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Archive for July, 2012

Richard Stallman Against Software Patenting

Techbytes 2012

Direct download as Ogg (12:12, 4.8 MB)

Summary: The fourth part of our interviews series with Richard Stallman covers software patents opposition for the most part

TODAY we turn our attention to software patents for the most part. Here is the transcript.


Dr. Roy Schestowitz: How do you judge the reliability of a news source and which one or ones do you favour?

Richard StallmanDr. Richard Stallman: Well, how do I judge the reliability? To a large extent I look at the story and I try to judge based on the other things I know whether this looks like it’s bullshit or possible truth because there are news sources that I know often slant things. But that doesn’t mean that I think that their statements of facts would wrong, because I expect that they would be caught if were wrong. So, I don’t know of any news sources that I could say “that’s a good one” because they all have their positions, they all wanna say some things and not others. The question is, does it seem plausible that they would say falsehoods about facts? Because there is some embarrassment involved in getting caught in saying… in giving some news that wasn’t true. And that’s somewhat of a factor so that many places are not likely to say things that are just false. But they may draw conclusions that don’t really follows, or that reflect bias.

My next question is about the GPL. More recently there has been some exposure for what’s known as the GPL.next, which Richard Fontana…

No, no, it isn’t anymore. Basically, Richard Fontana was interested in exploring some ideas, so he started a project to get suggestions about what to put in a copyleft licence.

That name was not very nice because it implied that it would be the replacement, and of course for anyone to say “my work is going to replace your work” is a somewhat unfriendly thing to say, but that’s not what he seems to really mean, so I hope that he finds some interesting ideas through this.

My next question is, what do you consider to be the most effective strategy for elimination of software patents in the United States and worldwide as well?

Well, it depends on the country because this is a matter of political activity and how to do that effectively varies from country to country, so I can’t give authoritative advice to people in other countries. If I can even do so in the US, it wouldn’t apply to other places. I can suggest possible approaches to try, you know, meet with officials, organise and make a protest in the street, have protests at events if any officials from that part of international agencies that favour software parents are coming, protest them. If the US trade representative is visiting, or there are a thousand reasons to protest the visit of the US trade representative, what he wants is good for business and bad for people in every country including the US. So, how you influence politics in your country you’ll know probably a lot better than I do. But that’s what it involves very likely. But it may also involve legal action if your country’s courts could rule that software patents are not valid, well that’s very important. But maybe what you need is to find a lawyer to argue that case. Now, in the US, when an appeal is being heard, anyone can send a friend of the court brief, which is published presenting arguments to be considered. If you are in a country which has a practice like that, that can be helpful. But there is one point of which direction is going (?).

If the country does not have software patents, then it will work simply to make it clearer and firm that software patents are not allowed and put this into legislation so that the patent office can’t betray it. And you have to work hard making it iron-clad (?)so that the patent office can’t find an excuse to betray it. For instance, in many cases, there are countries in which computer programs can’t be patented. But the patent offices say, “we’re not issuing patents on computer programs, we’re issuing patents on techniques that can be used in computer programs.” Now, we think that those treaties and laws were meant to prevent that, but the patent offices reinterpret them in a way that means that becomes effectively void and doesn’t prevent any kind of patent that anyone would actually want to apply for. So you’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to study from a point a view, how could the patent office try to twist this?

However, there are countries which already have software parents and in those countries restricting the issuance of software patents would still leave you with maybe hundreds of thousands of existing software patents. What I recommend to the US is therefore, well, if the courts ruled that software patents were never valid, they would all disappear. So there is some hope that that may eventually happen. But what could Congress do? Congress can’t legislate the existing patents into non-existence. What it could however do is rule (or legislate) that patents are not infringed by developing, distributing or running software on general-purpose computer hardware if the hardware itself doesn’t infringe. And that way these patents would remain valid and they could be applicable to hardware devices but not to software. You see, patent systems don’t generally divide patents into software patents and hardware patents; it’s rather the patent would (?) cover a certain idea and maybe that idea is typically implemented in software, but the patent would also cover implementing it in hardware. So, we can in fact see that a certain patent is a software patent; my definition of a software patent is a patent that can prohibit programs. Because patents are not intrinsically labelled as software patents or hardware patents you can’t just say “we are going to prohibit software patents”, you got to define clearly what it is that’s not going to be issued or else legislate about where patents apply and where they don’t apply.


The next and last part will be published in a few days.

We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an Identi.ca account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

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Richard Stallman Against Mobile Phones

Techbytes 2012

Direct download as Ogg (8:51, 3.5 MB)

Summary: The third part of our interviews series with Richard Stallman covers privacy in communication

In this third part we turn our attention to more political issues. I spoke to Richard Stallman about matters of privacy as he has in-depth knowledge of the facts. Here is the transcript.


Dr. Roy Schestowitz: My next question is more about surveillance because I don’t want it to be strictly about software because I know you do have the digital freedom in general and I want you to ask you about advice for trying to avert surveillance in this age where, based on the whistleblowers, we know the NSA is in fact recording vast amounts of information and data about people and also recording all the E-mails. What is your suggestion to people who try to avoid all of that?

Richard StallmanDr. Richard Stallman: Well, I think it’s our duty to avoid that. It’s every citizen’s duty to stick a finger in Big Brother’s eye. Now, the NSA would like us to believe that it’s doing the surveillance to protect us Americans from the terrorism, but the US regulatory accuses dissidents of being terrorists. So whenever a government says it’s fighting “terrorists” read “dissidents”. And when you look at where the danger around the world comes from, to a large extent it comes from the US. The US was behind — or carried out — a war of aggression in Iraq, a war conquest and then an occupation; as a result hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed. The usual figure is definitely an underestimate.

And so, really you gotta ask, who does the world need protecting from? And this is not — not to count — countries which are dictatorships that are propped up by the US, which carry out the worst kinds of atrocities but they are useful allies to the US, so the US protects them, such as Ethiopia and now Honduras. Honduras had a military coup which might have been organised by the US, but in any case it has certainly been given full support by the US since.

So, I just don’t think of that argument as valid at all. I don’t think that the NSA is on the side of the good people in the world. And so I think that it’s perfectly appropriate to do things like using Tor — and using encryption — to interfere with the NSA’a ability find out what you’re doing.

And I want to also ask you, what’s your advice about the use of mobile phones especially now that we know, at least based on Sprint, that the carriers, at least in the United States and we know here in the UK as well, are in fact collecting data on location of people, the people they phone, perhaps the address books as well. What would you say to people?

I don’t have mobile phone.

I know.

And why… it’s because mobile phones are Stalin’s dream. They are surveillance and tracking devices. They are always sending the location frequently (I think even if you don’t make a call), so your whole life is being tracked and of course if you do make a call, the system knows who you call. And now only that, most mobile phones have a universal back door, meaning that the phone company — you or someone else — can forcibly install software changes without asking your permission. This has been used to remotely convert phones into listening devices, and when that is done the phone picks up and transmits all the conversations in the vicinity whether you’re making a call or not and transmits it to someone and just pushing the button to switch it off does not necessarily really do that. So I consider this outrageous and I won’t have one. If I’m travelling around somewhere and I need to make a call I ask somebody nearby to let me make a call. That way, Big Brother doesn’t get information about me.


More insights from Stallman are to be published in the coming days.

We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an Identi.ca account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

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TechBytes Episode 70: Richard Stallman on Privacy and More

Techbytes 2012

Direct download as Ogg (0:10:19, 4.2 MB)

Summary: The second part of our interview with Richard Stallman covers social networks and Web browsers

FURTHER to this interview with Richard Stallman (about UEFI) I spoke to him about another area of technology which is less to do with software and more to do with civil rights. Here is the transcript.


Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Obviously, quite famously, the FSF has made a statement about Facebook and my question was, what is your take on Google Plus? I know you’ve stated that in your Web site very briefly. And also, are there any centralised platforms that you actually deem benign?

Richard StallmanDr. Richard Stallman: Well, the first question is, well, the FSF doesn’t talk about Facebook too much. It’s a different issue from the Free software issue. So, I’m concerned with other issues of freedom besides that of Free versus proprietary software. So, I disapprove of Facebook because it collects a lot of personal information and I don’t think it’s good for anything to do that.

When I give a speech, at the beginning I ask people, “please don’t put a photos of me in Facebook.” And now I explain why. When you put a photo with people in it in Facebook, Facebooks asks people — asks users — to enter the names of those people. In other words, that photo gives Facebook an opportunity to do ad surveillance of those people. Those query the victim of having a photo put in Facebook. So, I would suggest that if you are friends with somebody that you treat that someone well by not putting photos of that person in Faceebook. And and in any case, I ask people not to put photos of me in Facebook. Now, there are many other bad things Facebook does. See stallman.org/facebook.html for a list of quite a few.

But what about Google Plus? Well, from what I know, which is not everything, Google Plus does some of these bad things but not all. One bad thing that they both do is require people to give their real names. Now, Google Plus says that in some cases we’re wiling to publish a pseudonym but they demand to know the person’s real name. Well, I think that’s enough reason not to use it. I urge you not to use such communication systems which demand to know who you really are. Because if they do that, they’re basically one more eye of Big Brother.

[...]

I don’t go around trying to keep track of these things. Twitter might be okay. You got to be careful how you use it. First of all, it is possible to use Twitter without running non-Free software. It wasn’t easy to make an account, but apparently it could be done through their mobile version of the site. The problem was, the regular Twitter site tries to make you run non-Free JavaScript programs. And you will notice that if you have installed the LibreJS extension of Firefox, that’s a GNU package whose purpose is to enable you to avoid running non-Free JavaScript programs and also to make it easy to complain to the Webmasters about the non-Free JavaScript programs. But it is possible to work around that, as actually sending and viewing tweets, it’s not so hard to avoid using non-Free software. So, and Twitter doesn’t require people to give their real names and if you make an effort you can avoid sending in your geographical location or anything like that, which of course is a really dumb thing to do as certain protesters, dissidents in the US have discovered. So, maybe that’s enough to make it okay. Now, Twitter the company, is doing something else that’s bad — something that Facebook (and I think Twitter is doing this, I know Facebook and Google do it) and this is the “Like” button. In Facebook’s case it’s called the “Like” button. And you find this in lots of pages, where if you visit one of those pages that means Facebook is getting information about your browsing even if you’re not a Facebook user. And Google has “1+” button and they do the same thing. And I think Twitter also has such kind of button that you would find in various pages. We are going to release a browser modified to block all those.

I think in practice one of the issues is many of the browsers these days have actually got some surveillance built in and one of the usual excuses these days is security, so they try to prevent phishing scams and things like such that are absolute; I think since Internet Explorer version 7 and Google Chrome and other browsers by default they will track the users and leave a trail, or at least provide the corporate maker of the browser, with a list with pages you visit, so the other releases…

Those are non-Free programs. Internet Explorer is non-Free and Google Chrome is non-Free. Not only that, Google Chrome has a universal back door, which is another way of saying auto-update; basically it means that Google can forcibly impose software changes and the user can’t say no. This is the same thing that Microsoft has in Windows, so Microsoft can also impose software changes. Any malicious feature that’s not in the program today could be remotely installed tomorrow. So, once a program has a universal back door, you must consider it not merely malware but universal malware.


More insights from Stallman are to be published in the coming days.

We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an Identi.ca account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

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Documentary on the British Economy

Dream Circularity

Stone spiral

THIS MORNING I was dreaming that I was dreaming that I was dreaming. I woke up several times, at different times, but only within the dream (or the dream about a dream), only to falsely assume it was a particular time of the day. The level of circularity was never quite so high and I took these notes after I had woken up.

I was so relived when I woke up to realise that I was dreaming about dreaming, but then I was still inside one layer of dreams and it took me quite a while to wake out of that. Confusing, eh? Anyway, dreams are a mysterious side of the human mind. They are said to have a purpose in the sense that they train our neural model of expectation for particular possible scenario, e.g. being chased by an animal in our primal past.

Backing Up Bootloader and Home Directories Over the Network

Backups that are robust and resistant to disasters like fire should be distributed. Backing up by writing to external drives is good, but it is not sufficient. Here is how I back up my main machine. Backup is quick in a smaller number of rather large files (not too large as some file systems cannot cope with those), so one trick goes like this:


sudo mkdir /media/backupdrive/`date +%Y-%m-%d` # (if disk space permits, or via external mounted drive for another safety net)
sudo tar -cf - /home/|split -b 1000m - /media/backupdrive/`date +%Y-%m-%d`/Home-`date +%Y-%m-%d`.tar.

This includes all the hidden files.

To reassemble:


cat *|tar -xf 

this is then scp‘d or rsync‘d over to another box based on a wildcard or directory like


/media/backupdrive/`date +%Y-%m-%d`

This leaves a stack of backups in case the latest one is already ‘contaminated’. rsync of the original files, uncompressed and untarred, can be fast except for the first time, but for a stack of backups it’s not suitable.

But more files need to be backed up, depending on the bootloader for instance.

MBR backup and restore is done with dd:


dd if=/dev/sdX of=/tmp/sda-mbr.bin bs=512 count=1

dd if= sda-mbr.bin of=/dev/sdX bs=1 count=64 skip=446 seek=446

If this is saved to the home directory, then it’s included in the main backup.

My Interview With Richard Stallman on Booting Freedom

Techbytes 2012

Direct download as Ogg (0:13:28, 5.5 MB)

Summary: The first part of our interview with Richard Stallman covers UEFI and related issues

I first interviewed Richard Stallman about 5 years ago. Yesterday I spoke to him about the subject of much debate in the Free software world right now. Here is a transcript of our conversation.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: I want to know how big a threat you think the so-called “secure” boot is considered to be to the Free software movement.

Richard StallmanDr. Richard Stallman: It’s a disaster. Well, except that it’s not secure boot that’s a disaster, it’s restricted boot. Those are not the same. When it’s front of the control of the user, secure boot is a security feature. It allows the user to control what programs can run on a machine and thus prevent — you might say — unexpected malware from running. We have to distinguish the unexpected malware such as viruses from the expected malware such as Windows or Mac OS or Flash Player and so on, which are also malware; they have features that hurt the user but users know what they are installing. In any case, what secure boot does is that it causes the machine to only work with (?) programs that are signed with a certain key, your keys. And as long as the user controls which keys they are, then it’s a security feature. However, it can be chained into a set of digital handcuffs when the user doesn’t control the keys. And this [is] happening.

Microsoft demands that ARM computers sold for Windows 8 be set up so that the user cannot change the keys; in other words, turn it into restricted boot. Now, this is not a security feature. This is abuse of the users. I think it ought to be illegal.

It’s a matter of control by the vendor of course, not control by the user himself

Exactly, and that’s why it’s wrong. That’s why non-free software is wrong. The users deserve to have control of their computers/

I think that not only Windows is going to be an issue in fact, if you consider the fact that even a modified kernel is going to be in a position where it’s perhaps not seen as verified for execution. Right, I’m saying, it might not only be a malicious feature in case of something like Windows running on it, it’s also for — let’s say — a user of the offered operating system but it’s free if the user wants to modify the operating system, for example…

The thing is, if the user doesn’t control the keys, then it’s a kind of shackle, and that would be true no matter what system it is. After all, why is GNU/Linux better than Windows? Not just ’cause it has a different name. The reason it’s better is because it’s freedom-respecting Free software that the users control. But if the machine has restricted boot and the users can’t control the system, then it would be just as bad as Windows. So, if the machine will only run a particular version of GNU/Linux, that is a restriction feature. And I haven’t heard anyone doing that yet with GNU/Linux, but that’s what Red Hat and Ubuntu are proposing to do things — somewhat like that — for future PCs that are shipped for Windows. But it’s not exactly that. And my reason is, the users will be able to change the keys. They will be able to boot their own modified version of the system of Fedora or Ubuntu if they want. So, what Fedora and Ubuntu were proposing doesn’t go all the way there. They’re proposing to do things to make it more convenient for users to install the standard version of those systems. But if things go as it has been announced, users will still be able to change the keys and boot their own versions. So, if all the restricted boot — but it will be something that goes sort of half-way there — it’s somewhat distasteful.

On the other hand, with Android, which is another mostly Free operating system which contains Linux but doesn’t contain GNU, it’s quite common for the product to have something equivalent to restricted boot, and people have to struggle to figure out how they can install a modified and more free version of Android. So, the presence of the kernel Linux in a system doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be better. And I’ve heard someone say — oh, it hasn’t been checked — that a particular or kind of Android device is actually using an Intel chip with restricted boot.

One of the concerns that I think is worth raising is the fact that, as far as I know, with many of the embedded devices, especially those based on ARM, I believe it’s not even possible to get into boot menu to disable so-called “secure”…

That’s where Microsoft is really going all out, because Microsoft has ordered essentially — demanded — that those shipping ARM devices for Windows 8 make it restricted boot with no way to get around it.

Yeah, which also means of course waste of… all sorts of impacts on the environment. Any time that hardware become obsolete with the operating system itself is not being used of course…

Well, it’s worse than that. It means basically that those devices, you have to throw them out if you want to escape to the free world. And this — in the past — we were able to install, to liberate a computer by installing Free software on it instead of its user-restricting operation system, and this of course was tremendously helpful to the spread of GNU/Linux because it meant that users could move to freedom. It would be much harder if they had to buy another computer to do so. So it’s a very damaging thing that Microsoft is doing and so we need to look for every possible way to stop them or tweak what they’re doing.

Well, I wanted to ask you, one of our readers — his name is Will — is asking me if you have seen any new good hardware that can take coreboot.

I’m sorry, what?

One of my readers — a guy called Will — he has asked me if you have seen any new good hardware that can take coreboot.

I don’t know. Basically, I don’t keep track of hardware models. I only remember their names anymore, except for the one I use, which is, the Lemote Yeelong and it doesn’t run coreboot but it will run timar [?] in GRUB, it has a Free BIOS. When it comes it has a Free BIOS, which is why I chose it. But in terms of running coreboot, well, the machine which you run coreboot on are Intel-type machines. Now, there are a couple of… there is a problem, and that is, a lot of the Intel — and also AMD — CPUs require a microcode blob, and coreboot has these microcode blobs, which is the same kind of problem as firmware blobs in Linux. So, what we really need to do is make coreboot libre, just as we make Linux libre (which doesn’t have the blobs), keep (?) the coreboot libre (which doesn’t have the blobs) and then we need to see which processors actually run adequately without any microcode blob. And we’re looking for somebody who wants to lead this project ’cause it takes work. Now, leading this project doesn’t mean that you personally get all these kinds of hardware; oh, no, it would be asking the whole community to test things, but somebody has got to ask the community to do it, spread the word, receive the responses, put them together, and publish the list. Would (?) he like to do that? If he is really interested in having the answer to this question, maybe he’d like to help get the answer, and that would help the whole community.


More from Stallman is to be published in coming days.

We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an Identi.ca account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

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