29 November 2008

The Rise of the Database State

Deep, if dark, essay on the deep malaise at the heart of British politics, and the rise of the database state:

A threefold process unfolded under New Labour whose dimensions and trajectories are only now becoming clear.

* First, an irreversible dismantling of the historic “sovereignty of Parliament” and its empire state through: a cultural destruction of the old “Establishment” clubland regime; a territorial break of its unitary form with devolution (to try and secure Labour’s hold on Wales and Scotland); a legal modernisation with the Human Rights Act. These were all far-reaching commitments inherited from the battle against Thatcher’s authoritarianism.

* Second, New Labour exploited the vacuum this created. Instead of replacing the old constitution it cultivated an even more centralised system of executive-sovereignty that treated the House of Commons with unparalleled contempt. Although progressive policies might be drawn up and implemented by able advisors, the core of this reformed state machine was dedicated to the construction of a corporate populist regime under prime ministerial fiat expanding surveillance and state controls to pioneer a new type of “database state”.

* Third, unable to appeal to the loyalty of traditional institutions such as Parliament and monarchy yet longing for unchecked executive power and dismissive of democracy, New Labour embraced market populism selling itself as the purveyor of choice, freedom and bust-free economic growth while dressing old socialist talk of inevitability and internationalism in the fresh language of “globalisation”. In effect it drew the old state through the eye of the City to create a regime that became a servant to the world financial markets.

The Art of the Blog

The best meditation on blogging and bloggers I have read so far:

In fact, for all the intense gloom surrounding the news-paper and magazine business, this is actually a golden era for journalism. The blogosphere has added a whole new idiom to the act of writing and has introduced an entirely new generation to nonfiction. It has enabled writers to write out loud in ways never seen or understood before. And yet it has exposed a hunger and need for traditional writing that, in the age of television’s dominance, had seemed on the wane.

Words, of all sorts, have never seemed so now.

(Via Open (minds, finds, conversations).)

28 November 2008

I, For One, Do *Not* Welcome Our ZANU-Labour Overlords

Sally Murrer has been a local journalist for 33 years, and for the past 20 she has juggled her work with being a parent.

A single mother, with three children - one of whom is autistic - she works part-time on the Milton Keynes Citizen, a bi-weekly newspaper.

In May 2007 her cosy, little world suddenly imploded when she received a visit from officers working on Operation Plaid.

"I was arrested, strip-searched and held in custody for 30 hours and because I had just moved and didn't have a telephone at the house, I couldn't contact my children or tell them what was going on," she recalls.

The fact that all that happened in connection with leaks of *true* information that were embarrassing to the Government, rather like this case, is, of course, entirely coincidental.

Interesting, too, that this journalist was threatened with "jail for life" for said heinous crime of revealing the truth. Meanwhile, certain politicians can invade a country for spurious reasons (weapons of mass destruction, anyone?), against the will of the vast majority of the electorate, and be jointly responsible for the deaths of half a million people, and receive...obscenely well-paid speaking engagements.

It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Patently Outrageous

Drug companies are blocking or delaying the entry of cheaper generic medicines into the EU, pushing up medicine bills, the European Commission has said.

Their actions cost EU healthcare providers 3bn euros ($3.9bn; £2.5bn) in savings between 2000 and 2007, it said.

But how were they doing that?

Drug firms use "perfectly lawful practices - such as patent portfolios, patent litigation and the release of improved medicines," the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) said.

Ahh, *that's* what patents are for, then....

The Solution to Japanese Whaling

So, ye Japanese whale-eaters, eat this:

Chief medical officers of the Faroe Islands have recommended that pilot whales no longer be considered fit for human consumption, because they are toxic - as revealed by research on the Faroes themselves.


today in a statement to the islanders, chief medical officers Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen announced that pilot whale meat and blubber contains too much mercury, PCBs and DDT derivatives to be safe for human consumption.


The work has revealed damage to fetal neural development, high blood pressure, and impaired immunity in children, as well as increased rates of Parkinson's disease, circulatory problems and possibly infertility in adults. The Faroes data renewed concerns about low-level mercury exposures elsewhere.

2008 EuroPointless 100

And the aim of this is precisely what?

PricewaterhouseCoopers, in association with the European National Software and Associations: Europe (ESA), France (AFDEL), UK (BASDA) and Pierre Audoin Consultants as technical advisors, is pleased to present the 2008 EuroSoftware100....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Microsoft Gets Busy in the Ukraine

There are so many high-profile battles for the soul of computing going on that it is easy to overlook what is happening in some of the world's by-ways. For example, the Ukraine does not often figure in Western reporting, but that does not mean that Microsoft is not busily trying to lock down that country's computing infrastructure:

«Майкрософт Украина» провела конференцию «Правительство XXI века», посвященную использованию информационных технологий в деятельности органов государственной власти и организации «электронного правительства»

В ходе конференции специалисты компании Microsoft и украинских компаний- партнеров рассказали о стратегическом походе к трансформации государственного управления при помощи информационных технологий, а также продемонстрировали лучшие примеры уже реализованных проектов в Украине и за рубежом. В конференции приняли участие более 130 представителей государственных учреждений и организаций, а также эксперты компании Microsoft.

Открывая конференцию, генеральный директор «Майкрософт Украина» Эрик Франке сказал: «У нас есть большой опыт успешного внедрения технологий и инновационных решений компании Microsoft для оптимизации работы правительств многих стран мира. После визита Стива Балмера в Киев в мае этого года мы подписали меморандумы с рядом министерств и ведомств и продолжаем плодотворные переговоры с Госдепартаментом интеллектуальной собственности. Я думаю, что мы на правильном пути».

[Via Google Translate: «Microsoft Ukraine» held a conference «Government XXI century», on the use of information technologies in government and the organization «e-government»

During the conference, experts of Microsoft and Ukrainian partners talked about the strategic campaign to transform public administration through information technology, but also demonstrated the best examples have already implemented projects in Ukraine and abroad. The conference was attended by over 130 representatives from government agencies and organizations, as well as experts from the company Microsoft.

Opening the conference, Director General of «Microsoft Ukraine» Eric Franke said: «We have a long experience of successful technologies and innovative solutions to Microsoft for optimizing performance of many countries in the world. Following the visit of Steve Balmera in Kiev in May this year, we signed MOUs with a number of ministries and departments, and continue fruitful negotiations with the State Department of Intellectual Property. I think we are on the right track»]

If Microsoft's boss in the Ukraine thinks they are on the "right track", this can only mean things are on the *wrong* track for free software there. Time to send in RMS....

The Outlook for Vista Gets Even Worse

As someone who has been following Microsoft for over 25 years, I remain staggered by the completeness of the Vista fiasco. Microsoft's constant backtracking on the phasing out of Windows XP is perhaps the most evident proof of the fact that people do not want to be forced to “upgrade” to something that has been memorably described as DRM masquerading as an operating system. But this story suggests an even greater aversion....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Fear of Openness...

...strikes again:

A political row erupted last night after counter-terrorism police arrested the shadow Home Office minister, Damian Green, after he published leaked documents allegedly sent to the Tories by a government whistleblower.


George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, told the BBC: "I think it is extraordinary that the police have taken that decision. It has long been the case in our democracy that MPs have received information from civil servants. To hide information from the public is wrong."

This is getting serious.

27 November 2008

Save the Libraries – With Open Source

For some in the world of free software, libraries are things that you call, rather than visit. But the places where books are stored – especially those that make them freely available to the public – are important repositories of the world's knowledge, of relevance to all. So coders too should care about them alongside the other kind, and should be concerned that there is a threat to their ability to provide ready access to knowledge they have created themselves. The good news is that open source can save them....

On Linux Journal.

Those that Live by the (S)Word...

...die by the (s)Word:

Microsoft is working with Westminster technology chiefs after politicians and peers complained of being unable to open the latest Word documents.

The Mircrosoft Office 2003 software used by the UK's 646 MPs and 742 peers is incompatible with Microsoft Word 2007 document formats, leaving politicians and civil servants unable to read some correspondence.

Could there be a moral here?

Vladivostok Gives Free GNU/Linux Netbooks

I've written before about the increasing uptake of, and innovation around, free software in Russia. Here's another fascinating experiment, involving the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Services, which is giving students netbooks running the Mandriva distro:

Интересный эксперимент решили провести во Владивостокском государственном университете экономики и сервиса — вместо традиционных бумажных конспектов и ведомостей учета посещений вся работа вуза переведена в электронную форму. А преподаватели и студенты (все без исключения) в настоящее время бесплатно получают нетбуки Asus Eee PC 900 для работы с электронными ресурсами вуза как в учебных аудиториях, так и дома. Всего до 4 декабря только учащимся будет передано 997 нетбуков.

[Via Google Translate: An interesting experiment decided to meet in Vladivostok State University of Economics and services - instead of traditional paper notes and account statements visits all the work of high school is available in electronic form. And teachers and students (without exception) are currently free netbuki Asus Eee PC 900 to work with electronic resources in university classrooms or at home. Total until December 4, only 997 students will be transferred netbukov.]

This use of netbooks has had a knock-on effect on the university's coursework, which is now freely available for download (although bizarrely, many of the 400 courses are in Microsoft Office formats).

Mapping the OpenStreetMap Ecosystem

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is not only a great example of the open source methodology being applied outside software, it also started in the UK, which is something to celebrate. Not that's its stayed there of course, as this crowd-sourced mapping system spreads around the world.

One measure of its success and maturity is the fact that a commercial ecosystem is beginning to form around it, just as happened with GNU/Linux in the mid 1990s. Here's an interesting hint of what's to come in this area....

On Open Enterprise blog.

26 November 2008

IBM's ex-Mr GNU/Linux Joins Obama Policy Group

Good news: Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the person who essentially steered IBM toward GNU/Linux - with huge knock-on effects - has joined one of that nice Mr Obama's policy groups:

Technology, Innovation & Government Reform

The Technology, Innovation & Government Reform Policy Working Group will help prepare the incoming Administration to implement the Innovation Agenda, which includes a range of proposals to create a 21st century government that is more open and effective; leverages technology to grow the economy, create jobs, and solve our country’s most pressing problems; respects the integrity of and renews our commitment to science; and catalyzes active citizenship and partnerships in shared governance with civil society institutions. The Working Group is organized into four sub-teams: (1) Innovation and Government, (2) Innovation and National Priorities, (3) Innovation and Science, and (4) Innovation and Civil Society.

As well as interviewing him for Rebel Code, where he graciously spent some time explaining things when he was a busy man, I also interviewed him for the Guardian. That piece provides a lot of hints at just how wide-ranging his interests are. (Via eightbar.)

Amendment 138 Goes "Poof!"

But that's not too bad an outcome, because it seems to have taken most of the "three strikes" nonsense with it, as this full explanation makes clear:

Looking at the final versions of the five amended EU Directives that form the Telecoms Package, it seems that yes, Amendment 138 (which made sanctions against 'unlawful content' subject to due process of law) has indeed disappeared. But so have some elements of another part of the Package that said that national telecoms regulators should regulate lawful and unlawful content. What was particularly worrying about those provisions was that they referred to another part of the Package that mandated co-operation between national regulators and telecoms industry providers - i.e. ISPs and the big telecoms carriers.

Of course, it ain't over until it's over....

Sun's Open Source Appliances

When Sun announced at the beginning of this year that it was buying MySQL for the not inconsiderable sum of a billion dollars, the question most people posed to themselves was how Sun was going to recoup its investment. I was initially worried that Sun might try to push Solaris over GNU/Linux in the LAMP stack, but Sun's CEO, Jonathan Schwartz was adamant that wasn't going to happen.

Now, nearly a year later, we're beginning to see what exactly Sun has in mind....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The BBC Blows it Again

More incisive reporting from the BBC - not. This time, it concerns the move to extend performers' copyright from 50 to 70 years. The UK Government - to its credit - is resisting, because it makes no sense economically: copyright is meant to encourage *new* creation, not reward existing work.

Increasing the copyright term will cannot encourage people who have already created (absent time machines), offers marginal additional incentive to those who might create, but represents a massive loss for the public domain. Alas, the musicians - and the BBC - don't seem to get this:

A video message on behalf of 38,000 UK musicians has been sent to Gordon Brown urging him to back an extension of their copyright protection.

The musicians, many of whom have worked with major artists, say they risk losing their income under current laws.

The BBC has sunk to new depths of sloppy reporting by failing even to mention why there might be another side to this story - choosing, instead, to peddle the musicians' sob-story:

"The amount of revenue that's been brought into this country by these people is quite staggering. Now we require the government to help us out a little bit and show perhaps a bit of gratitude."

He added: "Instead they choose to kick us in the face and ignore our campaign to extend the copyright for these people and their estate."

25 November 2008

Homage to Catalonia

There is something of a battle going on over the use of open source by local and national governments. Mostly, this centres on cost, together with various technical issues. But one area that is frequently overlooked is the fact that open source software that is created by such bodies can also be used free of charge by businesses. In other words, there may be knock-on benefits that would never be produced through the use of broadly equivalent proprietary solutions....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Wikileaks Tells It as It is

From a Wikileaks press release (not online as far as I can tell):

Wikileaks spokesman Jay Lim stated "The UK is increasingly viewed as medievil backwater with the worst speech protections in the Western world. We deplore the arrest of members of a registered political party for distributing what is clearly a political pamphlet supporting political policy positions."

"Medievil" just about sums it up....

24 November 2008

Microsoft in the Land of the Mafia

Some suspicious lack of transparency here:

The Italian open source advocacy group Associazione per il Software Libero is protesting two memoranda of understanding (MOU) signed this summer by the Italian government and Microsoft. The group last week published a public protest letter.

The association explains that over the past three months it has in vain tried to raise the issue with the minister of public administration and innovation, Renato Brunetta. "We now publish this letter to get his attention on the benefits of open source software."

The advocacy group writes is it worried about a three-year memorandum of understanding signed by Minister Brunetta with Microsoft to develop software solutions for schools. It also expresses doubts over a similar agreement with Microsoft for the modernisation of public administration document management systems.

All such memoranda should be routinely out in the open.

Copyright in the Knowledge Economy

There's an interesting consultation document on the role of copyright in the knowledge economy, put out by the European Commission:

The purpose of the Green Paper is to foster a debate on how knowledge for research, science and education can best be disseminated in the online environment. The Green Paper aims to set out a number of issues connected with the role of copyright in the "knowledge economy" and intends to launch a consultation on these issues.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is framed in terms of twiddling with existing copyright law through complicated and extremely limited exceptions....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The History Commons

As someone who has been writing about the commons for many years, I am still amazed when new ones pop up. Here's another:

The History Commons website is an experiment in open-content civic journalism. It provides a space for people to conduct grassroots-level investigations on any issue, providing the public with a useful tool to conduct oversight of government and private sector entities. It is collaborative and thus allows individuals to build upon the work of others. Each investigation is organized as a “project,” which is made up of at least one timeline. You can contribute to a project by adding new events to the timeline associated with that project. All submissions are peer-reviewed by other users before being published. If you would like to participate in this effort, you will first need to create a user account. Once you have done that, you can begin adding events to any timeline.

(Via CommonsBlog.)

22 November 2008

Save Our Amendment 138

As I wrote below, the Telecoms Package is still with us, and there is still the threat that the crucial Amendment 138, which ensures that there is due judicial oversight, will be deleted. Now, then, is the time to start writing some emails to the ministers concerned, whose addresses in the UK are:

mpst.carter@berr.gsi.gov.uk, mpst.vadera@berr.gsi.gov.uk

Here's what I've just sent:

I writing to in connection with the EU Telecoms Package. In particular, I would like to urge you to ensure that Amendment 138 is not deleted or altered substantively. I believe this is important for four reasons.

First, there is a fundamental issue of law here: that punishments should not be imposed “without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities, notably in accordance with Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on freedom of expression and information” as the Amendment puts it. To remove or nullify this Amendment would be to signal that the commercial interests of a group of lobbyists supersedes a citizen's basic right to justice.

Secondly, as you know, the Amendment was introduced and passed after a full debate in the European Parliament. For the Amendment to be dropped or rendered void now would be a clear signal that democratic processes are irrelevant within the inner circle of European ministers. At a time when the European Union is struggling to establish its legitimacy with citizens in Europe, this would again send an appallingly negative signal to ordinary people that could have serious repercussions.

Thirdly, at a time when the British Government is rightly promoting the idea of e-government, and the ability of British citizens to access critically important parts of the democratic system via the Internet, it is self-defeating to introduce the disproportionate punishment of being banned from that same Internet. The Internet is becoming as necessary to modern life as electricity or running water, and nobody would suggest withdrawing these from a criminal, however heinous the crime.

Finally, it is worth noting that introducing such Internet bans would, in any case, have almost no effect on the exchange of copyright materials. An external hard disc with a storage capacity of 1 terabyte – 1000 gigabytes – now costs about £100. On this can be stored around 100,000 Mp3 files. Already, it is becoming common for young people to take such hard discs to parties where they swap music amongst themselves. If the “three strikes” law is introduced, it will simply encourage more people to buy such drives, and to swap not hundreds of files but hundreds of thousands of files at a time: it will actually make the problem worse.

For all these reasons, I urge you to ensure that Amendment 138 remains in the Telecoms Package unaltered.

21 November 2008

BBC: No Comment is Good Comment

Graham Steel has asked me what I think about this:

BBC shows including EastEnders, Heroes and Never Mind The Buzzcocks will be available to watch live online from next week, the BBC has announced.

BBC One and BBC Two will be streamed live - just as BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies and BBC News are already broadcast on their channel websites.

And the answer is: nothing. I have zero to say on the subject.

And that's good, because it means that despite my deep concerns about the BBC in general, there doesn't seem to be a problem with live streaming (assuming it works on GNU/Linux like the stuff currently available.) Since there are no DRM issues here, there aren't any issues about the BBC not fully supporting free software.

Of course, they are still one or two *other* problemettes with the scheme, but at least they are platform-agnostic problemettes....

"Three Strikes and You're Out" Struck Down

Wow. I was convinced that the meeting of EU culture ministers yesterday was going to end badly; I was wrong - and I take my virtual hat off to them:

EU culture ministers yesterday (20 November) rejected French proposals to curb online piracy through compulsory measures against free downloading, instead agreeing to promote legal offers of music or films on the Internet.

The EU Culture Council pushed yesterday (20 November) for "a fair balance between the various fundamental rights" while fighting online piracy, first listing "the right to personal data protection," then "the freedom of information" and only lastly "the protection of intellectual property".

The Council conclusions also stressed the importance of "consumers' expectations in terms of access […] and diversity of the content offered online". No mention was made of a gradual response to serial downloaders of illegal cultural material, as foreseen by the French authorities.

I think this is very significant, because it indicates that the culture ministers and their advisers are beginning to understand the dynamics of the Net, that throttling its use through crude instruments like the "three strikes and you're out" is exactly the wrong thing to do, and that there are serious issues to do with freedom of information at stake here that cannot simply be brushed aside as Sarkozy and his media chums wish to do.

Judging by the generally sensible tone of the meeting's conclusions, the optimist in me starts to hope that the tide is finally turning. However, I do wonder whether this saga is finished yet, or whether the Telecoms Package still has some teeth that it can bare....

Update: Following up that thought, here's a letter I've sent to the relevant UK ministers who will be involved in a crucial meeting on the Telecoms Package this week (24/11/08).

McDonald's Sandwich Patent

You can't make this stuff up:

The present invention relates to a sandwich assembly tool and methods of making a sandwich, which may be a hot or cold sandwich, quickly by pre-assembly of various sandwich components and simultaneous preparation of different parts of the same sandwich. The sandwich assembly tool is composed of a member preferably having one or two cavities for containing a quantity of garnish. The cavities are used for the assembly of the sandwich. The tool may have a raised ridge adjacent one or both cavities for placement against the hinge of a bread component. Methods of making a sandwich] are disclosed. The methods may include one or more of the use of preasseribled sandwich fillings, assembly of garnishes in advance of a customer's order or while ether portions of the sandwich are being heated using the sandwich assembly tool, the simultaneous heating of a bread component and the sandwich filling, placing the bread component over the tool containing garnish, and inverting the tool and bread combination to deposit the sandwich garnish onto the bread component.

And don't miss the flowchart that explains how to make a sandwich. (Via Against Monopoly.)

20 November 2008

"Open University" Becomes "Closed University"

Now that Microsoft has finished taking over the BBC, it seems it's moving on to new prey:

The Open University has appointed a Microsoft boss to be its fifth vice-chancellor.

Martin Bean is currently general manager of product management, marketing and business development for Microsoft's worldwide education products group.

He should feel right at home:

The Open University has breached its founding principles by supporting Microsoft software and should make amends by helping its students switch to free software, said the UK's Open Source Consortium in a letter last month. Last week, the OU replied: yeah but, no but, no.

Of course, the first thing Mr Bean will have to do is change the name: we can't have any of that stinky "openness" around, can we?

Stars of the Screen(shot)

One of the wondrous things about free software is that there is so much of it. One of my favourite hobbies is using Synaptic to look at all the amazing goodies out there - and then download stuff, just because I can. But this richness is also something of a problem: it's hard knowing whether something is really what you are looking for.

Enter the screenshots.debian.net:

This is a public repository of screenshots taken from applications contained in the Debian GNU/Linux distribution. It was created to help getting an impression of what a certain software will look like on your desktop before you install it. Everybody can take screenshots and upload them. Our admin team will just review your changes before they become publicly visible.

I'm sure there must be some interesting mashups to be had with this resource.

Welcome to Europeana

Europeana: think culture

Europeana.eu is about ideas and inspiration. It links you to 2 million digital items.

* Images - paintings, drawings, maps, photos and pictures of museum objects
* Texts - books, newspapers, letters, diaries and archival papers
* Sounds - music and spoken word from cylinders, tapes, discs and radio broadcasts
* Videos - films, newsreels and TV broadcasts

Some of these are world famous, others are hidden treasures from Europe's

* museums and galleries
* archives
* libraries
* audio-visual collections

Here is a list of the organisations that our content comes from. They include the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the British Library in London and the Louvre in Paris.

You can use My Europeana to save searches or bookmark things. You can highlight stuff and add it to your own folders.

This website is a prototype. Europeana Version 1.0 is being developed and will launch in 2010 with links to over 6 million digital objects.

Europeana.eu is funded by the European Commission and the member states.

Well, that all sounds pretty euro-groovy. But what, I wonder can you do with it?

To find out, I went to the most important page on the site, the terms and conditions; which said:


Europeana portal will offer:

* Editorial parts using material for which copyright issues and rights to reuse is cleared
* Content: parts of bibliographic description and low resolution images given to us by the contributing EuropeanaNet Thematic Network partners to build the Europeana common access point to their own web site

The whole Europeana index and website is an online database owned by the European Digital Library Foundation.

For the purpose of this Europeana prototype (which is just a pilot demo) there is no formal agreement signed defining precisely where and how the rights are expressed in the metadata that Europeana are aggregated. Some metadata contain the expressed rights and in other cases the user is given more information on the provider's own web site when clicking to see, read, listen to or watch the object. So Europeana for the purposes of this prototype will adopt the following Copyright statement from the MLA Discovery portal:

All third-party material presented within this website are subject to individual Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) conditions and licences. Providing details of such IPR and licensing is the responsibility of third-party sources and should be either presented within this website or available from the originating sources of the third party material

The lack of written agreement with each provider, other than the Thematic Network Agreement signed by each of the contributing partners, means that for this prototype a detailed Terms and Conditions of Use statement is not possible.

The European Digital Library Foundation and its content contributors hold the copyright for all material and all content in this site, including site layout, design, images, programs, text and other information (collectively, the "Content") held in Europeana.eu. No material may be resold or published elsewhere without the European Digital Library Foundations written consent, unless authorised by a licence with the European Digital Library Foundations or to the extent required by the applicable law.

In other words, a complete and utter dog's breakfast. Not that this is the fault of those behind Europeana: it's a reflection of the unworkable mess that copyright has become. Time to simplify it:

copyright lasts for a maximum of 14 years

- und damit basta.

OpenX: the Unknown Variable

The open source company OpenX, which is behind the free ad server of the same name, is something of a mysterious beast. It's not that well known, even though it's one of the few open source companies that was founded in the UK. Things have not been helped by the fact that it has gone through so many names changes - phpAds, phpAdsNew, MaxMediaManager, Openads – that it's been hard to keep up. It's also something of wonder that it operates in a market where the main competitor is Google – and yet survives. And finally, there is the issue of why on earth it choose to drop that perfectly clear and memorable Openads moniker for the current name, OpenX, which sounds more like some kind of men's deodorant....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Mac Fanboys Face the Music (and Video)

I've never really understood why usually intelligent people are seduced by the glamour of the Macintosh. Sure, it's a nice confection, but like most confections it's artificial and comes in a box. And in this case, it's a box you can't really open. Here's the comeuppance:

iTunes video rentals and purchases in HD are flagged for HDCP control, and in cooperation with the new Mini DisplayPort connector on the MacBook and MacBook Pro unibody models, those movies and TV shows are refusing to play back on non-compliant external displays.

And, oh look: since you're using a closed system there is nothing you can do about it: payback time for that Faustian pact, people.

Now, about that open source alternative....

19 November 2008

And the Firefoxiest Country is...Indonesia

While some people (like me) have been fixated on the jolly good work being done in Europe in terms of boosting Firefox's market share, it seems that they (I) have overlooked an even bigger success:

One aspect of our global expansion is in our user base. By the end of 2007, nearly fifty percent of Firefox users chose a language other than English. In a fast forward, the first country in which Firefox usage appears to have crossed the 50% mark is Indonesia, surpassing 50% in July 2008. A set of European countries (Sovenia, Poland, and Finland) see Firefox usage above 40%.

And let's not forget that Indonesia is (a) big and (b) getting bigger fast. Indonesian will arguably be the other major world language of the future (along with Mandarin, English, Hindustani, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and French).

(Sigh): Another BBC Ad for Microsoft

I suppose I should expect this now:

In a surprise move, Microsoft has announced it will offer a free anti-virus and security solution from the second half of next year.


Amy Barzdukas, senior director of product management in the online services division at Microsoft, said: "This new, no-cost offering will give us the ability to protect an even greater number of consumers, especially in markets where the growth of new PC purchases is outpaced only by the growth of malware."

Ah, bless 'em.

Of course, this move couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that the security of Windows is so poor as to make the operating system unusable without this kind of anti-virus crutch. Well, that's certainly the impression you get from benign old Auntie.

As usual, Mike Masnick gets it in one. His headline? "Microsoft Realizes No One Wants To Pay Microsoft To Fix Its Own Security Flaws."

Opening a Digital Pandora's Box

This stuff is getting, er, interesting:

There are already whispers circulating that “amended” copies of the BNP member list are doing the rounds on Bitorrent. People are settling scores with neighbours by adding them to a bogus BNP list. The potential for abuse is sky-high.

Yes, indeedy. Imagine what fun people will have in the future distributing similarly erroneous versions of the Compulsory UK DNA database once it's introduced as an indispensable aid in the Fight against Terruh (and then lost along with all the other government databases....)

Straight Talking About the Unspeakable ACTA

I and many others have written a fair amount about the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA). We'd doubtless write far more, were more details forthcoming. And yet despite the huge potential knock-on effects of this agreement, everything is being negotiated behind closed doors. Even more outrageously, those doors are nonetheless being opened for representatives of trade organisations who wish to see their own agendas pushed through, but not for ordinary citizens, who seem to have no rights in this arena...

On Open Enterprise blog.

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Instead of suing people who upload your content on YouTube, you put up *better-quality* copies, and try to sell something off the back of them:

For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we've figured a better way to get our own back: We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault.

What's more, we're taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what's even more, we're letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

But we want something in return.

None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.

It's still a bit limited, at least they're trying.

Why Free Software is a Con-Trick

A number of sites have noted this interesting study of a particular kind of con-trick, known as "The pigeon drop". What really caught my attention was the following:

The key to a con is not that you trust the conman, but that he shows he trusts you. Conmen ply their trade by appearing fragile or needing help, by seeming vulnerable. Because of THOMAS, the human brain makes us feel good when we help others--this is the basis for attachment to family and friends and cooperation with strangers. "I need your help" is a potent stimulus for action.

Now, how does free software generally operate? It begins with a call for *help* - which means that it elicits the same deep human response as the con-trick described in the original post.

Here are two classics of the free software pigeon-drop con-trick genre, one from RMS:

Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free(1) to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed.

The other from Linus:

Hello everybody out there using minix -

I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

This is why proprietary software will never be able to beat free software: because the latter always brings with it an implicit cry for help, rather than simply offering us a cold and clinical business deal, it triggers the release of a powerful neurochemical that actually makes us feel good when we respond to that appeal. It turns out that it's altruism, not greed, that is good.

End of a (Dead Tree) Era

Ziff Davis, the tech/gaming media company that recently exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is now taking the brave but inevitable step of closing down the print version of PCMag to focus its energy on its growing PCMag online network of sites, led by flagship PCmag.com. The magazine, which was started in 1982, has a storied history, but its print base eroded over the years as its core brand of journalism—news you can use while shopping for computers—moved online. It cut back from bi-weekly to monthly earlier this year. PCMag, which literally invented the idea of comparative hardware and software reviews, at one time during the 80s averaged about 400 pages an issue, with some issues breaking the 500- and even 600-page marks, according to this Wikipedia history.

Indeed, as I well remember when I was Editor and Publisher of the first UK edition of PC Magazine at the beginning of the 1990s - before Ziff Davis spent enormous sums themselves trying to launch it here. I still remember the annual printers issue - which ran to hundreds of pages, filled with the most boring computer journalism known to mankind - with a kind of dread....

Why Governments Must Use Free Software

Fab story here from Northxsouth (for background on this fascinating outfit, see my interview with its founder, Ryan Bagueros) about the very real perils of using proprietary software for national infrastructure:

Venezuela’s decision to move to free software happened after a disaster scenario like this actually took place. In 2002, the traditional, social elite-backed administrators of PDVSA (Venezuela’s state-owned oil company) decided that they didn’t agree with President Chávez’s policy decisions, which included re-directing profits from the oil company elites into social programs (including literacy and medical programs). These administrators were so adamant about their position, they illegally shut down the oil company, locked out the workers, and took control over the software that ran the corporation. Conveniently, that software had been contracted to a US company called SAIC, which has well-known relationships with the US Department of Defense and CIA. In response to the illegal lock-out and sabotage of oil production in Venezuela, federal authorities were sent to PDVSA’s headquarters to reclaim the facility.

The SAIC workers realized that they had committed an enormous crime and fled the country — after they had changed all the passwords that ran PDVSA’s computer systems and set themselves up with remote control of these systems. Since the software was proprietary, no one except the SAIC workers knew how the software worked internally and the oil facilities were literally held hostage by criminals who were now seeking refuge in the United States. Why US authorities did not take action and apprehend these criminals is up for the reader’s interpretation. If the SAIC workers had used their remote access to destroy the data, they would have effectively sabotaged oil production in Venezuela for months, if not years.

The Venezuelan government recruited some computer security experts who were able to reverse engineer SAIC’s software, cut off their remote control of the computer systems and return access to the legal administrators of PDVSA. After this startling information warfare scenario had played out in real life, threatening the entire economy of a sovereign state by a multinational software firm with strong ties to a foreign defense and intelligence agency, President Chávez fully embraced open source, free software and mandated that all government systems be migrated to this more secure solution.

As the article points out, if a national government doesn't have full control over the software that is running key elements of its country, it doesn't have full control. Free software puts the power back where it should be: with the user, not the manufacturer.

18 November 2008

gIMP My Foot

Jackboot Jacqui is at it again:

The government Interception Modernisation Programme (gIMP), a plan by spy chiefs to centrally collect details of every phone call, text, email and web browsing session of every UK resident, will be in place by 2012, according to a Home Office minister.


because communications providers already hold information about who contacts whom, when and how, the gIMP would not represent a major change. "We are not proposing that data that have never been collected are held," he said. "The question is how in the future, with all the changes that are coming we can still have access to something that we regularly use today for serious crime and counterterrorism." The final system will be fully compatible with human rights legislation, he said.

This shows once again that the Government either doesn't understand - or feigns not to understand - that putting together disparate information *is* a huge change, precisely because it allows all kinds of *new* info to be gathered about the public thanks to correlations and cross-linkings that are not evident when the data is held separately. Crudely speaking, this is putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to see something whole.

(Open) China Rising

It's become something of cliché in recent weeks to invoke the rise of China as an economic superpower. But what about its role in the world of free software?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Thingiverse: SourceForge for Objects

I wrote below about the distinction between digital and analogue objects, but that was just a crude statement of the situation, which is in a state of flux. The distinction between digital and analogue is blurring thanks to rapid prototyping machines that can take digital representations of objects and turn them into physical things.

Once that happens, it becomes possible to apply all the usual open source methodology to analogue stuff - sharing designs, improving on them etc. One thing you need to do this is a repository of open designs; enter the wonderfully-named Thingiverse:

Thingiverse is a place for you to share your digital designs with the world. We believe that just as computing shifted away from the mainframe into the personal computer that you use today, digital fabrication will share the same path. Infact, it is already happening: laser cutters, cnc machines, 3D printers, and even automated paper cutters are all getting cheaper by the day. These machines are useful for a huge variety of things, but you need to supply them with a digital design in order to get anything useful out of them. We're hoping that together we can create a community of people who create and share designs freely, so that all can benefit from them.

Creative Commons has some useful further info:

Thingiverse is an “object sharing” site that enables anyone to upload the schematics, designs, and images for their projects. Users can then download and reuse the work in their projects using their own laser cutters, 3D printers, and analog tools. Think of it as a Flickr for the Maker set.

Besides implementing our licenses, Bre and Zach [Thingiverse's creators] have also gone the distance and allowed users to license works under the GNU GPL, LGPL, and BSD licenses, as well as allowing them to release works into the public domain.

More Analyst Cluelessness

Yesterday in "the other place" I was berating Gartner for its inability to understand the reality of open source, and now here's someone else from that strange world of "research" that simply doesn't understand the basics - in this case, digital music:

Music cannot just be 'for free' anymore than cars or houses can 'just be for free'. If people aren't paid, they don't make the product.

Sigh. Once more, then, children - and do pay attention at the back: music is digital, cars and houses are analogue. You can make copies of digital music for effectively zero cost (it exists, but it's too small to measure); you cannot easily make copies of cars or houses, and certainly not for vanishingly small cost.

As for the second part, ever heard of something called free software? Variously estimated as worth tens of billions of pounds, most of it is created by people who aren't paid. And even if they are, that's not a necessary pre-condition for its creation, simply a reflection of the health of the business ecosystem that has grown up around it. If there weren't people who got paid, free software would stil exist - as it did originally.

Similarly for Wikipedia: nobody gets paid, but look at the results. In just a few years it has succeeded in creating an unmatched respository of human knowledge, to the point where it is pretty widely regarded as the first place to look stuff up, despite its undeniable imperfections.

As with Gartner, this seems to be a case of analysts simply telling their clients what they want to hear, rather than what they need to know. Hence my general contempt for the breed, with a few honourable exceptions - RedMonk and the 451 Group spring to mind - that both know what they are talking about, and tell it as it is.

New Open Source Second Life Viewer

Linden Lab's decision to open-source its viewer (and ultimately its server, too) has triggered a wave of creativity in Second Life free software. Here's the latest example:

More than two months after Jacek Antonelli and team launched an initiative to create a more user-friendly, open source version of the Second Life viewer, cheekily dubbed Imprudence, the first release candidate is available for download.

Do the Maths: GNU/Linux's Discovery

Westfield State College senior mathematics majors Jeffrey P. Vanasse and Michael E. Guenette, working under the direction of Mathematics Department faculty members Marcus Jaiclin and Julian F. Fleron, have made a significant new discovery in the mathematical field of number theory. They have discovered the first known example of a 3 by 3 by 3 generalized arithmetic progression (GAP).

And how did they do that?

An algorithm to check the necessary cases – still easily hundreds of trillions of cases – was programmed using a Linux version of the computer language C++.

Nothing extraordinary there - except that it's not extraordinary....

Why the Real Dan is the Real Thing

We need this man:

One thing you have to admire about Kara [Swisher] is that in a blogosphere that all too often resembles an echo chamber, she’s managed to cut out the middleman; she just echoes herself. And while others engage in logrolling, Kara keeps it real and rolls her own log. Kara, listen. You’re not the story. Bokay? You’re the reporter. This isn’t about you. It really isn’t. Now stop it or I will fly out there and sit you down for a talk. You’re getting Mossberg Syndrome, honey, and that’s not a good thing.

Update: Or maybe not....

17 November 2008

The Super Windows That...Couldn't

One of the more bizarre accusations flung by Microsoft at GNU/Linux over the years is that it doesn't scale. This is part of a larger campaign to portray it as a kind of “toy” operating system – fine for low-end stuff, but nothing you'd want to run your enterprise on....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Mining the Mindless Wisdom of Crowds

First it was Google:

Google search isn't just about looking up football scores from last weekend or finding a great hotel for your next vacation. It can also be used for the public good. Yesterday, we announced Google Flu Trends, which uses aggregated search data in an effort to confront the challenge of influenza outbreaks.

By taking Google Trends — where you can see snapshots of what's on the public's collective mind — and applying the tool to a public health problem, our engineers found that there was a correlation between flu-related queries and the actual flu. They created a model for near real-time estimates about outbreaks, in the hopes that both health care professionals and the general public would use this tool to better prepare for flu season.

Even directory enquiries is at it:

Number request figures from the country's biggest directory service provider paint a gloomy portrait of Britain that reveals requests for bailiffs, credit card companies and house clearance services rising while calls for estate agents, surveyors and removals are falling.


The figures, based on about 130m calls a year to 118118, compare requests for numbers from January to June 2007 to the same period in 2008 with some surprising variations. "When we saw these figures we couldn't quite believe the huge difference in call requests between last year and this," said William Ostrom, spokesman for the company.

But for me, one of the best ways of mining the blind but revealing moves of the masses is through Wikirage:

This site lists the pages in Wikipedia which are receiving the most edits per unique editor over various periods of time. Popular people in the news, the latest fads, and the hottest video games can be quickly identified by monitoring this social phenomenon.

Gartner's FUD

Good news:

New research has highlighted quite how pervasive open source software (OSS) has become, with 85 per cent of companies currently using OSS and the remaining 15 per cent expecting to in the next 12 months.

The findings come from a Gartner survey in May and June 2008, which covered 274 end-user organisations in Asia/Pacific, Europe and North America, and raise a series of management issues for businesses.

But wait, trust Gartner to find a cloud in every silver lining for open source....

On Open Enterprise blog.

15 November 2008

Of Lawyers and Software Patents

Regular readers will know that I have a bee in my bonnet about the non-patentability of software, largely because of the fact that software is made up of algorithms, algorithms are maths, and maths is not patentable: QED. So, as you might expect, the following, from a patent attorney, makes me go a funny colour:

Software is not a mathematical equation, nor is it a mathematical language. How anyone who writes software or professes to understand software could argue to the contrary is beyond me. Do people who write software actually think they are sitting down and writing mathematical equations and stringing them together? It is absurd to have such a narrow view of software.

The good news is that I do not intend to rebut this (and the rest of the post) here, because the comments to it, and those on Groklaw discussing it, are so good, and so varied, that it would be superfluous. If you ever come across people who have doubts about the non-patentablility of software, just point them towards those comments.

The Politicians’ Syllogism

Something must be done; this is something; therefore this must be done.


14 November 2008

Share This: The Internet is a Right

“They order, said I, this matter better in France.” So wrote Laurence Sterne in his 1768 book A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Alas, things have changed much since then, at least as far as the Internet is concerned. In the light of recent events, now he would we have to say: they order this matter worse in France. Even more unfortunately, France's bad habits are spreading, and could have serious consequences for free software....

On Linux Journal.

ContactPoint: A Contradiction in Terms

People have been pointing out that the government's child database, ContactPoint, will actually make it *more* dangerous for children. Now the government is slowly cottoneing on:

Data on about 55,000 children will need to be protected from estranged and abusive family members, or because they are under police protection, according to figures from local authorities.

The protected information - part of the forthcoming ContactPoint child protection database - will include their address and details of the school they attend. ContactPoint users, who The Register revealed yesterday could easily number more than a million, will only be able to access basic data about "shielded" children: their name, age and gender.

In other words, some of the most vulnerable children must be excluded from ContactPoint, because its security is now recognised as insufficient - even though the whole point of ContactPoint was to *enhance* protection.

ContactPoint - and any centralised database - is simply not fit for its purpose: chuck it, people.

ARMed and Dangerous - to Microsoft

It's often forgotten that one of the strengths of GNU/Linux is the extraordinary range of platforms it supports. Where the full Windows stack is only available for Intel processors - even Windows CE, a distinct code-base, only supports four platforms - GNU/Linux is available on a dizzying array of other hardware.

Here's an interesting addition to the list:

ARM and Canonical Ltd, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, today announced that they will bring the full Ubuntu Desktop operating system to the ARMv7 processor architecture to address demand from device manufacturers. The addition of the new operating system will enable new netbooks and hybrid computers, targeting energy-efficient ARM technology-based SoCs, to deliver a rich, always-connected, mobile computing experience, without compromising battery life.

The combination of a commercially supported, optimized Ubuntu distribution for ARM, together with Canonical’s ability to tailor solutions to specific ARM technology-based devices and OEM requirements, ensures that highly-optimized systems can be rapidly deployed into the fast growing mobile computing market. ARM’s wide partnership with leading semiconductor and device manufacturers strengthens the mobile computing software ecosystem and extends the market reach for Ubuntu-based products.

Since ARM is based on original work by the ancient Acorn Computers (hello, BBC Micro), this represents a nice coming together of two British-based companies, albeit with global reach.

Spreadthunderbird is Go

One of the reasons that Firefox has been successful is the extraordinary way that users have been mobilised as part of a vast, global marketing group without precedent. Tens of thousands – perhaps even hundreds of thousands – of people have added their pebble to the cairn of promotion to produce the market shares we see today for Firefox (particularly in Europe)....

On Open Enterprise blog.

13 November 2008

Not so FAST....

FAST is seriously losing it:

More worrying is how organizations like FAST feel that somehow they should be able to shortcut, bypass or change the law to suit their needs. “One argument,” said Lovelock, “is that personal data relating to a given IP-address may be given to the rights holder on request, without a court order being needed, which is arguably gold plating.”

Sure, let’s just scrap due process and the Data Protection Act. They just complicate things.

Why do these self-important little organisations think that they can override fundamental rights and legislation simply because they are too lazy to come up with a new business model to cope with the changing environment?

It's called "absence of scarcity": get used to it.

Novell's Faustian Pact

There is something rather curious about software companies operating in the open source world. Although they may be competitors in a particular sector, the open source licence they employ means that they are also partners: they can generally use the code of other companies if they wish. The stronger those companies become, the more code they produce, and the more code there is available to everyone – including their nominal rivals. This makes the commercial ecosystem that evolves around free software strangely collegiate: everyone has a vested interest in growing the code base, because it is a commons that all can and do draw on....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Add a Computer to a Cable

Here's a GNU/Linux-based computer the size of an RJ-45 jack:

Specs listed for the Digi Connect ME 9210 are said to include:

* Processor -- 32-bit Digi NS9210 75MHz (ARM926EJ-S)
* Security -- On-chip 256-bit AES accelerator
* Memory -- 8MB SDRAM
* Flash -- 4MB or 8MB of NOR flash
* Networking -- 1 x 10/100 Ethernet
* Expansion -- Flexible Interface Modules (FIM) with 300MHz DRPIC165X CPU
* Interfaces:
o High-speed TTL serial
o Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI)
o I(2)C v1.0 bus with 7- and 10-bit address modes
o 10 x shared GPIO ports with up to 3 external IRQ options
* Power management -- modes for on-the-fly clock scaling, low power sleep, and configurable scaling/wake-up events (EIRQ, UART, Ethernet, etc.)
* Other features -- software watchdog
* Operating temperature -- -40 to 176 deg. F (-40 to 80 deg. C)
* Power -- 3.3VDC @ 346 mA; 1.14 W typical consumption
* Operating systems -- Digi Embedded Linux; NET+OS (ThreadX-based

Don't miss the pix - they are almost literally incredible. (Via Wind River blog network.)

12 November 2008

A Huge Leap *Back* for Transparency

One of the fundamental rules in an open, democratic society is that government must be transparent to be truly accountable: if you can't see who is doing what, there's no hope of fingering the wrong-doers. Against that background, this is a huge slap in the face of the European Union's citizens:

Marco Cappato MEP asked the Council to provide him the contract concluded by the Council and Microsoft, and the Study on the Open Source realized by the interinstitutional committee on informatics in 2005.


The Council negative answer was motivated saying that "because these contracts establish specific terms and conditions for the European institutions, the divulgation of those information could jeopardize the protection of commercial interest of Microsoft. Acknowledging that the divulgations of the records are not backed by a clear public interest, the Secretariat general concludes that the protection of Microsoft's commercial interests, being one of the commercial partners of the European institutions, prevails on the divulgation for the public interest".

Got that? "Protection of Microsoft's commercial interests ... prevails on the divulgation for the public interest." Microsoft's profits are more important to the European Council than the public interest of 300 million EU citizens....

Why Ordnance Survey's Management Must Go

After the results of the Show Us A Better Way competition - the X-Factor for web services (as I think I dubbed it) - now here’s the letdown. Ordnance Survey has emailed local government organisations waving its copyright stick. And it’s quite a bit stick. One which, in effect, could prevent many - perhaps all? - of the SUABW winners (Free Our Data announcement; BBC announcement), and certainly those which might rely on local authority data that is in any way geographically related - from being implemented, certainly on Google Maps.

Ordnance Survey is a drag - not just metaphorically, but literally: a drag on UK innovation. It clearly doesn't understand the 21st century Web, and therefore deserves no serious role in its evolution. Remember, this is *our* data that it is refusing to allow local authorities to hand out for *our* benefit. This is intellectual monopoly hoarding at its most selfish and counterproductive.

Time to fire its entire, witless, self-serving management, and spend the money saved to pay its fine cartographers to generate scads more lovely data for other people to use in innovative mashups, which will contribute far more to the UK economy than the Ordnance Survey ever did or ever could.

The Chinese Overlords of Intellectual Monopolies

This looks tiny:

A Chinese Internet company has sued Microsoft for patent infringement over its use of RSS* in Windows Vista.

Wang Jianbo, chairman of China E-commerce Info Tech Company, said his firm applied for a patent on RSS services in 2005 and was granted patent ZL 2005 1 0022721.3 in December 2007 from China's State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO). Wang says Microsoft adopted RSS technology in Vista without his company's authorisation.

It's actually huge. Here's what is going on.

In the 19th century, America was a by-word for piracy of British ideas. In the 20th century, as its industry developed, it embraced intellectual monopolies, and became the most fervent advocate of maximalist legal regimes.

In the 20th century, China was a by-word for piracy of American ideas. In the 21st century, as its industry developed, it embraced intellectual monopolies, and became their stoutest defender. The news story above is but the trickle that presages the torrent.

Soon, America will be deluged with such suits, as China tries to leverage its huge industrial power. The consequence? America will become one of the most fervent advocates for *minimalist* intellectual property regimes. Yes, you read that correctly: just wait.

Total's Total Shame

In the present climate, with growing distrust and disgust at the antics of greedy, global mega-corporations, I don't think this kind of scandal is going to go down too well:

Total, one of the world’s largest oil companies, has been accused of hiding behind a “completely ludicrous” legal argument to avoid responsibility for Britain’s biggest peacetime explosion.


Earlier this year, Total admitted in preliminary hearings that the blast was the result of negligence by the supervisor on duty at the time. However, it has only accepted liability for properties within 451 metres of the blast on the grounds that damage to property beyond that could not have been predicted.

Claimants whose properties lay further than 451 metres from the site of the explosion will have to prove that damage to their properties was foreseeable. That includes more than 170 local residents and small businesses.

Mr Gaisman said that Total's argument was legally unprecedented and based on flawed calculations. “Even a child” could have guessed that an explosion of such magnitude would cause damage to properties within several kilometres of the plant, he said.

Now, about that windfall tax....

GoogleMail Voice and Video Chat

I've written elsewhere calling for Skype to become open source; perhaps this news that GoogleMail is adding voice and video chat might help that along. Pity, though, that Google hasn't even got around to support GNU/Linux in its latest move....

Opening up Business Process Management

I wrote earlier this week about the increasing maturity of open source ERP solutions, and how this represented a fleshing out of the open source enterprise stack. An obvious question to ask is: what's going to be the next area of activity? One candidate is business process management (BPM)....

On Open Enterprise blog.

11 November 2008

The Economic Impact of Software Patents

The UK's Patent Office – which now goes by the awful name of UK Intellectual Property Office, which means it's really the UK Intellectual Monopolies Office – is a curious beast. On the one hand, as its name suggests, it's tied into one of the biggest confidence tricks around, dressing up conceptual mutton as intellectual lamb. On the other, there are odd outbreaks of sanity that suggest someone in there understands some of the deeper issues concerning software patents....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Der Doppelgänger

Here's a typical Moody text I never wrote:

A brief explanation of what the free culture movement is and the various factors that led to its fighting to preserve the commons, including corporations and special interests trying to restrict the commons to protect their interests, the development of the open source community, technological developments, such as the Internet and digital copying of media, the developmentof web 2.0 and its philosophies, current state of copyright law and youth culture.

It's by one "David W. Moody, California State University, San Jose School of Library and Information Science." Sad, then, that he makes no mention of Rebel Code in his bibliography about openness, since it pre-dates by far other sources that he does mention. But I'm not bitter.


Du bleicher Geselle!

Drowning in the DNA Database

Well, well, well:

The number of crimes solved thanks to the DNA database is actually falling despite the ever-growing number of people it contains.

Figures given to Parliament show that even though 7 per cent of the UK population are now on the DNA database it helped solve only 0.36 per cent of crimes, down from 0.37 per cent last year. In the same period over half a million people have been added to the database.

In fact there has been no big improvement in convictions since 2000/2001 when the database contained just 1.2 million people but was useful in 0.29 per cent of recorded crimes.

In other words, the database contained most of the useful DNA eight years ago: since then, it's been one long fishing expedition, adding more DNA for the sake of it - just in case. As the figures prove, the vast majority of that DNA is of innocent people who are are apparently unlikely ever to commit a crime. The only possible reason for retaining it is because of the insane authoritarian urges of the present government.

And what on earth does this quote from the Home Office mean?

The benefits of the NDNAD lie not only in detecting the guilty but in eliminating the innocent from inquiries

The only way the innocent could be eliminated is if their DNA had a flag "innocent" against it, which would make their presence in the database ridiculous. Assuming such a flag does not exist, how on earth does having some people's DNA - past offenders and innocent bystanders - help to eliminate the innocent?

10 November 2008

Ashley Highfield Goes to...Guess Where?


At least it's symmetric: Erik Huggers goes from Microsoft to the BBC, and Highfield goes from the BBC to Microsoft, via Kangaroo. Let's keep it cosy, eh?

Open Enterprise Interview: Tamás Bíró, Sense/Net

Once hackers have stopped arguing whether it's “free software” or “open source”, and discussing the relative merits of GNOME or KDE, they can always get stuck into the perennial question of whether they ought to develop applications using Mono, tied as it is to Microsoft's .NET framework, or not....

On Open Enterprise blog.

ESR: He Speak the Truth (Technically Speaking)

Sadly, it's become something of an event when Eric Raymond offers one of his stimulating essays on technology. I know he's supposed to be working on some top-secret, er, something, but couldn't we have a few more words like these?

There's an argument commonly heard these days that open-source software is all very well for infrastructure or commodity software where the requirements are well-established, but that it can't really innovate. I laugh when I hear this, because I remember when the common wisdom was exactly the opposite -- that we hackers were great for exploratory, cutting-edge stuff but couldn't deliver reliable product.

How quickly people forget. We built the World Wide Web, fer cripessakes! The original browser and the original webservers were built by a hacker at CERN, not in some closed-door corporate shop. Before that, years before we got Linux and our own T-shirts, people who would later identify their own behavior correctly as open-source hacking built the Internet.

Exactly, as I've noted on these pages several times before. Do read the rest: if ESR gets enough hits maybe he'll return to his flock....

A Question of Priorities

Britain's only specialist police human trafficking unit is to be shut down after two years because of a lack of funding, the government said today.

A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed that money for the Metropolitan police team, which totalled £1.8m in the first year and £780,000 in the second, would no longer be available after April

Experts and campaigners reacted to the move with dismay. Denise Marshall, chief executive of the Poppy Project, which helps trafficked women after they have been rescued, said she was appalled at the decision, which would have a "hugely detrimental impact".

So, the Government can't quite find the huge sum of £1.8 million to help concretely exploited and vulnerable women, and yet *can* somehow find the odd £19 billion to pay for ID cards that will be used to combat terrorism illegal immigration identity fraud benefit fraud littering....

Open Source ERP Comes of Age

Earlier this year, I called open source Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) the “Cinderella of the business free software world”. But even then, I was aware of considerable activity in this sector, and that it was a matter of “when” rather than “if” ERP made its big breakthrough into the mainstream....

On Open Enterprise blog.

It's Morphic Resonance All Over Again

Last week I was talking at the Open Everything meeting in London, where I went through some (most) of my tropes about openness and the creation of a commons, about enclosure (of land, creativity and ideas), how today's open movements are based on the economics of abundance, not scarcity, and are actually a return to a pre-lapsarian state, rather than something inherently new.

What was particularly heartening about the occasion was meeting so many other people with similar viewpoints, albeit coming from slightly different starting positions. Indeed, one of the most positive signs that something is afoot is the broad-based nature of this growing unanimity around the world.

For example, I came across a reference to the paper "Undermining abundance (Counter­productive uses of technology and law in nature, agriculture, and the information sector)", which also ties together the enclosure of many different domains:

Technology and law are increasingly used to undermine processes of abundance intrinsic to nature, agriculture and the information sector. A number of examples are reviewed here. Such counter­productive use of technology and law is traced to corporate profit­seeking. The relationships between the phenomenon of abundance and the related concepts of scarcity and commons are explored. Finally, approaches are proposed that harness abundance for the human good.

This led me to the blog of the author, Roberto Verzola. He's based in the Philippines, which has provided me with interesting insights into what's happening in that part of the world in terms of openness.

Here's a taster of his original thinking, from a posting provocatively entitled "The piracy of intellectuals":

We’ve seen people who come from or work for Western software firms. Well groomed, in business coat and tie, they look the antithesis of the pirate they hate so much. They come and visit this country of pirates, and perhaps make a little study how much they are losing from piracy in the Philippines.

Quite a number of them, however, come to the country to do some pirating themselves.

But they don’t pirate software, which is apparently beyond their dignity. They pirate people. They pirate those who write the software. They pirate our best systems analysts, our best engineers, our best programmers, and our best computer operators.

The advanced countries of the West routinely pirate from the Third World our best professionals and skilled workers, but begrudge us peoples of the Third World if we engaged in some piracy ourselves. They accuse the Third World of “piracy of intellectual property”, yet they themselves engage in the “piracy of intellectuals”.

In truth, there is quite a difference between pirating intellectual property and pirating intellectuals.

For example, it costs our country perhaps ten thousand dollars to train one doctor. Training a second doctor would cost another ten thousand dollars. Training ten doctors would cost a hundred thousand dollars. In short, given an ‘original’ doctor, it would cost us as much to make each ‘copy’ of the original. When the Americans pirate our doctors, they take away an irreplaceable resource, for it takes more than ten years to train a new doctor. The Philippines has approximately one doctor for every 6,700 citizens. When the U.S. pirates this doctor, it denies 6,700 Filipinos of the services of a doctor. And every year, the U.S. takes away hundreds of our doctors. How many Filipinos died because they could not get the services of a doctor on time?

What about a computer program? Whatever amount Lotus Corporation spent in developing their spreadsheet program, it costs practically nothing to make a second or third copy of the program. It would take a few seconds for them to make each copy. When we Filipinos pirate their program, we have not stolen any irreplaceable resource, nor will it take Lotus 10 years to replace the program, nor have we denied any American citizen the use of the spreadsheet program. It is still there, for Americans to use. We make a copy of their program, we don’t steal it, because we have not taken anything away. We have made our own copy, but they still have the original.

Pirating a computer program is quite different from pirating a doctor. When the U.S. pirates our doctors, it doesn’t take a copy and leave the original behind. Instead, it takes the original and leaves nothing behind.

Strongly recommended.

07 November 2008

Russia and Cuba Unite Against Microsoft

Recently, Russia announced that it was pushing Microsoft out of its schools in favour of open source. Now, it's going even further by joining with Cuba to write free software that can be used instead of Microsoft's products in other areas:

Россия и Куба договорились о сотрудничестве в области информационных технологий, причем одним из его аспектов станет совместная работа по развитию свободного ПО. Отказ от продукции Microsoft — одно из направлений ИТ-политики Острова Свободы.

В каких конкретно проектах найдут выражение намерения сторон, пока не определено, прокомментировали CNews его подписание в Минкомсвязи, но эксперты полагают, что этот пункт соглашения имеет серьезную политическую подоплеку.

[Via Google Translate: Russia and Cuba have agreed on cooperation in information technology, with one of its aspects will work together to develop free software. Waiver of products Microsoft - one of the areas of IT policy Islands Liberty.

One of the priority items of joint work will also introduce free software in government and fiscal institutions. In what specific projects will express intent of the parties, has not yet been identified, commented CNews his signature in Minkomsvyazi, but experts believe that the paragraph agreement has serious political overtones.]

Why the move? According to the same article:

Так, генеральный директор компании ALT Linux Алексей Смирнов отметил, что распространение свободного ПО как на Кубе, так и в России, является стратегическим приоритетом, связанным с обеспечением суверенитета стран, поэтому стороны «легко нашли общий язык».

[Via Google Translate: For example, the CEO of ALT Linux Alexei Smirnov said that the distribution of free software as in Cuba, and Russia is a strategic priority related to the sovereignty of countries, so part of «easy to find a common language».]

If that's the case, we may be seeing much more free software coming out of Russia and its friends.

Straws in the Wind

Alongside all the high-profile wins for free software, there are what might be called guerilla gains happening in the background – small conceptual victories that point to greater things. Here's two....

On Open Enterprise blog.

05 November 2008

Why is the BBC Running Microsoft Ads?

I wrote below about Microsoft's rather desperate BizSpark. It all seemed pretty transparent to me. But not to the BBC, apparently, which has fallen hook, line and sinker for the Microsoft line:

"The rising tide of people building new companies, building successful companies using our product is good for us because we share in that over time. The goal is to remove any barriers to getting going." he told BBC News.

Except, of course, there are no barriers to getting going as far as software is concerned, because the LAMP stack has always been there, always free and always excellent - as evidenced by the fact that it's currently running 99.9% of Web 2.0.

But it's obviously too much to expect a technology reporter in Silicon Valley to mention such trivia in the face of the *real* story about Microsoft's perfervid altruism.

Another Reason Not to Run Windows

Windows malware on a computer running Ubuntu? Strange.

Too Right

This is something that I've been thinking in the context of the wretched "three strikes and you're out":

The internet is a right. We have reached the point at which enabling and assuring open, unfettered, and universal access to the internet should become a hallmark of civilized societies. The Global Agenda Council stands in a position to make this the goal of nations.

In civilized societies, universal education is a right. In some nations, health care is a right. Some other services provided in the common good may require payment but in developed nations are nonetheless considered rights: access to clean water and electricity. In the United States, even telephones are a right, as users pay fees to subsidize the cost of getting lines to all people. In the United Kingdom, television is a right insofar as the government levies a tax to support it. Such rights may be met publicly or privately.

Access to the internet – and open, broadband internet that is neither censored nor filtered by government or business – should be seen, similarly, as a necessity and thus a right. Just as we judge nations by their literacy, we should now judge them by their connectedness.

If You Can't Beat Them...

...bribe them:

Microsoft BizSpark is a global program designed to help accelerate the success of early stage startups by providing key resources when they need it the most:

* Software. Receive fast and easy access to current full-featured Microsoft development tools, platform technologies, and production licenses of server products for immediate use in developing and bringing to market innovative and interoperable solutions. There is no upfront cost to enroll.

Fortunately, people don't choose the LAMP stack predominantly because it's free, but because it's better.

What next - *paying* people to use Microsoft's products? Oh, wait....

Open Educational Resources

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation hase probably done more than anyone else to further open education, and it's at it again, this time with a centralised site for Open Educational Resources (OER):

To ensure that all the valuable knowledge created about OER and the OER cause is readily accessible to a broad audience, the Hewlett Foundation partnered with IssueLab to create a comprehensive OER document repository. This web site is the result of that partnership.

The vision for this web site is, in essence, a knowledge management center where the materials and documentation that we all use in our work to further the cause of OER are easy to share and access. This web site is not the place to share OER resources such as syllabi or course modules. A great place to share those types of materials is the OER Commons.

This repository is a joint project of the OER community and is managed by IssueLab, the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), and the Education Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Open Spectrum Victory in US

Radio spectrum is inherently a commons, a resource that is owned by no one or by the state, but available to all. Too often in the past, that commons has been enclosed – sold off to the highest bidder. Now, it seems, some of the fences are being torn down, in the US at least....

On Open Enterprise blog.