Android apps, IMEIs and privacy

Jan. 19th, 2017 02:47 pm
[personal profile] mjg59
There's been a sudden wave of people concerned about the Meitu selfie app's use of unique phone IDs. Here's what we know: the app will transmit your phone's IMEI (a unique per-phone identifier that can't be altered under normal circumstances) to servers in China. It's able to obtain this value because it asks for a permission called READ_PHONE_STATE, which (if granted) means that the app can obtain various bits of information about your phone including those unique IDs and whether you're currently on a call.

Why would anybody want these IDs? The simple answer is that app authors mostly make money by selling advertising, and advertisers like to know who's seeing their advertisements. The more app views they can tie to a single individual, the more they can track that user's response to different kinds of adverts and the more targeted (and, they hope, more profitable) the advertising towards that user. Using the same ID between multiple apps makes this easier, and so using a device-level ID rather than an app-level one is preferred. The IMEI is the most stable ID on Android devices, persisting even across factory resets.

The downside of using a device-level ID is, well, whoever has that data knows a lot about what you're running. That lets them tailor adverts to your tastes, but there are certainly circumstances where that could be embarrassing or even compromising. Using the IMEI for this is even worse, since it's also used for fundamental telephony functions - for instance, when a phone is reported stolen, its IMEI is added to a blacklist and networks will refuse to allow it to join. A sufficiently malicious person could potentially report your phone stolen and get it blocked by providing your IMEI. And phone networks are obviously able to track devices using them, so someone with enough access could figure out who you are from your app usage and then track you via your IMEI. But realistically, anyone with that level of access to the phone network could just identify you via other means. There's no reason to believe that this is part of a nefarious Chinese plot.

Is there anything you can do about this? On Android 6 and later, yes. Go to settings, hit apps, hit the gear menu in the top right, choose "App permissions" and scroll down to phone. Under there you'll see all apps that have permission to obtain this information, and you can turn them off. Doing so may cause some apps to crash or otherwise misbehave, whereas newer apps may simply ask for you to grant the permission again and refuse to do so if you don't.

Meitu isn't especially rare in this respect. Over 50% of the Android apps I have handy request your IMEI, although I haven't tracked what they all do with it. It's certainly something to be concerned about, but Meitu isn't especially rare here - there are big-name apps that do exactly the same thing. There's a legitimate question over whether Android should be making it so easy for apps to obtain this level of identifying information without more explicit informed consent from the user, but until Google do anything to make it more difficult, apps will continue making use of this information. Let's turn this into a conversation about user privacy online rather than blaming one specific example.
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Posted by Mary

I gave an Australian friend a rundown on my sources of information about US opposition to the incoming Trump administration, focussed on tech workers, and she pointed out that my resources were worth sharing; the “Australian technology worker following US tech industry organising” position is not very common. Here’s my little collection of links:

Tech Solidarity. Tech Solidarity is a series of meetings being run in major US cities for technology industry workers on the subject of solidarity with other workers and with technology users, against an authoritarian Trump regime. There’s a Tech Solidarity website, but the best place to find out about their meetings is their Twitter account, and the best place to find out about their politics is the @Pinboard Twitter account run by Tech Solidarity co-organiser Maciej Cegłowski. This is a specific pledge by technology industry workers to not be involved in building technology for the US government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin, as well as advocating for specific policies in our workplaces and protesting unethical practices. I am a signatory and several of my friends are organisers. A Tech Solidarity meeting was key in launching the pledge.

Indivisible Guide. A guide to influencing members of Congress when your goals are largely defensive and obstructionist, ie, to hinder the dominant party in Congress or the President’s party in implementing their policy platform.

While this guide is interesting, I think considerable caution is called for in applying much of it to Australian politics without asking Australian activists and staffers for their advice. For example, party discipline in Australia is extremely strong — your representatives, if members of a major party, almost invariably vote with that party — and Cabinet and the ministry are appointed from amidst the members rather than separately. The executive being drawn from the legislature is very very different to how the US executive branch works. The chapter on four local advocacy tactics that actually work may have some inspiration for beginning to engage with your state or federal MP’s local activities if you haven’t done so before.

There are several guides to opposing specific Trump administration policies and initiatives, such as Resistance Manual and the re:act newsletter. There must be more of these appearing every day; I’m not following them closely since the calls to action usually require being a constituent of US members of congress and/or being a US resident.

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Posted by Mary

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

How long for?

Aim for a campaign length of 3½–4½ weeks, beginning on a Monday and ending on a Wednesday. The Ada Initiative donors told us that they often donated after seeing around three calls to donate from different sources; if your fundraising drive is much shorter than three weeks there’s not time for people to see two or three people telling them to donate, and beyond that and you’re just tiring all the volunteers out and making onlookers wonder when they’ll finally stop hearing about this. Expect almost all donations to come in on weekdays and most between Mondays and Wednesdays; hence a Monday launch and Wednesday conclusion.

Try to straddle a month boundary, ideally finishing the campaign in the first or second week of a month. Some of your donors will need to wait on their payday to donate, particularly if you are asking for donations of significant size, and many people are paid towards the end of a month. Starting on the 1st and concluding on, say, the 25th would miss these donors.


This series is aimed at organisations running their first fundraiser, and the best answer to when is as soon as you can because you need the money to achieve significant goals. Don’t hold off your fundraiser for months trying for the magic right month to run it in.

As a caution: it’s best to just launch a fundraiser, and not announce the dates publicly to donors in advance. There’s two reasons for this: it’s quite likely that your dates will slip (the Ada Initiative’s major slips involved being rejected from Kickstarter on one occasion, and needing to fix payment processing issues on two other occasions); and, as discussed later in the series, you should never encourage people to wait until later to donate, unless you are willing and able to personally follow up with them, because short of personal followup they won’t not come back to do so.

That said, for future fundraisers, when you have time to plan a little more in advance, the conventional wisdom that was passed onto us was, in the United States, to hold fundraising drives very close to the end of the calendar year. In the US, the tax year ends on December 31 and so the time when people want to maximise their tax deductions coincides with the lead-up to Christmas when observers of the holiday are focussed on giving and the pleasure of giving. In Australia, where our tax year finishes on June 30, and Christmas coincides with expensive summer holidays, I am less clear on whether there’s a single best time to run a fundraising drive. A time of year that’s reasonably predictable for your regular donors will be useful; the Ada Initiative settled on the September/October period and had good success despite conventional wisdom around delaying until November/December.

We were also advised that it’s considerably harder to raise money in the US in a presidential election year, as many people direct their donation budget to candidates for office. While it’s not possible to skip fundraising every fourth year, it’s worth having a look around you and try and avoid overlapping with any shorter predictable major political events.

On the other hand, if your donors come from a group that has a significant source of money at a certain time of the year (eg, they work for an industry that pays bonuses at the end of the year), that is a good time to aim for!

How much?

This is where your needs meet your donors’ ability to give. For needs, you should prepare a budget. The details of budgeting are out of scope for this series, but remember: don’t be original! You can look up the budgets of similarly sized organisations in their sponsorship prospectuses, their tax filings (eg, the US 990 tax filing for charitable organisations), and many business and non-profit resource websites. For the Ada Initiative staff salaries were the major expense, as is usual for service organisations. As a very loose guide for small service businesses that are paying staff, your total expenses often come out around twice your staff’s salaries. However for volunteer organisations, or organisations that are going to make extensive grants or do development, salaries will be a much smaller part of your budget and other expenses will loom larger.

To estimate your donors’ ability to give, it’s time to start asking people for money. Specifically, you need to figure out who is very likely to donate, and begin asking them to pledge to donating once your campaign kicks off. The pledge total will comprise a reasonable fraction of your donation total, somewhere between 10 and 25%. Once you have your pledges in, multiply the total by four. Is that enough to do what you need? No? Then you’re at serious risk of not reaching your goal, and you need to either bring your goal down, or figure out who else to ask for pledges.

Building a prospect list and asking for pledges is covered in my next article!

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Your first fundraiser: how long for, when, and how much? by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Gripes with Facebook

Jan. 17th, 2017 03:20 am
[personal profile] robhansen
 So, a short list of why Facebook is no longer a place I want to spend much time:
  1. People share memes without doing any critical thought or fact-checking, and think my good opinion of their reasoning faculties should be unaffected. (No, just no: while anybody can get taken in now and again, if I'm telling you "that meme is demonstrably, provably false" more than once or twice a year, my respect for your acumen is plummeting, and that's on you.)
  2. People share clickbait. Oh God the clickbait. "I bet I won't get a single share." "Who thinks this young disabled woman is beautiful?" "Like if you X, share if you Y." No. No. Just please *no*. Stop that already.
  3. Curiously attractive women who have no friends, no posts, no history, yet have added me to their friends list. Sigh. No, please, no bait.
  4. Echo-chambering. People overwhelmingly talk to people who already agree with them. I despise echo-chambering.
  5. Trolling.
  6. Virtue-signaling.
  7. Facebook's bizarre criteria for what posts are against community standards. I've literally submitted complaints about photos of a decapitated woman lying in a pool of her own blood with her detached head lying face-up near her and had FB say "nah, not a violation", but God help you if you post a picture of a naked woman. Newsflash, FB: I, like most people, consider one of these far more inappropriate than another.
  8. FB's continued lack of support for high-quality private messaging.

... Of my big-eight gripes with Facebook, six of them are actually gripes about us. About humanity. About people. I don't expect FB to fix us, I don't think FB can fix us, I don't want FB to try to fix us.

And that's why I think FB will never get better.
[syndicated profile] lecta_feed

Posted by Mary

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Learn from others

I’m an ex-postgraduate student and I know that hackers and academics are accustomed to not feeling that we’re working hard enough, or even behaving ethically, unless we either do something entirely novel, or at least learn everything from first principles. In business and fundraising, that’s not true. Save your originality for your projects and your approach to your mission.

Instead of trying to do original, innovative fundraising, look for best practices and copy them. Search for successful fundraisers and don’t be afraid to mimic their timeline, reward structure, and total goals closely. Eg, if you are launching a feminist hackerspace, you could look at what Double Union and Seattle Attic did for fundraising goals, rewards, and stretch goals, and learn from them in designing your own campaign. If you’re raising money through sponsorship, get hold of other sponsorship prospectuses and learn how they’re formatted, what their usual contents are, and what level of sponsorship is required for each sponsorship benefit.

And of course, also ask the founders/fundraisers of organisations similar to yours which bits of their fundraiser didn’t work for them.

Beyond that, there’s professional advice. At the Ada Initiative, our fundraising strategy was informed by working with four experienced fundraisers with different styles and insights; one for each of the four successful drives, in fact. If your goal is to raise enough money to pay staff (or your fundraising needs are otherwise $50k+), I strongly recommend you engage a fundraising consultant. Here’s some things to look for:

  • investment/alignment with your mission; perhaps not a close enough match to be an advisor or a board member, but the prospective consultant should be pleased with your mission and your major programs and interested in learning more about them
  • alignment with your core fundraising ethics (eg, at the Ada Initiative we didn’t work with consultants who bought or sold donor contact databases)
  • experience with online campaigns, eg, writing or editing blog posts, social media experience, experience with Kickstarter/Indiegogo/etc
  • experience with donors similar to yours (at the Ada Initiative we worked mostly with consultants who had experience raising money from tech workers)

Some of the things you could discuss with a fundraising consultant:

  • basic best practices they advise everyone on (eg, time of year to raise funds, weekdays to make major announcements on, the kind of thing I’m going through in this series)
  • doing donor outreach before doing any fundraising, such as phone calls to former/likely donors checking in on how they feel about the organisation (donors may feel more comfortable being critical of the organisation to a consultant than they would be to a founder, and the consultant will be able to hear the criticism non-defensively too)
  • doing, or subcontracting, or instructing your staff on, the detail work of the fundraising, such as writing copy, staffing social media, recruiting matching donors
  • choice of platform, eg, which crowdfunding site to use, which payment processor to use, which CRM to use, donation page UX (although these are rarer skillsets than fundraising best practices)

Organisations similar to yours are the best source of recommendations for fundraising consultants. It’s also something a good board may have advice on.

A good board are themselves invaluable. At different times we got key advice from both board members who were fundraising experts and board members who had run other kinds of businesses. Seek out board members, committee members, or informal advisors who have successfully raised money in any form in the past. They may not have much time to volunteer to help you with the nuts and bolts, but should be open to a few hour-long advice giving and war story exchanging conversations before and during your campaign.

Many brilliant and hard-working people have run fundraisers before you, and fundraising norms are generally well-established. Look for what works, and use it to get your organisation off to the best possible start.

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Your first fundraiser: don’t be original! by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

zorkian: Icon full of binary ones and zeros in no pattern. (Default)
[personal profile] zorkian

It's a long weekend and it's only two-thirds over, but I suspect I won't add any more activities to the set I've already performed this weekend. I'll probably revisit some of them tomorrow, though! So without further ado... what has Mark been up to this weekend?! I'm sure you have really been wanting to know!

[personal profile] afuna and I took N171MA (my airplane) out to Petaluma for breakfast. We had some nice food and milkshakes at the Two Niner Diner and then ran into a fellow pilot and his wife and spent a while chatting. I really enjoy hanging around airports and talking airplanes and I'm pretty lucky [personal profile] afuna is always game to go.

I've tried a few times to learn to knit but I think it's finally sticking. I finished a washcloth (garter stitch) the other day and I wanted to step up to something similarly simple but a little more involved. A hat seemed to be the order of the day! [personal profile] afuna was so excited to take me to our local yarn store where I picked out this dashing color. My first self-selected yarn purchase. I've started on the process of turning it into a beanie cap based on some design claiming to be a WW2 beanie cap. It's going to be a slow project but I'll get it eventually.

This morning I cooked a Dutch Baby (a type of pancake, loosely). While it isn't precisely what the canonical one looks like, it was still pretty tasty. I believe the recipe was a bit undersized for the pan and therefore it cooked faster/grew up the sides more than a typical one would. Either way it was great and I was happy to have eaten it.

It's okay if you have no idea what those photos are. They're ribs -- airplane ribs, that is. For the past year and a half I've been slowly building an airplane in my garage. I haven't really written much about it anywhere because it's such a niche/slow project, but it's something I've been working on. When it's done it'll look something like this airplane, although the coloring/wheel setup will be different.

Today I was working on ribs #1-4 on the left wing, adding reinforcing material (lengths of so-called standard L-angle). These ribs are the ones closest to the fuselage and are designed to support the weight of the humans that have to climb on the wings to board the aircraft. (It's a small low-wing plane which means you climb aboard by stepping onto the wings.)

And finally, I'm spending my evening working on Dreamwidth. Trying to get the BlobStore system up and running and ready to land so I can push forward to deprecate MogileFS. Simpler systems are more reliable and easier to operate! Yay!


So there you have it. This weekend I've piloted an airplane for breakfast, cooked, knitted, coded, and written software. I'm feeling pretty happy about this, honestly. Most of my weekends involve fewer activities but this one has been a really solid one.

Until next time, loyal readers...

Sunday 15 January 2017

Jan. 15th, 2017 08:33 am
[syndicated profile] lecta_feed

Posted by Mary

There comes a time in any life partnership where you learnt to recognise the tone behind “Mary, come here?” which means “you need to come urgently, but not in a way that displays visible alarm or it will make the whole situation worse.”

Such it was when Andrew saw what he thought was a cat in our living room, turned on a light, and instead discovered a possum.`Not that a cat would be all that much different in terms of what comes next, it’s just harder to picture a big dark eyed brush tail possum being what gazes back at you. Luckily it was a Sydney possum, so fairly tame, not a rural scared possum or their aggressive introduced cousins in New Zealand. Sydney possums are selective in their aggression; they save it for each other when two or more have got into the same rubbish bin. It wasn’t tame enough to be handled and even if it had been I’d have been uneasy with that, but after a few failed attempts to herd it out the back door it shot upstairs, out our balcony door and into the frangipani. Sydney: native animals and introduced trees.

Otherwise, it’s hot and humid. The sort of hot and humid where the big story about the weather is “we normally have [negligible] days over 35° in Sydney each year and this year we’ve had [really quite a lot]!” This year is the first in many that I haven’t been working from home in an unairconditioned home office so it’s a lot easier to let the days glide on past from my gilded cage. It’s harder to sleep even with airconditioning — Friday night was the hottest January night on record — because of the heat that leeches out of the bed over the course of the night, but of course unairconditioned past Mary is unimpressed with my complaints. So far there’s been precious few Sydney storms to break the tedium.

This is usually the season of ceaseless weekends, and this weekend Andrew and V went to the cricket, and today we went to Greenwich Baths with J, S, and L. But it seems like after our holiday next week we’ll be having a quiet summer. Quiet, and maybe at times a bit cooler, but I rather doubt it.

(no subject)

Jan. 14th, 2017 10:51 pm
[personal profile] robhansen
President-Elect Trump's inauguration is coming up, and boy howdy do I have mixed feelings.  The news media is treating this as if it's the Imminent Apocalypse, which it is not, and the Trump-aligned outlets like Breitbart are being cheerfully over-the-top, which is just as bad.

Look, Trump is terrible.  But the unified voice of mass media having the high vapors over him, and millions of Americans screaming "not my President!", aren't doing anyone any favors.  As unbelievable as it is to say, Trump won a fair (enough) election.  When millions of Americans scream the 60-odd million people who voted for Trump and won should have their choice ignored, discarded, delegitimized, it just feeds into the opinion those 60-odd million Trump voters have of "those coastal liberals hate us and think we shouldn't be allowed to win elections, even when we play by the rules".

And that's profoundly anti-democratic, and deeply to the detriment of the country.

I plan on opposing Trump in just about any way I can.  But to the Trump voters?  Y'all won.  I get that.  I don't like the outcome, not even a little bit, but ... I get it.

Your first fundraiser: why fundraise?

Jan. 12th, 2017 08:42 pm
[syndicated profile] lecta_feed

Posted by Mary

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Why you should have a fundraising drive

In 2014, in the Ada Initiative’s article on choosing a funding model we wrote:

Often activists will reach for every funding opportunity they can: individual fundraising campaign, yes! Government grants, yes! Selling stickers, yes! Sucking up to wealthy potential donors at lavish one-on-one dinners, absolutely! But it is crucial to pick just two or three funding sources and concentrate on them.

Raising money in any form takes time, practice, dedication, and skill. Pursuing too many forms of funding will just mean that you’re bad at all of them. Some diversification of funding sources is often recommended, but the base requirement is a reliable funding source[…]

Since mid-2011, the bedrock of the Ada Initiative’s funding has come from a few hundred individuals within the technology community. Being accountable to donors who are primarily interested in culture change even when it has no direct benefit to themselves allows us to take on more radical programs. This includes work that is not directly connected with hiring or careers, or that is connected with gift and alternative economies like media fandom with little direct connection to corporate profits.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt an individual donor funding model is that donors often become advocates for diversity in tech themselves…

These are great arguments for individual fundraising. Another one is that individual donors are often the most willing to take a risk on a new, untested, project; corporate donors/sponsors are more conservative and often want to see at least an informal track record to figure out what they’re associating their brand with.

If you’ve chosen individual fundraising for these or other reasons, the next question is: why do a drive as opposed to popping a donation form or Paypal donate button on your website and waiting for donations?

The first reason is simple: a drive will earn a lot more money. The Ada Initiative was a reasonably well known organisation with a reasonable amount of web traffic, but spontaneous donations outside a drive were at the rate of one or two donations a month. Our last few fundraising drives on the other hand earned hundreds of thousands of dollars and attracted as many donors in a day as we would get in the entire rest of the year. Our experience was that fundraising revenue exceeded spontaneous donation revenue by a hundred times.

There’s a tempting line of thinking around passive fundraising — I’m prone to it — which is that if your mission was truly great and your approach to it truly excellent, then the world would discover it spontaneously. Asking for money would then prove the inferiority of your mission or your organisation. Here’s a counter-argument: in order to be successful, you need to be the most invested person. If you aren’t committed to your mission, your donors won’t trust you to fufil it. Taking a risk by openly asking for money, explaining why you need it and what you’ll do with it, is one of the best ways to convince your potential donors that you have a chance at doing what needs to be done.

As we wrote in 2014, a good fundraising drive has a complementary goal: raising awareness of your organisation, and getting people involved. There’s at least two possibilities here. If you’re raising funds from the same community you’re going to benefit, your launch donors are likely to be among your key volunteers or members shortly thereafter. If you’re raising money from a different community from the one you’re going to benefit, your launch donors will be key in reaching other donors, and developing your fundraising strategy in future.

In designing your fundraising campaign, you will raise the money you need, and building a community of members and volunteers, or ongoing donors, at the same time. Good fundraising is hard work, but it isn’t a tiresome distraction from your mission. It’s how you will build the community you need to fulfil your mission.

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Your first fundraiser: why fundraise? by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

To Where and Never Back Again

Jan. 12th, 2017 09:02 am
ponyville_trot: Six cartoon ponies in a huddle (Default)
[personal profile] frith posting in [community profile] ponyville_trot

Shamanguli is stuck on that one pose. Lovely light. Really catches the eye.
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Posted by Mary

As the planning for the sale of Yahoo!/Altaba to Verizon continues, I’m not the only person worried about the fate of Flickr, which has been owned by Yahoo since 2005:

I’ve got a tediously backed-up local copy of my photos and won’t have to kiss them goodbye, but as a happy Pro user of Flickr I’m really worried about its future and beginning an active search for replacements. I’m going to start evaluating possible replacements on the basis of these specific features, roughly in order of importance:

My favourite Flickr features

Embedding my foremost use of Flickr is as a photo host for my parenting blog and, increasingly, to show off my best photos. The ability to embed photographs in third-party websites is essential to me.

Locking at the photo level and guest access. It’s not easy to find non-recent photographs of my children on my Flickr account. That’s because I have a script that marks photos as private once they’re a certain age. Some other types of photos (for example, photos of other children) I often mark as private immediately.

Much of my web life runs this way: just because you can find my recent stuff doesn’t mean you get to casually browse everything I’ve done on the Internet since the beginning of time (circa 1999). I’ve taken full advantage of websites with individual locking every time I’ve used one, including WordPress sites, LiveJournal&Dreamwidth, Pinboard, and, yes, Flickr, and strongly prefer it.

At the same time, the chance of people who care about me obtaining a login to Flickr, or to social-photos-site-of-the-month in order to view pictures of a party we were at is basically nil, so the ability to share links to photos via Flickr’s guest pass system has made it useful to me for semi-private events and photos.

API access. I’m not locking all this stuff on all these sites down by hand! It’s all scripted and done via APIs.

Multiple albums for a single photo I look at my photos through several different types of, uh, “lenses”. There’s events, there’s individuals in the photos (mostly my children), and there’s my show-off albums for my favourite photos or ones most I’m likely to want to share with other people if only they’d ask to see more of my photos. I use albums for all three ways of looking at photos, and thus many of my photos are in both a “my kid at age 3” album and a “visit to the beach in November” album.

I also use tags and I might be able to modify my workflow to use tags to replace some of these features, although the result of a tag search would need to be viewable as a first class album, rarely true in my experience so far.

Creative Commons licencing. I like easily dropping my photos into a big pool of photos that might someday find good uses elsewhere and licence a lot of my non-portraits CC BY for (nearly) maximum re-usability. I fear that even sites that support CC licencing won’t end up being searched by anyone in practice, and if I note a CC licence myself in the description, it’s never going to happen.

Features I’d reluctantly sacrifice

Chromecast support. It’s been really enchanting having our TVs display great photos of our kids throughout their lives, travel we’ve done, and a lot of clouds, all via Chromecast’s support for using Flickr photos for background images, but I’m willing to give it up for my core set of features.

An app. Don’t get me wrong, I do like being able to peruse my photos on my phone, but I’d give it up if I had to. Because I do about half my photography with a DSLR, and edit essentially all my photographs, I don’t upload photos via apps in any case.

Less important

The social ecosystem. I started using Flickr regularly after a lot of people stopped, and I’m indifferent to the social features, eg favourites, comments, following other folks, putting my photos in group albums. I do use some of these, but I won’t be looking for them in a replacement.

Locking to different sets of people. I do use Flickr’s “friends” and “family” distinction a little, but in giving up social, I’m also happy to give up locking other than “locked” and “not locked”.

And now, I’m afraid, it’s well and truly time to go shopping for a new photo host. My favourite. Only not.

Long time no see.

Jan. 10th, 2017 02:46 pm
[personal profile] robhansen
For the last few years I've been making life updates over at Facebook (and to a slightly lesser extent Google+), mostly because of the network effects.  There are a lot of people there; it's an easy way to reach a decently large audience.

Unfortunately, most of the social networks are for the most part ruled by people who believe reason and education are against their religious convictions.  The level of discourse is so de minimis that it staggers my imagination.  My average post there is about three paragraphs, and is longer than 99% of the stuff in my feed.  I don't know how to function in that environment, much less thrive.

So, it's back here, at least as an emergency measure.  For God's sake, won't you please make me think?

Some brief updates:
  • My nephew shot himself in the foot with a shotgun in late December.  He's keeping the foot but has a long rehabilitation ahead of him.  Whether he's learned anything about the importance of proper firearms safety remains to be seen.
  • I almost died in a fire in December, when my upstairs neighbors decided to extinguish hot fireplace coals by bagging them and putting them on the balcony, thinking the winter weather would quench the coals.  Needless to say the bag was paper and the balcony made of creosote-impregnated wood.
  • My Uncle Lou died sometime in the night between January 5 and January 6.
  • I turned 42 the morning of January 6.  The celebration was short-lived.
Anyway.  Talk to me.  Make me think.  Or if you can't make me think, just speak up and let me know you're reading what I'm writing.

[syndicated profile] lecta_feed

Posted by Mary

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully.

We made a bunch of bad decisions along the way. For example, after our first drive in 2011, we stopped accepting donations, and moreover assumed that folks who had been denied the opportunity to donate in mid-2011 would still be there and keen in early 2012 (spoiler: no they weren’t). We offered t-shirts as a donor thank you gift. Worse: we offered t-shirts twice.

We also got a lot of excellent advice from fundraising experts and from our fabulous boards of directors, and through a combination of hard work (both ourselves and our volunteers!), good ideas, and good luck, had a lot of success. For several years I’ve been informally advising other women in technology groups on fundraising for the first time ever,

Over the next several weeks, I’m publishing a series of articles with my fundraising wisdom, with the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner. May you spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that you possibly can!

Creative Commons License
Your first fundraiser: what the Ada Initiative learned the hard way by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

[syndicated profile] evolving_insight_feed

Posted by Anil

Personalized medicine promises to improve outcomes across the field of medicine.  Whether it is vaccines, aspirin for heart attacks, chemotherapy, so many medical interventions help some people while doing little for others…and sometimes doing serious harm.  If we could identify who would be helped and who would be harmed before treating them, many lives could be saved.

The tools of modern molecular biology are providing the potential basis for personalized medicine.  Genomics, proteomics, and other approaches provide a deluge of data for analysis.  If this “big data” can be appropriately analyzed, surely we can figure out what the effects of a potential treatment will be on an individual in advance…right?

I don’t think it will be that simple.

One of the fundamental results of computer science is that there are certain kinds of programs that we simply cannot write, at least if we expect them to perform correctly 100% of the time.  A particularly famous and seemingly simple version of this result is the halting problem.  Put simply, there is no foolproof way to tell whether a program will ever stop running (halt).  You can of course run it and if it stops, you know that it halts.  But if you run the program and it keeps going, you can’t be sure whether it will stop eventually.  Of course, it is possible to solve this “decision problem” in many special cases – we know, however, that a general solution is impossible.

A surprising number of problems can be reduced to the halting problem, meaning that they are essentially equivalent to the halting problem in difficulty.  One such problem is determining arbitrary program characteristics, i.e., whether a program will ever print “hello” or the works of William Shakespeare.

For personalized medicine to work, we have to be able to analyze data about a person and decide what effect a given medical intervention – an operation, a drug, a lifestyle change – will have on that person before actually doing the intervention.  In other words, solving personalized medicine is equivalent to determining an arbitrary property of a person.  Substitute “program” for “person”, and we have something equivalent to the halting problem.  Uh oh.

What are the implications of this insight?  Well first, we should accept that we’ll never be able to perfectly predict what will happen when we give anyone a pill.  We’re all different, and that uniqueness is irreducible.

A perhaps more useful insight, though, is that true personalized medicine will come when we can meaningfully simulate the physiology of an individual and/or when we can monitor how our bodies work in real time.  In computer terms, we have to move beyond static analysis to dynamic analysis.

Big data in medicine will give us insights that may allow for a limited form of personalized medicine; however, sample size limits and the massive diversity of our bodies make me suspect that any gains will be incremental and very limited in scope.  But a biological debugger that let us go step by step through a detailed simulation of a biological process?  That would be a game changer.  It is also a long way away.


Friday 6 January 2017

Jan. 6th, 2017 10:01 am
[syndicated profile] lecta_feed

Posted by Mary

Between my weak right shoulder, my total dependence on thyroid replacement hormone and my extreme sentimentality surrounding changing anything at all for my children, I’m something of a soft target for anyone bent on my destruction.

In early 2014 I dutifully trotted teeny floppy little baby A, aged 11 weeks, to her new daycare, and yesterday she ended her time there with last snuggles with the carers who looked after her as a baby, and I think I felt exactly the same both times. It feels like less of a “my baby, her first/last day of daycare/school!” cliché when you’re in it, and I haven’t always been this change-averse. It’s new as of about a year ago when even adventurous V was not happy to be starting a new school.

People tell me kids cope just fine, but I was in my fifth school by my ninth birthday and I think it’s not a coincidence that I feel like this about jerking my kids around between institutions and Andrew, who changed school only once other than the primary to high school change, doesn’t. V has recently become very curious about the whole idea of moving, and asked about all the houses I’ve lived in. So I tallied up all of them for him, and the grand total is twenty, ten of them in adulthood in Sydney.

It’s the season for looking back again. Sure, yes, New Years. But I compounded that for myself by having children in January. Since the children are very nearly exactly four years apart in age, I’m doomed to spend my entire parenting journey reliving the events of four years ago but in January it’s extra acute as both of their birthdays approach. Seven years (two moves) ago, it was a hot hot hot summer and I hadn’t received the memo about taking it easy in late pregnancy, even though I was also having regular monitoring for V’s health. Four years (one move) ago, we were free of nappies for a brief window and commencing our second lonely year in that suburb. (For all that I intensely miss it now, it really did take about two and a half years to feel at home there. Don’t move, kids.) Three years (also one move) ago, I was having very stressful late late late late pregnancy monitoring with A; is it that you need a coffee, or your baby needs to be surgically removed? So hard to tell.

I’m not looking forward very far at the moment, but Monday is A’s birthday, and her last day at another daycare I’m far less sentimental about, and then Tuesday is her first day at a daycare across the road from V’s school, where he’s finally been for just as long as his first school, and I’ve almost finished converting my former home office into a TV room for me and Andrew, and I’ve cleared out a bunch of giveaways from the attic, and our baby things will soon be trucked over to a pregnant relative, and maybe, just maybe, the house move we made in May 2015 is finally finally done.


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