Wireless Tuesday

I’m helping to organize a modest “Wireless Tuesday” event at ASCII here in Amsterdam. ASCII is an Internet Workshop in a squatted shop in the “Indische Buurt” area of Amsterdam. I will write more about ASCII soon. For now, ASCII’s address is Javastraat 38hs. If you are interested in wireless stuff, or if you just want to hang out with fun geeks, then by all means drop by.

The future is wireless! … Introducing Wireless Tuesday …

Starting this Tuesday, the 7th of February 2006, ASCII will host a bi-weekly wireless afternoon/evening called ‘Wireless Tuesday’. The event will, inshallah, take place every first and third Tuesday of any month. Although Wireless Tuesday is an unofficial meeting of people
involved in the Amsterdam Wireless project, topics will vary.

Tentative schedule for all Wireless Tuesdays:

15:00 ASCII opens

16:00 There will probably be some people here by then, and as the afternoon progresses groups of people may sit/stand around and discuss stuff, sometimes even on-topic.

17:00 Something tasty. Free for all (while supplies last).

18:30 Many of those hungry will go and get some really fast, cheap, delicious and extremely fattening Surinam food to take over to ASCII and eat there. Nothing beats the dinner-time romance of noisy freaks, lousy table-manners, plastic cutlery and Styrofoam containers. Heck: we’ll even light a few candles.

20:00 The speaker(s), demonstration, or whatever the main attraction is

23:00 After a drink (or two), some people will be going home

24:00 ASCII closes. Go home!

For Wireless Tuesdays, we hope to present speakers from other wireless initiatives, people developing for OpenWRT and/or OLSR, people building antennae/nodes, people doing wireless in developing countries, people into newer things (such as 802.11n, WiMAX, etc), ‘other’ kinds of wireless such as GSM/EDGE/UMTS and anything else the assorted organizers and visitors can come up with. When quality is equal we favor hands-on stuff over demonstrations over lectures.

This upcoming Wireless Tuesday (February 7th 2006)

In the evening (starting at 20:00), Rop will talk a bit about the current (much new and improved!) state of his software (called What-a-Mesh). What-a-Mesh is simple and easy-to-configure software for setting up mesh networks.

Because that is planned not take a huge amount of time, we can hopefully sit around with a largish group and think a bit about directions in which we’d like Amsterdam-Wireless to develop. I’m hoping many new antennae will blossom this spring, and I will hopefully get What-a-Mesh to a point where many more initiatives start using it.

During afternoon and evening, we’ll probably also talk about this new Wireless Tuesday initiative, see where those present would like it to go, who else we’d like to be there and figure out what on earth we’re going to do with all the generous offers of volunteer labor, huge cash
contributions and general signs of affection thrown our way.

Because it’s the first time, the “something tasty” for this Tuesday will be a supply of Belgian chocolates and bonbons, all guaranteed to be gone not long after 17:00.


Speed …

Some days the speed with which this country is going to hell is astounding even professional pessimists like me. Today I read that the police has requested the complete logs for a website covering the (still unsolved) murder of a political activist that investigated police practices. I also noticed that the christian democrats have taken it upon themselves to get squatting completely outlawed, for which there is now apparently a majority in parliament. And in Amsterdam the responsible alderman wants to extend the areas where ‘preventive searching’ is allowed.

For those not up to date on 21st century police-state euphemisms: ‘preventive searching’ is where anyone can be stopped and have their person and belongings searched by the police without the need for any kind of warrant or suspicion. The preferred new policy would be (surprise) to allow this in the entire city instead of just in known trouble spots.

And I haven’t even finished reading today’s news yet. (Hmmm maybe I shouldn’t).

On writing…

Ever had trouble writing human-readable text while in the middle of a programming project? Sometimes when I am coding even writing a small amount of English text, such as writing a slightly longer e-mail, becomes a chore. It is as if my brain does not want to re-use some circuitry that is currently in use.

But then as soon as the entire structure is written down, even if large parts of the functionality of the program are still missing, that part of the brain is freed, and I can write texts again.

I can do many other (and even very complex) tasks in the middle of this phase of coding, just not writing.

(So no: I  haven’t forgotten my blog…)

First we’ll give you the warez, then we’ll bust you.

Countries suck. But on this particular day, the federal republic of Germany has scored some points with me. The police has searched the premises of the “Gesellschaft zur Verfolgung von Urheberrechtsverletzungen (GVU)”, the local private copyright enforcement zealots. Apparently they have been paying money for the upkeep of a large distribution warez server so they could get a better picture of who was doing what.


Anvil firing

There’s apparently a subculture of people that likes to explode gunpowder to make iron anvils fly high up into the sky. All just for the fun of it, ofcourse. And given how close they park their cars, they must feel pretty certain the thing will fly straight up.


The Technology Underground Blog: Extreme Tinkering and Radical Self Expression Through Technology. This blog covers events where things that go whoosh, boom, or splat are featured. On-Topic examples include events that have rockets, pulse jets, tesla coils, magnaformers, homemade subs, pyrotechnics, railguns, catapults, etc . . .

Them (and us)

After the speech in December my friend Karin Spaink, who was in the audience, stood up and delivered some criticism to what we had said. Our speech, she said, contained way too many undifferentiated references to ‘them’, and ‘they’. And she was right: we should have talked about this ‘them’ issue a bit more.

I’m not much of a conspiracy nut, and I normally make the point myself that I do not believe in ‘a secret world government’ or anything like that. I know there is way to much incompetence and infighting behind the scenes to come up with something that homogenous. As they say: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

That said: I do believe there are changing groups of right-wing control freaks in every government, and I do believe that at least some of them were smart enough to have secretly coordinated plans for repressive legislation ready to be voted on as soon as the shit hit the fan. I mean: to assume all of the thinking, writing and coordinating started happening after 9/11 is nuts given how smooth it all went.

Now there’s nothing wrong with admitting that we were outsmarted. We (an undifferentiated kind of ‘we’, meaning everyone that cares about democracy) should have had our own plan B for when something like 9/11 happened, and we didn’t. Now the laws are there, they will increasingly be applied to non-muslim non-terrorists, and getting them repealed is going to be hard.

But two can play this game. I suggest legally-inclined lovers of democracy spend some time planning for a time in the not too distant future when some of this repression becomes highly controversial. Maybe some scandal that involves torture and secret prisons which, unlike the present scandals involving torture and secret prisons, manages to really upset some huge percentage of the population. If that happens, we should have all the currently unthinkable laws and motions ready for our respective parliaments to sign before the momentum is lost again.

Made a poster …

blind_map_small.gifThe teacher of one of my kids wanted a blind map of the world so she could point to countries to see if the kids knew which was which. I made a poster that shows the world, Europe and The Netherlands, and printed it in A0 format. As far as I know there are no rights attached to any of the materials I used to make the poster. So if anyone wants to use this map in their school or anywhere else, feel free.

Click the image for a larger preview, or get the Adobe Illustrator file.

And from today’s newspapers…

There’s criticism here in The Netherlands because most municipalities haven’t begun to plan the mandatory “naturalization ceremonies”. As of this month, if you become Dutch they cannot just give you your passport anymore. Instead they must accompany it with some american-styled ‘pledge of allegiance’ ceremony. Why can’t people accept that countries and religions are stupid?

And every other political debate here seems to be about sticking some undesirable fraction of the population in boot camps, including some great success stories about some fascist indoctrination method from the US. I was a jobless high-school dropout once. Scary to think that if I was 20 today, I would be sent to boot camp…

The wrong meme ?

After our ‘We lost the war’ lecture, I was part of a smaller group that stood around and discussed what we had just been talking about. One of the people there was Rena Tangens, a longtime privacy activist from Bielefeld whose work I much admire. And while she said that she agreed with a lot of our analysis, she just could not get over the ‘we have lost the war’ theme. She claimed that by titling our talk the way we did, we called on people to accept their fate, effectively working against the efforts of those that still fight for privacy. Others echoed the same sentiment, and over the days that followed, more than one person said “Even when it is true, you probably shouldn’t be saying it”.

Now I don’t buy that. I don’t believe in political activism that depends on a mass of people that are not told the truth, or in an activist leadership that limits access to truthful analysis when they feel it will negatively affect the commoner’s ability to rally for the cause. And even if I did believe in that, I think the hacker community is a little too smart for that anyway.

It is time we acknowledge that the war for privacy has been essentially lost, and that all remaining fights, worthwhile or not, are over minimal delays in the implementation of the various mechanisms of control. Maybe there was once a window of opportunity where we could have affected enough of the public opinion to make a difference. But this window is gone, the technologies have been built, and they will be used. Even if we got a majority of the population in a majority of the countries on earth to care starting today, it would not be enough.

And we need to say this, because it was really our point from the beginning: these technologies are so powerful that once they are built, no amount of regulations will hinder their use for the benefit of whoever is in power. If you place cameras and license plate recognition capability above all the roads for a system to tax trucks, the system will be used to keep track of all vehicles a few years later, no matter how hard the politicians promised that that won’t happen.

Being in charge of a country can lead to significant paranoia. And it is this paranoia that nameless control-freak bureaucrats feed on. A healthy society would just tell its leadership to get over it. But in societies where the population itself is spiraling into an ever deeper fear-based psychosis, this is not likely to happen. And so by allowing the leadership to see more and more of the evil things that some subset of the population is doing, the bureaucrats are offering the crack pipe: the bright glow of ‘secret intelligence’ will ease the worries. But only for a very short time, after which they’ll just get more frightened of all the things they might not know.

Unless you believe in the upcoming arrival of the intergalactic cavalry, I think you have to accept that privacy is gone, and that it will not come back in any foreseeable future. Nameless people mining and evaluating historical and live data from our call records, our internet activity, our bank records, all our logistics and our personal whereabouts will de-facto be in power for the short and medium term. As for the long term: I’m not sure. But I do know that the type of semi-clandestine grassroots movement that has always been needed to overthrow a government is far more difficult to set up than it has ever been.

Time to figure out where we stand in the post-privacy era.

Present-day XS4ALL

Last night I was at the official goodbye party for Doke Pelleboer, who was general manager of XS4ALL for the past 6 years. I normally hate official goodbye-events: shallow speeches filled with some idiot’s perception of humor, the obligatory giggling coworkers taking way too long to present some homemade gift and maybe a made-for-the-occasion song or two, sung by people who invariably cannot sing. But this one was different: the songs actually sounded good (No wonder: longtime-XS4ALLer Annemarie, who sung them, has a nighttime existence as a jazz-singer) and the speeches touched on some important issues that XS4ALL has been facing lately, mostly the difficult relationship with mother company KPN and with the Dutch wiretapping nazis authorities. Some amazing things were said by former XS4ALL spokesperson Sjoera Nas (who’s now with Bits of Freedom) and by Doke himself. And although he was sweet and soft-spoken, it was obvious that this ex-KPN manager had a minor chip or two on his shoulder. Even though some insiders had given me a glimpse of what was happening over the past years, the ferocity and the high stakes of some of these fights can still impress me. I can only wish upon Marion Koopman (the new manager) the strength to deal with the undoubtably difficult issues that lie ahead.

But what struck me more than anything else last night were my impressions when speaking to the people there. When I talk to people that still work at XS4ALL they invariably moan and bitch about how burocratic it has all become over the years, and how most of the new people just aren’t like the old people. So I was bracing for the worst when I walked around and talked to some people that work at today’s XS4ALL, many of whom I had never met before. I was amazed to find that XS4ALL still manages to hire some very sharp, crazy, witty and excentric folks. And how even some people that just came in seemed to feel connected with the ideals that XS4ALL stands for. I’m sure there’s plenty of exceptions, but I sure as hell didn’t meet many yesterday. It’s a strange and proud feeling to notice that large pockets of the not-so-corporate culture that I had the privilige to help create manage to stay alive in a company of 300 employees.

Historical precedence

Most people don’t know their history. And even if they know the basic facts, they may not truly grasp the extent to which humans have stayed the same throughout the ages. Hence when something happens in the world, large crowds jump up and down, claiming this or that development is totally new. People that do know about history usually yawn at such enthusiasm. They know that the world is a pretty big place and that humans have been building societies for a pretty long time. In some circles, merely to claim some development is without precedent can be enough to be labeled as thoroughly unsophisticated.

And yet I still believe the extent to which governments will soon be able to snoop on their citizens is unprecedented.

The 20th century saw a few attempts at creating the all-seeing state. The former DDR, the former USSR: they’ve tried to see what every citizen is doing, sometimes at a level of detail that makes us laugh when we read accounts of their efforts. The cost and labour involved in such an effort made it not worthwhile for anything but the most determined police states, and even for them it didn’t work in the end. The 20th century also saw widespread fear of such a state (best embodied in George Orwell’s 1984) come and go.

But where I live, all the tools needed to create the all-seeing state are being installed here and now. Even though my present government doesn’t look like the evil police state that I thought would come first, it is nonetheless its clear and even stated aim to create a world where no movement of ideas, people, vehicles, money or goods happens without that fact entering a police-searchable database. This year we will be getting personalized chipcards to be able to use public transport. There are already cameras to see license plates, cameras for the police to watch entire neighborhoods and soon everything I do online will also enter a database.

The Netherlands may be pioneering some of these developments, but similar things are happening all over the world. Given how intimidating all of this feels to me, I can only begin to imagine what it must feel like to the inhabitants of Myanmar/Burma, Belorus or any other true totalitarian dictatorship.