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.

Facebook should be regulated, it is incapable of regulating itself

Directly from a Facebook employee formerly in charge of fixing the privacy issues of its developer platform:

[Facebook is] a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse

Read more at the New York Times.

This is a new trick I’m trying with simple short links to articles. Let me know if it’s annoying or fun.

Outdoor Gaming Ep. 2

The sunlight was inviting, so I set out to gain a little altitude. Have a better view, better knowledge of where I am in this blasted valley and perhaps find out some details about the fish-frog people.

It did not take long for the first sign of their cult to appear beside the road. This time it was made out of iron and was much more intricately decorated than the wooden one I had last seen, so it was probably also more powerful:

Continue reading “Outdoor Gaming Ep. 2”

The only right way to work with Facebook is not to

If you are a Facebook user, the company not only knows where you are and with whom at all times, it also performs psychological experiments on you but never tells you, and keeps the results to itself. But if you’re a Facebook user, you knew that, right?

Maybe you thought Facebook provides some freedom to its users, is a democratic tool for communication that puts power into the people’s hands. Wrong again, as several recent reports show. Facebook is happy to work with corrupt and totalitarian governments and they have spying equipment more advanced than what’s in even the wettest, juiciest dreams of services like the FBI or CIA.

It collaborates with asshole governments, but there is no pattern to Facebook’s choice of allegiance. Sometimes  they assist with finding, jailing and torturing a person for their opinion. Sometimes they don’t. The process and reasoning behind it is completely opaque, and you as the person who might get tortured and jailed aren’t consulted about any of it.

It has its own censorship rules that are shared with no one. There is also some evidence that Facebook removes opinions it doesn’t like, things that don’t appeal to Silicon Valley. So by using Facebook, your opinion is automatically molded into that direction.

If that’s not enough, Facebook is not regulated. Things like the postal secret that protect your mail and telephone communications from prying eyes do not apply there. When you started using Facebook you actively signed away those rights by accepting the Facebook terms and policies.

The company is led by a man evidently out of touch with reality who even compares his creation with a new kind of church. And the latest move is to brainwash you while you use the site.

This is especially worrying because some companies in the last few years have decided their only online presence is through Facebook, and the only way to deal with customers is if they have a Facebook account. This is shortsighted, stupid, dangerous. Every year new details about the super-secretive company come to light, and it is becoming ever clearer that the only right way to use Facebook is not to use it at all.

8 years ago, I predicted someone would offer rentals of films still in theaters

And now Hollywood is getting ready to do it. The year I picked is off by only one or two. But the rest of my prophecy didn’t turn out that well. I underestimated the pricing; they want about 120% of the ticket price instead of the modest 10% markup I was thinking of.

Then I was pretty naive about DRM. I thought streaming would make studios less keen to use it, but as Netflix has demonstrated, the content mafia pushed things so hard that Microsoft even anchors DRM right to the OS for 4K Netflix in Edge.

At least I was partially right about DRM-free older games, but gog.com had existed in 2008 already so maybe I copied the idea from there. I’d still like studios to offer DRM-free older films online.

Keep in mind this was written from a European perspective. We don’t have ad-supported streaming platforms like Hulu, we can’t subscribe to things like HBO and we don’t get the channels’ own streaming platforms like Adult Swim or IFC. But none of those existed then either. Time moves quickly, I hope my next predictions are better.

Outdoor Gaming Ep. 1

Gamers spend way too much time indoors. And why is that? Because our gaming systems have screens that can’t be viewed outside! Yes, sometimes you see a gamer hunched over their super-reflective mobile phone screen, squinting and trying to make out what the hell is going on, playing a game in the park. It might work if they’re sitting in the shade of a tree, but it’s a very bad gaming experience in broad sunlight.

There are (or were) a few systems that can be played just fine outdoors, though. That even prefer strong sunlight: the Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance all have transflective or reflective screens. So did the Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color. There was also the WonderSwan, but you can’t play any of those because Kelsey bought all of them. I’m ignoring the backlit Game Boy SP AGS-001 and Game Boy Micro for the purpose of this article, since what would be the point taking those into the sun?

Owning all those Game Boy iterations, I tried thinking of an excuse to avoid being outdoors and couldn’t, so I decided to work this the other way and actually go somewhere. Just take the first road I find and walk until I’m bored, but at least for an hour, then play some Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.

Here’s the story, with pictures.

Continue reading “Outdoor Gaming Ep. 1”