• In The End Freedom Is What Matters

    Yesterday I’ve been asked by a good friend of mine why I am investing so much time in the FSFE (Free Software¹ Foundation Europe) instead of putting more energy in other organisations with more focus on privacy issues. The background of his question is that I’m quite concerned about governmental and commercial surveillance and the lack of really private ways to communicate with each other and the impact this has on our online and offline behaviour. With Laura Poitras’ recent movie “Citizenfour” awarded with an Oscar, I use the media attention as an icebreaker to talk with my friends about these topics if the situation allows it.

    Back to question which can also be read as “Why are you investing your time in Free Software instead of privacy which seems to touch you more?”. To be honest I had to think about this a bit. But then I remembered Jacob Appelbaum saying[…] what people used to call liberty and freedom we now call privacy“. And I think that’s the reason why I stick with putting my energy as activist in FSFE rather than in other (very good!) organisations: Because I think that freedom is the foundation of everything we call privacy today and in the future. I’ll explain that in the following paragraphs. [Read More…]

  • I love Taskwarrior, therefore I love Free Software

    ilovefs-heart-pxIt’s Valentine’s day and you’re writing a blog post? Are you nuts?” you might ask. Well, but it’s not only Valentine’s day but also I love Free Software day. This day is proclaimed every year on February 14 by the Free Software Foundation Europe to thank all developers and contributors of Free Software (software you can use for any purpose, which source code you or others can analyze, which can be modified and distributed).

    As last year with ZNC, I want to say thank you to a specific project which easies my daily life. As you might know by other blog posts here, organisation of tasks, mails and almost everything else is a very important issue for me. So this year I want to write some lines about Taskwarrior, taskd and Mirakel which enable me to take some free time without thinking of task which I could possibly forget to accomplish later on.

    My head is full of ideas and mental To-Do lists and so I’m in need of a handy tool which allows me to write down and organise items at any place and time: At my desk, in bus or train, when I’m offline or abroad. And its important that I don’t have (analog and digital) bits of paper everywhere, so I need a system that syncs all task inputs and outputs. I tried a lot of tools but Taskwarrior was the best so far. It used the well-known “Getting Things Done” concept with different priorities. Taskwarrior also supports tagging tasks, organising them in projects, due dates, postponing, making tasks dependend on others and much more. And Taskwarrior has a (modifyable) algorhythm that sorts your tasks by urgency levels, so that the most important tasks always are on the top of the list. Even now I just took a glance at what Taskwarrior is able to do!

    Picture of a woman with a chalk board which expresses her apreciation for Taskwarrior

    Someone who loves Taskwarrior as much as I do

    Services and programs that organise tasks aren’t very special!” one might think. But if you prefer sorting tasks digitally, you cannot simply chose a random todo-organising service provider. Most of the tools and services on the market aren’t free and transparent. All input may no longer belong to you, all the gathered information (which is a lot if you think of it!) could be used for targeted ads or worse. You cannot modify the algorhythm to suit your needs. And what happens if the service provider goes bankrupt? All data, all project history and all pending tasks would be lost at once. So using a free (as in freedom), decentralised, maybe self-hosted service is the best idea to organise your tasks decentrally. [Read More…]

  • My candidacy for FSFE’s Fellowship Election

    Dear FSFE-Fellow,

    you hopefully visited this page because you want to give your precious vote for the FSFE’s Fellowship election (which starts to February 20) to one of the three candidates, Nicolas, Felix, or to me.

    The Fellowship Election takes place once a year. The elected person will be part of FSFE’s General Assembly, its most important organ, for 2 years. The GA makes important decisions like the strategic agenda or budget plans. The two Fellowship representatives have the honorable task to attend these discussion in the name of the hundreds and thousands of Fellows. Besides that, they can also use their weight to push changes to the FSFE which all Fellows might benefit from. So these elections are a very important democratic tool for YOU to influence FSFE’s future path.

    In the next few paragraphs I want to tell you who I am, why I want to be your representative, why I may be the right person for that task and also why you may not want to vote for me.

    About me

    My name is Max Mehl, 24 years old and currently living in Konstanz, Germany, next to the Swiss border. I’m in my last semester of Politics and Administration. Besides I work as an IT freelancer (computer support, websites, server administration) where I work with Free Software as much as possible. In some months I will go to Tanzania, Africa for half a year to work there as a volunteer teacher.

    My connection to FSFE began 2011 when I subscribed FSFE’s translators mailing list. It didn’t took long until I became a proud Fellow like you. But all the time I wanted to do more – not because I had a lot of time but because I felt that this Free Software organisation is something special. And as luck would have it, I was able to do my six months internship (required by my university) at FSFE’s Berlin office where I met many staffers, GA members, Fellows and volunteers. With this motivation and gained knowledge I joined the germanophone team where I am as active as in web@ or translators@. On my FSFE team page there’re listed some campaigns and activities which I am involed into.

    In my free time I am leading the local scouts group, and if there’s some time I play guitar and Pen&Paper RPGs.

    My goals as your representative

    During my internship where I was able to look behind many scenes I realised that one thing needs improvement for Fellows: more insight and transparency. Admit it: We’re supporting the FSFE financially (and that’s great!) but do you exactly know which people are using it for what? Wouldn’t it be good to have the possibility to 1. get to know the great people behind FSFE and 2. get to know what they are currently working on? [Read More…]

  • Yourls URL Shortener for Turpial

    Maybe you know Yourls, a pretty cool URL shortener which you can set up on your own server very easily. Link shorteners are nice to have because

    1. you can share long links with short urls and
    2. you can view and organise all links you ever shared (incl. statistics and so on).

    There are many alternatives like bit.ly, ur1.ca and so on, but Yourls belongs to YOU and you don’t have to pay attention to ToS changes or the provider’s financial status. AND you can use whichever domain you own, for example in my case it’s s.mehl.mx/blabla.

    And maybe you also know Turpial, a Twitter client for GNU/Linux systems (I don’t like Twitter’s web page). Until lately I used Choqok, a KDE optimised client, but there were many things which annoyed me: No image previews, slow development, unconvenient reply behaviour and so on. And hey, why not trying something new? So I started to use Turpial which seems to solve all these critic points. Well, like always I missed some preferences to configure. But since it’s Free Software, one is able to look how the software works and to change it – and to share the improvements which I’ll do in the next step! [Read More…]

  • Next station: Tanzania

    Diesen Beitrag gibt es auch auf Deutsch / This post is also available in German

    As some of your already may know, I’m going to Tanzania for six months starting in March this year. In the city Moshi I’ll work as a volunteer computer teacher in a local institute for computer education.
    In the upcoming weeks and months you can hopefully see some updates and pictures on this blog. Until then I’d like to answer some frequently asked questions:

    Where the heck is Tanzania or Moshi?

    tanzania-mapTanzania is on Africa’s east coast, Kenya on its north coast border, Mozambique on its south. Some important localities in Tanzania are Lake Victoria, the Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar island.
    The capital is Dodoma, whereas the largest and most important city is Dar es Salaam. Moshi, where I will reside, is one of the largest cities with around 140.000 inhabitants. It’s right beneath the Kilimanjaro.

    What exactly are you doing there?

    [Read More…]

  • Sharing is caring – my Git instance

    Some days ago I noticed another time that I have far too less knowledge about Git.
    “Time to change that!”, I thought and set up my own Git instance and also installed gitweb for better usability.

    Upside 1: I can keep track of the many (mainly bash) scripts I wrote in the past and all the changes I will adopt in the future.
    Upside 2: You can hopefully benefit from using and reading my code. All code is licensed under GNU GPL v3 so please feel free to use, study, share and improve my work!

    Some noteworthy projects I’m (a bit) proud of:

    Any questions, ideas or improvements? Please contact me!

  • Freie Kommunikation ist die Essenz des Menschseins

    Im Folgenden werde ich – durch meinen Gemütszustand etwas angefeuert – darlegen, wieso digitale Kommunikationsüberwachung Gift für unsere Gesellschaft ist, weil sie nichts anderes als Millionen Abhörwanzen und Kameras in unseren privatesten Räumen ist.

    Seit einigen Monaten hat sich ein Grundkonflikt in den politischen Debatten verstärkt: Welche Kommunikation sollte überwacht werden dürfen und welche nicht? Ausschließlich inländische Kommunikation? Geschäftliche E-Mails? Telefongespräche über 20 Sekunden Dauer?
    Und parallel dazu bekomme ich seit mehreren Monaten regelmäßig Wutanfälle, nämlich wenn ich Kommentare von “Experten” und Laien lese, die solche künstliche Trennungen von Kommunikation und deren unterschiedliche Bewertung immer noch ernsthaft in Erwägung ziehen.

    Wieso ist Kommunikation = Kommunikation?

    Weil Kommunikation – in welcher Form auch immer – schützenswert ist und privat bleiben muss, weil wir uns sonst als Gesellschaft aufgeben. Es ist witzlos, gesetzlich eine künstliche Trennung zwischen Kommunikationsarten ziehen zu wollen. Nur die Ewiggestrigen können ernsthaft vorhaben, analoge und digitale Unterhaltung, Schriftwechsel und Meinungsaustausch zu trennen und deren Inhalt unterschiedlich zu behandeln.

    Ja, die technischen Wege der Kommunikationsformen sind unterschiedlich: Bei der einen rege ich durch Muskelbewegungen Vibrationen in der Luft an, die bei meinem Gegenüber im Ohr zu sinnvollen Informationen verarbeitet werden. Bei der anderen schicke ich (un)willkürlich Nullen und Einsen durch Netzwerke, die durch immer noch atemberaubende Technik an der anderen Seite wieder lesbar werden. Doch die Qualität ist dieselbe.

    Stellen wir uns einmal vor…

    Nehmen wir ein realitätsnahes Beispiel: Frau und Herr Schuster. [Read More…]

  • My internship at FSFE

    I recently saw that the Free Software Foundation Europe is offering a new and very interesting internship position. That’s a great opportunity for every student interested in Free Software and political activism — and for me to write about my internship I completed from October 2013 until end of March 2014. Here’s a report I wrote some time ago:

    Starting from October 2013 I was able to work 6 months as an intern for the Free Software Foundation Europe in Berlin. This was an internship required by my bachelor degree course at the University of Konstanz (Germany) where I study Politics and Public Administration. Some years before my internship I already was an FSFE Fellow and then decided to apply there.

    My daily tasks contained monitoring and moderation of the various mailing lists and social network accounts. There were also various technical jobs to do: Updating and creating single websites, sending out newsletters, fixing smaller bugs on our pages and so on.

    The bigger part in my internship was political work. In Germany, various ISPs want to hinder end consumers to freely choose a router because they only want officially supported ones. Such policy comes with serious consequences for security, free competition, trust in technology, and compatibility. My tasks contained analysing regulation drafts, writing statements for public hearings and coordination with other activists. We summarized the issue and our work on https://fsfe.org/activities/routers

    After the parliamentary elections in Germany 2013 I analysed the Grand Coalition’s agreement to identify possible positive and negative effects on Free Software. I also was able to visit several politicians in the German Bundestag to talk with them about Free Software and upcoming important tasks we wanted to work on.

    Besides I helped a lot organising our various campaigns like “Document Freedom Day” and “I love Free Software”. For many of these political tasks and campaigns I wrote press releases and public statements.

    During my internship I learned a lot about the structure and work in a multinational organisation and how to collaborate and talk with different people around the world. Another plus is the know-how I aquired by helping planning the various campaigns and analyses. When I was in Brussels and Chemnitz to help at FSFE’s booths during conferences I also learned very much about how to talk with people of all kinds and how to carry ideas and convictions to others.

    I will never regret applying for and completing the internship at FSFE. There were so many theoretical and practical things no study course can teach. Being able to work at the interface between communities, companies and politics is something every interested student should be granted.

    I want to thank everybody who enabled the FSFE to offer these internships. Organisations like the Free Software Foundation Europe are important to bring equality and freedom to our society and these internships allow students to get an insight into this very interesting area of activity.

    This internship was a very general one so I was able to work in many different areas of FSFE’s activity. The offered internship is mostly about Document Freedom Day, FSFE’s largest campaign in which I also invested a lot of time. I’m quite sure that this position is also very interesting — and very important as well! So if you want to take responsibility and want to learn much about collaboration, worldwide activism and public relations, go ahead and apply for this internship!

    If you are interested in this internship but you have some questions left, please feel free to ask me anything.

  • Setting Openstreetmap as default in Thunderbird’s contacts

    Thunderbird contact map buttonIf you use Thunderbird and its contact functionality, you might already have stumbled over the “show on map” feature. If you add addresses to your contacts (no matter if directly in Thunderbird or via CalDAV) there appears a button which enabled you to open a map with the contact’s location.

    The default search provider is Google Maps. If you don’t like this service and prefer free and open systems like me, you can also add openstreetmap.org as your default map service. You only have to change a value in the advanced configuration.

    Open the Settings menu, select the Advanced panel, select the General tab, and click Config Editor. Now copy in the search field: mail.addr_book.mapit_url.format and double click on the string to edit it.

    You should now see the default value. It’s nothing more than an URL with variables defined by the street, the country or the postal code of the respective contact. If you want to use Openstreetmap, fill in this value:

    https://www.openstreetmap.org/search?query=@A1+@A2+@CI+@ST+@ZI+@CO

    Restart Thunderbird and test again with an existing contact. By clicking on the button you should now see OSM instead of Google Maps where you can select one of the results in the left sidebar. Congratulations!

    Further reading:
    For more information about Thunderbird’s config editor, see the official knowledgebase entry
    If you want to set other variables in the map query, there’re some hints on Mozilla’s Hidden prefs guide

  • Birthday Calendar with ownCloud via CalDAV

    Thunderbird Lightning

    Not a big issue in this blog post but an important one. Maybe I can save you some valuable time if you ever look for such a function.

    As you know I’m a heavy user of ownCloud and you also might know that synchronisation is a big topic for me. And the third thing you should know that forgetting a good friend’s birthday really su… well, it’s no good style. This almost happened to me some days ago because I couldn’t check it on my Notebook with Thunderbird. My setup looks like this: All contacts (with birthday tags) in ownCloud, and these CardDAV address books are synced with my Android phone and Thunderbird/SOGo-Connector on my notebook, as well as the CalDAV calendars with Lightning.

    For Android there are several free software apps which enable the inclusion of birthdays from your contacts into any calendar app. Some calendar apps even can do it theirselves. But for Thunderbird there are only some outdated add-ons. All of them don’t work with TB31 anymore and if you modify the install.rdf-file to make them run anyhow, they’re very buggy or just nonfunctional. And if you look in your ownCloud instance (where contacts’ birthdays are visible in the calendar tab) for a downloadable/syncable calendar you’ll reach the same conclusion like me: There is none.

    But there is! [Read More…]