Titus Stahl

A brief review of the Fairphone 2

Since two days ago, I have a Fairphone 2. Among the main reasons why I bought it was – next to the obvious moral considerations of not supporting exploitative industrial practices – the promise of repairability and durability and the promise of openness. I had a Nexus 4 before that and one of the big disadvantages of that phone is that you cannot easily exchange the battery or upgrade the internal storage. The idea of a phone that does not become obsolete as quickly thus resonated with me. I also expected Fairphone to be more likely to protect its users against predatory data collection practices and release software that is as open as possible.

Some of these things came true, others not so much.

  • The phone looks indeed incredibly sturdy, and all the components are easily exchangeable. It does not feel too bulky, though, and has quite good performance (slightly better than the Nexus 4).
  • Unfortunately, the Android installation that comes with the phone has the usual Google spyware on it. Quite late in the process, Fairphone announced that they will not support attempts at rooting, citing licensing concerns. While Fairphone releases build instructions for a Google-free variant of its operating system, building these sources worked only with manual fiddling for me and took about 6 hours on my laptop – definitely out of the reach of non-technical users. Fairphone does not allow people to share pre-built images online, again due to licensing concerns. And even if you can built the open source variant of Android, the operating system is not rooted. Users need root, however, for all kinds of customizations that increase security, such as setting a reasonable password for the disk encryption, adding self-signed SSL certificates and removing unnecessary built-in applications.
  • Due to my own stupidity, I destroyed the system image of my Fairphone by accidentally flashing the system partition with a boot image. The situation as described above makes it very hard to find a system image online that one could use to restore functionality. However, by booting into recovery and flashing a system update that people found online, I was able to restore the original system.
  • I then flashed a boot loader image with root that is available online (this image does not contain closed source components and thus is legal to share) to get root, only to discover that setting up full disk encryption does not work with this image.
  • I finally resolved this issue by restoring the original system once more, with the system update as described above, booting into Android, setting up full disk encryption and only then flashing the rooted boot image, allowing me then to change the encryption password and do all kinds of other things, including removing all unnecessary Google apps (the market and GCM are, unfortunately still needed to run Signal).

Having resolved the software problems, the phone now runs Fairphone’s custom Android build. This is generally OK (not that different from stock Android), and has only a few bugs. The most annoying bug is that the display flickers considerably as soon as it is in the lower third of the brightness range. This makes automatic brightness adjustment quite unusable. Furthermore, the built-in LED only can display a red light. Both issues apparently are software bugs that will be fixed in an upcoming update (although that makes me worry that I cannot install it without going through the whole rooting dance again).

Hardware-wise, I quite like the camera and the sound which are more than sufficient for my purposes; the fact that it has two SIM card slots also is very useful for me. So far, I have not been successful in mounting a 64GB microSD card, but that might be resolvable with partitioning it correctly.

The phone seems to be quite sensitive about chargers – it does not load at all with two of my chargers (which work perfectly with LG and Samsung phones), and people report online that you cannot use the touchscreen properly as long as it is connected to some chargers. This is a bit annoying, especially when travelling.

Concluding:

  • the repairability and the ethical supply chain are a plus,
  • in terms of software openness, the Fairphone is ironically even worse than phones sold by Google (although the community might be able to fix this),
  • there are still a few quality issues, but the phone is quite nice to use (although the price tag is probably too steep if you don’t care about the other issues).

Stellungnahme der DGS zu Beschäftigungsverhältnissen in der Wissenschaft

Die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie hat eine bewundernswert deutliche Stellungnahme zu Beschäftigungsverhältnissen in der Wissenschaft veröffentlicht:

Die seit jeher hohe berufliche Unsicherheit hat in den letzten Jahren noch einmal drastisch zugenommen. Die Zuspitzung der Wettbewerbssituation um die Professur als einzige langfristige Karriereoption ist angesichts der Internationalisierung und Pluralisierung im Feld der Wissenschaft nicht nur völlig unsach- und unzeitgemäß, sie nimmt zudem inzwischen dysfunktionale und destruktive Formen an, die letztlich immer mehr sehr gut ausgebildete, talentierte und engagierte Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler ausschließen.

Diese Entwicklungen sind gestalt- und steuerbar. Lange Zeit ließ sich die Aufgabenverteilung zwischen Bund und Ländern als Erklärungsansatz für manche Blockade heranziehen. Spätestens aber seit der Lockerung des Kooperationsverbots im November 2014 und der entsprechenden Grundgesetzänderung ist jedoch der Weg für ein stärkeres Engagement des Bundes frei. Die DGS schließt sich der Forderung der Hochschulrektorenkonferenz nach einer Ausweitung der Grundfinanzierung und mehr unbefristeten Stellen sowie den Empfehlungen des Wissenschaftsrats zu einer Neuordnung der Karrierewege in der Wissenschaft durch die Einführung von Tenure-Track-Professuren, einen Zuwachs an Professuren insgesamt und die Etablierung des Karriereziels einer unbefristeten Beschäftigung als Wissenschaftler/in auch jenseits der Professur an.

UC Berkeley had secretly started monitoring all Internet activity of staff and students

The New York Times reports:

Under a program initiated by Ms. Napolitano, the former secretary of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, the university system began installing hardware and software in its data centers that would monitor patterns of digital traffic, like what websites are being visited by faculty and students, or telltale signs of cyber intruders. The program, which was begun with little notice or consultation, soon rankled a group of professors at one campus, Berkeley, which has a deep-seated ethos of academic freedom as the cradle of the free speech movement in the 1960s.

Growing resistance against Elsevier’s high-cost open access option

The Atlantic reports that, after the departure of the journal “Lingua” to the Open Library of the Humanities, the editors of the journal “Cognition” have now started a petition, asking Elsevier to lower APC (article processing charges).

Scientists’ frustration is compounded by indications that academic publishers are turning a tidy profit from their labor and free contributions (peer reviews, like the articles themselves, are given to journals for free). Elsevier, Springer, and Taylor & Francis have all reported profit margins around 35 percent, more than Facebook (27 percent) or the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the largest bank in the world (29 percent).

Given the fact that there is no reason for why academic publishing should be a for-profit enterprise and that there are successful cooperative models in both the sciences and the humanities by now, it is unclear why the “Cognition” board not just leaves Elsevier.

Setup a free and secure academic collaboration platform with Fiduswriter and Tor hidden services (Tutorial)

Why Fiduswriter?

Fiduswriter is an open-source collaborative document editor for academic documents. As such it handles citations, bibliographies, footnotes and other features common to academic texts. It also exports to LaTeX and HTML.

You might want to use Fiduswriter if you – like me – reject Google Docs and its competitors for the reason that they are unfree software – to use them, you have to agree to hand over all your data to a giant surveillance machine. You are not allowed to fix bugs or add features, and any features (including access to your data) can be removed at the discretion of others. In short, by using such tools you give away all control over the means of academic production to a corporation that certainly is not motivated to protect academics’ best interests.

In an ideal world, academic institutions would set up ethical collaborative tools for their students and employees, but as things are now, we academics have to do it for ourselves. Luckily, it is not too difficult.

In this tutorial, I will lay out all the steps you need to get make an instance of Fiduswriter accessible to your collaborators via the Tor network. Tor not only protects the anonymity of its users (which might not be that important in an academic context), but it also allows you to run “hidden services”. A hidden service is an Internet server to which people can connect only via Tor. Running Fiduswriter as a hidden service makes things easier insofar Tor takes care of making your server accessible via the public Internet without you having to reconfigure your network and it also encrypts the connection, so that no one can read passwords etc.

Installing and using Fiduswriter not only preserves your control and your privacy, Fiduswriter is also much more suited to academic work than other tools, as you can collaboratively comment on texts, administer bibliographies and export your work in formats that provide proper layout for academic articles.

What you need to get started

  • Some basic knowledge about how to use a Linux shell.
  • A computer running a current version of Ubuntu with systemd. I used Ubuntu 15.10 which includes systemd by default.
  • root access to this computer.
  • You can use your personal computer, but that means that other people only can access Fiduswriter when your computer is online. It is better to either use a dedicated computer as a personal server or just to rent a machine in a server facility. I hear that people use DigitalOcean and are happy with it. An Ubuntu machine costs 5 USD a month there.
  • You also need an email account and have its login data and the configuration for sending mail (SMTP) ready.
  • Finally, you need to have the Tor Browser Bundle installed on your local computer.

Installing the necessary prerequisites on the server

Log in to the computer where you want to run Fiduswriter (the server) using a shell and install the following packages:

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sudo apt-get install libjpeg-dev python-dev python-virtualenv gettext tor git 

This will also automatically connect this computer to the Tor network.

Getting Fiduswriter

Go to your home directory and download Fiduswriter’s current development version:

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cd 
git clone https://github.com/fiduswriter/fiduswriter.git
cd fiduswriter

If you want to, you can checkout the exact version I use and which I have tested to work. But usually, this should not be necessary:

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git checkout fe3373bc0dca6c30b2b9ec3455a86fe7b6a085e9

Now setup Fiduswriter by entering the following commands

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virtualenv venv
source venv/bin/activate
pip install -U pip # upgrade Ubuntu's outdated pip
pip install -U setuptools # upgrade ubuntu's outdated setuptools
pip install -r requirements.txt
python manage.py init

Configuring Fiduswriter

Having now installed Fiduswriter (hopefully with success), there is some configuration work to do.

Enter now the following command:

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python manage.py createsuperuser

This will ask you for an email and password. Write down the password that you chose.

In the next step, prepare the configuration file:

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cp configuration.py-default configuration.py

Now you have to edit this configuration file, for example by typing

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nano configuration.py

Once you have opened the file, make the following edits

  • Look for the ADMINS variable and replace the user name and email with the data you just entered in the “createsuperuser” step.
  • Edit the lines that start with “EMAIL” and uncomment them (remove the leading “#”). Here you have to enter the details of your email setup. Most likely, you will use an email account that uses a TLS connection. Replace “False” with “True” for the TLS variable and pay attention to the capitalization.

Setting up the Tor hidden service

In the next step, you will have to configure Tor to start a hidden service.

Edit the Tor configuration, for example, by typing:

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sudo nano /etc/tor/torrc

and add the following two lines add the end

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HiddenServiceDir /var/lib/tor/fiduswriter
HiddenServicePort 8000 127.0.0.1:8000

This sets up a hidden service that uses port 8000 and forwards it to port 8000 on your local machine. In order to get the hidden service started, you have to setup the hidden service directory:

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sudo mkdir /var/lib/tor/fiduswriter
sudo chown debian-tor /var/lib/tor/fiduswriter
sudo chmod 700 /var/lib/tor/fiduswriter
sudo service tor restart

Having restarted Tor, it creates a hidden service address. You can find out the address of your newly created hidden service by typing

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sudo cat /var/lib/tor/fiduswriter/hostname

Fiduswriter now must be told to accept connections from Tor. To accomplish this, you must edit the settings file of the underlying web framework.

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nano fiduswriter/settings.py

(Attention: This file is in /home/yourusername/fiduswriter/fiduswriter – if you changed directories in the meantime, go back to the original directory for this command to work).

In this file, you have to edit the “ALLOWED_HOSTS” part to look like this

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ALLOWED_HOSTS = [
    'localhost',
    'yourhiddenservicename.onion',
]

See if your hidden service works

Now you can see whether your hidden service works!

Run

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python manage.py runserver

and go to “yourhiddenservicename.onion:8000” in the Tor Browser Bundle. Login to Fiduswriter with the superuser account you created earlier. It will tell you that you have to confirm your email address. Wait for the email to arrive.

If the email does not arrive, you might have configured the email settings incorrectly. Look in the console output for error messages.

After having confirmed your email address and having accepted the Terms and Conditions, login properly.

Last configuration steps

In order to configure Fiduswriter properly, go, while logged in to “yourhiddenservicename.onion:8000/admin/” to see the server configuration. In the “sites” section, add a new site, using your onion address and a name of your choosing.

Now stop the server by bringing up the console window and pressing “Control-C”.

Edit fiduswriter/settings.py again. Set “TEST_SERVER” to “False” and change the “SITE_ID” to your new site. Most likely, you just have to change it to “2” instead of “1”.

Setting up a systemd service

In order for the Fiduswriter server to be automatically started when you reboot the server, we have to inform Ubuntu’s init system, called “systemd”, about it.

First, create a new file in the main fiduswriter directory called “start.sh”, containing the following lines:

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#!/bin/bash
cd /home/titus/fiduswriter
source venv/bin/activate
python manage.py runserver

Make it an executable:

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chmod +x start.sh

Now create a systemd configuration file

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sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/fiduswriter.service

containing the following lines:

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[Unit]
Description=Fiduswriter
After=network.target

[Service]
Type=simple
User=yourlinuxusername
Group=users
ExecStart=/home/yourlinuxusername/fiduswriter/start.sh

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

(obviously, replace “yourlinuxusername” with your real Linux user name).

Finally, run the following commands:

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sudo systemctl enable fiduswriter
sudo systemctl start fiduswriter

Your Fiduswriter setup should now be done! Just tell your collaborators to install the Tor Browser Bundle and give them the hidden service address.

Academics publish statement in support of Turkish Colleagues

On the Medico International website, there is an appeal in support of the Turkish academics who are now facing persecution for signing a statement in support of peace:

We, academics from the whole world, defend our colleagues in Turkey. Together we defend the academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to demand peace at times of war.

Both, dismissals and indictments have to stop. The Turkish State is obliged to protect the signatories of the petition from threats and attacks by a third party. The governments of the European Union which are in close contact with the Turkish government are called upon to oblige their ally to respect the law. We kindly request that university and academic institutions worldwide support their colleagues in Turkey, so that the signatories to the petition may continue to research and teach as well as be able to exercise their rights freely.

I have signed the appeal and recommend doing to to others. Many well-known philosophers have signed it as well.