VPNs are not the solution to a policy problem

The US House of Representatives just voted to eliminate the FCC ISP privacy rules. If you are interested in a further reading about the details of said rules, this article is a good place to get started.

As Americans begin to accept this new reality, the discourse shifts to what we can do to workaround this particular issue. Yes, VPNs are a workaround at best, and a shitty one at that.

Let me explain.

Do you trust your VPN provider?

You have just moved your ‘net traffic’s exit point to a VPN provider (this may be a managed VPN provider or a standalone OpenVPN instance on your favourite VPS service.

Have you read your provider’s privacy policy? Do they have a legal team? Are they using simple Pre-Shared Keys? Is your provider encrypting traffic at all?

Yes, that last one happens. A research paper (PDF) found that 18 percent of Android VPN apps they analyzed didn’t encrypt traffic at all. If you are interested in a further explanation of that paper, read this.

If you are technically inclined, you may say, “well I know how to configure OpenVPN so I am fine”, which brings me to my next point.

Scalability and Friction

While you may be able to configure OpenVPN on a VPS, the vast majority of people are not able to. The vast majority of people have no interest in learning the intricacies of configuring a VPN, nor should they have to.

The VPN workaround doesn’t scale, there are two possible solutions here. One could use a potentially shitty VPN provider with a false sense of security that may be worse than just passing traffic through your home ISP as normal. Or one could learn how to configure something like OpenVPN to route all our router’s internet bound traffic through your VPS provider*.

*: Not Netflix because they don’t like VPNs.

The second solution only works for a small minority that has a working knowledge of systems and network administration.

We need a different hammer or maybe multiple ones

As a technically minded person myself, it can be tempting to wave the wand of a technical solution to a problem caused by policy or in this case a lack thereof.

We must remember that said solution(s) are maybe temporary workarounds at best and a false sense of security at worst.

As a Canadian, my knowledge of the US political system is fairly minimal but as I understand the House of Representatives and the Senate are up for re-election in 2018. If your representative is one of those that voted to repeal the privacy rules: do not let up the pressure on them.


First Impressions: J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only

4 Your Eyes Only album cover

J. Cole has done it again. I think this one is going to be another platinum with no features.

Favourite tracks

  • Immortal – Hard hitting track about our mortality. Favourite lines:
    Nowadays crime pays like a part time job
    And the drought got me prayin’ for a car time vibe
  • Deja Vu – That “Exchange” beat is fantastic and works really well .
  • Change – Continuing the theme of mortality and death. I love the Ari Lennox bits in the bridge.
  • 4 Your Eyez Only – A nine minute, 4 verse monster with a theme akin to 2Pac’s Letter 2 My Unborn and Words 2 My First Born. This one almost made me cry.

She’s Mine (both Pt. 1 & 2) both get a shout out as well. Deeply personal tracks about his wife and daughter.


If you are looking at the track list right now and comparing it to my favourite lists up there, it is basically the entire album. If you are a hip-hop head, this is probably Christmas coming early.

Yeah, I really like this album. I’m on my third listen as I type this.

2016 has been a really good year for music, damn.

A quick shout out to The Outline

On Monday, Joshua Topolsky’s latest project The Outline launched and I would just like to congratulate them on their launch.

I recommend reading the post I linked to see what it is all about but I will just say that if you are into reading excellent stories from some very talented people, you definitely want to check them out.

Also, you should be subscribing to Leah Finnegan’s The Outline newsletter; this week is about killing your idols.


In Memoriam: Jon Portnoy (avenj)

Occasionally folks come into large IRC channels and ask some variant of “anybody alive?”. Sometimes I would reply, “No, we are all ghosts in the shell”.

Today, I logged onto IRC and found out that we did indeed have a ghost in our midst.

Jon “avenj” Portnoy is the type of dude on IRC who always says “hey” back no matter the time. Sometimes I thought the dude never slept. An avid Perl programmer he made me see beauty in a language where I only saw gibberish. #otw will never be the same again but I hope the rest of us can keep the spirit of it alive.

In his memory, I have made a donation to The Perl Foundation. If you wish to do so as well, you can do so from here.

Rest in peace, friend.