Monday, September 28, 2015

Powerline Blog: The Mystery of Pope Francis: Was There a Vatican Coup?

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The Mystery of Pope Francis: Was There a Vatican Coup?

One thing that that has puzzled a lot of people since the selection of Pope Francis two years ago is how a left-leaning Pope could succeed two very serious conservative Popes—John Paul II and Benedict XVI—who you would have thought had stacked the ranks of the Cardinals with clergy that would perpetuate their theological and philosophical outlook. Was Benedict hounded out of office by some kind of internal Vatican scandal perhaps? Was there some ecclesiastical version of a coup?

There’s no evidence that I’m aware of—until now. Three days ago the National Catholic Register ran a very curious article about the contents of a newly published authorized biography of retired Belgian cardinal Godfried Danneels. ...

Read on and follow the links for the rest of the story.

Not being Catholic, I find the entire matter mostly amusing. If, however I was a devout Catholic, I would be really angry to learn about this information. A movement within the Vatican to promote left-wing social agenda items as official Church dogma is an offense to every single Catholic that believes the Bible (and until now, the Pope's words) is God's word and is not subject to being changed by the day-to-day whims of the secular political world.

It will be interesting to see what kind of fallout will occur now that this information is known. Will Catholics abandon the Church? Will they put enough pressure to expose this conspiracy and replace the Pope again? Or will they just sit back and accept that the Church is ordering them to do a complete 180 on critical (to Catholics) matters of faith? Given the fact that the more liberal churches tend to lose congregants as a result of liberal policies, I expect the response to be closer to the former than the the latter.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Heraclitean River: Why two spaces after a period isn't wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)

Why two spaces after a period isn't wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)

The topic of spacing after a period (or “full stop” in some parts of the world) has received a lot of attention in recent years.  The vitriol that the single-space camp has toward the double-spacers these days is quite amazing, and typographers have made up an entire fake history to justify their position.

The story usually goes something like this:

Once upon a time, typographical practice was anarchy.  Printers put in all sizes of spaces in haphazard ways, including after periods.  Then, a standard emerged: the single space after a period.  Unfortunately, the evil typewriter came along, and for some unknown reason (usually blamed on monospace fonts), people began to put wider double spaces after periods.  Typographers railed against the practice, but they could do nothing.  Actual printed work used the single space, but the morons with their typewriters could not be stopped.  Early computers and printers used similar monospace typefaces, and the evil persisted.  Then, in the past couple decades, it became possible to use proportional fonts easily, and finally typographers could step in and save the day again with their single sentence spaces!  The only people today who continue to use double spaces are stodgy old typing teachers and ignorant fools, who dare to think that their practice is okay in the face of the verdict of the experts in typography.
Unfortunately, this whole story is a fairy tale, made up by typographers to make themselves feel like they are correct in some absolute way.  The account is riddled with historical fabrication.  Here are some facts:

  • There were earlier standards before the single-space standard, and they involved much wider spaces after sentences.
  • Typewriter practice actually imitated the larger spaces of the time when typewriters first came to be used.  They adopted the practice of proportional fonts into monospace fonts, rather than the other way around.
  • Literally centuries of typesetters and printers believed that a wider space was necessary after a period, particularly in the English-speaking world.  It was the standard since at least the time that William Caslon created the first English typeface in the early 1700s (and part of a tradition that went back further), and it was not seriously questioned among English or American typesetters until the 1920s or so.
  • The “standard” of one space is maybe 60 years old at the most, with some publishers retaining wider spaces as a house style well into the 1950s and even a few in the 1960s.
  • As for the “ugly” white space, the holes after the sentence were said to make it easier to parse sentences.  Earlier printers had advice to deal with the situations where the holes became too numerous or looked bad.
  • The primary reasons for the move to a single uniform space had little to do with a consensus among expert typographers concerning aesthetics.  Instead, the move was driven by publishers who wanted cheaper publications, decreasing expertise in the typesetting profession, and new technology that made it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to conform to the earlier wide-spaced standards.

I can't begin to tell your how much this article is a breath of fresh air.

Do you think discussing religion or politics is a good way to make total strangers hate your guts and threaten violence against you and your family and everybody you brushed up against on the subway for the last six months?   That's nothing compared to what will happen if you dare to discuss sentence spacing with typography nerds.

Or even worse, ask one what font should be used.   Or even worse, dare to suggest that web pages should respect a user's personal font/size preferences (as configured in his web browser) and not force a style that may not be readable on the user's device.   Does anyone really think that a single font will look equally good on a 1200dpi printout, a 300dpi Retina screen, a 72dpi CRT monitor, a Kindle, a mobile phone and a wristwatch?   Typography nerds will insist that they know best and that you are an evil human being if you dare suggest that they can't possibly know what's best for every single device that might someday be used to display the text.   I've actually been personally attacked and banned from an on-line forum (one having nothing to do with typography) for making this suggestion.

Read the rest of the article for a great history on the subject.   And I love the fact that the author has deliberately formatted it using an extra-wide space between all the sentences!   As a show of solidarity, I've done the same for this article.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Krebs On Security: Inside Target Corp., Days After 2013 Breach

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Inside Target Corp., Days After 2013 Breach

In December 2013, just days after a data breach exposed 40 million customer debit and credit card accounts, Target Corp. hired security experts at Verizon to probe its networks for weaknesses. The results of that confidential investigation — until now never publicly revealed — confirm what pundits have long suspected: Once inside Target’s network, there was nothing to stop attackers from gaining direct and complete access to every single cash register in every Target store.

A great read and a great description of how not to organize the IT infrastructure of a giant retail-sales corporation.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Intercept: TSA Doesn't Care That Its Luggage Locks Have Been Hacked

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TSA Doesn't Care That Its Luggage Locks Have Been Hacked

In a spectacular failure of a "back door" designed to give law enforcement exclusive access to private places, hackers have made the "master keys" for Transportation Security Administration-recognized luggage locks available to anyone with a 3D printer.

The TSA-recognized luggage locks were a much-vaunted solution to a post-9/11 conundrum: how to let people lock their luggage, on the one hand, but let the TSA inspect it without resorting to bolt cutters, on the other.

When the locks were first introduced in 2003, TSA official Ken Lauterstein described them as part of the agency’s efforts to develop "practical solutions that contribute toward our goal of providing world-class security and world-class customer service."

Now that they’ve been hacked, however, TSA says it doesn’t really care one way or another.

This doesn't surprise me very much. I'm actually kind of surprised that it took this long for the TSA master keys to be leaked out to the Internet. It does, however, bother me that TSA's response is that since it "does not create a threat to aviation security" they don't care.

xkcd: Tech Loops

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I know the feeling. Every now and then, I think about what I actually use computers for (outside of my job, of course,) and it's not a whole lot:

  • Spreadsheets - household budgets and a few related things
  • Database - simple databases to track all the books, music and videos I own
  • E-mail
  • Web browser - mostly for reading web-comics, buying stuff off of Amazon and logging in to my bank account
  • iTunes - mostly for ripping CDs and loading my iPods. And for making backups of what's on my phone
  • Family photos - seems like this is a write-only repository. I rarely look at any of them, but I want to keep them organized here. I would probably be better off printing the pictures and making albums, like I did before I started using digital cameras.

It's very sobering to realize that for most of what I do, my old Apple II with 128K RAM and two floppy drives would be sufficient. And that old system might even be faster, since it won't have the massively bloated overhead of every modern operating system. Maybe I should consider switching back. I just need to figure out how to print to my laser printer and where to buy a box of blank floppy disks.

More seriously, any computer from the 90's would be more than adequate for everything here, except for iTunes. And that's only because I need it to support my iPhone. 20 years of massive improvements in hardware just to do what we've always done at the same speed we've always done it. So much for progress.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Krebs on Security: Tracking a Bluetooth Skimmer Gang in Mexico

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Tracking a Bluetooth Skimmer Gang in Mexico

-Sept. 9, 12:30 p.m. CT, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: Halfway down the southbound four-lane highway from Cancun to the ancient ruins in Tulum, traffic inexplicably slowed to a halt. There was some sort of checkpoint ahead by the Mexican Federal Police. I began to wonder whether it was a good idea to have brought along the ATM skimmer instead of leaving it in the hotel safe. If the cops searched my stuff, how could I explain having ultra-sophisticated Bluetooth ATM skimmer components in my backpack?

The above paragraph is an excerpt that I pulled from the body of Part II in this series of articles and video essays stemming from a recent four-day trip to Mexico. During that trip, I found at least 19 different ATMs that all apparently had been hacked from the inside and retrofitted with tiny, sophisticated devices that store and transmit stolen card data and PINs wirelessly.

Security researcher, Brian Krebs, has been writing extensively about ATM and credit card skimming devices. Typically, these are devices attached to the outside of a terminal - they record card data for later retrieval by criminals. This scam, however, is different. It is installed inside the ATM, and the data is retrieved wirelessly. And it would appear that the crime ring responsible has compromised nearly every ATM in the tourist regions of Mexico.

If you're planning a trip to Mexico, bring all the cash you need in advance. After reading these articles, I wouldn't use my ATM/debit card anywhere in that country. Pay cash where possible. Use credit (preferably with a chip-and-PIN card or something encrypted like Apple Pay) everywhere else. It's clear to me that (at least until this crime ring is brought to justice - which might be a long time) no ATM in the country should be consider trustworthy. (To be fair, part 3 points out that all the compromised machines were standalone machines. ATMs owned and operated by banks appeared to be clean.)

There are currently three parts to this article:

Monday, September 14, 2015

VG24/7: Debut footage of Katamari Damacy creator’s PS4 title Wattam surfaces

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Debut footage of Katamari Damacy creator’s PS4 title Wattam surfaces

Footage of Wattam has surfaced, and it provides the viewer with the first in-game look at the PS4 game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi.

The game was announced during Sony’s PlayStation Experience event last year, and is in development at Funomena, which was formed by former thatgamecompany vets Robin Hunicke and Martin Middleton.

At the time, the only footage of the game shown was of game world’s Mayor. Other characters reveals were promised for 2015, and Funomena has delivered on said promise, as you can see various inhabitants dancing around in the video.

Another wacky and inexplicable Japanese video game! Just the kind I love. (You can keep your MMORPGs and first-person shooters and race games. I want to play the weird stuff.) This might end up being the killer app that convinces me that I need to get a PS4. (The other possibility would be Rock Band 4...)