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X Beams, Y Beams And General Martini

In my reading of Churchill's Memoirs from World War II, I'm now going through the Blitz of London, or Germany's indiscriminate bombing of England, during the late 1940.

It's very interesting reading. For one thing, it seems as though the whole of England was teeming with a spirit of stout defiance. All alone in the war, with no allies to count on, the British still defended their island with gusto against the German Luftwaffe. Fire corps extinguished fires, men trained for only a few weeks disarmed scores of bombs with delayed fuses, people had dinner while long-range bombers dropped bombs in their yards. "Stiff upper lip and all that, old chap."

But another interesting thing to read about is the signal war (or the "wizard war") which also took place at the same time. The Luftwaffe navigated over England using a secret system of homing radio beams transmitted over the channel; these beams were such that they would have enabled them to bomb England with very great precision. Such was for instance the X Beam, which worked through two flickering signals, designed to overlap perfectly as the bombers were in correct position. But the British scientists found a way to jam the signal, causing the bombers to miss their position.

Then the Luftwaffe developed the Y Beam, a better solution. Before long, the British found a way to jam that one too. In one amusing tale, Churchill relates the story of an officer who was out in the country with his family, and one night happened to observe scores of large enemy bombers furiously attacking a nearby empty field, for no apparent reason whatsoever. While he was lucky to survive the onslaught himself, the officer was confounded by this; but the secrets of the counter-signal operations were so closely guarded, that it was only some time after the war that information about these operations began to leak out. Obviously, the bombers thought they were attacking, say, Birmingham.

And to top it all off, the German officer in charge of the project with the mysterious radio beams, was named General Martini.

Suddenly, I thought it all sounded rather a lot like the movie Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow -- or maybe, the other way around.

Read more about the Wizard War and the British radar developments at this particular link.

Google And Chinese Censorship

For anyone who wants to see Google censorship in action:

The English search page for Tiananmen square is here.

The Chinese search page for Tiananmen square is here.

Both results courtesy of Google, Inc.

(From Johan Norberg via Markus Härnvi.)

Classic Statements

Two classic statements through time:
  • "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one sees the Father except through me."
  • "Most things are better than DCOM."


Japanese Squid Haiku

The squid seller's call
mingles with the voice
of the cuckoo
My guess is, the haiku sounds a lot better in the original Japanese.

(From Bruce Schneier, who recently seems to have taken an absurd interest in squids. And, besides, who knew that squids eat sharks?)

Thunderbird 1.5 Released

It seems like Mozilla finally released Thunderbird 1.5. I can't wait to download it... maybe it'll be better. Or at least less bug-prone.

How To Make Really Good Meat Sauce

By popular request, this is how I make meat sauce with pasta. (Comments within parantheses for Swedes.)

You'll need:
  • Some sort of pasta. Spaghetti, tagliatelle, farfalle... fresh or not, it doesn't matter much. Just be sure you like it, and stay away from macaroni at all cost.
  • 1 pound of ground beef (500 gram nötfärs eller blandfärs)
  • 1 small can of mushrooms, whole (champinjoner, hela)
  • Either green olives or sundried tomatoes, chopped but still chunky
  • 1 onion
  • Chinese soy sauce (Mrs. Chengs is fine)
  • Ketchup. Lots of ketchup. Go with Heinz standard ketchup, it's great.
  • Spices, including (but not limited to) chili powder, garlic, black pepper, paprika, and most importantly oregano.
  • Maybe a bit of Worchestershire sauce, if you feel like it.
  • Corn starch (maizena) or potato starch (potatismjöl).
  • If you like it, some grated Parmesan cheese (or similar).
Before making this, it's important that you have a good iron skillet (gjutjärnsstekpanna). You cannot make good meat sauce in a teflon pan. Or at least I never bothered to try. I would also suggest using a good oil for greasing the skillet - I always run with extra vergine olive oil; it can take the heat from the skillet well without burning.

Depending on what type of pasta you get, sometime during making the meat sauce, you will need to prepare that. Some pasta cooks for ten-twelve minutes; fresh pasta takes one or two minutes. The meat sauce will take some time, and the longer it can simmer, the better, so there's no immediate rush. But think ahead. Personally, I like my pasta cooked well, not al dente, but that's up to you.

Start with chopping up the onion, and fry together with the mushrooms. When reasonably done, put them on a plate for later use.

Now fry up the ground beef. If frozen, cut into pieces first. It might take a while to fry, but make sure it's all well done. I usually crank up the heat a lot, and fry it really well. When it looks done, pour in the onion and mushrooms, and add plenty of ketchup. Stir it all together on high heat for a minute or so. The ketchup will sort of cook right into the beef, making it darker and tastier.

Next, add about a cup of water. This will stop the frying process and reduce it all to a bubbling, simmering soup. Don't panic, we'll take care of that later. Now is a good time to add the rest of the stuff: olives or sundried tomatoes, chili, black pepper, garlic, and soy sauce. I might also, depending on the circumstances, add a dash of other spices, as well as maybe some Worchestershire sauce. But it's not necessary. I usually hold off the oregano, though, at this stage.

Why soy sauce? It's a little bit unusual, I agree; but it adds more color to it, and gives it a richer taste. But only go with chinese soy sauce; japanese soy is too salty for my taste. And for the love of god, use real soy sauce, not the artificial alternatives. Ketjap Manis is a good alternative, or can be used together with chinese soy sauce.

It's important to taste it while adding the spices. What we're aiming for here is a rich, heavy flavor; but it's not supposed to be hot, just spicy rich, so don't go overboard with the chili. It may need more ketchup. Maybe more soy, or chili. But be careful - this is the part where I traditionally burn my tongue.

While it's simmering, this may also be a good time to check up on the pasta. (You did start it, right?) See if it's about ready. If you're dealing with fresh pasta, this is the moment to plunge it into hot, boiling water.

As a last measure, I also add corn starch (maizena) to the meat sauce; a teaspoon or two, or perhaps about a tablespoon of it (depends on the water), and stir. This will cause it all to come together, which takes about a minute. This is also where I finally add oregano - lots of oregano - that will give it that final Italian touch I love so much. Taste to make sure the oregano can easily be detected. It's supposed to be applied liberally.

So, now all is said and done. If everything went right, you should now have a thick, heavy, spicy meat sauce which you can slap up on the plate along with the pasta and some grated Parmesan cheese. But be warned: it's filling. More than two helpings put me in a coma.

And, a final word. Yes, it is a little fat, probably. And I don't know if it's entirely healthy either. But what the heck... you only live once. :)

Review: McDonald's Chili McFeast

Had an opportunity to try out McDonald's new Chili McFeast today.

First of all, I was surprised at the size of it. I thought it would be roughly equal to the McFeast or Big Mac in size, but it was significantly larger than that. As with all large hamburgers, it suffers a bit from a certain "wobbliness"; it's not easy to hold and eat at the same time. I believe than an increase in size makes it necessary to study the firmness of the bread itself.

On the other hand, it's significantly less drip-prone than other experiments, like the El Maco. After eating the entire hamburger, I found that it hadn't dripped at all; all that had managed to escape was a little bit of lettuce. Major plus! Part of that must be the consistency of the McFeast sauce.

The chili is a bit strong, but it lacks a certain depth. It breaks nicely against the McFeast sauce, but it comes across as very hot, but little else. Traditionally, you would add a little bit more of a Mexican touch to it; this is mostly just a spiced-up traditional McFeast. It leaves me wanting... something more. Maybe all that's needed is a bit more ketchup.

All in all, I think the Chili McFeast deserves three stars out of five possible. It's not going to be a major, long-time winner, but it really deserves the extra point for the size and the non-drippiness. An interesting and good experiment on the road to building the Ultimate Hamburger.

Nordic Light - Counter-Attacks

(September 15th, 1992) The Swedish and Finnish resistance continues. Although Norrköping, Jönköping and Kalmar has been reduced to ruins, first signs of hope are appearing on the horizon with the increased Swedish mobilization. Skåne is mobilizing for defense, West Sweden as well. Units in the North are appearing and quickly moving south to aid.

An initial airborne invasion around Hanko in Finland is slowly beaten back, but the southeast front remains highly volatile. Resistance in the northeast is patchy but heroic, and Russian enemy units have been beaten back in the vicinity around Kajaani and Kemijärvi.

The requested NATO air forces are still not mobilized for action. As a result, the defensive forces still suffer from enemy air interdiction, but hopes are high with the continued deployment of the 2nd U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force in Norway.

-8 C And Counting

This is probably the first day this winter when temperatures dropped to -8 Celsius. (That's 17 Fahrenheit for you Americans).

-8 C and colder means that it's cold, cold outside; and you have to start putting the heavy gear on (big parka jackets, gloves, long johns, winter boots). But it's nice... the cold, fresh winter air bites in your cheeks, and all of nature takes on a sparkling, glowing, frosty winter touch. As if King Bore danced around and merrily touched everything with his glowing winter wand.

Some of my friends, who are used to Florida temperatures, shiver and whine about the temperatures. But dressed in my huge, warm winter coat, I delight in the winter scenery. I should take some pictures and post some day.

Of course, the guys in Norrland (northern Sweden) just laugh at us. Last winter there was a military exercise in midwinter around here; a guy I know in the shooting club drove out to the shooting range one evening when temperatures had fallen below -10 Celsius, and was stopped in a military checkpoint. "Pretty cold out today, huh?" he asked the MP's. "Well", they responded jokingly, "we're from Boden, so we're used to -30. This is like summer to us."

The Webshots Image Encryption

People always say security is hard to get right. While I agree to this fact in principle, I also think it's relatively easy to acquire a fundamental layer of security that at least denies access to the majority of the population.

Take Webshots, for instance. Webshots is a great service where you can download pictures into a little program and display it as wallpaper. The quality is excellent.

To protect the copyright, they elected to "obfuscate" the downloadable JPEG image files somewhat. They come in a proprietary .wbz image format, which is simply a JPEG file slightly shuffled around. I won't go into details about how it is designed, but it is a rather simple algorithm that leaves 98% of the file untouched.

I wonder why. Was it thought to be a relatively quick measure to prevent people access to the pictures? I certainly hope they didn't think it was an elaborate encryption scheme, which it isn't. Why did they deem it necessary to introduce a completely new (and rather poor) method, when so many excellent algorithms are already publicly available?

Consider, for instance, the following:

  • A 32-bit IV (Initialization Vector) is generated for each picture, and written down into the file, unencrypted.
  • This IV is used to seed a PRNG (Pseudo-Random Number Generator), providing a fixed number of pseudo-random data bytes. This byte stream might be prepended with a fixed password.
  • An MD5 hash is run on the PRNG byte stream, yielding a 128-bit key.
  • An RC4 cipher (or Blowfish, or any other cipher) is used to encrypt the JPEG data.
A scheme like this would take about an hour, maximum, for me to implement in Delphi. It would provide a mechanism whereby the file would be 1) completely encrypted, 2) the key wouldn't be hardcoded into the program, 3) the key would be different for every image produced, and 4) it would be moderately difficult to reverse-engineer the algorithm from the binary code.

It certainly wouldn't be foolproof, but it would make it far more difficult to decrypt the image files, since it would be necessary to obtain the key from reverse-engineering the binary code.

Source code for the algorithms mentioned above are almost universally available. Why not use them instead of devising your own obfuscation schemes? What's the point?

Just asking.


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