This past weekend I was at the SIGINT Conference by the Chaos Computer Club, at Colognes Mediapark. After being there last year and having a great time it was a given that I go their again.
Usually I use these conferences to get to know the people behind the Twitter-Handles/Email-Addresses. Where actually this year I mostly reached a stable state in that regard. I mostly met people I haven’t seen all year / since the last Chaos Communication Congress in December but met almost nobody new. This was especially easy since there where almost no talks I absolutely needed to see. But I still like to give you recommendations on what talks (not) to see.
As we were unexpectedly on time for the keynote we thought we’d have a look and see what it holds in store. Especially since there were almost nobody around at that time. Obviously PRISM and similar initiatives where part of the topic, but I actually couldn’t make out what exactly was the message. That might be due to me just arriving and being somewhat preoccupied, so I might watch it again later.
The second talk I saw was a one on statistics, actually it was on how to (mis-)use statistics or better that statistics is often not understood. The idea behind the talk was to do for a mathematical discipline what Maha usually does for language, showing how it is misused for an agenda. After the talk two problems arose for me. The first is: I generally assume that, since statistic is complicated, it is much more often misunderstood that misused on purpose. Which the talk showed, but didn’t make a good point explaining. I’m not sure that everybody in the audience got that point. And second, and this is much more annoying to me, the talk was misleading and I think on purpose. On several occasions the speaker gave examples and even did a complex calculation, to humour and stun the audience, but didn’t explain that he made an error on purpose (supposedly). Maha does similar things in his talks but does explain what and why he does so. Over the time of the talk he made some arguments against big data, which are only substantiated if you assume that e.g. Google is devious and/or incapable of using statistics correctly. But this argument is true for whatever discipline of science: “Garbage in garbage out”. In the end even though he made some valid points I’m quite disappointed with this talk.
The last talk of the evening was by mspr0 who summarised why the “Net Community” is constantly fighting each other. He first gave these 5 thesis:
The internet is to blame Which is substantiated by e.g. Anatol Stefanowichs quote on why the German Pirate Party has a problem with working together:
We build an infrastructure for fighting but not for working together. Anatol Stefanowich
or this xkcd:
mspr0 thinks this is only going to become a bigger problem the more people use the internet.
- Twitter is to blame The shortened communication Twitter promotes by limiting any thought to 140 characters. Makes it unfit for discussion.
- The growth is to blame The growth of groups leads also to the growth of very small subgroups until they reach a critical mass and can start to fight against their discrimination.
- Post Privacy is to blame
The fact that we know more and more about each other due to social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Last.fm, leads us not being able to have illusions about the “opponent” in a discussion. Which let’s everybody see flaws of the other to disagree with and allows much quicker escalation due to being able to attack more fiercely.
The awareness discourse is to blame
mspr0 introduced the concept of “Beobachtungsschemata” roughly “Schematic views on situations” like (“rape culture”, “lookism”, “critical whiteness”, “mansplaining”), which you don’t realise until you have had a) a certain exposure and b) try to find out about them. Anybody who hasn’t had that won’t notice it and will go into a defensive posture upon being accused of any wrong doing in that regard.
Nothing new here, but it was nice to have it condensed in this way. But what is the solution to this and I thin mspr0 is right in saying that there is first nothing entirely wrong with this situation, it is cultural progress at work. The question remaining is what should the individual do about the fights he or she is personally involved in involves him-/herself in. Part of it is choose your battles wisely you don’t have to get involved in every single fight it probably not worth it. Another part is to filter certain people to not be confronted with them and sometimes to realise what Joshua realised in war games:
The only winning move is not to play. Joshua (War games)
In the end it was nothing revolutionary but still a good talk.
My first talk on the second day was probably the best I heard at the SIGINT. Enno Park made the case that most of us are already Cyborgs in the sense that most of us are glued to their Smartphones all the time.
He actually was a little more subtle about it. First you need to know that he was practically deaf and is only able to hear with two Cochlea-Implants he got in 2011 and is after two years of training now able to tune a guitar. He went on showing other people who with the help of technology (re-)gained certain abilities, like moving limbs or “seeing” colour by transforming them into sound. The next step where people who enhanced themselves by implanting e.g. tiny magnets into their fingers to sense electromagnetic waves and now have a “WiFi-Sense”. And in the end made the full circle to smartphones as mental exoskeletons that help everybody in their everyday lives. But this was not the only layer in the talk. He also made the point that he wants to be able to hack the devices he has implanted in his body and told us that this is far from easy. At the moment just to adjust the implants he has to schedule an appointment at a clinic.
Last but not least he asked for “Cyborgs, Scientists, Robotic, Prosthetic and Design experts, Soft- and Hardware-Hacker, Activists and anybody interested” to join him in his effort to build up the “Germany Cyborg Society” a Club he wants to form later this year to fight for the rights of “Cyborgs”.I’m actually inclined to do so.
The second talk of the day was the EU Data Protection Reform and it was the only talk I left early, only about 10 minutes in. In that time it was a historical overview of Data Protection Laws and it didn’t seem to go anywhere, especially since the EU Data Protection Reform is broken beyond believe and I would liked to hear something about that or how to dance around that fact.
The late night talk I went to on the second day was the presentation of “Die Datenkrake” which is a low cost logic analyser and attack platform for hackers. Containing an FPGA and an ARM together with 8 Ports with RJ-45 jacks for easy access you have nice tool to analyse and fuzz. All specs are open source and it was real fun to watch the “sales event” and I really like to get my hands on one just to play around with about EVERYTHING. They promised to have a web shop up in the next days and sell the hardware for round 100€.
Dragan Espenschied held the first talk I heard on the third day and I’m still not really sure what to think about it. Dragan has “rescued” geocities before it was shut down. On a tumblr he now posts a screenshot of a different geocities site every 20 minutes, actually it’s done automatically by a virtual maschine which emulates the experience of the original as closely as possible.
His argument is that these pages are far more authentic than anything that is put on Facebook or Google+ because it is free form it shows that people are not perfect and that it is not necessary to be perfect. It shows the character much more by the strange combinations it exposes. It’s real aesthetic lies within these imperfections and the knowledge you gain by the whole of it instead of by the proficiency modern personal homepages or any social network, where you just pour your data in a database. His project shows the history of the Web from a user perspective. Who, in the eyes of Dragan, are the more important people for any technology not the inventors or some form of gurus who used some technology first. The point I liked the most was one about facebook, where he quoted one of the keynotes where someone said about he launch of the chronic:
It now tells a whole different story.
Dragan asked: what is that suppose to mean? What did you do to my life? What do I have to change now? I will probably have to think about this talk a little longer to come to a real conclusion about it but I still can say I liked it and would recommend watching it as soon as the recordings are out.
tantes talk was the finale of the SIGINT this year. It was about how to regulate Google Glass and similar technologies. And at least for me his ideas where very well thought out, maybe because they where quite similar to what I came up with for myself earlier. I would recommend watching the talk and me not to explain why and how he came to that conclusion, but I still like to give the conclusion. The only law governing the technologies like Google Glass should be:
You are not allowed to publish any video or audio recording of a non-public situation, without explicit consent. tante
And the social rules governing Google Glass should be:
- Don’t be an ass.
- If someone asks you to turn the device off, do so.
- Be transparent with what you do.
- Don’t assume.
- Don’t be an ass.
The idea is to solve situations with communication, if anybody doesn’t want to be recorded be a reasonable but on the other hand also be reasonable about asking someone to turn the device off. In the discussion different cases of why both of these points are relevant came up. The former is mostly in discussion for the last years and for the later people who have Prosopagnosia could potentially use Google Glass to help in their social live is a very good example.
At least I’m convinced that both the law as well as the social rules would completely suffice to govern Google Glass and similar technologies. If you like to discuss this write a comment.
I really like the SIGINT but I fear that next year it won’t happen again or at least not in that form. It was quite empty and renting part of the Media Park can’t be cheap. I still hope for the best because the event is a little cosier than e.g. the Chaos Communication Congress. In addition the talks are more political and social and less technical, not that I don’t like technical talks, but the combination of more political/social talks and open cosy atmosphere make discussion topics even after the talk more fun. So please let there be another SIGINT and maybe I meet some of you there.