How Microsoft and Google are manipulating your children into addiction

Microsoft yesterday announced Windows 10 S, a cut-down version of Windows 10 for the education market. They plan to make it available to PC makers to sell laptops with, for as little as US$ 200 a pop. “Like a Chromebook, then”, you say? Exactly, like a Chromebook.

Services as drugs for kids

This is the start of a new turf war for child mindshare. Like drug dealers, Microsoft and Google know that it’s best to get them early, get them young, make them depend on your products. Microsoft even helpfully supplies teaching aids to make sure that only Microsoft technologies are taught to these poor children, who would probably go through IT life without guidance and learn independent knowledge otherwise, like programming Python or having the ability to choose between different word processors. Microsoft does not want independent child minds, they want dependence. If they could, they’d add heroin injections to Windows 10 just to cause a bodily addiction.

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Fix crackling audio in some games in WINE

Some games happen to have wonderful audio (and music), like Wolfenstein: The New Order. Some games happen not to be available natively for Linux, like… err… also Wolfenstein: The New Order. So we play them with WINE, and sometimes there are slight audio issues.

But have no fear: If you get audio crackling in such games (especially if your audio device is not running at 44.1 KHz), the following environment variable might fix it for you like it did for me:

PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60

You can either start WINE in a terminal with this env var prepended:

PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60 wine Steam.exe

or if you’re using PlayOnLinux:

PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60 playonlinux

Or you can export it in your ~/.profile file if you want it to be set for all your applications (don’t forget to completely log out and back in, since .profile is read only once per session):

export PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60

Does this work for you? It works for me. I can’t remember where I found it first, but it’s a hint that’s been passed along, so pass it along I shall.

May the Flying Spaghetti Monster extend its noodly appendage to guide the hands of Lennart Poettering so that such issues become a thing of the past (if indeed Pulseaudio is to blame, but we always blame Pulseaudio, so we shall blame it one more time).

Now to enjoy the screams of expiring Nazi cyborgs in ultimate smoothness.

Bidirectional clipboards in KVM guests are as easy as spice-vdagentd

For a long time I thought there is no such thing as bidirectional clipboard support when using KVM. It turns out I was very, very wrong. All you need to install on Debian-like guest systems is the package spice-vdagent. You may have to start the service afterwards:

apt-get install spice-vdagent
systemctl start spice-vdagentd

Again, this goes on the guest system. On the host system you just have to make sure you’re connecting through spice with a spice client (outdated documentation about that is here). If you use the Virt-Manager GUI, this is all set up correctly by default for Linux guests.

Free bonus: 3D acceleration and compositing seems to be working by default in Linux guests as well. This has nothing to do with spice-vdagentd, I just thought I’d mention it since this seems new. It’s a boon for testing software in multiple desktop environments, especially since many modern desktop environments profit a lot from direct rendering and compositing (or even require it to function properly).

Your freedoms are eroding as technology becomes more closed

TL;DR: We’re not doing a good job of keeping the Internet and related technologies as open and egalitarian as they used to be, allowing a dangerous oligopoly to reemerge. How can we reverse the trend? And by we, I actually mean you.

I see some worrying signs that we’re going backwards in terms of freedom. Read on for some scaremongering.

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Microsoft's x86-on-ARM is a sign of the times

I’m just writing this to be a total prick and rub your face in things and make you angry at me, because now even Microsoft is taking ARM seriously after announcing an x86-on-ARM emulator for Windows, and six years ago I told you (more or less) so. But anyone in computing could have made that prediction at the time, so don’t be too angry. It seems I was quite optimistic back then. Let’s see what happened to the rest of my predictions:

  • I said Atom would never catch up to ARM in terms of energy efficiency or power consumption vs. performance. This is probably one reason why Intel dropped their Atom for mobile processors now. So I got that one right.
  • I said the Linux kernel would play a big role in this and would expand to more and more devices. Since then things like the Raspberry Pi were introduced, Chromecast happened, the Amazon Fire TV stick thingy came out, cheap Chinese Android TV boxes are a normal thing, the Amazon Echo appeared and all of these run Linux. Devices that sold millions or even dozens or hundreds of millions of units. I’ll rate that as correct.

These are things probably anyone could’ve predicted. Were there people doubting ARM at the time? I don’t know. Maybe Microsoft was, but that was under old management and old management was not good at seeing the signs. Ballmer was good at propping up the old business model, but completely uninspired with regards to innovation.

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Where will you step when there is no more safe ground?

You thought you’re safe and you have privacy because you use some fancy-schmancy encrypted email provider? I don’t think so.

This year saw some remarkable changes, bear with me while I go off on some tangents:

  • The UK voted to leave the EU and subsequently introduced one of the most far-reaching and invasive surveillance laws in the world.
  • The USA elected Donald Trump under speculations of Russian involvement, possibly thawing US-Russian relations and forcing Edward Snowden to be extradited to the US, where he might be executed for revealing truths the US didn’t want revealed. Keep in mind that he never invented anything, he didn’t lie, unlike the US President-elect. He merely told the truth.
  • Switzerland, which had formerly been ready to offer asylum to Snowden, was pressured by the US government to stop that. All the while, US intelligence agencies were illegaly patrolling through Swiss cities and running surveillance operations in Berne and Geneva. The Swiss government stopped any investigation of these operations after the US increased their pressure.

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Time to leave Dyn and go to something like Afraid.org/FreeDNS

Now that Oracle is rumored to be taking over Dyn, this should be the last signal you need: Dyn is nothing like the cute little company called DynDNS that we liked so much in the 90s of the last century. Remember talking on IRC when someone gives you an address for an FTP hosted via their 28.8k modem on flyingdickweasels.dyndns.org? No? Damn, I’m too old, then!

Dyn has become more and more corporate over the years and is nothing like the cool little company that gave so many of our younger selves free dynamic DNS. But you know who’s a cool little company with free dynamic DNS? Afraid.org/FreeDNS. It used to be that afraid.org’s dynamic DNS mode isn’t directly supported in home router firmware or NAS devices, but that’s changed. Even Synology NAS now support it easily. If your router doesn’t have support for it, you can get it to work on anything that can run shell scripts, Windows batch scripts or PowerShell. Instructions are included when you set up your domain.

They also support the nice trick of using your own custom domain and dynamically updating its subdomains, but you’ll have to pay US$ 30/year for a pro account if you need that. If you just want to use their top-level domains and don’t need your own, that’s still free and has been for over a decade. They own chickenkiller.com, for example. You can work with that, can’t you?

Full disclosure: I’m not paid anything for this. I’ve just been a happy afraid.org customer for more than 10 years now without a single issue, and I laugh in the face of Dyn, whose slide into zombie corporate culture couldn’t find a more fitting end than being absorbed by the ultimate peddler in corporate zombieism; Oracle.

My favorite vim color schemes have been ported to Atom

The PaperColor theme has been my favorite vim color theme for quite some time now, and I’m happy to find the same theme in Atom as well, even by the same author!

They have been ported to the Base16 color scheme system. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it doesn’t matter at all. Thanks a lot, Nguyen Nguyen, aka NLKNguyen. If I knew how to reach you, I’d send you beer money.

 

As AI absorbs your life's data, how do you feel?

Humanity has started down a new road in its history and those of us alive today get to watch it unfold. Companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and to some degree Apple are now beginning to train their artificial intelligence systems on your data. Data from real people, available for the first time in the vast amounts that are useful to AI programmers.

First attempts might be clumsy. Cortana might direct you to a Thai massage parlor that smells of smegma from ten meters away, when all you wanted was some Thai-Italian fusion food. But as you complain about bad results, Cortana learns and improves, her data size increases, the next results will be better.

Free comes without freedom

Have you wondered how Google can afford to give you unlimited storage for all your photos in original resolution for free? Storage costs money, data centers suck up huge amounts of electricity and some person or robot has to change failing hard drives and monitor the hardware and services. This might be offered for free to you, but it’s not free for Google. So what do they gain? Pictures taken by real people, plus GPS data about where the picture was taken, and thanks to the high-accuracy sensors in their new phone, Google knows the pitch, tilt and yaw of your phone when you took the picture. It gets placed into a sort of 3D collage of the world, owned by them, not you.

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How the Netflix model rescued creativity, and why it needs to drop DRM

If you’re an 80s kid and haven’t heard of Stranger Things, you owe it to yourself to have a look. Now in a recent interview on NPR, Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers said a few interesting things:

  • They approached Winona Ryder without expecting anything, they weren’t sure she would accept the role. She did, and they adapted the character to her. Complete creative license from Netflix.
  • Netflix didn’t expect any specific success. They appear to be funding several shows, and it’s enough if one or two of them is successful. Stranger Things is wildly successful, and this was unexpected even to the Duffer brothers themselves.
  • Netflix doesn’t need to create any hype. They release the shows whenever they’re released, usually without fanfare. Subscribers need to be subscribers to watch anyway, so Netflix doesn’t care if 100 people watch on the first night of a new show or 1 million.

This is interesting for several reasons:

  • Netflix doesn’t need to suck the cocks and lick the clits of advertisers. Doesn’t need to censor shows when those pesky writers wrote something an advertiser might not agree with.
  • Netflix can give full creative reign to its creators, and whether things flop or become a great success isn’t so important. This probably creates a wonderful atmosphere for  labors of love.

I think this is all no small part of the reason why they manage to hammer out several very highly acclaimed shows every year. Whether it’s completely new stuff like Bo-Jack Horseman or Stranger Things, whether it runs under license like Daredevil or whether it’s a spin-off from a series that came from traditional TV like Better Call Saul doesn’t seem to matter. Success has been had in several categories.

This must be wonderful for creators, and I believe it shows in their work. Meanwhile over at Amazon Video, Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle finally gets a series treatment, and it’s quite a good one as well. Amazon might have a strategy similar to Netflix’.

But! There are a few nasty, nasty buts about these services:

  • They promote the use of DRM on the web and the DRMification of content.
    • This fucks customers in the ass and other orifices.
    • It also gives them muscle to cut exclusive deals with the likes of Microsoft that unfairly put other operating systems at a disadvantage without any technical reason.
  • The streaming video you get is just streaming video. You don’t get to keep anything. No backups. No discs. If the service provider drops your favorite show, you won’t be able to watch any old episodes anymore even if you’re a subscriber.

For the moment, I think the benefits outweigh the cost, but only slightly. I hope the industry will one day realize that DRM is a crutch and that the only thing it reliably does is annoy people and put them at a disadvantage. It doesn’t prevent piracy, it never has.

I’m paying my Netflix tax, I’m very happy with the kind of series this produces, but I also reserve the right to download backups of whatever I want. This is still legal in Switzerland, and I hope it stays that way until the streaming services offer some form of downloadable copies. They could come a year after a show has aired, for example. They could charge a small fee for each download. That way, subscribers can have everything first, and when the show becomes old and perhaps a burden for Netflix to host, customers can take storage and backup into their own hands. And they’d even pay Netflix for the privilege. Both sides would win.

Here’s hoping.