athelind: (tell it like it IS)
In a response to my post about the Doctrine of "Real" Names, [livejournal.com profile] araquan provided the following insight from a Charlie Rose interview with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg:

Facebook COO Sandberg talked about the power of relationship-based networks, contrasting "the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends."

"So that's Google versus Facebook right there," Rose replied.

Sandberg didn't agree. She thinks the entire first phase of the Web's development -- which led to "a lot of wonderful things" -- was largely based on "anonymity and links between crowds."

The next stage of development, the one Facebook has spearheaded, is built around identity. "The social Web can't exist until you are your real self online," Sandberg said. "I have to be me, you have to be Charlie Rose."


The logical fallacy, of course, is the conflation of "real self" with "legal name". You can't be your "real self" if you're always wondering, "what would my family think of this? What if my boss Googles me?"

I am my "real self" online, and my "social Web" is woven among those who know me as "Athelind" and "Your Obedient Serpent".

That other name?

That's not my "real self", Ms. Sandberg.

That's my banking information, and I know why you want it.


athelind: (number six)
It is a classic trope of science fiction that In the Future, We Will Have Numbers Instead Of Names.

In almost every instance of this trope more recent than Ralph 124C 41+, this is a sure sign that you live in a dystopia. It suggests a world in which human concerns are devalued, and society itself is engineered to make it easier for a large, impersonal bureaucracy to track and monitor its citizens subjects.

Over the last few centuries, as Nation-States have arisen and consolidated their power, there has emerged a doctrine that everyone should have one and only one name, used in any and every context; that this is your only "real" name; and that the only possible reasons to use nicknames, pseudonyms, or any alternative to the name recorded in your governmental and financial records are to conceal unsavory practices, or perpetrate outright fraud.

A name that falls outside a limited range of acceptance criteria may not be accepted as a "real" name, and will certainly engender harsh feelings from governmental and corporate bureaucrats inconvenienced by the nonconformity.

As so many things have, this memetic push has accelerated across the close of the 20th Century and the dawn of the 21st.

Be advised, and be aware:

The only difference between this doctrine of "real" names and the dystopian trope of numbers that replace names is the number of bits in your designation.


The intent is to make you easier to track. The intent is to make you a product.

Vernor Vinge warned us, thirty years ago: when someone knows your True Name, they have power over you.

Government watchlists aside, Google and Facebook aren't making money providing you with free email and search and "social networking". They're making money by selling your easily-monitored habits and interests to other corporations. If you operate under more than one name, if you compartmentalize your life and your purchasing power amongst multiple identities, you are diluting their product by making it more difficult to thoroughly profile you—and they consider that intolerable.

Enlightening References:


(I have noticed, and not without irony, that the same kind of people who once ranted about Social Security Numbers as "the Mark of the Beast" tend to automatically and reflexively agree with the idea that people only have one "real name".)
athelind: (veteran)
This was not our era's Pearl Harbor.

This was our era's Reichstag Fire.


After reading the responses, and being asked privately, "Does that mean you're a 'truther'?", I feel the need to restate this more clearly:

The events of 11 September 2011 more closely resemble the Reichstag Fire than Pearl Harbor, most significantly in our response to them as a nation.

Certainly, it is not a one-to-one congruence -- but the "Pearl Harbor" comparison is bandied about far more often, with few objections, and the correspondence is no more exact.

The sticking point for most respondents seems to be the identity of the perpetrators of the Fire. That's a niggling detail, irrelevant to the thesis. I find the nature of our national response to be a matter of far greater importance, because we, lashing out in terror for a decade, have done far more damage to ourselves, to our freedoms, and to the world than the people in those planes ever could have.

The Most Significant Point of Similarity is not whether or not it was an "inside job", but in the fact that it allowed the ugly strain of authoritarianism that had been seeping into into our national political culture for years to finally consolidate its power and win the hearts and minds of the public.

If you want more discussion of "the nature of our national response", feel free to consult Mr. Hicks for his opinion thereon.


athelind: (free man)
In the classic Star Trek episode, "City on the Edge of Forever", Jim Kirk tells Edith Keeler of a poet yet to be born, who espouses the three words, "Let Me Help", over any others—including "I Love You".

(As an aside, I've always ascribed that sequence to Ms. Fontana's rewrite; it seems far more in tone with her work and her ethos than with those of Mr. Ellison.)

I have come to realize, of late, that I agree with that sentiment, and, indeed, always have.

Conversely, there are four words, four words that many consider innocuous, or, at worst, insensitive, that have always made me look at the speaker with grave suspicion. They are the Words That Cannot Be Trusted; they are the Words That Always Betray A Villainous Intent.

They are "For Your Own Good".

When you understand my aversion to these words, perhaps you might understand my aversion to Mr. [livejournal.com profile] ab3nd's description of The Authority as an example of "superheros making the world a better place".

I make no apologies when I must agree with the late Mr. McDuffie:

The Justice Lords are the Bad Guys.



athelind: (cronkite)
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Should websites like Wikileaks be defended for sharing confidential corporate and government information with the public, and why?

Secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything—you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
—Robert A. Heinlein, If This Goes On— (Emphasis mine.)


Since the Internet first became available to the general public, I've heard people who defend the government prying into one's online activities on the basis that "if you're not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide."

These same people are the ones who argue, in turn, that Wikileaks is revealing things that should best be kept secret, that the internal workings of business and government are best left under lock and key "for our own good".

This is exactly backwards.

Yes, we should know these things. We must know these things. We are not disinterested parties. What the banks and megacorps do, they do to us, their customers, their employees. What the government does, it does in our name.

There are things that I would not have done in my name.

If those I have elected to serve the machinery of government seek to tell me that I am forbidden to know of them, I would name them tyrant, and would remind them with whose consent they govern.

Wikileaks is performing a function vital and necessary to democracy and to the governance of free human beings. The wealthy and powerful must be called to account, they must know that their actions run the risk of being brought to light.

Once upon a time, this function was called journalism, and it was practiced by such diverse outlets as the Washington Post that backed Woodward and Bernstein, and CBS News under the auspices of Walter Cronkite, who earned and deserved the title of "The Most Trusted Man in America". Investigative journalism is a thing of the past, though, smothered in favor of gossip and Official Press Releases by budget-slashing corporate masters who see no profit in baring secrets to the rank and file.

Wikileaks has picked up the fallen torch of the Fourth Estate, and shoved it square in the face of the banksters and the Shadow Cabinet. Do they "deserve" protection? By the laws of the United States of America, they have it. They are entitled to the same legal precedents that have protected journalists and their sources for most of the 20th century ... and if those protections do not extend into the One-and-Twenty, then we have abdicated any claims we might have had to freedom.


athelind: (loop)
Trying to grok microblogging and social networking just makes me feel old.

I feel the need to make the effort, though—in no small part because it does make me feel old. I look on in baffled incomprehension at a vast swath of online life, wholly Out Of the Loop, and I realize that I'm nearly as disconnected from the Bleeding Edge of the One-And-Twenty as someone with no Internet access at all.

The Unkind Curmudgeon, the part of me that tries to reduce the world into a series of Pithy Epigrams, keeps coming back to "these are ways for people to TALK when they don't have anything to SAY."

Of course, Pithy Epigrams are exactly what microblogging services like Twitter are all about; the Unkind Curmudgeon would thrive there.

I'm not sure I want the Unkind Curmudgeon to thrive.

Nevertheless, I can see the utility and appeal of the Twitters and Qaikus and Status.nets of the online world. Sometimes, you just want to say something quickly and efficiently, without wrapping a well-thought-out blog entry (or stream of consciousness blather) around it. The first sentence of this entry would have been an ideal Tweet, but here, on LJ, I feel I have to elaborate.1

I also appreciate the idea of an ongoing, persistent conversation that's faster than a newsgroup but slower than IRCs or MUCKs. IM conversations have that quality on a one-to-one level: you can say something to someone, and they can respond at their leisure. 2

It's the Facebooks and MySpaces that I don't get. I'm on LinkedIn, the most professionally-oriented of the social network services, and I don't get it. There's no content on LinkedIn. Nothing happens. It's static. Even if you recognize former co-workers floating around on the service, it's just "hey, I know you [LINK]". It's another place to post my resume to get ignored.3

As I understand it, Facebook and the more "social" social nets have Other Stuff: microblog-style "Status Updates"; tedious mind-numbing timesinks "games" like Farmville; the exchange of pointless tchotchkes virtual tokens like the llamas of DeviantArt and the weird little icons that LiveJournal has tacked on in imitation.

I still don't quite grasp what you do on these networks, though. I don't grok how you interact with them. LiveJournal has the eminently-useful (if unfortunately-named) "Friends" list, which is an entirely useful means of monitoring those individuals who provide interesting content; I peruse mine regularly, and it irks me that there's not an equally-elegant way of following the Blogspot blogs I read.

I'm clueless about the SpaceBooks and MyFaces, though. honestly, I don't even know what such sites look like, since most of them are, in my experience, inaccessible to those who don't already have an account.

Given the well-publicized privacy issues and the impossibility of deleting accounts, I am extremely leery of registering just to see if I want to register.

Some contracts, you just don't want to sign.4

Why, you might ask, am I concerned about this at all?

It's not just because "all my friends are doing it."

Any number of recent articles in the blogosphere suggest that my mortal alter-ego's nigh-complete absence from the virtual sphere has had a negative impact on my career aspirations.[citation needed] A Google search on my mundane name yields my 2003 capstone thesis, a few sparse credits in a handful of published RPGs, and a lengthy discourse in an etymology blog about the plural of "octopus".

It's bad enough that my professional experience is so sparse, but, as far as any potential employer can determine, I have no personal interests whatsoever.

Nevertheless, I'm hesitant to establish overt connections between my Mundane Alter-Ego, the Earnest Environmental Scientist and Cartographer, and Your Obedient Serpent, who may be an Eloquent Commentator of Comics and Popular Culture, but also has some ... eccentric ... search results attached to his most-used nom de guerre.


1 Endlessly.

2 I do miss ICQ, which would let you drop someone a note even if they weren't online at the time; I described that more than once as "leaving a Post-It on their monitor".

3 But I'm not bitter!

4 I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you. —H.P. Lovecraft, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".

athelind: (eco-rant)
Okay, one reason, and one alone:

The United States of America consumes a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and produces a disproportionate amount of its pollution. Even a massive socio-economic catastrophe isn't going to do more than moderate that, at least over the next half-century or so. this is an issue that I can't run away from, because the ripples affect the entire world, and not just economically.

I am an Earth Systems Scientist.

If I have any hope of having an effect on this globe-threatening situation, it's gotta be here.

I've got my lever, rusty as it may be, and I think I'm narrowing down my places to stand.


athelind: (politics)
This was originally tacked on as a footnote to my last post, but I think it needs to stand on its own.

For the record, the "Divided States of America" is only a "worst-case scenario" if the Balkanization is violent. That's not unlikely, because we're all pretty pissed at each other right now, and we do like our guns.

On the other claw, the Soviet Union managed to spin off its component without devolving into all-out war, though, even if there were border skirmishes; if the U.S. pulled off the same trick, California might wind up better off than we are now, with the Federal Government funneling money out of the eighth-largest economy in the world and into Red States who rant against taxation, welfare and government interference.


athelind: (prisoner)
Mostly for my own reference: some thoughtful and measured words about emigration.

I'll tell ya: ever since reading Toffler's predictions for the future of the two "Second Wave" superpowers in 1990's Powershift, and watching it come true in the Soviet Union less than a year later, there's a part of me that's been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yes, I'm fully aware that this kind of apocalyptic paranoia has contributed to the paralyzing stasis of my life since graduation.

Still, there's an important truth in play: things aren't getting any better in the Untidy States, and the best-case scenario is to hope that the continual erosion of our rights and freedoms will be sufficiently gradual that we won't notice.

And the alternatives ... well, we seem to be using all the worst clichés of Cyberpunk as a road map as it is, why not that one, too?*

I would really like to convince myself that this is just pessimism due to the latest economic downturn, but even during the boom years of the '90s, I saw the "New Democrats" quietly and casually continuing the trends of restricting the rights of biological individuals and increasing the freedoms of "corporate persons". Some oppressed groups have made a few advances in acceptance, but really, it's just welcoming them to the same Village that the rest of us live in. One step forward, two steps back.

I'm in the process of reevaluating my life, realigning my goals, and trying to get a better grip on how the "real world" works.

And around here ... it doesn't. Not very well. Not in ways that will do me any good, now or in the future.

Realistically, if I'm trying to reconstruct my present to make plans for my future, "emigration" needs to be one of my options—even and especially if I land the elusive "Real Job" locally.

The big issue, of course, is that the other Anglophone nations don't really want more USian expatriates.


This is not a post about pessimism or defeatism. This is a post about options.
*See next post.

athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
Question for the Hive Mind:

I am using Ubuntu Linux 9.04.

I want to simply hash up a text file, so I can just push a button or enter a short password to unlock it. This doesn't need to be bulletproof; when I was running Windows, I used EditPad Lite's ROT-13 function for the same purpose. It does, however, need to be portable: I want to be able to encrypt a file on the laptop, and open it on the desktop using the same application.

The gedit GNOME text editor has an Encrypt/Decrypt plug-in, but it drops into the OpenPGP "Passwords and Encryption Keys" application, which is a) incomprehensible gobbledygook1, b) overkill worthy of SlitherSting2, and, most importantly c) not, insofar as I can tell, particularly portable: any pass phrase I come up with will be linked to a locally-stored Encryption Key File.

That last one HAS to be wrong. The whole point of PGP is to pass encrypted files around, right?

OpenPGP also makes passwords pass phrases encryption keys thingamabobs that expire after a maximum of six months, and I don't want that. Yes, I know, blah blah blah security blah blah, but I'm not a Swiss bank. I want to be able to hash a file, ignore it for a couple of years, and then open it up and still be able to use it, even if it's on a different machine.

Heck, I've got a command-line ROT-13 hash app for Ubuntu. If I knew enough about the Ubuntu equivalent of a DOS .BAT file, I'd whip something up that just let me enter "Innocuous Command" at the command prompt, and it would turn it into "Decrypt location/hashfu.bar > location/useful.txt", and another one to go the other way.

Now, I wouldn't mind PGP-level security, if I could make it portable and access it with a minimum of fuss.


1"Ubuntu" is not in the default dictionary for the spell-checker in Ubuntu, but "gobbledygook" and "thingamabobs" are.
2Yes, that will get an Argot entry eventually.



You know, I'm gonna Andy Rooney here for a minute.

There's an ongoing and, as far as I can tell, unsolved conflict between Keeping Your Data Secure and Actually Being Able To Use It Yourself.

I constantly hear that :

  • Passwords should be hard to guess.
    • This, of course, makes them hard to remember.

  • The best passwords are completely random.
    • ... making them impossible to remember.

  • You should have different passwords for every site and log-on.
    • ... giving you vast amounts to remember.

  • You should change your passwords regularly.
    • Ibid.

  • You should never, ever write them down, because anyone who finds your password book has access to your whole life.
    • Not that you have much of a life, since you spend all your time trying to access sites whose passwords you no longer remember.

  • You shouldn't store them on your computer, either, because anyone with physical access to your machine will, again, have full access to Your Whole Life.
    • Besides, if anything happens to your computer, or if you have to use a different one, you'll have totally forgotten all your passwords.


Summary: Online Security and Password Protection lie somewhere between Catch-22 and Kobayashi Maru. Unless you spent the points for Full Eidetic Memory, you have to compromise on at least one of the above, and probably more.

That's not really a question. It's just me bitching.


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