Archive for the ‘Technology’ tag
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.
While I understand that the most zealous gun control advocates are unlikely to listen to me because they believe I’m a psychopathic murderer who wants to kill children I know that there are a lot of logical individuals who currently advocate for gun control because they believe it will lead to a safer society. This post is for the latter group. I recently came across an interesting post on the Ludwig von Mises Institute website discussing the effects of cannabis prohibition:
Super potent pot is not a market failure. It is simply the result of government prohibition. In fact, it is one of the best examples of the iron law of prohibition. When government enacts and enforces a prohibition it eliminates the free market which is then replaced by a black market. This typically changes everything about “the market.” It changes how the product is produced, how it is distributed and sold to consumers. It changes how the product is packaged and in particular, the product itself. The iron law of prohibition looks specifically at how prohibition makes drugs like alcohol and marijuana more potent. The key to the phenomenon is that law enforcement makes it more risky to make, sell, or consume the product. This encourages suppliers to concentrate the product to make it smaller and thus more potent. In this manner you get “more bang for the buck.”
During alcohol prohibition (1920-1933), alcohol consumption went from a beer, wine, and whiskey market to one of rotgut whiskey with little wine or beer available. The rotgut whiskey could be more than twice as potent of the normal whiskey that was produced both before and after prohibition. The product is then diluted at the point of consumption. During the 1920s all sorts of cocktails were invented to dilute the whiskey and to cover up for bad smells and tastes.
The iron law of prohibition states that “the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes.” When a substance is prohibited the sellers and buyers of that substance have a vested interest in delivering the most bang for buck because the more of that substance they possess the harder it is to conceal. Small amounts of cannabis can be concealed in film canisters, flashlights (just take out the batteries), cell phones (once again, remove the battery), and any other object that has a hallowed out space. Large amounts of cannabis cannot be concealed so easily and therefore detection by law enforcement becomes much easier.
While the iron law of prohibition relates to drug prohibitions I think it’s also applicable to other forms of prohibition. Let’s look at the type of firearms preferred by violent criminals:
New state stats show that firearms were responsible for more than 58% of the murders statewide last year — but the biggest problem was handguns.
Of the 769 homicides reported in 2011, 393 were the result of handguns. There were 16 deaths by shotgun, five by rifle, and 33 by an unknown “firearm-type,” the state Division of Criminal Justice Services reports.
The Department of Justice’s Guns Used in Crimes [PDF] report backs that claim:
Although most crime is not committed with guns, most gun crime is committed with handguns. pages 1 & 2
This makes sense when you consider the iron law of prohibition. Much like cannabis buyers and sellers, violent criminals, especially ones who are prohibited from possessing firearms, have a vested interest in firearms that can be concealed from law enforcement. Laws prohibiting individuals from lawfully carrying firearms didn’t discourage people from carrying firearms, it merely made the need to possess concealable firearms greater. The same can be said for prohibiting certain individuals from carrying firearms, they now seek firearms that can be easily concealed.
This brings up an interesting consequence of enacting even stricter gun control laws. What would happen if advocates of gun control were able to achieve their goals of a partial or complete prohibition against firearms? Firearm manufacturing and transfers wouldn’t stop, they would simply move underground (or further underground in the case currently prohibited firearm transfers). In addition to moving underground the demand for firearms that deliver more bang for their buck would increase. Firearms would likely become more potent by decreasing in size, becoming more difficult to detect, and, potentially, increasing in power. Resources would be invested in working around the prohibition by making firearms that are more difficult for law enforcement officers to detect.
As it currently stands the demand for difficult to detect firearms is relatively low. Those of us who carry a concealed firearm want one that is difficult for the average person to detect but we usually care little if our firearm is easy for law enforcement agents to detect. Resources are put into making concealable firearms but not undetectable firearms. Criminals tend to favor currently produced firearms because they are cheaper than developing alternatives (everything is subject cost-benefit analysis). Few criminals are going to invest the resources in producing more potent firearms when currently available firearms are good enough. That would likely change under a stronger or complete prohibition. Suddenly the investment in resources to develop very difficult to detect firearms would make sense.
Prohibitions have consequences. When alcohol was prohibited in the United States manufacturers began distilling extremely potent liquors to deliver more bang for buck. The current cannabis prohibition has resulted in a similar outcome, cannabis today is far more potent then it was before the prohibition. A firearm prohibition would likely result in the same outcome, firearms would become more difficult to detect and potentially more powerful. This is something that advocates of gun control should consider when asking themselves if a prohibition would actually lead to a safer society.
Just so everybody knows the newly established, and at this point entirely unofficial, Minnesota Pirate Party is hosting a CryptoParty on Monday, May 13th. The event will be held at 4200 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, MN and is planned to go from 18:00 to 21:00.
Although I’m not sure what specifically will be covered I’m going to make an effort to ensure e-mail encryption and, if time allows, Tor are discussed. Being a CryptoParty there will also be key signing and the usual such shenanigans.
Yesterday I mentioned that Defense Distributed had announced the first handgun developed almost exclusive (the one exception is the nail that is used as a firing pin) on a 3D printer. Many people questioned if it would work or if it would explode into a million tiny plastic pieces, especially since the barrel was made of plastic. As it turns out the handgun worked pretty well:
On May 1st, Wilson assembled the 3D-printed pieces of his Liberator for the first time, and agreed to let a Forbes photographer take pictures of the unproven device. A day later, that gun was tested on a remote private shooting range an hour’s drive from Austin, Texas, whose exact location Wilson asked me not to reveal.
The verdict: it worked. The Liberator fired a standard .380 handgun round without visible damage, though it also misfired on another occasion when the firing pin failed to hit the primer cap in the loaded cartridge due a misalignment in the hammer body, resulting in an anti-climactic thunk.
Here’s a video of the test firing:
It’s obvious by looking at the gun and hearing about the failure to fire that the firearm is a prototype but, considering how quickly Mr. Wilson has been advancing the art of manufacturing firearms on 3D printers, this design will likely evolve very quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a reliable, albeit ugly, design capable of firing multiple rounds by the end of the year.
Do you want another reason to encrypt your data? According to a former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) counter-terrorism agent everything electronic communication is being intercepted:
On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:
BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”
Is Mr. Clemente telling the truth? Are all electronic communications being intercepted or is he putting out misinformation to make people believe the state is omnipotent? I’m not sure but encrypting your communications is the best defense against pervasive snooping and would render the state’s surveillance powers irrelevant.
Gun rights activists are going to look back at this time period as the beginning of the end of gun control. Defense Distributed has announced the one thing that gun control advocates have feared, a handgun that can be printed on a 3D printer:
All sixteen pieces of the Liberator prototype were printed in ABS plastic with a Dimension SST printer from 3D printing company Stratasys, with the exception of a single nail that’s used as a firing pin. The gun is designed to fire standard handgun rounds, using interchangeable barrels for different calibers of ammunition.
Although the state can spend billions of dollars trying to combat printed firearms it, like the billions spent on stopping people from growing cannabis in their homes, will fail to accomplish the intended goal. Once something can be produced by anybody with minimal knowledge controlling that thing becomes impossible.
I doubt this handgun will be very robust or accurate but considering Defense Distributed indicated its intention to build an entirely printed gun last month and we have a working model this month it’s pretty easy to see how quickly this technology is going to mature.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published its Who Has Your Back? 2013 report, which explains how many of the largest tech companies response to government requests for user data. What I find interesting is the company that best protects the data of its users is Twitter, the company that has a service focused primarily on publishing public information. Google does pretty well but their support for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) doesn’t leave me with a lot of confidence. Apple basically surrenders your data if the state merely whispers to them.
All in all, more than anything, this report justifies my decision to run my own services. My e-mail, calendaring, and web hosting are running on my own server. There is no way for the state to acquire my important data without me knowing about it (even if they steal my server they won’t have the key to decrypt the drive).
There are several givens in life. Placing your hand on a hot stove will result in a great deal of pain and the state always wants a cut of the action. Cannabis legalization in Colorado may be going back to the drawing board. It’s not because there has been an uptick in violent crime, it’s because the state wants a cut:
The proposal for a marijuana ballot measure came as the House started debate Friday evening on bills to regulate and tax pot. One bill would state how pot should be grown and sold, and the other would tax recreational marijuana more than 30 percent.
A draft bill floating around the Capitol late this week suggests that a new ballot question on pot taxes should repeal recreational pot in the state constitution if voters don’t approve 15 percent excise taxes on retail pot and a new 15 percent marijuana sales tax. Those would be in addition to regular state and local sales taxes.
Give the state a 15% (which will increase over time) cut or it will make cannabis illegal again. There are no permanent victories when you rely on the political process. All that can be achieved are temporary victories that can be revoked on a politician’s whim. This is why I don’t rely on politics to achieve anything. By relying on politics you’re giving tacit permission to the state to regulate. Since the political means was used to legalize cannabis now the state believes it has a right to tax cannabis sales. If advocates of cannabis legalization doesn’t agree the state will merely make cannabis illegal again and the fight will start from square one. Civil disobedience works because it exploits the state’s biggest weakness, public opinion. When people see the state isn’t all seeing they become more willing to disobey its decrees and the state, therefore, has a vested interest in maintaining its omniscient image and is more apt to decriminalize behaviors that people are partaking in in spite of the law.
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.