Ending Monopoly Control of the Electronics Industry

Rebel Geeks: Meet Your Maker

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the Maker Movement, Massino Banzi and the Arduino. Banzi created the Arduino in 2003. The latter is an Open Source one chip computer control device that allows ordinary people to create their own electronic devices without training in electronics or engineering. People have used them to create their own Open Source 3D printers, drones, smartphones, robots and other electronic devices.

The Arduino has played a pivotal role in the Maker Movement, a campaign to end monopoly control over the electronics industry. If you allow corporations to control all the electronic devices and services you use, you allow them to control your choices.

Safecast, the international Citizen Science movement that installed tiny Geiger counters across Japan in 2011 used Arduinos to build them.

See The Citizen Science Movement


Linux: Escaping Microsoft’s Clutches Via Open Source

The Code: The Story of Linux

Directed by Hann Puttonen (2011)

Film Review

This documentary tells the story of Finnish programmer Linus Torvolds and his creation, in 1991, of the open source operating system Linux.

In contrast to Microsoft Windows, not only is Linux be freely downloadable off the Internet, but the source code used to run it is freely available for other programmers to improve on. In the last 26 years, millions of programmers from all over the world have helped improve on Linux. As a result, Linux-based operating systems are far more reliable than Windows and Mac operating systems that profit from keeping their source code private. They are also far less prone to security flaws (such as the one Wannacry and similar ransomware prey on).

In addition to greater reliability, many Linux fans are philosophically opposed (as I am) to the practice of limiting access to software and source code to those with the ability to pay for it. This directly conflicts with World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a free Internet access to everyone regardless of income or status.

The filmmakers maintain that Linux (as a freely downloadable operating system) represents the biggest transfer of wealth from the industrial north to the third world. Its easy access is also largely responsible for China’s impressive IT advances.

Although anyone can download Linux free from the Internet, most users prefer to access it through Red Hat and similar commercial entities specializing in installing Linux and providing technical support to its users. Linux is also the operating system of choice in home appliance computers.

A Film About Dismantling Corporate Rule

Owned and Operated

Relic (2012)

Film Review

Owned and Operated is a documentary about dismantling corporate rule. This non-ideological film features dissidents across the political spectrum, among them John Oliver, George Carlin, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Rifkin, Rob Hopkins, Ron Paul, Ray McGovern, James Corbett, Alex Jones and Brian Wilson. In addition to the film’s touchy-feely ending, I was also disappointed in the filmmakers heavy promotion of technology as the solution to the world’s urgent political and ecological crises.

In my view, the best part of the film is Part 1, The Freak Show. This is a humorous but surprisingly accurate depiction of modern corporate culture and the dangerous and bizarre effect of systematic corporate indoctrination on human behavior.

Part 2, Class War and Organized Greed, concerns the obscene greed of the 1% and their systematic takeover of our supposedly democratic political systems.

Part 3, Freedom vs Security concerns the systematic loss of civil liberties that has accompanied the War on Terror.

Part 4, The Awakening, concerns recent mass movements triggered by the 2008 global economic meltdown, including Occupy, the Arab Spring, Anonymous and the Zeitgeist, Transition and Open Source Ecology movements.

Part 5, the Future, heavily promotes Jeremy Rifkin’s views on the role of the Internet and mass connectivity in solving mankind’s most pressing problems. I tend to agree with Ronald Wright’s analysis (in A Short History of Progress) that humanity’s eagerness to rush into new technologies has tended to create more problems than it solves.

That being said the film ends on an extremely positive note by scrolling the web addresses of scores of social change movements for viewers to explore.

The Mystery of Aaron Swartz’s Alleged Suicide


The Internet’s Own Boy: The History of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger (2014)

Film Review

The Internet’s Own Boy is about computer prodigy and ardent free Internet activist Aaron Swartz. Swartz allegedly hanged himself in 2013 two weeks before going to trial on federal charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). This documentary tries to portray that Swartz’s suicide was triggered by his terror of what the federal government was about to do to him. I don’t buy it.

Computer Prodigy, Entrepreneur and Internet Activist

Despite his untimely death at age 26, Swartz already had a string of inventions and accomplishments to his name. At twelve, he invented Infobase, an early on-line precursor to Wikipedia. At thirteen, he was part of the online group that developed the RSS (Rich Site Summary) protocol, a web feed format to syndicated frequently updated information, such as blog entries and headlines. At fifteen he worked with Larry Lessig to create the Creative Commons platform for writers, photographers, researchers and artists who wish to freely share their work for non-commercial purposes. Shortly after dropping out of Stanford at eighteen, he created the immensely popular social media site Reddit.

Swartz is perhaps best known as the lead organizer of the successful campaign to block SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act). Congressional enactment of SOPA would have forced web servers to take down a website, without warning or due process, based on a mere accusation of copyright infringement of any user at the site. Swartz and other net neutrality activities saw SOPA as a scheme by large for-profit Internet companies to wipe out the small free content sites that competed with them.

Turning his Back on Corporate America

Swartz made the decision not to use his programming skills for profit, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, while working for Conde Nast magazine, which bought Reddit from him for $1 million. Swartz was a passionate believer in free access to the to the Internet and accumulated scientific and cultural knowledge.

He was greatly inspired by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who Swartz had met as a child. Berners-Lee could easily have used the Internet to become fabulously wealthy. Instead he gave it away for free, believing everyone was entitled to Internet access regardless of their ability to pay.

Swartz’s First Brush with the FBI

A substantial portion of the film is devoted to the downloading activities that led the Justice Department to charge Swartz with thirteen felonies under the CFAA.

Hi first brush with the FBI occurred in 2008 when he helped Carl Malamud start the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) project. PACER is the illegal government racket that charges users ten cents a page to download federal court records. Reaping the federal government more than $10 million a year, PACER denies access to public legal information to people without the means to pay for it. Together Malamud and Swartz developed a program to simultaneously download large numbers of PACER files from the seventeen public libraries that made PACER documents available free of charge. They would eventually download 20% of the PACER dataset (20 million pages), which they made available free of charge at their website.

The FBI would ultimately close their investigation, concluding that Swartz had done nothing illegal.

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto

Swartz subsequently started the Progressive Change Campaign (which kick started Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for Senate) and Demand Progress, an Internet group dedicated to fighting various forms of Internet censorship. Swartz particularly objected to rich corporations locking up the work (which they obtain for free) of researchers whose salaries are paid, directly or indirectly, by the taxpayer. He felt that scientific and cultural knowledge is part of the Commons and that human knowledge can only be advanced by sharing it.

In the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto, Swartz refers to this as the private theft of public information and calls for civil disobedience to stop it.

His download of JSTOR files at MIT was exactly this type of civil disobedience. As a Harvard fellow he had free access to JSTOR via the MIT website. As he had done with PACER, he set up a program in an MIT janitor’s closet to download thousands of JSTOR documents to portable hard drives. After catching him on a surveillance camera, the Cambridge police busted him and turned the case over to the Secret Service (they have jurisdiction over computer fraud under the Patriot Act) and the US attorney’s office.

The Department of Justice ultimately charged him with thirteen felonies under CFAA. Although potentially he was looking at thirty-five years in jail and a $1 million fine, a federal prosecutor stated after his death that they planned to ask for a six month jail sentence. Swartz’s own attorney believed he would be acquitted, based on his high profile activism and his clear intent to establish free public access to the JSTOR articles he was downloading. It was impossible to establish that he planned to defraud JSTOR or re-sell the document.

Suicide? Or Murder?

The Internet’s Own Boy tries to convince us that Swartz was so distraught by the Obama administration’s viciousness that he was impelled to take his own life. Yet none of this jives with the Aaron Swartz we see on the screen. A year after his initial arrest, Aaron leads and – against all odds – wins a grassroots campaign to defeat SOPA. Buoyant after his SOPA victory, he asks his girlfriend to marry him and decides to hang himself. Yeah right.

Recent history is filled with the names of activists, journalists, whistleblowers – and now investment bankers – who embarrass the rich and powerful and conveniently up and kill themselves. In my view, Moti Nissani offers a far more plausible explanation of Aaron Swartz’s demise in Who Killed Aaron Swartz

WikiHouse and the Means of Production

(This is the 9th of a series of emails about ending the right of private banks to issue money. It concerns WikiHouse and a proposal to remove the means of production from the monetary system through publicly owned Open Source technology.)

In the following video, architect Alastair Parvain envisions using WikiHouse and comparable Open Source manufacturing tools to take architecture, construction and manufacturing out of the monetary system by allowing people look to the commons to meet their basic human needs – via freely available Open Source technology.

Originally applied to free, publicly available software, the term Open Source has been expanded to include architecture, scientific research and other technical information which is made freely available in the public arena. See Open Source and Sustainability.

WikiHouse has been described as an open source construction set. The aim is to allow anyone to design, download and “print” CNC-milled houses which can be assembled by a small group of people with minimal formal skill or training. A CNC wood cutter is a CNC (computer numerical control) router that creates objects from wood along the same lines as a 3D printer.

WikiHouse has caught on in a big way in New Zealand, thanks to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake that caused over 6100 businesses that were displaced and needed to relocate quickly to survive. WikiHouse seemed an ideal solution to Martin Luff and Danny Squires, who founded New Zealand’s WikiHouse Lab

In addition to offering relatively low cost rehousing for businesses and residents, it also builds community solidarity by turning house building into a social event. Prior to the fossil fuel era, home building was a major community event in which your friends and neighbors got together to build you a house. With skyrocketing energy costs, we need to look more to community and cooperation, rather than technology, to meet our basic needs.

Parvain stresses that the world currently faces major economic, ecological and resource crises. These urgent dilemmas can’t be solved by either corporations or non-profit organizations so long as they continue to treat citizens as passive consumers.

Open Source: Reclaiming the Commons


The Wikipedia Revolution

By Andrew Lih

(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)

Lih’s Wilkipedia Revolution stands as a testament to the unsung heroes of the Open Source (OS) movement. From the outset, there has been a split between entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who have viewed the Internet as an opportunity to become enormously rich, and true visionaries like Jimmy Wales, who see it as a medium of social change with the potential to improve the lives of billions of people.

In Lih’s view, Wikipedia would never have been possible without the freely shared knowledge and software of the Open Source movement. He makes this clear by skillfully interweaving the personal biography of Jimmy Wales with the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the OS movement itself.

Hacker Ethics and the Open Source Movement

Wales, who has a master’s degree in finance, had a first career selling derivatives for Chicago Options Associates. In 1996, he used his programming and hacking skills to start a dot com in with Tim Shell, who he met through an on-line philosophy mailing list. At the time, Wales was a big fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, i.e. the belief in obtaining objective knowledge form measurement. This would ultimately inspire his faith in using measurement by the masses to create an on-line reference work.

Wales and Shell called their dot com Bitter Old Men in Suits (BOMIS). Their first project was a Yahoo-style directory for the city of Chicago. This was around the time (1996) that two Sun Microsystems engineers started DMOZ (directorymozilla.org), the first Internet-wide search engine. They did so with the explicit intent of employing volunteer labor and freely distributing it to the public, under the principle of “Copyleft” or General Public License that underpinned the free software movement. Later renamed the Open Source movement, this was started in 1985 by MIT hacker Richard Stallman, helped by an extensive on-line network of hackers.

The hacker community has a very strong ethic that it’s okay to hack into computers and steal software code provided you use it to improve and share the software. Refusing to share what you have stolen and improved on for personal profit (like Bill Gates) is considered totally unethical. Making your software code public, instead of keeping it secret, allows thousands of programmers to improve on it. This why free downloadable Open Source programs always have fewer operating and security glitches than Microsoft and other proprietary software.

Netscape, Linux and Wikiwiki Web

DMOZ subsequently morphed into Netscape, which dropped out of public view after Microsoft pirated and monopolized the concept, by loading their own Microsoft Explorer on every new computer. Netscape would ultimately be reborn as Mozilla Firefox, a free Open Source browser many users prefer for its greater safety and reliability. Because the code that runs it is freely and publicly available, it undergoes continuous quality improvement by the thousands of programmers who use it.

Other significant innovations that made Wikipedia possible were the creation of the World Wide Web in 1992 by Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of Wikiwiki Web by Ward Cunningham in 1994. Prior to 1992, there were a half dozen different protocols (including Gopher and WAIS) that had to be laboriously typed in to access documents posted on the Internet. Berners-Lee created a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), using a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) for finding on-line documents. Cunningham’s Wiki software enabled any user anywhere to edit any website without having specialized software or knowledge of programming or html (the language used to construct a web page).

The Birth of Wikipedia

In 2000, Y2K enthusiast Larry Sanger joined BOMIS, bringing a large number of followers from his on-line Y2K digest. The Y2K movement was an informal network of programmers and community activists formed to rectify the widespread use, in early computers, of two digit dates. There was legitimate concern that computers built before 1990 would be unable to distinguish whether “00″ represented the year 1900 or the year 2000 – and crash. Disaster was averted, thanks to the frantic rewriting (in 1998 and 1999) of millions of lines of code in government and corporate computers.

After Sanger joined BOMIS, one of their first projects was an on-line encyclopedia-style “blog” called Nupedia. Wales, Shell and Sanger drew in friends and on-line acquaintances to help with drafting and editing articles.

Wiki Protocol

The initial process of editing successive on-line drafts was extremely slow and cumbersome. BOMIS’s discovery of Cunningham’s Wiki protocol changed all this, enabling first hundreds, then thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of computer users anywhere to post and edit articles Wales, Shell and Sanger registered Wikipedia Foundation as a non-profit organization in January 2001 The only rules were that Wikipedia had to be freely accessible to the public, have a Neutral Point of View (NPOV), and only describe existing research (original research is forbidden).

In the beginning detractors predicted that allowing thousands of strangers to post and edit articles would lead to total anarchy. According to Lih, order is maintained by hundreds of volunteer administrators and System Operators who are passionate about the concept of maintaining Wikipedia as a free and open encyclopedia.

Other critics periodically express concern about the CIA and various public officials rewriting Wikipedia entries to coincide with their political interests.

Open Source and Sustainability

open source

As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software can save a lot more carbon emissions than changing your lightbulbs.

I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. Clearly this is a calculated maneuver to force customers to continually purchase new upgrades.

Opening Pesky Docx Files

This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, provided free by Sun Microsystems Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new word processing program, Open Office offers upgrades to translate the new program to either Open Office or an older version of Word. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, but it creates spreadsheets and slideshows and allows you to save graphics as either PDF or JPG files. It probably does lots of other things I haven’t discovered yet.

The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster than Microsoft programs, crashes less and is less much likely to have security problems. This is because Sun Microsystems makes Open Office code freely available for other programmers to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. By involving more people in creating code, you make it far more likely someone will find all the bugs and security problems.

Download Open Office Free at https://www.openoffice.org/

New Zealand residents have their own Open Office site: http://www.openoffice.org.nz/

How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions

So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand vastly reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source.

They save money and energy by  speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program, instead of relying on three or four programs for different functions.

Companies Going Open Source

In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many government agencies and Fortune 500 companies to switch to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the US Post Office.

Countries Going Open Source

Third world countries are also benefiting from Open Source cost savings. Brazil was the  first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices.  In 2013, 16 third world countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, India, Kenya, Guatemala, Botswana, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Mali, Ghana, Namibia and Chad) saved over $100 million dollars by installing Open Soft software to track their health care workforce.

Open Source Design: Reclaiming the Commons

Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to ensure the rapid spread of ideas and technologies that reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

Examples include

    1. Open Source green architecture and renewable energy technologies
    2. The Creative Commons – a nonprofit California organization devoted to expanding the range of inventions and creative works available for others to share and build on.
    3. Singularity University – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
    4. Public Library of Science – a nonprofit open access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals, with the eventual goal of making all scientific medical research freely available to the public.
    5. Wikipedia – a free open source encyclopedia (which I discuss in my next post).

photo credit: guccio@文房具社 via photopin cc

A Marxian Analysis of Information Technology



Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

 (Part 4 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Relations of Production

Since Bill Gates raised the question, what do communists have to say about turning the Internet into private property? Karl Marx showed how, in every society up to this point in time, the relations of production ultimately strangle the development of the means of production. This, he explained, must lead to a period of social revolution.

The means of production, or productive forces, refers to the tools and technology of human society, up to and including the human mind. The relations of production means the legally established social relations between people – how they interact and work together – that are ultimately determined by forms of property. For example, Americans consider Freedom of Speech perhaps their most important right – guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, freedom of speech vanishes once you are on corporate property. Try telling the boss what you really think of him and you will see how far this right really goes.

That’s a relation of production. So are the minimum wage and the fact that women earn around 75% of what men do for the same job. All forms of discrimination and oppression pay off at the corporate bottom line.

Before the bourgeois revolution swept Europe in 1848, deposing almost all monarchies in its wake, a factory owner could hardly send his commodities down the river to market. Every minor princeling and self-proclaimed royal demanded the right to tax trade crossing their territory. This relation of production strangled the ability to sell products in order to realize capital and make private profit. Suddenly armies everywhere abolished this relation of production. In the same way, private property in digital technology deforms and shrivels the possibilities of the Internet.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production….  At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.”  (12)

Marx’s point is that the relations of production, fixed and frozen as private property by law, ultimately become antagonistic to the development of a technology that is highly fluid and increasingly more productive. This is an objective process, outside of our control, one that informs any subjective acts of insurrection. The relations of production under capitalism take myriad forms, but they ultimately come down to essential principles:

If you own the technology, you can appropriate all the production that people produce socially, today in an increasingly global system, by working with/for the technology. As private property, this production is yours to sell on the market for private profit. The necessities of life are distributed based on individual ability to pay for them. If you own little or nothing, you must sell your labor power to the owners of the technology in order to get money to survive.

None of these things have to be. We can imagine a different way to live. It was this basic human impulse that created the Internet.

A child can see the vast potential in digital technology. However, the “architecture of the system”, imposed by the outmoded relations of production of capitalism is definitely “in antagonism to” what a really developed Internet could be. These relations constantly “fetter” the development of computers and the Internet. If it doesn’t produce private property, it is discarded. Hence private Intranets determine how the code is configured. God doesn’t put all those ads on your screen, nor does he demand a tollbooth between you and the information you seek. Marx was prescient on this one.

Information objectively demands to be free. It is a social act, an activity; as communication, it demands consensus to establish meaning. This is a social relationship that is strangled by capitalist relations of production. Information is easy to collectivize and relatively hard to privatize.

Information is not the same thing as a tangible, material product, such as the latest Jordans or even an orange. I can transmit information to you without lessening my ability to control or use it. In Marxist terms, information has use value – you can use it how you will. With shoes, if I give them to you, I lose control. This objective nature of information constantly struggles against the capitalist demand that it become private property that they can sell for a profit. That is a fetter on technology.

Everyone knows that microelectronics constantly reduces exchange value – what you can sell it for. This flows from Moore’s Law – that the capacity of a computer chip doubles every 18 months, even as its value decreases. Exchange value tends toward zero to the extent that labor-less production is employed. This is because ever-decreasing amounts of human labor are involved. Long before Marx, Adam Smith, supposedly the high priest of capitalism, identified human labor power as the basis of all value. Labor-less production, the fastest growing type of production in the world today, is coming to pass with a vengeance. Production without labor necessarily demands distribution without money.

Attacks on net neutrality, filling your screen with commercial ads, various forms of corporate censorship, the domination of private search engines, the “Cloud” – all reflect the relations of production of capitalism. All serve to deform digital technology and subordinate it to the commercial interests of private corporations and the market.

Back in the Roman Empire, the hot new technology was the mule, the sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse. It was bigger and stronger than the donkey, and had far more stamina than the horse. The relations of production of slavery strangled this high tech development. Slaves could not personally sell the product of the mule, so when they took it out into the field, they beat it to death, “Hey Boss, you know how stubborn they are!”

But the thinking person, in antagonism to the relations of production of slavery, also understood that they could steal the mule, move three valleys away, and use this powerful new technology to feed their family and grow rich. Thus “begins the era of social revolution”. Since information and its technology objectively cannot be contained within the proscribed and narrow limits of private property, social revolution is already objectively going on. Today it is struggling into pass to our common subjective comprehension. The impulse to free information from corporate control gave birth to the Internet, open-source programming, Napster, jail-breaking your phone and the constant efforts to free digital technology for the 99%.

Background and Notes

12)  Karl Marx. Preface to The Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. 1859

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: Felix42 contra la censura via photopin cc


Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com


Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com