit centraal; kijken of je iets ook op een andere manier kunt gebruiken dan hoe het bedoeld was. Bij alles wat we doen wordt kritisch gekeken naar de impact op privacy en veiligheid. Dit zorgt voor extra werk en frustratie aan het begin, maar uiteindelijk biedt het alleen maar voordelen: het leidt tot betere veiligheid en dus hogere kwaliteit. Ik kan iedereen sterk aanraden om hackers te omarmen en hun input juist te zien als positieve bijdrage. Dat scheelt op termijn een hoop geld en ellende.

Cor Bosman

Cor Bosman is mede-oprichter van XS4ALL en werkt nog steeds bij die internetprovider als hacker, programmeur en netwerkbeheerder.

(this response appeared in the VK on monday february 7 2011)

Solid State drive in my Macbook Pro (Computers)

For a long time I’ve been meaning to put an SSD in my Macbook Pro. Julie’s Thinkpad X200 already has one, but I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. The Intel X-25 was high on the list for a long time, but in the end I bought the Samsung 256GB mainly because I wanted more than the 128GB the X-25 gives me. The 2009 model of the Macbook Pro makes changing your boot drive really easy. All you do is open the battery compartment, remove 1 screw, and out comes the drive. A lot easier than previous models I’ve opened up. It took all of 5 minutes, most of which was spent removing some spacers from the old HD and putting them on the new SSD.

When I booted up, I noticed it took a lot of time for the machine to go through it’s initial BIOS/POST phase. I remembered my friend Eric had a similar problem, so I asked him how he fixed that. Turns out all you have to do is set the new drive as your startup disk in Preferences. Now it boots in less than 30 seconds, and that includes starting up a dozen or so tools.

solid state drive

Back from Hacking at Random (Computers, Photography)

The last 5 days I’ve had more fun than I’ve had in months, maybe years. Being a geek at heart, the HAR2009 conference was a truly magical event. Not only was the weather perfect, but the talks were of a very high quality. Most importantly, I was able to meet up with many many old friends. People I hadn’t seen in years, or sometimes even longer. It’s kind of strange to see people that you used to hang with, suddenly have 2 kids that can not only walk, but swim.

As you can read in my previous post, HAR2009 is the 6th in a series of events organized by the dutch (and german) hacker movement. And this time it almost didn’t happen. The organizer of all the previous events, Rop Gonggrijp,  told us a year ago that he couldn’t do it. After a few months of silent shock, Aldert Hazenberg stood up and took charge. Quite a few people were a little skeptical, but this turned out to be unfounded. He and his team of over 100 volunteers pulled off one of the best events that I’ve been to. A new generation of enthusiasts has entered the scene with a loud bang.

Read on for more images and video..

Hacking at Random (Computers)

Logo_har09Every four years a large outdoor hacker conference is held in The Netherlands. This year the 6th edition is being organized near the tiny town of Vierhouten. Like previous years there will be an amazing conference track consisting of a wide range of talks covering topics like engineering, hacking, ethics, politics and much more. But it’s also a great place to meet like-minded people. People that are not only technologically adept and privacy minded, but also critical of where technology is headed.

This is the first year that I’m not really involved in the organization of this event. In previous years I was deeply involved with the technical setup of the event, and the last 2 events I was part of the board of the foundation that oversees the budget. This year I plan to just be a visitor (ok, not quite, another 2 foundations I’m a board member of are the principal sponsors of the event) and I hope to see as many talks as possible.

New Apple Macbook Pro 15″ Fail (Computers, Rants)

I’m on my 4th Mac. I’ve had a Powerbook, a 2nd gen MBP, a 2nd gen mac mini, and now a new Unibody MBP. I received it yesterday, and I’ve been utterly disappointed. Visually it’s very pretty, and it’s extremely fast as well, but it’s got one little problem. The screen won’t stay up! This is really unacceptable, and I’m trying to send it back as I can’t use it like this. What a let down.

Privacy Matters (Computers, XS4ALL)

For many years XS4ALL was on the front lines of the fight for privacy on the internet. Lately this has been slipping from us, partly because people just don’t seem interested in the topic anymore. We had this movie made to show that the subject is far from gone. Privacy is fast becoming a thing of the past. Now finally with english subtitles (turn on captions in the YouTube options).

XS4ALL Datacenter (Computers, XS4ALL)

16 years ago 4 of us started a small internet company. It was the first ISP in The Netherlands, before anyone even knew what internet was. I still work there, because it’s a very cool place to work. Recently our colo people had a video made, and it just reminds me how far we’ve come in those years.

Add a second harddisk to your Macbook Pro 15″ (Computers, Photography)

I never have enough harddisk space. When I travel I have at least 5 external USB disks with me. One for the images I take during the trip, a backup for that one, one with my lightroom database, a rescue disk for my laptop, and usually a disk with movies and tv series for those moments where you dont feel like doing anything else. Lately I’ve also started to take a disk with most of my originals, as fate would have it that im always asked to deliver some specific image while im traveling.

Unfortunately USB is not the fastests, and trying to run both Lightroom and my disk with originals externally has proven to be very annoying. It’s just too slow. My friend Eric Cheng runs a laptop with 2 internal disks, so I figure that would be a good option. Just add a second 500GB harddisk for my image data.

A company called MCE Technologies has a product they call the Optibay that allows you to replace your internal SuperDrive with an internal harddisk. You can either have them do it for you, or just order the parts and do it yourself. Naturally I opted for the latter and ordered a 500GB Optibay. It arrived a few days later, ready for me to install.

Read on for more info on my upgrade project.

Lenovo installs 30GB of crap on your laptop (Computers, Rants)

Julie just got a new Lenovo X200s laptop with SSD. When we got it we noticed it had only 60GB free space out of 128GB. There was a 10GB recovery partition, but that didn’t explain where all the space had gone. The C partition had a whopping 42GB of data installed, and this is supposed to be a virgin machine!

Now for the really stupid part. When I reinstalled from the recovery partition, the same system was only 13GB. Still way too much if you ask me, but better than 42GB.

Lenovo, you suck.

“Boat Surrounded by Sharks Eating Babies” (Computers, Funny)

I can hear you think…WTH?  That was my first reaction as well when I saw this in our referer/search logs. Im using Woopra for our webstats now and the things people search for are just beyond comprehension! I can highly recommend Woopra. It’s a very cool way to view your webstats, especially because you can watch it live on a world map. And yes, I know it means a third party gets my web logs.

Smugmug Gallery integration and PicLens Support (Computers, Diving, Photography)

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but I finally got around to it. I can now add SmugMug Galleries to WordPress which can then also be viewed with either Lightbox or PicLens. Ive been prompted to finally finish this by my friend Eric Cheng, who added this to his blog recently as well.

Here is a gallery I created at SmugMug’s request a few months ago »»»»

New Toys (Computers)

I don’t really write much about geek toys, mostly because i’m really not that much into that anymore. The phase in my life where I was an early adopter is behind me, been there, done that, got all the discarded and dismantled electronic corpses to proof it. I just want things to work, work well, and not require hours of fiddling. A piece of electronics nowadays has a very short time in which to proof to me they will not be a hassle.

Lately I’ve gotten a new interest in geek toys. I can’t really explain why. I think it’s because I haven’t replaced any of my toys in years and I feel it’s time to welcome the next century. In the last few weeks I’ve bought a few new items that I thought would be interesting and I feel that’s not yet the end of it. Read on for my thoughts on these items.. More »

Keeping Busy (Computers)

Before I start roaming the streets and turn into a drug addict (obviously everyone in Amsterdam is a drug addict) I thought id keep myself busy with some small programming projects. The latest one is a small project I did for Wetpixel. I built a people finder using Google Maps, integrated with the forum. You can see forum profile information on the map.

XS4ALL 15 years (Computers, XS4ALL)

Fifteen years ago we were preparing to turn on a small machine in the back of a closet. The next day we were going to open the first public ISP in The Netherlands, and one of the first in Europe. We did not think we’d get many customers as Internet was not as we know it now. It was before browsers, before websites, wikipedia or any other part of Internet we now take for granted. It was all text based, with e-mail as the primary service. We were wrong. On the first day we got more customers than we had projected for 6 months and for years to come we scrambled to keep up.

In 1998 XS4ALL was bought by KPN telecom, the best suitor in a long line of companies interested in XS4ALL. This shocked almost everyone as KPN had been seen as the enemy by many. How could XS4ALL allow itself to swallowed up by this faceless, heartless monster. In the years to follow, we have shown that this choice had been the right one. As many small ISPs from that era have disappeared, XS4ALL has flourished under KPN, remaining as one of the most respected ISPs in the country.

But times are catching up with XS4ALL. The market is consolidating and growth is harder to achieve. We are trying to maintain our high level of service, but this is becoming increasingly harder as competitors are slashing prices to below that of sustainability. So we have to change as well. Become leaner, slash costs, while at the same time keeping our reputation intact. Time will tell if we’ll succeed, but it’s been a great 15 years so far.

Acer using low quality components? (Computers, Rants)

About a year ago I bought an Acer L100 core 2 duo box to function as a simple Linux desktop computer. It’s been working fine, until one morning it would not turn on anymore. When I contacted the supplier where I bought it, i was told that since it was a few days out of warranty, Acer would not repair it under warranty. Granted, I probably could not have sent it under warranty repair anyways, because I can not send one of my desktop computers in without removing the harddisk. I can not risk anyone getting a hold of any type of data related to my company.  Sending it in for out-of-warranty repairs would probably cost way too much for a box that only costs a few hundreds dollars in the first place.

So the only logical step at this point is to just try and figure out what’s broken. I asked a colleague to help me out, since Im not a hardware guru, and together we opened up the box. We immediately noticed what was wrong. One of the capacitors had expanded and opened up, oozing out electrolyte. Several years ago this was a real plague, as lots of vendors had used a faulty electrolyte formula. I’ve had lots of computers, but never had one ooze out electrolyte on a capacitor. This just doesn’t happen much anymore, as vendors should be using proper capacitors. So why is my Acer, which has never really had to work hard as i merely use it to run X with a few Xterms, blowing out capacitors. Is Acer skimping on materials? No wonder they’re so cheap.

We bought a 60 cent capacitor, replaced the broken one, and my Acer is working again. So instead of spending lots of money to have a factory fault fixed by Acer, i spent 60 cents (and a home made apple pie for my colleague).  I don’t think I’ll be buying Acer anymore.