Archive for PEBKAC

The bogeyman from Fort Meade

The Z Man suggests that NSA’s espionage prowess might be the stuff of fantasy and nothing more:

The government buys all of its technology from the private sector. There are things done for the government by private contractors that are not for anyone else, but the government does not have special magic. Further, the government is not getting the best and brightest. There’s way too much money to be made in the private sector for the government to get the best and brightest. The Snowden affair shows you how sloppy this stuff is, even at the highest level.

More important, the volume of data involved is so large there’s simply no way to sort through it in a meaningful way. There are 150 billion e-mails sent every day. That’s 55 trillion e-mails a year. Searching that volume of records for useful data is simply impractical. Throw in the 100 trillion or so phone calls and probably the same number of texts and the volume of data is well beyond what could be useful. That’s why they don’t try, but they’re fine letting people think it. The Feds are relying on the CSI effect to convince the world they can read your mind.

What is this CSI effect?

The CSI effect … is any of several ways in which the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation influences public perception. The term most often refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, thereby raising the effective standard of proof for prosecutors. While this belief is widely held among American legal professionals, some studies have suggested that crime shows are unlikely to cause such an effect, although frequent CSI viewers may place a lower value on circumstantial evidence. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent throughout society, people may also develop higher expectations for the capabilities of forensic technology.

Ever try to defuzz a fuzzy picture the way they do on TV? Not happening, folks. And even if it were, you wouldn’t get a 1000-pixel-wide pastel-colored box on screen that says “Completed.”

Then again, NSA could just be stockpiling all this crap in anticipation of the time when they can do something useful with it.

And, per the dreamiest security person on earth:

Obviously, the most immediate need is for more realistic TV procedurals.

Comments (2)




One tiny tan line

“Who will buy our watches?” asks Apple. A bunch of naked people in the UK, perhaps:

A leading British naturist, speaking on behalf of millions of unclad Britons, has welcomed the announcement of the Apple Watch and claimed the nude folk of Albion will soon be happily strapping it on.

Andrew Welch, spokesman for British Naturism (BN) and Young British Naturism (YBN), said his birthday-suited compatriots would happily don wearable technology, even if they weren’t wearing anything else.

Of course, I approve of this sort of wardrobe. But I admit I didn’t think of this angle:

[T]he primary attraction is not — as some have theorised — the fact that nudists have nowhere to carry their phones or other internet devices, but rather the fact that i- or e-Watches in general do not have built-in cameras.

Although there remains a catch:

[T]he iWatch offers the ability to control an iPhone camera remotely, meaning that nudists’ naked bits could still be targeted by pervy Apple users.

(Via Nudiarist2.)

Comments (1)




No need for speed

Sure, we’d love to sell you a really high-speed, really high-priced Internet service, but only we can judge what is truly fast:

AT&T and Verizon have asked the Federal Communications Commission not to change its definition of broadband from 4Mbps to 10Mbps, saying many Internet users get by just fine at the lower speeds.

“Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine ‘advanced’ capabilities,” AT&T wrote in a filing made public Friday after the FCC’s comment deadline (see FCC proceeding 14-126). “Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions,” AT&T wrote later in its filing. Verizon made similar arguments.

Since American broadband is very much like American health care — pretty damned expensive for what you get — it’s no surprise that the guys who collect the tolls would like to keep their sweet little racket going.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler even suggested in a speech last week that 10Mbps is too low. “A 25Mbps connection is fast becoming ‘table stakes’ in 21st century communications,” he said. At 25Mbps, three-quarters of Americans have, at best, one choice of providers. At 10Mbps, 8.4 percent of Americans have no access, and another 30.3 percent have access from only one provider.

If the definition is kept at 4Mbps, statistics on broadband deployment and competition look a lot better, putting less pressure on telcos to upgrade infrastructure. AT&T and Verizon prefer to keep it that way.

Then again, even Nancy Pelosi, who did as much as anyone in history to fark up American healthcare, is at least coming around on broadband, insisting on the broadest possible definition of net neutrality:

Pelosi wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Monday that Internet service providers should be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act — a step toward stronger regulations that would allow the FCC to more easily prohibit attempts by ISPs to charge other businesses for smoother, faster access to consumers.

“I oppose special Internet fast lanes,” wrote Pelosi. “I believe the FCC should follow the court’s guidance and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II.”

Hang on to your routers, folks. This could get nasty.

Comments (1)




From the baud old days

If thine broadband be broader than mine, then do say it:

But there are a lot of those old steam-powered modems still in service.

Comments off




Sweeter than fiction

While following up on something tweeted by @SwiftOnSecurity, I stumbled across this statement posted by the person behind the account:

Taylor Swift’s image in large parts of popular culture is as the foolish, prolific romantic — that her experiences are her own fault and she’s somehow quick to complain about it. Unfortunately, playing off this is the easiest way to appeal to a wide audience and promote the account. Taylor Swift is a public figure open to parody but it’s something I don’t feel is particularly fair to her or the picture of women in general. I’ll continue to use light traces of this reputation, but it’s not something I particularly embrace.

Second, the account is written from the perspective of its subject living both her life and that of a legitimate professional in Information Technology/Information Security. The position and treatment of women in this sector is a common discussion point and open to criticism. Emphasis on femininity being a distraction or primary theme is something that doesn’t fit in this climate. First and foremost she is a professional, but one with a public image to play off and make references to. This keeps the character a good place to air my own musing on information security.

There is precedent for this: see, for instance, Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics. The peculiar genius of @SwiftOnSecurity is that those two perspectives intertwine so effectively, the reader is somehow able to contemplate the coming (well, they are) InfoWars while presented with the image of a singer who used to have more twang, didn’t she? A perfect example: “Just because I’m vulnerable doesn’t mean I’m exploitable.”

And here are some of the best Swifties, posterized for your viewing pleasure.

Comments off




I never quite get tired of these

Of course, the people responsible for the signs are definitely sick of this sort of thing:

Electronic sign needs reboot

This sign is in Spring Valley, Nevada, an unincorporated area (with almost 200,000 people) west of the Las Vegas Strip.

(Via Rebecca Black, who owns a Mac.)

Comments (2)




It is, after all, legal

Microsoft delivers lots of hotfixes — there are, after all, lots of things that need to be fixed — but you might think they’d back away from a scenario like this:

  • You have the uTorrent client (or other high speed file transfer applications) installed on a computer that’s running one of the following operating systems [list in original];
  • You use an RNDIS USB device which implements the Remote Network Driver Interface Specification (RNDIS) 6.0 driver version.

When you download uTorrent content through the RNDIS 6.0 connection in this scenario, you receive Stop error 0xD1.

Some of us may react reflexively: “Ewww, torrents!” Redmond, not so much: they’ve issued a hotfix for the Microsoft RNDIS driver, although they caution that you shouldn’t install it unless you’re having that specific problem.

(For those of you who wondered why I was following @SwiftOnSecurity, it’s for stuff like this.)

Comments off




Persistence of intrusion

If you look at anything anywhere on the Web, sooner or later you’ll see an ad for it — and sometimes much, much later:

I fervently wish that the advertising bots would realize that, once I’ve made an online purchase, I’m done. You can quit sending me info about wristwatches, I bought one. Don’t show me any other mattresses, I bought one (ask me how it was shipped, dayum I didn’t know you could do that). I bought a set of ATV tires, it’ll take years to wear them out, so leave me alone. I could continue, but I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re not really benefiting anyone by the deluge, so far as I see.

Then again, if the ad purveyors could actually know that you’d closed the deal, it’s also possible that certain individuals of dubious integrity also could know that, and could theoretically turn that knowledge to their advantage — though it’s probably more likely that their less technically-oriented peers would just break into the house.

Comments (2)




Digital squatters

The ultimate word on that “digital natives” crap, from Lynn:

I keep reading this stuff about how today’s kids, teens, and twenty-somethings are “digital natives” — that they have never known a world in which there were no computers or cell phones and therefore they are almost like a different species from us older folk who just don’t quite “get” all this new technology. The truth is that in all age groups there are both technophiles and technophobes, just as in every generation there are people who can work on cars and people to whom anything mechanical is mysterious and confusing.

People my age who grew up watching Star Trek have been waiting for these gadgets for over half our lives. I wanted a smart phone years before the things even existed. The smartest and most ambitious did not wait. They made it all happen. Digital natives? My generation created this digital world we live in now. What does that make us?

All else being equal, the person who gets credit for something these days is the person who, in the judgment of the individual writing the article about it, most resembles the individual writing the article about it. Who would have though there could be such a thing as shared narcissism?

I’ve never seen anyone my age who couldn’t learn this stuff, given time and a little bit of effort, and that remains true even as my age spirals out of sight. We may be mere digital immigrants, but I’m betting we take our citizenship more seriously, if only because we never took it for granted.

Comments (10)




Today’s security tip

How to handle a certain delicate situation with one’s phone, explained by Jack Baruth:

Two years ago, I had the USB port on my Motorola Droid4 fail. That meant that once the battery died, I wouldn’t be able to use the phone at all, and since the battery in the Droid4 is installed with screws and a very delicate connector, I wouldn’t be able to easily change the battery for a charged one. The problem with this is that I didn’t know the USB port had failed until the phone died.

I had a $50 insurance plan that I could use to get a replacement phone. The problem was that I had a bunch of photos that a female friend had sent me on that phone. I’d been keeping them for reasons of sentimentality/laziness. Sending the phone into the insurance provider would hand over a dozen nude photos of a woman who had a professional image to protect. And since she was in my contacts, they’d have her name and contact information.

I sat down and thought about it for a while. Then I went out to my front porch and hit the phone with a Craftsman hammer until it was in little pieces. Then I went out and bought another phone.

Well done, sir. In the unlikely event that someone sends me such a photo, I will keep this available for reference.

Comments (4)




Non-returnable, non-disposable

This never, ever happened with a 59-cent GE SoftWhite 60-watt:

Fortunately, I still have a couple of dozen of those ancient devices.

Comments (3)




Officiously speaking

I was not fond of OpenOffice 4, and have rolled back to 3.4.1, which had never given me any grief. Will Truman has temporarily thrown in with the LibreOffice partisans. However, he doesn’t share my antipathy for the dominant office suite:

For the most part, I don’t miss Microsoft Office. The problem is … Google.

Google’s Android apps … don’t read ODF files. There is a third-party app that can read them capably, one that can edit them clumsily, and one that can edit documents but not spreadsheets. It’s all harder than with regular MS Office docs, however, where there are multiple apps that can edit them well.

If Google were to offer support within Drive, that would be remarkably convenient. Not just for my phone, where I wouldn’t be doing anything non-major, but for the desktop as well. Their refusal to support ODF files is maddening.

This is almost, but not quite, as weird as Ford’s original SYNC system, developed with Microsoft, which worked better with iPods than it did with Zunes.

Comments (2)




Marginally refillable

You’d think that in this putative era of Medical Marvels we could do better than this:

Got a letter from Walgreens, a form letter out of a computer, but an actual printed-on-paper, delivered-by-snail-mail letter the other day. It’s telling me that one of my prescriptions has expired, and the doctor hasn’t stepped up and authorized any more. All this requesting and authorizing is done with fax machines, so if the doc is going to authorize more drugs for me, he’s going to need the fax number. Well, where is it? It’s not in the letter, it’s not on their website, so I call, fight with the robo-cop answering machine, wade through an armload of protocol with the operator and finally get the fax number. Call the doctor’s office and they tell me they don’t need the fax number, all this prescription s*** is handled electronically now.

I am particularly concerned because I’m at a place about one step in back of this: everything going in and coming out on my behalf is fax, even if it’s that weird-looking electronic fax that’s sent as TIFF files or something, and I have about ten prescriptions to deal with every month.

Comments (3)




Over made over

It’s no accident that the optical storage medium with the shortest lifespan is the CD-Rewritable. What can we learn from this?

Comments (2)




To be a Rick, and not to roll

I sense a disturbance in the Humor Force:

YouTube has restricted access to a seven-year-old video upload that spawned the still-popular RickRoll meme, in which people trick others into watching [Rick] Astley shimmy in his cheesy “Never Gonna Give You Up” clip.

Simply titled “RickRoll’D,” the video was uploaded by YouTube user cotter548 and has amassed nearly 71 million views. It has been blocked by YouTube in several countries, including the United States.

The video-sharing giant did not immediately respond to request for comment on the takedown, which happened once before, albeit briefly, in 2012.

I have to believe this is a temporary measure, and that Rick has not in fact deserted us.

Comments (4)




Since it’s Tuesday and all

Hey, Windows Update, do you think you’re up to this kind of dialogue?

Then again, why am I asking you?

(Retweeted in my general direction by Annemarie Dooling.)

Comments (2)




No, he did it

The Verizon/Netflix dustup continues with fingers pointing in both directions. Are there any semi-disinterested third parties who could comment? Why, yes, there are:

David Young, Vice President, Verizon Regulatory Affairs recently published a blog post suggesting that Netflix themselves are responsible for the streaming slowdowns Netflix’s customers have been seeing. But his attempt at deception has backfired. He has clearly admitted that Verizon is deliberately constraining capacity from network providers like Level 3 who were chosen by Netflix to deliver video content requested by Verizon’s own paying broadband consumers.

His explanation for Netflix’s on-screen congestion messages contains a nice little diagram. The diagram shows a lovely uncongested Verizon network, conveniently color-coded in green. It shows a network that has lots of unused capacity at the most busy time of the day. Think about that for a moment: Lots of unused capacity. So point number one is that Verizon has freely admitted that [it] has the ability to deliver lots of Netflix streams to broadband customers requesting them, at no extra cost. But, for some reason, Verizon has decided that it prefers not to deliver these streams, even though its subscribers have paid it to do so.

Take, for example, the connection in Los Angeles:

All of the Verizon FiOS customers in Southern California likely get some of their content through this interconnection location. It is in a single building. And boils down to a router Level 3 owns, a router Verizon owns and four 10Gbps Ethernet ports on each router. A small cable runs between each of those ports to connect them together.

Verizon has confirmed that everything between that router in their network and their subscribers is uncongested — in fact has plenty of capacity sitting there waiting to be used. Above, I confirmed exactly the same thing for the Level 3 network. So in fact, we could fix this congestion in about five minutes simply by connecting up more 10Gbps ports on those routers. Simple. Something we’ve been asking Verizon to do for many, many months, and something other providers regularly do in similar circumstances. But Verizon has refused. So Verizon, not Level 3 or Netflix, causes the congestion. Why is that? Maybe they can’t afford a new port card because they’ve run out — even though these cards are very cheap, just a few thousand dollars for each 10 Gbps card which could support 5,000 streams or more. If that’s the case, we’ll buy one for them. Maybe they can’t afford the small piece of cable between our two ports. If that’s the case, we’ll provide it. Heck, we’ll even install it.

I subscribe to neither Verizon services nor to Netflix, but this issue is of interest to me because my Web services provider is in Los Angeles, and they have to hand off to a third-party provider like Level 3 — though not Level 3 itself, specifically, according to the last tracert I ran — before my local ISP can pick it up.

(Via SwiftOnSecurity.)

Comments (2)




Backup on the front line

We in the Brotherhood of Bytes — which, despite its name, contains a fair number of sisters — hold this truth to be self-evident:

Businesses are predicated on dividing work into little bitty pieces, each of which are simple and obvious.

Working with computers requires a higher level of abstract thinking. This is something most businessmen do not understand and do not know how to handle.

Some actually seem to resent it. (We don’t have this problem at 42nd and Treadmill, largely because we tend to lack the tendency to remind people of our indispensability.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that any of us have any business running a business, either.

Computer geeks that keep the virtual gears turning smoothly have no such visible value. If things are working smoothly, well, we must not need the computer geeks.

I think the key is to manufacture a crisis every so often and then make a big show of having to work extremely hard to put things right.

I’ve never had to manufacture a crisis. And truth be told, I’d just as soon make it look easy, and give the users the sense of “Aw, crap, how come I can’t learn that?”

Comments (3)




Days of yore.dat

Prodigy iconI was there, and by “there” I mean “here, at this desk, logged in,” when Prodigy Classic was put out of its misery just after 11:59 pm on the first of November, 1999. Of course, I’d warned about that several months earlier:

The real disappointment, at least to me, comes not with the announcement of the termination of the service — it had been expected for some time — but with the management’s willingness to blame everything on Y2k. It is no doubt true that Prodigy’s proprietary technologies are not fixable for Y2k; however, Y2k is just the tip of the iceberg. The core of the Prodigy software is ten years old. By the standards of the Net, it’s Fred Flintstone stuff.

We have now discovered that Y2k was, at best, a convenient excuse:

After that shutdown, loyal Prodigy customers, who had hung on to the bitter end, were suspicious about the stated reasons for the closing. And they were mad. Fifteen years later, we can now confirm that their suspicions were correct: “As far as I know, Prodigy Classic being shut down was not influenced by Y2K issues,” recalls [Michael] Doino, the Prodigy employee who actually pulled the plug on the service in 1999.

Where is that enormous amount of data, anyway? Much of it has probably evaporated; the way P* assembled pages, using cached bits from here and there, makes it darn near impossible to trace. And yet:

Fifteen years later, a Prodigy enthusiast named Jim Carpenter has found an ingenious way to bring some of that data back from the dead. With a little bit of Python code and some old Prodigy software at hand, Carpenter, working alone, recently managed to partially reverse-engineer the Prodigy client and eke out some Prodigy content that was formerly thought to have been lost forever.

The ultimate goal of all this? “Some day,” Carpenter says, “I’d like to create something to emulate the Prodigy backend and serve up requested objects to the client.”

I was in my usual chat room when the last goodbye came; I’ve kept about 16k of that room’s final chatter. (Hey, it’s only 15 years old; I have email older than that.)

Comments off




What is this

CAPTCHA: icant even

(Via Rebecca Black.)

Comments (3)




Expert timing

I remember both ends of this equation entirely too well:

I asked him if he remembered a particular Commodore 64 file, about fourteen seconds of the Carl Douglas dance classic “Kung Fu Fighting,” which used every single one of the 38911 bytes set aside for BASIC programs plus several K more. Of course he had, and he directed me toward this loop:

Now the C64’s SID chip was capable of more than the usual electronics bloops and bleeps — it was just this side of a full-fledged synth — but I had never imagined that it could do that. Now we have music files that use more disk space than used to be available on hard drives.

Comments off




And sitteth at the left hand of .GOP

This passes for Republican strategy, or strategery, these days:

The Republican Party has come into the Internet age, just barely, or is at least cynically attempting to acknowledge the existence of the Internet by allowing young people to pour money into the RNC’s coffers one $20.16 domain name at a time (yes, $20.16). Or they’re just screwing with everyone and distracting the wider Interwebs by challenging them to find every last domain name on the RNC’s .GOP block list (for the record, porn.GOP was not available, even though all we were going to do with it is put up a black screen and make some awkward shuffling noises).

Does this mean we can expect to see Republicans In Domain Name Only? [Answer: yes.]

Comments (4)




We compel your click

I spotted this ad on Fimfiction Saturday night. This isn’t exactly a replica of the site’s new-direct-message indicator, but I’m thinking it’s close enough to lure in the unwary:

Ad for MailViewer

And Saturday night being what Saturday night usually is, unwariness was probably rampant.

Comments off




Orkut out

Google has decreed that Orkut, a ten-year-old social network created by one of its staffers, must die:

Ten years ago, Orkut was Google’s first foray into social networking. Built as a “20 percent” project, Orkut communities started conversations, and forged connections, that had never existed before. Orkut helped shape life online before people really knew what “social networking” was.

Over the past decade, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world. Because the growth of these communities has outpaced Orkut’s growth, we’ve decided to bid Orkut farewell (or, tchau). We’ll be focusing our energy and resources on making these other social platforms as amazing as possible for everyone who uses them.

Orkut is in fact a week and a half older than Facebook.

It’s “tchau,” of course, because nearly half of Orkut’s users were Brazilian; in 2008, in recognition of this fact, Google moved management of Orkut to its Brazilian outpost in Belo Horizonte. I suspect that this is why about 15 percent of the spam I get is in Portuguese.

Incidentally, Orkut was named after its founder: Orkut Büyükkökten, a Google software engineer and product manager, who came up with the idea during his 20% time, another Google concept on its deathbed.

Orkut is no longer accepting new memberships, and the service will be closed at the end of September, though Google says the community archives will be preserved online.

Comments (1)




Less of a Hoot

I’ve looked into HootSuite once or twice, to the extent that Google’s ad tentacles managed to shovel promotions for it into my Web surfing for several weeks, but I never quite bought the premise, or the package. And after hearing Mack Collier’s story, it’s just as well:

Now normally I hate these “give us a tweet and we’ll give you this” offers, but I do use and like HootSuite, and I have been curious about trying out HootSuite Pro, so I decided to send the tweet. And as promised, I immediately received my email telling me how to get my 60 days of HootSuitePro for free.

Whereupon they told him: it would be added onto his existing HootSuite Pro account — you know, the one he didn’t have yet.

Mack Collier says:

I see this sort of stunt all the time, and it doesn’t build brand loyalty, it builds brand distrust.

And it motivates customers to write about how they were shafted by the deal, which in turn builds brand distrust among non-customers.

Subsequently, HootSuite’s Offer Manager came on to explain what was supposed to be happening, and admitted that maybe the wording wasn’t ideal. All new users of HootSuite, he said, were routinely offered a thirty-day trial; this promotion was intended merely to double the length of the offer.

If there’s a lesson in this, it’s perhaps that firms with mad tech skillz are not equally adept at presenting their products — and that a “What does this mean?” note, sent to the correct person (if you can find the correct person), goes a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings.

Comments (1)




Conceal of disapproval

Upon putting the new Windows 7 box into service, I announced that several pieces of software from the XP days would not run, including Adobe Photoshop Elements — “though this is my fault: I can’t find the original installation DVD.”

It’s no longer my fault. I finally found the original installation DVD; but it won’t install on a W7 box. (This is Home Premium, not the Professional version, so I don’t have the option of running it in a virtual XP machine.) Thanks, Adobe.

Comments (2)




Beware of geeks bearing GIFs

Why, they might not actually be GIFs at all:

Twitter started supporting animated GIFs. But there’s a catch! What Twitter ends up showing you isn’t actually a GIF at all. EVERYBODY PAAANIIIIIIC.

Note: don’t actually panic. This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary.

As noticed by the folks over at Embedly, the “GIFs” that end up in your Twitter feed aren’t actually GIFs at all. They’re technically not even really image files in a strict sense — they’re more like video files without sound. They’re MP4s, embedded with the HTML5 video tag. Even if you upload a GIF, it’s converted into an MP4.

And why is this good? Embedly explains:

GIFs are terrible at compression… A GIF is literally a sequence of independent images squeezed into the same file. An mp4 video can take advantage of all kinds of fancy compression techniques like keyframes and forward-predictive frames.

If most of your users are on mobile, this is a huge win. Even desktop users will notice better performance on a page with many GIFs.

(Via this Adam Gurri tweet.)

Comments (3)




Oy

There exists an app called Yo. What does it do, exactly?

Yo is the hottest new app that will leave you scratching your head. The entire premise of the app is to send other users a single word: Yo.

Yo currently has over 50,000 active users, after launching as a joke on April Fools’ Day. Users have sent over 4 million Yo’s to each other. Without ever having officially launched, co-founder and CEO Or Arbel managed to secure $1.2 million in funding from a list of unnamed investors, except for co-founder, angel, and Mobli CEO Moshe Hogeg, who participated in the round.

If you think you need this like the hole in the head you just scratched, well, the idea here is not so much the Yo, but the context of the Yo:

You’re at a bar with your best friend and a love interest. Both put a hand on your shoulder when they talk to you. From the outside, it all looks the same. But there’s a big difference between the comfortable touch of a close friend and the explorative graze of someone you may very well have sex with soon.

The next morning, your friend and your crush send you the exact same text. It says simply “Hey.” From your old pal, “hey” just means hey. But from your sexy friend, “hey” can mean anything from “last night was fun” to “I’m still thinking about you this morning.”

As with anything, a “Yo” can just be a yo. But you’ll feel a very real difference between a “Yo” you get in the morning from a friend and a “Yo” you get at 2 a.m. from a friend with benefits. Trust me.

Last night after I’d drafted this, I got a one-word spam, and that one word was “hey.” I have no idea what it means.

If we have to have a single syllable that’s fraught with meaning, I nominate a better one: “Dude.”

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet. It should be noted here that the Knights Who Say “Ni” were not consulted.)

Comments (4)




Testing Turing’s test

Chatbots have been around forever, or at least since the birth of ELIZA back in the 1960s, and we all know how that worked out:

ELIZA’s key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word “MOTHER” with “TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY”). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as “intelligent”. Thus the key technique here — which characterises a program as a chatbot rather than as a serious natural language processing system — is the production of responses that are sufficiently vague and non-specific that they can be understood as “intelligent” in a wide range of conversational contexts. The emphasis is typically on vagueness and unclarity, rather than any conveying of genuine information.

There are, of course, examples that don’t actually involve software. For instance:

Think of the way the average politician responds to the average reporter’s question about a scandal in which he or she is involved. The responses are in the form of regular human speech, but they are pre-scripted and designed to carry the form of human speech without fulfilling its function, i.e., explain why campaign contributions got spent at a strip joint. They are instead designed to divert attention from the scandal in the same way that a chatbot is designed to fool people that it is a real live incredibly attractive member of the opposite sex who wants to interact with you and lives just a few miles away.

Some people disparage lower-level members of the current administration as “Obamabots.” This is, however, exactly those members’ designated function; operatives have had this function in administrations nearly as long as there have been administrations.

Comments (3)




This needs to happen

I suppose it’s redundant if your editor stores, or at least references, an actual date for each line, but if not, this is the way to go:

How about an editor that color codes the age of particular lines of source code? You have a piece of source that has been around for a while, either it’s under development or it needs some changes. Wouldn’t be nice if the older lines, lines of code that have proven themselves to be useful and correct were given a dark gray background, newer lines could be given a white background, and lines that have been changed umpteen zillion times a red background?

“Piece of source,” at least in some shops I could name, is usually shortened to “POS,” as in “Who the hell added that extra loop into this POS?”

Comments (1)