Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category.

Missing technology: Moon landings

I just came across Top 10 tech we miss at, who are currently celebrating their ten year anniversary. They have put manned space exploration at the top of the list, and I think they’re right.

Apollo 11 liftoff! We first landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission. The launch of the Saturn V rocket is shown in the first image on the right. The second image shows Buzz Aldrin as he descends ladder from the Lunar Module, also on the Apollo 11 mission. The Apollo 17 mission was the last mission to carry men to the Moon and it returned to Earth on December 19th, 1972. The Command Module is shown just before splashdown in the third image on the right. Click on either image to get a high-resolution version from NASA. Crop and resize them a bit and they make perfect backgrounds!

So the age of exploring the moon lasted just over three and a half years and in the last 33 years no man has set foot on an extraterrestrial world.

Buzz Aldrin descends the Lunar Module ladder I think that’s a shame! We once had the technology to go to the Moon, but now it’s gone. But what’s worse: we have lost over thirty years of potential experience. If the Apollo missions had continued would we then have a base on the Moon now? On Mars? Nobody knows, but I feel that we’re not going to get those things if we keep flying around in near Earth orbit all the time.

I would love to see humans on Mars, our new Frontier. When I see films and documentaries from the space race in the sixties I always envy the people who lived to see the first man on the Moon. I would really like to be able to tell my children or grandchildren that I saw the first man (or woman) on Mars.

Apollo 17 Command Module nears splashdown I’m also the optimistic (idealistic even?) type of person who thinks that exploring and pushing the limits of what we know and what we can. Spending money on advancing science would be a much better way to improve the conditions for future generations than, say, buying yet more military hardware.

Sure there are lots of problem on our own planet Earth — hunger, wars, diseases, and lots of other problems — but that doesn’t mean that we should constrain ourselves to solving those problems before we can look beyond to other worlds. (Wow, that was almost poetic, wasn’t it? :-)

By the way: all the beautiful images here are of course from NASA, more precisely the Apollo Image Gallery where you’ll find over 3000 original images from the Apollo missions. All images produced by NASA are without copyright — this applies to all material produced by US goverments. Very nice exception I say! (This exception also applies to stuff produced by an agency like the CIA: for example, data from the CIA World Factbook is used by Wikipedia.)

Argh! What a waste of time!

I’ve just been to Zürich in an attempt to print the last of the slides for my exam tomorrow — I came home with three sets of slides printing, still missing two sets!

The printers at the [ETH][] at just so unreliable that it’s a joke! They spend most of their time “processing” jobs whatever that means and very little time actually printing! The printer queues are constantly filled up with jobs that have been waiting not just 10–15 minutes but hours! The three sets of slides that I managed to bring home were submitted for printing last Thursday. When I submitted them I waited half an hour for them to print and then decided to go home — it seems that you have to plan for a delay of at least a day when you want to print something. Maybe they do this on purpose in an attempt to limit our use of paper? It’s happened before ya’ know… I don’t think so, but still…

When I got home at half past six I realized that I couldn’t do any shopping here in Aarau/Buchs for all the shops close at — well… — six thirty. Compared to Denmark, then Switzerland has some really silly opening hours for their shops: they like to close around noon so from 11:30 until 14:00 you’re out of luck. On Sundays everything is closed, even the bakery — in Denmark they make the most money on Sundays for this is when people have time to go buy breakfest, but not in Switzerland.

Hmm… I wonder how the opening hours are in other contries around the world? Please leave a comment on this, it will be really interesting to hear a bit about the systems in other contries!

Oh well… letting some steam out helped :-) Now I’ll go eat my pizza and relax for tomorrow…

Browsing through old memories

I was browsing through my old reports from way back in primary and high-school. That brought back some memories… I found lots of short stories from my Danish and English classes — it’s very cute to see a two-page summary of some English text which I now don’t even remember reading :-)

There were also bigger reports among my old stuff: a report from a class excursion to Nordjyllandsværket, our local power plant in Aalborg. Our class also made an excursion to Dansk Eternit where we made tests with breaking their fibre-cement roof elements. I might put those online someday if I can get them converted.

The reports and texts from my primary school days were all written in Microsoft Word — I had not yet seen [the light][LaTeX] back then… :-) During high-school I started using [LaTeX][], and now I’m glad I did: the DVI files still exactly like they did those five years ago!

With the Word files things are a bit more difficult: OpenOffice is able to open them all without problem and the text is there with the correct formatting. The embedded images are also there and OLE stuff like Equation Editor objects and vector drawings from the venerable CorelDRAW are generally there too, although some of them looked a little weird.

There’s also the problem that I no longer have programs like CorelDRAW, so I’m no longer able to edit those images — I have basically reached a dead-end in the upgrade path when I switched to Linux. With programs like MetaPost I don’t have to be afraid of that — it’s free so I’ll have access to MetaPost today, tomorrow and in ten years.

If you’re a normal Windows user, then you might be thinking something along the lines of “What about incompatibilities between new and old versions?” Fear not! Stability is a major concern for people in the LaTeX world (and MetaPost is primarily used with LaTeX). I believe this is so because LaTeX is a tool used for serious stuff where one would actually loose huge amounts of money if something “suddenly” changes. A twenty page document written in Word doesn’t count at serious stuff — a 1000 page book in LaTeX does.

There you want to be absolutely certain that everything looks the same as the first edition when you begin preparing a second edition. So TeX itself is now frozen and all changes to LaTeX are made with much care so as to not disturb existing documents.

Despite the grieves over MS Word it was an enjoyable tour through the good old days!

Exploiting Software — How to Break Code

Exploiting Software Exploiting Software, How to Break Code. ISBN: 0201786958
by Greg Hoglund and Gary McGraw.

I’ve now read through this book, and my impression of it is mixed. The book coverered lots of new stuff for me, but I’m not entirely satisfied with the way it did that.

The book (obviously) tries to cover software exploits, and it tries to do it in great detail, using lots of code listings showing both C and assembly code. The idea of explaining how real world exploits work by referring to C and assembly code it good — I’ve seen too many books which just talks about buffer overflows in theory.

But I doubt the usefulness of many of the code listings. Several of them run over multiple pages, listing entire programs which would have had a better place on a CDROM or just online. There’s no need to include so many pages of code in a book, especially when the code is listed completely bare: typeset in Courier with no bold, italic or any other syntax highlight.

Also, a good deal of the code describes plugins and other things for the IDA Pro Disassembler, which is used throughout the book in the examples. Again, the attempt to go into detail is good, but the book shouldn’t be so focused on this one tool, IMHO.

Another way in which this book is narrow-minded is the small selection of other works referenced. The bibliography in the book is very thin: three pages with just 31 cited works. Through-out the book one finds references to “Securing Java” and “Building Secure Software” — two books by the same authors. The first couple of times one sees a reference to these books it’s okay, but in the end I was wondering if I should have bought one of those books instead, since this books keeps referring to them…

Maybe those books wouldn’t waste so much paper on screenshots? This books has lots of screenshots showing “interesting” snapshots from an attack. Such a snapshot could be a standard Windows command shell, or an xterm showing the output of uname -a and id… And it’s not only the many screenshots that take up space: at one point there’s a dependency list of 161 function names from seven DLLs with one name per line, running over more than four pages. The text then concludes that this list is interesting because it shows what scrrun.dll might be able to do on behalf of a script! One doesn’t have to fill four pages with names to say that scrrun.dll (or whatever DLLs you’re analyzing) is a valuable target.

So all in all I suggest that people take a good look at this book before buying it. I would say that it requires a solid understanding of assembly code to be really useful, and experience with the IDA Pro tool is also a good idea. I have neither, and perhaps that was why I didn’t find this book that good? Please comment if you have read it!

Filters in WordPress

Having just read the very interesting and throughout explaination by Michel Fortin of his problems with the WordPress filters when trying to get [PHP Markdown][] right, I think it’s amazing that it works at all!

His experience together with the recent discussion started by Denis de Bernardy about the plugin system (and specifically the hooks offered to plugins) seems to suggest that the whole system could use some rethinking. (And when doing so, then please document it! :-)