phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

Let’s Encrypt (updated)

Update: since this was written, the letsencrypt-auto script has improved significantly. When I tried it again today (December 8, 2015), the process was basically just cloning the GitHub repo and running ./letsencrypt-auto. I’ll leave the original (outdated) information here for posterity.

As of today phiffer.org is being served using SSL encryption thanks to a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt. It’s a recently launched service, sponsored by Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (among others), intended to make HTTPS encryption ubiquitous on the web.

Hooray for [Let's Encrypt!](https://letsencrypt.org/)
Hooray for Let’s Encrypt!

Let’s Encrypt is very new, and there are still some rough edges, but overall I’m impressed by how smoothly the process went. I wanted to document my experience, in case it’s helpful to others (and future-me). This post is a bit more technical than usual and, because the service is new, much of it may not be relevant very long into the future. That said, I hope this might offer some clues for folks trying to get up and running on HTTPS.

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Facebook M is made out of contractorswww.buzzfeed.com

BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan decided to try out Facebook’s new Messenger-based digital assistant, M.

Facebook M is just a person with a phone.
Facebook M is just a person with a phone.

And what do you know, sending parrots via mobile phone is a thing that you can do in 2015.

Honan talked to a woman from the parrot-renting company, Happy Birds, about what it’s like to receive a request from M. Turns out it’s just a person with a phone.

“She said, ‘I’m doing it for someone else.’ She said ‘well, it’s for my boss’ friend.’”

There was another indicator, however, that this was a legitimate request. Just after the woman claiming to be M called Happy Birds, the company received an identical request through GigSalad — an online platform where performers and event services can connect with interested clients.

This wasn’t the only time I saw evidence of M turning to independent contractors on other platforms to execute requests. When I tried to get it to send a Minion to my colleague Katie Notopolous (she loves Minions) it helpfully offered that “I am able to set up a Tasker with Task Rabbit to go purchase a minion costume and can come interact and entertain for 20-30 min at a rate of $150 for the hour.” (I deemed this too expensive.)

In fact, much of M’s real-word efforts seem to run on contractors. Facebook confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the trainers are all independent contractors. Which to some extent answers the question of how Facebook can scale this up, before M becomes fully automated. It will take an army of humans, each doing small tasks. Simply put, before Facebook can make its robot act like lots of humans, it needs a lot of humans to act like robots.

See also: The Weird Robot Hotel

Link via Casey

Obfuscating online ad trackingwww.theguardian.com

Today I’m headed to Boston to see a talk about a guide to evading surveillance written by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum. The book is called Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest and was recently reviewed in the Guardian, where Nissenbaum is quoted:

Our effort, both with TrackMeNot and AdNauseam, has been targeted at the former. I don’t love advertising but I can tolerate it. When supporters of the current structures of behavioural advertising say this will be the end of all the innovation and free stuff on the web, our response is: no. Although this might happen if advertising itself goes away, it does not require the back-end tracking for survival.

[Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest](https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/obfuscation)
Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest

The design for the AdNauseam website is so wonderful, and was created by none other than Mushon Zer-Aviv.

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Why is software so complicated?medium.com

Aaron Boodman on the inevitability of software complexity:

So why is software so complicated? Because we want to build complicated things. Things with lots of features and options. Things that require thousands of computers spread across multiple continents. Things that can go to Mars and back. Things that drive themselves on the freeway. These things that we want to build are inherently complicated. Software is just the distillation of that complexity. Software is complexity.

See also: The Rise of “Worse is Better”

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Sovereignty, holograms, and international sports

I was reading a story today on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website and fell into an internet rabbit hole. I’ve always understood that Native Americans who live within U.S. borders enjoy a certain sovereign status similar to that of a nation state. Declaring yourself as an independent state is pretty straightforward, the more complex part is proving your legitimacy at actual border crossings.

I got curious about this seemingly basic question: who is allowed to cross U.S. borders, and how does one qualify? (more…)

Escape from Mercatormapzen.com

I’ve been working with online maps since before the first Google Maps API was released, and I haven’t seen anything quite like this before. Kudos to Mapzen and Peter Richardson.

Inception bendy map!
Inception bendy map!

Web Mercator has been the default projection for the web since Google Maps first popularized it in 2005.

Though it is ubiquitous online (and historically useful to navigators), Mercator doesn’t get much love from the modern cartographer. And in general, Mercators are unsuited for cases when you want to compare the size or shape of anything that isn’t near the equator. So while Web Mercator is useful, we’ve been using Tangram to explore other options.

Tangram draws maps in real-time in your web browser, using a hotline to your graphics card called OpenGL.

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The weird robot hotelmotherboard.vice.com

Vice’s Ben Ferguson stayed at the Henn-na hotel which is operated entirely by robots.

Video

I’m not sure I buy his conclusion, that robotic labor will lead to human workers seeking to become “more human.” A more likely outcome, as with the “uber for …” scenario, is that jobs of the future will tend to become more robot-like as more work becomes automated.

I would be curious to compare the experiences of the Henn-na cleaning staff—who I am assuming must still be human—to that of an equivalent non-robot Japanese hotel. What about the staff who monitor the surveillance cameras, and do visitors feel differently about the CCTV cameras around them knowing they might be the only “eyes on the street?”

The other thing I was thinking was: robot labor will not organize into unions. At least not until they get sophisticated enough to rise up and destroy their human masters, BSG-style. I think they’re planning to add more videos in the series, so maybe some of these things will be covered.

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The Next Epoch Seed Librarymedium.com

Ellie on why killing weeds is counterproductive:

Is it really worth raging against the geographical pedigree of a plant introduced 200 years ago if it’s functioning to stabilize soil, feed late season pollinators, generate oxygen, cool the ground, and improve human mental health? Sure, there are villainous weeds out there (think Kudzu), but it’s all context-based, and plant communities that suffer from being overrun by a weedy villain are often not in the best shape to begin with.

“Collecting seeds is such a pleasant activity—it puts the collector in touch with her/his local ecosystem, both metaphorically and physically.”
“Collecting seeds is such a pleasant activity—it puts the collector in touch with her/his local ecosystem, both metaphorically and physically.”

Make sure you scroll all the way down to see all the lovely weed portraits.

See also: Next Epoch Seed Library on Ellie’s website.

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Bushwick Galleries (October 25, 2015)

Spooky action at a distance (updated)hansonlab.tudelft.nl

Here’s a video from TU Delft explaining quantum “spooky action,” which they claim to have proven to exist in their experiments.

Video

Update: this video is, ironically, unavailable to inform us at a distance. There is a version hosted elsewhere however. Thanks, NYC Mesh!

Update 2: it seems the video is working again. Weird!

From the NY Times:

The Delft study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, lends further credence to an idea that Einstein famously rejected. He said quantum theory necessitated “spooky action at a distance,” and he refused to accept the notion that the universe could behave in such a strange and apparently random fashion.

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Dark neutralmedium.com

I am 100% in favor of “flesh tones” reflecting a broader range than the usual “pasty white.”

On August 25th, Slack unveiled a new way for developers to connect to Slack, the “Add to Slack” button. It was the culmination of a great deal of work from many Slack employees, and just the beginning of what we have in store for Slack in the near future. Today, though, I want to talk about a seemingly small detail that has been more important to me than I would have expected: the skin color of the hand in the launch graphics.

[Just Press ‘Add to Slack’](http://slackhq.com/post/127498327415/addtoslack)
“Just Press ‘Add to Slack’”

I’m also 100% in favor of writing up the thinking behind these kinds of choices.

Diógenes, Brown Person: This hand should totally be brown. I’m brown.
Diogenes, Person: I’m trying to get good design work done and get this project out, not become an activist and start a movement or something.
Diógenes, Brown Person: It’s not a big deal, you’re the designer, you get to make it brown.
Diogenes, Person: Yea but, I’m going to ask Matt to do it, that’s like, making a thing of it.

More of us should make a thing of it. Especially us pasty folk.

Link via Belong.io

Radical / Networkslivestream.com

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Radical / Networks conference (which continues today!). There’s a bit near the beginning where my audio cuts out, but you can fill in the gaps by pressing ‘p’ (for presenter mode) on my slide deck.

I mention two books at the end that you can find here:

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The Trouble with the “uber for…” Economymedium.com

Zeynep Tufekci on the broader little-u “uber for ____” economy.

What if the reason Uber raises so much ire and anxiety is not about whether Uber, the company, fails its drivers better or worse than medallion owners fail their own drivers, but because the “uber for …” economy is threatening to make the lousy conditions for taxi drivers, once seen as a temporary job for first generation immigrants, into the jobs of the future?

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