Free and Freedoms aka the Instagram drift

Update 12/18 7:15pm: Instragram explains. I don’t think it will change my view, we’ll see.

For context, from the late 1970’s until, well probably 2002 I spent a considerable time arguing for free software. Free as in rights, not as in beer, as early as 1985 I had a letter in Computer Weekly on the topic.

Over the last few years, the explosion of free “as in beer” software has been staggering, everything from Facebook, and the google empire. Increasingly the amount of advertising is making the apps unusable, and their claims of ownership over your personal information, and the content that you create have grown to a point where I’m amazed that people are just clicking away so many rights via that “accept” button.

In the late 1990’s I was the “free” software/open source evangelist in IBM Software group, and Simon Phipps was in the Java Technology Center at IBM; Simon took over that mantle and has gone on to make an exemplary career and some brilliant contributions in the understanding of the cost and value of open software via his speeches and writing. Recently Simon posted this It’s Not Free If It Cost My Liberty which made me stop and think.

Instagram was one of those iPhone things, everyone was raving about it, it had some cool features and I’ve been using it more and more recently. The recent change to the Instagram ToS though was one step too far for me. Instagram, like owner Facebook, now not only claims ownership of your content, it also claims the right to sell it for their profit.

This article in the Atlantic sums up my position well I think. I simply don’t understand why people are prepared to become essentially slave workers for these hugely profitable software, social media companies, donating their time, profit, content and privacy, for what?

It’s time for a new model, why not pay a small amount per year for access to these services with your own choices of what you are and are not prepared to pay for. Want it for free, then be prepared to give it up. Prepared to pay, then you retain rights.

(CC)I’ve not closed my Instram account, but will be avoiding it. I’ve also deleted my Google+/Picasa web albums over their stance on Tax avoidance in the UK; and restarted using Flickr, both via the web and on mobile. Why there are still constraints on rights, at least as an individual user I can control the license, and make my content free as in rights.

Apps, bad for your kids, worse for your privacy

(c) Some rights reserved by flickingerbrad on flickr
(c) Some rights reserved by flickingerbrad on flickr

I’ve argued this position from first hand experience for about 18-months. Apps in the stores both iTunes and Android have the ability to collect and direct information collected to unapproved websites. In a couple of instances, insisting on this has got me more trouble than I wanted.

Now days it’s much more common for an app to ask for permission and for people to accept and install without reading the permissions requested and thinking through the consequences of that. So it was interesting to see this in relation to the way adults let kids use this technology. Just last night at a dinner in a new, upscale restaurant, I watched a parent pull out an iPad and give it to her 9yr old child who then worked her way through dinner playing online. Seems innocent?

Yes, except you are giving away your location, and a lot of personal information which will be used to at least Spam you online or through apps in exchange for what? This article by the LA Times covers the issues.

When heros were not zeros

So the election is over, I’m still struggling with the reality of what candidate Romney said he’d do and what President Romney would have had to do. A couple of recent things illustrate my confusion. Much of what the republicans were doing was looking back, back to a time when America was a producer, not just a consumer. Sure things are made here now, but so much of what we consume isn’t.

Here in Austin, at yesterdays City Council meeting, a big deal was made out of the package of incentives given to Visa to set-up office in Austin. Visa claim to be brining 800 jobs to Austin with an average salary of over $110,000 and in return they are getting some $10-million in tax breaks and other financial incentives. Texas gives away the highest tax breaks of any State in the nation, this week the NY Times ran a story on this, with the winners and losers.

The other piece of news that peaked my interest this week was the news that Apple would start making its’ Mac computers in the USA again, relying on tax breaks, and likely in “partnership with with FoxConn”. We will probably never know what this actually means since all tech companies try to keep their hardware operations veiled in secerecy, given the plummeting cost of hardware, that makes even the slightest improvement in process or manufacturing, potentially worth a fortune.

And there is my dilemma. Two big deals, both dependent on tax breaks, which ultimately either require some to pay more taxes, or services to be cut. The problem I have with Candidate Romneys proposal, was that it seemed to do both. While it made great political grandstanding, to claim to cut benefits and big government, the only way it made any real sense, was if he wanted or believed he could turn America into a low wage economy at the bottom of the stack, making people work for subsistence salaries, rather than get benefits and do nothing.

You could argue either way on this politically and humanely, but it would require huge tax incentives, which would be paid for by cutting benefits and effectively forcing people to work, which many would argue, isn’t a bad thing. However, the real problem is that there is a big difference between make and assemble. Assembling products in America would be entirely do-able. Making them much less so.

And, there’s the rub. In order to make things, you need the raw materials. For the last 20-years, and especially the last 6-years, the Chinese have cornered the futures markets in almost everything you’d need to make anything useful, their futures markets themselves have become essential in day to day trading.

So, I’m guessing Apple will be doing more assembly than making, FoxConn will be doing the making. In the next 4-years the Republican party is going to have to come up with a forward looking strategy, rather than a backward looking one. If that strategy is dependent on manufacturing, then it’s going to need a big government, even if only to cover the tax breaks needed to kick-start it. We’ll need real heroes to do achieve that, not just people who measure their value by the number of zero’s in their net worth.

to Tax or Not to Tax…. debt is the question

Sat watching the BBC News tonight, my heart rate raced a few beats higher as I watch the Chief Accountants from Apple, Google and Starbucks in the UK defend their accounting process which has meant they’ve largely avoided paying UK Corporation tax, and particularly the hapless public policy wonk from Amazon.com, Andrew Cecil.

I’m glad I’m not working at Google in the UK, who at least as far as their management seemed to be concerned, don’t “innovate” in the UK. oops. Interestingly I used to work with Nelson Mattos at IBM, I wonder what he thinks now?

Starbucks came in for some extra questioning since they were paying dividends to shareholders and telling them, their business in the UK was doing fine, while at the same time declaring a financial loss and using the tax scheme, appropriately to shelter their profits from that loss. The BBC News piece is here.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the parliamentary committee, told the BBC that she thought it was right for customers to boycott the three companies.

As entertaining as this was, and at first watch/read I was inclined to agree with Margaret Hodge over a boycott. After 15-mins of reading revealed a much more open/shut case that the MP’s need to deal with, that effectively shows Ms. Hodge protestations to be little more than a magicians use of mis-direction.

It was Hodge’s peers in the Labor Government which she joined in 1994, that handed over the water industry to the private sector. Where was the rambunctious questioning, hand waving, pointing and questioning while the water industry was moving all it’s money overseas, and steadily doing a better job at avoiding tax?

Thames Water have paid shareholders handsomely, moved money offshore, and burdened their company with so much artificial debt that according to Moody’s, the credit rating agency, says they can no longer afford the debt aka investment needed to do the infrastructure projects like the new $4.1-billion Thames bypass tunnel, proposed to stop sewage draining into the River Thames.

As Will Hutton’s article in the Guardian sums it up the best, Thames Water – a private equity plaything that takes us for fools. Let’s see the politicians doing something about this, and avoiding asking the taxpayer to either underwrite, or bailout Thames Water before going after the “tech titans”, otherwise these hearings remind me of the barn door, shut after the horse has bolted.

Coffee and the Internet

Two things that my recent observations suggest the USA is getting left behind on.

As I’ve travelled outside the USA in the last 2-months or so I’ve been visiting offices in Israel, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Canada, Germany and the UK. The first thing I noticed was how good the self brew coffee machines were, I checked a couple of places for prices while travelling, especially the technology market in Moscow, and a reasonable price seemed to be about $900 US Dollars. I finally got time tonight to look on amazon.com to see what kinda prices similar machines cost in the USA.

Sadly first off they are pretty hard to find, and then, they are $200-$300 more than overseas, which I guess is why no one I know has one at the house, or do you?

Then earlier today I got to run speedtest.net on my duaghters home Internet service, which they’ve just upgraded, and finally tonight on my Mums basic internet broadband. I have a home premium Internet service from Time Warner Cable called Road Runner Turbo at home, and I use a t-mobile cellphone service when in Austin.

The [provisional results]results included my ppms calculation, Price per Megabit per Second. I used download speed only for simplicity, based on an exchange rate of $1.5904 US Dollars to the UK pound.[not including line rental for broadband since it uses the telephone line]. Net, net the UK is much cheaper on a month to month basis, and also on price per Megabit download.

Provider/Country Monthly Price Download Upload Ping PPMS
TWC Turbo, USA(1) S49.99 18Mbps 2.71Mbps 54ms $2.78
t-mobile HSPA, USA(2) $69.99 18Mbps 2.25Mbps 90ms $3.88
BT Infinity, UK(3) $23.88 34Mbps 23.10Mbps 25ms $.70
talktalk basic, UK(4) $19.21 2.51Mbps 1.30Mbps 61ms $4.81

(1) Doesn’t include tax; requires other TWC services; I use an external wireless router, but you can use without; supports unlimited attached devices.
(2) Doesn’t include tax; would use mobile hotspot which could be used outside the home; provides tethering; only supports 5-devices.
(3) VAT removed; requires line rental; includes Wireless Router and includes BT wifi hotspot login; to be confirmed but based on this web page, I’ll confirm and update later.
(4) VAT removed; broadband modem and wireless router included in price; requires line rental; unlimited attached devices.

On facebook?

This was too good(according to me) to leave as a facebook update. I read this article and got carried away posting an update to tell my friends to read it.

Finally, someone sums up in words what I couldn’t about Facebook. It’s doomed because its a cr#p marketing platform, mostly filled with people who “like” stuff they’d never buy, or Like stuff they’ve already bought.

We are treated like morons, facebook keeps jamming more and more advertising down our throats to feed the never ending failure of anyone with any sense to see they get no return for their money. Facebook as a website is OK, Facebook itself is a pimp off a load of whores selling social media marketing to people who are tricking other people too busy to understand into spending their money on stuff that won’t make a difference.

Someone shoot me if I announce I’m doing social media marketing.

How to patent a steak…

Patents are a big deal in my industry, I spend a lot of time working with technology that is patented, I work in a business where people are paid for filing patents, many of which have actually never been used, and most of all I work in a business where massive companies fight over patents trade patents as weapons for defensive and offensive actions.

I myself have no patents. I fundamentally disagree with the way patents have been used ever since I first became aware of them, and that was a very long time after I first started reading the source code for IBM System Software. As far as I can remember, that IBM source code was copyright, but I don’t remember seeing long lists of patents and patent numbers in the source code. That was the late 1970’s.

Patent law for the nonlawyer: A guide for the engineer, technologist, and manager
Patent law for the nonlawyer: A guide for the engineer, technologist, and manager

The problem is, understanding patent law can be really difficult. Ironically, after working with IBM legal 10-years ago in negotiations with the European Commision, I went back to the IBM Poughkeepsie office and they were closing down the physical lending library and giving away all the books. I picked up a few, including this one.

However, today I heard the best example and explanation on patent law, the difficulties with it, and how absurd it can be, and how it can be abused. It was Episode #399 of the Planet Money podcast, How to patent a steak.

Mac Trojan news

It was only matter of time before there was a serious Apple Mac trojan or virus. I’m not gloating over it, more just warning many of my friends who felt like this was just a windows or pc problem.

“Flashback trojan have reportedly infected more than half a million Macs” yes, that means your Apple Mac is at risk. 57 percent of the infected Macs are located in the US and 20 percent are in Canada.

f-Secure.com has posted a set of reasonably technical instructions for checking and removing the trojan. Follow along step by step from here.

[Update April 5th] ZDNet picked up on this today.

Section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code, Online Harassment

Interesting to note that Texas has a criminal charge on the books that covers creating a fake online ID, that is a third-degree felony. Todays Austin American Statesman drew my attention to it, not because of the story content, which is kind of sleazy, but for the law. Strange how Texas can be really quite progressive in some areas, but staggeringly regressive in others.

The Austin American Statesman article is here on their blog. Apprently after some googling, it’s covered by Section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code, Online Harassment.

[According to http://chadwestlaw.com/resources/criminal-defense-news/] The amended code 33.07(a) allows a person to be charged with a third degree felony if he or she uses the name or “persona” of another, without that person’s permission and with the intent to “harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person” by creating a web page on a commercial social networking site or other Internet website. The legislature broadened the scope of section 33.07(a) significantly by including the words, “other Internet website.” This broader language could now open the door for charges to be brought against someone who creates an Ebay or Pay Pal account by using another’s credit card and identification information (fraudulently) and purchases goods. Thus, an online impersonator who uses another’s credit card and personal information may not only face theft charges, but may also be looking at a charge of online impersonation.

There are some obvious potential legitimate uses that might fall under this, but it could also be used for example to go after id’s like the Fake Steve Jobs, so it will be interesting to watch how this 2011 amendment does get used. This is the first time I’ve seen it, and this seems to be entirely appropriate.

Less than a buck, WTF

I continue to be amazed, saddened and I some ways angry about the inefficiencies in the US Banking system and the inability for big financial institutions to see how much this is costing the economy.

I’m sat in line for a drive up teller, coz the bank closed at 4:30 or 5pm, whatever, that’s not the point. The point is I have two checks to deposit, one for $0.07 from an IBM Share account I thought I closed 2-years ago, and the other, as attached my US GOVERNMENT TAX refund.

You’d think the government would save its money and the banks by just carrying this amount as a credit into the next year, or at least do a electronic credit. I could just rip the check up and let the government have the money but it doesn’t work like that in account the money just gets held in a suspense account for nearly ever.

Lets not even get started on how crappy the admin is behind the IBM share system that has been issuing ever decreasing amounts for the last 16-months…

The problem is the paper check. Its like many other things, when you don’t think the the system is broken, you can’t see how things could be. If nothing else, the processing banks, ie where I’m depositing the checks should be able to levy a processing charge from the issuing account, but not from mine. If issuing a check for $0.07 is the best they can do, and processing it costs $4.50, then they should be charged $4.57

Ps. If anyone from Amplify Credit Union is watching, that’s me sat out in the parking lot, your ATM workflow sucks if you are depositing more than one check. Oh yeah tell Sheryl I’m still waiting for a reply…

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