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Why free media standards are important

Do you trust your newspaper? How about the news on TV?  Maybe you prefer getting your fix for what’s happening around you online. In other words, do you trust the media?

If your answer is no, you’re not alone. According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 60% of Americans have little to no trust of the mass media in terms of accuracy and fairness in reporting. The U.K. also has a similar problem when it comes to trust of the media. When looking at the world, a great number of countries are dissatisfied with their local media or media in some way.

Some more insights can be found here. The big question at this point is how to improve the media? What’s the starting point?

To understand what I’m going to be arguing, we need to take a look at some history. In the middle ages in Europe, books were rather expensive. Only the clergy and wealthy were able to afford to obtain books and read them; after all, copying was an expensive process and they had to know Latin.

Enter Gutenberg and his printing press. When the cost of book making went down as a result of what he accomplished, the demand for books in local languages and education increased. Though Gutenberg was not the first to make such machine, it did have an impact.

This meant that printing became cheaper, and so did publication.

The reason I went back to the 1400’s is rather simple; in order for alternative media to become better than traditional venues, they need to stop relying on proprietary software. Virtually everywhere one looks for rich content, they will run into software that isn’t liberated.

Popular outlets utilize YouTube and other sites to get their message out to their respective audiences, but are they liberated from corporate influence, or are they shackled without realizing it? Even Russia’s RT relies on Adobe Flash for their 24/7 streaming video channel.

Most corporate media sites that provide streaming video use the same technology, and are paying for it with licensing costs. Those who own their own digital printing press are able to control their message, but they don’t truly own it if they have to use proprietary technology in order to broadcast their message.

So why worry about this anyway? Just ask the likes of Ernie Ball and others. The Business Software Alliance has overstepped their bounds before, and will continue to do so.

With the arcane way that licenses have to be archived and tracked (with receipts no less), perhaps it’s time to move away from proprietary media standards and move towards free standards.  Here are some examples:

  • Instead of using MP3 for streaming audio/podcasting, why not use OGG instead?
  • For video, there’s WebM instead of the other formats.
  • Instead of Skype, why not look into WebRTC?
  • Instead of relying on YouTube or other websites that could censor your video at any time, why not look into MediaGoblin and build your own media server?

By relying on free media standards instead of proprietary standards, you’re not only freeing yourself from licensing costs. You’re also freeing yourself from the control of major corporations. If you don’t truly own your digital printing press, then your speech isn’t truly free.

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Zach Galifianakis Gets Notorious with President Barack Obama!

Zach Galifianakis is clearly playing on the edge with his guests on Between the Ferns spoof chat show. And guess who came on the show, trying to ‘plug a message’? Well, it was none other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Wondering if Barack Obama could escape the missiles of provocative comments shot his way? Trust the President – he gave back as much as he got! Between ‘Really?’ ‘I don’t want to answer that question’ ‘You think so’, he tried shutting up Zach by calling him overweight, telling him that the Hangover series was ‘carried’ by Zach’s rival, Bradley Cooper and admitted with a straight face that he was surprised to know that people actually watch this show.

When asked what he had come to plug, Obama instantly added, “I wouldn’t be here with you today if I didn’t have something to plug.” Introducing healthcare.gov, he said the gen next feels they are invincible and they all should sign up for the health insurance.

Obama had said in an earlier interview that if he had a son, he would not let him play football. Zach tried to suggest that he was a nerd for not loving the game, to which Obama lashed back by saying, “Do you think a woman like Michelle will marry a nerd?” When Zach asked can he ask Michelle, Obama say no way!

The show ends with the revelation of the secret location of Between the Ferns. Watch the hilarious clip…

[funnyordie id=”18e820ec3f”]

The two argued over their birth certificates, which ended by Zach stating, “If I were president, I would make same-sex divorce illegal and then see how bad they want it.” Obama instantly quipped, “I think that’s why you are not president.”

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The curious case of RT in the United States of America

In the recent weeks regarding the controversy of the situation in the Ukraine, we have seen various arguments on whether Putin’s actions were good or bad. The beauty of the Internet and alternative media is that an actual conversation can take place.  However, there is an issue with blind trust regarding alternative venues, and it’s time that we start paying attention.

Recently, Liz Wahl decided to publicly quit her job as an anchor for RT, a 24/7 TV channel funded by the Russian Government. One of the reasons that RT has gained popularity was due to coverage of certain topics that other venues either ridiculed or ignored in their entirety. When one examines the past of RT, one shouldn’t be surprised as to why Wahl decided to walk away from the network.

For starters, it’s state funded. Any venue that is funded by any government is not truly independent, especially when coverage of events is skewed in favor of said government. Some controversy is allowed for RT so long as it doesn’t involve the Russian government.

Even Adam Kokesh walked away from the network, and this quote from his Adam Vs the Man website may give some insight as to why:

So RT America picked up ADAM VS THE MAN as a TV show on national cable for 30 minutes, weeknights. While some were shocked that a state-funded media outlet would hire a libertarian, if you understand RT to be the Russian government poking the American government in the eye, it makes perfect sense and Adam was happy to be a part of that effort. Unfortunately, after four successful months in which the show quickly came to regularly outperform other similar shows on the network, they decided to part ways and Adam decided to strike out on his own.

Just because some controversial topics are discussed does not mean one should trust one media entity over another.  Truly independent media, venues that are not backed by corporations or governments, are needed more than ever. Independent Media Centers can help fulfill general coverage in an independent way, sites such as this one and 2600 can help in terms of different perspectives on computers and technology, and other sites can be utilized for alternative perspectives on just about any topic.

Just be aware that there will always be a slant no matter which venue it is and that objectivity does not truly exist, for we are all human.

President Obama Makes Statement On The Sequestration

Should Obama administration murder American citizen with drone strike?

There is a reason we have courts and constitutional protection that one will get a fair trial before being punished for the crime he/she may or may not have done. Killing a suspect without giving fair trail is taking away his/her constitutional rights.

The US government is now going through similar struggle – whether to use lethal drone strike to murder a US citizen located in an unidentified country which won’t co-operate with American Empire.

According to an AP report CIA has identified the ‘suspect’ but is waiting for an approval from the Justice Department before taking him down. The Pentagon, as expected, has already given the permission to murder the suspect instead of bringing him back home and try him here.

Last time a US citizen was murdered by a drone strike was Anwar al-Awlaki.

Should the US government start using drones to ‘murder’ US citizens without giving them fair trails?

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OEM “Kill-switch” anti theft bill proposed by California State

As more and more persons become owners of smart phones, thieves have found an ever increasing number of targets to prey on. Theft of cellphones is at an all time high in major urban centers across the US and many other countries, and the Californian government has decided to take a stance against it. With cellphones taking a more prominent roll in our lives, we all store sensitive information on our devices, and this is what the bill proposes to address.

Mark Leno, a state senator, is one of the main proponents of this bill and he released this official statement regarding the matter: “With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available. Today we are officially stepping in and requiring the cellphone industry to take the necessary steps to curb violent smartphone thefts and protect the safety of the very consumers they rely upon to support their businesses.”

Leno is proposing that OEMs insert a special security feature that allows owners to wipe devices upon realization of theft or misplacement of the device. The bill is pushing for the implementation of such a feature by January 1st 2015, and seeks a fine of up to $2,500 for each device that is shipped without said software in California. Although the push is being made the State of California, such a bill would require the implementation of the software on all phones across the country because it wouldn’t be practical to sell a Californian version of a device.

The implementation of Google’s ‘Android Device Manager‘ and Apple’s ‘Activation Lock’ are great steps, but there is a desire for more to be done. There is a desire for faster and simpler ways to protect our identities from those who seek exploitation. While there is much to be discussed and determined before such a bill is passed, I welcome the initiative and hope that it helps to make device owners like ourselves feel a lot safer with our prized possessions. Anything that serves as a deterrent for a would-be criminal is a huge plus in my book and it should be in yours too.

Sources: New York Times

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Schmidt claims he was unaware of NSA activities

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has made a shocking revelation that he was completely unaware of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) snooping on the company’s data centers.

Schmidt also claimed that the data tapping “literally outraged” him and other members of Google and they had complained to the US government “at great length” over the intrusion.

Schmidt told the Guardian, “I have the necessary clearances to have been told, as do other executives in the company, but none of us were briefed.

“Had we been briefed, we probably couldn’t have acted on it, because we’d have known about it. I’ve declined briefings [from the US government]about this because I don’t want to be constrained.”

In order to prevent further spying, Google has taken steps to encrypt all or most internal traffic.

When asked about Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who exposed the documents revealing the US’ mass surveillance operations on global citizens and leader alike, Schmidt said: “Had this information not come to light, we would not have been able to [stop the NSA spying]. I can understand the position he felt.”

But he was equivocal on the question of whether Snowden should be pardoned or jailed. “I don’t think it’s so obvious one way or the other,” he said.

In November last year, Schmidt lashed out at the NSA over claims that it spied on the company’s data centers. The infiltration of the data centers was “not OK”, according to Schmidt.

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Richard Stallman meets AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal

The newly elected government of Delhi is all set to switch to free software for computing, starting from the educational institutions in the first phase.

Arvind Kejriwal, the new ‘anti-corruption’ chief minister of India’s capital, recently met free software advocate Richard Stallman and Joseph C Mathew, the former IT advisor to Kerala government, according to a television report.

Stallman also met Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia.

“It’s the general idea that the state and especially schools should move to free software,” Stallman told television channel Mathrubhumi.

This new initiative comes after Kejriwal’s announcement that monopolies will not be allowed in the retail industry. Stallman said that he shared the philosophy of Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), according to the report.

The government’s move could be a setback for companies like Microsoft which focus heavily on educational institutions with their proprietary software. Microsoft has tied up with the AICTE and other schools for its software in educational institutions.

Kerala has already abandoned Windows in favour of free software like Linux in all government establishments.

There is a commendable increase in open source adoption within India’s education system over the last few years. Kerala pioneered open source in schools with its famous IT@Schools project in 2001. Since then, other states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam and West Bengal have been including open source in their school education initiatives.

“Governmental agencies must exclusively use free software. The state has a responsibility to maintain control over their computing and it is impractical with proprietary software, especially those by foreign companies,” Stallman said while delivering a lecture on A Free Digital Society organised by Kerala Union of Working Journalists ( KUWJ) and Society for Promotion of Alternate Computing and Employment (SPACE).

Talking about the education sector, he added, “Educational institutions should also take initiatives to propagate free software and use it exclusively. A proprietary software is an agent of withholding knowledge. It should be used only to teach reverse engineering, an area with growing demand.”

President Obama Makes Statement On The Sequestration

Obama calls for changes to NSA’s surveillance program

Speaking about the NSA and intelligence agencies surveillance techniques Friday, President Barack Obama announced new limitations on how the National Security Agency (NSA) can access and use the information it collects on Americans. These changes form part of his first reforms since former intelligence worker Edward Snowden leaked details of NSA’s massive spying programme last year.

In his highly anticipated speech, Obama promised to add new privacy safeguards seeking to strike a balance between the need to protect American lives and maintain public trust.

“We have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals—and our Constitution—require,” Obama said at the Justice Department.

He said intelligence agencies would be required to obtain permission from a secret court before tapping into a vast storehouse of telephone data, and will ultimately move that data out of the government’s direct control. He will also limit the NSA’s ability to throw a net well beyond the data of an individual target and collect unlimited numbers.

All in all, the changes proposed by Obama center around the NSA’s vast collection of records of Americans’ phone calls and not its spying on Internet communications.

“The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected,” Obama added, “even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.”

Let’s wait and see how these changes will be enacted provided Congress will be required to pass legal reforms in several cases, and departments themselves will need to make changes under his direction in others.

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US kills net neutrality, will it curb innovation?

Today, the court has struck down rules imposed by the Federal Communications Commission regarding Net Neutrality. The court argued that the FCC didn’t have the regulatory ability to treat ISP’s as common carriers, for they weren’t telephone companies.

Gigaom has more details on the ruling as well as listing winners and losers.

Speaking of winners and losers, the biggest losers in this is the consumer, and not just because of the ruling. The idea of throttling Internet traffic to prevent competition irks my Libertarian side quite a bit.

Unfortunately, there are those who prefer not to have competition or a market that’s truly free, but crony capitalism instead. So what could potentially happen with this ruling?

For starters, companies like Netflix may have to pay companies more just to be able to have their streaming service operate at an optimal level. Comcast won’t be able to discriminate against traffic due to an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission when it purchased NBC-Universal until at least 2017.

Companies such as Vonage may have more trouble competing with traditional phone companies as well as mobile providers due to throttling of data speed.  Even with deep pockets, paying to make sure a particular service plays nice on a given ISP’s network will inevitably cause the price of said service to rise.

Though the FCC would be able to change the rules in order to be able to enforce Net Neutrality, there is a question of whether or not it will do so.  At the moment, the regulatory agency appears to be taking a wait and see approach, though an appeal is possible.

I prefer free markets, as in ones that are truly free where competition can thrive. Like having a jogging buddy, it makes things more pleasant in terms of innovation. However, I’m noticing a trend in overly relying on politicians and bureaucrats.

Given the revelations of one Edward Snowden, I ask if such a move is prudent at this point. After all, advocacy groups are relying on the same bureaucrats who have been involved in blatantly violating the first, fourth, and fifth amendment rights in the United States in the name of “national security.”

Is it wise to look to these same people to keep Net Neutrality intact? The EFF was hesitant over the FCC attempting to impose such rules in the first place, because of the history of civil liberties violations.

Rebecca Jeschke, the Media Relations Director of EFF, said via e-mail:

EFF is not surprised at the court’s decision. There was much of value in the FCC’s Open Internet Principles, and we still think those principles are a good starting point for conversation. But we were deeply concerned that the FCC was attempting to claim broad authority to regulate the Internet.  No government agency should have that authority, so we are glad this decision clarifies that.  As we look towards the future, Internet users need to have a pragmatic and open discussion about ways to promote and defend a neutral Internet. In the meantime, ISPs must comply with their transparency obligations so that customers can see if their Internet providers are giving them the non-discriminatory service they expect and deserve.

So what’s the solution? All that I ask is that you look in the mirror, for you are it.

Yes, there are people who meet behind closed doors and try to slice up the world for not just money, but control of particular markets. These same people feel a sense of power in doing so.

In the words of former CIA agent Robert Steele, “They only have power if you let them.”

After all, did the DeCSS court case involving 2600 Magazine stop individuals from being able to watch legally purchased DVD’s on their Linux-based systems?  Absolutely not!

Encouraging the use of Tor with VPN’s may be a step in the right direction. If an ISP has no idea what you’re doing, it makes it harder for them to throttle your usage.

The more people are on Tor, the faster it will get.

There’s also the possibility of creating grassroots ISP’s that could rival Google Fiber in terms of speed, but here’s the kicker; people have to be willing to go through with the idea.

The part of the equation that has been missing for a long time is the idea of people caring enough about each other to ensure that concepts such as Net Neutrality not only survive, but thrive.

Rules can be made over and over again. Unfortunately, rules have a tendency to change depending on who is in any given office.

That’s why it takes more than just “voting the bums out” to make the necessary changes for technological innovation.  The solution must start with you, the individual.

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2013 reviewed – from a Linux user’s point of view

2013 was one of the most dramatic years of my life-time. The Edward Snowden revelations made this year the most remarkable year in the history. As a Gnu/Linux user (where privacy and control of data is prime objective) this year was quite promising as Gnu/Linux rose as the dominant player in the consumer space.

Here are some of the top stories from 2013, which affected me as a Free Software advocate.

Edward Snowden Leak
NSA’s out of the control surveillance of US (in conjunction with GCHQ) and global citizens has been the story of the year, or probably the decade as more information keeps coming in.

Edward Snowden was a NSA contractor who gathered a vast amount of secret NSA documents which exposed the agency’s ‘out-of-the-control’ spying program along with that of GCHQ, the spy agency of US’s 51st state UK.

According to his disclosure NSA collects phone records and reads emails or virtually everyone on this planet. NSA has broken encryption technologies to intercept communication, has injected backdoors in proprietary technologies and even worked with firms like RSA (what a coincidence…USA, NSA, RSA) and other US firms (allegedly Microsoft) to get backdoor access.

There are reports that NSA may have backdoors in hardware produced by the US companies. Microsoft is alleged to work with NSA and informs them about exploits before they are fixed so that the agency can use it to take control over user’s computers. According the the latest story NSA installs malware on hardware which is purchased online. The stories keep pouring in and 2014 will bring more stories.

So I can say that it’s not a good idea to trust any IT from the US – especially the proprietary ones.

Steam OS – Linux on Gaming
Valve Software has put all its weight behind Gnu/Linux as a gaming platform. After beta testing with Steam for Linux client (which showed Linux-based operating systems out-performing Windows) the company announced its own Debian powered gaming operating system Steam OS. The Steam OS uses the same model as Google’s Android and it trying to solve the same problem for gaming market that Android solved for mobile. Steam OS gives hardware vendors a platform to compete with Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo Wii. The company also started shipping prototypes of Steam Machines to early birds in 2013. In 2014 Valve partners will start selling Steam Machines to mass market.

Rise of Firefox and Sailfish OS
While Canonical is still at very early stage of mobile OS development both Mozilla and Jolla succeeded in delivering mobile phones running their own mobile operating systems. Mozilla, in partnership with carriers and OEMs, started shipping it mobile phones to emerging markets in mid 2013. Jolla also started shipping its Sailfish OS powered mobile phones to Finnish market by the end of 2013. Interestingly Jolla’s phones run Wayland – which shows that the display manager is perfect for mobile platform.

Chrome OS
After conquering the mobile landscape with Android, Google is now enjoying success of its Chromebooks. More and more traditions Microsoft partners have joined the Chromebook bandwagon (including players like HP) and are now offering Chrome OS powered laptops.

According to a report Chromebooks beat Macbooks in 2013 and it looks like Chromebooks will only become more dominant in 2014.

ChromeCast
This $35 device may not be as open as a Gnu/Linux user would expect, but it became the hottest product of the year. This tiny device turns an average TV into a smart TV (as long as there is HDMI port) and allows users to stream content to the TV from the web. By the end of the year Google succeeded in getting more partners for its Chromecast and with Plex, it’s almost possible to play local content on this device – which is otherwise restricted by Google.

Google Glass
Yet another Linux powered device by Google which starts a new era of wearable computing, giving Google an unprecedented lead over competitors like Apple and Microsoft (which seems to be stuck in past). While Google Glass was announced in 2012, this year it started to reach inn to the hands of average (not so average) users as the company started shipping Google Glass Explorer Edition prototypes in April 2013.

Canonical in flux
The year 2013 was disappointing for Canonical as the company failed to get any partners to bring its products to the market – both Ubunty TV and Ubuntu for Android seemed to have been demoted from company’s PR list despite big promises. The company juggled between tablets and mobile phones as it struggled to find partners. It’s Ubuntu Edge campaigned failed, which seems to have shaken OEM’s interest in the platform. The company also locked horns with EFF by sending C&D letter to a staffer, and after strong criticism the company head was forced to apologize. The company leader also got quite a flack by calling the larger free software community as the ‘Tea Party of Open Source’. The company locked horns with Intel and larger free software community by announcing Mir instead of collaborating on Wayland. Intel later rejected to accept XMir patches showing how bad Canonical is at collaboration. I hope with 2014 the company will realize the value of collaboration and privacy and will chmod from hype and promises to deliveries.

Rise of openSUSE
Considering the controversial Dash Search feature of Ubuntu (which is like NSA/GCHQ’s wet dream), Canonical’s somewhat hostile attitude towards the larger free software community more and more people are moving away from Canonical controlled Ubuntu and are looking for alternatives.

openSUSE is fast emerging as a favorite of many Gnu/Linux users as it not only respects user’s privacy but also is developed by a community which leads the development of the Linux kernel, LibreOffice, Gnome, KDE and many other open source technologies. The distro did not disappoint and got better with each release. The OS got rave reviews from around the Interweb.

Raspberry’s growing Pi
Raspberry Pi continued to grow with support from Google as it is experiencing wide adoption in so many different field. There is now a very strong community around Raspberry Pi which is turning it into a magical device.

Rise of CyanogenMod
CyanogenMod announced that they are turning into a company and managed to bag around $30 million funding from partners. The company also struck a deal with Chinese OEM Oppo and launched the first CyanogenMod powered device in the market. Oppo N1 is also the first CyanogenMod phone which is certified by Google so the suite of Google services and apps are available to the users. It seems the year 2014 will be bright for CyanogenMod though it’s unclear what value they would bring to the market as they are build on top of Android Open Source Project. I think 2014 will give more answers to this question.

Arrival of ownCloud & Kolab
The surveillance state of America lead shutdown of two major secure email services Lavabit and Silent Circles (though they were both proprietary). NSA has created a need for services and technologies which are developed and hosted outside of the US (in some privacy respecting country) and that’s where the market created an opportunity for Switzerland based Kolab Systems which offers secure communication. The company is getting quite a lot of attention since NSA disclosure. The best thing is that Kolab has very strong roots in Gnu/Linux and is a major contributor to Free Software.

Same is the case with Germany based ownCloud which got better with time and now also offers a competitor to Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 where you can run an online office suite from your own server without letting anyone else having access to your data. Once again ownCloud is also a strong supporter of Free Software.

Looking at 2014
I am quite positive about 2014 for Linux and Free Software. I think this year Linux Foundation head Jim Zemlin would be able to say, again, ‘This is the year of desktop Linux’. This time it won’t be a joke.

Google’s Chromebooks has capture a decent market and mind share. It’s getting Microsoft nervous (which is good news, as Microsoft doesn’t have a very good heart condition and their BP goes high very quickly). The momentum of Chromebooks will continue in 2014 as more players will offer their devices. I hope that these devices will come with more storage and better hardware so we Linux users can also use them to dual boot with openSUSE or the distro of our choice (shh..to keep data offline so Google (or Canonical) don’t know about it).

Getting back our privacy
US Companies (with Canonical as an exception) want us to believe that privacy is a myth. They want us to give up the notion of privacy all together so that they can sell us their products based on all that they know about it. They keep repeating the myth that there is no privacy so many times that we have eventually started to believe in it.

Whether it be Facebook, Microsoft, Google (which is actually does some good things for people), Apple (with its iCloud they want a copy of everything we have despite charging a premium for their hardware), Canonical – they all want our ‘meta’ data.

I don’t think privacy is a myth. Yes NSA and US companies have made it harder to stay private but it can be achieved. One thing that we can do in 2014 is to make it harder for these companies, make it more expensive for NSA, to gain access to our privacy. Thanks to Gnu/Linux (excluding Ubuntu) and open source technologies you can maintain privacy.

I think Linux will become a dominant player in the gaming field – thanks to Steam OS. It will continue its dominance in the mobile space with Android and increase presence in the desktop space with Chrome OS. Only areas that will left for a player to explore would be audio, video production where Linux doesn’t have the commercial grade tools. In general the Linux and Free Software communities will continue the development of their projects – offering people alternatives as and when needed. Both KDE and Gnome will get more polished and mature with new releases in 2014 and we may see rise of a community based desktop OS which will ensure our privacy and give free software community the respect it deserves.

I think 2014 will be the beginning of ‘era of Linux’.  Good bye 2013. Welcome 2014.

Happy New Linux Year!