So a couple of weeks ago I read this article and wanted to comment on it, but was taken ill preventing me commenting at that time. Since then I have had plenty of time to think, and the subject of that article has been on my mind more than I expected it to be. The post I was going to make at the time was how I felt it was the wrong solution to the problem it purports to solve, but upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that it is worse than that, it is not only the wrong solution, but it is also a demonstration of everything wrong with the IT industry today.
So lets start off by saying I am a white, heterosexual, middle class, male. I have seen lots of comments on the internet about Social Justice Warriors (SJWs for short), and I gather that, based upon what I have seen, I should be worried for my very existence, as these SJWs are apparently out to rid the world of my kind, that is to say white middle class cis gendered (yes I know that "cis gendered" is a label for non trans gendered people, and some see it as an insult, but I am what I am, and I have no better label to use) heterosexual able bodied men. But I have very few examples I can point to of any of these SJWs that really concern me, or indeed that I disagree with in any significant way.
Before we go any further I should probably explain what triggered this particular rant. Recently a person at Google has been sacked for breach of Google's internal policies, a situation that has come to light because the breach was an article they authored about how diversity polices may be harmful, and then circulated within Google, and which promptly leaked. Now I have seen a version of this article, and I shall discuss my thoughts on it later, but what worries me now is the "debate" about the actions taken by Google, and I have already seen some very negative comments. There appear to be two basic sides to this debate, those who say the article was damaging, and wrong, and so Google did the right thing, and those that say Google has damaged itself by shutting down dissenting internal opinions (something the article points out is a risk of Google's current internal culture) and has also trampled this person's free speech rights. My concern is that these are the voices that are going to be screaming about SJWs in the not to distant future. So I thought I'd have a rant about the stupidity of this position from the viewpoint of a SJWs typical "victim".
So recently I changed my mail server over to postfix, this not that long after I ranted about e-mail security with plusnet. It turns out this has led to an interesting problem. So SSL settings were set pretty strictly on the smtps port, so only strong TLSv1.2 ciphers were available. On the smtp port I was a little more permissive, as long as it was TLSv1.2 it would accept even very weak ciphers (well a weak cipher is better than no cipher at all, and I was accepting mail that didn't use the starttls command) and everything was good. Accept that it turns out emails coming from Plusnet's mail servers was failing, they would connect, try to starttls, not like any of the ciphers and fail, breaking the connection. Once they tried again they didn't remember that starttls didn't work so they tried again. Until the mail timed out, and was bounced. So I've had to make the setting even more permissive, as getting emails from people I know on plusnet (like my Father for example) is sort of important.
So, I once again find myself in despair at what is being said by people on the side of the brexit debate that I occupy. It turns out that when a Lib-Dem MP stands in a by-election, on a campaign about objecting to brexit, in a constituency that largely voted remain, against an independent, who was pro-brexit and taking a single issue stance, that the Lib-Dem candidate also held, the Lib-Dem candidate might win. Now this is being touted as a major upset, as it was a Conservative strong hold before, and the independent candidate held that seat as a conservative, but in respect of his position (or more likely because they couldn't find a suitable replacement in time) the conservatives did not field a candidate against him. What annoys me isn't the crowing from those who are holding this as a major victory for remain (it isn't) but the response I am seeing along the lines of "you lost, so put up with the result and shut up" coming from the pro-brexit side of things. Yes the campaign to leave the EU won the referendum, but, by a rather small margin, and the leave side isn't a single group with one single goal, so to say "We won" rather misses a very important point, which is whatever "We" you may belong too may not be bigger than the "they" you want to shut up. And democracy has never been about "majority rule above all else" (we wouldn't have first past the post as our electoral system if it was) it is a compromise, we all have ideas and thoughts on where we want to go, and we must as a society move in the direction that is closest to the greatest number of people's desires. The most vocal that I am seeing in this debate from Brexit are calling for the extreme option for brexit, and the 48% of people who voted remain are rightly pissed off by this, telling them to "get over it" is neither helpful or much of a compromise. Personally I voted leave, I still believe that the EU is not what we need from a combined European Government, and I still cannot see the incentives to reform it to what I believe would work being there for those who run the show. I therefore still think we should Leave the EU, and from their maybe we can start to build a new European Government that is better suited to the needs of the European people, and is better equipped to represent their needs, and change with them as they change. So I am galled at the arguments that "Leave the EU" (which was what we were asked if we wanted) is being used to leave not only the EU, but the EEA (a common interest in trade being the best way to unite countries) the ECHR (which the UK was instrumental in forming, and is one of the best things about Europe in terms of doing what is right for the people in my opinion) and just about everything else Europe has to offer (some times I think the nutters crying "We won! respect us" want to stick a massive out-board motor on dover and sail us into the atlantic ocean). As someone who voted Leave I feel I have far more in common with those now shouting to remain than those trying to shut them up, so as a negotiating stance the Leave camp are only weakening their stance by not listening to the complaints of those who wish to remain. Also I fear we have got more important things to deal with in the UK than if we should remain a member of the EU or not, like getting rid of the tory government.
So, there was this vote last Thursday. Apparently we voted to have Armageddon! Or at least if my social media feed is anything to go by that's what we did. What annoys me about the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from those who voted to remain (or at least the most vocal of them) is that they claim to be liberal, and that those that voted Leave are as illiberal, as stupid, and as racist as it is possible to be. And yet, look at what they are saying "the leave camp are wrong, we should not listen to them". Last I checked liberalism was about allowing personal freedoms, not about refusing to acknowledge a view point that diverges somewhat from your own.
So, I use PlusNet as my ISP. I have an email address with them where they send updates about my account. It's also been used in the past to sign up to various things that I haven't bothered to update to a new email address. PlusNet's email servers do not require authentication to send email from my home connection, which is fair enough really. But they also don't support SSL for authentication from my connection. So my username and password (which is unique to this account) has to be sent in plain text, now as this is to my ISP over my ISP connection (and I trust my own network) it's not the end of the world. However, I also have a shiny smart phone, and that allows me to connect to my own email server, over SSL (that until recently wasn't as secure as it should be) as it should be when connecting over the internet, from untrusted, or unknown networks. It also allows me to use multiple different email inboxes at once. So I could add my PlusNet email address. They even have a handy guide on setting up email on android phones. And that's where the problems start. That guide sets up email without SSL, or TLS, but it requires username and password authentication. So I'd only be able to use it on my home network. What happens if I forget to turn email sync off? My details would be put at risk!
So what should a good sysadmin do? Should I leave the ISP email only on my home PC? Should I take the risk and add the email to my phone anyway?
Well as a paranoid sysadmin I wasn't willing to take the risk. And that was that. But frankly that was annoying me, so I decided to set up an SSL terminator for my ISP email using my own SSL cert. So I can get my email, from my ISP confident in the knowledge that only my ISP can intercept the username and password pair that I use with my ISP. I use non-standard ports for the ISP connections, and listen using stunnel. This would be a problem if I was supporting users as it would add a level of complexity to the instructions I'd have to give them, but as I only have to support myself I can cope.
So I commute by public transport, this involves using the bus train, and Sheffield's SuperTram. The problem I am about to rant about is far worse on the tram and train than on the bus, but does occur on the bus occasionally, it's also a rush hour problem more than at other times of the day, presumably because rush hour is when their are fewer seats and more people have to stand. The problem is that people get on and stop, which at first glance doesn't really sound that bad does it, but consider this, lots of people do this, and by get on and stop, I don't mean get on, find some space, and settle in for the journey ahead, I mean step through the door and just stop right there. At busy times this means you have to fight your way past the crowds of people just to get through the door. Every time this happens to me (almost entirely without fail, and the exceptions don't really bother me much) there is amble room for everyone stood in the doorway to stand apart, and have some space, if these people just spread out into the middle of the tram/train carriage. I have had to fight my way through people crammed into the vestibule of the train, and when I had to ask one woman to move out of the way of the door into the carriage she asked me why I wanted to get past as there were no seats. What appeared to escape her however was the fact that the aisle was empty, not just less crowded, empty. Why stand like sardines for a thirty minute journey (my morning commute by train) when I can stand in plenty of free space? The tram is basically the same problem, but without the excuse that there is a door to separate the doorway area from the rest of the tram. The disabled area on the tram is also next to the doors (a sensible location all things considered) but due to this location it gets clogged up with these ignorant twats milling about the doorway. I am ashamed to say that recently (about a month ago now) when I got on the tram to see a woman with a disabled child in a wheel chair blocking the steps into the middle of the tram I didn't yell out to all the people blocking the disabled bay that they were utter failures as human beings, or try and move them on. More recently I had to fight passed the same group of people to get onto the tram, to allow people to get off (as I couldn't get far enough onto the tram not to block people from getting off initially due to these crowds), to get back on again, and then once more to get off a couple of stops further on!
Seriously, what does it take to get these people to think "hey, maybe I'm in the way, perhaps I should move, possibly that will make everyone's life easier, my own included"? The fucking morons!
So, we have another bill in Parliament to allow the government to spy on us. This one tries to ban end to end encryption, so that should the police or security services need to access your private communications they can do so with out you, or the person you are communicating with knowing about it. Aside from this defeating the point of encryption, it's a lovely side step around the criticism that the government wants to ban strong encryption, the encryption can be as strong as you like as long as it has a hole in the middle where the government can read it. Now as a technical person this riles me, but I am not an encryption expert, so rather than rant about something other people can tell you about far better than I, I'm going to wander off on a different tack.
So, we've had local and European elections recently, and as has become increasingly common with these things (elections that is) that has got me thinking about politics in the UK.
The abysmal turnout in the European elections is indicative of a lack of engagement between politicians and the populace. Occasionally you hear a politician say something along the lines of "we must engage the population more" but rarely do they actually do anything useful about it. The problem, as I see it, is that there is no viable way to express dissent. The electoral system is geared to showing who the people assent to having as a representative. Sure you could abstain, but that is dismissed by the establishment as not caring. You could spoil your ballot, but that appears to be dismissed by the establishment as being too stupid to vote properly. On top of this the system assumes that the winner of the election has the public's approval, so even with the lack of engagement there is no real incentive for the established parties to change the system. Sure UKIP and other fringe parties have eroded some of their power, but not much, and not quickly.
So what can be done? What should be done?
Personally I think we need to add a viable way to show dissent. A "None of the Above" option on the ballot paper. Of course just adding "None of the Above" to the ballot is worthless if it is not given some form of power. It needs to be counted, and it needs to have very real consequences for the candidates who get fewer votes than it. The consequences also need to be sufficient that the big parties can't just buy their way out of it. So financial consequences are out. The only other viable alternative is to bar the candidate from standing at the next election. Or possibly longer. Politicians would then be forced to engage with the people for fear of losing all their power in government.
This does raise an interesting problem however. What happens if "None of the Above" wins? Do we hold a by-election? How would the candidates be chosen? Do we hold a free vote (all registered voters are free to nominate any other registered voters in that ward)? Do we lay down voting rules for the ward for the next term?
Unfortunately these are not easy questions to answer. I would suggest that laying down voting rules such that the particular seat in question votes to oppose any and all changes in the law, but I doubt that would be practical, or free from manipulation.
I don't have all the answers, but then if I did I suspect I'd be much better off, and not ranting about politics on the internet.