Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Self-Driving Cars

"I'm a damn good driver and I'll be damned if I'm putting my life in the hands of a computer!" This rant has probably been texted from the driver's seat of a vehicle doing 65 MPH down the highway. Or it was uttered an hour after the person uttering it rear-ended a police car while watching a cat video on YouTube.

This is not a self-driving car.
Human beings, for all of our successes, are still clumsy, slow-to-react, and easily distractible monkeys who have no business being on the roads behind the wheel of a two thousand pound rolling battering ram. Cars have served us well for the most part, but with the growing number of them on the road and adding the complication of "go anywhere computing" known as the cell phone, this is a dangerous combination. Sadly, asking people to put down the latter is a lot harder than giving up the former. So, we need self-driving cars.

No, not for some of the people who want them, for EVERYONE. That's the way it has to work. People are dangerous in cars and if there's an accident between a human-driven car and a self-drving car, my money is on the human being at fault. Computers can react a lot more quickly and they don't care about checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social network to see how many people liked that picture of their cat eating a peanut butter sandwich. Cars are better drivers than humans because all they do is drive.

Humans don't just drive. This post was conceived in my mind as I drove to work this morning which isn't necessarily a good thing. We look around, we think about what we have to do when we get to where we're going, we adjust the radio, check our speed, check our phones, talk to our passenger, complain about that guy trying to cut us off. WE ARE DISTRACTED! and we suck at dealing with distraction.

Self-driving cars operating on a mesh network would eliminate the need for traffic lights and stop signs. There is an excellent video by CGP Grey that looks at the fundamental problem of traffic and the possible solution. SPOILER: We're the problem. Self-driving cars are the solution.

I'm not calling humans dumb by any means. Humans have come up with some amazing inventions, and are currently working on self-driving cars. Here's the thing, humans as a collective do everything marginally well, but a computer can do one thing exceptionally well. That's what we want. We want a car that can monitor traffic around it, it's speed, and alter its course on the fly to get its destination in the shortest time possible. That's what all of the cars on the road are doing too. For a self-driving car, that's the extent of its ability. It won't make small talk, change the radio station, or yell at other drivers on the road.

There are plenty of concerns to go along with this idea. There's security and safety, and there's a matter of morality built into the AI. I will get into these in a future post.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Blog and Podcast Separation

I've started a new blog for blogging and kept the original blog for podcasting. This is because if I decide to write a blog post on the same day I post a podcast, some people may not get the podcast and miss out on my dulcet tones in their earholes. So, here is AlienCG's SGMR Blog. I really wish there was a way to separate them on the same site, but that doesn't appear possible. Luckily, Blogger is free and I can start as many blogs as I want. So I now have three (Podcast, Blog, and ISC). I have moved the main blog posts off of the podcast site and moved them here, along with all comments that have been made so far. Hopefully this will not be an inconvenience to anyone. Thanks for your understanding.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Eclipse and Prophecy

The eclipse of 2017 is nearly upon us, and like all eclipses prior, there are the usual “End of the World” crackpots to go along with it. There are some who point to the “fact” that the eclipse will only be visible in the United States, which is true, but it’s arbitrary. The eclipse would be visible from this continent whether or not the US had been founded or not. This eclipse didn’t just pop up in the past few months, either. I’e known about it since the early 90’s personally, and astronomers have known about it for far longer. Eclipses are not omens, they are calculable occurrences and we know when they will occur for the next thousand or so years.

A couple years ago ended a period of the “four blood moons” or, less ominously, four total lunar eclipses in succession (no partial eclipses between). This was known about and has happened a few times times in the fairly recent past (1967/68, 1985/86, 2003/04, 2014/15) and it will happen again in most of our lifetimes. Eclipses are quite common, with solar eclipses occurring more frequently (although they last a much shorter period of time). The end times nuts were around this last time, at least, and I’m going to bet they were around for all of the previous ones, too. They seem to pop up for every time a celestial event happens.

Eclipses, alignments, retrogrades, and other celestial occurrences have zero effect on people’s personalities, their love lives, career, or anything else, especially not our planet. These things happen and we know when they’re gonna happen down to the minute and second (although, the further into the future we go, the timing will have to be revised). How could these be seen as omens or portents if they can be predicted well into the future? If a solar eclipse occurs on the full moon, then I might take it to be a bad sign if some other explanation cannot. The eclipse coming up on August 21 is taking place on the new moon, which is exactly what should happen.

Nothing earth-shattering is going to happen because of this or any other eclipse. Maybe something will happen on earth that could be considered earth-shattering, but it will not be because of the moon passing in front of the sun from the point of view of the earth. Nothing would happen if all of the planets lined up in a perfectly straight line because the combined gravitational effects of all of the planets and their moons as well as our own moon are totally dwarfed by the gravity of the sun. Rest assured, nothing will happen because of the eclipse.


Also, eclipses are not a sign of things to come either. They are not omens or portents because they don’t just “pop up” unexpectedly. I have been looking forward to this upcoming eclipse since I was in grade school and thinking about how old I would be when it happens. 2017 seemed an eternity away. Here I am now, and I find myself thinking about how much has changed since 1985 when I was 11 years old. That will be another post. My advice is simple, enjoy the eclipse wherever you are. If you can’t make it to the path of totality, you will still see an amazing show.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nostradamus Effect

There was a time when I thought that the Prophecies of Nostradamus were something to be revered and respected. Whenever there was a war or a disaster, or 9/11, a quatrain from the seer would be dragged out and analyzed and it would be determined by guys in capes with bad haircuts talking on the "History" Channel, that it had been foreseen. Wow. Amazing. This guy who lived many centuries ago saw the collapse of the Twin Towers, the rise and fall of Hitler (even missing his name by one letter), and the first Iraq war (or was it the second?). Yes, whenever something major happens in the world, it turns out that Nostradamus had already seen it coming.

WAIT! Hold on just a cotton-pickin' minute!

The major thing happens AND THEN we see the prophecy? That's not how it's supposed to work. A prophecy is supposed to be a prediction of future events, not a reporting of what has already happened. That's called news. And actually, reading some of the "prophet's" quatrains, they don't necessarily describe future events as much as past and current events can be shoehorned into them to make them look like prophecy. That is precisely what has been happening all along.

Somehow, after a major thing happens, a quatrain is referenced and shown how it precisely manages to describe every part of the event with laser-precise accuracy, down to the date and time of the event. However, when one of these "scholars" is asked about future predictions out of these quatrains, it becomes quite vague and murky. Suddenly, the precision is completely lost and it suddenly becomes a range of five to twenty years, and the location is somewhere on a continent.

Shouldn't a prediction of future events actually be a prediction? What good is it if we're told that "bad thing" will happen between now and 2025 somewhere in western hemisphere? So, I have a challenge for the Nostradamus believers out there. If you're truly a scholar on Nostradamus, then make a prediction of a future event with the same precision as he supposedly predicted events that have already happened. I will be generous and give you a window of a week and geographical precision within a region of a country.

Nostradamus was either a fraud for money (a prophet for profit, if you will), a political writer who got a sweet gig acting like a seer or scryer, or just insane. My money is on the second (if I actually gambled). I personally think his writing were a sort of political blog written in a coded language that spoke to the proletariat and was meant to look like prophecy to the upper class.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cryptolocker (Repost from Nov. 2013)

I originally posted this back in November 2013. Unfortunately, when I closed down the old site, I lost the original post. Fortunately, I backed up the database of posts I had made and reconstructed the post as it was.

By now, most people have heard of CryptoLocker, a nasty piece of "Ransomware" that encrypts the document and jpeg files on your hard drive and then gives you a period of four days (up from three, I believe), to pay a ransom of $300 US or 300 EUR, or 2 Bitcoins (there are reports saying it is down to a half) to obtain the private key required to decrypt the files.

All I've known about it to this point was what I read in accounts by others, and listening to Security Now! on the TWiT Network. That is, until episode #431 of Security Now! when the host, Steve Gibson of grc.com, announced that he had obtained a copy of the malware (it wasn't CryptoLocker, but then he did get it) and asked if anybody wanted to "play with it" he would send them the file. I decided to take a chance and he sent me a link to the file. I have an old netbook that was doing nothing but collecting dust, so I installed Windows 7 on it and then I added some photos and documents to the drive so it would have something to work with since I wasn't sure if it only targeted the Documents folder. Then, nervously, I extracted the .exe file and double-clicked it. I was expecting something immediate, but nothing happened.
 

Image 1
(Image 1) The top two processes are CryptoLocker, and the CPU usage will pin at 100% during the initial process. These processes cannot be stopped.

 
I had to leave the house for a few hours, so I left the computer running while I was gone. When I returned home there was a message on the screen...
 
(Image 2) The Netbook has a small screen, but there is a "Next >>" button at the bottom of the window.


Image 2
I originally tried the test in Sandboxie, but when I ran it and nothing happened immediately, I decided to run it in the clear. The first successful test took place in the open, unprotected right on the hard drive. In order to get the computer back to normal, I reinstalled Windows 7 and insured that there was no sign of the malware. Then I installed 7-zip (to extract the file) and Sandboxie, and ran the malware in the default sandbox. Doing a quick calculation from when I left the house and the time remaining on the countdown when I came home, I figured it would take 15 to 20 minutes. Sure enough, the window above pops up. Also, a sandbox window pops up telling me that there files ready to recover. It appears that CryptoLocker copied the files from my entire hard drive and encrypted them within the default sandbox. I closed the Sandboxie window without recovering and went into the sandboxed Documents folder. There I found all of the same .xls, .rtf and .doc filenames (I've read that it's upward of 60 different file types affected), but upon opening, were nothing but gibberish. Back outside of the sandbox, my files were in perfect shape. I then went the main CryptoLocker screen and clicked the Next >> button (not seen in the picture), and checked out the "Convenient Payment Methods". MoneyPak (USA only), Ukash, cashU, and Bitcoin (most cheap option). According to Steve Gibson, the payment options are hardwired into the program and this is an old copy of CryptoLocker.


(Image 3) The Bitcoin screen. Needless to say, the CryptoLocker folks will not be getting any money out of me.

Then I tried one last test on this infection, I emptied the default sandbox. I kept the Task Manager running when I hit delete and the two processes that were CryptoLocker went away. There was no sign of it anywhere. I let the computer sit for a while, I ran system updates, opened files, and surfed the internet. It was gone.

I shut the computer down overnight while CryptoLocker was still running in the sandbox, but when I started the computer in the morning, CryptoLocker wouldn't run. So, I emptied the sandbox and ran it again.

This is not an ad for Sandboxie, but it is the best known free sandbox program available. As I have demonstrated here, it can protect your files from CryptoLocker and can be cleared out quickly and easily. Would I run this experiment on my main PC which contains tons of at-risk, work-related documents using Sandboxie? If I had to, sure. Will I? No.

I would not recommend running this experiment at all unless you are willing to take the risk or are a professional (I am not the latter at all). The only reason I did it is because I happened to have a computer laying around doing nothing. I also kept careful watch on my main computer's Task Manager, but it does not wander around the network apparently.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Leave a Comment

I can't do anything about this screen
It appears that some people have had a bit of trouble commenting. I allow Anonymous comments, although I may not take them as seriously unless I can figure out who you are. Your best bet would be to use the Name/URL selection from the drop-down menu. If you don't have a URL, use http://aliencg.com since it links back to this website (or use a random Wikipedia page for added fun).

I turned off word verification, but I can't turn off the "I'm not a robot" check thing, so you're on your own there. I would prefer if you used some sort of name so that I can reply to you personally.

Thank you,

The Management

Monday, July 17, 2017

Where's That Kiss Episode?

OK, so one casualty in the move to the new blog is the SGMR Special #1: The Good Side of Kiss that Oliver and I recorded back in April. Well, it is still alive and now appears on The Smooth Sailing website, thanks to Jason. I have posted the link below to the new page for it as well as Special #2: The Not-So-Good Side of Kiss.

I was not willing to take any chances and have that podcast get DMCA'd on Archive.org, so I asked Jason to post it on Smooth Sailing. Anyway, if you haven't listened to both of these, this is a good time to catch up.

SGMR Special #1: The Good Side of Kiss

SGMR Special #2: The Not-So-Good Side of Kiss