November 2001

Happy Birthday, George!

by Joey deVilla on November 30, 2001

And in honour of your birthday, I present you with this lovely photo of when I last came down to NYC for your birthday. It’s me, George, Alicia and none other Misharu Morimoto (Iron Chef Japanese) at Nobu.

Okay, I may have edited the photo just a little.

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Start Spreading the News…

by Joey deVilla on November 29, 2001

I’m leaving today…

…for New York City for a mini-vacation and to celebrate my friend George’s 32nd birthday.

I know it’s a day early, but George, as you once wrote on a birthday card: Happy birthday, you old poop. I’ll be in Manhattan by lunch, and maybe we can hit that nice Mexican place a couple of blocks up from your house. What say you, George?

Thanks to the Current Situation, I have to wake up at yet another ungodly hour in order to allow for enough time for airport security to make me crack open my accordion and prove it’s a working instrument. Hence this short entry…gotta get some shut-eye. But first, a couple of links…

Recommended reading

CBGB OMFUG and The Knitting Factory: Someday I’ll gig at these places. Someday.

The Soup Nazi. Yup, he really exists.

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Dog and Pony

by Joey deVilla on November 28, 2001

The app I’ve been working on

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks hammering out a prototype of an news-gathering app that would be based on the peer-to-peer kernel that we’re developing. I’m pretty proud of this prototype for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s my first serious application written in C#. Second, there’s a clever little database-based engine underneath it that simulates a network of users exchanging and recommending news stories. For a “canned” app, it’s pretty smart. Finally, with only the most vague of specs provided by the suits and with the departure of our UI specialist and our graphic artist, I’ve had to do all the interaction and graphic design — this sucker really has my fingerprints all over it. I think I can show you the splash screen I designed without violating my NDA

Ah gotz to reprasent to them wack-ass VC bitchez, yo

One of the occupational hazards of being a programmer at a start-up is doing early morning demos of your latest work for the monthly “dog and pony show” for the investors. The Chief Suit likes my prototype app and wanted me to show it to the guys from our VC, who I’ll just refer to as “J-Low” and “L-Dogg”. The prototype app isn’t quite done yet and I haven’t had a chance to build an installer, so I decided it would be safest to run it on my development machine, so there’d be no nasty surprises come demo time. I spent a good chunk of last night and the wee hours of this morning putting up enough “scaffolding” so that I could run a reasonable-looking demo. I woke up after 4 hours’ sleep to double-check the prototype for bugs (None! Yay!) and then wait for Johnny to come and pick me up from the corner of Queen and Spadina.

Ten minutes after he was supposed to pick me up, the wind started to blow and I was beginning to feel a little chilly.

Fifteen minutes after he was supposed to pick me up, I was really getting cold. I gave his cell phone a call and got his voice mail.

Twenty minutes later, still no lift. No answer on his phone either.

Half an hour later, I was trying to reach the office to tell them I’d be late. I’m imagining J-Low and L-Dogg sitting at the office, wondering where this nifty prototype that Chief Suit promised was.

I wrote Johnny off and called Kostya, the co-worker who normally gives me a lift to work. I arranged for him to pick me up at the usual place at our more civilized usual time and went to Lettieri (the Italian cafe at the corner) to have a hot chocolate and bash on the app a little more. Kostya picked me up about forty minutes later and got me to the office in time to do the demo, which took less than two minutes and got an simple nod of approval (and barely a mumble) from L-Dogg. This is what I stayed up late and woke up early for?

Normally, I’d say that L-Dogg is the strong, silent type, but that sounds too close to a compliment for the likes of a VC. They all need a good pimp-slapping.

One tiny upside

While waiting in the cold for Johnny to not show up (it turned out that he slept straight through his alarm clock’s blare), a car pulled up to the curb where I was standing. The cute brunette driver rolled down the passenger window (where an equally cute passenger was sitting) and they both yelled out “Hey, Accordion Guy! How’re you doing?”

Being greeted on the street like that — to me, that’s worth more than a million half-hearted nods of approval from a semi-interested VC.

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Quote of the Day

by Joey deVilla on November 27, 2001

When my alarm clock goes off each morning, I look at it like it’s some tool of the inquisition whose nature is clear but exact use and application I’m still trying to puzzle out.

Ry4an Brase, a friend and ex-co-worker of mine, on IRC.

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Pants

by Joey deVilla on November 26, 2001

My ex used to say that I had this way of saying the word pants that sounded really dirty. Pants has a certain je ne sais quoi when you say it with your teeth place together in some kind of lecherous demi-smile. And that, my friend, is the theme of today’s post.

pantscam.com

Apparently a student named Alison has decided that it would be a worthwhile use of technology to place a webcam in her pants. A hand-sized Tri-M computer (powered by a 486), a small webcam and a Lucent 802.11 wireless card make this great contribution to the Internet possible. The whole thing is viewable on this page, and there’s even a handly little chat facility so that you can make Beavis and Butt-Head-esque comments to your fellow lechers.

In the twenty minutes I had my browser trained on the site, I caught a lot of darkness, then light, then some long-haired guy, then a bed. Naturally, I would be doing Way New Journalism (and the Internet as a whole) if I didn’t post some screen shots…

Suddenly, I am flooded with vague memories of my own birth.

What’s a dorm room doing in these pants?

And now the kid pants are off!

So this is what Marshall McLuhan was going on about.

Boong Ga Boong Ga

I got the link to Alison’s Pants Cam while reading about the latest Japanese videogame craze, Boong Ga Boong Ga, which translates loosely as “spanky-spanky”. The user interface consists of a derriere and a large finger which you wear on your hand. You gain points through ramming said derriere with the finger. This is probably not what Doug Englebart was thinking of when he invented the point-and-click interface.

If this kind of thing were invented in the States, there’d be all kinds of furor, but I can see the digerati going on about the inscrutability of Japanese culture. Let’s get off the blind Nihon worship, kids. Iron Chef was neat, but they’re capable of many dumb-ass ideas too.

Hey, I’m all for kink as much as…well, actually even more than the next guy, but I don’t think I want to be known throughout the arcade as the guy who’s really good at ramming his finger up people’s asses. In fact I’m worried that someone out there is thinking At last! A use for my secret talent!

Required reading

All your boonga are belong to us. The brochure for the video game, in classic Engrish.

Korean Ass Shooter. Korean. Ass. Shooter. What, you want me to draw you a picture?

A clever pun you can use when discussing Boong Ga Boong Ga: “The game may have its bottom-feeder appeal, but don’t expect much penetration in the North American market.” Arf! Arf!
Free Habbo Coins
I’m sticking with Dance Dance Revolution.

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Other Con Artist Stories

by Joey deVilla on November 26, 2001

My “con man” stories from the past couple of posts have stirred up something. Friends and family have been telling me about how they were recently approched by con artists.

Clothes make the scam

This happened only a couple of days ago. My dad was using an outdoor ATM in the parking lot of a Royal Bank, out in the deep suburbs of Toronto. A man approached him and asked for directions to the airport. He gave them, after which he was asked “Would you like to buy a Prada suit?” The man said that he had some overstock that he had to get rid of because it would actually cost him more money to bring them back to the warehouse. He pointed to a white van parked in the lot. This seemed way too sketchy, and as my Dad said, “even if it was legitimate, who’s going to buy a suit in a parking lot? You can’t try it on.” Sounds like a variant of the white van speaker scam to me.

More bank machine hijinks

A couple of months ago, my friend Adina was burned in a scam that’s been making the local news. She tried to withdraw money from the bank machine when it suddenly refused to work and wouldn’t return her card. A stranger offered to help, saying that this sort of thing sometimes happens and the way to fix is to repeatedly enter your PIN number (the “secret code” you have to enter). As Adina entered it, she noticed that the stranger was leaning a little close for comfort. The card never came out, and the stranger assured her that she could just get a new one from the bank on the next business day.

What she didn’t know was that the stranger put some kind of device in the card reader slot, causing it to be stuck part of the way in the machine. The stranger’s touchy-feeliness was just a way of covering up an attempt to see her entering her PIN number. When Adina left, the stranger retrieved her card, and knowing her PIN number, had complete access to her bank account. All the money was drained from her account, and a cheque for a large amount of money was deposited and withdrawn from it as well.

What’s in the box?

My old high school pal Nat was once approached by a guy offering to sell him a video camera for around a hundred bucks. Nat’s a screenwriter and director, and being able to get a video camera on the cheap sounded appealing to him. However, he was a little short cash and had to talk his friend into loaning him some money for the camera. As the deal drew to a close, the stranger grew increasingly agitated and Nat got slightly suspicious. Wanting to make it clear that he was no sucker, he said “Hold on. I want to see this box. I’ve bought empty boxes before.”

The stranger opened the trunk of his car and handed Nat the box. It was a sealed box for a video camera and had the right heft to it. As soon as he got the money, he drove off. Nat opened the box to discover that he’d really bought a stack of old magazines.

Recommended reading

ATM safety tips: Here and here. and more ATM safety tip: Good advice, especially since they’re phasing out tellers in favour of ATMs.

Forget the PIN, just look into the ATM’s camera: An old CNN article on ATMs using eye-scanning instead of a PIN number to identify customers.

Crimes of Persuasion: A site devoted to “schemes, scams and frauds”. Check out the section on street scams.

Next on AccordionGuy

All this talk about scams reminds me of a sketchy business I used to work for, and how I managed to get out of a street scam in Prague. As long as I’ve got a theme going, I might as well milk it…

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The Con Man from Another World!

by Joey deVilla on November 24, 2001

(or, Why You Should Trust Your Children to a VB Programmer and not a Lisp Programmer)

To understand this, you’ll have to read the previous entry and then Dan’s response in his blog.

Teeny-weeny Saturday evening update:

I guess I should throw in some quick explanations for those of you who aren’t familar with these terns.

VB is short for Visual Basic, a programming language designed to be very simple to learn and most often used for building applications for business and building prototype user interfaces. It’s one of the world’s most popular programming languages thanks to its ease of use and the fact that you can be extremely productive using it. However, people who program in it are derided for the same reason.

Lisp is one of the first programming languages, but in spite of being developed so early in the history of computer science, it remains one of the most powerful, expressive and flexible. Sci-fi author Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon) has described it as “the only programming language that is beautiful”. It is most often used for developing AI, knowledge-based and geez-is-this-a-hard-problem applications by a relatively small but insanely loyal band of losers, er, dedicated programmers.

I started using VB about 5 years ago and still use it on occasion (I’ve been using the other languages in the Rosetta Stone more often). Dan’s been a Lisp bitch since the tender age 8 and still hasn’t recovered. Now you know who’s who.

Before I begin, I’d like to assure my housemate Dan that what I’m about to say is all in good fun and that there are no hard feelings. However, I reserve the right to break his balls about this for eternity…er, I mean the next little while. ;)

“My kode-fu is good”

“My kode-fu is good” is the pun from which this site’s domain comes. I also use that line on the home page of this site to state that I’m a pretty decent programmer. A little while back, Dan was looking at said home page, came across that line, looked at me and said “uh-uh,” in a dismissive tone of voice. A couple of weeks later, at my friend Rob‘s birthday, he said that having spent most of my career coding multimedia CD-ROMs, desktop applications and GUIs, I haven’t done any real software development or design. I’ve never retorted, because he’s young, and at that age, I “knew everything” too.

I’ll also be the first person to admit that I lack Dan’s 1337ness and should ph33r his m4d sk1llz (for those of you who don’t read “leet”, it says “I lack Dan’s leetness” — eliteness — and should “fear his mad skillz”). Dan grasps functional programming languages while they elude me, he understands lambda functions while I avoid them like the plague, he loves his emacs while I’m most comfortable with Visual Studio’s editor, and while he breathes TCP/IP, I’m always running to look something up. Dan will beat me every time in a 1337 pissing contest.

But I would never be suckered by the same con man twice.

His con-fu is good

In The Thing From Another World, a.k.a. The Thing, the interesting conflict wasn’t the humans versus the eponymous Thing, but one with the idealistic scientists against the practical soldiers. The scientists, for all their intelligence and big ideas, were pretty useless in real-life situations, such as what to do when confronted with a carnivorous vegetable from outer space. In a situation that called for immediate action, the lead scientist was trying to communicate with it (“What if it comes in peace?” “If we can only establish communications with it and find out what it wants…blah blah blah“) and preserve it “for science”. Thanks to his interference, the Thing goes on a murderous rampage and in the end, it’s the brave and noble soldiers — not the “misguided and dangerously naive scientists” — who save the day.

I always thought the scientist-as-misguided-appeaser and soldier-as-practical-hero theme was just a sign of the movie’s times — a tip of the hat to the spirit of anti-intellectualism of the 1950′s, when eggheads like Adlai Stevenson and incautious liberals like Robert Oppenheimer were seen as suspect (you could even say that point of view has returned with the “election” of President Dubya and the Current Situation). It might also apply to what happened at my house.

I’ve got to hand it to Dan for writing a nice mea culpa piece in his blog. It was heartfelt, and I’m pretty sure that should Sean return, he will not scam us a third time. I found the parts in which he explains what he was thinking interesting: he wonders why Sean returned, and if he has, perhaps it’s to make amends. His explanations as to why it appeared that he didn’t pay me back sounded plausible.

My reaction, being one who “can’t do real software development” and being too far away to do anything, was to ask why no one was trying to restrain him, pummel him or even just throw his sorry ass out of the house.

The one I found most amusing was his observation on how Sean dressed:

He was wearing business casual slacks and a sweater, plus a jacket, and he had a mobile phone. The accoutrements of a normal person, nothing screaming “thief” in his appearance, anyway.

Ahem. Dan, here is a picture of Martin Lawrence wearing almost the same outfit, playing a thief running a scam in the film Blue Streak. He uses a mobile phone in the movie too.

However, no one was in any physical danger, the eighty dollars that Paul “lent” Sean is a small loss, and Dan’s a little older and a little wiser. As my sister told me via e-mail: “At least Paul is safe! And at least we know not to ask Dan to babysit.”

Dan, you lucky dog, you just escaped diaper-changing duty.

A new policy has been instituted at the household, and framed in terms that computer programmers such as myself (and especially those smarter than me) can understand. Sean is off the access control list, is an untrusted third party, and shall not be granted any capabilities at this house, as computer security experts would put it. allowedP(Sean, house) = nil, as the Lisp programmers put it.

Or, as a dummy like myself would put it:
Do not believe what a liar says, and do not give a thief money.

Okay, that’s enough verbal pimp-slapping. It’s time to do the proper guy thing and stop teasing, slap the guy on the back and say “I love ya, man” (in the “dude” way, not the Quentin Crisp way) and crack open a cold one. All is forgiven, Dan, bless your egg-shaped little head.

Kindness to strangers

You might be wondering if we’re going to give up completely on giving kindness to strangers in need. Probably not. I’ve been brought up Catholic with some Zen tendencies, and Dan’s a buddhist, so we’ve got the concepts of “grace” and “karma” engrained. Once I’ve covered my bar bill, I tend to give away the rest the money I make playing the accordion on the street to street people. I think it’s people who don’t believe in occasionally doing things to help other people that are making the world a worse place to live.

The amount the scammed from us is paltry — equipped with only an accordion, I can make back the money Sean scammed from me in less than an hour, and the money he scammed from Paul in less than an evening. Doing my job, I can make that money back even more quickly.

The irksome thing is the fact that someone swindled us — me and Paul once, Dan twice. We’re guys who are supposed to be on the good side of the IQ bell curve. I’m supposed to have a rep for being able to instinctively handle any social situation and deal with stress with characteristic aplomb (that, and I’ve used my accordion to gain access to places I wasn’t supposed to be). Dan is an infosec guru (he may not agree with being called such, but he’s worked for a computer security firm, needed special security to do that job, counts computer security-oriented people among his friends and even pursues computer security as a hobby. I think the title applies). He knows about social engineering and that the weakest link in a security system is often the human factor.

As for Paul, well…geez, he’s a rube from the midwest. I can see why he got taken for twice as much money as Dan and I. ;)

Recommended reading

The Big Con. Cory Doctorow recommended this book, upon which the film The Sting was based (he reviewed it here). He also tells me that:

The con is truly an art, even a “small con,” “played up against the wall,” as the one you got rooked in was. BTW, we used to get that one about once a week at Bakka [sci-fi bookstore in Toronto -- it used to be on Queen Street, around the corner from our house -- Joey], and it was compounded by the fact that the Queen W tow-trucks were merciless, so that for every conman with a sob story about a towed car, there were five legit civilians whose rides had been taken down to King and Strachan [where the impound lot is -- Joey].

White van speaker scam: Now making the rounds in a city near you!

The Usual Suspects: Sean borrowed a trick from Roger “Verbal” Kint, the character played by Kevin Spacey. “Verbal”‘s lies are so believable because he makes sure to pepper them with details that he culls from his surroundings, things that actually happened, and even the bottom of a coffee mug. Sean did the same thing, embellishing his lies with little details, such as made-up names of neighbours, the story of his mother’s conversion to Judaism, and the like. I guess that means we were taken by a low-rent Keyser Soze!

Charles Ponzi: Learn about the father of the Pyramid Scheme.

The Five Rituals of Wealth: Todd Barnhart’s book on “turning the little you have into more than enough”. One of the rituals is giving to others. I thought I’d try and end this reading list on a positive note.

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