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Strong password

In the process of trying to comment on a friend's Flickr photo I had to sign in to the terrible Yahoo product family. Their login system seems even more broken than Google's, and after a bunch of attempts at reusing credentials, wrong saved passwords, and mis-typed CAPTCHAs, I ended up resetting my password.

Out of curiosity, I typed a password (pictured here) which actually appears verbatim on an internal Google security presentation slide entitled "Weakest and easiest to guess passwords".

Yahoo refers to this password as "strong".

The Windup Girl

This entry is cross posted from the new media review blog I'm doing with Robey.

I selected this book to read based solely on its appearance from a Google search of books that have won both the hugo and the nebula awards (which if you don't know are both sci-fi novel awards.) This book is the most recent novel to meet that criteria, so I read it.

The book takes place in an energy-poor, post-apocalyptic future, and is set almost entirely in Bankok, Thailand. It is imaginative, vivid, and unfortunately makes what I think are clever, plausible, and extremely bleak predictions about what the world will be like in 150 years.

The characters are all interesting, all flawed, and all believable. I changed my mind several times throughout the story about who I liked, who I hated, and who deserved the messy and violent death that they were inevitably rushing towards. In a good way.

Technology is a subtle backdrop for this book's characters rather than a subject in itself, although I think the science was very sound. The most advanced engineering is genetic; in an energy-poor future there are blimps and sail-hydrofoils and bicycles, but no rockets or super-computers or jet fighters. This is part of what gives the book its bleak feel. (Although not as bleak as Oryx and Crake--- good lord.)

The book ends climactically, with nicely crafted closure for most all of the characters. And in a weird way it even left me feeling like perhaps it was, if not a "happy" ending, at least a vaguely positive and satisfying one. So I give Paolo high marks for being able to end a book. NEIL.

My main caution about the book is that you need to be willing to read about futile desires, flawed characters, a pessimistic view of the future of mankind, and also some violence (including sexual violence) and of course tons of swearing.

My favorite thing about this book is the vivid writing--- Paolo made me feel the oppressive heat, politics, disease, and conflict of Bankok, but without without pages and pages of descriptive text. Instead, he showed how the characters saw their world, as he told their stories, and that made it both more clear and more engaging.

All the same, I probably won't rush to read something else by Paolo; I need to hug a bunch of kittens and stare at a rainbow for a while first.

Oh, Yelp
I go to Yelp to find restaurants. It's definitely my preferred source for deciding where to eat. But it's important to clarify that drawing useful conclusions from Yelp reviews is not at all about just looking at the stars--- it's much more of a black art. Why?

Well mainly it's because so many reviewers are useless idiots. I could generalize by saying things like "everyone's a critic" and "everyone thinks they're an expert on food because everyone eats". While that's true, the resulting spectrum of useless Yelp reviews deserves some analysis.

Typically after reading a couple of the 4 and 5 star reviews, and also looking at some of the stats, I skip straight to the bad reviews. They are where you really learn about a restaurant, and often times an angry idiot means a good restaurant. Here are some archetypal examples:
1. Good service is bad You would be amazed at how many people don't understand how a restaurant works. This review, for example, and includes complaints like "we had multiple people come to our table" and "the water pourer didn't stop pouring". When hicks go to restaurants with actual sommeliers and team service, hilarity ensues.
2. Didn't actually go Feeling entitled must be hard work: I encounter a fair number of negative reviews which are about the experience of considering the restaurant and then not actually going there. In this example, the writer complains, "i must say the guy that answers the phone with an ascent [sic] really does not inspire you to be a patron". ONE STAR FOR THAT PHONE CALL. No need to actually show up, let alone try the food.
3. Not Authentic Almost every Asian restaurant on Yelp has a block of bad reviews for not being sufficiently authentic. Mind you, nothing the kitchen does could possibly console these reviewers. Sometimes they complain that the soup wasn't like their mom used to make, or they nit-pick some debatable and semantic aspect of the menu: "As a Chinese person, I have to say that I am frankly insulted that Taiwan Restaurant represents their food as "Chinese cuisine."

(And for sushi places specifically, you can find one star reviews where the premise boils down to: "I think I saw some Koreans in there.")
4. Too Authentic Also afflicting decent Asian restaurants are negative reviews from people who don't understand what kind of restaurant they're at. There are lots of examples of this, but here's an example where someone complains about dim sum: "The ladies pushing the carts weren't that friendly and made us feel rushed". For serious? Rushed? I've had a lot of dim-sum, and as far as I can tell it's mostly about waging all-out war against your neighboring tables to claim the most pork buns. Friendly and leisurely service is not why you are there.
5. The Pet Peeve Many of the one star reviews are, at their core, about a totally arbitrary complaint that wouldn't matter to anyone but the reviewer. I've seen complaints about how napkins are folded, about the length of the menu, about the clothing of the wait staff. This one, for example, complains about the other patrons at the bar that were "loud and cocky at the bar... with no girls. it's like, dude, i get it, you guys are rad, but where are the girls?" The mystery of a lack of girls at a bar in San Francisco has a certain... obvious explanation. Let it go.
6. The Life Story Some reviewers go on and on about about something that is unrelated to the restaurant, as though Yelp is their Dear Diary. It's supposed to be a review about a specific restaurant, but it starts out with a poem or some shit, and then plows into a sentence like "My wife and I honeymooned on Santorini". I've also read reviews that start with three paragraphs of describing the places their group of "crazy girls" went prior to the restaurant the review is supposed to be about.
7. The Shill My favorite reviews by far on Yelp are the ones that are plainly fake. These are hard to find in San Francisco, but in other towns where the number of reviews is in the 10s instead of 1000s, there's often at least one or two.

There's this particular diner in Jackson, CA, for example, that is pretty unremarkable and yet really well reviewed. If you dig into it you find reviews that say things like "Owners Bart and Maura have improved upon the family business with some recent expansions" and "the new plates and flatware really add class to the place". These are written exactly like a marketing brochure, and noticeably different from normal reviews once you know what to look for. I assume that there's a way for "Elite" yelp reviewers to get paid to post shill reviews in their own names, and it shows.
8. But We're Special When I read reviews of expensive, high-end restaurants in San Francisco, it's surprisingly common to see one-star reviews which, upon reading, basically say "I am outraged that this expensive French restaurant with only ten tables didn't take my party of 7 on a Friday night even though we didn't make a reservation". I appreciate that San Francisco is a casual city, but it's also a very busy city--- walk-ins are not typically reasonable on the weekend. Do your homework.
The views expressed on this site are mine personally, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.