Parking Fines Undercut By Competition In Keene, New Hampshire

Sam Konkin III, author of “The New Libertarian Manifesto” and origin of the counter-economic philosophy Agorism recognized that in order for an unrestricted marketplace to emerge there would be inevitable competition to government services.

While not yet the Agorist marketplace written about, competition to so-called “government services” has begun to spring up in Keene, New Hampshire in a small yet significant way.

Downtown Keene, like many places in America, has government enforced parking meters in front of businesses. A parking enforcement person goes by and, if the meter says your vehicle has been parked there too long, issues a ticket. If you pay the ticket, you’re simply out of your hard earned money. If you choose not to aggressive men will soon find you and try to take your money with threats of being put in a cage. The tickets that trigger this process come packed in orange envelopes and are tucked under the windshield wiper.

Motorists in Keene may have recently been greeted with a white envelope.

“Good Motorist,” is the simple salutation. “You have crossed paths with Robin Hood. The parking meter ran out but my merry men put in more coins.” Also in the package is an envelope (complete with postage affixed) to donate to the Robin Hood Parking Meter Fund.

The people calling themselves “City Of Keene” essentially charge $5 for the service of parking downtown. While it is by no means required to provide a donation to the fund, a simple donation of $3 would be a dramatic savings, as well as a more convenient exchange done by anonymous mail.

“People shouldn’t be driven out of downtown by the parking fines. They just want to buy things and enjoy themselves, I say we let them!” says an agent of the Robin Hood Parking Meter Fund. “I’m hoping [to] make downtown as friendly to motorists as the big franchise stores on the edge of town by enforcing Ticketless Tuesdays.”

It is unclear how competition might change the landscape of the “pay us for parking on land we don’t own” industry. The Robin Hood Parking Meter Fund makes no claims to ownership of the land. In other areas, however, the fiercely anti-competitive parking enforcement agencies have responded with force.

In Denver, Colorado for instance, Stanley Yaffe has been threatened with arrest over placing coins into a parking meter. In Cincinnati, Ohio a woman was arrested for the same act, which sparked another man to protest by committing civil disobedience. Stories like this happen all too frequently yet largely escape the notice of most people. The simple fact of the matter is, most people fell that there is nothing they can do to avoid the high prices of a monopolistic industry, and simply acquiesce. Hopefully, given a choice, Keene motorists will reject the monopoly.

Should the Keene Parking Enforcement people try to react violently, however, they might face visual and vocal opposition. The “Meter Feeding Granny” in Ohio inspired one man to protest when she was met with force, yet New Hampshire is the destination of the Free State Project, a movement of thousands of liberty-loving activists who have made dramatic changes to their lives to be active for causes just like this. Specifically, Keene is a hot-spot for Agorist, Voluntaryist and anarcho-capitalist activists who find this new competition to be especially inspiring. Surely if the Robin Hood Parking Meter Fund’s agents are harassed or accosted the movers and revitalized liberty-loving natives will respond to expose the aggression to the world.

If you too would like to donate to the Robin Hood Parking Meter Fund, cash donations can be sent to:

Robin Hood Parking Meter Fund
161 Ashuelot St.
Winchester, NH 03470

Kellogg’s Drop Phelps, I Drop Kelloggs…

Below is the letter I will be sending to Kellogg’s company as of this morning…

***

Dear Reader,

I am writing in response to Kellogg’s decision to drop Michael Phelps as an endorser of Kellogg’s products. I wholeheartedly object to this decision and hopefully will express why this decision will result in my refusal to purchase Kellogg’s products in the future.

Let me first state that I am a former resident of Michigan. As a child, I attended the World Longest Breakfast Table. I recall having my picture taken near a large statue of Tony The Tiger. Especially considering today’s tough economic times, it is not a small gesture that I decide to boycott a brand that I have quite literally know all of my life as a staple of the local economy.

Micheal Phelps is a celebrity endorser. His prowess as a great American athlete was trumpeted from the rooftops as he represented the people of America during the Beijing Olympic Games. While Michale Phelps represented America, it seems the Kellogg has rejected the very principles that America was founded on.

Whether or not Michael Phelps inhaled marijuana is of little concern to me. Personally, I choose not to use marijuana because the effects of this drug make me feel paranoid and out of control. However, I am a firm believer that rational, intelligent people should be free to make their own choices, even if I disagree with them. Micheal Phelps responded to this incident pretending to be ashamed and embarrassed, yet I doubt that is the truth.

In truth, nearly a million Americans are arrested and locked in cages as a result of the so-called “War On Drugs”. The municipal, state and county police forces are quite content using force to put productive, non-violent Americans in jail cells (which are nothing more than glorified cages) because they choose to set fire to, and inhale the smoke of, a plant. Many of these American would purchase Kellogg’s products, even if the weren’t aware they were doing so.

The Founders of this nation said that “all men are endowed by their Creator [...] with Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When a company is built on the backs of American marketing, processing and patronage, I feel sick to my stomach to know that American businesses reject their customers simply because they choose to inhale cannabis rather than tobacco.

Normally, I consume products from Post and General Mills as well as Kellogg’s. In fact, I generally prefer to grab a coffee and Brown Sugar Pop-Tarts from my local 7-11 before driving to work in the morning. Having read the ABC New article 9http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local/story/Kellogg-to-drop-Phelps/Lj2GJ_wW0UCJ3dzEEpI8Ww.cspx) I will make a concerted effort to avoid Kellogg’s products when making my breakfast choices.

I strongly urge Kellogg’s to reconsider it’s position on cannabis consumption. While I understand that Kellogg’s has a strong market aimed at children and young adults, I think it is grossly irresponsible to single out the use of cannabis as more harmful as any other drug. Alcohol is responsible for many more deaths per year than cannabis, yet Kellogg’s makes no concessions for alcohol use by it’s sponsors. I simply ask that Kellogg’s apply the same criteria to all of it’s sponsors. If a sponsor consumes alcoholic beverages, and conducts him or herself in a dignified manor, Kellogg should continue to sponsor them. If a person chooses to smoke cannabis and remain dignified and reasonable, Kellogg should continue to sponsor them. Additionally, should a sober sponsor of Kellogg dishonor the brand, Kellogg should choose to discontinue their affiliation because of the damage to the brand and not the drug. I would wager that Kellogg’s does NOT fire employees who have responsibly consumed alcohol while employed by the company.

I strongly hope that Kellogg’s will regain my patronage by reversing it’s stance on the stigmatization of cannabis use, and choose to re-endorse Michael Phelps as a sponsor.

***

If you support the responsible use of so-called “hard drugs”, please consider writing your letter of support to:

Kellogg Consumer Affairs
P.O. Box CAMB
Battle Creek, MI
49016

My Guest Article On Bureaucrash

I correspond with several people who seek out my opinions on various things, but I think this is the first time that I’ve ever written a blog post for another website.

I’ve written a post over at Bureaucrash about the threats of jail time that talk show host Ian Freeman received because he attended a protest.

http://bureaucrash.com/2009/01/16/prosecuted-for-attending-civil-disobedience-rally-it-could-happen-to-nh-based-freedom-fighter-ian-freeman/

Please check it out and give some other parts of the site some time if you like it. Bureaucrash Social is a neat place. :)

Meme – My reflections on 2008

I’m falling in line and participating in an internet meme. Go figure.

I’ve copied the questions from Danjiel Orsolic’s entry.

Q: What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
A: Accidentally CC’ed a pro-gun “hurray” to a mailing list full of people who are mostly European and socialist leaning. There were some harsh backlashes from that, and I managed to root a few gun lovers from that list!

Q: Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for the next year?
A: I do not make New Year’s Resolutions. One thing about my personal philosophy is that I don’t want to be a slave to time. New Years is an excuse to party and get drunk, but realistically, it’s no different than any other day. I try to learn something new every day, stretch myself a little bit more, and that’s good enough. I make New Day’s resolutions and sometimes I meet them!

Q: Did anyone close to you give birth?
A: Nope.

Q: Did anyone close to you die?
A: Nope.

Q: What countries/states did you visit?
A: Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire.

Q: What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
A: Freedom. Too vague? I’d like to think of time a lot less. Essentially, right now I think in terms of days and “morning”, “afternoon” and “late”. I’m also aware of “weekday”, “payday” and “weekend”. I’d say also “understanding of my wife”. This might be unfair, since it gets deeper everyday and that has been true of 2008 too, but it will be deeper than it was in 2008, I’m sure. These two things together will hopefully come to a head in 2009 as we ditch our current lifestyle and fall into something that suits us much better. :)

Q: What was your biggest failure of the year ?
A: I can’t think of anything specifically. I think perhaps I really have internalized that while “Learn from your mistakes” thing. I’ve had some really difficult times with my wife in 2008, and in some points felt really angry, inadequate and resentful. Yet at the same time, the foundation of our relationship let us move from this and we’re stronger now than we were when we began. I can’t call that a failure but I might have if you asked me at the time.

Q: What was your biggest achievement ?
A: I committed to move to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. I managed to convince my wife to. And Danjiel, when 20K other do. And Edison Franklin. I sat at a table for two days talking about the FSP and my ideology and felt GREAT doing it. Realistically, I think that got very few people “turned on” to liberty, but it was an extension of feeling confident in my ideology and it was VERY empowering.

Q: Did you suffer illness or injury?
A: No. I’m bulletproof and immune to pathogens. Didn’t you know?

Q: What was the best thing you bought?
A: My Honda Element, Bluebeard.

Q: Whose behavior merited celebration?
A: Lauren Canario. Ian Freeman. Denis Goddard. Mark Edge. Russell Kanning. Kira Kanning. Kat Kanning. Jim Johnson. Dale Everett. A handful of people I know only by a single name, like AnarchoJesse and Puke. There’s probably dozens more in New Hampshire spreading the ideas of freedom and non-aggression through non-cooperative means. Those people, I celebrate.

Of course, that’s not to say they’re the only people making waves and growing freedom, they’re just the most visible ones to me.

Q: Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
A: Hans Reiser. Oddly, less because he killed his wife. I actually sent him a letter prior to him revealing the location of Nina’s body. The letter was fine but the tone conveyed a sense of arrogance and… I’m not sure how to phrase that exactly. People hurt people, even gruesomely sometimes. I understand that. But there was a sense of refusal to accept responsibility for his actions and the impact of his actions on his children. I dunno, it was disturbing.

Q: Where did most of your money go?
A: To maintaining. Meh. I hate it. It’ll stop soon enough. The lifestyle I live now isn’t what I want and I’m finally going to break from that.

Q: What did you get really, really, really excited about?
A: The Free State Project. This was the main impetus of 2008 for me. A sub-moment was when my wife finally began getting excited about the move and community. Finally, we’re going to begin a mobile lifestyle as full-time RVers, at least for a while. This and the implications of that have me very excited.

Q: What song will always remind you of 2008?
A: Aimee Allen’s “Ron Paul Revolution”. Much less that it was Ron Paul but there’s so very little pro-liberty music. Most music is dominated by liberal fluff and there’s some music that’s counter-liberal. Seeing a well produced, catchy video with an attractive female in it… It made me feel that liberty might be going mainstream and that’s a damn memorable thing.

Q: Compared to last year, are you:
* happier or sadder ? Happier, mostly. In general, I’m more of everything, but I’m usually happy.

* thinner or fatter ? Fatter.

* richer or poorer ? Richer. I’ve even made some more money.

Q: What do you wish you’d done more of ?
A: Goal setting. I know where I want to go sometimes but setting goals that I can reach to show me I’m getting there sometimes evokes positive feelings.

Q: What do you wish you’d done less of ?
A: Spending money on useless stuff.

Q: How did you spend Christmas ?
A: Watching TV.

Q: Did you fall in love in 2008?
A: Yep!

Q: How many one-night stands?
A: None.

Q: What was your favorite TV program ?
A: I watched the entire series “Firefly” on DVD. It’s not new, but that ranks pretty high. I also watched all of “Dexter” and “Weeds” and both are awesome. I’m still in love with “House”. I watched “Heroes” again this year. It makes me miss “The 4400″ and that makes me mad.

Q: Did you make a friend with anyone that you didn’t know this time last year?
A: Yes, several.

Q: What was the best book you read?
A: “The Market for Liberty” by Morris and Linda Tannehill was the most personally impacting. “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson was also very enjoyable to read and I think I have recommended “Healing Our World” by Dr. Mary Ruwart more than any other.

Q: What was your greatest musical discovery?
A: I’m starting to really dig Weezer. I’ve heard some trance that I actually purchased because I liked it so much.

Q: What did you want and get?
A: Most everything.

Q: What did you want and not get?
A: A working phone, powered by Free Software. Openmoko was a spectacular failure in my opinion. Those wounds still sting.

Q: What was your favorite film of this year?
A: Serenity. It’s not new, but I saw it for the first time this year.

Q: What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
A: Nothing special at all. In fact, this was the first year I went the ENTIRE day without hearing “Happy Birthday” at all. I enjoyed that very much. I get a day older every day, and I dislike the pretense. I’m 24… I think. I really do forget sometime.

Q: What one thing would have made you year immeasurably more satisfying?
A: The abolishment of coercive force that people today call “Government”. I don’t take kindly to being threatened and made to feel afraid.

Q: How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
A: Expanding. I don’t care about what other people think in terms of fashion, but I made some changes to my personal appearance. I discovered that I like the color green in clothing, so a lot of my shirts have included green. I also finally took the plunge and shaved my head bald and it’s absolutely amazing!

Q: What kept you sane?
A: Knowing it will keep getting better. That is, of course, assuming I was sane to start.

Q: Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
A: Summer Glau. She’s hot and was plastered all over the TV with the Terminator series.

Q: What political issue stirred you the most?
A: All of them? I don’t separate “politics” from day to day life. I think that kind of separation is used by aggressors to justify what they do (i.e. One man taking another man’s money is “theft” unless you’re “being political” in which case it’s “taxes”.) My particular issues at this point are an end to the Drug War. That’s the biggest for me right now. Secondly would probably be an expansion of property ownership rights (i.e. anybody owning any property is acceptable including felons owning guns) and property protection rights (i.e. “Castle Laws”). Breaking down socio-sexual taboo is always on the list.

Q: Who did you miss?
A: Seton Williams, a friend who was killed a few years ago in a car accident. And my wife of course, but I know she’ll keep coming home from work. :P

Q: Who was the best new person you met?
A: Pete Eyre probably tops the list. He’s a pro-liberty, agorist and voluntaryist activism rockstar who has me in awe. I met Ian Freeman and Mark Edge, Lauren Canario and Russell Kanning earlier this year and they’re awesome too.

Q: Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
A: Every human being owns him- or herself. The initiation of force or fraud against other people is wrong. That’s it.

It’s a simple concept, but the life lesson I really take from that is how many “buts” and “though” and “what ifs” people have to pollute that simple concept. It’s hard to put that into words though. This “there is nothing else” is so final and absolute and right.

Q: Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
A: “Who needs stupid books. They are for petty crooks. And I will learn by studying the lessons in my dreams.”

The Windows Seat – Day 3: Interfaces

I’m several days into this Windows trial and I’m actually beginning to get some strong feelings about the whole thing. First and foremost, Windows isn’t evil, it’s software. Whatever you might think about Microsoft is mostly irrelevant when discussing software. Hell, if you want to get really involved, I didn’t purchase Windows Server 2008 Enterprise. I didn’t purchase a product who’s company purchased it. I downloaded the installer from Microsoft’s site (They offer their entire OS for free for almost a year, legit.) and at 1.7GB I’ve cost Microsoft a little bit of money.

So, right now I’ll hit on something I noticed about user interfaces, and less a discussion of them, more about how I regard them. On Windows, software uses different toolkits and often times there are visual differences. Windows Media Player looks different than Roxio. VirtualBox is different than Firefox.

On Linux, when KDE applications and Gnome applications don’t mix well, it annoyed the hell out of me. I’ve always ranted about the dissimilarity, praised the day Qt added in a way to accept a Gnome theme. Lauded over gtk-qt-engine. I thought Windows’ inconsistency would kill me.

It hasn’t. In fact, I kind of like it.

I was having an internal dialog trying to figure out just why it is because I really am shocked by this. I’ve mentioned this as a pet peeve several times in the past, including one to LinuxInsider and it was in fact published. So this is a big, damn, deal.

The realization was, until yesterday, I looked at my PC as an appliance. It was something that I used to get something done. This appliance happened to have the features of just about everything. There’s nothing wrong with this, but Windows doesn’t do the same thing.

On Windows, the applications are each appliances, focused on doing one thing in a pleasing manner. If the application needs to look different to do that well, then so be it. The shift from “computer as appliance” to “applications as appliances”, when done well, really meshes to make me enjoy using applications. I have to say that I really like Windows Photo Gallery. It’s got all of the features that I like in a really basic photo manager. It’s also got a shiny, dark theme that I like a lot and it’s simple enough that I don’t have to think about “managing photos”. When I’m using it, I’m thinking about how good (or bad!) my photos are.

I’m REALLY looking for a Linux-side application that can hit Windows Photo Gallery on the head. I know that there are a ton of basic editing applications and simple managers, and a plethora of super-duper sophisticated solutions, but that balance is awesome. I’d love to leverage that on Linux.

The Windows Seat – Day 1: Shutdown

Windows Server 2008 has something that’s pretty neat and it deals with an area that I’ve never before thought about. Shutdown.

When running as the Administrator account, every time you hit “Restart” or “Shutdown” manually, a box pops up for you to enter the reason why the system is shutting down.

When you reboot due to upgrades, you’re not prompted. I assume that it’s possible to go back and look at the logs later but I’ve not confirmed this. There’s an overwhelming amount of data in the Windows Server logging and information center and I didn’t want to dig too deeply.

For a workstation or server, this is a neat feature. It would help me get a better overview of exactly what it is that brings my systems down. As a server administrator, uptime is important to me and my home desktops are run in a manner similar.

For the “average user” I can imagine this kind of prompt would quickly get annoying but I’d LOVE it and I know this is one feature that I’ve not seen in any desktop environment in Linux so far.

On the flip-side, I’ve got a complaint about Windows shutdowns too. They don’t happen if you’re restarting runaway processes. In specific, I was running VirtualBox (I’m noticing a theme… VirtualBox + Windows = Error) when starting a quickly after a shutdown and the VM froze. I then used the task manager to kill both VirtualBox and the VM process and it vanished like normal. Yet when I went to move or delete an ISO file that was mounted as a virtual CD drive within the VM, I got an “This file is in use” error. I then tried to do a shutdown (As Administrator – regular users can’t do this by default. Awesome!) and it actually hung on “Shutting down services”. After 3 minutes of seeing the blue-green screen, I physically reset the box.

I suppose it might be theoretically possible for Linux to be affected by the same thing, but I’ve never seen it. I was cringing to think how I’d feel if the runaway service has been my HTTP server and my remote server decided to lock up between “Break the internet connection” and “stop and restart power”.

I’m going to call this one a strong win for Linux, this hits to the very stability of the system. I would, however, love to have the interactive shutdown log on Linux. I’ll do some searching for something like it but as always, suggestions are always welcomed.

The Windows Seat – Day 0: BIOS

On the 28th of December, I announced my week long trial of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise, a departure from my daily use of Linux (including at work) for the past several years.

The very first difference I’d like to bring up is the system hardware itself. I currently run two PCs that are custom built by me and nearly identical, with the exception of the hard drive capacity. Both run a Gigabyte GA-965GM-S2, revision 1 motherboard with Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Processor and 4GB of DDR RAM. My home computer has an nVidia GeForce 7300 GS PCI-e card on a 17″ Dell CRT monitor. My work PC is using the integrated Intel G965 chipset and is attached to a 22″ BENQ wide screen TFT.

It’s important to note that both systems use the same motherboard, and more specifically, the same BIOS, Gigabyte’s F5. When I first put in the Windows Server 2008 installer, I immediately got a blue screen of death indicating to me that my BIOS was out-of-date and to contact the vendor for a newer one. The alleged culprit was non-compliance with ACPI.

I did manage to update both BIOSes. My home PC was updated with a formatted USB Key and my work by some complex juggling of LVM to make room for a FAT32 formatted bootable partition that the motherboard’s flash utility could recognize. I owe a huge debt to these guys for clear and simple instructions on how to flash my BIOS in a non-standard way.

The biggest thing that strikes me about the Windows/Linux split is that Linux doesn’t ever assume anything about hardware. Sure, it does assume that you’re on the right architecture and that you have some way to give the PC information. It doesn’t, however, expect you to have a certain BIOS version, a certain graphics card, a special TPM module or the like.

Linux developers learn to deal with the quirks of each system. The odds are that my system really WAS not compliant with ACPI but Linux never complained. It didn’t deny me permission to install until it was.

This isn’t entirely a win for Linux though. I have to wonder how much crappy code is in Linux dealing with exactly this kind of thing? How long has suspend/resume, for instance, been hindered by tossing the expectation that things will “work properly”? How many people might be dealing with hardware bugs, and complaining to Canonical (or their vendor of choice) when things don’t wake from sleep when it’s actually a crappy (as in, non-standard complaint) BIOS from a motherboard vendor?

Having a minimum required BIOS version is a new one for me, and this even before my first full day with Windows. This is really going to be interesting.

Can a Linux man survive in Windows Land?

My wife is getting a new laptop next week as part of a computer purchasing program at her work. One of the conditions of this program, however, is that the computer must run Microsoft Office which means it must also run Windows.

So, my home is going to be sheltering a Windows Vista laptop, despite my protests. It stirred in me, however, a sense of curiosity. I stopped using Windows back when XP was still pretty new and other than poking at betas, I’ve not used Windows. Even at work, I can use Linux all day. My hacker desire to poke around at everything has been speaking up, and I’ve decided to poke at Windows.

But not Vista. Haven’t you heard!? Vista sucks.

I’m going to give Windows Server 2008 a spin on my personal computer for the next week or so, full time. From what I understand, the separation of admin and user accounts by default as well as more fine-tuned user privileges management make it more secure than XP or Vista. The minimal setup allows me to reclaim CPU cycles that Vista munches on.

So, in the next week or so, I’ll be trying to use my computer and relearn a whole new way of doing things. Just as new Linux users balk at the changes, I’m sure I will, and in the process I hope to learn a little bit more about what I use my computer for, what I depend on and what flexibilities I have.

If anyone has any suggestions for me while I do this, feel free to ask!

Day One: Openmoko Freerunner

Since I made my purchase of the Neo1973
back in January, I have been doing almost daily reviews of the Openmoko
software and posting those reviews to the device owner’s mailing list
as well as contributing the reviews to the Wiki.

To continue
this, Openmoko Inc. has provided me with a Freerunner sample before
they even go on sale to developers. Developers and early adopters don’t
have to wait too much longer now since mass production has begun. As
soon as the distribution centers have product to ship, the Openmoko.com
store will begin offering the devices for $399 USD (or a 10-pack at
$3,690 as part of the reseller system).

For those unfamiliar,
the single biggest feature improvement for most people is Wifi
capability though the addition of accellerometers opens some creative
(and sometimes goofy) avenues to explore. For Free Software
enthusiasts, Openmoko has eliminated the need for a non-free GPS device
driver so Freerunner users can now make use of GPS features without
comprimising the integrity of their devices.

Below, you can see a detailed selection if images I took as I unpacked my new Freerunner.

Unlike the Neo1973 shipping,
the Freerunner is less “geeky” and more chic. As a geek, I liked the
clamshell of the 1973′s packaging, but I had to appreciate the almost
jewlery-like feeling I got from opening the Freerunner’s case. My wife
loved the Freerunner inset in dense foam, and the clean simple
presentation of the device first and foremost. The user sees the device
they purchased first, rather than fumbling around with manuals and
accessories.

The Freerunner doesn’t come without accessories, however.

Tucked
underneath the dense foam are several useful accessories, including my
personal favorite the AC wall charger. It should be noted that this is
a pre-release sample so may not even be indicative of what the
developers get. I think it is 100% certain that the AC adapter is
included though, which eliminates the Linux PC tether almost required
to use a Neo1973. In addition, there are two adapters for international
electrical sockets, a 512 MB microSD card, a black headset, a USB cable
and a LASER/LED/Pen Stylus.

After unpacking the box, I took several more photos which can be seen in my Openmoko Image Gallery but I’ll try to find the best ones.

On
the right side of the Freerunner you have at the top the AUX button, a
headphone jack and a speaker port. On the left side of the device
there’s a spot to connect an external GPS antenna. Below that is a
mini-USB port with the POWER button directly below with a speaker port
at the bottom.

For
users of the Neo1973, there are two signifigant visible differences.
First, the band around the sides is now black, a change I personally
like quite a bit but it entirely cosmetic and predicated on personal
preference. If you look carefully, you can see that the AUX and POWER
buttons are transluent on the Freerunner. This is because the
Freerunner has incorporated 3 colored LED’s into the hardware to
provide traditional visual cues that many people expect in a mobile
device. Blink to indicate an unread message or notify of missed calls,
or indicate hardware status like “Connected to a Bluetooth device”.

A
non-visual change affects the USB port. Though limited to USB 1.1
speeds, the Freerunner’s USB port is capable of host-mode operation,
opening the door to allow the Freerunner to do things like read USB
thumb drives (or privacy keys!). There’s some apprehension about how
this would affect total battery life, but the possibility exists if the
user would like to take advantage of it.

Another
noticable difference for users of the Neo1973 is the microSD card and
SIM card slots. On the Neo, both cards have a slide-lock system which
holds the cards in place. On the Freerunner, only the SIM card is slide
lock. The microSD slot has an “arm” on each side that needs to be
lifted up and to secure, needs simply to be pressed back in. For me, I
had to lift each arm individually in order to insert the microSD card.
While not hard at all to use, I was expecting a slide-lock, even after
being warned. :) I can say with certainty that the Freerunner’s parts
are a bit sturdier than the Neo’s which is great. I’m a rather large
guy with big fingers, so not having to deal with thin delicate metal
was nice. The SIM card latches firmly on the Freerunner and stays put.

Once
the device was reassembled, I took it over to my PC and plugged up the
USB cable. Having been told that one of the engineering goals was to
allow the Freerunner to power on with USB power only, I decided to try
it. I held down the POWER button a bit longer than the Neo1973 requires
and immediately noticed a wonderful difference. On the Neo1973 the
screen simply illuminates, going from off to bright instantly, but on
the Freerunner, the screen “warms up” by fading. This little touch goes
a long way to giving the feel that the device is in fact being polished
and prepared for a mass market release.

I did notice, however,
that the battery indicator showed an almost full battery immediately.
This was fine, but it means I’m still not sure what the Freerunner is
capable of doing power wise via USB. The critical thing for me is that
the device could boot via USB and a dead battery to allow fast charge
mode instead of having to wait an hour like you do with a “sleeping”
Neo1973. Time will certainly tell on this one.

Soon I will
begin evaluating the ASU (April Software Update) which is the beginning
of the new Openmoko software stack which incorporated applications from
Qtopia while expanding on them and supporting a whole range of software
applications, including some promising things in development for
Openmoko.

As I have time to use this new software and come up with review criteria, I will begin writing daily (or so) software reviews similar to the ones I’ve done before. In addition, I plan to continue to track the progress of the ASU as it’s adapted to run on the Neo1973.

FSO Milestone II Photo Safari and rant

In the spirit of the ASU Photo Tour, I’ve decided to do a little collection of images for the FSO image which is built on the FreeSmartphone.Orgframework.

Let me first get some weight off my chest. I’ve been feeling burnt out by Openmoko since the end of June when some confusion was cleared up about the ASU, the FSO and in general, the direction of the software for Openmoko devices.

I’m going to toss around some acronyms and a new title to think about. The ASU was a proof-of-concept image that combined Qtopia, Enlightenment and GTK running on top of Xorg. This first image was built (I’m told) by rasterman by hand and that issues would be worked on until August, when a first “functional” image would be released. ASU, then, means April/August Software Update. Either month works just fine – the first image was released in April, the result slated for release in August.

To address the confusion, that software line is now Openmoko 2008.08 so “ASU” and 2008.08 are the same thing for the most part. With me? Good, let’s move on.

When the ASU was announced, two other things happened. The GTK based 2007.02 line was obsoleted (or some might argue deprecated since it’s now getting attention from the community) and the FSO Framework was announced. I’ll focus on the framework, because it’s where my complaints and burnout centered around.

The ASU and Framework were announced at roughly the same time. To the community it appeared as if Sean Moss-Pultz had pulled a decision out of his ass to abandon the software that people knew and go with Qtopia instead. This decision appeared to be arbitrary and sudden, leaving a lot of questions unanswered. Frankly, it left a lot of questions unasked, because this move was so radical and sudden. The biggest unanswered question was I want to develop an app for Freerunner, what should I start with? This is when the Framework was revealed by Mickey Lauer.

Perhaps this was too big of a leap, but from then on it appeared as if the ASU and the Framework were complimentary projects within Openmoko. The end result of both projects would be to develop dbus based services and signaling and adapt the Qtopia applications to use this system. As I reasoned, ASU focused on the userspace apps and the Framework would focus on the back-end and the merger of those two would be the “mass market” software Openmoko would ship on average-Joe ready devices. The future looked promising, and I was among one of the most vocal people in regard to this.

On 28 June 2008, Mickey Lauer posted again, making it pretty clear my assumptions were wrong. The Framework would not be merged into the ASU line to be shipped to customers. If the two were to merge, it would be by community support.

Frankly, after the disappointing abandonment of the Neo 1973 device, the sudden shift from one development line to another, the horrible communication about the aim and directive of the “official” and general all around cluster-fuckery that is Openmoko I began to loose faith in the project. I know I’m not alone in that regard, because within 24 hours of feeling I’d been hoodwinked, the SHR project was announced. While it may not have been the “fork heard ’round the world” it was a significant point, because I think there the camel’s back snapped.

Allow me to take a moment to give my impression about the other side too. I mentioned above that the general opinion was that Sean Moss-Pultz issued a directive to begin adopting Qtopia and that it was contrary to the aims of Openmoko. Now, I don’t know since I’m not in regular communication with him (the times we’ve exchanged e-mails have been polite and to the point) but I suspect the issue is deeper than that. From reading Sean’s blog posts and mailing list messages, I think the man is committed to open platforms and more than that, the power that leveraging those platforms gives to users. I think he truly cares about Openmoko’s goals. On the flip side, he’s also the CEO of a company and in that respect, his job is to ensure that Openmoko turns a profit. Furthermore, while he wears the title “Chief Executive Officer” there’s nothing chief about his position if it’s anything like other companies. The financiers, investors, venture capitalists and shareholders (if it’s public) are the real chiefs. Speaking bluntly, I suspect that those people started getting freaked out by the Freerunner “delay”. The media had long moved on and the term “vaporware” began floating around in regard to Openmoko and I’m sure this made the investor squeamish.

Sean had a choice then. In order to see his goal happen, he needs to compromise. To continue building and selling open platforms to people, Openmoko would need to make their first platform profitable to please the investors. That platform might not see the light of day unless they could be convinced that Openmoko could begin turning profit quickly. With the GTK based software showing problems, some architecturally, the decision was to either rebuild a boat mid-voyage or hop on that shiny ocean liner next to you.

I don’t fault Sean for making that call. I fault the investors who decided to dump money into a project and then didn’t allow the vision to be pushed forward. If they wanted to back an open platform, they should let the people making open platforms do what they need to meet that goal. If they wanted to back a company shipping phones that were nothing special, they should have done that.

It wasn’t the one decision alone that hurt the project though. Openmoko is open. The first time this hurt Openmoko was with Freerunner. When Freerunner was conceptualized and discussed, the media (even open source centric media) stuck to their traditions and speculated that “Freerunner will be an iPhone killer”. The problem with talking about your products is that nobody is used to companies talking about their products before they’re in warehouses, awaiting some magical signal to roll out to customers. So while it was pretty clear to someone who thinks critically, a lot of people saw the Freerunner as being “delayed”. There was also the “developer” and “mass market” confusion – even as the Freerunner was shipping, people didn’t understand that there were two markets, and two release dates, for the device. Of course, I get the impression that even this might actually have changed, instead to focus a smaller run on “niche markets” like universities and specialty vendors and aim the next product more broadly, but this isn’t confirmed for me. But I digress.

Openmoko is trying to walk the balance between being open and being effective. How do you talk about plans about future dazzling products and (a year or 18 months later) ship a product that STILL dazzles people? How do you market a product as meeting people’s needs when the product is designed to not assume to know the user’s needs and be flexible enough to still fill them? Openmoko hasn’t mastered it and it’s caused some backlash, but nobody else is doing the same thing better. In some ways, it’s a gigantic experiment.

As I sat down to write all that, I planned on it being a small post and then jumping right into the pictures of the FSO, but it turned out filling up two (going on three) pages in OpenOffice Writer, but it feels good to have put the feelings into words. With that, let’s move onward, and look at what the FSO Framework has to offer.

Meet Zhone.

Zhone is a very basic program designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the Framework backend systems. As an added bonus it looks spiffy. I don’t have a working SIM inserted in this image, so you can’t see the network I’m connected to or signal strength but these features normally exist and can be seen in later images.

For a moment, we’ll ignore the irony of the icon selection. I’m a married man with a professional career and other than ones in use for the purpose of having a rotary phone in use, I’ve not seen one in the wild. Yet in my hands to take this screenshot was a device that has substantially more computing power than a Game Boy Advance, which itself has substantially more computing power than all of NASA Mission Control when they placed a human being on the moon. Let’s ignore this and click the phone icon, shall we?

At the top you can see two bars, one blue and one green. The blue bar represents cellular signal strength and above it displays the carrier message. This SIM works, but is not active, so can only be used for emergency calls so displays “SOS Only”.

To the right is a green bar, displaying battery strength. In all honesty, I’m not sure what the letters above that bar indicate, but I’m sure that I’ll get that information soon after this post is public. If you’re terribly interested, check back later or leave a comment with an e-mail address (doesn’t require registration, that bugs the hell out of me!) and I’ll send you a message once I know for sure.

Got it already. :) They stand for Bluetooth, GSM, WLAN and GPS, respectively. Small letters indicate “turned off”, capital letters are for “turned on”. Thanks for pointing this out wurp!

Below that is the dialer display and keypad. The back arrow deletes and the big green check enters the number. The smaller arrows, as well as the bottom row of icons do nothing, except for the “X” which exits the dialer.

The next section well look at include the messaging features.

The forward, delete and reply buttons simply drop me back at the main screen. I’m assuming this is because I have no SMS messages but it could be unimplemented features. I have a strong hunch that they work. In the Milestone 1 release, unimplemented features were clearly marked as such.

Clicking on the “Send” button brings up a selection screen where you pick your contact, touch the bar for that contact and are presented with a message compose screen.

I had to censor the first image because it contained phone numbers. The nifty thing about this is that it actually imported them from the SIM card automagically.

Contacts management is the next feature of Zhone to explore. Like the SMS section, you’re presented with a menu to select your action, including “Edit Name”, “Edit Number” and “new”. I elected to do each of those for illustrative purposes and use random keypad presses for the number.

The final portion of Zhone is something GPS related. This does nothing for me as of yet, but I wanted to show it anyway.

Exiting Zhone is easy since Illume is installed and functional. First is the ASU launcher with a light blue hue as icons are selected. The next image is a screenshot of the screenshot application to show that GTK works but looks ugly unthemed, but I’m sure that’s not really in dispute.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the keyboard in action, and it’s improved quite a bit. I’m not sure if this is a FSO improvement or done to Illume directly, but it makes the Freerunner quite a bit more functional. There’s several modes now, including a full QWERTY mode which can be selected. The great news is that it’s actually terminal capable!

A few new images that didn’t make it onto this page can be found in my Openmoko Image Gallery including a possible bug (the keyboard selection menu doesn’t close if the keyboard does) but all told the “interesting” stuff made it’s way here.

What can’t be put in a photo collection is stability. None, and I do repeat none, of the apps crashed. Suspend and resume are actually working reliably on the Freerunner with a press of the power button for each. The AUX button puts the device into lock mode. My only complaint is that the lock mode still accepts screen presses, meaning that to put the device in a purse or a pocket it needs to be fully suspended else it runs the risk of powering up and down the backlite as keys and spare change collide with it.

All in all, there’s promising progress from all different fronts and it’s rapidly rekindling my desire to get involved and take control of my phone. Now… Where do I find a good media player…