metaprogramming and politics

Decentralize. Take the red pill.

Posts Tagged ‘communication

Going beyond codes of conduct

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When someone utters something that turns out to not be acceptable to many, what do you do? One way out is to punish, to try exclude that someone according to some pre-established rules. It’s an action that should be used sparingly and with precise reasoning as it otherwise has chilling effects and causes alienation.  You might get people to avoid certain behaviours in public but sentiments are still going to flow in private discussions.
The other possibility is to treat “incidents” as an opportunity to engage with underlying reasons and questions. Here are some of mine when it comes to the believe that one gender is superior to another, in the context of the programming communities i am connected with:

  • To begin with, why are many male programmers working 40 hours a week while their wife cares at home for children? See Traditional family models in the IT and Python world for more on this question.
  • How does it come to biases: When i imagine a “genius”, who do i think of? When i hear “keynote speaker” whom do i envision? At PyUnconf 2014 in Hamburg i discussed relations between centralized technical systems and normative thinking. Often, these norms are felt as “natural” or “true”.  But we are not only producing thoughts, our thoughts are products of cultural mass processes and less individual than they feel.
  • Who is speaking in the name of a community? Who is the “we”? And if “everyone” can participate, who actually participates? Who gets to decide, who defines what is being talked about and how? Which norms and values play a role in the communication around all these issues?
  • Why are most programming communities composed of a majority of white males? Biology? Or is it the result of centuries old patriarchies and colonialisms in action? When you try to “undo” this, do you just impose some rules by which everyone should behave? Or do you actively work to raise awareness, discuss some of the fundamentals and inherited impregnations?

Written by holger krekel

April 9, 2015 at 10:42 am

Defeating Sauron with the “Trust on first use” principle

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photo from Alexandre Duret-Lutz Gandalf and Frodo did the right thing when they went for destroying the power of the all-seeing eye. The idea of a central power that knows everything undermines our ability to self-govern and influence important changes in society, it undermines a foundation of democracy.

As against Sauron, it seems like an impossible fight to try to protect our communication against present-day espionage cartels.  I see glimmers of hope, though. Certainly not much in the political space. Somehow our politicians are themselves too interested to use the eye on select targets — even if only the ones which Sauron allows them to see.

My bigger hope lies with technologists who are working on designing better communication systems. We still have time during which we can reduce Sauron’s sight. But to begin with, how do we prevent passive spying attacks against our communications?

A good part of the answer lies in the Trust on first use principle. The mobile Threema application is a good example: when two people first connect with each other, they exchange communication keys and afterwards use it to perform end-to-end encrypted communications. The key exchange can happen in full sight of the eye, yet the subsequent communication will be illegible. No question, the eye can notice that the two are communicating with unknown content but if too many of them do that this fact becomes less significant.

Of course, the all-seeying eye can send a Nazgul to stand in the middle of the communication to deceive both ends and listen in. But it needs to do so from the beginning and continously if it wants to avoid the victims from noticing. And those two can at any time meet to verify their encryption keys and would realize there  was a Nazgul-in-the-middle attack.

By contrast, both SSL and GPG operate with a trust model where we can hear Sauron’s distant laughter. The one is tied to a thousand or so “root authorities”, which can be easily reined in as need be. The other mandates and propagates such a high level of initial mistrust between us that we find it simply too inconvenient to use.

Societies and our social interactions are fundamentally build on trust. Let’s design systems which build on initial trust and which help to identify after-the-fact when it was compromised. If the eye has bad dreams, then i am sure massively deployed trust-on-first-use communication systems are among them.

Written by holger krekel

October 26, 2013 at 7:04 am