31 August 2008

YouTube: A Video Commons?

I've noticed increasingly that the "young people" seem to watch YouTube rather than that old-fashioned thing called "TV". Here's a nice piece in the Guardian reminding us that YouTube is much more than a super MTV (what's that?), but is fast turning into a kind of visual Wikipedia: if somebody was able to digitise it, you can probably find it.

YouTube is best known for its offbeat videos that become viral sensations. But among its millions of clips is a treasure trove of rare and fascinating arts footage, lovingly posted by fans.

Being able to regard YouTube as a video commons: just one more reason to get rid of 18th-century copyright laws.

Constant Dripping Wears Away the Stone

Although apparently a small matter, I think this story about restaurants refusing to provide tap water for free could have quite wide ramifications.

At one level, it's about restaurateurs being reasonable: if I spend tens of pounds on their food, it's not too much to ask for some water to go with it, given that it costs them fractions of a penny to provide it. If they refuse, it's sheer, bloody-minded greediness - and a good reason (a) never to eat there again and (b) to name and shame them so that others can do the same.

Moreover, as ever, this is not a question of a threat, but of an opportunity for restaurants, which can differentiate themselves through the quality of the tap water they offer - filtered, presented with ice, lemons whatever. Again, the costs of doing so are minimal, but the potential gains in terms of improved customer satisfation great.

But obviously, there's a much bigger issue here too:

Earlier this year, environment minister Phil Woolas condemned the bottled water industry as "morally unacceptable". Mineral water suppliers on average use two litres of water for every litre put into a bottle. Much is transported from overseas, from as far away as New Zealand and Fiji. Four out of five bottles are plastic, most of which end up in landfill despite recycling initiatives, where it can take four centuries to decompose.

Consumer campaigners Which? estimate that the number of plastic bottles sent to landfill each year would fill Wembley Stadium twice over. Which? describes bottled mineral water as an unnecessary drink that costs us £1.68bn a year. The good news is that sales fell by 9% last year, and in the credit crunch sales are expected to fall further. "Our reasons for buying bottled water are drying up," according to Which?

If we all start asking for tap water in restaurants - as I've recently started doing - we will be able to make a direct, if small contribution to reducing the ridiculous environmental costs of bottled water, perhaps start sensitising retaurateurs to the implications of how they choose to run their businesses and, more profoundly, change attitudes to the unthinking privatisation of vital commons like water.

A City of Shared Stories

Now that's what I call a mashup....

30 August 2008

The Greening - and Maturing - of Boris

Despite previously attacking the Kyoto Protocol - which regulates international carbon emissions - as "pointless" and saying that anxiety over climate change was "partly a religious phenomenon" Johnson now admits that the 2006 Stern review on the issue had convinced him of the need to act. "When the facts change, you change your mind," he said.

How many senior politicians would dare say that (hello ID cards, hello Gordon)? I predict that we will see far less of the buffoonish Boris, and much more of this grown-up, sensible Boris in the future. Future PM, anyone?

The End of the American Net

Invented by American computer scientists during the 1970s, the Internet has been embraced around the globe. During the network’s first three decades, most Internet traffic flowed through the United States. In many cases, data sent between two locations within a given country also passed through the United States.

Engineers who help run the Internet said that it would have been impossible for the United States to maintain its hegemony over the long run because of the very nature of the Internet; it has no central point of control.

And now, the balance of power is shifting. Data is increasingly flowing around the United States, which may have intelligence — and conceivably military — consequences.


29 August 2008

"Piracy" Is Not Theft

For those who find this hard to grasp, here's a picture that may help. (Via QuestionCopyright.org.)

Open Access Day

The (open) social calendar is getting full; first the World Day Against Software Patents, and now the Open Access Day:

SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and Students for FreeCulture have jointly announced the first international Open Access Day. Building on the worldwide momentum toward Open Access to publicly funded research, Open Access Day will create a key opportunity for the higher education community and the general public to understand more clearly the opportunities of wider access and use of content.

(Via Open Access News.)

Pre-installed Software: A Better Way

PC BOX BUILDERS are thinking of getting rid of the tradition of stuffing your new PC or laptop with trial software that you don’t really want anyway.

The reason is that some retailers, such as Best Buy, are making a small fortune removing the software and charging punters for the privilege.

Well, how about this: instead of loading PCs with a load of junk that users pay to be removed, why not put on a few, good open source programs: OpenOffice.org, Audacity, the Gimp, Blender? No cost to the manufacturer, no rubbish for the end user. Just a thought....

Google Backtracks on Eclipse and Mozilla Licences

Google plays a key role in the world of free software, both indirectly, through the fact that it runs most of its infrastructure on open source, and directly, through its support of projects (not least the dosh it gives to Mozilla). Against that background, its refusal to make certain popular licences like those from Mozilla and Eclipse available to projects hosted on Google Code was curious....

On Open Enterprise blog.

28 August 2008

Words Fail Us

linguistics professor and author shares a personal selection from the thousands of languages on the brink of disappearing

How about if we all volunteered to learn an endangered language? - You can put me down for Ket:

Ket is the only Siberian language with a tone system where the pitch of the voice can give what sound like identical words quite different meanings. (Much like Chinese or Yoruba). To add to the difficulty for any westerner wishing to learn it, it also has extremely complicated word structure and grammar.

Ordnance Survey: Right Out of Order

I always thought that the Ordnance Survey had a rather, er, Olympian view of things that was more suited to the top-down twentieth century than the bottom-up one we inhabit. Some fine FOI work by the Guardian has confirmed that they really are as out of order as I surmised:

An extraordinary picture of a state body carrying out political lobbying on the issue of free data has emerged from documents obtained by the Guardian.

The correspondence reveals that Ordnance Survey (OS) is targeting MPs from Westminster and devolved assemblies, civil servants and leading figures in the free data debate. The agency openly attends party conferences and other political events to promote the value of geographical data. However, earlier this year a Parliamentary question revealed that it had paid a company called Mandate £42,076.20 plus VAT since August 2007.

So here we have a state body using *our* money to pay for lobbyists to advise on how to stop oiks like *us* from gaining free access to the information *we* largely foot the bill for.

The one consolation is that if they are prepared to stoop to stupid tactics like this, they are clearly running very scared: anyone remember Eric "pitbull" Dezenhall, another consultant brought in a desperate attempt to stave off open access...?

Mozilla Gets Google's Moolah for 3 More Years

This is important:

Another important element is the financial resources Mozilla enjoys. We’ve just renewed our agreement with Google for an additional three years. This agreement now ends in November of 2011 rather than November of 2008, so we have stability in income. We’re also learning more all the time about how to use Mozilla’s financial resources to help contributors through infrastructure, new programs, and new types of support from employees.

The deal with Google is bringing in over $60 million a year: that's a huge resource, unmatched by any other open source project. It lets Mozilla defend the open Web - and dream, with things like this. (Via Standblog.)

27 August 2008

A Tortured Relationship

The US state department today warned that disclosure of secret information in the case of a British resident said to have been tortured before he was sent to Guantánamo Bay would cause "serious and lasting damage" to security relations between the two countries.

Nothing like a good, honest threat to bring a poodle to heel...

After the Games Have Ended...

...real life goes on.

Linux-Powered Radios

Linux is already widely-used for embedded systems. Here's another interesting application, from a UK company, too:

EVOKE Flow brings you the huge variety of audio available on the internet, as well as traditional DAB and FM radio and your own digital music collection. All in a stylish portable radio that you can take with you wherever you go.

EVOKE Flow uses the same Wi-Fi technology as portable computers to connect to the internet wirelessly. Through this connection you can access thousands of radio stations from across the world, catch your favourite shows with listen again or enjoy a huge variety of podcasts. You can even use EVOKE Flow to browse and play music stored on a Wi-Fi-enabled PC.

In addition:

EVOKE Flow is powered by Imagination’s innovative hardware multi-threaded META processor and UCC (Universal Communications Core) technologies, which give the product advanced real-time signal processing and 32-bit application execution resources, as well as unique multi-standard high performance communications capabilities. EVOKE Flow is also one of the first radio products in the market to use the Linux operating system.

One of the first, but I predict it won't be the last....

Why Firefox Will Be Ubiquitous

On Open Enterprise blog.

Somebody's Heard the Music

Some people in the music biz are finally getting it:

The music executives behind Kaiser Chiefs and Primal Scream are backing a new website that will allow music fans to invest financially as well as emotionally in hotly tipped new acts.

The venture, dreamed up by a music business lawyer and backed by the founder of Friends Reunited, is being billed as the latest innovative funding model that could provide artists with an alternative to major labels.

Bandstocks will let the public buy a stake in an artist in £10 increments. Once funding reaches a preordained level, for example £100,000, the money will be released for the act to record an album.

Investors will get a copy of the album, a credit on the CD sleeve and a percentage of the profits from its sale and licensing. They will also get priority ticket booking and the opportunity to buy limited edition releases. For the artist, founder Andrew Lewis claimed that Bandstocks would offer a better return than a major-label deal, as well as more freedom and control over copyright.

The Guardian's headline - "Don't just buy the music" is also a sign that people are beginning to realise that there is more than one way to skin a digital cat....

When Will They Ever Learn...?

...not to use Windows:

A computer virus is alive and well on the International Space Station (ISS).

Nasa has confirmed that laptops carried to the ISS in July were infected with a virus known as Gammima.AG.

The worm was first detected on earth in August 2007 and lurks on infected machines waiting to steal login names for popular online games.

“Open for Business” Open for Business

On Open Enterprise blog.

25 August 2008

Attack of the GNU/Linux Ultraportables, Part 2

On Open Enterprise blog.

Stop European Software Patents (Again)

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Operating System as Prison

Microsoft's OS as prison [according to Linux Foundation's king of kings, Jim Zemlin]:

These prison facilities are horrible. This is the largest, most difficult prison to escape from in the world but the security is horrible. Everyone is stealing each other’s data and you are sharing a cell with an angry 300 pound piece of malware. The prison warden, Steve Ballmer, walks around often claiming he wants a kinder gentler and more open prison, but everyone knows he is lying.


Each cell is a plush luxury suite overlooking the ocean. You can get movies ordered to your room all day and the music selection is great. Your cell mates are cool hipsters and they have great parties that last all night long. It is almost like staying at a five star hotel with the only catch being that you can’t ever leave.

Sun Solaris:

This prison seems desolate and strangely empty.


Of Microsoft, Retraining Costs, and TCOs

when it comes to the education of kids, there is no mythical "migration" costs, and therefore Microsoft's standard arguments of Total Cost of Ownership studies with retraining goes right out the window. In a few years, Microsoft will become even more expensive because of the "migration" costs from Linux to Windows X, and I wonder if that will be a factor in their TCO studies.

Nice point. The rest of the article - about installing GNU/Linux on 23,000 PCs in the Philippines - is also well worth reading.

22 August 2008

PA Consulting? Pah!

Since we now know this:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has blamed a private contractor for losing the details of thousands of criminals, held on a computer memory stick.

Ms Smith said the government had held the data securely but PA Consulting appeared to have downloaded it, contrary to the rules of its contract.

...it's clear they don't have the foggiest idea about security or managing personal information, giving us yet another reason to scrap the doomed ID card project which they have played a major part in driving.


The Open Rights Group has a great story about an eminent intellectual monopoly academic giving the lie to the current European Commission proposals to *extend* the copyright term granted to sound recordings, when all the evidence suggests they should be *reduced*:

When the European Commission put forward their proposal to retrospectively extend the copyright term granted to sound recordings, locking away vast swathes of our cultural heritage in a commercial vacuum for 45 years, it was clear that they had rejected all the expert evidence in favour of voodoo economics.

Now Professor Bernt Hugenholtz has written a letter to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso asking why. Huggenholtz, Director of the Institute for Information Law (IViR), which was tasked by the European Commission to look into the arguments for and against extending copyright term, says his team were “surprised” to discover that their studies had been completely ignored, and that statements the Commission have made that “there was no need for external expertise” in drafting the proposal were “patently untrue”.

Love the voodoo economics bit.

How Sick Are Patents? Ask Indonesia

Some time back I noted that one of the crazier consequences of an obsession with intellectual monopolies was that vital health information - specifically, DNA sequences of bird flu viruses - were not being released to other laboratories for fear that the unscrupulous might patent the damn things (as if naturally-occuring DNA could be patented). Fortunately, the country in question, Indonesia, was persuaded to release them to the scientific community for the common good. And what happens? This:

A recent patent search has revealed that the CDC, which is a WHO collaborating centre, is applying for a patent for a new vaccine against influenza, particularly for bird flu (H5N1). The vaccine incorporates genes from a H5N1 strain isolated from an Indonesian human victim of bird flu in 2005.

The strain that contains the genes was transferred to the WHO GISN by Indonesia for characterization for public health purposes, but may wind up as the property of the US government.

Under US law, the US government agencies would offer licenses to the technology to pharmaceutical companies. The patent application indicates that the US government intends to pursue the claim in most countries of the world, including Indonesia itself, as well as neighboring countries.

Got that? Indonesia releases the sequences, and the US CDC does indeed patent that information, a situation which could then force Indonesia to pay for vaccines based on its own sequence data to protect its citizens. This probably means that fewer vaccines will be bought, more people will die, more mutations in the flu virus, and more deaths globally. So how, exactly, is this particular intellectual monopoly good for the world?

I just hope that one day a book is written about this, and the people responsible are named - and utterly shamed - for actions that are not only morally despicable in themselves, but which endanger literally the whole of humanity. How sick is that...? (Via How the World Works.)

Why Kindle Must Support ODF

I'm not a Kindle user. In part, because it's not available in the UK, but also because it seems too closed in terms of its overall architecture. But it's clearly winning fans - and I think that's going to be a problem.

Why that might be is revealed by this interesting posting:

Reading .DOC and (some) .PDF files. This part of the Kindle's function turns out to be much more important than I anticipated.

Mine can't be the only line of work that involves an endless stream of material to read, often arriving as Word .DOC or Adobe .PDF files. I resist printing them out, and I resent the additional hours of sitting in front a computer screen to read them.

By moving them instead to the Kindle, (a) I have them all in one place, (b) I avoid lugging around, or forgetting, that much additional paper, and (c) I have them in a much nicer form for reading than the computer itself.

I think this is right: I, too, would be tempted by a very lightweight system with a high-quality screen specifically designed for reading electronic texts. But as the writer notes, Kindle is great for two main formats: .doc and PDFs. As far as I am aware, there is no support for ODF. Assuming Kindle catches on, that's going to be an increasing problem for those of us pushing ODF.

Maybe time to start a campaign for ODF support on the Kindle....

21 August 2008

Net Neutrality Explained for Old Technologists


the argument over net neutrality is essentially a rehash of the argument between whether a network is more efficient if it uses circuit switching or packet switching. To recap, circuit switching is where a network holds open a dedicated network channel between two endpoints, whereas packet switching is when the data transferred between the endpoints is split up into packets, which may traverse the network by different routes, and even arrive out of order (and are re-sequenced at the receiving end).

POTS telephony traditionally ran on circuit switching, but tcp/ip networking introduced the packet switching paradigm, which happens to be much more efficient. It appears that opponents of network neutrality want, in effect, to scrap packet switching and make parts of the net run on a less efficient paradigm.

Thus fighting net neutrality emerges as a nostalgia for the days when men were men, and a circuit was a circuit.

20 August 2008

Opening Up Democracy's Source Code

Given that the body of law forms a kind of source code for democracy, this is extremely good news:

We already have a substantial free legal web, but it is not joined up. We have the resources and the technologies to join it up — now — for the benefit of lawyers and the community at large. Those of us who have an interest in access to the law and justice and the efficient provision of legal services have a duty to make this happen.

There has in the past 18 months been a sea change in Government’s attitude to the provision of Public Sector Information (PSI) and the encouragement of user-generated services supporting government. In particular, the independent Power of Information Review recommended changes that have been substantially accepted by Government, who, through the Power of Information Task Force are now committed to making this happen.

The time has come to build the Free Legal Web.

More thoughts on what needs to be done from the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Two Japans

Why does Japan do brilliant things like this:

Japan is to carry carbon footprint labels on food packaging and other products in an ambitious scheme to persuade companies and consumers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The labels, to appear on dozens of items including food and drink, detergents and electrical appliances from next spring, will go further than similar labels already in use elsewhere.

While, at the same time, it does cretinous things like *this*?

Linux Foundation Interview with Mozilla's Mitchell Baker

On Open Enterprise blog.

19 August 2008

Open Source Pro-Tibet Protest in Beijing

Five pro-Tibet activists unfurled a banner spelling out “Free Tibet” in English and Chinese in bright blue LED “throwie” lights in Beijing’s Olympic Park tonight. The five were detained by security personnel after displaying the banner for about 20 seconds at 11:48 pm August 19th. Their whereabouts are unknown.

So far, so uplifting. But wait:

The lights used on the banner are blue 10 mm light-emitting diodes (LEDs) powered by small batteries, commonly known as “throwies.” Throwies are open-source technology attributed to OpenLab and Graffiti Research Lab, developed as a means of creating non-destructive graffiti and light displays. This is the first time ever that they have been used on a banner. James Powderly, free speech activist and co-founder of the Graffiti Research Lab (GRL), was detained in Beijing early this morning (see http://freetibet2008.org/globalactions/jamespowderly).

Open source throwies: what will they think of next? (Via Boing Boing.)

The UK Super-Snoop DB: DOA

The government is pressing ahead with plans to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a massive central silo for all UK communications data, The Register has learned.

Home Office civil servants are working on plans for the database under the banner of the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP). The team has recently been expanded and a director-level official appointed to run the project, which is not yet official policy in public.

Sources said secret briefings revealed the cost of the database would run to nine figures and has already been factored into government spending plans. The IMP budget was part of the intelligence agencies' undisclosed allocation in the Comprehensive Spending Review last year. In an answer to a parliamentary question on 8 July, the Home Office refused to provide any budgetary details, citing national security concerns.

The sum will dwarf the £19m we recently reported the government has given telecoms companies to service authorities' data requirements since 2004. The überdatabase will render existing arrangements for sharing communications data with government agencies obsolete.

It's a times like these that I fall on my virtual knees and bless the cyber-gods that ensure every single major UK government project is a complete and utter failure, so this doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of ever working properly. Phew.

Number 10 Goes to Digistan

Well, not exactly, but that's we were asking for in an e-petition:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to adopt the Hague Declaration of the Digital Standards Organisation.”

Details of Petition:

“We call on the UK government to: (1) Procure only information technology that implements free and open standards; (2) Deliver e-government services based exclusively on free and open standards; (3) Use only free and open digital standards in their own activities. as adopted and proclaimed by the founders of the Digital Standards Organization in The Hague on 21 May 2008.”

And this is what that nice Mr Brown replied:

The UK Government champions open standards and interoperability through its eGovernment Interoperability Framework Version 6.0, 30th April 2004 (eGIF) and through the publication of its Open Source Software Policy which is available in the document “Open Source Software, Use within UK Government, Version 2.0, 28 October 2004”.

This and eGIF are available from www.govtalk.gov.uk. Where possible the Government only uses products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.

So there you go.

Ubuntu + Dell = The Ultimate Ultraportable?

On Open Enterprise blog.



the practice of (i) mislabeling as property a limited monopoly granted by society as a means to get, after an originally short period of deprivation, more creative works available for all to enjoy and build upon; (ii) promoting the extension of the monopoly and other authoritarian laws that grant authoriterrorists technical and legal means to steal from society the fulfillment of the goal of copyrights; (iii) using these technical and legal measures and scare tactics to stop people from using works in ways that fall outside the scope or the period of the monopoly; (iv) brainwashing people so they believe they don't and shouldn't have the right to use works in these ways, that it would somehow harm authors (as if authoriterrorists didn't), and that it is the moral equivalent of invading ships, stealing the cargo and enslaving or murdering the tripulation.

Not quite sure what a tripulation is, but anyway....

Open Source (Still) Seeds the Startups

On Open Enterprise blog.

18 August 2008

ID Cards Break the Laws (of Identity)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I follow the wacky world of ID cards and related matters quite closely, and it will come as no surprise that the following "short version" of the Laws of Identity by Mr Identity himself, Kim Cameron, piqued my interest:

People using computers should be in control of giving out information about themselves, just as they are in the physical world.

The minimum information needed for the purpose at hand should be released, and only to those who need it. Details should be retained no longer than necesary.

It should NOT be possible to automatically link up everything we do in all aspects of how we use the Internet. A single identifier that stitches everything up would have many unintended consequences.

We need choice in terms of who provides our identity information in different contexts.

The system must be built so we can understand how it works, make rational decisions and protect ourselves.

Devices through which we employ identity should offer people the same kinds of identity controls - just as car makers offer similar controls so we can all drive safely.

What struck me was how badly our dear ID cards will do against these, especially:

It should NOT be possible to automatically link up everything we do in all aspects of how we use the Internet. A single identifier that stitches everything up would have many unintended consequences.

I think we can safely say that however they implemented, the UK ID card will comprehensively break these laws of ID, not least through the process of "stitching everything up"...

Blood-Spattered Japan Plays Dirty

Japan today said it would take legal action against three members of the Sea Shepherd conservation group, including one Briton, whom it accused of obstructing its whaling fleet during clashes in the Antarctic early last year.

In a further sign of Japan's hardline stance against anti-whaling activists, police will place the men, a Briton named by sources as Daniel Bebawi, 28, from Nottingham, and two Americans on an international wanted list as soon as arrest warrants are issued.

Well, two can play at that game. I'm sure we can find a court somewhere to declare the members of the Japanese government guilty of crimes agaisnt humanity for permitting whaling....

Has YouTube Just Been Saved?

On Open Enterprise blog.

17 August 2008

Determined Determinists

Human free will might seem like the squishiest of philosophical subjects, way beyond the realm of mathematical demonstration. But two highly regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.

That might seem bad news for dyed-in-the-wool determinists like me (sorry, I can't help it). But no, it was all pre-ordained that no less a personage than Gerard 't Hooft, long ago the top man of instantons, the subject of my PhD, would step in and save the (determinist) day:

Gerard ’t Hooft of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1999, says the pair’s conclusions are legitimate — but he chooses determinism over free will. “As a determined determinist I would say that yes, you bet, an experimenter's choice what to measure was fixed from the dawn of time, and so were the properties of the thing he decided to call a photon,” ’t Hooft says. “If you believe in determinism, you have to believe it all the way. No escape possible. Conway and Kochen have shown here in a beautiful way that a half-hearted belief in pseudo-determinism is impossible to sustain.”

So where do *you* stand - and remember, you have no choice in the matter....

The Olympian Apache

Here's a nice reminder that open source - in the form of Apache - has been head of the field for more than 12 years, despite what certain companies would have us believe:

In 1996 the World Wide Web was truly in its very early stages. The Olympics took place less than a year after Netscape went public, which many consider the key event marking the transition of the Internet from a research network used primarily by the technical community to the commercial behemoth that it went on to become.

The new World Wide Web had the feeling of magic, but, in 1996, it was pretty primitive magic. To begin with, the vast majority of people accessing the Web at the time were doing so over slow dial-up modems with bandwidths of 56 kilobits per second or less. Only at work, if you were lucky, did you have access to faster broadband speeds. It wasn't until years later that broadband usage in the home became commonplace.

As we were planning the IT infrastructure for the Olympics website, hardware was not an issue. We used IBM's SP family of parallel supercomputers which we were confident would provide us with all the computing power we could want.

But the software for web servers was quite immature. Netscape's web software was the most widely used in those days, and while it was adequate for small workloads, its scalability was suspect. We could not use it. Instead, we used the open source Apache Server as the basic web server, and custom built the extensions needed to support its content, applications and other capabilities.

We were pretty sure that the Atlanta Olympics website was the largest such web project anyone had undertaken so far. Because it was all so new, we did not know how many people would come to our website and what features they would use once they got there. We were well aware of the considerable risks inherent in doing such a complex, new project on such a global stage. We knew, for example, that beyond a certain number of users, the response time would start to degrade, and if sufficiently stressed beyond its capabilities, the system could become unstable and crash.


Our Olympics website worked quite well, except for some unduly slow response times when traffic got very heavy. Overall, the site handled 187 million hits – that is, individual pieces of information served to users. We learned a lot about the requirements for building and operating large, complex websites. All in all, it was a very successful experiment.

The Bankruptcy of Patents

One of the difficulties of fighting patents is that they are so abstract. This makes explaining their deficiencies doubly difficult. It's one of the reasons why I like to hammer home that they are monopolies: most people understand - and hate - monopolies, and can see why getting rid of them might be a good idea.

Analogies are useful, too, and the idea of using the concept of subprime patents by analogy with the crisis in the financial world wrought by subprime mortgages is brilliantly effective:

In many countries, many regulations (financial controls) were removed and so the market was finally flooded by what any common person would denominate "fake money". The same fake money as the one created with a fake notes machine, but just that much more complex and nicely sold.

But equally, and curiously roughly matching in dates, it has happened in the patent system during the last ten to fifteen years mainly. The regulations have been raised time ago. To get a patent has become almost for free. No innovation effort is almost needed. No innovative step almost. No disclosing of technical knowledge is needed. No invention "as such" is needed, using the patent jargon words. Artificial complexity of the system has reached levels where only the experts bureaucrats working on it understand it. The innovation of the bureaucracy reigns. Real inventors, formerly experienced and brightly engineers, have been replaced by patent technocrats and patent trolls. Those same patent technocrats who indeed decide, with little or no political implication, the patent policy of some of the biggest economical sectors of the world.

The result of this is a patent inflation. The most important patent offices of the world (mainly the namely "Trilateral") have granted surely some millions of subprime patents… that at the end mean fake assets and fake money. Many of these patents are fake because imprecise, too wide and/or non inventive, but many others are fake because are just out of the limits of the patentability. Their subject matter never should have constituted an "invention", but they were granted. "Obvious" is a word who lost it sense time ago.

15 August 2008

Another Reason Open Source Is Unbeatable

The post by Tom Evslin is talking about ad networks on blogs, but the insight is general:

Big profits attract lots of competitors. Would-be competitors can point to your profits and easily get funding. Funded competitors can undercut your rates and "steal" your bloggers. Whoops; the circle is now turning in the non-virtuous direction. If you're doing well but running at or close to breakeven, you've made it impossible for anybody to undercut you without running at a deficit which is hard to get funding for – at least in this market. The biggest danger to you is someone who finds a way to substantially cut costs or to deliver a better product. Obviously you've got to be vigilant about that and ought to lose some sleep over these possibilities – but keeping prices down keeps a plague of me-too competitors from cutting off your growth.

This is why it's so hard to compete with free software: it's free, and the profits made around it are much smaller the the price-gouging that proprietary software has traditionally gone for. (Via Jeff Jarvis.)

ISO's Day of Shame

So ISO has decided it wants to be irrelevant:

The two ISO and IEC technical boards have given the go-ahead to publish ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML formats, as an ISO/IEC International Standard after appeals by four national standards bodies against the approval of the document failed to garner sufficient support.

Oh, and why would that be?

None of the appeals from Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela received the support for further processing of two-thirds of the members of the ISO Technical Management Board and IEC Standardization Management Board, as required by ISO/IEC rules governing the work of their joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology.

Riiiight: so there was insufficient support among the technical boards for their dirty laundry to be aired in public. What a surprise. The fact that standards bodies representing the second- and fourth-most populous countries in the world were unhappy with the way the standardisation process was carried out doesn't matter, apparently.

Time for a new international standards body, methinks....

What Comes After the Windows Era?

On Linux Journal.

14 August 2008

Gawd Bless Whingeing Brits

Britons are still not convinced the 2012 London Olympic Games will be a success, according to a new survey.

Only 15% of the 2,006 people who were quizzed online think the Games will be good for the United Kingdom's international reputation.

That's the kind of attitude we want to see, none of this pathetically up-beat 加油 nonsense....

From Great Firewall to Great Flamethrower

Brilliant analysis of why the Internet has not led to the huddled masses of China seeing "the light", but rather led to them seeing red over mistakes in Western coverage. Interestingly, it's specifically about Russia, but applies equally to China - which suggests that this is going to be an important technique widely used by authoritarian regimes as away of taming the Internet through stoking up an anti-Western nationalism:

One of the chief ways to create such a climate was to fund the proliferation of sites that would selectively pick reports from the Western media, translate them into Russian, and offer ample space for commentary, often resulting in many articles amassing thousands of comments from angry Russians. The primary pillars of this e-smear campaign in Russia have been sites like Inosmi.ru (a shorthand for "Foreign Media", owned by the infamous RIA Novosti agency) and, to a lesser extent, Inopressa.ru (a shorthand for "Foreign Press", it belongs to Newsru agency ).

These sites would typically pick a dozen articles from the foreign media - mostly American and British, but also that of the Baltic states and Eastern Europe - and translate them into Russian. Needless to say, they usually do their best to pick the most heinous articles, most of them full of bad reporting and stereotypes about Russia. This may seem relatively innocent but Inosmi has quickly gained a large following, which particularly delights in commenting on articles, mostly to report on inaccuracies in the articles and ignorance of their authors.

Sites like Inosmi do their best perpetuate the myth of the "great brainwashing" -- that the Western media is either utterly biased against Russia or simply incompetent - and that the Western public and policy-makers are being constantly kept in the dark as to the true nature of things in Russia (this in itself is quite comical, as Russians themselves squandered most of their independent media in the early Putin years; arguably, they are in much greater darkness).

Understanding this makes it easier to counter - for example, by translating articles in Chinese and Russian into English, so that people on the other side can see and comment on the slants in reporting. Of course, the best approach would be for Western media to check for blatant errors *before* publishing....

British Libel Laws Violate Human Rights - UN


The British libel laws have come under attack from the United Nations committee on human rights for discouraging coverage of matters of major public interest. The use of the Official Secrets Act to deter government employees from raising important issues has also been criticised.

The intervention by the UN comes in the wake of international disquiet over the use of British courts for "libel tourism", whereby wealthy plaintiffs can sue in the high court in London over articles that would not warrant an action in their own country.

IOC Stays True to Olympic Spirit...

...the Beijing Olympics spirit, that is:

the IOC sent a take-down notice to YouTube for a video posted by Students for a Free Tibet.

The video, which showed a pro-Tibet candle-light vigil in New York City and images from the March protests in Tibet, was dutifully pulled by YouTube. However, it was unclear what infringement the IOC was claiming. Although their famous interlocking rings were briefly shown, that would seem to be a trademark, not covered by the DMCA. Even if they claimed the rings were copyrighted creative content, their creation in 1913 places them firmly in the public domain (on copyright, the trademark remains -- but the DMCA isn't for trademark). Luckily after a number of sites questioned the action, the IOC withdrew their complaint.

Reed Elsevier Steals Blogger's Words...

...and then copyrights them. Much more here.

Basis of Free Software Licences Upheld in US

On Open Enterprise blog.

No Comment...

...is necessary. (Via Boing Boing.)

13 August 2008

Data Snooping Mission Creep

Oh, look, what a surprise: it's not just for anti-terrorism:

Local councils, health authorities and hundreds of other public bodies are to be given the power to access details of everyone's personal text, emails and internet use under Home Office proposals published yesterday.

And, look, they still haven't learned about the dangers of centralised databases:

The government has already indicated that it intends to go one step further this autumn by introducing a draft communications bill which would require all the telecommunications companies to hand over this data to one central "super" database so that the police and other public authorities will be able to access it directly without having to make a request each time to the individual company holding the records.

Well, at least that will make it easier to steal....

12 August 2008

Is Huggers Hunkering Down to Openness?


the BBC has always been a strong advocate and driver of open industry standards. Without these standards, TV and radio broadcasting would simply not function. I believe that the time has come for the BBC to start adopting open standards such as H.264 and AAC for our audio and video services on the web. These technologies have matured enough to make them viable alternatives to other solutions.

and even a touch of humour:

This is a rather important moment for me personally. Having been responsible for driving one of those proprietary alternatives, it feels great to be at the forefront in driving the next wave in internet audio and video technologies and services.

Now, about those iPlayer downloads for GNU/Linux....

Dell Builds on GNU/Linux


Dell’s Latitude On works by bypassing the Windows operating system so that you get immediate access to things like your calendar, email, Internet, and contacts. It’s a fully integrated technology that will appear later this year on the Dell 4200 and 4300 Latitude series notebooks, and is powered by a Linux OS, sort of as a secondary operating system.

How Many Out of Ten for Number 10?

Number 10 has a new look for its Web site...and it's rather good (love the blues). Moreover, it's gone all Web 2.0: Flickr stream, YouTube channel - even Twitter.

That's all well and good, but I wonder whether Team Number 10 has taken on board what Web 2.0 is really about: listening to the community of users (that would be the electorate, Gordon), not just dictating in an authoritarian manner.

Time will tell whether it's a real sea-change, or all just Spin 2.0....

Update: Turns out it's something *much* richer....

The Recording Angel

Thousands of recordings that had been largely consigned to the realm of prehistory in the digital age have gained a new life, thanks to the tireless efforts of one man.


As the digital music movement started in earnest, Bolling began digitizing his records, and posted a list of first 1,500 songs he had digitized so fellow collectors could see what kind of progress he had made. Finally, he decided to upload MP3s of every song on the list so that he could access them from anywhere, and so that curiosity seekers could find them.

And so another commons is created, thanks to Cliff Bolling.

Microsoft (Hearts) Intellectual Monopolies...

...provided they are its own:

Microsoft has always been rather strident on the topic of copyright infringement, as you may have noticed, which makes tale of its "Iconic Britain" photo contest all the more astonishing.

The competition was designed as part of the marketing campaign around Windows Live Image Search, with Nikon as the prize partner. Unlike most photographic competitions, which tend to involve photographers submitting their own work (crazy, I know), this one invited entrants to search for other people's online pictures, then submit the ones they felt were iconic British stuff, in the hope of winning a Nikon camera. As for the photographers themselves, they get nada--not even a link-back to their site or a credit of their name.

Spotted the problem yet?

Inevitably, the reality of this situation hit the photographic community, following which the feces really hit the fan. Here's a particularly entertaining thread on Flickr, in which members vent at the fact that their photos--many of which had been set for private viewing only--had been scraped by Microsoft and pulled over, creditless, to Microsoft's servers.

Another case of do as I say, not as I do.

ACTA-ion and ReACTA-ion

On Open Enterprise blog.

You, Too, Can Be a Kernel Hacker

On Open Enterprise blog.

10 August 2008


You know it makes sense:

A £13bn overhaul of the NHS records system has suffered so many problems that hospitals have struggled to keep track of people requiring operations, patients with suspected MRSA and potential cancer sufferers needing urgent consultations.

09 August 2008

T-Mobile Gets the Open Meme

T-Mobile is working with the industry to foster an open wireless services platform which will provide developers with the tools and information they need to make new, innovative experiences available to T-Mobile’s more than 31.5M customers.

I'm not sure exactly how open their open is, but it's interesting that T-Mobile has adopted this as a strategy to fight back against its bigger rivals.

08 August 2008

Online: Slander or Libel?

A nice outbreak of sanity, here:

A High Court judge ruled this week that defamatory comments on internet forums are more like slander than libel, a judgement that could make success in such cases more difficult. Mr Justice Eady found that posts on internet discussion groups such as website bulletin boards are closer to spoken conversations than to published articles, being casual and characterised by "give and take".

Slander is defamation through speech, while libel is defamation through written means, such as a newspaper article. In the UK, it is significantly easier to win damages for libel than for slander.

Towards the Holy Grail of Virtual Worlds

On Open Enterprise blog.

He that Filches From Me My Good Name

Danny O'Brien has an interesting meditation on the difference between controlling who copies something, and controlling who claims to have created it. Cory Doctorow makes an illuminating observation on the same:

I'm reminded of the fact that the original Creative Commons license allowed creators to choose whether they wanted their works attributed to them or not, but after a year or two, it was discovered that nearly every CC user turned the attribution switch on while generating the license -- everyone wanted correct attribution, even when they were giving away free copies.

It's reputation that counts.

The Sun Shines on Asus

What struck me about this article in the Sun about Asus was how it took its readership's acquaintance with GNU/Linux for granted:

Interestingly, it runs Windows XP as an operating system to keep the costs down rather than Vista and a Linux version is on the way.

If that is laid out in menu terms like the Linux EEE laptops, then it's well worth a punt on one as a second PC in a bedroom.

Signs of the times....

07 August 2008

Why DNA Databases Are Doomed

I've been against DNA databases for years, but I've always felt that the generic arguments I've been using were a little pallid, shall we say. And now, in what amounts to almost a throwaway comment, the wonderful Reg gives me what I've been looking for:

Although police are keen to bang the drum for cases where DNA evidence has proved vital, there are obvious privacy objections as well as fears that over-reliance on DNA evidence will lead criminals to use it as an alibi - infecting a crime scene with someone else's DNA.

At the moment, there's not much point doing that because DNA isn't regarded as as an indispensable, infallible tool. Put everyone's DNA in a database, and the police are bound to get lazy - that's human nature - using it as a quick and foolproof method for finding perpetrators.

At that point, it will be worth seeding crime scenes with some judiciously-chosen DNA - secure in the knowledge that the rozzers will be able to work out whose it is. At this point, DNA begins to lose its value, as everyone starts sprinkling the stuff everywhere, utterly confusing the DNA bloodhounds.

And so, inevitably, we will be left with a huge DNA database, useless for its original purpose, built at enormous cost, posing an even huger security risk. Great. Not.

Cloud Computing on a Stick

On Open Enterprise blog.

06 August 2008

Morphic Resonance?

My thoughts, precisely.

I'm Touched

GigaOM has a post about touch-based computers, noting that the pioneer in this field was HP. Accompanying the article is a pic of HP's trailblazing machine, the 1983 HP-150.

Reader, I marred it!

(To explain, I managed to delete a review of the self-same machine that I was writing on it, by stabbing my finger at the wrong point of the screen. An article I had not backed up. It was the last such article - well, so far....)

Solving the Mono Problem

Alan Lord grapples manfully with Mono:

The nasty taste which has always ‘ever-so-slightly’ tainted my use of Ubuntu is that Mono is there only to support applications written in languages and for platforms which are basically Microsoft’s. It encourages software development using systems that are based on technologies almost certainly encumbered by a whole raft of M$ patents. To my mind, there are many great non M$ languages and architectures out there which are almost part-and-parcel of Linux programming and I see no need to bring .NET, ASP or even Visual Basic to my desktop. If I want to write an application, I could use PHP, Python, PERL, C, C++, Java and, of course, many others. Why do I need to endorse and encourage the proliferation of non-free software by relying on M$’s IP and the smell of their stinky patents?

Interesting discussion of what happens when you rip Mono out of Ubuntu: nothing, it seems....

ACTA's Unspeakable Acts

Since neither the EU nor the UK government has deigned to let us peasants know anything about the current ACTA negotations, I was interested to see New Zealand's government releasing a statement, which contained the following:

Participants agreed to continue consulting with stakeholders through domestic processes, share the results of these consultations at their next meeting, and to continue exploring opportunities for stakeholder consultations in connection with future ACTA meetings.

Ah, right; but I don't suppose the stakeholders in those "domestic processes" include mugs like you and me, do they?

Big Blue is Back

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Trouble with Clouds....

Suddenly, Nick can’t access his Gmail account, can’t open Google Talk (our office IM app), can’t open Picasa where his family pictures are, can’t use his Google Docs, and oh by the way, he paid for additional storage. So, this is a paying customer with no access to the Google empire.

Whoops. Open data, anyone?

Blogging and "Sharism"

An interesting perspective from Chinese blogger Isaac Mao:

It's a different mindset that one can feel after blogging for a period of time. I call this philosophy "Sharism", and it can be practised by anyone because the rewards are easy to see. You share one piece of knowledge and then could come a time of returns (maybe not immediately, but with many magic happenings in the future).

The sharism spirit can currently be found in any so called "Web 2.0" phenomena - Wikipedia is just one example, created from the collective intelligence by many people around the world based on their sharing philosophy.

In a more metaphysical view, your blog can act as a halo (to borrow a term from gaming) to shine more lights to the world and coupled with other people's halo at the same time. This has spawned more imaginations in my mind of future society where everyone can be sharist and all the brains are well connected to form a smarter society like a social brain - though given the controls and obstacles that still confront blogging, it is going to be a long road to reach the social-brain dream.

05 August 2008

Free Software Adds Some Polish (Schools)

The Polish Ministry of National Education is advising schools and universities to use Open Source software. The recommendation comes at the end of a volunteer campaign to help schools switch to Open Source.

The Ministry recommended in a statement that schools and universities use OpenOffice. The application suite is sufficiently mature and advanced to be used for teaching and for office use in education and science institutes. "OpenOffice can successfully substitute proprietary applications and will result in significant savings on licenses."

Good to see someone has a clue.

What's in a Number?

One of the long-standing jokes has been about GNU/Linux's imminent breakthrough on the desktop. Against that background, this is interesting:

Linux was starting from a rather small base in traditional sales channels: of all PCs sold in the UK last January through indirect channels, a feeble 0.1 per cent had Linux preloaded, according to numbers given to us by market research firm Context.

The Linux share of this route to market has edged up ever since the Vista launch. Then it broke the two per cent barrier in May after the latest release of Ubuntu, the strain of Linux most capable of kicking Microsoft in the shins.

I'd like to see a few months of consistent figures before crying "Hallelujah", but the latest figure of 2.8% is nonetheless impressive given the context. Or, as The Inquirer puts it:

As most everyone in the UK sales channel sups on Microsoft's marketing teat, Linux hasn't got a hope in hell bar customer demand. So its record of 2.8 per cent of all preloads in June is something to be noted.

Er, quite.

04 August 2008

The LiMo Has Arrived

Recently I interviewed Wind River's John Bruggeman, who filled me on the intricacies of the mobile Linux market. At that time, he mentioned that one of the two groups, LiMo, would be launching phones shortly. They've arrived:

The LiMo Foundation, a consortium of wireless-related companies seeking to create an open operating system for cellphones and other wireless devices, has introduced seven new handsets based upon the Linux operating system, bringing the total to 21. One, the Motozine ZN5 from Motorola, which has a five-megapixel camera, can be bought in the United States. The other six phones are available in Japan and, according to Morgan Gillis, executive director of the LiMo Foundation, a harbinger of things to come.

It will be interesting to see what they're like, but in one sense, it doesn't matter. LiMo phones exist, now, and will only get better. That helps establish Linux in this space, and puts pressure on the other group, clustered around Google's Android.

Open Source and UK Politics

The new dividing line between Labour and the Tories is less about a left-right split than about an authoritarian approach on one side and a more liberal one on the other. And Labour are on the wrong side of it. Many of their social and economic policies may have failed, but where they have succeeded is in developing a targeting, controlling, distrustful state. From the micromanagement of civil servants, teachers, doctors and the police, to ID cards, super databases and the growth of surveillance, the government's answer to too many problems has been the removal of autonomy from individuals and more oversight from Whitehall.

The Conservative analysis is that this over-controlling state is not only disastrously unpopular, it is also one of the key reasons why Labour, despite all its spending, has failed to achieve its goals. Endless supervision has been an expensive distraction, and has sapped energy and morale out of public life.

Amazing how the Conservatives are becoming the party of bottom-up openness - explicitly in the case of open source - and Labour seems determined to become its polar opposite.

Coming Down Hard - in Favour of Downloads

A study about downloading finds:

Music companies need to stop resisting and accept that illegal downloading is a fact of 21st-century life


"The expectation among rights holders is that in order to create a success story, you must reduce the rate of piracy," Garland said. "We've found that is not the case."

The authors of the study argue that music rights holders need to find "new ways" and "new places" to generate income from their music, rather than chasing illegal downloads – for example, licensing agreements with YouTube or legal peer-to-peer websites. In other words, they ought to do the musical equivalent of giving away free ice-cream and selling advertising on the cones.

So far, so boring - I and others have been writing this stuff far ages. Except for one tiny detail: the study comes not from deranged bloggers like me, or crypto-communists bent on underming the entire capitalist system, but was conducted

by the MCPS-PRS Alliance and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company.

In other words, *their own research* shows that their *fight* is hopeless. Will they listen? Don't hold your breath....

Welcome to the Open Grid

On Open Enterprise blog.

Mapping the (Open) Future

OpenStreetMap goes from strength to strength:

Earlier this week the project surpassed 50,000 registered users with over 5,000 actively contributing data each month. Historically the contributor base has doubled every 5 months. That means there will be around 50,000 adding data monthly by the end of 2009. That’s a ten fold increase from today.

Right now on each and every day, 25,000km of roads gets added to the OpenStreetMap database, on the historical trend that will be over 200,000km per day by the end of 2009. And that doesn’t include all the other data that makes OpenStreetMap the richest dataset available online.

It's also growing in other ways:

Until very recently we talked about OpenStreetMap being a global project but the reality was that outside of Europe and the TIGER-Line fed USA the pockets of OpenStreetMap activity were sporadic, often just one contributor in each place, or the devoted work of one or two burning the midnight oil tracing over the Yahoo! imagery layer in far flung places. Even that’s changing though. The OpenStreetMap community itself is growing and one of the best examples of that is the proliferation of national websites acting as local language portals for the project. Already there is openstreetmap.ca, .ch, .cl, .de, .fr, .it, .jp, .nl, .se, .org.za and that’s probably missing a few that are on the way.

OpenStreetMap is clearly fast becoming one of the open world's signal achievements. (Via James Tyrrell.)

Why Software Patents Are Harmful

Recently I've pointed to a couple of classic texts about the general undesirability of intellectual monopolies. Here's an interesting counterpoint: a text about why bringing in software patents would be harmful to the Indian computer industry.

Despite this specificity, its points are quite general. For example:

In other industries, research continues up to a point where further research costs too much to be feasible. At this stage, the industry's output merelyconsists of replacing parts that have worn out.

However, in the software sector, a computer program that is fully debugged will perform its function forever without requiring maintenance or modification. “What this means is that unlike socks that wear out, and breakfast cereal that is eaten, a particular software product can be sold to a particular customer at most once. If it is to be sold to that customer again, it must be enhanced with new features and functionality.” This inevitably means that even if the industry were to approach maturity, any software company that does not produce new and innovative products will simply run out of customers! Thus, the industry will remain innovative whether or not software patents exist.

(Via Open Source India.)

03 August 2008

Bananas About London Bananas

Whoever thinks blogging is a sad, soulless activity is clearly bananas. (Via Boing Boing.)

A Sad Day for Copyright

In the dark, twisted world of copyright, one ray of light has been William Patry's blog. No more:

I have decided to end the blog, after doing around 800 postings over about 4 years.

Although Google's top copyright man, he wrote his blog in a purely private capacity as one of the leading copyright scholars in the world. Indeed, despite his position at that company, he was remarkably approachable: when I asked him to do a quick email interview for this blog he readily agreed. Sadly, one answer has proved prophetic:

I think copyright has become less and less responsive to the balance of incentives and exceptions that the 18th century English common judges grasped intuitively. Our ability to adapt has been seriously hampered by trade agreements, and that's a big problem.

Indeed, Patry now feels that this crucial "balance of incentives and exceptions" has been lost to such an extent that he can no longer blog. Alongside the fact that people kept assuming his views were official Google policy (they weren't), his other reason for stopping was simply:

The Current State of Copyright Law is too depressing

This leads me to my final reason for closing the blog which is independent of the first reason: my fear that the blog was becoming too negative in tone. I regard myself as a centrist. I believe very much that in proper doses copyright is essential for certain classes of works, especially commercial movies, commercial sound recordings, and commercial books, the core copyright industries. I accept that the level of proper doses will vary from person to person and that my recommended dose may be lower (or higher) than others. But in my view, and that of my cherished brother Sir Hugh Laddie, we are well past the healthy dose stage and into the serious illness stage. Much like the U.S. economy, things are getting worse, not better. Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty-Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again: multilateral and trade agreements have ensured that, and quite deliberately.

When one of the world's pre-eminent experts in the field is so depressed by the state of copyright that he can't bring himself to blog about it, you know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Thanks, Mr Patry, for all you gave, and sorry to see you go. Now it's up to us to carry on the fight for some copyright sanity.

Dell Trademarks "Cloud Computing"?

If this is true, it's outrageous:

Dell has applied for a trademark on the term cloud computing. The opposition period has already passed and notice of allowance has been issued. That means that it is very likely that the application will soon receive final approval.

As the posting from Language Log rightly comments:

In other words, this is a pure example of theft from the public domain. Speakers of English have a term, "cloud computing", which the US government is on the verge of privatizing and assigning exclusively to Dell. Other companies providing similar services will not be able to describe what they are doing as "cloud computing" anymore than Nike will be able to describe its shoes as Reeboks.

Shame on you, Michael Dell. Unless the company agrees to make this term generally available, I think it's time we considered a boycott in protest.

Update: Scotched, apparently.

02 August 2008

Against Intellectual Property

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite riffs is the non-existence of "intellectual property", since what the latter really refers to is intellectual monopolies, with the concept of "property" invoked for purely rhetorical reasons.

Of course, I'm just an amateur in this demolition game compared to some of the big thinkers here, such as Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, authors of the fine "Against Intellectual Monopoly".

But there's another classic in the field, newly available for free download. It's N. Stephan Kinsella's "Against Intellectual Property". It's notable not just for its rigorous analysis, but also for the clarity of its exposition, which makes it accessible to all.

Here's a key argument:

Only tangible, scarce resources are the possible object of interpersonal conflict, so it is only for them that property rules are applicable. Thus, patents and copyrights are unjustifiable monopolies granted by government legislation. It is not surprising that, as Palmer notes, "[m]onopoly privilege and censorship lie at the historical root of patent and copyright ”It is this monopoly privilege that creates an artificial scarcity where there was none before.

And the conclusion:

We see, then, that a system of property rights in “ideal objects” necessarily requires violation of other individual property rights, e.g., to use one’s own tangible property as one sees fit. Such a system requires a new homesteading rule which subverts the firstoccupier rule. IP, at least in the form of patent and copyright, cannot be justified.

It is not surprising that IP attorneys, artists, and inventors often seem to take for granted the legitimacy of IP. However, those more concerned with liberty, truth, and rights should not take for granted the institutionalized use of force used to enforce IP rights. Instead, we should re-assert the primacy of individual rights over our bodies and homesteaded scarce resources.

01 August 2008

The Real Silicon Valley

Mike Masnick gets it again:

many folks look at Silicon Valley and try to replicate the outward manifestations (a good university, some venture capitalists) and miss the underlying details that create the real culture of Silicon Valley, because they almost seem counterintuitive. And the most basic element of this is enabling the free exchange of ideas (that engine for growth). Instead of doing that, most focus on protecting ideas and limiting that free exchange, falsely believing that hoarding information beats sharing information (even with competitors).

So, what happens is that other countries set up their own Silicon Valleys by focusing on protectionism (greater intellectual property rules, non-competes, hugely funded labs), and ignore the power of the cross pollination of ideas and people throughout Silicon Valley, which make it that much more difficult for any single company to abuse the trust of the people they serve. Should any company turn away from benevolence, that openness almost guarantees a more open competitor shows up in return (sometimes with the same employees from the older company). That openness drives innovation, but also keeps these benevolent dictators honest.

Saint Firefox, Defender of the Weak

News that Firefox 3.x will be adding support for Ogg Theora and Vorbis is welcome, since the latter find themselves in a typical Catch-22 situation: nobody uses them because nobody supports them. But I was struck by the following comment:

there is a risk to bundling even an open source codec like Theora because of the possibility of submarine patents -patents nobody knows about until a product that unknowingly infringes it, succeeds, becoming a target for the patent owner who will seek monetary compensation and a good licensing agreement. This is why the HTML 5 spec doesn’t recommend any encoder so vendors don’t have to choose between taking this kind of risk or not complying with the standard.

During today’s announcement at the Products and Technology Roadmap Mozilla Summit session, Mitchell Baker commented that Mozilla would be a bad target as it is a project with a product a lot of people cares about.

Mike Shaver, interim Mozilla’s VP of Engineering, also commented “Somebody had to do it. It’s good it was us”.

Indeed. And it's further proof of the ever-more central position of Firefox in the free software ecosystem.

Alfresco: the Samba of Enterprise Content Management

On Open Enterprise blog.

BL = Betrayed Library

This kind of naive adulation is beginning to stick in my craw:

The British Library is bringing some of the world's rarest books online, with the intent of giving as wide an audience as possible the most accurate experience of reading the real thing.

To that end, it is using a unique piece of software called Turning the Pages, designed to allow readers to look at rare books in a natural way. With Turning the Pages, users can read the books in their original format, almost exactly as they were intended to be read by their original audience.

Why? Well:

A new version, Turning the Pages 2.0™, runs on Microsoft Vista operating system (and on Windows XP with the .NET 3 framework). It will also run on other operating systems using the Microsoft Silverlight plugin.

So the BL's idea of progress is locking down books - you know, those old-fashioned things without DRM - with patent-encumbered technology. That's "giving as wide an audience as possible the most accurate experience of reading the real thing"? Only in the minds of rather dim librarians who understand nothing about the broader implications of the shiny technology they choose. Me, I call it a betrayal of everything the once-great BL stood for....