Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Something similar to Rule 35

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Rule 34 of the Tubes states “There is porn of it, no exceptions.” It is followed by Rule 35: “If no porn is found at the moment, it will be made.” This past Friday and subsequent Monday had me find a sort of PG-rated instance of Rule 35.

Have you heard of Firesheep? You should have. The twitters were ablaze with it. Sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with some other sites, were sending session cookies in plaintext and had been for year. Now this isn’t quite as bad as sending passwords in plaintext, but it’s still a pretty straightforward exploit to gain access to someone’s account on, say, an unsecured wireless network. Finally a freelance developer wrote an extension for Firefox that you can use at your local wireless hotspot, to see who’s logged into their social networking sites, and then to log in as them. It’s a great exploit that should hopefully put some pressure on Facebook, et. al., to actually provide some security to users.

The really cool part, for me, is that only the previous Friday my coworker Brian and I were discussing the exact same vulnerability. It went something like Brian mentioning that lots of sites send session cookies in plaintext; to me not believing that they wouldn’t, you know, encrypt something like that; to him explaining how easy it would be to hack together a program to sniff out such cookies on a wireless network; to me putting it on my longer term todo list of awesome projects. The internets did not even give me a chance. So, that’s pretty cool. Ask and ye shall receive, more or less.

I hope that P does not equal NP

Monday, August 9th, 2010

And, further, I hope that this Vinay Deolalikar guy proved it. I don’t normally will mathematics to behave a certain way, but in this case I make an exception for a few reasons. (For a quick primer on the P=NP problem, check out Wikipedia).

First, I like hearing about epic math problems that have been solved. And learning about how they were solved, and who solved them, and who came up with those problems in the first place, and everything that was going on at the time that led up to the discoveries. I find this stuff fascinating. It’s like Edmund Hilary scaling Mount Everest, except with maths. In college my friends and I watched a documentary on Fermat’s Last Theorem and Andrew Wiles’ pwning the hell out of it. We had a glorious time. Oh, I also read a book about Godel’s incompleteness theorems. That was similarly awesome.

Second, there is a paper which proves markets are efficient iff P=NP (“iff” is pronounced “if and only if”). Now, I’m pretty sure markets aren’t efficient. It’s my opinion that a belief in the efficient markets hypothesis is correlated with being more of a jerk. Fightin’ words, I know, but economists in general (and market fundamentalists in particular) could use a little more humility. But I digress. I’m not sure how much play the “P=NP <=> efficient markets” paper got, or if anyone proved it; and I remember Tyler Cowen didn’t think much of the claim, but I hope it’s correct. These two papers, then, would prove mathematically that markets aren’t efficient. I would feel vindicated, and people like Eugene Fama and his followers would be provably incorrect.

Third, I am a big fan of the general approach Vinay Deolalikar used in his proof.  I can’t find a good summary online, so here goes: basically he drew from a whole bunch of fields, saw the conceptual similarities among a bunch of otherwise very narrow branches of maths, and stitched together a diverse, “multidisciplinary” proof (all while filling in the nitty gritty details, of course). I will always be a fan of the general over the specific; in general I think a broad view is more valuable than a narrow one. If a problem of epic proportions, like P=NP, can be solved by taking a step back and tying what we already know together, rather than going deeper and deeper into sub-sub-subfields that have probably been mined of intellectual value long ago, it will make me very happy.

Dedication to customer service

Friday, March 12th, 2010

My previous post on anti-virus software had an interesting unforeseen consequence. As you surely remember, I made brief mention of Vipre Antivirus since I had given it a shot before trying Kaspersky. I thought the mention was just idle flavor text, to improve the narrative of my story. Moreover I thought that no sooner would my post be published than my mention of Vipre would be forgotten. I could not have been more mistaken.

The good people at Sunbelt Software must have some sort of Google alert or equivalent set up, searching for mentions of Vipre. Very quickly I was notified of a comment on my post, wherein Sunbelt apologized for any inconvenience and invited me to submit the offending file. After I emailed them a nice guy named Joe followed up and thanked me for my submission.

So, if you’re on the market for anti-virus software, I say give Vipre a try. They’re clearly dedicated to customer service.

Free as in culture

Monday, February 15th, 2010

I’ve kind of lost my way. Over my past few months in grad school, I’ve forgotten my roots as a technologist, a techie, a computer nerd. I reconnected with my glorious past the weekend of Valentines Day, when the Free Culture Conference 2010 was held at George Washington University.

I haven’t thought about free culture and related issues in about eight months, since I started working toward my PhD in economics. Grad school doesn’t allow me much time to work on outside projects, and that’s a shame. I miss being surrounded by such good people, such technical people, having such interesting conversations, about such important and interesting topics. This past weekend showed me firsthand the massive opportunity costs that grad school entails. I really want to get back into coding or advocacy, but I keep running into that time constraint. What a damn shame.

I’m going to end with some advice. If you want to join a top-notch community, seek out those who identify with the free culture movement. You won’t find a more dedicated group of smart people with the tools and drive to make awesome things happen.

K is the key

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Friends, I have a story of an unlikely advertisement achieving its purpose.

Over winter vacation I purchased a netbook, a Dell Mini 10v. It’s an adorable little thing, really gets the job done, and it has a solid feel I haven’t experienced since the old Thinkpad T series, back when IBM made laptops. I’m quite happy with my little netbook. Alas, every copy of Windows needs its antivirus protection. I haven’t had to even think of antivirus software in about four years now: RPI students got a corporate version of McAfee as part of the laptop deal.

A trial version of McAfee came preinstalled on my mini, and I actively shunned it. I heard about a new antivirus called Vipre (like the snake), decided to give it a try. I wasn’t too happy with the trial, though, mostly because it kept deleting the BIOS update I was trying to download. I’m not sure if that’s standard practice, but I distinctly remember telling the program not to delete my BIOS update. It remained obstinate.

So I decided to do some research. Apparently Norton is still the best around, according to a few sites doing antivirus reviews, but one particular product caught my eye. Kaspersky antivirus jumped out at me, because of a ridiculous little video circulating around the interwebs:

That is insanely catchy, and awesome in a ridiculous way. You can see how Kaspersky was stuck in my mind this whole time, just waiting until I needed antivirus software. I also recall one of my economics professors lauding Kaspersky in his technological change class. He liked the idea that Kaspersky keeps track of which files change between scans, and only re-scans those that need to be. Technological progress indeed.

Anyway, I hope Kaspersky is as awesome as that video makes it seem.

An open letter to Microsoft

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Dear Microsoft,

I used to not like you a whole lot. I was kind of mean, too, sometimes calling you the Evil Empire or something similar. I want to take this opportunity to apologize, and to try to explain myself.

A whole lot of people used to not like you. I admit I got swept up in the anti-Microsoft rhetoric and jumped on the bandwagon when I should have given it more thought. You know the whole FOSS-vs-MSFT posturing, people hating on Windows because it’s not free, stuff like that. I even came up with a whole tirade about the economics of monopolies and marginal cost pricing, how charging so much for Windows is inefficient. I was petty, and it was silly of me; I recognize this now.

Here is why I came around:

First, you gave $15k to Creative Commons at the end of their 2008 fundraising campaign to put them above their goal. That was big. And I know you’ve been funding CC for a while. They’re a cause I really care about, so it means a lot that you’d be such a supporter.

Second, you’re really not that bad. I read an argument that the Microsoft Windows monopoly really amounted to extracting economic rents from middle-class Americans and, through the Gates Foundation, channeling those funds to aid efforts in Africa. Not to mention, Windows gave everyone a standardized platform in the meanwhile, and that is really valuable.

Third, you’re just a profit-maximizing firm, after all. You have a duty to your shareholders to make as much money as you can, even if sometimes that means using underhanded tactics. Spreading fear uncertainty and doubt, or engaging in “embrace, extend, extinguish“, while uncool, isn’t out of the ordinary in the business world. I can’t blame you for the system you’re a part of.

So it took me this long to realize that, no, Microsoft is not evil. You’re just doing your thing, you know? Maximizing profits and all is hard work. And right now Google is in a position to do a lot more damage to freedom than you are. I hear Windows 7 is pretty awesome, too.

I hope you accept my apology. Give Google a hard time for me, okay guys?

Amicably yours,


Googling past conversations

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I am looking forward to a time when Google (or some other massive know-it-all search giant with all my personal data) can record and index video of my entire life in real time. Yes, I know there will be insane privacy issues. I’m not worried about them yet. I am worried about having conversations that I can’t reliably reference at indeterminate points in the future.

Freezepop has a song called “He says, she says” which accurately portrays the sorts of situations arising when we don’t have the above Life Indexer. Imagine how useful it would be to go back and accurately rebut: “No look, I actually said this, not that.” I believe it would be insanely useful.

My biggest issues arise from data sources I can’t look up on Google or Wikipedia. When I make a commitment with someone, I can only search through the mementos I write myself stemming from the social interaction we had that generated the commitment. That means when we disagree, it’s my word against theirs.

You can’t do science on unfalsifiable statements.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.