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.  

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.


Book Club,Thoughts — December 31, 2011

My apologies for not sharing any books these past few months. I’ve been reading on a Kindle. And Amazon, it seems, doesn’t agree that second hand books are worth handing down to the digital age.

There is a tip I’d like to share. Something that has worked very well for me is to identify a writer I love. Read everything they have written. Read what they read. And continue ad infinitum.

For the last five years I’ve pretty much exclusively read fiction. Dostoyevsky to Kafta to Kundera to Cervantas and now Vargas Llosa. But I could not resist reading Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (I highly recommend it!).

Since then I continued with Einstein. And currently Benjamin Franklin. But back to the first two…

Einstein and Jobs are connected in more ways than dying and being born (respectively) in the same year.  I’ve wanted to write about my favorite connection for some time. Since today is the last day of 2011, it probably explains my sense of urgency.

I remember watching Jonathan Ive’s speech at “Celebrating Steve” and being moved to tears by what he said:

Now while hopefully the work appeared inevitable. Appeared simple, and easy, it really cost. It cost us all, didn’t it?

But you know what? It cost him most. He cared the most. He worried the most deeply. He constantly questioned, ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’

And despite all his successes, all his achievements, he never presumed, he never assumed, that we would get there in the end. And when the ideas didn’t come, and when the prototypes failed, it was with great intent, with faith, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great.

But it wasn’t until Einstein’s biography that I started thinking about caring in the large scope of life. Physicist Lee Smolin described Einstein as, “a gardener weeding a flower bed.” He wrote:

I believe what allowed Einstein to achieve so much was primarily a moral quality. He simply cared far more than most of his colleagues that the laws of physics have to explain everything in nature coherently and consistently.

Care about what you do. Sweat the small stuff. Charles Eames once said, “The details are not the details. They are the product”. I believe this to my core. My New Year’s Resolution is simple: To care even more.

Happy New Year!

Hero vs Coward.

Thoughts — December 7, 2011

“I tell my kids, what is the difference between a hero and a coward? What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do. But they both feel the same, the hero and the coward. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel.”

—Cus D’amato, legendary boxing trainer

The Secret of Life

Thoughts — December 4, 2011

I find it hard to believe I have never seen these 46 seconds before:

“When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” – Steve Jobs

So true.

(found via

On perfection.

Building,Thoughts — November 23, 2011

“Have you ever thought, not only about the airplane but whatever man builds, that all of man’s industrial efforts, all his computations and calculations, all the nights spent working over draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose sole and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?

“It is as if there were a natural law which ordained that to achieve this end, to refine the curve of a piece of furniture, or a ship’s keel, or the fuselage of an airplane, until gradually it partakes of the elementary purity of the curve of the human breast or shoulder, there must be experimentation of several generations of craftsmen. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”

Antoine de Saint Exupéry — French Aviator

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