Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category.

WebRTC

I have been waiting oh-so-long for a piece of software to save me from Skype, and today I may have found my savior!

I’ve been reading about WebRTC for years. It’s been a while now since Chrome, Firefox, and Opera announced support for WebRTC. Since then, the implementations have matured and websites have started to pop up with support for it.

The result is that, today, I used talky.io to:

  • Video chat with my family across the country
  • With no registration and instant setup
  • With clear (but occasionally just a tad laggy) video and audio
  • Using nothing but free and open source software
  • Via web browsers that are most likely already installed on many people’s computers

I’d call that a victory for freedom!

Less control is… better?

I had a strange conversation with my classmate today in my Red Had System Administration class. It kind of left me speechless. The conversation wasn’t very well guided, but the main topics were software freedom and user control.

I brought up the topic of smart phones, and why having something like Linux on a phone would be so desirable. With my Nokia N900 and Maemo, I pretty much have just that. I also have control. Every Nokia N900 comes unlocked (I can use it with any SIM card), with root privileges (I have admin control anywhere in the filesystem), able to be rooted (any OS can be installed or reinstalled), and any application can be installed on it using the default package manager, apt (the same that is used by Debian GNU / Linux).

I brought up this topic so my classmate could help me think of reasons why Linux on a phone would be great. Instead, I discovered that his opinion is the exact opposite of mine: It’s much much better for the owner of the phone to have less control. This will prevent the user from breaking it.

He went on and on with this point. I wish I could describe it better, but the problem is I have a really hard time understanding it.

Here is my point: There’s no difference in stability between an iPhone that is locked down (like it currently is) and an iPhone that gives me complete control (to install applications from any source, access to the filesystem…). If I choose to do something with my phone that is not supported by Apple, then yes, I may break it, but at least it’s my choice. Instead, Apple worked very hard to add extra software and extra hardware that will prevent me from doing anything of the sort. They did extra work to give me less control of the electronic device that I own.

My classmate’s opinion surprised me. I mean, it really surprised me. I’m used to talking to people who care about software freedom, at least a little bit. I’m also used to talking to people who don’t know or don’t care about software freedom. But I can’t think of a time I’ve ever met someone who was so much against the idea of software freedom.

I was also extremely surprised to find out how little he and my other classmates understood about free software, as described by the Free Software Foundation. I mean, we’re in a Red Hat class, so I just kind of assumed everyone knew. I think I assumed incorrectly.

My Linux history

My friend in college (2000) introduced me to Linux. Windows 98 was having a lot of trouble on my laptop, so, in my days of dial-up Internet, I drove an hour to a computer store to buy a boxes copy of Mandrake for (I think) $30.

When that laptop died I decided to buy a Fujitsu Lifebook (I cannot tell you how much I loved that laptop). Unfortunately, there was a bug in the Linux kernel at the time which prevented it from booting correctly on a Transmeta Crusoe processor. I found an tutorial describing how to patch and compile my own Linux kernel for the Crusoe using Slackware, and I began using that.

At that point point in time, Slackware had no package manager. Instead, when new software came out (and I love trying new software!) I would download and compile it myself, including all of it’s newly required libraries (GTK2, Pango, Atk…). I had heard about the popularity of Debian and gave it a try. The feeling of using a package manager again to automatically install and update everything felt so incredibly wonderful.

I became tired of the cycle of Debian stable being fresh and new and being tired and old, so I tried Ubuntu. I didn’t want to like it because it was “too easy”, but my gosh, it was just so easy. My favorite version is still 8.04 Hardy Heron, which I still consider the pinnacle of Ubuntu development.

At this point I began to really learn about the Free Software Foundation, and decided that I agree with many of their beliefs. So, I installed a new FSF approved version of Hardy Heron called gNewSense and used only free and open source software on my computer for almost a year. You might be surprised how much Linux software is “open source” but not FSF “free”. ;) Anyway, it was a great experience.

gNewSense became old, and I didn’t like the direction the distribution was going. I wanted the latest versions of software, but I was tired of always formatting and installing new operating systems. I then discovered Arch Linux and the concept of a rolling release distribution. In addition to that, I was really getting into contributing to the Linux community, and the Arch Linux community provides outstanding outlets for that: a strong forum, a highly regarded wiki, and the AUR (allowing anyone to contribute new software packages to the distribution), all of which can be contributed to almost instantly by anyone.

In summary:

I was introduced to Linux using Mandrake.

I learned Linux using Slackware.

I discovered package management using Debian.

I took a break and used the user friendly Ubuntu.

I became passionate about software freedom using gNewSense.

I keep current and in control using Arch Linux.

I used each of those distributions for at least about a year. I’ve been using the same 64-bit Arch Linux installation for three years now and am very happy with it. I dual boot the Haiku operating system. And I still consider myself a freetard. :D

More information: https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/User:drcouzelis

Social media and the open Intenet

I successfully avoided the update to the new Facebook “timeline” user interface. Do you know how? I deleted my account!

It was about a year ago that I decided to start trimming my online presence. My main reasons were that I got tired of being the “product” of a business and that it was taking too much of my time. I don’t really miss it.

It took a while to convince myself to go so far as to delete my Facebook account. I pretty much only used it to chat with people (well, only a couple of people) and to let people know that I’d updated my personally-hosted blog. (just use RSS, gosh darn it!) Facebook doesn’t seem to be used by my friends nearly as much as it used to be, so I was pretty much checking it all the time hoping that someone would post something interesting.

Many of my friends have nice open-to-anyone blogs that I can follow anyway. I don’t plan on ever again joining a website that can only be viewed by people who are members.

I’m sure some day I’ll think back on this post and laugh. It’ll be something my future teenage children will tease me about. Facebook will be remembered like we remember MySpace and GeoCities.

One of my favorite things to teach people is that all websites eventually go away. I consider it to be one of the basic laws of the Internet. Don’t become too invested in any one, because some day it’s going to disappear.

On that note, have you made a personal backup of your archlinux.me posts recently?

Contributing to the FOSS community

In what ways have I contributed to the free and open source software community? And what can you do to help? Here are some thoughts.

I love helping FOSS projects, but it can be difficult to decide what to do.

Keep it simple

Choose a project where you need to learn one thing at a time.

There are languages (examples: Python, C), libraries (examples: GTK, Qt), and programming paradigms. (examples: GUI programming, threaded programming) When you begin working on a project, you will probably need to learn something new. Try to learn only one thing at a time. For example, if you have to learn gstreamer and GTK (two libraries) at the same time then you might become frustrated. Or, if you have to C++ and Qt (a language and a library) at the same time then you might become frustrated.

So, try to learn one thing at a time.

Working with other FOSS developers

I love working online with FOSS developers. When I get to talk to the lead developer of a project, it feels like I’m talking to a celebrity.

Of course, you should join the mailing list and bug tracker for the project you want to work on. I don’t usually introduce myself. Instead, I just start helping, and people will know me soon.

My FOSS experience

Here are some examples from my FOSS experience.

Many years ago, I wanted to write a new FOSS application. I couldn’t think of any new applications to make, so I decided to make a video game. There are never too many video games.

I learned many things by making video games:

Languages: C, Objective-C, Java, Assembly, Ada

Libraries: Allegro, SDL, Java SWING

I’ve submitted many bug reports to many different projects, such as wxWidgets, Allegro, Udiskie, and Haiku. I really like submitting bug reports and working with the developers to fix the problem. It’s easy to do and I get to use better software.

I maintain some AUR packages. (very easy, but it helps FOSS)

I helped write the documentation for some software from the Arch Linux community, such as Packer and Udiskie. I’ve contributed to the Arch Linux wiki.

Recently, my wife and I wanted a new application for budgetting. I decided to write one. I used Python and wxWidgets. It works pretty well. My next goal is to convert it to C++ and wxWidgets, and then make a version for Haiku using C++ and the Haiku API.

Interesting things

You should definitely work on something that you think is interesting. To me, that’s Arch Linux, Haiku, bug reports, and documentation. Try to find things that are interesting to you!

Lastly, don’t make your goal too big and don’t try to do too much. There are many many people helping in FOSS. If everyone does a little bit, then we can make something great.

Social networking privacy

I, like many people, have accounts on many different social networking websites. I, also, like some, am very unhappy with the terms of service and lack of privacy on them.

Privacy

The way I see it, there are two issues in regards to privacy. First, there is the issue of who sees my content. Even if I post photos to a website such as Shutterfly and password protect them, I still don’t know what Shutterfly is doing with them. (for the record, I’ve had a fine experience using Shutterfly) Also, even though Shutterfly offers unlimited image uploads of unlimited resolution, I found out they still reduce the file size by lowering image quality. Boo.

Second, there is the issue of who controls my content. When I post a blog entry to a website such as Blogger, I don’t even know what I agreed to let Blogger do with it. I assume it is being scanned for information to increase advertisement revenue for them. Also, whether it be images or blogs, once the website goes down (and all websites eventually go down) then all of my content goes down with it. I can’t imagine too many people save a local copy of their long (emotional, personal, thought provoking…) blog entries, and I think many people are beginning to not even save a local copy of many of the images they post. (such as from mobile phones) All of that will be lost.

As long as I’m ranting, I also think it’s ridiculous that so many people post photos on Facebook when Facebook saves them at such an incredibly low resolution and quality. Yuck.

I was excited to hear about projects such as Diaspora, but was very disappointed at their lack of quality and progress.

I give up

I gave up. I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. I setup my own website from my personal computer using my regular DSL internet connection.

I had never done anything like this before. I started with the simple instructions for setting up my router and , and signed up for a free domain name with DynDNS and ddclient. That took a couple of hours one morning. I then spent a few hours in the afternoon and followed the simple instructions on the Arch Linux wiki for setting up a LAMP server. Then I installed the AUR packages for Zenphoto and WordPress. I put a simple password on Zenphoto as a way to simply control who sees our family photos, and may or may not do the same on WordPress. I also haven’t decided if I’ll host my own WikiMedia site.

Conclusion

I don’t plan on using Shutterfly, Blogger, Myspace, or LiveJournal anymore. I still plan on using Facebook, but simply as a way to keep in contact with many people easily. I might not move my Archlinux.me posts to my own website, since I don’t think my wife appreciates my nerdy rants.

So, I now have a beautiful website for blogging and posting photos that has no EULA, no privacy concerns, no size or quality limits, and no advertisements. It uses free and open source software, and didn’t cost any extra money to setup and run. I own my content, and I can share it with whomever I want and do with it whatever I want.

Free music

I really dislike the RIAA, the major music industry in the United States. I decided to stop buying music from them.

About two years ago I decided to completely stop listening to music from the RIAA. I deleted all of the music I had from them. I now only download (and pretty much listen to) music that is available for free by the artist. Also, I’m not against paying an artist for music, as long as they are not associated with the RIAA. Here are some of my favorite websites.

ccMixter

Not only does all of this music cost no money, but you are also free to do (almost) anything you want with it, including adding it to a movie soundtrack or making a new song with it.

muzie

This is a website for Japanese musicians. It is easy to navigate and there are many different styles of music. There is music of MANY different styles available. I contacted some of the artists and thanked them for their work.

OverClocked ReMix

This website hosts tons of video game music remixes. If you don’t know where to start, try downloading some of the albums they have produced.

Magnatune

Magnatune hosts many different types of music from around the world. It is possible to find free music to download from them. Most of the music there can be purchased and is inexpensive, and much of the profit goes to the artists.

If you are interested in removing any RIAA material from your music collection, you can use the RIAA Radar.

At first I was worried about if listening to only free music would work. It’s been a great experience. I don’t feel like I have any shortage of good music to listen to.