Updated: July 1st, 2010

image From time to time my, still curious, mind accumulates a variety of questions and concerns which it has to spill onto the pages of this blog. How random are these? Pretty damn random, and I need to see some answers, quick. Oh, and I’m deliberately not searching Google, as I want to facilitate discussion. What fun would it be if I just looked up all these?

Password Protected Garage Door Remotes

As a paranoid person and a recent homeowner, I started to wonder how safe I actually am in my house. Consider this likely scenario that nobody seems to be concerned with:

I park my car outside for one night and don’t take out my portable garage door remote, the one with a single open/close button. Or, even worse, the remote code is programmed into one of those garage opener buttons built into the car. A car burglar comes along, breaks the window, and trashes my car. Wow, an added bonus – a free entrance into the house!

Needless to say, this is bad already. How many of you lock the door between the house and the garage? What if you forget to do that as well? Is there a spare house key laying around in the garage? You may say “but I’ll hear the garage door open” but does it actually make you feel better? You will be present with an intruder in your house, which will scare the living shit out of you non-governator types.

So here’s my question to you, Internet, is there a garage door remote I can buy that has a programmable keypad, so that a password is needed for the button to work? In fact, it would be almost the same as the one that mounts next to the garage door. And can it not cost $100?

Twitter Security

This part is not about computer security, as you may have thought at first, although I did recently discuss it in the Clickjacking article. I also know that I’m not the first one to bring this issue up but I think it’s worth discussing some more. Consider this scenario:

You’re a cheerful, outgoing snowboarding enthusiast with 3000 twitter (plurk, facebook, or another social network but twitter is the most relevant example) followers. Or maybe you have 3 followers. There’s a 99.9% chance that your profile and updates are public (if you have 3000 followers with a private profile, you must be some sort of a chump. And yes, I did just make the stats up, want fight about it?).

So, on Friday night, you send the following tweet: “Gone snowboarding for the whole weekend. But not before getting piss trashed Friday night at the casino. Wooooo”.

Since anybody can watch your tweets absolutely anonymously and it’s extremely easy to dig up an address knowing very little about a person, what you just said was “If you are a burglar looking for the next opportunity, just drop everything and come on by Friday night. I will be far-far away but my house (located at 123 Main St) will be available for your robbing pleasures. You only have 2 days before anyone is home, so feel free to crash on the couch and eat my food. Don’t forget to feed the cat. Kthx.”

Is this a likely scenario? Not really, unless twitter raises the tweet length to more than 140 characters, but otherwise you see where I’m going with this. Don’t be stupid – avoid advertising exact details of your whereabouts, vacation plans, etc. There are plenty of uses for Twitter without giving up most of your privacy. Ask yourself: would you post a note with your whereabouts on your door every time you leave the house for a while?

How Do Trains And Buses Know Where They Are?

If you live in a relatively large city, you have seen relatively accurate bus and train arrival predictions and, in some cases, almost exact locations of each vehicle. For example, here in San Francisco we have MUNI stations with live maps of trains’ whereabouts and bus stops with bus predictions on small electronic displays.

What is the technology behind it? It cannot be just GPS, because trains go underground where there is no reception. If it’s a combination of externally mounted sensors, are they also placed outside, once the train gets out into the street? Or is it some sort of a 2-way GPS (a conventional GPS device is just a receiver) underground that switches to sensors above ground? I don’t know but I want to.

Train/Bus Drivers And Bathrooms

While I’m on the public transportation subject, here’s what I want to know: if you are a train/bus/trolleybus driver, what do you do if you NEED to go somewhere when you are half way down your route? All of us had such moments at least once, and sometimes you just HAVE TO drop the bomb, sink some submarines, drop the kids off at the pool, release the chocolate hostage, plant some potatoes, give birth to a VB programmer, down the proctoscope, bake some brownies, you know what I mean (if you don’t, you’re a senile muppet, what are you doing on the Internet?).

They can’t just leave the train in the middle of the street, can they? Have you ever seen one run out in the middle of the street? I’m really curious here.

All Of Dilbert

Is there a Dilbert collection somewhere that has every Dilbert comic in an easily browseable manner, ideally with ratings I can sort by? 100 Dilberts per page would be ideal. Ah, looks like the new Dilbert.com finally made it a reality: all Dilbert comics sorted by votes, 49 per page.

Where Can I Buy A Circus Tent?

Who sells them? The ones where elephants and clowns could fit. It could also double as a portable office.

Who Gets To Eat The Most Delicious Burger In Burger Commercials?

And where do I sign up? I’m serious.

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Yeah, so that’s pretty much what’s on my mind right now. What’s on yours?

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Artem Russakovskii is a San Francisco programmer and blogger. Follow Artem on Twitter (@ArtemR) or subscribe to the RSS feed.

In the meantime, if you found this article useful, feel free to buy me a cup of coffee below.

  • васек

    Security is not a product it's a process. You have to consider maximum possible vectors of attacks burglars may use to enter your house. For example:
    1) Why would I want to break a window in your car? This creates noise and chances of getting noticed are increased. A burglar could just as well quietly pick lock his way in to your house in 2 minutes assuming you have an average lock. Else, if you have a good lock, He/She may consider robbing someone else.
    2) If burglar doesn't care about the noise, why couldn't he just break the window in your house?
    3) You may ask "what if my car is parked far enough from the house so that no noise could be noticed?" Well, that assumes that this particular burglar is specifically targeting you — which is most likely just result of your paranoia. If someone is specifically targeting you, good luck with your password protected garage opener.
    There are unbounded number of vectors smart attackers may employ — and the one you pointed out doesn't seem to be the most convenient to execute.

  • @васек
    1) I don't know why – mine got broken 3 times so far, 2 of which right next to the front door. For the last case, see http://beerpla.net/2007/03/18/the-beer-car-gets-burglarized/. It is much easier to break a window (or pick most car locks) than to pick a house lock, and picking the latest bump-proof locks isn't as easy anymore.
    The point is, it is a key to your house that is readily available. You wouldn't want to leave the keys to your house in your car, would you?

    2) He could indeed. I personally don't have windows that can be broken on the first floor, but it's a valid point, of course. However, using a garage opener, just like using a key, leaves no traces of a break-in.

    3) Refer to 1) where the car was parked right outside the front door.

    There are many vectors, but this one is too obvious for me to ignore. It's a key to my house, [almost] openly available for taking.

  • васеk

    Your first point doesn't contradict mine.

    > I don't know why
    Well, apparently not to get your garage opener.

    > It is much easier to break a window (or pick most car locks) than to pick a house lock
    That's simply not true for 99% of American homes.

    > The point is, it is a key to your house that is readily available.
    I don't like your use of "readily".

    2) If your car is outside, chances are, you are at home. Thus, not many burglars will risk robbing a house with an owner inside.

    I could come up with many more strategies of robbing your house — other than breaking in your car to get a hold of a garage opener. You're stuck upon one way of entering your house, while ignoring thousands of others, some of which are much simpler.

  • @васеk
    I would like to know if there is such a thing as a garage remote with a few keys on it. Apparently we could argue about this for a long time and it wasn't my point to discuss other ways of robbing a house.

  • васеk

    Take a look – http://www.reedbrotherssecurity.com/garage_door_openers.htm

    Now start to look for a garage opener with Diffie-Hellman key exchange implementation (so that your password isn't prone to MITM attacks or something).

  • Amanda

    I also got confused with your statement. The car is in the house so I assume the whole family is in the house as well. But then again, I suggest you also install CCTV cam in the garage or something that would alarm when someone breaks in.

  • @Amanda
    I'm not sure what you got confused about. The car is not in the house – the car is outside. Plus, just because the car is outside doesn't mean anyone is home, for example I take public transportation to work. I think a CCTV is an overkill, unless you're really rich.

  • Owen

    How Do Trains And Buses Know Where They Are?

    My understanding is that the buses do have a way of periodically communicating the mileage (odometer) on the bus to some central location via radio. The route is fixed, so that's enough to locate the bus. I learned that from Raymond:


  • @Owen
    Excellent link. Interestingly, I just found that the site that services SF NextBus.com uses GPS technology rather than odometer and transmitters. I have my doubts though.

  • Amanda

    Great discussion. I still have a wooden garage doors but now am thinking of automatic ones with passwords.Thanks for the link!

  • Jonno

    Re public transport toilet stops.

    Where I live in Australia, there's a fair number of bus stops (generaly the major stopping points) which have locked toilets which allow the driver to drop the kids off at the pool.

    Trains have toilets at each station, but I don't often see the drivers going for a dump.

    I guess if you are fairly regular, you know your pooing schedule and can work with that. If not, there's medications which will make you get blocked up. There's always diapers if you are into that kind of thing 🙂

  • Free bingo

    I would go with the burger question more because i love eating junk food 🙂

  • free microsoft point

    I personally don't have windows that can be broken on the first floor, but it's a valid point, of course. However, using a garage opener, just like using a key, leaves no traces of a break-in.