Zachary Pitcher


HackLodge Log 1

My first day at my second HackLodge

January 4, 2020

I started traveling to the AirBnB today at 2pm after packing most of the things I would need for the week. I didn’t bring nearly enough clothes, but I can always make another trip if I need some more supplies.

There was a Pakistani restaurant nearby, and I ordered chicken buryany. It was hot since it was made fresh, but I really liked it. It had a very heterogenous color pattern, because, as I could see from the pot that they made it in, it was not mixed well. But somehow that added to the enjoyment of eating it, because I tried to get a little bit of everything in each bite. Similarly, the chicken was bone-in, as in there were 3 full chicken wings on the plate. I managed to get all of the meat off in separate bits with just a spoon. I wonder if the bone-in factor enhanced the flavor of the whole meal, because as I’ve seen in a lot of cooking videos lately, they’ll intentionally leave the bones in some meals to make the broth more complex and tasty (I don’t know what you call the flavor of a bone), but maybe that’s just the marrow that does that.

The AirBnB is located on a main road just off the Northeastern campus in Boston. It should be pretty fun to go on walks around here when I get anxious being in the house for too long. I got to the AirBnB as three other people were arriving, so I rushed upstairs and grabbed a room with a single queen bed in it so my girlfriend and I would have a place to sleep together. I threw all my stuff down and started to scout out the apartment. There were two separate, identical floors on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building. Each floor had two bathrooms, 4 rooms with a total bedspace for 11 people, a full kitchen, and a living room. Unfortunately, the living room has a massive structural pole in the middle of it, but besides that the place is quite spacious. However, I do think this AirBnB has less space in it than the place we were in last IAP, but I believe we had 30 people that time so it should be comparable. I opened all of the cabinets and drawers to take inventory of everything that I could find, and managed to find a spare HDMI cord in one of the kitchen drawers, so I plugged it into the TV as this might come in handy for presentations and such.

For a couple hours, I finished watching the Historia Civilis series on Julius Caesar, a 23-part account of everything that Caesar did during his political life in Ancient Rome. All of the animations are made up of simple shapes like squares and rectangles and circles, but nonetheless, the source story is so interesting that I was basically on the edge of my seat listening to all of the battles and political games that were being played. Caesar is by no means a “good guy”, but his military and political prowess make for a really good story. In fact, there weren’t a whole lot of good guys in the story, but I think my favorite was Cicero, because he was always trying to fix things rather than taking advantage of weaknesses in the system.

Once I finished that, everyone was about to go eat dinner, but since I was still stuffed from the food I’d ordered earlier and feeling pretty exhausted, I decided I’d stay back and try to sleep. Unfortunately, I have a much earlier schedule than everyone else, so I start to get tired around 7pm, and I wake up around 5am (today I woke up around 4am). The whole group planned to have a meeting at 9pm, and it was around 7:45 so I’d have to set an alarm to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. I settled down in bed, and found that I couldn’t sleep with the light on, so I got up to turn it off. The light had a remote, so I brought that back to the bed and used that to turn off the light instead. That was actually pretty convenient, so I decided that from now on, I want to live in a room that has a remote for the light. It’s a simple thing, but it would help a lot.

Anyway, I got my power nap in, but I was still super tired. We gathered around in the living room and started giving our names, schools, age, what we planned to make this week, and what we would be into if we weren’t doing STEM. I said that if I didn’t do STEM, I would write and illustrate comic books. This was one of my childhood ideas of what I might do, because I enjoyed writing and world-building, and I also liked to draw. Once I got into STEM, both of those hobbies kind of dwindled off but I still think I would like to do more of both of them again. One of my ideas for a comic book superhero (or villain) is Non-Newtonian Man, whose power is to change things between liquids and solids–and vice versa–at will. This means that he would basically be able to walk on water by making it act like a solid below his feet. He’d also be able to “fly” by flapping his arms against a dense sludge of air that he creates to get more leverage (or he could walk up it like stairs in the air). Finally, I think his fighting style would be hand-to-hand combat mostly, because he could punch people and make their limbs turn to mush, then solidify again once they’re broken. It would be kind of gruesome if you drew it realistically, but I imagine it like they just bend like rubber rather than just splashing guts everywhere. Non-Newtonian Man suits himself well to animation, I think, because it would be very clear how the mechanisms worked, and it would be really satisfying to see how the animator (potentially me) managed to depict something turning from liquid to solid and back again. There’s a lot of room for interesting stylizing there. I don’t this exact mechanic exists yet for a superhero / villain, but there are a lot that involve freezing things. I want to come up with more unique science-y type superheros and build a world around them to interact with one another in interesting ways.

As for what I plan to make this week, I want to create a system for verifying the validity of a video that you’re watching. With the rise of ML/AI, deepfakes are going to take the security world by storm. Deepfakes are videos that have used deep-learning technology to intentionally modify the video so it looks like something happened that never actually happened. This could be something as benign as a person dancing when in reality they were just walking around. But it could also be something very dangerous, like a politician saying that they support a cause, when they never actually said any of it. These fabricated recordings are getting more and more convincing every day, and with more data available and more time, they’ll become so good that the human eye will not be able to distinguish them from reality. I think that if society is not ready for this coming wave of deepfakes, they will pose an existential threat to our society as we know it. This is because at the moment, people still believe the things that they see on the internet. And they especially believe the videos that they see. Videos are supposed to be difficult to fake, so they used to be used as evidence that something actually happened. But deepfakes have proven that trusting videos is not that simple, and in fact maybe the default should be NOT to trust that the events depicted in the video actually happened. This is kind of sad because it means that people will start to doubt everything that they see and hear, or they will become radicalized, only trusting one source of information above all else and considering everything else to be “fake news”. Well, that’s already starting to happen to some extent, but deepfakes will surely only make it worse.

Since I only have a week to work on it, and it’s not clear in my mind how to actually address the entire problem, I’ve decided to narrow the scope to just the realm of speedruns. In the past, speedruns have been faked using various tricks, but mainly by splicing together the best segments of several different recordings to achieve a faster time than any of the individual recordings achieved. This is usually illegal in speedrunning leaderboards, because most only accept single-segment runs, those that were completed in a single segment, aka without stopping the recording. This means that if there was some way to verify that the recording took place at a certain time, and the recording of the gameplay was timestamp signed by a trusted authority at that time, AND the run was a single segment, so none of the video was tampered with since its recording, then it could basically be verified without needing to actually watch it. I’m sure that there is some way of hacking this to get past these defenses, and this is what I’ll be working on for this week. I will try to contact certain moderators in the speedrunning community to ask them what the best way of doing this should be, and hopefully they will give me some ideas. I do want them to be able to use this thing once I’m done with it.

Anyway, after the meeting with the group, I promptly brushed my teeth (teeth are forever!), and went to sleep.