Post OpenHatch

Happy UTC+0 New Year

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

With apologies for the projection.

Smattering of followups on mostly-recent posts, posted at 2015-01-01 00:00:00 UTC. Does anyone celebrate UTC+0 New Year except by coincidence of being in UTC+0 time zone? Yes.

Software Freedom Conservancy released a video with me endorsing them (my recent blog endorsement). I self-recorded the footage and acknowledge total videography incompetence, need of a haircut, and need to be still.

PLOS Biology published a perspective by Daniel Mietchen on The Transformative Nature of Transparency in Research Funding. Riffing on his tweet, that’s early theory; practice is the Wikidata for Research proposal that he is leading creation of in the open (my recent blog endorsement).

Snowdrift.coop’s one-time crowdfunding campaign (my recent blog endorsement and others) is wrapping up very successfully. Looking forward to seeing Snowdrift.coop launch in early 2015.

Free Software Foundation’s call for input on updating its high priority projects list (my blog post) has resulted in over 100 emails to hpp-feedback@gnu.org, most of them very thoughtful and containing numerous suggestions. Some are mirrored in public posts: Antoine Amarilli, Christopher Allan Webber, d3vid seaward, Denver Gingerich, Ingegnue. Please send your feedback! I especially enjoy seeing public posts and explanations of how suggestions are on critical path toward achieving goal of software freedom for everyone.

Speaking of the FSF, they recently released a new video making the case that software freedom is important for everyone. I agree with Christopher Allan Webber’s asseessment of good progress. The video also ties into a free software futurist dinner that Webber said raised money for Software Freedom Conservancy, and some statements I make in the video above: I suspect it’s much easier to take software freedom as a serious issue of top importance if one has a “futurist” bent. This will also figure in a forthcoming post from me casting doubt on everything in this post and the rest from 2014 (last year’s version).

There’s some overlap between the above and OpenHatch’s year-end newsletter (my year-ago blog endorsement).

Finally, check out Don Marti’s below the fold announcement about Aloodo, a project to (if I understand correctly) help sites protect themselves from the long-term damage of being associated with pervasive tracking and door-to-door-like incentives (everything to make immediate conversion, nothing to build trust). I still have not gotten around to blogging other ideas for “fixing” online advertising, but very much look forward to seeing how Marti’s project plays out.

prioritize(projects, freedom_for_all_computer_users)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Last week the Free Software Foundation published its annual appeal, which includes the following:

In another 30 years, we believe that we can achieve our goal. We believe that free software can be everywhere, and that proprietary software can go the way of the dinosaur. With the experience we’ve gained, and our community surrounding us, we can win this.

My immediate reaction: I’d love to see the last sentence expanded. How exactly?

Sadly I do not live in a world that laughs at any fundraising appeal lacking an explicit theory of change and only esteems those that one can bet on. At least the FSF has a goal. Perhaps its surrounding community can figure out what it will take to achieve that goal.

Helping “the FSF stay strong for 30 more years” is plainly insufficient, though of course I hope the FSF does stay strong for decades and encourage helping financially. The entire free software movement on its current trajectory is insufficient; some of its staunchest advocates predict a “dark ages” of software freedom (e.g., Bradley Kuhn, Stefano Zacchiroli).

Since 2005 the FSF has published a list of high priority free software projects in order “to foster work on projects that are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software and free software operating systems.”

Today the FSF announced a review of this list. Excerpt:

Undoubtedly there are thousands of free software projects that are high priority, each having potential to displace non-free programs for many users, substantially increasing the freedom of those users. But the potential value of a list of High Priority Free Software Projects maintained by the Free Software Foundation is its ability to bring attention to a relatively small number of projects of great strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users.

[…]

Keep in mind that not every project of great strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users will be a software development project. If you believe other forms of activism, internal or external (e.g., making free software communities safe for diverse participants, mandating use of free software in the public sector), are most crucial, please make the case and suggest such a project!

I hope the announcement text indicates the possibility of exploiting the review and list to encourage debate about how to achieve the FSF’s goal of software freedom for all over the next decades, and that the how might (must, in my view) go far beyond hacking of code (and secondarily, copyright). How can demand for software freedom be both increased and made more effective? Same for supply, inclusive of distribution and marketing?

Send your suggestions to hpp-feedback@gnu.org or better yet post publicly. (I’m on the review committee.)

Because it is undoubtedly out of scope for above activity, I’ll note here a project I consider necessary for FSF’s goal to become plausible: question software freedom.

The “dark ages” links above largely concern “the cloud”, the topic of the other FSF-related committee I’ve participated in, over 6 years ago, correctly implying that effort was not very influential. I hope to post an assessment and summary of my current take on the topic in the near future.

Edit Oakland wiki events

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Saturday, July 12, there’s a big open streets event in my obscure flats neighborhood where Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley meet. A small stretch of San Pablo Avenue will be closed to cars (sadly not only human-driven cars, which would momentarily meet my suggestion). E’ville Eye has a comprehensive post about the event and its origins.

There will be an Oakland Urban Paths walk in the neighborhood during the event, during which obscurities will be related. Usually these walks are in locations with more obvious scenery (hills/stairs) and historical landmarks; I’m looking forward to seeing how they address Golden Gate. Last month they walked between West Oakland and downtown, a historic and potentially beautiful route that currently crosses 980 twice — edit it out!

Monday, July 14 18:00-19:30 there’s a follow-on event at the Golden Gate Branch Library — an OaklandWiki edit party. I haven’t edited Oakland Wiki much yet, but I like the concept. It is one of many LocalWikis, which relative to MediaWiki and Wikipedia have very few features or rules. This ought greatly lower the barrier to many more people contributing information pertinent to their local situation; perhaps someone is researching that? I’ve used the OaklandWiki to look up sources for Wikipedia articles related to Oakland and have noticed several free images uploaded to OaklandWiki that would be useful on Wikipedia.

Saturday, July 19 11:00-16:00 there’s a Wikipedia edit event at Impact Hub in Oakland and online: WikiProject Open Barn Raising 2014 which aims to improve Wikipedia articles about open education — a very broad and somewhat recursive (Wikipedia is an “open educational resource”, though singular doesn’t do it justice, unless perhaps made singular the open educational resource, but that would be an overstatement). If you’re interested in OER, Open Access, open policy and related tools and organizations, or would like to learn about those things and about editing Wikipedia, please participate!

Tangentially, OpenHatch (my endorsement) got a nice writeup of its Open Source Comes to Campus events at WIRED. I view these as conceptually similar to introduction to Wiki[pedia] editing events — all aim to create a welcoming space for newcomers to dive into participating in commons-based peer production — good for learning, careers, communities, and society.

Gov[ernance]Lab impressions

Friday, March 7th, 2014

First, two excerpts of my previous posts to explain my rationale for this one. 10 months ago:

I wonder the extent to which reform of any institution, dominant or otherwise, away from capture and enclosure, toward the benefit and participation of all its constituents, might be characterized as commoning?

Whatever the scope of commoning, we don’t know how to do it very well. How to provision and govern resources, even knowledge, without exclusivity and control, can boggle the mind. I suspect there is tremendous room to increase the freedom and equality of all humans through learning-by-doing (and researching) more activities in a commons-orientated way. One might say our lack of knowledge about the commons is a tragedy.

26:

Other than envious destruction of power (the relevant definition and causes of which being tenuous, making effective action much harder) and gradual construction of alternatives, how can one be a democrat? I suspect more accurate information and more randomness are important — I’ll sometimes express this very specifically as enthusiasm for futarchy and sortition — but I’m also interested in whatever small increases in accurate information and randomness might be feasible, at every scale and granularity — global governance to small organizations, event probabilities to empirically validated practices.

I read about the Governance Lab @ NYU (GovLab) in a forward of a press release:

Combining empirical research with real-world experiments, the Research Network will study what happens when governments and institutions open themselves to diverse participation, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and seek input and expertise from a range of people.

That sounded interesting, perhaps not deceivingly — as I browsed the site, open tabs accumulated. Notes on some of those follow.

GovLab’s hypothesis:

When institutions open themselves to diverse participation and collaborative problem solving, they become more effective and the decisions they make are more legitimate.

I like this coupling of effectiveness and legitimacy. Another way of saying politics isn’t about policy is that governance isn’t about effectiveness, but about legitimizing power. I used to scoff at the concept of legitimacy, and my mind still boggles at arrangements passing as “legitimate” that enable mass murder, torture, and incarceration. But our arrangements are incredibly path dependent and hard to improve; now I try to charitably consider legitimacy a very useful shorthand for arrangements that have some widely understood and accepted level of effectiveness. Somewhat less charitably: at least they’ve survived, and one can do a lot worse than copying survivors. Arrangements based on open and diverse participation and collaborative problem solving are hard to legitimate: not only do they undermine what legitimacy is often really about, it is hard to see how they can work in theory or practice, relative to hierarchical command and control. Explicitly tackling effectiveness and legitimacy separately and together might be more useful than assuming one implies the other, or ignoring one of them. Refutation of the hypothesis would also be useful: many people could refocus on increasing the effectiveness and legitimacy of hierarchical, closed systems.

If We Only Knew:

What are the essential questions that if answered could help accelerate the transformation of how we solve public problems and provide for public goods?

The list of questions isn’t that impressive, but not bad either. The idea that such a list should be articulated is great. Every project ought maintain such a list of essential questions pertinent to the project’s ends!

Proposal 13 for ICANN: Provide an Adjudication Function by Establishing “Citizen” Juries (emphasis in original):

As one means to enhance accountability – through greater engagement with the global public during decision-making and through increased oversight of ICANN officials after the fact – ICANN could pilot the use of randomly assigned small public groups of individuals to whom staff and volunteer officials would be required to report over a given time period (i.e. “citizen” juries). The Panel proposes citizen juries rather than a court system, namely because these juries are lightweight, highly democratic and require limited bureaucracy. It is not to the exclusion of other proposals for adjudicatory mechanisms.

Anyone interested in random selection and juries has to be at least a little interesting, and on the right track. Or so I’ve thought since hearing about the idea of science courts and whatever my first encounter with sortition advocacy was (forgotten, but see most recent), both long ago.

Quote in a quote:

“The largest factor in predicting group intelligence was the equality of conversational turn-taking.”

What does that say about:

  • Mailing lists and similar fora used by projects and organizations, often dominated by loudmouths (to say nothing of meetings dominated by high-status talkers);
  • Mass media, including social media dominated by power law winners?

Surely it isn’t pretty for the intelligence of relevant groups. But perhaps impetus to actually implement measures often discussed when a forum gets out of control (e.g., volume or flamewars) such as automated throttling, among many other things. On the bright side, there could be lots of low hanging fruit. On the dim side, I’m surely making extrapolations (second bullet especially) unsupported by research I haven’t read!

Coordinating the Commons: Diversity & Dynamics in Open Collaborations, excerpt from a dissertation:

Learning from Wikipedia’s successes and failures can help researchers and designers understand how to support open collaborations in other domains — such as Free/Libre Open Source Software, Citizen Science, and Citizen Journalism. […] To inquire further, I have designed a new editor peer support space, the Wikipedia Teahouse, based on the findings from my empirical studies. The Teahouse is a volunteer-driven project that provides a welcoming and engaging environment in which new editors can learn how to be productive members of the Wikipedia community, with the goal of increasing the number and diversity of newcomers who go on to make substantial contributions to Wikipedia.

Interesting for a few reasons:

  • I like the title, cf. commons coordination (though I was primarily thinking of inter-project/movement coordination);
  • OpenHatchy;
  • I like the further inquiry’s usefulness for research and the researched community;
  • Improving the effectiveness of mass collaboration is important, including for its policy effects.

Back to the press release:

Support for the Network from Google.org will be used to build technology platforms to solve problems more openly and to run agile, real-world, empirical experiments with institutional partners such as governments and NGOs to discover what can enhance collaboration and decision-making in the public interest.

I hope those technology platforms will be open to audit and improvement by the public, i.e., free/open source software. GovLab’s site being under an open license (CC-BY-SA) could be a small positive indicator (perhaps not rising to the level of an essential question for anyone, but I do wonder how release and use of “content” or “data” under an open license correlates with release and use of open source software, if there’s causality in either direction, and if there could be interventions that would usefully reinforce any such).

I’m glad that NGOs are a target. Seems it ought be easier to adopt and spread governance innovation among NGOs (and businesses) than among governments, if only because there’s more turnover. But I’m not impressed. I imagine this could be due, among other things, to my ignorance: perhaps over a reasonable time period non-state governance has improved more rapidly than state governance, or to non-state governance being even less about effectiveness and more about power than is state governance, or to governance being really unimportant for survival, thus a random walk.

Something related I’ll never get around to blogging separately: the 2 year old New Ambiguity of ‘Open Government’ (summary), concerning the danger of allowing term to denote a government that publishes data, even merely politically insensitive data around service provision, rather than politically sensitive transparency and ability to demand accountability. I agree about the danger. The authors recommend maintaining distinctions between accountability, service provision, and adaptability of data. I find these distinctions aren’t often made explicit, and perhaps they shouldn’t be: it’d be a pain. But on the activist side, I think most really are pushing for politically sensitive transparency (and some focused on data about service provision might fairly argue such is often deeply political); certainly none want open data to be a means of openwashing. For one data point, I recommend the Oakland chapter of Beyond Transparency. Finally, Stop Secret Contracts seems like a new campaign entirely oriented toward politically sensitive transparency and accountability rather than data release. I hope they get beyond petitions, but I signed.

Technology and wealth Inequality Promotion

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Sam Altman, Technology and wealth inequality:

Without intervention, technology will probably lead to an untenable disparity—so we probably need some amount of intervention. Technology also increases the total wealth in a way that mostly benefits everyone, but at some point the disparity just feels so unfair it doesn’t matter.

This widening wealth divide is happening at all levels—people, companies, and countries. And either it will keep going, or innovation will stop.

The very first intervention ought be in our innovation policy, which presently is tuned to maximize concentration of wealth and minimize the access of everyone to the benefits of innovation — because our innovation policy is a property/rent seeking regime. A few data points.

Such an intervention won’t stop innovation, but might change it, and we should want that. Beautiful progress is that which is produced by a freedom and equality respecting regime. We ought be suspicious and ashamed of progress which depends on infringing freedom and promoting inequality. If mass spectacle ends when the regime falls, all the better. We’ll love whatever culture we have and create, will be amazed by its innovation, in part encouraged through non-enclosing innovation policy.

If innovation-driven inequality is a big problem, we ought be more highly valuing (including figuring out how to characterize that value) and promoting existing systems which depend on and promote freedom and equality, i.e., commons-based ones such as free/open source software and the Wikimedia movement (and recursively working on equality and diversity within those systems).

Innovation could tend to increase inequality independent of wealth concentrating, property/rent-seeking based innovation policies and other political factors. If this is the case (or honestly even if it is not), I’m always disappointed that progressivity of tax systems isn’t central to the debate — and I don’t mean marginal income tax rates. Basically property > income > sales. Further, property property can’t be moved and taxing it doesn’t require extensive privacy invasions. In theory I’d expect the strongest states and most free and equal societies of the future to strongly prefer real property taxation over other systems. But perhaps path dependencies and other factors will swamp this (and innovation policy as well).

Please help OpenHatch pick the low hanging fruit of FLOSS

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

I recently wrote concerning open source project fragmentation:

The low-hanging fruit is to help projects become easier for new contributors to get involved in, and friendly for staying involved in. Decrease the cost of contributing to existing projects, more will choose to do that rather than start, or leave to start, new projects.

That link is to OpenHatch, a nonprofit that I do a bit of volunteer administrivia and editing for. I have admired OpenHatch for longer, putting it among organizations with “potential to be important enablers of the free and open world.”

OpenHatch is picking the low-hanging fruit concerning both diversity and participation in free/open source projects. Probabilistically decreasing project fragmentation is one of many good side effects.

OpenHatch also represents a bit of sanity and depth as the “everyone needs to learn how to code” hype reaches its apogee. Not everyone needs to learn how to code, but there are plenty of ways to develop a more empowering relationship with software and how it is designed, created, maintained, distributed, marketed, controlled — how it shapes our world.

Those who do learn how to code should also learn how collaborate with others in building non-trivial, non-throwaway applications, in a way that is socially beneficial, i.e., contributing to an open source project. OpenHatch’s Open Source Comes to Campus program organizes workshops that help students (usually in partnership with a local women in computing or other student group) make their first open source contributions. We’re raising money for this program, with a match through December 24.

You can read more about Open Source Comes to Campus in an article on opensource.com by Shauna Gordon-McKeon. Then donate, and have your company sponsor Open Source Comes to Campus.

The real Open Source _ proliferation problem

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

The Open Source Initiative, best known for keeping a list of licenses compliant with its Open Source Definition, has hired its first-ever full time paid staffer, Patrick Masson as General Manager.

Masson’s blog has lots of good entries (if you just want to be amused, try a 10 year press release diff). One thing he bemoans repeatedly and pithily (It’s “many eyeballs…” not “many projects…”) is too much fragmentation and too little collaboration among open source projects. His most recent post, Joiners, Not Starters:

What’s painful is that there are already over 350 open source communities developing learning management systems. I find it frustrating and hypocritical to hear, “This is a great time to get involved for people who are interested in helping to shape this project…” from people who chose not to get involved–rather, choosing to do something on their own. Why is it a great time to join the Adapt project over any other existing effort looking to build community for support, contribution and collaboration? Why didn’t the folks who are developing Adapt take advantage of this great time in open source development and join an existing initiative? Indeed, couldn’t every current open source project (substituting out Adapt for their own name) use the above announcement to generate awareness and adoption of their own project?

Sounds just like the first question/advice for anyone looking to start a new organization. Economies of scale are hard to beat. But fragmentation is much worse for software, so much of its value coming from network effects. When lots of people, preferably most of the relevant population, are using a software application, it’s easy to find training, advice, employees, commercial support, and preinstalls of that software. It is easy to figure out which software is pertinent. Massively valuable stuff. Oh, and more people contributing to making the software better, if it is open source.

When there are lots of open source alternatives for a particular kind of software, and this contributes to none of them being dominant, the ability of open source to compete with proprietary vendors and deliver freedom to users and society, is severely hampered. More or less killed. (The inverse can also be true, but probably with many fewer instances.) The Linux desktop is probably an example. Further, public policy is negatively impacted: fragmented projects serve at best as existence proofs, dominant open projects powerfully shape the policy conversation, and the policy ecosystem — by wiping out the capitalization of entities aligned with rent seeking.

People who know the open source world well like to worry about about “license proliferation” (which the OSI’s license list mentioned at the beginning serves to throttle) and related, license incompatibility. I do too, including in and across nearby spaces, to the extent I think it is a minor tragedy that licenses first developed for software didn’t also come to dominate culture, data, hardware, etc, yet. But I’m pretty sure the open world could cope with each project adapting or developing a license just for its own use, though it would be hugely annoying. Fortunately, progress has often been in the right direction.

Project/program proliferation and related dwarfish network effects and collaboration are much, much bigger problems. There are cases where a dominant program has arisen from a highly fragmented field (eg WordPress among a mess of open source blog engines, Django among lots of Python web frameworks, git among a smaller number of distributed version control systems), but I’m not sure this has ever come about because people agitated against proliferation. There are standards-like collaborations among projects, such as freedesktop.org, which can result in more sharing of code and collaboration among projects, but I’m not sure do much to enable mass adoption and network effects. What more can be done, given that of course it will always be acceptable, often educational, and very occasionally wildly successful to work on Yet Another Foo?

  • The low-hanging fruit is to help projects become easier for new contributors to get involved in, and friendly for staying involved in. Decrease the cost of contributing to existing projects, more will choose to do that rather than start, or leave to start, new projects.
  • I don’t have much insight into the politically charged process of picking winners and merging efforts. Distributions (which are themselves terribly fragmented) probably already do a lot. Could they do more? Could institutions broker mergers? Could OSI? Stun all by bringing LibreOffice and OpenOffice together. GNOME, KDE, and Unity as well. How about federated social web efforts?
  • Marketing, promotion, sales. These are what any large proprietary software company does (same outside software, for publishing, etc.), and what open source projects need a lot more of, both to compete directly with proprietary industry, and to help winners with huge network effects emerge.

Each of these points also apply very strongly to non-software projects.

Another thing Masson repeatedly bemoans on his blog, and that I very much agree with, is the lack of “open” advocates eating their own dogfood — using open things other than the one they’re promoting, or open things from fields other than the one they’re supposedly opening:

However with so little folks actually interested in openness, but rather promoting their open product, we just don’t see the level of adoption we should with all open initiatives. Basically, if I can be blunt, you’re a hypocrite if you get up in front of your peers to proclaim the superiority of your project because it embraces open principles and practices, arguing it is those principles and practices that yield better products, but you yourself have not adopted other open resources. “Hold on, let me open up PowerPoint to tell you about how bad commercial software is.”

This not only harms network effects (or rather, has “open” advocates contributing to the network effects of proprietary software, culture, etc), but reduces knowledge transfer across open projects and fields. Masson seems to come from the education technology world; if that is anything like the open education[al resources] world, I suspect he’s speaking from painful experience.

Congratulations to OSI and Masson. I look froward to amazing progress on the above problems and many others! You can support their work by joining OSI as an individual member. Of course I also recommend joining the Free Software Foundation as an individual member. Because open source means freedom.

Why DRM in HTML5 and what to do about it

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Kẏra writes Don’t let the myths fool you: the W3C’s plan for DRM in HTML5 is a betrayal to all Web users.

Agreed, but what to do about it?

In the short term, the solution is to convince W3C that moving forward will be an embarrassing disaster, nevermind what some of its for-profit members want. This has been accomplished before, in particular 2001 when many wanted W3C to have a RAND (allowing so-called Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory fees to be required for implementing a standard) patent policy, but they were embarrassed into finally doing the right thing, mandating RF (Royalty Free) patent licensing by participants in W3C standards.

One small way to help convince the W3C is to follow Kẏra’s recommendation to sign the Free Software Foundation’s No DRM in HTML5 petition.

Long term, the only way the DRM threat is going to be put to rest is for free cultural works to become culturally relevant, if not dominant (the only unambiguous example of such as yet is Wikipedia exploding the category known as “encyclopedia”). One of Kẏra’s points is “The Web doesn’t need big media; big media needs the Web.” True, but individual web companies do fear big media and hope for an advantage over competitors by doing deals with big media, including deals selling out The Web writ large (that’s the “Why” in this post’s title).

To put it another way, agitation for “Hollyweb” will continue until Hollywood is no longer viewed as the peak of culture. I don’t mean just, and perhaps not even, “Hollywood movies”, but also the economic, ethical, social and other assumptions that lead us to demand delivery of more pyramids over protecting and promoting freedom and equality.

I don’t have a petition to recommend signing in order to help increase the relevance and dominance and hence unleash the liberation potential of knowledge commons. Every bit of using, recommending, building, advocating for as policy, and shifting the conversation toward intellectual freedom helps.

Waiting out DRM (and intellectual protectionism in general) is not a winning strategy. There is no deterministic path for other media to follow music away from DRM, and indeed there is a threat that a faux-standard as proposed will mean that DRM becomes the expectation and demand of/by record companies, again. In general bad policy abets bad policy and monopoly abets monopoly. The reverse of each is also true. If you aren’t helping make freedom real and real popular, you hate freedom!☻

Audio/video player controls should facilitate changing playback rate

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Listening or viewing non-fiction/non-art (eg lectures, presentations) at realtime speed is tiresome. I’ve long used rbpitch (but more control than I need or want) or VLC’s built-in playback speed menu (but mildly annoyed by “Faster” and “Faster (fine)”; would prefer to see exact rate) and am grateful that most videos on YouTube now feature a playback UI that allows playback at 1.5x or 2x speed. The UI I like the best so far is Coursera’s, which very prominently facilitates switching to 1.5x or 2x speed as well as up and down by 0.25x increments, and saving a per-course playback rate preference.

HTML5 audio and video unadorned with a customized UI (latter is what I’m seeing at YouTube and Coursera) is not everywhere, but it’s becoming more common, and probably will continue to as adding video or audio content to a page is now as easy as adding a non-moving image, at least if default playback UI in browsers is featureful. I hope for this outcome, as hosting site customizations often obscure functionality, eg by taking over the context menu (could browsers provide a way for users to always obtain the default context menu on demand?).

Last month I submitted a feature request for Firefox to support changing playback speed in the default UI, and I’m really happy with the response. The feature is now available in nightly builds (which are non-scary; I’ve run nothing else for a long time; they just auto-update approximately daily, include all the latest improvements, and in my experience are as stable as releases, which these days means very stable) and should be available in a general release in approximately 18-24 weeks. You can test the feature on the page the screenshot above is from; note it will work on some of the videos, but for others the host has hijacked the context menu. Or something that really benefits from 2x speed (which is not at all ludicrous; it’s my normal speed for lectures and presentations that I’m paying close attention to).

Even better, the request was almost immediately triaged as a “[good first bug]” and assigned a mentor (Jared Wein) who provided some strong hints as to what would need to be done, so strong that I was motivated to set up a Firefox development environment (mostly well documented and easy; the only problem I had was figuring out which of the various test harnesses available to test Firefox in various ways was the right one to run my tests) and get an unpolished version of the feature working for myself. I stopped when darkowlzz indicated interest, and it was fun to watch darkolzz, Jared, and a couple others interact over the next few weeks to develop a production-ready version of the feature. Thank you Jared and darkowlzz! (While looking for links for each, I noticed Jared posted about the new feature, check that out!)

Kodus also to Mozilla for having a solid easy bug and mentoring process in place. I doubt I’ll ever contribute anything non-trivial, but the next time I get around to making a simple feature request, I’ll be much more likely to think about attempting a solution myself. It’s fairly common now for projects have at least tag easy bugs; OpenHatch aggregates many of those. I’m not sure how common mentored bugs are.

I also lucked out in that support for setting playback rate from javascript had recently been implemented in Firefox. Also see documentation for the javascript API for HTML5 media elements and what browser versions implement each.

Back to playback rate, I’d really like to see anything that provides an interface to playing timed media to facilitate changing playback rate. Anything else is a huge waste of users’ time and attention. A user preference for playback rate (which might be as simple as always using the last rate, or as complicated as a user-specified calculation based on source and other metadata) would be a nice bonus.

Question Software Freedom Day‽

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

If software freedom is important, it must be attacked, lest it die from the unremitting bludgeoning of obscurity and triviality. While necessary, I don’t particularly mean trivial attacks on overblown cleverness, offensive advocates, terminological nitpicking, obscurantism, fragmentation, poor marketing, lack of success, lack of diversity, and more. Those are all welcome, but mostly (excepting the first, my own gratuitously obscure, nitpicking and probably offensive partial rant against subversive heroic one-wayism) need corrective action such as Software Freedom Day and particularly regarding the last, OpenHatch.

I mostly mean attacking the broad ethical, moral, political, and utilitarian assumptions, claims, and predictions of software freedom. This may mean starting with delineating such claims, which are very closely coupled, righteous expressions notwithstanding. So far, software freedom has been wholly ignored by ethicists, moral philosophers, political theorists and activists, economists and other social scientists. Software freedom people who happen to also be one of the aforementioned constitute a rounding error.

But you don’t have to be an academic, activist, software developer, or even a computer user to have some understanding of and begin to critique software freedom, any more than one needs to be an academic, activist, businessperson, or voter to have some understanding of and begin to critique the theory and practice of business, democracy, and other such institutional and other social arrangements.

Computation does and will ever moreso underlay and sometimes dominate our arrangements. Should freedom be a part of such arrangements? Does “software freedom” as roughly promoted by the rounding error above bear any relation to the freedom (and other desirables; perhaps start with equality and security) you want, or wish to express alignment with?

If you want to read, a place to start are the seminal Philosophy of the GNU Project essays, many ripe for beginning criticism (as are many classic texts; consider the handful of well known works of the handful of philosophers of popular repute; the failure of humanity to move on is deeply troubling).

If you want to listen and maybe watch, presentations this year from Cory Doctorow (about, mp3) and Karen Sandler (short, long).

Law of headlines ending in a question mark is self-refuting in multiple ways. The interrobang ending signifies an excited fallibility, if the headline can possibly be interpreted charitably given the insufferable preaching that follows, this sentence included.

Try some free software that is new to you today. You ought to have LibreOffice installed even if you rarely use it in order to import and export formats whatever else you may be using probably can’t. I finally got around to starting a MediaGoblin instance (not much to see yet).

If you’re into software freedom insiderism, listen to MediaGoblin lead developer Chris Webber on the most recent Free as in Freedom podcast. I did not roll my eyes, except at the tangential mention of my ranting on topics like the above in a previous episode.