Tagcyberculture

How Osama bin Laden Used E-Mail Without An Internet Connection

According to the Associated Press’ sources, Osama bin Laden routinely typed e-mails on an Internet-less computer in his compound, saved them to a USB thumbdrive and had a courier e-mail them from cybercafes in nearby towns. Apparently this went on for years, undetected. According to the AP, Navy SEALS found about 100 flash drives that apparently contain series of these e-mail communications.

This is what’s referred to as a sneakernet, and as Internet crackdowns occur all over the world, it may become an increasingly popular way for people to communication.

A couple years ago, in these very pages, Trevor Blake wrote:

Now is a good time to establish lines of electronic communication that are not entirely (if at all) reliant on the Internet as it currently exists. Hand delivery of a stack of media is still one of my favorites. At a certain point it the best bit-per-second value known, it has certain privacy features that can’t be beat and it requires very little technical know-how or fancy equipment or money. For all the gnostic freakout of The Matrix, the scene where a disreputable character knocks on Mr. Anderson’s door and passes him a data disc might be the most prophetic.

Learning about cryptography, fidonet and the postal system won’t do anyone any harm. Nothing beats trusted person-to-person connections established in many only-partially overlapping social / professional circles.

Teens Who Spend More Time Online Also More Likely to Take Drugs, Have Unprotected Sex

News today which upsets the stereotype of teenagers who spend a lot of time online or otherwise fooling with computers: rather than being lonely dorks with poor social skills who seldom leave their bedrooms, such kids are in fact more likely to get squiffy, have sex and even to take drugs than their less tech-savvy peers.

The revelations come in research conducted lately in Canada among 10 to 16-year-olds by epidemiology PhD candidate Valerie Carson.

The Register: Teens who spend time online not dorks after all

See also:

Smart kids more likely to be heavy drinkers

Smart kids wait for sex?

Why Smart People Do More Drugs

Cyberculture History: Internet Co-Inventor Paul Baran RIP

Paul Baran

Paul Baran, inventor of packet switching and co-founder of the Institute for the Future, is dead. If anyone could have claimed to have invented the Internet, it may have been Paul Baran. From Wired’s obit:

Baran was working at the famed RAND corporation on a “survivable”communications system in the early 1960s when he thought up one of its core concepts: breaking up a single message into smaller pieces, having them travel different, unpredictable paths to their destination, and only then putting them back together. It’s called packet switching and it’s how everything still gets gets to your e-mail inbox. […]

Baran approached AT&T to build such a network. But the company, which at the time had the U.S. telephone monopoly and, backing Baran, could conceivably have also owned the internet, just didn’t see the possibilities.

Wired: Internet Architect Paul Baran Dies at 84

Wired 2001 interview with Baran

New York Times obit for Baran

Wikipedia: Paul Baran

Top 10 People to Follow on Twitter

I saw William Gibson‘s “Five to Follow” list for The National Post (congratulations on making the list Meredith!) and thought, since the Post will probably never ask me, I’d share my own list here.

These are the top 10 people I think readers of this blog should follow. I couldn’t break it down to five – 10 was hard enough! Apologies to everyone I left off – it was a hard list to write.

Chris Arkenberg. “Research, forecast, & strategy from the Left Coast. Tech, new media, energy, geopol, complex systems. Beatmaker, surfer, nature lover.” You can read my interview with him here.

bendito (((1/f)))). “Mathematics and particle astrophysics. Also writing a book or two.”

Kyle Findlay (aka Social Physicist). “Chaos, networks, reality. Itinerant scholar.” Read my interview with him here.

Tom Henderson (aka Mathpunk). “Mathematician, gamer, writer, comedian, eater of foods. Futurity now!” Read my interview with him here.

Wade A. Inganamort. “Screenwriter • Partner/Co-founder/Producer @HukilauNow.”

Rita J. King. “Co-Director (with @Josholalia) of IMAGINATION: Driving the Future of Education and Work.”

Venessa Miemis. “Digital ethnographer, futurist, blogger. MA in Media Studies.”

Alex Pang. “Historian | futurist | information ecologist.”

Theoretick. “I am a Quantum Mechanic working through my Love/Hate Relationship with Tech.”

Cat Vincent. “Essayist on occult/fortean topics, former professional exorcist & combat magician. Unnatural Philosopher. Lives in Bristol, England.”

And of course, if you want to follow me I’m @klintron on Twitter. You can also receive updates from this blog by following @techn0ccult.

Cyberculture History: A Virtual Reality Concept from the 15th Century

 Giovanni Fontana's Castle of Shadows

In 1420 Venetian engineer Giovanni Fontana created a proposal for the Castle of Shadows. From BLDG Blog:

Philippe Codognet describes the 15th-century machine as “a room with walls made of folded translucent parchments lighted from behind, creating therefore an environment of moving images. Fontana also designed some kind of magic lantern to project on walls life-size images of devils or beasts.” Codognet goes on to suggest that the device is an early ancestor of today’s CAVE systems, or virtual reality rooms—an immersive, candlelit cinema of moving screens and flickering images.

Full sized image at BLDG Blog

(Thanks Bill!)

What would you call a genre speculative fiction based around this period? Venetianpunk?

Cyberculture History: Did Gary Numan Predict Facebook?

Gary Numan Replicas cover

With Numan’s first album, Tubeway Army (‘78), it was already clear that Numan’s songwriting was concerned with the relationship between man and machine and what we would now call the post-human condition. It includes lyrics like “Me I’ve just died / but some machine keeps on humming / I’m just an extra piece of dead meat to keep running,” from the track “Life Machine.” Anyone listening to a lot of Gary Numan will notice that the word “me” figures heavily in his lyrics. The song “My Love is a Liquid” from the same album features the lines “can’t meet you face-to-face / There are no corners to hide in my room / No doors, no windows, no fire place.” In our times, this is a blatant comment on the way the internet mediates social relations.

Numan’s following album, Replicas (‘79), couldn’t be more drenched with prophetic visions of the internet and Facebook. The opening lines of “Me! I Disconnect from You” – in itself a charged title – are metaphors for botched Facebook relationships: “The alarm rang for days / you could tell from the conversations / I was waiting by the screen / I couldn’t recognize my photograph / Me, I disconnect from you” – the line about the screen doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the late ’70s, unless Numan was specifically talking about an imagined form of communication. It practically goes without saying that “disconnecting” from someone entails ending a Facebook relationship or, even worse, de-friending someone. It doesn’t even require analysis to see why the following track, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is rich with Facebook meaning. The track “You Are in My Vision” anticipates critiques of television by theorists like Marshall Mcluhan, Jean Baudrillard, and though not a theorist, naturally Cronenberg in Scanners and Videodrome, with its lines “Fade to screens of violence / Like a TV screen but silent / Where the victims are all paid by the hour.”

Thought Catalog: Did Gary Numan Predict Facebook?

Someone in the comments points out that some of this isn’t as enigmatic as it seems:

most of his lyrical elements, especially in Replicas, were references to a dystopian science fiction novel he was writing but never finished. the ‘friends’ he talks are identical robots that could be hired and used for any purpose, and “the life machine” is about a comotose individual being sustained by a machine. it’s all quite directly inspired by numan’s favorite writers, and as such one could more perhaps more aptly say that william s. burroughs or phillip k. dick “predicted the future”. still interesting though. numan’s contributions to modern music and popular culture are woefully under-appreciated.

To be clear, Numan has distanced himself from his early sci-fi lyrics. He told Electronic Musician:

Science Fiction has no influence on the music, especially lyrically, and especially now. To be honest I only ever wrote a handful of songs that were remotely connected to Science Fiction and they were all nearly 20 years ago. The ‘Replicas’ album, or bits of it, one or two things on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and one or two things on ‘Telekon’. I would say about 15 songs, maybe 20, out of a total of well over 300 to date have anything to do with Sci Fi. I think because I became successful with electronic music, a newish thing 20 years ago, and a song called ‘Are Friends Electric’ (it was that song that launched me in the UK anyway) I was given a Sci Fi label that stuck long after I’d moved on to other things.

For the curious, via Song Meanings, here’s a bit from William S. Burroughs’s story “Astronaut’s Return” that is clearly referenced in “Down in the Park”:

Ugly snarl behind the white lies and excuses. […]
DEATH DEATH DEATH

So many you can’t remember
The boy who used to whistle?
Car accident or was it the war?
Which war?

The boy’s room is quite empty now. Do you begin to see there is no face there in the tarnished mirror?

Cyberculture History: First BBS Launched 33 Years Ago Today

Ward Christensen brought his Computerized Bulletin Board System online 33 years ago today. From Wikipedia:

In January 1978, Chicago was hit by the Great Blizzard of 1978, which dumped record amounts of snow throughout the midwest. Among those caught in it were Christensen and Randy Suess, who were members of CACHE, the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists’ Exchange. They had met at that computer club in the mid 1970s and become friends.

Christensen had created a file transfer protocol for sending binary computer files through modem connections, which was called, simply, MODEM. Later improvements to the program motivated a name change into the now familiar XMODEM. The success of this project encouraged further experiments. Christensen and Suess became enamored of the idea of creating a computerized answering machine and message center, which would allow members to call in with their then-new modems and leave announcements for upcoming meetings.

However, they needed some quiet time to set aside for such a project, and the blizzard gave them that time. Christensen worked on the software and Suess cobbled together an S-100 computer to put the program on. They had a working version within two weeks, but claimed soon afterwards that it had taken four so that it wouldn’t seem like a “rushed” project. Time and tradition have settled that date to be February 16, 1978. Christensen and Suess described their innovation in an article entitled “Hobbyist Computerized Bulletin Board” in the November 1978 issue of Byte Magazine.

Wikipedia: CBBS

(Thanks Trevor!)

More info:

Christensen and Suess’s telling of the the history of CBBS.

CBBS memoris on the BBS: The Documentary site.

BBS: The Documentary A documentary on the history of the BBS.

Cyberculture History: The High-Tech Pagan Origins of the .to Domain Names

Here’s a fun discovery: the founder of the company that commercialized the .to top level domain name is none other than Eric Gullichsen, co-author with Timothy Leary of Load and Run High-tech Paganism-Digital Polytheism. Here’s an article on Gullichsen from Time Magazine in 1999:

The two Erics decided the best way to beat the com system (and make some easy money in the process) was to circumvent it. There’s nothing magical about the letters com they reasoned; why not just use, say, .to for Tonga?
So in 1997, with the Crown Prince’s permission, Gullichsen and Lyons started Tonic Corp. and began selling Tonga domain names on a first-come, first-served basis. Bummed that the cool website name you thought of is already taken? Visit www.tonic.to with a valid credit card, and they’ll sell you the same name in the .to domain. Price: $100 for the first two years. You can still host your site from your PC in Topeka, Kans.; the name will just be registered by a company based on an island you probably can’t find on a map.

Time: He’s the Master Of His Domain Name

What did Gullichsen decide to do with his earnings?

And with the cash these virtual companies siphon out of the old world order, Gullichsen plans to build a new one. The crown prince has given him the run of a tiny Tongan outrider island, which Gullichsen hopes to turn into a prototype sustainable environment. “I’m setting up an ecologically closed community,” he says. “I’ll have a wind generator, solar panels, a geodesic dome and hydroponics. I want to live off the grid but still be online–be connected to the global fabric but from a venue that is free from regulation and in harmony with the environment.”

I wonder what ever happened to him.

For more on the intersection between occulture and the high-tech world, check out Erik Davis’s classic article or his book Techgnosis.

Mac Tonnies and Other Digital Ghosts in The New York Times

cyberspace after death

Rob Walker wrote a long piece on “digital ghosts” – the online remnants of people who have died. He talks quite a bit about Mac Tonnies:

I spoke to a half dozen people Mac Tonnies met online and in some cases never encountered in the physical world. Each expressed a genuine sense of loss; a few sounded grief-stricken even more than a year later. Mark Plattner, who lives in St. Louis and met Tonnies a dozen years ago through the comments section of another blog, decided that Posthuman Blues needed to survive. He used software called Sitesucker to put a backup of the entire thing — pictures, videos, links included — on a hard drive. In all, Plattner has about 10 gigabytes of material, offering a sense of Tonnies’s “personality and who he was,” Plattner says. “That’s what we want to remember.” He intends to store this material through his own hosting account, just as soon as he finds time to organize it all.

Plattner was one of several online friends who got involved in memorializing Tonnies and his work. Dia Sobin, an artist who lives in Connecticut, met Tonnies online around 2006; they communicated often by e-mail and phone, but never met in person. She created art for Tonnies’s site and for the cover of what turned out to be his final book. Less than two weeks after he died, she started a blog called Post-Mac Blues. For more than a year, she filled it with posts highlighting passages of his writing, reminiscences, links to interviews he gave to podcasters and bloggers, even his Blip.fm profile (which dutifully records that he listened to a song from “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” by David Byrne and Brian Eno, at 4:16 p.m. on the last day he lived). Her site is “a map to Mac Tonnies,” Sobin says. “And a memorial.”

“I only ever knew him over Twitter,” Sarah Cashmore , a graduate student in Toronto, told me. She shared his enthusiasm for design and technology and learned of his death from Twitter contacts. “I was actually devastated,” she says. A few months later, she teamed up with several other members of Tonnies’s Twitter circle to start a second Tonnies-focused blog, Mac-Bots.

This outpouring of digital grief, memorial-making, documentation and self-expression is unusual, maybe unique, for now, because of the kind of person Tonnies was and the kinds of friends he made online. But maybe, his friend Rita King suggests, his story is also a kind of early signal of one way that digital afterlives might play out. And she doesn’t just mean this in an abstract, scholarly way. “I find solace,” she told me, “in going to Mac’s Twitter feed.”

New York Times: Cyberspace When You’re Dead

(Thanks Chris Arkenberg)

Walker also covers various services for dealing with one’s digital life posthumously and transhumanist notions of immortality.

See also: Technoccult interview with Sarah and Mark on MacBots.

Douglas Rushkoff: Abandon the Corporate Internet

facebook network

Of course the Internet was never truly free, bottom-up, decentralized, or chaotic. Yes, it may have been designed with many nodes and redundancies for it to withstand a nuclear attack, but it has always been absolutely controlled by central authorities. From its Domain Name Servers to its IP addresses, the Internet depends on highly centralized mechanisms to send our packets from one place to another.

The ease with which a Senator can make a phone call to have a website such as Wikileaks yanked from the net mirrors the ease with which an entire top-level domain, like say .ir, can be excised. And no, even if some smart people jot down the numeric ip addresses of the websites they want to see before the names are yanked, offending addresses can still be blocked by any number of cooperating government and corporate trunks, relays, and ISPs. That’s why ministers in China finally concluded (in cables released by Wikileaks, no less) that the Internet was “no threat.” […]

Back in 1984, long before the Internet even existed, many of us who wanted to network with our computers used something called FidoNet. It was a super simple way of having a network – albeit an asynchronous one.

One kid (I assume they were all kids like me, but I’m sure there were real adults doing this, too) would let his computer be used as a “server.” This just meant his parents let him have his own phone line for the modem. The rest of us would call in from our computers (one at a time, of course) upload the stuff we wanted to share and download any email that had arrived for us. Once or twice a night, the server would call some other servers in the network and see if any email had arrived for anyone with an account on his machine. Super simple.

Shareable: The Next Net

(via Disinfo)

I’ve covered how CouchDB can create a more distributed web. Also, Openet is working on creating a mesh network of mesh networks. BitCoin and Freenet are worth looking at as well.

DARPA’s working on wireless mesh networks as we speak.

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