Internet Archive

The early days of Ethernet

In light of yesterday's post, here's a short look at the early days of Ethernet.

Nowadays, we take Ethernet for granted. We plug a cable jack into the wall or a switch and we get the network. What's to think about?

It didn't start that way. In the 1960s and 1970s, networks were ad hoc hodgepodges of technologies with little rhyme and less reason. But then Robert "Bob" Metcalfe was asked to create a local-area network (LAN) for Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). His creation, Ethernet, changed everything.

On a related note, in one of the recent Xerox Alto restoration videos, two of the people who worked on the invention of Ethernet, Dave Boggs and Ron Crane, helped out fixing the Alto Ethernet card - carrying some very old-fashioned Ethernet equipment and telling some great stories from the early '70s.

Sadly, Ron Crane passed away 19 June.

Switching to the Mutt email client

It was almost four years ago I switched from webmail to a customized email configuration based on Notmuch and Emacs. Notmuch served as both as a native back-end that provided indexing and tagging, as well as a front-end, written in Emacs Lisp. It dramatically improved my email experience, and I wished I had done it earlier. I've really enjoyed having so much direct control over my email.

However, I'm always fiddling with things - fiddling feels a lot more productive than it actually is - and last month I re-invented my email situation, this time switching to a combination of Mutt, Vim, mu, and tmux. The entirety of my email interface now resides inside a terminal, and I’m enjoying it even more. I feel I've "leveled up" again in my email habits.

I'm fairly sure a number of OSNews readers use similar setups.

Giving the behemoths a leg up on the little guy

Every year, the internet gets a little less fair. The corporations that run it get a little bigger, their power grows more concentrated, and a bit of their idealism gives way to ruthless pragmatism.

And if Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gets his way, the hegemons are likely to grow only larger and more powerful.

This column is nominally about network neutrality, the often sleep-inducing debate about the rules that broadband companies like Comcast and AT&T must follow when managing their networks. But really, this is a story about ballooning corporate power.

John Oliver has a great video about the fight for net neutrality in the United States, and set up a website that makes it easy to send comments to the FCC to compel them to maintain net neutrality.

A 1986 BBS has brought the old web back to life in 2017

Today, many can be forgiven for thinking that the digital communications revolution kicked off during the mid-1990s, when there was simply an explosion of media and consumer interest in the World Wide Web. Just a decade earlier, however, the future was now for the hundreds of thousands of users already using home computers to communicate with others over the telephone network. The online culture of the 1980s was defined by the pervasiveness of bulletin board systems (BBS), expensive telephone bills, and the dulcet tones of a 1200 baud connection (or 2400, if you were very lucky). While many Ars readers certainly recall bulletin board systems with pixelated reverence, just as many are likely left scratching their heads in confusion ("what exactly is a BBS, anyway?").

It's a good thing, then, that a dedicated number of vintage computing hobbyists are resurrecting these digital communities that were once thought lost to time. With some bulletin board systems being rebooted from long-forgotten floppy disks and with some still running on original 8-bit hardware, the current efforts of these seasoned sysops (that is, system administrators) provide a very literal glimpse into the state of online affairs from more than three decades ago. And while services such as the Internet Archive are an excellent resource for studying the growth of the World Wide Web as it's frozen in time, these hobbyists are opening portals today for modern users to go places that have been long forgotten.

I was too young to experience the BBS age - I'm from 1984 - so I always like to read up about it whenever I get the chance. This is an excellent article on the topic.

Inside the internet’s war on science

Fantastic article by Stephanie M. Lee:

Welcome to the vast universe of self-built social media empires devoted to spreading false, misleading, and polarizing science and health news - sometimes further and wider than the real information. Here, climate change is a government-sponsored hoax, fluoridated water is poisonous, cannabis can cure cancer, and airplanes are constantly spraying pesticides and biological waste into the air. Genetically modified food is destroying humanity and the planet. Vaccines are experimental, autism-causing injections forced on innocent babies. We can't trust anything that we eat, drink, breathe, or medicate with, nor rely on physicians and public health agencies to act in our best interests. Between the organic recipes and menacing stock images of syringes and pills, a clear theme emerges: Everything is rigged - by doctors, Big Pharma, Monsanto, the FDA - and the mainstream media isn’t telling us. (Also, there's usually a link to buy vitamins.) This messaging reflects a new, uniquely conspiratorial strain of libertarianism that hijacks deeply intimate issues - your body, your health, your children's health. It shares magnificently.

Indeed, gone are the days when these types of stories would struggle for traction in a media landscape dominated by a few television networks, newspapers, and radio stations. Now anyone on Facebook can take their snake oil straight to the masses - and their message is reverberating in the highest levels of government. Vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who says he's in touch with Trump about a "vaccine safety commission" recently announced a $100,000 "challenge" to prove their safety. Andrew Wakefield, who helped start the anti-vaccine movement with a fraudulent 1998 study that linked vaccines to autism, showed up at an inaugural ball. The president has called climate change a "hoax" and appointed a skeptic to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pseudoscience is closer than ever to the mainstream.

Clearly, not vaccinating your children is child abuse and should be treated as such; not only does it endanger the lives of your own children, but also the lives of other children who may rely on herd immunity because they can't take vaccinations for proper medical reasons. The fact that these child abusers are this close to the president of the United States and the US government should send chills down the spine of every responsible parent.

The war on science is in full swing, and they've already won the White House and US Congress. The amount of damage that can be - and is being - done is staggering.

FCC rolls back net neutrality ISP transparency rules

The Republican-controlled FCC on Thursday suspended the net neutrality transparency requirements for broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers. Critics called the decision anticonsumer.

The transparency rule, waived for five years in a 2-1 party-line vote Thursday, requires broadband providers to explain to customers their pricing models and fees as well as their network management practices and the impact on broadband service.

The commission had previously exempted ISPs with fewer than 100,000 subscribers, but Thursday's decision expands the number of ISPs not required to inform customers. Only about 20 U.S. ISPs have more than 250,000 subscribers.

What could possibly go wrong?

The five-year waiver may be moot, however. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Republicans in Congress are considering ways to scrap a large chunk of the net neutrality regulations approved by the agency just two years ago.

Is it just me, or is the undoing of the opposing party's policies every 4-8 years a really terrible way to run a country?

It’s a weird time to be in charge of Sweden’s Twitter account

When Max Karlsson found out that he was going to be in charge of Sweden's official Twitter account this week, he was looking forward to sharing some of his photography, or riffing about music and technology - nothing too different from how hundreds of others have used the handle since Sweden opened it up to ordinary users in 2011.

"My thought was to speak about the interests and values that I have," Karlsson, 22, said in a phone interview Monday evening. "And then Trump hit."

I find it fascinating that the official Twitter account for Sweden changes hands every week between Swedish citizens. In this particular case, it gives an ordinary Swede the opportunity to use facts to dispel a bunch of nonsense from the most powerful man in the world, who is apparently incapable of separating fact from Fox News-infused fiction.

“A great disturbance in the force…”

The news is that after 15 years the IMDb is closing down its message boards, but the story is their creation in the first place: a tale of Apache, mod_perl, PostgreSQL, C, and XEMacs, all served up on a BeOS bun in a Bristol-area cafeteria; of missed deadlines, missed opportunities and misplaced innocence given the scale of comments, comment spam and trolling up to that point. Brought to you by Colin M. Strickland, a developer whose CV has long read "you can blame me for the message boards" (and yes, he does go by the initials cms).

Internet shutdown hits businesses in Cameroon

Business owners in the town of Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region of Cameroon say they are struggling to operate following an internet shutdown that began on January 17. Internet users here say that they can no longer communicate or access information, particularly on social media. Many internet cafes, micro finance institutions and money transfer agencies have had to shutdown.

"When things like this happen and they just ban the internet which is the source of my livelihood. I just feel like maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I should just leave the country like my friends and never return again. And I personally feel bad that that would be unpatriotic on my part but you know, we have to do what we have to do sometimes. And now I don’t even know if the Internet will be returned. I don't know when it will be returned," said IT entrepreneur, Churchill Mambe.

It's remarkable how important the internet has become, especially in developing countries.

Has the internet killed curly quotes?

The trouble with being a former typesetter is that every day online is a new adventure in torture. Take the shape of quotation marks. These humble symbols are a dagger in my eye when a straight, or typewriter-style, pair appears in the midst of what is often otherwise typographic beauty. It's a small, infuriating difference: "this" versus “this.”

I'll stop replacing curly quotes with straight quotes on OSNews the day the tech industry gives me back my Dutch quotation marks („Like so”, he said) and adds multilingual support to Google Now and Siri and so on (which right now require a full wipe to change languages, making them useless for hundreds of millions of people who live bilingual lives).

Yes, I can be petty.

How to get a C64 on WiFi and start BBSing again

Last year I created an account on Twitter to create a targeted feed for my hobby content and tweets for like-minded retro-gaming folk, separate from my personal account. On this hobby account I mainly follow retro-gaming and Commodore fans. When you use Twitter in a very targeted way like this, it actually can be extremely useful and enjoyable. In any event, during this time I began to see a healthy amount of discussion around BBS'es (Bulletin Board Systems) becoming "a thing" again for retro-computing nerds. And, amazingly, a few popular BBSes were being served off of 8-bit machines.

"8-Bitters" were connecting to them, having virtually "off the grid" discussions and playing games outside the watchful eye of Google and the rest of the internet. I wanted to connect to them, too.

Facebook can and should wipe out fake news

Walt Mossberg:

So, yes, in my view, Facebook has a direct responsibility to get rid of fake news, and it cannot simply rely on its audience or others to shoulder the burden. I'm happy to see tools made available to readers that help report such trash, and happy that Facebook is working with third-party fact checkers. But the ultimate responsibility is Facebook’s.

Nobody wants Facebook to tinker with legitimate news and opinion - again, except for hate speech. But getting rid of purely fake news from purely fake sources is an eminently achievable task, especially for a well-funded, tech-savvy, huge media company serving nearly 2 billion people.

I've written about my thoughts on this subject before, but I want to make them clearer by presenting you with an example.

Consider this clip from Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.

Everything in this clip is not true. Everything said in that clip about Amsterdam and The Netherlands is literally - literally literally, not the fake kind of literally - made up. It's all lies. Flat-out, bold-faced lies. This is clearly, unapologetically, fake news.

Yet, I doubt people like Mossberg and other people who claim it's easy as pie for Facebook and Twitter to 'block' fake news would agree with me that Facebook should block this kind of news from their sites. Even though it's nothing but flat-out lies, it would not be considered 'fake news'.

And therein lies the problem with this whole outrage over 'fake news'. No matter how many times people say it's easy to separate real news from fake news, there's going to be so many edge cases to trip up generic algorithms, and it's simply not feasible to have human curation on sites as large in volume as Facebook and Twitter.

Is it really Facebook's job to solve for people's stupidity? In my view, it really isn't. On top of that, I somehow doubt the tech media would be as worked up over this as they are now had Clinton won the election - and all of you know my political leanings well enough by now to understand the value of me saying this.

Ben Thompson on fake news

Let me be clear: I am well aware of the problematic aspects of Facebook' s impact; I am particularly worried about the ease with which we sort ourselves into tribes, in part because of the filter bubble effect noted above (that's one of the reasons Why Twitter Must Be Saved). But the solution is not the reimposition of gatekeepers done in by the Internet; whatever fixes this problem must spring from the power of the Internet, and the fact that each of us, if we choose, has access to more information and sources of truth than ever before, and more ways to reach out and understand and persuade those with whom we disagree. Yes, that is more work than demanding Zuckerberg change what people see, but giving up liberty for laziness never works out well in the end.

Absolutely, 100% spot-on.

On the role of social media in presidential elections

With the US presidential elections right behind us, there's been a lot of talk about the role platforms like Facebook and Twitter have in our modern discourse. Last week, it was revealed that teens in Macedonia earns thousands of dollars each month by posting patently false stories about the elections on Facebook and getting them to go viral. With Facebook being a major source of news for a lot of people, such false stories can certainly impact people's voting behaviour.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook responded to the criticism that the company isn't doing enough to stop this kind of thing. The statement in full reads:

We take misinformation on Facebook very seriously. We value authentic communication, and hear consistently from those who use Facebook that they prefer not to see misinformation. In Newsfeed we use various signals based on community feedback to determine which posts are likely to contain inaccurate information, and reduce their distribution. In Trending we look at a variety of signals to help make sure the topics being shown are reflective of real-world events, and take additional steps to prevent false or misleading content from appearing. Despite these efforts we understand there's so much more we need to do, and that is why it's important that we keep improving our ability to detect misinformation. We're committed to continuing to work on this issue and improve the experiences on our platform.

This is an incredibly complex issue.

First, Facebook is a private entity, and has no legal obligation to be the arbiter of truth, save for complying with court orders during, say, a defamation or libel lawsuit by a wronged party. If someone posts a false story that Clinton kicked a puppy or that Trump punched a kitten, but none of the parties involved take any steps, Facebook is under no obligation - other than perhaps one of morality - to remove or prevent such stories from being posted.

Second, what, exactly, is truth? While it's easy to say that "the earth is flat" is false and misinformation, how do you classify stories of rape and sexual assault allegations levelled at a president-elect - and everything in between? What if you shove your false stories in a book, build a fancy building, slap a tax exempt status on it, and call it a religion? There's countless "legitimate" ways in which people sell lies and nonsense to literally billions of people, and we deem that completely normal and acceptable. Where do you draw the line, and more importantly, who draws that line?

Third, how, exactly, do we propose handling these kinds of bans? Spreading news stories online is incredibly easy, and I doubt even Facebook itself could truly 'stop' a story from spreading on its platform. Is Facebook supposed to pass every post and comment through its own Department of Truth?

Fourth, isn't spreading information - even false information - a basic human need that you can't suppress? Each and every one of us spreads misinformation at one or more points in our lives - we gossip, we think we saw something, we misinterpreted someone's actions, you name it. Sure, platforms like Facebook can potentially amplify said misinformation uncontrollably, but do we really want to put a blanket moratorium on "misinformation", seeing as how difficult it it is to define the term?

We are only now coming to grips with the realities of social media elections, but as a politics nerd, I'd be remiss if I didn't raise my hand and reminded you of an eerily similar situation the US political world found itself in in the aftermath of the 26 September, 1960 debate between sitting vice president Nixon and a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.

It was the first televised debate in US history. While people who listened to the debate on the radio declared Nixon the winner, people who watched the debate on television declared Kennedy the winner. While Nixon appeared sickly and sweaty, Kennedy looked fresh, calm, and confident. The visual impact was massive, and it changed the course of the elections. Televised debates are completely normal now, and every presidential candidate needs to be prepared for them - but up until 1960, it wasn't a factor at all.

Social media will be no different. Four years from now, when Tulsi Gabbard heads the Democratic ticket (you heard it here first - mark my words) versus incumbent Trump, both candidates will have a far better grasp on social media and how to use them than Clinton and Trump did this year.

Software development behind China’s Great Firewall

If you've ever been to mainland China, chances are you're familiar with the Great Firewall, the country's all-encompassing internet censorship apparatus. You know the despair of not being able to open Facebook, the pain of going mute on Twitter. But with a good VPN, you can magic many of these inconveniences away - at least temporarily.

For software developers based in China, however, it's not that simple. You're not just censored from certain websites. Basic building blocks that you use for product development are suddenly beyond your reach. With software services and libraries spread across the globe, China's internet sovereignty can be a real pain in the ass.

Something I've never really put much thought into.

The end of the general purpose operating system

First up, a bit of clarification. By general purpose OS I'm referring to what most people use for server workloads today - be it RHEL or variants like CentOS or Fedora, or Debian and derivatives like Ubuntu. We'll include Arch, the various BSD and opensolaris flavours and Windows too. By end I don't literally mean they go away or stop being useful. My hypothosis is that, slowly to begin with then more quickly, they cease to be the default we reach for when launching new services.

So note that this isn't about desktop workloads, but server workloads.

Facebook used the controversial surveillance tool it blocked

When it was revealed last week that police used a social media monitoring program to track protestors, it inspired outrage, and major tech companies immediately cut off API access for the tool. But at least one of those companies had prior opportunity to know what the tool, Geofeedia, was capable of. According to three former Geofeedia employees who spoke with The Verge, Facebook itself used the tool for corporate security. Facebook, according to two of the sources, even used Geofeedia to catch an intruder in Mark Zuckerberg's office.

Social media companies like Facebook are weird - and incredibly pervasive. Someone I know - I'm not going to be too specific here - once proudly said he/she does not want Facebook to know where he/she lives, so he/she did not fill in that field in his/her Facebook account. I smiled internally and thought to myself "Facebook knows you are at a specific address between the hours of 18:00 and 8:30 every workday and during the weekend - I'm pretty sure Facebook knows where you live".

Comfort levels with social media and technology companies usually come down to fooling ourselves.

Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for US intelligence

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers' incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency's demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

Ars Technica contacted various technology companies to ask them if they were ever subjected to the same FBI demands:

A spokeswoman for Microsoft, Kim Kurseman, e-mailed Ars this statement, and also declined further questions: “We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo.”

For its part, Google was the most unequivocal. Spokesman Aaron Stein e-mailed: "We've never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: 'no way.'"

Explainer: US ceding control of core internet systems

On Saturday, the U.S. government plans to cede control of some of the internet's core systems - namely, the directories that help web browsers and apps know where to find the latest weather, maps and Facebook musings.

The U.S. has been in charge of these systems for more than three decades; plans to transfer control of these functions to a nonprofit oversight organization have been in the works since the late 1990s. Some Republicans in Congress raised late objections over the transfer, which they termed a "giveaway" to the rest of the world. But they failed to block the move in a spending bill to keep the government operating.

Here's a look at the systems in question and what's at stake for internet users.

ungoogled-chromium removes Google from Chromium

A number of features or background services communicate with Google servers despite the absence of an associated Google account or compiled-in Google API keys. Furthermore, the normal build process for Chromium involves running Google's own high-level commands that invoke many scripts and utilities, some of which download and use pre-built binaries provided by Google. Even the final build output includes some pre-built binaries. Fortunately, the source code is available for everything.

ungoogled-chromium tries to fix these things.