My story

I was in downtown Toronto. I was chatting with a coworker when the power went out.

Or should I say, the primary lights went out. Emergency lights flipped on, and the racks of Opteras and other Nortel equipment continued running, on uninterruptable power supplies.

Looked outside. It looked like this part of the building had a brownout. Walked outside. Wow, the whole block.

Oh well, I have some time to make some calls. I decided to call Silverlotus, to see if she had V’s work phone number. The guy wanted to have dinner when I was in town, but lost his cellphone, didn’t know the number of his loaner, and neglected to tell me what his work number was. :rollseyes:: “I’d love to help,” Silverlotus said, “but we’ve had a blackout for the past fifteen minutes.” That was when the hair stood up from the back of my neck.

It was like 1964. But it also was not. Most buildings had backup power. Fire elevators hummed along their protected shunts. People were on mobile phones. Bell’s voice and data networks were at 99% functionality. They were a bit congested at times, but they worked. We always take dialtone for granted. If you had a laptop with a modem, you could log into your Sympatico account and surf the web.

Couldn’t check into my hotel at first, because they needed their computers to look up my reservation. Silverlotus got my bedside radio clock working, and was my primary source of news for the next few hours.

When I was hungry, I went downstairs to find a hot dog vendor. The booth sat empty. “He ran out of buns, so he went to get more,” another would-be customer explained. I looked at the bumper to bumper traffic. Hell, if he ever returned, it wouldn’t be for hours.

As night fell, they barricaded all the doors to the hotel except the main entrance. Police cars roamed outside, their headlights creating surreal reliefs of grooves and potholes in the asphalt. Used the glow of the LCD screen of my digicam to use the pitch-black washroom. I fell asleep to the murmur of a hundred diesel generators.

The power had returned, at least briefly, during the night. Unless I dreamt it. In the morning, I brushed my teeth, went back to the sink, and discovered there was no more water. Water is piped in with electrical pumps…

The Bell building had full power, however. This will make a lot of businesses rethink they’re business continuity plans. It’s not good enough to have a backup datacentre in another building; maybe it needs to be in another province all together. And fully stocked with UPSs.

Later, I was sitting in a VIA train en route to London, immobilized somewhere east of Brantford. Trains run on diesel – but signals run on electricity. The ride eventually took over 5 hours – a normally 2 hour trip.

Came home, took a shower. A cold shower. No hot water.

Pretty bits of glass

Gem-quality artificial diamonds are long due. It is a pity that DeBeers, much like the RIAA, haven’t seen the writing on the wall in their respective industries.

I can see one of two things happening, if Gemesis and Apollo succeed and aren’t sued or bullied out of business:

1. Demand shift from flawless/internally flawless diamonds to diamonds with minor imperfections in them. A similar thing is already with emeralds – the most prized emeralds have some inclusions in them, because you can guarantee they’re real, not “sims”.

2. Diamonds shifting to a service-oriented industry. In other words, the money will be made with how well a jeweller can cut the stone, rather than the actual stone’s attributes (carat, clarity, colour) itself.

P.S. The article’s title may be a nod toward a cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson called The Diamond Age. In that book, diamonds have become so easy to make that they become cheaper than glass, and are used in everyday items like knives, window panes, windshields, etc.
On the bookshelf: Dan Simmon’s Hyperion.

LookOut Express bows out

Last month, MS announced they would stop support standalone IE. Now, Microsoft kills off Outlook Express. They have decided to push Hotmail and Outlook 2003 instead.

If you just want an email client that filters spam, does not have 50-100MB of extra stuff, and that just *works* and not, you may want to look into Mozilla Mail, or the experimental Mozilla Thunderbird mail client.

Tin soldiers

In the past few days, one of my favourite technews haunts,, was DDoS’ed to oblivion. By a 13-year old script kiddie with a grudge. Only on the Internet can mosquitoes carry rocket launchers.

There are ways to prevent DDoS attacks, although none of them are 100% effective and the seriously good gear cost a lot of money.

But yes, you can using a intrusion detection system (IDS) in front of a stateful firewall to minimize the impact. These kinds of hardware can scan incoming packets and find malicious traffic patterns (pingstorms, DDoS, spoofs) and then drop the packets.

The problem here is that stopping DDoS attacks is like trying to prevent a leaky ship from sinking – the bigger the flood, the bigger your pail has to be, and the faster you will have to bale.

While computer hardware is usually measured by million instructions per second, or MIPS, network hardware is measured in Kpps, or thousand packets per second. For example, a Cisco 3725 can process 70Kpps – considering an IP packet can be up to 1,518 bytes, that’s a respectable amount of packet processing power.

So with a big DDOS attack, you’ll need big packet buffers and fast CPUs on your IDS and firewall hardware. Some devices sport dual CPUs. The bigger the attack (i.e. more packets), the bigger and faster your hardware has to be, and the more expensive it gets.

So why doesn’t the FBI or police just swoop down and arrest all these punks? The answer is, too many idiots, not enough hours in a day. It’s like being the victim of a break-in. There are dozens of break-ins in a city in any given day, very few leads, and difficult to prosecute. Sadly, the same goes for DoS attacks.


I loved this comment:

Notice that the shape of the winning antenna is a pyramid? There are a lot of theories regarding electromagnetism and the pyramid shape, including a bunch on how the ancient egyptians figured out how to utilize these electromagnetic properties, which is (supposedly) why the pyramids were built that way.

If you want to get kooky, it can also point to the extra terrestrial origins of ancient egyptian civilization.

That makes perfect sense! The aliens, feeling like outsiders in this new place, built gigantic 802.11 antennas to download porn and MP3s from their home planet.

If it wasn’t for the unacceptably long ping times, they would still be with us today.

Little tatami

From Newsscan, an excerpt on hiaku from author Joshua Cooper Ramo:

“In the middle of the fifteenth century in Japan, a time when the kingdom was both at its most isolated and, to Japanese eyes, most perfect, a strange tradition emerged: composing haiku as you died, at the very moment of death. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising. Japanese culture had become obsessed with the relationship between life and art. There was an increasing belief that the two should never be separated, that a well-lived life was a work of art. Was it surprising that some Japanese poets wanted to try to weave the two together, to make a little tatami of life and art? What better time than at the moment of death? After a lifetime of study, could you be beautiful in three lines? Could you be perfect? Could you reduce it, all of it, your life, down to seventeen syllables?

Farewell … I
pass as all things do
dew on the grass.

“So it all awaited you. Special inks were mixed. A brush of the rarest hair was prepared and left lying near your bed. The softest rice paper was fetched. All this lay waiting for your last moment. The Zen monks who collected the death poems looked for two virtues, two marks of beauty. The first was awa-re, a sense of the sadness of things passing, the way birds at dawn sing like mourners or cherry blossoms fall like tears in the spring. The second virtue was mi-yabi, an attempt to refine oneself. Everything about the poems — their sound, how they looked on the page — was meant to evoke this attempt at refinement, at compactness.”