Category Archives: Uncategorized

What’s in a name?

Are you about to name a new baby? Are you curious about how popular your own name is? The American Social Security Administration has records that may interest you. Randy Olson has published a cute page that will tell you how popular any name was in any year.

Baby Names in U.S.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

The tyranny of CryptoLocker has ended, or at least paused.

Ding dong the witch is dead:

FireEye and Fox-IT have partnered to provide free keys designed to unlock systems infected by CryptoLocker.

CryptoLocker screenshotIf you have been infected by the CryptoLocker ransomware and all your files have been encrypted without your consent, go to FireEye and Fox-IT’s decryptcryptolocker website post haste. These noble folks seem to have located the CryptoLocker servers that store the unique private keys (called “master decryption keys”) for infected systems and will allow you to decrypt your encrypted files . . . gratis!

I warned about CryptoLocker when it first appeared in the fall of 2013. It is a very malicious piece of work.

I applaud FireEye and Fox-IT. I’m not sure how they were able to locate the CryptoLocker servers. (New randomly-named servers were created every day.) Also, it seems that CryptoLocker’s claim that the private keys would be destroyed after several days wasn’t true, since FireEye and Fox-IT appear to have found the keys intact on one or more CryptoLocker servers. In any case, FireEye and Fox-IT deserve a big round of applause.

The Register published a good article about decryptolocker and its background. According to their article, my celebration may be premature:

Hopes that this takedown would kill off CryptoLocker have been dashed. CryptoLocker has evolved and once again started to compromise user devices, FireEye warns.

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Disguise your smartphone’s phone number.

Burner screenshot on smartphoneWhile watching a Youtube video clip about the recovery of a stolen bicycle, I learned about Burner, a smartphone app that allows a smartphone user to temporarily mask his or her phone number with an alias phone number. It’s available for iPhones, but not yet for Android phones. (originally published on 31 December 2012. 9 July 2014: Burner is now available for Android phones, as well as IOS.)

Theft recovery seems like a perfect use for telephone anonymity. The victim, who’s a Portland, Oregon resident, responded to a Seattle Craigslist for sale ad for what seemed to be his stolen bike. He used Burner to make his phone calls appear to originate in Seattle.

Bike theft is a low-risk occupation. Watch a NYC resident steal bikes in public view.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Ed Snowden speaks at SXSW

Snowden-ScreenshotEdward Snowden spoke on Monday at South By Southwest via live Internet video. Presumably he was in Russia. His true location was obscured by a chain of seven proxies, which caused the audio quality to suffer from multiple echos. The best audio/video recording that I’ve found is this YouTube video. Mr. Snowden participated in a panel discussion of Internet privacy, security, and infringement of U.S. Constitutional rights.

The panel pointed out that not only is the NSA trampling on our right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, but so are commercial entities such as Google and Facebook. Seizing everything from everybody is clearly a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The panel agreed that end-to-end encryption is the only way to ensure privacy.

When will intelligence chief James Clapper be indicted for lying under oath while testifying to Congress?

WiSA Wireless Audio

The Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (, is promoting WiSA, a wireless audio transport standard (WiSA specs) that uses the 5 GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) band. (WiFi’s 802.11a uses the same band.) WISA logoIt’s an open standard for wireless delivery of 24-bit sound at 96 kilobits per second. WiSA supports 7.1 surround sound. Products that conform to the WiSA spec should interoperate with WiSA products from other manufacturers. WiSA is designed to work over distances up to 40 feet.

Bang & Olufsen and Sharp Electronics plan to demonstrate their new WiSA loudspeaker systems at this month’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Initial reports of these products are very positive.

Editorial comment: I’m opposed to needlessly dispensing with wires in favor of wireless connections. Wired connections:

  1. contribute less distortion
  2. are simpler
  3. are more reliable
  4. are cheaper
  5. conserve finite RF spectrum
  6. won’t interfere with or be interfered with by your neighbors
  7. consume less energy

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

“Homer Simpson vs Pierre de Fermat – Numberphile” on YouTube

I’m a long-time Simpsons fan, for many reasons. Today I learned a new reason: there are heavy duty mathematicians on the Simpsons writing crew.

homer.fermat2The episodes often include obscure math references that appear for only moments. Simon Singh, in a Numberphile clip, points out two episodes in which apparent disproofs of Fermat’s last theorem appear.

In a Simpsons episode titled The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace, Homer writes an apparent disproof of Fermat’s last theorem on a chalkboard. I love how within a few frames Homer can transform from a dope to a genius.

Today’s computers are manufactured by companies that don’t completely understand them.

Modern computers — nay, most CPU-based devices — are too complex for any one person to understand every component. That includes the people who design and manufacture them.

Hardware and software system designers assemble modules (“subassemblies”) whose inner workings are unknown to the system designer. The system designer cares only about the modules’ inputs and outputs — the “guzintas” and “guzoutas”.

This has security implications, now that system manufacturers purchase subassemblies worldwide. System designers can avoid unpleasant surprises by tightening subassemblies’ input/output specs, but still it’s difficult to discover hidden backdoors. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., a large Chinese networking manufacturer and services company, has been accused of incorporating backdoors into its networking equipment.

The old tried and true quality control method of source inspection, or even 24/7 on-site inspections as performed by the US Defense Department’s DCAS (Defense Contract Administration Services) may be required to keep vendors honest. One result of tighter quality control is higher prices. Consumers won’t pay higher prices, so I predict that consumer-grade products will become increasingly insecure.

The result of poor traceability is counterfeiting. Here’s a quote from my article titled US agencies catch SOME counterfeit network gear: “Cisco gear is so widely counterfeited in China that there’s a word for it: Chisco.”

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A new improved credit card scam via telephone

Today I received a phone call from an unknown caller whose caller ID was 15595. A recorded voice spoke:

This is Merrill Lynch. We have temporarily suspended your credit card. If you wish to re-activate your card, press 1.

I pressed 1 and then was asked to enter my account number. I almost did, but stopped since the card issuer would already have this number.

I’ve never heard of this scam. I’ll bet that it works, because the intended victim is caught off-guard.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013

“Taxation without representation” was a core cause of the American Revolution.

From’s CCH Examines Marketplace Fairness Act article:

On Monday, the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act, which requires web vendors to collect sales taxes from their online sales, even if they lack a physical presence in the state where the customer resides. The bill has now moved to the House for consideration, where it faces opposition from anti-tax lawmakers.

This controversial Act has its own website:


A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report suggests the compliance burden associated with the bill would force businesses to set up shop outside of the United States, leading Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to call the proposal the “Shop China Bill.”

I sympathize with both sides of this argument. Brick and mortar retailers have legitimate cause for complaint. However, last Fall I documented the burden of collecting and reporting sales taxes in 9600 taxing jurisdictions: Let’s rationalize state sales tax.

Two solutions not on the table

Note that the obvious solution — reduce taxes collected by brick and mortar businesses — isn’t even considered. Another solution would be the repeal of state and local sales taxes in all 50 states.

The National Review article Misnamed marketplace fairness act is okay, but the comments are better still.

My sales tax automation experience

I’ve been involved in integrating 50-state sales tax collection and reporting systems with automated order processing systems. It’s extremely expensive, disruptive, and time consuming. It also adds recurring tax table subscription costs to fixed overhead. (Imagine the cost of gathering tax rates from 9600 tax authorities and compiling them into one giant table every month.) The order entry system must look up the tax in this table for each transaction as the order is entered and apply it to the order. Then at each month’s end, the system must decide which taxing authorities require reports and generate and submit those reports. Many — probably most — small businesses can’t afford these costs.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Watch “SEO for startups in under 10 minutes” on YouTube

Are you planning a new website or blog? Have you launched a new website but nobody can find it? Is that what’s troubling you, Bunky? SEO for StartupsYou need SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Watch Google’s “SEO for startups in under 10 minutes” on YouTube for tactics that will help web users find your website.

This is the best introduction to SEO that I’ve found.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

ITU WCIT-12 Updates

wcit-12 logoGoogle has published an entertaining (3:30 long) video clip that tells the story of the Internet and Google’s concern that WCIT-12 might spoil the party that is the Internet. It’s in storyboard form with an Englishman doing the voiceover, and announces their Take Action page to “support a free and open Internet”. There, visitors can sign a petition that reads simply,

Pledge your support for the free and open Internet:
A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.

Google has put its money where its mouth is. In 2010 they announced that they were “no longer willing to continue censoring”, and shut down their China-based servers.

Here is a short video interview with U.S. ambassador Verveer that took place a few hours ago in Dubai at the WCIT conference.

I remember awaiting news of 1960s and 70s-era ITU WRC (World Radio Conference) meetings. I’d have to wait to read reports in IEEE and amateur radio magazines at least a month after the meeting . . . and the reports were just dull copy that filled printed column after printed column.

Life was hard before the Internet and Youtube. Hard, I tells ya!

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

October 16 is Ada Lovelace Day.

Ada Lovelace was a remarkable mathematician. She foresaw the power of automated computation and wrote an algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers for Babbage’s Analytical Engine. It’s been called the first computer program. She predicted that computers could create graphics and music.

Yes, she lived a short life in computing pre-history, from 1815 to 1852, and yes, Charles Babbage’s computing machinery — the platform for which she programmed — was a steam-driven complex mechanical device. It read its instructions from large punch cards (as did Jacquard’s programmable loom c 1800). Her life was cut short by cancer, so she never saw her programs run on Babbage’s Analytical Engine. (Neither did Babbage.)

Ada Lovelace Day celebrates Ada’s contributions to computer science and women in technology and science. Read about her day: I fleshed out her biography a bit in my 2011 article, I Forgot Ada Lovelace Day.

This year, I remembered Ada Lovelace Day.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695