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Archive for May, 2007

Humiliation and Triumph. Two great tastes that taste great together.

In what could have been a devastating blow to the entire open source community, Roberto Moreno crashed his TUX500 project sponsored car in the first turn of the 37th lap at the Indianapolis 500. Moreno was unhurt, but his Linux/Tux-branded car was out of the race. Within seconds, so-called “jokes” were posted in the comments section at YouTube to the effect that “…when Linux crashes…it’s usually due to ‘third-party driver issues.’”

Those “jokes” then sparked a fierce debate among commenters as to the “prior art” and “obviousness” of the alleged “joke” which some had claimed to see on digg earlier. The debate soon escalated into an all-out flame war in which the primary casualty was dignity.

Two months before the motorsports/open source community tore itself apart in a spasm of self-immolating (the YouTube comments smelled like burning rubber and exhaust) mutual humiliation, redemption was already quietly and odorlessly on the prowl in Amsterdam.

Take heart open source motorheads, the C,mm,n (Common) is here! Three prototypes of the world’s first open source car were unveiled back in March by The Netherlands Society of Nature and the Environment in cooperation with the three Dutch technical universities at Delft, Eindhoven, and Twente. The C,mm,n is being designed by a community of engineers as a “mobility concept” car that will be shared (literally) among users (drivers) who join the c,mm,n community.

International racing rules and design specs will have to evolve to catch up to the c,mm,n, but as Linux/Racefans shake off their despair hangovers and try to climb back up the shame-spirals they descended on Monday, there is every reason to optimistic about the future.


Memorial Day

From the Memorial Day edition of the New York Times.

Since last year, the military’s embedding rules require that journalists obtain a signed consent from a wounded soldier before the image can be published. Images that put a face on the dead, that make them identifiable, are simply prohibited.

If Joseph Heller were still around, he might appreciate the bureaucratic elegance of paragraph 11(a) of IAW Change 3, DoD Directive 5122.5:

“Names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent.”

According to the Pentagon, the rules were put into place to spare the families of the fallen from the added pain and anguish that might come from discovering the loss of a loved one through the media. Ostensibly, the restriction doesn’t cover un-embedded journalists, but the Iraqi police, enforcing a 1-hour press ban after each bombing, recently fired warning shots over the heads of working press trying to do their jobs.

Fair enough, but it means responsible citizens may have to dig a little deeper to remain informed, and a lot deeper to understand the reality of what our fighting men and women are facing on our behalf.

Fortuantely, there are other ways of finding out what one needs to know.

The National Security Archive

The Memory Hole


Rocket Science

Everyone knows that today all of humanity drinks Tang, enjoys velcro, and flies around wearing jetpacks because of the technological advances made by our nation’s space program.

But did you also know that NASA uses free and open source software in a big way, and shares many of the same values as the FOSS community?

This Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer pays sweet homage to the open source movement and lists the many ways that collaborative science assisted by free and open source software makes the exploration of space possible.

Strangely, he doesn’t mention Tang or velcro. Or jetpacks.


“Sue me first, Microsoft”

In a brazen attempt to undermine Microsoft’s recent patent infringement sabre-rattling (and perhaps to call attention to an ambitious open source documentary project) a shadowy (compliment) outfit called Digital Tipping Point has started a Sue Me First, Microsoft wiki for open source users to line up for a chorus of bluff-calling.

As of today at 9:45 AM, EDT, the Sue Me First, Microsoft wiki had 906 signatories supposedly just itching for some hot patent litigation

DTP’s Christian Einfeldt says on the wiki “We are asking that people include their name, email address, version of GNU Linux disto(s) being used, and a short statement explaining why you are using that distro.” and adds that although he is a lawyer, he is no way offering legal advice and does not practice patent law.

Some of the comments people are leaving attached to their names are pretty funny.

Digital Tipping Point also has a nice collection of over 400 short films and videos about the free and open source software movement available at the Internet Archive.


Life imitates The Onion

To see just how far the RIAA has progressed from the Napster days, compare these two ledes:

LOS ANGELES—The Recording Industry Association of America filed a $7.1 billion lawsuit against the nation’s radio stations Monday, accusing them of freely distributing copyrighted music.

“It’s criminal,” RIAA president Hilary Rosen said. “Anyone at any time can simply turn on a radio and hear a copyrighted song. Making matters worse, these radio stations often play the best, catchiest song off the album over and over until people get sick of it. Where is the incentive for people to go out and buy the album?”

Now, this one:

WASHINGTON — With CD sales tumbling, record companies and musicians are looking at a new potential pot of money: royalties from broadcast radio stations.

For years, stations have paid royalties to composers and publishers when they played their songs. But they enjoy a federal exemption when paying the performers and record labels because, they argue, the airplay sells music.

Now, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and several artists’ groups are getting ready to push Congress to repeal the exemption, a move that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in new royalties.

Would it surprise you to learn that the second one is 100% true and appeared in the Los Angeles Times yesterday under the headline Artists and labels seek royalties from radio , and the first one appeared in The Onion five years ago as satire?


Summer of fear round-up.

There’s a lot happening on the M$ patent front. Here is a quick roundup.

Two from InformationWeek:

Three Scenarios For How Microsoft’s Open Source Threat Could End — Microsoft Takes On Open Source

CEO Of Open-Source Software Vendor SugarCRM Speaks Out

From Computerworld UK:

Open source vendors fight back against Microsoft patent claims
Slow drive to improve interoperability is under threat

An interesting spin from the Open Source Industry Austrailia (OSIA)

Microsoft Admits Patent Weakness

Open Source Industry Australia Limited (OSIA) welcomes this week’s admission by Microsoft in magazine articles, including Fortune magazine, that the atents it has identified against open source are liable to be struck out as invalid.

Eben Moglen offers up this tidbit via the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Free Software lawyer discusses Microsoft patent claims

Eben Moglen, legal counsel to the Free Software Foundation, discussed the details of the draft General Public License Version 3 — including its defenses against the Microsoft-Novell deal —

And Groklaw, of course, is all over it.

Moglen: SUSE Vouchers Have No Expiration Date! (Unlike MS’s Patent Bullying)

Moglens slides and notes regrading Suse Vouchers.

This story is evolving quickly. Check back for updates as the patent war escalates or unravels, whichever happens first.


Revenge of Geography

The OpenNet Intiative released a report this week contending that at least 25 governments block or filter content for “political, social, or other reasons.”

The actual number may be higher, but the authors of the report only had the resources to look at 40 countries and the Palestinian Territories. North America and Western Europe, where surveilance is more of a concern and most filtering is done by the private sector in the name of copyright enforcement and protecting children form obscenity, were not included in the investigation. Cuba and North Korea were excluded because it was thought to be too dangerous for citizens of those countries to participate.

Interestingly, some of the world’s most threatened governments and societies (Like Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Malaysia, Nepal, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe) seemed to eschew filtering and blocking (perhaps lacking resources, political will or know-how), while other, more stable countries chose to impose their authority on the supposedly borderless Internet.

“This is very much the revenge of geography,” said Rafal Rohozinski, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge in England.

China, Burma, Syria, Tunisia, and Vietnam actively blocked more political content, while countries like Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen filtered content they felt threatened social mores. Iran blocked its fair share of both, and even South Korea was guilty of blocking North Korean sites from its citizens.

The OpenNet Initiative is a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge, and the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University.


Free Debates Update

M$NBC sparked a controversy several weeks ago when it restricted internet use of its Republican Presidential Primary Debate covereage. Under pressure from political bloggers of all stripes (many Republicans came through in a big way), a few Democratic candiadtes (Obama, Dodd and Edwards), and Lawrence Lessig, M$NBC backed down and “engaged in a constructive dialogue” with Lessig about what their policy should be moving forward. Since then CNN and NPR have agreed to place no restrictions on their debate coverage. Fox News has chosen to keep their coverage freedom-free for now.

So far, other networks, the RNC, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and the entire Republican primary field have yet to weigh in, leaving citizens to wonder why they are so incredibly lame.


Public domain Smithsonian images now more public than ever.

To test the limits of the Smithsonian Institution’s grip on (and ability to derive revenue from) 6288 apparently public domain photographs housed at SmithsonianImages.SI.Edu, a shadowy (that’s a compliment on this blog) non-profit group that calls itself Public.Resource.org has uploaded all of the lo-res versions of the images to Flickr. They’ve even divided the photos into 262 contact sheets which can downloaded for free (or purchased, bound) at Lulu.

Public.Resource.Org states in a public “memo” addressed to “The internet” that they have three goals for posting the Smithsonian’s images…uh…well…publicly.

We have three goals in diffusing this knowledge:

1. The unwieldy archive of low-resolution images on the Smithsonian site makes it hard for people to ascertain the public domain status of the vast majority of these images. By placing the database on sites such as Flickr and in convenient-to-examine PDF and tarball formats, we hope that the Internet commnunity is able to form a better judgement.

2. Some images are clearly in the public domain and of immense public importance. For these images, our nonprofit organization is attempting to systematically purchase these images and place them on the net for use without restriction.

3. We would like to see the Smithsonian adopt a policy for on-line distribution that is much more closely aligned to their mission, focusing on vastly increasing the store of public domain materials available on the Internet.

This should be an interesting case to watch.


OLPC TV

Tired of reading about the One Laptop per Child project?

Now you can watch it on TV, or at least in TV-form.


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