August 30, 2007

A Potentially Lucrative Investment

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:14 pm by Ian

You should try this.

1. Go to http://www.godaddy.com
2. Enter in some crazy-ass concatenation of words as a potential domain name. I used GoatMarsBlue.com
3. Read the “suggested” domain names that it provides you with on the next screen.

This provides two distinct avenues of hilarity. The first is the list of “premium” domain names. Someone has actually gone out and bought these up in the hopes of milking just a bit more cash out of a potential caprine web upstart.

  • GoatCare.com: $1,700. Clearly there is a lot of money to be made in the care and husbandry of goats.
  • Goat-Milk.com: $2,500. But not as much as in selling their issue. I guess the guy with the unhyphenated domain name is already raking it in.
  • GoatButter.com: $1,100. This will no doubt someday be a porn site.

The second amusing list is produced by word replacement and addition of prefixes and suffixes. While the first list is funny because an actual person thought them up and purchased them, this list is funny because there was obviously no human intelligence involved in its creation:

  • GoatPlanetBlue.com. This is actually really good marketing. No reason to restrict ourselves to one specific planet and lose the custom of potential GoatJupiter enthusiasts. Like when the Lifetime network stopped trying to program for just stay-at-home women, and branched out into shitty movies aimed at the whole family.
  • BestGoatMarsBlue.com. We’ll have to differentiate ourselves from the inevitable copycats.
  • GoatMilkyWayNavy.com. At just $7.95, it’s a substantial savings over GoatButter.com.
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August 29, 2007

Security Questions Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:08 pm by Ian

Regarding my not-too-recent post about Washington Mutual’s security questions, I have two other anecdotes to share with you.

The first is a story about a call I made to some bank or other a while ago after its website had maliciously stopped accepting the password that I thought it was supposed to. After a few attempts, it locked me out and forced me to call a nice woman who would reset it for me. Before doing so, she had to ask me a whole bunch of questions, culminating in her asking me my security question. Apparently this particular bank had let me select my own security question, rather than picking from a list of stupid ones. But I rose to the occasion and selected a stupid one of my own design.

The question she asked me—and I could tell she was grinning from ear to ear when she asked me—was

“What am I the very model of?”

“Uhm… A modern major general?”

We both broke out laughing at it, and then she had to try to finish up her “what else can I help you with” script through her laughter. It was probably the most personable and enjoyable customer support experience I’ve ever had.

The other datum is that, since then, I have learned an even better security question/answer pair to use when you get to choose your own. The question is “What are you wearing?” And when the person on the phone asks you, you answer “That is a very inappropriate question!”

August 27, 2007

Econ 101 for Politicians

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:12 pm by Ian

It may be unreasonable to think that most politicians can take time out of their busy reelection schedule to learn some basic economics. But is it so much to think that they have someone on staff willing to point out some of the more obvious idiocies? (Note to any Congressional aides who happen to read this blog post: I am available as a consultant.)

Recently, I received an email from my Congressional Representative, Lois Capps, who was brimming with excitement over the student aid package the House had just passed. Among other things, it would

  • Increase money for existing grants
  • Decrease student loan interest rates
  • Add some more grants

It was claimed, in the email, that this would reduce the cost of college.

It will not.

The reason that college costs a lot is that more and more people keep wanting to go to college, and the number of quality colleges is not increasing nearly as quickly. Reducing the cost of college would require either convincing fewer students to go or building more colleges. Providing cheaper money for college in the form of grants and subsidized loans will increase the money supply, increase the number of students trying to go (some who would have been dissuaded by economics no longer will be), and cause further increases in the cost of a college education (some of which will now be borne by the government).

For more examples of this kind of thinking, see the Hybrid tax credit that was offered a few years ago. At the time, Priuses were so in-demand that people were paying thousands above sticker to get them. Congress came up with an innovative plan to give every car-shopper an extra couple thou to spend on a hybrid, which caused them to pay even more over the sticker price, thus efficiently transferring $3000/Prius from the US Treasury to Toyota. Also, note the housing market of the last several years, which amazingly failed to become more affordable when interest rates dropped to historical lows.

Speaking of housing, Congress has a brilliant plan for that, too. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) wants to eliminate the mortgage tax exemption for ‘McMansions’. Any house larger than 3,000 square feet would lose the mortgage exemption. Without going into too much detail, I’ll simply say that this is an excellent plan to solve the crushing problem of a dearth of 2,999 square foot houses that currently plagues our nation.

August 22, 2007

Right on the Tip of My Tongue

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:47 pm by Ian

“What’s the name of that disease where you can’t remember things?”

“Amnesia?”

“Yeah!”

August 20, 2007

Context is Probably Key

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 pm by Ian

An excerpt from our dinner conversation this evening.

“Eggs are eggs.”

“Eggs are not eggs.”

“Meh. Eggs are pretty much eggs.”

I still think I have a pretty strong case.

August 15, 2007

My New Hobby: Annoyingly Cherrypicking Freecycle

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:00 pm by Ian

Offered: Misc.

11 boxes Altoids
800 paper plates
1/2 bag Miracle Grow Seed starting potting mix
18 bags microwave buttered popcorn (+ 1 bag Kettle Korn)

My response:

I’ll take the bag of Kettle Korn if it’s still available.

credit where due.

But Surely You’re Interested in Mine…

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:57 pm by Ian

I’m subscribed to the fire department email list to receive updates about the Zaca fire, and this morning, it apparently got kind of screwed up and lost its moderation. One email accidentally went out, a few others explained the problem, someone complained about an accidental email with the title “FIRE WARNING”, and most of us just ignored it and assumed it would be fixed. One woman decided to send this gem in response:

Very strange, I didn’t understand that and am going to unsubscribe. I am not interested in other peoples opinions…..

I’m becoming more and more in favor of some kind of automatic warning on an email client when you send to a list.

Warning: You are about to send an email to a list with thousands of people subscribed. If we assume it takes each of them 5 seconds to read and ignore it, you could easily be wasting several man-hours of time with a single click. Are you absolutely sure that your email is worth that consideration?

August 14, 2007

A Post Filled With Squiggly Red Underlines

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:56 pm by Ian

“Sucralose is supposed to be, like, thousands of times as sweet as sugar, but what does that even mean? I know what it would taste like to eat 10 cups of sugar, but I’m having trouble envisioning that amount of sweet in a tablespoon. Would your salivary glands just explode, or what?”

“Maybe you’d go sweetblind.”

“Yeah, I think you would go temporarily sweetblind.”

“Ok, first of all, you guys both just made up the word ‘sweetblind’, and second—”

“I made it up, he just confirmed it.”

“—second, you have no idea what you’re—”

“Toothpaste makes you sweetblind, temporarily.”

“It’s not—”

“Hey, it’s a word, now. Get over it.”

But, seriously: Anyone know where you can buy pure sucralose? And what happens if you eat it?

August 13, 2007

Why Your Bank Shows You Pretty Pictures

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:13 pm by Ian

If you bank online, you may have noticed a trend in the past year or two of banks asking you to pick an image and type a phrase to go along with it (which I’ll call the passphrase to distinguish it from your password) that will be used to help authenticate your account.

Security studies have shown that users overwhelmingly don’t understand the purpose of this image and phrase, and think that they’re just one more stupid password and security requirement. Even security researchers don’t seem to understand what this is for. I’m going to give Mr. O’Connor the benefit of the doubt, here, and assume that the writer of that article misinterpreted the point of his talk.

The purpose of the image and passphrase is not to prove to the bank that you are who you say you are. That’s what the password is for. But the password is only good for that if the bank is the only one you tell it to. If you tell it to anyone who asks for it, then they can pretend to be you. So the purpose of the image/passphrase is to prove to you that the bank is who it says it is before you give your password.

As the article points out, the bad guys aren’t breaking into bank accounts by guessing passwords. We don’t need another password. We need to keep the ones we’ve got safe. One way to do that is by keeping users from blindly giving their login information to fake websites. Phishing emails with mocked up pages are very common and can catch even experienced users off-guard if they are not incredibly vigilant. But with the addition of images and catch phrases, the phishing sites are no longer as easy to make. They can’t just put up a static site that looks like your bank’s website. They have to put up a site that looks like your bank’s website and show you the picture and phrase that you picked.

Obviously, this won’t protect you from a keylogger running on your system, or a packet sniffer grabbing the traffic between you and your bank. But it significantly raises the bar for a malevolent phisher to slip his website in under your nose without you noticing it. Since you still have to have your password to authenticate yourself, this system is no worse than the one it replaces, and is quite a bit better at keeping your password between you and the bank.

But only if people know how it works.

August 10, 2007

Kyle Will Understand

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:50 pm by Ian

“Dude, you have the N64 Smash Brothers?”
“Oh, yeah. I haven’t played it in years.”
“Me either. I used to rock at that game. We should play. I’ll kick your ass.”
“Oh? What character do you play?”
“Kirby.”
<beat>
“We should put money on it.”

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