No Food for Thought

Food is something you should provide to your brain long before coming to this blog. You will find no food recipes here, only raw, serious, non-fake news for mature minds.

No Green Light for Plenom (and other Busylight manufacturers) yet

admin Friday August 3, 2018

 Not Fresh

I finished my mandate since I wrote this post and my new work environment is no longer as distracting. I am no longer looking for such a solution.

A couple of weeks ago I was disturbed by a colleague while debugging an amateur 15-year old document parser, equipped with a badly buggy debugger. I was very displeased, but I realized I couldn't blame my colleague; I rather realized that now that I work in an open office, I need a way to indicate to colleagues when they shouldn't disturb me.

So I searched for devices which would allow me to turn on some red light when I need extreme focus. I quickly found Plenom's kuando Busylights. The hardware seemed great, and the price was right. I was about to buy when I realized the lights had a single year of warranty. Which made me question durability. I can afford shopping and setting up a device once, but I can't do that every third year.

I saw that Plenom offers a manual color control application for Microsoft Windows and "Mac / OSX". But I realized there was nothing for GNU/Linux. In addition, the source for the application wasn't provided. At the bottom of the download page was a reference to an interface specification:

If you need to program the Busylight on USB level, please request the USB API description.

At that point, I was disappointed to see that Plenom didn't offer any code nor support for GNU/Linux, but thought that with its SDK and interface specification, Plenom was close to an acceptable level, and figured that if Plenom was OK with it, I could patch this small flaw by publishing the specification on this website. So I sent the following message to Plenom:

I am interested in obtaining an availability device such as Busylight, but will not buy a product for which documentation is confidential. If you commit to offering a Manual changer for GNU/Linux or if you licence the USB API documentation as freely redistributable, please let me know.

Plenom courteously sent the following reply:

Hi Phillipe.

Thanks for your interest in Busylight.

I have attached the USB API documentation, as well as our SDK License Agreement.

While it isn't mentioned in the agreement, we consider the same terms and conditions to apply for the API documentation. That is, you're welcome to redistribute software made with the SDK or API as long as it's for use with the Kuando Busylight units.

If you ask for the API and I send it to you, you are welcome to share it with a friend. The reason we want people to write in first, is so that we can be kept up to date on which Busylight developments are taking place. This way, we can market our products to users of applications we haven't developed for, but third parties have developed for themselves.

Feel free to contact us.
Best regards.
Rasmus Sørensen, The Busylight Team

(The mail included documentation, but I cannot provide it here.)

I was disappointed that Plenom didn't offer redistributing, but found Plenom's concern justifiable, and its reply very courteous, so I tried finding a compromise with the following reply:

Thank you Rasmus,
I understand your concern.

My concern is to invest in a product, to have Plenom go bankrupt or otherwise abandoning Busylight, and to eventually end up with no controlling application supporting the system I will be using, and being unable to provide the necessary documentation to developers who would be willing to invest in the development of a new application, forcing me to write a new application myself.

Would you agree to making the API documentation freely redistributable, but with a usage requirement to inform Plenom of the development project before using the documentation, so that both of our concerns are addressed?

To my surprise, the next thing I heard from Plenom was a message in my voice mailbox (even though I hadn't provided my phone number), from Mitch Friend, president of Plenom Americas, who said he wanted to talk about my development project. Duh

I called back anyway and started by basically repeating my last message to M. Friend, explaining that I didn't work in a call center and would be paying from my own pocket. The funny part came when M. Friend reassured me that his company was in great health, so there was no reason to fear bankruptcy. He claimed I was the only one who had asked about this so far, visibly trying to convince me I was at the faulty end of the conversation. Then came the worst part. M. Friend asked if I would do the same with Microsoft and ask them to change their policies. I was caught off-guards and failed to point out that I wasn't asking Plenom to change its policies, or that most of Microsoft's hardware implements the HID protocol, or even that Microsoft had interest in keeping the cross-platform support of devices as low as possible.

The conversation certainly didn't help convincing me to get a kuando Busylight, but it had a bit of constructiveness when M. Friend mentioned there was some Busylight-related code available on GitHub.

Ultimately I didn't get any permission to redistribute the documentation, nor any further explanation of Plenom's apparent unwillingness to help itself. I even realized after that Plenom requests personal information just to let you download their end-user software. At that point, it seems safe to conclude that Plenom won't offer either redistributable source code or interface specification for kuando Busylight anytime soon.

After giving up on kuando Busylight, I searched a little for alternatives. I found a couple:

  1. Jabra Busylight
  2. Embrava's Blynclight

The first is not USB and apparently in a very different category, specific to phones, so not an option for me. As for Blynclight, it seems worse than kuando Busylight. There is visibly no support for GNU/Linux, no source for any controlling application offered, nor even any specification :-(

So, if you're aware of a well-working and reliable availability display device, please let me know. (Meanwhile, if you see me stepping through a stack tens of levels deep, feel free to find someone else to discuss your backyard.)

L'Actualité décoré

admin Sunday July 22, 2018

L'Actualité est le magazine que j'ai le plus lu. En partie parce que mes parents me l'ont mis à portée de main, mais bien sur surtout pour son contenu. C'est mon magazine préféré. Je suis heureux de voir qu'il a mérité le Prix 2018 du meilleur magazine d’intérêt général de la Fondation des Prix pour les médias canadiens, et un total de 7 médailles. Je félicite d'ailleurs la décision récente de diminuer à 12 publications par an, permettant une plus grande profondeur.

Je suis tout aussi heureux de voir que sa journaliste Noémi Mercier a remporté la médaille d'or dans la catégorie Chroniques, pour sa chronique « Des gars, des filles », déjà mentionnée 2 fois sur ce blogue. Des chroniques de féminisme scientifique courtes (1 page de texte), mais qui méritent amplement cette distinction par leur qualité hors paire - Non multa sed multum.

The European Union's Interference Equation: Inaction + competition = over-reaction

admin Saturday July 21, 2018

In 1996, yearly worldwide PC sales went beyond 70 million units. It was obvious that personal computers would become ubiquitous and that the World would crucially need operating systems and commodity software.

The network effect on computers was already known in the early 1980s. In fact, in 1996, software vendor lock-in was already very much a reality.

In 1996, it was obvious what would happen if the world didn't make such software and let private companies and individuals tackle the problem. In fact, in 1996, private companies had already started creating operating systems and software with intentional vendor lock-in, and individuals had already started creating badly underfunded free software. Efforts were duplicated and allocation was highly inefficient. In 1996, the main PC operating system was Microsoft Windows 95; the software world was already plenty messy.

And yet, in 1996, neither the United States nor the European Union, nor any other union decided to offer its citizens a "universal operating system". A few years later, the situation had unsurprisingly worsened, and Microsoft's dominance was even greater.

At that point, the World could have learned from its errors and decided to avoid doing the same errors with the next big innovations. But rather than offering a public Web search engine or starting an operating system for mobile devices, the United States dug up old legislation and recycled it to pretend it was doing something about the problem. In 2001, the United States government sued the largest software enterprise which its inaction had forced to fill in the gap, claiming the Evil Microsoft had broken antitrust legislation. A settlement stopped the government short of dealing a grave blow to entrepreneurship and the free market.

The European Union, having done nothing more than the USA, was plagued by the same problems. In 2004-2007, it used the same pretext found by the USA to suck a €497 million fine from the dangerous Microsoft, which was evil enough to include a media player in its operating system. The EU too would have done something about the problems.

Smaller computers, bigger interference

With all that energy spent blaming the Bad private sector, the World had no energy left to prevent repeating its errors, with the advent of the Internet and handheld computers. The World let the private sector provision web search engines and operating systems for handheld devices. We let Google build a web search engine, and when it created an operating system for handheld devices, surprise surprise - the Evil Google made Android's default search engine Google Search.

Will these new failures be enough for us to learn and tackle the next problems before it's too late? At least in Europe, the answer seems to be no. The EU has chosen instead to stick to its pattern and slap a €5 billion fine on Google, that Evil innovator which provides the world with the open source Android operating system. As for the USA, its current political situation sweeps away any chance of seeing the Federal government anticipating any future problem in the next years.

Intervention in moderation

If further state intervention is to be expected, is our world doomed to have neither the public nor the private sector provisioning solutions to coming challenges? Or can these interventions be turned into something positive?

I believe governments can indeed intervene without undue interference. There is no better way to illustrate how than to use a real-life example, so let's take the first Google practice the EU blames Google for:
Google has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google's app store (the Play Store);

If such a practice is deemed problematic, here are 2 alternative interventions I suggest:

  1. Forbid sale of the relevant devices to minors without agreement from their tutors
  2. Inform customers buying the relevant devices about the practice and require them to confirm their understanding of that practice in order to complete the purchase.

By using such moderate interventions instead, we would let transactions without negative externalities occur, but we would also make citizens aware of problematic practices, and - perhaps - make consumers wonder why such practices have come into existence.

AV1: A Victory for Open Video

admin Saturday July 14, 2018

Rejoice. One major component of modernity - video - can now be compressed using a stable, specified and fully open royalty-free video codec, with AV1, which is also most efficient.
I did not play any role in this achievement, so I have to thank all contributors, notably Google, Cisco, Mozilla, VideoLAN, IBM, Intel, AMD, ARM, Microsoft, Netflix and NVIDIA, BBC, Amazon and Realtek.

Impatiently waiting for an AV1-ready environment

"Cryptocurrency": the pseudo-currency which no one understood or accepted, but which many bought

admin Tuesday June 26, 2018


This article was written when "cryptocurrency" hype was peaking. While the situation changed, its conclusions remain relevant.

On the cover of the May issue of Canadian magazine L'Actualité, I read "LE BITCOIN POUR LES NULS" ("Bitcoin for Dummies"). One of my first reactions was "true". In fact, it announced an article trying to explain what "cryptocurrencies" are, titled "Bitcoin, la monnaie que personne ne comprend" ("Bitcoin, the currency which no one understands").

I find that title interesting in that those who "own" Bitcoins surely do not "understand" it. But it seems to suggest Bitcoin can be understood. As I expected, the article didn't directly tell readers to "buy" "cryptocurrencies". It warned about weaknesses. But as I expected, it overall suggested that "cryptocurrency" had value, just perhaps not as much as some claim. The article even quotes a guy trying to make a living by selling "cryptocurrency" claiming that we can't miss out on "this type of asset[sic]".

It seems that with the current hype about "cryptocurrency", the critical view no longer has as much prominence as the view of scammers/enthusiasts. In fact, it seems the critical view doesn't have any room left. So I thought it was time for me to intervene.

What is "cryptocurrency"

I couldn't decide which definition of "cryptocurrency" was best, so here are a few.

cryptocurrency (plural cryptocurrencies)

  1. a clever term coined to suggest that worthless bit sequences sold by clever terminological scammers have value, like actual currencies
  2. an invention which is so abstract and seems so complicated that it must be worth something
  3. a unit of nothingness whose value is so cryptic that it currently manages to trade above nullity

What is "cryptocurrency", really

I guess I should explain more clearly for those who didn't understand the humorous definitions above and intend to "buy" "cryptocurrency". Basically, "cryptocurrencies" have no value. Not because there's hype about them. Not because of the environmental damage caused by their ridiculous energy usage. Not because their hypothetical value is highly variable. Not because they are involved in an economic bubble (if that term can be applied to something with null value). Not because they are highly vulnerable and easily compromised. Not because they are used by criminals. Not because they are inefficient. Not because their price is manipulated. Cryptographic "currencies" have no value because, like other immaterial "alternative currencies", they do not store value.

While this may seem obvious to economists, this has gotten less intuitive to the average developed world citizen, with the growth in types of intangible assets. Many intangible things have value. Patents, texts and other intellectual property are intangible, but can have value. And many without financial knowledge would even consider all stocks as intangible. Moreover, most real currencies no longer have intrinsic value. But even though paper money has negligible physical value, representative money, in the broad sense, has value, relative to the issuing government(s).

The problem with alternative "currencies" is that, by definition, they are not fiat money (money backed by governments). Alternative "currencies" are issued by random entities. Usually, even these entities do not guarantee anything in exchange for a unit of these "currencies".


To be fair, some immaterial alternative currencies have tangible backing. One of the most notable cases is the Toronto dollar, created in 1998, which has fixed exchange rates with the Canadian dollar, and which is backed by the Family Life Foundation of Willowdale.

Except that in fact, the Family Life Foundation of Willowdale (now just "Family Life Foundation") is a small religious organization. When the Toronto dollar's hype fell and honoring the exchange rate became more costly than sales generated, the Canadian "charity" obviously stopped honoring its guarantee, and 15 years after its creation, the currency lost its only backing. Therefore, those who had bought or accepted Toronto dollars are now stuck with a "currency" which - of course - nobody wants anymore.

While the exchange rate being lower for sale than for purchase made it obvious from the start that the currency was more targeted at faithful souls than at investors with the slightest hint of judgment, it is now obvious to even the wishfulest thinkers that Toronto dollars have no value. Has the issuer apologized for the 100% loss of its customers? Apparently not, since the website of the Family Life Foundation no longer even refers to Toronto dollars. It even gave up (if it didn't sell) its domain to an even more doubtful entity using it to boost its sales.

Will those who created Bitcoin apologize any more when the Bitcoin crashes? No. And there are several reasons for that:

  1. Unlike classic traditional alternative "currencies", the Bitcoin's creators did not sell all bitcoins, just the first bitcoins, making perhaps a few million euros at most.
  2. The Bitcoin's issuer has never backed it by any guarantee.
  3. The Bitcoin's creators are anonymous.
  4. The Bitcoin's creators are smarter, and the "currency" they created is complicated, so that "nobody understands it". Which is why many honest people have joined the scam, despite #2, and despite #3. The Bitcoin never had any value, even hypothetical/temporary. It never needed any backing, and will never lose such backing, so the Bitcoin's actual "value" will never be more obvious than it currently is (unless citizens get less geeky / more educated).

But, theoretically, reliable entities could strongly back a cryptocurrency, giving that currency some value. I insist on "theoretically" and "reliable". A corporation which creates a "cryptocurrency", claims some guarantee and then tries to sell the first units is not a reliable entity (or, in other words, the value given is proportional to the reliability; such an unreliable corporation would not provide significant value).


If you still think a "cryptocurrency" might have value, the main question you should ask is "What is that value?" And the simplest way to answer that is to ask yourself not for how much you could re-sell it, but what you could buy with a unit of that "currency". And - if you want a more precise answer - what you could buy with that same unit in 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, etc. If the answer to all of these questions is "Nothing", then the value of that "currency" is null (unless you are confident that there will be irrational market participants willing to pay something).

A quick search turned up surprisingly little material debunking "cryptocurrencies" (although perhaps I am not alone feeling a bit bad treating the subject, fearing to give it even more unwarranted publicity). The main document I found is David Golumbia's Cryptocurrencies Aren’t Currencies. They Aren’t Stocks, Either, which does a good job debunking propaganda used by many "cryptocurrency" merchants.

National currencies

This post is not meant as an apology of national currencies. The ideal currency would have a constant value, would be ubiquitous, would cost nothing to produce and would be secure. National currencies have a variable value, and even their rough stability is reliant on the good will of their governments. National currencies are numerous. They use coin which require material to produce. Verifying the authenticity of coin can be difficult, and even authentic coin can be stolen. Undoubtedly, national currencies are not ideal.

If my understanding of "cryptocurrency" believers is correct, the error they make is to think that since national currencies are imperfect, it's OK for "cryptocurrencies" to be imperfect. Imperfection is comparable to imperfection, isn't it? The simple appearance of a second "cryptocurrency", and then of a third, and then... of countless more, and the fact that anyone can create its own, should have made it obvious that "cryptocurrencies" were worthless, but it didn't for many. In good part because there had already been numerous currencies for centuries, legitimately.

If I decide that my house's land secedes from Canada to form a new "Filipstan" country, on a 2500 m² surface, against the will of all Canadians but my own family, that I have no army nor natural resources, even if I claim that Filipstan taxes will be collected in "Filipoin" and Filipstan emits 1010 units of its own "Filipoin" currency on the first day of independence, you should probably not pay much more than its melt value to buy a Filipoin. But, if there's any chance that Canada does not annex Filipstan on the next day, Filipoin will still be worth more than any cryptocoin (theoretically, not marketingly). At least, it will have some backing.

National currencies are problematic. But trying to create a better currency won't be possible without backing that currency, whether or not that currency is humanitarian, multicultural, multilingual, non-religious, non-partisan, cryptographic, fractal, recursive or whatnot (apologies to those who were about to launch a fracurrency - better luck next time!).


If you've "invested" all your fortune into buying (or "mining") "cryptocurrencies", don't despair. Peak Crypto is hopefully behind us, but you most likely still have plenty of time to sell to a better believer than you are, per the Greater fool theory.

If you were considering to "buy" "cryptocurrencies" though, realize that not losing means you will have to find someone as foolish as you are. It's a zero-sum game in which entry requires actual money or energy, so if you want to avoid losses, you'd better excel in technical analysis.

"Cryptocurrencies" may be an ecological disaster and worthless, but I think the phenomenon they created teaches a valuable lesson to learn when they can claim more than 300 billion euros in "market capitalization", even though it has been nearly 10 years since they were introduced and several exist.

When I was a kid and my mother refused to buy me some toy, I countered her argument about lacking money saying that she could just use her plastic card. Eventually, like most people, I understood that for representative money to be valuable, it needs scarcity.

What few ever understand though, is that a currency stores value. And having followed a university class introducing macroeconomics, I must say this is no surprise. The class treated central banks, and explained how private banks "create" money. But it never explained how backing affected a currency's value.

Our reaction to the cryptocurrency phenomenon should not be to prohibit alternative currencies. While we should try preventing sales of alternative currency to minors, if adults want to hope that the "currency" they believe in will become the future's global currency, we should not prevent them to put their wealth into getting a share of that dream any more than we prevent people from financing any religion. We could mandate cryptocurrency sellers to warn each buyer that any currency's value is proportional to its backing, but we live in a free market where mentally mature and sane individuals should be free to pay what they want for things they want, no matter how worthful - or worthless - they are. People buying alternative currencies are not hurting others, and not even literally hurting themselves. People "mining" are not necessarily hurting anyone, and if they do by consuming dirty energy, the negative externalities should be compensated by regular tax disincentives.

We should not prohibit Bitcoins, Litecoins, foocoins or the next clever scheme alternative currency makers come up with. In part because that would be pointless; there is an infinity of worthless things we can create. And in part because some complementary currencies could be valuable if they had significant backing. What we should definitely ensure is that people who study macroeconomics, and ideally not only these, get an understanding of how actual money stores value.

2018-08-19 Update

This article's publication marked the end of Peak Crypto. Now that the hype is well over, it is time to "sell" your "cryptocurrency", if you still haven't done so.

2018-09-04 Update

The hype is really over, now that The Economist acknowledges "cryptocurrencies" are useless. Hurry!

2018-09-16 Update

While "cryptocurrencies" keep crashing, nuance about their worthlessness is getting more important. 2 "stablecoins" have appeared, "stablecoin" being another clever marketing term to suggest that a cryptocurrency's value will be stable since it is pegged to a stable asset - in these cases, the USD. The guarantee of convertibility is simply provided by the private company which issues each one of these "currencies", but the Gemini dollar is regulated by the USA and seems to have a guaranteed value of 1 USD.

Another cryptocurrency with a guarantee from a state was launched in February - Venezuela's petro, which is directly backed by natural resources of the country. However, the petro cannot be "mined", and appears to be a scam from the government to help alleviate Venezuela's financial crisis, nearly as worthless as traditional "cryptocurrencies".

2018-10-12 Update

Rush! The implosion is coming sooner than expected!

2018-11-16 Update

With the Bitcoin fever over, Axios has published graphs putting Peak Crypto in the first half of 2018.

2018-11-24 Update

Bitcoin and its brothers are getting more prominence in shops. Will "cryptocurrency" owners soon be able to use their "currency" as such? No such luck... the shops won't accept it, but they'll "sell" it. Next to other "goods" with a clear value, such as tobacco... at least, tobacco buyers can feel a little less guilty about wasting their money now, by simultaneously "investing" in another poison.

Ah, the Ultimate Irony...
"Cryptocurrency": the pseudo-currency which no one understood and which stores never accepted... but sold!
Yep, even with its contradiction now exposed in broad daylight

Le poids (ou la masse?) des mots

admin Monday April 30, 2018

Il y a quelques mois, ce blogue faisait pour une première fois référence à un article de la série "Des gars, des filles" du magazine L'Actualité. En lisant « Le poids des mots », que signe Noémi Mercier dans le numéro de mai 2018, force est de constater que cette série, qui n'est certainement pas à veille d'être à court de pertinence, n'est toujours pas non plus à court de contenu. J'ai trouvé cette courte lecture (1 page) très enrichissante.

Voici l'étude de Armand Chatard auquel le sixième paragraphe réfère, et selon lequel les garçons sont plus confiants de pouvoir exercer un métier traditionnellement féminin lorsqu'il est présenté en utilisant autant le masculin et le féminin que lorsqu'il est présenté en utilisant seulement le masculin.

La belle langue? Si ce fût autrefois le français, les critères de beauté et la société ont bien évolué depuis. Lorsque de simples mots amènent des maux aussi complexes, il faut plutôt catégoriser le français parmi les langues sexistes (et peut-être réattribuer cette épithète obsolète à son descendant sans sexisme linguistique, l'Ido).

Goodbye Flash, Hello Complete Freedom!

admin Sunday April 22, 2018

Although Debian has been my main home PC's OS for more than a decade, I've always used proprietary software on it. Usually various drivers or firmwares, and sometimes applications. But always, the 2 most popular browser plugins: Adobe Flash and Sun's Java plugin.

That was until approximately 2013, when I realized Sun's Java was no longer needed. And until now. Today, it had been a while since I had remembered to update my main PC's Flash plugin. And as happened last time, Debian's buggy flashplugin-nonfree package failed to perform the update. I thought it was time to check how badly my plugin was outdated, so I checked the version I had. And, after a while wondering what was going on, I realized I didn't have the plugin installed.

And indeed, my shell history shows I tried updating the plugin in September, and when I realized that was broken, I decided to uninstall it. It's coming back to me now. I uninstalled it thinking "Let's see what happens without". And I believe I realized playing videos got different. I do have considerable performance problems playing some videos now, and the lack of Flash may be a key factor in that (but it's a 5-year old PC, and perhaps there's a driver problem).

If you had asked me in 2006 if I could browse for 7 months without Flash without failing to do anything, I would have answered a most confident No. Yet, I am now using a free browser with 0 proprietary plugin/extension, and I didn't even realize it! And indeed, less than 5% of websites now use Flash! In fact, on this PC, the only proprietary software I still use is Citrix Receiver (for remote connection to work), AMD CPU and GPU microcode, and some proprietary scanning plugin for my HP LaserJet Pro all-in-one printer.

Thanks VP9, thanks Opus, thanks WebM. Thanks HTML5, ECMAScript and the rest
Congratulations Google, congratulations free codec developers. Congratulations web standard developers, web browser developers and webmasters
We made it!

Modestly Moving Away from a Monstruously Mad Mozilla

admin Sunday April 22, 2018

In 2003, I was using Internet Explorer, Hotmail and Microsoft Windows when I discovered the Mozilla Suite. I could certainly count the number of open source applications I used on a single hand at that time. I installed Mozilla 1.4, a friend told me about Firebird, and then I switched to Firebird and never went back to MSIE as my main browser. Impressed by Firebird (now Firefox), and curious about free software, I migrated from Windows to GNU/Linux later that year. Since then, Firefox has always been the main browser on at least one of my operating systems. For most of these years, Firefox (or its close relative Iceweasel) was also my main browser.

Soon after discovering Mozilla's browser, I tried Thunderbird, which I started using instead of webmail. For most of these years too, Thunderbird (or its close relative Icedove) was my MUA. So it has been nearly 15 years since Mozilla became one of the projects with the most influence on the software I use.

For years, I was evangelizing friends and family about Mozilla software. I was also a developer of projects upstream of and downstream to Mozilla. When Firefox was released, I was helping early adopters on IRC channels. For more than a decade, I also sporadically contributed to Mozilla's wikis. I wrote and helped triage issue reports. For some time, I even edited Wikipedia's page about the Mozilla-Debian licensing/branding issue. When I discovered Firebug thanks to a friend, I immediately installed it. Over time, I would report many of its issues.

Despite the licensing issue and XUL's reliance on GTK+ instead of Qt (my favorite desktop environment's toolkit), I never hesitated before contributing to Mozilla. In 2010, I was thrilled to realize the milestone we had reached when Microsoft's Internet Explorer dropped below 50% in browser market share. Years later, Mozilla finally agreed to relicense its logos, and the old Mozilla-Debian conflict ended.

For years, we wrote history. And then, in 2016, I realized a major issue using Gmail via Thunderbird had been affecting me for years. That issue had been slowing me down and putting the security of my customers at risk. Following that initial realization, I spent numerous person-days dealing with the damage (cleaning up my mailbox, directly and indirectly). But in the course of that long process, I also realized more issues in Thunderbird/Gmail, as well as in the Mozilla project itself. Since these are numerous, I will not list them here, but instead ask those who volunteer in Mozilla to read the overwhelming report I sent to Mozilla's governance and bugmasters mailing lists.

This mail appears on the archives of Mozilla's governance mailing list, but careful readers will notice it does not show in the archives of the bugmasters mailing list. Indeed, although I did send the mail there (using Thunderbird!), the mail apparently never reached the list, for reasons unknown to me.

That additional problem is one of those I reported in a follow-up to "Issues, meta-issues and transparency" which I sent to the governance list on 2018-01-13. Weeks later, I hadn't received any response to my follow-up, and realized that mail had apparently not reached the governance list, so I resent it on 2018-03-10. Unfortunately, I can only link to a local version of this mail, since the second sending visibly also didn't reach the list.

I have to conclude these events did not just reveal issues in Gmail and Thunderbird, but huge issues in the Mozilla project - not just in its issue tracking, but also in its mailing lists (and yes, Mozilla also knows about these). And so, more than a year after I reported what I personally witnessed, the persistence of this situation shows not only that Mozilla is broken, but also that users are far from its priority (if it's not simply unwilling to fix itself).

Going forward

All of this is not to say that Mozilla products are worthless, nor that no part of Mozilla can be salvaged. Many large free software projects struggle with separation of duties, decision-making and prioritization. No matter how one looks at these problems, ultimately they "just" indicate a governance issue.

So in fact, if there were no issues other than those I reported, Mozilla - the open source project which has more resources than any other - could fix these quickly. Unfortunately, beyond the governance issue(s) exposed, there seems to be an extra issue at Mozilla. What this debacle and the aftermath shows is not just that Mozilla needs to review its governance. It also suggests that Mozilla does not want to solve the issue(s). My report was not met with silence; in fact, several people replied. Some contributors genuinely tried to help a bit, and I must thank at least Svetlana Tkachenko for offering a significant and credible contribution. But no one has offered thanks for the report, or even acknowledged the issues. In fact, I believe most replies were - most ironically - claims that the report was off-topic on the only forum which it managed to reach (the governance mailing list).

In my opinion, this reaction is evidence that Mozilla is denying its governance issues. Mozilla is in its 15th year and would not be the first once thriving organization trying to hide or deny its difficulties now that it is struggling. So unfortunately, even if all of this "just" comes down to governance problems which could be solved with reasonable resources relative to Mozilla's size, "just" solving these issues from within an organization which denies them seems like a challenge beyond what the old and busy man I have grown into can reasonably tackle.

In any case, what it certainly means is that this will remain my last contribution to Mozilla on a volunteer basis, and I will no longer endorse any Mozilla product. My departure is in no way because Mozilla's mission is complete; despite all the progress accomplished in the last decade, the web and its standards have evolved a lot too and much remains to be done. I hope that other contributors to Mozilla or other people interested in Mozilla's objectives can either fix it or get involved in other projects which share some of these objectives.

As for Mozilla, if it wants to remain a project where its goals can be accomplished, it will have to review its priorities and put users, quality and transparency first. If the current situation is just the result of a lack of resources, Mozilla should focus on its own issues. Proving contributors that Mozilla products and processes could be trusted will be a lot cheaper than "rewarding" contributors, and much more effective in winning the loyalty of remaining and potential contributors. Mozilla, just make our work effective, so we will become proud of our accomplishments and willing to pay for Mozilla clothes ourselves. Stop offering us to pay for traveling to your HQ, start valuing our work, and those who want to meet will be willing to pay their tickets themselves. Stop putting the resources you have into producing an Internet health report; people expect Internet health reports from the Internet Society, not from Mozilla; what people expect from Mozilla is reliable software. If you want to help the Internet, focus on your core mission and heal your own systems before worrying about the health of the rest of the Internet.

It's unfortunate to have to make this decision right after Firefox regained its relevance, with Firefox Quantum and the "integration" of my favorite extension (Firebug), both in the previous 12 months. I haven't decided yet what this resignation will mean for myself. I am redacting this resignation in Mozilla Firefox. I already mostly migrated to Google Chrome, even though the product is not strictly superior to Firefox, but even though this is recent, I already have doubts about the Chrome project's management. As for my MUA, I really don't see any free software alternative at this point (I concluded that KMail was way too buggy a decade ago, and I am under the impression this has not improved since).

Farewell, Mozilla

Update 1

The year after my resignation, I installed a new instance of Thunderbird to use with Gmail. Even though Thunderbird facilitated the process, and even though I took care to set the same settings as my previous instance, I realized 5 months later that I had hit issue #651945. Once again. So I went back to the ticket to see what I had missed.
What did I find instead? That the ticket was closed last year by no other than... Mozillain Wayne Mery. The ticket was marked as resolved with not a word on why, and someone gently pointed out that was incorrect nearly a year ago, but the ticket remains... RESOLVED.
Ah, good ol' Mozilla!

Update 1.1

I finally found a setting which presumably determines whether this bug occurs or not. In a fairly obvious place... except when you use Thunderbird and... don't use Gmail's webmail! If you are experiencing this, start by checking Gmail's Forwarding and POP/IMAP settings (at the misleading URL https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#settings/fwdandpop ). In the IMAP access area, check the second preference ("When I mark a message in IMAP as deleted") and - if that one is set to "Auto-Expunge off" - the related third preference "When a message is marked as deleted or expunged from the last visible IMAP folder". I experienced this bug with Auto-Expunge enabled, which is currently the default.

Over 8 years after ticket #651945 was filed, it still doesn't even provide that information... but it's still "RESOLVED".
Mozilla, ooh Mozilla! Good luck!

Update 2

Reality is forcing Mozilla to start adjusting its glasses

I tried another browser last year, but Falkon turned out way too immature. So I am still writing this in Firefox (but will probably attempt a new switch in a matter of days). 2020-02-08

Timex T128 alarm clock: Imperfect, but Smooth

admin Saturday April 21, 2018

Sometime in the second millennium, Realistic manufactured a Chronomatic radio alarm clock, which my parents bought for me. Over 2 decades of use later, my reliable alarm clock had only started dying. It had lost its radio capability, but it could still be set to beep loud enough to wake up an entire room, no matter its size. Unfortunately, if the volume control could possibly set the alarm's sound in the past, that feature had broken long ago, so when I realized the prospect of being awakened by such a heart-threatening sound had perhaps become scary enough to make me lose sleep, I decided my oldest electrical device had earned the right to its ultimate sleep, while I had earned the right to buy a new, smooth alarm clock.

After a careful on-line search, I decided the Chronomatic's successor would be a Timex T128BC3, sold by Walmart for 25 CAD, part of Timex's T128 series. While this remains a fairly cheap device, after a few weeks of usage, I can say this purchase will have been worth it if the clock is still working as well in 20 years. The alarm can be set to be gradual, very smooth. The display is OK. The battery-based Sure-Alarm feature is well-designed, although it's disappointing to be unable to see the time when the power is out (there is no button to display temporarily). The nap feature is nice.

The weaknesses I found are:

  1. The DST control is a good idea, but it would save a lot more time to add a button for each digit to set times quickly, rather than simply time-consuming plus/minus buttons.
  2. Enabling and disabling the alarm cause a confirmation sound which is not incredibly loud, but still easily loud enough to wake up anyone else sleeping in the same room.
  3. The "24 Hour Set & Forget Alarm with auto repeat and auto shutoff" feature Timex brags about is worthless in practice. Unless you wake up at the same time every day (including weekend days), you'll still have to manually disable and re-enable alarms. If you wake up before the alarm time, there's no way to prevent just the next alarm. You have to disable the alarm completely (then re-enable it at night). Which makes weakness #2 considerably worst.
  4. Warranty of merely 90 days
  5. The feedback of buttons (ALM 1, "-", "+", ALM 2... all of them) is really bad. Very often, buttons do not actuate even when they have traveled down and are depressed. I did not investigate this deeply, but this seems to be related to button width. To ensure buttons actuate, you need to press in the center.
  6. The alarm seems to be buggy. Even though my clock is set to start smooth, twice its first 2 beeps were loud. Then it went back to quiet beeps and started its gradual increase.

Update 1: A few months after replacing my Chronomatic, I was shocked to notice that a woman my age was using the same alarm clock as I did. Hers had only started dying too. Wow, these Chronomatic clocks sure stand the test of time!

2018-10-13 Update: For the first time, I was awakened by a Sure Alarm during a power outage this week. I did not manage to stop the alarm without removing the battery, which is non-trivial (supposedly requires a tool, although I managed without). Either the button feedback issue combined with the lack of light and my lack of sleep that night explains my inability, or the clock failed to disable the alarm. I will try to update this next time Sure Alarm triggers.

Questrade's "Margin Account": A marginally considered nomenclature for a regular account

admin Saturday April 14, 2018

So you've joined Questrade and now want to open a main investment account to invest most of your money. It's not for an RRSP, or any other registered account. At the Account Selection stage, Questrade asks you which account type you want, and you can only see specialized account types. Questrade offers you a margin account, a managed account, but you fail to see a cash account. Could Questrade be stupid enough to not offer the simplest and most common account type?

Turns out the answer is negative. Questrade simply wanted to facilitate (and probably encourage) margin trading, so it made margin trading part of its regular accounts. So they named that account type "Margin account", only failing to specify, either in the name or in the account type's description, that using margin is completely optional, so that the majority which is just looking for a regular unregistered account should also use that type.

Unfortunately, that's not the only problem. Questrade also automatically allows you margin if you open a margin account. For example, although I just put the minimum 1000 CAD in my "margin account", I still have a 3330 CAD buying power. And that is not only the default setting; you cannot disable borrowing. So when you bid in your margin account, you'll have to consider "Cash" minus your open orders, not "Buying power".