Chant of Sanctions

I’m stealing you!

I will return to you if I could. I would pay you if I could.

I didn’t get your agreement on that. You didn’t too when you blocked me!

It wasn’t your decision, nor your fault. It wasn’t mine, too!

You just did what they ordered you to, and if you did otherwise you’ll be, like me, an outlaw!

You did what you had to. You just wanted to survive..

Me either!..

أربع سنين!ا

أربعة سنين.. كم اتغيرنا.. هلول وحسين في السعودية.. نسرين عرست، وزاد عددنا بالحبيب ياسين الصغير.. مشاكل زادت، ومشاكل جاطت.. جوة كل واحد فينا إنت نفسك.. اليوم حار علينا كلنا، أهلك وأحبابك وأصحابك.. وفي عيون أي زول كان بيعرفك لاقيته الليلة… ومن باب أوضتك لباب مكتبك. في كل كتاب من كتبك، وفي كل كلمة من كلماتك. خط يدك، توقيعك، ريحتك، وعلاقة مفاتيحك.. يسوى إيه عيد بدونك؟

الضو مشتاق ليك يا أبوي.. واحشاه ابتسامتك، واحشه كلامك ونصايحك، واحشه وجودك.. واحشاه ‘الضو’…

وأبواب المدينة، بتسلم عليك.. والشارع يتاوق، يتنفس هواك.. ياحليلك حليلك، ياحليل الحكاوي، تتونس كأنك يوم ما كنت ناوي… يابا مع السلامة…

Saudi Surveillance

Earlier this year, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided that people had too much privacy and that’s too bad! So it tried to convince social IM providers to give government officials an access to Saudi’s data, i.e. government can see what you send through Whatsapp (for example) to your friends, family and even your other half. Cuz, you know, privacy is so mainstream! After their ridiculous demands were turned down, they threatened to ban these services. There was another case where KSA actually banned the Blackberry service, after RIM politely refused their requests to hand customers’ data.

Days passed after the threat of blocking the service, and I almost forgot about those news. Maybe they came to mind and forgot about these crazy thoughts? Don’t put so much hope on that! Today I noticed a Twitter trend, an Arabic hashtag that was on fire: (#موبايلي_تتجسس_على_الشعب)! Following up with the news I found that there is an interesting blog post by Moxie Marlinspike, an American computer security researcher. He was contacted by Mobily, a Saudi telco, to help them in a implementing a MITM-based surveillance system to (guess what?) eavesdrop on Twitter, Whatsapp, Viber, and Line. And you innocent poor person thought they forgot about that craziness! So here’s some interesting points from the blog post:

  • This is a national regulator thing. The government is sponsoring this crap.
  • The project is managed by the Executive Manager of the Network & Information Security Department. Big names for big shames!
  • They actually ‘already gotten a WhatsApp interception prototype working, and were surprised by how easy it was.’!!!!!! Translation: They see what you do in Whatsapp if you use it in KSA right now!
  • They are seeking help from outside hackers and communities. Moxie had the guts to tell that, but who knows about others. He actually said they explicitly asked if ‘there [is] any company or vendor could help us on this regard?’!!

The blog post is so interesting, and it easily and quickly gotten into my favorites list. I recommend it as a good read.

I live in a police state, where we have another version of Murphy’s law here: Anything bad a government can do, it will do. So in surveillance systems and privacy issues I’ve always had a clear opinion: No to surveillance systems, yes to privacy. I encourage everyone to make use of the Tor network, and read their documentation and blog for a good guide through the jungles of anonymity issues. And please, do not co-operate with states that are buying into these surveillance and censorship crap. Internet should be as it has always been: Free as in Freedom!

I’ll be updating this post with what I get after doing some more research, ALLAH willing. Meanwhile, follow the above hashtag to see the anger of Saudis!

TEDx Khartoum

Yesterday I attended the cultural event TEDxKhartoum 2013 that was held in Corinthia Hotel, Khartoum, Sudan. The event was themed: ‘Knowledge into Action’, and contained topics illustrating that theme in the form of the traditional TED Talks. I enjoy these events so much, and have attended the past two events (TEDxKhartoum 2011 and 2012) and despite all difficulties I insisted (and kinda forced myself) to attend this one too, because in a screwed-up country and environment like where I am, I really need some peeks to what Life, Success, and Achievement would look like. Other than from these kind of events, I don’t think one could survive…

I arrived there less than an hour late, and was able to quickly finish the registration process and got the entrance badge, and in no time was inside the hall (Kudos to the registration team!). I’ve listened to awesome Dan Pink recorded TED talk about motivations, and then the first live speaker was on the stage, Mr. Abualabass. The microphone went off as he was talking, and the organizers apologized that there is a technical problem to be solved. We went out for a 40 minutes coffee break. The sad part is that all my friends were not able to attend, so I thought I’ll have a sad lonely 40 minutes! I turned out to be wrong. I had a sad lonely three hours! (Actually I think it is two and a half hours, but I remember it that way and can’t remember the exact timing now.. However…).

I had no idea of what was going on, but chatting with people around (which takes a lot of effort for a non-social creature like me) it turned out that there is a rumor that there was no permit from NISS (the nasty National Intelligence and Security Services, the heavily-armed secret services for the National Congress Party in Sudan). Some of the organizers confirmed that there is a problem with NISS, and that they ordered the hotel administration to shut the event up. That is what they do, they shut things and people up.

After the long pause, we were back! We were introduced to the beautiful, smart, and great Sudanese Sara (God bless her), then the great talk of Mr. Elnasri that I could deeply relate. At this point it was clear for everyone who didn’t left already that it worth the waiting. Next was the talk that I was waiting: Jon “maddog” Hall‘s talk.. It was an international-class TED talk focusing on how we can use free software to improve our local industry and economy. Next was a talk about knowledge management by Mr. Allam Elnour, which was a very enthusiastic talk. During that talk, a notable darkening occurred, and the speaker could not get his presentation slides on the (darkened) screen. There was something going on, as Dr. Anwar (the main pillar of the organization team of TEDx Khartoum) was walking back and forth, and clearly there was so much chaotic movement among the TEDx team. After the talk of Mr. Allam, Dr. Anwar got up the stage, gathered the speakers -those who got the chance and those who didn’t. It was a very short statement, saying that he did all that he could, but they have to stop right away. Dr. Anwar went in tears after that, and the volunteers of the event were asked to get on the stage. The speakers agreed to film their talks to be uploaded to Youtube. And the event was declared finished with a very warm round of applause.

That was the story exactly like I witnessed. What I was told afterwards is that NISS officers came the first time, asked for the permit. Some story tellers say there wasn’t a permit, others say they had the permit but was not with them right that moment. Anyway, all agree that this issue was resolved and the permit was issued after the long break. The second time they asked to shut it was for no valid reason (not that I think the first was!). There are eye-witnesses tweeted that the second time was a for-no-reason close-this-event order..

For the rest of the day, I was in shock of what happened! It was totally odd, even for NISS twisted mentality! The event was highly non-political, and not sponsored by any political parties. It was the third annual event and the fifth alike. All previous ones went smoothly. What the hell came up in their damaged mind this time? Till now, no official statement declaring exactly what happened came out from the TEDx team (and of course we’re not waiting NISS on that civilized action at all). Hope next few days will reveal something.

Another interesting point, in the news broke right after the event, there was something about Dr. Anwar stating that ‘They mentioned something about the live stream”. I didn’t really see any explanation about that nor further news. Hope that clears up in the next few days too..

There was a joke that spread quickly, I believe it might have some side of the reality. It said that those NISS officers (Amnagiyya) came to the event, saw foreigners and people who were speaking English. they feared as they didn’t understand anything and therefore they ordered the event to be shut. Of course the Arabic version is told better (especially the 18+ version) but it still tells what people think about those guys, and I don’t think it is absolutely false. An English (from the language not the country) joke of my favorites says that not all policemen are bad, it’s only 99% of them makes the rest look bad. This old joke never stops being funny because it never stops being true.

As the brave Mr. Elnasri stated: we will record the talks, will upload them into Youtube, will find other ways to express. And out message will be delivered. Kudos to that man. This message is knowledge, inspiration, freedom, and life. This message is as TED always stands for: Ideas Worth Spreading.

Oh, and by the way: #SudanRevolts !

Thoughts On Paid Advocacy -AKA Why I’m Happy Paying Money Today!

Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited, multilingual, free Internet encyclopedia supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It is a well known encyclopedia that is based on the concept that many other web 2.0 websites are based on: collaboration. Everybody can write and edit anything, and with a little bit of guidelines and well steering, we’ll get a fancy result of that. Other famous example (unfortunately not so famous where I come from) is the Q&A network Stack Exchange. It’s a Q&A sites network where every site is specialized in a specific domain where anyone can post question and anyone can answer. Some guidelines exist to guarantee the good quality of questions and answers.

Since anyone can edit Wikipedia articles and even create them even anonymously (to some extent), some certain phenomenon was (as expected from human nature) developed: making people write specific articles, not because of the Wikipedia spirit of ‘I wanna help spreading knowledge’ but for other benefits that one will get from a third party -that is, the party made him write that article. That benefit could be direct money, free service provided by the third party, or any other thing one really want and the third party possesses. That phenomenon is called Paid Advocacy, where the term paid involves offering any service or benefit, money included of course. Wikipedia guidelines don’t forbid that, and it is only discouraged if one can’t remain neutral due to the external drive (the money or benefit)…

TEDxKhartoum 2013 (themed: Knowledge into Action) is a TEDx event held in Khartoum in 2013 (actually, the name is so self-explanatory!!). To attend this conference, one must contribute by (among other types of contributions) authoring a Wikipedia article, preferably about a Sudanese cultural item. I believe this is a good example for a Paid Advocacy!

Although this looked like a good idea, and got a lot of hype among people as a COOL idea, and it can somehow be thought as a match to the theme of (knowledge into action: people make action by authoring something they have knowledge about and causing the action of spreading it), but I don’t think that is right. Paid Advocacy isn’t forbidden as we mentioned earlier, but I really think it should! What is cool about Wikipedia is the spirit of volunteering, where people contribute only because they believe in the spirit and goals of Wikipedia, not because they wanted to earn money out of that, or get a promotion when editing their company’s entry, or even to grant them access to a conference. The high level of volunteerism is what makes Wikipedia unique, is what makes it different from the Encyclopedia Britannica, or the Encarta. Those are based on paying the people who write them up.. Wikipedia isn’t!

I refused to participate in the killing of the Wikipedia volunteerism spirit, and as I have no talent in making videos, interviews, and since my original picture contribution was refused, I couldn’t secure a seat to the conference at first. Yesterday a money-based tickets registration opened and I was able to grant me a neat seat for 150 SDG. I’m still not sure of my ability to attend (I have two lectures, and a little family situation to workout) but if I could make it (that is -in about 7 hours) I am considering the money I am paying as a donation to Wikipedia. Wikipedia donations and raised funds goes (as I think) to buying servers, paying employees, and other physical stuff. My donation goes to the idea of Wikipedia, the spirit of volunteerism, goes for fighting paid advocacy. Lots of people whom I discussed think I over react this. NO! The destroying of Troy was an over-react of Menelaus over losing his wife. The ‘Developers Developers’ chanting was an over-react of Steve Ballmer, but this, isn’t an over-react of me.. It’s the simplest react I can ever do: discussing a thing I find wrong.

My point is simple: I refuse to take any reward for contributing to Wikipedia!

Blue does fit you!

Let’s get right into what I want to say. I have a real communications and interview skills, or I really am a bad person, career wise. This is the tldr version..

Back in time several hours ago, I had a job interview. It was a sudden call, I wasn’t prepared, I knew nothing about the company, and I was being interviewed among others who were fresh graduates. They had a very (VERY) outdated resume of mine, so I thought to myself, if they had called me for that old crap that I was doing, they’ll be impressed with what is my resume now. I have a stable job and I’m not sure whether their offer will compete. I was pretty confident. Nothing to lose, man! Let’s just do it.

So I was in, and questions were usual: who are you? What you’re doing? Blah blah blah.. I asked, too- I had been curious about that company which I couldn’t get any info about from the new edge human invention: The World Wide Web.. However, the interviewer was out of queries, and we were about to go. Here happened the great thing: the interviewer, a very decent Egyptian man that was very polite, turned to me and said something terribly terrible. He said that he can’t imagine a network engineer more than just pulling some cables to a switch and digging some trunks, and he’s wondering why I spent five years in a university (he stated that it is the best of Sudanese universities) just to do so. I tried to explain that network engineer is not describing what I am, and what more I am doing. Hell, I don’t even suppose to do that! But he kept coming back to that point. His questions were straight forward to the point: what am I doing exactly for living? What are the activities that I get my paycheck for? At that point I stopped talking, knowing that, although a little bit (little?) humiliating his statements were, there was a truth behind it after all.. That’s what I am doing, and that’s what I get paid for, and for the foreseeable future, that’s what I’ll end up doing for my entire life: pulling cables, fixing trunks to the walls, and troubleshooting mobile problems for coworkers. To some level. I’m good with that. I didn’t breathe a word after that. He wins…

Superuser is where I belong, not SF, nor UnixSE, nor SecuritySE, and defenitely not SO. Blue does fit you…