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FSFE booth on Veganmania Donauinsel 2019

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019
Veganmania Donauinsel 2019
FSFE Information stall on Veganmania Donauinsel 2019

Once more free software activists from Vienna used the opportunity of the local vegan summer festival to inform about the possibility to increase our independence on computers and mobile devices. It was the second such event in Vienna this year. But unlike the first which was directly in the city center with loads of passers by this street festival took place in Viennas big recreation area on the island in the Danube river. It is rather close to the city center also and therefore many local people visit it in their spare time. The organisers estimated 9000 visitors per day.

The FSFE booth was manned there all the time from Saturday between 12:00 and 21:00 and Sunday from 10:00 to 19:00. It had a great spot far enough away from the stage with live music in order to allow undisturbed conversations and still close enough to the other 90 stalls with drinks, food, merchantise and a variety of stalls on other subjects like animal welfare, veganism sustainability, shelters and environmental protection.

Since it was an outdoor event on a meadow and because we don’t own a tent we couldn’t hang-up our posters. We just used our umbrella to not be exposed directly to the strong summer sun. And we had huge luck with the weather. Shortly after the festival was closed down on Saturday heavy rain started and it lasted until shortly before the event started again the next day.

Over the years we have collected a few regulars on our information stalls who normally drop by but again mostly totally new people frequented our FSFE information desk. Many of them had no prior knowledge what free software is about. Most of the time we were engaged in conversations with interested people and many explicitly thanked us for being there. We frequently explained why we man an FSFE information stall on a vegan summer festival: If you use the same ethical considerations that lead people to adopt a vegan life style in information technology you end up with free software.

A researcher explicitly came from an other county to the city because he wanted to visit our FSFE stall and talk to us about social implications of free software.

This weekend was an other very successful FSFE stall and we look forward to the next opportunity to man our information desk. We might even try to have stalls on other public events in the future which feature NGO information desks. At least if the fees are not unreasonably high.

Information stalls at Linux Week and Veganmania in Vienna

Sunday, June 16th, 2019
Linuxwochen Vienna 2018
Linux Weeks in Vienna 2018

Veganmania Vienna 2018
Veganmania at MQ in Vienna 2018

Linuxwochen Vienna 2019
Linux Weeks in Vienna 2019

Information stall at Veganmania 2019
Veganmania at MQ in Vienna 2019

Information stall at Veganmania 2019
Veganmania at MQ in Vienna 2019

As has been tradition for many years now, this year too saw the Viennese FSFE volunteers’ group hold information stalls at the Linuxwochen event and Veganmania in Vienna. Even though the active team has shrunk due to former activists moving away, having children or simply having very demanding jobs, we have still managed to keep up these information stalls in 2019.

Linux Weeks Vienna 2019

The information stall at the Linux weeks event in May was somewhat limited due to the fact that we didn’t get our usual posters and the roll-up in time. Unfortunately we discovered too late that they had obviously been lent out for an other event and hadn’t been returned afterwards. So we could only use our information material. But since at this event the FSFE is very well known, it wasn’t hard at all to carry out our usual information stall. It’s less about outreach work and more of a who-is-who of the free software community in Vienna anyway. For three days we met old friends and networked. Of course some newbies found their way to the event also. And therefore we could spread our messages a little further too.

In addition, we once again provided well visited workshops for Inkscape and Gimp. The little talk on the free rally game Trigger Rally even motivated an attending dedicated Fedora maintainer to create an up-to-date .rpm package in order to enable distribution of the most recent release to rpm distros.

Veganmania MQ Vienna 2019

The Veganmania at the Museums Quartier in Vienna is growing bigger every year. In 2019 it took place from 7th to 10th of June. Despite us having a less frequented spot with our information stall at the event due to construction work, it again was a full-blown success. Over the four days in perfect weather, the stall was visited by loads of people. There were times when we were stretched to give some visitors the individual attention they might have wanted. But I think in general we were able to provide almost all people with valuable insights and new ideas for their everyday computing. Once again Veganmania proved to be a very good setting for our FSFE information stall. It is always very rewarding to experience people getting a glimpse for the first time of how they could emancipate themselves from proprietary domination. Our down-to-earth approach seems to be the right way to go.

We do not only explain ethical considerations but also appeal to the self-interest of people concerning independence, reliability and free speech. Edward Snowden’s and Wikileaks discoveries clearly show how vulnerable we make ourselves in blindly trusting governments and companies. We describe with practical examples how free software can help us in working together or recovering old files by building on open standards. Of course pointing to the environmental (and economic) advantages of using old hardware with less resource hungry free software is a winning argument also.

Material

Alongside the introductory Austrian version of the leaflet about the freedoms free software enables, which was put together as a condensation of RMS’ book Free Software, Free Society, one of our all-time favourite leaflet features 10 popular GNU/Linux Distros with just a few words about their defining differences (advantages and disadvantages). I updated the leaflet just a day before the festival. I replaced Linux Mint, Open Suse and gNewSense with the recently even more popular Manjaro, MX Linux and PureOS. I also updated the information on the importance of open standards on the back. We have run out of our end-user business cards for our local association freie.it which makes knowledgable people available to others searching for help. Therefore, we decided to use the version we originally designed for inviting experts to the platform. It obviously was wrong to order the same amount of cards for both groups. Our selection of information material seems to work well as an invitation for people to give free software a try. Of course it feels probably also like a safeguard that people can contact me if they want to get my support – or that of someone else listed on freie.it.

Experiences

The first day was rather windy and we had to carefully manage our material if we didn’t want to have our leaflets flying all over the place. In the very early morning of the second day the wind was so strong that some tents where blown away and destroyed. There was even a storm warning which could have forced the organisers to cancel the event. Fortunately our material was well stored and the wind died down over the day. We also had to firmly hold-on to our sunshade because it was very hot, but beside that everything went fine.

It was just coincidence that Richard Matthew Stallman had a talk in Vienna on the evening of the first day of the Veganmania street festival. So at least one of us could take this rare opportunity to see RMS at a live talk while the other carried on with manning the information stall.

As we didn’t have our posters on Linuxwochen we investigated where they were and got them sent to us via snail mail just in time. We didn’t only get our posters but merchandise too. This was a premiere for our stall. It was clear from the beginning that we wouldn’t sell many shirts since most designs assumed prior knowledge of IT related concepts like binary counting. The general public doesn’t seem very aware of such details and people don’t even get the joke. (If we had had the same merchandise at the Linuxwochen we probably would have sold at least as many items despite having reached a much smaller crowd there.)

Outlook and thanks

There will be another information stall at the second Veganmania in Vienna this year, which takes place in end of August. The whole setting there is a little different as there isn’t a shopping street nearby but instead, the location is on the heavily frequented recreational area of Vienna’s Danube Island. Just like last year, it should be a good place for chatting about free software, as long as the weather is on our side.

I want to thank Martin for his incredible patience and ongoing dedication manning our stall. He is extremely reliable, always friendly and it is just a real pleasure working with him.

Thanks to kinderkutsche.at, a local place to rent and buy carrier bicycles, we could transport all our information material in a very environmentally friedly way.

Technoethical T400s review

Saturday, August 19th, 2017
T400s review

This is just to share my experience. (I am in no way affiliated with Technoethical.)

My background

I am a satisfied Debian user since I moved away from Windows in 2008. Back then I thought I could trick the market by ordering one of the very few systems that didn’t come pre-installed with proprietary software. Therefore I went for a rather cheap Acer Extensa 5220 that came with Linplus Linux. Unfortunately it didn’t even have a GUI and I was totally new to GNU/Linux. So the first thing I did was to install Debian because I value the concept this community driven project. I never regretted it. But the laptop had the worst possible wireless card built in. It never really worked with free software.

In the mean time I have learned a lot and I started to help others to switch to free software. In my experience it is rather daunting to check new hardware for compatibility and even if you manage to avoid all possible issues you end up with a system that you can not fully trust because of the bios and the built in hardware (Intel ME for example).

The great laptop

Therefore I am very excited that you can actually order hardware nowadays that others have checked for best compatibility already. Since my old laptop got very unreliable recently I wanted to do better this time and I went for the Technoethical T400s, which comes pre-installed with Trisquel.

I am very pleased with the excellent customer care and the quality of the laptop itself. I was especially surprised how lightweight and slim this not so recent device is.

When the ThinkPad T400s was first released in 2009 it was reviewed as an excellent, well built but rather expensive system for about 2000 Euros. The weakest point was considered the mediocre screen. The Technoethical team put in a brand new screen which has perfectly neutral colours, very good contrast as well as good viewing angles. I’ve got 8 GB RAM (the maximum possible), an 128 GB SSD (instead of 64 GB) and the stronger dualcore SP9600 with 2.53 GHz (instead of the SP9400 with 2.40 GHz) CPU. In addition I’ve received a caddy adapter for replacing the CD/DVD drive with another hard disk. And all this for less than 900 Euros.

This is the most recent laptop of the very few devices worldwide that come with Libreboot and the FSF RYF label out of the box. The wireless does flawlessly work right away with totally free software. This system fulfills everything I need from a PC as a graphic designer. Image editing, desktop publishing, multimedia and even light 3D gaming. Needless to say that common office tasks as emailing and web browsing do of course work flawlessly. To get everything done properly only few people do actually need more powerful working machines.

Even the webcam does work out of the box without any issues and the laptop comes back from its idle state well too. I didn’t test the fingerprint reader and bluetooth.

The battery is a little weak

The only downside for power users on the go might be the limited battery life of about two hours with wireless enabled. It is possible to get a new battery which might extend the life to about 3 hours but because the battery is positioned on the bottom front you can’t use a bigger one. (The only sensible option would be a docking station, but I was never fond of those bulky things that crowd my working space even when the laptop isn’t on the desk.)

Summary

Over all this is a great device that just works with entirely free software. I thank the Technoethical team for offering this fantastic service. I can only recommend buying one of those T400s laptops from Technoethical.

FSFE information booth at Linuxwochen Wien and Veganmania MQ

Sunday, June 4th, 2017
Gespräche am Infostand
Laufend intensive Beratungsgespräche am Infostand

We organised an FSFE information booth on Linuxwochen Wien from 4 to 6 of May and at Veganmania at the MQ in Vienna from 24 to 27 May. Like every year it went very well and especially at Veganmania we could reach many people not yet familiar with free software. Since during the Veganmania there was a Wikipedia event in Vienna at the same time we even encountered some people from all over the world. For example an FSF activist from Boston in the US.

We had re-stocked our leaflets with new versions of some well received handouts we had in the past and we put the new leaflets on free software programs for specific tasks from the Munich group to good use.

Even if we didn’t have much diversity from volunteers we managed to keep our information desk open to visitors who wanted to ask questions for the whole time the events had opening hours. In some cases we were the last booth to close since we had engaged consultations going on.

At Linuxwochen Wien in addition a local volunteer hosted a well attended 3 hour workshop on image editing with GIMP and an other one for creating new maps in Trigger Rally.

Especially the GIMP workshop did attract many people and there is a clear demand for follow-ups not only on GIMP but on other free designing programs also.

It is noticeable that more an more people are aware of free software and do use it on purpose. If this slight and slow shift is related to our outreach work is uncertain but it is for sure a welcome observation.

From our point of view the most important reason why free software is not the default but still an exotic exception is the fact that it almost never comes pre-installed with new hardware – at least not on laptops or desktop machines. Many people understand this instantly as soon as they are told about common business practices where big corporations do offer better conditions for resellers if they sell their software on all products exclusively. This is almost never an advantage to the customers but profits are usually more important as customers satisfaction and most people are just unaware of the tight grip in which corporations keep them. Sticking with certain products is rarely about satisfaction. Most of the time it would just be to burdensome to try something else. And this obstacles are by design. Unfortunately it is hard to give an impression on what people are missing out if they are not even prepared to try something different. Most people are not very happy with the situation but because all their friends and colleagues share the same frustrations they have the impression that there is no better alternative.

Maybe it would be a promising approach to make testimonials from non-technical people satisfied with free software more available to the public …

FSFE Information booth at Veganmania indoor festival 2017

Friday, March 10th, 2017
Gespräche am Infostand
Laufend intensive beratungsgespräche am Infostand
3 Tage lang Dauereinsatz am Infostand

On the weekend of 24 to 26 February, the first indoor Veganmania festival took place at Wiener Stadthalle in Vienna. At the first celebration of the 20th anniversary of this yearly event (two more celebrations to come) we once again had a very successful booth. And it was even bigger than in the years before.

Our booth was placed directly opposite the entrance. Our neighbours where the vegan running team on the left and VGT, the most active animal rights/animal welfare organisation in Austria, on the right. Therefore we couldn’t have asked for a better spot. A further advantage was the fact that this event was indoors. This way we could use our roll-up and many posters we normally can’t use when we do booths outside.

Confirming our experience from previous years, we can only state once more that the Veganmania festivals are exceptionally good events for having FSFE booths. During the three days we only had rather short breaks from talking to people to take photos or to get something from the many stalls with delicious vegan food. On Friday we started at about 3pm and carried on until 10pm. On Saturday, the longest day, we started at about 10am and went round the clock to 10pm. Sunday was a little shorter again since we started at 10am but had packed up by about 6pm.

Since in past years the Veganmania always took place in a prominent shopping street we thought that most of our visitors where just there by chance. But this year showed that this is not the case as we were in a concert venue with no shoppers passing by. It can’t be denied that Veganmanias really do attract thousands of people.

As usual we had plenty of opportunities to introduce the concept of free software to people who hadn’t come across it before, and many showed serious interest. Our red I love free software baloons made kids happy until we didn’t have any more left. Some people even decided to set up their home computers with free software a few days later. Of course we where happy to assist them with any questions or help they asked for.

Over the years we have become a well trained team of volunteers on our stall. For some strange reason we all seem to share the odd trait of not actually wanting to leave the stall for breaks. Therefore, most of the time we had at least 2, but often even 3 activists at once who where engaged in discussions with all kinds of people. I am very happy that Gregor and Martin supported me again. Without Gregor’s bicycle trailer it would have been hard to get all material to the venue. Martin is an absolute treasure as I hardly gave him any warning. I called him the day of the event and he joined us almost immediately, not leaving the stall (during opening hours) until Sunday evening. Martin actually is someone I first met at our Veganmania information stall a few years ago. Since then he has become a very reliable, competent and always friendly backbone of our public outreach work. I can’t thank my colleagues enough for their patience and commitment.

We were able to convince local activists from other organisations to bring us some leaflets to complete our rich assortment of information materials. We had stickers from the local Chaos Computer Club group and from epicenter.works, a very productive data protection association. On Friday I realised that we could really do with some additional leaflets that we had in the past but which had run out. So I updated these leaflets in the evening and went to a print shop on Saturday morning in order to have them for the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately we didn’t get around to printing an other batch of our well received free games folder in time. But we will organize this soon. In time for the local Linux week’s events and two further Veganmanias.

More

A few days later I realised that the local group System Change not Climate Change offers workshops called Skills 4 change. These include teaching people about Scribus, Inkscape and the GIMP. I went there and offered to do joint workshops going into more detail. Their original workshop didn’t include much practical training due to the fact that they worked on theoretical design know-how at the beginning, giving introductions for all three programs on just one afternoon. I hope we will be able to do proper workshops with practical examples soon.

This is a good addition to the basic computer security workshops I’ve held at the VGT, mostly explaining why free software is the only way to go when aiming for trustworthy computer systems.

Information desks on Autumn events

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to report on our most recent activities yet. We did not only have an information stall at the huge 2015 Game City fair in Vienna but on the Veganmania (aka Move) summer festival in Graz too. An other opportunity to inform the public was an information desk at the Big Brother Awards gala in the Rabenhof Theater organised by the data protection association Quintessenz. Yesterday we even participated at the Linux Presentation Day in Vienna again together with Spielend Programmieren. The last event was just a spontaneous first try. Therefore only few people found their way to the venue. Next time we need to promote the event in advance. This time I myself just got invited one or two days before.

Especially our Quintessenz seems to be a good cooperation partner for future ventures since they organise the Linux Wochen Wien. Privacy obviously has a strong connection to free software. Therefore, over all they are dedicated to software freedom too.

The Autumn events brought us a lot of attention from many people and we did give away lots of leaflets. We need to re-stock information material soon in order to be prepared for further events.

FSFE Fellowship and freie.it at Veganmania in Vienna 2015

Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Gregor mans the information desk
Martin not yet behind the information desk
René fully engaged
The four meter long information desk

This year’s vegan summer festival in Vienna once more was bigger than ever before. It not only lasted four days but it doubled in size also. Last year 35 exhibitors where present. From Wednesday 3rd to Saturday 6th of June 2015 no less than 70 organisations and companies had set up their stalls in front of the Museumsquartier (MQ), opposite the famous museums of art history and natural history.

But not only the festival itself has got bigger, our already tratitional information stand was also larger. We were given more space and could therefore offer about four meters of tightly packed information material for a total of 50 hours (excluding breaks). Unfortunately, beside me, only Gregor was available from our Fellows to man the stall. He came on Wednesday and Thursday. Luckily this didn’t cause serious problems since we encountered unexpected help from other people later on.

Martin has been using Free Software for quite a while and visited our stalls on different occasions over the years. So I knew that he is very knowledgable about the issues we usually speak to people about. When I asked him for help he instantly shifted his time table and jumped in when I needed to rush into the Radio Orange studio for a live show about the festival itself. Not all people feel comfortable doing the technical side of live radio shows. Even if they are very easy, which is true in this case.

Radio Orange is an interesting subject in its own right. Austria was quite late with liberating the radio licenses. One of the first free radios was Radio Orange (o94) and it is set up completely with Free Software. I am constantly amazed how well this is done. Hundreds of very different people are using its setup on a regular basis. Some are more frequent than others. Some are very computer savy. Others avoid computers altogether. But the obviously very skilled technicans, who built and administrate the radio’s setup, manage to give all these very different people a good experience. I’ve been helping with two shows for quite a time now and everything runs 24/7. People doing their own shows, just enter the live studio, and start talking at the right time. It’s as easy as that. Pre-recorded shows are done similarly effortlessly. It’s possible to upload shows beforehand and they get aired at the right time automatically. Heck, there is even an automatic replacement if someone doesn’t show up or forgot to upload anything. I don’t know any other example of a complicated system with such a wide range of user types running this smoothly. Of course I have encountered glitches from time to time, but they where small and dealt with fast. This is an impressive example how powerful and reliable Free Software can be.

Back to the festival: Martin did a great job manning the stall while I was away for the radio show. When I was back he even stayed longer to support the stall. Many friends of mine visited me on the stall, but there wasn’t much chance to talk to me. I was involved in interesting, engaging conversations about Free Software with normal visitors of our stall virtullay the whole time. So often my friends didn’t even get the chance to talk to me and went away after a while of waiting for me to become available again. Even when more than one person was manning our information desk sometimes people didn’t get the chance to talk to us because there was more demand than we could meet.

On Friday René from Frankfurt, Germany showed up. Originally he had just made the journey to visit the Veganmania festival. He had his luggage with him and got stuck at our desk. In the beginning he just was a normal visitor but after a while he stepped in because there where so many people who wanted to ask questions and he obviously could answer them. In the end he helped with manning our desk until Saturday night. Happy with his competent help, I invited him to stay at my place and we had a great time discussing Free Software ideas until late in the night. So we didn’t get much sleep because we set up the stall about 9:30am each day and stayed there until 10pm. Unfortunately, we got on so well that he missed his train on Sunday. Therefore he had to endure an unpleasant train ride back home without the possibility to sleep.

I appreciate the unexpected help of Martin and René and hope they will stick around. Both ensured me they loved the experience and they want to do it in future again.

As usual, many people got lured to our desk because of the Free Your Android poster. Others just dropped by in order to find out what this all was about since they didn’t expect our subject on a vegan summer festival. But of course it was easy to explain how activism and Free Software relate to each other. In the end we ran out of several leaflets and stickers. In the hot weather we didn’t manage to sell the last of our Fellowship hoodies, but we sold some “there is no cloud …” bags and also received a donation.

The information desk marathon left us with a considerably smaller leaflet stack, brown skin like after two weeks of holidays and many great memories from discussions with very different people. The Veganmania summer festivals in Vienna are clearly worth the effort. We even got explicitly invited to join the vegan summer festival in Graz in September since the organising people figured they wanted to have someone informing about Free Software there also. I guess it is not necessary for us to travel to Graz since I’m told there are dedicated Free Software advocates there too.

Open letter to everymothercounts.org: Apple advertisement

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

Dear every mother counts team,

Thank you for your work concerning health care for mothers. You have taken on an important and demanding challenge.

Please consider my following concern regarding Christy Turlington’s Apple advertisement:

I can understand why a marketing contract with Apple must look tempting. The deal might bring in a considerable amount of money. This can potentially fund urgently needed projects. But Christy Turlington’s prominent involvement in the promotion of Apple’s iWatch unfortunately still might counteract important aspects of your work.

Most mothers with insufficient access to health care probably only lack the necessary funds for getting it. Proper education would open a lot of doors in that regard. Modern education heavily depends on technology. Therefore Access to affordable technology and knowledge about it is of paramount importance.

Unfortunately open access is a foreign concept to Apple and it locks down everything it offers. Everything they develop is only made available to paying customers. Nothing is shared freely. They work with aggressive logical patents, closed standards and massive legal restrictions. Therefore, others are actively hindered in offering similar services or products under fairer conditions. [1]

Only freely available, well documented technology without restrictions gives everyone opportunities. Countless people around the globe discover, use, analyse, adapt and spread free software every day, regardless of whether they want to dig a well or organise their local resources more efficiently. If technology has no restrictions built in and comes without legal limitations attached to it, it ceases to be an instrument of power. Privileges are a given and don’t need to be sold or restrained. Apple itself has made heavy use of free software to built its own operating system. But unlike others, who not only took but contributed something, Apple decided to use the free software stack and then lock up what they had derived from it. This surely isn’t in line with everymothercounts.org’s philosophy.

Free software is an ethical approach to technology, fostering sharing and caring. It has inspired many other movements. It’s main concerns are independence and empowerment. So if you feel like teaming up with institutions in the field of technology, please consider ethically and socially aware players like Mozilla or even organisations like the Free Software Foundation!

My second concern about this marketing arrangement is privacy. Of course Apple promises everything the public wants to hear, but as long as it doesn’t give full public access to what is going on in its products, those are just nice words. Not even governments are allowed to check if Apple’s claims are met in reality. Of course this isn’t an Apple-only problem, but considering the unprecedented scope of data collection by the iWatch, this is a whole new dimension of surveillance acted out by a private, uncontrolled entity.

Free software on the other hand, is trustworthy because one of its merits is its open source. What it does is completely transparent and it can be audited by anyone who is interested. Even if you find features you don’t like, you are free to adapt, remove or just disable them. If someone has an idea how to improve on existing free software, that’s great, because it’s meant to be adapted and shared freely.

Please apply your principles in a wider context!

All the best for your work,
Franz Gratzer
fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)
and an animal rights activist

[1] fsf.org/news/free-software-foundation-statement-on-the-new-iphone-apple-pay-and-apple-watch

Open Letter to Mr. Cook (Apple Computers)

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Mr. Cook,

I just watched your newest keynote. The best thing you presented was the use of USB-C on new MacBooks. Finally you have decided to use an open standard which can make life easier for all users.

Unfortunately this was the end of all the good news since everything else seems to go in the opposite direction. Worst of all is launching a massive surveillance device like the iWatch without being completely transparent with what is happening inside the device and on your servers. I as a user, want to be in control of my data. But this is a concept you obviously oppose.

As long as you stick to closed source software, DRM, restrictive licences and patent laws to maximise your profits, you heavily contribute to inequality and powerlessness around the globe.

This makes you an absolute no-go as a source of computing devices.

Please don’t only consider your gain in power and profit, but also the effect of your work on our society. Do you really consider disempowerment an ethical contribution that you want to be a part of?

FOSDEM 2015: some interviews

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Horst from spielend-programmieren.at visited the FOSDEM this year and caught the mood there in some nice interviews. I just wanted to share it with you. Not all of the interviews he posted in his German blog article are done in English, but at least four of them:

  • Knitting machine A kniting machine from the seventies brought to new life with free software.
  • Mageia Linux Community A woman overcame a personal loss with the help of a friendly free software comunity.
  • EPFSUG Erik K Josefsson raises awareness of free software in the European Parliament.
  • Diaspora Jason Robinson explains how the decentralised social media platform works.