Tag Archives: IT Politics

RMS in Sthlm

Claes and I started the foss-sthlm initiative a while ago, back in 2009. I'm sure I've mentioned that before. We've since then done a series of events where we've gathered foss hackers from the Stockholm region to speak about Free Software and Open Source for people interested in these issues. We've had 100+ persons attend to every event and I've considered them successful beyond our wildest expectations. Me and Claes originally expected to gather around 30 persons or so...

Interested?

So out of the blue I got a question from Giuseppe (who were talking to RMS at the time) if foss-sthlm/me would be interested in organizing an event in Stockholm with mr Stallman. It turned out mr Stallman was already considering coming to FSCONS in Gothenburg and when doing so he was looking around to see if he could do some more talks while in Sweden. Given this chance, I simply couldn't turn it down!

We coordinated with our pals behind FSCONS (the lovely crew at FFKP) so that we would jointly fund the event. We would split the bill for getting mr Stallman here and onward again to his subsequent gig, and the cost for his travel between Stockholm and Gothenburg.

How many?

Ironically, we already before had talked about not getting one of these super celebs to foss-sthlm events simply because of their immense popularity and the problem to get facilities to host events with them. How many would come to an RMS talk? I guessed at least 300 since among our previous events the most popular one got around 150 visitors.

How to get a place?

Commercial rooms for at least 300 people are expensive and luckily we quite soon got in touch with friends at KTH in Sweden - The Royal Institute of Technology, and they graciously offered to sponsor a room for 500. Awesome, we were on our way!

Sponsors?

South Pole didn't hesitate when I asked them (you rock, Jakob!), but immediately said they'd help us to sponsor the event. With them on board, we had all the financial stuff we needed covered and we could say "full steam ahead!" to everyone involved .

Fiddle like crazy

FSCONS had a fixed date for their conference already, but when would RMS come to Stockholm? After FSCONS or before? When would we be able to reserve the room and how would it all fit into RMS's schedule of other things. Several times we thought we had nailed it when something changed and we had to redo it all again. It took a good amount of emails back and forth until we finally scheduled and decided that he'd be in Stockholm first and then go FSCONS.

Open for registrations!

We went public about RMS coming to Sweden coordinated with FSCONS so that none of us would take advantage of this on the others' expense. On September 27th 13:22 we told everyone about it, and within less than eleven (11) hours all 500 seats in the room had been reserved!

Oops, full already

Wow. That was a bit overwhelming and not quite what I had expected. A bit tough, but well our room only fits 500 so...

Find a new place

Friendly people on the foss-sthlm list very soon mentioned a new, much larger, facility that perhaps could be possible to host Stallman's talk. The huge Aula Magna room. I was a bit pessimistic about it, as I was just so happy already with having gotten a fine sponsorship for that first room.

New place, new sponsor

What are friends for? I can hardly describe it, but we have good friends in good places and wow, not many days passed until I got the excellent news that the Stockholm University's department for Computer and System's Sciences would help us get the room and pay the bill for it. This massive room fits 1194 sitting visitors. (Thanks Beatrice, you're awesome!)

More tickets

Amazingly enough, it was just a matter of time until we ran out of tickets again. Sure, this time there were tickets available for a longer time but well over a week before the RMS talk there were again no tickets available. The demand was still clearly very high. When the event was just a few days away, we sent out reminder emails and we got lots of ticket cancellations, perhaps 60-70 of them, and the tickets that were returned were immediately made available again on the ticket site and were soon signed up for again by other lucky souls.

When we closed the registration, there were just a few tickets still available. 1180 or so had been registered to listen to Richard M Stallman talk in Stockholm, a dull and grey November day 2011.

The speech

Richard is a charismatic person. He can speak to a huge audience for almost two hours, with no slides and no images and no script and still keep us all alert and interested. He mixes in dry humor and reflects back and recites episodes from previous speeches from time to time.

The topic was of course Free Software. About doing the right thing. About freedom and how you need to be prepared to sacrifice some things in order to gain and fight for freedom. For mr Stallman things are often black/white. It is either free and therefore right and fine, or it isn't free and therefore morally wrong and a bad idea. He also spent quite a lot of time explaining why calling it GNU/Linux is the right thing and how mr Torvalds doesn't care about the ethics and about doing the right thing for humanity.

I've been involved in Free Software (and in Open Source too, a term that RMS despises and encourages us all not to use) for many years but this was actually the first time I heard RMS talk live.

Thanks

This would not have been such a smooth ride with the efforts of Giuseppe, Claes and the eager help and assistance from all friends in #foss-sthlm. Thank you!

(The pictures in this blog entry are all CC-BY-SA licensed and are taken by Kjell Ericson)

Three out of one hundred

If I'm not part of the solution, I'm part of the problem and I don't want to be part of the problem. More specifically, I'm talking about female presence in tech and in particular in open source projects.

3 out of 100I've been an open source and free software hacker, contributor and maintainer for almost 20 years. I'm the perfect stereo-type too: a white, hetero, 40+ years old male living in a suburb of a west European city. (I just lack a beard.) I've done more than 20,000 commits in public open source code repositories. In the projects I maintain, and have a leading role in, and for the sake of this argument I'll limit the discussion to curl, libssh2, and c-ares, we're certainly no better than the ordinary average male-dominated open source projects. We're basically only men (boys?) talking to other men and virtually all the documentation, design and coding is done by male contributors (to a significant degree).

Sure, we have female contributors in all these projects, but for example in the curl case we have over 850 named contributors and while I'm certainly not sure who is a woman and who is not when I get contributions, there's only like 10 names in the list that are typically western female names. Let's say there are 20. or 30. Out of a total of 850 the proportions are devastating no matter what. It might be up to 3%. Three. THREE. I know women are under-represented in technology in general and in open source in particular, but I think 3% is even lower than the already low bad average open source number. (Although, some reports claim the number of female developers in foss is as low as just above 1%, geekfeminism says 1-5%).

Numbers

Three percent. (In a project that's been alive and kicking for thirteen years...) At this level after this long time, there's already a bad precedent and it of course doesn't make it easier to change now. It is also three percent of the contributors when we consider all contributors alike. If we'd count the number of female persons in leading roles in these projects, the amount would be even less.

It could be worth noting that we don't really have any recent reliable stats for "real world" female share either. Most sources that I find on the Internet and people have quoted in talks tend to repeat old numbers that were extracted using debatable means and questions. The comparisons I've seen repeated many times on female participation in FOSS vs commercial software, are very often based on stats that are really not comparable. If someone has reliable and somewhat fresh data, please point them out for me!

"Ghosh, R. A.; Glott, R.; Krieger, B.;
Robles, G. 2002. Free/Libre and Open Source Software: Survey and Study. Part
IV: Survey of Developers. Maastricht: International Institute of Infonomics
/Merit.

A design problem of "the system"

I would blame "the system". I'm working in embedded systems professionally as a consultant and contract developer. I've worked as a professional developer for some 20 years. In my niche, there's not even 10% female developers. A while ago I went through my past assignments in order to find the last female developer that I've worked with, in a project, physically located in the same office. The last time I met a fellow developer at work who was female was early 2007. I've worked in 17 (seventeen!) projects since then, without even once having had a single female developer colleague. I usually work in smaller projects with like 5-10 people. So one female in 18 projects makes it something like one out of 130 or so. I'm not saying this is a number that is anything to draw any conclusions from since it just me and my guesstimates. It does however hint that the problem is far beyond "just" FOSS. It is a tech problem. Engineering? Software? Embedded software? Software development? I don't know, but I know it is present both in my professional life as well as in my volunteer open source work.

Geekfeminism says the share is 10-30% in the "tech industry". My experience says the share gets smaller and smaller the closer to "the metal" and low level programming you get - but I don't have any explanation for it.

Fixing the problems

What are we (I) doing wrong? Am I at fault? Is the the way I talk or the way we run these projects in some subtle - or obvious - ways not friendly enough or downright hostile to women? What can or should we change in these projects to make us less hostile? The sad reality is that I don't think we have any such fatal flaws in our projects that create the obstacles. I don't think many females ever show up near enough the projects to even get mistreated in the first place.

I have a son and I have a daughter - they're both still young and unaware of this kind of differences and problems. I hope I will be able to motivate and push and raise them equally. I don't want to live in a world where my daughter will have a hard time to get into tech just because she's a girl.

FSCONS 2010 day 2

[continued from FSCONS 2010 day 1]

With the previous night's social event ending fairly late and involving a fair amount of good beers, it was nice to be able to sleep in a bit and have one of those great hotel breakfasts in a slow and relaxed manner.

I then checked out from the hotel and walked over to the venue, this time not as mislead by google maps' directions as I was yesterday.

The economics of open innovation and FOSS. was the first session I attended and the talker Karthik Jayaraman did a good job of explaining and showing how things can happen fast and why and he did some interesting predictions of the future.

I followed Kathik's talk in the same room with my 30 minute session Future transports in which I discussed and explained a bit about transport protocols today and what might come tomorrow.

Glyn Moody is a bit of a celebrity (he has for example written several books) and you can tell he's done this before. He's an excellent speaker and as he's a native English person he has a bit of an edge compared to most speakers at this conference. Mr Moody got the biggest room at FSCONS filled up to the last available chair and there were still a bunch who had to sit on the floor.

Glyn talked about Ethical Monopolies, the history of patents and copyright and how they have changed and how they today no longer are even close to having the purposes they were created for.

He advocates that we stop talking about "Intellectual Properties" but instead refer to them as "Intellectual government-granted monopolies" as that is a much better use of words when these subjects are brought up. The ordinary person thinks people should be able to keep properties, but would in many cases object to (more) monopolies.

The last session I got to enjoy this year was Mikael von Knorring's "Who are the free users" which did present a good view of things but I wasn't very focused during the talk so I'll refrain from judging it in any direction.

I took a last stroll over to the cafeteria area where I found some friends, said hello and good bye and then I took off towards the train station and my 3+ hours train ride back to Stockholm on the other coast of Sweden. (It could be noted that I left early, there were at least two session slots that I missed.)

My head is packed with impressions. I met lots of great people and friends, both old and many new ones. We had awesome discussions and I hope at least some of the ideas that were brought up will be turned into reality. I will post more about those here if/when they happen.

The future for Free Software (in the Nordic region) is bright!

Mine is More than Yours

So Redhat created and made this very interesting Open Source Activity Map available. It rates 75 countries' open sourceness based on "Government, Industry, and Community" and how good the countries are at open source. Sort of. The numbers are based on research done by Georgia Institute of Technology.

What does it give?

I'm a Swede who lives in Sweden and I can see that we're not generally that much into open source, but we're also a very small population compared to lots of other countries. But no, I cannot see how Finland or Norway are any further than we. What also puzzles me is how they even rate China before Sweden. The numbers that are provided don't appear to take population into account, or even participation level in open source projects.

Of course I realize I have but one view and my view is deeply skewed by the projects I work in and by the people I meet and I have never even tried to compare different countries' governments against each other in regards of open source so I figure I can't make a good comment on these results. What is weird is that there's simply almost no participants in open source projects from China (and several other Asian countries) and I've always thought that's primarily due to language barriers. Is this map then suggesting that those missing people make up for it in projects within their own language regions?

Or isn't it so that this map is more a map of comparing legislations and governments against each other, and no so much what actual people from these countries do in various projects? I would otherwise assume that us people in the western world have a small benefit from being close to the English language. Not to mention how those speaking native English can easily jump into most projects without thinking twice about language problems.

I think however that this is a very good idea. It brings issues to the open. What makes a country good for open source? What's needed to make my country better?

oss activity map

User data probably for sale

It's time for a little "doomsday prophesy".

Already seen happen

As was reported last year in Sweden, mobile operators here sell customer data (Swedish article) to companies who are willing to pay. Even though this might be illegal (Swedish article), all the major Swedish mobile phone operators do this. This second article mentions that the operators think this practice is allowed according to the contract every customer has signed, but that's far from obvious in everybody else's eyes and may in fact not be legal.

For the non-Swedes: one mobile phone user found himself surfing to a web site that would display his phone number embedded on the site! This was only possible due to the site buying this info from the operator.

While the focus on what data they sell has been on the phone number itself - and I do find that a pretty good privacy breach in itself - there's just so much more the imaginative operators just very likely soon will offer companies who just pay enough.

Legislations going the wrong way

There's this EU "directive" from a few years back:

Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC

It basically says that Internet operators must store information of users' connections made on the net and keep them around for a certain period. Sweden hasn't yet ratified this but I hear other EU member states already have it implemented...

(The US also has some similar legislation being suggested.)

It certainly doesn't help us who believe in maintaining a level of privacy!

What soon could happen

There's hardly a secret that operators run network supervision equipments on their customer networks and thus they analyze and snoop on network data sent and received by each and every customer. They do this for network management reasons and for such legislations I mentioned above. (Disclaimer: I've worked and developed code for a client that makes and sells products for exactly this purpose.)

Anyway, it is thus easy for the operators to for example spot common URLs their users visit. They can spot what services (bittorrent, video sites, Internet radio, banks, porn etc) a user frequents. Given a particular company's interest, it could certainly be easy to check for specific competitors in users' visitor logs or whatever and sell that info.

If operators can sell the phone numbers of their individual users, what stops them from selling all this other info - given a proper stash of money from the ones who want to know? I'm convinced this will happen sooner or later, unless we get proper legislation that forbids the operators from doing this... In Sweden this sell of info is mostly likely to get done by the mobile network operators and not the regular Internet providers simply because the mobile ones have this end user contract to lean on that they claim gives them this right. That same style of contract and terminology, is not used for regular Internet subscriptions (I believe).

So here's my suggestion for Think Geek to expand somewhat on their great shirt:

i-read-your-everything

(yeah, I have one of those boring ones with only the first line on it...)

Apple patents another Rockbox idea

We've just read about Apple's patent application (that seems to have been filed on July 17 2007) to alter the volume of a media player based on the external surrounding.

It's funny how this was suggested to the Rockbox project already back in September 2002 and is logged fine independently by archive.org - and in fact also on Sourceforge where we hosted our request-tracker back then.

This is not the first time we see this consumer electronics giant patent ideas we've already implemented or discussed publicly a very long time before in the Rockbox project.

In 2006 Apple filed to patent a system to read up audio clips to the user to help menu navigation, a concept we at that time already had implemented and I must say was fairly polished in Rockbox. (Link to their patent application.)

Two obvious cases of where the ideas certainly were not new. Not that it tend to prevent patent applications, but still...

Rockbox

Snooping on government HTTPS

As was reported by some Swedish bloggers, and I found out thanks to kryptoblog, it seems the members of the Swedish parliament all access the internet via a HTTP proxy. And not only that, they seem to access HTTPS sites using the same proxy and while a lot of the netizens of the world do this, the members of the Swedish parliament have an IT department that is more big-brotherish than most: they decided they "needed" to snoop on the network traffic even for HTTPS connections - and how do you accomplish this you may ask?

Simple! The proxy simply terminates the SSL connection, then fetches the remote HTTPS document and run-time generates a "faked" SSL cert for the peer that is signed by a CA that the client trusts and then delivers that to the client. This does require that the client has got a CA cert installed locally that makes it trust certificates signed by the "faked" CA but I figure the parliament's IT department "help" its users to this service.

Not only does this let every IT admin there be able to snoop on user names and passwords etc, it also allows for Man-In-The-Middle attacks big-time as I assume the users will be allowed to go to HTTPS sites using self-signed certificates - but they probably won't even know it!

The motivation for this weird and intrusive idea seems to be that they want to scan the traffic for viruses and other malware.

If I were a member of the Swedish parliament I would be really upset and I would uninstall the custom CA and I would seriously consider accessing the internet using an ssh tunnel or similar. But somehow I doubt that many of them care, and the rest of them won't be capable to take counter-measures against this.

Can Ipv6 be made to succeed?

One of the "big guys" in Sweden on issues such as this - Patrik Fältström - apparently held a keynote at a recent internet-related conference ("Internetdagarna"), and there he addressed this topic (in Swedish). His slides from his talk is available from his blog.

Indeed a good read. Again: in Swedish...

In summary: the state is currently bad. There's little being done to improve things. All alternatives to ipv6 look like worse solutions.

Will 2008 become 1984?

Next week in Sweden (June 18th), as reported in several places lately including slashdot, the Swedish parliament is supposed to vote for the pretty far-going law allowing FRA (a swedish defence organization previously involved in radio-surveillance etc) to wire-tap phone calls and computer traffic that cross the Swedish borders. The majority in the parliament is for the law, while it seems most of the ordinary people are against it. The hope is now that a few people will vote against their parties, that they will have the guts to stand up and "do the right thing" instead of following the party line.

I won't go into how silly, stupid and bad such a law is but I'll instead just show this great video to all swedes:

(video snipped from here)

stopa FRAlagen nu

This banner says (roughly translated by me) "On June 18th the government will take away your personal integrety. All internet traffic, all phone calls, all email and SMS traffic will be wire-tapped starting January 1st 2009. Big brother sees you! ... and violates the Swedish Constitution."