pages tagged editorial


India 2015

Siri and I are now three weeks into our two months journey, by train through India and by bus in Nepal.

During my Asia 2011 journey I promised myself (and Chandan) that next visit to India would be together with Siri. Here we are, few hours away from next 20 hour train ride towards Hyderabad in South India, both with running noses from a cold week in Nepal.

Theme of our trip is Debian Pure Blends. More specifically, we will meet with distribution developers and designers to try understand why they fork from (other forks of) Debian, and how Debian might improve to better serve them - ideally be able to fully contain such projects within Debian itself.

Distributions we will look into - some more detailed than others - include…

Thanks to the organizations and individuals hosting us on our journey.


How I (don't) use Facebook images

Dear Facebook friend,

I like you and I am happy that you take/tag/share photos of me, just not on Facebook!

I have a Facebook account but don't hang out there.

Please share your photos in public, not (only) inside Facebook. And please consider allowing Free reuse of your photos, by licensing them with a Free license like CC-BY-SA or CC0.

Here & Now

My suggestion for now is to use Flickr, and license all images as "Attribution, share alike".

The Perfect Way

Ideally you would publish the photos on some server that you control, like the Freedombox, but those are unfortunately not yet easy to find or use.

Why not Facebook?

Facebook is a closed system: all activities happen at one central place.

Maybe you don't care who is spying on the photo gallery that you share. That's fine - but please respect those of your friends who do care, by putting a copy of your photos somewhere with less thirdparty control.

Regards, Jonas


How I (don't) use Facebook

Dear Facebook friend,

I like you and I want to chat with you, just not on Facebook!

My Facebook account is there to reach you where you are, but I do not hang out there. Please join me at Free and Open spaces instead - via [email, Matrix, IRC or Jabber][/msg]…

Why not Facebook?

Facebook is a closed system: all activities happen at one central place.

Email, Matrix, Jabber and IRC are open protocols, exchanging between many Free systems (and some non-free ones as well).

Imagine having an overprotecting mother, who allow you only to meet your friends at one spot in town - where she can look after you.

You maybe have no secrets from your mom, but probably still appreciate the option of being alone - to have some privacy.

Facebook is that one spot in town. Open platforms are "let's go meet somewhere".

Regards, Jonas


Asia 2011

In september I visited Brussels, Belgium. EPFSUG had kindly invited me to give a talk about FreedomBox in the European Parliament, and together we extended to also visit other organizations - both grassroots and more formal.

I returned home exhausted but also fuelled with renewed energy and passion, and decided to engage in more such activities. Also, an old promise of mine to visit friends in the Aceh region of Indonesia (whom I met in Taiwan a few years back) rumbled in the back of my head.

After a bit of juggling with travel routes and sponsoring options, my course was set for a 2½ month journey with Debian Pure Blends as main theme:

  1. England: London
  2. India: Khammam, Hyderabad, Mangaluru, Bengaluru
  3. Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho
  4. Thailand: Bangkok
  5. Malaysia: Putrajaya
  6. Indonesia: Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Bogor, Banda Aceh, Takengon
  7. England: Cambridge

Debian will be sponsoring East Asia part, and Debian enthusiasts in India seek sponsorship for India part.


Building a remote-control for real cars

SMS is used to lock car doors

Copenhagen Carpool soon receive a new batch of electric cars. The new cars will contain a cellphone tied to the door locks, to only let into the car the member who booked its current timeslot.

I am setting up the system to connect the cars with their booking calendar.

The general idea is to…

  1. Connect a standard cellphone to a computer.
  2. Forward sms messages received on the phone to the calendar.
  3. Send messages from the calendar through the phone.
  4. Leave the system in a corner, turned on 24/7.

Most of my work is in trying to avoid ways things might go wrong — which so often happens when computers are involved.

What if…

  • messages are delayed or lost?
  • a chain of messages arrive out of order?
  • messages are sent faster than they can be delivered?

Reliable conversation

Human conversation is most reliable when using plain speak. Slang, sarcasm or jokes raise the risk of misunderstandings. This is quite similar in computer conversation.

When surfing the Web, you normally "GET" a web page or "POST" new data like a search query. The words "GET" and "POST" are "plain speak" of the World Wide Web — defined as a principle called "REST" or "RESTful design".

I use the Kannel tool to talk directly to the phones. When an sms arrives on the phone, Kannel "GET"s it to the calendar. That's weakly expressed — better if it had "POST"ed the message instead.

Kannel is a quite reliable tool, but not RESTful in conversations. That requires extra attention at other parts of the setup to avoid breakage in special situations.

That worries me.

Each car has a blog

So I setup a gateway from Kannel to RESTful conversation. And choose classic blogging as style of conversation:

  • The carpool fleet is a blogroll
  • each car has a blog
  • each sms emitted from a car is a blog entry

Blogging comes in two flavors, — RSS and Atom. Both cover distribution of messages. I use Atom because it is newest and coolest, and because it also covers creating and editing meesages with the AtomPub extension.

AtomPub allows the calendar to create an empty message — which then triggers an sms from the car which "fills it in."

AtomPub also let the calendar "PUT" tags onto existing messages, to mark them as processed, read etc., and let an admin or a cleanup script "DELETE" outdated entries or blogs. The words "PUT" and "DELETE" are RESTful conversation as well.

The system is dancing!

My sms-to-blog gateway is written in Perl, using the Dancer toolkit.

Dancer makes it simple to setup a RESTful web conversation, and when I contacted the authors on IRC, they swiftly added support for the non-RESTful quirk that I needed.

My sms-to-blog gateway is not yet ready, but basic routines work. The project is public, and code is Free Software.


The year of the FreedomBox

I am involved in developing something coined as the FreedomBox.

Explaining it to my mum the other day, she wisely asks if it, albeit clearly an exciting challenge we've picked, really is doable? Surely the World has gone sour, but is such radical change even possible?

Annoying question! And clever :-)

For some years, tech media has tried predict when Linux have reached momentum for ordinary users. That current or next year was to become the Year of the Linux Desktop. Funny thing, seen in restrospect, is how "the year" kept being postponed, and when finally OLPC paved the way for the boom of Netbooks and arguably we got there, the World had moved on: Now Free Sofware is as common and as usable on desktops as commercially driven systems. It is taken for granted, not praised, and we look forward for the Next Big Challenge (as geeks) or Next Big Excitement (as users).

Perhaps a similar fate is to be expected for FreedomBox: Initially when sparking our interest, and repeatedly since although we still today have nothing concrete to show - indeed even before we started hacking on it or knew the name of our dreams - our Prophet declared the Year of the FreedomBox. Not explicitly, but the cleverly phrased "right now."

I am excited and proud to be working on FreedomBox, and foolishly hope it will be ready for worldwide consumption in a very recent "right now" - well aware that most likely it won't happen like that. Thing is, I don't really care how it happens, if only something does. This is due to the way we work: Hacking may appear from outside as larger projects, but really is juggling piles of small pieces for an eternal jigsaw puzzle, with each piece usable in multiple ways and across projects. I do not work only on FreedomBox, just as I did not work only on Sugar before that, or only with Debian as my platform:

I work on Freedom-enabling technologies and ways to frame them for the Real World to use them with a vengeance.

I sure hope you take the results for granted. That's true success!


Trip to Vietnam

On november 12-14 the FOSSASIA conference is held in Việt Nam, with fellow Debian hackers turning it into a Mini-Debconf.

When initially confronted with the plan at Debconf10 I was thrilled to participate. When returning home, however, I decided (or let my girlfriend decide for us) to move to a beautiful old cottage house — unfortunately clashing with the FOSSASIA event.

Recently Andreas, scheduled to give a speak on Debian Pure Blends at FOSSASIA, had to cancel his trip. I then decided to participate after all, as that subject has been a passion of mine for a few years: I would be sad if this wasn't promoted at FOSSASIA, and I should hopefully know enough of it for an interesting talk.

After FOSSASIA I will stay another 1½ week offering to exchange ideas and knowledge with hackers in the area of Hồ Chí Minh.

Thanks to the friends convincing me to participate, especially Héctor, Andrew and Paul. And thanks a bunch to Debian for sponsoring the flight tickets!


A computer is an advanced tool for logical and effective problem solving

Advanced: Undergone development, moved some steps forward

People tend to look at the word "advanced" as a positive term - as similar to "improved". But all it means is it has undergone development.

A rotten tomato is an advanced tomato.

To determine if development is positive one must consider the direction it is taking.

One could say that advancing implies moving forward, but "forward" isn't always the best way to go.

Logical: Structured, clinical

Logical is not the same as "simple". Although logical expressions can be as simple as "2+2=4", a computer contains so many layers of logic that they cease to be simple.

Computers are constructed logically, but so complex that they can be built only "somewhat flawless."

Effective: having a rapid impact

When you are effective you get alot done in a small amount of time or effort.

A tool is effective only if you become effective by using it.

For someone who don't know the path, no wind is a good wind.

Problem solving

Biggest challenges is in locating and describing a problem, not in fixing it. Problem solving badly prepared can even be damaging, because problematic structures below the surface can get even better hidden by a too simple "quick fix".

Virus are in attachments

Virus are in attachments

Read your emails with pleasure.

Read greetings from here and from there - also from ones who write "I love you", and enjoy Nigerians attempting in long phrases to persuade you to exchange your pin-code with a fictious diamant mine.

And have a curious look at those emails seemingly delivered to you by error: Your collegue from work quoting a piece in hebrew and attaching a Word document. Your swedish friend warning in english about a virus you immediately must remove using her attached Excel spreadsheet. Bill Gates himself personally inviting you to a contest about a Nokia phone - you only need to "click here". Or yourself(?!?) sending you some gibberish and attaching a compressed file…

Virus are in attachments!

So read calmly your emails. Just avoid opening ATTACHMENTS that you do not know about. Are you in doubt, then ask the sender for an explanation or clarification.

You should NOT be afraid to read emails, and you should NOT follow hastily instructions you do not understand.

Are you in doubt then consult your local geek.

(and are you afraid you will be laughed at, then consult me - I won't laugh!).

One freaky detail: Some email applications (especially those from Microsoft) are so "nice" as to open attachments automatically - without your prior request. Consult your local geek if you worry that you are "gifted" with such applications.

But above all: Don't get frightened! Fear and suspicion are unpleasant creatures, and irrelevant in relation to email virus.

  • Jonas