Are you the expert?

A wise trainer once told me:

“It takes 10.000 hours to become an expert, on what subject would you like to spend 10.000 hours to become an expert?”

This is giving me a great deal of thought. What do I want to become an expert of? There are a lot of things I know a lot about, and even many more I’d like to know more about, but ten thousand hours seem like a lot. Maybe being an expert is not something you can become in these technology driven times, because more and more expert fields are being integrated. In order to be a good designer, you must be an expert at handling certain computer programs, in order to be a good mathematician, you need to be able to write at least some programs to confirm your theories. In order to be an expert in one field, you almost always need to be an expert in another field as well. Spending 10.000 hours on how to jailbreak or even figure every setting of your mobile phone seems a bit over the top – and in my opinion, a waste of time.

Would you like a cup of coffee?

You can get it for yourself, I think that my beautifully designed coffee machine requires no explanation. The four buttons to operate it are self explanatory, a single display, some levers to replace the coffee pad and a nice design. Philips’ Senseo coffee pad machine is a well thought of concept, I only had to look in the manual once (how to calc-clean my machine, which is maintanance done once every six months). I love coffee and unfortunately the coffee tastes awfull. Where this coffee machine was great back when I was a poor student, it simply had to be replaced by something better. Goodbye


The lightswitch

Norman wrote about the problems that arise by putting the three-dimensional world we live in onto the two-dimensional world of a wall, complicating something as simple as turning the lights on or off. The current office building I work has found a way to make it into a study. Every light (or group of lights) has a light switch like in the picture.20130204-091520.jpg

Apart from being aesthetically unpleasing, the light switch comes with an issue. One of those two buttons turns the light on, the other one turns the light off. Wich one it is, is different every time, so every time I enter an office room I have to figure out which button to press. Together with the fact that it takes several seconds after pressing the buttons until the lights respond, makes me push each button several times until the lights are on and stay on.

When I pointed this out to a co-worker, he told me there is a mnemonic for it, the one you pass first when entering is the one to turn the lights on, the one you pass first when exiting is the one to turn the lights off. I think that requiring mnemonics like this for something as simple as the lights is a very bad idea. The office maintenance team surely had a good reason to put the lights like this, but I doubt that the benefits surpass the costs.

What does this button do?

20130131-083933.jpgMy car key has 4 buttons. Their use seems obvious, top to open, middle to close, press the bottom one twice to open the hood and the little round one to get the key out of hiding.

That’s about where it ends, in the cold dark I tend to press the open key instead of the close key, especially when I have my gloves on. And last but not least, why are there two lock icons on the lock car button? Do I need to press it twice to fully lock the car? Or does this mean that that button enables the extra super duper lock with alarm which other cars don’t have?

UPnP security risk

UPnP, or Universal Plug and Play, allows devices that connect to networks to communicate seamlessly with one another and discover each other’s presence. – Zack Witthaker (on ZDNet)

That is not a explanation of UPnP, that is a marketing slogan. No one will refer to that, do I have to shut down all my internet connected devices now?

The short answer is no.

Some research shows that there is a threat and it is to be taken seriously, as warned by the US department of Homeland Security. The UPnP protocol is one of the very few protocols that could enable a hacker to bypass your gateway and enter your computer without you noticing it. The fact that most gateways don’t accept new connections from the internet doesn’t help either – your file sharing application might just do the trick as well.

What is UPnP?
Imagine all of your devices on the network speaking different languages by default. They could use English as a “connector language”, but sometimes this is not sufficient, because it doesn’t have the right words for some things. Then UPnP is used to find devices which can speak other languages as well, like Spanish, German or Dutch. As an example, the UPnP protocol is used when trying to find a printer and connect to it or when trying to find other clients using the same filesharing system on a network.

Note: The UPnP has nothing to do with communication between clients and servers, like posting a tweet or visiting a website, it’s just to find other, devices on a local network to communicate. Browsing to a web site does not use the UPnP protocol, printing a file does.

Why does homeland security warn now, when the leak has been in there for so long?
Because someone found the leak and made it public, forcing device manufacturers to upgrade their systems or deal with the responsibility that their devices are unsafe. Something the device manufacturers couldn’t possibly know beforehand, because it’s very hard to plug a hole of which you don’t know if it’s there or not, nor know where it is, the perfectly safe device does not exist and the vunurability is in a standard piece of the UPnP software which is used in many devices. I am curious as to how these manufacturers are going to deal with this publication, though, because that’s the interesting part.

What should I do to keep me safe?
(This is a bit technical) Apart from the usual “don’t click on supicious links or open suspicious e-mail and files”, check your firewall settings and make sure your router doesn’t accept connection requests from the big dark outside. Disable UPnP by blocking UDP port 1900 might be the safest, but also disables some other functionality (like the ability to connect to your printer), so be selective on that part. Want some free advice on to how to do this? Leave a comment.