Rise of the machines: has technology evolved beyond our control? | The Guardian

This recent article from James Bridle does more to recommend him as one of the more insightful, and interesting writers on Technology at the moment. I linked to a post he wrote about disturbing algorithmic content on Youtube. I'm glad to a writer like this finding a platform to ask important questions in an accessible way.

Something strange has happened to our way of thinking – and as a result, even stranger things are happening to the world. We have come to believe that everything is computable and can be resolved by the application of new technologies. But these technologies are not neutral facilitators: they embody our politics and biases, they extend beyond the boundaries of nations and legal jurisdictions and increasingly exceed the understanding of even their creators. As a result, we understand less and less about the world as these powerful technologies assume more control over our everyday lives.

Between technological evangelism, and equally religious devotees, the more important dissenting voices and thoughtful critique become. Which is why I recommend picking up a copy of Bridle forthcoming book New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

Find it on Book Depository or Amazon

Details on a New PGP Vulnerability | Schneier on Security

You might have seem some of the hullabaloo around the web about the discovery of a security flaw in PGP or S/MIME. From Bruce Schneier, the vulnerability is not in the encryption itself, rather the exploit is carried out in transit.

The vulnerability isn't with PGP or S/MIME itself, but in the way they interact with modern e-mail programs. You can see this in the two suggested short-term mitigations: “No decryption in the e-mail client,” and “disable HTML rendering.”

The suggested workaround is solid advice. Email has never been a sensible means for secure communication.

Why is anyone using encrypted e-mail anymore, anyway? Reliably and easily encrypting e-mail is an insurmountably hard problem for reasons having nothing to do with today's announcement. If you need to communicate securely, use Signal. If having Signal on your phone will arouse suspicion, use WhatsApp.

Overcast 4.2: The privacy update | Marco.org

This privacy focused update to the Overcast podcast player could hardly come at a better time. I have found Overcast a little frustrating at times. I might wonder about its popularity if I didn’t get how big a deal Marco is in Apple tech circles. However, the spirit of this update has prompted me to renew my subscription for another year. It might not have all the features I want, but it supports the features I need.

Castro has nailed podcast triage. The inbox feature of that app is almost enough to make me forget the things it is missing. If organising your podcasts is more important than the silence trimming trickery performed by Overcast or Pocket Casts, then definitely try Castro. Where it fails for me, it doesn’t appear to support chapters. That’s a deal breaker.

However, if Overcast implemented an inbox now, I would probably consider it game over. 1 I evaluate the privacy element of every app and every service I use to the point that it is fundamental.

Big data ruined the web, and I’m not going to help bring it to podcasts. Publishers already get enough from Apple to inform ad rates and make content decisions — they don’t need more data from my customers. Podcasting has thrived, grown, and made tons of money for tons of people under the current model for over a decade. We already have all the data we need.

With this update, Overcast has been elevated in my mind.

  1. And no, smart playlists do not adequately substitute. Trust me, I have tried.

Say Hello to 1Blocker X – 1Blocker

The makers of the popular Safari content blocker, 1Blocker recently released an new version of their iOS app.  You can obviously read the details via the link. In addition to refreshing the codebase, with 1Blocker X they have managed to implement a workaround for the hard limit of 50,000 blockers imposed by iOS.

Soon after releasing 1Blocker in 2015 and adding more features (Whitelist, Hide Elements, Make HTTPS, iCloud sync, etc.) and extending our rule sets, we found out that we are about to hit the limit of total number of rules allowed for a Safari content blocker extension. Apple set the limit at 50K rules, and we were already at 49K. We wanted to block more unwanted content and keep adding more features, but were frustrated by the limit of 50K rules. The only solution to that problem is to create multiple extensions within 1Blocker that independently manage blocking in Safari. However, that requires rewriting the app to handle all these new extensions.

It says a lot that 50k isn’t nearly enough to control the dumpster fire created by the contemporary internet. Tracking users online has become so sophisticated that a content blocker isn’t about to stop it happening altogether. But, the least you can do is make it hard for would be trackers. Throw in protection from crypto miners, and other nefarious actors, or even improve the internet by blocking comments!  The introductory price of US$4.99 looks a bargain.

Thank you for making 10 years of GitHub possible | Github

Github has put together a nice timeline of achievements to celebrate their first decade in existence.

For 10 years, you’ve shared, tinkered, and built on GitHub from all around the world. Before we head into the next decade, we’ve collected some of our favorite moments and milestones—just a few of the ways you’ve pushed software forward.

I have written about the usefulness of GitHub for academic users in the past. The platform’s commitment to education is not only admirable, but I suspect a part of their success in general. If you’re a student, and you’re looking for a way to get into coding in any capacity — even if it is only a passing interest — the Github student package is more than worth claiming.

Making Slides | kieranhealy.org

This is timely from Kieran Healy . I’m just now working on a review of the wonderful Markdown slide deck app Deckset.  This is as good a primer on presentation technique as I have come across.

It doesn’t cover the tools. That makes sense, the tools shouldn’t matter — if they can get out of your way that is. I would argue, to put this advice into practice means allocating your focus away from the kerning of application settings and onto ideas. The right tool can give you the means to do that. It is worth thinking about, if you're going to head advice such as this;

The actual slides are the most immediately visible but also the least substantively important part of your material. While I’m going to highlight a few rules and techniques about making decent slides, do not lose sight of the fact that if your paper is bad, your talk is going to be bad too.

The paper is not the talk. The paper is what the talk is about. In some fields, the talk can be very closely related to the paper, and there are still people trained to “read the paper” in the old-fashioned sense. But this is increasingly rare. In most fields, especially when presenting the results of a data analysis, the presenter must condense, summarize, and highlight the important parts of their own work. The paper is the most important thing; the talk is about the paper; and you use your slides to help you give a better talk.

How To Change Your Facebook Settings To Opt Out of Platform API Sharing | EFF

With the Facebook scandal casting a shadow on anything even remotely tech related, we're not short on opinion. What's surprised me most about the whole situation, is that anyone should be surprised at all. What's more, I can't see how the proposed changes will do much.  The most expedient thing right now would seem to be sharing information like this from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Locking your profile down, insofar as it can be locked down. While you defintely should — lock it down — sadly the horse has bolted, and with your data.

Over the weekend, it became clear that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company, got access to more than 50 million Facebook users' data in 2014. The data was overwhelmingly collected, shared, and stored without user consent. The scale of this violation of user privacy reflects how Facebook's terms of service and API were structured at the time. Make no mistake: this was not a data breach. This was exactly how Facebook's infrastructure was designed to work.

My point exactly, this is how it was designed to work. Nobody should be the least bit surprised at this situation. If you’re similarly cynical about the efficacy of the plan to address the situation, and at the same time caught in a bind like most people on the question of whether to keep using the service. The minimum requirement is another look over those settings.

You shouldn't have to do this. You shouldn't have to wade through complicated privacy settings in order to ensure that the companies with which you've entrusted your personal information are making reasonable, legal efforts to protect it. But Facebook has allowed third parties to violate user privacy on an unprecedented scale, and, while legislators and regulators scramble to understand the implications and put limits in place, users are left with the responsibility to make sure their profiles are properly configured.

Not only should you not have to do it, but you shouldn’t expect that settings will routinely change to such a degree that maintaining the level of privacy you desire requires you to check over it every time Facebook rearranges the furniture.

 

Alphabet’s ‘Outline’ Homebrew VPN Software Offers Open-Source, Easy Set-Up Privacy You Control

Alphabet's ‘Outline' looks an interesting project. I want to revisit some of the security/privacy recommendations on this site, my own perspective on private VPN companies has shifted since I last wrote about one in particular. I would agree this is not a ‘privacy panacea’, but have every intention of seeing if I can break it.

Jigsaw, the Alphabet-owned Google sibling that serves as a human rights-focused tech incubator, will now offer VPN software that you can easily set up on your own server—or at least, one you set up yourself, and control in the cloud. And unlike older homebrew VPN code, Jigsaw says it's focused on making the setup and hosting of that server simple enough that even small, less savvy organizations or even individual users can do it in minutes

Sociologists Examine Hackathons and See Exploitation | Wired

Study sociology long enough, not only does the world look different, but you’ll start to forget it does. This is lightweight from Wired, naturally, but this is something the tech world has become very good at. Abstraction of value from labour in its myriad forms.

One pair of sociologists recently examined hackathons and emerged with troubling conclusions. Sharon Zukin, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, spent a year observing seven hackathons, mostly sponsored by corporations, in New York City, interviewing participants, organizers, and sponsors. In a study called “Hackathons As Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the ‘New’ Economy,” she and co-author Max Papadantonakis argue that hackathons create “fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all,” which Zukin writes is a “powerful strategy for manufacturing workers’ consent in the ‘new’ economy.” In other words, institutions use the allure of hackathons, with sponsors, prizes, snacks, and potential for career advancement, to get people to work for free.

This is not unique to the collective wager of hackathons, there are mundane examples everywhere. For instance, I very casually check-in on a discussion group for a popular ‘tech’ podcast hosted on a major social media platform. The forum is run by listeners, who volunteer time — in some cases, a seemingly inordinate amount of it. Listeners are generating content, giving product recommendations that are turned into affiliate links on the show, and so on. Like I said, mundane. An yet, if you are going to talk about the so-called ‘new’ economy 1, like everything you have to consider how it scales. The underlying economic socialisation equates to the same thing.

 

  1. Which incidentally, is a bullshit term.

Say Hi to Deckset 2!

I’ve never enjoyed preparing slides for presentation. Even allowing for the improvements of Keynote over PowerPoint isn’t enough to make me enthusiastic. Deckset, however, is an all together different proposition. If you write in Markdown, and want to simplify your presentation workflow, trust me this is for you.

With the new release, Deckset has also gone sans App Store, which means it now has an education discount. 1

The main reason for us to leave the App Store is greater flexibility in pricing. For example, we are now able to offer a 50% discount to students, teachers and other members of educational institutions. That is something we simply couldn’t do before, and we feel it’s essential to reflect the realities of how and why people use Deckset.

Time willing, a full review is in the works.

  1. Incidentally, as if the 30% tax isn’t obscene enough, it is absurd that Apple doesn’t facilitate this.