Greetings. Since the recent Federal Communication Commission (FCC) vote on Internet issues related to Net Neutrality concerns, a flood of analysis from all corners of the spectrum has been readily available.
Unfortunately, while humans have rushed to evaluate the associated FCC rulings, little attention was paid to how this controversy is affecting an often overlooked group -- our robotic brethren.
Now a short video has appeared that provides an illuminating look at this very aspect, as Net Neutrality, competition, and the FCC are explored by a confused/paranoid robot, an intelligent/sane robot, and ... what is Nostradamus doing in there?
Net Neutrality Robot Rumpus!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and All the Best for the Upcoming New Year!
Greetings class. Everyone settle down, please. Can we lower the volume on the media players to a dull roar? OK, thanks.
Well, you'll recall that the original topic of today's discussion was to be "How to fleece your telecom customers and have them begging you for more."
But in light of today's FCC vote regarding net neutrality, I'm going to switch topics for now, and explore something of equal value to all you prospective communications tyrants. We'll see how to write a blog posting that skillfully distorts issues in such a way that most observers will never realize they're being manipulated with false premises and misleading information.
Feel free to interrupt me with questions at any time, as usual!
Let's take a look at this slide -- those of you watching via the Web can visit the URL for FCC Net Neutrality Legislation Impact On Procera.
This is today's corporate blog entry from Procera Networks, a major manufacturer of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) apparatus for ISPs. Please read it over now.
OK, you all know what DPI is used for, right?
Well, Amy, I don't think it's entirely fair to call it simply "spying." Yes, it can certainly be used to observe any data being sent to or received from any site -- by any customer of an ISP -- when that customer isn't using encryption.
Yes, Phil, I do know that some ISPs have expressed interest in using DPI gear in abusive ways -- and some have actually already done so -- but it can have legitimate network management applications as well -- keep repeating that last part to yourself over and over until it's second nature if anyone should ask.
Go ahead, Bob. Yes, I agree that if everyone was smart and encrypted all their data DPI would be much less useful -- though there are still traffic analysis and other tricks that can be played, but ... yes? ... Well no, actually Procera probably used the wrong wording when they said "Net Neutrality Legislation" -- it was an FCC vote not a legislative package per se. But really now you're splitting hairs Bob, most people don't know the difference, right? Remember, don't tell customers more than they really need to know.
Now, most of the Procera blog entry is sort of bland boilerplate, but I want to draw your particular attention to their paragraph numbered (4). It's a true work of art to explore. Let's go over it piece by piece, shall we?
4) Tiered Services are allowed – although allowing for tiered services might be controversial, the positive outcomes of tiered services should prevail. Service Providers can now create lower cost plans to expand the reach of broadband to those who cannot afford even the lowest cost plans available today, while raising the price for users that consume high volumes of data (and negatively affect the broadband experience for other users).
OK, who wants to go first? Go ahead Steve. Correct, the wording assumes that "positive outcomes should prevail" then proceeds to ignore possible negative outcomes. What did I just say? Only tell 'em what they need to know! There's a good example for you.
A little louder please, Ian? Right you are! The text suggests that the FCC ruling now permits tiered services for financially "disadvantaged" customers, but in reality there's been nothing stopping any dominant ISP from creating low price services with various limits right now. And of course this is already common -- though the main limiting factor in the U.S. is usually the maximum "up to" speed promised, not the total amount of data that can be transmitted or received -- but even the latter wasn't prohibited, and various caps have already been present in some cases.
Would you repeat that please, Bill? Well, yes, that's "up to" speeds. Yes, Bill, I know that most customers rarely see those speeds. You think you're the only one? Do you know how long it's been since I've actually gotten 10 Mb/sec from Time Warner, even though they promised me 15 and are now advertising 20? That's why you always want to use the term "up to" -- right?
Let's move on. Who can point out the real gem of "logical distortion" that comes next?
Susie, go ahead. Bingo! That's it: ... users that consume high volumes of data (and negatively affect the broadband experience for other users).
That's correct. Their statement is organically equating "high usage" with "negatively impacting other users," and asserting that as a major justification for higher prices. In other words, since it's unlikely that an ISP would have a tier with higher prices only for higher volume users who actually negatively impact other users, Procera has skillfully framed the debate to imply that high volume always equals negative impact on others!
Pretty slick, huh?
Yes, Jim. Go ahead. Well of course, ISPs themselves decide how much capacity to provide at every level of their infrastructure, so they have a free hand to determine all metrics. They define what "high volume" is. They define what "negative impact" is, they decide how to place and charge the tiers, they decide ...
Yes, Marcie. Definitely, the ISPs choose the bandwidth allocations. But, well, let me explain it this way. You've seen how lately the examples of "abusive" high volume Internet users we hear about more from ISPs are just ordinary folks watching videos from the Net? You've noticed that we hear less and less about Torrent "pirates" chewing up bandwidth, and more casting of YouTube and such as the villains? Why do you think that is?
What Bob? They hate Google? Well, nothing quite that simple. Yes, Julie. You've got it! Content! That's the key. The dominant ISPs are now big time content providers. Pretty soon after the Comcast/NBC merger goes through they'll be major content producers too.
Now, say you're a giant ISP. You've spent decades and a fortune in lobbying to leverage your original monopoly era franchises, and suppressing effective large-scale competition -- even going so far as pushing through laws to prohibit municipalities from setting up their own public Internet access networks.
Do you want your customers watching movies from Netflix over the Internet, or buying from your own pay-per-view and video-on-demand systems where there's a direct profit center to you? Are you going to sit by quietly while your subscribers spend all their time watching free TV channels from the Net rather than subscribing to your lineup of directly delivered channels?
Gene, go ahead. Right, you're going to structure your network so that the bandwidth allocations, tiers, rates, caps, and everything else will tend to push subscribers into buying content from you, rather than from outside entities. It's just basic business sense, straight off the ol' spreadsheet.
OK, let's move on to the last part of that Procera paragraph: This is no different than utility services in the US, such as electricity and water utilities, that bill based on usage, and there can be penalties for high usage during peak hours.
Yes, Dave. Yep, utilities like electric, water, and gas are enterprises where customers are typically directly consuming physical natural resources in direct proportion to how they're being billed. But someone using twice the data as another user on the Internet isn't, for example, using any more electricity in any realistically measurable sense.
Steven ... well yes, certainly. Overall you need to spend more on infrastructure and supporting functions as your customers use more data. But much the same applies to traditional utility distribution networks. And remember, for gas and water and such when subscribers turn on the gas or the tap, they're consuming actual physical resources. The more electricity people use the more generators you need to run, and unless you're solar or hydro or some such your fuel is gone forever. That's a pretty good justification for charging by the unit for those resources. It's much harder to sensibly argue that bits and bytes should be charged in the same "usage sensitive" manner, as if they were physical items in limited supply.
Harold ... yes, that's a good point too. Traditional utilities don't have the content conflict that drives the dominant ISPs. The gas company by and large doesn't need to game the system to drive customers toward ordering "value added" services from them rather than from some outside firm. The utilities' overwhelming purpose is transport, so distortions like "Netflix vs. ISP pay-per-view" simply don't apply.
Look, we've got to wrap this up, but isn't there one major aspect of Procera's utilities comparison that we've missed?
Larry -- exactly! At least in the U.S., the vast majority of utilities are highly regulated! They usually can't willy-nilly decide to raise rates, change services, make drastic infrastructure changes, or much else without detailed formal approval processes involving government, consumers, sometimes public hearings, and so on. Their charges, rates, and profit levels are often specifically mandated by law.
But any kind of real regulation, no matter how trivial, is exactly what the dominant ISPs and the anti-net-neutrality forces at large have been fighting hardest to prevent. So for Procera to invoke a utilities comparison as they have, takes a lot of chutzpah indeed.
And that's what makes their blog posting today such a gem for you all to emulate in the future.
OK, remember -- closed network quiz on Thursday. Next week we'll cover DMCA financial exploitation techniques.
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Greetings. It's well known that FOX "News" is anything but the "Fair and Balanced" reporting organization that their slogan proclaims.
In their coverage of the FCC's vote on weak Net Neutrality rules pending for Tuesday (expected to be in the affirmative, sure to be attacked by Big Telecom's minions in Congress, and certain to be the subject of prolonged litigation), FOX provided a particularly demonstrative example of how to deploy "Big Lie" attacks against your adversaries.
In an article today, FCC to Vote on Internet Regulation Plan Despite Economic Warnings, FOX publishes one of its typically skewed (though not quite entirely one-sided) presentations.
What's really interesting though is how FOX is currently hawking that article on their home page -- Big Brother to Oversee Your Every Web Click? [image] -- an utterly distorted, emotionally-laden Big Lie headline designed to warp the reader's viewpoint before they even get to the actual article itself.
Of course, the headline next door, "U.S. 'Under Siege By Muslims Terrorists' [sic]" is similarly alarmist, illustrating that FOX doesn't reserve its yellow journalism only for technology issues.
Apparently distorting every issue as ordered by its corporate masters is FOX's idea of "equal" coverage.
At least that's something about FOX that we can really depend upon.
Greetings. Politicians make a lot of stupid and self-serving statements for political points. Now comes word that in the UK, politicos are calling for the blocking by default of all "porn" sites. They're supporting this inane concept with the bizarre and completely inaccurate assertion that ISPs have already successfully blocked child porn in some significant way. That's a completely ridiculous claim -- the removal or blocking of certain sites says little useful about the overall universe of such materials online, especially from well cloaked sites, or via non-Web-site movement of such items through other Internet channels -- all of which are known to continue largely unabated despite Internet blocking efforts.
By the way, who gets to decide which sites qualify as "porn"? The government? Concerned citizens? A newly constituted Morality League?
Given that Google can be handy in finding any information of interest -- including everything from porn to policy to potatoes, will the UK government suggest blocking of Google by default as well? No? Then their anti-porn system may have more than a few holes. Gosh darn it, search engines have this nasty habit of finding what people want, whether or not the government moralists and protectors of the faith approve.
Hmm. What about blocking YouTube? Lots of somewhat "unwholesome" material on there, too. That's what free speech is all about. Oops, forgot, we're talking about the UK. No worries about free speech guarantees there -- no pesky constitutional Bill of Rights to get in the way of Her Majesty's thought police. Though to be fair, it's not clear how much longer the Bill of Rights will be fully operative here in the States for that matter.
Yet to assume that you could block children (except for the very youngest) from accessing materials that they really want to see is living in Fantasyland. Kids will be the first to find workaround and proxy sites -- even if they have to set up their own! And most of the parents won't be the wiser.
This appears to all be leading (and the linked article hints at this) to the requirement that Internet users only be allowed to access by default an "approved" list of sites that have been guaranteed as cleansed by the government (might want to leave out most of those pesky political sites as well, right?)
Anyone wanting access to materials on the porn list (or other broader forbidden lists) would of course be closely watched as a known pervert and/or potential enemy of the state.
Cue the Ministry of Love.
Greetings. First, I'd like to thank everyone for the outpouring of enthusiasm in reaction to my announcement of Project IDONS: Internet Distributed Open Name System.
The response has been so overwhelming that I have not yet been able to respond to most of you personally, but I've read all of your messages and I'm very grateful for your expressions of interest, specific technical and policy ideas, questions, and comments.
One thing seems pretty clear. Recent events including ICANN's moves toward obscenely expensive Top Level Domain (TLD) expansion, the increasing use of the existing Domain Name System (DNS) for censorship and other centralized control purposes, and a host of other factors, have convinced a vast number of persons that the time has come to start moving toward a new, 21st century approach to Internet naming technology, and for the existing "domain-industrial complex" to begin its ride into the sunset.
As I've previously noted, IDONS will be a very long term project, involving complex technical, policy, and even political aspects.
The number of interested parties is already far too large in my estimation for a non-threaded mailing list for other than limited announcement purposes.
To get the ball really moving, I'd appreciate your participation in the new IDONS Discussion Forums that I've set up under the auspices of GCTIP (Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance).
I know that not everyone is enthusiastic about using discussion forums, but I'd urge you to give this one a try.
Anyone can read discussions on these forums without registering. To post new threads, topics, or replies, a simple initial registration is required, but postings are not pre-moderated. The forums include a very flexible, full-text/html RSS system that works great in Google Reader or other RSS readers, to help you stay on top of new and continuing discussions. You can also go directly to the forums registration page.
At this time, I believe that the IDONS Forums provide the most practical and accessible means to foster wide-ranging discussions across a broad spectrum of associated topic areas for the project.
I hope to see you there. Let's get this show on the road. Thanks again.
Greetings. In Wikileaks Saga Reveals Governments' Hypocrisy, Deep Fear of Internet and Internet Realities: Why There May Be Many More Wikileaks , I've discussed some of the reactions to the recent Wikileaks disclosures, and how the structure of the Internet makes it virtually impossible to "stamp out" all copies of any material after they've been publicly posted.
But that's not to say that some major network entities aren't at risk from new calls to limit free speech based on claimed (even if not demonstrated) "national security" and other grounds.
You're a national government. You're royally upset about the presence of some information on the Internet that you'd prefer not be publicly available. Perhaps it's politically inconvenient data, or simply embarrassing. Whatever. You realize that you can't stamp it out at the source -- it's already been widely mirrored, and anyone can find copies with a simple search.
What do you do?
One potential answer may be painfully obvious. You try to find some way to "control" Google -- and Bing, and any other search engines of note.
The goal is clear enough. Like a book that has been incorrectly shelved in a gigantic library, the fact that "unwanted" information exists is far less troublesome if ordinary people can't easily find it. And for many people, if they can't find something on Google, it might as well not exist.
One of Google's "crown jewels" is the reverence with which they treat the "indexing rules" that provide organic (natural, non-paid) search results, even as their search quality engineers are continually and carefully tweaking the algorithms' details.
Google (quite reasonably) doesn't like to "special case" searches -- they'd much rather find algorithmic solutions with more general applicability to deal with a range of search situations.
And when Google is pushed from the outside to reveal internal information or remove specific search results (by law enforcement or whomever), Google laudably is known to be quite demanding of valid court orders or other proper legal actions -- and even then the internal debates over the appropriate response in any given case can reportedly often be quite vigorous -- a very encouraging aspect indeed.
Google correctly asserts that their search results are their opinions, and that these results are subject to full First Amendment protections.
But the rhetoric surrounding Wikileaks is spinning ever farther out of control, with demands for investigations of the New York Times and other mainstream media, proposed new laws to prohibit particular forms of speech, and calls for "cyber-counterattacks" -- not to mention utterly outrageous appeals for the illegal assassination of Wikileaks' founder.
It doesn't take a giant leap of the imagination to see how Google, Bing, and other search engines could become attractive targets -- legislatively or through more secretive demands -- for those officials and other persons in various countries who are probably already brainstorming about ways to restrict effective access to Internet information, by limiting and controlling those firms that organize and index the Web in the first place.
I hope this remains merely a theoretical, a thought experiment, a figment of concern that never materializes into hard reality.
But I believe that the associated risks in this supercharged, highly-emotional and often irrational political environment -- to Google and others -- are very real. They'd fight back of course, to the extent that it was legally possible to do so. But would they prevail? I don't think it's safe to bet the farm on that assumption these days.
It would behoove us all to start thinking right now about what we can do -- particularly as individuals dedicated to freedom of speech and civil rights, and especially for those of us that are technologically inclined -- to help Google, Bing, and other search engines avoid and if necessary mitigate the possibilities of future government attempts to mutate them from honest indexers of Internet data into government information control puppets.
This is a nightmare that we need to try prevent -- starting right now -- before it even has a chance to be more than a glimmer in the eyes of those who so desperately wish to remake the Internet in their own fundamentally repressive image.
Greetings. It's been a while since the last posting of archival video from my Betamax Extraction Project, but today's installment is very special, and should be of particular interest to anyone who works with video.
The 21st century digital video world is a veritable alphabet soup of competing and often incompatible formats, codecs, and aspect ratios. MPEG, Flash, H.264, WebM, the list of buzzwords seems almost endless. The casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that this complexity is new to computer-based video processing, but in reality "format wars" related to video -- and television broadcasting -- date back many decades, and the incompatibilities that come with them can even impact politics, free speech, privacy, and other critical aspects of society.
Today's video consists mainly of recovered clips I've assembled from a wonderful 1978 television program called Fast Forward. From incompatible color and TV broadcasting standards (and their sometimes complex relationship with national politics), to the bizarre world of differing videotape formats, this is a wonderful trip down memory lane by a program that tried quite successfully to make geeky subjects interesting to mass audiences.
It's amazing to see how far we've come in some respects, and how aspects of confusion present in 1978 technologies are still with us today as we've traveled the long path from NTSC to YouTube. And the cost factors are also fascinating to consider -- note the awe with which one speaker explains how you can now buy videocassette recorders for only around $1000! And remember, that's 1978 dollars. Believe me, he's not kidding either. Back then, home videotaping seemed magical at any price (and the tapes were damned expensive too, by the way).
The clips also feature appearances by esteemed television engineer, consultant, and global speaker Joe Roizen, who unfortunately passed away suddenly in 1989. In these segments, including ones where he explains the "NIH" (Not Invented Here) engineering principle, his tongue-in-cheek universal TV color system "Nutseqamir," test patterns, and other topics, you can see the joy -- and humor -- with which he could explain these highly technical topics. His children have a very nice site dedicated to Joe that is very much worth visiting.
Finally, as usual, I have included some other video goodies successfully extracted from the Vortex Videotape Archive (not necessarily from the same year as the main material), and have slotted them in at the beginning and end of the full video compilation. Note in particular how a lottery rehearsal came very close to invoking Satan -- or at least a permissive Unix/Linux protection mode!
1978 Video: TV and Video Formats Madness - A Twisted Path to YouTube!
Greetings. The quotes from mainstream media pundits are all over the news. "Wikileaks' Julian Assange should be assassinated -- Obama should order a drone hit!" "Assange is like a James Bond villain!" "Assange should be hung by his balls in a public square!" And so on.
Meanwhile, Internet domain and hosting companies, PayPal, and presumably nearly everyone else who has either gotten a private call from one or more government officials -- or are trying to head off those calls -- are pulling domain names and payment mechanisms out from under Wikileaks faster than you can say "Sensitive Compartmented Information."
A cynical observer might almost imagine that there was an orchestrated plan afoot to focus attention on the messenger -- rather than the messages.
And yet, if we step back a bit and survey this situation with a bit of objectivity, we can see that the reaction to the latest Wikileaks saga is probably far more important in the long run than the content of the leaked diplomatic cables themselves.
Various commentators have noted that successfully prosecuting Assange for anything related to this release is definitely not a slam dunk. Forget about treason -- he's not a U.S. citizen. The 1917 Espionage Act has -- as far as I know -- never been successfully used against a media release of classified information, and attempts to declare mainstream media (who are also releasing this data) as immune, but a primarily Internet-based operation like Wikileaks to be culpable, seem problematic at best.
The politicians and "political analysts" from both major parties are piling on of course. As usual, Sen. Joe Lieberman is demonstrating his "we don't need no stinkin' civil liberties" attitude by launching new legislative efforts to criminalize information releases. Over on CNN, a pair of left/right-wing talking heads maligned Republican Congressman Ron Paul -- calling him a "nut" and a "Martian" among other things -- in response to Paul's suggestion that there might be some free speech issues involved in the Wikileaks case.
And a spin right out of the Twilight Zone has already begun as well, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton now suggesting that the leaked cables show how professional U.S. diplomacy really is (fascinating, though I will agree that many of the documents show very high quality writing skills indeed!)
Also from Fantasyland, we have the U.S. government ordering government workers not to look at any of the leaked information now widely publicly available -- even from their personal, home computers. Perhaps at the last minute the government removed text also ordering workers not to think about pink elephants, either.
Assange has quite a swagger, and does not come across as a particularly likable fellow, which both play into the hands of his adversaries, and helps them minimize facts like Wikileaks' prior outreach to governments offering to redact aspects of the materials before release. If you make yourself easily demonized, you shouldn't be surprised when you find your yearbook image released to the media complete with Photoshopped horns and pointed tail.
Amidst all this, the secondary attacks have already begun. Media commentators have expressed disdain that various bloggers and tech world "luminaries" have publicly noted concerns about the manner in which attacks on Wikileaks have unfolded. Whether those concerns are focused on Wikileaks itself, or on the free speech implications of trying to shut down Wikileaks' domain names and sites, the implication is that anyone not enthusiastically volunteering to personally pull the electrocution switch on Assange is obviously either an idiot, un-American, or both.
There is indeed considerable concern in the technology community -- especially the Internet community per se -- about the reactions to Wikileaks. I personally suspect that there are at least two aspects to this.
On one hand, there are many in the Internet community who feel very strongly that free speech in most situations should get highest priority, unless genuine, imminent danger would be associated with such speech. Given that the material released by Wikileaks from SIPRNET was all classified Secret or lower -- and had been made officially available en masse to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Defense Department operatives, it seems difficult to realistically argue about horrendous, imminent threats to result from the leaking of those materials. If they were so critical, why were they given such low security classifications? Why were they made so widely and easily stolen by low-level personnel -- almost guaranteeing a leak of some sort at some point given the nature of the Internet.
What those leaked cables mainly represent is an embarrassment. And a key reason they are so embarrassing is that they expose the deep and enduring hypocrisies of governments around the world -- including the U.S. -- not only in the ways that they deal with each other, but in the manner of the subtle fibs and outright lies that they disseminate to their own citizenries. Naturally though, governments consider it their prerogative to publicly leak whatever aspects of such information their deem useful in the furtherance of their own objectives. But woe to anyone else who dares to assume such an aspect uninvited and unapproved.
And this may best describe what could be the second reason many in the Internet tech community are concerned about the reaction to the Wikileaks disclosures. My own sense is that tech types -- geeks -- whatever you want to call them (including myself), often have a lower tolerance to hypocrisy than many persons in the general population. Perhaps that's from spending so much time dealing with the more "absolute" world of software and systems, where the sort of "fabric of lies" that seems to underly so much of international diplomacy would be utterly unacceptable and disastrous. Some may argue that such falsehoods are necessary to the smooth functioning of diplomacy itself. If that's true, the Internet indeed poses enormous problems for the diplomatic corps.
In this context, we can actually begin to "connect the dots" in interesting and perhaps enlightening ways.
The Internet virtually guarantees that information once leaked can never be effectively blocked -- a fact that holds true for Wikileaks data of course, but Wikileaks is just the tip of the iceberg moving forward.
Overall this is an utterly terrifying concept to governments, in a manner that has never existed before in human history. Even the invention of the printing press, for all the furor surrounding it, did not so utterly decimate the ability to control the flow of information.
In many parts of the world -- now increasingly including the U.S. as well -- any entity that creates information, releases information, or organizes and helps people find information -- and who doesn't also strictly toe the government line, risks being declared, if not an enemy of the state, at least a subject of suspicion.
So we see governments striking back, attempting to get the Internet "under control" -- in a desperate push to bring back the good old days of information authority.
The domain name system is being increasingly used as a law enforcement and censorship tool. Governments around the planet are demanding that the Internet and all systems associated with the Internet be modified or purpose-built to enable easy government wiretapping and disabling of any associated encryption systems.
Calls for government-issued Internet access credentials wouldn't only help to reveal who downloaded a movie without paying for it, but also whose roving eyes have peered at the latest information leak or other unapproved forbidden fruits of the Net.
We seem to be approaching something of a "perfect storm" of events, where the technology and policies of the Internet are colliding head-on with many traditional sensibilities of government.
While we can always hope for a reasoned "meeting of the minds" to amicably deal with such controversies, the realities of politics today, and in particular the reactions to the ongoing Wikileaks saga, make this something considerably less than a comfortable bet.
Julian Assange is not a hero. Nor does he appear to be a devil -- the requisite evil intent seems absent. Even many free speech advocates would call his methodology misguided. Whether or not his methods are criminal is thankfully not for me to determine (however if they are indeed determined to be criminal, mainstream media may wish to consider seriously ramping up their legal teams, post haste).
Regardless of how you feel about the Wikileaks data itself -- the actual content of those cables -- and no matter where you stand regarding the propriety or recklessness of Assange's methods, he may well have done us all an enormous favor.
Through his actions, and critically through the resulting publicly visible reactions of government, media, and their associates and minions, the coming conflict between media, government, and the Internet has been drawn into starker relief than perhaps ever before.
But what will we learn from this? Where do we go from here?
How many really care?