I’ve been following the BitCoin phenomena with interest since the early days, but I’ve always felt nervous about actually trying to use it for monetary transactions until I learn more. There’s always going to be more to learn though, especially about a system based on a paradigm shift in computer science; the peer-to-peer “blockchain” that makes BitCoin possible. Since BitCoin launched, groups have started experimenting with using blockchains for everything from smart ontracts to copyright registration to voting systems. Today, I decided to take the plunge, and start accepting donations in BitCoin, using the Electrum BitCoin wallet that came with the the version 7 (”Belenos”) of the Trisquel GNU/Linux system I’ve been using on my laptop.

If you’d like to make a donation towards the costs of this public interest work I do under the umbrella of Disintermedia, you can flick some BitCoins into this digital bucket: 19KER7hfqXhZnHnnJ3VcGRr2w3i1v6e44e

This work includes things like:

  • the PermaGeeks/ Aotearoa Permaculture Network project
  • CoSpiracy (formerly Drilling for Truth), including Who Said It?
  • research into everything from libre games, to computer security for activists, from CreativeCommons music to online democracy systems, from notable online books, to community wireless networks, and from to Low Wage Treaties (”free trade agreements”).
  • writing my upcoming non-fiction book ‘Email Ate My Life‘, covering my experiences of a years without the internet, and the thoughts that came out of it
  • the GITocracy/ PolicyHub project, to create a user-friendly, collaborative social policy platform using GIT as a distributed database
  • researching and writing this blog
  • supporting, advising, and where necessary nagging other commons projects and tech liberty organisations

If you want to contact me to propose specific projects, compatible with the Disintermedia principles, which you’d be prepared to fund me to work on, feel free.

Filed October 31st, 2015 under News

I was just reading a thread on the Trisquel forums where a user had asked about improving the performance of 3D games on GNU/Linux. One person’s advice was “much better playing 3d games on desktop computer.”

Any advice on improving someone’s experience with GNU/Linux that starts with “buy a new computer” is *not* helpful! Some of us don’t have the privilege of being able to afford new hardware, and we have to work with whatever hardware we can beg, borrow, or buy second-hand. Fifteen years ago I could play reasonable games on Windows 98, on a Compaq Pentium laptop with a 3GB hard drive and maybe 256MB of RAM. 30 years ago, I played perfectly enjoyable games on a Commodore 64, with 64KB of RAM! Sure, those games weren’t trying to be Halo or OverWatch, but they did run reliably (usually), and on hardware with a fraction of the computing power that even my 5 year old “netbook” has onboard.

Free code gaming, like free code GUI (Graphical User Interfaces) in general, doesn’t need to follow the Windows bloatware model of demanding more and more powerful hardware with every version. Sure, there is a demand for a line of development catering to people with brand new 64-bit multi-cores, and a RAM that’s five times bigger than the hard drive on that old Compaq. But the vast majority of users have older/ cheaper hardware, and we need GUIs and games that we can run without crashing our PCs, or putting up with frustrating lag, freeze-ups, and crashes.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, hardware manufacturers will start being more environmentally responsible and making devices that last, and can be repaired and kept running for decades. Free code software development can prepare for this, and encourage it, by aiming to support every piece of hardware that still physically works, regardless of how old, or limited.

Filed October 27th, 2015 under free software

I recently discovered a website called WIKI2, “Wikipedia republished”, which takes the contents of Wikipedia pages and adds a prettier page layout. The company behind WIKI2 can do this without fear of being charged with copyright violation because Wikipedia’s owners, the WikiMedia Foundation, have given permission in advance by using free culture licenses (GNU FDL and CC-BY-SA).

WIKI2 also includes a search bot, “Tubie”, that trawls through search engines for other content that may be relevant to the subject of a page, things like YouTube videos, and embeds them in the page. Although the creators of the other bits and pieces embedded by Tubie may not be under free culture licenses, embedding video (and other multimedia elements) in a web page is generally accepted as being the same as linking to a page of text, as long as the source of the video is clearly displayed, and there is a link to the original.

Ideally the Tubie bot would also be licensed as free code software (can’t find any reference to what license it’s under), so Wikipedians could re-use WIKI2’s work too. A clone of Tubie (Wookie? ;) could be tweaked to search through WikimediaCommons, and other sites hosting only free culture works, suggesting multimedia elements for use in Wikipedia pages. The bots suggestions could be checked by a human editor, to make sure they were indeed under a compatible license, relevant to the page suggested, in the right language for that version of the page etc.

Filed October 26th, 2015 under free culture

I recently learned that CC France is experimenting with Ascribe, a tool for registering authorship of digital works, based on the “blockchain” technology behind BitCoin. In a post on the CC blog, Primavera De Filippi of CC France wrote:

“Creative Commons revolutionized online artistic practices via licenses that promote attribution, free reproduction and dissemination of content, rather than focusing on scarcity and exclusivity… Ascribe started in 2014 to help creators secure their intellectual property, with the help of the blockchain. It works with any type of licenses, including the Creative Commons licenses.”

Not everyone is excited by “free reproduction and dissemination” though. As quoted in an article by Mario Cotillard entitled ‘Ascribe Is Giving Away Artwork Recorded In Bitcoin’s Blockchain‘:

“Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said one of the most remarkable achievements of Bitcoin was its ability to make something digital scarce. Now Ascribe is taking that from the world of currencies and payments to art, so that all digital forms can be rare and, the company hopes, more valuable.”

It makes me sad to see smart people like Schmidt celebrating creative energy being wasted trying to make naturally abundant things scarcer, so they gain value in an economy designed around scarcity. Surely everyone would be better off if we can find ways to reward people for creating the abundance that’s clearly possible? Watching what Ascribe is doing is like watching a company chop down half the trees in a National Park in a farcical attempt to increase the revenue from visitors to the park. The so-called “law of supply and demand” is a rule of thumb, not a law of physics, and as my example hopefully demonstrates, it just doesn’t apply to the commons.

Ascribe is a part of an explosion of innovation launched by the success of BitCoin, and I don’t want to totally write it off. A tool for identifying the original author of a creative or informative work surely has its uses (although such a tool already exists, it’s called a book, or a record, or a signed painting), and using Ascribe in conjunction with CC licenses, and the Creator-Endorsed Mark, could be useful to free culture authors, artists, musicians, and film-makers.

However, some of Ascribe’s business goals, as described in various commentaries on the web, sound thoroughly sinister. Yet another wave of tools for DRM:

“The company raised a $2 million seed round earlier this year, and is now further developing its system, as well as the machine learning technology the firm will use to search the web for any violations in using Ascribe verified artwork.” - Mario Cottilard, BraveNewCoin

…and surveillance:

“Ascribe’s blockchain-based technology can trace the journey of any registered file to track its distribution — giving rights holders a way to prove their ownership and a better chance of prosecuting anyone who may have stolen their work.” - Abhimanyu Ghoshal, TheNextWeb

Is this really the kind of organisation CreativeCommons affiliates should be partnering with?

Filed October 21st, 2015 under Uncategorized

I was reading about the demise of myOpenId.com (EDIT: one major OpenID identity provider), and it got me thinking again that a single set of login credentials that can be used across a wide range of websites and other internet services really is the holy grail of a truly federated social internet. This goal of interoperability is sometimes known as federated identity, or SSO (Single Sign-On). At present, the two most well-known open standards for SSO are probably OpenID, originally developed by LiveJournal then handed over to an independent OpenID Foundation, and Mozilla Persona, created by developers working under the Mozilla Foundation. Lesser known, but probably more used, are standards like OAuth, and  LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), which is supported by the venerable IETF (Internet Engineering TaskForce) and the Open Group. Other proposals include using FOAF (Friend of a Friend) with OpenID, or with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), the encryption which is used with HTTPS (technically this is usually TLS or StarTLS now, but I digress…).

At the moment, most people hack around the lack of a widely-supported open standard by using either their FarceBook or GoogleBeast (or somtimes Twitter) login details (EDIT: apparently this is what OAuth is used for). This is far from ideal, as it not only gives these corporate surveillance systems access to almost everything their “useds” (to quote Richard Stallman) do online, it also pressures people who run internet services to plug FB and Google spyware in their servers, where they can also spy on people who are not their useds, or not logged in. Clearly, finding broad consensus on a non-spying, open (vendor-neutral) standard for SSO is urgent and important, and I hope to see respected user advocacy organisations like the EFF and FSF get involved in the discussion around this.

EDIT: David Gale, the creator of TADAG (Trusted Authenticated Domains and Gateways) claims part of his framework, shared with Microsoft, formed the basis of OpenID. He may be getting confused with Microsoft’s .NET passport system, which from a user points of view, worked similarly to Mozilla Persona (register your email address as an online passport, use it on multiple sites). Microsoft eventually rolled all its online logins into the Windows Live system, just as Google did more recently with G+ (one ring to rule them all…).

Filed October 5th, 2015 under open social networks
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