Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Blogging

EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (and WordPress’ handling of it)

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Roughly a week ago, EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into force, as many EU citizens have noticed in form of various emails from businesses* keeping their data, and a more global group in form of more, or more intrusive, alerts concerning use of cookies and whatnot. WordPress bloggers have probably also noticed a notification in their admin areas:

*While I will speak of “business” through-out, seeing that much of the discussion is in a commercial context, the regulation is not limited to businesses in the strictest sense, and replacing “business” with “organization” might be appropriate in some cases.

To help your site be compliant with GDPR and other laws requiring notification of tracking, Akismet can display a notice to your users under your comment forms. This feature is disabled by default, however, if you or your audience is located in Europe, you need to turn it on.

Below, I will briefly* discuss the GDPR, some of points relating to the Web, and why I will not follow the demand of the WordPress message.

*This is a very wide topic and a more complete discussion would require a considerable amount of both research and analysis.

GDPR:
By and large, the GDPR is a good thing, including a much needed change of philosophy (quoting the above Wikipedia page):

Business processes that handle personal data must be built with data protection by design and by default, meaning that personal data must be stored using pseudonymisation or full anonymisation, and use the highest-possible privacy settings by default, so that the data is not available publicly without explicit consent, and cannot be used to identify a subject without additional information stored separately.

This quote alone addresses much of what troubles me with data handling, including that data security is often an afterthought and that users have to run through various settings (or even send a letter) to reduce data use. However, how much it will bring is yet to see, bearing in mind the difference between expectations on paper and their realization in real life, as well as various exceptions and softenings of the rules.

Unfortunately, this change of philosophy is also, indirectly, the source of much of the legitimate* criticism from the business world: Because existing software and procedures were built with a very different philosophy in mind, sometimes decades ago, the transition costs are enormous. On the positive side, while the costs after the transitional period** will be increased compared to the past, it will be by nowhere near as much as during the transitional period.

*As opposed to illegitimate criticism of the “you are spoiling our data party” kind. Other legitimate criticism includes unclear or delayed information from government institutions that have made it harder to implement the GDPR (see also the following footnote).

**In theory, businesses have had several years for this transitional period, implying that much of the cost should be history; however, from news reporting, it does not appear that this period has been used very well on average, implying that there likely will be an additional transition over the coming months. To boot, there are likely very many issues that will need resolution over the coming years, for reasons like later clarifications of regulation, upcoming court cases, and unforeseen practical obstacles.

At the same time, there are reasons to criticize it from a consumer point of view. For instance, the Wikipedia page also says:

Recital 47 of the GDPR states that “The processing of personal data for direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for a legitimate interest.”

This* is very unfortunate, seeing that direct marketing is one of the greatest sources of abuse of data and something many consumers are more upset with than sloppy data treatment per se.** More than that: If there had been stronger and more severe restrictions on various form of marketing, especially direct marketing, much of the reasons for data use and abuse of today would disappear, and we would almost automatically have a considerable reduction.

*This section of the Wikipedia page simultaneously and confusingly deals with both B2C and B2B marketing, and I must make some reservations for the correctness of my understanding.

**Say, when they give an email address in confidence to complete one purchase and are then spammed with unsolicited and unexpected offers to perform another on a regular basis. This is grossly unethical and should by rights be illegal; however, looking at Germany, the otherwise strong laws against spam were artificially weakened by the legal fiction that someone who had once bought something could be assumed to be keen on buying more, making the unsolicited messages quasi-solicited. This is of course an incorrect reasoning on at least three counts: Firstly, very many customers buy something once and never come back (and have no interest in coming back). Secondly, those who are interested in coming back will usually want to do so on their own terms, e.g. when they see a need. Thirdly, it makes an extremely customer hostile assumption about all those who strongly dislike such messages. As an aside, ethical marketing should always work on an opt-in basis, which is not the case here.

Looking at the German Wikipedia page, which differs considerably in content, there is a very odd claim:

Den Mitgliedstaaten ist es sonst grundsätzlich nicht erlaubt, den von der Verordnung festgeschriebenen Datenschutz durch nationale Regelungen abzuschwächen oder zu verstärken.

(Gist: It is not allowed for the member states to reduce or increase [sic!] the protection offered by the regulation.)

That no reduction is allowed is very positive, but the ban on an increase seems extremely ill-advised. Barring the influence of industry lobbyism, the only plausible seeming reason is to reduce complications when consumers and/or businesses from different (EU) countries are involved. Even so, there must be a better way*, because this way there is an artificial upper limit on consumer protections. Indeed, this could be a contributing factor to the existing protection in Germany being lowered in some cases, including criteria for the consumer’s acceptance of data use**.

*What, in detail, goes beyond the scope of this post, but an obvious step would be to allow stricter rules when both parties are situated in the same country.

**“Prinzipiell sind die Anforderungen an eine wirksame Einwilligung gegenüber dem deutschen BDSG reduziert: Die Schriftform ist nicht mehr die Regel, auch eine stillschweigende Einwilligungserklärung ist nach Erwägungsgrund (32) zulässig, wenn sie eindeutig ist.”

One of the more interesting changes from the English Wikipedia page is that “A right to be forgotten was replaced by a more limited right of erasure”. This is to some degree a limitation of consumer/user/whatnot rights; however, not one that I consider a bad thing: The original “right to be forgotten” always seemed disproportional to me, looking at gains for the individual and efforts needed from others, and also carried a risk of destroying/hiding knowledge, distorting history, …

Web:
The sheer amount* of “cookie warnings” and similar poses a considerable problem to comfortable surfing. This especially since the people who surf without cookies and JavaScript are often unable to get rid of them**; while even the rest will have a number of extra clicks to perform over the course of a day. A positive thing is that it becomes obvious how many sites actually use cookies et co, for no legitimate reason: If I enter an online shop to buy something, using cookies for the shopping cart is legitimate, but why would a cookie be needed when I am passively browsing a forum? Using a search engine? Looking at a static site with no means of interaction? My hope is that the mixture of this revelation, in combination with the increased annoyance for the visitors***, will force businesses to reduce their use of such technologies to some degree for fear of losing the visitors. Then again, if a sufficient proportion of the sites give such warnings, the users will have few alternatives and might remain anyway, taking a hit in usability on the way.

*I doubt that the amount will lessen over time, except as mentioned above, seeing that an earlier increase a few years ago, likely related to the original passing of the GDPR, did not.

**Somewhat paradoxical, seeing that these are normally not affected by the data use that necessitated the cookie warning.

***The negative effects of e.g. hidden user profiling do not hurt in such an obvious manner as the warnings: A pin-prick hurts worse than clogged arteries.

In a twist, keeping these warnings from re-occurring will require some way to keep tabs on the users, most likely through cookies… This can cause paradoxical situations where the warnings increase the amount of cookies, tracking, … performed.

A further complication is that the degree of tracking, the needed content of the warnings, whatnot, will not necessarily be under the control of the individual site, possibly necessitating a vagueness that makes the warnings misleading or unhelpful. Consider e.g. a site that uses a tracking network or that allows external content (notably advertising) that can on its pull in tracking functionality. Frankly, what we need are restrictions against user tracking, profiling, …, that goes considerably further than the GDPR—not just warnings.

WordPress:
I will not comply with the notification from WordPress (cf. above):

I do not actively gather or track any user data, except what is provided through e.g. comments and subscriptions*; I do not use cookies, JavaScript, …; I have no access to data excepting fully pre-anonymized read-only access statistics provided by WordPress (and the aforementioned comments etc.) To boot, I am blogging in a private capacity, as a natural person, with no monetary interests involved, which makes it likely that the GDPR does not apply to me in the first place (in this particular context).

*And even here the “actively” is typically limited to me passively accepting e.g. a comment through the wordpress software, reading (and possibly answering) it, and then forgetting that it is there.

Should* WordPress choose to engage in such practices in a manner exceeding the reasonable minimum, this is simply not my problem, not within my control, and contrary to my preferences**. WordPress, not I, has the responsibility to inform people correspondingly—better yet, it should cease these activities. An attempt to roll the responsibility over to the bloggers is unethical and amateurish. This especially seeing that the notification contains no reason whatsoever why it would be my duty to comply. Almost certainly, there is no such reason.

*Going by the privacy notice provided together with the notification, it appears that WordPress is abusive. This includes unethical over-tracking of user data, e.g. “browser type, unique device identifiers, language preference, referring site, […], operating system, and mobile network information” as well as potentially (depending on details unknown to me) unethical over-communication to e.g. “Independent Contractors” and “Third Party Vendors”. Cf. also an older analysis of WordPress’ privacy policy—a very similar document.

**If I had the power, I would explicitly forbid them to do certain things in relation to my WordPress blog. I definitely recommend readers to surf with cookies, JavaScript, …, off to the degree realistically possible, as well as to user various forms of anonymizers, in order to minimize their exposure.

To boot, if the responsibility were to reside with the bloggers, the means of communication chosen is entirely insufficient, and WordPress would have exposed its bloggers to an unnecessary period of involuntary law violation…

I note that the restriction to Europe* is somewhat arbitrary: The ethics of data economy, respect for user privacy, etc., does not end at borders, even should the law do so. It also raises so many questions and caveats that the typical blogger will not be able to make an informed decision without consulting an independent expert. For instance, what if a non-European blogger has an European following that he is not aware of? What if he blogs while spending time within Europe? Is this different for a one-week vacation and one-year period as an exchange student? Etc. With very few exceptions, he would have to activate these notifications in a blanket manner to be on the safe side.

*Of course, the GDPR does not apply to all of Europe to begin with, again making the notification too vague and poorly thought through.

What I will do is to add an extra page, giving fair warning that WordPress might be engaging in dubious practices outside of my control.

Disclaimer:
Note that the external pages quoted are unusually likely to undergo changes over time. The quotes reflect the state of the page at the time of my visit.

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Written by michaeleriksson

June 3, 2018 at 11:20 am

Finally writing again!

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As the subscribers and recurring readers might have noticed, I have posted at an unusually high rate lately, especially compared to the near dormancy of 2012–2015. This post actually sets a new “personal best”* for a month with 16 posts and counting—and it is admittedly gratuitous, made mostly for the purposes of getting that record out of the way.

*Which is not to say that it is the month I have written the most in: During the days when I actively worked on my website, this was not a remarkable number.

There are several reasons for this increase:

  1. I have been reading a lot of other peoples opinions lately, which always makes me itch to write.
  2. There has been a welcome slowdown in my current project and I am already “writing checks” based on having a lot of vacation in December.
  3. Writing more again has made me remember how rewarding it can be in terms of gaining a better understanding of the world or myself, clarifying and developing thoughts, re-evaluating* my opinions, etc. Most of the time, this is the reason why I write—self-improvement. If I am able to change the mind of the odd reader, show a new perspective, seed a little doubt, …, that is just the cherry on top.**

    *This is something close to my heart: Re-evaluation with an open mind and a willingness to change is at the core of intellectual development, a sine qua non. The result of the re-evaluation need not be a change of mind, but it must be undertaken with such a change as a possibility. (Indeed, the unwillingness of others to do so is directly or indirectly connected with the majority of my criticism of e.g. the PC crowd.) Incidentally, I have a post on this topic in preparation.

    **Which is a good thing at the moment, because the visitor numbers on this blog have yet to recover and I still have not gotten around to fixing my website.

I plan to go on writing, but I suspect that the post numbers will drop down a bit in the following months; and I hope that I will be able to take my ridiculously delayed* mini-sabbatical in the course of 2018, during which I will likely switch my main attention to where it belongs—my long neglected website.

*Originally planned for the autumn of 2016…

Written by michaeleriksson

November 23, 2017 at 6:59 am

Post by Email and current situation (follow-up on line length)

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As I wrote in an earlier post, there was problem with spurious line breaks when using “Post by Email”.

This is probably explained by emails having an old upper limitation on line length of 998 characters. This implies that WordPress is either not the one doing the breaking (but my mail client or one of the involved mail servers) or that it is doing the breaking in an acceptable manner.

For my last post, I simply inserted artificials line breaks at the last space before the 999 character of each potential line and everything appears (knock on wood) to have worked.

I suspect that it is OK to just send the email in normal formatting and that my original removal of all line breaks was unnecessary (unlike with the web interface), but have not yet had the time to test this.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 16, 2016 at 9:26 am

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Post by Email and current situation (follow-up)

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So far, I have noted two problems:

Somewhere along the way, artificial line breaks are added in the middle of text, including in the middle of words. These require manual correction. The reason is not yet clear, but incompetent handling by wordpress is the main candidate. The underlying reason is likely that there is maximal line size somewhere that it is exceed because I put the entire contents in one line. The absurdity: The reason I do this, is that the ordinary WordPress interface added unwanted line breaks if I did not…

Some tags seem to be stripped out. Fortunately, the display still appears to be correct or approximately correct, but this is still weak: The original HTML should have been kept identically. (With exception for tags that must be stripped in order to fit the document in the display page.)

(See also the original post.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 14, 2016 at 11:35 am

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Post by Email and current situation

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Over the last few months, I have several times started to write something, been three quarters through, and not put in the finishing touches because I have lacked the means of publishing:

On the one hand, publishing at my website proper would have taken considerable extra work, because I have yet to set up what I need (including various programs and the repository of writings and code) after my old laptop died last autumn. Worse, I have yet to straighten out various changes made during my absence from the Internet a few years back (cf. some older posts) and the website, unlike WordPress, is NOT published piece by piece but as a certain set of current entries in a version control system.

On the other, publishing at this blog has a) been extremely frustrating through the user hostile interface of WordPress and b) has hitherto relied on the same code as my website for generation of the HTML I publish.

In this way, technology has become an accidental obstacle where it was intended as a helper, while my wish to do things in the optimal way (i.e. using my website and/or the corresponding tools) has resulted in my doing nothing. Perfect IS the proverbial enemy of good.

To break out of this, I have made some experiments with a feature “Post by Email” provided by WordPress, which allows me to by-pass the user-hostile interface and, as the name implies, post by sending an email. The current post is the first official publication using this method (subscribers have likely seen a few test posts). This comes with a few caveats, however:

  1. There may be things that go wrong here and there. Especially, I fear that I might have to make manual tweaks post-publication for at least the first few posts (subscribers beware). Rumor has it that “Post by Email” often mangles HTML code.
  2. To resolve the issue of HTML generation and reliance on my website tools, I have decided to (for the time being!) drop all the fancy possibilities I had and use a sed command to generate a very basic HTML document.
  3. There is an additional security risk, because anyone who figures out the right email address could publish on this blog too and the risk that the address becomes known to a third party is considerably larger than for a password. In addition, a brute-force attack would likely be able to find the address for plenty of blogs, even though it would be hard to attack a specific blog in that manner. (The low security of this feature is the reason why I have never tried it until now.) Most likely, there will never be an intruder, but beware that it could happen, and do give me the benefit of the doubt, should some out-of-the-ordinary contents appear.

I do not think that I will suddenly become as prolific as I once was, because other reasons that deter me from writing remain, including a want of time and being fed up with human stupidity. However, currently on vacation, I hope to publish at least two lengthier pieces in the next few days: A discussion of why I feel that we have a crisis of democracy (that I am currently working on) and a review of the latest Star Wars movie (that I started around New Year’s, but am only finishing up now).

As for my main website, I hope to take a few months off for a mini-sabbatical in the autumn and (among many other things I plan to do) straighten the situation out.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 13, 2016 at 9:47 am

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The continuing idiocies of WordPress

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The incredible idiocies and incompetence of WordPress is another thing I have repeatedly written about.

Today takes the cake, however: Attempting to write the preceding post, I am met with a pop-up that I need to click away about enabling “distraction free writing”—I was not distracted until WordPress distracted me with this idiotic pop-up!

In addition, there were a number of other distracting moving aspects of the edit page.

Frankly, I am not certain why I bother with this useless platform even at my current irregular intervals—and I sure as hell do not understand what the designers of WordPress are thinking!

Written by michaeleriksson

August 8, 2015 at 11:24 pm

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On my inactivity and human stupidity

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Even after returning to the Internet almost a year-and-a-half-ago I have published (or written, for that matter) very little. There are several reasons for this, including that I have decided to and benefited from cutting down on my “extra curriculars” in favour of more post-work relaxation and that I grown more and more critical as to what I consider a text worthy of publishing and a thought worthy of writing up in the first place—to the point that I must force myself to artificially lower my criteria, lest I remain silent.

The greatest reason, however, is something very different: Sheer frustration with the stupidity of most humans, with the way those more in need of feedback are correspondingly less responsive to it, and with how many of the greatest ignorants are sure of their own (imagined) knowledge and understanding. (Including the important special cases of incorrectly believing that knowledge or experience automatically implies understanding, failure to realize that understanding is almost always the more important of the three, and entirely overlooking that none of them is worth much without actual thought.) My activities in the Blogosphere have been particularly unrewarding and frustrating, and it has been a long time since I had a non-trivial activity there.

It is no coincidence that there are many sayings or quotes expressing the principle that the fool is cock-sure and the wise man doubts—nor that the Dunning–Kruger principle has gained fame among those who do think. (Executive summary of Dunning–Kruger: Ability at A goes hand in hand with the meta-ability to judge ability at A.) Indeed, one of the few things that give me some amount of personal pride is simply that I belong to the small minority of people actually willing to actively challenge their own opinions and modify them as time goes by.

The examples of this are very common and the effects extremely demotivating to me. It is proverbially better to light a candle than to curse the darkness (and I have long tried to live by this claim), but there simply comes a point where it is hard to keep it up—especially, since there are many ignorants not only impervious to candle light—but who actively put out candles lit by others. Those who are familiar with my writings will know that I have written a lot about censorship—and the sad truth is that there are many blogs (notably feminist ones) who simply censor comments that have a dissenting view. This includes even polite comments using factual arguments, links to statistics, pointers to logical errors, … Indeed, often the comments that are the more likely to convince a third-party are the ones preferentially censored… Specifically in the realm of political correctness (in general and to some degree) and feminism (in particular and to high degree), there appears to be no willingness to actually look for the truth. Instead, pre-formed claims are pushed with great insistence, even when no more justified than e.g. the claims of a creationist: Both kinds live in their own special world where some things just have to be true because else they would find themselves in another world or have to face possibilities that they cannot cope with. Scientific proof, logical arguments, whatnot, are all secondary: The truth that these point to is abhorred and therefore they must, ipso facto, be faulty. It is inconceivable that God did not create the world; it is inconceivable that differences in outcome could have any other explanation than differences in opportunity. Anyone claiming otherwise is uninformed and should let himself be enlightened—or an evil liar deliberately trying to ruin the game, a heretic, a sexist, … Meanwhile, those wishing to “enlighten” the dissenters typically give ample proof of their own ignorance, undeveloped ability to understand arguments, and lacking prowess with critical thinking. A particular annoyance is the constantly recurring claim that those who criticize feminism (more specifically gender-feminism and feminist populism) are ignorants who must be exposed to the truth—when most critics (at least in Sweden) actually grew up under feminist indoctrination, long took feminist claims to be true, and only over time developed a more nuanced world view, by means of critical thinking, exposure to more scientific information, personal experience contrary to the feminist world-view, and so on: If the feminist claims about e.g. rape statistics, domestic violence, earning capacity, discrimination against women, …, were true, then almost everyone would be feminists—but I have over time learned that these claims for the most part are invalid. (For varying reasons for different cases, but often including hiding vital details that radically change the interpretation of data, misreporting of data, use of unsound methodology and non-standard definitions, statistics extrapolated to different areas or times without verification of relevance, and even statistics simply made up.)

These problems, however, are by no means limited to the Blogosphere, nor to the politically correct or any other ideology or religion. No, stupidity, irrationality, incompetence, and so on, permeate the world and all its aspects, the main question often being whether a certain phenomenon is explained directly or just indirectly by such factors: Is the advertising industry filled with idiots or does it merely try to convince idiots? (I suspect that it is a bit of both: People of highly disputable competence and judgment trying to preferentially convince the most stupid, irrational, and uninformed consumers.)

Even in software development, stereotypically associated with the gifted and the border-line autistic, there are few who have the competence level they should have and many who have a good standing through social relationships and despite their lack of skill. About five in ten of the colleagues that I have worked with have been so poor that I would simply not have considered them an option, had I been setting up a new team. No more than one in ten is someone I would give a blanket “yes”. Another one in ten may be a border-line case, picked or rejected depending on the available alternatives. The remaining three might do if nothing else is available and a sufficient mentoring and reviewing could be guaranteed. Even those worthy of a “yes” are typically lacking of the competence they should have, for the simple reason that they have the competence level of a worthy developer—but typically work as lead developers. Notably, most of them have a very limited own understanding, instead basing their decisions on rules, recommendations, or things that they have read somewhere without giving sufficient thought to e.g. why the recommendation is made and when it does not apply because the underlying cause for the recommendation is irrelevant. For instance, The lead-developer of a team that I was assisting a while ago was highly surprised by the suggestion of replacing an ugly set of conditionals with a look-up in map—apparently, he was unaware of this obvious and well-established technique that even a junior should (but rarely does) know. Going outside the “yes” developers and the border-line cases, things deteriorate very rapidly. The average developer has no feeling whatsoever for what makes good and poor code, does not use the benefits of polymorphy over if-statements, uses copy-and-paste when he should write a new method or class to abstract the same functionality, writes test cases that are next to useless through checking the implementation instead of the interface, …

It is the same with other professions—software developers still do better than most other groups. Looking at most business graduates I have dealt with, I marvel that they actually did graduate… Most are lacking in knowledge, almost all are devoid of understanding, and areas such as critical thinking are uncharted territories. Large egos and great efforts to create an appearance of competence are more common.

A particularly frustrating problem: The few of us who actually do strive for understanding often see problems, opportunities, solutions, …, that others do not. However, because the ignorants are in the majority, the minority is considered lacking… (E.g. through being seen as obsessing with unimportant details when these particular details actually are important, or as being wrong in a dispute for lacking some insight of the majority—but where the reason for disagreement is that the minority has this insight and several more that the majority is lacking…) A project I worked on last year had me crawling up the walls for frustration for this reason (in several areas, but mainly with regard to Scrum):

I had spent some considerable time deepening my knowledge and understanding of Scrum and was actually enthusiastic (rarely happens with me…) about testing this and that, in particular seeing what gains might be possible through systematic inspect and adapt. My efforts where almost entirely blocked by a team that had no understanding of Scrum but merely followed a certain formulaic approach, leaving inspect and adapt (the very core of Scrum) entirely by the wayside. This regrettably extended to both the Scrum Masters that the project saw: The first had masterly conned large parts of the company into believing she was a true expert, making anything she said an ipse dixit during any discussion. In reality, she was a disaster in her role, not merely through failing to understand inspect and adapt, but also through failing Scrum in several critical regards, notably including trying to prescribe what the developers should do and how they should do it (and not limited to Scrum at that). The second had no previous Scrum background, but went through a crash course consisting of tail-coating number one for two weeks combined with some informal tutoring of the blind-leading-the-blind kind. Discussions with her were even less productive, with an even more limited intellect and the one implicit argument of “number one said and number one is the expert”. No: Sorry, the only one in the project who had any claim whatsoever of being a Scrum expert was yours truly—I was the only one who had bothered to go beyond superficial knowledge and actually gain an understanding of the principles and ideas, as well as the only one who seemed to actually evaluate how well or poorly something worked.

Many examples of how stupidity rules the world can be found in the UIs of modern software programs, with explanations coming to a high degree from the made-for-idiots camp, but also, if to a lesser degree from the made-by-idiots camp (e.g. through not understanding the benefits of separation of concerns, not having knowledge of alternate paradigms, or undue prejudice against e.g. command lines). Take web browsers: For a considerable part of the post-2000 period, I was a dedicated Opera user—Opera delivering superior functionality and speed. However, for each subsequent version, Opera grew less and less user-friendly, to the point that I threw up my hands in anger and reluctantly switched to what seemed the least of the many evils: Firefox. Unfortunately, Firefox has continued with the same user-despising trend as Opera. Negative developments include, but are by no means limited to, removing the options to turn images and JavaScript on/off from the GUI, necessitating a visit to about:config, or reducing the usability of the image filtering severely by removing the generic black-/white-list system in favour of a rights system where rights can only be set for the domain of the current page (but not for e.g. a domain that provides images displayed on that page). Worse, as I recently discovered during the update of an older system, when these were left in the “off” position in a version that had the toggle in the GUI, an upgrade to a version with the toggle in about:config would automatically, without asking the user, and in direct violation of reasonable expectation, turn them on again—absolutely inexcusable! Generally, Firefox has a severe usability problem through forcing central functionality into unofficial plug-ins that have to be installed separately. Yes, plug-ins are great. No, it is not acceptable to move functionality central to the product to plug-ins or to force the user to install a plug-in for something that should be done through a setting. (However, installing a plug-in to provide a more advanced version of the central functionality is acceptable. A JavaScript on/off switch is a must in a browser, and a per site toggle very highly recommended, but the full functionality of the NoScript plug-in is legitimately put in a plug-in.)

While Firefox removes central functionality, it also includes more and more non-central functionality that rightfully should be (but is not) in a plug-in, e.g. the “sync” functionality. Or what about the many, many URLs that can be found under about:config for a variety of unspecified tasks, some of which is highly likely to include unethical “phone-homes” or definitely expose data to Google (a by now entirely untrustworthy third party)?

One of my main beefs with Firefox since day one has not improved one iota over possibly some five years: I like to run different instances of browsers for different tasks (at home using different user accounts, at work at least using different profiles). Under Firefox this means a lot of unnecessary work. For instance, installing a certain plug-in for all users is not possible (resp. there is an alleged way, but it is poorly documented, it is non-obvious, it requires far more work than a single-user installation, and it, judging by my one attempt a few years back, simply does not work). Profiles, in turn, are very poorly thought-through, having no official means to copy them, requiring command-line intervention to run more than one profile at any given time, and, when push comes to shove, merely solving a problem that would not have existed in the first place—had Firefox made proper use of config files. If it had, one could just tell it to use the settings from file A for this instance and File B for that instance, with no additional programming or a cumbersome profile concept. Whether using profiles or additional user accounts, a major issue is to have to go through a good many settings for each instance: Settings is the most natural thing to export and import between parallel instances—but this is not allowed. What Firefox provides is a means to export bookmarks and similar—but that is near useless for any practical use. (Yes, this could be handy when e.g. moving from computer A to computer B. However, then I would most certainly want the settings too. For parallel use, in contrast, the settings are far more important: I may need to alter one or two individual settings between instances, but the website visited will be almost entirely disjunct.)

One of the most atrocious examples of stupidity is the German “Energiewende”: A massive and costly intervention has been made to move energy consumption and production to “renewable energies”, and many criticize it already for the costs or the many implementation errors that have unnecessarily increased the cost or distributed it unfairly. Personally, I could live with the costs—and have to admit that the increase in renewable production capacity has been far more successful than I thought it would be. Unfortunately, there is one major, disastrous, and incredibly counter-productive catch: The production form which has been replaced is almost exclusively nuclear power—while the use of “fossil fuels” (especially coal) has actually increased (!). In other words, the net-effect of this massive and costly intervention is increased pollution… (Notably, very few people are aware that fossil fuels do far more damage to the environment and cause far more human deaths on a yearly basis than nuclear power has in its entire history, including the accumulated effects of Chernobyl and Fukushima.)

I could go on and on from a virtually endless list of examples, causing the writing of this article continue for far too long and ensuring that almost all potential readers will have the feared “to long; did not read” reaction. (Not that I have any illusion about the proportion still reading, even as is.) Instead, I prefer to make a cut here, but I will make some honourable mentions that I had originally intended to include with one or several paragraphs each:

  1. Deutsche Bahn (“German Railways”) demonstrates so much incompetence on a daily basis that I could write several articles on that topic alone.

  2. Museums used to be a way for those with an interest to actually learn something. Today they are rapidly degenerating into cheap entertainment–and they pride themselves with their “family friendliness”, which means that those who try to learn have to cope with children running around and screaming without anyone intervening. In many ways, what the typical museum of today does, is antithetical to the purpose of a museum…

  3. The abysmal state of groups like journalists and teachers, who should be among the intellectual elite and are so often so embarrasingly poorly informed and poor at thinking.

  4. Belief in various superstitions and pseudo-sciences, e.g. astrology, homeopathy.

  5. The lacking queue management in stores where a further checkout-counter is only opened when the queue is already several times as long as it should be—not when it becomes clear that the queue is starting to get out of hand.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm