Archive of "Writing"

Archive for the "Writing" Category

Dystoparx — Part 13

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Acklas is at home. He should be at work, but he’s called in sick. Is he sick? He’s sick of work.

It’s not like they’ll notice that he’s gone. The amount he gets done in any given day is governed more by a lot of bureaucratic hoop-jumping than by anything he actually does. The meetings he would have sat in will still run. He just will not have sat in them. They don’t really need him sitting there in order to happen. He’ll get a summary by email later anyway. And it will contain different conclusions than will actually be reached in the meeting.

His parts of the Internet are buzzing with the waves of arrests that have been sweeping across the country. Kiddie porn related, all of it. The major news outlets are raving about the brilliant police work that has apparently been happening for quite some time to lead to this. If there has been so much brilliant police work happening, why hasn’t he heard about it? Just suddenly they find all of these people? The pundits and bloggers are opining about how scary it is that there are so many “freaks” out there. If this is how many they found… how many didn’t they find?

The coverage is all positive, which seems odd. Maybe the government is getting it right. Acklas leans back in his chair and yawns. The subsequent stretch is cut short by a very odd and unexpected sound: his ringing phone.

He slides the phone from its holster and looks at the screen. Incoming call from… and some numbers. Numbers? Does that mean the call is from someone he doesn’t know?

Whatever. He answers it.

“Oh thank goodness! I thought no one was going to answer.”

Huh. Acklas still has no idea who it is. Apparently they’re happy he’s around.

“They’ve got me down at the police station. They’re saying something about my computer, but I don’t know what’s going on.”

Drawing a blank. Woman voice. Older or younger? Gah. “I’m sorry… who is this?”

Oh. It’s the old woman from up the street. What? At the police station? Her son is not picking up. No one she knows is picking up. They’re all out of town or something. Acklas is unconvinced she even knows. Well, he’s not doing a lot else. He’ll head down and see what’s up.

05:01 <jjdavis> You’re where?

05:02 <nicnus> waitwait, is this the woman you talk to on your “runs” ?

05:05 <acklas> yesyes. She lives up the street from me.

05:05 <nicnus> And they’re accusing her of kiddie porn involvement?

05:07 <acklas> i htink they started out with that. this point I think they’re just trying to get information about who may have used her computer

05:08 <jjdavis> More like her Internet connection at all, they’re probably just tracing IPs.

05:08 <jjdavis> Does she lock her wifi?

05:09 <nicnus> Hmm, I hope they’re not bringing people in based on just IP traces. That’s terrible.

05:10 <acklas> WEP secured WiFi so basically open. not sure what it’s based on

05:11 <nicnus> I wonder if they’ll still count her in those numbers of how many “weirdos” they’ve brought in

05:12 <jjdavis> Oh, probably

05:12 <acklas> theyre coming out

Acklas is trying to talk to the officers. What’s up? On what basis was she brought in?

“I’m sorry, sir,” says one, “but we can’t discuss matters that have to do with this case. We’ll make formal statements to the media when we know more.”

Ridiculous! The media will be hearing about this!

“Now, now,” the old woman seems much less concerned than she had on the phone. “They just needed to ask a few questions about my Internet. Can’t be too careful you know.” She lowers her voice to a mock whisper, “There’s dirtbags out there as would do all kinds of things!”

Acklas is still shaking his head as they get on the bus. Of course. There’s nothing negative to report on. Just asking a few questions, that’s all. Need to know if your grandma is associated with any child pornographers, that’s all. He glances back at his phone once they’re moving.

05:13 <jjdavis> They?

05:13 <nicnus> The old woman?

05:14 <jjdavis> Oh.

05:14 <jjdavis> and the officers with her

05:14 <nicnus> Ask them what they’re going to do with the answers they got from her.

05:15 <jjdavis> if they’re smart, they won’t talk. Ask her what they wanted to know.

05:17 <acklas> She doesn’t seem that sure. She didn’t really understand their questions.

05:17 <acklas> and yeah, they weren’t big on talking about it

05:18 <nicus> I wonder if this is an isolated case

05:20 <jjdavis> There are no isolated cases. Ever.

Nicnus’ brother is sitting with his girlfriend. She is his girlfriend now, and quite solidly. They’re watching the police take a man from across the street. Middle-aged man. Single, as far as they know. He seems to be going fairly quietly.

“I always thought he was a creep,” his girlfriend is saying next to him.

“Really? I never really talked to him.”

She huffs some air derisively, “You don’t need to talk to someone to know they’re a creep.”


“He didn’t go out much. When he did he was watching everything, like he wasn’t sure what to do with it. And I’ve never seen kids at his place. No nieces or nephews, nothing.” She’s looking at him.

“You just described my brother perfectly.”

She pauses abruptly mid-thought and looks at him. She starts to speak, then stops. Looks away. “Your brother…”

“My brother is kind of a creep. Is that what you’re trying to say?”

She takes a deep breath. How can she word this delicately? His brother is… different. Certainly not normal. “I certainly don’t think your brother is a pervert.”

“Well,” he sounds sarcastic, “thanks for that vote of confidence.”

“You have to admit,” she’s still not looking at him, “he’s different.”

“And, what, that’s reason enough to get rid of someone? For the crime of keeping to himself?”

She scratches her neck and looks over at him. “Of course not. Forget it. Anyway, this guy obviously did something.”

“Did he?”

Now she’s a little annoyed. Not very annoyed. Just a little. “Well, they’re taking him away in a squad car, aren’t they?”

He snorts, “You don’t even know if he’s being accused of anything. Maybe he’s an important witness and they’re taking him into protective custody. You just see a man being led away and assume that he’s a creep that deserved it because he seems different.”

They’re both silent for awhile. Finally she speaks, “Look, I’m sorry, alright? I didn’t mean anything by it.” She’s eyeing him. He is related to his brother. Maybe he’s got that same compulsive debater streak. He seems to be done, though. The conversation is over for now. She sighs in relief, takes his hand, and closes her eyes.

Jack is up to his neck in work. On-site work. The worst kind. As the sysadmin in charge of security for this datacentre, he has to be on site during all major attacks. The current one has not let up for a full day now.

The policy doesn’t strictly make sense. He could do most of what he’s doing from home still. There are things he has to be here to do, however, and those do crop up more often during a major attack.

He stares, bleary-eyed, at his laptop screen. The attackers have access to a lot of different computers to route their attacks through. They don’t stay in any one long enough for him to get much information about them. Well, he can tell they have a lot of machines. So either they’re renting time from the mob, or they’ve got their own virus that’s out there on a lot of computers. With this much power at their command, he would have expected them to try just flooding the datacentre with requests in order to take it down. That doesn’t seem to be their goal, however. They seem much more interested in actually getting access to the machines. Not any of the machines in particular, mind you.

Jack feels like crap. His eyes won’t focus, his back aches, and he really just wants a nap. Bleh. He walks to the vending machines, grabs a bottle of water, and dumps the whole thing on his face. He lets it drip off of him for a moment before wiping his eyes and then going back to hunch over his laptop. There has to be some sort of pattern to the attacks. He has already determined that the attackers aren’t trying to get in through a particular kind of security hole. They seem to be trying every attack that could possibly work.

Maybe they’re trying to get access to particular type of service? He quickly writes a script to graph traffic to machines in the datacentre against what services are running on those machines. Instantly he sees a trend. Mailservers. They seem particularly interested in mail servers. Also chat server, but much less focused there.

He sets up some firewall rules to slow down any traffic going to machines running email servers. It won’t slow them down enough for any legitimate traffic to notice, but it should slow the attacks down a little bit. Then he sends the owners of all those boxes a notice about a “security maintenance window” for later that afternoon. He’ll turn off all traffic to those boxes at that point and then run some intrusion-detection software on all of them to make sure they’re all still secure. Reset any that have been compromised and turn the network back on at the end of the window. Wost-case scenario: some people’s email is a little bit late. If he’s lucky, the attackers will just give up while everything is down. He doesn’t feel hopeful about that, though.

Jack stretches out on some cushions he’s set up on the floor. Time to get some sleep. As sleep robs him of his carefully constructed defences, however, restricted thoughts come streaming in. Thoughts of her.


He thinks about the best way to reach out to her. In this scenario, he needs to reach her using what she prefers. That has always seemed to be the telephone. Fine. He slides his phone from his belt and stares at it. Ah, the green button. Now it is ringing. No one is picking up. Of course, she can see it’s him. She’s ignoring him. Voice mail.

“Uh… well, crap. I never know what to say to these things. I miss you. Serious.” He lets out a ragged breath. “We’re not a good fit, you and I. I know. I always appreciated that you put up with that. I guess… I guess you did most of the putting up. It always feels like I’m the one doing the putting up.” He thinks about that. Defending himself is not a good course of action. Too late, he’s being recorded. Crap. This is not a good way to compose a message. “Not— not with you specifically. Just in general, you know? Anyway. Call me.”

Phew. Blah. Uhh… What now? Sleep. Blah. Hmm. Yes. Yawn. Sigh. What’s that sound? Oh, an AC unit just came on. Ok. Phew. Hmm. Herm. Haw. OneTwoThree. Fzz. Fop. Flop. Hop. Stop. Hnmmnnm.


Our protagonist is also asleep. On his monitor his news reader is open to a list of headlines.

Local Police Round up 12 in Crack Down on Child Molestation

Sixteen Perverts Nabbed by RCMP

Cleaning up on Child Pornographers

Forty Arrested, Dozens Questioned, Large Law-Enforcement Op

Creeps and Freaks: Getting Tough on Weirdos

Where is Your Excuse Now? Why we need Tougher Cyberlaw

Cybercriminals Help Distribute Child Pornography

He’ll skim them tomorrow. Or not. He knows enough already. The cops are cracking down on anyone with suspicious Internet usage. They’re correlating that into other data they’ve got and turning it into arrests. Who knows how many of the arrests are legitimate. Maybe most of them. Probably.

Problem is, both false positives and false negatives are good for this new law. Either way the media can say the cops need more data. Who can blame them? Law enforcement should have more data about criminals. The question is: how do you keep them from snooping on normal people? Or accusing innocents on the basis of whatever they think they see in the information?


Dystoparx — Part 12

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His name is echoing somewhere outside his head. Someone is talking to him. Maybe. He is somewhere, yes? In a meeting? He’s been taking calls from the lobbyists again. Seems the lobby is quite interested in some recent action in Parliament.


Oh. Yes. The meeting. Wake up, answer the man.

Uh… which man? Oh, just speak to the room. “Yes.”

“Looks like we lost you there for a second.”

Bill is right out of it. The sounds are making sense to his brain now though. Someone is talking to him. He can do this. Focus. “Sorry, I’ve just had a lot on my mind recently.”

A smile comes back in the voice, “That’s understandable. You’ve been busy.”

Bill can see now. He’s in the board room. Meeting with his bosses and the lobbyists. Oh. So they know about each other. Yes, he knew that. That’s why this meeting has been called. He determined that the moment he stepped into the room. He has been busy. Sleep. Sleep is good. He should get some of that. Why are they using his first name? Condescension. They think they can just—

“Do you know why we’ve asked for this meeting?” One of the lobbyists is talking now.

Bill swallows slowly. “I would guess because you want to run our relationship through more formal channels?”

The room laughs.

His supervisor, now, “Your relationship with the lobbyists has been rather unconventional thus far. Don’t worry, we’re going to take the politics right out of your hands.”

Bill isn’t entirely sure this is good. Does this mean the lobby is back in or still out? They’ve been waffling since the activity in Parliament. The—

“The public is going to hate this bill. The so-called ‘technorati’ are already mobilising to ‘inform’ them, and we need them to know how necessary it is. Our clients depend on us for that.”

Oh! They hadn’t been using his first name. They’d been jabbering on about the contents of the bill. Of course. That’s why he had drifted off. A whole load of technical mumbo-jumbo and legalese. As long as it meant he could stop more crime. He understands better now, but what does this all mean for him? “What does that have to do with me?”

“Surely you see how our department benefits from this bill.” His supervisor, again.

“Of course,” which is code for ‘not really, but sure’.

“The public needs to know how much of the sorts of crime we want to stop there is. If they think the problem is small they won’t want to see drastic measures taken to stop it. That’s why, effective immediately, we’re giving you full authority to follow up any lead on any activity, no matter how small. Use as many resources as you need and catch as many as you can. Make a media show of it. Get the numbers up.”

Wait, what? They’re going to grant his request to go after small actors? Wait, no. “What was that about the media?”

“We want you to do your job. The job you’ve been asking us to do since you got here.”

He considers that. No, it’s too easy. There must be something political. “What changed your mind? Politics? What about everything you’ve said about going after producers and victimisers instead of consumers and victims? All of that benefit of the doubt going to citizens goes away if it’s politically convenient?”

Now it’s his supervisor’s boss’ turn to make a comment. “I can’t figure you out. First you want us to let you go after the small actors. Now we say you can and you push back? Stopping crime. That’s your goal isn’t it?”

Bill knows that it is. That is his goal. Who cares why they want him to do it? He should take it while it’s on the table. And he should find someone who can explain this bill to him. “You’re right. Of course. That’s very much what I want. I’ll get to it.”

Nicnus is catching up on news. He’s peripherally aware of what’s going on in the world, of course. The constant stream of tidbits from microblogs and other sources that he reads all day make sure of that. He hasn’t been clicking through to actual articles for at least a week, though.

A bill has been tabled in the Canadian Parliament. He knew that. Reading further: about privacy and the RCMP use of MusicBox data streams. He knew that. In another article: about allowing them to use other data streams. What? Now he’s interested.

He pulls up the text of the bill and scrolls past the preamble information. The first interesting paragraph reads:

In section 3, at the end of paragraph 2, add “, digital.”

Uhh… ok? What does the next paragraph say?

Repeal section 5. Replace the last paragraph of section 4 with, “Due process shall be followed in accordance with policies set by the office of the Commissioner of the RCMP in consultation with Industry Canada.”

What? How does anyone read these? He tries to pull up the relevant Act and see what sections are being changed, but the whole thing is pretty hard to navigate. He keeps looking through the backlog of news stories and finds one about some guy who turned the bill into a readable diff.

For those who don’t know, a diff is a file that specifies in a very simple way what changes should be made to some piece of text. It is the primary tool computer programmers use to propose changes to software.

The relevant parts of this version of the bill looked like the following:

 In accordance with this Act, Canadian law enforcement agencies may only
 gather information from the following types of sources: telecommunications,
-telegram, mail system.
+telegram, mail system, digital.
-Law enforcement officials shall, after establishing the necessity of
-collecting the information, obtain an order from a court of appropriate
-authority to be presented to the holder of the information.
+Due process shall be followed in accordance with policies set by the
+office of the Commissioner of the RCMP in consultation with Industry
Section 5
-The parties about whom any information is to be gathered in accordance
-with this Act, shall be notified of the investigation. Any parties
-materially involved in the information, but who are not under investigation,
-shall be given full disclosure.
+[Section 5 repealed]

“Oh…” Nicnus stares for a moment. Then he stares for another moment. He sends sends the link with the diff on to Acklas, then after some thought creates a page highlighting just these sections and sends it on to all his microblog followers.

Moments pass. Nicnus is thinking. Hard. This cannot pass. Must not pass. The proposed change could not possibly be legal, though. Could it? Full digital and non-digital wiretapping without notifying the suspect that they were even under investigation? He wished he knew a lawyer.

16:30 <acklas> Woah. I’d heard the law was crazy, but those sections are the craziest.

16:31 <nicnus> …

16:33 <nicnus> Yeah, I can’t see how this can pass as-is.

16:35 <acklas> Well, we’ll see. Certainly I’m on board for fighting this now.

16:36 <nicnus> Sure, but you know how much good that does.

16:38 <acklas> I hear you, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

16:39 <acklas> Maybe someone should actually set up a face-to-face with our MP.

16:39 <nicnus> Could do.

** jjdavis has joined

16:39 <jjdavis> And you thought it was bad living in the US!

16:40 <acklas> shut up

16:40 <nicnus> It’s not law yet.

16:40 <jjdavis> Fair

16:41 <jjdavis> We’ll probably get something similar cropping up here soon anyway.

16:41 <acklas> Don’t certain US laws already allow this?

16:42 <jjdavis> Not for arbitrary law enforcement. For federal-level, yeah.

16:42 <acklas> Wait, ARBITRARY law enforcement?

** acklas looks

16:42 <nicnus> Yeah. That’s the craziest part. Joe policeman wants a look at your emails? No problem.

Jack is happy for the distraction. Work has not become less and less of a successful distraction. He’s tried blocking out the world and diving in to interesting development problems, but after less than an hour he’s always left zoned out.

She had called. Only once. He didn’t dare call back. She hadn’t said much. Wanted to know what he had to say.

What did he have to say?

He was still confused as all get out about the entire situation. So he told her so. No use hiding it. She said she figured as much. Didn’t sound like that was a good thing.

A car alarm goes off outside his window. He saunters over and takes a look. People are streaming by on the sidewalk, but no one seems to even take notice of the alarm. Too much noise, so little of it matters. Desensitizes.

Who are all these people? Where are they going? Jack has no idea. Every day thousands of people stream by outside his window. Going somewhere. These are the people that Nicnus always wants so badly to protect, yet they, or most of them, do not want protecting. Is it nobility, altruism, or just arrogance? What’s the difference between a consumer advocate and a Jehovah’s Witness door-to-door missionary? That the consumer advocate is right? That he doesn’t go door-to-door?

His phone is ringing. Hmm? Yes. Answer that. Who is it? Work. They need him to come in. Physically come in. It happens. If he could work from home all the time he wouldn’t need to be in the States at all. In fact, now that she’s gone…

16:47 <acklas> man, I really need to find another job

16:48 <nicnus> corporate cubicle land not doing it for you anymore? 😉

16:48 <acklas> seriously

16:48 <acklas> very

16:49 <nicnus> Are you interested in what we do? With the product taking off like this

16:50 <acklas> Maybe

Jack wants to get into this conversation, but he really should head to the office.

16:52 <jjdavis> Getting called in to the office. bback

** jjdavis is away

Bill has been on the phone all day with local law enforcement across Canada. Now he is on the ground with some. About 50 creeps across Canada are about to get busted, but he wanted to be present to see at least one of them. He’d like to be everywhere, but that’s just not possible on the timeline they’ve got.

They aren’t a SWAT team. There’s no group of officers bristling with firearms. They are not going to break the door down. In fact, they aren’t allowed to. This is the real police now, and they have to follow the rules. Or at least, when it matters. The last thing Bill wants is to have everything ended by a small, media-noticeable breach of procedure.

He knocks. A woman answers the door. “Is your husband home, miss?”

The single mother is offended by his question. Crap. “Well, boyfriend, whatever?”

Very single. Very focused on being a mother. Crap. Where is the creep? He glances at the officers with him. Glances at his notes. William J. That’s the name they have. “We’re looking for William.”

Oh. It’s her son. Oh. She is not happy now. Her son is coming to the door. He can’t be older than 13 or 14. What is happening here? “Are you William J?” The kid shrugs. He’s William at least. At the right address. As confusing as this seems he can’t just ignore this. They’ll take him in, ask some questions, maybe figure out what’s going on.

Now the mother is more upset. What has her son done? The son is resentful and cold, but maybe he’s just always like that. Bill peers past the mother. A daughter. Little girl, 3, maybe 5.


Dystoparx — Part 11

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“That’s just not going to happen,” someone from the lobbyist group is speaking with Bill. He doesn’t know who.

“I thought we had an understanding.” More politics. First the FBI shut him out, then the Japanese became too afraid to continue working with him… now this.

“The lobby has decided it is no longer within our best interests to start this work north of the border.” At least that’s a reason. It’s more than he had expected to get.

“It’s the FBI, isn’t it? They’ve got you on their side!” His contacts at the FBI weren’t even taking his calls anymore. Who knows what they were working on? Not Bill.

“I have no further comments for you.” Whoever the lobby has him on with, it isn’t someone with authority.

He hears a click on the line, aaaaaand they’ve hung up on him.

The lobby court case is over, so maybe they’re unhappy with how that went. They got Bradley to settle. He gave them money and then went away. They’d accepted his offer, though, so why would they be upset about it now?

Bill heads out for a meeting with his superiors. He set this up the moment the FBI fallout happened. He didn’t plan on telling them everything, but he hoped to get some sort of concession out of them. If the data couldn’t be used to get any big fish, maybe they could go back to the way things were before the data stream. Catch the small criminals so that you’re at least doing *something*. With the data streams they could catch more weirdos faster. That’s where they should have started all along.

He’s entering a boardroom of some kind. He’s been here before, of course. There aren’t many people in the room. There don’t need to be. Bill takes a seat. His boss, his boss’ boss, and their assistants. Enough authority to get what he wants done. If he’s careful.

“You wanted to speak with us?” Bill can’t even tell who said it. Someone. It doesn’t really matter who.


“Then speak.” Was that someone else or the same person as had spoken first?

“As you know, my department has had some recent dealings with the FBI. An information sharing, if you will. The current policies require we go after only the biggest weirdos. That’s not something that stays within our borders.” Is he being formal enough? Maybe not.

“We knew about it, yes.” Now Bill is just creeped out. He’s had meetings with these guys before. Is he going crazy, or is something strange going on? Maybe he’s just not paying enough attention to them. They’re seated across the table from each other and he is at the end. Maybe he just can’t see their faces well enough.

“The FBI have, as of recently, terminated the relationship. They took all the data and work they could from us, used it to nab a jerk, and then cut loose.”

“That’s unfortunate.” “What are you going to do now?”

Ok, he heard two different voices that time. He really should get more sleep. After. After this. No more politics after this. Not today.

“I’d like permission to change my department’s goals. We thought maybe we could change the war on child porn,” Bill says this as though he had agreed with it, “but even with this much data that’s just not easy. What we *can* do is nail every,” Bill pauses, he may not need to be formal, but profanity is not going to help him, “We can nail every small time guy that shows up. Lots of them. Fast.”

“Is that all?”

Bill isn’t sure how well this is going, but he’s made his argument, so, “Yes.”

“We will consider it and get back to you.”

16:01 <nicnus> jjdavis: Sorry to hear that.

16:02 <acklas> Yeah, man, it sucks.

16:04 <jjdavis> Thanks, guys. I haven’t seen her in a week. I tried calling once, but that doesn’t seem the right way to go just now.

16:05 <nicnus> Yeah.

16:05 <acklas> yeah

16:06 <jjdavis> Ok, you guys can go. You don’t need to handle me like I’m a normal. Just because I’m going through a breakup.

16:07 <acklas> I assume you still have no idea what was really upsetting her?

16:07 <nicnus> It obviously wasn’t just that you explained the presidential election system to her.

16:08 <acklas> Yeah. I mean, that might have come off as condescending…

16:08 <nicnus> Were you “Well, actually”-ing? Still, a nitpick can’t be enough.

16:10 <jjdavis> I’ve thought about that. Do you think it could be that I nitpick too often and she just got fed up?

16:11 <nicnus> Had she ever complained about it before?

16:11 <acklas> Normals hate pedantry, but that can’t be the only factor. Did she ever mention it?

16:12 <jjdavis> Maybe sometimes. Not more than most normals.

16:12 <acklas> how mad was she

16:12 <acklas> ?

16:13 <jjdavis> Very mad. Throwing stuff crying mad.

16:14 <nicnus> Then it can’t just be pedantry. That wouldn’t get any stable person *that* mad.

16:14 <acklas> nicnus: agree.

16:15 <jjdavis> Then what?

16:17 <acklas> Not sure.

16:17 <nicnus> You chose to be in a relationship with a normal. You may never know. The more important thing is how to fix things.

16:18 <acklas> I wouldn’t take that

16:18 <jjdavis> But I want to know!

16:19 <nicnus> Sure, even *I* want to know. That doesn’t mean you get to. Price of this sort thing.

16:20 <jjdavis> … then what

16:21 <nicnus> I’m no expert, but I think if she wants to reconcile she will initiate

16:22 <acklas> Sounds right, but I would continue showing interest. Let her know you’re desperate, but not in words

16:22 <jjdavis> desperate?

16:22 <acklas> Whatever you want to call it, she will call it desperate.

16:23 <nicnus> Go with desperate.

** jjdavis is away: telephone

16:25 <acklas> Maybe that’s her.

16:26 <nicnus> Maybe, but it’s a bit early.

16:26 <acklas> Says the chronically single man

16:27 <nicnus> Doesn’t mean I can’t know things.

16:29 <acklas> You heard about Bradley?

16:30 <nicnus> That he settled? Yeah. Where did he come up with that kind of money? My brother is paying much less off over a long time.

16:31 <acklas> Maybe his family is rich.

16:32 <nicnus> nothing indicated that

** acklas shrugs

Acklas enjoys his job less these days. His division is nearing a product launch and that means more pressure from middle managers. Not that the project is behind by much. There are no more problems than usual. Middle management just likes to feel like they’re doing something useful. Pressuring the team to work faster seems useful to them.

Acklas knows there are several serious security holes in the product. He has brought them up with more than one of the “VP” types running around by his desk, but no one seems to care. He even sent an email to higher-level management. The reply basically said “We can fix stuff after launch”.

Why does he work here again?

16:06 <jjdavis> Ok, you guys can go. You don’t need to handle me like I’m a normal. Just because I’m going through a breakup.

Thinking about jjdavis’ problem seems far more productive than putting in time on a shoddy product with security holes no one wants fixed. The company would ship the product as it was now if today was launch day. It runs. It would sell.

Tomorrow is the general staff meeting. What a waste of time. The higher-level management comes down to outline what the development teams will be working on for the coming months. It all changes six times by the end of the first month anyway. Mandatory attendance.

Acklas needs to look for a job.

16:14 <acklas> nicnus: agree.

Acklas is thinking about Jack’s problem. A bit. This sort of emotional turmoil just gets in the way of productivity. Acklas had a significant other once. Not. Worth. The. Trouble.

Even though they’re in full think-this-out mode, Acklas is not about to just tell jjdavis that he should get over himself. That takes time. For everyone.

16:25 <acklas> Maybe that’s her.

Acklas hopes it isn’t. Jack is not going to do a good job on the phone with his ex right now. Is it right to call her ex? She probably considers herself such. Maybe.

m0rty: RT @bunny22 My puppy is so cute!

fakepm: For my next trick, I shall outlaw privacy!

acklas: RT @doctorow Canadian parliament tables bill to handle police use of data streams …

Nicnus is deep-diving on a technical problem. A client has identified a bug in their encryption product that causes it to run very slow under some conditions, causing the client’s entire Internet connection to freeze up. He hasn’t been able to reproduce the problem yet.

His thoughts are interrupted by an IM from jjdavis. Hadn’t he turned off IM notifications? Normally he does when… Oh. Jack’s girlfriend left. Really left. Ouch.

16:01 <nicnus> jjdavis: Sorry to hear that.

Nicnus stretches and cranks the volume dial on his desk. All his audio is handled digitally, but he installed a manual volume dial at some point because he loves the tactile feedback it gives him. He hits some keys to switch from the bouncy, happy music that had been on to something with a bit more kick.

His system selects some Bon Jovi and shows that it will soon be following that up with other good classic rock. Perfect.

16:11 <acklas> Normals hate pedantry, but that can’t be the only factor. Did she ever mention it?

Nicnus plods around his home slowly. He hasn’t moved from his desk in hours. The music is loud enough that it envelops him wherever he walks. Yogurt? Yes. He wants to eat Yogurt. Fridge open. Yogurt out. Bowl? No bowl. Spoon? Sure. Soon he’s easing back into his desk chair. He reads over the conversation with Acklas and Jack and then taps out a response with his left hand, the right one being engaged in conveying yogurt to his mouth.

16:14 <nicnus> Then it can’t just be pedantry. That wouldn’t get any stable person *that* mad.

He savours his yogurt. So Jack’s girl finally dumped him. It was bound to happen. They might fix this, but more likely not. Either way Jack will get over it. Maybe if they stay separated Jack can finally get out of that country. Unless he meets someone else. Yikes.

16:23 <nicnus> Go with desperate.

Do women actually respond to desperate? Who knows. Seems as reasonable as anything else to say. Really, with something like this, Jack is just shooting in the dark. Nicnus is giving advice, but really he’s not got much more information. He’s just in a better frame of mind to say the sort of things that Jack might say were their roles reversed.

Maybe Jack’s Other just got tired of being with a geek. Geeks and normals primarily coexist by pretending the other is “out there”, don’t they? Maybe.

Crap. He’s out of yogurt.

Dystoparx — Part 10

Posted on

Accused Infringer Disappeared

As you know, the EFF has been closely watching a Canadian court case connected to attempts to criminalise copyright infringement. As of today, the defendant in that case, Doug Bradley, has disappeared. Authorities are working to track him down but have so far been unsuccessful. This does not bode well for the eventual success of the defence, and the plaintiff is already running a media campaign to smear Bradley as a “runner”.

The case has been stalled until Bradley can be located.

Bill is pacing nervously in his office. He may not seem like the nervous type, but he is realising that given the right situation everyone is the nervous type.


Bill does not love politics, never has. Politics are something that has to get handled if you want to stop criminals. Someone else’s job. Now that he is head of something, politics has become part of his job.

The Network.

Bill calls his operation “The Network”. This may evidence a misunderstanding of what those words mean, but no one is going to tell him that. He’s been largely frustrated by their slow progress. Now that he has gotten both international parters and a political lobby involved, the whole situation has become more political.


The FBI called earlier. They found trace of a child rapist. Emailed his mother. Everyone has a weakness. Everyone leaves fingerprints. Bill has his team working hard to decide what parts of the data stream are likely to contain more of what they need to find and nail this rapist. The FBI are working on the details.

The lobby called earlier. They’re having a bit of trouble with their current court case, want to know if he’ll do them a favour. Who knows what they want. He just wants them to do their thing and let him do what he does best: catch bad guys.

Bill’s phone is in his hand. Did he pick it up? Must have. He hears the sound of the remote end ringing. Did he dial? Must have. The FBI answers. Since he’s got them on the line: how is the search going on their end? They’ve identified a location where the rapist was recently. A team is moving in now. Why didn’t Bill know this? His team can stop for now.

He is going to catch a plane.

Acklas is out running. Again. He never seems to make it far past the old woman’s house. Isn’t exercising supposed to get easier with the doing of it?

“So, what’s up in the world today?” She’s peering at him over her glasses.

Acklas wracks his brain for something interesting to say. He knows there are interesting things going on, but none come to mind.

“Not much.”

“Oh. You always say that.” She doesn’t seem upset.

“Yeah,” he pants, “What’s up with you?”

“Same old.” She pauses for a moment, then remembers something, “Oh! My grandson is coming up soon. You’d like him, he’s into computers.”

Acklas rolls his eyes. “Into computers” usually means “plays video games”.

“I see that,” she clucks, “You young things all think I don’t see it when you think I’m crazy, but I do. I may be old, but I’m not stupid.”

Acklas smiles, “I wouldn’t even dream of calling you stupid.”

“You say that now. They always say that now…” The old woman looks wistful. When it becomes apparent that she has nothing more to say, Acklas runs on.

18:02 <nicnus> We’ve launched the first version of our product. Let me know if you’re interested.

18:04 <nicnus> It’s getting a semi-good response so far. Mostly from geeky small business.

18:04 <nicnus> Which makes sense.

19:01 <nicnus> We’ve just had a request come in to build a module that will work properly on a Ham packet radio system.

19:01 <nicnus> … wonder who is running packet radio still

Jack is not responding. He’s seen the messages, but he doesn’t really feel like responding.

He isn’t depressed, per se. Emotional turmoil does not have to be depression. This feels more like a deep-seated confusion with a garnish of hurt. He goes over the events that lead to this in his mind, trying to determine what happened. Then he shuts his mind off, allowing the music from his computer to draw his mind away from reality. Repeat.

She left. Would she be back? She had indicated that she would not be. Was he to take this indication at face value, or was he meant to interpret it in some way?

Nicnus had to deal with something like this recently. That situation had sounded like there may be a maturity problem, though. Jack is pretty sure that is not the case here. He had offended her deeply. How?


It wouldn’t make sense for this to be a sudden decision. He hadn’t done a single big thing to offend her. Such a huge reaction to a single event would definitely be a maturity problem. Maybe. Usually, anyway. There must have been something he consistently sucked at. A driven wedge that slowly crawled deeper as he continued to fail at…


19:55 <nicnus> What do you think about Bradley? It seems strange that he would just disappear like that.

Jack’s girlfriend is not sitting alone. She is not puzzling out her life. She’s doing what she always does when she is upset: talking it out with her best friend.

She’s frustrated, upset, angry. Her sentences barely make sense as they come tumbling out of her head. An emotional gush with the sort of force normally reserved for blind rage.

Her friend is surprisingly calm. All that raw emotion blasting her with an otherwise withering power does not seem to be a problem for her. The rush of incomprehensible babble that simply cannot be made sense of rushes past with decreasing coherence. Calm. Consoling.

Her friend is not a geek, nor is she a moron. This emotional display is not an attempt to communicate information, nor is it intended to seem nearly so directed at her. This is a release, and as a good friend she needs to be here to acknowledge the release. She makes comforting sounds, and periodically hugs her friend. That is all. That is exactly what is needed. Thoughts come later. Thoughts will be important in recovering this relationship. Actions will be essential to eventual repair. Not now. Right now the torrent of emotion is all that matters.

Jack’s girlfriend is not aware of any of this. She would be, if she were on the receiving end. Right now she is barely aware at all. She rides the path from raging anger to weeping sorrow over and over again. This is Jack’s fault, and yet he probably doesn’t even know what is going on. He’s probably sitting in his cave trying to puzzle it out. What a jerk. Why had she put up with him for so long?

The tears stop. The babbling slows. Her friend hands her tissues. She’s a mess. Time to clean up. No thoughts yet. Time for rest now. Thoughts tomorrow. Maybe.

“It’s not in your jurisdiction, the man was caught on US soil,” the FBI man seems to think this is obvious.

“My team was part of catching him! I just want to know about his activities in Canada. You know he had some.” Bill is standing in an office in DC. Normally, this would not be the way. There is a process. This is not it.

“There is a process. This is not it.” The FBI man seems to be reading his thoughts, “If we get any information relevant to your investigations, we’ll inform you.”

“Come on, just let me talk to him,” Bill really wants to be in on this. Desk work and data mining is all well and good, but only when it produces these kind of results. This is the real thing.

“I’m sorry, Bill, there are rules—”

Bill hisses, “Since when did we care about rules?”

The FBI man looks shocked. No, he doesn’t. It’s very clearly fake. He looks mock-shocked. His throat produces a mock-shocked voice. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Bill can’t believe this. The Network. His baby. He always thinks of it as his. It was his idea. He got it rolling. Now, with some real results, he’s being shut out by process. This is why he had been so willing to take advantage of the data mining opportunity when he had seen it. Process. Process is ever the enemy of the lawman. Bill likes freedom and justice as much as anyone, but when the checks designed to protect those ideals prevent him from defending those ideals, well, then, he has no use for those checks anymore.

He leaves. No use in staying, the FBI man is not going to come around. Bill needs to step up efforts with the lobbyists. Maybe if he can help them out with their court case…

Our protagonist is very happy. His company is selling devices that he helped design; devices that he thinks are useful. The newest version of MusicBox came out today. It changed all the mechanisms used for spying on the user in an attempt to get around his “good virus”. Within hours, teams of people were working on determining the new ways that the product worked. Nicnus had not been involved at all. In fact, he had only found out about it much later in the day. By the time he knew there was a problem to be worked on, he had emails in his inbox with the code that would be needed to make it all work again. He merged all the changes into the codebase and redeployed the “virus”. By this time tomorrow, most computers around the world would be inoculated again.

He spends some time thinking about Doug Bradley. The court case may be slowed by this event, but it would not go away. This would just hurt the defence, which is not good when losing means copyright “criminals” going to jail.

19:55 <nicnus> What do you think about Bradley? It seems strange that he would just disappear like that.

Jack isn’t responding just now, but he’ll get the message later. Nicnus wonders what would have happened if his brother had gone to jail instead of being faced with a giant fee to pay. What about the hundreds of others who had been sued?

Then again, maybe such lunacy would be enough to wake up the society around him.

Dystoparx — Part 9

Posted on

Acklas is out running. This may seem strange to you, but it’s a habit he’s been trying to form recently. He’s realized that being in mildly good physical condition could be useful if he were ever forced to leave his cave for an extended period.

Though, that doesn’t make him good at it.

He stops for breath a few short blocks from his house. He always runs out of breath after about this far. There’s an old woman who lives here, and she always seems to be out on her porch.

“Having a nice run again, eh?” She peers down at him.

Acklas shakes his head, “I’m not sure ‘nice’ is the word I would use to describe it.”

She chuckles. “So how come I never see you running past here with a pretty girl?”

She’s starting to sound like his mother, but he has a better quip here, “Do you really think I’d want a pretty girl laughing at me every time I run out of breath?”

That seems to have satisfied her. He doesn’t mind this old woman. He likes that someone nice lives on his street. It’s very strange of her to just talk to some random guy who runs past her house. Probably not safe. He likes it, though.

Soon he’s off again, but quickly decides to head for home. Enough beating up the body for one day. He stumbles in through his door and makes it to his room. New messages. From Nicnus. The encryption device is ready for outside beta testing, it seems. Acklas will get in contact with him about helping out with that later. Right now he needs to head into work.

Acklas mutters something under his breath about how lucky Nicnus is to work for a small company that lets him work from home. His office is much less… nice. Still, it’s a living, and it’s not boring.

Bill is on the phone, but he does not like what he’s hearing, “What do you mean, your consultants are telling you most of the data gathering is only theoretical? Either it’s possible or it’s not. Either way, we’re talking about lobbying for legislation. If the implementation is possible, we need to be allowed to implement it.”

Someone walks in and hands Bill a printed email. He scans it quickly and then swears into the phone. “I have to deal with something. We’ll talk later, OK?”

He hangs up and calls his FBI contact. Apparently the FBI man thinks that Bill has leaked the information about what they’re doing. Bill denies it.

“Look, you,” The FBI man says slowly, “You didn’t think we who are running the world’s most sophisticated wiretap system would fail to notice you communicating with a political lobby group.”

Bill is at a loss for words. “You’ve been spying on me?”

“No, Bill. We have been spying on the whole world.”

Bill’s face flushes in momentary anger, “To catch rapists, not to follow my personal dealings.”

The FBI man does not seem phased, “I’m going to quote from one of your recent emails. You said, ‘Privacy is dead. Law enforcement needs access to information in order to get the job done. If the government will let us cull the data available on the Internet, then we can stop all kinds of problems before they even start.'”

Now Bill knows they’ve been spying on him, “So?”

“So, that email was not to one of us. You’ve been talking about data harvesting with a major political group, and don’t even pretend you haven’t been because I have the emails and phone transcripts right here.”

“How did you get phone—” Bill’s bewilderment is cut short by the FBI man’s derisive laughter.

“Does it even matter? The point is, I have it. If the wrong people find out about our network, we could be shut down. What are you thinking?”

Bill’s bewilderment quickly turns defencive, “Well excuse me. I’m trying to work on making what we do more legal so that more people can benefit from it.”

“Do we even need that? We can just feed as much information as we want into any agency we want. They don’t have to care where it comes from. Why endanger the project?”

“Because,” Bill’s voice has a sense of finality to it, “this is bigger than us. This is about stopping criminals. We can’t just run it as a secret project forever because we can’t do anything forever. These guys are the best. They know their facts, and the politicians do not. They can make anything seem like a good idea, and no one is going to stand up against us. The populace want to be safe and they will beg us to read their emails if it means one less weirdo on the streets. Trust me; this will work out fine.”

17:01 <nicnus> You ready?

17:01 <acklas> Sure.

Acklas unplugs his Internet and hooks it up through the demo unit that Nicnus had shipped to his office. He waits a few moments as his computer tries to get back on the Internet. Soon it says it is on and he returns to the chat.

17:05 <acklas> So, this is encrypted now?

17:06 <nicnus> Well… No. You still have a normal connection to the Internet, no getting around that. The device will let us set up a very simple encrypted connection between just us. Then we could chat across that.

17:08 <acklas> … sounds complicated.

17:08 <nicnus> Not if we ship the devices with file sharing and IM clients and whatnot that automatically use this.

17:09 <acklas> I guess.

17:10 <nicnus> You’re sure it’s OK for you to be testing this at work?

17:11 <acklas> No one pays any attention to what I do here. Besides, it’s lunch.

An email arrives in Acklas’ inbox.

17:11 <acklas> Isn’t this a very insecure way to send me the key? You just email it?

17:12 <nicnus> Sure. For real security you’d want to set up the key in a secure manner.

17:12 <acklas> Ok, I guess this is fine for a test.

Acklas opens the file with a bit of software Nicnus had sent him earlier. The software starts talking to the device on the back of his system and soon reports success. Acklas looks at his networks and sees a connection that he assumes goes to Nicnus.

17:13 <acklas> Ok. Got it.

17:13 <nicnus> Now just connect to the chat server on my system.

Acklas does this and opens up a new chat using that server.

17:15 <acklas> HAI THAR

17:16 <nicnus> WE R SO ENCRYPTED


17:17 <nicnus> READ THIZ, H4CK3RS!

17:17 <acklas> Is mixing LOLspeak and 1337 really kosher?

I would record for the reader what comes next, but while it would show some of the geekiest text I could place in this account, it would also have almost no meaning to the reader. In short, their dialogue does not need to be encrypted: no one can understand it anyway. Of course, the existence of the technology they are testing is really the only thing that is a secret. Unfortunately, that is the only thing they are not trying to keep a secret.

Case to Criminalize Infringement Continues

The EFF has been closely watching a court case that is developing in Canada. If this case goes badly, it could set a precedent that would leak down into the United States. How? The lobby group responsible is a US-based group that has significant holdings north of the border as well. Rest assured that a victory there will mean they bring their power to bear down here as well.

The case hinges on the fact that the accused infringer, Doug Bradley, is in possession of unlocked versions of content that is only distributed on digitally locked medium (like DVDs). The argument is that by possessing these copies, Bradley is actively circumventing the digital locks, which is a criminal offence in many countries, including the United States. If convicted, this could be broadly applied to any infringement of content that is distributed in locked format.

Luckily, it seems that if any distribution of the content has been without DRM, then the infringement cannot fall under this concept. No matter where this case goes, it is for exactly these reasons that consumers need to actively fight against digital locks (or DRM or TPMs, whatever you call it) on their content.