Kuarepoti-Dju

kuarepoti-dju - the josef multilingual blogosphere

23.10.2007

The desperate need for a Freedom Grid system

Categories: — josef @ 16:35

There are many concurrent ongoing dangers in the world of Free Software. Among them, you will finde software patents, hidden restrictions in obnoxious licences and trademark lawsuits which seem to be absolutely unavoidable unless one has deep pockets filled with money for defence. Recently, expensive interoperability clauses have been added to the mix. Formerly, protection against such issues was achieved by adding condemnations to existing licences. With the GPLv3, such protection comes built-in. (This change is still argued about, but it’s certainly a good idea to not having to draft up the clauses on your own. The GNU project is known to be political in many ways, and in most cases that’s a good thing.)

However, there is more to it, and probably I haven’t been explicit enough in the past. In order to provide a posting for future reference, I want to elaborate on the danger of service lock-in.

In the old days, vendor lock-in was on the radar of free software developers. Many systems based on Linux and BSD are used to host internet applications, so many that in fact the server side was considered safe and forces gathered to conquer the desktop. The real push towards a free desktop began 10 years ago - with KDE and GNOME being founded, bringing many powerful applications to the average users. But that’s still 10 years ago - and times have changed.

Today, many user use a free desktop to check their GMail, then tune in to some Shoutcast beats, and finally think of doing their daily backup by uploading some files to Amazon S3. At the end of the day, they did use some free client applications - but likewise they did leave precious data at proprietary service providers. When freedom and privacy are equally challenged, people should shout loudly and stop using those services. But instead, they spend their time developing more interfaces for them.

Alternatives do exist. The necessary software to build scalable internet applications is being created by many projects. But that’s not enough. The community should come together and also provide services based on the software - a single individual cannot run a data centre, but combined, it is well possible to provide a huge grid, run in a non-commercial fashion, with thousands of terabytes of storage capacity, and a processing power which is already familiar to those who read about or participated in dnet-style applications. It would be a Freedom grid, running entirely free software so that it could (modulo its power) be replicated anywhere.

Now, whom do you trust more - some geeks running such software or some big corporations with a smiling web 2.0 face? The trust issue could certainly be solved, and in the end, both freedom and privacy could be preserved.

There are currently several initiatives to join if you agree with what has been proposed, or if you at least understand the background issues. First of all, the KDE project runs a service development list. Second, the German research programme Theseus is calling for participants from outside the project consortium, which naturally calls for some FLOSS participation to make such results available to the general public instead of just to a small set of privileged companies. Third, make other people aware of this issue, and don’t use non-free services by yourself.

Note: I know I don’t serve as a good example here by linking to sites such as freshmeat which do not provide access to their source code, let alone their database (the XML-RPC interface only covers a fraction of the overall site functionality). I hope that something can be done about that in the future. The FSF/UNESCO directory is not a full replacement as
the maintenance of its contents is more cathedral-style as it ought to be.

22.10.2007

Design mistake in udev - and more horrible Kubuntu upgrade stories

Categories: — josef @ 14:10

Today I upgraded from 7.04 to 7.10, which was reported to be a smooth upgrade by many people. I cannot complain about the upgrade process itself, as there were no evil package dependency issues like they happened when going 6.06 -> 7.04.

However, there are a couple of issues. First of all, the udev rules include a file 85-evms.rules. Took me a while to find that beast - it’s been responsible for constantly querying my CD-ROM drive, causing a loud clickery every 2 seconds, and certainly reducing its MTBF. My first idea was to run /etc/init.d/udev stop. Ha - udev manages pseudo-devices (PTY) as well, and so I was left in a limbo, unable to open any konsole/xterm kind of application. Great for debugging especially since SSH wasn’t running yet, so this upgrade forced me into a reboot. Welcome to the 80s! Removing this file and restarting udev helped. Those who use EVMS are getting punished still I assume.

Second, but that’s really more a KDM issue, it wouldn’t let me log in because the PAM plugin missed a symbol. The new KDM was already installed, but the old one turned up when logging out of the X11 session. This could be done better, conceptually.

Another issue is that amixer is shutdown with the wrong parameters on halt.

A debian bug report recently was closed without giving a solution to the problem of not being able to access the scanner directly after installing the sane family of packages. Just to mention that the rantfest could go on with other distros as well. Having a bit of a headache, I won’t therefore file bug reports against Kubuntu right now.

9.10.2007

My new job @ Turkish secret service

Categories: — josef @ 21:32

To many people I seem to have disappeared recently. However, I had just changed my location to İstanbul to assume my new role of being a special agent for the Turkish secret service. This exciting new job was kept secret even from myself, until I learned about it on the Mısır Çarşısı, the Egyptian Bazaar, while trying to buy some Lokum-like sweets, as the following dialogue tries to reconstruct (with the vendor phrases translated into English to keep it simple):

  • Me: Merhaba.
  • Vendor: Hey Sir, what can I do for you.
  • Me: Yüz gram of… pointing to the unknown sweets
  • Vendor: Ah, Türkçe… where are you from?
  • Me: Doğu Almanyalıyım.
  • Vendor: So you learnt Turkish there?
  • Me: Hayır, öğrendim burada İstanbul’da.
  • Vendor: Hm, how long have you been here?
  • Me: Bir hafta.

At this point, the vendor stops packaging up the sweets, sits down and looks at me.

  • Vendor: There’s something fishy here. You’re from the police… or from the secret service!

Later I figured that I must be a very lousy special agent because I was uncovered. Nevertheless, the sweets were really good ones.

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