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Introducing Alyssa Rosenzweig, intern with the FSF tech team

by Free Software Foundation Contributions Published on Jul 12, 2018 04:38 PM
Contributors: Alyssa Rosenzweig

Howdy there, fellow cyber denizens; 'tis I, Alyssa Rosenzweig, your friendly local biological life form! I'm a certified goofball, licensed to be silly under the GPLv3, but more importantly, I'm passionate about free software's role in society. I'm excited to join the Free Software Foundation as an intern this summer to expand my understanding of our movement. Well, that, and purchasing my first propeller beanie in strict compliance with the FSF office dress code!

Anywho, I hail from a family of engineers and was introduced to programming at an early age. As a miniature humanoid, I discovered that practice let me hit buttons on a keyboard and have my textual protagonist dance on my terminal -- that was cool! Mimicking those around me, I hacked with an Apple laptop, running macOS, compiling in Xcode, and talking on Skype. I was vaguely aware of the free software ethos, so sometimes I liberated my code. Sometimes I did not. I was little more than a button masher with a flashing TTY; I wrote video games while inside a video game, my life firewalled from reality.

I grew up. Offline, I learned in school about politics, civics, history. My fascination grew from PHP and C++ to Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez: real people, making real change, in the real world. Online, I added Richard Stallman to my nascent list of heroes. Discovering the free software movement transformed me. Soon, armed with both programming and politics, I watched the genie fly out of the bottle, granting me three wishes. I chose liberty, equality, and fraternity – Vive la philosophie! Yet I was restless. I was still. How could I? People lived. People died. Programs booted. Programs -9'd. The world spun. I sat. How could I? How could I? I put 10 and 10 together, and soon I knew my mission: to program for freedom, to write free software. Voracious, I read code and prose, and focused, I hacked and hacked. Today, this path has led to me to copyleft my blog on free software, to condemn proprietary software at every turn, and most of all, to code, to collaborate, to contribute.

Critically, I have developed a focus on low-level freedom. I joined Libreboot, a free boot firmware, and through that immersion in boot freedom, I learned of two grave new threats: the Intel Management Engine and the AMD Platform Security Processor. It became clear that Intel and AMD's x86, the dominant architecture among free and proprietary software users alike, no longer belonged in our movement. I switched to ARM machines.

Unfortunately, free software support for ARM is lacking. On popular almost-free chipsets like the RK3288, the graphics processor requires proprietary blobs. Thus, we hackers are creating Panfrost, a free driver for modern ARM Mali chips. Today, on an RK3288 laptop, Panfrost is mature enough to run the famous benchmark, es2gears, with zero lines of proprietary code. But even with projects like Panfrost, intense ARM fragmentation has made the architectural jump a RISCy proposition for free software supporters. Indeed, there is not yet a user-friendly, fully free GNU/Linux distribution available for ARM.

This summer with the FSF, I am working to address these issues. My immediate focus is contributing to ARM-related resources like the LibrePlanet wiki and the FSF website. Longer-term, I seek to improve distribution support to enable x86-bound users to make the switch. No one -- and no zero -- has claimed the road ahead is easy. But little by little, together we can chip away at the proprietary monopoly, in the name of freer chips.

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