03.20.22

Brussels Police: No Help Unless You Open an Account at Facebook

Posted in Europe at 2:17 pm by Guest Editorial Team

BrusselsSummary: Facebook account required for bicycle theft victims to see whether their bike was recovered by Brussels police

A bicycle was stolen in Brussels (one among many). The Brussels police shortly thereafter recovered 74 stolen bikes. Instead of announcing this on their official openly public website, the announcement was jailed in the exclusive private walled-garden of Facebook, where non-members are denied viewing access and where opening an account just to view the post is preconditioned on obtaining a mobile phone and then trusting Facebook with that number.

Does a theft victim have to go through all the hoops of patronising Facebook in order to find out if their property was recovered by police? The victim went to the police station to find out. The front desk officer said if the serial number is still on the bike and also previously reported stolen, and the report also included the serial number, then there’s no problem because the database of stolen bikes is accessible to all police nationwide. They can query the serial number of the recovered bike and see if it matches any report in the country.

“Does a bicycle theft victim in Brussels have to compromise their ethics, dance for Facebook and attempt to solve the Google CAPTCHA just to see if their property was recovered?”But what if the serial number had been removed? This is where everything falls apart. In some cases, it’s simply a sticker. Descriptions and/or pics of recovered bikes are only accessible in the city the bike was recovered in. So if someone steals a bike in Brussels and they go to Antwerp, and the they get raided in Antwerp, Brussels police have no access to the inventory of recovered bikes in Antwerp.

The Brussels front desk officer had no idea about the 74 recovered bikes, and suggested the recovery must have been in a city other than Brussels. Yet we know the article said the recovery was in Brussels, but non-Facebook members are blocked from even viewing the Facebook page.

Does a bicycle theft victim in Brussels have to compromise their ethics, dance for Facebook and attempt to solve the Google CAPTCHA just to see if their property was recovered?

This story was censored

This story was originally posted in Reddit but was censored by “Octave”, the moderator of r/Brussels.

02.18.22

FFII: In PL Holdings, European Court of Justice Confirms EU Law Cannot be Outsourced to International Courts Like Unified Patent Court (UPC)

Posted in Europe, Law, Patents at 7:05 pm by Guest Editorial Team

By Benjamin HENRION, originally posted February 15, 2022

CJEU

Brussels, 17th Feb 2022 — The European Court of Justice has confirmed that EU law cannot be outsourced to international courts in its “PL Holdings sarl Vs Poland” decision. It is problematic for the architecture of the Unified Patent Court (UPC), which is an international court outside of the judicial system of the European Union, despite the claims of its supporters.

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has recalled in PL Holdings that Member States cannot remove disputes from the judicial system of the EU which deal with EU law:

Lastly, it follows both from the judgment in Achmea, and from the principles of the primacy of EU law and of sincere cooperation, not only that the Member States cannot undertake to remove from the judicial system of the European Union disputes which may concern the application and interpretation of EU law […].

— Court of Justice of the European Union, Press Release No 190/21, Luxembourg, 26 October 2021, Judgment in Case C-109/20, PL Holdings, https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2021-10/cp210190en.pdf

Since EU law covering patents is the Biotech directive and the Enforcement directive (IPRED), the interpretation of EU law is removed from the judicial system of the European Union, which is composed of the CJEU and the National Courts.

The PL Holdings decision follow the same line of thought as the Achmea decision, where the European Court of Justice dissolved intra-EU investment courts (ISDS). In its Achmea decision (2018), the CJEU recalled the same functional link principle with the National Courts, as in Miles (2011):

However, the arbitral tribunal at issue in the main proceedings is not such a court common to a number of Member States, comparable to the Benelux Court of Justice. Whereas the Benelux Court has the task of ensuring that the legal rules common to the three Benelux States are applied uniformly, and the procedure before it is a step in the proceedings before the national courts leading to definitive interpretations of common Benelux legal rules, the arbitral tribunal at issue in the main proceedings does not have any such links with the judicial systems of the Member States (see, to that effect, judgment of 14 June 2011, Miles and Others, C‑196/09, EU:C:2011:388, paragraph 41).

— CJEU’s Case Case C-284/16, Achmea, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A62016CJ0284&qid=1639573183575

Supporters of the UPC keep claiming it will be a Court Common to the Member States:

The Unified Patent Court (UPC) will be a court common to the Contracting Member States and thus part of their judicial system.

— Unified Patent Court website, About page, https://www.unified-patent-court.org/about

If the Unified Patent Court is really part of their judicial system, why does the staff of the court need diplomatic immunity via the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities (PPI) of the Unified Patent Court?

The European Court of Justice has allowed the Benelux Court of Justice to be part of the judicial system of the European Union, because it has a dialogue with National Courts, via a system of prejudicial questions. The UPC does not have any dialogue with the National Courts, it simply replaces them.

The European Court of Justice is very much attached to the concept of Autonomy of EU law, which is in danger each time an international court outside of the judicial system of the European Union is allowed to interpret EU law.

Member States which are no signatory of the UPC (because it is a super too-expensive court for SMEs) like Poland, Hungary, Spain or Czech Republic should use Art259 TFEU to ask the question to the European Court of Justice whether this construction is compatible with the architecture of the European Union:

A Member State which considers that another Member State has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties may bring the matter before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

— Article 259 TFEU, EUR-Lex https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A12016E259

02.01.22

Crisis Text Line, a “Charity” Backed by Melinda Gates and Steve Ballmer, Collects Data From Suicidal People, Then Sells it to Advertisers and Other Third Parties

Posted in Deception, Microsoft at 5:25 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Guest post by Ryan, reprinted with permission from the original

Crisis Text Line, a “charity” backed by Melinda Gates and Steve Ballmer, collects data from suicidal people, then sells it to advertisers, a customer relations software company, and other third parties.

The outfit claims that the “AI” chat data is “anonymized”, but similar datasets have been trivially de-anonymized in the past.

Even if the dataset has been stripped, allowing them to sell the contents to advertisers is clearly unethical.

Worse, they apparently encourage users to use the system over Facebook Chat, which is monitored by Facebook, which is world-renowned for the creepy, unethical, and illegal things it does to invade privacy. They’ve settled or been convicted of violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act at least a couple of times, for example.

Imagine what a goldmine all of this stuff that people unwisely tell it while they’re depressed is worth.

Even the more official National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the United States acts unethically at times. For example, if a person definitely plans to kill themselves, they will attempt to dox that person and call the police.

If you’re reading this in a civilized country, you may go “Oh, well, what’s the harm in that?”.

“Even the more official National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the United States acts unethically at times. For example, if a person definitely plans to kill themselves, they will attempt to dox that person and call the police.”Well, the police in America are not exactly famous for treating mentally-ill people well when they arrive on the scene*, as was the case in Michigan when they arrived and shot an unarmed man whose mother had called them for a wellness check.

*(I know. Someone called them for a “check” on me a long time ago and far from trying to do anything to calm or reassure me, they came out, screamed at me, and accused me of malingering and feeling sorry for myself. Shouting at people and trying to throw them off balance might make sense when they’re a suspect in a murder, but it’s ridiculous that the cops are allowed to do this during a wellness check, when a person has harmed nobody.)

And even if you survive the police encounter, they can stuff you in a nuthatch, force you to take barbaric and primitive psychotropic medication, and then give you the boot later on, perhaps after you’ve lost your job for failing to appear at work, and now you are indebted to the treatment center for roughly $20,000.

Ironically, they may have given you more reasons to kill yourself than you had before you called the hotline.

I can only surmise based on what I’ve witnessed here that the United States doesn’t really want to do anything about the growing problem of suicide, which does need to be talked about. It says it does, but it doesn’t.

It allows the 100 richest people to hoard trillions in (largely inherited or as the windfall of various white collar crime) wealth, but it won’t do anything to alleviate poverty.

Instead, we get this 9-8-8 number that just sounds like it could turn your life into even more of a shitshow than the reason you called it for, and the 1% (Including Bill Gates’s ex-wife Melinda, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer) running a competing disservice that sucks up your data, packages it, and sells it, so that advertisers know what makes people tick.

It makes me wonder, if they’re allowed to sell it, who else they would be selling it to.

“Could it be that not too long from now, the Crisis Text Line and Facebook will offer to tell them everything people have typed into this?”There are already companies that copy out all of your Twitter and Facebook posts, likes, and shares, and go combing through it for “red flags”, and then sending it to your employer or potential employer.

Could it be that not too long from now, the Crisis Text Line and Facebook will offer to tell them everything people have typed into this?

It really should stop and give you pause about how you should not interact with things like this. If there wasn’t some way to profit off of this human suffering, the billionaire class wouldn’t be investing in it.

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.

Software should be secure for its user. However, it is expensive to test and remove bugs. Because that cuts into profit weakly-tested code is shipped prematurely. Increasingly, vendors use false “security updates” to sneak in disabling updates or malware, which is corrosive to trust. We have normalised code as “work in progress” and got people used to unmonitored updates as “fixes”. In fact this is a clever excuse for “always connected” applications that are not under the user’s control.

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).

01.23.22

Peak Code — Part III: After Code

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 3:58 am by Guest Editorial Team

Article/series by Dr. Andy Farnell

This work is licensed under version 4.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license

Series parts:

  1. Peak Code — Part I: Before the Wars
  2. Peak Code — Part II: Lost Source
  3. YOU ARE HERE ☞ After Code

Robot

Summary: “Surveillance perimeters, smart TVs (Telescreens built to Orwell’s original blueprint) watched over our living rooms. Mandatory smart everything kept us ‘trustless’. Safe search, safe thoughts. We withdrew. Inside, we went quietly mad.”

The mind can rule the body. Psychogenic death happens when the software gives up. After a cancer diagnosis or a voodoo curse some people age ten years in a month and pass away even while quite healthy. We think empires fall from over-reach, but that is only half a truth. History books say the edges crumbled, but in fact Rome died first and things fell apart from the inside. The centre can only hold strong where there is uncorrupted will. The fish rots from its head.

“Before this self-devouring monster, the imperfect technological society of the twenty first century had built itself on the energy and love of those they called the “hackers”, many of whom lived and worked in the twentieth century.”People always asked me, before the collapse, “But how will we build a Utopia”. I laughed. Real people are not driven by visions of Utopia, but by the simple faults at the edges of life. At heart we are explorers who must find new risks, healers who seek out our injured, teachers who seek the attention of those hungry for knowledge, and protectors who see danger and vulnerable others to put ourselves between. Those are our itches at which we scratch. It is in service of each others’ suffering that we find meaning.

A Utopia? A society so perfect, so abstracted, so managed, so owned, so tranquil, so fair, so incorruptible in its smartness, so beyond mere technology – is a society not worth living in or for. It is a simulation and performance of a society that offers no reason for itself but that everything be in service of it.

Before this self-devouring monster, the imperfect technological society of the twenty first century had built itself on the energy and love of those they called the “hackers”, many of whom lived and worked in the twentieth century. Simply, they were workers, though some elevated themselves to titles like “developer”, “CTO” or “computer scientists”. We were always workers.

“Hackers were all sorts of things, but foremost they were people. Software is people.”Some were intrinsically motivated autotelic personalities engaged in the love of problem solving. Some were quiet moral labourers committed to the challenge of building a “better world”. Some were social refuseniks who hid behind avatars and anonymity. Others were dissatisfied and restive women and men, motley crews of misfits and egotists hungry to be known and admired. Hackers were all sorts of things, but foremost they were people. Software is people.

People built and ran the machine. Now, there it was, at last. Tamed. A system so slick, elegant, and otherly. It could provide everything we asked for, except for one thing – its absence. Any whim, impulse or fantasy… satisfied now. Delivered instantly, no pause, no shame, pay later. Anything you like, except for one simple request, that it shut itself off and leave us alone. Soon, all people talked about was the machine, it’s constant demands for our happiness, acquiescence and smiling fealty.

“A dearth of new coders was eclipsed by the crisis of maintainers, growing old and retiring.”Nobody noticed the shrinking number of human accounts at the Ministry of Code. A dearth of new coders was eclipsed by the crisis of maintainers, growing old and retiring. Schools had not taught programming for decades. Universities had dumbed down computer science courses to certificate training. Hackers were brought into the fold, domesticated and made “ethical”.

By the time the BigTeks realised that education was a real hard and unprofitable profession they had trained a generation of mindless, and mostly useless digital mechanics who could not think beyond their parochial, proprietary instructions.

By the time the tech press reported just how serious the recruitment problem was, it was 20 years too late. Some old guy named Linus, someone of importance if I recall correctly, retired, leaving half-hearted replacements and a bloated, fragmented project that soon faltered. Your aunt Alice fought in the Kernel Wars you know, but we don’t talk about Alice.

“Trillionaire philanthropists opened their bank accounts, “Money no object” they said. But it was no use. Old hackers want walks in the park with the grandkids.”The “war” that never happened began when BigTek and the governments needed a narrative to explain what was happening. They wanted the old hackers back. But they were dying-off by then. Forty years too late, they offered to pay for Free software. “Code whatever you like” they said, “We’ll pay whatever it takes”.

Trillionaire philanthropists opened their bank accounts, “Money no object” they said. But it was no use. Old hackers want walks in the park with the grandkids. “Not my business any longer”, they said. We tried to train new hackers, but those kids weren’t interested, ambivalent now towards technology that only seemed to control their lives. It was “no fun to compute”. The excitement of possibility, of “making a difference”, was gone.

So the powers needed an enemy, a scapegoat. Goldberg’s Neo-Luddite subversives, saboteurs, and malcontents were now blamed for the
software crisis. Supposedly “a secret resistance” were coding new systems that would save us. Was that a worry or a wish? But beyond the fantasies of the press, nobody could find Eponymous. The CIA, adept at entrapment and honeypots, created fake “militant hacker groups” to draw in and reorient high-IQ candidates, but nobody joined.

“We tried to train new hackers, but those kids weren’t interested, ambivalent now towards technology that only seemed to control their lives.”The sun was setting on the age of software. We’d enjoyed all we dreamed of. Drones flew in the skies over our houses, protecting us. Fingerprint door handles kept out the bad men. Everything was on the Face-Chain. Surveillance perimeters, smart TVs (Telescreens built to Orwell’s original blueprint) watched over our living rooms. Mandatory smart everything kept us ‘trustless’. Safe search, safe thoughts. We withdrew. Inside, we went quietly mad. We went Meta. And then Meta metastasised, into the heart of our care, until there was care no more. Nobody cared. Nobody coded. And the machine whimpered.

01.22.22

Peak Code — Part II: Lost Source

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 12:01 am by Guest Editorial Team

Article/series by Dr. Andy Farnell

This work is licensed under version 4.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license

Series parts:

  1. Peak Code — Part I: Before the Wars
  2. YOU ARE HERE ☞ Lost Source

A light sword

Summary: “Debian and Mozilla played along. They were made “Yeoman Freeholders” in return for rewriting their charters to “work closely with the new Ministry in the interests of all stakeholders” – or some-such vacuous spout… because no one remembers… after that it started.”

I was a Free Software “hacker”. The nights were late, the pay was… nothing. We were all-volunteers. There was no recognition, just a sense of being part of something. But oh boy, were we part of something! We felt like we were building history. I made companies. I wrote applications. I taught new hackers.

“With “disinformation” outlawed, we were swaddled, blind, clothed by the machine. Then, so suddenly, here, naked and together.”All things pass. Much changed between the great pandemics and the mid-century storms when skyscrapers fell like dominoes. But I remember the software crisis starting. No great conspiracy. No revolution. No foreign hackers. No mythical “software wars”. How suddenly it all blew up before that week when the food deliveries stopped and the lights went out. How many had already been on the edge, not knowing about each another or what was happening? With “disinformation” outlawed, we were swaddled, blind, clothed by the machine. Then, so suddenly, here, naked and together.

That old Malthusian worrier, your uncle Archie said it, “One day the code will run out. Everything runs on code, but it’s not sustainable”. We all laughed at him. Everyone knew software had zero cost and was inexhaustible. There would always be kids who wanted to write it, to prove something, to scratch an itch. Besides, machines would soon write all the code we’d ever need.

That must have been “peak code”. You don’t notice peak anything while you’re living through it. By definition, it’s the golden moment. Those days there were hundreds of languages, millions of coders and billions of devices. Software pulsed and flowed, in hourly updates, through the Internet into the gadgets that ran our lives. Secure Software, nourishing the always-on, always pumping machine. Then like all hearts, it just grew old, tired and sick, and one day it gave up. Some spirit within it died and the software went away.

“Those days there were hundreds of languages, millions of coders and billions of devices.”Hired coders never cared. In their short, exhausting careers they plastered libraries on top of libraries, dependencies all the way down. To where? Nobody remembered. Maybe those few strange people who hacked not for money, but because it made them feel good?

Old words from before The Face Chain and The Age of Legibility, “vocations”, “callings”, “civic duty”, seem senseless now. By the
thirties, only performative activity validated by public perception telemetry and backed by a smart contract could earn credit.

“Hired coders never cared. In their short, exhausting careers they plastered libraries on top of libraries, dependencies all the way down.”Graeber described “moral resentment”. Hate of care. Within a decade
it wasn’t just overt, it was policy. Helping a neighbour or family member might be overlooked. The Humans First Bill sealed it. Nurses and teachers, medics, firefighters, police, child-carers, all gone. “If a bot could a bot should“. Interpersonal Disorder, from a mid century copy of the DSM describes a “pathological desire to interact with or serve other humans rather than accept convenient rational transaction with the machine”.

Momentum, aspiration and the inability of the masses to comprehend the decline kept things buoyant throughout the late twenties and thirties. Who knew the giant corporations could no longer sustain their own code? Things advanced too fast. Complexity and dependency went too deep. Education faltered. The “third industrial revolution” quietly ran out of steam.

“Who knew the giant corporations could no longer sustain their own code?”“Free” coders did still exist. They still believed that “Software Freedom” as prescribed by the great Stallman could open a doorway out of enslavement. In practice authorities turned a blind eye. These farm animals were obliviously in service of the BigTeks, who harvested their code to fuel the machine.

Negative wages? That had an effect. Suddenly we were all supposed to pay for the privilege of keeping BigTek afloat?! Students, the only group who pay to work, rushed to fill the jobs without complaint. It was cheaper being a code worker than staying in education. Average age of the tech workers fell from 41 to 22 in a decade, expunging the entire body of active wisdom – those who knew how stuff worked.

“Average age of the tech workers fell from 41 to 22 in a decade, expunging the entire body of active wisdom – those who knew how stuff worked.”Some techies whispered of the great “Techxit” when all the creators and developers were supposed to stop coding in protest at the Face Chain. It never happened. Fear kept them in line. Not fear of losing income, such crude social control policies were so 20th century. To take away a person’s purpose, was the new cruelty of power. Losing your access to code or gaming often led to suicide.

Something was slowly shifting. Years before, in China it had been “Tang Ping”, that ended in the “code for food” camps. In the USA a “Great Resignation” was successfully dismissed by social control media as disinformation. Some withdrew or poisoned their own libraries in protest, but their works were seized, reverted and stripped of their names by the Ministry of Code.

“Some withdrew or poisoned their own libraries in protest, but their works were seized, reverted and stripped of their names by the Ministry of Code.”When SMMC’s “security mandated maintenance changes” were first issued, paying coders dutifully went along, virtuously signalling that it was the “responsible” thing to do. I would say it happened right there. Those first seeds were sown into the depleted soil of free software captured by its new master of “public necessity”. From there the weeds would slowly spread.

BigTek wanted to be the new banks, too big to fail. To show the vestiges of government who was boss the “three day weeks” came. Staged “security crises” lasted months, as the infamous Goldberg, alleged leader of Eponymous, “attacked our precious infrastructure”. Some people learned how to store electricity, offline data and food, but those who died could not hack the DRM of their solar batteries, home appliances or get past the “Life Rights Management” for online access.

“BigTek wanted to be the new banks, too big to fail.”BigTek’s right to extract from the Free coder’s “hobby projects”, now declared “critical infrastructure,” was official at last. GitHub underwent some re-branding. Accounts flipped to read-only, then locked, and then one day it became “The Ministry of Code”. In the blink of an eye Microsoft appropriated nearly ninety percent of all ‘Free Open Source’ software, to “ensure stability”. They kept the “messaging” light and positive – thanking all past contributors for their hard work over the years. It was, in all but name, the largest land-grab since William’s rule in 1066.

The Free Software Foundation remained dutifully quiet, helping deliver the peasants to their feudal lords. Debian and Mozilla played along. They were made “Yeoman Freeholders” in return for rewriting their charters to “work closely with the new Ministry in the interests of all stakeholders” – or some-such vacuous spout… because no one remembers… after that it started.

01.21.22

Peak Code — Part I: Before the Wars

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 8:54 am by Guest Editorial Team

Article/series by Dr. Andy Farnell

This work is licensed under version 4.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license

Series parts:

  1. YOU ARE HERE ☞ Before the Wars

Wars

Summary: “In the period between 1960 and 2060 people had mistaken what they called “The Internet” for a communications system, when it had in fact been an Ideal and a Battleground all along – the site of the 100 years info-war.”

They ask me, “Grandad, what did you do in the software wars?” I went mad. No, that I cannot say. I want to tell them, “I coded for the resistance”. But even today it is hard to talk about. Truth is, I was a coward. The “software wars” never really happened… not like people say. They’re a story we tell today about how things fell apart. Sure, I was a great hacker, but like all the others I just gave up, and that’s how we beat ‘em… if this is winning.

“The humanists stood up to “bullshit jobs” and AI dehumanisation, and were dubbed Neo-Luddites.”I think people knew it was coming. Digital technology had always created conflict. The humanists stood up to “bullshit jobs” and AI dehumanisation, and were dubbed Neo-Luddites. In the second and third crypto wars people fought for the right to private communication, and then for the right to use open plaintext protocols again, without mandated recipient codes. In the fog of creepy government lies contradiction and hypocrisy multiplied. People got confused. It took another 20 years to realise that encryption, for or against, had nothing to do with it. It was always about control.

Digital communications technology organised on large scales seemed inherently troublesome for meaningful human choice. But sometime in the last century it stopped serving people altogether. I remember your friend dying because her mother couldn’t call an ambulance. Maybe, if it hadn’t been for that Twitter thing with her work, if she hadn’t been disconnected, things could have been different. The neighbours she blamed, they weren’t bad people. Just afraid, like everyone. Unauthorised assistance meant certain disconnection. Besides, going outside for help, too risky for someone facebanned like her mum… one step too close to the Ring, a passing vehicle or stranger wearing Glasses would be enough.

The Semantic Wars (what they once called Culture Wars) had already made it impossible for anyone to talk to anyone else. Our fight to be heard amidst the trollbot armies, deepfake speech and meme mafia, was lost. The quest to have our words “mean what we mean” had silenced our voices and stripped away meaning. The Great Communication Breakdown was not a lack of will to talk, or “polarisation”, but a failure of the medium of communication itself.

“The Great Communication Breakdown was not a lack of will to talk, or “polarisation”, but a failure of the medium of communication itself.”In the mid-twenties the Security Wars raged, to decide whose security was most important – the vendors or the ‘users’. Until those days most of us had regarded security as a shared value, a tide to raise all ships. A more painful truth, is that under surveillance capitalism security is a zero sum game. With that kind of “security”, your security is my insecurity, and vice versa.

I had never wondered until that time, how Orwellian contronyms arose, but soon we were divided into two camps. So-called “Secure Software”, rubber-stamped by quasi-governmental corporations, was laughably insecure. Everyone knew it. But once governments had invested their pride, maintaining the pretence became a political priority. It gave the corporations a monopoly on commerce, medical and even educational computing. For a while the economy boomed for the certifiers, auditors, inquisitors, insurers and adjusters.

For everyone else, there was “Insecure Software”, also called “Free Software” by older people. That was the stuff you needed if you really wanted safe and stable systems. Once Google and Microsoft controlled access to half the world’s “secure” computers, society largely operated despite, not by, its consumer-communist institutions. Software became a Soviet-era black-market. For everything you needed there was an official solution, and an illegal “Insecure” one that actually worked.

“Once Google and Microsoft controlled access to half the world’s “secure” computers, society largely operated despite, not by, its consumer-communist institutions.”So, please understand, that by the time of the so-called Software Wars, everything was already “at war”. Indeed, as historians now note, in the period between 1960 and 2060 people had mistaken what they called “The Internet” for a communications system, when it had in fact been an Ideal and a Battleground all along – the site of the 100 years info-war.

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?

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