Thursday, December 15, 2005

BofA is Evil

Add to my list of evil corporations Bank of America. For the past several years I have used a very good independent bill payment service called Paytrust (which is now owned by Intuit). One of the features of this service is that it balances my checking account by logging into my online checking accounts and scraping all of the transactions. However BofA has decided to put a stop to this. Supposedly this is an attempt at solving the widespread "phishing" problem. But as this post:

points out, the BofA solution is no solution (quoted below). So are they really just trying to close out third party bill payment services? I have been asking that question as often and as loudly as I can to any BofA person I can get on email and phone and the VERY suspicious answer that they are all trained to give me is, "would you like to try BofA's bill payment service?"

Note to BofA - you are now going to lose my business.

Here is that explanation for why SiteKey doesn't help solve the phishing problem:

The problem is that the BofA server doesn't know how to distinguish a valid user's PC. A zombie machine that was hacked to be false store-front could easily appear to BofA to be a valid user PC.
So... what if the false store-front brokers the entire transaction to the BofA server? That would appear to be completely valid transaction to the server and it would deliver a session cookie, along with the image, back to the false store-front.
The false store-front simply relays the image and authentication page back to the victim, who is none the wiser. He still believes he's talking to the real server because he's getting all of the proper SiteKey data.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hanging Fire

How did I get to be almost 40 years old and I have never heard the expression "hanging fire" with respect to bills in congress close to the end of a term... I have to assume that this is a common expression -- not less than 5 times in the last 2 hours have I heard someone on NPR (including Lehrer newshour, Marketplace, and All Things Considered) use the phrase...

I found it rather difficult to get a good definition and history of the phrase searching the web via Google, but came across a number of interesting things along the way. The most succint was Allwords:
Idiom: hang fire
    To delay taking action.
      Thesaurus: delay, procrastinate, stall, stop, vacillate, wait, hang back; Antonym: press on.
    To cease to develop or progress. Definition of hang

Which does not, unfortunately, provide the etymology. Word for Word started me down the right path however:

Hang fire with the polysyllabicsFANS of plain English are not always fans of thesauruses, because they can prompt novice writers to use needless polysyllabics. But they do have their uses (that's the thesauruses, not the fans of plain English . . . no, hang on, they have their uses too).

Reader Terry Carroll ( had been having trouble finding a definition of the phrase hang fire: "I'm unable to find it in a dictionary," he writes, "but from context, I gather that it refers to a project that has been postponed through procrastination. But why hang fire?" Smaller (meaning household) dictionaries are likely to miss phrases such as this, but a thesaurus gives a clue. It lists hang fire alongside misfire, flash in the pan and fizzle out - all terms relating to gunnery or musketry. When a soldier lit the fuse in a cannon there could be quite a delay until the charge ignited, and this was known as hanging fire. Similarly a flash in the pan related to a failed attempt to fire a flintlock musket, when the flint produced a spark in the priming pan but did not ignite the charge.

Word for Word

Which led me to this fun excerpt from Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad..."
And the great sash they wear in many a fold around their waists has two or three absurd old horse-pistols in it that are rusty from eternal disuse-- weapons that would hang fire just about long enough for you to walk out of range, and then burst and blow the Arab's head off.

hang fire - definition of hang fire by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.

And now back to work!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We are Losing the Robot Race

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote about the first version of Sony's Asimo, here on this Blog in a post entitled "Are We Losing the Robot Race?" With the recent unveiling of Asimo 2.0 one can only conclude that the answer is a loud YES... The movies of Asimo in motion are astonishing:

And Honda is hard at work on Asimo 3.0

I might as well just repeat myself from 2 years ago and then start thinking about what I can do to change the situation...

Many have argued that humanoid shaped robots are not particularly useful by comparison to industrial robots where most US researchers have focused. Solving the complicated problems of making a machine move like a human being doesn't help with any of the heavy industrial problems for which most robots are utilized.

This narrow view of robots ignores the basic premise that Honda and Sony are successfully focused on -- that everything in our world is designed to accomodate a human frame and human hands. If robots are going to play a useful role in an everyday human world, they will have to move and look something like human beings.

Robot manufacturing will be one of the 21st centuries biggest industries. As the world's largest economy we ignore this market at our own peril.

Ted Shelton: Are We Losing the Robot Race?

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