February 6, 2012

Who we are. Why we do it.

Posted in Society, Software at 01:37 by graham

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void… The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through.

But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.

From Neuromancer, p4-5

November 3, 2011

On why hackers don't work on large teams

Posted in Society, Software at 01:05 by graham

We’ve know for over 35 years that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”. Amazon has it’s two-pizza team heuristic: “If a project team can eat more than two pizzas, it’s too large”. The excellent Code Complete has a detailed explanation of how communication costs increase with team size. Yet we still need reminding.

Dhanji R. Prasanna has an excellent retrospective on his time on the Google Wave team. He sums up the problem with big teams very well:

And this is the essential broader point–as a programmer you must have a series of wins, every single day. It is the Deus Ex Machina of hacker success. It is what makes you eager for the next feature, and the next after that. And a large team is poison to small wins. The nature of large teams is such that even when you do have wins, they come after long, tiresome and disproportionately many hurdles. And this takes all the wind out of them.

For me, that’s really the crux of it. As a programmer, it kills you to not get stuff done. Large teams necessarily involve more communication, more complexity, and less getting stuff done. Large teams are a programmers equivalent of retirement.

November 2, 2011

Machiavelli on Occupy Wall Street

Posted in Society at 23:25 by graham

Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, his advice seems just as relevant today. In On the civil principate he writes:

In every city there are two different humours, one rising from the people’s desire not to be ordered and commanded by the nobles, and the other from the desire of the nobles to command and oppress the people.

You cannot satisfy the nobles honestly and without harming others, but you certainly can satisfy the people. In fact, the aim of the common people is more honest that that of the nobles, since the nobles want to oppress others, while the people simply want not to be oppressed.

The Prince must always live among the same people, but he can do very well without a particular set of noblemen.

Substitute nobles with the 1%, and substitute Prince with President, and you get the advice he would probably give today.

September 18, 2011

Hostage Negotiation 101

Posted in Behaviour, Society, Strategy at 21:24 by graham

I recently finished Gary Noesner’s Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, by the F.B.I.‘s former head of and founder of their hostage negotiation unit. The book is a great read (and I suspect heavily ghost-written). Here’s what I learnt:

Your goal as a negotiator is to get the target(s) (the person or people you are trying to arrest) to surrender peacefully to law enforcement.

Sometimes there are hostages, and then your priority is securing their release, but usually there are not. By getting them to put down their weapons and come out you are usually saving their lives, and also protecting your colleagues.

The last resort is an armed assault by the SWAT team. Prior to negotiation being taken seriously by law enforcement, this was the only option.

Make exclusive contact

First and foremost, you need to get in contact with them. Usually they are keen to talk, and most often you can use the phone line. Sometimes you have to get the SWAT team to bring them a field telephone. Sometimes you stand outside the window or at the foot of the stairs, and shout. And occasionally, as in the Beltway sniper case you have to ask the media to say things and hope the target hears.

Read the rest of this entry »

July 19, 2011

The death of Sean Hoare, whistleblower

Posted in Society at 06:53 by graham

The News International phone hacking scandal is the case of a British tabloid’s staff hacking into several thousand people’s voicemail, over a period of at least six years.

They listened to voicemail of the 7/7 terrorist attack victims, politicians, a murdered schoolgirl (including erasing some messages, leading the family to think she lived), the British Royal Family, various celebrities, and other journalists.

Read the rest of this entry »

March 1, 2011

Running a Tor relay / node / server on Ubuntu

Posted in Society, Software at 07:29 by graham

Updated October 2013: Minor edits.

Right now, for people like me who have access to servers, the single biggest benefit we can provide to society at large is by running a Tor relay. Tor provides anonymity to users of the Internet.

This page is about contributing to the network by running a relay (or server, or node – same thing). If you want to use Internet services anonymously, you probably want the Tor Browser Bundle.

There’s are good official instructions on running a relay.

Install it from the official repository

Edit your sources list: /etc/apt/sources.list

Read the rest of this entry »

March 1, 2010

Open up your WiFi

Posted in Society, Software at 01:28 by graham

Update: You need to know how to ban MAC addresses on your router, as you will eventually have a neighbor swamp your network with bittorrent. If you can do that simple operation (usually via your router’s web-based admin), open wi-fi is the right thing to do.


A few months back, I took the password off my WiFi router, and opened it up to the world, with SSID yes_we_are_sharing. Why?

The best answers are given by security expert Bruce Shneier – why open wireless. The second best answer is that Tor hacker Jacob Applebaum also runs open WiFi.

Here are my answers, and the reasons why you should join us.

Read the rest of this entry »

July 20, 2009

On cellphone use in cars

Posted in Behaviour, Society at 18:11 by graham

A very interesting article in the New-York Times on the research behind the risks of being distracted by a cellphone whilst driving:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/technology/19distracted.html

Here’s some excerpts:

in a survey of 1,506 people last year by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, 81 percent of cellphone owners acknowledged that they talk on phones while driving, and 98 percent considered themselves safe drivers. But 45 percent said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver talking on a phone.

That’s the Lake Wobegon effect, the tendency for overestimate their capabilities in relation to others.

Read the rest of this entry »

May 20, 2009

Quote of the day: Why racists have bad graphic design

Posted in Society at 17:34 by graham

Charlie Brooker on a television advert by the British National Party, England’s (very small) right-wing political party:

Extremist material of any kind always looks gaudy and cheap, like a bad pizza menu. Not because they can’t afford decent computers – these days you can knock up a professional CD cover on a pay-as-you-go mobile – but because anyone who’s good at graphic design is likely to be a thoughtful, inquisitive sort by nature. And thoughtful, inquisitive sorts tend to think fascism is a bit shit, to be honest. If the BNP really were the greatest British party, they’d have the greatest British designer working for them – Jonathan Ive, perhaps, the man who designed the iPod. But they don’t. They’ve got someone who tries to stab your eyes out with primary colours.

Read the article: Charlie Brooker on the BNP and their political broadcast.

March 21, 2009

Quote of the day: Congressman Mike Honda

Posted in Ideas, Society at 18:49 by graham

Congressman Mike Honda, D-San Jose, writing about opening government databases:

Instead of databases becoming available as a result of Freedom Of Information Act requests, government officials should be required to justify why any public data should not be freely available to the taxpayers who paid for its creation.

Wow, what an exciting time to be in North America.

From the O’Reilly Radar.

« Previous Page« Previous entries « Previous Page · Next Page » Next entries »Next Page »