Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

This has been going on for far too long, but finally “Digital Rights Activist Ola Bini Declared Innocent By Ecuadorian Court”.

Headshot of Ola Bini

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A preview of Visual Studio Code “for the Web” has been released a few days ago. This means that you can now develop code in any (modern) browser – even on an iPad: just head over to https://vscode.dev.

I have been a big fan of VSCodium, the “free/libre” version of Visual Studio Code, for quite some time now: I don’t need more for maintaining the ColdFusion, HTML, JavaScript and “classic” ASP code that make up the bulk of my daily work!

I know this is not the first editor that works in a browser, and it’s not yet a workable solution: many plugins will have to be adapted to work correctly in a browser setting. Nevertheless: I’m impressed.

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Me? Ik !

From now on, it’s quite possible to get an ...@ik.me email address. I love that email address, since the Dutch word ‘ik’ means ‘me’ in English. How appropriate! So I registereed for one of those (free) addresses ;-)

The reason to choose such an address, of course, is not that little word play. Infomaniak is a Swiss hosting company that promises to be more ethical and respectful of privacy than the Microsofts and Googles we usually entrust with our online conversations. That was one of the reasons for our trade union section to choose this company to host our website and mail addresses.

Also, Infomaniak is doing a whole lot to be environment-friendly and “green”: their Charter is quite extensive and contains many realized goals, not just promises. We’ll see how that works out over the long haul…

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Monopolies Control The World

On the subject of the long outage of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp Vice.com writes:

We should not let one company run this much of the world. Six hours is too long for something as important as WhatsApp to be down. In the West, we saw those six hours as a comfort. We were free from something many of us didn’t use much anyway. In the rest of the world, it was a reminder of how much power one company in the United States has over their lives.

For Much of the World, Facebook Going Down Is a Disaster, Not a Joke

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I was pretty surprised when I read this – in fact, I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I read it right!

Following the intense scrutiny generated by the Colonial Pipeline hack, DarkSide appeared to be reconsidering this model. On Monday, a statement purportedly from the DarkSide hackers announced the group’s intention to closely scrutinize its partners’ planned attacks in the future to “avoid social consequences.” “Our goal is to make money,” the statement said, “and not creating problems for society.”

Source: “What you need to know about the Colonial Pipeline hack” (Politico)

As Frank Zappa said a long time ago: “We’re only in it for the Money“…

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You won’t find my life or posts or pictures on Facebook. I have my blog, of course. But also, over the years, my distrust in the company grew. There have been enough “scandals” to confirm my opinion. For those who want to know more, there’s a book titled “An Ugly Truth” written by reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. This summary from the MIT Technology Review’s review of that book says:

This is what Frenkel and Kang call Facebook’s “ugly truth.” Its “irreconcilable dichotomy” of wanting to connect people to advance society but also enrich its bottom line. Chapter after chapter makes abundantly clear that it isn’t possible to satisfy both—and Facebook has time again chosen the latter at the expense of the former.

Review: Why Facebook can never fix itself

As Dave Winer writes: “It’s even worse than it appears“…

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These days most of my time working is spent on older Macintosh computers. For web browsing, email, video chatting and Citrix even my Macbook Pro from 2012 is more than fast enough. The same goes for the 2014 Mac Mini, which I also use for simple photo editing using the Photos application.

Of course our brand new M1-powered Macbook Pro is faster than the oldies. But even compared to newer computers the impression of speed was quite impressive. Ars Technica explains why:

What makes the Apple M1 feel so fast isn’t the fact that four of its cores are slower than the others—it’s the operating system’s willingness to sacrifice maximum throughput in favor of lower task latency.


We’re happy to have one of those speedsters at home. I also wonder what the future will bring, since this is just the first generation of ARM-powered Macs. Apple will surely try to do even better soon!

On the other hand, my experience proves that even after almost 10 years a Mac can still be a productive machine. Too bad I can’t get the latest Mac OS installed on it…

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Samsung just pushed a new software update to my Note 10+. Next to the May 1 security patches this updates includes a few performance updates to the Camera app and the Quick Share mechanism. I suppose the June 1 security patch will not follow next week ;-)

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Almost a year ago I wrote about my lack of confidence in the synchronisation powers of the Keepassium-and-Files combination on iOS. Having an extra layer between my data (the passwords!) and the storage (Dropbox in this case) does seem to complicate matters… especially in comparison to the situation on Android. In the Keepass4Android app there is a button that will do a two-way sync from within the app: you don’t even have to save the data before hitting that sync button.

Today I can say that I have completely mastered the art of syncing from iOS too. The trick, if that’s what you want to call it, is that you have to “exit” the Keepassium file (not the app!) to force the app to update the file and get the Files app to recognise that fact. How do you do that, “exiting” the file? It’s simple: when you’re on the screen that shows you the top level of entries in your vault, you just press “Back”:

See that “Back” option top left?

You’ll return to the “Databases” screen. If you now check the Files app and look for your file, you’ll see that the date and time will be quite current, and you can be sure that your cloud service provider of choice will get that version as soon as you’re online.

What I describe also means that you always have to open file explicitly in order to consult or update it, in order to avoid sync conflicts when changing data on multiple devices. If you don’t do that, you may not be using the latest version of the file since you’re working with data in memory, not in file storage – and that will spell trouble at some point. As a bonus your passwords will also be safer, since an encrypted file on a storage device is much better protected from prying eyes than an unencrypted file in the memory of your iPhone or iPad!

So my general advice is: if you need to read/update/create a password entry in Keepassium, open the file, do your thing, and close the file immediately.

PS. Keepass4Android users should probably do that too, and they should also use that “Sync” button often!

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How a few people can have a big impact in social media: “The Disinformation Dozen. Why platforms must act on twelve leading online anti-vaxxers“.

Just twelve anti-vaxxers are responsible for almost two-thirds of anti-vaccine content circulating on social media platforms.

Click on the image to see the report

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In Has Microsoft 365 Been Clinically Tested? James Robertson poses a few hard questions, and rightly so. I do not want to enter into the debate about the nature of AI (is it intelligent, or just algorithms?); regardless of the answer to that question what interests us here is the relevance, accuracy, usefulness, reliability and sustainability of the solutions offered – and of course, not just Microsoft but any provider of AI-based solutions should be able to provide us with clear answers to those questions.

One of the core problems with AI is bias, and in the words of Julia Powles and Helen Nissenbaum (in “The Seductive Diversion of ‘Solving’ Bias in Artificial Intelligence“) all AI “bias is social bias”. Even if we ignore the (much larger) problems AI bias can cause in society at large, there is the issue of how well an IA solution will work for company X if it was built/trained by a company on another continent, in a different culture, and even with a different company culture.

Will be be able to “Build our own AI”? What mechanisms and tools will we have to investigate the workings of an off-the-shelf AI? Should we avoid AI altogether (there is excellent SF literature that makes this point – try Frank Herbert’s “Dune”)? Or do we have to teach all AI the equivalent of Asimov’s three Laws of Robotics?

Thanks for the image, XKCD

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I’m convinced 2FA is an excellent idea, and I’m already using it for a few situations like my Apple devices and a Google account. Of course I use two-factor authentication on my Apple devices – but that only goes so far, of course. Google also bugs me when logging in to another Google account on those devices, but keeps sending the confirmation to an Android device that I do not always have near me (and I haven’t found a way yet to alter that setting).

But I have always hesitated to apply 2FA to all the applications and websites I use. Why? Because it’s hard to pick the right tool – which one can be applied to most/all sites (and I have a lot of those)? Should I pick a hardware solution, or an application? What about backing up your keys? What if I lose my phone? Etc.

Dan Goodin confirms the complexity of the situation, and tries to give an answer in “Choosing 2FA authenticator apps can be hard. Ars did it so you don’t have to” (on Ars Technica).

Don’t get me wrong: Goodin does an excellent job introducing the complexities of choosing a 2FA solution. But there are many more solutions available – just try any search engine and look for “2FA”. Years ago, I already looked at FreeOTP and andOTP, but I did not feel confident enough in their backup strategies to actually use them. I would also like to know more about privacyIDEA and its application to the problem.

The article mentioned however can be used as a measuring stick, to see whether your 2FA choice ticks the points that you really want/need. And if you don’t use any 2FA solution yet, at least make sure that you have all your (complex!) passwords in a decent password manager on all your devices – I still find Keepassium and the other members of the Keepass family very valuable.

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You will have to read the original Github ticket – or one of its copies, in case the Github ticket were to be closed/deleted/… –  but the essence of the message is that Chrome extension “The Great Suspender” (TGS) has become a very suspect suspender. According to the ticket, version 7.18 in the Chrome Web Store does not correspond to the source on Github, and has been modified in such a way that it could (can/will/…?) be used to invisibly execute tracking or malicious code!

Copy of a tweet urging to delete TGS from your computer

I was a great fan of that extension: I’m always juggling reading material and lots of browser-based applications at the same time, and that extension made it possible to keep them all open yet limit the memory and CPU footprint of Chrome to more reasonable sizes. I read about the trouble yesterday, and did not hesitate to delete this extension from all my computers!

There is mention of a few alternatives to The Great Suspender; at least one of them is a copy of the latest “pure” version of  TGS. But at the moment it isn’t available at the Chrome Web Store and requires a bit of manipulation to get it installed properly: that’s not for everyone.

By the way: if the ticket mentioned above is too technical for you, hop over to Life Hacker or The Register get their take on the subject.

Anyway, the worst part of the whole story is that Google does not seem to be interested in doing what it should do, that being to kick the extension out of its Web Store, at least while investigating the matter. But so far there seems to have been no reply from them, even though several people, including me, reported the extensions as incompatible with the rules of the Chrome Web Store. In the words of The Register:

The Register asked Google whether it plans to implement any measures to help make it easier for people to understand who maintains Chrome extensions and to understand code changes that have been made. We’ve not heard back.

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Of course I endorse the “Contract for the Web” – head over to https://contractfortheweb.org/ to do the same!

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The past few days I have been repeatedly called by criminals posing as “technical support people”, mainly for Microsoft – one said they called from my internet provider, but couldn’t explain why he spoke English although my provider should do its business with me in Dutch. I do wonder though: why is it that my home number is targeted just this week, after being ignored for many years? The callers all spoke English with an accent that I associate with India and Pakistan. I guess someone out there must have picked up a phone list from the past and said: hey, let’s try these numbers again.

Anyway, I had to think immediately of the solution to this problem that I read about in BoingBoing’s “Vacation scammer telemarketer spends 15 minutes talking to a bot”. The recording in that post is hilarious: it’s not just a Jolly Roger Phone Company bot replying to the caller, the bot takes the lead in the conversation while all kinds of interruptions are going on in the background.

Checking other samples from the other bots offered by the company shows that these are just as good (and just as funny). Too bad the Jolly Roger Phone Company service isn’t available here in Belgium!

By the way: isn’t it strange that phone companies are in no way responsible for helping these criminals?

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