Libre Graphics Meeting 2008

Libre Graphics Meeting has its dates set - 8-11th of May 2008 - and will be in Wroclaw, southwestern Poland.

Lydia, doing the MA Information Design, is from Poland and recommended a polish flights search engine, to find cheap flights.

Animated Illusion

The woman in this image appears to spin anti-clockwise, and then if you shift your perception, she appears to spin clockwise.

Spinning Women

This reminded me of the white space / black form problem in typeface design. Perhaps the metrics window of FontForge could reverse out, so it was possible to see the white space as black form…

Student Forum: Free Culture

I initiated a “Student Forum” session on Monday lunchtimes with a presentation on Free Culture today.

I presented for about 45 minutes on the concepts and history of free software and free culture, and then enjoyed a 45 minute discussion. It centered on the discussion of business models and how free culture applies to typefaces and font software, which was good.

Who will do one next week?

I could do a second one, demonstrating free software programs and how to set up Creative Commons licenses of Flickr and WordPress blogs and so on, if that would be interesting for people.

But first I’d like to see someone present something else about their background - either in the same vein about business models (“The History & Future of Linotype/P22”?) - or anything… “London Music Album Cover Art” or “Cool Australian Designers” or “What makes French Type ‘French’”…. :-)

Why Must Fonts Be Free?

This is certainly a complex issue, and I don’t think I have a really good grasp on it yet. But these are my current thoughts:

Fonts must be free (as in freedom, not price.)


All typefaces have a functional purpose, and all typefaces have an artistic purpose too. For any given pair of fonts, these qualities can be compared. But there is no clear distinction between display and text typefaces.

I would say a typeface that is unsuitable for setting paragraphs of text in, and is used for setting words or phrases such as titles, has less of a functional purpose as a typeface, than one designed for reading. But typefaces designed for reading can be very beautiful at large sizes, and if the paragraph is printed large enough (such as in signage or a billboard) then a typeface designed for display can be used to set text for reading.

In general, we need more free replacements for all kinds of generally useful technical information, and since typefaces are useful, they fall wholly into this category.

There are functions and uses that users want to put a thing to that it was not originally designed for; parts might be incorrect/broken, or be missing and users might like to have them added. Who decides what is fixed or added? The users? Or the initial developers?

The previous paragraph applies equally to any functional information: software, recipes, manuals, encyclopedias, dictionaries, telephone directories, textbooks, and typefaces.

The central question is: Should the developers of a functional work have control/power over the users of that work?

Another aspect is that a typeface is expressed today as font software.

When talking about typefaces, we are talking as if the font software that represents them are still Type1, just a collection of outlines. In that case, I agree with you and Stallman that some Type1 fonts are socially artistic works and restricting others’ freedom is okay. But as font software becomes more programmatic, freedom becomes an issue even for such artistic fonts.

Imagine finding a bug in Ed Interlocking that House Industries isn’t interested in fixing! It would be as awful as finding a bug in FontLab that Pyrus aren’t interested in fixing, or in InDesign with Adobe.

In terms of the main font software formats, Type1 is less programmatic than TrueType (because of hinting) which is less programmatic than OpenType (because of feature tables) which is less programmatic than AAT (because of state automata). AAT is totally obsolete now, though. Graphite format fonts are perhaps also part of this space, but I’m not familiar enough with them to comment. And of course Metafont sits in its own category, because it is an algebraic programming language for describing glyphs.

As font software formats have been developed, they have becomes more and more like program software, and freedom becomes more and more of an issue - no matter what kind of typeface is expressed by the font software.

Perhaps when “display” typefaces have a very decorative and artistic purpose, and use the simple outline-storage parts of a font format, a license that restricts everything but non-commercial redistribution is fine. Friendship and community are respected, at least. Something like one of the Creative Commons NonCommercial licenses, even the NoDerivs one, would be appropriate here. But such a font would go into the non-free areas of package management systems used by GNU/Linux distributors.

Sometimes people who don’t value the visual qualities of different typefaces say things like “Why do we need more free fonts? Let us just use Deja Vu.”

For me, it can be summed up simply as that since people use proprietary font software, we need more free font software.

Transcript of the Interview with the FontForge author

Open Source Publishing has also recently published a transcript of their excellent interview with George Williams, the primary author of FontForge.

There is one point that is very relevant for me at this time, about FontForge’s support of OpenType features:

The way you specify ligatures and kerning in OpenType can be looked at at several different levels. And the way OpenType wants you to look at it, I felt, was unnecessarily complicated. So I didn’t look at it at that level. And then after about 5 years of looking at it that way I discovered that the reason I thought it was unnecessarily complicated was because I was only used to Latin or Cyrillic or Greek text, and for Latin, Cyrillic or Greek, it probably is unnecessarily complicated. But for Indic scripts it is not unnecessarily complicated, and you need all those things. So I ripped out all of the code for specifying strange glyph conversions. You know in Arabic a character looks different at the beginning of a word and so on? So that’s also handled in this area. And I ripped all that stuff out and redid it in the way that OpenType wanted it to be done and not the somewhat simplified but not sufficiently powerful method that I’d been using up until then.

There is some other amusing stuff in there about the UI, which I hope to report some progress on shortly :-)

HOWTO Import drawings from Inkscape into FontForge

Although FontForge now has Spiro support (a world’s first!) some people prefer Inkscape to draw their glyphs in, as it is a general purpose drawing tool with a long standing focus on its user interface.

Open Source Publishing pubished a very handy recipe for preparing Inkscape to be used to draw glyphs that are then imported into FontForge, which I have rewritten and improved a little:

  1. Open Inkscape
  2. From the File menu, select Document Properties.
  3. Set units to pixels (px) and document dimensions to 1000 x 1000, click OK
  4. Set a horizontal guide at 200px
  5. Draw a glyph - the hardest part! :-)
  6. Save the drawing as an SVG
  7. Open FontForge
  8. From the File menu, select Import, chose SVG, find your drawing, click OK

Hopefully this will make its way into the FontForge FAQ or other documentation.

Liveblogging a Masters degree

I’ll not be liveblogging my Masters degree as I had first thought, and I apologise here for any distress caused in my initial efforts at doing so.

I’m coming from a University that is a bit more “digital native” in culture, where the wiki, forum and staff and student blogs are on the public web.

I’ve liveblogged many conferences I’ve attended, including doing one on on my previous university blog, although mostly I just uploaded the plain text to my working files directory and let the google currents wash over it.

I easily forget that most people have never seen someone “liveblogging” before, because its so common at the conferences I go to, and the normative behavior for it hasn’t been evenly distributed yet. Then again, amassing bundles of information with apparently no good reason is a well-known characteristic of the kinds of people at those conferences, so perhaps it never will get outside that community.

Also, in the discussions about liveblogging, that awful term “intellectual property” came up. This term is designed to distort and confuse very different laws, and has no place in a proper understanding of the laws or their purpose. Basically, some works are copyrighted, and some ideas are patented, and some signs are trademarked - but nothing is ever the “intellectual property” of anyone. It is a real shame when any authoritative institution buys into the confusion created by this phrase, but the use of the term by such institutions does not make that term valid.

Radiohead Got Paid

Radiohead got paid £40 by me this week for an album. Ben from FOTB had an interesting post about this too.

Users deciding the price seems like the ultimate destiny of artistic works in the 21st century.

“The future is here, it is just not even distributed.”

Preliminary Thoughts On My Font Project Brief

Next up is Week 4. By the end of the week I have to hand in a draft of my font project brief, which means making some decisions.

One of the cornerstones of information design is putting users first. Who are the users of free software fonts such as the one I’ll produce for my project?

Graphic designers are the typical users of font software. But most professional graphic designers are not yet using free software, so they are not my primary audience, despite being the largest. I want to do something that benefits free software users primarily, and people using proprietary software is incidental - although if the fonts are buggy for proprietary software, that would be neglecting the largest user group, but to concentrate on them isn’t useful for the free software movement.

What kinds of free software users are there?

There is a continuum along software-freedom lines, which is something like this (and most people blur across the roles, of course):

  1. At one end, we have the most ardent Apple/Microsoft/Adobe/FontLab fan, who finds it inconceivable that software not produced by a company and licensed under proprietary terms is of any value at all, and would never share programs with friends because “piracy funds terrorists.” They’ll dismiss any “free font” as poor quality, and avoid engaging with the software-freedom concept. Maybe 1% of users are like this, although there seem to be a lot of graphic designers who are more susceptible to the kind of Cult of Mac mentality.

  2. Then we have people who use Mac OS X or Windows but are interested in tools, often being something-developers themselves, although not neccessarily programmers. Web developers and such. They will use the “best tool for the job,” and don’t mind about who controls the tools they use, and don’t mind agreeing not to share with their friends. Of course, if a program that is “the best” on merely practical values is, by chance, free software, they’ll use that. Being developers, sometimes having freedom makes it better, but freedom isn’t a primary value - so if they develop something functional, they don’t think that their users deserve freedom. Probably about 5% of computer users, I guess. Many businesses are like this, because they are not able to break the agreements that restrict the use and sharing of software.

  3. Then there are people who use Mac OS X or Windows, and will use the tools they heard about without too much consideration, and don’t mind about who controls the tools. They enjoy sharing with their friends, even if that means breaking agreements, because they don’t think at all about the issues. This is the majority of computer users. As the anti-user anti-sharing programs like Vista and iTunes become more draconian, the issue of freedom will become more visible, and since they don’t need “the best” functonality, they are more likely to switch to GNU/Linux than the previous set.

  4. Similar to them are the people who use GNU/Linux, and prefer software freedom, but not strongly; they will use the “best tool for the job,” and don’t mind too much about who controls the tools, but they have experience of an ethical and sustainable way of life. They enjoy sharing with their friends, even if that means breaking agreements not to though. The typical Ubuntu user, installing Google Earth and (probably an unauthorised copy of) Photoshop under WINE, for example. 8% of users here.

  5. Then, people who use GNU/Linux, and strongly prefer free software over “the best” because they do mind about who controls the tools. However, not where it really inconveniences them, like with wireless network drivers. To legally share software with their friends is a minimum, though. These people are often tool-makers, and software they write respects users freedom. The leaders of the Ubuntu project, that includes proprietary graphics card drivers and Adobe Flash Player, for example. This is maybe 10% of GNU/Linux users.

  6. Finally, there are ardent software freedom fans, who find it inconceivable that software not sharable or under the control of its users is of any value at all, other than to provide models for their free replacements. This is maybe 1% of GNU/Linux users.

That is very broad and not specifically about roles related to type design. A friend suggested a user-developer-support model of such roles, which I interpreted as:

  1. Users who use free fonts in free applications on a free operating system. This is my core audience - any GNU/Linux user. A wider audience is anyone who uses free fonts, but if they are using a proprietary OS or application, I’m not too fussed about them.

  2. Developers who make free fonts. They might use proprietary software to do that (ie, Gentium) but since all font formats are well supported in FontForge, that is not too problematic.

  3. Supporters who want free tools to make fonts, but not to make free fonts. When they speak about “piracy” I will be pissed off, and probably when I speak about how all functional works should respect users freedom, they will be pissed off. Hopefully not so much that they don’t want anything to do with free tools to make fonts; I think despite our differences, we can still work together on the tools :-)

The supporters issue is tricky; I’m not going to be quiet about the issue of software freedom. If people choose to use free software because it is better on shallow criteria, like it is faster at common tasks or crashes less or has convenient features, that is good. But it is not great, because such users will choose a proprietary tool that is even faster, crashes even less and has even more convenient features if one comes along. It is only by people learning to value their freedom that they will keep it, and it is far easier to let it go than to get it back.That learning can only come about through carefully thinking about the issues.

So, what is the user-scenario of my font project?

Since the MATD course has a focus on print, perhaps documents typeset in Scribus and TeX will be the primary one to concentrate on.

However, I feel on-screen reading (in Firefox) is very important. Webpages are the way people read text and see graphic design more and more, and personally, I hardly read anything on paper any more - although that has just changed dramatically with all these typeface design books at the foot of my bed, haa

I forgot where, but in the last few weeks I heard something like, the web is now 10% of the general population’s advertising exposure in the UK. And that is going up and up, eating into TV and print publications, while billboards and radio ads are steady, since we are exposed to them in our cars. The upcoming CSS3 web font downloading mechanism is going to be a kind of “uranium” that will power the font-freedom movement and businesses too, and isn’t tied to any location :-)

However, the big complication is the complex script. We’ve been asked to consider early-on which complex script will complement our latin designs, and I am thinking of, maybe, Malayalam. This is the script used in Kerala, the most literate area of India, and there is a lot of free software happening down there. Plus my friend Kaveh Bazargan of River Valley runs his company in that region, and I hope to visit that area in the next few years with him.

Free software is a big growth area in computing, and I think that theres a lot of money to be made from helping people switch to free software. Perhaps that growth is less likely to be so stellar in “center” country design firms where the overall economy isn’t growing so much, and proprietary software is entrenched, compared to the “periphery counties”.

I think that software freedom is perhaps more relevant for the periphery too; I can’t change FontForge myself - but I can hire anyone in the world to do the things I want it to do. In a peripheral country, this means hiring people in the periphery instead of the center, so that the periphery becomes its own center. After all, the issue is freedom, not price.

I’m interested in the growth areas - as in, people who are not already using computers in the way they are used in the central countries. “The future is here, its just not evenly distributed yet.” But really, I have no idea how computers are used outside the center. To really get a handle on it, I need to travel to some peripheral areas and see what its like on the ground. LEDCs are also an option, with SIL and OLPC (and my friends at aidworld) already in the space. However, in the central countries, businesses already paying for proprietary licenses have a cash-saving motivation for switching, offset against their investment in staff training and existing data that makes overall switching costs higher. Its tricky, so I emailed a dozen or so free software mailing lists for suggestions, and I’ll make a separate post about that later.

The central challenge for me will be keeping a focus on the typographic problems, I think: I conceive of fonts as a specialised kind of software, and am interested in the overall and somewhat abstract design process. I have little to say about typographic problems, because I have no depth of experience at resolving them. I’m more interested in investigating the software aspects, but, I can do that on my own sweet time. The MATD course presents a unique opportunity to dig into complex scripts and see how far FontForge’s OpenType feature support can be pushed.

So, this week I have to do a TONNE of sketching of my own latin forms, and play with some Malayalam shapes, and decide roughly what kinds of shapes I’d like to work with. I want to do something that is serifed, designed to work primarily at 12pt on screen for text and 10pt on laser prints from Scribus. I’d also like it to work well at 48pt+ in more artistic graphic design.

I also need to sort out a digital camera this week, as I’m not yet able to post images online. Perhaps I can borrow a camera from the Dept though.

(The center-periphery conceptualisation of national economic development is from top design theorist Gui Bonsiepe, whose work I was introduced to by my good friend Gustavo Ferreira :-)

Installing the Xerox Phaser 2100M

Installing this printing on Gobuntu involved plugging it in.

That’s much better than the 5400 :-)


Barry Schwartz wrote to the FontForge-devel list today,

Fiddling with the spiro mode, and neglecting the unfortunate numerical instability and the occasional segfault, I think maybe I can see what is so good about using Cornu spirals instead of Bezier curves. The Cornu curves seem eager to snap into place.

I’m disabled and do all my input, painfully, both ‘keyboarding’ and ‘mousing’, with the type of device they sell at Anything that can cut down on the amount of finger-moving I have to do in creating or adjusting outlines is a blessing.

Which is great to hear :-)

FontForge has integrated Spiro!

FontForge doing Spiros

Pictures have a thousand words.


The latest installation information is now maintained at

To Install FontForge with Spiro On Gobuntu:

Open a terminal and install the libraries and darcs:

sudo aptitude install xorg-dev darcs libpng3-dev zlibc zlib1g-dev libtiff-dev libungif4-dev libjpeg-dev libxml2-dev libuninameslist-dev

And then check out a copy of FontForge’s latest version:

cvs login

and hit return to enter a blank password, and then download the sourcecode with:

cvs checkout fontforge

We first go grab the freetype source code, and then Spiro.

cd fontforge  
tar zxfv freetype-2.3.5.tar.gz  
gedit freetype-2.XXX/include/freetype/config/ftoption.h

and replace




And save and close it. Back in the terminal,

cd ffspiro  
darcs get  
./configure --with-spiro-srcdir=`pwd`  
sudo make install  
cd ..

Finally, build and install fontforge

./configure --with-freetype-bytecode --with-freetype-src=freetype-2.3.5  --without-python  
sudo make install  
sudo make install_docs  

And run it with




I can’t find libraries for libiconv and libintl in Gobuntu repositories, and --with-python can’t find when I make install.

FontForge doing crazy curve Spiros

Spiro has those lovely crazy curves when the splines don’t converge.

Whimsically, the label for .plate files in the Import dialog’s dropdown list is fun… Perhaps “Plate” would be more regular (and boring)?

Raph’s Plate Files

Peer Education Briefing Notes


Note for You: There appears to be some public interest in my lecture notes, that I take at all the various kinds of lectures that I attend, for my own learning. If there is anything incorrect, please email me - - and I will update the text, or add your comments or trackbacks as you’d like. Be aware that I type these conference notes for personal use, pretty much stream-of-conscious style, so my pronouns get all messed up and confuse comments from the speakers and myself, and my typing is not accurate so it is probably full of typos. I try to tidy things up when time allows. I’m also usually paying attention to email/rss and anything google-worthy that gets mentioned, so probably a lot of things are misquoted and not even true at all. Please, apply common sense and don’t take this for anything other than rough-cuts from a notebook; nothing here is reliable or a real quote of anyone, any errors or confusions are almost certainly mine, yet I hope you’ll find uses for it nonetheless… “A snowball rolls down the webhill!” as a friend might say.

{Gahh I was 30 minutes late… And there was no open wifi there…}

Andy Gibson on “The School of Everything”

Some classes run in cafes, a ready made space with food and net access.

Technology is cheap enough, so if we can find a way to make the technology work, it can spread. We can get something that works and put it in every school in the country pretty feasibly.

There are conditions to getting this working. Its important to have a social dimension; a sense of curiosity and experimentation is really good to start with. So I now try to work with existing communities.

This is Free School 2.0 - new shapes of Post-Its! And I’ll pass round a bag with these materials. Yellow is ‘I want to learn’ Orange is ‘I want to teach’

I realised that a key it having a hard board that can be put up, taken down, and carried around.

Q: Its collaborative learning, so should it be put on a wiki?

A: We tried that but it didn’t take off; there was something in the translation to digital. When I posted things online, the ownership became mine, and so it didn’t have the dynamic I was seeking.

Just doing it helps a lot. And it doesn’t have to be teachers doing this - it can be students starting it, students looking for teachers instead of teachers looking for students.

I’ve not found anything that can do both digital and face-to-face real time, well. Maybe something will emerge that makes that possible.

Q: The physical space is something you’ve homed in on. Is this for creating a social atmosphere, or is it to create a community? And what is the reason for this? Is it altruistic?

A: The Free University started with learning and worked out. With FreeSchools, its going the other way. Its adding a learning culture to whats there already. That’s what I’m passionate about, and what is missing form a lot of educational projects. The spirit of play and experimentation - I blog about “doing things badly” as a good attitude. Having the permission to teach, and not worrying that things are perfect and just getting on with things, is really important.

Q: So you said this is in Cafes. But all spaces can be learning spaces - or is there properties in specific physical places that mark them out as learning spaces?

A: I’ve not looked into that. With French classes we brought in French food and wine to make the mood less social. Cafes are good because there isn’t a social conditioning about the way it should really be; they don’t force people to polarise into ‘i am the teacher and you are the student’ roles and stop the informal ‘I’ll tell you some stories and you can tell me something’ vibe.

Q: I think you have a bottleneck; everyone is gagging to write on the board. Why don’t you hand out the post-its and give people instant gratification to the fun and experiment - you have to grab that vibe when it shows up.

A: Lets do it!

Q: People seem smarter because t . I wonder what will happen as that becomes more distributed.

A: I call it the “esoteric web”. Film and TV industry is a very who-you-know industry, and it emerged like that because its very little margin for learning. In a small cafe, if you create a high value regular event, it will pack out the venue.

Q: There is great knowledge locked up in these institutions, and then there are cafes rammed out the doors. Is there

A: School of Everything is a cross of eBay and Floodlight; to connection people who want to learn with . The only requirement is that you have to be a person. If you are posting the opportunity to learn as an institution, it sets u pa

So we still have FE and HE institutions, but people who teach there aren’t just there, they will still do 2 nights a week in a cafe for anyone who wants to learn. The economy of scale can come from online instead of a large campus. Anyone can become an institution, anyone can become a school. So I want to make it easy for anyone to become a University.

Q: Is the video being published?

A: Yes, all the video and photos and recordings will be vlogged on and YouTube and so on.

Q: How to you consider licensing issues? A: You mean that educational information is published online? Q: Well, there are various kinds of works, functional information, opinions, and artistic works, and these are usually treated differently. A: Okay. Many institutions are posting their educational information online at zero price and letting it be Google indexed. So the Open University, which does a lot of distance learning in the UK, is putting a lot of its material up online. And in the USA “Open Learning” is the name for this trend. And its all available “for free” - at zero cost.

{{I note that School of Everything is hiring! :-) }}

— 8< —

Mary Harrington on “Offline Social Software”

Mary is all over the web, and the School of Everything is also something she’s involved in.

I fell in love with the Internet, but it isn’t all that. I’m 28, I’m the last of the generation who did a degree totally offline. I sent my first email 19, and my first job was at 23, and had a connection on my desk - and no idea how to use it. Official uses of the net at work is company business. that’s not very interesting. As my Google Foo got a bit better, I realised there were ways outside of that of making the net talk back. At the time Friendster was taking off, and I tried to play with it. It let me see a whole network of people, and you could put faces on users. Its more obviously and visually a conversation. But it seemed a bit useless - I had lots of friendster friends, and it was fun to chat a bit with randomers from LA. I was interested in psycho-geography, the emotional resonances of people. And I made my first Internet friend. I came across a dutch artist with a cool site, about psycho-graphic markup language. I was into structuralism and language, and I was a copywriter in my job, and so XML and stuff was interesting. So I mailed him, and he mailed back, and we invented something that eventually wound up in the University of Openness wiki. I was fired from the copyrighting job for not writing enough, and it was really awesome to do this collaborative work that just wasn’t possible when I was at Uni. Via conversations with Wilfred, I joined the University of Openness wiki (MediaWiki) and was amazed by the idea of a start up institution. So I learned about wikis and wiki markup and, in a Way, the psychology of using the wiki - getting over the fear of editing someone else’s pages. You’re toying with an invisible other, if they’ll be offended if you edit someone else’s text. The etiquette of online writing. So at Limehouse Town Hall, we created a learning environment. Around the time I also found PickMeUp, a collaborative written email newsletter written by its readership. A website with a sign up box, a wiki for each issue, a read only readers list, and a all-way editors list. Totally grassroots, zero money, and it got 40 regular editors and was a legit phenomena. There were 4 levels of activity: Reader, Contributor, Editor, and Inner Circle. You got random stuff like “anyone got ideas for a flat in Berlin?” or “how to attach a camera to a dog?”. And people would give answers. And you got to hear about the best London cool events, because 40 people who were all reasonably well connected would offer ideas for topics to write about things. The Inner Circle who were the people who pressed the ‘send’ button, and I was the only person outside the core team who pressed that button. And there were lots of pub time, “editors meeting” that became “pick me up parties” that became huge. We didn’t figure the 4 levels out into late into the day. There was a bottleneck in the social software, and the inner circle got bored, and it evaporated when some of them went travelling. Unlike Friendster, it was In Real Life and I’m still in touch with some of the people I knew through that. What did PMU do next? School of Everything. And we took that way of working with us; we were distributed all over the place, part time and full time jobs that did or didn’t match with that work. And then Web 2.0 happened. We’ve tried out various pieces of free software, and that’s a mixed bag, things like Zhoho, Baselist. religiously put our tasks into them for 3 weeks and got bored and never used them. We found wikis - socialtext - useful for accumulating ideas to come back to later, and references to what you’ve done, and planning TODO lists. But the content gets unmanageable. They need gardening. Skype is fantastic if you can’t meet In Real Life. And its zero cost. Twitter is dead handy. You can use it as a closed group as a group-text-messaging hack. My favourite tech tool is Google Docs, read time collaborative text editing with the change to argue back - real time text editing with someone you know okay, while connected over Skype, works really nicely. But its still challenging. So then we found the ultimate killer application that really improved our productivity: An Office. Nothing beats face to face. The net changes things, remote working is possible, but there is nothing like having an office.

What does this have to do with peer learning? PL is active; its not about a lecture like this, there should be no separation between teachers and students. You could teach me a thing or too about all of this. PMU was a peer learning process; I learned so many things by doing it. My most useful skills I learned doing this fun thing, not some boring job that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t go into a long esoteric conversation with a Dutchman because I wanted to learn something, I just went along with it because it was fun. Stuff that has happened as just been amazing though. And peer learning is collaborative; its not about waiting to be spoon fed, expecting to spoon feed others. Its about looking for things until you find them. The net helps us to do this, find people, capture and share knowledge, but fundamentally nothing beats sitting there with or without a pint and doing it face to face. So I loved the net and I’ve returned to the pint. So for offline social networks, feed the network - throw stuff out, make offerings because you’ll get it back 10 fold. Name the hierarchies, so that when things change you know what happened. And consensus decision making doesn’t work well on the net. The maxim is “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Its not that brutal, but empower yourself and step up to the mark or let it happen. The tech you use matters less, if your group shares an aim. We have technology and share an aim in SoE, and I hope you’ll join us.

Q: Were the other roles in the PMU hierarchy? middle roles or connective tissue?

A: The ‘lead follow or get out the way’ idea is an invitation to lead, not follow or get out the way. The Internet has plenty of room for everyone to do their thing.

Ben Vershbow on “The Institute of The Future of the Book’s activities”

I’m an editorial director at the futureofthebook. We are in the process of trying to make London a sphere of activity. I’m from NYC, I’m based there, but we’ll be in London as much as every 2 months. is a think tank in NYC, connected to NYU and places in London, LSE. We try to connect to other institutions. We’re in a cultural-technological revolution, and how will the ways we move ideas around change? Its all going network-digital. Produced, circulated, read. Its all changing. What we though we knew doesn’t apply any more. We’re not full on academics. We have a blog. We don’t make white papers, we blog. We do publishing experiments. We’ve made software, “educational objects” in a way, or “schools” as we heard today.

“Networked books” is our theme; we were dismayed at eBooks. They were a conceptual dead end. Digital print books. You cant just put text on screen and that’s it. We wanted new language, to get new thinking going. So “network books” is nice. How do they change the relations of people? Documents in the networked space, where documents and people converge.

Mitchell Stephens journalism professor at NYU, who was starting a book on the history of Atheism, and we proposed he take the research process online and make it semi-transparent. “Without Gods: A history of disbelief.” He blogged one a day or so, news clippings, his opinions, whatever. Over time, a devoted group of readers became part of the regular conversation on this site, long comment threads off the posts. He hadn’t started writing the book yet, but had readers! And they were changing what he was going to write about. He knew a few things, but his audience knew others, and over a year his readers really got him to think things through.

McKenzie Wark wrote a book on “gamer theory” and had a book done, but wanted to open it up to the web. The same intention; to play with authors and readers, explore a collaborative paradigm of readers and authors. Guy Debord wrote on numbered paragraphs; he used this too. People say no one wants to read long text online; screens have their issues, but browsers and ‘web page design’ for long text is often missing. We wanted less scrolling. We hacked WordPress so the comments were on the side, not at the bottom. This is a small change, but had profound effects. You have something very old: Marginalia. Comments in margins. The book is networked, and everyone can write in the margin. The margin of the page becomes a public space for participation. So you have a comment stream for each paragraph. So we posted the book paragraph by paragraph, and people got really into it. The author was very clear that he was involved and listening and taking part in the comments dialogue. The experience of reading the text was interesting. People stopped thinking of the authors voice in the book, and it as a book that included their conversation. It was eventually published by Harvard press. And the end notes had some of the comments from the blog. So the print is a glimpse of this network moment.

Mitchell looked at Gamer Theory and wanted the targeting commenting on a less structured text. So the page margin comments go with you, and you click a paragraph and the comments appear. And people thought this was really cool and wanted it for their own projects. The Iraq Study Group Report looked like it might be important, and so we posted this online with a more advanced version of the tool. We got these total domain experts who were not Web 2.0 savvy to use it. We called it “CommentPress.” So you generate this huge conversation. is a WordPress theme, and you install WordPress and drop it in, and its available, go get it.

So returning to peer education. Some people are using it, and this is potentially a fabulous educational tool. We contacted some teachers and said we’d put some public domain texts that kids study in school up in it, and see what happens in a school project context. Some people took us up. Ambrose Bierce, 1890 civil war, poem. “An occurrence at owl creek bridge”. So a school in north Carolina took the text. He said, “Students, you are the staff, you will build a critical edition of this, on your own” and they did. There were film clips from the film version - which famous introduced the “life flashed before my eyes with the noose around my neck” narrative form - and this shows off the tool in an educational context.

We want to set up a library of public domain texts in the CommentPress system, that is like Ning. The banal errors, stupid technical problems, installing WordPress and a theme is too hard for most people. It needs to be as easy as Google’s Blogger. So people can instantly set up a text in their classroom and run their project that easily.

So we have an idea of reading that is solitary. But texts are a great focal point for a community. I think the long term implications are maybe profound: what it means to write is changing. We’re only barely begun to perceive what is happening here.

And we’ve put up and can continue this conversation. So being together offline is great, incomparable, but when we part, we can continue online until the next time.

Q: Limitations of the tool?

A: Dealing with the mass of information is hard.

Q: Can students say “I’m really keen on this kind of teacher, and want to use their notes and feedback for my entire course,” like on Technorati. A teacherati?

A: This is another profound change, from networked texts. You can turn it into a kind of commodity.

Q: The teacher becomes an institution; you don’t subscribe to an institution, you subscribe to a teacher, like a blog.

A: Unless you’re totally focused on a subject, you’ll follow a certain lecturer at college when you pick your classes. When people create reputations, you can pick up on that and follow their activities. I think CommentPress could turn into to something like that if it was a hosted service. We have few technological researchers, its a real hack at the moment, but we’re hoping the free software community will pick it up and move it forward. We just released it in August, and cleaned it up so it wasn’t embarrassing.

Saul Albert: So this is the new website. Every workshop and all “open for business” events will be on the site. Hope to see you all again!

Mary Harrington: Join up and contribute to School of Everything too!


And they are hiring.

Screencasting Spiro

During today’s Gerard Unger workshop, I decided to start sketching direct with Spiro. After 30 minutes of sketching, I realised I had absolutely no record of all the forms I had created and discarded in the process.

The Ubuntu wiki has a good tutorial on how to record screencasts. This is going to be really useful for recording the digital sketching design process, especially with Spiro. I hope to change my “spiroflow” workflow wrapper (my first python program too!) so that it will keep each version that is saved, too.

I really need to record any “sketching” work that I do like this.

Is the idea that Art is a human universal harmful?

My sister asked me to explain to her what was being asked by a question in her Art studies recently. The question was,

The notion that art is a pan-humanic universal is a pernicious idea, which has on balance done more harm than good. Discuss.

Now, “pan” means “across the total of,” like a “pan-galactic space odyssey” film or something. So “pan-humanic universal” is academic pomp for “human universal.”

Taking a page out of Strunk & White’s book, you might edit the sentence to something like ‘Is the idea that Art is a human universal harmful?’

And I’d find that hard to agree with.

All human societies have cultures of language, dance, dress, money, agriculture, and art. Sculpture is more common than 2D visual art, but I’d say that most cultures have had a 2D visual art, even those without writing systems, although its obviously going to be very common in those with writing because the mark making tools required for writing would be put to good use by the dyslexics in the group.

Art has various functions - to tell stories, to just look nice, to be personal expression, to earn money - and each society will value each function differently. So people in very poor parts of the world today are less likely to value the personal-expression aspect of the artworks they create and more likely to value the aspects that will sell lots of works - which leads to generic, mass-appeal things that fit tourist’s preconceptions. It took a long time to pick over a few thousand trinkets in a marketplace to find things that were interesting and different, the first time we went to Africa, I remember.

It might be unwise to project our values of art onto other cultures, and pretend that there is some personal expression or anything else than there really is on to those little wooden sculptures. But “harmful”? No. That’s silly. Art is what it is. I’m fairly certainly that it is a human universal, though.

The question reminded me of an old Calvin and Hobbes strip:

calvin and hobbes on academia

Finally Bought A Car

I finally bought a car today, over 4 months since being involved in an accident that destroyed my previous one; a General Motors Vauxhall Astra:

My New Car

0/10 for bling, but it appeared to be a good deal, and was the best car that fitted my requirements I saw this weekend; we’ll see if the salesman’s promises are kept, though, before saying if it was really a good deal or not.

Chris helped me out big time by visiting this weekend and going round the garages with me - thanks buddy! :-)

Peer Education Briefing: Free Software for Design

I’m going to a free event in London on Thursday evening (tomorrow) about free software for design:

I have no prior connection to this group and in fact have no idea who they are. Although there are a couple of inaccuracies on the site in the details about software freedom, its very nice for me to see other people working with similar aims to myself! :-)

It starts at 6.30pm so it doesn’t clash with my Masters classes and if anyone would like to join me, let me know :-)

My Rsync Back Up Command

My harddisk sustained some data corruption tonight and I lost the notes from the first Michael Twyman lunchtime lecture and today’s James Moseley lecture, which is most frustrating. So I bumped ‘sort out backups’ to the top of the TODO list and now have the following rsync copy going every 10 minutes:

rsync -e ssh --recursive --links --perms --times --group --owner --devices --specials --verbose --executability --partial --progress --human-readable /home/dave/Documents/MATD

Installing Emacs with Hinted Fonts on Gobuntu

Thanks to the most excellent Alexandre Vassalotti, Emacs is available with hinting for all version of Ubuntu, including Gobuntu. It can be installed quickly with the following commands:

sudo -s
echo "deb gusty main" >> /etc/apt/sources.list
echo "deb-src gutsy main" >> /etc/apt/sources.list
aptitude update
aptitude install emacs-snapshot emacs-snapshot-el ttf-dejavu exit
echo "Emacs.font: DejaVu Sans Mono-10" >> ~/.Xresources
xrdb -merge ~/.Xresources

I’m slowly, slowly, getting more into Emacs. Alexandre’s blog’s Emacs category is all round excellent though, notifying me that - of course! - Emacs can do blog posting too.

Short Podcast Interview With Richard Stallman

Over on the Gobuntu list someone linked to a very recent interview with Richard Stallman (OGG Vorbis, 28mins, 16Mb, see for playing details) which explains a number of important points.

Installing the Xerox Phaser 5400

I have a Gobuntu 7.10 GNU/Linux laptop and I can not in clear conscience install the proprietary Java-based print credit client that The University of Reading inflicts on its users.

Fortunately, in the Department of Typography, there is an old Xerox Phaser 5400 that is waiting to fail and be discarded, that is not connected to the network and thus does not require the proprietary monitoring software.

However, it Gobuntu automatically recognised it as a Xerox Phaser 6100 and the test page resulted in postscript garbage being printed.

Here’s what I did to get it working:

  1. Search for “Xerox Phaser 5400 ppd”
  2. Find an illegal collection of PPDs in a directory at Cambridge redistributed from a Mac OS X installation, which includes a PPD specifically for the 5400, “Copyright 2001 Xerox Corporation.”
  3. Find a post on the printing-user-xerox mailing list that says:
    From: port.ruediger at (Ruediger Port) Date: Thu Jul 12 13:18:10 2007 Subject: [] Phaser 4500 This printer works nicely with Xerox\ Phaser\ 5400.ppd (sic!) which is one of many Xerox printer drivers to be downloaded from in a package named CupsPrinterPkg2006_Feb_01.tar currently offers version “2007_May_10”, but these are all proprietary too.
  4. I notice there is a Generic PostScript PPD located at /usr/share/ppd/cups-included/postscript.ppd and this seems to work fine.

Fixing Unoconv on Gobuntu 7.10

Unoconv converts OpenOffice documents to other formats, and isn’t yet packaged for Gobuntu 7.10, but is available from its homepage in RPM format. It can be converted to a deb with the alien package. But running gave an error.

Doing a web search with “ubuntu” and the error string pointed to a one line solution on Ubuntu Launchpad:

sudo ldconfig -v /usr/lib/openoffice/program

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I recently asked Richard Stallman, “Do you think it is necessary to have a reputation in the hacker community for practical works in order for anyone to pay attention to that hacker’s political activity?”

And he replied, “No, I don’t think so. What’s more, if you take a political action, beyond just expressing opinions, that carries its own weight and will build a reputation for you.”

Linus Torvalds spoke at a FSF conference in 1996

In the summer of 1995, I was approached by Lisa Bloch, then the Executive Director of the FSF, as to the feasibility of a conference on “Freely Redistributable Software.” I was enthusiastic, but had my qualms about profitability. Richard, at our meeting, was quite understanding: FSF would bankroll the affair, but he hoped we could turn a small profit. Lisa and I put together a committee (Bob Chassell, Chris Demetriou, John Gilmore, Kirk McKusick, Rich Morin, Eric Raymond, and Vernor Vinge) and we posted a Call for Papers on several newsgroups. Thanks to “maddog” (Jon Hall), Linus agreed to be a keynote speaker, Stallman was the other. We had a day of tutorials and two days of papers. February 3-5, 1996 at the Cambridge Center Marriott. Everything ran smoothly. By the end, I was a nervous wreck. And the FSF ended up making a tiny profit.

That’s unexpected.

Three Kinds of Free Software (GPL, LGPL, X11)

Here is how I understand the three categories of releasing free software:

If someone downloads some source code licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), compiles it, and distributes those binaries, they are required to distribute the corresponding source code as well. If they made modifications to the source, they must include their modified versions. If they integrate any of the code into some bigger application, the whole thing must be licensed under the GPL - or not distributed at all. Private use in any way is okay, though. This ensures that no middle men can strip out the freedom - all users of the software will have freedom for all versions.

If someone downloads some source code licensed under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), compiles it, and distributes those binaries, they are required to distribute the corresponding source code as well. If they made modifications to the source, they must include their modified versions too. But if they integrate any of the code into some bigger application, the part that is LGPL must continue to be licensed under the LGPL - but the proprietary parts can remain proprietary.

If someone downloads some source code licensed under the X11 license, compiles it, and distributes those binaries, they are not required to distribute the corresponding source code as well. Not even if they made modifications to the source, such as integrating it into some big application. This respects some users’ freedom, but middle men will make proprietary versions that strip away the freedom and add new features, making it less than ideal.

For example, say I wrote some python scripts and Pyrus integrated them into FontLab 6. With X11, they could improve them with some great new but incompatible features and release them under proprietary terms. Since the code of the python scripts would be visible, yet I’d have no freedom to do anything with the code I could see - and be unable to integrate their improvements with my originals - I’d find this very frustrating. With GPL, they wouldn’t integrate them (since that would mean GPL’ing FontLab…) but people would be free to integrate them on their own (ie, privately). With LGPL, they could integrate them, but I wouldn’t get caught in that frustrating situation.

(There are other licenses that achieve the same ends, but these are the most popular licenses of their kind.)