Archive for Pointless

Back again…


After coming back from Seoul, New York seemed even dinkier than the last time I returned from a trip. As I was boarding the plane at Incheon, I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal (Asian edition). I had enough time to read almost all of it, as KAL arrived into Narita early, but Continental was six hours late. It might as well have been called “The GM Journal”, since about two thirds of the stories were about GM and Chrysler, and how the US government is trying to save them from doom due to chronic mis-management and exorbitant legacy costs.  

My wife, who has a far more sensitive nose than me, jokes that the first thing you smell upon disembarking the plane is cigarette smoke in Greece, and garlic in Korea. Read the rest of this entry »


“Life is pointless” ??

That’s what you get when you use colorful tags like “life bits” and “pointless“, especially if you use them together:  Google thinks your website is highly relevant to the query “life is pointless”.

Google Webmaster Tools for, February 2009

I’m now experimenting with a separate tumblelog to post most random thoughts but, in the meantime, here you go Google: one more post about “pointless life (bits)”!

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Bad planning

Some visions do not really translate into plans.  Becoming rich, established or happy, for example.  It’s like saying “I want to be a superhero!” How do you go about that?

How to become Spiderman

Nope.  Not much of a plan.

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A dog’s life

I recently returned from two weeks in Greece, which included four days in Santorini.  Even the dogs sunbathe, enjoying the scenery.  For the most part, I gladly followed their example.

Dog\'s life in Santorini

Upon coming back to New York, somewhat to my surprise, it was the US that felt comparatively dinky.  A few years ago, it used to be the other way around.  However, the contrast between new developments around the 2004 Olympics and New York’s crumbling infrastructure was at least noticeable this time.

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The Fall of CAPTCHAs – really?

I recently saw a Slashdot post dramatically titled “Fallout From the Fall of CAPTCHAs“, citing an equally dramatic article about “How CAPTCHA got trashed“.  Am I missing something? Ignoring their name for a moment, CAPTCHAs are computer programs, following specific rules, and therefore they are subject to the same cat-and-mouse games that all security mechanisms go through. Where exactly is the surprise? So Google’s or Yahoo’s current versions were cracked.  They’ll soon come up with new tricks, and still newer ones after those are cracked, and so on.

In fact, I was always confused about one aspect of CAPTCHAs. I thought that a Turing test is, by definition, administered by a human, so a “completely-automated Turing-test” is an oxymoron, something like a “liberal conservative”. An unbreakable authentication system based on Turing tests should rely fully on human computation: humans should also be at the end that generates the tests. Let humans come up with questions, using references to images, web site content, and whatever else they can think of.  Then match these to other humans who can gain access to a web service by solving the riddles. Perhaps the tests should also be somehow rated, lest the simple act of logging in turns into an absurd treasure hunt. I’m not exactly sure if and how this could be turned into an addictive game, but I’ll leave that to the experts.  The idea is too obvious to miss anyway.

CAPTCHAs, even in their current form, have led to numerous contributions.  A non-exclusive list, in no particular order:

  1. They have a catchy name. That counts a lot. Seriously. I’m not joking; if you don’t believe me, repeat out loud after me: “I have no idea what ‘onomatopoeia’ is—I’d better MSN-Live it” or “… I’d better Yahoo it.”  Doesn’t quite work, does it?
  2. They popularized an idea which, even if not entirely new, was made accesible to webmasters the world over, and is now used daily by thousands if not millions of people.  What greater measure of success can you think of for a technology?
  3. Sowed the seeds for Luis von Ahn’s viral talk on human computation, which has featured in countless universities, companies and conferences.  Although not professionally designed, the slides’ simplicity matches their content in a Jobs-esque way. As for delivery and timing, Steve might even learn something from this talk (although, in fairness, Steve Jobs probably doesn’t get the chance to introduce the same product hundreds of times).

So is anyone really surprised that the race for smarter tests and authentication mechanisms has not ended, and probably never will? (Incidentally, the lecture video above is from 2006, over three years after the first CAPTCHAs were succesfully broken by another computer program—see also CVPR 2003 paper—.  There are no silver bullets, no technology is perfect, but some are really useful. Perhaps CAPTCHAs are, to some extent, victim of their own hype which, however, is instrumental and perhaps even necessary for the wide adoption of any useful technology.  I’m pretty sure we’ll see more elaborate tests soon, not less.


Animal abuse

The cafeteria served “Jamaican jerk chicken”—again. Horrible. Not only did they kidnap, slaughter, quarter and cook it, they’re also calling it names. Did the chicken really deserve this? Maybe I should become vegetarian.


Hello world!

The reason for this site is pretty simple: it is one way to actively establish an identity in the “global village” (aka. Internet), which is something I have avoided doing for too long. Speaking of identity, this blog supports OpenID which, despite some weaknesses, is emerging as a long-needed standard. Page footers have links to my identity on other sites; when I find a satisfactory OpenID provider, perhaps those will go away.

Why, in the age of cloud computing, would I bother to set up relational databases, CGI binaries, and so on? I could just say “for the heck of it”, and it would be true. I like to see how things work first-hand; for example, I am (still) the kind of guy that actually prefers to run his own Hadoop instance on a handful of machines, rather than use e.g., EC2! Beyond that, I’m not sure I have a really solid answer.

But enough for a “hello world” post! Welcome, and I hope to see a few people around for things to follow.