Oct 08 2017
"Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta..."
--From Neuromancer by William Gibson
While wandering around downtown San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I came across an art installation in the lobby of an office building that ostensibly displayed a realtime visualization of Internet traffic as a 3D map of the city. I'm not entirely sure that's accurate because that would require an immense amount of access to network infrastructure they probably don't own. My working hypothesis is that it's a visualization of activity of their customers run through a geoIP service with a fairly high degree of resolution (probably correlated against customer service records) and turned into a highly impressive animation. I didn't record any video footage, I just took a couple of pictures.
Here's a gallery of those pictures.
Mar 30 2017
It's probably popped up on your television screen that the Senate and then the House of Representatives voted earlier this week, 215 to 205, to repeal an Internet privacy bill passed last year. In case you're curious, here's a full list of every Senator and Representative that voted to repeal the bill and how much they received specifically from the telecom lobby right before voting. (local mirror) By the way, if you would like to contact those Senators (local mirror) or Representatives (local mirror) here's how you can do so... When the bill hits Trump's desk it's a foregone conclusion that he's going to sign it. Some of the talking heads are expressing concern about this, while others are cheering that the removal of this regulation is an all-around win for the market, blah blah blah... but what does this actually mean for you?
First of all, if you're reading this, welcome to the Internet. You're soaking in it.
Second of all, please read this blog post (local mirror) by the EFF. Just a few years ago, a couple of very large ISPs (that you're probably a customer of) got caught doing things like monitoring your web searches and hijacking them with different results they were paid to insert and analyzing your net.traffic to figure out what advertisements to inject in realtime. The bill that just got repealed put a stop to all of that.
I've spoken to a couple of people who expressed disbelief that such a thing was possible. In point of fact, intercepting and meddling with communications traffic goes back a very long way. In 1994 a bill called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed and codified as 47 USC 1001-1010. In a nutshell, what this law means is that manufacturers of just about every kind of network-side communications device, from the telephony switches that route your phone calls to the carrier class routers that make up the network core have surveillance capability built in. In theory, only law enforcement agents with warrants are supposed to be able to use them. In practice, they're used all the time by employees of the companies that own that equipment to silently troubleshoot problems before they get too out of hand, and yes, they get abused all the time for petty shit. As you may have guessed already, the moment that CALEA-compliant equipment was deployed back in the day hackers immediately figured out how to use them more effectively than even the telecom companies and silently eavesdropping on people using that functionality was a common "This is how 1337 I am" stunt. So, please keep in mind that this "monitor all the customers" infrastructure is going to be badly abused and constitutes one hell of a security risk.
CALEA is regularly updated as communications technology evolves, and now encompasses things like the backbone of the Net, Voice-over-IP telephony, cellular telephony and companies whose business it is happens to be running wireless hotspots. As it so happens, much of this functionality is perfect for monitoring customers' traffic, analyzing it, and packaging it for sale as large bundles of anonymized information or as discrete dossiers, ala Cambridge Analytica. Let me paint you a picture, based in part of how things worked before that bill was passed originally...
Mar 04 2017
You may or may not have noticed amongst the blizzard of other stuff that's happened in the last two weeks that Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai to the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission. Pai has a history of being something of a contrarian; during his time as one of the five commissioners of the FCC, he repeatedly spoke against regulations that protected the consumer and was against diverse media ownership (since the 1980's, we went from 50 media companies to just six). Time and again Pai's said that he was going to tear down regulation after regulation that the FCC was responsible for enforcing, and so far he has a track record of making that happen, albeit piece by piece and not all at once.
But what does this mean?
Net Neutrality is the legal state in which every Internet Service Provider out there has to provide the same kind of service for all of its users to every online service out there. In other words, the Net is treated like a basic utility, no different from water or electricity. If a provider gets caught monkeying with its service to privilege some company over another, they can get fined. A number of large service providers, including Comcast and AT&T, pledged publicaly that they'd adhere to the terms of Net Neutrality until a certain future date. That's pretty much it.
Let's look at a world in which net.neutrality is a thing in the United States, which it still seems to be as of the time I wrote this article:
Dec 12 2016
In many memorization techniques it is often taught that you should make use of overly vivid, even absurd imagery to make sure that bits of information stick in whatever organizational technique you might use, be it a ladder of pegs or something as elaborate as the method of loci. Sometimes you have to work to make something stick, and sometimes the absurd makes itself known spontaneously.
Have you ever pondered why there are so many things that you simply can't unsee on the Internet?
Stop and think about all the things that you wish you'd never seen over the years. All the stingers and nasty surprises that gave you a nasty jolt. No, I won't list any, I've no shortage of my own memories that routinely invade my nightmares... the point I'm making is that those things are so far off the beam, so far removed from our daily experience (regardless of what it may be), so... there's probably a word in German for the concept. The best I've got it ho'polis d'l'Byr (Horror of the Other) that it wraps around into Lovecraftian or possibly Gigeresque surrealism or disgust (sometimes with a bouncy, catchy techno remix playing in the background) that it burns itself indelibly into one's long-term memory in exactly the same way that Musashi Miyamoto rolling out pizza dough with a shinai on a wicker papsan chair in the back yard does.