A woman I once met at a conference asked how I knew something. I said anything could be know. For some reason she took this as a challenge.
Could I find out about her? I did not know her name, and I demurred. I do not research friends, I said, but reiterated that anything could be known -- bank statements, medical records -- it was simply a matter of time, money and will.
She seemed to think I was kidding or bluffing. "Find out what you can about me," she said. I did not know her name, but asked for a business card. It was about 10 o'clock at night after a long day and a mandatory conference dinner to boot.
The next morning, at the same conference, I saw her in the breakfast line. I casually told her where she went to high school and college, her grades, her thesis title and advisor, the name of her best friends, the name of her husband, her street address, the fact that father-in-law worked for the CIA, what her mother did, how long she had worked at her job, the name of her dog, noted that she was left-handed, and went on for a while longer until she started to look more than a little scared. This was before Facebook or other "social media" existed. I did tell her I did not crack any of her health or financial records. Privacy, and all that.
Needless to say, I freaked her out. I stayed away from her for the rest of the conference -- I did not want her to think I was a stalker.
A few weeks later I was having dinner with an older woman who I knew. She had been told by the young lady at the conference how much I had found out about her, and how quickly I was able to do it. She asked me how I did it.
"Anything can be known," I said, shrugging my shoulders, "there's a lot of information out there. But I do not research people I know."
"Could you find out my pin number on my bank acount," she asked?
I gave her a flat impassive look. My mind whirred.
"Moby," I said.
She practically passed out, but really it was not hard.
Four digits. Her dog's name.