Category Archives: IT

Yik Yak and the Death of Campus Discourse

While this is normally something I would write for my school’s alternative (finest) daily publication, The Bullsheet, (in fact, I have made mention of it) I feel like a potentially wider and more diverse audience could benefit from reading this so I shall post it here: Yik Yak has become Death, Destroyer of Discourse on College Campuses.

Yik Yak, for those unaware, is an unholy yet moderately addictive app that combines the seminal aspects of 4chan and reddit, respectively. College students download the app and it utilizes the location services feature on all smart phones to locate your “herd” — that is to say, the other students at your school (it’s easiest to think of Yik Yak as a mini-meshnet). From there, users post functionally anonymously (within threads, each poster is designated an image — e.g. a green acorn — but that changes from thread to thread) and either “upvote” or “downvote” posts and comments they read, in a sense, giving a post/comment their approval or disapproval.

1-VsWwerQZNo1zG4uFAuUg_wWhile this sounds innocuous enough, a large part of Yik Yak’s issues come in the form of the rules governing downvoted posts. Once a post or comment has a net-score of -5 — that is to say, overall more people downvoted than upvoted — it is deleted. While again, not inherently bad, the utilization of the system stifles dialogue and makes conversations either impossible to understand or eliminates them altogether. The reason this occurs is because the upvote/downvote system is utilized the same way the “like” function on Facebook is or the snaps of approval/”boo”s of disapproval are: spamming your approval or disapproval without contributing anything to the discussion.

What this system creates is one where any post or comment that is contentious or that one finds disagreeable is downvoted and rarely responded to. In fact, the ratio of downvotes to actual responses appear to be incredibly skewed in such a way that a contentious, yet interesting, post might be pruned before any discussion can take place about it. This means that anyone starting a thread with even a semi-unpopular opinion is likely to have the thread deleted either before any conversation begins, or mid-conversation. What this does, of course, is to homogenize the forum and turn it into an echo chamber where the same vanilla, Student ApprovedTM content is repeated day after day (e.g. “who wants to hook up???” or “any parties tonight?”). Any hope of engaging with opposing viewpoints, especially by those who are too shy to speak in public, is destroyed by what I call “the tyranny of ‘the like'”.

What’s more, if one is late to a discussion and wants to read all the comments on a thread, chances are many have been deleted and all one sees is a wall of one person replying to posts that no longer exist.

Obviously none of this will change magically, but what I propose is that users only downvote threads/original posts that are obviously spam and only downvote comments which are completely irrelevant or obviously spam. If you don’t like a post, don’t read it. If you disagree, argue about it! We are already seeing open dialogue on college campuses being destroyed by other forces, we ought not burn all our bridges lest we sew our mouths shut.

Data Privacy Day 2016

It’s that time of year again! Data Privacy Day! What follows after the jump is an aggregation of posts I’ve written about data security as well as a commentary on web-browsers and a how-to guide for using TOR safely.


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Data Privacy Day 2015 – Security Tips

As is the case every year, Data Privacy Day rolls around and I come dangerously close to forgetting about it. This year, I was saved by Mauricio Prinzlau over at Cloudwards who reminded me to write something and gave me a useful article he wrote entitled “Data Privacy Day 2015: Top Experts Comment on Privacy Issues (+Infographic)” which I will use in this post and strongly recommend you read. To recap, however, last year I wrote a post about staying secure online and my personal security setup and published a PDF version. This year I intend to write a more general post about current security trends, some new tips to stay safe, and some nice infographics. As usual, I’ll see you after the jump!



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TrueCrypt is Still Safe

I want to preface this with a note from me: “Hey all, I apologize for not publishing anything recently; I’ve had writer’s block and now I’m doing research for my next big post (get ready for it!) amidst dealing with crashed hard drives and OS transfers.

But, inspired by a the comment “dude, truecrypt is dead” that I saw on IRC, I want to write a short statement about TrueCrypt. Now it’s no secret I’m a TrueCrypt fanboy so this will be a tad biased, but please hang with me.”

Since 2004, TrueCrypt has been the go to OTF encryption tool and has served probably millions of users (myself included). TrueCrypt had been in active development getting to version 7.1a when, on May 28, 2014, displayed a very odd message warning of the insecurity of the software.

Although no one knows for sure why the develops suddenly stopped (although there are a few conspiracy theories), we do know that TrueCrypt is still safe.

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Happy Data Privacy Day! – Security Setup

Table of Contents (ToC Links not Working Yet)

1. Introduction
2. Passwords and Managers
3. Browsers and Add-ons
4. Email Providers and Clients
5. Data Encryption
6. Anonymity
7. How-To’s
8. Notes

Part 1. Introduction

In light of revelations about the NSA’s role in illegal domestic surveillance (x), and this terrifyingly hilarious photo inside a US army base (fig. 1), downloads of anonymity programs and browsers such as Tor (The Onion Router) have skyrocketed as people become more aware of what the government is doing and what “privacy” actually means. In fact, usage of Tor is up by over 100% and the so called “Dark Web” has risen to the Scroll to bottom spotlight. This surge, however, has been met with a downside – a false sense of security. The aim of this post will be to share the methods I use to keep information private and methods that one could use to attempt to remain anonymous on the internet. (Later posts may, if the need arises, be centered around specific security aspects)

Now this being said, there are a few disclaimers:

  1. The most obvious – I choose to share information about me on the designated page not because I do not know how to be secure, but because I am willing to share this much. I am also willing to stand by my convictions, thus I sign my name. That being said, incognito personas are fun and I maintain a few.
  2. There is rarely, if ever, total security. Someone wiser than I once said “a false sense of security is worse than being unsure”[1]. The point of this post is to give you the tools to try to be secure.
  3. These are just the tools I use, if you want to complain, use the comments section or, as will be linked to throughout the post, read some other article.
  4. Finally, I am no expert in the academic sense of the word, rather, I am an enthusiast who wants to learn and share what he has learned. As such, don’t take my explanations with the same rigor as you would Jacob Appelbaum or Bruce Schneier.

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