Matt's Musings

February 24, 2009

The government listened!

Filed under: Debian,General,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 1:07 pm NZST

I was very pleased to wake up this morning to the news that National has delayed the introduction of S92A via an order-in-council. It’s a nice short-term victory, but I’ll save the champagne until the law is fundamentally rewritten.

The most pleasing aspect of the decision is simply that it was made at all. Within two weeks, a small band of protesters were able to harness the power of the Internet to direct international attention and place enough pressure on a Government, whose Prime Minister admitted to not having read the bill prior, that he then took the time to understand the issues and personally announce the delay in implementation of the law. We owe much thanks to the Creative Freedom Foundation for all the effort they put into co-ordinating the protest and ensuring that a single coherent message was presented. Just a little bit of my cynicism and belief that politicians never listen to public opinion outside of election campaigns was chipped away today.

The reason I’m not breaking out the champagne yet is that we’ve only achieved a temporary reprieve in the commencement of the law. While those present at the press conference seem somewhat confident that John Key didn’t like what he found in the law and would have repealed it if given the chance, all that has actually been done is delay it in the hopes of an agreement between the TCF and the “rights holders” (aka big media companies) on how to implement the still fundamentally broken law. The Government has given until late March for that to occur.

To put this into a more global context. My happiness as I took the bus to work after reading about the decision to delay the law was short lived as the front page of the local paper declared that Eircom (Ireland’s equivalent of Telecom) has “voluntarily” agreed to block sites such as The Pirate Bay upon request by the media companies (this comes a week after they also announced an agreement to, again “voluntarily”, implement a 3-strikes S92A style policy). Now, with the biggest ISP in their pocket (so to speak), the media companies have sent threatening letters to the remaining ISPs in the country demanding they implement the same procedure.

To me, this illustrates one of the fundamental problems with S92. The concept that an ISP is liable for the conduct of its users, or for policing where on the Internet users should and shouldn’t be able to connect to does not belong in our laws. Most ISPs already have provision to disconnect customers for illegal activity in their terms and conditions. If an end-user is doing something illegal, that is an issue between the rights holder and the end-user to take up in the courts just like every other sector of society must do when wronged, at which point the existing ISP terms and conditions can be invoked and access terminated.

The big media companies, having decided that it is too expensive/hard/inconvenient to follow standard legal procedures to resolve their grievances are launching multi-pronged attacks to shift the playing field in their favour. In countries like New Zealand, where our politicians yearn for a Free Trade Agreement with America, they use their lobbyists to ensure that S92 style laws are part of the conditions. In other jurisdictions, like Ireland, they use strong-arm, divide and conquer style bully tactics outside of the political and legal process.

I don’t support copyright infringement. I rely on copyright to protect much of the work I place on the Internet, I want strong laws that protect me when my rights have been infringed. I don’t believe that such laws should come at the expense of due process, our legal tradition and the basic principle of fairness! I don’t believe that copyright infringement is such a heinous crime that it demands punishments stronger than those we deliver to paedophiles, stalkers or any other class of criminal who uses the Internet to enable their crimes.

To me, today’s (yesterday’s – depending on your timezone) decision is only the first step in clawing New Zealand back from the dangerous path that the big media companies have been leading our law makers down. From here we need to press on and demonstrate to the Government over the next month that even if the TCF and rights holders are able to come up with some sort of workable code of practice, the law is still fundamentally flawed. It is based on premise that we are guilty by accusation.

Even if guilt were to be proved by a competent legal body (eg. court or copyright tribunal) we don’t need laws placing further liabilites onto ISPs (and remember the definition of ISP under this amendment act includes businesses who provide Internet access to staff, libraries, schools and hospitals) when their existing terms and conditions already prohibit illegal activity.

Finally, and most importantly of all, we need to remember that laws exist to serve all sectors of society. Yes, copyright infringement is against the law and rights holders are reasonable in expecting the law to protect their content and allow them to make a fair profit. On the other side of the fence, average New Zealanders are not being unreasonable in their desire to have media available electronically, on demand and non-inhibited by DRM following a legal purchase. The failure of the media businesses to adequately cater to this change in market demand and usage of technology is obviously a contributing factor to the widespread copyright problems that they are facing today.

Obviously, I’m not condoning copyright infringement simply because the media companies are failing to address demand. Even stupid laws must be obeyed (and the concept of copyright is far from stupid). What I want to see is the Government acknowledging that the problem is not solely with consumers infringing copyright for malicious purposes, and therefore that the solutions do not lie solely in increasing the enforcement and punishments available.

Copyright has always been a balancing act between the rights of content producers and consumers. S92 and the act it is contained within are taking us far too far down the road of catering to big business and their outdated business models with far too little concern for the rights of the individual consumer.

Despite the many submissions made on this act last year when it was first passing through parliament, there was no comprehensive debate on what copyright means and how it should balance the rights of content producers and consumers in our digital century where copying is a zero-cost, zero-thought activity. Without such a debate we’re doomed to continue wasting time arguing over the symptoms of the problem, like S92.

So, I’m saving my champagne for the day when we as a country address these issues and come up with a fair and workable interpretation of what copyright means today.

February 18, 2009

Blacked Out – no “Guilt Upon Accusation”

Filed under: General,Linux,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 1:37 pm NZST

If you’re reading this post via the website rather than a feed/planet then you will notice that the site has gone completely black in support of the Creative Freedom Foundation’s campaign against S92A of the NZ Copyright Amendment Act which is due to come into effect on 28th February 2009. I’ve also joined the wave of people blacking out their “avatar” on Facebook/Jabber/MSN, etc.

S92A introduces “Guilt Upon Accusation” whereby if you are accused of copyright infringement (downloading music and movies, etc) “repeatedly” (likely 3 or more times) you are at risk of being disconnected from the Internet by your ISP. The law does not require any proof or substantiation of the accusations and the entire process would occur outside of the courts and the established legal system. Not only does it place every user at risk, the wording is very unclear on exactly what type of organisation is considered an ISP and there is significant concern that schools, businesses, libraries and hospitals will be placed in the difficult position of determining whether their users have broken the law and require disconnection.

Opposition to the law is not an attack on copyright, or a statement that we should be free to download all the movies and music that we desire. Those sorts of activities are clearly wrong, and I don’t have any issue with copyright holders wanting to enforce their rights when their content is illegally copied. However, disconnecting people upon accusation, with no proof or formal legal process to prove guilt is not the right way to go about it.

The fact that the law does not require proof of guilt is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of problems with it. For further background on the problems it causes for ISPs by placing them as the middle-man in copyright disputes you should refer to the following posts:

Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that S92A was removed from the proposed Amendment at the select committee stage, but was later reintroduced by Judith Tizard during the final reading of the bill. Mark Harris has an excellent post on the history of the amendment which includes facts such as the official report on the amendment also recommended removing S92A as it was unecessary given existing ISP terms and conditions which forbid illegal activity. The fact that the select committee (based on public submissions) recognised the problems with S92A and removed it, only to have it added back in again at the last stage when we no longer had any say on it really hacks me off and I cant’ help but feel the influence of the “big money” American media companies pressuring our politicians to pass a law that they don’t really understand the full consequences of.

So what is to be done? The Blacked Out campaign, being run by the Creative Freedom Foundation is gathering steam and international attention. Peter Dunne of United Future (who originally voted for the amendment) has declared that the amendment is wrong, and doesn’t do what they thought they were voting to do, we need to convince National and the rest of the house of the same. Time is running out for this to happen before the amendment comes into effect on Feb 28th, but there is still time to write to your local MP and sign the petition against S92A “Guilt Upon Accusation”. The Creative Freedom Foundation site has a nice easy list of what you can do to register your protest.

September 9, 2008

New Gadgets

Filed under: Debian,General,Linux — @ 10:11 am NZST

It’s been a while since I last acquired new gadgets but I think I’ve made up for lost time with my last weeks purchases.

You may remember that I’ve had my eye on the Openmoko phones since early 2007, but in between shifting across the world and starting a new job I never got around to purchasing one of the first versions. The second version, the “Freerunner”, was released in June this year and I placed an order with Pulster, a local distributor, shortly after. The phones have been in hot demand, so I only received my phone last week, a wait of of almost 2 months, and it turned up missing one of the cables that was meant to come with it. Still some distribution kinks to be worked out.

Distribution kinks are the least of Openmoko’s worries at the moment though. As advertised, the phone is definitely not ready for primetime distribution yet. I’ve tried three different software images on it: the original “stable” 2007.2 image, the current “devel” 2008.8 image and the latest completely rebuilt SHR release which is the most promising yet. With the SHR image I’ve been able to send and receive calls and text messages, although the interface is somewhat arcane. I’m most interested in the GPS which looks to be working reasonably well at this stage.

After almost a week with the phone I’m glad I purchased it, and I’m having fun hacking on it, but there is a huge way to go before I’ll be able to use it as my primary phone. So that’s gadget #1.

The second gadget is a new Digital SLR camera. I’ve been thinking about getting back into photography for a while (I last took photos seriously in high school) and when I saw how affordable digital SLRs had become I couldn’t resist. There isn’t much between Canon and Nikon when comparing mid-range SLRs these days, so after about a week of deliberation I decided on the Canon 450D, primarily because most of my workmates also have Canon SLRs!

I only got the camera on Friday, and spent half the weekend playing with the GPS on the phone (I want to set them up so I can geo tag all my photos), so I haven’t had quite as much time to play with it yet. I expect to spend plenty of quality time with it on our holiday in Malta next week. First impressions are favourable, although I’m fast discovering camera viewfinders were not really designed for people who wear glasses. I may have to consider wearing contacts again.

Once we get back from Malta I’d like to find a local (or online) photography club with some good weekly assignments to fire my creativity and motivate me to get the most out of my new toy.

July 14, 2008

Ubuntu versions numbers on crack

Filed under: Debian,Linux,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 3:56 am NZST

On hardy after the latest round of updates:


matt@krypton:~$ dpkg -s flashplugin-nonfree | grep Version
Version: 10.0.1.218+10.0.0.525ubuntu1~hardy1+really9.0.124.0ubuntu2

Granted this package is in hardy-backports not hardy proper, but still, what on earth?!?!

April 13, 2008

The Australian Open Source Industry & Community Report

Filed under: Linux,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 4:34 am NZST


I highly recommend making some time to read the The Australian Open Source Industry & Community Report. Based on a census of the Australian Open Source community conducted at the end of last year, it presents a range statistics about the state of the Open Source community and industry in Australia.

The report seems to be aimed at demonstrating to Government and Businesses that Open Source has become a very viable business strategy in Australia and in particular how increased adoption of Open Source would reduce the Australian trade deficit. You don’t need to worry about being put to sleep. The report is relatively casual in tone and easy to read with lots of bright graphs to present the key statistics and findings. Including:

  • The Australian Open Source industry generates around AUD$500M in annual revenue. A small proportion of the AUD$54.4B total revenue for the Australian ICT Industry in 2004-2005. Lots of growth potential!
  • 70-80% of the industry is based on the traditional development, customisation, support and maintenance business model.
  • Most of the individuals making up the Australian Open Source community are working professionals, over half the community are in a relationship and a third of the community have children.

It would be fascinating to see a similar study of the New Zealand industry. I suspect that we would find that Open Source businesses are spread across the country similar to Australia. Obviously our community and financial figures would be smaller in absolute terms but would our proportion of Open Source based businesses be similar?

Maybe a good task for the current NZOSS committee would be to round up some of the larger Open Source businesses in New Zealand, along with the Ministry of Economic Development to sponsor a similar study for New Zealand!

January 7, 2008

Places Visited in 2007

Filed under: Life — @ 10:30 am NZST

2007 was a busy year, here is where I managed to live/stay/visit:

  • Auckland – January and February
  • Dublin – February, photos
  • Hamilton – March
  • Miri – April, photos
  • Sarikei – April, photos
  • Kuching – April, photos
  • Kota Kinabalu – April, photos
  • Singapore – April, photos
  • Dubai – April
  • London – April, photos
  • Dublin – May onwards, photos
  • Galway – June
  • Cork – June, photos
  • New York – July, photos
  • Cambridge – July, photos
  • Belfast – August, photos
  • Luxembourg – September, photos
  • Paris – November, photos
  • Whistler – November, photos
  • San Francisco – November/December, photos
  • Bratislava – December, photos
  • Bad Gastein – December, photos
  • Salzburg – December, photos
  • Vienna – December, photos

18 cities, 5 towns/villages and a total of approximately 101,216km travelled in the air!

July 9, 2007

POSIX/NFSv4 ACL Inheritance Problems

Filed under: Linux,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 4:23 am NZST

I (as root) have a directory hierarchy that I want a particular group to always have write access to. The files and folders inside the hierarchy are owned and manipulated by a wide variety of diffrent users.

Essentially I want to delegate ‘root’ access for a portion of the filesystem to a particular group.

My first attempt at implementing this was to use the standard POSIX ACLs that are available for almost every filesystem Linux supports.

I recursively set an ACL on the top-level directory to give the group write access to all files and directories that currently exist and then I recursively set a default ACL to give the group write access on all the directories. This default ACL should be inherited by any new files that are created ensuring that the group keeps write access to everything.

Problem solved? Unfortunately not.

The intricacies of complying with POSIX means that ACLs are implemented as an ACL plus a mask. To gain access to a particular file or directory the user or group must match an appropriate ACL granting the access and the mask for that file or directory must also allow the requested permission to be granted.

When you add an ACL to a file or directory, the ‘group’ bits of the standard Unix permissions magically switch from controlling group access to controlling the mask portion of the ACL, effectively providing an upper bound on the permissions that an ACL entry can grant. This prevents legacy POSIX applications that do not understand ACLs from unintentionally granting excessive permissions – arguably a good thing.

Unfortunately this also makes it very hard to preserve the ACL granting write access to the ‘root’ group which I legitimately intended to have in place on this portion of the filesystem.

Newly created files under the hierarchy generally inherit the ACL as intended, as most applications attempt to create files with as many permissions as possible, leaving it up to the umask to remove undesired permissions.

However any file that is copied into the hierarchy without the ‘group’ write bit set, or any file that has the ‘group’ write bit removed via chmod will actually remove the write bit from the ACL mask invalidating the ACL and leaving me back at square one!

After a bit of Googling I thought that NFSv4 ACLs might be the answer to this problem, as they are marketed as “very similar to Windows ACLs” and I’m sure that I vaugely recall Windows being able to properly inherit ACLs from parent directories. Unfortunately after downloading the NFSv4 ACL patches and trying all the various mount options I cannot find any combination that will offer the functionality I need. The implementation conforms to POSIX, so it still has a mask parameter and the same problems as the standard POSIX ACLs. The only benefit from using NFSv4 ACLs that I can see is that you have more permissions to grant.

So once again, I’m back to square one. I’m hoping that there is some fundamental point that I’m missing as this seems like a very common use-case that I would have thought would be well supported.

If a command-line example is clearer to you look at:
http://www.mattb.net.nz/blog/dump/acl-inheritance-problems.txt

My current solution is to run a cronjob every X minutes to recursively ‘chmod -R g+w /dir’, however that’s far from optimal as it exposes all sorts of race conditions and just seems ugly!

Any suggestions or solutions will be gratefully received.

June 13, 2007

Back on the Intarnets

Filed under: WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 9:34 am NZST

Now that we’ve settled into our new apartment in Dublin, the ADSL has been connected and I’m back on the net!

Obviously I’ve had Internet access at work during this time, but there has been so much new information to take in that I haven’t really had time to do any Debian or WLUG work.

I’m still waiting for the shipping company to deliver my computers, so it will be another week or two before I have a development environment that can build and test package. Once that’s setup again I have updates queued for the following:

  • PHPwiki – Upgrade to 1.3.13p1
  • libtrace – Upgrade to 3.0.2

Unfortunately I’m not going to make it to Debconf this year, despite being the closest geographically that I’ve ever been. 🙁

March 31, 2007

Travelling

Filed under: General,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 11:26 am NZST

In just a few hours, I’m hopping on Emirates flight EK433 from Auckland to Singpore, to start the first leg of my trip to Dublin. I’ll be travelling for pretty much the next month, so if you’re trying to get hold of me please don’t be offended if I take several days to reply.

Kat and I have setup another blog to detail our travels, and I’ll try and keep this blog free of too much personal stuff so as to not clutter the various planets that it is syndicated to. If you’re interested in our travels and what we are up to then head over to http://www.mattandkatbrown.com.

There is also a calendar at mattandkatbrown.com if you’re wanting to try and meet up with me for keysigning, etc.

March 30, 2007

My DPL Vote

Filed under: Debian,WLUG / LinuxNZ — @ 2:57 am NZST


- - -=-=-=-=-=- Don't Delete Anything Between These Lines =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
e0acebd2-71f1-4df8-ae4d-50355ad7aa81
[ 6 ] Choice 1: Wouter Verhelst
[ 6 ] Choice 2: Aigars Mahinovs
[ 3 ] Choice 3: Gustavo Franco
[ 3 ] Choice 4: Sam Hocevar
[ 2 ] Choice 5: Steve McIntyre
[ 4 ] Choice 6: Raphaël Hertzog
[ 1 ] Choice 7: Anthony Towns
[ 6 ] Choice 8: Simon Richter
[ 5 ] Choice 9: None Of The Above
- - -=-=-=-=-=- Don't Delete Anything Between These Lines =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

My rationale follows, if you care...

I've been pondering how to vote for well over a week, and I'm still not entirely happy that the ballot I've chosen accurately expresses my wishes, but it's the best approximation of them that I can come up with at this time.

My dilemma has two parts

  1. I don't think the current office of the DPL is effective, due to how it is viewed by a significant proportion of the project (if not an outright majority), so regardless of how much I might like the goals and ideas proposed by an individual candidate I'm very pessimistic that being electing as DPL will actually bring those things to pass.
  2. Much of what will make a good DPL is about how a specific set of ideas and goals will be put into action, and how interpersonal relationships between the DPL and various parties will be managed. This comes down to the personal character, experience and leadership skills of the candidate While I can form some level of an opinion about each of these aspects from mailing list archives, and IRC, etc. I don't really feel comfortable making judgements in these areas until I've actually met them in real life. Too many people come across badly in the (severely limited) online communication methods we use, and are actually very decent reasonable people in real life. Out of the candidates, AJ is the only one that I've ever actually met and talked to.

Given these problems, my first step in choosing how to vote was to eliminate those candidates who I will rank below NOTA based on their published platforms. I have nothing personal against any of these three people, but given the other possible candidates I think that we'd be better off having another election than just electing one of these three for the sake of it.

  • Wouter Verhelst - Wouter's platform lacks any detail that tells me what he stands for or where he wants to see Debian go. Wouter's platform also seems very conflict averse, it favours discussion and agreement over making hard decisions. I think Debian needs to make some hard decisions and the project leader needs to be someone who is able to willing handle (civilised) conflict.
  • Aigars Mahinovs - Most of the topics that Aigars proposes to work on do not make my list of the most important issues for Debian to solve, and as others have pointed out, are possible better dealt with by other organisations.
  • Simon Richter - Simon doesn't actually state what he wants to achieve as DPL or where he sees Debian's future direction as being, other than some vague hints that he is against projects that are similar to 'dunc-tank' and that we need a common goal. Stating what that common goal should be, would have lifted this above NOTA.

That leaves five remaining candidates:

  • Anthony Towns - AJ gets my top ranking because I think that having some consistency in the DPL is a worthwhile goal. While I think that the whole Dunc-tank fiasco could have been managed much, much better, there were obviously hostile factions that would have made anything AJ did look bad. AJ's platform seems to mostly involve him leading infrastructural improvements (good) and encouraging others to work on things that they want to see changed (also good). The one area where I possibly disagree with Anthony is around what the DPL role should look like. Anthony appears happy with the current state of the DPL office, I think that some significant changes are needed. However that's going to require constitutional changes, so I'm not going to rank Anthony down on that basis alone.
  • Steve McIntyre - Steve comes second primarily because he's implicitly endorsed by AJ and everything that I've seen online related to Steve suggests that he is a level-headed, decent individual with good leadership skills. If I can't have consistency in the DPL office via AJ, then Steve would definitely be the next choice. Steve's platform also doesn't contain anything that I disagree with.
  • Sam Hocevar and Gustavo Franco - Sam and Gustavo are ranked equally based purely on the basis of their (relatively similar) platforms containing lots of great ideas and vision for Debian that I agree with. I don't for a minute think that they will be able to achieve all of it, but at least by providing clear goals and a mandate for implementing them we might be able to start down the track of regaining some common purpose as a project. I have some reservations about Sam's style based on what I've read in archive, but seeing as I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to people I haven't personally met, I'm going to assume, that if elected Sam will be a great DPL.
  • Raphaël Hertzog - Raphaël gets my final vote above NOTA to indicate that I support the idea of a board governing Debian, but that I don't think his particular proposal is the correct way for the board to run. If Raphaël were to win, I wouldn't object to him placing his suggested board in 'office' for the upcoming year, but I hope that a major piece of their workload would be to lead the discussion, drafting and passing of a constitutional change to replace the DPL with an elected board with rotating terms of reasonable length (2-3) years.

*yawn* It's made me tired writing all of that out. Maybe sometime soon I should explain in more detail exactly what parts of Debian's governance model I think need changing or maybe I need to wait until I've achieved a few more technical things and gained enough respect before anyone will listen to my opinions...

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