Technology and Asshattery, Disrespect of a Different Sort

Late last week, rumblings began on the Internet of an issue that would explode within a week into a massive shit-storm of epic proportions. What is it? A piece of scumware installed on Lenovo computers that not only annoys you with ads in every place, but does so by installing a certificate that allows for Man in the Middle Attacks. If you have a Lenovo computer, you might just want to either take it back or blow away its OS for something clean.

I’ve mentioned a few things about respect and the lack there-of. But this takes the cake. Because they want to inject ads _everywhere_, including into your HTTPS traffic, they have poked a massive hole into your security framework and exposed you to scummy jerks out there who want your HTTPS traffic for lots more than just shoving ads in your face. Lenovo has put all of their customers in jeopardy, forcing them to either spend money to undo the damage or risk exposing themselves to threats on the web. And for what? To shove a crappy ad in your face? Lenovo saved how much on the cost of their laptops for this shit?

Once again, we get screwed by utter disdain for each other.


Hacking, Terrorism, and Freedom of Expression

So. As anyone who has been paying attention recently to news knows, Sony was involved in a bit of a spat against a group of Hackers calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace”, with the rather unfortunate but hilarious acronym “GoP”. There were massive leaks of information, poorly spelled engrish threats, lots of denial by Sony of hacks, and more than enough schadenfreud by those of us who have issues with the way Sony does business, what after the whole PSN hack, putting rootkits on CDs, and so on. None of us were really losing any sleep over Sony executives being hacked, but we also didn’t particularly care for how the GoP was handling the whole situation (much like the GOP, zing!, but I digress. :D). It was like watching Russia and China argue with each other. No matter who loses, we win, so we sat back.

Then it came out that North Korea was behind it. Suddenly it got more interesting, as the Hermit Kingdom (I love that name) was trying to exert a little muscle. I mean, really, hacking Sony to stop a release of a movie? How low can you go? And surely it wouldn’t work. We’re not afraid of some tiny little third-world country and a bit of hacker types.

And then they made their ultimate threat — anyone who watched this movie was a target for another mass murder attack. Really, they’re all in on this. Let’s threaten American movie goers with death if they watch a movie. Surely we Americans are smart enough to realize that at most a lone wolf might shoot up a theater, and most likely, the GoP was pissing in the wind, right? It’s not like the country that responded to Russia’s implied threat of a beeping sphere in orbit by fucking putting a man on the¬†Moon¬†within 13 years would cave to these people.

And then we caved. 5 movie studios announced they would not air the movie citing the terrorist threat. Here in Denver, that meant that most of our theaters would not be carrying this. And then the coup de gras was delivered by Sony — the movie would not be released, at all. Not by VoD. Not at video stores. Not at video kiosks. NOWHERE.

Terrorism worked. We were cowed. We went from the people who woke up one October morning to see a new, faint moon that beeped in the night sky on shortwave radio and resolved that we’d wake our collective asses up and regain our lead to a fearful country, trembling at the slightest hint of trouble.

We decided we would let the hackers win. And now, there is a formula out there for how to beat us. The bad actors in the world know how to get what they want — threaten us in our kushy homes, and watch us fold like cheap chairs.

This is no longer about a stupid movie with a stupid plot. It’s not even about poorly spelled threats. It’s about an identity we used to have, and what we’ve lost. We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave that our propaganda tells us about ourselves. We have become petulant scared children, living in fear of our own shadows.

Young ladies and the Sciences (including Computer Science)

Software Development is a passion of mine, and one I’m glad I’ve helped my wife discover (even if she is playing catchup on the Math — more about that later). It’s always great to take an idea and give it form, and we live in an era where that is almost trivial to do, assuming you get the right instruction.

Not too long ago, our friends over at Mattel decided to give Barbie the software engineer/computer scientist treatment in the new book Barbie is a Computer Engineer. There are several flaws with this book, ranging from the arcane (Computer Engineers design the hardware, not the software, and are more focused on gates and registers than they are on data structures) through the sexist (Barbie doesn’t actually write code, let alone build computers, and she manages to get her and her sister’s computer infected through poor computer hygiene). Many commentors on the Internet have panned this book, but Casie Fiesler took it to the next level. Instead of complaining about the book, she rewrote it, telling the real story of a game developer who happens to be female.

One big challenge facing women in STEM is the perception that they somehow are bad at math and science. Poppycock. Math and science use structures of the brain that are unrelated to one’s sexual identity, and there are plenty of women out there who can integrate a function or solve a differential equation just as good as the guys. The only reason women tend to fall behind in math is poor teachers who do not work with them enough to push them as young girls. Math is like a building. You start with the foundation (simple arithmetic, followed by basic Algebra and Geometry), build on that to build the walls (Trig, Calculus), then eventually finish with the roof (DiffEQ, Stats, etc). As the Romulan construction ship says in Armada I and II, a strong empire begins with a firm foundation, and so it is true with math. T was unfortunate enough to not get that strong foundation, but it’s not because she’s a girl. It was because teachers were impatient with her when she was young, and didn’t drive her to that next level of understanding.

Only 10 years later, after she had that worthless Art degree, did she discover that there was a whole world of creativity out there, driven by 1s and 0s. She saw my computerized world, and after some due thought and diligence, decided she wanted in. It was challenging for her. She had to learn a whole new way of thinking, of breaking down complex tasks into simple bits, of analyzing data structures, and learning how to mix up the if elses and case selects and whiles and untils to make her idea take form in a computer. But she did it, without the help of her gradeschool teachers. And nothing about her body or genetics stood in the way of that goal. She finally made it, and got through her CS degree and Masters degree, and now she’s working on her Imagine Cup project.

The Hacker Manifesto is itself an interesting document, and speaks to what it means to be a software engineer. Here’s it, slightly modified.

“We explore. We seek after knowledge. We exist without skin color, without gender, without nationality, without bias, and YOU call us criminals. You build bombs; you wage wars; you murder, cheat and lie to us every day and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, we are criminals, and our crime is curiosity. Our crimes are judging people for what they say and think, not what they look like. Our crimes are that of outsmarting you, something you will never forgive us for. We are hackers, and this is our manifesto.”

Though the original didn’t include ‘without gender’, it’s pretty clear that even gender is meaningless before the power that is the modern Net with everything that comprises it. That makes far more sense than the stupid original Barbie book.