Conferences Security The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

A handy hack for not getting your drinks “spiked” at Def Con

The 2023 Def Con is well under way! You might want to use this trick to make it harder to spike your drinks. This isn’t to say that everyone at Def Con is trying to surreptitiously drug other people’s drinks, but there is a certain transgressive element there, and as any security expert will tell you: you can never really be too careful.

The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

Enjoy Molly White’s “Web3 Bingo” cards on Bitcoin Pizza Day

In “honor” of today (May 22) being Bitcoin Pizza Day — the day when we commemorate Laszlo Hanyecz’ 2010 bought two Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 BTC (of course you’d buy fake pizza with fake money!) — I’m pointing you to these funny-because-it’s-true “Web3 Bingo” cards created by none other than Molly White, software developer and creator and curator of the site Web3 is Going Just Great.

Here’s the first one…

Card by Molly White. Tap to view the source.

…and here’s the second one:

Card by Molly White. Tap to view the source.

And because cryptocurrency can never a big enough dumpster fire, here’s a Bitcoin Pizza Day story: Bitcoin Pizza Day Turns Sour as Meme Coin Shysters Profit Over $200K in Rug Pulls.

Artificial Intelligence Humor The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

AI ad of the moment: “Beer Party in Hell”

Hot on the heels of the AI-generated pizza ad Pepperoni Hug Spot, here’s a beer commercial from an artifical intelligence that clearly has never been invited to a back yard party:

There seem to be two versions of this ad online. One has Smash Mouth’s All Star as its backing track, while the other one (which is presented above) is on YouTube and is backed by generic southern rock-esque music — presumably to avoid getting a copyright “strike”.

As with Pepperoni Hug Spot, the visuals in the beer ad are located deep inside the uncanny valley:

This is how best friends drink a beer.
Tap to view the weirdness at full size.
Clearly the AI has never shotgunned a beer before.
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To an AI, beer and fire are pretty much the same thing.
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“I’m drinking from a bottle! No — a can! Wait — a bottle can!”
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Multiple fingers and a cap/hair blend that doesn’t exist outside of “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.”
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“Don’t stop…be-lieeeeving…”
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“I need more lighter fluid on the grill.”
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“NOW it’s a party!”
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“Is anyone gonna help clean up?”
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Artificial Intelligence Humor The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

AI ad of the moment: “Pepperoni Hug Spot”

Actual still from the AI-generated ad.
It’s so, SO wrong.

Good news, creatives — if this completely AI-generated TV ad for a fictitious pizza place is any indication, you won’t be replaced by artificial intelligence just yet.

Just watch it. It’s so…off. The people’s eyes are off-kilter, the chef’s arm appears to be on fire, and the scenes of people eating pizza slices are so off that they will haunt my dreams from the next week.

Pepperoni Hug Spot is a TV ad created by a YouTuber (or group of YouTubers) going by the name “Pizza Later” using the following combination of AI tools:

My favorite Twitter response to the ad comes from none other than Pizza Hut:

Of course, this being the age of Late-Stage Capitalism, PizzaLater has quickly created a site for Pepperoni Hug Spot, where you can buy merch.

Artificial Intelligence Editorial The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

We don’t need AI to make art

The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

The basis for ChatGPT appears in an old O. Henry short story

O. Henry (a.k.a. William Sidney Porter)

I’ve been at a number of holiday parties over the past week, and at every one, I’ve been asked about how ChatGPT works. All the explaining stirred up an old memory from a book I read back in high school: The Spy’s Bedside Book, an anthology of spy and espionage stories edited by Graham Greene and his younger brother Hugh Greene, and in particular, an O. Henry story titled Calloway’s Code.

The technology behind ChatGPT and other similar software is a Large Language Model, or LLM for short. The general idea behind it to try to predict the next word or sequence of words in a given text based on prior words.

For instance, if you’re a native English speaker or have been living in the Anglosphere for some time, you can probably predict the word that goes in the blank below:

To be, or not to be, that is the ________:

In Calloway’s Code, the titular character — a field journalist named Calloway — uses this predictive approach as a means of encryption.

Bare-chested Japanese soldier slays a disarmed Russian soldier with his word. An old Imperial Japanese flag flies in the background.

The story is set during the Russo-Japanese War, which took place from 1904 to 1905, where Russia and Japan were fighting for control over Manchuria and Korea. Calloway was reporting from the front lines of the war for a newspaper named the New York Enterprise.

It being the very early 1900s, Calloway had to write his reports (by hand, no less!) and give it to a cablegram operator to send, which meant that all his work had to be approved by a local censor. So he sent this message:

Foregone preconcerted rash witching goes muffled rumour mine dark silent unfortunate richmond existing great hotly brute select mooted parlous beggars ye angel incontrovertible.

As the story puts it, someone who wasn’t a native English speaker would think it “meant no more than a complaint of the dearth of news and a petition for more expense money.”

The journalists at the Enterprise bullpen knew it had to be some kind of encoded message:

“It’s undoubtedly a code. It’s impossible to read it without the key. Has the office ever used a cipher code?”

“Just what I was asking,” said the m.e. [managing editor] “Hustle everybody up that ought to know. We must get at it some way. Calloway has evidently got hold of some- thing big, and the censor has put the screws on, or he wouldn’t have cabled in a lot of chop suey like this.”

Everyone was stumped until the youngest reporter, Vesey, stepped into the office. The others presented him with the cablegram, and shortly after staring at it, Vesey said “I believe I’ve got a line on it. Give me ten minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later, he returned with this translation table:

  • Foregone — conclusion
  • Preconcerted — arrangement
  • Rash — act
  • Witching — hour of midnight
  • Goes — without saying
  • Muffled — report
  • Rumour — hath it
  • Mine — host
  • Dark — horse
  • Silent — majority
  • Unfortunate — pedestrians
  • Richmond — in the field
  • Existing — conditions
  • Great — White Way
  • Hotly — contested
  • Brute — force
  • Select — few
  • Mooted — question
  • Parlous — times
  • Beggars — description
  • Ye — correspondent
  • Angel — unawares
  • Incontrovertible — fact

He explained his reasoning:

“It’s simply newspaper English,” explained Vesey. “I’ve been reporting on the Enterprise long enough to know it by heart. Old Calloway gives us the cue word, and we use the word that naturally follows it just as we em in the paper. Read it over, and you’ll see how pat they drop into their places. Now, here’s the message he intended us to get.”

Using Vesey’s translation table, Calloway’s message became:

Concluded arrangement to act at hour of midnight without saying. Report hath it that a large body of cavalry and an overwhelming force of infantry will be thrown into the field. Conditions white. Way contested by only a small force. Question the Times description. Its correspondent is unaware of the facts.

The deciphering wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. Here’s where the error crept in:

Only one error was made; and that was the fault of the cable operator at Wi-ju. Calloway pointed it out after he came back. The word “great” in his code should have been “gage,” and its complemental words “of battle.” But it went to Ames “conditions white,” and of course [a writer at the Enterprise] took that to mean snow. His description of the Japanese army strum, struggling through the snowstorm, blinded by the whirling, flakes, was thrillingly vivid. The artists turned out some effective illustrations that made a hit as pictures of the artillery dragging their guns through the drifts. But, as the attack was made on the first day of May, “conditions white” excited some amusement. But it in made no difference to the Enterprise, anyway.

📖 You can read Calloway’s Code online here.

Bonus video!

Here’s a video from The Black Chamber, a YouTube channel dedicated to recreational cryptography, that looks at Calloway’s code. If you’d like to get into cryptography, check out the rest of their channel!

Current Events Editorial The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things

“Star Wars” speech or call to action for the remaining people at Twitter?

The inspirational speech that Kino Loy (played by Andy Serkis) at the end of episode 10 of Star Wars: Andor was meant to inspire the prisoners to break out of the Narkina 5 prison labor camp. However, with only a few changes, it could easily be an inspirational message that someone could send on the Twitter company Slack to the remaining employees.

With the news that Twitter has slashed its contractor workforce by about 80% to 1,000 people, there are now about 5,000 people working at Twitter, which is the same as the number prisoners on Narkina 5. This additional coincidence should make the speech even more applicable.

🚨 Spoiler warning for those of you who haven’t yet seen episode 10 of Star Wars: Andor!

“My name is Kino Loy. I’m the day shift manager on Level Five. I’m speaking to you from the command center on Level Eight. We are, at this moment, in control of the facility.”

“How long we hang on, how far we get, how many of us make it out, all of that is now up to us. We have deactivated every floor in the facility. All floors are cold.”

“Wherever you are right now, get up, stop the work. Get out of your cells, take charge, and start climbing. They don’t have enough guards and they know it. If we wait until they figure that out, it’ll be too late. We will never have a better chance than this and I would rather die trying to take them down than giving them what they want.”

“We know they fried a hundred men on Level Two. We know that they are making up our sentences as we go along. We know that no one outside here knows what’s happening. And now we know, that when they say we are being released, we are being transferred to some other prison to go and die…and that ends today! There is one way out. Right now, the building is ours. You need to run, climb, kill!”

“You need to help each other. You see someone who’s confused, someone who is lost, you get them moving and you keep them moving until we put this place behind us. There are 5,000 of us. If we can fight half as hard as we’ve been working, we will be home in no time. One way out! One way out! One way out!”