Stack Exchange concerns

The Stack Exchange network is currently embroiled in controversy regarding:

  1. relicensing existing questions and answers to CC-BY-SA 4.0, and
  2. upcoming (not yet public!) changes to the code of conduct apparently relating to trans inclusivity, together with removal of moderator status from an apparently well-respected moderator.

Links for both are below, in case you haven’t seen them yet.  I find both situations concerning.

I am also worried by the apparent removal by Stack Exchange of pertinent information from the Internet Archive!  See this comment and replies.  If you do investigate these matters, please save copies of the pages you visit to your local machine.  I have done so, and have some PDFs if you need copies.

If you are able, please encourage Stack Exchange to release documents related to both of these situations.  Thank you!

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Why Assumptions are Important

Every piece of technology is built to work provided its assumptions hold.  Every piece of electronics, for example, assumes it will have power.  No power => no function (as famously noted by The IT Crowd).  By breaking those assumptions, you can do some amazing things:

In this video (~36 min), scanlime finds exactly the right microsecond to drop the power supply — just enough! — to cause the processor built into a graphics tablet to dump its entire memory over a USB connection.  This is not a function the tablet was supposed to provide!

By painstakingly, scientifically defeating the assumption of a stable power supply, the tablet’s firmware control program, intended to be kept within the tablet, becomes available to inspect.  And, as scanlime points out at the end of the video, that control program may well open other doors.  Analyzing the control program may reveal other assumptions the tablet makes — assumptions that can be broken to change the tablet’s function to what she wants it to be.

Every system is only functional, secure, reliable, or any good at all, as long as its assumptions hold.  Whenever you think about the latest gizmo, don’t just ask what it will do for you.  Ask what it won’t do for you when you least expect it — when the gizmo assumes wrong.