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.

Former mercenary commander Andrei Medvedev flees and denounces Wagner

admin Sunday January 22, 2023

Former Russian soldier Pavel Filatyev became KNP's September Hero of the Month after denouncing the Russian army and helping understand why so few will do the same.

This week, Andrei Medvedev, a former commander of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, also fled Russia, in a risky run to Norway. But doing so, he also denounced and contributed to explain why few will do the same: even deserting Wagner is enough for it to kill you.

Congratulations to Andrei Medvedev, KNP's January 2023 Hero of the Month

The Neverending Movie of Unintended Consequences

admin Sunday January 15, 2023

Competition matters. When antitrust law appeared, its target was—well—trusts. At least theoretically, capitalism couldn't prevent the appearance of monopolies. Antitrust law had at least the merit of allowing to control that threat.

It didn't take long until antitrust laws were invoked against so-called "monopolies". As years went by though, the public got more and more envious, until the USA got to the point of suing... a software corporation. To the USA's defence, it is true that at the time, Microsoft might have appeared to the ignorant as a monopoly, being highly dominant in a highly strategic market. But the case had the effect of banalizing grave market interventions. Today's chaotic software ecosystem may be in part be an unintended consequence of that action and the fear it created in the industry. Yet, the scenario keeps repeating over and over again, often targeting completely legitimate software companies.

Unfortunately, in fact, the movie is not quite a repetition of the same sequence. A couple years ago, No Food for Thought warned that even Facebook, a corporation which doesn't even have 1% of world market cap, was threatened by so-called antitrust measures, after acquiring... Giphy, the short videos database! And it turns out the threat was most real, now that Facebook's appeal of the terrible decision of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority resulted in UK's Competition Appeals Tribunal simply upholding it. Antitrust law has infected most of the developed world, and now threatens even the entertainment industry.

"Moore's law" is unequivocally dead and the world keeps complexifying, innovation becoming more and more expensive. As short-termism and populism slowly replace entrepreneurship and competition, the future of innovation looks bleaker than ever. But hey, at least you can still use Giphy without having a Facebook account... that is, until it goes bankrupt.


Curiosity, computers and privacy

admin Sunday December 18, 2022

I haven't had the need to bring one of my PCs to a repair shop in the last 20 years. And after reading the appalling results of a study about privacy in computer repair shops, I feel quite fortunate. Curiosity, visibly, is a trait common to all humans, but even more in IT people.

Thanks to my IT friends for helping me maintain my PCs, and here's hoping this highly interesting study will be followed by action to somewhat control that curiosity.

RxJS: unexpectedly reactive

admin Friday November 11, 2022

I'm not the first one to observe that Reactive Extensions For JavaScript have quite a learning curve. It's likely that you will discover RxJS at the same time as you discover "Observables", reactive programming, Angular, and whatever software project using those you'll actually work on. Good luck. And you may also have to understand where your colleagues used RxJS correctly or incorrectly.

One would expect you could do better than your colleagues consulting documentation. Unfortunately, while that documentation exists, it was already criticized in 2017, even before going through a difficult rewrite.

So how many more years will this last? Judging from my own attempt at mitigating, quite a few.

Oh, RxJS surely is quite reactive. The same day I reported 3 bugs in the documentation, RxJS core team member OJ Kwon had already reacted to the reports. Unfortunately, more than a year later, to my knowledge, all of these issues persist. The one excuse provided? RxJS is free.

Well, unfortunately for RxJS and its "millions" of users, my time is not free. My employer certainly can't afford to waste any more resources in that way, so this will remain my last contribution to RxJS.

I honestly don't know if there is a superior alternative to RxJS. But if you are evaluating it, don't rely on its issue tracker to evaluate its status. Believe it or not, as if GitHub's Issues feature was not bad enough already, RxJS now has a Report issues other than bug[sic] discussion category... good luck filtering the outdated from that.

And if you have courage extensive enough to adopt and fix it, be aware you will first have to tame a surprisingly reactive—and in some aspects quite unreactive—community.

The toll of medical wars and propaganda

admin Monday October 31, 2022

The height of the COVID-19 pandemic was an interesting social experiment, for a middle-aged adult like myself who has never lived through a major war. Watching even high quality mass media like CBC's televised news made me realize what propaganda really means. In times of crisis, with extreme polarization and a sense of "war against the virus", the same journalists which usually provide quite critical information, perhaps by fear of being labelled as anti-war, reached the point of providing exaggerated news which could almost be qualified as misinformation.

The pandemic and sanitary measures themselves caused important mental distress and increased misinformation. But could the excesses of mass media not have had a toll on their own? This evening's Tout le monde en parle featured an interesting interview with David Morin and Marie-Ève Carignan which answered that question. Propaganda from mass media pushed away many, which ended up into the arms of conspiracism. Repairing the damage will be a long and painful process.

Most importantly, as co-author David Morin mentions in the same interview, we are already forecasting major crises (some have already started). If even state media doesn't get enough resources, independence and nuance to remain reliable in times of even moderate crises, the future of information—and the societies who now depend on it—will be bleak.

FLOSS Fall? Security reality catching up with free software

admin Sunday October 2, 2022

A couple decades ago, free software was the target of much FUD, notably regarding its security. But free software evangelists could easily reply to Microsoft and other vendors that Mozilla's browser had much less flaws than Internet Explorer.

In fact, the reality was that many more flaws were being discovered in MSIE than in Firefox. Mostly because people had much less interest in finding flaws in Firefox than in MSIE. Firefox's rise would prove in just a few years that Mozilla was far from immune to security flaws.

The continued flood of free software has meant free software vulnerabilities now have an impact similar to those in proprietary software. Catastrophic flaws from the last decade in OpenSSL and Log4j have started to show some of the FUD was quite accurate.

KNP has been decrying software mediocrity for years, but things don't change overnight. I was involved in projects for which quality, including security, is - at best - an afterthought. Even (internally) known security flaws can remain for years, while fresh ones are being added.

There are lots of free software components which vary a lot in quality and in so many aspects, but most have something in common: either their quality is mediocre, or they don't exist. And while many users may be willing to put up with mediocre quality in many ways, organizations may have difficulty ignoring bad security track records.

Research suggesting some 40% of professionals have already scaled back their use of OSS may be worrying, but the timing matters, and the importance of that decline was not measured.
Better late than never. It's still time to react, and OpenSSF's promises are good reason for hope, but many open source projects need to perform a fundamental reprioritization.

Pavel Filatyev and the courage to oppose and die

admin Friday September 16, 2022

When you hear about Ukraine's invasion, you can't help but wonder why some Russian soldiers won't quit and denounce. Pavel Filatyev may be the first one to quit completely, and have the courage and fortune to denounce successfully. And by doing so, he helps understand why so few will manage to do the same.

Pavel Filatyev had the fortune to get sick during the invasion and to be evacuated. He then managed to contact dissident organizations for help fleeing, and only succeeded to reach France after going through Tunisia. Western countries demonize suicide, but everything is relative. Filatyev's account makes me admire those of his comrades who—perhaps unable to leave the battleground—had the courage to shoot themselves instead.

Man can choose to become a monster, and Man can be raised as a monster. But even those made into monsters can turn into heroes. For following that path, Pavel Filatyev is my Hero of the month.

Filatyev's life may not resist the long-reaching arms of Russia's powerful secret services. But the reconciliation facilitated by his memoir Zov, and the inspiration of his bravery will always remain.

Atypical commuting

admin Sunday September 11, 2022

There are several ways to commute. By foot, by subway, by car, by bicycle, by bus, or by a mix of these. By tramway or boat, by skateboard, by motorcycle or scooter too.

As a resident of Quebec City who usually commutes by bicycle, I am often qualified as courageous for sticking to bicycle even in our cold and icy winters. And I got to admit that in a sense, winter cycling here does unfortunately require important determination.

Commuting by bicycle during winter used to be rare here back when I started, 20 years ago. Still, I don't feel so original if I compare myself with Brent Hobbs. Swimming wouldn't accelerate my current commute, but even if it did, I highly doubt I would be courageous enough for that.

Congratulations M. Hobbs!

Celsius : Une douche froide pour la CDPQ. Mieux vaut s'y habituer

admin Sunday September 11, 2022

Je n'ai pas de problème à ce que certains fassent rouler SETI@home sur leur PC. Ni à ce que certains plus tournés vers eux-mêmes utilisent toute l'électricité qu'ils veulent pour chercher des pièces de crhypeto. Tant qu'ils la paient. Chacun a droit à ses illusions, et on sait bien qu'on apprend beaucoup mieux en faisant des erreurs.

Le problème devient réel quand des gens qu'on présumerait informés comme des banquiers choisissent d'investir dans le secteur crhypeto. Là, les illusions commencent à se transmettre à l'économie réelle. Et quand une institution publique investit des millions de dollars dans le secteur, ça devient sérieux. On me force à sacrifier mon capital.

Malheureusement, le Québec a nettement atteint ce stade. La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec annonçait en août des pertes d'environ 200 M CAD, suite à la faillite de Celsius Network. Eh oui, la CDPQ a directement placé des millions de dollars dans une société basée sur la crhypeto.

Si la nouvelle peut être difficile à digérer, la réaction du président Charles Emond semble rassurante :

Charles Emond wrote:
les équipes de la Caisse qui ont procédé aux analyses et à la vérification diligente requise pour un tel investissement seront imputables de leurs décisions

À première vue, on reconnaît l'erreur et on s'assure d'éviter de la répéter. Mais les choses se gâtent par la suite :

Charles Emond wrote:
On est arrivés trop tôt dans un secteur qui était en transition avec une entreprise qui avait à gérer une croissance extrêmement rapide, même une crise de croissance, qui était en développement, qui s'est fragilisée financièrement juste avant la crise et tout ça a été trop rapide pour que la nouvelle direction puisse exécuter le plan [de redressement].

M. Emond, on n'arrive jamais trop tôt dans une pyramide de Ponzi. On y arrive, tout simplement. Y « arriver tard », c'est encore pire que d'y entrer tôt.
On essaie même de jouer aux sauveurs :

Charles Emond wrote:
Ce qui nous intéressait, c'était de saisir le potentiel de la technologie des chaînes de bloc et de contribuer également à réglementer ce secteur.

À la lumière de ces commentaires, on peut réellement douter de la CDPQ. Est-ce du simple orgueil? A-t-on apprit de notre erreur? Quelles autres sommes la CDPQ a-t-elle déjà englouties en crhypeto? À quel coût viendra le réveil?

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.

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