Going Home

I’m going home.

As some of my readers will know, my cancer (read that link if the fact I have cancer is new to you) has been causing difficulty in my liver this year, and recently we had a meeting with my consultant to plot a way forward. He said that recent scans had shown an increased growth rate of some tumours (including the liver one), and that has overwhelmed my body’s ability to cope with the changes cancer brings. The last two months have seen various new symptoms and a reasonably rapid decline in my general health. The next two months will be more of the same unless something is done.

After some unsuccessful procedures on my liver over the course of this year, the last option is radiotherapy to try and shrink the problem tumour; we are investigating that this week. But even if that succeeds, the improvement will be relatively short-lived – perhaps 3-6 months – as the regrowth rate will be faster. If radiotherapy is not feasible or doesn’t work, the timelines are rather shorter than that. My death is not imminent, but either way I am unlikely to see out 2018. In all this, my wife, my children and I are confident that God is in charge and his purposes are good, and we can trust him and not be afraid of what is coming. We don’t know what the future holds for each of us, but he does.

We’ve taken this news as a sign to make some significant changes. The most relevant to readers of this blog is that I am stepping away from Mozilla so I can spend more time focussed on the most important things – my relationships with Jesus, and with my family. I love my work, and God has blessed my time at Mozilla and enabled me to do much which I think have been good for the Internet and the world. However, there are things in life which are much more important, and it’s now time for others to take up those projects and causes and carry them into the future. I have every confidence in my colleagues and fellow Mozillians that this will be done with the greatest care and skill. The CA program, MOSS, and Mozilla’s policy work are all in very good hands.

If you pray, please pray that we would make wise decisions about what to do when, and that we would live through this process in a way that brings glory to Jesus.

In case it’s of interest, we have set up a read-only mailing list which people can join to keep informed about what is going on, and to hear a bit about how we are handling this and what we would like prayer for. You can subscribe to the list using that link, if you have a Google account. If you don’t you can still join by emailing lightandmomentary+subscribe@googlegroups.com.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Cor 4:16-18.

If I have done anything good in 18 years at Mozilla, may God get all the glory.

Talk Scheduling At Conferences

I’m at FOSDEM this weekend; it’s a large conference. They seem to find one or two new rooms to use every year, and it now sprawls across most of the ULB campus in Brussels.

It has rather surprised me that several otherwise experienced and excellent devroom organizers (naming no names) have organized their rooms on the mistaken belief that switching between speakers, and having people exit and enter the room, happens instantaneously. It doesn’t.

If you schedule your talks in 25 or 55 minute slots (including Q&A) instead of 30 or 60 minute slots, you benefit yourselves, your audiences, and the whole conference in the following ways:

  • Attendees don’t feel they have to leave the talk in your room before the end in order to be sure of catching the beginning of the next talk somewhere else, thereby disrupting the talk, missing the last bits of content (perhaps the all-important summary) and missing the chance to thank the speaker.
  • Attendees can enter and leave the room without feeling they are being rushed or have to be totally silent. (“Please be quiet while entering and leaving/during the Q&A” really doesn’t work.)
  • Room organizers have time to encourage people to move to the middle, or other compression strategies, and pack their rooms for maximum benefit.
  • Whoever is helping you with audio-visual can switch over laptops and get microphones moved over without disrupting the end of the previous talk or making the next speaker start late.
  • Attendees released from your room do not turn up at a different room 5 minutes after the start, thereby disrupting their talks. Love your neighbour.

If you don’t do this, and schedule in 30 minute slots, what happens is that people actually still get 25 minutes or less to speak, as changeovers still have to happen, but the speaker ends up starting late, rushed and grumpy and no-one really knows when they need to finish. 30 minute slots are an illusion. 10 minute/5 minute/2 minute/Time’s Up! cards are a very useful addition to this system, so the speaker knows exactly where they are. If they don’t finish in time and have to be cut off, then they need to be gently encouraged to prepare better next time.

It may be that 5 minutes is not long enough for people to get from one side of the conference campus to the other, and so the issues are not totally suppressed. But there’s only so much you can do, and giving people 5 minutes is much better than giving them 0 minutes.

Transparent Suitcases Hack

When our boys (now nearly 6, nearly 5 and nearly 3) first got old enough that it made sense to pack them each a bag when we went away, we found it hard to find something suitable. We ended up using some transparent plastic rectangular zippered bags with handles, which had originally held mattress covers when on sale in a shop. These were just the right size, and it turns out that having a transparent suitcase for kids is really rather handy for a number of reasons.

However, mattress cover bags were not really designed for reuse and, despite the liberal application of clear Duck tape and cardboard patches, soon they were definitely showing the wear and tear.

All their birthdays are in a 40-day period over Feb/March, so we decided we’d get them all transparent suitcases this year. After all, someone must sell those, right? Turns out, not. Most people apparently don’t want strangers peering at their dirty underwear in the airport security queue. Funny, that.

So I came up with a hack. Start with a “Really Useful” box of an appropriate size. (You’re better off with an original; these are much imitated but never bettered.) We used their 21 litre box; you may want larger or smaller. Such a box can be carried by the sides, but not with one hand, and the span is a bit tough for the younger ones. So we need something else.

Remove any ugly sticky labels the shop may have attached, and drill a couple of holes half way up one side at the edges of the central section.

I find drilling plastic is a slightly uncertain art; if you use too much speed you’ll melt it, and if you press too hard you can crack it, or get stuck swarf. I did get swarf stuck around the holes so they weren’t clean, but mostly cleaned that up with a little light Dremel-ing.

Next, you need some plastic pipe – wide enough that it’s comfortable to hold, but narrow enough that the handles don’t protrude too far or that little hands can’t get around it. I bought this, as being cheap and about the right size. Cut it to a length around 4cm short of the hole-to-hole distance.

Then, you need some plastic rope – I bought 6mm plastic rope (and drilled hole sizes to match) but anything strong enough to take the weight will do, as the kids aren’t holding it directly. (We could have done that, but it’s not very easy on the hands.)

Plastic rope is cheap and strong, but has the disadvantage of fraying ends, of not taking knots well, and I didn’t want to try melting it to itself. After a bit of thought, it turned out that electrician’s tape bound tightly round stops the ends fraying, and the same technique can be used to join a length of rope to itself. (My wife pointed out, as I proudly displayed the finished work, that I should have sourced some white electrician’s tape. Oops.)

So cut the rope to a generous length (3 times the hole-hole distance), bind round one end and trim, and place through the holes and the pipe. Then, inside, pull the rope tight so each loose end almost reaches the opposite hole, mark the spot, bind round again and cut at the top of the bind. You now have nicely-finished rope and a handle – the only remaining job is to stop it coming out of the holes.

Loosening it off some (you need enough play for kids to get their hands under the handle, and if it’s too tight you can’t get the roll of electrician’s tape round behind it) put a small piece of tape to join the two ends at the point half way between the holes. Having this makes it much easier to do the wind-round binding without the rope slipping.

Then, starting at once end with a few turns on top of itself, spiral-wind the electrician’s tape around both pieces, proceeding from one loose end to the other, making sure to pull it tight all the time. The result is a binding which I hope will support the weight of any sensible thing they are considering putting in there – and, if it turns out not, I can pull the tape off and try something else.

The finishing touch is to personalise them – it was harder than I thought to find name stickers of the right size, as most are too tiny (designed for books or small objects) or too large (designed for walls). But Amazon came to my rescue, and I ordered 3 of these (well actually, I ordered another item from the same company, but that’s what they sent me, and it worked perfectly!), which come in pairs, and I used their favourite colours. I placed one on the lid and one just above the handle.

Being sure to apply the decal from one side to the other rather than from sides to middle (to avoid unsightly creases), I lined them up, stuck them on, rubbed them down hard, removed the backing paper and Bob is your mother’s brother.

As well as doubling as under-bed storage when not travelling, and being neat and eye-catching when out and about, these also stack nicely in the car, easing the complex problem I face whenever the whole family has to fit everything they need for a week in our Ford Galaxy. I hope they enjoy using them for many years :-) Cost per suitcase: ~£15.

Meeting a Slow Doom

This directory provides a branchless, mov-only version of the classic DOOM video game. This is thought to be entirely secure against the Meltdown and Spectre CPU vulnerabilities, which require speculative execution on branch instructions.

You look at the example screenshot, and see it’s basically the game’s initial view. A bit lazy on the part of the author? Well, no…

The mov-only DOOM renders approximately one frame every 7 hours, so playing this version requires somewhat increased patience.

MOSS Q4 2017 Update

We’ve just published MOSS’s Q4 2017 update, bringing you up to speed on what’s going on in the world of MOSS (Mozilla Open Source Support, our program for giving back to the open source and free software community).

The application deadline for the next round is at the end of this month. If you know a project that Mozilla is using somehow that could do with some financial help, or a project that’s working on something in line with Mozilla’s mission and goals, please do encourage them to apply.

Seeking SOS Fund Projects

I’m spending some time over the next few days looking for the next round of projects which might benefit from an SOS Fund security audit. (Here‘s what’s been done and published so far; a few more are in the works.) The criteria for what makes a good project are recorded on the MOSS website. We have two hard-and-fast criteria:

  • The software must be open source/free software, with a license that is OSI-certified and/or FSF-approved
  • The software must be actively maintained

And then we have a series of factors we consider when evaluating an application:

  • How commonly used is the software?
  • Is the software network-facing or does it regularly process untrusted data?
  • How vital is the software to the continued functioning of the Internet or the Web?
  • Is the project known for something besides the code we are relying on?
  • Does the software depend on closed-source code, e.g. in a web service?
  • Are the software’s maintainers aware of and supportive of the application for support from the SOS fund?
  • Has the software been audited before? If so, when and how extensively? Was the audit made public? If so, where?
  • Does the software have existing corporate backing or involvement?

People do have a tendency to suggest the entirely impractical, such as “Linux Mint” or “Copperhead OS”. We aren’t able to do full audits on corpuses of software of that size. In general, if it’s more than about 200kloc, we are going to have to pick and choose.

If you know of a project which fits, please submit a suggestion, or drop me an email. Thanks!

A New Scam?

I got this email recently; I’m 99% sure it’s some new kind of scam, but it’s not one I’ve seen before. Anyone have any info? Seems like it’s not totally automated, and targets Christians. Or perhaps it’s some sort of cult recruitment? The email address looks very computer-generated (firstnamelastnamesixdigits@gmail.com).

Good morning,

I am writing in accordance to my favourite Christian website, I could do with sending you some documents regarding Christ. I am a Christian since the age of 28, when I got a knock at the door at my house by a group of males asking me to come to a Christian related event, I of course graciously accepted.

I have since opened up about my homosexuality which my local church somewhat accepted, as I am of course, one of the most devout members of the Church. I am very grateful to the church for helping me discover whom I really was at a time where I needed to discover who I was the most.

I would like to obtain your most recent address, as I have seen on your website that you have recently moved house (as of 2016) to a Loughborough address. I would like to send you some documents regarding my struggles with depression and then finding God and how much he helped me discover my real identity.

I thank you very much for your aid in helping me find God and Christ within myself, as you helped me a lot with your website and your various struggles, which gave me strength to succeed and to carry on in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Hope to hear a reply soon,

Kind regards,

<name>

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain come highly recommended. My wife and I saw them last night in Leicester’s De Montfort Hall, and had a wonderful time. They take themselves only semi-seriously, and play a wide range of music; if you’ve never heard Blur’s Song2 played on a bank of eight massed ukuleles, your cultural education is not complete.

They play all around the world, so hopefully there’s a date near you in the next six months.

The Future Path of Censorship

On Saturday, I attended the excellent ORGCon in London, put on by the Open Rights Group. This was a conference with a single track and a full roster of speakers – no breakouts, no seminars. And it was very enjoyable, with interesting contributions from names I hadn’t heard before.

One of those was Jamie Bartlett, who works at the think tank Demos. He gave some very interesting insights into the nature and future of extremism. he talked about the dissolving of the centre-left/centre-right consensus in the UK, and the rise of views further out on the wings of politics. He feels this is a good thing, as this is always the source of political change, but it seems like the ability and scope to express those views is being reduced and suppressed.

He (correctly, in my view) identified the recent raising by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, of the penalty for looking at extremist content on the web to 15 years as a sign of weakness, because they know they can’t actually stop people looking using censorship so have to scare them instead.

The insight which particularly stuck with me was the following. He suggested that in the next decade in the West, two things will happen to censorship. Firstly, it will get more draconian, as governments try harder to suppress things and pass more laws requiring ISPs to censor people’s feeds. Secondly, it will get less effective, as tools like Tor and VPNs become more mainstream and easier to use. This is a concerning combination for those concerned about freedom of speech.

Accidental Bitcoin Speculation

I had to pay a ransomware bill in February 2015. I bought the right amount of Bitcoin but, like many people, forgot about the transfer fee, so some kind person donated me 0.005 BTC. This means once I was done, my Bitcoin wallet wasn’t totally empty. I have just logged into it again for the first time since, and found that the value of Bitcoin has gone up 28x since then, and so that small amount is now worth… £21.94 (US$28.91). I guess I’m an accidental Bitcoin speculator…

Submitting comments to the UK Algorithms Inquiry

Algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other code-driven decision-making are increasingly hot topics for policymakers across the globe. The latest request for information came from the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee of the UK Parliament – a cross party body holding an inquiry into the use of algorithms in public and business decision making. Last week, Mozilla submitted comments, written by me and edited/improved by Heather West, on how we think about the intersection of algorithms and policy.

Join OpenStreetMap UK

OpenStreetMap is the world’s premier provider of free-as-in-freedom mapping and routing data, with a data density in many places which far surpasses all proprietary providers. Here, for example, is the centre of Kampala, Uganda, Africa:

They have chapters around the world, and one was recently set up in the home of OSM, the UK. Joining is only £5 a year; please consider joining and supporting them in this way if you use OSM data at all or are interested in the project.