Your freedoms are eroding as technology becomes more closed

TL;DR: We’re not doing a good job of keeping the Internet and related technologies as open and egalitarian as they used to be, allowing a dangerous oligopoly to reemerge. How can we reverse the trend? And by we, I actually mean you.

I see some worrying signs that we’re going backwards in terms of freedom. Read on for some scaremongering.

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Microsoft’s x86-on-ARM is a sign of the times

I’m just writing this to be a total prick and rub your face in things and make you angry at me, because now even Microsoft is taking ARM seriously after announcing an x86-on-ARM emulator for Windows, and six years ago I told you (more or less) so. But anyone in computing could have made that prediction at the time, so don’t be too angry. It seems I was quite optimistic back then. Let’s see what happened to the rest of my predictions:

  • I said Atom would never catch up to ARM in terms of energy efficiency or power consumption vs. performance. This is probably one reason why Intel dropped their Atom for mobile processors now. So I got that one right.
  • I said the Linux kernel would play a big role in this and would expand to more and more devices. Since then things like the Raspberry Pi were introduced, Chromecast happened, the Amazon Fire TV stick thingy came out, cheap Chinese Android TV boxes are a normal thing, the Amazon Echo appeared and all of these run Linux. Devices that sold millions or even dozens or hundreds of millions of units. I’ll rate that as correct.

These are things probably anyone could’ve predicted. Were there people doubting ARM at the time? I don’t know. Maybe Microsoft was, but that was under old management and old management was not good at seeing the signs. Ballmer was good at propping up the old business model, but completely uninspired with regards to innovation.

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Where will you step when there is no more safe ground?

You thought you’re safe and you have privacy because you use some fancy-schmancy encrypted email provider? I don’t think so.

This year saw some remarkable changes, bear with me while I go off on some tangents:

  • The UK voted to leave the EU and subsequently introduced one of the most far-reaching and invasive surveillance laws in the world.
  • The USA elected Donald Trump under speculations of Russian involvement, possibly thawing US-Russian relations and forcing Edward Snowden to be extradited to the US, where he might be executed for revealing truths the US didn’t want revealed. Keep in mind that he never invented anything, he didn’t lie, unlike the US President-elect. He merely told the truth.
  • Switzerland, which had formerly been ready to offer asylum to Snowden, was pressured by the US government to stop that. All the while, US intelligence agencies were illegaly patrolling through Swiss cities and running surveillance operations in Berne and Geneva. The Swiss government stopped any investigation of these operations after the US increased their pressure.

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Time to leave Dyn and go to something like Afraid.org/FreeDNS

Now that Oracle is rumored to be taking over Dyn, this should be the last signal you need: Dyn is nothing like the cute little company called DynDNS that we liked so much in the 90s of the last century. Remember talking on IRC when someone gives you an address for an FTP hosted via their 28.8k modem on flyingdickweasels.dyndns.org? No? Damn, I’m too old, then!

Dyn has become more and more corporate over the years and is nothing like the cool little company that gave so many of our younger selves free dynamic DNS. But you know who’s a cool little company with free dynamic DNS? Afraid.org/FreeDNS. It used to be that afraid.org’s dynamic DNS mode isn’t directly supported in home router firmware or NAS devices, but that’s changed. Even Synology NAS now support it easily. If your router doesn’t have support for it, you can get it to work on anything that can run shell scripts, Windows batch scripts or PowerShell. Instructions are included when you set up your domain.

They also support the nice trick of using your own custom domain and dynamically updating its subdomains, but you’ll have to pay US$ 30/year for a pro account if you need that. If you just want to use their top-level domains and don’t need your own, that’s still free and has been for over a decade. They own chickenkiller.com, for example. You can work with that, can’t you?

Full disclosure: I’m not paid anything for this. I’ve just been a happy afraid.org customer for more than 10 years now without a single issue, and I laugh in the face of Dyn, whose slide into zombie corporate culture couldn’t find a more fitting end than being absorbed by the ultimate peddler in corporate zombieism; Oracle.

My favorite vim color schemes have been ported to Atom

The PaperColor theme has been my favorite vim color theme for quite some time now, and I’m happy to find the same theme in Atom as well, even by the same author!

They have been ported to the Base16 color scheme system. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it doesn’t matter at all. Thanks a lot, Nguyen Nguyen, aka NLKNguyen. If I knew how to reach you, I’d send you beer money.

 

As AI absorbs your life’s data, how do you feel?

Humanity has started down a new road in its history and those of us alive today get to watch it unfold. Companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and to some degree Apple are now beginning to train their artificial intelligence systems on your data. Data from real people, available for the first time in the vast amounts that are useful to AI programmers.

First attempts might be clumsy. Cortana might direct you to a Thai massage parlor that smells of smegma from ten meters away, when all you wanted was some Thai-Italian fusion food. But as you complain about bad results, Cortana learns and improves, her data size increases, the next results will be better.

Free comes without freedom

Have you wondered how Google can afford to give you unlimited storage for all your photos in original resolution for free? Storage costs money, data centers suck up huge amounts of electricity and some person or robot has to change failing hard drives and monitor the hardware and services. This might be offered for free to you, but it’s not free for Google. So what do they gain? Pictures taken by real people, plus GPS data about where the picture was taken, and thanks to the high-accuracy sensors in their new phone, Google knows the pitch, tilt and yaw of your phone when you took the picture. It gets placed into a sort of 3D collage of the world, owned by them, not you.

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How the Netflix model rescued creativity, and why it needs to drop DRM

If you’re an 80s kid and haven’t heard of Stranger Things, you owe it to yourself to have a look. Now in a recent interview on NPR, Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers said a few interesting things:

  • They approached Winona Ryder without expecting anything, they weren’t sure she would accept the role. She did, and they adapted the character to her. Complete creative license from Netflix.
  • Netflix didn’t expect any specific success. They appear to be funding several shows, and it’s enough if one or two of them is successful. Stranger Things is wildly successful, and this was unexpected even to the Duffer brothers themselves.
  • Netflix doesn’t need to create any hype. They release the shows whenever they’re released, usually without fanfare. Subscribers need to be subscribers to watch anyway, so Netflix doesn’t care if 100 people watch on the first night of a new show or 1 million.

This is interesting for several reasons:

  • Netflix doesn’t need to suck the cocks and lick the clits of advertisers. Doesn’t need to censor shows when those pesky writers wrote something an advertiser might not agree with.
  • Netflix can give full creative reign to its creators, and whether things flop or become a great success isn’t so important. This probably creates a wonderful atmosphere for  labors of love.

I think this is all no small part of the reason why they manage to hammer out several very highly acclaimed shows every year. Whether it’s completely new stuff like Bo-Jack Horseman or Stranger Things, whether it runs under license like Daredevil or whether it’s a spin-off from a series that came from traditional TV like Better Call Saul doesn’t seem to matter. Success has been had in several categories.

This must be wonderful for creators, and I believe it shows in their work. Meanwhile over at Amazon Video, Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle finally gets a series treatment, and it’s quite a good one as well. Amazon might have a strategy similar to Netflix’.

But! There are a few nasty, nasty buts about these services:

  • They promote the use of DRM on the web and the DRMification of content.
    • This fucks customers in the ass and other orifices.
    • It also gives them muscle to cut exclusive deals with the likes of Microsoft that unfairly put other operating systems at a disadvantage without any technical reason.
  • The streaming video you get is just streaming video. You don’t get to keep anything. No backups. No discs. If the service provider drops your favorite show, you won’t be able to watch any old episodes anymore even if you’re a subscriber.

For the moment, I think the benefits outweigh the cost, but only slightly. I hope the industry will one day realize that DRM is a crutch and that the only thing it reliably does is annoy people and put them at a disadvantage. It doesn’t prevent piracy, it never has.

I’m paying my Netflix tax, I’m very happy with the kind of series this produces, but I also reserve the right to download backups of whatever I want. This is still legal in Switzerland, and I hope it stays that way until the streaming services offer some form of downloadable copies. They could come a year after a show has aired, for example. They could charge a small fee for each download. That way, subscribers can have everything first, and when the show becomes old and perhaps a burden for Netflix to host, customers can take storage and backup into their own hands. And they’d even pay Netflix for the privilege. Both sides would win.

Here’s hoping.