Categories
Uncategorized

In the Bleak Midwinter

Content Warning: Mental Health topics

Today’s post begins with a sobering image

This image depicts my desktop as I see it every day. On the left side we see a git log indicating that I haven't done anything on my project mastertext in more than a year. And in the right monitor we see the bog standard Fedora 33 Wallpaper. Which indicates that my version of Linux is End of Life

The reason why this seemingly inoffensive screenshot is sobering, requires some context to tease out. First those who are hyper-observant may have noticed I’m running an EOL version of Fedora. Which is not something I would normally allow. And second you may have noticed if you both read and understood the left window, that I haven’t touched a project of mine called MasterText in over a year. And a careful scan of all my public activity logs would reveal that I did almost nothing from August until Three weeks ago.

You may think that a hyperbolic statement. I did manage to get an administrative withdrawal from Graduate School after all. And I haven’t starved. And I have dragged myself to church a few times here and there So in one sense you’d be almost right. But the near halting of all my online life, not going to church. letting maintenance tasks slip. All for a period of three to five months. These my friends are what we call warning signs. You may ask warning signs of what, exactly?

Depression that’s what

I don’t know if I’ve said this in a publicly visible space yet, but around 18 months ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. Now I know very little of the public perception of the illness. But here’s what I can tell you from my limited experience so far. And beware for I am tired of linear writing

The Storm

Christina Rossetti‘s most famous poem In the Bleak Midwinter begins thusly

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

This is an ultimately joyful poem about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Indeed the starkness of the scene starts taking it’s climb upward in the very next verse. But in Bipolar’s Depression phase you never get the lift your mind is just sort of stuck, in the bleak midwinter. You are alone with the frosty wind.

Sometimes the wind is so bitter and cruel that you feel it almost immediately. And it sends you scurrying to the safety of your support system, almost immedatly.. Those are the good ones paradoxical as it may seem. What I live in fear of are those times when the mental winter is just below freezing.

In those days one may not appreciate the danger until it is too late. For although the wind starts as a gentle breeze, over time it can seep into every exposed crack in your mental armor, stealing your breath, chilling your mind. Even causing bone deep physical pain. Until it becomes a struggle just to survive. And all you can think about is when the next McDonalds run is going to happen. All the while your relationships crumble, your opportunities wither. And the guilt of things undone, becomes it’s own howl in the wind. Finally your in so **much** gods be damned pain that you either reach out or go into mania which is it’s own special hell, or else destroy yourself.

Such is life

I don’t know who I am anymore
Not once in life have I been real
But I never felt this close before
I’ve been looking in your window
I’ve been dressing in your clothes
I’ve been walking dead, watching you
Long enough to know I can’t go on

Flyleaf This Close

Always Winter and Never Christmas. This is my experience of depression. Or as close as I can realistically come in 300 or so words. The twist with bipolar is that the very medications that can save you from this hell, are capable of rocketing you into a manic psychosis. And at least in my case depression can strike at any time. For any reason or no reason at all. Therapy has helped somewhat. As has getting the right mix of meds, but that took nearly a year of trial and error.

But the absolute worst thing about bipolar is that when the springtime of the mind does finally happen. You can’t trust it because you always have to be on guard against that rocket into mania.

So how does one deal with this seemingly endless cycle of depression. How does one even begin to recover and build a meaningful Well again I can only speak for myself. And the advice I have isn’t easy in fact this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hell even writing about it has preoccupied me for most of two days.

Hope

There’s a song that’s inside my soul
It’s the one that I’ve tried to write over and over again
I’m awake in the infinite cold
But you sing to me over and over again

Switchfoot/Mandy Moore Only Hope

This may seem a simple or even childish answer to a soul crushing phenomenon of depression, but i assure you hope in the face of the winter of the mind and heart is anything but simple. Our society says that hope is some sort of emotion, like happiness. Something you’re only supposed to feel when there is a rational basis to believe things will get better. This is not the hope I’m talking about such hope is a cheap and somewhat frivolous thing. And when you’re in the midst of depression there is little if any of that sort of thing around.

What I’m trying to get at here is the sort of hope that is a positive act of the will. Hope is something you do, not something you feel. Am I saying you can beat back mental illness on willpower. Hell No I myself need a custom four drug cocktail, and an hour of talk therapy every week to keep my head above water.

What I am saying is that in order for treatment to work, and recovery to happen. You have to want it, and invest in it. You have to have a reason to persist. Through the roiling stomachs, the revolving door of therapists, the medications and combinations that backfire. It sucks, so you’ve got to have a reason to do it.

Even more important than the hope that guides you through the winter. Is what gets you back on the horse, and replanting your garden when winter finally ends.

I’m not saying lie to yourself about your situation either. I am saying find a reason to live. Even if that reason is just the next McDonald’s run, you can find a better reason when your McChickens’ are consumed.

My Hope

Sirach 2:1-11

You may now be asking what my hope is centered in. Well the first part of that is easy. My religion gives me hope. I’m Roman Catholic of the Latin Rite. My religion tells me that each and every human being is made in the image, and likeness of God. And thus we are all of infinite worth and value just for existing. No if’s, and’s or special exemptions for queer people about it. Religion is not everyone’s cup of tea so that’s all I’ll say on that for now.

The second part is harder to explain but is also values based. You see I am an unabashed techno-optimist, at times bordering on a techno-utopian. Which means that I believe that Science and Technology, when guided by a proper concern for Justice, can and will lead to a brighter future for everyone.

Knowing that there are Communities of like-minded people doing their best to make the world better despite capitalist opposition . And having played a bit part in some of it. Really gives me hope I wouldn’t otherwise have.

One has to be careful about this framing though. For it can easily lead to guilt when in winter. It can easily become “I’m so pathetic and weak I’m letting down God and my people.” This is where that Therapy comes in handy

So What does Recovery Look Like

Well if we take the image i posted at the beginning, and reframe our thinking about it slightly. A couple of new facts emerge.

  1. That git repository originates from sr.ht and not github. I’ve been meaning to move for over a year now and finally did it.
  2. The EOL Fedora thing is because I tried it on another computer and it didn’t work. See this sites post of the 17th
  3. A careful reading of my public logs for the past three weeks will reveal I’ve done all sorts of things.
  4. Private logs look even better
  5. I’m enjoying music again
  6. I can watch Anime again
  7. I can enter a church without feeling overwhelmed by guilt

This is what recovery looks for me at least. That is to say my executive functioning and creative drive return. As well as my enjoyment of things that bring me joy. It’ll be different for everyone. And I would caution you dear reader not to measure your own recovery by how much you are able to be productive. That road leads straight back to depression and winter. For me at least winter has ended time to replant.

Be kind to yourself

Thanks

Thanks To Joe, bx, vantablack, Anton, fsan, and anyone i forgot to mention for help and encouragement with this one.

Categories
Uncategorized

Prioritizing Freedoms

Bless me readers for I have sinned, it has been approximately 2 weeks since my last confession.  What brings me in today is concerns over several sins I am committing against software freedom. Not to mention good taste.  For you see dear reader amongst other things I am guilty of writing this very blog post on a Windows XP machine. With Microsoft Office 2003. Thank God it is virtualized nowadays and doesn’t have an independent Internet connection. 

I am also guilty of virtualizing this machine in a virtualbox. Using Gmail as my e-mail client. Depending on 15 year old binary blobs in a supposedly open source accessibility system and numerous other infractions that would make my erstwhile cohorts in Debian roll their eyes and frown in disapproval.  And I can’t imagine the Fedora community would be entirely approving if I were to ask.  What is worse dear reader is you can’t offer me absolution because I don’t intend to stop committing these infractions until better solutions present themselves.

Why

Why you may ask? Well let’s take just one example the first one I gave.  Why would an ethical open-source professional, use such things?  Well it’s about the other piece of non-free software I rely on.

As a disabled user I rely on dictation software in order to write.  Not in all situations.  I can usually write code, shorter e-mails, commit messages etc. without having to resort to voice to text software. But by the end of the day, my hands are just too tired to do it.  And there is no current free software solution to the dictation problem,. Not one which does not involve Google Cloud Platform in some fashion or other.

Which Freedom

So what am I to do in this situation? I respect software freedom as the foundational principle on which all modern techno ethics is built.  I have made sacrifices of time, talent and treasure meager though they have been. To build a world in which the digital revolution reaches all people.  I recognize that not practicing what I preach creates problems.  That freedom has its costs. My life would be immeasurably easier if I just gave up and installed Windows, for a while at least.

But again I come to a problem. Am I to sacrifice my freedom to write in order to respect software freedom. Am I to sacrifice my freedom to read. Purely because of Digital Restrictions Management and software freedom again. 

We are talking here about basic life of the mind stuff. Three years ago I had to report the Library of Congress to the Software Freedom Conservancy for violating the GPL. Yes you read that right! The people who enforce copyright were potentially violating copyright to produce reading devices for the blind and physically handicapped.

Software freedom Ethics would dictate I should stop using this device. At least until the GPL violations are resolved. If I did that i would loose access to hundreds of books which are only available on that device

Do I give up my intellectual freedom in favor of software freedom?  That doesn’t seem like freedom to me, that seems a prison of my own making

We act as if Software Freedom were the be-all and end-all of techno ethics.  We make the software and if the users choose not to use it that’s their personal responsibility they should know what they’re giving up.

Does the Fault lie with me 

So am I a bad activist for choosing to prioritize my own intellectual freedom over `the cause`? I don’t think so I think the cause has flaws. Unless you are in the privileged position to be able to choose free software you will inevitably defaced with these trade-offs. 

Whether that’s the life of the mind or communicating with your COVID stricken relatives  The analysis of privilege and all that is not for me to do.  Although it is worth noting that I haven’t seen much of it in our community lately except around codes of conduct and suchlike.  So I’m wondering if it’s a flaw in me am I reading the wrong sources?  Or is it the community failing to consider the techno-ethical discussion in the context of broader social justice principles?

Harm Reduction

My answer to this question is a tentative, both. If anyone knows of anything shoot me a comment or a Mastodon or something. So what are we who are without the privilege to do. Well the approach I’ve settled on is harm reduction. I use the XP VM because it’s set up in such a way as to not send all my works in progress to the cloud. And I only use it for the first pass. I take the raw output and shape it into the final post here on a self hosted WordPress.

Some may criticize my approach as ultimately self serving. I can’t even live up to my own standards at times. Witness GMail. YouTuber Tom Scott once remarked that Everyone draws the ethical line just under what they are doing. But I wish to strive for better, so should we all.

Categories
Uncategorized

Accessibility On Linux Part 1: Introducing vsss

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of Piusbird attempts to build his portfolio.  Also known as somebody please hire me please; I’m competent I swear.  In a previous post I said I would outline how my custom screen reader worked, and more importantly how to get it working in a non-me context. Well ladies and gentlemen the time has come.  Here’s a quick primer on the Very Simple Speech Service.

Design Explained

  Upon cloning the code from git you might be tempted to question my sanity.  It is after all a polyglot program composed of one D-Bus-based micro-demon, a large and seemingly complicated shell script and an optional screen handling routine written in C..  But I promise you this Goldberg-esque madness was all rationally designed.

The Method To My Madness

I needed a speech system that could be deployed on any Linux or UNIX system with X11. Which depended only on those things which I could commonly find on the systems I was using at the time.  With minimal if any required additional package installations and especially no additional python module installations at all. Thus it is written mostly in bash. The second design constraint that dictated I write most of this in shell script was it needed to be adaptable to any environment that I came across as I had no guarantee of root access to any system.  Thus it is possible by simply changing a couple of variables to do without the Python micro service or the fancy screen handling stuff.

The last design challenge which made my odd choice of language reasonable was I only had 12 hours to get the first version out the door. As I remember it had something to do with finals week of 2013  

This means that the version on GitHub is specifically configured for my setup and what we will be doing in the remainder of this post is adapting it to yours or attempting to at least.

Before we get started in earnest I should mention that when I say X11 I really do mean X11.  Logically there is no reason why it shouldn’t work on Wayland. I get odd warnings from weird places when I have tried it and since I see no reason to use Wayland yet I have not looked into it further.

To The Code

I mentioned earlier that my code was highly adaptable for any environment. And while that is true there is one hard and fast dependency. This is of course a software speech synthesizer. It can be any one you’d like, however festival or espeak-ng are commonly installed by most distributions. The remainder of this guide assumes we will be using espeak. Simply because that’s what I have in the VM I’m testing this with.

The first file you’ll need to modify is called vsss.conf.in which looks like.

vsss.conf.in

VOX="Callie" 
audio_bckend="padsp" 
rate=200
spkedit="pluma" 
QT_SELECT=4; 
export QT_SELECT

PIPE_COLOR="1;33;44m"
export PIPE_COLOR
speak_bckend() {

    if [ -f /tmp/vsss.lock ]
    then
	echo "Speech output is currently in use"
	return 0
    else
	touch /tmp/vsss.lock
    fi
    $audio_bckend swift -n $VOX -p "speech/rate=$rate" -f $1 -m text -t | colorize-pipe 
    rm /tmp/vsss.lock
    return 1

}

This File has one and only one job. To define the speak_bckend function and any supporting variables, or other functions it may need. This function is what actually does the speech synthesis, and takes one parameter. A file name which contains the text to be spoken. In my setup this function depends heavily on Cepstral Swift, and it’s quirks. Let’s change it to make it use espeak.

# Espeak Version 
rate=200
spkedit="nano" 
speak_bckend() {

    if [ -f /tmp/vsss.lock ]
    then
	echo "Speech output is currently in use"
	return 0
    else
	touch /tmp/vsss.lock
    fi
    espeak -f $1 -s $rate
    rm /tmp/vsss.lock
    return 1

}

Note a couple of things here. First it is best practice to implement a lockfile mechanism, before allowing the speech synthesizer to execute. Unless your a fan of symphonic chaos of course. Also note i set the speech rate to 200 words per minute. To those unpracticed with text to speech this can seem almost incomprehensibly fast. But keep in mind this is actually 100 words a minute slower than your average adult reading with their eyeballs. If your having trouble understanding the computer slow it down to about 165.

I’ve committed the espeak config file to github so you should be able to just copy it over top of mine, and done. And please note I’m always open to merging pull requests for more back ends.

Rarer Modifications

The next two modifications I will show only apply if you don’t have QT or dbus installed. In this case you will need to comment out line 9 of vsss,

And finally change line 20 in vsss_cmd.sh to fetch your primary clipboard without using my dbus service something like

xsel -b  

Should work fine

Ready, Set Go!

Assuming everything went according to plan and you are running the latest git, from Friday 28th January 2022. You should now be able to run ./vsss and be greeted with something like

Very Simple Speech Shell
Version 0.3.4+test
>>>


Conclusion

I hope this was enough to get the prospective user of my very odd reading software through the process of setting it up/ The last post in the series will cover actually using it to get work done.

Categories
Uncategorized

On Accessibility for Linux Part 0 Computing while Disabled

Note a version of this post first appeared in my Mastodon Feed yesterday. This is an extended version with more detail. And is post one of my attempt at the #100DaysToOffload challenge

The Issue

I use a custom built screen reader-ish program to well read stuff on the computer.  Although screen reader is a bit of a misnomer. It’ really more of a mutant hybrid between a screen reader, and a program meant to aide dislexics. I call it vsss you can download it from my github 

I will make a post on how to get it working in a non me sort of context later possibly tomrrow. In the meantime I’ll say you need to rewrite vsss.conf.in for your system. So far as I’m aware Cepstral Swift is the only speech engine that supports the hooks needed for the fancy on screen graphics

When i upgraded to #Fedora 35 on Thursday it stopped working. Not a problem in my code. I checked. Here’s what went down, and why i’m so mad. Basically you have three options for text to speech on linux. First Espeak, Second Svox, (android tts) Third proprietary software synthesizer. And yes i know about the CMU stuff and hardware options. But for various reasons those aren’t viable in my case

For various reasons i’ve used option 3 for the better part of 15 years now. And changing my computer voice now would be a huge adjustment. So the dirty little secret of most non-free speech synthesizers is they treat Linux/Unix as a third class platform. i.e most of the decently priced ones are still using OSS apis in 2021This hasn’t been a problem as pulseaudio has this nice LD_PRELOAD shim, that turns OSS apps into regular pulse clients.

You wouldn’t think this would be a big deal for pipewire either; it is backward compatible with pulseaudio clients after all. Turns out it’s not. But it turns out that for some reason that was not documented anywhere i could find #Fedora dropped the shim for it in a recent update.

Breaking Changes Strike Again

All the Changelog really says is that OSS, among other things is no longer supported. Without explaining why.  I suspect it’s because almost no one uses OSS APIs anymore. ALSA has been around for 19 years now, and pulseaudio for ten. But I’m stuck with a binary blob compiled in 2012. Which from the tiny bit reverse engineering. I had to do for this project last saw major code changes, in 2007.

A Convoluted and painful Journey

There is no technical reason why legacy OSS apps can’t use the padsp shim to connect to a pipewire server. In fact I have this working. But in order to get it working I had to.

  • Figure out that padsp had been removed from Fedora’s pulseaudio package
  • Attempt to revert the change in the source rpm.– Watch that fail spectacularly
  • Fish through upstream git to determine for a bit, reading the source code of the missing component determine that yes my theory was technically sound
  • Uninstall Fedora’s pulseaudio, try replacing that with upstream git build.
  • Watch as my entire sound system explodes.
  • Revert that
  • Recompile pulseaudio again this time installing it under /opt — play games with the linker so only the programs that actually need the replacement pulseaudio libs can see them
  • IT WORKS

All this with diminished functionality in the reading software i depend on. All told this took 2 days 4 hrs and 21 minutes to figure out.

The Takeaway

Moral of the story. An seemingly inconsequential change to you. May have catastrophic effect, on users with disabilities.

I was literally fired from my first job out of college four months in because of a Computer Accessibility issue I was unable to solve in a timely fashion. Recently I had to drop out of Graduate School for similar reasons.

FOSS has always had the potential to be the great equalizer bringing the digital revolution to the most marginalized and all that uplifting blah blah blah from my youth. And in my case it worked out I was able to totally replace a piece of software which ranges in price from $700 to $10,000 depending on vendor, feature set and so forth. With what is lets face it a radioactive shell script horror. From Ken Thomson’s nightmares.

I was able to free myself from the lifetime of constant hardware and software upgrade costs that are often imposed on neurodivergent folks. In order to do basic things like read and write. Which is good, I doubt I would’ve completed college successfully without it.

But to a disabled person without my skillset the whole movement is a dead letter. Heck even if I was able to replicate my setup for someone. It is fragile as we have seen. We need to get better as a community at not breaking user space as Torvalds might say.

Preemptive Troll Management

Now one might reasonably say “Why are you using Fedora if you need a stable platform”, To which I say why should my disability exclude me from the latest and greatest, Pipewire can do amazing stuff and I was genuinely excited about it. If not for this seemingly random and unnecessary dropping of an essential tool for me, i would be quite happily playing with wireplumber and things if that nature.

Categories
Uncategorized

Technoethics Part I Introduction:

  A few months ago, I posted a rant on Facebook complaining about the advertisements of one of my favorite companies. The company is called Canonical. And they make a product called Ubuntu. Ubuntu’s Cringe-worthy advertising is an unimportant point in this discussion. Through Facebook, I came to realize something rather alarming.  That my friends, both young and old, were unaware of my commitment to  Living my Digital Life following With purpose. Following the values of solidarity, subsidiarity, and community. This was startling enough that a few of the public and private comments received also indicated many people were unaware even of the concept of Technoethics. 

  Despite the tireless advocacy of thousands of people, including myself for the past 32 years, few people not associated with the computer industry are even aware that technoethics is a thing. And my experience in the corporate world has shown but even among those aware of Linux and the free software movement, some who are even longtime Linux users themselves are not completely aware of the moral and ethical commitments that a large and influential minority of Linux users bear. The consequences of this go far beyond disrespect and inadvertent impoliteness. With the world unaware of techno ethics as a broader principle, it will become increasingly hard for those of us who practice it to do so in a sustainable way—and thus jeopardizing the ability of everyone to fight for a world built on solidarity, subsidiarity, and community In the century to come. 

   I was unable to find a basic primer on techno ethics written for a lay audience or  What follows is my attempt to fill this Gap. 

 What is Technoethics

Technoethics is the application of general ethical principles to our technological choices. But more specifically it refers to the prioritization of morality over convenience in our technological choices. 

  Whether you know it or not you have probably already practiced techno ethics in your everyday life.  For example, some parents May opt for cloth diapers over disposable for the environmental benefits, or equally other parents in a different situation might opt for disposable Over cloth to conserve scarce Water Resources. This is a common first encounter with the subject of Techno Ethics.  and within the everyday consumer space, there are thousands of such decisions to be made. Organic food, non-animal-tested cosmetics, Packaging minimization, or buying local.  all are, in one sense,If Technoethical choices. In each instance, the consumer exercises her  Power of Choice after thinking critically About the cost and benefits of a particular technology such as factory farming or e-commerce,And for instance and chooses consciously not based on a metric of economic or convenience factors but instead on a social or moral Factor. That is techno ethics in a nutshell.

  However, when the nerd(s) in your life speak of Technoethics they probably mean to apply this intentional consumption to the technological services and devices which we take for granted, things such as laptop computers, Facebook, and smartphones. Or to even more esoteric things such as farm tractor firmware, e-waste, Or planned obsolescence increasing the digital divide.  we apply formal ethical principles,  critical thinking, and intentional consumerism to our digital lives as well as our lives away from the keyboard.

Why should I care?

 Until the global pandemic, most people could get away not caring. After all, if Facebook did something that distressed you, all you had to do was to not use Facebook. Who cared what obscure video conferencing solution you used to communicate with friends and workmates. if you even use video conferencing at all, but the global pandemic has given us all virtual lives, and simultaneously has merged them with our physical lives. What once was a niche Hobby, or futuristic gimmick from the likes of Star Trek is now very much mainstream. and this is so self-evident as to not require argumentation.

  Therefore anyone with a commitment to Justice in the physical world who has benefited from high technology in any way these last six months should care about Justice in the virtual world. And there is quite a lot of Injustice in the virtual world with which to be concerned.

 The digital divide has cut the urban poor off at the knees in regards to access to services for example. Improper recycling has left certain parts of Africa as a Dumping Ground for unwanted Electronics, and in turn, has fueled the growth of fraud schemes which extract millions of dollars from first-world consumers. 

 And let’s not forget the titans of the industry Facebook, and Twitter who through the careless application of artificial intelligence, and `innovative`  business models have arguably Contributed more to political polarization than anything else.

 The good news is that unlike most social problems the individual can do a lot on his or her own to affect Justice in the digital realm. All that most people are missing is the proper education and will.  I can hear you objecting now. Of course, you have the education to avoid fake news on Facebook all the time it’s easy to spot or maybe you do your best To use DuckDuckGo when possible or maybe you don’t even own a social media account whatsoever seeing no point in it. all these things are good in themselves 

Why do you use Zoom?!

   Really why do you? Don’t say it’s because it’s convenient or it’s free. Microsoft teams, Google Meetings, Discord,  and Jitsi-Meet are all just as free just as easy to use. just as convenient.

  Here’s an even better question: Who owns Zoom? Why are they giving away a service which is quite costly?  What plans do they have to derive Revenue from the Millions of people meeting on their platforms?  What is Zoom’s privacy policy?  Can anyone else watch you without you knowing?  I don’t have the answer to any of these questions off the top of my head, I’m betting you do not either. but it just goes to show how readily we all adopt new technologies without Giving any thought whatsoever to the implications or Consequences.  I am guilty of this particular sin too. When the pandemic hit I was so happy to see some of my friends’ old and new video conferencing for the first time that I didn’t care what system they used. I just wanted to be with them.

I  threw away All of the lessons I have learned over the past 12 years. All of my professional skepticism. All of my critical thinking in the desperation to be with people even virtually.  and what’s more, I knew I was doing it. 

  Why are we trusting some of our most private personal interactions with a corporation most of us know nothing about? We don’t do this in other areas of Our Lives. But when it comes to adopting new technology, almost all critical thinking, Almost all consideration of any ethical values we possess goes out the window.

 Did you know in June Zoom Video Communications inc admitted to shutting down the accounts of Chinese human rights activists? And that most of their research and development is located offshore specifically in China leaving them vulnerable to pressure from the autocratic regime. That they are currently developing censorship technology will allow Chinese authorities to stop anyone within their borders from criticizing the communist regime on the zoom platform.  and thus have become complicit. All of this I found out through  10 minutes of research. I can’t imagine what I would find if I were to do it properly.

 I’m not trying to pick on you or Zoom specifically but merely to call out the stark truth most people don’t apply critical thinking and their decisions about how they wish to live their digital lives. we need to do better than that because our digital lives for there is no longer any distinction between Digital Life and life away from the keyboard. I’ll bet for most of you there isn’t even a keyboard anymore.

 And this is the other stark truth many of us do not have the education necessary to apply techno ethics In our day-to-day lives. This is a particular failing Activists like me. The activist will issue book-length reports,  write blog posts containing so much technical jargon that even people with degrees in computer science have trouble reading them.  And in general do very little to expand the  Community beyond the small Ivory Tower which has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years. In short, we have failed quite spectacularly at the teaching function of activism. So over the next few articles, I intend to educate you. We will explore the key issues of Technoethics today starting with surveillance capitalism, moving on to e-waste, the digital divide, and finally ending on software freedom. How the  Brands and products we all love exacerbate all of these problems and what you can do about these issues. Welcome to Technoethics 101.

Categories
Uncategorized

Switching to Fedora

Note: A Version of this post originally appeared in Fedora Magazine on August 5th, 2020. I post it here as part of my portfolio

Red Hat Inc owns the copyright, it is licensed under The Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported licensed

To a veteran user of other distributions, Fedora can be a challenge. Many things are not where you expect them to be. The default LVM volume allocations are a bit tricky. And packages including the kernel are frequently upgraded. So why switch after years of using other distributions?

In my case, for a variety of technical and political reasons, Fedora was the best option if I wanted to continue using Linux as my daily driver. If you are making the transition from another distribution, here are some observations and tips to get you started.

Firm foundations

In Fedora you will find a community just as fiercely dedicated to its users and free software as Debian, as fanatical about polish and design as anyone in Ubuntu, and as passionate about learning and discovery as users of Arch or Slackware. Flowing under it all you will find a welcoming community dedicated to technical excellence. The form may change, but underneath all the trappings of systemd, dnf, rpm, and other differences, you will find a thriving healthy and growing community of people who have gathered together to make something awesome. Welcome to Fedora, and I hope you stay awhile.

The best way to get to know the Fedora community is to explore it for yourself. I hope a future article will highlight some of the more interesting aspects of Fedora for newcomers. Below are a few tips that I have put together to help you find your way around a new Fedora installation.

Install and explore

Installation proceeds as you would expect but be aware that you might want to adjust the LVM volume allocations in the install process or shortly afterwards or you might run low on space in a key place unexpectedly! Btrfs is also a supported option that is worth a look if you have lots of small disks.

Freedom matters

As stated above Fedora has a software freedom commitment similar in spirit to that of Debian. This means that you should be able to give Fedora to anyone, anywhere without violating intellectual property laws. Any software which is either not licensed in a way that Fedora finds acceptable or that bears US patent encumbrances can be found in the rpmfusion.org repository.

After the install your next concern is undoubtedly configuring things and installing new packages. Fedora’s command-line package manager is dnf. It works as you would expect.

Note also that since rpm uses file-based dependency tracking instead of package-based dependency tracking, as almost all others do, there are very few traditional metapackages. There are, however, package groups. To get a list of package groups, the command is:

$ dnf group list

To get a list of all installed packages on the system, the command is:

$ rpm -qa

All rpm commands are easily filterable using traditional Unix tools. So you should have no trouble adapting your workflow to the new environment. All the information gathered with the below commands can also be gathered through the dnf command. For information gathering, I prefer to use the rpm command because it presents information in a way that is easily parseable by commands like grep. But if you are making changes to the system, it is easier and safer to use dnf.

To get a package’s version, description, and other metainformation the command is:

$ rpm -qi <packagename>

To list the contents of an installed package the command is:

$ rpm -ql <packagename>

One way in which rpm is easier to use then dpkg or the slack package tools is that rpm stores change log information for each package in the package manager database itself so it is very easy to diagnose whether an update might have broken or changed something unexpectedly. This command is:

$ rpm -q --changes <packagname>

On the kernel

Perhaps one of the most exciting differences between Fedora and other projects, for newcomers at least, is Fedora’s policy on the kernel. Fedora’s policy is to align the distribution’s kernel package life cycle with the upstream mainline kernel life cycle. This means that every Fedora release will have multiple major kernel versions during its lifetime.

This offers several advantages for both users and developers. Primarily, Fedora users are among the first to receive all of the latest drivers, security fixes, new features, etc.

If you do not have an installation that uses out-of-tree modules or custom patches this should not be much of concern to you. However, if you rely on a kernel module like zfs, for example. Rebuilding the filesystem module every 2-3 months can get tedious and error prone after a while. This problem only compounds if you depend upon custom patches for your system to work correctly. There is good news and bad news on this issue.

The good news is that Fedora’s process for building a custom kernel is well documented

The bad news is, as with all things kernel related in all projects, going the custom route means you’re on your own in terms of support. The 2-3 month lifecycle means you’ll be building modules and kernels far more often then you are used to. This may be a deal breaker for some. But even this offers an advantage to the discerning or adventuress user. You will find that being encouraged to rebase your custom kernel setup every two to three months will give you far greater insight into what is going on upstream in mainline Linux and the various out of tree projects you rely on.

Conclusion

Hopefully these tips will get you started exploring and configuring your new Fedora system. Once you have done that. I urge you to explore the community. Like any other free software product of Fedora’s age and size, there are a plethora of communication channels available. You should read the code of conduct and then head over to the communication page on the wiki to get started. As with the distribution itself, for all the differences in culture you will find that much remains the same.

Categories
Uncategorized

Hello world!

Hello and welcome everyone to my new  home on the web. that sounded so 90s just then; anyway for those of you that didn’t know I am  Matt Arnold a 30-something software engineer, living with multiple disabilities both visible and invisible. if you want my slightly more formal website https://marnold.org Is the place to go for that. this is a website primarily for posting extended Facebook rants, early drafts of stuff that will eventually go on my professional website and other fun stuff that I am still in the process of developing.For now my  pgp key is 92394662BC038F2F67CD10D5B47240EE0C7119B7

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, the content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.