Quotulatiousness

October 21, 2017

Canada’s equivalent to the NSA releases a malware detection tool

Filed under: Cancon, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At The Register, Simon Sharwood looks at a new security tool (in open source) released by the Communications Security Establishment (CSE, formerly known as CSEC):

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment has open-sourced its own malware detection tool.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is a signals intelligence agency roughly equivalent to the United Kingdom’s GCHQ, the USA’s NSA and Australia’s Signals Directorate. It has both intelligence-gathering and advisory roles.

It also has a tool called “Assemblyline” which it describes as a “scalable distributed file analysis framework” that can “detect and analyse malicious files as they are received.”

[…]

The tool was written in Python and can run on a single PC or in a cluster. CSE claims it can process millions of files a day. “Assemblyline was built using public domain and open-source software; however the majority of the code was developed by CSE.” Nothing in it is commercial technology and the CSE says it is “easily integrated in to existing cyber defence technologies.”

The tool’s been released under the MIT licence and is available here.

The organisation says it released the code because its job is to improve Canadian’s security, and it’s confident Assemblyline will help. The CSE’s head of IT security Scott Jones has also told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that the release has a secondary goal of demystifying the organisation.

QotD: Writing for the internet

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It took me years of writing on the Internet to learn what is nearly an iron law of commentary: The better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else. The messages that make you feel great about yourself (and of course, your like-minded friends) are the ones that suggest you’re a moral giant striding boldly across the landscape, wielding your inescapable ethical logic. The messages that work are the ones that try to understand what the other side is thinking, on the assumption that they are no better or worse than you.

Megan McArdle, “How to Win Friends and Influence Refugee Policy”, Bloomberg View, 2015-11-20.

September 15, 2017

Will Google’s quasi-monopoly last as long as AOL’s did?

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the big picture, I’m concerned with Google’s current market power and their ability to quash online freedom of speech almost at will (if not directly, through pressure on other companies to co-operate, or else: “Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”). Google is huge and has fingers in an unimaginable number of pies, but it is still subject to market forces, as was an earlier behemoth of the online world:

The film [You’ve Got Mail] was released in 1998. Amazon was founded in 1994 and had its IPO in 1997. It was about to crush big discount bookstores — does anyone still remember the other big chain, Borders? — and nobody had a clue. There isn’t a single mention in the film of Amazon or online sales.

But the Internet is mentioned. It’s right there in the title of the movie. You’ve Got Mail, for those who are old enough to remember, was a tagline for America Online, the largest Internet service provider in the dial-up era of the 1990s. For millennials, let me explain: we had to connect our computers to a phone line, and an internal modem would place a phone call to a local data center from which it could download information at impossibly slow speeds. […]

AOL is there in the film’s title, because that’s how our protagonists are communicating: by trading e-mails on their dial-up AOL connections.

AOL’s high point was its merger with Time Warner in 2000. It was all downhill, rapidly, from there. Dial-up was quickly surpassed by broadband, and as the Web developed, nobody needed a “Web portal” any more. Again, for younger readers, let me explain. When you managed to get to this exciting new thing called the World Wide Web, how did you know what sites to go to or how to access information? Before the Google search, before Facebook, before Twitter, you went to a Web portal, a launching off point that gathered links and directed you to various sources for news, entertainment, shopping, etc. These Web portals had a huge amount of influence — until they didn’t.

Now here’s the fun part. At the same time nobody was paying much attention to Amazon because Barnes and Noble was going to crush all competitors and control the book business, there was widespread panic about the unstoppable monopoly power of AOL.

AOL was going to gain a monopoly because of its death grip on instant messaging. The “computer editor” for The Guardian worried that this was putting AOL “on its way to world domination.” The AOL-Time Warner deal raised “concerns that its merger would create a media powerhouse that would level competitors, dominate the Internet, and control consumer choice.”

A Wired podcast talked about fears of a Sun-AOL monopoly, but they didn’t call that sort of thing a “podcast” yet because the iPod hadn’t been invented. The audio clip was an MP3 file, and they suggested you listen to it on a Sonique MP3 player from Lycos. The Sonique stopped being produced about a year later. Lycos was a major Web portal, and according to Wikipedia, it was “the most visited online destination in the world in 1999.” It was bought by a multinational conglomerate for $12.5 billion at the peak of the dot-com bubble.

Whatever is left of Lycos was last sold for $36 million in 2010, though that deal seems to have collapsed in acrimony later on. Sic transit gloria mundi.

September 8, 2017

Google’s unbridled market power and ability to quash critics and competitors

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Wired, Rowland Manthorpe reports on another case of Google roughing up someone for being critical of their current “be evil” business philosophy:

The latest allegation against Google? Jon von Tetzchner, creator of the web browser Opera, says the search giant deliberately undermined his new browser, Vivaldi.

In a blogpost titled, “My friends at Google: it is time to return to not being evil,” von Tetzchner accuses the US firm of blocking Vivaldi’s access to Google AdWords, the advertisements that run alongside search results, without warning or proper explanation.

According to Von Tetzchner, the problem started in late May. Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, the Icelandic programmer criticised big tech companies’ attitude toward personal data, calling for a ban on location tracking on Facebook and Google. Two days later, he suddenly found Vivaldi’s Google AdWords campaigns had been suspended. “Was this just a coincidence?” he writes. “Or was it deliberate, a way of sending us a message?” He concludes: “Timing spoke volumes.”

Von Tetzchner got in touch with Google to try and resolve the issue. The result? What he calls “a clarification masqueraded in the form of vague terms and conditions.” The particular issue was the end-user license agreement (EULA), the legal contract between a software manufacturer and a user. Google wanted Vivaldi to add one to its website. So it did. But Google had further complaints.

According to emails shown to WIRED, Google wanted Vivaldi to add an EULA “within the frame of every download button”. The addition was small – a link below the button directing people to “terms” – but on the web, where every pixel matters, this was a potential competitive disadvantage. Most gallingly, Chrome, Google’s own web browser, didn’t display a EULA on its landing pages. Google also asked Vivaldi to add detailed information to help people uninstall it, with another link, also under the button.

The links Vivaldi says it was forced to add to comply with Google’s demands (image via Wired)

September 7, 2017

James May’s 80s internet EXTRAS – James May’s Q&A (Ep 19) – Head Squeeze

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 May 2013

James reflects on the lifetime of the internet… what was he doing on the web in 1988? What does he use it for most? And how will it banish all oppressive regimes?

Extra content from James May’s Q&A (Ep 19) http://youtu.be/C3sr7_0FyPA

James May’s Q&A: With his own unique spin, James May asks and answers the oddball questions we’ve all wondered about from ‘What Exactly Is One Second?’ to ‘Is Invisibility Possible?’

September 2, 2017

“Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill recounts the tale of what happens when Google decides to suppress media coverage it doesn’t like:

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google’s monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished.

I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job. In addition to writing and reporting, I helped run social media there, so I got pulled into a meeting with Google salespeople about Google’s then-new social network, Plus.

The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s “+1″ social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button. They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results — a crucial source of traffic to publishers.

This sounded like a news story to me. Google’s dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network.

I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes.

After the meeting, I approached Google’s public relations team as a reporter, told them I’d been in the meeting, and asked if I understood correctly. The press office confirmed it, though they preferred to say the Plus button “influences the ranking.” They didn’t deny what their sales people told me: If you don’t feature the +1 button, your stories will be harder to find with Google.

With that, I published a story headlined, “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” that included bits of conversation from the meeting.

    The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. “Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?” I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer. “So if Forbes doesn’t put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?” I asked. Google guy says he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but basically yes.

(An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.)

This article reminded me that I was still showing a “Google+” share button on my postings … it’s still available for all three of you that still use that service, but it’s now in the “More” group instead.

August 13, 2017

CBC Comedy exists to make us appreciate private-sector comedians that much more

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the National Post, Tristin Hopper gently points out that the taxpayers are not getting positive results from their involuntary funding of yet another Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “comedy”:

If there was ever a textbook example of the terrible, bone-chilling things a government can do to humour, it’s CBC Comedy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the general phenomenon of comedy appearing on CBC. I’m talking instead about cbc.ca/comedy, a section of the CBC website devoted in part to publishing satirical news headlines.

Although it’s existed for three years, chances are you’ve never heard of it. Because while CBC doesn’t publicly release its website analytics, all signs point to the site having utterly dismal traffic.

CBC Comedy’s social media accounts are embarrassingly devoid of attention. On Twitter, posts will commonly fail to attract a single retweet or like — meaning that they aren’t even being promoted by the writers who created them.

On Facebook, a sample of 53 recent satirical news posts found that they averaged 65 reactions apiece — a standard routinely bested by Newfoundland grandmothers.

So where can you go to get your regular ration of full maple-flavoured online comedy? That is, something actually funny, unlike CBC “Comedy”.

Of course, there already is a Canadian Onion: The Beaverton, an online satire site founded in 2010.

The Beaverton became so widely read that its producers secured a show on the Comedy Network. Meanwhile, their posts routinely tear up social media, constantly topping 1,000 likes on Facebook and dominating the Canada sub-forum on Reddit.

They are a motivated, private sector venture that has arguably mastered the form — and yet our public broadcaster insists on propping up a piss poor competitor.

In head-to-head competition, The Beaverton routinely spanks anything that comes out of CBC Comedy offices.

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

August 12, 2017

Why The Government Shouldn’t Break WhatsApp

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Jul 2017

Encryption backdoors – breaking WhatsApp and iMessage’s security to let the government stop Bad Things – sounds like a reasonable idea. Here’s why it isn’t.

A transcript of this video’s available here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-scott/why-the-government-shouldnt-break-whatsapp/1378434365572557/

August 3, 2017

QotD: Improved quality of life doesn’t always show up in GDP figures

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We economists marvel, too, but we also wonder how free apps fit into GDP. They do have their long-run downside, as we forget how to read maps and plot routes ourselves. (Anybody out there remember how to work a slide rule? No? That’s not a loss for computation but it does mean lower average numeracy.) But in the short run they save billions of hours in wrong turns not taken and trillions of cells of stomach lining no longer eaten up by travel anxiety. Not to mention their entertainment value.

But hardly any of that very big upside shows up in GDP. In one respect, in fact, GDP goes down. I used to buy maps, including travel atlases. I’m unlikely to do that anymore. Maps purchased by consumers are a “final good or service” and thus do enter into GDP. Maps I interact with online but don’t pay for aren’t GDP. So well-being has gone up — a lot — as a result of Google Maps. But GDP may well have gone down.

In fact, apps do produce some GDP. Google sustains itself in part by selling ads, including to retailers and restaurants looking to pay for prominent mention on its map display. Its ad revenue is an intermediate input into GDP. Many of the entities buying Google ads are in the business of selling “final goods or services” and if they’re money-making, the prices of their goods have to cover the cost of their ads. So by that circuitous route the “value” of the apps does end up in GDP.

But what’s the relationship between what advertisers pay for my eyeballs and the value of the app to me? The two are not completely unrelated. The more I use the app the more I’m likely to buy the advertised products, presumably. But in practice, the probability of my buying is pretty small while my benefit from the app is pretty big. How strange that miracle apps can change our lives but not our GDP.

William Watson, “How using Google Maps on your summer road trip messes with the GDP”, Financial Post, 2017-07-18.

July 20, 2017

ESR on the early history of distributed software

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Eric S. Raymond is asking for additional input to his current historical outline of the development of distributed software collaboration:

Nowadays we take for granted a public infrastructure of distributed version control and a lot of practices for distributed teamwork that go with it – including development teams that never physically have to meet. But these tools, and awareness of how to use them, were a long time developing. They replace whole layers of earlier practices that were once general but are now half- or entirely forgotten.

The earliest practice I can identify that was directly ancestral was the DECUS tapes. DECUS was the Digital Equipment Corporation User Group, chartered in 1961. One of its principal activities was circulating magnetic tapes of public-domain software shared by DEC users. The early history of these tapes is not well-documented, but the habit was well in place by 1976.

One trace of the DECUS tapes seems to be the README convention. While it entered the Unix world through USENET in the early 1980s, it seems to have spread there from DECUS tapes. The DECUS tapes begat the USENET source-code groups, which were the incubator of the practices that later became “open source”. Unix hackers used to watch for interesting new stuff on comp.sources.unix as automatically as they drank their morning coffee.

The DECUS tapes and the USENET sources groups were more of a publishing channel than a collaboration medium, though. Three pieces were missing to fully support that: version control, patching, and forges.

Version control was born in 1972, though SCCS (Source Code Control System) didn’t escape Bell Labs until 1977. The proprietary licensing of SCCS slowed its uptake; one response was the freely reusable RCS (Revision Control System) in 1982.

[…]

The first dedicated software forge was not spun up until 1999. That was SourceForge, still extant today. At first it supported only CVS, but it sped up the adoption of the (greatly superior) Subversion, launched in 2000 by a group for former CVS developers.

Between 2000 and 2005 Subversion became ubiquitous common knowledge. But in 2005 Linus Torvalds invented git, which would fairly rapidly obsolesce all previous version-control systems and is a thing every hacker now knows.

Questions for reviewers:

(1) Can anyone identify a conscious attempt to organize a distributed development team before nethack (1987)?

(2) Can anyone tell me more about the early history of the DECUS tapes?

(3) What other questions should I be asking?

July 12, 2017

The real newspaper problem is not Facebook and Google … it’s their monopolistic heritage

Filed under: Business, History, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall argues against allowing US newspapers to have an anti-trust exemption to fight Facebook and Google:

The first thing to note is the influence of geography and transport. By definition a newspaper needs to arrive daily — in physical format least — meaning that there’s a useful radius around a printing plant which can be served. What then happened is exactly what is happening with Google and Facebook, network effects come into play. Each urban area effectively became the monopoly of just the one newspaper. Sure, there were more than that in New York City for example, SF supported two majors later than many other places. But even in such large and rich places we did really only ever end up with one “serious” newspaper.

The network effects stem from the revenue sources. Roughly speaking, you understand, one third came from subscription revenues, one third from display advertising and one third from classifieds. Classifieds are a classic case of said network effects. Everyone advertises where they know everyone reads. Everyone reads the ads where they know everyone advertises those used baby bassinets. Whoever can get ahead in the collection of either then almost always wins the race. Classifieds are also hugely, vastly, profitable.

The way that American newspapers are sold, on subscriptions with a local paper boy, also contains elements of such network effects.

The effect of this economic structure was that each major urban area really had the one monopolist newspaper. This is where that famed “objectivity” comes from too. If there’s going to be the one newspaper then it’s going to try to make sure there’s no room for another by steadily occupying the middle ground on anything and everything. This is just the Hotelling problem all over again. Swing too viciously left or right (on any issue, political, social, whatever) and there might be room for someone to sneak in from the borderlands. Thus the very milquetoast indeed political views at most of these newspapers.

[…]

And that, I insist, is what is really happening to US newspapers. Most certainly, their problems stem from the internet. for the internet broke that monopoly imposed by economic geography and all else stems from that. They got fat and happy within those monopolistic areas and their pain is coming from the adjustments necessary to deal with that. The likely outcome I would expect to be many fewer first line newspapers staffed by many fewer people in much the way that the UK market has worked for near a century now. I would also expect to see them using political stance as a differentiator just as in Britain.

June 7, 2017

“Hey, Joey, ‘splain me public key cryptography!”

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

Joey deVilla explains public key cryptography for non-geeks:

Have you ever tried to explain public-key cryptography (a.k.a. asymmetric cryptography) or the concept of public and private keys and what they’re for to non-techies? It’s tough, and I’ve spent the last little while trying to come up with an analogy that’s layperson-friendly and memorable.

It turns out that it already exists, and Panayotis Vryonis […], came up with it. Go over to his blog and check out the article titled Public-key cryptography for non-geeks. Whenever I have to explain what private keys and public keys are for to someone who’s new to cryptography, I use Vryonis’ “box with special lock and special keys” analogy. Not only does the explanation work, but it’s so good that the people I’ve used it on have used it themselves to explain public-key crypto to others.

I’ve recently used Vryonis’ analogy in a couple of presentations and thought I’d share images from my slides. Enjoy!

June 2, 2017

Ethiopia goes offline

Filed under: Africa, Education, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on Ethiopia’s decision to shut down access to the internet “to prevent exam cheating”:

The entire nation of Ethiopia — a corrupt, oligarchic state with the distinction of being “the world’s first turnkey surveillance state” where spy technology from the “free world” is used to spy on the whole country — just dropped off the internet.

The ruling clique says it turned off the country’s internet to prevent Ethiopian students from accessing final exam questions via Facebook groups run by the global Ethiopian diaspora, and indeed, last year’s exams were spoiled by early-circulated exam questions.

But Ethiopia routinely disappears from the world’s internet in response to dissent and protest, and these are never far from the surface in Ethiopia, so the exams might just be a convenient excuse.

It’s an interesting counter to the idea that even authoritarian regimes struggle to turn off their national internet systems, because these are vital to maintaining the elites’ business interests, as well as extractive industries like oil, or other industries like tourism. In Burma and Egypt, totalitarian regimes have wrestled with the question of when and whether to shut down the internet, often pulling the switch after it was too late (for them).

May 20, 2017

Net Neutrality Nixed: Why John Oliver is Wrong

Filed under: Humour, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 May 2017

Progressives are freaking out now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is beginning the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations, which give the government the right to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
—————-
The main arguments in favor of Net Neutrality are really arguments guarding against hypotheticals: that ISPs could otherwise block and censor content (they never have) or that they’ll run their operations like shakedowns, requiring content providers to pay up or slow their traffic to molasses. The main documented instance of an ISP favoring one content provider over others wasn’t sinister collusion. Metro PCS offered unlimited YouTube in a budget data plan but not unlimited Hulu and Netflix, because YouTube had a compression system that could be adapted to the carrier’s low-bandwidth network. In a different context, critics might have applauded Metro PCS, since bought by T-Mobile, for bringing more options to lower-income customers.

Net Neutrality is a proxy battle over what type of internet we want to have — one characterized by technocratic regulations or one based on innovation and emergent order. Progessives are generally suspicious of complex systems existing without powerful regulators present and accounted for. Small-government folks are repulsed by bureaucrats in general, and think the internet will fair better in a state of benign neglect. The FCC has come down on the side of an organic internet, instead of treating the internet more like a public utility.

We don’t know how the internet is going to evolve over time, but neither do the government administrators trying to rein it in. But given the record of free-market innovation vs. government-regulated services, the odds are with market forces and entrepreneurs.

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton, with writing assistance from Sarah Rose Siskind and David Fried.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

May 19, 2017

Common Sense Soapbox #1: Fake News is Old News

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 May 2017

The term “Fake News” gets thrown around all the time, but what is it?

Sometimes it’s just a phrase people use to to discredit information or sources they don’t like. But there are also people who spread misinformation to further their own agenda. So how do you avoid getting stuck in a bubble without being a victim of misinformation?

We give you 5 helpful tips on how to spot Fake News, and use a skeptical eye to assess information.

Written by Seamus Coughlin & Sean W. Malone
Animated by Seamus Coughlin

Check out FEE.org: https://fee.org/articles/fake-news-is-old-news/

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