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  1. It’s done

    November 29, 2009 by Saar Drimer

    14 August: dissertation submitted
    23 September: “viva voce” — minor corrections
    24 October: graduation
    25 November: turned 26 ;)

    Four years ago I posted a picture of a door, repeating what my supervisor told me: “when you go out this door, you’ll have your PhD.” Here is is again…

    PhD door

    … four years later, here’s me going through it…


  2. year three

    January 20, 2008 by Saar Drimer

    “Side Channels” is three years old! It has been an interesting year, albeit with little blogging. One of the highlights of the past year was my four week trip to Brazil in April. Good food, weather, people. I visited Rio de Janeiro (Ilha Grande, Rio), Pernambuco (компютриландшафтRecife, Ilha de Itamaracá, Porto de Galinhas), and Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, and the great town of Vacaria).

    In Recife there is a very long beach stretch along a neighborhood called Boa Viagem. It is a popular destination, but used to be more so until in the early 1990s when ecosystem disruption due to development has driven sharks to Boa Viagem beaches. Shark attacks on humans have then become much more frequent. I found this sign interesting as one rarely sees this kind of language on signs, and it was unexpected there in Brazil’s Northeast. Note that the Portuguese portion doesn’t evoke statistics and simply says “Danger: area susceptible to shark attacks.” (Presumably because it is common knowledge over there and the risks are well known).

    Bathers in this area are at greater than average risk of shark attack

  3. don’t tase me, bro

    December 3, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    In 1992, when I was 17, I traveled with my father to the US for a few weeks. We had a family friend living in Huston, whom we wanted to visit. He was away and due back a day of so after we arrived so he gave my father the alarm access-code so we can help ourselves in. We arrived at the house late at night, something went wrong with entering the code, and the alarm went off. Almost instinctively my dad rushed me to the car and we drove off to check into a motel for the night. My dad explained that we were likely to end up in jail if the police got to the house, regardless of our explanation. Back then I thought it was a bit extreme; surely we can reason our way out of it, like we would be able to back in Israel. Looking back at it, it was probably a reasonable choice given the circumstances.

    Today, if we were caught, in addition to being arrested we would surely be additionally tased for bad measure. The near-daily news of people being tased for no good reason reminded me of my story above. Some taser cases and videos can be found on top hits from reddit on the topic; Andrew Meyer coined the “don’t tase me, bro” catch phrase while being tased after making a bit of a fuss asking John Kerry some questions; here’s the comic. Some people die after being tased, though the marketing says that the tool is supposed to be non-lethal. But when you give people a “non-lethal” alternative to verbally or physically dealing with other people, it is a natural outcome that it turns from an alternative to a norm. This is the situation today, with cops tasing without much thought and it seems as though the chances of being tased is largely random, mostly depending on how the cop feels at the moment. With the general sense of paranoia and justification that anything is permissible in the name of security and anti-terrorism, all you have to do is act out of the ordinary, like being slow to hand a cop your proof of insurance; Schneier calls this “The War on the Unexpected“.

    This arbitrary taser treatment given by trigger happy cops is scary, and certainly does not contribute to a general feeling of security it was meant to promote. The long term effect is the continuous erosion of trust in police and the “system” — not that it is in any good shape currently — which will be difficult to recover from even if tighter controls are placed on taser use. When this happens the unintended consequence would be that police lost the “touch” of actually dealing with people, and even worse, they would use their lethal weapons (guns) more casually than before. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear in the near future of a case where a cop claims that he/she reached for the taser, but instead shot the poor speeder in the chest with a lethal bullet.

  4. ever tried buying NEW unwashed and untorn jeans?

    August 16, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    I guess I am un-cool, trying to purchase a pair of jeans that are NOT “pre-washed”, “pre-patterned”, and “pre-torn” (George Carlin comes to mind with all this excessive use of pre-whatever).

    I have just returned from a 10 day trip to Boston, where I attended a conference and presented a paper (which won “Best Student Paper“!) One of the items on my shopping list was a new pair of jeans, as my previous ones are torn, patterned, washed from real-life events. I wasn’t prepared to how difficult this would be.

    Essentially, most jeans today come “pre-cooled”, which means that they have patterns on them that emulate heavy use and have torn bits which are “pre-patched”. When I confront “sale associates” with this issue they are a bit dazzled but soon realize that indeed, I am in a bit of a “situation” as non of the jeans they have on offer answer to my unique requirements: jeans that look new! (Some “associates” said that that is the first time they ever thought of this.)

    I finally found a pair at Macy’s; it was not exactly the figure I was looking for, but I figured that if I want new jeans that looked new, my options are incredibly limited.

  5. good news first

    July 30, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    Good news: some nice days in Cambridge.

    saar drimer on the way to grantchester

    Bad news: I’m balding.

  6. how to operate a fragmentation granade

    June 6, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    I remembered a story from my undergraduate days… one of those things you recall and can’t imagine doing again. I took a mandatory “technical writing” class in my junior year. I absolutely hated the professor (Tara M.), who seemed to hate anyone of my gender and was not afraid to show it by preferential treatment. The first words out of her mouth in the first day of class were “I am god, and you will do as I say.” “Yeah, that’s going to go well,” I remember thinking.

    Towards the end of the term we had to give a 5 minute presentation on any topic we chose. This is peace-lovin’, hippie, lovey-dovey Santa Cruz, remember. I decided to give a presentation on types of hand grenades, how to throw them, and what to do if a fragmentation kind comes flying your way. I’m sure she (and possibly others) didn’t like me any better after that, but I was satisfied ;) I got a ‘B’ for the class and some respect from gamers. But I think that I learned the most from writing a three page formal complaint to the head of the department about her skills as a teacher. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with her leaving UCSC a couple of years later; google doesn’t show her teaching elsewhere. I suppose that “god” retired from teaching.

    Some of the readers of this weblog can vouch for the accuracy of this story (some proof-read my letter ;) Now I am going to see if I still have it and the presentation somewhere.

  7. rambo

    May 19, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    Last night I happened to watch Rambo: First Blood. Of course, this is not the first time I’ve seen it, but it has been a while. The cruelty these vets suffered from the population upon their return always struck a chord with me. For the record, Rambo I is a good movie; it has what we would call today “moderate violence” and a decent message and dialog (unlike its successors). I dare say that even the acting was good. These were the times where they (Hollywood) had to produce a good script because they couldn’t distract the audience with visual effects like they do today.

    Anyway, I remembered that as a child and young teenager, I was convinced that the Vietnam War was invented by the movie industry as a ruse to produce war movies. I think I had the notion of this “fake” war because I only heard about it in the movies. Then I grew up and found out the sad truth. In Israel, they didn’t teach us about these wars; we had plenty of our own.

  8. “no” is a perfectly acceptable answer

    March 19, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    Lately, I am increasingly annoyed with people assuming that a lack of an answer means a “no” when they are invited to do something. Well, it isn’t! A lack of an answer means (surprise!) a lack of an answer. I’d much rather hear a “no, I won’t come to your lousy party even if you served the last drink on earth” than a silenced cop-out. At least I know where I stand.

    People are embarrassed/shy/uncomfortable saying “no” in general, for some odd reason. Delaying a “no”, or not giving it at all, hoping that everything will just magically go away — like kids closing their eyes assuming no one can see them anymore — is disrespectful for the other person’s time and effort. Yes, I believe that saying “no” is a sign of respect only second to a “yes”, of course (unless it is a “courtesy invite”, but that’s another matter), while non-answer is, you guessed it, insulting.

    I don’t require a reason. I don’t care. Why do people feel obliged to give an, often made-up and unimaginative, excuse to weasel out of something they don’t want to do? I long for the day where I can comfortably say “Nah, don’t feel like it” (those who know me already know that I often do it anyway, but it is socially unaccepted and considered impolite, especially around relative strangers, and I end up looking like a weirdo).

    So, for those of you that interact with me… say “no” without the excuse and I promise to never-ever-ever-ever be insulted or ask why. But for goodness sake, do it quick.

  9. “I’ve got a customer”

    February 10, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    A few weeks ago Steven J. Murdoch and I released a video of a Chip & PIN terminal playing Tetris (YouTube version). Back then, I alluded to the fact that this is just a small part of something grander. We were working on an experiment that showed a particular vulnerability Chip & PIN is prone to. This is important because banks now maintain that if the PIN was used, then the customers must prove they were not negligent, which is impossible (given that they do not have access to the evidence and no way to show that no one has been looking over their shoulder, for example). Therefore, due to at least one way of defrauding customers who clearly have not been negligent with their PIN, they should be reimbursed.

    saar drimer, steven murdoch on watchdog bbc1Anyway, there is a somewhat of a technical article on ZDNet, with more info here, and Steven dissecting an insulting response from the Financial Ombudsman Service to a customer who seeks to know on what grounds he has been refused a refund.

    What was missing from the media hype over this is what is included in the academic paper. In it, not only do we describe the attack in detail, including background, we also describe and implement a defense against it called “distance bounding”, which is the main contribution.

    In addition, we spilled the beans on prime-time TV here on the island’s BBC1, in a program called “Watchdog“, which is a popular and long running consumer-watch program. This was quite an experience and I learned a lot from it. We spent about 11 hours with the crew, with the outcome of about 2 minutes of us appearing and a not-so-clear representation of the attack. Sigh. Before all this, I thought TV was evil; let’s just say I have not changed my mind.

    I cannot post the video publicly (it would probably infringe on someone’s rights) but if you’d like to see yours truly say the line in the heading of this post on TV, email me at <first name><last name>

    UPDATE: Someone has posted the segment on YouTube, here. If you want a better quality version, email me.

  10. two years

    January 17, 2007 by Saar Drimer

    I realized that “Side Channels” is two years old this month. Not very exciting, is it? Well, it has gotten less of my time and attention in the past six months. A few things led to this… firstly, I was, and still am, busy. I am involved in a few research projects that I am excited about and enjoy working on. I also devote time to people around me who I like to spend time with. Secondly, I feel I don’t have anything profound to say that hasn’t already been said. You’ll notice that I try to be original whenever I can… but it is hard when everyone and their grandmother have a weblog too ;) Over time my expectations of this way of expression settled at the right place. I do not expect to have huge readership and I write whenever and of whatever I feel like. I feel comfortable with that; no pressure.

    So, my dear readers, I appreciate those of you who have stuck around and loyally keep coming back for my outbursts. As a thank you*, I give you a recent picture from my trip to Edinburgh with Craigmillar Castle as the backdrop.

    saar drimer craigsmillar castle

    * Yeah, I know it might seem like I am full of myself, giving a picture of myself as a “thank-you”… but I really like this one and I couldn’t think of anything else to give ;)