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.

Violent video games: significant distractions

admin Friday June 24, 2022

I played several violent video games during my childhood and early adulthood, and wasted several more person-weeks playing them. Despite playing America's Army, I was never recruited by any army, and besides sometimes wishing violent tyrans would taste their own medicine, I do not consider myself particularly violent.

If violent video games were a costly distraction for me, it seems they may have been a very different kind of distraction at a political level. For an even longer time, and at a much higher cost: human lives, as politicians blame games instead of focusing on efficient ways to reduce gun violence.

Thankfully, it seems that ignoring NRA-funded groups, this side of the distraction may be coming to an end.

Complicating complications: TFSA contribution limit

admin Saturday June 18, 2022
In the early 21st century, some Canadian politicians were worried that the federal government's debt was only a few hundreds of billions of CAD-s. The conservatives—perhaps also worried about unemployment among accountants—had the great idea of creating tax-free savings accounts, accessorily succeeding in making an excessively complicated personal income tax system even more complicated.1

A few years later, the conservatives—probably worried that the federal debt would fall under a trillion dollars—increased the yearly contribution limit from 5500$ to 10 000$. When they finally lost power, the liberals brought it back to 5500$. Unfortunately, no other government with enough courage to do the right thing has come after, so TFSA has persisted to this day. If you don't want to be the one financing stupid governments, you still need to understand TFSA rules and continuously know your contribution limit.

1: Unless, of course, they would simply have been trying to leave their mark, by reminding us forever of how good the PPC CPC is at taking populist measures.

Some may track their limit manually, but after a while, this usually gets quite complicated. Thankfully, WOWA's page on the topic helps in 2 ways. It first provides a calculator, which will unfortunately be inconvenient for many. But as the page then explains, you can also get (somewhat) that information directly from the CRA!

That is, of course, if you've already used the CRA's My Account... or if you're willing to go through an Insane (and half-broken) process involving some 15 minutes of wondering how a national G7 government can make such a simple thing so complicated, in 2022. I for one have been lucky enough to survive the resulting head-banging and get access to the precious amount.

I suppose simplifying a complicated complication will always be somewhat complicated.

Open Source Security Foundation gains recognition... and funding?

admin Saturday May 28, 2022

8 years ago, Heartbleed was estimated to have cost at least 500 million USD. Since then, many more vulnerabilities were granted infamous names, including a few whose damages are estimated at the same magnitude. And yet, despite everything which was written about EU-FOSSA and the Core Infrastructure "Initiative", only roughly 10 million € were spent on all these projects.

For some time, hope in OpenSSF has started appearing, thanks to its approach and reasonable orientations. When Log4Shell erupted, OpenSSF's future was quite questionable. But this year, while some big challenges remain, it is acquiring an unprecedented credibility, with involvement from the White House, and a plan whose ambition would have been unthinkable prior to Heartbleed.

The main question now is whether it can find enough funding for these ambitions. Tens of millions of USDs would have been miraculous before the advent of crhypetocurrencies, but we remain far from the short-term target.

148 M USD may be little in comparison to the costs of the ongoing software chaos, yet the tragedy of the commons will most likely prevent even reaching that, once again. Unless - perhaps - the EU and the USA can join and demonstrate what collaboration can make possible?

Crise d'adolescence ou pic démocratique?

admin Thursday April 28, 2022

Le monde évolue. Enfin... certes, il change, mais depuis quelques temps, on se demande si c'est pour le mieux. Déjà, la crise environnementale a débuté il y a bien des décennies. Depuis quelques années, c'est la démocratie elle-même qui est menacée. Et ne parlons même pas de la pandémie...

Tout cela est-il une simple crise? Une crise dont on pourra apprendre pour en sortir renforcés? Ou sera-t-il trop difficile de se relever?

Si nul ne le sait, admettons que notre confiance est au plus bas. Selon le baromètre de confiance Edelman, en ce moment, nous nous fions beaucoup plus aux compagnies qu'au gouvernement et aux médias (page 5). En plus, la fracture s'agrandit entre la population favorisée et les moins informés (p. 16). Peut-être le plus inquiétant : la confiance est plus basse dans les États démocratiques que dans les autocraties (p. 21), et le premier monde a beaucoup moins confiance en l'avenir que les second et tiers mondes (page 22).

Ironiquement, Edelman étant une société privée, je ne me fie pas aveuglément à ces résultats. Mais même s'ils étaient inexacts, l'ampleur du phénomène reste inquiétante. D'un autre côté, l'optimisme n'est pas interdit. Une baisse de la confiance en l'avenir pourrait être considérée comme un indicateur rassurant d'une prise de conscience. Les pays développés se rendent peut-être enfin compte que nous sommes en crise. Et peut-être cette réalisation nous permettra-t-elle de réagir, et d'ainsi éviter que cette crise ne se transforme en pic démocratique... voir en pic civilisationnel. Encore faut-il éviter une réaction pressée.

Méfions-nous de nos manières actuelles, et optons pour une remise en question posée... mais ne perdons pas confiance en notre capacité d'évoluer en une humanité consciente, unie et prête à se réguler elle-même, avant que la nature n'ait à faire tout le travail. Il est encore temps de faire de cette situation un simple creux, que nos descendants regarderont comme une phase de l'histoire à laquelle nous aurons su réagir brillamment. Tous ensemble, relevons ce test de volonté.

Vladimir Putin's Undeclared Wars

admin Sunday March 27, 2022

3 weeks ago, shortly after Russia expanded its invasion of Ukraine, I wondered how Russians would react. And I wondered if they could react, given how bad repression is getting. I wondered what would happen if a citizen was to go out with a sign reading "I am not protesting against anything."

It turns out I was quite naive, as others have now proven. While Vladimir Putin never declared war on free speech, his war against it has reached such a terrifying point that Russians can no longer hold a blank, letter-sized sheet of paper in public. No need for the sheet to be blue and yellow to be arrested.

In 2014, Vladimir Putin did not declare war on Ukraine when he "secretly" invaded it. Nor did he declare war in 2022, when he launched his "special military operation".

It turns out Putin has been skilfully exploiting democracy's worst flaws to weaken his opponents for a long time, with grave effects in the last decade. While our media focus on covering refugees and dead children, Putin has managed to legalize theft without even getting democracy's attention, discretely adding yet another colossal weapon to his arsenal for future wars. Putin knows better than to trigger a conventional war against NATO. Putin prefers to target democracy's weakest, corrupting or manipulating them with just enough discretion to avoid full-scale war.

Unfortunately, if Putin will not declare war on democracy, democracy still has to stop pretending there is no conflict. Putin's undeclared war against Ukraine may be our last occasion to acknowledge his war against democracy. And finally react accordingly.

Filelight and drive space usage analyzers for Microsoft Windows

admin Thursday March 10, 2022

One of Microsoft Windows's weaknesses has always been drive space usage analysis tools. My reference on that front is KDE, which often comes with an appropriate tool. In the old days, KDirStat, and more recently, a Dolphin plugin.

But on Windows, I always resorted to WinDirStat, which - unsurprisingly - is based on KDE's KDirStat. Last week, when I went to download again WinDirStat, for my new business PC, it felt a bit strange to download a package which is almost 15 years old. So I checked if I was missing some fresher fork of WinDirStat.

Doing so, I was pleased to discover that the newer KDE utility, Filelight, was available for Windows. So I considered installing its latest version, which is from 2021, rather than 2007.

I found that Filelight from Windows is obtained from the Microsoft Store, which offers Filelight 20.12.2. I was about to download it when I realized the package was... 299 MB!! A supposedly "light" utility which helps clearing space takes 299 MB?!!?

I hope it's just poor packaging, but in light of the current status, I decided to stick with the good old WinDirStat, which - despite weighing less than 1 MB - still works just as well on Windows 10.
Thank you, WinDirStat

Sergey Naryshkin, relativity and the teachings of conflict

admin Monday March 7, 2022

Russian Foreign Intelligence Service director Sergey Naryshkin would, at first look, seem like an evil fraud. And yet, right before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Naryshkin dared, in a way, to disagree with his orders, despite the huge pressure. Another proof that evilness—just like everything—is relative; all humans - no matter their camp, their ideology and past - have some rationality and honor. Dissent, too, is most relative. Naryshkin, and many more of yesterday's villains, could quickly become tomorrow's heroes.

Whether we want it or not, conflict is a formidable source of change. War can bring destruction, but it can also teach us a lot about our weaknesses. Vladimir Putin will have choices to make after his invasion: slow down his already dangerous brain drain, or turn into an extreme dictator, keep preventing any media against him, and get rid of those who did not fully support him.

Democracy also has an occasion to learn from this conflict. We can learn that Russians are evil. Or, we can realize how dangerous autocracy is, how disunited we are despite the "United Nations" and how dangerous our disagreements have become. And we can realize how relative and surmountable our differences are, and finally make a real effort to actually unite. As Kyiv's mayor came to realize when his city was besieged:

Unity is key

Here's hoping the democratic world can use this as a learning opportunity, before autocracy unites us all in mediocrity and oppression.

Patently sad hurdles for interoperability progress

admin Wednesday March 2, 2022

It has already been more than 2 years since No Food for Thought rejoiced about the arrival of JPEG XL. Needless to say, the last 2 years were quite disappointing.

And unfortunately, it turns out our legal systems may keep photographic standards from catching up with this "new" century for even more years. Now, if only I could patent "software patent deliverance", perhaps we would manage to bring patent grants close enough to a halt for software to evolve!

Technological evolution, a promise of unsurpassed repression?

admin Friday February 25, 2022

If the 20th century was generally favorable to democracy, many see the 21st century as a different story. And many populations agree.

For sure, autocrats still face difficulties. At times, integrity may prevail, as their victims may have more ways to access quality information and more tools to organize dissent.

Unfortunately, autocrats also have much more information, more repressive tools, and ever-evolving ways to spread propaganda and misinformation. As autocracies fuelled by nationalism and xenophobia prosper, their collaboration and opportunities to share population control techniques and technologies reach new highs.

IEEE recently explored how artificial intelligence could go wrong. Personally, my immediate concern is rather how technological evolution in general favors autocracy:

In the past, the ability of autocrats to repress their populations relied upon a large group of soldiers, some of whom may side with society and carry out a coup d’etat. AI could reduce these kinds of constraints.

Technology, whether it is "artificial" or not, largely helps detecting and quashing dissent. Modern technology allows combining ultra-powerful and highly automated arsenals with sophisticated surveillance, which could make dissent a souvenir from the past. And recent times have demonstrated it can help exploiting flaws in competing regimes to destabilize them.
Is there a name for the fear that technology will favor autocracy?

Autocracy expands thanks to many factors:

  • Disregard for integrity and how citizens (from their country or others) fare, propaganda and cult of personality
  • Efficient enforcement
  • Uniformization and unity
  • A greater compatibility with historical beliefs

For its part, democracy currently struggles due to several factors:

  1. Hyper-individualism, sacralization of property, liberty, equality and cultural differences, and hyper-fragmentation
  2. Huge barriers preventing citizens from exerting their theoretical power, cynicism and polarization
  3. Substance abuse and other addictions (computers / video games, overconsumption)
  4. State-granted collective bargaining monopolies
  5. Hyper-complex legal systems, normalization of disregard for rules and poor prevention of external negativities
  6. Separation of powers, the "principle of checks and balances" and a general tendency towards "consensus" governance

Whether or not autocracy better exploits evolution than democracy, and whether or not that fear is named, we do not have to accept that situation. While we cannot do much about the first list, we have control over much of the latter. Many self-proclaimed democracies, such as Canada, the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, still contribute to the cult of personality, proudly keeping their autocratic past alive.

A naturally fragile crown
A naturally fragile crown

Technological advances have allowed democracies to make great progress. And recent advances allow us to make huge leaps forward. Our slow pace is not the result of having reached the objective, but rather a sign democracies are resting on their laurels.

But what does it mean to rest on our laurels? The first meaning is to get tired/lazy. But there is a much more dangerous sense; it may be that we have also associated our current state with the reasons why we took the lead, and chosen to remain in that state, as if it was a ultimate goal. In fact, the United Kingdom's direction is worst than resting on its laurels - it might be an attempt to go back to where it was when it won the most races, as if that was still a valid winning formula.

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, and playtime is over. If democracies want to keep impressing autocracies and to stay their envy, they need to get serious and do a real self-examination, distinguishing their true advantages from their less desirable properties which are merely obsolete ways, or even historical accidents.

Let's not give up on centuries of fighting. There is no need for everyone to get a gun and enroll. Our first defence should be to strengthen our democracies. The weapon democracies need the most is greater performance. Even superior economies, environments, education, health, and everything else. We can replace many guns by educating ourselves, reforming governance, building new tools, or just keeping ourselves healthy. Proper decision-making alone would represent a weapon of mass destruction against autocracy.

The path to good governance is a long road. If we have enough will to keep innovating, we can still keep our lead, one step at a time, until we hear a distant competition peacefully concede. Current dangers, however worrying, may just be the challenge we need to stand up again and refresh our laurels.

Unprotocolary protocolist

admin Tuesday January 4, 2022

As a progressive and free (not to say atypical) spirit, I am nonconformist. I have always had difficulty with Protocol.
But as a computer scientist, as a champion of open standards and interoperability and as a world citizen, I love protocols. From HTTP to Kyoto's, protocols are at the center of sustainable software and sustainable development. Uncapitalized protocols are clearly capital.

So, as a green Quebecer, although I was still a baby when it was adopted, I can't refrain from feeling a little pride about the Montreal Protocol. It is remarkable that the world managed to set its course towards recovery without even fully realizing how catastrophic the situation would have become.

Hopefully, that realization and satisfaction will provide enough will to comply with the recent and future protocols or other mechanisms needed to mitigate the climate crisis (without taking the ozone's recovery as granted).

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