Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Red Balloons


A Fallen Flower

A fallen flower flew back to its branch! No, it was a butterfly. -Moritake

DARAP is starting up a new challenge, this time for the 40th anniversary of the internet.

For a prize of $40,o00 you just need to find the latitude and longitude of ten red weather balloons scattered across the United States.

I don’t know if you can register in teams or if it is purely individual (at least officially). This will be fun to follow as I see several things occurring that could undermine the contest (or perhaps that is part of the contest).

  • People posting the location of the balloons online for everyone to access.
  • Doing the same but with slightly or completely incorrect data.
  • Fake balloons showing up where they will be conveniently found by others.
  • Selling balloon locations for cash or prize percentage (though I would not trust this).
  • A balloon being found then removed by the person who found it (this may just disqualify this particular balloon).

If I somehow find one of these balloons in Seattle somewhere I will probably fall into the first category and post its location online, though I won’t give the latitude and longitude as I don’t have a GPS.

I just hope that at least some fake balloons start showing up.


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Some translations are hard.

Some translations are hard.

When first exploring the majesty that is the internet oh so many years ago I discovered online translators. This always intrigued me and I sought to find the most roundabout why to translate a phrase for spanish class. Usually I used german, japanese, chinese and maybe russian as intermediaries. Then taking the final spanish phrase I would run it through to english to see what it said. Occasionally it was humorous but more often then not it was just bland.

I went on with my life and occasionally needed something translation but more often then not it was something to english or a phrase into another language (for spelling things like gute nacht). I forgot completely about my attempts at iterative translations, until today.

My friend posted a link on Facebook to Translation Party, a site that takes an english phrase, translates it (via Google I believe) to japanese, back to english and so on until an equilibrium phrase is reached. This is a simple but wonderful idea and it is fun to play around with. After a few minutes I discovered that it is possible to break the site in two ways.

1. Find on unstable phrase that cannot reach equilibrium (What is on second).

2. A phrase eventually degrades into a string of non-sensical letters (My hovercraft is full of eels).

Here are some results from it:

  • Good sir, this is a wonderful idea -> Well, it’s a good idea (Some become internal conversations)
  • Never memorize what you can look up -> How do I know my heart? (Unstable)
  • Where is my hat? -> Hat? (In this case it actually worked as an equilibrium phrase between the two languages)

Automatic translations are just fun to play with. It would be neat to choose a third intermediary language (English -> Spanish -> Japanese -> Spanish -> English). Then again that might not give sensical results.

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If I every have security or body guards, I know what they will be wearing.

If I every have security or body guards, I know what they will be wearing.

Passwords are tricky things.

On one hand it is often said to have unique, complex passwords for each website and every computer. On the other hand we can only remember so much before resorting to password books, spreadsheets of logins and sticky notes on monitors.

In years of part time computer consulting I have seen a bunch of different ways of approaching the password problem. Some have used the same four letter password for everything, occasionally appending a set of numbers if the site requires 6+ characters and numbers to be involved. Others have small address books with websites listed alphabetically with their logins and unique passwords. And recently I have seen an excel spreadsheet with websites, logins and passwords all neatly typed up with notes.

I have done my best to help secure everyone with decent password practices, or at least those best suited to the individual. For those with short and frequently used passwords I had them create a complex password for critical logins like e-mail and computer accounts. Those with small books are actually doing alright, even if their unique passwords are all one word with a number appended or pre-fixed every now and then. And for the individual with a spreadsheet, I could not stop the practice so I made them used an encrypted disk image to hold the password, encouraging them to store it on a flash drive, along with a printed copy as backup.

The challenge for most people in passwords is creating those that are complex enough yet memorable. I found the best method for people is in taking a phrase they know or like and altering it into something unrecognizable. For example a famous quote:

One day, Sir, you may tax it.

– Michael Farady in response to British Prime Ministers Gladstone’s question, “What good is electricity?”.

Then take a short segment of it, “you may tax it”, which is eleven characters and use that as a basis. Add in capitalization of each word, replace characters with numbers and maybe add a few extra on the end. For bonus points add in non-alphanumeric characters. To show how it looks:

  • youmaytaxit – remove the spaces
  • YouMayTaxIt – capitalize
  • Y0uM4y74xIt – replace letters with numbers
  • Y0uM4y&4x!7 – use the shift key
  • Y0uM4y&4k!7 – replace letters with their phonetic counterpart, or similar looking characters
  • Y0uM4y&4k!767 – add some number (the year Faraday died)

The beginning may still look recognizable but the end looks like random characters. A trick to use is just hold down shift for a particular segment, I find that most passwords become muscle memory so after adding in numbers throw in a shift key to get those odd characters.

Of course some websites don’t like this very much. I recently tried to update all of my credit card passwords only to find my sweet new passwords was not accepted due to some unacceptable characters.

Finally I don’t use the unique password for every site technique. Instead I have a half dozen or so passwords that are used depending on how secure that login needs to be. Internet forums have a simple six character password while banks and sites that store credit card information have longer, more complex passwords. Every now and then I introduce a new password and sort of shift everything down a level.

The best thing to do is practice so that password becomes set in muscle memory. Of course if you have ever have to login used an iPhone then all bets are off.

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And what a face he has.

And what a face he has.


So why bother with this Facebook thing? What good can come of it when you have been getting by so far just fine?

  • Establishing new venues of communication for reaching a client base, be it a recently published book or an upcoming art show.
  • Find old friends from high school or college. You may not have thought of them for a while or lost contact over the years.
  • Stay in contact with younger family members. While letters, phone calls and e-mail may work for siblings, other relatives may only communicate through Facebook.
  • Establish a place to share photos between friends, if they are already on Facebook.


There are four main methods of talking to other people on Facebook. First I would like to define several areas.

A “Wall” is space in a profile where items are posted such as status updates, photos, links and the like. Your newsfeed is your main Facebook page that shows updates from all of your friends, this is where most people spend their time.

  • Write on a wall. This puts the message on either your own or someone’s else’s profile visible to everyone.
  • Comment on an item. You can add comments to items that put onto someone’s wall such a status update (writing on your own wall) or a posted video.
  • Direct message. This is like Facebook e-mail that can be send to multiple people. It also keeps tracks of conversations between so it appears as a thread.
  • Instant messaging. This is just instant messaging through Facebook’s built in client.


Assume everything is available for everyone to read on the entire internet. Even if they say it is not just put up what you would be fine saying or showing to everybody.

At first it was just for University students, and all was good. Then the high schoolers came and there was slight grumbling. And once it was opened to all suddenly those drunken pictures could be seen by coaches, parents and potential employers. While it can’t become available to more people now it is good to keep in mind that everyone can see it.


I get asked a lot about what information to put into the profile section. And the best advice is whatever you want. You can a wealth of information on your favorite books and quotes or leave it blank since you see this is a communication tool. It depends on your goals for Facebook.

On Friends

Some people collect them, others horde a select few. You don’t have to add everyone who asks since some may be random (from collectors) and others you may just not like.

To add friends either search for them by name or e-mail. You can also have Facebook go through your address book to check for people already on Facebook. Or just wait for people to come to you.

As for removing friends, the option is at the bottom of the left column of their profile page. When you do this they are not informed and they can only find out by seeing that you don’t show up on their friends list.

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Typewriters are fun for short periods of time.

Typewriters are fun for short periods of time.

I have been helping a writing coach develop her website: Your Book Starts Here.

Mostly I have been giving advice on layout and design, creating graphics (like the above) and helping finagle register.com‘s webpage creating tool.

Webpage creation tools can be a blessing and a curse, the one for Register.com has some issues with custom header graphics, notably they forget to tell you what size it should be to fit the webpage. That and their tile/no-tile options is always set to tile. The basic templates are decent enough with an odd amount of customization, there is just enough to be not useful.

For example: you can change the colors of links/used links on the webpage but cannot change the background color.

Unfortunately I know enough about graphic design to do well at improving and critiquing websites but I lack the background to build a new one from the ground up.

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