Aug 07

There goes that analogy?

So Medeco Locks, often cited as the unpickable-in-practice lock, can be picked.  Not just picked, bump keyed.  I guess that’s sad if you’re Medeco, though I suspect that in their heart of hearts, they know as well as I do that lockpicking thieves are rarely the high-probability threat.

I don’t know if there are vendors out there calling their solution the “Medeco of internet security” but I suppose they’ll want to stop, if so.  The nice thing, though, is that the whole fracas is a delicious example of General Security Maxim #6:

If your product is unbreakable, you are wrong.  Also, here comes the breaking.

If you suffer from this tendency to overstate security claims, I’ve created a motivational poster to help you remember.

(Thank you johpan for the ostrich, and flickr toys for the insta-motivate.)

Dec 06

Tales of Comeuppance

Crying BabyOne of my cognitive science profs used to have a bit of a soft spot for evolutionary psychology and it is from him that I developed my love of “cheater detection.” If you’re an evolutionary psychologist, see, a lot of the righteous indignation you see from your fellow simians out there in the world is traceable quite directly to a part of our psyche which is tweaked powerfully by the feeling that someone is cheating – acquiring benefit without paying expected costs. It really gets us riled up, on a very primitive level.

It makes sense, of course. Cheaters in a social species will act in ways (eating other people’s food, making sweet sweet love to other people’s lady friends, etc) that allow them to acquire huge positional benefits within the group unless there are powerful repercussions like ostracism or worse.

So lo and behold, here we are with all this evolution behind us and wouldn’t you know it, our brains are wired such that someone jumping the queue at Walmart or trying to pass a traffic jam on the shoulder is taking their life in their hands. It is rarely the case that I am pro-homicide but in the case of those inveterate jack-offs that pull into the lane which they know is ending right up ahead, and which will only gain them 3 car lengths, but will slow everyone down when they force themselves back in, I am more than a little inclined to make case-by-case exceptions.

Thus, as a public service, in this time of charity and co-opted pagan solstice rituals, I have put together a list of three of my favourite recent stories of cheater-busting. These stories are cheater-detection catharsis. You can go ahead and pump your fist at the end and say “Yes!” under your breath. I won’t tell.

1. What’s Noka Worth? Noka Chocolate is a hyper-elite brand of chocolate which gets packaged into gift baskets at the Emmys and so forth. Rarest of the rare cacao, hyper pure, no additives, blah blah blah. I will not be the one to impeach a company that focuses on quality for being elitist – quality is a legitimate thing after which to strive, and a legitimate thing for which to charge a premium. But at $2000/lb, you should be able to demonstrate some actual value add.

2. The Tale of Lyger, Jericho, and Republican Congressional Aide Todd Shriber. Todd decided to hire a “hacker” to change his GPA at Texas Christian University. Too bad he ended up emailing a couple of the guys running attrition.org which, like most sites which chronicle network security news, are used to being solicited by idiots, and tend to have some fun along the way. After you read the blog post, you can read the actual emails here (or, since attrition is under almost constant attack by one party or another, the cached version).

3. Reverse 419 Artwork Scam. Okay, I confess this isn’t as recent as the other two, but I have a lot of love for 419eater.com. These guys respond to the 419 scam emails from Nigeria and elsewhere and, by acting as interested parties, get the scammers to perform in various silly ways. Usually it’s restricted to requests for religious conversion or even getting the scammer to send some money themselves but this is my absolute favourite. I won’t spoil it or anything, but if you only read one, read this one.

Dec 06

I Have Arrived

Whatever arbitrary standards I might previously have employed for assessing my place in the world are rendered suddenly irrelevant.

Ken Jennings just linked to my blog from his.

That is all.


Dec 06

Spiritus Frumenti

eBay and I have a relationship that is more flirtation than passion. Of course I know how sexy it can be. Of course I want to get to know it better. But eBay is an expensive mistress, so my feedback is a withered little 5, because I rarely actually buy the things there that I covet.

I am, however, so thoroughly chuffed with a recent purchase there that I must share. Thanks to the kind auspices of ginger.1 I am the proud owner of this:

Prescription (small)

It’s a prescription from December of 1924. A very special prescription, printed on a very special prescription pad issued by the U.S. Treasury department. It’s a prescription for Spiritus Frumenti, filled in Providence, RI. This is exciting for me, because 1924 is right in the middle of prohibition and Spiritus Frumenti, as the Latin geeks have no doubt already ascertained, is whiskey.

I have always loved old paper, but I am particularly fond of old paper which reflects old ways of thinking, and reminds me that people have always been crazy. This one is particularly great because it also reminds me that people have always been wily about wrangling their way around government prohibitions of things that are fun. And as you all know, I’m a real fan of people.

Nov 06

The Aeroplan Game: An ethnography

AeroplanSteph’s sister Jody says my posts are boring. I choose to interpret this to mean that my posts are fascinating, but on topics which do not readily proclaim their relevance to her life. In any event, today’s will be no exception, because I’m going to be talking about frequent flyer miles; but also about voyeurism, so there’s some excitement for you.

Aeroplan, and programs like it, are a real challenge for geeks. On the one hand, as a demographic with higher-than-average concern for issues of digital surveillance and privacy, loyalty programs like Aeroplan which allow a company to profile your purchases and predict which brand of condom you will enjoy are viewed as being somewhat intrusive. On the other hand, Aeroplan miles bear a disturbing resemblance to points, and games with points, where intelligence can be applied to earn more points, well brother, that might well be called our oeuvre.
Continue reading →

Oct 06

Ominous Portents

The gents at penny arcade are trying to tell me something, vis a vis my impending trip to the UK. First there was this, on Friday, and now this today. If anything, and I do mean anything, should happen to me, tell the feds it was definitely Gabe and/or Tycho.

Oct 06

Turn Signal Beat Frequency

Those who know me know that I heart xkcd. But today’s comic was just too perfect…


I do this all the time.

I guess I don’t actually get out of the car, but I am always watching turn signal beat frequency at red lights. Always.

Yes, I know what that makes me.

Sep 06

Post of the Moment

Water Sculpture

A snapshot of my cognitive state at the moment, as viewed though a currently-relevant subselection of its outbound content-connections matrix.

Book of the moment: 5 Lessons: Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Ben Hogan. If you’ve ever heard that old saw about how you can’t learn to swim by reading a book, then you’ve no doubt heard the equally old saw about the professor who decided to do so. Curiously the story never includes anything about the professors’ field of study or notable works, so I think it’s safe to assume that he died during the process. Nevertheless, if ever it were possible to learn a specialized, intricate, mechanical process strictly by reading, this is the book with which to do it. It is extremely well written, and perfectly relevant despite being 50 years old. It is also 127 pages cover to cover, and has some of the most living illustrations I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how else to explain them except that in black and white line art, the illustrator (who has a history in anatomical illustration, it should be noted) manages to convey more motion and tension and life than a lot of art I’ve seen with a much richer palette at its disposal.

Restaurant of the Moment: Eggspectation. Apparently there is one in Vaughan Mills, one in the Eaton Centre, one in Quebec, and one in New Delhi. The overuse of “egg” puns is quickly quite upsetting, but the service was quick and competent, and the food was fantastic. I had an.. ahem… “egg-chilada” which is basically an omelette with green, red, and jalepeño peppers, 3 cheeses, and a salsa topping. It was delicious, and Amy was equally happy with her spinach and ricotta crêpes. It should be noted that she did find a piece of cardboard in there, but the staff was suitably appalled (and quick to take it off our bill) that I can believe it is a rare occurrence. They also brought toast with butter, margarine, and 3 kinds of jam. “Always have 3 kinds of jam” is one of the few real absolutes in life.

Link of the Moment: Liquid Sculpture. High speed camera tricks are always good for eye candy, but doubly so when somebody sets out to really plan the water droplets just so. Yummy.

TV Series of the Moment: Battlestar Galactica. We are caught up now and waiting for season 3. We are gobbling up the webisodes. You had us at hello. (Props to little Mikey Beltzner for forcing me to watch the miniseries.)

Car CD of the Moment: Best of Bootie 2005. They aren’t all good, but a lot of them are of sufficiently surpassing quality that the overall excellence quotient is above average to a statistically significant degree. I also can’t get enough of Justin’s Sexyback, Beyoncé’s Ring the Alarm, The Killers’ All the things that I’ve done, and Feist, but I appreciate that since all of those acts have publicity and airplay, enjoying their music makes me a mainstream braindead consumer culture pablum-fed red meat red state suv driving war in iraq gated community white establishment corporate whore, so I try to lead with the Best of Bootie.

[Image credit Martin Waugh]