Monday, January 23, 2012

Richard Stallman interviewed on SOPA

The recent massive protests over proposed totalitarian censorship laws in the US had Alex Jones of 'Infowars' interview the godfather of open source, Richard Stallman. Of course, Stallman seized the opportunity to explain his anti-copyright sentiments.

"We have to put an end to the War On Sharing. [...] We have to stop using digital handcuffs."

"It's not just Microsoft. I gotta point out that Apple is even worse. And Amazon is horrible."
Stallman's points about ebooks reminded me of my own book, Ecowar - Natural Resources and Conflict, which can be ordered in stores, at Amazon and elsewhere - in physical paper copies, not as ebooks. For some reason the Kindle version is delayed until May. Some of my regular blog readers have told me they'll wait for the ebook. But consider this: You can walk up to the desk in a book store and order it, come back a few days later and but cash on the desk, go home or to the park and read it without use of proprietary tools to decode it, without anyone knowing that you have it and are reading it, without me or the publisher having the right to burn your book at any time. And, of course, without electricity, without instant messaging pop-ups to distract you, make notes in the margin. Consider that.

As for Apple, you would assume they would support censorship laws to protect big business content producers (like SOPA) but do they really dare risk alienate their hipster consumers? No. For the truth read Rodney Brown's beautifully titled Apple: ‘SOPA, I am your father!’. Seriously, read it. Even as they "support" SOPA protests, even as they have long abandoned their attempt to redefine the concept of ownership via their iTunes store... they are now launching a new, proprietary, locked-down ebook format.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Musings on fear vs optimism, collapse vs innovation

Writing about tech is comfortable in the sense that it's almost always about progress, problems getting solved and annoying tasks replaced with invisible automation. Tech bloggers, journalists and readers are generally optimists. Those of us who do worry a bit mostly do so over totalitarian tendencies in the largest tech companies and most heavily gadget-armed governments. Malthusian fears may seem alien - what do you mean, "the earth isn't growing"?

Facts: Most of Earth's physical resources are finite. Human population and consumption rates are increasing in exponential rates. Our ability to utilize resources, our productivity, increase somewhat linearly long term but in phases of bumps, stand-still and setbacks. At current consumption rates the store called Earth will be sold out in a couple of decades. Although such simplistic extrapolation clearly isn't creating realistic prophesies (even a dysfunctional Capitalism would at least partly solve the issue) we all know there is a problem. (Except fanatical Capitalists who will solemnly ignore the "temporary" glitches of their system when it produce mass starvation and global riots.)

How do we stay happy? How do we hold on to the conviction that future technologies will solve any problem? Some of us need to hold progress in our hands, see it flicker past our eyes. Our worries are then dissolved by a constant stream of trivial updates, upgrades and new models. Even people who believe they are fighting against the evils of neoliberalism are very often at the same time devout worshippers to the Cult of Optimism. Behold the iProduct, recite the Book of Jobs, it will save the world by manifesting the Cult of Optimism.

There are untold stories about the positive environmental impact of Linux encouraging people to use the hardware, which seemed outdated to Microsoft Windows, for a little while longer. Delayed replacements that have in turn also delayed the depletion of mountains of rare earth minerals and countless lung disease incidents in 3rd world land fill scrap metal recycling boys. Ironically, even appropriately hyped downgrades can be adopted as progress and give hope to the ignorant, consuming masses. Such as the touch screen running a restrictive operating system: The iPad. Even for orangutangs.

"Hello, would you like to buy a touch screen with a locked down OS at three times the price my competitors offer it?"
I went to the "3rd world", came back and put down my experiences in a beautiful little article (I thought) - but it was turned down for being too pessimist. I discussed my new book, Ecowar - Natural Resources and Conflict, with a climate change campaigner and was told it'd be difficult to sell because to do so you need to focus on the positive sides.

Perhaps tech will "save the world" from resource scarcity and climate change induced collapse. I'm confident it will both do so at least to some extent while also make our lives increasingly comfortable. But even in this case the Cult of Optimism is working against this end, not to its fulfillment, as the ritualistic cycles of buy-and-throw-away consumption eats away the foundations of civilized existence.

I guess running two blogs, one tech one enviro, says something about the duality of man, sir?

Do you want to do something ridiculously easy, entirely free and quite symbolic that will take you a second while contributing to the above concerns in a positive way? Sign the petition 'Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.: Make a conflict-free product that includes minerals from eastern Congo' at I did.
"I cannot in good conscience purchase a new phone because the gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum that power it are destroying my home."
- Delly Mawazo Sesete
[This article is a sequel to Ecowar / Musings on optimism vs fear, innovation vs collapse]

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Apple, apes and the future of computing

Three news stories that interweave neatly:

1. Apes now using iPads

So amazing it makes me feel like buying the Steve Jobs biography.

"The orangutans loved seeing videos of themselves – so there is a little vanity going on – and they like seeing videos of the orangutans who are in the other end of the enclosure [...] So if we incorporate cameras, they can watch each other."
- Richard Zimmerman

2. Industry to discourage use of general purpose computers

The last 20 years of Internet policy have been dominated by the copyright war, but the war turns out only to have been a skirmish. The coming century will be dominated by war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.

3. People will be apes

Review 1. and 2. again if in doubt.

Please do not scorn your friendly neighborhood or classroom geek for assembling his or her choice motherboard, CPU, RAM and hard disk drives for installing his or her favorite linux distribution on. These (us) geeks are tech wilderness guardians keeping the techsphere alive, resilient and healthy. The security activists, hobby hackers and unwieldy anonymous masses are the Matrix' Neos of reality. Give them a retweet.

Owning an iPad does not make you a geek or a tech savvy trendy person. It puts you on level playing ground with orangutangs. It puts you in a cage.