Archive for April, 2008

Blog readers

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A post about a child’s reaction to a party at which people apparently mentioned their blogs a lot reminded me of a name that last summer Jon Phillips and I gave to people who don’t talk about their blogs but do sound as if they were reading their blogs aloud — and every “conversation” with them sounds like this.

Of course these people existed before blogs and were perhaps simply called insufferable.

Although it isn’t nice to call someone insufferable and “blog reader” is snarky, I have some admiration for these people. At least they have something non-generic to say and with aggressive questioning one can learn from them.

Table selection, HSA, LugRadio, Music, Photographers, New Media

Monday, April 21st, 2008

A few observations and things learned from the last eight days.

Go to a page with a table, for example this one (sorry, semi-nsfw). Hold down the control key and select cells. How could I not have known about this!? Unfortunately, copy & paste seems to produce tab separated values in a single row even when pasting from mutliple rows in the HTML table (tried with Firefox and Epiphany). Still really useful when you only want to copy one column of a table, but if you want all of the columns, don’t hold down the control key and row boundaries get newlines as they should rather than tabs. (Thanks Asheesh.)

I feel really stupid about this one. I’ve assumed that a (US) was a spend within the year or lose your contributions arrangement, but that’s what a Flexible Spending Account is (I have no predictable medical expenses, so such an account makes no sense for me). A HSA is an investment account much like an IRA, except you can spend from it without penalty upon incurring medical expenses rather than old age. You can only contribute to a HSA while enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan, which I’ll try to switch to next year. (Thanks Ahrash.)

I saw a few presentations at LugRadio Live USA, in addition to giving one. Miguel de Icaza’s on (content roughly corresponding to this post) and Ian Murdock’s on were both in part about software packaging. Taken together, they make a good case for open source facilitating cross polination of ideas and code across operating system platforms.

Aaron Bockover and Gabriel Burt did a presentation/demo on , showing off some cool track selection/playlist features and talking about more coming. I may have to try switching back to Banshee as my main audio player (from Rhythmbox, with occasional use of Songbird for web-heavy listening or checking on how the program is coming along). Banshee runs on Mono, and both are funded by Novell, which also (though I don’t know how their overall investment compares) has an .

John Buckman gave an entertaining talk on open source and open content (including the slide at right). My talk probably was not entertaining at all, but used the question ‘how far behind [free/open source software] is free/open culture?’ to string together selected observations about the field.

Benjamin Mako Hill did a presentation on Revealing Errors (meant both ways). I found myself wanting to be skeptical of the power of technical errors to expose political/power relationships, but I imagine the concept could use a little hype — there’s definitely something there. The talk made me more sensitive to errors in any case. For example, when I transferred funds from a money market account to checking to pay taxes, an email notice included this (emphasis in original):

Your confirmation number is 0.

Zero? Really? The transaction did go through.

Tuesday I attended the Media Web Meetup V: The Gulf Between NorCal and SoCal, is it so big?, the idea being (in this context pushed by Songbird founder Rob Lord; I presented at the first Media Web Meetup and have attended a few others) that in Northern California entrepreneurs are trying to build new services around music, nearly all stymied by protectionist copyright holders in Southern California. I really did not need to listen to yet another panel asking how the heck is the music recording distribution industry going to use technology to make money, but this was a pretty good one as those go. One of the panelists kept urging technologists to “fix [music] metadata” as if doing so were the key to enabling profit from digital music. I suppressed the urge to sound a skeptical note, as investing more in metadata is one of the least harmful things the industry might do. Not that I don’t think metadata is great or anything.

Thursday evening I was on a ‘Copyright 2.0′ panel put on by the American Society of Media Photographers Northern California. I thought my photo selection for my first slide was pretty clever. No, copyright expansion is not always good for the interests of professional photographers. The other panelists and the audience were actually more open minded (both meanings) than I expected, and certainly realistic. The photographer on the panel even stated the obvious (my paraphrase from memory): new technology has allowed lots of people to explore their photographry talents who would otherwise have been unable to, and maybe some professional photographers just aren’t that good and should find other work. My main takeway from the panel is that it is very difficult for an independent photographer to successfully pursue unauthorized users in court. With the sometime exception of one, the other panelists all strongly advised photographers to avoid going to court except as a last resort, and even then, first doing a rational calculation of what the effort is likely to cost and gain. The best advice was probably to try to turn unauthorized users into clients.

Friday evening I went to San Jose to be on a panel about New Media Artists and the Law. Unlike Thursday’s panel, this one was mostly about how to use and re-use rather than how to prevent use. This (and some nostalgia) made me miss living in Silicon Valley — I lived in Sunnyvale two years (2003-2005) and San Jose (2005-2006) before moving back to San Francisco. Nothing really new came up, but I did enjoy the enthusiasm of the other panelists and the audience (as I did the previous day).

Staturday I went to Ubuntu Restaurant in Napa, which apparently does vegetable cuisine but does not market itself as vegetarian. I think that’s a good idea. The food was pretty good.

I’ve been listening to Hazard Records 59 and 60: Calida Construccio by various and Unhazardous Songs by Xmarx. Lovely Hell (mp3) from the latter is rather poppy.

Red Hat’s awesome desktop Linux work

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Red Hat on What’s Going On With Red Hat Desktop Systems? An Update (emphasis added):

we have no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future

Somehow Slashdot reads this as Red Hat Avoids Desktop Linux, Says Too Tough.

Obviously not true, as the Red Hat post goes on to say they have an enterprise desktop product, a community supported desktrop distrubution, and an upcoming desktop product for emerging markets.

More importantly:

Other desktop related projects where Red Hat has been the primary developer, or a major contributor, include:

  • X Revitalization effort (kernel modesetting, randr, dri2)
  • Screen size control panel
  • PolicyKit & ConsoleKit
  • Gnome (screensaver, gvfs/gio, GtkPrint, etc)
  • Liberation Fonts (with sponsorship of the Harfbuzz font shaper project)
  • Theora encoder improvements
  • Sponsorship of Ogg Ghost (successor to Ogg Vorbis)
  • NetworkManager and Network driver work – developed by Red Hat
  • 64-bit port
  • integration into the rest of GNOME: Port to cairo, dictionary unification, print/file dialogs
  • PulseAudio
  • Bluetooth file sharing
  • Ongoing hal maintenance and revitalization
  • DBus and DBus activation
  • Multiple power management activities:
    • Tickless kernel
    • Gnome power manager and the quirks list
    • Suspend/resume enhancements
    • Laptop backlight intensity autocontrol
    • project support (such as Powertop)
    • CPUfreq
    • AMD PowerNow!
  • and of course, lots and lots of bugfixes!

Although I think 2001-2002 is the only time I’ve primarily used a Red Hat desktop (before I used Slackware then Debian, since I’ve used Mandrake then Ubuntu), I’m certain that many of the things that make using a free software desktop (any distribution) so nice today have been built by engineers at . Thanks!

So, how could programmers make a living?

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Richard Stallman in Gnu’s Bulletin Vol. 1 No. 1, February 1986:

There are plenty of ways that programmers could make a living without selling the right to use a program. This way is customary now because it brings programmers and businessmen the most money, not because it is the only way to make a living. It is easy to find other ways if you want to find them. Here are a number of examples.

A manufacturer introducing a new computer will pay for the porting of operating systems onto the new hardware.

The sale of teaching, hand-holding and maintenance services could also employ programmers.

People with new ideas could distribute programs as freeware, asking for donations from satisfied users, or selling hand-holding services. I have met people who are already working this way successfully.

Users with related needs can form users’ groups, and pay dues. A group would contract with programming companies to write programs that the group’s members would like to use.

In the intervening twentysomething years much practical experience has been gained, evidenced by large businesses employing many programmers following these models. Well, except for the last one, which has turned out to be insignificant so far, though perhaps there remains lots of experimentation before it plays out.

What the above misses is that most software is not created for licensing (commercial or public) and most programmers’ jobs do not depend on licensing, much as most musicians are not in the pay of the recorded music distribution business.

LugRadio Live this weekend

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

LugRadio Live comes to San Francisco this weekend. Only $10, has something for anyone interested in open source, open content, open media, etc., Saturday evening drinks on Google. I’m speaking Sunday.

Next Thursday evening I’ll be speaking to presumably a very different audience at the American Society of Media Photographers Northern California on Copyright in a Hyper Digital Age: Copyrights? Copyleft? What rights are left?, also open to the public and cheap.

Next month, should anyone in Boston read this, I’ll be at Berkman@10.

In July I’ll literally be speaking at a Linux User Group meeting — BALUG, free or cheap with Chinese food. The amusing thing about this is that their lineup for the rest of the year is a who’s who list of open source — mine is the only name that requires any affiliation.

Commoditizing the cloud

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Doug Cutting on Cloud: commodity or proprietary?:

As we shift applications to the cloud, do we want our code to remain vendor-neutral? Or would we rather work in silos, where some folks build things to run in the Google cloud, some for the Amazon cloud, and others for the Microsoft cloud? Once an application becomes sufficiently complex, moving it from one cloud to another becomes difficult, placing folks at the mercy of their cloud provider.

I think most would prefer not to be locked-in, that cloud providers instead sold commodity services. But how can we ensure that?

If we develop standard, non-proprietary cloud APIs with open-source implementations, then cloud providers can deploy these and compete on price, availability, performance, etc., giving developers usable alternatives.

That’s exactly right. Cloud providers (selling virtualized cpu and storage) are analogous to hardware vendors. We’re in the pre-PC era, when a developer must write to a proprietary platform, and if one wants to switch vendors, one must port the application.

But such APIs won’t be developed by the cloud providers. They have every incentive to develop proprietary APIs in order to lock folks into their services. Good open-source implementations will only come about if the community makes them a priority and builds them.

I think this is a little too pessimistic. Early leaders may have plenty of incentive to create lockin, but commoditization is another viable business model, one that could even be driven by a heretofore leading proprietary vendor, e.g., the IBM PC, or Microsoft-Yahoo!

Of course the community should care and build the necessary infrastructure so that it is available to enable a potential large cloud provider to pursue the commoditization route and to provide an alternative so long as no such entity steps forward.

Cutting has been working on key parts of the necessary infrastructure; read the rest of his post for more.

Free speech vs. at least one patent (and copyright)

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

The ACLU has filed a brief (pdf) in the U.S. patent case called Bilski (a case I understand the End Software Patents project is watching closely) making a free speech argument against the patent in question.

I’m especially pleased that the ACLU brief makes two obvious but rarely stated points. One:

At the most basic level, it is apparent that because the First Amendment post-dates the patent clause in Article I, it modifies the patent clause.

Patents and copyright are covered in a , which for reference says “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”


Thus, the definition of “useful arts” clearly excludes music, art, and literature, all of which represent unpatentable matter clearly also protected by the First Amendment.

Unpatentable, but why not uncopyrightable too?

Via Gavin Baker.