One Aging Geek

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Dateline: Banks of the Danube, Linz Austria

Sitting in my room at the Steigenberger Hotel, Linz Austria looking out at the Donau (Danube). It's evening of the last day of my first international business trip. I've traveled to Europe twice before and I've traveled on business many times but this was my first opportunity to go abroad at someone else's expense. Not like it's been a luxury journey or anything, but it has been mostly nice.

Weather in Linz has been mostly overcast but little rain and cool. In the four days we've been here the Danube has definitely been rising. CNN this morning had coverage of rains and flooding on the Danube in Germany, upstream of here. If there's flooding in Linz, which I doubt, the river seems to be well banked up with levees, I just hope it waits another full day. Our flight leaves at 6am.

Things I love about Austria:

  1. Beautiful women. There are just a lot of lovely young women here.
  2. Friendly people. Linz is a city of about 200,000 according to the people we're here to see. There is absolutely nothing exciting for tourists here so it's a real nice normal town. Everyone has been very nice and very tolerant of my inability to say much more than bitte and danke in German.
  3. Clean safe place. We were tired last night and ate at the hotel. After dinner, well after dark, we made our way down to the levee and walked for about a half mile. We passed a few people. The way was clean and the walk was very nice. Not something I'd do in any American city.
  4. Coffee, chocolate, and weissebier. What can I say. Coffee here, even at the office, is good, strong and all around excellent. I'm taking a half kilo home.

Things I dislike about Austria

  1. Toilet paper. My aging rear doesn't like the stuff they have here. It's about the consistency of a paper shop towel or maybe medium grade sand paper. Urg. I really almost put a roll of soft American t.p. in the suitcase but I was determined to do the four day trip with only carry-on luggage. Which was a good decision. My colleagues also tried but checked in later than me. By then the ticket counter was enforcing weight limits and made them check their bags. Those bags didn't make our tight connection thru Frankfurt and they got to spend about 30 hours in the same clothes.
  2. Jet lag. Not just Austria but I can't sleep in airplanes, not even 10 hour non stops. At least not in coach and I've never managed an upgrade on a transatlantic flight. And I can never ever manage to sleep well the first night away from home. So I went something over 48 hours without sleep and had to function in business meetings at the end of that stint. Not fun.

So anyway. I just had to get some thoughts of this down and I have a couple of euros worth of wireless access to burn thru before the night is over. Ah, which reminds me. Used Skype for the first time. Before I left I set Skype up on my wife's computer back home. We chatted earlier tonight. Quality was just as good as any domestic phone call. I'm impressed. Wonder if Google Talk will wipe them out. I already have way too many "resident" programs in my tray so I'm not sure what I'll do for a VoIP proggie. Probably stick with Skype for the moment.

Time to get some shut-eye. Hitting the shower and then the airport in about 5 hours. All in all, it's been a blast!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

New Scientist News - Climate warning as Siberia melts

New Scientist News - Climate warning as Siberia melts

THE world's largest frozen peat bog is melting. An area stretching for a million square kilometres across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts, according to Russian researchers just back from the region.

The sudden melting of a bog the size of France and Germany combined could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Not good.

Wonder how the Bush Administration will spin this. Probably won't, probably will just ignore it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Schneier on Security: RFID Passport Security Revisited

Bruce Schneier weighs in on the proposed US Passport with RFID.

Schneier on Security: RFID Passport Security Revisited

I've written previously (including this op ed in the International Herald Tribune) about RFID chips in passports. An article in today's USA Today (the paper version has a really good graphic) summarizes the latest State Department proposal, and it looks pretty good. They're addressing privacy concerns, and they're doing it right.

The most important feature they've included is an access-control system for the RFID chip. The data on the chip is encrypted, and the key is printed on the passport. The officer swipes the passport through an optical reader to get the key, and then the RFID reader uses the key to communicate with the RFID chip. This means that the passport-holder can control who has access to the information on the chip; someone cannot skim information from the passport without first opening it up and reading the information inside. Good security.

The new design also includes a thin radio shield in the cover, protecting the chip when the passport is closed. More good security.

Assuming that the RFID passport works as advertised (a big "if," I grant you), then I am no longer opposed to the idea. And, more importantly, we have an example of an RFID identification system with good privacy safeguards. We should demand that any other RFID identification cards have similar privacy safeguards.