30 June 2009

Why Scientific Publishing Will Never be the Same

For those of us tracking open access and its wider import, it's pretty clear that scientific publishing has changed for ever. But for some within the industry, there remains the desperate hope that all this new-fangled open, collaborative stuff will just blow over.

Forget about it: as this magisterial analysis shows, not only is there no way for traditional publishing to get from there to here - it's a terrifying leap across a minimum to the next maximum - but the most exciting stuff is *already* happening in other forms of publishing:

What’s new today is the flourishing of an ecosystem of startups that are experimenting with new ways of communicating research, some radically different to conventional journals. Consider Chemspider, the excellent online database of more than 20 million molecules, recently acquired by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Consider Mendeley, a platform for managing, filtering and searching scientific papers, with backing from some of the people involved in Last.fm and Skype. Or consider startups like SciVee (YouTube for scientists), the Public Library of Science, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, vibrant community sites like OpenWetWare and the Alzheimer Research Forum, and dozens more. And then there are companies like Wordpress, Friendfeed, and Wikimedia, that weren’t started with science in mind, but which are increasingly helping scientists communicate their research. This flourishing ecosystem is not too dissimilar from the sudden flourishing of online news services we saw over the period 2000 to 2005.

It’s easy to miss the impact of blogs on research, because most science blogs focus on outreach. But more and more blogs contain high quality research content. Look at Terry Tao’s wonderful series of posts explaining one of the biggest breakthroughs in recent mathematical history, the proof of the Poincare conjecture. Or Tim Gowers recent experiment in “massively collaborative mathematics”, using open source principles to successfully attack a significant mathematical problem. Or Richard Lipton’s excellent series of posts exploring his ideas for solving a major problem in computer science, namely, finding a fast algorithm for factoring large numbers. Scientific publishers should be terrified that some of the world’s best scientists, people at or near their research peak, people whose time is at a premium, are spending hundreds of hours each year creating original research content for their blogs, content that in many cases would be difficult or impossible to publish in a conventional journal. What we’re seeing here is a spectacular expansion in the range of the blog medium. By comparison, the journals are standing still.

What's even better about this piece is that it's not content to point out why traditional publishing has big problems: it also offers some practical suggestions of what people *should* be looking at:

These opportunities can still be grasped by scientific publishers who are willing to let go and become technology-driven, even when that threatens to extinguish their old way of doing things. And, as we’ve seen, these opportunites are and will be grasped by bold entrepreneurs. Here’s a list of services I expect to see developed over the next few years. A few of these ideas are already under development, mostly by startups, but have yet to reach the quality level needed to become ubiquitous. The list could easily be continued ad nauseum - these are just a few of the more obvious things to do.

Fantastic stuff - do read it all if you have time.

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Squishing the Media Bugs

Belatedly, I'm writing about this very cool idea:

It’s called MediaBugs.org. And the idea is to create a web site, a web service, that people in a community, in this case the San Francisco Bay Area, can bring problems and errors that they find in media coverage and post them and try to get them fixed. [...]

The inspiration of the project is from what’s called a bug tracker in an open-source project. So if you’re developing open-source software, you have this project, and you put up a public website that anyone can bring these — file these bugs. If you’re using Firefox and something breaks, you go to their web site, and you tell them about it.

I fear the practice might be harder than the theory, but I certainly wish it well.

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Winning the Open Web

It seems an unfair fight. On the one hand, you have some of the biggest, most powerful multinationals, intent on defending their turf and extending their power and profits. On the other, you have a tiny number of ragtag idealists who believe that knowledge belongs to everyone, and that no one should have disproportionately long monopolies on its supply.

And yet: in the last few years a remarkable series of victories have been one by the latter against the former, to the extent that representatives of the big media industries have warned that they are losing the "battle".

Against that background of uneven forces - but not quite in the way the media companies mean it - sharing information about past successes so as to drive future ones is crucially important. And yet it is rarely done, probably because the practitioners are too busy fighting the battles to write about it.

Enter Becky Hogge, former Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, who happily has had some time on her hands to prepare a handy report entitled "Winning the Web":

Winning the Web is a 2009 report funded by the Open Society Institute and written by Becky Hogge, former Executive Director of the Open Rights Group. It examined 6 successful campaigns for intellectual property reform, in Brazil, Canada, the US, France, New Zealand, and the UK.

Lessons drawn from the study of the campaigns include the importance of coalition-forming, the best way to conduct online mobilisation campaigns, and the need for a more unified critique of current intellectual property regimes.

The introduction fleshes out the idea:

The global intellectual property regime is no longer fit for purpose. As the networked, digital age matures, it puts into the hands of millions of citizens the tools to access create and share “content”: text, pictures, music and video; data, news, analysis and art. Against this, the intellectual property regime falters. It presents citizens with a choice: stop using the technology – stop communicating, stop creating – or break the law.

Legal reform is presented with two separate challenges. The first is a small but vocal minority of entrenched corporate interests – the rightsholder lobby. Wedded to business models that pre-date the age of networked digital technology, they exploit their position as incumbents to influence legislators. Often representing the world’s biggest multinational corporations, they hijack a narrative that belongs to poor artists struggling in garrets and use the considerable profits they have made from exploiting these artists in the twentieth century to access the corridors of power and make their case.

That legislators listen is related to a second, geopolitical, challenge. Since the 1970s, the developed world has sought to use the global intellectual property regime to ensure its continued prosperity. Motivated by the ability of developing countries to undercut it on the global manufacturing market, it has sought to augment the financial privilege afforded to “knowledge workers”. The self-interest behind this practice is masked by a flawed orthodoxy that is rarely backed up by evidence – that more intellectual property provision is always good for economic growth.

Against this backdrop, a global IP reform movement (also called the access to knowledge movement) is emerging. Motivated by a range of concerns – from global justice, to the narrowing spectrum of permitted speech, to the broadening of surveillance power – these individuals and organisations approach their campaigning work with combined levels of ingenuity and intellectual rigour that make them stand out in the history of fledgling civil rights movements. Recently, these pockets of activism have taken IP reform issues to a wide audience, triggering sweeping civic action in the general population.

For me, the best bits are the detailed case studies of successful campaigns around the world. I knew the bare outlines, but the report really fleshes these out, and then uses them to provide concrete suggestions of what lessons can be learned for the future.

There's one other point is one that I've long thought absolutely crucial:

In the UK, citizens can engage with their elected representatives (including MEPs) using a one-click service called WriteToThem.com. Jim Killock is keen to stress that it is vital that such a tool be developed for all EU member states:

Writetothem.eu is absolutely critical if we want to run these campaigns in the next four years. It shows the contempt in which we seem to hold our European institutions and the irrelevance that they are felt to have across Europe.

This really must be a priority, or else all future campaigns in Europe will suffer as a result.

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29 June 2009

Watching the Watchers

I read with interest this morning the following:

“Snitchtown” is an essay by Cory Doctorow that first appeared in Forbes.com in June 2007. This SoFoBoMo project is an attempt to illustrate that essay with photographs of some of the 4.2 million CCTV cameras currently estimated to be active in Britain.

It got me thinking: how about setting up a database - a surveillance of surveillance database - that has pictures and locations of CCTVs in the UK? It could be crowd sourced, and anonymous, solving problems of scaling and legal issues. If nothing else, it would put the watchers on notice that they are being watched....

26 June 2009

The World Wins South Korea for Firefox

I've written before about the curious case of South Korea, where the use of Internet Explorer and ActiveX is almost mandatory. I rather despaired of anything changing this situation, since there didn't seem to be any way to get around it from outside. And yet, remarkably, change is coming:

Korea's multifaceted e-government services will be made available for those logging on from FireFox or Safari, web browsers that are gaining more popularity worldwide as an alternative to Internet Explorer.

According to the government Sunday, users of these "non-traditional" browsers will be able to file for year-end tax returns, sign up for a new passport or look for job openings and do much more at various service Web sites operated by the state.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security, which is in charge of directing e-government initiatives, said that it will invest 11.5 billion won this year for technical projects to increase the browser compatibility of 49 e-government service Web sites.

Starting 2011, all of the 150 e-government Web sites are expected to be accessible from any browser.

That's remarkable, as is the reason for the change:

The development is expected to be useful for overseas Koreans or foreigners logging on to Web sites such as www.hikorea.go.kr from aboard through alternate browsers. Operated by the Ministry of Justice, the Web site is a comprehensive online repository of information for oversea Koreans, immigrants and foreign nationals.

Some civic groups have consistently raised the need to consider expanding e-government services to users of non-traditional browsers.

While the percentage of Koreans users of alternative browsers is still minimal, more netizens worldwide are increasingly surfing the net on browsers other than the Internet Explorer.

A ministry report showed that 21.7 percent of Web users worldwide are browsing on FireFox, and 8 percent on Safari, a browser developed by Apple. IE users make up 67.4 percent of the total Web population.

"We believe that enabling minor browsers to host our e-government services will help overseas Koreans to access the assistance they need and increase Korea's status as a leader in e-government initiatives," a ministry official said.

This shows that what's happening outside a country can still have considerable influence on the internal market - provided there is a big enough expatriate community that still "calls home". Given the increasingly globalised nature of computing, that offers hope for other parts of the world that may be lagging in their uptake of open source.

And if you're wondering why it matters anyway that the South Koreans should be able to use Firefox and other "non-standard" browsers - don't you just love that description? - it's because the country's users have some of the fastest broadband connections in the world; that means that new applications based on such connectivity may well emerge there first, so it's important that open source be available and viable for all kinds of uses. (Via Asa Dotzler.)

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Show Your Ardour for Ardour

Ardour is a fine open source music program; but like many fine open source programs, it has a problem: money - lack of it. In order to continue to improve the code, the Arbour team ideally needs dosh to pay for programmers and other such handy things; but it's not really happening:

As of now, June 25th, the financial side of things is not looking so good. Last month (May) didn't quite make the $4500 goal, and this month looks certain to fall short by quite a significant margin. There are currently 5-1/2 days left this month, and 28% of the target is still not met. There are no companies backing this project at this time, so its totally incumbent on those of you who use the program and have not yet helped pay to support it to step up and do the right thing. Thanks to everyone who has paid for their contributions and support.

Ardour will continue in some sense even if I find other work, and I believe that Carl, Dave, Hans and others will likely keep up some of their efforts anyway. Since the new download system started, there have been about 9000 OS X downloads and 6000 source code downloads. Less than 3% of the OS X downloads and only three source code downloads were associated with up-front payment, though it seems likely than many users donated after the fact. With a user-base like that, it seems to me that it should be possible to pay one full-time north american developer and to offer occasional payments to others for their outstanding work. What do you think?

Ardour is hardly the only project with these problems, which means that the open source world faces a larger issue: how to raise funds to pay for work that isn't being carried out mostly in bedrooms. It's not something many are thinking about (Matt Asay is an honourable exception), so it's not likely to get solved any time soon - which leaves Ardour in a bit of a pickle. Suggestions and contributions welcome.... (Via Leslie P. Polzer.)

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Eee, Look: A Useful E-petition Response

Even though I keep signing the wretched things, e-petitions have not generated much action from the UK government. Which makes the following case rather interesting.

The following e-petition:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ask the Communities Secretary to require that all software produced by councils under the Timely Information to Citizens project be released under an open source licence.”

Produced this response:

The Government supports the principle that, where new software is being developed by the Timely Information to Citizens pilots, this should wherever possible be released under open source licence and available for use by other local authorities.

For many of the Timely Information to Citizens pilots, the focus is not on new software, but on how existing tools and techniques can be used to bring information together and present it in more useful and accessible ways. Several of the projects will utilise existing open source software to create new information sources and channels, and will share their experiences of doing so with other authorities.

Where the pilots will result in new software tools, ownership and intellectual property rights will usually remain with the individual local authorities. However, most of the authorities concerned have already made a commitment to make these tools available as open source software, or for use by their partner organisations, and we are working to secure the commitment of the remaining.

What impresses me is (a) the reasonableness of the response and (b) the fact that the release of government-developed software should be released as open source "in principle". I do believe we're getting there....

Next, Linux Revolutionises...Printers

Here's a new printer from HP:

Last June 22, HP announced its new all-in-one printer, the Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web. Aside from cramming a fax machine, copier, scanner, and a printer into one device, run of the mill technology by today's standards, this new printer can actually print straight from the Web using on-device applications fashioned specifically for this purpose.

As the headline to that story makes clear, that's a Linux-based printer: indeed, it's pretty much unthinkable that these innovative approaches could use anything else. Linux's small footprint, speed, customisability and low cost make it ideal - uniquely so. Where would we be without it?

25 June 2009

Authoring Beautiful HTML...

...ain't easy in the open source world, as David Ascher points out in this post:

However, for regular folks, life is not rosy yet in the Open Web world. Authoring beautiful HTML is, even with design and graphics talent, still way, way too hard. I’m writing this using Wordpress 2.8, which has probably some of the best user experience for simple HTML authoring. As Matt Mullenweg (the founder of Wordpress) says, it’s still not good enough. As far as I can tell, there are currently no truly modern, easy to use, open source HTML composition tools that we could use in Thunderbird for example to give people who want to design wholly original, designed email messages. That’s a minor problem in the world of email, which is primarily about function, not form, and I think we’ll be able to go pretty far with templates, but it’s a big problem for making design on the web more approachable.

There are some valiant efforts to clean up the old, crufty, scary composer codebase that Mozilla has relied on for years. There are simple blog-style editors like FCKEditor and its successor CKEditor. There are in-the-browser composition tools like Google Pages or Google Docs, but those are only for use by Google apps, and only work well when they limit the scope of the design space substantially (again, a rational choice). None of these can provide the flexibility that Ventura Publisher or PageMaker had in the dark ages; none of them can compete from a learnability point of view with the authoring tools that rely on closed stacks; none of them allow the essential polish that hand-crafted code can yield. That’s a gap, and an opportunity.

Let's hope people in the free software world seize it.

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Crowdsourcing Evil

This was inevitable:

a friend in Iran that I have been in touch with via Skype (which seems to work very well)” told him that a specific Web site, Gerdab.ir, is being used by the Iranian government to identify protesters by crowd-sourcing.

It's a tool: like all tools, it can be use for good...or not.... (Via @cshirky.)

Your Number is Up...

...and it's £2.2 trillion:

The gap between what the Government expects to spend and what it actually brings in has risen five-fold, from £120 billion to £608 billion in the space of six months.

At that rate, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it will take 23 years to return government borrowing to anything like normal levels – Gordon Brown’s famous “golden rule”.

And of course, every year you borrow keeps adding to what you owe. Right now, the Government calculates that it owes a total of £2.2 trillion – about £144,000 per household. The figure has trebled since the bank bail-outs. Some traders are beginning to wonder if Britain can actually pay its debts. If they start pulling out, then we really are bust.

Tell me again why we can afford to spend £19 billion on ID cards and associated super-duper databases...?

24 June 2009

Pillars of Open Government

As you may have noticed, I'm writing more about open government these days, simply because there's more to write about - and that's great. Here's some clueful stuff from the other side of the globe. It's by Kate Lundy, a member of the Australian Senate, who really seems to get this openness thing:

For the Australian government, an opportunity to construct what I see as the three pillars of Open Government is presented. Each of these pillars assumes the basic principle of citizen engagement at every possible opportunity to both empower people, and to ensure the results are actually appropriate and useful.

The three pillars of open government.

* Citizen-centric services
* Open and transparent government
* Innovation facilitation

I particularly liked this one:

The second pillar is open and transparent government. This pillar builds on the principles that citizens have a right to the information they need to inform themselves about public and political affairs, and to participate in the democratic processes in an informed way. This second pillar is to ensure genuine means of engagement between citizens and the government in policy and decision-making. This is always harder than it sounds but it is essential to garner the wisdom of the crowd. It is vital that government engage with the broader community not just for a conversation, but in genuine partnership between political leaders and the people so we can as a society respond most effectively to the specific social and economic challenges communities confront. This localisation of policy solutions is essential to ensure relevance of government solutions to real situations, and essential to ensure a reasonable response time to new issues and emergencies. Open and transparent government will grow citizen trust and ultimately participation in policy development and government directions.

Great to see people all around the world working on this stuff. Pillars of open government, indeed.

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Sugar on a Stick v1 Strawberry is Out

Although I've been sceptical of the OLPC project, not least because of its ridiculous decision to offer a Windows XP version - putting them in thrall to a US monopolist is really good way to "help" the developing world, people - I'm a big fan of the GNU/Linux-based Sugar Learning platform. I'm also a big fan of using USB sticks as a way of providing complete software solutions based on GNU/Linux. So it should come as no surprise that I think this is fab:

Sugar Labs, nonprofit provider of the Sugar Learning Platform to over one-million children worldwide, announces the immediate availability of Sugar on a Stick v1 Strawberry. Available free for download at www.sugarlabs.org, Sugar on a Stick can be loaded onto an ordinary 1GB USB flash drive and used to reboot any PC or netbook directly into the award-winning Sugar environment. It runs on recent Macs with a helper CD and in Windows using virtualization. Sugar on a Stick is designed to work with a School Server that can provide content distribution, homework collection, backup services, Moodle integration, and filtered access to the Internet. Today’s Strawberry release is meant for classroom testing; feedback will be incorporated into the next version, available towards the end of 2009.


Learning Activities are at the heart of Sugar. Sugar on a Stick includes 40 Activities to interest young learners such as Read, Write, Paint, and Etoys. Hundreds more Activities are available free for download at the Sugar Activity Library. Most “Sugarized” Activities have student collaboration built-in; students and teachers work, play, and learn on the same Activities together. The Sugar Learning Platform is open, so by leveraging the work of other open source projects, existing software for children can be integrated; for example, the acclaimed GCompris suite of 100 Activities developed over the past five years by Bruno Coudoin was recently added to Sugar, including Activities such as Chess, Geography, and Sudoku. Teachers and parents interested in Sugar’s Activities and its modern interface for children can watch short videos on the recently opened Sugar Labs Dailymotion channel.

Note that this is a great way to (a) use old PCs (b) provide educational materials in a single package for free (c) to avoid security issues associated with Windows. What's not to like?

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23 June 2009

Why Open Source, Clouds and Crowds Rule

The Guardian's crowd-sourcing of the initial analysis of hundreds of thousands of PDFs of MPs' expenses is fast becoming mythic. If you want some more technical details, this post is a good place to start. I was particular struck by the following:

As well as the Guardian’s first Django joint, this was its first project with EC2, the Amazon contract-hosting service beloved by startups for its low capital costs.

Willison’s team knew they would get a huge burst of attention followed by a long, fading tail, so it wouldn’t make sense to prepare the Guardian’s own servers for the task. In any case, there wasn’t time.

“The Guardian has lead time of several weeks to get new hardware bought and so forth,” Willison said. “The project was only approved to go ahead less than a week before it launched.”

With EC2, the Guardian could order server time as needed, rapidly scaling it up for the launch date and down again afterward. Thanks to EC2, Willison guessed the Guardian’s full out-of-pocket cost for the whole project will be around £50.

As for the software, it was all open-source, freely available to the Guardian — and to anyone else who might want to imitate them. Willison hopes to organize his work in the next few weeks.

None of this happens without open source to allow zero-cost hacks; nothing happens without clouds, that allow immediate and low-cost scale-up. (Fifty quid? Blimey.) Bottom line: increasingly popular crowdsourcing efforts won't be happening without either.

Sarkozy Will Go "All the Way" for Monopolies

Curious stuff coming out of France:

“By defending copyright I do not just defend artistic creation, I also defend my idea of a free society where everyone’s freedom is based on respect for the rights of others. I am also defending the future of our culture. It is the future of creation.”

Er, sorry, mon brave, you seem to have forgotten that copyright is a monopoly: as such, it's antithetical to freedom. Indeed, it *takes away* the freedom from all those it is imposed upon, which is practically the entire population of the world. Artists create irrespective of copyright - they have to, because of an inner urge, not because copyright says they get a monopoly.

And as for the "future of our culture", you obviously don't understand that it is inextricably bound up with *past* culture. If it can't build on what everyone has created before, just as they did - and copyright makes this increasingly difficult - your culture won't have any future.

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Big Victory for FoI and UK Transparency

Kudos to Computer Weekly:

The information commissioner has ordered the opening of confidential files on a wide range of high-risk IT projects, including the ID cards scheme, joined up police intelligence systems and the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

It is the most far-reaching decision under the Freedom of Information Act for government IT.

It is also a victory for Computer Weekly’s campaign for the release of the results of Gateway reviews on the progress of major IT-based projects.

MPs have complained that the first they knew of problems on projects such as the IT to support tax credit and child support payments was when constituents contacted them.

Our campaign has been aimed at persuading government to release information about projects in time for MPs and others to ask informed questions, and possibly avert a failure.

I particularly liked the list of feeble excuses used for not giving out the information, especially the last one, which is extraordinary in its arrogance:

# It would prevent policy formulation or development taking place in the self-contained space needed to ensure it was done well.

# It would make policy development less effective because departments’ attention would be focused on obtaining a “green light”.

# It would cause reports to become bland and anodyne, defeating their purpose.

# It would make interviewees, senior responsible owners and the private sector less willing to participate in reviews or co-operate with interviewers.

# It would cause delays in the completion of reports as words and phrases would be argued over.

# It is unnecessary. The public interest is already met by the information about the programme in the public domain combined with parliamentary scrutiny.

and the list of responses from the Information Commissioner:

* It would allow the public a better understanding of the development of the programmes which are the subject of Gateway reviews.
* It would allow project risks and concerns to be identified.

* It would not damage the Gateway process in the way the OGC has suggested.

* The public scrutiny of projects by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee involve largely historical and retrospective analyses. Gateway reviews “would provide a level of public scrutiny of current projects”.

* It would inform the debate as to the merits of the schemes, the practicalities involved and the feasibility.

* It would ensure that “schemes as complex as these are properly scrutinised and implemented”.

* It is unrealistic to imagine that civil servants will not participate if reviews are to be published. In accordance with the Civil Service Code, “civil servants must fulfil their duties and obligations responsibly.”

Those are crucially important points, because they apply to everything else, past, present and future.

Well done, Computer Weekly for waging and winning this battle: now let's all take it forward to make UK government even more transparent.

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GNU/Linux Tops TOP500 Supercomputers Again

The fact that GNU/Linux totally dominates the top 500 supercomputing list is hardly news, but the fact that it has managed to *increase* its market share yet further is.

Here are the results for June 2009:

GNU/Linux 443 (88.6%)
Windows 5 (1.0%)
Unix 22 (4.4%)

and here are the figures for six months ago:

GNU/Linux 439 (87.8%)
Windows 5 (1.0%)
Unix 23 (4.6%)

Notice that plucky little Windows, from that small and hopelessly out-gunned company up in Seattle has bravely managed to increase its share by precisely 0%: an impressive result considering the millions of dollars it has spent trying to break into this market.

Snarky? Moi?

Update: More details about the top 20, and GNU/Linux's dominance here.

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22 June 2009

Open Source Dendrochronology

How could I resist this story? Aside from the great headline, it's about old-style closed-source science being challenge by open science, with open data - the only kind, if you think about it:

Dendrochronology is the study of tree-rings to determine when and where a tree has grown. Everybody knows that trees produce one ring every year. But the rings also vary in width according to each year's local weather conditions. If you've got enough rings in a wood sample, then their widths form a unique "bar code". Collect enough samples of various ages from buildings and bog wood, and you can join the bar codes up to a reference curve covering thousands of years.

Dendrochronology has a serious organisational problem that impedes its development as a scientific discipline and tends to compromise its results. This is the problem of proprietary data. When a person or organisation has made a reference curve, then in many cases they will not publish it. They will keep it as an in-house trade secret and offer their paid services as dendrochronologists. This means that dendrochronology becomes a black box into which customers stick samples, and out of which dates come, but only the owner of the black box can evaluate the process going on inside. This is of course a deeply unscientific state of things. And regardless of the scientific issue, I am one of those who feel that if dendro reference curves are produced with public funding, then they should be published on-line as a public resource.

But there is a resistance movement: amateur dendrochronologists such as my buddies Torbjörn Axelsson and Åke Larsson. They practice open source data transparency on the net, which means that arguably amateur dendrochronology is at this time more scientific than the professional variety.

I think it's also interesting because the story shows that, even in specialised areas like dendrochronology, openness makes a big difference to how the science is conducted - and how reliable its results are. (Via @BoraZ.)

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MPs Plot Against Transparency - and Lose the Plot

They just don't get it, do they?

Parliament is planning to block the future release of expenses receipts after the humiliation endured by MPs this week, The Times has learnt.

Senior MPs have drawn up plans to replace the publication of every receipt with a spreadsheet detailing individual claims.

The changes would make less information available for public scrutiny, despite the anger caused this week by the way in which details were blacked out from the official files.

Look chaps, open means open, as in o-p-e-n: we're not going to settle for less. Get used to it, because we're going to keep coming back and coming back until we get audit trail clarity from our money in your pockets to every last expense.

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21 June 2009

The Saga of Ogg the Great

Well, with a name like "Ogg" that's what it should be called; instead someone has put together what they term more prosaically "The history of Ogg on the Web":

In the year 2000, while working at CSIRO as a research scientist, I had the idea that video (and audio) should be hyperlinked content on the Web just like any Web page. Conrad Parker and I developed the vision of a “Continuous Media Web” and called the technology that was necessary to develop “Annodex” for “annotated and indexed media”.

Not many people now know that this was really the beginning of Ogg on the Web. Until then, Ogg Vorbis and the emerging Ogg Theora were only targeted at desktop applications in competition to MP3 and MPEG-2.

Despite the modest name, this is important stuff. As I wrote elsewhere recently, I believe that the arrival of Firefox 3.5, with it support for Ogg's formats, will mark a turning point in open video and audio. It's good to have background information on how it all started.

19 June 2009

Managing Identity Without ID Cards

I've always been slightly conflicted about Jerry Fishenden. He obviously knew what he was talking about, but he was, you know, one of the *them* - a Microsoftie. Or rather, *was* a Microsoft since he's a free man now. And you sense a new freedom in his writing, too, which means that I can start recommending his stuff unreservedly.

Here, for instance, is nothing less than a core idea of how to manage identity in the 21st century without ID cards or any of the associated stupidities:

In the work of leading identity, security and privacy thinkers such as Stefan Brands and Kim Cameron,* it is possible to see the art of the possible (Cameron's laws of identity can be found here). Stefan’s work on minimal disclosure, for example, makes it possible to prove information about ourselves ("I am over 18", "I am over 65", "I am a UK citizen", etc) without disclosing any personal information, such as our full name, place and date of birth, age or address. Neither would the technology leave an audit trail of where we have been and whom we have interacted with. It would leave our private lives private. Indeed, it would enable us to have better privacy in our private lives than we do today, when we are often forced to disclose personal information to a whole host of people and organisations.

Got that? We can prove anything about ourselves that we need to, without giving up *all* information as the Labour government wants, and without leaving audit trails. Effectively, this is the public key cryptography of identity, where mathematical magic lets you do apparently impossible things.

This is so obviously exactly what we should be doing for identity management in a world that clearly requires it, and so exactly meets the needs of those of us concerned about profound issues of civil liberties, that you really have to wonder what bunch of utterly witless morons at the Home Office are stopping this eminently sensible thing from happening, and pursuing instead the worst of all possible worlds with an expensive, insecure, intrusive and unworkable system.

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Elsevier Does a Microsoft with Open Access

Nice one, Elsevier:

A multinational journal giant is understood to be courting vice- chancellors in an effort to win their support for an alternative to open-access institutional research repositories.

Elsevier is thought to be mooting a new idea that could undermine universities' own open-access repositories. It would see Elsevier take over the job of archiving papers and making them available more widely as PDF files.

If successful, it would represent a new tactic by publishers in their battle to secure their future against the threat posed by the open-access publishing movement.

Most UK universities operate open-access repositories, where scholars can voluntarily deposit final drafts of their pay-to-access journal publications online. Small but growing numbers are also making such depositions mandatory.

I've seen these kind of stories so many times in the world of open source, with Microsoft as the main protagonist, that they warm the cockles of my heart when I see them popping up in other areas like open access. Why? Because if a multi-billion pound company like Elsevier is starting to stoop to this kind of tactic, it demonstrates just how profoundly worried it is - and how close open access is to widespread acceptance.

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Water, Water, Everywhere - Linked by Open Source

Is there no domain in which open source is not storming ahead? What about this:

OpenMI stands for Open Modelling Interface and Environment, a standard for model linkage in the water domain.

Integrated catchment management asks for integrated analysis that can be supported by integrated modelling systems. These modelling systems can only be developed and maintained if they are based on a collection of interlinked models. OpenMI has been designed to provide a widely accepted unified method to link models, both legacy code and new ones.

To support those adopting the OpenMI, a set of tools has been developed to aid conversion, and simplify the configuration and running of linked models. These utilities make up the Open Modelling Environment. The commercial implications of the OpenMI have been considered both from the points of view of the vendors/suppliers of existing systems and the developers of new models and related tools. OpenMI avoids the need to abandon or rewrite current applications, thus protecting the huge investment in model development. Making a new component OpenMI compliant simplifies the process of bringing it to the market place and ensures it will be interoperable with many other systems.

And in case you were wondering:

The OpenMI source code is available under the GNU Library or Lesser General Public License (LGPL)

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Opening up: New York Senate's Doing It *Now*

Vancouver may have promised that it will do it, the New York Senate is actually opening up completely now:

Welcome to the Open NYSenate

To pursue its commitment to transparency and openness the New York State Senate is undertaking a cutting-edge program to not only release data, but help empower citizens and give back to the community. Under this program the New York Senate will, for the first time ever, give developers and other users direct access to its data through APIs and release its original software to the public. By placing the data and technological developments generated by the Senate in the public domain, the New York Senate hopes to invigorate, empower and engage citizens in policy creation and dialogue.


Original Software

As a user of Open-Source software the New York Senate wants to help give back to the community that has given it so much - including this website. To meet its needs the Senate is constantly devleoping new code and fixing existing bugs. Not only does the Senate recognize that it has a responsibility to give back to the Open Source community, but public developments, made with public money should be public.


Data Sets

The New York Senate's Open Data page is the official repository of all government data. There you can browse through data produced by and considered by the Senate in their original forms as well as various other file types created for your convenience; including but not limited to: Excel spreadsheets, .csv, text files and PDFs. To supplement the source data it is making available, the Senate has also created the Plain Language Initiative designed to help explain complex data sets and legal terms in plain language.


Open-Source Software & Software Licenses

In order to make the Senate's information and software as public as possible, it is has adopted unique system using two types of licenses - GNU General Public License as well as the BSD License. This system is meant to ensure the most public license is used in each specific case such that:

(i) Any Software released containing components with preexisting GPL copyrights must be released pursuant to a GPL v3 copyright restriction.

(ii) Any Software created independently by the Senate without any preexisting licensing restrictions on any of its components shall be released under dual licensing and take one of two forms: (a) a BSD license, or (b) a GPL v3 license. The ultimate user of such Software shall choose which form of licensing makes the most sense for his or her project.

This is getting too easy: I want more of a challenge to opening up government.

Anyway, kudos to all involved - great move.

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Open Source Sent to Siberia

Russia is emerging as a real open source power-house, especially in the eduction sector. Here's some more good news, this time from Siberia:

За 2009 год школы Сибирского федерального округа должны перейти на "Пакет свободного программного обеспечения для образовательных учреждений", в основе которого лежит операционная система Linux. Об этом сообщил корр. "ТАСС-Сибирь" президент ассоциации "Информатизация образования Сибири" Виктор Корнеев. Более того, от популярной операционной системы Windows будут отказываться и бюджетные учреждения, однако в них процесс перехода на новое программное обеспечение затянется на ближайшие 5 лет.

Особо Виктор Дмитриевич отметил, что среди трех регионов России, в которых проводилась апробация этого программного обеспечения, был один регион СФО – Томская область. Именно здесь, наряду с подобными мероприятиями в Татарстане и Пермском крае, Областной центр развития образования проводил мероприятия по внедрению программного обеспечения на базе Linux во все школы Томской области. "А сегодня мы готовы перевести на эти программы все школы Сибирского федерального округа, причем сделать это в кратчайшие сроки – не более чем за один год. Единственное отличие от пилотного проекта в том, что упаковка будет несколько скромнее", - отмечает Виктор Корнеев, демонстрируя массивную запечатанную коробку, в которой находилось 4 вида программного обеспечения для разных типов компьютеров.

[Via Google Translate: During 2009 the School of the Siberian Federal District to move to "free software package for educational institutions", which is based on the operating system Linux. The statement was made by a correspondent. Moreover, from the popular Windows operating system will refuse, and budgetary institutions, but in the process of transition to new software is delayed for the next 5 years.

Especially Victor D. noted that among the three regions of Russia, in which the testing of the software, was one region SFD - Tomsk Oblast. It is here, along with similar activities in Tatarstan and the Perm region, the regional center for educational development activities conducted on the introduction of software based on Linux in all schools in the Tomsk region. "And today we are ready to transfer these programs to all schools in the Siberian Federal District, and to do so as soon as possible - no more than one year. The only difference from the pilot project in that the package will be slightly more modest," - noted Victor Korneev, demonstrating massive sealed box in which there were 4 types of software for different types of computers.]

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Reclaim The Commons: A Manifesto

As long-suffering readers of this blog will have noticed, I rather like the concept of the commons. As well as being good in itself, it also provides a way of linking many disparate fields - software, content, data, knowledge, fisheries, forests, oceans, the atmosphere. That's not really surprising, since the thing these all have in, er, common is that we share them, and the commons offers a model for sharing without destroying.

It's a viewpoint that's becoming increasingly widely shared (sorry, these words just keep popping up), and now we have this splendid manifesto that is specifically about all the commons I mentioned above, and how we need to change our attitudes to them:

Humankind is suffering from an unprecedented campaign of privatization and commodification of the most basic elements of life: nature, culture, human work and knowledge itself. In countless arenas, businesses are claiming our shared inheritance - sciences, creative works, water, the atmosphere, health, education, genetic diversity, even living creatures - as private property. A compulsive quest for short-term financial gain is sacrificing the prosperity of all and the stability of the Earth itself.

The dismal consequences of market enclosures can be seen in our declining ecosystems: the erosion of soil and biodiversity, global climate change, reduction of food sovereingty. Agressive intellectual property politics harness those suffering from neglected deseases or who can't purchase patented medicines, reduce cultural diversity, limit access to knowledge and education, and promote a global consumerist culture.


a new vision of society is arising - one that honors human rights, democratic participation, inclusion and cooperation. People are discovering that alternatives and commons-based approaches offer practical solutions for protecting water and rivers, agricultural soils, seeds, knowledge, sciences, forest, oceans, wind, money, communication and online collaborations, culture, music and other arts, open technologies, free software, public services of education, health or sanitization, biodiversity and the wisdom of traditional knowledges.

The manifesto has a very concrete, practical aim alongside the more general one of raising awareness of the commons:

The signers of this Manifesto, launched at the World Social Forum of 2009, call upon all citizens and organizations to commit themselves to recovering the Earth and humanity's shared inheritance and future creations. Let us demonstrate how commons-based management - participatory, collaborative and transparent - offers the best hope for building a world that is sustainable, fair and life-giving.

This Manifesto calls upon all citizens of the world to deepen the notion of the commons and to share the diverse approaches and experiences that it honors. In our many different ways, let us mobilize to reclaim the commons, organize their de-privatization and get them off markets, and strengthen our individual initiatives by joining together in this urgent, shared mission.

I particularly liked the framing of commons-based management as "participatory, collaborative and transparent", since this applies perfectly to open source, open content, and all the other things this blog has been covering.

I've signed the manifesto, and I urge you to do so and spread - no, share - the news about this important initiative.

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ODF and the Art of Interoperability

It's hard to believe that there was such sound and fury when OOXML was being pushed through the ISO process. At the time, it seemed like the end of the world, since it looked like Microsoft had succeeded in obtaining a nominal parity with ODF, which had been approved earlier.

My, what a difference a year makes....

On Open Enterprise blog.

18 June 2009

TACD Fights ACTA on "IPRs"

One of the frustrating aspects about the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) is that it is a cosy club of rich and powerful nations plus a few of their equally rich and powerful chums in select industry. Meanwhile, hoi polloi - that's you and me - don't get a look in, even though we are the most affected.

So I was delighted to find that a group of like-minded consumer organisations are not only getting together, but starting to stand up for us on this important issue. Behold the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue:

is a forum of US and EU consumer organisations which develops and agrees joint consumer policy recommendations to the US government and European Union to promote the consumer interest in EU and US policy making.


The TACD working group on intellectual property was created in 2001. The European Co-Chair of the working group is Jill Johnstone of Consumer Focus in the UK. The US co-chair is James Love of Knowledge Ecology International. The TACD IP working group staff expert is Anne-Catherine Lorrain.

It has now put out a Resolution on the enforcement of copyright, trademarks, patents and other intellectual property rights. Here's what the TACD says about it:

The TACD Resolution comes at a time when governments in Europe and North America are considering a wide range of new global standards for IP enforcement. Among those new norms are the proposed “Anti-Counterfeiting” Trade Agreement (ACTA) [On April 6, 2009, USTR released a detailed summary of the current state of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations: http://www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/factsheets/2009/asset_upload_file917_15546.pdf], new customs procedures through the World Customs Organization (WCO), anti-Counterfeiting measures at the World Health Organization (WHO), WTO disputes over enforcement, proposals in Europe for “graduated response” and other Internet filtering solutions, several European Union Directives and bills pending before the U.S. Congress and other countries on the topic of IP enforcement, bilateral trade agreements, and unilateral trade sanctions by Europe and the United States.

The 2,000 word TACD Resolution touches on a wide range of topics relating to IP enforcement policies and practices, ranging from transparency, evidence and process, to both general and detailed recommendations on substantive policies. TACD first discussed the Resolution with representatives from the European Union and the U.S. Government on June 9, 2009, during the TACD 10th Annual Meeting in Brussels.

The resolution itself is pretty sensible, requesting "Transparency and Openness", "Evidence and Analysis" amongst other things. As for ACTA, here's how it starts:

There should be no further meetings on the Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty until the EU and the US publish the full text of all negotiating documents, and agree to additional transparency measures, including the accreditation of consumers and/or their representatives as observers.

The term "counterfeit" should not be used to describe activities relating to the mere infringement of copyrights or trademarks where there is no intent to deceive or any likelihood of confusion as to the authorized manufacturer, distributor or provider of the service. Possible patent infringements should not be referred to as counterfeits.

It would be too much to expect the ACTA participants to pay much attention, but it takes things up yet another notch; one day, the pressure will be too much, and something will have to give.

Firefox 3.5: What's in a Number?

I had an interesting chat this morning with Mike Shaver, VP, Engineering at Mozilla, about the imminent Firefox 3.5. Its launch takes place against a background where Firefox continues to make gains in the browser market, passing the 50% share in some European countries, and where it has created an unparalleled ecosystem of addons that places it at the forefront of the browser world in terms of capability and customisability....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Green Intellectual Property Project

The Green Intellectual Property (GIP) Project aims at greening our society through two activities;

* implementing the Green Intellectual Property (GIP) System, and
* promoting patent applications of green technologies.

Interesting approach. The GIP:

The GIP System was first proposed in 2003 by Itaru Nitta, the founder of the GIP Project. Simply, the GIP System would divert a part of the patent-related monetary flow toward a trust fund, called the GIP Trust Fund. This Fund would provide subsidies and royalty assumptions for introducing and developing patent-protected green technologies. The green technologies encompass eco-friendly apparatuses, nursing-care for the elderly, welfare services for disabled people, organic agriculture, essential medicines, and all technologies advancing social welfare.

I'd still like to be shot of the whole caboodle, whatever colour it is.

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17 June 2009

Digital Britain, Analogue Thinking

Clocking in at 238 pages, the final Digital Britain report is an impressive piece of work. It provides a comprehensive survey of how many aspects of British life are being transformed by the transition from the old world in which information is largely stored and transmitted in an analogue format, to one that is inherently digital. Moreover, to its credit, the report is suffused with a sense that this is an epochal and exciting change, not just a minor change of emphasis.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the report is riddled with old, analogue thinking that vitiates most of its proposals....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Doctor Who Model of Open Source

I often write of the way in which other domains are learning from open source and its successes. But that's not to say the traffic is all one way: increasingly, the other opens have much to *teach* open source, too.

For example, Peter Murray-Rust is one of the leading exponents of open data and open chemistry, notably through the Blue Obelisk group:

The Internet has brought together a group of chemists/programmers/informaticians who are driven by wanting to do things better, but are frustrated with the Closed systems that chemists currently have to work with. They share a belief in the concepts of Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source (ODOSOS) (but not necessarily Open Access). And they express this in code, data, algorithms, specifications, tutorials, demonstrations, articles and anything that helps get the message across.

Here's an interesting point he raised recently:

How do we sustain Open Source in a distributed world? We are facing this challenge with several of our chemical software creations/packages. People move, institutions change. Open Source does not, of itself, grow and flourish – it needs nurturing. Many packages require a lot of work before they are in a state to be usefully enhanced by the community - “throw it over the wall and it will flourish” does not work.

Many OS projects have clear governance and (at least implicitly) funded management. Examples are Apache, Eclipse, etc. Many others have the “BDFL” - Benevolent Dictator For Life with characters such as R[M]S, Linus, Guido Python, Larry Perl, etc. These command worldwide respect and they have income models which are similar to literary giants. These models don’t (yet?) work for chemistry.

Instead the Blue Obelisk community seems to have evolved a “Doctor Who” model. You’ll recall that every few years something fatal happens to the Doctor and you think he is going to die and there will never be another series. Then he regenerates. The new Doctor has a different personality, a different philosophy (though always on the side of good). It is never clear how long any Doctor will remain unregenerated or who will come after him. And this is a common theme in the Blue Obelisk.

The rest of the post fleshes out this analogy - well worth reading.

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Open Source in the Enterprise: Safely Boring

Yesterday I popped into part of the London Open Source Forum. This was a laudable effort organised by Red Hat in conjunction with some of its partners to corrupt young and innocent minds – well, senior managers, at least – and convince them about the immanent wonderfulness of open source. To that end, they wheeled out some of the big names in the enterprise free software world like Matt Asay, Simon Phipps and Jan Wildeboer....

On Open Enterprise blog.

16 June 2009

Behold Opera Unite: the Anti-Cloud

I have a soft spot for Opera. I've always been a fan of this plucky underdog, ploughing its own furrow, and doing all the other metaphors that are invoked in these cases. I even like its product - pity it's not open source....

On Open Enterprise blog.

15 June 2009

Mr Luigi Vercotti Goes Digital

Remember that sketch in Monty Python?

Luigi: (looking round office casually) You've ... you've got a nice army base here, Colonel.

Colonel: Yes.

Luigi: We wouldn't want anything to happen to it.

Similarly, we wouldn't want anything to happen to that nice GNU/Linux distro you've got there, would we?

Intellectual Property Assurance

Now you have the option to acquire Xandros Desktop offerings together with Microsoft patent assurance. This assurance enables you to use Xandros Desktop software with confidence. This program is available for $50.

(Via Boycott Novell.)

An Open Letter to Sir Tim about Open Government

Without doubt, one of the most exciting recent developments in the world of openness has been the sudden fervour with which the British government is espousing transparency. Of course, it is only doing so after some enforced openness showed what goes on in the absence of scrutiny; but these things attain a momentum of their own, so whatever politicians might *really* think or want, they are probably now trapped in a one-way street of openness....

On Open Enterprise blog.

14 June 2009

US Green Patents vs. Global Climate Commons

Guess which wins?

Last night the House voted overwhelmingly to establish new U.S. policy that will oppose any global climate change treaty that weakens the IP rights of American "green technology."

Staggering. Sickening. Suicidal. (Via Against Monopoly.)

12 June 2009

Microsoft cocks a snook at the EU

Whatever you think of the European Commission's investigation of Microsoft for possible anti-competitive behaviour in the browser sector, it's well worth watching the spectacle of the two slugging it out. Here's Microsoft latest move, and it's a classic...

On Open Enterprise blog.

A Drowsy Numbness Pains My Sense

Here's the good news:

Hemlock is a new web development framework, focused on allowing easy development of real-time, many-to-many apps. Hemlock follows the inspiration of Ruby web frameworks like Rails and Merb. It can be used for applications such as games, workspace collaboration and education.

Open source, too. What's not to like? How about this?

By combining the scalability of XMPP with the flexibility of Flash, Hemlock allows you to create web applications that are more dynamic, interactive and exciting.

Flash??? Aaaargh - quick: pass the hemlock.

So What Exactly Does Linus Do These Days?

What do you do when you wrote the kernel of the world's greatest operating system nearly two decades ago? Linus tells us:

My real "work" is not really writing code any more, and hasn't been for a long time. No, I worry most about the whole "flow of patches", and the way development happens, rather than so much about any individual piece of code I maintain.

So know we know: just like in any other job, he's ended up in management...

11 June 2009

Copyright Industries Very Nearly Get It

They're getting there:

Copyright holders on Wednesday acknowledged they have done a poor job of countering the “anti-copyright” lobby and demonstrating the creative community’s value to the world.

During the second day of the 9-10 June International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers’ (CISAC) World Copyright Summit here, some content creators also lamented that instead of fighting for compensation with the advent of new technologies, they fought the technology - like the VCR - itself.

But then they spoil it with stuff like this:

”The enemies of copyright have really done a good job at creating the false premise that the interest of copyright holders and the interest of society as a whole are antagonistic, and they always talk about the need for balance,” said Fritz Attaway, executive vice president and senior policy adviser for the Motion Picture Association of America. “We have got to do a better job” at attempting approaches at copyright protection “in a way that we get paid but also that consumers can access our works,” he added.

So...balance is bad, eh? And still looking for copyright *protection*, instead of working on the business models.

And then there's this:

Although Israelite made the comparison that if people were stealing computers from stores en masse, the technology industry would be up in arms, Shapiro argued that it is not the same, and that copyright and intellectual property rights are different than “real” property - a statement that received groans from the rights holder-friendly audience. “That’s hurting your case because you’re being rejected by anyone under 25 who is saying, ‘these guys are full of it,’” Shapiro continued.

OK, I was wrong: they *still* don't get it.

A Presumption of Openness


Public bodies should automatically release all information that does not need to stay secret, the information commissioner is expected to argue.

Richard Thomas, who is stepping down, will say all but the "crown jewels" should be released without waiting for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

He will add that the MPs' expenses row was a "coming of age" for openness.

Well, it ain't going to happen overnight, but the fact that the "o"-word is flavour of the month - even arch open data fan Sir Tim Berners-Lee is being brought in to advise - should mean that more will get done in the next few months than in the previous decades. What we're aiming for is nothing less than a presumption of openness for government.

The Source Code of Power

Tom Watson is that rare thing: a net-savvy MP. So his decision to step down as minister means that our loss is all the greater. Maybe, though, he'll be able to do good from the sidelines - writing articles like the one in yesterday's Guardian, which contains the following memorable metaphor:

Our voting system is the source code of the power wielded by MPs. It bestows the authority of the people on their representatives. Yet few MPs can claim support from more than 50% of their electors. AV enables ­preference (ranked) voting, ensuring an MP can claim authority of a majority of their voters. AV also allows voters to protest – through the support of small and single-issue groups, while also choosing to support a larger party, if they so wish. Unlike some other voting systems, it allows the retention of a geographic link between MP and electors.

I can't agree on the AV (alternative voting) - I think it's got to be proportional or nothing - but what's really interesting is Watson's own explanation of why source code is much on his mind these days:

Changing the voting system is not the only solution to parliament's waning authority. I recently left the daily grind of ministerial life having had 18 months immersed in conversation with the UK's digital pioneers. I'm convinced that our economic future is dependent on developing a set of economic and regulatory arrangements to hothouse our digital natives – the under-30s for whom the internet is not a new technology.I hope to spend my time on the backbenches arguing for a digitally enabled democracy. There are technologies that did not exist when Labour was elected in 1997, that if adopted, will allow a new Speaker to lead parliament into a new age of transparency and accountability.

"Digitally-enabled democracy": that's really heartening. It suggests the kind of discourse that goes on among geeks here and many places elsewhere *can* feed through to the corridors of power, and change the way things are done there. If we keep plugging away, maybe the geek really will inherit the earth.

10 June 2009

Has HADOPI Had It?

Well, not quite, but this judgment that its sanctions are unconstitutional certainly punches its teeth out:

Le Conseil constitutionnel a censuré, mercredi 10 juin, la partie sanction de la loi Hadopi - la "riposte graduée" - sur le téléchargement illégal. Considérant qu'"Internet est une composante de la liberté d'expression et de consommation", et qu'"en droit français c'est la présomption d'innocence qui prime", le Conseil rappelle que "c'est à la justice de prononcer une sanction lorsqu'il est établi qu'il y a des téléchargements illégaux". "Le rôle de la Haute autorité (Hadopi) est d'avertir le téléchargeur qu'il a été repéré, mais pas de le sanctionner", conclut le Conseil.

[Via Google Translate: The Constitutional Council censored, Wednesday June 10, the sanction of the law Hadopi - the "graduated response" - on illegal downloading. Considering that "the Internet is a component of freedom of expression and consumption", and "french law is the presumption of innocence which prevails, the Council recalled that" it is justice impose a sanction if it is established that there are illegal downloads.""The role of the High Authority (Hadopi) is to warn the downloader has been spotted, but not to punish,"]

So what will that nice M. Sarkozy do now?

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Ecology, Economics, Sharing

One of the things that interests me at the moment is the way open source ideas are proving hugely useful when considering areas like economics and environmentalism. If you want an encapsulation of this important but complex area, you could do worse than this brilliant essay, "From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy." Here's the key logic:

if we can’t grow our way out of all problems, then maybe we should reconsider the logic and virtues of non-growth, the steady-state economy. Why this refusal by neoclassical economists both to face common sense, and to reconsider the ideas of the early Classical Economists?

I think the answer is distressingly simple. Without growth the only way to cure poverty is by sharing. But redistribution is anathema. Without growth to push the hoped for demographic transition, the only way to cure overpopulation is by population control. A second anathema. Without growth the only way to increase funds to invest in environmental repair is by reducing current consumption. Anathema number three. Three anathemas and you are damned—go to hell!

Or, put another way, on a finite earth, only steady-state economics is sustainable; and economics without growth implies sharing.

Ecology => Economics => Sharing.

(Via Michael Tiemann.)

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SAP: Open Source's Friend or Foe?

For an outfit that calls itself “the world's largest business software company”, the German software giant SAP is relatively little-known in the open source world. With 51,500 employees, a turnover of 11.5 billion euros ($16 billion) last year, and operating profits of 2.7 billion euros ($3.8 billion), SAP is clearly one of the heavyweights in the computer world. Given that huge clout, SAP's attitude to open source is important; and yet it is hard to tell whether it is really free software's friend or its foe....

On Linux Journal.

09 June 2009

Do We Need an Apps Store for GNU/Linux?

Everyone's doing it, so Novell wants to join in:

Novell plans to bring the wealth of open-source software to everyday users through an "open-source apps store".

The vast amount of free software available to open-source users has long been one of the major benefits of switching to a Linux distro such as Ubuntu, or openSUSE. The problem has always been in explaining this to customers reared on a Windows diet.

However, with the growing popularity of Linux on netbooks and the public's familiarity with apps stores on smartphones, Novell believes offering an "open-source apps store" could
solve this problem for vendors. The fruits of this strategy are set to appear in the openSUSE edition of the Moblin OS.

Er, haven't we had an "apps store for GNU/Linux" for ages? Things like Synaptic and KPackage? Do we really need anything more?

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A Different Point of View on Software Patents

One of the fears that I and others have voiced is that the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) - an attempt to set up a unified European judicial system for patent litigation - might be an attempt to get software patents in through back door. Often, though, these concerns are dismissed by supporters of software patents as unwarranted. But here's someone who disagrees:

The industry-based driving force behind the EPLA comes from the pro-software patent group as a way of ensuring that their software or potential software patents are fully enforceable across Europe. The EPO is fully supportive of the EPLA, and some national governments and patent registries have voiced their support.

More whining from the anti-software patent lot? Well, not actually. These words were written by Alison Crofts, who:

provides specialist IP advice and expertise in both litigation and commercial matters. This includes advising on: the creation, protection and exploitation of IP rights, including trade secrets, confidentiality issues, technology transfer agreements and licensing; the enforcement and defence of IP rights, including the conduct of litigation and arbitration proceedings; and IP aspects of joint ventures, co-ownership and transactions. Alison has an engineering background and has particular experience in the semiconductor, oil and gas, hi-tech and telecoms engineering industries.

In other words, she's likely to be for rather than against software patents. Don't say we didn't tell you.... (Via FFII.)

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Microsoft's Pyrrhic Victory in the Netbook War

The rise of the netbook has been an extraordinary saga. When the Asus Eee PC was first launched at the end of 2007, it seemed to come from nowhere: there was no real precedent for such a low-cost, small machine, using solid state storage and running GNU/Linux. The brilliance of Asus's move was shown not just by the rapid uptake of this new form-factor, but also the high level of satisfaction – the only element viewed less positively was the small size of keyboard, an inevitable consequence of the design....

On Open Enterprise blog.

08 June 2009

China's Censorware: What about GNU/Linux?

News is breaking that the Chinese government will insist on censorware being shipped with all PCs:

China plans to require that all personal computers sold in the country as of July 1 be shipped with software that blocks access to certain Web sites, a move that could give government censors unprecedented control over how Chinese users access the Internet.

The government, which has told global PC makers of the requirement but has yet to announce it to the public, says the effort is aimed at protecting young people from "harmful" content. The primary target is pornography, says the main developer of the software, a company that has ties to China's security ministry and military.

There's more background information and discussion about the quaintly-named "Green Dam Youth Escort" here, including a link to the software itself.

This turns out - surprise, surprise, to be a Windows executable, which raises a question: what will the Chinese government do about GNU/Linux? Will they simply ignore that platform, or insist that a GNU/Linux version be developed?

And what happens if one day the use of that software becomes mandatory (it seems voluntary at the moment - but we all know how these things are the thin end of the wedge)?

How will the authorities in China - and, ultimately, elsewhere - cope with the freedom built into GNU/Linux? Will GNU/Linux one day become illegal in those parts of the world benighted enough to mandage online censorship?

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07 June 2009

Creative Commons, We Have a Problem

I'm a big fan of the Creative Commons movement. But it has a big problem: few people have heard of it according to a survey conducted on behalf of the UK's Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI).

In the survey, people were shown one of the standard CC logos (like the one at the foot of this page). Here's what they found:

75% of respondents did not recognise this image.

Lack of recognition was highest amongst the “general public” – 87%. And lowest amongst respondents from the OPSI website – 55% did not recognise the image.

The majority did not understand the meaning of the image. Understanding was highest amongst the OPSI website respondents – 35%.

This is not surprising as this group was also the group in which the most had heard of Creative Commons licences before – 47% (vs 10% of the “general public” and 29% of the OPSI database). Only those likely to be more familiar with copyright (inferred from their route to the survey) are likely to have a previous understanding of Creative Commons terminology and imagery. One might argue that if these are used moving forward, more people will become more familiar with these, however, the benefits at this stage of shared/added meaning would only really apply to a minority – a minority who are likely to have a strong understanding of Crown copyright already.

It looks like much more work needs to be done to get the message out about Creative Commons and its licences.

06 June 2009

Fashion Industry Repeats Software's Mistakes

Software patents are stupid on both theoretical and practical grounds. Since software is just algorithms - that is, maths - software patents are intellectual monopolies on pure knowledge. Practically, they make coding almost impossible, since software patents have been given for so many trivial and common programming techniques.

Unbelievably, it looks like the fashion industry is going to allow big business to impose something similar there:

Let’s say we help you produce this line, you sell it and make your pile crumbs. Then -thanks to the influence of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA, membership by invitation only) and Congress- somebody can come out of the woodwork and claim it is their design, they own it and now you owe them. If they registered the design and you didn’t know it, this could be perfectly legal. Of course you didn’t copy them but it won’t matter. The fact that society designers have been copying nameless unknown independent designers for years doesn’t even register. Even Diane Von Furstenberg, the leading champion of this bill recently got caught doing it. Because you don’t have any money, this party will sue everyone in your production and retail chain. That means pattern makers, contractors and the stores who bought your stuff. So in the interests of avoiding law suits, any service provider is going to require you prove you own it. It’s even worse for retail buyers who face potential criminal prosecution for dealing in pirated goods. Everybody who helps you or buys from you is going to require you to prove ownership of your concept before they’ll have anything to do with it. If wealthy society designers like Diane Von Furstenberg have their way, this could become an unfortunate reality. Paradoxically, CFDA is telling Congress they’re protecting you.

The parallels with software are clear: the use of lawyers to bully smaller companies who employ software coding techniques that are obvious but have been wrongly granted patents in some jurisdictions.

The only consolation is that if this legislation is passed, and the fashion industry goes into meltdown, the obvious difficulties there will help legislators understand why software patents are such a stupid idea at all levels.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

05 June 2009

Open Source Sensing Initiative

Here's another interesting initiative: open source sensing.

Pervasive sensing is arriving soon — we have a short window of opportunity for guiding this technology to protect both our security *and* our privacy.

This is an open source-style project with the goal of bringing the benefits of a bottom-up, decentralized approach to sensing for security and environmental purposes.

The intent of the project is to take advantage of advances in sensing to improve both security and the environment, while preserving — even strengthening — privacy, freedom, and civil liberties.

We have a unique opportunity to steer today's emerging sensing/surveillance technologies in positive directions, before they become widespread.

What's particularly noteworthy is the fact that open source sensing is seen as a way of offering security while dealing with various threats to privacy and freedom that sensor technologies obviously present. Openness may help square the circle here, is the hope.

Keep the Libel Laws out of Science

UK libel laws are famously unbalanced, and allow the rich and powerful to bully challengers who have truth on their side. That's bad enough, but when it crimps the practice of science itself, as here, it's even worse:

The use of the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence discourages debate, denies the public access to the full picture and encourages use of the courts to silence critics. The British Chiropractic Association has sued Simon Singh for libel. The scientific community would have preferred that it had defended its position about chiropractic through an open discussion in the medical literature or mainstream media.

On 4th June 2009 Simon Singh announces that he is applying to appeal the judge's recent pre-trial ruling in this case, in conjunction with the launch of this support campaign to defend the right of the public to read the views of scientists and writers.

He needs our help:

Join the campaign! In a statement published on 4th June 2009, over 100 people from the worlds of science, journalism, publishing, comedy, literature and law have joined together to express support for Simon and call for an urgent review of English law of libel. Please help us with this campaign, sign the statement and tell everyone you know to sign it. With every additional 1000 names we will be sending the statement again to Government until there is a commitment and a timetable from the parties for the necessary legislation.

Please help fight for the right to conduct science freely.

Happy Birthday, Mozilla - and Thanks for Being Here

Seven years ago, Mozilla 1.0 was launched:

Mozilla.org, the organization that coordinates Mozilla open-source development and provides services to assist the Mozilla community, today announced the release of Mozilla 1.0, the first major-version public release of the Mozilla software. A full-fledged browser suite based on the latest Internet standards as well as a cross-platform toolkit, Mozilla 1.0 is targeted at the developer community and enables the creation of Internet-based applications. Mozilla 1.0 was developed in an open source environment and built by harnessing the creative power of thousands of programmers and tens of thousands of testers on the Internet, incorporating their best enhancements.

On Open Enterprise blog.

04 June 2009

Intel buys Wind River: the End of the Wintel Duopoly?

This is big:

Intel Corporation has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Wind River Systems Inc, under which Intel will acquire all outstanding Wind River common stock for $11.50 per share in cash, or approximately $884 million in the aggregate. Wind River is a leading software vendor in embedded devices, and will become part of Intel's strategy to grow its processor and software presence outside the traditional PC and server market segments into embedded systems and mobile handheld devices. Wind River will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel and continue with its current business model of supplying leading-edge products and services to its customers worldwide.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Knuth: Every Algorithm is Sacred

One of my computer heroes, Donald Knuth, has sent a message to the head of the EPO, hoping to convince her that every algorithm is sacred, and should not be delivered up to become the personal, exclusive, proprietary possession of any one person or company:

Basically I remain convinced that the patent policy most fair and most suitable for the world will regard mathematical ideas (such as algorithms) to be not subject to proprietary patent rights. For example, it would be terrible if somebody were to have a patent on an integer, like say 1009, so that nobody would be able to use that number "with further technical effect" without paying for a license. Although many software patents have unfortunately already been granted in the past, I hope that this practice will not continue in future. If Europe leads the way in this, I expect many Americans would want to emigrate so that they could continue to innovate in peace!

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This is the Future: the Grid Meets the Grid

Wow, this is cool:

At first glance it’s hard to see how the open-source software framework Hadoop, which was developed for analyzing large data sets generated by web sites, would be useful for the power grid — open-source tools and utilities don’t often mix. But that was before the smart grid and its IT tools started to squeeze their way into the energy industry. Hadoop is in fact now being used by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) to aggregate and process data about the health of the power grid, according to this blog post from Cloudera, a startup that’s commercializing Hadoop.

The TVA is collecting data about the reliability of electricity on the power grid using phasor measurement unit (PMU) devices. NERC has designated the TVA system as the national repository of such electrical data; it subsequently aggregates info from more than 100 PMU devices, including voltage, current, frequency and location, using GPS, several thousand times a second. Talk about information overload.

But TVA says Hadoop is a low-cost way to manage this massive amount of data so that it can be accessed all the time. Why? Because Hadoop has been designed to run on a lot of cheap commodity computers and uses two distributed features that make the system more reliable and easier to use to run processes on large sets of data.

What's interesting about this - aside from seeing yet more open source deployed in novel ways - is that it presages a day when the physical grid of electicity and its users are plugged into the digital grid, to allow massive real-time analysis of vast swathes of the modern world, and equally real-time control of it across the grid. Let's hope they get the security sorted out before then...

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