Codecademy Pro

Dear Codecademy,

You used to be kinda cool. You would help and give hints when your students were lost. Many times those hints were exactly what was needed to get people back on the right path. Sometimes your hints weren’t so helpful, but at least they were there. Since you’ve added your premium service, Codecademy Pro, your service and platform have degraded. It’s like any other company that weakens their service or offerings to push customers to pay for the next level up. And it’s obvious.

You need to make money. People get that. But if I’m going to pay for your site, I’d rather pay for the old version with hints. I’m not interested in the new version that will complete an entire project section when a student gets stuck. You’re robbing people of the opportunity to learn so that you can get your $20.00 per month.

Don’t get me wrong, the ability to chat with counselors about the code is cool. But being able to figure out the code on our own was a lot cooler.

As I am using your service to prepare for Bloc, you’re not my long term goal. You’re a stepping stone. And because of your greed, I won’t be paying for your service. If you had kept the platform the same and offered a new service, I’d be more than happy to pay the money for the upgraded service because I would feel like it was the cost of doing business. But as you’ve weakened the platform, paying the $20 feels more like extortion. I’m not interested.

Heck, if you were to just give me the ability to have the hints that were available on the Ruby course instead of finishing the code for me on the Ruby on Rails course, I would have been willing to pay for that.

Codecademy, you’re a horrible example of freemium. If you had just charged $20 per month originally without the code counselors, I would have paid it. I’ve paid for online education many times. The fact that I’m about to start Bloc tells you that this is true. In this world, you have to pay for just about everything.

Unfortunately the freemium business model sets bad expectations from the beginning. You set it up as free. Then people think it should be free. And as you have obviously noticed, people don’t want to pay for it.

When you realized that, I’m guessing you freaked out. You were going to go broke. So what did you do? You didn’t rise to the occasion and optimize your services to be better, you crippled them to extort money from people.

Thanks but no thanks. I only have 42% left to do on my last course. If I have to bypass the parts that I can’t figure out, I’ll do that. I won’t bow to your extortion, even if it is only $20.00.

I Killed My Twitter

Today I decided that Twitter had to go.

It’s been in the contemplation stages for a couple weeks and it’s been serious for a few days. And now it’s done.

I didn’t tell anyone that I was leaving. This is partly because I didn’t want anybody to try to talk me out of it. I also didn’t want to make a big deal about it. Personally, I despise long goodbyes. I’d rather just slip out the door while everybody is preoccupied and not have to make the obligatory small talk about when we’ll see each other again. But this is rude. I don’t do it too often.

Most of the people who might miss me know where to get in touch with me. I have 2 email addresses and a phone number. Most of them know at least one of those.

Back to Twitter… It was a huge time waster. It was also a source of almost constant bad news. Twitter was where I got my news. Not like the BBC, Fox, CNN, NYT or anything like that. More like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight For The Future, the Free Software FoundationFreedom Of The Press Foundation, The Intercept, and Demand Progress. Organizations like these give you news that you don’t hear in mainstream media. They provide news about how our freedom is being eroded and how politicians are more than happy to sell your freedoms to corporations in trade for campaign donations.

Americans simply don’t care and I can’t take it anymore. Either I get political and make these problems my life or I get away from these news sources and live in relative peace. Since I have no political aspirations and no clout to change things, I have chosen the path of “silent desperation” and online suicide. No,

I’m not killing myself, just my twitter account.

While not tweeting, I’m diving into my studies. I am enrolled at Mt. SAC for computer science and Bloc for the Software Engineer track. I enjoy writing code and that’s where my priorities have to be, not in tweeting out garbage that no one wants to read anyway.

If you followed me on Twitter and you want to get in touch, you can find me on gmail. My email address is the same as my Twitter handle was. Or you can leave a comment at the bottom of any post on this site.

Take care and God bless you!

How The NSA Decrypts Encrypted Web Traffic

If you pay attention to the allegations that Edward Snowden made against the NSA, you’ve probably heard that they (the NSA) can decrypt and read a decent amount of encrypted web traffic. That includes VPNs as well as HTTPS and SSH traffic.

On October 14, there was a blog post released on Freedom to Tinker that outlines how they could do it. And the reason it’s possible is frightening.

Let’s face it, as human beings, we’re lazy. We like to do things in the easiest way that they will work. Admittedly, sometimes that’s the right way to approach things. There’s no sense in making things more difficult than they need to be. On the other hand, there is such a thing as not doing the job right. The coders implementing the encryption weren’t making it too difficult for the NSA to guess which prime number the encryption was based on.

You can learn the basics of how the Diffie-Hellman key exchange works at Khan Academy. Actually, you can get a more comprehensive tutorial on how encryption works at Khan Academy.

So after you understand the Diffie-Hellman key exchange, you understand how important the prime number is. Well, apparently in human laziness and ease of coding, programmers have been using standard prime numbers and sometimes even hard coding the prime numbers into their system. That means, every single communication starts with the same number.If the NSA knows that number, they can “perform a single enormous computation to “crack” a particular prime, then easily break any individual connection that uses that prime.”

Now cracking all the possible combinations would take some massive computing power and a lot of time. Then you’re forced to wonder how long they’ve been actually working on it. And when you think about the following paragraph, it all starts to make sense.

Since a handful of primes are so widely reused, the payoff, in terms of connections they could decrypt, would be enormous. Breaking a single, common 1024-bit prime would allow NSA to passively decrypt connections to two-thirds of VPNs and a quarter of all SSH servers globally. Breaking a second 1024-bit prime would allow passive eavesdropping on connections to nearly 20% of the top million HTTPS websites. In other words, a one-time investment in massive computation would make it possible to eavesdrop on trillions of encrypted connections.

Once they’ve cracked it once, they don’t have to do it again. They’ve already got access. And one has to know that they aren’t stopping to rest on their laurels, they’re going to be after all the cryptographic combinations of all the large prime numbers they can crack.

Your data, if transferred using Diffie-Hellman, isn’t safe. And really, Diffie-Hellman is the backbone of internet security. Think about that next time you choose to buy something online or send a private message without encrypting it yourself.

The Times They Are A Changin’.

The times they are a changin’. And accordingly the blog must change too.

I still enjoy going to the gym. In fact, this coming semester was arranged in part so I could get back to hitting the gym without my school work suffering too badly. But that is no longer the topic of my personal blog. I think I now have more important things to talk about. I’ll no longer talk about protein shakes and exercises. From now on the topic will be coding, digital security, and politics in regards to political security.

Sadly, two of those things, politics and digital security, cannot be separated. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now have at least an idea of how much the NSA, FBI, and even our own local police departments know about our movements and conversations.

If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch CITIZENFOUR. the true story of Edward Snowden’s journey from NSA Snoop to Public Enemy #1. You can watch it through Netflix, Apple iTunes, and Google Play. **Note: None of those are affiliate links.**

And pay attention here. As I learn about coding, encryption, and politics, I’ll be posting it here.