For me, computers pose a mystery. They are as confusing as a black hole or as simple as a line of 0s and 1s. When we get to algorithms, life gets tricky. I haven’t a clue about computer programing, but I remember something from calculus about the difficulty of choosing random numbers. Inevitably, a pattern forms. No matter how complex the algorithm, some other algorithm will eventually detect a pattern which a hacker can use.
Enter the Lava Lamp. That’s right, the Lava Lamp, that funny looking object collecting dust in secondhand stores — an object as dated as the hula hoop and the boom box. According to Ellen Airhart, those goopy swirls of water and oil create mathematically random waves. No pattern at all. That’s why computer geeks have started collecting them, the way misers search for gold.
Cloudflare, a security company in San Francisco, has a 100 bottles sitting on a wall. Literally. When a customer logs in, he or she gets a unique identification number derived from the Lava Lamp and its ever-changing pixels. Each wave becomes a “superpowered cryptographic key.” (Random Grooves: these Lava Lamps Guard the Web,” by Ellen Airhart, Wired, pg. July 2018, pg. 28.)
Tell me that’s not super cool and super weird.. Given the mystery, I worry about Congress. Orin Hatch, the long-serving senior senator from Utah was surprised at a hearing to learn that Facebook derives its profits from advertising. (“Bring Back the Geeks!” by Clive Thompson, Wired, July, 2018, pg. 30.) Given this revelation, I have to wonder how the senator can make laws governing an industry he little understands.
Thompson’s suggests we revive the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). (Ibid, pg. 30.) It served Congress well in the past, he argues. It lost favor when it declared Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense plan wasn’t feasible. After that, Newt Gingrich, as speaker of the House, gutted it to trim the budget. Nonetheless, it still exists on paper. To revive it would take a cash infusion of about $20 million — a small price to pay for sensible legislations, I would think. (Ibid pg. 30.)
Technology is becoming mysteriouser and mysteriouser. That’s why I think Thompson’s suggestion is a good one. The Russians may have kept up with their Lava Lamps, but I’m betting Orin Hatch hasn’t. Congress could use an upgrade.