A guest post by corbett on 28 Mar 2013

Spring Break Of Code, Day Four

The main sound on top of the ocean is the click clack of laptop keys, and the jangle of test calls and SMSes. A neighbor stopped by to comment that we must be the next Facebook, the next Google; working instead of surfing made sense in his mind only in the land of money at the end of the tunnel. He loaned us his stand up paddle boards, surely expecting a return on investment 10 fold down the line when we exited into the sunset. A journalist visiting Open Whisper Systems’ Spring Break of Code commented that she expected more philosophy, politics, and conversation. After all this group is composed of people who are not only technologists, but also open source evangelists, activists, and humanists. Lilia went over some of the why, but practically anyone could see we were concentrating on the how, and in the frenzied silence it was clear that a common philosophy was assumed and what bound us here was the challenges in the technology to power that philosophy.

Rhodey and Isis shared their meeting Moxie stories. I’ll go a bit further and trace back time, as we go farther back. I first met Moxie in a crowded hotel room in New York City around 2004, a place to crash between sessions at a hacker conference, huddled in a circle discussing things entirely new to me. Some time later I saw him on the West coast, he was living in a hand-built houseboat, from recycled material, off the coast of the San Francisco Bay. In Boston, he stopped by my makerspace warehouse of a home for a few evenings when he was in the area to screen his documentary about his sailing from the coast of Florida to the Caribbean. He pulled up in a vegetable-oil-powered VW truck bed, and driving around we couldn’t help but smell french fries in the fumes.

Back in San Francisco, I had begun my hobbyist career in mobile application development, and taken the summer off from my PhD to concentrate on a successful offline Wikipedia client, and a thusfar-failed micro video messaging service, both for iOS. Frequenting the makerspace Noisebridge, Moxie was already hard at work on Whisper Systems’ apps, both for Android. One day he announced he would be heading to Arizona to pick up a hot air balloon he had purchased on the cheap with the goal of air-delivering it back to his San Francisco home. Convinced he might be in over his head, I tried to dissuade him. Never fear, he would receive a free lesson from the owner, and air currents and water currents weren’t all that different. A captain of the seas could also captain the skies. I wasn’t convinced, but Moxie made the journey.

Given this history, when Moxie wrote me “Want to come to Hawaii for a week, to hack?”, I didn’t have to ask what for, when, or why to immediately reply “sure”. Back in my home of Zurich, Switzerland, I had transitioned to apps for social good – Circle of 6, an anti sexual assault app being the flagship – and had formed a non-profit, Tech for Good, to spearhead them. I knew anything Moxie was up to would fit in, technically and philosophically with my personal missions. On arrival to Hawaii, it likewise came as no surprise to me that Moxie Marlinspike had curated a technically stellar and necessarily diverse group. The network went down due to a wayward Bitcoin-trading AI. We learned about notation for juggling patterns, the preferred sport of anarchists (soccer anyone?), and conversed about whether ideology should serve people, people ideology, and what ideology choosing between the two options would entail. We surfed, dined, and even discussed politics to the delight of the journalist.

This week I’ve been working on the iOS version of TextSecure. I’ve had a delightful time, and plenty of lessons I’ve learned from my other projects have been more than useful. It’s extremely helpful to have Moxie working on the data channel backend and Tyler working on design by my side. We already have a GitHub project for the repository, and a bare bones prototype with user authentication and sending a simple message working. I have been working on the backend cryptography, integrating OpenSSL, and preparing for the end-to-end prototype by the end of the week. Here are a few teasers:

Screenshot of an Apple Push Notification from TextSecure on iPhone

Screenshot of the TextSecure setup screen on iPhone

Screenshot of the TextSecure loading screen on iPhone


Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, United States

27 March 2013