Fingerprints as Passwords

I’ll list the reasons why using fingerprints as passwords is bad.

  1. You only have 10 of them (assuming you don’t use your feet’s)
  2. Once one is stolen from a device or server, it’s not like you can change it, but it’s gone forever
  3. Someone, without reaching extremes like chopping fingers off, could just force your fingertip onto the reader.

Yes, TouchID is nice and cool and convenient, but the idea of using my body as a password is creepy. Yes, it’s not like there’s a picture of your fingerprint stored somewhere, and yet there is some data derived from it instead, maybe a cryptographic hash.

A good old password that is only in my brain is so much better and safer (for now, at least).

Now, let’s talk about iris identification…

Planning a Novel with Google Maps Engine

One of the biggest problems to tackle when writing a novel is keeping places and times consistent and believable, especially if you have set it on Earth at present day. There are several things to consider, and I’ll name just a few:

  • places where things happen should be real (or realistic)
  • travel times must match actual terrain, urban, and political conditions
  • the style and feeling of urban landscapes should match what’s really out there.

You might be tempted to ask, why can’t I just make it all up?

Because the reader would know, and your work would sound fake – not just fictional. Not all of your readers know everything about the places you’re describing, but in today’s world everyone knows at least something about most places. You know, the Internet. It certainly is a superficial knowledge, maybe even stereotypical, but we all have it.

Enter Google Maps Engine.

Book Planning Map

My next novel is set in Geneva, and from the signs on the map you can certainly guess what’s involved. Now, I’ve never been there, but Google Maps and Street View came to my rescue (these are wonderful times).

But what can you do with Google Maps Engine?

First of all it’s free, then it’s also very polished, and everything is saved automatically (quite obviously, given that we’re talking about Google).

  • You can add pins on a map, draw lines and get their length, and draw closed polygons to get their perimeter and area. This is very useful because you can plan journeys, pin important places, and check distances to avoid that one of your characters believes to be taking a short stroll downhill, while in truth she’s running a marathon up a mountain and across a closed border.
  • You can set colors and shapes, and GME also supports layers, so you can toggle on and off parts of your scheme when it starts getting a little cramped.
  • You can switch between several map modes, most importantly simple map, satellite, and terrain.

Nothing’s perfect, and I miss Street View in GME. Not too bad, you can fall back to regular Google Maps for that. Also, you can’t draw basic geometric shapes like rectangles, circles, and so on. Instead, you must draw connected segments. The result is a little rough but it gets the job done.

I discovered this hidden treasure a bit too late, when the first draft was done already, but just in time to check everything, and find and fix several issues, one of which was rather gross.

What about you? Have you ever used this or other tools to get the geography right in your fiction?

Are Blogs Dead?

And with dead I mean “no longer engaging readers.”

I would say yes. I didn’t run the numbers and my observation is purely based on anecdotal evidence (assuming such thing exists), but the majority of interactions with readers happens now on social media.

Blogs are just a way to dump lengthy content and then link to it from Facebook/Twitter/Google+.

I would even dare suggesting that turning off comments in blogs would make little difference.

Feed readers/aggregators are flourishing lately, probably because of the death of Google Reader, but they do not favor direct comments to blogs, instead they promote social sharing of the content. Ergo, blogs are just empty shells. The real action happens elsewhere, which is just fine.

Or is it?

My Computer Thinks I’m Monomaniac

I noticed a very strange phenomenon across Twitter and Google. It is immediately obvious that they are trying to guess my (your) interest and adjust their estimations over time. How nice of them.

The problem is that they get it wrong most of the time. For example, Google keeps nagging me with photography books on Google Play because (I think) I once downloaded a mostly-useless free eBook on Android photography. Twitter, on the other hand, probably because I follow Uber and car2go, keeps promoting tweets from car makers on my timeline.

As you may have guessed, I don’t give a damn about those things. Social knowledge graphs still have a long way to go, but I admit that accuracy varies in different context and sometimes it’s very high.

Google is particularly apt at serving ads and I must say that, those few times I notice them, they are in-topic. Other times they just throw a curve ball hoping I’ll catch it, like for Google Play suggestions.

Twitter is also rather good at suggesting new people to follow and potentially interesting tweets, but those mails always end up being deleted unread.

Wave Goodbye To Your Bitcoins

It had to happen, sooner or later.

Bitcoin [exchange] MtGox appears to have pulled the plug entirely in the wake of sustained DDOS attacks and the “transaction malleability”problem […] the Tokyo-based company lost over 744,000 bitcoins (worth around $350 million) in a malleability-related theft that went on for years.

Via Ars Technica.

And don’t try to dismiss this as a minor glitch. 350 fucking million dollars. The idea that a single entity can handle my money without any kind of external or regulatory control frightens me and, I would guess, a lot of people. At the risk of sounding a bit naive, I’d argue a real bank cannot just disappear like that, in a blink and without warning. Yes, banks go bankrupt all the time, sometimes without warning, but in most cases, at least in Europe, states fill the gap. That’s because money can be traced. Who owes what to whom is relatively simple to ascertain. A bit of national debt and creditors are (at least partially) repaid (yes, I’m oversimplifying).

Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies will never allow that unless they are treated and processed as any other currency, and that would kind of defeat the main purpose of cryptocurrencies: being anonymous and untraceable.

All right, we can now all go back to our good old credit cards and banknotes and coins. Now prove me wrong.