The “first three months” test (and the “three months ahead forecast”)

The lake I pass every morning on mThe lake I pass every morning on my view to the ICTY, frozen in Februrary 2012. y view to the ICTY, frozen in Februrary 2012.

The lake I pass every morning on my way to the ICTY, frozen in Februrary 2012.

When I arrive to a new country I have seen myself doing mentally what I call the “first three months test”. The test is simple: Taking into account my first long experience abroad (this is, when I went to Serbia), I annalyze how my life was there during the first three months and I compare it with my current situation, wherever I am .

The parameters I take into consideration are the following:

– Knowledge of the city, the culture, and the local language.

– Friends (and quality of friendship).

– My position in the local music scene (if I have a band or not, assistance to jam sessions…).

– Personal feeling about the city (do I feel like living here longer?, do I see myself here in a few years?).

– Activism in the city/country.

The “test” consists in annalyzing how those parameters where back then in March 2010 in Belgrade and how the situation is in the present. For some reason, my stay in Belgrade has become the “role model” for every project in a new destination.

Dirty Mind Quintet recording. August 2010.

Dirty Mind Quintet recording. August 2010.

Despite the simplicity of the test, the diversity of factors make it interesting and results vary every time I am in a new country. Sometimes, like now, I have no band (while in Belgrade I had already 3), but I may have made closer friends here faster than for example in Greece, where I needed a revolution to make long-lasting friends (althoguh I had some already).

In Serbia I had language lessons, which helped to learn the language, while my knowledge of Dutch is nonexistent. On the other hand, I experienced some activism in The Hague, while in Serbia social movements remain underground after years of wars and non-reliable political leaders.

The final question about my feelings about the city are inconsistent at the moment.

Plein, the main square of The Hague.

Although I love The Hague, the lack of income makes unlikely for me to stay here longer, and therefore I am not really seeing myself here. And that is the second issue: My personal “forecast” for the time ahead.

As you are probably aware, I decided to extend the internship until July. The following months promise to be exciting: Preparing the final briefing for our case, Queen’s Day, an interesting conference in Brussels, and probably a soul/funk band project. I also expect some visits from Andalusia when the good weather comes. In the meantime I will keep enjoying life here. Despite learning, going out from time to time, and having dinners with friends, I travelled quite a lot during the last months: London was the furthest I went, and I did it to visit

Traditional “folk” dance in Maastricht. American folk dance, though.

Antonio (who gave me the title for the blog and who I had not seen in 4-5 years) and Maciek. In the Netherlands I visited Amsterdam (3 times), Utrecht (twice), Delft (uncountable times), Haarlem, Leiden and Maastricht. Besides Brussels, I intend to go to the north of The Netherlands sometime, although I am also considering stay more in The Hague and save money (even low-budget travelling starts to be expensive, damn it!).

Maciek and me in the “I International Molerovers meeting”in London. Extreme volunteering, as usual.

Regarding jobs, I definitely need to keep doing “job-sicking” (as a colleague calls it), but nevertheless I keep being optimistic about it. Why? Because optimism is a revolutionary act.

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Free Software Social Networks for Social Change: A look into recent events in Wall Street and Egypt

(Originally written for FSFE in September 2011).

The Arab Spring, the 15M movement and Occupy Wall Street are all part of a new wave of change around the world. In this wave of changes the use of social networks has become essential to reinforce strategies, communicate with a huge number of activists as well as spreading news over the Internet. In this era, the need of social networks not subject to censorship is urgent and essential for social change in the XXI century. The recent events in Wall Street and Egypt demonstrate this importance and that these helpful tools, being privative and corporate owned, might be easily subject to censorship as it happened both in NY and Egypt .  But,

  1. How has censorship occurred in NY and Egypt in social networks? In those cases censorship was enforced in different ways. Apparently the trending topic #OccupyWallStreet was blocked for a period of time by Twitter , thus blocking communication between those activists present in the place and those willing to assist the rally or to be http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htminformed about the event. This problem was overcome using other trending topics but it  remains possible that next time all new topics are blocked and therefore making it impossible to communicate using this social network. In Egypt Facebook was also blocked in an attempt to stop the revolution. As we can see, the need for a reliable, stable and secure social network seems nowadays as no less than an extension of other human rights as the right to peacefully assembly or the right to association, as well as the right to privacy.
  2. How do privative software networks attack the right to privacy?The right to privacy is a human right recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its art.17 that can be seriously affected when using social networks. Besides censorship issues already commented, the main problem is that both Facebook and Twitter (as many other social networks) are companies whose main interest is earning more profits, and therefore they tend to trade with delicate personal information from their users in order to sell it to third parties (i.e.: that is why you get certain advertisements in your main Facebook page). As FSFE President Karsten Gerloff put it, in Facebook “you are not the customer: You are the product” . E-mail providers are not an exception to this. The case of Gmail and other e-mail clients with a column of advertisement that change according the topic of the e-mail you are reading at that moment is quite frightening despite the fact that we are already used to it.
  3. Are there any FS alternatives that can overcome this threat? There is still no stable version of an alternative Facebook based on Free Software although there are some efforts being done at the Diaspora Social Network community and  N-1 (for social activists). Regarding tweeter alternatives, identi.ca has been working fully since 2009 and gives the same features than tweeter but respecting privacy and not being under control by anyone.
  4. Then… are Free Software-based technologies 100% safe from abuse? Unfortunately, Governments still can block IPs and the whole traffic of the Internet in a country so even for open source communities is no 100% safe, but it is still definitely safer than privative ones like Facebook or Twitter.
  5. How can human rights defenders protect their activity and themselves? There are many tools that HRDs may use in order to  work effectively with less risks for themselves. First of all, the use of Free Software Operative Systems (GNU/Linux) is a must. The times when alternatives to Windows or Macintosh were just for nerds dressed in black is far over today. There are GNU/Linux distributions as Ubuntu or Fedora that anyone is able to use quickly due to its intuitive design, despite the fact that you would need the obvious adaptation time you need to get used to a new operative system. However, this will not require more than adapting to use a smart phone instead of your old not-so-clever mobile phone. Most of Free Software distributions come already with all you need to work on your computer such as internet browsers, e-mail clients, instant messaging programs, audio and video players, as well as Libre Office to work on all kinds of documents. Even if you still (??!!) use a non-free operative system (1) you might see yourself using every day Free Software programs such as Firefox or Thunderbird, which might help you not to freak out when thinking to “convert” to a Free Software alternative.
  6. Why is Free Software so important? There are many reasons to use Free Software. FSFE makes a interesting point in their website when it states that , “(f)or those who are connected (…) human rights of participation in culture, freedom of speech and opinion are influenced to a large extent by their control over the software they use, as are freedom of association and movement. Software forms the medium. Unlike the proprietary approach, Free Software gives each person full control about their personal information space. Although this alone is not sufficient to grant privacy and security, it is a necessary prerequisite.” Frontline, an Irish-based NGO that defends human rights defenders, also promotes the use of Free Software as a tool to defend Human Rights in a safer way. In its useful guide “Digital Security & Privacy for Human Rights Defenders” Frontline provides with a extended list of measures that might increase to a high level your security on the Internet. These measures go from using GnuPGP keys in order to encrypt your e-mails to more complex systems to hide your IP, explained always in a non-geek manner. “Security and Privacy for Dummies” might have been another good title for the guide.
  7. Ok… Where should I start? First of all think about how much privacy and freedom matters to you. Another reason would be how much you prefer to support local businesses rather than greedy multinational corporations. Once you decide to go one step beyond for your freedom, you may start using some Free Software programs to run on your current non-free operative system. There are many programs for Mac and Windows. If you are already convinced to switch to a Free Software option, try any of the Live CDs that allow you to test GNU/Linux systems in your computer without installing it and, if you like it and everything works, make a backup of all your files and install it to work alone (desirably) or along with your non-free operative system. If you choose this last option you will be able to choose among your different operative systems when you start your computer. A step forward after this would be learning how to encrypt your hard-drive (this can be done when installing most GNU/Linux distributions) as well as your e-mails. With these steps you will be a little bit more free and secure. So let’s begin… how much does privacy and freedom matters to you?

Notes: 1- The words of Free Software Foundation Richard Stallman make a interesting point at why this is not an obvious question : “People started using computers with proprietary software, they took for granted that that’s how it is, everyone around them was saying this is how it’s has to be, and only the Free Software Movement was saying anything else”. (Read the rest of the speech for more info ).

Good and bad news

Bad news: You (probably) won’t receive more of my long e-mails, full of funny stories and pictures. Good news: I created this blog so you can still keep track of my stories in case you are interested. Next first post in the following days!

p.s.: I will also add older emails and posts.