Making an open source thesis

Front page of thesis

I’ve just — finally — submitted my politics Masters thesis to the Victoria University of Wellington library, and I thought it might be interesting to note down a few things I did along the way. I’m really interesting in open source, so I thought it would be a good idea to walk the talk and make an open source thesis.

Using open source tools

One of the most obvious ways to make an open source thesis was is to use open source tools. I used LibreOffice Writer to write all 42,000 words of it. Using LO writer was an almost entirely pain free process, except for a couple of admittedly stressful times when the xml of the file got corrupted and I had to revert to old versions to rescue my work.

I also analysed my focus group transcripts using the open source qualitative data analysis tool RQDA. It was really easy and worked really well — I would definitely recommend it.

Add a creative commons licence

I chose to license my thesis under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 Licence. The licence basically allows anyone to share or remix my work as long as they attribute me as the creator and share their subsequent creation with the same licence (or a compatible one). While I think I’m pretty realistic about the fact that pretty much noone is ever going to look at my thesis, I think it’s cool to think that someone might come along and do something interesting with my work.

The international Creative Commons organisation has been advocating for students to license their theses since at least 2009. There must be huge numbers of theses now out there available to read, remix and build on. It’s much easier to stand on the metaphorical shoulders of giants in scholarship when everything is free to read!

Making your thesis open access

The university where I studied has a good open access repository, so I’ll be putting my thesis in the open access section so anyone can view it and download it for free. I think adding your work to the open access repository is a fantastic idea — it’s the best way to make it available so people will actually read it.

How to block advertisers creepily tracking you with Firefox

Firefox is my favourite browser. (You can read more about why here.)

One of my favourite features of Firefox is that it lets you (relatively) easily block companies from tracking your every movement around the web.

Although I feel too guilty about using an ad blocker on the web, on the basis that it deprives websites of advertising revenue, I feel quite within my rights to use tracking protection. The message I’m sending to advertisers and websites is that “you can show me advertising, as long as it’s not creepy!”. Once you activate the feature it’s amazing how many ads are blocked.

I won’t get into it in this post, but there are many reasons why advertisers and others using creepy tracking technology to follow your every movement on the web is a really bad idea. If you want to know more, I suggest you have a look at Don Marti’s blog.

The feature is very much still in development, so you can’t just go into the normal “preferences” section of Firefox to enable it. Hence I thought I would write a small guide in case there were people out there who either didn’t know the feature existed, or didn’t know how to turn it on.
Continue reading “How to block advertisers creepily tracking you with Firefox”

Why the world needs Firefox more than ever

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about why the world needs Firefox, and the ways in which Firefox can be sold to normal people who don’t know what open source software is and just like something which works. The challenge for Firefox, and Mozilla, lies in turning around this worrying trend:

Usage_share_of_web_browsers_(Source_StatCounter).svg
By various Wikimedia users, CC BY 3.0

I think what’s getting in the way of Firefox growing — or even retaining its market share — is the widespread perception that Google Chrome is “just better”. Moreover, Chrome is pre-installed on Android devices and available on iOS. With Firefox, by contrast, a potential user has to go the trouble of installing Firefox on Android, and it’s not even available on iOS (although that might change). Finally, Google has a huge ad network on which they run ads prodding you to try Chrome to speed up the web, an approach which Mozilla is unable to match.

I’m going to explore why we need browser competition, the similarities between the fight Firefox is currently engaged in and the one it fought against Internet Explorer in the 2000s, as well as how Firefox might break out of the declining (or at least not growing) user-base problem it’s currently in. Continue reading “Why the world needs Firefox more than ever”

Uber and the future of work

The New York Times has an interesting piece exploring the impact of Uber’s business model on work and employment in the future:

The larger worry about on-demand jobs is not about benefits, but about a lack of agency — a future in which computers, rather than humans, determine what you do, when and for how much. The rise of Uber-like jobs is the logical culmination of an economic and tech system that holds efficiency as its paramount virtue.

“I’m glad if people like working for Uber, but those subjective feelings have got to be understood in the context of there being very few alternatives,” Dr. Reich said. “Can you imagine if this turns into a Mechanical Turk economy, where everyone is doing piecework at all odd hours, and no one knows when the next job will come, and how much it will pay? What kind of private lives can we possibly have, what kind of relationships, what kind of families?”

The on-demand economy may be better than the alternative of software automating all our work. But that isn’t necessarily much of a cause for celebration.

The on-demand economy Manjoo outlines sounds hellish.

This quote in particular resonated with me:

“After interviewing many workers in the on-demand world, Dr. Reich said he has concluded that “most would much rather have good, well-paying, regular jobs.”

Rather than allowing jobs in the twenty first century to become casualised and atomised, I think we would do well to aim for decent, well paying jobs.

One road block to this atomization of labour is labour-protection laws in the United States. The Verge is reporting that there are a couple of class-action law suits in the United States at the moment against Uber and Lyft. The class-action suits are trying to argue that the people who drive around for these companies are actually employees, which matters because employees get access to a range of benefits (such as petrol expenses) which Uber and Lyft drivers don’t currently have. It will be interesting to see what happens with these cases!

Is Android evil?

Android naughty or nice
Original robot: Impish / Google, CC-BY

Android is a hugely popular mobile operating system, accounting for about 80% of smartphones. I used to think that it was great to have a mobile OS that was also open source. But I’ve gradually come to realise that Android’s open source credentials leave a lot to be desired, and that Google is engaged in some pretty anti-competitive behaviour.

So I’ve been thinking recently whether using an android phone or tablet is consistent with a concern for privacy, a desire to avoid monopolistic products, and a sympathetic attitude towards open source software. The conclusion I’ve come to is no – Android is pretty evil. Continue reading “Is Android evil?”

Uber goes on an anti-regulation offensive in New Zealand

Uber sent me this email today (they also presumably sent it to all other people who are registered Uber users in New Zealand):

Dear Harry,

Recently, we have seen media coverage involving a police officer stopping Uber partner-drivers and removing riders, in some cases leaving them with no option but to walk home in the dark. This is unjustified and irresponsible. Uber has submitted a formal complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

These events have been based on the NZTA’s narrow interpretation of legislation created at a time when technology like Uber’s didn’t exist. Vested interests have also been spreading misinformation designed to scare riders and bully drivers to protect a small group of large and powerful taxi incumbents.

Uber partners in New Zealand are licensed, safe and provide a legal service in the best interests of riders and drivers. You can read more about the processes behind our operations here. We are proud to be creating new economic opportunities for licensed and responsible drivers, and bringing much needed competition to New Zealand.

IT’S TIME TO TELL THE GOVERNMENT WHY YOU WANT TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE HOW YOU GET AROUND YOUR CITY.

CLICK the LINKS TO TWEET @CRAIGFOSSMP AND #CHOOSEUBERNZ OR EMAIL HIM DIRECTLY

Don’t let a few loud voices in the taxi industry bully their way into preventing you from choosing Uber. Whether taxi or Uber is your preference, you have the right to choose.

Craig Foss is the Minister responsible for these outdated regulations and he needs to hear the same feedback we do everyday. Things like..

“My Uber is 40% cheaper than a taxi, and cleaner, safer and more reliable.”

“I don’t pay a credit card surcharge with Uber.”

“Ubers are more reliable and pick me up faster.”

“I can rate the driver.”

“I feel safer in an Uber.”

….What Uber experience will you share?

Thank you for your continued support. We’re working hard with our partner-drivers to ensure Uber is the safest and most reliable ride in town.

Uber on,

The team at Uber NZ

Continue reading “Uber goes on an anti-regulation offensive in New Zealand”