Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bruce Schneier Facts: something for everyone

The math geek in me likes these random facts about the renowned, nay, mythical security expert:

#24: Bruce Schneier once found three distinct natural number divisors of a prime number.

#51: When Bruce Schneier does modulo arithmetic, there are no remainders. Ever.

The puzzler in me loves these:

#40: A vigenere cipher with the Key "BRUCESCHNEIER" is in fact unbreakable.

#61: When Bruce Schneier uses double ROT13 encryption, the ciphertext is totally unbreakable.

And the writer in me thinks these are classic:

#33: Bruce Schneier writes his books and essays by generating random alphanumeric text of an appropriate length and then decrypting it.

#27: Most people use passwords. Some people use passphrases. Bruce Schneier uses an epic passpoem, detailing the life and works of seven mythical Norse heroes.

Absurdity. It's not just for breakfast any more.

(Thanks to John Rogers for the pointer, and Chuck Norris Facts for inspiring the spinoff.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Two Million Dollar Comma

$2.13 million, actually. See if you can spot the offending punctuation below:
Page 7 of the contract states: The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
Think you've got it? Go read the Globe and Mail story and see if you're right!

I will also take this opportunity to shill for Lynne Truss' book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

Dreams, Forgetting, Capitalism, Game

Lest you think Loren has staged some kind of coup d'état around here, I'm posting this quick thought.

A few nights ago, I had the first dream I could remember in a long time. It was more disjointed than usual, and also more topical-- there were elements from my current work life in there, plus people I know and news of the day (via The Daily Show, of course).

To summarize: in the dream, I had to go on a business trip to Iraq (because, y'know, they love the web apps over there), and before I left, I went out with some friends and wanted to sing a karaoke song for my wife. Only I couldn't remember the title of the song, even though it was a well-known Elvis tune and I'd sung it just a few days ago in real life. I kept trying to think of the song title in the dream, but then it was morning, and when I walked outside it was into a street of ruins and rubble. I think a car picked me up at some point, and there was something about missing my flight and not really wanting to go to Iraq, but after that my memory gets hazy.

The recurring motif seemed to be forgetting things, which has been bothering me of late during preparations for The Game. We collect a lot of data and supplies, but we're so busy that we don't always keep them organized. So we end up losing track of things that become important later. I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it always has-- I don't like losing things or misplacing things. It's one of those irrational, emotional responses, probably born out of various things I witnessed or experienced as a child. I blame my parents.

Last year, one of my friends sold off most of his considerable DVD movie collection. This was partly to pay the rent, but also to unencumber himself:
It has been said that a thing only has the power you give it. Recently, I have been realizing that I have given far too much power to the things in my life, allowing them to weigh me down and prevent necessary change. So I have decided to take back that power by selling off pretty much everything I own that is not irreplaceable.
There's a sort of innate tension in all of us, I think, between "having stuff" (as George Carlin might put it) and "having something to lose."

On one hand, it's good to have nice things, useful things, and to own them so nobody else messes with them (cf. the tragedy of the commons). Ownership is a powerful concept.

On the other hand, owning something means that you have to protect it from would-be thieves. And you might envy the lifestyle of those criminals, perhaps even glamorize it in popular dramas, thinking that there is always more stuff in the "hoard" of accumulated human artifacts that you're free to borrow as needed, because the fat cats you steal from are too rich for their own good anyway.

But the latter notion is false. Without the people who work to build a civilization, there is nothing for the thieves to steal. You can't have rustlers without something to rustle. And maybe the system is imperfect and unfair, but deciding whether you're going to exploit it, repair it, or ignore it says a lot about your character.

My point is, I don't feel silly for being somewhat attached to certain things. I recognize that they can be replaced, and collecting wealth is not my purpose in life, but it's part of my life.

In the end, the only real value is sentimental value. There are things that we would do for love that we would never do for money.

The Game, for example.

Back to it.

Hoodwinked (into wasting a couple hours)

When the movie Hoodwinked first opened, it seemed intriguing. A very different animation style, very smart and clever bits in the trailers - I was curious.

We watched it recently, and it's startling that a movie could have so many low points.

Even more surprising are the comments at movie forums like IMDB -- people either loved this movie or hated this movie with very few on the fence. As I read the comments, I found myself more firmly entrenched. The proponents of the movie generally talked about how the directors/producers/writers were unencumbered by studio demands and thus were able to create a more focused, undiluted movie. I don't think an undiluted movie is a good movie -- it's just a focused, bad movie.

Yes, it was clever to look at the same story from 4 different first-person perspectives. Yes, the characters are all very different from each other. But the movie (even the 4 perspective angle) was gimmick after gimmick after gimmick. And none of the gimmicks really contributed to emotionally moving the audience. It just ended up being meaningless complications and an overcomplicated plot that placed the movie out of the reach of children and out of the patience of adults.

My biggest criticism: we can't feel what the characters are feeling so we can't participate in the movie. And it's that participation that hooks us: that constantly building terror in The Shining, things spinning completely out of control in Very Bad Things, nostalgia for the lost era of Route 66 in Cars, sense of utter confusion and fear in Memento, feeling like the world is wide open as Marlin hitches a ride with surfer-talk sea turtles in Finding Nemo, experiencing the quiet moments of triumph in shows like ER and The West Wing, the driving despair of making the wrong decision and not being take back last words in Spiderman, the list goes on and on. It's seeing a scene, reading a quote from the movie, or hearing the music and being pulled immediately back to all those emotions that make a movie great.

And those moments don't exist in Hoodwinked. Yes, it's a cartoon and a cartoon with talking animals so some argue how it can really make us relate. But other cartoons have succeeded where this one failed. We don't feel for Red because Hoodwinked doesn't show us that she wants out of the forest -- it just tells us through one half-expressed song. (For comparison, when Ariel in The Little Mermaid is willing to sacrifice her greatest asset to break out of her world, the audience understands because the story has made the audience feel her need.)

Perhaps the only bright spot in this painful movie is the the over-caffeinated squirrel Twitchy. So if you have to watch this movie, watch it for Twitchy.

Equal opportunity foodie

I love food like I love music -- there is no forbidden. Just as I love country and 80's love songs, I also love baloney on white bread and Jack-in-the-Box's 99-cent chicken sandwiches. And just as I like exploring the edgy music of friends with far more eclectic tastes, I also love to find new tastes even if they're considered haute cuisine. (I have a prejudice against haute-anything.)

I thought of this because my wife and I just had an amazing meal. We were out shopping until 9:30 pm, so it was too late to cook anything extremely extensive but I was determined to use our new gas grill. She bought me a gas grill for my birthday because we wanted to be able to grill on a moment's notice, and isn't 9:30 pm on weeknight the perfect time to prove a gas grill's advantage over the trusty charcoal one I'd been using all these years?

So we took an extra steak we had left over from the weekend, rubbed salt and pepper into it and threw it on the grill. Then we took a brandywine tomato from our garden, sliced it, dusted it with sea salt (a surprise gift from a friend over the weekend) and fresh cracked pepper, and drizzled olive oil (a tiny sample bottle that we got as advertising shwag at some fair) over it. A second brandywine got the same treatment with the additional of shredded basil, also from our garden, and some mozzarella. Both awesome.

Borrowing a funny combination my brother showed me while he lived on a farm, we also had fresh, raw radishes and buttered bread. A bite of buttered bread, followed by a bite of pungent, earthy radish. I hadn't had that since I had it with my brother more than 7 years ago, but it brought me back.

And the finishing touch? Orange salad! Non-dairy cool whip, orange Jell-O powder, cottage cheese, and mandarin oranges from a can.

It's times like this I wish I could just grow and cook food as my day job.