Friday, 7 November 2008

That whole key copying thing

(Context: The UCSD system that copies keys from a picture).


Yale keys are extraordinarily easy to copy, because they're symmetric, and only have 5 pins, and each pin only has a few settings. People have known this for years.

This is why safes don't use symmetric keys, and they use a lot of settings, and they don't use pin settings at all. They use disc-based locks that are assymetric (each side "looks" different, so if you have a picture of one side you can't actually reconstruct the lock settings), they have a lot of disks (so that you can't remember them easily), and they have very subtle changes (so that you can't easily remember or use software to work out the precise disc necessary based on a simple visual).

Yale keys are also easy to bump and can be picked trivially.

Don't use them.

Good home key set? Abloy Protec. Only thing it's really lacking is the assymetric part, but it's got I believe 11 small discs and each has like 10 settings. Much more secure anyway.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

I love me teh google

Yes, Google rocks. This article on my tech blog is the #1 hit for a particularly pernicious bit of MILF porn search. Yay, safe-search mode!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

York Gardens Table Tennis Club Information

Quite possibly they should have their own web site, but given how impossible it is to google any information about this, allow me to provide it all here in one place.

This was accurate as of a phone call today (21 Sept 2008) with Tom Draper, but may no longer be accurate.

Contact Person: Tom Draper
Tom's Phone Number: 020 8874 1575

Fircroft Primary School
Fircroft Road
Tooting, London
SW17 7PP

They play Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
18:00-19:30 - Children
19:30 - 22:30 - Adults

Cost is 3/session if you pay for a 12/year annual membership, or 4/session otherwise.

They have some changing rooms, but because it's a primary school, they don't have full locker room and shower facilities.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

McCain: I was tortured by teh gheys

Okay, this is where I really have to make a political post.

McCain blames his torture in Vietnam on homosexuals.

How in the world is there anybody who wants to vote for this guy?

Monday, 21 July 2008

Ignore Low-Rent Tourists

Let's say you live in a region which gets some tourists. You're looking to start a business with which you might encourage some of those tourists to part with some of their currency and give it to you.

A Restaurant! That's a fine idea. Everybody needs to eat, particularly those pig-like North-West Europeans: they can't help but stuff their faces at every opportunity! (so sad; so true).

Hmmmmm..... Only problem. I only know how to make My Native Food. And the pigs won't like that. So I'll have to make their "cuisine" to make them come to my restaurant. But there are so many of them, so I'll have to make sure that I have a part of my menu devoted to each country I think might come to my restaurant, so that there are at least 100 things on the menu, none of which will be fresh, and none of which will taste good at all.


Look, I'm not saying that there aren't people having a Full English, downing it with a pint, at 10:00am on any of the Canary Islands at any given time. And I'm not saying that there aren't people who won't visit anything other than a German beer-hall in a coastal town in Cambodia. Sure, there are those people. Here's what I will say though:

Those people are trash.

There. I've said it. They're Packaged Holiday-makers who want My Village But With Better Weather.

Anyway, they are. They're human scum, and more importantly, they don't spend very much. One of the attractions for them is that they can get exactly what they get at home, but for cheaper. Not great profit margins, are they?

Now you might say that the only Whiteys who will go for local cuisine are backpackers who are even more price sensitive than the Low-Rent Weather Seekers, and that's true to a point. But here's the other hint: there are a bunch of us who want local food, but don't want to get sick, and want air conditioning now and then, and might want a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc with our dinner. We might even want delicacies that you would really only eat once in a couple of months.

Give us somewhere to eat. Cook for us. Whatever you'd eat at home, whatever you'd have for a celebration, heck, if you're in the main city of your country, cook me whatever you'd have in your home town. Just make sure it looks like you have proper hygiene standards, and we're good to go.

Yes, you're ignoring the people who will never eat anything that isn't served with french fries, but those people honestly aren't going to your establishment probably anyways (because the ones they're going to have been staked out years ago and it ain't you). Give me somewhere I can go on holiday.

Oh, and that doesn't mean go the absolute other end. I don't want a "fine dining experience" as I wander around with flip-flops and shorts on. I don't want you to pretend that your home cuisine is classical French (which you actually can't do without a full hotel kitchen because you naturally have the disadvantage of weather, which means that you don't have the cold temperature to play such magical games with butter). I don't want to have fawning service. I want a bottle of wine, I want local food, I want to have a good time.

And it doesn't matter that where the locals live is nowhere near where the tourist hotels are. That's fine. Set up by your home and make sure my hotel (and all local taxi/tuk-tuk drivers) know where you are and what you do, or just open by the tourist hotels.

Also, I don't want to hear your daughter sing. Nobody wants to hear that. Nor do I want to hear music which may be grating to my ears too loud. Yes, I want to hear it, it's part of the faux-native experience (and don't think I don't know it's faux-native: I'm not stupid); just make sure I can hear my other half at the same time.

Please don't make me eat in the hotel another night...

And by the way: if you get offended by this post, ask yourself why you're offended that I think someone eating the cheapest full english breakfast they can get every day in Cambodia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, ... is a bit stupid and rubbish. Then again, I doubt those people read anything other than The Sun, so the chances of them actually getting offended by this are pretty darn slim.

And if you're offended by the hygiene standards, my only real rule when travelling is this: if I can't see ANY way for staff to wash their hands, I walk out. You'd be surprised how often I have to invoke that rule in some of the places I go. It's one of the reasons why I always visit the toilet before I eat anything.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Dollarization and the Cambodian Economy

I just got back from Cambodia, and something which has definitely changed in the last two years since I first went is that it's gotten a lot more expensive, and things are really escalating right now (they estimate that official inflation is running at about 28% a year right now). There are a few main reasons for that that I can see.

The first thing is the effective and total dollarization of the economy. They use the US dollar for everything, and when I say that, I mean US dollar bills. This is a remnant of the UNTAC era in the early 1990s, when UNTAC employees were paid in dollars and were looking to spend them. These days, everything over a dollar is priced in USD, and the local currency (the Reil) is only used for change at an extremely constant rate of R4000/$1 (so if something costs $2.50, you pay $3, and get R2000 back).

While this has provided in general a far more stable currency and exchange rate than a developing country might otherwise have, these days the primary trading partners of Cambodia (in addition to the US purchasing garments) are all countries which don't have a USD fix (Thailand, Vietnam, China, Australia). All of those countries have seen their currencies against the dollar appreciate over the past few years as the USD has tanked, meaning that everything is more expensive in Cambodia.

Furthermore, inflation is picking up because by adopting the dollar, as we all know, Cambodia has adopted US monetary policy. While the extreme loosening of credit as a result of the credit meltdown has, if anything, only helped to avoid a much more severe and quick economic downturn in the US, in Cambodia it's put way too much money into the building industry, meaning that prices and wages are rising dramatically, putting an upwards pressure on anything that you, as a foreigner, are likely to buy.

In addition, they're getting hit by the global food shortage. Cambodia is a net importer of food, and they're buying from non-dollar economies. That means that they're having to buy food, which is going up in price due to shortage situations, with a weakening currency.

This has left you in a situation where a countryside-raised chicken (very little meat, mostly bones and feathers) costs about $6 in a market. I can buy one here for as little as about $3 (okay, maybe $5 for an organic free-range one).

And then there's oil. I don't need to say any more here, but Cambodia isn't an oil producer of any import. So it's buying in oil and petrol, and that's getting expensive.

Add into this the rapid development of certain parts of the economy (mostly tourism and construction in the major cities), and you have a situation where the places you're likely to go and things you're likely to do are all a heck of a lot more expensive than they were just a few years ago.

Still, for the most part, a bargain compared to anywhere you might live, but not the ultra-bargain that most people would associate with Cambodia in the past.

BKK Continues the War on Passengers

Cory Doctorow of Boingboing has an ongoing series of articles (for example, writing about the LHR Terminal 5 Preview) on the open hostility of airports to their customers who might want to use an electrical socket. While airports used to have some electrical sockets around (mostly for the convenience of staff), it's only been recently that they've determined that customers were using them for laptops and recharging battery-operated devices, and have started blocking them off wherever possible.

This is definitely a complaint I have with Heathrow, as well as the fact that Heathrow (particularly the vile Terminal 4, which I now have to fly through en route to New York) is nothing other than a shopping mall with some gates attached.

Bangkok's new airport, Suvarnabhumi, has managed to take things a step beyond that by being openly hostile to all passengers. BKK's layout is on multiple stories, and the main "departure" level is level 4. This is where you have to hang out until your gate is called. Once your gate is called, you go through security, go to your gate area, and sit and wait for your flight. This is not that different from Heathrow's Terminal 3, where there are separate waiting rooms at the gates.

The problem here is that BKK's Level 4 has, in addition to no electrical outlets, nowhere to sit. Oh, wait, no, sorry, there are places to sit, but they're all in bars and restaurants. Oh, wait, no, sorry, I lied, there are about 4 seats every 25 metres or so, in the middle of very busy interchanges. The idea, I guess, is to take the Heathrow experience even farther and make sure that you have NO option other than to spend money while you're waiting for your gate to be called. And you want to hang out in Level 4 as long as you can, because once you go to the gate area, you can't come back out, and there's nothing there except for seats and a toilet.

So essentially they've said that if you're not going to spend money in the shops, stay the heck out of the airport.

I think something that Cory is missing here is that while he thinks that this is a matter of hostility to passengers, and is thus a bad thing, unfortunately it plays right into the explicit intentions of the airport operators. They want terminals to be horrible, horrible places, for a couple of reasons.

First, the airport operators lose money these days on the flight operations themselves. They make money from the shops, which are charged a massive rent. So it's in their interest to keep revenues at the shops as high as possible, and if you've got no other option to do anything while waiting for a flight, you'll probably shop and spend money.

But here's the kicker. The second reason that they want you to be unhappy is so that you'll want to go to a lounge, which is an oasis of calm in any airport. This means that you'll spend money on a better class of service, or fly more with one airline, so that you'll get to use the lounge. Is it any wonder that many of the articles about how great Terminal 5 were actually writing about the lounges? Heathrow Terminal 5 has six of them.

There, you'll find comfortable seats, no shops, all the electricity and network access you could want.

In the meantime, if you happen to be flying coach, you're SOOL.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Hilarious Money Doodles - Not always funny

I'm in Cambodia at the moment, and just a few days ago I was in Siem Reap going to see as many temples as I could in half a day (which was all I had allotted in this whirl-wind tour), and the time had come to pay the driver for the mass driving he had done. Came down to $75 for the whole afternoon, including two very far-away temples (Beng Melua and Bantey Srei for those who've been, more of which in another post), which seemed a little high, but whatever.

And when I say $75, I don't mean "$75 expressed in the local currency." I mean 75 US Dollars, in US Dollar bills. For those of who haven't come to Cambodia, they've effectively adopted the USD for every single transaction, and only use Reil for units below $1, using an effective exchange rate of R4000=$1. So since nobody carries that much Reil, we had to pay in good old fashioned greenbacks.

One of the $20 bills that we received when we got change from a $50 bill (which is what the ATMs here give out) had a very humorous Where's George? notation on the top. Very humorous, no? Wouldn't it be clever to find out when you check that your bill made its way to a petrol service station in Siem Reap, Cambodia? Hahaha. How humorous that would be!

Even better, what joy it would be if your Hilarious Money Doodle was to make it over here! How hilarious!


This bill was like the plague over here. Our driver point-blank refused to take it, claiming (probably not incorrectly) that it was useless to him, as nobody would ever take it here, because it wouldn't look real once it had been written on. Since they don't have their own currency, and since there's been so much change in the USD notes recently, I guess I can't really evaluate whether that's true or not, but he was very upset about this note. In the end, he wanted us to go into the hotel to change it for another note that was more acceptable to him, and after a very long and hot and tiring (started the day up at 5am in Phnom Penh) day of temple stomping we refused, but to do so we had to literally just walk away from him. I felt bad, because he probably figured he was going to be stuck with that bill for a long time, but over here, they don't have confidence that any old bill that's torn in half and taped together or something like that is exchangeable at the bank, because it probably isn't.

Oh, and US? Please think of poor countries when you finally get rid of the $1 bill. Coins are great (the smallest note in the UK is now worth about $10), but over here they don't have coins and don't want them, and given the dollarization of the economy, that will mean that the minimum price of most transactions will become $5 which will be a killer for the economy.