Via Bruce Schneier come news of an important plugin

ShareMeNot is a Firefox add-on for preventing tracking from third-party buttons (like the Facebook “Like” button or the Google “+1” button) until the user actually chooses to interact with them. That is, ShareMeNot doesn’t disable/remove these buttons completely. Rather, it allows them to render on the page, but prevents the cookies from being sent until the user actually clicks on them, at which point ShareMeNot releases the cookies and the user gets the desired behavior (i.e., they can Like or +1 the page).

The add-on is also important as it highlights the fact that information is being shared even when the button is not clicked.

Man against the machine

In 1996 the computer Deep Blue played its first match against the chess Grand Master and reigning world champion Kasparov and won. This prompted a flurry of articles about man against the machine and set the concern that the machine would eventually win in most endeavors and challenges against man.

Today’s cartoon from XKCD continues this trend (albeit tongue very firmly in cheek):

Progeny by XKCD

However, there is an easily overlooked flaw in this argumentation. The machine is not an independent being. The machine has no will. The machine is a representation of the intelligence and thought of a large group of programmers and developers. It was not the machine Deep Blue that beat Kasparov – it was the whole team of developers.

This is not a criticism of the machine but rather a criticism against the over-enthusiasm of the ability of the potential of the machine and the dream/nightmare of the technological singularity – the point where the age of human dominance will come to an end. This concept has been popularized by Vernor Vinge in his 1993 article The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era which contains the black vision that: “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

This is all very cool if you are thinking about entertaining science fiction but to make it work in reality, it requires that we ignore the teams of developers and handlers which make the technology work. As an antidote to the black vision I highly recommend Jaron Lanier’s (2010) book You Are Not a Gadget when expands and criticizes the ideas of collective intelligence.

Free Software Foundation Fundraiser

Its a worthy cause and you use more Free Software than you know…

The nonprofit 501(c)3 Free Software Foundation is running its annual fundraiser. The FSF publishes, maintains and updates the GPL free software licenses, maintains and publishes several critical free software projects, and performs advocacy, lobbying and litigation in support of the idea of user-modifiable, freely copyable software. I’ve been an annual donor to the FSF for many years and I’ve worked alongside of them at various policy bodies, from the UN to regional governments, to shape treaties, standards and laws.

Join with over 3,000 active members in 48 countries, representing a diverse membership of computer users, software engineers, hackers, students, and freedom activists.When you sign up as a member, you join an informed society working together to make a better world: one respectful of individual freedoms, rights, and privacy, built on free software.

Welcome to a society for free software advocates, supporting the ethical cause of computer user freedom!

Australian attempt to abolish software patents

Interesting activities in Australia where:

“Over 500 members of the Australian software industry have have signed an open letter urging their government to abolish software patents. Signatories include free software luminaries Andrew Tridgell and Jonathan Oxer. In 2008 the Australian government began a Review of Patentable Subject Matter. While we missed the 2009 public consultation period, we hope to influence the government’s response to the Review, due in February 2011. The letter will be presented to Minister Kim Carr in early August.”

(via Slashdot)

Against powerpoint

Mark Goetz has created a wonderful new infographic against powerpoint overuse.

click image for larger

Being a serious ppt addict I often find myself questioning the role of powerpoint in education and communication ( see for example Teaching with powerpoint & Do you hand out your handouts?). Ok so I will admit that I did not know who Edward Tufte was, but Wikipedia is very educational! Tufte ciriticized powerpoint in his essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” here are the highlights from the essay (via Wikipedia):

  • It is used to guide and to reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience;
  • It has unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of early computer displays;
  • The outliner causes ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide;
  • Enforcement of the audience’s linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure);
  • Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings (in particular, difficulty in using scientific notation);
  • Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. This may present an image of objectivity and neutrality that people associate with science, technology, and “bullet points”.

FSCONS 2009 part 2 Free Software and Feminism

Sunday morning begins at nine with the keynote Free Software and Feminism given by Christina Haralanova. Despite the party last night, the earliness of the hour and the difficulties in getting to the venue on a Sunday there is a good audience which shows the dedication and interest of this public to their cause. Haralanova asks why are there still so few women into technology. One answer is that they are discouraged and opposed. Boys have first contact at 12, girls 14.5 their first own computer boys at 15 girls at 19.

The social aspects of technology prove to be the key. The introduction to technology as toy for the boys provides them with a reason to interact with technology and share & discuss them with their friends. But since women begin later they do not have the confidence and the space to share and discuss. Naturally this then develops and is reinforced within the groups of tecchies and non-tecchies alike. Women are often subjected to jokes/insults and their contributions to projects are subjected to a more scrutiny.

As in many other aspects of life the contribution of men and women are not valued equally. This means that men are the coders while women are the documenters, teachers, promotors, gui-designers etc. We may have computers and Free Software but we still have not left the caves and hunting mammoths with rocks and sticks! The role of women is marginalized and made invisible – a role which re-inforces the negative position. By this we all lose.

I forgot to read the license

Recently the Norwegian browser released version 10, a nice slick browser and a good alternative. But I forgot to read the license. Thanks to Olav Torvund for reminding me by presenting the most important section on his blog:

By uploading Content to Opera’s site, you grant Opera an unrestricted, royalty-free, worldwide, irrevocable license to use, reproduce, display, perform, modify, transmit, and distribute such material in any manner, including in connection with Opera’s business, and you also agree that Opera is free to use any ideas, concepts, know-how, or techniques that you send Opera for any purpose. For the avoidance of doubt, this clause does not apply to the files you share as an End-User of the Opera Unite, as such files are never uploaded to Opera’s site. Opera will not make a claim to own or use those files.

This is not a totally unusual claim to rights but it should make you think. Any ideas or knowledge shared via Opera belong to Opera 🙂

Who took that? Finding images online

Since browsing began I have been collecting images I have found online. Everything from humor to teaching material has ended up being stored and transferred between computers. Since hard disks keep getting bigger this has never been a problem. Unfortunately there is a problem when I want to use the images I have found – legally. In many situations the photographer is unknown. Sometimes, but very rarely, the image filename includes a clue to the photographers identity.

For photographers the problem is related but different. It is important for them to be able to find out where and who is using their photographs without permission.

One solution many of us have been waiting for is image search engines. The idea is that you upload an image that is then searched for on the whole web. It’s google images but using an image as a search term. The closest example of this today is the search engine Tineye but it needs to be developed. It now has a limited database of about 1.2 billion images (Facebook, Photobucket and Flickr alone combine for over 18 billion images).

But Plagiarism Today reports some good news in this area. Corrigon is a new version of this image search. You upload images to Corrigon these are added to their database while the service then crawls the Web, looking for matching images.

What makes Corrigon unusual is that it doesn’t store the images, but rather, fingerprints them and compares the fingerprint against other matches it finds on the Web. This is very similar to what is doing with its matching technology. However, where C-Registry is more geared toward preventing works from becoming orphans, Corrigon is more about image search (though C-Registry has added image search)

So there is some slow progress in this area. Maybe someone at google will come along and develop a simple, elegant and easily available service as a complement to the basic search.

A variation to this problem is the mass of images I take myself. Here the problem is not that I am unable to use my own pictures but rather that I cannot find the one image I know I am looking for. It’s there somewhere but with so many thousands of images it may as well be lost forever. Don’t know how this could be resolved without a massive identifying and tagging effort on my part.

Can a license be too ethical?

The Gnu General Public License (GPL) holds an amazing position as the premier free and open source software license but this position may be slipping since its move to version 3 in 2007. In an article entitled Does GPL still matter? Yahoo Tech News reports:

A June study conducted by Black Duck Software, an open source development tools vendor, shows that the Free Software Foundation‘s GPL — although far and away still the dominant open source licensing platform — could be starting to slide. The survey found that despite strong growth in GPLv3 adoption, the percentage of open source projects using GPL variants dropped from 70 to 65 percent from the previous year.

This is interesting. But the question is what does this decrease (if it should be seen as a decrease) mean? The GPL has been in controversies before during its history (Wikipedia historical background) – in fact it’s monunmental position in free and open source software is built upon its unflinching ideological stance which has often been the root of controversy.

The question is whether the GPL has gone too far and is losing its position or if this should be seen as the GPL taking a new moral stance and waiting for the rest of the world to realise the wisdom of its position?

Code Rush

The documentary Code Rush from 2000 is about the open-sourcing of the Netscape code base and the beginning of the Mozilla project. Here is a comment from IMDB

Watch this film and you will get to see the things that a college computer science course could never prepare you for: having to sleep at the office for days in order to meet a deadline, alienation from family, caffeine addiction, having one’s release blocked by intellectual property concerns, and other cold realities of Silicon Valley. If you’re thinking about getting a career in software engineering or software project management, Code Rush is a must-see.

This documentary also gives insight into a few of the major milestones in the history of the software industry, such as the opening of the Netscape source code, which is code named “Mozilla”. If it weren’t for this release, we wouldn’t have Mozilla Firefox, one of the most popular Internet browsing solutions today. The footage also covers one of the most notable company acquisitions of that time period.

Code Rush is now released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. There is also a dedicated homepage for the film, with links to stream or download the film in various formats.