Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for May 2010

Blogroll change

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Severely annoyed by a recent discussion (in Swedish) with an intellectually dishonest socialist/feministe, I have decided to add

Tanja Bergkvist’s bloge

to my blogroll. Tanja is a very intelligent young woman (doctor of mathematics), who has taken it upon herself to show the errors of the Swedish gender-feminists and -theorists to the world. In this noble cause, she deserves every help she can get.

(I will likely expand on the aforementioned discussion in the long post on racism that I promised some time ago. Unfortunately, I am unlikely to find the time to complete it until sometime next week.)

According to the first-in-first-out rule, Fria Nyhetere (original discussion) is removed. (With some hesitation, seeing that it too are among those deserving support against the many intellectually dishonest Swedish political activists; however, Fria Nyheter has already received one exemption from the FIFO rule, and two would be pushing it. Further, having three out of five links be to Swedish pages would be odd on an English-language blog.)

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May 28, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Comment spam

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One of the best ways to get blog traffic (at least in the short-term and on a small scale) is to comment on other people’s blogs. Some people do follow the link (on the commenter’s name) back to the blog of the commenter, if the comment is sufficiently interesting, and there is some chance that the link helps with search-engine attention. This is something that I have myself done to a great extent—partially to get traffic, but mostly because I read a lot of blogs and often find something that I actually want to comment upon.

This is all fine and dandy; however, unfortunately, there is another breed of commenters—the comment spammers. Akismet catches a lot of these; in particular, those who have a message of “Please buy my stuff at http://www.xxx.com”. Many others fly below the radar, and can be hard to differ from legitimate (but useless) comments, having a body of e.g.

Just want to say what a great blog you got here! I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!

Cheers

This comment (associated with one ondiluss/http://www.turkeyphototour.com/) is one that I have seen on a very great number of blogs recently. (Typically, as a result of my having subscribed to comments on a post that I have myself commented upon).

Other negative examples of a similar character can easily be found by going to the WordPress homepagee and having a look at the comments of the featured blogs—which obviously are targeted by spammers to a higher degree than the average blog.

I strongly suggest to my fellow bloggers to mark these comments as spam. There is one obvious problem: How should an individual blogger differ between merely useless comments and spam comments? There is no reliable and fool-proof way to do this, but looking at the name or contents of the linked to blog/website can help. As an alternative, I would consider deleting/unapproving (but not necessarily marking as spam) any comment that does not have at least some value to someone. Common to these spam comments is usually that they are given out en masse with little thought, presumably often without reading the post that they are attached to, and correspondingly they tend to lack any value outside of flattery. The use of a foreign language is a particular warning sign.

Conversely, I urge my fellow commenters to only comment when they have something (even be it something small) in terms of content, reasoning, constructive feedback, corrections, whatnot, to contribute—or, obviously, if they wish to ask questions, communicate with the blogger, or similar. The wish to gain links or just to spread flattery, however, is not enough.

In response to these observations, I have revised my comment policy and retro-actively thrown out a number of comments.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm

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On the need for balanced thinking

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During the last half year (or so), I have done extensive readings on politics, issues in society, religion, and similar, through the lens of the blogosphere. Notably, this gives a very different perspective than when keeping to newspapers, what individual parties say, etc. Difference include not just opinions (a much wider spectrum and more freedom for those who do not adhere to the Official Truth or PC propaganda), but also very different quantities. For instance, I have read or been involved in more discussions concerning immigration issues since delving into WordPress than in my entire previous life—in fact, without actually being very interested in immigration per se, but mostly in intellectual honesty and critical thinking, I find that even my own blogging has had a disproportionate focus on this topic (including a long entry currently in preparation).

One central observation is the need for balanced thinking: We humans are naturally imperfect in knowledge and understanding (and certainly lack Sybillic skills). The implication of this is that it is very hard to say what opinion amounts to being clear-sighted and what to being paranoid; when a “slippery slope” warning is justified and when a fallacy; when a perceived danger is real and when a result of undue pessimism; whatnot.

Consider e.g. the privacy issue: With the recent behaviour of Facebook, the enormous amount of data available to Google, and the possibility of espionage through governments (at least here in Germany), it is quite possible that we stand at the brink of losing any reasonable informational self-control and will see our rights as consumers and citizens severely reduced. It is also possible that we will in ten years time notice that life has gone on more or less as before. Here it is important to be aware of both possibilities and to try to make an informed decision on how to proceed and react. For my part, I recommend that we err on the side of caution and remove the temptation for abuse by removing the ability for abuse (e.g. by blocking referrers, unneeded cookies, and similar when browsing; or by running servers for Tor or I2P—noting that there already are people, e.g. political dissidents in dictatorships, who will legitimately benefit from our doing so). Others may see the risk as sufficiently small that such efforts are not warranted. Others yet believe that I am overly optimistic, and that more drastic measures (e.g. surfing exclusively with various anonymity services) is a good idea. Irrespective of personal belief, they all benefit from gaining an understanding for the other side and its arguments, and from making an informed and unprejudiced evaluation—explicitly bearing in mind the possibility that their current opinion may be naively over-optimistic or ridiculously paranoid.

(At the same time, I must warn for the gut reaction many of my fellow Swedes seem to have: The blanket assumption that the truth is half-way between two opinions, without in any way investigating the plausibility of the individual opinions.)

In other cases, we have conflicts of interest, where one perceived threat has to be compared to an other, while considering questions like whether the threat is real, how great the potential damage is, what the probabilities are, which issue is the more urgent in what time-frame, etc. Immigration is an excellent illustration of this: Looking just at my own perspective (let alone those of others), I am caught between, on the one hand, the ideological view that each individual should have the right to himself decide where he lives, the knowledge that emigration from some problematic countries can be a necessity to enable a reasonable life, the belief that exposure to different cultures can be highly valuable, the conviction that many immigrants bring a net benefit to their adopted countries (I hope to belong to this category myself), etc.; and, on the other, complications like rates of immigration that makes integration impossible, significantly higher crime rates in some immigrant groups, the many immigrants that abuse the welfare systems (at least in Sweden and Germany), etc. Again balanced thinking and openness to others viewpoints are of paramount importance.

I would, in particular make the plea that debaters in all issues try to avoid the moral high-horse, try to understand both sides of the issues (note that understanding does not automatically imply agreement), and focus on argumentation ad rem. Above all, that they stop generalizing about their opponents, and realize that there is a spectrum of opinion in all groups. The last thing a debate needs is “You X are all Y!”—in particular, when this is abused as an ipso facto “proof” that the opponents are wrong (e.g. by the calls of “Racists!” or “Misogynists!” that are so popular in the PC communities). Achieving these items is not easy (certainly, I occasionally err myself), but even just starting with the right mentality could lead to an enormous improvement.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 23, 2010 at 1:30 am

I2P and Internet anonymity

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A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about Tor and anonymity. Since then I have continued my experiments with a related service, I2Pw.

Conceptually, I2P works differently from Tor: It is not a tool to surf the Internet anonymously (although this is possible through a gateway), but a private and anonymous sub-net within the Internet. Effectively, this is an Internet in miniature with its own search-engines, email systems, blogs, file-sharing and torrent services, and similar. Unfortunately, the amount of content is still far too small for it to be a complete anonymous replacement for the Internet. Then again, the growth appears to be decent and the future may be different. (Certainly, and unsurprisingly, the file-sharing community appears to be flowering.)

Notably, the high degree of anonymity provided can be very valuable for those who live in fear of prison for criticizing their respective governments, wish to communicate anonymously within a smaller group, or similar.

As with Tor, just running a local node can be a great help to the community—and, unlike with Tor, there is no risk of landing in the eyes of the police for having relayed someone elses surfing.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 23, 2010 at 1:26 am

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Yahoo tries to pull a Facebook?

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I have long had an email account with Yahoo for various and sundry (including as a backup, in case the addresses that come with my domain are temporarily not reachable). So far, this has been an extremely frustrating experience: Yahoo is one of the worst thought-through and poorly programmed websites that I am aware off. Whoever is guilty of this atrocity should be lead to the next wall and put before a firing squad.

Today, however, the worst of many, many user-hostile idiocies from Yahoo came to my attention: They appear to have “pulled a Facebook”, and installed various publications and notifications behind the back of the users—utterly ruining any remaining credibility.

To make matters worse, when I try to disable one of these settings, I am met with an error message—and the setting returns to the share state…

My advice to anyone using Yahoo for anything non-trivial: Do not. Reduce your account activity to near zero, remove all contacts, etc. Instead find yourself a good ISP with your own email addresses or, if that is too costly, a decent independent and pure email service. (For those in Germany: My own ISP, bytecampe, has so far been very satisfactory at < 10 Euro/month, including domain, webserver, and unlimited email addresses.)

The same advice applies, obviously, to other services of a similar character, including Gmail and Facebook. The latter already has a large number of “delete your account” recommendations here on WordPress.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 21, 2010 at 12:14 am

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Focus stealing—one of the deadly sins of software

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Experimenting with the (currently very immature) browser Aroraw, I re-encountered one of the deadly sins of software development: Presumptuous and unnecessary focus stealingw.

While I, as a Linux user, am normally not met with many instances of this sin, they are the more annoying when they do occur. Notably, they almost exclusively happen when I am off doing something completely unrelated on a different virtual desktopw, with the deliberate intention of finishing one thing and then revisiting the (as it eventually turns out) focus-stealing application once I am done or in five minutes. This re-visiting would include checking any results, answering any queries, giving confirmations, whatnot. Instead, I am pulled back to the focus-stealer mid-work, my concentration is disrupted, I have to switch my own (mental) focus to something new in a disruptive manner, and generally feel as if someone has teleported me from a (typically pleasant) situation to another (typically unpleasant).

There are other very good reasons never to steal focus, including that a typing or mouse-clicking user can accidentally cause an unwanted action to be taken. Consider, e.g., the user who is typing in a document, hits the return key—and sees the return being caught by a focus-stealing confirmation window, which interprets the return key as confirmation. In some cases, the user would have confirmed anyway, but in others he would not—and sometimes the results can be down-right disastrous.

Focus stealing is stealing: If an application steals focus, it takes something that is not its to take. Such acts, just as with physical property, must be reserved for emergencies and duress. Normally criminal acts can be allowable e.g. if they are needed to avert immediate physical danger; in the same way, focus stealing can be allowed for notifications of utmost importance, e.g. that the computer is about to be shut-down and that saving any outstanding work in the next thirty seconds would be an extremely good idea. Cases that are almost always not legitimate include requesting the user’s input; notification that a download is complete or a certain step of a process has been completed; and (above all) spurious focus stealing, without any particular message, because a certain internal state has changed (or similar).

“But some users want to be notified!!!”: This is not a valid excuse—we cannot let non-standard wishes from one group ruin software for another group. If there is a legitimate wish for notification (and most cases of focus stealing I have seen, have not been in situations where such a wish seemed likely to be common—even when allowing for the fact that different users have different preferences) other ways can be found than unwanted focus stealing. Consider e.g. letting the user specifically request focus stealing (more accurately, in this case, “focus taking”) for certain tasks by a checkbox or a configuration option (which, obviously, should be off per default), using a less intrusive notification mechanism (e.g. a notification in a taskbar or an auditory signal; may be on per default, but must be deactivatable), or the sending of an email/SMS (common for very long-running tasks and tasks on other computers; requires separate configuration).

As a particularity, if something requires a user involvement (e.g. a confirmation) before the application can continue, there is still only rarely a reason for focus stealing. Notably, users working on another desktop will almost always check-in regularly; those on the same desktop will usually notice without focus stealing; and there is always the above option of notification by other means. Further, for short-running tasks, it is seldom a problem that the user misses a notification—and he may well have physically left his computer for a long-running task.

Finally, any developer (in particular, those who feel that their own application and situation is important enough to warrant an exception) should think long and hard on the following: He may be about to commit one of the other deadly sins, namely over-estimating how important his application is to others. (Come to think of it, the applications that have stolen focus from me under Linux have usually been those of below average importance—the ones I use every now and then, or only use once or twice to see if they are worth having.)

Written by michaeleriksson

May 13, 2010 at 8:59 pm

What do Courtney Love and Astrid Lindgren have in common?

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On a first look, they seem to be diametrical opposites: The former is a rock/punk musician with a history of drug use and a criminal record; the latter was an idealistic writer of children’s book—and, at least in Sweden, was considered a third grand-mother in many families.

However, during my readings on issues relating to Internet anonymity (cf. my previous entry), I stumbled on a speech by Courtney Love criticising the music industrye. Written ten years ago, her piece has likely been encountered by some of the readers already; but few non-Swedes will be aware of Astrid Lindgren’s 1976 story Pomperipossa in Monismaniaw, which allegorically tells of how she found herself confronted with marginal taxes so high that more-or-less everything she earned went to the Swedish government—while her own after-taxes income was reduced to almost nothing.

This, interestingly, is almost exactly the story Courtney Love tells about a hypothetical group of musicians—except that the bad guys are not the 1970s Swedish Social-Democratic government, but the modern day US music-industry. They even use the same enormous-seeming figure of two millions to reach an eventual net of approximately zero (in 1976 SEK and 2000 USD, respectively).

Some claim that Lindgren’s story was instrumental in removing the Social-Democrats from power for the first time in almost half a century (the pen can be mighty indeed!). Alas, Love’s speech has not had the same impact: The unholy alliance of record industry and politicians, against consumers and artists, still has the upper hand. Even so, there is considerable hope: With the spread of the Internet and alternate channels of distribution, the old system of exploitative middle-men becomes harder and harder to justify, and is accepted to a lesser and lesser degree.

Now that the original question has been answered, I leave it to the reader to answer the next question: What do the US music-industry of today and the Swedish Social-Democrats of 1976 have in common?

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May 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Internet anonymity, Tor, and the German justice system

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The last few days, I have been looking into various anonymization solutions for the Internet, in particular Torw, with the adage “better safe than sorry” in mind. Apart from the traditional arguments (that may or may not actually apply/be paranoia in the individual case) about being spied upon by the government, the advertising industry, or similar, I would get some satisfaction from helping in thwarting the current Nineteen Eighty-Four developments. Further, I occasionally engage in some activities that are perfectly ethical, but could, in at least some circumstances, technically be illegal—or be misinterpreted as illegal. (Exactly what those are, I will obviously not mention here. Let us just say that anyone who occasionally jaywalks should think twice about throwing the first stone.) Notably, much of the policing of the Internet (possibly policing in general) is more focused on making the numbers look good or catering to special interest groups than on proper policing (i.e. preventing crimes and finding the guilty with a minimal disturbance to the innocent)—catching a metaphorical jaywalker is often prioritized over attacking actual criminals.

Tor is a collaborative network that re-directs the request for e.g. an HTML page over several network nodes in order to ensure that the end-user cannot be identified without snooping between the requester and the first node (assuming that the end-user is careful, that the nodes are not manipulated, and similar) Obviously, this only works when sufficiently many users provide nodes; in particular, “exit nodes” that interact directly with the servers, and whose IPs are the ones that eventually end up in various external log files. With too few nodes, as is currently the case, Tor is slow—and, naturally, the “fair” user tries to give something back by providing a node of his own.

However, looking at the issues involved with providing a node in Germany, I was appalled: Apparently, there have been a number of instances where the computers providing exit nodes have been confiscated by the police, where accusations of surfing for child pornography or violating copyrights have been raised against the users providing the nodes (based on something a third-party user has done), and other cases of harassment. This despite Tor it self being perfectly legal—and despite there being no way to extract the identity of the original requester from the exit node. (With some reservations for “Vorratsdatenspeicherung”e; which, in my understanding, did not apply to Tor, as it is non-profit, and which has recently been ruled unconstitutional.) See an English language accounte for one of the more harmless examples; most other accounts are, understandably, written in German.

Even a small risk of this kind of harassment is too much for me at this particular time, and I will therefore not be setting up an exit node. (I may still decide to set up a non-exit node, however; and if I someday have a server at an ISP, the situation will be different.) This in particular considering that a police investigation would (potentially) not merely involve the police accessing my private files, nor even just taking my hard-drives, but actually taking the physical computers as a whole—with no telling when and if they will be returned. The more absurd, because just physically removing the hard-drives would be less effort for the authorities themselves in the long run—not to mention how much time and money the owner would save.

For those in Germany who can take the risk—please do. If the authorities find that their behaviour (be it caused by sheer ignorance or by a deliberate scare tactic) is just a waste of time and energy, then there is a hope that they will eventually back down.

Of course, we have to consider the issue of anonymization being abused by various criminals. Could counter-measures against e.g. Tor be justified? In my current understanding: No. Firstly, the value of the legal uses, say to avoid being spied upon, is potentially considerable (notably, Tor is even used by some companies who want to increase the security of their professional communications). Secondly, the tendency for greater government “Big Brotherness” is a great mid- to long-term threat, which necessitates resistance of various forms. Thirdly, criminals benefit comparatively little compared to the average citizen, because they have other means available to them. (Cf. e.g. Tor’s abuse FAQe.) In many ways, attacks against Tor are similar to saying that “A criminal could use or has used your private road to commit a crime; ergo, you, yourself, are a criminal and your road must be closed.” (while the same claim concerning a public road would resemble closing the Internet as a whole).

We should further remember that those types of Internet criminality that actually are under heavy attack from the authorities (mostly child-porn and movie/music piracy) are far lesser problems than propaganda tells us—there simply are no 14 million child-porn sites. (A claim I discuss in my discussion of pedophile hysteria).

Written by michaeleriksson

May 6, 2010 at 10:15 pm

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Referrer spamming

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In the few months that I have been on WordPress, I have seen a steady increase in referrer spamw. Today, e.g., I have no less than six entries from digg.com/[sitename] alone (and the day is not over yet).

The trick here seems to be to arouse the curiosity of the owner of a blog so that he clicks on the link in his statistics view—with an unintended (from his POV) “digging” of the link as a consequence.

With a bit of luck, WordPress will install some type of central filter to block this kind of spam from the statistics (which can be distorted in a non-trivial manner). Until then, I strongly advice my fellow bloggers to under no circumstances reward the spammers by following links to digg.com—nor any other link with a suspect name (e.g. “onlines-accounting-degree-info[…]”).

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May 6, 2010 at 10:11 pm

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First blogroll replacement

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As discussed in my blogroll policy, I have a five-entry temporary blogroll with the rule that a new entry leads to the removal of an old.

Today, this rule is applied for the first time, and I will take the opportunity to give some information about why the respective entries are/were included:

  1. Fria Nyhetere (Swedish):

    Is discussed in an earlier post.

  2. Inteutanminasoner’s Bloge (Swedish):

    Deals with issues relating to parental rights, kidnapped children, and similar, with a particular emphasis on how fathers are given lesser rights in courts and media. A recurring topic is the case treated in the book “Inte utan mina söner” (“Not without my sons”; by the author of the blog), about a man’s fight to retrieve children kidnapped by the mother.

    This blog is a very refreshing exception to the “women are always the victims; men are always the villains” propaganda seen so often in Sweden (and many other politically correct countries). The underlying issue of the rights and well-being of the children is equally important.

  3. olcrankye:

    Simply a lot of interesting reading on the author’s take on the world we live in, political issues, etc., written in a reasoned and common sense way. (Which is not to say that I always agree with his writings; however, even when I do not, there is often a something of value to be gleaned—whereas many other blogs on similar topics are worth nothing to those who do not already belong to the choir.)

  4. Spreeblick on Primacalle (German):

    This is a link to a specific blog post dealing with the highly dubious, likely illegal, business methods of the German company Primacall. I was lead there by a follow-up poste, which discussed how the blog had been pressured in an unethical way to remove an interview that it published. In particular, Primacall made the absurd demand that the blog author should ensure that pages on external and independent sites dealing with the original post were removed. My decision to link is a direct protest against this absurdity.

    I now choose to let this link be the first to move off the blogroll (as an exception to the typical first-in-first-out guideline), because it provides less value to the readers than the other current links.

  5. The Thoughtful Animale:

    A wealth of interesting readings on e.g. animal psychology. Unfortunately, there are too many attempts to “be cute” and a very varying quality.

  6. Then we have the newcomer, Ethics Alarmse:

    This blog deals with various cases of unethical behaviour, e.g. disparate treatment, intellectual dishonesty, doing what is profitable instead of what is right, …

    A particular benefit is that it can help the reader to become better in spotting ethical aspects of various issues.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 2, 2010 at 9:00 am