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August 2020
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Days After FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly Suggests Trump's Section 230 Exec Order Is Unconstitutional... His Renomination To The FCC Is Withdrawn

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Earlier today we wrote about how Ajit Pai was pushing ahead with the Commerce Department's silly FCC petition regarding a re-interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. We noted that it wouldn't actually be that hard to just say that the whole thing is unconstitutional and outside of the FCC's authority (which it is). Some people have pushed back on us saying that if Pai didn't do this, Trump would fire him and promote some Trump stan to push through whatever unconstitutional nonsense is wanted.Well, now at least there's some evidence to suggest that Trump also views the FCC -- a supposedly "independent" agency -- as his personal speech police. Of the Republican Commissioners, Brendan Carr has been quite vocal in his Trump boot-licking, especially with regards to Section 230. He's been almost gleeful in his pronouncements about how evil "big tech" is for "censoring conservatives," and how much he wants to chip away at Section 230. Pai has been pretty much silent on the issue until the announcement today. But the other Republican Commissioner, Mike O'Rielly, has at least suggested that he recognizes the Trump executive order is garbage. Six weeks ago he said he hadn't done his homework yet, but suggested he didn't think Congress had given the FCC any authority on this matter (he's right).Just last week, during a speech, he made it pretty clear where he stood on this issue. While first saying he wasn't necessarily referencing the Trump executive order, he said the following:

Today, I would like to address a particularly ominous development in this space. To be clear, thefollowing critique is not in any way directed toward President Trump or those in the White House, whoare fully within their rights to call for the review of any federal statute's application, the result of whichwould be subject to applicable statutory and constitutional guardrails. Rather, I am very troubled bycertain opportunists elsewhere who claim to be the First Amendment's biggest heroes but only come toits defense when convenient and constantly shift its meaning to fit their current political objectives. Theinconsistencies and contradictions presented by such false prophets would make James Madison's headspin, were he alive to witness them.The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the governmentnot privateactorsand we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors tocurate or publish speech in a certain way. Like it or not, the First Amendment's protections apply tocorporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making. I shudder to think of a dayin which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest ofso-called free speech defenders. It is time to stop allowing purveyors of First Amendment gibberish toclaim they support more speech, when their actions make clear that they would actually curtail itthrough government action. These individuals demean and denigrate the values of our Constitution andmust be held accountable for their doublespeak and dishonesty. This institution and its members havelong been unwavering in defending the First Amendment, and it is the duty of each of us to continue touphold this precious protection.
To be clear: I agree 100% with that statement, and am glad that O'Rielly was willing to stand up on principle to defend it.And then, today, it was announced that the White House is pulling his renomination to the FCC. In other words, the White House is being a petty asshole, again, and firing anyone for not being in lockstep with the President's ridiculous unconstitutional whims.There was some talk last week about how Senator James Inhofe's office was blocking O'Rielly's renomination over a different issue: the approval of L-Band spectrum for use by Ligado (formerly LightSquared). A variety of government organizations had opposed the use of this spectrum, fearing that it might interfere with GPS systems. However, the Ligado deal was unanimously approved by all five commissioners, so it's difficult to see why O'Rielly would be singled out, other than his nomination was up. The Inhofe/Ligado thing feels like a smokescreen for the 230 issue.The question now is whether or not O'Rielly will serve out his term, or if he'll leave now that his renomination is not being considered. One hopes that he'll at least stick it out long enough to vote down the Petition on 230. Even if he did leave, it's unclear if a new Commissioner would get through any confirmation process prior to the election. Either way, at least it's nice to see one Republican Commissioner willing to stand up to Trump. We've criticized O'Rielly plenty of times in the past, but at least he's not taking the path of Carr (and even Pai) in dealing with this nonsense.

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posted at: 12:00am on 04-Aug-2020
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Five Years Later, Team Solves Puzzles In Women In Tech Book

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When we released our CIA: Collect It All card game based on a declassified CIA training card game, we had included a fun little Easter egg in there, with help from Jon Callas, who helped create modern day encryption. So far, I believe a grand total of... two people have found it, solved it, and told me about it (though it's possible many more have done so). That was neat, but we had nothing to give them beyond the satisfaction of having solved the puzzle. It seems that others have gone much, much farther with this idea.Five years ago, Tarah Wheeler put together a big Kickstarter for the book Women in Tech, with advice/ideas/thoughts/stories from a variety of successful women in the tech field.Five years after publishing that book, Wheeler has now revealed that she flooded the book with hidden puzzles, and while releasing the book itself was a massively difficult project, the fact that a bunch of people found and worked on the puzzles was part of what made it all worth it:

I hated this fucking book. I hated it while I was writing it. I didn't think that would happen. But I did....And yet...There was a secret in that book. It's a secret that I've kept for half a decade, and while I've loved the wonderful messages and notes of support from people who've benefitted from this work, the puzzles I hid in it are the only unmitigated, unsoured, pure joy I've experienced in creating this Frankenstein's Creature of a book.I filled it with puzzles. I plastered it with puzzles. I was filled with anticipation at the thought that someday, people would see it.Then some people noticed the codes and puzzles. A few people tried to solve them. Teams formed on Reddit and Twitter and Discord. And one small crew of four people finally journeyed to the end of the epic. And that's how they won the secret buried treasure of pounds of precious silver.
The link above has some examples of the hidden puzzles, but here's just one:
Tarah then worked with Jon Callas (a familiar name!) to create amazing cipher wheels out of silver. You can see the wheels demonstrated in a video that Tarah put up recently:
Even better, she put up details on how to make your own cipher wheels, including 3D printing files to make your own as well at Github. This is a very cool project that, along with everything else that's fun about it, is a neat way to demonstrate how encryption works and why it's so important.

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posted at: 12:00am on 04-Aug-2020
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