Poettering Uber Alles

The wisdom of Dear Leader Lennart Poettering:

The design of systemd as a suite of integrated tools that each have their individual purposes but when used together are more than just the sum of the parts, that’s pretty much at the core of UNIX philosophy.

I would say that he misunderstands the essence, the substance and possibly even the purpose of the UNIX philosophy… but I think he actually does understand. I think he’s simply being disingenuous, twisting the definition to meet his desires. It’s clear that this is a man who believes that he knows what’s good and what’s not.
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Torrenting clichés live on for a reason

Freddie de Boer has a post up, decrying pro-torrenting ‘myths’ that need to die.

Down in the comments, he writes,

Many of you are dramatically underestimating the kind of resources that are necessary to make great artwork. Sgt Pepper could not have been made by dedicated amateurs. Even today, high-quality recording costs are far higher than people realize. Lawrence of Arabia could not be made by some kids with a GoPro and a dream. Nobody laboring alone in his bedroom could code Half-Life 2.

But Counter Strike absolutely WAS coded by a bunch of volunteers as a result of their own enthusiasm. Likewise Team Fortress.

Oh – and the Linux kernel, which drives most of the web today. And BSD Unix – the framework on which Mac OS X is built.

And pretty much all of deviantart.com. And a majority of the stuff on 500px.com. And a great deal of good writing.

Lawrence of Arabia could not be made by some kids with a GoPro, but that does nothing to diminish what a couple of kids with a GoPro can do. And Sergeant Pepper – oh, this is silly and childish. Freddie, your proposition is that Great Art is not possible without significant resources being brought to bear. The real proposition is that some kinds of creative endeavour (the majority of which are decidedly not great) are not possible without significant resources. Continue reading

Snowdrift? Toboggan hill!

Paul Chiusano, in the course of reinventing the world, writes:

One of my personal pet causes is developing a better alternative to HTML/CSS. This is a case where the metaphorical snowdrift is R&D on new platforms (which could at least initially compile to HTML/CSS).

The problem with the ‘snowdrift’ here, to abuse the metaphor, has nothing to do with IP law, and nothing to do with lack of innovation. It has everything to do with the size of the drift. You don’t have any choice but to wait for someone else to come along to help shovel. But the author is trying to say, If everyone doesn’t shovel, nobody gets out. And that’s not always true.

A quick reminder: When HTML first came out, the very first thing virtually every proprietary software vendor of note did was create their own, better alternative. Web design tools were so common, it became difficult to market oneself as someone who actually knew how to create HTML by hand. And each of those tools used proprietary extensions and/or unique behaviour in an attempt to provide a ‘better alternative’ to consumers – and of course to corner the market on web development, and therefore on the web itself.
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The ‘Digital Divide’ is a chasm

The ITU, bless their binary souls, just released the 2014 Measuring the Information Society report. The headline is – or should be – that something is very wrong on the internet, and we need to fix it.

I used to scoff at the phrase ‘digital divide’, which was used to soft-peddle the glaring technological inequalities between rich and poor nations. I still don’t like it, but for different reasons. I used to think that the technological gap between the developed and developing was evanescent, a transient blip which would rapidly disappear as wireless broadband technologies proved viable in even the most marginal markets.

Not so. At least, not so far. The 2014 ITU report shows a widening gap between rich and poor, in spite of the fact that growth in the global digital economy is driven entirely by the developing world.

Let’s look at who’s got access to broadband on their mobile:

 

 

The disparity between the richest and the poorest countries is glaring, and unlikely to right itself. The developed world and the Least Developed Countries are on completely different trajectories. Even the developing countries are showing a rate of increase that would require radical change even to come close to the level of ubiquity seen in Europe and North America. Continue reading

Systemd and The Unix Way

What follows is not for the benefit of systemd supporters. I write it because somewhere out there In the wilds of the internet, there might still be some youngster with a clue who needs to get this:

Systemd, OOP and a number of other technologies have been touted by people who have a curious mixture of cleverness and a lack of imagination or experience (something altogether too common in the world of software development). They claim that because they have solved a problem, they are therefore entitled to use the same approach to Solve All Problems Ever. So instead of exercising a little humility and moving their work ahead in a way that’s accepting of other approaches, they charge in full speed, damn the torpedoes and devil take the hindmost.

It happened with Microsoft and ActiveX. It happened with Object Oriented Programming languages – most notably with Java: there was a time when it was hard to find work programming in anything else. It happened, to a smaller degree, with design patterns. You can find numerous other examples if you search for them.

It’s happening again today with systemd. Continue reading

There’s no app for that

Putting responsibility for our children in the hands of governments and corporations is just wrong

In recent years, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has been drumming up support for surveillance and censorship. They do it under the guise of creating measures to protect children and stop what they call cyber-crime. But what they advocate is nothing short of a toolkit fit for a police state.

I’d love to be able to say that I’m overstating the case. I’d love to find out that the technologies and legal levers that are being proffered by the ITU and various other agencies were never used for anything other than good. I’d also love a pony.

I’ve written before about the fractious relationship between the ITU and the technical organisations that actually do run the internet. I’ve written about how Pacific island governments and societies can come to terms with surveillance and censorship. I’ve even talked about this push by the ITU, extending across the developing world, to drum up support for its vision of the internet as a fenced and orderly place. More to the point, I’ve already written about where it leads.

But just last week, at a conference discussing the protection of critical IT infrastructure, I watched a presenter describing the creation of a computer incident response team (in ITU jargon, a CIRT) based on a model adopted by some of the least free countries in the world. This was presented without apology or explanation. Continue reading

Web tricks are not for kids any more

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 12.01.22 PMI started writing web apps in 1994. Using CGI.pm in Perl was pretty much state of the art – and the art wasn’t very pretty. ColdFusion appeared shortly thereafter, but only supported basic control structures – no functions or even subroutines at the start. Then came ASP and a disastrous mishmash of security holes, ActiveX objects being called from the only thing worse than PHP for tag soup with spaghetti code for filler. PHP, for our sins, went from being a ‘hey, kids, look – I made a web page!’ app to an actual application platform.

.. and the list goes on.

I’ve lived through the browser standards wars, I’ve seen such sins committed in the name of the Web that I would wake up screaming, ‘Why, Tim Berners Lee?!? WHY???!!’ I’ve lived through <BLINK>, Flash, animated GIFs, <MARQUEE>… and other monstrosities whose names Shall Not Be Spoken.

I’ve used JavaScript since it was a toy.

But this, my child, is the key: It’s not a toy any more. Finally, after two decades of stumbling around blindly, wreaking more chaos and mayhem than a shirtless, drunken Australian on a JetStar weekend in Bali, web development has finally matured. A bit. It’s learned that being cool doesn’t earn you nearly as many friends as being useful. It’s learned that a guy’s gotta eat, fer Chrissakes, and sleep from time to time. It’s learned that popsicle-stick bridges may be neat, but won’t carry the load that a boring old concrete one will.

But, as the scripture says, ‘then I put away my childish things.’ Oh, it’s true that just because we’ve grown up doesn’t mean we’ve learned every lesson ever. It’s true that we Web Developers still get seduced by Teh Shiney. But all in all, we’ve grown; we’ve lost our innocence and our hair. But we sleep at night. And we parallelise. And we scale. We’re grown-ups now. With grown-up tools.

So put down your PHP child. Accept that JavaScript is a language. REST in your Bower and accept that some change is for the better.

Talking Shop

The Internet Governance Forum is sprawling, unfocused and formally useless. You should go.

I hate talking shops. Most sensible people do. If you are involved in any way in policy making, advocacy –or heck, if you just have to work for a living– the last thing you want to do is waste time talking. The Internet Governance Forum is a global conference that draws together governments, telecommunications interests, standards & technical management bodies, NGOs & social development groups… well, pretty much everyone who gives a fig about the internet. It was one of very few tangible results to emerge from the 2003 World Summit on the Internet Society, a UN-sponsored get-together that attempted (and ultimately failed) to address a widely-held perception of US dominance of the internet’s governance structures.

The IGF, quite deliberately, was designed to have no regulatory authority, no policy levers and indeed, no formal mandate to advocate even for issues about which the entire world is in screaming agreement. It can’t even publish findings. And that is its genius.

It’s a sprawling, unfocused event with disparate interests. Discussions cover everything and anything even remotely related to internet governance, from human rights and freedom of speech to child protection to spam and cyber security to standards development and law. It draws thousands of attendees from all walks of life. It’s uneven in quality and sessions range from the enlightened meeting of minds to fractious verbal brawls. As Winston Churchill might have said, it’s the worst possible forum we could possibly have, except for all the others. Continue reading

Buddies in bad times

Pacific island countries could –and should– do more to help one another

[Originally published on Pacific Politics.]

The recent breakdown of Vodaphone Fiji’s investment in Papua New Guinea’s BeMobile is just the most recent in a series of missed opportunities in cross-investment that could not only improve small island economies, but mitigate against some of the worst aspects of large-scale development projects in the Pacific.

Pacific island nations possess a chronic, unfixable weakness: With few exceptions, their economies are so small and fragile that a failure which might cause only ripples in a larger economy can hamstring theirs for years. Furthermore, their diminutive markets make them unappealing to most investors. Although they’re often put in the same basket as Caribbean states, their distance from other markets renders them unique – and in the eyes of many, uniquely unsuited for investment.

It serves no one’s interests to imagine that the development and financial approaches that work well in other developing states can simply be cut-and-pasted into the Pacific. And yet, far too often, this is the hole into which our development pegs are hammered. Although development banks and donor nations offer loans at extremely low interest rates, the assumptions under which funding is offered are sometimes unrealistic. And because return on investment is generally smaller than just about anywhere else on the planet, governments are expected to offer either guarantees or exclusive concession rights to investors, or to become shareholders themselves, and sometimes both.

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Surveillance, censorship & secrecy – island style

Global villagers could learn a thing or two about information security from Pacific island societies

[Originally published on Pacific Politics.]

It’s telling, and rather tragic, that even after the lessons of Wikileaks, democratic governments have still not learned how to deal with secrets. Ask a Pacific islander, and he’ll tell you how. If he trusts you. It’s high time for global villagers to take a seat by the fire and take a lesson on surveillance, censorship and secrecy from societies that have been using them as their stock in trade for nearly 3000 years.

Viewed from this side of the lagoon, one of the most startling aspects of the Manning and Snowden scandals is that people, organisations and entire governments were taken utterly by surprise by the breakdown of secrecy. If it weren’t so damaging, the US’s flailing reaction would be comical. The Obama administration’s actions resemble nothing so much as a grasping debutante whose connivances have been exposed mid-cotillion. Swearing vengeance, warning others off from even talking to the tale-teller, harping shrilly about the damage, the harm, the lost integrity – it’s all a bit much, really. Unfortunately, this particular prom queen has nukes.

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