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Obama’s Immigration Plan: Hollow Words

Immigration. The ugly political topic that quickly ignites guttural feelings from across the political spectrum, allowing fundamentalists to gain ground whilst those seeking compromise rush to take shelter from the crossfire.

Whilst we in the UK have questions about freedom of movement within the EU to deal with, the situation in America is decidedly different. With far poorer neighbours just across a land border to the south, a history of ignorance, and marriage regulations that vary from state to state, it is a complex issue.

As part of his Presidential election campaign in 2008, Obama promised to be the one to bring much needed reform to the immigration policies of the US. His voting record at the time (#) appeared to back up his stance on a more liberal approach – such as giving permanent residence to particular categories of workers who are without a legal right to remain in the country.

In amongst a litany of other broken political promises (Guantanamo Bay, anyone?), there was the specific guarantee to deliver an immigration bill within his first year of office – something that has drawn substantial criticism.

‘I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.’ (#)

Finally, it was announced a couple of days ago that Obama plans to take executive action to make changes in the way that immigration is handled.

This is to concentrate on three main areas:

  1. Providing more resources to ‘stem the flow of illegal crossings’ at the border.
  2. Making it easier for ‘high-skilled immigrants’ to stay and work in the US.
  3. Moving to ‘deal responsibly’ with those immigrants who already live in the US illegally.

The first two issues are almost a necessity to be mentioned in any proposed change to immigration rules, in order to appease those who will (and have) inevitably been outraged by the prospect of any sort of move that isn’t seen to be ‘cracking down’ on the problem. (#) There’s always a feeling in immigration discussions that political parties are simply moving chairs around on the deck of the Titantic; a lot of what’s being proposed (such as ‘Visa Modernization’) sounds fine and well, but isn’t really anything different to what we’ve been told by any other government before. (More detail #)

The third  issue however, made for some interesting reading, and it’s what Obama spent most of his time explaining in his speech. Obama-Immigration-Transcript.

The gist of it is as follows:

  • There are millions of undocumented immigrants living in America, who contribute to the society. (That’s putting it lightly. Arguably, the whole American economy relies on the exploitation of those living there illegally).
  • It is impractical to track down and deport all of those people.
  • Giving an unconditional amnesty would be unfair to those who had followed the rules to migrate legally.
  • If people (who have been in the US for a certain amount of time, as well as other conditions) are willing to pay taxes, they can register to ‘come out of the shadows and get right with the law’.

Unsurprisingly, this was a clever speech, designed to appeal to all parts of society… Biblical references and all.

‘Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.’

It is clear that this was as much about a President in his final term forcing the hand of Congress to act, after the Democrats recently suffering a heavy defeat in the midterm elections. This was about throwing a political stake in the sand to try and force change.

‘And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.’

It is symbolic, and an admirable aim. However, it appears that this might be all it is.

Obama’s speech was heavy on rhetoric, and almost non-existent on actual content. Looking closer, it is unclear what it actually means to ‘come out of the shadows and get right with the law’. He explicitly stated that this would not grant a permanent right of residence, or any other rights of citizenship.

‘It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive’

It isn’t obvious then, why exactly anybody who is currently living in America illegally (and who meets the criteria) would come forward. All this does is give a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation, which as the President admitted himself, is a threat that would never realistically come to fruition for many people. Wo why take the risk of stepping out of the shadows in the first place? I wouldn’t.

Whilst a highly symbolic, and sophisticated political move, this doesn’t actually confer any real benefit on those who Obama spoke passionately about in his speech: those who ‘work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs’, who go to the same churches and schools as everyone else, who support families, whose ‘hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours’.

The end game of this move way well be to try and push Congress to make positive changes, but that isn’t the way Obama dressed it up. Instead, he painted a red white and blue striped picture of a glorious America that was embracing brothers and sisters with open arms; as if these changes would give people fundamental and significant protections that they currently don’t have.

They don’t.

It’s infuriating enough on its own to listen to yet more politicking on immigration, but especially so given the false hope that Obama has given to those people that he praised as part of American life.

‘That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.’

These are powerful words, but words which ring hollow in the face of scrutiny.

Sadly people seem more interested in whether this is ‘smart politics’ or legal than about the people the proposed changes are meant to help.

And that’s the problem.

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Open Sourcing Our DMCA Process

Clicky Steve:

Glad to see this come to fruition. The Terms of Service team at WordPress.com have made our DMCA process public, to help others struggling with how to deal with the ubiquitous copyright law takedown process.

Originally posted on Transparency Report:

At Automattic, we are firm believers in the power of open source: the release of code (or other works) into the public domain to be used, modified, and shared freely.

One of the challenges faced by online service providers is how to implement an effective policy for dealing with the DMCA takedown process – especially in cases where the system is being abused. We strive to protect users’ freedom of speech, and would love to see others do the same. However, the possible scenarios and requirements can be confusing; the language intimidating… especially for websites run by individuals or small organisations.

As a result, we are pleased to announce that today we are open sourcing our DMCA process docs on GitHub – under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Included in the release is our already publicly available pages for details on how to submit a DMCA takedown and counter notice:

View original 133 more words

Trouble in Athens

Yesterday was pretty crazy in Athens. Protestors demonstrated in the face of a huge and intimidating police presence, to mark the 1973 student uprisings that led to the fall of the military dictatorship of the time. 

I’ve posted a pile of pictures over on my blog allmyfriendsarejpegs.

Travel Problems: Tesco Bank are Useless.

Having the freedom to travel a lot because of your job is a great thing. It means you can disappear off to a different country for a few months to visit friends or family, or just see the world.

The problem is that often the utilities we make use of at our home bases aren’t really set up to deal with people that are out of the country regularly, or for longer than a couple of weeks. Sometimes, they can’t even cope with any length of absence due to badly thoughts out and implemented processes.

I’ve run into a pile of these issues, such as my mobile phone operator (T-Mobile) acting like complete idiots and refusing to allow international roaming, or how to submit electricity meter readings when you can’t physically get to the meter.

Today though, Tesco managed to knock it out the park, delivering a perfect example of how things are made difficult for those who wander.

I logged on to my Tesco banking account to make a credit card payment, and was confronted with the news that they had recently made changes to their security checks. As a result, if you were logging in from a computer that they didn’t ‘recognise’, then a security code would be sent to the mobile number registered on your account.

Oh, great.

This wouldn’t be a huge deal if we were away for a week or so, but given that we’ve been gone for a few months, this isn’t good. It means that I won’t be able to make any payment to my account, and so miss the minimum required to avoid charges.

The process to get the mobile number changed is a pain in the ass, and I’m not entirely sure what I’m meant to do. The Tesco Website seems to suggest that the only alternative is to have a one-time access code sent to your home address by post.

A One Time Access Code is a code we use as a security measure to confirm your identity when you forget your login details or use a browser, computer or mobile device that we don’t recognise.

Check that your mobile number is up to date and select Send. We’ll send the One Time Access Code by text message.

If you don’t have a mobile phone number, you’ll need to call us on 0845 300 3511 to get a Temporary Security Number by post.

This is DUMB.

Given the inconsistency in the way these places implement their checks, I downloaded the Tesco Banking app to take a look and see if I could bypass the mobile number validation. Unlikely, but worth a shot.

What really stung though, was this message:

TescoBankFail

That’s right. If the mobile number you need to login to the online banking account isn’t correct, you need to log in to the online banking account to change it.

Well done Tesco. Well done.

What really annoys me is that this is completely un-necessary, for various reasons.

* Recognising computers or devices via cookies is a pretty crappy approach, penalising those who regularly clear out their caches. There are far better ways to deal with this (such as registering MAC addresses) that don’t rely on the browser config staying the same.
* Having a two factor method of authentication is important, particularly for financial related accounts. However, to tie that into SMS text messages is pish. Mobile coverage and carriers are far too unreliable to be used as the sole source for 2fa. There are plenty of alternatives available to generate tokens – independent of something as variable as a mobile number.
* There should always be an alternative to access the account where you can’t use your device. It’s why Google, LastPass, WordPress, and countless others all provide back-up, one-time access codes that you are meant to store in a safe place to use in the event that you can’t receive a text message, or a code to your smartphone.

So there we have it. Tesco has failed to implement a sensible account verification process, despite standards and templates already available widely online. Useless.

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Groupon: Trademark Bullies

Groupon: The wealthy business empire that has made its fortune from selling weekend trips and products like the ‘Purple Tickler Dildo’ directly to your e-mail inbox.

They’ve had their troubles in the past, with people apparently no longer feeling the magic of the often bizarre choices made by the virtual coupon giant.

groupon dildo
One of the fine products on offer through Groupon

 

However, today saw them coming under fire again. This time for not playing nicely with trademarks.

In a posting on their website, the open source software Foundation GNOME has issued a cry for financial help to oppose a list of trademark registrations that Groupon have filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which conflict with those that the Foundation have held since 2006.

It appears that Groupon wish to use these trademarks for the name of a new product that will be used as part of an electronic point of sale application. The scope of the usage described is pretty wide:

Providing use of cloud-based non-downloadable software for processing point of sale transactions, payment transactions, voucher redemption, appointment scheduling, customer relationship management, customer location detection and awareness, inventory management, analyzing merchant transactions, and for evaluating and managing information on business performance and customers; providing temporary use of non-downloadable software that enables users to send and receive pricing, financial transaction, customer information, and payment processing information directly to and from a mobile device and a cloud-based server; software as a service (SAAS) services featuring software that enables users to send and receive pricing, financial transaction, customer information, and payment processing information directly to and from a mobile device and a cloud-based server; providing use of cloud-based non-downloadable software for payment services, merchant analytics, and for evaluating and managing information on business performance and customers; technical support services, namely, troubleshooting in the nature of diagnosing computer hardware problems and troubleshooting of computer software problems; installation and maintenance services for computer software for processing point of sale transactions, payment transactions, voucher redemption, appointment scheduling, customer relationship management, customer location detection and awareness, inventory management, analyzing merchant transactions, and for evaluating and managing information on business performance and customers

(source)

As you can see, that’s pretty similar to the description of activities covered in the trademark held by the Foundation:

Downloadable computer software tools and libraries used for the development of other software applications; downloadable computer software development tools; downloadable computer software for creating and managing a computer desktop; downloadable computer software for use as a graphical user interface; downloadable computer software for word processing, database management, and use as a spreadsheet

The Internet were none too pleased about this, especially as Groupon has waxed lyrical about their admiration of open source software in the past. In an attempt to calm the waters, they gave the following statement:

Groupon is a strong and consistent supporter of the open source community, and our developers are active contributors to a number of open source projects. We’ve been communicating with the Foundation for months to try to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution, including alternative branding options, and we’re happy to continue those conversations. Our relationship with the open source community is more important to us than a product name. And if we can’t come up with a mutually acceptable solution, we’ll be glad to look for another name.

(source)
(second source with slightly different wording on Groupon’s Engineering blog)

On the face of it, this largely looks like it might have had the desired effect, with people considering the matter to be closed. However, it seems like nothing better than PR spin. Here’s why:

  • It is inconceivable that Groupon would not know about the prior existence of the GNOME Foundation’s trademark. If they didn’t, it should have come up in the course of proper due diligence.
  • Applying for identical trademark registrations in such a similar area is an aggressive move
  • If Groupon really was in talks with the Foundation, why did they go ahead and submit trademark applications anyway?
  • If the recent statement from Groupon really was serious, they should have announced an intention to retract the pending applications

Open source communities do not have the same resources to defend their intellectual property as large businesses do, which can make them seem like an easy target for organisations who wish to trade off of their established goodwill. Any defensive legal action would be hugely costly to pursue, and if the GNOME Foundation are forced to go down that route it will be a loss to the open source community as a whole. Thousands of Dollars that could be spent on further development and innovation will be used up fighting a needless battle with a company that can afford it.

Groupon should stand by its words, respect the GNOME Foundation’s intellectual property rights, and withdraw their outstanding applications. Otherwise they will be confirmed as nothing more than trademark bullies.

Update: Groupon have just posted the following statement:

UPDATE: After additional conversations with the open source community and the Gnome Foundation, we have decided to abandon our pending trademark applications for “Gnome.” We will choose a new name for our product going forward.

Those were some pretty quick ‘additional conversations’.

 

regezr

Regex E-Mail String Matching

Recently, I was playing about with Keyboard Maestro – a powerful (Mac) tool to automate tasks that you have to do on a regular basis. It seems daunting at first, but has proved to be pretty useful.

One of the the things I wanted to achieve was to be able to strip out a whole pile of data to return just the e-mail addresses, rather than have to go through them manually.

In order to do that, I needed a Regex (regular expression) pattern that would match e-mail addresses, with all of the weird formats they take: multiple TLDs, periods and dashes in the alias… and not to forget the plus sign that lets you create additional handles in GMail.

I looked around the web but didn’t find any patterns that did what I wanted. There were a few, but most seemed based on e-mail validation rather than filtering the address out of a bigger data set. So, I created my own:

\b([A-Za-z0-9%+._-])+[@]+([%+a-z0-9A-Z.-]*)\b

I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and haven’t come across any addresses that it hasn’t picked up correctly yet. If you spot any, give me a shout in the comments below.

You can test out the expression for yourself over on the incredibly useful site regexr.com.

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Why I’ve Switched to WordPress.com

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that not only have I switched the blog’s theme in the past few days, but I’ve also shifted the hosting completely over from a self-hosted WordPress.org instance, to one on the servers of WordPress.com. (Confused? This article will explain the difference.)

For years I’ve always run sites using WordPress software that I’ve configured myself, rather than those on WordPress.com, based on the following reasons:

  • Hacker Mentality – Not wanting to let go of complete control of my site, and the ability to do with it what I please (like hosting weird web apps and playing about with plugins)
  • Cost – I was always under the impression it would be relatively expensive to keep all of my stuff on WordPress.com’s servers, as generous pals have hosted my sites previously
  • Transition Pain – Moving from an already established and customised site to a different platform seemed like a faff, with inevitable SEO problems/broken links
  • Features and Customisation – Not believing that I’d be able to get my blog to look/feel the way I wanted it to within the WordPress.com boundaries, and that I would miss features (like permalink restructuring)

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I didn’t actually need to run a self-hosted site for http://iamsteve.in. The design of the site was pretty straightforward, there was no real complicated customisations involved, and the cost of shifting to WordPress.com wasn’t what I thought it might work out at; definitely not for a site that isn’t hosting large numbers of images anyway.

In fact, the benefits of being hosted on WordPress.com seemed more and more appealing:

  • A dedicated, and passionate support team that are on hand to help out with any issues (Working alongside them, this was an even bigger boon for me personally)
  • A streamlined interface that I use everyday (for both work and pleasure)
  • No more having to login to separate admin panels all the time
  • A site that is integrated into the highly active WordPress.com community – and so more engagement with other users on the posts
  • No more worrying about rogue plugins crashing or needing to be re-configured after an update breaks something
  • The ability to take massive spikes of bandwidth, as I’m hosted on WordPress.com’s massive network

and one of the most important things of all:

  • The knowledge that my host won’t be intimidated by any legal pressures that come from any of the critical posts I write. (See here for more)

I’m incredibly proud to be part of a team that fights back against those who attempt to censor bits of the Internet that they don’t like on a daily basis, and it makes sense to bring my own writing into that fold. I know I have good people on my side should anything hairy come up.

Really the only thing that I was left swithering over was the pain of moving across. I thought I would give it a bash, and two hours later, the entire site is completely migrated over (multiple domain names and all). The difficulties I thought I’d run into didn’t even crop up as issues at all. All of my custom permalinks are smartly resolved by the WordPress software to their new locations (which I am both almost in disbelief and awe at).

I’m pleased. Not a bad experiment after all.