NSA and PRISM: Why privacy is not the only reason to be upset

When the news started circulating I was of course outraged, but as a sysadmin that little voice in the back of my head wasn’t all too surprised. Both at what the NSA is alleged to be doing and at Edward Snowden’s level of access. Since the commercialization of social networking, I knew there is no such thing as a free lunch and all that is posted is sifted through and analyzed for value, would be of great interest to governments. In an interview with The Verge, Chris Soghoian’s use of the quote, “if you build it, they will come,” gave me a smirk as it’s a great explanation.

This push for some perfect state of security and safety with a seemingly blind faith in the ability to data mine and perceive patterns in all this data disturbs me. The algorithms developed are just mathematical models, simplifications of the real world and as such are based on assumptions. Assumptions that can be wrong or the basis for making such assumptions can change over time. Also by its very nature, models cannot take everything into consideration nor is it always advisable to condense such vast data into simple numbers. Our current economical troubles are a great example of the blind faith put in such models.

Back to the second thoughts in my head, it’s not just this breach of trust that my privacy be respected, it is also how this news will affect our place in the world. Europe takes privacy possibly more serious then we do and as reported, is very bothered by this news. Will they take their business elsewhere if they cannot trust their data is safe from widespread snooping? Will businesses leave the US so they cannot be compelled to participate in these programs? Or worse yet, will their be a stronger push for relinquishing control of the Internet to the UN? Or even lead to a splintering of the Internet? I cannot even begin to answer these questions and that worries me as the future of a free and open Internet is possibly at stake.

Whatever your reasons might be for opposing this practice, I signed on with @stopwatchingUs and suggest signing their petition asking Congress to disclose the full details of this program.

Link

Supreme Court: police may take DNA samples after felony arrests, even before conviction | The Verge.

I’m left with mixed feelings about this ruling. On the one side I’m all for using DNA evidence to both prove innocence and guilt and once convicted of a felony, I have very little sympathy. Alternatively I’m left disappointed that this will open the way to abuse of the system if all it takes is a simple arrest to collect one’s DNA without any burden of proof. Sure this is why the courts are there, to clarify existing law, but I am then left to hope the legislature can get its act together and put protections in place.

This goes beyond just fingerprinting as DNA is arguably something much more personal and more revealing of ourselves then any other data someone could collect about one’s self. A database of innocent citizens’ DNA is something that is just asking to be used in the wrong way.

Be Professional

I was reading Adria Richards’ blog post about her experience at PyCon, and while fascinating, its the inevitable comments that follow that leave me disappointed. As a geek I understand the cliquish nature we have in groups and our use of language, in this case sexist jokes, as a way to strengthen those ties but on the flip side that only serves to set boundaries that exclude. Maybe, and only for the sake of argument, maybe this would be acceptable in a more private setting, but this was a public event. A developer convention where professionals come to join in their community and learn and network and otherwise be friendly. I also stress the professional aspect as its been detailed that these individuals were wearing their company logo which should immediately put one into the state of mind that you are representing that company.

Also to those who some how blame Adria for an individual being let go from their company is absurd. That is a decision entirely left up to the company’s management in response to their employee’s behavior. If this incident had happened within the setting of the workplace and had the same outcome, and somehow became public, would such an argument hold up? I don’t think so.

As for the public outing of these individuals, I’m still on the fence. It should be expected now in today’s social media world that any photo taken will end up online. Should Adria have send a private message to the PyCon crew? I dont know. But should she just have sat there and taken it? No, not at all and by making the picture public, these individuals are then left to be disciplined by their community. Any action by their employers is between them and should be left there.

So be mindful of your surroundings and be more inclusive, you’ll make more friends that way and that is always more fun then some joke.

Science Found Guilty: A Rant

Science is inherently full of uncertainties and unknowable quantities and sometimes all we have to work with are the most simple of models. So the idea of holding a scientist responsible for the certainty or lack there of in the interpretation of data is abhorrent. Yet that is just what happened today as an Italian court has convicted six seismologists of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory” information.

Wow, if thats the case, they should throw all the meteorologists in jail too. In such a field like seismology, all one can do is provide a best educated guess. Its the very nature of the earth to not know what goes on miles beneath our feet because we have yet to find a way to be down there and take measurements. And at risk of taking an analogy too far, the nature of measurement is also uncertain.

I hope this ruling does not stand or else, at least in Italy, risk a return to the dark ages.

End Rant.

ps: it should probably be noted that unenforced buildings that collapsed are the cause of death in many earthquakes.

Upgrade the power grid

Hearing that people are still without power has become a regular thing on the news. If not from these occasional severe storms, then from the yearly snow storms and hurricanes. How many times do the power lines have to go down for people to realize that maybe it might be time to do something about it?

On CNN they had a spokesperson from a utility company and their response to the question of burring the lines was that it just couldn’t be done. Well I call BS on that. It just proves that its too easy to fall into maintaining the status quo. This would make a great infrastructure project to update and upgrade our electric grid. Prevent things like cascading blackouts, improve efficiencies so we lose less electricity during transmission, and protect it from the dangers of mother nature.

These problems are simply engineering problems, we just have to make the decision to fix them or simply patch them up.

Is college a waste of time?

That totally depends on how you value it. As of late, the idea that college is a waste has been making its rounds in the media and I leaves me depressed. I totally get the idea that in these economically hard times, can we afford to send a child to college and hope they recoup the investment. But I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.

If you are here to make money, then yes, maybe college isn’t the best place. Maybe its better for you elsewhere, but don’t knock it for the rest of us who come here to learn. I started off as a physics major then moved to mathematics. I love the subject and yes at times some of these proofs make me want to die, but I get an enjoyment out of it. Ultimately I’m probably going to get a job in the IT field. Why? Because I currently am the system administrator that runs a HPC cluster. Those skills will make me the money, but I just enjoy math.

People go to college for many reasons, money being one of them. The thing is, to really make it in this world, it takes skills. Skills can’t be taught, only earned through experience. The best way to get skills is to sit down and learn something, and hands on is included in that. And back to money, the really high paying jobs out there take both skill and knowledge, which definitely means learning something.

So if you have a goal, then go for it. But once you reach it, don’t make blanket statements based on your singular experience. Everyone has different goals and they all have their own way of making it there.

Revisting Google Music

So today Apple unveiled details of their iCloud(how imaginative?) service. The gist of it is it’s a cloud storage space that integrates with their apps. So just like Google/Android syncs contacts/calendar/etc, so will iCloud. In regards to music, it is part of iTunes, so purchased music is stored automatically(like Amazon’s service) and gets pushed to your device(still a bit sketchy on what that means, stored on your device or just streaming?).

But since I abhor Apple’s iDevices, lets get back to Google Music. So I finally uploaded my music library, a few notches above two thousand songs. The process took a while because 1) its a lot to upload and 2) its rather slow(understandable), and 3) the music uploader app would crash out. I think that was just due to the large volume and probably a bug with timeout errors, but just a guess. So getting past that(it is beta and well I think we’ve gotten used to what that means, but is that a good thing?), I have my music up in the cloud. It works just like Amazon’s offering, though I only have my purchased music hosted by them.

So far the only thing going for Google Music is the interface and the Instant Mix feature. That is something I wish was more prevalent in music apps. Not just the simple random playing of my library, but to make a playlist based off of a choice in what I feel like hearing. My only qualms with it is its still a streaming service. Not everyone has a grandfathered plan that includes unlimited data, and even that doesn’t mean much then there is a throttling cap.

I have to add I foresee a fight, maybe even a war, between the likes of Google and maybe even Apple and the mobile networks over their crappy track record at providing fast and reliable data connections on the go. The state of broadband in this country is appalling. I hope to see a future of reliable and fast and big connections without caps, throttling, or traffic shaping of any kind.

Rocks and 10gig hardware don’t mix

Well at least that was my current experience. I should mention I’m running Rocks 5.3, so just a point version behind. But here is the story:

A faculty member just recently purchased some dell blade servers for some research work. These blades and thus the chassis came with 10gig ethernet hardware. Cool. Setup the hardware, check. Plug in all the cables(but no 10gig since we don’t have 10gig hardware), check. Setup software, uh oh.

The problem happened when I booted the nodes to have the Rocks installer image them. They pxebooted just fine off of the first ethernet device(just a plain ol 1gig connection). Linux loaded, the installer runs, it tries to find an ip and fail. The installer was scanning eth0, eth2, then eth1. Turns out the kernel was numbering eth0-3 the 10gig nics and eth4 was the 1gig nic it should be using.

A few days on the mailing list to no avail. They just gave up on me, but I never give up. I narrowed it down a problem with the kickstart script overriding options I set in the pxeboot config. I added IPAPPEND 2 and ksdevice=bootif. This tells the system to use the same device it booted from. Well that wasn’t working. Not until I tell it to not run the kickstart script, by removing the ‘ks’ option, was it able to use eth4 as it should have been. But the mailing list failed me and offered no solution. Drivers! Bios! Update!! No no no! But whatev, just had to do it the hard way.

Back to the server room, removed the 10gig cards from the nodes, eth0 was now the 1gig nic, install os, reinstall hardware, and done. Luckily it was only two nodes, but still there should have been a software solution to fix this, but life goes on.

Android: Ranting in the morning

I totatlly blame the red bull I just had for said rant lol It was like the words were just flowing and I couldn’t stop. Anyways over at the wonderful site Phandroid, is a post showing off some benchmark scores on the G2 after it has been overclocked from 800Mhz to 1.3Ghz. Thats sounds nice and all right? Well I didn’t think so and so thus the following rant came tumbling out of my mouth, or keyboard, whatever, and now I feel like sharing. The orginal can be found here.

Meh. 1) Apples vs Oranges with Android 2.1 vs 2.2. 2) While I have no supporting evidence, I have heard linpack is biased towards Qualcomm chips.

But yes benchmarking is a questionable practice compared to day to day use. Besides the Galaxy S cpu is spec’ed at 1gz because they meant it to run at such a speed, while the G2 is downclocked on purpose. I’d have to make the guess the jump in clock speed is inversely proportional to battery life. Thus over clocking the Galaxy S would of course impact battery life, it wouldn’t do so as much as I’m sure it would on the G2 going from 800Mhz to 1.3Ghz.

But just like benchmarking, I’m throwing that all away because it still comes down to software. It will always come down to software as it has to be optimized to hell and back to run the best it can on a particular hardware set. Look at the iPhone, everyone loves it because it seems so snappy. Thats not to say the hardware is just that fast, its because the software has been optimized for it to be that fast. Reminds me of back in the day when it was the norm to rebuild your own kernel for linux to get it running the best it could for your pc.

The A4 chip and the Hummingbird proc are pretty much the same processor, yet UI wise Apple has the upper hand in performance. Its all about perception and only optimizations will get us there.

Everyone talks about wanting stock android, but guess what folks, pure stock android would suck. This is part of why updates take so long(and I highly doubt it has to do with skinning) is that manufacturers have to do work to optimize code for their particular hardware set and their particular drivers for said hardware. Anyone who’s worked with linux for a long enough time would know this.

heh wow ok rant over, thanks red bull.

Yea that was fun.