Amount of code developed by Purism for the Librem 5 phone

I was curious how much code Purism has developed for the Librem 5 phone, so I wrote a little Python script that downloads the source code from the projects that Purism started, runs the code through cloc to count lines of code, and then sums the total.

Here is what I get:

$ python3
Lines of code in Purism projects for the Librem 5:
	libhandy: 47730
	libadwaita: 51270
	calls: 20745
	chatty: 49661
	squeekboard: 17993
	libcall-ui: 4426
	phoc: 15277
	phosh: 48301
	feedbackd: 5970
	feedbackd-device-themes: 603
	gtherm: 1734
	haegtesse: 2105
	wys: 2442
Total lines of code: 268257
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Comparing the Librem 5 USA and PinePhone Beta

Look and feel, Branding and custom design, Extra accessories and box, Protection of hardware, Hardware kill switches, Extension ports, Flashlight / Flash, Charging, Display, Performance, Heat, Power Management, Haptics, Audio, Disassembly, Longevity, Tech support and community

I have been avidly following the development of the Librem 5 and PinePhone since they were first announced in August 2017 and in October 2018, respectively. One of the reasons why I’m so excited by these Linux phones is the fact that I can look at their schematics. The Librem 5 and Librem 5 USA are the first phones with free/open source schematics for its printed circuit boards, since the Golden Delicious GTA04 in 2012. PINE64 also releases the PinePhone schematics to the public, but they are proprietary so no one can reuse or modify them.

At one point last year, I got so obsessed by these two phones, that I went through the schematics of both models, and looked up the manufacturer and documentation for every named component with a model number in the phones and posted that information on the wiki for the Librem 5 and PinePhone. I also wrote a script to count the number of each type of component in the two phones’ schematics, in order to find out how many resistors, transistors, inductors, crystal oscillators, ICs, etc. were in each phone. My only excuse for this nerdy fascination with the two phones is that I had a lot of free time last year to obsess over the two phones due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Tutorial to get started using Github

I got tripped up the first time I tried to publish my own code on Github, so I thought I would write up a short tutorial for other newbies like me. I am going to explain how I use Github from the command line of your computer, and I recommend sticking to this method, since using the graphical interface through the Github web site or the Github app will hobble your abilities. In contrast, learning how to use git from the command line will empower you

The first thing to do is to follow these instructions to create your account on Github. After you have an account, go to and login. Then, click on the green “New” button in the upper left hand corner of the screen to create a new repository:

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What can be learned by taking apart a Huawei smartphone

The modern smartphone is an incredibly complex device, and sadly it has a very short lifespan due to it being designed for planned obsolescence. I saw this problem first hand when my girlfriend bought a used Huawei G play mini (CHC-U23) smartphone. Her previous smartphone had been stolen and she needed something cheap to replace it. After a year and a half of usage, the battery swelled up and was unable to hold a charge for more than 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, it was only possible to buy replacement batteries from China, and it would take over 4 weeks in shipping, so my girlfriend bought a new phone. After several years of sitting in a drawer, I decided to tear the phone apart and see what was inside.

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Reflections about rebranded and unbranded electronics

We have gotten to a point where the brand name on a product has little relation to who actually manufactured the device. Even the term “manufacturer” is becoming hard to define, since it is often separate companies which design, assemble and market devices. We now use confusing terms like Original Brand Manufacturer (OBM), Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Original Design Manufacturer (ODM), Joint Design Manufacturer (JDM), Independent Design House (IDH) and Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) to keep it all straight. With companies like Apple, Huawei, Samsung and Google doing a lot of their own chip design, even the traditional divide between chip companies and ICT products companies is breaking down.

It is even getting hard to define where something is made. When Purism launched its Librem 5 USA with “made in the USA electronics,” there were a number of critics that noted that most of its components were not from the United States. To be more accurate, Purism should have said “circuit boards made in the USA,” however, I was struck by how hard it is to define where its main processor, the NXP i.MX 8M Quad, was actually made. The processor was designed in Austin, Texas by an engineering team that used to work for Motorola, until it was spun off in 2004 as Freescale Semiconductor, and then later acquired in 2015 by the Dutch company, NXP, which was the old semiconductor division of Phillips that was spun off in 2006. The electronic design automation (EDA) software and many parts of the i.MX 8M’s System on a Chip (SoC), such as its DDR4 DRAM interface, are provided by Synopsys, which is headquartered in Mountain View, California. The 28nm chip itself was originally fabbed by TSMC in Taiwan, but then NXP switched to Samsung and it is now fabbed in South Korea.

By the standard definition, the i.MX 8M Quad is made in South Korea, since that is the place where the chip was physically manufactured. However, 83% of the semiconductor foundry market (i.e., contract chip fabbing) is controlled by Taiwanese companies (TSMC, UMC, PowerChip (PSMC) and Vanguard (VIS)) and S. Korean companies (Samsung and DB HiTek), yet semiconductor fabbing is highly automated work that employs relatively few people. The majority of the people employed to work on the i.MX 8M Quad are located in Texas and California, even though NXP is a Dutch company and the chip was fabbed in S. Korea. Depending on your point of view, you can argue that the i.MX 8M Quad is more American than S. Korean, especially in terms of labor and economic benefits, but European and Asian partisans can also lay claims to the chip.

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El precio de vivir en Bolivia como un extranjero

Acabo de pasar la última semana recolectando los documentos necesarios para obtener una visa de residencia definitiva de Bolivia. He obtenido visas en varios países en América Latina (Guatemala, El Salvador, Brasil y Perú), pero Bolivia es el país más difícil en mi experiencia. Por lo general se requiere más tiempo y frustración para realizar tramites en Bolivia que en otros países americanos.

En la mayoría del mundo, no es necesario tener un memorial firmado por un abogado para realizar tramites normales, pero en Bolivia, es un requisito. Por ejemplo, para obtener mis antecedentes de la FELCN, yo necesitaba un memorial de un abogado, y el abogado hizo mal el memorial, entonces tuve que volver para pedirle reescribirlo. La oficina de la FELCN se queda lejos de los abogados, entonces malgasté dos horas porque la FELCN no tiene un formulario sencillo para obtener los antecedentes. Tuve que obtener reportes de mis antecedentes de 3 instituciones (FELCC, FELCN y REJAP), porque la policia de Bolivia no puede unir todos su datos en solo un sistema como en otros países.

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Questions about how to add a new language to GNOME

I recently posted some questions to GNOME’s i18n mailing list <> and I think that they raise some interesting questions about the difficulties of using minority languages in Linux. I am reposting them here to see if anyone has any comments/suggestions:

We are creating a new distro called PluriOS, which is focused on users in Bolivia, and one of our goals is to offer the interface in Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní, which are native languages spoken in Bolivia. Our distro is a derivative of Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, so we are mainly focused on translating Cinnamon, but there are some elements that we need to translate in GNOME, such as the menus. Our goal is to translate about 10K words for each language and create a glossary of common terms (like “file”, “directory”, “user”, “menu”, “window”, etc.) and then try to recruit volunteers to translate the rest using our glossary.

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Propuesta para traducir Firefox en quechua y aymara

Actualmente estamos creando una distribución boliviana de Linux llamada PluriOS. Este proyecto es una iniciativa de OpenIT, que es una empresa de software libre basada en Santa Cruz. Una de nuestras metas es ofrecer PluriOS en las lenguas originarias de quechua, aymara y guaraní, que tiene aproximadamente 2,2 millones, 1,5 millones y 60 mil hablantes en Bolivia, respectivamente.

OpenIT tiene fondos para traducir en estas tres lenguas 10.300 palabras en Cinnamon, que es la interface de PluriOS, pero sólo consiste del menú principal y la opciones del sistema. Hasta ahora hemos traducido aproximadamente 9000 palabras en aymara de la interfaz de Cinnamon, pero todavia no hemos empezado las traducciones en quechua y guaraní. Aca es una comparación de la configuración del sistema en castellano y aymara:

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Unboxing the Librem 5 USA

I was very surprised when I got an email on July 20, 2021 that my Librem 5 USA had just shipped out of Purism’s Fulfillment Center in Carlsbad, California. The Linux geek inside me has been lusting for the Librem 5, ever since it was first announced in August 2017, and I was delighted that I would finally be able to play with the “made in the USA” version of the phone.

Sadly, I’m in Bolivia and the phone was delivered to my parents’ house in the middle of the USA, so I haven’t been able to physically touch the phone. However, there is a lot that I can do with ssh to play with the phone remotely until I can convince a friend who is traveling from the US to bring me the phone.

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Corporate Dems are not the same as Republicans when it comes to the environment

There is a tendency on the left to equate corporate Democrats and Republicans, and to say that they are all the same. In some regards, they do cater to the same interests and have the same foreign policy, but it is important to not overstate the case. One of the areas where I do see a real difference is in terms of the environment.

I don’t care for commentators on the left who seem to just be on team blue, which is what the Young Turks have become. However, I find myself increasingly at odds with the other extreme, which equates the corporate Dems and Republicans as being the same. One of the commentators who often makes this mistake is Kim Iversen. I appreciate Iversen, because she is independent in her thinking and willing to buck conventional wisdom, but she often opines on subjects where she doesn’t know much and that is clear in her recent YouTube video, where she says that there is no difference between carbon emissions between Democratic and Republican administrations.

Here is a comment that I posted in response to this video to set Iversen straight:
Kim, There has been a major difference between the Democrats and Republicans in terms of energy policy, and just looking at total carbon emissions is a very poor way to capture that difference

First of all, roughly half of the US reduction in GHG emissions by the has been caused by the switch from coal to natural gas in electricity generation energy plants. However, those numbers are deceptive, because the majority of domestic oil and gas production now comes from fracking, and there is a lot of scientific debate about how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere from fracking. If more than 2.6% of natural gas leaks into the atmosphere, then it has a higher global warming potential over 100 years than coal, and many scientists believe that to be the case, so the official GHG emissions numbers are probably wrong.

The rest of the reduction in US GHG emissions have been caused by the rise of alternative energy and greater fuel efficiency, and that is mostly due to the activity of Democratic legislation and administrations, whereas the Republicans have generally resisted that. The CAFE fuel standards were mostly passed by Democrats in 1975, with the bill being cosponsored by 14 Democratic Senators. It was the Carter administration that turned fuel efficiency into a major issue, with measures such as the 1978 Gas Guzzlers Tax on particularly inefficient vehicle models. It was the Dems in California who jump started the US solar and wind turbine industry in the late 70s and early 80s, with their big subsidies for alternative energy. Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House, whereas Reagan dismantled the panels, and fuel efficiency stalled under Reagan’s watch.

It was Bill Clinton’s USCAR ‘Clean Car’ research subsidy plan in Feb. 1993 which created hybrid car technology and got the heads of GM, Ford and Chrysler to come to Washington to promise to develop cars based on it. The Big Three reneged on their promises, but Toyota and Honda took USCAR’s hybrid tech to develop the Prius and Insight. It was the Dems in California who passed the bill requiring 2% of vehicles be zero emissions vehicles, which forced GM to make the EV1. Tesla was created because the founders of the company saw GM destroy the EV1. Tesla has literally pushed the entire auto industry to start making electric cars, but Tesla probably couldn’t have gotten the private capital investment in Dec 2008 that saved the company if investors hadn’t been looking at the guaranteed market caused by California’s zero emissions vehicle mandates which were passed by the Dems.

It was Bush’s 2005 bill which gutted environmental regulations on fracking, which helped create the fracking boom. That boom created a glut of natural gas, which lowered the price of gas and convinced energy utilities to switch from coal to gas. This had real benefits in terms of particulate and mercury emissions, but it is debatable if it really reduced total GHG emissions.

It was the Democratic majority that took control of congress in 2007 that passed the new CAFE standards and the $25 billion loan program to reduce vehicle emissions. Obama’s Dept. of Energy loaned $5.9 billion, $1.6 billion and $465 million to Ford, Nissan and Tesla in 2009-10. Without that money, it is unlikely that Nissan would have produced any Leafs in the US and it would have taken Tesla a lot longer to produce the Model S, which literally revolutionized the auto industry.

The Dems and Obama kept the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit alive for wind and solar energy, which made alternative energy viable in the early years. It was the Dems in 2015 that pushed through the bill that set a stable ITC and PTC for wind and solar throughout the Trump years. If they hadn’t done that, we would have seen a massive reduction in new wind and solar energy under Trump.

Trump’s anti-China trade war has massively hurt solar deployment in the US. Trump also gutted the Obama’s Clean Power Plan and his new rules to protect waterways which would have effectively ended mountaintop removal. It you compare Biden’s climate plan ( to what Trump would do as president, there is no way that you can say that the Dems are the same as the Repubs. Even if Biden has a Republican-controlled Senate and can’t pass his proposed $400 billion climate plan, what he promises to do with executive orders is significant.

Using LibreOffice’s Draw to edit a PDF ballot to vote by email

I just wanted to share my solution to voting by email. When I signed up to vote by email, I got a PDF file in my email box. PDF may be a free/open format, but there are remarkably few programs available to edit PDF files. I am not prepared to pay $12.99 per month just to use Adobe’s Acrobat Standard DC and it doesn’t even run in Linux, which is my operating system of choice. I can install an ancient version of Acrobat Reader for Linux, but it doesn’t allow editing of PDF files.

Sadly, all the PDF editors for Linux have their drawbacks compared to Adobe Acrobat. The solution that I found was to open the PDF file in LibreOffice‘s Draw program. Then, edit the PDF as an image file. Inserting text boxes is a bit dodgy with LibreOffice Draw. The easiest way I found is to write the text in LibreOffice Writer, then copy and paste it into the image in Draw. Then, I was able to move the text to the location where I wanted it inside the image.

For my signature, I took a photo of my signature with my smartphone, then transferred the JPEG file to my laptop via Bluetooth. Then I opened the file with GIMP and selected the part of the image containing my signature. I copied it and pasted the signature into Draw. The signature can also be obtained by opening the JPEG file in Draw, but I find GIMP more convenient.

When I finished editing my ballot in LibreOffice Draw, I was able to export the images as a PDF file under File > Export As > Export as PDF. Then, I sent that file as an attachment in my email.

Since LibreOffice runs on every major OS (Windows, Linux, BSD and MacOS) and is gratis, this solution should work for everyone. Of course, this isn’t the ideal solution, since the PDF file contains images rather than text that can be processed, but it is effectively the same as faxing in your ballot, which is also an image. I imagine that all email ballots are being processed manually anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what is the underlying format.

The questions that mobile phone reviewers never ask

One of the fundamental problems with the mobile phone industry is that most of the people who review phones only focus on the superficial aspects and don’t ask the right questions about the phones. It is hard to find a mobile phone reviewer who is even worth reading/watching.

The typical mobile phone review doesn’t provide much information beyond what can be gleaned by simply glancing at the phone’s spec sheet. The only real value they add in my opinion are their comments about each phone maker’s modifications to Android and their evaluation of how well the cameras work.

Most of the mobile phone reviewers such as Marques Brownlee (MKBHD), Lewis Hilsenteger (Unbox Therapy and Lew Later), Mrwhosetheboss, Verge, CNET, Engadget, etc. don’t have much technical knowledge. Only a couple reviewers like Anandtech and Android Authority bother to delve into the tech underlying the phone. Most of them blather on about style, how it feels in the hand, bezels and the screen notch/bullet-hole. They focus on the superficial aspects that anyone can figure out just by picking up the phone and looking at it, rather than informing the public about the unobvious aspects that truly matter for the long-term ownership of the phone.

Here are the questions that reviewers should ask when evaluating a mobile phone:

  • How long is it likely to receive security updates?
    Reviewers can provide the OEM’s history with previous phone models in the same market segment to tell people how long they can expect security updates.
  • How long is it likely to receive operating system upgrades?
    Again, most OEMs don’t tell you, but reviewers can provide the OEM’s history with previous phone models in the same market segment.
  • How likely is the phone to break if dropped?
    Reviewers should be conducting drop tests, but even if they don’t want to destroy the phone, they can look at the engineering and make some assessment of its durability. If it has a glass back, a curved screen or little bezel or casing to protect the screen, the phone is more likely to be damaged in a drop and reviewers should inform the public about those aspects of the phone, rather than focusing on its style.
  • How easy is the phone to fix if it gets damaged?
    Reviewers should open the darn thing and tell us how hard it is to replace the screen and the battery, because those are the two components that are most likely to need replacing. Reviewers should also tell us whether the parts can be bought and roughly how much a replacement screen and battery will cost.
  • How hard is it to root or jailbreak the phone, so preinstalled apps can be deleted and the configuration changed?
    It drives me bonkers that phone reviewers never cover the fundamental question of how to root/jailbreak a phone. They expect people to just accept whatever comes preconfigured and preinstalled in the phone and seem to believe that people should have no right to change it.
  • How hard is it to unlock bootloader?
    Reviewers never tell us what is the OEM’s policy toward unlocking the bootloader, so we have no idea whether it is possible to install another bootloader program like TWRP that allows complete device backups or install another OS, like LineageOS or another AOSP derivative.
  • How likely are TWRP and AOSP derivatives to be ported to the phone?
    Reviewers need to spend some time on the phone’s XDA-Developers forums and give us some idea of how likely it will be possible to keep using the phone after the OEM stops providing software updates. You usually can make an assessment even if porting work hasn’t started just by looking at the processor and the history of that OEM’s other phone models. OnePlus and Google phones always have good TWRP and LineageOS ports because they provide a lot of info to the community, they use Snapdragon SoC’s, and they have active users to do the ports, but it is hard for people to know when buying phones from other OEMs. Reviewers should let us know whether a phone has hardware that allows for porting, whether porting work has already started, and tell us whether similar models from the OEM got ports in the past.
  • What’s inside the phone?
    Reviewers should crack open the case and tell us what they think of the components they find. If they don’t have the tech knowledge to talk about what is inside a mobile phone, then they have no business being phone reviewers.

I have never read a mobile phone review that covers all these questions, which are fundamental to determining what will be the long-term utility of a phone. Every time I buy a new mobile phone, I have to spend hours investigating the phone at different sites such as iFixit and XDA-Developers forums to find the information that phone reviewers should be covering, but they don’t.

I see two fundamental problems with how mobile phones are reviewed. The first is that many phone reviewers don’t know much about the tech that they are reviewing. The second is that reviewers don’t seem to care about the total cost of ownership and the longevity of phones, so they don’t inform the public about the aspects of phones that matter for maintaining them over the long term. Tech reviewers seem to think that most people want to throw away their phones every two years.

Because mobile phone reviewers don’t focus on the questions that I listed above, people make poor choices when buying phones, because they aren’t informed about the total cost of ownership of different phone models. The longer a mobile phone lasts, the lower the annual cost of the phone. Because reviewers don’t cover these questions, the public doesn’t look to buy phones with a lower total cost of ownership and OEMs have little incentive to make phones that are less likely to break, easier to fix, are supported for longer and have longer lifespans. Phone reviewers are helping drive an industry that is based on planned obsolescence and locked-down devices that afford the user few rights.

What the MAS victory means for Bolivia

With the election yesterday in Bolivia, the ongoing political crisis that has griped the country for the last year since the “coup” of October 2019 finally seems to have been resolved. While the official results have not been announced from the election, the exit polls say that the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement to Socialism) decisively won the election in the first round with 52.4% of the vote, compared to the Comunidad Cuidadana (Civic Community) which garnered 31.5% and Creemos (We Believe) with 14,1%. I expected that the MAS would either barely win the election with the required 10% margin over nearest competitor in the first round, or it would lose in the second round, because all the other parties would unite against the MAS to form a majority.

Either way, I expected that 25% of Bolivians on one side or the other of the political spectrum would refuse to accept the results of the election, and we would have another round of protests and marches with the highways being shut down and no food in the markets, just like happened last October in the previous election. Before this election, I noticed that the price of food was rising in the markets and some people were stocking up in anticipation of a crisis.

With the MAS winning so convincingly in the first round, everyone basically has to accept the results, especially since the opposition is in charge, so it is hard for people to claim that the MAS committed fraud to win. This is an enormous relief for me because it means that we won’t suffer through months of political turmoil that I fully expected based on what happened in the previous election.

What most bothered me about last year’s election is the fact that the Organization of American States (which is heavily stacked with representatives that are opposed to the MAS) declared that election fraud had been committed without presenting clear proof to back up its claims. Four different groups (an NGO in Washington and 3 academic studies) analyzed the election and said that they couldn’t find statistical evidence of fraud. Inside Bolivia, many MAS supporters were convinced that the US conspired to overthrow the government of Bolivia, whereas many supporters of the opposition were equally convinced that the MAS committed massive election fraud. Nobody could come to any consensus about what had actually happened, and there was no reliable investigation to determine the facts of the matter. The interim government had an entire year to investigate the supposed election fraud, but it didn’t bother, so people were free to imagine whatever fit their preconceived notions about what actually happened.

My personal belief is that the MAS did commit some fraud, but it was localized and not systematic and not directed from the top of the party, and certainly not enough to swing the election. What bothered me the most, however, is that the interim government actually took down the website with the election data, making it difficult to investigate whether fraud had occurred and there was no published data on the internet of previous elections to do a comparison over time.

As for the theory that the US plotted to overthrow the MAS, I think it is likely that the US government officials did work through the OAS to produce an unsubstantiated report claiming election fraud when they didn’t have the clear evidence to prove it, which is similar to the role that the OAS previously played in overturning a Haitian election when the US didn’t like the election results.

There is some evidence of the opposition meeting with US government officials before the election, but I suspect this was just normal lobbying in case they won the election, rather than coup plotting. I say this because I haven’t seen any evidence of clear US involvement before the October 2019 election, so this is not like the coup attempts where we have good evidence that the US was involved in Venezuela in 2002, 2003 and 2020, Honduras in 2009, and Haiti in 1991 and 2004. As far as I can tell, the US doesn’t have a compelling reason to want to overthrow the government of Bolivia, but the neocons in the Trump administration are hardly careful planners or rational actors (as shown by their ludicrous actions against Venezuela), so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Nonetheless, I suspect this is simply a case of US government officials in the OAS taking advantage of an opportunity rather than anything that was pre-planned. Academics are still arguing over whether the US government helped overthrow the government of Brazil in 1964 or not, so we may never have a definitive answer as to what exactly happened.

What I can say for certain is that the OAS report that led to Evo Morales being ousted was extremely light in evidence and long in its conclusions. The OAS never even released the names of the 34 so-called “experts” who were sent to Bolivia to investigate the election or even what countries they were from. In my opinion, their “clear statistical evidence of fraud” was basically non-existent.

All of that being said, I also think that Evo was violating the Bolivian Constitution by running for a third full term in office. The MAS had stacked Bolivia’s supreme court, which used highly dubious grounds to rule that Evo was allowed to run for another term, so I can see why the opposition felt justified in declaring his election illegitimate. Furthermore, a plebiscite vote before the court ruling found that the majority of Bolivians were against Evo being allowed to run for another term.

On the other hand, Evo won the election even though people knew that he was violating the constitution that prohibits 3 consecutive terms for the president. Regardless of what people think about Evo’s actions, I think it is clear that this needed to be handled internally, through the traditional means of organizing popular protests inside the country to throw Evo from power, which is normally how presidents are kicked out of office in Bolivia. It should not have been done through an external body like the OAS producing a report claiming election fraud when there wasn’t much corroborating evidence. Furthermore, the police and the military should not have taken part in forcing Evo, his vice-president and head of the senate from power, in what in my opinion fits the technical definition of a “coup.”

Two of my closest friends in Bolivia lost their jobs due to the change of government and endured a year of unemployment, so maybe this effects my thinking on the matter, because people who I care about were harmed by what happened. At the end of the day, however, the coup did prevent Evo from violating the constitution, and did give the opposition the ability to investigate any fraud that MAS party officials committed while in office, so it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster for Bolivian democracy.

I personally feel very conflicted about this whole situation, because on the one hand, I am deeply opposed to the MAS’s environmental and energy policies and its plans for development based on environmental destruction. Basically, the MAS gave Bolivia 14 years of economic stability and economic growth predicated on a massive increase in the extraction and exportation of natural gas and minerals and promoted massive deforestation. Bolivia got more years of stability and growth under the MAS than it has ever enjoyed before in its entire tumultuous history. It also got redistributive policies that benefited a large portion of the population, and massive investment in education, roads, rural health centers, etc.

On the other hand, that growth is totally unsustainable, and is now coming to an end as the gas reserves now only have about 8-10 years left and the deforestation is provoking changes to the Amazonian water cycle that are leading to massive forest fires. Some climatologists believe that the Amazonian basin is hitting a tipping point from the combined effects of deforestation, climate change and forest fires that could irreversibly change the water cycle and lead to the gradual die-off of the entire Amazonian rainforest. The largest source of biodiversity on the planet is under threat due to the policies of governments that care more about short-term growth than long-term sustainability.

Almost every one of my friends who is an urban professional voted for Civic Community, except my friends who had jobs in the MAS government or are promoters of indigenous rights. My fiance who is a veterinarian and all of my friends who are environmental activists voted for Civic Community. Given that I think climate change is the greatest existential threat to humanity, I should have wanted Civic Community to win. One of my personal friends is running as a senator for Civic Community and I very much wanted her to win, since she clearly understands the environmental threats facing Bolivia. However, I’m closer ideologically to the MAS than the CC, so I felt very conflicted this election.

As I see it, Bolivia faces some major structural challenges, and regardless of which party got elected, I don’t think any of the parties are prepared to face them. Because Bolivian gas reserves are running out, its economy and political system are facing major crises.

At this point, the Bolivian state is essentially bankrupt, and many of the redistributive programs that earned the MAS so much popular political support will no longer be possible in the future. The major problem is that not only are gas prices depressed for Bolivia’s exports to Argentina and Brazil, but Bolivia’s gas reserves are rapidly running out. Roughly 40% of Bolivia’s exports are natural gas, 25% are minerals and 10% are soybeans, and all three of those exports will be dramatically reduced in the future.

The natural gas exports are financing many of the government’s benefits (bonos) that are widely distributed among the population, plus the schools, which have enjoyed a massive increase in their budgets. The popularity and political support that the MAS party enjoys largely depend on the largess and social programs that the party was able to finance through natural gas exports. Those same exports were also able to pay for massive subsidies for fossil fuels. Before the coronavirus caused a drop in fuel prices, roughly 90% of the price of natural gas in Bolivia was subsidized and 60% of the price of gasoline and diesel was subsidized. Bolivia’s cheap energy helped fuel the growth of the Bolivian economy for the last decade and a half, but it is totally unsustainable. Roughly 80% of Bolivia’s electricity is generated by burning gas and the number of private automobiles in the country tripled in 12 years, partly due to the gasoline subsidies.

As Bolivia’s gas and oil reserves run out, the state will have to eliminate these subsidies, which will generate massive social protests, because they will cause the price of everything to rise, from food to bus fares. The biggest single expense in the extraction of minerals and the production of agroindustry and beef is diesel fuel, which means that when the fuel subsidies are cut, these industries will become much less competitive with international prices and their exports and profits will fall.

In other words, Bolivia will suffer a massive cut in the majority of its exports at the same time that the state has to cut back its social spending. By winning the election, the MAS party has been handed a poison pill and its current popularity in the polls probably won’t last long once it starts cutting the fuel subsidies.

More problematic is the fact that the Bolivian state and its private sector won’t have the resources to deal with the major structural problems in the economy that absolutely must be addressed. Bolivia simply has to stop its policy of deforestation to stimulate the production of agroindustry and cattle raising if it wants to have a stable water cycle in the Amazonian basin and avoid the ever increasing forest fires that are decimated larger and larger portions of its land every year.

The soybean producers, coca growers and large-scale cattle ranchers are all potent political forces inside of Bolivia and newly-elected President Luis Arce Catacora is unlikely to confront any one of these groups to detain the deforestation and chaqueo (the practice of burning agricultural fields before planting) that are changing the water cycle in the Bolivian lowlands. Because President Jair Bolsonaro unleashed a massive wave of deforestation in Brazil, Bolivia is now particularly vulnerable to dramatic changes in precipitation and drought in the Amazonian basin.

The second structural problem that Bolivia faces is a looming energy crisis. When the Bolivian state was flush with cash from its natural gas exports, it wasted its profits on new hydrocarbon exploration and the building of massive gas thermoelectric generation plants, instead of investing in alternative energy. Now that the Bolivian state is bankrupt and the economy is in a recession, Bolivia has to find the funds to transition its economy to renewable energy, because its fossil fuel reserves are running out and it won’t have the exports to pay for importing fossil fuels when it can no longer export gas to Argentina and Brazil. 80% of Bolivia’s electricity, which currently comes from burning natural gas, will have to be replaced with wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal over the next decade, but it is unclear where Bolivia will get the funds for such a massive investment. Likewise, Bolivia will have to massively reduce its consumption of gasoline and diesel if it expects to have any balance of payments, as its exports fall in the future. Investing in the electrification of transport will be very difficult in a country whose economy is contracting.

Bolivians love to spin fantasies that they will find the next extractive boom to continue fueling their economy just like silver, tin and natural gas financed their economy in the past. Many Bolivians believe that lithium will be the next extractive cycle that will revive their economy after the gas wells run dry, but that is a fairy tale that the MAS party has been peddling for the last decade. Bolivia has 60% of the world’s lithium reserves according to some estimates. Nonetheless, lithium from Bolivia’s Salares de Uyuni and Coipasa will never be competitive with the lithium extracted from the salt flats of Chile and Argentina, because its lithium concentrations are much lower, it has much higher levels of contaminants like magnesium that are expensive to remove, its evaporation rates are much lower requiring more energy consumption, and its transportation costs are higher. Even if new extraction techniques can be invented that take less of a toll on the environment, it is hard to see why international mining companies would choose Bolivia, when Chile and Argentina offer better prospects, and lithium extraction is increasingly moving to spodumene mining in places like Australia.

Once Bolivia’s gas reserves run out, it will no longer have the foreign currency to keep importing gasoline and diesel, and it will have to eliminate its subsidies for fossil fuels. Since diesel fuel is the largest single input for the mining industry and agroindustry, and Bolivia’s geography imposes high transportation costs, a 60% price rise in diesel will make minerals and soybeans much less competitive in international markets. In the long term, the world will face a shortage of the minerals that Bolivia produces, but Bolivia is going to be much less competitive in the short term due to its higher production costs than other countries. What this means is that Bolivia will suffer a massive decrease in its exports of natural gas, minerals and soybeans in the next decade. For a nation accustomed to 15 years of a rising standard of living based on increasing imports, the new economy based on limited exports and imports will be a bitter pill to swallow for many to swallow.

Many Bolivians voted for the MAS, believing that that it would return the country to the good times with over 5 percent annual economic growth since 2005, but no political party will be able to recreate that growth. Bolivia is facing a looming energy crisis that demands massive investment in alternative energy and an ecological crisis which demands a ban on all future deforestation. At the same time, the country’s economy will be contracting and the state will have less revenue from gas exports to meet these demands.

Sadly, the Bolivian press has done a very poor job of covering these issues, and there was virtually no discussion of the structural problems facing Bolivia in the recent election. None of the parties really have plans to address the serious issues facing Bolivia, nor the political will to implement the measures that are needed. Trying to stop deforestation and raise the price of fossil fuels are paths to political suicide for Bolivian politicians, but they are necessary for the long-term sustainability of the country.

All of that being said, the recent election has at least gained Bolivia some needed political stability for the next couple years and a government that will resist IMF structural readjustment policies and neoliberalism that have destroyed the economies of so many developing nations around the world. I don’t see much new thinking in the MAS party, so I’m not very optimistic that it will address the structural problems that plague the country.

On the other hand, the MAS party now has such a large majority in the legislature and is so unassailable politically, that it can afford to consider politically-risky measures like confronting the deforestation caused by the largest cattle and soybean producers and fining their activities. Sadly, I don’t foresee Bolivian civil society forcing the MAS party to consider these sorts of measures, but 1.6 million hectares of Bolivia just went up in flames and the forest fires were even worse last year. At some point, the Bolivian people are going to start questioning the MAS Party’s development plans based on increasing deforestation, and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.

Wondering if my vote for president should be the lesser evil or a pointless protest

I’m staring at my absentee ballot and trying to decide how to vote. Since 1992 when I was 18 years old, I’ve been following the Molly Ivins strategy of voting. I vote Democrat when the vote is close, but I vote third party when the race isn’t close to register my protest against a party that seems to have little interest in representing me.

In Indiana, where Trump is guaranteed to win, my vote for the president is effectively meaningless, so I might as well vote my conscience. My choices, however, are a corporate Democrat, an insane Republican, or a nutty Libertarian, which means there is no real choice for me.

I’ve done a deep dive into Biden’s record, and frankly it makes me feel dirty to vote for the man. As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was a cheerleader for military intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein since 1998 and backed the murderous sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children according to the UN. Biden then helped railroad the nation into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I keep thinking about the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees that were caused by a war that Biden was uniquely placed to have stopped, if he had called for Senate hearings to question Bush’s assertions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Instead, Biden packed the Senate hearings with sycophants to American militarism to pave the road for endless war in the MiddleEast.

Let’s not talk about how Biden was one of the chief Democrats in the Senate who helped usher through NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, and the other free trade deals that destroyed 6 million American manufacturing jobs. Biden was one of the people that helped transform the Democratic Party to represent the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the working class.

Biden spend his career in the Senate as a lackey for the financial industry and was a major promoter of the financial deregulation in the late 1990s that led to the crash of 2008-10. Part of the reason why Biden was chosen to be Obama’s VP was because he was the favorite lickspittle of the big banks. As we found out from Wikileaks, Obama’s entire cabinet was chosen by a Citigroup executive in 2008. Selecting Biden to be his VP was Obama giving thanks to the financial industry, which dumped more money on his 2008 election campaign than any other group. It isn’t an accident that no Wall Street executives went to jail after committing massive fraud that wrecked the global economy in 2008-10, and that Obama did nothing to stop the banks from foreclosing on 4.6 million American homes after the government bailed out the big banks.

On top of all that Biden has a history of lying about his 40 year record of trying to cut Social Security and he regularly spouts misinformation about Medicare for All, which he promises to veto if Congress ever passes it. Finally, let’s not forget Biden’s despicable role in leading the charge to pass the 1994 Crime Bill and his role in helping to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court by undermining Anita Hill’s testimony.

All that history goes through my head as I stare at the ballot. I know that if I write Howie Hawkins’ name on the ballot, it will never be totaled, so my vote becomes effectively meaningless, because officials in the Democratic party won’t pay a bit of attention to the fact that I voted Green as a protest vote. If the voting were close, I’d hold my nose and vote for Biden, but the vote isn’t close, so I have the luxury of indulging my conscience.

The only thing that makes me hesitate is the fact that I have looked at Kamala Harris’ plan to fight climate change. She actually had some solid policy proposals for the existential threat that faces humanity. Of course, good plans are meaningless if the politician has no gumption for standing up to special interests, and Harris has demonstrated repeatedly that she has no spine throughout her career.

Nonetheless, I have spent enough time reading climate science that I have basically become a single-issue voter. I have perused most of James Hansen’s papers that he has published over the last 10 years and I’m frankly terrified about the long-term future of humanity. It took me 7 hours to plow through Hansen et al (2016) and by the time I was done, I was convinced that 5 meters of sea level rise over the course of a century is a real possibility. I read Peter Ward’s book about how hydrogen sulfide has caused a number of mass extinctions in the history of the planet and how another extinction is probably in the offing. I spent a couple weeks reading several dozen articles about past extinction events, until I couldn’t take it any more.

At this point, I would vote for the devil himself if he would give the US sane climate policy. What goes through my head is the question whether Biden will do anything meaningful about climate change. It is the one policy area, where Biden actually improved his position after negotiating with the Sanders campaign. Sanders was planning serious executive orders that had real teeth on climate change, but I doubt that Biden will do diddly. We won’t get a ban on new arctic drilling, new off-shore drilling, new extraction of fossil fuels on federal lands or EPA enforcement to stop mountaintop removal, like we would have gotten with Bernie Sanders as President. However, I hold out hope that Harris might be the point person in the administration on this issue, and we just might get some good executive policy, even if the Democrats don’t take the senate.

So I’m in a quandary about how to vote this election. I think about ocean acidification, and I reflect, “well doing something is better than nothing, and the ecosystem doesn’t care about my feelings about the Democratic Party.”

Then, I think about how Biden has made it very clear that he will continue the sadistic policy of economic warfare against Venezuela, which is part of the reason why there are now 5 million Venezuelan refugees. Yes, I know Maduro’s own economic policies caused Venezuelan farmers to stop producing food, but the US has a deliberate foreign policy of forcing millions of Venezuelans to starve. I see Venezuelans begging on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia every day where I live. I know that Biden will be just as callous as Trump toward the Venezuelan people. Every time I see a Venezuelan woman with baby in her arms begging on the side of the street, I will have to think about the fact that I voted for the heartless monster who wants that baby to be malnourished as a matter of US policy. I also know that Biden will continue waging war in 8 different countries and dropping 30,000 bombs on the Middle East every year.

Voting against the hope for better climate policy feels wrong, but putting my mark next to Biden’s name means that I am endorsing his long history of corporate centrism that is slowly destroying the US as a nation. The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that stood up for working people. Joe Biden was one of the people that helped dismantle the party of FDR and turn it into a party of that panders to the professional class and Wall Street. One of the reasons why the US is a country where 0.1% of the population own 92% of the wealth is because the Democratic Party stopped representing working Americans. When Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council moved the party to a position of centrist triangulation to pander to the rich and powerful, it displaced the traditional role of the Republicans. The Republicans in turn were pushed to become the party of the lunatic fringe that catered to the darker currents of xenophobia, racism and religious extremism.

The worst part is that I know that millions of Americans have deluded themselves into believing that getting rid of Donald Trump will some how save America. Despite what Joe Biden’s web site may claim, he isn’t running on any policy except returning the United States to the days before Trump, which were exactly the conditions which gave rise to Trump in the first time. Because Biden promises to do nothing to address the structural problems that gave birth to Trump, the Republican Party will be primed to vomit up another right-wing populist in another 4 years, who is far smarter and more disciplined than Trump. For all the damage that Trump has done, a strategic right-wing populist like Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley will likely be far more effective at undermining democratic institutions than a lazy bumbler like Trump.

In all likelihood, Biden will end up winning, simply because he got lucky enough to be nominated in a year where Trump’s own incompetence finally caught up with him when he failed to deal with the coronavirus. Biden’s win will serve to cement the belief in the leadership of the Democratic Party that they can go on giving the middle finger to the progressives that form the base of the party. They will continue believing erroneously that they can afford to keep ignoring all the people that have been marginalized and alienated by their neoliberal policies. Screw the youth, screw the Latin@s, screw the working class, and screw the progressive left in general. All that matters is winning suburban swing voters who are alienated by Trump’s uncouth behavior. That strategy will only further convince an entire generation of youth that there is no point in wasting their time with electoral politics when both of the parties have shown them the door.

Yes, the Democrats probably will win this election with a strategy of courting suburban Republican voters, but it means that Joe Biden has no policy agenda aside from reverting Trump’s executive orders and his ludicrous tax bill that gave 83% of the tax cuts to the top 10%. He will do nothing to address the structural problems that plague America and have led to a nation of extreme inequality. In 2022, Democratic voters will see no reason to turn up in the polls, because just like in 1996 and 2010, they will see how little the Democrats have done to fight for their interests when they control the government, so why bother turning out for them? By 2024, after 4 years of meaningless centrist triangulation, many voters will be so disgusted that they will be ready to turn to the next right-wing populist who promises to throw a brick at the system, just like in 2016.

I wouldn’t feel so bitter about being forced to vote for a corporate sellout like Biden who spent his legislative career catering to the big banks and who lied repeated about his record on the debate stage, if he had legitimately won the hearts and minds of his voters. The worst indictment of the system is the fact that poll after poll showed that Democratic voters favored the agenda of Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden. The CNN exit polls on Super Tuesday which set Biden on the path to victory found that the majority of Democratic voters in every state supported Medicare for All, even in conservative southern states. In the last poll I saw, only 9% of the voters who support Joe Biden in the general election say they are voting for him for his policy positions.

The exit polls showed that Super Tuesday voters believed that Joe Biden was the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump, yet that belief was not grounded in anything measurable. The matchup polling at the time showed that Sanders would beat Trump by the same margin as Biden and it had been that way for months. Democratic voters favored the policies of Sanders over all other candidates, but their overwhelming concern in the exit polling was getting Trump out of office, so they voted for the candidate who the media touted as a winner after South Carolina. If the media had done its job and properly informed the voters that Sanders had just as good of a chance of beating Trump as Biden, then the voting would have likely been very different. After Sanders won Nevada, he received three times more negative coverage at CNN than Biden after he won South Carolina by a similar margin. Just before Super Tuesday, the media relentlessly pumped the narrative that Biden was a winner and he was the best candidate to beat Trump.

What the media didn’t cover was the repeated lies that Biden told about himself:
* he was against the war in Iraq when he voted for it,
* he hadn’t tried to cut social security 3 different times,
* he had been against the surge in Afghanistan when he was advocating for it,
* he had been against NAFTA before he voted for it,
* he had marched in the civil rights movement,
* he was arrested in South Africa trying to visit Nelson Mandela,
* he had worked as a coal miner,
* he was shot at in the Green Zone in Iraq,
* his helicopter was “forced down” into “the superhighway of terror” between Afghanistan and Pakistan,
* he knew where bin Laden was hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan,
* he pinned a metal on a solder in the “godforsaken country” of Konar province, Afghanistan,
* he was the only one in his class to go to law school on a full academic scholarship (he didn’t get any academic scholarship),
* he graduated in the top half of his law class (he was 76th in a class of 85),
* he got three degrees in undergrad (he only got two degrees),
* he claimed that the New York Times concluded that the incident with Tara Reade hadn’t happened (which isn’t what the Times concluded)
* he claimed that Medicare for All would provide worse coverage and cost more than his health care plan (Biden’s plan will cost $50-$80 billion more per year and kill 13,000 more Americans per year than Medicare for All)

It is baffling that a man would win the primaries who has numerous corruption scandals involving his son and brother, has a history of being a serial liar, has a damning legislative record, and promotes policies which don’t match the views of the majority of voters in his own party. Yet, it becomes clear how it could happen when examining how little the press covered any of these issues. Biden probably would not have won if the media had done its job and actually informed the voters who they were voting for on Super Tuesday, instead of pumping a particular candidate as a winner to beat Trump. Maybe people would not have been more hesitant to vote for Biden as the man to beat Trump if the media had explained how poorly he appealed to Latino voters and the youth in general and how little blue-collar white workers identified with “working-class Joe” from Scranton during the early primary races.

It is hard to feel anything but disgust for an election system where people vote against their professed beliefs because the media not only failed to adequately cover the candidate’s record, but consistently downplayed and undermined the electoral chances of another candidate whose policies better aligned with people’s policy preferences. The most disgusting aspect is watching the media misinform the voters about the very policies that they favor.

It makes me feel sick inside to think about my choices this election, but at least I know that whatever name gets marked on my ballot is essentially meaningless, because my vote for the president doesn’t count. I don’t vote in one of the few swing states that will decide the election, so my anguish about which name to mark on the ballot is little better than mental masturbation.

Comparing specs of Linux phones

With the PinePhone and Librem 5 coming onto the market, the PDA’s by Planet Computer and all the Xperia phones being sold by Jolla, we now have quite a few choices in phones that can be bought with Linux preinstalled or supported by the phone maker:

It looks like the Necunos NC_1 (€1199, specs) will never be released. Sadly, Rob Braxman is no longer selling the Google/LG Nexus 5 (16GB) for $174.00 with Ubuntu Touch preinstalled and no longer advertises his service to install UBports on your existing phone.

To help people decide which Linux phone they should buy, I have created a table comparing the specs of the different Linux phones:

(It is best to use the .ods file even if using MS Excel, Quattro Pro, WPS Office, etc, but here is a converted .xlsx file if you can’t open the .ods file.)

The strategic advantages of Phosh for mobile Linux

Since Purism announced the crowdfunding for its new Linux phone, the Librem 5, on August 24, 2017, it has been heavily criticized by the Linux community for deciding to create a new mobile desktop environment (DE) based on GTK and the GNOME ecosystem. It dubbed its new interface “Phosh,” which is a portmanteau from “phone shell”.  Despite all the criticisms that Purism has received, I believe that the Phosh DE is likely to become the most popular user interface for Linux phones and will play a crucial role in helping to establish mobile Linux as a viable alternative to the Android and iOS duopoly.

There were already many existing mobile desktop environments (DE’s) that Purism could have selected when it announced the crowdfunding for the Librem 5 on August 24, 2017.  There have been over a dozen mobile Linux DE’s created since the first two Linux phones, the Motorola A760 and the Yopy YP3500, were released in February 2003. Purism could have selected from many mobile interfaces, including Sailfish OS’s Silica, Firefox OS’s Gaia, KDE’s Plasma Mobile, UBports’ Ubuntu Touch, Maemo Leste’s Hildon, LuneOS’s Luna Next and Nemo Mobile’s Glacier UI. Many in the community felt Purism was wasting resources and causing needless delays by creating yet another mobile interface. Continue reading

El núcleo de Linux y los navigadores de web tienen miles de desarrolladores, pero otro software tiene muy pocos

¿Qué programa en mi computadora contiene más líneas de código y más desarrolladores?

Programa Líneas de código Número de contribuidores
Núcleo de Linux 19,2 M 4037
GNU Core Utilities 93,6 K 17
Bash 224 K 1
GNOME 16,3 M 776
Cinnamon 777 K 64
LibreOffice 9,51 M 213
Firefox 22,2 M 1291
Chromium 25,6 M 2109
Geany 236 K 31
KiCAD 908 K 324
Inkscape 629 K 92
GIMP 867K 74
Debian 85,7 M 123

Nunca me he imaginado que el navegador web contiene más líneas de código que cualquier otro programa en mi compu. La complejidad de un navegador web moderno es increíble. El web contiene 25 años de estándares (HTML, XHTML, DOM, JavaScript, CSS, XML, SOAP, WSDL, XSLT, WebGL, WebGPU, tipos de imagines, vídeo y audio, etc) y todo tiene que ser compatible atrás.

La maquina navegador de Firefox (Gecko) ha sido programado desde el año 1997 y la maquina de Chrome/Edge/Opera/Brave (KHTML -> WebKit -> Blink) fue iniciado en 1998. El código debe ser un lío después de 23 años de desarrollo continuo. ¿Puedes imaginar el problema de mantener código que tiene que soportar 25 años de estándares y necesita mucho rendimiento y mucha seguridad?

La Fundación Mozilla creó la nueva lengua Rust porque fue tan difícil escribir código seguro en C++, que ejecuta en muchos cores a la vez.

Me sorprende el número de personas que contribuyen al código de Chromium, pero hay tantas empresas contribuyendo a su desarrollo (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Opera, Adobe, Intel, IBM, Samsung, etc.) porque hay 3 mil millones de personas en el planeta que utilizan su código. Sin Blink y V8, el mundo virtual dejaría funcionar.

Yo sabia que el núcleo de Linux tiene más desarrolladores que cualquier software del mundo, porque todo el mundo utiliza su software y tiene que soportar 30 arquitecturas diferentes de chips, producidos por cientos de empresas. Hay cientos de empresas que pagan desarrolladores para contribuir al núcleo de Linux.

Lo que me sorprende es el número limitado de desarrolladores de otros programas. ¿Sólo hay un contribuidor de Bash y 17 de GNU Core Utilities? LibreOffice depende de 213 personas, que es un número muy limitado para mantener un programa de 9,5 millones de líneas de código y casi todos son voluntarios porque muy pocas empresas contribuyen a su desarrollo. Me da rabia cuando yo pienso en los millones de desarrolladores que malgastan su tiempo creando apps inútiles de Android y iOS.

No estoy seguro de que consiste todo el código de Debian. Me imagino que la mayoría de su código es prestado de otros proyectos, pero 123 personas no son muchas cuando pensamos que 2/3 de las maquinas utilizando Linux son de la familia Debian (MX Linux, Ubuntu, Mint, elementary, Zorin, Pop!_OS, PureOS, etc.)

Recognizing the growing risk of rocket emissions for global warming and ozone depletion

There are a growing number of fans of space exploration and colonization, but they seem to be totally clueless about the potential environmental problems from rocket emissions. Many of these space fans turn to Tim Dodd, who is known as the “Everyday Astronaut” on the internet, to get the latest news from SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Rocket Lab, etc. Unfortunately, people like Tim Dodd are not reliable sources of information when it comes to the environmental impact of rockets.

Dodd recently produced an article and video about the emissions from rockets. Dodd should be commended for trying to calculate the emissions for a number of different rocket models. However, he either hasn’t read the papers by critical investigators such as Dr. Martin Ross or his boosterism of space exploration makes it difficult from him to understand the potential problems with a massive increase in rocket launches.

In response, to Dodd’s article, I posted this critical comment, pointing out what he missed in his article:

Tim, I appreciate the time that you took to calculate the emissions for each type of rocket, but you did a real disservice to the community by not clearly explaining how rocket emissions threaten the environment. M. Ross et al (2009) estimate that rocket emissions only account for 0.03% of ozone depletion, but they predict that rocket emissions will deplete the ozone layer more than CFC emissions by the year 2050. See:

The big threat to the ozone layer is the growing use of rockets that are fueled by ammonium perchlorate and alumina, which will be driven by the future boom in the space tourism industry. Virgin Galactic’s Unity uses 15,000 lbs of fuel, which we can guesstimate is 68% NH4ClO4, 18% Al and 14% HTPB. Considering that Virgin Galactic already has reservations for 600 passengers / 100 flights, it is likely that Virgin Galactic will be launching several thousand times per year by 2040.

Your article focuses on CO2 emissions which is totally wrongheaded, because the vast majority of radiative forcing (RF) from rockets emissions comes from black carbon, alumina and water vapor. Unlike in the troposphere, where black carbon and alumina particles quickly disappear, these particles stay in the troposphere for roughly 4 years on average, so they cause a lot more warming over time. Ross and Sheaffer (2014) calculate that rocket emissions produce about 16 mW/m2 of RF, which is about a fourth of the RF of the global aviation industry. See:

The amount of RF is probably higher today than what Ross and Sheaffer calculated, because of the increasing number of kerosene rocket launches by SpaceX. Ross and Sheaffer believe that black carbon has a global warming potential (GWP) of 50,000 due to how long it lasts in the stratosphere, making it the most potent warming substance produced by humans. Ross and Sheaffer calculate that a kerosene rocket produces 30 times the radiative forcing of a comparable hydrolox rocket. If the use of solid and kerosene rockets keeps growing, the rocket industry could produce more radiative forcing than the aviation industry in the future.

We don’t know exactly how long particles stay in the stratosphere at altitudes of 20-30 km where most of the ozone layer is located. We need a lot more study of the impact of black carbon, alumina particles, methane and water vapor in the stratosphere. Despite that uncertainty, I believe that rockets using ammonium perchlorate and alumina fuel should banned (except for non-regular uses such as emergency abort systems and ballistic missiles). If we look at the amount of black carbon that kerosene rockets produce, we need to move to methalox and hydrolox rockets as quickly as possible.

If the plans of SpaceX, Blue Origin and ULA come to pass, there will be massive numbers of methalox rocket launches in the future. I haven’t found any papers that calculate the radiative forcing and ozone depletion from methalox rockets. They seem to be better for the environment than solid and kerosene rockets, but there are still serious questions about whether the water vapor, NOx, CO2 and unburned methane that they emit will have serious effects in the stratosphere. What percentage of methane isn’t burned in the Raptor and BE-4 engines? I can’t find any estimates. In the troposphere, methane converts to CO2 after an average of 9.1 years, so it is calculated that 1 gram of methane has the same global warming potential (GWP) as 33 grams of CO2, but if methane doesn’t convert to CO2 very quickly in the stratosphere, then its GWP could be much higher. The water vapor from rocket emissions will stay much longer in the stratosphere than in the troposphere, so the warming effect from rocket contrails could be much larger. If the growing emissions from rockets heat up the stratosphere, then the chemical reactions that destroy ozone could also speed up, and we could potentially destroy the ozone layer.

We don’t have to worry too much today, but if Virgin Galactic has thousands of solid rocket launches per year and SpaceX is launching StarShip tens of thousands of times per year, then we really do have to worry. Elon Musk is planning to send a million colonists to Mars, which would mean 10,000 passenger flights and 100,000 equipment flights of StarShip to Mars. If we guesstimate 5 launches to fuel up StarShip for each flight, then that means a total of 550,000 launches. We had better be really sure that we know the impact of methalox rockets in the stratosphere before we start colonizing space, because we can’t take the risk of destroying the ozone layer.

It is clear that Dodd did a lot of research for his article on rocket emissions, so he probably ran into some of the Martin Ross’s work, but he seems to have either ignored it or done mental gymnastics to dismiss it. Sadly, this is the response of many smart people when they find out that their favorite activity has large environmental impacts. We can always find ways to justify what we appreciate, whether it be red meat, private cars, air flight or space flight. The challenge is trying to be honest with ourselves about the impacts of what we humans do to our planet.