GioCities

blogs by Gio

Atom feed politics politics

politics Client CSAM scanning: a disaster already

On August 5, 2021, Apple presented their grand new Child Safety plan. They promised “expanded protections for children” by way of a new system of global phone surveillance, where every iPhone would constantly scan all your photos and sometimes forward them to local law enforcement if it identifies one as containing contraband. Yes, really.

August 5 was a Thursday. This wasn’t dumped on a Friday night in order to avoid scrutiny, this was published with fanfare. Apple really thought they had a great idea here and expected to be applauded for it. They really, really didn’t. There are almost too many reasons this is a terrible idea to count. But people still try things like this, so as much as I wish it were, my work is not done. God has cursed me for my hubris, et cetera. Let’s go all the way through this, yet again.

The architectural problem this is trying to solve🔗

Believe it or not, Apple actually does address a real architectural issue here. Half-heartedly addressing one architectural problem of many doesn’t mean your product is good, or even remotely okay, but they do at least do it. Apple published a 14 page summary of the problem model (starting on page 5). It’s a good read if you’re interested in that kind of thing, but I’ll summarize it here.

politics Ethical Source is a Crock of Hot Garbage

There’s this popular description of someone “having brain worms”. It invokes the idea of having your mind so thoroughly infested with an idea to the point of disease. As with the host of an infestation, such a mind is poor-to-worthless at any activity other than sustaining and spreading the parasite.

A “persistent delusion or obsession“. You know, like when you think in terms of legality so much you can’t even make ethical evaluations anymore, or when you like cops so much you stop being able to think about statistics, or the silicon valley startup people who try to solve social problems with bad technology, or the bitcoin people who responded to the crisis in Afghanistan by saying they should just adopt bitcoin. “Bad, dumb things”. You get the idea.

And, well.

Okay, so let’s back way up here, because this is just the tip of the iceberg of a story that needs years of context. I’ll start with the most recent event here, the Mastodon tweet.

The Mastodon Context🔗

The “he” Mastodon is referring to is ex-president-turned-insurrectionist Donald Trump, who, because his fellow-insurrectionist friends and fans are subject to basic moderation policies on most of the internet, decided to start his own social network, “Truth Social”. In contrast to platforms moderated by the “tyranny of big tech”, Truth Social would have principles of Free Speech, like “don’t read the site”, “don’t link to the site”, “don’t criticise the site”, “don’t use all-caps”, and “don’t disparage the site or us”. There are a lot of problems here already, but because everything Trump does is terrible and nobody who likes him can create anything worthwhile, instead of actually making a social networking platform, they just stole Mastodon wholesale.

Mastodon is an open-source alternative social networking platform. It’s licensed under an open license (the AGPLv3), so you are allowed to clone it and even rebrand it for your own purposes as was done here. What you absolutely are not allowed to do is claim the codebase is your own proprietary work, deliberately obscure the changes you made to the codebase, or make any part of the AGPL-licensed codebase (including your modifications) unavailable to the public. All of which Truth Social does.

So that’s the scandal. And so here’s Mastodon poking some fun at that.

politics Is (git) master a dirty word?

Git is changing. GitHub, GitLab, and the core git team have a made a system of changes to phase out the use of the word “master” in the development tool, after a few years of heated (heated) discussion. Proponents of the change argue “slavery is bad”, while opponents inevitably end up complaining about the question itself being “overly political”. Mostly. And, with the tendency of people in the computer science demographic to… let’s call it “conservatism”, this is an issue that gets very heated, very quickly. I have… thoughts on this, in both directions.

Formal concerns about problematic terminology in computing (master, slave, blacklist) go back as early as 2003, at the latest; this is not a new conversation. The push for this in git specifically started circa 2020. There was a long thread on the git mailing list that went back and forth for several months with no clear resolution. It cited Python’s choice to move away from master/slave terminology, which was formally decided on as a principle in 2018. In June of 2020, the Software Freedom Conservancy issued an open letter decrying the term “master” as “offensive to some people.” In July 2020 github began constructing guidance to change the default branch name and in 2021 GitLab announced it would do the same.


First, what role did master/slave terminology have in git, anyway? Also, real quick, what’s git? Put very simply, git is change tracking software. Repositories are folders of stuff, and branches are versions of those folders. If you want to make a change, you copy the file, modify it, and slot it back in. Git helps you do that and also does some witchery to allow multiple people to make changes at the same time without breaking things, but that’s not super relevant here.

That master version that changes are based is called the master branch, and is just a branch named master. Changes are made on new branches (that start as copies of the master branch) which can be named anything. When the change is final, it’s merged back into the master branch. Branches are often deleted after they’re merged.

politics Your engine hasn’t earned your rent

YoYo Games announced today that they’re switching GameMaker to a subscription model. You know, I was planning on doing a high-effort article about this some day, but what the heck, let’s do it now.

First, here are the actual details of the GameMaker change. Instead of buying development tools you can use to develop things, YoYo is making its latest version of GameMaker — GameMaker Studio 2 — free to use. You can download it for free, learn how it works, and invest as much time making your game in it as you want. You only have to pay if you want to ship a game. And if you decide you really want to ship your game, it’s a whopping $80/yr for as long as you want your game on the shelves.

Subscriptions🔗

This idea of a company turning a product into a subscription service is probably familiar to you. Famously, Photoshop and Adobe’s other creative products switched from one-time purchases of software to indefinite recurring subscription fees, after having locked in most of the creative industry.

Earlier this year, a very similar thing happened with Buildbox, another “no code” game maker program. Buildbox changed their terms and conditions to demand revenue from all Buildbox games, including games and in-app purchases. In the normal tier, 70% of your total revenue goes straight to Buildbox. Even if you’re in the highest tier, you can’t stop them siphoning your revenue.

politics 5G’s standard patents wound it

I remember seeing a whole kerfuffle about 5G around this time last year. Not the mind-control vaccine, the actual wireless technology. People (senators, mostly) were worried about national security, because Huawei (the state-controlled Chinese tech company, who is a threat, actually) was getting its 5G patents through and making its claim on the next-gen tech IP landscape. Maybe Trump even needed to seize the technology and nationalize 5G? Everybody sure had a lot to say about it, but I didn’t see a single person address the core conflict.

Format Wars🔗

Before we get to 5G, let’s go way back to VHS for a minute.

The basic idea of the “format war” is this: one company invents a format (VHS, SD cards, etc) and make a push to make their format the standard way of doing things. Everybody gets a VHS player instead of BetaMax, so there’s a market for the former but not for the latter. Now everyone uses VHS. If you’re selling video, you sell VHS tapes, and if you’re buying video, you’re buying VHS. If you invented VHS, this is great for you, because you own the concept of VHS and get to charge everyone whatever you want at every step in the process. And, since everyone uses VHS now, you’ve achieved lock-in.

Now, this creates an obvious perverse incentive. Companies like Sony are famous for writing and patenting enormous quantities of formats that never needed to exist in the first place because owning the de factor standard means you can collect rent from the entire market. That’s a powerful lure.

And that’s just talking about de facto standards. This gets even worse when you mix in formal standards setting bodies, which get together and formally declare which formats should be considered “standard” for professional and international use. If you could get your IP written into those standards, it turns your temporary development time into a reliable cash stream.

Enter SEPs🔗

5G” is one of these standards set by standard setting bodies, and it’s a standard packed with proprietary technology. The most important slice of those is called SEPs, or “Standard Essential Patents.” These are the Patents that are Essential to (implementing) the Standard. In other words, these technologies are core and inextricable to 5G itself. This figure represents only the SEPs:

politics YouTube broke links and other life lessons

This morning YouTube sent out an announcement that, in one month, they’re going to break all the links to all unlisted videos posted prior to 2017. This is a bad thing. There’s a whole lot bad here, actually.

Edit: Looks like Google is applying similar changes to Google Drive, too, meaning this doesn’t just apply to videos, but to any publicly shared file link using Google Drive. As of next month, every public Google Drive link will stop working unless the files are individually exempted from the new security updates, meaning any unmaintained public files will become permanently inaccessible. Everything in this article still applies, the situation is just much worse than I thought.

The Basics🔗

YouTube has three kinds of videos: Public, Unlisted, and Private. Public videos are the standard videos that show up in searches. Private videos are protected, and can only be seen by specific YouTube accounts you explicitly invite. Unlisted videos are simply unlisted: anyone with the link can view, but the video doesn’t turn up automatically in search results.

Unlisted videos are obviously great, for a lot of reasons. You can just upload videos to YouTube and share them with relevant communities — embed them on your pages, maybe — without worrying about all the baggage of YouTube as a Platform.

What Google is trying to do here is roll out improvements they made to the unlisted URL generation system to make it harder for bots and scrapers to index videos people meant to be semi-private. This is a good thing. The way they’re doing it breaks every link to the vast majority of unlisted videos, including shared links and webpage embeds. This is a tremendously bad thing. I am not the first to notice this.

politics Twitter Blue is a late-stage symptom

Twitter Blue! $5/mo for Premium Twitter. It’s the latest thing that simply everyone.

News articles about twitter blue

I have an issue with it, but over a very fundamental point, and one Twitter shares with a lot of other platforms. So here’s why it’s bad that Twitter decided to put accessibility features behind a paywall, and it isn’t the obvious.

Client/Server architecture in 5 seconds🔗

All web services, Twitter included, aren’t just one big magic thing. You can model how web apps work as two broad categories: the client and the server. The client handles all your input and output: posts you make, posts you see, things you can do. The server handles most of the real logic: what information gets sent to the client, how posts are stored, who is allowed to log in as what accounts, etc.

politics Tweets about the attack on the Capitol

Twitter is an ephemeral medium. You scroll through tweets just fast enough for them to register in your head, and then they’re gone forever. If you want to find something again, you can go to somebody’s profile and scroll through, one tweet at a time, until you find what you wanted.

This is a lousy way of capturing history. That’s not great, because Twitter does such a good job of capturing important moments, as they happen. If you want to save that moment, though, what can you do? What do you do if you think a day’s tweets are important? Print them out?

Well, I did. Here is what I tweeted and retweeted, on a page. Tactile. To be read.

politics Nintendo: It’s about control, not piracy

Nintendo is trending on twitter today for yet another abuse of the legal system. Today, though, it’s not about a fan game, or intellectual property, or anything else Nintendo has something approaching a reasonable claim too — it’s all a sham.

politics How Apple destroyed mobile freeware

I have a memory from when I was very young of my dad doing the finances. He would sit in his office with a computer on one side and an old-fashioned adding machine on the desk. While he worked on the spreadsheet on the computer, he would use the adding machine for quick calculations.

Adding machine

A year or two ago I had a very similar experience. I walked upstairs to the office and there he was, at the same desk, spreadsheet on one side and calculator on the other. Except it was 2020, and he had long ago replaced the adding machine with an iPad. There was really one noticeable difference between the iPad and the old adding machine: the iPad was awful at the job. My dad was using some random calculator app that was an awkwardly scaled iPhone app with an ugly flashing banner add at the bottom.