Thoughts on Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Bleeding Edge is filled with 9/11 conspiracy theories, eccentric characters, and a wild alternative universe called the “Deep Web.”  It is very Pynchon; the only difference is that this universe is found through computers and not through hallucinogens like some of his other books.

This was the most comprehensible Pynchon book to me.  Probably because I was alive during 2001, I’ve lived in Manhattan, I am familiar with the techno-jargon, and I’ve at least heard of the exuberant tales of tech boom.  For those that are worrying that Pynchon is becoming more accessible, fear not as Jonathan Lethem writes in his review:

Thomas Pynchon is 76, and his refusal to develop a late style is practically infuriating.  The man’s wildly consistent: the only reason Bleeding Edge couldn’t have been published in 1973 is that the Internet, the Giuliani/Disney version of Times Square and the war on terror hadn’t come along yet.  This book, and Inherent Vice, make jubilant pendants on his mammoth enterprise, neon signposts to themes he took no trouble to hide in the first place.

But in the deep web of this book, lurks a darker message.  Bleeding Edge could not have been released at a more appropriate time.  At its core there is a struggle between those who want to get lost on the Internet and those who want to find them.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon”

I do not consent

When I started at the Naval Academy in 1998, I never expected I’d be in a war.  Even after the attacks twelve years ago, I still never thought I would be a “boot on the ground.”  When I joined the submarine service and spent a long year studying the operations of nuclear reactors, I still never saw myself carrying a M4 in Afghanistan.  But in 2011, that is exactly where I found myself.

Continue reading “I do not consent”

Opportunity for public comment on NSA surveillance

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is seeking public comment on:

how in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

Thanks to the EFF for finding this opportunity.

This was my response:

Continue reading “Opportunity for public comment on NSA surveillance”

BeagleBone Tor

My BeagleBone Black (BBB) is now helping preserve Internet freedom by running a Tor relay. Tor is:

free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis.

For those new to Tor, the first step is to try the TorBrowser Bundle to help anonymize your traffic.  If this Tor thing feels a bit weird to you, know that normal people use Tor.

For those that want to help contribute to the freedom loving Internet, consider running a Tor relay on that nice 1GHz BBB.  Of course, you can run a relay from the Browser Bundle, but when your turn your computer off or close your laptop lid, your relay goes nighty-night too.  Plus the BBB is low-wattage so it won’t run up your electric bill as much while you help Tor grow.

The great Ladyada has an Onion Pi project which runs a Tor proxy and a wireless access point. It’s a very cool project but it’s not a relay AFAIK.  Also, if you want Tor to really work, you should use the Tor Browser Bundle.  So, these are directions for setting up a Tor relay, which helps others use Tor.

My BBB in the Adafruit Bone Box.
My BBB in the Adafruit Bone Box.

Continue reading “BeagleBone Tor”

Supporting Open Access research

I’ve started a small, graduate research project for my AI class that’s been stealing my attention lately. I’ll be data mining a large data set with the machine learning software Weka, to train the software how to predict prognosis (estimated survivability from diagnosis) of stage IV breast cancer patients. Weka seems to have an impressive array of machine learning tools, but most of my time is being spent converting data from one format to the other.  It feels a lot like moving sand from one pile to the other with tweezers.

This research, like all research, is incremental. Several researchers have done a similar study and fortunately their papers are available here, here, here, here and here. Having ready and open access to these papers is crucial for me to be able to learn past techniques and build upon them. I’m not expecting to cure cancer here, only to maybe add a little piece of information to the puzzle, if I’m lucky.

Now imagine an environment where those papers were blocked or were cost prohibitive to the point of being inaccessible. Continue reading “Supporting Open Access research”

Hello world from ChrUbuntu!

After following these instructions, my Chromebook is now running ChrUbuntu!  The install is fairly painless and the instructions worked for me without any modifications.  It took about 15 minutes for my Chromebook to switch into “developer mode,” but after running the script and a few reboots later, I can dual-boot into Linux!

Emacs on chrubuntu with some disk usage stats in the corner.
Emacs on ChrUbuntu with some disk usage stats in the corner.

Thanks to the great work over at that blog and to this motivated reader for posting some awesome links to some Linux on the Chromebook material!  At the moment, I just have the vanilla ChrUbuntu sources but per the comments there seems to be active community members trying to fix various issues.  Most notable is that the touchpad is less responsive than in ChromeOS… [Update 21JAN13: I’ve post a script to fix this issue here]

While I don’t support Canonical decision to leave in its surveillance search feature, ChrUbuntu seemed the easiest Linux distro to get up and running right now.  Plus, ChrUbuntu is based from Ubuntu 12.04 and I don’t think Canonical’s search appeared until 12.10.  Thankfully, thanks to the diligent work from the EFF (this is a great organization, I just re-upped my membership), they have a post on how to remove this “feature.”

My first apt-get was for Emacs of course, in which I’m happily typing away.  The Chromebook’s “search” key acts like a “super” key (Windows key) in ChrUbuntu so I found this post which shows how to switch it.  Once you get used to the ctrl key located to the left of the “a” key, it’s very hard to switch back…  I tried to get emacs24 but there were some issues.  For some reason, I couldn’t add the ppa for emacs24 to apt-get and when I tried to build by source there were a lot of missing depends on x-windows and various ncurses libraries.  So, I decided not to push it too far right now and be content with emacs 23 (which installed with apt-get just fine).

If you plan on using the Chromebook as a pure consumption device or if you never heard of Linux(?!) than ChromeOS may be fine for you.  But actually, if that’s the case, a tablet may be better because you probably don’t need a keyboard.  Otherwise, if you want to do *anything* else, try ChrUbuntu.  Firefox is the default browser, but it may be possible to install Chromium if you really want.  And if you have never tried Linux, the Chromebook is a well priced laptop, with which you can experiment.  Just be sure to understand what’s working and not before you make the plunge.

It’s the end of the olympics as we know it… and I feel fine

How did you find out that Ryan Lochte took gold in the 400 meter IM over Michael Phelps yesterday?  Did you read about in your paper this morning?  Did you watch it on NBC’s evening broadcast?  Or did you find out via some sort of online media (hopefully not my blog… 🙂 )?

Hopefully, this will be the last olympics ever that subscribes to a traditional broadcast pattern of waiting until prime-time to deliver the highlights for the day.  Obviously, there are time-zone issues at play, but it appears that NBC is actively blocking streaming online unless one is a cable television subscriber (in the U.S.).  I don’t subscribe to cable TV and I don’t see the point of cable TV anymore.  For TV shows, I watch Hulu, for movies: Netflix and Redbox, for news, I read the Philadelphia Inquirer via my Kindle and read Hacker News.  The only thing I’m missing is sports and I was o.k. with a YouTube style ad at the beginning of an olympics bite, but no.

The model is broken. Instead of trying to cram the day’s events into a commercial infested prime time package, stream the events online so that all those dressage fans can watch their horse prance away to hip-hop.  Oh, wait, you’re living in the U.K., that service is available via the BBC.  The olympics are one of the last truly equalizing events around, so why are they closed-source?  Lets have an open olympics!

So here’s how to get around it 🙂  Instead of subscribing to cable, subscribe to a VPN.  See, the website is filtering the live streams based on your IP address, which is mapped to a geographical region and more specifically to an ISP.  With a VPN, your IP address appears to the world as the IP address at the end of the “VPN-tunnel,” so if you pick a VPN in the U.K., guess what, the website can’t tell the difference between a physical computer in the U.K. and your virtual one!  Game on!  This trick is equally useful when trying to buy books from Amazon.de (for a German based VPN host).

Of course there are other good reasons to have a VPN anyway, the main one being protection on open wifi hotspots.  The VPN will protect all traffic over the open (read public readable) hotspot and the ISP.  Of course, so will SSL, but even with SSL, it’s still possible to discover to whom you’re talking.  For extra protection, add Tor to the mix and check out this awesome interactive chart from the EFF on Tor and HTTPS benefits.

So, here’s to the future of watching the olympics!  Thanks to these other great posts on spreading the word.