Wifi to the people

There’s “free” wifi in places like cafes, airports, shopping centres. However, lest you get too comfortable or you start thinking you can get things for free, this is usually limited to something stupid like fifteen minutes.

This system works based on your device’s MAC address. MAC, standing for media access control (have you ever heard of anything so in need of fucking with) is a unique identifier for your network interface that tells a network that you are an individual user. When you’ve had your time, the network kicks you off based on your MAC address, usually requiring you to pay for more time or give them your email address or other such bullshit.

If you change your MAC address and reconnect, the network thinks you’re a whole new person and will give you another lot of free time. Repeat until you’re done reading or doing whatever it is you’re doing.

If you want to see your current MAC address, open up a terminal and enter this**:

$ ifconfig en0 | grep ether

… and you’ll see some hexadecimal number printed, like d4:c2:ad:45:bb:2a. That’s your MAC address, and this is what you want to change. How, you ask? Well …

I wrote a Python script to change my device’s MAC address. Here it is.**

1. This was written for OS X running Yosemite. Yosemite uses en0, some earlier versions use en1. Google and check. This is self-help, people.
2. Depending on your version of OS X you may need to disconnect from your Airport for this script to work. Follow the instructions in the comments of the script linked above.
3. This was written in ten minutes and tested on one machine. Doesn’t work? Google it. This script contains the bones of running commands from a Python script, you should be able to fill in what works for your own setup.

Save this somewhere as a Python file, calling it something you’ll remember like mac-n-cheese.py (use whatever you want). To run it enter this on the command line (this is assuming you named it mac-n-cheese.py but use whatever you called the file, and the right path to wherever you saved it):

$ python3 path/to/location/mac-n-cheese.py

Enjoy your wifi.

Trashing the trash.

I plugged in this external board today. It’s supposed to have a capacity of 16MB and I needed all sixteen. There were a few files on it so I deleted those, and emptied my system trash can. That should have done the trick. (I’m sure you see where this is going.)

Try to upload to the board: No space! I inspect it and find out that it’s still nearly full, 14MB on it, despite me doing all the right things to delete what was on it.

Fuck you, computer.

So, let’s take a trip to the Land of Wind and Ghosts, where files live on long after you’ve killed them.

sis-transis$ cd /
sis-transis$ ls Volumes/
mainDrive externalBoard
sis-transis$ cd externalBoard
externalBoard sis-transis$ ls
externalBoard sis-transis$

List: nothing. O rly. Time to look in the corners.

externalBoard sis-transis$ ls -a
. .. .Trashes

Trashes. You little fucker. Get in the sea.

externalBoard sis-transis$ sudo rm -rf .Trashes

Presto: Available space, 16.6MB.

As always, fuck you computer, but today fuck that Trashes file in particular.

Solution: Add more piss.

I read somewhere recently:

Getting your data off the internet is like trying to get piss out of a swimming pool.

I really liked that. (I wish I know who said it; if you know please tell me.) UPDATE: Headcrash found the origin (or as far back as this appears to go). Apparently this was a line from the massively underrated television show, Newsradio:

I was part of a conversation recently where the topic of discussion was how to keep your data out of the big system. Stay off Facebook, avoid Twitter, keep everything behind a VPN, don’t take your mobile phone anywhere you don’t want someone knowing you were .. you know, the kind of stuff even I used to file under “tinfoil hat nonsense” until some years ago.

Anyway, it struck me that it’s pretty much impossible to operate like a human being in the contemporary western world and keep your data out of the hands of people who will use it in ways you don’t agree with, or sell it/give it away to people you don’t want to see it. The entire corporate internet is set up to take your data, suck it up like a relentless black hole that absorbs everything it can find.

If you want to live like a normal Western 21st century human being means that your data will leak onto the internet at some point, in some form. You will sign up for a Gmail address, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a newsletter, or you’ll download an app or you’ll buy something online, an innocent act that allows a spigot to be shoved into your personal flow of data, and some invisible entity to siphon off all it can. These procedures are so painless, so buried in terms and conditions implicitly or lazily agreed to (and we all click Agree for the sake of convenience, all the time), that moving through the digital realm without a trace has become, if not impossible, then incredibly fucking hard. The piss leaks into the pool; good luck finding all of yours and extracting it.

There is a weakness in this data-siphoning system, however: it’s indiscriminate. It assumes everything it knows about you is true. It assumes you don’t lie. Facebook didn’t bat a robot eyelash when I changed my gender to see if it would change the advertising I got (big surprise: it did). It accepted what I gave it, moved on, accepted it without prejudice.

Could the solution to this invasion of privacy, then, be not to extract one’s own piss, but rather add more piss? 

If we can’t move through the digital realm without a trace, then surely we can cover our tracks with sufficient digital garbage that it’s impossible to tell what’s a real footprint and what isn’t, to give the algorithms all the data they can eat – because if there’s one thing we all know about algorithms, it’s garbage in, garbage out. Hide in plain view by covering yourself in garbage. Like everything. Fill out all optional fields. Choose a new age range every day. Move between genders. Shopping websites and consumer entities may know that a woman is pregnant before she has told a living soul, but how can these algorithms infer pregnancy if they have no idea what gender they’re dealing with?

This has already been played with, to some extent, with the Chrome plugin Valley Girl, which clicks “Like” at every opportunity presented. No matter where you are on the internet, if there’s a Like button, Valley Girl will click it. After a matter of weeks, what you really like becomes immaterial; your taste, your humour, your political leanings are obscured by the sheer volume of noise inserted into what Facebook knows about you.

High five, Valley Girl. I hope you piss into the gutter of my Facebook data profile forever and ever.


The satnav is my shepherd

So this happened recently.

For the TL;DR crowd: an elderly couple got into a car in Rio, thought they were going to the beach, put in the address and the satnav they were using led them to a neighbourhood that had a street by the same name as the one they were looking for. Except this neighbourhood was controlled by a violent drug gang, that shot the woman and rifle butted the man. The woman later died.

Some discussion has emerged about the satnav company being “responsible” for leading these people to the wrong place. If so, what does that mean? If companies are now responsible for the information they give people and the way that information is used, what’s the logical end? Will there come a time of digital ghettoisation, when Google Maps and satnavs send an alert when you stray over a certain digital border, saying “you’re in a bad neighbourhood!” Will there be entire areas that are considered by the corporate entities that run the internet to be “the wrong side of the tracks”? Will real time data sets of crime statistics push and nudge these borders around dynamically throughout every day? Will the borders of the “bad areas” shift at night? What the fuck is a “bad area” anyway?

This seems ridiculous and misguided, but the history of shitty decisions by internet companies makes me regularly hold the bridge of my nose and close my eyes for a moment.

Perhaps a better question to ask is not one of responsibility, but one of geography.

Satnav means that you know where you’re going. You don’t have to ask anyone for directions. You just send your wish out into the ether by typing it in a little box, and *ping*, down comes a magical treasure map that leads you were you need to go. The satnav does its job. If you’re not specific enough, or you don’t know you’ve made a mistake, or there’s some kind of clash because two places have the same name, or or or, then you’re on your own and in the hands of human error (which is the reason satnav was invented in the first place).

However, if forced to stop at a petrol station and find someone to ask, they’ll give you nuanced, localised information such as “There’s a place with the same name that’s a bad fucking neighbourhood, avoid that place.” This is because, of course, Google Maps and satnav do not contain all knowledge.

We assume they do. We put our faith in these devices and services, whisper an incantation and hope our prayer is heard and wish granted in the way we need and expect. The answer is always delivered with a kind of “trust me, I’m a TomTom” certainty that we just accept it at face value. It’s your own personal oracle on the dashboard temple. You will be guided by a loving force with your best interests in mind.

But sometimes, as we have seen, the oracle leads you to your death. At those time the grime of human frailty comes peeking through the chromed techno surface, and this faith – and it is faith! – that runs Uber and guides us around cities and is in every taxi these days seems silly, misplaced, childish; these services don’t have all the answers, even though they are so good at looking like they do.

My alter (Gmail) ego

For a number of years I have had a gmail address for spam-catching purposes. This address included the world “grey”, spelled the British way.

Someone else on the internet has a gmail address with the same name, except hers has the word “gray” spelled the American way.

What this means:  I get a lot of email that is meant for her. This has been ongoing since 2006. At first I used to write the person back and say that I wasn’t who they were looking for, but stopped when it didn’t seem to dissuade them. Every couple of months I get an email or two meant for her, and these make up little glimpses into her life an goings-on that have added up to a hazy picture. Here’s what I know:

  • She grew up about 30 minutes from where I grew up (coincidentally)
  • She is a Jehovah’s Witness
  • She lives at Bethel, the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Brooklyn
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses give out Watchtower magazine, and they don’t manage to hand out as many as you might think (like, 4 or 5 for a day’s work, on average)

I get party invitations for her. I started out ignoring them, but now I click on the RSVP link if it sounds like something she’ll enjoy. (These invitations always say “Keep in mind Scriptures when it comes to dress and grooming”, and I am curious to know what exactly this means – are we talking modest dress, or are we talking no mixed fibres?)

Recently I got an email meant for her that mentioned her fiancee. Aw, good for her.