Saturday, September 09, 2006

Burglary tools.

I am a dilletante at lockpicking -- I have a couple of sets of picks, and when I am overburdened with spare time, like to hone my skills.

There's a great article by Liam Bowen on how to recover the combination of a Master padlock if you have lost it, with a link to the HowStuffWorks article on padlock internals. This is pretty neat stuff.

The Open Organization of Lockpickers is a good place to start if you are curious about pickng.

If you're interested in classic picking, you can shop for picks or snapguns online. I like picks better; they require a more delicate touch, but they work about as fast as a gun for me, and it's more rewarding to beat the lock by touch than by pulling a trigger. The guns can also damage the lock cylinder.

If you like snapguns, you should check out bumping. The TOOOL site has lots of information on bumping.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Travel advisory.

I'm on the cusp of another batch of trips for work. I am not looking forward to it, thanks to the new list of forbidden items in carry-on luggage.

I was pleased today to discover that the Elephant Pharmacy in Berkeley carries Eco-Dent DailyCare brand tooth powder -- not a paste, and not, so far, a tool adopted by global terrorists, so permitted in the passenger compartment. I've scoured the local grocery stores and pharmacies looking for something like this. I am astonished at the number of stores that still display "travel-sized" containers of shampoo and toothpaste in a form you can't carry onto an airplane.

I agree with Bruce Schneier -- I don't believe these restrictions increase air security. I think they look good to casual travellers, but that's all. They're expensive to implement, inconvenient and don't stop attacks.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Testing Turing.

An eventful summer is over. Labor Day was last Monday, so the kids are back in school and the white shoes are back in the closet. It's time to get to work.

The most interesting thing to cross my radar this week was an article by Tim over on the O'Reilly Radar. It's about Google's new Image Labeller project. When I saw the Labeller, I thought it looked a lot like the Mechanical Turk, but Tim -- thanks to Luis von Ahn at CMU -- had a better insight.

Like the Turk, the Labeller is a way for computers to use humans for computation. Tim points out other places where this happens -- CAPTCHAs, for example.

Then he reminds us of the Turing Test, and makes this fascinating observation:

This is an interesting variation on the Turing test, in which humans generate and grade tests that most humans can pass, but current computer programs cannot pass. Is there another variation in the future, in which computers generate and grade tests that computers can pass, but humans cannot pass?

I've been thinking about it, and I've decided that the fourth variation -- human testers, humans fail, computers pass -- is isomorphic to the regular Turing Test. It would, however, allow us to recognize the androids reliably in Blade Runner.

The idea of computers using humans for computation reminded me of George Dyson's talk at Google.

Interesting stuff!