Passwords and the intimate picture they can paint of a person

Friday, 28 November, 2014

While it appears some people are content to make use of generic, well known, and incredibly weak passwords, others would rather craft far more personalised access codes, ones that almost tell stories at times…

Several years ago I began asking my friends and family to tell me their passwords. I had come to believe that these tiny personalized codes get a bum rap. Yes, I understand why passwords are universally despised: the strains they put on our memory, the endless demand to update them, their sheer number. I hate them, too. But there is more to passwords than their annoyance. In our authorship of them, in the fact that we construct them so that we (and only we) will remember them, they take on secret lives. Many of our passwords are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry. Often they have rich back stories. A motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar – these keepsake passwords, as I came to call them, are like tchotchkes of our inner lives. They derive from anything: Scripture, horoscopes, nicknames, lyrics, book passages. Like a tattoo on a private part of the body, they tend to be intimate, compact and expressive.

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Sorry, I’m a rock star programmer, you’ll have to speak to my agent

Tuesday, 25 November, 2014

Programmers and developers, who make the cut that is, may soon find themselves represented by agents and managers, in the same way that artists, and – to a lesser extent it would seem – musicians, are at present.

10x was started by two music and entertainment managers, Michael Solomon and Rishon Blumberg, who for the past nineteen years have represented rock stars, including John Mayer and Vanessa Carlton. Recently, in the wake of the digital revolution and the music industry’s implosion, Solomon and Blumberg have begun serving as agents for technologists. 10x claims to represent digital “rock stars”; the company’s name comes from the idea, well established in the tech world, that the very best programmers are superstars, capable of achieving ten times the productivity of their merely competent colleagues.

I’m wondering why certain rock star web designers, who shall remain nameless, didn’t have this sort of representation at the height of the dot com boom?

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Reports of the death of private investigators are greatly exaggerated

Monday, 24 November, 2014

The private investigator, another victim of digitisation, social media, and search engines? Maybe.

But then whose going to sit in a car waiting maybe six hours for the object of an investigation to maybe walk out the door of some building, when the need does arise? We, the digital generation, who wait no more than five seconds, for anyone or anything?

For a while now, such characters, if not totally extinct, have been on a steady life-support drip of nostalgia. In an age when GPS tracking, oversharing and 8 Signs Your Man Is Cheating listicles make their services unnecessary, the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before. All P.I. stories are now period pieces.

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Steep, rugged, canyons… the grooves of a vinyl record that is

Friday, 21 November, 2014

Record player stylus, vinyl record

In the olden days people used to listen to music by way of circular vinyl discs, that were usually black in colour, on a device called a record player. You could not, by the way, carry this sort of music player about in your pocket.

This ultra close up photo of a record player’s stylus plowing its way through the grooves of a record disc is fascinating, what an amazing technology…

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Stewards, Wikipedia’s integral inner circle

Friday, 14 November, 2014

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the web, is likely a place any half way active internet user visits at least once a day. And while few of us give the matter much thought, what happens behind the scenes at Wikipedia, and the other “Wiki” or Wikimedia group of websites, is actually fascinating.

Between them, thirty-six people, referred to as stewards, weld complete control over this realm, and all the more intriguingly work gratis, or for the love of it:

But at the very top of this tree are 36 users who demonstrate Wikimedia in its most concentrated form: the stewards. They wield “global rights” – the ability to edit anything – and respond to crises and controversies across all Wiki platforms. They come from all around the world, receive no compensation, and rarely, if ever, encounter each other offline. You definitely don’t know them – but their work is essential to understanding how Wikimedia’s unique existence has thrived.

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An umbrella that let’s you walk under air

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014

Umbrellas make for a fine way of staving off the worst of a rainy downpour, but they are not without their flaws. Possibly their biggest downside is in trying to walk along a busy street full of people likewise using umbrellas, where tensions rise, and tempers are frayed, as everyone tries to avoid coming into contact with each other’s umbrellas.

A solution may be at hand then in the form of the “air umbrella”, a device that, as the name suggests, creates a canopy by way of a strong airflow that shields the user from falling rain. They’re not bad looking either, though I have to say I’d feel like I was going to a quidditch match when carrying one around.

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We’re sending you back to the Windows 93 operating system

Monday, 3 November, 2014

Windows 93

While Windows users wait for the arrival of version ten of Microsoft’s computer operating system, try out Windows 93, a blending of pixel art, javascript, and cascading style sheets, that should operate in your browser.

Don’t forget to double click the desktop icons to make them work.

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You may be an air traffic controller for drones in the making

Friday, 31 October, 2014

In ten years time some of us will be working in jobs that don’t yet exist. There could be no doubting that. And one of these roles could be as an air traffic controller for drones, which may soon populate the airways in far greater numbers than they presently do.

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Choose the public wi-fi networks that you access with care

Tuesday, 28 October, 2014

I often work from cafes and other public places, but am usually reluctant to tap into the free-for-all public wi-fi networks that are on offer, unless I’m forced to for some reason, preferring to use my private mobile broadband account.

After reading Maurits Martijn’s account of the ease with which some of these networks can be comprised, as it were, you might want to think twice about your use of public wi-fi networks:

We see more and more visitors log on to our fictitious network. The siren song of the little black device appears to be irresistible. Already 20 smartphones and laptops are ours. If he wanted to, Slotboom could now completely ruin the lives of the people connected: He can retrieve their passwords, steal their identity, and plunder their bank accounts. Later today, he will show me how. I have given him permission to hack me in order to demonstrate what he is capable of, though it could be done to anyone with a smartphone in search of a network, or a laptop connecting to a WiFi network.

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Will our robots be more like R2D2, or C3P0?

Friday, 24 October, 2014

The robots are coming. One day. And when they do, will they enslave us, or will they make our lives easier? But as… individuals, as apparently intelligent entities, what will they be like?

“Star Wars” makes as good a starting point as any, when it comes to visualising the way our droids may be:

R2-D2 excels in areas where humans are deficient: deep computation, endurance in extreme conditions, and selfless consciousness. R2-D2 is a computer that compensates for human deficiencies – it shines where humans fail. C-3PO is the personification of the selfish human – cloying, rules-bound, and despotic. (Don’t forget, C-3PO let Ewoks worship him!) C-3PO is a factotum for human vanity – it engenders the worst human characteristics.

I think the commentary on Threepio is a tad harsh… a mixture of both may be the way to go.

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