Busting your Electronic Device Out of Jail

Waldy Torres's jailbreaking lab.

Sitting in his damp, cool basement with cell phone chargers of all kinds hanging out of every electrical socket available and a customer’s iPhone in his right hand, Waldy Torres explained that there is nothing immoral about jailbreaking your electronic device. A computer programming major at the Springfield Technical Community College, Torres added, while pressing the power and home button at the same time on the iPhone (jailbreaking it), that the device itself is yours.

“I paid for the phone so it’s my shit. I can do whatever I want with it,” Torres said as he clutched his almost-two-inch-long chin hair. He took off his dark blue Yankees hat, leaned back in his office chair and said, “The contract I signed with AT&T didn’t state that the phone was rented. It’s my property. I mean, if you buy a Honda, you’re allowed to modify it as you see fit and Honda can’t say a damn thing to you.”

Jailbreaking is a term that refers to hacking an electronic device in order for it to run programming that isn’t authorized by the service provider. This type of hacking has become widely popular among cellular phones as their technology has reached incredible levels.

So that becomes the big question: is jailbreaking your phone worth it?

Some of the software available to jailbreak iPhones.

Jailbreaking isn’t exclusive to smartphones, however. Gaming devices such as the Sony PlayStation, the Microsoft Xbox and the Nintendo Wii are also subject to being hacked. Additionally, with their popularity steadily rising, tablets have also fallen victims to jailbreaking.

Back in the damp basement, Torres explained the benefits of jailbreaking an iPhone. The main reason, he said, is that jailbreaking gives people the ability to unlock their iPhone and use it with any carrier that uses a SIM card. “Up until recently,” he said, “AT&T had exclusive rights to the iPhone. Unlocking it makes the phone accessible to people on other networks, like T-Mobile.”

Other advantages include access to a huge database of apps that weren’t approved by Apple and AT&T. Apple’s app store provides tons of cool and useful apps for free, but there are also many apps that are rejected on a daily basis. These forbidden apps are then submitted to Cydia, the hub of illegitimate apps, and are eventually made available to iPhone users. In essence, a jailbroken phone has Cydia apps available along with the Apple approved apps.

An iPhone in the process of being jailbroken.

“Another pro, at least for iPhone 4 users, is the added ability to use video chat over AT&T’s 3G network,” said Torres as he demonstrated how the Cydia app works on the iPhone he had just finished jailbreaking. The iPhone 4, which comes with a front facing camera, allows the customer to connect via video chat with other phones that have front facing cameras. The downside to the service is that AT&T allows customers to connect via video chat only when their phone is using Wi-Fi. Jailbreaking the iPhone 4 allows users to utilize their video chat service even when they’re not near a Wi-Fi hotspot.

With all that said, there is a downside to having a jailbroken iPhone. The main disadvantage, according to Torres, is the fact that jailbreaking your device voids your warranty. Apple will not cover any damages to a jailbroken iPhone. “Really doesn’t matter though. The warranty is for a limited time – eventually it’s going to expire anyways and you’ll be stuck with a phone that has no warranty. So why not jailbreak?” Torres said.

Another drawback is the fact that the programming that is being installed into a jailbroken iPhone is often full of bugs and cause the phone to react noticeably slower to prompts and commands. Although the phone is still completely functional, its slowness can be extremely annoying. According to Torres, however, the bugs are usually fixed within a couple of days and a newer version of the jailbreak tools is released that fixes the bugs.

Roberto, who has worked at an AT&T store for 2 years, had a similar concept of phone ownership. He refused to disclose the location of the store he worked in as well as his last name, citing the fact that his phones are still under warranty. Roberto, however, owned two iPhones and both were jailbroken.

“The phone alone is an incredible piece of technology,” Roberto said. “But jailbreaking it makes it 10 times better.”

Roberto said that he preferred to jailbreak his iPhone because it gave him the freedom to customize the phone as he saw fit. His favorite reason to jailbreak his iPhones were the fact that he can download and install different themes and backgrounds, thus customizing the phone to fit his personality.

“It’s not really uncommon. Most of my co-workers have jailbroken their phone,” Roberto said. In an article written in 2010 by Dean Wilson for TechEYE.net, one programmer put the number of jailbroken iPhones across the world at over 4 million.

There is a dark side to jailbreaking your iPhone though. Not only does the customer have access to apps that were rejected by Apple’s app store, but they can also download apps for free, even the ones that usually cost money. This, of course, is stealing and considered illegal.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, implemented in 1998, makes it illegal to produce technology, devices or services used for the purpose of circumventing the access control of copyrighted works, whether or not infringement was involved.

However, in 2009 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed an exception request with the U.S. Copyright Office related to jailbreaking the iPhone. Apple, of course, disagreed with the EFF and argued that jailbreaking was illegal because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Then in 2010, against Apple’s wishes, the U.S. Copyright Office ruled that jailbreaking was indeed an exception, thus making jailbreaking legal. Apple, however, still cautions against jailbreaking and will void a customer’s warranty in a heartbeat if they discover a jailbroken iPhone.

An iPhone being jailbroken

More recently, the Sony PlayStation 3 was hacked and the system’s root keys were released to the public. During a yearly meeting of hackers in December known as the Chaos Communications Conference in Germany, a group of hackers nicknamed ‘Fail0verflow’ explained how they managed to exploit a weakness in the PlayStation’s encryption system, and as a result they gained access to the encryption keys. With these keys they can run any software on the system that they pleased. Here is a video, broken into two parts, of the conference in Berlin: Part 1 and Part 2. Another hacker, George Hotz, better known for being the first one to jailbreak the iPhone, then made the encryption keys public which also opened the door to piracy.

Jailbreaking video game consoles is also pretty common, according to Torres who, for a fee, will jailbreak your Xbox. “After I jailbreak this phone, the owner is bringing me his Xbox so I can hack it,” he said. Hacking the Xbox allows the owner to play games that have been copied onto a blank DVD disc. The files for the games can be easily found by simply doing a Google search. With a pack of blank DVD discs and a computer, any person can download and burn free games, regardless of the person’s computer skills.

“The problem with jailbreaking a gaming system is that it’s not legal like jailbreaking the iPhone is,” Torres explained. In fact, jailbreaking a gaming system remains in a legal gray area making it neither legal nor illegal – piracy, of course, remains illegal and these companies will sue anyone who violates these laws.

Despite all of the legal battles between hackers and companies that produce electronics, no one can deny the fact that hackers are a crucial part of our innovation economy. They are the ones who push for newer and better electronics by introducing improved software to those with hacked electronics. The good ideas are eventually applied to the official software via updates. At the end of the day, the hackers and the companies need each other to survive.

The hackers will continue to make jailbreaking tools available to the owners of such devices who wish to disregard the warnings against jailbreaking, guaranteed Torres.

James O’Keefe: By Any Means Necessary

Despite his dubious methods, I’d  have to say that James O’Keefe’s reporting is indeed journalism. I mean, let’s look at the definition of the word journalism. According to dictionary.com, journalism is:

“The occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.”

If we agree with that definition, than we would also have to agree that O’Keefe’s reporting is definitely a method of journalism, despite the criticism he gets. O’Keefe investigates, writes and reports news so in that sense he is a journalist.

One characteristic of a journalist that I feel was left out of that definition was honesty. A good reporter doesn’t obtain his news by being deceitful and a fraud. According to Martha T. Moore’s article, O’Keefe suggests in an interview that his tactics as a combination of “the guerrilla of Borat, the gotcha of Dateline … and the gonzo approach of Hunter S. Thompson.” As he pointed out, the entities which he named do indeed hide their identity and/or use questionable tactics to obtain their story, so why is O’Keefe criticized for using the same guerilla tactics?

Although I believe that dishonesty and falsifying identities are tactics that are immoral, I also believe that it is a tool that journalists should not be without. It’s a tool that they have in their possession and at times it becomes necessary to utilize if the journalist believes that the story will affect many people.

One of the issues that are raised about O’Keefe’s journalistic tactics is the fact that he seems to strategically edit his videos in order to distort the message. I can certainly understand why many people would have an issue with this. On the other hand, editing footage in order to create a message is something that takes place in news rooms across the country, we see it happen every day and generally ignore it. Therefore, why would people criticize O’Keefe for doing the same? Sure, his message may be inaccurate or misleading, but nonetheless he is utilizing one of the many tools that technology has provided journalists. You don’t have to agree with his message or point of view at all, but to say that he is not a journalist would be false.

At the end of the day, I believe that it is undeniable that O’Keefe is a journalist. Although his tactics are questionable and a bit malicious, there is no reason why a reporter shouldn’t be able to use hidden cameras and false identities in order to uncover any news that has the potential to affect a large number of people. It’s not only a journalist’s job to report any major news, but it’s his duty to obtain the news by any means necessary. I believe that being deceptive is wrong, but at the same time, if it helps expose immoral and criminal activity, then I say it’s all fair game.

No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!

Malcolm Chu explains why we must fight against home foreclosures and corporate greed.

On Tuesday students and faculty members filled the large ballroom at the Student Union to celebrate the ‘Fight Back USA’ teach-in where they attempted to raise awareness about austerity, debt and corporate greed.

All types of school organizations lined up the walls of the ballroom – all wanting to explain to you their fight against large corporations and why you should join them.

Malcom Chu, an alumnus of UMass-Amherst and now a community organizer in Springfield working with the No One Leaves Campaign, said that over the past 30 years wealth has been isolated to the top one percent of the population. “We are in one of the largest crises in U.S. history,” said Chu.

“Banks are putting profit in front of people!” he said as he mentioned under the same breath that he was running out of time. The crowd erupted in cheers as he walked off the stage.

Reveal Yourself or forfeit your freedom of speech ? ? ?

Of course online commenters should be afforded anonymity. In all reality, I don’t understand why this is even questionable.

Journalists aren’t given any special rights by the government. For instance, police officers have the right to carry weapons; pharmacists are allowed to sell drugs, and so on. Journalists, in the eyes of the government, are regular Joe Schmoes. The one weapon that journalists do have is the power to offer their sources anonymity.

So why not offer the same to the people who comment on a writer’s online material? I must’ve missed the clause in the U.S. constitution that read that everyone has freedom of speech unless they decide to speak anonymously.

Both James Rainey and Farhad Manjoo mention in their articles that anonymous commenters tend to be more malicious with their words. Manjoo said in his article that people who know their identity is a secret, according to some studies, tend to act worse than they would if their identity was revealed.

Of all the people who fight against censorship, I find it a bit ironic that journalists would be the one’s who want to censor people.

I disagree with Manjoo’s idea. In my opinion, those anonymous commenters who say malicious things aren’t misbehaving. Instead, those people are showing their true colors and being as honest as anyone could be. I agree with Rainey and Manjoo that a lot of the words that are posted anonymously are nasty, but for me, it’s a constant reminder of how cruel the world is. This helps me cope with people.

In his article, Rainey said that “editors at the Bay Area papers feel the conversation has become more real and rational, now that most people appear under their real identities.”

I beg to differ. The conversations have become, in my opinion, more unrealistic due to the fact that the opinion of the anonymous commenter has been taken away. Instead you get a watered down and sugarcoated conversation. Yes, the conversations may have become more rational, but that depends on your definition of rational.

I am well aware of the fact that racism, sexism and all the other bad isms that still exist across the world. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Essentially what these websites are doing is censoring those anonymous commenters who write hateful remarks so that other readers don’t have to read them. That does absolutely nothing to help rid the world of all of those bad isms.

Have we really become a country that prefers to simply sweep controversy under the rug? Are we a group of people that lives in an imaginary utopia and ignores rather than solve?

The one downside to allowing anonymous commenters to post their hate is that the commenters will never have the cojones to reveal themselves.

The Greenprint Project: Fixing the World One Energy Inefficiency at a Time

Felix Colon put away his digital thermometer after visiting the fourth classroom at Liberty School. He quickly realized that he didn’t need the thermometer to prove that there were irregularities in the temperatures. From room to room the temperature varied immensely. In the previous classroom he had to unzip his black wool coat and in the next room he had had to put it back on.

In another classroom he noticed that the windows and doors had a gap even when they’re closed all the way. Through these gaps Felix could feel a cool breeze seeping in. “This explains why it’s cold in here,” he thinks to himself.

By the time he reaches the sixth classroom, Felix realized something else: none of the classrooms had control of the temperature inside the room. Instead, the temperature was controlled by a single on/off switch that was located in the basement of the school which was accessible to only a small number of staff members and janitors.

“It was the same thing in all four elementary schools we visited,” Colon said as he leaned against the modern bricks that constructed the Springfield Renaissance High School.

A ninth grader at The Springfield Renaissance High School, Colon said he had no idea what the Greenprint Project was before he came to the high school. The only reason he chose to attend that particular school was because his older brother is a student there also.

“It’s a new school and my brother goes here. Those were the two things that attracted me to the school the most,” Colon said as he buttoned up his black wool coat and put on his gray beanie.

He mentions how sunny the day was and how much energy can be saved if all of his and his classmate’s ideas were implemented in all the schools around the state. This was a true testament which showed that students who participate in the project take on a whole new mentality. The desire to be more energy efficient lingers well after the project is completed.

After finding a suitable spot on a bench just outside the high school’s cafeteria, Colon sits down and begins explaining the Greenprint Project in depth.

The Greenprint Project is a yearly learning expedition undertaken by ninth graders at the high school. During the semester long expedition the students perform audits on local elementary schools in an effort to find ways in which the schools can become more energy efficient. At the end of the semester the students compile their findings and present them, along with their suggestions on how the faculty and city can make the schools more energy efficient, to the mayor of Springfield.

According to Vanessa Cramer, the ninth grade environmental science teacher who worked alongside the students, “the work that students have done to prepare this report is important real world experience.”

The project is in its third year and is responsible for many changes in the audited schools. According to Stephen Mahoney, the principal at the high school, there have been 12 elementary schools audited since the inception of the Greenprint Project. Of those schools, eight of them implemented changes that were based on suggestions from the Greenprint Project. The other four schools are preparing to implement some of the changes during the summer vacations.

The students proposed a number of solutions that have been applied to Springfield schools which ranged from web-based energy management systems to radiator control valves to direct digital controls for heating and cooling systems.

“The vending machines inside the teacher’s lounge of the schools were a waste of energy too,” said Colon as he explained what his findings were.

“The machines ran all day nonstop. The only way they’d stop running was if they were unplugged,” he explained.

In order to fix this energy inefficiency Colon and the rest of his classmates suggested that the schools install vending machine ‘misers’ – motion sensors that detect when people are near and help the vending machine operate the lighting and cooling cycles in a more energy friendly manner by telling the vending machine when and when not to cool.

Joe Forest, the facilities engineer for Springfield who worked alongside the students, said that the Greenprint Project is “increasing the student’s ability to learn and to be taught by making the learning environment more comfortable.”

According to Forest, it would cost a little more than $150,000 to implement all of the changes to the four elementary schools that were suggested by the students. However, “the schools would benefit from about $30,000 a year in energy savings,” said Forest over a phone conversation. “The money spent to implement these changes would be recovered in about five years.”

During the presentation of their findings earlier this year, Mayor Domenic Sarno reminded the students how important their work was to the community. “You’re thinking out of the box and taking initiative. Your work makes our school system even better,” Sarno told the students.

Joseph Denesha, a ninth grader who participated in the Greenprint Project in 2011, agreed with the mayor. “The better the schools are for the students, the better the grades will be,” Denesha said while adding that the students in the elementary schools are the future of the city and they need to be helped by providing a comfortable learning environment.

The Greenprint Project seems to also have an impact on the participant’s learning and their grades. In 2010 the Springfield Renaissance High School became the first school in the city to have 100 percent of their graduating class be accepted into college. “We are very proud of that in this school. Our students recognize that accomplishment and try very hard to achieve that goal every year,” said Principal Mahoney as he adjusted his green with white polka dots bowtie.

Thinking back on the project, Colon said he was glad that he was able to help his community. “Teens in Springfield get a bad rap in the news because a lot of them are misguided. I’m happy to show the rest of the world that not everyone in this city is a bad person,” he said as he stood up.

As Colon pulled his coat tighter over his shoulders and tightened the beanie over his head he points out that it was time for him to return to class. “I’ve got to go to class if I’m going to continue helping my community,” he said as he departed with a firm handshake.

Mt. Etna: The most active volcano in Europe

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This is a glimpse of my journey to Mt. Etna during my vacations in Sicily.

View of Mt. Etna from the Greek Arena (Taormina)

View of Mt. Etna from a nearby gas station

View of Mt. Etna from the vineyard that lies at the base

On top of Mt. Etna

View of Sicily on the way down Mt. Etna

Who needs calculators and fortunetellers when you have Nate Silver?

Nate Silver is a numbers whiz. He has a knack for forecasting the future of politics by using numbers and statistics. The scary thing about it is that his predictions are usually extremely accurate.

I read somewhere that Silver, by kindergarten, knew how to multiply double digits figures IN HIS HEAD. Yes, he may not have been very popular with the ladies, but he can certainly add faster than you.

Blog example # 1 – Carmelo Anthony traded to the NY Knicks (long post)

Blog example #2 – Ensign’s retirement (short post)

Blog example #3 – Dissapointed commenters