Podcast: Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful

Here's a reading of my latest Guardian column, Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful, about the social and political factors that make all the difference when choosing technologies.

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Random NSA program generator, with denials

The NSA-O-Matic generates eerily plausible leaked NSA programs at the click of a mouse, including non-denial denials from NSA shills and spokesjerks. For example "STUMPVIEW, a searchable database that bugs conversations within earshot of laptop microphones. Senator Dianne Feinstein assured the public that the program discards information as soon it is determined to be irrelevant." It's hosted on Github and ready for your forking and contributions.

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Building a fully open, transparent laptop


Bunnie Huang is a virtuoso in hardware engineering, and a hero of the open source hardware movement. In this Make post, he documents how he and Sean "xobs" Cross prototyped a laptop that was open and transparent to a very great degree, secure against all attacks short of dopant-level hardware trojans. The post -- and the photos of the gloriously fuggly laptop, which they dubbed "the Novena Project" -- is part requirements document, part philosophical statement, and part engineering text. I love Bunnie's reasoning for wanting an amazing, open laptop: he spends the majority of his waking hours with it, so he wants it to be as amazing as possible, and it's worth him spending the time and money to get there. I also love the requirements he sets out for genuine "openness" (I put some of these after the jump, below). Most of all, I love how this thing looks: rough-hewn, gloriously unfinished with its 3D printed panels, and as bursting with potential as the Colossus.

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Openstreetmap: why we need a free/open alternative to proprietary maps


In the Guardian, Serge Wroclawski makes the case for Openstreetmap, a free/open map tool maintained by a volunteer community. Wroclawski argues that allowing companies to own maps allows them to own places: to determine which features of our neighbourhoods are worthy of inclusion, to determine which parts of our cities should and shouldn't be considered in route planning, and to monitor our decisions about where we travel and what we do when we get there. It's a dangerous proposition, and Openstreetmap is a viable, and often superior, alternative (see, for example, the map above of the neighbourhood around my office):

The second concern is about location. Who defines where a neighbourhood is, or whether or not you should go? This issue was brought up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when a map provider was providing routing (driving/biking/walking instructions) and used what it determined to be "safe" or "dangerous" neighbourhoods as part of its algorithm. This raises the question of who determines what makes a neighbourhood "safe" or not – or whether safe is merely a codeword for something more sinister.

Right now, Flickr collects neighbourhood information based on photographs which it exposes through an API. It uses this information to suggest tags for your photograph. But it would be possible to use neighbourhood boundaries in a more subtle way in order to affect anything from traffic patterns to real estate prices, because when a map provider becomes large enough, it becomes the source of "truth".

Lastly, these map providers have an incentive to collect information about you in ways that you may not agree with. Both Google and Apple collect your location information when you use their services. They can use this information to improve their map accuracy, but Google has already announced that is going to use this information to track the correlation between searches and where you go. With more than 500 million Android phones in use, this is an enormous amount of information collected on the individual level about people's habits, whether they're taking a casual stroll, commuting to work, going to their doctor, or maybe attending a protest.

Why the world needs OpenStreetMap [Serge Wroclawski/Guardian]

(via /.)

Blackphone: a privacy-oriented, high-end, unlocked phone

http://vimeo.com/84167384

Blackphone is a secure, privacy-oriented mobile phone company co-founded by PGP inventor Phil Zimmerman. It integrates a lot of the privacy functionality of Zimmerman's Silent Circle, which makes Android-based privacy tools (secure calls, messaging, storage and proxies). Blackphone also runs Android, with a skin that switches on all the security stuff by default. The company is based in Switzerland, whose government privacy rules are better than most. The phone itself is a high-end, unlocked GSM handset. No info on pricing yet, but pre-orders open in late February. I'm interested in whether the sourcecode for the Blackphone stack will be free, open, auditable and transparent. If it is, I will certainly order one of these for myself and report here on its performance.

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Open source furniture


Shareable rounds up 20 Open Source Furniture Designs -- ingenious plans for home furnishings that you can make yourself, improve upon, and share. My favorite is this Never Ending Bench by Félix Lévêque, which you can keep on adding slats to in order to create a seat tailored to your needs. Like many of the pieces, this one comes from the Open Design Contest.

20 Open Source Furniture Designs (via Beyond the Beyond)

Quietnet: near-ultrasonic messaging service sends chat by chirps


Quietnet is a free/open Python program that uses your computer's speakers to encode text messages as near-ultrasonic chirps that can be received and interpreted by other, nearby computers. Its creator, Kate Murphy, notes, "Warning: May annoy some animals."

Quietnet (Thanks, Sulka!)

Filtered: free/open IMAP filter

Jeff writes, "Filtered is a new free/open source IMAP mail filtering application which provides automated routing of email based on per sender settings. You can train Filtered via its web UI or by dragging and dropping email to folders in your email account. Filtered can also learn from the contents of your existing folders."

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Ubuntu will get a torrent search-tool

Future versions of Ubuntu -- my preferred flavor of the GNU/Linux operating system -- will include a search tool for torrents that will include results from The Pirate Bay. The objective is help locate freely licensed material and to integrate "free culture into the Ubuntu user experience." Cory 3

Teen's free award-winning 2009 game "Sneaky Cards" redeveloped by fans and relaunched


Back in 2009, we partnered with Institute for the Future to hold a "Digital Open" contest for teens around the world. One of the winners was Harry Lee, a 16 year old from Melbourne, Australia, who created a game called "Sneaky Cards" that "spread the seeds of sneakiness and espionage into the unsuspecting pockets, math books, binders and bags and jackets of his schoolmates."

Over 300 people in the Sneaky Cards subreddit have worked to turn Sneaky Cards into a fully realized game, with new designs, decks and bonus packs. The game is free to download under a Creative Commons license. Harry Lee has blessed the revamp, headed up by a designer named Cody Borst.

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Stross on Unix religion

Unix history: a religious perspective. (I like the idea of Linux as a Protestant Reformation: "a new, freely copyable kernel that all the faithful could read with their own eyes") Cory 30

3D printer that draws pictures in jello shooters

Jeroen Domburg's friend was having a 25th birthday party at which jello shooters were to be served. Jeroen decided to liven these up by creating a 3D printer that inserted a needle into each shot and injected an ink made from banana liquor, food colouring and corn starch in 3D patterns like cubes and spirals. Even cooler: the main body of the electronics in the printer were harvested from superannuated DVD and CD drives, and the firmware for the printer is free software (TGZ) for your pleasure.

Jello 3d printer

Interactive version of EFF's NSA crossword

Here's a nice little Christmastime Creative Commons and free/open source software success story: yesterday, I posted the Electronic Frontier Foundation's NSA-themed crossword puzzle, which was CC licensed. Shortly after, TheDod posted an interactive version of the puzzle to Github, forking an interactive crossword program written by the Boston Globe's Jesse Weisbeck.

Interactive edition of EFF's Xmas 2013 NSA crossword puzzle (Thanks, Dave!)

GNU Privacy Guard crowdfunding for new infrastructure

GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) is the free/open version of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the gold standard in secure email and other kinds of eavesdropping-proof, authenticated, private storage and communication. The GPG project relies on donations and voluntary subscriptions to keep up-to-date and support new platforms. They're running a crowdfunding campaign that's shooting for €24,000, which they'll spend on rolling out an all-new site (with Tor access!), as well as GPG 2.1, tutorials, subscription management, material for people throwing Cryptoparties (security-training events) and many other laudable goals. I rely on GPG every day, so I've put in €100. I hope you'll give, too.

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Mandatory bug-bounties from major vendors

Brian Krebs proposes that software vendors should be forced to pay a bounty on all newly discovered vulnerabilities in their products at rates that exceed those paid by spy agencies and criminal gangs. He says that the bill for this would be substantially less than one percent of gross revenues, and that it would represent a massive overall savings when you factor in the cost to all the businesses and individuals who are harmed by security vulnerabilities. He doesn't explain what to do with popular, free/open software though. Cory 11