ICYMI...in late December we published this our twelth edition of 21 Questions By Decentralize Today where we were off to the UK for our 12th and 13th interviews of the series as we caught up with both Kev Quirk and Mike Stone, the co-founders of Fosstodon, an English speaking Mastodon instance that is open to anyone who is interested in technology and particularly free & open-source software.
Run as a community funded project with large scale volunteer support, Fosstodon is committed to donating any extra money received to other open-source projects, full details are available at fosstodon.org
"The largest FOSS focussed instance on the Fediverse"
Decentralize.today: if you could choose three words to describe yourself what would they be and why?
Mike: Ooof. These are always so hard. Curious, Open Minded, Optimistic
Kevin: Oof, I hate these kind of questions – they tend to be very narcissistic. I suppose mine would be: Funny, Motivated, Interested. Ask my wife and I’m sure those 3 would be VERY different! :)
DT: How, why and when did you get into online privacy protection work?
M: Really my most recent job is the first time I’ve been professionally involved in online privacy. I started in my current role around ten years ago.
K: I wouldn’t say I’m into marketing FOSS as such. The term “marketing” screams corporate BS bingo to me. I prefer to think of myself as a FOSS advocate. I started using Linux around 2010, back then I didn’t even know what open-source was. As I learn more, I naturally got more involved and now I advocate it whenever I can as long as I think it’s approprpriate to do so.
DT: What were you doing professionally before Fosstodon?
M; The same thing I’m doing now. Fosstodon is more of a hobby than professional work. I work for a pharmaceutical company called McKesson where I develop automation that facilitates secure data transfers between patients, pharmacies, and medical professionals and/or facilities.
K: Fosstodon is a hobby project, not my job. So I still do the same thing. I lead digital forensics and incident response across Europe for Bank of America. I’ve been working in InfoSec for quite some time now. Before that, I was in the British Army.
DT: How would you describe your current work to a 5 year old kid?
M: I just would tell them I work in computers.
K: My oldest son is 6, and I describe it to him simply as “Daddy works with computers."
DT: What was your first ever job (even as a kid)?
M: My first job ever was driving a truck for harvest on my uncle’s farm.
K: Peeling potatoes in the basement of a local restaurant for £10/week
DT: Who is your biggest inspiration when it comes to work/business?
M: That would definitely be my dad. He worked hard and had a wide variety of skills. People used to call him all the time for any number of things, and it always seemed like he knew how to help.
K: My late father. He always had a really strong work ethic which he most definitely instilled upon me.
DT: What’s the best life and work advice you’ve ever been given?
M: Always show everyone you work with respect, whether it’s the CEO of your company or the guy that comes to empty your waste bin.
K: Again, this came from father and it was simply “do something you enjoy and you will never work a day in your life.”
DT: Your favorite superhero or fictional character, and why?
M: The Doctor. Other than regeneration and longevity, the only real super power he/she has is his/her intelligence and wit. Despite that, The Doctor is always saving the Universe from something. Usually with a snarky comment about the whole situation.
K: I don’t. If I had to pick though, it would be Superman. No one comes close to Superman.
DT: What were you like as a student?
M: Ha! Initially as a little, little kid I was a nose to the grindstone sort. My parents were both teachers at one point or another, so focus was always important to them. Later in my teen years, I turned into a pretty big slacker. I felt that my return on investment as a student wasn’t high enough. If I could attend class and just do my homework as well as I could and get an above average grade, I couldn’t motivate myself to spend extra time to get an even higher grade.
K: I didn’t go to University, but if I had, I would have been much too involved in partying than studies. That’s why I decided to join the military instead.
DT: What would be your dream project if money were no object?
M: I’d love to just have my own data center with racks of computers where I could do whatever I wanted with them.
K: No idea. That would be something that needs a lot of thought. Either that, or just a bolt of inspiration. Neither of which I have.
DT: What is your favorite sport or game to watch?
M: Probably MMA. I enjoy watching a couple different sports, but I don’t really have a personal investment in any of them.
K: Boxing. I boxed for many years, both as a kid and in the military.
DT: Working in the privacy space and specifically secure communication, how do you decide your strategic focus and determine the programmes required to address these?
M: Most of the time, upper management at my company determines those for me. Like most large corporations I’ve worked in, they’re relatively conservative, technologically speaking, so products and ideas have plenty of time to develop in the market before they get our attention.
K: I don’t work in this area. :)
DT: Who are your real life heroes?
M: My dad has always been my hero.
K: My mum. She basically raised 5 kids on her own. If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is.
DT: What does your family think of your work and advocacy of online privacy?
M: They like the idea in general, but their eyes tend to glaze over pretty quickly if I ever try to talk about it.
K: Honestly, they don’t really care and I don’t really talk about it to them. When advocating this kind of thing, I think it’s important to do it to people with whom you have a chance of making an impact. That most definitely isn’t my family. If their tech works, they don’t care about anything else.
DT: What was the last book you read that you would recommend to others?
M: I just finished rereading the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. I’ve read them three or four times now, and each time they draw me back in.
K: A Biker’s Lifeby Henry Cole. It had a big impact on me personally. I wrote about it on my blog actually - https://kevq.uk/recommended-read-a-bikers-life-by-henry-cole/
DT: What grinds your gears or are your pet peeves? What do you really dislike?
M: I hate when people come to me for advice on a subject but don’t listen to what I tell them, or even care for that matter. When people come to me for a sounding board. I don’t have time for that.
K: I HATE being ignored. Not in an arrogant way, like “you need to listen to me because I’m talking!” I mean just rudeness. For example, if you’re talking to someone and they engage in a conversation, but pick their phone up part way through. It makes my blood boil. More generally, just bad manners.
DT: Do you have an “I lost my private keys” type story or a crazy privacy/comms related story? Do share!
M: Many years ago, we had a file server. We’d just hired a new employee to take over my job because I was moving into a senior role and the previous senior was moving out of the department. Because things were still pretty in flux, she was still being copied on most of the departmental correspondence. She came flying into our office space in a virtual rage because our new junior had just sent the admin username and password to an external client. I’d been working with the new junior for a couple months at this point, and was pretty sure it was just a mistake in communication. I looked at the converation she was having with the client, and realized that she’d copy and pasted and forgotten to change the username. I informed the former senior what had happened and reassured her that the password the junior had sent wasn’t the actual password to that account. She replied immediately asking why the password works then. This caught me pretty flat footed since I knew the password to that account, and it wasn’t the one the junior sent. I tried the password I knew, and it worked. I tried the password the junior sent, and it worked. I mashed the keyboard with random characters, and that worked too. It turns out that our admin account on that server would literally take any password that was used. I have no idea how long it had been that way.
K: Not specifically this, but I did have a major failure on my Synology NAS at home. At first I couldn’t mount the RAID, so thought everything was lost and I would have to restore from backup. In the end I managed to get the data from the RAID. It was all backed up though, so not the end of the world. Moral of the story – backup your stuff, folks.
DT: Where do you see online privacy protection and communication in ten years time? Where would you like to see them?
M: I think we’re at an interesting place right now regarding privacy, and I honestly don’t know which way we’re going to go. There are a lot of people right now that are perfectly fine with having their every waking moment broadcast over the internet for all to see. If that continues, privacy will be an interesting historical footnote in ten years. Still, there are many people right now that are realizing just how invasive modern technology is, and they’re rebelling. We could see this trend reversed. I sincerely hope so.
K: Software development, I have no idea because I’m not in that industry. Privacy I think willl be non-existent. It’s already pretty poor, and it’s looking like things are only getting worse. People seem happy to over-share online to the max, and I really can’t see that changing.
DT: What’s your go-to form of entertainment or pastime? What do you do for fun? ?
M: I like reading and if I have the time, occasionally go out hiking.
K: Riding my motorbikes is a big one. I also enjoy writing, reading and drawing. I also really enjoy web design. Anyone who follows my blog will know that I’m always pissing about with it.
DT: You have the power to solve one world problem forever. Which one would you choose?
M: Climate change. We’re only starting to see the beginning of what’s coming with climate change.
K: I think it would be the rich:poor divide. With that global wealth more evenly distributed, we can solve a number of other world problems off the back of it, I think.
DT: What would be the one thing you would say to your 18 year old self, if you had the chance?
M: Be patient, things are about to change for you in a big way.
K: It will be ok.
Whilst we have you on the line, so to speak, maybe you would like to share the 'what's next' for you and Fosstodon?
M: Right now, things are going well with Fosstodon. We’re growing our community and we’re able to donate to open source projects around the world. I’d like to see that continue where we’re offering a service to anybody that has an interest in FOSS and we’re recognized as a collaboration tool in the industry.
K: Nothing really. Fosstodon is continuing to grow steadily and we have an amazing community. As the saying goes – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Mike and Kev can be found via fosstodon.org
On behalf of Decenetralize Today, can I say thank you both very much...very illuminating and keep up the great work!