Friday, April 17, 2020

The Great Divide

When the pandemic has passed, the Great Divide will not be between East and West, Left or Right, or Rich and Poor: It will be between online and offline.

In Frank Darabont's "Shawshank Redemption", an old inmate named Brooks is released from jail after serving a 50-odd year sentence. As Brooks steps out of jail and gets in a bus, he is astounded by the changes he sees in the world. 

"The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry", he mutters. 

He writes a letter back to his friends in prison, in which he expresses his difficulties adjusting to the outside world. He says he is living in constant fear, and is considering to break his parole so they'd send him back to prison where he feels his home is. He ties a rope around the beam, and puts a noose around his neck. He rocks the table, and the table falls.


As of mid-April 2020, Covid-19 is in full swing. In a dramatic attempt to control the spread of the disease, national governments have imposed strict lockdowns, affecting billions of people across the globe, which have largely brought humanity to a standstill. Global cities, normally bustling with life, are now reminiscent of ghost towns. All mainstream events have been cancelled. The vast majority of airplanes are grounded. Schools, universities, churches, restaurants, bars as well as all other non-essential businesses are shut. Humans are sitting around in their living rooms, half asleep in frog pajamas, moving minimally and only venturing out for essentials. 

Indeed, the change of pace is staggering and all too sudden. Humanity has always been in motion, but the momentum that has been built in the past couple of decades is particularly impressive, and makes the contrast way too intense. In a desperate attempt to keep moving, most people seek salvation in the one and only sanctuary that's left unaffected by Covid-19's voracious RNA: The Internet. 

Essentially, anything that can be done online right now, is done online. Jobs traditionally conducted in offices are switching to remote. All types of interpersonal relationships are becoming virtual. Entertainment is going online too: A large number of artists who would otherwise be touring are offering free livestreams of their music. World-renowned theatre, dance and classical music performances are offered online for free to ease the pain of quarantine. The National Emergency Library is offering their entire back catalogue of 1.4 million books for free to all readers on the Internet. 

The Great Atlantic Migration resulted in approximately 37 million people moving to America in a period of over 150 years. In the Covid-19 era, we are experiencing what appears to be the biggest mass migration event in the history of mankind; tens of millions of what until recently was only casual visitors are moving their entire livelihoods into the Internet in a matter of days. 

All these new Internet dwellers have one thing in common: They are amateurs when it comes to online life. For starters, they don't know much about netiquette. Most of the new netizens have probably never considered the nuances of communicating online efficiently -sans facial expressions and body language- without creating massive misunderstandings. Furthermore, they cannot fathom the intricacies of timing one's responses -or silences- while carrying out asynchronous communication. 

New netizens are also likely to be ignorant about risks inherent in online life. This becomes particularly relevant when working from home, in which cases one's home network becomes an extension of her employer's network. There is a large number of considerations to be taken into account: Wireless network security, VPN configuration, password complexity, physical security, user management, log generation and management and security awareness, amongst other things, which now need to be managed to a certain extent by the end user rather than her employer's system administrator.

More importantly in relation to this essay, what amateurs tend to do once they get fairly comfortable in new territory is that they overestimate their own competences and start moving faster than what their abilities allow them. 

To illustrate this, it is helpful to use an analogy from the runners' world. Something that most seasoned runners must have encountered is when a new runner joins a group of more experienced runners. As it often happens, the new joiner -who thinks he's got perfect control over his newly acquired skill- will invariably start pacing up the entire group, dragging the veteran runners reluctantly along. When the new joiner eventually burns out without being able to even complete the training session, he will resort to an excuse about an external factor (heat, humidity, late night out) being the true cause of their exhaustion. 

This uncontrollable, amateur-driven acceleration is happening to the digital world right now, and will only keep amplifying as entire populations shift online.

Even for experienced netizens who have been spending the better part of the lives online for decades, the Internet can be a truly overwhelming place. It is more often than not moving at frantic speed, with massive changes and new trends being generated constantly. With the addition of tens of millions of new netizens -many of which are bound to be acting as excited teenagers- it'll only get faster, more chaotic and more intense. 


While the online world is onboarding tens of millions of new members, and overall keeps its globalised, transnational character, there is one significant group that's quietly left in the shadows while the pandemic is running its course: the offline world. Those at the physical space, who cannot, for myriads different reasons, take their jobs and their lives to the digital realm, and are at the same time struggling with closed borders, nationalism, poverty and distress. 

When the offline world eventually recovers from the pandemic, years later, it will be too little and too late to catch up and join the online bandwagon. The differences between the two words will at that point be immense and the overall chasm not too dissimilar to the one in Brooks' story. Those with strong attachments to the physical world are likely to detach entirely, form their own channels, at their own pace, and vanish into an alternate reality.

To be sure: this detachment does not necessarily mean a fate similar to Brooks' for the detached. It simply means that the schism between online and offline, as projected, is going to be too deep to be surmountable. As the two populations develop at a disproportionately different pace during the Covid-19 cosmogenic time, there clearly is no way that the offline crowd will be able -or willing- to keep up. 

The crucial question, then, remains: Who will be the winner in this saga? Will it be the disconnected "savages" of the physical world, dragging their feet lethargically while staying local? Or the slick online crowd, skidding in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "wow, what a ride!"? 

It depends on where we are all heading.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Great Conference Con

Technical Security Conferences are big business nowadays. People attend them in large numbers and people try to convince themselves and others (usually their managers/sponsors) that the most recent conference they went to was "good". In reality, these conferences have almost no redeeming qualities and value whatsoever. This article explains why. 

The first and most obvious issue is that most of the presenters in these conferences are Geeks. Geeks, however, are Geeks, not performers. Geeks signed up to work in companies so that they can be left alone in their studies/labs to hack away at 4AM in peace. Most Geeks are terrible presenters: They do not have natural flow and get stressed when they speak; non-native speakers often have heavy accents when they present, and they tend to get extremely technical. Geeks think that their audience will consist exclusively of Reverse Engineers and Low-level programmers who will be able to process blurry, low resolution screenshots from 50 meters away in real time; not just that they will be able to, that they will actually bother to do it! 

[In reality, Geeks do not care much whether they will get understood by their audience or not. They just want to get the chore out of the way as painlessly as possible and go back to their lab] 


Even when they do have a knack for presenting something to an audience, Geeks get a raw deal out of these things anyway. Most Geeks work for commercial companies who want to make money out of the Geeks' work. The usual deal is that the Geek is expected to work in his own time and find catastrophic bugs that endanger the lives and savings of millions. The more widespread the bug, the better potential it will have commercially. Companies usually have a clause in the contract that all research - including research done in the Geek's own time - is pwned by the company while the Geek is employed by the company, and sometimes for years after the Geek has left the company, or even "for ever". 

In some cases, the Geek will get dedicated research time. This time, however, is usually devoid of all joy and spontaneous creativity since it is governed by strict deadlines, outrageous and often unrealistic objectives, progress reports [which often need to be dumbed-down to the point of being nonsensical in order to explain things to random non-technical bosses], and an overall clinical feel bundled with an omnipresent research manager who plays the role of Damocles' sword. 

If he finds something interesting, the Geek gets - and at the company's discretion is obliged - to submit his work to conferences. If the research is accepted, depending on the conference, the Geek gets paid flights and hotel bookings and sometimes a few hundred bucks on top of that. Normally, the company will insist that the Geek have at least one or two pages at the very beginning of the presentation where the company gets a eulogy for nurturing, supporting and encouraging the research (even if they didn't). The company will often insist that the Geek bundle his research with a live demo and a tool, so that they can sell it more easily. When all is done and dusted, the Geek will get a pat in the back and a beer, and the company will cash out. 


Another problem is the very format of the powerpoint presentation. With the exception of the fairly recent phenomenon of "lightning talks", a presentation is usually timed to go on for about 40', sometimes longer. In a world as distracted as ours, 40' is a fucking long time. The "good" news is that these 40' are almost always pure bloat. There are a few introductory slides about the presenter and his company that no-one gives a shit about, followed by some generic information about the context and the field in which the research took place, that again -surprise- no-one gives a shit about. 

Usually the presenter saves his punchline for the 3rd or 4th slide before the end. For a 40' presentation, this translates to minute 32' or thereabouts. Most people who've been to conferences know this and either go into the lecture halls around then, or if they are already in the lecture hall they are either sleeping or have their heads buried in their laptops/phones until the punchline is about to be delivered. One can normally feel a certain excitement in the room when "it's time", usually to be disheartened by a punchline that's either limp, non-exploitable, predictable, a flamboyant clone of an older bug, related to an obscure, unusable system or in a few cases just plain wrong. 

[In practice, most presentations can be condensed to 5' or less and could probably be done with 0 talk. The rest of it is pointless conference blabber.]


The vast majority of technical security conferences are not just futile, they are borderline insulting to everyone involved. The after-parties are even worse: Anaemic, uninspired parodies of futurist-themed cheap Hollywood drama; only here 95% of the participants are overweight white men, drooling in front of blinking screens with the obligatory club-mate in hand. Conference organisers should try self-slapping first, and then move on to different careers. 

The *only* exception to this abomination is the almighty Chaos Computer Club's c0ns. 

All hail CCC. 


Monday, May 6, 2013


A heretic capture of Copenhagen's HEAVY DAYS IN DOOMTOWN
København, DENMARK

Flow, my tears, Sylvia said. Sylvia had just come out of CONAN's performance and she was shaking and shedding tears of joy. That's how intense the performance had been. That sound engineer sure as hell knew what he was doing, too. I'd never seen somebody cry because of a heavy metal show. This event changed quite a few of my perceptions and misconceptions on what a heavy metal is, the potential it has, and the effects it can have on your mind.

Doom metal is a very special branch off the great heavy metal tree. The music is slow, solitary, and repressed. When other metal subgenres just blast away at thousands of beats per minute, doom metal sits there in its cage choking under its own unmanageable gravity. "It's too much man, too much too much" as that rotten attorney of Hunter S. Thomspon's would have put it.

Festivals, however, do not quite cut it for me anymore. I try to do one festival a year, and it's mostly to catch up with my heavy metal people. I don't get to see them all that often these days. A metalfest is a wonderful excuse to do just that. But what does cut it these days? That is tough to answer. There are not that many things to cling on to as I see it. Music provides an easy anwser to the quest for identity. It is hard, and painful, to be nothing but your naked self. Music, arts, football teams (just sayin), dress styles, drinks, hobbies, ideologies, they all ingeniously cover one's soul like a silk blanket. Once one stops using all these identity supplements semi-religiously - like I have done with Heavy metal and hardcore punk for about 15 years - one finds oneself staring at the void.

Only the void is not staring back.

So what is left, then, of the self, if you strip it off all these culture supplements? What do people fall in love with, if not the collection of all that, even if the sum is - potentially - bigger than its parts? I do not know the answer to that but I would be very curious to find out.


They say timing is everything, and I usually agree with this statement. I generally dislike sweeping generalizations, and the presence of the word "everything" is a clear indication that this is one very good example. So let's just say that timing is extremely important and sometimes it can be almost "everything". At the doomfest, timing was neither on GRAVES AT SEA's, nor SHADOW OF THE TORTURER's side. Both band had balls the size of the twin towers before Osama's buddies decided to refurbish them. But played after MOURNFUL CONGREGATION. It was too much to take in. My friends and I, we had no space left; our soul was used up thoroughly, spent over the course of the last two days, feasting in an endless frenzy of beer, weed, talks with randoms, photos with the brown hat, marveling - as DEPHOSPHORUS would have put it - at the great starless canvas above us. So when GRAVES and SOTT took the stage all we could do is admit that we couldn't handle it and hope that the bands would understand. We were certain that they would.

Now, I am not the most politically sensitive person on the planet but I do get sensitive when it comes to immigration. It's not just that I have lived many years as an immigrant myself; it is a deeper desire to link and protect with the most unfortunate of my fellow citizens. Those who are last in the queue and have nothing to cling on. Immigration is one of the great equalizing forces in this god forsaken planet, so that the massive accumulations of power can eventually be lessened out.

I live in the nice part of town in an old house with a garden. But, one god forsaken day, I decided that I want to move flats. I have always had a bizarre desire to pick a derelict area to live in. I always felt a bit of a hypocrite with my rhetoric on solidarity to the immigrants and the unfortunate, while living in a nice neighborhood myself and thought that if I ever want to take myself seriously I should take personal responsibility and align myself with the most neglected of my fellow citizens. I went online, spotted a flat in the worst neighborhood of the inner city, went to inspect it and booked it already the next day. It's kind of hard to describe just how bad this neighborhood is. It's really ran-down, with plenty of extreme right wing nutjobs plus huge numbers of illegal immigrants, junkies (but note here that we are talking junkies at the point of no return, with open wounds, pardon me for being graphic), Christian fanatics, bitter old farts, homeless vagabonds, and various other assorted (low)-lifeforms.

I did all this alone without asking anybody else's opinion on the project, and was quite excited about the move. However, when I started mentioning this decision to friends and family, everybody more than raised an eyebrow and started worrying. About safety, and how they hell they could ever come visit. I started receiving large quantities of negative energy regarding this from everybody, more than I could possible manage. And I had to give up on this project. There will always, be a part of me that is disappointed at me for not being enough of an idealist (martyr?).

While we are at the immigration topic, FUCK YOU band member performing Saturday - you know who you are, I won't say any names - for blaming your misfortunes on the Polish and Romanian immigrants, who are happy to do 16-hour shifts when you only want to do 8.

As Oscar Wilde put it "To appreciate good wine, one does not have to down the whole barrel". This is precisely what Shawn and I did when BELL WITCH took the stage . We sampled BELL WITCH for about 20'. The quality of the material was outstanding. We needed no more. Bought the t-shirt. The t-shirt kicked ass, too. This all happened at the small stage over at Copenhagen's legendary youthouse. To be precise, that particular building is not legendary as it was offered to the youths by the government. The previous one, the one at Jegtvej however, is indeed a legendary squat; it being claimed by a religious organization in 2007 triggered what reportedly were the worst riots Copenhagen has seen in decades.

Just how many metal t-shirts can one own and be eventually happy with their collection? I keep losing my fucking t-shirts. It's not that I give them away to friends or leave them deliberatly in pockets of airplane seats, like I did with PKD's outstanding "Flow, my tears, the policeman said" on my way to Copenhagen. My metal tees simply tend to disappear. I had a beautiful FUCK ON THE BEACH t-shirt - bought in Japan - in 2005 but I have no idea where it's gone. I had more. Had a white GALLHAMMER t-shirt, perhaps the only white metal tee I have ever owned. Well that is not counting my first custom made CORROSION OF CONFORMITY and WHITE ZOMBIE tees when I was 17. I had LAIR OF THE MINOTAUR, NACHTMYSTIUM and much more. Wish they are happy wherever they are.

Then there was the other thing. One hot summer day, I de-sleeved all my metal t-shirts. Took off the damn sleeves. Every single one of them. TOTAL FUCKING DESTRUCTION, YACOPSAE, MAGRUDERGRIND, the lot. So when autumn came, I had no metal t-shirts left. It's a truly frustrating feeling, having no metal t-shirts to put on, when you feel you are at the crossroads of misanthropy: A plain black t-shirt will not suffice, but the right metal tee will work wonders.

As luck would have it, MOURNFUL CONGREGATION's performance coincided with the Orthodox Easter's culmination moment, which is celebrated precisely at midnight on Good Saturday. The Australians took the stage, sombre, faithful to their own handle, and delivered all of us punters from the evils of this world. The guitars wept for what felt like hours; it was captivating, and liberating at the same time. Theirs was one of the best gigs I have seen in my life. Some were breathtaking, like GRIEF's performance in Loppen, Copenhagen in 2010, if memory serves.

Thank you, from the heart, Copenhagen and HDDT crew, for having us; thank you for putting this feast together for us. It was our honor to be there. You inspired us, and reminded us of the good things in life. Hugs, laughs with friends, a few beers too many. A few moments in that corner of the world, on that mellow Saturday night, somewhere between people who had passed out, empty beer cans, and grim-looking vinyl records, were enough to give us immense chills.

We bit our lips and promised to throw ourselves, afresh, out there in the minefields of the world that we love to hate.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hell Comes Home 7"EP subscription club: LAUNCH OFFER \\\ €10.- OFF /// VALID UNTIL MAY 31, 2011

If you are a vinyl lover you should definitely consider subscribing to this 7"EP club! You can pay in one go or over three months. For more info:

<<" March 2012 consecutively, each subscription will receive two new splits 7-inch vinyl with new and original artwork in the post every month... And because life is good the first package will include an exclusive t-shirt along with a special limited edition box to complete the set.

Volume 1 features: Akaname (AUS/NZ) • Black Sun (UK) • Burning Love (CAN) • Coffinworm (USA) • Dead Elephant (IT) • Dephosphorus (GR) • Dopefight (UK) • Dukatalon (ISR) • Fight Amp (USA) • Fistula (USA) • The Fucking Wrath (USA) • Great Falls (USA) • Kowloon Walled City (USA) • Lesbian (USA) • Mose Giganticus (USA) • Pyramido (SWE) • Rabbits (USA) • Suma (SWE) • The Swan King (USA) • Tellusian (SWE) • Thou (USA) • Throat (FIN) • Ultraphallus (BE) • Union Of Sleep (DE)

In short your subscription includes:

24 exclusive and unreleased songs from 24 bands
• 12 splits 7-inch vinyl in a special limited edition box
• Digital coupons of high quality mp3’s (320 kbps) with each vinyl
• An exclusive t-shirt
• Original artwork & design by Kuba Sokolski>>>

Monday, May 2, 2011


OUTLAND is a new exciting video game for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 available exclusively as a digital download for the moment.

I am a fan of old-school 2D action/platformers and this one got me really happy.

First of all it has top notch, high quality aesthetics and presentation, starting as a mystical trip into the jungle guided by a shaman.

Then the mechanics are precise and accurate. It is part of the new generation of action/platformers such as BRAID, LIMBO, SUPER MEATBOY, SHADOW COMPLEX, combining great story & characters with a meaty playground.

OUTLAND will please for sure fans of old METROID and CASTLEVANIA games. The areas to explore are huge and the learning curve is smooth.

The novelty here for this kind of game is a polarity system a la IKARUGA which combined with bullet hell-style obstacles add a totally interesting twist to the gameplay and the aesthetics.

For the moment I am still at the beginning so I cannot really go in depth, but what I can say for the moment is that this one is a jewel, as well as a slap in the face for the old men whining that "video games are not done anymore like they used to".

I bought it for Xbox 360 and 800 M$ points is a very reasonable amount.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


If you're into gaming you must have heard of CAVE STORY (DOUKUTSU MONOGATARI) by now. It's a great japanese platformer/RPG developped initially on the PC circa 2004 and distributed for free! It's in the veins of the early 2D installments of the Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, The Legend of Zelda, and Castlevania series. It is an important influence for other contemporary indie games, such as the wonderful Braid.

It was met with such public and critical acclaim that it's been ported since to most popular platforms: Mac OS X, AMIGA OS 4, Linux, PSP, GP2, original Xbox & even adapted for the Texas Instruments TI-83/84 Plus scientific calculators! All those versions as freeware.

The Wii (Wiiware) and Nintendo DS (DSiware) ports are commercial versions but most will agree that the author, Daisuke Amaya (aka Studio Pixel), deserves some cash at the end of the day...

The inconvenience of playing the Windows version is that is configured by default to be playable on the keyboard. When I was younger I actually played action games on the keyboard, but not anymore, it is pure masochism! If you want to play with a gamepad, you'll have to configure it by running DoConfig.exe. You must click on "Use Gamepad". Underneath you have a matrix which represents the button maps. You must basically try to figure out which action corresponds to which button or trigger on your controller by trial & error: extremely user unfriendly! Alternatively you can use one of those utilities who map the keyboard keys to your gamepad but I did not want to bother.

Anyway, ideally I wanted to play Cave Story with my gamer's pride: the X-arcade dual tankstick. No fuckin'way! The beast being programmable, I will try one day to map the keys but maybe not: alternatively I can upload the game to one of my two original Xboxes and play it with the tankstick after hooking it up using the Xbox adapter (I have the old, standalone version but nowadays you can purchase the 2in1: PS3 + Xbox adapter).

Since I'm not playing much on the PC, the other solution was a wired Xbox 360 controller. Luckily there is a comprehensive mapping guide in configuring it, actually posted on an excellent Linux blog, Helpful Linux Tidbits! Eventhough it's been written for the Linux version, the same mapping applies for the Windoze version. You will find it here, complete with pictures and everything.

If you manage to do the mapping for other controllers/gamepads, please let us know! Until then, if you're caught by gadget consumerism you should know that a 3D version of Cave Story is being prepped for the Nintendo 3DS and will be available on the 9th of August!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

THE HOWLING WIND "Into The Cryosphere" review

Me and some other devotees have been expecting this album since 2006, the year when has been released the swan song of Thralldom, “A Shaman Steering The Vessel Of Vastness”. After their break up, guru Ryan Lipynsky (Unearthly Trance, Villains) has formed The Howling Wind with a similar line-up, ie. him on guitars/bass/vocals/noises plus a drummer. In this particular case, another cult figure of the US underground has joined forces: Τim Call from Parasitic Records and Alderbaran. “Into The Cryosphere” is such a pleasant surprise because the band’s debut “Pestilence And Peril” was good but not exceptional.


The Howling Wind are playing the exact kind of music and of black metal that I want to hear, and with “Into The Cryosphere” they are imposing themselves amongst the very best of ALL TIME. Lipynsky has conceived this album as a primeval voyage in Antarctica, not from a banal Νational Geographic-like perspective, but from the mystic/symbolic side of things.


The result chills the soul as music has rarely achieved. I believe that quite a few of the older black metal fans have to be submerged in such a way since the era of the early Dark Throne albums. “Into The Cryosphere” has the frozen aura of the familiar/classic, a part of it being based upon the aforementionned norwegians, but also upon Bathory, some particular Swiss and Autopsy. Tracks like “Teeth Of Frost”, give us hints of early Unearthly Trance, which make us hope for their return back to the roots.


Familiar, yet alien. Scattered ambient/noise invocations constitute an important part of the arsenal. The atmosphere of the album is inhuman, introvert, minimal and majestic. Its listening cuts you down instantly. Your wounds will remind you of riffs such as the sublime grandeur of instrumental number “Impossible Eternity”, the awesome thrash-iness of “A Dead Galaxy Mirrored In An Ice Mirage”, and the guitar solos-curses of “Ice Cracking In The Abyss” and “Will Is The Only Fire Under An Avalanche”.


Like you must have understood by the songtitles alone, the album concept leads into deep waters – the lyrics will be studied thorougly by the more perseverant. The artwork is austere but fuctional, while the logo has been designed by the allies of the band, our very own visionaries Viral Graphics.

PFL, PO Box 12046, Mississauga, Ontario, L5C 4R7 Canada,


·        Review by Panos Agoros, originally published in greek language for the column “Underground Kommandoz” of Metal Hammer Greece issue#309 (September 2010), used with kind permission.