Author: Jon Evans

What is the meaning of LinkedIn?

TECHCRUNCH Thanks to John Biggs for inspiring this piece; I cosign most of what he says here. I have long been mystified by LinkedIn, because of its spectacular uselessness (for me) as a professional social network. But I also assumed it was useful for someone. Now, though, I’m beginning to wonder if the emperor is naked after all, and LinkedIn is purely a fantasy social network for people cosplaying that game called success. Let me hasten to stress that LinkedIn isn’t useless full stop. It’s a very good CV repository, and, I am given to understand, a very good...

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Optimistic

TECHCRUNCH I spent TechCrunch’s latest Disrupt extravaganza asking questions of various notables onstage, and what struck me most was how fantastically optimistic they were. To pick two examples: Kai-Fu Lee talked about preparing for a world of mass plenitude and abundance 30-50 years from now; Dario Gil waxed enthusiastic about quantum computers simulating life-changing new materials and pharmaceuticals, transforming everyone’s lives for the better. And then I turned around and returned to the world of hair-trigger outrage, condemnation, consternation, pessimism, gloom and impending apocalypse; which is to say, America and social media, where it sometimes seems an encouraging word...

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Burning Man: sympathy for the turnkey devil

TECHCRUNCH The most interesting thing about Burning Man, says me, is that it’s a testbed for a post-scarcity society. The irony of course is that such a testbed requires enormous amounts of money and resources, in a highly hostile and inaccessible environment. That’s how far you have to go to get away from the monetary / scarcity hierarchies of our world. It’s a lot of other things, of course — the world’s biggest, craziest, and most spectacular party, a huge EDM festival, a massive outdoor art gallery (both ephemeral and permanent — museum curators go out there to inspect the work with an eye towards adding to their collections), an experimental community, a secular pagan ritual, a set & setting for psychedelics, a holiday / reunion with one’s friends, etcetera etcetera. Amusingly it is widely misunderstood as a hippie event, when its flamethrowers:guitars ratio is roughly 100:1 and its mottos include “Safety Third” and “Keep Burning Man Potentially Lethal.” It is also even, sometimes, very weirdly, misinterpreted as some kind of holiday-hackathon extension of Silicon Valley. That last misunderstanding is instructive. The list of events this year included a so-called ‘VC/entrepreneur networking event and pitch session.’ I did not attend, but a close friend did, and reported “it was the ultimate Poe’s Law event … many people were genuinely crestfallen when they realized it was a joke.” It seems...

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Hating the wrong tech people for the right reasons

TECHCRUNCH The slings and arrows aimed at tech’s titans these days are almost too numerous to count. Jeff Bezos: squandering money on space while exploiting warehouse employees. Mark Zuckerberg: complicit in everything from genocide to the death of democracy. Larry Page and Sergey Brin: in bed with China and the military. Elon Musk: where even to begin? Tim Cook has mostly escaped the brickbats, but if Steve Jobs were still with us, it seems plausible he’d be the biggest target of all. And the list goes on from there, of course. Let’s not kid ourselves: a lot of this...

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What the hell is the deal with Tether?

TECHCRUNCH It was a simple concept: a cryptocurrency whose units were always and constantly worth exactly one dollar, because they were backed by dollars held in a bank. Voila: dollars with the powers of crypto, such as the ability to quickly and permissionlessly transfer an arbitrary amount … and, er, a certain lack of pesky regulations. Now there are $2.7 billion worth of Tether in circulation, and they are anything but simple. (Euro Tether also exist but they’re a rounding error.) Who created Tether? The same people behind the exchange BitFinex, with whom Tether shares a CEO, a CFO, and (until recently) a Chief Strategy Officer. That much we can be fairly confident about. But everything else about this money is shrouded in a deep fog of mystery tinged with misconduct. Who buys Tether? It’s hard to say; you can trade USD for them at a couple of crypto exchanges, notably Kraken in addition to the BitFinex exchange, but I haven’t been able to find any recent public examples of anyone, institution or person, actually buying newly issued Tethers from Bitfinex. So who provides the US dollars which are said to back all newly issued Tether? It’s very hard to say. Who audits them, to ensure those dollars are there? Well — actually — nobody, despite their web site‘s assurances that their reserve holdings are “subject to frequent professional...

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Nobody minding the store: security in the age of the lowest bidder

TECHCRUNCH So, to recap: Satellite communication systems worldwide are “protected” by easily cracked hard-coded passwords. The private internet connecting the world’s mobile phone operators remains replete with vulnerabilities. Russia has successfully hacked into American power-plant control systems. Oh, and voting machines in use in 18 states can be remotely hijacked. Just stole an election at @VotingVillageDC. The machine was an AccuVote TSX used in 18 states, some with the same software version. Attackers don’t need physical access–we showed how malicious code can spreads from the election office when officials program the ballot design. pic.twitter.com/wa97HWqlv5 — J. Alex Halderman (@jhalderm)...

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Voatz: a tale of a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea

TECHCRUNCH Let’s get the fish in the barrel out of the way. Voatz are a tech startup whose bright idea was to disrupt democracy by having people vote on their phone, and store the votes on, you guessed it, a blockchain. Does this sound like a bad idea? Welp. It turned out that they seemed awfully casual about basic principles of software security, such as not hard-coding your AWS credentials. It turned out that their blockchain was an eight-node Hyperledger install, i.e. one phenomenologically not especially distinguishable from databases secured by passwords. They have been widely and justly chastised...

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Hackers on new “secure” phone networks can bill your account for their roaming charges

TECHCRUNCH I have good news! The infamous SS7 networks used by mobile operators to interoperate, e.g.when you’re roaming — which were built on trust, essentially devoid of security, and permitted rampant fraud, SMS hijacking, eavesdropping, password theft, etc. — are being replaced. Slowly. But I have bad news, too! Which is: the new systems still have gaping holes. One such was described at the Def Con hacking convention today by Dr. Silke Holtmanns of Nokia Bell Labs. She gave a fascinating-to-geeks-like me summary of how the IPX network which connected five Scandinavian phone systems in 1991, using the SS7...

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