Friday, February 25, 2011

Creating an invincible password

You think you have a clever password, eh? Well, sorry, guest123 just ain't gonna cut it anymore. Hackers* can crack your English-word-plus-number based password in a matter of hours. With much of our lives moving online, through email, Facebook, online photo albums, banking, etc, Farhad Manjoo's tips on creating invincible passwords is well worth reading. His tips basically boil down to to following two steps:

Start with an original but memorable phrase. For this exercise, let's use these two sentences: I like to eat bagels at the airport and My first Cadillac was a real lemon so I bought a Toyota. The phrase can have something to do with your life or it can be a random collection of words—just make sure it's something you can remember. That's the key: Because a mnemonic is easy to remember, you don't have to write it down anywhere. (If you can't remember it without writing it down, it's not a good mnemonic.) This reduces the chance that someone will guess it if he gets into your computer or your e-mail. What's more, a relatively simple mnemonic can be turned into a fanatically difficult password.

Which brings us to Step 2: Turn your phrase into an acronym. Be sure to use some numbers and symbols and capital letters, too. I like to eat bagels at the airport becomes Ilteb@ta, and My first Cadillac was a real lemon so I bought a Toyota is M1stCwarlsIbaT.

I used to use a single password for everything, from banking to my Unix account at work. It's a miracle I never had a break-in. I now use several passwords, all completely scrambled based on the formula above. Now you, like me, have no excuse not to keep your online life securely locked up!


*Yes, I know that a cracker .NE. haX0r, but most people think "cracker" means something else, entirely.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Beavers Win (in conference)!!!

Last night was my first time in a while that I wasn't out of town on the evening of a Caltech basketball game...and I came down with a cold. I was laid out last night and this morning, and fortunately I'm recovering now. But sadly it forced me to miss Caltech's first conference win since 1985. Quoth the Caltech Athletics page (full article here):
For the first time since Jan. 23, 1985 the Caltech men's basketball team posted a win in a conference game. On Tuesday evening the Beavers beat Occidental College 46-45 at the Braun Athletic Center.

It was the first SCIAC win for the Caltech program since they beat La Verne 48-47 - 26 years ago. Caltech had lost its previous 310 SCIAC games.

Congrats to the players and to Coach Eslinger on a job well done!

Fun fact: Caltech scored 46 points off of only 12 field goals. The key was committing only 5 turn-overs and hitting 19-25 from the free-throw line.

The Scrambled States



To say that The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Kellar has been a favorite in our house lately, is the understatement of the year. If you haven't read this one, you're missing out. I'm ashamed to say that my 5 year old son often corrects me when putting the puzzle of the US states. Owen and Marcus are officially obsessed with the United States geography.

The boys received a hand-me-down puzzle of the 50 states for xmas and have since learned all the state names and flags. In fact, we spent a good number of mornings learning to sing this:



For the record: Marcus wants to visit Georgia, and insists that we live in Texas, and that John lives in Massachusetts (where he recently traveled for work). Owen would like to do a road trip to Nevada, Colorado, Utah & San Francisco. Mommy & Daddy are exploring possible routes for a summer exploration of the continental US.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Angry Cake!



via Huffington Post by way of Cushing

Snow and waterfalls

Yesterday we traveled to Ojai, CA to visit our friends Jon and Gloria. After a lunch of salad and veggie burgers at Farmer and the Cook, we went up to the mountains overlooking the Ojai valley so we could hike around and play in the snow. It was a gorgeous day and after having a snowball fight Jon led us to a pretty amazing waterfall. Here's a video of Owen and Jon exploring the falls, while, as far as I can tell, reenacting a scene from The Road:







Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Nuances of Language

Ever wonder why we bother with innuendo when both sides of the conversation know exactly what is meant? I have long been bothered by this strange aspect of communication. This amazing lecture breaks it down in terms of three distinct "relationship types." After watching this 10 minute exposition on language, I finally, at age 34, understand where I've gone wrong in many social settings: I'm too explicit with my intentions. Some things, in some situations, are simply best left unsaid:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Caltech: On Athletics and Geometry

Cahill Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics is the bow-tie shaped building in the upper right (North East) corner of the sports fields. I get to watch the Beavers baseball and soccer teams play right out side of my South-facing window.

Here's a view of the soccer field, which abuts the baseball field. Notice anything strange? No? Let's zoom in.
Now, that's odd. There's a distinct shortage of right angles here. I know that Caltech isn't that great at sports, but I'd expect their geometry to be okay...
...I guess not. Go Beavers!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Physics of Angry Birds


One of the Johnson Family's favorite pastimes is to play Angry Birds on one, or both, of our iPhones. Owen absolutely adores this game. If you aren't familiar with Angry Birds, it is a remarkably uncomplicated video game based on using a sling shot to fling an angry little bird across the screen and into the fortifications of a band of wiley pigs. Pigs who stole the birds' eggs. And laugh at you when you miss. Those frickin' pigs! I'll smash 'em good!

Given our love of the adventures of those furious feathered friends, I particularly enjoyed this Wired article about the Physics of Angry Birds.
The goal is to knock over some pigs. Seriously, that is the game.

But what about the physics? Do the birds have a constant vertical acceleration? Do they have constant horizontal velocity? Let’s find out, shall we? Oh, why would I do this? Why can’t I just play the dumb game and move on. That is not how I roll. I will analyze this, and you can’t stop me.

Oh, don't worry. This nerd wouldn't dream of stopping you!

BTW, the Tracker software the author uses to perform the physics analysis of the video of the game is really fun and potentially quite useful in the classroom. It's open source, too!

Life is funny

A friend of mine is getting a PhD in astrophysics and she now plans to pursue a new career in film. She is currently dating a really cool guy who is also a fairly famous director (I really like his movies, no matter which of my friends he dates). We went over to their place for their joint birthday party last night, and we got to talk with a bunch of normal people who also happen to be famous Hollywood insiders. It was a very enjoyable experience, especially given how much time I've been spending around astronomers lately.

We had great food, conversations about casting in St. Louis vs casting in Omaha, talked about the differences between a white dwarf and a brown dwarf, all while the boys splashed in the hot tub.

After saying farewell to the hosts, one of my conversations on the way to the door may or may not have gone like this:

Lady: "Have we met before?"
Me: "Honestly, probably not. I've only hung out with [famous director] once, at an astronomy conference in Seattle of all places."
Lady: "Interesting. I take it you're an astronomer."
Me: "Yup. What do you do?"
Lady: "I'm an actor. My name is Laura."
Me, looking closer: "I'm John. Are you Laura Der..."
Lady: "Yes, I'm Laura Dern."
Me: (awkwardly attempting to come up with a movie of her's other than Jurassic Park.) "Oh, I enjoy your work..."
Lady: "I was in Citizen Ruth."
Me: (not having seen that movie) "Oh...so..."
Lady: ...
Me: "So, in Jurassic Park. They had a dinosaur trainer on set, of course. But did they have a separate trainer for the velociraptors?"
Lady: ...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One more video that the boys love

Animals. Talking. With British accents!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One more football post

Well, a football-related post. The Food Should Taste Good snack-food company recently held a touchdown dance competition. Here's the unlikely, and hilarious winner. If you're like me, you'll spend the first 5 seconds wondering what the heck is going on. But after that things really start to make sense...