31 March 2008

Google Squirms

Google seems allergic to the AGPL:

So, first AGPL was not good enough for Google because it was not OSI-approved. That limited its popularity... Now it is OSI-approved. Still, it is not popular enough to be accepted in the Google closed open source hosting site?


C'mon Chris, give developers the ability of using AGPL for their own projects in Google Code. Your fight for no proliferation of licenses is something I subscribe to, but AGPL is the license of the future, no matter if Google likes it or not. And I can guarantee you it will become even more popular if it is accepted in Google Code...

Microsoft's Great Besmirching

On Linux Journal.

The Marvels of Modularity

One word that has cropped up time and again on this blog is "modularity". It's one of the prime characteristics of the open source way - and one of its greatest strengths. Now wonder, then, that Microsoft has finalled cottoned on - helped, no doubt, by the abject failure of its Vista monster:

When Windows 7 launches sometime after the start of 2010, the desktop OS will be Microsoft's most "modular" yet. Having never really been comfortable with the idea of a single, monolithic desktop OS offering, Microsoft has offered multiple desktop OSes in the marketplace ever since the days of Windows NT 3.1, with completely different code bases until they were unified in Windows 2000. Unification isn't necessarily a good thing, however; Windows Vista is a sprawling, complex OS.

A singular yet highly modular OS could give Microsoft the best of all possible worlds: OSes that can be highly customized for deployment but developed monolithically. One modular OS to rule them all, let's say.

Modularity has another huge benefit for Microsoft: it will allow it to address the nascent ultraportable market, something that it finds hard to do with its current operating systems.

Needless to say, though, even in making this sensible move, Microsoft manages to add a touch of absurdity:

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft already has a patent on a "modular operating system" concept.

A *patent* on modularity? Give me a break....

More Wisdom on Intellectual Monopolies

Good to see that I don't have a, er, monopoly on outraged posts about intellectual monopolies:

This is why the idea of Intellectual Property is utter nonsense. We cannot purge our minds of what we already know. That which we can perceive with the senses cannot, and should not, be controlled, but the Intellectual Monopolists plainly think it should. Orwell's predictions have turned out to be startlingly accurate.

O Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Sony

Do as I say, not as I do, seems to be the case with Sony:

PointDev, un éditeur français, attaque la maison de disques en justice pour avoir utilisé sans licence un de ses outils d'administration : Ideal Migration.

[PointDev, a French software publisher, is taking the record company to court for having used one of its administration tools, Ideal Migration, without a licence.]

Well let's hope these scurvy Sony dogs feel the full force of the law. (Via Planet Creative Commons.)

30 March 2008

Understanding Openness

About that open business:

We start with the adjective lexeme OPEN, which is a pure stative; The window is open doesn't require that it was ever closed (it might have been built that way), and The restaurant is open doesn't require that it was ever closed (it could be one of those restaurants that are always open). The adjective can serve as the base for deriving two verb lexemes, the inchoative OPEN 'become open' and the causative OPEN 'cause to become open'. The story of the PSP opened then goes much as for the PSP closed, but with an important difference. The PSP opened has a passive use, as in The gate was opened by the guard at dawn. But the stative adjective use is hard to get: The gate is opened at the moment is decidedly odd. Why?

Because English already has a way to express this meaning (and a way that's shorter and less complex than the PSP opened): the adjective open. The PSP opened in this use is PRE-EMPTED (or, if you will, PREEMPTED) by the simple adjective open. (Pre-emption is a perennial topic in morphology and lexical semantics. A textbook example: English has no causative DIE alongside inchoative DIE because it's pre-empted by causative KILL; in a sense, KILL got there first, so there's no point in creating causative DIE.)

But... in special circumstances, the PSP opened could be used as an adjective -- with the semantics of the passive, as for disputed above. In particular, The envelope is opened could be used if the envelope was not merely open (rather than closed or sealed), but gave evidences of having been opened, say by slitting with a letter opener. This is a case where open might not be specific enough, so it doesn't automatically pre-empt opened.

Got that?

29 March 2008

Truly, Gloriously, Bananas

After taking a nice long shower to remove the white sap like emulsion covering his body, Mr. Gestalt sat down and began jotting down the schematic of his banana time machine, the specifics of which had come to him spontaneously while splitting double-stuff Oreos to lick the insides. Although he lacked any formal training in physics and had been home schooled by rabbits who lovingly raised him in the wild, he felt that he was on to something. Papa Cottonballs would be proud, he thought to himself as he drew something between a trapezoid and a parallelogram with something looking like a snail shell coming out of it.

What would Krapp have said about all these bananas? (Via Read/Write Web.)

28 March 2008

Sick Idea: Using Patents to Kill People

How, er, sick is this?

Of all the exclusions from patentability, most poignant is the bar on patenting methods of surgery, therapy or diagnosis practised on the human or animal body. While it seeks to release medical practitioners from the shackles of commercial monopoly and legal liability when choosing how best to treat their patients, many argue that its true effect is to stifle the creation, publication and promulgation of new techniques that save lives or improve their quality.

Poignant? It's basic human decency. Imagine being unable to use a life-saving technique on a patient simply because it was "patented", and the licensing fees were exorbitant. Imagine, indeed, the situation in developing countries that can't even afford medical equipment, much less absurd, intellectual monopolies.

There's a reason we don't have patents on such things: they represent basic human knowledge of the kind whose invention and transmission down the generations lies at the heart of our civilisation and humanity. The day we start charging for this kind of thing is the day we as a race are in deep, deep trouble.

John Pugh, MP, Rides to the Rescue

On Open Enterprise blog.

Open Enterprise Interview: Ismael Ghalimi

On Open Enterprise blog.

Is Amazon Getting Greedy?

I'm a big fan of Amazon - actually, make that a big addict. But when it starts throwing its weight around, I can't help thinking it is starting to act like a certain other large company that wants it all:

Reports have been trickling in from the POD underground that Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the "buy" button on their Amazon.com book pages will be "turned off."

"POD" is Print on Demand, an exciting and increasingly popular way to publish books, especially those with small runs (most of them); Lightning Source is a big POD publisher, while BookSurge is Amazon's rival version.

Come on, Amazon, you don't need to do this: you can become the central point where people buy books, without insisting you print the bloody things too....

27 March 2008

Mapping the Power of People

Leaving aside Terminal 5's little teething problems today, and independently of the fact that the only way they will get my fingerprints is if they cut my fingers off, here's a heart-warming tale of how the people beat The Man/Men when it comes to providing up-to-the-minute maps:

Heathrow’s terminal 5 is a major high profile new development. On it’s own it is bigger than any other airport in Europe except Frankfurt. It will generate, from today, more car journeys than a decent sized town. Yet most of the on-line mapping sites don’t seem to be capable of having a decent map ready on the day that it opens.

It’s examples like this that demonstrate how well OpenStreetMap can produce accurate and timely maps. Further vindication of the effectiveness of the OpenStreetMap approach.

(Via James Tyrrell.)

OOXML and Porn: What's the Connection?

Talking of Document Freedom Day, here's an amusing - and symptomatic - story:

anonymous supporters of OOXML use Domains by Proxy registar in order to register a site with a very similar address of Document Freedom Day's. The OOXML support site is Document Freedom Day **dot com** and redirects to a well known astroturf site which pretends to be a community of OOXML supporters.

This technique is a redirection scam which, according to the explanation given by the Online Internet Institute, takes place

* when you go to one URL and are automatically transferred to another URL. It further explains that it
* doesn't always send you to a porn or gambling site and that
* it could be a scam to lure you to places you had never intended to go.

Which is clearly the case here: to confuse users who expect to check out the Document Freedom Day event page, and lure them into their own OOXML astroturf site.

26 March 2008

BSI to Celebrate Document Freedom Day with Chains

On Open Enterprise blog.


I don't normally blog about heavy developer issues, because that's not the focus here. But I think this news is important:

Asus has launched a software developer kit or SDK for the Eee PC. Let's ignore the fact that the Eee PC uses open source software, so you shouldn't really need an SDK to develop applications and just focus on the fact that this kit includes tools and instructions for writing applications that can be easily added to the Eee PC's easy mode interface.


the SDK includes the following components:

* Xandros Desktop Open Circulation Version 4.5
* QT
* Eclipse
* QT plugin for Eclipse
* Debian packaging wizard developed by Xandros

The user guide also includes detailed instructions for creating applications and icons that will work in the Eee PC's Easy Mode interface.

Against the slightly worrying background of increased focus by Asus on Windows XP for the Eee PC, I think (hope) this confirms that the company remains committed to the original platform.

The Future of Open Source: Another View

On Open Enterprise blog.

Free Our Bills

One of the great unsung heroes of British democracy (such as we have left) is MySociety, which provides indispensable free services like TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem. These have transformed the way I interact with my local MP.

And now they have a new wheeze: Free Our Bills:

Writing, discussing and voting on bills is what we employ our MPs to do. If enough MPs vote on bills they become the law, meaning you or I can get locked up if they pass a bad one.

Bills are, like, so much more important than what MPs spend on furniture.

The problem is that the way in which Bills are put out is completely incompatible with the Internet era, so nobody out there ever knows what the heck people are actually voting for or against. We need to free our Bills in order for most people to be able to understand what matters about them.

As they say:

This campaign can only succeed if normal internet users like you lend a hand. Please sign up and we'll send you easy tasks (like emailing your MP, or coming up with some ideas). Together we can improve Parliament!

So please do (well, if you're a Brit, anyway.) (Via Amused Cynicism.)

Gobsmacked by Microsoft

I wrote before about Microsoft's attempts to "encourage" India to vote in favour of OOXML. That gambit failed, and what do we find?

At the meeting held on 20th March 2008, we were informed that Microsoft has complained to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and to the apex office of the country about the constitution of the committee and also cast aspersions on the impartiality of the chairperson of LITD15, Mrs. Neeta Verma. The chairperson was furious and offered to step down from her post. She pointed out that the committee has met numerous times and Microsoft never brought this issue up in front of the committee nor did they check the facts with her or her organization before complaining to the apex office.

Are there no limits?

Happy Document Freedom Day

Today is Document Freedom Day. So, why should we care?

In a world where records are increasingly kept in electronic form, Open Standards are crucial for valuable information to outlive the application in which it was initially generated. The question of Document Freedom has severe repercussions for freedom of choice, competition, markets and the sovereignty of countries and their governments.

In other words, document freedom is about your freedom: if your documents are in chains, so are you.

Open Source: All You Need is Love (Mostly)

On Open Enterprise blog.

25 March 2008

How Sad is That, Microsoft?

According to a report published on Thursday by technology newswire Tectonic, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the minister of public service and administration, told the Idlelo conference in Dakar, Senegal, that free software and open standards were intended to encourage competition, while patents were exclusive and anti-competitive by their nature.

"Whereas there are some industries where the temporary monopoly granted by a patent may be justified … there's no reason to believe that society benefits from such monopolies being granted for computer programs [and inventions]," she said in a pre-recorded speech delivered at the conference.

Right on, sister - glad to see that intellectual monopoly meme. But, wait, what do we have here? Why, Microsoft's response to this idea, exposing its very own Weltanschauung:

But Paulo Ferreira, the platform strategy manager at Microsoft South Africa, said: "There is no such thing as free software. Nobody develops software for charity."

He added: "For innovation to continue, there needs to be value - and even open-source applications have some form of market model, which incentivises them to continue innovating."

So there we have it: Microsoft's world, there is no such thing as disinterested generosity, no such thing as altruism. Which means, of course, that Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds and Tim Berners-Lee - to name but a few of those so-called "altruists" - are, in Microsoft's opinion, nothing but liars or utterly self-deluded....

What a sad, cold, lonely little circle of hell Microsoft inhabits.

Understanding Standards

On Open Enterprise blog.

Open Source Social Networks Are Like Buses....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Something in the Air

For those readers (assuming I still have any) who wonder why I witter on about topics that seem distant from that exciting free software stuff, here's someone else doing it. Andy Updegrove is the best writer about standards, bar none. He's particularly sharp on the subtleties of the ODF vs OOXML ding-dong. But here he's on about something else:

Our modern shelters, it seems, are becoming more seductive than ever. Not only are on-line and other electronic entertainments negatively impacting television and print journalism, but use of public parks in the US is falling off as well, even as population continues to rise. Apparently, our affinity for the out of doors is fighting a losing battle against the delights of our electronically-enabled cocoons.

It strikes me that this is an especially inauspicious time for mankind to become less connected to the natural world. That world is increasingly under attack – by us. The more insulated we are from it, the more abstract that impact will seem. Already we know that the opportunity to brake global warming before it has catastrophic effects is rapidly slipping away. And yet we know that we are doing too little to avoid such consequences.

What we do to the earth will certainly have profound effects on humanity. But the earth is ancient and patient, and able to recover in the fullness of time – without us - from the worst that we can inflict upon it. What would be at most a slight fever for Gaia would be at best disastrous, and at worst fatal for modern civilization. There is no doubt who the winner and loser in this conflict will be.

It’s easy to think such thoughts, gazing at the stars on a windy night in the high desert. Perhaps the earth does us a favor when it holds us in the unseen grip of the wind, reminding us of our proper place in the natural order of things.

What's interesting about this for me - aside from the fact that it's beatifully written - is that it is cognate to my tangential stuff. Coincidence? I don't think so.

A Splittist War of Words

As I've noted before, the Chinese position on the events in Tibet is seriously undermined by the fact that it won't allow observers in to see for themselves. If it were confident of its position, it would welcome such reporting.

Instead, we have reporting in the West that is seriously hampered, and thus inevitably inaccurate at times, simply because of those difficulties. Meanwhile, the Chinese news agencies are putting out rather different versions. Take the following, for example:

"Many reports were not accurate," said Tony Gleason, field director of Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund, an American organization which helps poor Tibetans through skill training and small sum of financing.

OK, that sounds interesting: a Western eye-witness. So let's hear what he has to say:

"I never saw police open fire to the mobsters," he added.

Er, come again?

"Open fire to"? Sorry, me old china, that ain't English. And "mobsters"??? Nobody uses the word "mobsters" these days. In fact "mobsters" clearly belongs to that select vocabulary that includes "capitalist roaders" and "splittists" that no native English speaker would be caught putting their chops around.

Bit of a giveaway, that....

Update: Interesting development, here: I wonder what it means....

24 March 2008

Tibet, Cyberattacks and Open Source

There's nothing like a mature response to criticism, and this is nothing like a mature response:

Human rights and pro-democracy groups sympathetic to anti-China demonstrators in Tibet are being targeted by sophisticated cyber attacks designed to disrupt their work and steal information on their members and activities.

But what really caught my attention was the following:

Van Horenbeeck said the danger with the e-mail viruses involved in the attacks is that they are so hand-crafted and new that they usually go undetected by dozens of commercial anti-virus scanners on the market today.

"Last week, I had two of these samples that were detected by two out of 32 different anti-virus scanners, and another that was completely undetected," he said.

The specificity of information sought in the targeted attacks also suggests the attackers are searching for intelligence that might be useful or valuable to a group that wants to keep tabs on human rights groups, said Nathan Dorjee, a graduate student who provides technology support to Students for a Free Tibet.

Dorjee said one recent e-mail attack targeted at the group's members included a virus designed to search victim's computers for encryption keys used to mask online communications. The attackers in this case were searching for PGP keys, a specific technology that group members routinely use to prevent outsiders or eavesdroppers from reading any intercepted messages.

Dorjee said the attacks have been unsettling but ineffective, as the Students for a Free Tibet network mostly operates on more secure platforms, such as Apple computers and machines powered by open source operating systems.

If you're talking viruses, you're essentially talking Windows (at the moment, at least). So as Students for a Free Tibet is finding, open source is doubly your friend: it's low cost and high security in the face of this kind of mature discussion.

Cringely on Open Education

I've always had a rather ambivalent attitude to Robert X. Cringely, not least because I go so far back that I remember all the messy business with Infoworld when he left, and that strange time when there were several Cringelies knocking around simultaneously.

Anyway, his PBS column is always well written and frequently illuminating. His latest is about education - or rather, about open education, since he muses on the changing way people will learn, and that means open education. There's a very nice insight about halfway through:

Andy Hertzfeld said Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I'm sure today Dave wouldn't bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we're moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work?

I remember coming to the same conclusion sometime in the mid-1990s, when I found myself using the Altavista search engine (remember that?) for everything. More importantly, as Cringely notes, I found that remembering how I got to information was the key skill.

21 March 2008

Yahoo and MSN Help Root Out Tibetan Rioters

Yahoo China pasted a "most wanted" poster across its homepage today in aid of the police's witch-hunt for 24 Tibetans accused of taking part in the recent riots. MSN China made the same move, although it didn't go as far as publishing the list on its homepage.

With business morals like that, Yahoo and Microsoft are obviously made for each other. (Via RConversation.)

Larry Lessig's Open Congress

I have a lot of time for Larry Lessig. He's a nice bloke, very bright but disarmingly modest. Nonetheless, when I heard about his plans to give up copyfighting and move on to tackling political corruption, I thought he'd lost it. However laudable, the whole project looked utterly hopeless. Much better, it seemed to me, to try to subvert the system indirectly, using technology - that is, the Internet in all its manifestations and ramifications - to peek and poke.

Well, it looks like Larry had the same idea:

Beginning in April, we will launch a second stage to the site: in a Wikipedia-inspired manner, wiki-workers will track the reform-related positions of candidates who have not yet taken a pledge. If a candidate, for example, has endorsed Public Campaign's bill for public financing, we will record that fact on our site. The same with a pledge to forgo money from PACS or lobbyists, or any of the other planks in the Change Congress pledge. And once this wiki-army has tracked the positions of all Members of Congress, we will display a map of reform, circa 2008: Each Congressional district will be colored in either (1) dark red, or dark blue, reflecting Republicans or Democrats who have taken a pledge, (2) light red or light blue, tracking Republicans and Democrats who have not taken our pledge, but who have signaled support for planks in the Change-Congress platform, or (3) for those not taking the pledge and not signaling support for a platform of reform, varying shades of sludge, representing the percentage of the Member's campaign contributions that come from PACs or lobbyists.

What this map will reveal, we believe, is something that not many now actually realize: that the support for fundamental reform is broad and deep. That recognition in turn will encourage more to see both the need for reform, and the opportunity that this election gives us to achieve it. Apathy is driven by the feeling that nothing can be done. This Change Congress map will demonstrate that in fact, something substantial can be done. Now.

One of the most powerful aspects of openness in any field is that it lets people see what is really going on, so that they can make informed decisions. What Larry is trying to do is to open up the engine of Congress to scrutiny. I wish him every success.


FLOSSInclude may sound like a dental hygiene programme, but is in fact yet another heartening exmaple of the EU backing open source:

The FLOSSInclude project aims to strengthen Europe's participation in international research in FLOSS and open standards, by studying what is needed to increase the deployment, development and societal impact of FLOSS in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The project will result in a sound understanding of the FLOSS-related needs of the target regions. It will federate local and regional development initiatives with the support of cooperation with current EU research. It will also provide a roadmap for future EU research cooperation in this area.

(Via FOSSBazaar.)

20 March 2008

Volantis Code Takes Flight with GPLv3

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Ultimate Ultraportable List

I've written a number of times about wannabe Asus EEE PCs, but there are now so many popping up hither and thither (a *very* good sign) that it's getting hard to keep them all straight. Happily, Laptop Magazine has put together a handy cheatsheet that saves us all the effort.

Freiburg Goes Frei

On Open Enterprise blog.

It's Déjà Vu, All Over Again

A few months back, I wrote about a petition calling for ERT, the Greek national broadcaster, to make its content freely available. Now it looks like ERT is following in the misguided footsteps of the BBC in terms of platforms:

Greek Open Source developers are protesting that ERT, Greece's national broadcaster, will make its online archive available only for users of Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OSX.

The Hellenic Linux User Group six months ago approached ERT, after finding out the public broadcaster was restricting their access to a new archive. ERT is a public organisation, the developers argue, and should not discriminate against users of Open Source.

In some ways, the situation here is even worse than for the BBC:

ERT is developing an archive of its broadcast material, digitising film, video, pictures and hosting them online. The archive is going to be developed in a 1.95 million euro project, the major part of which is funded by the European Union, the Open Source developers say.

Since the money is being paid for by the EU, it follows that access should not be limited to a couple of platforms.

German Constitutional Court Backs Privacy

I always did admire those sensible Teutons:

The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany has ruled that the identities of file-sharers must remain private and can longer be revealed to media companies who accuse them of copyright infringement. In future, only those accused of ‘heavy’ crimes such as murder, child pornography or kidnapping will be revealed.

This is eminentally sensible, but the content industries will doubtless keep trying to equate file-sharing with those "heavy" crimes - with the result that they will make themselves look even more ridiculous.

Open Source White Box Social Networks

On Open Enterprise blog.

19 March 2008

£30 Annual Tax Per PC? You Cannot Be Sirius

Sirius has put up another of its excellent interviews, this time with Stephen Lucey, Executive Director (Strategic Technologies) of BECTA.

The killer section is as follows:

This relates to circumstances where schools using Microsoft’s School Agreement licensing model, are required to pay Microsoft licensing fees for computers based on Linux, or using OpenOffice.org. Finding ourselves in a position whereby a school pays (say) £169 for a device only to be faced with for example a £30 per year after year payment to Microsoft, for a system that is not running any of their software would just not be acceptable to Becta. Indeed I don’t think many people would consider that fair.

No, I don't either. Strange, then, that it's still going on.

Microsoft's OOXML Dirty Tricks, Part 78594


We have discovered that Matthew Holloway was badly slurred by a Microsoft employee in an email to one of the bodies advising an overseas standards NB. It is worth noting that our own national body, Standards New Zealand (SNZ), took the claims so seriously that they responded to parties who received this email.

We discovered the slur by chance, similar information may be circulating in other countries. If you are aware of this please point concerned parties to this article. SNZ have given us permission to quote this email. I have removed names to protect the guilty parties.

And Micosoft wonders why it is so hated.... (Via Groklaw.)

Court Backslides on UK Software Patents

On Open Enterprise blog.

18 March 2008

Closed Tibet => Boycott Beijing 2008

It's hard to know how to respond to the events unfolding in Tibet. And it's hard on two levels. First, as an outsider anything I do or say is pretty much irrelevant anyway, but that doesn't justify walking on the other side of the street with eyes averted.

But more directly it's hard because of the attempt by the Chinese authorities to lock down every possible information source. It will come as no surprise that I don't think closing Tibet off from the rest of the world is a good idea - or indeed a good sign.

If the Chinese authorities were telling the truth about the violence allegedly carried out by Tibetans, then having external and independent observers is precisely what they would want. The fact that they don't means that their own stories must be viewed with suspicion, especially since they flatly contradict videos and images that have been smuggled out. Moreover, the fact that it won't even trust its own people - who seem inclined to condemn the Tibetans as "ungrateful" anyway - to judge events, and has blocked practically all external news sources, is yet more evidence that there is a massive coverup underway.

The question then is: What can be done? On a personal level, I think the least those of us with bits at our disposal can do is keep spreading the message that all is not as the Chinese authorities would have us believe and that there is likely to be violent repression going on behind that news blackout. The more outlets that point to independent news stories on the subject, and the more blog posts that restate these issues, the greater the likelhood that the Great Firewall of China will just buckle under the strain (or that China will just cut itself off from the rest of the world).

In terms of the bigger picture, I find pleas that the Olympics must go ahead regardless because politics and sport must be kept separate, or that otherwise the poor athletes will be penalised, rather naive. Sport is all about politics - about which nation is "better" than the others. If athletes really cared about sport for sport's sake, for the sake of achieving their best, they wouldn't go to such politicised occasions in the first place, but would be content with the million other sporting opportunities where they could excel.

So the question then becomes what good a boycott would do for Tibet. In direct terms, I think it would do very little, but indirectly it would show one thing above all: that somebody out there cares enough to say "enough is enough, let us at least do something, however symbolic." Maybe the threat of that will help concentrate the minds of the Chinese leadership; maybe it won't. But the more times the phrase "Boycott Beijing 2008" turns up on Google, and the higher in ranking that term occurs in searches for "Beijing 2008", the more they will at least think about it.

Update 1: Shortly after posting this, I've just come across this brilliant analysis of what the Tibetans are fighting for - and why they are fighting, even though it's hopeless.

Update 2: Typically sharp analysis on the same topic from Salon's Andrew Leonard here.

A Sequoia that Hates Sunlight? How Odd

As you have likely read in the news media, certain New Jersey election officials have stated that they plan to send to you one or more Sequoia Advantage voting machines for analysis. I want to make you aware that if the County does so, it violates their established Sequoia licensing Agreement for use of the voting system. Sequoia has also retained counsel to stop any infringement of our intellectual properties, including any non-compliant analysis.

It's not as if they have something to hide, of course....

Time for Sun to Join the Eclipse Empire?

On Open Enterprise blog.

ODC Public Domain Dedication and Licence

One of the themes of this blog is how the ideas behind open source are seeping into many other domains. One of the latest is that of databases. The question of how you make a database open is prickly, not least because in Europe there is a stupid law that grants a “sui generis” database right, whatever that means. This was intended to stimulate investment in databases; but guess what? It has done precisely the opposite, and actually led to *less* investment relative to the US, where there is no such right. The withering power of intellectual monopolies strikes again.

Anyway, in order to deal with databases, a new kind of licence is required that takes into account these kind of problems, and the Open Data Commons has put one together that has just been released as version 1.0:

The Open Data Commons – Public Domain Dedication & Licence is a document intended to allow you to freely share, modify, and use this work for any purpose and without any restrictions. This licence is intended for use on databases or their contents (”data”), either together or individually.

Many databases are covered by copyright. Some jurisdictions, mainly in Europe, have specific special rights that cover databases called the “sui generis” database right. Both of these sets of rights, as well as other legal rights used to protect databases and data, can create uncertainty or practical difficulty for those wishing to share databases and their underlying data but retain a limited amount of rights under a “some rights reserved” approach to licensing as outlined in the Science Commons Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data. As a result, this waiver and licence tries to the fullest extent possible to eliminate or fully license any rights that cover this database and data. Any Community Norms or similar statements of use of the database or data do not form a part of this document, and do not act as a contract for access or other terms of use for the database or data.

Good stuff. (Via Andrew Katz.)

14 March 2008

Philip Rosedale Gets a New Life in Second Life


Linden Lab Chief Executive Philip Rosedale said on Friday the company he founded has begun a search for a new CEO with more operational and management expertise.

Rosedale will become chairman of the Linden Lab board when his successor is found, replacing Mitch Kapor, who will remain a board member and the company’s largest investor. Rosedale said he will also keep a full-time role at the company working on product development and strategy.

“This is my life’s work,” he told Reuters in an interview. “I’m not going anywhere, and I’m still full-time on this, probably for the rest of my life.”

Second Life’s growth has slowed after a period of rapid expansion. Rosedale’s replacement will face the difficult task of regaining that momentum, working within Linden Lab’s idiosyncratic corporate culture and winning over Second Life’s impassioned users.

Presumably it's the slower growth that has encouraged Rosedale to make this move in the hope that fresh blood can get things moving again.

AGPL Gets OK from OSI

On Open Enterprise blog.

Bristol City Council Saves with ODF

On Open Enterprise blog.

Google Sky: To Freely Go

Robert Scoble cried over Microsoft's upcoming WorldWide Telescope, and he may well not be alone, since I'm sure there will be some proprietary angles that push people towards viewing it under Windows. For the rest of us, Google has created the browser-based Google Sky: maybe not as breathtaking as Microsoft's, but at least it doesn't cost you the earth in terms of your freedom.

Mandriva Goes "Eee"

I've written many times, both on this blog and elsewhere, about the importance of the Asus Eee PC and its ultraportable siblings in terms of defining a new market sector that is deeply problematic for Microsoft. Here's a further sign of that machine's influence: one of the major distros explicitly supporting the Eee out of the box:

We at Mandriva noticed Asus's excellent Eee PC low-cost, miniature notebook taking the world by storm. Thanks to our work on the Intel Classmate PC, we already had extensive experience of working with this type of system, and it was simple to make Mandriva Linux 2008 Spring 100% Eee-friendly. The Eee comes with a capable Linux distribution, but should you reach its limitations or prefer to install your favourite distribution instead, Mandriva Linux 2008 Spring is ready. It supports all the Eee's hardware out of the box, with no configuration required, and the Mandriva configuration tools and applications have been tweaked to be friendly to the Eee's lower resolution screen.

(Via Eee Site.)

Usenix Conference Proceedings Free

Usenix is opening up:

All online conference proceedings are now freely available to everyone. This significant decision will allow universal access to some of the most important technical research in advanced computing. In making this move USENIX is setting the standard for open access to information, an essential part of its mission.

As far as I can tell, though, this is not free as in freedom, just free as in beer:

The Proceedings are published as a collective work, © 2008 by the USENIX Association. All Rights Reserved. Rights to individual papers remain with the author or the author's employer. Permission is granted for the noncommercial reproduction of the complete work for educational or research purposes.

(Via TechDirt.)

13 March 2008

EU "Will Prefer Open Source Software"

This seems a rather low-key announcement of a suprisingly strong policy:

In a document published last week, the EC states among others that the Commission will prefer Open Source software for its new IT projects: "For all new development, where deployment and usage is foreseen by parties outside of the Commission Infrastructure, Open Source Software will be the preferred development and deployment platform."

According to the document, the EC is an early adopter of Open Source. A first strategy document on this type of software was presented in 2000. However, it is for the first time the European Commission publishes such a document. Valerie Rampie, spokesperson or Siim Kallas, the European commissioner who is responsible for administrative affairs, said the publication of the strategy is "mainly for information purposes".

The EC writes that its IT community early last year had adopted its Open Source strategy after "a thorough consultation within the community". Next from stating its preference for Open Source for new projects. the EC decided that "for all future IT developments and procurement procedures, the Commission shall promote the use of products that support open, well-documented standards. Interoperability is a critical issue for the Commission, and usage of well-established open standards is a key factor to achieve and endorse it.

Slightly curious that it moves anti-climactically from open source to open standards, with the dreaded "interoperability" - Microsoft's favouriate weasel-word - slithering in. I hope that there isn't anything Machiavellian happening in the EU shadows here.... (Via Simon Phipps.)

Update: And the US Navy, too.

A Digital Shadow in the Digital Universe

As a mathematician, I love numbers, and here are some pretty spectactular ones from IDC:

The IDC research shows that the digital universe — information that is either created, captured, or replicated in digital form — was 281 exabytes in 2007. In 2011, the amount of digital information produced in the year should equal nearly 1,800 exabytes, or 10 times that produced in 2006. The compound annual growth rate between now and 2011 is expected to be almost 60%.

Part of that digital universe is the digital data about us - our digital shadow as IDC dub it:

in 2007, when IDC developed the Personal Digital Footprint Calculator, launched this month, we discovered that only about half of the digital footprint would be related to individual actions — taking pictures, making VoIP phone calls, uploading videos to YouTube, downloading digital content, and so on.

We called the remainder “ambient” content. It is digital images of you on a surveillance camera and records in banking, brokerage, retail, airline, telephone, and medical databases. It is information about Web searches and general backup data. It is copies of hospital scans. In other words, it is information about you in cyberspace. Your digital shadow, if you will.

Talk about ghost in the machine....

Ubuntu Live Stats

I am a sucker for live information - Web pages that change in real time. This probably goes back to an earlier truly sad proclivity to watch disc defragmenters for fun. My latest fave is the wonderful Ubuntu Live Stats:

The main idea behind this project is to reflect the enormous activity Ubuntu has on all fronts. We parse every data source we think is interesting to show you how much the community is working and display it in an easy-to-read format.

12 March 2008

Comune di Milano = Microsoft's Mugs

Here's an extraordinary - and extraordinarily depressing - story from Stefano Maffulli about the Comune di Milano (roughly the Milan city council) pushing to its citizens some free services from Microsoft for, er, free:

Incomprensibile: perché il Comune si fa veicolo di pubblicità per Microsoft senza avere niente in cambio? Si sono resi conto gli alti dirigenti del Comune che la maggior parte di quei servizi sono già offerti da Microsoft (e da Yahoo e Google e Tiscali ecc ecc) gratuitamente? Che valore sperano di offrire così ai cittadini?

[Unbelievable: why is the Comune providing publicity for Microsoft without getting anything in return? Don't the eminences of the Comune realise that the majority of those services are already offered by Microsoft (and by Yahoo and Google and Tiscali etc. etc.) free of charge? What do they hope to offer of value to citizens acting like this?]

Google Tools We Can't Use


A web seminar Google held yesterday at KMWorld Magazine offered a great deal of insight into how Google manages projects and communication internally. The presentation by Google followed an employee through his first few weeks at the company, explaining the many tools he’s using: from the Google intranet MOMA, the Google Ideas site and Google Caribou Alpha, to Google Experts Search, “Googler Search,” and Google Apps.

OSS in Russia

Wondering what was happening on the free software front in Russia? Wonder no more:

Recent interest towards FOSS from the Russian government has boosted commercial activity in this field. No longer than a year ago there was no single large company that would say it is capable of doing FOSS system integration projects. Now there are three, and the number will probably grow.

Nobody is particularly sure about how to do business with FOSS, but it is already evident that it can be done somehow. That is why the larger ones are jumping on the bandwagon simply not to be late.

Tough Times for Patent Troll Tracker

Just this morning we were lamenting the fact that the formerly anonymous Patent Troll Tracker had shut down his blog, but now we know why. It appears that two patent attorneys in East Texas have sued him and Cisco for defamation. One of the attorneys happens to also be the son of the judge who helped make Marshall, Texas famous as a favorite for patent holders. The details on the case suggest that this lawsuit may have been the reason that Rick Frenkel outed himself, as it was actually filed back in November and used as a way to unmask the Troll Tracker.

Tough it out, Troll Tracker....


On Open Enterprise blog.

The Inventor of Email Uses...Thunderbird

Of course:

He uses Thunderbird, an e-mail application developed by Mozilla, the company which distributes the Firefox web browser, but he also has a Gmail account.

He said he once had to use Outlook – “I didn’t find it particularly attractive”, and that for a time he blocked all incoming messages from Hotmail, “because they used to carry a lot of viruses – though they’ve clamped down on that.”

(Via David Ascher.)

The Economics of Information Security

On Open Enterprise blog.

11 March 2008

Open Enterprise Interview: Mary Lou Jepsen

On Open Enterprise blog.


Open what?

A "spime" (the word -- a contraction of "space" and "time" -- was coined by sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling) is an object that, thanks to GPS and sensors, is aware of where and when it is, and can record and communicate these data. OpenSpimes are designed to allow everyone to record and visualize environmental (or other) data, to store them, publish them, blog them, compare them, mix and mash them up.

The first spime they've designed is a smart application of distributed computing in the service of sustainability. It can measure the CO2 level in parts-per-million in the surrounding air, and through a bluetooth link to a cell phone (or an alternative link to a laptop or other wireless channels) can relay that information back to the OpenSpime servers. There they can be mashed up and aggregated on Google Maps in almost-real-time.

Kudos to OpenMoko

OpenMoko opens up even more:

OpenMoko, makers of the first true open source phone (previously blogged here), have recently expanded the meaning of ‘open source design’ by licensing the CAD (computer-aided design) files for their flagship model, the Neo1973, under a CC BY-SA license. In doing so, OpenMoko not only allow industrial designers a peek inside the Neo1973 to see how it works, but also show a keen understanding of the power community efforts can have in creating a better end-user experience.

Hyperactive Hyperic

On Open Enterprise blog.

10 March 2008

EU: Ewww on Patented Software Standards

Digital Majority News points us to a fine hidalgo asking a key question about the EU's policy on software standards:

The 'European ICT crossroads: A new direction for global success' conference organised by the Commission's DG Enterprise and Industry on 12 February 2008 could turn out to have been a decisive moment for communications and information in the EU. The idea contained in the conference's title, at least, should be a turning point. It also embodies the very essence of what could be seen as the ideal framework for a wideranging and open discussion – without pre-formed ideas – on defining a European strategy on communications, in the search for tools and systems, with a major potential for the future, that are and within the grasp of a greater number of citizens. However, a quick assessment of the discussion document reveals certain worrying features, indicative of a certain tendency towards standardisation by means of patents, which in practice involve the exclusion of free software which is available free of charge. The document clearly supports the (F)RAND option with regard to managing intellectual property rights, which in practice implies not only that a choice has been made beforehand, but furthermore that this choice favours a system which benefits, and is in the hands of, the large software developing companies, rather than users.

Indicative of this is the fact that the original Spanish question is only available in English as a Microsoft Word document....

First Dirac Video Codec May or May Not Be Available

The BBC's Dirac is:

a general-purpose video compression family suitable for everything from internet streaming to HDTV and electronic cinema.


a very versatile video compression family. It includes a range of tools which gives flexibility in performance to match the environment.

Appropriately enough, "the world's first high performance implementation of Dirac" has been made by none other than the Schrödinger project:

The final specification of Dirac became available on 21st of January 2008 and now the Schrödinger project is proud to announce an implementation of that specification. Schrödinger core is implemented in ANSI C with further assembly level optimisations privided through the liboil optimisation library. The Schrödinger decoding and encoding components offer a stable ABI for developers which will enable easy integration of Dirac support for application and media framework developers. The Schrödinger project also includes a set of GStreamer plugins as an example of how to use the Schrödinger library in a modern multimedia framework.

The release of the Schrodinger library will significantly reduce the the time required to include Dirac support in multimedia applications, therefore reducing the barrier to adoption substantially.


Windows 7: Out of Luck

Microsoft to date has said little about Windows 7, which had been in development under the code name Blackcomb. It's generally believed that the OS will ship in the 2010 timeframe.

That's one year after the federal government's oversight of Microsoft is now slated to expire. As a result, the Technical Committee is trying to get its hands on as much Windows 7 code as it can as soon as possible. "The TC has begun to review Windows 7 itself. Microsoft recently supplied the TC with a build of Windows 7, and is discussing TC testing going forward," the report stated.

Luckily for us, the EU's interest has no cut-off date....

Open Letter to America

Since some of America's top minds are apparently having a bit of bother deciding this one, I thought the following personal experiences might help. (Via Craig Murray.)

Update: Not that we can talk, of course.

Canonical's GNU Bazaar

On Open Enterprise blog.

Why Enterprises Should Fight Software Patents

On Open Enterprise blog.

What Microsoft Groks Not

The other Microsoft Bill on open-sourcing Windows:

Open sourcing Windows is more hassle than it's worth and Microsoft sees little gain in releasing code, according to the man leading Microsoft's server marketing and platform strategy.

Microsoft general manager Bill Hilf has said the Windows source code is "irrelevant for what people want".

But what you seem not to understand, Bill, is that opening up helps *you* make Windows better, which is hardly "irrelevant for what people want."

09 March 2008

Of Book Bankruptcy

Here's a poignant post about realising that book you have cradled within you for the last years not only will never get written, but doesn't need writing (BTDTGTTS). It concludes:

And to you reading this, keep up the good fight for open, secure and private computing, but remember the words of George Eliot, which still adorn my old domain's home page:

Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

When I do have something to say that relates to this blog's past themes, I will say it here, at least for now. I'm definitely a wiser man for all I've tried to achieve, but now I need to get back to work.

Another Reason Why "Three Strikes" Won't Work

The idea that a Draconian "three strikes and you're out" approach will actually stop people from downloading copyrighted material betrays a vast ignorance of how the Internet works, and of the fact that some people thrive on a challenge. Here's one way of spiking the "three strikes" approach:

BTGuard is an easy to use proxy service that adds an extra layer of privacy to your BitTorrent transfers. The service is designed for BitTorrent users who don’t want their ISPs or any third party to log or throttle their IPs or traffic.

btguardBTGuard reroutes all your BitTorrent traffic through their servers in Canada. This means that anyone who connects to you via BitTorrent, even the MPAA or RIAA, will see BTGuard’s IP, and not yours.

BTGuard does not have any bandwidth or volume restrictions, and while we briefly tested the service (from Europe), the speeds were almost equal to an unsecured connection. Setting it up is fairly easy, the only thing you need to do is enter the username and password provided by BTGuard, and you’re ready to go.

TorrentFreak asked one of the founders of the project why they launched the service, he told us: “More and more, people find their privacy being invaded on the Internet and we find it to be a very disturbing, unethical trend. There are some countries that still actively protect privacy, one of which is Canada.”

So the RIAA will end up in Canada, where the trail goes cold. Then what?

Vista's Geek Tragedy

Nice framing of the train-wreck that is Microsoft Vista by Randall Stross in the NYT:

Act 1: In 2005, Microsoft plans to say that only PCs that are properly equipped to handle the heavy graphics demands of Vista are “Vista Ready.”

Act 2: In early 2006, Microsoft decides to drop the graphics-related hardware requirement in order to avoid hurting Windows XP sales on low-end machines while Vista is readied. (A customer could reasonably conclude that Microsoft is saying, Buy Now, Upgrade Later.) A semantic adjustment is made: Instead of saying that a PC is “Vista Ready,” which might convey the idea that, well, it is ready to run Vista, a PC will be described as “Vista Capable,” which supposedly signals that no promises are made about which version of Vista will actually work.

The decision to drop the original hardware requirements is accompanied by considerable internal protest. The minimum hardware configuration was set so low that “even a piece of junk will qualify,” Anantha Kancherla, a Microsoft program manager, said in an internal e-mail message among those recently unsealed, adding, “It will be a complete tragedy if we allowed it.”

Act 3: In 2007, Vista is released in multiple versions, including “Home Basic,” which lacks Vista’s distinctive graphics. This placed Microsoft’s partners in an embarrassing position. Dell, which gave Microsoft a postmortem report that was also included among court documents, dryly remarked: “Customers did not understand what ‘Capable’ meant and expected more than could/would be delivered.”

The World's Leading Anti-Scientific Society

Science is a pradigmatically open endeavour. It proceeds by sharing knowledge freely, allowing others to build on your work. If any domain should display openness in depth, it is science. That seems to have escaped the notice of the American Chemical Society, which pompously declares itself "the world's leading scientific society", as Peter Murray-Rust explains:

CAS identifiers have come to be accepted as a primary identifier system for chemistry - thus caffeine has the CAS number [58-08-2]. This is the only number I can reliably get from CAS without paying (or having my institution or country pay). The number is semantically almost void - it cannot be worked out like an InChI. InChI and CAS serve different purposes - CAS can be related to any substance including mixtures of molecules such as kerosene - InChI is algorithmically derived from the molecular structure and does not apply to mixtures. CAS numbers are frequently used to assert what a substance is and to indicate whether two substances are the same or different. They are commonly used in supplier catalogues and on bottles.

CAS numbers are copyright CAS/ACS who have the legal right to regulate their use - as above. They would make excellent identifiers for the semantic web, except that they are closed. If I want to find out what [67-64-1] is I can only do this by paying CAS - about 6 USD for each lookup (e.g. on STN Easy). This immediately rules it out for any semantic web application which assumes that resolving links is free. Wikpedia tells me that this number corresponds to acetone (nail varnish remover) but they now do not have the freedom to do this. Similarly Pubchem do not use CAS numbers as they have no right to do so. (Anumber of suppliers and other sources quote CAS numbers, many without explicit permission).

An identifier system for chemistry is extremely valuable (patents, safety, etc.) but can cause great problems when mistakes are made. If compounds are misordered because of mistakes in identifiers serious accidents could occur. An open system of identifiers would be highly valuable in developing the chemical semantic web and increasing quality. The closed and restrictive practices of CAS make it more difficult to create Web 2.0 applications in chemistry.

I do not believe this situation can last. Closed systems on the web cannot survive for many more years unless rigorously enforced by restrictive legal and business processes. The heads of chemistry departments who currently have no concern for informatics in the C21 will retire and a new generation of less conservative chemists will increasingly sweep away the Closed approach. Technology such as robots acting on semantic publications will make human-collected abstracts obsolete.

Fortunately, Peter points out that there is a solution:

The use of CAS numbers has been abandoned by organisations such as PubChem for exactly this reason. PubChem now has nearly 20 million substances. It holds records for all compounds that are likely to occur on MSDS. It’s highly respected (although ACS lobbied the US government to limit Pubchem’s activities). It is part of the NIH and now - with the NIH mandate - effectively safe from the ACS. It provides a credible alternative.

We (including Wikipedia) should now switch from using CAS numbers to using PubChem IDs wherever possible. It won’t be a simple transition - certainly we shan’t find 100% overlap. But it will solve all the common substances and therefore 90%+ use of CAS numbers.

We shall need software. We and others are now developing the next generation of chemical informatics software using RDF (Resource Description Framework). RDF allows the description of ambiguities and ontologies. This will allow chemical information to be gleaned directly from authoritative sources using robots. (Of course some of the authorities are currently conservative and do not allow access to their material because of restrictive copyright and licences, but that is starting to change, even in chemistry). As information becomes more open, the CAS system will be increasingly isolated in a world of chemical commerce.

Clearly, it's time to kill off this pernicious closed CAS system, which is damaging science, by boycotting it entirely. And while we're at it, I suggest we might as well get rid of the world's leading *anti*-scientific society too. (Via Open Access News.)

Update: There seems to be some movement as far as using CAS numbers on Wikipedia, but I can't tell whether that's just a one-off, highly limited solution, or part of a larger move to make ACS knowledge freely available to all such open projects. We shall see.

08 March 2008


The message is spreading within the citadel:

Other than in the realm of life-saving medicine, why should any of this matter to nonacademics? Well, for one thing, barriers to the spread of information are bad for capitalism. The dissemination of knowledge is almost as crucial as the production of it for the creation of wealth, and knowledge (like people) can't reproduce in isolation. It's easy to scoff at the rise of Madonna studies and other risible academic excrescences, but a flood of truly important research pours from campuses every day. The infrastructure that produces this work is surely one of America's greatest competitive advantages.

In fact, open access might help to moderate some of the worst forms of academic hokum, if only by holding them up to the light of day -- and perhaps by making taxpayers, parents and college donors more careful about where they send their money. Entering the realm of delirium for a moment, one can even imagine public exposure encouraging professors in the humanities and social sciences to write in plain English.

Keeping knowledge bottled up is also bad for the world's poor; indeed, opening up the research produced on America's campuses via the Internet is probably among the most cost-effective ways of helping underdeveloped countries rise from poverty. Closer to home, open access to scholarly work via the Internet would help counteract the plague of plagiarism that the Internet itself has abetted. Anyone suspecting a scholar of such chicanery could search for a phrase or two in Google and see if somebody else's work turns up with the same unusual text string.

Mad About MIDI

MIDI files are a real throwback to an earlier era, when passing around Mbytes of data was not an option. Sleek MIDI files - typically a few tens of kilobytes - were perfect, even if the sound quality left something to be desired.

I thought that MIDI had pretty much disappeared, but on the contrary, it seems to be thriving. Take Kunst der Fuge, which has a huge collection of classical music, although not all of it freely available.

And it's not just the obvious stuff. Here, for example is pretty everything that the insane but amazing French composer Charles Valentin Alkan wrote. Since much of it is almost unplayable by mere mortals, MIDI files are probably a good way to hear the stuff. (Via Creative Commons.)

Microsoft Slouches Towards Bethlehem

On Open Enterprise blog.

Dopplr Doubles Up

They say that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. That's certainly true in terms of the carbon footprint of air travel. If you're not aware of how much you're producing, how can you set about minimisiing it sensibly?

Now you can, thanks to Dopplr:

On Thursday at ETech, Gavin Starks announced that Dopplr is teaming up with AMEE to help you measure your travel carbon footprint.

We’re still putting the finishing touches on this feature, but we’re previewing it with alpha-testers this week and it’ll be launching soon. Measurement is just the first step along this road, and we’ll be working with AMEE to make sure you have pointers to the information you need to understand and act on this data.

This is a great example of how the very latest in Web 2.0 approaches can make a difference to the real world too.

07 March 2008

ID Cards Are the Ultimate Identity Theft

This piece by Ian Angell is the definitive rebuttal of the UK government's position on ID cards. It articulates all of my concerns, but puts it rather better than I could. Try this, for example:

Errors won't just happen by accident. It's possible to imagine that workers on the ID database will be corrupted, threatened or blackmailed into creating perfectly legal ID cards for international terrorists and criminals. Then the ID card, far from eliminating problems, will be a one-stop shop for identity fraud; foreign terrorists, illegal immigrants will be waived past all immigration checks.

That's the practical downside. But there's an even more profound philosophical one, too:

However, the ID card itself isn't the real problem: it's the ID register. There, each entry will eventually take on a legal status. In time, all other proofs of identity will refer back to the one entry. If the register is wrong - and remember fallible human hands will at some stage have to handle your personal information - then all other databases will be wrong too. Given the propensity of officialdom to trust the details on their computer screen, rather than the person in front of them, you will have to conform to your entry in the register - or become a non-person.

In effect, your identity won't reside in the living flesh and blood of you, but in the database. You will be separated from your identity; you will no longer own it. All your property and money will de facto belong to the database entry. You only have access to your property with the permission of the database. Paradoxically, you only agreed to register to protect yourself from “identity theft”, and instead you find yourself victim of the ultimate identity theft - the total loss of control over your identity.

Anybody who reads this and still wants ID cards is either a complete fool or a thoroughgoing knave. (Via Blogzilla.)

Enter the (Komodo) Dragon

On Open Enterprise blog.

06 March 2008

Open Parliament

It's obviously petition season. Here's another one, Europe-wide in scope, calling for an "open European Parliament":

Citizens and stakeholder groups should not have to use the software of a single company in order to communicate with their elected officials or participate in the legislative process.

All companies should be given the chance to compete freely for contracts to supply ICT services to the European Parliament.

I am a citizen of the EU, and I want the European Parliament to adopt the use of open standards and to promote interoperability in the ICT sector.

We believe that the current situation, where the European Parliament’s ICT runs on proprietary software that is not interoperable with that of other vendors, where therefore citizens and stakeholder groups wishing to participate in the legislative process are forced to use the products of a single company, is in conflict with the first article of Chapter 1 in the Treaty of the European Union. An example of this is the live Web streaming from the European Parliament's plenary sessions – aimed at improving communication with citizens and insight into democratic processes – which will only work with Windows Media Player.

Sounds good to me. Just one thing: there's only 163 names at the moment, which isn't very impressive: why don't you join in?

Why Falling Flash Prices Threaten Microsoft

In the Guardian.

Monsanto Frightened of Openness

When a company is unwilling to stand in the bright illuminating light of openness, you know it's trying to keep something in the shadows:

Since 1901, Monsanto has brought us Agent Orange, PCBs, Terminator seeds and recombined milk, among other infamous products. But it's currently obsessed with the milk, or, more importantly, the milk labels, particularly those that read "rBST-free" or "rBGH-free." It's not the "BST" or "BGH" that bothers them so much; after all, bovine somatrophin, also known as bovine growth hormone, isn't exactly what the company is known for. Which is to say, it's naturally occurring. No, the problem is the "r" denoting "recombined." There's nothing natural about it. In fact, the science is increasingly pointing to the possibility that recombined milk is -- surprise! -- not as good for you as the real thing.

"Consumption of dairy products from cows treated with rbGH raise a number of health issues," explained Michael Hansen, a senior scientist for Consumers Union. "That includes increased antibiotic resistance, due to use of antibiotics to treat mastitis and other health problems, as well as increased levels of IGF-1, which has been linked to a range of cancers."

What's the Collective Noun for Ultraportables?

Whatever it is, here's a a bunch of them from CeBIT, mostly running GNU/Linux.

Second Life Viewer for GNU/Linux Goes Beta

Now Linux users can enjoy the same capabilities as Windows and Mac users to explore, create and socialize!

The beta includes several features we’ve added in recent months, such as:

* 3D voice support
* Media playback - play back any in-world media supported by GStreamer
* Lots and lots of bug fixes, polish, and performance improvements

What's particularly interesting is the view in the comments attached to this post that the GNU/Linux is already more stable than that for Windows.

Wikileaks Wins

And so do we:

A Swiss bank quietly dropped its lawsuit against renegade Web site Wikileaks.org on Wednesday, days after a judge reversed his order to disable the site for posting confidential bank documents.

In court papers, Bank Julius Baer didn't give a reason for dropping the suit and reserved the right to refile it later. Bank lawyer William Briggs didn't return a telephone call seeking comment.

Taking down entire Web sites when just a few documents are at stake was a terrible precedent; Bank Julius Baer's decision to drop the lawsuit is also good because it shows that people are beginning to understand the power of the Web to look after its own.

05 March 2008

Open Source Jahrbuch 2008

No good deed goes unpunished, they say.

A year ago, I wrote the following about the Open Source Jahrbuch series:

All-in-all, I'd go so far as to say that this is the best book on open source that has been published in the few years or so. Taken together, the whole series of Yearbooks form perhaps the most important collection of writings on open source and related areas to be found in any language.

As a result of those rash words, I was asked whether I'd like to contribute to this year's tome, which, as ever, is freely available as a download. If you want to practise your German, my 'umble effort is on page 299 (they obviously believe in saving the best for last....)

It begins thus:

Stallman's Golden Rule and the Digital Commons

In the wake of the high-profile successes of free software, the related movements of open access, open data, open content and the rest are starting to impinge on the public's consciousness. But when they do, they are generally seen as simple applications of the ideas behind free software – in other words, as imitations, albeit interesting ones. This misses the bigger picture: that, together, the combined results of their efforts form a vast and unprecedented digital commons of knowledge. The main obstacles to expanding that commons yet further are now legal, rather than technical. They are the result of political lobbying by content industries that have failed to adapt their thinking to a digital, rather than an analogue, world. The emerging viability of open source companies, which share their software freely with customers, points the way to new kinds of business models based on embracing rather than enclosing the commons.

The Copyright Emperor Has No Clothes

Tim Lee has a stonker of a post on Ars Technica drawing parallels between copyright today and property rights debates of the 18th and 19th centuries in the US. It's a hugely-enjoyable, thought-provoking piece.

He also offers some commentary on his own words:

Copyright maximalists love to draw parallels between property rights and copyrights. But if we take that analogy seriously, I think it actually leads in some places that they aren't going to like. Our property rights system was not created by Congressional (or state legislative) fiat. Property rights in land is an organic, bottom up exercize. The job of government isn't to dictate what the property system should look like, but to formalize and reinforce the property arrangements people naturally agree to among themselves.

The fact that our current copyright system is widely ignored and evaded is a sign, I think, that Congress has done a poor job of aligning the copyright system with ordinary individuals' sense of right and wrong. Just as squatters 200 years ago didn't think it was right that they be booted off land they cleared and brought under cultivation in favor of an absentee landowner who had written a check to a distant federal government, so a lot of people feel it's unfair to fine a woman hundreds of thousands of dollars to share a couple of CDs' worth of music. You might believe (as do I) that file sharing is unethical, just as many people believed that squatting was unethical. But at some point, Congress has no choice but to recognize the realities on the ground, just as it did with real property in the 19th century.

As I've noted elsewhere on this blog, the copyright debate is really hotting up as people start to question the outrageous claims and assumptions of the maximalists. The great thing is, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the copyright emperor has no clothes.

Getting the Facts About Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is an emotive area, generating more by heat than light. Hard facts are hard to come by, which makes this mammoth report on the subject in the UK particularly valuable. It's full of good stuff, but for me the killer was page 209, which looked people's attitudes to copyright infringement.

Here are the numbers: 70% don't think that legal download sites have the range of materials that illegal ones do and 64% would pay for stuff if it were available. As for the "three strikes and you're out" idea, 70% said they would stop if they got an email from they're ISP - but practically the same number, 68%, thought it very unlikely that they'd get caught anyway, suggesting that things aren't quite as black and white as some would have us think. (Via TorrentFreak.)

Vyatta (Hearts) Its Community

On Open Enterprise blogs.

The Sheer Ordinariness of Craig Newmark

I've written before about the excellent writing of Mark Pesce. He's at it again with a piece entitled "That Business Conversation". Although there's nothing hugely new there, it's well worth reading. I particularly liked the following section:

At one of the first of those meetings I met a man who impressed me by his sheer ordinariness. He was an accountant, and although he was enthusiastic about the possibilities of VR, he wasn’t working in the field – he was simply interested in it. Still, Craig Newmark was pleasant enough, and we’d always engage in a few lines of conversation at every meeting, although I can’t remember any of these conversations very distinctly.

Newmark met a lot of people – he was an excellent networker – and fairly quickly built up a nice list of email addresses for his contacts, whom he kept in contact with through a mailing list. This list, known as “Craig’s List”, because a de facto bulletin board for the core web and VR communities in San Francisco. People would share information about events in town, or observations, or – more frequently – they’d offer up something for sale, like a used car or a futon or an old telly.

As more people in San Francisco were sucked into the growing set of businesses which were making money from the Web, they too started reading Craig’s List, and started contributing to it. By the middle of 1995, there was too much content to be handled neatly in a mailing list, so Newmark – who, like nearly everyone else in the San Francisco Web community, had some basic web authoring skills – created a very simple web site which allowed people to post their own listings to the Web site. Newmark offered this service freely – his way of saying “thank you” to the community, and, equally important, his way of reinforcing all of the social relationships he’d built up in the last few years.

The rest, of course, is history.

Latin America Loves GNU/Linux

I was vaguely aware of the open source activity going on in Latin America, but I lacked the big picture. Matt Asay points to this feature, which provides a nice overview of the situation, country by country. It concludes:

In South American countries, as in most other areas of the world, the government is by far the biggest purchaser of software. Thus the Open Source trend that is now established in the government sector across the continent will doubtless spur Open Source adoption in the private sector.

There are a variety of motives for Open Source adoption in play in there, from the reduction in software costs to the desire to provide a "leg-up" to the local software industry. However, the motivation of the Peruvian government is unique in that the Peruvian supporters of the bill see "Open Source" as a citizen's right. The ownership and responsibility for the use of data and software have become a political issue in Peru.

This is an idea that is unlikely to go away.

04 March 2008

A Privacy Disaster Waiting to Happen

I was already teetering on the brink of opting out of the NHS patient database; this just pushed me over:

A new national database of confidential patient records is being opened to access by NHS staff who need no professional qualifications - despite official assurances that records will only be accessed by specialists who are providing care or treatment.

A document obtained by Computer Weekly under the Freedom of Information Act also provides evidence that NHS Connecting for Health - which runs part of the £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT] - has quietly decided to weaken assurances given to patients about the confidentiality of records.

Doctors are angry because they say that patients were given an assurance that non-clinical staff would be unable to access the national summary care record database which is being trialled at NHS trusts in various parts of England.

Flash of Inspiration

One of the many flashes of insight that the Asus Eee PC has provided me with is that DVDs are dead. The Eee PC has no CD/DVD drive, but lets you plug in both USB drives and flash memory of suitably capacious volumes: who needs spinning bits of plastic when you can have totally poised transistors doing the work?

It seems someone else has had the same flash of inspiration:

AN IRISH OUTFIT, PortoMedia, is to open kiosks at which people can download the latest films straight onto a flash memory card in less than a minute.

The kiosks, in shopping centres or stations, will have up to 5,000 films available for rent or sale using a PIN number.

All punters need do in order to buy or rent a flick is to plug in their memory device, a key bought from the company resembling a standard USB, enter a PIN code, and then when they arrive home, connect the device into a dock attached to their TV and hey presto! Movie madness!

Galway-based PortoMedia reckons that a standard-definition film can be transferred to the card in 8 to 60 seconds, depending on the feature's length and the chip's speed.

Visible Body - Visibly Stupid

Here's a great idea:


Complete, fully interactive, 3D human anatomy model
Detailed models of all body systems
Dynamic search capability
Easy-to-use, 3D controls
Seamless compatibility with Internet Explorer

Scratch that "great idea," bit, here's a *stupid idea*: only Internet Explorer.... I thought this kind of suicidal shortsightedness went out in the 1990s. After all, who cares that Firefox has nearly 50% market share in some European countries?

03 March 2008

The Rise and Rise of Mozilla

On Open Enterprise blog.

The (Intellectual Monopoly) Empire Fights Back

I've chronicled how WIPO is beginning to shift towards some semblance of fairness when it comes to intellectual monopolies. This is clearly bad news for those that have used WIPO to impose all kinds of unfair regimes on developing countries. It seems those forces of monopoly murkiness are fighting back - dirtily:

The World Customs Organisation is recommending far-reaching new rules on intellectual property rights that some say may extend beyond the organisation’s mandate.

Staff at the WCO’s Brussels headquarters are preparing what they describe as voluntary ‘model legislation’ to provide guidance on how IP rights can be upheld at border posts.

While they are hoping that the model will be approved by the 171-country body in June, representatives of developing countries were meeting this week to address concerns raised by Brazil over the proposal’s likely breadth.

Brazil is perturbed by a WCO recommendation that customs authorities need to be conferred with powers and be able to take measures that are additional to those set out in the key international accord on IP issues: the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS does not oblige its signatories to introduce border control measures relating to exports or goods in transit.

During discussions in February, Brazil argued that a WCO working group known as SECURE (Standards to be Employed by Customs for Uniform Rights Enforcement) had no mandate to alter the international legal framework on intellectual property.

I'm sure they won't let a little detail like having "no mandate" get in the way....

Amazon the Bellwether

On Open Enterprise blog.

Really Googling the Genome

When I wrote a piece for the Guardian four years ago called "Googling the Genome", it was more of a metaphor than a specific warning about Google rummaging through your DNA. But it's a metaphor no more:

A Harvard University scientist backed by Google Inc. and OrbiMed Advisors LLC plans to unlock the secrets of common diseases by decoding the DNA of 100,000 people in the world's biggest gene sequencing project.

The *first* 100,000 people, I think they mean....

Japan Falls Back on the "Terrorist" Trope

Godwin's Law states:

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

I'd like to propose Moody's Law as a variant:

"When governments can't come up with a real argument, they invoke terrorism."

And here we have it from the Japanese authorities:

Die Auseinandersetzung zwischen japanischen Walfängern und Tierschützern ist erneut eskaliert: Die Organisation Sea Shepherd hat ein Walfangschiff mit Buttersäure beworfen. Die Aktivisten sprechen von harmlosen Stinkbomben, Japans Regierung von einem Terrorangriff.

[The confrontation between the Japanese whalers and animal rights activists has escalated again: the Sea Shepherd Organisation has thrown Butyric Acid at a whaling ship. Activities speak of "harmless stinkbombs", the Japanese government of a "terror attack."]

What Planet Are They On?

First there were RSS feeds, but that soon became too messy. So people have bundled up similar feeds into planets - clever. Here's one of the latest: Planet Creative Commons

This page aggregates blogs from Creative Commons, CC jurisdiction projects, and the CC community.

If nothing else, it will give you a chance to practise your Slovenian.

Microsoft's Finances

Much of Microsoft's power - particularly the kind used in bluffing - flows from an unwritten assumption that it is a huge, vastly-profitable company, with almost limitless resources. The limitless resources bit will certainly change if it acquires Yahoo, since it has admitted that it will need to borrow something like $20 billion to finance that transaction. But there is increasing evidence that even without that gargantuan meal to pay for, Microsoft's financials are not as rosy as they seem.

One of the most assiduous followers of this angle is Roy Schestowitz. The only problem has been that his posts on the subject have been running for so long that there is something of a rat's nest of links to follow on on his site if you want to see the big picture.

Happily, he has just put together a consolidated piece that links to all the main pieces of the puzzle:

Here is a summary of about half of our posts which cover this area. To make them digestible (readable without having to follow the link), a summary of references (external) and key points are provided for each.

Worth keeping an eye on.