Joho the BlogApril 2008 - Joho the Blog

April 30, 2008

Mac issue: Where’d my network go?

My new new Mac (a white one) is well, except Finder doesn’t see my family network. To be more exact, there’s no “Network” icon listed in the sidebar of Finder. If I go to Finder’s prefs and toggle “connected servers” or “bonjour computers” on and off, there’s no change. But, if I go to Connect to Server and tell it to connect to smb://, which happens to be the static IP of a network storage device, it finds it fine, and shows it to me in the Finder. It likewise finds smb://honkervista, which is my big, Vista-crippled machine.

I’ve tried making random alterations in the system config network panel, since that traditionally has forced empty network panes to fill up properly. Not in this case.

Should I really have to be mounting these machines by hand?? TIA…

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Open access champion John Palfrey to head Harvard Law Library

It’s official. John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center has been put in charge of the Harvard Law Library. This is great news, although John’s contribution to the Berkman Center cannot be overestimated.

To be precise, JP — with whom I’ve had the privilege of co-teaching a course this semester — has been appointed associate dean of library and information. (He was also given tenure.) That means he is in charge of the greatest law library in the land. Open access just got a champion installed at the head of one of the most important collections in the world. This is pretty damn exciting.

JP is going to stay affiliated with the Berkman Center, but not having him at the helm is going to hurt. He is both a strong leader and a selfless facilitator. Enthusiastic, kind, humble, brilliant, pragmatic, funny, articulate, instantly likable, learned, visionary, down to earth, committed, articulate, sweet … in a word, we love him. And always will.

Congratulations, John!

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April 29, 2008

The most democratic work places

WorldBlu has put forward its 2008 list of the 25 world’s most democratic organizations

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[berkman] Chris Conley on Surveillance and Transparency

Chris Conley, a Berkman Fellow working on the Open Net Initiative, is giving a lunchtime talk on “Digital Surveillance and Transparency.” [Note: I am live-blogging, hence typing quickly, missing things — missing many things today, actually — getting things wrong, etc. The session will be available in full at Media Berkman. ]

The Surveillance Project looks for evidence of surveillance. But lots of surveillers don’t talk about what they do, so the project looks at tools and technologies, infrastructure, and the legal and/or political constraints. And it looks at the implications for privacy, civil rights, etc.

A security consultant, Ed Giorgio, said “Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.” But this isn’t necessarily true, says Chris. Disclosure can make surveillance more effective. For example, people may behave more the way you want by letting them know they’re being watched.

Chris goes through the parameters of the question. The effect of transparency depends on what you’re trying to do with surveillance. E.g., Facebook’s Beacon ad program watches what you’re doing, without a lot of transparency, to increase the accuracy of ads. Phorm watches what sites you go to in order to achieve the same aim. Surveillance for security purposes is aiming at preventing actions and may well want to be non-transparent. There’s also the audience to consider: the targets of the surveillance, affected third parties (e.g., victims of botnet infections), and other interested parties. It is, he shows, an equation with lots of variables.

Chris walks through some examples. E.g., if you monitor file sharing, announcing that you’re detecting 5% might have an effect. Or, you might announce that you were detecting all files available via BitTorrent. Or all those who are uploading. Each of these might have a different effect. Does announcing a surveillance program deter terrorists? Perhaps not, and announcing it might enable terrorists to counter the surveillance.

What’s the difference with digital surveillance, Chris asks. You can collect more, from more places, of more types. The legal constraints are often very unclear. The mechanisms are rapidly changing. Private entities are being involved. E.g., OnStar was collecting conversations in cars for policing purposes.

The goal of the project is to argue that surveillance needs oversight, public discussion of the goals, and how those goals can be most narrowly met. Chris ends by pointing at Zimbabwe’s recent law that requires ISPs to wiretap their users. Even though it may not actually be happening, this “transparency” can “be a tool to suppress expression on the cheap.”

Q: In the US, are there laws beyond wiretapping, child porn, and financial data retention, that have caused private companies to alter their data retention processes?
A: There are no data retention laws in the US.

(ethanz) The gap between what may be possible in surveillance and what people perceive to be possible is pretty vast. In the middle east among activists, it’s believed that the entire Net passes through seven servers in DC, and that every communication is monitored. This rumor has attained the status of fact in the developing world. The panopticon effect is orders of magnitude more powerful than what these systems are capable of doing. People will not stop believing this.

Q: How well do the counter-digital-surveillance techniques work?
A: Unclear. If you’re identified as a target in a technologically sophisticated country, there’s very little you can do on line to counter it.
Ethan: In one country, they were listening in through parabolic mics a few doors down. There’s nothing you can do about it in a sufficiently motivated environment.
Chris: The best way to keep yourself unidentified is obfuscation. Talk about your topic when in World of Warcraft.

Do people use steganography?
Roger: It’s a myth that it can’t be detected. You can detect non-random low-order bits in graphics.
Ethan: And if they communicate through Tor, you’re flagging (in many countries) that you’re up to no good.

Ethan: I’d like information so people can make better risk assessments. How good are the surveillers? Are they as good as the “tin hats” think? I doubt it, but it would be good to know. E.g., people in Zimbabwe are dropping off of political humor lists, for fear they’re being watched. People over-estimate the ability of governments to watch us.

Gene: Let me sum up: To stop terrorists we’d also stop activists. We have a false sense of security but also a false chilling effect.
Chris: Yes, from the point of surveillance, terrorists and activists are both people trying to hide their communication.
Gene: If from a policy/legal standpoint there’s no difference…
Chris: In a repressive regime, there’s no difference…
Ethan: It’s a difference between behavioral and content analysis. If we were capable of doing the sort of content analysis that most people think we’re capable of doing, people wouldn’t be scared off from (e.g.) participating in Koranic online discussions to argue against suicide bombing. [Tags: ]


April 28, 2008

ROFLcon talk on Web fame

Mary Joyce did a nice job live-blogging my ROFLcon talk. Thanks, Mary! [Tags: ]

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The shrinking head illusion

From an article in the Boston Globe — by a reporter who saw the trick done in the flesh — here’s a video from the site of Bruce Kalver, magician:

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Vilna Shul isn’t miscellaneous

I’m giving a talk on “Everything Is Miscellaneous” at the Vilna Shul (which is habitually prefaced with “historic”) in Boston tomorrow, Tues., starting at 6pm. If you want to go — and as of now I’m thinking I’ll give my plain ol’ “Misc” talk — please RSVP to dougat

UPDATE: I think I’m instead going to talk about knowledge in the age of the miscellaneous, and in particular as if the Internet is Jewish.

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April 27, 2008

Comcast’s ID overkill

If you want to chat online with a Comcast support person, they cannot do so unless you give them your social security number.

Lessons to learn:

1. Unless restrained, companies will demand more and more identification from us, because violating our privacy doesn’t cost them anything.

2. We cannot rely on market forces to restrain publicprivate sector ID greed.

3. Comcast continues to lead the field in overall corporate suckage.

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April 26, 2008

[roflcon] Internet cult leaders

Chris Kelty, a prof. from Rice, leads a panel of Internet cult leaders. He asks if we want these celebrities to become leaders. [I am totally out of my demographic]. Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics). Randall Munroe (xkcd). Moot (4chan). [Live-blogging. Highly compressed. Many mistakes. Even sketchier than usual. ]

Ryan denies he has any leadership beyond superficially. Randall also doesn’t want to lead anything. He’s humbled and horrified that there are other people like him. Moot says he merely provides a place for people to express themselves.

Randall denies that the comic is based on his life. Ryan “tries to have it both ways with his comics.”

Q: Ryan, you’re the creator of Project Wonderful, an auction-based ad system that has revolutionized advertising on the Web. So, which Dinosaurs characters are based on your ex-girlfriends?
A: Sometimes. Unadvisably.
Randall: It can be bad if you write about a fake relationship while you’re in a real relationship…

Q: Are you fighting any preconceptions?
Ryan: People don’t know how to respond to someone writing comics on the Internet.

Q: When have you been most afraid about what you’ve created and the consequences thereof?
A: Right now. [applause]

For some reason, Moot pantomimes a barrel roll.

Ryan says that he doesn’t explain his jokes even when people get them wrong.

For reasons I don’t understand, Randall has the entire audience do a barrel roll. Later, he says that he expected controversy when he did a comic on the meth addicts of cunnilingus in order to set the outer edge of edginess within which he can operate. But there was no controversy.
Ryan adds that he’s surprised by which of his comics are controversial.

Q: Why are so many of the cultural producers men?
Ryan: Online I could be a 12 yr old girl if I wanted to, and perhaps I have been. I don’t think there’s anything inherent in the Internet that selects towards men.
Moot: It’s a conspiracy. We can’t talk about it.
Kelty: A comic like yours does more to entice people into that world than anything the universities do. You seem to be trying to do this. Can you do more than a comic?
Randall: It’s hard to be preachy and funny at the same time. The causes of the gender imbalance are complex. It’s by far the most complicated thing I’ve ever studied, and I’ve studied quantum mechanics.

Q: When you meet someone in a bar, is it more weird and awkward when they know who you are?

Randall: The weirdest is when they seem to be friendly, and they’ve read the comic and don’t like it.
Ryan: It’s nice when you start on an even ground.

Moot: I’m a huge fan of anonymous posting. It evens the playing ground.

Q: Was society crying out for the communities you’ve created?
Moot: 4chan was based on 2chan. Eventually, someone else would have come along and done it.

Q: 4chan has a different community than it started with. During the panel, moot, you’ve both distanced yourself and identified yourself with. What parts of the community do you like?
Moot: Hard to articulate. Started out for anime. The random board grew. The “let’s raid someone’s life for no good reason” is terrible, but a lot of that has migrated elsewhere. I don’t control 4chan but I am at the reins and can say what we do and don’t want there.

Q: What will you be doing in 10 yrs. The same thing?
Ryan: I can see it. My drawing doesn’t change. It’s hard work but I enjoy it.
Randall: Me, too.

Q: Ryan, do you feel more constrained or liberated by the form of your comic?
Ryan: There’s a lot you can do with the narrative form even with a repeating graphic.

Moot: I spend most of my time on the Net reading news. It’s important to be connected to your world. Not just BBC, but community sites.

For reasons I do understand, people ask many insider questions I don’t understand.

Huge applause at the end. Even huger for the organizers of the conference. And why not? ROFLcon is now a meme as much as conf. On its way to becoming a movement? [Tags: ]


Complex interests, detailed interests

BoingBoing points to some wonderful comments by Vint Cerf in an interview in Esquire, including:

The closer you look at something, the more complex it seems to be.

So true. And also quite different from one of the founding ideas of Western culture. For the ancient Greeks, beneath the apparent complexity there had to be a simple order, or else knowledge wasn’t possible.

You have to wonder about the role our current technology has played in our moving from the Greeks to Vint. (1) We are far better able to externalize ideas now, so that we can know more than we could when memory was confined to what fit in our skulls and could be written down by hand. (2) Our technology now lets us put things together far more complexly than the physical world does; reality is designed to keep things apart (to be something is to not be something else, said Aristotle), while the Web is designed to link things together. (3) Our technology connects us in socially complex ways, enabling us to understand things together.

And it’s not just that things become more complex the closer you look. They also become more interesting. Everything is interesting if looked at closely enough. I take that as one of the lessons of the Net. [Tags: ]

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