Security Questions and Ankle-Pants

I’m that guy on Facebook, the party-pooper who, when faced with a fun quiz about personal trivia, rather than answer in kind reminds everyone that personal trivia has become a horrifyingly terrible cornerstone of personal security.

The whole concept is pure madness. Access to your most personal information (and bank account) is gated by questions about your life that may seem private, but are now entirely discoverable on the Internet — and by filling in those fun quizzes you’re helping the discovery process. Wanna guess how many of those Facebook quizzes are started by criminals? I’m going to err on the side to paranoia and say “lots”. Some are even tailored to specific bank sites and the like. Elementary school, pet’s name, first job. All that stuff is out there. Even if you don’t blab it to the world yourself, someone else will, and some innocuous question you answer about who your best friend is will lead the bad guy to that nugget.

There is nothing about you the Internet doesn’t already know. NOTHING. Security questions are simply an official invitation to steal all your stuff by people willing to do the legwork. Set up a security question with an honest answer, and you’re done for, buddy.

On the other hand, security questions become your friend if you treat them like the passwords they are. Whatever you type in as an answer should have nothing to do with the question. Otherwise, as my title suggests, you may as well drop ’em, bend over, and start whistlin’ dixie.

My computer offers me a random password generator and secure place to keep my passwords, FBI-annoying secure as long as I’m careful, but no such facility for security questions. I think there’s an opportunity there.

In the meantime, don’t ever answer a security question honestly. Where were you born? My!Father789Likes2GoFishin. Yeah? I’m from there, too! Never forget that some of those seemingly innocent questions out there on the Internet were carefully crafted to crack your personal egg. But if you never use personal facts to protect your identity, you can play along with those fun Facebook games, and not worry about first-tier evil.

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My Beef With Star Wars

Maybe this is a good time to bring this up, with the first of the new batch of Star Wars movies sitting on the doorstep. The problem with the last batch was not Jar Jar. Jar Jar was annoying as all get-out, but no more annoying than the fur bears in the previous movies. These are films that chose not to grow up with their audience. I’m all right with that.

The real problem with the last batch (Episodes 1-3) is R2D2.

Watch the films chronologically. You will see a droid with rockets in its feet, that can take down a battalion of battle robots, that was built by Darth Fuckin’ Vader himself, only a few years later get zapped by a little dude with glowing eyes — the galactic equivalent of a dumpster diver — while tottering along over rough terrain at about half a mile an hour.

The same robot.

And apparently Artoo forgot that he knew intimate details of his creator, information that might have, you know, saved everyone a lot of trouble. Like the name of the guy who built him from a Radio Shack kit. Anakin what? Skywalker? You don’t say!

Sorry if that was a spoiler. Vader was Luke’s father. Big shock to everyone — except R2D2, apparently.

This urge to add superpowers to R2D2 in movie sequence, while ignoring the story timeline, is what really gets my goat. As I watched Artoo level up time and again in Eps 1-3, I grew increasingly annoyed. Rocket feet and battalion-blasting just made me throw up my hands and say, “fuck it, this story’s broken.”

Brief timeout for goat runner-up: People with the Force forgetting they have the Force. One example: giant spaceship battle. The Empire comes up with one of its few actually intelligent weapon systems: little robot fuckers that latch on to larger spacecraft and start taking them apart. (By the way, that’s a weapon of the future. As a young adult, imagining integrating myself into the Star Wars universe, that was the stuff I imagined building. Clouds of little things that would weasel into big things and break them.) Anywho, one of the Jedi dudes is flying his spaceship in this big battle and a little robot fucker latches on to his boat. Right outside his cockpit! It’s a tense moment that requires some really sweet flying by another Jedi pal to resolve. (My spelling checker accepts Jedi, by the way.) IF ONLY… If only this Jedi pilot had some way to affect things happening three feet from his head… some sort of, I don’t know, force he could have applied from where he sat.

If only.

OK, Timeout’s over, back to my original beef.

Time, it seems, is not kind to R2D2. In the years between Episode 3 and Episode 4 it lost a lot of functionality, as well as its memory. When (not if) I watch Episode 7, I expect our favorite trash-can-shaped robot will be deep into senility, barely able to move at all, and unable even to remember C3PO’s shiny metal face.

C3PO: What’s that Artoo?

R2D2: Twee chrp mmbl mmbl

C3PO: No, Artoo, I don’t think Lord Vader has been stealing your email. Lord Vader turned nice before he died.

R2D2: Chrp squoo blttt.

C3PO: As you are well aware, Artoo, as a cybernetic being I have no colon.

If the droid is portrayed in any other way, Lucas has some explaining to do.

Another Stupid Security Breach

Recently, the State Department’s emails were hacked. Only the non-classified ones (that we know about), but here’s the thing:

Why the hell is the State Department not encrypting every damn email? Why does ANY agency not encrypt its emails? It’s a hassle for individuals to set up secure emails with their friends, but secure email within an institution is not that hard.

JUST DO IT, for crying out loud!

Open Letter to the Girl in the Green Subaru with the Sea Turtle Stickers on the Back Window

Just where do you think that cigarette butt you threw out your window is going to end up?

Facts Suck

I had a get-poor-quick scheme all put together in my head, the result of musing while flossing and thinking “there has to be a better way!” I thought I was just a little bit of genetic engineering away from perfect teeth forever.

Foolishly, I actually went and looked up some facts before I wrote up the post. I’ll not be making that mistake again! Holy crap facts are the last thing I needed, and not really in keeping with the get-poor-quick ethos.

I did learn that the surface of your teeth is host to an amazingly complex and adaptable ecosystem with 1000 different kinds of bacteria, forming a complex structure that changes as time passes. My little genetically modified tooth scrubbers wouldn’t stand a chance; there’s nothing I could invent that’s not already in there and part of the system.

Unless…

Hang on, I’ll get back to you on this after I don’t check some more facts.

*Sigh* Back to flossing.

Can Someone do me a Favor?

It’s not a big deal; I just need someone to remind me that I do NOT need the Canon 85mm f1.2 L II lens. Really, I don’t. It doesn’t matter that this lens allows one to shoot with incredible control over the depth of field, nor is it important that the almost-circular aperture produces lovely “bokeh” (the highlights in the out-of-focus region are often hexagonal or octagonal in most lenses, projecting the shape of the aperture inside the lens). On top of that, I have lights now, so the excellent performance in low light is not nearly as important as it once was.

And 85mm is too long for most of the shots in our little “studio” (which resembles a living room much of the time). Sure, when I get in close for some of my favorite shots there may be no better lens on the planet, but that’s — what? — maybe 20% of my total on a typical shoot with Harlean (who is a fiction). Maybe even less.

Sure, if I were to start taking pictures of other, less fictitious models, in roomier conditions, and if I had the skill and could control my light well, then this lens would be the crown jewel of my little collection.

But I don’t. And I’m not. So, could someone out there remind me that I really don’t need that dang lens?

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Tunnel Vision

Back when I lived in Prague I used to laugh about the crappy service in pubs and bars. They don’t work for tips over there, so pissing off the guests really doesn’t matter much.

Right now I’m sitting at a place called BJ’s, which is practically part of the Apple Campus. My service today has been worse than anything I saw in Eastern Europe. The problem: tunnel vision.

For example: I am sitting next to the main thoroughfare to the kitchen. Every waiter and waitress passes my table regularly. Yet, when I wanted something, they all strode directly past me, steadfastly ignoring my increasingly urgent gestures. Finally I got the attention of a hostess, who stopped a waiter and asked him if I was his table. He shook his head no, eyes fixed on the stone tiles ten feet ahead, and pressed on into the kitchen.

The hostess then asked me, “do you know who your waiter is?” and I found myself feeling apologetic for not knowing my AWOL guy’s name. Anger at myself fueled my current state of indignation. The right answer: “I don’t give a fuck who my server is, and neither should you.”

I suspect my guy was on a break and hadn’t handed me off properly. He’s been very attentive, and even cool, since then. But I’ll tell you this: if I was manager of this place there would be jobs on the line. “Not my table” is no reason to ignore a patron. That I was ignored by so many people indicates that the problem is institutional. If I was owner, the manager’s job would be on the line.

As I was writing that last paragraph, my server came over, told me he was taking his dinner break, and introduced me to his stand-in. Chris will look out for me, I’m sure. My needs are modest. But I still have the feeling that it’s just Chris. If he’s tied up, I’ll be out of luck.

Update: Unlike my previous cry in the wilderness, this one was answered. I got a message from the manager of the local BJ’s, taking my message very seriously. He even asked to meet me personally next time I come in, but I’m not sure I want that level of attention.

It is a sign of good management to take criticism as valuable feedback and use it constructively.