My Declaration of Independence

Way back during the days of Windoze98 First Edition my Father bought me a shiny new computer which had Win98 on it. Oh boy I was excited. This was the only brand-new computer I have ever owned. I waited for days almost holding my breath for the UPS man to deliver my shiny new wares. It seemed and eternity. All the computers that I had prior to the one that was on order were an antique Macintosh and a dead computer that had Windows 3.1 on it. I figured that when the new computer arrived I would be walking in tall cotton.

So after an interminable wait the UPS man finally showed up with my shiny new computer. I excitedly opened the boxes, plugged in all the wires and booted it up. Oh I was in heaven. I trolled around the computer a bit learning what all was new and improved on Win98 from the old version of Windows that I had been running before. Then I took my AOL v3.0 disc, put it into the cd drive (this computer was the first one I owned with a cd drive) and watched as Gates’ wonderful new invention did it’s thing.

Within minutes I was on the world wide web!

The next day I sat down at my desk to surf the web, booted up the computer and got the famed blue screen of death. I did manage to resolve that problem but my hatred of proprietary systems and software was born that day.

Over the next ten years or so I have used most of the systems that Microsoft and Apple have produced. My experiences with the various operating systems and softwares of those two companies has all been the same. They are neat and cool for about a day and then they turn to crap.

In 2006 after getting a monster worm and virus attack I finally said to hell with Windows and loaded Ubuntu Linux 6.06 into the Manhut computer. I haven’t looked back.

Now I realize that Ubuntu is not really as grand a Linux distro as the propaganda leads us to believe. It is a system that is designed for the typical user, the user who doesn’t really have a problem forking over their privacy and has no real concern about freedom. Therefore, Ubuntu is not a free system. You can easily add whatever proprietary codecs and software you want. It may take some effort but it can be done.

Ubuntu did, however, open my eyes to the issue of freedom. It forced me to consider my beliefs. As an American we chant freedom as some sort of mantra. We always talk about freedom but sometimes I wonder if we really know what it means. A big case in point for me is the fascist crap that goes on in the airports. The Constitution guarantees us the right to be secure in our effects from unreasonable searches and yet we go to airports and submit to the humiliation and travesty being treated like a common criminal by a government official when we need to fly somewhere. Hey where is your search warrant Herr Obergruppenfuhrer?

If we do not blindly submit to the intrusions of our government into our freedoms we allow corporations to invade us. We shop at Walmart because the price is cheaper. We are fools if we do not. Twenty-odd years ago Walmart advertised that they would always buy American when they could. Have you noticed how little in Walmart these days is made in North America let alone the United States? Every dollar we spend in a Walmart is doing nothing but making Walmart (and China) richer and more powerful. They are destroying our national economy just like they have destroyed so many local ones. We submit to this weakening of our lives because the price is cheaper and with the one stop shopping atmosphere of Walmart it is easier.

Google and Facebook are the two internet giants these days. These two constantly assault our rights to privacy and even our economy. Information is what drives the economy these days and Google and Facebook are the two greatest information gatherers on the web and they make a lot of money selling that information. The hiccough is that we freely give them the info and we don’t make a dime off of it. They just keep on getting richer and more powerful tho… and they do it off of our backs.

Google has many neat services, no doubt. Where would we be without youtube, or picasa, gmail, docs or blogger? Webmasters for the last few years would probably not know how to run their webstuff without googleads or Google Analytics after all. Have we really thought about what Google really does and how they are able to “give” us these neat toys for free?

As I stated above- Google is in the information business. They gather information and then turn around and sell it. When you “google” something or sign up for an account with them the begin tracking everything you do online. EVERYTHING. They know what you view online. They know what you buy. They know when you are most active and when you are probably asleep. They know what towns you frequently visit. They know what you watch on youtube, hulu and joost. If you are a blogger they know what you think. If you use your docs account for work they know about you business life. Once you sign up for an account with them they know everything that you do online. They gather this information and turn around and sell it to businesses and governments worldwide. They also tailor their advertising to suit you so that their advertisers will get more money out of you. They get rich because you surf the web and you don’t make a penny off of it.

They have even violated copyrights with the courts doing little more than slapping them on the wrists and saying they were a bad bad corporation!

Facebook is not quite as heinous as Google but they do many of the same things. the bad thing with Facebook is that we voluntarily give them most of the information without some much as a passing thought. Facebook at least comes right out and asks us our interests and philosophical views and then builds their advertising. Facebook’s “privacy” policy is under constant revision and the latest one should simply read “you signed up for a Facebook account so you are screwed.” Long and the short of it is Facebook (and Google) can do whatever they want as long as you use their nifty services. The better thing is to tell them no.

It is all about the money!

I love the way the anti-piracy campaign started out with a plea to people to not illegally download music or movies off of the internet to help protect the artists. Bah! Piracy doesn’t protect the artists money or copyrights. It protects the record label’s or movie distributors money. That is all that it does. Take a look at this blog post (http://www.kn.com.au/networks/2010/02/a-large-dose-of-common-sense.html) and look at the picture below.  In any situation in life one can ask themselves cui bono and find out what the truth of any situation is. Entertainment companies are all about money. Artists are generally about their art. Artists aren’t nearly as concerned about the money as they are about their music being heard or their paintings or movies being seen or their books being read. Most artists do not even hold the copyrights on their published works anyway. They sell their copyrights to whomever can get their works heard or seen by the largest number of people. Money is just a pleasant side effect of their art to most artists.

Copyrights on music and art is a relatively recent development in jurisprudence. The US Supreme Court early in the 20th Century ruled several times that audible music could not be copyrighted. Sheet music was a little more ambiguous to the Court as was paintings and sculptures but they were pretty consistent in their rulings that recorded music could not be copyrighted.

I am not sure what caused the change of heart in the legal community but I suspect that someone somewhere along the line discovered that money could be made out of the arts and then began lobbying for reform. Copyrights are all about securing the financial interest of the work in question to the copyright holder anyway. The results of the copyright changes have had catastrophic effect on our society.

Few people stop to think about it but the public domain is absolutely vital to our culture and cultural development. The public domain consists of all those works (printed, audible or otherwise) which have absolutely no copyrights or restrictions on them whatsoever. Some of these works were originally copyrighted and the copyrights expired. Others were placed in the public domain purposely or were uncopyrightable at the time of publication. After a work has run it’s financial course, not everything can remain financially viable forever after all, the work would slip quietly into the public domain and be made freely available to the whole world to use as they see fit.

A big way that these works get used is by the creation of derivative works. The Coen Brothers made the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” which is a derivative of The Odyssey by Homer. Many of the movies we see and books we read today are retellings of Shakespeare plays. Most notably the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Where would James Cameron be if he didn’t use this story for his epic “Titanic?” When one stops and thinks on this a bit one will realize that most of the movies we watch and books we read are just retellings of stories found in the public domain. Retellings of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible, Shakespeare or the Ancient Greeks and Romans permeate and envigorate our cultural life. As they should.

My writing of this post automatically gives me a copyright on this post that lasts in the neighborhood of 95 years. I figured it up one day and my grandchildren would be seeing the birth of their grandchildren before the copyright on this post expired. Now I know this post (or just about anything else I write for that matter) is not really financially viable so I have released this entire blog under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA license. I mean, really, let’s be sensible here. Just the fact that you have read this far into my rambling prose should earn you something besides the headache that you now have.

But that is not so with most things in the entertainment industry. There is a strong possibility that you are even violating the fair use clause of the Copyright laws by repeating jokes you heard on a movie. I know of a fellow who made a parody/satire of the Fox TV show Millenium a few years back. He posted his work on the web and after a few short weeks he was contacted by lawyers who issued him a cease and desist order. I grant that the guy had taken the Millenium logo and tweaked it a bit to fit his satire, but he was within fair use. jurisprudence until a few years ago always respected the right to satire.

Even our knowledge is restricted in some form or fashion now. As our public schools are declining in quality people are discovering that they need to pay some private school somewhere to get their kids educated. The sad irony is that this may cost less if the schools would use non-proprietary computers and software. Even public service institutions like hospitals and schools have to pay Microsoft in some form or fashion. This author has never once in his life found the need to build a powerpoint presentation on anything yet his high school children have to make three or four of them a year. They have to be the proprietary .ppt format from your friend Microsoft. I have never had the monetary resources to afford the program that makes powerpoints so the kids are forced to remain in the school after hours to work on them thus making my kids slaves to the school and Microsoft. GRR!

In addition to the technological costs of getting an education we also bump into our little buddy the copyright again. In order for a school to use any textbook they must pay royalties to the publisher and author(s) of the textbooks. If there is some tie in to something digital then we also have to pay royalties to Microsoft again (usually) and then again to the folks who produce the disc or operate the website etc etc. It never ends. Education like everything else in the world is a money game.

Education is having miserable results with all of this. As an employer I have hired college grads who can not read and high school grads who can not do simple arithmetic. I am in a math heavy job. We are not teaching Johnny to read, write and do his ciphering. We are not teaching Johnny how to think. We are not even teaching Johnny how to survive. George Bush’s No Child Left Behind is a failure. We should rename the “Let’s sell out an entire generation to the corporations” law.

Even our religion is all jacked up by this nonsense. Religious writers have popped out of the woodwork the last few years all getting rich by selling their restricted wares. Even the new Bibles being produced today come with copyright restriction. So much for the immortal words of Jesus “freely you have received so freely give.”

Now let me see if I can bring this all together for you in a neat little package.

Copyrights and patents were given to the geeks that created the computer revolution. These geeks allowed you to use their products as long as you conformed to their rules. Sit down and actually read the EULA from Microsoft someday. YOU DO NOT OWN A MICROSOFT PRODUCT. You are granted a license to use the product as long as you put up with their nonsense. You can not alter their product to suit your specific needs or desires. You can not give away the product. All the folks who have given me computers with Windows and other Microsoft products are violating the terms of the EULA and believe it or not could have their privileges to use them rescinded. I realize that this will probably not happen but by the terms of the EULA it could.

Under the EULA and other Terms of Use agreements the owner of the service or maker of the product can gather all sorts of personal information about you a distribute it to whomever they see fit. No I am not lying. Look at the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of any of the popular services that you use online. Twitter, Facebook, Windows7, iTunes, Google, even your bank is suspect. You will be amazed at what they can and will do to you.

And they can do it to us and will continue to do it to us because they have us roped into their restrictive operating systems, with their proprietary codecs and formats and a host of other freedom draining measures. We fall into things like Facebook because it is cool and all of our friends use it so we join up without reading their rules. And then we have the audacity to get all upset when our email box fills up with spam. We did it to ourselves. We can not get all wound up because they placed a Flash cookie on our computer to track us because we allowed it to happen. We have even allowed ourselves to become victims of viral attacks because we think we need to have their “cool” and “easy to use” systems.

Some of us have decided that the cost of “gratis” is too great a burden to bear. We feel that our generation is being sold into slavery in the name of money. Slavery is slavery whether it comes from a taskmaster’s whip or the big corporations throwing the economy into the crapper and taking huge bonuses from the government while doing it. In plain and simple English IT IS WRONG!

They take our jobs and factories overseas because our workers aren’t capable of doing the job. They fail to realise that they are the ones who created this world. They dangle the baubles in front of us and we say “oh look something shiny” and run out to grab them failing to realise the impact that this decision may have on us.

But thankfully the world has some folks who think outside the box. It started with Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. He proposed the Free Software Definition which reads:

* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

This definition has exploded into the world of computing. It has given rise to many great (and quite a few not so great) products. The Linux kernel is probably the greatest success of the free software movement. The s00pergeeks created a kernel that anyone (mostly other s00pergeeks) could use, modify and share. Many great free Linux distributions have been created using this kernel.

But in addition to operating systems free software has also given the world many great free and open protocols which anyone with any operating system could use. Among these are the Open Document format which is the free alternative to Microsoft’s .doc, .xls, and .ppt and Apple’s iworks protocols. Other non-proprietary protocols include the ogg which is the free alternative to the proprietary .mp3, .mpg, .avi, .wma and a host of others. The .png is an open alternative to the various picture compressions. The list of open protocols is endless. Suffice it to say that there is probably a free and open alternative to any proprietary protocol you can think of.

The beauty of open protocols is that you will not need to buy a particular operating system if you want to use them. They are platform independent so use whatever os you want. You have the choice. You are not required to be a slave to one of the manufacturers of operating systems or softwares.

Freedom what a concept!

The four freedoms outlined by Stallman and the FSF have found homes in various other areas too. Education, for example, has been open sourced. Many educational or educational type resources have been made on the FSF model. The largest of these is probably the famed Wikipedia found on the internet but if you are a more specialised person than a general wikipedia user I am sure a free resource (probably a wiki) can be found to suit your needs.

In the arts community (and several other communities for that matter) the Creative Commons license has taken hold. For example this blog is released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA v3.0 license. This means you are free to use anything on this blog as long as I get attributed, your work is non-commercial in nature and that your work is released under similar license. For those unfamiliar BY in my release license means “attribution”, NC means “non-commercial” and SA means “share and share alike.”

Libre Music has been the largest area that I have seen the explosion in these licenses. Artists are no longer allowing lawyers and record labels to steal 90-95% of their money. They are writing, performing and producing these albums and releasing them to the public under these CC licenses. Admittedly some of these artists aren’t very good and probably won’t make much money. But the odds of finding some good music released under a CC license is much better than finding any good music on the radio.

Free alternatives exist to just about anything you can find on the internet. You like googledocs? Can’t blame you, it is a good service. Have you heard of zoho.com? It does the same thing and will allow you to upload open document formatted documents without changing them to some weird google file. You like Blogger? I’m not really sure why you would but ok. http://wordpress.com is open source and is much more than a simple blog. It is an excellent content management system as well. You like Twitter? Then might I suggest http://identi.ca or for giggle try my openmicroblog at http://jimmorgan.status.net/ Do you use url shortening services like bit.ly? Try http://ur1.ca It is free. It is also open source. You can download it and set up your own service.

As a sidebar- I mentioned copyrighted Bibles above. If you use one of them compare it to the public domain World English Bible forun at http://ebible.org

I have only touched the hem of the garment when it comes to free and open source software (foss). I am a trained draftsman in Autocad but I have found a perfectly acceptable foss drafting program called QCad. Funny thing with QCad is that if you use a Windoze computer you have to pay for the software but if you run a free system it comes fully loaded and gratis. I have foss alternatives to Windows Media Player, Real Player and whatever it is that Apple makes. I am a ham radio operator and I have better programs than the average Windows alternative. One Windows program in particular is gratis but it requires the user to register and then you have to buy maps for it at $50 a pop. The program that I use is gratis with no registration and I can get detailed maps gratis as well.

So the long and the short is: when we have free and open stuffs to use why submit to the invasions of privacy and the enforced slavery of the corporations? I have yet to find a good reason. So I have set myself free of their domination. I have closed account that I had on any of the “cool” or “popular” services. I no longer use Facebook, Twitter or Google any longer. I no longer use some neat Bible software that I have used in the past. I have read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of any service that I use and have become aware of many abuses and cut them off. I am running a tight ship that is a lot closer to digital freedom.

A week ago I took a huge plunge into digital freedom when I dumped Ubuntu and went to gNewSense on the Manhut computer. Now my computing can match closer to my philosophy.

I am now FOSS!

Another sidebar many things in my non-digital life have become freer as well. Life has much more to offer than just computing after all.

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