30 June 2008

Morphic Resonance of Our Times

There’s no question in my mind that the woes of the journalism profession today have been at least partially self-inflicted. At the very historical moment that the news pros faced relentless new scrutiny from a vast army of dedicated amateur watchdogs and expert critics, they offered up a relentless sequence of missteps and disasters. Some were failures of professionalism, from the Jayson Blair meltdown to the Dan Rather screwup. But the biggest — the absence of a stiff media challenge to the Bush administration’s Iraq war misinformation campaign — was a failure of civic responsibility. With that failure, the professionals forfeited their claim to special privilege or unique public role as challengers of official wrongdoing and ferreters of truth. The democracy still needs these roles filled, of course. But after the Iraq bungle, the professional journalists’ claim to own them exclusively became much harder to accept.

What struck me about this insightful comment was that it seems to parallel something at a deeper level. Consider this slight re-write:

But the biggest — the absence of a stiff political challenge to the Bush administration’s use of torture — was a failure of moral responsibility. With that failure, America forfeited its claim to special privilege or unique international role as a challenger of global wrongdoing and champion of justice. The world still needs these roles filled, of course. But after the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib bungle, America's claim to own them exclusively became much harder to accept.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I've noted several times on this blog the tension between openness and privacy, but reading the excellent Your Right to Know blog - which, to my shame, I've only come across recently - another dimension became apparent.

This is the interesting contrast between what UK politicians want to do to us in terms of constant surveillance and intrusion into our private lives, and their own - outraged - refusal to allow us to do the same, even when it concerns them spending our money through their extremely generous allowances. For example, try this for hypocrisy:

However, I should tell those who press and press such issues that, sooner or later, the allowances will be rolled into our salary, handed out without any claim mechanism or dealt with under some other device, because it is intolerable that this intrusion into Members’ private lives should have to be endured or should be permitted, and something will happen to prevent it from going too far. We can see what will happen: local news reporters and local political opponents will start trying to air these issues in public, which will be demeaning, as well as reducing the stature of Parliament and damaging our democracy. It cannot be right that things should reach such lengths.”

Russian Schools Project Update

Although not much noise has been made about it, the Russian migration of schools to free software is potentially a hugely important project. Here's an update:

The pilot project to migrate schools of three Russian regions to Free Software has recently expanded its geography. Now it is possible for the schools outside of Tatarstan, Perm krai and Tomsk region to voluntarily apply for participation by completing a special form (Russian) published on the project website.

The project, if successful, may be the first step towards large-scale migration of Russian secondary education instutitions and, consequently, of the other state agencies to Free Software as President Medvedev stated last year (Russian) while being the First Deputy Prime Minister.

Note the comment at the end of the second paragraph there: Russian could become a real leader in this field.

Open Enterprise Interview with Roy Russo, Loopfuse

On Open Enterprise blog.

Crowdsourcing Repression

Fun things to do with the Internet:

According to Ms Eberlein, the term “human flesh search engine”, a literal translation of the Chinese, was first coined in 2001 when an entertainment website asked users to track down film and music trivia.

With 210 million Chinese wired up to the internet, it was a powerful concept. It quickly caught on and came to be used as a tool to punish the perpetrators of extra-marital affairs, domestic violence and morality crimes.

28 June 2008

Will the EU Ever Stand up for Its Citizens?

This spinelessness is just sickening in the extreme:

The United States and the European Union are nearing completion of an agreement allowing law enforcement and security agencies to obtain private information — like credit card transactions, travel histories and Internet browsing habits — about people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The potential agreement, as outlined in an internal report obtained by The New York Times, would represent a diplomatic breakthrough for American counterterrorism officials, who have clashed with the European Union over demands for personal data. Europe generally has more stringent laws restricting how governments and businesses can collect and transfer such information.

- Laws which are apparently being chucked away purely because America wants to disregard them. This is what happens when European governments mouth fatuities about the so-called "war on terror": they then get hoist by their own rhetorical petard.

What's amazing is that probably 90% of Europeans would be against giving this kind of data to the US if they were ever offered any way to choose. Which they won't be, of course: that's democracy?

27 June 2008

Why The Economist is Clueless, Part 2353

A new business model: give away the game and charge avid players for extras

Well, "new" aside from the fact that free software has been using it in various forms for over 20 years....

Back-Door Maximalist Intellectual Monopolies

This looks like a very serious attempt to bring in maximalist intellectual monopolies through an agreement called SECURE under the aegis of the World Customs Organisation (sic) :

Susan Sell, director of the Institute for Global and International Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, DC, said in a recent paper (available here [pdf]) that the SECURE aims were “TRIPS-plus-plus,” referring to extending beyond the scope of the 1994 World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). “These new anti-counterfeiting and enforcement initiatives are just the latest mechanisms to achieve the maximalists’ abiding goal of ratcheting up IP protection and enforcement worldwide,” she said.

Viviana Muñoz Tellez of the intergovernmental South Centre said in the South Centre Bulletin (16 April 2008 issue [pdf]) that the SECURE working group seems to be “setting new standards of intellectual property enforcement through the back door,” and that this “may extend beyond the WCO mandate.” Separately, she told Intellectual Property Watch that standards presented as voluntary could become mandatory down the line. “Soft law,” she said in the article, “is often the basis on which ‘hard law’ is later established.”

And if that's not bad enough, there's a couple more details:

Other concerns of Sell’s are that the standards would extend monitoring to all IP, as opposed to just trademark and copyright, and would free IP rights holders from the burden of providing evidence that there is infringement “initiate a procedure.”

Patents would be turned into a customs issue (whaaat?), and there would be no need actually to show that an infringement happened in order to start a "procedure".... In other words, this SECURE (and for the name, see here) is about extending the RIAA's intimidatory tactics to the whole of intellectual monopolies, and globally.

But wait, there's more:

There also was substantive concern that rights holders, such as industry trade associations, were participating in WCO meetings at the same level as member states, to the extent of having their own vice-chair. Muñoz’s article characterised their involvement as “on equal footing” with members, and said they can “equally suggest draft language.”


“We’ve been very open with the public,” he added, about the allowance of private sector stakeholders in the meetings. What is unique about the way that WCO meetings are run is that observers may speak and express opinions once members have spoken. This is in contrast to the WTO and WIPO, where observers generally only offer comment if asked to, or with express permission of a meeting chair.

So, the industries mostly closely involved with intellectual monopolies are helping shape the agreement alongside the government organisations. Well, that's sure to produce a balance, isn't it?

ICANN Goes .bonkers

On Open Enterprise blog.

26 June 2008

How Can We Harness the Firefox Effect?

On Linux Journal.

Cloud Computing's Undirty Non-Secret

On Open Enterprise blog.

Sharing: "Totally Cool"

Someone else who gets it:

“It’s ok, if one person buys it, it’s totally cool, burn it up, share it with your friends, I don’t care. I don’t care how you hear it as long as you hear it. As long as you come to my show, and have a great time listening to the live show it’s totally cool. I don’t mind. I’m happy that they hear it.”

25 June 2008

Lil' Dubya Puts His Fingers in His Ears

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

Er, don't most people leave this kind of approach behind in the playground? (Via Slashdot.)

The "Eye-Pea" Trick

I've railed frequently against the con-trick of calling intellectual monopolies "intellectual property", which tries to endow monopolies with the warm and fuzzy feeling people have for property. Now James Boyle has a great column in the FT where he points out a similar sleight of hand among the politicians:

One sure sign of a lack of political vision is a rise in the number of pieces of acronymic legislation. After September 11, the US Congress passed the euphoniously named “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act” the initials of which spell out “USA – Patriot.” The Patriot Act is a pretty bad piece of legislation, but at least its drafters worked hard on the acronyms so that opponents could be labelled “anti-patriot” – a perfect level of analysis for Fox News. Admittedly, in this administration, having public officials torturing acronyms rather than detainees might be counted as a plus, but I still find the whole practice distasteful. I'd suggest that politicians vow to vote against any piece of legislation with its own normatively loaded acronym, no matter how otherwise appealing. It might make them focus a little more on the content.

In any event, Congress has been at it again. The House just passed, and the Senate is considering, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 – or “Pro-IP” Act. (If it passes, a version is sure to be urged on Europe as a matter of “harmonisation.”) Are you pro-intellectual property? Then surely you must be for this piece of legislation! The name says it all.

Yes, the name says it all, indeed. (Via B2fxxx.)

Open Source Mobile Telephony Platforms Are Like Buses...

On Open Enterprise blog.

BBC iPlayer 2.0 = iPlayer 1.0?

The BBC today unveils a new-look BBC iPlayer which fully integrates radio and TV in one interface, as the service records over 100 million requests to view programmes in the six months since its launch.

The new-look service, which launches in beta tomorrow, will 'dual run' alongside the existing iPlayer for the next few weeks.

Erik Huggers, the BBC's Group Controller for Future Media and Technology, says: "The next generation of BBC iPlayer allows UK licence fee payers to catch up on their favourite BBC TV and radio programmes in one place – a completely unique on-demand service.

Fantastic news - I'm a UK licence fee payer, so presumably I can catch up on all this goodness on my GNU/Linux systems, no?

Well, maybe not:

The new-look BBC iPlayer will be available on other platforms for TV catch-up, including the Apple iPhone & iPod touch, and the Nintendo Wii.

Wot, no GNU/Linux? But wait:

The new-look BBC iPlayer is available on PC, Mac, Linux, Virgin Media, Apple iPhone & iPod touch and Nintendo Wii.

So it's available for GNU/Linux, but does that mean I can use the catch-up service, the main bone of contention for iPlayer 1.0?

Clear as mud.

Where Sun Doesn't Shine

Pamela Jones has been digging through SCO stuff again, and doesn't like what she finds:

We learn two primary things from Jones' testimony: first, what a cynical role Sun played in the SCO saga, and second, that all the time SCO was calling on the world, the courts, the Congress -- nay heaven itself, if I may say so -- to sympathize with it over the ruination of its Most Holy Intellectual Property by it being improperly open sourced into Linux, not that it turned out to be true, it had already secretly given Sun the right to open source it in OpenSolaris. Remember all that falderol about SCO being contractually unable to show us the code, much as it so desired to do so, because of being bound to confidentiality requirements? What a farce. SCO had already secretly given Sun the right to open source Solaris, with all the UNIX System V you can eat right in there.

The simple fact is, I gather from Jones' testimony, Sun could have prevented the harm SCO sought to cause by simply telling us what rights it had negotiated and received from SCO prior to SCO launching its assault on Linux. Yet it remained silent. When I consider all folks were put through, all the unnecessary litigation, and all the fear and the threats and the harmful smears, including of me at the hands of SCO and all the dark little helper dwarves in SCO's workshop, I feel an intense indignation like a tsunami toward Sun for remaining silent.

Extraordinary to think that the SCO circus is still running; even more extraordinary if, as PJ suggests, Sun could have stopped all the FUD directed at Linux with a word.

Come On, IBM, Pull Your Socks Up

On Open Enterprise blog.

Lulu.com for Magazines

I'm a big fan of the print on demand outfit Lulu.com - and not just because it was set up by one of the founders of Red Hat. Here's the same idea, applied to magazines:

MagCloud is an HP Labs research project evaluating new web services that will provide small independent magazine publishers, online content owners, and small businesses the ability to custom publish digitized magazines and economically print and fulfill on demand.

(Via ReadWiteWeb.)

The Tipping Point (For the Last Time)

Twenty years ago, James Hansen warned us about global warming, but few listened. With incredible patience, he has explained it all again - linking global warming, dependence on cheap oil, the refusal to factor in externalities to prices and the rest, in a dense web of trouble - in the hope that this time we will do something about it. If we don't, it's pretty clear to any rational, non-egoistic, individual that we are in big trouble - and that it will be even worse for our descendants.

Eee PC + Debian = Ultraportable Heaven?

I think the Asus Eee PC is a fab - and significant - machine, but have never really liked the Xandros distro it uses. Imagine how much better it would be if it used something mainstream like Debian. Maybe we don't have to imagine:

I just received an encouraging note from Ellis Wang of Asus in Taiwan following up on Martin Michlmayr's suggestions to Asus about how they could work more closely with the Debian community. Ellis has assigned Robert Huang the task of putting a working relationship in place between Asus and Debian, with backup provided by five other Asus employees.

Here's hoping.... (Via Linux Loop.)

Searching for the Truth About Search Engines

It has been clear since the mid 1990s that search engines are central to the Internet and its use. The rise of Google as the bellewether Net company has made their pivotal nature even more apparent. But there has been surprisingly little formal analysis of the dynamics of this market.

Step forward Rufus Pollock, well known to readers of this blog as the main driving force behind the Open Knowledge Foundation:

Internet search (or perhaps more accurately ‘web-search’) has grown exponentially over the last decade at an even more rapid rate than the Internet itself. Starting from nothing in the 1990s, today search is a multi-billion dollar business. Search engine providers such as Google and Yahoo! have become house-hold names, and the use of a search engine, like use of the Web, is now a part of everyday life. The rapid growth of online search and its growing centrality to the ecology of the Internet raise a variety of questions for economists to answer. Why is the search engine market so concentrated and will it evolve towards monopoly? What are the implications of this concentration for different ‘participants’ (consumers, search engines, advertisers)? Does the fact that search engines act as ‘information gatekeepers’, determining, in effect, what can be found on the web, mean that search deserves particularly close attention from policy-makers? This paper supplies empirical and theoretical material with which to examine many of these questions. In particular, we (a) show that the already large levels of concentration are likely to continue (b) identify the consequences, negative and positive, of this outcome (c) discuss the possible regulatory interventions that policy-makers could utilize to address these.

It has a handy short history of search engines, and then some rigorous economic analysis if you're into that sort of thing. (Via B2fxxx.)

24 June 2008

Fewer EU Patents: Good - and Bad

First the good news:

Last year, the European Patent Office (EPO) issued far fewer patents than in 2006. The Munich patent authorities have announced that they approved exactly 54,699 patent applications for commercial protection, 12.9 per cent fewer than in the previous year. EPO President Alison Brimelow says the drop is the result of a new focus on the quality of patents rather than quantity; patent applications actually increased by 3.9 per cent to 140,700. She said her office is making sure that the temporary monopoly rights granted are actually relevant. She says the figures show that the EPO is headed in the right direction.

Well, maybe, but heise online also has this to say:

Nonetheless, the EPO staff's morale seems to have never been lower. A survey conducted among several thousand staff members found that only 4 per cent have faith in the management board. Only 6 per cent said they were satisfied with their direct superiors and the president. The auditors have also long been complaining that they are chronically overworked.

Last April, Brimelow herself complained that the backlog of work at the EPA and the other two largest patent offices in the US and Japan was only growing and could no longer be handled by current staff.

So fewer patents may well simply be the result of the fact that the EPO is getting swamped, and that quality will actually go down, not up. In any case, the EPO's own cries for help demonstrate that the idea of giving the EPO any more power through a unified European patent system is madness.

Hyperic Tracks the Cloud

On Open Enterprise blog.

O (English) Rose, Thou Art Sick


A bus-spotter says it is no longer safe to practise his hobby of 40 years after being branded a terrorist and a paedophile.

Rob McCaffery, 50, is proud of his 30,000 photos of trams and coaches but after being interrogated twice in 12 months he fears the time may have come to hang up his camera.

The credit controller, from Gloucester, says he now suffers "appalling" abuse from the authorities and public who doubt his motives.

The bus-spotter, officially known as an omnibologist, said: "Since the 9/11 attacks there has been a crackdown.

If any further proof were needed of the insanity of the so-called "war on terror" this is it: the great British tradition of bus-spotting seen as crypto-terrorism by pathetically susceptible minds. (Via Boing Boing.)

Opening up Symbian – Good or Bad for Linux?

On Open Enterprise blog.

NVidia's Unenviable Pariahdom

Failing to take the hint, NVidia decides to remain a pariah:

Nvidia reiterated that it won’t provide open source drivers for Linux because the company claims there is no need for it.

Nvidia provides binary Linux drivers and has open sourced some drivers such as the nv X driver and other utilities that work with the proprietary driver, including the installer, config and settings.The company is a leading provider of graphics cards and software for the desktop and embraces a cross platform strategy.

“NVIDIA supports Linux, as well as the Linux community and has long been praised for the quality of the NVIDIA Linux driver. NVIDIA’s fully featured Linux graphics driver is provided as binary-only because it contains intellectual property NVIDIA wishes to protect, both in hardware and in software,” the company said in a statement released today, in response to Linux kernel developers’ criticism of vendors that produce only closed source drivers.

23 June 2008

The Lurking Danger: Software Patents

If you thought that software patents in Europe had been seen off, think again. The ever-alert Digital Majority has spotted the following:

Simon Gentry is back in software patents lobbying. Now his role is to push for legalisation of software patents via the creation of central patent court in Europe.

Mr Gentry is speaking this week at the expensive conference IPBusinessCongress in Amsterdam, which is gathering many members of the patent community

The conference has a number of tell-tale topics:

Defining the Chief IP Office

which is a bit like defining a Chief Extortions Officer

IP in the age of open source and open innovation

which I don't imagine will be singing their praises, and finally

New opportunities for patentowners in Europe

where those "opportunities" almost certainly amount to sneaking in software patents by the backdoor.

Be alert for more of this stuff: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance etc. etc. etc.

Good Bill, Bad Bill

I have tremendous respect for what Bill and Melinda have chosen to do with the great wealth that Microsoft afforded. The Gates Foundation is tackling some huge challenges in global health with courage, innovation, and persistence, the same qualities which represented Microsoft at its best. But it doesn’t mean that the great Gates fortune was acquired in an entirely fair way or that Bill should be held up uncritically as a model of a successful businessman for doing so. To do so is to rewrite history and endorse a way of doing business which is harmful both to consumers and markets
Pretty much my view, too.

No, Really: Spare a Fiver?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Linux is Subversive....

On Open Enterprise blog.

20 June 2008

Of Honey and Tin

Honey is all very well, but what we really need is more tin.

Getting a Handle on EU OSS

Rather pathetically for someone based in an island lying but a few dozens of kilometres off the continent, I am conscious of the fact that I don't write enough about the open goings-on in Europe. Matthew Aslett's excellent European Tour - by far the best round-up of OSS activity in Europe around - goes a long way to filling this need, but it's (presumably) something of a one-off.

What we need is more info from Over There on a regular basis, from someone who's well plugged into that scene. I find that Roberto Galoppini's postings on this topic are really helpful here, and definitely worth keeping an eye on if you're interested in what those funny people East of Dover are up to.

Chinese Whispers


Zheng argues that while China is making no meaningful progress toward democratization, the Internet is nonetheless causing "political liberalization." The Internet in China, he believes, is enabling greater public deliberation about policy (within limits to be sure) as well as forcing the leadership to be more responsive to public opinion - or at least that segment of public opinion that is able to appear on the part of the Internet that you can access in China, which despite its limitations still gives Chinese citizens a conduit of expression that was not available before. Zheng points to several cases where public reaction to and discussion of information posted online led to policy changes: outrage over Sun Zhigang's death in detention led to abolition of the "Custody and Repatriation" system; outrage over the detention of outspoken rural business tycoon Sun Dawu created pressure on provincial governments and the central government to change policy practices that discriminate against the private sector. During the SARS outbreak, information, concerns (and wild rumors) posted on the Internet and sent through mobile SMS eventually broke down government attempts at tight information control. He also points to wildly unsuccessful cases: use of the Internet by the outlawed FLG and the opposition China Democracy Party to criticize the regime and call for an end to one-party rule by the CCP. What's the difference?

Zheng says that the difference between success and failure comes down to an online movement's strategy and objectives. The most spectacularly unsuccessful online movements (and the ones leading to the most brutal crackdowns both online and off) tend to advocate what he calls the "exit" option - i.e. that the Chinese people should exit one-party CCP rule, or that a particular group or territory might have the right to do so. The Chinese bureaucracy and leadership contains reformists and conservatives. However "when the regime is threatened by challengers, the soft-liners and hard-liners are likely to stand on the same side and fight the challengers." Successful online movements in China tend to use what he calls the "voice" option, or what other political scientists call the "cooperation option." The key to a successful effort to change government policy in China is to find a way to give reformist leaders and bureaucrats at all levels of government the ammunition they need to win out in arguments and power-struggles with their hard-line conservative colleagues. Reformists can point to what's being said in the chatrooms and blogs and in the edgier newspapers and argue that without change, there will be more unrest and public unhappiness - thus change is required to save the regime. Zheng writes: "the voice does not aim to undermine or overthrow the state. Instead, through a voice mechanism, the state can receive feedback from social groups to respond to state decline and improve its legitimacy."

And Now Ashley....

After Erik, here's Ashley, currently Director, BBC Future Media & Technology, but moving on:

So, there you have it. I've enjoyed using Ubuntu, it has a simplicity and elegance that I like and some great features that other OSes don't have (and I appreciate that I've only been scratching the surface). And it's free.

But I'd say it's horses for courses. For enterprise-side usage, or as a developers' workstation, or as a cheap platform for people with a fair amount of time on their hands and a willingness to deal with all the websites that only vaguely support Linux, fine.

For me, as a day to day operating system, would I churn from Windows or MacOS for it? Not yet; perhaps in a year or two. Critically though, I think the BBC can, and should, do more to support the Free and Open Source community, and I hope this has at least shown my commitment to listen and learn!

If Yahoo Implodes, What's the Effect on Open Source?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Associated Press Hoist By Its Own Petard

Mr TechCrunch can be slightly obnoxious at times, but on this one I can only applaud him:

now the A.P. has gone too far. They’ve quoted twenty-two words from one of our posts, in clear violation of their warped interpretation of copyright law. The offending quote, from this post, is here (I’m suspending my A.P. ban to report on this important story).

Am I being ridiculous? Absolutely. But the point is to illustrate that the A.P. is taking an absurd and indefensible position, too. So I’ve called my lawyers (really) and have asked them to deliver a DMCA takedown demand to the A.P. And I will also be sending them a bill for $12.50 with that letter, which is exactly what the A.P. would have charged me if I published a 22 word quote from one of their articles.

If nothing else, this shows the value to the blogosphere of having a few A-list bloggers with deep pockets.

19 June 2008

Erwin Is A-goin'

Erwin Tenhumberg has been one of the closest observers of OpenOffice.org's growing strength. So his announcement that he is moving from Sun - a company that, for all its faults, really seems to get open source - to SAP, a company, for all its strengths, seems utterly witless in this area, surprised me.

I suppose it would be too much to hope that SAP has finally got a clue....

18 June 2008

Whatever Happened to the GNU GPLv3?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Our Chains Will Make Us Free

How Orwellian is this:

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has defended the apparatus of the UK's emerging surveillance society as the means to bring liberty to the people.

Britain's infamous identity cards, CCTV, biometrics and DNA scanners will make people more free by making them more secure, he said yesterday in defence of his security strategy.

Brown has seriously lost it.

Open Access Increases Its Impact

Unless you're an academic, you probably don't care about "impact factors", but for the world of academic journals - and the people who publish there - it's a matter of life and death (sadly.) Think of them as a kind of Google PageRank for publishing.

Anyway, the news that the trail-blazing Public Libary of Science titles have increased their impact factors is important:

The latest impact factors (for 2007) have just been released from Thomson Reuters. They are as follows:
PLoS Biology - 13.5
PLoS Medicine - 12.6
PLoS Computational Biology - 6.2
PLoS Genetics - 8.7
PLoS Pathogens - 9.3

As we and others have frequently pointed out, impact factors should be interpreted with caution and only as one of a number of measures which provide insight into a journal’s, or rather its articles’, impact. Nevertheless, the 2007 figures for PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine are consistent with the many other indicators (e.g. submission volume, web statistics, reader and community feedback) that these journals are firmly established as top-flight open-access general interest journals in the life and health sciences respectively.

The increases in the impact factors for the discipline-based, community-run PLoS journals also tally with indicators that these journals are going from strength to strength. For example, submissions to PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics and PLoS Pathogens have almost doubled over the past year - each journal now routinely receives 80-120 submissions per month of which around 20-25 are published. The hard work and commitment of the Editors-in-Chief and the Editorial Boards (here, here and here) are setting the highest possible standards for community-run open-access journals.

This matters because many sceptics of open access would love PLoS to fail - either financially, in terms of academic influence or, ideally, both - and its continuing ascendancy in terms of impact factors is essentially a validation of the whole open access idea. And that has to be good for everyone, whether they care about academic PageRanks or not.

Reddit Goes Open Source

On Open Enterprise blog.

It's In the Diary, Erik

Interesting post from Erik Huggers, ex-Microsoft bloke now Group Controller, BBC Future Media & Technology, called "My First Linux Desktop":

Over the last two decades I have used every flavour of Windows and Mac OS, but till now had never used a Linux desktop.

My only encounter with Linux has been flashing my wifi access point with dd-wrt firmware (which is great btw) but that is obviously not the same thing!

George Wright recently convinced me to take home a laptop with Fedora9 installed.


I am glad that I got a chance to test drive Fedora and as a result have come to believe in the potential of Linux as a mainstream operating system.

As Ashley said in this post last year the BBC does a lot of work with open standards already but in the future we plan to do more.

We want to make iPlayer work on all operating systems including open source ones like Fedora and I am confident we'll make good progress on this before the end of the year.

End of the year, eh? We'll be there.

Going Beyond Gowers

One of the great things about the Gowers Review is that it used a solid economic analysis to show that extending the term of copyright in music recordings made no sense. The other great thing about it is that others can carry out similar objective analyses to arrive at the same result:

Today, the leading European centres for intellectual property research have released a joint letter to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, enclosing an impact assessment detailing the far reaching and negative effects of the proposal to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings.

“This Copyright Extension Directive, proposed by Commissioner Mccreevy, is likely to damage seriously the reputation of the Commission. It is a spectacular kowtow to one single special interest group: the multinational recording industry (Universal, Sony/BMG, Warner and EMI) hiding behind the rhetoric of “aging performing artists”.

Microsoft Monopolistic in the Middle Kingdom?

Talking of China, it looks like Microsoft may be facing charges of monopolism there:

Neue Monopolvorwürfe gegen den Software-Riesen Microsoft: Laut einem Pressebericht untersuchen chinesische Behörden die Marktstellung des Konzerns - bald könnte es ein offizielles Verfahren geben.

[Via Google Translate: New monopoly allegations against the software giant Microsoft: According to a press report Chinese authorities investigate the market position of the group - soon could be an official procedure]

Chinese As She Is Writ

The poem was originally published in the June 6 issue of Qilu Evening News, a newspaper circulated mainly in Shandong province. In the poem, Wang impersonated a dead victim expressing his gratitude to the government from his grave.


Here is rather literal translation:
"Natural disaster is inevitable, so what should I complain about my death? The president calls, the Premier asks, the Party cares, the country is concerned, the voice goes into the rubbles. One billion and thirty million people shed tears, I felt happy even as a ghost. Silver eagles and army vehicles came to rescue, soldiers, police officers - the great love! I am satisfied to die. I only wish I could have a TV set so I could watch the Olympic Games and cheer with others."

Ah, yes, TV sets....

Thinking the World of Firefox 3

On Open Enterprise blog.

Time to Break Out the WINE

On Open Enterprise blog.

How to Get a Real Job in a Virtual World


My name is Simone Brunozzi, a 30 year old guy from Italy.
What’s interesting about me? Well, I’m a brand new Technology Evangelist for Amazon Web Services in Europe!

I’m going to tell you how I landed the job of my dreams, and I suggest that you pay attention because it’s a story you don’t hear every day.

17 June 2008

SproutCore Sprouts From Nowhere...

...well, at least as far as I'm concerned:

Apple, continuing its reliance on open-source technologies, is using an open-source project called SproutCore to provide rich Internet applications like its new MobileMe service.

The idea is to use to keep Apple from being "locked into the browser plug-ins for...one particular standard."

Never heard of it, but if it offers a completely open alternative to the dreaded Flash, put me down for two of them....

The BPI Makes the BBC Broadcast its Stupidity

When I read this riposte by British Phonographic Industry's chief executive, Geoff Taylor, to an eminently reasonable column by Bill Thompson, who had noted the futility and counterproductive nature of attempts to stop filesharing, one passage immediately struck me:

Let's look at the figures. More than six and a half million people in the UK illegally access and distribute music, and it is plain wrong to say that this is good for music.

Independent research has shown time after time that people who download illegally generally spend less on music than people that don't, which undermines investment in new music.

Hang on a minute, I says to mesself: isn't it exactly the opposite - that there are oodles of studies that show that people who download music actually spend *more*? Alas, I was feeling lazy, and I couldn't be bothered hunting out the verse and chapter to show that Mr Taylor was talking a load of nonsense.

But then, the wonder that is the blogospher kicked in. Techdirt's Mike Masnick picked up the rather insubstantial gauntlet flung down by Graham, and answered thusly:

The real kicker, though, is his claim that independent studies say that those who use file sharing spend less on music. That's simply untrue. Study after study after study after study after study after study has shown the exact opposite -- noting that people who file share tend to be bigger music fans, and are more likely to spend on music.

If that's not a refutation, I don't know what is.

But what's really pathetic about this is that somebody in a nominally responsible position - one capable of making the BBC print "his side of the story" - should so barefacedly misrepresent the facts in order to cast slurs on an journalist's reputation.

Wouldn't it be rather better to face up to reality, admit that things in the digital world have "moved on" in Tony Blair's oft-repeated phrase, and come up with a better business model? Not least because it's pretty damn obvious to even the spottiest teenager else what that might be.

Insecurity is Bad for Your Health


A shocking article appeared yesterday on the BMJ website. It recounts how auditors called 45 GP surgeries asking for personal information about 51 patients. In only one case were they asked to verify their identity; the attack succeeded against the other 50 patients.

Whatever Happened to Greek Civilisation?

You probably don't care much about the Greek National Land Registry unless you're Greek or have land in Greece, but I think we can all be saddened by the following from its site:

Η εφαρμογή είναι διαθέσιμη αποκλειστικά για Internet Explorer.

[Google Translate: The application is available exclusively for Internet Explorer.]

So much for Neelie's open standards.
(Via Linux Format Greece.)

Firefox 3 Is Given to the World – Or Maybe Not

On Linux Journal.

Share and Share-Alike

Fascinating study from the University of Herefordshire on the music habits of "young people". It conveniently confirms everything that I and others have been saying for some time. For example:

Respondents seem to attach a hierarchy of value to different formats of music, with streaming on demand the least valuable (though still valued); ownership of digital files somewhere in the middle; and ownership of the original physical CD the most valuable. However, with respondents spending 60% of their total music budget on live music, it may be that “being there” is considered the ultimate music experience of all.

Doesn't that just scream "business model" to you?

This, too, was heartening:

Those who do upload do so for mostly altruistic reasons – by far, the most cited reason was to give in return to others; or to recommend music.

This suggests that respondents recognise the value in the ‘share-ability’ of music and are motivated by a sense of fairness and the principle of reciprocity – something for something. They are operating within a moral code, even though they are acting illegally.

Again, this emphasises that people who are downloading and uploading music are not scofflaws, but operate "within a moral code" - unlike the recording industry, which seems motivated purely by greed and vindictiveness, unwilling to understand the market it purports to serve.

It could do worse than spending some time digesting the results of this survey, which pretty much provide a roadmap for the industry in terms of working with its customers, and making a pile of loot along the way.

Open Voting Consortium

Elections seem like a no-brainer for openness: after all, fairness requires transparency, and you don't get more transparent than being fully open. And yet previous e-voting systems have proved notoriously fallible - not least because they weren't open. The Open Voting Consortium aims to do solve these problems:

The Open Voting Consortium is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development, maintenance, and delivery of trustable and open voting systems for use in public elections. We are comprised of computer scientists, voting experts, and voting rights activists. We have a growing international membership base, but our organizing efforts are currently focused in California where we are actively engaged in legislation and implementing Open Voting as a model for the United States.

Needless to say, it's based on open source:

We have developed (1) a prototype of open-source software for voting machines (2) an electronic voting machine that prints a paper ballot, (3) a ballot verification station that scans the paper ballot and lets a voter hear the selections, and (4) stations with functions to aid visually impaired people so they can vote without assistance. Open source means that anyone can see how the machines are programmed and how they work.

16 June 2008

To Open DB2, or Not To Open DB2: That is the Question


IBM is positive about the possibility of bringing out its DB2 database-management software under an open-source licence.

While the computing giant has no immediate plans to open-source DB2, market conditions may make it unavoidable, according to Chris Livesey, IBM's UK director of information management software.

Open Enterprise Interview with Ryan Bagueros, North-by-South

On Open Enterprise blog.

Polishing the Firefox 3.0 Download Pledge

Pledging to download Firefox 3 tomorrow is clearly a totally pointless activity (yes, I've done it, anyway), and yet some interesting factoids can be gleaned from the relevant page.

For example, despite - or maybe because of - its dismal showing in overal installed base, the UK's pledges stand at a decent 54,000 currently. This compares fairly well with Germany (55,000), Italy (56,000) and France (69,000). The real surprise, for me at least, is Poland, currently on 90,000: impressive.

BECTA and the Groklaw Effect


Right now Becta ( [the UK agency that snubbed the free software community] http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/community_posts/uk_agency_snubs_free_software_community) ) is in the process of being Groklawed by the free software community. A source close to the events right now told me quite clearly that Freedom Of Information Act requests are hitting Becta in flurries.

The Sense of Microsoft's Open Census Move

I predict we'll be seeing a lot more of this:

Microsoft has become a sponsor of The Open Source Census, a project started earlier this year that aims to track and catalog the use of open-source software in enterprises worldwide, the group announced Monday.

Call it the "loving to death" strategy: Microsoft entwines its tentacles around more and more of the open source world until it becomes almost - almost - an indispensable part of it. Result: the person on the Clapham omnibus is confused about what is and what isn't open source....

15 June 2008

The Bang-on Blogosphere

Further proof that things are shifting in media-land:

as Iain Dale, the Tory blogger who ran Davis's ill-fated leadership campaign, points out, while newspapers scorned the resignation the blogosphere largely embraced it: political chatrooms are overflowing with right-wingers offering to start a fighting fund, and left-wingers agonising over whether to support him. Even the Daily Telegraph's Saturday letters page was two to one in favour of the former MP for Haltemprice and Howden.

Could David Davis somehow have stumbled across something the establishment has missed, an untapped anger with what the public sees as a snooping, heavy-handed state that spies on it through speed cameras and CCTV and microchips on its rubbish bins, that tramples its freedoms and makes sloppy mistakes with its private data?

Update: Related thoughts here.

13 June 2008

BECTA Rubbishes Almost the Entire UK Open Source Industry

On Open Enterprise blog.

In Praise of Government Leadership

On Open Enterprise blog.

Associated Press Decides to Look Stupid

I'm currently engaged in a legal disagreement with the Associated Press, which claims that Drudge Retort users linking to its stories are violating its copyright and committing "'hot news' misappropriation under New York state law." An AP attorney filed six Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown requests this week demanding the removal of blog entries and another for a user comment.

The Retort is a community site comparable in function to Digg, Reddit and Mixx. The 8,500 users of the site contribute blog entries of their own authorship and links to interesting news articles on the web, which appear immediately on the site. None of the six entries challenged by AP, which include two that I posted myself, contains the full text of an AP story or anything close to it. They reproduce short excerpts of the articles -- ranging in length from 33 to 79 words -- and five of the six have a user-created headline.

So that's about 99.999% of the blogosphere that's violating copyright according to AP. How about if we help Associated Press by never linking to any of their stories...that should make them *really* happy. (Via Scott Rosenberg.)

More Unspeakable Acts

Michael Geist has been warning about this for a while, and now the beast is out:

Today the Government of Canada introduced long-overdue and much-needed amendments to the Copyright Act that will bring it in line with advances in technology and current international standards.

"Our government has committed to ensuring Canada's copyright law is up to date, and today we are delivering by introducing this "made-in-Canada" bill that balances the interests of Canadians who use digital technology and those who create content," said the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry. "It's a win-win approach because we're ensuring that Canadians can use digital technologies at home with their families, at work, or for educational and research purposes. We are also providing new rights and protections for Canadians who create the content and who want to better secure their work online."

The phrase "made-in-Canada" would be funny if it weren't so pathetic: this bill has been dictated down to the last comma by Hollywood, and it would be hard to imagine anything less "made-in-Canada". Moreover, despite the misleading stuff about "win-win", this is simply a loss for Canadians, as Geist explains:

1. As expected, Prentice has provided a series of attention-grabbing provisions to consumers including time shifting, private copying of music (transferring a song to your iPod), and format shifting (changing format from analog to digital). These are good provisions that did not exist in the delayed December bill. However, check the fine print since the rules are subject to a host of strict limitations and, more importantly, undermined by the digital lock provisions. The effect of the digital lock provisions is to render these rights virtually meaningless in the digital environment because anything that is locked down (ie. copy-controlled CD, no-copy mandate on a digital television broadcast) cannot be copied. As for every day activities like transferring a DVD to your iPod - those are infringing too. Indeed, the law makes it an infringement to circumvent the locks for these purposes.

2. The digital lock provisions are worse than the DMCA. Yes - worse. The law creates a blanket prohibition on circumvention with very limited exceptions and creates a ban against distributing the tools that can be used to circumvent. While Prentice could have adopted a more balanced approach (as New Zealand and Canada's Bill C-60 did), the effect of these provisions will be to make Canadians infringers for a host of activities that are common today including watching out-of-region-coded DVDs, copying and pasting materials from a DRM'd book, or even unlocking a cellphone.

While that is the similar to the U.S. law, the exceptions are worse. The Canadian law includes a few limited exceptions for privacy, encryption research, interoperable computer programs, people with sight disabilities, and security, yet Canadians can't actually use these exceptions since the tools needed to pick the digital lock in order to protect their privacy are banned. In other words, check the fine print again - you can protect your privacy but the tools to do so are now illegal. Dig deeper and it gets worse. Under the U.S. law, there is mandatory review process every three years to identify new exceptions. Under the Canadian law, its up to the government to introduce new exceptions if it thinks it is needed. Overall, these anti-circumvention provisions go far beyond what is needed to comply with the WIPO Internet treaties and represents an astonishing abdication of the principles of copyright balance that have guided Canadian policy for many years.

So far, so bad - and pretty much expected. But what struck me was the following gratuitous comment at the end of the press release:

These amendments to the Copyright Act are part of the government's broader intellectual property strategy, which includes the recent amendments to the Criminal Code to combat movie piracy and the announcement that Canada will work with other international trading partners towards a possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

In other words, all this stuff is just a prelude to the even more Draconian, even less democratic ACTA which is beetling towards us. Time to start protesting, people....

12 June 2008

Trop de Tropes


the world is not so simple as “open” or “closed.” Most software has both open and closed elements, and thus falls along a linear spectrum of being more open or more closed (or proprietary). But politicians, we know, will often eschew nuance and speak in simple rhetoric. And what rhetoric it is! No citizen should be forced or ENCOURAGED to choose a “closed technology” — this is more befitting of the Free Software Foundation or any NGO, just not a government’s chief antitrust official.

The point is that openness is not a business model: it is an engineering model. It benefits everyone: users, developers, suppliers. Kroes was (rightly) advocating such a level playing field, since it allows everyone to compete on the same terms - something that closed technologies do not.

This trope of openness being "just another business model" is a favourite of Microsoft's, alongside "we need more than one standard for a given area, to promote choice" - when what are needed are *implementations* of a single standard. These rhetorical siblings are rather desperate, if amusingly Jesuitical, attempts to use words to gloss over the reality.

Giving Yahoo the Heave-Ho

One of the key open source people at Yahoo is Jeremy Zawodny.

Was Jeremy Zawodny:

It's been quite a ride, and I'm really going to miss Yahoo. I'll miss the parking debates and all the "random" stuff we're so fond of ranting about. Watching from the outside is going to be a very different experience. But the opportunity to work in a much smaller company recently presented itself and it was simply too interesting to pass up. I'll say more about that in the coming weeks.

The Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One

You can't make this stuff up:

UK music licensing outfit the “Performing Right Society” (PRS) - the guys that come asking for money when you play any music within earshot of the public - is rolling out the big guns ready for a High Court showdown with a little known group of music pirates, known in the UK as ‘the police’. Not the band of the same name, but that government organization people rely on for keeping law and order.

According to a report, the police in the county of Lancashire have apparently committed a terrible crime and let the whole country down. Rather like the copyright infringing tea-rooms and their carol-singing occupants we wrote about last year, it appears that the police have been recklessly listening to music in stations all over the county - without a license. The PRS aren’t happy.

Another Little Gift from Tony "The Poodle" Blair

One of the illusions that I have been labouring under is that here in Blighty we are largely untouched by the worst madnesses affecting computing and the Internet in the US - things like software patents, deranged punishments for copyright infringement etc. Alas, Rupert Goodwins' laser-like mind has managed to trace out the following extreme bad news:

The [US] PRO-IP bill, H.R.4279, significantly increases the state's power to detect and prosecute IP infringement, carrying with it a whole host of new law enforcement positions and capabilities. It establishes an IP Czar, someone with the job of overseeing zealous action on behalf of copyright and trademark owners, and includes such powers as the ability to seize equipment if it contains just one file thought to infringe.

Importing and exporting infringing material will attract harsh penalties, and there's a $30,000 per-track fine on music (so that's half a million dollars for an album), The list goes on, and I thoroughly recommend you go out and Google to educate yourself on the many quite overwhelming powers the US government wants to give itself in its apparent determination to put file sharing on a par with drug dealing, gangsterism and other great crimes against society.

Thank goodness we're not in America? That hardly helps. Among the many provisions is the establishment of "five additional Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordinators in foreign countries to protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. citizens [...] increase DOJ training and assistance to foreign governments to combat counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property." -- and if you think their job is just to lead the rest of the world in the way of American righteousness, think again.

In many ways, the worst bit of news is our own fault - or, rather, the fault of the pusillanimous apology of a government that pretends to rule this country:

As a UK citizen, you no longer have any effective defence against a US demand for deportation. Under the Extradition Act 2003 the US can apply for a UK citizen to be extradited without having to present any evidence to face charges of a crime committed in the US – for which the UK citizen need not have been actually present.

So you can be extradited to the US without anybody having to present evidence against you, for something you may (or may not) have done in the US, that is legal in the UK but possibly against one of their crackpot rules. Thanks, Tony, you've certainly managed to dump one hell of a legacy....

Ashamed to be British


Foneros, Beware

If you're a user of the clever FON wifi-sharing system, and think you are immune to eavesdropping by UK Government spies, think again. Here's what Martin Varsavsky, Sr. FON himself, has to say on the subject:

Fon has to provide special VPN tunneling technology in the UK for the UK secret services to investigate suspected criminals and terrorists when they log on to our WiFi signal.

Remember Shareware?

You know, that pretend free stuff that was around before truly free software became better known. Well, apparently, it's alive and living in China:

International Summit on Chinese Shareware (ISCS) 2008 organized by the Association of Chinese Shareware (CNSW) and Digital River will be held on 20th June in Shanghai. The organizer said that shareware has actually been in China for over 10 years, this event is to provide a stage where shareware authors, end users and international or local companies can share the knowledge of international market and Chinese market.

The Subtle Art of Open Source Migrations

On Open Enterprise blog.

Mark Shuttleworth on the Future of Ubuntu

On LWN.net.

11 June 2008

The True Costs and Benefits of Open Access

One issue that has been repeatedly (and heatedly) debated since 1994 — when Open Access (OA) advocate Stevan Harnad first posted his "Subversive Proposal" — is a question that some might consider to be the most fundamental question of all for the research community in the digital age. That is, what are the essential costs of publishing a scholarly paper? To date, however, no one appears to have come up with an adequate answer.

So says Richard Poynder, who then reviews the situation with his usual thoroughness. However, he concludes:

One thing is for sure: If OA ends up simply shifting the cost of scholarly communication from journal subscriptions to article processing charges (APCs) without any reduction in overall expenditure, and inflation continues unabated, many OA advocates will be sorely disappointed. And if that were to happen, then we can surely expect to see calls for a more radical reengineering of the scholarly communication system.

Well, maybe, but this omits an important point: even if the transition to open access produced absolutely zero savings, it would still achieve something invaluable: making scholarly communications available to all, not just the lucky few at institutions with subscriptions. That alone would make the exercise worthwhile.

Is Apache the Greatest Open Source Project?

On Open Enterprise blog.

10 June 2008

Peter Suber Writing Suberbly

Peter Suber is widely acknowledged as the linch-pin of the open access movement, but an ironic consequence of this is that his own writings on the subject can be overshadowed by the torrent of info he provides on Open Access News. So, in an attempt to do justice in this respect, here are a couple of noteworthy - maybe Suberb is the word - contributions.

The first is a stonker:

Here's an epistemological argument for OA. It's not particularly new or novel. In fact, I trace it back to some arguments by John Stuart Mill in 1859. Nor is it very subtle or complicated. But it's important in its own right and it's importantly different from the moral and pragmatic arguments for OA we see more often.

The thesis in a nutshell is that OA facilitates the testing and validation of knowledge claims. OA enhances the process by which science is self-correcting. OA improves the reliability of inquiry.

After that you might prefer some lighter fare, ending on this upbeat note:

The short-term outlook is turbulent. But long-term, there are good reasons to think that OA will become the default for new peer-reviewed research literature. Support for OA is growing among scholars, universities, libraries, learned societies, funding agencies, and governments. Even non-OA publishers are increasingly willing to experiment with it. We can implement OA today, without reforming or violating copyright law. OA publishing costs less than conventional publishing and even these costs don’t require new money; long-term, they can be covered by redirecting money now spent on non-OA journals. The economics of prestige temporarily favors older journals, and therefore non-OA journals, but high-quality OA journals are inexorably acquiring prestige to match their quality, and new OA journals launch every week. While non-OA publishers can still influence author decisions, they are powerless to stop the rise of lawful OA from those who are determined to seize rather than spurn the opportunities created by the internet.

The Battle of the Non-Papers

For anyone with any lingering doubts about the absurdity of intellectual monopolies and the organisations who peddle them, enter the non-paper:

A small group of countries opposing the inclusion of intellectual property-related issues in World Trade Organization negotiations has issued their response to an earlier “non-paper” that had called for IP issues to be integrated with the upcoming horizontal, or all-inclusive, negotiations at the WTO.


The paper is referring to a 26 May proposal, in the form of another “non-paper” seeking to ensure that three major IP issues are on the table for the horizontal trade talks.

Recursive Publics: Hardly a Two-Bit Idea

For some years I have contemplated – and even planned out in some detail - a kind of follow-up to Rebel Code, which would look at the ways the ideas underlying free software have radiated out ever wider, to open content, open access, open courseware, open science – well, if you're reading this blog, you can fill in the rest. Happily, I couldn't find a publisher willing to take this on, so I was spared all the effort (non-authors have no idea what an outrageous amount of work books entail).

Now someone else has gone ahead, done all that work, and written pretty much that book, albeit with a more scholarly, anthropological twist than I could aspire to. Moreover, in true open source fashion, its author, Christopher Kelty, has made it freely available, not only to read, but to hack. The following paragraph expresses the core idea of this (and my) book:

The significance of Free Software extends far beyond the arcane and detailed technical practices of software programmers and “geeks” (as I refer to them herein). Since about 1998, the practices and ideas of Free Software have extended into new realms of life and creativity: from software to music and film to science, engineering, and education; from national politics of intellectual property to global debates about civil society; from UNIX to Mac OS X and Windows; from medical records and databases to international disease monitoring and synthetic biology; from Open Source to open access. Free Software is no longer only about software—it exemplifies a more general reorientation of power and knowledge.

I've only speed-read it – it's a dense and rich book – but from what I've seen, I can heartily recommend it to anyone who finds some of the ideas on this blog vaguely amusing: it's the work of a kindred spirit. The only thing I wasn't so keen on was its title: “Two Bits” Now, call me parochial, but the only connotation of “two bits” for me is inferiority, as in a two-bit solution. A far better title, IMHO, would have been one of the cleverest concepts in the book: that of “recursive publics”:

Recursive publics are publics concerned with the ability to build, control, modify, and maintain the infrastructure that allows them to come into being in the first place and which, in turn, constitutes their everyday practical commitments and the identities of the participants as creative and autonomous individuals. In the cases explored herein, that specific infrastructure includes the creation of the Internet itself, as well as its associated tools and structures, such as Usenet, e-mail,the World Wide Web (www), UNIX and UNIX-derived operating systems, protocols, standards, and standards processes. For the last thirty years, the Internet has been the subject of a contest in which Free Software has been both a central combatant and an important architect.

By calling Free Software a recursive public, I am doing two things: first, I am drawing attention to the democratic and political significance of Free Software and the Internet; and second, I am suggesting that our current understanding (both academic and colloquial) of what counts as a self-governing public, or even as “the public,” is radically inadequate to understanding the contemporary reori entation of knowledge and power.

The arch-recursionist himself, RMS, would love that.

Open Enterprise Interview: Bernard Dalle, Index Ventures

On Open Enterprise blog.

Nearly Perfect Neelie

Looks like Neelie really gets it these days:

“I know a smart business decision when I see one — choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” Ms. Kroes told a conference in Brussels. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

Now, if she could just change "open standards" to "open source"....

UK's Second City in Second Life

Whatever happened to Second Life? Well, somebody's still using it, apparently:

to create a geo-coded map within Second Life that enables you to explore a scaled 3D version of Birmingham, UK in-world, access geo-tagged BBC and CNN World News, and more.

(Via New World Notes.)

I Came, ISO, I Didn't Conquer

The OOXML farce continues:

Four national standards body members of ISO and IEC – Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela – have submitted appeals against the recent approval of ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML formats, as an ISO/IEC International Standard.


According to the ISO/IEC rules, a document which is the subject of an appeal cannot be published as an ISO/IEC International Standard while the appeal is going on. Therefore, the decision to publish or not ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as an ISO/IEC International Standard cannot be taken until the outcome of the appeals is known.

09 June 2008

Politics 2.0

This is why we will win:

It used to be so easy - the government could just set up a plan, push through it, let the media do its part. But the web 2.0 turned nearly every single Korean into a media figure. Now everyone ventilates his or her ideas on the internet, to which all others are responding back and forth - the amount of communication taking place grows exponentially. It ain't simple and easy anymore. If you want to lead people, you should do it in a 2.0 way, or you're doomed.

Who knows? Maybe even the UK could be like that in a couple of decades....


This is getting interesting. After appointing a top Googler as its "digital president", EMI Music has now nabbed Cory Ondrejka, most recently at Linden Lab, and the main technical brains behind Second Life:

Two weeks ago, I joined EMI Music as SVP of Digital Strategy.

Why EMI? By hiring Douglas Merrill, EMI has demonstrated a commitment to capitalize on all the technology available to make the music experience better for artists and fans. At Linden, the most important changes I drove were blends of technology and licensing, so when Douglas asked me to join him at EMI, I jumped at the chance. Music touches everyone in the world and is uniquely part of our lives -- how could I not take this challenge?

Two people who really get the digital world at the top of EMI Music: surely *something* good must come of that?

RMS Adds a Little Oyster Sauce

A few weeks back, there was much rejoicing in the open source world over the following story:

Open-source software helped London's Oyster card system move past a proprietary roadblock, an open-source conference in London was told last week.

The Oyster contactless card system, which handles payments for travel on London's buses and Tube system, suffered from lock-in to proprietary systems, which hindered developments to the online payment systems, said Michael Robinson, a senior consultant with Deloitte, at the Open Source Forum event in London. "The hosting was on a proprietary system, centred on one application," he said. "It demanded certain hardware, and was locked into one design of infrastructure."

I refrained from commenting because I have big problems with the Oyster system. It seems I'm not the only one:

After our coverage of London's Oyster card, which uses Linux for its online payment system, we had a response from Richard Stallman, head of the Free Software Foundation.

RMS explains why he is/I am unhappy:

Each Oyster card has a unique ID, which it transmits when it is used. So if you make the mistake of connecting the card with your name, then Big Brother knows exactly when and where you enter the tube, system and where you leave. For the surveillance-mad government of the UK, this is like a dream come true. Since the card contains an RFID, it can be scanned any time, anywhere - not just when you think you are using it.

Moreover, trying to ban such uses of free software would be futile:

Some have proposed that free software licenses such as the GNU General Public License should restrict use of the software to do unethical things. (Military use was the one most often suggested.) I've concluded that this would be misguided. A general tool will inevitably be used for all sorts of things. We cannot prevent surveillance, or wars of aggression, [by] trying to prohibit the use of certain operating systems for these purposes, any more than we could do so by putting restrictions on the use of pens or chairs. The worst evils are committed by governments, and since they make the copyright laws on which free software licenses are based, they could always vote themselves an exception -- or use non-free software.

He does, however, have some practical suggestions for users of London Transport:

To protect yourself from surveillance, you must pay cash. It is also a good idea to swap empty Oyster cards with other people from time to time. That way, even if Big Brother finds out which card you have today, he can't use its number to look up all your movements for the past N years. And keep the card in aluminum foil whenever you are not using it -- that way it can't be scanned when it shouldn't be.

Ah yes, the aluminium foil - never leave home without it....

Walking Three Tightropes

On Open Enterprise blog.

The New Pirate's Dilemma

The Pirate's Dilemma:

The Pirate’s Dilemma tells the story of how youth culture drives innovation and is changing the way the world works. It offers understanding and insight for a time when piracy is just another business model, the remix is our most powerful marketing tool and anyone with a computer is capable of reaching more people than a multi-national corporation.

To its credit, it is following its own philosophy:

Why would an author give away a book for free? Obviously it makes a lot of sense given the arguments in this particular book, but it’s true for all authors that piracy isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity.

There are millions of books on amazon.com, and on average each will sell around 500 copies a year. The average American is reading just one book a year, and that number is falling. The problem (to quote Tim O’Reilly) isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity. Authors are lucky to be in a business where electronic copies aren’t considered substitutes for physical copies by most people who like reading books (for now at least).

By treating the electronic version of a book as information rather than property, and circulating it as widely as possible, many authors such as Paulo Coelho and Cory Doctorow actually end up selling more copies of the physical version. Pirate copies of The Pirate’s Dilemma are out there online anyway, and they don’t seem to have harmed sales. My guess is they are helping. To be honest, I was flattered that the book got pirated in the first place.

Just one problem:

To download, simply click on the link above or the book cover pictured on the left. You’ll be taken to a checkout page where you can set the price anywhere from $0.00 upwards.

How much to put in?

Buy Windows XP, Get Vista Free

On Open Enterprise blog.

08 June 2008

No ID Card Function Creep? Pull the Other One

Here's an interesting blast from the past, courtesy of that nice Mr Charles Clarke, one-time home secretary:

This letter was sent about eight years ago as a reply to my Member of Parliament, Bill Cash, in response to the second of two letters I wrote complaining about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers bill that was then being considered by Parliament.

As you can see from the second paragraph on the second page, the Minister of State responsible for the legislation categorically denied that access to 'communications data' would be extended to local authorities.

Got that? No access to communications data by local authorities making use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, word of honour.

Oh, but wait:

Powers designed to allow spying on terror suspects have been used by South Kesteven District Council to investigate anti-social behaviour and fly tipping.

The council carried out surveillence on the public nine times between April 2007 and April 2008, permitted by legislation in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Now, tell me again why we should trust the UK government over ID cards? At least it seems a few other people are beginning to have their doubts:

The government should limit the data it collects on citizens for its ID card scheme to avoid creating a surveillance society, a group of MPs has warned.

The Home Affairs Select Committee called for proper safeguards on the plans for compulsory ID cards to stop "function creep" threatening privacy.

It wants a guarantee the scheme will not be expanded without MPs' approval.

Maybe the Home Secretary could give her word that will never happen....

06 June 2008

GFDL Smackdown: RMS vs. Beijing Underground

Seems like the Beijing underground authorities have infringed on an image from Wikipedia, which uses the GNU Free Documentation Licence: time to call for RMS?

A Subway map, drawn back and uploaded onto the Wikipedia back in 2004, became some kind of hit icon in the more underground part of the Chinese capital, with the map being used by the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall (on the 2nd floor exhibits and in the 4th floor 4D movie hall) — and now, by the Beijing Subway.


Obviously, they had no idea what the GFDL meant. Quite frankly, the guy that did the map could sue them — but we’ve never seen a GFDL lawsuit.

Maybe it's time we did....

ACTA's Unspeakable Acts

It seems that the Mighty behind the imminent ACTA are aware that what they are up to is literally unspeakable:

I’ve recently heard through a grapevine that ACTA negotiants have reportedly signed non-disclosure agreements as a condition of their participation in this week’s secret closed-door meeting in Geneva.

This is an amazing and frightening step backwards in the history of global governance. It also epitomizes the ACTA negotiants’ dismissive attitude towards the importance of credible, transparent trade policy-making in the current global environment.

Anyone who would seek to radically transform the world’s trade in intangible assets without the participation of most of the world’s governments has learned little from the Asian Financial Crisis, the Iraq War, or the ongoing real estate and credit catastrophe.

Why isn't the mainstream media up in arms about this? Or are they too busy contemplating their own growing impotence and irrelevance? Some of us have been warning about this for six months....

Open Hardware is...Hard

The Economist does one of its periodic "what's going on in that wacky world of open source" pieces, mercifully not as fundamentally flawed as earlier ones. This is about open hardware (OpenMoko, Chumby, Bug Labs, RepRap), and why it's, er, hard:

In addition to publishing all the software code for a device, for example, makers of open-source hardware generally reveal the physical information needed to build a device, including schematics, materials and dimensions. This is not something manufacturers normally do, and takes time and effort. Supplying open-source hardware is necessarily, therefore, more time-consuming and complex. “It can’t be as simple as open-source software,” says Peter Semmelhack, the founder of Bug Labs, a company based in New York that sells open-source hardware modules to put into other devices. “It has chips, schematics and things coming from many sources.” And suppliers of those many parts are not always interested in going open source, which further complicates matters. OpenMoko tries to use chips with open specifications, says Mr Moss-Pultz, though some chipmakers are reluctant to play along. “It’s like they’re taking their pants off in public,” he says.

Bill Gates' Closed Source World

Here's a frightening thought: Bill Gates is not so much giving up on his misguided closed-source approach to software as moving on to apply it to all the world's most pressing problems:

Finally, Bill Gates got me thinking a lot. His speech on what he is doing next was well worth attending. Bill's thesis is that if we can apply the principles of capitalism to solving the world's problems, we can eradicate hunger, poverty, disease, lack of power and climate change. Market and financial incentives alone are insufficient. We should all acting based upon self-interest and incentivized to work in that self-interest. Governments can help with tax incentives, but giving recognition to those companies and individuals are potentially more powerful. Companies should also be incentivized not to give money, but talent, which in turn provides recognition of the individual and organization making a difference. This recognition can be its own market-based reward since it will benefit the company in the competitive marketplace. This approach can be used to provide not just manpower, but solutions to accessibility of information, medicine and healthcare.

The Vista solution to hunger, poverty, disease, lack of power and climate change? Eeek.

Expensive Oil and the Analogue World

Fascinating stuff:

We usually think about technological improvements in productivity as benefiting the highly skilled and educated, and disenfranchising the poorly skilled and uneducated, but what I find most interesting about globalization in an era of $127 dollar-a-barrel oil is that blue-collar workers who make physical things in the West will stand to benefit, newly protected from foreign competition by energy tariffs, while white-collar workers who live off their wits will still feel the immense pressure of competing with everyone else in the world.

Asus the Unstoppable Innovator?

On Open Enterprise blog.

05 June 2008

Mozilla Dot T-shirt

This is why Firefox is unstoppable: T-shirts.

Welsh TV over IP: Yeah, But Why?

As someone who has a Welsh name and not a little Welsh genetic heritage, I'm a big fan of expanding the provision of material in Welsh. But spending lots of dosh on yet another TV over IP platform ain't the way to do that:

Welsh-language broadcaster S4C (hardly rolling in it, thanks to digital TV launches and falling audiences in the multichannel era) has teamed with VC house Wesley Clover to invest £9.5 in Inuk, an Abercynon-based TV-over-broadband operator.

Inuk packages channels under its Freewire brand, including Freeview stations and some premium channels. Inuk also does VoIP. Both are targeted at student halls of residence (now up to 100,000 students), old people's homes etc.

S4C, which operates in place of Channel 4 on analogue platforms, is funded from advertising and a £97 million annual public grant. The investment comes via its S4CDM commercial unit.

Bizarre how normally sane broadcasters lose their marbles over IP-based solutions.

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Ignoring the parodistic language, that is:

Essentially, with the Internet, capitalism gifts the masses with a false commons where people can work, off the clock, creating information and relationships that the ruling class can enclose, appropriate, commodify, and sell back to us at a later date. It’s a way of letting the process of primitive accumulation work as a perpetual, and because of the stagnation of the economies in the advanced capitalist countries, vital, supplement to the mechanism of exploitation, and one that should be seen alongside the other forms of primitive accumulation that are occurring right now and are, for sure, much more important: the direct seizure of Iraqi resources, the copyrighting and commodifying of the material of our bodies, and most obviously, the accumulation by dispossession that is occurring in Africa, in China, in Latin America, as capitalism pushes to its limits and attempts to expunge from the earth any trace of commonly-held land.

What's wrong with it? Well, centrally, it looks at things purely in monetary terms: that everything has a price, and that everything has to be paid for. In many ways, the central insight of commons-based activities is that there are things of worth beyond money, things that capitalism really can't capture (luckily).

Or as Michel Bauwens puts it in his own reply in the same post:

The last thing we want and need to do is the be so mentally colonized by the logic of market exchange that all we can and want to ask is just for a bigger piece of the pie. The key question is: how can we both preserve the social achievements of participation and peer production, and make a living at the same time. Out of the answers to this question will come the new social forms.

Where's Walt? On Firefox 3

Walt Mossberg wields much power in the US, so the following is significant:

My verdict is that Firefox 3.0 is the best Web browser out there right now, and that it tops the current versions of both IE and Safari in features, speed and security. It is easy to install and easy to use, even for a mainstream, non-technical user.

04 June 2008

Openness in the Middle Kingdom

The most senior Chinese official jailed for sympathising with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests has urged the leadership to make public the events that led to the government's decision to crush the pro-democracy movement.

The demonstrations, which lured more than a million people on to Beijing's streets, ended in a military crackdown on June 4 of that year. Now a fading memory, the massacre is still taboo in the Chinese media.

Bao Tong, once the top aide to purged Party chief Zhao Ziyang, argued that China has been praised for its transparency in handling the devastating May 12 earthquake and should also reveal the rifts in the leadership that led to the massacre.

"Through this quake ... they have tasted the benefits of openness and should know that openness is better than being closed," Bao told Reuters in an interview at his Beijing home.

Sounds good to me.