How Bush Failed People

The Shameful State of The Union explains how to the Bush government has failed people.

Sad :-(

Wikidot has been Affero’d!

Wikidot has been Affero’d!

Our users want access to the code, and we want our users to get involved in the project. We believe that freeing our software is great for our community, and great for our business. The Affero license gives users the right to modify, share, and even resell improvements to the code. It’s like the GPLv3 but also requires service providers who extend our Wikidot code to share their improvements

A YouTube for Theora Videos

http://theorasea.org/ is a youtube for theora videos, and works pefectly on GNU+Linux systems, and has a Java applet for Mac OS X and Windows.

This is great news, blip.tv was okay and will host Theora files but its Flash-based in-browser viewer doesn’t work with Gnash yet.

Still, its not the <video> tag that I was hoping would be in HTML5…

FontChameleon anywhere?

dear lazyweb, please post a torrent of the FontChameleon v1.51 abandonware on Pirate Bay. thx

7 Kinds of Software Freedom Advocates

An interesting review of the 7 kinds of software freedom supporters.

Persuading English Parliament Not To Extend Copyright

Thomas Babbington Macaulay made a speech made that convinced English Parliament not to extend the term of Copyright.

To 60 years.

In 1841.

Its a shame that contemporary Governments are in the pockets of publishers and extend copyright infinitely on “the installment plan” - added 20 years, every 20 years.

(Via Russ Nelson)

Analysis of the Fed’s Rate Cut

So the American Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a whopping 0.75% today, and gazillionaire Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has a tidy blog post explaining the financial madness of the last 7 years.

Comments with links to other sharp analysts welcome :-)

Richard Stallman Explains Free Hardware

Richard Stallman answered a query of mine today, regarding the need for free hardware - that is, hardware which the public is not restricted from understanding, so we can write free software drivers for that hardware:

We need free software to interface with the hardware, and to develop it, we need access to the hardware specs. I have often called on companies to “publish the specs” because that’s the way I envisioned free software developers would be able to write free drivers. I do not approve of nondisclosure agreements for generally useful technical information. However, if signing one enables you to write a free driver, that may justify the evil.

(This query of mine started from a thread on the gobuntu mailing list)

BBC LOL Cats

bbc lolcats

The best BBC Backstage mashup ever: BBC news + Cats = lol

Lolinator makes the BBC news worth reading

(Via Backstage mailing list)

Vista Gets Filled With Malware Within Days!

An old friend just instant messaged me:

hi dave, do you know any anti spyware software that’s free for windows vista? i got a new laptop end of last week and it’s already massively infected. i used adaware, that got rid of some, then i was going to use spybot, but it seems like you have to register and pay for it these days to clean (it detects around 80 infected files), but wont clean them without subscription. well AVG and Adaware detect and clean most, but spybot finds more.

I replied, “You ARE joking?”

No. “Windows defender” is completely oblivious. It sees nothing. and watch out for “spyware bot,” it comes up as one of the highest listed cleaners in web searches, and it IS MALWARE! it must get downloaded all the time

My. God.

The first time I saw a Vista machine, it bluescreened within 10 seconds, which was pretty funny with “Dave has Jedi free software skills” comments, but, wow. I actually fell for the propaganda that says Vista is secured against that stuff.

Clamwin is a GPL virus checker for Windows I usually tell people to try. But really the only solution is to start taking steps to move to a 100% free software system.

Great Little Free Software Programs for Backup, Synchronisation and Notes

While I’m a childish mood to rag on proprietary software, I thought I’d post about 4 little programs for the GNU desktop project GNOME that are better than the proprietary ones:

  1. FlyBack is a great free software backup program. It works better than the equivalent in the latest release of the most advanced proprietary operating system because it can sync to any other computers on your home network, instead of being crippled to external hard disks - or forcing you to buy a small backup server computer with very limited amounts of disk space and no “RAID” hard disk failure protection. That is second only to iTunes DRM downloads as the most bizarre thing that crapple tries to con people into.
  2. TimeVault is a little more sophisticated, integrating with the file browser and giving a nice graph of the backups for when you are milling through archives trying to find the particular version of the file you want to restore.
  3. Conduit is a great synchronization program that can sync both regular stuff like mobile phones’ and email programs’ address books, and also websites like Facebook.
  4. Tomboy is a great “desktop wiki” note taking tool, and it also does backups to any other computer on your home network and its own synchronization by the same means.

(I note that and good friend of mine who works with proprietary software once compared software freedom advocates to ex-smokers. He’s probably got something there ;-)

Free Software Laptops Make New Apple Laptop Look Like A Joke

With all the fanfare about a thin laptop from a nasty and antisocial company that writes insecure software, that isn’t really all that newsworthy given Sony have been selling similar for a while, I was pleased to see that:

Hate

http://savingtheinternetwithhate.com/ is very funny, but also a good idea.

Australian Boos

“Large party in Melbourne’s south-east. 500 teenagers. Police cars damaged. Bottles thrown at officers. Neighbours scared. Police helicopters and dog squad called in. $20,000 cost to the public. Parents yet to find out.”

Reminds me of the glory days :-)

Two Interviews with Mako

Two Interviews with Mako, one long one at Code Review (direct mp3) and the other shorter one from GNU/Linux community guy at Sun, Barten (direct ogg)

The Code Review one is really good, its mainly about OLPC, and Barten’s covers Mako’s recently election to FSF board.

Richard Stallman does Soulja Boy

On New Years Eve I was busted for not knowing how to dance “Hey Macarena” or any other bizarro disco routines, and a friend I mentioned this to duly sent me the link for this instructional video because this is “the” dance at the moment:

However, via Fake Steve, I saw something quite unexpected:

This reminds me that I never got round to getting a laptop hip strap. Given that Richard can dance with his, I have a long way to catch up.

And what was that about Eben suggesting Richard should stand down from the FSF because he’s now in his 50s? Looks like the dude has game left in him yet yo! :-D

I Wouldn’t Steal

http://iwouldntsteal.net/ has made a cool ad to counter the bogus idea that file sharing is stealing:

(Via PirateBay)

OLPC Games

Dear Lazyweb: Please Make SFCave for the XO. kthxbye

The Gnash list recently discussed games on the OLPC, and that as Gnash supports running more and more software, the proprietary nature of almost all Flash software becomes a serious challenge for the free software movement.

Zeth Green pointed out that the “solution is not for Gnash or the OLPC to support these proprietary [flash games] but to provide free software [games], preferably using Etoys, Python or Gnash.” I totally agree.

Creatures was similar to this and was very advanced. Well, in the mid 1990s it was; I have no idea how elite AI for computer games is in 2008 :-) But virtual pet games doesn’t even have to be all that complex to be compelling for kids, proven by the billions of Tamagotchi sold to date.

Probably the best networking feature is a “battle” feature that works on simple Top Trumps mechanics and allows players to breed with others’ avatars to get better plays.

Of course there are tonnes of simple non-network games too, from the old ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 days, that were hugely addictive, er, wonderful to play.

SFCave is an all time favorite from when I was a kid in high school and James had a Palm.

I was too young for a Barcode Battler although I remember them in the news, but using the funky analog input features potentially available from the microphone would be awesome - and that kind of direct input is quickly making its way into the Python-powered logo-like Turtle activity and eToys :-)

The OLPC Wiki has a good page on games and on game development, and olpcgames.org also has tonnes of stuff.

OLPC Arrives!

I got my XO laptop from the OLPC project last week, and the project has come a long way.

2005, a design sketch:

olpc image in 2005

2007, Rob Savoye, legendary old school GNU hacker (currently heading up the Gnash project) and I at FOSDEM 2007 with his XO-B1:

rob savoye and dave crossland at fosdem2007

2008, a 6 year old design student:

olpc princess in mongolia, 2008

2008, Gerard Unger and I with my XO:

gerard unger and dave crossland with an olpc xo laptop

Matthieu and Michi

matd students checking out my olpc xo

Opening the XO seems to confound everyone :-)

flipping an XO into ebook mode

The screens are visibly different, in that the “scanline” is unusually diagonal (image).

A typical concern is that 6 year olds are too young to really appreciate laptops. I don’t know why that age specifically was chosen, but here are some older kids replacing the motherboard (via Memex):

So thats the image binge over with :-)

The best way to keep up with the progress of OLPC is to sign up to the community-news mailing list that has a weekly bulletin by Walter Bender (GMane has a nice archive)

As other blogger have noted, they are typical of a snapshot of any currently-in-major-development-mode GNU+Linux system, which is something that snooty Economic journalists completely don’t get at all.

This is saddening because bad press for OLPC, to an audience of influential people, is not good. In an ironic postmodern way it is good though - more evidence of the death of journalism through ignorance continuing unabated; the sit-at-your-desk-reading-press-releases journalism ‘submarine’ has had the plug pulled on its water tank and is quickly being exposed for the crock it is. (There are still some investigative journalists doing good work so maybe I read too many Superman comics as a kid (ahem) and there was never widespread Lois Lane style investigative journalism, it was always this way…)

Anyway, this clown at the Economist mixes up the XO laptop with Windows XP, a schoolboy’s error, and his number one problem is that Gnash doesn’t play YouTube in the built that shipped with his laptop.

Recently on the gnash-dev mailing list, John Gilmore wrote:

I know the codec software patent issue is painful bullshit that nobody should have to deal with. Since it’s government-imposed bullshit, I think it falls into the “taxes” part of the unavoidable “death and taxes”.

Having just done front-line support for OLPC, how about a suggestion then:

When there’s a codec issue, put up a message, in the web page display, that says it’s a codec issue. Don’t just end up with a grey rectangle. If you want to be fancy, say which codec is being used that we don’t support, and why we don’t support it.

At the moment all that most people know is, “It doesn’t work.” They direct their frustration at OLPC, Browse, or Gnash because that’s what’s in front of them. If we took the trouble to tell them, “This video won’t display because the corrupt US government issued patent 123,456,797 on codec C and the company is demanding X cents per flash player, which we haven’t paid”, a much more informed discussion could take place. And the gnash team could tell the codec problems from the real ActionScript implementation bugs.

And maybe after OLPC saw this, they would let you add a “Click here if you’re European and have sane laws about software patents” link, which would install the proper codec.

OLPC can’t ship Adobe flash; they don’t have a license to do so. The one you download from the Adobe website doesn’t come with permission to share it. Maybe they could get one by negotiation; but they prefer to stand in solidarity with the free software community.

The target audience of G1G1 was kids, many of whom seem to be in thrall to the webkinz.com brightly colored pyramid scheme. Here’s an excerpt from one support ticket, after they installed Adobe Flash with help from a techie friend, but didn’t figure out how to uninstall gnash: “No resolution. I am waiting and hoping you can get someone to ‘add a very simple walk-through’, as you have stated below. My daughter does not want to use her XO since she is unable to get into Webkins and Learning Today.” I tried it; the homepage works, but clicking “New Member” leads to a Flash “Loading…” page that never goes away. If this is a Flash version issue, hey, how about Gnash putting up a message about *that* very common problem, too?

BBC content aimed at children also make heavy use of Flash, so I wonder if anyone in CBBC or similar might have some 10%-time style resources to contribute to Gnash :-)

Software idea patents are a top obstacle for OLPC and all free software projects, and the FSF’s annual members meeting at the start of March will include a speech about their upcoming campaign to get software idea patents in the USA abolished.

Airplane mode for turning off the wireless is a planned feature, and will also save some battery life when activated; it should be in the upcoming Update1 release due in about a month’s time. (The wiki has great instructions about how to install updates already)

A blogger reviewing his OLPC noted how to disable the hot corners shelf popup:

Comment out (add a # in the first column) lines 56 & 57 of /usr/share/sugar/shell/view/frame/eventarea.py

There are “cheat codes” for booting the XO in special ways, the best being pressing right on the dpad and turning it on, which starts either a “game of life” screensaver to watch until you press a key to resume normal boot, or a game of pong! “Brilliant!” as Chris Buckley would say :-)

The wiki has tonnes of good stuff, like a Simplified User Guide that extends the official quickstart information, and a list of all the programs - “activities” in OLPC jargon - that you can download. Including, controversially, Doom :-)

There is a command line tool “sugar-control-panel” that reminds me of the old Apple Mac OS X NetInfo database, which reminded me of the Windows Registry - which are all pretty grim, really.

There is no email program as yet, but if the Chat activity was altered to store messages for friends who are currently offline and send them when they next appear online (like any decent instant messaging tool would) that would do a similar job pretty well. Chat currently doesn’t have page up/down working to scroll the buffer, and over-all keyboard interaction in Sugar needs to be improved.

OurStories is a cool activity that allows people to make little video testimonials with geolocation data, and Google is providing a GMaps backed global repository for children with XOs. It would be nice to set up a OurStories server myself so I could record and publish people’s reactions to my XO.

Guido van Robot (official site) seems fun too. I’d like to see a free software Drawbot that ran on the platform. (Drawbot was originally by Just van Rossum, an exceptionally talented font tools hacker and, having met him, a very cool and nice guy too :-)

OLPC has an official policy on free software written by no less than Mako.

(I’ve met Mako a couple of times now and he’s totally awesome, reflected in his recent election as the replacement for Eben Moglen on the FSF board, a longtime Debian contributor and a primary developer of freedomdefined.org.)

The wireless system is actually a “system on a chip” - a complete computer that runs separately to the main computers - and I think it runs a proprietary operating system, sadly. In 2006 Jim Gettys suggested that a free version was being worked on, but I’m not sure how that has fared.

Jim Getty’s blog is worth keeping an eye on, as is Ivan Krstik’s blog. Ivan made a post about the recent Microsoft dual booting stuff which is better covered by the guy who runs xochat.org.

xochat.org is a community-run Jabber server that allows you to connect to an “internet neighbourhood” instead of using the mesh networking to make the neighbourhood mirror your geolocation. To switch to is, start the Terminal activity and run “sugar-control-panel -s jabber xochat.org” and then reboot Sugar with the standard X11 Ctrl-Alt-Erase three finger salute. (This is originally ship2.jabber.laptop.org which is what you need to mesh with neighbouring XOs)

Ivan has also explained how to dual boot debian and xfce4 - the XO is built with dual-booting in mind :-) - although this isn’t totally neccessary as you can run X-in-X for the same effect (although memory usage would be a problem; and that article recommends proprietary Opera which is bad.)

OLPCNepal has a good introduction to the project’s concepts

Bunnie (of xbox mod chip fame, and who made the Chumby) has reviewed the hardware and loves it.

OLPC has a jobs page, although their positions are all very elite :-)

Dave Harding on Software Freedom Origins

Dave Harding made an excellent speech last year about Software Freedom, and makes a first rate job of explaining the early Bill Gates “letter to hobbyists” incident.

He also does a nice job of presenting “Apple II and VisiCalc” as similar to “Windows and Office” today; and that Symbolics, with its focus on elegant superior technology and design chic but anti social policies, is similar to Apple today.

Here’s his transcription of the first 10 minutes, download the Ogg Vorbis speech directly for the full thing.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Those are the words Mahatma Gandi used to describe the states of resistance to non-violent movements for change. {00:47}

This afternoon, I’d like to introduce you to one of those movements: the free software movement. The free in free software stands for freedom; it’s the same free as in the terms free speech or free market. {01:00}

I’m pleased to tell you that the enemies of free software are very clearly fighting us, placing us only one step away from victory according to Gandi. But the enemies of free software have also ignored us and they’ve laughed us, and I want to start my speech by telling you about how we overcame those challenges. {01:20}

After you hear the history of the free software movement, you may want to join us, or you may just want to use the tools we created in order to create freedom for ourselves. Either way, I will tell you to what it means to join the free software community and I will do it as fairly as possible: I will tell you about the good parts and I will conclude my speech by telling you about the not-so-good parts. {01:40}

So now let’s start with the history of the free software movement, which begins during the heyday of the microcomputer revolution. {01:50}

In 1975, the Altair went on sale. The Altair was an early microcomputer produced by a company called Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems [MITS]; it was named after the original destination of the Enterprise in the classic Star Trek episode Amok Time. The Altair was a kit: you bought it and you assembled it yourself, and after you assembled it, there wasn’t much you could do with it because the only way to program the Altair was to flip a set of switches on the front of it and program in machine language op-codes. {02:26}

A teenage entrepreneur saw that as an opportunity: he contacted MITS and he offered to provide them with an interpreter for the BASIC programing language. The BASIC programing language would let people program their Altair in something resembling English. That young entrepreneur, Mr. [Bill] Gates, got his deal with MITS, and MITS contacted all of their customers and said, “we will soon be able to sell to you a copy the interpreter for the BASIC programing language” — which they called Altair BASIC. {03:07}

But [MITS] didn’t get around to selling Altair BASIC right away; they kept telling their customers it would happen, but it never did — something like a lot of other Microsoft products in that regard. {03:16}

But the hobbyists, the people who wanted a copy of Altair BASIC so they could use the Altair computer they had bought, became frustrated. And one of them managed to surreptitiously acquire a pre-release version of Altair BASIC. He made 25 copies of it, and he brought it to the next general meeting of the Silicon Valley Homebrew Computer Club, a group like your own, and he gave away all 25 copies—for a promise: if you took a copy of Altair BASIC, you had to come back to the next meeting with two more copies you had to share with other people. {03:55}

Soon everybody in the Homebrew Computer Club who wanted a copy of Altair BASIC, had a copy, and Mr. Gates, who was supposed to receive part of the sales revenue for every copy of Altair BASIC sold, was quite upset. He wrote a letter to the members of the Homebrew Computer Club, which was published in the next newsletter; the letter was entitled An Open Letter to Hobbyists, and in the letter, Mr. Gates called the hobbyists thieves. And he said that they shouldn’t expect anyone to write software for them if they were going to continue to share software among themselves. Except he didn’t use the word share, he used the word steal. {04:34}

Mr. Gate’s words, and the actions of the members of the homebrew computer club, are indicative of the status of the computer industry in 1976, when he wrote his letter (and when I hear your club was found). {04:47}

The people who were a part of the homebrew computer club, were used to the computer industry and apart of a community. And they shared: all communities are based upon sharing, whether its the sharing of information or its the sharing of the tools which that community depends upon. {05:03}

Sharing had never before been a serious problem in the computer industry. During the 1950s and the 1960s, computers costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, and the people who bought computers expected to receive the rights to use the programs on those computers and expected to receive the source code for the programs on those computers. They needed the source code to improve the programs. So everyone had the source code in the fifties and the sixties. {05:30}

During the 1970s, and the short-lived days of the minicomputer, people shared source code often — some of the people in this room probably shared source code through groups like the DEC User Society (DECUS). {05:42}

So the hobbyists of the homebrew computer club were used to sharing. They had been exposed to it through their college days or through their work where they worked with computers. {05:53}

On the other hand, Mr. Gates saw a business opportunity: as the number of computers went from a few thousand in the seventies to a few million in the eighties, Mr. Gates saw an opportunity to sell software. If each person who owned a computer bought one copy of software, there would be an opportunity to make a lot of money. {06:14}

But there was a problem in Mr. Gates’s plan, and the problem was illustrated by the actions of the members homebrew computer club. The problem was that people who are a part of a community will share with each other. And when they’re sharing a program, you’re not making any money. {06:28}

Mr. Gates needed to alienate users from each other — he needed to make them not be part of a community so that they wouldn’t share And ironically, it was the invention of a member of the homebrew computer club, one of the people who could’ve shared Altair BASIC, that allowed Mr. Gates to alienate users from each other. {06:49}

That member of the Homebrew Computer Club was brilliant engineer Steve Wozniak, and his invention was the Apple. The first Apple was a kit, somewhat like the Altair, but the second Apple was a complete pre-assembled computer that you could buy, plug into the wall, plug into a monitor, press the power-on button, and expect it to work. {07:09}

The Apple II was targeted towards hobbyists, but hobbyists didn’t buy it — not very many of them at least. The problem was that hobbyists were quite content buying kits, going down into the basements where they could hide from their wives and their chores and assemble the computer in bliss. So the Apple computer didn’t sell very well. {07:32}

What changed Apple’s fortunes was the invention of a Harvard Business School undergraduate, and his invention was VisiCalc: the first spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was immediately deemed a business necessity, and 700,000 copies of VisiCalc were sold within its first few years. But VisiCalc only ran on one computing platform initially: the Apple II. So every new sale of VisiCalc was accompanied by a new sale of an Apple II computer. {07:58}

IBM executives, watching the sales figures for Apple, became quite interested in joining this microcomputer market, and they rushed to market their own microcomputer, the personal computer [(the PC)]. {08:12}

Built upon a mostly-open hardware platform, the ROMs for the IBM were soon cloned, allowing a commodity PC market to begin. As the people who were building PC-compatible computers didn’t really innovate, at least initially, we had a deluge of very similar computers, and with all of these similar computers, there was only one thing they could compete upon: price. {08:42}

As the prices of PCs dropped precipitously, more and more people (like the people in this room), were able to buy their first computers. They all had the opportunity to come out and join user communities — like PACS — but a lot of them didn’t. And they accepted for themselves self- imposed isolation from their fellow users. Because they weren’t part of the community, they didn’t care about sharing, and Mr. Gates found it quite easy to alienate them from each other — to tell them that the price of getting software was that they couldn’t share with each other. {09:13}

Mr. Gates used his business model to build the multi-billion dollar empire we’re all familiar with today. {09:25}

Now before the microcomputer revolution, one of the most innovative computer research labs was the Massachutes Institute of Technology’s Articifical Intellegence lab. The artifical intellegence lab was staffed by many of the original hackers — hackers, being in this case, a term of great respect for someone’s programing skills.

The hackers of the artificial intellegence lab did most of their programing in the lisp programing language. Lisp was a programing language ideally suited to solving artificial intellengence problems, but it also had a certain elegence, a certain grace.

The hackers at the articifical intellegence lab fell in love with lisp. They began writing programs in lisp that were unrelated to their work in artificial intellegence. One of the things they wrote was an entire operating system: written in lisp, configured through lisp, and completely based upon list. The problem was that, when they wrote this in the early seventies, there were no computers in the world powerful enough to effectively run the lisp operating sytem.

So they wrote it out on magnetic tape, and put it on the shelf, and they almost forgot about it. Until the late seventies and the early eighties when computing processor power had increased to the point when it became feasable that people could build a computer to run the lisp operating system.

Hackers began to leave the artificial intellegence lab to form companies, two comanies in particular, to build the computer to run the lisp operating system. They were very excited about it.

One of these companies was called Symbolics. Symbolics licensed a copy of the lisp operating system code from MIT and they began improving it. But they didn’t give their improvements back to MIT. And the last systems programer at MIT’s artificial intellence lab was quite upset about this. He had spent his own time adding features to it, working on it, and he wasn’t able to see the improvements, he wasn’t able to learn from them, and he wasn’t able to improve the improvements himself. He saw this as a violation of his rights.

He spent about a year fighting back against Symbolics, but after a year he decided he was working on a small piece of a bigger puzzles. And he quit his job at MIT to start writing a new operating system. An operating system that would give every user of that operating system the rights to learn from the computer programs, to learn from the operating system, and to improve it.

The new operating system he decided to write was based upon an old operating system. That old operating system was called Unix. Its pronouced the same way you pronouce the word for a castrated man, but its spelled different; its spelled U-N-I-X.

And Unix was a commercial operating system from the AT&T compnay. It had some enviable features which Mr. Stallman wanted to add to his new operating system.

His new operating system was called GNU. Its spelled G-N-U. Its an acronym; its a particular type of acronymn called a recursive acronymn. It stands for Gnu is Not Unix.

Part Time MATD

I went part time this term in order to spend more time at home with my sister; I’m hoping to do my dissertation this academic year, and then my large type design project next academic year. This will allow me to get a grip on the contextual issues (best practices for free software font licensing, and why fonts should be free, and type categorization) that I don’t fully understand and are bugging me in my own mind at the moment. I’ll also do a range of practical projects, both smaller type designs to gain practice and experience, and complete some systems administration tasks for the Open Font Library and learn some Python :-)

The first step, which is often the hardest, is to get our thinking straight.

A top rant about the last 30 years’ econo-politics

Lambert is a top ranter:

wealth in the usa

Starting in the 1970s, at about the time of the Lewis Powell memo, an interlocking network of right wing billionaires and theocrats began to fund the institutions whose dominance we take for granted today: The American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, The Family Research Council, the Federalist Society, the Brookings Institute (over time), and on and on. During this period, College Republican operatives like Rove, Abramoff, and Gary Bauer became important figures in this network, as did the ex-Trotskyite neocons who broke away from the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party. The period was also marked by the steady retreat of the press from reporting, under the twin pressures of the right “working the refs”, as Eric Alterman put it, and winger billionaire owners slashing news coverage in favor of “entertainment,” and by the steady advance of Rush Limbaugh and, later, Matt Drudge. And if you got hooked into that network, you got the cradle to grave protection typical of socialism: You always had a job, whether as a “fellow” or “scholar” at the AEI, a shouting head on Crossfire, as a columnist, as a contractor, as a political appointee or staffer, or as a lobbyist, and so on and on and on. You always got funding. You were made. Just for the sake of having an easy label for this dense network of institions, operatives, ideologues, and Republican Party figures, let’s call it the ConservativeGlossary Movement (instead of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, since it’s not really a conspiracy, except possibly an emergent one. The billionaires don’t — except for Scaife during the Arkansas project, or Rupert Murdoch playing editor — generally pick up the phone and give orders; rather, they manage the Conservative Movement like an investment portfolio of entertainment properties; some start-ups (Politico), some stars (FOX), some cash cows (Limbaugh), some dogs (American Spectator). Slowly but surely, well funded and well organized Conservatives pushed their ideas from unthinkable, to radical, to acceptable, to sensible, to popular, and finally into policy, in a process described as The Overton Window. As surely and ruthlessly, progressive ideas were marginalized, and then silenced altogether. And spending what it took, the winger billionaires used the Conservative Movement to restructure politics, and having restructured politics, economics. To their economic benefit.

On Apple Air

Jon Grant is thinking of running GNU+Linux on an Apple Air and asking Apple for a refund.

He’d make major primetime TV network news if he gets them to preload GNU+Linux or even get a refund, and would probably also send their stock down a few pegs :-)

“Openness is not a cargo cult. Some get it, some don’t. Apple doesn’t.”

I got an XO last week and someone recently said, “I’m surprised Apple isn’t involved with these things.”

To me, Apple is the total antithesis of OLPC: expensive, exclusive elitist kit, and in terms of learning about computers, an agent of ignorance - they hate sharing software and anyone but Apple employees knowing how their software works. (Update: Tim Dobson reminded me that Apple offered OS X to OLPC and it was turned down precisely because of this.)

I mentioned this to another friend and they suggested that Raskin and the team who made the original Macintosh in 1984 had similar aims, although they too were distributing proprietary software. I find it curious that the behavior of a team in a company over 20 years ago can still effect the perception of an utterly different company today in 2008.

Over the years, Apple’s hardware has become increasingly less upgradeable, and the Air laptop - no battery replacement, hermetically sealed - is the latest and most extreme example of this.

Sony and Toshiba are selling super-thin laptops too, and all three are under-powered in terms of computation power, and top-line expensive. But Apple is going to sell millions of these by making these aspects secondary and another value primary: beautiful product design.

To me, the free software movement is very clear that freedom is a more important primary value than the others. It always takes longer to get the other values to a similar level as any proprietary alternative while keeping our freedom, but our freedom to share software and have anyone improve it for us is hard-won and valuable.

As my friend Ian says, in his endearing West Country manner, “Macbook Air my arse”

iPlayer In Review, Ashley Highfield Hints At Freedom Due Soon

(Personal opinion only, not the views of any employers past or present)

The Register has two article this week about BBC iPlayer, the first reporting an MP who has courageously stepped up to criticize the BBC of “illegal state aid” and the second confirming that the streaming version is EIGHT TIMES more dominant than the download version.

This was anticipated by independent traffic analysis of UK internet useage and in that article the Register echoes my belief that the BBC ought to simple withdraw the DRM download service altogether. I’m sure that everyone protesting the iPlayer last year would congratulate them for doing so :-)

Sadly, the BBC has said in response to the MP that it will be doing just the opposite - bringing a download version to Mac OS X and GNU+Linux users soon. I really hope this is not going to be proprietary software, but I assume the worst from the BBC while it continues to shove DRM on people with the existing download version. Withdrawing DRM from all its services must be a priority of the BBC if it is to have any credibility for supporting open innovation.

The BBC could be really nasty and permit redistribution of its proprietary player, and because all GNU+Linux distributors - famously Debian and Ubuntu which distribute proprietary software directly on their servers, but also OpenBSD and Fedora who provide recipes for where to get them from other archives - will package it and provide even less advantage to the free ones. And if it is proprietary software, it is likely to be just as spying and as DRM laden as the Windows versions.

Why is DRM a problem? Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project, recently explained that DRM is typically presented only “as a system to prevent copying, but it is much more than that. DRM simply means any feature to restrict users’ use of their copies of published works, and it can restrict any kind of usage. Nor should we assume DRM means the blocking of illegal uses only. Keeping your copy of a book for years, reading it again and even copying all or part it are all lawful uses of a copyrighted work in certain situations; nonetheless, DRM could stop you from doing so.”

The DRM Download iPlayer is a clear example of this kind of restriction on use. Restrictions on use do the most harm to people who need to access media in unusual ways because of their disabilities - “accessibility issues.” For example, epileptics can enjoy IP TV safely with special software that removes the kind of flashing that can trigger a potentially fatal seizure, but with DRM restrictions on use, they cannot use their alternative software.

However, I think there are rays of hope for the BBC, having kept an eye on its new blogs.

Ashley Highfield recently blogged about Internet TV and asked, “How can the BBC help make an open market in the UK for hybrid DTT/IP boxes a reality?”

Simple, really - support the development of GNU Gnash, the most advanced free software Flash player.

Here’s why:

Adobe’s Flash seems set to become the “de facto” standard for delivering IP TV for the next few years. However, Adobe’s massive license fees are holding it back for set top box vendors.

Microsoft is offering them its “Flash killer” Silverlight software at a discount, - but only initially, as it is sure to be just as ruthless as Adobe if the strategy pays off and it became as dominant for IP TV as it is on the desktop.

Apple has focused on the patent-locked H.264 format, and although Flash can transport this format, Apple also won’t pay Adobe’e ridiculous fees either and uses their own QuickTime transport. (That’s why there is no Flash on the iPhone too.)

To support any of these proprietary software platforms would be to give illegal state aid to those companies. Now that MPs are aware of the BBC doing this already, the BBC would be foolish to carry on doing it.

But without doing that for some companies, how can hybrid DTT/IP boxes become a reality?

Free software is the answer.

“Free” doesn’t refer to price, but to freedom - freedom for all companies operating in the UK, large or small, to innovate new IP TV technology.

The BBC lobbied to make sure that Freeview and DAB were DRM-free, and this is part of the reason we license fee payers who are concerned with software freedom felt betrayed when the DRM Downloads iPlayer was announced.

Being DRM-free means that businesses that write their own software, and businesses that make software available to the public and respect the public’s freedom to share and improve it in a community

The GNU Gnash project is developing a Flash player that runs on all the different kinds of hardware that set top box makers use.

It is working to write software that supports the Adobe Flash transport at both ends, with the Gnash player and the Cygnal server. Most importantly, it also support free software formats like Theora and Vorbis in addition to patent-locked formats like H.264 and MP3.

Many set top boxes are built using GNU+Linux these days, and GNU Gnash is primarily developed for “embedded devices” like them. It doesn’t require GNU+Linux though, just a Unix-like environment, so Apple would also be free to support iPlayer steams on its AppleTV devices with GNU Gnash.

The Xbox Media Center, which you included an image of running on Ubuntu GNU+Linux in a prior blog post, will support iPlayer when Gnash can support it, as will community developed media centers for the PlayStation 3.

But Gnash is under heavily development today, and needs support.

The BBC could make a real difference to the project by contributing.

One simple way is found in the BBC’s so-called “10% time” for its engineers, similar to that of other leading software engineering firms, and it could easily put those developer resources to use. It could also publish an API and documentation about how to query the iPlayer catalog and access the RTMP streams. More elaborate contributions could be direct funds, or assigning a full time engineer.

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