Nexus 5


See all unboxing photos on Flickr.

It has only been a few days but I have to say that I am immensely enjoying my Nexus 5. For months I have been complaining incessantly about my first Android, a Samsung Galaxy S3. The quality of the software was pretty low, but most of all it was the cheap, soft plastic body and plastic AMOLED screen which scratched and scarred too easily. I was used to the solid build quality of my previous iPhone 4.

When my coworkers got Nexus 4s last year I was envious of the bright displays and glass bodies. The Nexus 5 takes it to the next level with a 445ppi IPS display. It is really gorgeous. Although the body isn’t glass, it is a solid plastic that has some weight to it and feels good in the hand. I don’t think it will chip easily like the S3, but it has only been a few days and I haven’t dropped it. The protruding camera is a bit of a concern (the protruding camera on my S3 is all scratched to hell), but it performs much better than the S3. I am not sure how it compares to an iPhone though.

As for the software, since I have been using a Nexus 7 for the past couple of months I am used to the vanilla Google experience, which is vastly superior to TouchWiz (though there are still a few shortcomings compared to iOS). I look forward putting something more open on the N5 in the future, something that was really difficult to do with my Mac and the S3.

All in all, a great phone. One other bonus: unlocked! I got the S3 on contract (the first time I have had a contract phone for years) and I am so glad to be free from telcos. I am using a T-Mobile SIM while I am in San Francisco, and will just pop in my old SIM when I return to Canada next month. Then while I am in Japan for New Year’s I will use a SIM from there — just like nature intended.

Travel advisory

For the next few weeks I will be on the road. One of my business partners and I will be in San Francisco for the next month or so (leaving tomorrow morning) to raise some money for the new business we have been working on for the past year. Anyways, I will probably posting a lot of tweets and photos of the trip. The last time I was in SF was almost exactly 2 years ago. I wrote about my impressions then. I am really looking forward to the challenge it will be this time. Give us a shout if you are in the area and want to meet up. We will have office space in Runway while we are down there.

In late December I will be back in Canada briefly before jetting off to Japan to meetup with the wife and kids, who left for Kyoto last week. We will be hitting Tokyo Disneyland for Xmas, then Tokyo Skytree before heading back to Kyoto for New Year’s. As always, following my postings on Twitter and photos on Flickr. All four of us will be returning in early January. Then, who knows where the journey will take us next?

Tour of Duty — A review of Black Code

Black Code: The Battle for the Future of Cyberspace

Black Code: The Battle for the Future of Cyberspace by Ronald J. Deibert

Ron Deibert’s book title should probably have the word “tour” in it somewhere, as that is the primary purpose of this book. He covers a whole variety of topics surrounding the fragile nature of the world wide web as we know it. Some of the topics include:

– the next 5 billion (quote – “North Americans and Europeans make up less than 25 percent of Internet users”)
BlueCoat and similar technologies
– points out how in “liberal democratic countries we are lowering the standards around basic rights to privacy just as the centre of cyberspace gravity is shifting to less democratic parts of the world”
– the unlawful practice of “other requests” (quote — “Christopher Parsons found that in 2010 the RCMP contacted ISPs for user name and address information more than 28,000 times without a warrant, with the ISPs complying nearly 95 percent of the time.”)
– wiretaps (quote – “In the early 2000s, I toured an IXP in downtown Toronto and saw row upon row of high-tech equipment, endless servers stacked on several floors. Down one long hallway there were hundreds of what appeared to be randomly distributed red tags attached to the equipment. I asked the tour guide, “What are the red tags?” He replied nonchalantly, “Oh, those are the wiretaps,” and moved on.”)
– the problematic term of “lawful access”, often used in Canada
– the terrible state of Terms of Service
– cyberwar (unlike Thomas Rid he thinks it will take place)
digital arms brokers
– DDOSs as political protest (he thinks not)
– Hacktivism and “reactionary phenomenon like Anonymous”

The tour also introduces a lot of organizations that are active in the “defense” of the internet (from differing angles of course). Some orgs that are new to me include:

  • Shadowserver Foundation
  • Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions
  • European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
  • IMPACT (the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats)

I found this book pretty beneficial in its description of official, governmental organizations involved in defending/controlling the web. I am much more familiar with the unnofficial and academic groups.

For people who have been following this field for some time, there might not be a lot of new information, but Black Code does add nuance and layers information in a nice package. Coming from a professor and being based on reports from Citizen Lab, I thought it would be more academic in its approach, and was sort of disappointed. The footnotes are fairly sparse, and he does not spend a lot of time in lengthy, academic definitions of certain terms (eg. there is no mention of Buzan when he talks about “securitization”). I suppose it is trying to be a more general book, and that is an important goal.

Professor Deibert has been able to bring some of the deep academic work they have been doing at the Citizen Lab to a wider audience. The book is very accessible, and easy to recommend to your non-cypherpunk friends. Moreover, at least in my case, it should pique interest in reading more Citizen Lab publications for those interested in diving deeper.

Forgive the digression, but back in 2005 when I was at grad school I started working on a master’s thesis around the Iranian clergy’s use of the internet. I had to change topics because for personal reasons. But had things played out different, I would have loved to do some work at Citizen Lab. Maybe, if I ever go back for a PhD, I might still get the chance.

The final chapter might be the most interesting to watchers of the field, for it is here that Deibert proposes solutions, or at least a framework for solutions. Recently, Evgeny Morozov tried to promote a third way:

we must confront the question not only in the economic and legal dimensions but also in a political one

Deibert proposes a fourth: the civic network. These are the forums that governments, corporations, universities and civil rights groups are invited to to hash out solutions to social problems. Deibert argues for a “stewardship” model of governance for the net, based on three principles: mixture, division and restraint. Through civic networks a mixture of actors with different roles and responsibilities come together, but no single actor has a controlling stake (division), and the citizens restrain the traditional poles of economic and legal power.

I agree that citizen action is imperative (lest we be doomed as serfs to the feudal lords of consumer technology, to paraphrase Bruce Schneier), and it seems that Deibert also feels that individual citizens are kept in the dark. He writes:

It is not only that we know less and less about the technical systems upon which we depend, the problem is deeper than that. We are actively discouraged, by law and the companies involved, from developing a curiosity about and knowledge of the inner workings of cyberspace. … herein lies an enormously important paradox, one that sits at the heart of our technologically saturated world: we have created a communications environment that is utterly dependent on existing (and emerging) technologies, and yet, at the same time, we are actively discouraging experimentation with, and an understanding of, these technologies.

Even though he describes the internet as a “totally immersive environment”, entwined in everyone’s lives whether they want it or not, he maintains that the solution is to depend on a priesthood of “stewards” representing citizens at multi-actor talk shops. This may seem a lukewarm solution to the empowered activists in the room, wanting to inflame and empower the “people” to rise up (cue the cypherpunk call to arms “freedom through encryption”). However, in light of the complacency we have seen over the past six months (and more!) it might just be the most realistic chance we have on the road from information serfdom.

As much as Edward Snowden could be considered a latter day Paul Revere, and the people should heed his warnings, we have seen a terrible lack of anger sweep our nations. It is up to us to not only protect ourselves through our technological prowess, but also to engage with other power actors to ensure encrypted, distributed and ultimately safe infrastructure for ourselves and the general populace in the global north and beyond. It is a tour of duty. Black Code is a book that illustrates it well, and hopefully will empower more to join our cause. Spread it around.