Buttbuttination – or – The Scunthorpe Problem

2. May 2010

I’m pretty sure everybody has come across this. You send a mail, type something in chat, or try to post something on a forum, and your statement is either rejected or comes out garbled. What’s at work there are filter systems, so you might find yourself talking about the “Buttbuttination of Abraham Lincoln” or the “Consbreastution of the United States”. Clbuttic. Okay, I’m embarbutted by the products of my fellow programmers…

Conclusion #1: Obscenity filters don’t work. At all.

Read the rest of this entry »


They’re doing it again! Internet censorship

24. April 2010

I wrote a rant about internet censorship infrastructure last year, and I probably should give you a follow-up on the subject. Mrs von der Leyen (Germany’s family minister) was unsuccessfull in creating an internet censorship infrastructure. Thank God. Well, actually, thank Democracy. There was an election later in the year, which lead to a new coalition of political parties in charge. Funnily enough, Mrs. von der Leyen still has the same job, but her plans to “fight internet child pornograpy” (read: implement a massive censorship infrastructure that’s not going to help fighting against child pornography at all) were put on a hold.

So… “Yay for democracy”, right?

Wrong.

Somebody figured: “if you cannot do that on a national level, lets do it on a european (EU) level instead”. And instead of having one country with censorship, lets make it mandatory for every country in the EU. The whole thing seems to be a great f**king hydra. Makes me wonder what would happen if somebody chopped off Mrs. von der Leyen’s head…

Anyways. This is where Cecilia Malmström, a swedish EU minister comes into the picture. She created the website www.cleanternet.org, and puts this funny video online:

Thanks Mrs. Malmström. It’s people like you that stop me from losing all hope in democracy.

I concluded my last post about the subject with “If you are searching for a country with intelligent politicians, look elsewhere. Ours certainly ain’t.” May be Sweden is.


Push Technology – Finally There?

22. August 2009

Real push technology is here. zOMG. And it only took 12 years.

What am I talking about? Lets go back in time a bit.

Sometime around 1997, Netscape came up with the CDF-Format, and said it would revolutionize the web, because it would “push the web to the users” instead of the users having to fetch it from the web. People were all excited, Microsoft said they would do something much better called the “Active Desktop”, and everyone was on the edge of their seats.

Then, what happened? Appearantly, not much. CDF never became popular, and more or less faded away. So did Netscape, eventually. Active Desktop was a continuously crashing thingy that nowbody could make real use of, which had very little in common with CDF, and shouldn’t have been programmed in the first place. The revolution did not happen. At least not yet.

Funnily enough, there was no “pushing” involved at all. The users would have an application on their systems (conveniently bundled with the Netscape browser), which would periodically fetch a list of things from the web (the CDF data), see if there was anything new. It would then present the new stuff to the user. Notice the “fetch” part. Its the user application checking periodically if something new has arrived, not the server saying “hey, I got something new”. So if you set that application to check every 60 mins, you might get an important information 59 minutes late – just as if you had set your email application to fetch new mails only once an hour. The only thing you could do to prevent this would be to check often, causing lots of unnecessary traffic and load on both your PC and the server. The same information- the “list-of-things”-CDF-file – would be sent over and over again.

From a technology point of view its pretty much like a browser getting a certain webpage over and over again, only to be able to tell you whether it had changed since the last time you saw it. Meh.

The idea behind CDF actually made some sense, and became popular in a different form: RSS feeds. But RSS feeds inherited the same problem: it still is your pc fetching (or: “polling”) the information from the web. The subscriber (you) will check for content again and again, the publisher (the website) will continually answer with “these are the latest 10 news items”, your computer will repeatedly check if there was anything new, and if so, tell you about it. What a waste of resources, all because the server couldn’t shout at your system when something new was there.

Up to now, it seemed that was the end of the story.

So, what happened? Google and a bunch of smart guys who obviously were better at coding stuff than at giving it a good name came up with pubsubhubbub.

It starts out with the same situation: A publisher and a subscriber (hence the pub-sub in the name). Whats new is the hub. With the new protocol (which is an extension to RSS), the publisher can actively inform the hub if there is anything new. It is not necessary that the hub checks for new stuff, and thus, the publisher does not have to wait for the hub to check. The hub, in turn, is able to actively inform the subscriber (you) about new information. Again, it is not necessary for the subscriber to check with either the hub or the publisher for news. The publisher is actually “pushing” the information to the subscriber, via the hub. The round trip time of this procedure should be in the region of seconds.

You turn on your PC. Your RSS feed reader checks for news, because it might have missed whatever happend while it was turned off. Up to this point its the same as it has been since 1997. But now your RSS feed reader tells the hub “I’m here, tell me when there’s anything new”, and goes to sleep. If something new is there, the hub will then wake up your RSS reader …. tadaaa! Thats all there is to it.

Effectively, this means your RSS feed reader will be able to get the news only seconds after the publisher publishes it, without the traffic that would be caused if you set your RSS reader to check every second. Your PC actually uses less computing power and bandwith than before.

It only took a mindboggingly long 12 years until technology did what marketing said. And no, thats not going to be a revolution, but it sure is a neat solution to a very common problem.

Oh, and before anybody asks: there is no “bub” in it. They just thought it was funny calling it that.

Binary

P.S. Wake my hub if you have anything new 😛


Why child porn filters are nonsense

16. May 2009

We are all against child pornography, right? So if a politician does something against child pornography, that is good, right? And there’s nothing you can say against that, right?

True, unless it is Ursula von der Leyen and her party trying to filter the web.

Now what exactly is wrong with that?

Before I get into that, lets see what she proposes to do: She wants to have a blacklist of pages that will be filtered by the internet access providers. If you try to go to one of the pages on that blacklist, you will get a red STOPP-sign (yes, with double P, and it has german text on it) instead. Technically this will be done by manipulating the DNS-servers of your internet access provider.

So far, so hoopy. If I accidentally click on such a link, I won’t be bothered to see the dirt. This is how far people (and our minister) think. And this is exactly the only positive thing that it will do: keeping people who do not want child porn away from it.

Now the alleged purpose is not to keep your grandma away from that dirt, so for those who wanted to get to child porn, how hard would it be to overcome that filter?

Surpassing that filter is trivial.

All you need to do is use a DNS-server that is not located in Germany. Since neither german legislation nor the blacklist apply there, it will let you get to the page. Changing your DNS server is a matter of 5 minutes, no computer expert needed. Once you changed that setting in your computer, the child pornography will be accessible to you just like nothing ever happened.

Okay. So the filter protects me and your grandma from seeing stuff, but not the consumers of child porn. Thats not a lot, but there still is some good in it, right?

No. Putting on sunglasses was never a solution to a real problem, and it sure ain’t this time around.

Here’s a list of problems caused by this:

Problem #1: The Blacklist

The blacklist has to remain secret, mainly because it is so easy to circumvent the filter. It is important for that blacklist not to be published. So the minister decided it would be best to keep courts out of the process, and that the law enforcement agencies manage it.

That means the jurisdiction is not involved. There is no judge banning a site, there is no way to find out if your site is on the list, and there is no way of filing a case to have your website to be removed from that list, if should it ever be included accidentally. And don’t think that hasn’t all happened yet! There was a dutch forwarding company on the norwegian blacklist and a dentist on the australian, neither one had anything to do with child pornography. Imagine your business site on that blacklist! BAD, mkay?

The examples of other countries (most recently: Australian Blacklist leak) shows, that such hardly ever is kept secret, and is the perfect users manual for pedophile. Since they are not affected by the filters, they can easily use that blacklist to get what they want: child porn. This was certainly not intended, but is the ultimate outcome. BAD, mkay?

Problem #2: Creating censorship infrastructure

Once the blacklist is in place, there will be a number of other interest groups who want stuff blocked from access. The communists want the nazi-stuff removed, the nazis want the communist stuff removed. Copyright holders want illegal copys made inaccessible, and on and on and on ….

Youre opening pandora’s box here. BAD, mkay?

Problem #3: Logging

I already explained how easy it is to surpass the filter, and that child porn consumers will not see the STOPP-sign, but there is the (albeit very slight)chance of YOU accidentally visiting such a page. Now the minister wants to log access to that STOPP-sign, and pass the data on for further investigation.

This means: Police will stand in front of your door with a search warrant, while the child porn consumer remains unmolested. BAD, mkay?

Problem #4: Distraction from the effective measures

To make things worse, somebody took one of the leaked blacklists from other countries and checked where the sites where hosted. 90% of those sites were hosted in Europe or North-America, but seemingly no effort had been made to shut those sites down. They just put it on the blacklist, and thats it. Trying to take the sites down or finding out who is behind it would actually help fighting child porn, but once its on the blacklist, why bother?

Now what again was that blacklist supposed to be doing? Ah, yer, fight child pornography. Cool. Totally cool. Lets put sunglasses on, so that we dont see it. Sure helps… NOT! Its BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, DO YOU HEAR ME?

Conclusion

Child porn internet filters are complete nonsense. Whoever comes up with that is a complete moron, has no idea how the net works, and certainly doesn’t care to listen to the experts.

In short: Ursula von der Leyen, you are as thick as two short planks.

If you are searching for a country with intelligent politicians, look elsewhere. Ours certainly ain’t.

The Binary Grunt.


What a great moment of geekdom.

16. May 2009

wolframalpha1Yes! I was there when it went live the first time!

Its gonna be off and on over the weekend according to their Twitter feed. So at least starting on Monday, March 18th you should be able to access the system as well. In the mean time, here are the answers to my previous questions

Afghanistan GDP per capita 217.79 USD (2005 estimate, about 1/200th of the US)

Afghanistan life expectancy 44.6 years.

AIDS infection rate in Africa 4.17%. more than a fourth of the population of Swaziland is infected. 2.261 million deaths per year, but sure, condoms are a bad idea.

Rwanda deaths unfornunately did not show a diagram, and did not distinguish how people died, but here’s the number anyways136,853 (2008 estimate)

wolframalpha2The actual launch did resemble WarGames a bit though. Lets hope its not SkyNet 🙂

In any case: More data available to the public, and making them accessible is a Good Thing(TM).

And just because people will insist asking that question over and over: No, it is not going to make people dumb!

How availability of information could possibly make people dumb is beyond me.


Wolfram Alpha going live

15. May 2009

A ranting blog, and I start with news… probably not a good idea, but this one is such a biggy that I had to do it anyway:

Tonight at 12am UTC, Wolfram Alpha will be connected to the internet.

Now whats the big deal? Thousands of websites are put online every day, so what? Now Wolfram Alpha might become the third source of reference to a lot of you. Google, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha. But then again, it might be one of the greatest internet failures of all times. Here is a screencast showing what it is said to be doing.

And since you’re probably reading this when it already has gone online, you can go ahead and test it yourself. Supposedly, it will answer questions like

Whats the GDP of Afghanistan, and what is the average life expectancy of a new born child there?

Now that is pretty cool, right? Yes, it is. The power of a huge database (and I do mean HUGE) is at your fingertips, and 10,000 processors to compute your answer. Deep Thought, anyone?

It will not, however make you ask that question in the first place. And this is where the ranting comes back in. I sure hope it’s as easy to use as that screencast suggests, but even if that is true, and if it had all the data you wanted, will people start putting the right questions in?

What is the AIDS infection rate in Africa? How many people are killed every day in Rwanda?

While politicians and the press totally freak out over swine flu it seems questions are not en vogue. Have questions ever been? At least recently, people have chosen quick answers over tough questions. And more people than you’d imagine will put “Am I sexy?” inYer. Sure. You’re so totally hot and sexy that you can now safely go away, stop using precious CPU cycles,  and lead your life of ignorance happily ever after, mkay?

For the rest of us, may be its time to ask questions again, and may be this time you have a better chance for answers. I for one thing would love to see our federal government spendings in that database, but hey, that might be a bit too dangerous.

The Binary Grunt.

P.S. And by the way, Wolfram Alpha is totally not a Google rival, just like Wikipedia isnt. It’s not even a search engine! Sorry, folks, you’re totally not getting it. Google is about searching the net, not about finding answers to questions. If you must compare WA to something, compare it to ask.com pwleeeze?

P.P.S. and H1N1 is not more dangerous to you than “regular” flu – but panicking is so much more fun, right?