Zero-Width Characters

This article shows a couple of interesting zero-width characters techniques for the invisible fingeprinting of text.

In early 2016 I realized that it was possible to use zero-width characters, like zero-width non-joiner or other zero-width characters like the zero-width space to fingerprint text. Even with just a single type of zero-width character the presence or non-presence of the non-visible character is enough bits to fingerprint even the shortest text.


I also realized that it is possible to use homoglyph substitution (e.g., replacing the letter “a” with its Cyrillic counterpart, “а”), but I dismissed this as too easy to detect due to the differences in character rendering across fonts and systems. However, differences in dashes (en, em, and hyphens), quotes (straight vs curly), word spelling (color vs colour), and the number of spaces after sentence endings could probably go undetected due to their frequent use in real text.


The reason I’m writing about this now is that it appears both homoglyph substitution and zero-width fingerprintinghave been discovered by others, so journalists should be informed of the existence of these techniques.

The Strange Art of Writing Release Notes

Software development is never just about writing code.  Programming is only a small part of the software development work.  The rest touches and intervenes with a whole lot of other areas – documentation, support, testing, marketing, and so on and so forth.  Recently, Slashdot ran this story on the art of writing release notes.  There are a couple of links from the story to this article on IEEE and this on TechCrunch.

These provide a lot to think about, at least for someone who wrote nearly 300 release notes just this year alone (yeah, we had to catch up on historical releases).

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

I’ve been a fan of  Jeff Atwood’s writing on Coding Horror for years.  But it was mostly about technology and programming.  Today, I was reading through his review of a video game – Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds – and for the first time in a really really long time, I wanted to download it and start playing even before I finished reading his post.

That reminded me of how gaming reviews and guides were done back in the 90’s – not by professional content managers and editors, but by people who had a passion.  Learn from that, the gaming industry.  Learn from that, everyone else!

Google Developer Documentation Style Guide

Google Developer Documentation Style Guide” is a guide for Google developers on how to write the developer documentation.  As someone who have been involved in technical documentation for years now, I find a general lack of such guides from other companies interesting and slightly disturbing.

Kudos to Google for the effort and for sharing with all of us who are trying to improve the technical writing.

The Daily Post introduces Photography 101 series

The Daily Post blog which I mentioned a few times before has started yet another rather useful thingy – a series of posts on how to become a better photographer.  Here is the first post, and it’s rather good.  There are not too lengthy explanations, bullet point summaries, and, of course, excellent images.

There are several common misconceptions about photography: it’s about art, it’s about light, it’s about subject. All of those things are true, but even before all of that, it’s about people and psychology. (Even photographs that have no people in them!) The photographer makes an interpretation of the scene/subject; on the other end, the viewer makes another interpretation. The very best photographs and photographers convey their ideas cleanly to the end viewer, while still leaving room for imaginative interpretation. This means that to make a good image, you need to be able to recognize one.

Back when photography was one of my primary hobbies, I read a lot of articles, books, and forums.  Writing like that is rare.  Simple, yet concise language.  It’s almost like someone is just talking to you.

Initial police investigation

I love Cyprus Mail dearly, and I do feel for the man in this report:

A CAR belonging to a 35-year-old man in Limassol was torched early yesterday morning, police said. The fire began at 2.30am while the car was parked outside the man’s house. Initial police investigations indicate it is a case of arson. The car was extensively damaged.

But you have to admit it that it’s not the best writing ever.  Once I read it out loud in the office, my co-workers helped out with a few other reports along the same lines.  For example:

A pedestrian was ran over by a car yesterday night in Nicosia.  The driver took off and is being looked for.  The early police report suggests it was a case of hit-and-run.

Or, this one:

A few masked man entered the branch of Hellenic Bank in Aradipou village yesterday.  They were armed with a rifle and a pistol and demanded to give them money.  A few minutes later they took off in what appeared to be a stolen vehicle, carrying over 50,000 EUR with them.  An early police report suggests it was a case of bank robbery.

Crime is not a laughing matter, but the reporting of one can sometimes bring a smile.

Kikis Kazamias, the merchant of doom and gloom

Once in a while I stumbled upon a piece of writing which is a pleasure to read regardless of the subject. Today I was catching up with Cyprus news when I saw this article in Cyprus Mail. You have to read it even if you couldn’t care less for Cyprus or the state of its economy.

WHEN our finance minister Kikis Kazamias speaks in public about the economy he sounds as optimistic and cheerful as a man who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and told he has two months to live. 
He really does convey the piss-poor state of the economy and its zero prospects with his lifeless, slow, monotone delivery which, if you listen to for longer than a few minutes, you decide to transfer all your money to another country, and if you have no money you are tempted to slit your wrists.
And it is not just the deathly, self-pitying tone of his delivery that is depressing, but what he says as well – things could take a turn for the worse at any moment, that there may be a need for more austerity measures and at best we would achieve zero growth in 2012.
This litany of gloom did not prevent the opposition parties from accusing the government of tabling an over-optimistic budget, as far as its revenue forecasts were concerned. 
If Kikis, the merchant of gloom and doom, carries on talking in public, like he has been doing in the last few days, we will have severe depression epidemic spreading across the country, not to mention a major outflow of capital. 

Doesn’t these just span images upon images in your imagination?

Blogging as it used to be

When she brought the tray and put it on the bed table I thanked her and ate a little of the supper. Afterward it was dark outside and I could see the beams of the search-lights moving in the sky. I watched for a while and then went to sleep. I slept heavily except once I woke sweating and scared and then went back to sleep trying to stay outside of my dream. I woke for good long before it was light and heard roosters crowing and stayed on awake until it began to light. I was tired and once it was really light I went back to sleep again.

Can you guess the author?  Here is hint : these lines were written in 1929.  Yes, you got it right.  It’s Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms“, last paragraph of Chapter 13.

While reading the book, I caught myself a few times thinking that it feels a lot like a blog – first person story telling, simple sentences, a few “what I ate for breakfast” paragraphs.  But then again, somehow it feels better than a blog – connectivity, metaphors, a tiny hint of old times.

They say that one can improve his own writing by reading great writers.  Having this book in mind, I do agree with that.  And, it seems, I’m not the only one thinking of what and how to learn from Hemingway for my blogging – Copyblogger published Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well some time ago.