Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Python Command Line Arguments

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

For quite some time I have thought I shouldn’t parse my own command line arguments in Python, but each time I looked for the “right” way to do it, I turned back.

Today, I decided to persist.

Now I know why I turned back, the libraries were terrible.

I want to have: mycommand --nifty-option

Where the command is to do one thing or do the opposite.  It is a required thing to say which.

The standard library argparse is a little obscure at first, but with a little reading it starts to make sense.  Cool.

Oh, dang!  It is new in Python 2.7, and I am running 2.6.  Okay, so let’s look at the deprecated optparse, it looks really similar, I’ll convert my embryonic code…

Horrors!  I don’t know the history of the project, but it looks like some “little minds” have been at work on this library.  Because it is called “optparse” it doesn’t support “required options” because the term is self-contradictory.  Come on!  A very common use case is to type a command with a required parameter following on the command line.  Think Unix commands like “rm” or “mkdir” or “touch”, or …, you get the idea.  These commands also have “options” that are optional.  So someone built a library that handles the “options” but makes a point of not handling a required parameter, just because of an unfortunate name for the library!?!  They even waste effort pontificating on why options should be optional?


They do talk about “positional arguments” being required, but it isn’t clear whether they even support that.

My solution?  Download

put in


and use argparse.  My little utility will just be for personal use–at least for now. By the time I give it to anyone else, newer versions of Python will be standard.  Or I can include a copy of

-kb, the Kent who is slowly getting better and better at Python.

©2011 Kent Borg

Android Pattern Unlock Insecure

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

When I first saw the pattern unlock feature in Android phones I thought: Cool!

And I used it on my Nexus One.  Until I realized that it is a really stupid idea if I want my phone to be secure.  Don’t do it.

The problem is that the phone screen gets smudged.  And when you unlock your phone you will leave a new smudge trail revealing your pattern.

Here is how to read it: With the phone turned off hold it up to a bright light, but angle it so that so that it reflects something dark.  The smudges will be obvious.

Turn the phone on, note where the pattern dots are, turn it off and see what smudges align with the pattern dots.  Turn in on, turn it off, and you will be able to see the pattern.  (At least if the phone wasn’t used much with dragging gestures on top of the pattern area.)

New smudges will write on top of old smudges, they will be “in front”, so to reproduce the pattern in the right order start with the smudges that are “behind”, and trace towards the “front”.

It is tempting to wipe off the screen to clear the smudges of your unlock pattern, but beware: A clean screen is even easier to read than a dirty screen, so if you ever forget to wipe it after entering your pattern, your unlock pattern will be very readable.

This doesn’t mean your pattern lock is completely insecure always.  If you unlock your phone and then use it a lot with plenty of dragging gestures in the pattern area, then turn it off, your unlock pattern will be very hard to read.  But do you ever turn on your phone, maybe just to check the date, and then turn it off?  If so, your lock pattern is not hard to read at all.

So the unlock pattern is cool, but a bad idea.  Instead you should use a unlock code number.

“But wait!” I hear you say.  “Can’t those smudges be read too?”

Yes.  But they are taps not drags, so the order is hard to read.  And, this means a 4-digit PIN is not so good.  If someone can figure out what the 4-digits are, there are not that many combinations to try.  Only 24 (4×3x2×1, or 4 factorial).  Increase your PIN to 5-digits and the number of combinations are 57, not great, but a lot better.

I suggest you make up a truly random PIN of, say, 6-digits.  (Have a spinner from a board game?  Maybe use that.) then fill in the other digits in, say, left-to-right, top-to-bottom order.  If the person who finds your phone can see your PIN uses all ten digits (with no repeats), that narrows it down to 3,628,800.  Because your phone limits how fast PINs can be tried, that is pretty good, and you only have will have a PIN that is pretty easy to remember.  A PIN with repeated digits is cool, but the smudges might show which digit is repeated, diminishing its value somewhat.

The only catch is that it takes a moment to enter a long PIN each time you turn on your phone.

If, however, more and more of your life is in your phone, it might be worth it.

-kb, the Kent who tried to figure out how to photograph the smudges of an unlock pattern lock, but it is tricky to get the lighting right.

©2011 Kent Borg

Falling Cats

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

I get behind on my podcast listening, but last night I listened to the recent Radio Lab short ( that brought up that old claim that cats which fall from New York apartments have minor injuries if they fall from low floors, do not fair well from higher floors, and did well again if they fell from very high floors.

First, Neil deGrasse Tyson is right that the data set is flawed.  Lots of things could confuse the issue.  For example, maybe those cats falling from fancy penthouses have personal trainers, are very fit, and are better able to survive a fall, whereas those complacent 6th floor cats might be overweight and are not so suited to falling into the street.

That said, I can’t resist guessing.

I think it mostly comes to velocity on impact.  (What the cat hits also would matter–more on this below.)  Higher velocity is bad.  So falling from a low floor doesn’t offer enough time to get moving fast.  Fall from a higher floor and the cat will be traveling faster on impact.  So what about those very interesting cats falling from very high up?

They are offered a few seconds to try to learn to fly–and motivation to get it right.  I bet that if they hold their front legs just right that under-arm skin can be stretched to catch more wind resistance.   Maybe there is something similar that can be done with the back legs.  Some focused high altitude cats will even learn to steer and avoid landing on, say, the spiked fence out front.

In another nod to Neil, some of the penthouse cats maybe live in buildings with fancy doormen and canvas walkways to the sidewalk–that might be a good thing to aim for.

-kb, the Kent who has never thrown a cat from a window.

©2011 Kent Borg

Nexus One and LM961 Bluetooth Bracelet

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

I recently got an LM961 Bluetooth bracelet to use with my Nexus One phone.

Pretty cool, here are some observations:

  • The diameter of the metal bracelet is big.  I couldn’t figure out how to take out extra links, so I brought it to a local watch repair shop just before closing and asked them to make it smaller.  $10 later, and, um, they were having problems, too, and asked me if I could come back tomorrow.  Okay, I came back, they figured it out, it was still a little big, they took out one more link while I waited (now they had learned the trick), and now it fits.
  • It likes to lose connection to my phone…and then reconnect happily.  I moved it to the other wrist, to make it closer to the hip where I keep the phone, and maybe that helps, but it still loses connection.  I think it doesn’t like being close to a wifi access point.  (They are in the same band.)
  • The US model I got from Thinkgeek at the end of 2010 has a little wall-wart power supply, with a permanently connected cable.  Unlike a British model I have seen pictured: it had a cable that has a tiny coax power connector one end and a USB connection on the other–plus a wall-wart to plug that into.  I wish my model were like that, then I could charge it from any USB jack.
  • Biggest gripe seems to be that it is a Bluetooth “headset”, that is, when a call comes it, I grab the phone to answer, I say “Hello?”, the person on the other end starts to talk, then s/he goes away…and if I look at the phone I see that the “Bluetooth” button is activated in the Phone application.  I tap the button and the audio comes back.  This is a problem.  Possibly this is why the instructions say a short(er) button press answers the phone.  I wondered why I wouldn’t want to just answer the phone on the phone.  Maybe this is why.  I’ll have to get another phone call and update…

I am hoping that Openwatch support for the LM960/LM961 would fix this.

-kb, the Kent who doesn’t like a loud phone, but whose wife doesn’t like when he doesn’t get her call.

UPDATE: I never got it to do anything useful. Dang.

©2011 Kent Borg