Prop Updates

Two quick prop updates from the workshop today. First I have attached a
strap and inner padding to the Cadian helmet:

The inner padding makes things much more comfortable. I hot glued velcro to
the helmet interior which the pads bind to so they are adjustable to a degree.
It also makes the helmet sit a little higher on my head giving me a clearer
line of sight. The strap helps cut down on the helmet rolling around on my
head, which is still a minor issue, but it has been mostly mitigated.

Still some issues with craters on the helmet. Trying to level things out
with some wood filler and spackling paste. Results are mixed, but still

Next up I attached a handle to my chainsword.

Not exactly canon, but it makes it easier to carry around. It is just some
cheap chain and a red painted dowel. Seems sturdy enough, but I have my doubts
it will last long. Also the chain gets tangled up sometimes, have to work on
securing it so that does not happen.

Engineering Philosophy

Technology is Hope

I recently saw this
TED talk
and it really crystallized why I love technology so much. Go ahead
and watch the talk before you read this post, or not in which case I will sound
far more original than I might otherwise be.

Have you watched it? Good.

The main thesis of Professor Herr’s presentation is that people are not
disabled, instead their technology is insufficient for their needs (14:25 in
the video). This turns out to be an incredibly potent idea. Before disabilities
like deafness, blindness, loss of limbs were permanent conditions. There were
no solutions. Through time and effort humanity was able to build crutches or
stop gaps. Hearing aids, peg legs, crude imitations of the organic components
they were replacing. This was all that could be accomplished at the time and
this is why we considered people disabled, because there was no way to fix what
was broken with them. Their condition was permanent. Professor Herr shows us
differently. By taking an incredibly hard problem (replicating a human leg) and
applying his skill and that of his team they were able to produce a very close
facsimile to a human leg. Is it a perfect replica no, but it is a start on a
long journey. And unlike our legs, his team’s work is constantly improving and
will (I have no doubt) eventually surpass our own organic ones. This work
proves that people are not broken we just have not developed the technology to
fix them.

Why does this show how much I love technology? Because the root of Professor
Herr’s philosophy is ultimately the belief in a better world. Not just hope
that things will get better, not just a faint hazy dream of an improved future,
but a real steadfast unshakeable conviction that the world is becoming better
through improvements in technology. And in true empirical fashion he asks us
not to take that conviction on faith, but on the real concrete evidence he
presents. Do not underestimate the power of this ideology. Embrace it and make
it part of your identity. I do not just believe, but I know that humanity grows
its knowledge daily, cultivated by the work of all of us to push ourselves and
our technology inexorably forward.

When I say I love technology I really am just saying I love humanity’s will
to better themselves and our world. I love our intellectual strength that we
wield Thor like to crush the problems of our ancestors. Can you imagine how
things used to be? How our species used to be hobbled by inefficiencies, by
disease, by the dark. Technology is that great shinning light in the distance
illuminating the future for us.

We have not solved all our problems yet, but we can and we will. No gods
will rescue us, our own will and might shall be our salvation.


Die Happy Everyday

Every night I go to bed happy to die. And every new day I wake up happy to
live one more. If you do not have that feeling something needs to change.

Let us break down these two points.

1. Happy to die

Near to oxymoronic, this should be the state you achieve every day. The
objective of your day should be to justify, to yourself, your continued
existence. Any day failing to accomplish this is a wasted day. Do not construe
this command to mean that you must always be engaging in activities others have
deemed worthwhile. Act as you see fit, as you are the only judge that matters.
For example, I have spent many a day playing video games and watching tv. I
could be learning some new technology or building something, but I did not feel
like it that day. Other people might consider this a wasted day. Their opinion
is irrelevant. I enjoyed that day; I thought that day was great. The point here
is everyday should end with you being satisfied. Satisfied you set out to do
something and accomplished it, satisfied that you enjoyed the day. Only the
satisfied can ever be comfortable with death. This is not to say that you want
to die. It is to say that if you do die, if today was your last day, that you
go to your demise happy with all that you have done. A personal example of
this: I am 23. I have lived a long life. Not by human standards, but by the
standards of other animals. Consider an ant or a fly or a house cat. We must
seem impossibly old to them. In the case of the insects whole generations are
birthed and died before we could speak. Their lives flicker in and out
unnoticed. I have seen a great many things, felt passion and fear, cried and
laughed. I have spent many a day being enriched by my friends. I have built
things, changed and altered the environment. I have lived a full life. Shorter
than some, but no less rich in my estimation. Have I done and seen anything,
no. Do I want to keep living, yes. Would I be sad to die, no.

2. Happy to live one more

The new day is a gift you give to yourself. It is the blank page, the block
of clay, the empty canvas. You do not have to fill it, that is not the point.
The mere fact that you have a chance to. Have an opportunity to create
something, be it your work, your passion, or something else. This is the
happiness of waking up. When you sleep you die. When you wake you are reborn.
This day may be your last, but at least you have something. One more chance to
live. Too often we think in terms of months or years. We allow the days to
slide on inexorably in the hope of a better future. You can make that better
future today, right now, the moment you wake up. You need only recognize the
potential of a new day.

Not all days are like this. I have had far too many where I went to bed
depressed having wasted the day. Plenty of times where I woke up and was
immediately crushed by stress and wanted nothing more to lay down and rot. But
if we let our worst moments define ourselves we could never accomplish great


Edge of the Fire

A quick parable today. Imagine a fire pit at night. Close to the fire it is
hot, smoky even. You get a limited view, but it is great if you like it
scalding hot. Back up a bit and you are in the sweet spot, a foot or two away.
Warm and comfortable with an excellent view of the flames licking the logs. Go
out a few more feet from there and it gets precipitously colder and darker.
This is the edge of the fire. Close enough to occasionally get some benefit of
the burning wood, but never enough to be satisfied. Beyond is darkness. You can
see the fire, but the warm feeling is lost.

The fire pit is analogous to the stages of life. Being close to the fire is
like childhood. Intense and emotional. It is easy to get hurt, and hard to see
with all the smoke, but exhilarating to be so close to something so energetic.
The sweet spot is young adolescence (teenager). A little more wisdom has taught
you to sit back a bit to get the whole view allowing you to enjoy the fire from
a distance. Then again the fire is not really why you are there, it is the
other people around the fire that brought you to the pit. The edge of the fire
is the intermediary stage from adolescence to adulthood. You can still see and
feel the fire, but the feeling is different, more distant. It is not so much
that the fire is less interesting from here, but you have new goals. You could
return to the fire, what you know, or you could venture out beyond the fire
into the darkness. The darkness is adulthood because you can never quite see
far enough to tell where you are going. Yet you still ventured out, there must
be something worth looking for in the dark.

What I am (poorly) getting at here is when all you ever know is one thing or
one lifestyle (in my parable, sitting around the fire) it can be very difficult
to move beyond that comfort zone (the darkness around the fire). This is the
area just on the edge of the fire where you have to make a conscious choice to
leave the fire pit. This choice does not have subjectively better options.
Plenty of people stick with what they know and live fine adult lives. Plenty of
other people commit fully and venture out into the night. You can even live in
the middle ground (with me!) and skirt around the edges enjoying the old and
the new. This parable does not exist to make you unsatisfied with your choice,
but to inform you that you have made one. More than that, that you actively
continue to make a choice on how to lead your life.


The Office Walk

It has been a year since I
started the full time cube life and have discovered a peculiar mostly silent
communication system in play at my office. Often I find myself having to walk
around the building to talk to someone, get something, stuff my face with
snacks, etc. On these jaunts I may occasion to pass or see other employees. I
am not sure what happens at other places of work, but here we observe the
following rules based on the distance between coworkers when they first see
each other.

1. If the distance is greater than 30 feet a small chest level wave will be
given. This is done by raising up your hand so that it is parallel with your
chest and making a slight wave. One or two ‘wave’ rotations is all that is
necessary. Your elbow should form an angle grater than or equal to 90 degrees.
Any more and you have committed too much to the wave.

2. If the distance is less than 30 feet, but greater than 10 feet short
quick small talk may be exchanged (less than two sentences) or the
aforementioned hand wave may be done. The small talk must follow these
conversation topics:

  • Weather
  • Weekend plans
  • “Good” -day, -night, -morning, etc

3. If the distance is greater than one foot and less than or equal to 10
feet a small head nod will be observed. The coworker will nod either up 15
degrees or down 15 degrees once. The other coworker will reciprocate this head
nod. This may or may not be accompanied by each coworker saying the other
coworker’s name.

4. Distances equal to or less than one foot should be avoided. if this rare
event does occur a short office appropriate exclamation must be used. These
include, but are not limited to:

  • “Oops”
  • “Sorry”
  • “Oh”

I have found carefully adhering to these rules ensures safe interoffice
travel and adequate daily office socialization.


Purity Seal Revision The Third

Finished some purity seals today. I think I really accomplished my goals
this time which makes sense as it generally takes three times for the normal
mind. First here is the general look I am shooting for:

The general structure is a wax seal at the top with some symbol of the
Imperium (Aquila, skull, equipment, etc) and about a two inch wide cloth scroll
about 10 inches long featuring a prayer of some sort. It is a sign that the
wearer is of pure faith (untainted by chaos) and is fully devoted to the
Emperor and by extension the Imperium. I like to make them as they are good
gifts for people who recognize my cosplay. However, if I am giving out a lot of
these seals I need a good mass production solution. It is no good to me to make
just one or two really nice seals. I need to make a lot. My first two revisions
predate the blog’s creation so this post, while motivated by finishing a third
revision, will be talking about all the versions I have made.

Lets look at how all three versions line up:

Version one on the
left, two in the middle, three on the right.

Revision One

The first seal was made with apple scented wax. It is a pleasant scent and
very vibrant. I made it by drilling out about a 2.5 inch diameter circle in a
board of wood and filling the inside of the circle with tinfoil. Then I would
pour the wax in. The wax itself I melted and mixed with hot glue. The idea
being the wax and glue would cool together and strengthen the resulting disk.
The actual paper is just lightly colored construction paper I printed some
prayers on. The prayers I used have been attached at the bottom of this post. I
hot glued the paper and a fastener to the back. On the front I used a wood
burner to melt out the Cadian gate symbol and then I painted in the indentation
with black paint.

This was a pretty decent first attempt. I achieved the general shape and
look, but it has the feel of a cheap knockoff. Regardless it was easy to make.
The glue on the back failed on a few of them, but for the most part it seems to
hold things together well enough. The tinfoil mold method works, but the
resulting seal is bumpy and not uniform enough. I made about 30 of these.

Revision Two

Three main changes in this revision. One, I used printable cloth this time
for the scroll part. The scroll is cloth like in-universe so the purity seals
are now more closer to reality. Two, the cloth started out white, but I stained
it with some black tea to give it a more weathered look. I then burnt the edges
using the stove to further this look. Three, I used slightly darker wax which I
still mixed with hot glue. This color is less vibrant, but more in line with
the actual purity seal look. Also of note, this version shows my first attempt
to use a tuna fish can as a wax mold. Aside from it being incredibly difficult
to remove the wax, the seal looks just a bit too big. I only made a few of this
size, the rest I used the tinfoil method described previously.

This seal is a marked improvement over revision one. The cloth part makes it
look much better. Further improvements to the molding process also made for a
more uniform look. I made around 20 of these.

Revision Three

Two big changes in this revision. One, I stained the cloth much darker to be
more in line with the in-universe examples. This was done by two successive tea
stainings. Two, I was able to get a much nicer rounded seal by using a silicone
muffin tray as my mold.

The silicone tray allows me to easily remove it once it is cooled and gives
a very uniform circle.

Two small changes of note. One, the placement of the fastener on the back.
Previously I placed the fastener in the middle of the seal. This unfortunately
makes the seal flap around unnaturally when worn as it will rotate around the
middle. Now I placed the fastener at the top of the seal which reduces the
amount of flapping that happens when worn. Two, I abandoned the wood burner
indentations and instead just painted the gate on freehand. I was a little
concerned I would mess up a few times, but for the most part I exhibited a
steady hand. This sped up the production process and did not noticeably change
the look.

Overall the darker scroll makes these seals look much better. Now that the
seal itself is more uniform I would say this revision is much closer to the
in-universe examples. I made 18 of these and am ready for Connecticon.

Future Revisions

Couple things I want to clear up in future revisions:

  1. I need some way to capture the lip around the edge of the seal. This
    happens because the seal image is stamped down. I have tried to stamp some
    seals in the past, but the results have been very poor.
  2. Hot gluing the fastener and scroll to the back of the seal is not
    sufficient. There is too high a rate of failure with this method, I will have
    to investigate other ways of attaching things.

Further images available at the gallery here.

Prayer Documents: PuritySealPrayers2


Why You Should Not Expose Your Failed SQL Query

It is the weekend and as I am wont to do I pay a visit to A site focusing on links to
illegal file distribution. They do have some legal links, but it would be a lot
like drug dealers selling candy on the side. Not really their purpose for
being. Anyways the site was down as usual. Seems their host is just generally
bad as this is a common occurrence. Today was different though. It was serving
a relatively unique error.


What are we seeing here?

This is the exact SQL query
that the server was trying to run which failed for some reason. In other words
when I tried to access the site the server tried to (via the sessions.php file)
create a user session for me within its database. This session would then track
my usage of the site. Not sure exactly what, but possibly how long I use the
site, pages I go to, posts I make, etc. That session creation failed for some
reason and it returned this error to me.

Why is this significant?

This is a significant error as it exposes information the user (client)
should not be aware of. Specifically a database table and columns in that table
that the server uses. This is important because it makes my job easier if I am
looking to exploit the system.

How could I do that?

Let us look at the error we got back. I have highlighted the important
sections here:


This gives us two pieces of important information:

  1. That the site knows my username (which I have removed).
  2. That the site is using a particular id number to identify me (the red boxes
    which represent the ‘session_user_id’).

How does the site know my username if I have not tried to login (this is the
first thing I see on accessing the site)? The site has checked for an existing
login cookie on my machine. Lucky for us we can look at that cookie and see
what information it is providing. Let us open up firebug and take a look.


See that red box. That is the same number we are using in the failed SQL
query for the ‘session_user_id’ column. Let us go ahead and use firebug to
change that number and see what happens:


Luckily for us warez-bb operates sanely in this regard and my attempt to
exploit failed. You can see it just reverts to an anonymous user. That stills
gives us some useful information on how the site operates though. It must be
using the ‘session_user_id’ contained in the cookie, and those other values to
retrieve my username which is not saved in the cookie. Another attack vector
which I did not consider is instead of just changing the ‘session_user_id’ in
the cookie is to inject
into its spot instead. The idea would be the server would execute the
SQL command I provided in the cookie. Based on the result of the first test it
is likely warez-bb defends against this attack by sanitizing whatever input it
gets back from cookies.

Though my attacks failed this is still bad practice. The user of a site
should know nothing about the underlying operation of your server. Any
information you unwittingly provide makes the attackers job easier.


In Time All Will Be Lost

You will lose everything you love. Your parents, extended family, and
siblings will all die. Your friends and significant others will die. The house
you live in will decay, the art you make will fade, the words you write will be
lost, the pictures and film you record will go missing. Everything you know
will become unknown and everything you hold dear will be destroyed. Given a
long enough time span all will be

This is not something to fret or worry about though. This is something to be
celebrated! The knowledge of eventual demise is a gift because it gives meaning
to everything in life. Consider a personal example. A few Connecticons ago (the long distant memory that is
2012) I was standing outside watching everyone mill about. It was late (around
1AM) on a Saturday and the Convention hall had closed up, but no one wanted to
leave quite yet. There was a group of people near the doorway dancing to some
techno beats. I was standing with a couple friends idly chatting. People would
come by, take pictures of my friend’s cosplay. Others would walk by resplendent
in their various costumes just meandering around. It was a hot day, but the
night was pleasant enough, not chill enough to need a jacket, but cool enough
to be comfortable. Want to see what this looked like? Here is a picture I took
that night on my phone ‘s terrible camera.


What makes this moment important? Its uniqueness. All these different people
and disparate groups had come together to create this one particular moment in
time. Conventions like this happen all the time, but never with this exact mix
of people, with these exact conditions. This moment in time is unique and of
value because it can never be replicated. Each person in this photo made a
choice to spend a finite resource (time) on this event. They might have done
this only thinking of themselves, but they gave me that gift of their time. For
a fleeting wonderful movement they let me enjoy their company. It was only one
moment, but it was enough. You remember the bible story about
the lady who gave two pennies
? That is the same thing that is at play here.
If you have an infinite amount of something then giving it to others has little
meaning because you never suffer a loss. The meaning is in the loss. The
willingness in people to spend some resource of limited quantity for the
benefit of others. Only things which are finite can have value.

Everyone in this photo will die. These buildings will become rubble, Given
enough time even the planet this photo was taken on will be destroyed. But that
is ok, I am fine with that, because I got to experience this one moment. I know
that all this destruction will come to pass and I chose to spend the finite
amount time of time I have to experience something. It is this experience that
occurs everyday. The time you spend with friends, or the time you spend
creatively. You know these moments are limited, you know all your work is
futile, but you do it anyway, not to fool yourself into thinking it can never
end, but because it will end, it must end.

You can only ever love something that ends.


White Collar Guilt

Have you ever felt guilty for doing the work you do? Not guilty because what
you are doing is illegal, but guilty because you have it easier than others. At
the risk of bragging I have. The
2012 American
Community Survey
estimates the median earnings for male full-time,
year-round workers in Massachusetts to be
. I make a non trivial amount more than that, and that is my
starting salary.

Why does that make me guilty? Because there are people who work far harder
who make far less. Lets look quickly at a couple examples:

  1. Construction worker: $34,490.
  2. Landscaper:
  3. Teacher:$40,462.
  4. Police Officer:$52,810.
  5. Firefighter:$42,878.

My job is not 1/10th as hard as these jobs. No way am I cut out to get up
early and go build houses or plant trees. I sweat walking up stairs, I would
die trying to make it through a day. How could I even begin to start teaching
kids, I can barely stand kids. Police officer, lets not joke now I can barely
sound commanding to people I know let alone strangers. And firefighter, look at
that job name they FIGHT FIRE. I cried the last time I burnt my hand making

Now this is admittedly a small sample set. You can see I excluded people who
work hard and make a lot of money like Doctors. The point is there are people
who work hard who do not get rewarded. Meanwhile they are people like me who
sit in a cool climate controlled environment, work at a leisurely pace, and get
rewarded disproportionately. I do not mean to imply that money is the perfect
metric by which to judge the relative worth of a job, but I will say that money
is social power. The power to choose where you live, how much you work, the
quality of food you eat, etc. There is a tipping point for sure, where each
extra dollar delivers less social power than before, but I am not sure the
average salaries of my examples have passed that. MIT’s living wage calculator
estimates for one adult the cost of living to be $26,316 if you live in Boston,
MA. Granted the cost of living will be higher in a big city, but it is a decent
reference point. So for everyone except a landscaper you would be good to go.
What about having a family? If you are married and have two kids MIT estimates
$43,683 per year. Doable with one parent not working in some cases based on my
example salaries. Probably pretty comfortable if both are working. So these are
livable salaries, but are they fair for the work?

That is what makes me feel guilty.