A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Alternate Social Media Project Part 1: Riot.im

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When I announced that I was cutting back on blogging, I explained that it was so I could focus my energy on other projects. One of those projects, which I’ve dubbed the Alternate Social Media Project (ASMP), has been replacing the social media functionality provided by Facebook. Why? Because Facebook has become not only a total invasion of privacy (which most people apparently don’t give two shits about) but also an increasingly useless platform for anybody with beliefs that aren’t state approved (which people seem to care about when they find themselves being censored by Facebook’s administrators). Rather than demand that the government step in and force Facebook to run its operations in the manner I approve, I decided it would be easier to just move somewhere freer.

This project is occurring in steps. The first step was to find something to fulfill the primary use of social media: communication. My requirements were modest. The solution upon which I settled had to be decentralized, fully usable on mobile platforms, and offer the option of secure communications. I settled on Riot.im since it was one of the few decent options that met those requirements.

Riot.im is the reference client for the Matrix protocol. The Matrix protocol is, basically, an evolution of Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Unlike other attempts to improve on IRC, Matrix is also federated, which means anybody can run a server and those servers can communicate with one another. Facebook demonstrates the importance of federation. If you express wrongthink of Facebook, you risk being exiled. If you express wrongthink on a Matrix server, you risk being exiled from that specific server but you can migrate over to another server, possibly your own server (where you can express all the wrongthink your heart desires). So long as the new server you’re on is federate with the servers your friends are on, you can continue your conversations.

Unlike IRC and many other older communication protocols (XMPP comes to mind), Riot.im works well on mobile devices. Android and iOS like to kill apps in the background and when those apps are killed, all of their active network connections die with them. With IRC this means you have no idea what is going on in the room until you open the app and reconnect. Riot.im, on the other hand, will work like other modern communication tools when your app isn’t running. When activity happens in one of the rooms of which you’re a member, you will receive notifications (unless you disable those notifications). If something piques your interest, you can open the app and jump into the conversation. My previous attempts to migrate friends to other platforms were thwarted because none of them were willing to use something that didn’t play well with mobile. I’m happy to say that Riot.im doesn’t suffer from that shortcoming.

Riot.im fulfills the third criterion by offering the option of end-to-end encryption. Matrix has no concept of direct messages as far as I can tell. When you want to communicate privately with somebody, you’re placed in a private room with them. If you want your communications to be private, you can turn encryption on in the room. Another nice feature is that once encryption is enabled in a room, it cannot be disabled. This setup, although potentially confusing to some people, has two nice features. The first is that this setup enables any room to be encrypted. You and your friends can setup an encrypted room where you can express wrongthink without the server administrators being able to see it (unless you invite them into your room). The second is that you don’t have to worry about somebody secretly turning encryption off at a future point (and thus exposing your wrongthink to outsiders).

Riot.im obviously isn’t a replacement for Facebook. At most it’s a replacement for Facebook Messenger. Since everything on Riot.im occurs in a chatroom, it’s not as easy to have a conversation about a linked article and there is no way to accrue imaginary Internet points like you can with Facebook’s reactions. However, I’m not actually a fan of services that try to do everything. It’s too difficult to replace individual parts when something better rolls around or an update to the current tool makes it unusable.

If you’re interested in migrating off of Facebook or other restrictive social media platforms, you could do worse than starting with Riot.im.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 19th, 2019 at 10:00 am

There’s Nothing Worse for a Revolutionary than Victory

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There’s nothing worse for a revolutionary than victory.

Consider the plight of the Russian communist revolutionaries. So long as the czarist loyalist remained, the handful of communist factions had a common enemy upon which to focus.

Then the communists won. Without the common foe to unite them, they quickly turned on one another (sorry Mensheviks and anarchists, there’s only room in Moscow for one communist party).

Then the Bolsheviks won. Without external communist foes to unite them, they too turned on one another (GTFO, Trotsky, and take Bukharin and Zinoviev with you).

Then the remaining Bolsheviks realized that without an external enemy, they would have to continue killing each other. So the people were accused of being kulaks and counter-revolutionaries.

The counter-revolutionary is the last refuge of a revolutionary that has run out of foes to kill. It is likely that without the counter-revolutionary, the revolutionary would have to kill himself.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 13th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Politics

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

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Ars Technica ran this story with the title China’s “democracy” includes mandatory apps, mass chat surveillance. The important part to note is the scare quotes around the word democracy. From the article:

As the National People’s Congress gathers in Beijing for the beginning of China’s “Two Sessions” political season, state media is making an international propaganda push on social media—including on platforms blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”—to promote China’s “system of democracy.”


That system of democracy apparently involves mass surveillance to tap into the will of the people. While China’s growth as a surveillance state has been well-documented, the degree to which the Chinese leadership uses digital tools to shape the national political landscape and to control Chinese citizens has grown even further recently. That’s because authorities have been tapping directly into Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members’ and other Chinese citizens’ online activities and social media profiles.

I’m using the Ars Technica article for illustrative purposes but the general attitude amongst Americans seem to be that China isn’t actually a democracy. However, democracy is a system where voters have the opportunity to gang up against each other. This inevitably results is a paranoid police state where everybody has voted to surveil and punish everybody else.

The primary difference between China and apparently freer democracies is where they started. Take the United States for example. It started with an almost powerless federal government and a strong mythology about individual freedom. It took a great deal of time for voters to first vote a larger government into existence and then vote to wield it against each other. The People’s Republic of China, other the other hand, started with a much more powerful government so there was no delay from voters having to first vote it more power before they could wield it against each other.

The things for which us enlightened people of the glorious Western democracies mock China are in our future. Just look at the massive surveillance apparatuses in the United States and United Kingdom. There is scarcely a thing you can do or a place you can go that isn’t surveilled by some government entity. The Ars Technica article discusses the effort China is putting into propagandizing its party members but the author likely failed to recognize the similarities between those efforts and the efforts in Western public education systems to propagandize young children. While most Western democracies aren’t as overt about controlling their news outlets as China is, all of the major supposedly independent media outlets are little more than government propaganda machines (how else are reporters going to get access to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room or get themselves invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner).

Make not mistake, what we’re witnesses in China today is the endgame of any democratic system. To insinuate that China isn’t a democracy is to misunderstand what a democracy truly is.

96 Dimensional Chess

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Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me 500,076 times, still shame on you. Trump has been in the White House for three years and he, despite having broken pretty much every political promise he made, still has zealous supporters. What’s his secret? His secret is that his supporters are very good at self delusion. Whenever news breaks that Trump is ready to support some reduction of state power his supporters are quick to say, “See? I told you he would reduce government!” Then when he fails to follow through his supporter say, “This is just part of his three dimensional chess game against the libtards!”

I’ve lost count of how may dimensions Trump’s chess game supposedly has at this point. I think it’s somewhere around 96 dimensional. But he decided to add an extra dimension yesterday when he reneged on his claim to support pulling American troops out of Syria:

WASHINGTON — Two months after declaring all U.S. troops are leaving Syria, President Donald Trump wrote to members of Congress that he now agrees “100%” with keeping a military presence in Syria.

This news comes as a shock to nobody who has paid attention to his track record.

Of course Trump isn’t unique in this regard. Lies are political capital and finding an honest politician carries worse odds than even the most rigged boxing match. While those who oppose Trump will scream at the top of their lungs about the importance of electing anybody else in 2020, the only thing electing a different president will do is shuffle the same shit around. After all, Trump’s predecessor campaigned on getting the United States out of its endless state of war and ended up getting the country into a few extra wars before his time in office was up.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 6th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Hillary Clinton Claims to Not Be Running in 2020

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And in other news the life insurance premiums of the other Democratic Party presidential candidates has dropped significantly!

Written by Christopher Burg

March 5th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Politics

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Linux on a 2010 Mac Mini Part Two

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Last week I mentioned my adventure of installing Linux on a 2010 Mac Mini. Although Ubuntu 18.10 did install and was working for a few days an update left the system unusable. After an update towards the end of last week the system would only boot to a black screen. From what I gathered online I wasn’t the only person who ran into this problem. Anyways, I ended up digging into the matter further.

I once again tried installing Fedora. When I tried to install Fedora 29, I was unable to stop it from booting to a black screen so I decided to try Fedora 28. Using basic graphics mode I was able to get Fedora 28 to boot to the live environment and from there install Fedora on the Mac Mini. After installation I was able to get my Fedora installation to boot. However, when I tried to install the Nvidia driver from RPM Fusion, the system would only boot to a black screen afterwards. I tried installing the Nvidia driver via the negativo17 repository but didn’t expect it to work since the driver distributed from that repository is based on version 418 and the last driver to support the Mac Mini’s GeForce 320M was version 340. Things went as expected. I then tried installing the Nvidia driver manually using a patched version of the 340 driver from here. Unfortunately, that driver doesn’t work with the 4.20 kernel so that was a no go as well.

The reason I hadn’t tried to install the Nvidia driver manually before was because I didn’t want to deal with supporting the setup in the future. As I was trying to install it using the previously linked instructions I felt justified because the guide isn’t nearly as straight forward as installing the driver from a repository. It became a moot point since manual installation didn’t work but it did make me think about the fact that any solution I settled upon would need to be maintained, which lead me to the idea of using Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. The LTS versions of Ubuntu are supported by Canonical for five years so if I could get 18.04 installed, the setup would have a decent chance of working for five years.

After passing the kernel the “nouveau.modeset=0” argument, just as I had to do with 18.10, I was able to boot into a live environment and install 18.04 to the hard drive. Likewise, I had to use the “nouveau.modeset=0” argument to boot into the installation. Once I was booted into the installation I was able to use “sudo apt install nvidia-340” to install the 340 version of the Nvidia driver. After rebooting everything worked properly. I’m hoping that future updates will be less likely to break this setup since the LTS releases of Ubuntu tend to be more stable than non-LTS versions.

So, yeah, if you want to get a currently supported Linux distro running on a 2010 Mac Mini, take a look at Ubuntu 18.04. It might be your best bet (if it continues to run properly for the next month or so, I’ll say it is your best bet).

Written by Christopher Burg

March 4th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

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How Things Have Changed

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I’m a huge fan of the Hardcore History and History on Fire podcasts so I was excited when I saw that the hosts, Dan Carlin and Danielle Bolelli respectively, posted a conversation they recently had. The two discussed several things including modern political discourse.

One thing Dan said really resonated with me. He noted that he remembers a time when certain concepts, such as support for freedom of speech, were so close to universal in the United States that you could take them for granted in a political discussion and how he has a difficult time operating in an environment where that is no longer the case. I’m not a very old man but even in my relatively short life I’ve seen some dramatic shifts in political discourse. When I was in college certain near universals still existed including support for freedom of speech (although that was dying) and due process (which was also beginning to die). While an individual may not actually have believed in those concepts, they almost always, especially if they were a politician, paid lip service to them. Today’s world is a different one. Consider this fiasco that just went down here in Minnesota:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota House committee has passed a proposed “red flag” law that would allow families and police to get court orders to temporarily remove guns from people judged to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Due process, at one time, meant that an individual was only punished after a trial. Today due process isn’t even paid lip service. Rather legislation, of which this is just the latest example (civil forfeiture probably remains the most overt example), blatantly violates the concept of due process. What’s fascinating though is that these violation of due process aren’t met with widespread opposition. Gun owners are opposing this instance for obvious reasons but most people seem to either not care or, worse yet, enthusiastically support it.

I’ve even seen comments from professors who have reported surprise that students have expressed disagreement with the idea that authoritarianism is bad. Even my short life witnessed a time when the concept of authoritarianism was almost universally reviled (if not necessarily in practice, at least in words) here in the United States. Now support for authoritarianism is growing on both sides of the political spectrum.

I make no effort to hide my disgust with politics. Part of my disgust stems from the fact that many previously near universally supported concepts such as freedom of speech are no longer near universal. Expressing support for such concepts in today’s political environment oftentimes leads not just to disagreement but to a complete breakdown of civility (for example, depending on the other person’s political views, you might find yourself being labeled a fascist or a communist). Trying to have a reasoned debate in an environment where no ground rules exist most people appear disinterested in either being civility or establishing ground rules is, frankly, impossible.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 1st, 2019 at 10:00 am

The Dying Concept of Ownership

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Apple is once again pushing developers to utilize a subscription model rather than a one-time purchase model for their software:

For a while now, Apple has been encouraging app developers to consider subscriptions as a key revenue source, and the company is introducing some new options for developers that it hopes will make the option more attractive. In the past few days, Apple has informed developers that they will now be able to target current and recent subscribers with promotional rates on subscriptions. That means subscribers will be able to offer discounts to try to get you back if you lapse, or they might try to entice you to stay if you’re considering leaving.

Apple’s push isn’t unique. More and more markets are trying to transition to a subscription model. Car dealerships often push leasing over purchasing. Music and video are moving from selling songs and albums to stream subscriptions. Home ownership is being usurped by renting.

To put it bluntly, ownership is dying. It shouldn’t surprise anybody though. Subscription models are far more profitable. Consider a software package. For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is a software package that you use and that it originally cost $60 for each major version upgrade and that it averages a major upgrade release once per year. Suddenly the developer decided to transition to a subscription model. Now you will pay $5 per month. At first you don’t notice any difference since you’re still paying $60 per year. However, under the old model you paid once and had that software in perpetuity. If the developer released a new major version that didn’t have any new features that interested you, you could just skip it and continue to use the old version. Under a subscription model, even if you stick with an old version, you will lose access if you stop paying your subscription.

The other issue with subscription models is that, contrary to claims made by subscription advocates, they can discourage developers from adding new features. If, for example, a developer releases a piece of software that customers absolutely need to get their job done, they will enjoy a continuous stream of revenue even if they fail to release improvements. Under a one-time purchase model, the only way that the developer could make more money is to release a new version that’s good enough to convince customers to buy it.

But, in the end, subscription models offer more profit for less work so I predict that they will continue to overtake one-time purchase models. I’m not looking forward to such a future but it is what it is.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 28th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in News You Need to Know

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Linux on a 2010 Mac Mini

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I prefer repurposing old computers to throwing them away. A while ago I acquired a 2010 Mac Mini for $100. It has worked well. I even managed to install macOS Mojave on it using this patcher. However, I wanted to try installing Linux on it.

I first tried installing my go-to distro, Fedora (version 29 to be specific). Unfortunately, I immediately ran into problems. The Mac Mini has an Nvidia card that doesn’t play nicely with the nouveau driver in the kernel so I couldn’t bring up a graphical environment (I just got a black screen with a blinking cursor in the upper left corner). I tried booting the Fedora live distro with the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter but to no avail.

So I decided to try Ubuntu (18.10). Ubuntu also initially failed to boot but it at least gave me an error message (related to the nouveau driver). When I booted it with the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter I was able to get to the graphical interface and install Ubuntu. After installation I once again booted with the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter and install Nvidia’s proprietary driver. After that the system now boots into Ubuntu without any trouble (installing the Nvidia driver also enabled audio output through HDMI).

If you’re having trouble installing Linux on a 2010 Mac Mini, try Ubuntu and try passing the “nouveau.modeset=0” parameter when booting and you may have better luck.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 27th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Nothing to See Here

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The judge presiding over the Mohamed Noor case has announced that no audio or video recordings of the trial will be allowed:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge says there will be no audio or video recording allowed during the trial of a former Minneapolis officer who shot and killed an Australian woman.

Mohamed Noor is charged with murder in the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot after she called police to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.

If I were in the judge’s position, I’d do the same thing. Noor really put the Minneapolis justice system in a bind. Most law enforcers have the decency of fabricating some kind of plausible (if you use your imagination) justification for their unnecessary use of force. Noor just flat out executed a woman. Letting him off is going to require jury instructions that no judge would look good giving and certainly no judge would want to be recorded giving. At least that’s the only explanation of which I can conceive that explains the recording prohibition.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 26th, 2019 at 10:00 am