344: 1337: Part 4
|1337: Part 4|
Title text: Mrs. Roberts would have gotten up sooner, of course, but she was busy piping find ~ and find ~nomad into xargs shred, just in case.
This is the fourth part of five in the "1337" series. The title 1337 is "L-eet," or "elite," using the Leet alphabet, a coding system used primarily on the internet (and on early text messaging system), meant to provide a bit of obfuscation to plain text both to make it harder to read and to show off in a creative way using in-group jargon.
All comics in the series:
This series was released on 5 consecutive days (Monday-Friday) and not over the usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. The comic is narrated by Cueball as seen in part 2, but that Cueball is not shown here, but still he is part of this comic series, and thus also this comic.
In this part, Elaine Roberts returns to the second best hacker in the world (she being the best according to part 2): her mom Mrs. Roberts. Together, they are an unstoppable force, and they help out a guy called Jon with a CSS decryptor (Content Scramble System, not to be confused with Cascading Style Sheets).
This implies that Jon Lech Johansen's DeCSS was written by Elaine. Jon Lech Johansen, also known as DVD Jon, is famous for DeCSS, a DVD decryption program that removes the copy protection from commercial DVDs. The Motion Picture Association of America, also known as the MPAA, was not amused.
Both the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, shortened to DMCA, as a kind of brute club to silence "infringements" on their copyright. In a perfect world, the DMCA provides safe harbor protection to websites and consumers to make fair use of copyrighted content, while also affording copyright owners the ability to protect their works from being pirated. In this world, this means that any content protection system, no matter how weak and poorly executed, cannot be circumvented, and discussion of circumvention is illegal as well.
This is not a perfect world, and in the end, the Roberts team is noticed. Two men with black bowler hats and briefcases with the abbreviations MPAA and RIAA show up at their house to arrest them. The two men look very much like Thomson and Thompson from The Adventures of Tintin.
While Elaine is not ready to let them arrest her, she draws her knife, and they draw their katana swords out of their (way too short) briefcases. Mrs. Roberts says to her daughter that she should calm down, because it is illegal to slice people up in their own houses.
However, the two men disagree and refer to the DMCA Title IV, Section 408: Authorization of Deadly Force. (There is actually no Title IV, Section 408 of the DMCA; Title IV ends with Section 407.) So now the two women are in lethal danger.
But of course, Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and stalwart defender of freedom and copyleft, cannot stand for this kind of repression of freedom. (In the real world, Stallman is not a swordsman, but he is always depicted with two katana swords in xkcd, first time was in 225: Open Source.) In keeping with the "Kill Bill" themes from earlier in the series, Randall imagines the conflict between Elaine/Stallman/Mrs. Roberts vs MPAA/RIAA agents as an action-packed katana battle, rather than the legal battle it would likely have been in real life.
The title text is talking about a Linux-ism. In Linux (and all Unix derivatives), ~ is a symbol for a user's home directory (usually
/home/<username>). Presumably, "nomad" is Elaine's username.
find is an application that recursively walks a filesystem, listing all files, and
xargs shred takes those files and securely erases each one with pseudo-random data. This is different from simply deleting a file, which merely removes the pointer in the filesystem's record tables to the file's location on the hard disk. The latter can usually be recovered from. Secure delete, however, requires physically taking apart a disk and reading individual bits for remaining magnetic charge to attempt to reconstruct what was there.
Proprietary hardware is hardware (the electronics part rather than the software) created and used only by that company, as opposed to open hardware, which uses parts or chips common to everyone. Proprietary hardware used to be found in most gaming consoles and Apple/Mac devices, but that isn't as common now, since the cost of designing your own hardware is too expensive compared to using common chips.
- [Elaine is sitting under tree on a grassy meadow typing on her laptop. Two trees are in the background where rolling hills goes to the horizon with a single cloud over the trees. Above the frame is text narrated by the Cueball from the first panel in the 2nd comic in the series:]
- Cueball (narrating): As time passed, Elaine intensified her hacking work, anonymously publishing exploit after exploit.
- [Elaine, wearing a backpack, is walking up to a door where her mom Mrs. Roberts is greeting her in the open door at the top of two steps. Above this very low panel's frame, there is more of Cueball's narration:]
- Cueball (narrating): To crack open proprietary hardware, she teamed up with one of the top experts in signal processing and data transferring protocols.
- Elaine: Hi, mom.
- Mrs. Roberts: Hello, dear. Did you have fun?
- [Elaine is lying on the floor with her laptop in front of her facing left with a charger on the floor further left. Mrs. Roberts is sitting to the right facing right on a chair working on her computer at a table. Cueball is still narrating above the frame:]
- Cueball (narrating): They were an unstoppable team.
- Elaine: I finished the CSS decryptor.
- Mrs. Roberts: Good, dear. I'll send it along to Jon.
- [Pan to the right where two men in black bowler hats arrive. Both hold briefcases - the first guy's reads RIAA, and the other guy's reads MPAA. Cueball's last narration in the comic is above the frame:]
- Cueball (narrating): And were eventually noticed.
- RIAA man: Game's over.
- MPAA man: You're coming with us.
- Briefcase 1: RIAA
- Briefcase 2: MPAA
- [Pan back left to the women. Mrs. Roberts stays in her chair sitting at her computer still typing, the screen emitting light, but Elaine has moved around to the right of the table and pulls out her folding knife and swings it open.]
- Elaine: Oh, are we?
- Mrs. Roberts: Now now, Elaine-
- Knife: Shink
- [Pan back right to the two men who simultaneously pull katana swords out of each of their briefcase, while still holding onto the handle with the other hand. When when opened like this, it causes two pieces of paper to fly out of the RIAA man's briefcase and a notebook to fly out of the MPAA man's briefcase.]
- Katanas: Shing
- [Pan back to the women. Mrs. Roberts continues to type on the laptop, a line going up from the keyboard indicating activity. Elaine still holds her open folding knife out, so the tip now touches the right frame of the panel.]
- Mrs. Roberts: Don't let them provoke you, dear.
- Man (off-panel): We don't want to hurt you, Ma'am.
- Mrs. Roberts: Don't by silly. Record company employees can't just go into houses and slice people up.
- [Pan back right to the two men who hold up the katana swords having left their briefcases closed on the floor. The closest RIAA man is holding a hand up, the other MPAA man is holding his sword in two hands and pointing it threateningly forward.]
- RIAA Man: Ah, so you haven't read the DMCA.
- MPAA Man: Title IV, Section 408: Authorization of Deadly Force.
- [A wide panel showing the whole scene with even Mrs. Robert now standing having just pushed her chair back, the computer inert. Elaine is bending in the knees, knife at the ready. Both bowler hat men, still holding their swords as before, but no hands up, have turned to look right back over their shoulder to see who speaks, as a voice comes from off-panel right.]
- Richard Stallman (off-panel): Hark!
- [The scene pans further right, so the two women are no longer in the panel, but Richard Stallman can now be seen with his wild beard and long hair and holding two katana swords, one in front of him and one over his head also pointing towards the two bowler hat med. They are standing normally, looking back at Stallman. The MPAA man nearest him holds a hand to his mouth as he speaks.]
- Richard Stallman: Cease this affront to freedom
- Richard Stallman: Or stand and defend yourselves!
- MPAA Man: Stallman!
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