Blockheaded blocking, GitHub style

From WPTavern.com comes this surprising development about the block functionality on GitHub. From the article:

Users who are blocked will no longer be able to open or comment on issues or pull requests, nor will they will not be able to add or edit any of the project’s wiki pages.

…both of these sound reasonable so far, but then there’s this:

Blocked users are also prevented from forking any of the organization’s repositories.

It is this last one, however, that I have a huge issue with. While rare, forking is generally considered the best way to resolve differences of opinion on a project. There are also other valid reasons for forking such as wanting to recode substantial parts of a project for different hardware (anything from a completely different architecture to a newer or older generation of CPU), to satisfy different jurisdictions’ legal requirements (example: a GPLed arcade game software needs recoding for Texas’s somewhat oddball redemption game limits), or even rewriting the original code in a new language or new variant of that language (Inkscape in C++ versus Sodipodi in C).

This problem is compounded by Github’s terms of service A.7 which disallows one person or legal entity from having multiple free accounts. Otherwise, the easiest workaround would be to make a one-off account just for forking a project one has been blocked from, and transfer it to the “real” account. Someone who wished to fork a project after being blocked would either need to form a new legal entity such as an LLC (!) or have someone fork the project on their behalf. I’m not even sure if that would provide full functionality.

I am, however, pretty sure that the vast majority of ghost accounts on online services, GitHub or otherwise, go undetected for years. Outside of legal action, there’s no real way to stop them. (Example: I could get a cheap voice/text only “burner” phone plus $10 worth of airtime, pay for it in cash, go down to an Internet-connected cafe such as a Starbucks like the one I am in now, and set up a new Gmail account within minutes. If there are more than 5 people in that Starbucks at the time the account was created, and/or there’s no reason to suspect monkey business until after the video surveillance system at Starbucks erases/overwrites the video from that time, it’s going to be damn hard to figure out who really made that account. Personally, I’ve never done this, but I’m sure some people have. Bonus points for using Tails/Tor Browser on top of all this.)

Too many people who use platforms like Facebook and Twitter have no idea what blocking actually does. Too many use it as an “easy way out” with regard to avoiding differences resolvable with minimal effort. (As an aside, in the case of Twitter specifically, it has changed over the years. At one time one could still easily read public tweets of a user that blocked them. Now, there’s just a screen that says “You have been blocked from following @skquinn and reading @skquinn’s Tweets. Learn more”. One huge problem I have with this setup is that it is taking the user’s authentication information and using it against them; it’s possible to see the same timeline as a not-logged-in user. Twitter does not even restrict me from making a second account just for the purpose of evading certain aspects of blocking, though things like a prohibition against harassment and stalking are still in play.)

Also, blocking is an all-or-nothing proposition in most cases. There’s no way to line-item block certain posts from certain people that are no longer friends. The closest one can come is, on Facebook, to make a custom filter that amounts to “all friends except Joe Dummy” or similar. Indeed, GitHub’s block function appears to allow no easy way to allow just forking, and was made with the assumption someone would want to prohibit a diverse and far-reaching set of actions with one button most of the time.

So again we have a service which has made the block function far more powerful than it really should be. As unfortunate as it is, there is still time for GitHub to fix this unfortunate mistake, and I am hoping that they do.

Mislabeling of Microsoft’s latest Windows addition

Recently Microsoft made the announcement regarding the ability to run some GNU/Linux programs under Windows. Unfortunately, it was a lightning rod attracting the most high-profile abuse of the name of the kernel, Linux.

In Mike Gerwitz’s blog post entitled “GNU/kWindows”, he sets the record straight on exactly what is going on. The main points:

  1. What most people have been referring to as “Linux” is actually GNU.
  2. “Most users would not even recognize what GNU is” thanks to the mislabeling that has been ongoing for the past two decades.
  3. The GNU Project is about freedom. Not just passing around the source code, but freedom. Specifically, these four freedoms:
    • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Note that source code access is only a precondition for two of these four freedoms. It’s very possible to distribute source code that cannot legally be run for specific purposes, or that cannot be legally redistributed.

It is also worth noting again (Mike does not touch on these points, but maybe he should have), the “open source” movement which seems to get all the publicity splintered from the original free software movement founded by Richard Stallman back in 1984. Without the free software movement there would have been nothing for this “open source” splinter faction to splinter from. In fact, “open source” started off as a “marketing campaign” for free software. It was an attempt to get people talking less about freedom–and unfortunately, it worked.

There is a GNU kernel, the Hurd. A lot of people choose to ignore its existence, as it is not “release quality” yet; the goals and philosophy behind it differ radically from those of the kernel, Linux. (There is technically a recent release, but it’s numbered 0.7. Usually versions numbered 1.0 denote development versions.) It is still there, and I have faith the GNU Project developers will complete it. I do check in on their progress with Hurd every so often (about once every 2 to 3 years). I do plan to switch to a system which boots Hurd when the time is right.

Microsoft has done the free software community more of a disservice by naming this the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) when a more appropriate name would be the Windows Subsystem for GNU (WSG). As I read it, they are using GNU bash, GNU libc,

Mark Shuttleworth ought to be especially ashamed of himself, per this quote:

In our journey to bring free software to the widest possible audience, this is not a moment we could have predicted. Nevertheless, we are delighted to stand behind Ubuntu for Windows, committed to addressing the needs of Windows developers exploring Linux in this amazing new way, and are excited at the possibilities heralded by this unexpected turn of events.

He had a great opportunity to say “exploring GNU” instead, and set the record straight. Remember, Linus Torvalds himself has said the kernel, Linux, is nothing without an operating system (OS) to boot into:

Sadly, a kernel by itself gets you nowhere. To get a working system you need a shell, compilers, a library etc. These are separate parts and may be under a stricter (or even looser) copyright. Most of the tools used with linux are GNU software and are under the GNU copyleft. These tools aren’t in the distribution – ask me (or GNU) for more info.

Unfortunately this paragraph has been omitted in every version of the kernel, Linux, released since (at least the surviving RELNOTES-0.12 doesn’t have it, it may have been in versions released between, but who knows how many copies of those survive and where). Of course, personally, I make it a point to either refer to “GNU/Linux” or “a GNU variant” (when the kernel really matters less than the operating system and software) when referring to what operating system I run. I could only wish everyone else did the same.

This is before even getting into the broader implications of making it more convenient to use Microsoft Windows. The spying on users that Microsoft has been doing has only gotten worse with Windows 10. Microsoft has combined that with a rather aggressive attempt to get users to upgrade to Windows 10, either by discontinuing support for earlier versions of Windows, or by just pestering them with unwanted offers to upgrade “for free” to Windows 10. It’s obvious to see what direction this is going.

The best choice to develop software for a given OS, is to actually run that OS. Unless of course it is an OS intended to run on a different device (embedded systems) in which case cross-compiling is unavoidable. Choosing to run an OS like Windows, to develop for an OS like GNU/Linux or another GNU variant, is a highly questionable and self-contradictory choice. I don’t know what the point was behind Microsoft’s port of the Bash shell and a GNU variant environment to Windows, but they would have served the community better making their own GNU/Linux or GNU variant distribution. Actually, the best case scenario is pledging to release Windows 11 under the GPL. (A man can dream…)

The Untied.com story: United Airlines tries a SLAPP

I don’t travel by air that often. In fact, the last time I flew a commercial airline was before 2001-09-11, and I don’t plan to travel by air (at least via mass-market commercial airlines) anytime soon for a variety of reasons. However, I do keep up with travel-related news as one day I may be traveling by air again.

So it did and still does concern me greatly that United Airlines filed a SLAPP suit against a “consumer opinion” site called Untied.com (note spelling). (SLAPP stands for “strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”; basically, United is (ab)using the legal system in a lame attempt to silence one of the more prominent websites critical of their mistakes.)

I will admit I was a bit disappointed to hear that Continental Airlines was merging with United back in 2010. I had been at least nominally familiar with the Untied.com opinion site before that year. I had hoped that the corporate culture of Continental would prevail over whatever was causing so many unhappy passengers at United. Instead, some four years after the merger is complete, it turns out that now United is the only real choice for air travel on some routes. And, not surprisingly, Untied.com still has plenty to write about in the way of United’s poor customer service. So much for that hope I was holding out.

Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, I was not able to post this before the trial began this past Friday (2016-04-15). However, I believe publicity will still help, as a lot of the traveling public has not heard of Untied.com. So spread the word and make everyone aware first that Untied.com is out there, and that the airline they are criticizing is attempting to silence them with a SLAPP suit. It’s absolutely outrageous that in a Canadian province (Quebec) that supposedly has an anti-SLAPP law, United is still being allowed to press forward with a fairly obvious SLAPP suit.

The Space City Pinball League Pizza Disaster of 2016: Two Guys lays an egg

Okay, so in the pinball league I play in, and blog about over on skqrecordquest.com, we have a deal where we order pizza every week. Everyone chips in $5, and one person (usually the league president, Phil) takes care of the ordering and cash handling. It is usually an efficient process: everyone who paid takes a break between games when the pizza arrives, and can focus on playing pinball instead of dealing with the logistics of pizza delivery.

When I throw in the word “usually” like that, you probably can guess something is up. It didn’t happen that way this week. League play started at roughly 7:30pm, and I think the order was placed sometime before 8pm (I remember paying just before the second game of the night, but I could be off). Phil called in the order to Two Guys Pizza, which I had given a positive recommendation to because I knew they supplied pizza for another group I am part of and it was good.

Okay, so I would expect sometime around the third or fourth game, we’d have our pizza and be ready to take a break. 9pm rolls around, then 10pm. I, and others, are wondering where in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks our pizza is. The story I get is so bad, I’d swear it was straight out of a comedy movie unless I knew the people telling me.

Turns out the delivery driver finally showed up after an hour and a half when the quoted delivery time was 45 minutes. Phil mentioned this to the driver (someone said he used a profane word followed by “ridiculous” when describing the situation to the driver), and apparently not only did the driver clearly just not give a damn, he wound up refusing service and leaving with the pizza.

Phil tried again, ordering from the nearest Domino’s, and the driver arrived in 15 minutes, and I would assume was friendly. This was long after some people who had paid for pizza had to leave, but at least the few of us who were left didn’t have to go home hungry. We had players coming from all parts of town, some even from over an hour’s drive away. Many of these people I consider at least relatively acquaintances if not friends, and it really pisses me off that this happened to them.

Needless to say, I’m retracting any past recommendation I made of Two Guys, and I now recommend you trust just about anybody else to make and deliver your pizza. Product quality is completely irrelevant when the customer service is this piss-poor; there is simply no excuse for either the long delay or the attitude from the delivery driver.

I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of Domino’s, but at least they can actually deliver a decent pizza within a reasonable time frame and it has been at least 20 years since I have had Domino’s screw up an order. That’s actually quite an accomplishment given that the average pizza kitchen or pizza restaurant probably does not even stay in business anywhere close to 20 years. Just about every other pizza kitchen offering delivery that I have tried has been accurate and punctual (before or within 10 minutes of their quoted delivery time), even if the quality of the product has varied greatly. Of course, I also have a certain quality point below where I don’t care how fast the delivery driver is, but after this experience I’m willing to lower that point just a notch to “slightly below average.” As a certain candy bar advertises in their ads, I’m not me when I’m hungry, to say the least.

(I use the term “pizza kitchen” to refer to establishments without a dining room, i.e., delivery and carryout only. Some establishments are “on the edge” in that they offer very limited dining space, but clearly focus on those eating off-premises.)

So, the morals of the story:

  1. Doing your due diligence is important. Even when you are just ordering pizza. This probably could have been avoided had I looked at some of the Yelp reviews first.
  2. As much as I prefer buying local, sometimes it is better to choose the national chain in some cases.

Revisiting the infamy of Red Medicine

So some of you may remember the two blog posts I made about the Los Angeles restaurant Red Medicine. The first entry on 2011 January 2 was about the outing of S. Irene Virbila, and the second entry on 2013 April 8 (exactly three years ago today) was about the antics of the owner who decided to publish a list of names of people who decided to no-show on their reservations.

A cursory web search reveals that Red Medicine closed at the end of 2014 October, about a year and a half ago now. A quick look at Google Street View shows that as of 2015 March, some months after the closing, the signage is still intact, and Google Maps shows no other restaurant–or any other business, for that matter–has taken over the space. (More research shows that in the years before the opening of Red Medicine, the building at 8400 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA, was the home of a restaurant called The Continental.)

I have to wonder if those looking to open up a new restaurant in Beverly Hills think the building is now jinxed after some of the crazy crap the previous owner did. The article mentions, in the beginning, the restaurant using an image of Ho Chi Minh as its original logo. This is in addition to the two other noteworthy events I blogged about linked earlier.

The official statement cites the basic “new landlord, higher rent” excuse:

Red Medicine has developed a following of passionate diners over the years and we were delighted to create a unique culinary experience for each and every one of them. With new building ownership and the accompanying overhead cost increases, we have accepted an offer and plan to sell the restaurant.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. A business that is truly doing well should be able to succeed in spite of an increase in rent (assuming the new rent is still reasonable). A business that is barely getting by, will more likely have an owner willing to sell and get out before there is a chance of losing it all.

I think Red Medicine’s owner pissed off many people. From the Ho Chi Minh thing, to outing a food critic, to the clearly inappropriate broadcasting the names of diners who couldn’t make their reservations, a lot of people had at least one reason never to dine there.

To the new tenants of 8400 Wilshire Boulevard, when there are any: Don’t run your business like an idiot, and you’ll almost certainly be fine.