Die! Tablet Die!

March 16, 2011 at 17:12 | Posted in Life, Tech, thoughts | Comments Off on Die! Tablet Die!
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Ok, From the title you can probably guess that I have a few issues with Tablets. More correctly with Tablet computing appliances. To be honest I can not say that I hate all Tablets or even most of them. So, Why the strong title?

What I object to is where “Tablets” are leading the general population. Instead of helping to empower people these devices will lead them further down the non-repairable, non-servicable, non-upgradable, non-hackable road. Further many of these Tablets come with restrictive operating systems and severe lockdowns that make it difficult if not impossible for the user or anyone (in some cases) to change the operating system to one of their choosing.

Lets look at some of these things and the possible motivation behind them.

Non-servicable/non-upgradeable

Now by non-serviceable I’m reffering to non-serviceable by anyone outside the manufacturers magic circle. Although I suspect that the the larger part of servicing these devices will be simple the act of replacing them.

Non-upgradable is fairly self evident but I’ll define it just to be clear. Here I’m rfering to the users ability to buy a larger hard drive, or more memory, or an expansion card to add desired functionality.

Desktop computers and to a lesser degree laptop computer allowed the end user to upgrade his machine with components of their choosing with little or no special tools. Standard interfaces such as ATA, PCI , PCIe, SATA made it possible for a user to go out and get a 80GiB replacement for the 40GiB hard drive in their maching easily. In most cases the act of replacing the drive was fairly trivial. The same could be said for many parts of the computer.

The vast majority of Tablets that I have seen are sealed boxes. No way to even get at the bits let alone upgrade/replace/repair them. This means that to upgrade most people will end up buying another model (pretty good deal for the manufcturer, eh) not so great for the consumer, the environment, the sweatshop labour that makes most of these devices, etc.

Non-Hackable:

I’m not refering to malicious hacking here. I am refering to the consumers God given right to peer under the hood of something they have purchased, something that they own and should have full control over (I’ll save the rant about the insanity of “Software liencsing” for another day). As the owner of the device you should be able to replace the software in it if you don’t like the software that came with it shouldn’t you? You should be able to write your own software for the device or hire someone to write it for you without having to sign huge contracts with the people that made the device. Shouldn’t you? You should be able to run any software you like from any source without the manufacturer of the device have to approve it. Right? It’s your device right? You own it.

Sadly, with most Tablets, not so much. Not only do most of these Tablets lack the required connectability to easily change to operating system, most are actually hostile to the process. This forces the consumer to buy app from the app store ($ for the manufacturer). Be tracked when using the device ($ for the manufacturer and their advertising partners). Be limited in what they can watch, listen too, read, etc (again more $ for the manufacturer as anyone wanting to get their content to all those consumers must make deals with the manufacturer).

All of this is partly due to the fact that computers have been moving away from hobby/speciality and into everyday appliance for some time. However it is more strongly driver by profit seeking corporations that would rather see a world burried in e-waste then fail to make double digit gains over last quarter.

These companies tout reasons like “Usability”,and “Secuirty” for the direction of the design. Those reasons are clearly false. Security does not come from dis-enpowering people and hiding how things are done. In a truely secure system you’d be able to show everyone exactly how the system worked and still be confident that it would remain secure. Usability doesn’t spring from digital locks and the removal of compatibility and interoperatability. If I can’t use it to do what I want how can it possibly be more “useable” then something that I can make do whatever I want?

I’ll be the first to admit that these device have nice eye candy, spinny, flashy, user interfaces. I’ll also be the first to tell you that when somethng starts to go wrong  those same soft and fuzzy interfaces fall flat on their faces and are next to useless for diagnosing and correcting even simple problems with the software let alone the hardware.

For some reason (marketing) these devices are like crack to many end consumers who see them as a cool replacement for their laptop. The truth is that these device will make a very poor replacement for a proper computer. I suspect that many people are going to wake up some time in 2012 with a very bad “Tablet Hangover”. And will wonder where their laptop has gotten off to. The problem is that if Tablet sales canabalize laptop sales too much the manufacturers will make an even bigger shift in that directin and we all may be wondering where the laptops/desktops have gone in a few years. Sadly our rights, freedoms, and the freedom of choice that we currently enjoy hardware wise may well have gone too.

So, until I see a tablet with a user replaceable hard drive, user upgradeable memory, many standards compliant ports (3 usb ports count as 1 type of port), and the ability to easily change the operating system or other softtware without restriction or legal complication I will continue to say:

“Die! Tablet, Die!”

Browsing at the Speed of Text

February 9, 2011 at 17:50 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security, thoughts, Tutorials/Howtos | Comments Off on Browsing at the Speed of Text
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I recently started using the ‘links’ browser for various things and was impressed with both the speed and the highly increased signal-to-noise ratio. Suddenly I could get to the information I wanted quickly and easily. This prompted me to set all of my other browsers to: no images, no scripts, no plugins

The difference was breathtaking. Suddenly I was back to the Internet I first fell in love with, a place where you can quickly find and share information. No blinking ads. No annoying scripted effects. No over done glitz. Just the info I was after.

I have found that I am getting things done much more quickly since my switch to text-only browsing.

The breath of fresh air that text-only browsing was got me nostalgic for the “old” days of the Internet when it was all text-only. I started using “Mutt” to read and send e-mail. I loaded up “Irssi” for IRC chat. I switched to a text only RSS feed reader for my morning and evening headlines/news. Again my productivity increased. So now I want to share how others can do the same. So try it out and see if your experience is similar.

The best place to start is probably the browser. For most people these days it is (sadly) the main, if not the only, way that they interact with the Internet.

I refer to a standard browser that has been configured to render only text as a “Stripped” browser.

To strip your browser find it in the list below and follow the steps. To un-strip it just reverse the steps

Internet Explorer:

Dont bother to try. IE is just too much of a mess and it’s likely you’ll break something trying to “Strip” IE.

If you are an IE user I’d suggest downloading Firefox or some other browser and “Stripping” it.

Firefox:

On Windows:
open Firefox
click tools -> options -> content
uncheck load images
uncheck enable JavaScript
click ok

click tools -> addons -> plugins
highlight each plugin by clicking on it and then click disable. (You’ll be able to “enable” them later)
Close the addons manager when done.

On Linux:
The same as above except the first options are under
edit->preferences->content

You now have a nice text only browser. Take it for spin and enjoy. Yes it will break some sites (YouTube naturally wont work) you may be surprised to see what sites fail to function. Many sites however will work just fine and be a lot easier to read.

If people know the steps to “strip” other browsers that I do not have access to please feel to post a comment.

If you have a browser not listed you basically want to search through the settings and do the following.

Disable all scripting
Set the browser to not load images
Disable (not uninstall) all media/rich content plug-ins

Once you have played with a stripped browser for a while you might get brave and decided to check out a true text-only browser like Lynx, elinks, links2, w3m, etc

I’d also suggest installing a second small/light browser to use as your stripped browser. As this way you can easily hop over to the other “Main” browser if you need to go to a page that just does not work right in a stripped or text-only browser.

As this post is getting a little on the long side I’ll cut it short and talk about doing other things on the Internet in a text centric way in another post.

More info on text centric use of the Internet can be found at the Ascii Ribbon Plus Campaign’s website. (Which I will also talk about in an upcoming Blog entry)

posted with Maemo WordPy from my N800

Getting Back to Blogging.

February 8, 2011 at 23:20 | Posted in Blogging, Life, Tech | Comments Off on Getting Back to Blogging.

I’ve been busy…
I’ve been away..
I’ve been exploring…

And soon (this week) I’ll be blogging again.

Upcoming posts:
———————

Why the world needs the Ascii Ribbon Plus Campaign
Browsing and more at the speed of Text
Freedom Box, The right idea for right now
A more inclusive net

Google Free…

March 17, 2010 at 19:10 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security, thoughts | 9 Comments
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This was originally just going to be an “WooHoo!! I’m finally Google free…” post. However when I posted on identi.ca about finally becoming Google free many people wanted to know more.. and several people have responded to me due to my Blogging on such things asking for more info. This has led to a complete re-write of the original post to make it more instructive.

But First…… WooHoo.. I’m Google Free (fireworks here). I finally went ahead and deleted my Google account. (took a while to get the stragglers away from my old gmail account). But that’s it. I’m done. No more Google, Ever.

People that have been following my journey away from Flash, and Google and towards total software freedom (and enhanced privacy) Will be aware that getting Google free is something that has been in the offing for a while now. But now that I’m there I’d like to take a moment. and talk a bit about where the Journey has taken me.

The first thing I’d like to say is that If you can’t live without things like YouTube then this journey (at least to the extent that I’ve gone). Probably isn’t for you. But stick around and read on.. even if you don’t plan to follow in my footsteps you can learn about options that abound that you may have been unaware existed.

One of the loudest questions I have been getting is What did I replace “Google this” or “Google that” with. So, I’m going to make a list and talk about what I like and dislike about them.

Google Search:

I have replaced Google Search with a combination of Scroogle.org and IxQuick.com both return good results. Both offer https: connections to shut my ISP out of my searches. Scroogle is just a Google scraper and as such I may try to move away from it down the road. The further from Google the better. I’d go completely with Ixquick if it weren’t for the fact that they seem to be in love with javascript and that makes their landing page heavier then I like my homepages to be. However I recently tracked down their mobile start page and it is much lighter so I may just start there from now on.

I looked at a few other search options but none were as nice as the two above. Yacy is a very interesting project. A distributed search engine that isn’t owned by anyone. The problem with it was that the results it is currently returning weren’t overly useful for the grand and immense internet. Sadly they may be caught in a catch 22 situation. If more people used Yacy it would end up returning better results but it is hard to get people to donate resources (bandwidth for crawling etc) when they are getting questionable and limited results back. I’ll definitely re-visit Yacy in the future and see how the project is progressing.

Google Reader:

I got quite hooked on Google Reader. I’ll admit it was nice having one central place to go and read my headlnes. It however was not nice feeding Google such huge amounts of info on my interests and my thoughts on those interests. I replaced Google reader with an RSS reader built into my e-mail client claws-mail. It was quite handy having all my RSS headlines right there with my mail. It was also nice because I could set claws-mail up to read them as just text, no images, fancy formatting yelling at me. Just the info I needed and links if I wanted to delve deeper and get more info. I have recently purchased an Nokia N800 and am now using it’s RSS reader to read my morning headlines. Having it right in my hand is a huge plus and being able to read headlines without getting out of my toasty bed is a luxury I quite enjoy.

Google Mail:

This is the service that took me the longest to ditch. Not because I was overly attached to it or anything but because it takes a while to change all the listserves and forums so they now send to the new e-mail and then there was the process of waiting for all the stragglers to update their address books. even with all the time I waited and had the account sitting dormant with an auto responder telling people to use the new account I had a persons call me not 24 hours after closing the account complaining that they couldn’t send me mail Well I guess one last straggles isn’t too bad.

I replaced Google mail with Fastmail. They are paid by me and not by advertising. They offer many added features some of which I have yet to take full advantage of but one of the upshots of the services they add is a reducing of addresses people need to remember for me. Having my instant messenger address being the same as my e-mail address is just wonderful. Being able to have a web address that is extremely similar to the e-mail address I am sure will come in useful even if I haven’t made good use of it yet.

Fastmail is completely affordable. has been rock solid on the reliability front. offers pop3, smtp, ldap, imap, XMPP, and more so accessing things from my mobile device is no problem even thought I have my main laptop sucking down permanent copies of my e-mail via pop3. Their webmail interface is light and easy to navigate. and works well on light computers and without javascript. If you are thinking of moving e-mail providers I’d strongly suggest taking a look at Fastmail.fm

Google Docs:

Never used it. I found OpenOffice years ago and have never looked back. I also am opposed to storing personal info online if I don’t need to and for 99.9% of the documents I work on there is no sane reason for them to live on some anonymous computer, controlled by someone that isn’t me, in a legal jurisdiction that has less privacy rules. Do I sometimes need to have remote access to my documents? Sure. That’s what SSH is for. secure access to my home computer from any wifi hotspot.

Google Groups:

This one I never understood. This is primarily just a wrapper for the Usenet which anyone can access free, and much more privately with a news reader like Pan, or countless others. I read the few news groups that I follow with the usenet functionality of Claws-mail ( have I mentioned that I really like Claws-mail).

Google Talk:

I like to get my Identi.ca updates via Instant message. To that end I had fallen into using Google talk (well a Linux XMPP client hooked up to Google “Google talk” servers) to meet my instant messaging needs. When I switched to fastmail they also offer a federated XMPP server so it was a truly trivial matter to redirect my identi.ca updates to my new address. it was also quite easy to migrate other XMPP buddies. basically I just had to add them back once I had set up the new account in my XMPP client (psi). They’d get a one time message asking to re-authorize me at the new address and once they did that it was like nothing had changed.

Jaiku:

This was one of the first things I ditched, I was actually on Jaiku before Google took an active interest in it but once they did I bailed and bailed fast. One of the first things Google did was introduce a new “privacy policy” which I wrote about at the time because I was horrified by some of the clauses in it. Ditching Jaiku led me to the then very new identi.ca which has turned into a fantastic service, is open source, you can even run your own server is you wanted. The servers are federated so that people on different servers can still follow each other.

Gizmo5:

This is one of the more annoying moves Google has made. I didn’t use the Gizmo5 client as it was closed source but they had an very solid SIP backbone that I used for my occasional VoIP needs. I was quite annoyed when Google bought them out. I am currently transitioning to using VoipStunt. (not the software just the SIP backbone). I’ll let people know how this goes. One of the most annoying things about the whole deal is that Google has tossed Gizmo5 into a real state of limbo and so there is currently no way for me to officially cancel my account. I have completely discontinued using it but It would be nice to be able to terminate the account.

Google maps:

There are many alternatives to this some that were around before google such as mapquest.

Onto the Flash free front.

Several people have enquired about my now Flash free life.

Just to recap for those that have not been following. Due to the closed nature of Flash and it insistence on ignoring privacy settings in both the browser and itself. I decided a while ago to abandon using flash. For a while I was using Gnash an open source Flash software which does not suffer from the same privacy concerns. As time went on and with the release of Flash 10 and most sites now insisting that you have flash 10 or they wont talk to you I decided to totally abandon Flash. So now none of my devices have the ability to render Flash in any way. Perhaps more so then my move away from Google this is a step that may not be for everyone. Flash is currently pervasive on the world wide web and not having it breaks many things. (of course one could argue, and quite successfully, that Flash is outside of the HTML, and W3 standards and thus it is the web developers use of flash that is breaking things not my standards compliant browser.) As far as I am concerned Flash is the biggest bane to the world wide web rivaling even the once dreaded tag.

With the release of HTML5 that supports standards for Video streaming there is no longer a compelling reason for Flash other then using it to evade privacy settings.

So how is Life Flash Free. I think it is best described as, “a lot quieter”. There is instant decrease in blinky advertising noticed more on my mobile device as my main laptop had adblock. It is also a lot easier to focus on the meat of an article as the impulse to skip down and just watch the embedded video sound bite has now been removed. I definitely find I am having more time for other things as I simply can not waste time on Youtube or other Flash based distractions.

Does this mean that I can never watch video on the web until everyone has migrated to a proper (this means you Youtube… use Theora, not H264) implementation of HTML5. Not at all. It does mean that there are more steps involved and so I tend only to take the time for more “important” videos as the common and distracting ones are just not worth the effort. Using sites like tinyogg.com let me watch videos that otherwise wouldn’t work. There are also sites like blip.tv that offer video in other standards and I can often find the video there or an different video on the same subject.

Some things are however just plain broken. (I re-iterate that the brokenness is at the server end which is insisting on using methods outside the Web standards). A quick list of things that are borked without flash

Any Flash based video chat site:
ustream.com
snapyap.com
tokbox.com
chatroulette.com
paltalkexpress.com
etc.

Some webmails that insist on flash though many of those have a fall back to a more standard interface.

Any flash based game sites
popcap.com and many, many others

Most children’s sites are either crippled or totally borked. If your kids have “petz” you wont want to go Flash free just yet. A sad example of this is that if you go to sesamestreet.org without Flash all you get is pictures of Elmo decrying that “F is for Flash” and providing a link to the Flash download site. (a.k.a. now be a good little consumer drone and let us shoehorn you into this box)

Many miscellaneous sites. even some that one wouldn’t expect.

For me. life with out flash is enhanced. I’m less distracted, more productive and no longer is my web browsing polluted with noisy, blinky, irrelevant , crap. For me the reclaiming of my personal freedom and privacy is worth the annoyance of losing a few sites (that are flying well outside the web standards). But then one must bare in mind that I’m the type of guy that participated in the “ascii ribbon campaign” and still sends all his e-mail in plain text. (you know. so anyone can read it no matter what computer or e-mail reader they have). I would still strongly suggest that those without kids try going Flash free. You don’t need to uninstall flash to do so, just disable it in your browser for a couple weeks (I suggest a couple weeks because the first several days will be a painful awakening as you start to see just how pervasive flash has become). I’m guessing that most that can make it past the pain point of the change will see the same benefits that I have.

What flash thinggy do I miss the most.. The Stats graph on wordpress.com. But again I must say, not having it there has shifted my focus away from the numbers and back to the content. So even though I miss the thrill of watching the hits dance up and down. The loss of it has only improved things.

Going Flash Free (or Flash reduced Diet #4)

February 20, 2010 at 18:31 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security, thoughts | Comments Off on Going Flash Free (or Flash reduced Diet #4)
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It finally happened today. I finally just got totally fed up with the draconian and proprietary nature of Flash on the web. The result of this is that I have decided to go completely Flash free.
Now, those that have been following my “Flash reduced diet” Line of posts, will know that I have been using Gnash instead of Flash for a while now.
A recent turn of events that has driven this decision is that many websites now REQUIRE Flash 10 or above, and even though Gnash is quite compatible with flash (up to Flash version 8 ) these websites refuse to talk to me. No Backwards compatibility. Also using Gnash I have been able to watch and learn that many, many, websites will use flash just to put up an image. The only reason to do this is that the websites wants to set a Flash super cookie and circumvent users browser privacy settings. As I mentioned before Gnash as a wonderful option to send all the LSO’s (super cookies) straight to /dev/null/ (a special black hole from whence nothing returns for those not familiar with *nix systems).
With the advent of HTML 5, which my browser supports there is no longer any NEED for Flash. (unless a website needs to try and circumvent users privacy). I therefore have decided to vote with my virtual feet. If a website requires Flash to a point that it will not function. Then they can forget about my viewership. I refuse to be forced to use a piece of proprietary software that goes against my beliefs (I firmly believe in the four fundamental freedoms as enumerated by the FSF), and most likely is there to remove my privacy, and in many cases my security (Flash has had several major security holes over the years).
Even though Gnash is trying valiantly to make a free (as in speech) version of Flash (thanks Guys) I feel the time has come for people to start abandoning Flash in droves. Insist on your right to privacy, security and freedom! Insist that websites start using HTML 5 and the free/open Vorbis/Thoera codecs (that means you YouTube). Insist that websites stop trying to set super cookies that ignore the browsers settings. Insist that you shouldn’t need the latest version of some proprietary software that wont work on many older machines just to view a simple web page that should work on all machines.
How do you do this? Uninstall Flash and anything that supports Flash (sorry Gnash guys), and when you hit a page that refuses to work with your browser either write the page owner and complain or lie and say your and iPhone.
That is enough for now. I’ll let you all know how my now Flash Free life goes.

Living Free – The struggle for disencumberment continues

January 28, 2010 at 21:34 | Posted in Life | 5 Comments
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Life got busy since my Last post. Holidays, and the like. But my struggle to have a free (as in Speech) and light system has continued. I got a bug under my skin around Gnome. The itch has been there for a while now and revolves around the fact that Gnome is getting bloated. now before all the Gnome fans go nuts on me let me clarify.

I tend to be a minimalist. I like my desktops small light and unobtrusive. I want my processing power for me, not for groovy graphics or worse things that are supposed to make my life simple but just end up complicating it because they are trying desperately to be too “simple”. I’m one of those weird people that LIKES the command line. I believe that a Desktop should only be a place to run my programs. not an integrated environment that tries (and usually fails miserably) to be all things to all people. I used Blackbox for years and loved it. My first computer came with 4K (Yes, that’s Kilobytes) no hard drive, no floppy drive, was black and white text only and it made me fall in love with computers (and learn programming).

Now that people have a better idea where I’m coming from (“OH, he’s one of THOSE…”) …Gnome is getting terribly bloated and on top of that there was the growing Mono controversy and talk of Gnome becoming more Mono dependent in the future and Mono is a mess, and I like Libre and non-messy (encumbered), and non-bloated…. So……. I ditched Gnome.

It took a bit of doing as it was the default install in gNewSense. But after some careful work with aptitude I’m now living happily in “Window Maker” and Gnome is mostly purged from my system. As you can see:

Screenshot

My Desktop

It is by no means ugly. Sure it doesn’t have compositing. I don’t need it to. Sure, it doesn’t auto-mount thumb drives/etc. I don’t need it to. It is quite simply the surface on which I run my applications. I like my dock and my Clip. I like the versatility and configurability of it. I like that it doesn’t force me to load Evolution-data-server (which I never use (I hate Evolution)), Nautilus, Bonobo, Gnome-panel, and various other things. All in the name of integration that I’d rather not have.

Now I have a system that run what I want, when I want, how I want. and isn’t loaded down with extras I don’t need. I’ve still got a bit of paring to do Pidgin seems a little on the heavy side I’m looking into a lighter XMPP/IRC client. Twinkle is nice, but would be nicer if there was a gtk version of it. So my Journey will probably continue.. And I’ll keep you posted.

Live Free (A.K.A living in gNewSense)

September 2, 2009 at 15:09 | Posted in Cool, Life, Tech | 2 Comments
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A while ago I migrated my main laptop to gNewSense. It’s been a couple of weeks now so thought I should post my thoughts and experiences. The first thing I have noticed is that my machine seems to run faster. Not hugely so, but it definitely has more “perky” feel then Ubuntu Jaunty did. As I mentioned in my previous post moving to all Libre (or “free as in speech”) software has had a few challenges. I currently can watch just about zero flash video. Not a great loss really, and also in line with my flash reduced diet. I’m guessing version-next of gNewsense will be a little better on the flash as it will have a newer gnash installed . However as I personally dislike Flash I’ll just wait till Epiphany has html 5 support.

As gNewSense is currently based on an older version of Ubuntu than what I was using there have been a couple of minor regressions. Rhythmbox is having a old problem with some podcasts that was fixed in the more recent versions. The podcasts work. the file names just end up a little messy. Again not a biggie.

The repositories still need a little cleaning up as there are a couple of packages listed (like Revelation) that can’t be installed because they have dependencies that were removed due to the fact that they were not Libre. I know these little wrinkles will get ironed out but the above example was a little annoying to me as I was using Revelation to store my passwords and part of my process before installing gNewSense was to look in the repository and see that it would have the packages I needed. Again, not a show stopper, just annoying. I have moved my passwords to a fully Libre program and all is fine now.

The only real gotcha I ran into is that I use encfs to store personal files and one of my encfs folders (a more recently created one) had been made with encfs 6 and gNewSense has encfs 5 which was surprisingly (I jest) not forward compatible.. This meant that I needed to jump through several hoops to fix this.

The process looked like… create a new encfs folder (with gNewSense encfs 5). boot into ubuntu live, install encfs, mount both the old and new encfs folders, copy from the old encfs6 to the new encfs5 folder. delete the old encfs folder, boot back into gNewSense. Again more hassle then show stopper but something that I would have been easier to take care of before installing gNewSense.

Aside from the above few annoyances some of which are strictly migration pains and thus very temporary. I am really enjoying gNewSense. It is what I want my Linux to be. I enjoy knowing that nothing in my system promotes the problems one sees with closed source. I am one of the crowd that feels that binary blobs will if not stopped will take on a life of their own. If hardware manufacturers get the message that closed source drivers are acceptable that will be all they will produce. If however we (the community) send a clear message that we will not use closed source drivers and by extension the hardware it drives Manufacturers will produce open source drivers. Manufacturers are driven by the bottom line. they want to sell their hardware.. If given a clear message they will produce what the market demands.

Kicking the Google Habit

August 25, 2009 at 18:08 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security | 2 Comments
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With my current move towards using totally free (as in speech) software, joining the FSF (Free Software Foundation), and all the things that are driving these decisions, I find myself questioning my use of Google.

Now, before people write me off as an anti-Google nut-bar, let me clarify my position. I do not think that Google is evil or trying to take over the world. I do think that Google has become a behemoth and despite the wonderful ethos of it’s founders it is now a publicly traded company and that means answerable to the shareholders and thus the bottom line. People shouldn’t fool themselves. Google is profit driven, not peace and goodwill driven. I have watched as their privacy policies on new services have become increasingly invasive. I have seen them use their very successful model of offering “Free” services to get a large user base that they can mine. I have watched as they add ever more services to broaden the scope and breadth of their data mining capabilities.

Due to the above I, like others, have become increasingly concerned about the concentration of data. Consider if you will, what Google can learn about a person using their services:

  • What you Read → Google Books, Google news, Google Reader, Google Scholar, Google Groups
  • Who you talk to → Google Talk, Google Groups, Gmail, Okurt, Google sites, Google Docs
  • What you say,write,create → Blogger.com, YouTube.com, Google Sites, Google Groups, Google Talk
  • Where you spend you money → Google finances, Google checkout, Google product Search.
  • What you are interested in → Google search, Google Alerts, Google Bookmarks, Google WebHistory

As you can see from the list above Google could quickly build a fairly complete dossier on anyone using their services. Add to this the fact that the above list doesn’t take into account Google tracking and analytic services (which operate on thousands of non-Google sites) which I am sure benefit from people that use a Google account and fail to logout before they go browsing the web.

If a person sat and really thought about it they might well end up feeling a little paranoid and they might be right to feel that way.

As for me, I do not think that Google has any vested interest in me other than trying to get advertising in front of me (good luck guys 🙂 ). I have long ago blocked google adsense, google-analytics, and other google tracking and advertising systems that google runs. I use Scroogle or ixQuick for my searches to keep my privacy. On the rare occasions I watched YouTube videos I did so without going to the YouTube site when possible. I was working to protect my privacy.

But then I slipped and got a gmail account just to “check it out” at first. It became my main account over time. (it really is one of the nicest webmails out there). I rationalized that since I used POP access and regularly completely flushed the account, that I wasn’t giving away too much. None of the “Free” webmails are truly free. They all advertise and I suspect that most track and collect information on the people using them.

The problem was that Gmail was my gateway service, to get it I had to set up a Google account and that led to me using other Google services. I soon found myself using Google Reader. I have 2 laptops and it was nice to be able to read my morning headlines from either. Then I found myself using Google talk. Not a lot. Just as the service that my Microblog updates flowed in through… But you can see the trend starting.

Luckily due to this recent push in my life to be “Free” as in speech and due to my normally abnormal (for this day and age) attachment to my privacy, I woke up and realized “Egad”. Here I am just giving my information away. It is truly interesting to see how “just checking out Gmail” had started to turn into giving away all my privacy.

Now, due to who and how I am I’d never have used all of Google’s services. The thought of using Google Docs is anathema to me. I’ve been around since the early days of the Internet so I prefer to actually read the Usenet (Google Groups is mostly just a front-end for the Usenet) directly. And other services just don’t appeal to me. Where they got me, and in truth might have continued to pull me in further is with new services (Gmail was new when I signed up). I’m sure that when Wave comes out the “techie” part of me will want to go and check it out. This time however I think the “sorry, no, that’s my privacy we’re talking about..” side will win.

I have now taken steps to correct my slip. I’m quickly phasing out Gmail. I’ll phase out Google Talk also. I have moved my RSS feeds off of Google reader and into a feed reader on my laptops. I’ve moved my Microblog updates to come in on my Jabber account thus depriving Google of that stream of information. It feels good. I’m well on my way to kicking the Google habit. My goal is to be 100% Google free before the end of the year. I hope to nuke my Google account in less then 3 month. (I have to make sure I didn’t miss changing my e-mail some place so that nothing breaks on me).

I’d like to challenge others to try and do the same. I know that many people will not feel inclined to completely remove Google from their lives.. But take a few moments and think about just how much information you’re streaming through Google. Then think about how you can go about reducing that. Perhaps start by dropping the services that feel like they are giving away too much personal information first and go from there.

I’ll write more on this journey as it evolves, It will be interesting to try to be 100% Google free.

Another great article about why you might want to be Google Free can be found here

Recent Thoughts on Social Media

August 14, 2009 at 13:04 | Posted in Life, Tech | 2 Comments
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I find myself pondering the direction in which things are moving and in truth have been moving for quite some time. I have been around the Internet since the days when it was text only and things like Usenet and IRC were king. Postings on the Usenet (before it became a waste land for binaries) were considered, heart felt, and usually several paragraph long. One had to actually take time to read them and time to formulate a proper response. Similarly Chatting on IRC usually meant having deep conversations often lasting hours.

Since those days there has been a slow but steady march towards more chatter with less substance. Today we have MicroBlogs and other social media that limit the users ability to converse to a scant 140 characters. Although I believe that it is entirely possible to have a conversation 140 characters at a time. I do not believe that it is possible to have a meaningful discussion. I constantly find myself wanting to comment on something I’ve seen on Twitter or one of the other Social Networking sites but I find there is no way to fit my thought into the constraints of the medium. I am sure others suffer the same fate, and so, conversations on these sites stay simple, superficial, and often highly polarized (yes it is… no it isn’t…. yes!! it is!!… etc).

Please do not get me wrong. I am NOT saying that people that use these sites/services are simple minded or lacking depth. I am saying that the medium is not useful for in-depth, considered, and meaningful discussion.

These sites/services allow people to have a voice and to comment on things. I have seen from my own experience with Social Media that it is much easier to comment on something than to form a considered opinion and discuss it properly. I can see how it would be very easy to fall into commenting on this and that and then commenting on peoples comments on your comments. I can also see how this would detract from doing more considered work. It is much easier to throw out 200 comments then to take the time to consider all sides of a issue form a considered opinion and write out your thoughts in something measured in paragraphs or pages rather then characters.

There is also the other side of the problem that the Social Media phenomenon is half symptom and half cause of. The continued shrinking of peoples attention spans. I am certain that by this point in this blog posting I have lost a significant portion of people who started reading it. In writing this I have broken one of the main caveats of having a popular blog, keep it short and sweet. Luckily I am not interested in having a popular blog. I wish to have a meaningful one.

The comments above on popularity bring me to another phenomenon of which Social media is both symptom and cause. If the generation coming of age in the 80’s was the “Me” generation, then the current group of people coming of age could well be describes as the “Look at Me” generation.

Social Media fosters a culture of faux popularity. The more followers you can gather the more respected you are in the current Social media culture. Sadly this too is superficial and unconsidered. Followers are not friends, nor acquaintances. The people that gather these crowds do not know any of these people in a meaningful way, no more then a street performer knows or has a relationship or friendship with the crowd that gathers to watch him or her while they perform. In both cases once the performance ceases to be amusing the crowd will quickly drift away. However in the Social Media world few people take the time to un-follow someone unless they become annoying. This creates a false sense of someones popularity and a false respect for the person.

I’m not saying that Social media is evil or should be done away with. I’m saying it is part of a long, on going trend towards the superficial. So we now have superficial conversations on superficial topics with superficial “friends” using a superficial medium. We are heading towards a place where people, instead of having discussions, thoughts, and feelings, have performance content and viewers (Followers). This will be a sad and lonely place when life gets rough. Because viewers are notoriously fickle and tend not to stick around if things get heavy, or require them to think, feel, or god forbid act (well other then commenting).

Towards a Free (as in speech) system – (or Flash Reduced diet #3)

July 25, 2009 at 13:14 | Posted in Life, Tech, XO | 3 Comments
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It seems that one of the side effects of my Flash reduced diet is a desire to get away from all restricted formats. In looking back I can see that this journey actually began when I got my OLPC XO during last years Give 1 Get 1 program. As I progress on this journey I am stripping away more and more of my reliance on restricted/patent encumbered formats. I am also working hard to rid my systems of any Proprietary binary blobs or software with restrictive or anti-social licenses. I have cleaned up Ubuntu on my main laptop as much as I can and am now looking into replacing Ubuntu with gNewSense. The main stumbling block to doing so is the fact that my main laptop is my Asterisk/Voip centre and I’ll have to do the re-install at a time when there would be no incoming calls.

The thing that has surprised me is how little has broken. As I mentioned in my previous postings on Flash reduction things definitely do break, but nothing that I couldn’t easily live without.

My biggest concern was dropping restricted kernel modules as I feared that some of my hardware may cease to function. As it turns out I have been quite good at buying hardware that is fully supported by open source software. My next concern was that I might have trouble with Various media types but again nothing significant broke I can still watch the CBC news at night just fine. I did loose mplayer, VLC, and Avidemux that I had come to depend on but they have been replaced with other tools that do not have the licensing complications of those applications. I have managed to completely do away with the multiverse repositories on my main laptop.

My next challenge will be to do the same on the XO. This may be challenging as the XO is shipped with proprietary kernel modules for the wireless card. and I suspect the Video will be problematic. My Ultimate goal will be to get gNewSense on my main laptop and then work on porting it to the XO. It may well be worth the effort of porting to the XO even if the wireless doesn’t work as one can always add an external wireless card that is supported by Free software.

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