A few moments ago I received email from the Iranian who first asked me to try to help the dissidents fourteen month ago. I reproduce his email and my response in its entirety, except that I omit information that might identify him.
It is now about fourteen months since, after receiving my second death threat, I started carrying a firearm almost constantly. This experience has taught me a few truths, some merely amusing but others with larger implications.
The major lesson: people are amazingly oblivious to what they don’t expect to see. When I carry using a belt holster (not my only method), I watch peoples’ eye movements and facial expressions for this pattern: eyes going to my right hip, momentary startlement or an increase in tension. This would mean the shirt I’m wearing flapped over the pistol butt has ridden up and it’s exposed. But, in fact, with only one exception that I’ll get to, I have never seen this. On the other hand, there have been occasions when I’ve noticed by touch that the weapon was exposed, or my wife has told me it’s showing, and nobody around me gives any sign of having noticed.
Some years ago, in The Delusion of Expertise, I wrote about the memorable occasion in 2003 on which some friends and I were able to bestow on author Terry Pratchett the accolade of hacker, recognizing him as what he had always been: one of us.
Now comes the news that as part of his preparations to be formally knighted by the Queen of England, Terry made his own sword – smelted the iron, and helped hand-forge it. Including, as he says, “several pieces of meteorites â€” thunderbolt iron, you see â€” highly magical, youâ€™ve got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not”.
In mid-2009, just after Neda Soltan was shot down on a Tehran street, I was working with a group of hackers attempting to provide covert communications support to the Iranian dissident movement. I blogged about it at the time, received my second death threat as a result, and had a couple of interesting conversations with the FBI. Eventually I stopped working with the group; they made what I considered some serious mistakes of direction, and I was anyway beginning to doubt the principal’s claims of having an extensive contact network on the ground in Iran.
The group I was working with was deploying stealthed HTTP proxies and Tor nodes; my main technical contribution was a Squid configuration tuned to the purpose in ways I won’t discuss because the techniques might be useful against another tyranny someday. We knew of other groups using different technology; one seemed to be organized around a program called Haystack and its designer, a guy named Austin Heap.
I had brief contact with Heap during that period. Now I learn that he may have been a fraud. The Great Internet Freedom Fraud all but accuses him of this.
I received email recently asking me to respond to an article in the Huffington Post, No Safe Harbor on Gulf Coast; Human Blood Tests Show Dangerous Levels of Toxic Exposure. Questioner’s English wasn’t very good, but the question he was trying to pose was how market anarchists like myself can oppose government action to mitigate disasters like the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and what we have to say about the charge that corporate money is suppressing news of the full toll of the disaster.
What I had to say to him about that follows, slightly edited and expanded. It’s as good an individual case as any to explain why my free-market anarchism is a result not of optimism about the perfectibility of markets but of profound pessimism about the limits of any sort of collective action by human beings.
This is interesting. Jean-Louis Gassée, former head of Be Inc. and now a venture capitalist, has spotted what may be another prong of Google’s strategy; break the carriers’ term-contract system by driving the price of smartphones so far down that customers don’t need or want a carrier subsidy.
A few days ago, I observed that Google is not pushing back against cell carriers’ lockdown of Android phones as vigorously as I had expected in the wake of the Android 2.2 announcement. If this Twitter rumor is true, Google locked horns with the carriers and lost that confrontation, leading to the semi-discontinuance of the Nexus One. Does this mean the carriers have won the war?
On a mailing list I frequent, a regular expressed doubt about the possibility that very small subgroups of a society (less than 5% of its population) can cause large changes in the overall direction of its evolution without long historical timespans to work in. But I know from experience that this can happen, because I’ve lived it. My explanation (lightly edited and expanded) follows.
Of particular note is my explanation of how engineering design can shape history.
In a day or two I plan to do a blog post on the way engineering decisions can be critically important at cusp points in the history of society. In order for part of the argument in that post to make sense, my readers need to hear a story I’ve been hinting at in comments for some time: the first time that I personally made a difference in the world at what I believe was history-changing scale, and how that happened.
T-Mobile announced the G-2 yesterday. They were, of course, the first carrier to ship an Android phone when they released the G-1 back in 2008. I think this announcement signals yet another phase change in the smartphone wars, in which carriers begin to back off the proprietary skins that have disfigured recent Android releases.
I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on an ancient project of mine, C-INTERCAL, that’s an implementation of the longest-running joke in the history of computer languages. It’s an implementation, begun in 1990, of a language conceived in 1972 as a parody of programming languages of the 1960s. Now it’s nearly 40 years later, and yet some skilled hackers are still investing their time into fixing bugs, shipping releases, and even (gasp!) documenting the thing.
That’s a lot of effort to plow into a joke, and some people don’t get why. But there are parallels elsewhere: consider, for example, the venerable custom of issuing spoof Internet standards, published through the same channels as the real RFCs, on every April 1st. Behaviors like INTERCAL or the spoof RFCs don’t usually persist as long as these have without some powerful reason behind them.
While doing some research to check an assertion made by a commenter on More dispatches from the smartphone front I ran across excerpts from a very interesting report from investment analysts at Piper Jaffray on global smartphone market share and how they expect it to change in the next few years.
I can’t get at the full report, as Piper Jaffray has it paywalled and sells it to customers. But I have to say that for bankers the excerpts I can see make them look pretty smart to me. They’ve suggested a scenario for a radical change in market conditions that I actually think is quite plausible.
Four days ago I blogged about upgrading my old G-1 to CyanogenMOD and complained that the mod’s home site contained no high-level overview of the modding process to help pepople understand all the details in the modding instructions for individual devices.
It took some days of research, but I have now fixed that problem. I had that narrative description reviewed by experts on the IRC #cyanogenmod IRC channel while I was writing it, so it’s an outsider view with insider correctness.
I spent some time today rooting and reflashing my old G-1 so it’s jumped from stock Android 1.6 to Android 2.2. CyanogenMod is a truly impressive piece of work, with both snazzy surface polish and a lot of nice little hackerly touches like including a root console in the standard apps panel and easy access to the recovery loader. I really feel like I have control of the device now.
Which is nice, but doesn’t have a lot of practical relevance yet. My main use for the G-1 is as a fallback in case my Nexus One gets lost or stolen. Still, there was some enjoyment in learning that, yes, I can do stuff like reflashing a phone without bricking it, and swapping around SIM cards without perpetrating some egregious blunder that wipes them. Alas, I’m still not very comfortable doing risky things with hardware – I retain some emotional reflexes from thirty years ago, when zorching anything computerlike meant you’d just incurred a five-figure bill and were in deep, deep shit.
This is the story of the INTERCAL Reconstruction Massacree, an essay in risk versus skepticism and verification in software development with a nod in the general direction of Arlo Guthrie.
About three hours ago as I began to write, I delivered on a promise to probably my most distinguished customer ever – Dr. Donald Knuth. Don (he asked me to call him that, honest!) had requested a bug fix in INTERCAL, which he plans to use as the subject of a chapter in his forthcoming book Selected Papers on Fun And Games. As of those three hours ago Donald Knuth’s program is part of the INTERCAL compiler’s regression-test suite.
But I’m not actually here today to talk about Donald Knuth, I’m here to talk about risk versus skepticism and verification in software engineering – in five part harmony and full orchestration, using as a case study my recent experiences in (once again) calling INTERCAL forth from the realm of the restless dead.
Some comments on my last post sidetracked into a discussion of evolution, teleology and design and under what circumstances the language of “purpose” or “intention” can reasonably applied to a natural system. I’ve had a new insight while thinking about that discussion, so I’m going to write about it a bit more. And yes, I am aware that this discussion may appear to overlap with Daniel Dennett’s notion of the intentional stance, but I’m actually addressing a different set of issues.
I have a confession to make. I buy “organic” food, and I feel rather guilty about it.
My wife and I were in the local Wegman’s the other day (Wegman’s is worth a rant by itself; I’ll get back to Wegman’s) poking around in the “Nature’s Market” section where they keep the organic food. “Aha!” says my wife, “here’s something you’d like,” and held up a small bag labeled “Gone Nuts: Cilantro Lime Mojo” with, underneath it in smaller type, “Pistachios and Pepitas”.
I seized the bag and looked on the back. “Pure food ingredients” it trumpeted.
“No weird stuff added. INGREDIENTS: Raw Pistachios, Sprouted Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Lime Juice, Organic Fresh Cilantro, Organic Spices, Organic Jalapeno, Organic Cold Pressed Olive Oil, Himalayan Crystal Salt and Lime Oil.” My mouth watered. “Oh Goddess,” I muttered in her direction, “it’s packaged crack for me…”
Ah, but then came the deadly disclaimers. “VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE NO GMOs NO TRANS FAT.” and “We support local and fair-trade sources growing certified organic, transitional, and pesticide-free products.” Aaaarrrgggh! Suddenly my lovely potential snack was covered with an evil-smelling miasma of diet-faddery, sanctimony, political correctness, and just plain nonsense. This, I find, is a chronic problem with buying “organic”.
I saw The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s I-want-to-be-a-blockbuster action flick, just after it opened. I found it a curiously listless affair, considering all the star power and special-effects money lavished on it, but it’s taken me a week to realize why. Stallone, who wrote and directed and stars in the film, misses his target by a mile. Or, more likely, he couldn’t decide where to aim.
Being admired by lots of open-source geeks can be useful in unexpected ways. Probably the most extreme example I can recall is the Linux user group that once asked me to speak at a conference in Kansas City and rewarded me by paying for the ammunition at a local gun range where I got to fire fully-automatic weapons for the first and so far only time in my life. Though, come to think of it, the Korean LUG that gave me a tour of the DMZ complete with a trip down a captured North Korean infiltration tunnel was up there, too.
I was thinking about some of the more unusual experiences I’ve had of the road earlier today and it occurred to me that there’s one that almost happened, at Linucon 1, but didn’t because some insurance or municipal-health bureaucrat forced the conference to cancel the event. I’ve regretted it ever since.
So here it is. I don’t do a lot of road trips any more, but if your LUG or university is thinking about how to get me to give a talk, I have an unfulfilled wish…
Someday, I want to help judge a chili cook-off.
Hey, I like chili. I have some foodie tendencies and a good nose; I’d probably do the judging thing as competently as anybody who isn’t a professional cook. There it is; maybe some geek in a chiliaceous part of the U.S. will see this and go “Yeah. We could do that…” And a good time would be had by all.
A barbecue cook-off would also be quite acceptable :-)
Oracle has just sued Google over implementation methods used in the Dalvik virtual machine at the heart of the Android operating system. The complaint alleges knowing and willful infringement of seven patents originally issued to Sun Microsystems.
Oracle has retained Boies, Schiller & Flexner. One wonders if they’ll be any more competent than they were on the SCO lawsuit…
Results of a quick skim of the patents follow.