ubuntu phone will be great, but it is not yet

The BQ Aquaris ubuntu phone that I waited for so eagerly was delivered today. Full of anticipation I unpacked it and switched it on. After playing with it for a while the excitement turned into dissatisfaction. I hate to say it, but on a phone the solid base and polished user experience is not enough, some basic functionality is required as well. Rough edges are much harder to work around on a phone than on a computer with a regular keyboard. Let’s face it, most people who opt for ubuntu phone want to some degree escape the freedom hating ecosystems prevalent on the big platforms. Yet instead of welcoming users with freedom loving functionality, the phone is loaded with Google, Facebook and Twitter apps.
As long as you don’t expect anything from it, it’s a pleasant experience. Knowing that it’s based on debian packages gives me great comfort. The touch interface and the settings dialogs are very nice. Yet it is lacking basic PIM and email functionality.

Phone

Nowadays one could consider the phone functionality not the most important part of a smartphone anymore. I first had to have my SIM card cut to the smaller form factor. Text messages seem to work nicely. Phone calls work fine. MMS messages were automatically configured to look up on a website by the carrier. I don’t know if the phone would support them propperly, but that’s a feature that I rarely use anyway.

Contacts

When opening the contacts app, I was greeted with the question if I wanted to sync with Google. Hell no! If I did, I would have stayed with Android. But that seems to be the only option other than having a standalone address book and typing in everything by hand. I could not find an option to sync my CardDAV address book. Lots of people complained badly about this, so it got medium priority. There is a complicated workaround using evolution sync. That way I got my address book synced from the commandline. An entry in crontab keeps it synced.

Calendar

Basically the same as contacts, except that the calendar app was not pre-installed and had to be fetched from the app store. I configured syncevolution from the commandline the same way as the address book, including crontab. But the calendar does not properly synchronize. It pushes appointments I create on the phone. But it doesn’t fetch them from the server. I will have to do some more debugging here.

Email

There doesn’t seem to be a standard email client. Instead it ships with a GMail app. People complained that there was no IMAP support whatsoever. At least I could find an email client in the app store called Dekko. The bad thing however is that instead of connecting to the email server it just hangs for an hour. When I try it without encryption, it appears to work. I can send mails, but it won’t fetch them. Another IMAP account works well, just not the one that is most important for me. Mails from my main account were fetched exactly once. Before and after that, all I get is the following error message: “Too many invalid IMAP commands”
Update: It took some manual editing of the config file to get it finally working.  Now I’m looking forward to support for notificatoin about new mails, but that is less important in comparison.

Bluetooth

Connecting to the Jabra headphones was simple as always, and the sound quality is good. But I didn’t manage to connect any of the four bluetooth keyboards I tried. Also the yubikey does not work as an external keyboard, so at first I thought it might be a general HID problem. But when I connect a USB keyboard, that works.

BitCoin

The BitCoin client from the app store is not usable for real life. It doesn’t work with qr codes, and has no key backup functionality. I can work around the missing key backup, by manually copying the file “/home/phablet/.local/share/org.sambull.bitcoin-app/ubc.wallet” to a safe place, but qr code reading is really a must. Even if there was a qr reader app, pasting in the bitcoin app is missing.  I might have to resort to a web wallet for some time.
There is a webapp for coinbase already in the store, so I tried this one first. I can scan the qr code from out of the browser by automatically launching the camera app. The picture is then uploaded to the server for the qr code reading. This seems to be common practice, but of course it is way inferior to having an app where you can move your camera until it successfully reads the qr code. But after I enter the amount and click “next”, I get a white screen, and the web app won’t respond any more. A coinbase support representative told me he had the same with safari mobile, and using the back button helped. There is no back button in the webapp, so I tried it in the browser. “Back” landed me on another white page, and “forward” led to an error message.
The next web wallet I tried was xapo. Since I use their debit card, it would be convenient. But their send page has no qr functionality.
So I moved on to greenaddress. I almost succeeded. If it wasn’t due to the defunct email. They sent me a 2FA code to my main email address, which unfortunately doesn’t work on the phone yet.

XBMC remote control

I was releaved to find more than one XBMC remote in the app store, and some are even better than what I had on Android.

News

The rss reader and the news scope make for a pleasant appearance. They find my preferred rss feeds without needing the exact URL For podcasts, I had to install PodBird. It works fine for audio podcasts. It also downloads video files, but won’t play them.

Apps

I seem to remember that they planned to be able to run android apps on ubuntu phone. But it appears those plans were abandoned a long time ago. Hence naturally for a new platform the selection of available apps is very sparse. Seems I will have to live without some apps I used frequently on Android such as SBB, 20min, MeteoSwiss… All this information and functionality is also available on the respective websites. The apps are just more convenient.

APT

Part of the reason why I wanted a ubuntu phone is the underlying debian package system. I maintained an ubuntu chroot system image on my android phone so that I could perform some tasks on a full blown shell. But it always was quirky at some points and a second class citizen all along. So I wanted the ubuntu shell to be a first class citizen. Indeed you can start a terminal which behaves very well. The keyboard is missing tab and arrow keys though. You have access to apt, or so it seems at first. when you actually want to install something you see error messages about some lock files. To get around that, one needs to enable developer mode in the phone settings and remount the root file system as readwrite. But then came something disturbing:

$sudo mount -o remount,rw /
$sudo apt-get update
$sudo apt-get install git tig nmap htop pcsc-tools gpgsm gnupg-agent
Paketlisten werden gelesen... Fertig
Abhängigkeitsbaum wird aufgebaut.       
Statusinformationen werden eingelesen.... Fertig
Package git is not available, but is referred to by another package.
This may mean that the package is missing, has been obsoleted, or
is only available from another source

E: Package 'git' has no installation candidate
E: Paket tig kann nicht gefunden werden.
E: Paket nmap kann nicht gefunden werden.
E: Paket htop kann nicht gefunden werden.
E: Paket pcsc-tools kann nicht gefunden werden.

WTF is going on here! A repository that is missing crucial packages? Mixing repositories with ubuntu propper is probably not a great idea. I don’t know yet what to do about that.
People on IRC confirmed that rather than changing the root filesystem, it’s better to have a chroot of ubuntu proper for the additional tools. This is what I had on android and hoped it would no longer be necessary on ubuntu phone.

GPG

gpg and gpg-agent were already installed. Udev is running as well. So after adding an udev rule and configuring the gpg-agent, I was able to use my YubiKey neo in OpenPGP mode for ssh authentication and similar tasks. This is great news, as it was one of the soar points with my old phone.

GPS

The phone comes with a mapping app pre installed. It looks decent, if finds the addresses, displays maps and calculates routes, everything online as it appears. What it does not however, is displaying the current position, which is crucial if you want to use it for navigation. On the internet I found people claiming that the GPS on the Aquarius doesn’t work at all, or very badly. There is some commandline program for analyzing GPS reception, which I plan to try.
Update: The utility confirmed that the GPS is not able to get a fix, not even on a mountain with clear sky.

SPOT Connect

The SPOT Connect is a satellite messenger that I use fpr cross country paragliding. In contrast to other live tracking systems it also works in areas without GSM reception, as it transmits the current location directly to the GlobalStar satellite network. They have an app to control it for Android and iOS, but not yet for ubuntu. I told them two years ago that it would be nice to be able to start tracking on the device itself without having to do it in the app. Now that I just lost that app support, I asked them again what options I have. But as with lots of big companies, I have the impression the support staff has a database with answers and no means to escalate feature requests or even bug reports from customers. Then I remembered a site that I found two years ago when I got the device, where a guy reverse engineered parts of the comms protocol. And sure enough I got the python utility running inside my chroot environment on the phone. That allows me to send custom ok messages, but I have yet to find out how to start tracking.

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libreboot and trisquel

Last month I saw somebody on the fsfe mailing list talk about an OpenMoko phone. As I had one of those collecting dust in the drawer, I asked if anybody was interested. Promptly I got an offer to exchange it for a Lenovo X60 notebook with libreboot. I didn’t need another notebook, but libreboot seemed interesting enough, so I agreed. It came preinstalled with trisquel gnu linux, and with a docking station. I’m not sure if I heard about that distribution before. It is based on ubuntu, but includes only the free open libre stuff. The default desktop is gnome3. Since it’s a good fit with libreboot, I kept trisquel. The first impression was that it runs extremely well for such an old device. I was also amazed how rounded and complete a full on libre distro can be these days. Gone are the days where the compromises you had to make for freedom were hard to justify. The first thing, friends ask is about flash. But I don’t miss it at all, I mean html5 has been around for a while. At first, I started to install games for the kids. They run a lot better than on my old Atom netbook. As it’s my first device with a fingerprint reader, I had a little play installing this option for logging in, fully aware that it’s not that secure. The only two things that are not so optimal are sound and heat. Neither the speakers not the headphones give any sign of live, event hough the operating system seems to have recognized the sound card. This is not such a big deal, as the bluetooth headphones still work perfectly. The other issue is that it heats up a lot under full load. And when the core temperature hits 100°C it just switches off. This happened a couple of times when the BitCoin BlockChain synchronized. And it still happens once every second day.

Then, my XPS13 was stolen, and I needed something to fill the gap until I have a proper replacement. I must say it does the job well. I miss the XPS13 a lot, but at least I have something I can work on. And who knows how long it takes before I have an XPS13 again. They recently announced a new version with tiny bezels around the screen, bigger SSD and newer processors. But the new developer edition is not available yet, and the old version is not available any more. When it becomes available, I want to pay it with BitCoin, which also is not available yet. Dell accepts BitCoin payments in the US, Canada and the UK. I hope they will soon roll out worldwide, or at least to the rest of Europe. Once I can order on my terms, I will still have to wait about a month for delivery.

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xapo debit card backed by BitCoin

It will take a while until we can pay with BitCoin at most merchants. For the time being xapo introduced a visa debit card that credits your expenses directly from your BitCoin online wallet at xapo. Since it runs over the visa network, and since there are currency conversions involved, it can’t be as cheap and frictionless as BitCoin directly, but it is an interesting option nonetheless. Since I’m planning on cancelling my regular credit card, this could be an interesting intermediary solution. I found a couple of articles that more or less describe the card, but they all left some uncertainty. It appears that they only recently expanded their offer to Europe. But only cards with USD, EUR or GPB as nominal currency are available. That means for me that an additional conversion from CHF to EUR will be required, adding to the transaction costs.

So, first you create an account with xapo, which is as easy as with any other online service. Then you find an option to pre-order a debit card, which will require you to allow them to hijack your twitter and facebook accounts. I don’t have none of the two, so I was stuck for a moment. There is a support chat easily accessible, and they respond quickly. European customers just need to send some money from their regular bank account to the xapo wallet where it is converted to BitCoin. After that, you receive a debit card automatically.

I received mine last week. To enable it and get the pin code, I had to call a number in the UK with a fully automated computer system. On the web you will find different information about the card. The third party issuer seems to have prohibitive fees, which xapo promised to absorb. So, I’m a bit curious about the business model behind. but this post is about it’s usage. Since I planned it as a replacement for my regular Visa credit card, I tried it for online purchases first. I always thought Visa is Visa, after all Visa debit cards are uncommon around here. Turns out most online merchants only accept Visa credit cards, and wont go with debit cards. I have no idea why this is. Today it should be easy to verify a payment with a bank where the customer’s account is. That was not the case twenty years ago, but nowadays ….?

Then I used the card to buy some chewing gums and a train ticket. That worked like a charm. When I calculated the cost with the current CHF price that the android BitCoin wallet displayed, it was about CHF 5.99 which would be even less than the fees indicated. But as we all know BitCoin is very volatile, and so this calculation is difficult to carry out exactly. But I think it’s save to say that the fees with the two currency conversions are not as prohibitive as I feared. I don’t know if the merchants pay equally high fees as with credit cards, but I guess it’s for sure higher than with the Maestro debit cards that all local banks hand out to their customers.

To sum it up, it’s great that there is now a way to indirectly spend BitCoin for everyday purchases. Even if BitCoin is used in the background, this particular use case seems to add more friction than just using the Maestro card from my local bank. The minus that bugs me most, is that I can’t use it for online purchases.

Coop sbb xapo-card

 

Update

After the card initially failed for most online purchases, I asked the xapo staff about it. They couldn’t find a good reason why the transaction failed, nor were there any logs indicating reasons for the declines. Hence I kept trying, and indeed the last few times I used the card for online purchases, it was always successful, even with merchants that failed previously.
The other issue I had a close eye on was the fees. The Amazon transactions were free, which was most welcome as purse.io stopped working with amazon.de lately. All other card transactions carried a 3% fee, which is quite hefty. But compared to the CHF 120 I currently pay for my Visa credit card, that’s acceptable. So, the time to cancel the credit card has finally arrived.
I usually have the card charged with about CHF 100. After I used it to pay something, I can recharge it immediately with a simple BitCoin transaction.

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missing or lost -> stolen

When we went to our ski holiday last week, we had a lot of luggage. So we had to hurry when leaving or switching the train. It always worked out well, even when we had to run, or walk a stairway twice. When we left the train on the way back in our home town, I grabbed the heavy stuff as usual, but somehow missed my messenger bag with the notebook. Just outside the train I realized that it was missing, and asked my wife if she had it. She usually checks the seats before leaving. But she didn’t have my bag. We assumed we just overlooked it on the seat. Immediately we called the train company, and had to pay CHF 50 for somebody in the train to go search my bag. Nothing was found, but they told me that sometimes lost items are brought to a train station the days after. I was full of hope to see my stuff again. A couple of days later, my optimism fades. Ever more so, after I read articles about how much stuff is stolen in Swiss trains. We both noticed two black guys walking suspiciously back and forth in the train. At first I couldn’t imagine that they could grab the bag without us realizing. But after reading those stories, and especially since we really habitually check the seats before we leave, I start to think they might have taken it.

It’s just material, but still the loss hurts. We like to believe that these things happen somewhere else, but not here. We like to tell the stories of our parents who didn’t lock the door, and left the keys in the car. That just makes it more bitter when reality hits us. There are a couple of things that are difficult or even impossible to replace. The bag itself was from the Paragliding World Cup in Korea. I worked hard in the competitions for almost five years to make it into the World Cup. And this bag was one of the souvenirs. The notebook was by far the best computer I ever had. It’s a Dell XPS13 developer edition with Ubuntu pre-loaded. I didn’t allow it to get a single scratch in the 15 months I had it. If I have to order a new one, given I manage to allocate the funds for such a great device, I have to wait at least a month for delivery. The Trezor was a “first edition” given out only to the backers of the crowd funding campaign. The Prada sunglasses were from the outlet store. Just to get there would cost more than I saved on the regular price.
So, If you see somebody by chance with a brand new looking Dell XPS13 ultrabook
that doesn’t seem to belong to him, or a FlyGin messenger bag that has a Paragliding World Cup print, or with a red-black Mammut GoreTex Paclite jacket, then please report.

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Winter wonderland

I picked a marvellous day to go speedflying in Andermatt. See for yourself:

Categories: Paragliding | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Code coverage for C++

Ever since I wrote automated tests, I wondered how complete the coverage was. Of course you have a feeling which parts are better covered than others. For some legacy code you might prefer not to know at all. But I thought test coverage was something easy to do with a language running on a VM such as Java, but hard with C++. Some things are not as hard as you think, once you give it a try.

The thing that triggered my interest was the coveralls badge on the readme page of vexcl. By following it through, I learned that coveralls is just for presenting the results that are generated by gcov. Some more research showed what compiler- and linker flags I need to use. In addition I found out that lcov’s genhtml can generate nice human readable html reports, while gcovr writes machine readable xml reports. So the following is really all that needs to be added to your CMakeLists.txt:

OPTION(CODE_COVERAGE       "Generate code coverage reports using gcov" OFF)

IF(CODE_COVERAGE)
    SET(CMAKE_C_FLAGS          "${CMAKE_C_FLAGS}          
        -fprofile-arcs -ftest-coverage")
    SET(CMAKE_CXX_FLAGS        "${CMAKE_CXX_FLAGS}        
        -fprofile-arcs -ftest-coverage")
    SET(CMAKE_EXE_LINKER_FLAGS "${CMAKE_EXE_LINKER_FLAGS} 
        -fprofile-arcs -ftest-coverage")

    FILE(WRITE ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh "#! /bin/sh"\n)
    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh "lcov --zerocounters 
        --directory . --base-directory ${MyApp_MAIN_DIR}"\n)
    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh "lcov --capture --initial 
        --directory . --base-directory ${MyApp_MAIN_DIR} --no-external 
        --output-file MyAppCoverage"\n)
    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh "make test"\n)
    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh "lcov --no-checksum 
        --directory . --base-directory ${MyApp_MAIN_DIR} --no-external 
        --capture --output-file MyAppCoverage.info"\n)
    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh "lcov 
        --remove MyAppCoverage.info '*/UnitTests/*' '*/modassert/*' 
        -o MyAppCoverage_filtered.info"\n)
    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh 
        "genhtml MyAppCoverage_filtered.info"\n)

    FILE(APPEND ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh 
        "gcovr -o coverage_summary.xml -r ${MyApp_MAIN_DIR} -e '/usr.*' 
         -e '.*/UnitTests/.*' -e '.*/modassert/.*' -x --xml-pretty"\n)

    ADD_CUSTOM_TARGET(CODE_COVERAGE bash ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh
                        WORKING_DIRECTORY ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}
                        COMMENT "run the unit tests with code coverage and produce an index.html report"
                        SOURCES  ${PROJECT_BINARY_DIR}/coverage.sh)
    SET_TARGET_PROPERTIES(CODE_COVERAGE PROPERTIES
        FOLDER "Testing"
    )

ENDIF(CODE_COVERAGE)

The resulting html page is very detailed and shows you the untested lines in your source files in red.
From the produced xml file it’s easy to extract the overall percentage for example. You could use this figure to fail your nightly builds when it’s decreasing.

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prevent or react

Beginning of this year, there was a very tragic event prominently present in all newspapers across Switzerland. The whole thing was so tragic, that I won’t add a link here. But there is one aspect, that kept me thinking for the last two weeks. Today’s blog post by Bruce Schneier triggered me to write about it. There was a family father who fed his family from selling smart phones on online auction sites without delivering anything. Apparently he did that for years. They couldn’t get hold of him because he moved house every couple of months. In contras to places like Nigeria, I didn’t think this was even possible here in Switzerland.

First of all, I don’t think that’s the profession he imagined for himself. There must have gone something terribly wrong long before. I think one has to be very desperate to become a professional cheater. Most measures our society has in place against such behaviour are reactive. Bad behaviour is punished, and the prospect of the punishment should keep the hesitant from misbehaving.

In certain areas of commerce it’s easier. In a brick and mortar store, you get the goods and pay directly. If you take the goods and run out of the store, chances are somebody will follow or somebody will stop you. This kind of theft is also easier for the police to pursue. But there are other areas where you need to bring a certain trust. That’s for example if you order something online and pay upfront. If it is a big name store, you may know it’s reputation. If they wouldn’t deliver, you ‘d tell your friends. This in turn could influence the reputation of the shop. With sites like ebay that have more participants than could any individual keep track of, it doesn’t work as easy. That’s why they have reputation systems built in. There are certain ways how you could trick them. I have no ideas how well that would work out, but the only way to prevent that would be to require for example a social security number instead of just an email address to register. Other countries issued electronic passports for a while which could be used for identification in such cases. Whether this is desired is another question.

Ebay and ricardo do offer some sort of escrow service. But nobody seems to make use of it. Certainly not the victims of the above mentioned iphone scammer. Some may already know where I’m leading to. That’s an area where BitCoin can shine. With it’s built in, easy (soon) to use  multi signature escrow system, certain types of fraud almost disappear over night. If the system doesn’t allow cheating, there is no need for punishment after somebody was ripped off, or threats against such behaviour. So which is better, prevention or reaction paired with menace?

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decentralized social communication

When you think about social networks, do you even realize how centralized and compartmentalized the prevalent systems are? Neither centralization nor artificial borders are inherent traits of a network though. Imagine you could only talk to customers of the same phone company you use. Or you could exchange emails only with customers of the same service provider. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? And yet this lack of interoperability is the reality with most social networks today.

Blogging -> wordpress

Blogging is about the only category here that is fairly decentralized. You can host your own blog without any problem. Even though wordpress seems to have the lion’s share of feeds, rss and atom are open standards. And indeed lots of products and platforms offer that functionality. And most important: you can freely choose the software that fetches all the news for you. The same system is also used for podcasts, videocasts and various other content you can subscribe to. Lately, wordpress is even used increasingly to build regular websites. It is also what powers the blog you’re currently reading.

Microblogging -> twister

Everybody knows twitter. People who use it say it was great before they had to start pleasing their share holders. It was used for communicating in the North African revolutions. Sounds ironic, given it’s centralized nature. It’s easy to revoke free speech with centralized systems. Nobody is astonished when it happens in turkey.  Lately I read that even in the UK they think about blocking twitter when things are going out of control.

There was a more open alternative called identica, but I don’t know if it’s still used a lot. I saw twister mentioned a while ago, and thought that’s something I should have a closer look at. Only last week I installed it and started playing with it. It triggered new interest in the whole topic. It is based on BitCoin and torrent systems, thus completely decentralized. A blockchain is used to register users, and torrents to distribute the content. Installing is as simple as adding a ppa (personal package archive from launchpad.net) and apt-get install it. As I don’t use twitter, I don’t know for sure, but I think the user experience should be similar except for ads. And while twitter provided rss feeds a long time ago, but stopped due to monetization, it is no problem with twister. While they say it’s in alpha stage, I had no issues, and the experience is better than with many commercial software. One downside it currently has is that a lot of handles for big company names or celebrity names were reserved early on by hwo knows whom. There is no mechanism to transfer a handle other than sharing the secret key. Maybe an expiration model such as with namecoin would be appropriate here. My handle is @ulrichard, if you want to follow me.

Social networks -> diaspora or gnu social?

I never really got it why I should be on facebook. You could describe their business model as a man in the middle attack. You chat with friends and there is always someone nearby who listens in and takes notes. Then he sells the information he gathered. And if he pleases so, he can even block you from chatting with your friends altogether. Sounds over the top? Think about it.

I do have a google+ account, but I actually never used it. It was forced on me to be able to keep uploading videos to youtube. The same criticism as for facebook also apply to google+. But the worst thing is that they are not interoperable. Why do people have to be on the same platform to interact? That is a huge step backwards.

Diaspora was touted as an alternative for a long time. I wanted to give it a try, and I routinely check the packaging status. Usually I only use software that I can apt-get install, and thus is automatically updated, cleanly uninstalled, and I can check what files belong to it and where they go. If it is written in a language and environment that I’m familiar with, I might compile it to give it a try. I’m not familiar with ruby at all. Apart from that, I make very few exceptions from my apt-get rule. So, I’m still waiting for the diaspora packages.

Then I recently learned about gnusocial. It also looks viable, but again, no deb package. So I’m waiting here as well.

Messengers and Video calls -> Tox

Skype used to be great before it was sold to Microsoft. We used it a lot to phone home on our South America trip in 2007. Then GoogleTalk used to be even better until they terminated xmpp federation, and subsequently even switched to a proprietary protocol.

For text messages, xmpp is still perfect, but for voice calls it was difficult for a while. I once tried mumble, but can’t remember at the moment, what I didn’t like about it. My SIP VoIP experiments didn’t lead anywhere. And all the proprietary apps like WhatsApp really don’t cut it for me.

Only through twister I learned about tox. It’s still a mystery to me why I didn’t know about it sooner. It is easy to apt-get install from a ppa, and just works. They say it’s at an early stage and can be buggy. I had no issues so far. Nothing more to say… other than my tox id : 75A6B5F621BF142FA836E58A96023EE8F51AE0446FD85B2FBAFB378F4034E265EFF16B919A7A

Chat -> IRC, BitMessage, TorChat

I almost forgot to mention chat. IRC has been there forever. In my early chat experiences in the nineties I didn’t know about the technology behind, but in retrospect I assume it was powered by IRC. I still use IRC regularly, mainly on freenode to discuss about OpenSource software.

There is BitMessage which uses some ideas from BitCoin to run a fully anonymous stealth communication network. I like the idea and the concept, but getting a message through can sometimes take it’s time.

And recently I learned about TorChat. It worked fine the one time I used it. It makes use of the tor onion router to hide the communication, but appart from that it’s not associated with the tor project.

 

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wake up to a clean state

I used to have problems when my ultrabook woke up from sleeping mode. Nothing serious, but annoying. One thing was that the empathy messenger application fully occupied one CPU core, effectively transforming the power out of the battery into heat. I grew tired of manually terminate it every time. So I did some research, and put the following lines into  /etc/pm/sleep.d/20_empathy_cpu_hog :

case "${1}" in
    resume|thaw)
        killall empathy-gabble
        ;;
esac

The other problem was the ssh connection that I keep to my server. After waking up from sleep it took a while to time out. Now, I terminate it right after wakeup, so that it can be automatically re-established. To accomplish this , I wrote the following lines into /etc/pm/sleep.d/30_ssh_ulrichard :

#! /bin/bash
case "${1}" in
    resume|thaw)
        kill `ps aux | grep ssh | grep user@server.ch \
                 | grep -v grep | awk '{print $2}'`
        ;;
esac

I love linux, where problems are rare, every problem can be solved, and the solution is just a few lines away…

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Paying online without a credit card

I can still remember the times when travelling without a credit card could be really inconvenient. But since Maestro and Cirrus cards work around the globe, it’s fine without. The time where shopping on the internet without a credit card was inconvenient to impossible was not so long ago. In a recent post, I announced that I don’t plan to renew my credit card. So here are some hints on how to get by without. BitCoin is the tool of choice as it has so many advantages.

On christmas we usually play a game with the familiy of my wife. Everybody gets assigned a random person to make a gift. Beforehand we distribute our wish lists. My stuff is usually from online sites. The problem is, I’m the only one with a credit card in this circle. So what looks easy to me, might be difficult to order for the others. But the democratization of money, which BitCoin is about, is going to make online commerce a lot easier. Soon anybody with a computer or a phone will be allowed to participate.

Businesses that directly accept BitCoin

Even though there are thousands of businesses listed in the directories to accept BitCoin worldwide, only a few of them are in Switzerland. Most of them are in niche areas, selling goods that most people rarely need. And usually you search for goods rather than places where you can spend your money. Some of the American giants like dell, overstock, tigerdirect, newegg or adafruit deliver abroad at prohibitive costs, not at all, or only allow BitCoin payments for domestic clients. But sometimes you stumble across a site that accepts BitCoin by pure coincidence like for example nitrokey, spycoins or reelhouse.

Movies

Call me old school, but I don’t like subscriptions to watch movies. Yes NetFlix is a lot cheaper than the other options we have in Switzerland, but I just don’t like subscriptions that renew automatically, cost you when you don’t use it, and have notice periods when you want to terminate. Instead I want to select the movie I want to watch, and pay for it. Basta. Why is that so difficult? No wonder movies get pirated all the time. If it were so easy to pay for what you want, and the prices were reasonable, there would be no incentive to download movies from torrents or p2p. The music industry struggled for a while with the same problem. But nowadays you can download music at reasonable prices and it’s not even crippled with DRM anymore. When will the movie industry learn that making interesting offers is better than trying to break the internet? When I bought the movie “The rise and rise of BitCoin” on vimeo, I could pay with BitCoin and download the movie without DRM. The experience was so good, that I started exploring the video on demand section on vimeo. But when I wanted to buy the next movie, there was no BitCoin option, as with the previous one it ran through a voucher code. So I wanted to pay it with PayPal. But it kept failing and asking for a credit card. It just wouldn’t use my balance. It didn’t state it clearly, but somehow vimeo requested the address information associated with a credit card. Why that? Probably because of some area restriction which is almost as stupid as DRM itself. And this type of restriction clearly didn’t apply to the movie I was about to buy. Luckily somebody from “The flying Frenchies” told me that their video is also available from reelhouse. They natively support BitCoin. You can choose to rent and watch in the browser with flash, or buy and download DRM free. That’s exactly how it should be. I found my movie platform, and hope their selection will expand quickly.

Amazon and buy by proxy with discount

No, they still don’t accept BitCoin directly. But you can either buy gift cards from gyft.com or egifter.com, or even better let someone else place the order on your behalf and pay him in BitCoin. That is how purse.io and brawker work. Purse.io is exclusively geared towards amazon. You create a new wish list with amazon, configure your shipping address and populate it. Then you copy the URL of your wish list into purse and select your desired discount. People who want to buy your bitcoins make offers with differing discounts, usually in the range of 7%. You send your coins into escrow and select an offer. Once the goods are delivered, you release the coins from escrow and the buyer gets them. As it is geared towards amazon there are less variables, and thus it runs very smoothly. If your item is listed with amazon, but delivered by a 3rd party seller, purse might have problems processing. That’s when I tried brawker. Here you populate one or more edit fields with URL’s containing direct links to the products you want. They can be on any site. That’s why you also see strange things listed. But the process is otherwise the same as with purse. One thing I noticed is that the escrow BitCoin address is actually a P2SH multisig address. But to release, I didn’t have to sign the transaction with my BitCoin refund address. Thus I don’t really know what this is about. Finally, I sould mention snapcard and bitspend. They offered similar service where they executed the orders and charged in BitCoin. BitSpend closed long ago, and SnapCard changed their business model.

Donations

I used to do donations for Mozilla and SeaShepherd through SnapCard, but these days I do direct BitCoin donations only. And in fact many non profit organisations accept direct donations: Apache, Mozilla, LibreOffice, GnuPG (through the Wau Holland foundation), Electronic Frontier Foundation, digitale-nchhaltigkeit.ch, Wikipedia, Gliding Everest, Ebola fighters, Koptimism, BitCoinFoundation, to name just a few.

Auctions

There used to be an auction site that ran on BitCoin. It was called BitMit and was very cool. For some reason they closed a while ago. I don’t know of a good alternative at the moment, but there are better things to come. The most prominent being OpenBazaar. The great thing about it ist that it’s not jsut another centralized service, but completely decentralized.

Food

In some areas you find lots of restaurants where you can pay with BitCoin. In Switzerland, I know only of Kafi Schoffel in Zürich. But this post is about the internet. You can order food for BirCoin on lieferservice.ch, which for sure has something in your area.

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