Thursday, October 3, 2013
The first story is that the FBI has taken the notorious hidden web site The Silk Road offline and captured the man who allegedly operated it, Ross Ulbricht, aka The Dread Pirate Roberts.
The Silk Road was an interesting experiment in running a fully encrypted, anonymous online marketplace. Users wishing to connect to it had to do so through TOR, which encrypts all its users communications and reroutes them through a series of nodes so that they can't be traced. Then they had to follow a rabbit trail of arcane websites to find it (Google will not take you to The Silk Road). Finally, once connected all transactions were conducted in Bitcoins, a private digital currency which is difficult to trace.
Underneath all its elaborate security precautions, though, The Silk Road was basically EBay for drugs. The vast majority of its users used it to buy illegal drugs from anonymous dealers, who then sent their illicit purchases via the postal system. The Silk Road, and by extension The Dread Pirate Roberts, took a cut of each transaction.
Predictably this drew the attention of the US federal government, specifically the FBI. While the startling leaks by whistle-blower Edward Snowden have revealed the vast hacking and data-mining resources available to the feds, it appears that Ross Ulbricht was undone primarily by sloppiness in his own personal security, sloppiness that was exploited by good-old-fashioned police work.
Ars Technica has the best coverage of the story which involves not just one but two murder-for-hire schemes.
Encrypted email provider Lavabit shut down on August 8 without warning. Owner Ladar Levison left a cryptic message saying that to continue operations would be 'to become complicit in crimes against the American people'. In follow-up interviews he indicated that he was legally forbidden from elaborating further. Because Edward Snowden had a Lavabit email account, many people surmised that Levison had been secretly contacted by the authorities and forced to hand over access to Snowden's emails.
Lavabit was built with an encryption scheme that allowed only an email's sender and its recipient to share the keys. Even if Lavabit itself traced the emails it would not be able to read their content.
In a court order unsealed today we learn that the government asked Lavabit to do just that: modify the code of his own website so that he could snoop on the emails of just one user, Edward Snowden. When the resulting emails were shown to be useless because they were encrypted, the government then ordered Ladar Levison to turn over the SSL encryption key for the entire system, which would have effectively granted them access to the private, encrypted emails of every Lavabit user.
When Levison did not immediately comply, the judge overseeing the case ordered that he be fined $5,000/day until he handed over electronic copies of the keys. It was at that point that Levison decided to shut down Lavabit.
To sum up, the US government required a private citizen to reverse engineer his company's security scheme against his will and provide blanket access to all of its encrypted communications or face large fines and possible jail time. Oh, and he couldn't tell anyone about it.
Wired has the whole story. Following the unsealing of the court documents, Levison has issued a press release on his Facebook page. Levison has now lost his primary source of income and is asking for donations to fund an appeal to the Fourth Circuit courts.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
- Did 'self-complexity' allow alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to hide his terrorist leanings from others?
- Keeping it in the family - why cousin marriage is more common in less democratic states (here is John Green on famous people who married their first cousin).
- Get your Stat Geek on as Steven Wolfram breaks down the demographics of Facebook. If you want to volunteer all your personal FB data for science, you can get the Wolfram-Alpha app here.
- The Underwear Effect - why people text message in the language they are most comfortable in.
- On being the only black guy at the indie rock show.
- Google shutting down Google Reader begs the question: would the government ever nationalize Google?
- Content filtering is censorship. Marketing is propaganda. Personalized marketing is surveillance. The IT industry as a tool of oppressive government.
- Hear Alexander Graham Bell speak.
- "The Lancet wishes to correct, after an unduly prolonged period of reflection... it's obituary of Dr. John Snow" - Dr. Snow, who identified the method of transmission of the cholera epidemic, died in 1858.
- Why do bulls get better at fighting bull-fighters, but whales do not get better at fighting whalers? Interesting (but long) article on Moby Dick, Hemmingway, sociology and biology.
- Mexican eco-terrorists declare war on nanotechnology - I guess it's a preemptive strike?
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Will this great, free new service stick around? Will Google keep Google Keep? Or will it eventually get the axe?
The WaPo faces the same problem:
We're starting to see the dark side of 'free' services. Because we're not paying customers for these services, companies like Google have no incentive to keep them running when they wear out their welcome or some Google exec decides on a whim to put the axe to them.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
it will be shuttering Google Reader:
We have just announced on the Official Google Blog that we will soon retire Google Reader (the actual date is July 1, 2013). We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too.The problem is, there is no alternate feed reading solution. Google Reader has become the alpha and omega of RSS feed aggregation.
There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.
To ensure a smooth transition, we’re providing a three-month sunset period so you have sufficient time to find an alternative feed-reading solution.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Blogger Nathan Bransford writes about a Twitter 'witch hunt' that began Sunday night during the Oscars when someone from The Onion tweeted an offensive joke about 9-year-old actress and nominee Quvenzhané Wallis:
The outcry on Twitter started off merely aghast. Then, as can happen when people collectively find something to be outraged about, the anger cascaded and multiplied. People called The Onion out, called for resignations and firings, called for heads, and often in language as offensive as the language people ostensibly found objectionable.
On a night where my Twitter feed had started with people being complete jerks to Anne Hathaway for no apparent reason, all the negative energy swirling around Twitter suddenly found an even easier target.
I'm not defending The Onion's tweet by any means. It wasn't a good joke and they rightly apologized for it.Bransford goes on to mention the marathon and generator 'scandals' that swept the internet after Hurricane Sandy.
But it's kind of amazing to me how the Twitterverse can be correct about something but manage to take its self-righteous outrage so far it somehow starts feeling wrong.
It starts feeling like a witch hunt. In a medium that by its nature is effectively devoid of nuance to start with, whatever balance is possible is completely lost. And good luck to anyone who tries to stand in front of the herd and appeal for reason.
As recently as last week, security analyst and author Bruce Schneier wrote about how the internet enables The Court of Public Opinion:
Recently, Elon Musk and the New York Times took to Twitter and the Internet to argue the data -- and their grievances -- over a failed road test and car review. Meanwhile, an Applebee's server is part of a Change.org petition to get her job back after posting a pastor's no-tip receipt comment online. And when he wasn't paid quickly enough, a local Fitness SF web developer rewrote the company's webpage to air his complaint.
All of these "cases" are seeking their judgments in the court of public opinion. The court of public opinion has a full docket; even brick-and-mortar establishments aren't immune.
More and more individuals -- and companies -- are augmenting, even bypassing entirely, traditional legal process hoping to get a more favorable hearing in public.Schneier calls the "Court of Public Opinion" and alternative system of justice. But despite being one that takes place in the digital age, on the internet, it's not a new system:
The court of public opinion has significant limitations. It works better for revenge and justice than for dispute resolution. It can punish a company for unfairly firing one of its employees or lying in an automobile test drive, but it's less effective at unraveling a complicated patent litigation or navigating a bankruptcy proceeding.
fama," or reputation. In other ways, it's like mob justice: sometimes benign and beneficial, sometimes terrible (think French Revolution). Trial by public opinion isn't new; remember Rodney King and O.J. Simpson?
Mass media has enabled this system for centuries. But the Internet, and social media in particular, has changed how it's being used.
Now it's being used more deliberately, more often, by more and more powerful entities as a redress mechanism. Perhaps because it's perceived to be more efficient or perhaps because one of the parties feels they can get a more favorable hearing in this new court, but it's being used instead of lawsuits. Instead of a sideshow to actual legal proceedings, it is turning into an alternate system of dispute resolution and justice.Whoever wrote The Onion Twitter joke will likely lose their job. That Applebee's server will likely get her job back. Seems legit, right? It's not as though we're hunting people down with torches and stringing them up from the nearest tall tree.
But consider these examples: in 2006 in China an internet video showing a woman in high heels stomping a kitten to death sparked widespread outrage. Internet users across China pieced together clues from the video to identify the woman and get her fired from her job. This phenomenon has become increasingly common since, acquiring the name human flesh search.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
I’d argue that those limitations are exactly what keeps the Mix CD relevant. The format limits you to 80 minutes of music. That’s pretty spacious, but it still means you have to be selective about what you put on it. And because most mailboxes these days are filled with nothing but flyers and credit card offers, finding something as personal as a Mix CD in there is that much more meaningful.
A CD with a discrete, ordered tracklist also offers something an individual mp3 cannot: context. Personally, one of the things I enjoy most about making mixes is ordering songs in such a way that they either flow into each other or highlight contrasting sounds. Even on traditional albums the tracks are ordered the way they are for a reason. On a couple of occasions I’ve listened to CDs for the first time in the ‘wrong order’ due to technical difficulties. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable they are when the order of the songs is what the artist intended.
What songs you should put on a CD, what flow it should have, whether you should limit yourself to ten or fill up the entire CD... those are subjective. Make the mix you want to make. But I’m going to tell you how to make one that sounds good. Not in an artistic sense (that’s subjective) but in a technical sense.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
the popular song. But in an article in The Atlantic, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson suggests that love is exactly that:
Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.
Rather, it is what she calls a "micro-moment of positivity resonance." She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in "It's a Wonderful World" when he sang, "I see friends shaking hands, sayin 'how do you do?' / They're really sayin', 'I love you.'"