Weekly Head Voices #100: Happy 2016!

Cape Town from Table Mountain, photo is copyright 2015 Charl Botha.
Cape Town photographed from the top of Table Mountain. Click for high-res.

I wish you a truly happy 2016, filled with learning and helping other people! Neil deGrasse Tyson, exemplary human, said it best:

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

Time is fun when you’re having flies! I can’t believe that four months have flown by since the previous WHV. Since then, quite a bunch has happened. Some highlights for me:

  • I spent a week in The Netherlands, my other home, taking part in a second hackathon with the Evalueserve peeps (the previous one was in Gurgaon in India). This was again loads of fun, and we managed to build a significant new shippable feature (measurable value!) almost from scratch.
  • In October, I went back to The Netherlands (it’s my other home, remember) for 2.5 days to take part in the Doctorification of a friend. Besides the doctorification process (I’ve been out of academia for a while, so my terminology might not be 100%) which went swimmingly, I had so many high-intensity interactions with some of my favourite people that I literally almost missed my flight back. Just picture me waking up in Delft at 8:30 with a flight leaving from Amsterdam at 10:00…
  • For a work project,  I started programming in Apple’s Swift. As compiled high-performance languages go, this one has a number of modern language features which make it a truly interesting addition to one’s programming toolbox.
  • Further on the nerd-front, I’m trying to get more of us to use Signal instead of WhatsApp whenever possible.
  • We spent so many weekends and the Christmas vacation doing fun outdoorsy stuff (living at the southern tip of Africa has serious perks), not least of which was a trip up Table Mountain for the first time in 15 years. See the photo up top for an impression.

I have some fun changes in mind for this blog in 2016, but you’re going to have to stick around to find out what they are, so… see you later peeps!

When we can, let’s use Signal instead of WhatsApp.

(Post updated on August 25, 2016. See section at the end.)

Screenshot of Signal.
Signal, the open source messaging and voice calling app that does end-to-end encryption.

The whole world is using WhatsApp to message each other. I often do too, because I want to inter-operate with the rest of the world.

However, WhatsApp belongs to Facebook.

Although Facebook has promised otherwise, the temptation to link all of your WhatsApp messages with Facebook logins (a straight-forward process, as they have the mobile phone numbers of a great number of their users) must be quite tempting to the people at Facebook. Imagine how well they would then be able to target their advertising, based on their access to both your Facebook profile and your private WhatsApp messages!

Fortunately, we now have an open source app, called Signal (available on Android, IOS and the desktop), which performs end-to-end encryption on all messages and voice calls that go through it. This means that absolutely no-one is able to read your messages or eavesdrop on your voice calls, except the intended recipients.

My request is that you get your contacts to install and start using Signal instead of WhatsApp wherever possible. At the very least some of our messages will not be accessible to various large corporations and any other prying eyes. If the security argument is not enough for you, there is one more extremely important topic: Signal handles animated gifs better than WhatsApp, at least on Android. (Telegram supports them on both Android on IOS, but it is by default less secure than Signal). See here the results of my experiments:

Updates

On August 25, 2016, The Verge reported that WhatsApp will now officially begin sharing data with Facebook. They will indeed link up telephone numbers and social networks, meaning that both parties will get a tremendous boost in what they know about you. I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. ;)