Soros says current situation similar to demise of the Soviet Union

The Bank of England is finally recognising that things are worse than it thought, Taleb is saying the economic collapse will be worse than the Great Depression, and now according to Reuters so is George Soros who goes a step further:

turbulence is more severe than during the Great Depression, comparing the current situation to the demise of the Soviet Union

Which adds a grain of authority to Orlov’s thesis, that he’s been publishing since June 2005. It is no surprise he is building up quite an audience at his recent speeches, and I think best summary so far was his “5 stages of collapse” slides.

5 stages

Gold, riots, Microsoft and type design.

I’m in two minds about what the important news is this week.

On the one hand, the economic collapse continues to be riveting. Mexico is becoming a failed state (this is especially noteworthy for me because the Guardian headline “Mexico in free fall” is no surprise to me as I read about that over a month ago on Mike Ruppert’s blog, with much better analysis - whole police departments walking off the job on strike, the head of police’s head turning up in a freezer box, and the USA trooping up the border - no doubt exacerbated by the old peak oil news about Cantaell’s oil production going off a cliff multiplying the loss of the state’s income from the temporarily collapsed oil price); Eastern Europe is collapsing quick enough to make the “soft landing for Europe” thesis questionable, with the Latvian government collapsing first; British expats are fleeing early/temporary social collapse; the gold price pushed $1,000/ounce again, and record £684 highs (I’m sad I wasn’t more confident in my financial research in November/December, but I reckon with this high there’ll be a selloff down to $850 or so, and if so there will be a chance to buy in more before there is a run on fiat money - or at least, sterling.); and China’s peak oil endgame starting to play out.

On the other hand, Microsoft sued TomTom over software idea patents. TomTom is a mobile computing developer and semi-free software business; semi-free as they use GNU/Linux and GPL software as a base for a proprietary mapping application. Larry Augustin makes a good case for treating this like GIF (via Linux Elitists mailing list); boycotting the patent-lumbered format from now on, which for GIF resulted in the excellent PNG.

This lawsuit, if TomTom looses, will effect Android, the free software operating system for mobile phones that I am aiming my typeface design at. It will also mean that plugging in portable music players and digital cameras is likely to stop working “out of the box” on free software systems, just like the MP3 audio format: The best software in the world for dealing with the format is free software, but the patents mean it is effectively censored. I hope this attack will only add momentum to the campaign to end software patents.

This is important because it has reminded me about my I’m studying type design and font software, and helped me to de-rivet from rubber-necking the collapse. It is wrong for a state to assert total control and power over people (even in the name of terrorism) and, similarly, it is wrong when proprietary software developers assert total power and control over the users of software. Especially when that power is neglected. There was an inspiring lecture today about the 230 million people who write the Bengali script with zero OpenType fonts available…

Building a basic and robust Transition infrastructure, freely

Nice to see another company making the cultural-freedom business model work for non-software-program stuff - in this case, making local fabrication machinery suitable for the transition economy:

…how do we get the work funded? The collaborative microfunding is perhaps the right idea. The Core Teams develop technical details. Then we fund prototypes, optimization, and the building of optimal production facilities. Why should low product cost be feasible? Because we have a lean operation with little overhead, and if funded, we have low-cost production capacity that can match even slave goods and mass production. The new economic age is here. We are not talking of many hundreds of thousands of capitalization requirements for similar enterprise. We are talking of open-source-fed production facilities that will cost on the order of $10k to build. There is cascading cost reduction, for example as we use our CEB to build the facility, or the solar turbine to power it. As such, ‘capitalization costs’ are ‘zero’- fundraising covers the cost. So far, we’ve operated 100% on voluntary contributions. R&D costs are zero - they are distributed collaboratively. All the costs are zero zero zero, outside of materials and labor. We capture the value of labor - but even if we charge $100/hour for the CEB - with optimized fabrication time predicted to be 20 hours per machine - that is still $3500 for a machine - factor 8 lower than the competition, as you can check for yourself. That $100/hour is very well worth it - if it’s not being dissipated in wasteful production ergonomics and wasteful product design. Moreover, all proceeds are used to fund further open product development. (Read more…)

Dutch say that disobeying copyright is good for the economy

While the ACTA treaty is cooking up a nasty scheme to make sharing with friends illegal, some good news from Holland:

The study concludes that the effects [of disobeying copyright] are strongly positive because consumers get to enjoy desirable content and also get to keep their cash to buy other things. Because the consumers save much more money than the producers lose, the net economic effects are positive. The report also reinforces the truth that unpaid downloads do not translate into lost sales in anything close to a one-to-one ratio.

The report makes a number of recommendations that file sharers will be able to live with, such as supporting the development of new economic models for rights holders, not criminalizing file sharing for personal use, and so on. (Read more)

This is via RMS, who explains how the ACTA play works:

This is the standard procedure by which governments use trade treaties to attack their citizens. First they draw up a treaty by which they all promise to do so. Then they say, “We have to agree to every provision of we won’t get the business benefit of the treaty.” Then people surrender their freedom. The whole scheme is evil from the first step to the last. It is a sign of a government that is a toady for business, and the enemy of its own citizens.

It remains hard to say how this will play out, but I think that if ACTA (or whatever) succeeds at oppressing people, this will only fuel authors, artists and designers who make money with permissive or copyleft cultural business models.

But I wonder, as the new depression gets bigger, if businesses will stifle competitors in the same way that the UK government criminalises any kind of public protest.

Interesting times.

AutoKey is getting good!

AutoKey is picking up steam, and I hope this is going to be as good as its Windows counterpart, AutoHotKey.

There are no packages yet, just python source, but this is an essential tool for any automative designer.

Snippets is a similar tool, written in Ruby.

And I’m happy to see that pyGTK has been used to make gDevilsPie, a nice and tidy little GUI for the most excellent Devils Pie window-placement tool.

The Four Stages of Free Software Adoption

Dave Neary also recently posted a really excellent article about what I summarise as the four stages of free software adoption:

It is madness to include a component in one of your products and exert no influence with upstream projects. To have influence, you must understand how the community around a project works. Someone within the team must become an active, trusted member of the community. … You are building products that you will be selling, supporting, and hopefully profiting from. In this situation, does it really make sense not to have the developer’s ear?

How to make money with free software

Dave Neary has recently published a series (one two three) of very excellent posts about free software business models (the third one is the best). Here’s the skinny:

  • Base your business model on a complement to the free software you work with.
  • Figure out who will be influencing buying decisions, who will be doing the buying, and who will be doing the paying, and figure out how to build credibility with each of them
  • Price your services based on the value you give to the company, while keeping an eye on how much you get paid at the end of the month. Estimate value based on the market price of substitutes for your services

This post about the 4 stages of free software adoption is also great.