Tag Archives: data

Start an 8-day data detox

20 Dec

Recommended to me by Mozilla, I started a Creative Commons-licensed “Data Detox” that was produced for the Glass Room London in 2017, and is curated by Tactical Technology Collective. It was originally a printed/PDF kit created for the Glass Room New-York in 2016.

I thought I might try that little exercise to see if I could learn something more about e-privacy. Turns out there were quite a few things that I did not know about, especially when it came to Google settings, and iPhone configuration. (I am currently using a salvaged iPhone 4 which does not want to die – better for the planet.)

The Data Detox runs over 8 days and runs you through little tasks you can follow to leave less of a data trail while using your Internet-connected devices.

It is of course not covering 100% of what could be said about e-privacy, but I was surprised at how much it taught me about a bunch of privacy settings in my Google account, and about location services in my iPhone. I would recommend following the detox even if you feel you have a good grasp of what you need to do to stay safe and anonymous on the Internet.

Here is a couple of things I would add to the tasks already offered by the Data Detox, in no particular order. Feel free to add those to the list if you feel motivated, or cherry-pick whatever you feel like doing.

  • Using a password manager like KeePassX (which is mentioned in the detox) is a good way to safely store a bunch of diverse and complicated passwords, but another benefit I have learned to appreciate is that it constitutes a record of how many accounts you own, and allows you to review which unused ones you could delete. Here’s a challenge: every time you add a new account and password, try to delete a different one (or two?) so you don’t build up a collection of them.
  • When reading your emails, start directly deleting the ones you know you will never go back to. That will make your email account less of a data trove waiting to be mined. Another benefit is that you are freeing some valuable storage space for your ethical privacy-respecting email account provider (because you use one, right?).
  • The Alternative App Centre that the detox recommends is good, but I would also recommend to have a look at the Free services that Framasoft offers (more directed at offering Free Software alternatives to the ones offered by the GAFAM: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, i.e. the main huge data silos of the Internet), as well as the list of alternatives from PRISM Break (more directed at privacy-respecting apps to fight state surveillance). Another excellent website that lists alternatives, tools, add-ons and services to protect your privacy, along with valuable information, is PrivacyTools.io.
  • Related to the previous point, if you specifically want to get away from data-gathering social networks, I recommend two decentralised Free Software-based alternatives: Mastodon as a Twitter replacement, and Diaspora* as a Facebook replacement. They are both mature projects with a lively healthy community to interact with.
  • Finally, the detox probably didn’t mention it because of the technical knowledge required to set it up, but I’d also recommend looking into self-hosting your own cloud services. Nextcloud, YunoHost and Sandstorm are good starting points. You can also find a service provider that uses Free Software and guarantees to respect your privacy in exchange for some money. I am currently a happy subscriber of IndieHosters (they use Nextcloud for the most part) but you can find more providers on Chatons.org (at the time of writing, 48 providers mainly located in France).
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Install HWSD Viewer on an Ubuntu 14.04-based system

17 Aug

The Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD) is a 30 arc-second raster database put together by a consortium of organisations: FAO, CAS, IIASA, ISRIC and JRC. It is a monumental collection of data about soil from all around the globe, and is therefore an important tool for researchers.

You can download the raw data or  visualise it on ISRIC’s online viewer, but there is a (closed-source) viewer app specially created to visualise, browse and query the data offline, the “HWSD Viewer”, which unfortunately was only developed for Windows.

To make the viewer work on and Ubuntu 14.04-based system (like KXStudio 14.04, but probably many other OS), you need to:

  1. Make sure you have Wine installed;
  2. Install the viewer, using the binary accessible from this FAO page;
  3. Install the missing runtime libraries thanks to Winetricks, with the following command:
winetricks jet40 mdac28

That should sort you out!

Specifically, what the Winetricks command resolves is:

  • The error message “This setup does not support installing on this operating system.” when trying to install MDAC from the Microsoft website;
  • The error message “Provider cannot be found. It may not be properly installed.” when the software realises Jet40 is not available.

HWSD viewer

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CritiqueBrainz is in Beta!

20 May

CritiqueBrainz "logo"You might have heard of MusicBrainz, the open music database? It’s a bit of a nerdy Discogs, with more details and a better structure. It is run by the MetaBrainz non-profit organisation, and the data is of course gathered by more than 250,000 contributors, similarly to Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap. This project has been around for a while (it started in 2002), and a thing that I love about it is that it keeps on getting better with very regular updates. It also adds elements to the database scheme, which makes it potentially more precise, while getting more user friendly too by enhancing the user interface. Overall, this gives me a warm feeling of sustainability in the project. At the moment of writing, the database includes more than 840,000 artists, 1.2 million releases, 13.4 million recordings and 81,000 labels.

One thing that was missing in the project, even though users could give a five-star rating to entities, was the capacity to write actual creative release reviews – which makes sense as the database aims at gathering verifiable objective data about music, not user opinions about it. It is now possible with the launch of the CritiqueBrainz beta, as separate website that gathers reviews under a Creative Commons (CC) license. To kick-start the new MusicBrainz family member, a big import of nearly 9000 BBC reviews under CC license has been made.

One cool thing is that the reviews integrate a little Spotify player that lets you listen to the album while reading someone’s rants/praise (if (1) you have a Spotify account and (2) the release in question – or, better said in the database jargon, “release group” – has been matched with a Spotify release in the MusicBrainz database).

Even if a release group has not been reviewed yet, you can still browse the MusicBrainz database through the CritiqueBrainz website, and it looks a lot more like what the lambda user expects of a discography website – which also makes it very practical for example for finding out which cover arts are missing from the database.

The look of an artist page on CritiqueBrainz - less cryptic than its big brother.

The look of an artist page on CritiqueBrainz – less cryptic than its big brother.

One thing I have noticed is that for the moment, the reviewers are not able to give ratings to the releases. As I mentioned earlier, it is possible in MusicBrainz to rate most elements out of five stars (artists, releases, recordings, works, labels…), but the reviewers on CritiqueBrainz seem to only communicate their views through the written comments. It could be a way to promote a more elaborate explanation of the contributor’s judgement, which is fair enough I guess. But this brand new website also has the potential to attract original reviews and congregate a number of reviews already available on the Internet under a CC license, which would ultimately be a great way to add this kind of relevant data to the database itself.

Readers can however thumb up or thumb down the reviews, which will likely reveal the most interesting, convincing and well-written ones to the top after a big enough user base has joined the project.

Example of a review on CritiqueBrainz

Example of a review on CritiqueBrainz. This one, on the latest Knife album, was imported from the BBC reviews.

This website was made possible thanks to the work of two Google Summer of Code students: Maciej Czerwiński for the year 2013, and Roman Tsukanov for the year 2014. Thank you guys for that great work!

And to finish, I will just quote Ruaok’s description of the new project:

“We’re hoping to make CritiqueBrainz a user site that uses more cover-art and white space to make a site that is friendlier to browse the amazing pieces of information that MusicBrainz has collected. Unlike the data nerds at MusicBrainz, not everyone loves information overload; this site should hopefully make non-data nerds happy about MusicBrainz data.”

You can read the whole announcement on the MusicBrainz blog by following this link.

And if you want to participate in this website’s development, the code is on GitHub.

Edit: the issue about rating releases has been reported on the bug tracker already, and Roman stated that the enhancement is on the roadmap.