Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 21 Aug 2008

Pond denizens struggle against mud

On a short afternoon hike at Sanborn today, Dave and I decided to go by the tiny koi pond near the visitors' center to see if any newts were left this late into summer. [newt stuck in mud]

What a scene! In the current semi-drought, the pond has become a mud flat, its surface criss-crossed with tracks and squirming with newts and crayfish trying to push themselves out of the sticky mud.

In the few holes where the water was more than a couple inches deep, fish flopped -- several 6-8" long golden koi plus something brown but similarly large. A few of the newts thrashed in the water holes, too, seemingly trying to get clean of the mud that coated them; but most of the newts wriggled across the shallower mud flats, heading nowhere in particular but looking very unhappy. The crayfish seemed most numerous at the dryer edges of the pond, pushing themselves laboriously up out of the mud with their claws and dragging themselves across the mud.

Newts normally migrate, and can go surprisingly long distances (miles) across land, so I think at least some of these newts will survive. The fish, I must assume, are doomed unless someone rescues them. I wonder if the rangers have considered selling the non-native koi to someone who wants them, and replacing them with native fish? Are there any fish native here this far upstream? Penitencia Creek (at Alum Rock) has small fish (up to about 3" long), but it carries more water in dry seasons than any creek near Sanborn.

What about the crayfish? Can crayfish survive long out of water, bury themselves in mud (the ones here didn't seem too happy about that idea) or migrate overland?

I suspect there will be some happy park raccoons tonight.

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[ 20:21 Aug 21, 2008    More nature | permalink to this entry ]

Chase "Blink" RFID credit cards

Chase sent us replacement MasterCards out of the blue. They came with a brochure touting their wonderful new Chase's "Blink" feature. So convenient! You just hold the card near a reader and it charges your account, no need for any of that pesky swiping of cards or signing of forms!

Yes, it's RFID (Radio Frequency ID tags), the small low-power radio transmitters also used by Walmart and various other retailers, and in other applications such as company security badges/access cards (and, unfortunately, new passports in quite a few countries).

It seems a little odd to me that Chase's marketing implies that most people would think it's a good thing to have a credit card that can be charged easily without even taking it out of your wallet ... to have a card that can be charged from some distance away without your even knowing about it.

It's apparently easy and cheap to build an RFID credit card skimmer: Bruce Schneier has collected several articles about it, and in a later article he offers several links to articles on how to build your own RFID skimmer.

We called Chase right away and told them we didn't want the "Blink" cards. They said we could keep our old, non-RFID cards and continue to use them, and destroy the new ones. Whew!

Googling for links for this article, I found that we're not the only Chase customers to want to decline Blink.

For anyone wondering how secure this technology is, the recent debacle of the cracked Dutch RFID subway cards gives you an idea (Bruce Schneier, "Dutch RFID Transit Card Hacked"; The Register, "Dutch transit card crippled by multihacks", and a followup where the MBTA, Boston's transit agency, used the courts to muzzle three MIT students who were trying to present a paper at Defcon on the security holes in the MBTA's RFID-based pay system.

For anyone who gets stuck with an RFID credit card, here's how to make an RFID-blocking wallet, and how to make an RFID zapper.

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[ 10:26 Aug 21, 2008    More tech/security | permalink to this entry ]