My Open Source

Takes one to know one: your privilege blinds you

This growing up stuff, yeah, it’s um.

Yeah.

So what I want to talk about is this nagging feeling I’ve picked up today — today and maybe the last two weeks. The one that tells me that I’m not in kindergarten anymore; where it’s not just each other’s shovels and Tonka trucks that we’re fighting over, but where you’ll get kicked out of the sandbox for being something that everyone else is not, or, more inanely, for standing up for someone else who has been or cumulatively feels kicked out of the sandbox (whether deliberately or through implicit crowding to the edges) by the so-called predominants.

And yes, that perennial topic‘s been on my mind lately, and I’m not going to kid myself by thinking that I have any kind of solutions for the exclusivity politics of technology and engineering (specifically as it relates to minority genders in open source, or in general), but this gender exclusivity shit really bugs the hell out of me and I’ll tell you why. Or just ramble about something else. I dunno, you figure it out.

Not so long ago, I had a dream. Nay, a vision; a vision for what this work — my work — was supposed to all be about. Fill me up with enough Martin Luther King Jr and Amelia Earhart and pre-Bush Colin Powell and Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman and on and on and what do you expect? American education is pathologically filled with stories that champion the plight of the underenabled individual, that offers that inspire hope and optimism, and above all, regurgitate the parable of the scamp and his fits of hard work, of courage, of raw determination — finally landing tremendous success and making it big; being popular, celebrated, probably with a blonde trophy as a thanks-for-coming award. This story illustrates our most dear and unquestionable ; it is the foundation on which we’ve substantiated our participation in wars; it contributes to our desire and perceived righteousness in democracy around the world; it is the belief that all peoples deserve a chance to be great — to share in the greatest of opportunities that life has to offer — to attain what one might never believe possible solely leveraging his wits and sweat-stained perseverance.

Somehow, in the American Dream, everyone’s a winner — yes, even you Timmy!

This is what I grew up on, like Cocoa Puffs or Lucky Charms or Golden Grahams for breakfast every morning with skim milk from robot cows. This was part of the routine, what was given, told, lectured. Consumed. Kachug kachug. Strikes me: it’s funny how the kids who broke the rules were kept after for detention.

Yep, the American Dream is shared — is attainable — by everyone. Ho ho ho.

It’s funny how the kid, trusting and determined, well-meaning and ready to take on the world (right after he finished his homework) was the one who nearly didn’t graduate because of an overly politically-minded principal couldn’t stand for tolerance in his high school.

· · ·

“No pinball! Sit down! Don’t contradict me. Pinball pinball pinball!

· · ·

It’s funny that you never knew what to do with those kids who couldn’t get along in math, or who didn’t show up for class on time, or didn’t speak or sit up just right, for whom homework competed with their after-school job that paid for tomorrow’s school lunch, who wore all black, who didn’t play your games, who listened to loud music, who threatened your reputation… s’funny how they were the ones who were punished and held back; the ones you stuck in remedial lessons in the basement of Building 2 with the rats and the rest of the dredges of society.

It’s funny that they were still spoon-fed the same American Dream docudrama ballfield pat-your-ass wholesomeness when you stuck them in English class so they would know, yes, they would comprehend, that there was still hope for them. Even if you didn’t hold it out for them.

And yeah, I’m dwelling a bit, taking this all back to high school and all — but I can see the dichotomy so clearly now, nothing’s changed — but hey, that’s not just what this is all about. Nor need it be about anyone in particular this day in history, right this second (and if you think this is about you, you’re either thinking too hard or need to take a long look in the mirror, because what I’m saying pertains to me .. go find your own blog on which to ruminate).

· · ·

The question is posed to you, Mr Joe, sitting in row five, third seat in, squarely in the middle of class: “What kind of society do you want to be a part of, Mr Joe?”

You look up from your doodles, hoping that you were invisible, that you were cloaked in an impenetrable shield that had just enough oxygen for you so everyone else would just faint away.

“Well, Mr Joe? The class is waiting; what kind of society do you want to be a part of?

· · ·

And oh I know where I’ve been, and from where I’ve come. Suburbia. Middle class & white: suburbia. I know I’ve grown up with a great deal of privilege — without pain, sickness; without death, without tragedy. The worst I’ve had was 7 stitches from a freak accident at boy scout camp. For fuck’s sake, I’m a white male — moderately attractive, educated. Living in the United States. No dear readers, it doesn’t get much easier for us. Hell, when I’m vice president, I hope I can get away with shooting a man too, just to say that I did it in front of the whole world and got away with it. Because, well, that’s what we’re growing up with — that what the kids are being fed.

“You are what you eat” — remember that one? Real jewel there. You think I’m full of shit? You think I’m full of lies? You think that I see all the privileges that I take for granted? Oh wait, that’s a contradiction.

You think this is the society that I wanted? You think that this is the society that I want? That I continue to want when I wake up every morning? That I really want to keep building out, reinforcing and extending the existing hegemony, keeping the power all locked up in the privileged kids’ parents’ lockboxes and shotgun cabinets?

Going clean seems to have lead to the discovery of contamination deep deep in the coils of our collective psyche. I’m full of lies, false truths, blasphemy, misogyny, ignorance, intolerance, greed, distrust, hatred — pure venom, man, a pure vile toxin. And I’m sick sick sick of it. Sick sick sick by it. I gotta get it out. Gotta get it out, but it’s not just me. It’s gotta be sucked out of our culture like a lethal venom. Sucked out from the marrow of our society.

If it doesn’t start changing here, if it doesn’t start changing now — now as we’re building out the most powerful, interconnected communications network the human species has ever known, there is no god, ungod or interworldly savior that will be able to help us. So it’s gotta start here.

· · ·

“Well? We’re all waiting for you: what kind of society do you want to be a part of? Hmm?”

RIAA says “EFF You iPod rippers!”

EFF the RIAAMan oh man oh man.

Man oh man!

Seriously, could the RIAA make it any easier for us?

Listen fellas, yeah, youze guys with the stogies up in your crystal palace puffin away and chucklin’ to each other about how you’re going to ‘crush’ those ‘infringers’… Yeah, seriously, ya know what, we’re sick of being abused by you. We’re sick of being fed your garbage — of the idea that you think that you control everything and can dictate the rules of my use of your “product” long after I’ve bought and paid for it.

Look, I dunno what planet you guys think you’re on and what legal system is going to end up supporting your stilted worldview, but it doesn’t even matter. Because you’re irrelevant. You’re meaningless. What you’re doing is like a slow train wreck euthanasia; we’re all watching you pen your own demise, over months and months of screwing your best customers. I mean — it’s so painfully clear to us! Why is this not obvious to you?

Oh oh, okay, I know — you’re saying “well, we can afford to be the bad guys and get everyone’s hate-ons directed as us because we’ve got players in bed with us that could smite you without even thinking about it.”

And you know what, while that’s true, you’re still not getting it. Because I’m just one paucitous individual. Get rid of me, two will fall in line to replace me. Take them out, four more. And on and on. That’s what you don’t get. And when you start screwing with people who own iPods, holy crap!, you’re unleashing a wrath far more powerful than the DOJ or your own fatcat legal hegemons: the MySpaceXangaLiveJournalOrkut kids and their parents.

So don’t say we didn’t warn you. Since, yeah, it’ll be our eyes that you’ll be staring up into questioningly as you realize that you’ve taken yourself out.

Hey, uh… Google?

Two-FaceSo first you get props for telling the government to go eff itself and then you go and basically give the government an awesome loophole to circumvent the fourth amendment.

Brilliant!

No really — you do realize what you’ve done here with Google Desktop, right? By storing in plain text all the contents of someone’s harddrive on your servers, the government now no longer needs a search warrant to go after that data… they only need a subpeona for your servers. If it’s my data, I don’t even need to be notified!

And this is exactly the point that the EFF has made. I mean, hey, props for taking on the government, but history’s proven that no matter how big you are, you’re still not bigger than the government — regardless of your stock price, but dude, they are the ones who enforce the legal system that makes it possible for you to exist. Don’t fuggit that.

And yeah yeah, I know you’ve built in a means for getting my data off your servers, but the fact that it’ll take 60 days seems a bit… worrisome… as well:

If you cancel your Google Account or uninstall Google Desktop, the files indexed in the Search Across Computers feature will no longer be accessible through Google Desktop and may remain on our servers for up to 60 days before being deleted.

I mean, that’s kind of like leaving your credit card receipts and wallet at your ex-girlfriend’s place and not being able to make sure that indeed she’s not using it for nefarious purposes (or sharing it with her new boyfriend who’s in the FBI) for two months. Except my ex-girlfriends don’t tend to keep my data in a vault behind some Fort Knoxian security systems. But I digress.

Seriously dudes, ‘sup wit dat? You’re reaaaaaally startin’ to freak me out.

Google + My Data = Crazy Conspicuous

Crazy ConspicuousSee? This is what I was talking about. This is the slow steady systematic decline that I was talking about.

Don’t believe me yet, tha’s coo.

Coz see, now that Google can track your email, your search history, your chats, what comes next? Gee, let’s see. Would be nice if you could go back and grab your cell phone convos right? Oh wait, Gtalk and FON will help there… And where you’ve been? Dodgeball’s got that covered. Hell, you can even map that stuff on Gmaps — or one step bigger — Earth.

So what happens when Google rolls out wifi or flips the switch on all that dark fiber it’s got?

Tell you what, yeah, you’ll be able to get movies downloaded hella fast, but Google will also have the most lucrative person-database ever assembled. That Google credit card you just applied for? Ho ho ho. MAN I wish that kind of information about myself.

So look, I’m over it. I said as much before. Privacy is dead. Get over it.

Well ok fine, I’m not really over it, but it sounds more dramatic when I put it that way.

What isn’t finished, however, is how much control over that information you should be able to exert. You know how much you hate it when you walk into a party and all of a sudden everyone starts whispering, looking sidewards at you, raising eyebrows. Wouldn’t it just be so great if you could turn up the volume of what everyone’s saying and hear just what they think about you — and better yet, see which Dicks Jane is sharing that information with?

That’s the problem here. Once Google rolls out GoogleNet, we’re effed. It’s that simple. There’ll be a “personal information tax” that they’ll charge you just to take a look at your information (alright alright, I hear you snicker, maybe they won’t, but they sure could!).

So there’s got to be competition — and I don’t mean from the other biggies. I mean from us. I mean from the people who’s data they’re harvesting and already claim dominion over. I mean that we need to build our own economy and our own means of leveraging this data — and of course building the means to syphon it back out of the biggies. You think they’re going to give up this information easily, willfully? Sorry Toto, we’re not in Germany, here (can’t count on the government anyway when it’s just as eager to have this kind of information about its citizenry anyway).

So yeah. Just keep it in the back of your head. As Google grows, becomes more powerful, more all-knowing, whatchoo gunna do about? What can you do about it once they know everything about you — and all of your transactions pass through the Google network? I’m not scared of this — and I’m not raising the paranoia flag. Fuck that, it’s too late for paranoia. This is the future and the present; so the only question now is, what do we make of it now that we’re here? And, moreover, how do we put all this data to work for us?

Me and Microsoft, Part II

Executive summary: Had dinner the other night with Jim Allchin and some other wonderful folks. We talked broadly about open source, Internet Explorer and Windows, Window Media Center, identity management and passport and widely about DRM and how effed the whole system is. And though there were certainly MSFT-friendlies around the table, it was refreshingly not a total MSFT lovefest. Details follow. Part 2 in a series of a couple.

Me and MicrosoftOkay, so you wanna know what I think? I don’t think MSFT is a bad company. Maybe I’m basing that only on my interactions with Scoble and Jim, Linda, Neil and James and others from MSFT that I’ve historically interacted with, but really I think that there’s some decency in there. Thomas told me that of the AGYM companies, MSFT employees seem to be the most open and willing to engage in honest conversations about the failings of their employer. Are there bad apples in the mix (maybe the wrong analogy to use, ehmm)? Of course. Has MSFT been arrogant, closed, anti-standards, proprietary and at times evil? Yeah, probably (though that last part is often in the eye of the beholder). Achieving the ol’ American dream doesn’t come without crushing some toes.

So here’s my beef (and Tara was totally right to push this issue with Jim): when it comes to certain, shall we say, “politically-charged” (and economically-impactful) issues, why doesn’t MSFT shore up on the side of democracy and freedom of information and expression and rally its allies against the intellectual police state? Ok, fine… scrap the hyperbole, here’s what I want: just let us use our media however we damn well please! Eff this DRM bullshit. You know it’s not good for your customers and it’s ultimately not good for your bottom line, either.

O o o wait. Ok. Call my bluff, go ahead. Well, see, I’m not that naive and Tara isn’t either. We know it all comes down to business (as usual).

We know that quote-unquote consumers are only part of your audience — that Hollywood is also one of your most well-endowed customers (I’m talking big feet, here); that they rely on you to lock down and handicap the technology and tools that you build so that they can maintain their stranglehold on eff-you-ectual property.

I git it, I git it. Duh.

But how about this? Who said I ever cared about bidness (as usual)? Now, I’m not down with making threats much (I mean, this is a personal blog, big friggin’ whoop what I have to say here), but it is obvious, at least to me and everyone I know, that you’re fighting a losing battle. I don’t even have to back it up. Time will tell. What the system can’t break down, it will route around. And DRM schemes are being broken so fast that the money you’re spending researching new ones is almost certainly costing you future allies in the Doomsday fight against Hollywood. So you’re losing in both respects: you’re certainly not getting points with your Media Center enthusiasts who just want to be able to play their legally purchased media anywhere and by not making a stand against the DRM that-turns-our-computers-against-us, it’s you that looks bad, even though you’re only pushing Hollywood’s agenda.

Oh, and about blaming it all on Apple and the iPod…. for a minute there you had me going… It did seem to make sense that geez, Apple’s the real offender here, keeping iTunes and the iPod all locked up and proprietary. But then hey, I realized that if your players were decent and you’d won the player war, you’d be doing the exact same thing that you accuse Apple of, which, by the way, is perpetuating their winning streak going and keeping you outta that business (hmm, didn’t you do this with the desktop? what comes around, goes around maybe?).

You can’t just say “well, they’ve found success with the iPod, they’re making boatloads of cash, they’re the ones that should fix the DRM problem and take on Hollywood.” That’s bullshit and now that I’ve thought about it, a bit insulting that you would suggest that MSFT has nothing to do with the problem.

But I’m jess sayin’, yoo kno?

Anyway, I’ve got nothing against you guys personally. That’s the beauty of working for a monolith: your individual actions have much less bite when it comes right down to it. So let’s call this an academic exercise: you all get F’s in my book for sticking up for the little guy and hell, I would’ve suspended Hollywood by now and sent it off for a remedial education in the importance of sharing ones trucks in the sandbox of life… but truly, I’m a peon in the scheme of things; you guys are the ones building your “open” DRM into our tools, into our media and into our computers. You do have the power to make a difference. So, uhm, sorry if I don’t buy your logic that Apple’s all to blame or that the problem is out of your hands. Personally, I can only choose not to buy your DRM’d crap and instead spend my money supporting causes that are working to dismantle the intellectual police state that you’re creating.

Ok, I’m done. Remember that this totally isn’t personal — hey, I like you guys — it’s just your and Hollywood’s big picture I ain’t too fond of! Kbai.

Pry, To

privacy is dream

personal privacy is an oxymoron. you know less about yourself than the mass of services and companies out there that collect, individually or collectively, information about you and your activities, for their own selective proprietary uses or for selling to other organizations, institutions and/or governments.

you think you have privacy left to protect?

privacy today in general is a fallacy: it’s an impossible dream that we should’ve woken up from some time ago.

a “publicity policy” isn’t enough, but it’s a cute idea. naw, it’s time for a whole mind shift in how we, as individual persons, address and engage the question of what it means to have little to no power to control who sees, studies, sells information about, the things that we do.

repeat after me: “PRIVACY … IS … A … DREAM.”

not for you. not for me. only for the government, big corporations, disappearing persons.

but hey hey, don’t fret. it’s not that bad. and maybe, maybe we can do something about it that won’t cost us all that much, if anything. so long as we follow the superstition that we have any privacy at all, we’ll continue to try to “hide” (in order to “control”) whatever information we can. but that’s just what keeps us in this situation, this is the very thing that keeps us weak.

get it? they already have all the juicy bits about us. it’s all out there in the ether already. and you spend this effort keeping these bits to yourself, bits that really could do you and your friends and your social cohorts some good if you just put it out there.

jamming, yeah, that’s what i’m talking about. flood the network with information of, by and for ourselves… so much so that only our friends and those we care about and are close to can make sense of the data.

yeh, come looking, come stalk me, come steal my identity. yeah, there’s nothing i can do to stop you whether i’m jamming the network anyway. so i might as well take the other approach, do what i can to subsume what’s subsuming me.

personal filters (maybe like Onlife) leveraged put our attention stream into service for ourselves… to improve our day-to-day experience by giving us the information to learn about what we really spend our time, attention and energies doing… so that we can improve, make better, more informed decisions… just like the credit card mongers and insurance brokers do about us.

this data is extremely valuable. there’s a multi-billion dollar market out there for this kind of information. but what they don’t want you to realize, is that this data is also available to you, cher amie, even though we haven’t built good tools for harvesting and using it yet… too afraid that these microscopic pixie dust embers of personal data will be scooped up by Evil, Inc., they’ve done an end-run around us, ignoring those teensy morsels that you protect to focus on grabbing up the good stuff (credit card records, travel behavior, cell phone calls, etc). they’ve got you p0wned. get over it.

besides, who are you kidding besides yourself?

get over it. flood the network.

listen, if it’s about you, it’s yours (yes, I believe that). and yes, you ought have a right to see it, to know about it, to correct it, to use it. you also should have the right to take it back, to conceal it, to lock it away forever.

but good luck, once it’s out there, it ain’t comin’ back. you step out that door, and forget it, you’re already on camera; say cheese.

repeat after me: “PRIVACY … IS … A … DREAM.”

what you don’t know about you, someone else by now already does and has sold off to a mailing label company, a magazine subscription company, a freeipods dot com rip off pyramid scheme. so look, if you don’t think of yourself as an aggregate statistic in your own life, for eff’s sake, stop treating yourself like one. flood it. c’mon, flood it. make it impossible for anyone to ever treat you as just another statistic again.

teh end.

sources, references and influences that partially lead to this flamebait:

Flock landing in China

Bart Decrem talks to BokeeFlock’s crossed the Pacific and is landing in China, the land of free speech and civil liberties!

No but seriously, the sun doesn’t set where Flock is going, so China had better get ready. Bloggers know no boundaries and sure as hell aren’t polite. When the Bokee edition of Flock comes out, proponents of democracy can breathe a sigh of satisfaction; we are taking back the web and talking about it every step of the way. And you can’t stop us. You won’t stop us.

Civil libertarians should get hip to personal data harvesting

Despite my tonqe-in-cheek title, I wanted to take a moment to respond to this article, because, though it is likely well-intentioned and in fact rather truthful, it glosses over a more important discussion that should be going on.

Despite my tonqe-in-cheek title, I wanted to take a moment to respond to this article, because, though it is likely well-intentioned and in fact rather truthful, it glosses over a more important discussion that should be going on.

Whether anonymous Internet usage will ever exist is not important. What is important is that companies become aware that Internet activity is easy to monitor from a variety of locations, even when data encryption is in use.

In context:

There are several jokes and cartoons out there that play on the idea of the “anonymous” Web, an Internet where you can be whatever and whoever you want. Most mainstream computer users willingly buy into this concept, deceived by the ability to adopt cryptic usernames and e-mail addresses.

Anonymous Internet usage is an appealing concept to many people, but whether it’s actually possible is a different matter. Generally speaking, it’s relatively simple to intercept–and at the least, monitor–the transmission of digital information.

Every time you transmit data from a computer to or from somewhere else using the Internet, literally dozens of places can exist that are monitoring the transmission. Clear-text protocols offer no built-in protection from eavesdropping. In addition, the transmission leaves traces of “evidence” on your computer–regardless of if you use data encryption or one of those software “evidence eliminator” packages.

An anonymous Internet, if such a thing existed, would be immune to eavesdropping entirely, and it would have no record of a communication ever existing. Anonymous Internet usage is like a “cash” form of communication: It would leave no traceable evidence.

In certain countries, the government restricts and/or controls Internet use. For example, China has one of the most extensive Web proxy server and monitoring capabilities in the world, aptly dubbed the “Great Firewall of China.”

The Chinese government controls, monitors, and censors Internet access at will. Dissidents and those opposed to the Chinese government, including other governments, constantly try to bypass the censors, but the Great Firewall soon discovers and blocks these noncensored “anonymous” proxy servers.

So it’s understandable why some people see the benefits in leaving no traces of any communication, especially when there’s a fear of reprisal from a government or other organizations. It would be as if the transmission never happened. There’s no record of it ever occurring, and therefore it doesn’t exist.

But, however appealing this concept may be to some, the fact remains that it isn’t realistic. Companies and individuals alike need to be aware that there really is no such thing as anonymous Internet usage. If someone wants to determine what a computer is doing on the Internet, there’s always a trail to follow.

Computer users leave traces of information with almost every data transmission. In fact, an entire computer subindustry has evolved to deal with removing these traces of information, but these companies can only remove what’s on a computer. There are so many other points that can record the “digital footprints” of Internet activity that it’s impossible to completely guarantee anonymity.

Whether anonymous Internet usage will ever exist is not important. What is important is that companies become aware that Internet activity is easy to monitor from a variety of locations, even when data encryption is in use.

Jonathan Yarden is the senior UNIX system administrator, network security manager, and senior software architect for a regional ISP.

If we take the author’s premise as a given (that anonymous internet usage will never ever exist), then the important discussion to have is what information should be collected about you, and if collected, who has control over it and what can you, as the source of that information, do to control its use, administration and distribution?

If one persists with a blanket notion that personal information collected about one’s behavior on the internet is bad, the future will be very difficult to cope with. The fact is that more and more companies, big and small, are amassing huge databases of information about people. Frankly, if you’re really concerned about this kind of thing, you should stop using your ATM and credit cards because as it is now, it’s easier to track your behavior through your purchases than through your web browser.

But that is going to change. And the dangers are such that, unless a cogent counter-argument is made that fairly deals with the benefits that come with the harvesting of this data, it will be increasingly difficult to take back control or change corporate policies once they’re instated (as with a civil liberty lost is nearly impossible to get back).

So what am I driving at? Well, I think that a more realistic and proactive attitude is needed from the civil libertarian camp that shows its understanding of the value in this kind of data. I also think that a more nuanced attitude towards privacy is desperately needed because all or nothing is not going to cut it as technology gets simpler and better at collecting information about you. I also believe that civil libertarians can benefit from this kind of data collection in ways that I don’t think have been realized. Once we start to see data collection as a strategic tool rather than as an invasion of our private space, we may indeed become powerful enough to take back control over our data.