Rhett's Nullhole

Where I put my stuff

Ethics of Creating Secure Anonymous Communities

Back in college I took a course called ‘Professional Responsibilities’. We discussed ethics and codes of conduct pertaining to software engineering. For my final paper, I took on discussing to ethical implications of building software to provide security and privacy to online communities.

This evening I watched Citizenfour. It got me thinking I should put this paper up online. Though it’s 10 years old, it certainly still seems quite relevant.

Some observations after more than 10 years of technology development?

  • The worst government overreach we knew about was Carnivore. I even said, “The Carnivore system allows the FBI to be stricter about what they see so as not to accidentally violate the privacy of others.”
    Adorable.
  • This was unfortunately really accurate: “As technology continues to spread and develop, infringing on privacy will become easier[ACLU, 1993]. The temptation to violate privacy by automated monitoring of all domestic electronic communication may at some point be too great.”
  • This sounds about right: “… with the use of anonymous digital cash [Chaum, 1992], entire underground economies could flourish.”

It’s a hefty 4k words and includes such college paper mainstays as a bibliography (but I did at least drop the double spacing).

Please enjoy, Ethics of Creating Secure Anonymous Communities.


We’re in space bitches!!@!

When I was growing up, my grandfather had one of those old school satellite dishes that moved. You could tune in to different satellites in orbit and browse available channels like surfing the internet. One of the gems we found exploring all those channels was the NASA channel. There was a little bit of scheduled programming there, but mostly it was just live feeds of whatever shuttle missions or launches or landings were going on.

However, I never really got that into space stuff. I was too obsessed with computers to geek out about it.

Fast forward 15 years and suddenly I’m rediscovering how awesome this stuff is.

Why?

  • Back in July, celebrations of the Apollo program’s 40th anniversary led to discovering a few resources, but most notable was SOMA FM ‘s Mission Control channel. Non-stop mission audio mixed with ambiant beats, perfect for coding. There is something hearing astronauts landing moon vehicles that makes fixing whatever software bug I’ve got seem pretty easy.
  • The Curiosity landing was live-streamed to much applause.
  • ISS Astronauts are on Twitter
  • Astronaut Chris Hadfield turned into a youtube sensation with this awesome rendition of Space Oddity. (He also gives great photography lessons)

Blog Upgrade Complete: Fun with Multi-site WordPress

I’ve been running two instances of WordPress on this tiny slicehost machine for over 2 years now. Memory usage has always been a problem. Also, if anyone every actually read this blog I have no doubt this webserver would quickly burst into flames. So a little upgrade was in order:

  • New slice with Ubuntu Lucid
  • WordPress 3 with Multi-site
  • Varnish for that extra umph

The results:

  • Slicehost, though not the most bang for you buck as others, still has great management tools and documentation.
  • Varnish is awesome, easy to configure and lightweight. They even provide some guidance on using with wordpress.
  • WordPress Multi-site, pain in the ass

It turns out Multi-site means a few different things. WordPress seems optimized do do multiple blogs on the same domain. Everything else is a hack. There seem to be two methods people use for getting full domain name support:

MU Domain Mapping

After configuring your site to be a ‘network’, you can use the MU Domain Mapping plugin to sort of handle full domain names. However, this is sort of half-way there. If you want a blog like ‘rhettg.com’, you have to create rhettg.nullhole.com and your blog, then use the mapping to make rhettg.com work. BUT, all your media and links still point to rhettg.nullhole.com. Meh.

True Multi-Site

I found some instructions here that involve actually doing MySQL queries to add a real site. Not an easy task, but seems to get much closer to what I wanted.

It seems that though under network mode you have ‘Sites’ configuration in admin, but these are actually just ‘blogs’. Internally, WordPress supports multiple ‘sites’ and multiple ‘blogs’ Where a blog is assigned to a single site. A site is essentially your domain name so if you want multiple domain names, the only proper way to to do is to add a real site.

The instructions above successfully got multi-sites working, but didn’t really get my 100% there because my second site was still a second class citizen. I couldn’t get plugins or themes working easily without doing more hacks in MySQL. The key, it seems is to understand conceptually what’s going on here and get the terminology right:

  • A ‘network’ in front-end terminology is a ‘site’ behind the scenes. So we really created a whole new network by following the above directions.
  • A ‘site’ then is actually a ‘blog’.
  • Users can belong to both sites and blogs, but a ‘Super Admin’ is only super on their own network.

To really get things working properly, you have to make yourself (and other users if you want) Super Admin’s on the second network. I added myself as a Super Admin on the new site by creating a new row in wp_sitemeta. Something like this worked for me:

insert into wp_sitemeta (site_id, meta_key, meta_value) value (2, 'site_admins', 'a:1:{i:0;s:6:"rhettg";}')

I would copy and paste the ‘value’ out of the corresponding value for site #1. I assume this is some sort of PHP serialization format.

Now you can login to the second network and set things up. Kinda awkward, but seems to work now.


But I WANT to reply!!

The prevalence of the noreply email address is the worst thing to happen to customer service since robo-call

A while back, I signed up for redbubble.com to buy a t-shirt or something. Right away I got this really nice (automated) email that actually seemed personal because it was actually “from” someone. It felt like I was communicating with a person rather than a faceless company. Why thank-you Jason Michaels for welcoming me to this community. But then I realized the ‘from’ address is ‘noreply’ and I felt duped.

I suppose this happens because of the way companies are organized internally:

  • Marketing is measured by how many people they can engage in the company. So they like to send out emails.
  • Customer service is measured by how many people DON’T engage with them. Any additional customer contact is an expense.

So the compromise is to send out emails, but do everything you can to keep them one-sided. I wonder how these companies are coping with their twitter/blogs/getsatisfaction ?

On a related note, MySpace no longer has a human face.


Please take my money!

As both my girlfriend and mother will tell you, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone.

So I was particularly excited to have these two events transpire today:

The iPhone Upgrade

ATT finally got their act together and enabled their premier site to allow online upgrades to the 3GS. Fantastic, thank you AT&T, you were only a couple of days late. Anyway, I placed the order, goes great, no problems. But then 2 minutes later I get an email:

Thank you for your recent purchase on the AT&T Premier Online Store. We’re pleased that you chose AT&T as your wireless service provider.

Unfortunately, we cannot validate your credit card number. Please call us at your earliest convenience with a different credit or debit card number so we can complete your order: 1-866-499-8008, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

Oh great, 3 cheers for online ordering. Well I still want my phone so 2 minutes later I’m on hold listening to the same 8 bars of crappy jazz music playing over and over, interspersed with messages about how much they appreciate my business. Finally, after a full 10 minutes of hold I get to talk to a real person. Of course I have to tell them my phone number, again, I’ll never understand what the automated system does with the phone number I gave them earlier. She starts looking for orders and can’t find me.

“Sorry, it says you’re still elegible for an upgrade, so the order must have come through yet. Can you call back again in about an hour?”

Somehow I feel better sending this email reply the no doubt automated email address:

I just called, but they couldn’t find the order.
This is really poor customer service. I order stuff online all the
time, why don’t other companies have this hard of time. I’m trying to give you money!!

The Amp Assembly

My JBL Amp Assembly blew up a few weeks ago. Thankfully, I can buy a replacement part for only $120. So I called up the parts department today, part number in hand, excited to watch Jurrasic Park again and rattle the windows.

“Let me place that order for you…….Oh, sorry sir, my computer just crashed”

“Hmm ok, that sucks.

60 seconds later

“Sorry sir, I don’t think this coming back anytime soon. Can I call you back ?”

Why is this commerce stuff so hard!?!


All Hail the Superior Craftsmanship of JBL!

It’s very impressive how quickly after the 1 year warranty on the electronics of my JBL Venue SUB12 decided to melt down. Not sure when it happened exactly, but one day I thought to myself, “self, there isn’t much bass going on here anymore, is the subwoofer still on ?”

RIP Subwoofer, Sept 2007-Sometime in the spring of 2009


Quality Follows Popularity

I’ve been a dedicated reader of Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert) blog for quite a while now. Today he put up a post trying to sort out ,mostly from a entertainment/pop culture perspective, how it takes being popular to have to time to make something quality.

So here is the key learning. If you are planning to create some business or other form of entertainment, you will need quality at some point to succeed. But what is more important than quality in the beginning is some intangible element that makes your project inherently interesting before anyone has even sampled it. That initial audience will give you the luxury of time to create quality.

I’ve heard this principle described in different ways in the software world: “Ship early and often.” But it’s interesting to hear this so well generalized.

On a related note, while reading this blog post at work, my CEO stood up and announced he just received a signed Dilbert cartoon from Scott Adams. More evidence, as Scott Adams says, that life could be an illusion.


Jamaica 2008: Blue Harbour

The view from Blue Harbour

If I were to return to Jamaica it would be for one reason: Blue Harbour

This place was amazing, and came totally by surprise. This was the one thing we had booked ahead of time, but information we were going on in no way did it justice. The views were amazing, the place was amazing. Full of history, totally comfortable. I was completely relaxed in a matter of hours.

Me at the pool at Blue Harbour

The place sleeps something like 10 people. There is one main Villa and two smaller one room Villas. Meals are traditional jamaican food, homecooked by the staff who are super friendly but very non-invasive. On Christmas Day, we had the WHOLE PLACE TO OURSELVES.

For me, one of the most thrilling aspects was the history of the place. Blue Harbour was the Jamaican party house of Noel Coward, a English playwright and actor. I had no idea who this guy was, but some research proved enlightening (note: All this research was done after I returned, I was laptop free for two weeks)

 

  • Years after the war, Noel Coward finally admitted to being in British Secret Service, MI5, just like his neighbor Ian Flemming.
  • He was listed in the Nazi’s Black Book, which would mean had they invaded England, he would have been executed.
  • Sir Noel Coward knighthood for his service during WWII was delayed from 1941 to 1969 due to his rumored homosexuality and party reputation making him too controversial.
  • Was offered the role of Dr. No in the James Bond film of the same name, but replied, “No No No” to the telegram from Jamaica.
  • Stewie Griffin of Family Guy is supposedly loosely based on him.
Here are some photos framed on the wall in the main house:

 

Alec Guinness (aka Obi-Wan) at Blue Harbour          Sean Connery was here


Jamaica 2008

Sometime in the fall of 2008 my buddy Bryan calculated that the way our holidays fell this year, we could get a full two weeks off by taking only 6 days of vacation. I was hesitant… having family and a girlfriend here, I wasn’t sure how that was going to fly. But after some long discussions and and a few hours on a plane, I ended up with this:

Spent a lot of time in this chair with this view.

Which of course eventually led to this:

If this doesn\'t sum up the trip, I don\'t know what does

Good times were had. With four of us traveling together there was a good amount of concern that we might kill each other after week 1, but we managed to survive. A lot of that is probably due to the commitment to flexibility (read: refusal to plan anything) that ended up working quite well. This strategy also helped us easily absorb travel hiccups, such as me arriving 24 hours prior to them thanks to American Airlines commitment to quality.

We ended up seeing a good part of the island. Basically looked like this:

  • 12/22 Flew into Kingston
  • 12/22-12/23 Stayed at the Hilton by myself in Kingston drinking red stripe at the pool bar.
  • 12/23 My companions arrive, and we drive to Port Maria on the north coast.
  • 12/23-12/26 Blue Harbour (some serious Ian Flemming territory)
  • 12/26-12/28 Random shitty hotel in Montego Bay
  • 12/28-1/1 Spent New Years in an All-Inclusive resort, Riu
  • 1/1-1/2 Back at the Hilton winding down and ensuring our bags are suitable for air travel.
On a related note, books consumed during trip:
  1. Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)
  2. Boomsday (Christopher Buckley)
  3. Live and Let Die (Ian Flemming, read while sitting under 10 miles from where it was written)
  4. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse: A Novel (Victor Gischler)
  5. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Jared Diamond)
I think it was a pretty well rounded trip and met my requirements of being primarily vacation, not travel. Meaning I came back relaxed rather than needing another vacation. I spent plenty of time at the beach, read a lot of books, got a bit sunburnt.

I’ve got a few more things to say about Jamaica which I will probably spread across a few posts just to pad it all out. Stay tuned.


Booyah!

(via boston.com)