Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

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Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

Famous public figure in tech suffers the consequences for asshole-ish behavior

September 29, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

This last month, a very famous computer guy who regularly appears in public and has amassed a cultish-like following has been forced to step down due to pressure from journalists.

Let's make a list of all the unacceptable behaviours of Computer Guy:

Living in his office and disgusting smell

He is not really homeless, but Computer Guy used to sleep in his office.

Coworkers and friends reported that he reeked and would avoid contact with him.

Sexually harassing employees

It has been reported, even in video, that Computer Guy made inappropriate sexual utterances to their colleagues.

Of course, Computer Guy denied it.

Drug intake

Computer Guy is a known hippie, I mean, just look at his appearance.

He is not ashamed to admit that he has taken illegal drugs and that they are an important part of his life.

Psychological abuse to women

Not many people know this, but Computer Guy has a daughter which he denied for a long time.

Computer Guy basically abandoned his former partner who was pregnant with their daughter, denied her alimony, and even abused the child psychologically when she was 9.

Keeping payments from group projects for himself

In one of his projects, Computer Guy profited more that he had earned by lying to colleagues. Instead of fairly distributing the money from a project, he decided to take most of it for himself.

In a similar case, he denied fair compensation to an old friend of his.

Bad temper

All these examples can be summarized as: Computer Guy is an asshole who must be taken down.

Even though Computer Guy did nothing technically illegal, being such a big asshole must not be acceptable in our society and the right thing to do is to pressure him to resign from his public positions.

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Since mobs don't read the news, only the headlines, and I don't want any association with any of the parties in this drama, I think I must write the non-snarky interpretation of the events.

Of course, the headlines above are about Steve Jobs, not Richard Stallman.

I only had one goal with this piece: to reflect on the double standards in society.

Being an asshole is acceptable if you are a respected powerful businessman. You are portrayed as a quirky millionaire. However, it is not acceptable if you're a contrarian weird hippie. You are portrayed as a disgusting creep.

I obviously have no interest or authority to defend or justify their actions. They're adults and their behavior is their own. Screw their asshole-ism. They should have been better people. Stallman is a stubborn asshole, Jobs was an even bigger stubborn asshole.

The truth is, there is a strong correlation between being a powerful public figure and being a stubborn asshole. This is because after some point, non-assholes quit the race because they are not willing to pay the toll it takes to be at the top. That is unfortunate, and we should definitely push for respecful leaders.

Why did two independent journalists take Stallman down, and not Jobs, or any of the other assholes in the world?

Probably, because they could.

It's their right to free speech, and ultimately it was a consequence of Stallman's actions. And I can't reflect on whether it's fair or good that Stallman is forced to step down, because I'm not smart enough to foresee the positive or negative consequences. So maybe after a few months we all realize it was the right thing to do, and end this discussion once and for all.

However, one thing is still true, again, the only point that should be taken from this article: to hell with double standards when representing public figures.

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Not that it matters for this article, and it's outside the scope of my point, but I want to share my personal vision on Stallman and Jobs. The thing is, this was a difficult article to write. They are both people who I strongly admire and have had a great influence in my life.

Reading Stallman's essays are what got me into Free Software. I have attended his conferences twice and his brave stance on freedom and privacy is flawless and admirable. I have a small laptop that Stallman signed and many of his books. He has constantly fought for the rights of the people against corporations. I hope he keeps doing it.

The world is a better place thanks to Stallman.

Jobs was an inspiration. I own most books about him, an Apple "Think Different" poster is hanging at my office, and I treasure the issue Time released after his death. He was a genius, a visionary, he basically invented consumer computers and smartphones. I do not doubt that the contributions of Woz and other people at Apple were instrumental, but he was the mastermind behind the strategy. What Jobs achieved with his work is beyond belief and 100% worth of praise.

The world is a better place thanks to Jobs.

If you want more context about the actual facts, I wrote about the news a week ago.

Tags: news

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Three take aways to understand Cloudflare's apocalyptic-proportions mess

February 24, 2017 — Carlos Fenollosa

It turns out that Cloudflare's proxies have been dumping uninitialized memory that contains plain HTTPS content for an indeterminate amount of time. If you're not familiar with the topic, let me summarize it: this is the worst crypto news in the last 10 years.

As usual, I suggest you read the HN comments to understand the scandalous magnitude of the bug.

If you don't see this as a news-opening piece on TV it only confirms that journalists know nothing about tech.

How bad is it, really? Let's see

I'm finding private messages from major dating sites, full messages from a well-known chat service, online password manager data, frames from adult video sites, hotel bookings. We're talking full HTTPS requests, client IP addresses, full responses, cookies, passwords, keys, data, everything

If the bad guys didn't find the bug before Tavis, you may be on the clear. However, as usual in crypto, you must assume that any data you submitted through a Cloudflare HTTPS proxy has been compromised.

Three take aways

A first take away, crypto may be mathematically perfect but humans err and the implementations are not. Just because something is using strong crypto doesn't mean it's immune to bugs.

A second take away, MITMing the entire Internet doesn't sound so compelling when you put it that way. Sorry to be that guy, but this only confirms that the centralization of the Internet by big companies is a bad idea.

A third take away, change all your passwords. Yep. It's really that bad. Your passwords and private requests may be stored somewhere, on a proxy or on a malicious actor's servers.

Well, at least change your banking ones, important services like email, and master passwords on password managers -- you're using one, right? RIGHT?

You can't get back any personal info that got leaked but at least you can try to minimize the aftershock.

Update: here is a provisional list of affected services. Download the full list, export your password manager data into a csv file, and compare both files by using grep -f sorted_unique_cf.txt your_passwords.csv.

Afterwards, check the list of potentially affected iOS apps

Let me conclude by saying that unless you were the victim of a targeted attack it's improbable that this bug is going to affect you at all. However, that small probability is still there. Your private information may be cached somewhere or stored on a hacker's server, waiting to be organized and leaked with a flashy slogan.

I'm really sorry about the overly dramatic post, but this time it's for real.

Tags: security, internet, news

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Spanish media just shot themselves in the foot -- or maybe in the head

July 24, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

In Spain we have an old proverb, La avaricia rompe el saco. Literally "greed bursts the sack"; it means that if you fill a purse with too many coins it will break and you will end up with none.

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This week, the Spanish Congress passed a law with two main goals:

  • Ban torrenting sites, i.e. that is link-only sites (not content hosts), which is a totally different topic.
  • Make social aggregators pay media publishers for the use of news excerpts.

More details can be found on this Gizmodo article

If this weren't so serious I'd say that news lobbies pressing against the right to quote, you know, the one their business is based on, is ironic.

But this is so outrageously hypocritical that it's not ironic, it's immoral and vomitive. Disgusting. Greedy to the extreme. This is a capital crime against ethics.

So why did they just do that?

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Last year, Google was forced to pay French publishers for use of their content. Spanish publisher lobby AEDE (lack of link intended) saw here a huge opportunity: let's do the same and get free money from Google.

Google is so big that's it's an easy target. Demagogy is so simple; Google is a tech giant that does fiscal engineering to avoid paying taxes and profits from our content. Yes, that's true. But Google does exactly what these publishers do: curate what others say and provide citations to strengthen and validate their job.

But then, Google's natural reaction would have been, "You don't want my traffic? Wish granted! Next time, be careful what you wish". However, AEDE had anticipated this, so with the new law content providers can't opt out by not linking to AEDE's affiliated media. F*ck off genie, we wished for infinite wishes!

It's so effortless to lobby in a corrupt and manipulated environment where politicians don't even know what a link is.

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But wait, there's more.

Once you start considering the implications of having to pay to hyperlink, things get worse. A study conducted by Coalición Prointernet, a lobby against this law, states the obvious:

  • It has not been proven that content aggregation limits the editor's earnings. Of course; it's the opposite, it actually drives them more traffic—300M yearly visits, according to an admin of one of those sites.
  • There is no basis to establish an inalienable compensation towards media editors and, if it were any, this new legislation is not the best way to go.
  • The new law reduces legal security for Spanish internet companies.
  • Media aggregation is necessary and positive from a "freedom of speech" standpoint. Unavailability of aggregators can drive small publishers to extinction and leave users without an important tool to diversify their media consumption.

Please read and think about the last point again, because it is very, very important.

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Let's summarize what is happening here:

Big media editors AEDE, most of which pro-government, in collusion with the corrupt Spanish politicians have managed a masterstroke which they think will:

  1. Get them free money
  2. Destroy the discoverability of smaller media competitors, usually critical with the government
  3. Hinder the future of Spanish internet tech business, their main competitor
  4. Get more exposure, since readers won't have access to media agreggation and will resort to reading just one or two outlets

In reality, what is likely to happen is:

  1. Google will close Google News Spain, no big problem
  2. Spanish media aggregators will move their business abroad and won't contribute taxes to the country
  3. Tech entrepreneurs will realize that Spain is a shitty country to invest money on
  4. Without Google, the aggregators, and thanks to the increasing user boycott to AEDE media, those editors will lose traffic and money.
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This is so, so sad.

It is clear that traditional media companies are suffering because of the internet revolution and need to fight in some way. However, they are cutting their own nose to spite the face. And, in the way, they are denying others a right, not a banal one, but the right to quote, which news business is built on.

I honestly think that traditional media is absolutely necessary even today. They are the ones who report, research, discover, analyze and interpret what's happening in the world. Specially in Spain, where we don't have these modern US internet-only media companies which don't just feast on press releases but do real journalism.

This is not a cry against traditional media. People, most of all, need them. But people also need aggregators to contrast different views on news. Aggregators need media because it's impossible to talk about news without a headline and an excerpt to reveal what's going on. And media, most of all, needs aggregators and people to survive in today's world.

Now the law has been passed. Though it needs to be ratified in the Senate, it is a pantomime because the majorities are the same as in Congress and also Congress has the last word even if the Senate votes against it (take that, Montesquieu!). What will media editors do when they start losing money and realize the harm they have done to themselves, the Government, Spanish media consumers and the Spanish tech industry?

Next time you think somebody is stupid, remember that the Spanish press just got in a war with Google, Facebook and Twitter because they want them to stop linking to their content.

Crazy world we live in, huh?

Tags: law, internet, news

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What's so great about Whatsapp?

February 20, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Facebook bought Whatsapp for $19B. There has been a lot of discussion on the net since the numbers are crazy. Even for today's standards, where startups are measured in Instagrams or Yahoo!s much like length is measured in football courts, that is a large sum.

To summarize my thoughts on the money; maybe we should start thinking about a new Web 2.0 bubble? Whether $12B in Facebook shares is actually twelve billion dollars cash is left as an exercise for the reader. Smarter people than me defend the acquisition, and I will definitely not argue against that.

So why did Facebook buy Whatsapp? TL;DR: because of what people use it for.

Notwithstanding Line's 350M users, or the hype with Telegram, Facebook went for Whatsapp for a reason, and that is because they are huge outside the US.

I don't think this is an acqui-hire as Whatsapp needs every employee and it wouldn't be a smart move to shut it down while it's #1 with this huge competition. However, Facebook can probably learn a lot from Whatsapp's engineers. Their amazing staff can scale at a ratio of 450M users per 32 engineers. That's 14M users per engineer. But again, this isn't about the people, the risk of Whatsapp being bought by Google, or just their user base.

It is most likely the fact that Whatsapp has more than 300M daily active users, and Facebook could greatly benefit from having all these people's data. Remember what Facebook, and all the other big companies on the net, are. They are advertisers. And all these people using Whatsapp is communicating outside Facebook's network.

Google wants to collect all the world's data, but Facebook wants to know everything about people. Now it will reach an additional 450M that they weren't previously controlling.

What's so special about Whatsapp users? From my experience, Whatsapp is a great mix of Instagram, Twitter, chat and Facebook. It is totally spontaneous, friendly, private, and chaotic. Non-geeks love the ability to send pics, text and audio and let messages scroll to the top. It is so comfortable to use.

But what's more interesting, users communicate intentions, meetings, events. Outside the US, nobody creates Facebook events any more; we create Whatsapp groups. Groups for parties, dinner, quick stuff that's happening and needs immediate action. We use Facebook to discuss what happened —maybe with a cool beach pic— but Whatsapp is all about the immediate future. Plans are made on Whatsapp.

And here goes my conclusion. What could be sweeter for Facebook's advertisers than knowing in advance what people are up to? It's the perfect user data. Remember, next time you create a Whatsapp group for that birthday party, restaurant ads will pop in your Facebook. And I'm not saying that it's a bad thing necessarily.

Tags: news

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