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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

Surprise! People Still Use Fax Machines

Posted August 18, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Fax Machine hacking

Remember the decades’ old monstrosity called the fax machine, taking up valuable real estate in either the home or office?

My father was so enchanted by the fax machine back in the mid to late 90s that as soon as it became relatively affordable, he ran out and bought the device; a pointless but awe-inspiring piece of equipment that sat in our “home office” waiting for faxes that would never come.

As it turned out, we had little use for our fax machine, yet all of these years later it seems that there are industries that still rely on the machines to communicate vital information, which is what inspired one security firm to investigate whether such devices are vulnerable to hacking.

Spoiler alert: They are.

Think outdated technology and electronic equipment is safe from hackers? Think again, according to recent findings from the cyber security firm Check Point.

According to reports, the Israel-based team discovered that tens of millions of old office fax machines can be used as a backdoor, allowing hackers a point of entry into an organization’s network.

The security flaw, according to the report, allows hackers to send an image file (or a file that mimics an image file) containing malicious software via phone line. Once the image is received, it is decoded and uploaded into the memory of the fax machine, thereby granting the hackers control over the device and encouraging the spread of the malicious code throughout the network.

"Many companies may not even be aware they have a fax machine connected to their network, but fax capability is built into many multifunction office and home printers," said Yaniv Balmas, group manager of security research at Check Point.

Considering that a number of industries still use fax machines, including industries that deal in sensitive data such as banking, healthcare and law, experts suggest that companies should determine whether these devices can be updated. Additionally, experts recommend placing fax machines on a secure network separate from networks carrying sensitive data.

Do you still use a fax machine?

11 comments; last comment on 08/20/2018
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Petition to Change Province Borders to Mimic Batman Logo

Posted August 11, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: data Geography

In a level of commitment to the caped crusader only ever demonstrated by my husband as a young kid (and quite likely as an adult), who incorporated the comic book hero into just about every conversation he ever held, a province in Turkey is petitioning its government to redraw its borders so that its outline will resemble the Batman logo.

The Batman province, pronounced ‘Baht-Manh,’ is home to nearly 50,000 residents. Yet it is just one of those residents — local citizen Kemal Atakan Kırca, otherwise known as my husband’s spirit animal — petitioning the government to redraw its borders. Currently, the petition appears on the website

“Batman needs some change! We can start with the border. By changing the border, we can make it more realistic,” the petition states.

To demonstrate just how serious the province is about the beloved superhero, the province also shares its name with the province capital as well as with the river that runs through the province.

At last count, the petition already had more than 22,000 signatures — one of those, no doubt, belonging to my husband — gathered in just a handful of days.

Would you consider signing such a petition?


2 comments; last comment on 08/16/2018
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Duck! Amazon Considers Distribution Warehouses in the Sky

Posted August 04, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: amazon drones

Sure, we would all love to get our Amazon purchases in record time for less…yet are we willing to sacrifice our safety and, perhaps, our sanity?

The skies above will soon become even more crowded if online retail giant Amazon gets its way and is able to erect production-distribution-warehouses-in-the-sky.

According to a recent patent, Amazon is investigating whether such distribution warehouses — called aerial fulfillment centers (AFC) — kept afloat by blimps for the purpose of housing consumer products for delivery via drone is feasible.

The move is expected to help forward Amazon's plans for a fleet of drones delivering products to customers in less time and at lower cost to the company.

"An AFC may be positioned at an altitude above a metropolitan area and be designed to maintain an inventory of items that may be purchased by a user and delivered to the user by a UAV that is deployed from the AFC," the patent document said.
Yet, the scheme is far from final as Amazon will be expected to address concerns about increased traffic as well as the possibility of drones and products alike falling from the skies.

Considering what the retail giant proposes, I am struck (get it?) by two things: the very real possibility of being hit in the head by a can of shaving cream or a bag of oranges. And then, of course, experiencing what I can only liken to a Goodfellas-esqe level of Henry-Hill paranoia where I am wandering through the streets dodging both real and imagined objects flying overhead.

11 comments; last comment on 08/06/2018
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Sunscreen Just Isn't Enough for Fair-skinned Folks

Posted July 28, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: cancer Skin CAre sunscreen

If you’ve read this blog before, it will come as no surprise that apart from serial killers, the band U2, and a knowledge of bakeries within close proximity to my house, I know very little about very little.

That being said, the folks from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, have recently struck upon one of the few things I’ve known my entire life as a freckled, ruddy Irish American: You need more than mere sunblock to prevent a sunburn. A fact of life that often has me covered in clothing from head to toe, even in the sweltering summer months.

Looking at almost 29,000 responses from a 2015 survey, researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that roughly 16,000 respondents identified themselves as fair-skinned or sun-sensitive. Of that group, 62 percent of whom said they used sunscreen and no other measures against the sun, also reported the highest incidence of sunburn.

“The most surprising and counterintuitive finding," according to Kasey Morris, who led the study, "was that regular sunscreen use, in the absence of other protective behaviors, was associated with the highest likelihood of sunburn.”

Among the respondents, other means of protecting oneself from the sun included: wearing hats, long sleeves, or pants and finding shade.

"Although participants who did not use sunscreen, seek shade, or wear protective clothing had a higher probability of sunburn (54.8%)," the authors wrote in their paper, "the group with highest likelihood of sunburn consisted of those who used only sunscreen (62.4%). The group with the lowest probability of sunburn did not report using sunscreen but reported engaging in the other 3 protective behaviors (24.3%)."

So when you see me or my ilk wandering around in the blistering heat, covered from head to toe, judge us not for our attire but pity us for our life-long battle against all things sunny.

The study, entitled "Decision Tree Model vs Traditional Measures to Identify Patterns of Sun-Protective Behaviors and Sun Sensitivity Associated with Sunburn," was published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

1 comments; last comment on 07/28/2018
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Teen Preparing for Mission to Mars

Posted July 21, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Mars space

While many people spend their teen years devoted to some combination of juvenile delinquency and aggressive mood swings, one teen is hard at work demonstrating that there are other ways to spend those difficult teen years.

Instead of learning to drink in the woods with her friends or committing some other teenage “rite of passage,” Alyssa Carson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is spending her teen years preparing for a different kind of experience: a trip to Mars.

Having spent her childhood at various space camps all over the world, Carson has been fascinated with space since she was very young.

“Alyssa used to love watching ‘The Backyardigans’ when she was 3,” her father Bert Carson recalled. “And there was an episode called ‘Mission to Mars.’ I remember her coming to me and asking about it — she said, ‘I decided I want to be one of those astronauts and go to Mars one day.’ She developed a fascination, and it kept developing from there.”

When Alyssa was 7, she and her father made their first trip to Huntsville, Alabama, where they visited the space museum.

“Alyssa was like a kid going to Disney and hanging with Mickey for four days,” Bert added. “We got information about space camp and came back for a parent/child weekend where she got to explore simulators and rockets.”

By the time Alyssa was 7, she was able to speak four languages (English, Chinese, French and Spanish) and managed to catch the attention of higher ups in the space program, even winning an award devoted to trainees at space camp who go above and beyond in categories such as leadership, technology and teamwork. Dubbed the Right Stuff Award after the Tom Wolfe book of the same name, Alyssa managed to win the award at just 8 years old.

In addition to her many early accomplishments, Alyssa has also earned both a pilot’s license, a scuba license, and is set to receive an applied astronautics professional certification — all before earning an undergraduate degree from the Florida Institute of Technology where she intends to go to college.

“Everyone at NASA knows how serious she is,” Bert explains, “and that she has the potential to be on the first mission, which is targeted for 2033. The employees who are building the rockets see who they are building them for. Alyssa is being groomed to go to Mars, and so many people are helping her to build a unique resume to help her stand out from everyone else.”

4 comments; last comment on 07/23/2018
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