Friday, February 24, 2006

Search engine: Search by sketch!

retrievr - search by sketch

This is a lot of fun to see what search results you get. Maybe Google will pick up similar technology for Google images and video?

Book on building geeky stuff

Adventures from the Technology Underground : Catapults, Pulsejets, Rail Guns, Flamethrowers, Tesla Coils, Air Cannons, and the Garage Warriors Who Love Them: Explore similar items

Mythbusters, except encouraging "do try this at home". Will have to get this book.

Very cool color pallette tool

Allows selecting colors for web designs from a variety of schemes, such as complementary colors. Very quick to get a list of colors that go well together.

HTML Color Code Tool
Or from the source:

I would post it here, but they force you to use their HTML code and include it as an iframe.

Fuel-Cell Motorbike

Riding Sun ENV bike at Tokyo Fuel Cell Expo

Move over Vespa. There's a new show in town and I want one of these...

British Video Association admission debunks claims of "piracy"

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Digital film: Industry answers


Notable web site designs

Current style in web design

Discussion of notable web site designs and properties of good web design.

My Tips for DIY Electrical Wiring

I recently finished wiring my second kitchen and wanted to document and share the tips that I've learned. I'm not an electrician so when in doubt, check your local regulations and refer to the National Fire Prevention Association's National Electrical Code (NFPA 70) But, doing your wiring yourself can save you A LOT of money. It is really not that difficult if you read up on the requirements and practice with someone who has done it before. The inspectors are generally patient with you as a DIY homeowner and will help guide you along if you ask them questions.

Kitchen minimum circuit requirements:

  • Countertop outlets: Must now have two independent 20A circuits. Not required but recommended is to alternate the outlets on a counter on both circuits to keep outlets in one area from going out if one device overloads the circuit.

  • Microwave: must be on its own dedicated 20A circuit. This is an absolute must these days when most microwaves are at least 700W (mine is over 1000W) and this will often blow the circuit.

  • Dishwasher: should be on its own dedicated 20A circuit. It is not required that it be hard-wired and can be handy to put an appropriately-sized gauge plug on the dishwasher so you can just plug it into a receptacle. Best to get a flat plug since there isn't much available room behind a dishwasher for a standard plug.

  • Refrigerator: should be on its own dedicated 20A circuit, but this is not required. It is acceptable to dangle this off of one of the two countertop outlet circuits

  • Disposer: Also should be on its own dedicated 20A circuit, but not required. I prefer to use a switched receptacle for disposals so that the other receptacle is available for a hot water tap or future devices.
  • Lighting: Cannot be on the same circuit as any outlets. The thoughts are that if you blow the outlet circuit, it is safer to keep the lights on!

Other things to be aware of:

  • Receptacles:

    • Any appliance outlet in the kitchen within 6 feet of a water source must be GFCI protected.

    • Be careful not to wire outlets that should be non-GFCI downstream and in series with GFCI outlets or if an upstream GFCI trips, you will kill the remainder of the circuit leg too. If you need to put others on the same circuit, wire them in parallel or run a parallel separate power lead from the incoming feed source.

    • Some appliances with motor loads can trip GFCI circuits, such as dishwashers or refrigerators. You should likely not make those GFCI protected.

    • You're not supposed to hang anything else off of kitchen countertop outlet circuits, especially in other rooms. You can get away with this in a remodel sometimes, as I had to deal with an existing bad situation.

    • Any counter wall space of at least 12" needs to have an outlet installed on it.

    • Countertop outlets are typically placed 6" to center above the finished countertop height (which is 36" these days)

    • Receptacles: It is recommended to avoid push-in outlet terminals even where available since they are not as reliable as screw-down terminals and can cause overheating and fire in the long-run. Make sure to tighten down the screw terminals for the same reason. My 50 year-old house used the screw terminals but several wires were not tightened and the switches were quite warm because of it.

  • Switch height is typically 48" to the center of the box from the finished floor. It's best to check with existing switches in a remodel and just match that height for aesthetics.

  • Be advised that for some jobs the inspectors may require you to bring other things up to code even if they aren't part of your permitted work. For example, on my last kitchen remodel project, I had to install at least two 20A outdoor outlets, one near the front and one near the rear door since code requires this so that you aren't tempted to overload interior circuits with outdoor equipment.

  • Be careful to provide maintenance switches for appliances that are hard-wired. The circuit panel breaker does not count as a switch unless you equip it with a breaker lock to keep someone from accidentally turning it back on while you're working on the appliance/circuit

  • Outlets to bedrooms now are required to be served by AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters). These are designed to detect arcing that can cause fires so are a safety precaution.

  • There is a bit of excessive requirements in the NEC, alot of it designed less for safety than for other things like accessibility and maintainability and ensuring licensed electricians don't do silly things like wire all of your outlets on one circuit anymore. At the same time, there are some things that the NEC lets slip that I would not, as a security professional, rely on even if you can get away with it because the design is brittle. And with safety, I'd prefer to not have a brittle protection system. One of those is that you can technically install one GFCI outlet at the beginning and chain multiple outlets downstream in series from that one and that is sufficient to meet GFCI protection. I don't know about you, but that is asking a lot of that one outlet. And GFCI circuits are not necessarily reliable forever. Why do you think they have a test button on them that you are supposed to use periodically? I prefer to use GFCI receptacles on every outlet that should be GFCI protected so that there is some failover protection. I also prefer to install a GFCI circuit breaker if all outlets on the circuit should have GFCI protection since the breaker is more reliable in general than the individual outlets. Multiple layers of protection. I got inspectors asking me why I did this but it's a bit of extra protection where it is needed most and does not cost a whole lot more.
  • Make all connections that will have wire nuts attached mechanically sound with pliers before using wire nuts. Don't rely on the wire nuts alone to hold the wires together! I've seen grounds pop out this way and leave outlets unprotected.

  • Running wires

    • Wires running through walls should be 1 1/4" back from either face of the stud for safety. Use metal nail plates to protect the wires

    • All junction boxes have to remain accessible so don't enclose them in a wall.

    • Wires need to be stapled within 8 inches of entering a box and at least every 48 inches. More staples are better.

Here's what I've just put into my kitchen as an example:

two 20A countertop outlet circuits. Refrigerator branches off of the incoming power of one of the circuits.
one 20A non-countertop outlet circuit
one 20A dedicated dishwasher circuit
one 20A Disposer circuit. Low voltage transformer and range hood (only 3A max draw) come off of that circuit.
one 15A lighting circuit for the recessed cans
one 30A electric range circuit
one 20A dedicated microwave circuit


Here are the required inspections since this is not apparent to the layperson doing this for the first time:

  1. Cover (aka Rough-in): Once you have installed all of the boxes, run all of the wire, and "tailed out" all of the grounds at least, call for this inspection. The inspectors will want to make sure you pigtailed all of the grounds before signing off. You can also pigtail any other necessary connections as well before now. You can essentially hook everything up by this point except turning on the power and connecting receptacles, switches, etc. You cannot put insulation or drywall up until this is done. If you do, they may make you rip it out to see what's beneath...

  2. Final: After everything has been completed and all of the lights and receptacles are hooked up and the power has been turned on, they will want to come back and do some tests. They will check the polarity of all of the outlets so be sure you check this first. You need to be sure to hook the black (hot) only to the brass screws! The other big thing they will check for is whether the GFCI circuits actually work. Miswiring GFCI outlets can render them worthless so be prepared for this.

Here are a couple of helpful resources: and also this checklist.

Just how insecure is electronic voting?

Black Box Voting : 2-23-06: Someone accessed 40 Palm Beach County voting machines Nov 2004

This is good work. NOW do the naysayers see why we need voter verifiable paper ballots?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Racial profiling for terrorists

On The McLaughlin Group yesterday, there was a lot of ridiculous sophistry regarding racial profiling as a valuable and necessary tradeoff between liberty and security.

Bruce Schneier has written many times on this subject. In this piece, there is a perfect quote about what is misguided about the position that racial profiling is not only necessary, but is actually effective, "Whenever you design a security system with two ways through -- an easy way and a hard way -- you invite the attacker to take the easy way. Profile for young Arab males, and you'll get terrorists that are old non-Arab females."

"The enemy could easily get around it by recruiting people who don't look like the profile" -- Eleanor Clift, the only one who gets it.

"We need smart profiling, not racial profiling" -- John McLaughlin, who also gets it, sort of. He was pushing for profiling Muslims, which I don't believe source the only terrorists now, in the past, or in the future. He is right about one thing, religion has been the excuse for all kinds of atrocities all over the world. But it has not been limited to Muslim extremists. There are Christian extremists even in our own country who would love to turn this country into a theocracy.

Best new word: "Muslometer"; a call for venture capitalists to develop a device to gauge whether someone is a Muslim or not.