Blue Onyx

I just found the BlueOnyx (Blue Onyx) project today. It looks like it’s meant to be a more up-to-date version of the BlueQuartz project, which is the ongoing development of the old Cobalt RaQ software. The project seems to be hardly-known right now.

There’s also Aventurin{e}, a Linux OS with a web GUI for virtualization, apparently based on the RaQ style interface, and intended to host BlueOnyx/BlueQuartz VMs. It turns out that my novel idea, hosting BlueQuartz virtual machines, is something that a lot of people have been doing for quite a while now.

New 900 MHz Machine in Boston

There’s an oft-neglected ham band up on 900 MHz. A few Boston area groups have been making a big push to try to revive ham radio activity in our allocation up there, especially GEMOTO. They’re a club of GE and Motorola commercial radio aficionados, so it’s no surprise that the new machine is looking really impressive.

They say they’ve got a 130 Watt repeater, with split antennas: 9dB gain on receive, 12db on transmit. I’m not normally excited by coaxial cable, but at high frequencies like 900 MHz, attenuation through cables can be magnified; they’re using 1-5/8″ Heliax on receive, and transmitting into 3-1/8″ solid copper “plumbing.”

It’s going up on One Financial Center in Boston. It’s a 46-story skyscraper in Boston; Wikipedia puts it at the 7th-tallest building in Boston, but, if you include the towers on top, the third-tallest. They posted some photos of the ‘radio room’ on the top, which looks more like a high-end colocation facility than a room filled with radios. The towers seem meticulously planned, with a designated receive-only zone.

130 Watts into an extremely high-gain antenna on top of one of the tallest buildings in Boston? Something tells me this repeater’s going to have some range! Now I just need to pick up a 900 MHz rig.

RadioShack Pro-96 Review

I feel like I’ve done this before, but here’s my review of the RadioShack Pro-96 digital scanner: it would be alright if it were $150. At $400, it’s not worth the price. And it was once $500, if it’s not still.

Much of New Hampshire has gone to an APCO Project 25 digital voice (P25 / Motorola ASTRO) digital voice radio system. Only a handful of police scanners can decode the digital format, and those radios are super-expensive, like the Pro-96.

So first, the good. It can decode P25 more often than not. It does several trunking formats, including several Motorola formats, APCO digital trunking, and EDACS. Trunk-tracking seems to work well. It has pretty wide frequency coverage, and a backlit keypad. It supports assigning text to channel names.

So now, the bad. For one, it’s ungodly expensive.

For another, digital decode is really bad. I once owned a really old Motorola ASTRO Saber, which was something like 5 firmware versions behind the latest. Every firmware version brought significantly improved audio quality to digital voice decode. That radio left the Pro96 in the dust. My local police department has 300 Watts ERP from the highest point in town. I receive them DFQ, S9+. Periodically, the Pro96 just fails to decode them, playing the awful noises of IMBE through the speakers. Other times, it seems like it’s missing a lot of frames, causing awful high-pitched blips to come out the speaker in between words. Other times audio decode is spot-on. I see no rhyme or reason, but it drives me bonkers. (State Police run data, believed to be mobile data terminals, on the same frequency as their digital voice. The Pro96 really struggles with this, but I can’t really fault it for that so much.) Volume is really erratic, too. Turning the knob maybe a quarter of the way is way too loud much of the time. Turning it down just a hair makes it almost inaudible. Turning it up more makes it nominally louder than the “too loud” setting. I’ve read others complaining about this, too. Even though they claim there is, it seems that there’s no AGC on digital, either: some people come across much louder than others.

There’s a constant hiss coming out of the speaker. Not too loud, but I can hear it, so it’s annoying.

The volume control is notoriously bad. I’ve read a lot of people complaining about this, and now mine does it. Even cranked all the way, the volume is barely audible. People have disassembled their radios and found that it’s just a crappily-soldered connection. Pulling the antenna towards you often fixes the problem for a few minutes. The fix I’ve read is to take the radio apart and resolder it. Thanks, RadioShack, for making such a quality product.

As seems typical of most any radio, the interface is anything but easy-to-use. You get used to it, but it’s never something I’d consider intuitive. And as with most every scanner ever made, it feels hollow and cheaply-made, whereas a good ham radio or commercial two-way rig feels quite solid. It’s weird that the Pro96 manages to feel heavy and yet also feel hollow: one would expect a radio feeling that way to be light, but it’s not the case.

All in all, it works most of the time, but for the price they’re charging, it’s not worth the aggravation. While I’m delighted to be able to listen to local police once more, I really regret buying the Pro-96.


There seems to be a lot of hype around chipotle, but I think a lot of it is just using it as a catchphrase. But chipotle is a very specific thing: a smoked jalapeƱo. They typically wait until the peppers are dark red, at which point they’re already somewhat dry inside. They’re then smoked until they’re completely dry, imparting a smoky flavor. Jalapenos can lose up to 90% of their weight while being smoked. The Wikipedia page has more information, and photos, but first, a warning: the photos of chipotles on Wikipedia are repulsive-looking.

There’s now a Chipotle Tabasco Sauce. I just made some nachos and sprinkled a bit of it on top with the salsa, for a great effect. (I’m still a big fan of their Green Pepper Sauce, too.)

Speaking of Tabasco, did you know that there’s a type of pepper known as the Tabasco pepper. It seems that they’re sold in a handful of places; here’s one.

What is my IP?

All the time, I want to know my IP, but find myself Googling “what is my IP” and trying to choose from a bunch of ad-infested sites.

I’ve had for a while. It shows your IP, hostname (reverse DNS), your browser’s user agent, the headers your browser sent, and, if one was recorded, the most recent OS fingerprint my server saw. (Thanks to p0f.) I should add geolocation data from Maxmind.

But I just whipped up something handy to scripters: It returns nothing but your IP address, with no formatting. Use it for whatever floats your boat (within reason), but I set it up so I could create a little bash one-liner on my laptop: curl && echo "".

Big Brother and the iPhone, the home of smcFanControl (essential for keeping hot-running MacBook Pros at a reasonable tempoerature), has an interesting post. It’s actually two months old, but some of us are slow.

He questions, “Is Big Brother listening in on my iPhone Apps?” after discovering a third-party tool for iPhone developers that will send information like the application’s time started/stopped, UUID (globally-unique identifier for your phone), and the latitude/longitude. Based on his analysis, nearly a third of the applications he’s installed are making use of it.

An interesting debate started in the comments section, though, ranging from the application being dubbed spyware to a comparison with Google Analytics. I buy both arguments, really. But mostly, it’s yet another reminder that the iPhone is a black box unless you jailbreak it: you can’t even tell if this library is there without a jailbroken iPhone. Nor can you bulk-delete thousands of text messages. The temptation is growing.

Updated Statistics

Now that Google Analytics has been running, I thought I’d post some updated statistics.

Firefox on Windows is the most popular browser/OS combination, with almost 43% of visits. IE on Windows comes in second at just shy of 22%. Firefox on Mac and Linux comes in third and fourth, respectively, with 14.6% and 9% each. Looking just as operating systems, Windows rakes in 67%, Mac 19%, and Linux 13%, with the remaining 1% being split between blank values and ‘iPhone’. There are two visits from Safari on Linux, which has me somewhat puzzled. Firefox on Linux is nearly seven times more popular than Google Chrome on Windows.

Traffic is broken down three ways: search engines, direct traffic, and referring sites. Search engines and direct traffic are split, each with 44%. The remaining 12% comes from a handful of sites, though I can’t match many of them up. A few are just trackback links. There’ve been a lot of search terms, but most were for a handful of things. My blog post on Firefox’s browser.history_expire_days.mirror and on disassembling a Thinkpad T60 get a lot of hits, as does Kyle’s Lenovo X200 review. There’ve been a total of 115 keywords as of today, but these are the ones that have gotten many hits. It seems like there’s quite a technical focus to results.

If anyone with a Google account wants access to the stats, let me know.

Firefox Bookmark Keywords

Here’s a really neat trick that saves me a lot of time. It’s nothing new, but I don’t think it’s widely-known.

Let’s say that you have a tool you often use that just changes the URL. For example, using Trac for storing bugs. I might want to look up Trac #1234, and the URL is something like /ticket/view/1234. Rather than searching through the system, I can just hack the URL to change the number. But that’s a pain.

So you can set up a keyword. Instead of typing http://trac.lan/tickets/view/1234, I can just type “trac 1234” and it’ll construct the URL. That’s the magic of Firefox bookmarks. Simply bookmark a link, change the variable portion of the bookmarked to “%s”, and define a unique “keyword” field. Then visit them by typing in “keyword variable” in the location bar; if “trac” was your keyword, you’d type in “trac 1234” and hit enter. Viola! Set them for Trac, SANS port lookup, dictionaries, or all sorts of secret internal tools you might have. This obviously won’t work for things that don’t have hackable URLs, but an awful lot do.

Wireless Security Audit

I found myself sitting in the back seat of a car today, toying with Chess on the Mac. (And being defeated in ways I didn’t even understand. Quite discouraging.)

Tired of the endless losses, I started up KisMAC to show the wireless APs that I passed. Between Margarita’s in Nashua and my home, I found 232 access points.

As if doing that wasn’t enough to make me a nerdy loser, I went on to generate some statistics. 32% of the access points were open. (No encryption.) The remaining two-thirds were encrypted; 48% of the access points used WEP, and 21% used WPA. WEP is old an insecure; someone with some targeted utilities can spend about 15 minutes watching network traffic and crack the key to gain entry to your network.

It’s probably not surprising that the majority of the unsecured networks had names like “linksys” and “belkin54g.”

“Wireless Nashua” is an open access point in downtown Nashua. Stopped at a light I connected, and was taken to a captive portal splash page explaining that it’s free wifi for people at local businesses. Neat. A handful of other businesses had open access, too.

A few access points were named “hpsetup.” I’m not sure what this is; this is the only access point that was at the car dealership when I brought my car in for service. Connecting gave me a generic “not actually connected” fake IP, and there was no gateway, and a quick scan of the netblock suggested that there was nothing on it. I have no idea why this is my theory, but I think it might be connected to HP printers that have WiFi capability.

Driving by the hotel between the Bud Plant and the old McDonald’s in Merrimack, I noticed a network called Marriott (open), plus five GoldenTree open APs. I wasn’t aware that the hotel was a Marriott, nor do I know what GoldenTree means. (Ah-ha: GoldenTree is also known as Guest Tek, and provides tech solutions to hotels.)

The highlight, though, was an access point named “Cisco Sys. Security.” It sounds like something that would be set up by a CCNA, and you’d think it’d be locked down with WPA and pass through an ASA firewall before connecting to the rest of the network. All I know is that it was an actually an open AP.