Hayashi sensei performing an Kochi-nage

Women in Aikidō

Hayashi sensei performing an Kochi-nage

I bought Women in Aikidō by Andrea Siegel, on a whim, it was in the shelf with the other aikidō books, and I felt it could be different from the one I had read until then, which very often centred on some important aikidō figure – although ironically the woman on the cover is one teacher I train with when I’m in Silicon Valley.

Women in Aikidō

North Atlantic Books
ISBN : 978-1-55643161-6

The book was published in 1993 and consists of 12 interviews of various women who have attained the rank of black belt in aikidō. The actual content of the interviews is pretty diverses: some of the interviewees seem completely left the aikido universe, while other are still teaching, their perception of the art goes from pragmatic to very new-agy.

The interviews are pretty general, and while aikidō is the common thread, this is not a book where you are going to learn much on how it works, the book is more about how these woman experienced aikidō, integrated it in their lives, and took control of it. The issue of control and adapting the art to oneself was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, probably because this is something I’m struggling with myself.

While the book has some interesting parts, it also feels a bit lightweight, each interview starts with a description of the place the interviewee lives in, and there is a lot of connecting talk between the interviewer and the interviewee, while I suppose this is supposed to give a more connected feeling, I felt it made the presence and the experience of the interviewer transpire in the whole book, which I felt was a bit misplaced. At the same time, the interviews also feel very unequal, some going into deep questions, while other remaining pretty superficial.

All in all a book with interesting parts, but I found it a bit light on substance: 180 pages in a huge font. Worth a read if you find the book in a second hand shop, like a did…

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E-Tram in Front of the Depot in Wollishofen

E-Tram

E-Tram in Front of  the Depot in Wollishofen

Getting rid of old electronics devices is somehow complicated in Switzerland, you could theoretically bring them back to the store, but this assumes that said store still exists, and is nearby. If you do not have a car, your definition of nearby gets pretty restricted.

The way electronic waste is recycled in city of Zürich is interesting, there is a special tramway, the , that stops in various parts of the city once a month; people can bring their electronic garbage there, with the only constraint that they have to come by foot or bicycle or public transport – if you have car, you are supposed to bring your garbage to the recycling center. There is a similar service for bulky items, called the cargo-tram

The two tramways that provide this services are themselves recycled, they are modified Schweizer Standardwagen, a standardised tramway model built by various constructors starting 1947, and used by the tramway companies of many swiss cities: Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lucern, Neuchâtel and of course Zürich. While these trams were a common sight in the 80’s they have been slowly replaced by newer models, and most of them were sold or given to others cities: Belgrad, Iași, Sibiu, Pjöngjang, Winnyzja…

The way the e-tram was transformed is pretty radical, the pointy nose was removed (the trams served as snowploughs) and recycled materials are loaded on a cargo wagon. Both e-tram and cargo-tram were put into service in 2003, and for the tenth anniversary of the service, they were repainted green instead of the standard blue livery of Zürich.

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EAN-8 Code – 49641509

Box barcodes

ITF-14 Code – 80000049641505

While the codes on consumer goods around us all use the same UPC/EAN barcodes, there are different formats, different carriers. One you might encounter is the ITF-14 system, which is easily recognisable by its thick black border, called the bearer bar, it is used to label shipping cartons and other boxes that are used to distribute good to the retail shops and or not always recognised by cashiers.

While the graphical representation is different from EAN codes, the information that is encoded within them is compatible: you can know what item is within a box by analysing the code. As the name ITF-14 suggests, the barcode carries a 14 digit number. Remove the leading digit, recompute the check-digit and depending on the number of initial zeroes, you get an EAN-13, a UPC code or an EAN-8.

EAN-8 Code – 49641509

Here the code is 80000049641505, strip the leading 8, and the remaining zeroes and you get 49641505, remove the check digit, we get 4964150 recompute the check digit: (0 × 3) + (5 × 1) + (1 × 3) + (4 × 1) + (6 × 3) + (9 × 1) + (4 × 3) = 51, subtract the last digit from 10 and you get the check-digit: 9. So the code of the items within that box is 49641509.

The value of the first digit of the ITF-14 is not very strictly defined, if it is zero, then the box is considered a single item, maybe because its content is heterogenous (in my limited experience this is pretty rare), 9 should never be present, as this would indicate bulk a good in bulk quantity, not typically what you have in a box. The other numbers just mean some level of packaging, the only recommandation is that higher levels of packaging (more stuff in it), mean a higher number.

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Classical building with a big door and double columns on both sides

Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade

Classical building with a big door and double columns on both sides

It is difficult to ignore Nikola Tesla when going to Belgrade, the city’s airport is named after him. Unsurprisingly, the city also hosts one museum dedicated to the famous inventor, in a beautiful building in the center of the city. The museum claims to be the official, mostly because it contains many person objects and the ashes of Tesla.

Nikola Tesla Museum
Krunska 51
11000 Belgrade
Serbia

+381 (0) 11 24 33 886

Tesla coil with electrical ark and neon tube glowing

The museum was a fun visit, but not very impressive. Tesla was a major inventor, and a very important person of Serbian origin, yet the museum is pretty small: a single floor, with six small rooms, one of them containing the copper ball that holds his ashes. There were three rooms dedicated to the technical achievements of Tesla: one contained electrical motors, but most of the floor space was occupied by chairs used when projecting a 20 minute amateur movie, the sides lined with small demonstrations of motors, that where never activated by the guide, nor were we allowed to touch them (I suspect they were broken).

The second room contains a Tesla coils that works and is demonstrated, the last one contained a replica of the remote controlled boat he build (which did not work properly) and some other exhibits about wireless transmission.

The rest of the museum, half of the floor surface, was a temporary exhibit that contained personal items of Tesla, his gloves, his walking stick, and various letters from governments. I did not mind them, but ended up with the feeling the museum spent more energy on assessing that he was Serbian, that showing off his works. There was little to no explanations on how his invention actually worked, electrical principles, etc.

In conclusion, a nice museum to visit if you are in Belgrade, but it should be considered as small historical museum, and in no way a science museum.

Museum picture © Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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Computer Security in 2014

Every year, there is, between christmas and new-year, a hacker conference called the Chaos Communication Congress. I went twice, when it was still in Berlin (now it is in Hamburg) and it was always interesting. One important topic of the conference is computer security, with various teams showing weaknesses in the systems around us. The general situation has always been bleak: as computer security is generally not a priority, softwares and devices are full of bugs that can be exploited.

The highlight of the 2013 edition of the conference was certainly the presentation by Jacob Applebaum giving an overview on the various tools and technique deployed by the NSA to monitor, basically everybody. The same information was published in the newspaper spiegel. The underlying theme is that hacking, that was in the mythological days the realm of the lone hackers, was taken over first by the criminal and now by the military, be it the NSA, or the equivalent in various other countries: China, Malaysia or Ethiopia. All these organisations use complete hacking suites, that not only attack the victim, but the network infrastructure, and any people around them, the computer equivalent of carpet bombing. The situation is not bleak anymore, it is bad.

The NSA infrastructure is also meant to monitor the communication of every person, regardless of their citizenship or legal status, everybody is suspect and computer algorithm are the judges. Of course, the system is not only used for thwarting terrorists, but also spying on US allies (Angela Merkel‘s phone was hacked and used to spy on her), and those who remember Echelon will agree that the new NSA system is probably also used for industrial espionage, like the old one was.

People tend to react with news of surveillance programs by claiming that they are not interesting enough to monitor, they fail to see that with the economies of scales that can be achieved, they can be hacked and monitored for a few cents. At that price, everybody is interesting. Remember that most web services are so cheap they can be paid for using ads. Also computer systems are based on the guilt by association paradigm, so if you ever where somehow in contact with somebody interesting (muslim, activist, IT-student, etc.), you are interesting. If you read this blog, you were in contact with data from a high profile target, so you probably became interesting. Sorry about that.

Traditionally, the CCC has little direct impact outside of the computer security world, this year was a bit different. The leaked NSA slides show that they have access to manufacturer specific weaknesses, either because those manufacturers did a sloppy job, or because they cooperated and added them. This forced those companies to respond to those claims, generally to say that they did not cooperate with the NSA (except by their own incompetence), and stating that these methods are akin to criminal hacking.

Coming from US companies, those denials do not mean that much, as they could well be under some legal order to lie. Still it is interesting to see an organisation that is supposed to protected US interest forcing top US companies to basically fall on their swords, damaging their reputations.

What will happen this year? The problem seems to have gotten to big to ignore, the NSA found all these juicy weaknesses and did not have them fixed, so there will be a rush to find them, in the good case by security researchers, in the bad by criminal organisations or corporations that sell espionages kits. Depending on who finds the first, this means either a PR nightmare, or a massive hacking, not a good prospect either case.

So I suspect two things will happen, first the PR offensive of various IT corporations will increase, second they will quietly beef up security, this will probably be very discreet, maybe increased bug reward programs. This would also probably mean that new releases will slow down – designing secure systems is hard – but I can live with that.

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Primary Keys (2)

978-2-7427-5491-5
978-2-7609-2463-5

Incompatible technical standards are one way of getting multiple primary keys, the other is to have organisations that cannot accept keys provided by other organisations. National administrations are particularly good at this, as acknowledging any other national organisation would be akin to admit that there are multiple countries on this planet.

The book Le musée du Silence has two ISBN codes: one for Canada, and one for the rest of the universe. The one used in Québec is 2-7609-2463-7 (978-2-7609-2463-5), and the one used elsewhere is 978-2-7427-5491-5. Notice that there is no common code between the two systems, we have true incompatibility.

It is interesting to see that this book published in 2005, two years before ISBN-13 became mandatory already uses the new system for Europe, but not for America.

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