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Comment You could choose software freedom (Score 2) 397

All proprietary software should be suspected of being malware. Microsoft Windows before version 10 was known to not behave in the user's interest and certainly not in the user's control (as per the definition of proprietary software). Microsoft tried pushing a Windows 10 "upgrade" on users by force, for example. Other "features" in Windows 10 (such as ignoring a user's privacy settings and doing what is in Microsoft's interest) were simply more along this line. Microsoft's aggressive sales tactics pointed to in this /. story are another example. In time there will be an announcement that Windows 7 will no longer receive updates and the hard sell for Windows 10 (or some other Windows variant) will continue. The question for all Windows users is how much more treatment like this they'd like to receive. It's never been easier to switch to a fully free software OS and run nothing but free software on top of that.

Comment Re:Startups (VC funding) should make $1million mes (Score 1) 392

For example, I worked for a company that was growing 80% per year, becoming a leader in a new business segment. They would quickly duct tape together some software that would allow them to expand into another chunk of the market, a chunk that will be worth $20 million in four years. Later, they can spend $1 million to go back and fix the duct tape mess. They net $19 million that way, incurring $1 million in technical debt to quickly grab $20 million of the market before competitors do.

While I agree the above is completely logical, the difference between technical debt and financial debt is that there is no one holding you accountable for paying back the former. There's also the problem that technical debt has its own interest expenses... you'll find that your initial shortcuts have been built upon, and those things have themselves been built upon, and you can't simply fix the original problem without incurring FAR more cost. Even if the costs to fix the problem haven't ballooned, the money people have no desire to "waste" that million dollars to retire technical debt. They'd rather spend by investing in another new market, or paying bonuses, or dividends.

Comment Re:A lack of software freedom can be lethal & (Score 1) 60

So the threat of death is enough for you to argue the status quo standing behind proprietors and denying the user full control of a device they obtained (in Sandler's case wear inside their body) but not enough for you to let the user control. We still don't think that's the case for more common devices that are involved in lot of harm such as cars. In light of what's actually already happened to Sandler, your response is remarkably sycophantic to power. Automakers would probably be interested to talk to you in light of the ongoing embarrassment they face in Dieselgate.

Interested people already modify the source code to the software running on various devices, it's a matter of which people get to inspect, share, and modify. For all you know, in Sandler's case she could take said code to someone who is sufficiently skilled. In any event, to whom the user takes the source code is nobody's business but theirs and not a justification for the failures that have already occurred or foreseeable problems to others.

Comment But are users smart to rely on proprietary luck? (Score 2) 144

Chrome does that now, but Google could make Chrome behave differently and not ask, simply accept the new plugin (with its spying turned on by default) without prompting the user.

Ultimately this allegation of "smarts" is not under the user's control, it's unsafe and a minor stroke of luck that things happened to work out the way they did for now. It doesn't strike me as smart to dismiss this as a settled matter, just as it was not smart for Microsoft Windows 10 users to believe that the OS privacy settings were being obeyed when they weren't.

Comment A lack of software freedom can be lethal & sca (Score 4, Informative) 60

Karen Sandler, Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, has an enlarged heart (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and is at risk of suddenly dying (due to a medical condition called "sudden death"). She has no symptoms. She has given a talk about this many times at tech conferences, you should be able to find a copy of her talk online quite easily. She calls herself a "cyborg lawyer running on proprietary software" because she needs to wear a pacemaker/defibrillator device on her heart which keeps her heart beating within a predetermined acceptable range (not too slow, not too fast) by shocking her heart until it beats at an acceptable rhythm. Sandler said she's been shocked before and it's like being kicked in the chest and it takes the wind out of her for a while, requiring her to take some time for recovery.

She knew of software freedom and figured on these weaknesses in these devices, some of which can be controlled remotely at some distance, because all of them run on proprietary software. She tried to get the source code, even offering to sign a non-disclosure agreement to do so, and nobody would share the code with her. She said she was the only one to ask her doctors about what ran on the device. She therefore chose an older model which requires the "programmer" device which sends a signal to the pacemaker/defibrillator be quite close to her body so that she'd probably know if someone were doing things to her device. The lack of software freedom and full user control (ownership) of the device is quite obviously a health risk and possibly lethal. Don't let anyone tell you a lack of software freedom isn't serious.

An interesting thing happened during her pregnancy, which she explained in an update to her talk: She learned that a pregnant woman's heart sometimes naturally races. For most women of childbearing age this isn't a problem as they're unlikely to need a pacemaker/defibrillator, so their heart can occasionally race without serious consequences. For Sandler this racing triggers the device to shock her back into an "acceptable" heart rhythm. It appears that the pacemaker/defibrillator device makers didn't test this device on women young enough to be of childbearing age but they're apparently happy to sell the devices for implanting into users of any age. This lack of testing in combination with the lack of software freedom means the device manufacturers aren't doing due diligence and they're preventing younger women, such as Sandler, from looking out for their own interests—avoiding "sudden death". One can only imagine what horrible multiply lethal outcome could predictably result for a pregnant woman with the same condition Sandler has whose heart races when she was driving while receiving a shock from her non-free pacemaker/defibrillator device. Don't let anyone tell you a lack of software freedom isn't serious.

Comment Privacy loss? They're doing it to themselves. (Score 1) 172

Snowden confirmed beyond any doubt that Microsoft is an NSA partner and spying is big business (that's why the NSA has so many partners amongst software proprietors). We all knew Microsoft was and is a software proprietor. After this 'feature' becomes commonplace it will be easier to convince people that they don't need or want that pesky indicator light next to the camera/mic showing when the camera/mic is on. After all, it's always lit and therefore 'useless'.

A right and proper view would say you can't trust software proprietors (yes, as long as the corporate repeater sites like /. keep publishing the same kinds of stories, they'll merit the same responses because these stories all have the same lack of software freedom at their core). That indicator light was always under proprietary software control anyway, so you couldn't ever really trust the device wasn't on even when the light was off. Increasingly computers are a user-accepted means of spying on people in their homes, their cars, their workplace, and anywhere else they travel. A combination of desktop and portable computers all running proprietary, user-subjugating OSes with built-in cameras/mics has made this degree of spying viable for years. Consider the power of data collection in your tracker (or, less honestly: "cell phone"/"mobile phone") which primarily tracks your location many times a minute (via GPS and cell tower triangulation); this device has a mic you don't control and can't determine when it's on. The computer is very capable of secretly recording and sending audio data. Most trackers have video cameras too, with predictable benefit for spying. People can be monitored all-day every day, even while they sleep (some people sleep in front of a "smart" TV with a computer and camera/mic built into it, because that makes the TV "smart"!). They also have a charging tracker next to them all night long (because they're desperate to believe that they need to be reachable all the time).

Sadly, there are too many IT people who haven't thought this through and value minor conveniences over privacy. Knowing when such monitoring is beneficial and when it's harmful is beyond the scope of allowable debate in the corporate media, and there's simply no room for teaching people about software freedom or why we should value software freedom for its own sake. IT pros should help teach people what's possible here, not act as a bulwark for proprietors, spies, and push deeper user subjugation.

Comment Re:Free software is required to gain privacy. (Score 1) 183

You've overlooked an important benefit of freedom: only software freedom grants users the ability to either learn what needs to change and change it, or hire someone with the needed skill to do this job for them. You appear to have a preference for init over systemd (my experience is that the only people who bring this up dislike systemd), so you could do this work (or participate with others in doing this work) and then distribute the fruits of your labor, even commercially, so nobody else need live with the alternative you dislike. I doubt non-technical users will know what systemd or init are much less have a preference, but perhaps technical users will be interested.

Saying these freedoms are worthless without being technical enough to exercise them is thus not only untrue, it misunderstands the point of freedom. Your claim is akin to arguing that freedom of speech is pointless because you don't plan to speak against the powerful. Others would find such freedom useful, so arguing against that freedom does them no favors, and you can't tell what the future holds. Every programmer wasn't always a programmer, they probably started using computers as a non-technical user before they became a programmer. The wiser course is to value the freedom for its own sake and use it when needed.

You also conflate very separate issues: "closed source" is a reference to the open source developmental methodology which eschews the very freedoms I wrote about. That group is a right-wing reactionary effort founded over a decade after the free software movement and denies the focus on ethics and community the free software movement (a social movement) makes central to its activism. This has a profound consequence: Open source enthusiasts, when faced with an implacable proprietor who won't free their software or accept the offer of improving development by including the users, is all too willing to go along with proprietors. A free software movement activist, on the other hand, reacts by refusing the proprietary software offer and perhaps working to do the same job with a free program instead.

Finally you mentioned "commercial" in such a way as to suggest that commercialism is a relevant part of a problem here. It's not. There's nothing wrong with commercially offering free software programming talent. I recommend you charge as much as you can get for, say, offering your init-based variant of a systemd-based GNU/Linux distribution. You would hopefully offer a complete working operating system, not just the Linux kernel.

Comment Free software is required to gain privacy. (Score 4, Informative) 183

You're right in that the headline text is filled with lies (typical of the corporate tech press and their corporate repeater friends like /.) and things like this should all be opt-in by default. But without software freedom, even those changes would be necessary but insufficient to ensure user's privacy because there's no way to check to make sure the software actually behaves in accordance with the settings.

Microsoft's record shows this to be the case. The GNU Project's surveillance section of the Microsoft malware page does a good job of collecting stories about how this has already failed Windows users who thought they had tweaked the settings in just the right way to get Windows 10 to not "phone home" or report details of what happened outside the machine. These settings failed to do that job because the software was designed to fail in this way.

Much to the apparent chagrin of moderators in the recent Microsoft thread about letting Windows 10 users opt-out of automatic updates who marked down posts about software freedom, the real answer remains the same here—no software freedom means no real control over one's computer and that includes no privacy for the user. Network dumps reveal some of what the software does but not all; it's very easy for programmers to encrypt data they want to send somewhere and/or delay sending data in an attempt to not show up when the system's network output is being watched.

Microsoft's promises (which boil down to "Trust us this time! Really!") must be interpreted in the context of taking the word of a liar whose secret software should now be trusted. That makes no sense to do, and the same logic applies to all non-free/user-subjugating software. No matter how much technical skill you have you have to assume proprietary software is doing what you don't want it to do because you don't have the permission to check out what it's actually doing, change it to make it obey you, or help your community by sharing copies of improved software.


'Tooth Repair Drug' May Replace Fillings (bbc.com) 130

Teeth can be encouraged to repair themselves in a way that could see an end to fillings, according to scientists. From a report on BBC: The team at King's College London showed that a chemical could encourage cells in the dental pulp to heal small holes in mice teeth. A biodegradable sponge was soaked in the drug and then put inside the cavity. The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed it led to "complete, effective natural repair." Teeth have limited regenerative abilities. They can produce a thin band of dentine -- the layer just below the enamel -- if the inner dental pulp becomes exposed, but this cannot repair a large cavity. [...] Scientists discovered that a drug called Tideglusib heightened the activity of stem cells in the dental pulp so they could repair 0.13mm holes in the teeth of mice. A drug-soaked sponge was placed in the hole and then a protective coating was applied over the top. As the sponge broke down it was replaced by dentine, healing the tooth.

2016 Was Second Hottest Year For US In More Than 120 Years of Record Keeping (climatecentral.org) 435

Last year was the second hottest year for the United States in more than 120 years of record keeping, according to the National Climatic Data Center, marking 20 above-average years in a row. While Georgia and Alaska recorded their hottest year, every state had a temperature ranking at least in the top seven. Climate Central reports: The announcement comes a week before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released the U.S. data, and NASA are expected to announce that 2016 set the record for the hottest year globally. Both the global record and the U.S. near-record are largely attributable to greenhouse gas-driven warming of the planet. In addition to the pervasive warmth over the last year, the U.S. also had to deal with 15 weather and climate disasters that each caused more than $1 billion in damage. Together, they totaled more than $46 billion in losses and included several disastrous rain-driven flooding events. These events, along with continued drought, lay bare the challenge for the country to learn how to cope with and prepare for a changing climate, said Deke Arndt, the climate monitoring chief of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. The temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for 2016, displacing 2015 and ranking only behind 2012, when searing heat waves hit the middle of the country. More notable than the back-to-back second place years, Arndt said, was that 2016 was the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year for the U.S. and that the five hottest years for the country have all happened since 1998. Those streaks mirror global trends, with 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurring in the 21st century and no record cold year globally since 1911.

Comment Run nothing but free software and you'll get that. (Score -1) 156

The only way to get real and full control over your computer is to run nothing but free software. Free (as in freedom) software gives you the freedom to choose what you run, and to alter how the software behaves if you find you don't agree with what it does. No proprietor offers that as a choice. I suggest considering a computer recommended by the "Respects Your Freedom" campaign and other computers in which you can run fully-free OSes and free firmware (there are modern POWER8 and Intel-compatible systems to do this as well as older lower-end hardware).

As to Microsoft in particular, this story effectively comes to nothing. You'd have to be quite naive to believe that a proprietor will give up its power over the user to not have some way to make their system run what the proprietor wants. If Microsoft ever claims they don't have such backdoor access to Windows systems, keep in mind there's no way to verify that no such backdoors exist or fix them if they're later discovered. Microsoft has an ugly history (some of which the public knows about in the Windows 10 software that was forced on some users at various points) which should prevent anyone from believing them. This whole story is nothing but a PR move trying to make Microsoft look better in light of Windows users apparently rejecting Windows 10 and sharing information about times when Windows 10 was forcibly and immediately imposed. The tech press is so thoroughly corporate now you'll find sycophants saying otherwise but they can't talk away the lack of software freedom that forms the basis of a proprietor's power over their users.

Comment Don't forget: IBM values patent cross-licensing (Score 1) 94

As we learned years ago from IBM's "Think" magazine, #5, 1990

You get value from patents in two ways," says Roger Smith, IBM Assistant General Counsel, intellectual property law. "Through fees, and through licensing negotiations that give IBM access to other patents.

The IBM patent portfolio gains us the freedom to do what we need to do through cross-licensing--it gives us access to the inventions of others that are the key to rapid innovation. Access is far more valuable to IBM than the fees it receives from its 9,000 active patents. There's no direct calculation of this value, but it's many times larger than the fee income, perhaps an order of magnitude larger.

The analysis presented in that text file is valuable to us to understand what this means:

The value IBM gets from cross-licensing measures the trouble that the patent system would cause IBM if IBM could not avoid it. IBM's estimate is that the trouble could easily be ten times the good one can expect from one's own patents--even for a company with 9,000 of them.

Obviously that was written back when IBM had fewer patents, but it's no less true today. Continuing from the analysis:

For IBM, this trouble is hypothetical--cross-licensing prevents it from happening. For ordinary companies which cannot do likewise, the burden is real. IBM's estimate suggests that for a typical software company, patents will do ten times as much harm as good. Only the elimination of patents from the software field can enable most software developers to continue with their work.

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