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June 9, 2007

The answer — along with your Social Security and credit card numbers — is blowing in the 'Digital Wind'

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Long story short: "Even though someone might want to share just his MP3 collection, he might be giving other users access to his 'My Documents' folder."

That's from Jaime Levy Pessin's startling article in today's Wall Street Journal on how file-sharing networks "leak" data.

More: "Someone searching for music by rapper PNC might turn up documents from the bank of the same name."

Here's the piece.

    Your Secrets in 'Digital Wind'

    Are File-Sharing Networks Leaking Data?

    If you use a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, you may be sharing more than just music files. You may also be letting loose private financial information over the Internet.

    In two new studies, Eric Johnson, director of the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, tracked sensitive financial documents from the 30 largest U.S. banks as they moved through three popular peer-to-peer networks: Gnutella, FastTrack and eDonkey.

    The documents he found included loan applications, bank statements, dispute letters, wire-transfer authorizations, credit-reporting-agency records, user-ID and password lists, and tax returns.

    Many of the documents included information like Social Security numbers, credit-card numbers and signatures — information that could be exploited by identity thieves.

    Even innocent Web searches can turn up sensitive documents, a phenomenon Mr. Johnson calls "digital wind."

    The problem, says Mr. Johnson, is that the 10 million people using peer-to-peer networks don't necessarily know to limit what they are making available. So even though someone might want to share just his MP3 collection, he might be giving other users access to his "My Documents" folder. Once a file is shared, it disseminates quickly, says Mr. Johnson, either by chance or by intent.

    Peer-to-peer networks — many of which sprouted after the demise of the original Napster file-sharing Web site — allow users to share music, videos, software and photos. Typically, users offer up their own files in exchange for access to other people's files. Although lawsuits have abounded about the legality of peer-to-peer file sharing, some are now operating legally.

    Over the course of seven weeks, Mr. Johnson had Tiversa Inc., a company that works with financial institutions and government agencies to prevent inadvertent data breaches, track the file-sharing networks. It found more than a half-million searches that somehow incorporated the banks' names.

    Some searches imply that people are scouring peer-to-peer networks specifically for financial documents. Searches for "Citibank August statement," for example, or "PIN Bank of America" are "not something you'd expect in a music-sharing network," Mr. Johnson says.

    But another trend, the one Mr. Johnson calls digital wind, also poses a threat: Even legitimate searches can turn up sensitive files. For example, someone searching for music by rapper PNC might turn up documents from the bank of the same name. Similarly, a search for the song "Wells Fargo Wagon" from the musical "The Music Man" could lead to someone's Wells Fargo & Co. bank statements.

    "The bad news for a bank is if [someone] is searching for Madonna's performance at the Wachovia Center... the search is going to bring up a lot of things that people have on their hard drives related to Wachovia," Mr. Johnson says.

    Even if a person searching for concert recordings doesn't open a bank statement that mistakenly turns up, she might inadvertently share someone else's bank statement in the future.

    "Digital wind isn't harmless, because it does turn up sensitive documents," Mr. Johnson says. "People download it; they're not sure what it is. Often when they have it, they redisclose it."

    Consumers aren't the only ones revealing private information in a public arena. Although Mr. Johnson's studies discovered that 79% of bank-related documents found on the peer-to-peer networks came from consumers, 11% came from banks' internal networks and 10% came from companies that do work for the banks.

    Many people — both consumers and bank employees — have no idea they are leaking the documents. Banks' controls don't necessarily account for what programs an outside consultant might have running on his computer.

    Even in-house bank executives "get squirmy" when Tiversa talks to them about the problem, says Tiversa Chief Operating Officer Chris Gormley, because they sometimes email their files home — and they don't know if their teenage children are using music-sharing networks.

    "The controls... are for an environment with a desktop," he says. "Today we're mobile; the workplace is wherever I am."

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Off-topic bonus for reading this far: the story of "Blown Away Guy" (top).

June 9, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Instant Cabana — Change in plain sight

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From the website:

    Instant Changing Room

    This portable changing room can be assembled in less than 30 seconds at the poolside or beach, providing personal privacy with more interior room than typical changing areas.

    The interior is tall enough to allow you to stand and fully raise your arms over your head while changing.

    The 18-pound aluminum frame has telescoping legs that allow you to set up and disassemble the cabana easily, and polyester side panels tie securely onto the frame on all four sides; one panel has a full-length zippered entry flap.

    The awning at the top provides privacy from above.

    When folded in its nylon carrying case, it is no larger than a par 3 golf club bag.

    90"H x 39"W x 39"D.

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Seems to me you could turn it on its side and prop up the two upper legs to create a nice little clubhouse, hideout or sleeping cubby.

$109.95.

June 9, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

suite101.com — 'Enter curious'

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This website features the work of some 650 writers and 95,000 or so articles on the topics above so it's likely you'll find something of interest.

If not, email me and I'll cheerfully refund every penny you paid.

June 9, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Glow-in-the-Dark Shoelaces

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Yesterday I received the following email from Nelson at glowexpert.com:

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Dear Sir or Madam,

We got your esteemed company name on the web and would like to take this liberty to write you for a future business.

We learned that you are dealing with shoelace/string and would like to recommend our glow-in-dark shoelaces/string for your reference.

Attached pls kindly find a few of photoes of our products. We are specialized in all kinds of glow-in-dark shoelace/string. We hope these items could help you enrich your product line as well as absorb more customers, which would be our huge pleasure.

All our products can meet international standard and are safe for use.

For more information pls visit our website, www.glowexpert.com, or just feel free to let me know. Upon receipt of your specific inquiry, we will be pleased to offer our quotation.
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From the website:

A pair of glow-in-dark shoelaces:

• Show your individuality in disco and halloween!

• May save a life in wild field and in a mine!

• Make your little kids love their shoes!

• Make it easy to find your shoes in the dark!

• Glow more than 8 hours in the dark after exposing to nature light 10-20 minutes

• Nonpoisonous

• Uneatable
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I think Nelson and glowexpert.com

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are on to something here.

June 9, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Most inventive idea of the month

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It crossed my radar screen just this morning, when some guy was announcing stuff about the finish of the imminent 5K race I was ready to run.

He said that when we finished, we'd receive a page from a standard desk calendar.

"Write your name, age and time if you remember it on the piece of paper and turn it in."

Genius.

Because without any effort whatsover this low-rent race had solved the perennial problem of how to — quickly and definitively — make certain the finishers were noted in order along with their identities.

Bonus: they then used the calendar pages for their grab-bag prize lottery.

Why am I so impressed?

• Numbered popsicle sticks or tongue depressors to reflect the runner's finishing place overall are very difficult to write on when you're borderline hypoxic and sweating a bucket at the end of a race

• The calendar pages offer plenty of room and the giant numbers offer easy ordering for the race organizers — numbers [January] 1-31 are obvious and numbers 32 and on [February 1, et al] are easily placed because each page of the calendar notes its cumulative day of the year

If you're expecting more than 365 entrants then another approach would be better, true — but in this Podunk town there aren't all that many such events.

June 9, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Springy Bed

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From the website:

    Springy Bed

    Made from recycled materials including car suspension springs, this bed is such a pleasure to sleep on, you will never be able to get off.

    This is a truly contemporary, comfortable bed for the environmentally conscious consumer.

    Limited-edition, hand-signed and numbered by the maker.

    Mattress not included.

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Price on request — email uptoyou@bellnet.ca

June 9, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Plasmonics as a technology to create invisibility

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In the April, 2007 Scientific American the cover story, by Harry A. Atwater, was about plasmonics, "a technology that squeezes electromagnetic waves into minuscule structures [that] may yield a new generation of superfast computer chips and ultrasensitive molecular detectors."

The final three paragraphs of the article speculated about the possibility of using this technology to create a working invisibility cloak; that material (the final three paragraphs, not the cloak, alas) follows.

    Plasmonics and Invisibility

    Perhaps the most fascinating potential application of plasmonics would be the invention of an invisibility cloak. In 1897 H. G. Wells published "The Invisible Man," a tale of a young scientist who discovers how to make his own body's refractive index equal to that of air, rendering him invisible. (A material's refractive index is the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in the material.) Exciting a plasmonic structure with radiation that is close to the structure's resonant frequency can make its refractive index equal to air's, meaning that it would neither bend nor reflect light. The structure would absorb light, but if it were laminated with a material that produces optical gain — amplifying the transmitted signal just as the resonator in a SPASER [surface plasmon amplification of stimulated emission of radiation] would — the increase in intensity would offset the absorption losses. The structure would become invisible, at least to radiation in a selected range of frequencies.

    A true invisibility cloak, however, must be able to hide anything within the structure and work for all frequencies of visible light. The creation of such a device would be more difficult, but some physicists say it is possible. In 2006 John B. Pendry of Imperial College London and his colleagues showed that a shell of metamaterials could, in theory, reroute the electromagnetic waves traveling through it, diverting them around a spherical region within.

    Although Wells's invisible man may never become a reality, such ideas illustrate the rich array of optical properties that inspire researchers in the plasmonics field. By studying the elaborate interplay between electromagnetic waves and free electrons, investigators have identified new possibilities for transmitting data in our integrated circuits, illuminating our homes and fighting cancer. Further exploration of these intriguing plasmonic phenomena may yield even more exciting discoveries and inventions.

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Does George Lucas know about this?

June 9, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Rachel's party shoes

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Expensive? Very.

[via dixi]

June 9, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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