Embassy, by Sam Drake


Ok, we can get to the fun part! This is Part 3 of a multipart series on making the case for, and opening the way for, the Christian Believer to embrace Free, Open Source Software as one of many ways to live out a Christian spiritual practice. Part One and Part Two are mostly rationale, and today we're going to get started on actually talking about software you might want to use! Exciting!

The rest of this series will probably not talk about Theology or Christian Practice, that's part of the reason why I changed the title. What the rest of this series will do, however, is assume a couple of things.

  1. The user is either a Humanities Major or partially educated Humanities Geek (I'm the second one!) who does not have an otherwise technical background.
  2. The user has a certain, limited amount of tolerance for how much of a pain in the ass it is to learn how to use another piece of software, and requires something that is either already familiar-ish or is easy to pick up.

That's it, mostly. Funnily enough, this opens us up a little for an opportunity to say something true about the open source community;

There are not enough Humanities Majors contributing to Open Source

There are certainly more than none! Large projects even have more than a couple! I'm not saying they're not here, but I am saying that a lot of the FOSS community has a bias towards spending resources on things like technical implementation, elegant/conformant software code, and features, and has a bias against spending resources on “nonpractical” things like visual design, readable documentation, tutorial/onboarding design. The projects that take that kind of thing seriously stand out, head and shoulders, above those that don't. I'm going to do my best to point out when I think the team making software values visual/user interface design, and when I think the team is more interested in features (upon features upon features).

This post is going to be about swaps I think you could make today and be reasonably sure that your life would just be able to keep on truckin. They are, on the friction scale, a 0-1/10. The very first thing I think we can start with is the kind of search engine you use.

“Isn't Search a “BUMMER” product? I thought you weren't going to talk about those?

OK you got me, this is the only one. Search (as I covered in Part 2) is part of the kinds of apps that use a business model that Jaron Lanier calls “BUMMER” or “Behavior of Users Modified, Made into an Empire for Rent”. This is, classically, the business model of Facebook, Instagram, and Google.

I think what I meant is I wasn't going to go into the Arguments that You Should Delete Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (all Ten of them) because that's a big hurdle and honestly, even a man who despises BUMMER as much as I can admit it's a much bigger sacrifice for most people than using a different search engine. The reasons why you might want to use a different search engine, though, might be compelling.

Search, and the ads placed on it, is the main product propping up Google right now. They make money by letting people pay money to show you different links, instead of the most relevant ones you might actually want to see. It makes more money on those ads by tracking you literally everywhere, on the websites you visit, with your phone location data (if you use an android phone), with the data from your grocery store trip, everything. Easiest way to win that game is to just take your ball and go home. There's a lot of people making search engines that are not tracking you all the way to the soccer game and back, and these are the two I can most easily recommend.


DuckDuckGo has been around a long time, and I've been using them for a pretty long time too. They use their own webcrawlers (software robots doing the mining work of finding websites that might fit a particular search result) and use their own seach algorithms to create results. Those algorithms don't take in to consideration the previous search history of the user, and they don't gather that information anyways. It certainly delivers different results than Google does for the same queries, at least the couple times I compared results.

DuckDuckGo has grown in the past couple years, and it offers a little bit more than search these days. The major thing is an extension you can use for Firefox that disables any kind of cookie tracker you might run in to out there, along with a couple other helpful things. I don't really recommend it to you at this stage without the caveat that you should be aware that blocking trackers, cookies, and adware can cause some sites to behave strangely, and a small number of sites to break down completely. There's a tradeoff with all this stuff.


A lot of people are worried about search quality, and they probably started using Google for it's near magical ability to take a query like “That song with the stoner guy with the nasally voice that goes nah nah na NANA NAAA” and return the result “That's obviously 'Self Esteem' by The Offspring, give me a hard one next time” with the assumption that nobody can do the kind of thing Google does. Because everyone, technically, uses an individualized version of Google, it's tough to make accurate statements about “everyone's” search results. That said, because of the ubiquitous nature of search engine optimization, people have been remarking on the steady decline in perceived quality of Google's search results, which might be one way of saying that all search results are starting to become more equal in quality. That's a qualitative assessment that I can't make for you, I can just say that for me, using DDG used to feel like a sacrifice I made for the greater good, and these days I can't tell the difference between the quality of search results. Your milage may vary.

That said, if you still want to use Google search results for “reasons”, then you could use Startpage instead. Startpage gets you a lot of the privacy that you'd want by not using Google, but they still buy their search results from Google. The main difference is that you're not shown Google ads, and Google doesn't know it's you doing the searching. They just know that Startpage is doing the searching, you and all their other users.

But Sam, I just did some checking and neither of these companies are open source...

You've got me there. There really isn't any free and open source operators in the search business. It happens sometimes, another example would be handwriting recognition in note-taking apps, the only people who do it make proprietary software and the only people who do it well, right now, are giant companies like Microsoft (in OneNote) and Apple (in their Notes app in iPadOS). I'll admit that I'm not a FOSS Fundamentalist, like Richard Stallman. Stallman doesn't use any software that isn't FOSS because he's a bit impossible and doesn't have professional or social obligations that might require him to calm down a little bit. I use Open Source software, when I can, because it feels more human and humane to me. I see the people involved with the process more clearly and I see the fingerprints of their decisions all over the stuff they make. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole with me, you'll find that the main way people are inducted into this... “Fandom” doesn't sound right, “community” we'll say, is by having a problem, asking the internet a question, and having a person help you out. It's in chat rooms and collaborative help tools, and you may not know who “BrianLuvsLinux” is, but you'll know that his volunteerism is the reason you know that keyboard shortcut, and you'll never be able to say you did it all by yourself. And that kind of rhymes with the way the Church works, at least, the way it should work.


There are several options in the office suite world, but in my opinion, the rookie should only really consider two. The difference is going to be if you need access to a large number of features, or if you really want something functional that looks and feels as much like Microsoft Office as possible. There's one thing you need to know, though, and it's the one thing that's most likely (these days) to cause issues with interoperability between your free software suite and the proprietary stuff your coworkers/volunteers/mom uses. That thing, interestingly enough, is fonts.


Fonts, or typefaces (some graphic design person will correct me in the comments, but I can never keep them straight) are usually the culprit when your document looks funny when someone else opens it. We're going to roll RIGHT over the majority of these issues and say that if your document is intended for internal use in an office setting, my recommendation is to just use Arial or Calibri for everything (unless your whole office is all Mac users, then use SF Pro, which you can download from Apple). This should resolve the majority of your funky chicken issues with document formatting being broken on other machines. These are both proprietary fonts, kind of. Their license, the legal terms under which they can be used, is proprietary. They are, generally, freely available for users of any system. They'll come preinstalled on Windows machines, of course, and it's likely any office software you install on your windows box will just pull them right in to the selection box. If you run a Mac, then you should go here and follow the instructions. If you run a Linux box, why are you here? Just kidding, if you run a Linux box then the MS fonts should be in an unfree software section of your repositories. I'm sure a quick DuckDuckGo search should take you to a place to just download the .tty files, also.


OnlyOffice is my recommendation if you just need to jump in and write a quick word document or slideshow and don't need every feature in the book. The software is almost indistinguishable, to me, from MS Office, so users should feel right at home. support for proprietary formats like .docx and .xlsx is strong. The only real downside here is that OnlyOffice only includes the big three software programs, Documents, Spreadsheets, and Slideshows. If you need a database manager, math formula builder, or drawing/flowchart builder, you'll need to use LibreOffice.


So, with every name, there's a story. You've heard me talk about Free and Open Source Software before. A couple of times. There used to be a software suite that was called Open Office. Great software. Used it, loved it. It was bought a couple times, Oracle took it over, ignored it, and a bunch of people took the source code and forked it. A “fork” is a creature unique to the open souce world, its what happens when someone decides to take the software source, which is open to the public, copy it, (presumably) make some changes and then re-release the software under a different name. This is done for a lot of reasons, but for the purposes of this story you can just know that a new team took over active development of Open Office, with permission from nobody, and continue to develop it today as LibreOffice, while the original Open Office was allowed to die. Kind of. Oracle eventually allowed Apache to have the project, but that's neither here nor there.

LibreOffice is the product of a team that wants to actually replace all the functionality present in proprietary products. All the functionality. And add to it. Consequently, power users will have their best luck finding all their necessary features in LibreOffice, and maybe even some they wish they had with Microsoft. The only real exception here is that the most elite of all Excel blackbelts will probably have to stick with Excel. Reportedly, some people find there is still useful and necessary advanced features that have not been replicated, yet. That's probably not you, though. You're a Pastor, not an accountant. Unless you've got one of those big ol churches with a 15 Pastor staff and a Pastor for Everything and you're the Accounting, Bookkeeping and Guest Relations Pastor. In that case, I see you and your work is valid and important.

Downsides look back to the thing I mentioned earlier, the more a project focuses on features, the less resources they tend to invest in things like graphic design, user interface design etc. The one saving grace here, though, is that the UI is generally VERY configurable. So you can generally make it look exactly how you want.

In Conclusion

We're going to be working our way just a little bit further down the rabbit hole here, with the next post. I won't say where I think I'm going to go, next, but I think we'll probably return to the subject of Embassy, proper, before returning for Part 4 of this series. I'll see you then!

Also, I've got my email up on the banner! If you want to talk to me about what I'm writing here, drop me a line!

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #10.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel #OnlyOffice #LibreOffice #DuckDuckGo #StartPage

You can find The First Part of this series here.

Ok, so last post I could feel myself slipping a little bit into an argument that I desperately want to make but has already been made at length by several people, and it's an argument that you should delete your social media accounts right now. I think I will probably make that argument in the future, but any treatment I would make of it would be in direct conversation with the man who wrote THE required reading on the subject, Jaron Lanier and his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Jaron was there in Silicon Valley at the start, was a pioneer in the field of internet technology and virtual reality, and is probably a polymath renaissance genius man. He is the single most interesting/strange person I've ever interacted with, and you should go read his book right now. It's a surprisingly sympathetic treatment of the issue from a man almost allergic to angry diatribe, and it's probably the most important 120 page book you'll read all year.

Jaron uses an acronym to describe the problem with social media as executed right now, called BUMMER, “Behavior of Users Modified, Made into an Empire for Rent”, and I bring it up simply to carve out that subject as something I'm not talking about right now. BUMMER is a company making a huge behavior modification machine, then allowing other people (sometimes any old person) to use that machine in exchange for money. Facebook selling ads on a service they deliberately made as addictive as possible is BUMMER, Apple making it really easy to use an iPhone with your Mac (and a pain in the tuckus to use an Android phone with your Mac) is not BUMMER. They're definitely trying to modify your behavior, but you can be reasonably sure that the people modifying your behavior are Apple Inc, and it's easy to understand why they might want to. It's a pain, it's annoying, it's not a threat to global society the way BUMMER is. If you don't believe me that BUMMER is a threat to global society, read the man's book.

So what are we talking about?

We're talking about the digital tools that you use in your day to day life. Talking to the ministers who are paid by a church for their work (what a lot of people will call “full time vocational ministers”), I'm talking about the computer you write your sermons on and research your sunday school lessons on. I'm talking about the email service you use to be available to others and send out church bulletins. I'm talking about the office software you use to keep everyone on the same page, the cloud storage you use to back up your documents, the video editing software you use to make the video bumpers that are all the rage these days.

So what's at stake? What's so bad about these people?

I don't know if “these people”, the people at these technology companies, are bad people. You and I are Christian Believers, presumably, we know that “sin is a croucher” waiting to devour all people, so certainly uncareful or uncaring people create a large opportunity for evil outcomes. I don't know that the stakes include things like world domination, global poverty, or the capacity to change the world. What I do know is that tech companies behave in monopolistic ways, and their business model requires an attempt to enslave you to their product. We've become comfortable with that kind of enslavement, and maybe the stakes are relatively low, involving sums of money that don't really break your bank and don't make a huge difference to your church's budget.

These are rationalizations and justifications for ignoring a kind of enslavement that we feel is necessary for life in this modern world and ultimately has little impact on our life. It's like an enslavement to caffeine. It costs money, but it's ultimately benign.

And look, another thing I'm not going to do is spend this time telling you that this kind of entanglement is the most pressing problem in your life right now. I'm not telling you to delete your Windows Installation right now, even if you should delete your social media accounts right now (Last time, I promise!). I just want to open the realm of possibility for you and be the quiet but firm voice of empowerment that says “That annoying thing they do, they do on purpose, and no, you're not stuck with it. You may have to learn something new, but you can absolutely learn this new thing. I promise.”


Here's some rapid fire case studies to help you maybe see what I'm talking about.

  1. Your Mac comes with “Messages” preinstalled, but the only messages provider it supports out of the box is iMessage. It can integrate SMS text messages, but only if you own an iPhone. Many many many other pieces of free and proprietary software will integrate literally hundreds of different text message providers into one application, and Apple has some of the best software engineers in the world. They absolutely could integrate SMS, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Whatsapp etc etc all in to a piece of software on your computer. They chose not to, because they don't want you to use other messaging providers. They want you, and crucially all the people you talk to to use iMessage. Wonder why?
  2. Interoperability is a common thing tech companies don't do, because they want to keep you from using other people's products. Want to import Photoshop assets into your Final Cut Pro project? Have fun importing it manually. Creative Cloud would be happy to do it automatically for you, if you just switched to Premier.... Look for this, and you'll see it everywhere.
  3. Windows updates, and forced software updates in general, are a common pain point for Everyone and Their Grandmas. Your computer ran great when you bought it, and it ran a version of windows that you knew how to use and enjoyed using, and then they updated it! After bugging you with notifications to let them update it! And then it ran worse, and also you don't know how to use it anymore! Thank you, I hate it. These invariably include important security updates, for sure, but they could have unbundled security updates from user interface updates. They just chose not to. Why would they do that?
  4. My least favorite is Induced User Inadequacy. Why do you think you feel like the world of open source software, of linux operating systems and self hosted cloud services is just too complicated for you? Computers are, in reality, complicated machines with many moving parts. Tech companies work very hard to obscure that fact from you, keep you from ever having to learn how to work on it? Why would they do that? They might do it because there's a lot of money in selling a computer that requires no training to use, but they definitely also do it because an untrained user is much easier to market to. It's disempowerment, not empowerment. “You couldn't possibly use something else. And why would you want to? Staying is easy, leaving is hard.”

I don't go in for that kind of thing. I think it's kind of evil, the way a lot of companies act in a market economy is a normalized, banal kind of evil. The “free” in Free and Open Source is usually interpreted as meaning “Free as in Beer”, when the most important thing that it means is “Free as in Speech”. It's about freedom. For people who's lives are given in service to the Breaker of Chains, the One Who, With a Mighty Right Hand, Brought the Isrealites Out of Egypt and brought our people out of bondage to Sin, we should have a special and close relationship to freedom. The rub is that Software Freedom, like most kinds of freedom, will require something of an investment of time and attention from the user. I know you can do it. Question is, if you believe you can?

Part Three will begin the practicalities, starting with simple and easy FOSS substitutions you can make, and why you might make them. Your homework is to pay attention to the computers in your life and see if you can identify something you'd like to change that you're not allowed to change. Ask why that is.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #9.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel

So I've used Free and Open Source Software for a long time, and I have friends in the ministry who don't and don't think about why they might. I think the main barrier there is the feeling that they must be “techy” or “a programmer” to successfully run a Linux operating system on their computer, or to use Kdenlive or Digikam in their creative work. I think another barrier might be one of ignorance, they never knew that maybe they should think about it. I'm here to talk about it, specifically to my friends who care about the work of Christ in this world, my friends who care about human care and flourishing in this world, and my friends who don't. If I have any friends who don't.

This is another multipart series because I've been trying to write more and shorter posts. I'm also going to start by arguing from a negative. Today we're going to start talking about

Why You Might Not Want To Use Proprietary Software

(I don't know how title case works. I was many different majors in college, none of them were Composition)

I'll do my best to onboard you into the jargon required as simply as possible. We need to start by defining some terms.

Proprietary Software – this is almost all the software you use day to day. The people who develop this software work in private, publish a usable digital object to you, but do not and will not tell you how they made it. This is usually done to preserve competitive advantage, and to make users pay for access to that software. It could also be done to prevent users from modifying software, for example preventing you (or some enterprising individual) from removing copy protection from a music CD you bought.

Free, Open Source Software – often shortened to FOSS, Open Source Software is software that is developed in public, by self organizing teams of people or by individuals, and published in both a usable form (like proprietary software) and in the form of source code, or the blueprints or plans that are used to build that usable digital object, the program that you download on to your computer and click on in the menu to do something. Imagine if you bought a car, and it came not only with the service manual (how to fix it), but also the engineering drawings, allowing you to build or modify it to your liking. A person with a machine shop could make their own replacement parts, a person with a sewing machine could make custom seat covers that fit just as closely as the originals.

There's often a big question from people, why would someone give away a useful digital object for free. There are as many different reasons as there are Open Source Contributors, but the reasons often include Intrinsic Motivation, like the joy of building or creating useful software, Activist Mentality, like the belief that software should be free (for many various reasons) and Practical Reasons, like the observed fact that open source software is more secure, because it has many many more people observing the source code, looking for errors. People also make careers in open source, whether by individual contributions (patron-funded) or by selling service and support (Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Canonical, the publishers of Ubuntu, are very large companies that “give away” the software, but charge for service contracts).

OK but why wouldn't I use proprietary software?

There's lots of practical reasons that are somewhat technical and can feel esoteric if you only use your computer like you use your car, by walking up to it and pressing the “on” button. I won't go in to those, other than to say that open source software is just as if not more secure, easy to use and powerful than proprietary software. Increasingly, these days, the visual design is also just as good, if not better. Just look at Element or Firefox.

Proprietary software, especially the kind that runs your computer and phone, is made by very very large companies that have goals counter to the Gospel and counter to Human Flourishing.

That's my big Why. Whether it's a proprietary operating system, like MacOS or Windows, a proprietary software utility like DropBox, iCloud, or Evernote, a proprietary web platform like Amazon (not linking them), a proprietary mobile platform like iOS or Android (With Google Web Services), a proprietary creative suite like Adobe Creative Cloud, or a proprietary social media service like Facebook (nope), Instagram (noper), Twitter (Elon Nope) or TikTok (不), the goals of these companies are counter to your goals as a minister or activist. When you participate in the exchange of attention, the cycle of using these platforms and letting them use you, you are both actively sustaining them with the only thing you have that they need (your attention) and you are opening your life, thoughts, creativity and self to being shaped by these services to be better fitted to them.

You may feel that a boycott by one person is pointless and a waste of time, that you can't hurt them by you alone refusing to use them. Even if that is true (and I don't concede that it is), removing yourself from proximity and the influence of these organizations is an undeniable good. Their goals run counter to the Gospel and to Human Flourishing. When they shape you, they will not shape you into someone more capable and able to contribute to the Gospel and to Human Flourishing, and I contend there is no way to use them without engaging in a mutual use cycle. Not the way they're designed.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #8.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel