Snow in the Forest

“How’d you solve the icing problem?”
“Icing problem?”
“Might want to look into it.”
Iron Man (2008)

On a particularly cold Saturday morning a couple of years ago, my mobile phone couldn’t get any signal for a few hours. But I didn’t really care, because I had breakfast to eat, animals to feed, and nobody I urgently needed to talk to at the time. Also it came good again shortly after midday.

The following week the same thing happened, but for rather longer, i.e. well into the evening. This was enough to prompt me to use my landline to call Optus (our mobile phone provider) and report a fault. The usual dance ensued:

“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
“Have you tried a different handset?”
“A different SIM?”
“Holding the phone in your other hand?”
“Sacrificing a lamb to the god Mercury?”

I might be misremembering the details of the conversation, but you get the idea. Long story short, I got a fault lodged.

Later I received a call – on my mobile – asking if my mobile was working again. “Indeed it is, and you wouldn’t have been able to make this call if it wasn’t”, I replied. Then I asked what the problem had been. “Let me check”, said the support person. “Uhm… It says here there was… 100mm of ice on the local tower.”

Flash forwards to a couple of days ago, when snow fell down to sea level for the first time since 2005, and my mobile phone was dead again. I can only assume they haven’t solved the icing problem, and that maybe the local NBN fixed wireless tower suffers from the same affliction, as that was dead too for something like 24 hours.

It was very pretty though.

Snow in the Forest

Get off my Lawn

When I was about the right age to first think that taking compromising photos of myself might be good for a lark, technology was a little different. Mobile phones that weren’t actually bricks anymore could show maybe two lines of pixelated text on an unpleasantly glowing background, terrible quality digital cameras were barely affordable, and connecting to the internet actually had a sound – kind of like KSShhh-aaa-KWEO-pung-pung-drhdrhdrhd-KHH, but it went for longer than that. Or maybe it was: mobile phones only existed in gangster movies where they were installed as part of a car, digital cameras didn’t exist, and I only had access to a few local BBSes. I forget the specifics, but that’s not the point – the point is that when I was in my teens, technology was shit, and nobody had any of it. Now, technology is excellent, everybody has all of it, it’s really easy to use, and the ways in which we interact with our technology shape the ways we expect our technology to work.

If I write an email to someone, I’m thinking “I will type my message in this box here, hit SEND, and then they will receive the message and read it”. I am not thinking “I will type my message in here, hit SEND, then it will be transmitted in plain text across a vast network of computer systems, through a number of mail servers, possibly be recorded by several government agencies in case I’m a terrorist, be stored for a little while in a mail spool and possibly backed up by some ISP, before eventually being downloaded and read by the intended recipient”.

Same with photos: “I will take a picture and share it with my wife” is a distinctly personal experience (regardless of what it’s a photo of), and that’s what I’m thinking at the time. I am not thinking “I will take a picture with my phone which will then be uploaded across that same vast network to a cloud system somewhere and stored for Eris-only-knows how long in some other jurisdiction which can probably be hacked by script kiddies”.

Technology now is all about communicating with people, and about sharing our experiences, and that we can do this without having any idea what’s actually going on is fantastic. The price though is that with each service we use, we give up a certain amount of privacy, and what privacy we give up is not necessarily obvious.

To go back to the compromising photo example: When all I had was a little film camera, nobody I knew ever took photos they wouldn’t be happy for random strangers to see, because we all knew that we had to take the film to get processed – the mechanics of how the technology worked were at least somewhat obvious to the people using the technology. As far as I am aware, there are no nude photos in existence of my teenage self and partners, because we didn’t want those perverts in the photo shop to see them.

I want a world where user experience accurately reflects potential privacy – not “sharing to circles”, or allegedly private “private messages”, but where any share that could conceivably result in non-private communication is preceded by a dialog that states “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record”. Because privacy is important – as Bruce Schneier said: “Privacy is not about something to hide. Privacy is about human dignity. Privacy is about individuality. Privacy is about being able to decide when and how we show ourselves to other people.”


Today I emailed Julie Collins MP, and senators Catryna Bilyk, Carol Brown, Jacqui Lambie, Helen Polley, Lisa Singh and Anne Urquhart concerning data retention. For the record, and in case it helps anyone else who wants to contact their representatives and senators, here’s what I wrote:


I am writing regarding the Telecommunications (Interception and Access)
Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. As I am sure you are very busy,
I will be as brief as I can.

The distinction the bill makes between metadata (so-called “non-content
data”) and content is grossly misleading; once you have enough of it,
metadata is just as privacy invasive, if not more so, than the actual
content of communications, and as such should only be collected with
proper judicial oversight, i.e. after a warrant is obtained.

Retaining this data for the entire Australian population is mass
surveillance, nothing more, nothing less, and is completely
inappropriate in a modern democratic society.

Tinkering around the edges as Labor is suggesting with amendments to
protect journalists’ sources is misguided at best; the only way to
protect such sources effectively would be to not retain the sources’
data either, and given that you can’t know who they are, the only way
to achieve this would be to not retain anyone’s data at all.

Finally, mandatory data retention won’t help to catch any criminal with
even a shred of intelligence, as it can be trivially circumvented by
the use of overseas communications providers, virtual private networks
and the like.

In summary, I am completely opposed to mandatory data retention in
Australia. As my representative, I’m asking you to reject this bill.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Serong


I saw this on Twitter today:

I’m going to leave aside the possibility that this is a plot by someone else to ruin Justin D’Agostino’s life by forging an email to Kelly Ellis, as I’ve seen similar sentiments posted too many times (i.e. more than never), and I’m fucking sick of it.

Assuming for a moment that the egg-donor hypothesis is correct, if you are insufficiently evolved to control your urges (or if you share any of the opinions stated in the email above), then you are insufficiently evolved to warrant employment. Please leave and make room for someone else.

A Brief Exercise in Shameless Self Promotion

At the other week, a friend asked if I’d ever considered a career writing a web comic. I forget exactly how it came up, but it might have had something to do with the STONTIH Deathmatch t-shirt I was wearing at the time, or may have been due to someone mentioning the talk Florian Haas and I gave at LCA 2011 with the live cartooning.

Anyway, the answer was “no, not really”, largely because I sincerely enjoy my gig at SUSE (we’re hiring ATM, BTW), but also partly because I honestly don’t come up with enough interesting stuff often enough, and consider it unlikely I’ll ever make a living off it. Still, I have put a handful of bits and pieces up on Redbubble over the last few years, so I thought I’d engage in a bit of narcissism and promote it shamelessly and obviously. In chronological order then, from oldest to newest, I have produced:

‘Sup With The Tablet?

As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I’m very happy SUSE was able to support 2015 with a keynote giveaway on Wednesday morning and sponsorship of the post-conference Beer O’Clock at Catalyst:

For those who were in attendance, I thought a little explanation of the keynote gift (a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8″) might be in order, especially given the winner came up to me during the post-conference drinks and asked “what’s up with the tablet?”

To put this in perspective, I’m in engineering at SUSE (I’ve spent a lot of time working on high availabilitydistributed storage and cloud software), and while it’s fair to say I represent the company in some sense simply by existing, I do not (and cannot) actually speak on behalf of my employer. Nevertheless, it fell to me to purchase a gift for us to provide to one lucky delegate sensible enough to arrive on time for Wednesday’s keynote.

I like to think we have a distinct engineering culture at SUSE. In particular, we run a hackweek once or twice a year where everyone has a full week to work on something entirely of their own choosing, provided it’s related to Free and Open Source Software. In that spirit (and given that we don’t make hardware ourselves) I thought it would be nice to be able to donate an Android tablet which the winner would either be able to hack on directly, or would be able to use in the course of hacking something else. So I’m not aware of any particular relationship between my employer and that tablet, but as it says on the back of the hackweek t-shirt I was wearing at the time:

Some things have to be done just because they are possible.
Not because they make sense.


Salt and Pepper Squid with Fresh Greens

A few days ago I told Andrew Wafaa I’d write up some notes for him and publish them here. I became hungry contemplating this work, so decided cooking was the first order of business:

Salt and Pepper Squid with Fresh Greens

It turned out reasonably well for a first attempt. Could’ve been crispier, and it was quite salty, but the pepper and chilli definitely worked (I’m pretty sure the chilli was dried bhut jolokia I harvested last summer). But this isn’t a post about food, it’s about some software I’ve packaged for managing Ceph clusters on openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Continue reading

Watching Grass Grow

For Hackweek 11 I thought it’d be fun to learn something about creating Android apps. The basic training is pretty straightforward, and the auto-completion (and auto-just-about-everything-else) in Android Studio is excellent. So having created a “hello world” app, and having learned something about activities and application lifecycle, I figured it was time to create something else. Something fun, but something I could reasonably complete in a few days. Given that Android devices are essentially just high res handheld screens with a bit of phone hardware tacked on, it seemed a crime not to write an app that draws something pretty. Continue reading