MOSS Applications Still Open

I am currently running the MOSS (Mozilla Open Source Support) program, which is Mozilla’s program for assisting other projects in the open source ecosystem. We announced the first 7 awardees in December, giving away a total of US$533,000.

The application assessment process has been on hiatus while we focussed on getting the original 7 awardees paid, and while the committee were on holiday for Christmas and New Year. However, it has now restarted. So if you know of a software project that could do with some money and that Mozilla uses or relies on (note: that list is not exhaustive), now is the time to encourage them to apply. :-)

Hi, I’m Bill

Hi, I’m Bill. As Tim Chevalier has written about me (at least a little bit) in an article series entitled “The Christians and the Pagans” (1, 2, 3), I hope I may be permitted a short response. (Yes, it’s taken a while. Sorry about that.)

What first struck me as I read Tim’s three articles is the number of things we agree on. Firstly, I entirely agree that there is no such thing as being apolitical or non-ideological – as Tim says, being (supposedly) apolitical is a political view. In fact, I would also go on to say that there’s no such thing as being areligious – being an atheist or agnostic is a religious view. People sometimes find this assertion more palatable if I use the term ‘worldview’ instead of religion, but the point is the same – everyone has a highest point of reference, an ultimate real from which everything else flows. It may be God, matter, reason or something else, but everyone has it. Similarly, everyone has a basis on which they relate to others and a view of what would be ideal in society – everyone is political.

I also agree that it’s foolish to push away people who want to contribute. When Tim writes:

“[T]o build the best thing you can you have to include everybody who wants to and can work together on it and contribute. Pushing away people who have something to contribute is an exercise in purity-based morality, not a sound business or technical strategy.”

all I can say is a hearty (and perhaps slightly cheeky) “Amen!”.

However, when I agree with Tim on this, I can’t help remembering the following quote from the Github issue which prompted ESR’s article:

“Reading the links you posted I only have one thing to say to you:reevaluate your actions,you are becoming a toxic individual who is harming the Python and Django communities and haven’t even realized it yet. You are a member of the Django Software Foundation and are supposed to be setting the example. I will be forwarding the content of this issue to the Chair to evaluate your continued presence in the DSF. best regards.”

And I can’t help remembering what happened to Brendan Eich. There seemed to be a whole lot of pushing away, and purity-based morality, going on in both these situations. And if the response is “it’s not about his code; we didn’t like his politics”, surely that’s taking precisely the view that Tim is arguing against? Tim objects to people focussing on his politics and ignoring his code, and wishes it were different; would he grant Brendan the same grace?

Where we diverge is in Tim’s assertion that Christianity is a part of the dominant culture, an “unmarked ideology” in tech. This assertion would be within some distance of plausibility if by “Christianity” he meant the moralistic therapeutic Deism of American (and British) civil religion which is called “Christianity” in some quarters. Even then, it would be a big stretch – I think most people in tech don’t follow that; instead they see it for the hypocrisy it is. The dominant culture of tech is secular humanism. To demonstrate this point, of these pairs of opposing views, which one is dominant in tech? Which one would go unmarked if it were expressed in conversation at a tech gathering, and which would be challenged?

Christianity Secular Humanism
Marriage should be between one man and one woman Anyone should be allowed to get married to anyone else
Hell exists When we die, that’s the end
God created the universe Science explains the existence of the universe
Jesus is divine Jesus is irrelevant
Elective abortion is murder Women can do anything with what’s in their bodies
Sex should be for marriage only All (or most) forms of sex should be accepted and celebrated

As someone who has occasionally been on the sharp end of Christianity being very much a marked ideology in tech, I do find it hard to see how Tim can have come to the conclusion that it’s the mainstream. Over 1000 people come to Mozilla all-hands meetings; the prayer meetings we hold there have never attracted more than 5 people. This doesn’t bother us, because Jesus is Lord of all. But it’s hardly what one would call popular.

An additional trouble with Tim’s article is that it was prompted by an article by ESR, but Tim seems to have seriously misread him. Tim claims a pollution of agency attack – that is, people are denigrating the code of “SJWs” because of their politics. I agree his (ESR’s) headline (“Why Hackers Must Eject the SJWs”) is unhelpful at this point, but the body of his article seems clear that:

“We must cast [SJWs] out – refuse to admit them on any level *except by evaluating on pure technical merit whatever code patches they submit*.”

As we can see, ESR is urging precisely the opposite of what Tim says he is. ESR wants the hacker culture to stick to meritocracy, which he defines as focussing on the code contribution and not the person. His article is a call for a rejection by projects of a particular political stance and its ramifications, not of contributions. Just as, in a project run as perhaps Tim would have it run, other political stances and their ramifications would also be rejected by the leadership.

For myself, I unashamedly agree with this principle of operating open source projects. I don’t care if you call it meritocracy or something else. This is not to say some people don’t need more help on the contribution pathway than others – “to each according to his need”. But when it comes to looking at the code, we look at the code. If sometimes that principle is drifted from, and people start evaluating contributions based on the person who made them (a system which, for example, was being encouraged by djangoconcardiff) the solution is not to throw away the principle, but to recommit to it.

With Tim, I assert that this principle is *not* apolitical or non-ideological. Against Tim, I assert that instead, it is fundamentally based in justice. And I think this is where the heart of the disagreement is between “SJWs” and some (at least) who oppose them – it is not that one side says “we are pro-justice” and the other side says they aren’t, or says that something other principle is even more important. It’s that they don’t agree on what justice is. And perhaps one reason that “SJW” has taken on negative connotations in some circles (as Bradley discusses) is that people look at the form of justice espoused by this group and see it as no justice at all. Hence the ironic title.

More on the nature of true justice later, I hope. In the mean time, Merry Christmas to all :-)

What Does A Simple Phone for Old People Look Like? A Tablet

Ahmed Nefzaoui’s blog post about RTL languages introduced me to this awesome video, which is funny, charming, poignant and incidentally makes great points about phone usability:

It got me thinking: what would a phone for someone like Dotty look like? The more I thought about it, the more I realised the answer is “a tablet”.

Imagine a 7″ tablet with 4G phone hardware, so it has an always-on, fast, low-latency Internet connection. It is nice and big, and so easily held and viewed, and the screen controls can be made bigger for those with poor eyesight. It has no fiddly close-together hardware buttons to push. It can be unlocked with a simple swipe. You don’t have to know which is the menu button, which is *, or deal with T9 predictive text input. It has twin directional mics and speakers, with echo cancellation, so it doesn’t need to be held to the ear and the speaker positioned accurately. It has a built-in stand, so it can be placed at a good angle for calls on any flat surface. It has a camera for video calls, which (given sufficient bandwidth and frame rate) also allows for lip reading. It can record, and then email or MMS, short voice clips, which are much easier to create than text messages. It has wireless charging (or perhaps a dock) to avoid having to connect fiddly micro USB cables. One day, it might have voice recognition and speech-to-text, but perhaps not today. And it’s still small enough to fit in a handbag on the rare occasions it needs to go somewhere.

Thinking of all the advantages… why would anyone build a phone for old people in a mobile phone form factor?

10 Reasons Not To Use Open Source

I was browsing the Serena website today, and came across a white paper: “Time to harden the SDLC. Open Source: does it still make sense? (10 reasons enterprises are changing their policies)”. You are required to supply personal information to download a copy, and they force this by only providing the link by email. However, intrigued, I requested one.

Apparently, enterprises are questioning their use of Open Source software (presumably in the specific area of software development) because:

  1. Terrorists
  2. Chinese hackers stealing things
  3. Chinese hackers changing things
  4. There is no support
  5. Ransomware
  6. Man-in-the-middle attacks
  7. Local copies of source code are easy to steal
  8. Edward Snowden
  9. 0-days
  10. Git is hard to use (I’ll give them this one)

The list ends with this wonderfully inconsistent paragraph:

All of this seems very alarmist: what is the true situation? The truth is no one really knows because no one is talking about it. There is a clear, present and obvious danger from using open source solutions in support of your technology stack. You have to decide if the risk is worth it.

No-one really knows, but there’s a clear, present and obvious danger? I see. The only clear, present and obvious danger demonstrated here is the one that git is posing to Serena’s business…

Kickstarter: Open Source Voice Control Box

This looks like fun – it’s Mycroft, an “open source AI” (basically, Siri, Cortana, Google Now etc). It would be even better if they did the language processing locally, but at least if it’s open source you can see what it is doing. There’s a stretch goal of $125k for Linux desktop control, which would be very cool. The drive closes in six days, and they still need $10,000 or so to hit their goal. Back it today; I have :-)

Eurovision Bingo

Some people say that all Eurovision songs are the same. That’s probably not quite true, but there is perhaps a hint of truth in the suggestion that some themes tend to recur from year to year. Hence, I thought, Eurovision Bingo.

I wrote some code to analyse a directory full of lyrics, normally those from the previous year of the competition, and work out the frequency of occurrence of each word. It will then generate Bingo cards, with sets of words of different levels of commonness. You can then use them to play Bingo while watching this year’s competition (which is on Saturday).

There’s a Github repo, or if you want to go straight to pre-generated cards for this year, they are here.

Here’s a sample card from the 2014 lyrics:

fell cause rising gonna rain
world believe dancing hold once
every mean LOVE something chance
hey show or passed say
because light hard home heart

Have fun :-)

You Couldn’t Make It Up

I was in the middle of debugging some code when a background Slashdot tab from 10 minutes ago suddenly started playing a sponsored video. Truly and genuinely, the opening of this video contained the following:

Did you know that it takes you 15 minutes to get back into the work zone after being interrupted by an alert or message?

Yes. Yes, Slashdot, I did…

R.I.P. api-dev.bugzilla.mozilla.org

Complaining about bugzilla.mozilla.org (BMO) is a Mozilla project activity as old as the hills. Back in 2009, it was realised by the Foundation that to make everyone happy was (and still is) an impossible task, and I was given a mandate to “help people solve their own problems”. So around September 2009, I released the first version of my Bugzilla API proxy software, BzAPI. This software presented a clean, well-documented RESTful interface on the front end, and did all sorts of things on the back end (XML, CSV, RPC, HTML scraping) that developers no longer had to worry about. We made a dev server VM for it so people could try it out – api-dev.bugzilla.mozilla.org.

It was popular. Extremely popular. People started building things, and then more things, all of which depended on this server for Bugzilla data. For various reasons, IT never got around to building a production instance, and so over the last five years, I’ve been maintaining this core piece of Mozilla project infrastructure, which was depended on by TBPL and many, many other tools which interfaced with Bugzilla. At its peak, it serviced 400,000 requests per day.

Over the intervening years, BMO itself acquired a REST API which slowly became more capable, and then a BzAPI-compatible API shim was implemented on top of it by the excellent dkl, so people could change their code to access BMO directly just by updating the endpoint URL. After a few false starts, requests to api-dev.bugzilla.mozilla.org are now served directly by BMO, via that shim code. Earlier today, the api-dev VM was finally powered down.

Here’s to you, api-dev. Good job.

Using Instantbird to Connect to IRC Servers Requiring a Username and Password

[Update 2014-01-16: A point of clarification. There are two possible ways to send a password for IRC. One is supported in the Instantbird UI – it’s the one that automatically identifies your nick with NickServ, the bot which makes sure people don’t steal other people’s nicks. The other, which is rarer but which I needed, involves sending a password to connect at all, using the PASS command in the IRC protocol. That is what is documented here.]

I was trying to do this; turns out it currently requires about:config manipulation and is not documented anywhere I can find.

Using about:config (type /about config in a message window, or access via Preferences), set the following prefs:

messenger.account.accountN.options.serverPassword
messenger.account.accountN.options.username

to the obvious values. Other useful tip: if the IRC server uses a self-signed cert, connect to it on the right port using Firefox and HTTPS, and you can save the cert out of the warning/exception dialog you get. You can then import it into Instantbird using the deeply-buried Certificate section of the Advanced Preferences and it will trust the cert and connect. (I think this is what I did, although memory is hazy.)

slic 1.0.0 Released

I’ve just released version 1.0 of some new software called slic, which I’ve been using to do license analysis on Firefox OS. From the README:

This is slic, the Speedy LIcense Checker. It scans a codebase and identifies the license of each file. It can also optionally extract the license text and a list of copyright holders – this is very useful for meeting the obligations of licenses which require reproduction of license text. It outputs data in a JSON structure (by default) which can then be further processed by other tools.

It runs at about 120 files per second on a single core of a 3GHz Intel I7 (it’s CPU-bound, at least on a machine with an SSD). So you can do 100,000 files in less than 15 minutes. Parallel invocation is left as an exercise for the reader, but could easily be bolted on the side by dividing up the inputs.

The code is Python, and it uses a multi-stage regexp-based classifier, so that with families of licenses it starts with a more generic classification and then refines it via checking various sub-possibilities. Future potential enhancements include a hash-based cache to avoid doing the same work more than once, and integration with a popular online spreadsheet tool to help manage exceptions and manual license determinations.

Ctrl-Shift-T Not Working in Ubuntu

I just spent ages debugging the fact that my Ctrl-Shift-T key stopped working in Ubuntu. This is my attempt to write a blog post that search engines will find if anyone else has the same problem. Ctrl-Shift-T is “new tab” in Terminal, and “reopen last closed tab” in Firefox, so it’s rather useful, and annoying when not working.

After lots of research and debugging, it turned out to be the following. I recently installed a bunch of VoIP apps, including Jitsi. Jitsi decided to run on startup, in a way which was invisible in the UI, and override a bunch of my keybindings, in a way which didn’t make it clear that it was the app capturing them. :-( So if anyone ever finds Ctrl-Shift keybindings stop working (seems like Jitsi takes A, H, P, L, M and T), and sees output like this in xev:

FocusOut event, serial 37, synthetic NO, window 0x5400001,
    mode NotifyGrab, detail NotifyAncestor

FocusIn event, serial 37, synthetic NO, window 0x5400001,
    mode NotifyUngrab, detail NotifyAncestor

KeymapNotify event, serial 37, synthetic NO, window 0x0,
    keys:  34  0   0   0   32  0   4   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   
           0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0 

instead of the expected KeyPress / KeyRelease events, then look for some app which has pinched your keys. I spent ages looking through the Compiz config settings, finding nothing, but then started killing processes until I found my keys were working again.

Survey on FLOSS Contribution Policies

In the “dull but important” category: my friend Allison Randal is doing a survey on people’s attitudes to contribution policies (committer’s agreements, copyright assignment, DCO etc.) in free/libre/open source software projects. I’m rather interested in what she comes up with. So if you have a few minutes (it should take less than 5 – I just did it) to fill in her survey about what you think about such things, she and I would be most grateful:

http://survey.lohutok.net is the link. You want the “FLOSS Developer Contribution Policy Survey” – I’ve done the other one on Mozilla’s behalf.

Incidentally, this survey is notable as I believe it’s the first online multiple-choice survey I’ve ever taken where I didn’t think “my answer doesn’t fit into your narrow categories” about at least one of the questions. So it’s definitely well-designed.

Kingdom Code UK

Kingdom Code is a new initiative to gather together Christians who program, to direct their efforts towards hastening the eventual total triumph of God’s kingdom on earth. There’s a preparatory meet-up on Monday 15th September (tickets) and then a full get-together on Monday 13th October. Check out the website and sign up if you are interested.

(There’s also Code for the Kingdom in various cities in the US and India, if you live nearer those places than here.)