blarg?

May 21, 2014

What Better Place Than Here, What Better Time Than Now

Filed under: awesome,doom,lunacy,music,vendetta — mhoye @ 3:07 pm

I was in an Ikea last weekend, when their background music system started playing Rage Against The Machine.

I was actually paralyzed for a moment. I found myself looking around, thinking “Am… Am I just old? Is this old-person music now? Or is it finally time? Here? Why here, now?” I felt, briefly, like I was revisiting a scene from They Live, entirely in my own head. Am I the only person who can hear this? Doesn’t anyone else know what comes next?

I took a minute to look around; I expected to see at least one other person trying to decide whether or not it was time to start flipping stuff over and setting it on fire, but nope. Not a one.

UPDATE: A cölleägüe pöints öut thät there ären’t enough ümläuts in this pöst, which I will äddress directly.

November 8, 2013

A Glass Half Broken

Filed under: digital,documentation,doom,fail,hate,interfaces,losers,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 3:46 pm

horse-castle

A friend of mine has called me a glass-half-broken kind of guy.

My increasingly venerable Nokia N9 has been getting squirrelly for a few months, and since it finally decided its battery was getting on in years it was time for a new phone.

I’m going to miss it a lot. The hardware was just a hair too slow, the browser was just a hair too old and even though email was crisp and as well done as I’ve ever seen it on a small screen, Twitter – despite being the one piece of software that periodically got updates, strangely – was always off in the weeds. Despite all that, despite the storied history of managerial incompetence and market failure in that software stack, they got so many things right. A beautiful, solid UI, an elegant gesture system that you could work reliably one-handed and a device whose curved shape informed your interaction with the software in a meaningful way. Like WebOS before it, it had a consistent and elegantly-executed interaction model full of beautiful ideas and surprisingly human touches that have pretty much all died on the vine.

Some friends have been proposing a hedge-fund model where they follow my twitter feed, scrape it for any piece of technology I express interest in and then short that company’s stock immediately and mercilessly. The reasoning being, of course, that I tend to back underdogs and generally underdogs are called that because of their unfortunate tendency to not win.

So now I own a Nexus 5; do with that information what you will. The experience has not been uniformly positive.

Android, the joke goes, is technical debt that’s figured out how to call 911, and with KitKat it seems like somebody has finally sent help. For a while now Android has been struggling to overcome its early… well, “design process” seems like too strong a term, but some sort of UI-buglist spin-the-bottle thing that seemed to amount to “how can I ignore anyone with any sort of design expertise, aesthetic sensibility or even just matching socks and get this bug off my desk.” KitKat is clearly the point we all saw coming, where Android has pivoted away from being a half-assed OS to start being a whole-assed Google-services portal, and it really shows.

Look: I know I’m a jagged, rusty edge case. I know. But this is what happened next.

As you open the box, you find a protective plastic sheet over the device that says “NEXUS 5” in a faint grey on black. If you don’t peel it off before pushing the power button, the Google logo appears, slightly offset and obscured behind it. It’s not a big thing; it’s trivial but ugly. If either word had been a few millimetres higher or lower it would have been a nice touch. As shipped it’s an empty-net miss, a small but ominous hint that maybe nobody was really in charge of the details.

I signed in with my Google Apps account and the phone started restoring my old apps from other Android installs. This is one of the things Google has done right for a long time; once you see it you immediately think it should have worked that way everywhere the whole time. But I didn’t realize that it restored the earlier version of the software you had on file, not the current one; most of my restored pre-KitKat apps crashed on startup, and it took me a while to understand why.

Once I’d figured that out and refreshed a few of them manually, set up my work email and decided to see if Google Goggles was neat as it was last time I looked. Goggles immediately crashed the camera service, and I couldn’t figure out how make the camera work again in any app without power-cycling the phone.

So I restart the phone, poked around at Hangouts a bit; seems nice enough and works mostly OK, could use some judicious copy-editing in the setup phase to sound a little less panopticon-stalkerish. (But we’re all affluent white men here it’s no big deal, right? Who doesn’t mind being super-easy to find all the time?)

I went to make dinner then, and presumably that’s when the phone started heating up.

Eventually I noticed that I’d lost about a quarter of my battery life over the course of an almost-idle hour, with the battery monitor showing that the mail I’d received exactly none of was the culprit. From what I can tell the Exchange-connection service is just completely, aggressively broken; it looks like if you set up the stock mail client for Exchange and pick “push” it immediately goes insane, checking for mail hundreds of times per second and trying to melt itself, and that’s exciting. But even if you dial it back to only check manually, after a while it just… stops working. A reboot doesn’t fix it, I’ve had to delete and recreate the account to make it work again. Even figuring out how to do that isn’t as easy as it should be; I’ve done it twice so far, one day in. So I guess it’s IMAP and I’ll figure calendars out some other way. We use Zimbra at the office, not Exchange proper, and their doc on connecting to Android hasn’t been updated in two years so that’s a thing. I’m totally fine in this corner, really. Cozy. I can warm my hands on my new phone.

I’ve been using my Bespoke I/O Google Apps accounts before Google doubled down on this grasping, awful “G+ Or GTFO” policy, and disabling G+ in Apps years ago has turned my first-touch experience with this phone into a weird technical tug-of-war-in-a-minefield exercise. On the one hand, it’s consistently protected me from Google’s ongoing “by glancing at this checkbox in passing you’re totally saying you want a Google+ account” mendacity, but it also means that lots of things on the phone fail in strange and wonderful ways. The different reactions of the various Play $X apps is remarkable. “Play Games” tells me I need to sign up for a G+ account and won’t let me proceed without one, Play Movies and Music seem to work for on-device content, and Play Magazines just loses its mind and starts into a decent imitation of a strobe light.

I went looking for alternative software, but The Play Store reminds me a lot more of Nokia’s Ovi Store than the App Store juggernaut in a lot of unfortunate ways. There are a handful of high-profile apps there work fast and well if you can find them. I miss Tweetbot and a handful of other iOS apps a lot, and keep going back to my iPod Touch for it. In what I’m sure is a common sentiment Tweetbot for Android is looking pretty unlikely at this point, probably because – like the Ovi Store – there’s a hundred low-rent knockoffs of the iOS app you actually want availabl, but developing for Android is a nightmare on stilts and you make no money so anything worth buying isn’t for sale there.

It’s really a very nice piece of hardware. Fast, crisp, big beautiful screen. Firefox with Adblock Plus is way, way better than anything else in that space – go team – and for that on its own I could have overlooked a lot. But this is how my first day with this phone went, and a glass that’s half-broken isn’t one I’m super happy I decided to keep drinking from.

June 8, 2013

Crypto Is Not A Panacea

Filed under: academic,digital,doom,future,interfaces,science,vendetta,work — mhoye @ 9:36 am

Bricks

I was going to write this to an internal mailing list, following this week’s PRISM excitement, but I’ve decided to put it here instead. It was written (and cribbed from other stuff I’ve written elsewhere) in response to an argument that encrypting everything would somehow solve a scary-sounding though imprecisely-specified problem, a claim you may not be surprised to find out I think is foolish.

I’ve written about this elsewhere, so forgive me, but: I think that it’s a profound mistake to assume that crypto is a panacea here.

Backstory time: in 1993, the NSA released SHA, the Secure Hashing Algorithm; you’ve heard of it, I’m sure. Very soon afterwards – months, I think? – they came back and said no, stop, don’t use that. Use SHA-1 instead, here you go.

No explanation, nothing. But nobody else could even begin to make a case either way, so SHA-1 it is.

It’s 2005 before somebody manages to generate one, just one, collision in what’s now called SHA-0, and they do that by taking a theoretical attack that gets you close to a collision, generalizing it and running it for around 80,000 CPU hours or so on a machine with 256 Itanium-2 processors running this one job flat out for two weeks.

That hardware straight up didn’t exist in 1993. That was the year the original Doom came out, for what it’s worth, so it’s very likely that the “significant weakness” they found was found by a person or team of people scribbling on a whiteboard. And, note, they found the weaknesses in that algorithm in the weeks after publication when those holes – or indeed “any holes at all” – would take the public-facing crypto community more than a decade to discover were a theoretical possibility.

Now, wash that tender morsel down with this quote from an article in Wired quoting James Bamford, longtime writer about all things NSA:

“According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

“Many average computer users in the US”? Welp. That’s SSL, then.

So odds are good that what we here in the public and private sectors consider to be strong crypto isn’t much more of an impediment for the NSA than ROT-13. In the public sector AES-128 is considered sufficient for information up to level “secret” only; AES-256 is for “top secret”, and both are part of the NSA’s Suite B series of cryptographic algorithms, outlined here.

Suite A is unlikely to ever see the light of day, not even so much as their names. The important thing that this suggests is that the NSA may internally have a class break for their recommended Series B crypto algorithms, or at least an attack that makes decryption computationally feasible for a small set of people that includes themselves, and indeed for anything weaker, or with known design flaws.

The problem that needs to be addressed here is a policy problem, not a technical one. And that’s actually great news, because if you’re getting into a pure-math-and-computational-power arms race with the NSA, you’re gonna have a bad time.

May 9, 2013

How Does Anyone Work In These Conditions

A little while ago, the espresso machine in our office broke down. This doomsday scenario is, and I say this without the least bit of hyperbole, the most catastrophically dire situation that can exist in this or any other possible universe. If the intertubes felt slow for you the last few weeks, that’s probably why.

After a while, I started asking a colleague, Sean Martell, to ‘shop up some old war propaganda every few days, to express our dismay.

So, here you go.

We Need Coffee To Survive

It Can Happen Here

We Can Do It

Mercifully it is now fixed, and productivity should normalize in a day or two.

January 6, 2013

Besides The Photo And The Memory

Filed under: analog,awesome,doom,future,life,parenting — mhoye @ 2:40 pm

After explaining the death of a neighbor’s cat to Maya, every conversation we have can now get incredibly heavy without the least bit of advance warning.

“Dad, I want eggs for breakfast.”
“Ok, Maya, how do you ask for things?”
“Please can I have eggs for breakfast please?”
“Sure. We can make scrambled eggs.”
“Ok. Dad, are you going to die?”
“Eventually. Hopefully not soon, but eventually everyone dies. That’s why we have to be kind to each other with the time we have.”
“Can I have ketchup?”
“Maya.”
“Please can I have ketchup with breakfast please please?”
“Certainly.”
“Is mom going to die?”

It’s honestly like having a cartoon piano land on your mood four times a day.

December 21, 2012

Genuflecting To Fools

Filed under: analog,doom,fail,future,losers,lunacy — mhoye @ 11:49 am

Guys guys great news: it turns out that panicky superstitious people who deliberately misinterpret their shallow understanding of an incredibly narrow slice of a foreign culture they’re otherwise completely disinterested in aren’t reliable predictors of anything at all ever.

Who saw that coming, right?

I like to imagine that for months now somewhere in the Yucatan peninsula people have been saying “Oh shit, man! The white people’s calendar ends on December 31st!!” and then howling with laughter, because somehow it’s hilarious every time.

December 12, 2012

I Believe These Two Have Never Been Seen In The Same Room

Filed under: awesome,doom,future,microfiction — mhoye @ 3:49 pm

And thus it came to pass that in the last moments of the end times, as the worshippers of the Ancient Ones gazed on His final ascension from the depths, that their minds were broken and spirits shattered in those last moments before they were consumed as great Cthulhu approached them, Gangnam style.

July 11, 2012

The Great Escape

Filed under: doom,interfaces,parenting — mhoye @ 8:38 am

A few months ago I made a joke about my friend’s daughter, whose previous role-modelling efforts can be seen here.

But, hahahahaha, it looks like my concerns were totally unfounded! Claire didn’t need to be a part of that conversation at all.

Maya asked Mom for her keys yesterday, claiming that she needed to get her shovel out of the garage. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable request, so of course I found her in the car five minutes later, with the stereo on and the keys in the ignition.

The Great Escape

“I’m just pretending to drive”, she assured me.

She was wearing her seatbelt, so I suppose there’s that.

June 4, 2012

Today, In Orbital Panopticon News

Filed under: doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,science,toys — mhoye @ 3:23 pm

This is really astounding, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. The Department of Defence has given NASA a gift of two better-than-Hubble telescopes it built but never used, because despite this quote describing them…

They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.

… it considers them to be outdated. That’s right – 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, more maneuverable and able to take far more accurate pictures, hugely better than any instrument available to any civilian anywhere, and apparently an antique. As The Atlantic notes:

“That’s right. Our military had two, unflown, better-than-Hubble space telescopes just sitting around. […] This is the state of our military-industrial-scientific complex in miniature: The military has so much money that it has two extra telescopes better than anything civilians have; meanwhile, NASA will need eight years to find enough change in the couches at Cape Canaveral to turn these gifts into something they can use. Anyone else find anything wrong with this state of affairs?”

Maybe just the fact that those cameras were intended to be pointed down, not up.

The issue’s not whether you’re paranoid, Lenny, I mean look at this shit, the issue is whether you’re paranoid enough.

Strange Days, 1995.

May 31, 2012

The Pre-emptive Machine-Vision Horror Trope Needs A Better Name

Filed under: arcade,awesome,doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,toys — mhoye @ 9:27 am

That’s a game called StarForge, a kind of minecrafty farm/build/survive game that looks pretty promising. Trading off the eight-bit charm of Minecraft for a lot of FPS aggro, it looks like a boots-on-the-ground, shovels-in-the-dirt revisiting of classics like Dune II or Command And Conquer.

There’s a moment in there at about the thirty second mark, though, that gave me a surprising amount to think about; it would have been interesting to see a longer buildup to this, maybe with an explanation of the world and some more examination of what the player’s built up, leading up to the alone-in-the-dark moment where the turrets suddenly spin up and start grinding through ammo before the player can even see what’s coming. From a gameplay perspective this is a great demo; you can tell by the way the entire internet is trying to turn his poor server into one of the smoking craters you see in the video. But from a human-experience perspective, there’s a new thing on display here.

We have tools now that can see a lot further into the dark than we can, make decisions about what they find and then act on them immediately, deploying an staggering amount of force with remarkable precision. It’s sudden, and there’s a good argument to me made that it has to be as sudden as possible – the delay of a warning, a supervising authority or even just a human interaction might be an unacceptable delay, a burden the selection pressure of a technological arms race will quickly discard. Often, in fact, the best-case scenario there is that these tools leave enough of an audit trail that a complex situation might be understandable in long hindsight. But more often you’ll have a few thousand spent casings, a few dozen empty rocket tubes, the burned out shells of a few smoking buildings, the charred husks of their residents and no way to reconcile that with justice or conscience.

So now there’s this moment, that a human can be alone with their anticipation in the crowding dark, when machines we’ve built whose judgement we don’t really trust suddenly act with incredible violence on things we can’t see for reasons we don’t understand.

It’s really a perfect moment – the visceral panic of survival horror, that existential sense irrelevance that lives at the periphery of monstrously outsized forces, the deep-seated, voodoo suspicion of incomprehensible tech… “Your support tools or personal network suddenly goes insane” is going to be the spring-loaded-cat of the 21st century, I think, and for good reason.

I really need an “overthinking” tag.

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