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The Killing of Abu Sayyaf (according to unreliable, one-sided, and conflicted sources)

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Read The Killing of Osama bin Laden or a summary on the English Wikipedia entry for Seymour Hersh.

Then read Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS Leader, Killed in Syria by Special Forces, U.S. Says. The part after the last comma is backed up by the article:

Pentagon officials said
One American military official described
the Pentagon’s description
A Defense Department official said
The official said
(The accounts of the raid came from military and government officials and could not be immediately verified through independent sources.)
officials said
American officials said
The White House rejected initial reports
said Bernadette Meehan, the National Security Council spokeswoman
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said
Officials said
Defense Department officials said
a Defense Department official said
the official said
the official said
the Defense Department official said
Defense Department officials said
officials acknowledged
officials said
Mr. Carter said
the senior United States official said

Why bother to publish this story? Why is the disclaimer of verifiability buried in a parenthetical instead of a banner at the top of the article highlighting multiple issues, a la Wikipedia?

The article closes with a conjecture from a former C.I.A. analyst that anyone could have made.

I’m not complaining about anything new; recently reading the Hersh article made me want to skim the article on the apparent killing of Abu Sayyaf, and the opportunity to update the title of Hersh’s article made me want to write this blog post.

Mike – Please Call Now for GPL’s Funding Approval

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Today I glanced at my spam folder and noticed an odd one:

Subject: Mike – Please Call Now for GPL’s Funding Approval

Though not a subject line fitting the style of either, for a moment I thought mail from Karen Sandler or Bradley Kuhn of Software Freedom Conservancy might have been misfiled.

Nope, it’s just spam:

Mike,I wanted to send you a quick reminder to let you know that I still have an opening today to get GPL instantly qualified for 1-2 times your gross monthly revenue, up to $500,000. There is no personal guarantee or collateral required. If you have $180,000+ per year in gross revenue and have been in business for 12 months, you could qualify for this program.

If you can, please give me a call before 6:00 pm CT today so I can get you in the system, 888-###-####. Over 90% of applicants qualify for this special program, but I need to get your application in.

But I smiled. GPL’s funding approval will have to come from you, dear reader. The Conservancy fundraising effort for enforcement of GPL compliance I mentioned last month met its goal, but with more support we could further ramp up compliance work (my mention last month explained why all sorts, including GPL lovers, haters, and exploiters, ought want this). Donate in support of compliance work or become a general Conservancy supporter!

uBlock now blocks newsletter tracking links

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

A year ago I wrote that most email newsletters are spam, file accordingly. Glad to see that someone agrees. Sometime between versions 0.9.10 and 0.9.30 of uBlock, the ad-blocking extension started blocking the tracking links commonly found in email newsletters (the ones I mentioned in previous post and many more are matched by the EasyPrivacy list included in uBlock). If you mistakenly subscribe to such a newsletter and click one of its links with a recent uBlock version installed, below is what you’ll see.

The Firefox Addons site has an old version of uBlock. Get it from the uBlock releases page instead.

Newsletter senders, including many from well-meaning organizations, please read my previous post and stop being jerky to your customers, fans, constituents, subscribers, patrons, or however you think of people receiving your newsletter — give them transparent, untracked links.

Or you could play cat and mouse with the uBlock and EasyPrivacy developers. This would be further evidence that your organization is a misallocation of resources.

Happy UTC+0 New Year

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

With apologies for the projection.

Smattering of followups on mostly-recent posts, posted at 2015-01-01 00:00:00 UTC. Does anyone celebrate UTC+0 New Year except by coincidence of being in UTC+0 time zone? Yes.

Software Freedom Conservancy released a video with me endorsing them (my recent blog endorsement). I self-recorded the footage and acknowledge total videography incompetence, need of a haircut, and need to be still.

PLOS Biology published a perspective by Daniel Mietchen on The Transformative Nature of Transparency in Research Funding. Riffing on his tweet, that’s early theory; practice is the Wikidata for Research proposal that he is leading creation of in the open (my recent blog endorsement).’s one-time crowdfunding campaign (my recent blog endorsement and others) is wrapping up very successfully. Looking forward to seeing launch in early 2015.

Free Software Foundation’s call for input on updating its high priority projects list (my blog post) has resulted in over 100 emails to, most of them very thoughtful and containing numerous suggestions. Some are mirrored in public posts: Antoine Amarilli, Christopher Allan Webber, d3vid seaward, Denver Gingerich, Ingegnue. Please send your feedback! I especially enjoy seeing public posts and explanations of how suggestions are on critical path toward achieving goal of software freedom for everyone.

Speaking of the FSF, they recently released a new video making the case that software freedom is important for everyone. I agree with Christopher Allan Webber’s asseessment of good progress. The video also ties into a free software futurist dinner that Webber said raised money for Software Freedom Conservancy, and some statements I make in the video above: I suspect it’s much easier to take software freedom as a serious issue of top importance if one has a “futurist” bent. This will also figure in a forthcoming post from me casting doubt on everything in this post and the rest from 2014 (last year’s version).

There’s some overlap between the above and OpenHatch’s year-end newsletter (my year-ago blog endorsement).

Finally, check out Don Marti’s below the fold announcement about Aloodo, a project to (if I understand correctly) help sites protect themselves from the long-term damage of being associated with pervasive tracking and door-to-door-like incentives (everything to make immediate conversion, nothing to build trust). I still have not gotten around to blogging other ideas for “fixing” online advertising, but very much look forward to seeing how Marti’s project plays out. original articles now BY-SA after a week

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 started in 1998 as Linux Weekly News. Its coverage is broader now — Free/Open Source Software, and sometimes immediate neighbors, with in-depth coverage of Linux kernel and related system software development — and expert. It’s one of the few publications that I can read an article about a topic that I have in depth knowledge of and not then question whether all reporting on topics I don’t have in depth knowledge of is also that bad. Because’s reporting is good (other readers I know seem to agree).’s logo says “Linux info from the source”; I suspect the method implied (reading source, commits, mailing lists, talking to developers) explains the goodness.

I’ve poked fun at paywalls, but for a paywall,’s is simple and well done: most new articles are subscriber-only for one week, and subscribers can generate a link to share a paywalled article with non-subscribers. The site does have ads, though disappointingly mostly Google AdSense. It is too bad such an in-depth industry publication doesn’t attract highly specific ads, like trade publications or even well done user group newsletters used to.

It seems that starting recently releases its original articles under the CC-BY-SA-4.0 license after one week. As of this writing a week old article, a current article, another of more general interest, archive of author guidelines timestamped February 10 mentioning “possibly under a free license”, and today mentioning CC-BY-SA-4.0. I imagine that given’s in-depth reporting, especially on the Linux kernel, some articles might actually be usefully incorporated into educational material, documentation, Wikipedia articles.

Subscribe, or occasionally read articles older than one week. Either would probably be good for your information diet.

Update 20140507: The ‘current’ articles above are now a week old, and CC-BY-SA-4.0 licensed.

Sum of all questions

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

I thoroughly enjoyed memesteader Gordon Mohr’s Quora & Wikipedia: Might one ever bail out the other? Futures of ‘Qworum’ or ‘WiQipedia’ which posits two futures in which the sites respectively decline mostly due to internal failure — essentially not adequately dealing with spam and unscrupulous behavior in both cases, though the spam and behavior is different for each.

Both futures seem plausible to me, inclusive of the decline and bail out in each. I also take the medium term absolute decline and death of Quora and steep relative decline of Wikimedia as likely. This relative assessment isn’t a knock on Quora — it and many others waiting in the wings can get big or fail — commons-based projects don’t have much experience in trying to do that (but need to, or find some other way to maintain long-term competitiveness).

Of course “waiting in the wings” is an understatement: I suspect the decline of both Quora and Wikimedia will be less due to internal failure than to being outcompeted by new entrants. Mohr has long been rumored to be working on one, but I imagine there must be many entrepreneurs dreaming of taking a chunk of Wikipedia traffic. I enjoy the Kill Hollywood request for startups, but Kill Wikipedia seems like a more plausible target for VC-term investment. (My preference is to target proprietary monopolies for destruction through competition, replacing them with commons; long ago I even imagined a financially leveraged/risk-seeking approach, but more feasible ones badly needed still.)

Go read and enjoy Mohr’s post, take it at least semi-seriously, and reflect on the future. Doing so makes me pine for something which does not yet exist: combinatorial prediction markets for everything.

I hadn’t looked at Quora in some time. I note that it still requires logging in to read, but has added Google — previously Facebook login (or not) was the only choice. There have been at least semi-serious explorations of a Wikimedia general Q&A sister project, but I’m not sure if any of them are listed in project proposals.

Counter-donate in support of marriage equality and other Mozilla-related notes

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

I’m a huge fan of Mozilla and think their work translates directly into more human rights and equality. So like many other people, I find it pretty disturbing that their new CEO, Brendan Eich, donated US$1000 in support of banning same sex marriage. True, this is scrutiny beyond which most organizations’ leaders would receive, and Mozilla in deed seems to have excellent support for LGBT employees, endorsed by Eich, and works to make all welcome in the Mozilla community. But I think Evan Prodromou put it well:

If you lead an organization dedicated to human rights, you need to be a defender of human rights.

Maybe Eich will change his mind. Perhaps he believes an ancient text attributed to an ultra powerful being commands him to oppose same sex marriage. Believers have come around to support all kinds of liberal values and practices in spite of such texts. Perhaps he considers marriage an illegitimate institution and would prefer equality arrive through resetting marriage to civil unions for all, or something more radical. I can comprehend this position, but it isn’t happening this generation, and is no excuse for delaying what equality can be gained now.

Freedom to Marry logoIn the meantime one thing that Mozilla supporters might do to counter Eich’s support for banning same sex marriage, short of demanding he step down (my suspicion is that apart from this he’s the best person for the job; given what the mobile industry is, someone from there would likely be a threat to the Mozilla mission) is to “match” it in kind, with counter-donations to organizations supporting equal rights for LGBT people.

Freedom to Marry seems to be the most directly counter to Eich’s donation, so that’s what I donated to. The Human Rights Campaign is probably the largest organization. There are many more in the U.S. and around the world. Perhaps Eich could counter his own donation with one to an organization working on more basic rights where homosexuality is criminalized (of course once that is taken care of, they’ll demand the right to marry too).

Other Mozilla-related notes that I may otherwise never get around to blogging:

  • Ads in new tabs (“directory tiles”) have the potential to be very good. More resources for Mozilla would be good, “diversification” or not. Mozilla’s pro-user stance ought make their design and sales push advertisers in the direction of signaling trustworthiness, and away from the premature optimization of door-to-door sales. They should hire Don Marti, or at least read his blog. But the announcement of ads in new tabs was needlessly unclear.
  • Persona/BrowserID is brilliant, and with wide adoption would make the web a better place and further the open web. I’m disappointed Mozilla never built it into Firefox, and has stopped paying for development, handing it over to the community. But I still hold out some hope. Mozilla will continue to provide infrastructure indefinitely. Thunderbird seems to have done OK as a community development/Mozilla infrastructure project. And the problem still needs to be solved!
  • Contrary to just about everyone’s opinions it seems, I don’t think Mozilla’s revenue being overwhelmingly from Google is a threat, a paradox, or ironic. The default search setting would be valuable without Google. Just not nearly as valuable, because Google is much better at search and search ads than its nearest competitors. Mozilla has demonstrated with FirefoxOS that they’re willing to compete directly with Google in a hugely valuable market (mobile operating systems, against Android). I have zero inside knowledge, but I’d bet that Mozilla would jump at the chance to compete with Google on search or ads, if they came upon an approach which could reasonably be expected to be superior to Google’s offerings in some significant ways (to repeat, unlike Google’s nearest search and ads competitors today). Of course Mozilla is working on an ads product (first item), leveraging Firefox real estate rather than starting two more enormous projects (search and search ads; FirefoxOS must be enough for now).
  • The world needs a safe systems programming language. There have been and are many efforts, but Mozilla-developed Rust seems to have by far the most promise. Go Rust!
  • Li Gong of Mozilla Taiwan and Mozilla China was announced as Mozilla’s new COO at the same time Eich was made CEO. I don’t think this has been widely noted. My friend Jon Phillips has been telling me for years that Li Gong is the up and coming power. I guess that’s right.

I’m going to continue to use Firefox as my main browser, I’ll probably get a FirefoxOS phone soon, and I hope Mozilla makes billions with ads in new tabs. As I wrote this post Mozilla announced it supports marriage equality as an organization (even if the CEO doesn’t). Still, make your counter-donation.

Most email newsletters are spam, file accordingly

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Bare URLs are useful, for example:

  • they give users some idea of where a click will take them,
  • allow the browser to indicate to the user whether they’ve already gone there and otherwise act as agent in user’s interest,
  • allow the user to bookmark for later use without visiting first (and have the bookmark be intelligible, due to first item), and
  • help the user to copy and share link without looking like an inconsiderate fool or spammer, passing along above benefits.

When all of the links in a newsletter are opaque redirects, such as…–FFFFFFFFFFFFFF-FFFFFFFFFFFF==

…we know that the sending organization…

  • cares more about tracking the reader than providing useful information to the reader, and
  • probably [wants to] waste the reader’s money, assuming the reader is a [potential] customer or donor, expending staff and stakeholder time on presenting and reviewing facile and misleading click metrics rather than doing a better job.

…you might not want to unsubscribe, because you might want information from the partially stupid organization sending such inconsiderate email newsletters. But do tell them to be considerate, and in the meantime, file accordingly.

Keep Fighting Forward

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Today is the day to mass call for regulation of mass surveillance. I did, please do it too.

I’m still underwhelmed by the rearguard nature of such actions, wonder how long they continue to be effective (e.g., when co-opted, or when policymakers realize mass calls don’t translate into votes, or forever…since at least 1996), and am even enraged by their focus on symptoms. But my feelings are probably wrong. Part of me applauds those who enjoy fighting the shortest term and broadest appeal possible battles. Such probably helps prevent things from getting worse, at least for a time, and that’s really valuable. Anyone who believes things must get worse before they get better is dangerous, because that’s when real trolls take over, damn your revolution.

I enjoyed Don Marti’s imperfect but perfectly provocative analogy, which I guess implies (he doesn’t say) the correct response to mass surveillance is to spend on end-to-end crypto, rejection of private tracking, decentralization, and other countermeasures, sealing net communications from security state poison. I’m all for that, and wish advocacy for same were a big part of mass calls to action like today’s. But I see the two as mostly complementary, as much as I’d like to scream “you’re doing it entirely wrong!”

Also QuestionCopyright’s assertion that Copyright + Internet = Surveillance. Or another version: Internet, Privacy, Copyright; Choose Two. I could quibble that these are too weak (freedom was infringed by copyright before the net) and too strong (not binary), but helpfully provocative.

Addendum: Also, Renata Avila:

For me is . Otherwise, we will be in serious trouble. Donate to resistance tools like or

Social mobilization for the Internet post-epochals grew up with

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Puneet Kishor has organized a book talk tomorrow (2013-11-15) evening in San Francisco by Edward Lee, author of The Fight for the Future: How People Defeated Hollywood and Saved the Internet–For Now (pdf).

I can’t attend, so I watched a recording of a recent talk by Lee and skimmed the book.

The book gives a narrative of the SOPA/PIPA and ACTA protests, nicely complementing Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate, which does what the title says by analyzing relevant posts and links among them.

Lee in the talk and book, and the authors of the mapping report, paint a picture of a networked, distributed, and dynamic set of activists and organizations, culminating in a day of website blackouts and millions of people contacting legislators, and street protests in the case of ACTA.

The mapping report puts the protests and online activity leading up to them in the context of debate over whether the net breeds conversations that are inane and silo’d, or substantive and boundary-crossing: data point for the latter. What does this portend for social mobilization and politics in the future? Unknown: (1) state or corporate interests could figure out how to leverage social mobilization as or more effectively than public interest actors (vague categories yes), (2) the medium itself (which now, a few generations have grown up with, if we allow for “growing up” to extend beyond high school) being perceived at risk may have made these protests uniquely well positioned to mobilize via the medium, or (3) this kind of social mobilization could tilt power in a significant and long-term way.

Lots of people seem to be invested in a version of (3). They may be right, but the immediate outcome makes me sad: the perceived cutting edge of activism amounts to repeated communications optimization, i.e., spam science. Must be the civil society version of “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” This seems eminently gameable toward (1), in addition to being ugly. We may be lucky if (2) is most true.

On the future of “internet freedoms” and social mobilization, Lee doesn’t really speculate. In the talk Q&A, lack of mass protest concerning mass surveillance is noted. The book’s closing words:

“We tried not to celebrate too much because it was just a battle. We won a battle, not the war. We’re still fighting other free trade agreements and intellectual property enforcement that affect individual rights.”

In a way, the fight for digital rights had only just begun.

Of course my standard complaint about this fight, which is decades old at least, is that it does not consist merely of a series of rearguard battles, but also altering the ecosystem.