10.12.21

Developer of the “Better” App, Which Provides a Content Blocker for Safari, Considers Quitting Due to Apple’s Plans to Invade Users’ Privacy With “CSAM” Scanner.

Posted in Apple at 6:33 am by Guest Editorial Team

Guest post by Ryan, reprinted with permission from the original

Summary: The developer of the Better app may quit and remove the app from the Apple store due to Apple’s privacy violations.

In a bug report regarding potentially switching to Better’s content blocker for GNOME Web, the maintainer of Better says that he and the co-maintainer, his wife, are considering getting out of the Apple app development business entirely.

He blames Apple’s plans to invade the device with “client side scanning”, which Apple claims will detect child pornography stored on iPhones, Macs, and iPad tablets.

While Apple claims that is what it will do, it will really enable massive government surveillance and will lead to regimes like the Communist Party of China and various Islamic theocracies rounding up and murdering people for everything ranging from being a hated minority (gay, Uyghurs, etc.) to wanting democratic government.

Apple already goes to lengths _beyond_ what is legally required in order to do business in China now. For example, you can’t have your Apple merchandise engraved with numbers that correspond to the date of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, even though there’s no legal requirement to prevent them from etching those numbers onto a product.

It was also just two years ago that Apple also proactively removed a song about the massacre from the Apple Music disservice. The sources I read say it didn’t happen in Hong Kong SAR, but it probably has by now. There’s hardly a difference since the so-called “National Security Law” was foisted on them and people began disappearing.

The Communist Party of China tramples over individual rights and freedoms. It’s what they do. Apple assists them. If you think anything good will come out of “client side device scanning”, I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for two dollars.

And they realize that while the United States conducts “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea, they can conquer us without firing a shot by putting us in horrible debt to them and buying up American property and companies, and using their money to corrupt universities.

In fact, in Lake County, Illinois, I stopped calling the community college the Colleges of Lake County and started calling them the Communists of Lake County. There is so much Chinese propaganda going on in there, you wouldn’t believe me if I laid out the full extent of it for you.

They paint a very rosy picture of China when what’s actually going on in there is quite horrible and sad, and people are choking on pollution and disappeared by secret police (murdered?), and are too afraid to even speak about it. In the mean time, CLC is pitching an international study program like it was a trip to paradise!

“Usually with Apple’s tracking and advertising libraries, but often with Google’s as well, and of course Google pays to be the default search engine on iPhones, and hardly anyone changes that.”While I applaud Aral Balkan for seeing through the Apple privacy bullshit and leaning towards removing his apps to cease paying them 30% of his app revenues to inflict this abuse on their customers, many developers frankly don’t give a damn and would never inconvenience themselves in such a manner.

In fact, most Apple apps spy on the user to the same extent that most Android apps out of the Play Store do. The author knows this because they’re the ones who put the tracking libraries inside the app!

Usually with Apple’s tracking and advertising libraries, but often with Google’s as well, and of course Google pays to be the default search engine on iPhones, and hardly anyone changes that.

The marketing of “privacy” to users with later versions of iOS serves mainly to try to make it less convenient for other companies to spy on you without using Apple’s tracking garbage, and to position Apple to be the only ad network that iOS developers would want to use.

Richard Stallman mentioned that iPhones (and iOS) are worse than Android, because they do every nasty thing Android does, and then stop you from even considering installing Free and Open Source Software from a repo like F-Droid.

He suggested a good name for a hypothetical such store, though. F-Apple.

09.03.21

Free Software Foundation, 36 Years Old, Still Fights for Software Freedom

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux at 4:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 4b5aa953d4c8a58ba9f3fbeefd2b5e62

Summary: Free software supporters should not forget that in the face of a rather vicious and corporate-backed online mob the FSF brought its founder back to the board; it has since then lessened its dependence on funding from large corporations, which means it deserves more supporters or donations from individuals who value software freedom

THE past few years we wrote hundreds of articles about the Free Software Foundation (FSF), which is 36 this year (it turns 36 in one month and one day). Yes, 36. A lot older than Linux. In past years we noted that the FSF had become a little dependent on a bunch of rather large companies — which we estimated (based on IRS filings) to account for about half of the FSF’s budget.

That’s not the case anymore.

“The FSF is definitely still effective and it deserves our support. It’s not sucking the teat of Google or IBM or any other very large company.”It can take a year or two to gain public access to IRS filings which correspond to a present year, but we suspect that a large majority of the FSF’s budget comes from supporters (which in FSF terms means individuals, not corporations which are dubbed “patrons”).

In the video above (first video in a while that uses an external camera) I take a look at last night’s posts from the FSF. They hire additional people and they still speak out against Apple. The FSF is definitely still effective and it deserves our support. It’s not sucking the teat of Google or IBM or any other very large company.

“Just had someone DM me saying they got Google money for their NGO and Google might be terrible but taking their money doesn’t make your organisation bad. So I told them I could probably get them funding from Saudi Arabia and they went silent.”

Aral Balkan this week

08.14.21

‘Free’ Market Racism

Posted in Apple, Deception, IBM, Microsoft at 8:53 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

'Free' Market

Deregulation favours the powerful

Summary: The large corporations and corporate media conveniently ignore the most large-scale racism out there, instead moaning about their victims being intolerant and fussy

THE PROFITS make jobs aplenty
As “war on terror” turns twenty

More bombs beget wealth
Ask IBM how many bombs we should have

Microsoft provides everything for ICE
But it bans the word “master” because we must all be nice

Regulation might harm the economy
Or so says the false dichotomy

Free software communities are very unruly
Because they oppose corporate racism, ever so truly

Unstaffed by monopoly makes one a bigoted nut
Or so said the kettle to a pot

Racist IBM: What's the world's most racist company? IBM.Support the monopolies, or else you’re a Communist
Executives with multi-million-dollar salaries call you a narcissist

Free market wins, just look at the debt
Taxpayers will bail out, collaterals for the bet

Apple sweatshops made in China
Scanning all your files for a vagina

Communism works for the rich
Get back to work, don’t moan and bitch

Racism is what the media deems it
Like the ‘wrong’ branch name in Git

IBM saluting diversity
To gaslight and bury adversity

Money sets you free
Ignore the strange fruit on the tree

Back to your cubicle, labourer
Ignore your boss, the murderer

“Women and minorities paid less”Quarterly results imminent
Creative accounting of the pertinent

Blame Russia, China, and COVID-19 pandemic
Never admit the company is just a relic

Come back to the office with lowered pay
There’s nothing you can even say

Women and minorities paid less
Because to discrimination we proudly say “yes!”

08.10.21

Alan Turing Would Turn in His Grave

Posted in Apple, Bill Gates, Deception at 6:43 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 389a7509596810a2accdb3fcb24b6d8a

Summary: Apple says it “protects children” but it is in fact handing over a weapon to the state (against anyone the state deems an “enemy” for whatever reason) by eradicating the expectation of privacy in one’s private computing devices

APPLE has quite a catastrophe in its hands. It’s discrediting its own advertising campaign, which it needed to spend many millions if not billions of dollars on (convincing many fools that ‘i’ devices stand for privacy). In our next batch of Daily Links we shall show the accumulation of several new Apple scandals.

“The media has devoted a lot of space, time, and attention to Apple’s plan to scan and extract hashes from people’s private devices, not their communications, transmissions, or “online” (“clown”) storage.”Ryan Farmer, a longtime reader, doesn’t think too highly of Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO for about a decade now. Despite being gay, Ryan strongly dislikes Cook. To quote him: “He seems to be as much of an older white business criminal as the rest. Apple’s behavior is extremely right-wing. They exploit slave labor, don’t much care for human rights. They even delve into social issues with the software, like routing women seeking abortions to fake abortion clinics that are really Christians who hector women into keeping the pregnancy when they get there. And I don’t really like abortion, but I think that your computer should do what you asked it to do. Apple is clearly taking a political stand on a lot of these issues, and it’s squarely right-wing on social issues and in support of a corporate fascist state that doesn’t tax them or get in their way with regulation. Much like the other “big tech” companies, honestly. They all shook hands with Trump and then dumped him as soon as he got the “tax law” passed. They were paying negative real rates on taxation to begin with and now it’s worse yet. They got everything they were going to get from him and then cut him loose, and if Tim Cook cared about gay rights he’d have never been photographed in the same room, much less shaking hands.”

“If homosexuality was a criminal offense and a scandal today, and the governments leaned on Apple to help turn people in for it, I doubt they would object or resist,” Ryan continues. “They’re a business and they do what the government wants most of the time, expecting things in return for it. The “CSAM” excuse is just a foot in the door. Nobody will go to bat for these people because what they do is disgusting and detestable and should qualify for hanging, honestly, in many cases. And that’s the whole point. It will start there, but it will not end there.”

“Move to Free software. People are presumed innocent, not guilty, and proper legal procedures are followed (such as judges authorising a search based on leads, testimonies, and bits of evidence).”The media has devoted a lot of space, time and attention to Apple’s plan to scan and extract hashes from people’s private devices, not their communications, transmissions, or “online” (“clown”) storage. We have strong reasons to suspect that Apple isn’t the first; it is the first to speak about it and that should mortify every innocent person. Move to Free software. People are presumed innocent, not guilty, and proper legal procedures are followed (such as judges authorising a search based on leads, testimonies, and bits of evidence).

In the video above I forgot to show what I had planned to show; it’s my Palm PDA, which lacks a connection. It used Bluetooth back in the days; it still does IR, but without physical access nobody can see my personal notes on that device. And that used to be normal. That was, once upon a time, the expectation of device owners (about 2 decades ago, going back to their very genesis).

The problem isn’t just Apple, but all those large and state-connected technology companies which prefer for everyone to think that only criminals would want or need privacy.

“The problem isn’t just Apple, but all those large and state-connected technology companies which prefer for everyone to think that only criminals would want or need privacy.”“Our system of laws has traditionally been set up to at least have the appearance of the presumption of innocence and the theory that it’s better to accidentally let some guilty people go than to deprive others of their constitutional rights,” Ryan asserts. “And what the iPhone is doing is really an end run around due process. Because you’re a witness against yourself and you’re not secure in your “papers and effects” from an unreasonable search. The government is using the iPhone as a “constitution condom”.

“If the people who wrote the Bill of Rights were alive today they’d be horrified, I think, to see how many ways the government has nullified our rights and freedoms. There is literally nothing in the constitution that even gives them the right to do “COVID lockdowns”. The whole exercise has been one of an unmitigated power grab. They keep doing things that are disproportional to the problem that we face in order to set precedent. They declare an emergency and then they give themselves emergency powers that don’t end. Governor Pritzker in Illinois has used the Illinois Emergency Management Act to suspend laws, write up rules that conflict with laws, etc. and all of this says that he has that authority for 30 days. This emergency has been going on for 18 months and nobody has challenged it.”

Some people do as they please and get away with it regardless. It’s a multi-tiered society with official and unofficial ‘royals’.

“Some people do as they please and get away with it regardless.”There are many headlines this week about ‘Prince’ Andrew getting in trouble (lawsuit for sexual assault, coming from an underage sex abuse victim, obviously connected to the trafficker, Epstein) and lots of recycled crap about Bill Gates “regretting” his close connections to Epstein (even visiting him in prison to help him get out of there by reputation laundering). Gates obviously knew what he had done. It was not possible not to know at that stage.

Well, why did he “faint” as reported in the media (he was only concerned about the public finding out) if he is innocent? Why is his wife and his best friends among those distancing themselves from him? Why is he paying Twitter and fearing people who talk about him? One can only speculate, but remember that it wasn’t Microsoft (MSN) that turned in his pedophile engineer, who got arrested for pedophila in Bill's very own home. The tip came from Google because the engineer had passed child pornography through GMail (he also had an MSN account) and then, upon request, Comcast provided additional logs. The nature of these depictions (photos and videos) was particularly disturbing and we’ll refrain from explaining the severity. The amount of material was vast. It was spread among lots or devices, some of them portable.

Prague Castle
Castles with keys held by respective governments to ensure anytime access

“There are many headlines this week about ‘Prince’ Andrew getting in trouble (lawsuit for sexual assault, coming from an underage sex abuse victim, obviously connected to the trafficker, Epstein) and lots of recycled crap about Bill Gates “regretting” his close connections to Epstein (even visiting him in prison to help him get out of there by reputation laundering).”“Apple seriously underestimated the blowback that this would receive,” Ryan has told us in IRC. “Many people who are aware of what they’re doing have followed Apple’s “policy evolution” from “We will absolutely never build a backdoor into our products.” to “We’re building a backdoor into our products and it breaks E2E encryption in everything, including iMessage, just like the governments requested, but it’ll never be used for anything else. Trust us! Oh, and anyone who complains about where this is obviously going is a “screeching whiner”. There are dark days ahead if people passively accept this, and Google is no doubt under the same pressure from the same governments to bake this into Android phones as well. For Apple to do this while advertising privacy, then calling people who want privacy the tinfoil hat club and sympathizers for child abusers is hypocrisy of the first order. Your platform, in this case Apple’s products, are either secured or backdoored. There’s no other state they’re in. No partial backdoor. From here on out, they are backdoored government malware, in total. I predict that many people won’t notice or will fall in line with the “Anyone who wants privacy is a criminal, but I use my iPhone because the billboard said Privacy.” camp. Privacy for who? From what? Nothing that matters at this point. Perhaps if Apple is putting in a scanning program, they can do something about all that iPhone malware that manages to get along just fine even though their users are trapped in the crApp Store. Smartphones are a sewer, but Android is clearly the platform for people who prefer their bullshit out in the open where we can get a good whiff.”

05.08.21

Richard Stallman: Steve Jobs Did Some Very Bad Things

Posted in Apple, Interview at 9:03 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: Dr. Richard Stallman told me about Steve Jobs that he had helped digitally imprison computer users

Direct download as Ogg (00:02:02, 6.7 MB)

03.14.21

What It Means to be a Free Software Operator, Not a User or Consumer

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, IBM, Microsoft at 4:58 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Digital Dream

Summary: A lot of people lack control over computers (or small computing devices) that they purchase and it’s getting worse over time

THE word “user” (in relation to software, not drugs) has long been mildly problematic because it lessens the role of a person operating some piece of software. Or sometimes a whole computing device. Large technology firms, typically monopolists in some respective domain, try to tell us “master” is a highly offensive word (an opportunistic distortion of this word's meaning and origin) but the word “master” accurately describes what they are to those so-called ‘users’ of their so-called ‘products’, ‘solutions’, ‘suites’ etc.

“It’s about social control, ‘dressed up’ or spun as safety (or health, more so during a pandemic).”First, let’s examine a little bit of background and recapitulate. It’s important to understand the extent to which “users” or “consumers” (who merely buy things) lose control of what otherwise can be general-purpose computers. It gets worse rather rapidly, over time…

Nowadays it’s no longer clear who truly owns a device. Is there a right to repair? To modify? If a buyer of some device lacks the freedom to do as he/she pleases with that device, is that buyer merely footing the bill for a device otherwise truly owned and controlled by the seller, the manufacturer (or the firm putting its brand on the device)? To use a more practical example, when one buys a “Chromebook” (a ChromeOS-running laptop, with an OS based on Gentoo GNU/Linux but controlled remotely by Google), is that just a laptop of Google whose production cost is partly covered by the buyer? Or even wholly by some ‘consumer’ that consumes ads and provides Google with personal data?

A lot of people never think about those things. They ought to.

Years ago, Microsoft and Intel plotted to make it even harder to boot on a computer any operating system other than “approved” ones (approved by them, not the person who supposedly owns the computer). Then, last week, Google and Red Hat (IBM), which played a big role in the Microsoft and Intel plot, worked to achieve the same at a software level. Fronting or relaying their malicious and self-serving intent through a thing misleadingly named Linux Foundation, they took a step towards that goal. Remember this is the same Red Hat which works for and with the NSA. And Google which famously (or infamously/notoriously) put ‘weakened’ – i.e broken — NSA encryption inside the Linux kernel. Google recently pretended to be championing security in Linux, but don’t fall for it. As a famous book puts it, “Google Is Not What It Seems” (it’s vastly worse; it’s also a trolling operation which bribes people).

“Nowadays it’s no longer clear who truly owns a device.”Notice we’ve not yet even mentioned Apple and Microsoft. We assume readers are already aware of the problems associated with them. They even deny users' right to repair their own devices/computers (which they paid for).

Suffice to say, moving away from Apple and Microsoft operating systems may not be enough; there are many operating systems out there that do not respect users’ freedom (or, they treat owners and buyers as mere “users”). We’ve already mentioned ChromeOS, but the most widely user-side (yes, user) operating system is Android. Unless devices are ‘jail-broken’, they will only operate within the artificial limits imposed by Google and its “store” monopoly (Apple’s is even worse and a lot more restrictive in that regard).

Digital DreamSo what does that mean to free (as in liberate) oneself from all those limitations? Being able to boot one’s operating system of choice, install and use one’s software of choice, repair one’s machine, modify/enhance it etc.

National security, often abbreviated as just “security” (to confuse us, conflating one thing with another — a contradictory concept), is a pretext for back doors, surveillance, and censorship. It’s about social control, ‘dressed up’ or spun as safety (or health, more so during a pandemic).

Based on what we’re hearing, the EPO‘s management now uses the pandemic to impose more oppressive (and sometimes illegal) software on staff. Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos, the real criminals, are promoting fake encryption. Together with Microsoft they break the law, not just when it comes to granting European software patents (we already leaked evidence of favourable treatment for Microsoft) but also when it comes to violating privacy of EPO workers, as well as everyone those workers interact with.

“National security, often abbreviated as just “security” (to confuse us, conflating one thing with another — a contradictory concept), is a pretext for back doors, surveillance, and censorship.”Based on what we’ve read, it’ll get a lot more difficult for EPO workers to not use Microsoft malware inside their homes, which they share with other tenants. Usually loved ones, such as close family…

But we may have digressed somewhat.

To use a less specific example, many people out there are still under the false illusion of freedom or free will. Their world is superficially being limited, e.g. by what Microsoft considers to be “legal” code in GitHub (i.e. not harmful to Microsoft’s business agenda), what Twitter and Facebook consider to be ‘permissible’ viewpoints (something advertisers benefit from or at least tolerate), what Google and Apple consider to be “good” software (or apps), and what Amazon deems “good actors” (they deplatformed Wikileaks for exposing US crimes a decade before doing the same to Parler for other reasons).

Technology should be and remain decentralised to the degree which is possible. Anything else is ripe or destined for abuse. A lot of people overlook all those issues until it’s too late to do something about them. Even Let’s Encrypt poses such a dilemma [1, 2]. It creates a sort of monopoly and it’s indebted to imperialistic hands.

“Let’s help or at least strive to free as many people as we can, turning so-called ‘users’ into operators of their own machines.”If you are reading this on a “Mac” or a “Chromebook” or some sort of “PC” (this is a euphemism for a computer controlled by Microsoft; it’s typically possible to liberate such a computer without buying a new one), look at gnu.org and study the historical importance of digital/computing freedom. It predates “Linux” by nearly a decade and still pitches the right principles/philosophy. A lot of what was written back in the 1980s is still highly relevant today.

Let’s help or at least strive to free as many people as we can, turning so-called ‘users’ into operators of their own machines.

01.28.21

The Electronic Frontier Foundation ‘Forgets’ Microsoft Monopoly, Focuses on ‘Oligopolies’ (or ‘Big Tech’)

Posted in Apple, EFF, Google, Microsoft at 11:03 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link

Summary: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is not advancing the goals it was renowned for a few years ago or a decade back; it’s worth discussing the reasons

THE decline of the EFF’s integrity was mentioned here a lot over the past couple of years (e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]). It eroded a great deal after the (co)founder and leader had died. The other EFF co-founders, John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor, are still alive. What are their thoughts on the status quo?

“It actively complements Microsoft lobbying and in the area of patents, as noted in the video, the EFF hardly does anything anymore.”The above video is a response to this new post/article from the EFF, perpetuating this ludicrous idea that Microsoft is no longer an issue and we should instead be concerned about “GAFA”. Given that Microsoft’s presence on the Web by far exceeds Apple’s, the inclusion of Apple and exclusion of Microsoft from the ‘shame list’ (“Big Tech”) is a tad suspicious, albeit not atypical. A lot of this “GAFA” stuff can be traced back to Microsoft lobbyists.

Mitch Kapor and John GilmoreIf the EFF is unable to criticise Microsoft and is instead granting awards to Microsoft employees, then the EFF is likely even worse than neutral. It actively complements Microsoft lobbying and in the area of patents, as noted in the video, the EFF hardly does anything anymore. Nothing substantial. That was vastly different a few years ago.

What happened to the EFF?

12.13.20

Why Coding Needs to Be More Accessible to Everyone

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 2:11 pm by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

Access Sign

Summary: “Nobody needs to go to Microsoft school to learn Microsoft-only tools that are only useful to Microsoft (and basically turn teachers into salespeople) but both Microsoft and Apple have had this conflict of interest with education since the 1980s at the latest — not all of which (only most of it) is terrible.”

Regulatory capture is a common hazard to rule-making, where rules that are designed for everyone become corrupted or changed in a way that puts the interests of some over the interests of the broader good.

ProhibitedA perfect example of a rule that benefits everyone is the example of pooping and drinking — you want to poop one place, but drink from a different place. Short of everyone having space-station grade recyclers, this rule allows people to drink water that is relatively safe rather than infected with all kinds of disease-causing organisms. While this rule still applies today, there are similar modern equivalents involving industrial and chemical waste that are not always followed as much as they should be.

Where groups of people are involved, such a simple rule quickly leads to working out which places are designated for pooping and which are for drinking. If a committee or other authority is assigned the task of deciding where these activities are to take place, there are many opportunities for the assignment to favour some people over others.

When making rules or designing pretty much anything, corruption is a factor in assigning better conditions to some people (or purposes) than others, but corruption is not a requirement. All it takes to favour one group (or one purpose) over another is specialisation, paired with forgetting or neglecting to serve another group or purpose.

It’s alright that not every thing or every design works for every purpose, but sometimes the result is that a purpose once well-served becomes increasingly neglected. When this isn’t just a matter of scale (buggy whip production has gone down over the years, but only as a function of the number of buggies still in operation) it can have negative effects. Some negative effects are unintended, but all negative effects are (by definition) negative.

“Obviously this varies and exaggerates a little, but students too often leave school demonstrating persistent, low-level trauma and a general fear (at least strong aversion) to entire subjects that school “ruined” for them.”Contemporary education at least, is of poor design with notoriously poor results. The easiest way to sugarcoat this is to find some statistical way to show that things have at least improved, but this says nothing about how far we have to go or why things work as poorly as they do.

Throughout the world in general, the most common approach to education is to have fierce competition where often very little is needed, and to insist on perfection where the ideal is arbitrary, inaccurate, out of date or on a whim:

“Why did I fail the quiz? It asked what the largest city in Turkey is and I said Istanbul!”

“Because that’s wrong, the book says Constantinople.”

“But it’s not even called that anymore — my family came here from Istanbul!”

“The quiz is on what the book says. Go sit down.”

While there’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection as a long-term goal, it’s a miserable and unrewarding place to begin the learning of any subject! Certainly you don’t want doctors or rocket scientists to go into surgery or engine design with the basic attitude of “Well, nothing’s perfect, is it?” but then engineers have a far more realistic concept of fault tolerance than schools do.

The broad educational approach is too often more like:

“School can suck the enjoyment out of any kind of learning. It doesn’t actually have to, it’s simply designed that way.”1. Attempt to teach student

2. Test student

3. In the event of failure, discard student and try teaching a different one

Obviously this varies and exaggerates a little, but students too often leave school demonstrating persistent, low-level trauma and a general fear (at least strong aversion) to entire subjects that school “ruined” for them.

To use myself as an example, I had no trouble reading as a child — I was able to read before I began school, I sometimes read far enough ahead of the class that I was sent to a higher-grade only for reading. Reading wasn’t a problem, and yet (not when I was in a higher-grade class, just to be clear) some of the exercises that were tangential to reading were so thoroughly unpleasant that I lost my ability to enjoy fiction for nearly the entire time I was in school.

After graduation, I slowly began enjoying fiction again. But I enjoyed it before it was required, and school nearly killed that for me. School can suck the enjoyment out of any kind of learning. It doesn’t actually have to, it’s simply designed that way.

The sad thing is that people are natural learners — learning is a basic function of the brain itself, and some of the approaches we can trace all the way back to Confucius (who was neither the worst teacher of all time, nor the best possible teacher for every subject) do more to get in the way of education than they do to assist.

Of course many people suspect education is broken, and offer various solutions.

Some start with the idea of refuting “one-size-fits-all” so literally that they believe everyone needs a completely individual “bespoke” approach. While one-size-fits-all does fit poorly, we don’t need to spend a great deal of time trying to fit nine extra sleeves or triangular footwear — we can probably come up with a very small number of approaches that can be tweaked in small ways to fit well.

“Nobody needs to go to Microsoft school to learn Microsoft-only tools that are only useful to Microsoft (and basically turn teachers into salespeople) but both Microsoft and Apple have had this conflict of interest with education since the 1980s at the latest — not all of which (only most of it) is terrible.”Most “education reform” is industry propaganda designed to co-opt education for state-subsidised training for the corporate workplace, which naturally enrages anyone who is serious about education. Sadly if you’re working with Microsoft, you’re probably helping to fund this corporate takeover and co-opting of public schools. The goal there is to replace general-purpose education, just as much as they want to replace general-purpose computing.

Nobody needs to go to Microsoft school to learn Microsoft-only tools that are only useful to Microsoft (and basically turn teachers into salespeople) but both Microsoft and Apple have had this conflict of interest with education since the 1980s at the latest — not all of which (only most of it) is terrible. Apple computers are after all, computers too, and you can still learn general-purpose computing on them IF that’s what people are really teaching. (And if the computer design itself still allows it…)

Sadly, we continue to erode the concept of general-purpose education and move towards training future customers, and replacing broader conceptual learning with increasingly vendor-specific education. In many ways the schools have already been taken over.

But even as the goals are corrupted, what hasn’t changed is the overall approach. It’s easier, more enjoyable, and less trauma-inducing to explore knowledge and build it up than to put constant emphasis on a ruler while bellowing “Not tall enough! Not tall enough!” as if doing so will cause people to grow that much faster. Learning is growth, and knowledge increases just as naturally as height. We can help people love education, or we can continue to make people hate and fear learning itself.

Computers had already gained a reputation for being unforgiving and requiring precision before most people were required to work with them. Tell someone with no first-hand experience that JUST ONE missing or out-of-place semicolon can prevent an entire program from working, and many will imagine a world where computing (at least coding) is a next-to-impossible task.

What they WON’T think (but we could have taught) is that “It’s cake to find the place where the semicolon is missing or misplaced, and then fix it — often with a single keypress.” Instead we let them develop the notion that the task is virtually impossible, before they even get started.

It’s incredibly sad to constantly watch education undermine itself and teach destructively, rather than instructively. While education is supposed to help learners build up knowledge, evaluation — and even teaching style — continues to kick over sand castles. Of course people learn that the real point of education is NOT learning — just career fodder or a means of finally escaping the classroom, because that’s what we actually teach. Then when they have escaped, learning so many things is just a painful feeling they never want to revisit. And this is a public service?

“Rules and facts are not useless, but if we stop challenging and questioning them then we stop progressing as a society.”The solution isn’t to pretend that every answer is right, or to toss away the idea that some answers are in fact better than others — it would be self-contradicting, for one (every answer is fine; except the way we teach, of course!)

Up isn’t down, right isn’t left, black isn’t white — it’s actually very useful to know things the way they are. However, the people who have greatly advanced not only society but science and technology are people who are not overly focused on what’s not possible, or what’s wrong — but people who are able to (as Einstein put it) turn the ruled paper sideways, so the lines don’t get in the way. Rules and facts are not useless, but if we stop challenging and questioning them then we stop progressing as a society. And still the way we teach rewards people for generally not questioning things.

Outside of stereotypically “creative” tasks such as art and music (and often tragically even during those classes as well) we don’t teach people to have imagination or to utilise it as a learning tool — we teach people to put that away and think like a book, not like a mind.

But people aren’t book-machines, they aren’t pen and paper; they are creatures capable of thought and feeling, which most instruction does little to utilise. Still, most education is made for books, for pen and paper but not for people.

Computers, we are taught — are rigid, precise, mechanistic and mathematical metal and plastic beasts which we can tame only by donning a mantle of rigid, precise, mechanistic or deterministic thinking. There is no room for trial and error, and this is certainly no place for creativity! To operate the machine, one must CONFORM to the specification.

This is ultimately mythology, as it was when this monstrous rigidity was applied to all other subjects. But computers seem to offer the perfect vindication for the sort of rigid, unimaginative lesson-drilling that schools are the frequent purveyors of, even when a few teachers hope to transcend the relentless bore of the system that employs them.

What better proof of “sit up straight, eyes on the board, repeat after me” than a computer, after all? And yet poor Albert, bless him, he can’t even turn his paper the right way. What a shame!

Teaching would be far more effective and efficient if we actually assisted people in learning how to think — not the “one right way” of thinking, any more than the “one correct genre of music” or the “one correct style of painting”, but certainly how to think.

And while we are hopefully teaching people to make greater use of their minds, we are busy countering that with teaching them to accept information unquestioningly and that regurgitating bits of data is more valuable than thought. There is the true shame, and the results are all around us.

What’s more, those misaligned efforts ultimately produce more teachers who “teach” that way than those who don’t, and along comes a bunch of experts to “transform education” by slapping a veneer of flexibility onto a system optimised for producing intellectual cogs and levers — but not enriching minds unless it happens incidentally and appropriately, so as not to disrupt the other “learning” going on.

Similarly, we are meant to instruct students in coding so that they can control their devices (rather than be controlled by them) and all the while we are teaching them to simply accept rote and regurgitated data as if it were written in stone by the finger of God. Aren’t we saddling them all with mixed messages, at best?

“…we don’t teach people to have imagination or to utilise it as a learning tool — we teach people to put that away and think like a book, not like a mind.”After all that, really, what are students supposed to think?

We have these machines that most teachers don’t understand, and we have to drill into students the idea that if you conform perfectly to the machine’s design it will do some desired thing. The only thing you can’t do is break out of this conformity. It’s not optional — you must think and work just as rigidly as bits and octets, as that’s all it can understand.

This has been repeated without question for decades, and the real tragedy is we used to do so much better. Sure, we also taught that the computer is rigid and unforgiving — but moments later, we demonstrated the exact opposite. With coding, you can turn the ruled paper sideways.

But first you have to excel at maths.

Actually that isn’t true either, since the 1950s people (including professors of mathematics like Grace Hopper, who knew a few things about computers herself, having invented some programming languages that are still in use 60 years later) have worked very hard so that you do NOT have to be be good at maths to code. I’m not good at maths — I’m absolutely terrible. I did terribly with virtually all things numeric in school. I just barely got by, while my peers managed exceptionally well by comparison. Even today I remain abysmal in the subject.

The reason people (wrongly) assume that being good at computers requires an aptitude for maths (an aptitude I clearly and demonstrably lack) is that computers are mathematical. Everything they actually do is numeric.

But by that argument, you must also excel at maths to play the violin — music is incredibly rich with numeric information both in theory and practice. Do you want to write a sonata for the flute? You’re just going to have to learn inverse Fourier transforms! If you want me to explain them, I’ll need to go to the Wikipedia article and pretend that I get what it says. I confess that I don’t know the flute either, so it’s entirely possible that the cause is I never learned inverse Fourier transforms.

Computers still use principles of the Jacquard loom, so of course if you want to design ugly jumper patterns then you must first learn calculus and honours level physics. It isn’t true, but we can make the argument just the same.

When we are done arguing, someone can say that applications have made this possible — no, you don’t need to learn to code to create a jumper pattern, but you also don’t need to be good at advanced maths to learn to code — because programming languages themselves have that much in common with the applications that save us from the “need” to code.

“People didn’t need to attend years at university to learn coding then, it didn’t require a computer science degree or a special aptitude — only a bit of interest and a bit of time, as would learning any sort of new subject.”And how many schools are teaching that? No, you have so many schools regurgitating things that were really literally true in 1952 that they’ve forgotten to check or question the accuracy of their own teaching for the past seven decades of instruction. It’s what we’ve always said, so it must be Constantinople, NOT Istanbul! Why not just teach people that to code you’ll need a keypunch, or paper tape?

We ultimately teach both students and their teachers that coding requires skills it doesn’t require, that they must follow rules are not by any means unbreakable laws, and that there are no alternatives to this — all of which are false. But we teach these falsehoods if only by omission, and they are what most people (who would only know better through better education or hands-on learning) including many teachers believe.

To do far better than this, education would not even need to learn from its mistakes; it would only need to learn from its successes. The problem is that this is an area where education rarely learns at all.

If it simply learned from its successes it would have several options, both from the past and the present. It would be able to look at basic literacy in the present, and discover that when people suffer while learning to read (due to either a natural disability such as dyslexia, or due to an incredible lack of exposure to education previously) there are many different approaches that can be applied to save an individual from illiteracy.

Do we do that for computer education, including coding? Quite rarely.

Even if we chose to ignore the present and what lessons we could take from literacy reform, we could still look to the past for guidance — for things we did that worked quite well, but that we abandoned foolishly on a whim.

There was a period when personal computers were very new, when coding was a key feature of the system anyone purchased. People didn’t need to attend years at university to learn coding then, it didn’t require a computer science degree or a special aptitude — only a bit of interest and a bit of time, as would learning any sort of new subject.

Wouldn’t it be nice if more instructors were aware of that? They might even become more comfortable with the subject themselves, before projecting their fears and feelings of inadequacy and helplessness about technology onto their students.

In fact you can go on YouTube and watch old programmes such as TVOntario’s “Bits and Bytes” from 1983, or the BBC’s The Computer Programme from ’82, or “Making the Most of the Micro” also from 1983. The latter was part of the “BBC’s Computer Literacy Project” — please let that sink in: “Computer Literacy Project”. It was acceptable to say this was a matter of literacy in 1983. Try that now, and you risk insulting most users (as well as teachers).

“We are teaching more that is destructive and misleading than we are teaching what is helpful and correct.”What happened of course is that sometime around the 1990s, we gave up on the idea of teaching computing to make way for application training. Forget understanding your computer! Just purchase this word processor or video game and learn applications instead! Along with this new mythology of false implications like you need a PhD from Oxford to write a Hello World program (or at least, anything worth learning) there is the false dichotomy of being able to code versus purchasing or downloading applications.

We are teaching more that is destructive and misleading than we are teaching what is helpful and correct. We give them a very limiting mythology, which some would argue is bad enough — then we give them no tools or information to question, test or challenge that mythology. And a big part of the reason we do that is we don’t give anything better to the instructors themselves. If they don’t know any better than this, they won’t teach any better than this.

So even if we don’t have our students going back to when computing was actually taught before university, we could still take our educators back far enough to see where the rest of it went wrong — a history lesson for teachers and administrators, just so they know what is actually possible.

They won’t need to listen to the inexplicable ramblings of Steve Wozniak, who now tells people that before age 11 students are incapable of the logic needed to write code, when we can simply watch Episode 6 of Bits and Bytes where (ordinary, standard-issue) 7-year-olds are learning to write code — on a machine that Wozniak himself helped design!

We can go back as far as 1953, when Grace Hopper was proposing that English be used to write code instead of symbols. Not that you’d really want to code in something that follows this rule as rigidly as COBOL did, but in 1957, prior to (and contributing to) the completed design of COBOL itself, IBM’s FORTRAN had a brother called COMTRAN, which looked like this:

"01009 START. OPEN ALL FILES."

"01012 COMPARE.EMPLOYEE.NUMBERS. GO TO COMPUTE.PAY WHEN DETAIL EMPLOYNO
01013       IS EQUAL TO MASTER EMPLOYNO, LOW.DETAIL WHEN DETAIL
01014       EMPLOYNO IS LESS THAN MASTER EMPLOYNO." 

And that was in 1957! By this time, you could use ALGO (very similar to ALGOL) on a computer that was no more than 1.5 metres by 1 by 1 metre in size — granted it cost the equivalent of half a million dollars in today’s money — and ran a language that was hardly more complicated than the BASIC examples they were showing in Bits and Bytes or The Computer Programme a quarter of a century later. ALGO was inspired by ALGOL 58, which heavily inspired BASIC in 1964 and (to a certain debatable degree) Python in 1991.

**But soon there were even easier languages than this!** And this is what we ought to be teaching — that a programming language is itself so much like an “application” in the level of abstraction and convenience it is CAPABLE of offering, that we can essentially create languages that are as easy to use as applications themselves!

“ALGO was inspired by ALGOL 58, which heavily inspired BASIC in 1964 and (to a certain debatable degree) Python in 1991.”So why don’t we do that? For one, we already have. There are many ways we could continue to improve on existing designs (and I regularly advocate doing so) but as with all designs, there have been many dead ends along the way. The biggest problem with code like “COMPARE.EMPLOYEE.NUMBERS. GO TO COMPUTE.PAY WHEN DETAIL EMPLOYNO” (apart from the all caps — note that this code dates from an era where telegrams were still sent in ALL CAPS and decades later, early Apples did not all feature lowercase characters) is that all-English coding can be more tedious to learn or use than coding with some (minor) amount of abbreviation or symbols.

Most languages go too far the other way and are too cryptic to be completely ideal for beginners, but since the 1960s it has PROVEN trivial (not a magnificent feat of engineering or design, but closer to common sense) to strike a balance between “code” and “English” that the above-mentioned 7-year-old coders will not struggle with.

We just don’t teach that often enough.

At the core of my frustration is the fact that this was a solved problem a few decades ago, which nearly everyone teaches is a practically unsolvable problem today. We could teach coding, a few decades ago, to anybody who could read and write English. Yet somehow today it’s impossible. Well, no it isn’t. But it has to be grueling and awful — no, that’s just how schools are for some stupid reason.

But only children are capable of learning these new things — no, there is ample footage of people in their 60s learning what we used to call basic computing skills, which today we would call coding. So nearly everything we teach about this is ultimately a series of erroneous and even disproven assumptions. But we continue to teach them, we keep cementing computer illiteracy and computerphobia into place because we can — we tell people that applications are okay, but you can channel what’s left of your computerphobia into the demon pits lurking beneath the GUI. Once again, this isn’t really education — it’s marketing.

And at the core of this mythology is the half-truth that computers are inflexible. Well, they’re inflexible until some genius comes along and (through years of study, meditation and of course, a computer science degree or two) manages the absolutely Herculean task of taming the impossible machine into an application that even a poor user can handle.

But there are rules, there are rules! Just as a genie cannot abide that one of your three wishes is for more wishes, the genius of the computer who can make you an application has one absolute and strict limitation — the one thing they CANNOT do is make a programming language that anybody can learn. That sort of “application” is simply beyond the realm of all possibility, so we no longer try to do it. But we at least save people the trouble of wondering if it’s possible — No, it isn’t! Go sit down.

When Hopper wanted English to replace mathematical symbols for writing programs, the application (for her programming language) was business, not computer literacy. Programming languages designed specifically to be broadly accessible as their primary feature did not really enter the picture until the early 1960s.

“So “ease of use” or ease of learning will always strike a pleasant balance between an absurdly flexible and frustratingly rigid design.”Before Pascal was designed for programming education in 1970, the most notable efforts towards a language specifically for learning were BASIC and Logo. You absolutely can learn BASIC, possibly even by just watching British or Canadian television from 30 to 40 years ago, but Logo would be even easier. The main drawback with Logo is telling someone that that drawing what looks like Spirograph designs or animating a cat is the same thing as coding — yet it is. It would of course, take further instruction to prove it.

You can even learn coding skills without a computer, simply by applying slightly different rules to “Simon Says” (a game more universal than many people might realise) and replacing the computer with one or more participants who respond to a specific rule in a specific way.

Yes, computers are very inflexible. What’s the first thing that people do with a computer after switching it on?

They load software that is more flexible than the computer was to begin with.

THAT’S the lesson we need to be teaching and demonstrating, not this cargo cult teaching that basic computing is “nearly impossible” to learn. This is what ultimately would better empower users. Of course there’s nothing wrong with expert-level coders or expert-level instruction; just that neither are prerequisites to coding (most of them would not exist if it were, Linus Torvalds included — he was not an expert to begin with).

You can make the computer INCREDIBLY flexible in what it can do and respond to, but the way that’s done is through coding. You can even make the task of coding itself incredibly flexible! The only thing is, if you make it TOO flexible it will become unpredictable, and it’s actually easier to learn if the computer remains somewhat predictable. So “ease of use” or ease of learning will always strike a pleasant balance between an absurdly flexible and frustratingly rigid design.

We don’t need anybody to be afraid of this.

We could just tell people (they wouldn’t believe us) that if they find existing programming languages unpleasant, they could simply design their own. The instructions they would need to design such a language are not necessarily more complicated than our new “Simon Says” game, but actually implementing such a language would be SLIGHTLY more complicated. They would probably need assistance.

Slightly, because the way of demonstrating programming language design is demonstrated in an episode of The Computer Programme from 1982, although I first watched it years after I started teaching this sort of thing. In Episode 3, they have the BBC Micro connected to a robot arm; the arm is controlled by a sequence of relatively cryptic (probably numeric) commands that someone has stuffed into BASIC subroutines.

“What passes for instruction is as horrible as this — and as a result, most people think the subject is even impossible for them.”By simple use of single-line IF/THEN commands and an INPUT statement, the “user” (or coder) can now control the robot with simple commands like UP, DOWN, etc. or even quickly add their own commands, as the host of the show does.

He does this without knowing how to write a programming language per se, in all of a few seconds, but it’s so important to always remember that computers are very inflexible and require rigid and unforgiving precision!

It might suffice to simply take all the computer teachers in the world and lock them up in a huge warehouse with food and toilets, and not let them out until they’ve learned how to code. But that would only reinforce the horrible way they already teach.

Instead, we need to show them that far from being an inflexible, rigid and unforgiving interface as far as the user is concerned, that any ORDINARY (standard-issue) human can create their own programming commands, which they can then use to code — in a language of their own design, if it so pleases them. There is certainly ample opportunity for creativity and imagination there!

But to do that, we need to give educators access to better information, a better story than the tired mythology of things that never work unless you have entered and conformed to a veritable priesthood of ideas and concepts. It isn’t so, nor was it since the last 1950s. It isn’t Constantinople anymore.

If you don’t like the rules of programming languages, we need to impart (better yet demonstrate, hands-on) a certain amount of information that a child can easily manage to learn — and let these poor souls who were taught lies and half-truths that said certain amount of information will let them do virtually anything they want or imagine.

That’s the simple truth, and we have denied it to anyone who hasn’t excelled at the very (misleadingly) narrow group of things we insist are “coding” (You MUST do X, you will NEED Y, you cannot avoid Z — all of which came later on and never were required in the first place) can prove to themselves that most of these “rules” are in fact, options.

It is so pervasive that even those who CAN prove the myth to be a myth do not question it, and carry on in light of all the evidence against it as though it were true.

“To be certain, part of the reason it is like this is because education and industry have different needs — we have ceased to tend to the needs of education itself, and settled for the needs of industry, which can abide and even thrive on far more ignorance (and misleading information) than a quality education can abide.”What passes for instruction is as horrible as this — and as a result, most people think the subject is even impossible for them. Why wouldn’t they? Their instructors never learned any better.

To be certain, part of the reason it is like this is because education and industry have different needs — we have ceased to tend to the needs of education itself, and settled for the needs of industry, which can abide and even thrive on far more ignorance (and misleading information) than a quality education can abide. This conflict of interest has lead to tweaking education to neglect itself in certain areas. As with regulatory capture, not all of this neglect actually requires corruption — but corruption is a feature nonetheless.

Coding is not just a skill for a career in computers, anymore than writing is just a skill for people who intend to write books for a living. It is much closer to a realistic understanding of what a computer (or better yet, what the average user) can do. Average, because we are only talking about the skills that roughly anybody can learn, if we bother to teach.

But I mark any quality of education damnable, which would do less harm if we did NOT send someone to school for it, but that we would far better serve them just by sitting them in front of 80s television instead. A school that cannot out-teach a BBC Programme or even approach its accuracy and helpfulness perhaps should not exist. Rather than have you take this to its most literal conclusion, I insist that better education could easily be possible. We simply. Don’t. Bother.

“A school that cannot out-teach a BBC Programme or even approach its accuracy and helpfulness perhaps should not exist.”We ought to teach computer literacy to students, so that computers work for them, and not the other way around. But we will continue to fail, until we can first help their teachers. As we fail, we ultimately teach most people to let computers control them — this bodes extremely poorly for society and the future. Please, let’s stop conditioning people to feel and then act helpless. Let’s stop making this more difficult or “impossible” than it really is. It does help Microsoft, that’s true — though it does great harm to everyone else.

We also need to better understand this general trauma that education creates, because although the efforts to combat it will ultimately need to be run through some sort of quality control (at least peer review) by some sort of experts, the only people who can ultimately prevent the trauma caused by the educational system are the people who run the educational system.

Excellent tutoring (created by giving to tutors what we cannot give to other educators, perhaps) can take the edge off (but not prevent) some of the trauma caused by the generally abysmal quality of education — at least softening the blow. It would be very nice if we could actually teach people, rather than conditioning them to believe that entire subjects are impossible for them to learn. The latter is nothing but a great disservice, and should never be funded with public money.

Long Live rms, and Happy Coding.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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