Stephen Harper eats babies!

Attention, passengers! A few days ago, commuters on Toronto’s GO train looked up at the onboard pixellated advertising signs and saw the message: “Stephen Harper eats babies”. Stephen Harper is, of course, Canada’s new conservative prime minister, and as a friend of Harper’s who saw the scrolling message told CTV …

“… I worked with Stephen Harper for five years and never once did he, in that time, eat a baby.”

Heh. Obviously, as the story points out, the sign had been hacked. And while the reporter doesn’t make it clear how the trick was accomplished, I think I can guess how it was done. A few years back, 2600 magazine published an article all about hacking pixelboard signs, and apparently the vast majority of these signs are programmed using an infrared keyboard. The keyboard is fairly standardized, and while the signs can be protected with a password, virtually none of the gormless businesspeople who use the signs ever bother to change the password from its factory-installed default — which is usually something like “password” or “admin” or “1234” or whatever.

It kind of makes me want to go buy an infrared keyboard and see what signs around Manhattan I can alter!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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