Dreams of cryptography

I had the weirdest dream last night. Apropos of nothing, I was meeting with Ev Williams, cofounder of both Twitter and Blogger, in his office to talk about something I can’t recall. It’s weird because in real life I haven’t talked to Ev in six months, and I don’t know why he wandered into a dream, but I’m getting off track. Long ago, Ev had some trouble with password cracking, and as I walked into his office, we exchanged hellos and he turned to his computer to show me something, and before he could do anything, he had to login.

After tapping the keyboard to bring the operating system to life, his screen filled with a weird scan of a magazine page, and he tapped with his finger in several key places which lit up in red, in a specific sequence, then we saw his desktop (my quick finger-on-iPad mockups shown below). I stopped him and asked what exactly did I just see?

IMG_0028 IMG_0029

He said to thwart break-ins to his computer and accounts, every week he would grab a random page from a magazine, hold it up to his front-facing camera to take a shot of it, then would select a “password” by choosing a sequence and locations of things to tap on. I then asked if it could work for website logins too and he said yeah, the new WebRTC functionality¬†would allow for such a thing. Then we moved on to talking about something else and I soon woke up.

It was an oddly specific dream, and I don’t normally remember this much detail, but I guess I knew at the time I was experiencing this that it might be a good idea in the real world and solve some problems people have with passwords. I’m no cryptography expert, so I don’t know if picking out features on a page is more random than coming up with strings of digits and letters. It would seem like on the surface, you could try and crack visual login systems like this with simple OCR and photo recognition, and simply make guesses to the bits that stand out the most. Another thing that came to mind in thinking about the security of this idea is how many possible tap points are there on a scanned page? Is it obviously much less than the number of possible keystrokes in a typical password? Finally, this would add an obvious problem to anyone with impaired vision, which current passwords don’t cause.

Anyway, in the spirit of sharing wacky ideas in my head in case someone else finds it useful, I present my goofy dream about image-based password security systems. Let me know if anyone builds such a thing someday.

update: Whoa, looks like Windows 8 has a sort of similar option called Picture Passwords, I imagine it could use a more complex image than a simple photo of a dog or a person and instead you could use something like a scan of a newspaper or magazine.

Downton Abbey promo idea

Now that Downton Abbey will see a third season, before it goes live next year, I'd like to see the studio behind the series record a promotional video for the show, and this is my idea: The full cast on show locations, in full costume, performing a lip dub of George Harrison's 80s song "Got My Mind Set On You". 

Bonus points if it features all the cast members paired up that tend to get paired up on screen, Matthew & Mary, Mr. Bates & Anna, Maggie Smith & Matthew's mom, Thomas & Sarah, Mrs. Patmore & Daisy, etc.

It'd be cheap to make, simple to do (probably a one-day shoot), and would almost certainly go viral, bringing the show to millions of potential viewers.

Thank Bill Cosby for today’s comedy boom


I have this crazy idea. Back in 1985, my family got cable TV for the first time and it included HBO. I think at the start they just played stuff from 5-10pm and eventually they played stuff maybe 12hrs a day, but I seem to recall they'd just repeat 2 or 3 movies a few times a day and whatever deadspots they had, they filled it by running Bill Cosby's Himself.

I watched Bill Cosby's Himself probably 2 or 3 times a week for a good several years in my early teens. I know the entire thing by heart and can quote you almost any line if you give me a couple words.

There's this popular held belief about the birth of Skateboarding:

In the mid-Seventies, two events coincided in Southern California that gave rise to skateboarding as we now know it. The invention of the urethane wheel and the drought that emptied the pools across the city allowed the kids to ride their new boards in an entirely new way

It was covered well in the movies Dogtown and Z boys and Lords of Dogtown. I mention it because I've been a fan of stand-up comedy for three decades now and we're in a boom these past few years that feels much like the brick-backdrop comedy TV boom of the late 80s. We have comedy podcasts galore, huge comedy communities like A Special Thing, we have an entire website dedicated to short videos of just comedy, and we have stuff like The Onion going mainstream with video on demand and their popular website. Not to mention popular late night comedy talk shows are joined by The Daily Show and Colbert Report, which meld comedy with news. Fans of comedy are getting their daily fix like never before.

So here's my crazy idea: the boom in comedy these last few years is due to two things that go together well, the internet, for making the dissemination, publication, and promotion of comedy way easier than waiting for a TV network to give you a show 20 years ago, and the fact that a generation of kids got to watch Bill Cosby Himself every day after school for several years before HBO figured out how to gather enough programming to stop repeating themselves.

Caraoke: Let’s fucking do this

(if you want to hear the original song, listen here)

A friend recently confessed he was really into karaoke and before he could ask I had to decline ever doing something as crazy as singing in public. I'm crippled with embarrassment whenever I have to dance or sing (or do anything kooky) in public, so karaoke is out, but I realized I actually like to sing when I'm alone and no one is watching.

Then I thought about American Idol and reality shows and singing alone and then it hit me: people sing in cars all the time! Karaoke in cars = Caraoke! We have the technology: hidden cameras, microphones, bluetooth audio, and OnStar-type microphones in many cars. Loved ones that suspect you're a private car singer can sign you up (without your knowledge :) and record you singing on the way to work. Each week clips of people singing are played, the person singing is contacted and surprised (and sometimes incensed with anger, hey it makes for great TV) and the best singer wins something each week.

Why isn't this an actual show? Hollywood, make this hidden camera singing show happen already.


On December 31, 1999, there was a drawer in the kitchen of my small apartment in LA. It was filled with extra hot sauce packets from Taco Bell and Del Taco.

December 31, 2009, my current kitchen does not posses this drawer.

Thoughts from the bottom of a ditch after veering off the road while reading email on my iPhone while riding my road bike near a farm

Man, there sure are a lot of beer bottles and cans down here.

If my 18 year old self could see me today at 36, I'm sure he'd want to know why I'm still doing stupid shit like getting so engrossed with my phone that I actually did this.

Thank god I didn't break anything on my bike or myself.

I wonder if I could condense this stupid moment to 140 characters?

Perchance to dream

Slug, originally uploaded by visualdensity.

I had a dream last night that we solved the energy crisis by forcing the animal kingdom to create energy for us, but the trick was picking an animal ugly and unlikeable enough that the least number of people opposed the enslavement. So in the end, we had these enormous generators pushed by massive armies of slugs on land and eels in the water that created the entire world's energy needs.

There were of course, slug and eel appreciation societies that picketed the energy companies but most people didn't mind because they hated the selected animals so much.

Matt, what’s your favorite desktop twitter client?

My #1 recommendation on desktop twitter clients is…..NONE.

Seriously, don't use one, ever.

It's the most insanely massive pointless timesuck in the history of procrastination and timewasters. Imagine if you had a permanent desktop application that featured Google Reader scrolling up every new post on every blog you follow combined with every new link on delicious from people you trust and every photo added to flickr by your friends plus tons of instant messages sent to all, constantly streaming with no end in sight.


Do what I do, which is every few hours if you're at a stopping point or bored or whatever, go to twitter.com in a browser. Scan through the missives from your friends, maybe page back a couple pages to catch up to the last time you checked. If you think of something you need to say, toss it up as a new message.


I speak from experience. I've tried half a dozen twitter clients but if you make a habit of coding, photoshoping, and/or/especially writing for a living it gets in the way much more than it serves as a creative reading or writing outlet.

It's like leaving a TV on in the same room while trying to write a novel. Just don't do it.

How to get my nerd vote

I've been thinking lately about a dream candidate for my nerd habits, my nerdy business, and the way I live my nerdy life. Regardless of party affiliation, if you're running for an office from as small as city council all the way up to president, if you hit on any/all of these things, you just might get my vote.

  1. Broadband Everywhere. I want crazy South Korea/Japan style broadband I've heard about for years: 100Mbps (upload and download) fiber connections for less than $50/month with unlimited bandwidth and the ability to run your own servers. I know the US is a big spread out country and it makes this stuff somewhat difficult/costly, but it's an ambitious goal with a ton of payoff. We don't have manufacturing jobs in the US anymore: we don't make things, we don't build things, we don't sew things here, but we do have lots of ideas and inventions.

    The economy of the future in the US is going to be intertwined with the internet and if every man, woman, and child in America has all the internet access they could ever need and could quickly program, build, and deploy their own stuff on their own mega-fast lines, we'd have a million and one programmers and designers and crafters and more contributing to a new vibrant future economy. If fiber everywhere is too much, at least get 3G coverage in more places.

  2. Universal Healthcare. Everyone I know that freelances or works a day job and wishes they could quit and follow their dreams of launching a company complains about the lack of healthcare. Whenever I used to talk about freelancing at tech conferences, the first question was always about healthcare coverage. I've heard that in places like Berlin where you don't have to worry about where your healthcare is coming from or how much it costs, up to 35% of working age adults are freelancers. It may sound crazy and anti-capitalist to consider healthcare for all, but if we flipped a switch tomorrow and everyone had health coverage I swear a million small businesses would launch overnight. I know lots of people that keep a job just to get healthcare that are wasting their creative talents because they had a cancer scare or were born with a defect or otherwise are deemed uninsurable on their own.
  3. No federal taxes on internet purchases. It's worked out well for over a decade, let's just stick with not charging tax on online shopping.
  4. Renew a commitment to Education. Yes, we already spend a lot on education, but it's nothing compared to what we spend on defense. There are loads of possibilities to reform education at all levels with the goals being well-informed kids that love learning in a safe environment and can grow up to attend any college they want to (hopefully cheap or free of charge).
  5. Renew a commitment to Science. Bring back NASA and let's really fly to The Moon and Mars again. Don't let local school boards dictate that it's ok to prevent teaching proper biology (yes, the scientific method and evolution) to students. The US spent the last hundred years being at the forefront of science only to begin abandoning it as we passed into the 21st century. Engineers and scientists will continue to lead innovation in America and it seems silly in this day and age that we even have to defend the basic tenets of science from constant attack.
  6. Real changes to transportation. Increase MPG requirements for all carmakers selling vehicles in the US. Engineers love a design challenge and making a Chevy Suburban get 25mpg may seem impossible today but I'm confident a design team could develop one quickly if given the proper resources. We flew to the freakin' moon 40 years ago on the computing power of today's $5 solar calculators — we can make cars burn fuel more efficiently.

    Regarding alternate fuels, stay away from net-zero energy fuels like Hydrogen and corn-based Ethanol (for now, keep researching them though) and instead focus on what works today using existing technology. Biodiesel could work in many cities and in many cars today given the proper tax incentives to car owners and fuel station owners. Keep researching other fuels (switchgrass ethanol sure would be nice) but it feels like we're ignoring the low-hanging fruit that is biodiesel.

    Decrease foreign oil use by giving tax incentives to people that work at home, to people that ride a bicycle or walk to work, and to those using public transportation. Want to move to be closer to work? Get rid of capital gains taxes on homes sold less than two years after you take up residence if you can cut your commute in half or more.

  7. Allow early voting by mail. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the way Oregon works with regards to voting in all elections. You get voter information packets about 4-6 weeks before an election, then your ballot arrives about 2-3 weeks before the deadline. You can vote at your leisure, using wikipedia, google, and anything else you need to research your vote as you cast your vote.
  8. Revamp Copyright/IP law. Using the internet means you are making a perfect digital copy of everything you ever read, see, and hear, and it doesn't always jibe with existing copyright law. There is lots to say about this, but I wish we were a little more Lessig and a little less Disney when it comes to this realm.
  9. Fund the patent office so it can do a better job. Software patents almost universally suck and stifle innovation.
  10. Open government. Open source voting machines, xml data for every vote on every bill by every legislator. Public Domain dumps of every photograph, recording, film, and publication commissioned by the government in an easy to retrieve place.

These are all pretty much self-serving: I was a science major in college and grad school, I work from home (and am enjoying a fast fiber connection), run a company that is considering employee healthcare, my wife drives a diesel car, and I previously worked at a non-profit cofounded by Lessig. I know there aren't a ton of details and there are downsides to many things I've mentioned but I came up with my own dream list.

I know I must be missing something, what would you throw on the nerd wishlist for candidates?