Category Archives: Digital

Quote of the Day: WannaCry about WannaCrypt?

Microsoft is externalising costs on to their customers. They are externalising the financial costs of quality assurance and testing. They are externalising the political costs of setting standards, sticking to them and enforcing them amongst developers.

Microsoft is shifting the burden of support to the end users by demanding an unrealistic level of compliance with constantly evolving standards and specifications that still move faster than developers can cope.

We not only let Microsoft get away with this, millions of people regularly savage digital laggards using social media on Microsoft’s behalf. There’s an army of True Believers out there piling up the wood, matchbooks at the ready.

Trevor Pott

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Stay out of the silo

Dave Winer won’t link to Facebook posts. I agree:

1. It’s impractical. I don’t know what your privacy settings are. So if I point to your post, it’s possible a lot of people might not be able to read it, and thus will bring the grief to me, not you, because they have no idea who you are or what you wrote.

Obviously, not having a Facebook account, I won’t be able to even see a post if it isn’t made public. But even if it is public, about a third of the page is covered by an annoying white box nagging me to either sign in or sign up for a Facebook account.

Even when posts are public, Facebook makes it both unpleasant and annoying to attempt to read them. In the vast majority of cases I don’t read them, I close the tab and move on. Whatever you have to say is not important enough for me want to leap through Facebook’s hoops, and it certainly isn’t significant enough for me to want to encourage anyone else to waste their time jumping through the same hoops.

2. It’s supporting their downgrading and killing the web. Your post sucks because it doesn’t contain links, styling, and you can’t enclose a podcast if you want. The more people post there, the more the web dies. I’m sorry no matter how good your idea is fuck you I won’t help you and Facebook kill the open web.

Facebook is building a silo. Data goes in and nothing comes out. This is anathema to the free flow of information that underpins the open web.

This is not accidental. Facebook forbids search engines from indexing posts on Facebook. This means that if you write something on Facebook, that post is not going to appear on Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing or any other search engine. Facebook — and only Facebook — gets to decide who will see your posts on Facebook.

3. Facebook might go out of business. I like to point to things that last. Facebook seems solid now, but they could go away or retire the service you posted on. Deprecate the links. Who knows. You might not even mind, but I do. I like my archives to last as long as possible.

Nothing lasts for ever. Facebook may look unassailable now, but so did MySpace back when MySpace was the big thing.

I don’t think Facebook is going to go bust any time soon, but there is nothing to stop them from deciding that parts of their service are either inconvenient or unprofitable and axing them. And if they do that, all of your content is gone because Facebook — and only Facebook — gets to decide how much of your data is retained.

There are plenty of open and publicly accessible platforms out there. You should use them.

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Solving the wrong problem

Dave Winer thinks that podcast RSS feeds should be ghettoised.

Here’s the problem. If you put a link to the RSS feed alongside the links to iTunes and Stitcher and whatever else, you’re going to get a bunch of emails from users about how your site is broken. I know, because I’ve gotten those emails.

And here’s his answer:

Create a simple page that says “This is a link to our RSS feed. It’s used by developers and hobbyists to build their own listeners and it helps support innovation on the internet.”

This is a terrible solution, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the suggested statement is flat-out not true. Speaking for myself, I don’t use iTunes or Stitcher. I use gPodder. If I find an interesting podcast I need an RSS feed to follow it — if you don’t give me a feed I’m not going to follow your content. It really is as simple as that.

This leads to the second problem, which is that Winer is assuming that proprietary feeds are the norm and should therefore be given preferential treatment to open standards. I’m not going to dispute the first part of this assumption but to present RSS as some curiosity that is only of interest to hobbyists is to consign it to history. If you want RSS to remain a viable standard, the RSS feed needs to be given at least the same precedence as the proprietary feeds.

As to the problem that Winer is trying to solve. How many people, really, are incapable of clicking on the correct link? A quick search across the corporate podcasts that I listen to reveals that neither the BBC nor The Guardian feel the need to make some special “your’re stupid” statement about RSS. In fact, The Guardian even manages to force a few extra clicks out of you regardless of what feed you choose.

Of course, the best approach is that taken by the Duffercast1. A single subscribe link takes you to all the feeds with no special statements about any of them, because some audiocasts have listeners who are capable of using the internet.

Footnote

  1. Disclaimer: Yes, I am a duffer

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Quote of the day: A beautiful, flexible, powerful mess

The web thrives on diversity. It’s the diversity of the web that sustains it and it’s the thing that will mean it’s still around long after all the monocultures, whether they be browsers or Facebooks or Googles, have long since vanished from the online ecosystem.

Scott Gilbertson on the value of diversity and why Firefox still matters

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Freedom to tinker

Talking about the way in which his embrace of Free Software has changed his attitude to computers, Bruce Byfield reaches a conclusion that rings very true for me.

All unknowing, I had wandered into the world of do-it-yourself. Originating in small groups of hobbyists who had few resources except themselves, free software naturally required more independence of its users. Far from discouraging users from tinkering, free software actually encouraged it with text configuration files and scripting so simple that it could be learned without taking classes. Because there were so many choices, it encouraged me to explore so I could make informed decisions. Just as importantly, because free software was a minority preference, the necessary compatibility with proprietary operating system sometimes required considerable ingenuity.

As a result of these expectations, I gradually lost my learned helplessness. I can’t say exactly when I shed the last of my conditioning, but after a couple of years, I realized that a major shift in my thinking had occurred. I still didn’t — and still don’t know everything about free software, but I no longer panic when a problem strikes.

Although I was using a number of open source applications before, I didn’t really start to delve into GNU/Linux until early 2007 when I installed Ubuntu on my PC alongside Windows XP. And, over the past ten years I have gone from being excessively cautious to (probably) a bit too casual.

There was never a sudden shift but, the more I have poked around the more I have found — all documented and backed by a helpful community. I have moved from really not wanting to do anything that might cause any sort of problem at all to being willing to break my install, safe in the knowledge that if the worst comes to the worst, I can just reinstall the operating system without even risking my data.

I am far from being able to claim any expertise but the openness and availability of information surrounding Free Software means that for any problem I am generally able to understand what the issue is and find or figure out how to fix it.

And that’s freedom.

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Password Rules Are Bullshit

Jeff Atwood makes the obvious point that the worst, of many bad things, about passwords is password rules:

Password rules are bullshit

  • They don’t work.
  • They heavily penalize your ideal audience, people that use real random password generators. Hey guess what, that password randomly didn’t have a number or symbol in it. I just double checked my math textbook, and yep, it’s possible. I’m pretty sure.
  • They frustrate average users, who then become uncooperative and use “creative” workarounds that make their passwords less secure.
  • They are often wrong, in the sense that the rules chosen are grossly incomplete and/or insane, per the many shaming links I’ve shared above.
  • Seriously, for the love of God, stop with this arbitrary password rule nonsense already. If you won’t take my word for it, read this 2016 NIST password rules recommendation. It’s right there, “no composition rules”. However, I do see one error, it should have said “no bullshit composition rules”.

I would add that possibly the worst password rule is the one that demands you change your password on a regular basis. Either people will start writing down their passwords, or come up with a pattern that ensures their passwords are always easy to guess.

Password rules aren’t just bullshit, they are actively counter-productive.

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Share the love

I love Free Software! Today is I love Free Software day, a day to acknowledge the effort of all the people that contribute to the software that we all rely on.

There is much that can be said about Free Software but it all comes down to one thing. When you use Free Software, you are in control of the applications that you use. This is something that I have increasingly come to value.

The more that we rely on software, the more important it is to know what our applications are doing and to be able to take control of those applications. Free Software empowers us to do this which makes it an increasingly important part of a free society.

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The Real Name Fallacy

The Coral Project (via) effectively debunks the myth that requiring people to use their real names on the Internet makes them behave better.

The bit that really leapt out at me was this:

Designers need to acknowledge that design cannot solve harassment and other social problems on its own. Preventing problems and protecting victims is much harder without the help of platforms, designers, and their data science teams. Yes, some design features do expose people to greater risks, and some kinds of nudges can work when social norms line up. But social change at any scale takes people, and we need to apply the similar depth of thought and resources to social norms as we do to design.

The point about social problems, such as harassment, is that they are social problems and, as such, need to be addressed by society as a whole. Looking for a technical fix for social problems is, at best, doomed to failure and may well end up doing more harm than good.

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