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Archive for March, 2010

New Favourite Channel

Several days ago I found this excellent YouTube channel of an anonymous British scientist. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Here is one of the 37 videos in this channel.

My Professional Focus and Goals in a Nutshell

Digital Control

I am not always a pessimist, but I do believe that in order to make positive progress we must concentrare on the illnesses and try to cure them. This is why most of my work at present revolves around advancing collaborative platforms like GNU/Linux (no tyranny on people’s desktops and servers). Sure, companies like Google and IBM make a lot of money out of the platform, but it does not take away from anyone else’s ability to use the same code. Overall, it leads to solidarity. Just watch how many companies jointly develop Linux (kernel space), including giants like AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA, which must play nice with the free graphics stack. A decade ago it was hardly conceivable, but here we are today with some truly powerful applications for GNU/Linux (some are still proprietary, especially games). It is exciting to see desktop environments like the K Desktop Environment (KDE SC) and GNOME desktop becoming highly competitive with whatever else is out there, proprietary included. LXDE and Xfce continue to serve an important role, especially in less capable PCs that rely on light-weight distributions. New releases of GNU/Linux come at a pace of about one per day and diversity continues to exist, with popular branches like the Mandrake/Mandriva family (with several derivatives), the Red Hat family (including Fedora), and the Debian family, which notably includes Ubuntu for the desktops (it has a huge number of variants).

The devices/embedded space is an area of considerable strength for Linux and sometimes GNU too. Phones are increasingly running Linux (with the industry’s leader, Nokia, among its biggest embracers, but Google’s Android is getting a lot more attention). Then we have sub-notebooks and tablets, many of which run Linux/Android. This is a triumph that almost nobody talks about. It also helped eliminate Microsoft’s margins in this area and got Apple so nervous that it decided to pathetically sue with software patents.

Sharing, Not Hoarding

Free software/Open Source is an even broader area where companies like Mozilla and projects like the Apache Web server show that technical merit is found in licences that encourage sharing. SaaS is increasingly a threat to software freedom, but it relies heavily on this software (databases, CMSs, etc.). Businesses increasingly adopt Free software, even though they typically call it “open source” (they are just allergic to the notion of “free”, perhaps still not realising that it’s about freedom, not cost). Funding for Free software continues to come as projects prove their worth to the market (MySQL for example) and BSD continues to evolve nicely along with GNU/Linux. Establishments like FSF/FSFE/SFLC provide a centre of power that is not driven by shareholders and GNU accommodates many important projects that are used by many millions (e.g. GRUB). Governments increasingly realise the importance of Free software licensing and openness of their data, which prevents perceptions of secrecy and thus corruption. Programmers increasingly teach themselves how to use languages and frameworks that put them in control, rather than put them in the hands of some ‘masters’ of a platform and an SDK/IDE. Applications that are free make up the ‘network effect’ that’s so crucial to the success of GNU/Linux and BSD. Almost anyone can now use a Free desktop without trouble (except for re-learning). Standards are promoted and made more prevalent as a result of Free software proliferation.

Addressing the Negatives

The revolution of Free software has wide-ranging effects on many other aspects of our lives. Science is enriched by it (increased sharing speeds up development), security is improved and surveillance gets reduced, the environment benefits from increased reuse of hardware components, and the financial market becomes more honest and transparent (e.g. for scrutiny before disaster strikes). The culture of AstroTurfing/lobbying is impeded by this culture of honesty and ethics; also, censorship is reduced, privacy honoured, and civil rights held up as more important and simpler to defend (no secrecy or conspiracy like ACTA or the Digital Economy Bill). The Internet becomes a more valuable resource (Wikipedia and Google are examples of valuable services), net neutrality is easier to defend (wireless meshes come to mind), and DRM becomes a relic from the past, much to the regret of the intellectual monopolies and copyrights cartel (which should not be allowed to exist in the first place).

I am NOT an ‘atheist’

Experience has taught me the role of words — not just sentence structure and arguments — in playing with one’s built-in interpretations and connotations. It may vary across cultures, but different cultures usually have different languages/dialects, so there is something universal about connotations within any particular culture. Communication between commons leads to an equilibrium or an agreement on what’s acceptable and what’s not. These are usually incorporated into one’s mind at a young age using imagery, as opposed to strict definitions of words. The way we interpret text and speech (sequences of words) very much differs from the way a computer does that.

Language is a funny thing. By controlling the vocabulary people can control thought. What sounds worse? Open Source, Free software, non-Free software, proprietary software, non-proprietary software, freedom software, licensed code, rented code, or licence to rent binaries? Depending on how this debate is posed, people will judge differently, based on prejudices and assumptions.

What are people defined by? ‘What’ am I? Not an atheist, that’s for sure, as people do not get described through negation — that is, things they do not adhere to. Can one be called a “spaghetti monster denier”? Or “pink unicorns rejectionist”? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. So what word best describes a person who adheres to the real world (or by extension, the universe)? We probably don’t have such a word, at least not in common usage. George Orwell warned about this. Lacking words that we can use, certain modes of thinking can be marginalised as they cannot be communicated. So what word better describes realists? “Logicians” maybe? Basing one’s view of life on reality, based on facts and observations, rejecting the unfounded and accepting that which is proven through rigourous tests — what is it called? Evidence-based reality is a much simpler one, but maybe not as satisfying as fairy tales, fantasy, and destinies that are never to be known (because — by definition — they come ‘after’ life, however this may actually work).

Playing the game of words helps one daemonise one side and win a debate before it’s even started, all through presumptuous labeling. That’s why I don’t call myself an “atheist”, even though others might call me that.

Update to Site, Microblogging

My personal Web site has been neglected for a while — neglected in the sense that it gets almost no updates anymore. The main issue with this ought to be out-of-date information that can easily deceive people despite the date stamps at the bottom (some pages are 8 years old). So today I updated some profiles and places in the Web site where I was described as a student. It’s about time to change those types of things. Some sites said that “Roy is an advocate of fair competition and consumer rights, who expects to complete a Ph.D. in Medical Biophysics very shortly.” An older one said: “My name is Roy Schestowitz and I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Medical Biophysics at Manchester University. I regularly blog at schestowitz.com where you can read about my interests, hobbies, opinions and pet peeves.” In identi.ca I introduced myself as “Freedom activist,” which is a very short version

Well, it has just been updated to “Roy is a Software Engineer, interdisciplinary researcher, and an advocate of fair competition. He holds a doctoral degree in Medical Biophysics.”

Since I hardly write in this blog anymore, may I suggest that those who already read this blog also subscribe to me on Twitter or Identi.ca? I am very active there.

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