Category Archives: Social Networking

Translation: Fear and Loathing about the Luxleaks process

Angsch a schrécken zu Lëtzebuerg” (Fear and Loathing in Luxembourg )is a Luxembourgian blog that publishes critical texts about current affairs in Luxembourg.  The downside is that usually most articles are in Luxembourgish  This makes it hard to share with the majority of my readers.  I thought that “Angscht a Schrecke mam Luxleaks-Prozess” would be a worthy read for more than just Luxembourgers.

Since the original article “Angscht a Schrecke mam Luxleaks-Prozess” licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, I realized I could translate it.  I tried to keep as close to the original article as possible, which probably causes quite some Germanisms.  I don’t claim it’s a perfect translation and some things really can only be understood by knowing local culture, but still the gist should be just fine.

Obviously, my own translation, is also licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Edit 2016-05-01@13h31CEST: Added the bold text “funny” about the fictional product “RulingCloud”.

 

Fear and Loathing about the Luxleaks process

30 April 2016 by Joël

A good friend of mine, told me once that people shouldn’t be using the expression “Kafkaesque” so often. In this style: “I was at the supermarket and there were no Kinder Maxi King, totally Kafkaesque!”. I think my good friend is right, but there are still situations where the expression is mandated. The Luxleaks process is one of these situations. The two whistle-blowers, Antione Deltour and Raphaël Halet and the journalist Édouard Perrin are on trial, as your probably already know.

The things happening in that court, are really to be ashamed of. Of course, you can say that this is a case for justice, because private or secret documents have been stolen and then been published. However, it is hard to say that these documents don’t have a public interest. Well, for the rest of the world. Luxembourg itself doesn’t really have an interest in having the tax-rulings to be exposed to a broad public. That’s probably the reason why, in the year and a half between the accusation and the process, there hasn’t been a change in laws to protect whistle-blowers like Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet.

If you think that it’s only the defence who politicizes the process, you’d be wrong. At first glance it seems to be only about the misappropriation of documents, but: Deltour is being accused of having political motives. It seems as if the Luxembourgian police and the internal investigators from PCW agree, that Antoine Deltours actions are motivated by an anti-capitalistic conviction. The evidence for this are not a library filled with Marx, Engels and Lenin, but two newsletter subscriptions. One from Mediapart and another one from the Green Party. We all know that the last time the Green Party has been anti-capitalistic, nobody even knew where Chernobyl was.

This means we approach one of my currently favourite subjects: freedom of expression. It seems as if in Luxembourg is is now somehow criminal, to have an anti-capitalistic stance. So please think twice: When was is the last time that you had the idea that a system that makes the rich, richer and the poor, poorer may perhaps not be the best one.

So, only perhaps? Totally theoretically?

Yes?

Don’t say that too loud.

Think back three years ago. At that moment in time, we had a scandal regarding the secret service. That’s the reason we have a government that’s different than usual, isn’t it? Those with excellent memory, will remember that a whole bunch of organizations in the opposition were under surveillance. Since the scandal haven’t been resolved – why not, after all the government is in the government – we have no idea whether such organisations aren’t still under surveillance.

But back to the Luxleaks process: A few exciting facts have surfaced. Obviously not from official sources. Luxembourg has a very strong secrecy regarding state affairs, which allowed Guy Heintz, the director of the tax bureau, to say nothing. Because, guess what: we don’t only make deals with multinationals, who then only pay 0,5% tax, but those deals are also secret.

Raphaël Halet, the second whistle-blower, who worked at PWC in a department that prepared documents, could give us insight in how things work in Luxembourg. Every month, on a Wednesday, there was a fixed appointment between PWC and the tax bureau number six, where tax rulings would be signed. PWC printed the documents on the official stationary from the tax bureau, in order to process them more quickly. “More quickly” means in this context: About three minute per document.

From time to time a USB-Stick got lost, or a state servant forgot the password of such a stick, which caused PWC and the tax bureau to set up a Cloud in order to exchange documents. Something like a tax ruling Dropbox.

If you don’t think this is bad enough: PWC isn’t the only member of the “big four”. Next to PWC, there is Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG. Every month has four Wednesdays, you can fill in the rest for yourselves.

It is sickening.

Let’s also consider: the politicians -both the opposition party CSV, and the three current ruling parties some of which were one day against such rulings- insist that nothing illegal was being done. The supposed anti-capitalism of Antoine Deltour is just a motive for our justice. The Grand Duchy is basically a failed state, where the economy has hijacked the power. A bit like in those dystopian Cyperpunk Movies, just without Punk and much less Cyber.

It totally sickening. You couldn’t even eat that much if there would be “all you can eat” roasted piglet.

There is a silver lining, though: We don’t have to worry about our “Nationbranding” any more. After the Luxleaks process, the whole world will know that Luxembourg is a deceitful piece of crap.

This episode of Fear and Loathing in Luxembourg is presented to you by RulingCloud!  RulingCloud is a start-up from “Silicon Luxembourg”.  You are a fiduciary and write tax documents that the Luxembourgian tax bureau needs to sign?  You want to enact laws that make Luxembourg an even more attractive tax haven?  RulingCloud offers you all functionality that you need for this.  Of course, using state of the art security measures with built-in leak-protection!  RulingCloud is a product made in Luxembourg.
Luxembourg: open, dynamic, trustworthy.

Look at the picture … but don’t like it!

Thumbs down

Thumbs down by Kvarki1
Creative commons license, found on WikiMedia

There are things where I really don’t understand women. This post described one of these events.

My wife being a “divorce kid”, we ended up with one of these famous patchwork families where for some reason everything is complicated and grudges are carried deep within. The “easy” side is my father in law, who simply remarried and had a couple new kids with his new wife. These half-siblings are by definition much younger than my wife and they are nice and polite kids, rarely a problem with them.

Of course, my beloved mother in law did something different: he had a civil union with a man who has four kids of his own, about the our age (a few years younger, but what is five to ten years when you’re in you’re late thirties?) This man is rich, very rich. You can understand that his kids are a bit worried whether he did made the right choice. Even I am unsure whether he made the right choice, but I do hope he pays for her retirement or it will be me who pays ;-)

In my world, this would be no problem because I shun people. I rarely even see my own family and I love all of them dearly. Of course, her new husband is a family man and he insists his kids come to dinner every Thursday. Since we’re part of the family, that includes us. I don’t mind, they are all -at least superficially- friendly and as “just married in”, I’m even less “related” to the whole clusterfuck, so that I’m most likely seen as a “innocent bystander”.

Of course, you end up friending some of these children on Facebook. For my wife apparently all of then, I didn’t “collect” them all. So be it, they don’t need to be my friends on facebook and given it’s mostly the youngest of the kids, I can understand. You can’t be “friends” with someone over ten years older, that’s uncool. It’s Facebook, I mostly see it as a social game in the first place.

My wife has self-image problems. Not a few, but a bucketload. She analyses seemingly innocent conversation and/or events and interprets them as injustice done to her. I try to play it down, but sometimes she seems to be onto something. Apparently, on Facebook, none of his children ever liked any of her posts, ever. She liked theirs, so she says, but stopped doing so because they never liked her posts.  I didn’t check, I take her word for it. Never mind they never did like any of my posts, or rarely because I don’t keep track. Look, okay, that might indicate we’re not all that welcome in that family. It might also indicate they don’t use Facebook all that much. It might indicate they have unfollowed us from the get go, for whatever reason.
For some reason Facebook rarely even presents posts of them to me. Why this is, I don’t know and I don’t really care. Their settings, Facebooks algorithms determining I might not be interested? It’s all good, it’s just Facebook.

Now, before Christmas, one of the daughters got her baby. Today she posted a picture, apparently, because Facebook did not show it to me. I don’t care and I wouldn’t have known if this morning my wife tells me “$nameofmother posted a picture of $nameofnewborn”. So I go directly to her profile, see the picture and like the damned thing. That’s what I do when people are happy about something, even if I don’t particularly care. I’ll like your post/picture. You’re happy you have a new guitar? Like. You’re happy that you’ve lost your crappy job? Like. You’re happy you got a good picture of a train set? Like. You’ll never know whether I really like that event, because I like it because you’re happy. It’s that simple.

Not even two minutes later I get a “How dare you to like that picture? They never like anything I post.” I try to explain. Doesn’t work… “Now I have to like it too or I look like the bad one”. Fine, like it.
I unfollowed all of them. Every single one, even though I’m rather fond of some. One stupid little “courtesy like” click… This is not worth getting arguments over.

This networked world is bad for people with self-esteem issues.

What I think of Luxleaks

A picture of some Euro banknotes and various Euro coins.

A picture of some Euro banknotes and various Euro coins. by Avij
Creative commons license, found on Wikipedia

TL;DR: We had it coming.

Long version: Originally I wasn’t going to say much about it, but I keep getting tagged on social media regarding this. I can understand: How many Luxembourgers do you actually know except me? Unless you live here, probably not all that many. Believe me, if something happens in the Luxleaks affair, I’ll know: Our local press won’t shut up about it. So, this post presents my opinions and thoughts about the whole thing.

General observations:

  1. Nothing of this actually surprised any citizen of my country. Well, “nothing” isn’t entirely true, but I’ll get back to that. It is fact that Luxembourg has been providing means to multinationals and big and small corporations alike to alleviate their tax levels. That this was done using “mailbox companies” was also known.
  2. Officially, “mail box companies” are sternly frowned upon. The idea was that, attracting companies to Luxembourg, would create employment. Yes, a local a secretary and local manager is two jobs more than the zero jobs that mailbox company would provide. Apparently, this was only an official stance, and did not match the reality.
  3. The existence of the so called “tax rulings” was known, even though I doubt by the general public. I most certainly never heard of it in that form, but the accountants I talked to, said they knew. Anecdote, of course.

Taxes for citizens and small businesses:

  1. Let me make this clear: we citizens of Luxembourg do pay income taxes and a plethora of other taxes. Yes, is true that we have a rather low income tax compared to other countries. As someone who is rather well-off, I (actually we: income of spouses are cumulated) end up in the second-highest tax level. There is very little I can do about that, except a few minor incentives to save for retirement or a home. The latter being totally ridiculous, as the amounts required to buy any property are so high that those saving incentives are pretty much a drop on a hot plaque.
  2. Small businesses have a bit more leeway as businesses do have more options to do tax write-offs. Nevertheless, the small business like the one of my father in law, have to pay the official taxes. There is no special ruling for them. The bakery at the corner, the plumber, the florist, they all pay the 29% corporate tax.

With this out of the way, let me state this: I was convinced that having multinationals here in Luxembourg was a good thing. I naively assumed they would indeed create employment, and while Luxembourg isn’t cheap, the lesser tax rate -I repeat: 29%-, would be enough incentive to bring business here. I thought: this is good for the country, corporations help fund the rather nice living standard we have.

However, that is not what is happening. What is happening, is that multinationals don’t pay fair taxes. As a matter of fact, some multinational companies pay less tax than me and my spouse. Other multinationals pay taxes with which you can barely buy a mid-class family car.  That is what surprised me.  That is not good for my country. We stand here as the crooks that allowed a crime, with barely any rewards. Barely any employment creation, no significant taxes paid to our countries coffers and a huge scratch in our international image. With the best of will, I cannot see how any government official would call this “positive” for our country.

In all honesty, I can not fathom why nobody is on the streets and asking for the heads of the officials that let this go through.  I can’t understand why mobs aren’t storming the headquarters of big consulting companies and lynching the suits responsible for this.
Well, yes, I can: I wouldn’t do much in the first place.

As for Antoine Deltour, the person who is accused of leaking the documents.  I personally think we can thank him.  Thank him for making public with what abject methods consulting companies work, thank him for showing the lack of transparency the Luxembourgian tax system has and thank him for trying to make this world a bit more fair.
He’ll probably be the scapegoat for the whole thing.  He’ll pay a much larger price than the thinks, literally becoming unemployable.

We all are the losers in this game, except the big multinationals, consulting companies and their respective shareholders.

Of course, it’s all legal and our elected government allowed it. We dealt with the devil and lost. We had it coming.

What is your Facebook “username” any way?

My previous rant is wrong.  Well, not in the sense that I’m going to admit that “email-as-username” is the greatest idea on earth.  I still think it’s dumb, and some people I respect a lot disagree.  I’m still not convinced.

No, a little bird tweeted me the following:

@jawtheshark changing the email for facebook won’t help … you can use your actuall username to login, no need for email adress

— Pit Wenkin (@PitWenkin) August 13, 2014

Wait?!?  What?  That vanity URL, I took back in the day also counts as my username?  Hands up, who knew that?  I most certainly didn’t.  I tested it from within a Private Browser session, all the following worked:

  • My “jawtheshark” gmail.
  • My “jorg.willekens” gmail.
  • My work cellphone
  • My private cellphone
  • My facebook vanity url nickname and by extension my facebook email.

Basically, pretty much anything that could identify me can now be used as a username to be logged into Facebook.  I am not really sure if that is a good idea.  So, I didn’t fix Flirty’s problem, since her “attacker” could use any of the above if he knows about the existence of them and they’re pretty much public.

The username/email conundrum

Email icon / Hand Drawn Web Icon Set by Pawel Kadysz

Hand Drawn Web Icon Set by Pawel Kadysz. Free for commercial use

Flirty, our Executive Assistant, looked rather down and tired today. Sure, she is a ranty German chick as we know and love them. She mostly on a friendly-flirt basis with me in the sense she calls me “honey” and I call her “sweetheart”. All in good natured humour, naturally. She looked stressed out.
While working with executive divas is straining, it was clearly something else. It came out rather quickly: Her Facebook had been hacked or at least someone was attempting to hack it.
Now of course, we all are familiar with the occasional “Your account has been accessed from Bumfuck, Elbonia, was that you?“.  Usually, it just means some silly hacker got hold of a username and tried a few attempts.  Nothing much to worry about.  This, however, was so much more worrying.  The login-attempts came from the city she lives in. First of all, kudos to Facebook detecting that.  It sure as hell isn’t only geolocation that’s used for detection.

It does mean, however, that most likely someone she knows is trying to hack her Facebook.  Why?  Who knows, it’s none of my business.  What it also means, is that changing her password was not enough.  These messages and attempts would continue, since the person trying this knows her username,

I told her to see whether her email provider allowed aliases for her current email (I was astounded: it did!  Yay, for that provider!), and told her to use the new alias as her Facebook login instead of her normal email address.  (Note: you do need to delete the original one, because you can use all your registered emails to log in!  Try it.  I wasn’t aware of that.)  I’m pretty sure this will fix the issues.  I’d have loved to set up two factor authentication, but it requires to install the Facebook Application for her phone, and she didn’t want that.  Fair enough.

I think that will fix her issue, but it does highlight a problem, that has annoyed me more than once: the insistence of using email addresses as login credentials.  I have no idea who came up with that, but he needs to  be stomped in the balls.  Along with those people who thought it was a great idea and adopted it.  That’s a lot of stomped balls.
You, see, most “normal” people have at most two email addresses: a private one and a work one.  Yes, yes, I have half a gazillion, and so do you, but my mom doesn’t, neither does my wife or in this case Flirty.

It means that, by definition, anyone knowing such a person will know the “username” you have to use on so many sites.  Now, I do realize usernames are not secret, and they never have been, but this “email-as-a-username” system servers the “username” to wannabe hackers on a silver platter.

Now, sure, they still have to guess your password.  They’re not going to come in, unless your password is very weak. The situation indicates that “someone she knows” tried this, which puts the odds of a correctly guessed password much higher.  To less technical users, those notifications of someone attempting a login, especially from the city where you live, are very scary.  I’m glad Facebook does this, but it makes non-techs freak out.

Never mind that in the bigger picture, spam lists can now be used to try to authenticate against a plethora of services, like iTunes, Facebook, etc…  Sure, the odds are low, I do realize that, but once someone starts using a list where you are on, you might be annoyed quickly.

There is another problem with this, by the way, which is unrelated to Flirty’s problem.  I had this particular misunderstanding with my mother in law.  Given so many services rely on the “email-as-a-username” system, she started to be totally unable to differentiate between accounts.  To the point she thought she had an account on a website she never registered with, but tried to login with her email address using her (real) email addresses password.  Imagine someone was logging that!
This is complicated even further by the fact that different services have different requirements for passwords making it impossible to give all accounts the same password.  Yes, I know this is a very bad security practice[1], but hey, I don’t want her to call me every time a password is required.  So it is good that her iTunes and email password aren’t identical, but it is very bad for her as she doesn’t have a clue what is going on.  Yes, yes, “education” and “informed users”… blah, blah… Can you tell I’m jaded?

Basically: “email-as-a-username” is flawed.  The only positive things I can see about is that it’s easy to remember and a password reset is easy…. provided the email is still active and it didn’t get compromised itself.

Perhaps I’m missing something? If so, feel free to inform me.

Footnote [1]
I realise that someone is going to say “use a password manager”, which is a wonderful technical solution.  Except of course, for normal users this complicates the whole thing even more.  I’m not even a fan of password managers, because I don’t want the data stored on a server that is not under my control and I want the information still globally available.  Best I’ve found is to use pass, on a machine to which you have ssh access.  Covers my requirements, but definitely isn’t for Joe Sixpack.

 

 

iMess with your messages

iMessage chatI want to start off with the Hanlon’s razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I’m going to talk about iMessage and about what I perceive as technologists making myopic decisions about how something should work. If you’re reading this you are most likely in IT, and perhaps even a programmer: we are trained to look for edge cases, trying to imagine the worst case and still having the damned thing work. Also, if you are in IT, you are aware about the hub-hub going around that Android switchers are penalised for the switch as text messages sent from iPhone users never arrive. I am, by now, convinced it is totally caused by the developers of iMessage living in a tech ivory tower. However, this is not what I’m going to talk about: I’m going to talk about iPhone users being unable to communicate in certain edge cases.

Some background:
An iPhone can send SMS, the “speech bubbles” in such a conversation are green. The way they are sent are through your cellular network: it works even if you have no data connection at all, not even GPRS. SMS is part of the GSM specification and is considered “best effort”. Despite that, it is incredibly reliable.
Contrast to iMessage, the blue “speech bubbles”, where a data connection is needed to send and receive messages. It doesn’t matter how you connect to the Internet, GRPS, 3G, Wifi Avian Carriers, as long as there is Internet. At first, you do think this is a rather reasonable condition, after all iPhone users are tech-savvy always-connected people who can’t live without their precious Internet. Right? Right?
How do I compose that sarcasm sign again?

The trouble is that iMessage, presents itself as a SMS (“Text Message”) replacement, without a way to revert back. Now first, I’ll tell you why it works so well in most settings. We, even the non-tech users, are pretty much connected 24/7 to the Internet in our daily lives. At home you have your wireless setup, at your workplace probably too, the Wireless of your preferred junk-food and junk-beverage places are configured and working. Even if that’s not the case, at least where I live, iPhones are sold with a reasonable data plan. You simply don’t care, anywhere in the country you are connected, which makes the difference between iMessage and SMS totally oblivious to the end-user and this is the typical “It just works” mentality that Apple is famous for. For iPhone users iMessage and SMS are the same thing.

First, to iMessages defence, I don’t know how it gets activated. Perhaps I did that myself, perhaps I clicked away an annoying dialog and accepted it one day. I don’t remember. Fact is, my wife, my mother in law and myself all use iMessage and I sure as hell didn’t “install” or “configure” it in the traditional sense. It was there, one day, and it worked. It might be my fault it has been activated.

So, here is how I found that iMessage has an unfixable problem, at least one I can’t fix, or I haven’t found the appropriate fix. The story involves three iPhone users, two of which are non-tech and yours truly.

My wife has been in Switzerland for surgery the last four weeks, and I made sure she could go on the hospitals wireless (Those Swiss sure know how to do wireless: the whole campus is flawlessly covered!). I even made sure she has my Ultrabook so she could waste all her time, trying to ignore pain. Well, that was of no use, as it seems that she basically uses her phone exclusively and she seems to use text messages all the time. I’m not big brother, but I know that at least her mother and me are those whom she communicates most with using SMS, of course, in reality that’s iMessage.

This works as, I’m always online and my mother in law has the “fuck-yeah-all-the-data-you-want” plan. Messages always arrive, life is sweet, the Internet is a blessing. Last weekend (I visit her every weekend), my wife tells me that her Mom can send her “texts”, but the texts she makes to her Mom never arrive.
This makes me look into the issue, and I realise: Mother in law is not in Luxembourg. She’s on vacation somewhere in Austria. That means roaming, and the default setting on iPhones is to disallow data roaming, which is a good thing. This means that my mother in law, does not have Internet connectivity. Knowing her, she will be unable to connect to public wireless hotspots.

To mother in law, everything looks normal. She is doing the same as always: sending “SMS” to her daugher and they arrive. The phone probably has the “Send as SMS” option activated, which falls back to SMS when no Internet connectivity is present. That is good. On my wifes side, however, her iPhone decides: “This is an iPhone, it can receive iMessage, so let’s send iMessage”. This is, I stress, not configurable. Not per number, not any where. So, my wifes messages to her mother disappear somewhere in a message queue somewhere on an Apple server to be delivered to her mother when her mother gets on the Internet, which will be in a week or two. Brilliant, just brilliant!

I have tried everything, deleting all Mother/Daughter threads on my wifes iPhone, deleting her moms contact entry in order to make it forget that it’s an iPhone and tell it that it’s a “mobile”. Nothing helped. There was no way to convince her iPhone to send SMS instead of iMessage to my mother in law. None.
I gave up in frustration and explained it to my wife, who was very patient and understanding, that we would have to disable iMessage and revert to SMS pure. It would be more expensive, as she is roaming too, but it at least she would be able to communicate with her mother and the problem would be gone. I did so, and indeed it worked.

Now think about this twice: at that point I did a major thinking error. Let me explain. That night I go to the hotel and about around midnight I get a text message from my wife whether I’m still awake. I was and I replied. To my surprise, I didn’t get a reply to my text. My logic error manifested itself, but I didn’t realise it yet. I only understood the next day: We shifted the problem. My phone was now insisting on sending iMessages to my wifes iPhone, but I totally disabled iMessage on her phone. Yup, my messages were now the ones being held somewhere on an Apple server. Of course, I could disable iMessage on my phone, but I have people at work using iPhones who write me iMessages, which I then would then not be able to get. I can’t do that, it is my work phone after all.

So, in the end, I had to put my wife before a choice: Be able to communicate instantly with me or with her mother. She chose me, which is flattering of course. I reactivated iMessage on her phone, which then caused a re-authentication and an SMS to a UK phone number, which will cost us money. Okay, not much, but I know it will.

This all boils down to the developers of iMessage being totally confident that people will have Internet connectivity on their iPhones at all times and not providing a fall-back method. This is provably not the case, especially to people who go to foreign countries. Apple employees do seem to know about this, after all the default setting for roaming is reasonable.
What should happen is that after a timeout period, the iMessage should be sent per SMS. This can be done, by relaying the “not able to send” information back to the phone and perhaps even asking for permission (or just do the damned thing transparently, you’re Apple for crying out loud). This would also fix the issue that Android switchers have. Alternatively, they could use a SMS gateway of their own. This does shift the cost to Apple, so it is understandable that they don’t want this.
Sure, it would delay the message a bit, but that seems totally acceptable. Delayed transmission is preferable over undelivery.
Also, let the user choose per contact whether to send SMS or iMessage. The information is there in the “contact” entry. If the number is specified as “mobile”, send SMS, if it is specified as “iPhone” it is send as iMessage and then use the fall-back mechanism to avoid situations like the one I described. At least, with such a system, I could have fixed it.

Now, I may have overseen something, or have misunderstood an option or setting somewhere. I am confident enough to tell you: If I did something wrong, this rant is totally irrelevant. If it is, I sincerely apologise to the iMessage developers. If not: please, get your act together, you are developing for non-tech users. Keep that in mind.

You want me to blacklist you on Facebook? Here is the recipe

I’m quite a tolerant guy.  Really, I know, it’s hard to believe.  There is one thing you can do to anger me on social networks, and that’s deleting my comments.  Yes, I know it’s your thread and you are master and commander of it.  It’s still not okay.  Sure, I make tasteless jokes, but you knew that since you friended me.  I also make thoughtful contributions.  Deleting either one is simply disrespectful.
I took the time to write something in your thread, to make people laugh or to make people think.  You delete that, you are directly disrespecting me.

So, my unwritten and, up until now, never published directive is: “You delete my comment, you get removed from my view”.  There is no trial, there is no discussion.  It’s what happens.  Do note this is not me censoring you: It is protecting you from me.  You clearly can’t handle my comments, so I won’t bother making them and, given I don’t see you, I won’t be tempted to contribute to your threads.  Your freedom of expression remains, I just chose to ignore your expression.  You did not grant me the same courtesy.

To achieve this technically, I do not use the “block” functionality.  Instead, I add that person to the “restricted” list and then “unfollow” them.  (Technically, I could use the “acquaintances” list for this, instead of unfollowing)  It’s as good as blocking, but without the person noticing.  From their point of view, everything is as before, just it isn’t.

That’s it.  Now you know.  I know many of you won’t agree with this policy, but I won’t delete your comment if you say so.

Google Plus Custom URL is so messed up it’s not funny.

I sent this  to G+ Feedback.  I feel better now.

Subject: Custom G+ URL.

A few months ago, I got an email for a pre-approved custom G+ URL.  It suggested JorgWillekens as I used my real name G+.  I didn’t want that, but asked for the name I am known on the internet for (Hell, I own the .com, .org, .net and .eu) which is “jawtheshark”.  To my knowledge there is nobody else on the Internet using that nickname, and I’ve been using it at least since 1998.

Today, I got this nickname denied.  I do not approve of this, and I’m pretty certain it’s just your system that is making stupid blanket assumptions.  It doesn’t stop there.  Due to the forced integration of YouTube, I renamed myself to “Jaw The Shark” because youtube became useless with its native accounts (which, *surprise*, was “jawtheshark”… Check, it, I know you can!)

Now, the custom URL suggests JawTheShark to me, but I absolutely need to add a suffix.  You’d think, it would be clear to such a big data-mining operation as you, as what account is what person.  My suspicion is that it’s not allowed because it exists as a youtube account or because I tried getting it before.

Now, comes the kicker, back in the day, I created a serious GMail aptly named “jorg.willekens”.  It’s used mainly for email, but obviously it has a G+ account as you always get the whole package with Google.  I was curious whether I could get JorgWillekens custom URL on that one.  Guess what?  I can’t: I need to add a suffix.  My best guess is, because of my other account.

The TL;DR version for you:
- The account jorg.willekens@gmail.com can’t get the custom URL “JorgWillekens”
- The account jawtheshark@gmail.com can’t  get the custom URL “JawTheShark”, but can get “JorgWillekens”.
- The custom URL “JawTheShark” is, for some bizarre reason, not available at all.

How effed-up is that, I ask you?  Especially, that the person behind these accounts is one and the same, and you undoubtedly know that or you should really hire some better data-miners.

That’s all I have to say.  I’m pretty sure, you are not interested in my ramblings.

For the record: Facebook had no qualms in giving a custom URL “jawtheshark” and LinkedIn’s custom URL knows me as “willekens”.  Notice the difference between usage?  I’ll give a hint: private use versus professional use.
You want me to use G+ or not, because more and more, I have the impression that the message is “Use FaceBook for crying out loud, the social  thing is just a fad!”

Jorg “jawtheshark” Willekens

(Also published to my blog, and all social network sites I operate on)

The rant that wasn’t.

I wanted to write a rant about social media and everything that’s wrong with it. I found that I deviated into topics and subtopics and really didn’t manage to make a poignant point. Now, I saw a comment on Facebook that really pretty covers it all. Not totally, but good enough:

On social media in the past

I may sound like a hipster by saying: “I have been using social media before it even was named that way”. Well, I also could sound arrogant, but you should be used to that by now. When “blogging” didn’t exists, we nerds had our own webpages that we kept updated… or not… They were rarely dynamic and were basically “fuck, yeah, I have a website” websites.  You can’t call those “social media” yet.  In a sense, it’s ironic that you are reading this on a self-hosted dynamic website.

What we now call “social media” emerged in a certain form on a community-based news website called slashdot.org.  It’s a nerd hangout, so if you haven’t heard of it (but if you read this, you most likely have) don’t worry.  Somewhere before 2001, they introduced a concept called friend/foe.  You could mark users with a little “pill” whether you liked them or not.  I think this was a first necessary step.  The second step, may have been introduced at the same time, or may not.  I simply don’t remember.  What I do know, is that by autumn 2001, slashdot.org had a featured called “Journals”.  Basically, that’s what we call “blogs” today.  When you wrote something, the people who marked you as a friend got notified.  It was an instant soapbox!  I could talk about the world, tech and others worries and I have!  What was wonderful was that people actually read it and they could reply!  Imagine that!

For me that was the “first” social network.  You had all the key ingredients: basic publishing and a friend/foe based network.  I’m not saying slashdot.org was the first.  It may well have been, but I don’t know.  What I do know is that it was the first “social network” I was exposed to, and I used it a lot.  slashdot.org didn’t evolve much past what they made in 2001, at least not from the perspective I have as a user.

All current social networks have these basic properties:

  • Ability link users together
  • Ability to publish for each user
  • Ability for other users to interact with published items
  • Basic notifications between users to be able to keep track of interactions

Most of my contacts left slashdot.org, or they don’t post any more.  I rarely post there myself. Other social networks have taken over, with an audience that is much less technical.

These slashdot.org users often are in my “modern” social networks, but -apart from a few exceptions- I don’t know who is who due to the usage of real life names.  In a sense, I really preferred the handle-only identification.  To many of them, I am still “jawtheshark” (or “jts” in short), but by now many call me simply “Jorg”.  I bet most don’t even know how to pronounce that…

What’s my point?  I have none, but I wanted to give this background information before going head first into a rant about how people fail to handle social networks of today.