liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
Some months ago, I asked for some advice about mobile phones. And then everything went to pieces and I didn't get round to telling you what I decided, so:

gadget wonkery )
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
I am more and more thinking I want to contribute to Open Source. Now, one way is to overcome all the inertia and get going again with Dreamwidth, but I don't want to put all my eggs in one dubiously viable basket. So I'm considering other possibilities.

noodling )

Anyway, I have so far failed to get Ubuntu onto my netbook, and I'm framing this as a success at gathering data on how hard it is, rather than a failure at installing the OS. And like a good little scientist, I've documented the experience in my dev journal; you're welcome to take a look if you're curious but I don't want to shove that kind of boring detail stuff in everybody's faces.

Advice is cautiously welcome. I really don't want to hear all the arguments for why Ubuntu is rubbish, I have my reasons for starting from there, and if I find that it isn't the system or the community I'm looking for, fair enough, but I have made up my mind to try at this point. Equally I don't want people to offer to take over and sort stuff out for me, however well-intentioned, because I want the experience of figuring it out at least as much as I want the end goal of having a netbook running Linux. But if you want to give me advice on where to start with troubleshooting my installation process, I would be grateful.

And if you want to give me more general advice about getting started with contributing to Open Source, then I would definitely like to hear it. I'm most likely to listen to advice that takes into account that I'm reasonably intelligent even though I'm female and don't have much in the way of programming experience, but also doesn't assume any prior knowledge at all.


Nov. 18th, 2014 11:28 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Duolingo, who's playing? I've seen various mentions of the site and thought I might check it out, and then I discovered via FB that they now have a Swedish-for-English-speakers course in beta. So I signed up and poked at it a bit.

impressions )

Anyway, username ewerb; anyone who's using it want to be friends? I'm sure the social side of it will be a benefit if I do decide to go on with it.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
It seems a bit of a perennial thing with me that every so often I pontificate about the current state of social networking. This latest round was prompted partly by everybody suddenly getting excited about a new tech start-up, Ello. I'm pretty much convinced it's entirely pointless, and probably just vapourware. blather )

I was also going to talk about women using the internet professionally, and misogyny and crowdfunding, but I think that's probably a separate post in fact.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I found a netbook replacement. Thank you all for helping me figure out what's out there. I ended up poking about on eBay and found a last year's model mid-range 11½'' netbook going for £100, so I snapped it up. It's an Acer V5-121, not exactly the model that's listed at that link but something pretty close to it (the processor is AMD C72 not AMD C70, but I can't imagine I'll notice the difference!)

comments and further questions )
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
[personal profile] syderia asked me about e-books and paper books. It's possible everything there is to say about this topic has already been said, but let's give it a go.

yay living in the future )

[January Journal masterlist. Anyone want the last empty slot?]
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I have a new phone, so I shall babble about it, because I'm procrastinating.

consumer stuff )

OK, so what about privacy / security? After all my efforts to escape from the clutches of Google, I'm kind of shooting myself in the foot by getting an Android phone which pretty much offers up my entire life on a plate to the corporation. The issue is that I have managed to get myself locked in to the Android ecosystem; there are apps I rely on, and I have no doubt I'll find more that I'll want to improve on the vendor defaults. And really most of the alternatives to Android are proprietary OSes which are going to have equally many problems. The solution to this is probably that I should jailbreak the phone and install CyanogenMod, but I'm a little scared to do that. I'll probably read up on it and convince myself I can do this without irreparably wrecking my phone or losing access to useful Android apps.

It does seem like there's a more serious problem than Google's intrusiveness, though, which is active spying by US intelligence. Lots of my liberty- and privacy-minded friends are reacting with understandable horror to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance and their ability to get round many types of cryptography. I find Schneier's analysis credible: it seems a lot more likely that the NSA are attacking various weak points in information transfer, such as insufficiently secret keys or insufficiently random random numbers, than that they have some quasi-magical, hitherto unknown mathematical tools allowing them to break strong cryptography directly. So many of my set are stepping up the degree of encryption they want to use in their communications; OTR for instant messengers is all the rage, for example. Schneier himself recommends running everything through Tor, but I've also heard rumours from people who don't appear to be paranoid conspiracy theorists that the US government basically owns most of the Tor nodes.

I have to say, I feel completely fatalistic about these revelations from Snowden and others. I doubt I have the technical know-how to hide effectively from the NSA. And even if I did, I can't expect that everybody I interact with has the know-how or cares enough to encrypt everything. I mean, hey, there are enough people in the less geeky parts of my social circles who haven't learned better than to pass on chain forwards or sign up for fake "social networking sites" that harvest the emails from their address books and spam all their contacts. And even if I could implement sound cryptographic practices and convince everybody I interact with to do so too, that itself would look pretty suspicious to the NSA and would likely just result in intensified efforts to keep tabs on me. I can't fight a state-backed intelligence agency; I'm just going to assume that every aspect of my life is completely transparent to the US government and likely a whole bunch of even shadier actors, I'm just hoping that I'm too boring for them to care about.

This is not a case of "if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear". It's almost the opposite: if a governmental agency is evil enough to prospectively survey all internet traffic and electronic communication, without waiting for probable cause or any kind of transparent judicial process such as obtaining a warrant, they're probably also evil enough to act against me if they feel like it, without waiting until they actually find any evidence to pin on me with their intrusive surveillance methods. I mean, I'll continue to vote for options that seem to be the most privacy protecting available, for whatever good that does. But in my personal habits, efforts to hide my internet traces seem entirely futile.

That said, I do try not to be gratuitously careless, particularly with other people's privacy. It turns out that it's no longer possible to import contacts from old phone to new phone by a direct Bluetooth connection between phones. Instead, the only way to import my old address book is to add all the contacts to my Google account so that both devices have access to them in the Cloud. Well, screw that; I have given up a considerable amount of convenience so that Google doesn't have a complete list of everyone I ever interact with, because they've abused that information in the past. So I'm having to transfer over all my phone numbers manually. Which maybe doesn't help, because I don't know how much of the data Google can just slurp out of my phone anyway, even if it's not officially attached to my Google account, but there you go. Anyway, if you do contact me by phone, and would like to send me a signed text so I don't have to type in your phone number into my new address book, that would be a big help.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Got into a discussion with [personal profile] damerell about the fact that so many people have left LJ and DW and all gone to Facebook, which is just unspeakably awful. And [personal profile] ayngelcat chimed in with the comment that it is't Facebook that everybody's gone to, but Tumblr.

I tend to pontificate about FB fairly regularly, but hey, one more can't hurt. pontification within )

Is there anything DW can do to get these people back? One thing that would help would be having a usable mobile app, and another would be replacing the sack-of-crap RTE with a modern point-and-click system for posting, including pictures and embedded media without having to hand-code your own HTML. But I suspect that even if those features ever get further than a half-hearted spec, it may not be enough or too late to deal with fragmentation. Trying to be a rival to FB and Tumblr is a mug's game, that much is sure. The only hope I have for getting people back is for DW to be a place people go as well as Facebook and Tumblr (and Twitter, Pinboard, Instragram and any number of other sites that wouldn't be on topic for this post). However, to end on a positive note, these days DW is far more active and lively with ongoing conversations than LJ, and in lots of ways I like that it's small, I like that it still has the ethos of what [staff profile] denise calls a "Mom and Pop business". And, y'know, I've been here 4 years and I'm still very content with my online home; four years in to my time on LJ I was already casting around for some less evil / annoying alternative.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Lots of people saying sensible things about Google closing down its Reader (RSS feed reading system). [ profile] j4 linked to an article with a fairly novel take on the issue, and one I agree with: the loss of private and silent reading. Actually I left Google Reader a while back because I thought it had too much social, it wasn't achieving the goals Roberts sets out of being able to read and think without getting caught up in popularity contests and emotional echo chambers. But those are certainly my goals. [personal profile] ursamajor makes a good point about why proposed Reader alternatives aren't if they're "popularity" algorithm-driven, ooh-shiny picture magazine style social networking apps.

Personally, I'm pretty happy with Netvibes as a reader that lets me read and doesn't broadcast my reading habits to friends or advertisers, nor shout at me to "share" the latest cool / shiny / funny meme. And it's not fuelled by self-reinforcing outrage cycles. I should mention about Netvibes that the actual feed reader part of it is kind of a side-benefit; what it actually is a business-focused analytics tool, which is why the paid version costs several hundred dollars a month. I like the fact that its business model is very much users as customers rather than users as product, and if all you want out of it is the feed reader, the free version is more than adequate. And as for social reading, I am basically using Twitter for that; people retweet interesting articles and I read them, which fulfils a different niche from blogs and ongoing conversations I want to follow on a regular basis. Right now I don't think I need anything more fully featured than that for social.

I am not so impressed by those who are being smug about "what do you expect if you rely on a free, proprietary service?!" For one thing, Google is a giant, they have pretty successfully killed off all possible rivals in this market niche, so what choice does one have? For a second thing, not everybody has the technical skill, time, spoons or resources to install stuff completely under their control on their own server. And if that were in fact the default behaviour any time you wanted to use any sort of service, can you imagine the security holes amateurs would be introducing all over the place? Yes, we can have a conversation about the importance of open standards as opposed to proprietary walled garden systems. That's not going to be achieved usefully by looking down on people who do in fact use Google's services, or Facebook (again, it sucks, but it's pretty much killed off all possible rivals, so what do you do?)

Talking of sharing information and standards, [personal profile] skibbley has a good rant on what he calls microbarriers. I think his piece is a very good example of why accessibility / usability is good for everybody, it's not just a concession generously made to those poor unfortunate disabled people. And a very big part of usability is presenting text as actual text, not expletive pictures of expletive text! (PDF: bad enough that it's proprietary, but it's a graphical format, which is useful if you need things to display exactly as composed, but extremely sub-optimal way of transmitting informational content.)

And finally, something that's cool and not really at all related to the above: Sica on Making Light posted a wonderful comment about Icelandic words for weather which appeals to the language geek in me. Also, If the person who made the awesome post about Swedish terms with stacked-up consonants recently wouldn't mind making a public version of it I would love to link to that too. I'll put it here as a guest post if you don't want your name associated with it.
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
It's almost a ritual complaint by now, that "nobody" posts to LJ any more, they've all gone to Facebook. I don't think this is entirely true, or at least it's only a very small aspect of the problem. TBH, LJ had a good run; 12 years is absolutely ancient in internet terms! It's only to be expected that something else would be the cool thing by now, and even FB itself is kind of falling out of fashion, the real cutting edge isn't there any more. The question is, why hasn't LJ been replaced with something as much better than LJ as LJ was better than MySpace?

semi-informed rambling )

This started out as a response to Anil Dash's more measured and more technically knowledgeable article on the web we lost. (Dash was one of the real pioneers of blogging culture, by the way.) I think the problem with the Facebookification of everything goes deeper than what he talks about. It's a problem that most of the people I want to talk to are on FB, and FB as everybody knows has terrible privacy policies and exists to serve its advertisers, not its users. But that's not the whole story. The dominance of Facebook and its model, along with solutions worse than the problem to spam, is making the whole rest of the web worse. It's making it so much harder to meet interesting new people online, and without that, well, communities around existing networks fragment and become dormant, to the point that nobody really posts to LJ any more except to complain that nobody posts to LJ any more.

Obviously, I would like it if Dreamwidth were the answer to this problem. That is in fact why I continue to post actively here even as more and more people are drifting away. But pessimistically, I fear that DW will always be too small to compete with all the sites that are optimizing for getting huge numbers of users, rather than for being actually useful to have conversations.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I've already made more posts on the topic than you probably want to read, but in short I have definitely lost my faith in Google.

ok, I can't resist complaining a bit ) So my main reason for this post is to ask you to email me at my domain in future. Don't write to my old Gmail ID, please. I am not deleting the account, mainly because I really like Google's IM system [ETA: and I do plan to carry on using it because most of friends are there]. But I am setting myself up so that if Google's behaviour with broadcasting personal data and inferences from personal data gets any worse, I can delete it without any serious consequences.

I think the next step is to do what I've always held back from doing, and start blocking Google ads. Does anyone have a step-by-step guide to doing this? I assume it starts with "install a Firefox extension", but I'm not sure which ones are best to use or what the magic incantation is to hide Google ads.
ETA 2: Thanks commenters who pointed out that I can use Jabber to talk to Google contacts! I'm now retiring my Gmail account altogether; if you want to talk to me on IM, see my profile for my username I think I've added most of the people I regularly chat to.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
Boring thing to post about, but I have a new shiny Android phone on the way to me. This hopefully means I get to play with apps. What do you guys recommend? I definitely need Twitter and some kind of RSS reader. I might be persuaded to install Facebook and Google+, and I wouldn't be averse to a DW app if there's an LJ app for Android that's compatible. Anything else that makes phones better?

the gory details )

Because the phone I had my eye on had to be ordered from the last remaining stock in the warehouse, there may be a transition period between switching off my old (overpriced) service, and activating the new contract on the new phone. Shouldn't be more than a couple of days, but I may well not be contactable between whenever Orange update their system and Friday. I will see emails and DW comments (though not instantly), and you can certainly call my landline. From Friday, assuming all goes smoothly, I will reattach myself to my precious instant data feed including Twitter and email, and I will continue to be reachable by text or phone at the same mobile number I already had.
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
I have thinky thoughts about Google+, but I don't want to post them there because I'm starting to get paranoid about Google deleting accounts where there is criticism of their service. And I don't want to post them here, because anyone who cares about the nitty-gritty of Google+ would be in their "field trial" by now. (If there's anyone left hunting for an invitation I have a few I can send; I need an email address, though, and preferably the one you actually intend to use for your profile. PM me if you don't feel comfortable putting your email address in a public post.)

But I do want to talk more generally about the Real Names issue. Google+ is insisting on what they define as real names, a policy they are enforcing in an entirely cack-handed way. Although they've corrected some of their earlier mistakes, I suspect this issue is going to kill Google+ in the way that assuming your email address book equals your social circle killed Buzz. But suppose they had a sensible definition of real names, such as allowing names that don't follow the standard US pattern, or professional pseudonyms, or use-names that don't happen to match what's written on a person's birth certificate (all of which are perfectly "real" according to both US and European law). And suppose they had a sensible appeals process if someone got deleted by mistake. In that case, would a "real-name social network" policy make sense?

in short, no )

What Google+ won't be is a replacement for DW. Yes, it has "circles", and yes, the UI for sorting your social network into trust categories is quite a bit better than what we have here. But there's no way I'm going to start posting personal stuff there, precisely because there's no way I want any opinions or any views about work or any details of my movements linked to my birth certificate name. Which, by the way, is pretty unusual, unique in the UK and shared by only half a dozen or so people worldwide. Honestly I'm not in very great danger; there's nobody out there who has any interest in tracking me down with harmful intent, and I work in academia so I can expect to have understanding employers who won't Dooce me for having opinions that disagree with the party line. Even so, it's totally not worth it.

The fact I have a pretty cushy life in this respect is what allows me to take part in real-name social networks at all. And when I go there I meet other people who can afford to be pretty transparent in their online activities. At the same time, between my job as a lecturer and my voluntary commitment to Jewish community leadership, there's plenty of stuff I would rather not connect to my real name. It's not because I have anything to hide, but because my students and congregants don't need to know about my love life, my politics, who my other friends are that I know through other situations than the ones where I interact with them, etc etc. For me, it's worth having a presence on Facebook, and now on Google+, because it gives me somewhat better control over what information is out there about me. If I don't participate, people could deduce quite a lot about me from the shape of the holes, and I can't do anything about data-careless friends revealing lots of info that I don't want out there. By having a profile, I can control what floats to the top when someone searches for me, and sometimes ask for damaging info to be removed if necessary. Most importantly I know what an investigator might find out about me by poking around on the net! But I don't socialize there. I lurk, I make bland posts that show I'm a real person and I'm at least semi-active, I make occasional updates about major life events that are effectively my public biography anyway.

The other thing is that the bizarre mixture of extreme permanence and ephemerality makes me completely freeze up when I try to say anything. I might have a stray thought that would fit there, but then I second-guess myself and think, but what if that doesn't perfectly represent what I believe forever and ever? Maybe it's better not to post after all! I'm finding myself reluctant even to "+1" other content or post links, because I keep thinking, is this really the thing, out of all the internet, that I want to associate with my real name and declare my allegiance to anytime someone looks me up online? At the same time I'm not going to post any carefully thought out stuff, because it all slides off the front page in a few hours anyway, and there's no sensible way to archive it or go back to refer to it, as you can with old blog posts.

So I'm going to carry on socializing in a pseudonym environment, most probably DW for the forseeable future. And I'm going to maintain a bland presence on FB, and on Google+ for the time being, but I'm rather expecting it to implode or just tail off into oblivion once the initial excitement dies out. You can call it image management, I suppose.
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
I've managed to get an invite for the real Diaspora (last time I thought I had one it was just someone's installation which they kind of stopped maintaining after it got popular). There's pretty much nothing there at the moment, as far as I can tell. I mean, I understand there's quite a lot of development going on, but there's very little that's user-facing and very little activity. A year after their launch, they're barely on the radar even for geeks, so I'm entirely skeptical about the "Facebook killer" buzz that was going around when it first launched. I am holding out a vague hope that it's going to get off the ground as a by-geeks-for-geeks open source social networking system that doesn't lock you in to a single provider and doesn't assume that anyone who's "honest" would be happy to share exactly the same information with business contacts and intimate friends. But even that isn't looking so likely any more.

Anyway, I have a few invites of my own now, so if you're curious, comment with an email address and you're welcome to join in. Not that there's much to join at the moment! Comments are screened by default; I'll unscreen if you have general comments and don't include an email address.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions for an image which represents me in some way, and looks equally good (or at least not awful!) at 300 x 300 or 50 x 50, please do clue me in.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
So, we all know that Facebook is evil, and LiveJournal is fast heading towards becoming evil. Or incompetent indistinguishably from malice, anyway. I'm very much debating with myself whether I should be deleting my accounts.

wibble )

[ profile] siderea believes in Diaspora as a Facebook killer, and I really, really hope she's right. But I have a hard time believing that a distributed, self-hosted system is going to be accessible enough to non-geeks. Or even enough better than Facebook for people to be willing to give up the networks they've already built up. Which is of course exactly why I'm still on Facebook however uncomfortable I feel about it.
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
From the time when Dreamwidth was just a cool idea, one of the things that was talked about was the ability to read posts from other LJ-based sites on your own reading list (DW terminology for "friends page"). Not a half-arsed RSS feed of public posts, actual posts that would respect access ("friends lock") settings and cut tags and allow you to join in the comment discussion. This project, which I'm love with, kept being stalled because it's a difficult problem socially and ethically; it needs to be done in a way that will not irreversibly freak out either LJ management or individual users. But finally this week, Dreamwidth announced that the feature is under active development.




actual analysis )

While I'm on my soap-box, let me talk briefly about why the Google Buzz debâcle is not the same thing. The problem there was not people being angry when stuff that was already public became more obviously public (though it did get confounded by elements of that), but that Google chose to reveal to the whole world, by default, your most frequently emailed contacts. Webmail has been around for multiple decades now, and it's always been the expectation that while it's not highly secure (it goes over http, duh) against a determined hacker, it's not actually public to anyone with an internet browser, let alone deliberately broadcasted to other people you email. And yes, Google have now fixed this so that the list of frequently emailed people are only suggested rather than automatically trusted by default, but it's too late, once the information is out there the genie won't go back in the bottle. Not to mention that lots and lots of Gmail users are not all tech-savvy and won't have been following all the internet discussion about how bad the Buzz roll-out was.

Me, I straight away went in and locked down the system as much as I could (I don't dare delete my profile and switch off Buzz altogether, because one of the many bugs seems to be that if you don't opt in, you can't get at any of the privacy controls. Also I feel nervous about next time Google decides to randomly broadcast private information, and I would rather get a notification than be blissfully unaware. I then discovered that if you edit your Gmail contacts at all, they are automatically shifted to "My contacts", which is by default the highest level trust filter for the Buzz. So when I edited an address book entry with a note saying, "out-of-date address, don't use", that long defunct Hotmail address was suddenly on the list of people who get a notification whenever I update my Gtalk status or post a photo to Picasa. And whoever now has that recycled address could probably deduce quite a lot of information about whom I know. So I spent a couple of hours going through my 500-member contact list, deleting every entry that is obsolete or belongs to some random customer service rep I emailed once or random Scandinavian who happens to be on the same Jewish mailing lists as me.

I'm not actually worried personally; I decided long ago that I wasn't going to use my primary email for web activities. I made this decision not because I'm prescient but because I wanted to minimize spam and quasi-spam in my main inbox. But now I'm really glad that I did, because Google knows nothing about my social networking presences, they're not linked to my main email address or real name. The trouble is that because of Google's extremely clumsy attempt to bypass the network effect and set up a service that was already populated, if I'm not strict about locking everything down, I could compromise my friends who may be more security / privacy conscious than I am (not to mention those people whom I sometimes email who are not my friends but are, for example, teenagers attending my bar mitzvah classes).

I thought people were being melodramatic about Buzz when it first appeared, because after all it's fairly easy to opt out, but the more I think about it, the more I'm annoyed.

[Cross-posting to LiveJournal because I think both the DW news and the Buzz stuff are important for LJ peeps to know.]


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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