Harry Potter and the 1911


No idea who originally penned this, but it’s something that I, too, have wondered.

Ok, this has been driving me crazy for seven movies now, and I know you’re going to roll your eyes, but hear me out: Harry Potter should have carried a 1911.

Here’s why:

Think about how quickly the entire WWWIII (Wizarding-World War III) would have ended if all of the good guys had simply armed up with good ol’ American hot lead.

Basilisk? Let’s see how tough it is when you shoot it with a .470 Nitro Express. Worried about its Medusa-gaze? Wear night vision goggles. The image is light-amplified and re-transmitted to your eyes. You aren’t looking at it–you’re looking at a picture of it.

Imagine how epic the first movie would be if Harry had put a breeching charge on the bathroom wall, flash-banged the hole, and then went in wearing NVGs and a Kevlar-weave stab-vest, carrying a SPAS-12.

And have you noticed that only Europe seems to a problem with Deatheaters? Maybe it’s because Americans have spent the last 200 years shooting deer, playing GTA: Vice City, and keeping an eye out for black helicopters over their compounds. Meanwhile, Brits have been cutting their steaks with spoons. Remember: gun-control means that Voldemort wins. God made wizards and God made muggles, but Samuel Colt made them equal.

Now I know what you’re going to say: “But a wizard could just disarm someone with a gun!” Yeah, well they can also disarm someone with a wand (as they do many times throughout the books/movies). But which is faster: saying a spell or pulling a trigger?

Avada Kedavra, meet Avtomat Kalashnikova.

Imagine Harry out in the woods, wearing his invisibility cloak, carrying a .50bmg Barrett, turning Deatheaters into pink mist, scratching a lightning bolt into his rifle stock for each kill. I don’t think Madam Pomfrey has any spells that can scrape your brains off of the trees and put you back together after something like that. Voldemort’s wand may be 13.5 inches with a Phoenix-feather core, but Harry’s would be 0.50 inches with a tungsten core. Let’s see Voldy wave his at 3,000 feet per second. Better hope you have some Essence of Dittany for that sucking chest wound.

I can see it now…Voldemort roaring with evil laughter and boasting to Harry that he can’t be killed, since he is protected by seven Horcruxes, only to have Harry give a crooked grin, flick his cigarette butt away, and deliver what would easily be the best one-liner in the entire series:

“Well then I guess it’s a good thing my 1911 holds 7+1.”

And that is why Harry Potter should have carried a 1911.

Think about it: there’s a bunch of crazy nutbags out there trying to kill a kid — a specific kid who didn’t do anything other than be born — and the only thing the ‘responsible’ adults can do is wave wands about and play blame games?

Hagrid should have bought Harry a Colt Officer instead of an Owl. “‘Ere ye go, ‘Arry… a little you-know-wha’ for you-know-who.”

Probably wouldn’t have sold as many books or movies that way though.



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:
  • 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.
  • 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.