From Freedom Trail to free boot and free farms: Charting the course at LibrePlanet day two
Yesterday, March 19, marked the second day of talks, as part of a weekend packed full of events and get-togethers, for the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) fifteenth edition of its annual LibrePlanet conference. This year's theme was "Charting the Course," and the talks and activities were centered around where we are now with regard to software freedom, where we are going, and how to achieve common goals.
As reported in our blog on Saturday's events, this year's many talks covered a variety of topics, and there is much to be said about all of them. Here are some of our favorite moments from Sunday. If you missed any of these, or any of the other amazing talks, not to worry. We will publish the recordings of the talks soon at https://media.libreplanet.org.
After the talks on Saturday evening, in-person participants took a walk on the historical Freedom Trail through Boston, MA. Led by FSF staff members Jeanne Rasata and Michael McMahon, attendees walked, socialized, and educated those who crossed their path, many of whom asked to learn more about the "Free your Computer" protest signs that the group brought on their trip.
Sunday morning started with talks covering a variety of subjects. Of the many topics covered were: how to achieve privacy and security by using programs such as the collaborative FSF project JShelter for Web browsers by Libor Polčák, and GNU Taler for making payments, and how cybernetics has influenced the course of technology by Clinton Ignatov. We also learned the benefits of free software for aviation technologies in "Safety-critical software certification and why free software might be the best solution."
During Anaximander of Miletus's talk titled "Topographical maps for all!" we learned about the role that 2018 Free Software Award winner Open Street Maps (OSM) played in assisting people to print critically-needed maps in the aftermath of Turkey's recent earthquake disaster. OSM data was accessible even when Internet connectivity was down, because the data was downloaded freely by individuals before the catastrophe. Maps printed from this OSM data were used in relief efforts, while centralized nonfree services failed. After sharing this story, Miletus told the audience: "If you're going to do one thing for humanity, contribute to OSM."
During Denis "GNUtoo" Carikli's talk "Taking control over the means of production: Free software boot," a fork of Libreboot was announced. This fork, published at https://libreboot.at/, has been created to restore software freedom by removing nonfree binary blobs.
The road to Aramo: Charting a course to the newest release of Trisquel
Sunday afternoon, Trisquel project founder and maintainer Rubén Rodríguez Pérez spoke about Trisquel, his free distribution, now in its nineteenth year. Rubén told the audience that anyone, regardless of skill set, can contribute to its future: "There's something for everyone," he said. Trisquel developer Luis Gúzman (Ark74) contributed to the talk in the form of a prerecorded video highlighting changes Trisquel has made to Debian-installer (also known as "netinstall"), a text-based system for installing GNU/Linux distributions.
Near the end of the talk, and much to the audience's delight, Rubén released the newest version of Trisquel GNU/Linux, codenamed Aramo, near the end of his talk. After sharing the story behind the choice of the name Aramo, which, is the Celtic god of pathways and roads, as well as a mountain range just next to where Rubén lives, he released version 11 with a prepared script live for a hybrid audience. The new version is available for download now via https://trisquel.info/en/download.
Freedom on the farm, freedom in education
During an engaging panel of some of the leading Right to Repair activists in the US titled "It's time to jailbreak the farm," SecureRepairs founder, and 2021 FSF Award winner Paul Roberts, hacker Sick Codes, farmer and engineer Kevin Kenney, and iFixit's director of sustainability Elizabeth Chamberlain discussed the importance of defending software freedom in farming. Kenney shared with the audience how, in the past, tractors were purely mechanical, and farmers were able to fix the machines that they owned. Nowadays, tractors come with an entire operating system pre-installed. Farmers need freedom over those systems in order to repair their tools. Chamberlain underlined the point by saying, "The tractor is a computer basically [...] all the same issues that apply to laptops and phones apply to tractors."
Specifically calling out the dominant tractor manufacturer John Deere as the "ringleader," panelist Kenney said, "We need to turn the table on this tyrant that's taken these rights from us." He clarified his stance, saying, "I'm not against corporations" and that what he is against is companies such as John Deere denying him, and others like him, control over his machines. Sharing his experience as a farmer in the field, he said, "We were taught that self-reliance was the first line of defense when things went wrong on the farm. [...] It's not a matter of if we are going to break it; it's when," he added that, nowadays, with computerized farming tools, "We don't have control over agriculture." Several times during the panel discussion, Kenney called upon those with the technical skills to contribute to the advancement of a user-friendly, fully-free, fully-repairable system for tractors to help the cause.
Panelist Sick Codes shared the findings of his research, such as how much of the software running on John Deere tractors is, in fact, licensed under copyleft free software licenses such as the GPL. More information on this was also discussed in his Saturday session called "The state of free software in farming, food & agriculture."
Meanwhile, broadcasting in another room, musician and educator Aaron Wolf presented a touching demonstration, together with his son, of ways that you can engage children with free software. Titled "Kids need to experience software freedom, not just the idea of it." Wolf demonstrated various programs from the command line that anyone can try at home that introduce important free software concepts to youth.
As is LibrePlanet tradition, there was a lively "hallway track" throughout the conference, featuring hacker to hacker conversations on topics as far-flung as geocaching, cartography, different kinds of hummus, and the proper kind of plastic for a screen protector.
Closing keynote: The future of the right to repair and free software
Dr. Elizabeth Chamberlain, Director of Sustainability at iFixit, gave the Sunday evening keynote. Among other topics, she spoke about the threat that Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) presents to one's ability to repair wheelchairs, phones, and other devices. She exposed the unjust practice of tractor manufacturers such as John Deere, whose "full diagnostic software is only available to dealers." And how many calls to release the source code by the Software Freedom Conservancy were unsuccessful so far.
Chamberlain also spoke about the privacy implications that these nonfree systems present, sharing how tractor manufacturers such as John Deere collect personal farmer data, sell that same data back to the farmers, then use that money to hire lobbyists to work against the farmers' best interests. She also shared some progress in the right to repair movement, such as France's requirement that manufacturers display repairability scores upon their sale, and how this is shaping consumer habits.
Chamberlain ended her talk with a rousing call to action, which was greeted by the audience with an energetic applause: "I know a ragtag group of activists who know how to get shit done."
Concluding the conference, FSF's program manager Miriam Bastian once more congratulated the 2022 FSF Award winners, thanked the more than thirty volunteers, both online and in person, more than fifty-five speakers, all the attendees, whether in person or online, and FSF staff for their work in putting together this memorable first hybrid LibrePlanet conference. Much of the setup we published about previously was used again this year, except the streaming desktop either received the presenter stream from ffmpeg or tuned into a BigBlueButton session with OBS. Bastian acknowledged the free software engine that enabled the conference to run in freedom for both those organizing the conference as well as those attending, whether they were there in person or watching from their computers at home.
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