Jan 252015

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon 

Kevin Mitnick is a man obsessed with other people’s information. In this autobiography, he details how he became the world’s most wanted hacker, breaking in to corporation after corporation, just because he could. He would steal source code, email and other software, setting himself up to make free phone calls on masked phones to cover his tracks. Why? He never used any of the things he stole to actually make money. He did use his vast telephone system knowledge to rig radio phone contests so he would win. But, all he did with the valuable things he stole was stash copies in various places on the Internet. Most of the time, he didn’t even use the software. Occasionally, he would study it to see how he could exploit it for the next target. It was obvious throughout the book, Mitnick is mystified why others consider this a crime. In his mind, no harm was done other than to show companies the vulnerability of their security from someone who truly would steal it. Now, out of prison, he make incredible money ‘legally’ hacking into companies as a security consultant, having leveraged his fame into a lucrative business.

There are those who agree with Mitnick. I am not one of those. I do agree the government, in his prosecution, went way beyond the mark and strayed into illegalities. He was held without a bond hearing, just because (according to Mitnick) she had decided beforehand there was no way she would grant his release. He was barred from seeing the evidence against him because the information was all electronic and the court was afraid to even let him look at a computer, believing he could somehow hack systems without touching a computer. He was denied the use of a telephone because they believed he could “whistle into the phone can launch a nuclear missile strike from jail.” Granted, he could manipulate the phones to do amazing things, but launch missiles from systems not even connected to phones? Really? Do your homework, people.

What scared me the most was Mitnick’s accounts of how he would social engineer the information. Social engineering is getting people to give you information that can be used to gain access. He would call up someone in a targeted company and say, “This is Frank over in engineering. We are doing an audit of the passwords on the VMX system. We have your pin code as 1234. Is that correct?” More often than not, the person would reply, “No. it is 4854.” Duh… I would like to think most people wouldn’t fall for that, but they did time after time. This is a real problem for corporations even today. People try to be helpful and end up giving away information that is then used to hack into the computer systems. Mitnick’s greatest contribution by writing this book is to show just how easy it is. Perhaps knowing this account will make me more aware of the attempts that happen on a daily basis all over the world. Any little tidbit of information is useful to a hacker, who often piece together enough innocuous pieces of information over time to create the entire picture. Minick, hero or villain, at least showed me that much.

Jan 192015

The Death of Corporate Reputation: How Integrity Has Been Destroyed on Wall Street (Applied Corporate Finance) by Jonathan Macey 
It will probably come as no surprise to anyone reading this book, but corporate reputation is at an all-time low. Once upon a time, a company’s reputation was a prized asset, guarded jealously. In this book, Jonathan Macey shows how that time is long gone, that companies who have lost their reputations have not lost business and sometimes even gained because of wrong-doing or even illegal activity. He picks apart everything from companies, brokerages, banks, the people who run them, even the regulatory agencies tasked to make sure they play by the rules. It is a disheartening look into just how corrupt commerce and government has become. Who loses? The consumers. Who do we trust? Who can we depend on to help make decisions? The simple answer is no one. And that is the saddest commentary of all.

The book is not an easy read. Macey does a good job of explaining the complex strategies employed. I understand junk bonds for the first time in my life from this book. But unless one is very interested in this topic, it will be a hard slog. I admit I used this book as a sleep aid more than one night. It is one of the best documented books I have read. I think the footnote references were half as long as the chapters.

Jun 222012

This series on cutting boards is the first project in what I call Social Woodworking. The original sale complete, it is now time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. Over the next couple of weeks, I will chronicle the process of building the cutting boards. If you would like to buy one, you can do so here. My goal is to have them ready for delivery by July 1.  

Look quick! It’s clean. Only took 8 hours to get it this way.

Welcome to the shop

This section will be a little light on pictures because most of the work is done in the “other” shop – the office. It is surprising how much time I have spent working through this project on spreadsheets, Google SkecthUp and scouring the Internet. Time was the tools all stayed out in the shop. Today, the computer is just as important of a tool to master.

As wood has gotten more and more expensive, it is critical to know the costs going in, even for something as simple as a cutting board. I used to just buy a bunch of extra wood when I made a project, knowing I would have plenty of projects for the scrap later. However, when I started checking prices this week, I found walnut has spiked nearly double what I paid on my last project five years ago. Cherry has come down some, which surprised me. Overall, though, wood continues to increase.

New city – where’s the wood?

Another hurdle I have had to overcome is just finding wood. I moved to a new city a couple years ago and haven’t really looked for a good lumberyard until now. There are a few specialty shops, but their prices are astronomical. After doing some digging, asking around and searching the Internet (could mail order really be that much cheaper?), I have found a place that shows promise. I will go visit it on Tuesday after work.

I was surprised to find there are a number of potential mail order vendors for wood. I haven’t tried one of these yet, but it shows promise. The prices are very competitive, even after factoring in shipping. The downsides I can see so far are:

  1. Can’t choose the wood. I really enjoy digging through the piles to find boards with good figure, straight, few defects, etc. I consider this to be a large factor. When building a project, I look for wood that will match the project. For example, when I made a night table, I found a pretty piece of figured walnut hiding in the middle of a pile. I was able to combine a couple of these pieces to make a very pretty table top. I don’t like turning over this ability over to someone else.
  2. Boards are usually 4 feet long. I think they make them shorter for easier shipping. When I buy boards at a lumberyard, they are usually between 8 and 10 feet long. Many projects need lumber longer than 4 feet. This could be a real problem. I can’t just magic the boards back together.
  3. Minimum purchase requirements. Most of the mail order houses require a minimum purchase of 100 board feet. Some projects easily have that much. This project, though, does not. In fact, my calculations for making sixteen cutting boards is about seventeen board feet of four different species.

Waste not, want not

Planning a woodworking project is all about minimizing waste. Each time a board is cut, the saw blade turns 1/8 of an inch of the board into sawdust. Also, boards are never straight. Wood movesas it dries. After all, it was a living tree at one time. The first cut on a board is always an attempt to get a straight line on one edge. Anything cut off to get it is wasted, unusable.

Making a cutting board requires lots of decorative strips to make it pretty. Each strip requires a cut, wasting 1/8 inch. Lots of small strips are pretty, but can cause a lot of sawdust.

My “other” shop. I spend more time here in the beginning.

Get out the spreadsheet

I created a spreadsheet to calculate how much wood I would need to make a cutting board. I can input the species, size and number of wood strips and it calculates the waste and the size of the boards needed. After I got prices for wood, it also calculates the cost of the cutting board. I then had fun, mixing and matching designs to see what would be pretty, yet economical. This is were I discovered a few surprises.

In the past, I had made most of my boards from maple and walnut. I rarely used cherry as it was quite expensive. Now, the maple/walnut combination is the most expensive. That’s great, as I think cherry is much prettier. So now, its time time play, putting together different combinations. While it is possible to do a little experimenting at this stage, nothing beats doing it with the real wood. Right now, I’m playing around with some basic widths to make sure I have the right mix of wood and to decide what to buy.

That should run me about $75 for boards 8 feet long, the standard length for lumber. From those, I should be able to make sixteen cutting and cheese boards. With a ratio of 2:1 cutting boards to cheese boards (based on the orders), I plan to make 10 cutting boards and 6 cheese boards. I received pre-orders for six, leaving me ten for later sale.


How did I come up with the prices of $30 and $35? I used two methods, cost and comparative. Using the spreadsheet, I calculated the estimated cost of the wood for each board to be $5.00 and $5.50 (more wood is required for the cheese board handle). There are some incidental shop supplies like glue, paper towels, sandpaper, and mineral oil. I don’t know how to calculate the overhead of the tools involved: table saw, band saw for cheese boards, router, planer, clamps palm and spindle sanders. I should probably talk to my brother-in-law, the accountant.

Next, there is the time involved. I had to guess on this, as I haven’t timed making one yet. For the initial calculations, I guessed it would take an hour. When I made the board for my daughter last week, I did keep a rough track and learned an hour each is not too far off. The handles on the cheese boards take another 30 minutes I hadn’t thought of, so perhaps they are underpriced. How much is my time worth? I took a shot in the dark at $25/hour. I know there are plenty that would tell me that number is too low. An equal number would probably say too high. What do you think? This is more complicated than I thought.

Next stop: Etsy.com. I don’t want to be out of line with what others are charging. Etsy is a good place for this. I did a search of cutting boards and came to the quick conclusion prices are all over the map. However, it appeared my price was pretty much in the middle of the pack. I can live with that. This is an experiment, after all. Pricing is something I am going to have to work on, however.

What we are aiming to build.
Click on this picture to go to the eStore and buy your own!

Off to the lumberyard

That is today’s update. The next step is to head off to the store and buy wood. From playing, I know I want to get the following boards with the minimum usable width:

  • Maple: 7″ wide
  • Cherry: 6.5″ wide
  • Ash: 4.5″ wide
  • Walnut: 3: wide

I’ll take some pictures of that. It should be interesting, loading wood into a Miata.