Twitter begins censoring content based upon account and point of origin.

Last week, the addictively simple social networking site Twitter announced that it would be adding the capability to selectively censor tweets based upon where the viewer appears to be sourcing from. Like most websites, when handed a properly acquired takedown notice they're pretty snappy about making certain things disappear (note that some of the taken down posts are reprinted in the takedown notices) but this is, as they say, a whole 'nother smoke. This change of policy means that if you post something that the government of a different country doesn't like (like this), they can request that Twitter make that post unavailable to all users whose IP addresses appear to be part of Syrian net.space. Or Saudi Arabian net.space. Or maybe even USian net.space, they're fielding these requests all across the board.

Needless to say, this has a lot of people, from Reporters Without Borders to Telecomix to citizen and professional journalists rather upset. In the past few years Twitter has become the near-realtime news ticker of the entire planet? See a car crash? Post a pic from your smartphone. Write a blog post? Post a link. Recognize someone in a video? Retweet and add the person's name, helpfully wrapped up with a neat little #hashtag. Where once it could take days or weeks for word to get out now it can happen in mere seconds (when Twitter isn't throwing up "Your account isn't authorized to carry out that operation" errors, that is, but I digress), as proven by many and sundry events that took place in 2011 c.e. which a lot of people might never have heard of if they'd waited for news crews to decide whether or not they were going to show up. Twitter's decision to begin a policy of trivial-to-abuse censorship is, many of us agree, a clear threat to Freedom of the Press and might open the floodgates to widespread political censorship.


More under the cut...

The Doctor | 31 January 2012, 20:57 hours | default | Two comments

Implications of the Megaupload takedown.

It came as something of a surprise to those of us following the defeat and subsequent cold storage of SOPA that, just a day later one of the largest file locker websites on the Net, megaupload.com was shut down by the FBI. Data centers in Virginia, Washington DC, New Zealand, and Hong Kong were raided by law enforcement and their cages in those centers were cleaned out. Every last server chugging away in those facilities was seized, and are in the queue for forensic analysis right now. Just a day after Megaupload went dark over a dozen others voluntarily shut down as well, or at least drastically curtailed their operations. On top of that, the owners of Megaupload were similarly raided in the fashion of a good, old-fashioned Miami Vice-style raid that involved helicopter insertion and cutting their way into a bolthole in a mansion. Following the shutdown, #OpMegaupload began and whole sectors of the Net were whited out in a packet storm the likes of which hasn't been seen before, with global traffic levels spiking at 13%+ over normal leaving dozens of websites inaccessible thanks to a new DDoS utility that you may not be aware you're running if you clicked on the wrong link.

So, what does this all mean?

Like many things today, it's complicated. The owners of Megaupload were brought up on charges of money laundering and racketeering among other things, and the US Department of Justice is working on extraditing them from New Zealand for trial. The reason that financial conspiracy charges are being levelled against them is because the company made millions of US dollars every year in ad revenue as well as referrals for paying prosumer users of the website (i.e., you have a paid account, someone downloads a file you uploaded, you get so much money). They're saying that the site cost the music industry half a billion dollars in lost revenue (even though they're showing record profits). I won't kid you, before those sites went down there were stupid amounts of pirated MP3s and videos of all kinds filling those sites, so many that whole search engines sprang up to help users find anything. On the other hand, Megaupload was also a great way of distributing bundles of information, such as TrueCrypt volumes and information of use to activists of all kinds (why, yes, I'm kind of honked about my mirrored Syria footage needing to be re-uploaded, why do you ask?). A lot of people had their own stuff uploaded to those file lockers, and now it's all gone. Some of us who aren't in a position to carry around removable storage have to rebuild our public caches from scratch. Also, some pretty big stars in popular music figured out how to use Megaupload as part of their public presence and branding to make it big and they've just been chopped off at the knees.


More under the cut...

The Doctor | 29 January 2012, 10:36 hours | default | No comments

You wouldn't download a car, would you?

During the non-skippable antipiracy warnings on a lot of DVDs and BluRay disks these days, the MPAA often has an MTV-style juxtaposed and jump-cut commercial that includes the admonition "You wouldn't download a car, would you?" which has spawned a response in the form of an image macro that seems to have gotten a few of us thinking. Earlier this week the notorious BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay posted on their blog that they had created a new category of files that can be shared via their website, Physibles, or files that can be used to create actual, tangible objects if fed into a 3D printer, automill, or autolathe. Surprisingly, the category began to fill almost immediately, from some DIY bio stuff to a theoretically illegal portrait (note: safe for work).

I think it's only a matter of time before people start seeding torrents of things they upload to Thingiverse to give the .stl files for their objects and projects a leg up on distribution. As things stand now it's getting scarily easy to design and fabricate things for very little money. With a good eye and some patience it's possible to design a whole product using Blender or Google Sketchup (both free), export it to an .stl file (howtos for Blender, Sketchup), and e-mail the file to a company that specializes in small runs of objects and devices for a couple of dollars. Or, if you're feeling enterprising, you can copy the .stl files onto a USB key and take them down to your friendly neighborhood hackerspace and either print it on a RepRap or Makerbot, or if necessary have a CNC gantry router carve the pieces for you. Technologically speaking, we're not at the point where we can download the specs for a vehicle (just some parts of one) and run them off, not by a longshot. However, these relatively primitive personal fabrication devices represent solid first steps toward eventually having at our disposal real autofacs (automated factories).

By the way, if you want to take a look at an opensource CNC autorouter, here's the .dxf file for the Kikori by Judah Sher of Sindrian Arts (CC-BY-SA v3.0 Unported).

The Doctor | 25 January 2012, 22:32 hours | default | One comment

Misadventures in IT.

I don't ordinarily write much about work, mostly because it's not that interesting but also because it's a bad habit to get into, lest I let something critical slip and get in trouble. However, the last two days were sufficiently rough (and strange) that I feel that I have to write something about it, if only to give my fellow BOFHes something to go on if they find themselves in the same particular position I was. The past two days have been by far the strangest problem I've ever run into working in IT or information security.

Let's set up the scenario: We have a file server with approximately eight terabytes of data RAIDed across eight drives, eight CPUs, 4 GB of RAM, and a particular all-steel server class case with a 750 watt power supply in it. It's running Linux. Early Tuesday morning I recieved a warning from Logwatch that one of the hard drives in the RAID had failed. The array was still functional because the mirror's twin drive was still operational but it's always a good idea to replace a dead drive as soon as possible, lest the other die at the worst possible moment. So, I powered the server down, hauled it up to my office, and set to work. I figured that as long as I had the server offline I could install the set of hot-swappable drive bays I bought last year to save myself having to crack the case open every time I had to replace a drive.

Now let's lay out the symptoms...


More under the cut...

The Doctor | 25 January 2012, 20:44 hours | default | No comments

If you can think of it...

For any topic you can imagine, there is a healthy and active blog by and for people who are or who are strongly interested in that topic. They will also have a Cafepress store which is slightly surreal.

C.f., rule 34.

The Doctor | 23 January 2012, 14:22 hours | randomknowledge | No comments

Well, that worked.

A couple of days ago, a few "Hey, are you still alive?" messages hit my inbox, and just now have I had the opportunity to post an update.

I've been busy as hell since 2012 started and it shows no signs of letting up. When you work in IT and you take a vacation for 10 days, whether or not something blew up at work isn't the question. The relevant question is actually, "How many things blew up at work?" and the answer is usually a number that can be comfortably counted on one hand... in hexadecimal. Lots of long hours, cursing, sweating, but thankfully not many animal sacrifices were required. Always a good way to start the year off, I think, not having to expense any roosters or other small furry animals, let alone cleaning bills for the office carpet.

On 9 January 2012 Lyssa and I headed out to Politics and Prose in Washington, DC to attend another William Gibson book signing, this one for his first non-fiction anthology entitled Distrust That Particular Flavor. It's a collection of magazine articles, reminiscences, and speeches that he's given over the past twenty years or so, and I think there is something in there for everybody. It's a quick read, a day if that, and if you pay attention you'll find that Gibson has lost none of his wit or sense of humor over the years, and you'll enjoy it all the more for that. Of course, I took a few pictures while I was there; feel free to take a look around. I didn't have a backpack full of stuff to get autographed this time, just a couple of stickers that I gave to Gibson after he was kind enough to autograph my book.

After that came the midnight release of Byzantium Linux v0.1a...


More under the cut...

The Doctor | 21 January 2012, 21:03 hours | default, images | One comment

ANNOUNCING BYZANTIUM LINUX V0.1a (Scarab)

Approved for: GENERAL RELEASE, DISTRIBUTION UNLIMITED

UPDATE: Due to a critical bug in Byzantium Linux v0.1a, a file containing the mesh routing and application software was omitted from the .iso image. The code which makes Byzantium, well, Byzantium isn't there. To fix this, please re-download the .iso image from one of the mirrors linked below and try again. We humbly apologize for our screwup. QA processes are being put in place to ensure that this never happens again.

We're sorry.



Project Byzantium, a working group of HacDC (http://hacdc.org/) is proud to announce the release of v0.1 alpha of Byzantium Linux, a live distribution of Linux designed to fulfill a crucial role in the evolution of the Internet. That role is a rapidly deployable ad-hoc wireless mesh network which can augment or replace the current telecommunications infrastructure in the event that it is knocked offline (for example, due to a natural disaster) or rendered untrustworthy (widespread surveillance or disconnection by hostile entities). Unlike other mesh networking projects Byzantium was designed to be run on any x86 computer with at least one 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless interface. Byzantium can be burned to a CD- or DVD-ROM (the .iso image is just over 300 megabytes in size), booted from an external hard drive, or can even be installed in parallel with an existing operating system without risk to the user's data and software. Byzantium Linux will then act as a node within the mesh and will automatically connect to other mesh nodes and act as an access point for WiFi-enabled mobile devices.

THIS IS AN ALPHA RELEASE! Do NOT expect Byzantium to be perfect. Some features are not ready yet, others need work. Things are going to break in weird ways and we need to know what those ways are so we can fix them. Please, for the love of LOLcats, do not deploy Byzantium in situations where lives are at stake.

FEATURES:
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS (to use)
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS (for persistent changes)
WHAT WE NEED:Homepage: http://wiki.hacdc.org/index.php/Byzantium (website coming soon)

Download sites: http://wiki.hacdc.org/index.php/Downloading_Byzantium

The Doctor | 11 January 2012, 13:37 hours | default | Four comments

Opening evocation of 2012.

These beginning-of-the-year posts are always hard to write. Somehow they're always too close to the end of the previous year for everything to have sunk in, but also come too soon for anything to have really happened. I've been wrestling with this post for days (since the third of January, actually) and every time I sit down to work on it, not a whole lot hits my keyboard. When this year started I hit the ground running and haven't had time to sit and really reflect yet. So, I'm going to do the best I can to make this post not suck and be somewhat thought provoking (in that order).

It's finally here. 2012. The meme that's been floating around in the collective consciousness of the western world has landed on the pages of our calendars and is already beginning to manifest around us. Regardless of where you stand on the whole 2012 thing you have to admit that there are enough people concentrating on the notion now to make one wonder what, if any repercussions could happen if enough people work along with this particular current. Various and sundry sorts have been saying for years (since the 80's, if not the late 70's) that this is the year when Everything Changes. Well, Shit Got Real(tm) in 2011 and the world shows every sign of speeding up, not slowing down. Already we've had a world leader (Kim Jong-Il of North Korea) die and be replaced by one of his sons, the Occupy Movement (though one supposes that it would be more accurate to call it a platform of discourse) spreading even farther around the globe (with no shortage of bloodshed, I'm afraid - case in point, things going pear shaped with #occupynigeria, as government supporters opened fire with live ammunition on protestors this morning), and more rumbling that sounds suspiciously like the words "nuclear program" coming from the Middle East.

I have to confess, I have no idea where things are going. I've been scratching my head over this for a week or two and I just don't know. The most honest folks out there in all spheres of influence and persuasions of weird seem to have converged on the same answer: They don't know, either. Call it a veil, a black wall, nothing, static, information overload, or "Things are changing too fast," but it all amounts to the same thing. Things are changing too fast everywhere and trying to keep up is getting harder and harder. Things are happening so rapidly (to give you an example) that Twitter aggregation and curation sites like paper.li are becoming popular as precis of events on a particular topic. Scanning or grazing aren't efficient enough anymore, so you may as well search for what you're interested in and hope you can keep tabs on what you find.

All I can say for sure is that the current appears to be flowing back toward a model of small groups that all know and keep up with each another (i.e., have a smaller Dunbar number), and more importantly are active in each other's lives. The negative side effects of very large groups where you can be alone in a crowd are beginning to be taken seriously, and people seem to be instinctively finding the others (to steal a phrase from Tim Leary) and forming family bonds that are just as tight as those of one's ancestry. Once again, people are realizing that the results of sticking together are more long-lasting and far-reaching than those of going it on your lonesome all the time. Also, and this is the really interesting bit, those groups of extended family (for that's what they appear to be and function as) are teaching one another the new set of techniques and technologies necessary to thrive in a time where the only things that are really certain in life anymore are that the sun will rise and set and there will be a noticable percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere (as recent financial history will attest to). The world really does seem to be improving bit by bit, just as a couple of saplings grow into a forest, and like a forest it's all coming up from ground level: You, me, and every other biped wandering around on the face of this mad planet three jumps out from the nearest visible G2V ball of plasma and not the weird egregores that live in towers, office parks, and virtual servers running in Amazon's EC2. The only advice I can give to anyone in 2012 of the Common Era is this: It's up to us now. If we don't stand up and act this year, this moment, nothing at all is going to be fixed.

All of you reading this out there are intelligent, well connected, resourceful, and insightful. You see what's going on. You know what to do.

Pencils down. Blank badges on. Volume up. Let's be incandescent.

The Doctor | 09 January 2012, 06:12 hours | default | No comments

First sprint of the year!

I know, I know, I should get around to writing a proper New Year's post. I won't have time to do that for a day or so. I would like to make a brief announcement, however - there will be a development sprint for Project Byzantium at HacDC on 6 and 7 January 2012 starting in the early evening. It'll probably be cold at the 'space so dress warmly. We're going to be working on the final roadblock before we publish v0.1a, which is the captive portal, or the website that mesh clients will see when they first associate with their local mesh node regardless of what website they try to browse (and, incidentally, display the list of services available on the mesh around them). After much experimentation on the parts of everyone on the dev-team, it seems like we're going to have to write our own, so if you're a programmer with some experience writing web apps we could really use your help. If you show up before 1900 hours on Friday bring some cash for pizza.

We can't wait to see you there!

The Doctor | 03 January 2012, 14:56 hours | default | No comments
"There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think."