The 50 states game

Lull in the conversation? Looking for something to do between courses at dinner? Enjoy extorting money from your friends? Play the 50 states game! Ask another person to write down all 50 US states in under 15 minutes. It sounds easy, but due to the limitations of human memory, and a general disinterest in geographic knowledge, people are exceptionally bad at it.

WARNING: Do not play this game with English citizens or other foreign nationals!! While eight consecutive Americans have failed to beat the clock, two English chaps have passed the test. This game is only appropriate for stupid Americans.

The Spam Network

You’ve tried linguistic devices (email AT server DOT com) and cognitive tricks ([email protected]), but somehow those little f*&*ers keep getting you on their lists. No matter how hard you try to conceal yourself, they always seem to have the upper hand. How do they do it? Spammers are not islands of email addresses, but actually an
international network of marketing deviants:

E-mail addresses are the currency in a financial shell game that involves rapidly moving consumer contact information from database to database while concealing where and how the data was collected… Fees ranging from a few cents to almost $1 per name are paid by some direct marketers for every e-mail address submitted to their databases. The problem, according to antispam activists, is that many of these submissions are made by third parties and often include e-mail addresses of people who did not give permission to be included on direct e-mail marketing lists.

Bob West, an anti-spam activist has collected information about these questionable exchanges in his project Spamdemic. His beautifully detailed map of interconnections shows how Xerox can have access to your email from in only a few transactions. He also maintains a blacklist of spam offenders, but somehow I get the sinking feeling that one man cannot take on this massive industry.

Interactive search refinement

Today Altavista rolled out a shiny new query refinement system, codenamed ‘Prisma.’ By giving users an assortment of possible query expansions, they’re hoping to close the search loop which usually ends either in success or complete failure:

AltaVista Prisma offers users a wise array of closely related words, phrases, concepts and/or names, to help users rapidly locate needed information and direct their search experience. While some tools focus on matching searches with general, high level directory categories, and others cluster results to aid in query refinement, AltaVista Prisma allows users to do both. Additionally, it provides parallel terms to help point users toward associated topics of interest.

The best part of the system is a simple interface widget: to the right of every additional query term is an extra button (>>) which replaces the current query with the given word. Most query expansion systems I have used in the past have suffered from the common malady of pigeonholing: as soon as supplementary terms are added, the query quickly becomes too specific to find the desired page(s). From a bit of brief interaction, the query replacement button seems to aleviate this problem (when coupled with the right terms)

A search for blogdex returns a host of possible expansions, including bloggers, MIT Media Lab, Project Info, and Weblog. Clicking on MIT Media Lab reduces the number of results from 8,075 to 49, but retains a list of parallel and higher order extension terms.

Anyone who was around the web circa 1998 remembers Altavista. In a hot market for search users, “the search company” was constantly innovating: first with image search, first with translation, first with filters, etc. But they had no conception that such a simple idea as PageRank would upet the market as much it did. Well I’m ready for some more competition.. if Altavista would just get rid of those damned pop-under ads, I’d use them more frequently.

Kevin Mitnick on abstract hacking

Ex-hacker Kevin Mitnick’s book-writing escapades might be more interesting than the book itself:

Terms of Mitnick’s three years of probation — which ends in January — require that he keep his hands off all computers, software, modems, cell phones and any devices that would give him access to the Internet. His travel and employment are also restricted.
Although some of his requests have been denied — especially those relating to travel — Mitnick received permission to carry a cell phone, to visit his book’s New York publicist and to type the manuscript on a computer that is not connected to the Internet.

I wonder how many times Mitnick checked to see if someone had “accidentally plugged the computer into the network.”

Apple acquires EMagic

Apple announced today that it has acquired Emagic, makers of the ever-popular Logic, SoundDiver and USB Audio devices. This will affect the Windows users by.. umm.. making them disappear. As a musician, I’m not particularly fond of Logic, but it has provided cross-platform support for industry professionals for decades.

Not anymore. In an industry where standardization is necessary, I’d expect to see a huge decline in the number of Logic users. Well, 70,000 for starters.