Eleventy-One…

Only because fortune runs automatically when I log in to some of the utility servers at work — and this classic quote from Tolkien came up just now:

My dear People.

My dear Bagginses and Boffins, and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks,

and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers,

Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots.  Also my good

Sackville Bagginses that I welcome back at last to Bag End.  Today is my

one hundred and eleventh birthday: I am eleventy-one today!”

— J. R. R. Tolkien

Just because.

iPhone Location Tracking?

There’s been a bit of a to-do about the recently discovered geolocation data stored in iPhone backups. An expected percentage of people start screaming about privacy concerns, how Apple is turning into big brother, how that data can be used to rob your house, etc.

Looking at the data from my iPhone, it looks very much like this is QOS (Quality of Service) data — nothing more. The location of each point collected indicates that the phone is storing geolocation data not for itself, but for each GSM tower that it hears.

For example, one day, I drove from my home in the southeast Denver metro area up to Longmont. It was a three hour trip up I-25, into Longmont to a warehouse, then down US-287 to home. I did the trip on March 2.

Here’s a screen shot of that area, along with the date stamp for reference:

Click to enlarge
If we were to interpret the geoloc data in a very paranoid manner, this data would indicate that I drove on several hundred different roads on that day and crisscrossed many cities just to drive to a warehouse in Longmont.

However, I can say that in all the years I’ve lived in this area, I’ve never been to the huge majority of the points collected by my phone.

So how can we interpret this data?

This looks very much like Quality of Service (QOS) data. It appears very much to be storing the known location of cell towers along with signal strength information. The points collected are spaced at regular intervals. There’s also what looks like a signal strength or maybe an SNR ratio.


You see, a tower’s location doesn’t change. Each tower also has its own identification. Listen to the signal strength from any given tower and you have some very useful information that can be later reported back to the various carriers for troubleshooting reports of dropped calls, no signals, etc.

Edit: This first interpretation was incorrect. Turns out that it was closer to the second interpretation. This information is not the location of the device itself, but a cache of locations from nearby wi-fi hot spots and cellular towers that are used by your device to determine its own location. More info is here.

An alternate interpretation may be that this is very roughly estimated positioning information based on triangulation from multiple cell towers — perhaps used for E911 triangulation. This data is absolutely not GPS information as GPS itself is far more accurate than the data collected.

Perhaps, a combination of the two: triangulation from known cell towers to estimate general QOS.

To this engineer, there is, as yet, no evidence in this data that suggests that anyone is doing anything nefarious nor that the data could be used to track somebody’s location back to their home to commit any number of crimes.

The biggest threats to your safety and privacy aren’t your phone storing the location of cell towers that it once heard.

The greatest threats to one’s privacy and safety in this age are, in fact, from oneself: posting of status updates on Facebook or Twitter about that trip you’re taking to Disney World next week, or that you’ve checked in to some coffee house on the other side of the state. That kind of information could easily be exploited by others.

For what it’s worth, the location data captured by my phone in this particular file don’t show any actual data points within any useful distance of my home.  I would encourage, therefore, refraining from judgement until you have all of the evidence. Let’s wait and see what Apple has to say about the matter.

This Week’s Accomplishments

Another week. This might become a habit.
In no particular order:
Home:
  • Set up the solar portion of my aquaponics kit so it’s now fully self-contained. There’s an air pump that’s on all the time and a water pump that will run 15 minutes per hour to circulate the tank water and flood the grow bed. To power everything, a 75Ah deep-cycle battery (like this, but less than half the cost), an HQRP 10A charge controller, and an 85w monocrystaline PV panel roughly mounted. Next week, I’ll construct a more suitable mount for it to get it off the ground, angled properly, and get all of the cabling into some flexible metal conduit. If there’s enough wattage to go round, I may even add a small fan to circulate air in the greenhouse, though there are some dedicated solar powered greenhouse fans out there.
  • We started three more trays of assorted vegetables and ornamentals. Wow — I’d forgotten how tiny oregano seeds really are.
  • Installed another auto-opener for the greenhouse roof. This one’s a bit more sensitive at lower temperatures, which is good because I think it got too hot in there and killed off our tomatoes just as they were sprouting.
  • Checked voltage on the solar pumps after the first night. At sundown, the battery voltage was 12.83v at sunrise, it was 12.55v. A bit lower than I would have expected, but still tolerable. A full day or two in the sun should be sufficient to get it topped off.
  • Morning of the third day and the battery voltage was 12.9v — so it’s definitely coming up.
  • Had to bring in some of the plants from the greenhouse overnight. It still dips a bit too low out there at night for them. Might need to invest in a kerosene heater for next season.
  • Took a moment to be grateful that I finished my taxes early — way back in February, in fact — so I don’t need to do them on BAG Day. Speaking of BAG Day, I’m not planning on buying one this year. Scary, I know. But if I were, then the next one would be that Sig P238. She’s a darn fine-looking little pistol. Wait a minute! Tax Day is extended to April 18, which is also Patriot’s Day. Maybe I should look into that purchase after. I’m also considering selling my Ruger P94.
  • Moved the greenhouse. This, of course, required removing its brick floor first… then putting it all back when done. In the hot sun… in a greenhouse. It’s never moving again.
Work:
  • Reconfigured and tuned notification scripts for all of our production Linux systems.
  • Researched Zenoss as a possible replacement for our Nagios monitoring systems. Looking very briefly at the interface, it looks like a combination of Nagios and Cacti. While Zenoss is impressive, it also comes with an annual fee (US$25K!) yet Nagios and Cacti are free. Zenoss also only allows 200 managed clients on the base license. We have several hundred systems we’d want to monitor, and not just Linux. So that $25K annually doesn’t seem so bad — it’s cheaper than a helpdesk technician.
  • On the topic of Nagios, management has asked that we find a way to add some custom verbiage to the email notifications that go out. Not sure yet how that’s going to happen, but may need to write a custom wrapper to capture exit statuses of the Nagios checks. This could take some time. Maybe Zenoss isn’t such a bad idea after all.
  • Worked on two very basic How-To videos for work. One around how we implemented a seemingly trivial, but very important enterprise security change to OSX and the other around how we use, configure, manage, and interpret Nagios. I feel like I’ve spent the whole week doing primarily Nagios tasks.
  • My policy of S.T.O.P. and Stay Paranoid seem to have started rubbing off at the office. We’re under standing orders from upper management to not make any production changes without a full management review. I couldn’t agree more. Our rate of change is scary and mistakes can cause our very complex production environment to do some rather unexpected things… like stop working altogether. S.T.O.P. = Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. Stay Paranoid means, well, stay paranoid, because the world is trying to find new and interesting ways to kill you.

So, what kind of cool stuff did you do this week?

A Few Words on Tax Day

Over at Monster Hunter, Larry Correia has a few words on the US Tax Day. Go read it. Please. If you read nothing else today — or ever — you need to read that.

Did you know that a full third of all incomes in this country are funded by government sources? Where does the government get its funding? From the other two thirds of people who are actually productive members of society.

There are no excuses for that. No justifiable reasons whatsoever for that kind of unsustainable crap.

I’d like to remind everyone that in order for a government to give something to someone, they must first take it away from somebody else.

So, start doing your part by not being a leech on the system. Get into the private sector and start creating something instead of consuming everything.
Or, maybe we could load them onto the ‘B’ Ark and send them off to start colonizing another planet.

This Week’s Accomplishments

Because Frühling is upon us, I figured it may be entertaining if I shared some of my accomplishments this week.
In no particular order:

Home:

  • Dropped seeds in four global buckets: two varieties of tomatoes and cantaloupes. I still need to set up an auto-waterer of some sort. The general plan is that a 55-gallon potable-water drum will be the primary source, which can be checked daily and topped off as needed (and careful notes taken about how much water is added!), which will then be metered by a small float-valve in a secondary tank to get the level right for the global buckets. Once the plants are large enough, I’ll also need to erect an appropriate trellis of some sort.
  • Cleaned out and prepared the first fish tank (a 1000-liter IBC tote) for use by cutting the top 5th or so off, flipping it over and rotating it. It’s very much like this one but with a different flood/drain method. That part will be the grow-bed. It still leaves about 225 gallons of volume, which will only be filled to about 175 gal for fish. I still need to add a power-source for a pump and a timer so it can run for a few minutes every hour, then obtain a test kit of some sort for the water… oh, and fish. I’ll need fish. Tilapia should do nicely. I’m also pondering a few possible methods to reduce evaporation from the fish tank and to keep the critters (and toddlers) out.
  • Cleaned out four 55-gallon food-safe drums for various garden projects. Possibly as additional media beds for the fish tank.
  • Cleaned out most of my old, unneeded bookmarks from Safari. Been meaning to do that for a few months now.
  • Paid off three of my smaller debts! I’m stoked about that one… I should’ve written it first.
  • Installed an automatic vent opener in the greenhouse. We’ll see if it helps keep it under 100 degrees in there.
  • Fixed the defroster in my truck.
  • Repaired the brakes on my wife’s car after a minor crisis. Unfortunately, I had to have it towed home first so I could work on it where the tools and replacement parts were.
  • Prepped three more trays for seeds — I should have done this last week. But we’ll get them in the greenhouse in the next day or so.
  • Delivered and unloaded seven yards of compost.

Work:

  • Helped the team move three services from one datacenter to another. Sounds trivial, but there’s a great deal of planning that goes behind that kind of thing — especially because we did it live and with no customer impact.
  • Racked, cabled, and deployed 20 more highly-available database servers. It looks awesome.
  • Identified the cause of a periodic (random) service outage.
Maybe I’ll keep a running list of stuff — it might motivate me.

So, what kind of cool stuff did you do this week?