ATypI list scortched by Proprietary Software

The ATypI members list has blown up in an ugly way and many people tried to unsubscribe, because a proprietary software user was spamming the list but accidentally. How did this happen? A list member explained:

I had the same problem a while ago, that could be traced to an MS Outlook Express bug. When you sent mail box is over a certain size, the Outbox fails to place your message there and gets into a loop trying to do so - each time sending a new copy of the mail. The solution is to split up you sent mail- for instance per year.

This is a great example of the total madness of proprietary software. How is it POSSIBLE that this bug can go unfixed?

MATD Photo

Spotted on Mathieu’s blog:

MATD crit sessions

I’m in the red jumper on the right hand side, scaining away as per usual :-)

Web APIs and software freedom

The topic of software freedom in the context of web apps came up again today, and I posted the following personal opinion that does not reflect the views of any employers past or present:

Using web APIs is giving up your software freedom, because you are getting someone else to do your computation; you have no way of studying, understanding, or modifying the computation done behind the API.

It is naieve to think that a choice of providers will have identical functionality. They might be similar overall, and have some basic functions that are exactly the same… But the primary reason to pick one API over another is the functions they offer that are unique.

A common API will be a base that each gatekeeper will add bespoke features too. I’ll be surprised if similar services offered with a “common open API” from Google and Yahoo and Microsoft do not have any specialist features to differentiate them.

You can happily run your own things and then be your own lord, but not if the gatekeepers continue to offer software to the public without making the source code to that software public.

If the user chooses an “open source” API, but doesn’t download the software and run it on their computer, they are giving up their software freedom. A choice of providers isn’t freedom; freedom is being your own provider. The problem with saying “Oh, I could download the source code that runs this API interface, but actually I’m not going to bother and just use the service provided.” is that there is no guarantee that what you can download is what is running on their server.

I’m lumping Google, Yahoo and Microsoft together as all equivalently bad - along with all smaller “Web 2.0” API providers who provide computation services through web APIs, making a subtle distinction between those services and those that are data request protocols more sophsticated than HTTP.

BBC Backstage’s motto is “Use our stuff to make your stuff,” and to me personally this refers to providing BBC data for the British public to do computation with. Where Backstage publishes APIs that take input data, transform that data, and return the result, the source code for the transformations ought to be published as free software - preferably under the GNU Affero GPLv3 or some other network-aware copyleft license.

If Google is searching their data - their copy of the web, say - and returning the results to you, that’s good. Its their copy, after all. But if you upload your data - say, your spreadsheet numbers and equations - and get them to do your computation for you, instead of using Gnumeric or OpenOffice, that’s not good.

Typically HTTP is a “query languages” for requesting data to be sent to you, for you to do your own computation on. Consider RSS. “Should I care how the RSS feed is created?” Brian Butterworth asked. I say, does the RSS feed contain the BBCs news? Or does it contain your data that has been transformed in some way?


The Tiresias font has been released under GPLv3 and this has come up on a number of mailing lists I’m on, including the Sugar list (Sugar is the OLPC interface) a few days ago.

Sadly fonts under all versions of the GPL need the “font exception” as recommended by the FSF - and this font doesn’t have it, so it seems that all (PDF) documents that embed the GPL version are also licensed under the GPL, or not redistributable. (I have contacted RNIB about this already)

My personal opinion on the font is that its a solid workhorse humanist sans serif. I personally think its a good example. They were fashionable recently but a bit over the hill now.

Inconsolata is nice for monospaced (code) work.

Open Translations Tools 2007: Introductions

The Open Translation Tools 2007 conference got off to an early start with every participant being asked to post a small introduction to the list. Here’s mine:

I’ll be traveling out to Zagreb on Wednesday from London Heathrow, on flight 493 (10:50 - 14:20 Split, then Split to Zagreb 15:00 - 15:45) ad home on flight 4494 Zagreb direct to London Gatwick (14:00 - 15:20) - if anyone else is on those flights, please do get in touch :-)

I’m a student on the MA Typeface Design programme at the University of Reading, UK. I’m focused on an essential but obscure element of all free culture projects: free software fonts.

My Masters degree major project is to develop a new original text typeface covering extended Latin and Malayalam scripts. I’m looking forward to meeting people already using free software in multilingual publishing contexts to better understand their needs, and explore the viability for a “free software font foundry” to support the on-going creation of new free font software.

I’m also involved with the Open Font Library community, and am looking forward to meeting up with another OFLB contributor, Alexandre Prokoudine :-)

If anyone else is interested in fonts, please do get in touch :-)

A bunch of cool stuff mentioned in everyone else’s introductions, including the video subtitling web app dotSUB, and Tactical Tech’s “NGO-in-a-box toolkits” - highly focused GNU/Linux distributions aimed at NGOs, with both software and documentation. These combine the free software and free culture movements to effect social progress, which is awesome. There is an “Open Publishing Toolkit” focused on print media, for example. I think this could be a useful example for my dissertation.

Also, chatting to Dejan ÄŒabrilo (who is in charge of localization of Tara GNU/Linux, a fully localized GNU/Linux distribution for Western Balkans users) I asked, “Are there different words for free-as-in-price and free-as-in-freedom in BCSMxyz languages?” and he replied,

Yes. Free as in beer = besplatno, and free as in speech = slobodno. With the amount of software piracy we get here, the only selling point is “slobodno” :)

This is good to hear, because chatting with Gustavo, he thought that widespread sharing of proprietary software in Brasil means really free software is less attractive there.

Speaking at the British Computer Society

I’m speaking at the British Computer Society on Tuesday 11th December about font software freedom for the “Open Source Specialist Group.” The talk is titled, “Challenges and issues in Open Source font development” and here’s the blurb I co-drafted with my friend Conrad:

David Crossland and Conrad Taylor will lead discussion about the challenges and issues in Open Source font development at a meeting of the British Computer Society Open Source Specialist Group (OSSG) supported by the Electronic Publishing Specialist Group (EPSG) on Tuesday 11th December 2007 from 1800 hours at the BCS Central London Offices, First Floor, The Davidson Building, 5 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7HA. The meeting is open and free to all to attend.

The discussion will include these topics:

The evening will include a demonstration of relevant tools including FontForge, and some of the existing font projects like DejaVu and Gentium.

After the first hour and break, there will be extensive opportunities to discuss the issues and software presented, the business models that support free software and how they might apply to font software, and how you can get involved in the font community in such areas as software engineering, desktop user interface design, web-app development, and of course designing new fonts!

Dave Crossland is currently studying in the MA Typeface Design programme in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading. He has worked for over 5 years as a GNU/Linux systems administrator, and runs a small IT consultancy in his hometown of Bournemouth. He has used Debian since 1999, and believes strongly in the principles of freedom and community that underpin the software freedom movement.

Conrad Taylor has been working as a typographic designer and industrial design educator for 30 years, and has a particular interest in multi-script typesetting issues. He is currently the Chair of the BCS Electronic Publishing Specialist Group.

To book a place at this event please email your name to the OSSG events coordinator:

Free buffet and refreshments including wine available from around 1800 hours.

For further information please contact Paul Adams at

Map & directions:

Applying the GPLv3 to Fonts

The GPLv3 did not fix the embedding-in-pdf problems of font software licensed under GPLv2.

I recommend all GPL fonts add the “font exception” advised by the FSF to their copyright declaration. (More information on Scribus mailing list and FSF Blog)

Red Hat has licensed its Liberation fonts under GPLv2 with this exception, but sadly they are not a god role model here.

They have added an additional “exception” which is in fact a restriction (an anti-tivoisation restriction, ironically):

(b)As a further exception, any distribution of the object code of the Software in a physical product must provide you the right to access and modify the source code for the Software and to reinstall that modified version of the Software in object code form on the same physical product on which you received it.

Since no further restrictions can be added, there is a big question over how they can be redistributed at all. This was discussed within Debian.

Once OSI approves GPLv3, then Red Hat can use GPLv3, and that has many improvements over GPLv2 including this kind of restriction.

Inkscape Live Path Effects!

Inkscape’s Live Path Effects are developing quickly after the initial Google Summer of Code implementation, and the “skeleton paths” feature is a lot like MetaFont and Kalliculator. I look forward to the Inkscape release with this feature; the cogs example is cool too:

Inkscape Live Path Gears

Non-hackers using free typographic software

On the UKTUG Committee list today, was mentioned, and it seems to have a lot of non-hackers using print focused typographic free software like LaTeX and Scribus. This will be a useful resource for my dissertation research, I think.

Open Translation 2007, Zagreb

After announcing I was going to Open Translation 2007, and then losing my passport and thinking I was unable to go, when I went to the Passport Agency office in London yesterday, after being told “for sure” on the inquiries hot-line that there was no way to do it, I got a same-day passport service!

So I am going! :-)

New Digi: Canon IXUS 950IS

Given the reminder of what was in the bag I lost, and thanks to DPreview, I finally replaced my digital camera with a Canon IXUS 950IS (and SanDisk SD 2 GB ULTRA II, only £13 these days) from Amazon for £200 all in.

Open Translation Tools 2007 Free Flight and Hotel

I had my bag stolen at a large London web development event back in June, and I’ve just realised I had my passport in that bag. Its not possible to get a passport reissued within 7 days any more, so I’m not going to the Open Translation Tools 2007 conference as previously announced which I’m very, very disappointed about.

The best I can do is offer to transfer the free ticket and free hotel I was awarded to anyone who can make the flight. Wednesday 10:50 Heathrow to 15:45 Zagreb outbound, Sunday 2nd 14:00 Zagreb to 15:20 Gatwick inbound.

Permitting sharing makes more money

Cory Doctorow explains how permitting sharing made him more money:

My writing career and Creative Commons are inextricably bound together. My first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor, the largest science fiction publisher in the world, on January 9, 2003, just a few days after CC launched its first licenses. I was the first author to use the licenses, applying them to my book and releasing it for free online on the same day it appeared in stores. Today, the book has been through more printings than I can keep track of, been translated into more languages than I know, and has been downloaded more than 750,000 times from my site alone (I don’t know the total number of downloads, because, of course, anyone is free to redistribute it).

I’ve applied Creative Commons licenses to all my books since, including the comics that IDW just adapted from six of my short stories. I use CC for my speeches, for my articles and op-eds, and for articles and stories that I write for “straight” magazines from Forbes to Radar. My co-editors and I use CC licenses for our popular blog, Boing Boing, one of the most widely read blogs in the world. These licenses have allowed my work to spread far and wide, into corners of the world I never could have reached. I hear from sailors on battleships, volunteers working in the developing world, kids in underfunded school-districts, and people who “don’t usually read this sort of thing” but found my work because a friend was able to introduce them to it. My readers have made innumerable technical remixes, fan-fic installments, fan-art drawings, songs, translations and other fun and inspiring creative works from mine, each time humbling and inspiring me (and enriching me!).

CC turns my books from nouns into verbs. My books *do stuff*, get passed around and recut and remade to suit the needs of each reader, turned to their hand the way that humans always have adapted their tools and stories to fit their circumstances. As Tim O’Reilly says, my problem is not piracy, it’s obscurity, and CC licenses turn my books into dandelion seeds, able to blow in the wind and find every crack in every sidewalk, sprouting up in unexpected places. Each seed is a possibility, an opportunity for someone out there to buy a physical copy of the book, to commission work from me, to bring me in for a speech. I once sold a reprint of an article of mine to an editor who saw it in a spam message — the spammer had pasted it into the “word salad” at the bottom of his boner-pill pitch to get past the filters. The editor read the piece, liked it, googled me, and sent me a check.

CC lets me be financially successful, but it also lets me attain artistic and ethical success. Ethical in the sense that CC licenses give my readers a legal framework to do what readers have always done in meatspace: pass the works they love back and forth, telling each other stories the way humans do. Artistic because we live in the era of copying, the era when restricting copying is a fool’s errand, and by CC gives me an artistic framework to embrace copying rather than damning it.

Writers all over the world are adopting CC licenses, creating an artistic movement that treats copying as a feature, not a bug. As a science fiction writer, this is enormously satisfying: here we have artists who are acting as though they live in the future, not the past. CC is changing the world, making it safe for copying, and just in time, too.

XOgiving OLPCs to work over jabber

On the Sugar mailing list today Morgan Collett from free software company Collabora wrote:

Robert Arrowsmith wrote:

My take on the idea is more about providing a method for people to collaborate over the internet rather than being limited to the wifi range of the mesh. Since we’re on the cusp of a US/Canada wide userbase through the Give One Get One event it seems the collaboration facility on the laptops wont be available to most people.

I’d like to see the Sugar Neighborhood screen showing XO users linked together through a server. Would it theoretically be possible to connect XO users via a server to allow collaboration? While I’ve studied the Telepathy, D-Bus and Presence docs I’m still not sure how to implement it. I’m thinking a PHP front end registration/login linked to a database accessed by a presence service.

This already exists :)

Telepathy is using two connection managers, telepathy-salut provides link local presence and sharing which is for those in mesh range, and telepathy-gabble which provides presence and sharing via a Jabber server. The Presence Service automatically registers with the Jabber server, so no front end is necessary.

In the field, each school will have a schoolserver which will include this Jabber server.

At present, and for G1G1, there is a Jabber server preconfigured. When you have internet access, it will “Just Work”. The Neighborhood screen does show all those on that server currently.

The server currently in use on the images is I don’t know whether that server will be the default for G1G1 but I haven’t heard otherwise.

The server configured in the sugar-jhbuild emulator is, which is intended for developers - so if you run a sugar-jhbuild instance it sees a different server by default to the XO images.

The jabber server can be configured using the control panel (

Regards Morgan

Since I managed to procure one of these, this is awesome awesome news :-)

Can you create on-screen fonts with METAFONT?

Old slashdot post about metafont and on-screen fonts.

On The Future of Newspapers

Rupert Murdoch’s speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington DC on April 13, 2005 is interesting reading, given the emphasis on printed type in MATD.

Michael Sparks & Whence GNU?

There is an interview titled “10 questions to Michael Sparks, Open Source Guru at BBC” (Part 1 & Part 2, and each with nasty page-breaking) that is well worth reading.

The stuff about the conceptual origins of Kamaelia is especially fascinating:

it’s also inspired by a naive engineers view of biology. In animals we have 2 main communication systems which allow the billions of cells (which don’t know of each others existance) to operate as whole. We have the neural system (which Kamaelia’s core - Axon - deliberately alludes to) which can be viewed as the brain’s main (or most obvious) way of controlling the body. The other main system the body has of communication is the hormonal system which provides essentially mechanisms to say “starvation mode, conserve energy”, “horny mode, reproduce”, “pregnant mode”, and so on. This is much slower acting, but provides global useful information.

He also echos Tom Lord’s ideas about software freedom being a user-facing feature, the way it is in Emacs, and from the little I know about Kamaelia, it seems likely to deliver this eventually:

An eventual aim would include a generic application as putting the same sort of power as the spreadsheet does for the average user into the average users hands but for generic applications using multimedia, and network systems. This is some time off however!

10 questions to Michael Sparks, Part 1 Page 4

Pretty much the only thing Michael and I disagree on is his “Open Source” philosophy, since I prefer that of “Software Freedom.” (and we’ve (well, I have, at least) had fun chatting this over a lot on the Backstage list :-)

Michael has some thoughtful things to say about the need for the Affero GPLv3 (Part 2  page 4 and page 5) (finally released today!) although he doesn’t mention it. I hope he’ll write some more about it at some point.

He does mention the Google superior privately help anti-spam technology, and recently made some of his own using Kamaelia :-) And Michaels blogs has some thoughtful posts too, like this one on DRM vis-a-vis GPL. (Although there’s lots to discuss there too)

Also, I often wonder how software engineers come to decided their position on software freedom movement, so this part of the interview was really interesting to me too:

After reading the GNU manifesto however, I personally came down heavily on the side of the BSD license. Developers do have a choice in our society (rightly or wrongly) on how (or if) they charge for their services.

10 questions to Michael Sparks, Part 1 Page 2

Its a shame that the old GNU manifesto wasn’t persuasive. Richard’s writing errs towards clarity rather than rhetoric, and in doing so becomes less persuasive but more useful when you have been convinced, in my experience.

Perhaps a new manifesto should/could be written, since the challenges faced by the GNU project are much different today. Tom Lord wrote this summer:

Proposal: The GNU project needs a newly revitalized, specific, principled, technical agenda. That is to say that the project needs a statement of what it aims to achieve in terms of specific technical objectives, and an explanation of why the principles of software freedom make those objectives worth achieving. With such a statement, it will begin to be possible to work on organizing to achieve the objectives.

Maybe the FSF is more appropriate than the GNU project, though, with its 3 full time paid-up campaigns managers. Perhaps the FSF could have a manifesto, meant to be more persuasive about why software should be free-as-in-freedom, and why its worth joing them as an associate member. Perhaps it shouldn’t be primarily text, but done in video, given how much milage Creative Commons got from its “manifesto video” when it launched, and how much the “viral is everything” concept was touted at the Silicon Valley in Cambridge event last week.

(Grabbing the link for the GNU Manifesto, I noticed that the Portuguese translation is high up the rankings for some reason. Must be popular in Brasil ;-)

Gym Week 12 Results

I’ve gained 1kg in weight since I started going to a gym every other day since the 3rd of September (about 12 weeks) and everything else is pretty much the same, although my grip strength has gone down a lot, randomly. Heh.

Malayalam Free Software in 2002

A LinuxJournal article from 2002 about the inital free software movement efforts in Kerala was useful reading.

Also, I’ve secured access to an OLPC but shipping will take quite a long time - hopefully before January 2008, though.

I’m concentrating my my latin letterforms for the moment, but still look forward to working in the #smc-project community :-)

Rob on Radiohead

Rob Myers has written up two great posts on Radiohead’s new album, when it came out and more recently. Choice quote:

Doing the maths shows that Radiohead still made more money … They are getting what money they can from downloaders before the finished album can be leaked. And they are targeting collectors with a package that costs four times what a simple CD release does. This simultaneously captures value that would be lost to filesharers and unrealised with collectors if the tracks were released on a CD through supermarkets some time next year. This is all the value that can currently be captured for an album without alienating fans and thereby paradoxically reducing value by trying to maximize it.

Amazon Kindle eBook Hardware

Amazon Kindle

I’m focusing on on-screen reading and new devices that are powered by free software. Sadly the Amazon Kindle eBook hardware announced recently won’t be one of them; the software is full of DRM evil:

Bezos explains that it’s only fair to charge less for e-books because you can’t give them as gifts, and due to [DRM] you can’t lend them out or resell them. (Libraries, though, have developed lending procedures for previous versions of e-books—like the tape in “Mission: Impossible,” they evaporate after the loan period—and Bezos says that he’s open to the idea of eventually doing that with the Kindle.)

Newsweek article by Levy

So much for Amazon being a champion of anti-DRM with its non-DRM MP3 music download service :-(

The details on the screen and the default font (which obviously you won’t be able to change):

…the Kindle, with its 167 dot-per-inch E Ink display, with type set in a serif font called Caecilia, can subsume consciousness in the same way a physical book does. It can take you down the rabbit hole.

Newsweek article by Levy

And reminding me of Eben and Ashley’s comments,

Publishers are resisting the idea of charging less for e-books. “I’m not going along with it,” says Penguin’s Peter Shanks of Amazon’s low price for best sellers. (He seemed startled when I told him that the Alan Greenspan book he publishes is for sale at that price, since he offered no special discount.)

Newsweek article by Levy

“What, you mean we can distribute a text to a reader for a massively smaller cost, yet you’re asking us to give the reader a discount? I’m not going along with it!” - LOL

Engadget has a review with pictures (at top) and links to video too.

I Met Rufus Pollock

After not only inviting me to the Silicon Valley Comes To Cambridge day, my good friend Stephen Rowley introduced me to Rufus Pollock over the weekend, of the Open Knowledge Foundation, who are doing some great work and are very much in the campaign for freedom despite in name being merely “open.”

The OKFN blog is full of good stuff too, eg

He that ‘tinkering’ is an important form of learning - and suggested we are experiencing a new wave of tinkering as a result of open software and content. He also described a vision of a world where learners are also educators in an ‘open participatory learning ecosystem’. Central to this vision is the notion of a culture of sharing, remixing, blending, and modifying which is enabled by open licensing practices. In his view, the combination of eScience, eHumanities, OERs and web 2.0 is creating a ‘perfect storm of opportunity’ for such an ecosystem to flourish.

OKFN post about Open Learn 2007

And they have some nice flyers that I’ll take to conferences I go to and help to promote them.

Software Idea Patents Exist In The UK Today!

Michael Sparks, one of the seriously talented engineers in the UK not yet working for Google (and currently for the BBC) posted on the BBC Backstage mailing list today that software patents do exist in the UK. There’s no good archive of that list, so I’ll quote the whole post:

Yes, software gets patented in Europe, including the UK, and has been for many years. For software to be patentable it generally has to sit inside a system and affect something outside that system. The patent is normally couched in terms of the system and the effect on that system, which in practice that means pure software implementations suffice as well. This is particularly true in the signal processing domain where a significant number of patents are expected to have a hardware implementation, but clearly can be implemented in software. The hardware patent is usually couched in such terms which allows for a software implementation to be covered by the patent. (Usually using language like “A further embodiment of the …”) The following two links … … are worth reading if you think *no* software is patentable… For example, Microsoft’s patent application on an “isnot” operator in basic probably wouldn’t be patentable in the UK, but is the _sort_ of thing that could be patented in the US. (ignoring all other aspects of said application… :-)

This is deeply disturbing, since software idea patents are not meant to afflict the UK.

GNU Affero GPLv3 is out!

GNU Affero GPL v3 is out! I’ll recommend this for all webapps I use from now on :-)

Open Translation 2007, Zagreb

I was awarded a travel bursary for Open Translation 2007, Zagreb (and there’s more background information here) and I found & bought the cheapest flights through the (Microsoft owned) Expedia service - and I looked at buying them from the airline direct, and they were about £10 more expensive that way.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the conference and meeting one of the key audiences for free software fonts :-)

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