The #curiousalgorithms weekly #01

This is a follow-up to my blogpost on curious algorithms. I'll try to post, on a weekly basis, some pointers to projects related with algorithms that caught my attention. It's clearly messy but these are good signals for an on-going project. Flying hacker contraption hunts other drones turns them into zombies

" "Serial hacker Samy Kamkar has released all the hardware and software specifications that hobbyists need to build an aerial drone that seeks out other drones in the air, hacks them, and turns them into a conscripted army of unmanned vehicles under the attacker's control. Dubbed SkyJack, the contraption uses a radio-controlled Parrot AR.Drone quadcopter carrying a Raspberry Pi circuit board, a small battery, and two wireless transmitters. The devices run a combination of custom software and off-the-shelf applications that seek out wireless signals of nearby Parrot drones, hijack the wireless connections used to control them, and commandeer the victims' flight-control and camera systems.""

Disarming Corruptor

" Disarming Corruptor, is what he terms "circumvention software". It scrambles a 3D printed file, encrypting it in such a way that the user will be greeted with a glitched-out visual treat if it is loaded into any 3D editing software. If you've got the decryption keys, you get to see the object's true form. It's hiding in plain sight, thumbing its pixel-bled nose at the Mary Whitehouses of physible culture. "


"Regardless of the solution you choose, our user visible GPU powered bitcoin miner will seamlessly integrate into your game with no interference, earning you cash in perfect harmony with your existing app monetisation strategy. There's no catch - it's just awesome."

Sites Unseen: Are CAPTCHAs Discriminatory?

"while CAPTCHA is a source of frustration for your average John or Jane User, the system can be downright prohibitive for individuals with certain disabilities. Image-only CAPTCHA systems, for example, often bar visually impaired from whatever feature the CAPTCHA is gatekeeping. This technology is so restrictive that groups are even organizing against CAPTCHA. This past summer, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, along with other consumer rights groups,called for an end to CAPTCHA. They requested, in no uncertain terms, that the CEOs of top companies such as Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook (among others) stop using CAPTCHA in favor of other, non-discriminatory ways of combating spam."

How Google names its algorithms

" “Boston” was the first documented update and was announced at SES Boston. The name was given by Webmaster World (WMW) members. (…) Cassandra, Dominic, Esmeralda, Fritz were also named by the folks over at WMW. The members decided that they wanted to name the updates similarly to how hurricane names are selected: in alphabetical order, one month male, one month female. Since the previous month’s update was Boston, they went with a female name and voted on Cassandra because “we just liked it.” See below why Brett Tabke, founder and owner of WMW and the PubCon conference, finalized the name. “Dominic” was actually named after a pizza place in Boston that was frequented by PubCon attendees. (…) Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts revealed that they used the code name ”Panda” to refer to the update internally. Like Vince, Panda was named after one of the key Google engineers who worked on the update and made it possible, Navneet Panda. "

Some examples of Wikipedia bots:

  • User:Cydebot – generally carries out tasks associated with deletion
  • User:WP 1.0 bot – works with the Version 1.0 Editorial Team
  • User:SineBot – signs comments left on talk pages
  • User:ClueBot NG – reverts vandalism
  • User:CorenSearchBot – checks for copyright violations on new pages
  • User:AnomieBOT – large variety of tasks
  • User:DumbBOT – often removes protection templates from recently unprotected pages
  • User:Lowercase sigmabot – often adds protection templates to recently protected pages
  • User:Mr.Z-bot – will patrol BLP and the edit filters
  • User:MiszaBot – archives talk pages
  • User:BracketBot – notifies users of mismatched brackets in recently edited articles.


Being interested in the role of algorithms and their influence on everyday life, i started collecting examples under the #curiousrituals hashtag. Perhaps it's a follow-up to Curious Rituals, perhaps it isn't. Some intriguing cases I've found recently (most of them comes from the non-scientific press, as i'm focusing on everyday life):

Music generated with script and played by fake users get a good ranking on online music charts

"Melbourne hacker and payments security professional Peter Filimore, who, it should be mentioned, cannot play or sing a single note, managed to accrue $1,000 in royalties and knock artists like Pink, Nicki Minaj, and Flume off high spots in online music charts through the use of bots.

In an effort to uncover security flaws in online streaming services like Spotify, Filimore decided to send “garbage” tunes to the top of the charts and generate royalties in the process. Filimore started by using algorithms to compile public domain audio and splicing cheesy MIDI tracks together.

Filimore then purchased three Amazon-linked compute instances — virtual servers that are able to run applications — and created a simple hacking script to simulate three listeners playing his songs 24-hours a day for a month, while accruing reviews that described his music as “rubbish.” [...] Filimore also explained that using a larger cluster of computing instances could potentially generate thousands of dollars in fraudulent royalties. "

Are Face-Detection Cameras Racist?

"When Joz Wang and her brother bought their mom a Nikon Coolpix S630 digital camera for Mother's Day last year, they discovered what seemed to be a malfunction. Every time they took a portrait of each other smiling, a message flashed across the screen asking, "Did someone blink?" No one had. "I thought the camera was broken!" Wang, 33, recalls. But when her brother posed with his eyes open so wide that he looked "bug-eyed," the messages stopped.

Wang, a Taiwanese-American strategy consultant who goes by the Web handle "jozjozjoz," thought it was funny that the camera had difficulties figuring out when her family had their eyes open. So she posted a photo of the blink warning on her blog under the title, "Racist Camera! No, I did not blink... I'm just Asian!""

Bot wars - The arms race of restaurant reservations in SF

"After a while of running this script I had captured a good amount of data. One day I found myself looking at it and noticed that as soon as reservations became available on the website (at 4am), all the good times were immediately taken and were gone by 4:01am. It quickly became obvious that these were reservation bots at work. [...] You fight fire with fire, so I made my own reservation bot. You can get the code here. I used mechanize to create a simple ruby script that goes through the process of checking for available reservations (in a given time range) and making a reservation under your name. With this script I was able to start getting reservations again, but I know that this bot war will continue to escalate."

"Scans made by some Xerox copiers are changing numbers on documents, a German computer scientist has discovered. [...] He said the anomaly is caused by Jbig2, an image compression standard. Image compression is typically used to make file sizes smaller. Jbig2 would substitute figures it thought were the same, meaning similar numbers were being wrongly swapped."

Google’s autocompletion: algorithms, stereotypes and accountability

You might have come across the latest UN Women awareness campaign. Originally in print, it has been spreading online for almost two days. It shows four women, each “silenced” with a screenshot from a particular Google search and its respective suggested autocompletions. [...] Guess what was the most common reaction of people?

They headed over to Google in order to check the “veracity” of the screenshots, and test the suggested autocompletions for a search for “Women should …” and other expressions.

This awareness campaign has been very successful in making people more aware of the sexism in our world Google’s autocomplete function.

When Roommates Were Random

As soon as today’s students receive their proverbial fat envelope from their top choice college, they are on Facebook meeting other potential freshmen. They are on sites like and, scoping out prospective friends. By the time the roommate application forms arrive, many like-minded students with similar backgrounds have already connected and agreed to request one another.

It’s just one of many ways in which digital technologies now spill over into non-screen-based aspects of social experience. I know certain people who can’t bear to eat in a restaurant they haven’t researched on Yelp. And Google now tailors searches to exactly what it thinks you want to find.

But this loss of randomness is particularly unfortunate for college-age students, who should be trying on new hats and getting exposed to new and different ideas. Which students end up bunking with whom may seem trivial at first glance. But research on the phenomenon of peer influence — and the influences of roommates in particular — has found that there are, in fact, long-lasting effects of whom you end up living with your first year.

Why do I blog this? I've started collecting examples like this in the past few months. Might be the beginning of something, you never know. What I find intriguing here is that there are various types of influences for such algorithms: sometimes it's a "framing" where the user's agency is limited (the racist camera for instance), sometimes it's not (you're not forced to use recommendation engines). I'm thinking about building a typology perhaps, collecting these, talking to people, there's a whole list to be built