Thursday, December 30, 2010

Diary of a 1990's 11 year old: Day 2

Disclaimer: This diary is being faithfully recreated, with all of the spelling and grammatical errors intact. Still, in defense of my 11-year-old self, some of the misspelled words are spelled correctly elsewhere, so I think I was simply hastily scrawling, and many of them are thus the equivelent of written typos. Enjoy.





Day three coming tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Diary of a 1990's 11 year old: Day 1

I was going through my old filing cabinet today, when I discovered my diary from 1997. It follows the first 7 days of my annual Summer trip to see my father, which involved a coast-to-coast flight from Los Angeles to Greenbelt, Maryland. While rife with atrocious misspellings and terrible grammar (retained here), it is also highly detailed and contains some awesome raw insight and plenty of humor. While I don't know how amusing it will be to a complete stranger, it had me laughing, loudly and heartily, on multiple occasions. Yet, the best part about it to me is that it captures the wonderful magic and innocence of young love, and was both a touching and sad reminder of the purity and buoyancy that we all, inevitably, become estranged from. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.
-J.W.Siegel





Day 2 will be posted tomorrow! It gets juicy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

How to cheat CAPTCHA

reCAPTCHA, a product of Google, is a freely distributed spam-fighting program designed to trick bots. It is becoming increasingly more popular on the web, and while reducing spam is certainly great, reCAPTCHA's prevalence has also led to it becoming slightly annoying.



Well, today I'm going to share a small, but helpful tip, that if used, will hopefully save you a bit of time as you continue to traverse the web: You only have to enter one of the two words. The second word is completely unknown to reCAPTCHA and it will accept any valid character instead (for instance "a").

The false word is quickly discernible to the trained eye, as there are a plenty of common identifiers, which I am going to teach you now.


Let us begin!

First, know this: The known, required words are always formatted identically; take a moment to familiarize yourself with their appearance:



These 'true' words (though they are not actually words at all!) all share the same font, size, and are always more or less vertically centered on the CAPTCHA screen. As you can see above, the only ways that they vary are that the first letter is sometimes capitalized, the number of letters range between 6 and 8, and they can appear on either the left side or the right side of the screen.

Now, I will show you the many attributes that guarantee a fake.

These highlighted items do not need to be entered:

Any items containing numbers, including roman numerals:


Any names or words, whether in English or any other language:


Words that feature any punctuation, or accents:


As well as any variation from the standard format of the 'true' words (as seen above), including words that are...

Unusually big, or small:

Remarkably low, or high:

 Or any words of a different font!


Now you should know everything you need in order to identify the fake words, and with some practice, you'll be whipping through those CAPTCHAs in nearly half the time, all while smugly smiling to yourself in the knowledge that you've beat the system!

However, before you run off, there is something you should know. The reason one of the words is unknown to CAPTCHA is because the 'fake' words have been scanned, and Google is actually using your input in an effort to improve Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems.

That is why you'll occasionally get some really wacky results!



This is described in further detail at Google's CAPTCHA website, and according to them, it is for a good purpose:

"About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that's not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into "reading" books.

To archive human knowledge and to make information more accessible to the world, multiple projects are currently digitizing physical books that were written before the computer age.

reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher"

So, if you'd like help in this goodwill work aggregation project by continuing to type both words, well then more power to you! But personally, I don't agree with having volunteer work forced upon me, and would rather get through these pesky verification programs as swiftly as humanly possible (pun intended)!

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helped!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New series on IFC about Portland, Oregon! (where I live)

Check out this awesome musical trailer for Portlandia, a new series on the Independent Film Channel about my current city of residence, Portland, Oregon:



I actually recognized two people in this video; One of them, the guy on the big bike on the right, wearing the multi-colored fuzzy pants, is my neighbor!

Friday, December 17, 2010

My first taste of Minecraft PvP...



Well, that was a blast...

Shortly after crafting my first iron sword, equipped with a full set of iron armor and more than a grip of pork, I set out for my first taste of Minecraft PvP. Oh, what a joy.

First, I raided a huge square, stone house, floating high in the sky, having no idea who it belonged to. This guy had a chest with literally nothing in it except for an amusingly large collection of raw pork flanks. There was like a dozen of them; It was the most pork I'd ever seen in one place. So I hastily and giddily snatched them up.

I was about to leave... when I noticed that not one, not two, but three people had suddenly arrived below the house. Using Sun Tzu's strategy of funneling a greater number of enemies into a focused point, I waited for them to come up and poke a hole in the floor.

The first brave soul to breach the walls bore a diamond sword, but I had the advantage of height and a free range of motion, and after knocking him down a few times, he boldly died. I then heroically jumped down and dispatched with the other two, using my newly acquired ultimate weapon!

Man, my blood was pumping and the adrenaline was flowing! I hadn't been so riled up from a video game since bounty hunting player-Jedi in Pre-CU/NGE Star Wars Galaxies (when Jedi were rare, powerful, and extremely hard to become).

I was on my way back home when I saw someone else mining underground, and snuck up on him from behind. Score! Diamond shovel, diamond pick, obsidian, a bunch of redstone dust and iron. I frantically tried to make room in my inventory (all spoils), fearing that someone might come to take their revenge. After a bit of this, I heard water splashing and teleported home in panic.

A few people had become quite hot in chat by this point, and were trying to goad me into a rematch. My nerves were fried though, so I needed a breather. I cooked my pork over the fire, and rested up for the night, waiting for my hands to stop trembling. Finally, after stashing my spoils, I set out to for this most honorable rematch....

My safehouse is way far out, and in an effort to avoid being discovered, I circled around in my approach to the spawn point and our predesignated fighting ground, nearby.

After a while, my opponent, Bamfo, and an onlooker, Sniper11, met me. Bamfo came to win: He was decked out in full iron, iron sword, with a bow and a full stack of arrows. However, I had my sword out, and he seemed to prefer melee, as he charged head on. When he was about 5 paces away, I switched to my bow and unleashed a hellfire of missles upon him... this seemed to cause him to falter in his step, but he quickly returned with several blows which made me fear for my life. Swiftly chowing down on my grilled pork, I restored my health and then unsheathed my diamond sword...

Oh, sweet victory.

At the end of the day, I walked away with a kills/death ratio of 13/0 , and a huge mound of booty: 3 iron swords, multiple sets of armor, a ton of arrows, plus the aforementioned diamond gear, obsidian, redstone dust and iron ore...

What a rush! I'm still feeling pumped, haha.

Update:

Later that night, I returned to the house that was "floating high in the sky" (which belongs to Bamfo)...


Also, this:


If this sounds like fun, buy Minecraft here, for only  €9.95: http://www.minecraft.net/prepurchase.jsp
The game is finally entering Beta on December 20th, at which point the price will go up to  €14.95.

The PvP server I play on, which is, by far, the best I've found so far, can be reached at: play.minecraft.cc:23456

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mystery Alien/Zombie Louisiana Hunting Pic Debunked: It's A Fake

I was checking Facebook tonight when I noticed a friend posted this:


It's the Internet's latest viral sensation, which has now made it's way onto news programs, gaining nation-wide attention.

So, I set to work to try to get to the bottom of it, posting the photo on a popular discussion board.

I was quickly linked to the following spooky video, which, remarkably, seems to capture the same creature:


Not one to be easily swayed, however, I ignored this and continued on my quest for the truth.

The first real explanation I came upon, was that it was a viral marketing campaign by Insomniac Games, to promote their new PS3 game, Resistance 3. Feeling that the game developer's tongue-in-cheek Twitter posting was proof enough:



However, this did not satisfy me as adequate proof of responsibility, and the creature in the pic didn't look much like a Grim, so I kept digging.

Similarly, others believed that it was instead a viral marketing campaign for the upcoming movie Super 8, but their proof was extremely weak, claiming that "inside sources close to the production" had confirmed it, and linking a video of a young girl describing her scene in which she was "blocked by a wall, and there was a zombie coming towards us":

http://www.movieweb.com/movie/super-8/super-8-extra-casting

Checking comments on various news sites, I was finally led to what appears to be the source of the picture, a thread on a hunting forum, ArcheryTalk.com:

(Click to enlarge)

You have to register to see the pictures, but I've uploaded all the relevant photos here, so you don't have to!

First of all, notice that the thread was started on December 2nd, and the timestamp on the posted photograph is 11/30/2010, whereas the photo being spread like wildfire in the media reads 12/04/2010.

This forum user, Hillbilly Willi, claims to be the camera owner, and therefore the source of this viral image. I'm inclined to believe him, as several days later he produces three additional pictures from the same camera:

  
  
Hillbilly Willi adamantly claims the images are real, and that he is telling the truth, but goes on to say:

"I'm not a very superstitious guy, so I have a hard time believing its real...... But until one of the two buddies fesses up on the prank, I'm gonna be pretty uneasy walking out to the stand in the dark...."

The thread has over 700 replies, spanning 18 pages. Continue on to pages 16 and 17, and it appears that some of the more savvy forum members have already gotten to the bottom of this little conundrum...

First, we have this astute observation:

"LOL...you guys are funny! look at the little tree (Bush) to the left...the image with the deer is supposed to be 9 days diff than that of the boogyman...yes in both images all the leaves are exactly the same...wind has not moved them at all or even ruffled them. case close...you can all put away your security blankets."

 

Further, if you use a file decoding program, such as JPEGsnoop, you can view the hidden EXIF data that is contained in almost every image, revealing such detailed information as the type of camera used, the time, and even location that the image was taken from. Do so for the images at hand, and you get the following results:


Need more proof? Another user goes on to state the following.

"Download both pictures, although EXIF data is missing from both pictures you can clearly tell the mystery photo was manipulated as it's pixel size is different.

The deer photo is 1797 x 1348 px.
The mystery photo is 1705 x 1279 px.

Digital cameras at a given resolution always capture the same size image. The file size may vary given JPEG compression but the image size should be a constant in pixels.

Next up, pull the photos into an editor, use the curves tool to blow up exposure. Notice around the head of the 'boogey man' has a black blur around it? That's a blending job at work in photoshop. See how the deer doesn't have that going on."


While it was certainly fun to believe that such a horrendous monster could exist out there in the deep dark woods, I think it's safe to say this little mystery is debunked. :)

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Expand your vocabulary! #1.5

A friend shared a cool French expression with me over breakfast, and I wanted to pass it along:

L'esprit de l'escalier (Staircase Wit):

Thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late. The phrase can be used to describe a riposte* to an insult or any witty remark that comes to mind too late to be useful—after one has left the scene of the encounter.

This name for the phenomenon comes from French encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot's description of such a situation in his Paradoxe sur le com├ędien. During a dinner at the home of statesman Jacques Necker, a remark was made to him which left him speechless at the time because, he explains: "a sensitive man like me, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs."

Pronunciation: e-SPREE des-kal-i-YE

Pictured: The world's longest stairway at the Niesenbahn funicular railway, in Switzerland, with 11,674 steps

*Riposte: ri•poste - noun
1. A fencer's quick return thrust following a parry
2. a retaliatory verbal sally: Retort
3. A retaliatory maneuver or measure
"He's known for having a brilliant riposte to nearly any insult."


Sources: Wikipedia; Merriam-Webster.com; Wordsmith.org

Quite possibly my all-time favorite hike: The Eagle Creek trail


One of the great things about Portland, Oregon, is it is very quick and easy to get out of the city and immerse yourself in nature.

Located just over a half-hour from the I-205/I-84 junction, heading east on 84, you'll find Eagle Creek, one the the most beautiful, varied, and fun hikes I've ever had the priviledge to experience.

This hike has something for everyone: It's long and almost all uphill, and the highlights of the hike (a half-dozen major waterfalls, scenic outlooks, camping grounds and even a lake) are paced a perfect intervals, offering a challenge at every level of fitness.

At 1.8 miles, you'll reach what is probably the most popular site of the hike, Punchbowl Falls:


If you continue on to the 7-mile mark, you'll be rewarded with the climactic 160' Tunnel Falls:



Just past a little past that, there's a decent campsite where I would recommend settling down for Night One. Campfires are reportedly "strongly discouraged", but allowed, which is definitely a perk. If you do plan on making a fire, I'd recommend having plenty of starter fluid and paper on hand, as fuels may be moist.

If you are really adventurous, in the morning, you could continue for an additional 7 miles to camp at Wahtum lake:


Wow! Looks idyllic!

Hoofing it all the way to Wahtum Lake would make for a round-trip exceeding 30 miles, however, so it would need to be a full weekend trip. I have yet to make it past Tunnel Falls, so if you are planning on going, please invite me!

(Click for full size)

 FYI: Parking is $5 per car, per day.

For more information on Eagle Creek, including history and directions, visit: http://web.oregon.com/hiking/eaglecreek.cfm


Sources: web.oregon.com; portlandhikersfieldguide.org

Monday, September 27, 2010

Expand Your Vocabulary!

Expand your active vocabulary with some multiple-syllable, lesser known, under-used, and uncommon forms of words!

This week's words:

Lesser Known:

Propitious: pro•pi•tious - adj
1: Favorably disposed: Benevolent
2. Being a good omen: Auspicious
3. Tending to favor : Advantageous

"Now is a propitious time to start a business"


Uncommon Form:

Decrepitude:  de•crip•i•tude - noun
1. The quality or state of being decrepit

"The house has fallen into decrepitude"

Decrepit: de•crip•it - adj
1: Wasted and weakened by or as if by the infirmities of old age
2: A) Impaired by use or wear: Worn-out, B) Fallen into ruin or disrepair
3: Dilapidated; Run-down

"My decrepit car barely starts."


Under-Used:

Gargantuan: gar•gan•tuan - adj -  tremendous in size, volume, or degree

Interesting etymology: First known use: 1596. From Gargantua, a giant with a very large appetite in Francios Rabelais' La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua ("The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua"), one of "a connected series of five novels... [which tells] the story of two giants, a father (Gargantua) and his son (Pantagruel) and their adventures, written in an amusing, extravagant, satirical vein." The name Gargantua was likely derived from Garagantesi, an Egyptian hieroglyph translated as "gourd, pumpkin".




Sources: Merriam-Webster.com; Britannica.com; Wiktionary; Wikipedia; and the Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Part 2, by E.A. Wallis Budge.


I would like to personally challenge you to use one (or all) of these words in the next week. If you do so, return here to tell us how it went!

If one enlists in the military as a medic, and fills this role in war, ultimately, do you think they are helping, or harming?

An Army Medic, who is both an armed solider and a healer: Is he part of a problem, or of a solution?

Some may say he is fulfilling a support role, or in other words, helping to 'enable' the combat. Imagine a branch of armed forces without healthcare. Would anyone join them? Would wars be fought if the soldiers knew no help was available to them?

Yet I don't think wounded soldiers generally return to battle, at least not immediately, and I don't believe that saving lives or aiding the hurt could ever be considered innately wrong.

What about a United Nations medic? They are supposed to be neutral peacekeepers, but they could also be considered a resource.

I'd like to hear other's thoughts on this matter.