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Dortmund, Stockholm, now Grenoble.
CS, ML, currently CKNs.

A Quick Note on Twister's Blocks

6 min read

This is just a quick note about what the blockchain does and does not store.


I didn't write this software, and I am mostly trying to make sense of it myself at the moment. So if you find things that are unclear, incomplete or plain wrong, please tell me!

The "what is not in the blockchain?" part is easy: anything that does not relate to user names, public keys, the spam messages or the blockchain itself lives outside the blockchain. Profiles and twists are stored in a Distributed Hash Table (DHT) and the twists also in a torrent swarm. This is because storing all twists in the chain, although possible, would not scale. A block chain is relatively slow, and more importantly, all nodes of the network would have to download and store all twists ever made.

So what does the chain store, concretely? You can find out by running some simple commands for your local twister daemon:

Let's get a random block from the chain:

$ ./twisterd getblockhash  71772

$ ./twisterd getblock  70b7f1bb37eb72d587f45457c5c0c0bdadd206f0115f66787d8565761688bd1d
    "hash" : "70b7f1bb37eb72d587f45457c5c0c0bdadd206f0115f66787d8565761688bd1d",
    "confirmations" : 38,
    "size" : 361,
    "height" : 71772,
    "version" : 2,
    "merkleroot" : "ba8dd4de438b296fe16f619f16a988700f1161fbba3fefadef7df14964823c7b",
    "tx" : [
    "spamMessage" : "Promoted posts are needed to run the network infrastructure. If you want to help, start generating blocks and advertise. [en]",
    "spamUser" : "brunus",
    "userhashes" : [
    "usernames" : [
    "time" : 1422554853,
    "nonce" : 4700834,
    "bits" : "1d429ed8",
    "difficulty" : 0.01501017,
    "previousblockhash" : "6d36ace676ce6a8e600f31fa743eef7e96110c3713d9736f138cd864a9fa7c88",
    "nextblockhash" : "8da5a51cf66ee39e0fb98dd5b137a19ec143d80e085083317c96e4ff36e8d149"

This is a human-readable representation of a block as it is stored in the blockchain. The non-readable version is this:

$ ./twisterd getblock  70b7f1bb37eb72d587f45457c5c0c0bdadd206f0115f66787d8565761688bd1d false


Let's stick with the readable version... :)

Most of what you see here are things that take care of the blockchain itself. For example:

  • blockhash identifies this block
  • previousblockhash links it to its predecessor (hence the name "blockchain"
  • difficulty controls how many values for nonce need to be tried to generate a block. It gets adjusted automatically as a function of the timestamps in the chain.

While this is all very fascinating, it is nothing specific to the Twister blockchain. In fact, the only thing in which Twister significantly differs from the bitcoin chain is what the transactions (or short: tx) contain and what the miner gets for the mining.

Now, the transactions in Twister don't say "Alice just sent Bob 0.001 BTC" as they do for Bitcoin. Rather they tell the Twister daemon who registered and what public key they are using. So in block 71772 the user kwofu registered and that got recorded in the blockchain.

$ ./twisterd getrawtransaction kwofu 1

    "hex" : "010000000006056b776f6675222103fccd1d6050f2abb9b8ece690672720600afccd553dfeb0dd23587d02601928a417033e00",
    "txid" : "6756f780590a51b6857104268c58c331b432b3d17290dbabd496c7f95c1033b0",
    "version" : 1,
    "mess   age" : "",
    "username" : "kwofu",
    "pubKey" : [
    "nonce" : 4064023,
    "blockhash" : "70b7f1bb37eb72d587f45457c5c0c0bdadd206f0115f66787d8565761688bd1d",
    "height" : 71772,
    "confirmations" : 44,
    "time" : 1422554853,
    "blocktime" : 1422554853

The hex field contains all the information we see here, just more in a more compact encoding. The txid uniquely identifies this particular transaction. height tells us which block this transaction is a part of. username and pubkey are the part that we are actually interested in. Having the username and public key linked together by putting them into one transaction allows us to check if a particular twist from kwofu is actually signed with kwofu's key. This is how Twister checks that nobody can pose as another user.

The mining part is fairly simple: a Bitcoin miner will get 1 BTC for successfully mining a block. A Twister miner gets to put their name and message into the block itself. Since these messages get stored on every daemon, they can be shown as advertisement to every user. The idea is that every server and every client application will at least show some of them so that mining will actually be an attractive advertising option. Or maybe some other solution will be found to the question of "Who keeps the Twister network running?" Who knows. Anyway, spam messages can either be posted by @nobody in which case the spam message will just be entered into the block by the miner and that's it. Or it can be posted in the name of an existing account. For the above block, that was @brunus.

    "txid" : "0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000",
    "version" : 1,
    "message" : "Promoted posts are needed to run the network infrastructure. If you want to help, start generating blocks and advertise. [en]",
    "username" : "brunus",
    "pubKey" : [
    "nonce" : 0,
    "blockhash" : "70b7f1bb37eb72d587f45457c5c0c0bdadd206f0115f66787d8565761688bd1d",
    "height" : 71772,
    "confirmations" : 54,
    "time" : 1422554853,
    "blocktime" : 1422554853

Although I am not quite sure why that txid is always 0 for the spam transactions...

Anyway, hope this was interesting to someone else than me :P

The Internet in France SUCKS! (no, really!)

1 min read

I complain a lot about the Internet in France. Really.

Okay, I was spoiled by two years in Sweden.

But to my friends in France who are getting annoyed about me complaining, or about the fact that the Internet here sucks: have a look at akamai's latest "State of the Internet" and specifically at pages 46/47 where you find tables comparing the Internet connectivity across EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) and providing hard data to show I am right to complain.

True, Germany is not doing a lot better than France, but please don't compare yourselves to that. We recently inflicted Günther Oettinger upon the EU.

I am so sorry... :(

On the bright side: If the German government keeps doing its "brilliant" work you might win this one against us next time.


The Terrorists are actually winning. We are letting them.

3 min read

The development around the terror series in France makes me sad.
Sure, because it was brutal, unnecessary and a great loss for humanity.
But also because it worked. The terrorists managed to do what they wanted.
All it took was a couple of bullets, and Europe is on the brink of surrendering our values to the false gods of security.

We have new security rules in the institute.
Most of them supposedly unenforced, most of them without any influence on my daily life. Some not.
There are signs of the VIGIPIRATE security system hanging at all entrances of the building, like that changes anything. To me they look like idols, like protection symbols. I keep joking that we're not living in France anymore, that this is now Vigipirate-land, complete with a new flag decorating every building. I am not actually joking.

Around the world, people are rallying for freedom of expression. They are joined by the political elite who blatantly use this as an opportunity to profile themselves as open and democratic.
These include politicians from countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey, Israel and a lot more. People who have been most brutally repressing journalists and civil right activists in their own countries.
Sadly, the only bit about this that really made its way into the main stream media so far is this:
"While millions verse on the streets to defend freedom of the press, world leaders join the chorus."
I guess the full truth just doesn't fit into a headline. Or the article after that. Because who would want to instrumentalize this tragedy to rally against antidemocratic governments around the world using this tragedy to lie to the people about their views on freedom of expression?

And not even one week after the attacks there are demands for prosecution of a comedian for a post on facebook.
David Cameron wants to ban real cryptography, negating the very essence of a free, democratic society.
In Germany, our politicians are demanding a new data retention law. Yes, one of those that the European parliament described as generally questionable only last week.
But that is not enough, obviously. Politicians all around Europe are currently demanding more funding, more freedom. Not for tools or programs to protect freedom of expression, no. For the snoops who undermine it. All in the name of democracy and freedom of the press.
In Germany for example, the threat level is described (by our Government) as "constantly serious." That is the essence of it: we will - we should - always live in fear from now on. We must surrender our rights if we want to feel safe.

In a few weeks, when everyone will have gotten used to the signs on the doors, to the military in the streets, to the constant irrational fear of terrorists hiding around every corner, people may even stop asking when the anti terror level will be lowered again. Why lower it at all? There will always be terrorists. We need to do everything, go to any length, to secure ourselves.

Don't we?

Things you don't get to say about the US justice system anymore until they get their shit together

1 min read

“So Joanne Chesimard, a cold-blooded cop-killer, convicted by a jury of
her peers, in what is without question the fairest and most just
criminal justice system in the world
— certainly much more just than
anything that’s happened in Cuba under the Castro brothers. She is now,
according to an official of the Cuban government, persecuted,”

Now, it is true that I have no idea about Joanne Chesimard aka Assata Shakur.
But the thing is, making bold claims like this about the US justice system is cynical.
Ant the "without question" shows just how far removed from reality this guy is.
We are just one week past the release of the torture report and already some years after the people mentioned in it should have been dragged in front of a proper court. Until the US get their own shit sorted out, they are not eligible for this kind of moral high ground. No discussion there on my part, sorry.
Thanks to Gleen Greenwald for pointing this one out.

"Snowden-Hysterie" abgeklungen, Beziehungen zu USA wieder besser - Bitte Wie?!

2 min read

Auf dem ersten Cyberdialog zwischen der EU und den USA lobte ein Vertreter der Generaldirektion Innen der EU-Kommission die guten transatlantischen Beziehungen im Internetbereich nachdem der NSA-Skandal abgeklungen ist.

Gehts noch?! Abgeklungen?!?!!!

Zunächst mal wissen wir noch immer nicht alles, was NSA & Co getan haben, und nicht zuletzt, weil die USA und unsere eigenen Regierungen noch immer den Deckel drauf halten.
Die Sachen, von denen wir wissen, sind nicht einmal ansatzweise aufgearbeitet und werden eine nach der anderen verschleppt, fallen gelassen oder sonst irgendwie für beendet erklärt.
Die technischen Konsequenzen aus der Affäre haben nicht einmal wirklich angefangen zu greifen und werden sich wohl über die nächsten zehn Jahre oder (hoffentlich) länger erstrecken.
Es gibt bisher keinerlei politische Konsequenzen (im Gegenteil), keine Strafverfolgung, der Untersuchungsausschuss des Bundestages wird weiterhin systematisch behindert und eingeschüchtert, es gibt keinerlei Änderungen der Geheimdienstaufsicht, geschweige denn das Eingeständnis, dass diese hinten und vorne nicht funktioniert und noch nie funktioniert hat, und noch nicht einmal die Erkenntnis, dass all der Blödsinn außer gerechtfertigtem Misstrauen gegenüber unseren eigenen Regierungen nichts bewirkt hat und man so etwas nicht weiter verfolgen sollte.

Nein, hier ist gar nichts abgeklungen.

Wenn der NSA-Skandal gerade einmal weniger präsent ist, dann ja wohl
deshalb, weil wir gerade alle mit dem Folterreport beschäftigt sind. Und
das ist dann der Anlass, wieder bessere diplomatische Beziehungen zu erfinden?!

Soft Obsolescence: Smartphones are Missing Feature Stable Versions.

3 min read

I have a Galaxy Nexus, which is perfectly fine, hardware-wise. That is great, especially considering that I drop it on a hard surface about twice a day. You know, just for kicks...
The problem is that the software keeps getting heavier by the day, so it has become pretty much unusable for a lot of everyday tasks.

On the other hand, if I were to get out my old Compaq Core Solo laptop, I could easily install DamnSamllLinux, Lubuntu, PendriveLinux or any other of the bazillion of light-weight distribution targeted at older hardware.
Or, the other way around: I could easily keep running Ubuntu 14.04 on my current laptop until their support expires in 2019 (and probably well beyond that on 18.04) without changing my hardware, because the software gets only bugfix updates. As a plus (depending on what you want) I would get a feature stable set of applications, i.e. I would not install an update to find that my favorite applications looks nothing like it used to anymore.

Smartphones are lacking the concept of a long-term-support branch. More specifically, they are missing the distinction between a feature update and a bugfix update that we have in any decent operating system.

So, when my old phone is too feeble to run software written three years after its release, then obviously there is "only one thing to do" which is to say: buy a new one!

This is something of a soft obsolescence if you ask me. it is not actually breaking the device, but just putting no effort into keeping it fast enough so you wouldn't want a new one.

And I cannot even blame anyone in particular for it.

The smartphone brands (Samsung, Apple, HTC...) obviously have no interest in making you keep your devices longer, especially when they can point to app developers when it comes to "what new app version is slowing down my phone?" That is not surprising, really, and I have a hard time blaming them for it, since at any given point they have to ask themselves "what do we let this programmer do with his or her time? backports to old versions for phones no longer being sold, or the new hot stuff?" As long as we (the customers) do not give a strong signal that we value the first, the answer is clear.

The app developers already don't have time and resources to properly test their apps on different devices, let alone maintain different versions over an extended period of time. After all, being able to push out new versions of apps after release is one of the key benefits of smartphones. Nevermind the tiny fraction of people who actually much preferred the old interface and don't feel like learning a new one.

The customers mostly have no idea why their phones are really becoming slow. And since we still have no functioning open-source, collaborative smartphone ecosystem, we're all buying the newest and greatest from the same brands as before and repeat.

"Because, you know, my phone has become so sluggish lately..."

Except your phone is doing just fine.

But hey, that's just the price we all pay for having a fast-progressing smartphone revolution: no time to properly maintain that old, feature stable version of google maps that I could actually use on my phone.

Let's just hope that SailfishOS, Ubuntu or some other new system manages to shake up the market a bit in that regard.

Also, Pegida: wenn DU Deutschland bist, will ich lieber nicht Deutschland sein.

2 min read

Sagt mal Leute, geht's noch?
Wie viele Opfer hatten wir denn in den letzten... 100 Jahren durch Islamisten in Deutschland?
Und wie viele durch Prügeln von "besorgten Bürgern", oder "Betrunkenen", natürlich "ohne erkennbaren nationalsozialistischen Hintergrund"?
Wie viele Opfer durch "übereifrige" Polizisten?
Wie viele Ausländer leben überhaupt in den Gebieten, die sich so vor der Überfremdung fürchten?
Und in denen, die es nicht tun?

Wenn das da bei den Pegida-Demos "Ängste von normalen Bürgern" sind, die man "ernstnehmen muss", dann ja wohl, weil sich über die Hälfte der Bevölkerung anscheinend vor Gespenstern fürchtet. Aber ist ja auch kein Wunder, schließlich wird uns ja auch von unserer Regierung immer wieder erzählt, wie unglaublich gefährlich das alles für uns ist mit diesen bösen Salafisten.

Schnallt euch lieber einen Fahrradhelm auf, oder fahrt überhaupt erstmal Fahrrad, damit tut ihr eurer Lebenserwartung wirklich was gutes.

Aber wenn ihr das lieber so wie die Amerikaner handhaben wollt, ohne mich. Die haben sich seit Ewigkeiten ihre eigenen Feinde geschaffen, inlands wie auslands, und ihr seid auf dem besten Weg, das gleiche zu tun.

Nichts schürt den Deutschenhass so effektiv wie wenn wir Fremdenhass schüren.

Our "Union" fails the common-sense test again.

3 min read

As I found out today (after two days of waiting for a response) my account at BNP Paribas lacks the "international option" and thus I would have to make transfers from France to Germany...

  • in person (!)
  • in my branch (not just any other one that might be closer!)
  • during their opening hours (which happen to be pretty much my working hours, too!)
  • which would cost me €3.50 for each transfer (!!!1!) compared to nothing for a domestic transfer.

And actually BNP Paribas is only allowed to charge me for an international transfer because I cannot do it online.
Because they paid someone to write code to manage who is allowed to do online international transfers. So instead of charging for the online transfer they charge me for not disabling it. Or for the "personal service" of doing it for me. My choice.

That is a classic rip-off and the reason why I sincerely hope Bitcoin or any other new currency will tear the current banking system to bits, leaving the traditional banks with nothing but the debris of what once was their profitable but perfectly unjustified business model of taking money for every and any "service" they and their banking buddies could come up with.
Except, you know, by then all the people having substantial stake in these banks will be too rich to care.

Banks will eventually have to yield to the reality that their time is over, and nobody will cry for them.
So to anyone depending on these business models and feeling offended when I say "I wish these companies, their owners and managers a quick and painful financial death" I can only say: you have been warned. Your jobs will disappear; make sure you find something decent to do before that.

A note to European politics:
An IBAN, no matter from which EU country, should have to be treated equally, without exception.
I should be able to use it for making a phone contract in France, get my salary, order something on Fnac/Amazon/Ebay. None of these should be allowed to reject a European IBAN ever.
Then I wouldn't need a French bank account in the first place. An additional bank account means additional overhead without adding any benefit, in effect costing our economy money every second I spend even thinking about it. But more importantly it costs my sympathy for the EU as an institution.
So fix that!

Weil: Terrorismus

2 min read

[English version here]

Glenn Greenwald schreibt heute wieder einmal über die PR-Taktiken von NSA und GCHQ. Dieses Mal geht es um den Angriff auf einen britischen Soldaten im Mai 2013.

Nun hat ein Ausschuss des britischen Parlaments einen Bericht dazu veröffentlicht.
Darin wird nach dem Schuldigen gesucht. Und, wer hätte das verhindern können?
Die Antwort: facebook.
Ja, richtig gelesen, facebook. Denn deren Chat hatten die Attentäter anscheinend genutzt.
Folglich hätte facebook das ja als gute, westliche Firma, bemerken und sofort an NSA oder GCHQ melden müssen.
Die hätten ja mal alle ihre abermilliarden Nachrichten (auch meine, deine, eben alle) automatisch überwachen können.
Das nicht zu machen war von facebook ja geradezu fahrlässig.
Denn wie wir alle wissen, basiert eine freiheitlich demokratische Gesellschaft ja darauf, dass man in egal welcher Situation immer davon ausgehen muss, dass einen jemand an die Stasi die Gesetzeshüter ausliefert meldet.

Die gleiche Logik kann man natürlich auch auf jede andere Kommunikationsplattform anwenden.
Zum Beispiel das kleine Forum, auf dem man die Arbeit vom Kaninchenzuchtverein organisiert. Wenn man nicht das Know-how hat, um da eine automatische Terrorerkennung zu installieren, kann man ja einfach nach der Arbeit noch mal schnell alle "privaten" Nachrichten zwischen den Nutzern dort nachlesen, nur falls einer der Kaninchenzüchter mit seiner Regierung unzufrieden ist zum Islam konvertieren will Böse Dinge™ plant. Nun gut, diese Art von Brutstätte des Terrorismus (also Kaninchenzuchtvereinsforen) ist ja zum Glück am aussterben, sodass nur noch wenige, zentrale sichere Häfen für Terroristen übrig bleiben, wie eben facebook.

Oder die Post. Denn auch die könnte ja jeden Brief einfach mal gegen das Licht halten oder einfach über Dampf öffnen. Das ist ja das Gleiche.
Genau genommen müssen wir, um uns vor den Barbaren und den Unrechtstaaten zu schützen, alle Briefe öffnen, lesen und zur Weiterverarbeitung digital archivieren. Wir haben eigentlich keine andere Wahl. Nur so können wir unsere demokratischen Werte schützen.

Weil: Terrorismus!

Because: Terrorism

2 min read

[Deutsche Version hier]

Gleen Greenwald writes about the PR tactics of NSA and GCHQ again. This time it is about an attack on a British Soldier in May 2013.

Now a committee of the Britisch Parliament published its report on the matter, asking the ever-important question: Who could have prevented this.
And the answer: facebook.
Yes, that facebook.
Because apparently the attackers used facebook chat to communicate.
So facebook, being the good western company that it is, should obviously have noticed and reported them plotting the attack.
My, they should have just monitored all their bazillions of messages (mine, yours, just all of them) and report anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities.
Not doing so was in essence the same as holding the door for those people.
Because as we all know, a free democratic society is based on the common understanding that everything you say in whichever context can and will be reported to the Stasi the proper law enforcement agencies.

Obviously, the same logic applies to any means of communication.
Like the small bulletin board on which you organize the work of your neighborhood book club.
If you don't have the know-how to install an automatic terror monitor there, just take some minutes after work every evening to scan through the "private" messages between users, just in case one of them has a grudge against his government  wants to convert to Islam is planning Bad Things™. Luckily, these breeding grounds for terrorism (i.e. neighborhood book clubs) are on the brink of extinction, leaving us with but a few centralized safe havens for terrorism like facebook.

Or the postal system. Really, those people could simply hold each letter against the light, or just steam it open. Because that's the same thing, right?
Actually, to protect ourselves from barbarians and rogue states we have to open, read and digitally archive all letters.
We have no choice.
It is the only way to protect our democratic values.

Because: Terrorism

Account from 90s social network discovered

2 min read

Heilbronn (dpo) - Apparently there were times before Xing, facebook and Pinterest: During the liquidation of an apartment in Heilbronn, historians got hold of a well-preserved account for a social network from the late 90s. Presently they are examining the profile - consisting of paper, leather and metal - in collaboration with social media experts.

"The users of the 20th century called the accounts of this portable and decentralized social network 'address book'" said Dr. Wilmeroth of Heilbronn University. "Friends, business partners and family members were added manually with a 'pen', an ink-based iPad stylus-like device.

Status update in the 90s

The contacts would usually be ordered alphabetically and could be removed at any time with an unfriend feature not unlike its modern equivalents. For this, disliked contacts would be crossed out or whole pages of contacts could be deleted by tearing them out.
The network provided chat functionality, too: unique alphanumeric codes assigned to each contact made it possible to establish a Skype-like audio chat using a separate device, or even to meet people in person.
Instead of Farmville or Sims Social primitive games like Tic Tac Toe or Battleships could be played. These required a lot of storage though since saved games could not easily be deleted from the network.
Some aspects of this network still pose challenges for the scientists though: "So far we are unable to comprehend how the provider of the network - in this case a company called Herlitz - could have managed to collect all the data entered by users, analyze it and to subsequently make billions from targeted advertising or selling it to third parties" Wilmeroth contemplated.

Original by Der Postillon (in German, licensed CC BY-NC-SA DE)
Translation licensed CC BY-NC-SA because that makes more sense :P

Photo top CC BY-SA Michail

Photo right CC BY-NC Jonathan Kim

Winning Strategy

2 min read

Last week the Washington Post published a nice summary of "How Australia just became a 'national security state'".
It features this statement by the Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin quoted by The Australian:

"It was about these violent random acts. It’s that random nature that had to prompt us to do something today. We could no longer be comfortable that we could protect the community."

This statement implies that the threat from random executions is something that the community must be protected from. Thus, the state must be equipped with any power necessary to find these terrorists. Makes sense, right?
But these terrorists would still be extremely rare among the general population and so the probability of being an IS victim would be much lower than the probability of being wrongfully targeted as a terrorist by the state. This is called the False Positive Paradox and is common when looking for rare things.
And with the new drag-net surveillance in place, anyone might in principle show up on ASIO's list of suspects since everyone is a potential suspect online.
Now go back to the Washington Post article and read what the state is newly allowed to do if they think you might be a terrorist:

  • detain you without charge
  • essentially isolate you from the outside world
  • revoke your right to silence, with prison awaiting you if you refuse to answer
  • subject you to “coercive questioning” (the definition of which is left to your imagination)
  • jail anyone (journalist or not) who tries to make this public

Now that is something to be terrified of, isn't it?

What is really interesting (to me) here is that terror is really effective if there is no winning strategy for the victims.
Avoiding airplanes, tourist attractions and public events, even if completely irrational, does not protect from a truly (or perceived) random event.
Having no feasible course of action makes even a small risk seem unbearable and even doing something that is so obviously a bad idea will seem better than accepting a new risk in one's life.

Does Anyone still belive in European Politics...?!

1 min read

Apparently, even European Politicians are suffering from a kind of voter apathy.

Regarding Tibor Navracsics, our commissioner in spe for education, culture, youth and citizenship, cites an expert for European politics on why he thinks the parliament will not veto him:

"In Brüssel wird befürchtet, dass dann ein anderer Kandidat käme, der im Zweifel noch schlimmer wäre."

(In Brussels there are fears that the next candidate might be even worse.)

Even though it is still speculation, the idea that our elected parliament might not speak up against the Commission Head when he chooses to put someone in charge of culture and citizenship who has a record of restricting press freedom is bad enough. But for the reason of "who knows who the next candidate might be"?!

Is that the standard we want to set for our politicians?

What do y'all think about a move towards the United States of Europe?

1 min read

So, Stefan Collignon argues (link in German) that the European Union is missing a central government that has actual competence and an actual, direct mandate from the voters to represent European interests. He further argues that effectively, the nation state is indeed no more than a myth in our days.
Personally, I agree with the view that European politics is too far removed from direct influence, and I agree with his argument that national govenments harm the overall European interest by fighting each other over every aspect of politics instead of working together.
But I don't claim to have solutions for the imminent problems with this kind of move.
What do you all think?

Google's values and culture are not the point

3 min read

So, Christian Kurzke argues that Germany does not need to know about Google's "secret sauce" because what makes Google so successful is not its algorithms but its values and culture. While I like his comparisons and this spirit inside Google he describes, I think he is missing the point here. 

In fact, for me, the story goes a bit like this:

Europe: "Hey Google, with your role as a gate kepper to information you have enough power to push or hinder any kind of policy in a virtually undetectable way, so we would like to know how you keep that gate in order to make sure you don't do anything... you know... stupid."

Christian: "Well you know what, Google just has an amazing culture, that's why we are so successful, so who cares about those algorithms!"

Well, it turns out, you do not drive companies, parties or civil movements out of the public's eyes and thus out of relevance by being a cool employer. You (can, theoretically) do that by subtly influencing the search results of millions of people. Sure, giving up their algorithms would likely result in Google loosing (part of) their advantages over their competitors. But that is not (for me) the point of wanting to know their secrets.

The point is that a society cannot tolerate having one entity possess the kind of power Google currently possesses except if the way in which this power is applied is transparent. An example for this kind of transparency is Google's  decision to push migration to SHA-2 or https. Reassuring, isn't it, that Google is there to save the world by influencing how a whole industry does its business. But do we really want this kind of power to go unchecked?

Personally, I would like to have some kind of confidence that someone who controls what 95% of people see does so without any hidden agenda. At the moment I do not have this confidence. Not because I suspect Google is actually secretly dissing my favourite TV show or such, but because there is simply no way of knowing if it is happening at all. Of course, more competition would be the better way to address this issue. But that would amount to taking away market share from Google, too. So it still comes down to transparency or market share loss. A real world solution would likely have a bit of both. But if the algorithms are not what makes Google so successful, then disclosing the crucial bit should not hurt too much, should it?

Moving the Piwigo installation folder

1 min read

Today I wanted to move my piwigo installation to a new folder, but was met with only a PHP include error afterwards. It complained about not finding a certain .php file in [piwigo install folder]/_data/templates_c.
This kept happening after disabling all additional themes and templates, even though in the piwigo forums it clearly says that piwigo does not care about its absolute path.
Turns out that _data/templates_c contains cached files for the smarty template engine, and after simply removing this folder, those get recreated on demand. That solved the problem, and after moving the folder again, the error did not occur again. So probably one of the themes I tried out earlier created these files...