January 28, 2011

Egypt goes dark, shuts down DNS servers

Filed under: Liberty, Middle East, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

Updates added to the bottom of this post

The Egyptian government is attempting to foil protests by eliminating internet traffic. Renesys reports:

Confirming what a few have reported this evening: in an action unprecedented in Internet history, the Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet. Critical European-Asian fiber-optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air.

At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

I have seen very little traffic coming to this site from Egypt before the DNS server shutdown (under 40 unique visitors last year, according to FlagCounter), so the following information isn’t likely to be of direct assistance to Egyptians, but hopefully some can be filtered onwards.

The first suggestion (from Shereef Abbas) is to use Google’s Public DNS 2 to change “your DNS ‘switchboard’ operator from your ISP to Google Public DNS”.

John Perry Barlow suggests “more tools to access blocked websites and maintain anonymity”: http://jan25.in/how-to-access-blocked-websites-by-government and https://www.torproject.org/download/download.html.en.

Update: Vice President Joe Biden appears to be missing a wonderful opportunity to shut up.

Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: “We’re encouraging the protesters to – as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and – and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out.” He also said: “I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable… accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt.”

Egypt’s protesters, if they’re paying attention to Biden at all, will certainly be wondering which of their demands thus far have been illegitimate.

Update, the second: Live blogging the protests at the Guardian. And several sources are recommending the coverage streamed online from Al Jazeera’s English-language site.

Update, the third: The effectiveness of Egypt’s internet blackout shows why giving the American president (or any national leader) an internet “kill switch” is such a bad idea. To most of us, anyway. I’m sure that to some people it’s an argument in favour.

Update, the fourth: National Post has a graphic showing the locations of the reported activity:

Click to enlarge

QotD: If those were the “good old days” then to hell with them

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:37

One of the difficulties progressives face is trying to make centralized planning sound like a good idea. Even the president, with all his rhetorical genius and majestic vagueness, can struggle with the task. So, from time to time, it’s important to mold history a bit to, you know, make a point.

Early on in his State of the Union, for instance, President Barack Obama reminisced of an age when “good jobs” meant “showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown.” A time when you “didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors,” and, if you “worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.”

Way to dream big! Really, was this country ever about being proud that your children ended up in the same plant you slaved in for 30 years? Even with a promise of a union pension and — if you’re lucky — an “occasional” promotion, it sounds like a soul-crushing grind you’d want your offspring to escape, tout de suite.

Luckily, in the real world, history tells of a story filled with dynamic movements of people, class climbing, churning innovation, booms and busts and widespread embrace of risk-taking.

Now, as the president explained, “painful” changes have crashed down on his revisionism and Americans have been forced to compete, find India on a map, move from town to town and study.

David Harsanyi, “Who are we in ‘Sputnik moment’?”, Denver Post, 2011-02-28

Finns unhappy with icy iPhones

Filed under: Europe, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

Bill Ray reports on the source of Finnish unhappiness with Apple iPhone performance:

Finnish iPhone users unhappy at the inability of the handset to operate below zero are entitled to their money back, even if the limitation appears in the small print.

The clarification comes from the Finland’s Consumer Agency, as reported by Finnish news agency YLE.fi, in response to numerous questions from concerned Finns who are unhappy that their shiny Apple toys won’t promise to work again until the spring, at best. So unless the shop specifically stated the zero-degree operational limit, then the regulator reckons iPhone-purchasing Finns are entitled to their money back.

Finland, like the UK, requires all items sold new to operate in the way they might reasonably be expected to do. Small print can’t negate those rights, and it’s reasonable for Finns to expect to be able to make phone calls outside, so refunds would seem to be in order. Meanwhile the regulator is preparing a list of questions for Apple about how it trains its staff, and how badly the iPhone breaks down when it gets cold.

US Navy’s “pee antenna”

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:46

Warships have been sprouting more and more antennae for all the various communication equipment on board — more every year, as new devices are rolled out of development and into active service. This creates problems, especially with smaller vessels, as the multiple antennae need to be spaced far enough apart to avoid mutual interference with signals. The US Navy may have come up with a liquid solution:

With an $80 water pump, a $15 rubber hose and a $20 electrical device called a current probe that was easily plugged into a hand-held radio, [Daniel Tam] produced a spout roughly four metres tall from the waters of San Diego Bay. With this he could send and receive a clear signal. Over the intervening years his invention, dubbed the “pee antenna” by incredulous colleagues, has been tweaked and improved to the point where it can transmit over a distance of more than 50km (30 miles).

To make a seawater antenna, the current probe (an electrical coil roughly the size and shape of a large doughnut) is attached to a radio’s antenna jack. When salt water is squirted through the hole in the middle of the probe, signals are transferred to the water stream by electromagnetic induction. The aerial can be adjusted to the frequency of those signals by lengthening or shortening the spout. To fashion antennae for short-wave radio, for example, spouts between 18 and 24 metres high are about right. To increase bandwidth, and thus transmit more data, such as a video, all you need do is thicken the spout. And the system is economical. The probe consumes less electricity than three incandescent desk lamps.

A warship’s metal antennae, which often weigh more than 3½ tonnes apiece, can be damaged in storms or combat. Seawater antennae, whose components weigh next to nothing and are easily stowable, could provide handy backups — and, eventually, more than backups. Not all of a ship’s antennae are used at once, so the spouts could be adjusted continuously to obtain the types needed at a given moment. According to SPAWAR, ten such antennae could replace 80 copper ones.

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