August 2008

With Software, Till Tampering Is Hard to Find
By Roy Furchgott
August 29, 2008

As hard as zapper software is to detect, it is easy to make, said Jeff Moss, organizer of the annual hacker convention Def Con. “If it runs on a Windows system and you are a competent Windows administrator, you can do it,” he said.

According to analysts at the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, 85 percent of all point-of-sale systems, as cash registers are called, run on the Windows operating system, although other systems are also vulnerable.

Don’t blame the operating system; blame the hardware. Modern technology has replaced paper and indelible pen (a twentieth-century write-once, read-only data collection and storage system with physical properties that make forgery difficult; see with the technological equivalent of a Magic Slate (a 1970’s toy; see, which is child’s play to alter.

Do electronic systems that record transactions on write-once storage even exist? The technology exists, and it’s dirt cheap. Why can’t businesses be required to keep permanent, inalterable transaction records? Ultimately it may be impossible to prevent a crooked business owner from embezzling from his or her own business or committing tax fraud. But why make life easy for them by allowing Magic Slates for accountability?

I guess it’s easier to write “the Stieltjesness of f” than “the fact that f has the Stieltjes property.” The jury seems to be out about whether to capitalize the word. Of the five instances Google finds, one is at the beginning of a sentence, and two are uncapitalized. Here’s to not resolving the issue.

A lot of people must wonder about the name of this place, and the school’s FAQs page answers the question “What does “Isothermal” mean?”:

In meteorological terms, the word “isotherm” refers to a line drawn on a weather map showing identical or even temperatures.  If something is isothermal, it is of equal or constant temperature with respect to either time or space. Research has shown that it is not uncommon for an isotherm to curve through the area of Rutherford and Polk Counties where Isothermal Community College is located.

When choosing a name for the college, the original Board of Trustees drew from this regional characteristic to create a name that described the area and represented the college in an inventive manner.  So now when someone breaks the ice by asking you about the name Isothermal, you’ll be able to pass on part of the school’s unique history!

Isotherms probably pass through most places most of the time. The isothermally distinctive places are places like Bullhead City, that frequently don’t lie on an isotherm. follows a time-honored sleazy marketing model. They’ll run a free test of your domain and tell you you’ve got problems, but they won’t give you the details unless you sign up for a free trial of their $79/year tools. Their free test even reports critical errors on their own site. What’s the old line about cheating your own mother?



If you’re human, this sentence is probably hard to read.
If you’re human, this sentence is probably not hard to read.

Humans can’t perceive detail and blue at the same time. Our eyes aren’t engineered for it.

We perceive detail at the center of our visual field. The eye’s light- and color-sensitive cells, called cones, are packed most densely at the fovea, the center of the retina. (The retina has more pixels per inch at its center, if you like.) We distinguish shades of blue wherever we have “blue” cones, the one of our three types of cones most selective for blue colors.

To read blue, we need to perceive detail and shades of blue at once. Except we can’t. There are no blue cones in the fovea.

If you can’t read the words below, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just human. If only the software and web designers understood.

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From “A Glut of One-Bedroom Apartments” in today’s New York Times:

Brokers say that many people who bought their apartments at or near the top of the market and now must sell are often simply trying to avoid losing money on the deal.

In May 2007, John and Wendy Penn bought a one-bedroom on West 72nd Street for $650,000. The couple, whose main residence is on Long Island, wanted an office and a pied-à-terre in Manhattan to expand their insurance business.

They bought the apartment as a long-term investment and quickly completed about $30,000 in renovations, including the restoration of the apartment’s prewar details. But when Mr. Penn became an independent insurance agent, he no longer needed space in Manhattan.

So in February, the couple put the apartment up for sale, pricing it at $769,000. Three price cuts later, the apartment is listed at $725,000 and still has not sold.

It doesn’t sound like the Penns are “simply trying to avoid losing money.” They tried to sell their apartment nine months after they bought it for $119,000 more than they paid. Now they’re only asking $75,000 more, which should cover their renovations, the sales agent’s commission, and the property taxes they paid. Does the Times think a pied-à-terre in Manhattan (or any housing anywhere) is supposed to be free?