Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
I mentioned YaCy, the distributed search engine, yesterday and managed to get a working prototype server online. If you’re interested in trying it out you can do so by navigating your web browser here. As it currently stands I’ve only indexed this blog meaning most of the search results on the first page with be from here. Another thing to note is that crawling and indexing sites takes a notable amount of computing power so the search page becomes unresponsive during those operations (it’ll throw a “504 Gateway Time-out” error).
Feel free to play with it and let me know what you think. I’ll be tweaking it periodically throughout the week so it may be down from time to time. Also, I know the search results aren’t going to be nearly as good as those provided by Google or Microsoft but it’s a fairly young system and still growing. Right now you should just assume my setup is a prototype.
I’m a big fan of decentralized technologies. In my quest to decouple myself from the major corporations that seem inclined to wage war on the Internet I’ve been looking high and low for a search engine not run by Google or Microsoft. My quest has finally provided some fruit in the form of YaCy.
YaCy is a peer-to-peer search engine that can be run on Windows, Linux, or OS X (technically, since it’s written in Java, it should also run on other platforms). Instead of relying on centralized entities to crawl and index the Internet YaCy relies on each peer. I’ve setup a test server running YaCy to see how well it works and so far it shows promise. Granted, the search data isn’t nearly as complete as Google or Microsoft’s data at this point but that will almost certainly improve overtime. YaCy doesn’t do as good of a job at ranking search criteria based on how useful it is (at least in the eye’s of whatever search algorithm is being used) but that is likely to improve in time as well.
With those criticisms aside, and considering the limited amount of time I’ve had to play with it, YaCy does have one major advantage over Google or Bing: there is no central authority. State’s rely on central authorities to coerce into removing data when they want to enforce their archaic censorship laws. If no central authority exists it becomes much harder to enact censorship, which is where my primary interest in YaCy derives.
I’m planning to make the search interface publicly accessible in the near future so you guys can test it out. While I won’t promise a replacement for Google or Bing I will promise an interesting technology that’s worth experimenting with.
It’s not secret that the personal computer (PC) market isn’t doing so well:
According to research firm IDC, things are not looking great for the PC industry. The firm says that PC sales saw “the steepest decline ever in a single quarter” this year (excluding tablets and notebooks with a removable screen or keyboard), down 13.9 percent to 76.3 million from the same quarter last year. If you’ll recall, thats more than double the loss the industry experienced in the fourth quarter of 2012, which saw a 6.4 percent decline. Back in January, IDC noted that sales declined year-to-year during the holiday season the first time in more than five years. Today’s newly reported results from IDC mark the fourth consecutive quarter that PC shipments have fallen.
Everybody in the industry is scrambling to find the culprit. Some analysts are blaming Windows 8 while others are blaming the popularity of mobile phones and tablets. What few analysts appear to be looking at is the bloody obvious. Most people I know have a computer that is several years old. Hell, I purchased my last desktop in August of 2006. While I did recently upgraded to a new MacBook Pro the only reason I did so was because my old laptop’s memory controller was failing and replacing that (which means replacing the motherboard) was expensive enough to make a new laptop seem like a smarter way to go. In fact I don’t know a single person who has recently upgraded their computer. Why? Because the current system they’re running is good enough.
Herein lies the secret to the declining PC market, most people who want a computer already have one and have little reason to upgrade until their system dies. Modern computers are powerful enough to serve the needs of most users. Who needs an Intel i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a blazing fast graphics card for reading e-mail and looking at Facebook? Nobody, that’s who. The PC market is saturated. People aren’t upgrading as frequently because they don’t need to. The people who are upgrading are usually replacing machines that are so old that they’ve finally broken or are too slow to perform some task or another.
Computers are tools and so long as a tool gets the job done in a satisfactory manner most people aren’t motivated to replace it with something newer. It’s as simple as that.
Yesterday my prediction based on the utmost scientific research came true. Bitcoin, which has seen a remarkable increase in value compared to dollars, began to crash. Supposedly the cause of this crash was a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack:
We’ve reached out to one of the biggest exchanges, Mt. Gox, to see what happened. But another San Francisco-based exchange called TradeHill is saying that the crypto-currency is falling because of apparent distributed denial of service attacks on Mt. Gox and Bitstamp. A denial of service attack happens when an attacker overwhelms a target with external requests, so that it can’t honor regular requests from legitimate users.
All commodities are vulnerable to some amount of manipulation and Bitcoin is no different. The sudden drop in value demonstrates a potential exploit that can be used to make a great deal of money off of Bitcoin. Let’s hypothesize that the DDoS attack was planned some months back. Planning to execute a DDoS attack against several prominent Bitcoin trading sites individuals decided to first buy a large number of Bitcoin as the then current price and then move to manipulate the price by bringing the currency to the media’s attention. After generating a good deal of interest those same individuals begin to trade some Bitcoin for larger amounts of dollars, which raises the high point trade value. Seeing an increase in the high point trade value people uninvolved with the plan begin trading at higher prices. Eventually the system becomes a sort of Ouroboros, a self-feeding cycle that causes the price of Bitcoin to continuously rise. Once the value of Bitcoin has been manipulated high enough the manipulators sell off all of their Bitcoin and begin their DDoS attack. With the most prominent Bitcoin trading sites down the perceived value of Bitcoin tumbles along with it. After that the cycle can begin again. Buy low, manipulate the price higher, instigate a DDoS attack to drop the price, buy low, and so on.
The scenario I just explained is hypothetical, I’m not implying that it is fact. But the scenario is a possibility.
It will be interesting to see what the price of Bitcoin does over the next several days. Will is drop in price? Will it return to the pre-DDoS high? Will it climb even higher?
Yesterday I said I was going to try Feedbin, a potential replacement for Google Reader, when Reeder was updated to support it. This is where I admit that I’m not a patient man, when there is something new and shiny to try out I want to try it right now. Needless to say I decided to open a Feedbin account and give it a try even though Reeder doesn’t support it yet.
I’ll save you a lengthy writeup of my initial impressions and just give a bullet point summary of my thoughts.
- It successfully imported my feeds from the file Google Takeout provided me.
- The site always uses Hypertext Transfer Secure (HTTPS) (I’m still baffled by the number of sites that use unsecured connections).
- The web interface, both on desktop and mobile systems, is very clean and straight forward.
- Adding new feeds is very easy (I’m surprised by the number of Really Simply Syndication (RSS) clients and services that fail in this regard).
- No advertisements.
- You can easily export your list of subscriptions.
- The developer is pretty upfront about planned features for the service.
- No way (at least that I’ve found) to rename feeds or tags.
- No way (at least that I’ve found) to easily delete tags, you have to remove the tag from each feed individually.
- The interface doesn’t allow you to sort feeds based on tags.
- It’s currently unsupported by Reeder (this isn’t Feedbin’s fault, but it’s an important feature for me).
- It’s not free (which is why there are no advertisements).
- There’s a complete lack of social media features (I’m not against social media features, I just don’t use them).
Overall I like the service so far. While part of me still isn’t used to paying for an online service the other part of me that enjoys a complete lack of advertisements and other attempts of monetizing user data is quite content. When you sign up on the site it notifies you that your card won’t be charged if you cancel within the first three days. Since I like what I’ve seen so far I’m going to pay the whopping $2.00 and try it for an entire month.
3D printers are a marvel of modern engineering. A device that is able to build almost any solid object from the ground up stands to reshape modern manufacturing. One of the gaps in the technology has been the lack of a tool that allows you to scan an object so you can replicate it. Last week at South by Southwest MakerBot industries unveiled a prototype desktop 3D scanner:
The maker community has helped on that front, as well, with MakerBot’s Thingiverse serving as an unparalleled resource for 3D images, meaning that, once your printer’s all set up and calibrated, you can download and print to your hearts delight — but what if, say, you want to print up something that some kindly soul hasn’t designed for you? You could learn a CAD program — or you could invest in an industrial 3D scanner. The latter option has lead to something of a land rush of companies and individuals looking to break things wide open with an affordable, consumer-facing offering. And while MakerBot still seems a ways away from the final product, the company used SXSW as a platform to unveil a prototype of its MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner.
Imagine being able to toss a part onto a scanner and having copies print out in a few minutes. That’s what 3D scanners combined with 3D printers stands to do. It will be interesting to see where this technology goes in the next decade.
Last week I mentioned that I purchased a Raspberry Pi specifically to use as a Tor relay. Two days ago I received the following e-mail:
Hello and welcome to Tor!
We’ve noticed that your Tor node christopherburg (id: 3F17 3F07 DDBB D8F6 34C7 9588 6F99 E808 1AE6 AB42) has been running long enough to be flagged as “stable”. First, we would like to thank you for your contribution to the Tor network! As Tor grows, we require ever more nodes to improve browsing speed and reliability for our users. Your node is helping to serve the millions of Tor clients out there.
As a node operator, you may be interested in the Tor Weather service, which sends important email notifications when a node is down or your version is out of date. We here at Tor consider this service to be vitally important and greatly useful to all node operators. If you’re interested in Tor Weather, please visit the following link to register:
You might also be interested in the tor-announce mailing list, which is a low volume list for announcements of new releases and critical security updates. To join, visit the following address:
Thank you again for your contribution to the Tor network! We won’t send you any further emails unless you subscribe.
Disclaimer: If you have no idea why you’re receiving this email, we sincerely apologize! You shouldn’t hear from us again.
As of this writing my relay has been running for 8 days, has sent 38.65 GB of data, and has received 38.10 GB of data. I’m happy that this thing has proven to be an effective relay. My next step is to pursue the development of a relay image that can be written to an SD card, plugged into a Raspberry Pi, and operate as a relay without requiring any additional (or, at least, significant) configuration.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has posted a nice diagram that explains how Tor and Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) work in regards to security and anonymity. If you click the HTTPS button the diagram explains how HTTPS protects your data, if you click the Tor button the diagram explains how Tor protects your anonymity, if you have both buttons clicked the diagram explains how Tor and HTTPS work together to protect your data and anonymity.
Neither Tor or HTTPS are perfect, especially when you’re accessing data outside of the Tor network (in other words, not accessing a hidden service). The anonymity that Tor provides cannot protect you if you chose to reveal personal information and HTTPS is only a secure as the trust chain created by issued certificates. The trust chain created by HTTPS has been compromised before when hackers were able to acquire the root signing certificates used by DigiNotar and it’s possible that many trusted certificate authorities are willing to issue fraudulent certificate to government entities. However both tools are relatively effective at what they do and when used in unison can do a great deal to protect your identify online.
I’ve discussed the importance of Tor in fighting erroneous legislation but haven’t had any excellent demonstrations of Tor’s effectiveness in fighting the state’s continuous Internet power grabs. Russia has given me a perfect demonstration of the importance Tor holds:
A Russian law passed in November 2012 aimed at blacklisting sites promoting drug use has apparently just blocked the popular drug education website Erowid.org for certain users in the country according to a post on Reddit. A Russian government site listing prohibited sites shows that Erowid was added to the register earlier this month and was blocked on February 23. Russian user GreatfulListener says it is only “a matter of time” before the block affects more Russian internet service providers.
Erowid remains available in Russia via the Tor network. In fact, the Russian Tor community has undergone significant growth over the last year. RAMP, the Russian Anonymous MarketPlace, is now providing a leading Russian alternative to the English-speaking Silk Road.
Russia has begun blocking websites related to drug use. If history teaches us anything it’s that Russia will likely increase its censorship powers in the coming years. Fortunately the blocked site, Erowid, can still be accessed by Russians through Tor. Although I primarily discuss hidden services Tor is also very important in bypassing censorship of websites outside of the Tor network. Many countries block access to websites deemed undesirable but Tor works by sending traffic through exit nodes that are located in different countries, countries where the site being access may not be blocked.
The remainder of the article discusses the Russian Anonymous Marketplace (RAMP), a hidden service where Russians can perform anonymous transactions with Bitcoins. It’s akin to Silk Road, which I’ve discussed before. RAMP, like Silk Road, demonstrate that markets cannot be suppressed and that people will always find ways around state prohibitions. Today Tor and Bitcoins are integral tools for individuals wanting to avoid state prohibitions and censorship, which is why I believe it’s important to ensure these technologies become more widespread.
Without the state who will build the broadband? Apparently the people who want to use it:
Look outside of your window: if you see miles of farmland, chances are you have terrible internet service. That’s because major telecommunications companies don’t think it’s worth the investment to bring high-speed broadband to sparsely populated areas. But like most businesses, farms increasingly depend on the internet to pay bills, monitor the market and communicate with partners. In the face of a sluggish connection, what’s a group of farmers to do?
Grow their own, naturally.
That’s what the people of Lancashire, England, are doing. Last year, a coalition of local farmers and others from the northwestern British county began asking local landowners if they could use their land to begin laying a brand-new community-owned high-speed network, sparing them the expense of tearing up roads. Then, armed with shovels and backhoes, the group, called Broadband for the Rural North, or B4RN (it’s pronounced “barn”), began digging the first of what will be approximately 180,000 meters of trenches and filling them with fiber-optic cable, all on its own.
The next step, after raising half a million pounds from shareholders, is to convince Lancastrians to pony up about fifty dollars a month for internet service. (Those who invest £1500 or more can get a year’s free service, a tax credit of 30%, and the option to sell the entire investment back in 2016 at full value.) This isn’t AOL dial-up: customers will have access to a blazing fast 1 gigabit connection, something that many city-dwellers, myself included, would covet.
Regardless of what statists tell us people can accomplish great things without the assistance of fear mongering war hawks.