Well, that worked.

Jan 21, 2012

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...

Yeah, we screwed up.

If you missed the release of Byzantium Linux last week, we assembled the .iso image late at night (always a bad idea), didn't test it very well (even worse idea), and posted it far and wide. What could possibly go wrong?

All of the Byzantium software is bundled into a single file to make deployment easier (000-byzantium.xzm), which is loaded at boot-time and spliced into the OS's file system. It means we don't have to pull all of the packages apart, copy things into them, and then put them back together. I forgot to add that file to the .iso image, so what everybody downloaded the rest of that week wasn't actually Byzantium, just a re-branded copy of Porteus. Something had been bothering me all week, keeping me up at night (not just my carpal tunnel), distracting me... after work that Friday I did some investigating and nearly had a heart attack when I discovered what had happened. Then it was a mad scramble to get the updated .iso images uploaded everywhere, start a new torrent, post messages to tell people to download the updated image... it was a complete cluster-.

Mistakes were made, mine chief among them. Fingers were pointed. Blame was accepted. We now have a QA process that's under review (in our copious spare time) that will be followed before we release v0.2a. We're not going to fuck up like that again.

18 January came and went, and some very visible sites on the Internet were blacked out in protest of SOPA and PIPA. The blacked out version of Wikipedia alone was hit by something like 186 million distinct IP addresses, all of which had no choice but to click through their "Why we did this" page (unless you habitually use the SSL version of the site, but I digress). There was hue and cry, millions more signatures were added to petitions, the websites of the representatives backing SOPA crashed under the onslaught of people looking up their phone numbers, and the MPAA called it a stunt pulled by corporate pawns in an attempt to downplay the whole mess. Earlier today, megaupload.com, one of the biggest "upload once, download many times" file lockers on the Net was raided by the FBI on the orders of the DOJ. The charges filed against the site's seven operators in the state of Virginia include racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

I'm scratching my head over that, too. I'd point you at the DOJ's official press release but as of 2227 hours on 19 January 2012 their site's offline. I'm also wondering how the FBI got the New Zealand police to serve US warrants on non-US citizens... isn't there something called extradition that's supposed to apply in cases like this?

Lyssa made the observation earlier tonight that, after millions of people turned out to protest SOPA in some way, shape, or form, this timing of the bust of Megaupload's data centers (two of them in my general neck of the deck, incidentally) is curious, to say the least.

I had a suspicion that something like this might happen, especially with the search engine result filtering provisions of SOPA, so yesterday afternoon I used some of the spare gigabytes of storage space on Leandra (which aren't actually that plentiful right now due to a hard drive shortage and subsequent price hike at Micro Center (one of the drives I paid $80us for is now $230US in the store - ye gods!)) and set up a YaCy node. I mentioned YaCy back in December but to refresh everyone's external memories, YaCy is a distributed open source search engine that you can choose to run. Not only does it go out and spider the web when you give it a file or URL to start from (I seeded mine with a copy of my online bookmark collection) but it forms a peer-to-peer network with other YaCy nodes and informs the rest of the network that it's indexed some part of the Net (as of this writing, Leandra's indexed about 18,000 web pages for over 174,000 distinct search terms). If your node doesn't have what you're looking for in its index it asks the other nodes in its peer-to-peer network if they have any entries for it, and so on, and so on. It may take a little time to get results but be patient.

There are some YaCy nodes that anyone can use like any other search engine but they tend to be bogged down, so you really should install your own YaCy client; all you need is Java and one of the pre-compiled archives from the project's homepage. It's actually not that big a deal to set up, it's no more difficult than installing and chatting on Skype or torrenting files with Vuze. Just be sure that you consider how much disk space you want to donate to the network, or whether you want your machine spidering web pages to add to the index (which does not appear to be mandatory, for those of you on slow or metered connections).

The thing about search engines is that they can take years to cover a decent amount of the Net, and the (censorable) big engines have been at it for years on end. It's going to take time for the YaCy network to grow to a size where it's comparable to Google or Bing. It has a feature that might help goose it along, though - you can use a YaCy node as a proxy for your web browser, and it'll index what you browse through it and add it to the global index. YaCy was designed to be privacy aware, so it doesn't match who you are to what you're looking at, nor does it monitor any pages that you have to log into (or have logged into if you saved your session). Some of my initial experiments were interesting, but AJAX heavy sites like Twitter will bog right down when using YaCy's proxy functionality, so I'd suggest toggling proxy support on and off with something like Foxyproxy Basic and minding what you're browsing at the moment.

Okay. Enough about the tech. A lot of other stuff has happened as well, not just my hacking around with this, that, and the other thing. Lyssa and I didn't go home for the Christmas holiday, we went back a week before to visit our families due to scheduling conflicts. So, we spent the actual holidays at home. On Christmas Eve Hasufin and Mika came down to visit us, and Amberite flew in from Portland for the holidays as well. Christmas Day was spent cooking and feasting with friends whose home was under repair at the time and who wanted to do a bit of visiting (two groups, two situations, respectively). It was cold enough that we didn't really do a whole lot of sightseeing until January (a bit of a shame, that - it's pretty common that when you live in DC one doesn't often see many of the sights), and we had a quiet night at home watching anime for New Year's Eve rather than going to one of DC's events. Over the next few days the Smithsonian was visited, hair was henna'd, and about half of Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber were read in the span of a couple of days.

That about wraps things up on my end... I'm trying to concentrate on coding and writing, but the way work has been running me lately is making it difficult. I've largely been relaxing in the evenings and weekends since the holidays in between running errands at home, so not a whole lot has happened, much to my chagrin.