Archive for the ‘Magic’ Category

Random notes: April 22, 2013.

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Busy having fun today. More later.

In the meantime, have this NYT article about the disaster area the Jets have become:

Of course, trading Revis makes it much more difficult to imagine a Jets future that includes Ryan. It doesn’t say much good about a franchise that it can be forced by circumstances of its own creation to trade its best player. The Jets have been so mismanaged, so hamstrung by their own misguided talent evaluations and bad accounting, this was the only correct move in what is now a down-to-the-studs rebuilding.

And this breakfast interview with one of my heros, Ricky Jay.

“The standard con man’s line is you can only con someone with larceny in their heart,” Mr. Jay replied. “I can show you 800 ways in which that’s not true, but it’s what every con man will say. Certainly it is true to some extent. I mean, you’re promising people unbelievable returns. Anybody with a brain would be suspicious. Anybody with greed as their motivator wouldn’t care.”

There’s a common variant on that saying: “You can’t cheat a honest person.” I often respond to that by bringing up the bank examiner scam, which works because it targets people’s honesty (and desire to help “law enforcement” catch “bad guys”). But it is nice to see Jay make the same point…

The steer, the stall, the shade, the duke man, and the dip.

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Picked this up from Insta, but I don’t care that he already linked it; this is one of those stories.

People who have been reading this blog regularly know that I’m fascinated by magic and the history of magic. You know that my admiration for Penn and Teller is like the universe itself; finite but unbounded.

Penn and Teller are only in this story as sort of peripheral figures, but I commend it to your attention: New Yorker profile of Apollo Robins, the world’s greatest pickpocket.

…Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.
“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.
Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.

Part of what makes this story so interesting to me, other than the magic angle, is that Robbins’ work, and the techniques he’s developed, reveal really interesting things about the mind and human perception.

The intersection of magic and neuroscience has become a topic of some interest in the scientific community, and Robbins is now a regular on the lecture circuit. Recently, at a forum in Baltimore, he shared a stage with the psychologist Daniel Kahneman—who won a Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics—and the two had a long discussion about so-called “inattentional blindness,” the phenomenon of focussing so intently on a single task that one fails to notice things in plain sight.

This is the best thing I’ve read so far in 2013. It may be the best magazine article of the year; I expect it to be in contention if we’re all still here in December.

DEFCON 18 notes: Day 2.

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Saturday was kind of a rough day at DEFCON 18. But then, Saturday is always a rough day at DEFCON.

I don’t feel it’d be fair to review or summarize the “Extreme-range RFID Tracking” panel; I came in about 20 minutes late. (We lingered a bit over a very good breakfast at Blueberry Hill.) What I was able to gather is that Padget’s set a new record for long distance RFID reading, and that upping the radio power works for increasing RFID reading range up to a point. (Edited to add 8/10/2010: added link to Black Hat 2010 version of paper. Here’s a link to Paget’s blog entry about the session.)

I was not able to get into “Jackpotting Automated Teller Machines Redux” due to extreme overcrowding. (Edited to add 8/9/2010: The Black Hat website has what purports to be MP4 video of Jack’s version of the presentation at Black Hat 2010. I have not sat down and watched it yet.)

I did attend the “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” panel, mostly because I was camping out for the next talk. This panel turned out to be more interesting than I expected; the presenters demonstrated a proof-of-concept rootkit for Android phones that allows you to do all sorts of fun stuff; grab contact information, grab SMS messages, grab location information (all three of these are stored in SQLite databases on the Android), and even make phone calls from the phone. The presenters haven’t weaponized the attack yet, but claim it should be easy to do so.

Practical Cellphone Spying“: Another nifty panel. Padget discussed the concepts behind IMSI catching, and gave a live demo of cellphone interception on the AT&T network. The key takeaway here for me was that the same technology used by law enforcement to intercept calls is now coming down to the point where it will be wrapped in a turnkey package and sold to people with more questionable motivations. (Edited to add 8/10/2010: added link to Paget’s blog entry which includes slides.)

How to Hack Millions of Routers“: I went to this because Lawrence put in a special request. The short version is that a large number of commercially available routers (such as those used by Verizon FIOS) are vulnerable to a clever attack using DNS rebinding and load balancing. Heffner has also released a tool that automates this attack. (This is another Black Hat talk that got a lot of attention in the press; the link above includes a copy of Heffner’s white paper which details the attack vector.)

(Edited to add 8/9/2010: I’ve added a link to Heffner’s Black Hat version of this talk, which as far as I can tell, is pretty similar to the DEFCON 18 version.)

I didn’t attend either “Hacking with Hardware: Introducing the Universal RF Usb Keboard Emulation Device – URFUKED” or “Programmable HID USB Keystroke Dongle: Using the Teensy as a Pen Testing Device“. (Edited to add 8/10/2010: added a link to the Teensy project from the Irongeek website. The bottom of that page has a link to the DEFCON presentation. I’ve also added a link to for the USB Keyboard Emulation Device; that directory appears to contain a copy of the presentation, plus code.)

Instead, I left a little early, had a very nice sake fueled dinner at Shabu-Shabu Paradise in Henderson (a restaurant I enthusiastically endorse), sidecars at the iBar in the Rio (sadly, we did not get to play with the Microsoft Surface), and Penn & Teller.

The three of us saw Penn and Teller back in 2006, and we wondered how much the show had changed since then. Mike the Musicologist estimated that about 50% of the show was new; I think the percentage is a little higher than that, but my memory may be faulty. I was not unhappy that they ended the show with the .357 magnums; the bullet-catching illusion fascinates me, and I’m still trying to figure out how Penn and Teller do it. (Jim Steinmeyer’s The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo is a very good history of the bullet-catching illusion, and yet another book I strongly recommend to anyone with even a casual interest in the history of magic.)

The other thing we all noticed is that Penn and Teller’s show has become a bit more explicitly political; in addition to the .357 magnum closer, which has always included 2nd Amendment references (and big kudos to P&T for reciting the Four Rules), the show also included references to flag burning, the Chinese Bill of Rights (“What Chinese Bill of Rights?” Exactly.) and the stupidity of the TSA. Penn and Teller even sell the Security Edition of the Bill of Rights in their gift shop for a lousy $5. (Quote: “We want McCarran Airport to be flooded with these.”) Not that any of us were bothered by the politics; I think all three of us lay claim to at least some form of Libertarianism. And if you’re the kind of person who would take offense at Penn and Teller’s politics, I won’t tell you “don’t go”; I’ll tell you “go, and have your world view challenged”.

(I’d also like to give Penn and Teller kudos for keeping gift shop prices low. Both Andrew and I picked up DVDs of the Teller-directed “Macbeth” for only $10. Teller, if you’re reading this, thanks for signing my copy. And for everything else you do, too.)