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.

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.

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.

Xbox Media Center – Not just for the Xbox.

October 19, 2008 at 12:20 | Posted in Cool | Comments Off on Xbox Media Center – Not just for the Xbox.
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This week I am going to do a quick review of “Xbox Media center” (XBMC). Now before you tune out it’s not just for the Xbox. This wonderful open source project works on Linux, Mac, Xbox (of course), “Apple TV” and even Windows. There is also a live version so you can take it with you.

I thus far only have experience with the Windows version, but what I have seen has left me truely impressed. We needed a replacement for the previous media center software that we were using on a windows machine we use for such things. After looking around for a while I discovered XBMC and was delighted with the results.

Thinks I like about XBMC?

It’s fast. We have had problems in the past with media center software being slow or heavy resource hogs or both. XBMC doesn’t suffer from these problems.

To date it has played everything we have thrown at it from .flv files to .mkv XBMC played it all no problems.

It is slick. XBMC is just plain cool. It is the type of interface you want to have running when you invite people over so they can go.. “Hey.. Cool… What is that..”. Part of the slickness of XBMC is the fact that is it skinnable and that the skins don’t just paint over the same old interface to change the look of it, they can actually change the way things function and are presented. You can see screenshots from the current version of XBMC here

It has a built in File manager for managing your media once you have watched it.

It has integration with IMDB and other on-line sites. This allows it to easily retrieves the information and thumbnails (cover art, etc) to present in the media lists.

It can play streaming video from the network. The Windows version came with a script for browsing and viewing the trailers on apple.com

oh yeah.. it can be extended using scripts.

It has a large development and user community and so is a very active open source project. The large user community also means it is easy to get help on-line.

The controls are easy and intuitive, that coupled with the large clear On-Screen Display (OSD) makes using XBMC a dream.

I’m a definite convert to, and advocate of the project. I hope that XBMC get the recognition it deserves. The developers and other contributors have put together a first class piece of software that deserves some time in the spotlight.

Site of the Week #15

October 12, 2008 at 13:59 | Posted in site of the week | Comments Off on Site of the Week #15
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OK, So I’ve been a little lax on keeping up on my blogging. It’s a “have a life thing”, in-between trying to get the house ready for winter, the garden wound down, revved up on fall/winter obligations, etc. there just hasn’t been a lot of blogging time.

This weeks “Site of the Week” is a very useful one for all those that use and/or advocate for F.L.O.S.S. it’s:

Floss Manuals

This site has a large, and growing list of manuals for FLOSS software and relates items. It has many useful features such as the ability to generate a .PDF of the manual for offline reading. There is also a handy click here to print button.

Another great feature of the site is that, in true open source style, the manuals can be contributed and edited by users of the site. So I expect to see their list of manuals grow quickly as the community grows.

So, go check it out, I’d strongly suggest bookmarking the site so that the next time you need to read up on a piece of FLOSS software you can just pop over and read up.

Enjoy

SnapYap.com – A quick review

September 10, 2008 at 10:45 | Posted in Cool, Tech | Comments Off on SnapYap.com – A quick review
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After my post on Tokbox’s growing pains and continuing evolution I was invited to take a look at SnapYap.com and see what I thought.

So, I went, I saw, I liked. With a few minor nigglings that are much more specific to me then to the service.

Thing I liked:

Their privacy policy and Terms of Service are easy to find and sensible.

The interface is clean, attractive, simple and easy to understand. I fully feel I could send anyone to the site and they’d be able to use it right off the bat.

It follows the “do one thing and do it well” line of thought. It’s about sending and receiving video calls/messages nothing more. It’s not trying to be a do video everything site.

It worked

I does not store the log-in state in LSO’s in fact their use of LSO’s is minimal.

Things I think could be improved:

In their registration they ask for date of birth. Being a Privacy/Security minded techie I’d prefer to see this changed to the more general “Age:” or eliminated if possible. They also ask for “Zip code:”, again I’d prefer to see a more general “Location:” type question. However given their sensible Privacy policy I was not too aggrieved by the above.

The Nigglings I mentioned:

When I first went to their site it failed to do anything video related. This was not their fault but instead due to the fact that I have a rather draconian firewall in place and their flash component was trying to make connections using ports outside the usual http/https/etc range. I was quickly able to resolve this but they may wish to include some documentation for other people less firewall/router savvy.

The other tiny (thus nigglie) thing was that their badge/banner used tags and wordpress.com doesn’t deal well with those so I had to modify the code slightly to get the badge on this blog. Again, not a major thing. It would just be nice if they provided and non-script, non-flash, badge that would easily embed into more restrictive hosting sites.

Conclusion:

From my early perusal of the site SnapYap.com seem to be a cool site. I’ll definitely be both keeping an on on where they are going and passing the word about them on to others.

Site of the Week #8

May 3, 2008 at 11:52 | Posted in site of the week | Comments Off on Site of the Week #8
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Bored? Slow day at the office? At the library but don’t feel like studying? Well then this weeks site of the week is for you. It is a wonderful site with a plethora of online flash based games to play. No sign up necessary.

you can find it at:

http://armorgames.com/

Go, play, enjoy

Site of the Week #7

April 26, 2008 at 14:54 | Posted in site of the week | Comments Off on Site of the Week #7
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This weeks site of the week is a Video conferencing site. It isn’t the most feature rich but it does have strong appeal for other reasons.

The site is:

mebeam.com

MeBeam allows you to video conference with up to 11 of your friends (12 people total) in a extremely easy way. The things about it I like most are the lack of sign up and the total ease of use.

To start a conference all you have to do is to go to mebeam.com and supply a room name. That will create the room and take you to it. To invite you friends just send then the URL of the room from the address bar. It’s that simple. The video quality is good and the voice didn’t get lagged in the tests that I did. (however I didn’t get a chance to try it with a full 12 people)

so give mebeam.com a try.. There’s no sign-up needed. just good video fun.

Site of the Week #3

March 31, 2008 at 22:40 | Posted in Cool, Privacy/Security, site of the week, Tech | Comments Off on Site of the Week #3
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Sorry about this being a little late.. It was a busy weekend.

This weeks site of the week is:

Virustotal.com

Virustotal is a truly excellent site and free service that lets you submit a file to be scanned by all the major anti-virus scanners. It is fantastic if you get a questionable e-mail attachment or download that you want to check before opening. They allow submission by HTTP, HTTPS, or e-mail.

Having virustotal in your bookmarks is well worth it.

Enjoy

Site of the Week #2

March 22, 2008 at 12:25 | Posted in Cool, site of the week | Comments Off on Site of the Week #2
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This is my second weekly “Site of the Week” instalment.

This weeks site is:

Jamendo.com

Jamendo is a site that hosts Creative Commons licensed music that is free to download. The interface on the website is very well organized. It is easy to find what you are looking for and to download either one song or a full album. They also very clearly display the information on the Creative Commons license that that song or album is under so you know what the limitations are before you download it.

The songs have their ID3 tags properly set which depending on you library manager can be an important thing.

Jamendo also makes it very straight forward to donate to artist that you choose to, and considering that the artist have decided to put their stuff on-line for free, it’s just good form to donate something to an artist you particularly like.

So go, check it out, enjoy the music, Post music if you are an artist. Join the Jamendo community and discuss music on the various forums. Basically, go and enjoy a great site.

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