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Benjamin Oakes

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Hi, I'm Ben Oakes and this is my geek blog. Currently, I'm a Ruby/JavaScript Developer at Continuity. Previously, I was a Software Developer at Hedgeye, a Research Assistant in the Early Social Cognition Lab at Yale University and a student at the University of Iowa. I also organize, ICRuby, OpenHack Iowa City, and previously organized NewHaven.rb. I have an amazing wife named Danielle Oakes.


City of Iowa City in early stages of switching to LED lighting

by Ben

Officials expect city-owned streetlights to be converted over the next four years.

Source: City in early stages of switching to LED lighting

Good news, but “32 million kilowatt hours” is staggering. If correct, that means running 100,000 street lights costs over $4,000,000 a year. Fortunately, that seems to be for more than just Iowa City.


Automated Gardening

by Ben

Source: ‘Automated Gardening’: The Stress-Free, Effort-Free Way To Water And Fertilize | Off The Grid News

I recently set up automated watering in our backyard. The gutters on our garage fill a rain barrel that has a timer attached to a soaker hose that runs through the garden. This is especially nice solution because (1) there’s no running water on that side of the house, (2) the rain water is free, (3) I can spend gardening time on other tasks, and (4) the chipmunks that used to love to hide in that downspout have to find another home now. It’s not fertilizing like in this article, but it wouldn’t be hard to add if we wanted to.

If there’s any interest, I might make a video of this. Please let me know in the comments.



Oracle to ‘sinner’ customers: Reverse engineering is a sin and we know best

by Ben

 “Recently, I have seen a large-ish uptick in customers reverse engineering our code to attempt to find security vulnerabilities in it. < Insert big sigh here. > This is why I’ve been writing a lot of letters to customers that start with “hi, howzit, aloha” but end with “please comply with your license agreement and stop reverse engineering our code, already.”

Source: Oracle to ‘sinner’ customers: Reverse engineering is a sin and we know best | ZDNet

This article is hard to believe.  Imagine if the people that discover these vulnerabilities sold them on the black market instead of reporting them to Oracle.  I would hope that Oracle would prefer receiving an email to widespread zero-day attacks.

Though I’m not a lawyer, this makes me wonder what constitutes reverse engineering, and also the legality of license clauses that disallow reverse engineering in this situation.  Unfortunately, Wikipedia doesn’t mention anything about reporting security vulnerabilities, which seems like something that should always be allowed.

From the Wikipedia article:

In the United States even if an artifact or process is protected by trade secrets, reverse-engineering the artifact or process is often lawful as long as it has been legitimately obtained.

Reverse engineering of computer software in the US often falls under both contract law as a breach of contract as well as any other relevant laws. This is because most EULA’s (end user license agreement) specifically prohibit it, and U.S. courts have ruled that if such terms are present, they override the copyright law which expressly permits it (see Bowers v. Baystate Technologies).

Sec. 103(f) of the DMCA (17 U.S.C. § 1201 (f)) says that a person who is in legal possession of a program, is permitted to reverse-engineer and circumvent its protection if this is necessary in order to achieve “interoperability” – a term broadly covering other devices and programs being able to interact with it, make use of it, and to use and transfer data to and from it, in useful ways. A limited exemption exists that allows the knowledge thus gained to be shared and used for interoperability purposes.

Do security vulnerabilities fall under “interoperability”?  Are there “whistle blower” laws that encourage security vulnerabilities to be reported and dealt with responsibly?  If not, should there be?

Iowa City City Council supports biking

by Ben

On Monday, the Iowa City City Council voted to help fund a bike-sharing grant with the University of Iowa, authorized the creation of dedicated bike lanes to parts of First Avenue and Mormon Trek Boulevard, as well as changes to the city’s biking ordinance.

Source: City Council supports biking – The Daily Iowan

I hope there are more bike paths in the works as well.




Cable TV box rental fees cost average household $232 a year

by Ben

99 percent of customers rent set-top boxes from TV providers, survey found.

Source: Cable TV box rental fees cost average household $232 a year

US sees residential solar surge past commercial-scale installs

by Ben

At the end of last year, houses held 3.3 Gigawatts of capacity.

Source: US sees residential solar surge past commercial-scale installs

Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun”

by Ben

A 1927 kids’ songbook proves “conclusively the song is in the public domain.”

Source: Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun”

If they’ve been collecting millions of dollars a year for 80 years based on an invalid copyright (especially if they knew it was invalid), this is about to get interesting.



Save the world using your PC or phone

by Ben

By joining your machine to others around the world, you could help eradicate diseases or find alien life.

Source: Save the world using your PC or phone – CNET

BOINC’s Android app is particularly amazing to me. If you already plug your phone in overnight, you should consider installing it. Unfortunately there isn’t an iOS counterpart.

How Can I Clean Recyclables Without Wasting Water?

by Ben

Clean recyclables or water conservation? You don’t have to pick one over the other!


Bottles containing liquids can be emptied and air-dried before being tossed in the bin, without needing an ounce of water. Wide-mouth containers with stickier foodstuff should be scraped or wiped out by hand using a fork, spatula, or dirty napkin, again avoiding the sink altogether.

If “dry cleaning” doesn’t get the job done and you need to use water, we recommend using graywater (lightly used water). Washing fruits/vegetables or dishes in a large bowl or tub will leave you with graywater perfectly suited for cleaning recyclables before going down the drain. Water can also be collected using a drain plug. Moisten a sponge with graywater for wiping out the muck; bottles with smaller openings that are tougher to wipe out can be filled with graywater, closed, and shaken until clean.

Source: Because You Asked: How Can I Clean Recyclables Without Wasting Water?

Don’t feel like you need to rinse right away.  I tend to leave containers open and in the kitchen sink so that when we wash our hands, etc., they collect the water that was used.

Iowa school district asks principals to wear body cams

by Ben

Safety advocate says kids may not report abuse if they know they’re being watched.

Source: Iowa school district asks principals to wear body cams – Ars Technica