Wednesday, September 29, 2010

FBI Wants to Read Your Facebook Messages

Being a programmer and not the biggest fan of government intervention in general due to the unintended consequences it usually delivers, I think this is an awful idea. Imagine that every app that is designed, every website that is built, and every tool that is used to allow people to communicate required additional features to allow the government to decrypt the messages it sends and receives. This would take valuable time to build for each developer, would be incredibly expensive overall and would create a barrier to entry for the little guy who wants to learn to program and release some software. Additionally, it could create new technical limitations for developers and could seriously stifle flexibility in some cases. This is the type of innovation inhibitor the country does not need, especially in our current economic climate.

Also, what's the point? What would stop a terrorist organization from writing their own program that didn't incorporate the government mandated decryption capabilities? How would they even know? The only software and websites that would comply with such a mandate would likely have no need for such a "protection".

Additionally, government already generally has access to this type of data via subpoena. They can already subpoena Verizon for example to get your text messages, or Google to get your chat messages or emails even if the government doesn't have the power to secretly decrypt the messages themselves. This bill would only force the terrorist communication away from mainstream communication methods and into the underground where subpoena power cannot find it.

All of that aside, opening a hole intended for use only by the government would almost inevitably lead to new security risks all over the place exposing personal and privater data to malicious eyes (A.K.A. domestic and international terrorists).

Where is this coming from?
Knowing this, why would the government want to implement such a bill? The only reason I can imagine would be to poke a foot in the door to something the government has wanted for quite some time, and has seen some success at achieving.

With the unique challenges that fighting "terror" (which is really a vague term for anyone who opposes the U.S. in its current form and could potentially do the country or its citizens harm), we have had to sacrifice some of our principles to be effective. Not only have we adopted a policy of "pre-emptive war" with other countries and groups (possibly Iran now too if we aren't careful), but the government has also expressed interest in identifying potential patterns in communication in order to identify 'terror' before it happens. The only problem is they are applying this pattern detection to political groups critical of the government, which happen to be the ones who fight for real change, protest, or push back at big brother at all. The term terrorism was redefined with the passing of the Patriot Act, and today it is quite easy to label a group of fed up citizens who protest government policy as domestic terrorists (see article from the ACLU). Knowing that any citizen who becomes politically involved can be easily labeled a domestic terrorist, passing of legislation like this means those individuals can be spied on legally not only over the phone, text message, email, etc but in private online communities as well. Don't believe the government would label a peaceful political activist as a terrorist? There are already over 1 million names on the terror watch list. What about mistakes?

And even if they pass legislation making it legal only when a warrant is issues, it's not like they haven't taken it too far before:

There are hundreds of videos, documentaries and articles like the ones I've posted here outlining details about how the government has taken their intelligence authority too far. Unfortunately it has often been to the detriment of the American people it is intended to protect.

Update: New related info out today. The EFF's FOIA request shows that internal government memos encourage agents to befriend people on facebook in an effort to receive information about them (without a warrant or even probable cause required of course). Source:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Great Tea Party Hijack of 2010 Chronicled in Video

I'm afraid the new Tea Party movement is a hybrid comprised of
- the powerful force of frustrated Americans who are tired of politics as usual in Washington
- political opportunists, neo-conservatives & career politicians who see these frustrated Americans as a free ticket to political power.

First let me say, I am one of those fed up Americans. I have followed the real roots of the Tea party since it began to gain traction a couple of years ago to its current state. I have seen the principles on which it is founded begin to resonate with the people as many as ten years ago. I want the Tea Party to be a legitimate representation of this, and to exemplify the incredible grass roots movement I have seen break out across the country since some time in 2007. Unfortunately, the only real tea party candidates who truly represent these ideals are not getting the exposure they need to win their races, or are having a tough time sealing the victory, unlike these new "tea party" candidates like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska. I am afraid these candidates are a compromise given to the people by the powers that be in order to calm the rough seas the GOP find themselves in. I'm afraid they may be designed to help the people feel as though they finally have a say in their government only to give them some of what they want while continuing the endless printing of money and distraction of tireless war. These are the principles neo-conservatives hold closest to their hearts.

Who Started the REAL Tea Party?
The Tea Party we see today is a hijacked version of the true Tea Party. To distinguish the two, I will refer to the movement of the real grassroots (the movement I myself identify with) as the Liberty Movement, and the current more mainstream movement as the Tea Party.

For a long time now, the Liberty movement has been festering like a south Atlantic low pressure system in hurricane season. George W. Bush was elected on a platform for non interventionism and no nation building in 2000. Cutting taxes, getting the government out of our hair, these were all things Bush campaigned on. Unfortunately, as we know, he did not follow through on these things (nation building wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, massive stimulus spending, erosion of civil liberties through the patriot act). We got more of the same. Politicians telling us what they knew we wanted to hear:

The Liberty Movement began to take real form during the race for President in 2008 with the grassroots following that swelled up underneath Texas congressman Ron Paul. The grass roots tidal wave was so strong that his supporters (not his official campaign) organized mass donations in large collectives called money bombs. On Dec 16th 2007 Ron Paul's campaign received an astounding $6 million and change ENTIRELY FROM THE GRASS ROOTS. To this day it is the largest single day haul from any campaign. They also rented a blimp that flew up and down the East coast, something that also had never been done in a presidential campaign, and something that was not organized by the campaign itself but by the grass roots supporters alone. This of course is impressive, but the incredible part is that this was done without the large donations from special interest groups and big corporations that the mainstream media's favorite candidates were receiving at the time. Possibly even more incredible is the fact that this was orchestrated at a time when Dr. Paul's campaign was entirely drowned out by a complete media blackout. In fact, even though Paul:
- defeated some front-runners in early primaries

- crushed every presidential internet poll

- earned record breaking support from individuals across the country (even though it was reported as just over 4 million in 24 hours instead of 6 million total)

- won numerous text polls hosted by the national media (which they publicly marginalized)

- and was by far the favorite of major information hubs like Youtube, Digg, and other community based websites
he was minimized by the media at every pass and received a fraction of a percentage of the media coverage given to their favorite candidates, and was not invited to some of the most important Republican primary debates like the one hosted by Fox News in New Hampshire in 2008

Naturally, his supporters became furious and vowed to continue fighting for the sake of the liberty message. When the time came for Paul to back out of the race he realized a movement had begun, and that he should stay involved and continue to stoke the fire that his campaign had started in America. He created the Campaign for Liberty, a political action committee designed to help his grass roots supporters to continue their mission of pushing for Limited government, less taxes, less spending, sound money, less regulation and government intervention in the affairs of Americans, strong national defense without engaging in entangling alliances and unending undeclared wars, and strict protection of our civil liberties granted by the constitution. These are the principles Paul has stood for since he was first elected to congress in 1978. These are the principles at the foundation of the Liberty movement, and they are also the principles adopted in part by the Tea Party in an effort to lure an existing grass roots movement into the fold of a few players seeking to advance their own political power.

The first Tea Parties began to organize. The grass roots recognized the similarities in their principles and began to accept the Tea Party as a route to further the liberty message. Some of the grass roots favorites began to attend Tea Parties. They would speak at these events and naturally the amount of skepticism held by the original grass roots members of the Liberty movement faded. At times, their differences would flare up, but mostly the Tea Party organizers stayed quiet on the topics that would discourage their new found grass roots members and chose instead to focus on their similarities.

Suddenly, the folks who bankrolled many of the tea party events began to fund new Tea Party candidates who were unknowns to the grass roots. When the mainstream media started to announce big upsets in the senate races and the uprising of the Tea Party, the grassroots communities that remained from Ron Paul's presidential campaign and worked tirelessly supporting their own liberty candidates were a bit confused. How is it that they have never heard of Christine O'Donnell?
How were they unfamiliar with Joe Miller?
It is simply because these are results of the 'Establishment' version of the Liberty movement, dubbed the Tea Party. The strategic hijacking had brought the Liberty movement grass roots into the fold and had tricked them into gaining attention for candidates that didn't necessarily agree with many of the core principles Ron Paul had ran on in 2008.

The difference between the two groups are not subtle so far, but with any luck the principles of the Liberty movement will overshadow those of the current Tea Party candidates who seem to be making it into the house and senate. The Tea Party seems more accepting of pre-emptive war under the banner of "National Defense". They generally support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are open to war with Iran (or if they do not support these wars they certainly don't say so publicly).

These new Tea Party candidates tend to be very scant on details. Their websites and interviews proudly boast the easy things like "shrink government" and "cut taxes" but the devil is in the details... details that don't seem to be available to the tea party voters. The modern Tea Party candidates say they would like to cut taxes and shrink government, but they can never seem to articulate what departments would be cut, or where the shrinkage would occur. This has never been a problem for the Liberty movement. They have always been very specific in discussing the details of government waste and what departments we need to rid ourselves of. You certainly never hear them say "End the Fed", which has become a thunderous mantra of the Liberty movement grass roots. You will not hear them question any specific establishment. Instead the message is generalized and vague. To me, these are bright red flags.

The true liberty candidates are having a much tougher time, probably because that establishment money isn't flowing in like it is for the Tea Party candidates who are virtually unknown to the original grass roots community. There have been many grass roots candidates endorsed by Ron Paul. John Dennis is running against Nancy Pelosi in California. This race has had lots of attention from the grass roots because Dennis is a true Liberty candidate completely in line with the Ron Paul principles established during his campaign. Dennis, running in a large state like California, however has not receive anywhere near the campaign contributions that O'Donnell did, and that has everything to do with where the money is coming from. For John Dennis it is coming almost entirely from the grass roots Liberty movement. For O'Donnell it is coming from the wealthy hijackers looking to absorb the liberty movement into the Establishment GOP. Peter Schiff was running in the Connecticut Senate race and was beaten down by a WWE (Wrestling) Executive with boat loads of cash. Again a true Liberty candidate with tons of grass roots support, but just not enough money to make it all the way. Rand Paul having the most name recognition of any Liberty candidate so far managed to win his primary and he may just make it into the Senate, but even Paul has had to face a real uphill battle against Establishment candidates. Other true Liberty candidates include Jake Towne, Clint Didier, and B.J. Lawson, none of which have raised money like O'Donnell has. It goes to show you what kind of power is wielded by the tag team effort of the establishment GOP and the mainstream media.

I'm not saying that this movement as a whole is a horrible thing. I'm saying that we need to be very careful about unwittingly compromising our principles under the "safety" of the tea party flag. Ron Paul himself sums it up quite well:

Who is trying to ride the Liberty Coat Tails?
The candidates being elected under the Tea Party banner are only a small piece of the hijacked pie. The true orchestrators behind the hijack of one of the most revolutionary movements in American history to my knowledge are Dick Armey & Freedomworks, Newt Gingritch, Sarah Palin, and possibly even Mike Huckabee. Weather or not these people are planning a grand absorption of a strong political movement, they are certainly wide eyed with enthusiasm about the possibility of using the fired up masses to their advantage.

Which political philosophy will win in the end?
We have a Libertarian leaning movement that was born from the Ron Paul revolution and those neo-conservatives of the Washington Republican "brand" meeting in the middle to topple the existing Democratic leadership. The question remains, which philosophy will last in the long run and what will the confused mixture that is the Tea Party emerge as in its final form? Will we have a Republican party that returns to its roots of limited government and fiscal responsibility as well as being responsible international citizens? or will be continue the war mongering and quantitative easing loved so dearly by the neo-conservative republican establishment?

Thanks to the internet's role in politics I think the people are awake now, and I do not think we will be fooled. We are no longer forced to listen to what big media wants us to hear. We are no longer limited in what information we receive.

If you want to know what is happening with the true liberty movement, read The Daily Paul. Remember who Fox News is. Remember who MSNBC is. Remember who CNN is. Also Russia Today, BBC, and every other big media outlet. Take them with a grain of salt. Keep an open mind. Research on YouTube. Research on Wikipedia. Research on Wikileaks. Research on Google. Search for your questions and find your own answers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Net Neutrality - A Tougher Issue Thank You Think

Net Neutrality has been a hot topic for a while. The fear that corporations would bundle each and every website into 'packages' like cable TV is enough to scare most people into supporting net neutrality at face value, but is that the only side to the argument that the American people need be concerned with? Is this the only thing we have to be afraid of?


There are more than two sides to this story this time around. We have in one corner, the service providers who would love to squeeze every extra ounce of cash from the internet as possible (the blessing and curse of capitalism). In the next corner, you have the government. They tend to gradually grow, consuming private businesses and private interests "for our own good" in each industry they become involved. Then they waste a ton of money on them, use them as political weapons and ultimately siphon money from the American people into the hands of those who are in charge of programs via taxes and inflation. Then in yet another corner we have the American people.

What are we really asking for in net neutrality?

We are asking to be left alone. We are afraid of having a free and open internet dismantled, censored, ruined. We're afraid that the likes of companies like Comcast in all its wisdom will make deals with other companies and giving traffic priority and an unfair competitive advantage over the smaller mom and pop shop, or even personal blogs. We're afraid that these companies could give us access to only pieces of the internet, charging us more for each additional chunk we would like access to.

In normal free markets this is no real concern because competition will eliminate most bad practices, however in the internet service game, we have a country divided up into groups where companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast enjoy regional monopolies. They have no REAL competition, and therefore not nearly as much of an incentive to give us what we really want instead of what would earn them the most money.

So our solution is to ask the government to step in to protect us.... but hold on just one second.

We are starting to realize that if the government steps in to rescue the people from the big bad companies, we will be following a trend that we have seen become all too real in recent months. I'm not going to argue the point, but I think most Americans agree that we should have reservations about government involvement in anything that we wish to remain free (as in freedom, not cost), open (as in everyone has equal access), and unrestricted (as in our first amendment right to freedom of speech). The government has imposed warrentless wiretapping on American citizens, demanded our personal information from Google and countless other companies (citing reasons other than court ordered subpoenas), and has even used any information it could get from the internet to go after citizens for additional taxes.

Barack has come out in support of Net Neutrality.

The things Obama mentions in this video are fantastic, and a sentiment that I think most people would generally agree with wholeheartedly. The problem is, what sort of slippery slope are we opening ourselves up to by allowing the government to regulate the internet in new ways? What sort of new regulations will they add on year after year? How can we be sure future regulations will always be in the true interest of the people and not of the spend happy politicians who need new sources of tax revenue? What happens when there is an incentive for government to ask for more, and then more again?

The question becomes "who do you trust more?" A company who has a regional monopoly and not grounded by the same capitalist forces that keep other companies in check (competition), OR the government, who has shown us that they do not care about your privacy, or about how they spend our money?

So what is the solution? If we can't trust big companies to look after us, and we cant trust big government, where do we turn?

I don't know the clear answer, but I believe it lies in the principles of our republic. When our founders constructed the constitution, they decided that a government could grow to become oppressive and unfair, and it needed the will of the people to provide the authority and keep it in check. It also realized that the people could band together and create a majority that could overpower the smaller less popular ideas unfairly, trampling the god given rights of the minority. This is why they designed the first ten amendments to the constitution. It was a document that took precedence over the will of the majority AND the will of the government. We need a bill of rights (of sorts) for the internet to protect us against both the government, the will of the majority, and the service providers. We also need a way to introduce true competition into the internet service provider market to stimulate competition and in turn produce a better end result for all internet users.

I imagine it would look something like this (extremely rough, and I'm sure some of this is entirely unfeasible, but it should get you thinking...).
Note: The following text is meant to serve individual persons using the internet. Corporations are not considered persons in the scope of the following text.

1. Extend the 1st amendment to specifically cover the internet as well. Each individual has an equal right to express and publish opinion in whatever manner they wish on the internet so long as it does not violate the inalienable rights of another.

2. A user has the right to use his service however he wishes, and should not be subject to any probe or investigation without a court order. This includes identifying the type of traffic that is being transmitted for any reason other than to gather information relevant to the sale of said service. Any data collected in this way must be private and not disclosed in any way that could identify the user without a court order.

3. Extend the 4th Amendment, specifically defining infringement on internet privacy without probable cause and a search warrant as an unreasonable search. This will still allow authorities to obtain a warrant, but aside from that any identifying data, even if identifiable by associative means, that is collected about an individual by a service provider cannot be sold, traded, or disclosed without the clear consent of that user. Any such request by the service provider must give the user an opportunity to opt out, and such option shall always be chosen by default.

4. At no time should any user's access be restricted or limited intentionally. All content should be delivered to the user with an equal priority.

5. A user cannot be charged for access to the internet on any basis other than the cost to deliver that access. Cost to deliver access should not be manipulated in order to change this cost.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Beware The Copyright Troll!

It turns out our grief stricken country is being slapped with yet another epidemic, and this one reeks of the immoral fungi that has grown on the corpse of traditional American values.

The law has yet to adapt to the information age apparently as ethically challenged lawyers like Steve Gibson of Righthaven LLC (a Copyright Holding Company) and greedy businessmen like Sherman Frederick of the Las Vegas Review Journal have partnered up to squeeze bloggers into forking over thousands of dollars for (get this) giving their website traffic! Now I can tell you that if I wrote an article, and a website picked it up and linked to it, I would be thrilled to have so many eyes on something that I had put together. These moral cripples however see dollar signs, and stab the very people who make their websites successful right in the face, all while spewing a misleading sob story of a company who is being taken advantage of by the evil bloggers of the world.

You see, the Las Vegas Review Journal (don't bother visiting their website, they apparently do not want you to visit, and I'd rather not be sued) among other companies have decided to launch lawsuits against tons of bloggers for quoting their articles on their blogs, and linking to them. Some of the websites being sued are developed from user submitted content, meaning the site owner is not even the one who posted the reference to the LVRJ article!

Trolling for intellectual property infringement in the digital space is nothing new. The RIAA, MPAA, and now the MAFIAA have heavy handily wielded their legal prowess against thousands of average Americans who are hardly in the position to pay the substantial damages the law currently demands for a conviction in such cases. They have even sued for the actions of children in the past. As a result, the fear of enormous damages and the promise of substantial legal fees is usually enough to scare John Doe into scraping together all the money he can afford in order to make the suit go away, likely leaving him in debt. This type of prosecution, although having serious morality issues, is not nearly as malicious as the "Righthaven Brand" of intellectual property trolling. The difference is, these people are clearly not interested in stopping the infringement. In fact, the several links scattered across each article to subscribe to an RSS feed, share, print and email the article could easily be construed as encouragement for the exact opposite.

In addition, traditional DMCA infringement cases begin with a cease and desist letter. Righthaven however has found a loophole in the DCMA requiring websites to be registered with the US copyright office in order to receive the safe harbor protections that require a letter to be sent demanding the removal of infringing content in order for the case to be heard by the court.

The fact that Righthaven specifically avoids sending notice to potential defendants further illustrates their true motive of extracting quick settlements from frightened and blindsided citizens.

In the copyright notice for Stephen's Media (parent company of LVRJ), you can see where they are trying to draw the line:

"Stephens Media welcomes hypertext links to its electronically-published textual content. The appropriate method for linking to Stephens Media content is to post only the headline and the first paragraph of a story and then a link to the original textual material."

Anyone living on this planet knows that posting only the headline of an article is unrealistic. To quote a sentence or two from an article to make a point or discussion about the facts contained within an article is common. We do it all the time in our everyday conversations. Take a look at and see how many thousands of articles were posted today in the very same way. It is considered bad form to steal someone's idea and rearrange the facts as if it were your own original research, but apparently, that's what Righthaven would rather? I seriously doubt that. To try and threaten someone with the draconian damages that are attached to copyright infringement for following a social norm is preposterous, especially when it poses no identifiable damage to the original publisher. Instead of damaging the publisher, being linked to from a successful blog or websites is among the most desirable outcomes of a successfully written article.

The Rumors:
The real entertainment in all of this comes into play when taking a look at the potential connection between the strategy of Righthaven LLC and the agenda of the Obama administration. Although there is no provable or documented relationship between the two, there certainly are some interesting ties.

A quick look at Steve Gibson's work history shows that he worked at Sidley Austin LLP. This is the same firm where Barack and Michelle Obama first met, and both worked as associates. Michelle Obama also worked in the same practice area as Gibson, Intellectual Property Law. The question becomes whether or not they crossed paths in some way? In all fairness the firm's Chicago office has over 500 attorneys now, who knows how many they had in 1990. Also a closer look seems to show that by the time Obama left Sidley Austin, Gibson was just finishing law school.

In addition to the Sidley Austin connection between these three, there is another major player who fits into this Chicago Law firm connection. Victoria Espinel was appointed by Barack Obama as the Copyright Czar. She also worked as an attorney specializing in Intellectual Property Law for Sidley Austin in Chicago. She is now tasked with enforcing the Intellectual Property Rights Act which was passed in 2008. Not surprisingly, she received several letters of recommendation, many of which were lobbying organizations for the RIAA and MPAA like The Copyright Alliance and the National Music Publishers' Association, as well as a letter from the MPAA itself.

To tie it all up, there are of course the numerous statements President Obama has made in regard to his feeling about the new age of widely published public opinion:

How can we act?

Weather or not you believe the story goes all the way to the Whitehouse, I would expect most would recognize the threat this sort of legal argument could pose to the voice of the people against the backdrop of a powerful media driven national viewpoint. The internet has been a conduit by which the voice of the people has been able to reach new levels of exposure. It has informed, educated, and exposed, and reminded us of people and ideas that have been traditionally placed into the shadows by the media's big decision makers. So, while the internet is still free, it is our greatest weapon.

- Do not link to any articles by the LVRJ or any of their sister websites. While you're at it, stay away from any of Righthaven's client websites too. This only increases their link popularity.
- Block companies that enjoy this sort of thing outright. You can do this by adding the lines of text from this post to your computer's hosts file. =)
- Right a message to the site's sponsors informing them of the misconduct of their advertiser.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Myth of a Biased Internet on "Conspiracy Theories"

It's no secret I am a documentary junkie. Many of the millions of published documentaries seem to present a clear point of view on a given topic. Some try to give a fair account of both sides on the subject of the argument, but usually there is a conclusion that is subtly made by the creator.

Last night I watched a frontline special called The Vaccine War. I have heard of the argument that mandated vaccination is necessary as well as those who claim vaccination can be harmful and cause things like Autism. This particular documentary clearly came down on the side of vaccination. I don't mind documentaries having an opinion. I can decider the arguments for myself and do further research to draw an educated conclusion, and I even disagree with the conclusion film makers come to in many cases.

The problem with this documentary is one that permiated many films I have seen and I have a very serious beef with it. In this example, when those who claimed Vaccinations were necessary life saving mechanisms they also claimed that the internet was largely responsible for the flaring up or a movement of angry parents who incorrectly blame the vaccination process for a serious condition their children "contracted" shortly after being vaccinated. These people claim that the internet is a place where conspiracy theories tend to be more popular than common sense, and an interesting story about "the man" forcing harmful vaccinations into babies catches like wildfire only because people love a good horror story, and these conditions are typically discovered around the same age that vaccinations are given whose coincidence further fuels the angry mob. I believe the internet empowers individuals who normally have no real voice to easily challenge an establishment that they normally would have no means to. No establishment wants to accept a blame for harming human life and so the incentive to uncover an ugly truth does not exist among those in the best position to do so.

This argument has been used to attack those who believe in all sorts of theories and political positions which are much more prevalent on the internet than in the "real world", but I do not believe that free unfiltered speech is the reason for this. I think terrible coincidences should be debated, argued and either confirmed or exposed. The internet pointing out an issue is important, even when a movement is completely wrong. These issues will sometimes be correct, and in that case they will ultimately save lots of lives and correct lots of wrongdoing and corruption in the world. Videos usually have rating systems. Videos are also linked to on websites and blogs when people either agree with them or publish something debunking the theory. These topics catch fire when they have some sustainable merit without adequate opposing viewpoints. There are lots of wacky topics that receive huge amounts of criticism on the internet, and this is the public's way of filtering out the garbage while maintaining the right of individuals to express what it is they believe. To assume I am stupid enough to read only one side of an argument and take up arms against a cause without considering the other side is only valid when the other side of the argument is not available, and in the modern free and open internet this does not happen. Why do established industries feel they are better equipped to come to a valid conclusion than the people are? If there is a competing argument, it will be brought up in comments, blogs, and articles across the internet and anyone researching a topic would not be able to avoid an opposing viewpoint. It is a wonderful example of free speach and to blame this mechanism for causing harm or to suggest it be changed is not only shameful, it would violate our First amendment to free speech which has been a cornerstone to our country's success.

This is something that is coming up frequently these days. Many countries have begun passing legislation curbing free speech on the internet, most notably China. Australia and many other freedom oriented countries have begun to followed suit, including the United States. Consider this video where President Obama tells graduating students that widespread information is dangerous, and that we should channel this information by "educating" people. To me, all information is educational, not only the education provided by those who decide our curriculum. I fear this type of mindset is incredibly dangerous to our sustained freedom.

Consider Wikipedia. The service is a shining example of how the internet as a whole comes to valid and rational conclusions. It is often criticized for being susceptible to misinformation contributed by an "uneducated" public, but any study performed shows the information found in the articles to be as credible and accurate as our highest standards for factual literature such as Britannica [Example]. The internet community as a whole is brilliant, and does not need regulations to protect it from itself, such as limiting or censoring the information which is contributed in any way. To do so, even with the best and most carefully considered intentions, can only undermine the power and accuracy that only free and unbridled speech can provide.

That said, on this particular topic, there are many people who blame vaccinations for serious conditions. I believe this is entirely possible especially given the inclusion of ingredients that we know to be toxins associates with many conditions, but the numbers are very slight and could be completely coincidental. Unfortunately disease and misfortune are parts of life which are unavoidable. The evidence on both sides are circumstantial until we can scientifically rule out each scenario. Some of the scenarios seem to have been ruled out which is fantastic, but to put the argument to rest, clinical studies need to be performed until either every scenario is tested with no link found to the illnesses said to be caused by vaccinations, or a scenario is identified where serious conditions are increased under a specific vaccination combination and the effected children are studied to help determine what is unique about them that they contracted a disease or condition as a result. There is just not enough evidence to make a determination in either direction, however wherever there are questionable or untested results, parents should be presented with the statistics of questionable side effects for their consideration, and information about the diseases these vaccinations prevent against. Under no circumstance should an individual be mandated to be vaccinated. This is a basic human right to own your body and be responsible for your child's health which should never be violated. Unless a parent is knowingly doing harm to their child they should be in charge of the decisions and have the right to protect their child against potential danger as they see fit. Violations of human rights, no matter how small, tend to be further exploited in order to justify further violations in the future which long term can be far move dangerous than any condition no matter how widespread.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Basics of Reversing (Reverse Engineering)

If you aren't into challenges, have never looked at a Rubik's cube as anything but a colorful plastic square, suck at math, are regularly infuriated by computers, and have zero patience, you can stop reading now, there is nothing for you here beyond this sentence. For the rest of you, read on...

Every now and then I come across a topic I am simultaneously unfamiliar and fascinated with. Recently this as been reversing (and yes I'm talking about reverse engineering software, not taking apart your cable box to try and figure out how to get more channels you cheapskate). I have had my share of brushes with reverse engineering, and most of us probably have without knowing it. Anyone who has been exposed to a 'cracked' version of a program, run an anti malware application, got a computer virus, used a key generator, watched a 'backed up' DVD, or used a patch to modify the way a program runs (like removing a nag screen or something similar) has been blessed with the byproduct of reverse engineering software.

In short, reversing is looking at the files that make up a program, and using tools to peek inside, prod around, and find ways to tweak the files and make the system behave the way you want it to. The amount of changes you can make to a binary application are obviously limited and it can be very complex, time consuming and challenging, but the end result is unbelievably rewarding.

Of course I'm not condoning pirating software or violating any applications terms of use agreement, but these sorts of intense puzzles are far more entertaining than sudoku or a Rubik's cube, and can yield some pretty cool results while strengthening your general understanding of exactly how applications work at the ground level. For example, reversing is a powerful tool used to thwart malware and is one of the ways anti spyware/malware applications are able to remove those nasties from an infected system. Awwww, thanks reverse engineering! It is also very useful to developers who want to make their application more secure, after all you have to know how people break into them in order to protect against it (like that movie where Martin Laurence is a thief who becomes a cop and ends up finding out he's pretty good at catching thieves... yea kind of like that).

The thing I've really found interesting is how many new areas studying this topic really opens up. It forces you to delve into assembly language for example, and understand the transmission of network packets at a very different level. Diving into these subjects introduces tools and techniques that are applicable to so many troubleshooting tasks that it can really improve your capabilities as a tech person in virtually any area of expertise.

To get your feet wet, I would recommend searching youtube for videos on ollydbg, IDA pro, (both disassemblers), DeObfuscation, unpacking, and revers engineering in general. Also get familiar with hex editors and what they can be used for, decompilers like flasm and sothink for flash decompilation, etc. etc. etc.

Here are a couple links to sites with lots of different tools you can play with:
RCE's tool library

And here is a list of some other apps that I've been toying with as of late:
XVI32, Hex Workshop, PEid, .NET Reflector, OllyDBG, IDA Pro

more reversing resources:
RCE Messageboard - be sure to check out the FAQ, tons of great information on there.
Lena's tutorial series - An excellent set of 40 tutorials including demo files, videos, documentation and even the freeware apps you'll need to get started. Highly recommended.

Bottom line is, if you're not familiar with any of these things, that's ok, you've just got a lot of toying around to do. If you want to try cracking a very simple application, check out - they keep a repository of older versions of all types of popular software that is much less complex and easier to crack than then more heavily protected modern applications (of course this is a sweeping generalization and not universally applicable).

And of course what would a blog post be without a couple little videos to show you what the hell I'm talking about:

Happy reversing =)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Starcraft 2 Closed Beta Lanches

Blizzard announced today that the multiplayer beta test for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is now underway. The client downloader is available through for people who have received invites, and the system requirements have been posted as well. A list of known issues is up on the official forums.

Lots of questions about the Beta have been answered by Blizzard on a German website You can access the translated FAQ here.

In addition there have been a few live streams popping up for those of you want to get an early look at the game. Several of them are getting thousands of active viewers only a couple hours after the beta has launched. The masses are certainly writhing in anticipation for their opportunity to either get in on the Beta, or to pick up a copy of the game when it is released later this year. Here are the streams:

Starcraft Method:
Several streams from


LiquidNazgul's Livestream:

Wr3k's SC2 stream

KOre's Stream

Response's Stream

Windows 7 Mobile - First Impressions

There's no doubting that the initial end-user impressions scattered in comments across blogs, youtube videos and technology forums from all around the internet have been very good. The only real negative feedback seems to be centered on the bad taste Microsoft has left in so many nerdy mouths over the years, especially in the mobile world. Microsoft has lost over 30% of the U.S. smart phone market share since 2007 and is currently hovering somewhere around 16% and dropping like a rock.

So what has Microsoft done that is making real success a possibility?

They have completely redesigned windows mobile from the looks of things. The new user interface is reminiscent of Windows Media Center in terms of looks and comes paired with a new ideology in terms of navigation and functionality. The information is data-centric unlike our current popular mobile Os platforms like Apple's iPhone OS and Google Android OS among others. The layout makes sense and could really stir things up if the cards are played correctly.

All of this is exciting and all, but I can't help but to be somewhat afraid of what Microsoft will manage to do to undermine its own success. This reminds me of how excited I was about xBox Live and the many possibilities there specifically with the integration with Windows Media Center and how I couldn't wait to replace my cable box with a media center computer and an xBox360. Unfortunately the corporate mentality of Microsoft killed both of these things for me over time. Instead of allowing free and cheap user created content to integrate with xBox and Windows Media Center pcs, we were locked into only playing windows media formatted files and purchasing videos. We were forced to rely on all sorts of hacks and workarounds to get our xvid movies to play on our TV and couldnt enjoy most of what the internet already offers us for free (Like HULU and YouTube!). The dream of a centralized unrestricted home entertainment seems to be hitting road blocks everywhere, and the first one to tear them down will undoubtedly see some real success.

Here are a few items we will just have to wait and see about before we go buying a Windows Mobile 7 device...

  • Will Microsoft lock down media formats, cripple xBox Live and media center integration or try and heavy handedly push 'premium content'?
  • Can apps directly integrate with the UI to bring their data front and center (which is what makes this OS so attractive anyway), or will microsoft lock down which services get special treatment? If they can, can I get in and tweak what shows where, when and how it is displayed? This style of interface could quickly become overrun with useless app notifications at time when they aren't needed if I can't have tight control over it.
  • Can users disable the long transitions? They look great but I'm sure some people would like to shave any extra seconds off their day to day tasks like adding contacts, browsing the internet or looking up someones contact details, etc.

These are just a few things that come to mind, but I'm sure all of the thorough comparisons, benchmarks, overviews, photos and videos that are sure to begin flooding the interwebs will reveal the answers in due time.

Microsoft, don't lock us out of our own content. Don't force us to use something when we already like something else much more. Feel free to give us the option to try something new, but don't flood me with nag screens teasing me to open my wallet to enjoy what I thought I had already purchased (like with xBox), or handcuff me to your favorite video and audio services owned by you and your buddies. You've got a good idea here, and you seem to have done well with Windows 7. Please don't make Windows 7 brief moment of clarity, tell me you've changed for good.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

FL Studio 9

 Haven't been toying with this too much these days but figured I'd post what I have done lately anyway. Heres a track I made recently. FL files included so you can tweak it yourself if you like.Feel free to use it as you wish =)

Friday, February 12, 2010

How to Customize an Office 2007 Installation

Requirements: Office 2007 copied to an accessible network location

To start the customization Wizard launch setup.exe with the /admin switch like this:
Start > Run and then:

"\\server\share\distrib\Microsoft\Office 2007\setup.exe" /admin

This will launch the Office Customization Tool

Each section has options that can be configures, such as adding trusted macros and security certificates of trusted applications, Added the Volume license keycode so it doesnt have to be entered during installation and even customizing outlook exchange server settings to automate profile creation.

Example of licensing and User Interface section:

In the Outlook Section, do the following to auto setup a users profile so you dont have to enter the exchange and user settings each time a new profile is configured:

Once you are done configuring the various options, click File > Save from the main menu.

Save the file (you can name it anything) in the 'Updates' folder located on your network installation source.

Next time you launch the installer (via setup.exe, not the .msp file you created), all of the settings will be automatically applied during installation. The .msp file you created can also be used to update existing installations of MS Office 2007.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Buzz on Google Buzz

Over the past few days since the release of Google Buzz I have noticed countless articles stating that Google is stepping on their own toes, people cant wait to see Buzz launched so they can turn it off, and that it's redundant, useless, privacy nightmare, etc etc etc.

This is a far stretch from Google's typical announcement reactions, to for example their up coming 1Gbps fiber to home service . So why the bad sentiment?

Two reasons.

First, the only big complaint people have with Google these days is Power and Privacy (yes that's one complaint). Google holds so much information about each individual's habits that they could probably launch some software that will give you accurate life coaching advice! The fear is that this info could some day (once the 'don't be evil' mantra is worn down by greedy board execs and share holders) fall into the wrong hands, and be used for the wrong reasons. Google Buzz is just another avenue for personal data gathering, which is the most precious type. I could care less if people knew about something as generic as what brand of cell phone I prefer, but to tap into conversation with close friends and family about private matters is a bit invasive. I see Google Buzz taking the wrap for that, but it's just like anything else, just like this blog for example. I just don't post things that are too personal to be public, and that's that.

Second reason is that people already have their beloved Facebook. Facebook is the one hub that has captured the market (which was MySpace's to lose). The universal, no frills, clean interface which brought an older age group into the fold, coupled with the chat feature was a hit.

What do I think will come from Google Buzz?

I think it will do well in due time. Facebook will not be replaced any time soon, but they are having some huge problems. Facebook's site is often so slow its almost unusable. This keeps them from expanding into more robust functionality and paves the way for up and coming competition like Google Buzz. Facebook is also getting into bed with some unsavories like AOL. Just the sheer mention of AOL brings back floods of memories nightmares of gaudy advertisements, ineffective search tools and god awful bloated user interfaces designed for seniors and infants. (Remember when AOL's installer was classified as badware?) Facebook doesn't integrate directly with other popular services the way that Buzz does (well you can make it work, but its a bit clunky and not a tight built in integration like Google Buzz has going). It's also being put right in the face of the entire gmail community which as you know is massive. This will give the service a couple advantages Orkut just couldn't touch, which is immediate membership and consistent member usage. This could be Google's first real shot at entering the world of social networking.

Facebook now has over 100 million mobile users. This number is only growing, and with social tools integrated out of the box with these types of tools this number shows no signs of slowing. Who is the king of mobile app development? Google of course. Their Android team is quickly sweeping the marking and positioned to be a major competitor in the smartphone marketplace for years to come. When all the android handsets start shipping with Google Buzz clients by default (which will possibly become more well produced and useful than the facebook app), and the facebook app is no longer pre installed we might notice a shift of power in the long run.

All in all there are privacy concerns with any social app, and its a new era that takes new responsibility and awareness that nothing is private. Social apps are not going anywhere, and the same complaints can be launched toward any one of the many services floating around out there. Google's ridiculous collection of gobs of personal data is scary as hell, but I dont think that will deter the service from being a success if they can continue to product the type of software we have seen that they are capable of (gmail, android, google maps, and of course search, etc. etc.)

Will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Starcraft 2 Beta Launching This Month, and Final Release Summer 2010

As confirmed by the Activision Blizzard Fourth Quarter Calendar 2009 Results Conference Call, the Starcraft 2 Beta will be launching before the end of this month. Starcraft 2 is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Starcraft that first launched 12 years ago and still boasts a large online player base, particularly in Korea and other countries. This comes after lots of speculation flying around recently regarding the release date and beta launch date coming very soon, despite several delay announcements since mid 2007. In addition to the beta announcement, there was also mention that the ship date for the first installment of starcraft 2 (Wings of Liberty) is slated to be shipped mid 2010. This can be confirmed by looking at the earnings guidance provided (if you consider attributing the expected revenue increases for Q2 to come from preorders which would likely begin in Q2 also). 

According to the call, this will be a global beta with "thousands" of users from the US as well as other nations around the world. We know they gave out several beta keys during Blizzcon over the past few years, several others via their official twitter page, as well as others via several contests they have been running on the official SC2 website. They have also been accepting beta opt ins via the website so long as you have a valid product key from an existing Blizzard game for some time now, but we still don't know just how many users will be able to get in on the Beta in comparison to how many opt ins they have received, or what the criteria is. All we can do for now is sit and wait for an email...

The conference call was recorded and will likely be available on the Activision website after the call is concluded as well as the slides provided during the call:

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Missing Software - Painless Imaging

I think there is a huge hole in the market when it comes to imaging software. We've got some really good companies out there like Symantec and Acronis, but I feel like there is a big gap requiring an IT Administrator to take multiple steps to create a universal image that can be rolled out to many different hardware types throughout the office. This can be achieved using imaging software like Backup Exec System Recovery or True Image in conjunction with Sysprep and MySysprep but its clunky and takes time to set up.

I see it like this. Why cant I just create an image as usual, and have a bootable application that will go to a web based driver repository and download the network and storage drivers needed to boot that image on dissimilar hardware, as well as switch to the correct hardware abstract layer as well as regenerate SIDs AND join the PC to the domain automatically and name the PC according to serial number all in one product? In addition most of these apps support converting to and from virtual images. Forget converting, we want to boot the image so we can update it from time to time and just 'save' it back when we are done installing windows updates.

I've been putting together a tutorial on how to achieve this with BESR and sysprep, but like Conan O'Brien it's not quite ready for prime time yet. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Somehow I missed UIU (Universal Imaging Utility). I'm trying it out now to see how well it works but it came highly recommended from a colleague. Looks like it does most of what I mentioned above but instead of downloading only your necessary drivers on the fly, it loads a 2GB repository of just about every driver you could need. Luckily it does give you the ability to narrow that down after it is already installed on your base image.

My big question is, will it allow for more flexibility than sysprep in terms of customizing your settings, specifically with computer naming schemes and domain autojoin? We will soon find out.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Introducing the iPad, the iPod Touch for huge people...

First off, I'm not at all a "bash everything apple" guy. I think they are a tremendous hardware manufacturer, and they generally make some great software too.

At dinner last night I was sitting with two friends who adamantly defended the iPad and how cool it is. They also marveled at how low the price tag was, especially for a new apple device. Had to do all that I could to keep from spitting iced tea all over the table. When I watched the iPad launch video I sat silently, in disbelief. Steve was trying so hard to be enthusiastic about nothing new at all, like the ability to change the wallpaper to whatever you want. If you closed your eyes and couldn't see the device, you would have thought without question this was the release video for the iPod touch. It's the same device, only huge.

I'm not saying the iPad is useless, but I am saying its not such a game changing announcement at all. The iPad has some serious flaws that should have been addressed to make up for its bulk and help this device to stand out. The iPad needed to compete with netbooks and all the upcoming tablets, and I really don't it comes close. You're going to see a lot of other tablets begin to overshadow the iPad in terms of functionality (maybe not in the hype department though, Apple has got that market cornered). There will be a slew of Android based devices from lots of different manufacturers that will out of the box perform a lot of the same functionality and then some, including the Flash support that the iPad doesn't have.

Let us count the ways the iPad is lacking vs a Netbook
- no flash support
- no external storage device support
- no access to non apple media stores
- no built in web cam or camera, or mic for that matter
- can't angle the screen when device is on your lap
- no physical keyboard
- no SD card slot
- more expensive!

What Apple Should have released imo:
The iPad certainly should have had a mic, webcam, sd card slot, usb port for external devices, flash support, and it should come with the carrying case they sell as an accessory, and maybe a digital TV tuner or something to make it stand ABOVE what we already have.

I'll be waiting for the iPad G2 or whatever they will be calling it.

UPDATE: Just days Later We get the announcement that the JooJoo is set to hit the market and has most of the features the iPad is missing. It doesnt have the name recognition but it certainly looks good and has some serious specs to back it up... all for the same price as the iPad. Now that's what Apple should have done. Oh well maybe next time.

Check out the new device here:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Use Google Voice to Deal with Pushy Debt Collectors

It's happened to everyone. You receive a phone call from an unknown number and next thing you know they are informing you that they are recording your phone call. Lots of times after the conversation is over and you think you've made some progress explaining whatever the situation is, and you get a call the next day from someone else who has no idea what you've talked about, or what the previous person had promised you.

For me it was when a mystery account showed up on my credit report and now I had to fight to get it removed. Turned out years ago I was on a short term lease with someone who had stained the carpet in their bedroom. The management company had to replace it and billed it back to us, the tenants. I was unaware of this until seeing it show up on my credit report. After tracking down the collection agency assigned to the debt I began to get the equivalent of Navy Seal trained debt collection efforts in the mount of over $2,000. I wasn't personally responsible for the carpet, but I was on the lease after all. I did what anyone would do and asked them what the minimum amount was that they would accept to clear the debt (since of course they purchased the debt for pennies on the dollar). The process can be pretty daunting if it is considered a legitimate debt, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself when negotiating a settlement. One thing is to use Google Voice to record any conversations with the debt collectors to get them to keep their promises. These guys are shady and they are trained to be that way. For example they will always lie to you and tell you 1) they need an entire lump sum, and cannot accept payments (generally false) 2) they need it within 3 days or some ridiculous timeframe, etc. etc. If they hear 'voice recording is now on', they are much less likely to try and BS you.

It's funny how people change when they are on camera, or being recorded unexpectedly. Doing this is simple, log into Google Voice, press the call button, type in the number to the slimy bill collector, and it will ring your phone. Once they are on the call press the number 4 and you will hear 'call recording on'. Your call will be recorded and will be accessible from your Google voice account. You can even save the file for future reference.

One other good practice is to call them from google voice and record the call, then request they update their records with your Google voice phone number so you can record calls and you no longer authorize them to call your cell phone directly. Let them know it will ring the same phone. They are much less likely to refuse when they know they are being recorded.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Future of DJ Hero?

So this past weekend a friend stopped by with Activision's latest creation, DJ Hero. Not being a very big gamer in general I hadn't heard much about it at the time, but now I'm convinced that this is the beginning of something just as big as [if not bigger than :-0 ] guitar hero. I will start by saying I'm entirely biased. Guitar hero was great in concept for me but it lacked most of the music I prefer to listen to on a daily basis. Some of it is great, and timeless of course, but to me it would be more entertaining to play new fresh content, not the same oldies I've heard thousands of times. With DJ Hero it wasn't like that for me. Since these are original mixes I was in love with some of the tracks as well as disappointed by others, but the point remains, they've taped into something new and I'd like to illustrate a few of the ways they could make this game nothing short of incredible.

1 - Build on one game with expansion packs. A lot of people online are complaining about the music in DJ hero and as I said before I love some of it and really cant stand some of the other stuff. Give me an expansion pack loaded with mixes I like and dont force me to buy the crap I dont. If we were to break a lot of this up and let the people decide what they wanted we would have more happy campers out there and overall sales would make up for the losses. Be good to the consumer and they will return the favor.

2 - Include more than just hip hop, specifically Trance, House etc.. Yes the whole DJ thing is synonymous with hip hop, but it is a new world where electronic music is making a strong push. Look at Ultra Music Festival for example. This thing is getting bigger every year and its not showing any signs of slowing down. More than 85,000 people attended in Miami last year alone and the numbers have been climbing by more than 10,000 every year. Not to metion it only just started in 1999.

3 - Build a mix creator. The big obstacle for the game creator is licensing the music. So how can you affort to keep tons of fresh music available to consumers? Let individuals (or real DJs) purchase mix creation software and load their own music sources and design their own beginner, easy, medium, hard and expert tracks for their songs. Original music only, free online community, etc will ensure the game never gets old.

4 - Dual turn table edition. The turntable in DJ Hero essentially simulated dual turntables by use of the buttons on the vinyl itself. My theory is, the closer you can make the game to an actuall DJ experience, the more well accepted it will be and can even be adopted for training purposes for those looking to get into the real thing.

5 - Make a PC Version. The PC game market it a big one. Online community can exist there with much less limitations than console gaming enabling free reign on some of the ideas above. I know lots of people who don't bother with console gaming at all because of the great strides PC gaming has seen over the years. You've already got the hardware, you got the software which should be too difficult to port over to a windows based app, especially from your xBox based code, why not make a PC version?

6 - Genre Filtering - This game is about the music. Give me a simple way to select precisely what type of music I'm into. Let me deselect certain artists for example to hide them from the library. This leads into my next suggestion...

7 - If you have one huge music repository for all the tracks, integrate a song suggestion feature like pandora or apple's genius feature provides. Maybe one day I'm in the mood for classic hip hip, and another day I may want more electronic, while another day I may want rock / hip-hop mash ups.... help me get there.

8 - Customizable samples. A lot of the samples are a complete joke. If I hear that guy say 'check this out' one more time I may just shoot myself in the face. We need more, higher quality sounds and let me put together my own sample kit from the entire library, don't group some decent ones with crappy ones and make me use them all.

9 - Visualization mode. I never got into guitar hero for one of the same reasons I never touched world of warcraft. The cartooney nature of it was a little unbearable. Corney characters and visuals are a turn off. Why not offer a mode that just puts a simple visualization in the background that spins around and goes to the beat? Should be a simple addition and doesn't have to be the default mode by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe it can even be an unlockable item?

In short I'd like to see a DJ Hero experience that is more like my ipod collection. I want to listen to some good music, and the game is almost an accessory that helps me get into the music even more. If I can actually learn something about the real deal in the process I'm sold. If they can do this the game will begin to appeal to an entirely new market, and will be insanely entertaining.

Some of these ideas may happen while others will probably never see the light of day but I think even a few of these could make one hell of a game.

Finally I want to say, I'm not trying to take anything away from the game, I think its insanely addictive as is and a overall good time (my friends think so too), I just couldn't help but think about what else it could be.