Friday, November 25, 2011

Planned Obsolescence: Designing Products to Break



The concept of planned obsolescence has been with us for over a century. Basically, the idea is to drive consumer demand, not by making great products that people want then making even better versions that they want to upgrade to, but to intentionally design products to fail and force consumers to buy newer versions.

The reasons behind this practice are many. But the most common reason cited is that, if you designed products that lived forever, nobody would ever upgrade and the economy would grind to a halt. Obviously, this isn't true. Consumers will always want better versions of the stuff they have and companies who innovate will never find themselves short of customers. In reality, there's no justification for designing a product to break. Yet companies have been doing it since shortly after the design of the electric light bulb.

The documentary above, called "The Light Bulb Conspiracy" looks at the practice of planned obsolescence and discusses how prevalent and widespread the practice is throughout product design. From consumer electronics down to automobile makers, almost every product you own is intentionally designed to fail for absolutely no other reason than to make you buy a new one.

If you've never heard of the concept, this film will shock you. If you've ever wondered if your suspicions about why products fail might be true, this film will leave you nodding your head. Definitely worth watching for anyone interested in sustainability.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Product design sucks

Over the last few weeks I've started to pay more attention to product design.  I don't know if that's because I've recently read the Steve Jobs biography that paints him as a legendary stickler for good design or if it's because I'm slowly moving my company towards its first real product release but, for whatever reason, I've started taking notice.

Largely, I've noticed how much most product design sucks.

Walking through a large department store the other day, I started looking at some of the home appliances; looking for anything that jumped out and grabbed my eye. Nothing did. I saw the same smooth curves or sharp angles on everything. Nothing looked remotely different, unique, or exciting. Everything was just really boring.

It's not just home appliances. Look at your computer, your television, your MP3 player, your car. None of it truly has the style to grab you by the neck and make you take notice. None of it is beautiful or looks like anyone paid much attention to pleasing the eye. It's the same tired, old, motifs repeated over and over on product after product. Nothing is special.

As our company starts designing its own product, I wonder if we'll be faced with the same dilemma. Will our product pay more attention to function over form? Will we seek to delight the users eye as much as we strive to meet their tech needs? Is there a need for compromise between radically different product design and really great functionality? Can you have both in the same product?

Personally, I believe the dearth of boring products is because consumers don't really notice anymore - especially on the low end. Sure, someone who pays $3,500 for a home stereo system is going to want something that looks amazing but what does someone who pays $159 for one expect?  Good sound. That's it. The lower we go, the more function seems to become more important than form.

When I worked at Walmart, I had a mantra I lived by and still live by today: Every customer gets the million dollar purchase treatment even if they're only spending $5.  When you choose to give me the money you worked hard to earn, you deserve to be treated to a spectacular experience. How much you're spending doesn't really matter. The fact that you're spending it with me instead of a competitor is what matters.

My coworkers and managers often didn't understand why I'd spend enormous amounts of effort helping customers choose sometimes incredibly cheap products. It's because they deserved my time and effort. The deserved the best. That's how I feel about product design: customers deserve the best effort and I don't believe designers are giving them that.

How about you? What are some products who's designs just 'wows' you? Why does it make such an impact on you? What about shoddy products? What would you do to change the design to make them amazing?  Leave your comments below or send me an email and discuss it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What the classroom of the future might look like

The public education system in the United States is horrible.  While it's never been a great system, we now have a situation where students are graduating high school without the ability to read well, do basic math, or solve even the simplest multi-step problems.  Students in the United States are woefully unprepared for the global business environment they will be entering and most are skilled only enough to be worker bees instead of heads of industry or world changers.

Most people blame the lack of money for the crisis in which we find our education system,  but I think that's not going far enough. We've dumped billions of dollars into this failing system for decades and it's only getting worse. The real reason our school systems are crumbling isn't the amount of money we pay teachers, or the curriculum we're teaching our students but rather the way education is being delivered.

Every day we pack millions of children into little sardine cans and bus them to the closed, guarded, uncomfortable, tightly controlled prisons that we call schools. There, their every move is monitored, evaluated, and controlled. They are told when they can go to the bathroom, when they can interact with their fellow students (even in positive ways) and when they can leave. They learn their studies through the rote repetition of facts and figures and are punished for being creative, challenging,  questioning the facts they're taught, or pushing authority.

Obviously, this system is broken. It's so broken, in fact, that I don't think it's worth fixing. It needs to be completely gotten rid of and something new should take its place.

Technology has brought us to the point where we now know what that 'something new' could be. We can imagine it. We can build it. And we can create an order of magnitudes better system than the one we have now.  Let's imagine what the classroom could look like if we were to effectively use the technology we have right now to build a better system.

First, we eliminate the concept of centralization. There's no need for students and teachers to be in the same place physically anymore. Students in the future may choose to learn from home, may attend classes while on vacation with their families, or might even skip a day or two entirely knowing that they can go back and watch the recorded class and interact with the teacher virtually should they need help. All live interaction would be via video conference or maybe even happen in a virtual world like Second Life where the students could come together in a virtual classroom, interact with one another, and experience many of the same benefits of a classroom environment without all of the drawbacks.

The learning environment would shift from being the stark, prison like experience it is today, to the comfortable familiarity of home where students would be surrounded by the things and the people they love. Student stress would be lower and, thus, bad behavior would become less of a problem.

Teachers in the new system could teach from anywhere and could provide their students with amazing experiences by better integrating their lives into the curriculum. Ordinarily, a teacher might deliver lessons from a small home office or living room, but what if she decided to travel to a foreign country for an extended trip? Her daily lessons could still be delivered on time and with the same level of interaction as when she was at home but now she could include the cultural experience of her trip to Spain or wherever she was into the lessons. She could take her students with her to exotic, historic places and provide them with a live education, guest lecturers, amazing things, all while not disturbing the order of the students lives or inconveniencing her vacation or trip very much.

Books would all be digital and provided on either PC's or tablets that would be updated to the newest version automatically. Since they're digital, they would be much more affordable than they are now and even the poorest communities might be able to afford the latest textbooks as they come out. Also because they're digital, the books can contain a full multimedia experience where video, audio, and animations are seamlessly integrated into the book itself, offering students an incredibly engaging learning experience.

As a result of the correct and efficient use of technology, teacher pay could increase thereby pulling better teachers into the system while allowing more per-student spending on the part of the school.  Administrative costs would be lower as well since the challenges of maintaining physical facilities would be eliminated or greatly reduced.

We have the technology to implement a system like this right now. The only thing stopping us is the fact that we're stuck in an old model mindset of what education should be. We're not looking to the future, we're not pushing the limits, we're not thinking 'what if'.  Modern technology, not to mention what might be here in 5-10 years, offers us an opportunity to provide our students with an amazing, world class, educational experience. One that would not only prepare them to work within the global marketplace, but dominate it. We just have to be willing to break from tradition, admit that what we have now is simply trash, and start over.

I believe small private schools are going to be able to do this first. They are the ones who are most willing to experiment. I expect to see a school take this path sometimes within the next 5 years. Public schools, which are almost to the point of collapse under their own bureaucracy, will take a bit longer but will eventually come around when they see the results. Eventually, we will have a completely decentralized education system that works better than anything else we could imagine.

Who will be the first to dare to think big and lead the way into the future? That's the only question left to answer. Everything else is implementation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Canonical continues to amaze and confuse Ubuntu users and developers alike

With the most recent Ubuntu Developer Summit wrapped up, many are looking at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, and scratching their head. I'd assume no greater amount of head scratching is going on anywhere else than in the developer community. Canonical has become a confusing company who's CEO, Mark Shuttleworth, seems to be a confusing man.

At the last UDS,  Shuttleworth shocked attendees by saying he wanted a push for 200 million users on Ubuntu in 4 years. Ambitious, to be sure, but everything in the Ubuntu world seemed to be aligning perfectly to bring those users in: the new software center, the introduction of the new Unity desktop environment, look and feel redesigns, everything.  Linux developers were overjoyed because, a 200 million user base also means 200 million potential software users as well. Everyone got to work trying to make Ubuntu as user friendly to newbies (especially those coming from the Microsoft Windows world) as possible. Everyone was excited and ready to go.

Now, less than one year later, that push seems to have changed. The push this time around isn't to hit that 200  million user mark but rather to push Ubuntu onto smartphones and tablets. Now, granted, having Ubuntu on those devices is going to increase the Ubuntu user base. But it's not going to help the legions of developers who've spent the last year fervently developing for the desktop and who now find that their creations probably won't work on tablets or the ARM archetecture that many tablets run on. To those developers, they must either completely scrap their work and start over with the new focus (which might change again next year) or continue to develop for the desktop with the hopes that more users of Ubuntu of mobile devices will also translate to more users of Ubuntu on the desktop (which it might).

I think Canonical and Shuttleworth are missing a huge point with this push to smartphones and tablets: on these devices, operating system doesn't really matter. With a huge section of computing moving to the cloud, users are being abstracted further and further away from the hardware and the system that drives it. It doesn't matter that your device will run Ubuntu because, ultimately, the software you're going to run will run on anything. Tablet users aren't likely to interact with the underlying OS in any meaningful way. They'll click to start a web browser, browse to their favorite web applications, maybe play music or video, but having Ubuntu on a device, overall, will make very little difference in the lives of most users.

Personally, I believe Canonical is shooting itself in the foot with this new push. Focusing on the desktop market makes sense because, on the desktop, the operating system you use matters. It ties into the software you use, the service you use, everything. On tablets and smartphones, it doesn't and Canonical is going to lose what little chance it has to hit that 200 million user number if it doesn't abandon the schizophrenic 'we want to be on everything' attitude and focus on their core.

The desktop, contrary to what ZDNet might way, is not dead. There's a lot of users to be won there and a lot of money to be made. Canonical would do very well by continuing to polish Unity, provide developers with great tools to develop new and compelling desktop applications, deepen the desktop-cloud tie-in, and focus on giving desktop users the absolute best experience out there.

That said, I would still kill to get my hands on an Ubuntu based tablet. So maybe all hope isn't lost after all.

What do you think? Does the operating system that runs your mobile devices matter that much to you? Would you buy an Ubuntu tablet or smartphone? How do you feel about the new push to mobile? Leave a comment and get in the discussion!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to create secure, easy to remember, passwords

You know you should be using secure passwords to protect your online accounts. But the rules for what constitutes a secure password makes it sound like creating and remembering one is a Herculean task that only the brainiest among us with near photographic memories could ever hope to master. But I'd like to introduce you to a fast, simple, and reliable way to create secure passwords that guarantee passwords that are almost completely unbreakable but easy to remember.

First, let's discuss what the general guidelines for a secure password are:

1. Don't use anything under 8 characters
2. Don't use the names of friends, pets, spouses, etc
3. Use a combination of numbers, special characters, and a mix of upper and lower case letters.

Following these three guidelines, you would think that the password Xcv234**%hnjdf-f433438(* is about as secure as a password can get. Surprisingly, though, I consider this password weak in a sense. While it's technically a strong password, it's not too easy to remember, is it? That means that you're likely to write it down, store it somewhere that's easy to get to, or choose a weaker password like 'fluffy35' pretty soon. So, in reality, while the password is indeed hard to break, you are the inherent weakness in its security and, thus, it's not a good password.

Now, let's look at my rules for generating a secure password and see how they compare:

1. Choose three related words that mean something to you.
2. Choose two dates that mean something to you.
2. Choose two 'special characters' that make sense to you

Now, let's see how we can construct a secure but easy to remember password using those three rules:

Three related words that mean something to you: I'm going to choose three cities where I've lived in my lifetime: Odessa, Ottawa, Lake Charles.

Two dates that mean something to you: I'll choose my year of birth and the year I moved to Ottawa: 1974, 1998.

Two special characters that make sense to me: I like the ^ character and the . so I'll use those.

Now, let's put that all together to make a secure password:


^Odessa.Ottawa.LakeCharles.1974.1998^


As you can see, it's long enough to be safe, isn't a dictionary word, and contains all of the required mix to make it unguessable by human or machine. For most intents, this is a very secure password and it's incredibly easy to remember.

So that's my quick tip on how to easily create a secure password. Using this formula you can mix and match any kind of meaningful information in ways that only make sense to you. The best part is it's easy to remember but impossible to guess or brute force.

What are your favorite ways to generate strong passwords?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Being paranoid: imagining a grand encryption conspiracy

There are times when we all need to communicate securely. There are other times when that communication needs to be safe from even the most determined interloper and it's in those times that we turn to encryption. Using the right algorithm with the right passphrase and the right security measures, it's generally accepted that good encryption would take on the order of thousands to billions of centuries to break and, in some cases, trillions of centuries. Against those odds, how would any attacker ever hope to decipher secret communication?

Most experts agree that trying to find someones encryption passphrase through ordered guessing is useless. The search space is simply too massive and even our most impressive computing resources aren't generally believed to be able to process such massive amounts of data in a timely way. That's why those who are dedicated to the cause of codebreaking often use some sort of cryptanalysis where, instead of attacking the passphrase the user chose, they attack the encryption algorithm itself hoping to find flaws that would short curciut or completely eliminate the need to find the users passphrase.

But cryptographers are clever and they've developed all sorts of tricks to stop many attacks on crypto and there are a few algorithms out there that are widely considered currently unbreakable. This, of course, presents all sorts of problems for entities like governments who've dealt with strong crypto in various ways. Some have outright banned its use, some have made it a crime not to reveal your passphrase during an investigation, and others, like Sweden, have basically ignored it.

But I believe some governments may be taking a much darker approach; one that quickly makes us understand why the spy world lives by the motto "trust no one".

Imagine this scenario for a moment:

Most people, even those who are highly paranoid, have trouble with coming up with truly random, long, passphrases. The human brain simply doesn't do well with randomness and works much better in order and meaning. That's why many people use websites and programs that either generate or generate and store secure passwords for them and this is where the problem comes in.

Imagine a government dedicated to spying on its citizens faced with a large and growing subset of those citizens who use cryptography to protect their communications. They aren't doing anything 'wrong' or illegal, they just don't want to be snooped on by the government (or anyone else, for that matter). So the government goes to work, as it has many times in the past, creating a series of 'trusted identities'. These trusted identities are people on the Internet who become trustworthy. They are knowledgeable of cryptography, join and contribute to communities, rail against the 'surveillance state' that they see developing, and maybe even work on protecting privacy by creating some really good crypto software or algorithm. They become a legend in the crypto community; someone who's name is the first to come to mind when the subject comes up.

Over time, they become trusted; trusted to the point where it is almost considered sacrilegious to speak ill of them or question their intentions. WHY would they betray the community, after all? They've, by now, helped build it!

Now this person puts up a website because he knows people don't like to download and set up software and it's just easier to go to a site and get stuff done. This site generates incredibly secure passwords, does not track or identify you in any way, and even analyzes your password and gives you an idea of just how strong it is. The site is amazing, safe, and used pretty widely by the community.

At this point, most people would deem this site safe to use. But what if that site were saving a copy of every single password it generated and then sharing that with codebreakers in government or law enforcement? "Well", some would say, "that doesn't matter because they aren't tracking who the passwords are assigned to! I'm safe."

Wrong.

What this site has done is greatly reduce the search space for attacks. Now, anyone armed with the list of passwords the site's generated will first run through this list before resorting to brute force guessing. If the site is widely enough used, there's a fairly decent chance that the users password was generated from this site and, thus, will be on the list. The attacker doesn't need to know which password was assigned to you; it just needs to be contained in the list.

At this point 120 character long random passwords that contain numbers and letters which would normally take trillions of years to determine, can be broken in minutes or seconds. The more widely used the site is, the more likely it is that a password will be in the list.

I know some of you may think I'm being paranoid and you're right. But I have a reason behind my paranoia. History is littered with examples of government integrating itself info communities specifically to disrupt them or gain an upper hand in intelligence gathering operations. While there's no reason to suspect any current member of the cryptography community of doing this kind of action right now, there's also no reason not to suspect every single member of doing it. The truth is, we can never know and that's the constant dance those of us who want or need to protect our information constantly go through.

I believe that, as crypto gets better, we're going to see much more infiltration type attacks than we will brute force or cryptanalytic ones. Even with computing resources becoming cheaper and faster, it's also getting harder and harder to break good crypto so those who want to do it will need to find other, more efficient, ways to do it. I believe the scenerio I described above is one of those ways that will be used in the very near future if it's not already being used now.

Of course, this doesn't just apply to password generation. Fake sites around trusted identities (and keep in mind these 'identities' don't need to just be individuals, they could be organizations too) are fairly easy to set up and administer. There's little stopping a dedicated attacker from spreading their wings wide and performing a multi-pronged attack against the community and no one would ever know.

So what's the answer and how do we fix it? A first step would be to adopt the spy motto I mentioned earlier. Place no one above suspicion. Make friends, have fun, but if you have information that really needs protection, always be suspicious.

Next, stop using online password generators and storage vaults. They're ripe for abuse and you'd never know they were compromised. Instead, learn the open source tools that are available to help you protect information and use them on your own computer. Tools like GnuPG, KeepassX, TrueCrypt, LUKS, and their brethren, can go a long way in making sure that your information isn't being leaked into the wrong hands.

Last, and this has been security advice for a long time, don't use the same password anywhere. Assume every site is collecting and sharing your password with someone and that data could be used to attack you. What if you use the same long, random, passphrase for your Gmail account that you do for your cryptographic key? Wouldn't you think that your Gmail password might be one of the first passwords an attacker might try everywhere else, including your key?

Could I be completely insane? Sure. Perhaps I've been reading too many Robert Ludlum novels. But what if I'm right? What if that last email you just sent isn't protected at all even though it's encrypted?

What if?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Secret code could kill you



Karen Sandler knows the importance of open source software. That's why, when she was told she needed an implantable defibrillator to save her life in 2009, she immediately thought to ask 'what software runs on it and can I examine the code?"  You might think that would be a no-brainer. Why would companies prevent people who are going to put something that might kill them in their bodies, from seeing the software that controls those devices? But that's exactly the situation Sandler found herself in when she began calling defibrillator manufacturers and asking them to 'show her the code'.

The situation is not uncommon at all. No implantable medical device (IMD) manufacturers anywhere in the world make the code that runs their devices available for public view. They cite a number of reasons for that behavior from 'trade secrets' to 'liability' but it all ends up the same: you have to trust that a device that could kill you was programmed perfectly.

Of course, we know that no software is perfect and there are no perfect programmers. In fact, IMD's have killed people in the past by doing things like delivering excessive shocks to people who were not in need of them or not delivering shocks or other functions when they were.  The Software Freedom Law Center (Sandlers ex employer) even has a report about the issue and how big of a problem proprietary software on IMD's really poses.

The bottom line is this: if you are to put something in your body, do you have a right to know everything about it? Is it reasonable for manufacturers to put your life up for grabs with their flippant 'trust us, we've tested it' mentality or should you expect, and demand, more? Karen Sandler believes she knows the answers to those questions and, by the end of this video, I believe you will to.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Creating Beauty

I've been thinking a lot over the last 24 hours about the lessons I've learned from Steve Jobs. While I didn't know him personally, my life was touched by him in the same way he touched the lives of millions of people worldwide. I didn't know Steve, but I learned valuable lessons from him and how he ran Apple. One of those lessons, and perhaps one of the most important in regards to my work, is the beauty of technology.

From the very beginning, creating technology was not enough for Steve Jobs. He didn't want average, ordinary, run of the mill hardware and software. He wanted art. He believed in the experience of technology as strongly as he believed in the functionality of it. In Jobs' world, each product released by Apple was a new painting, filled with nuances, subtleties, and things that were often there for no other reason than to delight the user. Steve was a businessman, sure, but he was also an artist who used the bits and bytes, the wires and circuit boards of his products as the canvas on which he painted his most glorious masterpieces.

As technologists, we often forget that technology can and should be 'sexy'.  Whether we operate a full-fledged company or are just some guy or girl writing code in their basement, each product we release has the potential to be our own personal Mona Lisa.

Too many times, we focus intensely on getting functionality right but completely miss the experience. 'Beautiful' is not a term you often hear in the technology space. "Innovative', 'cutting edge', ' forward thinking' are the main selling points of most new products and there's a good reason for that: the technology industry has lost the lust for beauty it once had and, to a large degree, Steve Jobs fought a 30 year battle to get that lust back.

People often complain that Apple's products are overpriced for what you get. Those people are only looking at the functionality. Apple users don't pay a premium because it's the best, most functional technology. They pay a premium because of the experience that comes with owning an Apple product. The success of Apple shows that experience matters to consumers and they're willing to pay more to be part of something special.

To a large degree, I've been like most people in the industry: I've focused on functionality and said 'who cares if it's sexy'?  But looking back on the lessons that Steve Jobs taught us, I have to admit that a lot of people care. I want to make sexy software. I want to use my brush to create beautiful, vibrant, multi-layered works of art. Anyone can create software, but an artist creates beauty.

How do you create beauty in your work?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodbye to Steve Jobs

I am not an Apple fan. I don't own a single piece of Apple hardware, have never even really seriously considered buying one, and often find some of Apple's business practices as distasteful as those of Microsoft.

No, I wasn't an Apple fan. But I was a Steve Jobs fan.

When the historians look back on our time in history, they will signal out a few people as relevant, game changers, revolutionaries, and visionaries. Steve Jobs will be one of those people. Arguably, Jobs was one of the most forward thinking and visionary CEO's in all of tech. He could make or break a new product by uttering one word:

"Sexy"

If Jobs said your product was sexy, you knew you had a hit on your hands. You knew hoards of Apple fans would soon be lining up at your doorstep to buy from you and you knew that you had a really good product because Steve Jobs didn't utter that word unless he really believed it. He was a harsh critic but he was usually right.

I remember last year when Apple bought a music service I really liked then closed it, I emailed Steve to express my disgust. To my surprise, he emailed back. We exchanged about 10 emails before he finally said 'sorry then, don't use iTunes'.  I was pissed off but I felt good at the same time. Out of all of the people I didn't expect to respond to a customer complaint, Steve Jobs was at the top of my list. But he cared about Apple and its customers. He didn't want to see customers unhappy but he also had an acute sense of business reality and he wasn't afraid to express that.

Steve led Apple through some very tough years, saved their ass on occasion, and pushed things to incredible popularity in a way that no other corporate leader could ever have done. Even poorly designed products from Apple had a huge cult following because, largely, the Cult of Apple was really the Cult of Steve Jobs.

Today, Steve died after a brave and long battle with pancreatic cancer. It wasn't totally unexpected but it still was shocking. Though I am not a friend, family, or even associated with him as a customer, I feel as though the world - not just the tech world, has lost someone we can never replace. My heart wells up as I think of where we'd be without Steve's brash, brazen, leadership and how far we've come because of it. He will be missed. But his influence will be felt for many years to come: through the company he built to the lives he's influenced, and through the dreams he's nourished.

Steve Jobs, my hat goes off to you sir. Tonight, the only words I can think to say to you are 'thank you'. You have shown us all what 'sexy' really meant.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Face of the New American Gangster: Your Local Police Department

Imagine a world where armed gangs of thugs roam the streets with absolute impunity. There's nothing the can't do, there's no one that's too far for their reach, and there are no repercussions for any of their actions. If something happens that people complain too much about, their bosses step in and make it go away.  Worst of all imagine if we weren't only taught to fear these thugs but respect them as well.

If you can imagine such a world, you've glimpsed into the world of the New American Gangster: your local police department. Gone are the days where approaching a friendly cop standing on a street corner would result in a bit of conversation and perhaps directions as to where you wanted to go. These days, you more likely to get maced, beaten, or worse, if you approach the right cop on a bad day or the wrong cop on any day.

In 1991, when the world learned about the Rodney King beating by members of the LAPD, we were told it was just a few bad cops and not a culture of corruption as some were claiming. But the intervening years have left us no doubt that the beating and abuse King suffered was not the result of rogue officers but a culture of thuggery that is, not only accepted, by encouraged by the police. Fellow officers look the other way when their colleagues go too far, commanders make excuses, and internal affairs investigations usually go nowhere. Our criminal justice system is well equipped to handle civilian criminals but has no real way to deal with criminals who wear a badge.

Many who defend the police will tell you that they have a tough job and should be given leeway. How much leeway should someone be given when the result of their 'bad day' could mean someone innocent dying or being beaten into a coma?  How much leeway are you given when you're having a bad day? Wearing a badge doesn't give one extra rights; it gives them more responsibility to behave.

When I criticize the police on social networks, I'm often met with the same tired old song: you can always file a complaint. Let's look at the complaint process in most police departments and see how effective filing our complaint might be.

Most people are under the mistaken assumption that anyone can walk into a police station, ask for a complaint form, and file it with the department. The reality is quite different. First, many police departments don't even have complaint forms. Complaints are taken by an officer in the form of a report and then, if that officer believes there's merit to the complaint, forwards it to the appropriate supervisors.

But even in those departments that do have formal complaint forms, it's still not as easy as walking in and asking for one. You must first justify your reason for wanting to file a complaint with an officer who will then decide if your complaint warrants giving you a form. You must identify both yourself and the officer who is the target of the complaint (who may be a friend of the officer you're telling the story to) and give details of the incident surrounding the complaint. If you're lucky enough to actually get a complaint form, you're halfway there but not quite at the finish line.

Next, the complaint will work its way up the chain to a point where someone (either the officers supervisor or someone from Internal Affairs) will speak with the officer about the complaint.  As in court, the officers word is given more weight than yours and, if the officer can come up with a believable excuse, the complaint will probably go no further.

In some cases, complaints result in actual discipline. These cases are usually the ones where video or audio evidence makes it so that the department can't cover up the incident (which is why it's important to always have a camera with you to record any police interaction). In these cases, the officer will usually be given paid administrative leave. Sometimes, even in the case of severe crimes like rape, only 3-5 days. Again, notice I said paid administrative leave. A note may or may not go into the officers permanent file at this point.

So what happens if you're not satisfied with an officer who raped you getting a 3 day paid vacation? Well, you can't usually sue the officer personally (police officers have immunity when performing their 'duties') but you can sue the department. The problem, of course, is finding an attorney who's willing to do it. The criminal justice system is stacked decidedly in the interests of the state. When you go into court against a police department, it's basically you and your attorney standing against the judge, the departments defense attorney, and the police department as a whole. Don't expect to be treated fairly. In fact, the vast majority of suits against police departments are either settled before they reach court or the officer and department are exonerated during trial.

It's a complicated process. It's made more complicated by the fact that we hold the police to a hero worship status that's right under our chosen deity. We are taught from a young age to trust and respect the police, that they have our best interests at heart, and that all (or most) cops are good. Most people are shocked to see the dark underbelly of the police and most don't encounter it until their rights or the rights of someone they know are violated and they attempt to get redress.

If you think all of this sounds kind of like the mafia, you're right, it does. In essence, the police are an armed gang who can do what they want to who they want and get away with it. Their department (the family) offers them protection and there's a cartel in place that offers them more in the event that their department can't protect them adequately.. Just like in the real mafia, many people who go up against police find themselves 'sleeping with the fishes' or at least beat into unconsciousness, their homes raided and trashed, or suspiciously being charged with crimes that shock their friends and neighbors.

Now I know that not all police are bad. But the culture of the police industry encourages bad behavior, rewards it, and sometimes, even celebrates it.  Good cops remain silent because they know that the day might come when they need their fellow officers to have their back and, so, the cycle of silence and blind eyes continues.

Police are not our friends anymore. They are agents of a state that is hell bent on subjugating us under its will. They will blindly follow orders that result in anything up to and including our severe injury or death. They will do the song and dace about 'just doing my job' as though blindly following orders makes anything they do right. The workers in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany were just following orders too. There is no morality in  just following orders. There is no honor in it.

The time has come for both citizens and police officers in this country to wake up. We don't have to be enemies. We can work together to build a better, safer, more secure, world. But it's going to take a lot of brave officers who are willing to tell their superiors 'no' and a few brave citizens who are willing to do the same to police officers. Together, we can make a difference.

* I know most of this article is biased towards a given opinion about police officers and I've offered no proof to back up my claims. For proof, I invite you to visit this link and this link then make up your own mind.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Home cloud in a box

I'm in love with cloud computing. OK, so I'm not really in love with cloud computing itself, but I love the idea of being able to access my data from anywhere. Cloud computing itself scares me a little bit. The idea of putting my unprotected data in the hands of someone else and trusting them to keep it safe and keep it from prying eyes isn't something I'll likely ever get comfortable with. So, while I love the universal data access that the cloud offers, I generally avoid using any cloud services because I don't trust them.

Thankfully, the days of having to rely on Google, Amazon, or Microsoft, for your cloud services are quickly coming to an end. Free software alternatives are being built and made better every day that will give us total control over our data and allow us to have a 'home cloud in a box'. Add the fact that computer hardware is getting cheaper every day and there's virtually no reason why anyone has to rely on the public cloud.

Just last night, I was looking at a pretty sweet free software web based office suite that's pretty much a drop-in replacement for Google Docs, and a web based email app that not only replaces Gmail and other web mail providers, but does a better job with web mail than its non-free counterparts. Oh, and let's not forget easy replacements for Facebook and Google+ and Twitter. I'm still looking for a good free software replacement for Dropbox so I'm using Ubuntu One (which works on Windows and Mac too)  until I can find something that allows everything to live on my server. Free software has come a LONG way and is just getting better every day.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be testing a bunch of these solutions on my home server and writing a series of posts about how they perform against their non-free alternatives. If things work out really well, I'll write up a quick and dirty guide on how to set them all up on your own home server so that you can get rolling quickly and easily.  Watch this blog for updates and (maybe) even a few screenshots.

Yep, we've come a long way baby.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Want to chat with Anonymous? Here's how to do it securely!

Many of you have emailed me asking how to connect with Anonymous and how to join the IRC network. Instead of writing individual emails to about 25 people, I'm going to simply post basic instructions here and hope those who are interested take time to read them.  I'm going to assume you have very little security experience and just want to make a secure connection, do a little chatting, and retain your anonymity while doing so.

NOTE:
Before we get started I want to clarify something I've been hearing a lot about. When you join one of the Anonymous IRC channels, particularly #opnewblood, you will often see a message telling you to go to the #vhost channel and get a vhost for protection. THIS IS MISLEADING. While getting a vhost will indeed prevent your fellow chatters from knowing who you are, IT WILL NOT PROTECT YOU from anyone monitoring the IRC server directly. Anyone having administrative privileges on the IRC server can easily see your real connection information and link it to your Internet Service Provider and even what town you're in. If you plan to stick around the Anonymous channels, you need to do more than get a vhost.

LET'S TALK OPTIONS

There are two ways to protect your anonyminity from both your fellow chatters and anyone monitoring the server when you're in the Anonymous IRC channels

1) You can use a VPN (preferably in a privacy friendly country) and connect directly to the Anonops server through it,

2) You can use a special piece of software called I2P which provides good, strong, anonymity and encryption from other chatters, your ISP, and anyone monitoring the IRC server.

Since we're assuming that you have no technical or security experience and there are some questions about finding a trustable VPN provider, we're going to go the I2P route to get connected to the channels. I2P, provided by the German Privacy Foundation,  is one of several programs that routes your internet traffic through several different machines before reaching its destination so, by the time you actually touch the server, who and where you are is nearly impossible to figure out.

The first thing you'll need to do is download the I2P software. It's free and can be obtained by going to http://www.i2p2.de and clicking on the 'download' link on the left hand panel. I2P is a relatively small download and shouldn't take more than a few minutes on even a slow connection. Once it's done downloading, just click on the executable file and start the installation (I'm assuming you're on Windows. Linux and Mac are similarly easy). Once I2P has installed, you will notice 3 new icons on your Windows desktop.  To start I2P, simply click the "Start I2P (no window)' icon and give it a few seconds. You won't see anything but pretty quickly, I2P will be running. To verify this, click on the icon titled 'I2P Router Console' to bring up the web based information and configuration system.

You may need to give I2P a few minutes to fully configure itself the first time it runs, But once it's done (by a number of 'active' peers being greater than (0) you can use it to connect to a variety of services including Anonymous IRC.

The software connects you securely to Anonymous IRC by running a proxy server on your machine. When you connect your IRC client to that proxy, it will automatically go through the I2P network and end up where you want to be. Right now, only the I2P network is supported. If you want to connect to something like Dalnet or Undernet, you're out of luck. Sorry.

Now, we're ready to connect to Anonymous IRC!  Open your chosen IRC program (links to some at the bottom of this post) and type '/server localhost:6668' (without the quotes)  in the window you see. ''localhost' refers to your own computer (where the software is running) and '6668' is the port I2P is listening on for IRC connections. It might take a while, but eventually you'll be connected to the network and should see a welcome message.

Next, you can get a list of all the channels on the network by typing '/list' (again, without the quotes) and pressing enter. You'll see a variety of channels that you can join. Not all of them are Anonymous' channels. Some are just regular I2P channels that have nothing to do with the group. You can recognize Anonymous' channels by their name. They usually begin with 'op' or 'anon' (for example 'opsyria' or 'anonops').  If you're completely new to Anonymous and want to ask questions, I recommend that you spend some time in #opnewblood where experienced users hang out and are ready to help you. #anonops is where general discussion often happens and you can think of it as the 'Anonymous water cooler' so you might want to hang out there too.

Now that you're connected, spend some time exploring the network and chatting. Don't give any identifying information though and never give out your real email address as that compromises your anonymity. Once you've been there a while, you'll learn the ropes and will be chatting like a pro. Who knows you might even end up as part of an op.

Last but not least, remember the lulz. It's all pretty serious but find the fun where you can. Enjoy your experience, learn, and help out where you can. Remember, YOU are Anonymous.

IRC PROGRAMS FOR WINDOWS
--------------------------------------

mIRC     - http://www.mirc.com
XChat    - http://xchat.org
NetTalk  - http://ntalk.de

IRC PROGRAMS FOR LINUX
----------------------------------------

BitchX    - http://www.bitchx.org
XChat    - http://www.xchat.org (may be already included - check!)

IRC PROGRAMS FOR MAC
-----------------------------------------

Ircle     - http://www.ircle.org
XChat  - http://www.xchat.org (thanks to @BenMcGinnes for the info)


Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm part of the 'unparty'

I tend to post a lot of political information on Facebook. I mean a lot. I view the service as much as a platform for public activism as I do a place to socialize with friends and family and one of my goals is to reach out to my connections and make them think. I don’t expect them to agree with me or even like me after reading a specific post, but if I make them think about things a little differently just for a few seconds, I’ve more than achieved my goals.

A few people have emailed and accused me of being a conservative while others have labeled me a liberal. While some of my views certainly fall on both sides of the political spectrum, I prefer to think of myself as part of the ‘Unparty’.

What is the ‘Unparty’ you ask? We’re the people who’ve broken out of the left/right paradigm and have realized that both parties are the problem. Republicans blame Democrats; Democrats blame Republicans but, in the end and regardless of which party is in power, nothing significant ever really changes.

That’s where the ‘Unparty’ comes in. We understand that, if we are ever to have real change, we have to stop playing the game. We have to stop looking at left and right and start looking at what’s sensible and works. In the end, it matters little which party someone belongs to and more what they do to advance the causes of liberty and freedom.

A politician who destroys our economy, discriminates against humans who are different from themselves, or one who devalues the dignity of those they don’t agree with is an evil and corrupt person regardless of what political label the choose to slap on their chest. Many times, I fear the game is actually constructed so that we get so caught up in the left/right battles that we don’t pay too much attention to what’s actually going on or how little difference there is between the two sides. It’s an expertly contrived scam that’s worked on voters for more than 100 years and it seems to be as effective as ever.

As a person of conscious, I find myself in a place where I simply can’t play the game anymore. I can’t be part of a party that segments people away from each other, plays word games as to what ‘freedom’ really is, or puts value on someones contributions based solely on if their paperwork is in order or not. Nor can I be part of a party that believes bigger government, larger social programs, and giving more handouts is the way to go while absolving people of personal responsibility. It seems like I just don’t fit into the standard two party system anymore and, I have to say, I’m glad I don’t.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in my disgust of politics as usual. Millions of others are joining me and they’re mad as hell. They’re waking up to the reality that both major parties in the US are bought, owned, and sold, by corporations who’s only goal is to increase profit and who have no qualms about harming or enslaving others to do so.. They understand that our politicians no longer actually work for us but rather work for GE or Ford, or Monsanto. For these politicians, it’s all about the money and the average citizen simply doesn’t matter. Freedom, liberty, constitutional right? Those are just abstract, antiquated, concepts on some 200 year old piece of paper. They aren’t relevant today. Today, the republic means nothing to these people; the corporatocracy is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately for those politicians, and fortunate for the people, there are liberty minded people outside of the two party system who are willing to stand up and say ‘enough is enough!’. They are willing to fight and bleed for freedom and the natural rights that we all have. They recognize our innate right to self ownership and they understand that we are not slaves and are entitled to keep that which our labor generates.

These people, the Libertarians, are the reason I’ve not completely given up on our political system. I’d all but lost hope that principled people of conscious could make any difference at all. But they are making a difference. In local and state elections around the country they are waging a war for individual freedoms and against the status quo. They are not content with leaving things the way they are because they understand the way they are is broken. They’re offering real solutions to real problems without the need for increased government or new laws. Imagine that! When was the last time you heard a politician say ‘no, it’s ok, we don’t need a new law for that’? Shocked me too when I first heard it.

Before this becomes nothing more than an ad for the Libertarian party, I want to stop and say that there are things the part stands for that I don’t agree with. But they’ve gotten me excited about politics again and believing that things are not too far along to make a real difference. They’ve re-lit the fires of freedom in my bones and I am once again optimistic about our country. In the end, not being the perfect party is something I can live with. Politics is never perfect, it’s never clean. But when freedom is the outcome, it can’t be all that bad either.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why I do not support "Caylee's Law'

I've been reading about 'Caylee's Law' all day long. For those who haven't heard, Caylee's law is a proposal that would make it a criminal offense (a felony) not to report a missing child within a certain amount of time. The idea, of course, is that valuable time that could have been spent searching for the child is sometimes lost when a parent doesn't notify police of a missing child immediately.

I do not support this law.

The more I read about it, from its name on up, the movement smacks of an end run around the justice system. Most people believe Casey Anthony murdered her child and got away with it and this seems like a way to make sure that, if the situation ever raises its head again, we'll 'at least get them for *something*'. It's a way to make sure that, when the jury process doesn't work the way we want, we have a way to still exact revenge.

Think about this for a moment: let's say you've just murdered your own child. Are you likely to call the police and report them missing or are you more likely to hide the body and remain quiet about it? If you've murdered your child, the last thing you want is police involvement.

Now, let's say you wake up one morning to discover your child missing. You have no idea what happened to them, where they are, or when they disappeared. All you know is that, when you went to bed the night before, they were there and now they aren't. You are, because you have not murdered your own child, fairly likely to call the police and report them missing.

Likely but not certain.

A parent losing a child is a devastating thing. In the moment, the only thing you are thinking about is finding them and you're not thinking rationally or clearly at all. Communication with loved ones is muddied, thought processes are impaired, and there is a chance that you may not call the police Sure, it's a slim chance and one you're probably all sitting there thinking 'no way, I KNOW I'd call the cops!' but how do you know? Unless you've lost a child, you can't know. I don't know. I'd like to think I would but I don't know how I'd react until I am faced with the situation.

The problem was this law is twofold: It's a way to exact revenge when we know someone is guilty but gets away with a child's murder and it will put innocent, emotionally overwhelmed, parents in jail If Caylee's law is passed, it will only add to family heartache, not resolve it.

I urge you to consider what I've written. On the surface, supporting such a law sounds like a rational and caring thing to do. But it's not. It's reckless and irresponsible. It's an emotional response to smelling blood that we were waiting to be spilled but never was. And I say that with the full belief that Casey Anthony got away with murder.

People complain about the justice system not working for the 'little man'. In this case, it did. Whether Casey is guilty or not, the prosecution did a horrible job at proving their case. When that happens, it is a juries job to acquit the accused. Many of the jurors probably believed Casey was guilty too, but they did their job anyway and acquitted her based on evidence and arguments.

This law would lay our entire jury system to waste and I simply cannot support doing that much damage. It sucks that Caylee Anthony is dead and that her mother likely got away with murder. I have the same taste for blood and feel the same rage you do in this case. But the failure wasn't of the justice system here, it was of the prosecution.

In the end, no law or rule is going to fix that. Better, more prepared prosecutors can do that.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why you should have the right to be Microsoft's (or anyone's) bitch

There's a big debate in the free software community about this thing called DRM. DRM is actually a misnomer that stands for Digital Rights Management and it's nothing that gives or manages your rights but rather something that restricts them. If you've ever tried to share a song you bought on iTunes or a book you bought on your Kindle with a friend, you've experienced DRM first hand when you were told you weren't allowed to do it.

The Free Software community has always held that things should be, well, free. You should be able to share your music, software and books with your friends because that's just what friends do. You can do it in the real world, so why not allow it in the digital world as well? For the most part, their argument makes sense if you don't consider the unique 'edge' cases where sharing in the real world is significantly different than doing so in the digital.

For the most part, but with a few modifications, I tend to agree with this belief. If I purchase a digital book, why can't I share that book with friends? I should be able to lend you a book for as long as I want and the publisher or Amazon should have absolutely nothing to say about it. The same is true for music and other like content too. But recently, there's a movement within the community to legislate against the use of digital restrictions on content and that's where I think it goes a bit too far.

Those who seek to legally ban the use of DRM are essentially saying 'I support your freedom as long as it lines up the way I think it should'. But that isn't true freedom. It's an illusion of freedom that allows its proponants to stick their chest out and pretend that they're 'fighting for the rights of the people' when, in fact, they're simply being self serving.

Supporting true freedom on the other hand, means support the right of someone to deliberately choose enslavement. If, knowing their are other options out there for the same or similar content, the user chooses to use the restricted option, then that is their choice and restricting or eliminating that choice because you don't agree with it is simply enslaving them in another way. Supporting freedom means supporting things you don't agree with because you realize people have a right to choose their own path.

If the free software movement truly supports freedom, the correct option would be to abandon the silly push for legislation and instead focus on user education and creating usable alternative options that would encourage users to choose the free option over enslavement. Let it be the users choice and, even if they choose to be enslaved for a time, with the right education coupled with their own bad experiences using DRM, they'll come around to our side eventually.

I respect Richard Stallman but I think he is totally wrong in making this a moral or legal issue. People who choose to produce things and restrict their use are not immoral nor or people who choose to use products that restrict their freedoms. What is immoral, however, is trying to mandate that other options be outlawed or not available at all.

Wake up, Richard! It's time for us to move back into the marketplace of reality.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Reviving the Spirit of '76

The following is an Op Ed piece that appeared in a Texas newspaper. I did not write it but I found it particularly poignant to share on our American Independence Day. -- Anthony Papillion  (CajunTechie)


"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the
government fears the people, there is liberty." *-Thomas Jefferson

by R. Lee Wrights

BURNET, Texas (July 2) - Several years ago I wrote an article entitled "Is
the Spirit of '76 dead?" My concern then was that the revolutionary fire
that once burned hot in the hearts of Americans had been reduced to a
smoldering ember. I was afraid that we had lost the necessary desire to
question authority. It appeared to me that Americans had been such poor
caretakers that the tree of liberty was wilting, its boughs sagging
dangerously close to the ground.

This was still on my mind one year ago on July 4 when I began this campaign
for the Libertarian nomination for President of the United States. Our
nation has been dragged into a perpetual state of deadly and costly war. Our
leaders have manipulated every real or perceived threat to instill fear in
Americans. Then, they use this fear they have created to divide us and,
worst of all, con us into surrendering more and more of our liberty for the
vain and empty promise that they will somehow procure our security for us.

This weekend we will inevitably hear pious proclamations and political
pronouncements from prominent figures in the ruling class praising the
wisdom and foresight of our Founding Fathers. Undoubtedly, many will repeat
the words written by Thomas Jefferson: "*We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness.*" But their recitation of these immortal words
will be hollow, bereft of any wisdom or understanding. They'll probably
gloss over, if they mention it at all, the rest of that paragraph: "*That to
secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of
Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People
to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government*..."

"Just powers" and "consent of the governed" are phrases and concepts
modern-day rulers don't want you to understand, and probably don't
understand or believe themselves. Few politicians will tell you that
Jefferson and the Founders were revolutionaries and that the Declaration of
Independence was the written expression and explanation of revolutionary
ideas. When the delegates to the Continental Congress issued this unanimous
proclamation, they knew it wasn't just an exercise in semantics. The
Founders knew these words spoke the beginning of a long and bloody struggle
to free themselves from tyranny.

Make no mistake, this Declaration was not drawn up casually or without due
consideration of the causes and consequences of the action. The leaders of
the American Revolution understood that people are naturally inclined to
leave things as they are, willing to endure many hardships and much
suffering for as long as possible before taking action against oppression. "
*Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not
be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience
hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are
sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they
are accustomed*," Jefferson so eloquently wrote.

But the Founders also understood that there was a point at which people not
only had the right – they had the duty – to change things and to fight if
necessary: "*But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing
invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute
Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such
Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security*." When
Jefferson penned these words he wasn't talking about holding elections.

James Bovard wrote in “Lost Rights: The Destruction of AmericanLiberty*, “Americans need to remember their constitutional birthright and stand up to arrogant government officials who treat them like subjects rather than
citizens.” Mr. Bovard is telling us something we must never forget. Citizens
of the United States, each individually, are the caretakers for those
precious American siblings – Liberty and Freedom.

As I've traveled around the country this past year visiting libertarian
groups, I've been encouraged to discover that the Spirit of '76 has not been
entirely extinguished. While it's still being smothered by the apathy of
many Americans, and arrogant elected officials are still attempting to stamp
out its flame, the fire is still alive, cared for and nurtured by a small
but growing group of freedom-lovers. This campaign can be a catalyst to
rekindle the Spirit of '76 and set a brush fire in the hearts and minds of
all Americans that will engulf and destroy the tyranny and oppression
brought to our land under the guise of fighting foreign and domestic
enemies.

On this Fourth of July I urge everyone to read the Declaration of
Independence
aloud to your children, your grandchildren, and your friend's children and
grandchildren. Tell them that the Fourth of July is more than just a time
for going to the beach, eating hot dogs and watching fireworks. Teach these
future caretakers of American freedom that it's about honoring the vision
and sacrifice of those who gave their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" so
that we might be free by not allowing the flame of liberty die.

* R. Lee Wrights, 53, a libertarian writer and political activist, is
seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian
message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war.
To that end he has pledged that 10 percent of all donations to his campaign
will be spent for ballot access so that the stop all war message can be
heard in all 50 states. Wrights is a lifetime member of the **Libertarian
Party ** and co-founder and editor of of the free speech
online magazine **Liberty For All **. Born in
Winston-Salem, N.C., he now lives and works in Texas.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stop begging government, start replacing it!

Americans have become used to begging our government for what we want. We beg them for lower taxes, better national defense, a fair marketplace, less influence in our daily lives, but it always seems that their answer is a resounding 'NO!'.  That's because, as much as we'd like to believe otherwise, our government doesn't serve we the people but rather is beholden solely to huge, multinational corporations.

Begging the government for relief will never work. They are not interested in what you need. They are interested in how they can expand government influence and corporate power. The fact that you are paying  taxes more and living closer to poverty doesn't matter. The fact that both you and your wife or husband both have to work and  still barely earn enough for basic needs doesn't matter. YOU don't matter. 

It's time we stop begging the government for change and begin implementing change ourselves. In the movie "V for Vendetta", the protagonist speaks one of the most memorable and true lines I've ever heard in a movie: "The people should never be afraid of their government; government should be afraid of the people". The problem in our modern day is that government has lost its fear of the people. Politicians know they can lie, cheat, steal, and sell our future to the highest bidder and still be assured they have a pretty good chance at re-election in the next election cycle. We vacillate constantly between Republicans and Democrats hoping that one will fix the problems created by the other. 

But they won't. Because they are all part of the same corporate controlled machine.

If we are to bring about real change; "change we can believe in" as Barack Obama loved to say, we have to begin acting in ways we've never acted in before. We have to begin thinking outside of the two party system and doing something that's radical and scary: we have to start replacing the two party corporate whore-mongers with third party options. They have to be shown that we don't buy their lies anymore. The jig is up! We know they're both the same and we want true liberty, not continued promises that never seem to get fulfilled.

In his 1997 essay called "Assassination Politics", Jim Bell theorized that political behavior could be controlled by placing a price on a bad acting politicians head. In such a system, politicians who act against the best interests of the people might find themselves on a prediction list and, soon enough, the wrong end of a bullet.

While Bell's essay is interesting, It has no practical value today. In an atmosphere where most Americans readily swallow the lies their government tells, the trigger of a voting booth becomes a much scarier and much more effective weapon than the trigger of a gun. Kill a politician and you will be labeled a terrorist and new, tighter laws will be passed to control your fellow man. Worst of all, the people will support is since killing is such a heinous act in most cases. Career assassination, on the other hand, provides an even handier and more effective way to get rid of the scum while protecting both yourself and your fellow man from the repercussions that come with Bell's ideas.

The voting booth, when used correctly, is the most effective tool we have. It's more powerful than a gun, more frightening to the elite than the very threat of death itself, and perhaps the only solution that is available to nearly every American. In the voting booth lies our true power and that scares the hell out of politicians.

Notice, however, that I said 'when used correctly'. We don't tend to use the voting booth correctly in this country. Largely, we aren't allowed to. Ballot access laws, media biases, and political propaganda, are all used as a way of keeping us locked into the failed two party system and, because it's almost always been that way, most Americans don't even bother fighting it.

But we must fight. We must break out of the mindset that there are only two options and that we're forced to choose 'the lesser of two evils'. There aren't just two options. We don't have to pick either or; we can demand more. We can demand fair ballots where everyone can be represented equally and people are given a true choice. But to get there, it's going to take work and it's going to take a whole lot of trial and error.

Government doesn't only need to be reduced, it needs to be replaced with people of conscious; people who are not beholden to special interests, corporate favors, and backroom payoffs. We have to stop bouncing between the two parties, stop begging government for our freedoms and favors, and start demanding that those we elected to represent us actually do so. If they don't, then we need to replace them with someone who will; someone from outside of the system.

Stop begging, start replacing.

Can we achieve liberty? Yes! But as long as we stay locked in the two party mindset, we will never find true freedom. The two parties are there solely for the illusion of choice. That illusion, like any illusion, is a smoke and mirrors game where the real function and action is well hidden behind the locked doors of corporate power. Unlock those doors! Kick them down! Choose real choice! Kick the 'business as usual' maniacs out and replace them with people who are truly willing to do the will of the people! No time in history has been better for political reform than the place we stand right now. It's up to us what kind of future our country has. 

Are you willing to truly start a revolution?

Friday, July 1, 2011

How I tried (and failed) to use Ubuntu One

For the last year, I've been following all of the excitement in the blog world surrounding Ubuntu One.  Ubuntu One, for those who've had their head buried under a rock, is a Canonical created cloud storage service similar to Box.net or Dropbox.  The service gives you two gigabytes of online storage and automatically keeps the folders and files you define in sync between multiple computers. It allows you to easily share your data with anyone on the next with the simple click of a mouse and, best of all, it lets you stream music stored in the cloud directly to your PC or Android device.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know I'm very wary of storing my data in the cloud. Much of my fear was confirmed a few weeks ago when it was  revealed that data sync'd with the popular and dominate Dropbox service was transmitted completely unencrypted and only secured 'at some point later' on their server. While I see the attraction of the cloud, I don't think the convenience is worth the risk associated with it.

But Ubuntu One was different. Since it came from an open source company, I thought 'I can probably trust these guys' and I went ahead and set up the client on my machine. My impetus for doing this had a lot to do with the fact that I had just lost a lot of data due to a hard disk crash and I thought Ubuntu One was probably a pretty great way to make sure that didn't happen again.

After configuring my account, I spent a few minutes creating symbolic links in the "Ubuntu One" directory to my /Documents, /Pictures, /Music. and /Projects directories and I was all excited as I waited to watch my (encrypted) data stream to the cloud.

It didn't.  In fact, the only thing that happened is that the folders that were symbolically linked were created on the Ubuntu One server, but not a single byte of the data they contained was moved into the cloud.

After waiting for almost two hours, I decided something had to be wrong and went to the forums to see if I could find anyone else having a similar problem to mine. I found a few people and it didn't seem like there was an easy solution except 'make sure you actually added your computer'. Isn't that part of configuring the client? Wasn't that the very first thing I did?  Still, I went and unlinked my machine and added it again just in case.

Still nothing.

Back to the forums I went and posted a question basically asking 'WTF? My Ubuntu One is Broke!' and I clearly described my problem, giving all of the necessarily information. That was three days ago and I still haven't gotten a response from anyone.

Looking through the forums, however, I saw lots of problems with the software. I saw people complaining about it crashing on Windows (what doesn't?), people complaining about it not syncing all of their data, and even complaints of data loss while using the service. All around a service that's been out for two full releases now. Why are we still having these problems?

So I disabled Ubuntu One and I installed Dropbox. Dropbox works and works well. Their security may be crap but I can get around that by storing my data in a TrueCrypt container so it's all encrypted on my machine before being sent to the cloud. Dropbox was fast and easy to configure and it worked from the very first moment it was running. So far, I haven't had a single support issue with the software while I see even more issues have arisen on the Ubuntu One forum; more unanswered questions too.

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical (the company that makes Ubuntu) said in a press conference that Canonicals goal was to bring on 200 million new users to the Ubuntu desktop in the next four years. I can say definitively that if one of Ubuntu's selling points to those users is in any way related to Ubuntu One, they are going to massively fail. Two releases into the program and it's still not stable enough for reliable, everyday use. The Windows client, while still in beta and kind of newish, just doesn't work on some machines and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon. In the meantime, Canonical is pushing forward with new Ubuntu One version for Android, iPhone, and Mac, that will likely suffer many of the same problems.

When I've talked negatively about Ubuntu One on IRC, I was immediately told to shut up. Everyone's system is different! It can't be expected to work seamlessly on every system. Why not?  This is not a hardware issue which is where the 'everyone's system is different' argument would actually make sense. Canonical controls the operating system and, to a large degree, everyone's basic operating system is the same. Why can't the company that makes the operating system also make a program that runs reliably on that operating system. It's not like they're having to integrate with some undocumented API or anything. They are simply writing a program to work on their own operating system. That's not rocket science hard.

Personally, I think Canonical has bitten off more than it could chew with Ubuntu One. They were too aggressive with its deployment, too congratulatory of its features, and too inattentive to its problems. If it's going to replace Dropbox on most users machines, it's going to have to offer a compelling and, most importantly, reliable experience to users. Until then, the software will stay in its little corner to be played with every now and then to see how far it's come and then quickly replaced by Dropbox or something else.

Wake up Canonical! 400 million users aren't going to come with broken software! We in the Linux world are constantly telling people how superior the OS is to everything else, about how great the quality of the software written using the open source paradigm is and yet we can't get a simple file syncing program to work right? That gives Linux a black eye and will only drive people quicker into the arms of Apple and Microsoft.

Does Canonical really want to be the reason people choose Apple and Microsoft? I would hope not but a lot is going to have to change if they want to avoid that fate. Ubuntu One is an important factor in that change and, I'm afraid it's being paid way to little attention. Will Dropbox continue to dominate even the Ubuntu desktop when it comes to file syncing?

That is a question that only Canonical can answer. What are your thoughts?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The net neutrality conundrum

'Network Neutrality' is a hotly debated topic these days. It seems every few months, the concept of net neutrality rears its head when some large ISP enters into talks with a content provider to offer a faster connect to that providers content in exchange for money. It's a good deal for content providers who seek a competitive edge because traffic to their site would be fast while traffic for competitors sites, at least those who didn't pay, would be substantially slower but it's a horrible deal for consumers who may find their favorite websites slow to access and difficult to navigate.

So it's no surprise that Congress and the FCC have taken up the network neutrality discussion and both sides are heavily lobbying lawmakers for legislation that comes down squarely on their side.  When the issue first started being discussed, I supported a Congressional network neutrality bill because I thought it was the only way to make sure the Internet playing field was kept fair for both small and large players. On second thought, though, I now realize I was wrong. Pushing for legislation on either side of the issue is actually a red herring and could have very severe unintended consequences.

See, asking Congress to pass legislation to protect freedom and fairness on the Internet is actually giving Congress the authority to control the Internet - or at least the American part of it. We are expressly giving them expanded regulatory control of a network who, by its very nature, is uncontrollable.  Though it might be for 'the public good' we are expanding the control government has over our online lives. That might seem like a good thing in this case but what happens then when government acts against the best interests of the people and in the interests of corporations instead?  If we've already ceded regulatory control to them via network neutrality, where do we draw the line and how do we stop the landslide once it starts?

Network neutrality could also have negative effects in the physical world too. How many times have you seen ads on television that say 'American Express is the only card accepted here? How many times have you seen local merchants give discounts to people who pay with cash instead of credit cards because they want to avoid the discounts credit card companies impose on their sales? Couldn't it be argued that this is the physical world version of network neutrality? It's showing favoritism to a certain network of people (users of cash or people who hold American Express cards) over their counterparts and offering a reward to those who give the merchant whatever they want.

Couldn't we then argue that, if we demand 'fairness' by legislation on the Internet, we should also demand it in the physical world?  Why should such 'protections' extend only to the digital world? Perhaps there should be laws governing 'monetary network neutrality'.  See the potential problem? Every extension of government control leads to greater extensions in the future because they have a unique way to find new ways to interpret 'rights' and 'protections' in expanded ways.

So what's the answer then? Nobody wants a slower Internet just because a company didn't pay what amounts to an extortion fee to an ISP. Here's an idea: Instead of pushing for increased government control, we should actually be advocating that the government take a 'hands off' attitude with the Internet and allow the free market to rule on network neutrality.  Allow ISP's that want to strike deals with content providers to do so and allow those who want to treat everyone equally to do so. Then, let consumers vote with their dollars as to which ISP's live or die based on their policies. In a free market, freedom wins because the consumer, not the government, is in control. Consumers voting with their dollars have a much more powerful impact on the behavior of corporations than any law ever could and the market is often very brutal to bad actors.

I would argue that the free market is the only way to guarantee network neutrality. Corporations can find ways around laws but it's not so easy to find ways around an angry consumer. Give the customer what they want or die is how the free market works and that's just as it should be. Network neutrality isn't a government issue, it's a consumer one and, thankfully, it's one consumers can solve quite easily.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Urgent Action Request: The detention of Ms. Mansoureh Behkish in Iran

I know many of you subscribe to Amnesty International's 'Urgent Action Request' mailing list. However, I'm sure there are many of you who don't and so I'm sharing this latest posting here on the blog.

I strongly urge you to utilize one of the contact methods listed in this request. You could help save Ms. Behkish from torture or even death. If you cannot find the time to go out and buy a postcard, I encourage you to use email and reach out to the contact listed here.  If you would like a prewritten letter you can send instead of writing your own, please contact me at papillion@gmail.com for a copy of the one I sent.

Here is the appeal:


23 June 2011

UA 196/11         Risk of torture/Risk of ill-treatment
IRAN                Mansoureh Behkish (f)

Iranian human rights activist, Mansoureh Behkish, was arrested on 12 June 2011. She is a member of the 'Mourning Mothers' group, which campaigns against human rights violations such as unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearances. She is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

Mansoureh Behkish, 57, was arrested by men believed to belong to the Ministry of Intelligence when they recognized her in a street in Tehran, at 8pm on 12 June 2011. She is now held in Section 209 of Evin Prison. She was able to make a short phone call to her mother two or three days after her arrest and again on 20 June, but could not talk about the conditions of her detention. Mansoureh Behkish suffers from a neurodegenerative disease called diffuse myelinoclastic sclerosis, or sometimes referred to as "Schilder's disease".

The 'Mourning Mothers' group mainly comprises women whose children have been killed, disappeared or detained in post-election violence in Iran since June 2009, but it quickly grew to include relatives of other victims of human rights violations and their supporters. Mansoureh Behkish has lost several members of her family who were executed in the 1980s; since then she has been an activist and has been detained several times before.

Mansoureh Behkish was among 33 women from the 'Mourning Mothers' group arrested during their weekly meeting in Laleh Park, Tehran, on 9 January 2010 and held for several days. On 17 March 2010, she was prevented from traveling to Italy to visit her children and her passport was confiscated. She remains banned from travel abroad.

BACKGROUND INFORMATIONThe 'Mourning Mothers' group was set up by women whose children have been killed, disappeared or detained in post-election violence in Iran since June 2009 but it quickly grew to include relatives of other victims of human rights violations and their supporters. The 'Mourning Mothers' meet in silence for an hour each Saturday near the place and time of the killing of protester Neda Agha-Soltan, who came to symbolize the brutal repression meted out by security forces after the disputed presidential election of 2009. Her death was shown in footage circulated around the world Mansoureh Behkish has not herself lost a child but lost several members of her family in the 1980s and is very involved in the movement.

Mansoureh Behkish, along with other women in the 'Mourning Mothers' group, was first seized during the group's weekly meeting in Laleh Park, Tehran on 5 December 2009. Members of the group were arrested again on 9 January 2010; several of them were beaten and 10 were taken to hospital (see: Iran's 'Mourning Mothers' must be released, 11 January 2010,http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/irans-mourning-mothers-must-be-released-20100111).

On 9 April 9 2011, Leyla Seyfollahi and Zhila Karamzadeh-Makvandi were sentenced in connection with their membership of the 'Mourning Mothers'. They were arrested on 8 February 2010 and appeared before Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran in May 2010 and March 2011. Leyla Seyfollahi and Zhila Karamzadeh-Makvandi were sentenced to four years imprisonment for "founding an illegal organization" and "acting against state security". They remain free pending their appeal.

Mansoureh Behkish was first arrested in December 1981 and held in solitary confinement for three months, while pregnant. She was released on bail to deliver her baby outside prison. After her delivery, she escaped from her home town of Mashhad and went into hiding for more than seven years.

Between 1981 and 1988 Mansoureh Behkish lost five members of her family including a sister, four brothers and a brother-in-law. Starting in August 1988 and continuing until shortly before the tenth anniversary of the Islamic revolution in February 1989, the Iranian authorities carried out mass summary executions of political prisoners, known as the "prison massacre" – the largest numbers since those carried out in the first and second year after the Iranian revolution in 1979. In all between 4,500 and 5,000 prisoners are believed to have been killed, including women.

For the past few years, Mansoureh Behkish has participated in the commemoration of the victims of the 1988 mass executions, some of whom were buried in the Khavaran Cemetery in south Tehran. This event is held yearly by relatives of the dead on or about 29 August to mark the anniversary and demand justice for their loved ones. Hundreds of those summarily executed are buried in the cemetery, many of them in unmarked mass graves. Families of the victims have been under pressure from the Iranian authorities not to hold commemorations at the cemetery or in their homes. On 29 August 2008 Mansoureh Behkish was arrested and held in Evin Prison for three days and summoned several times that year.

Mansoureh Behkish is the main caretaker of her elderly mother.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please write immediately in French or your own language:-- Call on the Iranian authorities to release Mansoureh Behkish immediately and unconditionally if, as appears to be the case, she is held solely for the peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association;
-- Call on the authorities to ensure that she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and grant her immediate and regular access to her family, lawyer of her choice and adequate medical care;
-- Urge the authorities to remove unlawful restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly in Iran.


APPEALS TO:

Leader of the Islamic RepublicAyatollah Sayed 'Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran,
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Email: info_leader@leader.ir
Twitter: "Call on #Iran leader @khamenei_ir to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mansoureh Behkish"
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
[care of] Public relations Office
Number 4, 2 Azizi Street
Vali Asr Ave., above Pasteur Street intersection
Tehran
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Email: bia.judi@yahoo.com  (In subject line: FAO Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani)  ORlarijani@dadgostary-tehran.ir
Salutation: Your Excellency

COPIES TO:

Secretary General, High Council for Human RightsMohammad Javad Larijani
High Council for Human Rights
[Care of] Office of the Head of the Judiciary, Pasteur St.,
Vali Asr Ave. south of Serah-e Jomhouri,
Tehran 1316814737,
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Email: info@humanrights-iran.ir (subject line: FAO Mohammad Javad Larijani)Salutation: Dear Sir
Iran does not presently have an embassy in the United States. Instead, please send copies to:
Iranian Interests Section
2209 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington DC 20007
Phone: 202 965 4990
Fax: 1 202 965 1073
Email: requests@daftar.org

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 4 August 2011.