Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Much has already been written about the life of Stephen Hawking, and more is bound is bound to follow. Here’s what Roger Penrose, a fellow physicist who knew Hawking well, wrote in The Guardian:

Despite his terrible physical circumstance, he almost always remained positive about life. He enjoyed his work, the company of other scientists, the arts, the fruits of his fame, his travels. He took great pleasure in children, sometimes entertaining them by swivelling around in his motorised wheelchair. Social issues concerned him. He promoted scientific understanding. He could be generous and was very often witty. On occasion he could display something of the arrogance that is not uncommon among physicists working at the cutting edge, and he had an autocratic streak. Yet he could also show a true humility that is the mark of greatness.

Hawking undoubtedly advanced our knowledge of the universe, and for that he will be remembered with the likes of Newton and Einstein. But his outlook on life, his sense of humour and his joy of living must be part of what we take with us into the future – after all, he’s the man who thought a motorised toy version of himself would be “cool”…

Read all about that toy as it appeared in a “The Big Bang Theory” episode on the TV Guide website – just click the image to go there.
(Part of a photo by Monty Brinton/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc)



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The BoingBoing website pointed me to the Programmer’s Oath. Good initiative, and I do agree with every one of the items.

As usual, of course, my mind started analysing the text, and soon concluded that 8 of the 10 tenets are not specific to programming, but could be applied to any profession! And tenets 2 and 6 don’t need big changes to make them more generally applicable. So what user Widdershin came up with is the base for moral behaviour that all humans could/should fulfill.

Well, being cynical at times just like anyone, I should perhaps exclude politicians…

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I like this post from Signal vs. Noise, especially today (yup, it’s my birthday, and I’m… older than 25, let’s say).

The Bedroom, by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.
Get more details by clicking on the picture.

I think the world puts too much focus on the Picassos and the young phenoms. We overlook the Cézannes. The folks who took a while to experiment on getting better and better and who never stopped.

The thing I take from this is that if you find yourself still experimenting in life. If you don’t have it all figured out. If you’re 30, 40, 50, 60 and still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up…

There’s still plenty of room and time to get better. Your peak is still ahead.

Thank you for the encouragement, Nathan Kontny!

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More than 15 years ago, I wrote about my resolve to keep up with the writings of Brent Simmons. I wanted to do that, not because he was one the makers of Frontier and working at UserLand, but because I liked (and still like) the fact that he applies ethics to all aspects of his life – including programming and software.

You don’t have to agree with his take on things, but at least go over and read Brent’s hopes for 2018:

Rebuilding the social open web is not the one cure that we need for all our ills. I’m fully skeptical of technological solutions to problems of culture and politics. But it is an important thing we can and should do. My small hope for 2018 is the knowledge that I’m not the only person thinking that way.

Building a social open web will, unfortunately, take more than one calendar year. But it’s important to start (some will say: to continue) the construction of such a web: every journey starts with a single step. Technology won’t bring the cure; only people can do that.

PS. No, I haven’t yet started reading Tim O’Reilly’s “WTF What’s The Future And Why It’s Up To Us”. But you can see why I had to buy (and read, I promise) that book.

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I have known for a long time that there is no such thing as ‘perfect online security’. But I do try to apply at least some of the guidance taught by experts. Not just on my computers, but also (and foremost!) on mobile devices – even your phone texts (SMS traffic here in Europe) give away a lot of information to anyone who cares to intercept it. But it’s hard to know what to do exactly, and for a long time advice was scattered all over the internet, in blog posts, articles, etc., each mostly about a single subject.

The last few months, the situation has improved considerably, thanks to the efforts by a number of essential players in the field. I’ll enumerate the most prominent of sources here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation created the Surveillance Self-Defence website. This site contains a whole series of articles ranging from explanations on how parts of the web work to tutorials on how to manage passwords or using PGP for your email. You’ll need a lot of time to read and digest all the information on this site, but the level of detail provided is certainly worth the effort. In their own words:

SSD includes step-by-step tutorials for installing and using a variety of privacy and security tools, but also aims to teach people how to think about online privacy and security in a sophisticated way that empowers them to choose appropriate tools and practices even as the tools and adversaries change around them.

I hope I don’t have to tell you that the EFF is an essential resource to keep up to date with subjects like digital privacy, free speech, and innovation?

The Security Planner project is an initiative of the Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary group based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The project has a strong academic approach, including peer review of all its publications, and its advisors include Bruce Schneier (whom I have quoted already several times on this blog!).

The principal motivation for Security Planner was our shared experiences (and frustrations) when we are regularly asked the question: “what could average people do to protect themselves online”? Although there are some good guides out there, there is also a lot of conflicting advice.

The advice on Security Planner is organised around themes like ‘Computer’, ‘Online Accounts’ and ‘Phone’, and they clearly indicate what you can gain w<hen you implement their advice. Currently available in English, they are promising versions in Spanish and French soon.

On the WIRED website, you’ll find their ‘Guide to Digital Security’. Just ignore the garish design of the home page, the articles are worthwhile reading.

In this guide, we’ve included a few ways to improve your online security posture based on those different levels of risk. These won’t prevent the next megabreach or banish ransomware from the earth. They’re not all-encompassing. But they’ll help get you in the mindset of the types of steps you should be taking based on your particular situation.

Wired includes a discussion of Google’s Advanced Protection, and talks about the use of Faraday cages and blankets (yes, blankets!) as part of a sophisticated security approach. Specialised stuff, indeed, and overkill for most of us – but it may help you be aware of all the threats that exist in the real world.

You may also have a look at the (long) article titled ‘The Motherboard Guide to Not Getting Hacked’ over at the website of Motherboard (part of Vice). It’s not as comprehensive as the previous sources mentioned here, but it contains a lot of links that may be of use to you. And for my part you can quote them when talking to your employer:

And if your employer asks you to change passwords periodically in the name of security, please tell them that’s a terrible idea. If you use a password manager, two-factor authentication (see below), and have unique strong passwords for every account there’s no need to change them all the time—unless there’s a breach on the backend or your password is stolen somehow.

The above sources are mainly directed towards individuals. If you want some pointers about how to deal with privacy and security for groups, have a look at the ‘Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook’, published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard Kennedy School) in November 2017. The approach here not only includes subjects talked about in the previous sources I mentioned, but includes the ‘human factor’. In their words, when talking about a campaign to get elected for public office:

In today’s campaigns, cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility. Human error has consistently been the root cause of publicized cyber attacks, and it’s up to the candidate and campaign leaders to weave security awareness into the culture of the organization.

That brings us back to the main point in all these publications: if you’re using computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices, be aware of the risks – and act accordingly!

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If you read this blog more or less regularly, then I assume that you have at least a bit of nerdiness in you.

So if you need a Christmas stocking filler for yourself or, say, a web developer, you might want to look into Tim O’Reilly’s “WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us” (here’s a link to the hardcover version on Amazon, but I’m sure you can find your own supplier ). If you don’t believe me, just read what Cory Doctorow has to say on the subject:

Tim O’Reilly’s history with computers and the internet pre-dates the rise of these grotesqueries, the financialization of the tech sector. He writes beautifully about the passion, the excitement, and the tremendous progress that technologists (from every walk of life) have brought to the tech sector, and cleanly cleaves the technology from its economic and political context. He dares to assert that we can love the sin and hate the sinner. That the reason tech went toxic was because unethical people made unethical choices, but those choices weren’t inevitable or irreversible.

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What can I say? From “Wait for it: Popular app takes three days to ‘develop’ pics“:

The 99-cent iOS app, which came out in July, approximates the look and experience of a Kodak disposable camera. Users can only snap 24 shots in a row. Once they’ve finished a roll of 24 exposures, they have to wait an interminable hour to reload the “film.” Rolls take three days to “develop.”

What’s next: email message that require postage stamps? A self-driving car that you have to push by hand?

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