Letter of Apology from the Shanghai Metro: Another Failure of the Worker State

Posted in adventure, opinion, politics with tags , , , , , on 2013 July 22 by KLP

This morning, my coworkers and I enjoyed a significant delay on the green line of the Shanghai Metro. Apparently there was some kind of accident. Not only did it take a lot longer than we were used to to get on the train than we had experienced until this morning, the train only let us off several stops after our intended destination. On our way out of the station, a small mob formed around some of the metro staff who where handing out pieces of paper. It seemed important, so I made sure to get one for myself. The following link includes scans and an explanation of the document: http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2012/08/09/letter-of-apology-from-the-shanghai-metro. In short, if you are late to work because of a delay on the metro, you can present this letter to your employer as a valid excuse.

Despite the terminology I often hear in the US, China is not a communist state. A “communist state” is actually an oxymoron because the absence of a state is part of what defines a communist society. Officially, China is a worker state, meaning that the working class has taken control of the state and is using it to progress toward communism, at which point the people will just abandon the state. But if the workers really are in control of the state, why do they have to present a note to their employers if they are running a little late? After 64 years of the People’s Republic, that is some dismal progress. Clearly, these notes are great little examples as to why the state is not a viable means of achieving worker liberation and communism. I am going to frame mine and hang it up in my cubical.

Fixed it.

Posted in Fixed It with tags , , , , , , on 2012 November 3 by KLP

This post marks the first of a series (more than one, anyway) in which I briefly share solutions that I have found to various problems. I think for the most part they will relate to Ubuntu Linux, but we’ll see. I hope that these posts will help others with the same problems so as to increase the utility of the effort that I put into finding the solutions for myself.

This post’s problem has to do with setting up a version of Windows in Virtualbox running on Ubuntu 12.10. I started out by following this guide, which seems a little outdated, and then I ran into an error depicted in the first post of this thread. Unfortunately, I do not have any screen-shots to share because I tried the solution I found in post #49 of that thread and it seems to have worked. At least now you have the links though!

The Internet’s Landlord

Posted in miscellaneous, opinion, Photo with tags , , , , , , , , on 2012 October 25 by KLP

Data centers – Google Data centers

I noticed a link at the bottom of the Google Search page for a photo album of Google’s data centers. Not only do I appreciate the technology, logistics, and organization that the photos depict, but the photos themselves are really pretty, too.

However, the album’s title, Where the Internet Lives, concerns  me somewhat. Do we really want Google, or any large corporation, to be the Internet’s landlord? Perhaps we should strive for a more democratic, distributed, and decentralized Internet, where every household or community maintains its own servers and hosts its own members’ content.

If the Internet must have a landlord, what are the terms of the lease, and who pays the rent?

A Brief Moral Argument Against Voting for Anyone to be President.

Posted in opinion, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 2012 October 3 by KLP

Although presidential debates have captured my interest in past election cycles, I did not bother to watch this last one. I did not bother because I do not intend to vote for anyone to take that office on the anarchistic grounds that voting signifies endorsement of the state, something that I would prefer to avoid giving. But, regarding the office of the president in particular, I think I have found a persuasive argument for those who don’t share my libertarian inclinations.

This article about Harold Herring made me aware of the fact that the president of the United States of America has the unchecked authority to deploy nuclear weapons and potentially end civilization, if not our entire species (and many others, no doubt). Conceivably,  anyone in the chain of command could disobey an order to launch, but the system is supposed to prevent such dissension. That’s why the Air Force discharged Herring after he asked, “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”. I believe that no individual has the moral right to impose such a consequence on everyone. Therefore, it is immoral to award anyone such authority unless, perhaps, such an award comes with the unanimous consent every member of the human population.

I was going to argue that voting for anyone to become president would unconditionally constitute an immoral act because it is an attempt to award someone that authority. However, a friend reminded me that, at least in the United States of America, voters don’t award the presidency to anyone. That job belongs to the Electoral College (usually). Therefore, voting for any presidential candidate becomes an expression of consent, which I won’t argue is intrinsically immoral. However, giving such consent is misguided because no candidate can meaningfully deserve it more than any other. Given the enormity of the consequences, no candidate is significantly less unfit to hold that authority than his opponents. Going by this train of thought, a vote for a presidential candidate means effectively nothing. Of course, if we ignore the idiosyncratic technicalities of our electoral system and approximate it as a roughly democratic process, the moral argument still holds.

My friend also pointed out that even if no one has the legal authority to launch a nuclear attack or retaliation, a few conspirators could still deploy the arsenal illegally. In other words, the citizenry withholding their consent for anyone to have that authority will not preclude individuals from simply taking it, thereby leading to the same pragmatic outcome. We could go on from here to a discussion on disarmament, but that’s besides the point. If an illegal launch does occur, whether legal means exist or not, the moral responsibility lies exclusively with the individuals who took it upon themselves to conduct the attack. When you vote for someone, though, and thereby consent for him to have the legal authority to use nuclear weapons, you have explicitly accepted moral responsibility for an immoral condition as well as that for an attack that occurs by the authority to which you consented. So, if you intend to vote for president, you’d better be cool with, or at least ignorant of, that responsibility. I suspect that the powers that be rely on the latter.

Communicating in Spite of Big Brother

Posted in Uncategorized on 2012 September 24 by KLP

In this interview, Jacob Appelbaum shares some wise words regarding personal information security. He may have been speaking within the context of the various Occupation protests, but his advice certainly applies to non-activists as well. With that in mind, I would like to share some of the steps that I take to protect my communications and mitigate surveillance. But first, I need to address some of the misunderstandings that people commonly hold about privacy.

The misconception that only people with something to hide require privacy bothers me the most. Privacy will obviously help someone hide something, but, for the most part I think, we need privacy to protect the integrity of ourselves as individuals and that of our relationships. For example, we share personal information with friends and family to extents which we limit according to intimacy. We share more with the people with whom we relate to more closely. And we typically share such information on a reciprocal, equitable basis so each party has equal footing, at least in healthy relationships. Therefore, we use privacy to make our personal information privileged, thereby making those with whom we share it, friends and family, special people in our lives. When a person or organization spies on you, they get to know you on a unilateral, inequitable basis. As such, they have the power to take advantage of you, not only because they probably have the physical means, but because you lack the equivalent information about them.

Of course, that logic won’t sway folks who don’t believe that they are the subject of surveillance. People commonly think that believing otherwise would make them paranoid or delusional on the grounds that they live lives too uninteresting to get Wenlock’s attention. The cost of surveillance, on a per target basis, keeps decreasing, so holding such a belief makes one realistic, as the construction of the Utah Data Center exemplifies. Yet, for people who still believe in immunity through innocuous mediocrity, Appelbaum presents a sound argument:

The people who that say that—if they’re not cops, they’re feeling unempowered [sic]. The first response people have is, whatever, I’m not important. And the second is, they’re not watching me, and even if they were, there’s nothing they could find because I’m not doing anything illegal. But the thing is, taking precautions with your communications is like safe sex in that you have a responsibility to other people to be safe—your transgressions can fuck other people over. The reality is that when you find out it will be too late. It’s not about doing a perfect job, it’s about recognizing you have a responsibility to do that job at all, and doing the best job you can manage, without it breaking down your ability to communicate, without it ruining your day…

In other words, you don’t have to believe that you’re a target. Rather, not taking precautions imposes vulnerability on your associates because your personal information also includes their personal information (to the extent that they’ve shared it with you). Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if you and your friends faithfully abide by the law. Who says that the state’s agents will interpret correctly the information about you that it collects? Everybody makes mistakes, after all. And non-state entities, who don’t necessarily care about your behavior with respect to the law, also engage in surveillance, whether it’s Google, Facebook, or your employer. Any trust you may have put into those entities becomes irrelevant when the data they’ve collected gets compromised by a malicious third party.

Sometimes along the lines of an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude, people will argue that given the insurmountable power of the state, we have no real means to protect the privacy of our communications. Indeed, vulnerabilities will always exist. But, where we might lack the means to completely protect ourselves, at least we can establish an expectation of privacy, which may provide some legal protection. At the very least, it’s important to demonstrate respect for your associates by exercising due diligence. That’s why, despite the weak physical protection they offer, we put our postal mail in paper envelopes. Equivalent technologies exist for e-mail and other internet communications (which provide much better security), yet few if any of my associates use or even know about them. So, if you don’t feel that using an envelope signals paranoia, or that they’re too useless to even bother with, I encourage you to employ some, if not all, of the following measures for your internet communications.

With varying discipline, I do the following:

  • From my PC, I cryptographically sign my e-mails with OpenPGP using the Thunderbird e-mail client with the Enigmail add-on. From my Android smartphone, I do the same with K-9 Mail and APG. Although I doubt that any of the recipients of my messages ever try to verify them, I get a small amount of geeky joy every time I sign an e-mail. Doing so also gives me an opportunity to include at the bottom of my e-mail messages a note explaining that I signed the e-mail and that I am happy to show others how to verify it. I would prefer to encrypt my e-mails as well, but if the people I e-mail won’t verify my signatures they certainly won’t have public keys to share with me.
  • I retain the ability to have encrypted instant message conversations using OTR. On my smartphone I use Gibberbot and on my PC I use Pidgin with the appropriate plugin. I’ve had better luck showing off Gibberbot (and its iOS counterpart, ChatSecure) to friends and getting them to use it than OpenPGP, but my battery doesn’t last long enough to let me run Gibberbot without a recharge half-way through my day. So, my friends and I have resolved to use it for sensitive discussions only, but that’s a significant limitation. At what point does a conversation become sensitive enough to warrant switching apps? Can’t an eavesdropper build a thorough profile from seemingly innocuous conversations?
  • Similarly, I have Tor installed on both my PC and my smartphone (as Orbot). However, because it’s slow, I rarely use it to browse the web. Still, I enjoy contributing to the Tor network as a node. Also, the Hidden Service feature is convenient for getting around the limitations of a dynamic IP address.

Of those measures, the first is probably the most convenient and effective. I believe that the reason for people’s reluctance to adopt it come from their reluctance to use an e-mail client in the first place. Gmail’s web interface, for example, offers a great experience without having to install or configure anything. That’s too bad. Sealing an envelope really isn’t that hard.

Printing Firearms and Democratizing Manufacturing

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2012 September 20 by KLP
"You'll shoot your eye out!"

A printed lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle.

Today I learned about the Wiki Weapon project, which aims to create a design for a working firearm with which anyone can print their own from a RepRap or similar 3D printer. As an exercise in freedom of information, I think that it’s a cool project, at least at first thought. It illustrates how peer-to-peer sharing empowers individuals against middlemen and unjustified authority. However, as an exercise in designing a firearm that anyone can build, employing additive manufacturing doesn’t seem like the most efficient or practical way to do it. It just doesn’t make sense to put in the effort to figure out how to print a plastic barrel through which one can safely fire a round when one can already easily acquire bar stock and a drill press, perhaps more easily than plastic filament. And open source plans for DIY firearms already exist. We already have the means to build and share together. So, beyond testing the limits of the RepRap and its ilk, I don’t think the project will accomplish anything very significant. Of course, I don’t want to disparage additive manufacturing. In fact, I especially admire the RepRap. But, to do a job properly you need the right tools. A 3D printer is the right tool for some jobs, but definitely not every job. At least, not yet.

Dead dog.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 2012 September 15 by KLP

image

Nah, we just took him to the newly opened dog park. You should take your dog to a dog park, too.

@dmytri

Venture Communist. Miscommunications. Technologist Telekommunisten Polemicist. ThoughtWorks Analyst.

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