BarnCamp 2017 notes

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(still) re-using computers in our communities

We discussed the social and technical challenges of computer re-use. It was noted that there were multiple environmental advantages to re-use (as opposed to recycling) of all electronics; these are well-known.

Perhaps more interesting and providing opportunities for variety are the potential social/political benefits of re-use projects, including;

  • opportunities for building community cohesion by getting (for example) people who can't afford new computers to cooperate with people who have tech jobs/knowledge
  • providing a focus for commonality with established community groups, e.g. artistic, tech, green organisations
  • merging 'after sales support' with basic skills education
  • developing everyone's experience of localised mutual aid
  • opportunities to have discussions with different people about consumerism and it's social/environmental harms

There are many obstacles to these kind of projects. Some of our experiences included;

  • people wanting to get skills they can use "in the workplace", i.e. wanting to know how to do things in microsoft office so they can get a drudge office job because our options of how to get our material needs met still require this, for many of us
  • even public sector organisations can be phobic about FLOSS options that could extend the useful life of machines
  • data destruction and other regulatory requirements (WEEE licenses for example)
  • demand for standardisation, whereas our strengths might be more to do with personalisation (focussing on our individual strengths and needs, and the particular needs of our customers/neighbours/mates)

The struggle continues...


Markov Chains and Bots

A brief background on Markov Chain processes and their applications was discussed. Eventually an attempt was made (mainly outside the talk).

  • Some examples of their use were given, mainly with text generators:
https://filiph.github.io/markov/
http://rubberducky.org/cgi-bin/chomsky.pl
https://reddit.com/r/SubredditSimulator/
  • An attempt to reproduce a Trump bot was made, first by downloading his tweets (6 months worth). A method found below was used:
http://trumptwitterarchive.com/howto/all_tweets.html

{Note: When saving these to UTF-8 format, a lot of special characters caused problems. So some data cleaning is required}

  • Some Python code on github was found and cloned into a working directory (along with the tweet file):
https://github.com/codebox/markov-text
  • The file was passed through the package to create a database with transitional probabilities, by:

python markov.py parse trumpDB 2 trump_tweet.csv {2 indicates the depth of the Markov Chain (e.g. takes 2 words either side into consideration for calculations) }

  • Then to generate the text use:

python markov.py gen trumpDB 5 {5 is the amount of sentences generated}

Next steps:

  • Automate the process
  • Edit code to respond to replies ‘intelligently‘
  • Link into chat applications (via APIs)
  • Watch the choas ensue


Digital forensics

We had digital forensics fun, with a Linux command line flavour. We briefly defined digital forensics (the intersection of law, computing and investigation), noting its general usefulness and links, for example with data recovery. Some important cautions were stated, followed by the group raising some scenarios and issues. There was a demo of “live booting” with Kali Linux, showing disk structures, and taking a “forensic image” using the command line (dd utility)- thanks for the tech support from participants. There was then free discussion of various topics tending around the anti-forensics theme.

Much of this information is covered in a booklet, available at: http://thebrentc.net/articles/digitalforensics/, and updated with suggestions from workshop participants- thank you everyone, and more welcome. [TODO sort out https, sorry :/]

Going into overtime, we divided into smaller groups and ended with a short digital forensic exercise, which seemed fun all round; this was more about practising a forensic approach than technical details. Naturally a kitten was involved. The exercise is available at: http://thebrentc.net/articles/digitalforensics/exercise/.

This topic links well with the information security topic as covered in the next day’s workshop: Defence Against The Dark Arts: Information Security for the Discerning Activist ( https://hacktionlab.org/BarnCamp_2017_workshop_proposals#Defence_Against_The_Dark_Arts:_Information_Security_for_the_Discerning_Activist ). They even shared the same XKCD joke ( https://xkcd.com/538/ ).

A “sacrificial computer” (or two) could have been useful for this, and possibly also used for other activities, e.g. the ‘DJ/VJ’ entertainment computer, and maybe find their way ultimately into a “re-using” pathway (aka workshop above). Maybe a 'hack box' or 'free shop' thing at the next barncamp?


Group technology / social media strategising

RFC: A workshop that didn't happen: Group technology / social media strategising

A group wants to improve their social media engagement. I wanted to crowdsource ideas :). I've drafted a 'technology and social media' strategy at https://pad.riseup.net/p/technologystrategising . It's quite high-level, non-specific at the moment- any contributions welcome...

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