A Call to Scandinavian Investigative Journalists

tl;dr Are you a journalist interested in understanding online threats to your operations as a journalist and protecting the network of people that have given you their trust -- colleagues, informants, collaborators, partners, and social connections? I would love to talk to you.

With both Brexit and Trump this year, for better or for worse, it's clear that extreme actions are gaining popularity with the people. This saying comes to mind, "most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions." Things are most likely going to be fine. But in the 1% chance that shit is going to hit the fan, maintaining freedom of speech is going to be critical. We've seen from history (as recently as Tunisia, Gaddafi) that freedom of information is one of the first to go when human rights are trampled.

My colleagues in Silicon Valley is co-hosting a digital security workshop with Bloomberg in the US. I am looking to start something similar in Scandinavia. At the moment, I'm looking to interview investigative journalists on what questions or concerns you might have regarding online threats to the work that you do. The goal of the interview is for me to listen and identify topics to cover at the planned encryption and operational security free seminar for investigative journalists in 2017.

The planned seminar is structured to help investigative journalists understand the threats that you, as a journalist, face online, and how to design effective responses to those threats. At the conclusion, participants will have an understanding of what a threat model is, how to design a reasonable security posture, best practice behaviours, and, to a lesser extent, what tools are available.

If you know any reporter or journalist that might be interested to have a chat with me, please put me in touch with them. You can find my contacts on the left sidebar.

19:57 from Castro to Twin Peaks

I've been running from Castro Station to Twin Peaks almost every morning for a month. I started off at about 25 minutes and 30 seconds from bottom to top. Today on my last day here in San Francisco, I broke below the 20 minutes mark. It's a 2+ mile distance up 800 ft. Pretty proud of myself for making it in 20. Here's a step through of my run using Google StreetView.

The start at Philz Coffee.

Left turn onto Castro Street.

First right onto 19th Street.

Left onto Diamond St. First hill.

Right onto 20th. More hill.

Up these stairs. More to come ...

At the top of the stairs, go across the street and up these steps to run along the elevated sidewalk on the right of Douglass St.

Turn right onto Romain St. This is a steep hill. Go all the way to the end.

Up this spiral and cross Market St. with the pedestrian bridge. Continue on Romain St. on the other side until the end.

Make a left on Corbett Ave. and follow the curves.

Up Hopkins Ave. on your right, which is the steepest road on this run. I've been told the house at the bottom of Hopkins has had cars rammed into it twice.

Go left on Burnett Ave.

Up these stairs just around the bend on Burnett Ave. It's all stairs from now on ...

Keep going up, up, and up.

Once you've reached the end to Parkridge Dr., go right follow the left bend up the hill.

Get on these last set of stairs on your right.

Almost there! Take a right on Twin Peaks Blvd.

There's a plaque on the ledge there. That's my end of the run marker. Enjoy the view!

Posted 15 June 2015 in journal.

How a few screws cost $2000 and a 240GB multinodes cluster cost $50

About ten years ago I was an electrical engineering intern at MDA Space Robotics. They are the company that designed the Canadarm 1 and 2 used on the International Space Station. I still remember meeting the R&D team next door and seeing their demo of a 3D LIDAR system mounted on a Mars Rover model. It was one of the competing designs meant to serve as the eyes of the rover. To put this into perspective, this was at a time when a single-beam scanning laser was commonly used on a robot to gauge distances. Seeing a vision system which can generate 3D polygons of the terrain in real-time for navigation was just unbelievable.

As for our mundane electronics team, we were designing new power electronics to upgrade the Canadarm2. Obviously, I didn't contribute much as an intern. One project I had my hands on was building loading circuits to simulate the electrical response of the motors on the Canadarm2. That meant we could test the new power electronics with live circuit, without having motors spinning in the lab. For my particular role, I didn't do any of that either. What I did was design and build safety housing for these big loading circuits.

Normally, this wouldn't take more than a couple of days in a workshop. Not so in a regulated industry. Even though these boxes were only used as a superficial safety mechanism during ground support testing, and were never going to be used in production or have anything to do with the actual test itself, we still needed to follow proper engineering guidelines. My mentor told me that it's safer to have a blanket rule for every component than nit-pick over what is or isn't regulated.

After designing the housing in no time (it's just a rectangular shell to cover the circuit, how hard can it be?), I sourced a contractor to mold some polycarbonate shells for us. It's the material used in hockey masks because it's transparent and strong. To secure the shells onto the loading circuit, which were both about as big as a moving box, I needed big screws to secure them onto the baseboard. Seeing that we were an electrical team, we didn't have any suitable screws in the lab. I figured I should just drive down to Home Depot to buy them.

Not so fast. Apparently, as I was technically sourcing in a new component, I couldn't just go down the street and get them. I ended up having to order from one of our approved suppliers and had them shipped to us overnight by courier, as all our shipping was done that way. Not that I was in any hurry. And even though I needed just a few screws, the supplier didn't do small orders so I had to order the minimum of a hundred or something. Still, all of that didn't really cost very much. The majority of the cost came from my hours spent in getting technical and administrative approvals for adding this new component into our bill of materials.

And so that is how I ended up costing the company around $2000 for a few screws. I never saw an itemised bill but I figured that's about right, based on the hours spent and people's estimated salaries.

This forgotten story from my engineering days came back to me this week as my colleague Paul and I were spiking out a big data project on Amazon Redshift. On a whim, just for the sake of it, we launched a 32 virtual core, 240GB memory, 32TB storage multi-node cluster with literally just the click of a button. We played with it for a couple hours, did what was needed, and decommissioned the cloud servers. It cost us $45.

What is my point in these stories? Same concept of materialising an idea. Different time, different industry. Diametrically different prototyping experience.

Update: this post generated some discussion on Hacker News.

Posted 10 May 2013 in journal.

Business is on hold

Back in November, I started working as a Data Scientist at uSwitch, an utility price comparison site. I am very fortunate to be able to work with so many smart and passionate people there. There is so much that I am learning in fact, I haven't had time to do much else. Although my ridiculous 4-hour commute is also a factor. I didn't even notice that EUR/USD dropped 1000 pips! As such, I am officially putting my own business and research on hold until further notice. I will continue to post relevant technical discussions on this blog. All of my existing clients have been notified and arrangements made way back before I began my employment. Thank you for all your support!

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