Archive for July, 2012

Undiminished Brokenness circa July 2004

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Late in the month but not post-deadline, the title of this month’s refutations of 8 year old posts indicates a decline in quality from the lows of 8 years and 1 month ago — surely death is better than deathless brokenness.

Bill Gates for Broken Windows assumes Gates spoke of global welfare rather than from the perspective of an entrepreneur. The latter is both more charitable and more probable given Gates’ history. If one wants to run a business which holds intellectual property and employs people, open source is not the most obvious path, and that was much more true in 2004 than now. I also extrapolated from Gates’ assumed global welfare statement to an assumed ridiculous scenario in which we’d be better off if all software created in the previous 10 years disappeared. Disregarding the fantastic nature of the scenario, it could be that forced obsolescence of software, such as that encouraged by proprietary product cycles and business failings, is for the long-term good — so that we are not stuck with old, crufty software only used because everyone else is using it. If Gates were making a long-term global welfare claim, he just may have been correct, at least for software — and I won’t even bother to criticize my criticism based on criticism of the broken windows fallacy criticism.

Perry Metzger stopped blogging 1.5 months after I wrote Perry Metzger’s Undiminished Capacity. This may be a refutation of a sort in itself, but more fundamentally I made the preposterous assumption that dispensing pearls of wisdom on mailing lists, Usenet, blogs (and now chickenfacepus) indicates any sort of capacity other than for masochism. While researching this refutation, I found two podcast episodes that Metzger appeared as a guest on. Below two very brief apropos excerpts (if you can’t play, view in Firefox ≥15, beta as of this writing; I’ve only saved an Opus encoding).

For the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Last week Wikimania included a reception in an impressive hall at the Library of Congress. But far more impressive than the hall was the Gutenberg Bible on display, apparently one of a few complete vellum copies, and one of a few dozen known copies of any sort. I don’t recall ever feeling stunned to be in the presence of an artifact before.

After standing before the display case speechless for a bit, I read some explanatory text nearby:

Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press made it possible for the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person who knew how to read—an immense forward step in the emancipation of the human mind.

I can’t find a source for that text, but it has been on display for at least four years. It was incredibly apt for Wikimania, as it reads very much like the Wikimedia Foundation’s vision:

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

Wikimania provided plenty of evidence both for how rapidly Wikimedia projects are progressing (in particular technology projects that seemed fantasies a few years ago, such as Wikidata and a visual editor, will be deployed over the next year) but also how far away humanity is from the potentials expressed above — particularly driven by bad policy, which in turn impoverishes practice — resulting in Wikipedia being unique, when instead all knowledge of all forms could be subject to mass curation and sharing.

In case I do not blog further about Wikimania: I enjoyed helping Asheesh Laroia with the pre-conference hackathon, Mayo Fuster Morell with a BoF-style meetup on digital commons, and tons of great conversations. Thanks to the organizers, all attendees, and all Wikimedians for such a great conference and movement!

Perhaps someday I will stand in the presence of the Dunhuang Diamond Sutra, the oldest printed book with a date (868CE), held in the British Library. I don’t know whether it would stun me, but I have noted a statement in its colophon:

Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.

Free as in Software Freedom Law Shows

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In the latest Free as in Freedom podcast Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn play a recording of and discuss my FOSDEM law&policy presentation from back in February. The podcast covered all but one FOSDEM law&policy talk, see the archives.

I’m very happy with how this episode turned out. I managed to at least briefly include more points in a half hour than I recall having done, and Sandler and Kuhn manage to discuss far more of them than I would’ve hoped. Listen (ogg, mp3) and refer to slides (pdf, odp).

Further notes on two issues mentioned in the discussion follow.

Equality and Freedom

I’m glad that Sandler mentioned free software’s great equality story. But, I should say what I mean by that. I don’t primarily mean equal access, though that’s important. I mean contributing to reducing inequality of income, wealth, power. I’ve done precious little to articulate this, and I don’t know anyone else who has either, but there’s a reason it is the very first of my suggested considerations for future policy. Similarly, I think free software’s grand freedom story is not the proximate freedoms to run, study, modify, share software, but their role in protecting and promoting a free society. Again, much more needs to be said, provocatively (and that, critiqued, etc). Software freedom and nearby ought be claiming space in the commanding heights of political dialogue.

Hardware design licensing

I’m glad that Kuhn stated that he sees no reason for not using GPLv3 for hardware designs, and scoffs (privately, I suppose) at people making up new licenses for the same. As far as I know there are two papers that try to make the case for new hardware design licenses, and as far as I can tell they both fail. But, as far as I know no FLOSS establishment institution has proclaimed the correctness of using GPLv3 or a compatible license for hardware designs, nor explained why, nor reached out to open hardware folk when discussing new such licenses. How can this change? Perhaps such people should be alerted to copyleft-next. Perhaps I should be happy that hardware has been long ignored; one can imagine a universe with an equally twisted late 1990s vintage GNU FHL to accompany the GNU FDL.

Joke background

CC0, passports, and (a related one from Asheesh Laroia is told on the show) credit cards.

In 2009 Sandler and Kuhn interviewed me for the previous podcast, the Software Freedom Law Show. I did not blog about it then, but much of the discussion is probably still pertinent, if you wish to listen.

Internal humidity management thanks you for freezing

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

I’ve always hated and been baffled by buildings that run air conditioning very cold when it is very hot outside. Maybe the blast of cold air feels relieving for a moment, but then, pure misery. Fear of constantly encountering cranked up AC is one of the reasons I stick to the parts of the San Francisco Bay Area that never get very hot (more or less that means SF and the parts of the East Bay that are west of the hills). Having recently spent a week in the Midwest, then a week in DC, this is on my mind. (I also hate very hot buildings when it is very cold outside, but I only recall experiencing this once, in Minneapolis.)

Perhaps my bafflement should be lessened, having just read the following (emphasis added):

As my building engineer friends tell me, keeping a balance of heat and humidity in a building is the challenge for which the technology is built (and is, incidentally, why so many commercial buildings feel so cold in the summer — they are in part setting an internal temperature that helps them manage internal humidity).

Is that true? Even if it is, doesn’t help me feel less miserable. Surely there must be a better way. It seems billions more people will regularly experience AC over the next decades. I hope for the sake of the fraction who, like me, hate differences between indoor and outdoor climate much greater than necessary for comfort, and perhaps for conserving energy, that commercial buildings worldwide don’t have to be frigid.


Monday, July 9th, 2012

My post on 5 years of GPLv3 got picked up by, see a medium-sized comment thread. There and elsewhere some people thought I was spinning or apologizing for GNU GPLv3. I can see why; I should’ve included more disclaimers. I certainly was spinning — some of my hobby horses, not for GPLv3. I shouldn’t expect anyone except maybe a few faithful readers and friends to accurately detect my hobby horses. Here are the relevant ones, sans GPLv3 anniversary dressing:

  • Copyleft is pro-sharing regulation.
  • But job 0 of all public licenses is negation of bad default regulation (copyright and patent).
  • Incompatibility, including across magisteria, hampers both the pull to accept pro-sharing regulation and the negation of bad default regulation (I don’t recall addressing the latter explicitly prior to my 5 years of GPLv3 post).

Thus (one of) my stated “metrics” for judging GPLv3, “number and preponderance of works under GPLv3-compatible terms.” I should have generalized: a marker for a license’s success is the extent to which it contributes to increasing the pool of works which may be used together without copyright as a barrier (but possibly as a pro-sharing regulatory enforcement mechanism). It makes sense to talk about this generalization specifically in terms of the pool of GPLv3-compatible works because it is the closest thing we have to a universal recipient (technically AGPLv3 is that, but it is less well known, I don’t know of any license that is AGPLv3 compatible but not GPLv3 compatible, and I’ll cover it further in a future post).

I said by this metric GPLv3 is doing pretty well. But that depends on where one wants to start from. GPLv3 allowed for the preexisting Apache2 to be compatible with it, and for MPL2 to be developed such that it could be. But maybe it was ridiculous for Apache2 to have been released without being GPLv2 compatible. And I consider GPLv2’s option for incompatibility with future versions a gross error (which GPLv3 repeated; it just isn’t felt right now as there probably will be no GPLv4 for a very long time). One could reasonably argue that the only useful development in licensing in the history of free and open source licensing is BSD3 dropping BSD4’s advertising clause (and to a lesser extent BSD2 also dropping a no endorsement clause — note that BSD# refers to the number of clauses present, not versions, and note that one could argue that people should’ve used similar licenses like MIT and ISC without the problematic clauses all along). But given that previous history could not be rewritten in 2006 and 2007, I think GPLv3 has done pretty well, and at the very least could have done a whole lot worse.

Could GPLv3 have done a whole lot better? I appreciate that some people would’ve preferred no versioning, or perhaps a conservative versioning which could have achieved Apache2 and eventually MPL2 compatibility and have been uncontroversial for all GPLv2 licensors to move to. That would have to weighed against the additional (and controversial, e.g., anti-Tivoization) measures GPLv3 actually has, and as I said in my previous post, I think it will take a long time to be able to judge how big of an instrumental effect those have toward software freedom. But again, in 2012 previous history can’t be rewritten, though consideration of such hypotheticals could possibly help us make improved choices in the future, which is being written now: version 4.0 of various Creative Commons licenses are in development (in addition to the somewhat abstract hobby horses listed above, my previous post can be read as an abstract case for specific CC BY-SA 4.0->GPLv3 compatibility) and Richard Fontana has just started drafting

There’s much interesting about, but regarding compatibility, I like that it is explicitly compatible with any version of GNU GPL. Copyleft license innovation (which admittedly one ought be extremely skeptical of; see above) and critique-in-a-license is possible while avoiding the obvious harm of incompatibility — declare explicit compatibility. Such can even be a sort of pro-compatibility agitation, of which I consider the Italian Open Data License 1.0 (explicitly compatible with both CC BY-SA and ODbL, which are mostly incompatible with each other) an example.

In case anyone thinks I’m still spinning or apologizing for GPLv3, let me state that over the past 5 years I’ve grown increasingly skeptical about copyleft-via-copyright-licenses (but I still think it has a useful role, especially given inability to rewrite history, and cheer its enforcement; if you don’t like enforcement, use a permissive instrument). I’ll write a post about why in the fullness of time, but for now, the executive summary: institutions, obscurity, politics, stupidity.

To close on an appreciative, celebratory note: forget analysis of GPLv3’s net impact — it is a fine, elegant, and surprisingly readable document. Especially in comparison to extant Creative Commons licenses, which lack both clarity of purpose and readability (according to various readability metrics, CC 4.0 licenses will probably catch up to and maybe surpass GPLv3 on readability). Compatibility aside, one of my major tendencies in advising on CC 4.0 is to advocate for copying GPLv3 in a number of places. I probably won’t ever get to it, but I could do a post or series of posts on the sentences and strategies in GPLv3 that I think are great. Also, check out the FSF’s GPLv3 turns 5 post featuring a cake.