KDE Kiosk Tool

From my experience, running under Kubuntu 8.04 LTS (not the KDE 4 Remix), the KDE Kiosk Tool is ridiculously buggy to the point of being unusable.

I wrote to the Toronto Star today.

I don’t think it’ll ever be published, in print or on the web, but I had to say something. I’ve also contacted my MP and the Right Honourable American Biotch, Jim Prentice. This is what I have to say:

No, these proposed changes won’t change a thing. They’ll merely make things that us ground-level Canadians do illegal.

The problem with the bill isn’t that it wants to combat piracy. That’s fine. Piracy is bad. If we want free stuff, we can create it ourselves and release it under a free license.

The problem is that it makes transferring my music (that I bought) or my movies (that I bought) to a device illegal if the content provider has placed any sort of digital restriction on it.

This gives corporations the power over my rights. They can grant me (if they wish) to power to copy, but of course they don’t because they want to sell me a copy for each device I own, not a copy I can copy myself. The legislation purportedly protects these rights, but in fact does an end-run around them.

Of course the law won’t stop copying files. This is what digital media is about: Cheap reproduction. And digital restrictions are fundamentally flawed and will always be circumvented. So Canadians will still be doing what they like with the media they paid for, but now it will become illegal to do so.

This legislation stinks of being written by American corporate and governmental interests. This isn’t the Canada I know, where we simply kowtow to our American cousins. It offends me (as a person who voted for the Conservatives), and if this law passes, I will find somewhere better to place my vote.


Netbooks, Sublaptops, Laptots, Whatever.

I don’t want to predict the future. It turns out I’m pretty bad at predicting the future and chances are so are you. But I do want to delve into a possible future, one that could develop if certain things go a certain way and certain other things do not go a certain way.

Imagine a world where people stop demanding a faster, more awesome computer, simply because they don’t need one any more. Imagine a world where the pendulum swings back to where it came from and remote servers are the big deal and local terminals are essentially (but not totally) dumb.

This would be a surprising (and frightening) world to both the founders of IBM with their big iron and the founders of Microsoft with their big desktop iron. They would both be wrong at least a great deal of the time. Even in those places one might expect big iron there are simply commodity machines connected together. In those places where one might expect big desktop iron there are simply a bunch of web applications. This would be the miracle of the network. This would be the Cloud at work.

Maybe something will come along soon to make this possible future extremely unlikely. I have no doubt that is possible. The web, the big network connecting the small networks, is that sort of disruptive technology. Note though that the web first developed over existing infrastructure: Telephone lines were the first transport technology to support the internet. Now the internet is drawing that infrastructure into itself. It’s not that strange to imagine that the internet will be the infrastructure that draws all the separate infrastructures we know and dislike (telephone, cable television, etc) and unites them. This is happening right now. The internet is the One Ring, if you will.

But my point is not to state the obvious, but to point out that the infrastructure that replaces the internet as we know it will probably (barring any truly disruptive technologies; keep in mind that I don’t claim this is a necessary development but merely a likely one) use the internet as its infrastructure and gradually subsume it. Anyone who has coded a AJAX application is praying desperately for that day to come, and soon.

I can imagine a world where Netbooks (or whatever you like to call them: I choose Mark Shuttleworth’s term because I happen to admire him) are essentially access points to the Cloud. Certainly specialised hardware exists: No one wants to edit video on something just larger than their palm. But small laptop like devices become at least one of the dumb(ish) access points to the internet at large. This, also, is already happening.

It’s entirely possible that Moore’s Law will stop functioning. It’s not a physical law, after all, and it is a meme entirely subject to physical impossibilities that require a great deal of ingenuity and expense to circumvent. It’s also entirely possible that Moore’s Law will become irrelevant as computers become smaller, more ubiquitous, and less visible. It’s hard, for instance, to fit a heat sink in your shoe; it’s easier to simply make a smaller program and use a processor with less processing power.

Perhaps soon processors themselves will become obsolete. Who knows.

I know this post has been long and taken many un-needed detours but let me interject some personal thoughts on personal computers: Good riddance and could you please give me my fish back. I am so sick to death of overpowered computers that need to be constantly upgraded to do (essentially) the same thing. I could run a word processor on my 486 that did almost everything that the word processor on my P4 does (namely, process words). There are really very few applications that deserve the sort of processing power we’ve got idling in our living rooms. Video editing, sure. Audio processing, sure. Graphic-intensive games? Absolutely.

Instant messaging? Web browsing? VoIP? Creating text documents? No way.

I’d rather like a future where I could buy a box as I needed it. Not tailored to a one size fits all Swiss Army Knife approach (I’m looking at you, Windows) where every five years brings a new chance to upgrade to a shiny new (and despicably slow) operating system with shine new (and despicably slow) hardware. I want something I can purchase and use and throw away when I’m done. I want something disposable.

Imagine if the only options you had when buying a car were Porches, MacLaren F-1s, and Jaguars. Would that make sense?

So my challenge (ringing loud and clear to about five people) is this: Make my future fast, inexpensive, and disposable. Make my data live out in the Cloud so I don’t have to tie it to a piece of physical hardware. Please. For the children.

Ubuntu is our very own Black Swan.

Experience would dictate, having seen 99 white swans, that all swans are white. Experience is of course a ridiculous guide for making future predictions: One event can change your experience in a way that the preceding events could not possibly have foretold. The 100th swan, the black swan, gives lie to the statement that all swans are white; suddenly only most swans are white, or at the very least most swans in the observed sample are white.

Ubuntu is our Free Software black swan. How do we explain its sudden, rapid rise to international Linux stardom? How do we explain its overwhelming success in that domain?

Well, we don’t. You can attempt to apply narrative to Ubuntu’s sudden critical mass, but it doesn’t work. Ubuntu was there at the right time (whatever that means) with the right feature set (not much different from others) and the right community (a little less technical than others, perhaps, but not much) and the right backing from Canonical (though other Linux distros have their own sugar daddies).

All of those statements don’t really explain how Ubuntu came to dominate Linux mindshare. In fact, I don’t think there’s any real way to make a narrative out of it. The reality is probably more like the Linux community tinkered and hacked and scratched the itch and tried things until one of those things really worked. This is a signal, to me at least, that the Linux community is growing up: We now have, like any other domain, a winner-takes-almost-all distribution. For good or for bad, this is how these things seem to go.

I think sometimes that the world is like throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Of course there seems to be some correlation between hard work and success: Those people who work harder are likely to try more things. But you can work and work and work and work (look at Debian and Fedora and Gentoo and Linspire and a hundred others) and not have someone else steal and eat your cake.

You draw your own lesson. Does Ubuntu deserve to be where it is right now? Sure. Maybe if you’re working on another distro it seems a bit unfair. But even the words “deserve” and “fair” imply you believe there’s some kind of narrative going on. I disagree. There’s no narrative. There’s a metanarrative, and that’s what matters.

If I could go back in time…

I would rip my (younger) self out of the Bill Gothard seminars and have an insightful discussion with myself about formulaic, legalistic Christianity built around flawed Platonic ideals. I would try to get it through my thick head that if Jesus has wanted us to follow the Seven Steps to Selfless Servanthood he probably would have said something about that down the line instead of waiting for some guy to make money off it.

Not to say he wasn’t right about some things… but who isn’t right about some things? Buddha, for instance, was right about something things. As ad Hitlerum teaches, simply agreeing with something the Fuhrer said doesn’t automatically make you wrong.

Of course, I was a pretty bratty kid. I think I still am. I’m waiting for ten years down the road when I write a blog post (if we still have blogs) about how I would go back and knock the N.T. Wright out of my (younger) self.

Also, if I could go back in time, I’d not stop the piano lessons. And I’d buy a better guitar than I have now. And I’d wear more funky hats (can anyone find me a sombrero?) instead of trying to be cool.

Among other things.

I’m supposed to be a Conservative.

I’m a Christian in Canada. I’d probably be considered an evangelical Christian by anyone bothering with the taxonomy. For the most part, this means I should be voting FCP or Conservative.

The FCP is just dangerous. Mixing politics and religion is a recipe for the corruption of both.

But the Conservatives are much more benign, right? They’re like the Liberals, except just a bit more trustworthy and industry-friendly, right?

I don’t care anymore. When the current Conservative government introduces its copyright legislation, when I read that legislation and it appears carbon copied from the disastrous US DMCA and practically written by American corporate interests, they will have lost my vote. And I don’t mean in this election, I mean for as long as I feel they are corrupt and beholden to interests other than the interests of Canadians.

This is what bothers me. They are not serving voters. How will DMCA-like provisions in Canade aid people on the ground? Not at all. It will not provide them with jobs or health care or safety or any other measurable public good. It will simply make yet another class of thing against the law, and trust me, we already have enough ridiculous things that are against the law here. (For instace, smoking pot. There’s no way that should be illegal. Ill advised? Sure. Illegal? No.) There’s no public good here. There’s a supposed good for American content producers, of course, and for an American copyright regime spreading almost virally around the world.

We’re not even acting in our own national interests here. We’re acting in the interests of the USA. We’re the Eastern European nation that does whatever the might America says in the hope that one day we’ll be shown a photo of a pot of jam.

We’re helping to propagate the myth that the USA and its knowledge economy can dominate on the world stage as long as everyone everywhere obeys the same set of laws. And these laws are not, I might add, tilted in the favour of customers and citizens. The USA is using its international power to create and Information Technology Hegemony where it creates the content and the rest of the world has no choice but to consume said content.

It won’t work in the long term, of course. But in the meantime we’ll be saddling ourselves with a law whose intentions are not to help Canadians but instead to hinder them. Not to hinder them in order to help them, but to help media companies stick their hands further in citizens’ wallets.

I’m supposed to be Conservative, and for the most part I am still conservative. But this party and this government is slowly but surely starting to represent the interests of the industries and countries it has aligned itself with. They should be representing me and people like me who voted for them.

But they’re not. And if this policy comes to pass, I simply will not vote for them. It’s that simple.

I would pay my bounty in time, but I don’t have the skill.

Bryce makes a good point in his latest post about Inkscape (and FOSS in general, as he points out). It is better to spend time hacking on something yourself than to offer someone $100 to do it for you. I think this is right and true for many reasons, one being that $100 is not very much money at all to pay someone for what usually ends up being quite a few hours of work.

But then there are people like me. I don’t have any coding skills at all. I don’t have enough time to pick them up. I really enjoy Ubuntu, I really like the concept of Open Source Software, and I want to help both of those things succeed. You tell me how I’m going to invest my time in a project like Inkscape. Or, even better, something simple like gTwitter, which could use some improvement. I’d love to figure out a way to help them along. I’d love pay a bounty in time to make a program I use all the time work like it should work, but I don’t have any usable skills that would help them along.

So paying your bounty in time is fine, as long as you have some sort of skill. But for the rest of us? The Joe Blows of the world who use open source software but don’t give much back? What about us?