I contributed to this article -- "The Null-Terminated String: The most catastrophic design bug in the history of computing" -- but there are a bunch of other worthy entries in here that I hadn't thought of!

Number 4294967295 might surprise you.

Culturally, code exists in a nether zone. We can feel its gnostic effects on our everyday reality, but we rarely see it, and it's quite inscrutable to non-initiates. (The folks in Silicon Valley like it that way; it helps them self-mythologize as wizards.) We construct top-10 lists for movies, games, TV -- pieces of work that shape our souls. But we don't sit around compiling lists of the world's most consequential bits of code, even though they arguably inform the zeitgeist just as much.

So Slate decided to do precisely that. To shed light on the software that has tilted the world on its axis, the editors polled computer scientists, software developers, historians, policymakers, and journalists. They were asked to pick: Which pieces of code had a huge influence? Which ones warped our lives?

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

Posted Tue Oct 15 19:00:18 2019 Tags:

The last 33 days have been unprecedentedly difficult for the software freedom community and for me personally. Folks have been emailing, phoning, texting, tagging me on social media (— the last of which has been funny, because all my social media accounts are placeholder accounts). But, just about everyone has urged me to comment on the serious issues that the software freedom community now faces. Until now, I have stayed silent regarding all these current topics: from Richard M. Stallman (RMS)'s public statements, to his resignation from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), to the Epstein scandal and its connection to MIT. I've also avoided generally commenting on software freedom organization governance during this period. I did this for good reason, which is explained below. However, in this blog post, I now share my primary comments on the matters that seem to currently be of the utmost attention of the Open Source and Free Software communities.

I have been silent the last month because, until two days ago, I was an at-large member of FSF's Board of Directors, and a Voting Member of the FSF. As a member of FSF's two leadership bodies, I was abiding by a reasonable request from the FSF management and my duty to the organization. Specifically, the FSF asked that all communication during the crisis come directly from FSF officers and not from at-large directors and/or Voting Members. Furthermore, the FSF management asked all Directors and Voting Members to remain silent on this entire matter — even on issues only tangentially related to the current situation, and even when speaking in our own capacity (e.g., on our own blogs like this one). The FSF is an important organization, and I take any request from the FSF seriously — so I abided fully with their request.

The situation was further complicated because folks at my employer, Software Freedom Conservancy (where I also serve on the Board of Directors) had strong opinions about this matter as well. Fortunately, the FSF and Conservancy both had already created clear protocols for what I should do if ever there was a disagreement or divergence of views between Conservancy and FSF. I therefore was recused fully from the planning, drafting, and timing of Conservancy's statement on this matter. I thank my colleagues at the Conservancy for working so carefully to keep me entirely outside the loop on their statement and to diligently assure that it was straight-forward for me to manage any potential organizational disagreements. I also thank those at the FSF who outlined clear protocols (ahead of time, back in March 2019) in case a situation like this ever came up. I also know my colleagues at Conservancy care deeply, as I do, about the health and welfare of the FSF and its mission of fighting for universal software freedom for all. None of us want, nor have, any substantive disagreement over software freedom issues.

I take very seriously my duty to the various organizations where I have (or have had) affiliations. More generally, I champion non-profit organizational transparency. Unfortunately, the current crisis left me in a quandary between the overarching goal of community transparency and abiding by FSF management's directives. Now that I've left the FSF Board of Directors, FSF's Voting Membership, and all my FSF volunteer roles (which ends my 22-year uninterrupted affiliation with the FSF), I can now comment on the substantive issues that face not just the FSF, but the Free Software community as a whole, while continuing to adhere to my past duty of acting in FSF's best interest. In other words, my affiliation with the FSF has come to an end for many good and useful reasons. The end to this affiliation allows me to speak directly about the core issues at the heart of the community's current crisis.

Firstly, all these events — from RMS' public comments on the MIT mailing list, to RMS' resignation from the FSF to RMS' discussions about the next steps for the GNU project — seem to many to have happened ridiculously quickly. But it wasn't actually fast at all. In fact, these events were culmination of issues that were slowly growing in concern to many people, including me.

For the last two years, I had been a loud internal voice in the FSF leadership regarding RMS' Free-Software-unrelated public statements; I felt strongly that it was in the best interest of the FSF to actively seek to limit such statements, and that it was my duty to FSF to speak out about this within the organization. Those who only learned of this story in the last month (understandably) believed Selam G.'s Medium post raised an entirely new issue. In fact, RMS' views and statements posted on stallman.org about sexual morality escalated for the worse over the last few years. When the escalation started, I still considered RMS both a friend and colleague, and I attempted to argue with him at length to convince him that some of his positions were harmful to sexual assault survivors and those who are sex trafficked, and to the people who devote their lives in service to such individuals. More importantly to the FSF, I attempted to persuade RMS that launching a controversial campaign on sexual behavior and morality was counter to his and FSF's mission to advance software freedom, and told RMS that my duty as an FSF Director was to assure the best outcome for the FSF, which IMO didn't include having a leader who made such statements. Not only is human sexual behavior not a topic on which RMS has adequate expertise, but also his positions appear to ignore significant research and widely available information on the subject. Many of his comments, while occasionally politically intriguing, lack empathy for people who experienced trauma.

IMO, this is not and has never been a Free Speech issue. I do believe freedom of speech links directly to software freedom: indeed, I see the freedom to publish software under Free licenses as almost a corollary to the freedom of speech. However, we do not need to follow leadership from those whose views we fundamentally disagree. Moreover, organizations need not and should not elevate spokespeople and leaders who speak regularly on unrelated issues that organizations find do not advance their mission, and/or that alienate important constituents. I, like many other software freedom leaders, curtail my public comments on issues not related to FOSS. (Indeed, I would not even be commenting on this issue if it had not become a central issue of concern to the software freedom community.) Leaders have power, and they must exercise the power of their words with restraint, not with impunity.

RMS has consistently argued that there was a campaign of “prudish intimidation” — seeking to keep him quiet about his views on sexuality. After years of conversing with RMS about how his non-software-freedom views were a distraction, an indulgence, and downright problematic, his general response was to make even more public comments of this nature. The issue is not about RMS' right to say what he believes, nor is it even about whether or not you agree or disagree with RMS' statements. The question is whether an organization should have a designated leader who is on a sustained, public campaign advocating about an unrelated issue that many consider controversial. It really doesn't matter what your view about the controversial issue is; a leader who refuses to stop talking loudly about unrelated issues eventually creates an untenable distraction from the radical activism you're actively trying to advance. The message of universal software freedom is a radical cause; it's basically impossible for one individual to effectively push forward two unrelated controversial agendas at once. In short, the radical message of software freedom became overshadowed by RMS' radical views about sexual morality.

And here is where I say the thing that may infuriate many but it's what I believe: I think RMS took a useful step by resigning some of his leadership roles at the FSF. I thank RMS for taking that step, and I wish the FSF Directors well in their efforts to assure that the FSF becomes a welcoming organization to all who care about universal software freedom. The FSF's mission is essential to our technological future, and we should all support that mission. I care deeply about that mission myself and have worked and will continue to work in our community in the best interest of the mission.

I'm admittedly struggling to find a way to work again with RMS, given his views on sexual morality and his behaviors stemming from those views. I explicitly do not agree with this “(re-)definition” of sexual assault. Furthermore, I believe uninformed statements about sexual assault are irresponsible and cause harm to victims. #MeToo is not a “frenzy”; it is a global movement by individuals who have been harmed seeking to hold both bad actors and society-at-large accountable for ignoring systemic wrongs. Nevertheless, I still am proud of the essay that I co-wrote with RMS and still find many of RMS' other essays compelling, important, and relevant.

I want the FSF to succeed in its mission and enter a new era of accomplishments. I've spent the last 22 years, without a break, dedicating substantial time, effort, care and loyalty to the various FSF roles that I've had: including employee, volunteer, at-large Director, and Voting Member. Even though my duties to the FSF are done, and my relationship with the FSF is no longer formal, I still think the FSF is a valuable institution worth helping and saving, specifically because the FSF was founded for a mission that I deeply support. And we should also realize that RMS — a human being (who is flawed like the rest of us) — invented that mission.

As culture change becomes more rapid, I hope we can find reasonable nuance and moderation on our complex analysis about people and their disparate views, while we also hold individuals fully accountable for their actions. That's the difficulty we face in the post-post-modern culture of the early twenty-first century. Most importantly, I believe we must find a way to stand firm for software freedom while also making a safe environment for victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, gaslighting, and other deplorable actions.

Posted Tue Oct 15 09:11:00 2019 Tags:
In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended:

By the time a coroner's investigator was able to examine Jinde's 70-pound body, the bones from her legs and arms were gone. Also missing were large patches of skin from her back. With permission from county officials and saying they did not know of the abuse allegations, employees from OneLegacy, a Southern California human tissue procurement company, had gained access to the body, taking parts that could have provided crucial evidence. [...] "We can't be sure the bones weren't fractured," Wecht said. "This could have been a manslaughter case." [...]

Although the companies have emphasized organ transplants, in far more cases nationwide they harvested skin, bone, fat, ligaments and other tissues that are generally not used for life-threatening conditions. Those body parts fuel a booming industrial biotech market in which a half-teaspoon of ground-up human skin is priced at $434. That product is one of those used in cosmetic surgery to plump lips and posteriors, fill cellulite dimples and enhance penises. A single body can supply raw materials for products that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. [...]

To increase the supply of harvested body parts, the companies have embedded procurement teams inside government morgues across the country. [...]

"I was inside the residence performing my investigation and the family was standing by outside," Kim Pavek, an L.A. County coroner investigator, wrote in an internal complaint about OneLegacy after a suicide in 2008. "The decedent's mother asked me why someone from my office would call her cellphone during such a distraught time.... She explained to me that someone from OneLegacy said they were a representative from the coroner's office inquiring about 'donating parts.' "

Previously, previously, previously.

Posted Tue Oct 15 04:41:06 2019 Tags:

Apple's nonfree Safari browser spies on users for the Chinese company Tencent.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

Britons complain their taxes are too high, but they are less than in 1970 — especially for the rich.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

Duterte's chief of national thugs (including their death squads) has resigned due to accusations of involvement in drug dealing.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

Some countries operate "free trade zones" that are great for money laundering.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

A deal permitted hundreds of PISSI fighters to escape from Raqqa, along with thousands of people in their families, in order to end the fighting to capture that city.

700 more supporters of PISSI have now escaped from prison as a consequence of Turkey's attack, as the Kurds had to move their forces to oppose Turkey.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

US sanctions are driving Cuba into poverty because no ships can transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

It surprises me that Russia or China or Iran doesn't send ships to do this.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

Hungarians showed their mounting dissatisfaction with the authoritarian Fidesz party by defeating it in significant local elections.

This is a step towards removing it from power, but that won't be easy because of the grip it has given itself over other institutions.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

The Syrian Kurds have allied with Assad to resist the invasion from Turkey, and turned over two border cities to Assad in exchange.

If Rojava can peacefully reconcile with Assad, perhaps recognizing his suzerainty but without submitting to the tyranny of his regime, it would be a step forward — as long as Assad allows it to continue.

However, the fighting between Assad and Turkey could lead to fighting between Russia and Turkey. That is potentially dangerous.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

When multinational companies depend on a relationship with China, either for manufacturing or sales, China can force them to support its repression.

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:

US citizens: call on Congress to ban government use of facial recognition.

This is not enough, but it's a good start.

If you call, please spread the word!

Posted Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 2019 Tags:
For the last year or so I have been running with JavaScript mostly turned off, and what I have learned is this:

  1. Almost nothing works. 95% of the web just shows you a blank page.

  2. Most sites start working again if you allow one or two JavaScript URLs to load and block all of the others.

  3. Those others are the ones that are super annoying trackers and popups and selection-interceptors and shit.

  4. Most sites host their "render the page" JS locally, but load the "annoy and surveil" JS from outside domains.

  5. Blocking ".js" URLs is better than turning it off entirely, because the <noscript> tag typically just does a table-flip and tells you to fuck off.

Well, Safari 13 kneecapped content filtering by removing Safari Extensions entirely, so JS-Blocker doesn't work any more (it was not very good, but I had a hand-hacked version that I could mostly live with). But now I'm back in an ad-tracking sign-up-popup "let's keep the conversation going" hell again.

Did Apple replace Safari Extensions with anything useful? Does there exist, or can I write, a content filter that blacklists any URL ending in ".js" with whitelisting based on the domain of the parent URL?

This latest indignity is almost enough to make me try out Firefox again -- almost -- but since I am also a heavy iOS user, that's a fucking nightmare. Using a non-Safari browser on iOS is basically impossible (all URLs open in Safari, all app embeds are Safari, all share menus are Safari, etc.) and so using something else on desktop would mean no synchronization of browser history, bookmarks or Reading List between desktop and mobile.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

Posted Mon Oct 14 19:57:10 2019 Tags:
jwzlyrics works with Music.app on macOS 10.15. Let me know how it goes.

Music.app has a lyric-displaying sidebar now, but I made this work out of curiosity to see how stupid the port from iTunes.app to Music.app was. (Answer: medium stupidity.)

They respond to all the same AppleScript messages, just in a different namespace -- in case doubt lingers about it being a lie that iTunes has been "retired" and Music.app is some brand new thing. No. No, they just renamed the app and deleted a bunch of features. I told you so.

Most of the hassle involved silent failures due to moving target sandboxing API whack-a-mole.

Previously, previously.

Posted Thu Oct 10 22:23:15 2019 Tags:
YseultCeirw:

Fairly certain that crude oil is a genuine eldritch horror.

  • lied in wait in the Earth's crust for literally millions of years
  • made from the dead bodies of creatures nobody in recorded history has ever seen alive
  • almost immediately granted us advanced technology
  • naturally occurring, yet has a scent incomparable to any other natural substance
  • pitch black liquid
  • kills anything it touches
  • using it to make anything kills everything it DOESN'T touch, but very slowly
  • inexplicably addictive to the money-poisoned
  • Is the cause of the mass extinction event we're currently experiencing, and that 95% of people are completely unaware of or outright deny.

ingdamnit:

we used to power things by whale souls then we found out there's a ton of souls trapped under the earth just waiting to be burnt

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

Posted Thu Oct 10 19:14:23 2019 Tags:
Posted Wed Oct 9 04:52:23 2019 Tags:
Great news everybody! XML is now deprecated!

Apple's latest desktop operating system update, macOS Catalina, will mark the official end of iTunes after nearly two decades.

This is a lie. Apple is not "replacing" iTunes. What they are doing is:

  1. Renaming iTunes.app to Music.app;
  2. Removing a bunch of features;
  3. Creating a new podcast player app, or some shit.

iTunes is effectively a part of the macOS kernel. It is the conduit through which the OS talks to the Apple store; through which new iOS devices are authorized, provisioned and upgraded; through which iOS devices are backed up; and through which Xcode installs and debugs software on development devices. They can't get rid of it. Their terrible kitchen-sink decisions of accretion mean that they are stuck with it forever and ever and ever, just like Finder.

So don't believe the marketing spin. They're just changing the name, and (as is their way) amputating a bunch of important, useful features that tons of people care about a lot, but which Apple got bored with supporting.

However, moving on:

But that transition is proving to be complicated for a certain subset of Mac users who've relied on the software to help manage their jobs: DJs.

According to Apple, along with Catalina's removal of iTunes, users are also losing XML file support as all native music playback on Macs moves over to the official Music app, which has a new library format. XML file support is a popular organizational feature for DJs who use it to sort tracks into playlists and utilize the "Share iTunes Library XML with other applications" option to seamlessly transmit data between apps.

Tons of popular DJ apps, like Rekordbox and Traktor, read XML files, and over the years, iTunes became the de facto way for lots of DJs to sort through their massive file libraries and quickly find tracks while performing.

But this means updating to Catalina will replace iTunes with Music, and that, in turn, will break communication between the app and many existing DJ softwares. According to Apple if a customer is reliant on XML files for DJing, they should avoid updating and continue using their preferred software on macOS Mojave until developers push out fixes.

"Push out fixes" here is a euphemism for "Apple has removed the API you've been using for a decade, so good luck figuring some new way to make your app work. Bye."

Remember, APIs only ever get less useful over time!

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

Posted Wed Oct 9 03:19:46 2019 Tags:

Planet Debian upstream is hosted by Branchable.