HTML5 as a Brand

January 27th, 2012

If you’re in the web developer world, you’ve noticed by now that there isn’t a space before the ‘5’ in HTML5. This is different than HTML 4.01, HTML 4, HTML 3.2, and HTML 2.0. Why this new direction? Actually, it’s more in line with the old direction than most realize. The first version of HTML wasn’t called “HTML 1.0,” in fact there is no such thing as “HTML 1.” It all started out with a document called “HTML Tags,” which is, for all intents and purposes, the first version of HTML. Things were a little muddy there for a while as updates came in rapidly, but the next real version was called HTML+. Sure, you can go back and find the incremental numbered versions of HTML in some official specs, but in terms of reality and use, there was HTML Tags, then HTML+. These were real innovations and steps up in the language, but after that there was a drive to clean things up a bit, and the numbered versions dominated. I’m not saying that HTML 4 wasn’t groundbreaking and painfully needed (and it took way too long for developers and browsers to implement), but it was truly an incremental update, fixing and adding things that were obvious next steps.

Things changed with HTML5, which starts out with an awareness of the internet today. A search for “HTML 5” will find any page that mentions HTML and has some numbers on it–not very useful. But removing the space allows search engines to key in on just the term we need. This is just the first indication of what characterizes HTML5: an awareness of the world as it is today, and where it is going. We learned from HTML 4 that the internet is run by people, lots of people, and an official specification or update doesn’t do anything unless all those people–browser vendors, web developers, users–get on board. What if Tim Berners-Lee had submitted his “HTML Tags” document to the IEEE or some official organization, got it approved, registered, published, and then just waited for the world to adopt it? We wouldn’t have the internet we have today.

HTML5 BadgeTim Berners-Lee made something that worked, and he publicized it–created documents to help people use it, he facilitated it’s growth. The same with the market-minded naming of HTML+. It’s true that HTML was in deep need of regulation, but regulation was not enough to magically make HTML 3.2 or HTML 4.01 become a universal standard. That’s why HTML5 doesn’t have a space. And why it has it’s own logo. Have you noticed that people don’t really talk about “Web 2.0” anymore? HTML5 has completely encompassed both that term and that concept–HTML5 has come to mean not just the next version of HTML, but the next version of the web. It includes the newest version other languages, like CSS 3, dozens of little technologies like offline storage and location detection, it includes rapid-release browser schedules like Firefox and Chrome have, it stands for everything the internet has been waiting for.


Here’s something that I think is telling. The doctype for HTML 4 looked like this:


Besides being messy, you notice the prominent versioning of it. 4.01. But here’s the HTML5 doctype:

<!DOCTYPE html>

No version number! HTML5 is the end of the idea that we can just release a new version of HTML and wait decades for people to update. From now on, the expectation is that you’re up to date–you’re using the latest browsers with the latest standards and the latest technologies. If you’re not, we’ll still display your content, but the internet is done pandering to the lowest common denominator. HTML5 is not the next version of HTML, but rather it’s a vision for the future of the internet, and it has a lot more in common with HTML Tags than with HTML 4.01 Strict.

strong passwords

August 18th, 2011

People are beginning to hear about this idea of using words and spaces to make strong passwords instead of crazy characters. Cases  in point: “fluffy is puffy” is more secure than “J4fS<2”, and “correct horse battery staple” is more secure than “Tr0ub4dor&3”, while the more secure passwords in both cases are easier to remember.

When people see stuff like this, they seem to make a few mistakes due to not really understanding the principles behind this. Using the word method is useless if your password ends up being short (less than 12 chars), or if you use a phrase (“happy go lucky”), or if you  draw from a limited set of words, (“five three two nine six four eight ten three two”) .  Using only common words is bad too.

Here is one way to think about why: the security of your password can be measured by the number of possibilities. Traditionally, this has been measured character-by-character. So in a lowercase letter only password, there are 26 possibilities per slot. A six slot password  has 308,915,776 possibilities (which is not very secure).

“hsufbe” = 6 chars, 6 slots
(26)^(6) = 308,915,776

The problem is that that is only true if password guessers work like this: aaaaaa, aaaaab, aaaaac, aaaaad… and so on. But if your password is “happy!” then it’s going to get guessed by a dictionary attack much much sooner.

Therefore, we need to make a more general rule:

(values in category) ^ (slots) = possibilities

If you’re working with characters on the keyboard (e.g., these: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ 01234567890 `~!@#$%^&* ()_+-={}[]\|;’:”,./<>?) then you have 95 values in the category. A six character password is then 735,091,890,625 combinations.

“h&’8,}” = 6 chars, 6 slots
95 ^ 6 = 735,091,890,625

While this is better, it’s still not fantastic. But here’s where English words really come in handy. There are between 300,000 and a million English words, depending on your dictionary and how you define words. Let’s use the lower range and assume 300,000 possible values per slot (the slots are the WORDS now, not the characters).

“fluffy is puffy” = 15 chars, 3 slots
300,000 ^ 3 = 27,000,000,000,000,000

“correct horse battery staple” = 28 chars, 4 slots
300,000 ^ 4 = 8,100,000,000,000,000,000,000

The important thing to notice here is that we’re not calculating by characters anymore–a brute force cracker would have an impossibly hard time. But a dictionary attack cracker is going to have the best shot, so that’s what we’re looking at.

Even though you’re using words with 5 and 6 characters, you don’t get to count each character as a slot: they get chunked into one slot. Similarly, if you use a phrase, even though you’re using multiple words, you don’t get to count each word anymore: they get chunked into a single slot of phrases. I have no idea how many common phrases there are, but I’m sure there are password programs that take sentence fragments from the internet and try them as passwords. What is the probability that such a program will hit upon the phrase “jimmy crack corn?” Hard to say. If it’s drawing text from a transcript of Pinky and the Brain, then your odds might be pretty bad. But the big point is that your slots have now been reduced to 1. Let’s assume that the cracker is drawing from a trillion phrases.

“jimmy crack corn and i dont care” = 32 chars,  1 slot
( 1,000,000,000,000) ^ 1 = 1,000,000,000,000

Not very good. Barely better than a 6 char password, even though it’s 32 characters and 7 words long.

So: things to keep in mind. Draw your “chunks” or slots from categories with very large number of values. The more the better: drawing common English words is ok if you use a lot of them. Drawing from a larger range of English words (e.g. include scientific words, place names, proper nouns, stuff that would get you disqualified from Scrabble) means you can get away with using less slots. If you also use other languages, you’re even better off.

But also remember that you’re always limited by the less sophisticated password cracking algorithms. The following  words are all extremely uncommon words drawn from various languages and various technical terms: xi af ju . Let’s assume that for some strange reason you’re somewhat familiar with these words and so it’s easy for you to remember. So you might think:

“xi af ju”  = 3 slots
(~6 million )^ (3) = (absurdly large number)

but in fact

“xi af ju ”  = 8 slots
(27 )^ (12) = (282,429,536,481)

So you’ll beat the sophisticated dictionary attack but lose at a persistent brute force attack. Likewise, you may have several words that are all part of some similar category (e.g. numbers, as from the example above) in which case you now only have ten values per slot, even though each slot is multiple characters long. Similar story if you happen to choose all words that are in the 1,000 most common words, because the dictionary program may be using only those 1,000 common words, reducing your values per slot from 300k to 1k.

Lastly, and this should be obvious, but once a random assortment of words or characters goes on the internet or becomes famous, it effectively is the same as a word or a phrase. If you see an example of a secure password on the internet, (here you go: “D&hjd6G44@#46″;}{neh*(Jeheg$#@EfTGTgSYhs” ) it automatically ceases to be secure because some programs build their dictionaries from the internet. That means that that “secure” password back there is no longer secure. So you can’t use “fluffy is puffy” or “correct horse battery staple” anymore. And really, you can’t use any password that has any google results if you google it (in quotes).

This is just one small part of password security, especially compared to problems like people reusing passwords for more than one site. But if it’s learned correctly, it can help solve the problem by creating easier to remember passwords and encouraging people to create unique passwords for each site they visit.

Arguments and Confirmation Bias

May 5th, 2011

An article from wired that I was reading today pointed out an interesting connection between argumentation and confirmation bias. I never would have thought the two were so connected before now, but it actually makes sense.

The article begins by wondering at the phenomenon of confirmation bias. Why do we even have it? Why is it that we dumbly look only for evidence that supports the idea we already have in mind, and are blind to contrary evidence? The result is that people make tons of bad choices! But what they point out is that this ability to only see things that confirm an idea is helpful when it comes to being persuasive. If I’m encouraging you to do something for me, I only want to give reasons you should do it, not reasons you shouldn’t.

It makes sense, and it speaks to our being designed for community. We literally can’t think logically about things without another person to bounce ideas off of. The other person has their own confirmation bias and, hopefully, you’ll get someone with a different idea than you. The result is a debate, and you get different ideas going back and fourth in opposition to each other. So our confirmation bias actually does work towards logical conclusions, but only in the context of a somewhat diverse community.

I think that confirmation bias further functions to strengthen the community once the debate is over and a conclusion is reached: everyone agrees on the idea in the end, and then everyone’s confirmation bias kicks in to start seeing reasons that it was right, bonding the community in agreement. That’s why stores have liberal return policies. As much as you may be debating in your head and hesitant about a purchase, once you’ve got it, you start seeing all the reasons you should keep it, even if you thought you didn’t like it before.

Where debates don’t end in agreement, community tends to polarize more and more, splitting into factions that will probably separate. This seems unfortunate but is probably helpful in that it keeps a diversity of approaches to life alive. You have people making cars that run on gas, and people making cars that run on electricity (like we did at the turn of the 20th century). If both approaches are perused, then you have better options down the line. If only one is perused (e.g. gas) then it’s really hard to adapt when problems emerge with that approach.

Educator Video on Youtube breaks 1,000

October 26th, 2010

The introductory video for my HTML5 course on Educator is on the Educator YouTube channel and it gets way more views than any of the videos on my own YouTube channel.

Educator HTML Lesson

Alright then! I feel like I’ve outstripped myself! But honestly, its’ crazy to think that in just a few days so many people have sat through a long, boring video, whereas over months nobody wants to sit through the “more interesting” and shorter videos on my vlog!

When Cats Become Magnetized

October 9th, 2010

Much like how aircraft can become magnetized when flying through the earth’s magnetic field, or electromagnets when a current runs through them, cats sometimes become magnetized. It’s just one of those strange things about cats. G. Curtis Hoskins describes one method for determining whether your cat has become magnetized:

Note when a cat is lying in a certain orientation. Pick it up and then put it back down. If it chooses the same orientation (to magnetic fields), then it is in need of degaussing.

Degaussing is the process of removing the magnetism from an object, for example, old CRT monitors will frequently need to be degaussed when you move them or point them in new directions. A magnetized cat is not a serious problem, but you may notice your cat exhibiting curious behavior while suffering from magnetism.

It will not be strong enough to attract metal objects to the kitten, however, the cat will tend to position itself in the room according to unseen magnetic fields, sometimes resulting in funny behavior such as sitting in the corner facing the wall or hanging half way off of objects in seemingly impossible (or at least uncomfortable) positions. They will also tend to align themselves along a north–south axis (much like cattle and deer, which are naturally magnetized).

Unlike cattle, however, magnetization affects some of the highly refined senses of the cat, such as its inner ear mechanisms that allow it to always land on its feet, the high sensitivity of its whiskers, and ESP. Usually cats are able to keep themselves from becoming too magnetized by brushing against things as they walk by, which creates a static current in their fur that will naturally tend to degauss them. Petting your cat also helps it to keep down magnetic build-up. However, once magnetism has built up too much, cats will try more drastic measures, such as taking advantage of the photoelectric effect to degauss by sitting in the sun or lying on top of devices which emit small amounts of radiation, such as laptop computers. If your cat has most of the aforementioned symptoms of magnetic build up, or any of the following, it is time to manually degauss your cat:

Fortunately, there are reliable ways to degauss your cat, if you’re willing to put in the effort. Hoskins, in the same Air & Space article linked to above, outlines the steps:

First: Take the cat outside and coil a lightweight copper or aluminum wire loosely around it, beginning at whichever end the cat prefers, or allows. The coil may be either right-handed or left-handed, but be sure to note the direction of the coil and whether the cat is left-pawed or right-pawed, so the outcome may be correlated later.

Second: Wrap either end of the wire around a long nail and drive the nail into the ground. Note which end of the wire is used.

Third: After a suitable period of time, remove the wire from around the cat, or remove the cat from within the wire. Cats generally choose the suitable time period, and will pretty much take it from there.

Finally: Check to see if the cat’s direction is more random when lying down. If so, then the procedure has been successful. If the cat still appears to be polarized and unduly oriented within the magnetic fields, then a repeat of the procedure is recommended.