The web forum 4chan is known mostly as a place to share juvenile and, to put it mildly, politically incorrect images. But it’s also the birthplace of one of the latest attempts to subvert the NSA’s mass surveillance program.
When whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that full extent of the NSA’s activities last year, members of the site’s tech forum started talking about the need for a more secure alternative to Skype. Soon, they’d opened a chat room to discuss the project and created an account on the code hosting and collaboration site GitHub and began uploading code.
New from me at Wired, meet revisit.link, the “Hello World” of web services:
Basically, all the site’s image effects are stored by a community of developers, much like any other open source software. Anyone can not only use these effects, but build their own and share them with the community by way of the code hosting and collaboration site GitHub. “Since everyone likes glitch art and animated GIFs, it’s a creative outlet for developers to create something new that’s outside their usual field,” say Jen Fong-Adwent, the creator of revisit.link. “But it’s also a way for new people to learn basics.”
If you’re building a modern web service, you aren’t just creating a program that will run on one machine. You have to learn how to deploy code to online servers, and teach your programs to talk with other applications. revisit.link is a good way to learn these skills, since the effects servers are simple and lightweight and can be written in any language. And once a server is built, the developer can learn how to use GitHub and how to make small changes to someone else’s code and submit those changes for review—all in a low-pressure environment with a very low barrier to entry.
Instead of using pure mathematics to prevent things like the same person spending the same money twice, Document Coin will rely on personal reputation to keep all transactions in order. And each unit of currency created using Document Coin could have different values in different situations. If you use a coin in one place, it might be worth more then if you use it in another. The goal, Anderson says, is to get people to completely rethink the entire idea of money. […]
Unlike with bitcoin—which keeps its currency scarce by rewarding it only to those who participate in what amounts to a race to solve complex cryptographic puzzles—anyone will be able to create a new Document Coin anytime they want. The value of each coin will be completely subjective, depending on who creates the coin and why. “For example, the coin my disco singer friend created and gave me at my barbeque might be what gets me past the rope at the club,” Anderson says. A coin minted by tech pundit Tim O’Reilly might be highly prized in Silicon Valley circles, but of little interest to musicians. “It’s a bit like a combination of a social network with baseball trading.”
Ultimately, he hopes to get developers thinking about the social implications of crypto-currencies, and to get people to question the idea that everything needs to have a set, numeric value. “If bitcoin is the toy version of what we’ll all be using the future, then I want to build the crazy art project version of the future,” he says. Document Coin’s usefulness as a real currency is limited, but Anderson does hope people will eventually want to use it. “If you build something, you don’t want to be disappointed if it succeeds,” he says. “You need to build things that you would be happy to see take off.”
The designs for the ANTVR headset itself and its nifty convertible game controller are proprietary technology. But the designs and firmware for the wireless receiver–which sits between the headset, the controller, and the gaming console–are open source. That opens up a range of possibilities, such as creating custom controllers or using the ANTVR controller to control other devices.
For example, ANTVR co-founder Qin Zheng says you could write software for using ANTVR to control a Roomba vacuum cleaner robot, perhaps using the headset to watch the feed from the bot’s on-board camera. You could also make your own version of the receiver specifically designed to work with a game console or device not officially supported by ANTVR. “You can use the signal straight from the USB port,” Zheng says. “We will give the developer all the documentation and libraries.”
Private messaging apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp aren’t as private as you might think.
SnapChat settled with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month over a complaint that its privacy claims were misleading, as reported by USA Today, and last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a report listing the company as the least privacy-friendly tech outfit it reviewed, including Comcast, Facebook, and Google. Last year, WhatsApp faced privacy complaints from the Canadian and Dutch governments, and like Snapchat, its security has been an issue as well.
When you use messaging services like these, you’re depending on outside companies to properly encrypt your messages, store them safely, and protect them when the authorities come calling. And they may not be up to the task. The only way to ensure your messages are reasonably safe is to encrypt them yourself, using keys that no one has access to–including your messaging service provider. That way, even if hackers bust into your service provider or the authorities hit it with subpoenas, your messages are protected.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Encryption tools are notoriously hard to use. But several projects are working to change this, building a more polished breed of encryption software that can serve the everyday consumer. A new open source project called Briar is part of this crowd, but it puts a fresh twist on the idea. It doesn’t just encrypt your messages. It lets you jettison your messaging service provider altogether. Your messages travel straight to the person you’re sending them to, without passing through a central server of any sort. It’s what’s known as a “peer-to-peer” tool.
This has a few advantages. You and your contacts keep complete control your data, but you needn’t setup your own computer server in order to do so. Plus, you can send messages without even connecting to the internet. Using Briar, you can send messages over Bluetooth, a shared WiFi connection, or even a shared USB stick. That could be a big advantage for people in places where internet connections are unreliable, censored, or non-existent.
Briar is still in alpha and not ready for use for high-risk scenarios. If you’re looking for something immediately, OffTheRecord and TextSecure are worth considering, but of course nothing is perfectly secure.
A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They’re releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new “open source pledge” that’s intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely. […]
These days, seeds are intellectual property. Some are patented as inventions. You need permission from the patent holder to use them, and you’re not supposed to harvest seeds for replanting the next year.
Even university breeders operate under these rules. When Goldwin creates a new variety of onions, carrots or table beets, a technology-transfer arm of the university licenses it to seed companies.
As the article notes, seed companies also often sell hybrid seeds, which don’t produce identical offspring — think of it as a biological “DRM” system for seeds. It’s sad that “open source” isn’t the norm in agriculture.
I wrote about Novena, an DIY open source laptop project for Wired:
“The motherboard, battery board, and display adapter board are designs from whole cloth,” Huang says of the machine. “Every trace on those PCBs was placed by my hand.” They also designed the case, which includes several components that you can print from a 3-D printer. And instead of proprietary firmware, they used the open source Das U-Boot.
It’s not the fastest or the most portable of laptops. Equipped with 4GB of RAM and an ARM processor you’re more likely to find in a cell phone, it offers the power of the average netbook, but it’s the size and weight of a budget laptop from the middle aughts. “It’s no feather,” Huang says.
But what the Novena lacks in modernity it makes up for in transparency. “If you see something suspicious in the hardware, you have the opportunity to look it up in the reference schematics and see if it really is a cause for concern,” Huang explains. In other words: you can check for NSA backdoors.
Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy have a dream: They want to create an open-source brain scanner that you can print out at home, strap onto your head, and hook straight into your brainwaves.
This past week, they printed their first headset prototype on a 3-D printer, and WIRED has the first photos.
Bootstrapped with a little funding help from DARPA — the research arm of the Department of Defense — the device is known as OpenBCI . It includes sensors and a mini-computer that plugs into sensors on a black skull-grabbing piece of plastic called the “Spider Claw 3000,” which you print out on a 3-D printer. Put it all together, and it operates as a low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave scanner that connects to your PC.
From my latest “Out in the Open” column for Wired:
Kyle Drake calls himself a professional cyberpunk. He spends his days on the net, writing computer code and trying to stick it to the man. His latest target: the global banking industry.
But he’s not aiming to take down the financial sector with some sort of illegal hack attack. He wants to beat them at their own game with a little help from the world’s most popular digital currency, Bitcoin — a burgeoning system that runs on thousands of servers across the globe without answering to any central authority. “I think Bitcoin is the most important thing I’m going to work on in my life,” Drake says.
His current project is Coinpunk, an open source Bitcoin wallet that he believes will help free the world from both big banks and powerful payment processors like MasterCard and Visa.
The notion may seen excessive, but for Garzik — a self-confessed space fan whose dad helped build missiles at the White Sands Missile Range — it has always been an obvious next step for the digital currency. “When Bitcoin came around, it seemed natural to me that you’d want some sort of redundancy out in space,” he says, explaining that this could not only help the peer-to-peer network fend off attack, but give it a lifeline if machines are unavailable on earth.
Garzik, like many Bitcoiners, is an idealist. “If you’re out in a field in Africa or if you’re a researcher in Antarctica, you should be able to have just as much access to Bitcoin as someone in the better-wired portion of the world,” he says.