The Inverter: Episode 57 – Deck the Blockchains

The last Bad Voltage of 2015 is a long one. Bryan is out sick, which is surprising since he only misses the shows with which I’m involved, so I guess he was really sick this time.

Since the first BV episode of the year includes predictions, the last one of the year is used to measure how well the guys did, and this was the topic of the first part of the program.

Aq predicted that mobile phone payments via NFC (such as Apple Pay and Android Pay) would increase greatly. They did, but by more than an order of magnitude than the amount he predicted. I’m not sure why he didn’t get credit for this one since he was correct, he just missed a zero at the end. He also predicted that Steam game consoles would be a big success. One of the issues with measuring these predictions is that it is hard to get verifiable numbers, but they all agreed that had Steam shipped a million consoles they would have mentioned it.

His “extry credit” prediction was that Canonical would get bought. They didn’t, so Aq didn’t do so well overall.

Then they moved on to Jono. He predicted there would be a large migration away from traditional sources of video, such as cable television and satellite, to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. This was again hard to verify (remember the quote that there are lies, damned lies and statistics). I think one of the reasons is that, especially in the case of cable, the vendors bundle so much together that it is usually cheaper to get television included as part of a package instead of just going Internet-only. Considering how many people talk about shows that are only available via streaming services and how clients for those services are now ubiquitous in televisions, it seems to be a safe bet that people are spending more of their time watching those services, at the cost of traditional shows, but it is very hard to measure with any level of objectivity.

Speaking of televisions, Jono also predicted a surge in 4K televisions to the point that they would be available for $500 or less. I haven’t seen it. The content is just not there yet, and while, yes, you can buy a 4K TV on Amazon for less than US$500, no one who really cared about the quality of that picture would buy one. The best 4K TV recommended by Wirecutter is still nearly US$1600.

So I don’t think he should get credit for that one.

His extra prediction was a large increase in “connected homes”. This was vague enough to be impossible to measure, but with products like those from Nest becoming more popular, it seems inevitable. I think there was definitely a jump in 2015, but then again going from nearly zero to only a handful would still be a huge increase, percentage-wise. I think it will be some time before a majority of homes in the US are “connected” in an Internet of Things fashion.

Jeremy’s predictions were next. He predicted that laptop and desktop computer sales would actually go up after years of decline, and while the rate of decline slowed, this was a miss.

The guys gave him his second one, which was that wireless charging for portable devices would become the norm (with a notable exception in Apple). While I’m charging my Nexus 6 right now on a TYLT charger, the latest generation of Nexus phones do not support wireless charging, and with the introduction of USB-C and “fast charging” I think wireless charging has peaked. Still, he got credit for it, so I think Aq should get credit for his mobile payments prediction.

Jeremy had two bonus predictions. One was that the markets would both see a peak in the NASDAQ index (which happened) as well as a correction of more than 10% (which also happened). His prediction of an Uber IPO did not happen, however.

Bryan wasn’t around to defend his predictions, but in the first case it was the opposite of Aq’s prediction that Steam consoles would be a huge success with the prediction that they would ship zero units. That didn’t happen, of course.

He also predicted that Ubuntu phone sales would be minor compared to other “open source” handset units such as those from Jolla. While no one would claim the Ubuntu phone was a runaway success, from what can be guessed from various sales figures, it seems to have sold about as well as the options.

Finally, his bonus prediction would be that ChromeOS would be able to run all Android apps natively. That, too, didn’t happen. It would have been interesting to hear his analysis of his performance, but he was pretty blunt in that he totally expected to lose.

So, Jeremy wins.

The second segment was a bit heady even for these guys. It concerns an announcement by the Linux Foundation to promote the creation of “block chain” tools.

Now, I kind of think I have my brain around block chains, but don’t expect me to explain them. It was invented as part of the bitcoin protocol, and it is a type of ledger database that can confirm transactions and resist tampering. This can be useful, since it provides a very distributed and public way of running a list of transactions, but there is not requirement that the block chains themselves be made public.

The idea is that we could promote this for use in, say, banking, and it could both improve speed and reliability.

I’m not sure it made a great topic for the show, however. This is esoteric stuff, and for once there were a lot of pregnant pauses in the discussion. I think the overall consensus was that this is a Good Thing™ but that in practical use the data won’t be very open.

The next segment was a review of the Titan USB cable – a hardened USB cable to resist damage. While not bad for a last minute substitution since Bryan was unavailable to do his originally scheduled review, I thought the discussion went on way too long on an already long show. TL;DR: – break a lot of USB cables? You might want to check this out. No? Don’t worry about it.

While the cable part of the Titan is well protected, the connector ends, a common source for failure, aren’t much different from a normal cable. Considering the cost, if you only damage a cable occasionally, it probably isn’t worth it to get a Titan.

At least it wasn’t about that $500 gold HDMI cable. The thing I love about digital is that it pretty much works or doesn’t work. I used to agonize over analog speaker cable, but cable quality is considerably less important in a purely digital realm.

The final segment concerned an apparent conflict of interest around the Linux Foundation’s role in the lawsuit involving the Software Freedom Conservancy and VMware concerning GPL violations. There are a lot of corporate interests involved with the Linux Foundation, and the general question asks if the Foundation is more concerned with protecting those interests than software freedom?

My own experience with GPL enforcement is that it is a shit job. Many people think that if the software is “free” they should be able to do whatever they want to with it, and so they don’t understand the problem when some third party decides to commercialize your hard work.

Next, discovery is a pain. If you can see the code, it is somewhat easy to determine if it was the same or different as another piece of code, but the problem with GPL enforcement is usually the code in question is closed. Discovery costs a lot of money as well, and money is not something a lot of open source projects have in abundance.

Finally, even if you have a case, getting a judge that can understand the nuances of the issue is harder still. Without such an understanding, it is both hard to win the case as well as to get damages. Even if you succeed, the remedy might just mean open sourcing part of the infringing code with no monetary damages.

When you look at it, pursuing a GPL violation is a thankless job that most projects can’t even consider. But it is incredibly important to the future of free software that those who create it have the power to determine under what conditions their work can be used. It is why we donate to the Software Free Conservancy. They are fighting the good fight, in very much a David and Goliath scenario, for the rights of everyone involved with free software. There are not many people up to that task.

For example, it appears that the car manufacturer Tesla is in violation of the GPL. Telsa is popular and well funded. There are very few people, especially those in the technology industry, who wouldn’t want to own a Tesla. So, do you want to sue them? First, they will bury you in legal procedures that will drain what little funds you have. Next, people will be mad at you for “attacking” such a cool company. Third, your chance for success is slim.

Now I don’t have any experience with the Linux Foundation. I don’t know anyone there and I’ve never been to their conferences. I think they can play an important role in acting as a bridge between traditional corporations and the free and open source software community. It seems to me that they are at a crossroads, however. If they allow large companies like VMWare to control the message, then they will eventually become just another irrelevant mouthpiece for the commercial software industry. Yes, that stand may cost them contributions in the near term, but if they truly want to represent this wonderful environment that has grown up around Linux, they have to do it.

I just went and looked up the compensation of the officers of the Linux Foundation. This is an organization with income around US$23MM per year (in 2014). The Executive Director makes about US$500K per year, the COO a little more than that, and there are a number of people making north of US$200K. In fact, of the roughly US$7.5MM salary expense, a third of that went to eight people. Considering that much of the Linux Foundation income comes from corporate donations, I think these eight would have a strong incentive to act in a way to protect those donations, even at the expense of Linux and open source as a whole.

Let’s compare that to the Software Freedom Conservancy. For the same time period they had about US$868K in total revenue, so about 1/30th of that of the Linux Foundation. They only have one listed employee, Bradley Kuhn, with a reasonable salary of US$91K a year (with total compensation a little north of US$110K).

Who would you trust with defending your rights concerning free software? Eight people who together make more than US$2.5MM a year from corporate sponsors or one guy who makes US$100K?

It’s funny, I wasn’t very upset about this segment when I listened to it, but now that I’m investigating it more, it is starting to piss me off. I expect someone in the Valley to defend those high salaries for the Linux Foundation as part of doing business in that area, so I looked up a similar organization, the Wikimedia Foundation. Twice as large as the Linux Foundation, their Executive Director makes around US$200K/year.


I’m going to stop now since I’ll probably write something I’ll regret. For full disclosure I want to state that I’ve known Bradley Kuhn for several years, and even though we tend to disagree on almost everything, I consider him a friend. I also know that Karen Sandler has joined the Software Freedom Conservancy in a paid role in 2015, so their salary expenses will go up, but I’d bet my life that she isn’t making US$500K/year. Finally, remember that if you shop at Amazon be sure to go to and you can choose a charity to get a small portion of your purchase donated to them. I send mine to, you guessed it, the Software Freedom Conservancy.

Getting back to Bad Voltage, the show ended with a reminder that the “best Live Voltage show ever” will happen at the end of the month at the Southern California Linux Expo conference in Pasadena. You should be there.

Since the next show will be about predictions for 2016, I’m going to throw my two into the ring.

First, a well known cloud service will experience a large security breach that will make national headlines. I won’t point out possible targets for fear of getting sued, but it has to happen eventually and I pick this to be the year.

Second, by Christmas, consumer virtual reality will be the “it” gift. We’re not there yet, but I got to play with a Samsung Gear VR headset over the holidays and I was impressed. It is a more polished version of Google Cardboard although still based on a phone, and it is developed by Oculus, the current leaders in this type of technology.

While the resolution isn’t great yet, the potential is staggering. I watched demos that included a “fly along” with the Blue Angels, and although the resolution reminded me of early editions of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, it was cool if not a little nauseating.

There was a Myst-like game called “Lands End” that was also enjoyable, although once again the low resolution detracted from the experience.

Then I played Anshar Wars. It was a near perfect VR experience. A first-person space shooter, you fly around and dogfight with the bad guys while dodging asteroids and picking up power-ups. No headaches, no complaints about resolution, it was something I could have played for hours. Note that it helped to be in a swivel chair ’cause you swing around a lot.

So those are my predictions. Since I doubt I’ll have the stamina to keep up with these posts, I’ll probably never revisit them, but the chance will improve if I’m right.