01.24.22

Proprietary Software is Pollution

Posted in Apple, Hardware, Microsoft at 1:00 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Authored by Dr. Andy Farnell

The global pollution
The global pollution crisis has contributing factors

Summary: “My daughter asked me about why are we throwing away some bits of technology,” Dr. Andy Farnell says. “This is my attempt to put into words for “ordinary” people what I tried to explain to a 6 year old.”

Proprietary waste

It remains mostly unnoticed that proprietary (non-free) technology is an indirect but enormous contributor to planetary pollution through e-waste and inefficiency. If you value the environment, stop buying it.

“Most likely you bought a phone, tablet or other gadget that uses proprietary software. Proprietary software cannot be reused.”Electronic waste is wrecking planet Earth. 50 million tons of phones, household appliances, computers and gadgets are disposed of annually. Most of it is illegally shipped to India, China and Africa where it’s shredded and burned by child workers who are poisoned. Large amounts of toxic “forever chemicals”, dioxins, micro-plastics and heavy metals are released into the environment poisoning life all around the planet. (See Dannoritzer 2014 Dannoritzer14)

But we need technology, so what can you do? Well, one cause is that software goes out of date long before physical devices grow old. Most of what we throw away works perfectly. It would last another 10 years. So, this waste and pollution is quite preventable.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are the three ways we can eliminate waste and protect our environment” according to official US and European policies. Yet when it comes to electronic waste, governments do almost nothing to give force to these common sense ideas. Instead they support, by laws and propaganda, active opposition to ecologically sound practices by corporations.

A massive contributor to e-waste is avoidable obsolescence through non-replaceable software. So called “digital rights management” (DRM) has a direct impact on e-waste because region locking means all kinds of goods from DVDs to phone handsets are rendered useless. DRM chips embedded into everything from game consoles to printer ink cartridges are designed to make sure perfectly usable goods must be destroyed. There are even laws, lobbied for by corporations, which make it illegal to try reusing or recycling electronic devices. This has to stop.

Most likely you bought a phone, tablet or other gadget that uses proprietary software. Proprietary software cannot be reused. It cannot be repaired, shared, or modified. Electronic devices often come locked so that you cannot update obsolete software. Would you buy a disposable car that could not be refuelled? Or imagine buying a flashlight for which you cannot replace the battery. That is literally how Apple iPhones are designed. It is how Microsoft makes computers so that its awful “Windows” operating system cannot be replaced with something better.

Yet cheap new batteries and fuel are metaphorically available to everyone as Free Software. If you have freedom to install fresh software on your own devices we call that Software Freedom. You have “Food Freedom”, because you are allowed to buy food from any shop. Just as you may fill your car from any gas station, people have an inalienable right to put fresh software of their own choosing on their own devices. I call the alternative “Consumer Communism”.

Don’t feed the landfill

To avoid contributing to toxic pollution when purchasing new electronic goods an environmentally conscious buyer will look out for these major problems:

  1. Locked boot-loaders
  2. Digital rights management
  3. “Software as a service” contracts
  4. “Smart” connected devices

Locked boot-loaders mean that you cannot install your own choice of operating system or applications on your gadget. When the supplied software fails due to age or security faults you won’t be able to extend its life. Even if you personally wouldn’t want to service the device it still means that engineers at a recycling centre or thrift shops who refurbish devices cannot salvage them.

Digital rights management (which are really digital restrictions) make it illegal for people to fix broken devices. Like boot-loader locking they can also be used to enforce other kinds of crippling and ‘regioning’. This is what makes your perfectly good devices stop working when you move to another city.

Everyone has heard of the scam where you buy something online, and receive only a picture of it. Increasingly we are sold gadgets that don’t actually come with the necessary software to work, but just a ‘link’. Instead the software resides “in the cloud”. The company then charges you to access it. At a whim they can change the price, or even what the software does. Or they can discontinue that software. You are left with a useless gadget, ‘a brick’ that must be thrown away.

“Software as a service” is increasingly pushed by big corporations like Adobe, Microsoft and Google. You should avoid products whose business model rests on constant internet connection, because this is precarious, wasteful and disruptive.

Do not be fooled into accepting false claims about “security updates”. It is perfectly possible to write software that is secure from the get-go. However, it is expensive to do that. It cuts into profit. Secure software can also protect its owner from the vendor. There is an unspoken conflict of interests in all discussions around cyber-security. Big companies ship insecure software not because they are stupid, but because they intend to. They are lazy, tight and dishonest.

So-called “smart” connected devices are very often like this. They are also completely unnecessary. Do you need to have a camera or microphone in your “Smart TV”. No. Is there any advantage for you to do so? No. Do you want your kids exposed to inappropriate advertising forced through these devices? No.

Yet companies subsidise the prices of “Spy TVs” because they can make lots of money selling your personal data. When people learn of this they want to get rid of their Spy TV, especially if they have children who they do not want perverts watching. These rogue products could be fixed by replacing the software to permanently change how they work. But they are designed to be very hard to repair using Free Software. Manufacturers may even have the law in their side to stop you neutralising threats to your own family.

When thinking about computer security it is no longer sufficient to presume a shared value that makes life safer for everyone. We must ask “Security for who?”, “Security from whom or what?”, and “Security to what end?”. The needs of end users, vendors and governments are increasingly at odds. There is no longer any such thing as ‘bare security’.

In particular, vendors and publishers want security from the end user. That’s you! You are not a “trusted” party on your own property. If that sounds insane, that’s because it is. It’s a colossal abuse and bastardisation of every facet of property, agency and freedom established by rule of law in liberal democracies in the last century – and it needs stamping on like the sticky creepy-crawly of cloaked fascism that it is.

By buying proprietary digital products you contribute to this and to literal toxic pollution. Other than childish bragging rights and shallow vanity, what use is an internet connected toaster? Companies have run out of ways to add value to electronic products, so they foist pointless features on buyers. Not only are “smart” features used to spy on you, but also to break products by remote actions. This way you have to buy new ones.

Let’s talk about the priority of sane ecological policy. Reduction is better than reuse, and repair/reuse is better than recycling. We have the options to:

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

Politely refuse

These are choices you need to assert to avoid technological tyranny not unlike that of the petroleum and tobacco industries of the last century. Modern digital technologies have a bullying aspect to them. So I have long argued that there is a fourth R we miss, to refuse.

Most of the companies making phones and computers have lost sight of what is good for all our futures. They only want to make and sell more. But we already have enough, and what we have is good enough.

We have departed from rational, informed and voluntary market choices. Technologies are increasingly forced upon us. The benefits are diminishing returns on increasing social and environmental costs. Not buying new digital goods is a rational move for preserving the environment, our mental wellbeing and personal safety.

Breathless language is all around us in the media telling us how overuse of “ubiquitous” technology is “necessary”, “required”,
“essential”, “inevitable”, and a “new normal”. Recognise it as propaganda and marketing from trillion dollar mega-corporations who make their fortunes from technological waste. False rationales like “efficiency” and “security” increasingly proffered are dishonest.

Technology overuse is making us all less efficient and more insecure. More of it won’t help. We need to build better, simpler, less wasteful and more humane technology. Much of that can be achieved by reprogramming hardware that already exists. For example, the circuits from an iPhone3 can make an amazing solar powered web-server, eliminating the carbon footprint of an energy guzzling data-centre rack. Yet most older iPhones are destroyed because they are not easy to reprogram.

So always remember, the first option you have is to refuse. Don’t be suckered into upgrading to new devices, services or software updates designed to exploit your uncertainty about “being left behind”. Does what you have work well enough? If so it should continue to work well enough. If that changes, it means somebody broke it. If that happens, they ought to pay you compensation and fix what they broke, so that it works as you purchased it. As it is, tech companies act like they sold you a house, then come around a month later and smash all your windows. “Oh sorry” they say, “your house isn’t ‘supported’ any longer, you’ll need to buy a new one”.

A massive difference you can make is to only buy electronic goods that will run Free Software. Free Software enables you to have a police force that will stop these hoodlums trespassing on your property and doing criminal damage. When GNU/Linux software such as Debian or PineOS replaces the wasteful proprietary software on your device it also means old computers and phones can be refurbished for use in schools, or simply kept working longer in businesses. That’s great for the environment. So, for the sake of our planet, please stop contributing to e-waste by buying devices that only run bullying proprietary software.

Life on this planet is dying because of things we do. One of those things involves simple choices about what electronic gadgets we buy. E-waste and its relation to proprietary software is a big factor not just in pollution but energy use. Wrongly calling wanton consumption “growth” or “progress” is dishonest. Does your latest iThing really do anything your last one didn’t?

Many countries are implementing legislation to enforce our “Right to repair”. Support this. Insist on more and stronger rights. This is also a right not to forced to waste energy or create pollution. We urgently need to recognise the role of proprietary software, DRM, so called “trusted computing” not just as choice/freedom issues but as direct attacks on the environment. It is a form of pollution.

License

This work is licensed under version 4.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. Please share amongst your friends or include on your website.

Bibliography

  • [Dannoritzer14] Cosima Dannoritzer, The E-Waste Tragedy, ARTE, Media 3.14 (2014).

01.09.22

Pluton Proponents Working for Plutocracy (and Pentagon Agenda)

Posted in DRM, Hardware, Microsoft, Security at 9:13 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum e4f546765ee91f39ec73c54d22592984
Self-Described Social Justice Imposters Help Microsoft
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: We’re meant to think that Pluton is nothing to worry about because it hasn’t yet been turned on by default (or the ability to turn it off hasn’t been obstructed yet); this is another massive attack by Microsoft on software freedom, contrary to what Microsoft apologists try to tell us

“Vendor lock-in moves further up the stack,” an associate warned the other day, citing Microsoft operatives such as Paul Thurrott (he wasn’t alone).

The news was made public after AMD had worked with Microsoft behind the scenes, looking to salvage x86/Windows monoculture, which is waning gradually.

“People know too little about this “Pluton” nonsense.”The associate noted the steps: “UEFI, TPM 2, Pluton…”

People know too little about this “Pluton” nonsense. “That’s been kept out of the daylight for a reason,” the associate noted. “The XBox served only as a testbed for DRM which gradually makes its way into the mainstream wintel market.”

“I have to say that it’s been obvious from the beginning what the XBox is about,” the associate continued, having warned about this for a very long time. More than a decade in fact…

“Notice that it is Ars Techica and ZDNet which are among the very few announcing Pluton,” the associate said, taking note of Microsoft-connected (and Microsoft-briefed) publications. Looking outside Microsoft’s “copypasta kitchen”, one finds actual details rather than marketing fluff, pretending it’s about “security” rather than vendor lock-in. “So it only allows the execution of programs signed by Microsoft itself for the console,” this one says. So first they try to be the authority responsible for signing Linux kernels and now they move to the application layer. It’s worse than the TLS/CA monopoly/oligopoly, which is little/barely different/better than a diploma mill or a pyramid scheme with a chain of trust or accreditation.

“In the video above I focus on one particularly malicious actor, who has been pushing this agenda for a decade while threatening to sue his critics.”The so-called ‘Linux’ Foundation is moving in a similar direction with applications, UEFI ‘secure’ boot, and even certificates (Let’s Encrypt). They’re centralising everything, so Pentagon contractors get to control the whole stack. Or so they hope…

In the video above I focus on one particularly malicious actor, who has been pushing this agenda for a decade while threatening to sue his critics.

While our criticism was technical and legal, this person makes it personal. It’s a tactic with casualties. Yes, it’s Matthew Garrett, whom we called a "Microsoft Apologist" almost exactly 10 years ago (in the headline). His misuse of the term “Social Justice” is an insult to people who actually pursue social justice rather than 6-figure salaries from a company like Gulag (Google).

Our associate noted that “maybe a good topic [to cover] would be avoiding vendor lock-in through open standards if not also free and open source software.”

“While our criticism was technical and legal, this person makes it personal.”We’ll write a lot more about it later this year.

“Microsoft is using Pluton for its “Linux” servers in Azure too,” psydroid noted in IRC, “as a kind of counterpart to Google’s Titan, which is an “open” technology, however the biggest risk is that other companies outside of Intel, AMD and Qualcomm also jump on the Pluton bandwagon. I’ve read about Mediatek potentially being onboard.”

“Work back from the data towards the hardware,” the associate noted. “Microsoft and Apple are working that direction towards lock-in while at the same time working from the system firmware on up towards lock-in. So far much of it is mandatorily present but disabled by default, for now. When that crap meets in the middle, they will start making it active by default. Also, that looks like the main reasons for the push to “cloud” storage for data. That way they have control of the data without quibbling over file formats: there are no files, at least none the public can get at.”

Tell that to the EPO, which is outsourcing almost everything to Microsoft while Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos plunder Europe…

01.03.22

[Meme] A ‘Good’ Consumer

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Hardware at 9:55 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Computer 5 years old, time to get a new one

Summary: It may be worthwhile reminding people that Free software makes the world a better place ecologically, too [1, 2]

Software Freedom Makes the World a Greener Place, Too

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Hardware at 9:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum b9818d9e345d7dc111adbe5628e972f2

Summary: We probably need to improve our messaging along the lines of energy consumption and rejection of planned obsolescence in advocacy of free-as-in-freedom software

THE so-called ‘Linux’ Foundation is a total disgrace that is greenwashing the worst offenders and the biggest polluters on the planet, especially Microsoft [1, 2]. It’s even plastered all over the 2021 annual report. But then again, it’s not about software freedom but about openwashing and reputation laundering. The so-called ‘Linux’ Foundation should never even be called “Linux” anything; it’s a misleading name. Similarly, FSFE was repeatedly asked by the FSF to rename, as it had violated an agreement on the use of the name. FSFE is a bunch of self-serving dictators bankrolled by Gulag and Microsoft. They try to censor actual proponents of software freedom, who aren’t doing this for a salary but altruism and ideology. Same as the OSI, which they colluded with (against volunteers and lifelong activists).

“We need to think or rethink how we use (or reuse, recycle) technology; as gemini:// is 100% Free software (all software I’ve ever seen for it was liberally licensed) and works across many platforms — including very old ones — one stepping stone towards lowering “footprint” (energy and surveillance) is to encourage adoption of it.”My rants about fake NGOs aside (the IRS needs to bust them for misuse of tax exemption status; maybe it already does), the video above concerns Dr. Andy Farnell’s excellent article from last night. I show this article as GemText over gemini:// because I wish to encourage more people to adopt Gemini, which is vastly better for the environment, both in terms of system requirements and the energy it takes to load a page. Incidentally, those who use gemini:// to access Techrights did not notice the 4-hour downtime of the Web site yesterday (due to electric outage) and benefited from a secure connection that does not involve a CA like the so-called 'Linux' Foundation's Let's Encrypt.

We need to think or rethink how we use (or reuse, recycle) technology; as gemini:// is 100% Free software (all software I’ve even seen for it was liberally licensed) and works across many platforms — including very old ones — one stepping stone towards lowering “footprint” (energy and surveillance) is to encourage adoption of it. There are many other things one can do in order to lessen human suffering; in the video above I show my PDA, which is a model made in 2002, i.e. 20 years ago. It still works. My alarm clock and stereo were made in the 1990s and I use them every day. We need to demand from companies that they use components made to last, not to break after about 5 years, spurring another wave of sales (bad for the planet, not just for the wallet).

To make matters worse, some of the CAs are spurring further obsolescence; it’s a known issue which we were reminded of last year because many old devices ceased to work with the Web. There was no workaround because the so-called ‘Linux’ Foundation with its silly CA had a “cert” expire (last year wasn’t the first time) and then the software relying upon that “cert” — somewhere further up the chain — panicked over n nothing; Gemini does not force such a reliance on third party CAs, so it’s not bad for the environment like the Web is.

01.02.22

My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part IX — Hard Reckonings: The Nine Circles of E-Waste

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Hardware at 5:30 pm by Guest Editorial Team

By Dr. Andy Farnell

Series parts:

  1. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part I — 2021 in Review
  2. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part II — Impact of a ‘COVID Year’
  3. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part III — Lost and Found; Losing the Mobile Phone (Cellphone)
  4. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part IV — Science or Scientism?
  5. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part V — Change in Societal Norms and Attitudes
  6. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part VI — The Right Words
  7. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part VII — Staying the Course and Fake It Till You Make It?
  8. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part VIII — Who Teaches the Teachers?
  9. YOU ARE HERE ☞ Hard Reckonings: The Nine Circles of E-Waste

Penguins pair

Summary: Dr. Andy Farnell shares his knowledge of the great extent to which technology pollutes and ruins this planet, the only inhabitable planet, especially when overused (or used rather poorly, recklessly, lavishly, excessively, exceedingly, sparingly, selfishly for the sake of class vanity/voyeurism)

The problem of e-waste came into full focus for me in 2021. Prior to writing Digital Vegan I had not seen any connection between my fervour for technology and effects on the planet. I assumed that computer hardware I throw away creates a negligible environmental impact and that most of it is successfully recycled. In fact Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is a significant problem. Two neighbouring issues are the real costs of production of electronics and the energy costs of running them.

“I found it horribly disappointing to face these facts, as like most computer scientists I’ve basked in the narrative that “at least digital technology is helping save the planet”.”In this article I don’t want to go too much into the extraordinary statistics around the subject. Please follow the links and read the books. However, in short, digital life is “costing us the Earth”. It’s at a scale comparable with global transport, fossil fuel burning and forest erosion. It’s one of the “Big Factors”. Each year we throw away billions of gadgets creating hundreds of millions of tons of waste and the consequences are alarming.

I found it horribly disappointing to face these facts, as like most computer scientists I’ve basked in the narrative that “at least digital technology is helping save the planet”. Surely communications stops unnecessary travel? Surely the efficiencies enabled by digital management reduce carbon overall? We are the good guys right? In a crude mechanical world that runs on oil, are we not beings of electricity and light, spotless pioneers of the meta world? Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Digital is physical. Every byte is supported by an atom. Every digital action costs the Earth energy.” – Gerry McGovernWorld Wide Waste 2021

Pondering this made me realise, the intersection of capitalism and digital technology can only be described as nine circles of an inferno, each interlocks with and confounds the others.

Circle One: Demand.

In the outer ring we have the totally unnecessary demand created by advertising, social configuration and addiction. These are predominantly the topics I deal with in Digital Vegan. Peer pressure to have “up to date” devices creates “techno-vanity”. Over-complex and poor quality web and “app” technology ensures a bariatric bloat of obscenely inefficient software that in turn fuels demand for more powerful hardware. The relationship between the software and hardware sides of BigTech is a closed feeding loop. Carriers encourage phone subscribers to dump perfectly good handsets during Black Friday and Cyber Monday orgies of consumption. We simply buy way too much stuff and extract only a fraction of is value before disposing of it.

Circle Two: Materials

Some of my research this year has been directed toward understanding the origins of material components of digital tech. This is circle two. Rare-earth elements are, eponymously, in rather short supply. Their mining and supply is the cause of wars, displacements, massacres, corruption and shady geopolitical machinations. Some are dubbed “conflict minerals” and their supply is officially regulated, but as you would expect, given extraordinary demand, regulation is weak and corruption common. Politically, the road-map for their exhaustion is ugly beyond imagination, and probably includes new wars for mineral rights in Africa and Antarctica.

Circle Three: Manufacture

Beyond raw materials let’s consider the manufacturing cost of electronic goods. There are three substantial problems afoot. The first is pure energy costs. By the time something as tiny as an iPhone is made it’s consumed a quarter gigajoule of raw energy, in silicon wafer processing, aluminium smelting, copper extraction and so forth. In terms of CO2 produced, it’s about 25kg, but the process also requires ten thousand litres of processed cooling water! That’s an extraordinary hidden cost in a world where clean drinking water is in short supply for some people. That 25kg is only what is required to create the device, before any logistics of getting it to you.

“The notorious Foxconn factory is likely only the most visible face of what are essentially slave labour camps in India, China and elsewhere.”The second issue here is global markets. We neither produce nor dispose of electronics close to its use point. If it’s shipped from China and flows through the typical supply lines of BigBox warehouses such as Amazon or Walmart, it accrues a further 25kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

The third issue is labour relations. The notorious Foxconn factory is likely only the most visible face of what are essentially slave labour camps in India, China and elsewhere. Mostly female workers, many underage, eat rotting food, live, sleep and work in dangerous conditions, experience physical abuse and sexual molestation, and are on permanent suicide-watch. We all seem quite happy that this is the price of our cheap iThings.

Circle Four: Operation

A factor that shocked me is the overall operating costs of digital, in terms of the networks and data-centres, microwave links, air-conditioning, and so forth. Using a phone for one hour per day consumes 1250kg of carbon dioxide in a year, or the equivalent of flying from Paris to New York. That’s before we even think about the colossal storage facilities and cloud services of Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in the civilian sector, and the gargantuan data centres intelligence agencies like the NSA are building for “Total Information Awareness”. Even if you accepted the ideological basis of the surveillance state, a valid objection would stand on environmental grounds alone, as the “collect it all and keep forever” mentality is unsustainable even in the short term.

Circle Five: Maintenance

I also spent time looking at the life-cycle of computers. Can they be reused, repaired, upgraded, side-graded, re-homed or repurposed? What happens when we decommission them? Can they be broken apart to reuse modules? What happens to the scrap steel, aluminium, and the waste electronics containing thousands of valuable, toxic or otherwise dangerous compounds? The sensible thing is to keep them operating as long as possible. We should look after digital gadgets.

“One problem with maintenance is knowledge. Simple skills like changing a battery or soldering a broken connector are vanishing from the world. Concomitant with spreading ignorance is changing attitudes, as Western “consumers” consider it beneath them to turn a screwdriver.”I am a big fan, and occasional contributor to cheapskates guide, a remarkable web resource that champions reuse and care for digital electronics. The author also spends time researching, testing Linux and other operating systems on old hardware, and exploring more human-centred approaches to digital lifestyle.

One problem with maintenance is knowledge. Simple skills like changing a battery or soldering a broken connector are vanishing from the world. Concomitant with spreading ignorance is changing attitudes, as Western “consumers” consider it beneath them to turn a screwdriver.

Other reasons people baulk at maintaining older equipment include space. Bulky computers seem a luxury in the ever diminishing urban living-spaces. A good reason to scrap older gear is that it’s much less power-efficient, so replacing an old tower computer with a Raspberry Pi might save a lot of electricity overall. Digital rights sometimes conflict with environmental concerns, for example if hard-drives with plenty of remaining service life are shredded for data protection reasons.

Circle Six: Growth

Generally, all-factors-growth in technology continues at between 5 and 7 percent annually. Half of the world owns at least one active smartphone or network connected device. The average Chinese person has three. That means we still have potentially 3.5 billion more people who might want to get connected, and an exploding range of new services that tech companies want to offer, or foist-upon, the other half of the planet. People are cycling devices at approximately 18 month intervals, bringing the total annual energy cost – just of production – to around 2EJ per year of use, currently ten percent of all electricity production. That’s not even considering operation costs or mentioning the energy costs of proof-of-work cryptocurrencies. There are no reliable overall figures but it looks like we may be using 25% of all global energy on digital.

“There are no reliable overall figures but it looks like we may be using 25% of all global energy on digital.”Not only is the numerical quantity of devices growing, and the measured activity of those devices, but the footprint of each unit of use is also growing despite more power efficient CPUs. We simply squeeze more function in. Though these units of energy seem insignificant, they are very significant observed at scale.

For example; roughly, a 1990′s style simple HTTP web page of about 1kB consumed the energy of tossing a coin, or a bird taking flight. A modern web page makes thousands of connections and brings down tens of megabytes of data just to load a page of text. It consumes as much energy as a cup of coffee or an apple. Now multiply that by a conservatively estimated 10 billion per second.

This growth also impacts on device longevity. Sheer speed of development renders any gadget apparently worthless within months of being unboxed. These factors contribute to billions more discarded devices constituting hundreds of millions of tonnes of e-waste.

Circle Seven: Software Quality

Then there is the laughable quality of software running on our gadgets. Software is the only kind of engineering that gets measurably less efficient every year. Bloat, reckless software engineering and awful security reduce the value of devices. Many IoT devices are junk and will incur tremendous clean up and disposal costs because they were designed with bad software. Only recently have any government standards of basic quality, security and fitness for purpose touched the “Internet Of Things”. BIOS and firmware updates sometimes render devices broken, but so does the lack of updates in a world where everything else is changing. Much of this can be seen as a software quality issue.

Circle Eight: The Law

Assuming that we could overcome the practical and political obstacles to our digital bonfire of resources, we still live in a society that gives legal incentives for, indeed thoroughly rewards, conspicuous and unnecessary waste. First consider the perverse incentives of manufacturers to deliberately break, inhibit, corrupt and maliciously control hardware as designed obsolescence. We have also failed to defend “consumer law” regarding quality, ownership, contract and proper remedy against abusive vendors.

There are so many laws that favour the wasteful behaviour of tech-giants, like trade agreements, DMCA type provisions, regioning, copyrights, patents, trademarks and so on. These maximise corporate profits by crippling peoples’ ability to share, repair, reuse and recycle technology. They guarantee landfills must swell with more e-waste.

Circle 9: Disposal

My father-in-law is a Nobel prize winner who, along with a team of pioneering chemists contributed to what is now known as the Kyoto Protocol. We’ve had many interesting chats on subjects of his expertise, one of which is “forever chemicals” – the bio-accumulative, mutagenic, indestructible constituents of much electronic technology. Electronic goods contain lots of these, used as fire retardants and waterproofing agents.

Whether obsolete and insecure by design, incompetence or pure malice, we are ensuring that any phone, IoT device or “smart” TV has a business-class privilege boarding pass for the “recycling boat” to Africa, China or India.

“Whether obsolete and insecure by design, incompetence or pure malice, we are ensuring that any phone, IoT device or “smart” TV has a business-class privilege boarding pass for the “recycling boat” to Africa, China or India.”On arrival the shipping containers are emptied into illegal open “recycling” sites, beside a river or lake, where child labourers smash it up with hammers, burn and wash the fragments with acid in open pyres. Welcome to the inner circle of Hell. The slurry, when crystallised reclaims a small percentage of valuable metals, but also releases toxic heavy metals, lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium that wash into the water or leach from poor temporary storage.

The children inhale a lethal mixture of particulate carcinogens, from both the crushing and burning steps. The life expectancy of these workers does not bear thinking about. In addition, vast quantities of dioxins, phalates, and bromo-fluorocarbons belch into the atmosphere where, after falling as contaminated rain into the oceans they will cause sterility, cancers and birth defects for potentially hundreds of years.

What to do?

From the chemistry of electronic products, their energy and water use, and their longevity, to effects of waste on the environment… this year I’ve read much more than makes me feel happy. It feels bad, because I am a way above average contributor to the problem (from where I write I can see at least seven operational computers right now). Here’s a factor where I definitely cannot criticise anyone else.

“It’s one small part of thinking as a Digital Vegan.”Maybe much of it is untrue. the statistics are dizzying. One cannot gain an empirical feel for what is happening on a global scale. There is so much to take in, from chip fabrication, VLSI composition, technologies for recycling and the political/legal problems of hardware monopoly, global skills, manufacturing politics, questionable provenance of raw materials and supply chains.

I don’t know what we can do to work towards Greener Gadgets and tackle World Wide Waste 2021. I suggest you do more research on the real costs of your convenience, such as this article by Katie Singer or this by Alba Ardura Gutiérrez, to pick a couple of recent ones at random. It’s one small part of thinking as a Digital Vegan.

Index: Loss of Control Over Cars

Posted in DRM, Free/Libre Software, Hardware at 9:46 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The car drives you!

Summary: The series that we published at the end of 2021 seems very relevant now that Ford’s Board of Directors welcomes Deere CEO John May

We recently did a 5-part series about the loss of control over cars that we pay for. Here are the 5 parts all in one place:

We’re meanwhile seeing, in the past few days’ news, that DRM inside vehicles is a phenomenon that spreads further and more widely. From our upcoming batch of Daily Links:

“The direction that Ford may be heading can be as bad or worse than where John Deere is now,” an associate of ours notes. “The people forced to buy cars have no choice but to accept whatever is pushed on them by the dealers and the dealers promote what they are told to promote by the manufacturers. That’s how the world ended up with everyone commuting to work in what are legally and tonnage-wise actually medium sized trucks.”

Deere’s abuse of the concept of ‘ownership’ was noted early in the above series. One can safely predict or expect things to get worse, not better. See the video below.

Video download link

12.06.21

“Wintel” “Secure” uEFI Firmware Used to Store Persistent Malware, and Security Theater Boot is Worthless

Posted in Hardware, Microsoft, Security at 1:06 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Guest post by Ryan, reprinted with permission from the original

Free space

PCMag now reports (And calls out Windows! Good!) that the situation where persistent rootkit malware that doesn’t really need anything except to run once, somehow, on a Windows machine, is now being installed into the system’s uEFI firmware, where it will survive what most Windows users end up doing every time their computer ends up acting weird….nuking Windows and re-installing from scratch.

It was already so much easier for Microsoft to include “Reset this PC” than it was to fix Windows that this has been a staple for the past decade. It sometimes works, unless something has also corrupted the WIM installer image on the recovery partition, which also takes up precious SSD space.

However, with the latest threat to Windows users, which uEFI made possible (as bootkits on legacy BIOS were unheard of), no matter how many times you re-install Windows, no matter whether or not TPM or Secure Boot are on and enforced, it won’t matter. The malware isn’t running in a part of your computer that is subjected to any sort of auditable behavior.

Therefore, the only way to prevent a foothold situation is to get rid of Windows now, while it may not be too late, and replace it with GNU/Linux.

Again, most people find that their “must have” Windows software works in Wine. Sometimes Wine even resurrects programs that Windows itself has been incompatible with or partially broke years ago.

Instead of fixing Windows, Microsoft spends billions in “shadow advertising” to pay “freelance” writers to make “Linux” sound like a security disaster too, so there’s this “false equivalence” in the user’s mind.

My dad used to do the same thing to my mother when she threatened to divorce him. “You know if you leave me, your cancer will come back and there won’t be anyone to help you with that. The kids won’t be able to come back and live with me because I won’t have them”.

Like, here’s the biggest dickhead in the world, right? And mom’s 64 now and she’s fine, and I’m pushing 40, will be 40 in a couple years and some change and I’m fine, right? Bullies always use threats which turn out to be puffery. They want you to think they’re all powerful. And their antics usually get worse as they lose power.

So we should see that Microsoft is acting from a position of weakness.

There’s this whole Truman Show thing going on right now they’re up in the tower panicking because he finally realizes everything around him is fake and he needs to leave, and he finally decides to escape the island.

So all of a sudden there’s a fake nuclear power plant meltdown, and actors getting in the way of his car, and a wind storm being generated on the lake to try to scare him into giving up and thinking he was crazy, and going back to the show. And up until that point, every time he started to question the nature of things, they could always increase his fear of the unknown to overcome his curiosity, or his need to grow. And that’s exactly how abusers operate.

The very act of porting Microsoft Pretender to “Linux” is a part of this psyop.

They fund nasty trolls to imply that there is a remote technical possibility of targeting GNU/Linux users. (Technically possible, but much, much more difficult and far less pay off.)

I have another post coming about that, very shortly.

Just using some back of the napkin math, however, Windows is more than 10 times bigger than GNU/Linux after a fresh install as measured by disk footprint.

Secunia wrote in 2014 that the defect density for open source code was 0.59 defects per 1,000 lines, and for proprietary it was 0.72.

(The bonus in their reports is that the one from the prior year showed that C++ projects tended to be a much bigger security mess than C. Linux the kernel is almost entirely C. Linus was right!)

So if you assume that there’s about 10 times as much source code in Windows (which is amazing, considering that the built-in apps are useless and you don’t get a free fully-featured operating system, only SKUs with various parts of the OS disabled, and most people will try to get a different web browser, LibreOffice, and VLC anyway), and you give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re not writing garbage that’s even worse than the proprietary software average (LOL), there’d still be well over 12 times as many bugs in the Windows operating system as in GNU/Linux, even though Windows doesn’t have good features and quality software included.

(It usually comes with a lot of crapware from the OEM though, and that’s a totally different story, and makes the situation worse.)

There absolutely is a security cost to leaving a ton of garbage laying around and no good security practices for software installation and package management (just a failed crApp Store with fake apps and junk), and Windows “users” (useds) are paying this price every day.

Wisdom comes by seeing bullshit, calling bullshit, and refusing to be a part of the bullshit. Software is getting to be so tertiary to what Microsoft even does to make money.

What they seem to do these days boils down to spawn camping “Linux” while they don’t even use Windows internally that much anymore, in favor of “Linux”, and suing Android OEMs -or- offering to cram pack your new phone with pestware that demands to connect to Microsoft. (Samsung)

I’m heartened that the “news” is starting to rebel against this disgusting spectacle that’s going on around Microsoft Edge lately and is no longer just calling Windows bugs a “PC problem” in every article. Hopefully, the more Microsoft tightens their grasp, the more things slip through their fingers.

11.10.21

What It’s Like to Work With Eight Monitors on the Cheap (Less Than $1,000 in Total)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Hardware at 3:43 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 775441e5399d60277dfdd84f18872840

Summary: At the start of November I shuffled things around as my audio system (since 2013) had died; today I show the way I keep an eye on things while researching and producing articles/videos/short posts (it’s a very personal preference, which I’ve optimised for my needs over time)

The workstation I use is actually an aggregation of several low-cost ones; the cheapest one cost 35 pounds (brand new) and the other one, which is also ARM-based, cost 149 pounds more than 4 years ago in Argos; the screens are cheap, either second hand or low-priced as new, which brings the sum total to around 800 pounds (5 computers, 8 screens). When one device breaks down it’s easier to replace or repair with no downtime, just a shuffle on the desk — a routine I do every 1-3 months. 80% of the devices are laptops with batteries in them, so electric outages have no major impact except on the router and external screens. No need for UPS, which in its own right can be more expensive than a simple laptop.

“As it stands, KDE Plasma simply has the most features.”The set-up I have is very unusual (when I was a teenager I moved to dual-head, which back then was quite unusual in its own right). I don’t know anyone else with anything remotely similar to this current configuration, so I get asked questions about it. It’s hard to explain without showing a bunch of stuff, so I’ve been wanting to record/show this for a while, even if it’s done quite crudely given the practical limitations. I try to avoid proprietary things, especially anything with DRM. All the machines run only GNU/Linux, typically with KDE although the machines shown in the video also run GNOME, XFCE4, and LXDE (the machine behind me). As it stands, KDE Plasma simply has the most features.

The video shows the 7 screens before me (6 in front and one to the side of me). The largest monitor is behind me and not shown in this video, albeit in videos where the camera faces the other direction — and we make such videos every day — that monitor and the SBC it is connected to are clearly visible. It’s the eighth monitor, which carries out a bunch of different tasks.

“The screen recording software (be it either Free or proprietary) cannot feasibly work seamlessly across multiple, separate machines…”This video was done without preparation and it was very difficult to make, partly owing to the lack of a tripod or software-defined stablisers (some devices have them; even a decade and a half ago). The screen recording software (be it either Free or proprietary) cannot feasibly work seamlessly across multiple, separate machines (assuming they’re connected over Synergy/Barrier, as opposed to some other fashion), so an external camera is used instead. I don’t have a mobile phone, so this is a standard Linux driver with simple external camera; the quality of the picture is poor, but it doesn’t matter all that much when the key point is to show and explain things while personal information remains mostly blurred/obscured (for privacy’s sake).

Upon checking the first few minutes of the recording I noticed an issue with my hand covering my mouth for a bit, or sort of standing in the way between the microphone and all the other things, which means that the sound (noise-cancelled vocal audio) has a dual sort of ‘mode’ (less audible when the hand holding up the portable webcam is near the face). Maybe with a little preparation it could be done more properly. Despite all these limitations, I think I did manage to cover or at least mention almost all the activities, except for the machine behind me.

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