Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 27th, 2013

What is it like to be a geek in a prison?

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Very interesting answer here, which begins:

I’m a hacker [in the UK – LG] who served 4.5 months of a 9 month sentence 5 years ago. I was in two jails in that time, spending the majority of the time in the second, lower security place. The experience totally changed me, but in a positive way.

First of all, I actually had a lot of fun in jail. My education made certain aspects of the prison system very easy for me to navigate, such as legal documentation and debating with guards. My ability to mend broken electronics very quickly became known. These things made me feel very safe, since people were actively protecting me. It also made me feel quite important in the community.

It started when someone came to me and asked what I knew about mending mobile phones. In UK jails, many people have mobiles, usually obtained by over-the-fence smuggling. Pay-as-you-go credit vouchers are a major form of currency. This guy was very important on the wing – he had a crew of other guys who walked around with him and people often came to pay him. I said I knew enough about phones, and what did he want? He explained that someone had owed him money but couldn’t pay. He’d taken the guy’s phone as payment, but the phone was pin-locked and he couldn’t get in. The phone was an old Samsung, one which I knew (having previously owned one) didn’t impose any limit on the number of pin attempts. So I told the guy: yeah, I know a few tricks. But I need to get my tools out so I’ll do it overnight. (Note: I didn’t have any tools). The guy left me with the phone overnight, and I sat up through the night to try all 10,000 possible 4-digit combinations. Thankfully, the correct code turned up in the mid 2000s. So the next day this guy turned up and was amazed that I had figured out the code. He went round telling everyone that I was some tech wizard and that people should always come to me with their problems. In return for the job he arranged for me to have a Playstation 2 in my cell for two weeks, and to get access to a phone whenever I wanted. For the rest of my time, people would bring me trivially broken electronics and I would retire for the evening to make it out like I was doing something difficult, then return the fixed item the next day. It massively increased my quality of life in there.

Secondly, it opened my eyes to how people less fortunate than me live their lives, and how terrible the prison system is for most people. Many, many people in jail were severely mentally ill. There was no support for them. Some were killed in jail, either by inmates or staff, because they flipped out and people got scared. Another large group of people were hopelessly addicted to very harmful drugs. People who exploited this group were the most powerful – they would have drugs smuggled in, then build an army of addicts who would do their bidding to get the next fix. It was a really explosive situation. Almost every act of violence was drug debt related. Immigrants were completely screwed in jail, because there was no way for them to navigate the bureaucracy. I helped several people avoid deportation, including one cell-mate who had a hit contract out on him in Jamaica because he defended his business when yardies tried to extort him. He couldn’t read or write, so he couldn’t fill out the asylum application. His patois was so strong that his lawyer couldn’t really understand what he said, and the border agency was going to send him back to Jamaica to be killed. I wrote letters to the border agency, the prison governor and the home secretary and he was granted asylum and an interpreter was arranged so that his legal visits would be more productive. Hundreds of others in similar situations go without that help every year.

Thirdly, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2013 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Technology

Some slowly divergent series

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This is pretty cool. An example from the link—and by no means the slowest:

\sum \frac{1}{n \log(n)} = \infty.

It worked! We now have a much more slowly converging series than the original: we made the denominators bigger not by a constant factor, but by a factor which itself grows without bound. Instead of a logarithmic growth rate, this series exhibits a log-log growth rate: to get past 10, instead of e^{10} elements, you’ll need e^{e^{10}}elements! The first 12,000 elements of this series get you to about 3, but the first120,000 elements only improve this to about 3.25, and the first 1,200,000 elements push this to a whopping 3.43.

(By the way, if you’re not sure how to prove the divergence of this last series, the easiest way to do it is with a super cool and easy to visualize test called the Cauchy condensation test. That same test will let you understand all the series I’ll be mentioning in this answer, both divergent and convergent).

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2013 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Math

Games being used in serious scientific research, education, and treatment

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A very nice collection of links to science-oriented (and science-helpful) games.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2013 at 11:13 am

“Only your metadata” still uniquely identifies you most of the time

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The usual defense of the NSA’s collection of the metadata from all phone calls made in the US is that it doesn’t affect privacy—a defense that curiously ignores the observation that the program costs millions and millions of dollars and has not helped to prevent one single attack. I suppose by focusing on the privacy issue is a way to avoid confronting whether we should even be doing this from a practical standpoint.

And the privacy defense is incorrect: from an article at the Verge by Adi Robertson:

. . . Last month, Patrick Mutchler and Jonathan Mayer released an Android app called MetaPhone that allowed them to pull phone records — with permission — from users’ phones. In an ongoing series, they’re now showing what can be gleaned from that information: most recently, how easy it is to correlate numbers with names. First, they simply pulled 5,000 numbers from their MetaPhone dataset and checked them against Facebook, Yelp, and Google Places; these three services let them match 27.1 percent of the numbers with a name or business. From there, they looked at a smaller set of 100 numbers, approximating what might happen if a team of analysts manually searched through metadata. A Google search of each number pulled up an individual or business name for 60 of the 100 in under an hour; running the numbers through the Intelius public records database identified 74 of them. By combining the results of all searches, Mutchler and Mayer could identify 91 of the numbers — and, as they rightly point out, they have access to much less information than the NSA, though 100 numbers is a tiny, nonrepresentative fragment of the full database.

With the details provided, it’s hard to tell how many of these numbers were actually those of people, and how many belonged to businesses that post their numbers publicly. Even if finding the name of a customer service line isn’t much of a coup, though, the fact that phone record databases contain well-known, high-traffic numbers poses its own problems. In a previous post, Mutchler and Mayer analyzed how many numbers could be reached by the three “hops” the NSA can go from its original query. Civil liberties groups have estimated that these hops could include millions of people, and this dataset showed a hub and spoke network that could link numbers that had virtually no connection to each other. Anybody who dialed into T-Mobile’s voicemail system, for example, could theoretically be connected to any other dialer. “Suppose, for example, that a suspicious number is phoned by a Skype user; a different Skype user has called FedEx; and you have phoned FedEx,” writes Mayer. “You’re fair game.”

If your number is queried and you’re identified, your phone records can give away anything from medical conditions to whom you’re dating. . .

Read the whole thing.

And another article, by Gregory Ferenstein in TechCrunch:

Stanford Researcher Proves NSA Can Probably Identify Individuals From Phone Records

I would say that anyone who offers “it’s only the metadata” is either ignorant or not arguing in good faith.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2013 at 11:09 am

Poor lather, good shave

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SOTD 27 Dec 2013

I saw the shaving soaps from SeattleSundries.com mentioned on Wicked Edge and thought I should try them. The first warning was that the company presents their shaving soaps as belonging among their regular soaps—see the page at the link (shaving soaps at the bottom). That suggested that they perhaps took one of their regular soaps, used a different fragrance and added a little clay, and voilà! something that can be sold as a shaving soap.

The soap produces a foamy loose lather. My usual method of loading the brush until the bubbles are microscopic doesn’t work here: the bubbles remain large. I certainly don’t recommend the soap and I don’t quite know what to do with the tubs I bought. I certainly don’t wish to have another shaver judge wetshaving on the basis of these soaps.

That said, the shave was pretty good. I was able to load my Whipped Dog silvertip (22mm knot) and shave, and the Standard Razor (brand name) with a Super Max Titanium blade did a fine job. Three passes, no nicks, smooth face.

I splash on some New York aftershave and prepared to start the day. We are now in Season 2 of The Wire.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2013 at 10:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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