Categories
open source social

Diaspora*, an alternative social network for GooglePlus

Why an alternative social network

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about the demise of G+ and I defined four criteria for an alternative social network. Based on these criteria I choose three social networks, Mastodon, MeWe and Diaspora* and signed up on them and promised to write about my experience with these three.

I will not write any further about MeWe since I already deleted the account after one week and wrote a post about it. So that leaves Mastodon and Diaspora*. This blog post is about my experience with Diaspora*.

Screenshot of the Diaspora* interface. Not flashy but very functional and fast.

What is Diaspora*

The shortest way to describe Diaspora* is it being a Facebook clone however this doesn’t do justice to Diaspora*. Although the user interface of Diaspora* has similarities with Facebook the network couldn’t be more different, kind of an anti-Facebook. First of all Diaspora* is free and open source software while Facebook is proprietary and Diaspora* is distributed while Facebook is centralized. The latter means that while Facebook is owned by a single entity that controls the entire network and it’s users Diaspora* has no owner and thus can never be controlled by a single organisation or person. Instead Diaspora* consists of many servers (or pods) that have their own administrator. These servers are are all interconnected (or federated). Without going into details about how this works exactly being distributed has other notable advantages from a user point of view.

  • First of all Diaspora* doesn’t have ads  (it worth to note that some centralized social networks like G+ and MeWe also don’t have ads).
  • Diaspora* can’t be closed or sold.
  • There is no ‘built-in’ data-mining. While it can’t be excluded that some rogue administrator will use your data there is no ‘Diaspora* business model’ that would encourage this. Meaning that your privacy is better protected.

Conversations on Diaspora* are good and in-depth although it takes time to identify good contacts.

Working with Diaspora*

Being a user of G+ for several years I admit it took a little time to get used to the Diaspora* interface. Central is the ‘Stream’, a single column of posts of your contacts (followers in G+) and the hashtags (e.g #Linux) that you follow. Next is ‘My Activity’ which lists all posts that you liked, shared or commented on but also the posts that you wrote yourself. Lastly there is ‘Public activity’ that shows all public posts from the Diaspora* community. This also shows nudity or even porn but, as I noticed so far, this was always tagged with #nsfw which stands for ‘not suitable for work’. These #nsfw posts are not shown until the users clicks to open it. I think this is good solution to protect the user without censorship.

Conversations on Diaspora* are good and in-depth although it takes time to identify good contacts. After two weeks I have 29 contacts (on Januari 9 it was 50) of which half turns out to be what I consider good. Diaspora* provides the user with a good tool to ignore a contacts for instance if he or she turns out to be spammer. Diaspora* also allows for a private chat with an established contact which can be very handy.

Diaspora* doesn’t have the G+ equivalent of communities, a group of users sharing posts about a certain topic, and collections, a single users sharing posts about a single topic. These communities and collections can’t be mimicked by combined tags and aspects.

Conclusion

Diaspora* is, after Mastodon, the second biggest distributed social networks with the about 660.000 user accounts. Still a dwarf compared to FaceBook but I’m not interested in the total number of users. I’m interested in the quality of the conversation and this is good, in fact it’s very good. People are mostly knowlegdeable and helpful which guarentees meaningful chats. Just what I’m looking for.

I still prefer the G+ interface with multiple columns over the one column stream in Diaspora* because it saves a lot of scrolling however this seems like nitpicking. Overall the user interface of Diaspora* is straight forward and easy to work with.

The user has good control of the streams of information although I would have preferred the user to be able to combine tags and aspects. The reason for this is I want to be able to follow someone on certain topics instead of all his or her posts.

Yes, my family and friends are not on Diaspora* but I don’t care about that in fact it’s a plus.

Diaspora* works surprisingly good on low-end machines. This is probably due to the minimal user interface. I consider this a big plus since I have a very old Thinkpad laptop that I use regularly.

Yes, my family and friends are not on Diaspora* but I don’t care about that in fact is a plus. I’d rather see them face to face anyway.

In conclusion Diaspora* starts to grow on me. I had a slow start with it but I’m gradually beginning to experience the strength of this well established and stable social network. I found Diaspora* very easy to use a plus that is not to be underestimated. The content that’s being shared is valuable and the conversations are excellent. For me that’s what counts when it comes to social networks.

EDIT: Diaspora* users can choose between a couple of Android apps. I choose Dandelior (which is the same app from the same developer as Dandelion) and I like it. Dandelior and Dandelion for Android can be downloaded from F-Droid.

EDIT: Diaspora* uses Markdown to format text making it an excellent choice for macroblogging. Markdown appears to be more powerful than the editing features of G+. This and the single column stream are making Diaspora* an excellent choice for macroblogging.

Categories
general

Why the European Copyright Directive is a threat.

European Copyright Directive

The new European Copyright Directive is a threat for all internet creators in the EU and a warning for all outside the EU.  Article 13 of the directive will inevitably lead to upload filters. With this directive the EU parliament has demonstrated that the interests of the big IP holders are more important to them than representing the EU citizens.

Having said that I wonder if the Fediverse could be the answer to this threat? For those who don’t know the Fediverse is an ensemble of interlinked servers used for sharing information through e.g. social networking or file hosting. Contrary to centralized services like Google or FaceBook nobody ‘owns’ the Fediverse. Even better every user is able to create his/her own server and become part of the ensemble. Even with upload filters installed on central services information will flow freely through the Fediverse (That’s unless upload filters will be installed on ISP level but that will make the EU internet the equivalent of the Chinese internet).

Want to read more. Click the link below.

The EU must respect citizens as content generators and not regard them simply as people who steal content generated by the elite.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/xnet/civilised-societies-don-t-call-it-censorship-but-copyright#comments

Categories
social

MeWe worse than Facebook?

Let’s try MeWe

With the demise of G+ users were looking for other options. Most of them appeared to dislike Facebook otherwise they would have been on that platform a long time ago. It surprised that MeWe, a new social network was mentioned a lot on G+. I got curious and I visited the website where I was welcomed the following text “no ads”, “no spyware” and “no BS”. So now I was really interested and I decided to give it a shot and signed up. I deleted my account a week later. Is MeWe worse than Facebook?

Deleting the account had nothing to do the dull interface or the constant email messages I was getting from MeWe. I just realized that MeWe is very bad idea.  To begin with it’s a proprietary closed network which will be disastrous for any community trying to share information with a wide audience. Anything you post there is hidden from the web. Let me give you an example: in Google search try: site:facebook.com “ubuntu 18.10” . You’ll see lots of results. Same for Fosstodon (a Mastodon instance). Now try this at MeWe: site:mewe.com “ubuntu 18.10”. Nothing or at least no relevant hits! Imagine the whole community invisible for Google.

Privacy and free speech

Now you might say that’s a good thing it provides the users privacy by not sharing anything with the web. But if you want privacy you also want control over what you share with the world and what you don’t want to share. Well MeWe doesn’t offer that. In a way this takes the user back to the old Compuserve days, an isolated gated community without any connection with the web.

But there are more problems with MeWe. Due to their free speech policy it attracts a lot of nasty people that got kicked out off Facebook. So don’t be surprised to meet a lot of trolls and extremists on MeWe, the kind of people not interested in a nice conversation.

Coordinated G+ strategy

Also I’m convinced that they have a coordinated campaign spamming G+ communities with posts to motivate people to move to MeWe. In the open source software community of G+ people that never posted a single thing suddenly started heavily promoting MeWe. I also noticed this behaviour on other G+ communities. I looked into one of the promoters and followed him to MeWe where he was discussing a strategy to attract as many G+ users as possible. For me a clear indication for a coordinated campaign. This is not forbidden of course and some might even call it good marketing but it somehow disgusted me.

Centralized network

One more problem with MeWe is that it is a centralized network. If the owners of MeWe close the network tomorrow you’ll be looking for a new network all over again just like G+. I guess I finally learned my lesson after G+ and I don’t want to be part of a private owned central network again.

For-profit company

What’s more MeWe is a for-profit company backed by investors that want a handsome return on investment. If the current business model doesn’t deliver they will demand changes in the network and these changes will not be in the interest of the users. I already read that MeWe is tracking. More recently I read that MeWe sends emails to people from the users contact list in their smartphone. These two examples demonstrate that, contrary to their advertising, MeWe doesn’t respect your privacy.

Conclusion

As you can tell I’m far from positive about MeWe. Yes it doesn’t have ads (yet?) but it’s just another Facebook wannabee with trolls and extremists in a gated community. Also with Facebook at least the information is searchable from outside the social network while MeWe doesn’t offer that. (it’s rumoured for months that this will change but up until 6 March 2019 this wasn’t the case). Also more recently MeWe appears not to take the privacy of their users very seriously. These are the reasons and I therefore conclude that MeWe could turn out to be a worse experience than FaceBook.

So what’s the alternative. I’ll be writing about that in a next blog post.

EDIT: last updated: 6 March 2019.

EDIT 24 Januari 2019. I hate to say told you so but an article appeared in The Times that’s not favourable for MeWe. A citation: ‘The social network that Sir Tim Berners-Lee hoped would be free from abuse has been found to contain gun sales, drugs and antisemitism.’

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sir-tim-berners-lee-s-app-mewe-is-used-by-neo-nazis-and-perverts-svflhn32

Categories
Linux PC

Give your old PC a new life

When I came home the other day my neighbours were loading electronics on their bicycles (I live in the Netherlands you know) to dispose of them. Among all the stuff was a desktop computer that looked in pretty good shape. It was a Packard Bell iMedia S1800. I informed why they would dispose of the PC and they told me that according to their daughter it had become unusable. They are very nice people so I asked them if I could have the PC. They agreed to it and I took the desktop with me.

Back home I took another look at the computer and it was even nicer than I expected. It didn’t have a scratch and when I opened it it looked clean. That night I booted the PC and quickly found out it had Windows 10 running. The PC was slow as molasses and it was very noisy. I felt I had already found the cause of the daughter complaining, Windows 10. I had no intention to run Windows so I took out my Puppy Linux disk (Xenial Pup 7.5) and rebooted the PC.

The difference couldn’t have been greater. Puppy Linux booted fast and ran even faster. I got the idea to make this a general purpose workstation that, if goes well, can replace my iMac. How much I love Puppy Linux I don’t think it’s suitable for my purpose. Besides all the usual tasks I use my iMac for light 3D CAD work (for 3D printing), web design and video editing. I also like to have access to a broad software repository because I like to test new software and to replace the workflow I have on the Mac. In this department Puppy Linux can be lacking due to the Puppy Package Manager which differs from the mainstream package managers.

I therefore decided to give Ubuntu MATE 18.04 LTS (Bionic Beaver) a spin. My son already runs Ubuntu so I’m familiar with it and the MATE desktop is relatively lightweight (Gnome 2). Installation from a USB drive went flawless (overwriting W10 in the process). The desktop looks very clean and the software suite is great. I can add software through the new Software Boutique and if it isn’t there I have access to the Ubuntu repository (through apt). For a full review of MATE 18.04, read this.

So here I am. A nice Packard Bell is sitting on my desk instead of having become e-waste. If you read this don’t throw away your old PC because Windows 10 made the experience a nightmare. Install Ubuntu MATE or any other Linux distro you like and enjoy. In the mean time you’ll be doing the environment a favour. Cheers.

Categories
social

Bye bye Google

Google+ closing, now what?

Like many others I was pretty much pissed off that Google decided to close G+ next August in April. I had a lot of social going on at G+ in fact it was the only social media service that I really used (I have a Reddit account that I hardly use). I believe Winston Churchill said to never waste a good crisis so I took the opportunity to look around at other options. I defined some criteria that could help me choose a new social network.

  • preferably open source. G+ wasn’t open source but since I’m an open source advocate it seems appropriate to sign up for a service that itself is open source.
  • quality instead of quantity. I’m looking for meaningful conversations and not mindless sharing of kitty pictures.
  • will protect my privacy. I understand that no service can fully guarantee my privacy but I’m sick and tired of all the data mining.
  • no annoying ads. I’m not against advertisements here and there but I hate these in your face ads on Fartbook.

With these criteria in mind I came up with a short list of three social media services: Mastodon, Diaspora and MeWe. It could have been more but I had to draw the line somewhere. So I signed-up for all three. Preferably I will end up with one or, at the most, two of these. I’m already spending more time on social media than I’m comfortable with. So in the coming weeks I will choose between these three services.

EDIT: I already deleted my MeWe account. It’s a proprietary and centralized service and apparently due to their free speech policy it attracts a lot of nasty people that got kicked out off Facebook. Also I believe that they have a coordinated campaign spamming G+ communities with posts to convince people to move to MeWe.

What about Blogger, Drive and GMail

By closing G+  Google has become unreliable for me. The question is what will they close next and will this affect me? I therefore took a look at other Google services to see if I was exposed to further risks down the line. Most notably I have Blogger, Drive and Gmail so I decided to be one step ahead of Google and say goodbye to these services too. This will not happen overnight but I will do it and post the results here. And the beauty of it all I feel rather good about it.

Categories
3d printing

Hephestos 2 upgraded with heated bed

Adhesion problems and warping

I own a Hephestos 2 for over a year now and although I was pretty happy with it I very much wanted to upgrade the 3D printer with a heated bed. The reason for that was not so much the desire to use other material like ABS but I was hoping for better adhesion. Adhesion problems in the past led to warping and misprints. To counter this I used BuildTak en Pritt. This helped most of the time but it also led to a new problem. It was very hard to remove the model from the printbed. With the help of a vise to clamp the printbed and a special knife I was able to do it but it was far from ideal (to say the least).

A heated bed is the obvious solution to this problem. Warping is mainly caused by uneven cooling and therefore shrinking of the different areas of the print. The printbed counters this effect by keeping the whole printbed warm and thus warming the print evenly over it’s surface.

Printing a Benchy on the heated bed. Gone is the BuildTak.

Categories
3D modeling 3d printing

The BQ Hephestos2 (3D printer), nine months later

Introduction

It’s been nine months since I received and assembled my BQ Hephestos 2 printer and I think it’s time to share some of the experiences that I had with it. For those who don’t know the Hephesthos 2 it’s a 3D-printer that is based on the Prusa i3 design with a thick steel frame and almost all metal parts. It’s not cheap but it’s a well designed, high quality 3D-printer with a large printbed. It does have it’s shortcomings but more of that later.

Categories
3D modeling

Switching from FreeCAD to Solvespace?

Introduction

For my current project, a laser engraver, I initially choose FreeCAD as my 3D CAD program. I had some excellent experiences with it so it was the obvious choice for me. However contrary to previous work this project required a lot of CAD assembly. This is where I became frustrated with FreeCAD. Assembly in the current version (0.16) just isn’t well implemented unnecessarily extending my time spent with FreeCAD. The next version of FreeCAD (0.17) will have a separate assembly workbench but I wasn’t willing to wait for it’s final release.

When reading the Hackaday website I came across Solvespace. Given the problem that I have with FreeCAD I was immediately interested. Solvespace is a parametric modeler just like FreeCAD. The interface looks archaic which put me off a little at first but I found it surprisingly easy to work with. The last month I worked intensely with Solvespace v2.1 and I want to share the experience that I had with the program.

The Solvespace GUI looks archaic but is easy to work with.

Working with Solvespace

Solvespace is a lightweight program. It loads fast and runs very smooth on my aging iMac (5 years old). I have encountered an occasional crash with Solvespace however FreeCAD appears to be more prone to crashes on my iMac. I also noticed a small delay in Solvespace while dragging parts around in a complex assembly.

The Solvespace user interface is static throughout the program whether working in a 2D sketch, an extrude or an assembly. The GUI and the keyboard shortcuts don’t change throughout the program. This means for instance that constraints can be applied the same way in 2D and 3D making it easy to work with Solvespace. FreeCAD on the other hand has a dynamic user interface with multiple workbenches each having a different tool bar and functionality. I found that each FreeCAD workbench has it’s own learning curve making it harder to learn than Solvespace. With all these workbenches however FreeCAD offers much more functionality than Solvespace

Solvespace allows the model to be dynamically manipulated as long as it’s not fully constraint, both in 2D and 3D. This can be very helpful while studying a model or looking for its best shape. This is impossible in FreeCAD or OpenSCAD where a model can only be changed by entering other discrete values for the parameters (not to be confused with the animation options in OpenSCAD and FreeCAD).

Assembly in Solvespace is very easy often taking only a few mouse clicks. Two parts must be oriented and constrained to the same direction. A point of each part is selected and the parts are connected at the selected points. That’s it. This method works fast and I haven’t encountered any problem with it. When working in an assembly of multiple files a change made in one of the files propagates to the assembly. This is a very powerful features when working with complex models because it’s creates a consistent environment where it’s sufficient to make a change once instead of keeping track of multiple files. Apparently FreeCAD has a similar feature but getting it to work is far from trivial for me.

The laser engraver that I’m working on. It’s a rather complex project mith multiple parts but assembly is real easy in Solvespace.

Other 3D CAD programs offer functionality like chamfer and fillet. Solvespace doesn’t have this and that’s a shortcoming. Often chamfer and fillet are used for aesthetics and if necessary I can do without that however if you do need them regularly Solvespace isn’t for you. It also impossible to extrude along a path a functionality that is for instance used to create a thread. Creating a true thread is therefore impossible however if it is able to mimic a thread by drawing a sawtooth sketch and revolve it.

I 3d-printed numerous models that I had designed with Solvespace. I exported the models as .stl files and used Cura to create the nessecay G-code before printing them. I encountered no problems with this workflow and all prints came out as expected. I therefore conclude that Solvespace is a good companion for 3d-printers as long as the shortcomings of the program are taken into account.

Support

Community support is very important in open source software.  Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate of experienced user it’s vital to be able to get help. This can be tutorials, forums, irc or mailing list. Solvespace has support although it’s not as abundant as with FreeCAD. This is probably due to the smaller user base of Solvespace. The Solvespace tutorials are good but they are few in number and the documentation is adequate but not as polished as FreeCAD’s.

An active development of the program is also important not only for bug fixing but also with new features in new releases. Solvespace has a small but active developers team which is fine but it also makes the project vulnerable. If the main developer decides to abandon the project the user is left empty handed. FreeCAD appears to be having a much larger group of active developers decreasing the chance that the project will be abandoned.

Solvespace’s forum is a good place to post questions about the program. Replies are quick and to the point.

Conclusion

I really like Solvespace, it’s lightweight, pretty stable and easy to use (especially if the user is familiar with the concept of sketching with geometric constraints). I was able to create my models very quickly. I used the keyboard shortcuts often. They are easy to learn because they are limited in number and are consistent throughout the program. Besides the limitations such as fillet, chamfer and extrude along path, Solvespace lacks a lot of the nice-to-have (or need-to-have for some) features that are available in FreeCAD such as the path-, arch- and drawing workbench. This may not be a problem for many more casual users because Solvespace is focused on geometric constraint solving and assembly.

Solvespace is a good addition to the existing open source 3D CAD programs such as OpenSCAD and FreeCAD. It’s not a FreeCAD replacement because it lacks a lot of the features that come with FreeCAD. However if you want to try a truly free 3D CAD program but are intimidated by FreeCAD because of it’s steep learning curve and OpenSCAD because of programmers-like approach certainly should give Solvespace a try.

I made a series of video tutorials and CAD challenges. You can find them on YouTube with the links below:

Categories
Linux PC

Puppy Linux Tahrpup on my Thinkpad T40

Introduction

In November last year I decided to revive my very old (2003) Thinkpad T40 with Puppy Linux. Back then I was thrilled by the ease of installation and the speed of this Linux distro on this ancient laptop. Now eight months later I’ll give an update on Puppy Linux on my PC. Am I still happy with Puppy Linux?

Both Puppy Linux Slacko 5.7, which I had installed initially, and Puppy Linux Slacko 6.3 have been very stable on my T40 and I loved Puppy Linux because of it’s speed. However both of these Slacko distributions are based on Slackware. The one problem with this distributions is the lack of software. Some programs that I needed are just not available in the repositories. I could install software myself but only if I was able to find the right pet or sfs file (I cowardly didn’t try to compile the source files).

The standard TahrPup desktop with the beautiful stylized Ardis icons.

Tahrpup 6.0

To solve the problem with the software I decided to install Puppy Linux Tahrpup 6.0. This operating system is based on Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr. I liked it the minute I installed it. The look and feel are the same as with Slacko with the JWM as window manager and ROX-Filer file manager and all the helpful shell scripts (a lot of them written by Barry Kauler, the original creator of Puppy Linux). Also a lot of the pre-installed programs are the same such as Abiword, Geany and pfind, a file finding program MtPaint and Sylpheed, a mail client. They’re also notable differences. The default browser for Tahrpup is Palemoon instead of Firefox and the Simple Screen Recorder (I forgot the name of the default Slacko screen recorder but I never got it to work). The system is still very fast, exactly the reason why I chose for Puppy Linux in the first place.

Easily create your own operating system

Puppy Linux (and Linux in general) not only let’s you create your own desktop environment, where just about everything is customizable, it even let’s you customize the whole operating system. If you, for instance, don’t like the window manager or the file manager, you can change it. Try doing that on Windows or OSX. This way you can create your very own system doing honor to the acronym PC. TahrPup even has an option to easily change the Linux kernel, something that I couldn’t do with Slacko. With Remaster Puppy live-CD a copy of the personalized operating system can be written to either a USB drive or CD. For the latter a CD burner is needed of course. This copy of the personal operating system with all the favourite programs can be used to boot on any PC elsewhere e.g. on holiday or in school. On the Puppy Linux discussion forum many examples can be found of unofficial Puppy Linux distros such as Tahr NOP (Xfce desktop environment), Ami-Pup (an Amiga like interface) or Fatdog64 (a not so slim 64bit version).

Programming

Even with little experience in programming, additions can be made to the operating system using shell scripts. In fact plenty of programs that come with Puppy Linux are shell scripts. Pfind and pmount are good examples of this. Although this is not for beginners, shell scripts are relatively easy to write. An intermediate user should be able to improve existing scripts or write new ones. A script can be shared on the Puppy Linux forum as a contribution to the operating system and the community. This is a good start for programming for Puppy Linux. It’s also possible to use C or C++ as programming language for Puppy Linux but this is more complex and outside the scope of this blog entry. A good starting point for programming for Puppy Linux is this link.

Puppy Linux with the setup shell script opened in Geany. Programming in Puppy Linux is easy using shell scripting and GTKDialog.

Tahrpup drawbacks

The only drawback so far is that the new Puppy Package Manager v2 (PPM) seems a bit slower on my old laptop than with Slacko. PPM is the equivalent of the Ubuntu Software Center or Pacman for Arch Linux and provides access to the repository with all the available packages for Puppy Linux. The numerous packages in Tahrpup are possibly the reason for this slower behaviour.

Conclusion

Eight months later my Thinkpad T40 is still very much alive thanks to Puppy Linux. With Tahrpup I gained easy access to a huge amount of programs satisfying my increasing PC needs. The best feature about Puppy Linux (and Linux in general) is that it feels like my very own operating system. It’s easy to get involved into Puppy Linux thanks to it’s open nature and the vivid community. A feeling that I’m severely missing in the proprietary OSX on my iMac, my primary computer. In fact, if not for my wife who is still attached to the iMac and OSX, I would exchange my iMac for a (Puppy) Linux PC without hesitation.

My T40 with Tahrpup background image and the JQBrased icons.
Categories
general

Why I use open source for my DIY projects and you should too

Introduction

I’ve been a user of proprietary products for a very long time without giving it much thought. In fact I’m writing this on an iMac with OSX as the operating system. I own this iMac for at least 5 years and it is a nice machine but as time went by something kept nagging. I used to believe that for good reliable software you had to pay money. If software was free (as in gratis) it was probably unstable, user unfriendly and unpolished that it wasn’t worth any money. At least that is what I thought.