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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Written by michaeleriksson

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?

Written by michaeleriksson

May 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm