free culture

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Hey, everybody, come share the joy of work!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 07/20/2017 - 00:17

I got several interesting and useful replies, both via the blog and by personal email, to my two previous posts where I mentioned I would be starting a translation of the Made With Creative Commons book. It is my pleasure to say: Welcome everybody, come and share the joy of work!

Some weeks ago, our project was accepted as part of Hosted Weblate, lowering the bar for any interested potential contributor. So, whoever wants to be a part of this: You just have to log in to Weblate (or create an account if needed), and start working!

What is our current status? Amazingly better than anything I have exepcted: Not only we have made great progress in Spanish, reaching >28% of translated source strings, but also other people have started translating into Norwegian Bokmål (hi Petter!) and Dutch (hats off to Heimen Stoffels!). So far, Spanish (where Leo Arias and myself are working) is most active, but anything can happen.

I still want to work a bit on the initial, pre-po4a text filtering, as there are a small number of issues to fix. But they are few and easy to spot, your translations will not be hampered much when I solve the missing pieces.

So, go ahead and get to work! :-D Oh, and if you translate sizeable amounts of work into Spanish: As my university wants to publish (in paper) the resulting works, we would be most grateful if you can fill in the (needless! But still, they ask me to do this...) authorization for your work to be a part of a printed book.

Reporting progress on the translation infrastructure

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/12/2017 - 23:28

Some days ago, I blogged asking for pointers to get started with the translation of Made with Creative Commons. Thank you all for your pointers and ideas! To the people that answered via private mail, via IRC, via comments on the blog. We have made quite a bit of progress so far; I want to test some things before actually sending a call for help. What do we have?

Git repository set up
I had already set up a repository at GitLab; right now, the contents are far from useful, they merely document what I have done so far. I have started talking with my Costa Rican friend Leo Arias, who is also interested in putting some muscle behind this translation, and we are both the admins to this project.
Talked with the authors
Sarah is quite enthusiastic about us making this! I asked her to hold a little bit before officially announcing there is work ongoing... I want to get bits of infrastructure ironed out first. Important — Talking with her, she discussed the tools they used for authoring the book. It made me less of a purist :) Instead of starting from something "pristine", our master source will be the PDF export of the Google Docs document.
Markdown conversion
Given that translation tools work over the bits of plaintext, we want to work with the "plainest" rendition of the document, which is Markdown. I found that Pandoc does a very good approximation to what we need (that is, introduces very little "ugly" markup elements). Converting the ODT into Markdown is as easy as:
$ pandoc -f odt MadewithCreativeCommonsmostup-to-dateversion.odt -t markdown >
Of course, I want to fine-tune this as much as possible.
Producing a translatable .po file
I have used Gettext to translate user interfaces; it is a tool very well crafted for that task. Translating a book is quite different: How and where does it break and join? How are paragraphs "strung" together into chapters, parts, a book? That's a task for PO 4 Anything (po4a). As simple as this:
po4a-gettextize -f text -m -p MadewithCreativeCommonsmostup-to-dateversion.po -M utf-8
I tested the resulting file with my good ol' trusty poedit, and it works... Very nicely!

What is left to do?

  • I made an account and asked for hosting at Weblate. I have not discussed this with Leo, so I hope he will agree ;-) Weblate is a Web-based infrastructure for collaborative text translation, provided by Debian's Michal Čihař. It integrates nicely with version control systems, preserves credit for each translated string (and I understand, but might be mistaken, that it understands the role of "editors", so that Leo and I will be able to do QA on the translation done by whoever joins us, trying to have a homogeneous-sounding result. I hope the project is approved for Weblate soon!
  • Work on reconstructing the book. One thing is to deconstruct, find paragraphs, turn them into translatable strings... And a very different one is to build a book again from there! I have talked with some people to help me get this in shape. It is basically just configuring Pandoc — But as I have never done that, any help will be most, most welcome!
  • Setting translation policies. What kind of language will we use? How will we refer to English names and terms? All that important stuff to give proper quality to our work
  • Of course, the long work itself: Performing the translations ☺

Made with Creative Commons: Starting a translation project

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 06/06/2017 - 12:06

Dear Lazyweb,

About a week ago, I learnt about the release of an interesting book by the fine people at Creative Commons: Made with Creative Commons. The book itself is, of course, CC BY-SA-licensed.

I downloaded it and started reading right away. Some minutes later, I ordered a dead-tree copy, which arrived a couple of days ago. (I'm linking to the publisher's page, but bought it from Amazon México... Shipping it from Denmark would not have been as cheap and fast, I guess).

Anyway, given my workplace, given the community I know, given I know something like this is much needed... I will start a Spanish translation of the content. There are at least two other people interested in participating, and I haven't yet publicized my intentions (this is the first public statement about it).

So, dear Lazyweb: What I need is a good framework for doing this. I started by creating a Git repository, and we were discussing to translate to Markdown (to later format according to the desired output) but then I thought... If we want the translation to be updateable, and to be able to properly accept other people's work, maybe a better format is warranted?

So, my current idea is to create a Markdown version for the English original, and find a way to shoehorn^Wseparate it by paragraphs and feed it to Gettext, which is the best translation framework I have used (but is meant for code translation, not for full-text)...

Dear lazyweb: What tools do you recommend me to use? Quite important to me: Are they Free tools? Are they easy to use by third-parties, maybe incorporating work via Git? Or, at least, via a Web front-end that allows me as a project lead to review and approve/fix/reject strings?

Thanks, lazyweb!

Wow. Just rejected an editorial offer...

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 11:32

Yes, I've been bragging about the Operating Systems book all over... Today, a colleague handed me a phone call from somebody at Editorial Patria, a well known educational editorial in Mexico. They are looking for material similar to what I wrote, but need the material to be enfocado a competencias — Focused on skills, a pedagogic fashion.

I was more than interested, of course. As it currently stands, I am very happy that our book is being used already at three universities in three countries (by the different authors) and have heard other people saying they would recommend it, and of course I'm interested in making our work have as big an impact as possible. Of course, we'd have to modify several aspects of the book to cater to the skills focus... But it would be great to have the book available at commercial bookstores. After all, university editions are never as widely circulated as commercial ones.

I had just one hard request to accept this: Our work must be distributed under a free licensing. Explicitly allow book photocopies and electronic distribution (didn't get into the "and modification" part, but I would eventually get there ;-) )

And... Of course, the negotiation immediately fell down. Editorials, this person says, live from selling individual books. She says she was turned down by another university professor and for another subject this same week.

So, yes, I took the opportunity to explain things as I (and the people that think as I do — Fortunately, not so few) see them. Yes, of course, editorials have to make a living. But text books are often photocopied as it is. Who buys a book? Whoever needs it. On one hand, if somebody will be using a book throughout a semester and it's reasonably priced (say, up to 3×cost of photocopies), they will probably buy it because it just works better (it is more comfortable to use and nicer to read).

If a teacher likes the explanation for a particular topic, it should be completely legal for him to distribute photocopies (or digital copies) of the specific material — And quite probably, among the students, more than one will end up appreciating the material enough to go look for the book in the library. And, as I have done throughout my life, if I read (in copies, electronically or in a library) a book I like... Quite probably I will go buy it.

So... Of course, she insisted it was against their corporate policy. I insisted on my explanation. I hope they meet many stubborn teachers refusing to distribute books under a non-free licensing. I hope I contributed to making a dent in an industry that must change. Yes, a very very small dent, but one that helps them break free from their obsolete mindset ;-)

(But yes, I don't know how long I will regret not being part of their very nice catalog of science and engineering books) ;-) )

Piracy and culture circulation: #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 10/01/2013 - 15:15

This week's lesson on the «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» course talks about piracy and the circulation of culture, a topic that over time has been debated over and over. And a topic, yes, that can always lead to interesting discussions.

This time, we are requested to choose one among ten ideas among the media groups' discourse on what piracy is and means for the "cultural industry". There are tons of material written already on several of those ten lines (i.e. piracy disincentivates creativity, or two that can be seen as two faces of the same argument, If a consumer can have free access to cultural products, he will stop spending his money on them and Every time a consumer has access to an illegal copy, the industry loses a sale), and some are quite obvious (i.e. Piracy makes job positions be lost... Just look at the amount of people the unauthorized distribution industry feeds! Or possibly, Piracy is a prosper industry that gives money to people distributing illegal products — Of course, that is true. The problem is, what causes said products to be illegal to begin with? Should they be so?). Some other ideas talk about harsher penalties and ways to punish illegal copying in order to drive actors out of that sector (and into the... void?)

So, I chose item #4: Cultural products have a high cost because their production is complex (and a tag could be made, linking complex with expensive). I think this item can lead to a long discussion as to what does this complexity and cost mean.

Some cultural products do require quite a bit of investment, yes. Others don't. How do content producers make the jump to produce expensive works?

If I am a new programmer/artist/writer/screenplayer/whatever, most likely, my products will be not very complex or expensive. I will start small. And if I excel at my work, somebody will look at me and, in some way, become my patron, my sponsor. Being a sponsor might mean that, based on the results of my good work, I could get hired as a software developer at a large company, or an editorial company would buy the patrimonial rights of my book/music (be it for a fixed fee or for a percentage of sales), or whatever. But the leap is not made quantically — A newcomer to the cultural scene will at first, most likely, have a hard time selling his products.

At first, it takes convincing just getting people to take a shot at looking at your work («Hey, please take a look at my program and tell me what you think about it!», «Would you be interested in listening to my latest song?» — And those two are by far ahead of the first attempts where the interactions would more likely be «Turn off that $#^#!^ computer, it's well past bedtime» or «stop murdering that guitar, I'm having a headache»). Maybe the toughest part is to get people to agree to read/hear your work. And there, you start into a continuum — Selling your CDs while performing on the street, then getting to play to a bar, then getting somebody to want to produce (maybe even "discover"!) you. Publish some short stories in your school magazine, then in a "From our audience" section in a larger magazine, then a collective book, your self-published book, yet-unwritten books by contract... The same story over and over again, in each different field.

Ok, yes, but... This logic succession still leaves space for the Important Producers with the Mighty Big Pockets for the most wanted/largest productions, right? And were unauthorized distribution (piracy) to be the norm (as it currently is, dare I say), wouldn't they stop producing an important portion of cultural works?

I'd be tempted to say so. However, a different actor comes into play. When Mighty Big Pockets comes into play, they no longer worry only about getting money from each cultural creation, but from all derived uses of it. And the cultural creation industry (when seen as an industry) goes very much hand in hand with the advertising, marketing industries — They end up blending with each other.

So, the biggest best sellers will most likely have a hit from illegal copiers. Books are still a great business, but hey — An even better business is (usually) movie making. And when you make a movie out of a great story, you will surely link some advertising into it (or at the very least, push advertising/product pushing campaigns to go after it). And there, illegal distribution actually helps the money circle to grow stronger. In the early 1990s, the link between dinosaurs and carbonated drinks was a top seller (because Pepsi™ was a Jurassic Park® sponsor). Although I have always loathed the madness around the World Cups (and basically anything that involves football of any kind), I can perfectly remember several of the theme songs for most of the world cups played during my lifetime.

So, in short... No. Illegal distribution does marginally little harm to the money income to the cultural business, at any level. And where it does get some direct harm, it increases the money flux given the auxiliary channels.

What is to be an author? How much code does grant you authorship? #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/12/2013 - 17:39

I signed up to take part of an online, massive course — «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» (The circulation of arts and culture: Creating and sharing in digital times). As the activities of us the attendees are to be published by each on their personal blog/space, I will be publishing them here. I hope they are interesting to some of my other regular readers.

I am late in joining, and I should already be posting the second activity. Anyway, this text goes towards the first week's lesson: Qué es un autor: la (de)construcción histórica del concepto de autoría (What is an author? Historic (de)construction of the concept of authorship). Our homework is to find an example of a current discussion where the notion of authorship is discussed, and share it this way.

And I'm somewhat in a hurry right now, so this will be hasty. But I didn't want to delay my (late) submission anymore!

In the Debian Ruby mailing list, Hleb Valoshka asks basically how deep should copyright recognition be. Because, yes, while copyright attribution is simple (simpler, at least) in literary / artistic works, computer programs (and even more those developed following the Free Software distributed fashion) are harder to properly attribute.

Is a two-line patch to a tens-of-thousands-of-lines project enough to warrant mention in the copyright file? Most of us would agree it is not. Few would contend this were the amount of changes to make up, say, even 1% of that scale of project.

In the coding projects where I am the main author (which, yes, are usually very small — I cannot recognize myself as a good programmer, and the size of my successful works proves me), I try to take care to mention explicitly each of the contributors, even if their contribution is quite small. But were I to lead a larger development work, with enough following to generate on the order of one submitted patch a day, would it make sense for me to follow up with such detail the authorship information?

And as a minor side note: How much does the law require me? A very small patch can fix important functionality issues (think security or performance). If somebody sends a very small patch fixing an intellectually hard to grasp problem... I am sure it should be properly acknowledged!

Anyway, I have to flee now. I am just dropping some ideas on the table. Of course, if anybody is willing to discuss them further, I'm interested in any debate that springs off it!

(Meanwhile... I expect to spam you with this topic a couple of times. But it should not bug you much, as it's one of my usual blog topics!)

Cultural objects/goods: When a superhero is too famous for his own good

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/17/2013 - 00:43

I found the following news item; if you can read Spanish, you will most probably prefer the original version in the Proceso magazine's site. The subject? The federal police (PGR) and army arrest 17 artisans for «making money out of» Spiderman.

The following translation is mine. Done past midnight, and being quite tired, and translated so this news item can reach a broader audience. All errors are mine (except those carried out by the security forces, that is).

June 13, 2013

Cuernavaca, Morelos. Policement from the General Republic Attorney (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) and the Army entered and searched the "3 de mayo" neighbourhood, in the municipality of Emiliano Zapata, detaining 17 ceramist artisans that sold candies, dolls and piñatas shaped like Spiderman.

This search was done on the evening of last Wednesday, around 16:00. Federal ministerial policement and army soldiers closed a street with several informal stores and detained workers taht were selling this Marvel Comics character, following said company's denounce.

As a result for this operation, 17 artisants were detained, although the same day five of them were freed. The policemen also seized 12 bags of candies, piñatas, ceramics and wooden figures of the superhero.

PGR closed down 11 stores where ceramics with this same figure was being sold, accusing the detainees of plagiarizing Spiderman's image, protected under the copyright law.

The 12 that remained under detention were put at the Federal Justice's disposal, which prompted that this Thursday, around 10AM, hundreds of sellers of "3 de mayo" went out to PGR's building to demand their friends' freedom, who are facing a bail of up to 200,000 pesos (~USD$18,000).

Outraged because –they said– they were treated as if they were part of a drug ring, hundreds of artisans closed intermitently Avenida Cuauhnáhuac, where the PGR representation in Morelos state is located.

The artisans' pressure helped for the amount of the bail to be lowered from MX$200,000 to MX$16,000, and so they were set free.

Francisco Fernández Flores, president of the Ceramists Association, criticized the operation because, he said, it was as strong as if they were "drug dealers".

The artisans explained that they don't even make the Spiderman figures, they are made by the interns of the Centro Estatal de Reinserción Social de Atlacholoaya (prision), located in the Xochitepec municipality, who offered them to the ceramists so they could be sold.

"The Atlacholoaya inmates do them, we buy them to support them, and turns out we are the delinquents now", said Miriam Monroy, sister of one of the detainees.

This information was contradicted by Jesús Valencia Valencia, responsible for Morelos' state prision system, who assured that in said prision no ceramics are done.

Fernández Flores insisted though that from within the prision they are being offered piñatas, candies and "piggy banks" with Spiderman's shape.

José Luis Pozo, vicepresident of the Ceramists Union, said that to avoid more such federal operations for copyright breaches, they have committed not to produce or commercialize Marvel superhero figures, and any other characters the authority demands.

"We do commit to, from now on, those products singled out to us will not be commercialized", he said.

Pozo said that the PGR operation caused losses not just to the detained producers and salesmen, but to over 200 ceramists that had to close their stores in solidarity with their friends.

Acording to the artisans, the products were a success until the PGR came, seized the products and detained the salesmen.

And yes, the copyright insanity does not stop. Spiderman is by today a clear part of popular culture. Marvel brilliantly succeeded in creating such a popular icon that everybody recognizes, that everybody identifies with — And that everybody should be able to recreate.

We are not talking about brand protection. Marvel does not, and will never, commercialize piñatas, ceramics or wooden toys. And even if they were plastic-cast — While Spiderman is still under the protection of copyright, as the Berne Convention defines it (and of course, as the much stricter Mexican laws agree), that does not mean that any and every product resembling a Spiderman should be protected. Many ceramists and piñata makers will create unique pieces of art — Ok, handicraft. But reading the copyright law more strictly, Spiderman is more treated as a trademark than as a copyright. And it is a trademark that should be declared as having passed on to the public domain.

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Activities facing the next round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations ( #yaratpp #tpp #internetesnuestra )

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 04/30/2013 - 16:31

Excuse me for the rush and lack of organization... But this kind of things don't always allow for proper planning. So, please bear with my chaos ;-)

What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Yet another secretely negotiated international agreement that, among many chapters, aims at pushing a free-market based economy, as defined by a very select few — Most important to me, and to many of my readers: It includes important chapters on intellectual property and online rights.

Hundreds of thousands of us along the world took part in different ways on the (online and "meat-space") demonstrations against the SOPA/PIPA laws back in February 2012. We knew back then that a similar project would attempt to bite us back: Well, here it is. Only this time, it's not only covering copyright, patents, trademark, reverse engineering, etc. — TPP is basically a large-scale free trade agreement on steroids. The issue that we care about now is just one of its aspects. Thus, it's way less probable we can get a full stop for TPP as we got for SOPA. But we have to get it on the minds of as many people as possible!

Learn more with this infography distributed by the EFF.

Which countries?

The countries currently part of TPP are Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam — And, of course, the USA.

Mexico, Canada and Japan are in the process of joining the partnership. A group of Mexican senators are travelling to Lima to take part of this round.

Image by Colin Beardon (It's Our Future, NZ)

What are we doing about it?

As much as possible!

I tried to tune in with Peru's much more organized call — The next round of negotiations will be in Lima, Peru, between May 14 and 24. Their activities are wildly more organized than ours: They are planning a weekend-long Camping for Internet freedom, with 28 hours worth of activities.

As for us, our activities will be far more limited, but I still hope to have an interesting session:

Poster design by Gacela. Thanks!

This Friday, we will have Aula Magna, Facultad de Ingeniería, UNAM, México DF, from 10AM and until 3PM. We do not have a clear speakers program, as the organization was quite rushed. I have invited several people who I know will be interesting to hear, and I expect a good part of the discussion to be a round table. I expect we will:

  1. Introduce people working on different corners of this topic
  2. Explain in some more detail what TPP is about
  3. Come up with actions we can take to influence Mexico's joining of TPP
  4. And this will be at Facultad de Ingeniería. Another explicit goal of this session will be, of course, to bring the topic closer to the students!

We want you!

So... I am posting this message also as a plead for help. Do you think you can participate here? Were you among the local organizers for the anti-SOPA movement? Do you have some insight on TPP you can share? Do you have some gear to film+encode the talks? (as they will surely be interesting!) Or, is the topic just interesting for you? Well, please come and join us!

Some more informative links


So, again: Friday, 2012-05-03, 10:00-15:00

[Update] So, 2012-05-03 came and went. And thankfully, Alfredo was there to record most of the talk! So, you can download the video:

Gunnar Wolf, Salvador Alcántar: ¿Qué es TPP? ¿Por qué me debe preoucpar? ¿Qué podemos hacer?

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International Open Data Day - #OpenData / #DatosAbiertos

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 02/23/2013 - 23:38

I just got this message through my University, and the least I can do (given I'm still, although barely, in time) is to repost it here, hoping it helps to spread the activity we have on this regard in Latin America:

Saturday, February 23 is the International Day of Open Data. Following its policy of promoting free, open and unrestricted access to the results of research funded with public money, CLACSO calls research centers and individual researchers to free their public data so they are available for other researchers and, most importantly, for the community as a whole.

That's the reason CLACSO invites researchers and institutions to announce in social networks, mentioning "#DatosAbiertos #OpenData", which are their freed public documents, pointing to the web pages where they can be found.

The International Open Data Day is an effort to:

  • Spread the concept of Open Data
  • Debate on the why of Open Data
  • Publish analysis done using open public data
  • Find out how more local and national (not reserved) open data can be published (i.e. Brazil)
  • Call towards using open data in research
  • Find which applications have been developed to handle and visualize open data
  • Organize events for the International Open Data Day (i.e. Monterrey
  • Call towards adding data catalogs in Latin America and the Caribbeanin the Data catalogs directory, in, and in Open data census.

For further information on how to spread research and/or archives in digital repositories and in the CLACSO Digital Repository, please mail

We can between all contribute for the Latin American and Caribbean open data community to grow, democratizing access to public data about our societies.

So, what do I consider worthy of adding to a list of resources I can point to?

  • I am part of the team that set up and has worked on convincing the Economics Research Institute (my workplace) academic groups to publish their research results and products in our institutional repository under Open Access-friendly licenses (CC-BY-SA-NC and more liberal). We have published a wealth of economics-related information there; I must thank and single out Víctor Corona, who has been long working on the digitalization and re-publication of the institute's journals from the (at least) past three decades.
  • As the repository administrator, I am part of the RAD-UNAM (Red de Acervos Digitales, Digital Repositories Network) in our university. We administer at least 10 similar repositories in different institutes and faculties, and work on finding how to promote acceptance of open access ideas in UNAM's academic circles, and providing standards-based ways to share our work.
  • As part of my information gathering activities for the e-voting analysis work we have been doing, I have set up the E-Voting observatory in Latin America site, where I gather the news I find on the topic, flagged by several categories.
  • As for my personal work, although I am pretty young and little in formal academia, I publish most of I write in my personal webpage. Several different topics are at hand; of interest to this initiative, I think it's mostly the e-voting articles and presentations.

Joaquín López Dóriga interviews Rogerio Azcárraga

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 10/04/2012 - 10:24

On October 3, 2011, Joaquín López Dóriga interviewed Rogerio Azcárraga in his Radio Fórmula radio show:

Rogerio Azcárraga, president of Radio Fórmula and of Orfeón, talked about the great careeer he has had on the music business. While doing so, he clearly shows (and Alejandro Miranda did a very nice job selecting ~10 minute highlighting it) how "successful industrial culture" in Mexico is equivalent to living off the works of third people — For the ridiculous period of lifetime plus 100 years.

The interview is in Spanish. But if you understand Spanish... Don't miss it!

(Yes, I'm not pushing this entry to my blog page, as it's not my work or anything like that — It's more of a convenient place for me to find this recording later on)

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Rethinking copyright in the digital era: Dialogs on arts, regulation and culture availability — Museo del Chopo, Mexico City

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 09/28/2012 - 11:49

I was invited as a panelist for the Laboratorio «Repensar el derecho de autor y el derecho de copia en la era digital:
diálogo sobre artes, regulaciones y disponibilidad de la cultura»
at the beautiful Foro del Dinosaurio in the Museo del Chopo, located very centrally in Mexico City. The list of speakers is quite interesting, and makes me very interested and happy to be there.

The laboratory will be next week, Wednesday through Friday. I am scheduled to be part of the 17:00 table, Knowledge availability and regulation in Internet, coordinated by Pedro Mendizábal (Creative Commons Perú), and together with Juan Voutsás (Biblotecologic Research Institute, UNAM), Armida Aponte (Creative Commons México). The other topics that will be covered are:

  • Rights, technologies and commons
  • The culture and its industries in the digital age: What are the interests at stake?
  • Intelectual, cultural and scientific works: Open access or availability?
  • New business models around copyright-protected works
  • nowledge availability and regulation in Internet
  • Visual arts and copyright in the digital media
  • Open governments and citizenship: Information, data and intelectual works

Sadly, it does not seem they have planned for remote people to follow along. I will ask and update here if there is any way for people outside Mexico City to tune in — For people able to attend, it's free entrance (and certificates will be given to people pre-registered, if you are interested, call 5535-2288 ext. 123)

For further details on the participants, go to the laboratory's web page.

Update: The talks will be streamed!, via UStream.

Update About one year after this activity (which was very interesting!) I was contacted by the organizers. They will be publishing proceedings — Transcriptions of our participation! Yes, a transcription is never as easy to read as a text created as such, but I am very happy of this. I was sent a first version of my transcription, which I'm attaching here. It has several corrections to be made (which I asked them to do), but it's surely worth sharing!

WikiLovesMonuments wants *you* (and me!)

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 17:35

What, haven't you heard about the WikiLovesMonuments photo contest around cultural heritage? Copying from its web page,

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photo contest around cultural heritage monuments in September. Starting from the Netherlands in 2010 and organized on a European level in 2011, we go global in 2012!

I heard about this initiative in Iván Martínez's Wikimedia talk at COSIT 2012, held last week in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz (I intend to write a bit more regarding COSIT later on). I loved the idea, and intend to participate — Not because I take great pictures (I don't, and I usually take them using my aging phone, which gives decent results but nothing beyond that), but because I love to move by bike in the city, and it's one of the best ways to roll in front of some of them. But more on me later… Back to the topic!

WikiLovesMonuments aims to improve on Wikimedia's (the organization behind Wikipedia and several other Free Culture reference projects) coverage of important landmarks all over the world. To do so, they are offering a trip to attend WikiMania 2013 in Hong Kong to the first place winner, and other "photography-related" prizes to the other winners.

So, back to me: My motivation to enter the contest is to help Wikimedia. I know my shots won't be top-notch (although they will be the best I can do). I enjoy biking in my city, and often go not too far from many of the listed monuments. I am amazed at the number of monuments still pending in my area (of course, it's not by mistake this is called "La ciudad de los palacios", The city of the palaces) — Surely some of the readers of this post will have (or will find easy to take) some photos to add. Of course, I'll try to focus on the missing monuments, but if you are a good photographer, you might want to submit a better version for a monument that's already there.

So, some pointers, from what's closest to what's farthest from me:

At least for Mexico, the listings are taken from the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH)'s Public registry of archaeological zones and monuments. So, I cannot wait to start my biking session today to get some good end-of-summer evening sun and get some pictures taken! :-D

An industry commits suicide and blames us

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 11:32

[ once again, I am translating somebody else's material – In this case, my good Costa Rican friend Carolina Flores. Please excuse my stylistic mistakes — My English is far from native as you well know. But this material is worth sharing, and worth investing some tens of minutes doing a quick translation. If you can read Spanish, go read Caro's original entry ]

Have you been to a music record store lately?

I did so last Saturday, as a mere excercise. I was not planning on buying anything but I wanted to monitor things and confirm my suspicions.

What was I suspicious of? First, that I would only find old records. And so it was: The only recent record I found was ...little broken hearts by Norah Jones. the second, that I would only find music for over 50 year old people. so it was: Were I there to look for a present for my father, I would have walked out with 10 good records. Third, that in the store nothing worth commenting would happen. About that last point, I should point out it was around 10 AM and the store had just opened its doors. Lets concede the benefit of doubt.

I don't think many of you will remember, but in Barrio La California (where there is now a beauty parlour, almost in front of AM.PM) there was Auco Disco. In Auco Disco there was a guy specialized in rock (Mauricio Alice) and another one specialized in jazz (I don't remember his name). In that record you could always find rare records, but if they were not there, at least you were sure to find somebody to say: "No, we don't have that, but that's an excellent record, it's the best that [insert group here] have ever recorded because just afterwards they switched their guitar player, they had gone a bit south but with that record they are flying. But no, we don't have it; I can recommend you this record by [insert another group] because it has a guitar solo in track six that is amazing".

It would happen more or less like that, which means, one would arrive to Auco Disco at 10 AM and leave around 5 PM with three new records, after having listened to a spectacular music selection. What happened to those stores? Were they killed by The Pirate Bay? That's the simplistic answer from the recording industry! The answer is that those stores never got anything from the industry but an invoice. The industry –specially in prescindible markets such as ours– was limited to hiring artists, taking care of them recording a sellable product, producing the object called record, and that's it. The more commercial radio stations were paid to program those songs —as it cannot be casual that "Mosa, mosa" is the summer hit in all of Latin America, can it?— but, record stores? Nothing.

Lets carry on with that idea: Radio stations are paid to program said music. This idea should not lead us to believe that recording companies are to blame for bad taste. I won't reveal my sources, but I know the success of the "Locura automática" song by La Secta was a real example. Nobody paid for it. That song got to the number one because of its own merits(?) (you don't know the effort it took to find that thing, I cannot recommend it to you). Same thing happens with other stations that don't program reggaetón, that try to save the species, and where they play what we do like. But the thing is, everything we like is not available in any record store in this country. Then, even if we wanted to buy a record or give it as a gift to somebody, it is plain impossible. And don't tell me it's the same to present as a gift a link or a CD full of downloaded MP3 as it is to give a record with cover and booklet, wrapped in gift paper.

I might be old-school, but the fetish object record still exists, not only because of its cover, but because of its sound. A 3MB MP3 is akin to drinking coffee dripping from a bag that has been used eight times with the same coffee beans. That format is the worst that has ever happened to music, and if we had any bit dignity we would never purchase digital files in Amazon or iTunes safe for MP3 with an acceptable compression level. That, if we could buy them, because not only that is allowed to us. As the musical industry has no interest in resolving ITS problem (that is not our problem, it is those companies') it has not even been resolved how to charge for a MP3 download that includes import fees (well, if downloading from here a MP3 from a USA-based file server can be considered importing goods into Costa Rica!!!) so we don't have to get dizzy entering into the nineties to Titi Online to discover there is nothing by Muse, Andrew Bird, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore, Björk... (believe me, I looked them all up, even Norah jones and La Secta. They also were not there).

This all leads me to the question, which I present with all due respect (NOT): What the fuck do they expect us to do??? It is outrageous; above all because in the best case they will sell us a watery coffee download that won't allow us to get all the details a vinyl or less compression would give us. In the worst case, post-MP3 groups will end up recording music with no harmonics or hidden sounds, because, what for? Nobody will hear it. They even admit it: "Some musicians and audio engineers say the MP3 format is changing the way studios mix their recordings. They say the MP3 format "flattens" dynamics –differences in tone and volume– in a song. As a result, a great deal of new music sounds very much alike, and there is nothing as focusing to create a dynamic listening experience. Why working so hard in creating complex sound if nobody can detect it?" (Rolling Stone, The Death of High fidelity, December 26 2007, taken from here).

That's why I am not surprised by Adrián's post regarding the sales of old records. The price has nothing to do with it. The causes are related to the fetish object record and what it means or does not mean for people that have never purchased one. Adrián also asks if somebody here keeps buying records. I answered that I would if the stores sold anything I like. I do it even after the nausea I feel while reading "This phonogram is an intellectual work protected in favor of its producer… COPYING IT IN WHOLE OR PARTIALLY IS FORBIDDEN…" (like that, uppercased, yelling to whoever is only guilty of having bought a record and defending the producer, not the artist). But I am sure that almost nobody buys records because doing so is no longer a gratifying experience; because if buying a record is clicking to wait 15 days for it to reach the mailbox, we prefer clicking on the download link.

But there is another reason for people not to buy records anymore. In one of my talks regarding the dictatorship of the all rights reserved, I asked the 30 twenty-something-year-old students if any of them had ever bought a record. One answered he had, because he is an author and performer (cantautor in Spanish) and understands the effort that producing a record entails. The rest of them had never done so. Is it possible that said young people have never listened to real music? Is it possible that, were it not for concerts, what they consider music is a set of washed-out MP3 that are about to fill up 1TB of their computer? Does people no longer buy records because they cannot differentiate one sound from the other?

It is not very clear for me where do I want to get to. The recording industry is despicable. An industry that instead of innovating sets its energy on suing adolescents for downloading songs, trying to pass laws restricting our freedoms in Internet, putting up DRMs making us hostages to our devices* and forcing us to listen just the aroma of music, deserves my whole contempt. If we add ot this that said industry won't allow us to legally download their breadcrumbs because it has not understood that Internet does not need a van crossing borders, besides my contempt they deserve my pity and my heartfelt condolence.

But the condolence is also for music, real music, that which is not compressed under the shoe using a terrible format. It is also for independent musicians that have not realized that begging for a bit of space to that industry they just add to themselves the "despicable" tag, given they deserve the fruits of their work to enter their bank account.

However, there are good things that have come out of this absurdity. Be it for those that have joined projects such as Autómata (even if it is in MP3) and for dreams come true such as Musopen (that have achieved that the music that's in theory Public Domain becomes so in practice as well). Good for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the list of lawyers willing to defend people accused of ilegally downloading music in the USA. Good for the Creative Commons licenses that allow free sharing.

All those are growing solutions, although none of them allows me to buy the Panamanian Carlos Méndez's record. Thankfully, a friend of mine who knows I will never give a dime to Apple, bought the files for me in iTunes. I thank him deeply, although I would have prefered to go to Auco Disco and have Mauricio tell me that the 2007 EP I have from Carlos is better than the record he did on 2009.

* My devices don't have DRM because I use free software. I also use the ogg file format.

Image by verbeeldingskr8

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Ten theses in favor of free download of cultural goods on the Internet (by Enrique G. Gallegos)

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/24/2012 - 17:09

This is one of the days where reading my everyday newspaper was worth more than just getting bitter at the news. I found this text in La Jornada, my usual newspaper. I liked it very much, and decided to translate it for a wider audience. Of course, if you can read Spanish, do yourself a favor and go to the original. It is not that the text is so easy to translate. And, after all, I'm not a native English writer.

I'm trying to do a literal translation, even when disagreeing with the author.

Ten theses in favor of free download of cultural goods on the Internet

Enrique G. Gallegos — Poet and philosopher. Currently a researcher in Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-C

  1. Historical legacy. Criticists who promote the persecution of piracy and free downloads of cultural works from the Internet argue that the patrimonial rights have been wronged; they start off suposing that a cultural work is formed from a historical void, as if there was a "nothing" to begin with, and then a "something" appeared. Nothing more fallacious: All cultural products has its precedents, and thanks to these it generates part of its best forces.
  2. Opening towards the future. Human beings are projected into the future. As the main philosophies of the 20th century have explored, one of the singular characteristics of mankind is the ability to think and imagine the future. Products of culture are the best ways to think and project society, politics, love, hope, needs, failures… A song, a poem, an essay, can trigger imaginary worlds with a transformative potential. To deny this to humanity with "patrimonial damage" as an argument is to mutilate man's temporal nature.
  3. Recognition of the present. Cultural works generate moments of reflection, criticism and pleasure; they can trigger actions demanding commitment, solidarity and strong indignation against injustice. If every cultural work is adscribed in some way to a historic tradition, and if cultural products anre necessary to imagine other possible worlds and open our future, it's not less true that they also allow us to recognize our present by making us more sensitive to others' ideas, sensations and emotions. Without culture, there is no present nor others' presence.
  4. Divulgation of the cultural heritage. If culture is "heritage of mankind", it should be also spread by any possible way. But not just spread, but actively sought for the biggest number of people to be able to effectively have access to it. In a potentially interconnected world, Internet is the most adequate world for it (despite its limitations). Therefore, penalizing free downloads means avoiding spreading it and restricting access to those groups who don't have enough economic resources.
  5. Preserving cultural heritage. If we agree that cultural works are heritage of mankind, we need to take every action needed to preserve them. But preserving culture does not only mean keeping the products in museums, galleries or never-polluted drawers; it rather means to keep them in the collective memory and in the flow of constant interpretations and appropiations. Said in other words, the genuine way to preserve culture is to allow universal access to cultural goods. That's why, holding that free copies and downloads of books, music, videos, etc. over the Internet are harmful, is an incompatible argument with the obligation to preserve cultural heritage.
  6. They are not goods. Cultural works are material and spiritual manifestations of mankind, concretions of its historicity; they are, also, expressions of emotions, ideas and projections of other lives and other worlds. That's why they cannot be equated to goods or inserted in patrimonialist logic. The market might want to cheat by giving a certain price to a painting by Orozco or auctioning a Baudelaire manuscript, but it will never be able to aprehend their true meaning as cultural works. And it's not that culture is not faluable, but taht its estimation criteria do not follow the rules of market, but those of the imponderable and unlimited.
  7. Price disproportion. Assuming we accept the possibility that intermediaries charge for the services they perform, the value of a book, record or movie should never exceed the daily wage of a worker or employee. But this ellection would only be one more option within the effective possibility that people opt to download or freely copy the cultural work. The final decision as to which media to go to should be a sovereign resolution of the culture-interested person.
  8. The principle of the most benefit. Even when copies and free downloads over Internet could generate a patrimonial "wrong" to third parties, the cultural benefit obtained by it will always be greater in as much that it carries out intensely the principle to foster, spread and access the cultural heritage of mankind. To think otherwise is to privilege the few over the many.
  9. The real evil is elsewhere. Murder, women- and children-trade, poverty and misery are the real evils that ache mankind. According to the United Nations, in 2010 there were 468 thousand murders in the world; the estimation is that 3500 million people live in poverty; in their 2009 inform, the UN found over 2400 victims of "people trade", kidnapped as sex slaves; in some regions in Africa, close to 30% of children suffer acute malnutrition and six people (between children and adults) die every day from hunger. That's why pretending that free download of cultural works is an evil is clearly a tricky and deceptive speech
  10. Against the intermediary-salesman. Culture does not need intermedieries that reduce cultural works to goods. Culture is too important to leavie it in the hands of salespeople that simplistly equate cultural goods with cakes. An intermediary of this kind will never understand the difference between a work of art and a disposable razor blade. What the world needs is more support from the government from every country to artists, creators and poets, as well as ensuring the conditions for the absolute mobility freedom for cultural works.
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The book: Available for sale

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 10/28/2011 - 10:41

This is an update to my last post regarding the «Construcción Colaborativa del Conocimiento» book.

The book is, as we have repeatedly stated, available online for download — Both as a full PDF or chapter by chapter. In the website you will also find videos of all of the conferences held.

But holding a printed book in your hands is just a different experience, isn't it? :-) Anyway, I said I would give here an update on how to get your hands on it. The main venue would be through my University's e-store. I recommend it to anybody interested in buying the book in Mexico. The book's list price is MX$300 (around US$27), but it is currently sold at half price — I don't know how long will that price be offered.

On the other hand, we also uploaded it to the self-publishing service. Of course, given I have not seen the printed results, I cannot assure you the resulting product will be of the same quality as the one we got here, but I have a couple of books I have bought at lulu, and their quality is quite acceptable. So, you can also buy it from Note the 20% discount it shows will be permanent — That's what I would get as an author, a payment I decided to forefit given we are 11 authors and it would be unfair to collect it all myself. So, the price at is US$12.64 plus shipping — Very similar to the price at UNAM.


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