Shields Up!

“Trotzhaltungen haben noch nie zum Erfolg geführt.” Stattdessen solle “mit der Kraft unserer Argumente” agiert werden.

Angela Merkel said she is against using trade-agreement negotiations as leverage against the NSA. I agree with her on this. Conflating different topics would raise distractions and ultimately sap popular support for the core demand: protection from mass surveillance as a core component of human rights. It does, however make sense to use the voluntary exchange of information as leverage, e.g. the current agreements to (without court order or means of legal review) provide all bank transaction files, air passenger files and so on to foreign intelligence services. That presumably started under the assumption that data was being processed sparingly and responsibly, i.e. in the service of specific security-related goals. The assumption is no longer reasonable, so the programs should end. I think the best response would be to start a “Shields Up” program, providing federal funding to open-source developers of encryption solutions, adding PKI keys to ID cards and implementing laws granting users rights regarding their own data, and governing how and where user data may be stored and transmitted.

Viewing the world

Every morning after “doing the mail” I scan the headlines to see what the world has been up to. This morning, I noticed an editorial in the Chicago Tribune lamenting Obama’s “lack of ownership” regarding the US-Afghan War. The editorial framed all of Obama’s actions in the context of US party politics, contrasting them with the deep real-world impact his decisions had on the “men and women in the field”. (The article based on Gates’ recently-published memoirs.)

It occurred to me how often I’ve seen that style of writing in US media. Especially in editorial commentaries, authors very often focus on the party politics behind given decisions which have either been taken, or which they would like to see taken. What’s awful though is that the object of these decisions is all-too-often far outside the geographic borders of the United States of America. They’ll look at whether or not a particular action should be taken not in terms of what it would mean for the peasants, or opposition movement, or friendly government which are affected, but instead they’ll lavish their attention on the impression it will make on the Democratic base, or the voters in swing states, or the impact it might have on the nomination of a candidate for some political office or other in the Midwest.

The editorial I linked isn’t a particularly good example of this way of thinking, but it will do. The author finds Obama’s decisions reprehensible not because of their impact on the Afghan nation, or farmers or law-enforcement officials or students, but because of their perceived impact on the domestic political constituency and the US soldiers overseas. It’s that sort of lack of regard which will keep causing trouble, or at least fail to stop it.

Back to mountain country

I haven’t checked in for quite a while now. A lot of it has to do with my focus on finding a new job (within my company) to follow on after my project, and handling the move which would be required. I didn’t really have the option of localizing to an American contract*, so ruminating about whether or not that would have been an attractive proposition is fruitless. At any rate, back to Switzerland I went, in the heart of what a Mr. Rumsfeld called “old Europe”.

*) Illinois is an “at will” state, so the locals there have no contracts. The rough equivalent there is a so-called offer letter which lays out the terms and conditions of employment without being binding for any length of time.

Daily grind


  1. Send a customer a description of the scope of your project, the methods to be employed and why they were chosen, the prerequisites for applying those methods, and an estimate of the time and effort required.
  2. Customer tells you your document is too “technical”, their management needs an “executive summary”
  3. Hint at some interesting aspects of your project in “bullet points” on three powerpoint slides
  4. Customer calls the slides “too granular” and is “concerned” about some obvious features which aren’t in the bullet points (but are, needless to say, in the 92-page scope document)
  5. Smile and ask the engineers to turn their attention to more slides, which they enjoy much more than engineering anyway
  6. (this is much less common, thank Zeus) Have the same calibre of discussion internally between different teams of developers while partitioning the work

It would save endless time and money if everyone just turned off their phones for three or four hours, sat down on a comfy sofa with a coffee and took the time to read and understand even a few of the details of whatever it was they were supposed to make a decision on.

Echo cancellation in Linux

Jitsi is a fantastic open-source VoIP sound and video application, with desktop sharing and XMPP instant messaging thrown in too. It’s free and secure.

Under Linux I had some echo problems. It turns out there are several ways to handle echos, and several points along the chain of communications where it can be done. If you’re using a server-in-the-middle messenger, it’s quite possible that echo cancellation is provided as a service on the server, which by the way precludes end-to-end encryption.

Otherwise you can handle echo cancellation at one or more end devices. Linux’s PulseAudio sound system offers echo cancellation at the system level, but you have to turn it on.

To do so, run the following command before starting your VoIP application:

export PULSE_PROP=”filter.want=echo-cancel media.role=phone”

Be aware that using different echo cancellation techniques at different points in the audio chain simultaneously will worsen the sound considerably, and it should be avoided.