Bradley M. Kuhn

originally from Baltimore, MD, USA.

President and Distinguished Technologist at Software Freedom Conservancy. On the Board of Directors of the Free Software Foundation. Generally, a Software Freedom advocate, GPL Enforcer, and Occasional developer..

  • Dead Kennedys

    2016-01-27T21:03:19Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    I randomly heard something on my first of two flights to FOSDEM that made me think of the Dead Kennedys. It was just 2 hrs ago but I can't recall what it was. I was inspired, despite that I almost never listen to music on purpose, I grabbed a few Dead Kennedys albums out of my archives.

    I suppose I'm incredibly biased given that they are my favorite band in history, but I'm amazed at how well their stuff holds up. The political predictions and concerns they had, while sometimes juvenile in thier expression, are more or less what *was* happening and the types of political problems they describe persist.

    I *do* notice a certain obsession with their own industry; I'd forgotten how many of their songs were mostly or partly about the problems of the music industry itself. While I suspect those problems have gotten worse (not better) too, I am reminded at how easy it is for politicial insiders to tend toward what the PR people call "inside baseball".

    My problem in Free Software is, like fontana, I just *love* the so-called "inside baseball". I mean, people forget that baseball fans love it when people talk "inside baseball". Yes, it's limited in its interest scope, but the details matter.

    Richard Fontana , The Anarcat , Sean Tilley , David Thompson and 1 others like this.

    DK is one of my all-time favorites, as well.  Used to cover some of their songs in a former band of mine.  "Pull My Strings" is the "inside baseball" song that immediately came to mind after reading this.  NOFX is another punk band that spends a lot of time talking about the music industry, or even narrower, the state of punk rock itself.

    BTW, Jello Biafra is still making music in a group called "Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine" which is also (as if the name didn't give it away) very political.

    David Thompson at 2016-01-28T14:34:55Z

    It's always nice to hear of a fellow Dead Kennedys fan. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, In God We Trust Inc, and Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death are three of my favorite albums, and carry the body of some of their best work.

    Also, Kinky Sex Makes the World Go Round feels chillingly accurate.

    Sean Tilley at 2016-01-28T23:47:49Z

  • Key Charities That Advance Software Freedom Are Worthy of Your Urgent Support

    2016-01-25T17:55:48Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    [This blog was crossposted on Software Freedom Conservancy's website]

    I've had the pleasure and the privilege, for the last 20 years, to be either a volunteer or employee of the two most important organizations for the advance of software freedom and users' rights to copy, share, modify and redistribute software. In 1996, I began volunteering for the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and worked as its Executive Director from 2001–2005. I continued as a volunteer for the FSF since then, and now serve as a volunteer on FSF's Board of Directors. I was also one of the first volunteers for Software Freedom Conservancy when we founded it in 2006, and I was the primary person doing the work of the organization as a volunteer from 2006–2010. I've enjoyed having a day job as a Conservancy employee since 2011.

    These two organizations have been the center of my life's work. Between them, I typically spend 50–80 hours every single week doing a mix of paid and volunteer work. Both my hobby and my career are advancing software freedom.

    I choose to give my time and work to these organizations because they provide the infrastructure that make my work possible. The Free Software community has shown that the work of many individuals, who care deeply about a cause but cooperate together toward a common goal, has an impact greater than any individuals can ever have working separately. The same is often true for cooperating organizations: charities, like Conservancy and the FSF, that work together with each other amplify their impact beyond the expected.

    Both Conservancy and the FSF pursue specific and differing approaches and methods to the advancement of software freedom. The FSF is an advocacy organization that raises awareness about key issues that impact the future of users' freedoms and rights, and finds volunteers and pays staff to advocate about these issues. Conservancy is a fiscal sponsor, which means one of our key activities is operational work, meeting the logistical and organizational needs of volunteers so they can focus on the production of great Free Software and Free Documentation. Meanwhile, both Conservancy and FSF dedicated themselves to sponsoring software projects: the FSF through the GNU project, and Conservancy through its member projects. And, most importantly, both charities stand up for the rights of users by enforcing and defending copyleft licenses such as the GNU GPL.

    Conservancy and the FSF show in concrete terms that two charities can work together to increase their impact. Last year, our organizations collaborated on many projects, such as the proposed FCC rule changes for wireless devices, jointly handled a GPL enforcement action against Canonical, Ltd., published the principles of community-oriented GPL enforcement, and continued our collaboration on We're already discussing lots of ways that the two organizations can work together in 2016! Your browser does not support the element. Perhaps you can or ?

    I'm proud to give so much of my time and energy to both these excellent organizations. But, I also give my money as well: I was the first person in history to become an Associate Member of the FSF (back in November 2002), and have gladly paid my monthly dues since then. Today, I also signed up as an annual Supporter of Conservancy, because I'm want to ensure that Conservancy's meets its current pledge match — the next 215 Supporters who sign up before January 31st will double their donation via the match.

    For just US$20 each month, you make sure the excellent work of both these organizations can continue. This is quite a deal: if you are employed, University-educated professional living in the industrialized world, US$20 is probably the same amount you'd easily spend on a meals at restaurants or other luxuries. Isn't it even a better luxury to know that these two organizations can have employ a years' worth of effort of standing up for your software freedom in 2016? You can make the real difference by making your charitable contribution to these two organizations today:

    Please don't wait: both fundraising deadlines are just six days away!

    Luis R. Rodriguez , der.hans , Jason Self , Elena ``of Valhalla'' and 3 others like this.

    Adonay Felipe Nogueira , Luis R. Rodriguez , der.hans , Jose Luis Perez Diez and 2 others shared this.

    Who has two thumbs and just signed up as an annual supporter?  . . . Points at self and says, "This guy."

    j1mc at 2016-01-26T22:24:32Z

    Christopher Allan Webber likes this.

  • On keeping good records

    2016-01-17T21:28:00Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    This point will be obvious to Free Software developers, who carefully use VCS for records. But, it's worth applying that principle to all aspects of one's life.

    I just had an interesting experience: I conflated two events regarding dealing with the IRS and NYS with annual filings (Conservancy's 990 will be on our website soon!). I was on the phone far from my computer, so I told Karen on the phone what I recalled, then when we hung up, I went to my computer to check the details.

    It turns out the details were different. It's not surprising that I conflated the matters in my mind, they were both with agencies of "the State" (one being a state and one being federal ;), and they occurred at the same time. Fortunately, I had tons of records, in version control, explaining what I did, when and why. I immediately corrected course based on past knowledge and proceeded.

    I'm perhaps overly fastidious with records. I record my precise hourly time and what tasks I spent on. I keep nearly all files of importance in version control. I journal regularly. I often follow up phone calls with: "I'll send you an email with the action items we've both taken responsibility for". This not only saves me from forgetting or being confused, it means I know when others renege on political deals and the like.

    I wasn't always like this. I once worked for a boss who used to answer my written concerns about the organization with one line: "Not by email", and then would insist on meetings where he'd verbally berate me for hours. I started keeping detailed notes during the meetings, which infuriated him further.

    Manipulators, con artists, and the like hate the idea of written records. Such people have learned the simple fact that human memory is fallible. And forgetfulness isn't the real part. It's mis-remembering that is so dangerous. (This is part of the reason why gaslighting works, BTW). Keeping written records, made in the moment or immediately after is the best manner to head-off and correct future mistakes, or figure out when you've been manipulated, lied to, or otherwise misled. In short, I learned the hard way to keep good records.

    The reason I record as much as I possibly can is you never know what's important. As in my original example, the notes I had about doing the IRS and NYS filings seemed, at the time, like a one-off necessity two years, something that yeas ago I'd easily not have written down. Turns out, they were useful for this year's filings as well, two years later. Always keep good records. Your ease of work, and your safety, could someday depend on it.

    netgeek , Alex Jordan , Blaise Alleyne , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) and 8 others like this.

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , Douglas Perkins , Douglas Perkins , Stephen Michael Kellat shared this.

    Folks at work hate e-mail because it means something is exposed to FOIA. Verbal discussions that aren't recorded cannot be secured via FOIA as the federal FOIA does not require you to create a record to meet a request if it didn't already exist. We're also expected to put the minimum necessary amount of detail in call notes.

    My notes generally do reflect what I did to your account if you called, why I did, and cites chapter/verse of the IRM if I had to do something weird. It is a little more than "minimum necessary". Then again, I generally annotate accounts with a view towards potentially having said notes read back to me either in court or before an angry congressional hearing panel.

    Stephen Michael Kellat at 2016-01-17T21:35:24Z

    Douglas Perkins likes this.

    I recently learned of a new-ish law pertaining to condo associations in the states. Apparently board members are not allowed to conduct business through email, as group email messages between board members are considered private meetings.

    I need to look up the details on this, actually . . . I only learned of it yesterday.

    j1mc at 2016-01-19T03:06:25Z

    Stephen, yeah, I get what you are saying, but I sort of think the FOIA should apply to most of the world. I don't really keep many secrets -- I often have to keep a *list* of the secrets I'm supposed to keep because I forget. I spoiled my dad's thirtieth surprise birthday party when I was a kid. I just believe in transparency, I guess.

    Bradley M. Kuhn at 2016-01-27T20:58:33Z

    Elena ``of Valhalla'' likes this.

  • Wholly Nutty

    2016-01-15T01:31:29Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    I really like cashews. They're expensive, so I typically just buy the "cashew pieces" rather than the whole cashews since I figure it tastes the same, right?

    Well, I happened to get a bag of the whole cashews and I'm eating them now. I'm now left trying to figure out if they taste exotic and fancy because it's a splurge and I mearly perceive them as tasting better, but they really taste the same.

    Alex Jordan , Efraim Flashner , Jason Self like this.

    I also find the whole, salted cashews taste better. And are way more expensive than peanuts.

    My wife and I came to a compromise and we buy ice-cream instead.

    Efraim Flashner at 2016-01-15T04:42:06Z

    Whole cashews (I eat roasted unsalted ones) taste better to me (though I don't notice a difference between the regular ones and 'jumbo').
    I figure that the pieces have had more exposure to air and lost some of their flavor that way.

    Michael R. Bernstein at 2016-01-15T20:13:25Z

  • David Bowie

    2016-01-12T15:06:48Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    It's really strange to think about David Bowie being dead. Not that he was in my generation; he was actually closer to my parents generation (my parents were very young when I was born). But my parents never liked him all that much. I did. I remember in the early 1990s playing Ziggy Stardust in my dorm room and people thought I was just out of sync with time. You know that scene in Muriel's Wedding where her schoolmates make fun of her for liking weird Abba 70s music instead of what was popular? Well, I was kinda like that, and in particular with regard to David Bowie, when I was in my early 20s.

    I even bought both Tin Machine albums.

    I saw the David Bowie/NIN tour in graduate school.

    I thought Outside was a highly underrated concept album. I probably listened to it a couple hundred times.

    I remember a cow-orker at Westinghouse looking at the copy of Earthling on my desk and pointing out that we could play "Looking for Satellites" instead of displaying "Searching for Satchan" on the screen of the satellite telephone.

    I never talk about music because there hasn't been a song released I liked since the late 1990s. I just lost interest. I don't sit around listening to old stuff -- that would truly make me old. I don't hear music at all unless I'm in a store where it's playing or something like that.

    Still, I respect it.

    My wife was just watching the BBC and the presenter asked the guest if David Bowie was a genius. Who knows about genius per se, but If he wasn't already wealthy, I think he should have received a MacArthur grant.

    Everyone thinks Peter Townsend invented the rock opera. Well, he deserves some credit but I read some of Townsend's autobiogrphy and he talks about discussing the idea with Bowie in the late 1960s before Tommy.

    I wanted to have a good ending but I'm a bit too busy to write, so these are just random thoughts (obviously).

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , Charles ☕ Stanhope , laurelrusswurm , sazius and 1 others like this.

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) shared this.

    I remember when Elvis died.

    jrobertson at 2016-01-12T15:13:20Z

    Bradley M. Kuhn likes this.

    I generally preferred the older Bowie stuff to what he produced during my teenage years. Testament to the longevity of his work that great and successful music of the time was outshined by a vast catalog of previous music.

    As to new music, luckily my favorite bands have continued to make great music :).

    There are also wonderful newer bands. They just aren't pop.

    der.hans at 2016-01-12T16:43:08Z

  • Sun, Oracle, Android, Google and JDK Copyleft FUD

    2016-01-12T01:15:27Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers


    Tuesday 5 January 2016 by Bradley M. Kuhn

    I have probably spent more time dealing with the implications and real-world scenarios of copyleft in the embedded device space than anyone. I'm one of a very few people charged with the task of enforcing the GPL for Linux, and it's been well-known for a decade that GPL violations on Linux occur most often in embedded devices such as mobile hand-held computers (aka “phones”) and other such devices.

    This experience has left me wondering if I should laugh or cry at the news coverage and pundit FUD that has quickly come forth from Google's decision to move from the Apache-licensed Java implementation to the JDK available from Oracle.

    As some smart commenters like Bob Lee have said, there is already at least one essential part of Android, namely Linux itself, licensed as pure GPL. I find it both amusing and maddening that respondents use widespread GPL violation by chip manufacturers as some sort of justification for why Linux is acceptable, but Oracle's JDK is not. Eventually, (slowly but surely) GPL enforcement will adjudicate the widespread problem of poor Linux license compliance — one way or the other. But, that issue is beside the point when we talk of the licenses of code running in userspace. The real issue with that is two-fold.

    First, If you think the ecosystem shall collapse because “pure GPL has moved up the Android stack”, and “it will soon virally infect everyone” with copyleft (as you anti-copyleft folks love to say) your fears are just unfounded. Those of us who worked in the early days of reimplementing Java in copyleft communities thought carefully about just this situation. At the time, remember, Sun's Java was completely proprietary, and our goal was to wean developers off Sun's implementation to use a Free Software one. We knew, just as the early GNU developers knew with libc, that a fully copylefted implementation would gain few adopters. So, the earliest copyleft versions of Java were under an extremely weak copyleft called the “GPL plus the Classpath exception”. Personally, I was involved as a volunteer in the early days of the Classpath community; I helped name the project and design the Classpath exception. (At the time, I proposed we call it the “Least GPL” since the Classpath exception carves so many holes in strong copyleft that it's less of a copyleft than even the Lesser GPL and probably the Mozilla Public License, too!)

    But, what does the Classpath exception from GNU's implementation have to with Oracle's JDK? Well, Sun, before Oracle's acquisition, sought to collaborate with the Classpath community. Those of us who helped start Classpath were excited to see the original proprietary vendor seek to release their own formerly proprietary code and want to merge some of it with the community that had originally formed to replace their code with a liberated alternative.

    Sun thus released much of the JDK under “GPL with Classpath exception”. The reasons were clearly explained (URL linked is an archived version of what once appeared on Sun's website) on their collaboration website for all to see. You see the outcome of that in many files in the now-infamous commit from last week. I strongly suspect Google's lawyers vetted what was merged to made sure that the Android Java SDK fully gets the appropriate advantages of the Classpath exception.

    So, how is incorporating Oracle's GPL-plus-Classpath-exception'd JDK different from having an Apache-licensed Java userspace? It's not that much different! Android redistributors already have strong copyleft obligations in kernel space, and, remember that Webkit is LGPL'd; there's also already weak copyleft compliance obligations floating around Android, too. So, if a redistributor is already meeting those, it's not much more work to meet the even weaker requirements now added to the incorporated JDK code. I urge you to ask anyone who says that this change will have any serious impact on licensing obligations and analysis for Android redistributors to please prove their claim with an actual example of a piece of code added in that commit under pure GPL that will combine in some way with Android userspace applications. I admit I haven't dug through the commit to prove the negative, but I'd be surprised if some Google engineers didn't do that work before the commit happened.

    You may now ask yourself if there is anything of note here at all. There's certainly less here than most are saying about it. In fact, a Java industry analyst (with more than a decade of experience in the area) told me that he believed the decision was primarily technical. Authors of userspace applications on Android (apparently) seek a newer Java language implementation and given that there was a reasonably licensed Free Software one available, Google made a technical switch to the superior codebase, as it gives API users technically what they want while also reducing maintenance burden. This seems very reasonable. While it's less shocking than what the pundits say, technical reasons probably were the primary impetus.

    So, for Android redistributors, are there any actual licensing risks to this change? The answer there is undoubtedly yes, but the situation is quite nuanced, and again, the problem is not as bad as the anti-copyleft crowd says. The Classpath exception grants very wide permissions. Nevertheless, some basic copyleft obligations can remain, albeit in a very weak-copyleft manner. It is possible to violate that weak copyleft, particularly if you don't understand the licensing of all third-party materials combined with the JDK. Still, since you must comply with Linux's license to redistribute Android, complying with the Classpath exception'd stuff will require only a simple afterthought.

    Meanwhile, Sun's (now Oracle's) JDK, is likely nearly 100% copyright-held by Oracle. I've written before about the dangers of the consolidation of a copylefted codebase with a single for-profit, commercial entity. I've even pointed out that Oracle specifically is very dangerous in its methods of using copyleft as an aggression.

    Copyleft is a tool, not a moral principle. Tools can be used incorrectly with deleterious effect. As an analogy, I'm constantly bending paper clips to press those little buttons on electronic devices, and afterwards, the tool doesn't do what it's intended for (hold papers together); it's bent out of shape and only good for the new, dubious purpose, better served by a different tool. (But, the paper clip was already right there on my desk, you see…)

    Similarly, while organizations like Conservancy use copyleft in a principled way to fight for software freedom, others use it in a manipulative, drafter-unintended, way to extract revenue with no intention standing up for users' rights. We already know Oracle likes to use GPL this way, and I really doubt that Oracle will sign a pledge to follow Conservancy's and FSF's principles of GPL enforcement. Thus, we should expect Oracle to aggressively enforce against downstream Android manufacturers who fail to comply with “GPL plus Classpath exception”. Of course, Conservancy's GPL Compliance Project for Linux developers may also enforce, if the violation extends to Linux as well. But, Conservancy will follow those principles and prioritize compliance and community goodwill. Oracle won't. But, saying that means that Oracle has “its hooks” in Android makes no sense. They have as many hooks as any of the other thousands of copyright holders of copylefted material in Android. If anything, this is just another indication that we need more of those copyright holders to agree with the principles, and we should shun codebases where only one for-profit company holds copyright.

    Thus, my conclusion about this situation is quite different than the pundits and link-bait news articles. I speculate that Google weighed a technical decision against its own copyleft compliance processes, and determined that Google would succeed in its compliance efforts on Android, and thus won't face compliance problems, and can therefore easily benefit technically from the better code. However, for those many downstream redistributors of Android who fail at license compliance already, the ironic outcome is that you may finally find out how friendly and reasonable Conservancy's Linux GPL enforcement truly is, once you compare it with GPL enforcement from a company like Oracle, who holds avarice, not software freedom, as its primary moral principle.

    Finally, the bigger problem in Android with respect to software freedom is that the GPL is widely violated on Linux in Android devices. If this change causes Android redistributors to reevalute their willful ignorance of GPL's requirements, then some good may come of it all, despite Oracle's expected nastiness.

    Update on 2016-01-06: I specifically didn't mention the lawsuit above because I don't actually think this whole situation has much to do with the lawsuit, but if folks do want to read my analysis of the Oracle v. Google lawsuit, these are my posts on it in reverse chronological order: [0], [1], [2], [3]. I figured I should add these links given that all the discussion on at least one forum discussing this blog post is about the lawsuit.

    der.hans likes this.

  • 60 hrs/week is not enough to get a good job done.

    2016-01-05T22:11:23Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    I just calculated my hours for 2015-12, and I discovered I only worked an average of 60 hours/week during the month of December (which included two near-all nighters in a row last week, and of course I worked every single calendar day, but I admit I only put in a measly 5-6 hours on a few of the weekend days).

    I learned today that my failure to work enough may have caused huge problems. If I'd just put in more time early in the month, thing would have gone much better. (During the first two weeks of December, I seem to have only worked an average of 50 hours/week).

    I am wondering if I need to reduce my volunteer time on other Free Software efforts so I can devote more time to work at Conservancy (the above doesn't include time spent on volunteer activities such as helping coordinate the FOSDEM DevRoom and the like).

    I'm just not getting enough done. Things were better when I consistently worked 80 hours/week for Conservancy but I've had some difficulty doing that in the last few months: I've been down around 60-70 hours/week most weeks since August or so.

    My recent laziness is causing problems. I have to fix it. I'm going to shoot for 80 hours/week again for as long as I can, starting this week.

    What's really bizarre to me is how much time other people seem to take off. I got all sorts of "out of the office" auto responders late last month. It seemed a lot of people took vacation. That seemed really weird to me.

    jrobertson , jrobertson shared this.

    Show all 12 replies

    I cannot do high quality work for long hours. My productivity rapidly drops after a certain point, and then the end effect is worse than if I'd worked shorter hours.

    Take care to avoid this pitfall. Good luck! :-)

    Douglas Perkins at 2016-01-06T08:27:16Z , EricxDu like this.

    I agree with Laura, Conservancy would really need more people if your work load is that big. As a reference point, I do about 40h/week in my day job (although I don't keep very exact track of it), and that's quite enough for me.

    Granted, I see my job as more of a way to make a salary, so working for a charity might be different...

    sazius at 2016-01-06T11:07:09Z

    The answer is that we clearly need to clone you so that each of you can then work 40 hours with neither feeling overworked.

    Jason Self at 2016-01-06T23:52:04Z

    Alex Jordan likes this.

    @sazius makes a good point that Conservancy should hire more people. Basically, if I weren't able to do what I do, Conservancy would have needed to do it years ago. In fact, I think Conservancy probably would have just ceased to exist.

    The reason I can even consider this, BTW, Doug, is that I have a lot of menial work that's assigned to me. I try to do the really difficult work in the mornings and then as the day goes on and I get tired, I focus on the menial work instead. I'm not trying to do 80 hrs/week of "plan the future of software freedom" kinda work. :)

    Anyway, I hope people will become Conservancy supporters so we can have more staff. But, of course, everyone responding to this thread is already a supporter. :)

    Bradley M. Kuhn at 2016-01-12T01:19:18Z

  • A Requiem for Ian Murdock

    2015-12-30T23:05:15Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    [ This post was crossposted on Conservancy's website. ]

    I first met Ian Murdock gathered around a table at some bar, somewhere, after some conference in the late 1990s. Progeny Linux Systems' founding was soon to be announced, and Ian had invited a group from the Debian BoF along to hear about “something interesting”; the post-BoF meetup was actually a briefing on his plans for Progeny.

    Many of the details (such as which conference and where on the planet it was), I've forgotten, but I've never forgotten Ian gathering us around, bending my ear to hear in the loud bar, and getting one of my first insider scoops on something big that was about to happen in Free Software. Ian was truly famous in my world; I felt like I'd won the jackpot of meeting a rock star.

    More recently, I gave a keynote at DebConf this year and talked about how long I've used Debian and how much it has meant to me. I've since then talked with many people about how the Debian community is rapidly becoming a unicorn among Free Software projects — one of the last true community-driven, non-commercial projects.

    A culture like that needs a huge group to rise to fruition, and there are no specific actions that can ensure creation of a multi-generational project like Debian. But, there are lots of ways to make the wrong decisions early. As near as I can tell, Ian artfully avoided the project-ending mistakes; he made the early decisions right.

    Ian cared about Free Software and wanted to make something useful for the community. He teamed up with (for a time in Debian's earliest history) the FSF to help Debian in its non-profit connections and roots. And, when the time came, he did what all great leaders do: he stepped aside and let a democratic structure form. He paved the way for the creation of Debian's strong Constitutional and democratic governance. Debian has had many great leaders in its long history, but Ian was (effectively) the first DPL, and he chose not to be a BDFL.

    The Free Software community remains relatively young. Thus, loss of our community members jar us in the manner that uniquely unsettles the young. In other words, anyone we lose now, as we've lost Ian this week, has died too young. It's a cliché to say, but I say anyway that we should remind ourselves to engage with those around us every day, and to welcome new people gladly. When Ian invited me around that table, I was truly nobody: he'd never met me before — indeed no one in the Free Software community knew who I was then. Yet, the mere fact that I stayed late at a conference to attend the Debian BoF was enough for him — enough for him to even invite me to hear the secret plans of his new company. Ian's trust — his welcoming nature — remains for me unforgettable. I hope to watch that nature flourish in our community for the remainder of all our lives.

    pingi , yahya69 , Daniel Koć , dot0 and 25 others like this.

    yahya69 , ghostdancer , Blaise Alleyne , mray and 11 others shared this.

    Really nice and touching.

    ghostdancer at 2015-12-31T17:29:40Z

    X11R5 likes this.

    It seems unreal that he's no longer around. But it speaks to the strength of what he has created that Debian will live on and grow without him.

    yahya69 at 2016-01-05T21:38:38Z

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) likes this.

  • I got 99 buffers...

    2015-12-25T22:17:52Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    My Emacs Desktop file had over 3,000 buffers open. The other day, my desktop load didn't work because I had a bug in my Emacs init scripts.

    So, when I went to save the session, it told me I'd be replacing that session, and I just decided to go with it. I had too many buffers open.

    But, now, I got 99 buffers, and often, the file I want to edit ain't mapped to one.

    EricxDu , Christopher Allan Webber , sazius , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) and 1 others like this.

    Christopher Allan Webber , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) shared this.

    99 reeed buffeeers, na nana na na na naaa ♫

    JanKusanagi at 2015-12-26T00:30:27Z

    Adam Moore (LÆMEUR) , Luis like this.

    I got 99 buffers but the file ain't one.

    Jim Bowering at 2015-12-26T17:06:26Z

  • Fighting For Social Justice Is a Major Contribution to Society

    2015-12-03T03:35:07Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers


    I have something to say that I'm sure everyone is going to consider controversial. I've been meaning to say it for some time, and I realize that it's going to get some annoyance from all sides of this debate. Conservancy may lose Supporters over this, even though this is my personal blog and my personal opinion, and views expressed here aren't necessarily Conservancy's views. I've actually been meaning to write this publicly for a year. I just have to say it now, because there's yet another event on this issue caused yet another a war of words in our community.

    If you follow the types of Free Software politics and issues that I do (which you probably do if you read my blog) you have heard the phrase — which has become globally common in general politics — “Social Justice Warrior”, often abbreviated SJW. As anyone who reads my blog probably already knows, SJW is used as a derogatory catch-all phrase referring to anyone who speaks up to on any cause, but particularly on racial or gender inequality. While the derogatory part seems superficially to refer to tactics rather than strategic positions, nevertheless many critics who use the phrase conflate (either purposely or not) some specific, poorly-chosen tactic (perhaps from long ago) of the few with the strategic goals of an entire movement.

    Anyway, my argument in this post, which is why I expect it to annoy everyone equally, is not about some specific issue in any cause, but on a meta-issue. The meta-issue is the term “SJW” itself. The first time I heard the phrase (which, given my age, feels recent, even though it was probably four years ago), I actually thought it was something good; I first thought that SJW was a compliment. In fact, I've more-or-less spent my entire adult life wanting to be a social justice warrior, although I typically called it being a “social justice activist”.

    First of all, I believe deeply in social justice causes. I care about equality, fairness, and justice for everyone. I believe software freedom is a social justice cause, and I personally have proudly called software freedom a social justice cause for more than a decade.

    Second, I also believe in the zealous pursuit of causes that matter. I've believed fully and completely in non-violence since the mid-1980s, but I nevertheless believe there is a constant war of words in the politics surrounding any cause or issue, including software freedom. I am, therefore — for lack of a better word — a warrior, in those politics.

    So, when I look at the three words on their face: Social. Justice. Warrior. Well, denotively, it describes my lifelong work exactly.

    Connotatively, a warped and twisted manipulation of words has occurred. Those who want to discredit the validity that various social justice causes have bestowed a negative connotation on the phrase to create a social environment that makes anyone who wants to speak out about a cause automatically wrong and easily branded.

    I've suggested to various colleagues privately over the last two years that we should coopt the phrase back to mean something good. Most have said that's a waste of time and beside the point. I still wonder whether they're right.

    By communicating an idea that these social justice people are fighting against me and oppressing me, the messenger accusing a so-called SJW has a politically powerful, well-coopted message, carefully constructed for concision and confirmation bias. While I don't believe all that cooptive and manipulative power is wielded solely in the one three-word phrase, I do believe that the rhetorical trick that allows “SJW” to have a negative connotation is the same rhetorical power that has for centuries allowed the incumbent power structures to keep their control of those many social institutions that are governed chiefly by rhetoric.

    And this is precisely why I just had to finally post something about this. I won a cultural power jackpot, merely by being born a middle-class Caucasian boy in the USA. Having faced some adversity in my life despite that luck, and then seeing how easy I had it compared to the adversity that others have faced, I become furious at how the existing power structures can brand people with — let's call it what is — a sophisticated form of name-calling that coopts a phrase like “social justice”, which until that time had a history of describing some of the greatest, most selfless, and most important acts of human history.

    Yes, I know there are bigger issues at stake than just the words people use. But words matter. No matter how many people use the phrase negatively, I continue to strive to be a social justice warrior. I believe that's a good thing, in the tradition of all those who have fought for a cause they believed was right, even when it wasn't popular.

    Bård Aase , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , Dionisio Martínez Soler , Elena ``of Valhalla'' and 14 others like this.

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , mnd , Sarah Elkins and 6 others shared this.

    Show all 9 replies
    Beta white knight checking in, apparently you can't be an SJW if you are a straight, cis, white, non-Muslim male. You're just deluded because you want to get laid.

    Dylan at 2015-12-04T13:22:50Z

    @mray, I supposed I'd like it if everybody was, in fact, Kuhn-fu-fighting, but I admit I'm biased. Also, that would be a little bit frightening, wouldn't it?

    I'm actually glad some of you haven't heard of SJW; it means that the politics of internet troll attacks are not as widespread as they seem.

    And, to @Dylan, it shows the example that mentioning the phrase brings trolls from the woodwork. For the record, I'm happily accepted by others who have been "accused" of SJW-ness. :)

    Bradley M. Kuhn at 2015-12-04T19:18:56Z

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) likes this.

    It had not occurred to me before, but the pejorative aspect of 'SJW' might be somewhat amplified by the (most likely unintentional) reference to the 'Warrior of the Light' stuff from Paulo Coelho (which I've only ever read excerpts of but, having tried to go through The Alchemist once, they were enough).

    More to the point, my guess is that its effectiveness mainly stems from the use of 'warrior' as the defining feature of an individual (almost elevated to a profession). I.e. implying the person is someone who fights because... it's what they do.

    Simultaneously, to some it may evoke the image of the romantic (here refering to the chivalric ideals) knight and the associated naivety world view and crudeness of method. Possibly further reinforced by the ineffectiveness of action at the knight-level to further causes of social justice.

    All in all it seems a subtle and well-thought out invention. With hindsight, I can see why it would catch on and I'm not sure I'd want to reclaim it. Though if it becomes dominant, then it /has/ to be reclaimed one way or the other. Hopefully we're not there yet and some better term can be pushed in its place :)

    Apry at 2015-12-04T20:57:17Z

  • Buying Apple is like Going to Court on a Saturday.... No judgment

    2015-11-28T03:38:18Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    Like many, I typically think of Alice's Restaurant on Thanksgiving, since the holiday anchors a major plot point in Arlo Guthrie's epic tale.

    At the age of 15, I memorized the entire massacree (in four part harmony, with feeling), and remember most sections of it, so I don't actually listen every year anymore; it's somewhat redundant.

    But, I do think about the song every Thanksgiving, and it being Friday night after Thanksgiving, I realized something that I'd never noticed before. (Spoiler alert for Alice's Restaurant follow):

    Arlo and his friends dump the garbage on Thanksgiving night. Officer Obie sets his trap and arrests them on Friday. Alice comes to bail them out just five hours later (with a few nasty words for Office Obie on the side, of course), and they go back to Alice's and have another Thanksgiving dlinner that can't be beat, until the next morning:

    When they all had to go to court!

    But, the next day would have been a Saturday. The Saturday after Thanksgiving! Now, I don't know much about the town of Stockbridge, Mass. (other than what Arlo had to tell me), but I'm going to guess that the Courts there don't exercise even American Blind Justice on Saturdays, particularly in the mid 1960s.

    So, these 27 years later after I memorized the song, I'm starting to think Arlo may have embellished this tale.

    I guess it doesn't matter; he didn't come to tell me about that tale anyway.

    He came to talk about the draft. And I came to talk to you about software freedom.

    And friends, you may be in a similar situation. And if you are, walk into that Apple Store wherever you're shopping tomorrow, sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walk out. The other people in the store might think the Apple products made you really sick and won't buy them.

    Now if two people, two people, walk into the Apple Store and sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walk out. Well, they might think you're Android users and they'll follow you to install a copy of Replicant.

    But if 50 people, I'm talking 50 people a day, walk into that Apple Store, sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walk out. Well, Apple might think it's a movement. And that's what we are. The Free Software Movement.

    Happy Thanksgiving, to those you who celebrate!

    a(n) person , , Charles ☕ Stanhope , Nigel Green and 1 others like this.

    Jason Self shared this. All that yet nothing on the 8x10 glossies? at 2015-12-05T02:52:41Z

  • Do You Like What I Do For a Living?

    2015-11-26T23:00:36Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers


    [ A version of this blog post was crossposted on Conservancy's blog. ]

    I'm quite delighted with my career choice. As an undergraduate and even in graduate school, I still expected my career extend my earlier careers in the software industry: a mixture of software developer and sysadmin. I'd probably be a DevOps person now, had I stuck with that career path.

    Instead, I picked the charity route: which (not financially, but work-satisfaction-wise) is like winning a lottery. There are very few charities related to software freedom, and frankly, if (like me) you believe in universal software freedom and reject proprietary software entirely, there are two charities for you: the Free Software Foundation, where I used to work, and Software Freedom Conservancy, where I work now.

    But software freedom is not merely an ideology for me. I believe the ideology matters because I see the lives of developers and users are better when they have software freedom. I first got a taste of this IRL when I attended the earliest Perl conferences in the late 1990s. My friend James and I stayed in dive motels and even slept in a rental car one night to be able to attend. There was excitement in the Perl community (my first Free Software community). I was exhilarated to meet in person the people I'd seen only as god-like hackers posting on perl5-porters. James was so excited he asked me to take a picture of him jumping as high as he could with his fist in the air in front of the main conference banner. At the time, I complained; I was mortified and felt like a tourist taking that picture. But looking back, I remember that James and I felt that same excitement and just were expressing it differently.

    I channeled that thrill into finding a way that my day job would focus on software freedom. As an activist since my teenage years, I concentrated specifically on how I could preserve, protect and promote this valuable culture and ideology in a manner that would assure the rights of developers and users to improve and share the software they write and use.

    I've enjoyed the work; I attend more great conferences than I ever imagined I would, where now people occasionally walk up to me with the same kind of fanboy reverence that I reserved for Larry Wall, RMS and the heroes of my Free Software generation. I like my work. I've been careful, however, to avoid a sense of entitlement. Since I read it in 1991, I have never forgotten RMS' point in the GNU Manifesto: Most of us cannot manage to get any money for standing on the street and making faces. But we are not, as a result, condemned to spend our lives standing on the street making faces, and starving. We do something else., a point he continues in his regular speeches, by adding: I [could] just … give up those principles and start … writing proprietary software. I looked for another alternative, and there was an obvious one. I could leave the software field and do something else. Now I had no other special noteworthy skills, but I'm sure I could have become a waiter. Not at a fancy restaurant; they wouldn’t hire me; but I could be a waiter somewhere. And many programmers, they say to me, “the people who hire programmers demand [that I write proprietary software] and if I don’t do [it], I’ll starve”. It’s literally the word they use. Well, as a waiter, you’re not going to starve.

    RMS' point is not merely to expose the false dilemma inherent in I have to program, even it's proprietary, because that's what companies pay me to do, but also to expose the sense of entitlement in assuming a fundamental right to do the work you want. This applies not just to software authorship (the work I originally trained for) but also the political activism and non-profit organizational work that I do now.

    I've spent most of my career at charities because I believe deeply that I should take actions that advance the public good, and because I have a strategic vision for the best methods to advance software freedom. My strategic goals to advance software freedom include two basic tenets: (a) provide structure for Free Software projects in a charitable home (so that developers can focus on writing software, not administration, and so that the projects aren't unduly influenced by for-profit corporations) and (b) uphold and defend Free Software licensing, such as copyleft, to ensure software freedom.

    I don't, however, arrogantly believe that these two priorities are inherently right. Strategic plans work toward a larger goal, and pursing success of a larger ideological mission requires open-mindedness regarding strategies. Nevertheless, any strategy, once decided, requires zealous pursuit. It's with this mindset that I teamed up with my colleague, Karen Sandler, to form Software Freedom Conservancy.

    Conservancy, like most tiny charities, survives on the determination of its small management staff. Karen Sandler, Conservancy's Executive Director, and I have a unique professional collaboration. She and I share a commitment to promoting and defending moral principles in the context of software freedom, along with an unrelenting work ethic to match. I believe fundamentally that she and I have the skills, ability, and commitment to meet these two key strategic goals for software freedom.

    Yet, I don't think we're entitled to do this work. And, herein there's another great feature of a charity. A charity not only serves the public good; the USA IRS also requires that a charity be funded primarily by donations from the public.

    I like this feature for various reasons. Particularly, in the context of the fundraiser that Conservancy announced this week, I think about it terms of seeking a mandate from the public. As Conservancy poises to begin its tenth year, Karen and I as its leaders stand at a crossroads. For financial reasons of the organization's budget, we've been thrust to test this question: Does the public of Free Software users and developers actually want the work that we do?.

    While I'm nervous that perhaps the answer is no, I'm nevertheless not afraid to ask the question. So, we've asked. We asked all of you to show us that you want our work to continue. We set two levels, matching the two strategic goals I mentioned. (The second is harder and more expensive to do than the first, so we've asked many more of you to support us if you want it.)

    It's become difficult in recent years to launch a non-profit fundraiser (which have existed for generations) and not think of the relatively recent advent of gofundme, Kickstarter, and the like. These new systems provide a (sadly, usually proprietary software) platform for people to ask the public: Is my business idea and/or personal goal worth your money?. While I'm dubious about those sites, I do believe in democracy enough to build my career on a structure that requires an election (of sorts). Karen and I don't need you to go to the polls and cast your ballot, but we do ask you consider if what we do for a living at Conservancy is worth US$10 per month to you. If it is, I hope you'll “cast a vote” for Conservancy and become a Conservancy supporter now.

    Nigel Green , Charles ☕ Stanhope , Dana , mray and 3 others like this.

    Blaise Alleyne , Olivier Mehani , mray , Arne Babenhauserheide and 2 others shared this.

    well said. minor correction:

    tenants -> tenets

    Mike Linksvayer at 2015-11-26T23:38:47Z

    >> Mike Linksvayer:

    tenants -> tenets”

    Fixed. Thanks. I have trouble with homonyms. :)

    Bradley M. Kuhn at 2015-11-27T00:02:38Z

  • Are you sure your lawyer supports software freedom?

    2015-11-24T18:41:53Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    Thanks to Matthew Garrett, I've finally found some more public proof (scroll to bottom) that Heather Meeker opposes software freedom. (The only other place to take a look at is this article where she says that the “FSF's view [on GPL] contravenes business expectations, it is a trap for the unwary“).

    Meeker is part of a large group of lawyers who pretend and seek credibility by giving pro-bono work to Open Source projects, but their goal is not software freedom. It's often hard to prove this because their seemingly “good work” is public and their nefarious work (such as representing GPL violators in opposition to GPL-enforcing charities) isn't.

    Keep in mind that most lawyers are mercenaries: they build expertise so they can get paid lots by the highest bidder. Not all, but many, lawyers who do pro-bono work are getting something out of it: they're getting expertise by doing work for your Free Software project so they can go later sell those skills to your opponents. I wish the conflict rules for lawyers worked better than this, but they don't: there's usually no formal conflict of interest unless they represent both sides in an actual Court case.

    I'm not intending to paint all lawyers the same: I've occasionally worked with some truly moral and ethical lawyers, but they are very rare. Having met hundreds of lawyers who work in the Open Source and Free Software community, I can count on only one hand those that actually believe in software freedom and would refuse a paying client on software-freedom-moral grounds.

    I briefly considered going to law school, and at the time the only thing that kept me out of it was how cost-prohibitive it is in the USA (and an employer who promised to fund law school for me reneged on their offer). I feel that I made a narrow escape. IANAL but I'm living proof you can be an expert in some areas of the law without being a lawyer.

  • OSCON Has an anti-Open-Source keynote (again)

    2015-10-27T08:57:41Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    Wow, OSCON EU has a keynote from a Ninh Bui and Hongli Lai from Phusion wherein they argue that (a) non-profit models of fundraising for Open Source will never work and should never be used (I have proven this wrong for decades of course), and (b) that "passive income" through proprietary software add-ons is the only revenue model that is reasonable, because you have to "work too hard" to do other models. They further claim that people who have a problem with "Open Core" proprietary add-ons are a vocal minority that won't cause you too much trouble.

    TL;DR: "Proprietary software can make you wealthy so you don't have to work hard, so you should do that, and try to exploit your Open Source community. Those software freedom advocates are a minority so shout them down and they'll shut up, becuase you should be allowed to get wealthy, no matter what you have to do"

    Alex Jordan , Richard Fontana , Stephen Michael Kellat , Aaron Wolf and 10 others like this.

    mray , Alex Jordan , Alex Jordan , Blaise Alleyne and 3 others shared this.

    For clarity, this is likely a purchased keynote? I know that O'Reilly and OSCON themselves believe "you should be allowed to get wealthy, no matter what you have to do" to some extent, per the fact that they *sell* keynotes and talks which can then bypass all normal curation and acceptance procedures…

    Aaron Wolf at 2015-10-27T19:09:25Z

  • You should consider the fact that your project isn't changing the face of computing

    2015-10-27T08:37:37Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    If you start a technical talk with the sentence that the technology you working on "changes the way we're all thinking about computing", then you are (a) believing your own hype and (b) shouldn't be believed or trusted as a technical expert.

    Very little has changed fundamentally about computing in many decades. The details change, platforms change, but there are two ways to do computing: you do it on a machine in front of you or you do it on a machine on some network, and you have connections between the two.

    The rest is details. Yes, we've invented ways to do the details better, or worse, as the case may be.

    Federico , Daniele Tricoli , Jonathan Carter , James Michael DuPont and 10 others like this.

    Elena ``of Valhalla'' , Christopher Allan Webber , Christopher Allan Webber , Alex Jordan and 2 others shared this.

    Show all 5 replies

    Yep, that kind of sentence is a real warning sign xD

    JanKusanagi at 2015-10-27T12:38:24Z

    Or (c) you are willfully lying, and treating the technical talk as a pure marketing of the worse kind.

    Where is the "acclames this post loudly by hitting a spear on a shield" button?

    Elena ``of Valhalla'' at 2015-10-30T06:23:53Z

    jrobertson likes this.

    >> Elena ``of Valhalla'':

    “[...] Where is the "acclames this post loudly by hitting a spear on a shield" button? [...]”

    There isn't one, but you can just post "AU! AU! AUUUU!!!!!" xD

    JanKusanagi at 2015-10-30T12:49:04Z

    There isn't one *yet* but once folk get the hang of extensions to ActivityStreams2.0, it should be right at the top of the to-do list

    SombreKnave at 2015-10-30T18:51:58Z

  • Go home, Perl 5, you're drunk.

    2015-10-17T21:07:13Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    In the USA, Perl 5 is officially, as of today, the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages. (Today is the anniversary of Perl version 5's release, not the anniversary of the Perl language itself).

    I must admit that I both (a) have scripts that were written for Perl 4 in personal production (i.e., I'm the the only user), and (b) that I still code most in Perl 5 more than any other language (not that I write much code anymore, sadly).

    Perl 6 will be released officially this year. Obviously it won't have the success that Perl 5 had in its heyday. (cf my blog post for the 25th birthday of Perl itself: ).

    I must admit again that I feel old enough that Perl 5 was once "a new Perl" to me. I watched Perl 5 have success that was beyond imagination. It's not that there were ever, say, more Perl 5 developers *ever* in its history than there are Javascript or Java developers today. That's not it. But Perl for a long time was the language that *almost everyone* who wanted to do something other than C used.

    Programming language options are so varied today, and there are so many target platforms that didn't exist 21 years ago. As such, there is no "one cool programming language" (despite what the Javascript kids tell themselves). The community of software developers is just too big now for there to be any real contest between languages. So many languages exist that don't try to compete for developers. The world is too big for there to be the kind of affinity toward one programming language in the way there was 20 years ago. It's difficult to explain what the world was like then, but you really could be a "one language person" in those days, and be proud of it rather than sheltered and disconnected.

    Markus , Christopher Allan Webber , Charles ☕ Stanhope , jrobb and 7 others like this.

    Christopher Allan Webber , jrobertson , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) and 1 others shared this.

    Show all 5 replies
    @jacobwb I believe there's a significant minority of  programmers who write in JavaScript because it helps pay the bills and not because it offers the best of what programming languages have to offer in 2015.
    That being said there's so much focus and energy on JavaScript that out of all the programming languages is the most disposable, it is potentially the most adaptable to change.

    jrobertson at 2015-10-18T13:56:42Z

    It isn't that JS is "cool" ... it is near ubiquitous, but so broken that it rarely does what one expects. Without those thousands of pages, most people who have to wrangle JS would be lost. at 2015-10-18T21:51:13Z

    The TIOBE index still gives Java at the top, followed by C, C++, C# and Python.

    PHP only comes 6th, JavaScript 8th and Perl is still close behind at 9th.

    I don't know if they count Android programming as Java or if its popularity is only motivated by the fact that AFAIK it's still the default language inside big corporatey environments. Cobol is 21st :)

    OTOH, I have an unproved feeling that both PHP and JavaScript are often used by novices who have a big need to ask for help on the internet, which may explain the higher number of google results.

    Elena ``of Valhalla'' at 2015-10-19T08:01:53Z likes this.

    ObCOBOL, unless you want your paychecks to stop arriving. at 2015-10-21T00:49:56Z

  • Pre-Sunrise wakeup tricks?

    2015-10-15T15:24:00Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    One item I didn't account for upon moving to the USA Pacific Northwest was extremely late sunrise between the vernal equinox and solsitice. I have a lot of difficult waking up before sunrise, and for someone whose job basically mandates that I work 12-16 hours/day, that poses some difficulty. It does not seem to matter if I go to sleep earlier; I still feel equally tired awaking before sunrise.

    I wonder how others deal with this problem, although maybe there aren't that many people who are required to work 12-16 hours/day.

    Show all 7 replies

    Work hours normalised over the whole solar year instead of a week?

    I hate getting out of bed in the morning and funnily, my wee boy now also complains "it's dark" if I have to get him up for nursery. Heaven knows what he'll be like as a teenager.

    SombreKnave at 2015-10-15T21:53:55Z

    I don't work so many hours. But I have to wake up many days before sunrise. I feel blue and tired, sun and blue sky are very important for me. I've tried #coffee, apples, but it's hard for me to eat/drink something so early. The only things that help me to feel better are: having a shower (just jump from bed into the shower), the night birds that I hear while walking to the bus stop, and actually sleeping a bit more in the bus and/or metro, until I arrive my workplace. Many days I go out from the metro station and it's still night. But at that moment, I'm in a better situation to enjoy my coffee (I try to stick on decaffeinated or half-decaf for the very bad days).

    I should migrate to the warm South when autumn comes, like some birds... and come back in springtime.

    Take care Bradley, and try to work less.

    Laura Arjona at 2015-10-15T22:05:40Z

    I get up around 6am (dark, this time of year) and have some coffee. Then I head to the gym for 40minutes or so and then to work where I'll eat a granola bar. I also try to walk around the building and get some sun a little later.

    I only work 9-10 hrs, though. Typically anyway.

    I get through it, I don't enjoy waking up early.

    jrobb at 2015-10-16T00:19:02Z

    I wonder if a light box might do the trick.

    Jason Self at 2015-10-17T00:03:56Z

  • How Would Software Freedom Have Helped With VW?

    2015-09-29T16:38:44Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers

    [ A version of this blog post was crossposted on Conservancy's blog. ]

    Would software-related scandals, such as Volkswagen's use of proprietary software to lie to emissions inspectors, cease if software freedom were universal? Likely so, as I wrote last week. In a world where regulations mandate distribution of source code for all the software in all devices, and where no one ever cheats on that rule, VW would need means other than software to hide their treachery.

    Universal software freedom is my lifelong goal, but I realized years ago that I won't live to see it. I suspect that generations of software users will need to repeatedly rediscover and face the harms of proprietary software before a groundswell of support demands universal software freedom. In the meantime, our community has invented semi-permanent strategies, such as copyleft, to maximize software freedom for users in our current mixed proprietary and Free Software world.

    In the world we live in today, software freedom can impact the VW situation only if a few complex conditions are met. Let's consider the necessary hypothetical series of events, in today's real world, that would have been necessary for Open Source and Free Software to have stopped VW immediately.

    First, VW would have created a combined or derivative work of software with a copylefted program. While many cars today contain Linux, which is copylefted, I am not aware of any cars that use Linux outside of the on-board entertainment and climate control systems. The VW software was not part of those systems, and VW engineers almost surely wrote the emissions testing mode code from scratch. Even if they included some non-copylefted Open Source or Free Software in it, those licenses don't require disclosure of any source code; VW's ability to conceal its bad actions with non-copylefted code is roughly identical to the situation of proprietary VW code before us. As a thought experiment, though, let's pretend, that VW based the nefarious code on Linux by writing a proprietary Linux module to trick the emissions testing systems.

    In that case, VW would have violated the GPL. But that alone is far from enough to ensure anyone would catch VW. Indeed, GPL violations remain very prevalent, and only one organization enforces the GPL for Linux (full disclosure: that's Software Freedom Conservancy, where I work). That organization has such limited enforcement resources (only three people on staff, and enforcement is one of many of our programs), I suspect that years would pass before Conservancy had the resources to pursue the violation; Conservancy currently has hundreds of Linux GPL violations queued for action. Even once opened, most GPL violations take years to resolve. As an example, we are currently enforcing the GPL against one auto manufacturer who has Linux in their car. We've already spent hundreds of hours and the company to date continues to fail in their GPL compliance efforts. Admittedly, it's highly unlikely that particular violator has a GPL-violating Linux module specifically designed to circumvent automotive regulations. However, after enforcing the GPL in that case for more than two years, I still don't have enough data about their use of Linux to even know which proprietary Linux modules are present — let alone whether those modules are nefarious in any way other than as violating Linux's license.

    Thus, in today's world, a “software freedom solution” to prevent the VW scandal must meet unbelievable preconditions: (a) VW would have to base all its software on copylefted Open Source and Free Software, and (b) an organization with a mission to enforce copyleft for the public good would require the resources to find the majority of GPL violators and ensure compliance in a timely fashion. This thought experiment, even with an otherwise unreal initial assumption, quickly shows how much more work remains to advance and defend software freedom. While requirements of source code disclosure, such as those in copyleft licenses, are necessary to assure the benefits of software freedom, they cannot operate unless someone exercises the offers for source and looks at the details.

    We live in a world where most of the population accepts proprietary software as legitimate. Even major trade associations, such as the OpenStack Foundation and the Linux Foundation, in the Open Source community laud companies who make proprietary software, as long as they adopt and occasionally contribute to some Free Software too. Currently, it feels like software freedom is winning, because the overwhelming majority in the software industry believe Open Source and Free Software is useful and superior only in some circumstances. Furthermore, while I appreciate the aspirational ideal of voluntary Open Source, I find in my work that so many companies, just as VW did, will cheat against important social good policies unless someone watches and regulates. Mere adoption of Open Source won't work alone; we only yield the valuable results of software freedom if software is copylefted and someone upholds that copyleft.

    Indeed, just as it has been since the 1980s, very few people believe that software freedom is of fundamental importance for all software users. Scandals, like VW's use of proprietary software to hide other bad acts, might slowly change opinions, but one scandal is rarely enough to permanently change public opinion. I therefore encourage those who support software freedom to take this incident as inspiration for a stronger stance, and to prepare yourselves for the long haul of software freedom advocacy.

    Paco Vila , Perseo , EricxDu , mray and 2 others like this.

    Olivier Mehani , Perseo , Perseo shared this.

    Both disheartening and inspiring.  Disheartening in the short view, inspiring in the long.  Thanks.  I'm going to link to your Conservancy post in mine.

    Jim Bowering at 2015-09-29T16:56:13Z

  • Make a homemade gift for th Executive Director in your life.

    2015-09-26T20:20:33Z via Pumpa To: Public , John Sullivan CC: Followers

    I just made a homemade gift for @John Sullivan, in honor of the FSF 30th anniversary and his years of service to the organization.

    John already knows what it is, if he remembers, because I asked him if he thought he would like it.

    Assuming TSA doesn't confisicate it, I'll deliver it in one week. :)

    I'll also make a homeade gift for Karen in honor of the tenth anniversary of Conservancy next year. But I have to think of something to do for her. If folks have ideas, email me. :)

    Alex Jordan , marxistvegan , Christopher Allan Webber like this.

    is it something vegan?

    marxistvegan at 2015-09-26T20:33:20Z

    @marxistvegan, of course, I've known John for a long time. :)

    Bradley M. Kuhn at 2015-09-26T23:11:57Z

    hmmm i it a donut?

    marxistvegan at 2015-09-26T23:34:12Z

  • The EPA Deserves Software Freedom, Too

    2015-09-23T02:06:31Z via Dianara To: Public CC: Followers


    The issue of software freedom is, not surprisingly, not mentioned in the mainstream coverage of Volkswagen's recent use of proprietary software to circumvent important regulations that exist for the public good. Given that Volkswagen is an upstream contributor to Linux, it's highly likely that Volkswagen vehicles have Linux in them.

    Thus, we have a wonderful example of how much we sacrifice at the altar of &lduqo;Linux adoption”. While I'm glad for some Free Software to appear in products rather than none, I also believe that, too often, our community happily accepts the idea that we should gratefully laud a company includes a bit of Free Software in their product, and gives a little code back, even if most of what they do is proprietary software.

    In this example, a company poisoned people and our environment with out-of-compliance greenhouse gas emissions, and hid their tracks behind proprietary software. IIUC, the EPA had to do use an (almost literal) analog hole to catch these scoundrels.

    It's not that I'm going to argue that end users should modify the software that verifies emissions standards. But if end users could extract these binaries from the physical device, recompile the source, and verify the binaries match, someone would have discovered this problem immediately when the models drove off the lot.

    So, why does no one demand for this? To me, this feels like Diebold and voting machines all over again. So tell me, voters' rights advocates who claimed proprietary software was fine, as long as you could get voter-verified paper records: how do are we going to “paper verify” our emissions testing?

    Software freedom is the only solution to problems that proprietary software creates. Sadly, opposition to software freedom is so strong, nearly everyone will desperately try every other (failing) solution first.

    sazius at , Aaron Wolf , Karl Fogel , Mike Linksvayer and 6 others like this.

    marxistvegan , marxistvegan , Mike Linksvayer , Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) and 2 others shared this.

    Sadly, opposition to software freedom is so strong, nearly everyone will desperately try every other (failing) solution first.

    Private attempted software freedom enforcement fits right in to this schema. I'm all for it, but there's no substitute for convincing the public and regulators so that non-dwarfish means are applied to enforce software freedom.

    Mike Linksvayer at 2015-09-23T18:20:31Z

    Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) , Christopher Allan Webber like this.