Something for the weekend, Week 31 2018

Haven’t done any of these in a while, but here goes:

  1. In NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast “Creating God“, social psychologist Azim Shariff explains how religious rituals and psychological manipulation by religions throughout the ages have an evolutionary origin and helped groups become more cohesive and thrive more than competing groups. What’s new here is that religious spread can be viewed like that of an organism under Darwinian rules, explaining much of what was previously unclear about how religions operate, what rituals accomplish, etc. The true functions of many of these rituals aren’t even obvious to the religious practitioners themselves (the researchers call this functional opacity).
  2. In Germany, utterly clueless police raided the offices of Zwiebelfreunde (onion friends), an association that supports Tor among other things, as well as the maker lab OpenLab in Augsburg. Just because they had a donation button supporting independent e-mail provider riseup.net. Press and experts are widely condemning the police operation, in which a 3D printed toy model of an atomic bomb (article in German) was confiscated for “causing of explosions”.

That was that. A very hot week 31 of a very hot year.

All the people being raped by Facebook now realize they are being raped by Facebook (updated)

Of course people like me have been telling them to quit Facebook forever, but they didn’t listen. If I were nasty, and I am, I’d say that if you ignore the warnings you probably don’t have much right to complain. The level of brainwashing and manipulation by Facebook and friends is even higher than I  imagined, though. I believed they were just reaping obscene profits from wide-ranging psychological profiling and privacy abuse, but it’s become much worse than that.

Here’s Richard Stallman on this and similar topics, in an older but still valid talk from 2016:

Update: Elon Musk has deleted the Facebook pages for Tesla, SpaceX and himself, Mozilla has pulled all ads from Facebook and the SF Chronicle is picking up on the idea of federation. Techrunch meanwhile discovered that Facebook knows everything about you and what started as a rumor is now confirmed: If you have Facebook’s mobile app, Facebook knows exactly who you called and when.

Update 2: The news has made it to the mainstream press now. People are outraged that Facebook knows each and every social event they’ve been to. What did you expect if you use Facebook to organize your events, have the app installed and have GPS positioning on? They are also surprised that they’ve been snitching on all their friends, uploading phone numbers and call logs for years. The naïveté on display is on one hand charming but also alarming, as it shows that the population at large is not really ready to use the services they’ve signed up for. They don’t even bother to read the fine print and are then surprised when what’s in the fine print actually happens.

I have to say, “we told you so”. For ten years we’ve been warning about the dangers of centralization, of communications silos, of non-standard interfaces and specifically the nastiness of Facebook and friends. I feel vindicated now, it’s just stupid that it always seems to take ~10 years for the greater public to catch on to such dirty behavior.

What will happen in 10 years? Will there be a backlash against siloed streaming services like Apple Music or Netflix as they remove more and more of the content you love due to “complicated licensing”? Against insurance companies using your collected health data from smart devices to refuse to grant you reductions due to your unhealthy lifestyle? The same with black boxes in cars?

Sweeping face recognition will inevitably get something wrong and someone will suffer or die because of it. The Internet of Things as it is right now is insecure. There are already Internet-connected buttplugs that spill details about people’s sex life. What else do you need before you wake up?

You could resist all of this now, by being complacent you lose your right to complain when shit hits the fan.

I thought we had been screaming loudly enough about all these problems, but it seems we were just a whisper. We need to make our warnings be heard this time. I just don’t know how.

Which GNU/Linux distributions are the freest?

Users of proprietary operating systems don’t really have control over their computers, and thus sometimes have to deal with inconvenient changes that they didn’t want and couldn’t plan for.

macOS users had a new filesystem called APFS forced on them. A filesystem that is young and obviously still full of serious errors that can lead to data loss. The OS can only be installed on APFS volumes now, effectively leaving users no choice in the matter unless they want to partition and risk “only” the OS portion while keeping their data in a more battle-tested filesystem.

The situation isn’t better in the Microsoft camp, with forced updates making some computers unusable again and again. It has lead to headlines like “Microsoft Delivers Yet Another Broken Windows 10 Update“. If you read The Register, you’ll catch something like that at least once a month.

Because these companies operate according to their own strategic market interests and not in the best interest of their customers and users, this kind of thing always feels to me like they’re raping people’s computers. The user doesn’t want it, the computer certainly doesn’t need it, yet the actual owners just have to open wide and swallow because these companies have decided for them.

Are things better in the GNU/Linux world, then? Yes and no. Some GNU/Linux distributions are controlled by companies that also serve their own interests first, such as Canonical, makers of the Ubuntu distribution. They have previously partnered with Amazon to supply sponsored search results inside the OS search function. This month they’ve announced that they will collect data on users’ machines. Granted, it’s a lot data less than what Microsoft collects about its users, but it’s an ugly move that doesn’t fit the GNU/Linux mentality.

Continue reading “Which GNU/Linux distributions are the freest?”

Starting a second year of game-buying abstinence

The last time I tried this went OK, but I think it didn’t really cure me yet. This is evidenced by my growing list of games on Steam, mostly coming from sales and bundles.

So for this second attempt at game-buying abstinence, I follow all the rules from my earlier attempt and add some additional restrictions:

  • No looking at bundles
  • No looking at sales

I found out that psychologically, what always gets me are very good deals (-75% or such). I might not actually play that game or anything from a bundle for several years  because my backlog is so long, but I always end up buying it anyway. That’s idiotic — if I waited two more years without buying any games, whatever is at -75% now will likely be even cheaper by the time I actually have time to play it. And my backlog should be shorter.

Of course it’s the crafty pricing psychologist that Valve hired in 2011 who is to blame for my failing. Not me! How could it be me?

Not even looking at any sales should help with this. As I found out last time, you can disable all sales notifications in Steam’s interface settings, and also skip directly to your library view instead of going to the store first. This helps more than you might think.

I’ll report in a year. Maybe I can make an improved list of suggestions.

Something for the weekend: Week 51, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Google is using its dominance to bully the makers of the Vivaldi browser. Google has blocked Vivaldi’s AdWords revenue and asked them to post links to “uninstall instructions” for the Vivaldi browser on their web page. Something Google itself doesn’t provide for Chrome. This is what happens when you let a single browser maker also control most of the online advertisement market, and things will only get worse the more people use Chrome and AdWords.
  2. Microsoft is using its dominance to bully Google (in the Windows Store). They kicked the Chrome installer out of the Windows Store because only browsers based on Microsoft Edge technologies are allowed there. This is similar to how Apple bullies browser makers on iOS, where you can’t add a browser with its own rendering or JavaScript engine, you must use Apple’s instead. This kind of non-competition is a straitjacket for innovation and destroys user freedom, just because some greedy big companies force it to be this way. Not the best technology wins, just whichever technology the oligopolist forces on users.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Something for the weekend: Week 50, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

    1. Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society. At least they admit it once they’ve quit the company.
    2. You don’t need to go vegan to save the planet. Nevertheless, your diet is one of the most important factors driving climate change. A less meat-heavy diet (like in the Mediterrean) is enough to improve things significantly. So you don’t have to buy a Tesla, just go vegetarian 5 days out of 7 and maybe add a vegan day now and then.
    3. Digitiser at 25, part 1. Mr Biffo is a Teletext celebrity. He did Teletext gaming journalism. In the 90s!
    4. How the US government pressured Sweden into taking down The Pirate Bay. If you are the USA, you can enforce your own values and laws all over the world. This has happened under the umbrella of the DMCA as when Norwegian special police stormed into Jon Lech Johansen‘s house and confiscated all his computers even though there were no legal grounds for it under Norwegian law. Why did they do it anyway? US government strongarming. This is also the reason all the banks in the world give up customer data about US customers, and only US customers, to the US government. Because otherwise the US central bank would cut off their access to US Dollars, and that would destroy any bank immediately.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Something for the weekend: Week 49, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Google is blocking Amazon devices from YouTube. This is what happens when you have an oligopoly of powerful companies who make proprietary software and closed services. The companies start dictating what features you have on your devices and they decide when you lose them. Even though it’s you who owns the devices and it’s they who are fighting among themselves. The victim is the customer. The Verge covers this take as well.
  2. Google’s true origin partly lies in CIA and NSA research grants for mass surveillance. It’s interesting to know this, but as Facebook shows, you don’t have to be sponsored by the NSA to find out how profitable the destruction of privacy is.
  3. Facebook Messenger is now available specifically for kids. The privacy implications are horrendous. While this is very creepy, always remember that Microsoft follows a similar tactic. Hook them young (with discounted Office and Windows licenses for schools in the 90s, and now with free Office 365 subscriptions for education) and those kids will likely become your customers when they grow up. The sad thing here is that we might raise a generation of kids that is used to giving up their privacy to surveillance capitalism.
  4. Zeta Global acquires Disqus. What happens when the comments and communications from thousands of websites fall into the hands of a marketing company? This shows how dangerous it is to entrust your communications to a commercial private entity that can be bought, including all the data you thought was private. Granted, it’s about public website comments here. But the same could happen to e.g. Dropbox.
  5. Surveillance Capitalism thinks it won, but there’s still time to unplug it. Billions have given up their privacy in exchange for cat pictures and a free e-mail service (that in a private version would cost less than € 2/month, by the way). We can yet destroy surveillance capitalism, but those of us who are still feeding it need to change their habits.
  6. In praise of cash. An older article, but no less important. Corporate powers and even some governments want to move you away from cash and towards a cashless society that is easier to surveil, easier to manipulate. This not only threatens your privacy but also removes a lot of valid commercial activity at the fringes, done by people without smartphones, without a credit rating, without plastic money or bank accounts. And people who don’t need any of these things, because there is cash.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Something for the weekend: Week 48, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Can the new Firefox Quantum browser regain its market share? Firefox is the last really open browser with any significance, but Microsoft, Google and Apple are actively trying to destroy the open web. Don’t let them succeed. The article covers half a dozen other angles that I didn’t address in my old article.
  2. A growing number of Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm. This resonated with me not because of the illusion that I could be a good farmer, but because of the sad state of the IT industry. If it gets any more closed or much more proprietary-services-driven, I think I would feel happier filling up shelves at Aldi.
  3. Facebook can’t cope with the world it’s created. They are dominating all of Asia except China. The former is a tragedy in the making for society, and the latter is just bad for Zuckerberg’s bottom line.
  4. Ciao, Chrome: Firefox Quantum is the browser built for 2017. I’m so glad that Mozilla is getting this much recognition. This is our last chance to preserve the free web (at least on the client side). I hope the new Firefox reaches 30% market share at some point, so we have a good competitive market. We should never have to depend on a web advertisement company that spies on us for our web browsing. But the fact that most people now browse on mobile and that only Android allows Firefox to exist is deeply troubling. On iOS, Firefox is just a wrapper around Apple’s web rendering engine, because Apple is the all-powerful iOS gatekeeper and doesn’t allow this competition.
  5. Electronic Arts: The Donald Trump of Gaming. EA is a terrible games company by many metrics, but you knew that before. The latest clusterfuck surrounding microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront II is just the piss-flavored icing on the shit cake EA has become. The problem is that their behavior may rub off on other, better game companies if they turn too greedy — and it seems like it already has.
  6. System76 will be removing Intel ME from all its laptops. If you weren’t aware of it, Intel ME contains an entire separate computer inside your computer that has access to all your hardware, all the memory, all your secret keys. It can take over your entire machine and runs even when your PC is switched off. All this is hidden from you and outside your control. Who controls it? You can’t know. No one knows. All we know is that any Intel PC is potentially open for complete takeover and no OS-level security tools can do anything against it. Up until now, nobody outside Intel has  been able to completely disable this spying machine. System76 laptops seem to be a first for us consumers, perhaps soon followed by the ones from Purism.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Our terrible future of closed protocols and proprietary systems

TL;DR (1072 words): The current trend towards closed communications systems like Slack, Facebook and the like can only hurt us as society. An open standard needs to emerge. Who’s volunteering to support things like Matrix and the “new decentralized Internet”?

I’m trying to illustrate the newly closed nature of the Internet using team chat and team collaboration as an example. But you can expand this example to pretty much anything nowadays. Because the solution to combat this closed-ness applies equally to all of these issues, I hope you can extrapolate from this as necessary.

Continue reading “Our terrible future of closed protocols and proprietary systems”

Something for the weekend: Week 47, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Android at 10 part one, part two. As Android turns ten, Google is moving away from Linux and towards their own Fuchsia kernel. What might the next ten years of Android look like?
  2. Super Mario Odyssey review by Digitiser2000’s Mr Biffo. It sums up pretty much what I think about the new mechanics, and also calls out Mario for being a sexist pig. Don’t take this as virtue signaling, but yes, Nintendo might need to work on this when the only game starring Princess Peach is basically a pre-menstrual mood swing simulator with a far too easy  jump’n’run wrapped around it. You know, for girls! Girls can’t play video games! lololol!
  3. Google tracks and sells your location even if you’ve disabled location services. The surprise is probably that anyone’s surprised. Now that the company was caught red-handed doing this, will they promise to stop? I don’t think so, since Silicon Valley believes in “self-regulation” — thus no regulation at all. That we may have to thank Oracle for revealing this doesn’t make it any less bizarre.
  4. Microsoft appears to have lost the source code for parts of Office. And this is the same company that some governments trust with their sensitive data. Why doesn’t Microsoft publish all their software under a FOSS license? It’s like Linus Torvalds is rumored to have said, “Backups are for wimps. Real men upload their data to an FTP site and have everyone else mirror it.”
  5. Ideas were not enough. Not the reformation alone brought religious freedom to western societies, but the fact that enforcing religious unity was becoming too expensive and politically cumbersome for the rulers.
  6. Stress can be good for you, but most toxic stress has measurable detrimental effects on your brain. The article explores the damage stress causes down to the physical level and gives some hints for post-stress recovery. Daily walks and meditation are mentioned. I’ve had episodes of stress and trauma leading to generalized anxiety (as the article also mentions) and I can say that meditation definitely can’t hurt.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.