Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I don't understand people. They're stupid. This, I don't get.

Now, I can understand the casual, 'I'm just moseying through life--I don't need to think about every little thing' attitude. I don't like it, but it's just laziness. But it's when you want to find an answer and still refuse to think that makes no sense.

I recently posted a contest to guess the cash content of my wallet. Unsurprisingly, no one's gotten it, but after I while, I gave a hint: 'How many pennies would a sensible person have in his wallet'.

Nearly everyone ignored this. One guy popped in to say 'None, they're useless by themselves'. Of course, the tires on my car are useless by themselves, yet I keep them there whenever I want to go some place. Mentioning this merely confused the nut, though.

Anyway, I don't have the optimal number of coins in my pocket. Clearly, what one wants for exact change-making ability is 4*0.01 + 1*0.05 + 2*0.10 + 3*0.25 + optional: 4*1.00 or 2*1.00 (if you have a two dollar bill). This assumes you get to replenish your wallet between each transaction, of course.

I go for 4*0.25 because someone might want 'change for a dollar', and wouldn't be happy to be given a dollar bill for their dollar bill. (Though an excuse to short-change them one cent as a fee could be nice. Hmmm...) I have 8*0.10 because I like dimes. I have 2*0.05 because...well, no good reason.

I'm also lacking any ones at the moment, which is a problem.

Luckily I very rarely use cash.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Philosophers came up with ID a couple thousand years ago, and it's been revisited many, many times. I first heard of it many years ago under it's traditional name 'The Watchmaker Analogy'. In short:

You're walking out in the desert and you find a golden pocket watch with lots of little gears and everything inside and it keeps perfect time. 'Amazing!' you say. 'A pocket watch has randomly formed from the sand!'

This seems absurd. A reasonable person assumes there's a watchmaker who created it, because it's a really complicated thing and it would be stupid not to assume that it was created by an intelligent being.

So too is it with the universe.
This is a really good argument. That's right, ID is good. ID is a brilliant philosophical argument that we've been teaching in philosophy courses for hundreds of years. Because it's a most excellent argument for the existence of god.

But here's the thing: ID is a brilliant philosophical argument that we've been teaching in philosophy courses for hundreds of years. Do you see the words 'science' or 'scientific' in the previous sentence? No, because ID is a brilliant philosophical argument. Not science. No one for a second considered this science until very recently when the religious fanatics needed a new way to force their philosophical views into science classes. It hasn't changed. What makes something science hasn't changed. Only one thing has changed about it recently: politicians decided they needed to declare it science to push their own agenda.

That's not cool.

Science is science (thank you, Aristotle!) while philosophy is not (though it keeps spawning sciences).

* ID is not based on empirical evidence. (That the universe is complex?)
* ID doesn't give us any predictions about future observations. (If we continue to examine the universe, we'll continue to see that it's complex? We're going to find the designer if we look over in that star system?)
* ID is not falsifiable. ('Oh, we were mistaken: the universe actually isn't complex'?)

Actually, one thing has changed other than the politicians: science has shown that ID doesn't really apply to the main things we thought it did: life. Yeah, the universe is pretty complex, but we now have proof that there is a simple working mechanism by which complex things arrive from simple ones. Higher lifeforms don't need an intelligent creator. They just need lower lifeforms. And the lowest lifeforms are simple enough that they don't need a creator.

Friday, May 25, 2007

You know how, like, every DVD you buy in the US has subtitles and often audio in Spanish and French? And sometimes Portuguese or Korean.

But never German.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On Saturday, Charles and I were petting a dog1 and Charles commented 'Don't you wish you smelled as good as a dog?'

It took me a moment to understand what the hell he meant. Sure, this dog was quite clean (though her breath was awful), but...why would I want to smell like her?

Charles has now been educated as to the difference between 'good' and 'well'. These are different words with different meaning.

Now if only people would learn to adverbalise the rest of their adverbs. These Things Matter.

1 84% wolf, say the owners. I find that very unlikely. 87.5%, maybe.

Monday, May 21, 2007

With this post, May 2007 is my most active month on this blog ever, surpassing October 2004.

I'm also on my longest regular postingness. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (or very shortly past midnight UTC in one instance) for, well, a while now.

Anyway, I just noticed that in 2004, 2005, and 2006, October was my most active month. Probably because I'm all raring to write for NaNo, but can't yet so I blog instead. Maybe. Maybe not.

Of course, my most regular blogging ever was November 2006 on my NaNoWriMo 2006 blog. Nearly every day for a month (I finished early) for a total of 32 posts.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Today I am old enough to be a member of the US Congress. Yesterday I was too young to serve as a representative of the people, despite being older than around 30%of them. I'm still too young to serve as Senator or President, because it would be just awful if people were represented by someone close to their own age.

(I hope this internet doesn't get stuck in clogged tubes for several days. If it does, I apologise for the lateness. It's those damned kids and their MySpaces.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

When I first got my digital camera, I developed an eye for 'That needs to be photographed!' and I tend to be overly liberal with it. Film is free with a digital camera.

Anywhere, before while I saw watching Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, I'd often feel compelled to photograph it. It was rife with photographable things and scenes.

But, damn it! they weren't real things. They were already on video. Peter stole the photographing from me. Nothing for me to do but watch.

Now I'm watching them on my laptop, and while I still don't photograph the screen, I can now take screenshots. It's pointless and stupid, but such a relief to be able to do something like photographing this stuff.

I'm sure there are other crazy photographers out there you can sympathise.

The subtitles show up in the screenshots, though, which annoys me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I once found a little plastic 'walkie-talkie' on the ground. It wasn't a really one--just a simple toy that looked like one: a piece of soft grey plastic (well, two pieces, front and back). It was about the size of a mobile phone and in pretty bad shape. It was splitting along the seam, and the short antenna was falling apart (eventually it fell off entirely). No photo, sadly.

So what did I do with this useless piece of trash? I put it in my pocket and carried it around with me for about a year. During that year, I only had one opportunity to lend someone my 'mobile phone', though it came out once at the Philosophy Club too for some reason. Two years in my pocket for one or two jokes.

Well worth it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pro-gun control people like to ask 'Are you in a militia?' Now, Amendment II doesn't say '...and no one else should have guns', but they almost have a point. But that they have to ask shows their ignorance: I'm a 24-year-old American male. I'm legally required to be in a militia.

I don't want to be. I don't get paid for it. It's not very well-regulated like the National Guard, but I'm in it. I was legally coerced into joining. (They very rarely prosecute you these days, but it's still illegal for me to not sign up, and various nice things to depend on it.)

I don't have or particularly want a gun (though I want the right).

But, yes, I'm in a militia. Until May 20, 2007.

(Almost done with my compulsory military service, and the closest I've come to the military is helping backstage at a ballet performance on base. Whew!)

Friday, May 11, 2007

When dumpster diving, I passed over a lot of towels. Clothes I took, but blankets and towels I skipped, mostly.

Now I'm regretting that. I could be standing outside passing out free towels.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

School's out at ECU!

Friday was the last day of exams, so I popped over there to check out the dumpsters. Nothing great. Some clothes. A working TV (haven't yet tried its built-in VCR). A DVD player (haven't tested it yet). An iron. Some books. Some miscellaneous junk.

But then Commencement was on Sunday. So I went back. Loads of stuff. Mostly mediocre stuff, but that's fine. Two footlockers (each with a broken hinge fixed simply by sliding in a nail), piles and piles of clothes, a blender, an iron, another chair, a fair number of dishes, some untested computer peripherals (including a webcam. I plugged it in (USB) and the computer saw it as something, but it didn't show any signs of life. I need a video cable for it).

On Friday a janitor there told me she'd found two working DVD players that morning.

Anyhoo, not the best year ever, but well worth the two trips to Greenville.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I was riding home when I noticed the speed limit sign said '55 MPH', but the van clock only said 4:33. 'We should accelerate 11.7MPH.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Looking down upon a 19 inch CRT above a fairly-large-but-very-small-seeming laptop. (This time cleverly edited so as not to display my credit card number)
Remember how I added a CRT to my laptop? Well, though I said 19" on that post, it was actually a 17". (I guess. It's smaller than my new monitor, which I'm fairly certain is a 19" and is certianly smaller than my broken 21") However, since I had two unused 19" CRTs sitting around, I just upgraded again. I still can't get to 1600*1200 on the big one, but things are bigger now, which is nice. Probably uses more power, too. Bummer.

Oh, how I wish I could add a third monitor. I have three or four monitors sitting in my closet, two unused downstairs, and one taking up space on the floor of my room.

Anyone want a spare CRT?

UPDATE: It was all blurry--bad dot pitch maybe? I dunno--so I switched to the other 19" CRT and this one can go up to 1792*1344. Wicked! Of course, now I'll have the annoyance of the top monitor being wider (pixel-wise) than the LCD. But I can live with that.

UPDATE MORE: It was all black, so I did run cmd alt+enter alt+enter and it was fixed, but with the scrolling desktop. Apparently it can now only go up to 1600*1200. :-(

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bank of America. Oh oh oh!

Logging in to their online banking system is a pain. Why? Because I know my SSN (used as the username) and I know my password, but they've decided that's not good enough, no. I enter my SSN and then they ask me 'What's your maternal grandmother's maiden name?' Now, I know the answer to this. You could probably figure it out too. Sadly, Bank of America doesn't have a clue, and I don't recall telling them anything but the truth.

So how do I log in? I try answering a few times, and finally it asks my father's middle name. This one I know. This one I know you can find in a matter of minutes using Google. My father goes by his middle name. And Bank of American knows the correct answer to this one. So finally I manage to get in.

By 'in' I mean I'm to the point where I can enter my password.

By the way, if you ever want to be annoying, all you need to do is get to this point and then enter the wrong password a few times.They'll shut down online access to my account until I dig up some silly information and fill it in. Could be worse. My brother had to call them with his account number and a recent transaction--and he was in Germany at the time, meaning he couldn't unless he wished to spend lots of money.

So long as I'm explaining how Bank of America's security sucks, I should mention SiteKey. SiteKey is an image you choose that they show you after you supply your SSN and the answer to the security question. If you see the SiteKey image that you chose when setting up your account, you know it's really Bank of America and you can safely enter your password.

Either that or it's a phishing site that took your SSN and security question answers soon as you provided them, showed them to the real Bank of America, got your SiteKey image, and then showed it to you, defeating this brillant security measure in a matter of seconds.

Okay, so maybe they'll notice if a single phishing site is sending these requests to BoA for every person they fool, but how many of you think this isn't easy to hide sufficiently well to avoid any automatic detection BoA may have set up? Yet another example of fake security. it makes you feel safe, unless you're competent and actually think it through.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I used to tell people to not write down their passwords.

Then I started helping out at a website that only stores hashes of user's passwords, and no password-resetting mechanism. If someone loses their password, I can reset it manually, given proof that they're the actual owner, but I hate doing that, in part because my idea of proof is that you have the password to the account. A site where 0.469980026% of all accounts have the password 'password' and 0.403889085% have the password '1'. A site where there are 34179 passwords among 68088 accounts. Okay, really, these statistics are better than I expected. In fact, I cannot believe I got those queries right. Must be all those people who register and then never log on. They have strong, distinct passwords. The active users don't.

Anyway, they use weak passwords and still they forget their passwords a lot. So now I tell them to write their password down. There are betters ways of doing it. Personally, I want a secure hash I can calculate in my head--and there are some good ideas on how to do something along those lines--but most of these people are youngish kids.

Anyway, this person presented a good argument that struck me. In my pocket, I have 43.19 USD (often over 100USD) and 0.11 Euroes, 47.11 USD on a Barnes and Noble gift card, three credit cards with a total credit line of over 10 000 USD, and keys to my house, van, and truck. Most people probably have much more than that.

If my pocket is secure enough for all that, it's secure enough for my password. Not my GPG passphrase, perhaps, but most passwords aren't worth more than the rest of my wallet. You don't even need to write it down in plaintext. A shift cypher will stop casual thieves. Or a different font (I sometimes take notes in Tolkien's Elvish Tengwar script. I also know most of the Greek alphabet. Studied Russian? Arabic? Mix a couple alphabets together. Use a shorthand of your own. (I have quite a few symbols I made up for taking notes. Surely you have some too?)

If you're really paranoid, encrypt your password with a one-time pad and store the password list somewhere secure and the one-time pad somewhere independently secure. (IE, finding a way to access one will not help me access the other.) Yeah, you still have to memorise your passwords to use them, but the cost of not remembering is now that you only temporarily lose access--just until you go to these two secure areas and combine them--freeing you to use a stronger password than if memorisation was your only recourse. But what I'm mostly concerned with here are the non-security-minded users. Most people don't consider how long it takes the bad guy to guessing their password using a computer. They just think about whether they can remember the password and whether typing it in each time takes too long. Security means keeping unauthorised users out and letting authorised users in. If the security-minded ignore the second half, we miss the priority of the average user, so they ignore our advice.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My laptop on my desk
I see this topic on my laptop LCD.

The uneven legs of a wooden chair.
I hear the chair wobble as I sit on it.

Luca with his mouth wide open. See how empty it is?
I taste the empty mouth of someone who needs to brush his teeth.

Luca's foot resting on a yellow plastic basket.
I feel the plastic beneath my foot.

I smell nothing.