Episode 59: We’re not looking to you to monetize the streets

Download: Episode 59

This week Audrey and I chat about Gmail updates, a recent Microsoft counterfeiting case, mobile network spoofing with a VGA adapter, the Portland Smart Cities initiative, and more. Enjoy!

Show Notes


Community Announcements

The Responsible Communication Style Guide is headed back to the printers!

When we sold out of print copies of The Responsible Communication Style Guide last fall, we promised to do another print run in early 2018. We’re happy to announce that we’re ready.

If you’ve been waiting to pick up a printed book (or enough for the rest of the office so they stop filching your copy), this is your chance. Order now!

Issue 9: Hard Problems is now shipping!

You can still get your copy in the Recompiler Shop.

Now Broadcasting LIVE most Fridays

We broadcast our episode recordings LIVE on most Fridays at 10am PST. Mark your calendars and visit recompilermag.live to tune-in.

We love hearing from you! Feedback, comments, questions…

We’d love hearing from you, so get in touch!

You can leave a comment on this post, tweet to @recompilermag or our host @christi3k, or send an email to podcast@recompilermag.com.


CHRISTIE: Hello and welcome to The Recompiler, a feminist hacker podcast where we talk about technology in a fun and playful way. I’m your host, Christie Koehler.

Episode 59. This week Audrey and I chat about Gmail updates, a recent Microsoft counterfeiting case, mobile network spoofing with a VGA adapter, the Portland Smart Cities initiative, and more. Enjoy!

Clearly we need to start a botany horticultural podcast.

AUDREY: Gardencast.

CHRISTIE: Oooh, gardencast. I like that. But that is not this podcast, so what have we got? We got to do announcements first.

AUDREY: We do.

CHRISTIE: What have you got for announcements, Audrey?

AUDREY: Well, we are still working on that style guide reprint, The Responsible Communication Style Guide reprint. We are still taking preorders for that. I may have mentioned last week we extended the deadline a little bit just to make sure that we can hit our minimum preorder but we’re getting closer. And as soon as we have that, we’re going to go ahead and order. As soon as we have the preorders and we fix the problem in the index which print readers might have already noticed, there’s a few pages that aren’t numbered correctly. But yeah, we’re looking forward to going ahead with that and getting more copies in people’s hands.

CHRISTIE: Awesome. So now’s the time to go get your copy and it will have some small updates. And that’s RCStyleGuide.com. We’ll have a link in the show notes as well.

AUDREY: And you know, this is a good workplace Book Club idea. It’s really something that people are going to learn a lot from.

CHRISTIE: Awesome. What else have you got?

AUDREY: This week, I shipped Issue 9. They went into envelopes.


AUDREY: Yeah, this is very exciting. Because we’ve been working on it for months. It went into the envelopes, it went to the post office, it went to people’s homes and workplaces. And almost everybody in the US has probably already received their copy.

CHRISTIE: So check your mailboxes.

AUDREY: Yes, check your mailboxes. And the international ones are also on their way. The Kickstarter folks will see an extra little surprise. And we’ve got a couple of more Kickstarter things to sign up still.

CHRISTIE: And you can still buy this issue, right?

AUDREY: You can indeed. There are more copies in the shop and quite fortunately for us, the printer printed over our order a little bit. So we actually have a few more than I thought.

CHRISTIE: All right. So shop.recompilermag.com to pick up your print issue of Issue 9: Hard Problems. We’ve done a really awesome cover.

AUDREY: Yeah, I love the new design.

CHRISTIE: All right. Is that it for announcements?

AUDREY: That is.

CHRISTIE: On to topics. So Gmail’s getting an update.

AUDREY: Certainly is.

CHRISTIE: Do you care?

AUDREY: Well, I don’t use the web interface except occasionally, like if there’s a new account and I need to go set things up or once in a while there’s a setting I can’t figure out how to access otherwise. So I don’t use the web interface very much. They’ve definitely made some changes over the last couple of years like with those inbox subcategories to put all of the newsletters in one tab and all the stuff that might just be sort of junk like catalogs. The catalogs that come in the physical mail.

CHRISTIE: I’m a little confused. So Lifehacker had an overview. And then there’s of course the official announcement from…now I’m looking at the actual official announcement that I didn’t look at before. Okay, so Lifehacker had an overview of some of the…Okay, so the announcement is about the new stuff coming to G Suite which people…let’s see…and then Google saying it will also…the features will also come to Gmail. So if you log into your Gmail, you can try the new Gmail which I did and I didn’t see all of the new features specifically the one that I’m most curious about is the new security feature specifically this whole confidential mode.

AUDREY: Right. And they said that they’re not releasing that yet.

CHRISTIE: Even for G Suite?

AUDREY: I think so, yeah. I think it’s still to come.

CHRISTIE: Oh, okay.

AUDREY: G Suite is the the package that you can pay for now with hosted Gmail under your domain name Google Docs under your domain and a bunch of other services that I never use. But we do have it set up for The Recompiler right now and I’m trying to figure out how to get us off of that on to something with maybe more, I don’t know, more relevant privacy policies for The Recompiler.

CHRISTIE: So, [inaudible] to the Lifehacker but there is, let’s see, you get some hover actions, a sidebar where you can do things like schedule meetings. There’s more integration with Keep which is the notes or Tasks which is a task manager and other Gmail add-ons, it looks like. I guess if you’re a real heavy user of these Google apps and the Gmail web interface, this might be exciting to you.

AUDREY: It integrates a few more things and it also, I think, gives people a built-in version of the Boomerang plugin that allows you to snooze Emails that you don’t want to deal with right now.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I thought Boomerang also lets you do scheduled Emails.

AUDREY: It might. I haven’t looked at it in a long time.

CHRISTIE: Either way, this is probably not good news for Boomerang.

AUDREY: Yeah. Well, that was something that we’ve talked about a few times now that integrating with services like things Google provides is kind of risky. There’s nothing to stop them from implementing it in-house directly and making it the default.

CHRISTIE: And worst case is they put you out of business. Best case is they might buy you.

AUDREY: Right.

CHRISTIE: But it might be easier for them to just implement features rather than do [inaudible] or whatever.

AUDREY: Yeah. Although a big organization like Google, I can see how that might not be [inaudible]. The features that they’ve released right now, they do seem usability focused and integration focused with other things that you can do as a Gmail user. So for folks that are already using the web version for their daily inbox use, I could see how this could be some good stuff.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I do wish because there’s other things that have implemented like this news and whatnot and I really wish that we’re part of a standard so that it worked across clients and it was portable.

AUDREY: Yeah. One of the things that keeps me from actually using the web interface is that because, I don’t know, because I’m accessing my mail from multiple computers and from like the phone and all of that, I’d rather see the implementation of that stuff live like on my own device and not on the server. And I agree that standardization would be nice. It would make a lot of these things simpler but I’ve been a little bit more comfortable having that integration happen across like my Apple shared profiles than something directly with Google.

CHRISTIE: I haven’t found a way. Like a lot of email clients supports news but I haven’t found a way that can make it work across devices in a way that it syncs up which is frustrating.

AUDREY: Yeah. One of the criticisms I was seeing of some of the task management stuff is that Google’s set of options for sort of information storing and task management are really complex at this point. There’s multiple ways to do these things. And so that kind of integration is definitely lacking.

CHRISTIE: And then the thing that really got my attention was this confidential mode. And then also this, they’re calling it information rights management which allows you to remove the option to forward, copy, download, or print messages. And this is the thing I was hoping I could activate because I wanted to send an email from a Gmail account to a non-Gmail account to see what would happen.

AUDREY: To see what it would share?

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Like are they basically making this incompatible if you’re downloading mail with POP and IMAP or if you can still do that then I don’t see how they can reach out and delete an email already downloaded through an IMAP.

AUDREY: Right. Were you ever in an office that had an internal mail system where you could do that?

CHRISTIE: Maybe a very long time ago. I don’t remember the details.

AUDREY: I mean, over 10 years ago. I remember I worked at a couple of places. One of them I think we’re using Lotus Notes. And there was a feature that would allow you to unsend an email. But occasionally somebody would try to do it not realizing that there were some internal to the office email addresses and some external ones. So you’d get this message that was like another email that would say so-and-so would really like to unsend this email. And it just made it super awkward because then you’re looking to see, “Oh why did they not want to set that thing?”


AUDREY: But when it happened internal, Outlook might have had a feature like this, too, I forgot. When it was internal, people really could just do that.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, but if you’re using G Suite throughout your entire organization and you’re using the other organizational controls that come with it, then you might actually have a closed system there.

AUDREY: Right. I just really feel like this is an email, whatever you want to call it. This is different than email as we understand it.

CHRISTIE: And we’ve talked about that recently with the dynamic email thing that…I think it wasn’t called dynamic. It was like…what’s the consolidated…AMP.

AUDREY: Oh, the AMP for email.


AUDREY: You just can’t have real cross platform support for the stuff easily. And like you said, once it gets out of the Google systems, it’s best going to be sort of like a dynamic message that has to load content from elsewhere.


AUDREY: Because I mean, the alternative is like those emails that I got sometimes that said somebody was trying to unsend an email. The alternative is that it’s just sending more messages into the queue that aren’t being read correctly.

CHRISTIE: Right. And I did notice on the little gif they put together that this showed the feature that you can set, an expiration, and like a passcode. So maybe they’re going to wrap it in something which is obnoxious because in your query on Google servers to get a copy of your message anyway even if you don’t, as a recipient, use Google.

AUDREY: Yeah. What does that do for your ability to search your email?

CHRISTIE: I don’t know. When one of us gets the feature, we should try it out because I’m like curious.

AUDREY: Sending it to every email address that we have access to. Yeah, to find out what it does. I can assume that there’s going to be fairly good integration across like, I don’t know, aliases internal to a particular domain and email address is on the same domain and stuff like that. But I wonder about like even things like Google groups, services inside Google that maybe you don’t get a lot of day-to-day attention.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I could go on about that. I’ve been surprised how many people are willing to migrate to Google Groups still at this point when it’s pretty clear that they don’t really actively work on that project and also that there’s no way to get your data back out.


CHRISTIE: I just don’t get it.

AUDREY: I mean, we’ve talked about this a bunch with things that we’re working on that setting up your own mailing list still isn’t the easiest thing. The self-hosted one isn’t the easiest thing.

CHRISTIE: Yeah and I think at this point discourse is a…mailman is not the only option.


CHRISTIE: But yeah, you’re right. It’s not free.

AUDREY: And it requires somebody to have at least a really basic technical understanding of what they’re doing.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. I’ve seen cases where…yeah.

AUDREY: I’m not saying it isn’t a worthwhile tradeoff, just that it can be a hard barrier sometimes.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I feel like sometimes it’s actually a barrier but not nearly as difficult. I think it just speaks to how little bandwidth people have and that we are willing to trade away quite a bit because of that perceived barrier.

AUDREY: And there’s different ownership questions that come up. This is another thing that I’ve noticed about how groups pick different infrastructure. The ownership of like…does everyone…I don’t know. Let’s just, I guess, go back to the specific Google Groups like whoever creates the thing is an owner. And then you can add other people as owners. If you forget to, you might be stuck trying to go to Google and saying, “Hey, can you let somebody else who’s the admin but aren’t the owner take over this thing?” I’ve also been in this situation. If you have somebody who’s set up their own server and they installed that thing and they have it and they registered the domain name, you have a different kind of ownership failure mode. Does that make sense? And so, I just want to point out that there’s a really large set of tradeoffs to consider between picking a freebie hosted thing and going for like a fully self-managed option.

CHRISTIE: But there’s stuff in between, too. I mean, you can pay for Discourse.

AUDREY: I keep mixing up Discourse and Discord in my head which hasn’t helped.

CHRISTIE: Discord is a chat, also that’s a terrible name. I think so. Microsoft.

AUDREY: From Google to Microsoft.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, all that in a day.

AUDREY: Now that the weather has changed, we’ll just be sad.


AUDREY: Sad about technologies.

CHRISTIE: Audrey, you brought this one to my attention.

AUDREY: Yeah, because I saw somebody tweet about how Microsoft was putting somebody in prison and I thought, “Wow! That’s awful.” And also, “What year is this?” You know, what year is this that Microsoft is being that aggressive about copyright issues. But yeah, somebody is going to get a 15 month sentence for counterfeiting the restore disks for Windows systems except the disks aren’t actually being counterfeited because you can’t really do that. Microsoft just makes it so you can download them. And the thing that he admitted to was counterfeiting the packaging that Dell uses for these disks like the insert or whatever which has a very, very tiny monetary value instead of the $25 a copy that Microsoft argued that these restore disks, that again you can download for free and make it for yourself for free, that they were like at least a $25 item.

CHRISTIE: So what this guy did is he basically made and sold those Windows recovery disks and he used the Dell branding. So yeah, I just summarized what you just said. It’s interesting too because it almost seems like the case that Microsoft, and whoever was prosecuting this, was sort of at cross purposes because they simultaneously said that the real issue is that he made it seem as if the disks were authorized legit, like they were coming from Dell. And that’s dangerous because even though they were legitimate copies of Windows, with no malware or any sort of alterations, someone could be distributing an altered version. And that’s not good for consumers.

AUDREY: Yeah but making it obvious that somebody else could commit a crime is not a criminal act.

CHRISTIE: Right. But then sort of damage that they were saying happened really has to do with their official refurbisher program where they sell deeply discounted Windows licenses to people who refurbish equipment. And that was the sort of the $20 to $40 minus .75, I guess they make a…so they make 75 cents on the dollar of these things which is interesting because if you’ve bought a Windows machine any time recently, which you may or may not have, they come with those fancy stickers – the Certificate of Authenticity or something like that. And they have the Windows license on them.

AUDREY: Yeah, it’s basically your license code.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. And I think there’s general agreement that that is bound to the hardware. Now, I know that in some cases, that key or the activation that key is used for is actually tied to the hardware footprint of the machine. So in this article…

AUDREY: Oh, meaning like if you reinstall, the license might become invalid because of that?

CHRISTIE: No. If the machine had previously been activated with that license and you upgraded a certain amount of the hardware, that the hardware footprint/fingerprint wouldn’t match anymore.

AUDREY: Oh, okay.

CHRISTIE: And I think Mac does this too, actually. It’s some combination of like the motherboard and the processor and the RAM and the video card or something.

AUDREY: So at that point, you need a new license.

CHRISTIE: Right. And that’s where this refurbishment program comes in.

AUDREY: The disk doesn’t allow you to circumvent that in the slightest.

CHRISTIE: Right. That’s what I’m pointing out. I’m saying that what Microsoft is trying to argue does not seem legit.

AUDREY: No, I think it’s an extremely bad faith. I completely do not understand why they’re going after this. It doesn’t make people who care about the hardware ecosystem want to deal with Microsoft. It doesn’t make them a good partner at all. And I don’t think that Microsoft officially wants…I mean, sure, they want to sell more licenses but they’re huge. The number of computers that come through these refurbishment pathways in the first place, it can’t be a significant dent in the Windows market.

CHRISTIE: And they didn’t have to show…they just base the figure on how many disks were seized at this one border crossing. They didn’t show that because of this, anyone failed to actually buy a license.

AUDREY: Right. But I feel like counterfeiting cases are a little weird that way, like the ability to sell them gets conflated with the amount that has been sold. It’s like potential damages.

CHRISTIE: So if you [inaudible] good that nobody wants, now in the present…

AUDREY: Yeah, I think you could still be charged with like the value of the collected counterfeited things. At least that’s the impression that I have from news articles that I’ve read.

CHRISTIE: That seems really in the service of [inaudible].

AUDREY: Aren’t all property crimes that way?


AUDREY: I mean, the further issue here is that the court actually doesn’t seem to have understood the difference between a software license and a disk that allows you to restore software if you already have that license.


AUDREY: They don’t seem to have understood that at all. And so, they allowed Microsoft to conflate the two and didn’t know how to question that.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. The article ends and you can tell a person that wrote this is pretty worked up about it. He says, “Right now, a man is going to prison for 15 months because these judges didn’t understand basic concepts of the modern software ecosystem.” I sort of feel like this is another case of a big tech company wanting to have their cake and eat it too. It’s like you all have led the shift of ‘you’re buying a license not a disk’ and that’s been to your great advantage. And then you’re trying to pull this.

AUDREY: To make them non-transferable except by buying the hardware. I don’t know. It just seems super, super pointless and I wanted this to get a little bit more attention because I think Microsoft should look bad and feel bad for doing this.

CHRISTIE: And if their primary concern was user security, then it’s Microsoft. They can put out really good guides for how to do this correctly. And they can say, “Don’t make it look like an official recovery disk from the manufacturer.”

AUDREY: You mean, for like third party refurbishment programs?


AUDREY: They could provide guidance, yeah.

CHRISTIE: They could say, “Hey, if you want to distribute recovery disks like this, this is how you do it without getting into trouble.”

AUDREY: Again, just discouraging third party refurbishment systems and resale companies just seems like a really, really, really bad idea given just the enormity of the manufacturer of this stuff and how computers can have a much useful life span much beyond the two or three years that an office will hold onto them. The computers can still be valuable for much longer.

CHRISTIE: Oh, yeah.

AUDREY: And communally valuable. And Microsoft probably will sell more software by having those things remain in circulation.

CHRISTIE: All right.

AUDREY: That’s just gross.

CHRISTIE: You can do a lot with a VGA adapter, did you know that?

AUDREY: I hadn’t really appreciated just how much until I read this next thing.

CHRISTIE: So everything called software-defined radio which basically my understanding is that it allows you to use software to manipulate hardware into doing radio-like things basically. And there’s this RTL-SDR, I don’t know what the RTL stands for. But I think it’s a library of code. And it started out, the first supported devices were TV tuners. They had no ability to transmit, so just to receive. So the whole idea with this is that to do cool things with software-defined radio, you also need a commodity hardware to run it down. And so there’s a sort of ongoing search to find different bits of commodity hardware to do cool software to find radio hacks on them.

AUDREY: To find like what has the capabilities. And again, like software-defined radio, normally we mean we’re thinking like, what? An FM radio type broadcast?

CHRISTIE: I’m actually not sure everything that it encompasses. I was trying to track down, there’s a lot to this article. There’s a lot in here that’s new terms for me. I wasn’t able to track them all down. I think we can do a lot more on this.

AUDREY: The capabilities as stated from the person who presented the hack is that this $5 hardware with the software tool that they’ve created will allow you to transmit low power FM, DAB, I don’t know a couple of these [inaudible] DVB-T, GSM, that’s cell phone, UMTS and GPS signals. The GPS part seems a little bit scary. Spoofing GPS is not a very safe thing to do.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. So basically, they found a USB 3.0 to VGA adapter that has a certain chip in it and [inaudible] how the chip work and then wrote a software to find radio code to manipulate the chip into sending a very low power but transmitting radio signals. And in this case they used it to broadcast GSM signals. And there’s some pictures and some code, proof of concept. I sort of put this on our list of eventual hacks to try. But this one also is currently really over my head. So we might have to find an expert to help us.

AUDREY: Well you know, I realized as I was reading this that we actually had an article in Issue 8 that talks about the inner workings of cellular communication.


AUDREY: And I just pulled it off the shelf to have a look. There is a discussion at the end about how you might try out some of these technologies yourself. And it mentions RTL-SDR as a piece of hardware that you might make use of. We also put in a pretty lengthy caveat about how a lot of the things you can do with this are not legal in the United States and so you should probably find out what the restrictions are.

CHRISTIE: That’s actually a good point. A lot of the radio frequency bands have controlled usage.

AUDREY: And we probably want to pick a geographically isolated area where we’re not going to interfere with anybody what anybody else is trying to do.

CHRISTIE: Right. It’s starting to get very complicated. Clearly, Recompiler needs like a summer camp type.

AUDREY: It’s just a trip to the beach, Christie.

CHRISTIE: Oh, okay.

AUDREY: That’s all we have to see who’s going out on the Oregon Coast.

CHRISTIE: I still have yet to [inaudible] to Eastern Oregon.

AUDREY: Well, we should work on that especially since they think you want to go get a tumbleweed.

CHRISTIE: I do want to get a tumbleweed, yes.

AUDREY: Anyhow, I’m going to put this article from Issue 8 on the web site soon. I’m in the process of working on that. So we’ll have that to link to too in addition to this hack stuff, maybe to understand a little bit more about the kind of signals that you would be trying to transmit.

CHRISTIE: So yeah, we’ll link to this and a GitHub repo with the code. I think for me the takeaway here was kind of just another reminder of, it’s just of my situational awareness of the things around you may not be exactly as they seem.

AUDREY: And small commodity hardware can have just a lot of purposes, a lot of capabilities. And we can’t keep thinking, “Oh well, it’d be really expensive to pull off that disastrous interference hack. It might actually be pretty affordable and off the shelf.

CHRISTIE: The flipside of that is we’ve been talking about different ways to sort of have alternative networks and stuff. And this could also potentially be a part of that.

AUDREY: Right. There might be reasons that we want to set up a very small isolated GSM network.

CHRISTIE: Ran by a VGA adapter.

AUDREY: At $5 apiece.

CHRISTIE: [Inaudible] the people to figure this stuff out.

AUDREY: It takes a lot of iteration and just lengthy digging.

CHRISTIE: And then experimentation and observation. Reverse engineering involves like, in one case it involves [inaudible], the machine.

AUDREY: That we talked about last week.

CHRISTIE: And sometimes it involves observing the signals that are coming out within [inaudible] scope and just stuff that really kind of feels like magic sometimes.

AUDREY: It’s science though. It’s research.

CHRISTIE: All right. You know what else is Science, sort of? Smart Cities!

AUDREY: Or at least about sensors, totally about sensors.

CHRISTIE: So I had not heard about this at all. And I’m a little bummed because there was an open house on Wednesday and we missed it.

AUDREY: Yeah, that’s actually why the Portland Smart City project ended up on my radar that I saw somebody tweeting about the open house. And it was kind of just up the street from me. I was like, “Why am I not here? Why can’t I go ask questions in person?”

CHRISTIE: Right. I hope they do another one.

AUDREY: Yeah. I’m sure that they will have sort of follow up activities because right now, they’re pretty early on in the project. I don’t think that they’ve even started to install the hardware.

CHRISTIE: Okay. So there’s a landing page on the City of Portland. PBOT, the Portland Bureau of Transportation Smart cities and there’s all these Smart City PDX branding. There’s a web site.

AUDREY: SmartCity PDX.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. I opened it on my other computer. SmartCityPDX.com.

AUDREY: Why didn’t they do .org?

CHRISTIE: I think we’ll get into that because it’s a private/public partnership.


CHRISTIE: Because it’s libertarianism.

AUDREY: There’s a bunch of different things going on here. One of them is there’s this info sheet. Oh, the file name says placemat. That’s kind of great. There’s this info sheet about the 2018 Smart Cities framework that I just kept staring on because I don’t know if the person who made it understood that saying infrastructure as a service was going to get a lot of people laughing. But I don’t know if they realized that they were putting a joke on here.

CHRISTIE: Because it’s a term used in the software industry or…?

AUDREY: Because as a service is a thing that we tack on to be like, “Oh yeah, of course you could deploy it.” It’s that meaningful.

CHRISTIE: Because they also say data is a service mobility as a service.

AUDREY: Yeah, right. Data Services, that’s a thing but what does this even mean?

CHRISTIE: Also, this is the city government and pretty much right after looking at this, I just screamed at my brain, “Do your job!” This sort of presents it as like…what am I trying to say?

AUDREY: At the heart of the pilot program is something that absolutely makes sense and it’s reasonable for them to be doing. The Smart City stuff in general just kind of makes me itchy. Because like you said, the public/private partnership aspects of it mean that we have a lot of questions about who’s really driving this and why. What are they really trying to get out of it?

CHRISTIE: So here’s an example on the backside of the placemat. Do you think these were actual placemats they had at one of their lunch things?

AUDREY: Yeah, I don’t know.

CHRISTIE: It says Infrastructure as a Service. The use and access of public infrastructure are finite and valuable resources that should be managed creatively to monetize these assets.

AUDREY: That stuck out for me too.

CHRISTIE: No, you’re our city government.

AUDREY: We’re not looking for you to monetize the streets. Really truly.

CHRISTIE: Not at all. We want you to make the streets work well for the populace, all of the populace.

AUDREY: There’s been some reporting on this announcement and I pulled up a couple of different perspectives. One of them is Bike Portland and the other one is the Portland Tribune which is a fairly conservative and right libertarian kind of paper. And they had very different questions about what was going on with this. The Tribune’s commentary and one of the maybe interviews or things in there was about like if we can’t figure out how to pay for all of our streets, why are we putting sensors on them which is a good question. And the Bike Portland thing got into some of the equity issues around this. To what extent are we creating monitoring systems that actually exclude a lot of people and exclude a lot of information about people who were outside a given framework.

CHRISTIE: One of the more concrete things that has in plan is these sensors are going to be installed next months, that they’re going to install 200 sensors on light poles and some high crash corridors. And I don’t know. The other thing, the sensors will take street scene pictures that will be converted to data preventing people or vehicles from being identified.

AUDREY: Right.

CHRISTIE: What the f…!

AUDREY: I did a fair amount of reading around on the PBOT site to see what they were saying about the security and privacy aspects of this. It does sound like the hardware that they have in the module, on the light posts does have the ability to do that recognition in place and does not need to transmit images.

CHRISTIE: Is that what that weird hand wavy thing is? Is it somehow the sensor itself is going to be like bicycle, person, car, and just send out information.

AUDREY: Yeah. The actual photograph is not supposed to leave the light post which is good. That was one of the big privacy questions that I had.

CHRISTIE: But this line and I don’t want to be such a jerk to the reporter especially because I think Portland Tribune is like a free paper. But pictures are data, like that line is not enough to explain what they’re actually doing with it.

AUDREY: Oh, sure. And I I didn’t think…part of why put my nose into this is that I didn’t think a lot of the people commenting on it had the technical background to really know how to talk about what was going on here. And because there’s a lot of the hand wavy stuff in the official announcement, then I don’t know even who this is for. City council? County government? The official stuff that they’re releasing there also has a different kind of handwaving going on especially when they start talking about monetizing our infrastructure as a service. So I would just really keep looking at that again but what does that even mean? Anyhow, because of that, I thought there were some good questions that we could ask about the specific capabilities of the hardware. And I do think that PBOT has some stuff on their site that helps clarify that. And they also talk enough about the kinds of vendors involved in the hardware very generally, the hardware involved to give us a sense of that. They mentioned that Intel is providing, it sounds like basically the operating system on this thing and that they are covering the security aspects of it which I hope means that they will be held liable if somebody figures out how to turn these into a botnet. Because that was the other question that I had. We’ve been talking about label hacking. So how long until it is DDoS-ing somebody. It sounds like they’re considering those kinds of things.

But there is one capability that I saw mentioned that I do still have some concerns about and that’s that these will include a microphone which PBOT says that they are turning off, they’re going to leave it that way. But that doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t come in and change what they’re doing. Whereas I think the transmitting the photos is not something that the system is designed to do. It says in multiple places that that will be deleted as soon as it’s been processed. So this system is supposed to go, “Oh, okay. That’s a bicycle,” and then delete the photo. If that’s happening, there’s a lot less that somebody could get access to. By somebody I don’t mean like some random hacker, I mean like the FBI.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I’m still dubious about that. I got to find what you read and look at that just because I know so much of machine learning AI data processing stuff involves doesn’t happen on hardware.

AUDREY: Yeah, it involves bigger processing power. And another questions that we can have is about accuracy, like how accurate do we believe these systems are? Do they need training? Do they need to be deployed over several months and be trained on the difference between a Portland bicyclist in the summer and a Portland bicyclist in winter? There’s a lot of kinds of things that they’re not going into here.

CHRISTIE: There’s also this bit in the Tribune that says, “Among other things, it includes planning the infrastructure for the autonomous vehicles expected to provide on-demand transportation without drivers.” So there’s another question of like what are the actual goals. Regardless of that, what are the things that we might be enabling here?

AUDREY: That seemed to me like kind of a political talking point and maybe not the primary thing that they’re doing. Because again, what they’re putting money into right now is getting sensors on poles, using it to collect data, creating a data analysis system that can make use of it and hopefully, and this is something that I think I’d like to email them and ask is what research questions are they really looking to answer right here. Is it about specific interventions being applied? Is it about…I don’t know. We already have, I feel like, a lot of raw data on the accidents, the fatalities. So there has to be some other level of information that we can get out of this, and that’s not something I’ve been able to find on the internet.

CHRISTIE: Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Saltzman are the sponsors for that.

AUDREY: And there’s a project coordinator on here who has an email address listed. So yeah, I may try to find that out.

One of the things that I wanted to point out here too is that the funding is something that we’ve learned a lot about in terms of civic data and government not hacking but these sorts of programs.

CHRISTIE: Collaborations?

AUDREY: Yeah. The thing with a lot of these programs is that they usually have an initial amount of funding to do whatever it is to launch it. Without continuing funding, this is as far as they go. And it doesn’t matter, like AT&T might donate or heavily discount the cell service and Intel might be discounting the hardware and all of those kinds of things. And I really want to know about the data center. But even if all those things happen, if they only found funding for a year or two years of data analysts, this is as far as they can take it. And so they can have this really big roadmap, but what actually happens is down to various agencies deciding to find funding to grow it, to continue it, to make use of it. Not to just collect data and let it sit, but to use it in helpful ways.

CHRISTIE: Right. We’ll have all kinds of links about that and I think this is a thing we will probably talk about again.

AUDREY: Yeah. Maybe I’ll figure out how to get on the event’s announcement list or something. It says on the Smart City PDX site that there is a Digital Inclusion Summit happening on May 10th, looks like an all day event. But maybe that’s the kind of thing I can go to.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. All right. Things we love on the internet this week.

AUDREY: Yeah. Do you have one? You didn’t put it in the notes.

CHRISTIE: Because I didn’t really have one. So, I crowdsourced it right when we started talking and the responses are kind of funny. One person said the internet has been bad this week and need the time out. But there were at least two votes for capybaras.

AUDREY: Yeah, there’s a good capybara thread I saw this morning.

CHRISTIE: Is it the ‘I love that all animals are friends with capybaras and scientists’ best explanation is they’re very social animals which still doesn’t explain why they’re chill with literally everything’. And there’s a capybara with a dog, a capybara in a tub with ducklings.

AUDREY: Yeah, the ducklings are my favorite.

CHRISTIE: There’s some kind of bird of prey on top of a capybara. Yeah, this will work. Oh, there’s a capybara with I think those are puppies. There’s a cat on top. All right, so capybaras will work. I’ll link to this thread.

AUDREY: Awesome. Yeah, capybaras are pretty amazing.

CHRISTIE: Maybe I’ll move to where I can have one of those.

AUDREY: Brazil.

CHRISTIE: Is that where? I can have goats, too. I’ve always wanted goats.

AUDREY: Yeah. We know people with goat farms you could visit.

CHRISTIE: Yes, I want goats on my property so I never have to mow again.

AUDREY: Yeah, because they say that will help you with the mowing.


AUDREY: Also the small shrubbery.

CHRISTIE: And I’m pretty sure they’ll eat everything including your clothing.

AUDREY: Yeah, goats are adventurous. They’re kind of the inverse of the capybaras, I think.

CHRISTIE: What have you got?

AUDREY: I saw this really interesting paper about about the internet in Cuba and specifically sort of sneakernet that takes place in Havana. They did a case study to look at the way that people access the internet through the distribution of hard copy collections of news stories, videos, stuff that all came off of the web in some way but being packaged up and distributed every week.

CHRISTIE: So sneakernet refers to the shoes sneaker, right?

AUDREY: Yeah, the idea that you take your your hard drive and walk it over some place.

CHRISTIE: Because for the longest time, I thought it was like sneaking it, like it was some kind of net that only you knew. Anyway.

AUDREY: Well, it could be sneaky. Here, it comes into that interplay with censorship and government control. This might not be illegal or sanctioned or anything but it does take the transmission of information out of a framework where it can be monitored.

CHRISTIE: So there’s actually an offline internet in Cuba called The Weekly Package, the El Paquete Semanal. It’s probably terrible accent. And it says, let’s see. This does sounds cool. Is it an open access article?


CHRISTIE: Awesome. So maybe this gives us other ideas of how we might share information within our community.

AUDREY: There’s all of these email newsletters that people are doing now and this reminded me a little bit of that, that people put together sort of the things that they’ve found most meaningful and interesting and package them up for other folks to look at.

CHRISTIE: Nice. All right. I think that’s our show.


CHRISTIE: Hooray! Thanks everyone for listening. We’re going to sign off.

AUDREY: Thanks.

CHRISTIE: And that’s a wrap. You’ve been listening to The Recompiler Podcast. You can find this and all previous episodes at recompilermag.com/podcast. There you’ll find links to individual episodes as well as the show notes. You’ll also find links to subscribe to The Recompiler Podcast using iTunes or your favorite podcatcher. If you’re already subscribed via iTunes, please take a moment to leave us a review. It really helps us out. Speaking of which, we love your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? What do you want to hear more of? Let us know. You can send email feedback to podcast@recompilermag.com or send feedback via Twitter to @RecompilerMag or directly to me, @Christi3k. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling 503 489 9083 and leave in a message.

The Recompiler podcast is a project of Recompiler Media, founded and led by Audrey Eschright and is hosted and produced by yours truly, Christie Koehler. Thanks for listening.