19 August, 2015

BREAKING: Netneutrality more complex than you thought!

It was simple: netneutrality is good. Companies shouldn't be able to buy their way on a fast lane! That stifles innovation and competition and risks ruining the internet. Just like John Oliver explained it! But now the Brazilians are making things complicated.

Brazil was one of the first countries to introduce strong Net Neutrality laws, points for them. But now, Brazilian banks and local government are paying for the data bundles of users! Heresy! Why?

Well, many Brazilians can't afford a data bundle. Yet they need to bank, or order new passports. And it turns out that handling people in person at the office is more expensive for the banks and local governments than have them use an app on their phone. So, they made a deal with some local providers: users, even without a data bundle, can do their banking online and order their passports without paying. That seems like a win-win.

Zero rating, as this practice is called, exempts some services from from the data bundle - exactly what Brasil is doing. It is used widely in India ("internet.org") and in Chile it offered many people access to a limited set of internet services - until it was outlawed. But in a country where only a quarter of the citizens has access to broadband internet, aren't we doing the population a disservice by taking away their internet access, however limited?

Zero rating is essentially the equivalent of a collect call - the receiver pays. What is wrong with that? Even wikimedia supports zero rating!

It isn't win-win but lose-it-all

The thing is - the provider will be the gate keeper of what services you can. You are allowed only on a piece of the internet, being blocked not by technical boundaries but by a business model. A model which allows providers to extract more money from their business than they otherwise would have - not by offering more services, but by offering less.

The result will inevitably be lower data caps because it forces more companies to pay for zero rating! This is exactly what happens in Canada, where $45 gets you 2GB of data - compare that to the price of 8 dollars for the same amount in Finland. Canada is now changing the rules. Cable providers have figured that out, too, and try imposing limits while excepting certain services. And indeed, when providers introduce zero rating, prices go up!

Interestingly, when zero-rating is squashed, the opposite happens. When the government forbade zero rating in the Netherlands, its largest provider KPN responded by doubling their users' data caps without a price hike.

Thus, my suggestion to the Brazil government would be: work with providers to get indiscriminate data bundles to more users, rather than empowering providers to control their users' Internet usage.

Zero rating exist by virtue of artificial Internet scarcity in the form of usage caps and it is not part of the solution to bringing Internet access to everybody. It is part of the problem.

03 August, 2015

Special people

After a rant on G+ I thought it'd be nice (for me, at least) to share a thought: we have an urge to put certain people on a pedestal because it helps our own identity and self esteem.

We need to feel superior

Self Esteem is very important for us - Maslov put individuality on top of the piramid for a reason. We need it to function, be happy in life.

So our brain lies to us

But how do you feel special and unique when you're not? Our brain lies to us, causing our illusion of superiority. I say 'our' because this is a near universal issue: 90% of people in pretty much any profession feels they are better than average, despite skills pretty much always following a bell curve (statistics speak for "half the people is worse and half is better than average").

Our brain is in charge of maintaining that positive sense of identity and has a series of tricks to keep that.

For example, identity depends on contrast. So we tend to exaggerate differences with others who are close to us. See for example countries who make fun of each other - it is inevitably between peoples very similar. Some interesting experiments were done with group behavior at a young boys' summer camp in the US in the 50's. Read a bit about this here if you're interested. You'll realize some of the problems we have in society are ingrained in our brains - a point I've made in an earlier blog.

Then there is the Self-Serving Bias which:
is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors.

We do that? Yes, we do. Examples are everywhere, and some honest introspection will show you. Why do we do it? Because it makes us feel better about ourselves! If something goes wrong, it's the fault of the world. If things go well, I DID AWESOME! (towards other people we show the related Fundamental Attribution Error). Just to get an idea of the impact of environment, watch this TED talk by James Flynn about the increase in IQ over the last 100 years (the Flynn effect, indeed).

Another important strategy is self justification: it is how we deal with a perceived discrepancy between what we believe about the world and what we see (also called 'cognitive dissonance'). Wikipedia again:
Internal self-justification refers to a change in the way people perceive their actions. It may be an attitude change, trivialization of the negative consequences or denial of the negative consequences. Internal self-justification helps make the negative outcomes more tolerable and is usually elicited by hedonistic dissonance. For example, the smoker may tell himself that smoking is not really that bad for his health.

External self-justification refers to the use of external excuses to justify one's actions. The excuses can be a displacement of personal responsibility, lack of self-control or social pressures. External self-justification aims to diminish one's responsibility for a behavior and is usually elicited by moral dissonance. For example, the smoker might say that he only smokes socially and because other people expect him to.

And there are many more of these biases which maintain our belief in ourselves.

Note that these persistent errors in judgment are part of a normal and healthy personality! But it is good to be aware of them and their effects on relationships, both private and in society at large.

Special or not

So, the rich have their brain lies to them, maintaining their illusory superiority. Now we can understand why somebody on top of the world feels that it is justified that he/she is paid more per hour than much of the world population earns in a year.

But why do we support this illusion by buying auto-biograpies and looking up to the Steve Jobs and Fords and Warren Buffets like they are such special people?

Because they support the narrative that we all need: the self made (wo)man.

There are always people who have a worse life than us - significantly so, often. As Sam Harris points out in a painful description of an iPad user, things are going very wrong in the world. So we have the need to justify ourselves, feel superior over the poor. We have many strategies for that - Sam mentions religion as one. Another one is the idea that we make our own life, supported by the biases I described.

I think that the stories of these great, wonderful people we've partially made up help us justify the thought that people who are worse off than us have only themselves to blame. We have a need to deny the harsh reality that the world isn't fair and we would be in their situation if the marbles would've fallen slightly different. 

22 July, 2015

The Washington Post again demanded that tech companies create special 'golden keys' for authorities to keep and use for access to private communication. Protected by a warrant, of course. For the benefit of this discussion (which is really getting old), I just put together the reasons why it is a dumb idea.

First of all. It is a pure fantasy, an entirely unrealistic wish of the Pink Unicorn variety that it is possible to create a key which only the US goverment (and other sanctioned agencies) would have access to. It is technically not possible. Ever. I explained that before so let me now just quote Bruce Schneier:
"We have one infrastructure. We can't choose a world where the US gets to spy and the Chinese don't. We get to choose a world where everyone can spy, or a world where no one can spy. We can be secure from everyone, or vulnerable to anyone. And I'm tired of us choosing surveillance over security."
And let's be clear - we've been over this, the Clinton government wanted a similar thing with the Clipper chip and as security researcher Matthew Green pointed out:
Clipper is only one of several examples of 'government access' mechanisms that failed and blew back on us catastrophically.
A second issue with the proposal is that it doesn't do anything. Just like all the spying programs that came before in this and previous decade. Here's Bruce talking about that, here the Guardian, the Newyorker, Wired and Washingtonsblog. Whatever these spy programs do - from spying on German Chancellor Merkel to US congress (that's the Washington Post itself!) to the United Nations and Unicef - the government spying programs certainly don't target or are helpful against terrorism or pedophilia or any of the other stuff they are claimed to be for. And neither will these 'golden keys' be used to catch terrorists.

Last, and this should already be blindingly clear if you see the list above of some of the targets of surveillance, you should doubt if the government agencies will abide by the rules - they haven't in the past.

I also want to point out that the very reason we're having this conversation in the first place is because we're idiots.

17 June, 2015

Meetup and a release party in B'lin?

Today at 7 it is ownCloud meetup time in C-Base again (and also in Munich, by the way!). As ownCloud Server 8.1 is scheduled for the beginning of next month, I hope to grab a daily ownCloud snapshot, put it on a Banana Pi and run the cool Smashbox testing tool against it to see how it fares.

Even more interesting, I hope to see if I can install older ownCloud releases on other Pi's and compare the performance changes between 7, 8 and 8.1 for example. Performance is one of the big improvements that should be coming in 8.1, with 4x speed up of things like file syncing. I'd like to see if I can measure that!

I have several Pi's and (after having given workshops on how to install ownCloud on them) plenty experience in getting them running, but no experience with Smashbox whatsoever. So - I can use some help. If you're interested in joining the fun, be there tonight!

On a different note, ownCloud comes out in the beginning of next month - that means that the NEXT meetup is essentially a release party at C-Base. Sir, yes, sir - release party time! See you there?

There'll be a meetup on the 6th of July in Nuremberg, I guess that's a pre-release party as the release is set for the 7th. Munich also has a meetup on July 15, like Berlin.

09 May, 2015

ownCloud workshops - two down, two to go.

some had already given up at this time...
The success rate is going up - where, at the first ownCloud workshop at the openSUSE conference, we had no successful installation, yesterday in Helsinki we reached a two-out-of-five. Both workshops had around 20 participants but usually people collaborated in groups of 3-5, following my guidelines on how to get ownCloud up and running on a Banana Pi development board.

Whoah, two out of five?

I admit it isn't easy and partially, that is intentional. The instructions in the document are sparse, especially for newbies - but even an experienced Arch'er threw his towel in the ring after almost three hours. Then again, what is a workshop for if not for enjoying the struggle of learning something new? And certainly everybody did that - struggle and learn new things.

The winning team still hard at work
The second team to get ownCloud running
Those who have any experience installing ownCloud know the difficulty can not be in ownCloud - and indeed, once you are set up with a running Banana Pi with SSH access, installing ownCloud is a matter of minutes. But getting there is no picnic! Why?

The hardest part by far is with the networking part of the workshop - the moment you've SSH'ed into the Banana Pi, 85% of the work is done. The challenge is significant - requiring not just Linux on the host laptop (yesterday, Ubuntu got 4 new users as neither Mac nor Windows were up to the task) but also handling stuff like tcpdump, Wireshark and a bunch of low-level command line tools like dd, mount, dpkg, ssh and so on. For most participants, the hardest challenges were:

  • Windows and Mac. I'm sure they are awesome operating systems, but something which is a few mouse clicks on a Linux system (sharing the wifi internet connection over a Ethernet cable with the Banana Pi) seems virtually impossible. On Linux, NetworkManager makes it as easy as creating a new wired connection, choosing "shared network" under the IPv4 tab and ticking the "this connection requires IPv4". Now, just enable this network after connecting the Pi and done. I have no experience with Windows or Mac whatsoever, but if nearly 15 IT students with internet access can't figure out how to make these operating systems do the same thing - I can only assume it is hard.
  • Command line familiarity. If you're new to Linux, an instruction like "mount the USB stick and copy over the data to the Pi" takes more than a few minutes and requires you to learn at least two new tools and looking through system logs. 
  • New tools. You'll be looking for alternatives to Linux commands like dd on Windows and Mac first, and once you've given up on your familiar platform you get to learn tools even most Linux users rarely need. 
  • Geeks. "Can't you do this easier with TCPDump?" "You can do this with the ip command too, you know" - I could only reply "Try, and if it works, show me how." Rest assured, I learned a few things - but haven't changed my instructions. Yet.

Seriously, I love it. Three hours of a workshop full of people trying various ways of skinning the cat. To me, the fact that nobody got completely through my instructions merely means they had a good time on the way. At least, that's what they said - "the best workshop I've been at" is just awesome to hear.
And... working! A Banana Pi was the reward.

For the next workshop (coming Thursday at the Open Tech Summit in Berlin), I'll further streamline the instructions (but not too much!) and I mean to put in some 'advanced' challenges for those who simply know too much about Linux to stay busy for 3 hours. I want to know how to do this without Wireshark and NetworkManager, to name two things...

of course - food and beer as reward for hard work
I'll also have to make Linux mandatory. The USB sticks with instructions and software I provide will be openSUSE live sticks for the next workshop, as I can't expect everybody to have Linux by default on their laptops. And of course you can use Windows or Mac if you really want and are up for the challenge, I don't mind including instructions for these platforms. But nobody got them working yet so expect some struggle.

You will also need a laptop with a working ethernet port, no amount of creativity has been enough to work around the physical limitation of not being able to plug in the other end of the networking cable...

Besides the satisfaction of getting ownCloud running, the first to succeed earns the Banana Pi they worked with!

If you can't make it to Berlin, I will give workshop later this month also in Dubrovnik (see my earlier blog) and if you'd like to have this workshop close by - let me know, perhaps we can arrange something.

06 May, 2015

Open Tech Summit Berlin, openSUSE Conference and more

This is a fun month. Not only are we moving forward with the ownCloud Contributor Conference (some cool interviews coming out soon), but there's a sudden avalanche of events this month. The ownCloud.org blog already wrote about it - we have had FOSDEM, SCALE, Chemnitz and may others I didn't attend myself. Find out about the openSUSE conf from last week and the upcoming OTS in Berlin!


Last weekend I was at the openSUSE Conference which was a great event. I gave a workshop on how to install ownCloud on embedded devices (like Raspberry Pi and Banana Pi) with about 20 participants and while it wasn't as easy as I had hoped, everybody had fun.

There were two great BBQ evenings as well, with beer and time to talk to many, many old and young geeko friends.

I absolutely had a great time - thanks, everybody, for working on the conference and being there! I look forward to next years' event.


This Friday I'll give a workshop at Happy Hacking Day 2015 in Helsinki and later this month I will keynote at the DORS/CLUC conference in Zagreb, Croatia.

Open Tech Summit Berlin

Next week, May 14, is a home game, as I'll give a workshop at the Open Tech Summit at the Kalkscheune in Berlin.

I will spend a few more words on this as the event has been announced rather late, yet it looks like the place to be for Berliners next week!

The event will feature talks, workshops and panels with topics ranging from open hardware to design, graphics, software, start ups and digital policies. In a barcamp style track there is space for adhoc meetings, lightning talks and breakout sessions. There will also be dedicated workshops for kids and maker enthusiasts, where you can make your own gadgets (TV-B-Gone, upgrade knitting machines, your own traffic lights) and Fashiontec wearables. In the evening it will have an “OpenTech-Himmelfahrt” lounge and the Linux Professional Institute offers Linux certification at a discounted rate.

Speakers will include a bunch of interesting people from Freifunk, Mozilla, VLC, 3D printers and many other cool projects, discussing everything from software to hardware hacking.

Workshop and discounted access to OTS

And of course, Blizz and myself will run a workshop on how to install ownCloud on cool devices. We have some with us, but it's recommended you bring your Raspberry Pi, power, a SD card, a laptop and a network cable. You can bring your server, desktop or laptop for installation of ownCloud too, of course. You can register for the workshop here and if you haven't yet registered or gotten tickets for the event - here's a nice discount.

12 April, 2015

ownCloud Meetup to test devices in Berlin

Coming Wednesday, it's time for the monthly Berlin ownCloud meetup again. Last month, we wanted to play with some little development boards, install ownCloud on them and see what they could do. But we had over a dozen new participants join, turning the meetup mostly in a 'how to get an ownCloud development environment up and running' session.

That was great fun and I'd love to see everybody again - but the devices are also in the office, looking at us like they want attention. So, if you're interested in playing with Banana Pi, Raspberry Pi, cubietruck and similar stuff, come and join our meetup. Wednesday, starting at 7 at c-base Berlin in the main room, we'll grab some tables and bring devices, power cords and chargers and get going.

We'll see how far we can get, but goals include getting some decent performance statistics of the differences between the various devices and ownCloud releases as well as finding some ways of optimizing the ownCloud performance on these boards.

Note that ANYBODY, seriously, ANYBODY is welcome. We'd be more than happy to help you get started with any type of ownCloud hacking, so if you don't care about Raspberry Pi's but rather hack on 2048 CPU clusters - fine with me. Feel free to bring one and we'd be happy to turn it into a fun toy ;-)

Oh and if you tend to get hungry in the evening, bring something to eat. We'll probably grab some pizza.

You can RSVP here but you're welcome in any case!