30 November 2006

Sun Opts for GNU GPL v2.5

I've written elsewhere about my pleasant surprise at Sun choosing the GNU GPL for Java. But an obvious question that follows on from that news is: which GPL? B

This is a highly political question, with no easy answer. And yet Simon Phipps, Mr Open Source at Sun, has given a good 'un:

the very first question Richard asked me about OpenJDK was "GPL v2 or later" or "GPL v2 only"? I explained that Sun could not in good faith commit to using a license sight-unseen for such an important code-base. It's used on 4 billion devices, there are more than 5 million developers dependent on it for their living, and the risk - however slight - that the GPL v3 might prove harmful to them can't be taken. So while we are very positive about the GPL v3, committing to using it when it's not finished does not seem responsible stewardship. I hope we can use it, but I can't express that hope by committing in advance. So for now, the Java platform will be licensed under just the GPL v2.

Sounds fair enough to me.

The Digital Library of India

There's plenty of noise in the press (and blogs) about the Google Book project, or the Million Book Project. These are all interesting and laudable (well, those bits of it in the public domain, at least), but what about elsewhere?

Here's an interesting piece about the Digital Library of India (DLI) initiative. Here, for example, is an issue I bet you've never considered before - I know I haven't:

Designing an accurate OCR in the Indian languages is one of the greatest challenges in computer science. Unlike European languages, Indian languages have more than 300 characters to distinguish, a task that is an order of magnitude greater than distinguishing 26 characters. This also means that the training set needed is significantly larger for Indian languages. It is estimated that at least a ten million-word corpus would be needed in any font to recognize Indian languages with an acceptable level of accuracy. DLI is expected to provide such a phenomenally large amount of data for training and testing of OCRs in Indian Languages. Many of the contents, besides scanned images, have been manually entered for this purpose. Using this extremely large repertoire of data, a Kannada OCR has been developed.

(Via Open Access News.)

Going All Googly on Copyright

Some people might say I already write too much about copyright; but for those who don't, and are dying for even more of the stuff, here's a blog on the subject. And not just any old blog (like this one); how's this for author credentials:

Senior Copyright Counsel, Google Inc. Former copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary; Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights; Law Professor Georgetown Law Center (adjunct), Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (full-time faculty member, founding director L.L.M in Intellectual Property program), author of numerous treatises and articles (including one on fair use with Judge Richard Posner), including a forthcoming multi-volume treatise on copyright.

The latter, by the way, is a cool 6,700 pages long.... (Via Against Monopoly.)

Dry Up, Epson

Time to stop buying Epson inkjet printers, it seems.

Finding Our Way to a Third Life

Talking of geography, here's geograph, which "aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of the UK and Eire". That's nice, but I'd like to see this go further.

Imagine if pix were available for a much finer mesh - say, every ten metres (or something). Imagine, then, using some software like Photosynth, a seriously cool piece of software that is sadly closed source (and Microsoft's, to boot), to stitch all those images together into a complete, three-dimensional world - our world - that you could navigate through, while able to see everyone else there doing the same.

Third Life, anyone? (Via Open (finds, minds, conversations)...)

WAYN - Where Were You?

The Internet famously abolishes geographical location, but people are still located. This means that you often want to know where your family, friends and acquaintances are. Where Are You Now (WAYN) lets you provide your present and future locations for interested parties. It's an obvious idea - so obvious, in fact, that I wonder why it hasn't come along before. (Via Quoi9.)

29 November 2006

Microsoft: Do You Have to Be So Blatant?

Massachusetts, we know, has had a troubled time when it comes to implementing ODF. But here's some fresh blood on the technical advisory group that will oversee that project. Oh, but wait a minute, who's this newcomer? Andy Updegrove has the details:

That person is Brian Burke, the Microsoft Regional Director for Public Affairs, and if that surprises you, it surprises me as well, given the degree of acrimonious debate and disinformation witnessed in Massachusetts over the last 15 months involving the Information Technology Division's transition to ODF.

Er, Microsoft? As in "not-really-keen-on-ODF" Microsoft? Isn't this a little bit, well, you know - blatant?

WordPerfect Does ODF - Finally

Still hedging its bets somewhat, Corel has finally done it:

Corel Corporation (NASDAQ:CREL; TSX:CRE) today announced that Corel WordPerfect Office will be updated to support new XML-based file formats, the OASIS Open Document Format (ODF) and Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML).

Better late than never.

Closing in on the Tipping Point

If users are a software company's bread and butter today, developers are the future. That's why Microsoft has built up such an impressive developers' programme. Keep them sweet, and you keep tomorrow safe.

Well, that was the theory, but something seems to be going wrong. The latest of the by-now venerable Evans Data reports on developers shows some pretty amazing trends.

Try these for size:

developers said that in the next 12 to 18 months they expect to be developing more Linux apps than Windows apps.


developers with Linux chops report that their top two development choices are Web-based interfaces and rich client applications. This was expected because these types of apps have such wide usage.

The No. 3 choice, however, falls under the category of “emerging market”: Linux desktop apps.


The organizations that these developers work for (or are aligned with) will be taking a look at many open source applications in the next two years, the survey finds.

A hefty 69% will consider open source browser Firefox, with 70% planning on considering application development software.

Also interesting is the popularity of code re-use:

developers are using chunks of code from the open source library, or open source third party solutions, to complete their own projects.

The survey finds the practice is particularly popular because of today’s tight development cycles. Also driving popularity is the cornucopia of open source choices that are now available. Some 32% of developers say “ease of use” prompts them to use pre-written open source code, with 25% reporting “quality” as their rationale.

Is that the sound of a bandwagon approaching? (Via Tuxmachines.org.)

BitTorrent Falling to Bits?

Bad rumours swirling around BitTorrent: that it's getting lots of dosh, presumably to go corporate and "respectable", and that the man behind it, Bram Cohen, is out of it.

Somehow, I don't think the new BitTorrent strategy will be very popular with its current users. Whether the company can make money by fawning all over the big content monopolists remains to be seen. I'm not holding my breath.

Trademark of the Blog

On Technorati's home page, there is a rather witty piece of self-deprecation: "55 million blogs...some of the have to be good." Not only must some of them be good, but you can also expect them to be on any subject. So it should come as no surprise, I suppose, that there is a blog devoted to the subject of trademarks. (Via Luis Villa's Blog.)

OOPS - They Did It Again

I've written about the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative several times. It began at MIT, but is now spreading as other institutions make their courses freely available. However, most of this material is in English, and part of the point of open courseware is for people all over the world to have access. That means it needs to be translated, and what better way than to do it via a kind of open translation process?

That's pretty much what the Opensource Opencourseware Prototype System (OOPS) does:

This site invites volunteers to help transcribe many available Open Educational Resources (OER) video lectures into English. The OERs included in this site are from MIT OCW and many other insitutions. You don't need to be able to speak Chinese to help. Everyone who can understand and type English is encouraged to participate.

The man behind OOPS is Lucifer Chu:

In 2003, Chu, known for translating J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into Chinese, read an article in Wired magazine that described Asian students trying to use MIT’s OCW.

"I was deeply touched," he says. "After I read the article, I thought, what if?" Chu quit his job at a publishing house and founded the OOPS project to translate MIT’s OCW site for Chinese-speaking people.

He was able to do this because of an rather daring gamble:

His life was set to change in the late 1990s, when he first began reading the English editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings. On hearing that a movie version of Tolkien's trilogy was in the pipeline, Chu approached a local publisher and offered to translate the works into Chinese for a minimal fee.

The deal was that if the translated works sold less than 10,000 boxed-sets, or 40,000 individual copies, Chu would donate his translation services for free. If, however, sales surpassed the 10,000 mark he would receive 9 percent of the retail value of each book.

It was a gamble, but within weeks of the release of the first of director Peter Jackson's big-screen trilogy in December, 2001, Chu's translation had become a national bestseller.

The number of boxed-sets sold in Taiwan to date stands somewhere in the region of 220,000 and Chu is now worth in excess of a cool NT$27million.

Now his team of some 700 translators have moved on from the original MIT material and started work on that released by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A classic story of a do-gooder made good? Maybe, but not everyone is happy with his efforts:

A group known as COER, or China Open Education Resources, which is a paid fulltime crew of university professors and intellectuals in China working on translating MIT courses, have let Chu know that OOPS's volunteers are undermining their work.

Don't you just love human nature? (Via Open Access News.)

28 November 2006

Going Nuts over ODF

And not just Brazil:

The OpenDocument Format Alliance (ODF Alliance), a broad cross-section of organizations, academia and industry dedicated to improving access to electronic government documents, today applauded Brazil's decision to recommend ODF as the government's preferred format; India's decision to use ODF at a major state government agency; and Italy's decision to recognize ODF as a national standard.

(Via Bob Sutor's Open Blog.)

Big Blue's Cunning Ploy


IBM, the world's largest computer company, has a successful venture capital group operating in the heart of Silicon Valley, yet it makes no investments in startup companies. Instead, it tells VC firms what types of startups it might want to acquire and waits for the Silicon Valley innovation machine to do the rest.

Interview with Second Life's Philip Rosedale, Part II

This is the second part of the interview, in which Rosedale talks about the future of Second Life, including funding options, the arrival of big business, the open sourcing of Second Life's code, and the rise of the 3D Web. The first part, which traces the origins of Second Life, can be found in a posting made yesterday.

Glyn Moody: What's your overriding principle in running Second Life? How do you decide detailed economic and social policies – elements that clearly have a huge impact on how Second Life is experienced by residents?

Philip Rosedale: The overriding principle is that it should run itself. And, in particular, that the best way to make SL stable in the long-term – and I say that word "stable" in the physics context, related to complex systems – [is to] have a high degree of heterogeneity and a high degree of locality in [its] behaviour. While there may be a loose framework of unifying principles, the majority of the policy and the majority of the environment is determined by the local area that you're in.

We should be able to define low-level rules of interaction – that there will be a reputation system, or that you can transfer inventory between people, or land has an ability to exclude others from it if you choose as the landowner. Our idea is to use low-level rules to make SL stable, not high-level governance, and in fact to do high-level governance only to the minimal degree that we can't simplify our way out of.

For example, economic policy is at some level necessary globally, only because the efficiency of a single currency is such an enormous public good, right? If there's one Lindex, there's $35,000 a day in trading and that will make it fairly stable, and having it be stable is a public good. There are a few cases where you need to use global systems, but we basically try to avoid those wherever we can.

With social policy – we don't really have any. The community guys say: be nice to each other and don't impair each other's ability to interact, and we'll use force to establish that if necessary. But I think that will give way to more and more sophisticated systems of local control. So, like the question of dispute resolution and arbitration and crime in SL, long-term I totally expect that to be managed by an overlapping set of locally-defined standards. If you look two years in the future or something, I suspect getting in trouble in SL would probably mean getting put on someone's blacklist. Or getting subjected to a trial by users – not by Linden Lab – [where] at the end of it you get put on that blacklist. And because it's a public trial getting put on that blacklist is very serious because 60% of the people in SL subscribe to that blacklist.

I suspect that that kind of user-created governance is much more likely to be successful. Indeed, I would say that one of the appeals of SL as compared to the real world is that the real world unfortunately has too many cases in which it seems necessary to use central control to establish an optimal system for everyone. In the real world there are key resource like historically steel and now silicon and oil, that humans can easily park on top of the only places on the earth's surface where those resources are, and then use guns to maintain control of those resources – or something like guns. Governments have to act to break up the monopolistic and therefore inefficient positions that can be established by single individuals over those resources.

But of course SL doesn't have any fundamental resources that you need to control, so establishing a monopoly position in SL is much harder - maybe, hopefully, impossible. So we'll try to set the low-level rules so that's it's as unlikely as possible that anyone can have a monopoly on anything. But I think we'll be more easily able to do that because we have access to the code in a way that I suppose only God has access to the code in the real world.

Glyn Moody: As well as the in-world traders, we are now seeing major RL companies enter Second Life; some residents are worried that this will turn Second Life into a huge market research experiment or into a virtual shopping mall: how do you view things, and how will you assuage their fears?

Philip Rosedale: Well, I don't think I've done a good job assuaging people's fears, and I think that's the right expression. But as a deep thinker about the behaviour of complex systems, I do feel fairly confident that major real-life companies will succeed in SL only to the extent that they are able to offer real value in the same manner in which those people that have been there for three years have offered value.

The real life companies in the real world can just park in New York and enjoy the benefits of being in New York – you just don't get that in SL. I also think that there is a kind of sense of community and a sense of a shared future in SL, the very powerful fact that you are writing the future – you as the user, all of us collectively. That is a very powerful, almost spiritual thing about what it's like to be in SL. And I think that if you're a real life company trying to turn SL into a marketing experiment you'd have to fight and win against that force, and I don't think you will. Even if we as a company were bound and determined to turn SL into some huge market research experiment, from which we would maximally profit, I don't think we'd be successful, given where it is now.

But I think if we can build low-level rules that keep it a level playing field then that is the primary thing that will keep all of that spirit in place. And I don't see us doing anything in any other direction. We have struck no deals with these big companies, we have no relationship with them, we don't even know how many there are or who they are. It's hard to tell who's buying what, but it looks like the real-world companies represent a low single-digit percentage of land ownership at this point.

Glyn Moody: Will your business model bring in enough to allow you to grow rapidly as Second Life takes off, and still make a profit?

Philip Rosedale: The money people are paying as land-use fees – the recurring fees per acre per month - that's a profitable business. We've set the prices pretty low at the outset, because we just wanted a lot of creativity. When people are new to systems like this they don't believe it's all going to work. So it was in our interests to make these servers as cheap as possible. But we always had in mind that that would be a fundamental part of the business and we needed to set prices in a way that made sense. If you look at the recurring price of a server today, depending on what kind of server you're buying, what kind of customer you are - whether you're buying on the islands or on the mainland – it's a couple to several hundred dollars a month – that's a fine business.

I think that on an even higher level than that, we believe that it's all going to be a good business just because of the size of the economy. We can reasonable ask a fee against what's going on in the economy in a variety of ways. I think today land-use fees are the right way to do that because it's a bit like being an entrepreneur who wants to move to a new country. You look for a country that offers like no sales tax and no corporate income tax. When you move your company there the only thing you probably pay for is a lease on the land and basically that's what we're offering here. I think to an entrepreneurial content creator we probably feel like Malaysia or something.

Glyn Moody: As Second Life matures, might you add things like a corporate income tax or a sales tax?

Philip Rosedale: We could, there's also things like advertising. Right now, people do pay us to list classified ads and also place listings. That could be a way to make money in the future. Sales tax on transactions? Maybe someday, we wouldn't rule that out. Our mission is to get the most people creating the most amazing content and experiences. So we'll be pretty aggressive about changing our business model only to the extent that it keeps that going at maximum speed.

People often ask, beyond the money, how will you say that you were successful, Philip? What I always say is that I will feel like I've been successful personally if I have made it grow as fast as it could. And if I slowed down some of that growth to convert it into wealth for myself, well, shame on me. The people behind the company are very principled about changing the world in a positive way through technology – that's Mitch [Kapor], Pierre [Omidyar], Jeff Bezos, Benchmark Capital, Catamount Ventures, and Ray Ozzie, all the people behind us, they've got the same perspective.

Glyn Moody: You've recently appointed a Chief Financial Officer who has had experience in making an IPO: does that mean you are thinking about doing the same at some point?

Philip Rosedale: I think the only thing I'll say about that is just that the company is making money in a way that will enable us to exist and grow as we like and as long as we like as a standalone company. Whether it's a private company or a public company, we can be a successful company in our right.

Glyn Moody: If someone made you a substantial offer for Second Life, would you consider taking it – or are you so committed to your vision that it would trump any consideration of money?

Philip Rosedale: Oh, without question, yeah. I can only speak for myself, personally. First off, I've had the fortune to be successful enough not to be tempted by dollars – I mean, everybody is tempted by dollars – I just mean that I've had the good fortune to convert enough brainpower into money historically that it makes me pretty insusceptible to that. But I fall back on what I just said to you: I would never make a decision that would cause this thing to grow any less slowly than it can, because I think that I'm making people's lives better. And I hold myself to the question: did I make as many people's lives better in as short a time as possible as I could? If I felt like the answer was “no”, and in particular because I wanted to make some money or something, I'd feel terrible, and I wouldn't do it.

If somebody came to us with a big offer, well, the question would be: How could the people who were offering us that money help us grow SL faster - better technology, better experience for more people? I think that what we're doing is so innovative, and in particular the way we run the company is so unusual, and the way we've built SL in many ways is so unusual, that it's pretty unlikely that there'd be another company out there that could help us do that. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I just mean that I would have to be convinced.

Glyn Moody: Going back to this tremendous growth, how will this be managed in-world – will there, for example, be new continents? And would you contemplate allowing different local (real-world) laws to be applied to some of that new land if the servers were located outside the US?

Philip Rosedale: To the first point - What will SL look like long-term? - I think if you look at the islands, people are already gluing them together, there's motivation to create contiguity. So I think that SL over the years to come will look like a bunch of large continents, that will have different characteristics, like we were talking about earlier. That may be related to governance and zoning and things like that.

The second question, about laws reflecting where servers are based, we just don't know. We're trying to be pretty smart about it, but the company's here in the United States right now. Yeah, the servers could be in another country, maybe that'll make the local laws apply differently on those servers - I just don't know. We're thinking about that, we're trying to learn as much as we can about it, we just don't have any immediate strategy.

Part of the problem here is there's a whole bunch of things about SL that are untested from a legal standpoint. So what we try to do is to err on the side of providing a lot of information and informing everyone. We talk to lots of people in the United States Government, for example, just saying, look, this is what's going on, this is what's happening, if you care, you can get more information, and talk to us about it, here's what on principle we think this means. There's a lot of different aspects of this that are going to be really fascinating to watch play out and that we couldn't give a final word on.

Glyn Moody: What is the US Government's attitude in general to this?

Philip Rosedale: I don't know. What I would say about everybody who comes into contact with SL, that has been really uplifting, everybody seems to get that it's a good thing, it's fundamentally an empowering thing. And nobody, whether you're the government or a company, nobody wants to screw that up. All the companies that I meet with, the CEOs, these companies that come into SL and do things, whenever I meet people, at least from my sample, they're all very smart and inspired about what SL is and what it can be, and can they just be there and be a part of that and not mess it up. I suspect that governments will have the same perspective. The US Government is pretty smart about doing things like taxation in a way that does not quench people's ability to innovate. I think that's what's cool about what we're doing, it's not just an economic discussion. Everybody who comes in contact with this and sees it is like, oh my God, this is making the world better: we've got to take that into account when we think about legislating.

Glyn Moody: You use a lot of open source to run Second Life, and you've said that you will be opening up elements of the code: what's the situation at the moment?

Philip Rosedale: So yeah, without speaking to specific timing or plans - and we've thought and are thinking lots and lots where there might be exceptions to this - but it seems like the best way to allow SL to become reliable and scalable and grow. And we've got a lot of smart people here thinking about that.

Glyn Moody: Looking forward, what are your views on the convergence of three-dimensional virtual worlds like Second Life with today's Web – the 3D Web as some are calling it?

Philip Rosedale: People always believe that the idea of simulating a three-dimensional world will make the experience of people in it different because it's three dimensional, and that's certainly true. However, there's a second thing about the 3D web that makes it different than the 2D web, and is really important, which is that there are other people there with you when you're experiencing it.

Look at MySpace. When you go to a MySpace page, you can listen to their music. What is the listening experience like? Well, it's still just you sitting in front of your computer listening alone to that music. But in SL, if you're listening to somebody's music, whether live or pre-recorded, there's a very good chance that there's someone next to you listening to the same music, and so you're able to turn to them and say: What do you think? Or you're able to turn to them and say: Have you been here before, and, if so, do you know where the lawnmower section is?

That, I think, is what makes the potential of the 3D Web different perhaps even more so than the spatial difference between 3D content, and 2D content. And I think that alone makes it very likely that there will be a kind of a 3D Web, that has this shared experience property. That's what everyone will look back on and say: Wow, that is what made it different.

27 November 2006

Ryzom.Org: Going on a Blender

Blender is a fine 3D modelling package, with a remarkable history:

The "Free Blender" campaign sought to raise 100,000 EUR so that the Foundation could buy the rights to the Blender source code and intellectual property and subsequently open source Blender. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, among them several ex-NaN employees, a fund raising campaign was launched to "Free Blender." To everyone's shock and surprise the campaign reached the 100,000 EUR goal in only seven short weeks. On Sunday Oct 13, 2002, Blender was released to the world under the terms of the GNU General Public License. Blender development continues to this day driven by a team of far flung dedicated volunteers from around the world led by Blender's original creator, Ton Roosendaal.

Now someone is trying the same approach with the MMORPG Ryzom, which needs a helping hand:

Ryzom is an innovative MMORPG, which has been developed since the year 2000 by the independent studio, Nevrax. For the past two years Ryzom has been marketed and sold to gamers, developing a fiercly loyal fanbase. Unfortunately, due to market conditions and other unforseen cirucumstances, a request to begin bankruptcy proceedings has been filed at the commerce tribunal.

Until now, Nevrax has produced Ryzom, as a typical commercial software company. Nevrax, not the players, decide what direction the virtial world of Ryzom takes. We want to turn this model on it's head and give players control over the virtual world their character's inhabit. We want to purchase the source code, game data, and artwork, so that we can further develop it by placing it under a Free Software license.

Whaley, Whaley

Whales may share our kind of intelligence, researchers say after discovering brain cells previously found only in humans and other primates.

They were touted as the brain cells that set humans and the other great apes apart from all other mammals. Now it has been discovered that some whales also have spindle neurons – specialised brain cells that are involved in processing emotions and helping us interact socially.

Now there's a surprise.

"This is consistent with a growing body of evidence for parallels between cetaceans and primates in cognitive abilities, behaviour and social ecology."

How about if we stop eating them, then?

"Intelligent" Design

So the ID'ers are stepping up the pressure, here in the UK. They have a shiny new Web site - Truth in Science, no less - that looks jolly impressive in its comprehensiveness. You might think it would require an equal number of pages to counter the arguments put forth there. Fortunately, that is not the case.

It all comes down to the following section:

What is Intelligent Design?

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Well, natural selection is not an "undirected process": it is one absolutely directed by a very simple, readily comprehensible mathematical fact: that a system with a greater rate of growth than rival systems will inevitably overtake the latter as time progresses. The graph is steeper, so whatever the starting point, there will come a time when it overtakes every other system's graph. The difference in growth rates is what is known as the "natural selection": in fact, there is no selection, just this gradual but inevitable emergence.

Every change to a system that causes it to grow faster is a change that will be propagated more thoroughly than one that tends to slow down the growth. This means that systems "evolve" - that is, that they change over time in such as way as to maximise their growth (and note that this evolution is not unique or directed at any particular "goal".)

On the other side, the basic fallacy of invoking "intelligent" design to explain "certain features" of the universe, is that it explains nothing. It is a completely circular argument: things are as they are because an "intelligent cause" made them that way.

That is neither explanation nor science, and as such has no place in either schools or universities except as fodder for debating societies who wish to hone their skills in demolishing specious arguments.

Eyeing Up EyeOS

A year ago, I would have dismissed the idea of a Web-based desktop as pretty pointless. Today, spending as I do around 99% of my time within Firefox - browsing, using GMail and Writely - I have to admit that it has a certain logic.

EyeOS bolsters its case by adding two crucially important features: it's free software, and it doesn't use Flash. There's a demo for you to try it out, as well as a begging bowl - they need some dosh to move the project on.

A Future Danger

Criminal profilers are drawing up a list of the 100 most dangerous murderers and rapists of the future even before they commit such crimes, The Times has learnt.

The highly controversial database will be used by police and other agencies to target suspects before they can carry out a serious offence. Pilot projects to identify the highest-risk future offenders have been operating in five London boroughs for the past two months.

At the moment:

Experts from the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit are creating psychological profiles of likely offenders to predict patterns of criminal behaviour.

But, as everyone knows, psychology is something of a hit-and-miss business, and not really reliable enough or scalable enough for rolling out across a nation. What we really need is something more precise, something more scientific - like a genetic pre-disposition encoded in the genome.

Some people claim to have found certain genomic characteristics of those who commit major crimes; the obvious step would be to screen people's genomes automatically for those genetic elements before they committed the crime they were hardwired to perpetrate, sparing society many problems and expenses.

Since the proof would be scientific, and not merely based on the fallible judgment of a psychologist, the guilty would have no basis to appeal against the sentences imposed upon them. Indeed, even more money could be saved by simply refusing to allow what would be unnecessary appeals in such cases, where the proof of future guilt could be found in nearly every cell of their body.

How fortunate, then, that the UK has the largest DNA database in the world....

More Fab Open Source Fabbers

I wrote about an open source fabber recently, and now here's another one, the RepRap:

The difference with RepRap, which is the size of a fridge, is that the ideas behind it are not owned by anyone. Dr Bowyer's vision is a machine that can be made, adapted and improved by its users. "I did not want an individual, company or country to make money from this," he said.

If Dr Bowyer's vision is realised there could be profound implications for the global economy. Instead of large companies manufacturing large numbers of consumer goods and distributing them to shops, consumers would buy or share designs on the internet, manufacturing items on their own replication machines.

If you want the code, Matthew Aslett has dug it out, as well as the RepRap's home page. One of the coolest aspects of the RepRap is that it can make its own parts.

Think about it.

Interview with Second Life's Philip Rosedale, Part I

As I mentioned, last week I had an article in the Guardian about Second Life and the concerns over the CopyBot program. This was largely based on an extensive interview with Linden Lab's founder and CEO, Philip Linden, conducted on 6 November, 2006, together with email follow-ups.

One of the frustrating things with articles for hard-copy titles like the Guardian is that space is always at a premium. This means that there were only a limited number of quotations that I could use from the interview, and that a huge amount of interesting material remained unprinted. Happily, blogs can function as an adjunct to traditional publishing, offering all kinds of supplementary material.

So I'm making the full text of the interview available here. I've tidied this up only minimally, since I was keen to preserve the incredible energy and enthusiasm that Rosedale transmits in his speech. This first part concentrates on the roots of Second Life; the second and final part, looks at its current state and possible futures.

Glyn Moody: When did you first start thinking about creating an imaginary world? What was the attraction of the idea?

Philip Rosedale: I'd say there are two things about me that probably made me so passionate about what we are doing. The first was that since I was a little kid I was interested in physics, and also in how things worked. I was doing doing electronics when I was really young, and started programming computers as soon as I had enough money to get one.

I think the second thing about me that made me have the particular bent on Second Life that I did was that I was very creative. Sometimes you get that, you get somebody who's fairly artistic and creative but they get into science and technology. I'm definitely one of those people. I am left-handed, and I'd say cognitively I'm really left-handed.

Glyn Moody: You've mentioned books as being very important to you as a child, and the fact that they represented an early form of virtual reality: to what extent is your work with virtual worlds a kind of authorship or creativity for you?

Philip Rosedale: I think there's an important differentiation. I think there are people who played a lot in Dungeons and Dragons, and read a lot of books, and immersed themselves in the fantasy world that can be constructed through the simulator that is your brain, by reading books. And I think there are lot of people who went in the direction of saying, Well, can't I create a book in a computer that is my own vision for a particular kind of world? And then you, the user, can wander around in my vision. I think that there are a lot of people in history who have done a lot of really interesting projects that fall into that category. But it's really important to note that Second Life isn't one of those.

The difference is that Second Life is not under my control, and it was never my fantasy to be the Dungeon Master of Second Life. I was very, very passionate from the earliest times about the idea of creating a place that re-implemented the laws of physics in a simulation. But once that was done, I like everyone else would be free to play however I wanted with those Lego blocks, where the Lego blocks were atoms in this new world.

I point that out because there is a real upper limit to what one creative person can do when they are the only artistic input into the structure of a world. And I think there is also an experiential upper limit: World of Warcraft or Everquest can only be so interesting so long as all the content is basically laid out by a first Michelangelo who draws out the world. Second Life just was never that way - it was just dirt at the beginning. I never tried to create anything beautiful, I didn't want to make a book.

Glyn Moody: So in a way you had the same intuition as the free software people about collaboration being a much richer avenue for creation?

Philip Rosedale: I was excited by the idea of being able to build things and show them to people. And I wanted those other people to build things and show them to me. The ability to communicate with great sophistication and to externalise one's thoughts – about my intentions, my thoughts, my designs – those were the two foundational things that I was trying to enable in building the environment.

Glyn Moody: With 20-20 hindsight your career looks as if at every step you've done things in order to achieve your final goal; to what extent did you consciously say: I'll do this and then this in order finally to build my virtual world?

Philip Rosedale: When Snow Crash came out in 1992, my wife bought me the book for my birthday and said: Oh, you're going to like this, another one of these crazy people like you thinking about this simulation stuff. So by then amongst my friends I was well known as the guy into this digital world idea.

I used to do a presentation on the mythology of the Metaverse. Movies often present you with a picture of a future that's mature, and then they try to suggest in some either really detailed or minimal way how things got to be that way. And I always laughed about how the mythology of the Metaverse was always wrong.

People would always say, Well, it all started because businesses wanted to visualise data in 3D and time went by and now we have people walking their dogs and dancing – that's baloney. It never happens that way. New mediums are always used by creative people for play first. And they're not used by big businesses to better imagine their data. The same thing was true of instant messaging, email, television, radio, the Web itself – all of those mediums were used initially for entertainment and just for people who wanted to goof off. They were not trusted; and then as time went by they became trusted, and then people began using them for business because they were in the vernacular by that point.

In the mid-'90s I was already telling my friends this Metaverse thing isn't going to work until it's really sexy and exciting, and it's not going to be with the computers that are around. All these companies and projects are going to fail, and that's going to suck. Because we're all dreaming this dream, and all these people are getting companies funded to go after it, and I want to do that too, but I know that it isn't going to work.

I said to people: video compression over the Internet – this is 1995 - however, will work, and that's a powerful communication enabler. And besides that, I wanted to get some experience writing programs for Windows. So I said, OK, I'll write a program that does multipoint video conferencing – a solvable algorithmic problem if you're just trying to do 2-way 28.8 modem communication of video streams.

So I built this product called FreeVue. Rob Glaser saw it, asked me to go to RealNetworks. I didn't want to move to Seattle; the big final decision that I made to go to RealNetworks was that – and I told my friends this – I'm going to go to Real Networks because I'm going to get a great engineering management experience because this project is going to be a big project – this virtual world thing.

In mid-1999 networking got fast enough, and Nvidia released the big 3D card, the GeForce2, and I said, Man, I'm out of here, I've got to start this, it can be done. But the "it can be done" was always contingent on the idea that it had to be playful and fun and chaotic and just crazy for the kind of vision for the Metaverse to take off.

Glyn Moody: I believe that originally Linden Lab was going to be a hardware company: could say a little about those early days – what you were trying to do, and what happened to change your mind?

Philip Rosedale: In '93 I was trying to imagine a way to put multiple cheap monitors around one's head. For $300 you could buy pretty good monitors. If you wanted to create an immersive display where you could really have the world all around you, you could put three of these things right next to each other – or more, but three was good – but you had to hold your head 15 inches from the screen to be immersed in the image. All these companies were trying to build head-mounted displays so you could look around, but that was dumb because you couldn't build LCDs that had anyway near the quality of a monitor, even for $30,000.

I was sitting one night just totally obsessed with this problem, and thought: God, you know, what would be really cool would be if I didn't have to move my head - I can't move 40 lb monitors around: what if I didn't actually move my head at all? What if I couldn't move my head at all, but when I tried to look to the left and right, there was something that could feel me trying to look to the left and the right, and would move my view around. And I realised this was a powerful idea.

Fast forward six years. I had some money, and I had time. I said: I am going to get a shop and a welder and a milling machine and I'm going to build this thing, because it's going to cost 50 grand to prototype. So this is '99 to late 2000 - and we actually got it working: we have it here in the office. There's all our machine tools and stuff at the back and you can try it out. They call it "The Rig": our users have heard about it, most people don't know what it is. But it's really, really a cool idea, and we want to get back to it.

There were probably four or five of us in the office by the time we were fiddling around with this prototype, and I remember saying: you guys, even if we build this haptic rig, and you can literally walk into a virtual world and hold your hand up in front of your face and look at it: Where are we going to go with this thing - Doom? It seemed like a pretty paltry use for such revolutionary technology.

Obviously, even in '99 we had been prototyping some of the simulation layers of Second Life, but we had this realisation: the much bigger problem is the software, the hardware's easy. You can use any number of interfaces for this stuff, but the thing that matters so much here is the place. The place that we're all going to go is the hardest problem from a technology perspective and also probably the best business. So that was it.

Glyn Moody: In April 2003, you made a major change to Second Life when you decided to allow residents to keep the intellectual property rights to the things they made. I've come across a couple of explanations for what led up to that, including de Soto's book, The Mystery of Capital, and a meeting involving Larry Lessig and Edward Castronova: could you untangle what exactly led you to make that change, and why it was important?

Philip Rosedale: In 2002 a guy named Doug, who works here, gave me that book, The Mystery of Capital, and he said: You've got to read this. It had a terrible front cover, and I don't have much time for business self-improvement books, and I remember looking at it and thinking: oh god, this is one of these books that some academic wrote because he needed to finish his degree. But Doug's a really smart guy, and I was like, OK, if Doug says to read it, I'll read it. Those first 15 pages it reads like – I don't know what it reads like – it reads like the Gettysburg Address – it's just moving. Basically I read that, and I was like, man, oh man, that's so convincing.

There's a book I read before that, though, that we were talking about a lot, which really informed our design, and that's Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities. That was one of the most important things because it was in 2001, 2002, that we got into this idea that the way online games worked was just completely inconsistent with what we're trying to do, and that Everquest or online games of the time were what Jane Jacobs was talking about when she said that planned cites all failed.

Then you read Death and Life of Great American Cities, and what that says is that it all has to be random. The randomness gives way to overlapping behaviours where some people are walking to go to the store, some people are walking to their home, some people are walking to go to work. Those people all run into each other, there's a kind of a commons behaviour where they'd like to just double click on their work and get there immediately, but they can't: they have to walk. That means they entertain each other: some of the times you're the one being entertained, and some of the times you're the entertainment, that's kind of what Jane Jacobs said. And we were like, oh yeah, that's exactly what we want. Because if the world is just created by everybody, then you'll have this very haphazard, crazy kind of feel to it, and that'll be incredibly powerful the way New York is.

The Mystery of Capital was like a follow on to that, because it said for people to build that way everybody has to own their own intellectual property - including of course physical real estate - in a very explicit way with alienability and all that stuff.

Then we had this little Star Chamber, with Larry Lessig, Ted Castronova, Julian Dibbell, Mitch Kapor. We all sat down and looked at what was going on and those guys were like, yeah, you've got you're thinking exactly the right way, you've got to let the economy be free running and real.

Glyn Moody: Around the same time there was something of a revolt among the residents of Second Life over the tax system then in place: what exactly happened?

Philip Rosedale: That was us doing dumb stuff and getting reminded of it. We were never misaligned with people's creative intentions – the idea of no taxation without representation. Our initial economy wasn't very real – the economy more or less worked the same way, but you couldn't convert things back and forth to dollars. We always intended to make it completely real, so that people could use those tokens of value, transferable in any way they wanted. That went back to some of the 2001 thinking about how people that owned property or whatever in Second Life would be the operators of Second Life, and that at least some of them would want to make money doing that.

The whole tax revolt thing was very funny because what we were trying to do was balance the public commons - resources that you access in Second Life like scripting and land and how many prims you could build and whether they had lights on. We built this taxation system that every Monday would automatically tax you according to how much stuff you had in the world and how big it was. It's still fundamentally a good idea; the problem was this tax bill that you got every week that was so algorithmically complicated that no human, us included, could estimate what their tax would be. It was terrible. So people just had a horrible experience with that.

It was kind of chance that people were so pissed off with the prim accounting system at about the same time we switched over to allow people to own land. The other thing was, in the initial economy you couldn't pay more and get more land – you had to earn more money within the economy to buy more land. When we made that change at the end of 2003, we said, look look look: this is just land, this is just property. If you want to buy more of it, you can buy it with dollars, we're not going to stop you from doing that.

That pissed off people too, because they said: Look, we want it to be a pure meritocracy. If you're successful in Second Life you cannot use US cash to get more land, you have to please other people. And in principle, I think that's lovely. But the problem is you've got a sort of "water seeks it's own level" there around design; arbitrage always exists. So it seems foolish to be a big central "we're going to catch you if you're cheating" organisation and try to keep people from selling those credits, those Linden dollars on the side. So we said, screw that, we're just going to open the system all the way – you can buy land and turn Linden dollars into dollars.

Enclosing the Pharmaceutical Commons

The biotechnology industry has proposed to change the international generic naming of medicine ingredients, which at the moment are public property, into unique names for each medicine, making it harder to substitute them with cheaper versions, and linking them to trademarks, sources say.

And why are they doing this? Not to stymie generics that can be made available to those unable to afford high drug prices, oh my word, no. As Nathalie Moll of EuropaBio, the European association for biotechnology industries, explained, the change is

"not so much for us but for the patient"

Aw, bless 'em: always thinking of others these selfless pharmaceutical companies.

No Copyright Extension for Brit Music

I can't believe it:

The copyright on sound recordings will not be extended after an independent review commissioned by the Treasury.

Is that the sound of an airborne porker?

26 November 2006

A Lightbulb Goes on in My Head

Yes, of course:

A global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world's electricity bill by nearly one-tenth.

That is the conclusion of a study from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which it says is the first global survey of lighting uses and costs.

The carbon dioxide emissions saved by such a switch would, it concludes, dwarf cuts so far achieved by adopting wind and solar power.

Relatively easy and painless, too: what are we waiting for? Let there be light.

Meta-Knowledge is Mega-Power

Surprisingly subversive little piece in the FT:

Since Bahrain’s government blocked the Google Earth website earlier this year for its intrusion into private homes and royal palaces, Googling their island kingdom has become a national pastime for many Bahrainis.

The site allows internet users to view satellite images of the world in varying degrees of detail. When Google updated its images of Bahrain to higher definition, cyber-activists seized on the view it gave of estates and private islands belonging to the ruling al-Khalifa family to highlight the inequity of land distribution in the tiny Gulf kingdom.

Best bit:

A senior government official told the Financial Times that Google Earth had allowed the public to pry into private homes and ogle people’s motor yachts and swimming pools. But he acknowledged that the government’s three-day attempt to block the site had proved counterproductive.

It gave instant publicity to Google Earth and contributed to growing sophistication among Bahrainis in circumventing web censorship.

Not just knowledge, but meta-knowledge. (Via Ogle Earth.)

Petard, Meet Australian Government

Welcome back to the dark ages, Australia:

Plugging a word or phrase into a search engine may soon give you fewer results if proposed new Australian copyright laws are adopted, according to Internet giant Google.

The laws could open the way for Australian copyright owners to take action against search engines for caching and archiving material, Google says in a submission to a Senate committee considering the legislation.

This could potentially limit the scope of the search engine results, which the Internet company describes as effectively "condemning the Australian public to the pre-Internet era".

This is what kowtowing to intellectual monopolies gives you. (Via Boing Boing.)

Why RMS is Right...

...to be a pain in the anatomy: because if you nag intelligent people enough, it works. (Thanks, Jamais - Richard will be jolly grateful.)

25 November 2006

Boo! - It's Bubble 2.0

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Why Does Iceland Hate the World?

In 2004, a report compiled for the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and other environmental groups concluded that bottom-trawling was "...highly destructive to the biodiversity associated with seamounts and deep-sea coral ecosystems and... likely to pose significant risks to this biodiversity, including the risk of species extinction."

And yet:

Conservation groups accused Iceland in particular of blocking further protection. Iceland is already under fire from the conservation lobby over its recent decision to resume commercial whaling.

"The international community should be outraged that Iceland could almost single-handedly sink deep-sea protection and the food security of future generations," said Ms Sack.


The Game God Speaks

I am not a gamer. Until recently, I had no idea who Raph Koster was. But the more I read of his stuff, the more impressed I am: he is clearly one of the deepest thinkers about the digital world today. Note that I do not say about games: for what he writes has ramifications far beyond the gaming world, and should be read by anyone with an interest in things digital.

Take his latest post, called "Are microtransactions actually the future?" This pieces ranges widely, touching on all the big issues that intellectual monopolies like copyright throw up. And he really gets it. For example:

since anything that can be seen by our senses can be reproduced, for better or worse, all digital forms of enforcing copyright are doomed to fail. Every form of encryption is moot, because everything must be decrypted in order for us to see it. At some point, the data is in the clear, and then it can be copied.

He then goes further, offering a suggestion about how content industries can and must cope with this ineluctable fact:

The value is in the service, not the content. In the service, not the microtransactions. A digital item is worth nothing. What is of value is the context. People are increasingly not willing to pay for the experience of hearing a song by itself in the abstract. They pay for the concert as a whole (the iTunes experience as a whole, the CD experience as a whole, the movie-going experience as a whole, the EverQuest experience as a whole), and it will be smart venue operators who survive and make the money in the long run.

Amen to that.

Eppur Si Muove


Italian prosecutors on Friday put two Google Italy representatives under investigation as part of an inquiry into how a video of teenagers harassing an autistic classmate surfaced on its Video site, a judicial source said.

The two are being investigated for allegedly failing to check on the content of the video posted on the Internet search engine's Web site.

Right; and I suspect that they don't check all their search results, either. Shocking: what is Google thinking?

The Italian authorities can order the sun to orbit the earth all they like; eppur si muove.

24 November 2006

Open Source-y Gift Guide

Here's a handy list from Make, with a bunch of open source-y things, many of which have been mentioned before in these posts. Still, I'd like to single out the PortableApps Suite - happiness on a thumb drive:

PortableApps Suite (Standard Edition): ClamWin Portable (antivirus), Firefox Portable (web browser), Gaim Portable (instant messaging), OpenOffice.org Portable (office suite), Sudoku Portable (puzzle game), Sunbird Portable (calendar/task manager) and Thunderbird Portable (email client) and runs comfortably from a 512MB drive.

Installation and use are easy.

The Intellectual Monopoly Screw

One of the US's favourite tricks is to apply the intellectual monopoly screw. That is, demanding over time ever more from nations who wish to enter into trade agreements with them. In this way, the overall context becomes ever-more favourable towards intellectual monopolies, and the baseline moves inexorably forwards.

The latest example is Russia:

In its bilateral negotiation with the United States in order to join the World Trade Organization, Russia appears to have agreed to intellectual property rights standards that push those of the WTO and US law to new levels.

This is particularly bad news, because it's going to make unwinding all of this excessive protection for monopolies much harder. And that's the idea, of course.

Second Life by Numbers

Here's a fun list of financial figures associated with Second Life. The really significant one is the following:

652,581 USD - Real dollars spent in SL in the last 24 hours.

- not least because it hasn't wavered during all of the CopyBot kerfuffle, despite what all the gloom merchants were saying.

Speaking of which, I have a piece in the Guardian on the subject, mind-melded with some background to how Second Life came about. The basic message is: Don't Panic.

23 November 2006

Turbo Wizpy

A long time ago, TurboLinux was a cool company with a turbo-charged CEO, Cliff Miller. As I wrote in Rebel Code:

Born in San Francisco, he had lived in Australia for a year as a child, and then went to Japan for two years, where he stayed with a Japanese family and attended a public school. After he moved back to the United States, Miller attended college, and spent a year in Macedonia, then a part of Yugoslavia, to further his studies of the Macedonian language. "I finished my BA when I was nineteen," he explains, "and then a year later got my MA in linguistics as well," and adds with what amounts to something of an understatement, "I tend to be pretty intense, and just get through things as fast as I can."

But that was in another land; Miller moved out, TurboLinux moved on.

And now here it is, with a dinky little object that sounds, well, cool:

It's an MP3 player. It's an FM radio. It's video and photo display device. It's an e-book reader. It's a sound recorder. It's a Linux-based personal computer ready for web, email and office usage. Yes, it's Wizpy, the Swiss Army Knife of handheld gadgets announced by Japan's Turbolinux this week.

I particularly liked this feature:

Just plug it into a PC's USB port, restart the host machine and it'll boot up into the open source operating system so you can surf and work and be sure nothing's being recorded on the hard disk.

Spitting the Atom

If you're using the main/atom feed for this blog at


there seems to be a problem with Blogger at the moment. The other feed at


seems fine.

Sorry about that, but short of buying a majority holding in Google, there's not much I can do about it.

Get 'Em While They're Young

I was going to write about this, but Matthew Aslett has done such a good job, there's not much point:

Several UK Members of Parliament have signed an early day motion* criticizing current government agencies for preventing the adoption of free and open source software in UK schools and universities.

The motion, tabled by Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, John Pugh, says the Department for Education and Skills and Becta (British Education and Technology Agency) policies are denying schools the benefits of open source software adoption.

Update: Mark Taylor has now weighed in with some useful information on what's really going on here.

22 November 2006

Inspired or Not?

This sounds good news:

The European Parliament and Council reached agreement last night on the contents of the proposed INSPIRE Directive, which aims to harmonise spatial information across Europe.

Key points resolved during the final stages of the discussions between the institutions included the principles according to which citizens should be allowed to examine the official maps and other spatial data covered by the directive, and rules for granting authorities access to data held by other authorities.


Data search services designed for the public will generally be free of charge, although the directive allows fees to be charged for access to data that has to be updated frequently, such as weather reports.

However, the cynic in me suggests that the devil is in the details. Anybody know?

Update: Michael Cross of the Guardian does: the answer is "not inspired". We've been stitched up by the Ordnance Survey, invoking that perennial favourite, "reasons of national security" for withholding information - just like that nice Mr Bush does. Ever heard of Google Earth or Google Maps, which already give all this information?

Shaming Marcus Peacock

I know nothing about Marcus Peacock, but I know that this is scandalous:

Contrary to promises by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock that all of the former library materials will be made available electronically, vast troves of unique technical reports and analyses will remain indefinitely inaccessible.

Meanwhile, many materials formerly held by the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters, were directed to be thrown into trash bins, according to reports received by PEER. This month, EPA closed the OPPTS Library, its only specialized library for research on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides, without notice to either the public or affected scientists.

Clearly this is being done to protect those industries that pollute, and at the behest of those close to those industries. I don't know whether it's too late to save the EPA library materials, but I can only hope that the people behind this shameful act are brought to justice - at least in the court of history. (Via Open Access News.)

The End of the End for Academic Writing

Scholarship never ends. There is never a last word, even about established facts. What we've had up till now in published works are static snapshots. Sure, there may be follow-up articles, second editions and corrections, but each work stands alone as a completed product. I find myself wondering if researchers - and writers - will continue to be content with snapshots when the technical barriers to revision are so low and readers' comfort level with edited online works is growing.

Ergo, we need other ways of publishing - online, wikis etc. Not rocket science, but definitely something of a leap for the academic world. (Via Open Access News.)

TV's Spiralling Vortex of Ruin

Sounds good to me, in a double sense: form and content. (Via IP Democracy.)

Why Elsevier is Worse than Microsoft

I've sometimes made the comparison that Elsevier stands to open access in much the same way that Microsoft does to open source. But as I was reading this Evolgen post on Michael Ashburner, one of the Fly People, and a key player in keeping genomics open, I came upon this interesting link:

Reed Elsevier is a publishing company with an arms trade problem. While the bulk of their business is in scientific, medical and educational publishing, they also - through their subsidiaries Reed Exhibitions and Spearhead Exhibitions - organise arms fairs around the world. These include events in Brazil, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Singapore, and in the UK, one of largest arms fairs in the world, DSEi (Defence Systems and Equipment International), which is held bi-annually in London Docklands (next due September 2007).

The $1 trillion global trade in arms and military goods undermines human rights, fuels conflicts and causes huge civilian suffering. Arms fairs are a key part of the global arms trade, and allow arms companies to promote weapons to countries involved in, or on the brink of conflict, as well as those with terrible human rights records.

It makes Bill Gates look positively saintly in comparison. (Disclosure: I used to work for Reed Elsevier a decade and a half ago, but to my eternal shame was unaware of this side of their business if it existed then.)

The Middle Kingdom Moves Up the Pack

I mentioned the intriguing Uniform Office Format (UOF), from China, a little while back. Here's a presentation on the subject. As well as the information about the format, two other things are worth noting from this.

First, are Chinese views on openness and intellectual monopolies. And secondly - and more importantly - is the fact that the creation of the UOF shows that China is no long content to follow its Western counterparts in this area: it has started to take the initiative - and not for the last time, we can be sure. (Via ConsortiumInfo.org.)

Free Software's Syllogism

Here's a nice logic:

To maximise the freedom you can derive from free software, you need to be a programmer

To be a programmer, you need to learn how to program

Therefore, to maximise your freedom, you need to learn how to program

Ergo, the article argues, everybody should be taught how to program.

Who's Zuning Who?

Here's a nice thought:

We're figuring out that DRM isn't the best way to buy. And Microsoft can put the nail in the coffin in two, three, or five years when they end support for Plays For Sure formats--making sure all those tunes you bought while they were trying to attack Apple with Plays For Sure are just money wasted. In a few years, when we're all enjoying digitally watermarked music that, while it can't be plopped onto an illegal sharing site, can be played on any device, shared with a few friends or family members thanks to well-formed personal-use exemptions in U.S. copyright law, and inexpensive, flexible-format digital music stores give us no incentive to pirate music from seedy, virus- and porn-infested sharing sites, we'll look back on the Zune as the moment we all shook off our digital music stupor and said, "Whoa, wait a second. Why would we pay for this?"

Google at 500

I don't get very excited over share prices. I've never owned shares, and as a journalist I don't think I should. But the news that Google's share price has hit the $500 dollar mark, although utterly arbitrary, is as good a moment as any to pause for a little reflection.

There's a nice roundup of fun things to know on Silicon Valley Watcher, which pulls out some interesting graphical and numerical nuggets from other postings, and saves you and me the trouble.

But there's one thing to bear in mind against the background of all this euphoria. Google has become such a bellwether for the Web 2.0 generation, that once its share price falls steeply and significantly, it will take the entire market with it. Don't believe me? Just take a look at what happened when the share price of Microsoft, the Web 1.0 equivalent of Google, crashed half a decade ago: pop!

21 November 2006

The Beginning of the End for Novell?

This is a characteristically brilliant post from Pam over at Groklaw, particularly in the way it uses the Wayback machine to skewer Novell as it twists in the wind. It concludes:

So, here's the question I have for Novell: what happened to that promise to protect FOSS with its patent portfolio? Novell did say it. We relied upon it, and OIN is totally separate from the above promise. I mention that because some Novell guys have been saying that Novell never made any such promise or that the OIN patents fulfill the promise. Read the promise again. Novell clearly promised to use its patent portfolio, not OIN's, and Novell appears to have just bargained that patent portfolio away, giving Microsoft a clear path to now bring patent infringement claims against everyone else. Novell's character and honor is on the line. And we await your statement with interest.

But arising from this, I too have a couple of questions that are starting to loom large in my mind:

Is this the beginning of the end for Mono? If Novell continues along its current path surely everything it touches will be regarded as tainted by the free software community, and Mono is sponsored by Novell. And now that Sun has done the decent thing with Java, there is a nice little programming language just waiting for all those disappointed hackers.

The other question is even bigger: is this the end for Novell? It seems to me that there is a broad-based and massive movement growing within the free software world to ostracise Novell utterly - something that will simply kill the company. As far as I know, this has never been done before - perhaps because the free software world simply wasn't strong enough. Now it is: are we about to see it claim its first victim? (Via AC/OS.)

Diddling Around with CDDL

Here's a lovely piece of Jesuitical reasoning:

Could, paradoxically, Sun's rejection of the CDDL for Java project be the best thing that ever happened for the license? It seems counterintuitive, but consider that the biggest obstacle to CDDL adoption - negative impressions of Sun - are in serious decline following the release of Java.


Sweet as Sugar FastStack

This kind of thing is the future of open source in business:

Sugar FastStack, a software support and delivery service that provides a fast and simple way to install a complete open source software solution, including Sugar software, the Apache Web Server, PHP and the MySQL database.

Out-of-the-box solutions, full of stack goodness. (Via TheOpenForce.com.)

St IGNUcius Kisses Bacula

According to an FSFE press release, Bacula - "a set of computer programs that permit you (or the system administrator) to manage backup, recovery, and verification of computer data across a network of computers of different kinds" - has been officially embraced by St IGNUcius:

The Bacula Project has became the first signatory of the Fiduciary licence Agreement (FLA), a copyright assignment that allows FSFE to become the legal guardian of projects.

This is interesting, because it means - presumably - that the number of projects that will switch to the GNU GPLv3 once it's finalised has just increased by one. Those on the open source side of the fence will doubtless see this as a land-grab by the FSF, which it is, in the nicest possible way.

Brum to Blame

I wrote about the apparent failure of an open source desktop project in Birmingham a little while back: now it looks like it wasn't the software that's to blame. Here's what the inimitable and highly-knowledgeable Eddie Bleasdale has to say on the subject:

"It's an unbelievable cock-up... They decided to do it all themselves, without expertise in the area," he added, saying that a lack of skills in open source and secure desktops would undoubtedly have raised costs.

His view is backed up by another expert in this field:

Mark Taylor, whose Open Source Consortium also exited the project in the early stages, said: "I have no idea how anyone could spend half a million pounds on 200 desktops, running free software".


(Rezzed) Signs of the Times

This comes into the "dog walking on hind legs" category: it's not so much that it's done well, as that it's done at all.

Someone is offering signs in Second Life linked to Web pages: changing the latter updates the former. Certainly, a sign of things to come. (Via eHub.)

Update: Here's an post about why there are other reasons this is interesting.

20 November 2006

Croeso i Agored.com

This one will make Alan Cox happy:

Agored, a new free office software suite is being launched today by Culture Minister Alun Pugh. The suite, a Welsh and English dual-language version of the OpenOffice suite used worldwide, has been developed over the past two years at the Mercator Centre, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Me, I'm still waiting for the Anglo-Saxon version: "Oft him anhaga, are gebideth...." (Via Erwin's StarOffice Tango.)

On the Meta-Wonderfulness of Blog Plonkings

Whether or not you agree with arguments, this extended post by Clay Shirky on "Social Facts, Expertise, Citizendium, and Carr" is worth taking a look at. It's well written and interesting, as you'd expect; it's crafted on a generous scale - and it's totally free.

I mean, it's just plonked there on this blog, for any passer-by to read: isn't that just amazing - that access to this kind of stuff is now just taken for granted in the meta-wonderful, wacky world of Web 2.0?

MA ODF: Drawing a Balance

Following his rather downbeat piece about the musical chairs in Massachusetts over bringing in ODF, Andy Updegrove has now complemented this with a nicely upbeat one detailing the net effect of all these political games. The final verdict:

ODF has had, and continues to have, a vital impact on the marketplace that is highly beneficial to all stakeholders. It's important to remember that the greatest single event that has resulted in this state of affairs was the courage of a few public servants in Massachusetts that had a vision of what the future should be, and had the courage to commit to it and follow through.

We owe them a debt of gratitude, and I think that they will be remembered long after their more pedestrian peers in state government have been forgotten.

Amen to that.

Is that an 8-Node Beowulf Cluster in Your Pocket...?

...or are you just glad to see me?

Little-Fe is a complete 4 to 8 node Beowulf style portable computational cluster. Little-Fe weighs less than 50 pounds, easily and safely travels via checked baggage on the airlines, and sets-up in 10 minutes wherever there is a 110V outlet and a wall to project an image on. By leveraging the Bootable Cluster CD project, and its associated curriculum modules, Little-Fe makes it possible to have a powerful ready-to-run computational science and HPC educational platform for under $2,500.

I want several of these, please. (Via KnowProSE.com.)

No Net Neutrality, No Virtual Worlds

Here's a thoughtful analysis of another harmful knock-on effect of the loss of network neutrality:

What will be murdered with no fallback or replacement is the nascent market of interactive entertainment – particularly online gaming. Companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sony Online Entertainment, and countless others, have built a business on the fundamental assumption of relatively low latency bandwidth being available to large numbers of consumers. Furthermore, a large — even overwhelming — portion of the value of these offerings comes from their “network effects” — the tendency for the game to become more enjoyable and valuable as larger number of players joins the gaming network.

And that means things like Second Life and all the other virtual worlds that are currently under developmentwill also be hit. So, net neutrality is concretely about the future of the Internet, not just abstractly about the importance of preserving an online commons. (Via Terra Nova.)

Free Our Postcodes

Postcodes are something that should obviously be a commons - owned by and available to all. Instead, in the UK, you have to pay serious dosh to use them, with all sorts of inefficiencies. The obvious solution is to create an open postcode database, and that's what they're doing here. Pity I don't have a GPS device.

Prizes, Not Patents

I've written enough about why the patent system is broken; criticism is easy, but it's harder coming up with alternatives. Here's one: using prizes instead of patents. (Via Technocrat.)

17 November 2006

ID Cards: Cracked in All Senses

And talking of ID cards, here's more bad news.

Update: And how could I leave out the inimitable Mr. Lettice's wise words on the subject?

Murder Will Out

Well, what a surprise:

In comments confirming the open-source community's suspicions, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer today declared his belief that the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property.

In a question-and-answer session after his keynote speech at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference in Seattle, Ballmer said Microsoft was motivated to sign a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell Inc. earlier this month because Linux "uses our intellectual property" and Microsoft wanted to "get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation."

And there we all were, thinking that Microsoft really wanted to be free software's best chum.

The Seed Gestapo

For millennia there has been a seeds commons - a shared store of seeds produced by farmers from this year's crop for the following year.

In my wife’s dialect of kari-ya, which is spoken on the island of Panay, in the Philippines, there is a word binhi, which refers to the grains of rice that are set aside and used as seeds in the next planting season. There is a knack to choosing these. You want plump grains with no blemishes. Every farmer knows how to do it, and usually their families too.

And then:

It seems clear the government is working with the seed companies to strong-arm farmers into buying seeds instead of producing them themselves. So doing, it is paving the way for GMO seeds and the jackboot legal regime that comes with them. (In the U.S., Monsanto has sicced its lawyers on hundreds of farmers for “patent infringement”, often when the patented seeds in question simply blew into their fields.)

I, For One, Salute Our New Antiguan Overlords

Many martial arts are based on turning your assailant's power against himself. Sounds like the plucky Antiguans have taken a course or two:

If the United States remains recalcitrant [over its refusal to open up online gambling], under the WTO rules, Antigua would potentially have the right to suspend its own compliance with the treaty that obligates it to respect the United States' intellectual-property laws.

Go, Antigua, go.

No ID, No Comment

This is what will happen if you're not carrying the ID card that nice Mr Blair wants us all to have....

16 November 2006

Open Earth

I came across this story about Whirlpool offering 3D models of its white goods for use in Google's Sketchup program. That's interesting enough, but it led me to explore Google's 3D Warehouse for that program a little, and I was frankly amazed how far things have come since I last looked at this area. For example, the Cities in Development area is full of detailed models of real buildings.

What's striking about this is that it is an example of Net-based collaboration on an open project - in this case, modelling the entire planet by placing these 3D models on Google Earth. Where this gets really interesting is when you start creating Second Life-like avatars that can move freely around that Virtual Earth, interacting away.... (Via Ogle Earth.)

Another View of the Opens

Here's a presentation by Jamais Cascio, a "foresight specialist", who despite his daft job title has put together quite a nice gentle trot through the opens. He gets most of it right, aside from the egregious clanger of calling Linux an operating system....

Digital Fish Wrap

There is a wonderful evolutionary winnowing process underway within the mainstream media: those that get the Internet are thriving, while those that don't, come up with ideas like this:

Here's my proposal: Newspapers and wire services need to figure out a way, without running afoul of antitrust laws, to agree to embargo their news content from the free Internet for a brief period -- say, 24 hours -- after it is made available to paying customers. The point is not to remove content from the Internet, but to delay its free release in that venue.

A temporary embargo, by depriving the Internet of free, trustworthy news in real-time, would, I believe, quickly establish the true value of that information. Imagine the major Web portals -- Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN -- with nothing to offer in the category of news except out of date articles from "mainstream" media and blogosphere musings on yesterday's news. Digital fish wrap.

See Darwin run. (Via Techdirt.)

15 November 2006

We, the Undersigned...

Here's a slightly hopeful development. On the 10 Downing Street Web page (Tony Blair's official cyberhome), there's a new facility: e-petitions - kudos to Number 10 for adding this. Especially since the most popular petition is currently the following:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to create a new exception to copyright law that gives individuals the right to create a private copy of copyrighted materials for their own personal use, including back-ups, archiving and shifting format.

So, if you're a Brit, do sign; the cynic in me says it's not going to make the blindest bit of difference, but hey, it's worth a try. (Via Michael Geist's Blog.)

Update: The petition against ID Cards is also soaring away: you know what you need to do, O Britons!