30 May 2008
As a follow-up to the successful project Orange’s “Elephants Dream”, the Blender Foundation initiated another open movie project. Again a small team (7) of the best 3D artists and developers in the Blender community have been invited to come together to work in Amsterdam from October 2007 until April 2008 on completing a short 3D animation movie. The team members will get a great studio facility and housing in Amsterdam, all travel costs reimbursed, and a fee sufficient to cover all expenses during the period.
The creative concept of “Peach” was completely different as for “Orange”. This time it is “funny and furry”!
The Blender Foundation and Blender community have been the main financiers for Peach. As for the previous open movie, a pre-sale campaign to purchase the DVD set in advance will be organized.
Additional support from sponsors and subsidy funds has been realized as well.
Peach also was the first Open Project hosted by the new Blender Institute in Amsterdam. This will make the project more independent, without much involvement of production partners, and also will ensure continuity.
A little while back I was bemoaning this kind of stuff:
Unbelievably it calls itself Digistan, apparently to indentify with the fascist terrorists based in countries and regions using the Farsi-based suffix “stan.”
I see that the Sultana of Absurdistan, Michelle Malkin, has managed to top even that:
The US chain Dunkin' Donuts has pulled an advert following complaints that the scarf worn by a celebrity chef offered symbolic support for Islamic extremism.
29 May 2008
We have a new enemy, it seems. It's called the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), and here's one sharp analysis of what it's up to
TEC which comprises EU and US high level representatives put a substantive harmonisation of patent law on its agenda. Substantive patent law covers what is patentable or not. The attempt to impose the low US standards on Europe via the Substantive Patent Law Treaty (SPLT) process utterly failed at the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Also progress in the WIPO B+ subgroup (without developing nations) could not be reached. Now the TEC is used as a new forum to push forward with lowering patentability standards through the back door. The TEC is a closed process, and sits outside the WIPO multilateral treaty talks. Since WIPO participants Brazil, India, and China began to fight EU-US proposals for ever more aggressive patents, the EU and US have begun their own bilateral talks.
Interestingly, the TEC is not content with a metaphorical poisoning of the computer industry, but wants to poison the entire European Union literally, with chlorine-soaked chickens:
Members of Parliament from all political horizons have reacted with fury to a Commission proposal yesterday (28 May) to re-allow imports of poultry rinsed with chemicals, stemming mainly from the United States.
Concretely, the Commission wants to allow businesses to use four currently banned anti-microbal substances to decontaminate poultry carcasses.
But MEPs, meeting in Parliament's Environment Committee, were incensed by the decision, which they say contradicts Community food production standards. "The chlorination of chicken intended for human consumption is not acceptable for the EU […] Such food production methods are at variance with the relevant Community standards, and threatening to the EU's entire set of food production standards and rules," states an EP press release.
If approved, the proposal would effectively lift an 11-year ban on US poultry, which are generally treated with these processes.
The US has been pushing for the ban to be lifted for years but to no avail. However, the issue was recently pinpointed as a top priority in the new "Transatlantic Economic Council" process, which aims to remove remaining regulatory obstacles hampering trade and investment between the two economic giants.
Ah well, at least the TEC is consistent in its aims.
This is outrageous:
A Conservative government would have to compensate suppliers of the National Identity Scheme for lost profits as well as costs if it cancelled the project.
"To guarantee these payments knowing that a future Conservative government has already said it will scrap ID cards is improper and quite extraordinary," shadow home secretary David Davis MP told the Financial Times on 24 May 2008, citing the convention that one Parliament may not bind a subsequent one.
Davis wrote to the potential suppliers of the scheme in February, giving formal notice that the Tories would cancel the scheme if elected.
The Home Office told GC News that the contracts include break clauses, which if exercised would mean the government paying costs and an element of lost profits. "It's based on how far the contract has got and various other factors," a spokesperson said, adding that these were standard contractual arrangements following Office of Government Commerce guidelines.
The spokesperson added that "nothing has been created bespoke" to deal with the Conservatives' intentions, and that the figures involved in cancellation are commercially confidential.
In other words, the UK government is trying to use a kind of financial blackmail to keep its idiotic projects going: continue or cough up. And to add insult to injury, it cloaks its activities in secrecy. What a morally corrupt bunch.
Here's an interesting thought:
He also reported research that demonstrates patent renewal fees can be used to improve the innovation incentives generated by patent rights. Professor Schankerman set out an analysis of renewal fees as a tax on the property right conferred by a patent, and proposed that the effective tax rate be adjusted to provide socially optimal incentives. His analysis suggests that existing renewal fees impose a highly regressive tax on patents, and suggested that renewal fees should be very substantially increased, especially in later years, to make the effective taxation rate progressive.
Imposing high renewal fees would be a disincentive to file frivolous patents. It would also usefully shift discussion of intellectual monopolies to a more objective, economics-based analyses. That's good, because the evidence that such monopolies are not economically justifiable is overwhelming (as the Gowers Review noted in the context of increasing the term of copyright for music performance.)
Here's a post explaining Google's support for just seven open source licences:
The trend around licensing is obvious: GPLv2/GPLv3 represent 42.6% of the projects, and Apache is 25.8%. MIT, BSD, and LGPL are at about 8% each, Artistic at 3.5%, and MPL 1.1 at a mere 2.7%. This follows my own observation about how people license their projects. If they are advocates of Free Software, they will choose GPL; advocates of Open Source will choose Apache (a more modern and thorough permissive license, compared to BSD or MIT). And this is exactly what I recommend to people: choose GPLv3 or Apache v2 based on your personal philosophy.
Well, actually, there's another rather important trend that is conspicuous by its absence: adoption of the Affero GPL. To which Google seems strangely allergic....
28 May 2008
If the media industry wants to make sure that everyone will start copying content and generally handing it around to all their mates, this is by far the best way to do it:
Hardware makers meet politicians and copyright societies in Brussels today to discuss introducing a Europe-wide levy on media devices, offsetting revenue apparently lost from personal copying. Since 2001, 22 of Europe’s 27 countries have made technology manufacturers pay the surcharge on products that allow music, books, movies and other copyrighted content to be copied. Despite the companies having fought the obligation for years, the levy reaped €568 million for rightsholders in 2004.
The thing is, if *everyone* is paying a levy purportedly to cover revenue "lost" from personal copying, then surely that means that *everyone* can merrily copy away, morally secure in the knowledge that they have already paid for the pleasure. And even if it doesn't, guess what? That's nonetheless how every Thomas, Richard and Harold is going to interpret it.
Go ahead, chaps, make our day.
One of the heartening developments in recent years is the way that OpenOffice.org just goes from strength to strength. Reflecting that growth, there are more resources beginning to appear around it, bolstering the nascent ecosystem. Here's another: oooPortal.
As RMS has always emphasised, free software is political, because it is essentially about liberty. Openness and transparency are also political - just look at how the ruling classes fight them. But beyond that, I find myself wondering how the ideas behind free software can be applied more directly in terms of changing the world.
One way is to take the idea of collaboration, and apply it at the simplest level: sharing information and uniting voices for or against something. That's the basic intent of the site Avaaz.org:
Coming together in this way, Avaaz has become a wonderful community of people from all nations, backgrounds, and ages. Our diverse community is brought together by our care for the world, and a desire to do what we can to make it a better place. The core of our model of organizing is our email list, operated in 13 languages. By signing up to receive our alerts, you are rapidly alerted to urgent global issues and opportunities to achieve change. Avaaz members respond by rapidly combining the small amounts of time or money they can give into a powerful collective force. In just hours we can send hundreds of thousands of messages to political leaders telling them to save a crucial summit on climate change , hold hundreds of rallies across the world calling for action to prevent a genocide, or donate hundreds of thousands of euros, dollars and yen to support nonviolent protest in Burma.
It's hard to tell how much good this kind of thing does, but the investment of time is so minimal that it's a bit like Pascal's Wager: worth doing however low the rate of return.
But beyond this kind of Concerned Letter-Writing 2.0, how can the technologies of connection be harnessed to do something more practical? Like this, maybe:
When Estonians regained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 they not only acquired new political freedoms, they inherited a mass of rubbish – thousands and thousands of tonnes of it scattered across illegal dumping sites around the country. When concerned citizens decided that the time had come to clean it up, they turned not to the government, but to tens of thousands of their peers.
Using a combination of global positioning systems and GoogleMaps, two entrepreneurs (Skype guru Ahti Heinla and Microlink and Delfi founder Rainer Nolvak) enlisted volunteers to plot the location of over 10,000 illegal dump sites, including detailed descriptions and photos. That, in itself, was ambitious. Phase II of the clean-up initiative was, by their own admission, rather outrageous: clean-up upwards of 80% of the illegal sites in one day, using mass collaboration.
So, on May 3rd, over 50,000 people scoured fields, streets, forests and riverbanks across the country, picking up everything from tractor batteries to paint tins.... Much of this junk was ferried to central dumps, often in the vehicles of volunteers.
Pretty much a marriage made in heaven:
Open source software should be more widely available in order to help reduce the 'digital divide', according to Dr Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for the South East.
Dr Lucas has added her signature to a written declaration in the European Parliament - like an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons - recognising the growing disparities in access to information and communication technologies throughout the European Union, and calling for increased use of open source technology.
She said: "The establishment of a digital divide is a new cause of social disparity which risks further excluding populations that are already vulnerable.
"New digital technologies have become an essential tool in all areas of life, including employment, education, and in personal leisure activities.
"European citizens have the right to freely access documents and information from the institutions which represent them, and it is about time that the use of open source software became more widespread.
"The European Union should take the necessary measures to help finance public research on open source software, and Parliament to switch its whole computer network to this type of technology.
Not that this is really a party issue: open source makes sense whatever your political persuasion, as David Cameron's increasing enthusiasm for it shows. Strange that only Labour doesn't get it: perhaps it's just too antithetical to its Stalinist positions on interception, internment without trial, ID cards, DNA databases et al.
Good to see the BBC with its finger on the pulse of computing, bravely serving up the facts without fear or favour here:
Microsoft's next operating system (OS) will come with multi-touch features as an alternative to the mouse.
Rather like the Hewlett-Packard touchscreen system I used back in the 1980s.
...and I will infect the world:
Symantec has warned of a security hole in Adobe's Flash Player that is already being exploited by web sites to install trojans onto users' computers. Adobe is still analysing the bug and has not yet been able to release an update.
The malicious code only appears to be attacking Windows at present. ISC reports that it downloads the files ax.exe and setip.exe. However, the vulnerability probably affects Flash Player for other operating systems as well. It is therefore likely to be just a question of time before malware coders are distributing malicious code for Linux and Mac OS X.
Another reason to flee Flash.
27 May 2008
....for continuing to demonstrate just how mind-bendingly stupid software patents are:
SINGAPORE--A local company has laid claims to a technology that Web sites across the globe deploy to link images to other Web pages, and sent out notification letters to several companies demanding to be paid licensing fees.
Dubbing itself "pioneers of visual search technology", Vuestar Technologies said it owns the patent to the technology that enables "Internet searching via visual images".
In sum, the company implied that any Web site that uses pictures and graphics to link to another site or Web page will need a license from Vuestar.
"Those who use visual images which hyperlink to other Web pages or Web sites...whether on the first page or subsequent pages of a Web site require a Vuestar 'license of use'," the company said on its site.
Riiiiight. (Via Slashdot.)
I love statisitcs about open source - not least because they are still quite thin on the ground. Here's some fascinating stuff from Drupal, the free content management system: statistics on user demographics, including each country's current rank and percentage market share. Here are the main figures:
United States 1 (33.12%)
India 2 (5.68%)
United Kingdom 3 (5.14%)
Afghanistan 4 (4.64%)
Now, India as a growing market I can understand, but Afghanistan about to overtake the UK? Hmm, interesting....
26 May 2008
Even though the Altaic family is one of my faves, Korean is still a long way down the list, so I can't do any proper research into what exactly is going on here:
The government-led Korean digital textbook project will adopt Linux. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of Korea announced their decision to choose the open software for digital textbook, the key project for the government's digital education policy.
The digital textbook provides the contents of conventional textbooks, reference books, workbooks and terminologies in the form of video files, animations and virtual reality. It is the main learning material for students with various interactive features that cater for the needs of learners with different levels of capability.
This is certainly tantalising:
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy says, "If the National Education Information System established in 2006 contributed to the expansion of Linux in the server area, the digital textbook project will bring PC-based open software into wider use."
This is why the traditional software development model is doomed:
Recently, I wrote a review of the note-taking application Tomboy. Though I find Tomboy exceptionally useful, I had a minor issue with the inability to create new notebooks from within a note. Within hours of the review appearing on Linux.com, Boyd Timothy, one of the app's developers mentioned in the article's comments that my idea had merit and said he would add the feature to an upcoming build. True to his word, he did. This is a shining example of one of the most valued yet sometimes overlooked features of open source software: it really is for the people, by the people.
Creating a commons is all about sharing, and there can be few areas where sharing is more mutually beneficial than health. After all, everyone aspires to good health, and the best way to get that is to pool what we know. Surprisingly, that doesn't happen as much as it could at the moment, because antiquated ways of looking at medical knowledge - shaped by pharmaceutical companies - try to enclose as much of the commons as possible.
Happily, others are fighting that tendency. Here's the latest manifestation, called the Health Commons, from the same bunch of idealistic nutters that brought you the Science Commons:
Health Commons is a coalition of parties interested in changing the way basic science is translated into the understanding and improvement of human health. Coalition members agree to share data, knowledge, and services under standardized terms and conditions by committing to a set of common technologies, digital information standards, research materials, contracts, workflows, and software. These commitments ensure that knowledge, data, materials and tools can move seamlessly from partner to partner across the entire drug discovery chain. They enable participants to offer standardized services, ranging from simple molecular assays to complex drug synthesis solutions, that others can discover in directories and integrate into their own processes to expedite development — or assemble like LEGO blocks to create new services.
The Health Commons is too complex for any one organization or company to create. It requires a coalition of partners across the spectrum. It is also too complex for public, private, or non-profit organizations alone - reinventing therapy development for the networked world requires, from the beginning, a commitment to public-private partnership. Only through a public-private partnership can the key infrastructure of the Commons be created: the investments in the public domain of information and materials will only be realized if that public domain is served by a private set of systems integrators and materials, tools and service providers motivated by profit. And in turn, the long-term success of the private sector depends on a growing, robust, and self-replenishing public domain of data, research tools, and open source software.
Good to see open source being mentioned explicitly here: it does, indeed, form the basis of all these commons efforts, because it provides a completely flexible infrastructure that is also completely free.
23 May 2008
Politicians remain the ultimate dinosaurs in terms of openness: ideally, the rich and powerful would like to make their cosy deals - often aimed at that dangerous openness - behind closed doors. Stuff like this, served up by the indispensable WikiLeaks:
US multi-lateral intellectual property trade agreement proposal, "Discussion Paper on a Possible anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement [ACTA]", circa October 2007.
The title is deceptive.
The agreement covers the copying of information or ideas in a wide variety of contexts. For example page 3, paragraph one is a "Pirate Bay killer" clause designed to criminalize the non-profit facilitation of copyrighted information exchange on the internet.
The document details provisions of a proposed plurilateral trade agreement that would impose strict enforcement of intellectual property rights related to Internet activity and trade in information-based goods. If adopted, a treaty of this form would impose a strong, top-down enforcement regime imposing new cooperation requirements upon internet service providers, including perfunctory disclosure of customer information, as well as measures restricting the use of online privacy tools.
The proposal also specifies a plan to encourage developing nations to accept the legal regime.
This secret agreement, drawn up without any public discussion or oversight, would basically impose all of the worst aspects of US intellectual monopolies on everyone in sight - starting with willing stooges like the UK, and progressing to the unwilling but powerless.
One of the huge benefits of openness and sharing is that it divides up tasks into smaller, less onerous pieces: everyone contributes a little, but gets the lot. Here's an interesting application of that idea to funding the creation of a musical commons:
Musopen has been around for a couple of years but has recently rolled out a new version of its web site, added freely-downloadable sheet music, and raised enough cash to professionally record the entire set of 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and place them in the public domain.
One of the site's innovative features is its bidding system, in which users can pledge contributions toward specific pieces. When they necessary amount is raised, a professional musician is hired to perform, say, Bach's Goldberg Variations (currently the top request). Most of the money used to fund the Beethoven Sonatas was also raised from users in small increments, with a $5 average contribution. While individuals can spend that same money purchasing their own copies of such works, a donation to Musopen helps fund a musical commons that makes the pieces available worldwide and for any application.
22 May 2008
Here's a short but poignant meditation on the centrality of sharing to the joy of books:
Ultimately, I do not much care whether these books are paper or made of some other less organic substance, whether substrates and electrons, or plastic polymers. Instead what matters is that we are able to share books with each other; in return for the gift of spreading delight, a wait of days and the cost of media rate shipping are very modest penalties.
Whatever digital (ebook) books look like in the future, if they do not embody the right to share, in an unrestricted and platform independent manner, they will be poorer things.
This is called the first sale doctrine. It's part of why people love books -- a love built from sharing. It's what makes libraries possible. A world where content is licensed, and sold with restrictions on use, is a world less full of enthusiastic readers; less full of love.
To any publisher who sees the wisdom of DRM: don't.
(Via The Patry Copyright Blog.)
Thousands of teenagers are facing uncertainty over their exams after a GCSE music paper was found to have some of the answers on the back.
And why might that be, pray? Because:
all exam papers had a copyright statement dealing with source material on the back page and that this particular one had more detail than usual in a music paper.
21 May 2008
The public domain - that strange, no man's land "owned" by no one - doesn't really get the respect it deserves, partly because there's nobody fighting for it. So this new project to study the public domain in Europe is welcome, particular because of insightful comments like these:
A rich public domain has the potential to stimulate the further development of the information society. The development of the World Wide Web and the ability to digitise almost all text, image, sound and audio-visual material knowledge has resulted in an explosion of the citizen’s ability to store, and more importantly, share access to that information and knowledge. Public domain material has a considerable potential for re-use – both by citizens for information, education and entertainment, and for new creative expressions that build on Europe’ s rich culture.
As well as the public domain itself, the study will also cover material that, although copyright protected, is generally available for all. The study will investigate the various voluntary sharing schemes which copyright holders use to grant broad rights to enable use and re-use of their creations. These include the various flavours of Creative Commons or the GNU Free
Interestingly, there's a strong British representation on the team. (Via Open Access News.)
As a big fan of all things Cornish - from Polzeath to Kelly's ice cream - I was delighted to read that Cornish the language has just got a big boost:
For hundreds of years a band of scholars have fought to get the Cornish language recognised and revived in Britain, but they hit upon a major stumbling block when no-one could agree on how it should be written.
Now, after more than two years of passionate negotiations, the different factions have finally streamlined the many versions of their language to create a new Standard Written Form.
The resolution means the path has been cleared for Cornish to get official acceptance and funding, with support from the EU. It will be used in education, on brochures, pamphlets and on street signs.
Cornish street signs: what bliss. (Via The Reg.)
One of the central challenges of the modern age is how we can use all the shiny technology we have developed to make democracy work better - specifically, by making it more open and transparent. This post has some comments on interesting suggestions.
20 May 2008
Well, it's a start:
The Commons' members' estimates committee agreed last night it would not appeal against a ruling by the high court ordering publication of the detailed expenses of 14 prominent MPs.
I particularly liked this:
The three high court judges left little room for an appeal: "We have no doubt that the public interest is at stake. We are not here dealing with idle gossip, or public curiosity about what in truth are trivialities. The expenditure of public money through the payment of MPs' salaries and allowances is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers."
Indeed, and not only...
19 May 2008
Here's a droll little piece in which Microsoft's open source watcher, Sam Ramji opines that the company will have just about cobbled together an open source strategy by 2015.
Think about it: seven more years of MS perfidy, contradictions, misunderstandings, backtracking and general faffing around the idea of openness. Sounds great to me....
16 May 2008
I don't claim to follow the detailed ins and outs of this story about the release of the Italian electronic identity cards specs, but the conclusions seems clear enough:
So what will the gained freedom bring us and the citizens who have an Italian eID in their pockets? Here is my take on foreseeing the future: In a relatively short time, support for the Italian eID card will be added to OpenSC and thus provide multi-platform middleware for Firefox browers, for Virtual Private Networks and Secure Shell, and for other applications. Also commercial players will be able to support the eID in their operating systems, or on their devices (e.g., set top boxes).
I also hope that this positive development can find value as an experience that demonstrates the benefits of openness: The community can amplify resource and thus achieve what a single player (mostly a government) simply cannot even hope to do. So let us work on making this a reality and from time to time remind that it is openness that made this all happen.
It's also not clear to me whether eIDs are better than bog-standard, worse-than=useless ID cards or not....
15 May 2008
One of the great things about the blogosphere is the scope it provides for the unfettered rant – a piece where the author is totally and utterly out of his or her pram. I should know: as a blogger, I've penned a few myself. So I was delighted to come across a fine example, which begins thus:
Another anti-Microsoft (MSFT) front group has emerged in favor of “free and open standards,” hyping what it calls the Hague Declaration and making some absurd connection to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The propagandists, partially funded by publicly traded companies, have a little trouble describing what that term “free and open standards” means (or even using it consistently) but the group has no trouble indicating its political stripes. Unbelievably it calls itself Digistan, apparently to indentify with the fascist terrorists based in countries and regions using the Farsi-based suffix “stan.”
All of these front groups percolate around about two dozen individuals, mostly European. The vast left-wing conspiracy of George Soros works around the edges of their mostly web-site-only organizations. But there is a profit motive. Some seem to exist to raise money from public companies in order to hold conferences at excellent venues. Others run consulting companies to advise governments how to follow “free and open standards” or law firms that write licenses that follow “free and open standards.” Only if these lefties could be time warped back to the last century so that they could ‘fight the right’ in Spain (or sit in the Les Deux Maggot and talk about fighting the right in Spain). Then the rest of us could avoid having our tax dollars wasted and our share values diminished.
Well, you can't argue with the opening statement: given Microsoft's trashing of the ISO process for the sake of having its OOXML format blessed, any group in favour of “free and open standards” must, I suppose, by logical necessity
by be anti-Microsoft – and especially anti-Microsoft (MSFT). But I find the idea that this group calls itself “Digistan”
to indentify with the fascist terrorists based in countries and regions using the Farsi-based suffix “stan.”
a little harder to parse, since it seems to paint any region ending with “-stan” with a rather broad brush. I wasn't really aware that countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, or regions like Hindustan, Rajasthan, Tatarstan and Turkestan were hotbeds of fascist terrorism, but you live and learn.
Perhaps the point is simply to get to use the magic “T” word, so that our Pavlovian reaction is to beg – salivating the while - for an honest-to-god, shock-and-awe attack on the wicked state of Digistan, which at this very moment is doubtless re-directing its civil nuclear programme to build weapons.
The next paragraph is easier to follow, because it uses a few tried and trusted tropes. Apparently, this terrorist Digistan is made up of “mostly European” individuals; well, we all know how terribly unreliable those Europeans are – just look at their plumbing. And then we have that old favourite, the “vast left-wing conspiracy”, still in remarkably fine fettle after blowing out 200+ candles on its birthday cake. There's even a little jokette about “Les Deux Maggot” (and who says Americans aren't subtle?)
The concluding thought starts badly:
Then the rest of us could avoid having our tax dollars wasted...
Unless the US government (I presume these are US tax dollars we're talking about here) is funding those unreliable Europeans, or the conspiratorial George Soros, it's hard to see why the actions of this sad, sad group of Digistanis affects the amount of money that the US can spend on humanitarian projects in the middle east one jot or tittle. But the logic picks up right at the end:
...and our share values diminished.
Which is doubtless true if we're talking about “our” Microsoft (MSFT) shares, since the net effect of Digistan will be to make people aware of open alternatives to Windows and Office lock-in, causing them to shovel less of their money into the Microsoft (MSFT) maw, with terrible knock-on consequences for those (MSFT) share values.
But then, what do I know? I'm just some leftie European living in Londonistan, who has actually been to Uzbekistan, and stood in the middle of the Registan. I probably even support those awful free and open standards.
Anyway, if you'd like join those appalling chaps behind Digistan - out-and-out communists like Andy Updegrove and our own Mark Taylor – you can do it here. At the very least it might provoke another entertaining blog rant from Absurdistan.
Update: Here's some another pinko Euro (who happens to vote Conservative), while Andy Updegrove himself offers some calm words of wisdom.
14 May 2008
Windows users, welcome to your future:
Some users of Windows Vista Media Center say they were blocked from recording the NBC Universal TV shows American Gladiator and Medium on Monday night.
"Restrictions set by the broadcaster and/or originator prohibit recording of this program," the error message read.
Rare good news:
A unique worldwide tree planting initiative, aimed at empowering citizens to corporations and people up to presidents to embrace the climate change challenge, has now set its sights on planting seven billion trees.
It follows the news, also announced today, that the Billion Tree Campaign has in just 18 months catalyzed the planting of two billion trees, double its original target.
But realistically even severn billion trees won't make a huge difference given the scale of the problems they are trying to counter - deforestation, rising carbon dioxide levels etc; how about making it a round trillion...?
13 May 2008
As readers of this blog may have gathered, I am not the biggest fan of Nathan Myhrvold. I am, however, a big fan of Mike Masnick, especially when he writes posts like this:
And here Myhrvold is either outright lying or he's ignorant (he can let us know which one). First of all no one has ever said that patent litigation is threatening to stop all innovation. They've just said that it is slowing the pace of innovation. And there's plenty of evidence to support that, despite Myhrvold's claim that there's none. James Bessen and Michael Meurer just came out with a whole book detailing much of the evidence, and David Levine and Michele Boldrin also have a book with even more evidence. Did Myhrvold simply not know about these? Or is he lying to PC World?
Go on, Mike, tell us what you *really* think....
12 May 2008
Mark Shuttleworth writes about another advantage that free software sets enjoys over monolithic, proprietary code collections:
An update on the long term plans for Ubuntu release management. 8.04 LTS represented a very significant step forward in our release management thinking. To the best of my knowledge there has never been an “enterprise platform” release delivered exactly on schedule, to the day, in any proprietary or Linux OS. Not only did it prove that we could execute an LTS release in the standard 6-month timeframe, but it showed that we could commit to such an LTS the cycle beforehand. Kudos to the technical decision-makers, the release managers, and the whole community who aligned our efforts with that goal.
As a result, we can commit that the next LTS release of Ubuntu will be 10.04 LTS, in April 2010.
This represents one of the most extraordinary, and to me somewhat unexpected, benefits of free software to those who deploy it. Most people would assume that precise release management would depend on having total control of all the moving parts - and hence only be possible in a proprietary setting. Microsoft writes (almost) every line of code in Windows, so you would think they would be able to set, and hit, a precise target date for delivery. But in fact the reverse is true - free software distributions or OSV’s can provide much better assurances with regard to delivery dates than proprietary OSV’s, because we can focus on the critical role of component selection, integration, testing, patch management and distribution rather than the pieces which upstream projects are better able to handle - core component feature development. This is in my mind a very compelling reason for distributions to focus on distribution - that’s the one thing they do which the upstreams don’t, so they need to invest heavily in that in order to serve as the most efficient conduit of upstream’s work.
11 May 2008
To my shame, Peter Murray-Rust put up a reply to my post below in just a few hours, where it had taken me days to answer his original posting. So with this reply to his reply, I'm trying to do better.
Peter includes this disclaimer:
Before diving in I should get a potential conflict of interest out of the way. We are about to receive funding from Microsoft (for the OREChem project (see post on Chemistry Repositories). This does not buy an artificial silence on commenting on Microsoft’s practice, any more than if I accept a grant from JISC or EPSRC I will refrain from speaking my mind. Nor do I have to love their products. I currently hate Vista. However I need an MS OS on my machine because it makes it easier to use tools such as LiveMeeting (a system for sharing desktops). I’ve used LiveMeeting once and I liked it. OK, Joe did the driving because he knows his way round better than me, but I can learn it. Not everything MS does is bad and not everything it does is good.
Now, I have not the slightest doubt about Peter's future independence, but I do think it's an interesting comment.
It shows that even such a key defender of openness as Peter finds he "needs an MS OS on my machine because it makes it easier to use tools such as LiveMeeting (a system for sharing desktops)". I presume that Microsoft's money comes without strings, but inevitably its availability will make buying its own software easier. Where a cash-strapped project would cast an interested eye over free alternatives, and be willing to pay the price of grappling with new software, those with enough funding - from Microsoft or elsewhere - may well just opt for the familiar.
This is doubtless happening all over the place in science, which means that many simply forget that there are alternatives to Microsoft's products. Instead - quite understandably - they concentrate on the science. But what this implies is that however open that science may be, however much it pushes forward open access and open data, say, its roots are likely remain in the arid soil of closed source, and that Microsoft's money has the effect of co-opting supporters of these other kinds of openness in its own battle against the foundational openness of free software.
A little while back I gave Peter Murray-Rust a hard time for daring to suggest that OOXML might be acceptable for archiving purposes.
Here's his response to that lambasting:
My point is that - at present - we have few alternatives. Authors use Word or LaTeX. We can try to change them - and Peter Sefton (and we) are trying to do this with the ICE system. But realistically we aren’t going to change them any time soon.
My point was that if the authors deposit Word we can do something with it which we cannot do anything with PDF. It may be horrible, but it’s less horrible than PDF. And it exists.
There are two issues here. The second concerns translators between OOXML and ODF. Although in theory that's a good solution, in practice, it's not, because the translators don't work very well. They are essentially a Microsoft fig-leaf so that it can claim using OOXML isn't a barrier to exporting it elsewhere. They probably won't ever work very well because of the proprietary nature of the OOXML format: there's just too much gunk in there ever to convert it cleanly to anything.
The larger question is what needs to be done to convince scientists and others to adopt ODF - or least in a format that can be converted to ODF. I don't have any easy answers. The best thing, obviously, would be for people to start using OpenOffice.org or similar: is that really too much to ask? After all, the thing's free, it's easy to use - what's not to like?
Perhaps we need some concerted campaign within universities to give out free copies of OOo/run short hands-on courses so that people can see this for themselves. Maybe the central problem is that the university world (outside computing, at least) is too addicted to its daily fixes of Windows and Office.
I write a lot about licensing here. Indeed, licensing arguably lies at the heart of free software. But there's another important way of looking at things, which is essentially licence-less, as John Wilbanks reminds us:
It is a damn shame that we no longer think of the public domain as an option that is attractive. It’s a sign of the victory of the content holders that the free licensing movements work against that something without a license – something that is truly free, not just just free “as in” – is somehow thought to be worse. We’ve bought into their games if we allow the public domain to be defined as the BSD. The idea of the public domain has been subjected to continuous erosion thanks to both the big content companies and our own movements, to the point where we think freedom only comes in a contract.
The public domain is not contractually constructed. It just is. It cannot be made more free, only less free. And if we start a culture of licensing and enclosing the public domain (stuff that is actually already free, like the human genome) in the name of “freedom” we’re playing a dangerous game.
How true. Which means that those of us in the free software world must be careful that we don't play into the hands of those who want *everything* to be licensed.
09 May 2008
I've written elsewhere about the signs that things are finally moving on the open source drivers front. Here's one more pebble on the cairn:
VIA has released over 16,000 lines of code that provides a frame-buffer driver in the Linux kernel. This code is licensed under the GNU GPLv2 and appears to be crafted by VIA's Joseph Chan. Supported by this driver is VIA's Unichrome CLE266, K400, K800, PM800, CN700, CX700, K8M890, P4M890, P4M900, and VX800 IGPs. We're still pouring over the code, but it seems to be in pretty good shape and does support digital connections (and does seem to support HDMI already) -- in other words it appears to be further along then when the RadeonHD driver started out.
Kudos go out to VIA Technologies this morning for this code dump, but the work isn't over. They still have a lot of work left to do to mend relations with the Unichrome and OpenChrome projects and focusing upon 3D and video playback work, etc. However, this is a step forward in showing that VIA may actually come around this time and play ball with the open-source community.
(Via James Tyrrell.)
There's an interesting set of data on TechCrunch derived from the consolidated activity of users of the RescueTime service. This shows you exactly how long you are spending on each app; the aggregrate results therefore provide fascinating insights into what people in general - or at least RescueTime users - are doing
One caveat is that the service seems to be aimed mostly at Windows and Mac users (although a GNU/Linux version is available), and so results are necessarily skewed. Despite this, there's an amazing result amongst the data: the ninth most-used app is Thunderbird.
Now, its usage (2.26%) may only be around a sixth of Outlook's (12.44%) but that still seems to me to be astonishing. It also suggests that Thunderbird is doing rather better than many - myself included - assumed. The received wisdom is that Firefox is storming away (unfortunately, there's no breakdown by browser in the RescueTime set: things are shown by site, rather), Thunderbird is miles behind. That seems not to be the case if these figures are at all representative of the wider world. And even if they're not, it suggests early adopters are, well, adopting Thunderbird in significant numbers.
I'm happy to announce the new logo of the User Experience Team.
The main goal of the logo is to penetrate core values of the project:
The three terms summarize in a very short manner what the User Experience Team's overall goals are.
What's interesting about this is that usability, productivity and enjoyment have traditionally been rather neglected in the open source, so it's good to see them getting some respect in the OpenOffice.org project. And a shiny new logo.
08 May 2008
Mike Masnick is a truly fantastic writer, because he begins a piece thus:
Malcolm Gladwell is a truly fantastic writer
...only to end up proving that Gladwell may be a great writer, but he doesn't actually understand the implications of what he's writing about. No, don't worry, I'm not going to draw the same conclusion for Masnick, since he *does* know what he's writing about, pace some trolling in the comments to the above piece.
Indeed, I think the posting in question is doubly fine: it not only calls into question the extremely odious business model of Nathan Myhrvold's "Intellectual Ventures", but it hammers home the "M"-word:
Gladwell uses this to talk up what Myhrvold is doing, suggesting that Intellectual Ventures is really about continuing that process, getting those ideas out there -- but he misses the much bigger point: if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer? Myhrvold's whole business model is about monopolizing all of these ideas and charging others (who may have discovered them totally independently) to actually do something with them. Yet, if Gladwell's premise is correct (and there's plenty of evidence included in the article), then Myhrvold's efforts shouldn't be seen as a big deal. After all, if it wasn't Myhrvold and his friends doing it, others would very likely come up with the same thing sooner or later.
This is especially highlighted in one anecdote in the article, of Myhrvold holding a dinner with a bunch of smart people... and an attorney. The group spent dinner talking about a bunch of different random ideas, with no real goal or purpose -- just "chewing the rag" as one participant put it. But the next day the attorney approached them with a typewritten description of 36 different inventions that were potentially patentable out of the dinner. When a random "chewing the rag" conversation turns up 36 monopolies, something is wrong. Those aren't inventions that deserve a monopoly.
Quite. In a way, what should be renamed Intellectual Monopoly Ventures represents the quintessence and, I fervently hope, the apogee, of a patent system gone mad: a company set up with the express intention of coming up with *ideas* and patenting them so that it can hold companies that might actually create *inventions* based on them hostage. Perfectly parasitic and utterly pathetic.
07 May 2008
As a young lad getting into classical music, Gramophone was my bible. I would read it pretty much from cover to cover, and it became an important part of my education, imparting not just the bare facts about music and musicians, many of them deeply obscure, but also a sense of what a critical response to both of those might entail.
So the following news is potentially mind-blowing:
Gramophone, the world’s most influential classical music magazine, is to create an exciting new website that promises to transform the classical music industry. The magazine, started in 1923, today announces its commitment to a bold two stage plan.
By September every word ever printed in Gramophone will be available for free as a fully searchable online archive – that’s hundreds and thousands of reviews, articles and interviews, by far the biggest archive of its kind.
This is clearly fantastic news for all those who love classical music - or who want to find out more. But what's in it for the magazine?
The new website, Gramophone.net, will be created in two stages. The first, the creation of the archive, will live alongside this existing website from early September. The start of 2009 will then see the creation of an all-new state-of-the-art website – where downloading, internet mail order and ticket-buying services will be linked to editorial – so visitors will be able to read reviews and features, listen to music samples and then if they wish, buy CDs or book tickets to live events.
This does all the things this blog and many others have been advocating for a while: giving away core content in order sell all kinds of ancillary materials and services. I can't wait.
06 May 2008
When you think of groups promoting the adoption of free software around the world, you do not probably think of staid old UNESCO; and yet this organisation is actually quite active in this field. Here's one of its latest moves:
UNESCO Office in Montevideo, Uruguay, in cooperation with the network of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) in Latin America and the Caribbean, published the Guía práctica sobre software libre: su selección y aplicación local en América Latina y el Caribe (Guidelines on free software: how to choose it and apply it locally in Latin America and the Caribbean).
This easy to read and practical guide promotes FLOSS contribution to sustainable development. It gives practical advice on the selection of adequate FLOSS solutions with the requested functionality and addresses the issue of migration from proprietary software to FLOSS. To facilitate the exchange of experience, the book offers a list of organizations and country related contacts. It also gives an overview of the thematic and regional landscape of the FLOSS community through the hints on annual FLOSS conferences in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Even for those who do not read Spanish, there are some very useful resources in this (free) guide. For example, there is a very detailed table showing free equivalents of Windows programs, and a good list of the main free software organisation around South America.
So if you ever need to know about free software in Belize or about the Fundación Código Libre Dominicano, you know where to go. Two countries stand out: Brazil (no surprise) and Uruguay (a big surprise, for me at least), which has more than half a dozen organisations supporting free software.
All in all, there seems to be far more going on Latin America than I with my anglocentric bias would have expected. All very hopeful for the future - and great to see UNESCO doing its bit to push things along there.
There's something utterly perverse about the way new drugs are developed. Pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions - sometimes billions - of Euros investigating vast numbers of new compounds in the hope that they might treat a particular disease. If they find one that works, they then have to test it extensively for side-effects and the rest. Moreover, most of the negative knowledge they acquire - what doesn't work - is wilfully thrown away, since it represents "competitive" information.
But how about turning things on their head? Instead of trying millions of new substances for one disease, how about experimenting with the tens of thousands of known, safe medicines in the public domain on thousands of diseases? Like this:
The Johns Hopkins Clinical Compound Screening Initiative is an open-source effort to collect and index more than 10,000 known medications and determine which of them are also effective against hundreds of low-profile, Third World killers, such as Chagas disease, cholera and leprosy. The library will function something like a Wikipedia of drug discovery, where scientists around the world can contribute to the database and even provide samples or screen drugs themselves, thereby saving millions of dollars on R&D.
This could save millions of lives. Just one problem: nobody gets obscenely rich in the process....
Here's another interesting example of Microsoft's attempt to snuggle up to open source:
Die Open Source Business Foundation (OSBF) hat Microsoft als neues Mitglied gewonnen. Die OSBF mit Vereinssitz in Nürnberg ist ein Netzwerk aus Unternehmen und Institutionen, das sich für den Einsatz und die Verbreitung von freier Software in Unternehmen einsetzt und bereits 120 Mitglieder hat. Mit Microsoft Beitritt zur OSBF hat Andreas Hartl, Director Platform Strategy bei Microsoft, einen Sitz im Vorstand der OSBF übernommen. Neben seiner Vorstandstätigkeit wird er außerdem die Aktivitäten der OSBF-Projektgruppe "Interoperabilität" koordinieren.
Hartl sieht den Beitritt Microsofts zur OSBF als konsequenten Schritt im Rahmen der Open-Source-Strategie seines Unternehmens, von dem beide Seiten profitieren würden. Microsoft strebt neue Verbindungen mit Partnern aus dem Open-Source-Umfeld an und will bestehende Kooperationen festigen; die OSBF-Mitglieder können laut Hartl von Microsofts Erfahrung im Bereich der Business-Entwicklung profitieren.
[Via Google Translate:
The Open Source Business Foundation (OSBF), Microsoft has won as a new member. The OSBF association with headquarters in Nuremberg is a network of companies and institutions, for the use and dissemination of free software use in enterprises and already has 120 members. With Microsoft joining the OSBF has Andreas Hartl, Director of Platform Strategy at Microsoft, a seat on the board of the OSBF. In addition to his board work, it is also the activities of the project group OSBF "interoperability" coordinate.
Hartl sees Microsoft's accession to OSBF as consistent step in the open-source strategy his company, which would benefit both sides. Microsoft is seeking new connections with partners from the open source environment and will strengthen existing cooperation, the OSBF-members may, according to Hartl of Microsoft's experience in the field of business development.]
05 May 2008
When software is produced by a commercial company and sold in the marketplace, it’s relatively easy for the state to tax and regulate it. Commercial companies tend to be reflexively law-abiding, and they can afford the lawyers necessary to collect taxes or comply with complex regulatory schemes.
In contrast, free software will prove strongly resistant to state interference. Because virtually everyone associated with a free software project is a volunteer, the state cannot easily compel them to participate in tax and regulatory schemes. Such projects are likely to react to any attempt to tax or regulate them is likely to be met with passive resistance: people will stop contributing entirely rather than waste time dealing with the government.
Hence, free software thus has the salutary effect of depriving the state of tax revenue. But even better, free software is likely to prove extremely resistant to state efforts to build privacy-violating features into software systems.
04 May 2008
Like many, I've been keeping my eye on the Brazilian computer market, since there seems to be a lot happening there in terms of free software. Details have been dribbling out here and there, but this is by far the best summary of the situation there:
Brazil imported the anti-Microsoft stance common in American geeks, but on top of the usual arguments Microsoft is foreign. This adds fuel to the flame. To the Brazilian Microsoft hater, not only there is an “evil monopoly”, but its profits are repatriated and its jobs are elsewhere. Practices like the 3-program limitation on Vista Starter further erode good will (Brazilians call it the “castrated Windows” among other colorful names). Add a dash of anti-American sentiment and you’ve got some serious resistance. This fiery mood has a strong influence, from the teenager hanging out in #hackers on Brasnet to IT departments to the federal government. Even in a rational self-interest analysis, one might rightly point out that if free/open source software (FOSS) were to wipe out Windows, negative effects on Brazil’s economy are likely minimal. The wealth, jobs, and opportunity created by Microsoft aren’t in Brazil (productivity gains might be, but that’s a whole different argument). The trade offs of a potential Linux/Google take over are different when there’s no national off-the-shelf software industry, plus Google’s revenue model works beautifully in a developing country. This mix of ideological and rational arguments torpedoes Microsoft’s support.
Now people in Brazil can actually develop interesting and widely used programs. We’ve got kernel hackers like Marcelo Tosatti, who maintained the 2.4 Linux kernel series, and Arnaldo Carvalho de Melo, who co-founded the Conectiva distribution. There are RedHat employees, Debian contributors, committers on various projects, and so on. Lua, the programming language, comes from Brazil. There’s a practical advantage in being able to, say, tune a distribution for a particular purpose (e.g., the distribution being delivered to public schools). But beyond that it’s inspiring to finally be able to work with talented people in cool projects and have a chance to participate, rather than be handed down a proprietary product built abroad over which you have zero control. People are excited about and grateful for this. By the time you mix up these elements nearly all talented CS students and alpha geeks are well into the Linux camp. Unlike the US, the dynamic economy isn’t there to add some fragmentation. When these people go on to make technology choices in government or industry, guess what they’ll pick?
Reminds me, I must brush up my Portuguese.
03 May 2008
The good news:
Xandros is known for its Windows-like Linux distribution, which has been dubbed by one DesktopLinux reviewer as "the best Linux desktop distro for Windows users." Currently in version 4, the distro is bundled with the popular Asus Eee mini-notebook. Now apparently, the company plans to go after the even smaller format netbooks and the coming onslaught of tablet-like MIDs based on the Intel Mobile Internet Device spec, which appears to blur the lines between desktop and embedded realms.
And the bad news:
Earlier this week, Xandros announced a beta of its Xandros BridgeWays Management Packs at the Microsoft Management Summit. The new product follows up on a broad collaborative agreement between Xandros and Microsoft in June of last year, which included a somewhat controversial intellectual property assurance, similar to one hatched between Redmond and Novell, under which Microsoft will provide patent covenants for Xandros customers.
Peter Murray-Rust is one of the key figures in the world of open data and open science, and deserves a lot of the credit for making these issues more visible. Here's an interesting post in which he points out that PDF files are not ideal from an archiving viewpoint:
I should make it clear that I am not religiously opposed to PDF, just to the present incarnation of PDF and the mindset that it engenders in publishers, repositarians, and readers. (Authors generally do not use PDF).
He then discusses in detail what the problems are and what solutions might be. Then he drops this clanger:
I’m not asking for XML. I’m asking for either XHTML or Word (or OOXML)
Word? OOXML??? Come on, Peter, you want open formats and you're willing to accept one of the most botched "standards" around, knocked up for purely political reasons, that includes gobs of proprietary elements and is probably impossible for anyone other than Microsoft to implement? *That's* open? I don't think so....
XHTML by all means, and if you want a document format the clear choice is ODF - a tight and widely-implemented standard. Anything but OOXML.
02 May 2008
01 May 2008
I've written much about the rise of ultraportables, but it's nice to have hard numbers as well as the hand waving. Here are some from Asus:
Asustek Computer on Wednesday forecast it will nearly double shipments of the popular Eee PC low-cost laptop in the second quarter, compared to the first.
Eee PC shipments will rise to between 1.2 million to 1.3 million units in the three months ending June 30, Asustek said in presentation materials for its first quarter investors' conference. The company shipped 700,000 Eee PCs in the first quarter.
Shipments of the Eee PC have ramped up so fast that they could challenge the company's other laptop PC products. Asustek predicts it will sell between 1.3 million and 1.4 million notebook PCs during the second quarter, up from 1.3 million in the first quarter.
The company's Eee PC shipment target for this year is 5 million units.
Not bad for what many perceived as a niche product. And that's just the beginning.
Here's an important observation:
Though there is already a growing body of legal decisions that seem to be weighing against RIAA efforts to discourage individual consumers from copying content, the Howell decision is notable in that the judge went to particular pains to delve into the technological "hows" of file sharing as well as into legal precedents. In doing so, Judge Wake has challenged publishers pursuing such suits to recognize that the more that they go into these suits the more that they create a wide portfolio of rulings that begin to flesh out the full reality of electronic content use - a portfolio that over time has weakened rather than strengthened their claims to inhibit content copying. Put simply, the more that these suits continued, the more circumscribed their claims become and the more that their presumption of complete power over copying will weaken.
I've written many times about the distinction between multiple competing impementations of a standard, which promote competition because there are no switching costs, and multiple standards, which promote lock-in. But it seems that some people just don't get this simple idea:
The “South African Bureau of Standards” (SABS) approved the Open Document Format (ODF) on Friday 18 April as an official national standard. This adoption, if implemented, will reduce choice, decrease the benefits of open competition and thwart innovation. The irony here is that South Africa is moving in a direction which stands in stark relief to the reality of the highly dynamic market, with some 40 different formats available today.
“Multiple co-existing standards as opposed to only one standard should be favoured in the interest of users. The markets are the most efficient in creating standards and it should stay within the exclusive hands of the market”, Hugo Lueders explains.
And which bunch of geniuses put this nonsense together? Why, our old friends CompTIA, which has by now given up any pretense of offering objective comment on the computer market, and is simply a vehicle for crude Microsoft propaganda. At least their desperation in the face of rising open standards like ODF are driving them out into the open for all to see. (Via Rob Weir.)