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ADP’s payroll check security absurdity

Warning: The following is nothing but a rant—no charts, no photos, nothing but text—about a piece of security absurdity I ran into the other day. I am 100% in favor of strong security in general regarding financial matters, but when it's false security that does nothing more than inconvenience legitimate users, that's when I get mad…and that's exactly what this was: a security absurdity.


My daughter Kylie recently got a part-time job; her employer uses ADP to process its payroll. When her first check arrived, it was actually a debit card—which we didn't want to use—so she had to write herself a check (using a blank they provided), which she could then deposit.

Because Kylie had a busy day ahead of her (school then work then a post-work thing), I told her I'd write the check for her, then she'd just have to sign and deposit it. But to make the check usable, I needed a six-digit authentication code that ADP provides via a phone call. And that's when I entered a hellhole of security absurdity thanks to ADP…

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That time I predicted the future…twice

We were out to eat at a Chinese restaurant tonight; as with many such places, fortune cookies were provided at the end of the meal. Before our kids could touch their cookies, I said to Kylie (our eldest) something like "Your fortune has to do with travel, an unexpected journey, or something along those lines."

She opened up her fortune, which read…

You will discover new frontiers

Though there's room for interpretation in that fortune, one could certainly argue that it implies travel. Kylie gave me a raised eyebrow "how did you do that?" look.

Then it was Erica's turn; I said "Your fortune has to do with your being successful in the future." Her fortune?

Your confidence will lead you to sucess

That one was spot on…so much so that my kids were trying to figure out how I might've seen inside the cookies to pre-read the fortunes, or if there were some sort of mark on the package to indicate what the fortune might be.

No such trickery, just two wild guesses that turned out to be spot on. Probably would've been a good night to go name some numbers for a lottery ticket!

With Siri, it seems verb tense matters

My buddy Kirk McElhearn posted a blurb on his blog about Siri and 18th century painters: Siri and the History of Art. In a nutshell, he asked Siri who was the greatest French painter of the 18th century. She replied with "one eighteenth is approximately zero point five five five." Say what?

He asked me to try, but when I tried, here's what I got:

So Siri only knows art history in the USA, it seems? (Kirk lives in the UK.) Actually, no. On closer inspection, when I spoke, Siri heard "Who is the greatest…," versus Kirk's Siri hearing "Who was the greatest…."

So I tried agin, making sure Siri heard me say "was." Sure enough, when Siri hears "was," I get math results. When Siri hears "is," I get art results.

If you want Siri to help you with your history, it seems you should talk to her in the present tense!

My iMac’s literal bug

Another lost-to-Google-policies Tweet movie; this time, about a bug in my iMac that was lingering after 24 full hours.

The bug, of course, was a real one; here's the video that's vanished from the above tweet:

Thankfully, the little buggy vanished not soon thereafter, thankfully not remaining onscreen for eternity.

It seems something was lost in translation

I found the following examples of horrendously poor translation on the same box--a kid's play set called Fairyland Journey that we bought a while back at the local mall (click each image for a larger version):

I know good translation is difficult and expensive, but some of these are so bad they're hilarious. My favorite is probably "FLASHING ENTER!", used in a context where it makes absolutely no sense (not that I can think of many contexts where it does make sense!).

Blogging via the iPhone

photoToday, WordPress released WordPress for iPhone. So I thought I'd try it out--given how little I post here, any excuse to write something is worth a shot!

Anyway, we bought this electric pump to inflate our kids' pool. I found the combination of the warning and the left-hand image somewhat at odds with each other! (In case the image isn't clear, that's the pump being used to inflate a child's swimming pool, which is not generally considered an "indoor household" item.)

Fireworks on the Fourth…

Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the United States. In honor of the holiday, I thought I'd share a fireworks memory from my childhood. It's both educational (in terms of what not to do) and somewhat entertaining (in hindsight)...though as to whether it's more educational or entertaining, well, I'll leave that up to you. As this is based on really old memories, some of the details are definitely wrong, but the basic facts are 100% as presented.

I grew up in Colorado, in a small neighborhood known as Heatherwood. Our home was the brown-roofed one just up and to the right from the "A" on this Google map. As you can see, there's a relatively large park just south of our house. This was a great place to hit golf balls, toss the frisbee, and generally goof off...and on the Fourth of July, the area around the park became a great place to set off and watch fireworks.

When I was growing up--I'm not sure if this is still true or not--Colorado had banned all the interesting fireworks. You couldn't buy anything that flew or exploded, basically. So you were left with little sparkler things, various fountains, and smoke bombs--yawn! Wyoming, however, which was but 90 or so miles north, had no such laws--everything was legal there. (Somewhat ironically, I now live in a very similar situation. Oregon allows only the basic stuff, but Washington (only 30 miles north) allows everything.) So one year when I was maybe 10 or so, my dad drove up to Cheyenne and came home with the motherload--a large bag full of bottle rockets, buzz bombs, roman candles (a bunch of them tied together in one massive device), various small firecrackers, and a couple of large cherry bombs. After seeing the bag, that year's Fourth of July holiday couldn't come fast enough.

Finally the day arrived, and after the requisite picnics, we set off for the park. We always took a couple buckets of water, just in case any small fires started (but the park was much greener when I was growing up, and we never had any problems). We found a spot to set up the flying fireworks (firecrackers were lit in the street), and set up our first display of the evening. I don't recall exactly what the thing was called, but its cone-shaped casing promised something along the lines of a "huge shower of colorful sparks!" The cone was maybe 18" tall, so we set it on the ground, lit the fuse, then backed away a good distance. Soon enough, a huge shower of colorful sparks did indeed erupt from the cone.

However, as we watched the cone, we noticed something else: the angle of the shower of sparks was changing.
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Is that Gucci you’re wearing? No, it’s…

I know companies need to make money to keep the web free. I know that trying things out is a great way to see if they work. With all that said, what is trying now is potentially the stupidest revenue-generating idea I've seen on the web since...well, perhaps forever.

As of this morning, at least, when you load the US edition of, there's a new icon on some of the stories in the Latest News section:

CNN t-shirt

Click on one of those little t-shirt icons, and you're taken to a page where you guessed it (or maybe you didn't!)...order a t-shirt showing simply the headline you clicked on, the date and time of the story, and a tag line that reads "I just saw it on" In case CNN comes to their senses in the next few minutes, I made a screenshot of the preview/ordering page.

I just don't get it--someone at really thinks there's a huge untapped revenue stream for this kind of thing? I can almost imagine the executive-level discussion that occurred over this...

'We need to make more money off our web site. Anyone got any ideas?'
"Hey, I bet there are millions of people out there that are just dying to walk around in a bland black, white, or grey t-shirt showing a headline off our site!"
'Jane, that sounds like an excellent idea! Run with it!'

I don't know about you, but I can think of about, oh, ten million things I'd buy before I got around to ordering a headlines t-shirt...but who knows, maybe such things are indeed hip in the world of news geeks?

(AdWeek has the details on this new promo...even after reading that article, though, I still think this is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever seen on the web. Beyond stupidity, there's an entire debate about the ethics of this concept, too--headline writers are now basically tied directly to revenue generation, as CNN will be able to track which headlines generate the most revenue. What I learned in school was that revenue generating activities should always be separate from the editorial activities of a publication, including its web site. I think this holds doubly true if you happen to be a news site, where you should be held to the highest ethical standards.)

Ultra secret privacy policy

I've been spending a lot of time using Firefox 3.0b5, and I'm generally thrilled with the browser (think Camino's look and feel (mostly), plus full support for Firefox extensions and Safari's speed). It works so well most of the time that I forget it's a beta.

Then there are times like this morning, when I saw this screen:

Privacy dialog

That came up when I tried to report a non-functional site--one that loaded fine in Safari, but wouldn't load at all in Firefox. It's things like this that make me remember I'm using beta software :). (Even worse than the blank privacy policy, though, was the fact that checking the box and clicking the "Done" button didn't then let me report the site.)

I think there’s been an error…of some sort

Today, while trying to register on a web site to download a public beta of some software package, I received the following very helpful error message:

Strange error

Hmm...I'll get right on that, whatever it might have been. (The eventual solution was to use a different page on the vendor's site to complete what seemed to be an identical form. For whatever reason, it worked there, but not where I was trying to do it.)