• Category Archives Life in the USA
  • Location based price

    I’m not ok with this.

    It’s not something I do very often, but see others do it ‘all the time’….
    When shopping in a brick and mortar store, you scan the barcode of the thing you are interested in buying and see if you can find it cheaper some other place – probably on-line and probably from Amazon.
    Sometimes (not very often) the store will price match, it’s becoming far more common that they will do this, often the price match is only given very reluctantly and you get a fair bit of bad blood flowing getting it done.

    Amazon has got some tech to mess with this process.

    It’s super simple, first, they look at the wi-fi you are joined to, if nothing obvious there, they check your GPS from the photo you took (most people do not turn that off). Depending on your location, they will mess with the price you see.

    The patent, ominously titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” is for technology that examines what a person is searching for when connected to a retail WiFi network — that is, a WiFi network provided by and located within a store, such as an Amazon bricks-and-mortar location. The technology can actually determine whether you’re searching for a competitor’s item online and take subsequent action.

    I’m not Ok with this…. And I am a huge Amazon fan / customer.

  • Power grid virus

    Seems parts of the worlds power grids are ready and primed with a nice attack vector and are just waiting for the kill code…..


    The shutdown of Ukraine’s power grid last year was just a warning shot for the world.

    Say hello to Industroyer, a nasty bit of malware that also goes by the name Crash Override. It targets circuit breakers and is able to hijack electrical systems from afar by taking advantage of communication protocols for power supply infrastructure, transportation controls, and water and gas systems used all over the world, according to cybersecurity researchers who posted their discovery on Monday.

    We blogged about the Ukraine attack back in March 2016.

    What impressed me back then was the deliberate patience of the guys behind the attack. This was no rush job by some power giddy script kiddies.
    Seems we are in for more of the same.

    The researchers who discovered Industroyer warn it can be used to do significant damage to electrical power systems, and can be modified to hit other kinds of infrastructure. That makes it the biggest threat to industrial systems since Stuxnet in 2010.

    “Attackers could adapt the malware to any environment, which makes it extremely dangerous,” wrote Anton Cherepanov, a malware researcher at IT security company ESET.

    Here is the telling bit (to me);

    From the way Industroyer is written, ESET suspects the authors know a lot more about power grids than the average hacker.

    “This malware is definitely the work of extremely dedicated, resourceful and capable attackers with deep knowledge of the architecture and systems in power grid substations,” said Robert Lipovsky, an ESET researcher.

    Its features are so hidden that the infected system believes everything is normal, and Industroyer wipes all its traces once the job is done. Some of its tricks include creating an additional backdoor, disguised as the Notepad application. It can also be written to only work during non-working hours, so people can’t stumble across it in action.

    Its “time bomb” feature lets the hackers coordinate and set off attacks simultaneously, potentially causing massive outages in multiple areas.

    “The recent attack on the Ukrainian power grid should serve as a wake-up call for all those responsible for the security of critical systems around the world,” Cherepanov said.

    We are getting to the point where the guys that used to work in the system are now retired, jaded with the way ‘the man’ has taken the prime of their lives and they are out to say farewell to the world in a rather spectacular manner…. There is little point having all this knowledge of ‘the system’ in your head and not being able to use it, you are no longer appreciated for what you know or for your past service, so why not press that knowledge into one last hurrah.

    The old joke about the last person leaving the country turning out the lights…. Yeah, not as funny now as then….

  • Facebook Messages Can Reveal Substance Abusers

    I’m on the fence a little about this one, but want to throw it out there.

    How Data Mining Facebook Messages Can Reveal Substance Abusers.

    Substance abuse changes people’s patterns of behavior, and this is detectable in their social media messages, say researchers.”


    I have mentioned in the past about how machine learning roughly works.
    You feed it a ton of data, tell it what is good and bad (roughly) and then it goes to work on said ton, learns and spits out some results on the data.
    You tweak it and feed it back in. In short order, the machine knows better than we (humans) do.
    This is exactly what they did.
    Got people to volunteer if they used drugs, alcohol or smoked and posted on Facebook.
    The machine learning used those people’s habits to learn the differences in their posts between when they were clean and when they were on drugs.
    Once that baseline was set, they then released the AI on Facebook at large and….. well, according to them….

    The results make for interesting reading. The team says its technique was hugely successful. “Our best models achieved 86% for predicting tobacco use, 81% for alcohol use and 84% for drug use, all of which significantly outperformed existing methods,” say Bickel and co.

    Whoa. So the computer can pick with ~80% accuracy if someone is posting on Facebook under the influence.
    Scary. Super scary.
    I will leave it to you to think about that for a moment.
    (And Dan, just because you don’t post to Facebook does not let you off the hook, you have a blog right… it can be scraped…. Gary. Mate. No hope for you :-).

    So why was I on the fence about blogging about it? Because it appears that the study has not been peer reviewed. The whole ‘study’ was done by a couple of guys that had an interest in machine learning.

  • Update

    So, uh… we just ran out of scheduled posts…..
    This means I either have to tackle the backlog of stuff I want to share or I let the blog languish for a bit or I blog about what I am doing that is keeping me busy…. Is there a 4th option?

    I have been at an old co-workers house since getting back from the canyon.
    Freddy has been there for a week on her own – when we signed up to do the two week stint a few months ago there was no hint of the canyon thing, so we agreed since we would be at the house together.
    It was a bit of a rough first week for Freddy on her own, the puppy is pretty crazy energetic.
    Having me around is not much help on the dog side of thing, but more just another human to talk to.
    We are back at our house tonight. For a week and a wee bit, then we are off to another house for a dog sit for just shy of a week.
    Once we get back from that, we have my mate and his wife (and newish baby) come visit from Phoenix for 4 days.
    All in a all, it turned out to be a really busy month.
    Not complaining, just explaining why the blog is a little bumpy.

    I took around 4671 photos while in the Canyon, so first order of getting home and on my photo editing computer is to get them uploaded and started to be sorted so I can see what edits are required.
    Would love to thin that lot down to something like 100 of the best.

    Our church has asked me to step up and get involved in the video editing of the church services. This will take a bit of a learning curve on some of the software, but is something I am happy to do.

    I honestly thought I would start twitching after a day or so of being 100% off-line in the Canyon, but nothing of the sort happen. In fact, since getting back, I have not been all that active on social media, and am going to try and keep it that way…. In other words, let the time spent doing that flow into the photo and video editing rather than try and do both.

    So, thats a bit of an update from this end of the world.
    Work is going as usual. We are in the studio a little more than usual, have one video in the bank – connecting our controller to IBM IoT platform.
    Just recorded another yesterday on temperature sensing – Our video guy is still editing that one.
    Today I am working on a script for the next video.
    The hope is that Terry is going to Intern at Opto for some of the summer and do my job while I keep cranking out videos.
    Since Terry will be home for summer, I am sure there will be some drone adventures we will get up to, so yeah, busy times ahead…. Not sure how to blog it….

  • Not whats on the wrapper

    We all knew this, but it’s getting worse.


    We recently designed a barcode scanner to use with our online store. To power the scanner, we decided to use 18650 size lithium ion batteries as they are high capacity for their weight and cheap to buy. This was the first project that has used li-ion batteries so we looked on ebay for some that would be suitable and found some UltraFire batteries that were supposedly rated at 5Ah.

    So, to sum up the intro, they have a product that needs to run on batteries, so they jumped on eBay and bought some.
    The wrapper said 5000mAh (or 5 amp hour).

    The device should have run 20 hours, it ran 5. Either the device was way wrong (they designed it themselves) or the batteries were not giving their rated output.
    Spoiler. They tested the batteries first. They did not have to test their device.

    All four UltraFire batteries were well below their rated 5000mAh with the lowest at only 643mAh and the highest at 930mAh. The two Samsung batteries held a capacity of just over 2.5Ah so they were close to their rated capacities.

    Just pause here a moment and think about this. The batteries were sold as 5000mAh, they lasted around 700mAh. 700!!!!!!!!
    Total crap! I mean, not just junk, not just mildly useless, but total and utter junk.
    The seller had to know this…. I know, I know, I should not be shocked that someone was knowingly dishonest. I mean are you really going to try and return them? Give them a one star rating? Nothing we can do this one time is going to ‘hurt’ them. Nothing. We just have to suck it up, take the loss and move on.

    The bottom line is the whole point of this blog…..

    The lesson to be learned from this test? Don’t buy cheap batteries from ebay.

    To that, I have to add Amazon. Terry and I have had a hard time finding good quality drone batteries even from Amazon.

    Another blog – because at this time, I don’t have any proof – but I suspect that ‘we’ (Joe Public) are having a hard time buying good quality Lithium batteries because of the electric car companies are buying all the good stuff for themselves.