Mimsy Were the Borogoves

For the wisdom of the wise are the criterion of your madness.

Security is hard, and 2FA is not the answer—Wednesday, March 20th, 2019
Air travel touchless fingerprint detector

Another part of the problem is trying to take the human factor out security. In this image from Homeland Security, for example, turning an in-person security check into a remote security check.

I’ve become a one-note-Cassandra about identity authentication, especially insecurity questions and their subset, out-of-wallet questions. I even tried to create an insecurity-questions tag on StackOverflow, adding the tag to several related questions in the hope of getting some outside-the-box thinking done. It failed, probably justifiably so—I’ve been on StackExchange for several years now, but really don’t understand how the system works.

Often, when this topic comes up, someone in the comments—or even the blog author—suggests two-factor authentication as the answer—even in this article at KrebsOnSecurity detailing the dangers of phone authentication. I have never done so. For one, it doesn’t even make sense. Taken literally, it’s a non-sequitur. Two-factor authentication means that the person needs to know both their password and have some other identifying factor, and insecurity questions are technically meant for when someone does not know their password.

The suggestion makes more sense, however, when you realize that the real problem is trust, and that 2FA inevitably devolves to ½FA at the drop of an appropriate sob story.

In many ways, despite the claims of incredible divides today, we trust far too much. Banks still hand out checks, meant to be given to third parties, that contain all of the information needed to drain checking accounts. Every time we write a check, we are implicitly trusting that the person we give the check to, as well as everyone in the chain of handling the check, on down to the people who trash it or shred it, can be trusted with full access to our money. And don’t think you’re above the problem because you don’t write checks; the information that matters is the information you give to every system that offers to put money into your checking account. The same information that puts money into your account can take money out of your account.

When you enter that information into PayPal, or Amazon, or whatever other service gives you money, you’re adding not just everyone in the chain of handling the information, as with a check, but also everyone who programmed their database systems.1

Apple swings privacy out of the park—Monday, March 18th, 2019

This is the best Apple ad I’ve seen in a long time. It rivals their rip-mix-burn ad from the music encryption wars. (For extra credit, count the number of walls in this video.)

This is possibly my favorite Apple ad since Rip. Mix. Burn. It forcefully states the obvious, yet it’s an obvious that too many people, especially people in power, are trying to make us believe is wrong. That truth is what they say, rather than what we see.

And they’re going to keep torturing us until we believe the lie rather than the obvious truth our eyes are showing us. Privacy, like owning music in 2001, is not dead yet, nor does it have to die.

This TRS-80—Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

“There are many TRS-80’s in the world. But this one is mine.”

Perfect lemon pie for Pi Day—Wednesday, March 13th, 2019
Whole perfect lemon pie

Meringue is perfect for pi day because it’s all about the volume.

Tomorrow is Pi Day, and to celebrate, you should have erudite circular discussions of mathematical philosophy, over a sector of pie. I’m generally partial to fruit pies or nut pies, but every once in a while I have a craving for a good lemon meringue.

Until recently, custards have always bedeviled me. I never seem to cook them long enough, no matter how long I wait. Because of my impatience, the custard ends up too runny or burnt. I’ve been doing a lot better lately, and mainly because of the incredible Southern Living Cookbook Library series. The Holiday volume has an amazing almond-silk pie, for example. The Food & Wine series has also been helpful—you can see the edge of their annual collection in the previous post but I’ll have more about that later.

So when I saw that this lemon meringue pie from the Fondue and Buffet volume of the series was labeled Perfect Lemon Meringue, it was impossible to pass up even if the name does seem guaranteed to disappoint. What in this world is perfect? This pie comes close. It is in fact very easy. And it is easily the best lemon meringue pie I’ve ever made. It manages to make the dangerous part of lemon pie, the filling, easier, at least for me.

Let them eat solar—Wednesday, March 6th, 2019
SDO lunar transit

A giant ball of fusion in the sky pouring out more energy than we could ever use, and we’re nowhere near figuring out how to tap into it.

Outside of medicine, one of the areas where the government funding capture that Eisenhower warned us of hurts us most is the search for alternative energy. Wind and solar energy have a thousand-year head start on oil and natural gas, and yet they’re still extraordinarily inefficient and expensive. If we’re going to find alternatives to fossil fuels, whether among those or other sources, we absolutely must look in different, unexpected directions. This is exactly the sort of thing government bureaucrats are very, very bad at. I’m not sure there’s any research where government funding helps,1 but the fields where it doesn’t hurt too much all involve us already knowing the science and needing merely to implement it.

We don’t yet know what the science will look like that will give us successful alternative energy. But in order to provide subsidies and funding, legislatures and their bureaucracies must create definitions. They must define what it means to be wind power, or solar power. They must define what it means to be alternative. Those definitions will exclude anything outside of the definition. In other words, government funding by its nature must exclude new ideas, ideas that haven’t been thought of yet. New ideas won’t fit the definitions. But new ideas are where we’ll find the breakthroughs that create successful alternative energy sources.

Whoever makes that breakthrough will be rich, but only over the long term, and government funding now swamps long-term benefits later. Given a million in one chance of millions of dollars in the future, compared with a high chance of thousands or tens of thousands or millions of dollars right now, sane researchers are going to choose the immediate government funding rather than the risky potential breakthrough. This means that whatever avenues government bureaucrats define as valid are where research and development will happen. Even if they’re dead ends.

Senator Kamala Harris calls for slavery reparations—Monday, February 25th, 2019
Senator Harris Debt to Lincoln

“Democrats need to end their love affair with human trafficking,” said the Senator.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) in an interview last week called on blacks to repay the descendants of those Americans who died ensuring their freedom. Harris said on the popular radio show “The Breakfast Club” that a million and a half men, mostly white, risked their lives in the Civil War to ensure the freedom of blacks. At least 600,000 died or were wounded fighting to end the slave policy that Democrats fought so hard to retain.

“Those lives represent a debt blacks in America can never fully repay,” said Harris, a first-generation California descendant of a Tamil mother and Jamaican father, “but they should try.”

According to Harris, Democrats should share the cost of reparations. “Democrats tried at every stage to undermine President Lincoln, whether those Democrats took up arms in the south to defend slavery or whether they used deep-state tactics in the north to weaken Lincoln’s administration,” said Harris at a campaign rally in Los Angeles. “And looking at what they’re doing to the latest Republican president, Democrats haven’t changed much. They’re still trying to keep blacks on plantations, still trying to import slaves from across the border.”

Many observers praised Harris for her bravery. Journalist Emeritus Hark Thrice told the Reader, “Senator Harris told her audience of mostly Democrats that anyone who is a Democrat today or who votes for Democrats knowingly shares in the Democrats' responsibility for slavery. That’s a very brave position for a Democrat primary candidate to take.”

Peer to peer email from 1980—Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
PT-210 Portable Data Terminal

Early text messaging?

I’m going through the first year of 80 microcomputing and in the March 1980 issue, Wayne Green starts out his monthly rant—which was far less rantish than he was known for—by describing his vision of the future of email:

My concept of EM runs something like this: The time is well on its way when a microcomputer/terminal will be on most business desks and in most homes. I’ll be able to type in a message, using the telephone number as an address. This message will then be sent to the addressee via telephone lines almost immediately.

My system will dial the number and if it’s busy, it will continue to check the number every minute or so. When the line is free, the system will send a tone that prevents the phone from ringing on the other end and actuates the EM unit.

After the system receives a handshake signal, tell the other unit how many bits of information are forthcoming, send the message, await an okay, and hang both up. Time, at 1200 baud, perhaps one minute.

The EM unit on the other end will have a light indicating an awaiting message. This can be read when convenient and a response made… all within a minute or two, if needed.

On the one hand, I could make fun of him for thinking, pre-Internet, that email would be like everyone having a bulletin board system. On the other, this is a damn cool setup.

BBSs already existed in 1980, though they were far from their mid-90s peak; it is interesting that his vision was not a store-and-forward system using BBSs. Everyone knew the home and office phone numbers of their friends and colleagues; everyone did not know person@BBS. And, of course, his vision also emulates the answering machine of the time, but merges them with FAX systems1 so that neither the caller nor the sender need to be at the telephone to communicate.

His vision was asynchronous. Unlike synchronous tasks such as going to the Post Office or the DMV, asynchronism vastly speeds up communication. Because, as he noted, neither the sender nor the receiver have to coordinate anything.

House on Crane Hill at North Texas 2019—Wednesday, February 13th, 2019
Belle Grove through cypress

The sky is grey toward the sea. The water beats steadily against the high grass, and a low mist rolls across the waves toward you.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

Recently, you have each been contacted by Dr. Jean deMontagne, some of you directly, some of you after a friend recommended you, to take a seaside vacation at Delarosa Manor, which the locals call Crane House, forty miles up the coast from Crosspoint between King’s Head and Jackson Village. You should set out on Monday, November 2, and thus arrive on November 3 or 4.

This is a working vacation. Dr. deMontagne asks that you search the house for a small, brass coffer once owned by Louis Merrikitt and marked with two strange symbols. He offers you ten shillings each to compensate you for that small task, and he offers another hundred for the coffer, should you find it. He tells you that the manor is yours for the month of November as you wish, although the actual task should take no more than a day or two.

House on Crane Hill is a haunted house adventure inspired not just by Shirley Jackson’s amazing story but also by her many imitators1, some good, some bad, and some horrorble. I have been fascinated by haunted house stories ever since I read the Hell House rip-off in Werewolf by Night back in the seventies—a comic I still read from time to time. These stories don’t just hint at a fundamental weakness in reality. They shove it down our throats. It took a long time for me to get around to reading the source for them all, but once I read The Haunting of Hill House I was hooked on Shirley Jackson, too.

Older posts.