If you can’t open it, you don’t own it


Make, a community of tinkerers and open-source affectionados, has published a list of gift suggestions. Some of their projects look really cool. Among them:

They are also selling a neat Leatherman warranty voider, in case you know a geek that does not yet have a multi-tool. (I have two: a Swisstool X and a little SOG Crosscut on my keychain). Their philosophy of “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it” is increasingly relevant in a world where manufacturers are allowing fewer and fewer things to be done by those who purchase their products.

I have long been a huge fan of open source software. The blog runs on Redhat Linux, using Apache Server, and both WordPress and MediaWiki are open source projects. All of these pieces of software can be used for free, even more usually, your right to take them apart and rebuild is limited only by your creativity. Wikipedia is probably the best website ever created, and it is all about collective effort and shared information.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

39 thoughts on “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it”

  1. as a recent convert to ubuntu linux (yes, for real), i should make clear that, while i wouldn’t go back to my pirated copy of windows, making decisions to go “open-source” on major things (such as your o.s.) can be frustrating, especially at first.

  2. Mike,

    Ubuntu is great for fixing broken Windows installs, but I would never in 100 years replace Windows with it. Endless frustrations about drivers and software support are definitely not things that I need.

    Linux for webservers; Mac OS for personal computers.

  3. The Repair Manifesto

    The Dutch design collaborative Platform 21 has launched a new project to promote repairing things as an alternative to recycling them or throwing them away. See their “Repair Manifesto” below.

  4. HOWTO make a $300 high-speed book scanner

    By David Pescovitz on maker

    Daniel Reetz posted an Instructable about making your high-speed book scanner from trash and cheap cameras. His version is only around $300. I don’t think I’d make one myself, but I’d love for some generous maker to install one at my local public library!

  5. The above book scanner project is extremely cool. With this and some optical character recognition (OCR) software, you could make a searchable version of your home library quite easily.

  6. “Linux for webservers; Mac OS for personal computers.”

    I don’t usually like to preface posts with a disclaimer (ie “I’m not gay but…”) but here’s my disclaimer: I run a quad core intel machine that dual boots OS X 10.5 and Windows XP. I feel it necessary to state this because I want people to know I regularly use both OSes.

    I think the statement that OS X should be used for personal computers (exclusively as it’s implied) is absurd. While the BSD underpinnings make for a fairly stable machine, the oft repeated “it just works” marketing propaganda is pure fallacy. Also, there are things about the UI that are bad, for instance the dock in general (the task bar is superior), the lack of cut and paste file management and something that will certainly rile the fanboys: lack of window maximize. In forums people defend the lack of window maximize with arguments like, the window doesn’t need to take up the whole screen! It’s not efficient to take up the whole screen! Sometimes this is the case, but the fact is with Windows you can choose the behaviour you want. I like to have the option. I’ve read the similar arguments from people who argue labels in gmail are better than folders (It would be so easy to allow people to use both). Besides the above mentioned stylistic things, the fact remains that spotlight stinks for searching, there are more open source or otherwise free apps for Windows and also, OS X won’t hand off things to the GPU (like video decoding) when Windows can. That being said there are things that OS X does better. I love how it mounts drives, fewer restarts are necessary, and there’s no registry (a huge one). As well, it is easier to use for the simple things, web browsing, watching videos, etc.

    In the end, I feel that people should use what’s best for them, but beware of marketing hype. It’s disappointing to think that a company that started in a garage (Apple) now so tightly locks down their products to the point where you can’t even change a battery. Which leads to, of course, a lot of ipods that would otherwise still work sitting in a landfill. Expect to see the same thing happen to the new generation of Macbooks that lack replaceable batteries.

  7. “the oft repeated “it just works” marketing propaganda is pure fallacy. ”


  8. A convincing argument, to which I reply:

    It Just Works

    Anyway, I LIKE Mac OS X which is why my computer dual boots, but the fact is it’s not infallable as the ads would have you believe and I think Windows, which I also like, does some things I just can’t do on OS X.

  9. OS X just started doing Purevideo VP3 decoding as of 10.5.6 (actually the custom 10.5.5 released with the unibody aluminum macbooks…)

    Granted older hardware isn’t supported (stuff that can do VP1, VP2) but it will hand off decoding to the hardware… Still not as robust as the DXVA implementation in Windows but…

    I am looking forward to Snow Leopard. It’ll be interesting what they do with parallelism and the new “grand central” architecture to leverage multiple cores and using the graphics hardware as a CPU.

    As for Mac *advertising*, I find their commercials comical, but the one recently that basically said that OS X has no need of virus protection is doing a disservice to those that know better, as the worm (technically a trojan) that spread with the pirated iLife ’09 and iWorks ’09 demonstrates.

  10. I wasn’t claiming universality when I said: “Linux for webservers; Mac OS for personal computers.”

    That is simply the approach I prefer. Others have perfectly valid reasons for liking other things better.

    I work with both Mac OS and Windows XP every weekday, and I definitely prefer how the Mac operating system works for day-to-day tasks. I also find that Macs generally handle more unusual tasks more elegantly, such as setting up a new computer by transferring files and settings from an old one.

    People are right to be worried about viruses on Macs. I run the free ClamXav software.

  11. “It just works” is not an ideal claim that applies in every single case. Sometimes, of course, things don’t work. Of course apple is an evil corporation that only cares about its shareholders – but you can’t blame it for that – that’s just legislation.

    “It just works” applies to everyday experience. I used Windows for years, then switched to Mac, and since then have had less than 5% of the problems I had running windows. Mac ads work, probably more to amuse existing mac customers who used to use windows than to sway windows customers, because they do map onto everyday experience.

    “It just works” is ad advertising slogan – and the first rule of advertising is to ignore then 5% of the market who are specialists and have different perceptions of everything. If you’re part of this 5%, you can never expect mainstream computer marketing to apply to you.

  12. “OS X just started doing Purevideo VP3 decoding as of 10.5.6 (actually the custom 10.5.5 released with the unibody aluminum macbooks…)”

    This is good to know, I may risk an upgrade to test this out as this has been a large source of frustration for me. Thanks for the info.

  13. the dock in general

    Definitely a Mac OS weakness. It can be frustrating to use a Mac without Quicksilver.

    lack of cut and paste file management

    What do you mean by this? You can move files between folders with the cut and paste key combinations.

    lack of window maximize

    There has certainly been heaps of discussion about this. I don’t mind the Mac system, myself, but there are certainly plenty of people who get really heated up about it.

    labels in gmail are better than folders

    I definitely think so. GMail is so good, it makes me hate Outlook.

    spotlight stinks for searching

    It does. I have mine completely disabled. Quicksilver is much faster and better for many tasks Spotlight is meant to perform.

    there are more open source or otherwise free apps for Windows

    True, and sometimes annoying – though there are also some good Mac-only free apps.

    OS X won’t hand off things to the GPU (like video decoding) when Windows can

    This will apparently be part of Snow Leopard.

  14. Right Zoom is a freeware app that runs in the background and makes the green button in all apps maximize the window on the first click, then return it to the previous size the next time. other-software-rightzoom-bugI’ve played with it for a while and it works. The only quirky thing about it is if you open a new window in full size and you click on the green button, your window now shrinks to the top right left as small as the app allows. For instance, FireFox will open a new window the same size as the previous window. When I click the green button it will make it a small little thing in the top right. The easy fix is to just resize the window, then it all works again.

  15. “What do you mean by this? You can move files between folders with the cut and paste key combinations.”

    Yes, this is true. I inflated the scope of the problem, which is there’s no right click -> cut but there is a right click -> copy.

    “labels in gmail are better than folders”

    I definitely think so. GMail is so good, it makes me hate Outlook.”

    I too love gmail and labels are great. But so are folders and they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Google does a lot of good work but sometimes they like to reinvent the wheel a bit. I have an example of why I want folders, but it’s going to make me sound like a lunatic so go easy on me: Sometimes I don’t like other people seeing subject lines and the first sentence of emails that I may have in my inbox. Rather than having to worry about this, I’d rather just move them to a folder that’s then easily accessible. I dislike using the archive feature in lieu of this, because archived emails have to be searched, ie. you have to know what you’re looking for.

    “It can be frustrating to use a Mac without Quicksilver.”

    I think my largest source of Mac frustration is the advertising. This again goes against the “It Just Works” tagline, as these little things that make the OS usable don’t come with it out of the box (iLife, which does come with it is mostly useless). Of course OS X is a really great base for powerful computing and I genuinely like it for the most part. I keep thinking I should buy Apple stock before their inevitable netbook launch.

  16. I find iPhoto very useful. I store all my unmodified digital images in it (several tens of thousands now) and use it as an album/achive.

    I actually like it better than Lightroom, despite the latter being much more expensive. Musical friends I know also seem to think GarageBand is pretty good, for a consumer product.

  17. Rather than having to worry about this, I’d rather just move them to a folder that’s then easily accessible.

    I use a lot of ‘rules’ to tag and archive emails automatically. For instance, everything from Facebook gets tagged ‘social sites’ and skips the inbox. In the GMail interface, it is still easy to see that there are unread messages in a particular tagged section. I have others for blog comment notifications, emails from Amazon, etc. You can set up the rules using either the email address of the sender or the contents of the subject line.

    Used this way, tags are almost the same as folders.

  18. “Used this way, tags are almost the same as folders.”

    I’ll give it a try, thanks.

  19. Gmail Adds Folders by Improving Label Management

    Gmail added a “move to” drop-down that combines two actions that were difficult to find or difficult to understand: labeling and archiving. Instead of clicking on “More actions”, selecting a label and then archiving the message, you can now click on “Move to” and select a label.

    Those who like keyboard shortcuts will be happy to know that the “Move to” drop-down can be selected by typing “v” and you can type the first letters of a label to select it.

  20. You can also completely disable the ‘snippets’ that serve as message previews. The option is in the general settings, as is the one to disable personal level indicators.

  21. DirecTV turns on DRM, breaks peoples’ home theaters

    Want to watch your HBO subscription on DirecTV over HDMI? Good luck with that. Without any proactive customer outreach, DirecTV rolled out a misguided anti-piracy update last week that now requires an encrypted connection between the set-top and television to view HBO. In theory only very old HDTVs lack this ‘HDMI Copy Protection’ (HDCP). However, DirecTV’s implementation appears flaky as some newer, capable sets are also impacted and no longer able to display HBO over HDMI. DirecTV’s response to customers: switch to component cables. Which, incidentally, are easier to capture content from.

  22. Equally ambitious is the Open Source Medical Device initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Two medical physicists, Rock Mackie and Surendra Prajapati, are designing a machine to combine radiotherapy with high resolution computed tomography (CT) and positron-emission tomography (PET) scanning. Their aim is to supply, at zero cost, everything necessary to build the device from scratch, including hardware specifications, source code, assembly instructions, suggested parts—and even recommendations on where to buy them and how much to pay. The machine should cost about a quarter as much as a commercial scanner, making it attractive in the developing world, says Dr Prajapati. “Existing devices are expensive both to buy and maintain,” he says, whereas the open-source model is more sustainable. “If you can build it yourself, you can fix it yourself when something breaks.”

    Others are skirting America’s regulatory system altogether. The Raven surgical robot is intended for research use on animals and cadavers, while the Open Source Medical Device scanner will be large enough only to accommodate rats and rabbits. However, says Dr Mackie, there is nothing to stop anyone taking the design and putting it through a regulatory process in another country. “It may even happen that the device will be used on humans in parts of the world where strict regulation does not exist,” he says. “We would hope that if it is used in such a way, it will be well enough designed not to hurt anybody.”

  23. Some of the company’s early cards have security problems, and so the company is end-of-lifing them, and taking down the Eye-Fi Center at the same time. They’ve warned customers that when this happens, many of the features that enticed them to buy their cards will cease to function, and they will no longer be able to readily send new configurations to their cards.

    The company is offering customers a discount on a newer product, which is nice, but it doesn’t change a fundamental point: when you buy a device that requires a connection to the manufacturer’s server to keep running, you should assume that your device could stop working at any time, forever.

    Eye-Fi is not the first company to make the decision that supporting its old customers isn’t cost effective. A high-profile, recent example was Nest, Google’s home automation division, which bricked a whole range of products it had acquired from a rival. And of course, gamers have long struggled with the pain of having their purchases rendered valueless by a decision to shut down a multiplayer server, made in a distant corporate boardroom without their being able to have any say.


  24. But it’s not getting better: it’s getting a lot worse. The Internet of Things bubble is based on startups with six months to one year of runway, making hardware with sub-2% margins (if it’s not being made at a loss), which has zero use if the company’s server shuts down. What’s more, with <2% margins on the hardware, every IoT company is raising capital on the promise of an "ecosystem" business, which is buzzword-speak for "We will siphon off our customers' data and sell it" and "We will force our users to buy expensive consumables" and "We will limit who is allowed to add features to our customers' property in order to prevent them from protecting their data or availing themselves of cheaper consumables, as well as to collect rent from app developers who contribute to our ecosystem."

  25. How digital devices challenge the nature of ownership

    And threaten property rights in the digital age

    In the digital age ownership has become more slippery. Just ask Tesla drivers, who have learned that Elon Musk forbids them from using their electric vehicles to work for ride-hailing firms, such as Uber. Or owners of John Deere tractors, who are “recommended” not to tinker with the software that controls them (see article). Since the advent of smartphones, consumers have been forced to accept that they do not control the software in their devices; they are only licensed to use it. But as a digital leash is wrapped ever more tightly around more devices, such as cars, thermostats and even sex toys, who owns and who controls which objects is becoming a problem. Buyers should be aware that some of their most basic property rights are under threat.

  26. Documentary on the DRM-breaking farmers who just want to fix their tractors, even if they have to download bootleg Ukrainian firmware to do it

    Motherboard’s short documentary, “Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech’s Repair Monopoly” is an excellent look at the absurd situation created by John Deere’s position that you can’t own your tractor because you only license the software inside it, meaning that only Deere can fix Deere’s tractors, and the centuries-old tradition of farmers fixing their agricultural equipment should end because Deere’s shareholders would prefer it that way.

  27. EU’s Plan To Ban Sale of User-Moddable RF Devices Draws Widespread Condemnation

    The Register is reporting that the EU is looking to block users from tinkering the firmware/software of their RF devices. This seems to have been very under reported, with a fairly short consultation period that has now expired. It could force manufacturers to lock down phones and routers etc to stop you from installing the likes of Lineage OS or OpenWRT. The way this is written it could stop devices like laptops or Raspberry Pi’s having their software changed.

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