Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Inboxpad A8388 Android tablet unboxing

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

I recently ordered an Inboxpad A8388 10.1″ Android tablet from a Chinese export/import vendor.  These are grey market resales of a tablet designed around the original Pixel Qi sunlight-readable screen.  A limited number of these tablets are available, since they never went into mass production due to project cancellation.  Still, they are the only somewhat-available tablets with a PQ screen.  So I bought one and it arrived today.

The tablet came in working order.  On one side, it has a power button (which is somewhat flakey, neither powering on nor shutting down the tablet reliably), volume up and down buttons, and a slide switch for the backlight.  Along the next side are two ports, one for a MicroSD card (which you insert upside-down, with the contacts upright and inward), and the other for a SIM card (which you also insert upside-down, with the contacts up and inward).  But there’s no cellular radio (nor GPS) inside these units, so the SIM card slot is unused.  On another side is a MicroUSB socket.  On a fourth side are a power input port (12V, 2A, with a flakey connector that constantly needs re-seating) and a 3.5″ 4-section headphone jack.  It has a Home button centered Apple-style below the screen.  It also has touchable spots near the Home button for the classic Android Menu and Back functions.   It came with a US-style 110v power adapter and a headphone with a single pushbutton control (that seems to have no function).

It’s based on a Samsung S5PV210 ARM Cortex-A8, 1 GHz system-on-chip (SOC).

So far I have not reloaded the firmware inside it.  It was able to see a 4gb MicroSD card once I rebooted it.  I’m hoping to copy the existing flash partitions out, before trying to reflash them.
There are other tablets with the same SOC (HP TouchPad, Kobe Kyros 7015 and 7024, Dropad A8HD, CorePad 7, Ashiou A816, and many other, more generic tablets).  I don’t know if CyanogenMod is yet reliably running on any of them.  There was an early port to the Kobe Kyros 7015 with a lot of misc problems.

The power button is flakey, it’s hard to tell whether it has been noticed by the device, which is unfortunate because holding it down sometimes means something different from just pressing it.  I’ve been able to get the tablet to shut down (with “adb reboot”) and to boot back up.  When not booted, if you plug the power adapter into it, it briefly shows a screen with a battery image that shows the % charged.  I was once able to get it to do something interesting during booting, with a USB cable connected to a host Linux machine; I think I held the volume-down key (next to the power key) while pressing the power key to boot, leading to a screen with a picture of a USB plug and a message in Chinese that included the words “USB”, “PC”, and “PC”.

Privacy Advocates Meet In Mexico City

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

A coalition of civil society groups have been meeting in Mexico city this week to review the Madrid Privacy Declaration and look at international privacy laws.  The gathering was organized by The Public Voice and held in conjunction with the 33rd Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Conference which took place today. The Public Voice event included a number of nonprofit organizations that promote privacy and free expression on the Internet. Katitza Rodriguez, International Rights Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), presented at the conference. Katitza and I wrote about the event on the EFF Deep Links blog.

The Madrid Declaration was drafted two years ago to set international standards for Internet privacy. The Public Voice gathering looked at strategies for expanding these protections and examined current privacy laws in Latin America and around the world. It reviewed surveillance technologies such as facial recognition applications, employment verification programs, automobile black boxes and smart meters that track electricity usage.

Privacy threats are particularly serious in Latin America where many democratically elected governments don’t respect basic human rights. Government officials and intelligence agencies conduct illegal surveillance and misuse interception technologies to spy on politicians, dissidents, judges, human rights organizations and activists. Katitza and I have been examining cases involving revealed surveillance systems in Paraguay, Panama and Colombia that are used to identify, control and stifle dissent.

Civil society must show the world how surveillance technologies impact human rights and freedom of expression. We can help pressure governments in Latin America and the rest of the world to pass laws that provide meaningful privacy protections.

The First Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

I spent the last two days listening to a series of interesting presentations at the first ever Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. Organized by the nonprofit group Access and sponsored by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype, Mozilla and other major tech companies, the conference included activists who participated in the Arab Spring and business people who create the tools protesters have been using to circumvent censorship. This morning we watched a live video feed of pro-democracy protesters in Yemen who have been following the discussions with interest.

The conference offered a stark reminder about the pressures on human rights activists and the complicity of companies who yield to authoritarian regimes. The event began with talks by two activists who may go to prison for exercising their right to free speech online. Thai journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who directs a popular Thai news portal, was charged with defaming the Thai royal family after pseudonymous comments were posted to the site that Thai authorities deemed inappropriate. Alaa Abd El-Fatah, an Egyptian blogger and software developer who cofounded the Egyptian blog aggregators Manala and Omraneya, is set to be tried by a military tribunal. El-Fatah noted that 12,000 Egyptian civilians are now being held in military prisons for participating in the revolution. He observed that rate limits on Twitter, real name policies on Facebook and the drive to monetize every online transaction limits the usefulness of technology for activists.

Maria Al-Masani, founder of the Yemen Rights Monitor human rights group, told participants how her fellow activists use common applications to circumvent censorship. She recalled that when Yemen decided to ban Al-Jazeera, activists there bridged the gap by recording videos on their phones, posting the footage to YouTube and Facebook, linking content directly to the Al Jazeera live stream, and then Tweeting the story.

While this strategy is effective, Bob Boorstin, the Director of Public Policy at Google, told participants that forty democratic and authoritarian regimes around the world are actively blocking free speech - and companies are not doing enough to promote human rights. He acknowleged that Google itself does not have a spotless record. “You’ve got to be ready to lose some money in order to protect human rights,” said Boorstin to applause. “And not a lot of companies are ready for that.”

El-Fatah noted that Vodafone offered no resistance to the Egyptian’s government’s request for a kill switch that shut down cell phone services during that country’s Arab Spring. El-Fatah said companies should resist having their products used to suppress dissent and must think carefully about the privacy rights of ordinary users. “We choose how to reveal who I am, on what terms and in what basis,” said El-Fatah. “When you restrict me from doing this, you violate my human rights.”

The conference offered some interesting discussions about pressuring companies to support basic human rights. It was well attended by a broad mix of government representatives, academics, civil society, private sector players, activists and human rights NGOs. I work for nonprofit technology organizations that support human rights activists and people I admire made strong presentations.

The final discussion of the gathering concerned the protection of emerging rights, especially the right to an unfiltered, uncensored and unmonitored Internet. If we want to establish and defend quality access, future discussions must focus on the edges of the Net, on the marginalized and excluded users whose freedom of speech is being criminalized.

The country can afford to pay its debt; it can’t afford to waste money

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

If the 14th Amendment says the validity of the debt shall not be questioned, then I guess every newspaper is violating the 14th Amendment as it discusses what might happen “if” the government stops paying on its debts.  But the whole idea is foolish.
As with anybody responsible, you don’t just stop paying your creditors.  First you cut out the luxuries.  Then you start negotiating with your creditors while you work out how to cut back on the necessities too.  You keep paying your debts, if you ever want anyone to lend you money ever again.
I don’t think we need to spend a billion dollars this year on NIDA, which exists solely to “prove” that already-illegal drugs are bad for you.  I don’t think we need to spend a billion dollars on a subway that will only run 17 blocks under San Francisco to Chinatown.  I don’t think we need to spend billions and billions monthly on killing people in other countries that never did us any harm.  Federal employment is not a right, and a bunch of federal employees might need to find other jobs.  Subsidies for farmers, oil companies, tobacco growers, could all be cut tomorrow with few negative effects.  The federal government doesn’t have to pay top wages on every construction job as a handout to union labor, either.  We could even consider closing Guantanamo — legalized torture doesn’t come cheap either.  We can vastly reduce what we spend on such things before we will ever have a problem being able to pay the interest on the debt.  But up til now there was zero pressure to STOP spending money on all these “luxuries” (or “bad ideas” if you prefer).

I’m GLAD that the country is finally having a public debate over how to put our fiscal house in order.  Insane profligacy by Congress and the President spending “other peoples’ money” has gotten us here, and the only cure is to stop doing that.  It would’ve been smart to stop last year, or last decade, rather than trying to stop suddenly at the start of August, but that’s the idiocy of Washington for you.

Gov’t lying, as usual, about banning lightbulbs

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu manages to fit a few lies into his press release (also repeated at the White House blog) such as “The standards do NOT ban incandescent bulbs.”  As usual, when a high government official’s mouth is moving, lies are coming out.  Indeed the “standards”, i.e. the law, DOES ban the vast majority of incandescent bulbs.  Perhaps he meant to say “The standards do NOT ban ALL incandescent bulbs.”  They just ban all the common and cheap incandescent bulbs.

The government spends all its time telling us how great some new bulb products are, without deigning to answer why, if those things are so great, people have to be forced to buy them by banning competing products. They even have the gall to compare this transition to “the change from VCRs to DVDs” — a transition in which CONSUMERS decided which product to buy, rather than bureaucrats.

My own experience with LED bulbs is that these “long life” bulbs tend to fail within weeks.  The LEDs may be perfectly fine, but the electronics around them fail much more quickly than ordinary incandescent bulbs.  I’m a big fan of LEDs; I give away more than a thousand LED flashlights every year.  But after returning three successive LED bulbs to the manufacturer after each failed within a month, I swore off AC-powered LED bulbs until they debug the damn things.  And CFLs don’t work with dimmers — and my entire house is fitted with dimmers (which save energy).  I even got the “dimmable” CFLs; they failed within weeks as well.

Here’s another example of how the Energy Department lies by omission.  Their FAQ asks, “What is the cost difference between the new lights and my incandescent bulbs? How much money will I save when I switch to these new bulbs?“, then doesn’t answer the question, because the answer is politically incorrect.  The answer is that the banned bulbs are cheaper to buy than all the ones left after the ban.  So the real effect of the ban is to force consumers to pay more today, on the theory that if the bulbs last long enough and if the energy price is as projected, they’ll eventually perhaps save money.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the real impetus behind passing this law was campaign donations from companies that make these expensive bulbs. It’s “too hard” to compete with cheap, familiar products unless the government bans them to make the innovator’s life so much easier.

Consumers, stockpile incandescent bulbs!  It’ll be so much easier than getting a friend to illegally ship them to you from a free country later.  Meanwhile, work on removing the rats in Washington from having any power over the sinking ship of the United States.

Chaos Communication Congress Gathers In Berlin

Monday, December 27th, 2010

So good to be back in Berlin, a place that respects hacker culture. Tickets are sold out here for this year’s Chaos Communications Congress (CCC), the annual hacker gathering where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange announced the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (Immi) last year. Launched by Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament, Immi is a collection of source-protection, freedom of information and transparency laws that would make Iceland a legal base for the coming wave of Wikileaks-like organizations. Iceland appreciates Wikileaks because it revealed the corrupt loans that destroyed the country’s largest bank, an act of vast corruption that strapped Iceland with $128 billion in debt - about $400,000 per capita.

The opening speaker at the CCC this morning was Rop Gonggrijp, who helped to write Immi and played a central role this year in uncovering flawed electronic voting machines in India and Brazil. Gonggrijp reminded CCC attendees that they’re a community that supports free speech. He condemned efforts by Anonymous to attack Paypal and other sites that cut off Wikileaks. “Yes we could do damage to Paypal,” said Gonggrijp, “but we understand that no good comes of that.” Gonggrijp noted that that the CCC motto is “we come in peace,” and that during a time of financial crisis when politicians were “quietly pocketing the silverware and making their way to the lifeboats,” there is increasing need for people who know how to reverse engineer and reengineer and do more with less.

Gonggrijp still he stands behind his 2005 CCC pronouncement that the war for privacy has been lost, an position which he says was spawned in the grump of a midlife crisis. I don’t agree with Gonggrijp that this battle is over. But I do share his following observation that due to mass use of antidepressants, we are below the threshold on smart, resourceful, unhappy people that harness their dissatisfaction to push for reforms that are painful or costly, but healthy in the long run. While no one should deny pharmaceuticals to people who suffer, Gonggrijp observes that unhappiness has become socially unacceptable at just the time when we need a bit more righteous anger.

Here in Berlin this evening, there’s no lack of focused, purposeful response to a world in need of more transparency. A hacker sitting nearby just handed me a map of a tag cloud that lets you search the Wikileaks cables by geographic location. Next she’s working on a searchable database of critical and creative responses to the cables. “If someone wants to create epic poetry or science fiction from this data, we should know,” she said. “This is a first Amendment test, I want to see what people actually do next.”