The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work

Thoughts — November 25, 2016

Early in 2016, a friend sent me a paper by Phillip Rogaway entitle, “The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work“. I have read it many times this year. Here’s the abstract:

Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension. The Snowden revelations motivate a reassessment of the political and moral positioning of cryptography. They lead one to ask if our inability to effectively address mass surveillance constitutes a failure of our field. I believe that it does. I call for a community-wide effort to develop more effective means to resist mass surveillance. I plead for a reinvention of our disciplinary culture to attend not only to puzzles and math, but, also, to the societal implications of our work.

The ability to take control of our lives, again, has been on my mind this month. Loss of control is often rooted in reframed language. Rogaway shows how privacy, anonymity, and even security are now associated with terrorism. His suggestion? Reframe the work cryptography as building tools for anti-surveillance. Making “surveillance more expensive” is aligned with democracy and freedom. I think this is a great observation. Hopefully others will enjoy reading this paper as much as I did.  

Things you are permitted to do…

Ownership — November 13, 2015


  • consume
  • alter
  • share
  • redefine
  • rent
  • mortgage
  • pawn
  • sell
  • exchange
  • transfer
  • give away
  • destroy it
  • or exclude others from doing these things.

Copyright License

(Seek legal advice)

The bridge Analogy

Ownership — November 9, 2015

Originally, computer programs were not protected by copyrights because they were not considered fixed, tangible works. Object code was distinguished from source code. (Object code is instructions for machines–source codes are for humans.) Object code was viewed as a utilitarian good, produced from source code rather than as a creative work in and of itself.

The U.S. Copyright Office attempted to classify computer programs by drawing an analogy: the blueprints of a bridge and the resulting bridge compared to the source code of a program and the resulting executable object code:


This analogy caused the Copyright Office to issue copyright certificates under its “Rule of Doubt“.

In 1974, the newly established U.S. Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (CONTU) decided that “computer programs, to the extent that they embody an author’s original creation, are proper subject matter of copyright.”

Then in 1980, the U.S. Congress added the definition of “computer program” to existing copyright laws in order to allow the owner of the program to make another copy or adaptation for use on a computer. This legislation, plus court decisions such as Apple v. Franklin, clarified that the Copyright Act gave computer programs the copyright status of literary works. To simplify: Congress said compiling code is like writing War an Peace.

As a result, software companies began to claim that they did not sell their products but rather “licensed” them to customers. Why? Because this enabled them to avoid the transfer of rights to the end-user via the first-sale doctrine. These software license agreements are now called end-user license agreements (EULAs).

For roughly 1,000 years Western Civilization has expanded property rights to democratize who can own what. In the last 30 years, since software licensing began eating the world, we’ve been screwing it all up.

True ownership is as different from licensing as owning land is to renting a house. Licensing specifically precludes ownership. Licensing is a great model for the kings of the tech industry (Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook) but it’s less than optimal for us serfs (end-users and developers).

To understand why, one has to look back at the history of property…



Ownership — November 2, 2015

I’ve begun to collect quite a collection of good books on the theme of Ownership. The quest started a few years ago; thinking about the birth of my son, I realized what I care most about these days is digital. And as any astute EULA reader would know, we don’t own what we buy from Apple, Google, or Amazon – we merely rent.

I started a company to enable ownership of digital things. I’m interested in how, albeit with a western bias, we have been building up properly law for 1,000+ years. But since the 1970s we have been screwing it up.

This is the first post of (hopefully) many as I try to work out what is OWNERSHIP in a more public way.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics (HTML)

Education — September 16, 2013

Volume 1 of The Feynman Lectures on Physics is finally available in digital form, and in a format that doesn’t suck! (I hate PDF). If you’ve ever wanted to learn or relearn physics, nothing is better.

The special problem we tried to get at with these lectures was to maintain the interest of the very enthusiastic and rather smart students coming out of the high schools and into Caltech. They have heard a lot about how interesting and exciting physics is—the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and other modern ideas. By the end of two years of our previous course, many would be very discouraged because there were really very few grand, new, modern ideas presented to them. They were made to study inclined planes, electrostatics, and so forth, and after two years it was quite stultifying. The problem was whether or not we could make a course which would save the more advanced and excited student by maintaining his enthusiasm.

Involve the user in the design

Building,Thoughts — July 28, 2013


In 1974, Enzo Mari published “Autoprogettazione” – a book of plans that can only be described as open source furniture. In it’s final form, the book was sent, for free, to anyone that asked for it. Really it was more of a project than a book, though. The purpose, says Mari, was to teach how to “judge current production with a critical eye”.

How is it possible to change the state of things? This is what I ask myself. How is it possible to accomplish the deconditioning of form as a value rather than as strictly corresponding to contact? The only way I know, in that it belongs to my field experience, is what becomes possible when critical thought is based on practical work. Therefore the only way should be to involve the user of a consumer item in the design and realization of the item design. Only by actually touching the diverse contradictions of the job is it possible to start to be free from such deeply rooted conditioning. But how is it possible to expect such an effort when the production tools are lacking as is, above all, the technical know-how, the technical culture it would take a fairly long time to acquire?

In the autumn months, I plan to adapt one of his table designs for an outdoor workbench.

This isn’t my fight… but

Thoughts — July 21, 2013

Ever since OK Computer, I’ve loved Radiohead. I so admire how they’ve traveled their own path; and done so with immense commercial successful – selling over 30 million albums. I remember staying up late to support their pay-what-you-want release of “In Rainbows”. And then being inspired as hell when I learned they shot “House of Cards” (2008) using not cameras, but lasers. (The visualization was done using Processing. They even open sourced the data on Google Code!)

This past week Nigel Godrich, their longtime engineer / producer / musician, went after Spotify:

Streaming is obviously the music distribution model moving forward. I listen to Spotify. I think it’s an amazing product; but I totally agree with Nigel here, that doesn’t make it right for the channel to commodify artists to keep their share prices up.

Something’s got to change. Our industry (tech) is terrible at this sort of thing (music, apps, newspapers, …). I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “Content is king.” You know what? It’s total bullshit. It’s ludicrous to pretend that ones and zeros are all created equal. Kill-off the ability of the creatives to make a living, and we’ll see how that “content” sounds.

I’m with Radiohead on this one. We need a rebellion.

Orphans of Apollo

Thoughts — May 25, 2012

I was deeply moved by this image:

Dragon spacecraft – as seen from the International Space Station.

In a week bombarded by much ado about nothing, it’s uplifting to know extremely talented people are still doing things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.

I’m optimistic again. This orphan of Apollo, definitely wants his future back.

Thoughts — April 30, 2012

I blocked out a Sunday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed “reading” Stefan Sagmeister‘s Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. Maxims are as follows:

  1. Helping other people helps me.
  2. Having guts always works out for me.
  3. Thinking that life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now.
  4. Starting a charity group is surprisingly easy.
  5. Being not truthful always works against me.
  6. Everything I do always comes back to me.
  7. Assuming is stifling.
  8. Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.
  9. Over time I get used to everything and start taking for granted.
  10. Money does not make me happy.
  11. My dreams have no meaning.
  12. Keeping a diary supports personal development.
  13. Trying to look good limits my life.
  14. Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.
  15. Worrying solves nothing.
  16. Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
  17. Everybody thinks they are right.
  18. If I want to explore a new direction professionally, it is helpful to try it out for myself first.
  19. Low expectations are a good strategy.
  20. Everybody who is honest is interesting.

Every seven years Sagmeister shuts down his studio and goes on a year-long sabbatical (no client work). I’m fascinated by that – probably because I lack the courage to try it myself.


Our Privacy

Thoughts — February 9, 2012

I’ve been reading a lot of Andy Grove lately. This quote, from an older Esquire interview, is particularly prophetic:

Privacy is one of the biggest problems in this new electronic age. At the heart of the Internet culture is a force that wants to find out everything about you. And once it has found out everything about you and two hundred million others, that’s a very valuable asset, and people will be tempted to trade and do commerce with that asset. This wasn’t the information that people were thinking of when they called this the information age.

Satisfying a customer should always be the primary goal of a business. It genuinely saddens me to learn of companies spending more time thinking about what they, rather than you, can do with your data.

Trust: So hard to build, yet so easy to destroy.

© 2017 moskovich