Articles tagged with "essay"

So you want to use my PC

So you want to use my PC? Sure, no problem, it's right there. But real quick, before you start, there's a couple small tips that you should keep in mind.

If you turn it on and nothing happens, that means the KVM switch is listening on the wrong input. Just press the black button behind the screen to switch it back. Can't find it? Maybe it fell down - it has a short cable and sometimes the other cables pull it back. Or maybe it's underneath all of my drawing stuff. Either way, search for it behind the desk and press it. The screen should turn on.

You may also notice that the computer chair has been relegated to the side and that I'm using a regular wooden chair instead. You can use the fancy one if you want - after a couple weeks it may cause some completely unexpected health issues, but on a short enough scale it's fine.

Now, this computer runs Linux. Technically it runs Windows too, but the screen for choosing a different operating system goes away before the monitor has time to turn on, and we lost too much time to spam the arrow keys anyway. But that's probably for the best: given that I haven't booted Windows in a long time, that Windows loves mandatory updates, and that the computer has a mechanical hard drive, there's a good chance that you would have to wait at least an hour before being able to use it. Why haven't I upgraded to an SSD, you ask? I have considered it, but Windows won't let me for complicated reasons. So Linux it is.

You may see a bunch of text scrolling by. That's fine. If the text stops scrolling for a long time you may want to consider pressing the NumLock key several times. I'm not entirely clear on the details, but something about interruptions and IRQs sometimes keeps the PC from starting if it doesn't detect activity. And since the NumLock key doesn't do anything bad, it is the safest key to spam-press.

Once you've made it to the login screen it is going to ask you for a username and password. That one should be easy - I have been using the same combination for over 20 years, so you probably know it already. Need a hint? It's in the same league as my network name plus my favorite number. It's not exactly hunter2, but it's close.

You may have a bit of trouble reading the letters on screen. Don't worry, the screen works fine - I just keep my brightness and contrast real low, and even the smallest hint of natural light turns them invisible. You could adjust the brightness using the monitor's crappy touch controls, or you could do what I do and close the curtains. I'm not going to tell you which one is right, but I am going to vouch for the one that has kept me glasses-free for more than 25 years of extensive computer use.

If you want a graphical interface, type startx and my Mate Desktop Environment will start. Ignore the error about sticky notes - I have been meaning to fix it for some time, but there's always something else and it doesn't bother me anyway. But before you type anything, a word of caution: the interface is in English, but the keyboard is German and the key mapping is Spanish. That means that regular keys are where you expect them to be (except for Z and Y, which are inverted), but if you want to type a single quote you need to add a space afterwards or you'll get an accented letter otherwise. If you have a password with more than just letters and numbers then you may want to type it in a text editor first and copy-paste.

You probably need a web browser, in which case the Firefox icon is right there. But you probably don't want that: the script blockers almost guarantee that whatever website you are trying to open will not work. For those cases I recommend using the super-outdated Chrome browser instead - the icon is right next to the Firefox one. It won't play Netflix because I didn't install the DRM stuff, but everything else should work fine. If you want audio, remember to plug the headphones first. And that reminds me: I have set the browser to auto-delete all history when closing the browser. So don't close the window until you're done, or you'll have to login again. I hope you didn't close the text editor with your password!

Now, I'll be honest with you: at this point most people give up and resort to their phones. And it's okay, I get it. That's what happens when you keep your tools exactly like you want them to be and suddenly you are asked to share. But most people tend to blame Linux for it, which I think it's unfair - if anything, I'd like to see Windows offer even half the flexibility to do things my way.

Now, let's talk about that WiFi password. But first, one question: do you know how to type the "¿" symbol on your keyboard?

Inspired by this article

Internet should be an utility

Have you heard of Parler? In case you haven't, Parler is (was?) a social network for racists the alt-right that gained notoriety this week. Having allegedly been used to coordinate the storming of the U.S. Capitol, its app was removed from both the Google Play Store and the Apple Store and then pulled from Amazon AWS the next day. With no hosting and no app, Parler has been effectively killed by the tech giants.

The swift removal of Parler from the internet is the incident that, I hope, will bring together the right and the left under a common cause: that the internet should be considered a public utility and that Internet Service Providers (ISP) should be regulated as such.

A public utility is a service that everyone needs (think water and electricity) and where regulation is needed because the high cost of entry discourages competition (so-called natural monopolies). It has been argued that internet should be included in this list too - can you imagine your current daily life without internet? ISPs, on the other hand, are happy setting their own prices and policies, and have resisted for years efforts in this direction.

Parler was effectively removed from the internet by the tech giants under the argument that, as private companies, they have the right to refuse service to anyone they don't want to work with[1]. But ISPs are private companies too, and therefore free to do the same to you - if your live in a country with no ISP regulation, your provider has a right to stop giving you internet access and tank your business with little repercussions.

And here is where I hope both "the left" and "the right" will see that their interests overlap. The left should support ISP regulations (and net neutrality!) because they believe, as Germany and France put it, that free speech should be governed by law and not by tech giants. The right, on the other hand, should realize that they gave tech monopolies all the cards and that they are the only ones getting kicked out of their social media accounts. If the President of the United States himself can be banned from Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Youtube, then no one is safe.

Why ISPs?

You might have noticed that everyone I linked above talks about regulating Amazon, Google, and/or Apple. I, on the other hand, would suggest that we focus on ISPs instead for the following reasons.

First, because the internet parallels the history of the telephone almost perfectly: a communication technology that catches on and that, while not biologically required (unlike water and heating), plays a critical role for life in a society. And ISPs are not "like" the telephone companies, they are the telephone companies.

Second, because it makes sense that internet should be provided to everyone without discrimination: imagine a world in which your shower stops working because you said in public that you prefer bottled water, or where your telephone is disconnected because you bad-mouthed someone during a conversation.

And finally, because it's the last step down the technology chain at which you can still survive: there are alternatives to Amazon AWS, and if they won't have you then you could still plug your own server and keep going (ask the Pirate Bay). But if the only ISP in town denies you service, what are you going to do, move your family to the closest town? Ask people to send you letters?

So here's my proposal: make the internet a public utility and, in exchange, give ISPs immunity from what their customers do with it. Let's bring the internet into the 21st century.


[1] Leaving illegal discrimination aside, which doesn't seem to be the case here.