Free Software must migrate to become Free Culture

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 00:45

Cineast and Free Culture activist Nina Paley wrote some days ago a rantifesto on why the FSF has a double standard: Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?, by not following its own very strict rules on software when it comes to culture as a whole. Her post was widely circulated, and got (at least) one reply by fellow Debian Developer Wouter Verhelst, largely agreeing with her, and an anti-rantifesto by Joe Brockmeier — Which was promptly answered again by Wouter with a very fun and inspired post, written from the right angle: From the viewpoint of a person who is both a programmer and a musician, and understands the concepts at hand.

I'd love to write a longer, better thought post — But I'm tired and frankly stressed by many things, so I am just echoing their very interesting discussion to other people who might want to read it.

I have been thinking and writing bits on that subject over the last couple of months. An example of that was the talk I gave at the Senate ~6 weeks ago. Following that talk, I wrote a short article for Revista Zócalo (a widely circulated magazine mainly dealing with Mexican politics and social issues) called simply Software libre, cultura libre (full text available, but in Spanish only — You can try reading an automated translation if it suits you). I wrote the article, mind you, with very limited time, and I'll be the first to recognize the prose was quite poor this time :(

Anyway — My point is that our nature is to share culture, to build it in a collaborative fashion, and having the Internet as a practically zero-cost, zero loss medium with which we can interchange our creativity with other like-minded people will naturally boost creativity. Free Software emerged before other Free Culture groups just because programmers had privileged access to Internet in the 80s and early 90s; as network access –and digital creation tools– have got to more people, it's just natural for all kinds of free culture to grow.

Software is just a form of knowledge. Code is just a notation for a certain kind of ideas, just as the mathematical or musical notations. I believe (and hope) it's just unavoidable for us all to eventually switch to a mainly free cultural creation system.

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DebConf13 at home? Why not?

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 07/02/2011 - 21:30

We are few weeks away from the start of DebConf11. Excitement runs high in Debian-land. The two most worthy weeks of the year, every year, loom close. Our Bosnian friends have done a great job of finding and defending an amazing proposal, and are now facing the hard work and permanent adrenaline levels of being in charge of the closest I have seen to a herd of (well-behaved but wild and untamable) cats.

I have organized DebConf in my country. It was hellish, but at the same time, it's one of my most cherished experiences. And I'm sure the same will be said by the leaders of each successive bid — It is one of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine.

Next year, DebConf will be held in tropical Managua, Nicaragua. But, where will we meet in 2013? Well, that depends on you, my dear reader! Do you want to work your ass off for Debian and have utter fun? Do you want to show and share your country with this huge family of developers? Start thinking about pushing for a DebConf13 bid!

Do you have to be at Banja Luka to propose your bid? No. You can proxy via somebody — I'd suggest to do it via somebody who knows the location you are suggesting, but basically, choose a friend that you trust that trusts you. Of course, you can participate in the presentation session via IRC.

Do you have to be a Debian Developer to propose a bid? No. For DebConf9, none of the Cáceres guys was a DD; for DebConf10, some of the people most involved from the local New Yorkers were not DDs. For DC11, none of our dear and overworked hosts in Bosnia are DDs. And for DC12, the Nicaraguan crew is also made from people interested in getting closer to the Debian project, but not DDs.

Do you have to decide now? No. This is just a call for a first presentation, but the decision regarding DC13 will be taken probably around March 2012. However, giving a nice presentation at DebConf helps a lot, gives you visibility, and will get the ball rolling.

Is there a geographical bias? Slight. So far, and since the second DebConf, we have kept the tradition not to repeat continents on two successive DebConfs. This is not a hard condition, however!

What do you need to start thinking about? Go visit our prospective location checklist at http://wiki.debconf.org/wiki/LocationCheckList. You can also look at what other teams have historically presented. Finally, I just learnt about the existence of http://wiki.debconf.org/wiki/DebConf13 — Register there, even if you are just in the early phases of finding data.

We will be holding a DebConf13 bids presentation session, most probably (the schedule is close to being presented officially!) on 30-07-2011, at 17:00.

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Yet another flurry of invites‽

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 07/01/2011 - 10:01

Umh, so Google created yet-another-beta-service with yet-another-invite-only stage. Whee! And this time they choose a name yet more stupid to their previous attempts (Wave, Buzz — now it's simply Google+).

And yes, some of my friends have mailed me invites (or offered them to me by chat) so I can join the fun and love, and lose the few free time I still have.

Guys, I care about you. I even love you all! But no, I don't care the least for so-called-social-network invites. I am quite a mess managing my time as it stands.

And I cannot reply this to you in person, as Google+ sends mails with a very helpful sender (noreply-929ac25c@plus.google.com or variations of it), I have just added this to my .procmailrc:

  1. :0
  2. * ^From:.*noreply.*@plus.google.com
  3. /dev/null

What does this mean in human? That instead of manually ignoring your invitations and feeling bad about not answering to you, dear friends, I'll leave that job to my computer. I will not receive any Google+ invites.

Just as I don't receive Twitter and Facebook spam, FWIW.

Thanks for thinking about me!

Wow... IP lawyers are from another planet

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/22/2011 - 19:40

Second speaker at today'sseminar,Vladimir Mojica. He is talking about th legal backing for DRM and TPM as well as laws against circumvention. He quotes USA's DMCA as one of the most complete, advanced and forward-minded laws,inviting the audience to push for such a law here.

I hope he gets to my (written)question, as today is a very important day in this regard: The Senate has requested the presidency to reject signing the ACTA treaty!
[Update] The Senate is sending Resolution agreeing to prompt the Federal Executive Power titular to instruct the State Secretaries and other dependencies involved in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement not to sign said agreement, as it would hinder free interchange of legal material. It also mentions the ISPs should not become de-facto authorities to define when an intellectual/intangible properties right violation is in course, and that it would be unacceptable for ISPs to monitor the users' activities in the net, or to analize the content of the IP packets.

Very good news, in a document very well made, in a precise, legal and coherent(!) way.

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Hearing arguments from the other side

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/22/2011 - 19:07

Excuse me in advance for any typos. itting in a dark room and posting with a Kindle has its down sides.

I have been participating for about 1.5 years on a seminar about the copyright in the ediyorial ambit. This year, the focus is on digital media.

Today the first speaker is Dr. Kyoshi Tsuru, General Director of BSA Mexico. He is talking about the beauties and advantages of DRM and TPM. It was interesting to hear how he began by saying how people are afraid of nice, good, protective measures and call it with derogatoey, morally charged ways:Specifically about "self-utelage"measures. It is interesting t hear him in the role I often speak eg. by repeating that piracy is a derogatory,morally charged term for "making illegal copies"

Fun to hear how he defends that mainly academicians are disconnected from the real world...

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Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe — A (very informal) review

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 06/10/2011 - 16:50

It's been a long time since I last took some time to read First Monday — A great online publication, if you are not familiar with it, that I would categorize (and no, I'm not probably well-informed in it to be authoritative) as dealing with social, psychological aspects of the cultural shifts the online world has brought upon us (often dealing with topics related to Free Software communities, the reason I first met the publication). Firstmonday is an Open Access champion from early on. It follows an approachable but academic format (this means, it is peer-reviewed, its articles give extensive lists of references, and the articles are not the short reads we have got used to finding on the net, but, quoting from their audience profile, English is not the first language of many First Monday readers; A large percentage of First Monday readers are not a part of academia; Cultures, educational backgrounds, and fields of study vary greatly among First Monday readers.) This means, it's at least a great publication for me to follow :)

Anyway — After a long time not following it, I have just read Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe, by Barry W. Cull; First Monday, Volume 16, Number 6 - 6 June 2011 Nice, interesting read. As I was planning on telling about the article to a couple of friends more into the subjects than myself, I'll comment+quote some bits on it. Before going any further: The article makes several references to Maryanne Wolf. No relation to her — I'm not lulling my (two? are you both still reading?) readers towards her work ;-)

The article talks about the differences –social, even dips into some physiological aspects– that the activity of reading is sustaining due to the shift from an activity done mainly from books (or other similar printed material) to the computer screen. Of course, we all know from our own experience many of the basic traits — Shorter attention spans, a different reading pattern (skimming instead of reading; browsing through several related items instead of in-depth reading a single text as a knowledge unit).

The article begins with an overview of reading and humankind. Cull quotes Maryanne Wolf's phrase, «despite the fact that it took our ancestors about 2,000 years to develop an alphabetic code, children are regularly expected to crack this code in about 2,000 days». An interesting point I never thaught of is the start of reading as a purely mental activity, detaching reason from verbalization, ~1200 years ago:

Interestingly, these early scribes first did their work by reading out loud to themselves. Not until the ninth century did monastic regulations begin requiring silent reading. By the thirteenth century the practice of men reading silently and alone became commonplace. This shift to silent reading was a profound change, one that Darnton suggested “involved a greater mental adjustment than the shift to printed text”

.

One last important point in this older history, that I'm quoting because I know I'll need the reference later on for one of my texts is about reading as a social activity — Yes, also related to the quietness I just mentioned:

Interestingly, with the democratization of the printed text, there was a return to reading aloud. Reading was a solitary silent process only for the educated elite who could afford to buy books. For the rest of the population, as Darnton pointed out, reading was a social activity which “took place in workshops, barns, and taverns” … [and] “while children played, women sewed, and men repaired tools.”

After this introduction (obviously one of the most interesting parts to me), Cull gives numbers showing how reading is evolving (in the USA and Canada), and quotes some prediction on how the future will end up adapting. Of course, I live in a place with a very different society, so I cannot comment much. Then he confronts some studies regarding specifically leisure reading, as it is a much more trustable factor than just literacy (in a world as highly literate as ours is, many people only read when they have to — and have never or very seldom experienced the pleasure of reading just for the sake of it), bringing into the discussion the Internet (and computers in general) usage patterns.

I found also very interesting the next section, regarding the pattern changes many libraries are facing now, specially academic/research-oriented libraries:

For several millennia, right up until just two decades ago, the central role of a library was to collect and house physical texts: from clay tablets, to scrolls, to printed books (Battles, 2003; Manguel, 2006). While printed text remains essential to most academic libraries, today’s libraries have also become a core conduit via which researchers access scholarly texts online. Just within the last few years, Canadian academic libraries, in a situation similar to libraries throughout the Western world, have reached an interesting tipping point — librarians now spend the majority of their collections budgets on electronic instead of printed texts.
(…)
Libraries are convinced that digital text, now in its infancy, is likely to have a long future. Not only do they purchase electronic texts, but most academic libraries have also become publishers of electronic texts, whether they are digitizing large portions of their book holdings, or focusing on scanning a relatively small number of archival documents from their unique special collections.

And yes, doing some work with our Institute's library, I can confirm this trend.

About e-books: I have got quite into that topic since the Kindle won my heart (and my money!) half a year ago. The little device completly changed my reading habits, I have read lots more since I carry it. And yes, I have never considered a full tablet-like device — The article talks long about the difference, about the disadvantage that multitasking means to the human brain (oh, do I suffer from it!) I liked this snippet, quoting Steve Jobs a couple of years ago, regarding an Apple e-book reader question:

When Apple was rumoured to be working on an e–book reader a few years ago, CEO Steve Jobs expressed his lack of interest: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he reportedly said, continuing by stating that “40 percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore” (Markoff, 2008). Nicholas Carr (2010) has summed up Apple’s involvement in the tablet phenomenon this way: “Jobs is no dummy. As a text delivery system, the iPad is perfectly suited to readers who don’t read anymore”.

The issue for me is, I do enjoy reading, but I am an information addict. I know that if I have parallel information flows, my attention will surely dilute between them. Of course, as I read this article on-screen, it was hard for me to take the needed discipline not to be distracted by IMs or IRC highlights during the whole reading (which was also as an excercise for myself ;-) ). I am surprised to see this on student preferences (and even more surprised to see this data comes from my university):

In a study of students at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the majority of students preferred print, and 63 percent reported that they could bear reading a document on a computer screen for no more than one hour (Ramírez Leyva, 2003). When it comes to course textbooks, a marked student preference for paper over e–books has recently been found (Woody, 2010).

As we approach the end, it talks about another important topics I have often tried (and often failed) to communicate to my users: That of paratext, the meaning of the different texts, covers, items, layouts, etc. that are not part of the text itself but do shape the way we face it. To some of us, this seems obvious. To others, it is so hard to understand…

It closes with two more topics I will refer to. One is the permanent connectivity. All the time, more people are connected virtually all of their waking time. This affects not only learning habits but priorities. Will this near–constant access to information interfere with students’ desire to comprehend and remember information, necessary to the educational process of turning it into knowledge? Author and university business school lecturer Don Tapscott recently suggested that students “might not have to stress about the details — those you can check”

Finally, regarding the continuity and ellaboration found in texts that are each time more common — He quotes Maryanne Wolf:

I am worried about kids who are immersed in digital culture. They will get to college and they will have been Twittering so much that they won’t have the patience to read those really long cognitively convoluted and complex sentences. They may not have developed those rich networks which are required in order to read at a high level of sophistication. … The effort is what we are going to lose. They are becoming not so much a lazy reader, but an atrophied reader

As you can see, not only this post is meant to tell my couple-of-interested-friends to read the article, but it's mainly meant as a mental placeholder for myself. I will be surely refering to some of these items.

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Invitation — Free Software in Mexico: Reflections and Opportunities

Submitted by admin on Tue, 05/31/2011 - 12:49

I was invited to be part of one of the panels to be present this Thursday (June 2) in a forum that promises to be interesting. The forum is organized by the Science and Technology comission of the Senate of the Republic (of Mexico ;-) ), Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and Mozilla México. The day will be opened by Sen. Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca and Richard Stallman; starting at 10:00, we will have thematic panels on:

  • Education
  • Government
  • Industry
  • Civil society

The full program (as well as details of interest of those that can physically attend) is attached to this post.

I am looking forward to this forum. Not only it is a good opportunity to get our work known in one of those places where it matters, but it's also being organized by several interesting people I'm sure will have something interesting to contribute. And of course, we lacked time to build a better, more complete and more coherent proposal — but there is a good probability we will have further such contacts.

You might find interesting to read on the list we have been discussing; subscription seems to be open (although access to the archives is not — Maybe it will be later on? In any case, I'm saving a mbox ;-) )

Call centers, call recording and customer dissatisfaction → Fun anyone?

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 05/13/2011 - 13:46

While swearing at my bank's automated phone attention system, I was thinking that –taking advantage in the fact they already usually say that "the call will be recorded to improve service quality"– call center operators/programmers should record all user activity and, just for laughs, play back the grumbles angry users shout at the system. Of course, at random intervals, on loudspeakers, over the crowded call centers.

Oh, they do it already?

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A different demonstration. What will it mean?

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 05/08/2011 - 23:04

Today we had a very interesting demonstration. People who know me for some time know I like to be a part of demonstrations, adding my voice to the people. And even though I know most demonstrations, as massive as they might be, have no real and tangible effect... Well, I try to be there.

Today we had a large demonstration in Mexico City of people angry with the government's tactics on the war on drugs — Have you been to Mexico before 2007? You will remember we have always had our problems, but violence was basically limited to keeping an eye open, not flashing your money/jewels, and not looking too touristy. We were, all in all, a quiet country — Known even as "the country where nothing happens, even if it happens".

Five years later, a good portion of the country lives really in war-like conditions, and close to 45,000 people have been killed. At some point about a year ago (where the body count was at ~22,000), our oh-so-bright de-facto president said that "only" 10% of them were civilians. If that is still the case, and if proportions are held, we can now talk about ~4,500 people killed just because they were there — Oh, but remember the country is not at war, and death penalty has very long been abolished, so we cannot give the other 90% a different status. We have had over 45,000 killed people. That means at least ~200,000 torn lifes.

About six weeks ago, the cry from a father who lost his son started getting heard. And no, I do not want to talk about specific names or anything like that — It is just the voice-bearer of many people who are fed up. Four days ago, he and a group of people left Cuernavaca city on a caravan and walked to Mexico city. Yesterday evening they arrived to the National University (UNAM), and were greeted by an amazing open-air concert: Mozart's Requiem.

Today, our day started very early. My mother wanted to help, as many more anonymous citizens did, so we started making and packing sandwiches and apples at ~5:30AM, delivered them to the camp where they were staying and grouping with other people, and came back home for our breakfast. Later, at around 9AM, as the demonstration started going by our house (we live a block from UNAM), my girlfriend, father and me started walking with them.

Why do I say this was a different demonstration than others I have been to?

  1. Much longer. We walked for close to 16Km, for about five hours. Most demonstrations I have been part of are 3-5Km long
  2. A different kind of support. I was surprised, even laughed at first when I saw a lady standing by us with a sign that read, «I cannot join you today, but I'm there in spirit». But then I saw more, more people that just went out of their houses to a point close to where we walked on, and just stayed there on the streets. Not walking, yes, but being part of it.
  3. The march was silent — And yes, this is the first time I see it for true. At the very beginning we heard some people chanting, cheering, but the cheerers were requested not to be noisy. People wearing political parties' logos were requested not to wear them (as political parties are at an all-time low prestige). No, we were not silent for the whole 5 hours; we were talking with each other, but it felt... just very different from any other times.
  4. Not only were people supporting, but this is the first time I saw this amount of people wanting to materially help. As I said, my mother delivered a little breakfast for 50 people, for those that slept at the camp, for those that had already walked ~70Km. But all along the road we were offered oranges, cookies, water, bread... Whatever people were able to offer, to somehow help. Very nice feeling of solidarity.
  5. Contrary to all other times, we were really spread out, it was a very low density walk, os it was quite pleasant. Of course, I have not even seen an estimation of the number of participants... And I doubt anyboy can be decently close to it

Will this change anything? I doubt it. I am happy that for the first time, the de-facto president (remember a large percentage of Mexicans still believe he lost the presidential election, and it was only due to his lack of legitimacy that he pushed the army to the streets to start this war on drugs) is recognizing that this might not be the best strategy but it is the only one he has... People are still, despite what I saw many felt, very far from organized. And, yes, no short-term concrete proposals are made on how to stop the killing — I feel the population agrees that drugs should be legalized and regulated, that would at least shift the problem, reduce the direct violence (and money) related to it... But, of course, it is plainly not feasible with our current reality.

Anyway, after a 5hr walk today (and even after a nice nap and shower), I don't want to dig into hypotheses anymore. I just wanted to share about a very interesting and different experience I had the opportunity to be part of.

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I am going to DebConf11 — Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/05/2011 - 12:02

Yay!

I'm going to DebConf11 As others have started posting in Planet Debian, I'll do my part: Yesterday I finished booking our flights, so if everything goes as planned, Reg and me will be arriving to Zagreb (Croatia) at 21:30, Monday July 18, to take part of the 12th Debian development conference, DebConf11, in Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina!

Of course, reiterating this will never hurt: Do you want to support a global-scale, well-recognized, community-based Free Software project development? Be a sponsor for DebConf11!"

Be a sponsor for DebConf11!

Want some more DebConf11 banners and posters?

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Saving your back and hands from RSI and similar pain

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 11:13

I took part in a occupational-health-related thread recently, and wrote a bit of my experience which might be helpful for my readers, many of them avid keyboard users, with usually ≥8hr of typing per day.

(…) I suffered not from RSI but from painful back aches. I started using standard keyboards in a different fashion, not putting so much stress on my wrists (and on the muscles connecting them to the rest of the body, of course): I exclusively use US keymaps (with some modifications to allow for proper Spanish input and ffŭₙṅý characters), but instead of making the middle row my fingers' home row, I type with the base position of my fingers in a V shape — Fingers resting on (approx.) w-e-f-v-spacebar and spacebar-m-l-;-]; the fingers doing most of the travelling are the index and middle, and with no straining for the little fingers to reach ` or backspace. On the other side, the most straining keys become Control and Shift, which requires closing the hands a bit too much, but are not that bad. My way does induce some new kind of stress, as my arms also have to move to reach 6 and 7, but it... Works for me™.

It looks weird and is somewhat strange to get used to, but I must say it has worked great for me. I work this way on regular and laptop keyboards, even on my netbook's noticeably smaller one.

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Lets go to Nicaragua, 2012!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 03/22/2011 - 17:55

Ok, so finally it is official!

We just had the DebConf 12 decision meeting. We saw two great proposals, from the cities of Belo Horizonte, Brazil and Managua, Nicaragua.

If you are curious on the decision process: We held it over two IRC channels — The moderated #debconf-team channel, where only the five members of the decision committee (Marga Manterola, Andrew McMillan, Jeremiah Foster, Holger Levsen, Moray Allan) and two members from each of the bids (Marco Túlio Gontijo e Silva and Rafael Cunha de Almeida from Brazil; Leonardo Gómez and Eduardo Rosales from Nicaragua) had voices, and the open #dc12-discuss channel where we had an open discussion. Of course, you can get the full conversation logs in those links.

I have to thank and congratulate the Brazilian team as they did a great work... The decision was very tight. It was so tight, in fact, that towards the end of the winning all of the committee members were too shy to state the results - so I kidnapped the process by announcing the winner ;-) (I hope that does not cast a shadow of illegitimacy over it)

And, very much worth noting, both teams were also very professional: In previous years, we have seen such decisions degenerate into personal attacks and very ugly situations. That has always been painful and unfortunate. And although the Brazilians will not be able to go celebrate tonight, the decision was received with civility, knowing it was a decision among equals, and a decision well carried out.

Well, that's it — I am very much looking forward for that peculiar two weeks when the whole Debian family meets, this year to be held in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I am very eager towards meeting in 2012 in Managua, Nicaragua!

Yay!

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Writing limits blues v2

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 20:26

Some years ago, I faced a 900 word limit for the first time. My question to the editor: Can I write the column in German?

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Writing limits blues

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 20:24

People enjoy writing with Twitter's arbitrary 140 character limit. I suffer when I have to write a column with a 900 word limit. Limits suck.

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Starting work on KindleClip

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/18/2011 - 19:09
Starting work on KindleClip

Quite probably, the best thing got for myself during the last year was my Kindle. I just love it! It has changed the way I interact with knowledge, and saved me from hours of boredom.

But it has also taught me the value of scribbling along the book pages and of underlining passages. Yes, I hold a deep regard for my regular (paper) books, and I never scribble on them, not even on text books. In any case, I can scribble on a post-it or something like that.

Still, when you underline or comment on a passage in the Kindle, what can you do with your annotation? Well, not much. Annotations (called clippings in Kindlespeak) are stored on an easily accessible My Clippings.txt text file, very easy to parse and work with.

So, I devoted yesterday evening to coming up with a first prototype of an app that I think can be very useful if you use clippings extensively: It displays each clipping with its base information separately, allows you to filter on the specific book to which each clipping is related as well as on the clipping type.

So, if it interests you, clone it away from github!

git://github.com/gwolf/kindleclip.git

Written in Ruby, Gtk (Glade). No further libraries are (currently?) needed. The code is far from beautiful, but is a first stab towards functionality.

Any comments welcome!

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