Earlier this year, in the wake of the attempted coup that happened right here, live, on TV, in these United States, I wrote a post praising how Mastodon handled the alt-right and Donald Trump. As I saw it, Mastodon’s swift action against the alt-right (specifically, their quick repudiation of Gab) was a very different approach than the corporate platform approach of Facebook and Twitter. Yes, the latter removed Trump. But they did so at a pretty convenient moment: after the election was over and the ad dollars were spent. Moreover, while banning Trump was a long-overdue move, it was clearly inadequate. As investigative journalism is revealing, Facebook in particular did little to quell the planning of the January 6 insurrection.
I come again to praise Mastodon. This time, for quickly addressing the problem of Trump’s new platform, Truth, which appears to be a fork (or simply CTRL+F and replace) of Mastodon’s code. That in itself is not the issue – after all, Mastodon is FOSS, and people can therefore take it and use it. The issue is that Trump is claiming to own the code.
To my mind, this is like a powerful force hitting a very stupid object. It seems obvious that Trump will have to relinquish his claims that the code is proprietary.
Then again, Trump is notorious for doing things and then daring people to lawyer up, dragging his feet by using the courts. It’s clearly what he’s hoping to do with the January 6 investigation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does the same with Mastodon and the SFC.
But those are Trump’s flaws. Again, I come to praise Mastodon, once again, for showing nerve and a steel spine where corporations with a great deal more revenue, lobbying power, and users didn’t do in the first place: call Trump out on his bullshit.
I used an exclamation point intentionally, because the Appointments app for Nextcloud is just that awesome.
As a professor, I keep office hours and encourage students to meet with me. And, I also need to advise graduate students at various institutions around the world. And this is not to mention meeting with other professors I’m collaborating with – again, from around the world.
In the past, setting up meetings went a bit like this:
Them: Hey, can we meet? Me: Sure! When do you want to meet? Them: I’m free Mondays and Fridays. Me: How about noon on Monday? Them: Actually, I have an appointment them. What day of the week works for you? Me: Wednesdays and Fridays. Them: Great! What about 1 on Wednesday? Me: Sure! Them: What timezone are you in? Me: Central. Them: Oh! Then 1 pm for you is 9 pm for me.
Etc, etc. Each of these being an email, of course, and usually with a delay of several hours between them.
As they used to say in the commercials, “there’s got to be a better way!”
Nextcloud Appointments is that better way.Read more...
I took a bit more time off, at least from this blog, but it’s late September and I really should be back in school. And I am. Classes just started up at LaTech, and with them my attention turns to reading and writing about FOSS.
One thing I have done in the intervening past few weeks is publish another post to The Reboot, this time focusing on the state of FOSS phones. I had the pleasure of talking to Ioana Luncheon of Fairphone, Lukasz Erecinski of PINE64, and Félim Whiteley of Late Night Linux.
I’ve also been digging into the Ethical Source movement, which is producing a new version of the Hippocratic License for software projects.
And, I’ve been steadily working on a co-authored paper on Mastodon, the federated social networking site.
So, a lot going on, and a lot more to come!
In fact, I’m getting ever closer to revealing my Goal 2: Book Project on the blog. I want to blog out my progress openly. To do that, of course, I’ll have to clarify my project!
Oh, and other stuff on the to-do list includes figuring out a new commenting system, since Staticman is no longer working.
I made a change.
I droppped Ubuntu 18.04 for Manjaro (Mate, of course). And it’s going great!
Big news on the search front! The Brave Browser is now offering a search engine. According to their announcment, Brave Search promises “independent option for search which gives them unmatched privacy” and will use an independent index, rather than rely on Google or Microsoft. I’ve already started playing with Brave Search and am curious to see how it develops.
However, any time someone offers a search engine and their corporate parent isn’t named Alphabet, there’s a pretty predictable reaction: “Good on them for trying, but you just can’t beat Google.” I’ve also heard academics say the same thing: “I can’t find anything without Google.”
Search is, of course, a very common approach to conducting research, and it’s especially important to my work on Internet cultures. One key way to study the Internet is by searching it. And it seems as though that means all my work ought to flow through Google.
I hadn’t really thought much about this situation until just recently. Along with Sean Lawson, I co-authored a book, Social Engineering: How Crowdmasters, Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls Created a New Form of Manipulative Communication. It will come out from MIT Press in a few months.
The book is the result of four years of research on hacker social engineering practices as well as early 20th century propaganda and public relations (a field that also referred to its activity as “social engineering”). After finishing this latest book, I realized I’m a living testament to the fact that yes, you can de-Google your search and still conduct research. Because that’s what I did.
I’ve not posted for a while. And that’s ok. Why? Because we all need a break. A vacation.
You. You there. You should take a break.
I did. It’s ok. The work will be there later.
While traveling with family and seeing my friends, I once again relied heavily on a device I begrudgingly have: a mobile phone, in this case a Google Android device. While I work really hard to avoid apps or limit their permissions, I just don’t like having Google anything in my pocket.
And while I have a PinePhone Braveheart edition, it’s just not ready to be my main phone.
So, in the interim, I’m doing something I should have done a while ago: trying out F-Droid, the FOSS collection of Android apps.
I was inspired in part by an interview I had with Félim Whiteley of the Late Night Linux podcast. Whiteley is a well-known de-Googler. The interview will be used as a part of the research for a forthcoming Reboot article I’m working on.
So I guess the vacation wasn’t all vacation, because I found myself mucking about with FOSS, once again. This time on my phone. But, hey, that’s the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream for you. I can’t turn it off easily.
More posts soon!
A few quick updates on the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream front.Read more...
I’ve been messin’ about with Wireguard and – after some hiccups – I have a small network of peers connected. I now have a couple laptops, a desktop, a phone, and a Raspberry Pi all networked, with the connection remaining persistent even as the mobile devices move across wi-fi networks.
Just a short post to note I have succumbed to the dark side.
This whole pandemic has increased the amount of screen time we all endure, and I’ve increasingly recognized that dark modes feel better on my eyes. I started using the Dark Reader extension in Firefox to invert colors, and I set Mate to a dark theme on all my devices. After a few weeks of this, I realized that I liked the look of FOSS Academic when it was rendered using Dark Reader.
If you see any issues with the styling, let me know in the comments. I still have to style the comments – I’ll get to it someday – but in the meantime, enjoy the dark.
Zotero recently announced two major new features: an internal PDF reader and tab-based navigation. These are scheduled to be a part of the Zotero 6 release later this year, but when I heard about them, I installed the Zotero 5 developer version to give them a whirl.
My quick take on the new features? They are now a key part of the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream.Read more...
I guess I have strange timing.
I just got done reading Sam Williams’s 2002 book Free As In Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software. I started reading it about March 15 or so.
At the time, I thought of Stallman as largely in the background of the world of FOSS, since of course he resigned from the Free Software Foundation back in 2019. I knew that he was called out for some comments about Marvin Minsky and the Jeffrey Epstein case – comments that were, at best, tone-deaf and, at worst, apologies for the sexual predation of children. I also knew of increasing numbers of women who reported Stallman’s behavior made them uncomfortable and even unsafe.
But since I’m putting together Goal 2 – a book-length research project about FOSS – I figured that I need to engage with Stallman in some form, even if he was fading into the background.
So Williams’s book caught my eye. As I read, I came across curious moments that may have appeared differently in 2002 than they do to this reader in 2021.
My intention was to read the book and post a bit about it here, as I did with Dreaming In Code as part of my larger research project into FOSS.
But it turns out that I also finished the book in time for RM Mess 2.0. So this is changing from a book review into a post that connect Williams’s now two-decades old biography with a current event.
Content warnings: this post discusses sexual assault, child exploitation, and harassment. You might want to skip it on those grounds. Moreover, if you’re tired of discussions of Stallman, you also might want to skip this post.Read more...
There’s exciting news on the Zotero front!
Zotero just announced a preview of their new tab system, complete with a built-in PDF reader.
For anyone living the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream, this is huge news.
They plan on releasing these features to the public in Version 6, but anyone itching to try it can use the development version of Zotero. This post will discuss how to install Zotero’s beta in Ubuntu Mate 18.04, though the approach should be similar for other Linux distros.
NB: Note, I would have found this sooner or later, but credit to Sean Lawson for alerting me!Read more...
A quick note to any readers in GDPR regulated areas: I’m in the USA, and I don’t really do business in Europe. I don’t really do business anywhere, to be honest. Anyway, I also really respect privacy concerns. So, in the interest of transparency, I want to note that I use a Statcounter script to help track traffic to this blog.
My call is still out: if you have a better way to get basic traffic data for a Github.io-hosted static Jekyll blog, let me know in the comments or via Mastodon (@firstname.lastname@example.org).
Why in the year 2021 is it hard to edit PDFs in Linux?
Please don’t tell me to use Okular.
Please don’t tell me to use LaTex.
I’m barely keeping things together using Atril and pdfunite in the command line.
I popped over to It’s FOSS to see their list of top applications. When your list starts with LibreOffice Draw… I don’t know what to say. It gets worse from there, going to a bunch of commercial, proprietary solutions.
I now work for an organization that makes heavy use of PDF forms. I lament the lost hours.
Printing and scanning seems like the most efficient thing to do.
At this point, feel free to tell me to switch to Windows.
Sometimes, the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream can hurt you.
I spent the weekend installing Manjaro on a laptop. I’m starting to really like Manjaro after years of using Debian-based things like Ubuntu and Mint. I know using Manjaro doesn’t really allow me to say “I use Arch btw” but it’s really fun, nonetheless.
I used my Manjaro box to write up a post for the blog, but then I had the bright idea of trying to install a second OS on it, I borked it, and then re-installed… losing the post I wrote. Ah, well. Such is FALD life.
I have Manjaro up and running (with MATE, of course), though – I’m starting to think it could be my next working distro.
[That said, I’m writing this on an Ubuntu box.]
Bowie wanted to know: is there Linux on Mars?
According to IEEE Spectrum and PC Magazine, Linux is now on Mars. Specifically, the drone copter is running the Linux kernel on an off-the-shelf Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Perhaps this marks the beginning of the end of proprietary operating systems on the Red Planet?
Good to see the people of NASA are living the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream.
A quick note: I’m conducting a survey with a colleague of mine, Dr. Diana Zulli. We’re interested in learning from Mastodon developers, admins, and users about “freedom of expression.”
I will post the link to the survey in Mastodon, rather than here. If you use Mastodon, I hope you see it there.
I wanted to note one thing about the survey: we’re offering a small bit of compensation for people’s time (at least, the first 75 or so people – after that, the funding runs out.) Because of where we work, we are using Qualtrics for the survey, and the only real way to compensate people and protect people’s private information is by using Amazon gift cards. We realize you may not share the same values as Amazon. We talked about this problem at length and decided to go ahead with the incentives. If you have interest in doing the survey but no interes in Amazon, you can skip the final questions of the survey.
If you have questions about this survey, hit me up on Mastodon (@email@example.com) or via the email address listed here.
I posted a question to Mastodon (specifically, scholar.social):
Ok! If you had a good budget to build a cloud infrastructure to support small teams (2-5 people) collaborating on projects, with a special focus on academic writing projects, what would you recommend?
I’m thinking Linux-based cloud stuff, so I have in mind:
and…? Any recommendations?
I asked this question in all seriousness. I am lucky enough to have a small amount of research funding, I want to promote the world of software beyond Google and Microsoft, and so I’m really keen on building a FOSS Academic Laboratory in the cloud and using to for any collaborative projects I’m a part of. After all, it’s my Goal #1: to use FOSS for as much of my academic work as is possible.
The response I got to the questions was freakin’ awesome!
I thought it would be a good idea to catalog it here. I’ll start with the least-recommended things and work my way up to the most-recommended. That’s not to say this is a ranking – things mentioned only once might be really valuable. I’m really just noting what was mentioned most.
I’ll also note which ones I am considering deploying – again, this is not a commentary on the quality of any of these systems. It’s more related to my own specific use cases forged in the past decade of academic collaborations.Read more...
This post is to test Staticman comments. I’ll edit this post later to update my progress. For now, if anyone stumbles across this and wants to add a “test” comment or something helpful, feel free!
I’m basing this process of this helpful blog post from Travis Downs of Performance Matters. Thank you!Read more...
Wikipedia is 20 years old this year. Congratulations! Celebrations abound across the Internet.
As a scholar of Wikipedia and a FOSS Academic, I wanted to weigh in on the birthday and provide a short history lesson. (This is, therefore, a Goal 2 post).Read more...
In a previous post, I disparaged 2020. But hey, just wait: 2021 has already become pretty bad. As you probably have seen, pro-Trump supporters decided to invade the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
I am not a tech determinist, which means that I do not seek to explain complexity by only considering changes in technology. So I am not going to say that corporate social media – including Facebook and Twitter – caused what happened yesterday. In other words, I am not going to say that the spread of misinformation was the reason for people to blithely walk past the cops and into the Rotunda. To do so would ignore a host of other factors, such as the history of racism in the United States and the desire for politicians to aggrandize themselves.
So I’m not saying Facebook and Twitter are to blame. What I will say, however, is that one contributing factor to the events of January 6, 2021 – not the sole determining factor – is corporate social media.
And thus I come in praise of Mastodon.Read more...
A minor update: I have a new publication about alternative social media in The Reboot. The piece discusses two FOSS alternatives to Twitter: the amazing, and yet likely soon-to-be-defunct Twister, which is a P2P, distributed microblog. I also discuss my favorite project, Mastodon.
The Reboot looks really promising – it’s a magazine dedicated to Internet criticism. I’ve been known to do a bit of that.
Another little update: I installed the Hyvor comment system but then removed it. It worked, which is great, but I missed the free window and I don’t know if I have the traffic to justify using a paid plan. I may go back to it, but I want to explore other options first. Next up: StaticMan.
Finally, I am teaching my child how to use Linux and want to make a recommendation: BashCrawl! It’s a text-based game for the Bash terminal that teaches how to use bash commands. Within half an hour, my kid was showing me some cool bash techniques. Just download an archive, unzip it, and dive in.
EDIT: Credit where credit is due: I stole many of these ideas from Sean Lawson. Except they are better with FOSS.
The year 2020. Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn.
Put it in the dumpster, man.
But the end of the worst year ever is also the end of the 2010s, so maybe now’s a good time to reflect on my past decade as a FOSS Academic. As I mentioned in the Introduction, I’ve been using FOSS tools to do my job as a university professor for over a decade. Now, I’m looking ahead to the next decade.
Here, I want to document my workflow. It’s a combination of desktop environments, workspace management, weekly planning and long-term goals. I’ve been developing it over the past decade, and I think it’s time I formally document just how I do what I do.
It’s a longish post, but then again, we’re talking about practice. That gets complex!Read more...
A minor update: I’m still learning how to use Jekyll, and one goal I had was a usable tagging system. I think I’ve achieved it! I want to study the problem more and see if I can’t automate more parts of it, but so far, so good. If you have feedback, leave it in the comments!Read more...
A recent Destination Linux podcast interviewed Neal Gompa, a Fedora contributor, and their first question was: how did you start using Linux? I won’t recap Gompa’s story – I’d recommend listening to the show – but suffice it to say it involves an old copy of Red Hat he randomly found.
I thought about Gompa’s story and the question of getting started with FOSS and started reflecting on my own FOSS journey. As an academic – and a non-computer science academic, at that – I think my story is pretty unique.
It all started with Windows Vista.Read more...
I thought it might be good to nominate things from the FOSS Academic point of view, celebrating projects that help me do my academic work. So, here are the votes I cast.Read more...
There have been a lot of books that have influenced my career: Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, Karl Marx’s Grundrisse, John Law’s Aircraft Stories, and Patricia Hill Collin’s Black Feminist Thought. These works are a kind of well to return to, again and again, to quench intellectual thirsts: thinking historically about communication technologies, and thinking about heterogeneity in the cultures of communication technologies.
But perhaps the closest to my heart, one of the books that came along at just the right moment in my career – a bubbling spring of the well – is Scott Rosenberg’s Dreaming In Code.Read more...
If you’re not using Zotero… I don’t know what to say.
If you are, you’re well on your way to living the FOSS Academic Lifestyle Dream.Read more...
As a university professor, I do a lot of different things, many of them having to do with technologies. I engage in research, write articles and books, put together syllabi, work with students, and collaborate with colleagues. All of these require the use of networked computers. But I don’t use Windows and I don’t use Apple.Read more...