Older blog entries for slef (starting at number 878)

The @coopsutd Journey

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I’m on my way back from Cooperatives United. I haven’t quite posted as much as I planned (just a few microblogs/tweets) because the event was so much bigger and busier than I expected!

So I’m writing this on my (6 hour) journey home. We’ve attended Congress before and it was nothing like that. I was expecting something maybe 50% larger than last time and this seemed more like 300%. I wonder if Cooperatives UK have some numbers… Maybe it reflects the growing strength of the cooperative economy that they reported in the summer just gone.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised on the journey from Norfolk. I made a brief informal travellers’ co-op with an actor from Micawber Theatre company (tickets on sale now for shows in Ipswich and London) to overcome the challenge of East Midlands Trains. Unprompted by me, he blamed the shocking service on the big train businesses being unaccountable to passengers.

Maybe that’s it. Cooperatives are accountable and people are ready for more responsible post-capitalist businesses. That’s why coops are doing well now and Cooperatives United was such a lively event.

I’ll write more tomorrow. Now if you’ll excuse me, we’ve got to get off and change carriages because East Midlands Trains couldn’t be bothered to tell us the train divides at Nottingham until long after we boarded!

Syndicated 2012-11-04 05:44:00 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

International Credit Union Day 2012: Members Matter Most

Credit Unions are financial co-operatives where a community’s savings are used to fund other community borrowing and both savers and borrowers can become members. Thursday 18 October 2012 is International Credit Union Day, as well as being in the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives.

This year’s theme is “Members Matter Most” which was suggested from Ireland. In the UK, there will be events including one at Westminster with speeches from Damian Hind MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions and Simon Hughes MP, its Vice Chair.

I’m a member of my local credit union. I can pay in at my bank or any PayPoint and withdraw by bank transfer. If you’re fed up with the fat cat plc bankers, there’s no better time to Move Your Money in general and Find Your Credit Union (international visitors, start at WOCCU) in particular, is there?

Syndicated 2012-10-18 04:35:58 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

I’ve got anti-spam, so why am I still seeing some spam?

So you’ve got lots of shiny spam-detection software (not eyetests or similar rubbish) installed but are still getting some spam on your email and your website? Why aren’t your spam detectors and preventative measures effective at dealing with it?

Basically, the spam detectors are pretty effective, but it’s a problem of scale. The underlying problem is that there’s so much spam now – something like 73% of email is spam just now (I suspect the web is worse). I expect much of the rest is legitimate robots too, like newsletters, automated billing, or notifications about social network activity.

So, we want to trap the spam, while letting humans and good robots through. We can’t use physical ability tests because there are both human spammers who are paid to spam trickier sites manually, and people like me who fail things like Google’s “human” test because we use technology to overcome our physical limitations: there are now robots that are better than me at voice recognition or passing eyetests!

We try to design websites so that the return on investment for spammers is too low (don’t give untrusted users outgoing links automatically, basically). Even so, when we’re using some popular software like WordPress, our site settings don’t give them a return, but most stupid automatic spammers don’t bother to check and still have a go.

After that, the main things we’re trying are rules of thumb to trap spammers (which is usually enough to filter out 90% or so) and to group sites together in informal co-operative spam-fighting networks like blogspam.net, so that once a spammer is spotted, they should get blocked on lots of sites (which blocks a bit over half of the remaining 10%).

Sadly, the rest gets shown to humans for decision. Real comments are so few and far between now that we really don’t want to risk turning real people away and killing discussions.

We used to go after spammers who got shown to humans, but there are now too many spammers and too many service providers who won’t kick spammers off their services: the spammers pay them and we don’t: all we could do was waste their money in support, so they stopped offering any support to non-customers. Is that a flaw in the co-operative nature of the Internet? Can we overcome it? Wish I knew…

Syndicated 2012-10-17 04:43:48 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Elected as @theCooperative member delegate

Thank you to the co-operative group Cambridge and East Anglia area for electing me as their member delegate to the national half-yearly meeting and annual general meeting. Please tell me what you’d like me to do (such as comment here or there’s a private contact form on my website), else I’ll do what seems best at the time.

Thanks also to our co-op for allowing me the time to do this and for helping with the process. Co-ops do different. :-)

Syndicated 2012-10-06 15:51:55 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Business As Mutual conference, Anglia Ruskin Uni, 12 Sep

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Here’s a summary of what happened at this conference. Opening address. Keynote from Nick Hurd MP, @minforcivsoc. “Lot less money around.” Called canals and rivers trust the biggest social enterprise. Blames lack of large social enterprises on culture, leadership and access to capital. First Big Society Capital investments announced tomorrow. Questions (and responses) about what had changed in commissioning (determination?), something about accountability in health I think but I didn’t hear (more public scrutiny), other models besides worker-led (gov is agnostic, but that’s just the type of mutuals so far), and capital renewal (gov is challenging the banks with Big Society Bank).

This is going to get a bit long, so click through to our site to read what the other the speakers had to say and what that block of flats in the picture has to do with it…

Still here? Good! Harriet Hounsell from John Lewis Partnership was next. What’s the Right level of profit? Structure of the partnership. The registry seems like the member services function and a bit more. Partner suggestions make a real difference. Beliefs have been tested. Recession hit us.

Vivian Woodall, the co-operative phone, back to how it started. He knew people working for NGOs with high international phone bills. Bulk buy. Solid steady growth. Paid all tax. Living our cooperative values. Employee council and profit-shared. Adoption of new brand.

Questions to both on redundancies (debate openly, try to redeploy, ultimately division of responsibilities: managers manage staff levels, not members), and being rejected as too small to help other social enterprises (ask why? Try local level instead of head office?), plus praise for John Lewis.

Then there was coffee, workshops, lunch, workshops and coffee. I don’t think I should report all of that, so a quick comment on the venue at Anglia Ruskin Uni Cambridge: is the Lord Ashcroft it’s named after the same one who said it was legal to attack Iraq? Anyway… Based on the workshops, I don’t think our co-op will do SROI accounting any time soon (needs too much people time) and I’m little the wiser on leadership. Some people are intrigued by collective management and cooperative working, though.

The closing keynote was Wayne Hemingway, formerly of Red or Dead and now of Hemingway Design. He gave a quick history of himself and of those two enterprises and a bit of an entertaining ramble around. He seemed very much from the business end and how to use business to benefit society, but I’ve not really looked at his companies before. I probably should do, as they’ve a regeneration project in Lynn (pictured: before Wayne).

Then it was the closing address, the thanks (yes, thanks to the workers and sponsors) and then time to head for the exit. It’s a shame that some people who made good points during the keynotes (coop party!) left quickly instead of staying to chat.

Syndicated 2012-09-13 08:17:13 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

We have moved!

With immediate effect, our co-op is now at:

12 Canada Road, Erith DA8 2HE

Please send any official post there instead of Somerset, because the forwarding is slow and I expect it to miss a few items.

Our telephone numbers and email addresses remain the same, of course. It’s still best to use the contact form on our website.

Syndicated 2012-07-26 09:57:31 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Co-operatives Fortnight, an interview with me!

For Co-operatives Fortnight this year (finished 7 July I think), I was a guest on the CyberUnions show. It was titled “This is What Democracy Looks Like in a Workplace” and you can download it as a podcast from http://s.coop/q1af

Because it’s an interview, it’s not a comprehensive introduction to co-ops or free software businesses: more like some highlights around topics that interested the trade union activists who present the show. There’s at least two points where chunks of the call seem to have been replaced by road noise (not from my microphone!). The web page for the show does fill in the gaps, give people a chance to comment and ask more, of course.

As mentioned at the end of the show, we recorded it using jitsi, which uses XMPP (Jabber) to connect the calls. It seems OK, but I’m more familiar with the SIP-based linphone which now does conference calling. If anyone has tips on how to get better sound quality from jitsi recordings, I’m sure they’d love to know. We could only get jitsi to record mp3 files and there didn’t seem an easy way for each participant to record only their own microphone, which is better for later editing.

Take a listen and ask on the show notes if you’ve any questions, please. Also, maybe you’ll have some questions for the union activists, or would like to suggest a guest they could interview about creating radical social change?

Syndicated 2012-07-13 05:14:16 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Bibliohack London

Well this isn’t Edinburgh. This is London calling. More from kohacon later.

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Today I was at OKFN’s bibliohack . There were several interesting projects there and it was a good opportunity to get back into coding, metadata and APIs after thinking about conference practicalities for too long.

BibSoup and its biblioserver software was my chosen hack. I didn’t really make the most of it because I had to workaround broken wifi drivers that I hadn’t noticed before, and I had to fix a broken java install that I did know about. BibSoup is mostly python and I think web.py, but it uses elasticsearch which is java. Oh and it’s python 2.7 with virtualenv which is, erm, entertaining to get working on debian 6.0, as far as I can tell: I installed python2.7 from testing, backport python-virtualenv and I don’t think anything broke.

The approach to a hackfest was very different to kohacon’s. Whereas people at kohacon hackfest were gathered around tables, moving to the talks table(s) when there was a talk they wanted, bibliohack started off classroom-style and didn’t gather into workgroups until after coffee. The so-called “non-coders” were shunted off elsewhere after the welcome to do I-don’t-know-what (maybe Library Co-op will write about it) and weren’t seen again until the day’s end.

There were some nudging comments about being able to hack late into the night, which I’m not sure is healthy if you’ve done a full day. I left feeling a bit unsettled and disconnected from reality, although I got what I wanted from it – playing with some new tech that we can maybe do good things with: thanks OKFN!

Syndicated 2012-06-13 19:07:08 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

I’m going to kohacon12

Probably by the time you read this, I’ll be on the road to kohacon12. It’s been a fun week or so with the final arrangements on top of our other planned work and some unexpected work too, but I think we’ve done enough and it will all come together. (There are still a few places left if you’d like to register, but not lots.)

The most nerve-wracking bit has been the sponsorship. Kohacons are free to attend and funded entirely by sponsors, which is great in so many ways. It’s a bit scary for the host organisation(s), but I think the community has helped so much that it’ll break even. We won’t know for sure until the final reckoning in a month or so. One unneeded worry was Paypal freezing our account for a couple of weeks and sending us contradictory and absurd demands for information. Why isn’t there an easier way to get money out of the USA (and Australia and NZ, actually) that isn’t either slow (cheques) or expensive (wire)? Once again, I’m left feeling that banks are being a big problem for business.

The best bit has been the spirit of the volunteers. Our co-op couldn’t have done this without them. Some of them have gone a really long way to help – metaphorically, bailing us out while Paypal was chewing up our time, and sometimes physically, flying around the world… I’ll be raising a glass to all of them, whether they’re in Edinburgh or not.

So, next update should be from Edinburgh!

Syndicated 2012-06-04 04:59:27 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

DLT is better than CAPTCHA

Stop using CAPTCHAs. It’s time to switch to DLT: Design, Limit and Trapdoor.

“[a certain website] has the evil bad wrong Google reCaptcha on the edit page to stop disabled users, so screw it. Google’s reCaptcha seems to be spreading again, obstructing more people when accessing more websites. Is there a reason for that? The re in reCaptcha stands for replace with real anti-spam, please!

I wrote the above about two years ago and it’s not getting any better. I’ve written similar things over the last ten years, as have many others, and I’ve always sought to avoid using physical ability tests as a way to cut down spammers.

Why do people keep reaching for the reCaptcha non-captcha or things that use similar bad eyetests like Mollom? So most online messages may be spam, but those physical ability tests do nothing to test for spam. They’re trying to detect computer submissions (the TCHA in CAPTCHA is meant to be Telling Computers and Humans Apart), but that’s really bad when the computer is helping someone with a disability to access the internet.

People from the home of the CAPTCHA describe access for sight and hearing-impaired users as “an important open problem for the project” (Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum and John Langford. Telling Humans and Computers Apart Automatically. In Communications of the ACM). Until that problem is closed, CAPTCHAs should be considered defective and removed whenever possible.

What webmasters should do instead is DLT:

  1. Design it well: Set up sites so the spammers cannot get a quick win in the first place. Configure permissions and things like that so people have to do some work before they are trusted to post links. This is similar to the basic theory behind my Open Activism paper Fighting in the Shadows. This is much easier to do if the system is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), too.
  2. Limit the damage: include rate limits to stop one person causing you lots of work: even with computer-assistance, few people need to post 10 forum messages every minute. Join up in co-operative anti-spam networks like blogspam.net so if they hurt you, others can see them coming. Again, it’s easier to hook into a network if you’re using FOSS.
  3. Trapdoor: keep a way for people to contact you if they are really blocked by your design decisions and limitation and keep a way to exempt them from the limits if needed. Make it welcoming because disabled users are tired of reporting barriers to webmasters who don’t care and will never fix the web. A good multi-step eyetest-free contact form is a basic way to do this.

Have you tried this? Have your experiences been as good as our co-op’s? Are there sites you don’t think it would work for? A comments form is on the original of this article, as ever.

Syndicated 2012-04-10 05:18:52 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

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