Title Sequences

Some TV shows have little or no title sequence. The first one I remember doing this was Lost. Just a spooky noise, and then on with the show. There are others with really minimal titles, though none pop into mind at the moment. I love the approach – I obviously know what I’m watching.

Hannibal’s is a little longer, but at least it’s got suitable creepifying music, is graphically interesting, and is still pretty short.

There are others, though, that have just gone nuts. Game of Thrones and House of Cards spring to mind. Both of them have some cool music, which is fine and everything, but who needs to sit through two minutes or more of the same thing every week? Both sequences were cool the first time, but after that, who needs them? Maybe do the full one once, and then do the 10-15 second version after that.

I can understand having title sequences back in the day, when who played the second kid from the left might have been of interest, and there was no other way to get that information. But now, what with IMDB and everything, you can find out who the grip’s cousin was with a little type-and-click. All the title sequences provide is motivation to grab the mouse/remote/whatever and skip them.

I guess the other function would have been to give people time to get settled, and to let Aunt Maude finish up in the bathroom, and get little Jimmy his glass of milk or whatever. But I don’t know anybody who watches TV “live” anymore, unless they have no choice. And then they do (because it’s a game or an awards ceremony or something where the perception is that something important in being revealed in real time) it quickly becomes obvious just how annoying commercials really are. Especially when you have the privilege of seeing the same one several times during the same show – I have several times caught the same one twice in a row! Definitely enough to get that company on my never-buy list. Anyhow, the “get in here, Dallas is starting” motivation has largely disappeared, and even back in the day it only mattered to somebody who couldn’t read a clock.

It’s actually even more impressive that House of Cards has gone this direction, given that they’re all-online and it’s got to be pretty obvious that whoever’s watching it is doing so digitally and with the ability to jump around in the file, not to mention starting it whenever they want.

Similarly, it’s annoying to sit through the little Dreamworks (or whatever) mini-film at the beginning of a movie (usually for two or three or more companies these days) , and then to sit through the text versions as well. Whose bright idea was that? As if, having just seen a kid run and jump into a lake followed by a logo, I need to see the name in plain text in order to figure out who I’m supposed to be feeling grateful to. Does anybody even care about this stuff? I’ve never heard anybody say “Oh, I thought this was a Dreamworks picture. I’m out of here!” Not to pick on Dreamworks – they just popped into mind (ironically, because of their logo). But that’s not a positive connotation, unless it’s still “any advertising is good advertising”.

The same could obviously be said for credits at the end of the show or movie. Seriously, this can only matter to people actually being listed, and maybe their grandparents or somebody. And if you do care, it’s easy to find the info online. Given that we’re already down to 40 minutes of actual show per hour (commercials don’t count), why not claw back a few minutes for real content instead of all the dead space?

I’ve seen a few networks that do the preview of another show (or next week’s show, or whatever) split-screen with the credits; the credits are then much too small to read, but given that nobody cares about them, this doesn’t really matter. Now, granted, I don’t care about the previews either, but at least this puts the credits in their place. Sometimes, these credits are even rolled at super-speed.

Putting additional movie content during or after the credits is particularly interesting – now we’re rewarding people for sitting through an otherwise singularly unrewarding 10 minutes of scrolling names of people they (very probably) don’t know and never will.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Now that we can jump around in the shows/movies, not to speak of watching them whenever we want, maybe I should just be glad I never need to sit through a title or credit sequence again. Those fond memories of just drumming my fingers while waiting for the real show (or waiting for the next one) are over.

Turns out I didn’t know how to tie my own shoes

I had a very odd experience last night. I’ve started running, and my shoes have untied themselves twice now while I’ve been on a run. It occurred to me that somebody might have some advice or a cheap product to improve this situation, so I did a little surfing. And what did I discover? Turns out I’ve been tying my shoes – for my whole life, I presume – with the wrong knot.

The knot I have been (inadvertently) using is the “granny knot” which is apparently “the most common reason for shoelaces coming undone“. (Note: this link, and others to follow, should be recognized as my first entry into a whole subculture of people who care deeply about shoelaces – I don’t claim to belong to or represent this group, but they did provide some interesting info.)

Anyhow, the granny knot unties itself as it’s put under stress. Something to do with being unbalanced and so on – I don’t really care about its motivations or emotional baggage, I just want a knot that stays tied.

That one is the “reef knot“. Basically, if you’re a granny-knotter, just reverse the direction that you cross the laces at the very beginning of the knot, and then proceed as usual. Directions get confusing pretty quickly, because the left-hand lace becomes the right-hand one, and which way is “behind” anyway. I found it easier to just switch that first “one lace over the other” – which felt almost morally wrong, by the way – and then do the loops part of the knot the way my hands do it on their own.

You can test the result, of you’re sitting with a shoe in your lap as I was at about 1 in the morning, by pulling on the laces “beneath” the knot (where they’re coming out of the shoe, where they would be stressed by normal wear). If you’ve grannied, the knot will come undone. If you’ve reefed, the knot will tighten itself.

There are other options – “Ian’s Secure Knot” is the highest rated of these, on a site with more information about tying shoes than I could believe. I’m going to give the reef knot a try first, but the “both ears through the hole” advanced approach does sound like a ton of fun.

The unsettling part about this is that I’ve clearly been doing it wrong for as long as I’ve been tying my own shoes. Aside from dalliances with Crocs and sandals and boat shoes and the like, that’s been my whole life. And my whole life, I’ve been doing an extra knot with the loops, in an effort to keep my laces tied. This raises the uncomfortable spectre of other unwitting errors. There are a lot of things in my daily life, and I presume in the lives of others, that could be done wrong without those around us even noticing. Just little annoyances that we assume are part of the background noise of our lives.

For the next while, I’m pretty sure I’ll frequently be wondering, “Am I doing that wrong?” Maybe I’ll find the cure to life’s ills – or at least notice something that might be dealt with more gracefully, and then google that cure.

Does anybody in Hollywood actually walk anywhere?

There have been several abnormal walking statements or descriptions in (relatively) recent movies, and I’m wondering if I’m missing something. I walk quite a bit, and an 11 minute mile is really pushing it in terms of pace. 15 minutes per mile is a fast walk, 20 minutes per mile is a stroll … just to provide some numbers for comparison.

In Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise (as Reacher himself) says “There’s a bus station three miles away; I can walk there in 24 minutes.” That’s 8 minutes per mile. That’s a decent jogging pace. So, there’s the problem that this is simply a stupid statement. Then there’s the additional problem for people who’ve actually read the Lee Child books: Reacher walks a lot, and he’s not an idiot, so this isn’t something he’d ever say. Needless to say, it certainly isn’t in the book the movie was based on.

My bigger problem is that this line made it through however many writers, editors, actors, and so on, and nobody seems to have noticed that the math just doesn’t work.

Then we move on to The Book of Eli. This is quite a bit more complicated, as the man doing the walking is blind, so there’s some question about his ability to walk in one direction consistently. He does say he’s walking West, and that he’s led in that direction by God, but the watcher has to wonder about his ability to interpret God’s compass.

In any case, we’re told that he’s been walking for 30 years. Wikipedia has an article listing people who have walked across the US. Looking briefly over this list, it’s pretty clear that the walk has been done in three months by a number of people, and faster by many (though some of these were running at least some of the time as opposed to walking). Another guy actually did a TED talk about doing the walk in 8 months. Granted, none of these people were blind (as far as I know) and they weren’t walking through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. However, even a blind Denzel should have been able to go coast to coast fifteen times or so in thirty years. Call it 10 times to allow for apocalyptic issues – at some point, shouldn’t he have had cause to find a braille compass or something? That’s more blind faith than even a willing suspension of disbelief can support.

In reviews of the movie, many people mentioned other plot issues, many about the movie’s ending. I haven’t yet seen anybody mention the walking issue, though. It’s like people just think about a map and say, “Walk? That must take forever!”

So, I guess my bigger question is whether these people just don’t ever walk anywhere. I live in the city, and I walk everywhere. I’m within 2-3 miles of anywhere I go regularly, so it’s pretty easy to sustain a car-free lifestyle. I’ve read about plenty of people who do the same. I’m guessing, though, that not many of us are in the movie business.

The Rules of Golf – Amendments for Seniors

  1. Advertisements proclaim that golf scores can be lowered by purchasing new clubs, balls, shoes. etc. Since this is financially impossible for the average senior golfer, one stroke per hole may be subtracted for using old equipment.
  2. A ball sliced or hooked into the rough shall be lifted and placed on the fairway at a point equal to the distance it carried into the rough, with no penalty. Senior players should not be penalized for inexplicable physical phenomena.
  3. A ball which hits a tree shall be deemed not to have hit the tree. This is simply bad luck, which has no place in a scientific game. The player hitting such ball must estimate the distance it would have traveled had it not hit the tree and play the ball from that point.
  4. There shall be no such thing as a lost ball. The missing ball is on or near the golf course and will eventually be found and pocketed by someone else, making it a stolen ball. The player is not to compound the felony by charging him or herself with a penalty stroke.
  5. There shall be no penalty for so-called “out of bounds”. If penny-pinching golf club owners bought sufficient land, this would not be an issue. The golfer deserves an apology, not a penalty.
  6. There shall be no penalty for a ball being hit into a water hazard, because cleverly designed golf balls should float. That they do not is a technical fault which manufacturers have yet to overcome, and for which the senior golfer should not be held responsible.
  7. Occasionally it might appear that the golfer swings at his/her ball and misses. Clearly, the observer has experienced an optical illusion and should simply shut up and let the golfer play.
  8. Some golf courses, especially the more expensive ones, have defects wherein large holes filled with sand appear at odd places where grass should be. Seniors should not be forced to risk injury by playing from such areas, which would not exist if the grounds superintendent was doing a proper job. A senior finding his/her ball in such a hazardous location is allowed to lift said ball and move it to the nearest decent grass, or to have as many whacks at the ball as necessary to remove it from sand to grass – in either case, without penalty.
  9. On the putting green, a ball which passes over a hole without dropping in is deemed to have dropped. The law of gravity supersedes the laws of golf.
  10. Putts which stop close enough to the hole to be blown in, may be blown in. This does not apply to balls more than three inches from the hole. No one wants to make a travesty of the game.

I found these “rules” in a golf bag I bought this summer, and thought they were worth posting, since they don’t seem to be online anywhere. There is a note on the back of the page telling “Sandra and Ralph” that these amendments may have great appeal to the Stittsville community, which is signed, but not legibly. I’m happy to add a source if anybody knows what it is.

I should note too that I’m not a senior, but could definitely use the help of these amendments!

Why doesn’t somebody develop a “shuffle” that works?

I have an android phone, an ipod, and itunes (and several other mp3-playing-capable programs) installed on various computers. None of them can shuffle songs worth beans, and it’s easy to see why.

Shuffle, as it now exists on every platform I’ve seem, just puts the songs in random order. On some platforms (like my stupid phone) this is done after the first song starts playing, so your randomly-ordered playlist is actually the same first song every time, and then the rest in random order. So I fast-forward past the first song, every time. There’s just no excuse for that.

However, random isn’t really what you want either. I often get, randomly, songs I just heard the day before, or even earlier that day. And this is on a playlist with 750+ songs. Well, with a random order generated a few times per day (whenever I’m walking a reasonable distance, or stuck at my desk, for example) you’d expect that to happen. It’s expected, but it’s also annoying and it’s not really what I wanted when I selected to shuffle instead of playing the songs in order.

What I wanted could be phrased this way: “Play me stuff I haven’t heard recently, in some random order”.

The “stuff I haven’t heard recently” would seem, to me, to be the key here. And it’s not like it’s hard – itunes and the ipod (at least) keep track of the “last played” date.

Can’t we please, please, have a shuffle (or call it something else) that starts with putting songs into groups by how many days ago they were last played, and then randomizes within those groups, and then plays the list? Build the list first, and then start playing it (so you don’t start with the same one EVERY TIME), and I would always be hearing a shuffled list of songs I hadn’t heard recently (unless I listen to all 700+).

Or, if you want to get really funky, allow a “custom shuffle” based on whatever criteria people want to use. This could look like the advanced sort in Excel, where you sort ascending or descending based on one column first, and then a second column after that, and so on, and can re-order the criteria at will. I’m not sure what else I’d want other than played date, but I’m sure somebody else will have something, and as long as it has the played date I’ll be more than happy.

While we’re at it, why is “shuffle” a setting that applies to the device as a whole? It makes no sense at all that you have to turn shuffle on and off globally. Actually, it does make sense if you’re playing everything you have, or by genre or something. But if you go to the trouble to create a playlist, you should be able to save a shuffle setting with that playlist. Some things should be played in order (classical music, musicals, playlists for running that start with a warmup and end with a cooldown, and so on) and the rest should probably be shuffled. So, we should be able to save that preference with the list when we make it.

So who do I talk to about this? Anyone?

Dolphins and PR

The general opinion of dolphins is pretty positive. There are certainly exceptions, but that’s certainly the “usual” view – seen, for example, as opposed to the typical view of sharks. Now, I’m not saying I love sharks, but I do think it’s possible that dolphins are just more PR/media conscious than sharks are.

For example, there are a host of lovely stories of how dolphins have saved swimmers from drowning. That’s all well and good, but it’s not like they save everybody – people still drown. And it’s just possible that the dolphins are out there savagely attacking and killing people – they’re just smart enough to do it when nobody’s filming them, and they’re smart enough to spare one now and then. The dolphins could cleanly kill ninety-nine out of a hundred drowning people, and still come out of it smelling like roses; well, they probably smell like fish or something, but you know what I mean.

I’m not sure what this means, exactly, or what good this realization does for me (aside from probably making me more nervous on my next visit to Marine-Super-Fun-Park or whatever. Maybe I can get in touch with some kind of shark spokesperson (spokes-shark?) and hire myself on as a consultant. If you see footage of a shark gently carrying somebody to shore, and of that person’s tearful reunion with their photogenic offspring, think of me.

Monday Mornings

Monday Mornings is a brand spanking new series (I’ve only seen one episode so far). It’s a David E. Kelley show, which initially caused me some doubts – Harriet’s Law was a disaster. Several earlier shows (Ally McBeal, Boston Public) disintegrated fairly early on, and then proceeded to limp for years on the strength of new stars imported to prop up the wreckage. I did enjoy Boston Legal (largely because of James Spader), and The Practice was pretty solid all the way through. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Chicago Hope, which I think is the last medical show from Kelley, but I remember it being quite impressive.

So, as I said, I had some doubts. The first episode was pretty good, though. I thought Jamie Bamber was great in the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica, and I’m glad to see him back. I’m not a big Alfred Molina fan, though he does a good job as the chief (I forget the exact title, but he’s the big cheese) – he’s a great mix of unlikeable and “sensitive inner core”. There’s a decent group of supporting cast members, including Ving Rhames (who is actually billed higher than Bamber).

The show revolves around M&M Rounds (morbidity and mortality rounds are closed sessions where the doctors discuss problem cases that may have resulted in death or other issues). The show’s title, with the two “M”s, may also be alluding to this, as well as hilighting that the rounds kick off each week. In the first episode, one “hack” doctor who really screwed up – resulting in a missed diagnosis and a woman’s early death – is kicked out of the hospital as well as being reamed by Ving Rhames (which would have to ruin anyone’s day), who makes the point that he’s only being shunted off to another hospital as opposed to being de-licensed or whatever the medical equivalent of being disbarred would be.

The somewhat odd thing is that Jamie Bamber’s character (Dr. Wilson), who is one of the hospital’s high flyers, also has a patient die during an operation. It comes out, in another M&M session, that Wilson missed several important steps before deciding on surgery (including consulting with colleagues and doing a full medical history), meaning that the possibility of the patient’s death on the operating table would have been recognized. The line was, basically, “the patient would have died soon in any case, but he’s dead today” because of Wilson’s screwup. However, in this case, no Ving Rhames beat-down (note that he was the one who brought Wilson in on the case, and actually gives him a pep talk later on). The argument would have to be that everybody loses patients occasionally, and Bamber’s character is a good doctor who made an unusual mistake, while the other guy’s character was a hack who was known as “007″ (because he had a “license to kill”). I can see that, but the individual actions in the two cases were actually pretty similar.

So, it will be interesting to see where this show goes. Nice to see Kelley heading back to serious TV again, after quite some time trying to mix serious with goofy (the Denny Crane clone guy in Harriet’s Law was an absolute disaster, not just because he was so patently unoriginal and one-dimensional, but because it just wasn’t funny).

There was one false note in the episode. Kelley has something about Asian characters being hard to understand – Ling on Ally McBeal being the one exception that comes to mind. Keong Sim plays another brilliant doctor who has a successful case in the first episode, but his dialogue is written so that he’s constantly abrupt, rude, and – above all – hard to understand. He gets colloquial phrases wrong, he leaves out words. He reminded me strongly of Tzi Ma’s character in the final season of The Practice (season 8, episode 10, in case you’re looking); he was another language-mauling Asian (memorable for complaining about “malpuppet” when he meant malpractice and having his lawyer, played by Rhona Mitra, laugh at the way he talked in court). There was also a coroner in Boston Legal’s third season (in one scene only) who was similarly Asian and whose language skills were definitely sub-par. At the end of this first episode, Alfred Molina tells Keong Sim that they will need to meet about his “language skills”. Hopefully, there will be some rapid improvement in Sim’s character’s English, so that Kelley can stop beating this particular (and, again, previously used) drum.

Jack Reacher

I was one of many who was caught between shock, disgust, and amusement when the news came out that Tom Cruise had been cast in the lead role of 2012′s Jack Reacher, the first movie made from one of Lee Child‘s series of novels about a former MP of the same name. The main problem is that in the novels, a great deal of time and emphasis is put in the fact that Reacher is huge. Reacher is 6’5″, and ranges between 210 and 250 depending on how many swimming pools he’s been digging by hand recently. He regularly knocks people out with a single blow, or successfully takes on multiple opponents.

Not to overburden the point, but Tom Cruise isn’t huge. By any stretch. At the risk of stating the obvious, he’s also a cult member, exhibits a bit of a freakish personality, and his personal life is a disgrace. I generally try to ignore the personalities and personal lives of celebrities, because I honestly don’t care – I have trouble enough caring about people I actually know, never mind trying to extend this to fake facebook “friends”. There’s nothing to spare for strangers who happen to be on a screen of one size or another. Still, Cruise’s antics managed to pierce even my well-developed apathy.

Anyhow, Cruise certainly didn’t fit my idea of Reacher, and I wasn’t alone in this. Message boards, on IMDB and elsewhere, exploded with complaints and threats to boycott the movie, as well as suggestions for better fits for the part (Ray Stevenson was one of the better suggestions). People complained about Lee Child having sold out, or defended him for not having had that level of control, and so it went.

One of the scenes in the preview was of Cruise stepping into a crowd at a bus stop to evade some police who were chasing him. There was a great deal of hilarity around the idea of the casting call, specifically looking for a group of 5’2″ people to make him look at least average in height. Speculation was rife about how they would have him on huge risers, shoot exclusively from the ground up, and/or hire a lot of tiny fellow actors, in order to try to make Cruise fit the huge “Reacher” mold.

However, when December rolled around, I decided to support the story and the author, as opposed to expressing my doubts about Cruise in this role. And, I have to confess, I’m glad I did.

Jack Reacher (the movie) was based on the novel One Shot, which is the 9th novel in the series. The first shot of Cruise was shot from the floor up at his back, and I thought “Oh, here we go …” but that was the last time they shot anything specifically to make him look particularly imposing. They basically just dropped all references to Reacher’s size. He was still a tough former MP, but not a large one. This was surprisingly effective, and the fact that both the “leading lady” and the leading henchman were bigger than Cruise completely deflated my size-related objections to the movie. I have no idea if any changes were made after the public outcry about Cruise, but either way, the result was pretty impressive.

I have to admit it, Cruise gives pretty good action. The early MI movies are a little dated at this point, of course, but they were entertaining at the time. I liked The Last Samurai, though I may be in the minority there.

My remaining problems with the movie are mostly just standard-Hollywood-crap stuff. The final showdown in the novel is very different from the one in the movie (relying on Reacher dousing himself in freezing water and then walking slowly toward the bad guys in order to avoid detection via infrared, as opposed to the movie’s run-and-gun approach). Also, the idea of Reacher getting the drop on the henchman to the extent that he has his gun to the guy’s head, and then throwing the gun away so they can duke it out was pure Hollywood, and extremely non-Reacher. This happened in Gangster Squad too, apropos of nothing, and it was equally annoying. Generally, the story was pretty close to the novel, but this was definitely a false note.

So, Cruise isn’t the novel’s Reacher, but he does a pretty good movie Reacher. If further Reacher movies are in the works, I’ll be less likely to complain to anybody I think might care (at least until I actually see the movie).

Is the Catholic Church a Force for Good in the World?

There was a debate in 2009, hosted by Intelligence Squared UK, and available in full on YouTube. The topic was “Is the Catholic Church a Force for Good in the World?” and the debaters were Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry (against) and Ann Widdecombe, M.P. and John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja (for). It can’t have surprised anyone that Hitchens and Fry (and arguably mostly Fry) completely overwhelmed the opposition, resulting in a landslide against the proposition. To be fair, the opening survey was pretty overwhelmingly against anyway, but the closing survey was even more strongly polarized.

Still, I was disappointed with some of the arguments put forward, and thought I would chip in with a few “moves” that should have been made, and which would have resulted in a much more interesting debate. Now, obviously, I’m coming to this a bit late, but I somehow missed this one … maybe 2009 was especially busy or something.

Hitchens and Fry both took the traditional and obvious route of recounting the horrible mis-steps and failures the Catholic Church has made in the past (sexual abuse, supporting or at least not strongly denouncing the Holocaust, building enormous churches on the metaphorical backs of the poor, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and so forth). None of this was a surprise, and wasn’t informative either. There can’t have been anyone in the audience (live or via the interwebs) who didn’t know all this going in.

More than that, and to bring up the first move I would have hoped to see, the question is in the present tense (“Is the Catholic Church”). It would have been easy for Hitchens (who led off) to emphasize this, and to restrict his comments to the present. There is no doubt that the Church has done some horrible things, but they are not strictly relevant to the question. If the debate had been restricted to the present day, it would have avoided a lot of oft-repeated grievance listing, and allowed for the possibility of talking about things that might actually have a direct influence on those attending the debate (in whatever format). Not to say that history isn’t important, or doesn’t inform the current Church, but none of that content was to the point – it was basically a long list of red herrings.

That also isn’t to say that no current issues were discussed – they were. Fry’s points on condoms and aid in Africa, as well as on issues of sexuality and/or sexual preference were well taken. These are almost certainly issues that Church will be forced to apologize for in the future. I am merely pointing out that most of the commentary on the debate (especially from Catholics who found the con arguments impressive) relates to these points – to the present. The past is there, and much of it is pretty ugly, but that can be said for almost any group large enough, and influential enough, to still be around.

The next move is to take note of the final part of the question: “in the World“, assuming we can agree that the idea of being a force for good is pretty self-explanatory. “In the World” would have fixed the debate on the tangible (or dare I say “real”) as opposed to the spiritual activities of the Church. One argument about the institution being a force for good would have been to argue that people’s spiritual health is important (though points about this being a much lower priority in contrast to actual physical health are pretty easy to make). If that is the case – if the Church can argue that money spent this way is just as well-spent as money that does a more tangible “Good” – then the debate gets sidetracked into one about religion in general, and away from our final move – defining what is meant by “the Catholic Church“.

It is incredibly important to distinguish the Catholic Church (the organization) from individuals who belong to the Church. A fair amount of time was lost discussing the fact that individual Catholics donate a great deal of their money, time, effort, and so on to good (and often Church-organized) causes. There is no question that this is true, but it isn’t really relevant. A great number of non-catholics also donate money, time, and so on to causes they find valuable. Charity (or empathy, possibly) is a recognizable human trait (and isn’t even restricted to humanity).

Anyhow, the point is that individual humans are often charitable. The question might have been explicitly pointed in the direction of the Catholic Church as an institution, which would have been really interesting. In this frame, the question would basically be asking how the Church measures up against other charitable organizations. In this frame, the “religious” activities of the Church could be discounted (or rather, be looked at as overhead – costs that secular organizations don’t have to pay) as discussed above in “move 2″. “Regular” charities regularly post figures showing how much of each dollar donated actually get to the targets of those donations (as opposed to being “lost” to administrative costs and so forth). In this sense, and when dealing with the question of the Church as an organization that does “good works”, a great deal of what the Church actually does would have to be considered “lost” – all the wealth, vestments, artworks, the Vatican City, and so on, and so on. I don’t imaging anybody has a figure (or would ever let it see the light of day if they did) but i would be really interested to know how much of the donations of the billions of Catholics around the world actually make it outside the “doors” of the Church.

To sum up:

The debate should have led off with an examination of the exact question being asked (strange – that sounds like something a little to obvious to be pointing out). The question clearly deals with the present, but con arguments would have been much stronger if they were also targeted directly at tangible benefits and at the the institution. In this context, I think it would be relatively easy to convince almost any thinking audience that donations to the Catholic Church – assuming the donator wants to actually help people who need charity, to be a “force for good” in other words – would be much more effective if given to some other organization without the institutional baggage the Church supports. Many secular charities manage to get by with sub-5% admin costs. It would surprise me, to say the least, if the Catholic Church could match that performance.

Now, there is no question that Catholics give money to the Church to do with as it pleases, and that they merely hope that the money will do something useful (as opposed to buying funny hats or whatever). I am not arguing that the Church is ripping off its parishioners, but rather that if they want to really do some good, maybe they should look at how their money, time, and efforts are being used – maybe there’s somewhere else where they could get more bang for their buck.

2n Coding

I’ve been thinking about cryptography for some time, and I thought I’d post this here and see if anybody comes back with anything. Basically, I think there’s a very easy way to encode any data you want in a way that’s uncrackable for all practical purposes. I should mention that I am in no way a crypto expert, or a mathematical genius. This is more of a philosophical approach, and definitely being proposed by an amateur, so please bear that in mind before you use this method to protect your deepest darkest data.

The method is based on what I understand about brute force cracking of codes. Obviously, this won’t help (or will help less) if the key is already known, so for those of you putting password on post-its or using “password” or your birthday or whatever, I can’t really help you. Maybe. I’ll come back to that.

Anyhow, to crack something where the key is unknown, you basically try something as the key, and see if the results are intelligible (or have recognizable letter frequencies or whatever – some way for a computer to tell if the result looks like it might be real language). Obviously, using computers makes this much easier (as it does the encoding part of the operation). So, as I understand it – again, as a complete novice – the computer is going to try a key against your code, and see if it can get an intelligible result.

There’s another layer here where the algorithm is also unknown – you’d be trying multiple iterations of those as well. In many cases, though (like using a particular software package or coding function) where the algorithm is known, and only the key is needed.

But what if you run the encryption twice? I mean, encrypt a string of data, using your algorithm of choice, and you have a standard encryption that will resist analysis until the key is found – this is why keys are getting longer and longer as computers get faster. But if you then encrypted that string again, using the same key (or a different one, but that will be discussed later as well), then the attempt to check the validity of the key (to crack the code) would be checking against another encoded (unintelligible, non-language-patterned) string.

And why limit it to twice? The CPU load and time constraints are negligible – why not run the encryption 99 times, or 999 … You could also mutate the keystring based on the iteration you’re doing (possibly hashed with something else), and the result would be that much stronger. Then you just pass along the key and the hashing data to whomever is supposed to be able to read this stuff, and you’re good. You don’t even need a 4096 bit key anymore!

The reason I said before that this might even help people who just write their passwords down is that even if they did, the cracker would have to think of running the decryption more than once. It might be that they’d try the password, see that it didn’t work, and assume that you’re too smart to use such an obvious password lying around.

So, if this approach becomes common at all, it seems to me that anybody attempting to brute force crack (or, for that matter, known-password crack) something would have to attempt each possible password a near-infinite number of times in order to be sure they hadn’t just missed one repetition of the encoding. With a rotating password, this wouldn’t even work. The computational burden would increase dramatically, possibly to the point where cracking encryption becomes too unlikely to bother with.

The code to accomplish this, along with the rotating/hashing keystring options would be no big deal to write, but I thought I’d float the idea first and see if somebody can point out an obvious problem I’ve missed – not at all impossible. Otherwise, though, I’ll throw a PHP class together, and we can all encrypt ourselves to a fare-thee-well.

By the way, the 2n thing is about punning my last name (because that’s basically how we pronounce it) as well as the “encoding it twice” idea, and that it sounds like “2 encoding” as well as “tughan coding”. It just so very multilayered, I couldn’t resist!