LJ Archive


EOF January 2017

I have been an avid and loyal Linux Journal subscriber for 20 years. But after reading Doc Searls' January 2017 EOF, I am thoroughly disgusted. I will not be renewing. Politics has no place in a magazine such as LJ. If I wanted someone's political opinion, I'd turn on MSNBC or CNN. The arrogance displayed by publishing that article is astounding.

Doug McComber

Doc Searls replies: Thanks for writing. And for debugging mine.

Under similar criticisms in the web version of the column, I wrote this (www.linuxjournal.com/content/debugging-democracy#comment-3099071559):

fulp01 isn't a troll. He's a subscriber, and we value those.

He's also right to call me to task. Judging from the almost entirely negative response this column has received so far, I was the one doing the trolling, though that wasn't my intent.

Calling Trump a troll also distracted readers from my main point, which is that journalism is suffering in a world where a business based on surveillance is programmatically dividing people into mutually hostile echo chambers, which makes democracy suffer as well. And that, because this whole echo-system is programmatic, and to a high degree runs on Linux-based infrastructure, we (or at least some of us) are in a position to help fix it.

I also wrote a similar response for the magazine, and something like it in my March 2017 column. Hope those help, and that you stay with us.

Open-Source Classroom—Passwords, Security Questions

Regarding Shawn Powers' “All Your Accounts Are Belong to Us” article in the February 2017 issue: good information regarding passwords and 2nd-factor authentication, etc. One thing I've done for the last ten years or so is create fictitious alternative personal data that is used for online accounts—things like birthday, mother's maiden name, high school teacher, first car and so on. I only use my real personal data when it must be done, like for banking or government stuff. I store my alternative personal information in my password manager so I don't have to remember it. This way, if any of my social media or other online accounts ever do have a breach, the data that is leaked can't be used as identification verification by a bad actor or as a pivot point to get into other accounts. The key is being consistent. Regarding password managers, since I don't trust any third party, my password manager is a strongly encrypted text file that is synced via Dropbox with a very strong high entropy password that I've committed to memory. One more thing, regarding using fingerprints and other biometrics to log on, keep in mind that you can be compelled to place your finger (or have retina scan) to unlock your device, but courts (so far) have upheld the divulging of passwords as “something you know” and hence is under 5th Amendment protection.

Mark Dean

Shawn Powers replies: That's all really good information, and I've considered the alternate persona thing as well. Having security questions for password recovery just seems like a bad idea, since most of the questions are fairly easy to figure out, especially if you know the person. My bank, for example, asks, “Where were you born?”, “Who's your favorite singer?” and “Who's your favorite author”, which are all things widely known to anyone who knows me even online.

You're also correct about the biometrics. They're not a great way to secure a phone, but they do offer a convenience factor that in some cases I deem worth the downside. Thankfully, some apps require multiple authentication factors. Copay, my Bitcoin wallet, for instance, can be forced to require a password and biometrics. Anyway, I think the best thing we can do as an IT community is make sure we're educating folks who might not understand the significance of securing their accounts and data. Often just understanding is enough to get people to make better choices.

Politics Don't Belong in Technical Publications

I respect that this is your publication, but as a customer, I wanted to let you know my opinion and intent should the political rants continue. I don't read this publication to learn about opinions of Trump, the electoral college or the Clintons. I subscribe and pay for Linux-related news and information. Simply put, if the political overtones continue, I'll save myself the subscription cost, browse to Fox news or CNN, and not read this publication in the future.

Thank you for your consideration, and I hope to see less word count about politics and more interesting content about Linux.

G. Powers

Doc Searls replies: Grant, I assume you are writing in response to my “Debugging Democracy” column in the January 2017 issue—the one and only time in two decades of writing for Linux Journal that I've ever brought up politics (or at least that I remember).

So you know, I've already responded to similar pushback from other readers. Here is what I wrote in response to a reader named Mark:

Mark is right. I do owe readers an apology. By calling Donald Trump a troll (take a look at the Wikipedia definition of Internet troll (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll), and draw your own conclusions), I was being a troll as well. Even though trolling wasn't my intent, that has been the effect so far: every response to my January column, both here and on our website, has been as negative as Mark's, and for the same reasons.

Opening with that remark also failed to support the main purpose of that column, which was to call for help in rescuing journalism—and real journals such as this one—from drowning in a sea of “content”, way too much of which is crap routed by algorithms aimed by surveillance-gathered data into echo chambers of the like-minded. This has the effect of increasing enmity and blame toward those in echo chambers with opposing sympathies, which is worse than dangerous in democratic societies, because it tears apart the center spaces of basic agreement those societies require. You can see how this looks in The Wall Street Journal's Blue Feed, Red Feed site (graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed), subtitled “See Liberal Facebook and Conservative Facebook, Side by Side”.

I am sure most of the systems driving us into hostile camps are built on Linux. (Isn't everything now?) So I don't think I'm off base calling for help here.

I believe that was published (with Mark's letter) in the March 2017 issue.

I hope this addresses your concerns. If not, let us know.

Doc Searls' Columns

I hope this note finds you well and enjoying the riches of all things Linux!

This is just a short note of appreciation for Doc Searls and his monthly Linux Journal columns. I suspect some readers are occasionally puzzled about the nature of those columns—they're not exactly technical “how-to” sorts of things.

I think it's important to keep in mind the global picture, and I'm glad that LJ sees fit to give voice to such important issues. It would be simple to take the low road and just keep to the geek stuff. Thanks for continuing to take the high road!

David Klann

Linux Desktop Use Case (from De Bortoli Wines, Australia)

Reaching out to Doc Searls as a recent article of his lamented the state of the Linux Desktop. I thought you might be interested in connecting with a company with Linux as the default desktop—since 2004!

<<** Warning—shameless propaganda ahead! **>>

From 2004: www.computerworld.com.au/article/5606/de_bortoli_wines_gets_taste_linux and www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&q=de+bortoli+open+standards+or+open+source+or+Linux.


Doc Searls and Content

Regarding Doc Searls' “The Problem with 'Content'” in the March 2017 issue: nice editorial, but I think you are missing another facet of what happened to the “media” out there—namely that of partial news.

I used to read a lot of newspapers when I was younger. Over time, it became impossible to ignore a certain bias in most media outlets' reporting. And as time went on, it became more and more difficult to keep paying for such reporting.

One needs to look no further than the hyperventilating meltdown that the “media” has suffered under President Trump to understand that reporters have intentionally left about half of the population behind. Certainly other factors are at play, but I'm certain things wouldn't be quite as bad as they are if the “media” had not alienated half of its potential readership.

Aki Korhonen

Doc Searls replies: Thanks, Aki. Good points.

I think all news is partial, in at least two meanings of the word: it's both incomplete and biased in some way. I also think the internet has utterly changed all the old media outlets by supporting countless new ones, while social media on the net has driven coverage and conversation into echo-systems that not only don't talk with each other, but distrust and dislike each other more and more, as they get fed one-sided “content”, because that's what algorithms send to them. As I mentioned previously, to see this at work, check out The Wall Street Journal's “Blue Feed/Red Feed”: graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed. Kinda scary. In the old media world, there was common ground. In the new one, it's pretty much gone.

I agree that big-name big-city papers and broadcasters ignored much of the country, roughly since Bush the Elder, which is why many people in those places feel left behind. But other media came in and served those people, who not only just elected a president they prefer, but also gave the GOP a majority in both houses of Congress. Hit SCAN on your radio, even in major markets, and most of the non-sports talk you'll hear is hard right. When I'm in red states, it seems like every establishment that has TVs for patrons (even hospital waiting rooms) is playing Fox News.

At this point, however, both of the old media sides are in trouble, because the internet isn't just changing every media game; it's inviting many new ones, most of which we haven't seen yet.


I'd love for you to review Shotcut video editor. I recently used it to edit ~30 hours of old VHS tapes that were digitally captured into about ten hours to play in a loop on an RPi2 running Kodi as background/icebreaker for a 25th reunion party. It got people talking and reminiscing, and was a great success.

I found parts of the UI clunky, and some of the default timeline behaviors when cutting were less than helpful, but it never crashed. It did lock up once while rendering for some mysterious reason, but I just killed it and restarted it with the saved *.xml project file.

I was impressed. The best thing is it's totally self-contained—just unzip the archive, run the supplied startup script, and off you go. No dependency headaches! All Linux software should aspire to this!

Walter B. Kulecz

Shawn Powers replies: Thanks for the heads up. I've never tried Shotcut, but I'll give it a whirl. I'll try to write up a review as well, depending on how my experience goes.

New F150!

To Shawn Powers: Can you post some photos of your new F150 rig in the next issue of LJ? (Just checking if you're making that one up.)


Shawn Powers replies: David, not only do I really have an F-150, but check out the license plate!

Shawn's F150—check out the license plate!

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