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The “Bite Me” Minetest Server

Rendered logo - by Blockmen

For those who do not know, Minetest is an open-source free-to-play and free-to-modify alternative to Minecraft. It’s Free as in Freedom – and as in Free Lunch.

For the past few days I had been running a  Minetest server – it was fun whilst it lasted, but I have been extremely busy with work and it turns out I need to liberate that server node for something more productive… so for now, Bite Me, and its villages, are defunct.

Intent

Originally the idea was to run a Minetest server with a difference – during the week, an easy setup would have allowed players to create whatever they wanted in the world; settle villages and such, without any aggressive mobs or PvP.

On Friday nights however the world would be backed up, and NSSM would be turned on, PvP would be enabled, and random protector blocks would be deleted.

On Monday, the world would be reverted to its state as registered on Friday.

It would have been oh so fun…

I did keep a backup of the world data though, and all tools I had written to monitor and manage the server. It’ll be back online some day, but with a little bit more pre-prep; I’ll post some of the tools on my github page eventually, including the items allowing swithcing between the week-day safe mode, and the week-end massacre mode…..

Specs

For those of you who are curious about stats and requirements, I was running this on a Ubuntu 16.04 server with 512 MB RAM and 1 GB swap, 20 GB storage (more than enough) and a single CPU at 2.3 GHz, courtesy of digitalOcean.

At peak, I think I had about 10 players all playing simultaneously, with a good few off exploring different caves and causing the map gen to work in several locations siultaneously, and the server was handling fairly well I believe.

I expect if you want to run a properly specced server, 2GB RAM, 2 CPUs and 2GB swap would be a better bet. I might use that in future.

Examples

Here’s some screenshots from when I was exploring as admin:

Exhibit 1 – some weird shadows from the clouds. These shadows were persistent (never changed location), and dark enough that stone monsters would spawn in them….! You can see a htop report showing server stats too

 

Screenshot-16

 

Exhibit 2 – I was using maikerumine’s esmobs mod to generate some difficult mobs. For some reason, they would hardly ever spawn in my main village – but they did everywhere else and my goodness were they a handful… see the log how much damage they would have been doing if I hadn’t my admin shield equipped! (probably from 3d-Armor mod, made easily accessible from the Unified Inventory)

 

Screenshot-18

 

Exhibit 3 – Sokomine’s mg and mg_villages mods, combined with VanessaE’s moretrees mod produce some superb settings…

Screenshot-19-bis

Mods

Here’s the full list of mods I was using:

https://github.com/minetest-mods/biome_lib
https://github.com/minetest-mods/moretrees
https://github.com/minetest-mods/moreores
https://github.com/minetest-mods/homedecor_modpack
https://github.com/minetest-mods/stamina
https://github.com/minetest-mods/city_block
https://github.com/Sokomine/locks
https://github.com/Sokomine/travelnet
https://github.com/PilzAdam/nether
https://github.com/stujones11/minetest-3d_armor
https://github.com/minetest-technic/unified_inventory
https://github.com/dmonty2/minetest-u_skinsdb
https://github.com/tenplus1/protector
https://github.com/Uberi/MineTest-WorldEdit
https://github.com/Sokomine/mg
https://github.com/Sokomine/mg_villages
https://github.com/Sokomine/cottages
https://github.com/tenplus1/farming
https://github.com/minetest-mods/playeranim
https://github.com/BlockMen/cme
https://github.com/maikerumine/esmobs
https://github.com/NPXcoot/nssm
https://github.com/Sokomine/mobf_trader

Let It B…SD – and how to record songs with Audacity (Open Source Free Software)

A few week-ends ago I had a go at recording “Let It BSD,” a pastiche of “Let It Be,” focused on the BSD operating system. It was the first time for me in years that I had had a go at recording music.

What I used to do when I was in high school was to record myself playing on a cassette tape, then play that back through my parents’ dual-tape hi-fi system whilst recording the vocal track onto the second tape. If I was happy with that I would be able to record a third time by re-recording in similar fashion over the first tape. Onerous, time-consuming (especially when I made mistakes), and with very limited mixing opportunities (read: none), it was a rather challenging (vexing) experience.

That was 2002. 14 years on, the technology available for casual hobbyist recording has come leaps and bounds; and no, I did not need any particularly powerful equipment for this at all. A modern laptop (from within the last couple of years) and a couple of small accessories are enough.

The song, the subject

play

Play Let It BSD (new tab)

  • BSD stands for “Berkley Software Distribution,” and generally refers to a variety of related operating systems based off of the original 386BSD from the 80’s, itself derived from the original portable version of UNIX.
  • Let It Be is a fairly cheesy, albeit popular, song by the Beatles, which I am not sure is appropriate to sing in all times of conflict (I was never sure of what we should “let be.”)
  • Let It BSD“‘s lyrics were written by Jacqueline Kory Westlund, as a result of having heard one too many episodes of her husband’s favorite tech security and systems podcasts, TechSnap and BSD Now.
  • JKW released her parody lyrics under a Creative Commons with Attribution license (CC/Attr), which is a license for content creators that allows everyone to share and modify material, so long as the original author/s is/are given credit in appropriate and visible form. Which is fortunate for me, because I was not able to place a comment on her blog to ask/thank her.
  • My recorded track is, as such, also released under Creative Commons/Attr 4.0 license, for anyone to do what they would like to with.

My Setup – hardware and software

On the hardware side, I used

  • a Lenovo Flex laptop and simply its built-in mic
  • a set of headphones (really good Sony ones, cost me about £40 a few months ago)
  • and a USB stick.

I used headphones (not earbuds) to get the best pitch range on playback.

I used the USB stick to record the temp files to – in Audacity preferences under the Directories section, you can specify what space to use for the temp directory. Since my laptop has a HDD and I did not want the fans or disk kicking in, a USB was a suitable workaround. It wouldn’t have been necessary if I’d had an SSD.

4GB might have been just about sufficient with no other apps present and a lightweight desktop; and as I type, I wonder, if I’d had less RAM, if using a file on the USB stick for a swap file, would have helped…

For the software, recording and “mixing” was done in Audacity, running on Ubuntu MATE (a Linux system — yes, ironic isn’t it). I had two windows with the lyrics open so that I could have everything in front of me fully annotated, so no scrolling would ever be needed. Paper would have been an acceptable substitute.

bsd_tracks

Instruments involved

  • a mandolin (two actually for different sound qualities and ease of handling)
  • a steel string acoustic guitar
  • a Spanish nylon-strung guitar
  • a tambourine
  • and a metronome (because I had not yet found out about the click track feature built-in to Audacity!)

You can tune manually, but having a guitar tuner makes it all the easier. Pity my cheap penny whistles are all out of tune.

bsd_instruments_600

Method

The most frequently used keyboard shortcuts used during recording will likely be these:

  • (R) record
  • (P) pause
  • (Space) stop/play
  • (J) jump to start of track
  • (K) jump to end of track

Starting a recording writes to a new track, always. You can use the ←→ dual arrow tool to move track pieces around, and split tracks on the cursor in the Edit menu: Labeled Audio.

  • First take: I recorded myself strumming and singing against a metronome, to lay down the reference track.
  • Second take: playing the first take back in the headphones, I did a new take solely recording the guitar being strummed.
  • Third take: this was supposed to be the vocal track, but since I had to turn off the first recording I lost the metronome ticks, so third take was …. clapping in time to the first track to create a poor man’s click track.
  • Third take (bis): I recorded a first take of the vocals. This was not so much to be a final take, but rather to serve as a guide as to where I was in the song on subsequent takes.
  • Fourth take: tambourine. It turns out playing a tambourine so that it blends in to a song decently is not quite as easy as just shaking and beating it. You want to shake it fairly deftly to avoid jangling at odd moments, which requires constant concentration…!
  • Fifth take: Spanish guitar arpeggiations, nothing too fancy. The bright timbre of the steel string folk guitar was much more preferable for strumming the background, so arpeggiation was left to the mellower nylon-strung Spanish guitar. I could have used an electric guitar to get a different timbre, but I wanted to keep it all as “acoustic” as possible.
  • Sixth take: Here’s where I cheated a little – I tuned the Spanish guitar to a drop-D, and played my bass track on it. In Audacity I then used the Change Pitch effect to drop the track by an octave, amplified it a little to bring the sound back and voilà – I have no bass guitar, but still have a bass track :-) The downside is that the low D does not translate well to digital re-tuning down by an octave, so it sounds a little funky. Not sure how to resolve this.
  • Seventh & Eighth takes: by now with my old cassette tape method I’d probably have been tearing my hair out and weeping in despair. At this point I was recording two backing vocals at the end of the track; harmonies to accompany the final slew of choruses. I actually reduced the volume on the reference vocal track to minimize distraction. Singing a harmony and keeping to it is not easy when a more familiar tune is being sung into your head. Even trickier to get two harmony voices in and keep to them. I sang in my normal voice, and in falsetto, to be sure to get different timbres.
  • Ninth track: solo time. Grabbed the ash mandolin to do this, it has a slightly higher action which suits me better for melody playing. I didn’t write anything for this, in fact I replayed the entire track from the beginning and practised scales and mini-licks until I got to the solo area, paused a bit, and improvised along through the solo area. I cut the rest from the take, it took me about 2-3 takes to get something I liked, then another one when I realized I had deleted it during an ill-advised bout of undo-redo. Bleh. No two takes were the same.
  • Tenth track: easy one – redburst mandolin with a lower action, which I just tried to strum as fast as possible. I was originally going to have it all through the choruses, but sustaining that proved too much for me, so only kept it in the final flourish.
  • Eleventh track: final vocals. I can sing in different registers. You don’t want to hear what happened when I went up an octave. For this one, rather than use my normal baritone voice, I tried to keep the timbre higher. The original take (3bis) made me sound a bit like an opera singer trying to do folk. Yeuch.
  • Final track: the Allan track. My intention was to grab clips of Allan Jude saying the names of each of the BSD flavours and substituting them accordingly, but I didn’t have the courage to actually go through a whole heap of shows to identify where he might have said each line, if at all. So we’re stuck with my cheap imitation-Canadian accent.

How affordable does this make hobbyist music recording?

(The rig I did all this with is a little more powerful than regular laptops; I have a small Gigabyte Brix with 4GB RAM and a HDD, 2 processors. I will need to use an external webcam as it has no built-in mic, but could still make sure to keep it near the unit to simulate an internal mic. I’ll do some tests there too to find out whether recording with that setup would be viable.)

System

If you do not have access to high-end PCs or modern laptops with top-specs, you’re probably finding yourself limited in choice. Getting a second-hand laptop from the last 3 years would probably work fine for the task, preferably with at least 4GB RAM

Your base minimum would probably be dual-core at 1.4GHz, 2-4GB RAM, and 2-4 USB ports. Any PC/laptop produced within the last 4 years should be able to manage that.

The laptop I used has 8GB RAM which probably helps in keeping recording + playback in memory responsive, reducing recourse to the fans I expect.

If you do not have this amount of RAM, and can’t get/afford any modules to expand, there still might be a way – create a swap file on a second USB stick, which would burn through the stick faster (and you probably would only ever want to use it as swap thereafter), but would prevent the HDD from kicking in when memory needs to be offloaded to disk. I’ve heard that the stick burns out faster used in this way, but no idea what timeframes – hours, days, weeks or months of usage.

I don’t think you can explicitly and dynamically configure swap location in Windows or OS X (even though the latter is lightly related to BSD), but in strict BSD and Linux it’s a doozy – as root just do the following

swapoff # turn off normal swap, wherever it is  
SWAPFILE=/path/to/swap/file/swapfile
dd if=/dev/zero of="$SWAPFILE" bs=1024 count=$(( 4 * 1024 * 1024 )) # 4GB swap file
mkswap "$SWAPFILE"
swapon "$SWAPFILE" # since we turned off all other swap, we only swap on this file

And then remove it from swap and turn on the normal swap

swapoff
mount -a # assuming swap is normally set up in fstab

Recording Software

You would be hard pressed to get such a complete solution for basic audio recording and mixing as Audacity for free. Apple’s Garage Band costs to acquire now if you don’t have it preinstalled (I don’t, I had to reinstall my Mac some time in the past) or want the latest version, and requires off the bat that you buy a Mac. Microsoft does not make or bundle any similar-grade software out of the box, and Adobe’s solution is aimed at professionals, with a price tag to match.

Audacity works on BSD, Linux, Windows and Mac OS X and whilst not as feature-complete and pretty as its commercial counterparts is still very flexible and powerful. Also it doesn’t chew memory just to launch – it’s a lean mean recording machine.

It is Open Source Free Software, and supports recording to OGG (for lossy compressed files) and FLAC (non-lossy compressed files), both open standards that any software can read (if it wants to). There’s no patent tax on the software makers to pass down to their users.

If you want to record video at the same time as the audio, you can try Open Broadcaster Software which is released for Linux, Mac, and Windows which can record desktop, multiple webcams, and audio as required; also open source free.

To mix the video portions you could check out Blender which is also multi-platform, including BSD, open source free as well.

If you are into electronic music and trackers, there’s LMMS, which I have not tried but may eventually come to explore if I get back into recording with trackers more frequently.

Conclusion

I don’t think I could have done this easily on commodity hardware without Linux and Open Source Free Software in general. To do even simple home recording, I expect without FOSS, I would have had to shell out for a proper system – or stuck to tapes and hi-fis.

And Allan’s wish for this to be sung at a BSD con may yet come true; what I hope to have done is laid down a reference version to build upon. It would be fun to see an instrumental team get together to record a version, or do a live take at a meetup, with Allan doing his part too…

Or at least a Jupiter Broadcasting version, recorded on Noah and Chris’s pro-grade equipment – if they can put aside their other allegiance for the sake of a song 😉

About That: Linux Market Share

forget-piracy“Linux is free, nobody sells it – so there’s no market share!” Often I see this rebuttal in comment threads when someone calls for more market share for desktop Linux (yes, I read comment threads, I know it’s not healthy for me).

I want to briefly address here what is meant by “market share,” because Linux does have a market share in the world IT market, and it’s very significant; even servers running gratis Linux deployments are an integral part of that market share.

Rather than looking at market share as “how much Linux can we sell,” we need to look at it in terms of “how many Linux users are there on servers and desktops, and how can we sell software and services to them?”

“Market Share” does not mean “how much is sold” but “how much could be sold to.” Read more

About That: Linux Mint’s site hack

Byte City

The Linux Mint site hack a few weeks ago has brought to the fore how lackadaisical the security efforts behind some projects’ hosting and distribution sites may be. The truth of the matter is though, without a dedicated resource to look after this aspect, any effort can quickly grow stale and obsolete.

The tools and workflows required to keep sites and software packages secure are moving targets and a full-time effort; and the demand for latest-and-greatest software does not help one bit as a culture of blind trust has washed in on the back of the false mantra “Linux is inherently more secure.”

No it is not, and its growing popularity is demonstrating this. Linux is set up so that you can look more easily into your security and manage it, but security does not come without at least some planning and consideration. Jumping to BSD will not save us either. Improving our tooling and workflows is the only viable, forward-looking strategy we have at the moment – and it’s lacking.

Matt Hartley’s synopsis of the event is worth a read; the following are a copy of my initial reactions on his article. Read more

Panic Button – EFI woes

keep-calm-and-try-the-defaults

Thank you to all at Linux Unplugged who chimed in to give their advice, as well as Rod Smith on SuperUser who provided an extensive, spot-on answer even given my mostly incorrect description and assumptions.

I’ll admit that I panicked when I sent the piece in, as I might have just turned a friend’s PC into a brick in the very first hour we bought it! Luckily he himself is already comfortable using Linux, just he hadn’t installed it in a very long time, so had the patience and the Windows-aversion to bear with me.

It turns out, this had nothing to do with Secure Boot, and after this saga, I have a slightly better understanding of what Secure Boot is, what scenarios it’s meant to apply in, and what went wrong…

Read more

I Won’t Go Back to Buying Mac

mac_keyboard

Here’s a little topic I wanted to explore in written form – why I have used Mac for so long, why I still have a Mac as my main desktop…. and why despite this I won’t buy Mac again.

I Used to Love the Mac

My first computers were of course not mine – they were my dad’s. I have a vague recollection of us having a PC with 8” floppy drives and having to type commands… this was probably in 1987 or so. But that memory never really took hold, for very soon after, my dad bought a Mac: an LC II that I think is still in the cellar due to me insisting on not throwing it out.

It was graphical, it was friendly. It supported 16 colours (and not just 8 colours like many PCs still shipped with as standard). There was no command line, you could just click for everything. It was a revolution in home computing and we were on the cutting edge.

We were continually treated, with Macs, to the newest and greatest home technology: stable systems to run months without a single application crash (System 7.5.1 I particularly single out), advanced graphical UIs (Mac OS 9 was great comfort to the eye at the time), easily automated applications via AppleScript, including a fully scriptable Netscape Navigator; the first laptops and desktops with built-in Wifi, the first LCD desktops where the entire computer was hardly wider than the screen, the advent of UNIX-based systems on the home computer. Every Mac shipped with a full productivity suite included (what would become iWork), as well as a full media editing suite (photo editing, video sequencing, and audio production, which collectively would become iLife), and a couple of well-designed, full-on 3D games to boot. There was hardly anything you couldn’t do with a Mac I thought…. except perhaps write programs for Windows.

When the time came for me to go to university, I believed I would have to get a Windows PC to allow me to do some proper programming, not knowing that we’d be using many different and equally (even more so) viable systems for programming on. It was a mistake I do not regret, as it had great learning benefits to me, and gave me the ability to understand the Windows paradigm so many people endure, and the ability to operate in the average workplace; but after that laptop died (in a literal puff of smoke after an ill-fated attempt to “repair” it), I was back to buying a Mac in 2007.

Even in 2011 I was agonizing over whether or not to spend hard-earned cash on a new MacBook Pro or not. I drew up my list of pros and cons, and decided, over a solitary steak and pint, that yes, I did want that Mac after all.

It would be the last Mac I would ever personally buy.

The Mac – the good

The year is 2015. I still have that MacBook Pro. And it still serves as my main workhorse for spinning up Linux virtual machines. 4 years on, and it’s still the most powerful computer in my home.

It has a quad-core i7 hyper-threaded processor at 2.2 GHz, effectively  showing up as 8 cores – it’s the same processor family as found on entry-level business servers. I’ve upped the RAM to 16 GB. It has a 500 GB HDD.

Most computers even today ship with 4 GB RAM and a lesser i5 processor clocked at 1.7 GHz and not hyper-threaded, and still a 500 GB drive.

Needless to say, that Mac was a fantastic investment, as it remains still more powerful than an equivalently priced Windows PC on today’s market.

So why will I never buy Mac again? Put simply: Apple has chosen to go where I will not follow.

Apple – the Bad

Even back in 2011, the Apple Genius who was trying to sell to me was extolling the benefits of the new MacBooks with no CD/DVD drive: “who uses CDs these days anyway?” Well I do, for one. I experiment with computing, and in doing so sometimes break my systems. I need to reinstall the system sometimes. The one time I needed to reinstall OSX, I had to purchase a brand new copy. Gone are the days of providing a free re-installation DVD. These days, you’re lucky if you can connect anything at all.

I don’t tie up my bandwidth with movies and music I have to wait for and download, online, every time I want to consume them. I still buy DVDs and CDs because, in case you haven’t noticed, online “purchase” does not allow you to own a copy – just the license to watch, if it’s still available on the provider’s website (remember mycokemusic.com?). We do not own “our” online movies and music – only the permission to watch them, which can be revoked at any time – with no refunds.

I have become a near-full Linux convert. I use Linux for my personal machines at work, my secondary and tertiary laptops run Linux, and my private cloud servers all run Linux.

Only my Mac doesn’t run Linux, and that only because when I tried to install Linux on it, the graphics card and wireless card decided to throw a hissy fit. Apple’s choice of highly-proprietary components meant that despite the best efforts of open source developers, Apple held on closely to the proprietary mantra: the machine is Ours, you only have a license to use it. You can’t even “own” something as rustic as a tractor these days.

I feel I am not in control of my Mac because I have been told what I can and cannot run on it. I own the machine, but not the software. If it breaks, I just get to keep the pieces – not the ability to tweak and fix.

My hardware today

My preferred computer for “getting things done” nowadays, the one I am currently typing away on, is a Lenovo Flex 15. Lenovo do very good hardware, its pro line, the ThinkPads, are durable business machines much like the MacBook Pros in quality.

They’re also generally highly compatible with open source drivers and mainstream Linux distributions. Where I’d hesitate before buying a Dell or HP laptop as to whether I think Linux will work on them, I have virtually no qualms when buying a Lenovo laptop, knowing it will likely take the erasure of Windows just fine. Not that this necessarily won’t change in the future.

Open Source – Freedom and Privacy

Lenovo was in the news recently for a piece of advertising software called Superfish they had included in new laptops and desktops for a few months in their Windows deployments. This particular set of software and configurations meant that not only were users seeing even more advertising in the web browsing experience, but implementing the advertising solution was also breaking the very core security mechanisms that keep all other parts of the system secure. Lenovo makes great hardware, but they aren’t immune to woefully bad decisions.

Thankfully, they reverted their decision to include this software as soon as their technical analysts realized what had happened, and issued fixes, but it has damaged the company’s reputation.

Persons like myself who chose to erase Windows completely were not affected.

This is why I use Open Source Free Software: to maintain control over my own digital assets, and freedom in my digital life. I am fully aware that my digital identity is tightly woven into my real-world identity, whether I want it to be or not.

I now run Linux on nearly everything – more specifically, I run Ubuntu on my laptops, and a mix of Ubuntu and CentOS on my servers.

I can choose what software is on it. I can choose what software is not on it (have you not yet noticed how there is some software on Windows that you cannot get rid of for neither love nor money… pestering you for upgrades at best, selling you out at worst). I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it either.

What’s more, I remain in control of my data. Not only on my computer, but also in the Cloud. Windows will try to shove you onto SkyDrive and Office 365 Online. Apple is shoe-horning you into iCloud services (yeah, sync your photos all over the place, you can trust Apple… hmmm)… Google is trying to get into both spaces of storing all your photos “for” you and getting up in the online office suite as well. You can’t get an offline Adobe Creative Suite anymore – just keep up the eternal payments if you want to continue being able to access your Photoshop and Illustrator projects. At least they didn’t discontinue their editing suite altogther like Apple did with Aperture. Gone is your investment.

If I ever stopped paying once for any of these applications or services, or if the service is suddenly discontinued, I would stand to lose all my data – everything I’ve purchased, everything I’ve created, either because I no longer have the software to read the files, or because the files themselves have been whisked away to an online vault “for my convenience”. That’s why there’s hardly any storage on Chromebooks. Surrender your data to the Cloud.

I am staying firmly on Linux and virtual private servers that I control and can pull data off of as I wish. I can fully program the computer to make it do what I want – and stop if from doing things I don’t want it to do (granted, some tasks are easier than others, but at least it’s actually possible in the first place.)

One Linux distribution in particular, Ubuntu (the very same I use!), tried to follow the Big Boys like Apple, Google and Microsoft: Canonical announced a partnership with Amazon in the form of search functionality, where any keywords used for a file search was also sent to Amazon, and other online providers. Thankfully, it was easy to purge from the system the minute I heard of it. You cannot defenestrate such “features” with the other Big Three.

Building Trust

I use open source software from centralized trusted software repositories (which were the spiritual precursors to app stores) – I don’t need to hunt around on the Internet to find some software whose source I do not know. On Windows, I constantly need to fret before installing an app: Does it have a virus? Does it have a trojan? Will it send all my purchasing, credit card details, photos and other identity to some unknown third party?

What I get from the centralized repositories constitutes my base web of trust –  and that base web offers a collection of software so large and varied that I know I can get a tool for any job, be it office, media, programming, scientific or leisure, and more.

No piracy = no legal troubles AND no viruses.

Or at least, a vastly reduced risk compared to downloading anything willy-nilly from random websites. And personally, I expand that web of trust with informed decisions.

I use LibreOffice which allows me to read and save in Microsoft’s document format if I need to, but I mainly use the Open Document Format to ensure I can still edit them in decades to come, and that I can share documents with anybody who does not want to shell out for Office Pro, Office 365 or GoogleDocs.

I use ownCloud for my file synchronization so that I can keep control over what is stored, and where. It replaces services such as DropBox, Google Drive, Sky Drive and iCloud without trying to force me to store online-only and forgo local copies. If my account is terminated on the latter services, there’s no guarantee I’ll also still have the data that it ran away with. ownCloud is in my control, and I know I have the copies locally too.

I use Krita and the GNU Image Manipulator instead of PhotoShop, InkScape instead of Illustrator, Scribus instead of InDesign, digiKam instead of Lightroom. I don’t need to be online to do any of this.

I choose freedom.

In the words of Richard Stallman and the Free Software movement: “Free Software is is a matter of Freedom, not price.

Piracy might make things surreptitiously free (as in “a free lunch”), but still ties you to the control systems and spyware that is rife on the Internet.

Apple, like so many other computer manufacturers and software licensors, has taken a route I cannot go down, one I will not follow. It has taken a route that specifically makes it difficult for me to remain free. It has taken a route that stifles experimentation and learning. It has taken a route that privileges perpetually tying-in my spending on one side, as well as the monetization of my identity on the other, whilst at the same time denying me ownership both of what I purchase and what I create, and where the only solutions are either piracy… or just leaving altogether.

forget-piracy(… graphic of my creation, released under CC 4.0 Attribution Share-Alike. Anyone who wants to make a better derivative is most welcome…!!)

Watcher-RSS : Your own, Personal, Feeder

fosdem-rss

I finally got around to putting together some initial code for that thing I wanted – a script to detect changes in a page and produce an RSS entry as an outcome.

watcher-rss” is just that – a simple script that can be called by cron to check a page for a significant area, and generate an RSS “feed” in response.

It’s designed such that you need to define a bash handler script that sets the required variables; after that it can generate an RSS entry in response to anything. Read more

About that: Is TAILS an essential distro or just an added tinfoil hat?

A tech blogger put up a piece I came across on Tux Machines, asking whether TAILS, a security-oriented Linux distro designed to afford the user anonymity, was just another tinfoil hat for the over-imaginative conspiracy theorists.

It was stronger than me to let this be, as I believe that TAILS is actually very legitimately useful to certain people and professions – namely journalists, students and activists – and that the article was likely to gain page views over time. Below is my own answer.

Original article is http://openbytes.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/tails-an-essential-distro-or-an-accessory-to-compliment-a-tin-foil-hat-for-the-average-user/

For the TLDR – TAILS is not aimed at the average home user, but at non-technical users who actually do need to take their online safety into serious consideration.

…. it’s a bit of a straw man attack …

The real question is – where is the merit in deriding the approach and considerations TAILS addresses?

Read more

Call it “Open Source Free Software”

Freedom and Open Fields

I ranted previously about my annoyance at the name “Free Software,” wherein the name is too easily misconstrued to mean freebie (but still proprietary) software like Dropbox, or the Yahoo toolbar. Further thinking about the naming issue, I ended up deciding to call it “Open Source Free Software” instead.

There are two adjective groups in the name: “Open Source” and “Free”, with the latter being interpretable in two ways: freedom and freebie.

Due to the way adjectives apply in English, “Free [Open Source Software]” sounds like it is in opposition to a futile notion of “Proprietary Open Source Software.” More popularly, with the emphasis on “Free”, we end up with the same issue of looking like we could be talking about sketchy downloads.

“Open Source [Free Software]” on the other hand moves the emphasis to the openness, and is in opposition only to “closed source proprietary software,” since “closed source libre software” makes no sense. Even if the listener misunderstands “Free,” they can still understand that it is open to tinkering – which is the freedom we want anyhow.

Open Source
Free(dom) code is open, software promotes user freedom
Free(bies) code is open but copyrighted – we can study it to make a Free(dom) version

Thus we focus on openness as a vehicle for software freedom, instead of leaving potentially damaging emphasis on an ambiguous word.

Varying “Free” on its interpretation against openness/closedness, we get:

Open Source Closed source
Free(dom) code is open, software promotes user freedom Makes no sense
Free(bies) code is open but copyrighted – we can study it to make a Free(dom) version code is closed and copyrighted – the kind of software the FSF are against

There is still a question about whether to include blobs or not in the open source project, since doing so would disqualify it from being Free. This would still have been discussed anyhow however.

The point is, emphasising openness more easily leads to a discussion on freedom. Emphasising “Free-ness” just makes people shy away – not because of the implications of “freedom” but because of the warning flags around “freebies.”

Don’t call it “Free Software”

[This is as much of an essay as it is a complete rant. Take with a teaspoon of salt ;-)]

Arguably the worst thing about Free Software is its name.

There is a perpetual need for its advocates and proponents, such as I, to repeatedly re-explain ad nauseam why we mean “freedom” and not “freebies” when we talk about Free Software.

Just mention “free software” to one uninitiated and they think “freebies.” They either systematically think about not having to pay for a full version of Photoshop or MS Windows, or if they’re more sapient they worry about get rich quick scams, too-good-to-be-true-alarm-bells ringing. They think “yeah, like, illegal downloads, right?”

All this because in his ideological genius, Our Beardy Leader decided to stick with a nomencalture he knew was confusing, all because he wanted to use the word “Free” in one sense, when the rest of the world understood it in the alternative sense.

Here’s the thing: “Free [Things]” has for decades, if not a century or two, meant specifically: [Things] for zeros dollars. It was there first. Vox populi (aided by decades of marketing).

What we’re trying to do here, in muscling the adoption of “Free Software” to mean anything other than “freeware,” is to try and change the popular definition of a word from a top-down, prescriptive stance, against the already perpetuated alternative definition.

For someone so hung up with words as to clearly advise against calling Free Software an “alternative,” “because it conveys the wrong idea,” Our Beardy Leader seems to be oblivious of the fact that to the common ear, “Free Software” (the idealogical kind) and “free software” (the freebie kind) are one and the same.

They are. They are free. Look up the dictionary definition, you’ll find “available at no cost.” The common person could care less about the alternative definition; if they got it for free, then they got it free. Free. “Gay” means homosexual today, the idea it originally conveyed of being joyous is relegated to the past, like it or not. Similarly, where “free” can indeed mean freedom, the “Free” in “Free Software” also conveys the wrong idea, but Our Beardy Leader isn’t complaining about that.

All our exasperated lot on the ground can do at best is preach to the choir that understands Free as in “free speech,” or come across as pontificating pedants when we patiently explain for the thousandth time that Free Software does not include the likes of Angry Birds Free Edition and the OS X Mavericks free upgrade.

If you need to explain even the name of something to mitigate against being lumped in with your adversaries, you’ve clearly done a bad job at barnding. Like a health food company naming itself after its founder, McDonell. “Unshackled Software” would be a much better name to pointedly insist on freedom. Unweildy perhaps, but it gets that idea of freedom accross WITHOUT lumping itself in with warez and no-dollars-but-pay-with-your-data kind of schenanigans we’re trying to get away from.

Our Beardy Leader bemoans how the Open Source camp “missed the point” but to be honest, they know this “Free/Free” malarky was just plain stupid; and when said Beardy Leader decided to denounce the use of “FOSS,” ugly acronym as it is, for being too on-the-fence, it was he who missed the point: the opportunity to recognize that “Free AND Open Source” could be taken, in the infancy of the term, to mean “both at once or not at all” in true programming spirit. But no, he chose to stay with the then still influenceable interpretation of it as a colloquial “union” operation instead of a conditional test.

Yes, in calling it “Free Software” Our Beardy Leader decided to go against the common person’s understanding of “Free;” but in talking about “Free And Open Source Software” he just let the common definition through!

So I’ll just call it FOSS, by which to mean “Free Open Source Software.” I think it is perfectly feasible, if not much more powerful, in getting the Freedom message accross, whilst at the same time minimizing the risk of being misconstrued.