Archive for the ‘Ponderings’ Category

Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

Completely separate from the Section 1201 lawsuit against the Department of Justice, I’m working with the FPF on a project to counter lawful abuses of digital surveillance. Here’s the abstract:

Front-line journalists are high-value targets, and their enemies will spare no expense to silence them. Unfortunately, journalists can be betrayed by their own tools. Their smartphones are also the perfect tracking device. Because of the precedent set by the US’s “third-party doctrine,” which holds that metadata on such signals enjoys no meaningful legal protection, governments and powerful political institutions are gaining access to comprehensive records of phone emissions unwittingly broadcast by device owners. This leaves journalists, activists, and rights workers in a position of vulnerability. This work aims to give journalists the tools to know when their smart phones are tracking or disclosing their location when the devices are supposed to be in airplane mode. We propose to accomplish this via direct introspection of signals controlling the phone’s radio hardware. The introspection engine will be an open source, user-inspectable and field-verifiable module attached to an existing smart phone that makes no assumptions about the trustability of the phone’s operating system.

You can find out more about the project by reading the white paper at Pubpub.

Episode 4: Reinventing 35 years of Innovation

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Episode 4 is out!

It’s a daunting challenge to document a phenomenon as diverse as Shenzhen, so I don’t envy the task of trying to fit it in four short episodes.

Around 6:11 I start sounding like a China promo clip. This is because as a foreigner, I’m a bit cautious about saying negative things about a country, especially when I’m a guest of that country.

I really love the part at 3:58 where Robin Wu, CEO of Meegopad, reflects on the evolution of the term Shanzhai in China:

I was one of the people who made Shanzhai products. In the past, everyone looked down on Shanzhai products. Now, I think the idea of the maker is the same as Shanzhai. Shanzhai is not about copying. Shanzhai is a spirit.

Episode 3: A New Breed of Intellectual Property

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Episode 3 is out!

I say the darndest things on camera. O_o

Like everyone else, I see the videos when they are released. So far, this episode makes the clearest case for why Shenzhen is the up-and-coming place for hardware technology.

Most of the time my head is buried in resistors and capacitors. However, this video takes a wide-angle shot of the tech ecosystem. I’ve been visiting for over a decade, and this video is the first time I’ve seen some of the incredible things going on in Shenzhen, particularly in the corporate world.

WIRED Documentary on Shenzhen

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

WIRED is now running a multi-part video documentary on Shenzhen:

This shoot was a lot of fun, and it was a great pleasure working with Posy and Jim. I think their talent as producer and director really show through. They also did a great job editing my off-the-cuff narratives. The spot in the video where I’m pointing out Samsung parts isn’t matched to the b-roll of Apple parts, but in their defense I was moving so fast through the market that Jim couldn’t capture all the things I was pointing at.

I haven’t seen the whole documentary myself (I was just called in to give some tours of the market and answer a few questions in my hotel room), so I’m curious and excited to see where this is going! Especially because of the text chosen for printing during my Moore’s Law explanation at 3:13 — “ALL PROPRIETARY AND NO OPEN SOURCE MAKES INNOVATION A SLOW PROCESS.”


Circuit Classics — Sneak Peek!

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

My first book on electronics was Getting Started with Electronics; to this day, I still imagine electrons as oval-shaped particles with happy faces because of its illustrations. So naturally, I was thrilled to find that the book’s author, Forrest Mims III, and my good friend Star Simpson joined forces to sell kit versions of classic circuits straight off the pages of Getting Started with Electronics. This re-interpretation of a classic as an interactive kit is perfect for today’s STEM curriculum, and I hope it will inspire another generation of engineers and hackers.

I’m very lucky that Star sent me a couple early prototypes to play with. Today was a rainy Saturday afternoon, so I loaded a few tracks from Information Society’s Greatest Hits album (I am most definitely a child of the 80’s) and fired up my soldering iron for a walk down memory lane. I remembered how my dad taught me to bend the leads of resistors with pliers, to get that nice square look. I remembered how I learned to use masking tape and bent leads to hold parts in place, so I could flip the board over for soldering. I remembered doodling circuits on scraps of paper after school while watching Scooby-Doo cartoons on a massive CRT TV that took several minutes to warm up. Things were so much simpler back then …

I couldn’t help but embellish a little bit. I added a socket for the chip on my Bargraph Voltage Indicator (when I see chips in sockets, I hear a little voice in my head whispering “hack me!” “fix me!” “reuse me!”), and swapped out the red LEDs for some high-efficiency white LEDs I happened to have on the shelf.

I appreciated Star’s use of elongated pads on the DIP components, a feature not necessary for automated assembly but of great assistance to hand soldering.

It works! Here I am testing the bargraph voltage indicator with a 3V coin cell on my (very messy) keyboard desk.

Voilà! My rendition of a circuit classic. I think the photo looks kind of neat in inverse color.

I really appreciate seeing a schematic printed on a circuit board next to its circuit. It reminds me that before Open Hardware, hardware was open. Schematics like these taught me that circuits were knowable; unlike the mysteries of quantum physics and molecular biology, virtually every circuit is a product of human imagination. That another engineer designed it, means any other engineer could understand it, given sufficient documentation. As a youth, I didn’t understand what these symbols and squiggles meant; but just knowing that a map existed set me on a path toward greater comprehension.

Whether a walk down nostalgia lane or just getting started in electronics, Circuit Classics are a perfect activity for both young and old. If you want to learn more, check out Star Simpson’s crowdfunding campaign on Crowd Supply!