The Concert

The highlight of today's 27C3 was the world premiere of "The Concert", a disconcerting moment for free culture. Canadian violinist Corey Cerovsek, French pianist Julien Quentin and artist manager Alex Antener hacked this hacker's convention, injecting excellent classical music in a performance about the evils of non-free culture.

There is a mix of projected chat, video, and visuals with some great music underlying it - played on some of the best hardware, a Stradivarius violin, a Steinway piano, and a MacBook Pro. The auditorium, used to listening to deep technical talks, was enraptured. Cerovsek and his violin unite to produce lively sweet melodies, as the fingers of Quentin flow in waves over the keyboard. They sound as if they have been playing together forever, when actually only Corey and Alex got together three days ago, Julien joined two days ago, and they created this work - remixing Bach, Debussey, and Beethoven with Wikipedia, some fair-use video, and their own texts.

They play a video by Richard Stallman about Beethoven making the point about patent absurdity - if music had been patented 200 years ago, you would have a hard time writing a symphony that would not get you sued, much less one which sounds nice.

They received a standing ovation, and after a fun discussion gave one encore with Alex standing in as a music stand, and another after the crowd would not let them leave the room. I think they converted a number of people to classical music this evening!

I enjoyed it tremendously, and would go see Cerovsek any chance I get!



Brrrrr. I thought The System was scary. This book is worse, even scarier. Daniel Suarez knows what he is talking about in Daemon, in which a rich game designer dies and leaves a program running that rather takes over the world. And almost none of the technology is too far-fetched.

I'm currently attending the 27C3, and there were two things spoken about at the conference today that are in the book: one is the 3D part manufacturing system, the other the possibility of identifying people trying to be anonymous on the net.

MakerBot Industries has a pretty cool rapid prototyping machine, the "Thing-O-Matic". For just $1225 you can make things up to muffin size by applying layer on layer of plastic that gets melted and extruded. Get more and colored plastic stuff to feed in for just 65$ for 5 pounds. In Daemon there are bits of weapons produced on printers like this, picked up by people who walk at the directions of the AI system, meet anonymous people on the street and snap their parts together - CrowdManufacturing.

And then there's this anonymity thing - I used to think it was possible to be anonymous on the web if you took precautions, like using Tor and all that. Nope. Dominik Herrmann and his pals have been doing a lot of data mining on this topic and have discovered that they can pretty much identify you by the size of the data packets you send and recieve and the time of day you are looking at which site. Scary. Listening to Internet-Radio helps a bit, but not much. So the only thing I found far-fetched in Daemon, the identifying one of the heros when they go online, isn't that far-fetched at all.

New Year's resolutions
1) Start learning data mining
2) Get the next Suarez book, Freedom, the minute it is published in paperback (Jan. 4, 2011)
3) Find some excuse and funding to purchase a Thing-O-Matic


A Business Card from the Past

I was sorting out something or other last night and knocked over the pile of business cards I have on a desk. I have exchanged business cards will all sorts of people over the years, I don't throw them away. Ones that I use get put in my Rolodex (yes, even in the digital world I use a Rolodex because I can't remember the name of the people I'm looking for, but riffling through the cards I can often find them). Ones that I just collected I put on a pile. I have lots of piles.

The top one was a former student. Then someone from One Laptop Per Child. And someone from Transparency International that I met at a party where I was just being WiseWife. And then:

Home of the ethical leaking movement
Julien D'Assangé
Advisory Board

A telephone number and two email addresses, one from Harvard.

Where did I meet him? I have a diffuse memory of standing outside the c-base at night, talking with two geek boys of unspecific age. One was working on the Free Haven project, the other on a project where people could do whistleblowing anonymously. We had an interesting and animated discussion, apparently exchanged business cards, and parted ways. The Free Haven card is in my Rolodex, because I tried (unsuccessfully) repeatedly to interest students for the idea of anonymous computing. Maybe they are more interested now.


The Thing-a-ma-jig

We seem to be reviving old habits this year. We had friends over for dinner and decided to make cheese fondue. We haven't done that in years, no idea why not because it is delicious. But trying to find the caquelon was an exercise in frustration - where did it go? Another pot was pressured into service, and a panic call to the guests to see if they had a stand with the thing-a-ma-jig for heating it up. They did, they could find theirs, the evening was saved.

For Christmas we decided to get out the old hot stone, haven't used that in years, either. We knew where it was, the box was waaaay up on top of the kitchen shelves. WiseMan got it down, turns out it needs two thing-a-ma-jigs, and none were in the box.

I volunteered to go for a look. I started in the cellar - a cow couldn't find her lost calf there, it should be declared a disaster area. When WiseKid moved back in in October he shoved his stuff down there. I poked around, nothing to be found.

I climbed up and investigated other shelving. I got down and emptied the corner cabinet, wiping the years of dust from it after getting it emptied. The nasty bit behind the beer cases was brought to light, there were all sorts of interesting things there (cupcake papers! Lemon flavoring! A first-aid kit!). But no thing-a-ma-jig.

An exasperated run through the jam jars found the fondue pot shoved in the back, and lo and behold: a thing-a-ma-jig! Well, we only need one more! I went through drawers, pulled stuff out of likely shelves all over, they were just not to be found.

It was 1.30 pm. Christmas Eve. I put on boots, hat and jacket, and stomped out into the snow. The stores close at 2 pm if I'm lucky. I managed three (!) stores in the 30 minutes, two of the three completely deserted and the seller happy for the diversion of speaking with me. I described the thing-a-ma-jig, not knowing the German word for it. No, don't have one of those.

So I gave up, came home, and we made do with just one. Worked just fine, by the way. This evening I googled around, and found the German name: Pastenbrenner. I don't think I've ever heard that word before, and I can't find a translation. Cost 4,49 € plus 4,90 € postage on ebay. Maybe I can find some store somewhere that has them.

Or I'll find it looking for the next strange cooking implement.  


Where's the Head of Security?

I had a nice chat with a gentleman in the know this evening about WikiLeaks. Since he was speaking to me as a private person and not in an official capacity, he shall remain nameless. He brought up the issue that has been bothering him since this whole thing broke:

Why was it possible to obtain this much data - much of it marked secret - without someone knowing?

Who was (still is? I would imagine this person assigned to latrine detail in the meantime) head of security at the State Department? They have themselves a "Bureau of Diplomatic Security". Isn't it their job to keep an eye on the data floating around and the people with access to it? They have all this theater about having to have security clearances in order to see certain documents.

Of course, I've always thought it was a farce ever since doing my doctorate. There were papers that I wanted to read that pertained to my dissertation, but they could not be sent outside the United States and could only be read by a US citizen. Since I was at that time still a US citizen, I flew over, read the documents, and took lots of notes.

Oh, wait - they apparently didn't have anyone assigned to computer security. Look at this job announcement:

DS To Recruit Security Protective Specialists
On Monday, December 21, 2010, Diplomatic Security will open the position of Security Protective Specialist. The application period will close Thursday, January 20, 2011.  Interested individuals may access the announcement through www.usajobs.gov.
Apparently, Eric J Boswell is still the head of security.  If I was Hillary Clinton, I would have had his head on a plate the day after WikiLeaks broke. Why are the commentators in the US not demanding that Something Be Done about the computer security up at State?

Oh, maybe this is why:
Ambassador Boswell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University, and served in the U.S. Army. He speaks French.
Does Stanford offer computer science degrees as a B.A.? I realize that security is more than just computers, but it would be useful if the guys at the top actually understood computers.

The gentleman and I pondered the state of computer security at weapons sites around the globe. This sent a shiver down both of our spines, so we called it an evening, wished each other a Merry Christmas and went out into the cold and snow.


The Gun

Two weeks ago during one of our "terror warnings" I had an unexpected free morning. I got some things sorted out, and on my way to an afternoon meeting I treated myself to lunch at Salomon's Bagels. I love bagels, and there is a great little bagel store next to the Jewish bookstore in the Joachimsthaler Str.

The bookstore usually has a policeman standing outside, guarding it, and this day was no exception. Except that the policeman had a machine gun slung over his shoulder, and it was pointing straight ahead. And the policeman was not paying attention to anything other than his mobile phone.

I found this very, very strange, and was lucky to be able to pass behind him on the way into the bagel store. I had a lovely lunch, but on the way out, the policeman was still there, the machine gun still pointing straight ahead. He wasn't texting any more, but he had his back to the wall, so I had to pass in front of the mouth of the gun to pass him.

I thought about speaking to him, as a gun which is not in use is to be kept pointed to the ground - WiseKid, now experienced in the ways of the military, explained this to me later. But I decided that discussing anything with someone pointing a gun at me was not really a great idea. I gave the guy a wide berth, kept my eyes on the mouth of the gun, and passed as quickly as I could.

When I got home, I got mad, and wrote a complaint at the online police station. Today a woman called and apologized profusely. She said that the policeman had been called to a discussion with his boss and had reviewed with him the proper way to hold a gun and that he can only use a telephone for police business, not for personal business. I explained again that as a citizen of a free country that is not at war, that I do not want to have guns pointed at me by police. She agreed, and apologized another few times. They didn't want to write me a letter, but prefer the personal touch.

Well, okay. A letter would have been nice, but I really am surprised that my online letter had consequences. I rather expected it to be piped to /dev/null. Now if we could just get them to tone down the security theater ...


The System

Scary. I just finished a German thriller, Das System, by Karl Olsberg. Olsberg is a pseudonym for an author and entrepreneur with a doctorate in artificial intelligence.

The book is about computer suddenly misbehaving - and it's not just the operating systems, it's a creature that consists only of code. Intelligent code.

The story is well-written, pulls you inward and onwards, and is correct in the computing aspects, except for the part of there really being such an "intelligent" program, which I very much doubt. But if there ever is, this book shows why we don't want to have such a program. Brrrr.

A great read, but no link to Amazon. I have an issue with them, and have managed my entire Christmas shopping elsewhere.



I've been meaning to write something about WikiLeaks for days, but I don't seem to have any time, as I spend any excess minutes I might have reading about WikiLeaks and interpreting it for others. So many people have no idea what a wiki is, what WikiLeaks is, how it differs from Wikipedia, that I feel called upon to try and educate them.

The bizarreness of Sarah Palin calling for Julian Assange's death for not actually breaking any US laws, but embarrassing the hell out of the State Department, coupled with the Chinese calling Liu Xiaobo (the Nobel Peace Prize winner 2010) a terrorist makes me wonder if I have slipped over to some parallel universe where common sense and logical thinking have disappeared and been replaced by Newspeak and Big Brother. Or Sister.

Anyway, this is the best comment on WikiLeaks that I have found for a number of days:

Oh, and I really want to see the list of all the other guys who had broken condoms and are now being sought world-wide by Interpol. 'Cause I now expect them to go after each and every one. And after the guys who did worse.