English to live by.

March 15th, 2014

I finally found an example of how ending a sentence with a preposition in English is not only not wrong, but is sometimes the best way to avoid ambiguity:

Make sure your facility’s storage room is clearly organized, so that people will know how to fit in their boxes.

vs

Make sure your facility’s storage room is clearly organized, so that people will know how to fit their boxes in.

It only works because of the implied “…to the storage room” at the end of the second sentence, though, so maybe it’s not the pure example I’ve been looking for.

Support Snowden all the way, New York Times.

January 2nd, 2014

In an unsigned editorial today, “Edward Snowden, Whistle Blower”, the New York Times is needlessly weak:

… Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community. …

Well, there you have it. The iron-clad resolve of the nation’s most respected newspaper, taking a firm and uncompromising stand in support of a source who, at great personal risk, revealed a massive and ongoing abuse of government power. Yes, the New York Times is definitely who I want next to me in a trench.

Not. Come on, New York Times. The yellow-bellied, lily-livered, sop-to-power sycophancy of this position is… unseemly. Are you really saying “a pig like that, you don’t eat all at once” about Edward Snowden?

The worst thing in the editorial is also the subtlest:

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

Note the lacuna in the transition from the first sentence to the second. What I expected the second sentence to say was something like “Terrorists already assume their communications are being monitored and behave accordingly; Snowden’s leaks are a revelation only to law-abiding citizens who expected their government to play by its own rules.”

But instead the second sentence is an apparent non sequitur — it talks about how reducing the scale of data collection and increasing oversight would not harm the effectiveness of the programs. The implication is that the if Snowden’s leaks were to harm national security, they would do so by causing public outrage sufficient to force the programs to be reduced and brought under real oversight; and the Times is saying that we shouldn’t worry: because such reduction and oversight would not harm national security, therefore Snowden should not be punished to the full extent of the law.

There are two infuriating things about this. One is that they left out the obvious point that the real reason the leaks do not harm national security is that they do not cause terrorists to behave any differently than they are already behaving. Two is the implication that if changing the programs in response to public outrage did result in harm to national security, this would somehow be Edward Snowden’s fault, rather than being the responsible decision of the citizenry who demanded the reforms in the first place. Whistle-blowing is about pointing out when laws (not to mention Constitutions) are being broken in important ways — as was certainly happening here. It means giving the public a chance to decide how they will be governed. It does not mean the whistle-blower is personally responsible for whatever ultimate decision the citizenry makes.

Snowden himself has said this over and over: that his purpose was to inform the public, and that if we conclude, with full knowledge of what’s going on, that we want these programs to continue unchanged, then that’s fine. The point is to be making that decision in knowledge, not in ignorance.

They muffed the last paragraph of the editorial too:

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

Are they citing Rick Ledgett to endorse what he’s saying? And if not, why are they citing him? “Please, Mr. Snowden, let’s not have too much of a good thing now…”

(Luckily he can’t stop the leaks; he gave the trove of secrets to journalists and didn’t keep any copies himself, as he has repeatedly said.)

Here’s how the editorial should have ended:

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. President Obama should immediately grant a full pardon to Edward Snowden and let him come home to the hero’s welcome he deserves.

If the NYT thinks that’s unrealistic, then they’re right — but that’s no reason not to ask for it. As President Obama himself has learned time and time again, there’s no reason to start negotiating from any position other than the one you actually want. If something less than a full pardon is really what the NYT advocates, then I don’t understand why, and can find no explanation in this editorial.

Lucky in 2013.

December 31st, 2013

It’s the last day of 2013. I’ve thought a lot this year about how lucky I am: I get to work on freedom full-time, among other places at OTS, OpenITP, QCO, and the OSI.

I don’t want anything different for 2014, except for more people to be so lucky.

U.S. National Parks sign indicating a so-called 'free speech zone'.

Free Clarendon!

Speaking of freedom…

The U.S. National Parks sign above uses the Clarendon typeface — a high-quality digital incarnation of which is now on the way to being freed thanks to the Free Clarendon campaign on IndieGoGo, started by Linus Drumbler. If the campaign makes its goal of $30,000 Canadian, Clarendon Text will be released under the OSI-approved Apache License 2.0. While by font geek standards I’m no font geek, I love Clarendon, both aesthetically and for its association with effective government programs, and have contributed to the campaign to Free Clarendon. I hope you will too.

twitter.com/kfogel/status/418083411727618049 and identi.ca/kfogel/note/9Fk3frNZQmKEspQxr_PQjw:

Contributed to the Free Clarendon campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/free-clarendon! Join us? Classic font needs a Free digital life… #FreeClarendon

Healthcare.gov, why do you taunt me so?

December 22nd, 2013

The new healthcare.gov web site sure looks great. Under the hood, though, it’s apparently implemented with Bronze Age web development technology :-(.

I tried to sign up today. After dutifully filling out my name, state of residence, and email address, then choosing a username and password, then answering three required security questions, I got this error:

Account creation failure.

That is:

Important: Your account couldn’t be created.

Please wait a few moments and try again, keeping this in mind:

The User ID you created may already be in use. Try using a different User ID.

The email address you entered may be used with another account. If you think you may have already created an account with this email address, select “Forgot your username” on the Log In page.

Since this was my first time signing up, I figured maybe someone had chosen the same username already, so I clicked on Try Again, expecting the site to preserve my old responses so I could just change the one that needed changing.

Instead, it started me all over from scratch. Yo, healthcare.gov, newsflash: my first, middle, and last names have not changed since the last time I filled in this form 30 seconds ago:

Blank name and email form.

Oh look, the next page is blank too — but okay, maybe that makes sense because I’m probably supposed to try a different username, and it’s common practice for web forms to not preserve passwords…

Username and password form.

…But then… wait, really? You’re going to make me fill in the three security questions all over again? Did I mention there are three of them?

Security questions form.

This is insane. The site knows what the cause of the error was. After all, it displayed the big red error box at me. So why not tell me? And, in the meantime, don’t trash the form values I’ve already filled in that are not the source of the error.

Just to be sure, I tried the mailback option. After all, maybe somehow my email address was in the system already, even though I’ve never clicked a button nor filled in a form field on the site before tonight. No email never arrived, though, and it’s not in my spam folder.

(I’m now 0/2 for Federal web site mailback login links, by the way, as petitions.whitehouse.gov has also swallowed my account there, no longer responding to the password I’m pretty sure I set, and never sending me a recovery email no matter how many times I ask for one.)

While we’re at it:

A username collision could be easily detected as soon as the user types it in the form field anyway. So “the User ID you created may already be in use” is a silly situation to be in in the first place. If the User ID is not unique, then don’t let me go farther; make me fix it on that page, especially since I have to go all the way through the security question choices again before I finally get to an error.

But anyway I’m pretty sure the error is spurious, because I’ve now been through the loop several times, with definitely unique usernames, and it still gives me an error every time.

This is not how we do it in 2013. I am not a happy camper

.

IRC away messages.

December 10th, 2013

I set my IRC client to keep logs. Among other things, that means I have a record of all my away messages from the past couple of centuries or so… Some themes emerge, notably a nostalgia for an imagined Paleolithic past:

  kfogel is away: http://www.rants.org/2013/12/10/irc_away_messages/

kfogel is away: slowly leaching toxins from bloodstream while in a
state of severely lowered consciousness

kfogel is away: replacing busted USB port replicator so can haz
mousez and keyboardz simultaneouzly. Stay away from the IOGEAR
4-port USB 2.0 hub model GUH285 if you ever need a replicator.

kfogel is away: Upgrading to Lucid. Send a posse if you don't
hear from me in 30 min.

kfogel is away: enumerating the integers

kfogel is away: dealing with some reasonable subset of todo list

kfogel is away: errand in the city that never stops talking about
how it never sleeps

kfogel is away: communing with sessile benthic fronds

kfogel is away: pursuing striated brachiators

kfogel is away: metabolizing

kfogel is away: attending to metabolic requirements

kfogel is away: gym time -- yes, geeks are allowed to exercise,
stop looking at me like that

kfogel is away: bun run

kfogel is away: piano time is the only sacred thing

kfogel is away: deep in concentration

kfogel is away: ululating

kfogel is away: Post Office, possibly including metabolic detour.

kfogel is away: gradually converting oxygen to heat

kfogel is away: Speaking of certs and Apache redirects, it's time
to put my laundry in the dryer and start the next load.

kfogel is away: synthesis is the new creativity

kfogel is away: put the pencil in the suitcase when the whiskey
bottle faces the moon

kfogel is away: pipette herbivore cesium bricolage

kfogel is away: Drinking the blood of innocents.

kfogel is away: Q: How many Semantic Web advocates does it take to
screw in a lightbulb? A: What exactly do you mean by "a"?

kfogel is away: Every odd integer > 5 is the sum of three primes.
That made my day.

kfogel is away: weeping, once again, that "ombudsman" has neither
a sex-neutral form nor a verb form.

kfogel is away: One of the nice things about a downtown Chicago
office is exiting into a Daley Plaza protest most weekdays.

kfogel is away: gallivanting with brachiators

kfogel is away: afk for a bit; ask the NSA if you need to find me

kfogel is away: attentiveness to metabolic needs

kfogel is away: avoiding stobor

kfogel is away: oiling my Turing Machines

kfogel is away: pubpat.org is my hero -- victory for
non-patentable genes at U.S. Supreme Court!

kfogel is away: Literally heading to a restaurant whose motto is
"We Serve People". I am not making this up.

kfogel is away: Correction to previous away message: it might be
"Serving People", sorry

kfogel is away: realizing that public school systems are useful
for teaching children how to handle bullies well, and how to
subvert hierarchical authority structures, therefore they should
be preserved

kfogel is away: Is that Edward Snowden in a tuxedo, disguised
among the penguins in Antarctica?

kfogel is away: Seeing what that sound is.

kfogel is away: Researching the hallucinogenic properties of
oxygen -- hmm, continuous consumption appears to cause delusions
of reality...

kfogel is away: fulfilling humankind's millennia-long dream of
flight, albeit in a cramped, commercialized, sadly routinized and
perhaps slightly tawdry way.

kfogel is away: Neither hunting nor gathering.

kfogel is away: avoiding subsidizing further Mesopotamian
adventurism

kfogel is away: wondering why web sites use Flash in situations
where HTML+CSS+images would actually have been easier

kfogel is away: pondering the futility of empathy in a universe
made mostly of hydrogen

kfogel is away: pining for the fjords

kfogel is away: nostalgia-drenched lunch in NYC Chinatown

kfogel is away: stalking the wild asparagus

kfogel is away: converting sunlight to metabolic energy

kfogel is away: traipsing

kfogel is away: checking in on the progress of my escape tunnel

kfogel is away: flossing pulsars

kfogel is away: off to hear Chicago Schola Antiqua in concert --
I'm sure all of FreeNode writhes in jealousy

kfogel is away: contributing some heat back to the Universe

kfogel is away: consumption of sunlight, indirectly, via organic
solar repositories

kfogel is away: "What do we want?" "TIME TRAVEL!" "When do we
want it?"

kfogel is away: Los Angeles looks exactly like Los Angeles

kfogel is away: neural network nightly reset

kfogel is away: accepting silver medal for the 200 meter "not
thinking about the Olympics" challenge

kfogel is away: transferring heat from one location to another

kfogel is away: time to pay the cafe fee again -- maybe it'll be
another wheat-based sugary substance this time

kfogel is away: re-spending my misspent youth

kfogel is away: eating arugula in honor of Barack Obama

kfogel is away: improving my Sogdian accent

kfogel is away: converting matter into heat, using only my body

kfogel is away: Converting sunlight into energy, indirectly.

kfogel is away: admiring your gritty urban authenticity even as he
prices you out of your neighborhood.

kfogel is away: luxuriating in the knowledge that no matter how
bad things get, there's always xkcd

kfogel is away: pontificating somewhere, about something

kfogel is away: It's just about time for historical inevitability
to come back into fashion.

kfogel is away: ancient sunlight will now be converted to
particles of pure energy in my bloodstream

kfogel is away: seeking gourd for use in repurposed pagan ritual

kfogel is away: When you've just typed the same phrase three
times, it is time to take a break. When you've just typed the
same phrase three times, it is time to take a break. When you've
just typed the same phrase three times, it is time to FAKEOUT, YOU
THOUGHT YOU KNEW THIS JOKE BUT YOU DON'T.

kfogel is away: just going to start using "friblopen" to avoid the
whole "free"/"libre"/"open" debate

kfogel is away: Paying money to increase my cardiopulmonary
activity level in a socially-approved and non-disruptive manner &
location.

kfogel is away: taking The Jacket for repairs

kfogel is away: pursuing Outsider to galactic core to see what the
big deal is

kfogel is away: weekly spur waxing

kfogel is away: oak-sporting

kfogel is away: getting away from the computer for a bit and
fondly recalling my paleolithic past

				

My Contempt Knows No Bounds: The Starbucks “Come Together” Petition.

October 13th, 2013

This petition was on a table by the doorway at a Starbucks near my house, and the top sheet had even collected a lot of signatures. I wonder what those people thought they were accomplishing. You can click on the photo to get an enlarged version, but here’s what the text says:

To our leaders in Washington DC,
now is the time to come together to:

  1. Reopen our government to serve the people.
  2. Pay our debts on time to avoid another financial crisis.
  3. Pass a bipartisan and comprehensive long-term budget deal by the end of the year.

It’s as though Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hears someone getting mugged outside his window and shouts “Hey you all down there, quit fighting!”

The Starbucks 'Come Together' Petition

Memo to Starbucks: the way to solve this crisis is by taking a side. It’s literally true: as their poll numbers have dropped (i.e., as more people have taken sides), the Republicans have started to abandon their demands. When enough of them abandon enough of their hostage-taking ways, the government will re-open, the debt ceiling will be raised, and conversation will be possible. Humiliating defeat is also a bipartisan solution.

If you’re a gigantic publicly-held company and don’t feel you can afford to take a side, then at least don’t put out pointless petitions in favor of unicorns and rainbows and everbody getting along. That’s worse than useless. You might confuse some poor person who hasn’t yet had their morning coffee into thinking they’re actually participating in politics when all they’re doing is donating their name to your misguided and implicitly partisan publicity drive.

Refusal to take a side almost always equals taking one side. In this case, by legitimizing the Republicans’ extortionary tactics, Starbucks is supporting their side. All the people signing that petition are doing so too, but — especially knowing the demographics of Hyde Park, Chicago, where that particular Starbucks is located — they probably don’t think of themselves as doing that. That what makes this worse than useless.

I’m not sure how one conspicuously refuses to sign a petition. Maybe cross out one line? Sign your name and then cross over it? What I did at that Starbucks was write a note at the top of the petition about “false equivalency” and how the only constructive action to take here is to take a side. If you stop by a Starbucks today, please do the same :-).

Eben Moglen talks in New York City: “Snowden and the Future”

October 3rd, 2013

Eben Moglen speaking

Arrgh, I wish I could go to this!

Eben Moglen is giving a series of talks entitled “Snowden and the Future” on four Wednesday nights, spread across October, November, and December. I’d even fly into New York to attend some of them, but I have choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights (and I’ve already missed rehearsals due to travel, so don’t want to do more of that).

But if you’re in New York, you should go! They’ll be at Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall room 101 (map), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm, on Wednesdays Oct 9th, Oct 30th, Nov 13th, and Dec 4th. More information at snowdenandthefuture.info. The talks will be live-streamed at that site too.

Dear Lazyweb: How long will it take you to fix the LOVEINT problem?

September 8th, 2013

Just for the record, I know I could have created the English-language wikipedia entry for LOVEINT myself. But I wanted to see how long it would take from tweeting (and denting) it until someone else creates the entry :-).


(I think the only Wikipedia article I’ve actually started is the one on William Binney, which has developed very nicely since then. This time I’m taking the lazy route, though, and calling it an “experiment” since people have more respect for science than for laziness.)

Update: Okay, looks like the deed was done on 12 September 2013, by Wikipedia editor Koavf (Justin A. Knapp). He did it as a redirect to the “2013 mass surveillance disclosures” article, which mentions & defines “LOVEINT”. No idea whether he ever saw this blog post, but anyway, thanks Justin!

My favorite RSS reader, Feedbin.me, goes open source!

August 27th, 2013

Feedbin.me logo

I’d been waiting for this! (N.b.: had inside information it was coming.) The code behind my favorite RSS reader, feedbin.me, has been open sourced. See the announcement, or grab the code from github.com/feedbin/feedbin.

Feedbin is the RSS reader I use every day now. The minimal design is a pleasure: nothing gets between me and the articles I’m trying to read, but at the same time the knobs I need are there when & where I need them. It supports import/export, and has a documented API.

I don’t host my own Feedbin instance, of course. I just use the service run by Feedbin’s author, Ben Ubois, at feedbin.me. At the eminently reasonable price of $3/month, it’s well worth it for me not to have to worry about configuration and hosting administrivia. At the same time, knowing that the code is open source is important: that means it can never be taken away from its users. It means that the investment I make as a user can’t be suddenly rendered obsolete by one party’s decision to yank the rug out from under everyone.

If for some reason Ben Ubois ever shut down his Feedbin commercial service (unlikely), that still wouldn’t mean I’d have to set up my own instance. Someone else would probably do so, and I’d just pay them instead. Or if no one did so immediately, well, that’s a market gap I might be interested in stepping into… but then many others would be having the same thought. Open source is not about doing it yourself; it’s about removing barries to people doing things for each other.

That’s why it’s important for commercial services like Feedbin to also be open source.

Congratulations to Ben! I hope he gets many new users from among those who feel that commerce and freedom taste better together.

Here’s a screenshot of Feedbin’s three-column layout (feeds, [un]read articles, then the current article in the rightmost large pane):

Feedbin.me screenshot
.

Offline.

July 31st, 2013

I’m taking a vacation from email for a few weeks, so please don’t worry if you don’t get a response — just resend in late August.