Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

When I read stories about the “most common passwords” or whatever, I always wonder how they got this information in the first place. Usually the pieces are laughers or a warning to people to have more “secure” passwords. The latest Yahoo! Mail breach suggests that the commonest password “base words” are things like “password” and “qwerty.”

But fancier passwords are actually not much better than non-fancy passwords. “checkmymail” is as safe as “Ch3cK!Mym41L” if they’re going to be stolen anyways. The most likely threat of breach isn’t from someone guessing your password — it’s from you writing it down, saving it in your browser, forgetting to logout on a public computer, or having someone steal your password wholesale from the company itself. If banks, email companies, and the federal government can’t keep information from outing, what’s the point in having a super-secure password?

When we think about risk, it usually turns out that the biggest risks are hidden or impossible to assess. You can take a lot of precautions to protect your password (Slate’s Farhad Manjoo has tips here), but in the long run, that risk is tiny compared to the risk of just having your password stolen one day. It’s like the weird-but-true factoid that you have a higher chance of dying by asteroid than by lightning. We can take precautions to protect us from the small risks, but the big risks are often out of our control; you can’t get Yahoo!Mail (for which you pay nothing) to be more secure with your data.

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This is more or less a follow-up to one of my favorite posts of mine, “Needs more horse!” The basic premise of that post is that there are certain things that people will say – not because they really believe them, or because they have really thought things through, but because it’s a “safe” point that they know will not be challenged.

I bring this up now because of… Nickelback. Now, let me say from the outset that I have no love for this band at all. I only know their radio songs, and I find them derivative and boring. But they’re basically the most hated band on the internet. I saw this post today at Balloon-Juice. I might have found it funny if not for the fact that hating on Nickelback is so played out. Hell, there was even some bluster about angry fans when the band was booked for an NFL half-time show. But as this piece at Grantland explains:

“A better answer as to why people dislike Nickelback is tautological: They hate them because they hate them. Sometimes it’s fun to hate things arbitrarily, and Nickelback has become an acceptable thing to hate… They have good songs and they have bad songs, and the bad songs are bad enough to build an anti-Nickelback argument, assuming you feel like that’s important. But it’s never required. It’s not like anyone is going to contradict your thesis. There’s no risk in hating Nickelback, and hating something always feels better than feeling nothing at all.”

I think that pretty much nails it.

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Over the weekend a friend showed me this commercial:

It’s pretty funny, and it also reminded me instantly of the Old Spice commercial strategy. Off-the-wall, exaggerated claims, coming from a charismatic male lead, delivered while the guy is walking through a scene (or being dynamic in some way.) I tried doing a bit of research on whether the Old Spice commercials from a couple years ago resulted in increased sales for Old Spice, but I found contradictory claims. At best, it seems to have had a rather small effect.

My take is that these commercials are designed to gain a large number of page views. And they clearly work! But do page views translate to purchases of that product? Probably not.

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Previously I expressed my outrage about the pepper spraying of students at UC Davis. Now, I present to you a new meme, Peppersprayingcop.





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This picture is worth a thousand words. UC Davis protestors were peacefully sitting with arms linked as shown. They were encircling a place where they had set up an Occupy camp. The Davis chancellor made the decision that the camp had to go. That’s fine. The protestors, in the long spirit of civil disobedience, decided not to leave. That’s fine, too. What should have happened in that scenario is the cops arrest the protestors. That’s basically the crux of civil disobedience.

What happened instead is that the shithead shown in the picture above, Lt John Pike, casually took a canister of pepper spray and assaulted all of the students. The YouTube video is here. The Davis Faculty Association has called for the immediate resignation of the chancellor, Linda Katehi. Katehi has released this pathetic statement, calling for a task force to review what happened an report to her within 90 days. I wonder what they will say? Maybe something like, “Dear Chancellor Katehi: We have determined that peaceful students were assaulted with pepper spray as a result of the chancellor’s decision to send in a full squad of campus police in riot gear and armed with pepper spray canisters.”

Why is it that every time the tiniest issue arises, we have to send in a full force, armed to the teeth in riot gear? In this story, the police preposterously defend their actions by saying that they were threatened. Again, look at the top picture. I rest my case. Ta-Nehisi Coates frequently says that being a police officer is a tough job. Not everyone is up for it. If you panic when confronted with a non-violent situation, being a cop isn’t for you. If you cant resist the temptation to use your fancy new toys to inflict harm on civilians, being a cop isn’t for you. Pike shouldn’t be a cop, Katehi shouldn’t be the chancellor, and this madness has to stop.


Katehi has announced that the review must be completed in 30 days, rather than in 90. Ooohhh, impressive. Also, two police officers have been placed on leave. One of them surely is John Pike (pictured above). Also, below I will post the powerful video of hundreds of students forming a walkway for Katehi in complete silence. This video was taken after she left a press conference yesterday evening.


Mark Yudof is the President of the University of California. Which means that he ranks above the chancellor of each individual campus. He has been a source of controversy in the past due to his response to budget cuts a couple years back, but he released a statement about recent campus events which strikes the right note:

I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses.

I intend to do everything in my power as president of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.

Chancellors at the UC Davis and UC Berkeley campuses already have initiated reviews of incidents that occurred on their campuses. I applaud this rapid response and eagerly await the results.

The University of California, however, is a single university with 10 campuses, and the incidents in recent days cry out for a systemwide response.

Therefore I will be taking immediate steps to set that response in motion.

I intend to convene all 10 chancellors, either in person or by telephone, to engage in a full and unfettered discussion about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest…

It goes on a bit from there. But notice how he does what Katehi failed to do: he immediately condemns what we all saw, says he was appalled, and claims he will do everything in his power to protect students and go over policies in place to deal with student protests. They’re just words, and we’ll have to see what happens next, but they’re a good start.

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Like Stendhal below, I don’t have much to say or add on this particular day, ten years after 9/11. I will merely note that one aspect of the WTC that I find particularly compelling is those who jumped from the towers. One of the best pieces of art written about the attacks is this article in Esquire by Tom Junod about The Falling Man – the name given to the unidentified man in one of the most famous images captured that day:

You might be surprised to learn that official documents recorded all jumpers’ deaths as homicides and not as suicides. You might also be surprised to learn that estimates of the number of jumpers vary but credibly go as high as 200. That means that as many as 7-8% of those who died in the WTC that day died by jumping, and in the North Tower alone it was more like 16%. One of my favorite passages is when Junod exposes the seemingly elegant, symmetrical grace of the fall as a lie:

Photographs lie. Even great photographs. Especially great photographs. The Falling Man in Richard Drew’s picture fell in the manner suggested by the photograph for only a fraction of a second, and then kept falling. The photograph functioned as a study of doomed verticality, a fantasia of straight lines, with a human being slivered at the center, like a spike. In truth, however, the Falling Man fell with neither the precision of an arrow nor the grace of an Olympic diver. He fell like everyone else, like all the other jumpers — trying to hold on to the life he was leaving, which is to say that he fell desperately, inelegantly. In Drew’s famous photograph, his humanity is in accord with the lines of the buildings. In the rest of the sequence — the eleven outtakes — his humanity stands apart. He is not augmented by aesthetics; he is merely human, and his humanity, startled and in some cases horizontal, obliterates everything else in the frame.

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I’m a sucker for the Bay Bridge. It’s not as famous as its counterpart, the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Bay bridge is grand in every sense. Its longer (four main towers instead of two) than the Golden Gate, and it connects two major American cities, Oakland and San Francisco. For this reason it gets far more use than the Golden Gate, which connects San Francisco with sparsely populated Marin county.

But still, there’s no denying that the Golden Gate bridge is one of the most iconic locales in America. Which is why it makes it all the more fascinating to me that it is the world’s leading suicide location. Here is a wonderful New Yorker piece detailing the history of suicide on the bridge, where over 1200 people have jumped to their deaths since it opened in 1937.

Why the Golden Gate? After all, nowhere near as many people have jumped from the Bay Bridge. The grandeur of the bridge has something to do with it. Having lived here for years, I can attest to that. Most jumpers go off the east side of the bridge, where after surmounting a 4-foot barrier they have a view of the Bay, Angel Island, Alcatraz, the hills and skyline of San Francisco, and the distant hills of East Bay beyond. Not a bad way to go, right? It’s way more effective than pills or cutting (only 26 people are known to have survived the jump). All you have to do is stand upon the void of one of the most beautiful places on earth, and then you’re gone, right? Well, not quite.

“Many people don’t look down first, and so those who jump from the north end of the bridge hit the land instead of the water they saw farther out. Jumpers who hit the water do so at about seventy-five miles an hour and with a force of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch. Eighty-five per cent of them suffer broken ribs, which rip inward and tear through the spleen, the lungs, and the heart. Vertebrae snap, and the liver often ruptures. “It’s as if someone took an eggbeater to the organs of the body and ground everything up,” Ron Wilton, a Coast Guard officer, once observed. Those who survive the impact usually die soon afterward. If they go straight in, they plunge so deeply into the water—which reaches a depth of three hundred and fifty feet—that they drown. (The rare survivors always hit feet first, and at a slight angle.)”

It’s very easy to jump off the bridge. The barrier is barely a barrier at all. Prevention methods currently include postings and telephones for suicide hotlines, plus random patrols of Highway Patrol workers and ironworkers who coax down many jumpers. These non-physical barriers stop between 50-80 jumpers per year, which is great, but about 30 people still jump per year.

The key is that there is no barrier that would prevent death.  “The Empire State Building, the Duomo, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Sydney Harbor Bridge were all suicide magnets before barriers were erected on them… At all of these places, after the barriers were in place the number of jumpers declined to a handful, or to zero.” But San Franciscans have persistently opposed efforts to build a similar barrier. Let’s take a look at the commonly cited reasons.

(1) “It’s costly.” It would cost money, sure. But the priorities here are screwed up. They installed a barrier between cyclists and traffic designed for cyclists’ safety. However, the barrier cost $5 million and no cyclists had been reported dead due to traffic collisions. A barrier likely wouldn’t cost much more than this.

(2) “It would be ugly.” The bridge is certainly beautiful, and marring its appearance would be something to avoid. But I find it impossible to believe that there couldn’t be a barrier that would be both effective and aesthetically pleasing.

(3) “Those people would just jump, anyway.” This one is the worst. Simply the worst. First, it displays callous disregard at best for the lives shattered from suicides. It’s also wrong. One study quoted in the article, “…followed up on five hundred and fifteen people who were prevented from attempting suicide at the bridge between 1937 and 1971. After, on average, more than twenty-six years, ninety-four per cent of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes. “The findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” Seiden concluded; if you can get a suicidal person through his crisis—Seiden put the high-risk period at ninety days—chances are extremely good that he won’t kill himself later.”

Our society continues to have negative or even hostile attitudes towards those suffering from depression, and that’s true even in the liberal oasis of the Bay Area.

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