The freedom to listen…

“Free Speech” is a hot topic. Can you say what you want, when you want, to whom you want? If you’re in somebody else’s house can they kick you out if you represent an opinion they don’t like?

Well known link aggregation site Reddit has answered that question with a resounding yes. Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with them, however with the caveat that if you do that sort of thing I won’t (nor should anyone else) come to your house anymore, and you’re welcome to live a long, happy, and friendless life all alone in that house.

So the question is: Should they?

It’s long been known that certain subreddits (user defined areas of the site) have a variety of opinions about this issue. Some are a free-for-all, and some are well known to remove any comment or content that the subreddit mod team doesn’t approve of. This is an extremely dangerous line to tread however. When the “technology” subreddit decides to ban any content with the word “tesla” in it, it happens in such a way that nobody knows that the topic is banned, it just… vanishes.

If you kick me out of your house, the rest of the guests get to see it happen, and then get to make their own decisions about what sort of person you are. This is the step that is vital. Controls can be put in place and exercised, but it has to be done transparently. Removed content should have a placeholder left that says “Removed due to references to banned word ‘Tesla'”.

How can people make informed choices otherwise? How can behavior deemed negative by the community be corrected? Shadowbanning, the practice of “banning” a user in such a way that they believe they’re not banned, but their content never appears to any other user, is a vile practice as it prevents both the user being banned from understanding that they did something wrong, and from the rest of the users understanding what the rules of the space are. The way the term “safe space” has been co-opted is worthy of an entire discussion on it’s own, but suffice to say that I define a “safe space” as one in which people who have a problem with me are able to talk to me about it rather than arbitrarily punishing me as they see fit. I will not willing place myself into the hands of a capricious wannabe deity.

One thing I know about control, it either has to be exercised fully and completely, or it is utterly useless. Reddit acts as a landlord for individuals, who can throw parties in their apartments in whatever manner they please. To then come to these parties, kick out individual users, and even shut down some parties entirely, after allowing the illusion that the renters have autonomy, is simply pathetic bullying and an abuse of power. If you want to run a “safe space” you must run that space. You must set individual rules at each party, be constantly present in ALL the parties to enforce the rules, and make sure everyone understands your application of justice in the space. You cannot choose to enforce some of the rules, some of the time, or descend from the digital heavens whenever your messiah complex demands; that isn’t control or justice, it’s terrorism.

A lot of people will talk about “free speech”, but that’s not what this is about. I do NOT have the freedom to walk in to your house and demand that you allow me to spew hatred about your family. However, if your neighbor is having an open-door party about a topic that you disapprove of I absolutely have the freedom to listen. Attempting to control my freedom to listen is far worse than attempting to control my freedom to speak. Controlling somebody’s freedom to listen is an attempt to control their freedom of thought. Preventing information from reaching me is preventing me from thinking about something, and that is an intolerable evil.

Creating an echo chamber where differing opinions are simply banished, rather than discussed and debated, is one of the most dangerous things that a community can do, and yet it is something that every community tries to do. The ones that succeed with near complete success are usually labeled “cult”.

Any tool, institution, or community that is attempting to control your freedom of thought should be banished from your life without delay or regret. Protect your freedom to listen.

Save the internet, or: How I learned to stop reading BoingBoing and love the blog.


Wow! Big deal! Hugely important! And one of the biggest “blogs” on the internet decided to talk about it!
You’re one of the biggest blogs around, commanding giant respect and readership. It’s great that you decide to talk about issues, but where’s the “Click here to find out how to contact your representative”? Apparently you care enough to copy-paste content from another blog, (At least that’s what I think you did? But you didn’t link to it so I’m not sure.) but not enough to help your giant readership figure out what to do to help? I call that failure.

Let’s hit that other point a bit more too. I don’t know what content on this page is actually Cory Doctorow’s writing and opinion and what is simply a copy-paste from someone else. I’m pretty sure that the dark background is the “block quote” style, so I think this entire article is simply a copy-pasta job.

Maybe there’s a place for something like boingboing, something that’s more stream-of-consciousness blather than actual blogging. Being considered one of the “big blogs” though and then doing crap like this just leeches respectability from every blog out there that’s trying to be significant, newsworthy, or relevant. Not that I don’t believe there’s a place for stream-of-consciousness, but take a look at something like Scalzi’s Whatever blog for an example how you can be a serious blogger as well as do things like post pictures of bacon taped to cats. I’m just not sure I’ve ever found enough redeeming value in boingboing to offset the damage I think they do. Dear boingboing: You are the reason the internet generation is ADD and apathetic. Stop it.

tl;dr: I actually stopped reading BoingBoing a long time ago. You probably should too. 🙂 Now go write to your representative and save the internet!

Also, yes, I know that I didn’t post a “how to take action” link either. But this post isn’t a call to action for anything other than unsubscribing from boingboing so I think I get a pass. I may try and write more about saving the internet later.

So tired of computers right now…

Every computer I have is being a pain in my ass. Lion is buggy and requires reboots all the time, Snow Leopard eats more RAM than the computer has available, Bodhi Linux got wiped off the laptop because I really dislike being 2 versions out of date on everything, Arch Linux is an awesome idea, but if I can’t even easily set up my WiFi then you’re probably doing it wrong. Gentoo on my G4 is actually pretty stable and working well ironically, but it’s not using wifi or X.
And, just to be fair, windows is right out too. I used it on and off on my Thinkpad for a little while. I hate the window manager, and getting it working and maintained is at least equally as complicated as Linux, so why would I bother?
I may have to go back to Ubuntu, even though I’m really sort of tired of APT package management, just because it at least works. Although previous experience tells me that it doesn’t work nearly as cleanly when you like using alternative desktop environments, as I do.

DAMMIT people, how did we let it get to this?! The current state of computers being so highly polarized to one side or the other of the “Arcane <–> Appliance” scale that it’s insane. Arch Linux really did sound like a good idea to me when I was looking at distros. A basic system that lets you plug in the tools you want to build the system you need. Yes please. However the state of things is just feels so broken. The fragmentation inherent in the open source community is simultaneously one of it’s greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses. I shouldn’t need to install 5 different tools and figure out how to get them all to work together just to get my wifi connected. (Never mind having to choose which of several options I want for any of those 5 tools.) There’s been a lot of attempts at standardization over the years and these are great, but it’s still a long way from being something that “just works”. Ubuntu is the best distro around for this, but the cost in freedoms and ability to customize and tweak is something I had been hoping to avoid.

Here’s a good example: Ubuntu at least recognizes my keyboard properly. I thought Arch was just disliking Apple keyboards, but when installing on my Thinkpad it’s also kind of wonky. (Backspace not working in vim, function keys being recognized properly, etc..) Never had trouble with that on Ubuntu.

Where’s the operating system that aims to provide a usable functional base, NOT have a “blue screen” based installer that makes you learn partition your disk by hand? I want a clean install that includes a working network management daemon, automatically gets uses DHCP when I plug an ethernet cable in, mounts my removable media nicely, has X configured for my video card, gives me a choice of window managers to use to suit my personal needs and taste, and provides a package management system that lets me keep my system up to date and manage source based or “outside the official tree” installs cleanly as well?

I see why the slide towards “computing appliance” is such a big push. Making software that works and gives users choices is *HARD*. Building a coherent system that works and gives users the choices they need requires focus and coordination, often things that open source unfortunately lacks.

There’s gotta be some middle ground though. Even we reasonably hardcore nerds sometimes want to just sit down, join a wifi network, and write some code…

A slightly asthmatic cat

Lion, the great new hope of the world and savior of all computing. Hear it roar! Or, as the case may be, perhaps rattle a bit in the lungs while it tries to take a breath and then a bit oh wheezing while the formerly concerned gazelle looks on in amusement.

You may guess that I’m not impressed. This would be an understatement. I have now upgraded two of my macs to Lion, and I can conclusively say, without a doubt in my mind, that Lion is the worst thing to happen to any mac I’ve ever owned, and that includes the one that got cracked in half. (at least that was repairable and it was all shiny again after the ordeal)

My G4 Powerbook doesn’t pinwheel-of-death this much even to this day, and I can’t believe the number of annoying little bugs hanging around. Wifi refusing to reconnect, “fast”-user-switching hanging at a gray screen for 2 minutes, the “input type” indicator at the login screen being utterly incorrect, keychain refusing to unlock or be repair, and network mounts failing to connect are some of the things that are clearly on the “bug” side of things. I’m willing to forgive the “we just lost our minds” details like iCal’s new interface, the fact that multi-monitor support is really not a priority, and maybe even fact that Spaces did a 180 from awesome to useless. The pinwheeling though, is just too much.

My laptop is a current model 15″ MBPro with 8GB of RAM. I’m not using legacy hardware here. It came with Snow Leopard but only had it for a couple weeks before the Lion upgrade. If it weren’t for the fact that my main purpose for this laptop is development I would go back to Snow Leopard in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’ve even really gotten any advantage out of the “new” features yet, and there certainly aren’t any that I would find myself missing if they were gone.

So, in short: my experience with Lion so far has been utterly underwhelming. I’m about to install the latest update on it and cross my fingers that things have been improved. Hopefully my Wifi doesn’t conk out halfway through the download. Let’s cross our fingers.
iCal is still gonna be painfully ugly though, and the new spaces is still going to be useless. Ah well, I guess that’s just more of an excuse to spend the time on my other laptop, a nice little 12.5″ Lenovo running Linux.

Simple, easy, obvious. (Or: Why spotify lost me in 2 minutes.)

So a while back some rabid fanboy was all like “You’ve got to try Spotify! Best thing since bread in less-than-loaf sizes!” so I got myself an account, realized I had to download some app, wasn’t in a position to do so, and never came back. What is this thing? Not really sure. “Like Pandora” I’ve been told. “Social Music” seems to be a term used.

Okay, but it gets better. I get an email from someone who I’d actually be interested in sharing “social music” with, so okay, you win. I’m at a computer, I have the app, let’s log in!

Spotify demands your username, not your email!


Sorry Spotify, 1997 called. They said they heard you were using usernames instead of email addresses and they wanted to mock you for being behind the times. What. The. Hell? I’m tired of remembering usernames! Someone has always already chosen my favorite username of “josh_the_greatest_dude_ever”, so unless you feel like reserving that for me please make your service use my email address as a login. (Especially now that my keychain isn’t going to sync between my macs, usernames are OUT, but that’s another rant.)

Failure 2: Facebookery.

I know, I’m the only person in the whole of the multiverse who doesn’t use facebook. And if you believe that you should get out of the internet business, especially if you’re trying for “social”. So, now that I finally recovered my username and got logged in I find a really oversized facebook logo in what appear to be the section where I should be able to add the friends I want to interact with. Tell me, did they actually pay you for that much advertising space, or are you just that desperate to suck up? (“Zuck’ up” perhaps? In any case I think we know where you got the “Spotify is so good!” Zuckerberg quote emblazoned on your site.)

So… apparently I’m completely cut off from social interaction due to my lack of a facebook login. I’m immediately cut off from the one thing I was actually sort of interested in: seeing what my friends are listening to. Whoops.

Interaction Failures of the third kind

I’ve finally logged in, found out I’m a one-man island, but I’m not yet completely discouraged. Let’s see what else this thing does for me!

Well, I’m really not sure. Apparently it scans my “Library”, which since I’m using it on the laptop and not the desktop is empty. I’m greeted by a screen that says I can “take my music anywhere” by plugging in my phone. (Which, since it goes with me everywhere seems potentially redundant to me?) I have an “inbox” where music that is “sent to me” will arrive. (One supposes it will be sent via those friends I have on facebo… oops.) There’s a nice “top lists” tab, which confirms for me that the world at large has absolutely no taste in music, but I already knew that.

Here’s the lesson Spotify. Don’t assume that your users know what your app does. Also: You’re probably not quite yet to that level where you don’t actually have to explain yourself to anyone.

For the record:

No, I’m not an idiot. Yes, I’ve managed to deduce that spotify scans your iTunes and somehow makes all your music available to you in a streaming format. No, I’m probably not going to use it as I’m just not seeing the value in it based on this brief experience. All the music I need rides around with me on my myriad iDevices. Maybe when I break free of the apple ecosystem this will… oh wait, no linux/web version? Nope, it’ll be just as useless then too.

But really, what this whole post was about, what really got my goat, was that error screen. “You must use your username, not your email address”. Seriously? 1997. Somewhere in my snobby little mind that tells me exactly what breed and level of designers and developers you are. Is that the snobbiest and most stuck up thing I could think? Probably. But it’s not completely wrong either, not even close.

Now with more sekretz is now SSL enabled for your convenience and security.Well… more for mine actually. However, it’s worth noting that you can access it at and browse to your heart’s content with assurances that nobody aside from me knows what you’re up to.

The entire basis of security and authenticity on the internet is an amazing thing. When you make a request to what assurances do you have that the content you’re getting is actually from me on this domain that I own? None. Anybody in the middle could be intercepting my communication to you and altering it. Which is why we have HTTPS/SSL. When you make a secure request you get this certificate that tells you “yep, we promise that anything coming from this IP is actually”, and to help make sure nothing is modified mid-stream everything you get is also encrypted using that certificate.

So yay right? You now know that it’s me, and it’s really what I’m saying! But who ensures that? The root certificate authority that I used is basically vouching for me. It’s okay, they’re trustworthy right?! Well, sure they are, but how hard did they work to make sure that I am? They emailed me at “”. Theoretically since I have access to that email I’m the domain owner, and presto certificato we’re “secure”. (Well, technically I also had to buy a static IP for my domain name since you have to have a permanent address.)

Does the entire thing sound a little shifty to you? Yah, me too. At least my host offers a pretty reasonable price for certificates. The entire industry is sort of a racket, so it’s nice to be able to avoid having to shop around through that mess. The process needs to change however, in order for security on the web to become what it should be. That, however, is an entirely different blog post. For now, we’ll be happy that everything here is nice and tidy, and we’ll worry about the entire future of the internet at a later point.

Further adventures of a Mac Mini…

My poor old 1.66 Core Duo Mac Mini just wasn’t performing quite as well as it used to and it was time to do some cleanup. Well it occurs to me that it might actually just run Linux pretty well. With it’s poor little 512MB of RAM, Linux gives me a bit more control over exactly what’s going on and what’s using resources! Time for the ISD-Inexorable to switch to Ubuntu 10.4 (Lucid Lynx) beta!

Adventure number one: booting off a the CD.
For some reason neither the Alt nor the C keys are triggering the bootloader to attempt to boot off the disk. This isn’t going to be a dual-boot machine, so I’m not interested in bootcamp. Turns out the rEFIt project solves this problem quite nicely! Quick install there and away we go.
Worth noting that you have to reboot twice before rEFIt shows up at boot. Got a little worried when I rebooted initially and didn’t get a bootloader menu.
So now we’re installing! Clean partition of the drive and away it goes!

Adventure number two: laggy graphics.
After rebooting out of the installer everything looks great, except that the UI is responding exceptionally slowly. Bringing up apps is slow, switching between apps takes over 30 seconds. This doesn’t seem right at all! My 1.5ghz PowerBook G4 performs far better than this! To add to the mystery the processors aren’t doing more than 15%, and I still have 100MB of RAM free. So what’s going on here?

It doesn’t seem to be the driver. The driver for the Intel integrated GMA950 doesn’t seem to have any known issues, and hasn’t in a while… glxgears appears to work fine, but when I move the mouse over another app the gears slow way down. This sounds like a window manager issue to me. Time is spent researching if GDM may have issues on this card. Nothing is found.

Then I randomly stumble across a forum post that points out a simple solution:
sudo aptitude install xserver-xorg-video-intel
I try this, without doing any further research about what it is or what it does. Quick reboot and presto, full speed GUI!

While I don’t have any true benchmarks to compare, the machine is running both faster and cooler under Lucid Lynx than it was under OSX Snow Leopard. The OS is more responsive and taking up less memory, and video performance is improved! Under Snow Leopard the machine would lag for 10-30 seconds loading Hulu or TED videos. Even just opening a new tab in Safari would take a couple seconds. Not so anymore! I’m really very impressed Only difficulty I’m having currently is I keep using CMD- instead of CTRL- for keyboard shortcuts. I’m sure I can remap that. 🙂
Only other problem that I’m going to face is reading/writing to OS-X file systems. More on that later if it turns out to be interesting.

I’m amused that I managed to stay inside the “big cat” operating system names. In the battle of Lynx vs. Snow Leopard, the Lucid Lynx is coming out on top in this case.