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MJR's slef-reflection

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GR to break promises and ignore copyright

MJ Ray

Anthony Towns notes I didn't vote in the debian general resolution. I didn't vote for two reasons: the vote was held at a very bad time, when many of us have more fun things to do than debug misbehaving "holiday" mail systems, and I think the proposed worst outcome wasn't legal anyway, so the vote was irrelevant for years, any road up.

I'm not delighted about the outcome, but it's better than it could have been.



If a user attacks another computer, is their sysadmin responsible?

MJ Ray

Only if the attack's for the benefit of the sysadmin or their employer, as far as I can tell.

All-party Parliamentary Internet Group had links to legislation/regulation:

  • the Computer Misuse Act 1990 doesn't make this explicit;
  • Cybercrime Convention says a person can be held liable for crimes committed for their benefit made possible by lack of supervision (Article 12) and also lets you be slapped for withholding evidence;
  • the EU Framework Decision on "Attacks Against Information Systems" echoes this (Article 9).

The British and Irish Legal Information Institute didn't let me find any cases with computer misuse AND supervision. Using "lack of supervision" alone finds common sense use only.

So it seems to hinge on supervision. I hope that you have to do something pretty obviously daft to fall foul of a court on that. I guess that you shouldn't let a server managed by you run totally unattended, but if you take normal precautions (firewall, logcheck, intrusion detection and so on and actually review them), the admin should be OK whatever.

If someone's just using your computer as a jumping-off point for random attacks, I don't see how that's for your benefit either. I think that wording might be to discourage evil businesses having teams trying to deface competitor sites and so on. There's probably a bigger danger from copyright and trademark infringement accusations IMO.

I am not a lawyer. Check the above yourself or consult a lawyer about it. If you do and have updates, can you let me know, please?



Revision Control Systems

MJ Ray

"All revision control systems suck. This one just sucks less."

That's roughly what I'll say when I find one worth it. I've used rcs, cvs, svn, prcs, tla, arx, monotone and probably some I've forgotten.

They all suck, in different ways. I'm now really reluctant to install a new revision control system unless there's a clear benefit.

Matthew Palmer:

"Subversion is the One True Revision Control System and we should all just Stop Worrying and Learn To Love The Handcuffs"

Current target of my wrath is subversion, the lardy cake of revision controls. Over 5 times the footprint of CVS gets you atomic commits, but similar design problems with centralised servers and corruptable roots. Server choice is either a pserver-look one or an apache server with all the trimmings. The licence isn't even GPL-compatible, so forget about neat integration into some editors and development tools.

Finally, if CVS is "extremely dead" despite its last release in October 2005, then SVN must be buried and rotting because it hasn't released since August.

I tend to prefer distributed systems, especially when done well with standard protocols so that I can copy the archive somewhere close to me and work with it at relatively high speed, or off-line. It also gives the benefit that I merge when I want to, rather than being forced to choose between commit and branch. Centralised systems seem to make branching needlessly fiddly.

Beyond that, I strongly prefer a system which can generate tarballs and patches (as far as possible) so that the rest of the world doesn't have to install the binaries (even if they can). That's about the base level of compatibility for now and any new tool should at least try to support it, even if the export loses some information.

(I'm currently using a small shell script which just automates tarballs and patches, to help me move between my two computers here. I know it's only a 90% solution, but it's one I understand and can put some faith in. I need to have faith in my RCS. I like little less than losing work. Next step is to automate updates and merges, rather than doing them by hand.)



More on GPLv3

MJ Ray

Well, Georg Greve says he's heard my concerns about the GPLv3. Georg's a good guy. I wonder whether FSF will act on them and open up the GPLv3 process.

I note Georg's urging people to Say No to Vienna Manipulations which is interesting, given the structural similarities between the Vienna and GPLv3 processes...



Bureaucracy, debian and the web

MJ Ray

Reading old email can be entertaining sometimes:

"I've done this before, in various forms, and most of the time it follows the same predictable route: 25% of the time you get a really good committee and it's a blast for all involved; 25% you get a diabolical committee and it stands a chance of dying; half the time you get an average committee and it continues as it was before. The whole "committee" idea has some fairly major pitfalls to avoid: cliques, irrelevance and legality to name but three. [...] I think we should NOT form a committee."

-- Me, to alug, in April 1999

which makes all the crap from Debian-UK Society zealots like:

"While people like MJ Ray like bureaucratic bondage[0], it was felt by everyone else that the best constitution would be the simplest possible."

-- Scott James Remnant, to debian-project, in August 2005

even more obviously laughable. I didn't want a complicated constitution. I want either a minimally-complete constitution, or not to join it. They allow neither.

Annoyingly, the Debian-UK Society is still claiming many DDs became members without consenting (which violates article 20 of the universal declaration of human rights), still seem to have permission to use the "Debian" trademark and still seem to be a business selling CDs and t-shirts. Violating a human right may mean they're breaking our Human Rights Act - quite remarkable for a small club. Also, I've seen nothing that suggests that they have notified the Inland Revenue, which I think can get them fined lots, so donations may be at risk.

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day (which centres this year on torture). DUS is a piffling matter, so it should be easy to deal with, but there seems to be lies, bigotry and ignorance in the way.

Freedom to associate is one of the most practical human rights. It lets us act on our support or opposition to things. Defend it.

I support debian but I oppose the way it's doing business in the UK. Do you support attempted conscription into an odd-looking UK business?



Business Truths

MJ Ray

I smiled at "Things I thought" from Bagel Belly Blog more than I have for a while. Much truth there. The Bagel Belly is back on form.

Sam Hocevar asks "Is there a task organiser that does not suck?" which I think is interesting - the program is not the organiser. The user is the organiser. The program can only help (or hinder!) not organise.

Sometimes obvious is just plain wrong. I used to think it was obvious to answer my messages at the start of the day. I found I lost whole chunks of the day that way. For me, long reading is usually an evening activity, so I guess my mind associated it with going to sleep afterwards.

I didn't notice that reading personal email is fine, when I reply to a high proportion of it and act on it. That starts my day with action and I continue being active through the day.

Reading mailing lists and newsgroups isn't fine, as I read most of that and don't reply. I switched to reading only personal email in the morning and leaving lists and newsgroups until later in the day, unless there's something obviously interesting. It's made a big difference.

Is there a need to rethink email? Bob Geldof rails against emails:

"Geldof said he dreaded seeing lots of e-mails in his inbox, as they imposed an agenda on him, and disrupted his own plans for the day."

This doesn't surprise me in general (is there a less likely email fan?) but does he have a point?

Over time, I've moved to treating emails as letters, essays or at least office memos. It's easy to treat them as conversations, but they are not, in so many ways. You can say things in conversations that will haunt you if you ever write them down. In conversation, people accept that sometimes you'll make comments without proper review and reflection, but it's assumed that you have considered your emails, even though most people don't seem to. This is part of why I think the Debian private email "declassification" proposal is unethical if applied to past messages. People didn't expect to have such a wide audience.

Similar musings from techdirt, the Register, the Inquirer and Business Week

Maybe see also thread patterns from see shy jo which could help you skip though low priority email sooner, and Online forum usage and other addictions, from Steve Pavlina. I wondered if the problems were new to online. Forums can be a bit like newspapers, but while you get a whole day to read a newspaper and there's one hell of a lag on the letters page, you can get a forum update by clicking at any time (even though new editions may be smaller) and your talk-back appears instantly on most forums. - Then someone reminded me about "news junkies" who buy all the newspapers and watch or listen to rolling news. Maybe this isn't a new problem. How was it solved in the past?



UK legislators review DRM

MJ Ray

The All-Party Internet Group (APIG) will conduct an inquiry into Digital Rights Management and invites written submissions of 1000 words or less by 21 December.

This is a great chance to make legislators think about the problems introduced by the recent ill-considered DRM laws and we can offer them some possible improvements. I think I will be asking for:

1. establishment of "fair circumvention" when DRM is being used to restrict what should be fair dealing or other vital acts - you can't make DRM systems "fail safe" but you can give some hope of recovering after they "fail closed";

2. legislation to ensure that DRM system owners are held responsible for computer misuse (Sony?), privacy invasion and monopoly effects resulting from their DRM systems, which will help limit distortion;

3. requiring collecting societies to allow members to leave, rather than letting us see more reports about why some artists aren't using liberal licensing yet.

If you can write a structured response to some or all of their questions, please do so.

At worst, let's hope we can avoid the likes of the recent French proposal that could ban free software here...

(Part of this item first appeared in an email to the fsfe-uk list on 5 December.)



Safe Cycling Quiz Considered Harmful

MJ Ray

The local BUG linked to a safe cycling quiz. I had a few problems with it because it needs javascript as well as the disclosed cookie requirement: PHP could do this without both, so I think it's slightly bad programming; but eventually I went through the questions.

I was rather surprised to score only just over 50%. After reviewing the questions, it turns out that it's not because I do things seriously wrong: it's more that the question-setter seems a bit militantly anti-car and assumes that cycle lanes and cycleways won't be built to the national standard. To be fair, most are substandard, but I assumed the examples in the test questions were OK, in the absence of other information.

I also disagree about the message sent by moving right on the approach to a narrow. It seems to make some drivers think you're going to make a right turn using the island as a refuge, so they move to undertake, which is really dangerous. They shouldn't overtake too near the island if your normal road position is good.



About slef-reflections

MJ Ray

With Planet Scheme and more referrals, I seem to have gained many new readers recently, so here's a quick description of this blog.

I'll post before noon each day if I'm in the office (where the computer that I use for writing is), usually at least Monday to Friday. I post about: scheme programming (also in scheme.rss), gnu/linux free software support (also in hacks.rss), koha development (also in koha.rss), creativity and copyright (also in affs.rss), running a non- traditional business, bicycling, events around Lynn, Norfolk and other events I take part in.

If you would like to contact me about it, I prefer trackback: some posts include trackback URLs (and others aren't hard to guess); or my email info is linked from the top of my blog page now.

Stuart wonders how to track use, reuse and repurposing - from when I was writing for "real" publications, I'd say that the same problem is faced by anyone doing a news release. All you can do is monitor the outlets and see where it goes. If you're lucky, you'll get pinged, but I think that happens only for about 1 in 10 or less. Anyone know real numbers for that?

Can anyone expect audience statistics to be sorted out when even the copyright aspect of online syndication is still being figured out?



French law banning Source Code

MJ Ray

I've posted a translation of an easier to read article about the proposed DADVSI law (source: ffii.fr) which might help more people understand what the complaint is. Here's how I read it but I am not a lawyer, much less French. (Vive la Wallonie...)



Translation of article about VU/SACEM/BSA amendment

MJ Ray

I was too tired to do this really, but I wrote a translation of an article about the French anti-free software law which I mentioned earlier. So, remember: E&OE, no refunds, no warranty.



Lincoln Christmas Market

MJ Ray

Today is the first day of the Lincoln Christmas Market. With over 300 stalls and many other attractions around the uphill quarter of Lincoln, it's probably the biggest in England and one of the biggest in Europe. If you're within a few hours of it, try a visit. Finishes Sunday (4 December).



PR, GR, Law

MJ Ray

On the first day of Christmas month, GPLv3 sent to me: three corporate counsels two FSF spokesmen, a research corporation director and a lawyer in a pear tree.

No community projects support GPLv3? Were they excluded or did they refuse? If GPLv3 is a similar corporation-placater to the FDL, sacrificing freedom for sponsorship, I predict a riot. A bit of discussion about this problem here.

The proposed resolution on publishing debian-private emails both contradicts itself and may have copyright problems. At best, reject. At least, amend.

Also troubling, a claim from FSF France that new laws threaten free software developers or at least public distribution of source code. What madness is that?



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