“Dear heavenly day in the morning!”
“Cheese and crackers!”
From Charles C. Mann’s “The Coming Death Shortage” (The Atlantic: 1 May 2005):
The twentieth-century jump in life expectancy transformed society. Fifty years ago senior citizens were not a force in electoral politics. Now the AARP is widely said to be the most powerful organization in Washington. Medicare, Social Security, retirement, Alzheimer’s, snowbird economies, the population boom, the golfing boom, the cosmetic-surgery boom, the nostalgia boom, the recreational-vehicle boom, ViagraÃ¢â‚¬â€increasing longevity is entangled in every one. Momentous as these changes have been, though, they will pale before what is coming next.
From Bruce Schneier’s “How to Crash the Oscars” (7 March 2006):
If you want to crash the glitziest party of all, the Oscars, here’s a tip from a professional: Show up at the theater, dressed as a chef carrying a live lobster, looking really concerned. …
“The most important technique is confidence,” he said. “Part of it is being dressed the part, looking the part, and acting the part and then lying to get in the door.”
The biggest hole in the elaborate Oscars security plan, Mamlet said, is that while everyone from stagehands to reporters have to wear official credentials, the celebrities and movie executives attending the event do not.
“If you really act like a celebrity, the security guards will worry that they will get into trouble for not recognizing you,” Mamlet said.
From Bruce Schneier’s “Social Engineering Notes” (15 May 2007):
This is a fantastic story of a major prank pulled off at the Super Bowl this year. Basically, five people smuggled more than a quarter of a ton of material into Dolphin Stadium in order to display their secret message on TV.
Given all the security, it’s amazing how easy it was for them to become part of the security perimeter with all that random stuff. But to those of us who follow this thing, it shouldn’t be. His observations are spot on:
1. Wear a suit.
2. Wear a Bluetooth headset.
3. Pretend to be talking loudly to someone on the other line.
4. Carry a clipboard.
5. Be white.
From Ask Yahoo (5 March 2007):
There are only so many ways to construct a story.
Writers who believe there’s only one plot argue all stories “stem from conflict.” True enough, but we’re more inclined to back the theory you mention about seven plot lines.
According to the Internet Public Library, they are:
1. [wo]man vs. nature
2. [wo]man vs. man
3. [wo]man vs. the environment
4. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
5. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
6. [wo]man vs. self
7. [wo]man vs. god/religion
Ronald Tobias, author of “Twenty Basic Plots” believes the following make for good stories: quest, adventure, pursuit, rescue, escape, revenge, riddle, rivalry, underdog, temptation, metamorphosis, transformation, maturation, love, forbidden love, sacrifice, discovery, wretched excess, ascension, and decision.
From James B. Stewart’s “The Real Heroes Are Dead” (The New Yorker [11 February 2002]: 58):
… he was simply following the “Eight P’s,” a mnemonic that had been drummed into them in the military: “Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”
From Jay McInerney’s “White Man at the Door” (The New Yorker [4 February 2002] 57):
[Matthew Johnson, head of Fat Possum Records, has] got a damaged lung, bad teeth, a couple of hernias, and a back catalogue of death threats. His dentist once held up a toothbrush and asked him if he’d ever seen one, to which Johnson answered, “I use one of those to clean my pistol.”
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 living with just a few hearty slabbers like himself. …
The 640 or so state-owned acres of tumbleweed and barren sand deep in the desert of Southern California, by the Arizona and Mexico borders, is not really a city, or town, or much of anything else. Year-round, it houses fewer than a hundred people, parked on concrete slabs in the sand, in campers or buses or the shells of whatever vehicle they could scrounge. But come the pale sun of winter, it becomes a bona fide attraction for a couple of thousand people fleeing the snow of the Midwest, Northwest and Canada.
The migrants, or snowbirds, come to Slab City in all manner of vehicle. They bring trailers that look like ranch houses on wheels, pickup trucks with tents and tarps on them, and every kind of camper in between. (There is even a snowbird reverend, who brings in his own nondenominational Christian church.) They start arriving in late October, reach critical mass by Thanksgiving and will drive away around April, returning Slab City to its other, loner self.
Winter can make for a sometimes uneasy mix. Snowbirds are retirees mostly, who stay about five months, merry as scouts on a camping trip. The slabbers, of all ages, eke out an existence from small retirement or other government checks, or just plain grit and charity. …
But Mr. Morofsky, 38, a self-taught mechanic who lives in a bus on a slab he shares with his girlfriend, three dogs, half a dozen chubby puppies and three friends with three more dogs and three more puppies, sees the bright side of sharing the desert half the year. He earns his bread fixing engines, generators, or just about anything the snowbirds need fixed.
“Snowbirds and slabbers are a different class of people. But we can all get along,” said Mr. Morofsky, playing catch with six dogs in the Coachella Branch of the All-American Canal that runs through Slab City like a vein. …
Everyone in Slab City, snowbird and slabber alike, is a squatter. They stay here for nothing (and get nothing in return, they like to say). They can pick up their mail at the post office in Niland, the down-and-out farm town four miles away. The Imperial County Sheriff’s Department, and the Niland Fire Department, keep watch to protect them. The dozen or so children in Slab City get picked up by the school bus. That is it as far as services. …
Yet chances are, if you ask someone who lives in Slab City full time what it is like, you will hear that it is like a lot of places, only hotter.
Not true. Slab City is a community of sorts for people who have not found community elsewhere, or else have not wanted it. The slab part of its name comes from its origins as a military base half a century ago. When the Army pulled up stakes, it left concrete slabs used as foundations for portable buildings. People began using the slabs to set up camps.
The most famous resident of Slab City is Leonard Knight, who has been building a mountain to God out of homemade clay for 16 years. His Salvation Mountain, painted in the colors of Froot Loops from donated paint, is three stories high, says “God Is Love” for at least two stories, and can be seen for miles around. It also marks the official entrance to Slab City. Mr. Knight, who is 69, is used to getting photographed for art books and magazines, but remains down to earth. “I try to spread God’s love everywhere,” he said.
Other longtime slabbers include Linda Barnett, who has lived here 12 years. She lives in a camper with a camouflage net as a canopy and a large antenna on the roof. The official Slab City hostess, she makes nightly announcements on a CB radio for all residents. “The announcements are about services provided, food programs, things for barter and trade,” she said wearily from a picnic bench. “The announcements can take 45 minutes.”
Then there is Mel Martin, known as Pops. An elderly eccentric millionaire, or so it is rumored, he lives in a truck in a compound with Mr. Morofsky, in protest, he said, of bourgeois society.
“What I want to know of the outside world,” he said, “is, are people ever going to rise from their complacency? We need a little protest in this country.”
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 the town of Niland, a broken-down place of limited possibilities.
Turn left on Main Street and head down the road to the railroad tracks where the law sometimes waits, as though the tracks were an international boundary.
“Where you going?” asked the deputy, Frank Lopez, on a recent night, even though the road leads to just one place. The Slabs.
Bored stiff, the deputy spun a ghost story about drugged-out crazies, a cult in a blue bus, a child molester, a man who sleeps with rattlesnakes, a mobster on the lam, and old people, flocks of old people who have traded in their picket fences for a mobile home and a life on the drift. …
Five miles down is the sign, “Welcome to Slab City,” marking the entrance of this former World War II military base. The only suggestion of life this night was the flickering of campfires. …
Pastor Hyatt, at 69, has inherited the burden of living. His wife, Audrey, died this year after suffering a stroke here in the desert wasteland. The memory of her scent is everywhere.
“Ah, he’s lonely, and it’s tough to see it,” said Rusty, 73, who sat at the pastor’s fire, warming himself. Rusty looked and smelled like a bum — the price paid, he said, for freedom. “Nobody particularly wants to die out here in the desert, but the living’s free.”
Slab City is not so sinister as it is a strange, forlorn quarter of America. It is a town that is not really a town, a former training grounds with nothing left but the concrete slabs where the barracks stood. Gen. George S. Patton trained troops here. Pilots of the Enola Gay practiced their atomic mission, dropping dummy bombs into the sea.
The land belongs to the state, but the state, like the law, does not bother, and so the Slabs have become a place to park free. More than 3,000 elderly people settle in for the winter, in a pattern that dates back at least 20 years. They are mostly single, divorced or widowed — a whole generation on the road, independent, alone. In this place, to be 55 years old is to be young.
There are no amenities; no potable water, no electricity, no sewerage. Groceries can be picked up in town at the grubby market whose managers do not seem to mind that hundreds of people fill their jugs from the water tap. Mail is routed to a post office box — Niland, CA 92257. Gasoline is bought in distant towns like Brawley; prescriptions and liquor are bought in Mexico. Sewage is held in storage tanks or holes in the ground.
The north side of Main Street is Poverty Flats. The south side, the suburbs, where the relatively well-to-do motorhomies have their dinner dances and clubhouse trailers.
Cole Robertson lives in the Flats with his wife, Mabel. Mr. Robertson, 72, is a retired construction worker from East Texas who cuts an intimidating figure, sitting shirtless, with one rheumy eye, a watermelon physique and a cotton fields vocabulary. An argument with a neighbor last year ended with one of the Robertsons’ trailers in flames. That is how law is dispensed in the Flats, vigilante style. One man was dragged to death a few years ago, another shot in the kneecap last year. Occasionally, the deputies do come around, usually in the day to exercise a warrant or to remove children who have not been seen in school for months. But normally, justice comes at the end of a matchstick in the Flats.
“There ain’t no rules,” Mr. Robertson said. He told of his neighbors, an aging man who lives with his voices in the rundown bus, a geriatric transvestite, a no-good who strapped his kid to a tree and left him in the sun.
A few years ago, a man tried making scrap metal from an unexploded aluminum shell he found at the bombing range in the nearby Chocolate Mountains. He succeeded but at the cost of his own life. His legs had to be picked from a tree.
It was in this anarchy, eight years ago, that Pastor Hyatt stumbled upon his life’s purpose. He discovered the Slabs quite by accident. He and Audrey had packed up their whole life, sold the house in Lebanon, Ore., left their jobs at the titanium plant where he was a shift foreman, said goodbye to their children and to their obligations and struck out on the road.
He was not always a good man, he admits that. He had a temper and hard fists. But he came across a band of rolling revivalists that first year on the road, and followed them to Minnesota. He was ordained by the World Wide Ministries without ever studying at seminary and seems a little embarrassed by this.
Stuck near Niland, the pastor inquired about a place to camp in an R.V. for the evening. A stranger told him about the Slabs, five miles down the road.
Upon seeing the privation and sadness and isolation, the preacher and his wife believed that the Creator had given them a second life. They built the Slab City Christian Center out of modular housing and began to preach and feed October through April, when the weather is clement and the Slabs come to life.
When people were found dead in their trailers, the pastor and his wife were there with a Psalm. They gave children rides to the hospital. The Hyatts paid for the work from their life savings. But Audrey was felled by a stroke in February and passed in May.
When she died, the pastor’s self-assurance faltered and he found that he had become one of the lost, emotionally stranded with one foot in hell and the other on an ice cube. …
Rusty, the doubter who cleans his shirt once a week in a bucket. Rusty, who tells about a prepubescent military career. Rusty, whose smell and language come from the stables. Rusty, who came in on a bus and says he ran a militia out of this camp for 12 years in case the Mexicans invaded from the south or the F.B.I. from the east.
“Everybody can’t fit in to the middle-class life,” said Rusty, who wore a military shirt and cap, military boots and long fingernails as thick as seashells. Suffice it to say, Rusty does not want people to know him and does not disclose his last name.
The evening was cold and dark, the air thick with the smells of burning salt oak as Slab City went to sleep. A Frank Sinatra record played somewhere across the salt flats. The thunder of bombs clapped on the far side of the Chocolate Mountains. Rusty smoked by himself in his broken-down camper with the flat wheels and camouflage netting. A lamp burned in the pastor’s trailer.
Rusty talked about a daughter who did not want anything to do with him; a wife he reckoned was working a truck stop somewhere between California and Texas. But Rusty is human. He dreams of a rich woman from the south side of the Slabs. They wear makeup, those girls over there in the R.V.’s. They use toilets instead of buckets. They have class. It’s never going to happen, he says. “I’d love to have company, but I can’t dance anymore,” he said. “I got old legs, but I’m a good conversationalist. But those women over there, they’re stuck up. Middle-class stuck up.”
The senior citizens on the south side of town travel in a sort of lonely-hearts club tailgate. They are alone, having suffered a late-life divorce or the death of a longtime partner. Their vehicles are big, expensive Coachmen and Fleetwoods and Ramblers and the like. They work as a sort of neighborhood watch, and the denizens of the Flats do not cross the imaginary line.
The majority of the society is women. They come to the Slabs because it is free and close to Mexico, where liquor and prescription medicine can be bought cheap. They are educated, savvy about life and competent mechanics.
Donna Lee Cole is a member of Loners on Wheels, a rolling singles club with chapters across the United States. Mrs. Cole says there are at least 10,000 people who belong to this subsociety of aged hobos, people who drive around in search of nothing except tomorrow. They tend to be women, she said, because women live longer than men. …
“We women aren’t looking for a man,” she explained. “The divorcees walked away from a bad situation and don’t want another one. The widows draw Blue Cross and their husband’s Social Security and would lose it if they married a new man. So you don’t bother. You’re just looking for some company.”
Besides, Mrs. Cole says, look at the quality of men, no offense. “They’re bald and paunchy and toothless. I’m old, but I’m not dead.” …
The lonely-hearts clubs have happy hour and social mixers, dances twice a week and trips to town for steak dinners. Still, the Elvis generation goes to bed early and goes to bed alone.
“I was married 46 years,” says Tina Faye at the afternoon mixer at the L.O.W. slab. At 80, Mrs. Faye strikes an exotic figure, lean, rouged, coiffed, with a voice as thick as apricot nectar.
“My man told me to go on if I was to outlive him. So I took to the road. But I feel him sitting there right next to me. I can’t let him go.”
The mood is a bit sad until Ruth Halford, a 74-year-old-widow with a silver permanent, pipes up. “I’m not sad about anything. I don’t owe nobody nothing. I scratch my plans in the dirt. I’m not looking for anybody. The only person I’m in love with is me. Right, girls?”
This is maddening to the eligible bachelor, like a dog chasing a pork chop on a string. A waste of a perfectly beautiful woman.
“Those girls, they get to being independent and they don’t need men,” said John Clairmont, 77, a retired truck driver. “You can never get them to come home with you.” …
The pastor talked about random things from his life with his wife. The snowstorms and eggs in a rooming house. The smell of her hair. Ceramic snowmen she collected. Her face lighted by the dashboard lights. Recipes the children do not ask for. Grandchildren who, chances are, will not remember her name. Death in the desert in some nameless place without longitude or shade.
“That’s the tragedy of old age,” the pastor said as his eyes welled once again. “I’m alone. I’m derelict without her.”
Rusty stared at his feet.
From Patrick Smith’s “Ask the pilot” (Salon: 4 August 2006):
The wing is shorn off. It lies upside down in the dirt amid a cluster of desert bushes. The flaps and slats are ripped away, and a nest of pipes sprouts from the engine attachment pylon like the flailing innards of some immense dead beast. Several yards to the west, the center fuselage has come to rest inverted, the cabin cracked open like an eggshell. Inside, shattered rows of overhead bins are visible through a savage tangle of cables, wires, ducts and insulation. Seats are flung everywhere, still attached to one another in smashed-up units of two and three. I come to a pair of first-class chairs, crushed beneath the remains of a thousand-pound bulkhead. In the distance, the plane’s tail sits upright in a gesture of mutilated repose, twisted sharply to one side. High on the fin, the blue and white logo remains visible, save for a large vacant portion where the rudder used to be. …
I’m taking in one of the aviation world’s most curious and fascinating places, the “boneyard” at Mojave Airport in California, 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
The Mojave Desert is a barren place, a region of forbidding rocky hills and centuries-old Joshua trees. But it’s also an area with a rich aerospace history. Edwards Air Force Base and the U.S. Navy’s China Lake weapons station are both here, as well as the airport in Palmdale, where the Lockheed L-1011 was built. The Mojave Airport, officially known as the Mojave Airport and Civilian Aerospace Test Center, is the first FAA-licensed “spaceport” in the United States, home to a burgeoning commercial spacecraft industry. It’s a spot for ingenuity and innovation, you could say. But for hundreds of commercial jetliners, it is also the end of the road.
Of several aircraft scrap yards and storage facilities, including others in Arizona, Oklahoma and elsewhere in California, Mojave is arguably the most famous. …
There are upward of 200 planes at Mojave, though the number rises and falls as hulls are destroyed — or returned to service. Not all of the inventory is permanently grounded or slated for destruction. Neither are the planes necessarily old. Aircraft are taken out of service for a host of reasons, and age, strictly speaking, isn’t always one of them. The west side of the airport is where most of the newer examples are parked. MD-80s, Fokker 100s and an assortment of later-model 737s line the sunbaked apron in a state of semiretirement, waiting for potential buyers. They wear the standard uniform of prolonged storage: liveries blotted out, intakes and sensor probes wrapped and covered to protect them from the ravages of climate — and from the thousands of desert jackrabbits that make their homes here. A few of the ships are literally brand new, flown straight to Mojave from the assembly line to await reassignment after a customer changed its plans. …
The scrap value of a carcass is anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000.
“New arrivals, as it were, tend to come in bunches,” explains Mike Potter, one of several Mojave proprietors. …
Before they’re broken up, jets are scavenged for any useful or valuable parts. Control surfaces — ailerons, rudders, slats and elevators — have been carefully removed. Radomes — the nose-cone assemblies that conceal a plane’s radar — are another item noticeable by their absence. And, almost without exception, engines have been carted away for use elsewhere, in whole or in part. Potter has a point about being careful out here, for the boneyard floor is an obstacle course of random, twisted, dangerously sharp detritus. Curiously, I notice hundreds of discarded oxygen masks, their plastic face cups bearing the gnaw marks of jackrabbits. Some of the jets are almost fully skeletonized, and much of what used to rest inside is now scattered across the ground. …
Near the eastern perimeter sits a mostly intact Continental Airlines 747. This is one of Potter’s birds, deposited here in 1999. A hundred-million-dollar plane, ultimately worth about 25 grand for the recyclers. …
From Wikipedia’s “PirahÃƒÂ£ language“:
The PirahÃƒÂ£ language is a language spoken by the PirahÃƒÂ£ – an indigenous people of Amazonas, Brazil, who live along the Maici river, a tributary of the Amazon.
PirahÃƒÂ£ is believed to be the only surviving member of the Mura language family, all other members having become extinct in the last few centuries. It is therefore a language isolate, without any known connection to other languages. Despite having only ~150 speakers as of 2004, in eight villages along the Maici, it is not itself in immediate danger of extinction, as language use is vigorous and the PirahÃƒÂ£ community is monolingual. …
Unusual features of PirahÃƒÂ£ include:
- One of the smallest phoneme inventories of any known language …, and a correspondingly high degree of allophonic variation, including two very rare sounds …
- The pronunciation of several phonemes depends on the speaker’s sex.
- An extremely limited clause structure.
- No grammatical numerals, not even “one” or “two”; the closest the language comes to numerals are general quantity words like [“a few”, “some”, and “many”].
- No abstract color words other than terms for light and dark.
- Few specific kin terms; one word covers both “father” and “mother” [and they appear not to keep track of relationships any more distant than biological siblings.]
- The entire set of personal pronouns appears to have been borrowed from Nheengatu, the Tupi-based lingua franca. Although there is no documentation of a prior stage of PirahÃƒÂ£, the close resemblance of the PirahÃƒÂ£ pronouns to those of Nheengatu makes any other hypothesis improbable.
- PirahÃƒÂ£ can be whistled, hummed, or encoded in music.
The occurrence of so many unusual linguistic features in a single language is remarkable.
From Nicholas Thompson’s “Who Needs Keys?” (Legal Affairs: November/December 2004):
The event was organized by 2600, a quarterly magazine whose name refers to one of the great discoveries in hacker history: that the plastic whistles given away free in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal in the early 1970s could be slightly modified to create sound waves of 2600 MHz, a frequency that allowed you to make free calls on the old AT&T phone system.
From Brian Montopoli’s “The Queue Crew: Waiting in line for a living” (Legal Affairs: January/February 2004):
ON CAPITOL HILL, a placeholder is someone paid by the hour to wait in line. When legislative committees hold hearings, they reserve seats for Congressional staffers, for the press, and for the general public. The general-public seats are the only ones available to the so-called influence peddlers, the Washington lawyers and lobbyists whose livelihood depends on their ability to influence legislation. These seats are first come, first served, which is where the placeholders (also called “stand-ins” or “linestanders”) come in. Since most lobbyists and lawyers seeking to rub shoulders with lawmakers don’t have time to wait in line themselves, they pay others to do it for them.
Rather than use an independent contractor, most influence peddlers secure placeholders through one of the two companies that control about 80 percent of the market: Congressional Services Company and the CVK Group, both of which have rosters of on-call placeholders at the ready. Most of the time, placeholders are asked to wait for just a few hours, often arriving around 5 a.m. to wait for hearings scheduled for 10 a.m. If seats are in great demand, however, placeholders can be asked to get in line several days in advance. Congressional Services charges its clients $32 to $40 per hour for each placeholder, and the placeholders themselves make $10 to $15 an hour. …
For the sake of logistics and appearances, the lines usually form outdoors and stay there until a few hours before a hearing. …
Today, however, most placeholders are not nimble students out to earn a little spending money but older men and women trying to make ends meet. Jim Keegan is one of the “Van Gogh veterans,” a group of placeholders discovered by Congressional Services in 1998 when they were standing in line to get coveted free tickets to the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. …
Now he said he has time to pursue his interests and get paid. “I’ll probably make $2,000 to $3,000 in a good month,” he said. “That’s more than I made at my old job.”
There is a collegial atmosphere among the placeholders – if you leave to go get something to eat, you aren’t going to lose your spot – but simple tasks like going to the bathroom present challenges. During the day, placeholders can go into the Rayburn Building, but after hours they have to make their way over to the public bathrooms at Union Station. Getting sleep is also a problem. Since the lines form on public sidewalks, placeholders are technically not allowed to sit down, and though the Capitol Hill police often ignore them, there are evenings when an overzealous officer will repeatedly wake them up and tell them to stand. …
Once, a group upset over banking regulations brought busloads of protesters to a hearing, only to discover that they wouldn’t be able to get in, thanks to the placeholders. A scuffle ensued, but the placeholders held their ground.
In general, however, most staffers and politicians don’t even notice the placeholders they pass on their way to work. …
Since hearings can be rescheduled or closed to the public at the last minute, the placeholding services insist on getting paid regardless of whether their clients succeed in getting in. Keegan and Herzog’s long wait, for example, ended before they could pass along their spots to their clients: The housing hearing was cancelled because of partisan infighting, and after two days and 20 hours of waiting, the placeholders were sent home on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
The next morning, however, after showers and a change of clothes, many of them were back, this time to wait for a healthcare hearing before the Commerce Committee. When I arrived at the Rayburn Building at 9 a.m., over 70 people were waiting to get into the hearing, and by 10, when it was scheduled to start, there were more than 200. The line began around the corner from the hearing room and snaked past elevator banks and Congressional offices. At the front were mostly placeholders, among them a bored-looking young man with red sneakers and a hat worn sideways and a woman in her late 30s wearing a frayed sweatshirt that read “OJ SIMPSON: JUICE ON THE LOOSE.” …
Thirty minutes before the hearing began, the clients started showing up. The placeholders were identified by placards or by assistant managers who worked the line. A bald white man in his 40s with a yellow tie and an expensive suit took his spot and thanked his placeholder. (Congressional rules prohibit tipping.)
From Bruce Schneier’s “Steganography: Truths and Fictions“:
Steganography is the science of hiding messages in messages. … In the computer world, it has come to mean hiding secret messages in graphics, pictures, movies, or sounds. …
The point of steganography is to hide the existence of the message, to hide the fact that the parties are communicating anything other than innocuous photographs. This only works when it can be used within existing communications patterns. I’ve never sent or received a GIF in my life. If someone suddenly sends me one, it won’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there’s a steganographic message hidden somewhere in it. If Alice and Bob already regularly exchange files that are suitable to hide steganographic messages, then an eavesdropper won’t know which messages — if any — contain the messages. If Alice and Bob change their communications patterns to hide the messages, it won’t work. An eavesdropper will figure it out.
… Don’t use the sample image that came with the program when you downloaded it; your eavesdropper will quickly recognize that one. Don’t use the same image over and over again; your eavesdropper will look for the differences between that indicate the hidden message. Don’t use an image that you’ve downloaded from the net; your eavesdropper can easily compare the image you’re sending with the reference image you downloaded.
From James Grimmelmann’s “Life, Death, and Democracy Online“:
… The necessity of a ‘Quit’ option is obvious; no adventure game yet invented can force an unwilling player to continue playing. She can always give the game the three-finger salute, flip the power switch, or throw her computer in the junk heap. …
Banishment is the absolute worst punishment any multi-player online role-playing game can impose on a player. Which is to say that a painless execution is the absolute worst punishment any game society can impose on the characters who are its citizens. Torture is not an option. Imprisonment and fines can be imposed, true, but as soon as the player behind the character finds that these punishments are too onerous, she can simply terminate her account and stop logging in; the rest of the deterrent value of the punishment evaporates. It’s hard to hold characters accountable.
After all, anyone the least bit familiar with the workings of the new era’s definitive technology, the computer, knows that it operates on a principle impracticably difficult to distinguish from the pre-Enlightenment principle of the magic word: the commands you type into a computer are a kind of speech that doesn’t so much communicate as make things happen, directly and ineluctably, the same way pulling a trigger does. They are incantations, in other words, and anyone at all attuned to the technosocial megatrends of the moment — from the growing dependence of economies on the global flow of intensely fetishized words and numbers to the burgeoning ability of bioengineers to speak the spells written in the four-letter text of DNA — knows that the logic of the incantation is rapidly permeating the fabric of our lives.