Saturday, October 26, 2019

Canadian anniversary

This week we celebrated fifteen years since arriving in Canada. We treated ourselves to a nice meal out. The orders were fairly predictable: steak, steak, steak, pizza!

The weird thing is, it hardly seems any time since we were celebrating our tenth year here. Time is flying by these days. We’ve got older, the kids have grown up, pets have come and gone.

Although time seems to be flying in recent years, it feels odd now looking back on photos from fifteen years ago, how much everything has changed. Those days feel like a lifetime ago. Well, for the kids that’s not far from the mark. They were young when we moved. But even I have now spent over a quarter of my life in Canada, and I couldn’t imagine going back.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Federal elections

Every four years I spare a sympathetic thought for our southerly neighbors.

The US has been in campaign mode already for months, and there’s a whole year of it yet to come. Meanwhile, Canada goes to the polls tomorrow for its federal elections. The difference? Official campaigning here started just last month.

That’s right. The entire Canadian federal election process lasts only a few weeks, almost fitting in between two of the US primary debates and barely a blip in the exhausting - and expensive - calendar down south.

The question is, does our fleeting process sell voters short, or does all that effort in the US produce any better outcomes for democracy?

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Captcha calamity

I never really had a problem with the old Captchas, the ones that gave you a distorted word and/or numerals to type in. They were mildly annoying, but I found them easily solvable and the goal at least was laudable.

However the move to sets of pictures with instructions to click on those that met certain criteria drove me insane. I was taken aback to realize it was four years ago that I last vented on this blog about this new torture device. I also noticed that I haven’t encountered many of these, and I realize I haven’t actually seen a Captcha of any description for quite a long time. Clearly site owners have decided this is driving their customers away.

That changed this week, when a team at work decided to use a third-party collaboration product that protects itself with a Captcha.

It was one of those picture versions. I was asked to click on everything with a fire hydrant showing. Some were obvious, but some weren’t. As always, the trouble with these things is that the pictures are so small and grainy it’s often impossible to tell what you’re actually looking at. Yes, it’s a road. I can make out houses and trees. Is that fuzzy blob a fire hydrant or a cat? Impossible to tell.

I spent five minutes of sheer frustration, failing again and again before I finally made it in. If this was a site I was visiting for personal reasons I would have given up right away, but I needed to sign on for work purposes.

Whether or not I’ll have to go through this process again next week is yet to be seen, but the experience prompted me to do some research.

It turns out that it’s not my imagination, they really have been making these things more difficult to solve. It’s the usual arms race between defenders and attackers.

What is more unsettling, though, is that we have permanently lost this particular race.

Machine learning and visual recognition systems are now so good that they can outperform people on these kinds of tasks.

In other words, the test that is supposed to prove you are a human, not a bot, can now be passed by bots better than people. In response, the designers are resorting to making them so difficult that the people they are supposed to admit can’t solve them.

Sounds like it’s time for a serious re-think!

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