01.18.22

Good News, Bad News (and Back to Normal)

Posted in Debian, GNU/Linux at 3:50 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 948cc5f102085cd52f4d356b486c2586
Major Incident and Recovery
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: When many services are reliant on the integrity of a single, very tiny MicroSD card you’re only moments away from 2 days of intensive labour (recovery, investigation, migration, and further coding); we’ve learned our lessons and took advantage of this incident to upgrade the operating system, double the storage space, even improve the code slightly (for compatibility with newer systems)

THE good news is that Gemini is expanding faster than we predicted earlier this month. Lupa is now just 11 capsules short of 2,000 and yesterday we received some E-mails asking about Gemini downtime (we also got some inquiries over IRC, which means the Gemini capsule really matters to people).

“These things are inherently fragile; telling people to reduce the number of write operations is almost unreasonable because what good is a system you cannot use (or program) as you wish?”So why was it down? The short story is, it was a hardware failure. Not the fault of GNU/Linux or anything like that (in fact, credit to GNU/Linux for letting us fetch another complete backup of the entire system despite the whole file system being in read-only mode). There was no panic, just frustration, and based on what we heard about MicroSD-based (for boot) systems such an error was inevitable and almost predictable. The latest backup (before the “emergency” one was initiated) had been marked only a few days old (contents at most a couple of days behind).

All the services are now back online, the operating system was replaced by Debian 11, and the machine has twice as much storage space as before, which ought to permit us to do things we didn’t even dare when space was tight. To reduce future downtime I also bought a spare disk (card actually) and will work on improving/reducing D-R time, as it’s likely that a similar incident will happen later this year or next year. These things are inherently fragile; telling people to reduce the number of write operations is almost unreasonable because what good is a system you cannot use (or program) as you wish?

“We’re hoping that tonight and tomorrow we can make up for the lost time…”Debian 11 is quite nice, but of course imperfect (perception is an impossibility). It’s the first time I use Debian 11 (my wife, my sister and myself all use Debian 10 on our laptops) and maybe I’ll get to write some positive things about it some time later this year (once I gain more experience/s with it).

We’re hoping that tonight and tomorrow we can make up for the lost time; I hardly slept yesterday (stayed awake for about 20 hours straight, then just 4 hours of sleep) and we have a bunch of things lined up that I never managed to publish as restoring services (like IPFS and Gemini) was more pressing a task, more urgent a need.

The hardest part (to me personally) was having to go to Town for replacement components, knowing that few shops still exist (even fewer because of the pandemic) and the bigger shops are full of unmasked people who don’t respect people’s perimeter (it’s not helping that our government likes to pretend COVID-19 is just some past event).

01.17.22

The GUI Challenge

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 5:13 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Authored by Andy Farnell

Free red light

Summary: The latest article from Andy concerns the Command Line Challenge

Cheapskates wonderful guide is currently running a “One Week Command Line Challenge“. Some of the students I teach now are so young (to an old beard like me) they think this is some “crazy new thing”. Is there new hope and a new perspective to be explored here? Something other than retro and cool. Perhaps historical baggage, the narrative of how “superior” graphical interfaces replaced “old” consoles is an obstacle to new visions for the next generation?

As a lifelong textual user interface (TUI) user this got me thinking. If you were to give me “The GUI Challenge” I’d be sunk! My world (dwm, emacs, w3m etc) feels so familiar, it’s in my bones. After thirty or forty years on the command line if I were forced to use “normal computers” it would cripple my ability to do anything.

“After thirty or forty years on the command line if I were forced to use “normal computers” it would cripple my ability to do anything.”The command-line is super empowering, but particular. Put me on a Mac or Windows machine and I revert to a child-like flap, randomly clicking around on icons that look promising. I’d be twenty times less productive than my peers, yet, modesty be damned, I’m ten times more effective/productive at average computing tasks than other professionals when in my comfort zone – at the command-line. Isn’t this true for us all, that we have our comfy shoes?

Of course this isn’t about some innate inability to use graphical tools. I’ve mastered some jolly complex ones like Blender and Unreal editors (virtual world building), and ProTools or Ardour (for sound and music). One of the most complex I recall was a VLSI/CAD creator that used two four button mice (or mouse and ball).

So, is the command line challenge unfair? I am no more capable of quickly learning a new graphical paradigm than an entrenched GUI user is of adopting the keyboard and console. This probably applies at any age or ability level where you are comparing like-for-like paradigm switching.

No, the issue here is deeper and is about utility paradigms. How do people relate to computers as tools at the highest level – at the operating system level and above?

If you dig back in the Usenet and mailing-list archives, you’ll find fascinating, passionate and intelligent debates on the merits of different interfaces going right back to Xerox-PARC. They are really separate computing cultures. There’s a fair historical summary here.

The above history ends in 2001. GUIs did not end there, the debate has moved further, and many new things have not been well analysed. Mobile, which essentially emulates button-based handheld appliances, cannot really be compared to GUI (in its traditional sense), even though it’s technically a computer running a graphical interface.

“Mobile, which essentially emulates button-based handheld appliances, cannot really be compared to GUI (in its traditional sense), even though it’s technically a computer running a graphical interface.”It’s only since about 2010 that the GUI function of abstracting (hiding away complexity) was subverted by wicked corporations to hide away deception and to effect control. This shift from the abstract to the abstruse and obstructive is what we sometimes call “Dark Computing Patterns”, but really it goes deeper than that – visual computing is it’s own realm of psychology, politics, semiotics, iconography and subterfuge that in many cases thoroughly bastardises the function of computers qua “tools”.

The GUI/TUI debate can be framed in many ways; preference, freedom, extensibility, cognitive overhead, portability, control (tweakability), depth of understanding (legibility), and more.

For me, tool longevity and stability are important. I still use the same applications and skills I learned in 1980. Some people, foolishly I think, imagine that to be a bad/anti-progressive stance. One of the most underrated abilities in computer programming is knowing when something is finished. As is the ability to just use something instead of worshipping it as a digital artefact (cue NFT “first editions of brand apps).

By contrast many of my colleagues must re-learn their entire productivity stack every few months at the whim of corporate developers or seemingly random events in “the market”. I literally hear them anthropomorphising:

“Oh, Slack won’t let me do that now”

“Oh, Google ate my email”

“Sorry, something broke, can you resend it please?”

Their “computers” are chaotic mystery machines, magic fun fairs where superstitious ritual ministrations must be performed. This sort of Scooby-Doo “clown computing” has no place in serious business, in my opinion. So, another hugely underrated quality that TUIs favour is stability.

Where did this mess come from? In the 1980s “home computers” created a culture of their own, and from there Apple and Microsoft, needed to counter a socially constructed but actually mythical “fear” of computers as nerdy and silly, but also “dangerous”. Remember granny worrying that it would “blow up” if you typed the wrong thing?

Continuing a culture of sysadmins from the time-sharing Unix days, we created the “user” as a particular stereotype. To put it quite bluntly, we manufactured “users” to be idiots. Indeed, use of the word “users” instead of a more neutral term like “operators” is significant. The developer-user relationship today is a power relationship, and often an abusive one (in both directions).

In fact denigrating attitudes have their roots in the fragility of early software development. The “user” was an enemy who would always find ways to break our software and exhibit extraordinary “stupidity” by failing to understand our non-obvious interface puzzles. We used tropes like (P.E.B.K.A.C), lusers, and treated others with disrespectful and superior smugness.

Computing had its hashtag moment, and markets demanded that perceptions change. Microsoft solved the problem by erecting some soothing blue fire-hazard cladding around a crumbling DOS. Underneath, exposure to “The Registry” was like staring directly into the open core of Chernobyl.

At that point, enter Apple, who could play Good Cop, adding value by simply subtracting (or consolidating) features. For many, Steve Jobs was elevated to the man who “invented computers”. For a certain generation, he did. The ancient science of HCI (human computer interaction) was beaten and disfigured into the designer denomination of UX/UI that emphasised intuition, feel, and experience, which in turn ushered in the age of performative productivity. This trajectory of form over function culminated in neurotic obsessions with $2000 disposable thin laptops and the Onion’s infamous Apple Wheel parody that confused many as to whether it was a genuinely good idea.

Meanwhile the command line simply kept calm and carried on. Nothing changed in 30 years. Those who ran the servers, databases, scientific and technical applications never strayed far from the console, except where “presentation” demanded. However, through the mass media and advertising, digital technology became synonymous with these corporate veneers over actual computers, while Hollywood made the command-line a glowing green preserve of malcontents bent on destroying civilisation.

So, although the Command Line Challenge is fun – and I hope it inspires some people to go beyond their comfort zone – let’s be aware that human factors, history and politics play a greater role behind the scenes. Yes, it’s about mental models, rote motor skills and habits, rather than any intrinsic good or bad. But it’s also about culture and popular ideas of what a computer “is”.

The emphasis of Cheapskate’s article is on TUI allowing the use of older computers. That’s a very topical and important concern in the age of climate emergency. If readers don’t know already about books like Gerry McGovern’s World Wide Waste, I urge you to read more about e-waste. Making the connections between textual interfacing, more modest tech-minimalist use, and a better society and healthier planet, isn’t obvious to everyone.

There are many reasons people may prefer to return to the command line. I vastly prefer TUI’s for another reason. As a teacher I deal in ideas not applications, so it’s a way of imparting lasting concepts instead of ephemeral glitter. Commands are connections of action concepts to words, essential for foundational digital literacy. Almost everything I can teach (train) students to use by GUI will have changed by the time they graduate.

For younger people the difference is foundational. My daughter and I sit down together and do basic shell skills. She can log in, launch an editor, play music and her favourite cartoon videos. We use Unix talk to chat. It’s slow, but great fun, because character based coms is very expressive as you see the other person typing. She’s already internalising the Holy Trinity – storage, processing and movement.

To make this work I obviously customised bash, creating a kind of safe sandbox for her with highly simplified syntax. This week we are learning about modifier keys – shift is for SHOUTING and control is to CANCEL (you can’t get around needing to teach CTRL-C). What we are really working on is her typing skills, which are the foundation of digital literacy in my opinion. I think at the age of 5 she is already a long way ahead of her school friends who paw at tablets.

In conclusion then, the TUI/GUI saga is about much more than interchangeable and superficial ways of interacting with computers. In it’s essence it is about literacy, the ability to read and write (type). Behind, and ahead of it, are matters of cultural importance relevant to education, autonomy, democracy, self-expression, and the economy. So if you’re a mouser or screen smudger, why not give Cheapskate’s challenge a try?

01.16.22

The Corporate Cabal (and Spy Agencies-Enabled Monopolies) Engages in Raiding of the Free Software Community and Hacker Culture

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 8:46 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 6fda57fbbfbb0443719a2afd74df26d5
Raiding the Community
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: In an overt attack on the people who actually did all the work — the geeks who built excellent software to be gradually privatised through the Linux Foundation (a sort of price-fixing and openwashing cartel for shared interests of proprietary software firms) — is receiving more widespread condemnation; even the OSI has been bribed to become a part-time Microsoft outsourcer as organisations are easier to corrupt than communities

FOUR days ago we mentioned what Microsoft had done to Marak, in effect confiscating his work on Free software though he wasn’t working for Microsoft or even being paid for his work. This caused an uproar; does Microsoft covertly own and control everything in GitHub? If so, it’s not free hosting, it’s the passage of one’s work to Microsoft. What about projects that used GitHub for 14 years? Did they ever consent to such a transaction? And also, what did Microsoft actually pay for when it took over GitHub? Was this a non-consensual sale of code other than the proprietary software of GitHub itself?

“Recently, as we noted here several times, Microsoft tried to claim credit for the mission to Mars by merely asserting that everything in GitHub (as in every project with presence there) is property of Microsoft.”The video above talks about an upcoming series regarding the raiding of the Commons or the privatisation of volunteers’ hard work; not only Microsoft is doing it and I mention AWS as another example — raking in all the profits (financial gains) while denying a living wage to those who actually did all the work.

This crisis isn’t new and discussion about it is well overdue. Yes, Free software powers this planet (also our presence in space and Mars to some degree), but who controls this software? Recently, as we noted here several times, Microsoft tried to claim credit for the mission to Mars by merely asserting that everything in GitHub (as in every project with presence there) is property of Microsoft.

“Nobody accidentally makes a billion dollars while working on protecting human rights and democracy. The only way you make a billion dollars is by working on making a billion dollars.”Aral Balkan

01.14.22

Gemini Clients: Comparing Moonlander, Telescope, Amfora, Kristall, and Lagrange (Newer and Older)

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 9:31 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum b203431f98541dcace6b7b6fcf4a1c5f
Comparing Six Gemini Clients
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: There are many independent implementations of clients (similar to Web browsers) that deal with Gemini protocol and today we compare them visually, using Techrights as a test case/capsule

THE Gemini “newcomers” often ask what to download rather than how to install or set up one’s own Gemini capsule (this typically comes next). So we habitually present the differences between Gemini clients, which target different kinds of users with different needs, platforms (operating systems), and system capacity (some lack a GUI and cannot even attach a screen; some are literally blind). Well, the latest addition to the ‘gallery’ is Kristall, which is thus far our favourite Gemini client because of its decent GNU/Linux (and Qt) integration, not to mention built-in support for some very rudimentary HTML. Kristall is officially packaged for OpenBSD and select GNU/Linux distros.

“Kristall is officially packaged for OpenBSD and select GNU/Linux distros.”The video above shows Moonlander, Telescope, Amfora, Kristall, and Lagrange, of which I have multiple versions installed. In the video the earlier version Lagrange is shown before the recent one. Lagrange is being developed quite frequently and quickly, whereas Kristall was last worked on back in November.

There are other clients such as Castor, which was last updated 4 months ago. This one was last updated 10 hours ago.

At the time of writing Lupa is aware of 1,590 active capsules, so it’s very likely this count will exceed 1,600 some time in the weekend.

Scientific Excellence and the Debian Social Contract

Posted in Debian, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 9:53 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 36cf190fdd0c12e45c5f7a57abbf9449
Corporate Politics in Debian
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: The Debian Project turns 30 next year; in spite of it being so ubiquitous (most of the important distros of GNU/Linux are based on Debian) it is suffering growing pains and some of that boils down to corporate cash and toxic, deeply divisive politics

THE Debian Project, despite the widespread adoption of GNU/Linux globally, certainly isn’t going through easy times. The Debian Social Contract ought not be undermined by political hacks (pseudo-tolerance); it should prioritise science. Yesterday, for the second time in a row, Debian revealed that it had only recruited one Debian Developer per month. As I show in the video above, in past years and even some recent years they could recruit half a dozen or more per month. Last night Dr. Norbert Preining sadly announced that he would leave many Debian packages orphaned; those of us who use Debian know just how important those packages are (even KDE!) and finding a person to fill his shoes would be very difficult as he’s very experienced.

“Suppression of speech in the name of appeasing passive-aggressive bullies is always a bad strategy.”But his decision did not exactly shock me. Going a few years back, he said that his “demotion to Debian Maintainer is – as far as I read the consitution [3], the delegation of DAM [4], and the DAM Wiki page about their rights and powers [5], not legit since besides expulsion there is not procedure laid out for demotion, but I refrained from raising this for the sake of peace.”

They did the same thing to Daniel Pocock and then acted all shocked when he was upset, especially considering the fact that this was done as retribution for his FSFE ‘whistleblowing’ (telling Fellows, as their elected representative, that the FSFE wasn’t giving them their money’s worth). The attacks on Dr. Preining left him bruised as colleagues were choosing sides along superficial lines. People who didn’t (and still don’t) write any code were sucking the fun out of the project and sucking the life out of the community by dividing it along lines such as “pronouns”, not technical work. The video above goes through some of the events that interjected toxic politics into this technical project, causing scientists such as Preining to gradually lose interest, at least judging by the frequency of his posts in recent years.

Debian needs to regain stability, not by gagging people but by re-evaluating the way it treats dissent. Suppression of speech in the name of appeasing passive-aggressive bullies is always a bad strategy.

“I presume it is part of the sea change in the project that occurred with the TC takeover / intrigue which shoehorned 4th place choice, systemd, throughout the distro,” an associate of ours noted yesterday. “There have been many other scandals since then. There are two conflicting situations affecting all potential developers there and elsewhere. One is that volunteer project members want to focus on the code and not CoCs and other barriers to focusing on the code. The other is, as RMS points out, you can ignore the politics but the politics won’t ignore you. Those two facts cause problems where they collide.”

01.13.22

2022 Commences With Microsoft-Themed (and Microsoft-Connected) FUD Against GNU/Linux

Posted in Deception, FUD, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Security, Servers at 8:50 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 0759e712fb7708a8b71cbe9b23ac887f
2022 Starts With Microsoft-Connected Linux FUD
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: A psychopathic Microsoft, aided by operatives inside the mainstream and so-called ‘tech’ media, keeps spreading old and invalid stigma about “Linux” and Free software; few people still bother responding to these fact-free FUD campaigns, which boil down to ‘perception management’ PR/propaganda

THE smear campaigns against Free software are making a big comeback. As Sam Varghese put it just before Christmas, “Log4j attacks remain low-key compared to infosec industry hype” and yesterday we wrote about Microsoft operatives adding baseless stereotypes to the mix, exaggerating the severity of Log4j bugs compared to boundless breaches affecting Microsoft’s products last year.

Well, “it does feel like these attempts at FUD have intensified recently,” Psydroid said in IRC an hour or so ago, and “not a day seems to go by without some new FUD thrown our way…”

Much work was done years ago to show the many, if not most, senior execs in companies are psychopaths (if not necessarily psychotic).   I have realised more recently that companies, themselves, are psychopathic.  We need the equivalent of Asimov's laws applied to companies.Psydroid and I share these concerns with countless others.

In the video above I present new examples (from the past couple of days alone), alluding along the way to Marcus Hutchins and under-reported NSA aspects (those are not outdated or “old news”) while showing that shameless marketing by the Microsoft-connected [1, 2] CrowdStrike accompanies this new wave of Go(Lang)/Linux FUD [1, 2] in Microsoft-friendly sites, which are also happy to frame Windows/VMware problems as “Linux”, probably for the second time in about a month. As if “ESXi servers” are the same as “Linux”… that’s like calling Photoshop “Windows”.

We should moreover note that lots of such FUD (as mentioned in the above video) could be found back when Microsoft was being clobbered by GNU/Linux on the server side and the rise of mobile (Android/iOS) was making Microsoft increasingly irrelevant on the client side too. We saw lots of FUD last year, including that same pattern of Go(lang) FUD, and it seems to be making a comeback as soon as this year starts. What’s behind it? Mostly a PR or perception manipulation campaign, as the facts don’t justify the alert/hype/panic. It’s all about manipulation of opinion, as Mark Kent noted some hours ago. Profits first, facts never.

Companies are all psychopathic.   We need something like Asimov's laws for companies introduced.   In the following order:  A company: 1) never allows harm to humanity; 2) never allows harm to a person; 3) obeys orders by humans;  4) protects its own existence.

Call a Spade a Spade (Microsoft ‘Contributions’ to Linux)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft at 8:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 10150a5e18458913bacdcf12178481f6
Linux is Not Windows
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: Call a spade a spade; Microsoft does not love Linux and doesn’t try to help Linux, as it’s still all about Windows and proprietary software with surveillance, back doors, and worse things

THIS morning Phoronix published yet another Microsoft article; within 88 minutes there were already 9 responses/comments and by the time I opened the forum section (as per the above video) there were even more than 9. People respond rationally, adding what Michael Larabel tends to leave out. The comments are typically more insightful than the articles (when it comes to Microsoft at least) and it's not helping that Larabel took 'freebies' from Microsoft.

“Almost nobody is permitted to speak out against this sinister agenda.”In any event, the video above takes stock of what we wrote yesterday about Mesa. Microsoft turns Mesa into a mess, adding to it things that benefit nobody except Microsoft/Windows. This morning in Daily Links we dubbed it "More Microsoft Aggression Against Linux" and it’s even worse than it seems on the surface. It’s more nefarious than ever before because it’s done from the inside; the Linux Foundation takes money from Microsoft, so it won’t put an end to it. Instead, Zemlin and the Microsoft employees he has put in charge will put Linus Torvalds in mental care.

Almost nobody is permitted to speak out against this sinister agenda. Even Larabel seems apprehensive and having known him since Phoronix was a relatively new site I can say with certainty he does not like and does not trust Microsoft. Why doesn’t he speak more freely/openly on these matters? Honestly, candidly, without restraint or self-censorship for fear of alienating sponsors (corporations) and subscribers (some of whom work for those corporations)…

01.11.22

Microsoft Thinks It Owns Mesa (and Computer Games)

Posted in Deception, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft at 3:35 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum e77e3134aa5b9988072f2ae29694b916
Calling Out the Threat
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: Microsoft keeps hijacking projects that compete against Windows, thinking that it is “Mister Linux” and “Mister Mesa”; Linux news sites should recognise this ongoing threat and cover it accordingly, not celebrating these attacks

Michael Larabel is a good person, but no person is perfect and over the years we’ve written about the twists and turns of his first baby, Phoronix [1, 2, 3], which is the means by which he makes a living for his wife and toddler. I don’t mean to sound too critical of Larabel, but it remains to be seen whether he can accept that Microsoft is definitely not a friend of Linux (not the same as the Linux Foundation) and should be treated accordingly. As someone put it hours ago in the comments: “Linux will benefit? If not, their patches shouldn’t be included in mesa [...] It’s mainly for Linux to begin with and most of the mesa code serves Linux. Their intentions are clearly bad, so mesa is becoming Microsoft sink.” (Slightly edited)

“As noted in the video above, some graphics (drivers) coders in the Linux world have openly complained about this WSL agenda, which not only messes with Mesa but also works against Linux’s interest.”It’s about Microsoft “Embracing and Extending” Mesa to promote Windows and DirectX. As noted in the video above, some graphics (drivers) coders in the Linux world have openly complained about this WSL agenda, which not only messes with Mesa but also works against Linux’s interest.

Microsoft loves Windows, not Linux. If Phoronix loves Linux, then it should adapt to the threat, which is now an inside threat.

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