Freenet syndication update
Oct 28, 2002

I am planning on creating the RU Freenet syndication tool sometime this week. One of the things I learned was that Freenet was soon going to .5, so I decided to wait until after that, since just between my last Freenet exploration post and today there have been 4 seperate releases of Freenet. I wanted to wait for a bit more stability then that.

I put all the pieces I want to use together, and now it's just a matter of assembling them. It shouldn't take that long, I just need the time to code it.

Spammer mail & Supreme Court Opinion Abuse
Oct 24, 2002

I just received an email from a spammer with the usual self-inflated claims of importence of spam, including the canard about "banning spam" being a major factor in the current depression of the economy. Talk about betraying a misunderstanding of how the economy works... along with the implicit claim that sales will somehow suffer if advertising is blocked.

Newflash: Advertising does not cause sales. "Supply" that can satisfy "Demand" causes sales. Advertising is at best a grease, and at worst, unnecessary in the final analysis. To a first approximation, anyhow; the true story is horribly complex and spam simply doesn't play a role.

The reason I post this is that he used a novel (to me) argument to defend himself. Since the spammers seem to share arguments frequently, I thought it would be worth treating this one in public. It went something like this, paraphrased:

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses can enter property marked "no soliciters" and do their thing, without your permission and with no recourse available to you.

This caused me to raise my eyebrows, but I'm not in the habit of just taking people's word for that sort of thing. A little searching on the internet turned up WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOC. OF N. Y., INC. V.VILLAGE OF STRATTON. The opinion is available at Cornell's site. The relevant portion appears at the end:

With respect to the [Village's stated concerns to maintain its residents privacy], it seems clear that §107 of the ordinance, which provides for the posting of “No Solicitation” signs and which is not challenged in this case, coupled with the resident’s unquestioned right to refuse to engage in conversation with unwelcome visitors, provides ample protection for the unwilling listener.

Now, first of all, this is an irrelevant metaphor, along with all the other examples the email used, including walking up to someone on the street and advertisements on television; each of these lack the critical component that the receiver is directly paying for the reception of the undesired advertisement. But beyond that, the Supreme Court actually ruled against the requirement that soliciters aquire permits, not that soliciters have an unlimited right to pester people... in fact part of the reason the court ruled that permits were unconstitutional depended on the fact that we are able to reject undesired communication out of hand.

So if you see this one in the wild, show the spammer why that Supreme Court case actually reaffirms the idea that we can be selective in the communication we receive and it actually harms, not helps, their case.

Freenet and RSS distribution
Oct 21, 2002

Lately there has been much discussion about the bandwidth troubles associated with serving out RSS files to lots of readers, especially when there are no changes in the file for long stretches. There have been several suggested simple changes that can alleviate the situation, but the field is still open on a final long term solution to the problem. This post explores one radical long-term solution. As such it is a technical post, so you may want to skip it.


is an unusual peer-to-peer filesharing system with some unusual goals. First and foremost is the protection of free speech by making censorship impossible to carry out effectively without completely shutting off the Internet. Of the projects I've seen with this goal, Freenet is the best designed, most successful, and least vapor. It's a very smart design.

Technically speaking, it's a high-quality, well thought out file sharing system. Conceptually speaking, Freenet is one large write-once, read-many file system, with keys that map to distinct files, in contrast to a traditional request/receive system. You can ask for the file by its key. Once a file is put on the system, the key ('file name') can not be changed, since the (CHK) key itself is a hash of the file contents. Various solutions have been worked out for periodic updates, based on systematic additions to the file system and various indirection techniques, since it is not possible to directly "update" a file. Built on top of these conventions, a bulliten board system, an "almost instant messaging" system, and a systematic website system has been constructed.

From a technical point of view for distributing RSS files, the very definition of frequently updating content, this is Freenet's greatest weakness. Freenet does have a great strength from the bandwidth point of view: As files are requested, some of the nodes between the source and the destination will also cache the file. As more people request a given file, more Freenet nodes have the given file. More popular document natually propogate across the system. More copies of the document naturally balances the load. This is the only in-use P2P file sharing system that I am aware of that has successfully combined total decentralization with effective file replication, both of which are desirable qualities. (Even if you don't care for the total decentralization aspect from a control perspective, it still means good reliability.)

Nothing is ever free; this decentralization comes at the cost of speed. My experience browsing Freenet-based websites today was that they are slow, slow, slow: I'm on broadband and I felt like I was back in 9600 days. However, in the RSS case, this is not a disadvantage, because the user isn't waiting on us to get the RSS. So this works out OK for us.

I think we could work out a mostly-satisfactory numbering scheme for RSS distribution on Freenet, probably including providing a hint on the main website (perhaps in conjunction with RSS auto-discovery?). It might be a little clumsy but I think it could be made to work. (The biggest potential problem is that not-found results are cached, and we'd have to work out a scheme where we ask constantly ask for "the last update we received + 1". It may be a problem that those get cached, depending on how long those last.)



Radio Userland Implementation

I looked into making this work with Radio Userland. The problem is that a lot of assumptions that RU uses in its functioning (like the addresses in are the URLs of the RSS files) need to be violated; on every request, the request URL will change. The definition of "error" changes (not finding the file simply means that it hasn't been created yet, not that it's gone). Periodically, we may want to check in on more conventional channels to make sure we're in sync with the author. On a new subscription, we may want to check in on the author to see how far in the sequence they are.

I would need to write my own subscriber, which will drop a tag in the service table to remind myself that this is a Freenet subscription. I don't need anything from Userland to do that; I could do that in a Tool. I think I could get by with a callback in xml.rss.readService that allows me to effectively completely override the process of retreiving the RSS file, allowing me to take care of the error count and such as I see fit. (Basically, completely re-write
xml.rss.readService.) I'd need an upstream callback for when I update my site, which appears to exist already. I think that's all I'd need to make this  work, even despite the previous paragraph. Since this applies equally to any other new form of RSS consumption and distribution, and it would be neat to let the RU developer community explore this problem rather then just talk about it (*grin*), I think it's worth adding the xml.rss.readService callback.

The Fallacy of the Almost-General-Purpose Computer
Oct 14, 2002

The Fallacy of the Almost-General-Purpose Computer writes Edward Felten. I get the impression I would know exactly why if I could put the correct pieces together, but I can't lay hands on them right now. Has anyone written well about this on the Internet?


Read the rest (861 words)

Lawrence Lessig - from the front line
Oct 12, 2002

So there's an extraordinary (and extraordinarily interesting) range of reporting about the argument before the Court. As I was on the front line, let me add a bit more. My hope in doing this is to put this in a bit of context, and to highlight at least what we should be looking for. (EV predicts a 6-3 victory, which is significant, because he and I have a bet, and he took the other side.)

Aaron reports Brewster's statement to him that "it was a dance for which I don't know the steps." That's close. I think the better analogy for someone viewing an oral argument for the first time is the first time you see a cricket match. There are some moves you are certain you know are bad (a swing and a miss); but there's lots that plays into something you can't quite get till you know the context of the game. Here, then, the context of the game, as well as the moves from last Wednesday.

[Privacy Digest]

Everybody and his duck is probably going to post this, but it's too importent and interesting to pass up. Primary sources don't speak out often enough.

Navel-gazing addendum: I would have thought "everybody and his duck" was a little more popular... as of this writing, that's only three hits from Google. Is the phrase that rare? I've always enjoyed the mental image...

<- Future Posts Past Posts ->


Site Links


All Posts