Inauguration Day 2017

Dec 24, 2016

"And eventually, there aren't any real people left. Just robots pretending to give a shit."

"Perhaps. Depends on the population dynamics, among other things. But I'd guess that at least one thing an automaton lacks is empathy; if you can't feel, you can't really relate to something that does, even if you act as though you do. Which makes it interesting to note how many sociopaths show up in the world's upper echelons, hmm? How ruthlessness and bottom-line self-interest are so lauded up in the stratosphere, while anyone showing those traits at ground level gets carted off into detention with the Realists. Almost as if society itself is being reshaped from the inside out."

"Oh, come on. Society was always pretty— wait, you're saying the world's corporate elite are nonsentient?"

"God, no. Not nearly. Maybe they're just starting down that road. Like chimpanzees."

"Yeah, but sociopaths don't blend in well."

"Maybe the ones that get diagnosed don't, but by definition they're the bottom of the class. The others are too smart to get caught, and real automatons would do even better. Besides, when you get powerful enough, you don't need to act like other people. Other people start acting like you."

--Cunningham and Sascha!Gang of Four, Blindsight, by Peter Watts

A long-forgotten Commodore game. Was it ever released?

Jan 14, 2017

UPDATE (20170120): The game may have been found!

Many years ago, maybe a year after 321 Contact magazine merged with Enter magazine, there was a review of a video game which seemed like it was a tie-in for the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact.  The scenario was that you'd just gained access to the USS Discovery, and you had to repair all of the systems on board the ship to win the game.  As I recall, a free hint in the review was that you should repair HAL-9000 first, because he could help you figure out how to fix the rest of the ship.  I don't think I ever saw it in a store (then again, it's been over 30 years), nor do I recall reading about it in any of the other Commodore magazines I was reading at the time.  It may have been vaporware - an early review copy could have been sent out but it never actually hit the shelves.  I've searched for information about this game periodically over the years, and I've had searchbots prowling around looking for information about it as well (even dozens of permutations of likely titles for the work), and none of us have found anything even vaguely talking about it.

Oh, Internet hive-mind... did this ever actually exist?  If so, where could I find a copy?  And, most importantly, what was the title of the game?

...

As mentioned above, I think the game in question has been found. Jarandhel succeeded where I kept failing.  He was able to determine that the game's title is actually 2010: The Graphic Action Game, and it's not a Commodore title, it's a Colecovision title.  The screenshots certainly seem to match what I remember seeing in a magazine, and the game mechanics definitely fit what I recall.  The entire game has been described as being one big hacking minigame (warning: TV Tropes link).  Chances are there's an abandonware version of it floating around someplace, though I'll need to track down a Colecovision emulator to play it.

James O'Keefe caught trying to pull another fast one.

Jan 14, 2017

So, there's this guy named James O'Keefe.

He's got this problem: He likes trying to play Mission: Impossible and wreck the careers and lives of people he doesn't like by pulling scams, editing videos in interesting ways to set people up, and generally being the sort of person you'd eject from the party for being such a huge asshole that the Alpha Betas would throw him out on his ear.  He spent all of Election Day in 2016 tailing buses taking people to the polls in an attempt to intimidate them into not voting.  He's cost a couple of people their jobs.  He's also been paid to do other people's dirty work, including breaking and entering and wiretapping, and his video editing skills are creative to say the least, but he relies upon shock value to cover up the fact that he's talking out of his ass.  His track record shows that there's a 50/50 chance that he'll burn himself while trying to pull a black op (and I'm being much too polite because the guy's not even a mall ninja).

He's up to his old tricks again, only this time his reputation preceeded him and he was caught in the act when the groups he approached turned the tables on him by using his own tricks.  O'Keefe and Allison Maass (one of his employees) approached two organizations, Americans Take Action and the journalist group The Undercurrent, and offered them thousands of dollars if they would disrupt the inauguration on 20 January 2017 by shutting down bridges and inciting a riot.  Two versions of the video are available, an edited version in a news segment by The Young Turks (including some behind-the-scenes discussion that you really should watch) and longer video footage which is damning, to say the least.  When last I heard, trying to pay people to cause riots and generally wreak havoc was a felony in the United States.

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What's it like having synaesthesia?

Jan 03, 2017

What's it like not having synaesthesia?

That sounds like a flippant answer, but it's quite the truth.  I can't remember a time when I didn't experience sounds (music, in particular) in a deep, visceral way that involved more than just my sense of hearing.  For the longest time I thought everybody's experience of life was like mine.  I thought everybody cried when they heard violin music.  I thought everybody felt waves of cold and prickles when they heard sounds made up of square waves (yeah, I'm dating myself, aren't I?)  Didn't everybody shiver and see starbursts of pink and purple light when they heard a particular chord progression on the radio (strangely, the original Also Sprach Zarathustra doesn't have that effect on me - must be the pedals Andy Summers used in the studio)?  Didn't everybody feel... pain... when they just heard something shrieking or screaming, like bus brakes or the scream of a dentist's drill (note: video of actual drill-and-fill; feel free to not click on it)?

To answer my (rhetorical) question another way, everybody seems to be synaesthetic to some degree.  Take a look at this image.

Now, tell me: Of what you see in that image file, which one is Kiki and which one is Bouba?

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Upgrading Bolt CMS to v3.x.

Jan 02, 2017

Since PivotX went out of support I've been running the Bolt CMS for my website at Dreamhost (referral link).  A couple of weeks back you may have noticed some trouble my site was having, due to my running into significant difficulty encountered when upgrading from the v2.x release series to the v3.x release series.  Some stuff went sideways, and I had to restore from backup at least once before I managed to get the upgrade procedure straightened out with the help of some of the developers in the Bolt IRC channel on Freenode.  If it wasn't for help from rossriley it would have taken significantly longer to un-fuck my website.

Here's the procedure that I used to get my site upgraded to the latest release of Bolt.

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Neologism: Disk Paranoia

Jan 08, 2017

Disk paranoia - noun - That occasionally well-founded sense of creeping dread one feels when repartitioning, reformatting, or clearing a USB drive.  The dread stems from the fear that one is not, in fact, doing something terminal to the correct drive and you're actually zorching one of your internal drives (usually the one with all of your data on it).  This leads one to recheck the terminal window once every nine or ten seconds to make sure you're messing with the correct drive.  This may also include opening multiple other terminal windows to display the list of currently mounted devices, cross-checking the output with the disk manipulation command you're running to make sure you got the right one, and scrolling back to re-re-re-check earlier diagnostic output.

Linking the Signal CLI with Signal on your mobile.

Jan 02, 2017

20170107: It's not "group name" it's "Group ID."  I don't know how to find that yet.

The communications program Signal by Open Whisper Systems is unique in several respects.  Firstly, its barrier to entry is minimal.  You can search for it in the Google Play online store or Apple iOS appstore and it's waiting there for you at no cost.  Second, it's designed for security by default, i.e., you don't have to mess around with it to make it work, and it does does the right thing automatically and enforces strong encryption by default (unlike a lot of personal security software).  It interoperates seamlessly with people who don't use Signal but you have the option to invite them to install it with a single tap.  Its protocol is an open standard that multiple companies have implemented, so theoretically anyone can write their own implementation of the client (Android, iOS) or server, or compile it for themselves.  It's an SMS/MMS application, so you can use it as your default text messaging client on your mobile, plus it can do text message conferencing with multiple people automatically (it's a great way to keep in touch with friends if you're at the same con).  There's even a desktop Signal client that runs inside of Google Chrome or Chromium (source code for the interested and curious).

So, why, exactly am I posting about Signal?

There is a little-known command-line implementation of Signal that I've been experimenting with because I eventually plan on writing a bot for my exocortex.  In playing around with it, I've come to realize that it's not particularly friendly to use at all, and I might have to break down and use the dbus interface to do anything useful with it.  Which I don't look forward to, but that's not the point.  The point is, I've compiled some notes about how to use the command line version of Signal and I wanted to put them online in case somebody will find them helpful.

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A toast.

Jan 01, 2017

Here's to the sysadmins, who fight to keep everything up and running.  And reboot printers along the way.

Here's to tier-1 tech support, who know the answers but are only allowed to recite from their scripts.

Here's to the pen testers, who keep plugging away.

Here's to desktop support, who occasionally see things they can never unsee.

Here's to the red team, who throw everything from Devo costumes to pork chops to ballroom gowns to the kitchen sink at the mission.

Here's to the hacktivists, who toil endlessly to make the world a better place.

Here's to the open source hackers, whose thankless tasks are labors of love.

Here's to the whistleblowers, who lay everything on the line to try to set things right.

Here's to the lawyers, who honestly answer the question "So, how much trouble could I get in if I did this?"

Here's to the reversers, who yank out their hair while asking the question "What the hell does this even mean?" over and over again.

Here's to the hackers who submit talks to DefCon every year but never get accepted.  You keep trying, over and over again.

Here's to the people with the honest questions, who uncover horrors never before dreamed.

Here's to the newbies, who spend long hours punching away to learn arcane skills to satisfy their own curiosity.

Here's to you.

2017.ev

Jan 01, 2017

Happy New Year, everybody.