2014.07.02

Unwarranted Takedown

A few days ago Microsoft, in what is probably the silliest action they’ve taken in a while now, took down 22 domains belonging to dynamic DNS company noip.com. We know ’cause we use their services at Cosmical. Their move, against a service provider of this sort, is unprecedented and somewhat dangerous from a legal perspective; their argument was that hosts using the dynamic DNS services of noip.com were spreading malware and engaged in illegal activity.

Instead of engaging with noip.com to disable those hosts and block those accounts, they opted to go to (US) Federal Court and get warrant seizing the domains and crippling not just the culprits, but effectively thousands (if not millions) of noip.com customers.

The problem here is that there is no proportion in Microsoft’s response and no concern for the legitimate users of the service, while jeopardising the service provider’s integrity and reputation in the process. It would be akin to disconnecting a nation from the internet, just because there were a few hacking attempts originating in it. By that same logic employed by Microsoft, other service providers, including Microsoft itself, might be in danger of domain seizures, disconnection etc. because a very small percentage of their customers broke the law.

Obviously the responsibility does not only lie with Microsoft here, but also with the Federal Court that allowed and enabled Microsoft to disrupt noip.com’s service. On its part noip.com claimed that Microsoft never contacted them about the problems they experienced and that they would have been able to take targeted measures to stop the abuse from happening without affecting the vast majority of their customers who are now experiencing an outage.

It will be interesting to see how noip.com customers will react; it would be great if a Class Action Lawsuit arose and was filed against Microsoft, which would hopefully lead to other companies choosing more civilized ways of resolving disputes and countering abuse in the future. I guess nothing of the sort is going to happen. Instead of any legal proceedings against Microsoft, noip.com will eventually get hold of its domains back from Microsoft and the service will be restored.

But the very fact that those domains got ‘hijacked’ by Microsoft so easily in the first place and the precedence it sets is frightening and dangerous. That is, the fact that a single corporation, without any due care for the side-effects to lawful customers of a service provider, is able to take the service down, is cause for great concern.

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» Fira Sans and Fira Mono

After many years of using (my) Inconsolata Hellenic on my linux and OS X boxes as the monospace font of choice for development, I switched to Fira Mono, commissioned by Mozilla for their Firefox OS and designed by Erik Spiekermann. Inconsolata might have been one of the best looking monospace fonts I’ve ever seen – and the fact that it was free made it an insanely great choice – but it was time for a change. Oh and one more thing, Fira has full support for (monotonic) Greek.

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» Go and Javascript.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Python is being replaced by Go. I don’t have a lot of information to back up this prediction except that most of the positive articles I read about Go are written by Python developers, and a lot of them say that they are now actively migrating their code base from Python to Go. I don’t see as much enthusiasm for Go from developers using statically typed languages, probably because of Go’s antiquated type system (which is still a big step up from Python, obviously).

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2014.05.04

Υπερίων & η αγορά της Ευρυζωνικότητας

Ξαναγυρίζω σε ένα θέμα για το οποίο έχω γράψει αρκετά. Προ μερικών ετών, σε ένα άρθρο μου έγραφα για το ΣΑΠΕΣ, πλέον Υπερίων, το σύστημα της ΕΕΤΤ για την καταγραφή της πραγματικής ταχύτητας σύνδεσης ανα την ελληνική επικράτεια.

Η ιδέα είναι πολύ απλή: γράφεσαι με το email σου και πραγματοποιείς, μέσω του δικτυακού τόπου του Υπερίων, μετρήσεις της ταχύτητάς της σύνδεσής σου. Προφανώς η υπηρεσία είναι δωρεάν, όμως και φοβερά χρήσιμη, τόσο για την ΕΕΤΤ, που εν γένει έχει συμβολικό ρόλο στην Ελλάδα, αν κρίνουμε από τα χάλια της ευρυζωνικής συνδεσιμότητας όχι μόνον της χώρας εν γένει αλλά και κεντρικών γειτονιών της πρωτεύουσας της, αλλά και για τον ευρύτερο πληθυσμό.

Δυστυχώς μέχρι σήμερα ελάχιστοι άνθρωποι έχουν μπεί στον κόπο να αξιοποιήσουν την υπηρεσία για να καταγράψουν την ταχύτητα της σύνδεσής τους. Φαντάζομαι πως οι περισσότεροι από αυτούς (α) δεν έχουν ιδέα για την υπηρεσία, αλλά και να είχαν (β) σιγά μην κάθονταν να κάνουν περιοδικά μετρήσεις. Μια λύση θα ήταν η υποχρέωση από την ΕΕΤΤ στους παρόχους να συνοδεύουν τα αρχικά έγγραφα μιας συνδρομής (και τον εξοπλισμό) με κάποιο ενημερωτικό φυλλάδιο που θα παρώτρυνε τους πελάτες τους να χρησιμοποιήσουν το σύστημα για να μετρήσουν την ταχύτητα της σύνδεσής τους. Φυσικά οι πάροχοι κάτι τέτοιο δεν θα το ήθελαν και φυσικά αυτό θα έλυνε ίσως εν μέρει το (α) αλλά όχι το (β).
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» Broadband matters.

A 10% increase in fast broadband penetration can result in between 0.25% and 1.38% growth in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), research by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) suggests, as well as a 3.6% increase in efficiency.

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2014.04.23

geodata.gov.gr: Στις ‘ελληνικές καλένδες’ των Δημόσιων Δεδομένων

Πριν από περίπου τέσσερα χρόνια υπέπεσε στην αντίληψή μου το geodata.gov.gr. Ήταν ένα από τα οράματα του τότε Πρωθυπουργού, για μια Ελλάδα τεχνολογικά ανεπτυγμένη, κοινωνικά δίκαιη, δημοσιονομικά εύρυθμη κλπ. Το geodata.gov.gr ήταν (αναφέρομαι εκούσια και επιτηδευμένα σε παρελθοντικό χρόνο) ένα portal δημόσιας γεωγραφικής πληροφορίας που στόχο είχε να συσσωρεύσει δημόσια πληροφορία και να την διαθέσει στο κοινό, συχνά κάτω από όρους ευνοϊκούς τόσο για προσωπική όσο και για ερευνητική ή εμπορική χρήση.

Ταυτόχρονα με το geodata.gov.gr έγινε αισθητή και η κρίση και το (αφελές) όραμα του τότε Πρωθυπουργού μετασχηματίστηκε σε έναν (έμπρακτο) οικονομικό, πολιτικό και, εν τέλει, κοινωνικό εφιάλτη από τον οποίο ακόμη δεν έχουμε ξυπνήσει. Η πρώτη προσπάθεια δημιουργίας μιας ενημερωμένης, πλούσιας βάσης γεωχωρικών δημόσιων δεδομένων σύντομα άρχισε να δείχνει την ηλικία της. Μέχρι το φθινόπωρο του 2011, όταν διατέθηκαν τα δεδομένα του δικτύου του ΟΑΣΑ, η παρακμή ήταν ήδη εμφανής: τα περισσότερα από τα στοιχεία του geodata.gov.gr ήταν ήδη παρωχημένα, ενώ τα μόλις ανακοινωθέντα δεδομένα του ΟΑΣΑ, που διατέθηκαν βάσει του προτύπου GTFS που σχεδιάσε και χρησιμοποιεί η Google για να προσφέρει λειτουργίες πλοήγησης σε δίκτυα ΜΜΜ ήταν τόσο προβληματικά που ο Phil Stubbings, ένας βρετανός μηχανικός λογισμικού που κατοικούσε εκείνη την εποχή στην Αθήνα και είχε δημιουργήσει, μετά από πολύ κόπο και μεράκι, το zee.gr, ένα φανταστικό project καταγραφής και κωδικοποίησης του δικτύου των ΜΜΜ στην Αθήνα με σκοπό την δημιουργία ενός διαδικτυακού journey planner, έγραφε στο FAQ του zee.gr:

The data however contained many errors, for example buses traveling at the speed of light, missing and corrupt trips and incorrect ordering of stops. For this reason, I have corrected many schedules, added/removed routes and in combination with my initial data-set, effectively have a distinct set of transit data. I believe that OASA (and soon OAS.TH) will provide an updated feed. If interested, keep checking here for updates.

Δυστυχώς, η πίστη του Phil στην Ελληνική κυβέρνηση μάλλον τον πρόδωσε. Παρ’ότι ο ΟΑΣΑ ανανέωσε τον περασμένο Δεκέμβριο τα δρομολόγια (ομολογώ πως δεν έχω ελέγξει την ποιότητα των νέων δρομολογίων για να μπορώ να κρίνω αν είναι καλύτερα από τα παλαιότερα που αναφέρει ο Phil παραπάνω) οι στάσεις και το γενικότερο δίκτυο του οργανισμού παραμένει ανενημέρωτο από το 2011. Η ίδια εικόνα επικρατεί στις περισσότερες άλλες κατηγορίες πληροφορίων, με τον αριθμό των ενημερώσεων που έχουν λάβει χώρα στον δικτυακό τόπο τον τελευταίο χρόνο να μετρούν λιγότερες από δέκα.
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2014.04.22

Apple UX Regressions

These past few years have been a somewhat turbulent time for Apple. Its market dominance in the smartphone race diminished, its profits holding strong, but investor and analyst confidence evaporated, its once infallible strategy, product line, image and appeal gone and its appeal lacklustre compared to the past.

The post-Steve Jobs Apple gradually shifted its culture as new executives took the reigns and old ones departed. Much publicised was Tim Cook’s change regarding the company’s relationship with analysts and shareholders with the company giving out dividends for the first time in many years, after Steve Jobs steadfastly refused to do so. Also widely reported was Scott Forstall’s firing back in 2012, allegedly for refusing to apologise for botching Apple Maps.

And while Apple’s products are probably as polished as they ever were, there are issues here and there that are more subtle, less obvious and less publicised than Forstall’s joke of a Maps application; issues that differ significantly from Steve Jobs approach of releasing feature-limited versions of extremely polished software cheaply and slowly building upon it until it became a class-leading product with an extremely solid foundation. iOS 7, with its revamped UX and æsthetic was initially riddled with an insane amount of bugs, but also with subtle usability regressions that Apple has been struggling to fix these past few months with its numerous point releases. Design issues like the fact that e.g. in the Calendar application you cannot slide your finger over dates and quickly see events scheduled for the date under your finger, as you could do in the iPhone calendar since the very beginning. Or the moronically coloured shift key in the iOS 7.x keyboard that is way less usable and whose state is not as obvious as it were in the classic iOS keyboard. Or in OS X on the menu bar where the Time Machine icon changes so subtly when a backup is in progress, in stark contrast to earlier versions where an animated icon clearly indicated backup activity. UX regressions that are not merely bugs; they are design decisions.

We have not heard much about the next release of OS X, other than the fact that many of iOS 7′s ‘revamps’ are coming to the Mac. Hopefully the slew of iOS 7 issues and usability regressions will have taught Apple a lesson and 10.10 (or whatever they may number it) won’t suffer from usability issues, regressions and ‘rushed’ releases that were previously not part of Apple’s playbook.

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» There goes your airgap.

This latest leak details how the NSA accessed targets by inserting tiny circuit boards or USB cards into computers and using radio waves to transmit data without the need for the machine to be connected to a wider network.

It is a significant revelation in that it undermines what was seen to be one of the simplest but most effective methods of making a system secure: isolating it from the internet.

In other words: the NSA planted tranmitters (or tranceivers) and effectively turned air-gapped machines into machines transmitting to (/receiving from) their systems. Somewhat different from actually snooping on ‘offline’ machines, ala Tempest, as what many ‘news’ organizations hinted at by using inaccurate titles (the BBC, quoted above from this article, included).

Unless all your offices are room-sized Faraday cages, with physical security and extensive background checks of the machine operators, the NSA just invalidated your airgap policy. But then again, your security was probably flawed anyway, especially against an adversary that competent/determined/resourceful.

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