A libre OS

As described in my previous post, I migrated my system to a completely libre GNU/Linux distribution (seems I need to use the term libre in order to avoid the free/gratis confusion).

I admit that the pure migration process was pretty simple and almost unspectacular: I was running Manjaro Linux, an Arch-based distribution that comes with a nice set-up environment, but still has the freedom, simplicity and cutting edge packages, which I enjoyed very much. I decided to stay with an Arch derivative and followed these instructions to switch to Parabola Gnu/Linux. I expected some more magic, but basically I did the following:

  • removed all non-free packages
  • removed manjaro specific packages
  • installed libre alternatives where possible
  • installed your freedom

Removing the unwanted

While this sounds pretty straight forward there were some things I expected (like removal of certain software like TeamViewer, Skype etc) and some that were rather unexpected and made me swallow, like when I saw yaourt on the list of software-to-be-removed. Yaourt is a wrapper around the Arch packaging tool pacman. Whenever I could not find a package in the official repositories, that was my very first alternative, and I found what I was looking for in 99 of 100 searches.

However, it’s not crucial and I’ll be happy to invest more time in finding a solution in future, knowing that I will be more conscious about the software I install and use.
I was a bit puzzled about X not starting anymore, until I noticed that Plymouth is obviously non-free software and was hooked with my lightdm service; well I can absolutely forgo that one.

Embracing the alternative

My Thunderbird is now an Icedove, I totally can live with that ;) so far the libre alternative software does not at all change or affect the way I worked before. I was surprised to see that my kerned needed to be replaced. I nether thought about that, but apparently my linux kernel included binary blobs, I guess for hardware compatibility. The Free Software Foundation Latin America is developing libre-linux, a kernel free of any proprietary binaries, thanks for that!

More difficulties were caused by the software that was without alternative, like my proprietary wifi driver. Yes, I should have read just one more paragraph, so at least I would have been warned. Of course, no FOSS driver exists for my wifi card (since no specifications are made public), like for the vast majority of wifi cards, as far as I understood. So I ended up with buying an external usb wifi-dongle with a supported chipset (RTL8188 in my case) – I’ve come so far, I won’t be stopped by that :P

Keep the system clean

The funniest thing about the migration was indeed the your freedom package. The description given on the website tells you all you need to know about that:

This package conflicts with every nonfree package
known to date to ensure your system is free.

So this is my watchdog, conflicting with everything I didn’t know I didn’t want to have.

The system is up and running again, and I don’t feel much of a difference, yet. What I feel however, is to have gained deeper insight in how proprietary software and binary blobs are integrated in every layer of our system, unless we take the extra effort, time and knowledge to intentionally avoid it. I am no paranoiac and I don’t plan to become one in near future, but it is indeed alarming how many pieces of software are integrated per default, of which the operations that should be performed can not be verified – a very one-sided trust model.

free != gratis

Having a class on history of the hacker culture in the dgplug IRC channel has been highly interesting. Only within seconds after starting in 1955/56 with the TX-0 at MIT, my Wikipedia tabs popped up almost by themselves, going from TX-0 to Hacker to Hack Culture to Tech Model Railroad Club and Richard Stallman. By the end of the day I ended up installing FreeBSD and Plan9 on virtual machines on my laptop and began to explore those (what a weird thing, this Plan9, but interesting and consistent in concept)

Obviously, Richard Stallman had a great influence on hacker culture, the free software movement and actually on the working environment that I use right now and every day. After watching some talks and interviews, I realized that this guy really has the 100% freedom in mind (which ironically seems to be quite constraining), avoiding any proprietary software, but also boycotting a whole bunch of other services, tools, hardware and whatsoever if they violate against his philosophy.

Although I was a bit overwhelmed by the strict policy, I liked some of that thoughts initially. Like how he declares minified JavaScript to be proprietary software, because the code is not readable and you would need some reverse engineering to make sense of it. I also like his four essential freedoms (freedom 0, 1, 2 and 3) that finally helped me to understand that free software does not necessarily mean gratis software.

So I was interested in the OS and tools that are actually approved by Richard Stallman and found a good list here. I don’t remember how often I checked that box saying “install non-free packages” on my OS installations, without thinking twice even once. I will do now, and I think I might try out Parabola GNU/Linux and stay free, by staying propriety-free as good as possible. Judging from the post on stallman.org, not even he can manage to get the 100% he aims for; sometimes a trade-off is necessary until a better solution is found or created.

In the meantime I start searching and creating.

I open up

So I was browsing the web with my eyes more open to certain aspects. I never noticed that many Creative Commons logos before, though they have definitely been there. I searched the internet for free stuff a million times before. However, I realized that what I found (and actually was happy with) was shareware and adware most of the time. Now, for the first time I searched for FREE things. Not just software or media I can use for free, but things that are born free and live their free digital life out there in a free web.

I stumbled across the free music archive, where people share songs they produce and offer them for free download (again often with the CC involved), what a beautiful thing! Next I was searching a place for musicians to collaboratively create their music online and have their ideas continued by someone like-minded from across the continent. Looks like there are quite a few, though many of those projects are already dead or lack of funding. MyBlogBand looks promising, I will definitely try that out ;)

Meanwhile I will just start to share my own stuff on github; my writings, drawings, compositions and code, of course. I start with this little comic strip I’m working on.


I know it’s not very good and it’s by far not done, yet. However, I realize that at this rate it will take me weeks to finalize. But maybe someone else likes the idea and has time and motivation to add whatever he thinks is missing, so fork it on github and here you go ;)

Going deeper

As written in my previous post, I’m attending the dgplug summertraining. It says they want to show the path of becoming an upstream contributor, which I think is pretty cool, but I must admit that all the time I was thinking about free and open software, only. Today’s homework, however, was to watch a documentary; The Internet’s own boy – the Aaron Swartz story.

This took me deeper. It’s not only about free software, it’s about free speech, free knowledge and free internet, issues that people have fought wars for for hundreds of years and still do. I’ve watched that movie and could not help but ask myself: Where have I been, what have I done and why didn’t I see all these things happen? The world wide web is about my age. We grew up together and we had a lot of fun. Well, turns out I was having more fun; although in permanent contact, I did not see the danger the internet was in and still is, as the threat to internet neutrality. I have the feeling of both, being affected directly and being able to change by contribution. This internet is still young and it’s not yet finished. More than ever I feel like I can help to make it better and protect it’s freedom.

As a physicist I also write publications that are published in scientific journals. Researchers like me heavily depend on publications to receive further grants to keep up the research projects. The majority of scientists will not make big money with research, it’s pure interest and the wish to contribute that keeps them going. From a scientific point of view absolutely reasonable to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, but it is also a necessity to survive. The impact factor of a journal represents the number of citations a journal gets, which in turn reflects the number of readers. For high impact factor journals, researchers even pay up to several 1000$ for publication; A ridiculous and perfidious system.

Luckily the numbers of Open Access journals are increasing, although I’m not sure if their impact factors do likewise. However, I’m glad, excited and curious where this summer training takes me. Maybe it is going to connect my worlds and wishes I have from science and coding.

Continue reading “Going deeper”