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Free as in freedom

This week Mozilla laid off one third of their workers. This (sadly) supports the claim that tech is right now not really capable of maintaining non-profit structures for their main services. Free software works quite well for backend, but not really for frontend.

I just stumbled upon this interesting piece of a guy who used to work for Mozilla. He characterized Mozilla with the focus on Firefox as comparable to Bell Labs or Xerox Parc, which were large research labs funded by an basically endless stream of money coming in from other sources. If we nowadays think of infinite money, we think of GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). They also fund a lot of research or open source software and actually also develop a lot of open source software. The issue still is: they of course do not fund their competitors. Google, the company developing Chrome is mainly funding Mozilla!

So, what is going on? We do not see a lot of open source software that is directly distributed to end-users that is funded well. If you want to develop open source software, best develop a product that GAFA also needs, but maybe be cheaper for them than developing it themselves.

Second, we, the users are not used to pay for this kind of software. We came a long way to pay for entertainment in the internet, but we still refuse to pay for end-user software. Mozilla tried to get away from this, but they failed. Which is actually really bad considering that it is the only other browser, which is the program most of use most of our time on our computer. One of the few good examples for a foundation and financing of a website is Wikipedia, but actually, if you look at the numbers, the development of MediaWiki and hosting of servers is ten times cheaper than running a cutting edge web browser on several platforms that probably has more complexity than operating systems.

So, what do we need? We need people pay and support for free software. Free software means freedom, not free beer. We, as users should think about this and support these projects because they are at the end all we have against a monopolized web. Last week there was also an article about state funding of Mozilla. I think this might solve the problem short-term, but not long-term. If you have funding from a state, you still rely on one massive income of money. I think the way to go is to get more income streams and be less dependent on big donors, however the making users pay for Firefox is probably also a bad idea. It stays a tough issue, but we should make sure that Firefox will survive.

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Sustainable Software

When we are talking about free software, the point is often that this is more sustainable than proprietary software because everyone can edit the code and even if your company goes bankrupt someone else can take over and go on coding. Actually, in many open source projects there is only one person doing most of the developing work and there is also the risk of abandonware, software that used to be maintained, but the maintainer has moved on and does other stuff now. Still, no one else is taking over the code due to several reasons like bad documentation, complex code, lacking skills. So at the end the whole programm is written new from scratch in the next project (I see this quite a bit in science). Luckily there are institutions like the software sustainability institute tackling some if these especially technical issues, but I want to put more emphasis on social issues.

So actually the question we have to ask: how do we make software more sustainable? I see one crucial point that is true for software as well as any other voluntarily work (be it sports clubs or cultural/political groups): how easy do you attract people and how easy is it to participate in your project? Often, it is only one person working on a project. If this person stops, the whole project goes down. So what should happen? I think there are three more social than technical levels in which many projects might need some improvement:

  1. Community building: it should be easy to join your project. Connect, network with others, show that the atmosphere you do things is nice. Threat people reporting bugs nicely, talk to people and show that you are a person or group of persons it is fun to work with. Remember, people do this often in their free time
  2. Documentation: Make it easy on a technical side to join your project. It should not be easier to re-write the whole software than working on existing code. If you are a political group or other, also document what you do and what you did and why you did it. If you write code, also do this. Also track decisions, you do not want other people to make the same mistakes again.
  3. Financing: yes, financing. How do you expect people to work on things when they still have to pay rent? Therefore it is important to have your project on a stable ground, if you want to have it running. This does not mean that you sell out or try to get rich from ripping of your users, but it means that you think if you want to spend a reasonable amount of your time (or support someone else to spend a reasonable amount of their time for your project and think about putting some money in this). In software this also tackles licenses (another boring topic, I know, but there is also help.)

Summing up, I think we need to talk more about these things when developing free software and I also know that it is not the tasks most programmers are good at, but might be some skills to acquire in the future or attract people having these skills for our projects or software. I also want to show that if you are not a programmer, you can still do very important work in this background.

And even if you do not want to become active in open source software development, there are a lot of clubs, sports teams, political groups that will be happy to use your input and exptertise

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Personal state of linux

In this post, I want to give an overview over the linux distributions I am using right now and why I use them.

I am since quite a lot of time using Xubuntu on every computer that is a little bit older or has limited resources. Xubuntu is fast, easy to install and uses litle resources, the in my opinion perfect os for old computers. I switched from Lubuntu to Xubuntu, since I actually liked XFCE more and it seemed more smoothly at that time (2014).

On my working machine, which is an desktop from 2012, I am using right now Ubuntu Budgie. This was due some problems I had on installing Manjaro or Fedora. Ubuntu Budgie runs smoothly, I sometimes have small problems with graphics, but this might be also due to my old graphics card. I also like the interface, which is a good mixture between the more mobile-oriented Gnome and a more desktop-oriented approach. I am also using the LTS-version because I do not want to upgrade the complete os very often. On the other side I switched from Ubuntu to Fedora because I wanted to have the latest software. Right now, I did not miss some newer software on my ubuntu machine.

On my notebooks, I am using Manjaro right now. I switched from Fedora, since I first wanted to try out something new and second, I liked the concept of the rolling release and wanted to try out this. From using it one month, I really like it. You get a lot of updates, but they all work smoothly, so there is not a lot to worry about. One particular thing I like about Manjaro is this layout switcher for gnome, that allows your desktop to look like in certain different ways without any configuration or the re-installation of another desktop.

At the end you really need to think about how stable your system should be. If you want a very stable system where you do not have to worry about (and maybe are a beginner with linux as well), use Ubuntu with some of its flavors or maybe Debian, preferably an LTS-version. If you want to try out new software, but maybe also encounter issues, better use Manjaro or Fedora.

On the software side, I get around with all the different distributions. Sure, the way packages are brought to you is different and the philosophy as well. But most of the larger distributions offer a a lot of software, you can do most of the things with all distributions. Using snap makes specialized or even closed-source software really easy, so you do not have to worry all your favorite programs not running anymore when changing the distribution.

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My musical discoveries 2019

It is the end of the year and I want to use this time to look back at cool new music that came out and cool music that is maybe not so new, but I discovered new. It is kind of hard to tell what was the best new stuff, so I decided to make this list. Here we go:

The first band is Five Finger Death Punch. I knew their name, but did never listen to them. During the year I discovered them and since I got a weak spot for hard/heavy music that is just without a lot of thinking straight into the face, I began to like them.

Long distance calling: Their new album Stummfilm is just great, I also got more into instrumental metal/post-metal this year. This is one of the bands I can highly recommend in this genre.

If you put mongolian folk music and rock together, nothing can go wrong. Just check out The Hu:

The Gardener & The Tree: Their latest album came out 2018, but nevertheless worth noticing: Indie-Folk from Switzerland:

The Pineapple Thief: These guys are – as you might indicate by the appreviation PT a progressive rock band from England, their style is close to porcupine Tree. This is not the worst combination and also the drummer of Porcupine Tree joined them for their concerts this year, which I also attended.

Atmosphere: They are a HipHop band from Minnepolis, making more underground-consciuos rap:

Amon Amarth: I have to admit, I never got into their music and thought that this viking stuff is a little bit childish. But “Twilight of the thunder god” is simply a great song:

Another band I just discovered thanks to a great recommendation of a friend is The National. Indie/progressive? Rock from the US, again a really great concert this year, with maybe the best and clearest sound I have ever heard. Officially they call it Indie Rock, but I am not a big fan of Indie Rock and for me it is way more. Better just listen:

Jinjer play metalcore/progressive metal and have maybe the best female singer in metal right now:

Alcest: The last band is if you need some black metal for dark winter nights or black winter days?? here is it. enjoy 🙂

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Why political discussions on Twitter don’t work

Twitter and social media are everywhere. It also seems that political discussions are mainly driven by Twitter and other platforms. Let’s just have a look who is on Twitter in Germany: Only 8% of Germans do have an account on Twitter. Probably this population is even screwed to people who are young, do have higher education and/or work on media jobs. In the US this looks different, there are close to 50 million active users, so one in every six Americans uses Twitter.

But still, it is now possible to talk directly to your politicians and tell them what YOU think and what is important. This means that politics comes down to the “ordinary people”. Well, after looking at who is on Twitter, it is evident that this is (at least for Germany) not true. Furthermore, I think that some (especially complex) discussions are better not done online in general. There are many reasons for this, I think three are most relevant:

  • Audience
  • Trolling
  • Attention

Audience

Everyone working in sales or marketing knows: defining a target audience is really hard: Who do you want to sell your product to? How should use your software? These questions are not easy. If you are on an open social network, this gets even harder. You do not know if your political views about migration are read by white supremacists or Antifa people. Which brings us to the issue that there is constant misunderstanding. This is sometimes intended, but maybe often not. With a joke you might be in some friendship circles a funny guy, in other a nazi, or you might be considered left-wing by some people, but think your opinion is quite moderate or even conservative. A nice piece about this is this article about PewDiePie who became a symbol of white supremacists. Although you probably have to admit that PewDiePie himself does not really know what he believes.

Trolling

Trolling is also a great problem. People troll because they want to annoy people, maybe just for fund and yes, some might even get paid to do it. I personally respect trolling as a social mechanism that can be very well played. See for this this great presentation. The issue is also not new, you had trolls since the internet started. What is the problem now? When I first used the internet, it was mainly forums where discussion happened. When you were annoyed of the trolls, you could ban them, some forums also created places where trolls could do their trolling without annoying other people. Another rule was not to feed them. Just ignoring helped quite well. What is different now? On Social Media, you cannot just open hashtags or sub-forums where the trolls can live. They still stay in your newsfeed. Yes, you can block them manually, but this is also very time-consuming. Second, trolls get fed no matter what. This old machinery of not-feeding seems to scale very bad. The trolls always find someone who is obsessed with their trolling and so they win. Sadly, the mechanisms of attendance play very well for trolls, too:

Attendance

We all know Twitter and other services sell our attendance to their ad-buyers. (Just read the book The attention merchants by Tim Wu, if you are more interested) Based on this, it is important for these platforms that we spend more time there in order to make more money. So there is an incentive for them to keep us as long as possible on the platform and probably also show opinions that are more controversial, maybe polemic, but probably not focused on a good discussion. If we look at this from the other side, it also gets clear what you have to do if you want to have a lot of followers: produce content that the services rank high and show it often to people. There you are, you produce polemic, polarizing content in order to get ranked higher by Twitter and reach a higher audience.

Summing up, we see why so few people I know in personal do political stuff on twitter. I personally enjoy the discussions about information science, user experience or data science on Twitter a lot, but this is mainly because the audience is clear and there are close to none trolls. Therefore Twitter is for me a great professional tool, but not a digital place to have political discussions. It might make sense also for the media to not see is as this.

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Minimalism/Frugalism

I would not consider myself a big minimalist, but after living two months on stuff I could fit into one suitcase and watching some videos about it, I am quite confident to talk about my experiences. I also try to have a quite minimalist lifestyle back in Germany, though.

First, what does it mean? Basically, if you click through Youtube, you find people showing how they got rid of stuff (mostly clothes), room tours through quite empty flats and experiences of people telling that they felt better than before.

I like this approach to have less and therefore not having stuff with me that I need to care about because they need space or I have to take care about them while cleaning them or – with electronic devices – updating. This saves you a lot of time and you can concentrate on things (or people) that are important for you, rather than something that is not important for you (anymore)It really has the potential to make your life easier.

But actually I do not agree with the way of getting rid of things. I actually think it is sometimes also smart to keep things than giving them away now and buying them back later, at least from an economical point of view. One pattern that arose was the people were at the beginning talking a lot how great their life is with fewer stuff, but after a while they see they might need more stuff and so minimalism helps them to find a good balance how much to own.

While clicking through Youtube I found the interviews most interesting where people give a review after living this lifestyle for a certain time. Many got to have more stuff than after they cleaned everything. I do not know how much stuff I own, but I in general like to keep it small and every once in a while I try to get rid of stuff I do not need anymore. Still, I think it makes most sense not to buy everything.

Good links to start are this video in German as well as Minimalismus-Podcast and The Minimalists.

Frugalism

Which brings me to a trend you see often when you look these videos: Frugalism or FIRE, which means Financial Independence Retire Early. The idea behind it is, to save money while you are young, invest into stock exchange, get rich and not work anymore afterwards. The good point again is to see what you really need and then think about if you really have to spend money on this. The bad thing still is that you still have to earn a lot of money, which might be possible for college graduates in their twenties, but not for everyone. For instance, if you need 15.000€ a year, you need to have 25x that sum because the idea is that your stocks raise in value by 4% a year. So you can take out 15.000€ a year while your money in total does not change. So you need to have 15.000€x25=375.000€, which is a lot.

The FIRE folks argue, you can create this amount by investing in stock exchange and get a good interest rate from there: They calculate with 8%, which seems quite accurate, but you still need to earn quite well, so you can invest in the stock exchange.

What I am taking from it? The concept to get an overview of your finance as well as the stuff you own is really great. Many people do not even track their spending, which is actually quite easy, there are a lot of apps around there where you can add your spending, define budgets or even synchronize directly with your bank account. A good video to start is How to be a financial minimalist.

Summing up, I think both concepts are quite good, you see many people putting it into the extremes, but this is not necessary. Integrating at least a little bit of frugality and minimalism into your life might help spend less time on things you don’t like and make your life easier. Still, a good guidance for how much is Marie Kondos:„Does it spark joy?“

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Installing Nextcloud on a Raspberry Pi using snap

Nextcloud offers some great functions when it comes to sharing data in your local network. I mainly needed a tool to sync a calendar on my network with my devices. I was also thinking about a lighter software like Baikal, but the installation of most of the others seemed more difficult to me than nextcloud, so I choose this.

I used the snap package of nextcloud, so I did not need to do a lot of configuration for the server and it is just ready to start. Have a look at the snap installation.

Connecting calendar clients

I connected an android client, evolution and an ios client. The connection of the android device and evolution is pretty easy, it just works if you create a new calendar using the provided link. For android you have to use the software DAVx5 to establish a connection.

On ios the connection only works with https enabled (I did not find another way to set it up, if you know, please share). Therefore you need to set up https using snap. (if you run into problems on your pi, maybe have a look here) After this you can simply create a new caldav-connection on your ios device. In my case it also worked directly with the basis url (e.g. https://yourdomain.com/nextcloud) without the other adresses the manual wants you to use.

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My Audio setup

In this article I will give a little big of background to my music system and why I use the certain components.

First, the speakers: I use some speakers which enable me to give input via USB. This has the great advantage I can use whatever computer I want to push the music signals to the speakers. (side note: I am using some speakers by Nubert, which also have digital and analogue input for other sources) My music comes directly from a raspberry pi with Mopidy and Raspotify. These two tools allow me to play basically all the music I have on hard disk or to stream it from the internet. I also programmed some small software, that shows the title and artist on a small display and I added some buttons, so I can pause the track and turn the pi off.

The connection using USB is actually very great since it reduces the amount of cables a lot. Before this, I used an external sound card, which also worked well, but needed more space. Another option would be HiFiBerry, but I do not have any experience about sound quality.

Why did I use this setup and not buy directly speakers like from Sonos or other systems? I like to keep my system as easy to repair and change as possible. My speakers will probably last longer than my raspberry, so I want to able to change the way music comes to the speakers. Also, I want to be able to change my streaming service. All this might or might not be possible using out-of-the-box systems.

And finally, the raspberry pi and mopidy are open systems, where you can add your own code in order to improve your setup.

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Raspotify – Turn your pi into a Spotify server

As some of you know I really like to use a raspberry pi as music server. Therefore I want to introduce a nice tool: Raspotify. This little program turns your raspberry pi into a Spotify server as you might also get it when listening on your computer or on other systems like Sonos. The really cool thing is: it just works out of the box and you can use your phone as a remote control. I actually prefer it right now over the usage of Mopidy-Spotify, which has some problems since Spotify is blocking the API more and more. For instance, it is not possible anymore to load playlists.

I do not know if this will improve in the future or if Spotify nudges us to use their service. I would prefer to have a system working directly together with mopidy, still bundles everything, but we will see.

The installation procedure of Raspotify is actually as easy as it can get: you only need to type one command and it does everything. But pay attention to change the settings (in the paragraph Configuration at the page) to get higher quality playback.

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Digital Humanities at Hochschule Darmstadt

In summer semester me and Professor Rittberger will be giving a class about digital humanities at Hochschule Darmstadt in the major information science. Here is our syllabus, I will try to upload slides as well (but in German).

We want to give a broad overview about what Digital Humanities mean. There are also other classes dealing with text-mining, so we do not focus so much on it (there are four lessons about it, though)

  1. Introduction to Digital Humanities: What are DH, what can we do with digital methods
  2. Research methods: Qualitative and quantiative methods in social sciences, hermeneutics, virtual research environments
  3. Law, ethics: Basic understanding what law means and what problems it can cause. This leads to data management and open data
  4. XML: Basics about XML, why DTDs are useful, standards like TEI (2 sessions), XML regarding ontologies
  5. Editions and digitalization: What are editions, how can we create them digitally? How do we digitize content?
  6. Basics of Text analysis: Distant Reading, Google n-grams, how new methods in text analysis can help in research
  7. Named-Entity-Recognition: We chose this problem of NLP to give an overview of what can be done using new technology and also to compare approaches from computer science like machine learning with approaches from information science and semantic web
  8. Topic Modelling: Basic introdution and practial usage with R
  9. Network analysis: Basics of network analysis and how to use it for instance for plays. Tool: Gephi
  10. Geoinformation: How can we code geographical data, how can we use it in DH?
  11. 3D-Modelling: What new approaches are there using 3D-Modelling, how can we use it in DH? Tool: Blender