RFC-20

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The choice of this encoding has made ASCII-compatible standards the language that computers use to communicate to this day.

Even casual internet users have probably encountered a URL with “%20” in it where there logically ought to be a space character. If we look at this RFC we see this:

   Column/Row  Symbol      Name

   2/0         SP          Space (Normally Non-Printing)

Hey would you look at that! Column 2, row 0 (2,0; 20!) is what stands for “space”. When you see that “%20”, it’s because of this RFC, which exists because of some bureaucratic decisions made in the 1950s and 1960s.

Darius Kazemi is reading a single RFC every day throughout 2019 and writing up his understanding as to the content and importance of each. It’s good reading if you’re “into” RFCs and it’s probably pretty interesting if you’re just a casual Internet historian.

Evaluating the GCHQ Exceptional Access Proposal

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In a blog post, cryptographer Matthew Green summarized the technical problems with this GCHQ proposal. Basically, making this backdoor work requires not only changing the cloud computers that oversee communications, but it also means changing the client program on everyone’s phone and computer. And that change makes all of those systems less secure. Levy and Robinson make a big deal of the fact that their backdoor would only be targeted against specific individuals and their communications, but it’s still a general backdoor that could be used against anybody.

The basic problem is that a backdoor is a technical capability — a vulnerability — that is available to anyone who knows about it and has access to it. Surrounding that vulnerability is a procedural system that tries to limit access to that capability. Computers, especially internet-connected computers, are inherently hackable, limiting the effectiveness of any procedures. The best defense is to not have the vulnerability at all.

Lest we ever forget why security backdoors, however weasely well-worded, are a terrible idea, we’ve got Schneier calling them out. Spooks in democratic nations the world over keep coming up with “innovative” suggestions like this one from GCHQ but they keep solving the same problem, the technical problem of key distribution or key weakening or whatever it is that they want to achieve this week, without solving the actual underlying problem which is that any weakness introduced to a secure system, even a weakness that was created outwardly for the benefit of the “good guys”, can and eventually will be used by the “bad guys” too.

Furthermore: any known weakness introduced into a system for the purpose of helping the “good guys” will result in the distrust of that system by the people they’re trying to catch. It’s pretty trivial for criminals, foreign agents and terrorists to switch from networks that their enemies have rooted to networks that they (presumably) haven’t, which tends to mean a drift towards open-source security systems. Ultimately, any backdoor that gets used in a country with transparent judicial processes becomes effectively public knowledge, and ceases to be useful for the “good guys” any more. Only the non-criminals suffer, in the long run.

Sigh.

The Route of a Text Message

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With each tap, a small electrical current passes from the screen to her hand. Because electricity flows easily through human bodies, sensors on the phone register a change in voltage wherever her thumb presses against the screen. But the world is messy, and the phone senses random fluctuations in voltage across the rest of the screen, too, so an algorithm determines the biggest, thumbiest-looking voltage fluctuations and assumes that’s where she intended to press.

Figure 0. Capacitive touch.

So she starts tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, one letter at a time.

I-spacebar-l-o-v-e-spacebar-y-o-u.

I’ve long been a fan of “full story” examinations of how technology works. This one looks and the sending and receipt of an SMS text message from concept through touchscreen, encoding and transmission, decoding and display. It’s good to be reminded that whatever technology you build, even a “basic” Arduino project, a “simple” website or a “throwaway” mobile app, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Your work sits atop decades or more of infrastructure, standards, electronics and research.

Sometimes it feels pretty fragile. But mostly it feels like magic.

Security Checklist

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Be safe on the internet.

An open source checklist of resources designed to improve your online privacy and security. Check things off to keep track as you go.

I’m pretty impressed with this resource. It’s a little US-centric and I would have put the suggestions into a different order, but many of the ideas on it are very good and are presented in a way that makes them accessible to a wide audience.

The most unexpected answer to a counting puzzle

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Summary: if an idealised weight slides into another, bouncing it off a wall then back into itself, how many times will the two collide? If the two weights are the same then the answer is 3: the first collision imparts all of the force of the first into the second, the second collision is the second bouncing off the wall, and the third imparts the force from the second back into the first. If the second weight weighs ten times as much as the first, the answer turns out to be 31. One hundred times as much, and there are 314 bounces. One thousand times, and there are 3,141. Ten thousand times, and there are 31,415… spot the pattern? The number of bounces are the digits of pi.

Why? This is mindblowing. And this video doesn’t answer the question (completely): it only poses it. But I’ll be looking forward to the next episode’s explanation…

There’s lots of ugliness in the world right now, so I think it’s important to share these photos…

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There’s lots of ugliness in the world right now, so I think it’s important to share these photos of what happened when my friend Marvin called me & said: “I’m getting married & we can only invite 100 people. You didn’t make the cut. But you can come if you come as a drunk clown.”
(1) There’s not a lot of story to tell, but for anyone who wants some DRUNK CLOWN AT THE WEDDING backstory:

Marvin had a vision of a drunk clown crashing his wedding. It’s all he ever wanted. Laura was on board. That’s the kind of perfect-for-each-other weirdos they are.

(2) I arrived in a regular suit. I had the clown outfit, face paint, shavingg stuff (I had a full beard & needed to shave for the make-up) and two 40oz’s (Marvin asked for a drunk clown, so I was giving him a D*R*U*N*K clown) in a bag I hid in a bathroom next to the ceremony.
(3) I only knew a handful of people at the wedding. Didn’t know Marvin or Laura’s families. More importantly, they didn’t know me. Which made me the perfect surprise drunk clown.
(4) I didn’t want them to recognize me when I showed up as a clown — the idea was to make it feel like an actual drunk clown had crashed the festivities — so I didn’t mingle much.
(5) As soon as the ceremony was over, people were directed to another area for a wine reception. I slipped away to the bathroom with @AimieRocks, who was helping with my make-up. I shaved off the beard, did my face, got into the clown suit, and pounded one of the 40oz’s.
Total lightweight here. I was hammered pretty quickly. I’m a method actor, so I drank half the other 40oz too. Then I stumbled over to the wine reception.
(7) I barged in, marched over to Laura’s mom, grabbed her wine, downed it, then handed the empty glass back to her. CONFUSION. MILD CHAOS.

WHO IS THIS DRUNK CLOWN?

(8) I accidentally shattered a few wine glasses, but I gotta say I brought a real JOVIAL DRUNK CLOWN vibe to the whole affair, so people embraced me pretty quickly, even though I kept drinking their wine.
(9) Except for Laura’s dad, who called for security to escort me out. She had to tell him that I was AN OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE WEDDING PARTY.

Best Man ☑️
Maid of Honor ☑️
Drunk Clown ☑️

(10) At some point, we must have gone into the vineyard to take those photos in the original tweet up above, but honestly I was so drunk that I don’t remember taking them.

Anyway, I told you there wasn’t much backstory. It was an awesome wedding. <end>

ADDENDUM: just found this photo & it made me laugh. This is after security was called off, after everyone found out I wasn’t a DRUNK CLOWN STRANGER but a DRUNK CLOWN FRIEND. And everyone’s just…so…completely…CHILL. Just like, “whatevs,” as I drink more.
(12) OMG okay so I guess I have to make a SECOND ADDENDUM because @AimieRocks just emailed me some more photos from the wedding. Adding them to this thread…
(13) What I wore to the wedding ceremony. (That’s not my hat, that’s @AimieRocks‘s hat, I’m *not* a hat person but wearing it made me feel like Diane Keaton.) Posting these photos so you can see the beard I had before my clown transformation. I shaved that thing off SO QUICKLY.
(14) DRUNK WEDDING CLOWN, A PORTRAIT. I hate beer so much, but I had to get in character and I feel like drunk wedding clowns drink beer??? I’ve barely had any of the beer and already a little drunk in this photo. We didn’t leave the bathroom until after I finished that bottle.
(15) Last three photos. I love how Laura’s pretending not to know me in that first one. The kissing photo is with another good college friend, Michal. I have no idea who I’m talking to in that third photo. <end addendum> xx
Marvin just joined twitter to tell me that’s his mom I’m hugging in the third photo in this tweet. I’M SORRY, MARVIN. But welcome to twitter. xo

(17) ADDENDUM #3: @MarvinSolomon8 just texted me the name of their wedding photographer. Shoutout to SAMUEL POTTER PHOTOGRAPHY in Paso Robles. Here’s his website:

He took the three vineyard photos & obviously has a great eye. THANK YOU SAMUEL POTTER.

I was at a party this afternoon and an old friend introduced me to his wife, then told her: “honey, this is the drunk clown I told you about.”
Someone messaged me asking if they could interview me about the drunk clown stuff for a TV show & we’re about to skype. I texted my mom and asked “how do I look?” This is her reply. WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN??? IS THAT A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING??? WHAT ARE YOU TELLING ME, MOM???
My grandma’s been in the hospital with bad shingles & infection. It’s been a scary, stressful week, & she’s been in bad pain. But she’s getting A LOT better. And thankfully she just got moved to rehab facility.

My mom just texted me this photo she took of grandma’s new room.

A friend just texted that he’s showing these drunk wedding clown photos to his family tomorrow and I hope it brings them all closer together.

Iraq’s Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge

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The next suspect insisted that he had been arrested by mistake—that his name was similar to that of someone in ISIS. A private defense lawyer explained that his client had confessed to ISIS affiliation under torture—he had a medical examination to prove it—but none of the judges appeared to be listening. As the lawyer spoke, they cracked jokes, signed documents, and beckoned their assistants to collect folders from the bench. Sahar yawned. The trial lasted eight minutes.

“Enough evidence—I ask for a guilty verdict,” the prosecutor said. It was the only phrase she uttered in court that morning.

Iraq’s well out of the news cycle and even ISIS isn’t getting the coverage it once did. But for many in post-ISIS Iraq, the battle is far from over. A country bloodthirsty for revenge against the terrorists who held Mosul, a judiciary more-interested in fast results rather than right results, and a legal system that promotes and accepts confession under torture creates the perfect breeding ground for tomorrow’s disaster.

Toddler Feelings Helpline

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Hello, you have reached the Toddler Feelings Helpline. Please choose from the following options:

— If Mama went to the store for a minute but you are pretty sure she’s never coming back, please mash all of the keys but mostly 1.

— If you still feel pretty messed up about how they were just going to burn the Velveteen Rabbit, please mash all of the keys but mostly 2.

— If you don’t like the way your shirt is right now, please hit a sibling for no reason.

Making single color SVG icons work in dark mode

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In a project I work on, we had a couple of buttons that consisted of just icons (with visually hidden help text). The awesome QA engineer I worked with, found some of those did not show up in dark mode, which rendered the buttons unusable for users of that mode. Using inline SVGs with currentColor fixed the issue.

This is neat. I’m not yet convinced of how wise it is for an operating system preference (dark mode) to be exposed via its browser, but I can see the logic. And I approve of the fact that CSS can be used to interrogate it. But really what I like about this article is the demonstration of how currentColor propogates even into inline SVGs: that’s neat, and a good observation by the author of the linked article.

So, a shipment of crickets for the lizard arrived via FedEx today…

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So, a shipment of crickets for the lizard arrived via FedEx today. It was my first time ordering bulk crickets off the internet, and I naively assumed that they would be in like, a bag or some other contraption to facilitate easy transfer to another container. They were not.

They were in a cardboard box. And I cut the tape and opened the box and SURPRISE! Crickets everywhere. It was the middle of the workday and I didn’t have time to deal with cricket logistics, so I put the tape back on the box.

And then I put the box in the upstairs bathroom, the only semi-contained place in the house where I knew the kids and the cats and the dogs wouldn’t be able to get at the box and tear it open and unleash 250 hungry crickets into our warm, semi-humid environment.

About 20 minutes later I’m back at work on my computer, and I hear my wife in the kitchen: “where are these goddamn crickets coming from.” I freely admit I had not kept her fully up-to-date on my cricket purchasing plans.

And at first I was like “okay, maybe one or two got out when I initially opened the box. No biggie.” I kept working.
With the benefit of hindsight, this was a mistake.

I’m trying to wrap up a story but I keep hearing cricket-related exclamations coming from the kitchen. Eventually I get up to investigate. I say, “So uh the crickets got here toda–”

“I REALIZE THAT,” she says. “WHY ARE THEY ALL OVER THE KITCHEN”

I say “That’s a good question. Let me check something.” I walk over to the bathroom. I open the door. There are crickets. Everywhere.
Crickets on the floor. Crickets on the walls. Crickets in the sink. Crickets in the toilet.

For some reason my first instinct is to flush the toilet, as if that will do anything to solve the problem of crickets in all the other places that were not the toilet. I shut the door. “Uh, don’t come in here!” I try to sound cheerful.

Apparently I had not sealed the box shut as well as I should have. I ended up rushing out to the shed, in the 18″ of snow and below zero temperatures, to pick up a spare aquarium we had. I spent about 45 minutes collecting crickets from the bathroom.

Of course by this point many had migrated elsewhere. They were in the closet. In the shoes. Making their way downstairs to the playroom. The cats were having what I can only imagine was the greatest day of their lives.

I tried to collect all of them. It was like the world’s shittiest game of Pokemon. But here we are, roughly 10 hours after the initial catastrophe, and stray crickets are still turning up in odd places.

I make this information public because if I do not send any tweets tomorrow, it is because my wife murdered me after finding a cricket in our bed in the middle of the night.

And that’s the news from Red Lake Falls.
Good afternoon everyone.

I’m pleased to report that I’m still alive, and that my marriage is still intact! You all had so much fun with this that my editor made me turn it into a story, which I present to you here, as a sort of director’s cut of this thread.

To all you monsters who demanded photos of the infestation: believe it or not, while a horde of crickets was marauding through my house I did not think to whip out my phone and start snapping pics

I mean, can you imagine?
Wife: THERE’S A CRICKET IN MY PUMPKIN PIE
Me: This is tremendous content, where’s my phone

But I’m glad you all enjoyed our suffering, we’ve been laughing our asses off at your responses all day which almost makes it all worth it. To my new followers, I look forward to disappointing you in 2019.

Speaking as somebody who’s previously managed to accidentally infest a house with crickets, I feel this guy’s pain. We tried to ignore ours, thinking that they’d die out in the winter, but instead they just huddled into the warmest, least-accessible places in the house, such as under the fireplace and the fridge-freezer, and continued their incessant chirping. It was only when we started putting down ant poison that we began to bring the plague under control.

Additional Processors

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Computerphile at its best, here tackling the topic of additional (supplementary) processors, like FPUs, GPUs, sound processors, etc., to which CPUs outsource some of their work under specific circumstances. Even speaking as somebody who’s upgraded a 386/SX to a 386/DX through the addition of a “math co-processor” (an FPU) and seeing the benefit in applications for which floating point arithmetic was a major part (e.g. some early 3D games), I didn’t really think about what was really happening until I saw this video. There’s always more to learn, fellow geeks!