BTS: One, two, three, four.

For the last Saturday of August, BTS is being revived. Going forward, I will post the brain teaser on the last Saturday of a month, and the solution on the Saturday following it.

With that taken care of, here is our next brain teaser:


Then 4= … ?



Hacking Team exposed, defends indefensible position

In July, a massive data breach was announced, wherein all of Hacking Teams “…e-mails, files, and source code…” were published online. The data dump contained some 400 GB of (what is alleged to be) internal e-mails, invoices, and source code, also TK

Before I go any further, in case you haven’t heard of Hacking Team before, here is what Wikipedia has to say about them:

Hacking Team is a Milan-based information technology company that sells offensive intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments, law enforcement agencies and corporations.

I learned of the breach in a recent episode of the podcast Reply All, where they, somewhat surprisingly, actually got to interview someone representing Hacking Team, Eric Rabe, their spokesman, who had this to say:

…the US sells F15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia as a backbone of their air force and I think It’s generally considered to be an ally of the west and furthermore I think in a country like that you could argue that there’s a real good reason to have the capabilities that we provide because those places have issues with terrorists who are developing their networks and setting up shop and they need to be dealt with…

…I understand that it’s never going to be satisfactory to a human rights activist group for me to say that and not let them come in and … maybe they’d like to sit in our operations center for a while or maybe every day but that’s not an option…

…I think if you were operating a police department you probably would want to be able to run your investigations without the oversight of human rights activists or journalists…

That begs the question of whether he believes what he says, or if he’s simply toeing the company line. In either case, the drivel he spouts falls flat with any audience that listens to what he says and thinks about it for even a second. The implied comparison of Hacking Team with police departments is an appeal to authority, wherein they claim that, since the police would not allow it, nor is there any reason that Hacking Team should.

The problem, of course, is that the comparison is one of apples to oranges. Police departments are run for public service, Hacking Team is run for profit. Police departments are subject to independent oversight, Hacking Team is not. I’m sure that there are a number of other differences as well, but those two alone give the lie to Hacking Team’s defence of what they are doing.

Had they been a company founded in solid morals and ethics, they wouldn’t have found themselves in this situation. As it is, they have lost a lot of credibility, and that is a good thing. We need less thuggish companies out there, not more.

In case you are interested, the data dump is available from several places, including WikiLeaks and Mega, as well as via BitTorrent.

Keeping people honest

Much has been said about honesty and morality, and claims have been made to the effect that there are two types of people out there, those who are moral, and those who are immoral, and that most people are honest, and would not e.g. commit fraud.

Although it is certainly a pleasant thought, the idea is bunk. Hogwash. Quite simply not true. This has been the topic of a significant amount of scholarly work, and it has also been featured in literature of popular science. One episode of the podcast Planet Money told the story of someone, an upstanding business man, who – despite a significant formative experience in early life, not only committed fraud himself, but engaged a number of other people to help him do so.

If, then, fraud is not (exclusively) a personality trait, but rather (or at least, to a large part, in addition) a product of circumstances, what can be done to keep people honest? Research indicates that the whole thing hinges on placing the person in question in a moral state of mind.

In a recent episode, Planet Money discussed a study where the researchers moved the signature box from the end of a document to the beginning. I found the results highly interesting. “…where the signature was on the page, made a big difference. …when the signature was at the top, 37% of them lied, but when the signature was … at the bottom, the percentage went up to 79%.”

Pretty staggering difference, that, and interesting research.

Reducing the size of your Powerpoint presentations

On a surprisingly regular basis, I get requests from users who want to send Powerpoint-presentations via email, but are stopped because the presentations are too big. 30 MB isn’t uncommon, and just the other day, I had someone with a presentation of a whopping 75 MB.

The main culprit behind the issue they are seeing, is the fact that they include many high resolution images. The reasoning is that high quality pictures result in ease of interpreting the images when the presentation is given. This reasoning, though understandable, displays a lack of understanding of the limitations posed by projectors. These usually offer a resolution of no more than 1280×800 pixels, and many older models only support 800×600 pixels. With that in mind, low resolution images will serve the presenter nicely. In addition, the default resolution of a Powerpoint presentation is 1024 x 768 pixels at 96dpi.

So, while it would be preferable if they had used lo-res images in the first place, you can compress them after the fact. Here’s how:


  1. Click a picture that you want to compress
  2. In the Format Picture tab, click Compress
  3. Select the preferred quality in the drop-down menu (220 ppi for print, 150 ppi for presentations, or 96 ppi for email)
  4. Select whether to apply the change to all pictures, or just the one currently chosen

That done, Powerpoint will take a little while to perform the changes.

Regarding pens

There is something particular about writing with a particularly good pen. For my Bar Mitzwa, I received – among a number of other items –  an Elysée Globetrotter gountain pen which, for years after was my go-to pen for writing exams. There was something about the balance, which let me write for longer, with less effort, and less pain.

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Like the sword, good pens have a certain weight to the, a balance, and an elegance. Though significantly more costly than a cheap pen, a good pen takes abuse like you wouldn’t believe, and delivers your hand to paper like a trusted servant.

These days, I rarely use the Elysée anymore, though I cannot imagine wanting to part with it. Nor do I use any other fountain pen, for that matter. They are nice, but do not fit the bill for my purposes. I want something with more reliability, in the hand, and during travel. A good ball point pen with refills fits that purpose nicely.

These days, most of my writing is done with a Mont Blanc Meisterstück LeGrand Rollerball, a truly delightful pen with which to write. Though my penmanship is not something I would boast about, I still write a fair bit, and many drafts of blog posts have been written in pen, rather than on a keyboard.

As a student, I have found a good pen and notebook to be invaluable companions during my study sessions, and studies show a link between brain activity and handwriting, suggesting that  handwritten notes may serve to reinforce the knowledge contained in the notes.

Facebook Groups: Opt-out, not opt-in

The way Facebook currently works, people may add others to groups without their approval, essentially making groups opt-out, rather than opt-in. This is a massive problem. It allows people to add others to groups, making it seem like they support the agenda the group is pushing. In case you doubt what I’m saying, this has already happened (link in Norwegian).

While there are a number of problems with Facebook, not least of which being that their users are the product, and the customer are advertisers, this is one of the bigger ones. If it was my decision, I would make and groups, like tags, opt-in, rather than opt-out. That way, the users are allowed to retain control of their online persona.

Frankly, I think this is a change that Facebook are going to have to make sooner, rather than later. With the influx of users of all ages – particularly the parents and grandparents of the original user base – I suspect that they will struggle to maintain relevance in the coming years regardless of what they do, but if they don’t make this change, that struggle will become a hard slog of an uphill battle.

Reviewed: Bose Quiet Comfort 25

I recently replaced my well-used and much-loved headphones, a set of Bose QC 15’s, with a new set. The old set was getting on a bit in age (I’ve had them for close to five years now), and were getting to a point where they were more or less worn out. Though they probably had another four or five months of heavy use in them, I wanted to replace them now, rather than having to scramble to replace them later. After looking at the offerings out there, I opted for their successor, Bose QC 25.

QC 25 is available in black, white, or a custom colour chosen by the customer (at a $100 premium). It comes in a carrying case matching the main colour. Like its predecessor, it has a detachable cable, and is powered by a single AAA battery. It also features an upgraded sound element, which offers a significant improvement; you can use the headphones while the noise cancelling feature is turned off. Another improvement is that the headphones are now (somewhat) collapsible.

While both Bose and any sales person you might care to listen to will tell you that the sound quality is significantly improved, all I can say with confidence, is that it is comparable to that of QC 15, whose sound quality I have always found to be excellent. There is a not insignificant difference in the sound offered when the noise cancelling is off compared to it being on. I happily use it for speech in non-noise cancelling mode, but find that the sound quality is somewhat bass-heavy (and thus treble-light) for music.

The noise cancelling feature is excellent; and even better in QC 25 than in QC 15. It does not feel as loud as in its predecessor, meaning that I can use it for longer without my ears getting tired. The control section on the cable is a bit bulkier, as is the cable itself, which makes the build quality feel higher. In addition, the microphone does not seem to pick up the wind as much as that of its predecessor, an impressive feat.

All in all, I am a happy return Bose customer. I find that their products hold consistent high quality, which delivers excellent audio every time. I have no reservations in heartily endorsing it.

Caveat Lector: I purchased the headphones with my own money, and have neither been paid, offered compensation, nor given any consideration to write this.

BTS: Just a solution this time around.

This week, I’m just posting the solution to last week’s challenge. The next brain teaser will be published in late August.

Last week‘s brain teaser is one that I found very challenging. Here is my answer and justification:

We know that Albert knows the month, and Bernard the day of Cheryl’s birthday.

We can immediately eliminate any dates whose day number is only found once; had that been the correct date, Bernard would have known. We can then also eliminate any months that feature those days in the list; they been an option, Bernard might have known the correct day. Since Albert says he does not know, May and June is out.

That leaves July 14th and 16th and August 14th, 15th and 17th. We can now eliminate both instances of the 14th; duplicates are at this point mutually exclusive; had that been the correct day, Bernard would not have known the date. That leaves July 16th and August 15th and 17th. Because there are two options in August, the correct answer must be July 16th.

TBT: Finding the name of a service

This post originally ran in October 2008. I am reposting it now, as part of my throwback thursday project, to give some of my older quality posts some love. Though the post references Windows XP; the method outlined below works in later versions, too.

In my last post, I showed you how to use a batch script to start a service from a desktop shortcut. The command we used was the net start command. In order to use it, you need to find the name of the service you want to start. Here’s how:

    1. In the startmenu, click run
    2. In the run dialog box, enter the command compmgmt.msc
    3. In Computer Management, find Services under the header Services and Applications


    1. Find and double-click the service for which you need the name
    2. For this example, I’ve chosen to use a service called Distributed Link Tracking Client. As seen below, its name is TrkWks

Named Service

On religious freedom

The right to religious freedom is much like the right to free speech. It regulates what I can and cannot do, but does not grant me the right to deny anyone else to do as they wish. A few examples:

  • It provides me the right to eat kosher food, should I so desire, but does not let me forbid christians from eating pork.
  • It lets me worship as I see fit, with a tallit, a kipa, and, on occasion, with tefillin, but it does not let me forbid muslims to worship bare-footed, kneeling towards Mekka.
  • It lets me get married under the auspices of a rabbi, under the Orthodox Jewish tradition, but it does not let me forbid same-sex couples from marrying.

Just like other personal freedoms, the right to religious freedom grants me the right to my own religious views and practice. It does not, in any way, shape or form, grant me the right to limit those of anyone else. It also does not mean that the state should limit what civil liberties it grants to others, such as marriage equality.

I am happily married to the love of my life, who just so happens to be a woman. The thing is, though, the fact that Norway has changed its laws to allow same-sex couples to marry changes nothing about my marriage to my wife. (I do take exception with the Norwegian law forbidding shechita – kosher butchery, but that’s another matter altogether.)

I am strongly in favor of a clear division of church and state; the state should make provisions to allow religious people of all faiths exercise their religion, but should not allow religious liberties to infringe on other human rights. To me, this is not only the right choice, but an obvious one; we are, after all, talking about civil liberties, not civil prohibitions.