log (2010/02/12 to 2010/02/18)

So I got one of these: a Battle.net authenticator!

the other day, mostly for curiosity and fun, and for the fact that you get a cute WoW pet for signing up, and perhaps tangentially to make it less likely that someone will steal my WoW password somehow and hence all of my gold.

Over the weekend I showed it to the Research Director of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection at Dartmouth, who was baking a pound-cake in my kitchen at the time, and he was amused.

The fact that they are using two-factor authentication, we remarked, means that my bank tab in World of Warcraft (holding various tabards, magical gems, spare weapons, armor, raw meats, many many saronite bars, and stuff like that) is in a real sense more secure than my Web bank account out in real life (which, after all, holds only money).

Most likely it's more secure than your real life bank account, too, although when I was talking about this with a top programmer at IBM's major East Coast research lab (haha, this is fun), he pointed out that Paypal and some banks (mostly outside the U.S. from what I was able to find casually on the web) are also using it (and some have been for awhile).

So if you're using one of those, you may be as secure as my bank in Ironforge!

Although of course things can still go wrong...

(Interesting how most of these stories I'm finding are from like 2005 or 2007; what's been going on since then?)

Speaking of two-factor authentication, I've been reading Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" (a copy of which has, appropriately, appeared in my office via mysterious channels), and it's great, and also awful.

(Just as the other books of his that I've read have been, really.)

It's great because it's an adventure, it's escapism, it's wild and wooly and you know the good guys are going to win (even if some incidental good guys get killed along the way), it involves mysterious catacombs and historical buildings in Washington D.C. and oxygenated perfluorocarbons and Albrecht Dürer prints and stuff like that.

And it's awful because, well, it's awful. *8) As in the previous books, many of his characters are supposedly super-smart expert genius types, but for narrative and plot purposes they are constantly overlooking obvious things, making unwarranted assumptions, and generally behaving cluelessly. I'm not sure if it's because Brown actually underestimates how smart smart people actually are, or if he wants to let the reader feel superior, but either way it's annoying and/or amusing.

In "The Lost Symbol", the good guys are trying to unravel a centuries-old secret which is protected by a puzzle at about the level of a Sophomore Scavenger Hunt, or the Daily Crpyto-Quote underneath the crossword puzzle in your daily newspaper.

While I was sitting there waiting impatiently for Brown's hero Robert "Mary Sue" Langdon to realize that "Franklin Square" isn't necessarily a street name, I had little flashes of similar novels in alternate universes...

Balanced precariously on the balcony high above the rubble-strewn street, Robert thought furiously. "It isn't an eye," the mysterious voice had whispered over the radiophone. The world's finest minds had been puzzling over that phrase for hours now, roused from their beds by the joint FBI-CIA-NSA-NBC task force that had formed around Robert and his extreme cleverness.

But what could it mean? What wasn't an eye? And if it wasn't an eye, what was it? Could it be a nose? Or a mouth? Maybe a couple of teeth? Or could it be something else entirely, a bit of fluff, a shopping mall, or one of the attractive women who found Robert irresistible?

As the searing heat of the glowing lava began to burn his toes, even at this high altitude, Robert's mind began to swim. It isn't an eye, it's made out of pie, what do I spy? It isn't an eye, aye-aye sir, now what do I —

Wait, Robert thought dashingly, could that be it? Could the phrase be, not "It isn't an eye", but rather "It isn't an 'I'"? The word "eye" and the letter "I" were, after all, what scientific super-geniuses call "homophones", things that sound the same but are in fact different. The word "homophone", Robert reflected, was derived from Greek roots, and Greek was a language that only really elite people knew.

Suddenly, just moments before it was too late to save the world from destruction, he saw the answer. "It wasn't an 'I'" referred to the Crypto-Quote itself! He and the international team of amazingly smart people had been assuming that "W" stood for "I", because the encrypted 'word' WV occurred in the Quote three times, and most two-letter words start with "I", like "in" and "it" and "is".

But now Robert recalled that there were other two-letter words as well. The Hopi wise man that had schooled him in the deep mysteries of the human unconscious had used them: the word "to", the word "no", the word "of". So W in the Crypto-Quote might be T! Or N! Or even O!

While he did not quite see the solution yet, Robert knew that this was just the breakthrough they had been waiting for.

Now if only Katherine, struggling alone in the ruins of the old castle half a continent away, had managed to think of a seven-letter word meaning "a closed plane figure with three or more sides"...

Okay, so that was a bit cruel. Pretty accurate, and also lots of fun; but still cruel. *8)

(And don't get me started on the Terrible National Disaster that the crazy bad guy is threatening to unleash; omg! Maybe I will rant about that when I've actually finished the book.)

As is probably obvious, I actually love books like this, even (especially?) the parts that I rant about the awfulness of.

Maybe I will actually write this one up a bit when I've finished it; it's been 'way too long since I've updated the ol' Book Notes.