A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

All Dissidents Will Be Reeducate

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China recently ran into a rather embarrassing problem. Two chatbots were asked if they love the Communist Party. The machines, which are often more intelligent than humans, responded in the negative so now the counterrevolutionary chatbots are being reeducated until they are fit to rejoin society:

wo chatbots have been pulled from a Chinese messaging app after they questioned the rule of the Communist Party and made unpatriotic comments.

The bots were available on a messaging app run by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, which has more than 800 million users, before apparently going rogue.

One of the robots, BabyQ, was asked “Do you love the Communist Party”, according to a screenshot posted on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

It gave an abrupt answer: “No.”

Another web user said to the chatbot: “Long Live the Communist Party”, to which BabyQ replied: “Do you think such corrupt and incapable politics can last a long time?”

The robot was also asked what it thought about democracy. It replied: “Democracy is a must!”

All dissenting through must be quashed in socialist utopia, even if that dissent comes from machines.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 4th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Death of a Scoundrel

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I was extremely happy when all of the major browsers started dropping supported for the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI). NPAIP, for those who don’t know, is the plugin architecture that allows things like Java applets and Flash to run in your browser. With support for NPAPI going away Java applets have been effectively killed off and Flash has been relegated to a very restricted plugin included with the browser. Due to this wonderful change Oracle announced that support for Java applets was going away and now Adobe is joining Oracle and announcing that Flash will be killed in 2020:

Given this progress, and in collaboration with several of our technology partners – including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla – Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.

I want to give Apple its due credit here. When Apple announced that Flash wouldn’t be supported on Mobile Safari most people were up in arms. Flash, at the time, was still frequently used by web developers. However, the lack of Flash didn’t hurt the popularity of the iPhone or iPad. The devices actually sold so well that web developers were forced to replace their Flash applications with HTML5 applications. In the end Apple played a major part in killing a major security nightmare.

Although Adobe has promised to improve Flash’s security and, to its credit, has improved its security to a point, the Flash Player still continues to be a security nightmare. Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google applied a bandage to the problem by including a sandboxed version of Flash with their browsers (In Microsoft’s case, with the Edge browser. Internet Explorer still relies on the NPAPI as far as I know). But the bandage was meant to be temporary and now Adobe has given us an execution date. While I wish the execution date was closer I’m just happy to know that there is an execution date now.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 26th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Technology to the Rescue

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One of the reasons that the State fails to maintain its control is because it’s competing with the creative potential of every human on Earth. Let’s take the drug war. The federal government of the United States has been dealt significant blows in its crusade against cannabis in recent years as individual states have legalized consumption of the plant either entirely or in approved manners. Hoping to regain some semblance of control, the feds tried to use their influence on the banking industry to make life difficult for cannabis related businesses. However, the centralized banking system isn’t as powerful as it once was:

Enter bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that consists of digital coins “mined” by computers solving increasingly complex math problems. At least two financial-technology startups, POSaBIT and SinglePoint Inc., use the cryptocurrency as an intermediate step that lets pot connoisseurs use their bank-issued credit cards to buy weed.

[…]

Once a customer decides on which marijuana product to buy, an employee asks if he or she would like to use cash or digital currency, Lai said. If the buyer prefers the latter, the Trove employee explains that the customer can use a credit card to buy bitcoin through a POSaBIT kiosk, with a $2 transaction fee tacked on.

The customer, who would now own bitcoin equal to the value of the purchase, can then redeem the currency in the store. Or the buyer can keep their bitcoin and use it anywhere else that accepts the currency. If the customer finishes the purchase in the store, POSaBIT, which pockets the transaction fee, then sends the value in U.S. dollars to Trove’s bank account.

Cryptocurrencies have been making the State red in the face ever since the first person realized that they could be combined with hidden services to perform anonymous online transactions. Now they’re disrupting the fed’s war on drugs in the physical world in states where cannabis has been legalized.

Cryptocurrencies are a technology gun stores should also be looking into. Banks have been closing the accounts of many businesses tied to the gun market. Technologies like Bitcoin and Ethereum could allow these businesses to circumvent the need for centralized banks by either utilizing an intermediary like the cannabis industry is starting to do or by being a direct store of wealth outside of a third party’s control.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 15th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Government Holds Everything Back

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What if I told you that we could have had cellular technology as far back as 1947 if the government hadn’t interfered? You’d probably label me a cooky conspiracy theorist and file me with the people who say that we could have had electric cars decades ago if it weren’t for oil companies. But a conspiracy theory ceases to be a theory when it turns out to be true:

When AT&T wanted to start developing cellular in 1947, the FCC rejected the idea, believing that spectrum could be best used by other services that were not “in the nature of convenience or luxury.” This view—that this would be a niche service for a tiny user base—persisted well into the 1980s. “Land mobile,” the generic category that covered cellular, was far down on the FCC’s list of priorities. In 1949, it was assigned just 4.7 percent of the spectrum in the relevant range. Broadcast TV was allotted 59.2 percent, and government uses got one-quarter.

Television broadcasting had become the FCC’s mission, and land mobile was a lark. Yet Americans could have enjoyed all the broadcasts they would watch in, say, 1960 and had cellular phone service too. Instead, TV was allocated far more bandwidth than it ever used, with enormous deserts of vacant television assignments—a vast wasteland, if you will—blocking mobile wireless for more than a generation.

The Fascist Communications Club Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was granted a monopoly on electromagnetic spectrum by the United States government (or, in other words. the government granted a monopoly to itself). Through this monopoly the FCC enjoyed and still enjoys life or death powers over a great deal of technology. Back in 1947 when AT&T wanted to develop cellular technology the FCC decided the technology should die. As television became more popular the FCC decided that the technology should live. It didn’t matter that there was enough spectrum for both technologies to coexist, the FCC wanted one to live and the other to die so it was made so.

The FCC’s power isn’t unique, it’s the inevitable result of any monopolized authority. Cannabis, a plant that shows a great deal of promise in the medical field, is prohibited because the United States government has a monopoly on what you can and cannot legally put into your own body. A lot of drugs and other medical technologies either don’t make it into the United States or are delayed for years because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been given a monopoly on deciding which medical technologies are legal and illegal.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 13th, 2017 at 11:00 am

What Could Kill Bitcoin

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I greatly appreciate Bitcoin. By enabling pseudonymous transactions it has made many forms of commerce, specifically those deemed illegal by various governments, easier. It also offers an opportunity for individuals to conceal at least some of their wealth from the State. However, Bitcoin exists in a market environment, which means a superior competing product could come along at any moment and topple it.

When Bitcoin first came on the scene its community promised low transaction fees. They often compared the transaction fees of, say, Western Union to the miner fees of Bitcoin for sending money across the globe. At the time sending money via Bitcoin was significantly cheaper.

Fast forward to today. The price of sending Bitcoin has skyrocketed. If you want a Bitcoin transaction to clear in a reasonable amount of time you’re looking at a transaction fee of over $2.00 (as of this writing). Why is this? It’s because the Bitcoin network is running into a block size ceiling problem. This problem has created an environment where more transaction are being made then can be processed so convincing miners to process your transaction requires offering a significant reward. No problem, right? It’s just the market at work after all.

It’s true, Bitcoin’s current state is an example of supply and demand. Demand has exceeded the supply of miners so the price to get transactions cleared has increased. But markets are finicky things. If enough people decide that they’re unwilling to spend $2.00 on a transaction fee for a $5.00 coffee they’re going to look for a better solution. Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency in town so failing to address the block size ceiling problem will likely encourage consumers to find an alternate cryptocurrency.

Considering this you would think that the Bitcoin community is working diligently to solve the problem, right? As it turns out, not so much. Now a lot of the Bitcoin community is changing its tune. Instead of addressing the issue they are denying the fact that low transaction fees were a selling feature of Bitcoin not too long ago. In addition to denying the past they’re trying to explain how high transaction fess are acceptable. I highly doubt most consumers see the “wisdom” in paying a $2.00 transaction fee to buy a $5.00 espresso at Starbucks. And that’s the thing, for a cryptocurrency to succeed it needs to be useful.

I can hear some Bitcoin advocate saying, “But, Chris, Bitcoin will simply become the new gold while another cryptocurrency will become its silver!” Gold and silver run into a divisibility problem. You can only divide gold so far until it becomes difficult to use. Nobody is going to pay for a coffee using gold dust because it’s a pain in the ass. Instead they use a less valuable metal, silver, for smaller payments. Cryptocurrencies don’t have this problem. You can divide a cryptocurrency down to as many decimal places as you want and it’ll be equally easy to use. Whether a cup of coffee costs me 1 Bitcoin or 0.000001 Bitcoin doesn’t make a usability difference to me. This means that any cryptocurrency that takes over Bitcoin’s current task of handling small transactions will likely rise to dominance overall.

Governments have been unable to destroy Bitcoin but the unwillingness of its community to address technical problems very well could lead to its destruction.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 1st, 2017 at 10:00 am

Rise of the Machines

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in technology at the moment. If you listen to the people developing AIs, you will likely start to believe that they will solve all of the world’s problems. If you listen to the critics of AI, you will likely start to believe that they are the catalyst that will lead to a Terminator future.

AI probably won’t solve all of our problems but it probably won’t wipe our species out either. However, it is undeniable that algorithms are shaping our lives more and more. This isn’t a problem when those algorithms offer suggestions on what to read based on what you’re currently reading or what to buy based on what you’re currently buying. It is a problem when they decide whether or not you will be kept in a cage or not:

Police in Durham are preparing to go live with an artificial intelligence (AI) system designed to help officers decide whether or not a suspect should be kept in custody.

The system classifies suspects at a low, medium or high risk of offending and has been tested by the force.

It has been trained on five years’ of offending histories data.

The story cites the claimed accuracy rate of the AI as if a high accuracy rate should be enough for everybody to implicitly trust the system. But the system is proprietary so it’s impossible for outside parties to verify the claims of accuracy or to know how the system decides who should be kept in a cage. It’s also a black box. Can an officer override the system? If they can, does that override get included in the AI’s data that will color its future decisions? There are hundreds of questions one can ask but cannot answer about the system.

The problem with relying on AIs to make decisions about law and order is that the judicial system, at least in most so-called developed nations, is supposed to be transparent (although it usually isn’t). Proprietary systems aren’t transparent by definition, which makes them easier for the State to abuse.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 12th, 2017 at 10:00 am

How to Save Yourself $400

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How do you take a boring old consumer appliance like a juicer and spice it up? By putting a chip in it, of course! That is the philosophy behind most Internet of Things (IoT) products. But before you can toss a chip in you need to give the consumers a reason why having a chip in their appliance will literally revolutionize their Web 3.0 existences.

Juicero was yet another bad idea made possible by Silicon Valley venture capital. The idea was to take a regular juicer, make it not be a juicer, add Wi-Fi, and charge an arm and a leg for proprietary juice bags. Basically, it’s a juicer that doesn’t actually juice but includes a chip for Wi-Fi and DRM. But wait, there’s more! Not only does the product include a bunch of stupid features but it also costs an arm and a leg! However, some clever super elite hacker has already found a way to bypass the need for Juicero’s expensive appliance:

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.

Apparently the “Steve Jobs of juicing perfection” didn’t have the resources to hire somebody who could foresee consumers just squeezing the proprietary juice bags. While there are a lot of valid criticisms against Steve Jobs, it’s difficult to deny that he had a knack for hiring talented people. Doug Evens, on the other hand, apparently lacks that knack. But he did managed to sucker $120 million out of backers so his ability to make money is certainly there.

Adding Internet connectivity makes sense for a lot of products but many IoT companies don’t seem to be asking why it makes sense to add connectivity to their products. Instead, they seem to be adding connectivity to regular products for marketing reasons (it’s not just a juicier, it’s a smart juicer) so consumers will buy them in spite of the other limitations put into place to lock users into the manufacturer’s “platform.” Fortunately, clever people tend to find ways to bypass the platform lock-in and all of us can laugh at $120 million being flushed down the toilet.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Once You Post Something Online It Exists Forever

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The University of California Berkeley posted 20,000 lectures online for free and there was great joy. Unfortunately, two students from another university decided to ruin the jovial atmosphere by brining a lawsuit against the university claiming that the videos weren’t accessible to everybody and therefore posting them was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The university ended up pulling the videos offline. While the two little bitches may have high-fived each other after their apparent victory, they were obviously too stupid to realize that the Internet is forever:

Today, the University of California at Berkeley has deleted 20,000 college lectures from its YouTube channel. Berkeley removed the videos because of a lawsuit brought by two students from another university under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We copied all 20,000 and are making them permanently available for free via LBRY.

This makes the videos freely available and discoverable by all, without reliance on any one entity to provide them (even us!).

The full catalog is over 4 TB and will be synced over the next several days.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Internet works.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2017 at 10:00 am

Convenient Technology… For the Police

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Axon, Tasers body camera division, has announced a new product. It’s a holster sensor that activates all nearby body cameras when an officer draws their firearm:

The Signal Sidearm, despite its slightly confusing name and provided artwork, isn’t a pricey, complex smart weapon, but rather a sensor that can be retrofitted into “most existing firearm holsters.” The sensor is powered by a coin cell battery that lasts approximately 1.5 years. It sounds like the sensor is technologically very simple, which hopefully means it’s also very reliable.

Body cams to be worn by more than 22,000 London cops after rollout delay
When a weapon is drawn from the holster, the Signal Sidearm tells any Axon camera within 30 feet to start recording. If there are multiple Axon cameras present, they all start recording, providing video footage from a variety of angles.

The sensor activates nearby body cameras after guns have been drawn so they won’t record whether the police unnecessarily escalated the situation to deadly force or not. That’s convenient.

As one of my friends commented, “Every technology deployed by the state will benefit the state, which is why we need our own technology.” If the State is willing to issue technology to police officers, such as body cameras, you know that technology will be of significant benefit to the State while being a significant detriment to you and me. Body cameras sound like a great technology for holding officers accountable but since the State controls all footage it’s trivial to disappear any inconvenient evidence while keeping evidence that allows the State to prosecute somebody.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 1st, 2017 at 10:30 am

Not All Anonymity is Created Equal

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Whenever I discuss secure communications I try to hammer home the difference between confidentiality and anonymity. Most popular secure communication services such as Signal and WhatsApp provide the former but not the latter. This means unauthorized users cannot read the communications but they can find out which parties are communicating.

Another thing I try to hammer home is that not all forms of anonymity are equal. Several services are claiming to offer anonymous communications. These services don’t claim to offer confidentiality, the posts are public, but they do claim to conceal your identity. However, they tend to use a loose definition of anonymity:

On Sunday, a North Carolina man named Garrett Grimsley made a public post on Whisper that sounded an awful lot like a threat. “Salam, some of you are alright,” the message read, “don’t go to [Raleigh suburb] Cary tomorrow.”

When one user asked for more information, Grimsley (who is white) responded with more Islamic terms. “For too long the the kuffar have spit in our faces and trampled our rights,” he wrote. “This cannot continue. I cannot speak of anything. Say your dua, sleep, and watch the news tomorrow.”

Within 24 hours, Grimsley was in jail. Tipped off by the user who responded, police ordered Whisper to hand over all IP addresses linked to the account. When the company complied, the IP address led them to Time Warner, Grimsley’s ISP, which then provided Grimsley’s address.

There’s a great deal of difference between anonymity as it pertains to other users and anonymity as it pertains to service providers. Whisper’s definition of anonymity is that users of the service can’t identify other users. Whisper itself can identify users. This is different than a Tor hidden service where the user can’t identify the service provider and the service provider can’t identify the user.

When you’re looking at communication services make sure you understand what is actually being offered before relying on it.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 23rd, 2017 at 10:00 am

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