Over the last couple of days, I’ve been fixing up my friends computers, one laptop, and one desktop, both running Windows 7. Both computers were shot through with malware, including SnapDo, a browser hijacking search engine. So my first step was to install the free home version of Spybot from Safer Networking on both computers, a spyware/ malware remover I’ve been using since the days of Windows 98. Once I got this set up, ran a couple of scans, and got it to remove any nasties it could find, I installed CCleaner from Piriform, to remove unnecessary files and registry entries, uninstall unneeded programs, and manage which programs start up when Windows boots. I used to use ToniArts EasyCleaner for this, which was an excellent utility, but it doesn’t appear to be actively supported, as the homepage doesn’t mention any version of Windows more recent than XP. After running each of these functions a few times, I figured I’d got rid of most of the malware but there’s really no way to be sure. This took hours!

The next thing I had to do was update the anti-virus. My friend uses the free version of Avast Anti-Virus, which needed updating on both PCs. On the laptop, the malware removal seemed to break the Avast GUI (HTMLayout.dll error), and I had to use the uninstaller through CCleaner to upgrade it to the latest version, which fortunately fixed the problem. Then I updated Windows itself on each PC, and used the Avast Software Updater tool to see what other software needed updating on each one. This included a number of third-party applications, and software engines like Java. In some cases, I also had to manually check the add-ons and plug-in of browsers, and upgrade those. This too took hours!

I normally refuse to fix Windows these days, except by the fairly quick solution of dual-booting GNU/Linux to make the PC usable again within about an hour. Working on these PCs reminded me of why I adopted this policy. I’ve never had to worry about viruses or malware on GNU/Linux, nor put up with the problem of realtime anti-virus/ anti-malware protection hogging memory and slowing down the internet. As for software updates, GNU/Linux has long since solved this problem using intelligent package management tools like Apt, and online repositories for providing install and updates to both core and third-party software, maintained by the groups behind major distributions like Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora. One simple software update tool can update every piece of software on your system at the touch of a button, and is set by default to automatically inform the user when important security updates become available.

When IT journalists and bloggers write articles asking ‘Is the Linux (sic) Desktop Finally Ready for the Masses‘, it makes me wonder if any of them have ever actually used either Windows or GNU/Linux. I can only quote the comments by Artem S. Tashkinov in the introduction to the 2014 summary of the ‘Main Linux Problems on the Desktop‘:

  “Windows, in some regards, is even worse than Linux and it’s definitely not ready for the desktop either. Off the top of my head I want to name the following quite devastating issues with Windows: Windows rot, no enforced file system and registry hierarchy (I have yet to find a single serious application which can uninstall itself cleanly and fully), no true safe mode, no clean state, the user as a system administrator (thus viruses/malware - most users don’t and won’t understand UAC warnings), no good packaging mechanism (MSI is a fragile abomination), no system wide update mechanism (which includes third party software), Windows is very difficult to debug, in too many cases when Windows stops booting no normal user will be able to solve this problem, Windows is hardware dependent (especially when running from UEFI), in most cases you cannot safely upgrade your system (there will be thousands of leftovers), etc.”

Filed February 11th, 2014 under Uncategorized

“To the heroism of the Resistance Fighters - past, present, and future - this work is respectfully dedicated.”

- Opening slide of the 1983 TV mini-series ‘V’ 

The recent remake of V got me thinking about the original again  - yes, the one with the rodent-swallowing alien reptiles disguised as humans - and I’ve been keen to rewatch it for a while. I was a child when the 5 part mini-series ‘V’ was first screened on local TV in the 80s, and already a big fan of sci-fi pop classics like Dr Who, Blakes 7, Star Wars and Star Trek. I distinctly remember being inspired by that quote about “Resistance Fighters” (funny, my memory had stored it as “freedom fighters”), and I started wondering how much of my activism, and my dedication to living a life less ordinary in order to strive for freedom and social justice might have been inspired by V, and that quote about resistance. Also, I’m probably not the first person to wonder how much of the current fascination with shape-shifting reptilians among many of today’s self-styled David Icke/ Alex Jones style ‘resistance fighters’ might trace back to that show.  

 Today, I finally started rewatching the original V again. I was struck by what a masterwork of sci-fi television it was, and how well it’s aged. Sure, the 80s hairstyles are a bit cringe-worthy, and despite the global scope of the storyline it’s still very UScentric, but the writing is sharp, and the acting convincing, especially the performance of Leonardo Cimino as holocaust survivor Abraham. In fact Abraham is a classic example of what stands out about the original V, and makes it much better than the remake. Where the remake is basically just one more ‘hero cop’ show (although to its credit the cop is a women and a solo mother), the original has a large ensemble of strong characters of both genders (both heros and villians), covering a diverse range of ages, ethnicities, classes, occupations, and  social backgrounds.

 Even the special effects in the original V still look fairly convincing, particularly considering it’s now 30 years old, and totally pre-digital. As with the difference between the original Star Wars and the later prequels, the technical limitations of the older works (and no doubt the cost) discouraged over-reliance on effects to make the story exciting and convincing, and the use of models and solid props in effects shots gives a sense of solidity all too often absent in the pixel blur of digital effects. The result is a story which could be entertaining as a (fairly long) stage show, whereas I wouldn’t wish a staged version of The Phantom Menace on my worst enemies (unless you count Weird Al singing the plot ;).

Speaking of sci-fi, but returning more to the usual topic of this blog, I’m really inspired by attempts to apply the crowfunding model to more ambitious projects like sci-fi web series like Pioneer One  and L5I’m also impressed by all the DIY sci-fi shorts turning up on video-sharing sites like Vimeo and YouTube these days, some of them under CC licenses like the Blender Foundation’s latest open movie Tears of Steel. Many of these are visually gorgeous, with brilliantly realised effects, but many of them are also sorely lacking on the writing side, insulting the viewer with space opera cliches (eg the ‘only this teenage boy can save the Earth’ story of Closer, or the ‘machines gone mad’ story of R’Ha), and poorly-acted, wooden characters spouting corny dialogue (True Skin, Amp) . One of the best I’ve seen is The Gift, its four and a half minutes telling a better story than an hour of hollywood movies like I, Robot or AI, and I’m left on the edge of my seat, but where’s the rest of the story? I want to know what’s going on, and what happens next. This excites the writer in me; if others could provide the visuals, I believe I could create some epic audio-visual sci-fi.

This has given me new inspiration to revive the sci-fi writing project I started during my Indymedia days, and shelved when I started studying. Like V, it has themes of resistance, and the disruptive effect it can have on what is perceived to be “normal life”. Ironically, I like to write my originals on paper, with pen. This is partly due to paranoia; a morbid dread of irrecoverable data loss, which I’ve lost good writing to before, and a fear of having my work used without attribution (I post packages of drafts to myself once I type them up). However, it also allows me to easily write anywhere that inspires me (I never go anywhere without a pen and notebook), without worrying about battery life, and it means I’m less tempted to obsessively edit and re-edit as I write. I’ve been meaning to move the fictional fragments I’ve typed up so far from my abandoned Orcon homepage to CoActivate, so I can work on them more easily the same way I wrote my conference papers (but without Android), and I finally got around to doing this today. The next step is to rewrite some of the best scenes into script form, and start sending them to some of these amazing short film makers to fish for potential collaborators.

Filed February 6th, 2014 under Uncategorized
It just occurred to me that what Google has done with Android is remarkably similar to what Microsoft did with DOS, and later Windows. The Microsoft OS allowed hardware makers to reverse engineer and clone IBM’s PC hardware, creating room for competition in a market that could have been dominated by IBM and Apple. In the case of handhelds or “nanocomputers” (smaller than a micro-computer, get it?) Apple plays the role of IBM, and Microsoft plays the role of Apple; left to scavenge in the wilderness on this form factor, as the shrugging reaction to Windows8 and the Surface shows.


The question then is this: is Android a win for software freedom? Well, yes and no. In the same way that Windows helped to break open a heavily locked-down monopoly, and create open architecture standards which GNU/Linux, BSD and other OS could be ported to, yes. Is Android actually an OS which respects your software freedom, well no. Like ChromeOS, it’s mainly a tool for making users dependent on an internet connection with Google services at the other end. Projects like Replicant, and FirefoxOS, are the GNU/Linux of the handheld form factor, and I look forward to being able to buy a device I can run an OS like these on with the same ease that I run GNU/Linux on desktops and laptops.
Filed February 5th, 2014 under Uncategorized
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