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.
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…
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.
I was recently interviewed by the “Darknet Diaries” podcast about the Diginotar incident, for which I did Mozilla’s security response. Even though this major CA breach happened back in 2011, it still casts a long shadow over the CA industry today, as the scale of the catastrophe has not since been equalled.
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.
The Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) update for Q3 has been published on the main Mozilla blog. Highlights include the launch of our pilot program focussed on supporting open source in India, a large grant to Ushahidi, and a very successful audit of the chrony NTP daemon.
We decided to implement a lightweight Conflict of Interest policy for the MOSS Committees, not because we have had problems, but because we’d like never to have them :-) They are based loosely on the Wikipedia ones, and are here for anyone to use who wants them (CC-0).
MOSS Conflict of Interest Rules (v1.0)
As a committee member, you must:
1. Disclose actively if you are receiving, will receive, or have received in the past 5 years payment or anything of value from an applicant or their project;
2. Disclose actively if any family member, spouse, partner, business associate, significant other, close friend, or their organizations or employers would benefit from the approval of an application;
3. Answer fully and honestly any relevant and appropriate questions about potential conflicts of interest when discussing an application;
4. Disclose actively if your approval or disapproval of an application could be perceived by others or the public as improper, because even the perception of a conflict or unauthorized personal gain needs to be disclosed;
5. Not approve applications for personal gain.
Under the above rules, a person should “disclose actively” a potential or actual conflict of interest. To “disclose actively” means (1) to report the conflict to the MOSS Administrator; and (2) to do so explicitly and as soon as the conflict is known.
The MOSS Administrator will assess the conflict and, if it is judged to be material, will report it or request that the member report it to the committee.
This video is pretty awesome throughout, but the pinnacle is at the end:
The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless. Let’s not do that. — Jon Ronson
The final party at the recent Mozilla All Hands, organized by the ever-awesome Brianna Mark, had a “Your Favourite Scientist” theme. I’ve always been incredibly impressed by Charles Babbage, the English father of the digital programmable computer. And he was a Christian, as well. However, I didn’t really want to drag formal evening wear all the way to San Francisco.
Instead, I made some PDFs in 30 minutes and had a Babbage-themed t-shirt made up by VistaPrint, for the surprising and very reasonable sum of around £11, with delivery inside a week. I had no idea one-off custom t-shirts were so cheap. I must think of other uses for this information. Anyway, here’s the front:
and the back:
The diagram is, of course, part of his original plans for his Difference Engline. Terrible joke, but there you go. The font is Tangerine. Sadly, the theme was not as popular as the Steampunk one we did a couple of All Hands ago, and there weren’t that many people in costume. And the Academy of Sciences was cold enough that I had my hoodie on most of the time…
So the situation is not terrible, but it’s not awesome either. Several useful extensions, particularly those that modify the chrome or the browser behaviour, or which tweak prefs, are simply not replaceable in the new world.
Firefox Nightly (will be 56) already no longer supports addons which are not multiprocess-compatible. And Firefox 57 will not support “Legacy” addons – those which use XUL, XPCOM or the Addons SDK. I just started using Nightly instead of Aurora as my main browser, at Mark Mayo’s request :-), and this is what I found (after doing “Update Addons”):
Addons installed: 37
Non-multiprocess-compatible addons (may also be marked Legacy): 21 (57%)
Legacy addons: 5 (14%)
Addons which will work in 57, if nothing changes: 11 (29%)
Useful addons which no longer work as of now are: 1-Click YouTube Video Downloader, Advertising Cookie Opt-Out, AutoAuth, Expiry Canary (OK, I wrote that one, that’s my fault), Google Translator, Live HTTP Headers, Mass Password Reset, RESTClient, and User Agent Switcher.
Useful addons which will also no longer work in 57 (if nothing changes) include: Adblock Plus, HTTPS Everywhere, JSONView, and Send to Kodi.
I’m sure Adblock Plus is being updated, because it would be sheer madness if we went ahead and it was not being. As for the rest – who knows? There doesn’t seem to be a way of finding out other than researching each one individually.
In the Firefox (I think it was) Town Hall, there was a question asked about addons and whether we felt that we were in a good place in terms of people not having a bad experience with their addons stopping working. The answer came back that we were. I fully admit I may not be a typical user, but it seems like this will not be my experience… :-(
With this update, we have mostly worked through the backlog of modernization proposals, and I’d call this a policy fit for a transparent, openly-run root program in 2017. That doesn’t mean that there’s not more that could be done, but we’ve come a long way from policy 2.2, which we were using until six months ago, and which hadn’t been substantively updated since 2012.
We also hope that, very soon, more root store operators will join the CCADB, which will reduce everyone’s costs and administrative burdens on all sides, and hopefully allow root programs to be more responsive to changing circumstances and requests for inclusion or change.
The team behind the Caddy secure-by-default webserver have written a blog post on their experience with MOSS:
The MOSS program kickstarted a new era for Caddy: turning it from a fairly casual (but promising!) open source project into something that is growing more than we would have hoped otherwise. Caddy is seeing more contributions, community engagement, and development than it ever has before! Our experience with MOSS was positive, and we believe in Mozilla’s mission. If you do too, consider submitting your project to MOSS and help make the Internet a better place.
Always nice to find out one’s work makes a difference. :-)
Some people say that all Eurovision songs are the same. (And some say all blog posts on this topic 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.