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A Ramble through Firefox

You should use Firefox for many reasons.

You should use Firefox because the Web browser world is otherwise dominated by two giant corporations: Google, who are the definition of surveillance capitalists, and Apple, who seem to pay more attention to privacy, but want to create closed systems that they can closely control.

You should use Firefox because of must-have add-ons like uBlock Origin, without which the modern Web is far less enjoyable, usable, and secure. Google is pushing for Chrome to adopt a new extension format that will prevent ad blockers from working properly. Not to mention that Firefox for Android is the only mobile browser that supports add-ons, and they're actively improving that support. I wrote more about this kind of tooling a few years ago.

You should use Firefox because its parent nonprofit, Mozilla, is much more open about its work than for-profit corporations, as Mozilla Labs, Mozilla Support and MDN exemplify.

You should use Firefox because they take the time to properly support free platforms like Linux and Wayland: Chrome still has many bugs there, years after most open-source and free programs have moved to support them. I guess it's not profitable for them to do so.

But this article isn't about why you should use Firefox. That's just the prelude, as worries increase that Firefox's perceived market share may be declining to a critical point.

This article is about getting comfortable with Firefox. More specficially, it's about getting comfortable with disagreeing with some of the decisions the Firefox team at Mozilla has made, and comfortable with making your own decisions.

It's about taking ownership of the tools that you use, and understanding that Firefox is considerably more open to that ownership than Chrome.

If you want to get to know your neighborhood, your town, or your countryside, you go for a ramble. Let's take a ramble through Firefox.

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The influence of Seth Vidal, ten years later

I was in a Duke University classroom after hours, somewhere around 2005. Seth Vidal had grabbed a whiteboard and was enthusiastically explaining to me and a few others just how XMPP worked. I remember that impromptu little lecture well. Simple as it was, it illuminated computers for me in a way that my computer science classes often didn't.

Seth wasn't a professor or a student: he was a sysadmin in the physics department. To me, he was the person who would always show up and always lend a hand; it was only later that I came to understand that it wasn't just my little Linux User Group events he was showing up for, or a few undergraduates that he was lending a hand to.

Ten years ago today, Seth was killed by a hit-and-run driver while cycling home. I still think about him often.

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Flush your Amazon credentials now

Italian translation availiable here.

There is a well-credentialed security researcher who is going around telling people that they need to change their Amazon passwords, reset auth tokens, and sign out of all Amazon devices right now. He has apparently discovered that Amazon has been doing something really bad that puts everyone at risk, but he can't disclose exactly what it is yet while he discusses the issue with Amazon.

Your Amazon account is a high-value target. It is a good idea to follow this advice now, rather than wait for official confirmation that there is a problem.

This guide to flushing your Amazon account credentials is for non-technical users in America. However, the same steps should work on other regional Amazon sites such as Amazon Japan, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, and so on. More advanced users may need to take slightly different steps, but they probably don't need this guide. Read on:

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The End of End to End: Point to Point Privacy on the World Wide Web (and 1980s novelty phones)

This is the written version of a talk I gave at Nerd Nite Tokyo on November 18, 2022. It is not a transcription.

When browsing the Web, always make sure you are using HTTPS. It ensures that the connection between you and the service you're using is end-to-end encrypted, keeping you safe. This is common advice, and good advice.

But what does "end-to-end" actually mean? And does using HTTPS really ensure safety?

The answer is complicated; it grows more complicated each year. But, by starting with older, simpler systems, we can build up a mental model. That's why I'm going to start with Abraham Lincoln, make a stop in the 1980s, and finally wind up in the present day. There are two intertwined stories here: the story of surveillance and the story of freedom of access.

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A thousand songs on Spotify, and some more that aren't

For the past five years, I've been slowly building a playlist that I call The Big Shuffle. Sometimes songs get added to remind me that an artist exists, and I should play their albums from time to time. Sometimes they're added because of something exceptional about the song itself. Sometimes, I add songs like "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen, just because I can.

Often, looking at the "Date Added" is enough to bring something half-forgotten to the surface; the music changed as my life changed. As I approached the thousandth song last month, Spotify serendipitiously suggested a new release to me -- an exuberant live recording of Glen Campbell performing Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." Recorded in 2008, just two years before his Alzheimer's diagnosis, it seems especially poignant in retrospect.

But this post is about something else: to celebrate a thousand songs on Spotify, I'll talk about a few dozen that aren't.

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Christmas in July

I usually wait until around Christmas each year to sit down and take a day to give to charities, nonprofits, and community organizations.

This year, I'm trying to make it also be Christmas in July. If you are able, in the way you feel best, consider doing the same.

The Long Trek through Frasier

Last year, I wrote down some notes on Star Trek after completing the half-decade experience -- sorry, five-year mission -- of watching all of it; a couple of months ago, I finally finished another television show that has been part of my personal zeitgeist for as long as I can remember: Frasier. Writing these short notes is pure enjoyment for me; it's easy to write about critically-acclaimed work, and by doing so I can engage actively with it, just as millions of others have.

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End-of-year Giving, 2020

Note: I am sharing the below in the hope that it will help show solidarity and stimulate some positive action. There are thousands -- millions -- of worthwhile ways to spend your time, energy, and money; I hope you are considering them as I do at this time of year. My giving wouldn't happen were I not listening to all of you: family, friends, colleagues, fellow-travelers, strangers. I hope it helps. Happy holidays.

Dear family and friends,

Christmas is just about done; between a new job, making my own Christmas dinner, wrangling a few Christmas lights for my balcony, singlehandedly supporting the European chocolate industry, and setting up my Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I've let one of the more important items on my to-do list slip until now.

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Rehumanize Yourself

Lately, it feels like all of us have developed a more uneasy relationship with social media; our natural (and proper) inclinations towards free speech and free expression of views have been tempered by stories about former Facebook managers describing just how they designed the site to be addictive, or, even worse, Facebook's inadvertent but clear role in facilitating violence against ethnic or social groups, most notably in Myanmar. On Twitter, "doomscrolling" has become a popular term to describe the feeling of constantly searching through feeds, looking for that next hit of information.

Buried somewhere in there are the things that are truly important to us, whether that's connecting with friends and family, exchanging ideas, pursuing hobbies, and even organizing positive social change. As a software engineer, I can point out that there are better platforms out there, but the commercial social networks have democratized access for people whose lives don't revolve around computers. If I want to get the latest from my local bakery or band, the odds are good that I'll find them on Facebook, not on their own website.

And none of these problems are new; I have been dealing with my own insatiable desire for information for a long time. RSS feeds and email newsletters have been a daily part of my life for fifteen years or more now. That's why I'm surprised that among the many articles of late that rightfully express concern about the role these products play in our lives, I have seen little that provides specific, actionable advice on how to help yourself moderate them. Below, I'll offer some practices that I follow. All the tools I mention are free and shouldn't take more than a few minutes to set up.

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