Shih shih…

The great linguist Chao Yuen-Ren once wrote an essay in Chinese using only words which (in Mandarin) would be transliterated as shih (using Wade-Giles; shi in pinyin). You can see the text in characters and two transliterations, read the translation (“A poet by the name of Shih Shih living in a stone den was fond of lions…”), and hear both Mandarin and Cantonese readings here

Via LanguageHat, where you can see the reference chain.

Bluetooth and phone security

Some Singaporean students have figured out how to use Bluetooth to turn off the cameras in Nokia’s phones, according to an article in Gizmodo, via a long chain to a now deleted newspaper article.
I wonder if they turn it back on when you leave the area?
However, Loosewire, the earliest still working link, implies that software is loaded onto the phone.
There have long been rumors that phones can be remotely, and silently activated, to act as bugging devices by law enforcement. Activating the camera remotely is pretty similar. It wouldn’t surprise me if BlueTooth Security vulnerabilities lead to either of these functions being controllable by whoever’s nearby. I wonder how much it would cost to repair every Nokia/Bluetooth/Camera phone in an area after someone with a high powered radio sent them all a message?

Airline "security"

The Webflyer points to a great David Rowell column, including:

An argument ensued. Ms O’Leary not unreasonably thought it unfair to be trapped on the delayed flight when there was another flight due to leave shortly that she could make if allowed to leave the United Express flight. The pilot called the police who arrested her for disorderly behavior. After some three hours of questioning by police and FBI, they eventually released her.

Ms O’Leary is not only a former US Secretary of Energy, but also a current board member of United Airlines, and has been for almost five years.

Now, while I agree that you can’t trust those senior government officials on anything, I can’t see three hours of questioning. The airlines are clearly using the police to threaten passengers who think their service stinks, and are speaking out.

Swire on Disclosure

Peter Swire has a new working draft A Model For When Disclosure Helps Security. Its a great paper which lays out two main camps, which he calls open source and military, and explains why the underlying assumptions cause clashes over disclosure. That would be a useful paper, but he then extends it into a semi-mathematical model of the factors that contribute to the usefulness of hiding information. (Semi-mathematical because there’s no numbers attached, but rather “high/low” rankings.)

Continue reading “Swire on Disclosure”

"Four More Pretzels?"

Over at American Spectator, Shawn Macomber writes about being arrested in New York this week, and suggests a reality TV show is in order:

It could be called POWDERKEG! Each week, I’ll be arrested without my rights being read to me and held for 14 hours while police refuse to tell me what charges I’m being held on. Meanwhile, the kumbaya squad will talk politics nonstop to see if they can make my head explode.

Taxonomies are hard

Responding to my earlier comments about science being easier at a distance, both Nude Cybot and Justin Mason have offered up substantial and useful comments on the subjects of biological taxonomies. (Justin’s have moved to email.)
“Classification in Biology, or phylogenetics, is fraught with issues that we typically do not face when creating our own systems of classification such as organization of content content on a website.” Is actually the exact opposite of my starting position as I learn about these. I thought that the ‘underlying realities’ of biology, that this descended from that, or in chemistry, there are this many electrons in a shell, lead to ‘natural taxnomies.’ Boy, was I ever wrong. (The periodic table can be read as a taxonomy, and the position of atoms in it predicts certain characteristics of those atoms. For example, the ‘noble gasses’ are off to the far right, and their electron shells are filled.)
It turns out that even with such natural divisions, there are many good ways to classify the kingdoms of nature. Ironically, Nudecybot points to Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age as a possible answer. Six degrees is, of course, a reference to a classic Milgram study that I wrote about a few days ago, saying that Milgram was better at the experiments than at the theories around them.
So, there’s no perfect taxonomy, only the question of is a taxonomy useful for the purpose at hand. And the purpose at hand needs a tighter definition than it has today.

Free Wheelchairs for Paraplegic Children

If you ever saw Julia Child or Jacques Pepin take apart a chicken, you’ll remember how easy they made it look. It’s a level of skill that we can all aspire to.
Watching Ed Hasbrouck take apart the latest incarnation of free wheelchairs for paraplegic children is like watching Julia Child take apart a chicken. He does it so well that you don’t even stop to marvel at his skill. Go read what he has to say about the utter lack of sense and lack of legal standing that the TSA has to be implementing these programs.

Wikipedia vs Britannica tested

In Wikipedia vs. Britannica Smackdown, Ed Felten takes my challenge. In the meanwhile, I’d done some hypothesizing, here.
So how’d I do?
Hypothesis 1 is spot on.
#2 is more challenging to assess: The errors in Britannica are smaller, and I think I’ll judge myself wrong.
#3 I think is accurate, if only because of the long entry on Microsoft.
#4 Ed did not assess, or comment on.
#5 Ed didn’t check Encarta.
So, I think I get 2 out of 3 for the tested hypothesis.

Wikipedia vs Britannica

A few days ago, I challenged Ed Felten to do some more comparison work. In the spirit of Milgram, I didn’t propose a theory. (This was mostly because I was trying to make a good joke about assigning the professor homework, but couldn’t come up with one.) However, on consideration, I think that I should propose some theories, and also not influence the experiment.

So, hypothesis 1:
Wikipedia will have 30-50% more entry coverage than the others.
In particular, I don’t expect Ed Felten will have an entry, and I
expect one of his two computer science entries to not be in each
comparison encyclopedia.

Hypothesis 2:
The quality of Wikipedia, measured by errors detected, will meet
that of the others.

Building a large encyclopedia is a lot of work, and I don’t expect that the quality assurance and fact checking will be great anywhere.

Hypothesis 3:
The quality of Wikipedia, measured by the depth of the entries,
will be substantially greater than the comparison.

Techies aren’t noted for brevity and conciseness, and the web doesn’t
have physical constraints holding down the size of the entries,
whereas each DVD you ship may add $2 to the cost of a product. I
expect that the difference would be largest against the print or CD

Hypothesis 4:
The quality of Wikipedia, as measured by the accessability of
entries, will be lower.

By accessability, I mean how good the
basic introduction and contextualization are, and how well the entry
takes you from no knowledge to some.

Hypothosis 5:
Ed will believe that Encarta’s entry on the Microsoft trial is
biased towards Microsoft.


An encyclopedia must be measured first on accuracy, and secondly on
breadth. A roomful of monkeys writing entries does not get you a
useful encyclopedia, but neither does one with one entry. (There are
a great many useful topical encyclopedias which address this by
constraining themselves to one subject.

I expect that Wikipedia’s accuracy will be roughly that of the others,
and it will win, hands down, on breadth and depth. However, this test
is biased by the selection of terms, where they are known to a
computer science professor. If my hypotheses pan out, it would be
fascinating to see if we could recruit from across the Princeton
faculty, to see if the same tests hold true across wider disciplines.

(I did two short tests, on Rabbi Akiba, and Brillat-Savarin.
Wikipedia spells it Akiva. But I
don’t have a comparison document to compare to.)

Science is easier from the outside

As part of a larger project on security configuration issues, I’m doing a lot of learning about taxonomies and typographies right now. (A taxonomy is a hierarchical typography.)
I am often jealous of the world of biology, where there are underlying realities that can be used for categorization purposes. (A taxonomy needs a decision tree. Any trained person using this tree should classify the same items the same way.)
A new type of shark has recently been discovered, in the Sea Star Aquarium, in Coburg, Germany. This is (at least) the second zoo that the shark has been in.
We are not embarrassed,” said [Schonbrunn Zoo] spokesman Dr Ekkehard Wolf. “We get thousands of exotic animals every year. It is not possible to categorize them all. (From The Telegraph.)
See a picture (and read the article) at or read Google’s translation
Even the lucky biologists run into difficulty classifying their species. I feel better trying to classify minimum time between password changes.