Diving deep

One of my favorite things to do is dive deep into something that I don't understand and wrestle with it. The harder you wrestle, the more satisfying it is when things finally click. When I wasn't working in tech, this was a somewhat infrequent experience. As a programmer, it seems to be something I encounter at least once a day. And I love it.

I've now joined Privacy Badger in a more "official" sense, having been given write access to the main GitHub repository and participating in the semi-weekly developer meetings. Poking around Privacy Badger's code base has been fascinating, not only to see what's been done, but to see how it's been done. It's so easy to underestimate things you don't understand. I make this mistake regularly, and am as susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger effect as anyone.

I've also been working on finding a good way (along with another PB contributor) to measure the effectiveness of the heuristic algorithm used to detect trackers. If we had a list of every tracker out there, it would be easy to establish our catch rate, but unfortunately for everyone such a thing doesn't exist. Instead, I've spent time looking for tools/platforms that would iterate over a set number of websites (e.g. the Alexa Top 10,000) and output the results, including which accesses were blocked and which cookies were set. I stumbled across OpenWPM, which seems to be a great tool for this. I've got it iterating over the Alexa Top 1,000 in the lab right now, and am curious to see the results. No doubt it will require some iteration.

When I'm not working on Privacy Badger or doing coursework for my classes, I try feverishly to explore a variety of interesting topics relating to security, privacy and the internet. It all fascinates me, and I find it quite difficult to put the stuff down. Thankfully, I do have a new distraction - one that should keep me a bit more balanced. I volunteer as a Korean tutor for a campus club. It involves about an hour a week of time spent helping Korean learners with grammar, vocabulary, writing, etc. The club is just starting things up again for this new school year, so it'll be fun to teach Korean to some eager university students.

This next week should be interesting, not just because I'm headed down to Seattle over the weekend for a special event. Things are finally starting to fall into place, and I feel comfortable now with the process and the tools. I've settled in at the lab, established a good gym routine, figured out the right timing for hitting the grocery store on the way home, and have enough todos on my list to keep me busy for the next 6 months. Still, as one of my advisors so wisely quoted, "Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential."