Category Archives: Outside

A Rant on Password Challenge Questions, If I May

Fact: I select passwords that have a chasm separating them from my personal life. I use a system that only I know (not even my wife knows it), and I adhere to good password practices.

Fact: Personal data is researchable.

Ergo: Answers to personal questions are less secure than my passwords that they “protect.”

My bank doesn’t understand this crucial security notion:

Forcing me to use a system that is less secure than the one that I use now is a security flaw.

Incidentally, they also enforce passwords with a minimum number of a certain type of character, which is also less secure.

Security concerns aside, this is also an inconvenience. Passwords that I choose are cryptic, but I can commit them to memory. Security questions on the other hand, have “natural” answers. How forgiving will the verification be? If it’s lax, then it’s even less secure. If it’s strict, it’s a phenomenal inconvenience to me, because I might type the answer with a capital (or without), or use a numeral or abbreviation, etc. You get the idea. Now I’m stuck going to the branch just for fat-fingering something.

Security measures that are insecure and inconvenient aren’t worth it. Now, if someone could just convince the TSA of that…

[Update: An xkcd about the same topic the very day after I posted this:



Whenever I see photos of Afghanistan, I’m always shocked at the geophysical resemblance of that country to my home state of Utah and to the neighboring state to the West, Nevada. The political resemblance is, of course, minimal. I hope that some day it can be just another beautiful place to see.

Casual Weekend Notes

This weekend, I give you a cop-out post, hopefully a little lighter than my last. Just a few things happening in my sphere.

  • I’m addicted to Twitter, ever since I figured out how to use TweetDeck.
  • Lots more hits on my layoff post than I thought (25, as of today, rather than my predicted three).
  • People still like my hypersphere post, but not as much as when it was new on reddit. I still can’t get over the fact that someone reddit-ed my post! I’m still really flattered.
  • My wife and I checked out a few neighborhoods today that we’d move to, and that hopefully we can afford. We’re looking at houses this time (to rent, not to own), and we plan to move at the end of Summer. We’re hoping that the difficulty of selling will work in our favor.
  • I officially love Sumatran coffee beans. The flavor is exactly what I’m looking for in a cup of coffee. Of course, for all I know, Sumatran may just be the white zinfandel of coffee.
  • I dislike using the word random outside its probabilistic meaning. Desultory, casual, or stray are usually more appropriate words for the way that I find most people use the word random. Unfortunately, I find myself using it inappropriately at times, so I can’t really be that critical.

Have a good weekend!

Grad Visit Weekend

I promise that I’ll get to the point that I was making earlier this week. But not yet.

The grad visit was this weekend, and even though I’m settled on where I’m going, it was a good way to see what everyone was working on.

It also gave me a chance to go on a hike up to Ensign peak, which is I hike that I hadn’t done before today. The weather was gorgeous despite being cool. The mud on the trail made it interesting, but the fact that I made a couple friends made up for it. If you visit Salt Lake, you should do that hike. It’s an excellent way to take the city in.

Tattoos and Kolmogorov Complexity

My wife is still suffering pain from the new tattoo that she got a few days ago. She was a little more enthusiastic about her second and she got one on her leg about the size of a piece of Wonder bread, and it has a lot of fill (her first is about the size of a nickel, if that gives you some context). Incidentally, it is beautiful and totally fits her character.

Ever since her first tattoo, though, she has been bugging me to get a tattoo. First it was her name, then the appeals to get something “sciencey,” and finally, of course, to get something in binary (her name in binary, in fact). I can tell you right now that I will never get a tattoo in binary digits. In fact, my tendency to overengineer will probably prevent me from ever getting a tattoo at all, because I’d want it to be “perfect.” I’d die with this thing on my body, after all.

This got me thinking about the complexity of tattoos, and whether it’s desirable to design a tattoo with a complexity much higher than its Kolmogorov complexity. I could see it both ways: on one hand, it may be desirable to have an attractive pattern, especially one that’s self-similar, while on the other, it would be kind of silly to write a small sentence in binary ASCII (I’m sure there are some). I was kind of disappointed, however, when a Google image search turned up nothing for “Kolmogorov tattoo.”

Maybe I should get this tattooed on my body: “The smallest positive integer not definable in under eleven words.”