The Longest Now

Designing life for episodic tyranny | 1: Secure toolchains
Friday November 11th 2016, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Aasw,Blogroll,chain-gang

See also Part 2: social networks


Classify your local environment according to how much freedom you have to create and share tools, access those of others, and communicate across secure networks.  
  • In a “Tier 1” environment you have access to all popular security technology, and can build whatever infrastructure you want, entirely within your control.  
  • In a “Tier 2” environment, central network nodes and critical infrastructure all have backdoors and logging, and noone is allowed to distribute strong cryptography that some central group is unable to break.  
  • In a “Tier 3” environment, using secure tools and all but trivial cryptography is illegal – you shouldn’t have anything to hide.  Even talking about such tools may put you on a blacklist.  A central group that enforces the law may also access, modify, or reassign your work and possessions at will.
Say you live in a Tier 1 jurisdiction, which controls land, banks, and physical infrastructure.  Periodically, it shifts for a time to a Tier 3 regime, which may make abrupt changes at any depth in society to suit the fashion of the moment.
While in the latter regime, you can’t always trust the law or social norms to preserve
  • Your right to communicate with others
  • Your right to use your own tools and resources
  • The visibility (to you and those around you) of how your rights and tools are changing, if these are taken away

Most infrastructure in such an environment becomes untrustworthy.  Imagine losing trust in AT&T, Google, Symantec, Cisco.  (Even if you trust the people who remain running the system, they might no longer be in full control, or may not be able to inform you if your access was altered, filtered, compromised.)  

What can you do while in a Tier 1 regime to moderate the periods where you have fewer rights?

These are some quick thoughts on the topic, from a recent discussion.  Improvements and other ideas are most welcome.

Technical design decisions to improve resilience:

1.  multi-homing, letting users choose their jurisdiction.  for instance, let you choose from a number of wholly independent services running almost the same stack, each within a different jurisdiction.
  1a.  Be able to choose who hosts your data, tools, funds.  E.g., fix current US-EU policy – give users choice of where data resides and under which laws.
  1b.  Measure: how long it takes to shift key storage / control elements betweeb jurisdictions, copying rather than mirroring any required pieces.  Make it possible to shift on the timescale of expected transition between Tiers.
2. Give users advance warning that the threat to their data/account is rising; make it possible to quickly change what is stored [not just what is shared with other users].
2a. Learn explicitly from how banking does this (cf. concerns among many users about funds being frozen, for less-than-fascist conflicts).
3. work with telcos to add built-in IP and egress-fuzzing
   3a.  consider what china does: blocking per IP, by each egress point.  harder but possible in the US.
4. multi-source hardware, and any other needed ‘raw materials’ at each level of abstraction
  4a.  Both multiple sources w/in a jurisdiction (for the first stages when only some producers have lost control of their own production), and in different jurisdictions.
5. have systems that can’t be subverted too quickly: relying on the temporary nature of the fascist trend.  (if it lasts long enough, everything mentioned here can be undone; design to make that take a reasonable amount of time and a lot of humanpower)
  5a.  add meshes – like the electrical grid, that have local robusness. When central management disappears or ‘shuts things off’, local communities can build a smaller-scale replica that uses the physical infrastructure [even if they have to go in and replace control nodes, like generators, by hand]. 
  5b.  make change happen on the lifescale of hardware that has to be replaced.  e.g. a bulk of investment in dumb pipes that have to be replaced or removed by hand.  Systems with high upfront infrastructure costs that are easy to maintain but relatively hard to replace.
6. design alternate solutions for each level of the stack that have minimal central requirements.  E.g. fuel-powered USB chargers, gas generators, solar panels, desktop fabs and factories.  Make it easy to produce inferior, but usable, components if the high-economy-of-scale sources dry up.
7. keep strong contacts with someone in the existing [government], even when there’s nothing that you need to lobby for. that makes transitions smoother, and you less likely to be surprised by change.  Cf. Idea 3: invest heavily into those social relations.
8. distribute end-user tools that let individuals adapt under hostile conditions.  Examples:
  8a.  Ship antennas or power sources flexible enough to be modded.  
  8b.  Allow broadcast updates to the latest version, but allow users to freeze the version at one they support.  
  8c.  Support unblockable rollbacks to earlier revisions: something like a hardware button that rollsback to one of a few previous versions, if you realize you’ve installed malware or controlware.  you can still push updates as agressively as you like, as long as the provider can hint that a new snapshot is useful as risks of overtaking increases.
  8d.  provide some sort of checksum to see if firmware has changed [even with above may be possible for new software to change that option; but users should at least know]

Related ideas

1. consider reasonable steps to degrade control:  
  1a.  starting with increased infra for those who align with government views.  (or decreased for those breaking new / stringent laws)
  1b.  compare how voting is restricted, liquidity is restricted.
2. consider: is it better to be asset-heavy or asset-light?  
  2a.  usefulness of land and resources to use, vs. having things that can’t be claimed / revoked. networks rather than assets – land, tools?  
  2b.  compare liquidity of favors to that of funds or items.
3. compare current work with regulations/regulators.  in politics, relationships w/in a commission made it valuable to have a rotating door.  Invest in those relations, considering also 2) above – invest before assets are frozen to offset risk.
4. compare how US corps plan for inter-state shifts within the country.  Including being flexible enough to move to a new state for favorable regs, or shift ops/people among different centers.
5. Currently there’s network-tracking of IP addresses in malls, &c.  There are tools now that have a ‘War mode’ that randomizes your MAC or other address all the time.  Injecting noise into bluetooth and other tracking is straightforward.

Digital rights groups in Europe are gaining ground: a model to watch
Friday April 04th 2014, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,international,knowledge

The recent historic wins for net neutrality in the EU demonstrate an organized and informed advocacy network that is still not echoed in the US or in many other parts of the world. We should celebrate and learn from their work.

Thanks to Axel Arnbak for his thorough and delightful writeup of this.

Pope Francis won’t stop being awesome: please enjoy these sweet papal memes
Tuesday December 10th 2013, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,Glory, glory, glory,international,poetic justice,Seraphic

Here is a gallery of great pope memes celebrating the awesomeness emanating from Catholicism’s new Pope.

After a Pope who sometimes made one despair that global religious leaders could inspire perspective, this is a daily source of happiness.

Ripeness being all: Snowden’s secret and the web’s New Nihilism
Monday July 22nd 2013, 11:25 am
Filed under: Aasw,Blogroll,fly-by-wire,Not so popular,null,Too weird for fiction

Heller via Yossarian:

He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled…
Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall.

Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage.
The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.

Kenya’s laptop dream: reaching for the firmament, and rote naysaying
Saturday July 13th 2013, 11:51 am
Filed under: Blogroll,ideonomy,international,knowledge

Over at ZeroGeography, Mark Graham shares a prepub version of an essay he wrote for the Guardian, about the new Kenyan drive to provide laptops to its primary students. Firstly, thank you to the author for posting your thoughts on his blog as well.

The argument that “this [money] could be better spent“, however, is a bit stale.  I don’t generally go in for critical theory and analysis (despite the obvious rightness of tvtropes!), but sometimes patterns show up so strongly in someone’s writing or argument that they are clearly part of a larger social norm and can be understood as such.

This essay is one part imperialist critique of developing countries investing in new tools, one part assumption of bad implementation, and one part missed context.

Graham worries that Kenya’s new e-learning plan — which extends recent efforts to make laptops available to older students, to all primary schools — is not part of a larger strategy; though the budget speech he cites describes such a strategy.  He makes assumptions about how much of the national budget goes to different basic needs which don’t seem to be accurate.

The central argument is one I hear often about why underdeveloped regions should slow down technological & educational change.  It runs something like this:

A) don’t introduce new things, fix old things first.
B) come up with a strategy addressing all possible issues before including modern tech.
C) if your country is poorer than mine, there must be something basic and low-tech you need more.
D) technology amplifies existing skills.  it is wasteful to subsidize it for the less privileged, who can’t use it properly anyway.

These arguments don’t stand up to a second look.  Sure, it would be ideal to fix “all the things” — various underlying inequalities, inadequacies of the existing system of experts and mentors and teachers, gaps in the quality of textbooks and in local job opportunities for better-educated youth. But no single effort will do all of that.  If you are lacking many things, your primary long-term bottleneck is often your ability to develop new solutions: you need more seed corn, not more ugali.   Outside of an immediate crisis, you need knowledge, tools, factories, and other local capacity, so you can go on to invest in your own community while resolving other problems, basic and complex.

And lastly, the idea of not offering a powerful opportunity to those less privileged, because it might take them some time to make the best use of it… that sort of argument is not even wrong.  In the short term, any opportunity would be used ‘more thoroughly’ by the already-privileged.  But they have usually had that opportunity to begin with; government programs simply subsidize it for those without.  Comparing who could “use it better” is a fallacy.

By definition, when you start bootstrapping you don’t have a lot; you get there step by step.  And every individual and community deserves access to bootstrapping tools: Blackboards, electricity, glasses, phones, bikes, computers, and other technology.  Not necessarily for free, sometimes requiring sweat and barnraising by the community, but as part of a civil campaign to make this part of society everywhere.  These are all generative technologies, catalysing other new work, returning far more than their cost in what they enable.  This is true three times over for computers: they are communication devices, creative tools for making and sharing, and factories for new tools. So the results of a community learning to use them includes trying and discovering new things not currently imagined.

Graham does make the following excellent point in his essay:

There is a long history of people and states framing information and communication technologies as a solution to economic, social, political, and even environmental problems.

So there is.  Kenya should be clear that having tools, capacity, knowledge, stronger social networks, and access to more markets and jobs is not the same as solving specific problems.  This will make it easier to solve some problems; it will create others; it will add to the general standard of living and also the expectations that come with it.  It will empower people to do both good and bad things. It will be a boon to gamers and activists and gambling and muckraking and cottage industry and artists and pornography and transparency.

But it will surely prepare the country’s youth to be an active part of the internetworked world in which we live, and to help design its future.

Rep Mark Takano, California Congressman, Internet Hero
Friday July 12th 2013, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,Glory, glory, glory,popular demand

There Will Be Charts.

This is what I always assumed the best political minds in our country would spend their time doing, solving difficult problems at the highest level of social- and legal-norm creation. Thank you, Mark Takano.

Wikimedia is protected as a host, Italian courts rule
Wednesday June 26th 2013, 7:13 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,international,wikipedia

Former Italian Minister of Defense Cesare Previti, angry that his Wikipedia biography had at one point contained a statement he found offensive, recently filed suit against the Wikimedia Foundation: claiming that it published defamatory statements.

An Italian court ruled that as a hosting provider, not a content provider – allowing others to create content but not creating it – Wikimedia was protected from such claims. Their two considerations – whether the role of the WMF is clear, and whether there are procedures for readers to address errors, both marked Wikimedia as a host.

This is covered in more detail on the WMF blog. Thanks to our Italian counsel Hogan Lovells for their support in this case.

Ilario Valdelli, from the national chapter Wikimedia Italia, commented:

The justice in Italy is really slow in general, but in this case the timeline has been short and the result of the court of justice really good for the future.

The definition that the prosecutor is able to change the definition in Wikipedia and for this reason there is no sense to accuse Wikipedia or WMF, it’s a good way to give an indication for the future.

Sin Identidad – tumbling one man’s favorite writers of color
Wednesday March 13th 2013, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,Uncategorized

SinIdentidades Tumblr.

sebastianM. Popova

Gathered media on Aaron – national and international
Sunday January 13th 2013, 3:11 am
Filed under: Blogroll

You can add to the list here:…

In Remembrance of Aaron (1986-2013)
Saturday January 12th 2013, 7:55 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,indescribable

Please send your photos, stories, and quotes to his memorial website:
Remember Aaron Swartz  |  Official family statement about his death

There will be a funeral on Tuesday in Chicago. Memorials in a few cities over the next two weeks: including Boston, New York, DC and SF.


Danny: He was funny
Update: We talked. Ada cried, then we hugged, then Ada suggested we have a goodbye party, with ice-cream and sprinkles and a movie, and make a board where we could pin all our memories. We laughed at how funny he was. Aaron taught her so well.

Tim Berners-Lee: “Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder…
James Grimmelmann: Aaron Swartz, Was 26.
Cory Doctorow: RIP Aaron Swartz.
Uncompromising, Reckless and Delightful…

Quinn Norton: “My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.
Make the world that wouldn’t have killed him, please.

Larry Lessig:  on Aaron and the prosecutor as bully.
He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius.
A soul, a conscience, the source of a question
I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think?

Brewster Kahle: Aaron Swartz, Hero of the Open World, Dies

Erik Moeller and Tilman Bayer: Remembering Aaron Swartz
JSTOR: heartfelt condolences honoring Aaron’s memory.
Doc Searls: Losing Aaron

Chris Hayes, MSNBC: The Brilliant Mind and Righteous Heart of Aaron Swartz will be missed.


New York Times (front page).
The Guardian (front page + 4 more articles)
WaPo’s Tim Lee: “Aaron Swartz, American Hero
Hacker News front page today:


Aaron Swartz, scholar, activist, and Internet hero, is dead.
Saturday January 12th 2013, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,knowledge,meta,null,Seraphic,wikipedia

Aaron took his life yesterday. I am still finding it hard to believe.

His ongoing court case overshadows his death, so let me get that out of the way: 
He was living through a two-year federal case which had only become more nightmarish since last year.  (JSTOR stated it did not want a trial, and has steadily been releasing the PD articles in question and more for free public use; yet the prosecution, continuing its outrageous abuse of discretion, declined to settle and tripled their felony charges to cover up to 35 years in prison.)

Friends and family were helping him plan a campaign to spread the word about the unreasonableness and inequity of the trial. Its uncertainty was intensely stressful, even for those of us who lived only the tiniest fraction of it.  As Lessig notes, the prosecutors – Stephen P. Heymann (and at times Scott L. Garland), working in Carmen M. Ortiz‘s Cybercrime unit – should be taking a long hard look in the mirror and asking themselves what they are doing with their lives.

Aaron was a dear friend, and one of the most decent men I have known.  The only times I have seen him truly angry was in response to some social wrong; and he actively looked for ways to find and eliminate injustice. He always considered how to act morally – even when this meant being at odds with local social norms – and regularly paused at forks in his life to think about how to live so as to benefit society.

He kindled ideas from those nearby, and freely passed on his own.  Made mistakes often and tried to learn from them, usually publicly. His transparency was a useful meterstick for me. Ages ago, when we first met, I remember him brainstorming ideas about community and wiki design with Zvi and me; about learning and unlearning, society and ideals, civics and collaboration.  Once his curiosity was piqued about a subject he would pursue it until he could write about and explain it.  

~ ~~~ ~

I spent last night with mutual friends who live now in his old apartment, in a room that was once his; remembering the many great projects he started and inspired – especially the little gems, the personal quirks and insights, the inspiring ideas that became single-purpose services, or calls to arms. (We never did start a dog-walking service for data, but the idea abides.) Rereading some of his writings, I remember the many opportunities missed for synthesis, reframing, and clarity – about how life works, and how to live it.

Everyone has idealized dreams — what would you do with an unlimited wish? — about long-term projects worth devoting one’s life to, to transform the world. Dreams cherished but rarely attempted.  Aaron was the only person I felt completely comfortable sharing mine with.  We had a little game: a couple times a year we would meet in a nameless cafe, and he would ask for ‘rabbinical’ advice on moral quandaries, and I would ask for ‘professional’ advice on realizing societal dreams. I don’t know that he needed my advice, but I always looked forward to his. There was usually at least one book suggestion from his endless reading list that answered an open question of mine. And no matter how grandiose the dream, he would understand, clarify, laugh, counterpoint, help tune mental models, and remind me to get to it. And we never had quite enough time.

I miss him very, very, very much.   Part of my own future has gone missing too.

Somewhere, celestials are being taught to tune the cosmos.


In Memoriam:
Quinn. TBL. Grimm. Cory. Larry (^2). Cyrus Farivar.

The court case.
Alex Stamos (on the wrongness of the case).
New York Times (front page).
The Guardian (front page + 4 more articles)
The WSJ.

In his own words:
How to work.
How we stopped SOPA.
On feeling low and key limes.

From the Boston Wikipedia Meetup on August 18, 2009, by Sage Ross:

Recursive β-Metafunctions In the Case of Polypolice
Friday November 02nd 2012, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,citation needed,wikipedia

I just finished reading about how bogus transmogrification conversion on an oscillating harmonic field of glass bells, with green gig and kerosene lamps for diversion, can be solved by beastly incarceration-concatenation. I was reminded of how much the great scienxplorers such as Watterson and others owe to this cloud of novel scientific inquiry from the ’60s and ’70s.

It makes me simultaneously want to immortalize Lem and Kandel in an eternally entangled quantum fringe, and to fire up a Trurlapaucius abstract-generator based on snarXiv code.

It Gets Better … Anatole Broyard’s daughter puts Roth in his place
Friday September 21st 2012, 7:19 am
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,poetic justice,wikipedia

Via the New York Observer and Salon.   Zounds.

XOXO Rocked! Honoring togetherness as it transforms the world
Monday September 17th 2012, 3:49 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Blogroll,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,popular demand
This sounded amazing when the idea was floated months ago.  And by all accounts that sound catalyzed all who felt similarly to come make the sort of ambiently generative meeting that every physical gathering aspires to be.  A few recaps:

5¢ense / Decodex: Decoding Serafini from his own home town
Monday September 17th 2012, 6:55 am
Filed under: Blogroll,Glory, glory, glory,international,Seraphic

This rambling illustrated reflection on Serafini, with translations of some of the writings in the Decodex and posted from across the street from Luigi’s house, is a perfect example of why I love 5¢ense. (Throw in some of the monomania of Kane X. Faucher and you’d have a dangerous decoding machine for all of mod society.)

Not a Paper (of the totimorphous) – an audio L.S.*
Sunday September 16th 2012, 2:01 am
Filed under: Blogroll,indescribable,Seraphic

Listen and enjoy.

* Here written S.L., but no less superterrestrial

Translator’s Joys: Global Voices amplify the Declaration of Internet Freedom
Saturday August 18th 2012, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang

Global Voices translators speak out about why they do what they do.

Bad Behavior has blocked 807 access attempts in the last 7 days.