DLC 1: Hotel arrogance, the no-win laptop and more

Meshed Insights Ltd

Digital Life Clippings from week 1

  1. Marriott will ban shareable WiFi if the FCC don’t let them block itNYT – Their arrogance in attempting to protect their high-margin abuse of customers’ vulnerability knows no bounds; threatening the FCC is jaw-dropping.
    To carry out their threat to ban shareable WiFi, they would need to ban not only MiFis but also Windows, Mac and Linux laptops as well as almost all smartphones. They may think they have a right to break my internet if I won’t use their broken internet, but the “hospitality” they will need to show their “guests” will be deeply harmful.
    The bug is not that people want to use their own internet connections; it’s that Marriott think people should have to pay extra for a facility that’s become as fundamental to travellers as hot water or electric light. [Coverage]
  2. HP’s low-cost Windows laptop is…

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Digital Life Clippings – New Year’s News

I’ll keep reposting these here for a while longer…

Meshed Insights Ltd

  1. Indian government blocks programming web sites, including archive.org and Github gists – TechCrunch – As if to illustrate why it’s bad to allow anyone the power to block web sites arbitrarily, the Indian government has blocked entire slices of web infrastructure because one of their functionaries found something about ISIS somewhere on it. More on the blog.
  2. Marriott wants to block your devices so you have to pay for their wifiBoing Boing – Marriott clearly does not want anyone from the technology industry to stay at their hotels or to use them for events. Best to respect their wishes and avoid them like the plague.
  3. End-user adoption of open source is a lousy metricRRW – Open source is primarily a collaboration technique, leveraging the permission-in-advance arising from software freedom to unlock innovation in many unrelated deployers. For many reasons, enterprise end-user deployment of unmodified…

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Digital Life Clippings – Christmas Break Edition

Meshed Insights Ltd

  1. Police called to remove pre-teens just in case they pirated Hunger Games movie with cellphonesArs Technica – Given the storyline of the movie, this is ironic. Cineworld thinks copyrights are so precious it’s worth infringing common sense and individual rights to protect them. They think paying customers are criminals until proven otherwise, even kids. Don’t let any kids you care about watch movies at a cinema with this attitude, it’s not safe.
  2. The most wasteful patent aggression strategy ever has failedArs Technica – Another skirmish in the ongoing dirty war by the legacy technology & media industry against Google bites the dust.
  3. NSA dumps incriminating documents on Christmas EveBoing Boing – Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of Freedom of Information requests should see how government agencies squirm responding to them.
  4. Inadvertent Algorithmic CrueltyMeyerWeb – Facebook’s Year In Review is a product of…

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Top Clippings For December 18th

Let me know if you like this…

Meshed Insights Ltd

  1. Samsung shuts down ChatOnCNet – If only there was a way for their customers to uninstall their impotent self-defence against Google.
  2. EU software procurement breaches rules more than ever beforeOFE PDF – Because they really do prefer to feed what they perceive as corporate power brokers rather than work to create European value with European money.
  3. EU allocates half million euros for testing open sourceFSFE – It’s a rounding error on the budget, but at least it’s something. Let’s see who gets it.
  4. Apache finally publishes a code of conductBlog, Code – Fine work, but no really defence against those gaming the system.

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On Terrorism

Some politicians seem to act as if “terrorism” means a terrible crime committed by someone who doesn’t fit the speaker’s own racial & religious profile. Just because something induces terror in some or many people, that doesn’t make it terrorism. That diminishes the concept as well as grouping routine crime – for which society has millennia of experience and solutions – into the same bucket as a more subtle and serious phenomenon that preys on the meshed society.

Terrorism isn’t just performing a terrifying act. It’s provoking society’s immune system into attacking itself, making its defence systems attack the values and people they are supposed to be defending. Terrorism is an autoimmune disorder of democracy. You don’t fight terrorism by attacking the virus; you fight it by strengthening the immune system.

Behind The Bullying Epidemic

I was very sad to hear that Kathy Sierra has decided to withdraw from online interactions again. Her insights into how technical communication and collaboration happen are among the finest I have read, and losing her voice again is a tragedy. But the reason she has gone hurts us all too. Reading her explanation is very depressing. Her conclusion — that what she experienced is not a one-off event but an expected outcome — would be worrying even if it was just about her.

But it’s not.

While hyperbolic and perhaps narrow in naming Linus Torvalds, there’s a seed of truth in what Lennart Poettering says about the tendency for open source communities to amplify toxic people. That’s not uniquely because they are open source communities, though. It’s because they communicate online, with the scale that permits the overwhelming numbers to drown out any residual social brakes that would normally apply to in-person interactions.

It would be easy to assume how Kathy has been treated is purely a gender issue. But I don’t believe it is. There are sometimes female attackers too and the analysis Kathy provides suggests the effect is one of a critical mass of angst being catalysed by a sociopath. There’s no doubt sexism is a frequent key factor for the catalyst — “that woman doesn’t deserve to be right” — but catalyst role is itself gender independent and so is the angst-cloud. Gender and race dominate the ways victims are tormented to be sure, but it’s a mistake to let the undeniable misogyny of the mob define the root cause.

Online Outgroups

Drawing all these threads together for me is a long, fascinating article (h/t Alec) that makes me wonder if we are seeing the formation of outgroups in these incidents. Scott Alexander’s essay talks about red, blue and grey groupings of almost-identical people differentiated by some of the details of their political ideology such as their expectations of causality. He suggests the greatest risks come not from people who are very different, but rather from those who are almost the same.

I wonder if the socipathic hordes are the result of an online outgroup reaching critical mass? They could be Alexander’s Grey Tribe, or it could be the effect he describes is an expected behaviour of large groups of humans. Just as Fowler’s Stages of Faith seem to apply to all belief systems and not just religion, so it seems likely people can belong to many different outgroups in different parts of their lives.

Kathy suggests the catalyst is privilege envy. Her tormentors seem to think she has a privileged position she does not deserve and attack her without restraint; I bet they have that view based on more than just her gender. If that’s the case, it may not much matter which perceived privilege is the trigger, whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity, orientation or music choice. This is Alexander’s point; the smaller the difference, the worse the hate.

Whatever is going on, I also agree with Natasha Lennard that it’s a mistake to let any of these sociopaths (or the growds they catalyse) be socialised. It monstrous behaviour that must not be excused. Unlike Greg Sandoval I don’t think the perpetrators develop empathy or stop wanting to harm people. One friend suggests it’s a form of the “addictive righteous indignation” that David Brin writes about.

There is an irony that the people doing the bullying appear to be a group of people who themselves might have expected to be bullied, as the characters from Big Bang Theory are wont to observe — omegas becoming alphas and betas. It’s ongoing inadequacy recast in their minds as injustice, used to justify inhuman cruelty in the name of correcting a privilege imbalance. If you doubt there’s inhuman cruelty, watch Anita Sarkeesian’s XOXO talk.

As Paulo Friere once worried, are we seeing a group from the oppressed become oppressors instead of gaining empathy from their own experiences? Which, as Alexander ends up reflecting, points the finger backwards and as Pete Warden concludes tells us our toleration of asshole behaviour — from anyone regardless of their excuse — must end. The lulz do not justify the means.

[First posted on Ello]

Is Microsoft To Blame For Malware?

I am still writing a monthly column for Linux Voice Magazine, a new print publication that (in my view) is being done right. If you’re not a subscriber, you won’t’ve seen my article from issue 5 in which I explain why I believe Windows’ malware infestation arises from Microsoft’s technical decisions favouring marketing rather than security.

Meshed Insights Ltd

The action law enforcement services have taken against the GameOver-Zeus malware syndicate is great news for a change. In the UK, this was communicated with typical tabloid alarmism, framed as “two weeks to save the world” instead of “unusually effective action by law enforcement”. As a result, UK publications have been posting self-preservation information for their readers.

The BBC’s instructions start with the statement “If your computer does not run Windows, stop right here.” Users of other operating systems like Linux or ChromeOS have nothing to worry about this time, even if they are increasingly likely to be targeted elsewhere. As a result, some have asked whether Microsoft is to blame for all this malware.

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Heartbleed and Lessons Learned

Here’s my column from Issue 4 of Linux Voice magazine. Currently working on the column for issue 6.

Meshed Insights Ltd

HeartbleedWe’ve had some time for the shock of the Heartbleed announcement to sink in and there’s a lot to consider. While the first impressions might be about the serious, exploitable bug and the repercussions of its abuse, the incident casts light on both the value and risks of open source.

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Steering Where You Look

I’ve been thinking about the concept in this article for a long time. I think the “steering where you look, not where you meant to go” concept is widely applicable, not just to technology but to religion, politics and other areas. Do please send improvements!

Meshed Insights Ltd

When I learned to drive, my instructor told me “you steer where you look” — in other words, wherever you focus your attention becomes your destination, so keep your eyes on the road ahead and don’t worry about the stores at the roadside (or even too much about the kerb and the parked vehicles).

The same principle seems applicable in other contexts. We’re moving away from a hierarchical, post-industrial society and evolving into a meshed society of peers, interacting in variable roles on their own terms. That’s challenging established institutions, but sadly they have frequently “steered where they looked” and made the wrong choices.

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