Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Quick, guess my SSN!

July 6, 2009 1 comment

This is wonderful. Algorithmically generating SSNs based on birth date and place is kind of feasible:

The accuracy of these algorithms is positively disturbing. Using a separate pool of data from the Death Master File, the authors were able to get the first five digits right for seven percent of those with an SSN assigned before 1988; after that, the success rate goes up to a staggering 44 percent. For a smaller state, like Vermont, they could get it right over 90 percent of the time.

Getting the last four digits right was substantially harder. The authors used a standard of getting the whole SSN right within 10 tries, and could only manage that about 0.1 percent of the time even in the later period. Still, small states were somewhat easier—for Delaware in 1996, they had a five percent success rate.

That may still seem moderately secure if it weren’t for some realities of the modern online world. The authors point out that many credit card verification services, recognizing the challenges of data entry from illegible forms, may allow up to two digits of the SSN to be wrong, provided the date and place of birth are accurate. They often allow several failed verification attempts per IP address before blacklisting it. Given these numbers, the authors estimate that even a moderate-sized botnet of 10,000 machines could successfully obtain identity verifications for younger residents of West Virginia at a rate of 47 a minute.

I predict someone will make a Facebook app out of this and trick people into giving out their SSNs (“why yes, that is my SSN!”).

Categories: Tech

Twitter is indefensible

April 28, 2009 2 comments

Matt Yglesias tries to defend using Twitter for political commentary. Is it just me, or is “blame the user, not the medium” pretty weak? No medium can make a bad commentator good, but it can certainly be ill-suited to a task. No one is tweeting investigative journalism.

Claire McCaskill claims she uses it to “drive thought and discussion.” I dare you to reconcile that with what’s there right now. There are comments about her schedule, personal comments, and approximately four comments that you could claim drive discussion. One of them is a one word comment on Specter (“Wow”) and another is a generic statement of support for Kathleen Sebelius. So I see two defensible comments. Out of twenty.

McCaskill also claim it’s a way of staying “connected.” That’s dubious and has a significant downside: her followers are more connected to her. Personally connected, given the contents of her feed. That makes them less objective when it comes to evaluating her job performance, which means she can get away with more. Maybe it’s a small effect, but being connected isn’t necessarily a plus for rational evaluation.

I don’t really care if members of Congress want to use Twitter. I have a (seldom used) Twitter account. It’s amusing. But let’s not pretend it’s a useful source of information from politicians or political commentators.

Categories: Congress, Culture, Tech


January 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Just a few months late, I downloaded Google Chrome today. Seems pretty slick. Switching tabs seems snappier than Firefox, too. It’s a little unnerving to have that many chrome.exe processes in my task manager, but that’s not really much of a complaint.

The biggest hiccup so far has been that it hung when it tried to import my search settings from Firefox. I had to open Firefox to get the window to opt out of the import before I could open the browser. Then I imported all of my settings except for search engines and it worked fine.

Categories: Tech


December 17, 2008 1 comment

I think this is a great idea.

Also, this is amusing. “If programming languages were cars” is still better, but this one’s good, too:

Lisp would be Zen Buddhism – There is no syntax, there is no centralization of dogma, there are no deities to worship. The entire universe is there at your reach – if only you are enlightened enough to grasp it. Some say that it’s not a language at all; others say that it’s the only language that makes sense.

Perl would be Voodoo – An incomprehensible series of arcane incantations that involve the blood of goats and permanently corrupt your soul. Often used when your boss requires you to do an urgent task at 21:00 on friday night.

Ruby would be Neo-Paganism – A mixture of different languages and ideas that was beaten together into something that might be identified as a language. Its adherents are growing fast, and although most people look at them suspiciously, they are mostly well-meaning people with no intention of harming anyone.

Python would be Humanism: It’s simple, unrestrictive, and all you need to follow it is common sense. Many of the followers claim to feel relieved from all the burden imposed by other languages, and that they have rediscovered the joy of programming. There are some who say that it is a form of pseudo-code.

Categories: Religion, Silliness, Tech

Computer science

December 9, 2008 Leave a comment

I was reading this interview with Bjarne Stroustrup (via /.) and it got me thinking about my own CS education at Montana State.

I came into the CS program having done little more than HTML and a chapter of a Java book. That first Java program (after “hello, world,” of course) was one where when my brother’s name was entered in a prompt it printed “you suck” and when anyone else’s name was entered it printed “you’re cool.” Good times.
Read more…

Categories: Personal, Tech

Switching back

December 1, 2008 2 comments

Perhaps it was a function of being distracted and depressed after reading The Road yesterday evening, but this morning I came to the conclusion that I should switch back to Windows.

I’ve been running Ubuntu for the past two years or so as my primary OS (dual booting XP, however). I don’t regret it; there’s a lot I like about Ubuntu and the Linux software ecosystem (there’s probably a better term for what I’m describing). A quick rundown:

1. Package management. Synaptic in particular. I can’t express how much I love repositories and package management. The ability to search for a piece of software and have the ability to install, uninstall, reinstall, etc with the click of a button is fantastic.

2. The shell environment. The Windows command line sucks. It’s almost completely useless to me. Linux’s shell environment is the opposite. That’s largely due to having used it daily for the last two and a half years (and often in the four years before that), but it allows me to do certain tasks quickly and efficiently and that’s what I want.

3. Amarok. There’s lots of Linux software I like and some that I like more than anything on Windows. Amarok is more than that. It’s far and away the best music application I’ve used on any platform. It does exactly what I want it to and it’s easy to use. There are good Windows music applications (like Foobar2k), but as far as I’m concerned Amarok beats them hands down.

4. Open source culture. Who doesn’t like free shit? More seriously, while there’s lots of open source software for Windows, it’s still a closed OS and doesn’t encourage as much open source development.

There are other little things, but that’s the gist of why I like using Ubuntu. I was tempted to put Gnome on there, but it’s honestly not a huge improvement over XP (and I wasn’t particularly impressed with KDE, when it was stable on my machine). So why am I switching?

Most of the problems Ben lists here, really. Multimedia is a huge to me. X is annoying and slow. Audio is a mess. Pulse-audio is supposed to fix that, but right now it’s caused several of the apps I use occasionally to not work and the stuttering audio problem in some programs has mysteriously returned after I messed with some configuration settings (ok, maybe that’s not so mysterious). I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. That said, the biggest reason for me is probably games. I’ve started gaming more in the past two and a half years and rebooting is annoying. It makes me less likely to play. I can’t be on Steam and jump into a game when one of my friends comes online. Wine is simply never going to be a good solution (it’s often passable, however) and if you want to play the latest and greatest and have them look like the latest and greatest you’re out of luck.

This is, of course, from the point of view of a home user. For software development, I prefer Linux without question. I just don’t do all that much development outside of work to justify it.

I will probably make the jump to Vista instead of going back to XP. Maybe it’ll suck, but it doesn’t seem too bad from what I’ve used of it. Plus, I want a 64 bit, DX 10 OS for gaming and I was thinking I’d take the plunge next year when I do a Core i7 build anyway. Maybe there’ll be a post here in a month or so ranting about Vista. You never know.

So there it is. I’m guessing this post will become search engine bait in the near future. Though it’ll be hard to touch my rolfing post in that department.

Categories: Personal, Tech

Nerd hype

October 13, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about buying a MacBook for the last couple months. I’ve been wanting a laptop and to mess around with OS X and some apps for it for quite a while now. So I started doing some research and found that MacBooks were due for an update in the near future. Since I don’t really need one, I decided to wait for those updates, deciding to browse sites like Mac Rumors (and its forum) for news about any updates.

All I can say is, those people are a little nuts. I know Apple fanboys have a reputation and Apple’s good at hyping their releases, but this is pretty impressive. I mean, there’s over 1500 comments on an item with alleged pictures of the new MacBook case. Not the actually notebook, but the case. And let’s face it, besides the fact that it’s aluminum, it’s not that interesting. I can’t say I’ve kept above it; I’ve been reading that site regularly for a month or two and I don’t really care about Apple otherwise. The rumored updates are being announced tomorrow, so it’s finally coming to an end.

I would guess this isn’t surprising to a lot of other people, but it’s fascinating to me. Apple makes decent products, but they’re not that impressive.

Categories: Tech

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