What I’ve Read This Week (July 5 2021 to July 11 2021)

D Vance Smith writes a essay debunking European ideas of African illiteracy.

But Libyco-Berber also reveals a more insidious kind of destruction, an epistemological violence inflicted by even the best-intentioned Europeans. There are numerous stories of badly educated, arrogant Europeans insisting that Africans not only never did, but never could, write books. Even as sensitive a philosopher as the French sociologist and theorist Pierre Bourdieu, who had deep personal ties to Algeria, and who supported the Berber/Amazigh cultural movement, could essentially make the same assumption. He insisted that the Kabyle people, whom he lived among and studied for years, were pre-literate, although they used (and still do) the characters of Libyco-Berber. Bourdieu’s is a cautionary tale for intellectuals who are committed to social activism. The passion – the need – to do what’s right is all too often steered by the conviction that, precisely because we’re intellectuals, we know what’s right. For Bourdieu, for example, the very ability to think, to reflect about what’s right, is tied to literacy.

But Bourdieu’s observational mistake – the idea that the Kabyle weren’t literate – is actually not his most consequential misapprehension. That would be the idea that literacy is a supreme cognitive and cultural achievement. It’s one of the means by which universities shore up the value of their intellectual work – they police grammar, philology, literacy – in short, they define and champion rigour and ‘standards’. For those of us brought up within that system – even brought up, as I was, in a former colony (Kenya) – those standards might appear to be value-neutral. But they’re value-neutral only because they annihilate even the possibility of other values, of other modes of thinking or being. When Bourdieu went from the elite École Normale Supérieure to a Kabyle settlement, he saw, ultimately, the absence of what made the university, and his own mind, what it was. That supposed absence is the product of intellectual arrogance, yes, but it’s also part of a European cultural heritage.

Susan Landau writes about the dangers of using computer software to provide evidence for legal cases. I am not a lawyer but as a person who interacts with computer software all day, the fact that a computer can make a mistake due to a bug or other issue is not something only recently being taken seriously in the world of law is a bit scary.

Given the high rate of bugs in complex software systems, my colleagues and I concluded that when computer programs produce the evidence, courts cannot assume that the evidentiary software is reliable. Instead the prosecution must make the code available for an “adversarial audit” by the defendant’s experts. And to avoid problems in which the government doesn’t have the code, government procurement contracts must include delivery of source code—code that is more-or-less readable by people—for every version of the code or device.

Bradley M. Kuhn writes a essay about the importance of ownership of copylefted copyrights.

Almost no contributors to larger FOSS projects hold their own copyrights. If they have not gone through a process to assign them to a charity, the most likely scenario is that their employers own those copyrights. My colleagues at Conservancy have been working on the Contract Patch project — which seeks to educate FOSS contributors about their inherent right to employment agreement negotiation, and seek more favorable terms in those employment contracts. However, over the years of our Contract Patch work, we still find that only dozens (among the thousands of FOSS contributors) have insisted that their company allow them to keep their own copyrights. If you work for a company, check your employment agreement. I’ll bet that your employer owns your copyrights for everything you do at work — including your contributions to FOSS — unless there’s a separate agreement that gives those copyrights to a charity like Conservancy or FSF.

John Voorhees writes his first impressions of macOS Monterey. I like most of what I see with the big exception of Safari. Nope, still don’t like it. Thankfully, macOS is still a platform where I can and do use a different web browser than the one that ships with the operating system.

One thing’s for certain, though: the sometimes awkward evolution of macOS over these past few years and the adjustments required to move the Mac and iPad into closer alignment are bearing fruit. For the first time in memory, Apple is releasing features across all of its platforms at once. The days of waiting for features that start on one platform to make their way to others seem to be coming to an end. That’s terrific news for users who will be able to move more freely between platforms without a steep learning curve, eliminating a lot of the frustration of the past.

Austin Carr writes a story of a very modern heist. Yeah, obviously Bitcoin is involved with this one.

Then Kvashuk found a bug that would change his life, a flaw so stupidly obvious that he couldn’t bring himself to report it to his managers. He noticed that whenever he tested purchases of gift cards, the Microsoft Store dispensed real 5×5 codes. It dawned on him: He could generate virtually unlimited codes, all for free. A former senior engineer on Kvashuk’s team—who, like other sources in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being publicly associated with the wrongdoing that followed—says this was the Halo-age equivalent of a frontier bank leaving its vault unlocked.

Lars Wikman writes about the loss of trust in computer software.

Windows is an amazing platform in many ways. It is commerically successful and viable. It doesn’t operate under Microsoft’s thumb in the way the Apple ecosystem does which there is currently war about. Windows could be the most reasonable operating system. They could just stop all the bullshit. They absolutely don’t need it. Telemetry, maybe they need some of that. But ads? Nah. Upsell? Nah. They could just choose to be better.

That is all from me this week. See y’all next week!