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The return of the Snoopers’ Charter

Like a boomerang curry, the Snoopers’ Charter (news passim) is back – and with a vengeance this time.

image of Home Secretary Theresa May
Nosy Home Secretary Theresa May, the woman who wants to read everyone’s emails
Wired UK reports that this morning’s Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s legislative programme for the next year. In her speech in the House of Lords, the Queen said new legislation would “modernise the law on communications data.”

The new legislation will be known as the Investigatory Powers Bill and will not only cover everything included in the previously-blocked charter, but also allow security services to intercept the content of communications in bulk.

The Bill will allegedly “provide police and intelligence agencies with the tools” to keep people safe, whilst changes will also be made to close “ongoing capability gaps” that the government believes prevent law enforcement and intelligence services from tackling terrorism and serious crime. The new bill would also introduce “appropriate oversight and safeguard arrangements.” The latter are long overdue.

Goodbye Mandriva

Things were never easy for Mandriva, which was founded in 1999 as MandrakeSoft: with Mandrake Linux the company was originally aiming for a user-friendly desktop Linux. However, the major breakthrough for Linux on the desktop failed to appear and thus financial squeezes run like a strand through the company’s history in spite of the rapid expansion of the product portfolio for commercial solutions, German technology website heise reports.

Mandriva logo

The company did achieve a successful launch on the French stock market in 2001. However, MandrakeSoft had to apply for creditor protection only two years later. The company’s renaming as Mandriva took place in 2005 in the wake of the merger with Brazil’s Conectiva; Mandrake’s founder Gaël Duval left the company shortly afterwards due to a dispute.

There were financial problems once again in 2010 and Mandriva (at that time the company had over 70 employees) was looking for a buyer. Though an investor was eventually found, some 30 former Mandriva employees , developers and community members nevertheless founded the Mandriva fork Mageia at the end of that year. The fork was intended to ensure the continuity of Mandriva Linux since Mandriva’s commitment to its desktop Linux distribution had declined sharply. Insolvency loomed once again at the end of 2011, but was able to be repulsed ultimately with a recapitalisation.

The idea for OpenMandriva arose from the realisation that there was no money to be made with Linux for the desktop: an independent association was to continue producing Mandriva Linux as a community project. With Mageia and OpenMandriva there are now two community distributions, both of which have nevertheless lost some of their verve: the current Mageia 4 was released at the start of 2014; and OpenMandriva LX 2014.1 from September 2014. However, work is continuing on new versions of both distributions.

Mandriva is now in liquidation according to French company register Lawyer Frédérique Lévy has been appointed as the administrator. The and are no longer available.

Reposted from the author’s own blog.

Registration for Barncamp 2015 now open

Barncamp is a low-cost, rural DIY skills sharing event open to everyone, including UK activists, campaigners, people involved in social and community groups, and anybody else with an interest in technology and how to subvert it to put it to good use.

All skill levels are welcome and the organisers promise that workshops are not too geeky due to the infamous nerd gag implemented at every Barncamp

Barncamp was last held in 2013 (news passim). Once again we’ll be heading up the beautiful Wye Valley.

Barncamp 2015 publicity

BarnCamp 2015 is taking place on the 19th, 20th and 21st June and, as mentioned above, registration for Barncamp has now opened.

The event will cost £40 (on the gate) or £35 in advance (if you book and pay before 15th June 2015); concessions will be available upon request and via pre-booking.

The cost includes 4 nights’ camping and breakfast, lunch and dinner from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon included (9 meals). The food will be primarily vegan with some dairy as optional extras.

Details of this year’s workshops are also being finalised.

As usual, Bristol Wireless volunteers will be assisting in crewing Barncamp. How can we resist playing with technology in such stunning surroundings? :)

For news and updates about BarnCamp 2015 and other HacktionLab events, please sign-up to the low-traffic announcements mailing list.

Claverton, Somerset helps fund its own broadband connection

image of fibre-optic cableThe village of Claverton, a couple of miles south of Bath, was not best pleased when residents discovered they were to be bypassed by the £2 bn. scheme to provide the rural UK with superfast broadband.

They decided to do something about it, according to yesterday’s Western Daily Press.

What they decided to do was put their hands in their pockets and pay to upgrade the village’s telecommunications connection.

In the end the 70 households in the village paid for two kilometres of underground ducting and four kilometres of overhead and underground fibre cabling. Claverton now has connection speeds up to 80 Mbps.

Parish councillor Dr. Rodger Sykes, who is CEO of a technology company and led the residents’ campaign, commented as follows: “”Rather than just complaining and waiting for someone else to solve the problem, I’m very proud of the way the community got together… This is truly Big Society in action.”

BT also contributed to improving the village’s connection, as confirmed by Dr. Sykes: “”We realised the high costs involved meant Claverton would not be upgraded as part of BT’s normal commercial fibre broadband roll-out for some time, so we set about working with the company to jointly solve the problem.”

In spite of praise for BT on this occasion, the company’s rural broadband roll-out has been heavily criticised by villagers across the South West, as well as exasperated MPs and councillors.

The right to install other software on your devices

Safecast is a global project to map radiation data from around the world and release this information openly. When the project had just started, they used modified hardware, together with their own custom software and a few clever tweaks, to allow anyone to participate in the project. This kind of ingenuity, the ability to re-purpose or adapt existing technology by replacing or supplementing its software, should be permitted and encouraged by the law. In the example of Safecast, fortunately nobody prevented them from being innovative.

However, we all depend on the possibility to install or replace programs that we use every day, to increase our security, privacy or convenience – or just because we happen to like using a different program on our device(s) of choice.

Today, on the International Day Against DRM (news passim), the undersigned organisations are calling on lawmakers to safeguard the right to tinker for everyone. To make sure that the owner of every device is allowed to replace or supplement the software in that device if they so choose, thereby empowering owners to control their own property. Many manufacturers today add technological restrictions that prevent device owners from changing their devices, or having someone do so for them. This can be in breach of the licences on the devices (as with Free Software/Open Source Software licences, which grant the rights to use, study, share and improve the software for any purpose). It is clear that any right to tinker must also be coupled with a legal provision that prevents technological restrictions of the same right.

To successfully guarantee that device owners are in control of their own technology, the following organisations are asking for the right to tinker be guaranteed for everyone, and that technological restrictions that interfere with this right be limited by law.

Droning on with Ubuntu?

The world’s first drone powered by the Ubuntu Linux distribution has arrived, Softpedia reports.

Erle Robotics, a Spanish company known for all types of robots powered by Linux, launched the world’s first Ubuntu-powered drone on 3rd May.

The Erle-Copter has a flight time of some 20 minutes and can handle a payload of 2 kg.

As regards price, the Erle-Copter Ubuntu Core special edition drone costs €399 for the very basic version, which won’t fly. If you want to buy an Erle-Copter that flies and has the basic components, you will have to pay at least €574.

“Erle-Copter Ubuntu Core special edition drone is a Ubuntu-powered quadcopter that includes official support for new app store for drones and robots. It has official ROS support, capable of the different flight modes and [is] ideal for outdoor operations,” says Erle Robotics’ Alejandro Hernández.

The version of Ubuntu used by the Erle-Copter is Snappy Ubuntu Core, a new version of Ubuntu for clouds and devices comprising a minimal server image with the same libraries as the conventional Ubuntu distribution, but applications are provided through a simpler mechanism.

Reposted from the author’s blog.

Debian GNU/Hurd 2015 released

Before Linus Torvalds came up with the Linux kernel over 2 decades ago, the was GNU, dubbed the Universal Operating System.

Since 1990 the GNU Project has been working on the GNU Hurd (usually referred to as the Hurd), the multiserver microkernel written as part of GNU. The Hurd consists of a set of protocols and server processes (also called daemons) running on the GNU Mach microkernel. The Hurd aims to surpass the Unix kernel in functionality, security, and stability, while remaining largely compatible with it.

And yesterday the release of Debian GNU/Hurd 2015 was announced.

Debian GNU Hurd logo

The release announcement reads as follows:

It is with huge pleasure that the Debian GNU/Hurd team announces the release of Debian GNU/Hurd 2015.

This is a snapshot of Debian “sid” at the time of the stable Debian “jessie” release (April 2015), so it is mostly based on the same sources. It is not an official Debian release, but it is an official
Debian GNU/Hurd port release.

The installation ISO images can be downloaded from Debian Ports in the usual three Debian flavors: NETINST, CD, or DVD. Besides the friendly Debian installer, a pre-installed disk image is also available there, making it even easier to try Debian GNU/Hurd. The easiest way to run it is inside a VM such as qemu.

Debian GNU/Hurd is currently available for the i386 architecture with more than 80% of the Debian archive, and more to come!

Since the last snapshot release coinciding with “wheezy”, the init system has been switched to sysvinit for a more Debian-like experience. Further changes since the last snapshot include:

* The core GNU Hurd and GNU Mach packages were updated to versions 0.6 and 1.5, respectively. Besides numerous other improvements, they bring vastly improved stability under load and prolonged uptime.

* The networking drivers were migrated to user-space drivers using the NetDDE framework and a Linux-2.6.32 codebase.

Notable new or upgraded packages which required considerable porting effort and/or are known to work well on Debian GNU/Hurd include Iceweasel 31 ESR, XFCE4 4.10, 7.7 and Emacs 24.4.

Please make sure to read the configuration information, the FAQ (or its latest version), and the translator primer to get a grasp of the great features of GNU/Hurd.

We would like to thank all the people who have worked on GNU/Hurd in the past. There were not many people at any given time (and still not many people today, please join!), but in the end a lot of people have contributed one way or the other. Thanks everybody!

Government’s fast broadband programme ‘feeble’

UK residents can hardly fail to have noticed that a general election is taking place next Thursday, 7th May.

Bill GrimseyAs is usual with elections, the record of the previous administration, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, the UK’s first peacetime coalition since that of January 1919 to October 1922, is coming under intense scrutiny from all quarters.

Our attention was caught by a piece in yesterday’s online edition of the Mirror penned by Bill Grimsey, the former chief executive of the Wickes and Iceland retail chains.

image of fibre optic cableOne only has to read the headline – Ignore Tory propaganda, the high street tells you where our economy’s really at – to ascertain that Mr Grimsey is no fan of the coalition.

However, his article, whilst concentrating mainly on the perceived lack of economic recovery on the High Street and in the retail sector, Mr Grimsey also attacks the government’s efforts to modernise the country’s internet connectivity.

Mr Grimsey wrote:

Other hopeless policies include laughable attempts to tax pasties and a feeble attempt to roll out fast broadband across the UK. We know technology is transforming the way we shop and Britain needs to start preparing for the future, ensuring local authorities wire all high streets with no black spots. Yet, Tory ministers seem stuck in the 1980s and we still lag behind Korea and Finland in broadband speed. Even Latvia and Romania have better Internet connection speed than the UK.

Do you agree or disagree with Bill Grimsey? Let us know in the comments below.

June sees Brussels Open standards for ICT procurement conference

If you work in public sector ICT procurement and can be in Brussels from 10.00 a.m. onwards on Friday 12th June this year, then there’s a forthcoming event that may be of interest to you.

It’s entitled Open Standards for ICT Procurement: Saving While Reducing ICT Lock-In and is being organised by DG Connect, otherwise known as the European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology.

promotional banner

Under the EU’s Digital Agenda, the European Commission is committed to providing guidance on the link between ICT Standardisation and Public Procurement to help public authorities use standards to promote efficiency and reduce lock-in.

Using ICT open standards results in:

  • Higher savings when procuring ICT;
  • An increased level of competition among suppliers;
  • Compliance with EU Public Procurement directives.

The preliminary agenda (which is subject to change) is set out below.


Registration of participants and coffee


Introductory greetings

Speaker: Viorel Peca, Head of Unit F2 “Innovation” – DG CONNECT


Practice 1 – The Estonian Interoperability Framework: an innovative approach to the adoption of open standards

Speaker: Aet Rahe, Head of ICT Policy Department (State Information Systems Department), Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications


Practice 2 – A Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) dependent on Open Standards

Speaker: Tomas Gustavsson, CEO/CTO, PrimeKey Solutions AB




Practice 3 – The Common Assessment Method for Standards and Specifications (CAMSS): a framework for assessing interoperability standards and specifications

Susanne Wigard, Programme Manager, ISA Unit, EC DG Connect


Practice 4 – Quantifying the impacts of PCP procurements in Europe based on evidence from the ICT sector

Speaker: Sara Bedin, European Independent Expert on Innovation Procurement (PCP and PPI)




Practice 5 – Saving up to 70% of your costs in a move: from Proprietary to Open Source

Speaker: TBC


Practice 6 – The Economic Impact of migrating ICT systems to Open Standards: exit & migration costs

Speaker: TBC, EC DG Connect


Preliminary results from the ICT Procurement Survey

Speaker: Giovanna Galasso, Senior Manager, PwC Italy – Information Technology and Services



The event will be held at Avenue de Beaulieu, 25 in Brussels (map) and is free to attend, but subject to availability. Attendees will have to register in advance

The next Debian testing stable version’s codename is stretch

Debian logoWith Debian 8, codenamed ‘jessie’, currently frozen and due for release as the next stable release at the end of April (news passim), many may have been wondering what the next Debian testing stable release will be.

However, this particular question has now been answered. Writing on reddit, user dimitrifromparis has revealed the next character from the Toy Story series of films to be used as a Debian release codename.

After the jessie release, there will be a new release codename, “stretch”, and testing will be an alias for that.

See the Debian wiki for an overview of past Debian production release codenames.

Besides testing stable, Debian also has a testing unstable version, named sid. Sid is never released as such and is named after Sidney, the boy next door in Toy Story who always broke his toys. Needless to say, Debian sid is definitely not recommended for production environments.

Originally published on the author’s own site.