Ramblings & ephemera

Laundering a car’s VIN

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 October 2003: Precision stripping: criminal steals car, chop shop strips car completely down to chassis, chassis dumped on street, cops tow chassis away, chassis sold at auction, criminal buys chassis, chop shop reattaches parts. Result: legitimate car that can be legally sold used. The VIN has been ‘laundered’.

2 great examples of Tom Wolfe’s early New Journalism writing style

From Tom Wolfe’s “The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!” (Esquire: March 1965): Ten o’clock Sunday morning in the hills of North Carolina. Cars, miles of cars, in every direction, millions of cars, pastel cars, aqua green, aqua blue, aqua beige, aqua buff, aqua dawn, aqua dusk, aqua aqua, aqua Malacca, Malacca lacquer, Cloud […]

A summary of Galbraith’s The Affluent Society

From a summary of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (Abridge Me: 1 June 2010): The Concept of the Conventional Wisdom The paradigms on which society’s perception of reality are based are highly conservative. People invest heavily in these ideas, and so are heavily resistant to changing them. They are only finally overturned by new […]

Taxi driver party lines

photo credit: 708718 From Annie Karni’s “Gabbing Taxi Drivers Talking on ‘Party Lines’” (The New York Sun: 11 January 2007): It’s not just wives at home or relatives overseas that keep taxi drivers tied up on their cellular phones during work shifts. Many cabbies say that when they are chatting on duty, it’s often with […]

Should states track cars with GPS?

From Glen Johnson’s “Massachusetts may consider a mileage charge” (AP: 17 February 2009): A tentative plan to overhaul Massachusetts’ transportation system by using GPS chips to charge motorists a quarter-cent for every mile behind the wheel has angered some drivers. … But a “Vehicle Miles Traveled” program like the one the governor may unveil this […]

Crazy anti-terrorism plans that worked

From a Special Operations officer quoted in Tom Ricks’s Inbox (The Washington Post: 5 October 2008): One of the most interesting operations was the laundry mat [sic]. Having lost many troops and civilians to bombings, the Brits decided they needed to determine who was making the bombs and where they were being manufactured. One bright […]

Bruce Schneier on wholesale, constant surveillance

From Stephen J. Dubner’s interview with Bruce Schneier in “Bruce Schneier Blazes Through Your Questions” (The New York Times: 4 December 2007): There’s a huge difference between nosy neighbors and cameras. Cameras are everywhere. Cameras are always on. Cameras have perfect memory. It’s not the surveillance we’ve been used to; it’s wholesale surveillance. I wrote […]

Why American car companies are in trouble

From Paul Ingrassia’s “How Detroit Drove Into a Ditch” (The Wall Street Journal: 25 October 2008): This situation doesn’t stem from the recent meltdown in banking and the markets. GM, Ford and Chrysler have been losing billions since 2005, when the U.S. economy was still healthy. The financial crisis does, however, greatly exacerbate Detroit’s woes. […]

Cloned trucks used to commit crimes

From Brian Ross’ “Fake FedEx Trucks; When the Drugs Absolutely Have to Get There” (ABC News: 18 January 2008): Savvy criminals are using some of the country’s most credible logos, including FedEx, Wal-Mart, DirecTV and the U.S. Border Patrol, to create fake trucks to smuggle drugs, money and illegal aliens across the border, according to […]

Synchronization attacks at fast food drive-through windows

From Bruce Schneier’s “Getting Free Food at a Fast-Food Drive-In” (Crypto-Gram: 15 September 2007): It’s easy. Find a fast-food restaurant with two drive-through windows: one where you order and pay, and the other where you receive your food. This won’t work at the more-common U.S. configuration: a microphone where you order, and a single window […]

A cheap, easy way to obfuscate license plates

From Victor Bogado da Silva Lins’ letter in Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram (15 May 2004): You mentioned in your last crypto-gram newsletter about a cover that makes a license plate impossible to read from certain angles. Brazilian people have thought in another low-tech solution for the same “problem”, they simply tie some ribbons to the plate […]

My late May, 2004

From the email archives: On Sunday 30 May 2004 11:32 pm, Jerry Hubbard wrote: > How is everyone? Hope the storms did not harm anyone. My basement flooded twice, my tenant’s kitchen had water streaming in through the window frame, our backyard fence was blown down, the umbrella on our deck was blown off the […]

Great, wonderfully-designed consumer products

From Farhad Manjoo’s “iPod: I love you, you’re perfect, now change” (Salon: 23 October 2006): There are very few consumer products about which you’d want to read a whole book — the Google search engine, the first Mac, the Sony Walkman, the VW Beetle. Levy proves that the iPod, which turns five years old today, […]

More on Slab City

From Evelyn Nieves’s “Slab City Journal; For Thousands, a Town of Concrete Slabs Is a Winter Retreat” (The New York Times: 18 February 2001): Every winter, when the Winnebagos and pickups shake the desert off Beal Road like a small earthquake, Ben Morofsky gets wistful for the 120-degree days of summer, and the peace of […]

The end of days in Slab City

From Charlie LeDuff’s “Parked in a Desert, Waiting Out the Winter of Life” (The New York Times: 17 December 2004): Directions to purgatory are as follows: from Los Angeles drive east past Palm Springs into the bowels of the Mojave Desert. Turn south at the stench of the Salton Sea. Proceed down Highway 111 to […]

Origins of the interstate highway system

From Robert Sullivan’s “An Impala’s-Eye View of Highway History” (The New York Times: 14 July 2006): Another traveler, Dwight D. Eisenhower, spent two months in 1919 driving a military convoy across the country; the shoddy roads left a lasting impression on him. After World War II he studied Hitler’s autobahn and concluded that the American […]

OnStar: the numbers

From PR Newswire’s “OnStar Achieves Another First as Winner of Good Housekeeping’s ‘Good Buy’ Award for Best Servic” (3 December 2004): Each month on average, OnStar receives about 700 airbag notifications and 11,000 emergency assistance calls, which include 4,000 Good Samaritan calls for a variety of emergency situations. In addition, each month OnStar advisors respond […]

FBI used OnStar for surveillance

From Charles R. Smith’s “Big Brother on Board: OnStar Bugging Your Car“: GM cars equipped with OnStar are supposed to be the leading edge of safety and technology. … However, buried deep inside the OnStar system is a feature few suspected – the ability to eavesdrop on unsuspecting motorists. The FBI found out about this […]

Why is American design so often terrible compared to Japanese design?

From Paul Graham’s “Made in USA” (November 2004): Americans are good at some things and bad at others. We’re good at making movies and software, and bad at making cars and cities. And I think we may be good at what we’re good at for the same reason we’re bad at what we’re bad at. […]

Road rash, fender vaults, & root vaults

From Jascha Hoffman’s “Crash Course” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2004): Typically there are two kinds of injuries [in hit-and-run cases], those from the initial impact, and the ones from hitting and sliding on the asphalt, known as “road rash.” To illustrate the different types of impact a pedestrian can suffer, Rich cued up a series of […]