Just when I thought my trip to Chicago would be average, some of the sergeants at the Chicago Police Training Academy, whom I’m training in iPhone forensic investigative methods, took me to the firing range in the basement and brought out an old dusty case. What came out of that case was an amazing piece of American history – Al Capone’s original Thompson submachine gun. As each class member took a hold of it for a photo-op, an immediate sense of joy came across their faces. Just looking at it made me excited and anxious too, but when I saw the rangemaster loading magazines, I realized this was going to be more than just a lesson in history. He took me to the firing line, gave me a quick talk about its function, then handed the beautiful antique to me as the the rest of the class smooshed their faces into the glass to get a peek. For a relic, the piece shoots remarkably well, and is probably the smoothest fully automatic firearm I’ve ever fired. We riddled a few targets full of .45 caliber bullets, then emerged much safer than when the two cardboard cutouts were walking the streets.
How freaking awesome is this: After I finished a forensics workshop in liberal Canada, where civilians aren’t allowed to own or even possess handguns, the most awesome regional cops let me come in and shoot at their police range. We tore through about 200+ rounds wearing bullet proof vests (which are required while shooting) and wasted several cardboard dummies like this one. This is one for the history books for sure. I was initially surprised to find that I shot tighter groups than some of the cops, and most of the cadets – but then realized that even the police aren’t allowed to carry their firearms off duty; how much practice can the average Canuck blue get in? Turns out that, due to the heavily restrictive laws on handguns, most only get to shoot once or twice a year when they qualify… very different from our American culture where many cops have been shooting since they were kids. It was amusing to see how excited they were about a new model of handgun being introduced to the force, which they hadn’t gotten to shoot yet… two of which I’ve owned for the past four years. I guess when you’re not allowed to own anything, you can’t just walk into a gun shop to check something out; everything seems new to you.
We were walking down the halls of the police department with my little cardboard cutout getting some strange looks from the cadets, who are required to carry plastic blue guns instead of real ones. A couple of young, blonde female 18-year old cadets looked my way, saw the target, and were noticeably impressed. They then looked at me, and… notsomuch.
In short, this has to be the best trip to Canuckistan I’ve had to date. It was a beautiful drive through western NY, where there are still cows and farms (who knew!). In spite of the fact that NY is almost as liberal as all Canada, you wouldn’t have guessed it driving through the countryside. I guess it’s all of those city liberal babies that really screwed everyone else in the state. Canada consisted of some great scenery around Niagra Falls followed by some fantastic steaks at Ruth’s Chris in Ontario, lots of handguns, and even more hacking. All this crammed into three great days. What more could you possibly ask for? Thanks for a great trip guys!
Yesterday I test drove a 2010 Lincoln Navigator equipped with the MS Sync feature advertised to make driving safer and easier by accepting voice commands. First of all – yes, I loathed the Navigator. The quality was about that of the cheap Rolex watches sold on eBay. Among all of the other things I hated about the Navigator’s poor design, its MS Sync feature made me want to get out a flathead screwdriver and forcibly remove the Navigation system, along with the “Powered by Sync” logo stuck on the dashboard. If you are among those few who love pain and actually like Microsoft Windows, Sync may be for you. For the rest of us who are merely forced to tolerate the craptastic wonderland of a Microsoft-based corporate cesspool, I promise you that once you push the Sync button, you’ll find new meaning to the phrase, “Microsoft crashing”, as you struggle to use sync without dying a horrible, fiery death.
In the audio below, it took me a total of three minutes and thoughts of suicide to assign a simple destination using MS Sync. I was forced to take my eyes off the road several times to read numerous lists of possible voice matches for city, street name, and more. Every time you hear, “Please say a line number” in the recording, I’m actually reading through a list instead of watching where I’m driving. After answering nearly a dozen questions, I had to end up touching buttons on the console, and later the navigation system screen to finally set the destination and accept an “agreement” to drive safely and obey all traffic laws. So MS Sync is sort of a voice-button-screen hybrid input, which I’m pretty sure entirely defeats its purpose.
A nasty windstorm blew through a couple weeks back and decimated the power infrastructure in my town. A large part of the town was out for as much as six days. While most of us New Englanders have generators to take care of the necessities (laptops, WiFi, PS3, etc.), I noticed that many of my fellow generator-powered neighbors were still unreachable via their telephone, and weren’t online. No connection to the outside world, or even down the street, and most importantly – no 911. Come to find, they were all on Comcast.
A few days into the outage, what began as fast busy signals finally began to change into telco messages telling me that these numbers were unable to receive calls. So while Comcast’s network was beginning to light back up, their customers were still dark. By now, it was about four days that I began seeing Comcast trucks finally make it onto the scene (that’s a pretty terrible response time). They were placing what appeared to be battery backup units all over town, about a mile or so apart from each other. I don’t think they were gas powered, but were more likely heavy-duty DC battery units (which work fine on NEBS-rated telco equipment). It took until almost the sixth day for Comcast to bring enough of their repeaters back up to where my neighbors were able to make phone calls. I don’t think their Internet connections came back until even later.
The MIT Spam Conference concluded today with some great talks by various researchers in the field. I was particular sorry that I arrived late to miss Kathy Liszka’s talk on “Neural Networks for Image Spam”, as the tail end of it appeared very good. One thing I did notice that was quite refreshing about this year’s conference was that there were a few fresh faces, like Kathy, who were very passionate and enthusiastic about the subjects they were talking about, having an almost child-like giddiness (as in a “candy store” sort of way) zeal for what they were working on. It’s very hard to find people who have been in the field who still consider it that exciting, and these are the ones from whom the best technology typically emerges.
I was also honored with the award for “best overall paper” for the 2008 conference, which is available for download here, and is titled “Reasoning-Based Adaptive Parsing”. The presentation will be available on the conference website shortly. I’m glad people were so inspired by it. Hopefully, I provided enough of a solid level of technical content to help people realize that not all enterprise corporations are evil, secretive empires who engage academic conferences with brand whoredom on their mind.
The Spam Conference appears to be turning over a new leaf and returning to the academic field. Now that they’ve switched the cameras off and gotten rid of the press, the conference is beginning to feel like a true classroom experience once again. The “workshops”, which are really round-table type discussions, were intriguing, and the vendor whoredom was kept to a minimum. In addition to this, the first day of the conference was in a relatively small classroom, allowing for a more personal feel. I look forward to seeing how next year’s goes – hopefully it will continue in this direction.
DISCLAIMER: Do your own research. I make no claims as to the accuracy of this information.
There’s something about the technology that causes investors to suffer massive brain anneurisms when placing trades. I’ve watched (and occasionally cashed in) as mindless fools throw their money aimlessly into the wind rather than take the time to understand and invest in good technology. It begins with hysteria, and most tech investors have it in spades. This rises from the effectiveness of a company’s marketing department to engender initial hype that investors believe will translate into consumer enthusiasm. The good products succeed, but the rest typically dwindle within the first few weeks of hitting the market.