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”

Google shutting down XMPP interoperability is a sad sign of the age of communication silos

Google just shut down the last piece of Google Talk, killing XMPP. This means that people using standards-based open and interoperable chat systems can no longer talk to their friends who use Google’s proprietary and closed chat system, Hangouts. For example, people who use Pidgin on any of the thousands of free and open XMPP servers in the world cannot message Google users anymore.

Instead of working towards standardization, making sure that all chat systems from all vendors can talk to each other, each large company now has their own communications silo. Skype is not compatible with Hangouts is not compatible with Apple FaceTime is not compatible with WeChat is not compatible with WhatsApp. Even though all these systems perform mostly the same function, have roughly the same features and could be built using open, mutually compatible standards. Could even be built from the same source code.

But Google, Microsoft and Facebook make more money by preventing you from talking to your friends on other systems. They want to analyze both parts of a conversation, they want to control the sender and the receiver and read all the content. This is harder to do when you have a standardized, federated system, and even harder in the case of XMPP where users can employ message encryption with just a few clicks. Encryption that is not controlled by Microsoft or Facebook but by the users themselves.

What can you do against this?

  • Geting an XMPP JID would be the first step. You can register for an account on any public XMPP server (sometimes called Jabber servers, but Jabber is now a closed product by Cisco, adding insult to injury, while the XMPP standard remains open).
  • Then get an XMPP client, for example Pidgin for the desktop and Conversations for Android. Set up your account and log in. People can now invite you to their XMPP contacts and you can start chatting.
  • If you want message encryption, make sure to enable OTR. There are many tutorials on this, I’ll just link to a random one I found.

What if you don’t do this? Then we’ll end up in a world with more and more communication silos, where people find it harder and harder to talk to each other, and huge multinational companies with very bad privacy policies will control and record more and more of our communication. Because these closed platforms create inconvenience for anyone not inside those closed platforms, group pressure will then pull everyone towards such closed platforms, until a dangerous oligopoly emerges. This latest move by Google is one more step in this direction.

I’ll leave you with a link to a relevant XKCD comic. If you want to chat with me, as always, you can do so via XMPP. The JID is on the about page.

I’m also on IRC, #linux on IRCnet is a good place to look.

Google is trying to destroy the ad blocker market

Like I guessed about two years ago, Google are now trying to undermine the ad blocking market by releasing their own ad blocker, which will of course not block ads served by Google. It will probably also not block other privacy invasions or tracking systems that would benefit Google or its customers. Since Google is the world’s largest advertisement company, that’s quite a few.

This is likely just the first step of several that they might take while abusing their browser dominance. Watch carefully as things get worse the higher Chrome’s market share climbs.

You can still use an independent web browser, but who knows for how long? The effects I described in that old article linked above might lead to content no longer working correctly on anything but Google Chrome, and by that time Google’s control of what you can and cannot see, and also of how much of your privacy you are forced to surrender, will be total.

55'555 kilometers in a Tesla Model S in the Swiss Alps

Well, okay, we didn’t cover that entire length just in the Alps, but I needed a catchy title. If you want the short version: there is nothing to say here, and that’s the most significant thing I can tell you about electric driving in Europe today.

IMG_2515
Solar-powered Supercharger in Denmark

Continue reading “55'555 kilometers in a Tesla Model S in the Swiss Alps”

I'm pretty sure that Microsoft will buy (at least a stake in) Canonical

Canonical are apparently preparing for an IPO. If that happens, I’m pretty sure Microsoft will grab a good chunk of them and maybe absorb them completely later.

While Microsoft has been focusing more on the container side with Docker lately, they have also been more than cuddling with Ubuntu. You could say there was even some hot wet tongue action, teenager-style. Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), which runs Ubuntu in a cage, is only one of these examples. Observe also that e.g. Microsoft’s MS-SQL adapter for PHP only explicitly supports Ubuntu and RedHat, none of the other distros.

If the IPO does happen, see me back here in 2 – 5 years to resolve any bets 🙂

Disclaimer: I don’t enjoy all the NIH syndrome and the lack of upstream participation that Canonical does, so I’m not too sympathetic towards them. I have no Microsoft shares and don’t plan to buy any Canonical shares either.