Ramblings & ephemera

The botnet hunters

From The Washington Post‘s “Bringing Botnets Out of the Shadows“: Nicholas Albright’s first foray into some of the darkest alleys of the Internet came in November 2004, shortly after his father committed suicide. About a month following his father’s death, Albright discovered that online criminals had broken into his dad’s personal computer and programmed it […]

Zombie ships adrift off the shore of Africa

From “Happiness: The Chinese zombie ships of West Africa“: We’re in the big African Queen inflatable, cruising alongside an anchored trawler. It’s more rust than metal – the ship is rotting away. The foredeck is covered in broken machinery. The fish deck is littered with frayed cables, and the mast lies horizontally, hanging over the […]

Hear someone typing & know what was written

From Edward Felten’s “Acoustic Snooping on Typed Information“: Li Zhuang, Feng Zhou, and Doug Tygar have an interesting new paper showing that if you have an audio recording of somebody typing on an ordinary computer keyboard for fifteen minutes or so, you can figure out everything they typed. The idea is that different keys tend […]

Tracking terrorists with Unintended Information Revelation

From “New search engine to help thwart terrorists“: With news that the London bombers were British citizens, radicalised on the streets of England and with squeaky-clean police records, comes the realisation that new mechanisms for hunting terrorists before they strike must be developed. Researchers at the University of Buffalo, US, believe they have discovered a […]

Water that uniquely identifies its owner

From SmartWater Technology: SmartWater Security Systems are forensic coding systems which can be applied in several ways: SmartWater Tracer An aqueous based solution with a unique forensic code. SmartWater Tracer uniquely codes your property, whilst being virtually invisible to the naked eye, glows under UV light and is practically impossible to remove entirely. Tracer is […]

How to fake an anthrax scare

From Bruce Schneier’s “White Powder Anthrax Hoaxes“: Earlier this month, there was an anthrax scare at the Indonesian embassy in Australia. Someone sent them some white powder in an envelope, which was scary enough. Then it tested positive for bacillus. The building was decontaminated, and the staff was quarantined for twelve hours. By then, tests […]

A living story, tattooed on flesh

From The New York Times Magazine‘s “Skin Literature“: Most artists spend their careers trying to create something that will live forever. But the writer Shelley Jackson is creating a work of literature that is intentionally and indisputably mortal. Jackson is publishing her latest short story by recruiting 2,095 people, each of whom will have one […]

3500 forgotten cans

From “Mental Health Association of Portland“: Over 3,500 copper canisters like these hold the cremated remains of patients of the Oregon State Hospital that went unclaimed by their families and friends. They sit on shelves in an abandoned building on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital. They symbolize the loneliness, isolation, shame and despair […]

Which wires match the mouse test?

From Computerworld’s “Q&A: A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert“: What’s the zaniest thing you did while developing ENIAC? The mouse cage was pretty funny. We knew mice would eat the insulation off the wires, so we got samples of all the wires that were available and put them in a cage with […]

How a 75-year-old jewel thief did it

From MSNBC’s “75-year-old jewel thief looks back“: When Doris Payne went to work, she stepped into her fancy dress, high heels and donned a wide-brimmed hat. Her creamy, mocha skin was made up just so, her handbag always designer. Sometimes a pair of plain gold earrings would do. Always, she looked immaculate, well-to-do. … New […]

Scottwords #9

“I’m going to the bladder-room.”

Scottwords #42

“it incringes on our private lives”

Unsure of himself

From "The Producer" in the 15 October 2001 issue of The New Yorker, an article about the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer: Ron Howard: But you love really sophisticated movies. Grazer: Like what? I guess I do. I do? Which ones were you thinking of? 

Short story idea #43

Defense attorney for dictators. It’s a tough business, being the lawyer that dictators call when they fall on hard times. They never bother to ring my phone when life is all castles and ice cream for every meal. No, they wait until they don’t really have a pot to piss in, and then they get […]

A few of my own portmanteau words

“blabbergasted” = blabber-mouthed + flabbergasted “exasperbated” = exacerbated + exasperated

My high concept Hollywood movie

In Hollywood there’s a meme known as “high concept”, the idea being that you can explain all there is to know about a movie in just a few words, ideally relating to another movie. So, for instance, you might describe a movie you’re looking to get a greenlight for as “Die Hard on a chicken […]

Sinatra’s footprints

From a review of Sinatra: The Life, by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, in today’s New York Times: When it snowed, one writer observed, “girls fought over his footprints, which some took home and stored in refrigerators.”

A walkway of the dead

I was walking around on Wash U’s campus a while back – I don’t remember where, exactly – when I looked down and noticed that I was walking over bricks that had been “donated” by folks who had given money to WU. This is standard practice a lot of places: donate $$$, get a brick […]

For a mystery

The first line of a mystery novel, suggested by a public defender who heard a woman say it: “I said, ‘Mama,’ I said, ‘Death was on that boy.’”