I was at SUSECon 2015 in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, which, aside from being a great conference, was an opportunity to actually interact with my colleagues in person for a change. So I finally got to meet Adam Spiers after working-ish with-ish him for at least three-ish years (strictly speaking we’re on different-ish teams), and one of the first things he asked was for my take on the Pets vs. Cattle cloud computing metaphor, because in addition to knowing my way around high availability, distributed storage and cloud foo, my wife and I actually do farming which means I might be qualified to have an opinion on the matter.
Something odd just happened, so I thought I’d better screencap it for posterity.
I’ve had a Twitter account since some time in 2011. It looks a bit like this:
By blind accident, I happened to notice something resembling a clone, named @tszrong, which looks like this:
Maybe it was petty of me, but I thought it appropriate to report this account for impersonation. This resulted in the following email from Twitter Support (I’ve omitted the part at the bottom with the actual links and whatnot, but you get the idea):
Incredibly, the name on my goverment-issued photo ID does actually match the name on my Twitter account, but I will not be uploading a copy of this for Twitter to verify. Partly this is because I don’t want digital copies of my government-issued photo ID unnecessarily floating around the aether, and partly it’s because… SRSLY? Just look at the profile pages. Please.
“How’d you solve the icing problem?”
“Might want to look into it.”
— Iron Man (2008)
On a particularly cold Saturday morning a couple of years ago, my mobile phone couldn’t get any signal for a few hours. But I didn’t really care, because I had breakfast to eat, animals to feed, and nobody I urgently needed to talk to at the time. Also it came good again shortly after midday.
The following week the same thing happened, but for rather longer, i.e. well into the evening. This was enough to prompt me to use my landline to call Optus (our mobile phone provider) and report a fault. The usual dance ensued:
“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
“Have you tried a different handset?”
“A different SIM?”
“Holding the phone in your other hand?”
“Sacrificing a lamb to the god Mercury?”
I might be misremembering the details of the conversation, but you get the idea. Long story short, I got a fault lodged.
Later I received a call – on my mobile – asking if my mobile was working again. “Indeed it is, and you wouldn’t have been able to make this call if it wasn’t”, I replied. Then I asked what the problem had been. “Let me check”, said the support person. “Uhm… It says here there was… 100mm of ice on the local tower.”
Flash forwards to a couple of days ago, when snow fell down to sea level for the first time since 2005, and my mobile phone was dead again. I can only assume they haven’t solved the icing problem, and that maybe the local NBN fixed wireless tower suffers from the same affliction, as that was dead too for something like 24 hours.
It was very pretty though.
When I was about the right age to first think that taking compromising photos of myself might be good for a lark, technology was a little different. Mobile phones that weren’t actually bricks anymore could show maybe two lines of pixelated text on an unpleasantly glowing background, terrible quality digital cameras were barely affordable, and connecting to the internet actually had a sound – kind of like KSShhh-aaa-KWEO-pung-pung-drhdrhdrhd-KHH, but it went for longer than that. Or maybe it was: mobile phones only existed in gangster movies where they were installed as part of a car, digital cameras didn’t exist, and I only had access to a few local BBSes. I forget the specifics, but that’s not the point – the point is that when I was in my teens, technology was shit, and nobody had any of it. Now, technology is excellent, everybody has all of it, it’s really easy to use, and the ways in which we interact with our technology shape the ways we expect our technology to work.
If I write an email to someone, I’m thinking “I will type my message in this box here, hit SEND, and then they will receive the message and read it”. I am not thinking “I will type my message in here, hit SEND, then it will be transmitted in plain text across a vast network of computer systems, through a number of mail servers, possibly be recorded by several government agencies in case I’m a terrorist, be stored for a little while in a mail spool and possibly backed up by some ISP, before eventually being downloaded and read by the intended recipient”.
Same with photos: “I will take a picture and share it with my wife” is a distinctly personal experience (regardless of what it’s a photo of), and that’s what I’m thinking at the time. I am not thinking “I will take a picture with my phone which will then be uploaded across that same vast network to a cloud system somewhere and stored for Eris-only-knows how long in some other jurisdiction which can probably be hacked by script kiddies”.
Technology now is all about communicating with people, and about sharing our experiences, and that we can do this without having any idea what’s actually going on is fantastic. The price though is that with each service we use, we give up a certain amount of privacy, and what privacy we give up is not necessarily obvious.
To go back to the compromising photo example: When all I had was a little film camera, nobody I knew ever took photos they wouldn’t be happy for random strangers to see, because we all knew that we had to take the film to get processed – the mechanics of how the technology worked were at least somewhat obvious to the people using the technology. As far as I am aware, there are no nude photos in existence of my teenage self and partners, because we didn’t want those perverts in the photo shop to see them.
I want a world where user experience accurately reflects potential privacy – not “sharing to circles”, or allegedly private “private messages”, but where any share that could conceivably result in non-private communication is preceded by a dialog that states “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record”. Because privacy is important – as Bruce Schneier said: “Privacy is not about something to hide. Privacy is about human dignity. Privacy is about individuality. Privacy is about being able to decide when and how we show ourselves to other people.”
In farming related news, we have pigs again, and I’ve finally written up my bread recipe on our new blog at downsouthfarm.com. My random commentary about food and farming related matters will henceforth be posted there, while everything else I usually rattle on about at length will remain here.
Today I emailed Julie Collins MP, and senators Catryna Bilyk, Carol Brown, Jacqui Lambie, Helen Polley, Lisa Singh and Anne Urquhart concerning data retention. For the record, and in case it helps anyone else who wants to contact their representatives and senators, here’s what I wrote:
I am writing regarding the Telecommunications (Interception and Access)
Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. As I am sure you are very busy,
I will be as brief as I can.
The distinction the bill makes between metadata (so-called “non-content
data”) and content is grossly misleading; once you have enough of it,
metadata is just as privacy invasive, if not more so, than the actual
content of communications, and as such should only be collected with
proper judicial oversight, i.e. after a warrant is obtained.
Retaining this data for the entire Australian population is mass
surveillance, nothing more, nothing less, and is completely
inappropriate in a modern democratic society.
Tinkering around the edges as Labor is suggesting with amendments to
protect journalists’ sources is misguided at best; the only way to
protect such sources effectively would be to not retain the sources’
data either, and given that you can’t know who they are, the only way
to achieve this would be to not retain anyone’s data at all.
Finally, mandatory data retention won’t help to catch any criminal with
even a shred of intelligence, as it can be trivially circumvented by
the use of overseas communications providers, virtual private networks
and the like.
In summary, I am completely opposed to mandatory data retention in
Australia. As my representative, I’m asking you to reject this bill.
I saw this on Twitter today:
— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) March 13, 2015
I’m going to leave aside the possibility that this is a plot by someone else to ruin Justin D’Agostino’s life by forging an email to Kelly Ellis, as I’ve seen similar sentiments posted too many times (i.e. more than never), and I’m fucking sick of it.
Assuming for a moment that the egg-donor hypothesis is correct, if you are insufficiently evolved to control your urges (or if you share any of the opinions stated in the email above), then you are insufficiently evolved to warrant employment. Please leave and make room for someone else.
At linux.conf.au the other week, a friend asked if I’d ever considered a career writing a web comic. I forget exactly how it came up, but it might have had something to do with the STONTIH Deathmatch t-shirt I was wearing at the time, or may have been due to someone mentioning the talk Florian Haas and I gave at LCA 2011 with the live cartooning.
Anyway, the answer was “no, not really”, largely because I sincerely enjoy my gig at SUSE (we’re hiring ATM, BTW), but also partly because I honestly don’t come up with enough interesting stuff often enough, and consider it unlikely I’ll ever make a living off it. Still, I have put a handful of bits and pieces up on Redbubble over the last few years, so I thought I’d engage in a bit of narcissism and promote it shamelessly and obviously. In chronological order then, from oldest to newest, I have produced:
- The Cautious Optimism Death Spiral (from my Brief Study in Software Engineering)
- The STONITH Deathmatch t-shirt (from STONITH Deathmatch Explained)
- I just wish I could say I actually understood how all this crap works (after we resolved a peculiarly complicated merge conflict in a git repository – don’t ask)
- Footprints in the Sand (a kinda subtle piratical design)
- Beware the #lca2013 Ducks with Frickin’ Lasers (resulting from a discussion on Twitter)
- The Cephbot and Replomat (from a talk on Ceph Florian and I gave at LCA in 2013)
- A completely unofficial Pirate Party Australia t-shirt design (all proceeds from this will be donated to Pirate Party Australia)
- The Rat Hole Project photo (don’t buy this unless you want to be part of a conceptual art project that involves throwing money away – if you actually want the photo, just download it under CC-BY-SA)
- Meme Abuse is Damaging My Calm (after seeing one too many “Keep Calm” t-shirt variants at Salamanca market one weekend)
As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I’m very happy SUSE was able to support linux.conf.au 2015 with a keynote giveaway on Wednesday morning and sponsorship of the post-conference Beer O’Clock at Catalyst:
— Tim Serong, Esquire (@tserong) January 13, 2015
For those who were in attendance, I thought a little explanation of the keynote gift (a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8″) might be in order, especially given the winner came up to me during the post-conference drinks and asked “what’s up with the tablet?”
To put this in perspective, I’m in engineering at SUSE (I’ve spent a lot of time working on high availability, distributed storage and cloud software), and while it’s fair to say I represent the company in some sense simply by existing, I do not (and cannot) actually speak on behalf of my employer. Nevertheless, it fell to me to purchase a gift for us to provide to one lucky delegate sensible enough to arrive on time for Wednesday’s keynote.
I like to think we have a distinct engineering culture at SUSE. In particular, we run a hackweek once or twice a year where everyone has a full week to work on something entirely of their own choosing, provided it’s related to Free and Open Source Software. In that spirit (and given that we don’t make hardware ourselves) I thought it would be nice to be able to donate an Android tablet which the winner would either be able to hack on directly, or would be able to use in the course of hacking something else. So I’m not aware of any particular relationship between my employer and that tablet, but as it says on the back of the hackweek t-shirt I was wearing at the time:
Some things have to be done just because they are possible.
Not because they make sense.
There are plenty of useless gate images out there in the wild. Many of these are licensed restrictively, or it’s unclear what terms apply, making honourable use in memes problematic. To rectify this situation, I hereby offer the following four images under CC0. Enjoy.
It seems appropriate to link to a Pirate Party Australia press release here too.