Commentary From the Mile High City

"Star of the conservative blogosphere" Denver Post

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Joshua Sharf

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March 1, 2006

Lileks on Tech

Lots of work today, so more linking than thinking. In this case, linking to someone else's thinking. Lileks explains why the New Connectivity is cool.

Why on-demand is better than video stores:

No doubt. I can’t say I’d miss that. We have one in our neighborhood, part of a small chain, and while the owners were always friendly and nice when I went there (I could bring the dog!) the place smelled of wet musty carpet, the new stuff was always sold out, and half the store was given over to VHS tapes. And since the shelves faced big broad windows, the sun had leached the color from the boxes. So you’d walk past the store and see WESTWORLD and SUPERMAN II and other hits of the VHS era propped up like tiny little tombstones for a dying medium.

And the difference between living in the past, and liking to look at it:

All this is entirely separate from my love of the look of old things and my interest in the details of life in previous decades. I don’t want to go back. Technology has given me tremendous freedom and opportunities – it lets me work wherever, lets me spend 10X more time with my kid, and lets me bring my writing machine and my entire music collection to a coffee shop, with a small thin device in my pocket that will ring if my editors in Washington DC have a question.

...A cell phone is a phone without a cord; a laptop is a typewriter; an iPod is a HiFi system. You used to be defined by where you were, most of the day. No more. Now you are what you do, not where you do it. Huzzah.

Read the whole thing. Wherever you like.

January 25, 2006

Electronic Subversive Follow-Up

At a time when Microsoft, Cisco, and Google seem to have electronically-jammed moral compasses, it's good to be able to report that Anonymizer, of the companies mentioned below, is actively working to get around the Great Firewall of China:

But it's difficult to question the honorable nature -- some might even say "nobility" -- of the work Anonymizer is doing with the U.S. government. Cottrell said that immediately after 9/11, for example, the company put a front end on the FBI's tips page on the Web. The idea was to make it possible to assure tipsters of their anonymity, and the effort yielded 25,000 tips within three months.

Yet the effort that's probably most worthy of that badge is Anonymizer's work in collaboration with Voice of America to enable people in China and Iran to access information on the Internet that their respective governments don't want them to see. Anonymizer sends e-mail blasts into both countries, and those messages include specially generated URLs that people can click on to anonymously get to sites that can't be accessed through in-country ISPs.

"We're punching holes in the Chinese firewall," Unrue said. China's government, Cottrell claimed, is trying to launch denial-of-service attacks against in retaliation.

January 24, 2006

The Compleat Electronic Subversive

This is a repeat of a post from last August. Because trackbacks and comments didn't survive the port to MT 3.2, I've been asked by the company to re-post it as an FYI for their user community.

As any Neal Stephenson fan knows, it's an arms race between the encryptors and the decryptors. Still, this looks like the kind of thing that any aspiring terrorist operative - or Chinese protest organizer - would want to have.

Stealthsurfer II is a little USB device that looks like one of those Jumpdrives, but acts as a shunt for all your Internet traffic. Even browsers with very small caches still write to disk, and those files are more or less permanent. Arthur Anderson should also have taken hammer to all of their Enron hard drives. The Stealthsurfer intercepts email, web browsing, and FTP traffic, and encrypts it using ES3. It's apparently versatile and easy to use.

Why would this be useful? Well, think of the number of intelligence coups we've had when we caught al-Qaeda guys parading around with their laptops. Using the Stealthsurfer, much of this content would never have hit the hard drive. Captured, they could either impersonate drug mule or just toss the little capsule away. Someone could use the Net for operational traffic, and if they weren't under surveillance, searching their laptop wouldn't do intelligence agents or federal prosecutors any good.

Another feature lets you spoof your IP address, making it seem as though your traffic is originating from a computer thousands of miles away. Handy little tool for the terrorist on the go.

It appears that the service reroutes your traffic through their servers, 128-bit encrypted, so the host website your accessing thinks that Anonymizer is the client. Anonymizer claims to cooperate with law enforcement, but if the transmitted information is already encrypted or hidden, they might never know their service was being used this way. And since they also claim they don't keep any of the traffic, the trail might well stop at their servers.

Now the tool does have limitations. Chinese dissidents or protest organizers wouldn't exactly be able to parade into an Internet cafe and cover their tracks. There's a login screen, a popup window, and some other give-aways. Also, the ChiComs are in the nasty little habit of blocking internet sites and monitoring traffic, so this kind of thing is likely to attract the attention of that little white van parked across the street.

So, take an electronic one-time pad that tell me where to look for my next instructions, a host site that has nothing but an innocuous-looking JPEG with the instructions embedded in it, a hand-held GPS for setting up remote drops and meetings. Add plausible deniability to my laptop and even my physical location, and I'd say we've got a little problem here, 99.

January 20, 2006

Fragmenting the Net?

The Balkans may not have been worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier, but apparently for some Germans (and others), they're a perfect model for the Internet.

German computer engineers are building an alternative to the Internet to make a political statement. A Dutch company has built one to make money. China has created three suffixes in Chinese characters substituting for .com and the like, resulting in Web sites and email addresses inaccessible to users outside of China. The 22-nation Arab League has begun a similar system using Arabic suffixes.

Since the Net's hardware and local networking infrastructure now exist elsewhere, the idea is to build alternate Domain Name Servers, which can handle other alphabets, other domain suffixes, or alternate uses for the same domains.

The politics of this, especially coming from the Germans, are little short of disgusting:

Mr. Grundmann ... set up ORSN in February 2002 because of his distrust of the Bush administration and its foreign policy. Mr. Grundmann fears that Washington could easily "turn off" the domain name of a country it wanted to attack, crippling the Internet communications of that country's military and government.

And after all, what calling could be more noble than that of protecting the communications of the Iranian or North Korean militaries and governments? Mr. Grudmann might spare a thought for the actions of Cisco and Microsoft at the behest of the Chinese government.

As for the Arabs,

Similarly, Arab countries have in the past 18 months experimented with country code domain names in Arabic, distinct from the Icann system, says Khaled Fattal of Surrey, England. Mr. Fattal is head of, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the Internet multilingual.

"There is no such thing as a global Internet today," says Mr. Fattal. "You have only an English-language Internet that is deployed internationally. How is that empowering millions of Chinese or Arab citizens?"

Apparently the irony inherent in the fact that the hundreds of millions of Arabs can only be "empowered" by a technological innovation being led from England is lost on them. The lack of Hebrew URLs doesn't seem to have hampered the Israelis at all, nor those Iraqi blogs that are doing such good work, nor, for that matter, those Islamist chat rooms and websites we hear so much about. Arabs live, by and large, in countries run by governments who first ask themselves why the Americans beat them to the Net, and then why the Chinese beat them to its censorship. And the only answer they can come up with is that the Net works left-to-right.

The Net has operated like one huge free-trade zone, but that's imperiled now. One could see a self-reinforcing system of regional nets corrsponding to political and trade blocs. MercoNet, EuroNet, the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Net. Fragmentation also starts to look like a revenue source, as governments would have an easier way of monitoring - and taxing - traffic that crosses these electronic frontiers. You want to work from South American DNSs? We'll tell you what it's worth to you.

Businesses will probably pay whatever freight they need to so that they can cross lines seamlessly, but it's an added expense and complication, so it tends to benefit the big guys who can afford it. For the little guys, it'll just show up as another hidden fee on their monthly access bill. Given that so many of the Net's economic benefits come from opening up economies of scale to the little guys, it's just that much more sand in the gears.

This whole issue is important enough that I've copied the text of the Journal article below.

Continue reading "Fragmenting the Net?" »


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud