Search suggestions in Firefox

Firefox 43 was recently released. Once installed I noticed that when I start to type a url into the Awesome Bar it asks me if I want to improve my experience with Search Suggestions.

Many search engines (including Yahoo, Google, Bing and others) provide search suggestions, which are based on popular searches other people make that are related to a word or words that you enter. When Search Suggestions are enabled, the text you type into the search box is sent to the search engine, which analyzes the words and displays a list of related searches.

This is one of these things that is useful on a phone but probably more trouble than it’s worth on the laptop. I tend to use the Awesome Bar to quickly search my browser history (to the point that I no longer bother bookmarking anything), so adding search suggestions would probably be more confusing that enlightening for me.

Still, it’s easy enough to switch it on and off again, so there will be no problem if I change my mind.

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Shane Richmond on copyright

An idea is not property, which is why the term “intellectual property” is so insidious. If I have a car and you take it then I don’t have a car anymore. If I have an idea and you take it, then we both have that idea. Thinking of cultural products as property only helps the companies that have built their business on accumulating rights.

Of course, if you take my idea and use it to make money then my business will suffer and I will have less incentive to have ideas in the future. We need a period of protection for ideas to ensure that creators keep coming up with them because they are vital to our culture. It is, more than anything, part of what makes use human.

But for exactly that reason protection periods should also be kept as short as possible. Once that period has expired, others should be free to reuse, rethink and remix those concepts and incorporate them into their own ideas. That is how every art form has evolved and stayed vibrant. Now more than ever, with the speed of culture accelerated by digital technology, it is imperative that protection periods be shortened.

Read the rest

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Change is the only constant

WordPress 4.4 was released yesterday and, after a bit of poking around, I found that — at first glance — I quite like the new Twenty Sixteen theme (the last theme I liked being the Twenty Twelve one).

I am still poking around a bit to see what options the theme gives me out of the box, so consider this to be a warning that the look of this blog has changed and may change further over the next few days.

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Facebook: No access if we can’t spy on you

Back in November, a Belgian court ruled that Facebook should stop tracking Belgians who are not signed up to the site or pay a daily penalty of €250,000. This is on the basis that, if you are not signed up to Facebook, and have not given them explicit permission to track you, then they are not allowed to just assume that it’s okay to start monitoring your online activities.

The company failed to reach an agreement with the authorities and announced last Tuesday (1st December) that that they would comply with the ruling. Their idea of complying is to deny access to any Facebook pages to anyone in Belgium who isn’t logged on. This applies to personal web pages, businesses, charities, and any other activity organised through the Zuckernet.

Privacy secretary Bart Tommelein is not happy:

They’re a major player, and the impact of their decision is major, but we are not giving in to blackmail. Everyone has to abide by the privacy laws. Without privacy, there can be no freedom.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. The first is that Facebook needs to understand that they are not above the law. If not being allowed to spy on random individuals harms Facebook’s business model, then it’s the business model that needs to change. On a related note, it’s worth remembering that data protection laws exist at the EU level, so similar privacy cases can be brought in any other EU country.

The other point to bear in mind applies to the businesses, charities and other organisations that depend on Facebook for their online presence. Proprietary networks may look like a quick and convenient way to get online, but you are entirely dependent on an organisation that has absolutely no interest in your business, your revenue or your activities. These organisations really should take control of their own online presence.

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A song for Sunday: Papaoutai

Politco has recently published their first Politico 28, a list of the 28 Europeans (one for each EU member state) who have caught their attention this year and are worth watching next year. The Belgian entry is Stromae:

Belgians have good reasons to love Paul Van Haver. On top of the understandable “local boy makes good” pride, there is the way the Brussels-based pop star — better known as Stromae — personifies Belgium’s weird social and cultural mix: He offers something for everyone in a famously fractious country. He’s a French-speaker with a Flemish last name and half-Rwandan ethnic heritage. His music combines the latest electronic dance grooves with old-school, sad-song “chanson,” and addresses political and social issues with humor. His non-threatening, nerdy persona still seems cool and cutting-edge. Imagine Tintin throwing down rhymes while doing a Michael Jackson moonwalk, and you get an idea of Stromae’s appeal.

So here’s Papaoutai, a surprisingly powerful song about growing up without a father.

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Publishing Bias in Action

The AllTrials campaign is calling for all past and present clinical trials to be registered and their full methods and summary results to be reported. To demonstrate why this matters, they have a Clinical trial publishing game, from The Economist.

The results of around half of all clinical trials have never been published. Failing to publish results means the people who make decisions about medicines don’t have full information about the benefits and risks of treatments we use every day.

Go have a play. It’s amazing how much you can skew your results by not publishing the weaker results.

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Gollum experts to decide if Erdogan was insulted

This rather glorious headline comes from EUObserver

A Turkish judge has ordered an “expert investigation” into the Lord of the Rings character Gollum to determine whether comparing President Erdogan to the ring-fancier is an insult. The judge made the request in a case against Bilgin Ciftci, a physician, who faces two years prison for comparing the two.

The case centres on a picture posted in October by Ciftci which compared Erdogan to Gollum in a series of poses. Following this, he lost his job and now (according to Time) faces up to two jears in jail for insulting the president.

Neither the prosecutor nor the judge presiding over the case has seen The Lord of the Rings film adaption series in its entirety, so the court has brought in two academics, two behavioral scientists and a media expert to determine if Cifti did indeed seek to insult the President.

The crucial point here, though, is that insulting a president — or any other politician — should not be a crime in the first place. Erdogan may well find the picture offensive but a country that aspires to join the EU needs to become a little less thin-skinned about their institutions and recognise that criticism — however it is expressed — should not be a crime.

And here’s the picture that caused all the trouble.

Gollum vs Erdogan
Gollum vs Erdogan

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Happy Birthday, RPG IV

RPGPGM.com notes that 21 years ago today, RPG IV (also known as RPG ILE) was released.

The first version of RPG IV came as part of OS400 V3R1, which was released on November 25 1994. Even though the code was still constrained by columns, the new Definition specifications (D-specs) was introduced, and I could now use variable names that were up to ten characters long. It also made it possible to use Date, Time, and Timestamp data types along with operations codes to be able to easily perform math with them. And I no longer had to use indicators for reads, chains, etc.

This makes me feel a bit old as I remember when RPG ILE was the next big thing. And, without much fanfare, it has continued to evolve — in many ways more rapidly than other, more popular languages. This is both RPG’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

IBM have, over the years, put a great deal of effort into ensuring that, for all the new features, backward compatibility has never been broken. This means that if you are running an i on Power, you can upgrade as and when you are ready without having to worry about all of your applications breaking. There are not many reasons for not staying on a supported release, and fewer valid valid ones.

The downside of this is that there is nothing to force developers to take advantage of any of these new features. You could, if you wanted to, write programs in exactly the way you did 30 years ago. They would still compile, still run and still work as expected. And people do.

RPG today is in the somewhat unfortunate position of being a very modern language that is often perceived as being old fashioned. This is because it lets programmers get into a rut and never learn anything new.

I doubt that there is any way of squaring this particular circle. Backward compatibility is important and business critical applications shouldn’t be put at risk. But remember this: If someone claims that RPG is old, obsolete, or worse, the issue to which they are referring is not a technical one.

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