11 July 2019

People used to pay like that to talk? Really?

The idea of time- and distance- based charges for communications is fast fading into memory, and newer generations may find it as curious or odd as rotary dials. I was recently asked whether it would have been feasible for family members to talk to each other across the Atlantic in the 1950s rather than writing letters, which led me to undertake the little history project graphed above. For many decades, telephone service was available in principle but staggeringly expensive in practice, a precious resource usually reserved for rare, rushed occasions or critical business negotiations. As an illuminating report observes, "In 1930, the cost per minute for a 200 mile call was about 10 times the cost of sending a first class letter." Also in 1930, a 3-minute call between the US and the UK (which would have been routed by radio, as the first telephone cable across the ocean didn't come into service until 1956) would have cost about $450 if expressed in 2019 dollars. Technological advances (and, later, increased competition) pushed the numbers down the logarithmic scale through the years. And, yes, the downward trend continued beyond 1990, eventually approaching zero with Internet telephony, but competitive and complex discount plans make it harder to extract accurate and representative data for later dates. The overall conclusion's clear, though; it's become a lot cheaper to communicate electronically.

A note on sources and data: while I won't attempt to enumerate a full set of bibliographic citations for a blog post, I was impressed to find the Internet Archive's downloadable collection of telephone directories dating back to the early 1900s; thanks, Brooklyn Public Library, for scanning them. Also, thanks to Andrew Odlyzko for his excellent papers and articles on communications history. And, to the US FCC for their 1997 reports discussing communications costs and their evolution over time. And, to the Internet itself, for bringing such sources to my laptop quickly and without need for paper correspondence or physical travel to remote libraries. The numbers as graphed reflect peak-hour ("standard") rates as I found them, with some adjustments like using nearby years based on availability and scaling where lengths of rated calls were different. I applied inflation adjustments using the BLS CPI calculator.

14 June 2019

Puffin love and more

I went on a Mass Audubon trip to far Downeast Maine last weekend - out where the population thins and the cell phones roam to Canadian carriers in New Brunswick - and got to visit the unique and amazing Machias Seal Island which is officially disputed territory between the US and Canada but which Canada administers as a migratory bird sanctuary. (No passport required to visit, interestingly.) Fortunately, the day's weather was perfect; many would-be visitors are disappointed to
find, after booking their spots well in advance, that the conditions aren't suitable for getting out towards the island or to get ashore. I took many close-view pictures of the trademark Atlantic Puffins (who seem affectionate in this view),
as well as other species like Razorbills, Arctic Terns, and Common Murres (as depicted below: I think the Murre looks like an orchestral conductor for the Razorbills below, though I'm clearly anthropomorphizing that...)
Quite the site!


12 June 2019

My birds in the cloud

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I recently embraced my inner geek by building a small site with Python and Django, in a DigitalOcean droplet. The result may be a bit extreme ('ya think?) for its purpose of organizing and displaying a personal collection of bird photographs, but I've been enjoying it as it's been running for a few weeks. I like being able to use the uploader to add new pictures and species into the database and display, and the ability to specify search terms and ordering. Django makes such facilities easy to implement (along with the ever-popular automated species count!) but I'm still working with the challenge of layering multiple search criteria (e.g., month and name) in a way that presents an intuitive UI. I've written up some tech-oriented notes about the site's technology and development for anyone who may be curious, but the photos themselves may have more general interest.

30 April 2019

I've always found the skyline impressive

I was glad to be on the left side of an airplane yesterday looking down at Manhattan, and was pleased and rather surprised to see how much detail I could get in a picture taken through an airplane window. Contrast enhancement definitely helped.


24 April 2019

Cameras like to focus on high contrast images

... and this Black-and-white Warbler could almost be a living test pattern!

21 April 2019

And didn't you need a juvenile eider today? For spring?

I think he seems pleased with himself.

I see you knocking but don't want you in

A few days back, I set up a "droplet" at DigitalOcean to host a Django application that I'd been building, and so I now have a small net-facing Ubuntu VM there. As a security person, I've been, er, interested to see just how interesting my site has quickly become to, er, unexpected visitors. Looking at its first-ever auth.log, it went active at:

Apr 16 15:33:23  systemd-logind[1385]: 
Watching system buttons on /dev/input/event0 (Power Button)

The sshd logged its first preauth disconnect at 15:38:27 (just over 5 minutes later), from an IP address that whois resolved to country code IR. Since I didn't have an associated domain registered at this time, I assume that this was a random address scan.

I started an Apache server about an hour later, at 16:47. Following some of my own testing (and a domain name registration), its first unexpected visit came at 17:40 in the form of a POST from an IP address in St. Petersburg, RU.

I can see that my droplet's sshd and apache have been busy rejecting varied streams of "knocks" since, and am applying best practices of firewalling unneeded ports and disabling passworded access to ssh. Still, I've been surprised at just how quickly and broadly my site was discovered. If more of my prior experience had fallen on the operational response vs. architectural development side of security, maybe I'd be less surprised. Anyway, a valuable learning experience and reminder. Stay safe!