Monday, January 29, 2007

religious choices

The freedom to share, modify, and use for any purpose are the frequently celebrated benefits of free software. These are the freedoms that give rise to cooperative software communities. As well, the freedom to distinguish one's own community-developed distribution from another is clearly important. After all, you wouldn't want to confuse Jesus with Satan.

However, as a saint (and non-theist) I recommend this if it works with your hardware.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

China and Google's "admittance"

"China censorship damaged us, Google founders admit" reads the headline of this article. Co-founder Sergey Brin demonstrates why Google's "no evil" philosophy has no meaning and instead exists to manufacture a profitable but romantic image in the minds of Internet users.

Note to Sergey: With such censorship comes a moral wrong. Chinese citizens don't care that,
"On a business level, that decision to censor... was a net negative."
Morality is not a matter of the bottom line. Are we to shed a tear that,
"the company had suffered because of the damage to its reputation"
or because the rights of human beings have been violated? It is disturbing to hear you say,
"perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense."
"Perhaps now"? This implies that principles are playthings. Playthings to be used when profitable yet ignored when inconvenient. There is no restitution with this admittance. This admittance is a reminder that when it comes to the search for, and accessibility of information, Google is still committed to place profit over people.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mainstream Media wants to know...

...what OS you use and why. BBC News asks -
"Tell us in 100 words or less, why you are such a supporter of your chosen operating system and what features you love about it."
Knowing full well a lottery win is more likely than BBC publishing my response, I felt compelled to submit an answer anyway. And much to my own amusement, I hit the 100-word bullseye without intention as follows...
"I use the GNU/Linux operating system. I use this system because it is free (libre) and open source software. Such an operating system gives me the freedom to share it with other human beings, modify it to suit my needs (or hire someone if I so choose), and use for any purpose I wish. I use the GNU/Linux operating system because such software is an effective measure in bridging the global digital divide. I also use the GNU/Linux operating system because it is the most effective defense against unethical attacks in the form of spyware and viruses."
Apparently, the BBC will choose 3 differing opinions (Mac/Windows/"Linux") and have them go "head-to-head-to-head" on this matter. This is yet another reason why my input is unlikely to be valued. For as RMS puts it, once you choose freedom, it's not about competition. There is no debate. Once you choose freedom, all other operating systems "are out of the running." (@~17m20s)


Friday, January 19, 2007

Do you hate Microsoft?

I'm often asked this question by those who don't understand the motives of the free software community.

I can't speak on behalf of everyone in the community but to be clear, I don't hate Microsoft. If my intention was born from a hatred of Microsoft, I'd just use Mac. ;)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I (still) don't understand Linus Torvalds on DRM

UPDATE: Although I feel what I say below is valid, Russell McOrmond does a better job at getting to the point of why Torvalds' determinism should be rejected. He says, "It is our duty as informed technologists to be involved in helping to create sane public policy regulating technology." I agree.


A recent ZDNET article attempted to grok Linus Torvalds' view on DRM. Torvalds says -
"One reason I really dislike DRM is that it is technologically an inferior solution to not doing DRM. It actually makes it harder for people to do what they want to do. It makes it harder to do things that you really should be able to do"
Torvalds then says -
"At the same time, on a completely different tangent -- forget about technology -- I am a big believer in letting people do what they want to do. If somebody wants to do DRM it is their problem."
"Their" problem? I'm confused as to how Linus can reconcile these statements. He says that individuals "should be able to do" things with their files. I agree. But he also claims to be a "big believer in letting people do what they want to do". In general, I agree with this too. I can understand the belief in the freedom to act and speak as one wishes. However, this is obviously dependent on such action and speech not interfering with the freedom of others. This is clearly not the case with either DRM or yelling "fire!" in a crowded room when there's no danger. This is why I find the statement that DRM is "their problem" to be astoundingly naive. If someone has put DRM on my files, I don't see how this problem is not mine as well.

Monday, January 15, 2007

free software security - clarifying a misperception

I've heard this confusion regarding free software security several times...
"We need proprietary software to control our computers. Free software means 'anyone' is 'free to change' it, so it's insecure."
When you have a free software program, you are free to change your copy. Nobody else can change your copy as you are the one who controls that copy. If another gets a copy then they may change that copy. But that does not affect your copy. Some have associated the "freedom to tinker" with the assumption that control over your own data and software is negated. This is false.

By contrast, if you use proprietary software and have not signed an associated NDA or obtained an unauthorized copy of associated source code, you are automatically handicapped in regard to system security. This opens the possibility of proprietor (or NDA-related and/or pirated) corruption. If you're a programmer, free software can place the decision to trust in your own hands. And if you're only a user, trust is placed in a whole world of programmers incapable of hiding malicious intent (e.g. spyware) from one another due to the very nature of free software itself. This very nature means that given roughly equal maturation time, a free software system has a perpetual security edge over a proprietary system.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Why avoid a monoculture of code in schools?

Anyone interested in free and open source software in education should read this. Dr. Couros has set out and tied together a rich body of research and observations. I'm learning a lot as I go through his work.

On page 132 of Couros' dissertation something struck me as odd as a participant argues for "compudiversity" over "monoculture" in schools. Generally, I agree. However, diversity/monoculture is a quality of code, not copyright and patent licensing. If an organization feels a need for diversity, then that can be accomplished by a variety of exclusively free systems, a variety of exclusively proprietary systems, or both.

This is why I see a flaw in the following argument -
"Linux monoculture is not necessarily a good thing either ‘cause we want kids to be able to do things with computers, and not just Linux boxes and not just Windows boxes..."
Linux monoculture is risky not because "we want kids to be able to do things with computers" (though true in its own right), but because all computers would be exposed to any critical kernel flaw.

This reasoning is sometimes supported by an unsound argument I've encountered that "justifies" the acquisition of MS Windows and MS Office for K-12 schools. That is,
"We need kids to use what is popular. If we don't, we won't be preparing them for the 'real-world'"
If this were an actual fact, then monoculture avoidance for the reason stated would make sense. But it's not. Any student encouraged to critically think instead of memorize will know, or figure out quickly, how to operate any GUI or office suite thrown at them. So if unskilled GNU/Linux students (is that an oxymoron?) are actually being created by monoculture, then that is a pedagogical issue, not a choice of software issue.

I think it's critical to understand this as decision makers within K-12 schools may easily fall for this thinking. Basing a decision on an argument like this can needlessly set an organization back years.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

An Inconvenient Copyright

Why is this not under a copyright license allowing not-for-profit distribution of complete copies? Here's a bare-minimum suggestion.

Hmm. Let's see. The film, and anything resembling rationality, is saying that our planet is really - to put it mildly - bungled. Inefficient technologies and inefficient lifestyle is negatively affecting us and many other species. Our uncooperative behavior is causing destructive chaos to the biosphere. We may risk passing a catastrophic tipping-point toward our extinction. There has already been much harm done but the fact that we may be able to heal should be impetus enough to change. We need awareness and global cooperation to disenfranchise paradigmatically old ways of energy production and expenditure. This is it. We either do it or we don't. And it makes no sense to get in the way of those trying.

Yet I'm breaking the law if I distribute this without permission. Why?

Instead, we are expected to sit back and watch the circus.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fishing with OLPC

Stephen Downes has thrown his very reasonable two cents in regarding the One Laptop Per Child project. It took some time but I'm on board. I wanted to reflect upon the OLPC and questioned its substance for some time but am failing to understand opposition. I'm convinced that OLPC should be supported for many of the reasons Stephen brought up. I expand on those reasons in the comments section of his post.

I also suspect the "But these children need food, shelter, and medicine more than they need a laptop!" argument will take in many as it possesses emotional appeal but clearly isn't sound. It implies that garnering food, shelter, medicine, and other basic necessities have no relationship to a global, broadband network (i.e. the Internet). True, my computer cannot literally fill my stomach, but to imply no relationship between a networked device and the ability to obtain needs is clearly oversimplification. The economic sea of digital authorship has fish in it. But if one were to say, "What a child needs is fish to eat, not a net!", one would simply sound foolish. Stephen mentions this as well ("Teach a man to fish...").

I also want to make clear that I am in favor of OLPC-like initiatives only on one very important condition. That such projects are designed and implemented around a complete (i.e. not just the kernel) FLOSS operating system. Anything less and such a project is unsustainable.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Like any religious leader, I invariably find ways to link what I experience to free software. This past week I skimmed through the late Robert J. Gula's book Non-sense and wrote up the tacit illogic of the proprietary software argument. Clearly valid but unsound, it goes something like this...
To profit from software, users must be restricted.
Free software does not restrict users.
Therefore, profit cannot be made from free software.
Of course, the proprietary mind never actually says this aloud for it would face ridicule over the mass of evidence contradicting its first premise. Rather, when encountering those curious yet uninformed about free software it asks rhetorically, "How can you make money from free software?" Wishing the sheep not even consider the question to any depth, it pauses for no more than a second and follows with a self-confirming, "You see!? Now let's go get a beer." To which there is only one appropriate response...