Capturing and Analyzing FTP Traffic

 | October 31, 2011 5:56 pm

FTP is one of the oldest network protocols still in use. In its first iteration, it was created in 1971 as a way to quickly move files between computers and has been in continuous use ever since. It’s particularly common on the web, where it is responsible for moving files and data.

Unfortunately, while common, it is also insecure. FTP transmits user credentials, file contents, and other data in the clear. For that reason, anyone with a packet sniffer and a bit of patience is free to take a look at it.

This video looks at the security of FTP traffic. It covers:

  • How to set up an FTP server on Windows Server 2008 and configure a simple site
  • The use of a packet sniffer (Wireshark) on Ubuntu to monitor network traffic

You can watch the video here.

Securing a Network: Part 1

 | October 26, 2011 6:31 pm

As difficult as it can be to secure individual computers, making sure that a network is secure is even more challenging. This because, instead of working with a single machine, you have an entire network of devices to worry about. It’s a classic case of, “if the security of one is threatened, we’re all threatened.”

Luckily, there are several tools that can be used to “harden” individual computers, thereby making the network as a whole more secure. This series of videos will explore a few of those, including the Windows Server Security Configuration Wizard, the Role of Security Templates, and some of the Linux/Unix Security best practices.

This first video kicks things off by looking at the Windows Server 2008 Security Configuration Wizard and shows you how to configure a simple firewall setting.

You can watch the video by going here.

Installing and Configuring DHCP on Windows Server Core

 | 1:21 am

Note: This is a cross post from Apolitically Incorrect. If you would like to comment or remark, please consider stopping by.

Windows Server Core is a relatively new version of Windows Server. Like it’s slightly more mature sibling, the “full” version, it is tremendously powerful. Server Core allows you to set up Active Directory domains, DNS/DHCP, and web servers. It can help secure your infrastructure, and probably floss your teeth.

But that isn’t what makes it interesting. Server Core is interesting for what it doesn’t have: the Windows Server GUI. Like in the case of Linux servers, nearly all of the action happens in the command line. This makes Server Core light weight and an excellent candidate for network virtualization, as it can run all of the core networking services need to administer a domain.

In this video, we take a look at how a Server Core installation can be configured to run as a DHCP server. It will walk you through the process of installing the DHCP server role from the command line, registering the DHCP service with Active Directory, and configuring the first zone. When combined with the earlier Active Directory tutorial, this video describes a way to run the three core networking services needed for domain administration – DNS,  DHCP, and Active Directory – on a single server.

This lays the groundwork for later networking and security tutorials by allowing us use the less resource intensive Server Core for simulation and exploration rather than the full Windows Server virtual machine.

To view the video, please visit

“Creativity is Just Connecting Things”

 | October 25, 2011 11:03 am

Note: This is a cross post from Apolitically Incorrect. If you would like to comment or remark, please consider stopping by.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.

That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences, or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry (technology) haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

--- Steve Jobs, Wired, February 1995

via Swiss Miss via Brain Pickings

Moving to

 | April 15, 2010 10:25 pm

When I first started this blog, I thought it would be an experiment.  I was exploring WordPress as a platform and wanted to know how customizable it was.  I wanted to know if it could grow and expand with my interests.  I wanted it to be a place where I could post pictures and maybe experiment with podcasts and other internet stuff.

What I did not intend, however, was for it to become a full-fledged website.  It was supposed to be a side project, and I figured that I would eventually tire of it and move on.  That's why it was set up at rather than was always meant to be something special. (Just to save you the trouble, there's still nothing there.  I have yet to find the "something".)

Over the past two years, has become quite a bit more than an experiment.  For a little hobby website, it gets a respectable amount of traffic (sometimes as many as 1,000 hits in a single day) and I think it's time that it have it's own respectable domain.  For that reason, I am moving the website from the current address ( to something relatively unique.  (For me, this almost counts as living dangerously.)

From here on out, the site's address will be:

The good news, however, is that is where the changes end.  I only have so much tolerance for change, and a different Url is about all I can handle.  Everything else will remain the same.  All of the content, comments and files have been migrated.  I'm even using the same WordPress theme.  The only thing that's different is the Url.  Thus, please update your bookmarks and feedreaders and I hope to you over on the new site!

(Just so people and various search robots don't become confused, I'll keep a copy of the old stuff here.  The archives will still work, and the file links will still be active; but comments are closed and the site will be unmaintained.  For updates, releases of Time Drive, LyX-Outline news and book related material, please go to  Thanks.)

Temples and Timelines

 | February 25, 2010 5:55 pm

Newsweek has a fascinating article about an archaeological site at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey that is well worth a look.

The site is the oldest religious temple ever discovered.  Preliminary carbon dating has determined that some of the artifacts date from 9,400 BC, which makes the place about 11,500 years old. (Which, just to be clear, is 7000 years before the Great Pyramid and 6500 years before Stonehenge.)  The article further explains:

The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals and even agriculture – the first embers of civilization.  … [It] may be the very first thing that human beings ever built.

And yet, the site is amazing.  The pillars show beautiful stone carvings and there are examples of sophisticated engineering techniques.  The stone circles are nearly 30 yards across with pillars that stand more than 17 feet tall.  Many of the stones (some weighing up to 50 tons) were first quarried and then transported half a kilometer to the site, where they were erected.  What staggers me, though, is that the stone circles were roofed.

This quote from Ian Hodder, head of archaeology at Stanford University, summarizes my response pretty well:

[Göbekli Tepe] is unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date.  The huge stones and fantastic, highly refined art [changes everything].  It overturns the whole apple cart.  All our theories were wrong.

This doesn’t happen often.  Scientists don’t admit mistakes and call for established theories to be overturned.  But when faced with such a revolutionary piece of evidence, you have little choice.

Göbekli  is literally an outlier in every way.  It shows engineering, organization, and artistic sophistication that seems to materialize out of nowhere.  The only other comparable examples won’t appear for five thousand years.

To really put this in perspective, consider the timeline below.  Arrayed across the bottom axis are the reigns of several ancient civilizations: the Chinese, Romans, Egyptians and Mesopotamians.  In addition to this information, I’ve also placed the approximate dates of the the ice age, stone age and examples of religious and cultural monuments (the oldest of which dates to about 3500 BC).

When compared with Göbekli, the great civilizations and monuments of the ancient world seem to to huddle in an upstart mob at the right of the chart.  Even the very oldest of the examples, a Mesopotamian palace, is separated from Göbekli by the same span of time that divides the ancient age from the modern day.

Such an amazing and sophisticated example at such an early date, literally, boggles my mind.  It's absolutely amazing.  And, paradoxically, the amazement and wonder helps to explain why Göbekli has remained essentially unknown.  A discovery of this magnitude demands enormous attention and dedication.  It takes almost as much as it gives, particularly from those that discovered it; and not every scientist is willing to give that kind of commitment.  Thus, I completely understand the response of the man who discovered the site.

[Unable to interpret what he saw], the [American] archeologist who stumbled on [on the site] in the 1960s simply walked away.

But, even so, the evidence at Göbekli has the potential to completely transform the history of civilization.  And I, for one, look forward to seeing what emerges.


Note: You can view a high resolution PDF of the timeline by clicking on the image, or here.

Hannibal, Napoleon, and Joseph Charles Minard

 | February 22, 2010 5:49 pm

Charles Minard - Railroad Routes

No study of the history of scientific communication can be complete without mention of Joseph Charles Minard, a 19th Century French civil engineer and cartographer.

At the end of his life, Minard created two very famous examples of statistical charts, called flow maps, that every scientist, engineer and student should be familair with.  The first showed Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps (218 BC, Second Punic War), and the second describes Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia (1812-1813).

Both examples are beautiful works of art and masterful examples of evidence.  But they are also more than that, they tell cohesive and interesting stories.  In this post, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the history of Hannibal and Napoleon, and highlight the ways which Minard’s charts help us to explain their eventual outcome.

(Note: High resolution, PDF versions of the two maps are available for download.  These versions have been translated from the original French.  To download, either click on the images, or here for the Hannibal invasion of Northern Italy, and here for the French Invasion of Russia.)

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Working With Words, Numbers and Images: A Reading List

 | February 14, 2010 2:10 pm

There are three tools that a professional, scientific or technical writer needs to make use of: words, numbers and images.  In many cases, such as an effective illustration or chart, all three will be used.

The following books introduce principles and examples of how to use these tools to their fullest extent.  Some of the titles are historical and others are academic.  In every case, though, they highlight strategies that can be used to more effectively communicate ideas.  Additionally, each one is also an interesting and fantastic read.

Math and the Mona Lisa Math and the Mona Lisa by Bulent Atalay. For more than 500 years, the name of Leonardo Da Vinci has been synonymous with brilliance.  His careful observation of nature, collection and analysis of evidence, and use of mathematics to explain his observations represented a radical shift that foreshadowed the modern scientific method.In this book, Bulent Atalay explains why Leonardo was a remarkable artist, engineer and scientist.  He looks at the hidden patterns, geometric concepts and impeccable perspective in order to probe the mind that dreamt of helicopters, unsinkable ships and underwater exploration.
Leonardo's Notebooks Leonardo’s Notebooks, edited by H. Anna Suh.  To understand a man, you must read him in his own words.  This volume provides an opportunity to sample Da Vinci’s writings on anatomy, botany, architecture, sculpture and the physical sciences.  The key illustrations from his notebooks have also been reproduced.
Galielo at Work: His Scientific Biography by Stillman Drake.  Like Leonardo, Galileo was a scientific titan.  As Stephen Hawking aptly summarized, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”But why?  What was it about his innovative combination of experiment and mathematics that was so important.  How did he analyze data?  How did he present it to others?This book attempts to answer those questions.  It lays aside the philosophical implications of Galileo’s rift with the Catholic church and instead looks at how Galileo focused his mind on physical quantities and the mathematical relationships between them.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte.  Communicating complex ideas is difficult.  One of the most important tools in that struggle are charts, graphs and illustrations.  Unfortunately, however, these important figures often receive less attention than other aspects of a manuscript.In this book, Tufte provides inspiring examples of graphics that are beautiful to behold and illuminating to ponder.  He also includes shockingly bad examples and explains why they are so dangerous.
Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte.  In his earlier work, Tufte showed how important it is for numbers to be communicated clearly and without distracting  ornamentation.  In this volume, he turns his attention to a slightly different series of questions: What is the best way to show cause and effect?  Or to demonstrate evolutionary change?But the most important question he asks is far more universal: How can an information display be be used to reveal the truth?  To answer this, he analyzes a cholera epidemic in 19th century London and explains how poor communication contributed to the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte.  Like in his previous books, Tufte again tackles the question of how to best reveal truth through the graphical display of information.  But where earlier books focused on principles, Beautiful Evidence is about how seeing turns into showing.  To explore that theme, this book is filled with hundreds of spectacular examples and thoughtful commentary on what makes them unique.
Now You See It by Stephen Few Now You See It by Stephen Few.  The human mind is amazingly adept at seeing and understanding patterns.  An informed eye can distinguish between authentic and forgery and arrive at startlingly accurate calculations with minimal effort.  But even though we are capable of recognizing the hidden influences in the world around us, we can also be mislead and exploited far too easily.  We become awash in a sea of data of our own making.This book attempts to explain how the mind interprets and sees information.  As the author explains in the introduction, “[This book] provides tools to dive into the ocean of information, net the best of it, bring it back to shore and sort it out.”  In essence, it’s a book about seeing and distinguishing patterns on a conscious level.
Visual Thinking Visual Thinking by Rudolf Arnheim.  It’s long been known that “seeing is believing.”  This book explains why seeing is also synonymous with thinking.
Maps and Civilization Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society by Norman J.W. Thrower.  The history of exploration and discovery is also the history of cartography.  As mankind sailed out of sight of shore, he needed to learn techniques for representing his position and understanding the natural forces that he might encounter.  This book tells the history of mapmaking and how advances in cartography impacted civilization.
The Elements of Graphing Data The Elements of Graphing Data by William S. Cleveland.  In this book by William Cleveland, he presents the nuts and bolts (the how-to) of graphing data.  Then he goes on to explore the science in which his principles are based..
Visualizing Data Visualizing Data by William S. Cleveland.  Whereas The Elements of Graphing Data is primarily  focused on the principles of quality display and exploration of many types of common statistical charts, Visualizing Data takes the next logical step.  It introduces a number of new chart types and techniques for creating insightful and clear graphics.
Fiasco: American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 by Thomas E. Ricks.  Serious endeavors require careful forethought and nuanced planning; and few enterprises are more serious than the business of war.  This controversial book looks at the missteps and mistakes of the American military as it justified, planned and executed the 2003 Iraq War.It contains haunting examples of how information can be distorted and obfuscated by both well-meaning individuals and those with insidious hidden agendas.  It also explains how the adoption of American corporate culture and leadership by PowerPoint lead to serious miscommunication and early failure.
Challenger Launch Decision The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan.  The Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 changed the course of manned space flight forever.  But how did it happen?  What factors lead to it?  Might it have been prevented?In The Challenger Launch Decision, Diane Vaughan attempts to answer those questions.  In the process, she reveals that the Challenger explosion wasn’t the result of intentional wrongdoing but rather a slow-creeping definition of “normal” and comfort with the status quo.

Image Gallery: The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

 | February 5, 2010 12:31 am

DaVinci - HandsWhen I graduated from college and had to choose between a career in industry or academics, I found it to be an easy decision: I stayed in academics.  I like to have my head in the clouds and enjoy the intellectual lifestyle.  (I actually consider the label of “absentminded” to be a compliment.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a book has been the opportunity to research my subject.  My reading list has included books on analytic design, illustration, anatomy, typesetting, scientific communication, web technologies, LaTeX, the history of science, statistics and informational graphics. And as I worked my way through it, I took some extremely interesting side trips.  One of the most intriguing, however, was an extended tangent through the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Da Vinci died in the year 1519, nearly five hundred years ago.  Yet, the modern world remains fascinated by him.  His name adorns the side of best selling books and conspiracy fiction; and his drawings have become cultural icons.  As an example of his popularity:

In October of 2009, Martin Kemp, a professor of art and history at the University of Oxford, found a portrait of an Italian girl.  Up until Kemp took an interest, it was widely accepted that portrait had been painted sometime in the nineteenth century by an unknown artist.   After a great deal of investigation and the use of a multispectral camera, however, Kemp discovered something startling.  The painting had actually been done by Leonardo and nearly overnight, it went from a value of 19,000  British pounds to over 100 million.

I’m no different than the masses.  Leonardo fascinates me.  He had a very distinctive way of seeing the world and an engaging style.  Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to lose yourself in the details of his work.  Given my interest, a thorough study of Leonardo’s notebooks seemed only natural.

What I didn’t foresee, however, is that I would start to digitally collect his sketches; and in the past several months, I’ve put together a rather eclectic mix from across the internets.  Earlier today, I realized that the images might be of interest to others as well; thus, I’ve created a special online gallery for them.  It can be found under “Art and Photography” –> “The DaVinci Notebooks”  To get there more quickly, you could also just click here.


About This Book Thing

 | January 28, 2010 5:22 pm

daVinci-SkullIn the past few weeks, I’ve had several observant readers ask about one of my “secret” projects.  They’ve wondered what I’m up to and why it’s detracting from other endeavors.  After answering another query this morning, I decided that it’s probably time to speak openly about it.  So, here’s my public confession: I’m writing a book.

It’s about scientific and professional writing and open source.  Moreover, it will be interesting, intriguing and revolutionary.  (Yes, I have an inflated sense of ego.)

Before really diving into the details, I’d like to give a bit of personal background.  This might help you understand why I’m passionate about the subject.


Ten years ago, had someone told me that I would end up a scientist and engineer, I would have laughed at them.  At the time, I had just started at University and I was fully set on a career in either illustration, design or architecture.  I was much too “visual” and “right-brained” to surround myself by geeks, freaks and nerds.  It didn’t help that I spent a huge amount of time grooming myself to be an “artist”.

During high school, I had been cursed with moderate talent and highly indulgent instructors.  They praised my artwork.  They called it interesting and innovative.  They encouraged me to refine my technique and to major in visual arts.  So, I did.

But as time went on, I realized that I wasn’t very happy.  I realized that I had other interests.  I enjoyed art, I did well in it; but art classes weren’t my favorites.  That honor, as it turned out, was reserved for mathematics and science.

There was also another problem, I found that I lacked the discipline required to systematically create an individual style and build a portfolio.  I wanted create art for myself, not for other people; and that is a fatal flaw in an illustrator (the type of work that most interested me). Illustration, by definition, is work that has been requested for a particular use.  I was more interested in my own whims than those of potential clients.  Thus, not long after recognizing my problem, I decided to go a different direction and changed my major to engineering.

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