Implementing a sensible copyright: "FLOW-IT"

It can be hard to get paid for producing free-licensed works. Software represents a niche where a lot of exceptions can be found, but for aesthetic works, the problem is severe. This has spurred a lot of innovative ideas for better incentive systems. Along the way, though, the most obvious and simple solution has mostly been overlooked: just re-implement the traditional limited copyright idea in a way that makes sense for the 21st century. Here's a simple solution that I call "FLOW-IT" for "Free Licensing Of Works -- In Time," which simply leverages existing Creative Commons licensing to do the job.

Getting Stanford's "Karel the Robot" to Run in Debian's Eclipse

I'm taking Stanford's Open Courseware "Programming Methodology" this semester, but I got stumped early on by the problem of setting up the special Stanford class libraries in my Debian-standard Eclipse installation. The instructions and files available from the website are only available for Windows and Macintosh platforms. The process is not that hard, but if you're new to Java and Eclipse (and especially if you are new to programming, as the class assumes), you'll likely be thrown by this. I couldn't find any documentation on how to do this after extensive searching, so here it is.

Linux-based phones : Why are GNU/Linux users treated as second class?

Like many free software users, I am greatly encouraged by the number of mobile phones that are starting to come out running some form of embedded Linux-based OS. Nokia's Maemo and Palm's webOS are shaping up and it seems every day we hear of yet another Android device. All of this is good news, but just how useful are these free software phones to the free software lover? Not as much as they could be it seems.

Moving to an IDE for programming (Eclipse with PyDev)

In the past, I've always shied away from integrated development environments (IDEs), but I recently had a strong enough motivation to finally learn how to use Eclipse -- one of the most widely-used free software IDEs available today. Eclipse is known mainly as a Java IDE and it does require Java itself, but it is also a powerful and flexible multi-purpose platform, and adaptations exist for programming in many languages, including Java, C/C++, Lisp, and Python. Python support is available with an Eclipse package called "PyDev", and I have found it to be a big step up.

Is free software major league or minor?

Is free software really capable of serving end users or not? This issue has political consequences, which is part of what makes it important: either free software is "minor league" or it's "major league". Which we believe has a big impact on what our expectations can be and what our political and ethical stance towards proprietary and free software should be.

In praise of OpenOffice Base and good documentation

After downloading the whole suite of tools from, I have been exploring ways of using as many of them to teach an introductory statistics course. Since this is a class in a business school, I have some rather tough customers, who use the proprietary alternatives and are content doing so. In such a context, even one flaky in OO is enough to warrant a protest, or worse, a boycott.

Free-licensed art for free software games:

Today I happened upon a site I really, really wish had been there in 2000 when I started my own game project. Free software games often suffer from poorly-executing graphics, simply because it's a real challenge coordinating both the artistic and software needs of a project. Few developers are good at both, and so it makes sense to accumulate commonly-needed elements in one place.

Proprietary browsers built on proprietary browsers: the blind leading the blind?

A friend of mine has an ADSL account with BT/Yahoo here in the UK. For some reason BT/Yahoo feel compelled to supply (nay insist upon) a customised version of I.E. as the browser for their customers. Okay so first things first: why choose I.E.? If you are thinking it's for that old chestnut of greater compatibility with a higher number of websites, think again. That argument would work if your customised browser was simply IE rebadged and to all intents and purposes presented as IE. This monstrosity doesn't -- it presents as a BT/Yahoo browser based upon IE. Thus some of the IE compatibility works and some doesn't. But there's more -- much more.

A great Blender tutorial: back to school with Blender

One of my projects this fall is to take advantage of online "Open Courseware" classes, for personal and professional development. In setting up my own curriculum, I came across a very nice find: a class on 3D modelling based on the (free software) Blender 3D modelling application. This class, offered by Tufts University in Boston (USA) is one of the most professionally delivered collections of tutorials I have yet seen, and I think it may well be the easiest way to approach Blender if you have no prior 3D modelling experience.

Make your own Wayback Machine or Time Machine in GNU/Linux with rsnapshot

A good backup system can help you recover from a lot of different kinds of situations: a botched upgrade (requiring re-installation), a hard drive crash, or even thumb-fingered users deleting the wrong file. In practice, though I've experienced all of these, it's the last sort of problem that causes me the most pain. Sometimes you just wish you could go back a few days in time and grab that file. What you want is something like the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine", but for your own system. Here's how to set one up using the rsnapshot package (included in the Debian and Ubuntu distributions).

Free Software economics for Indigenous Nations

Information in the computer age is the last genuine free market left on earth except those free markets where indigenous people are still surviving (Russell Means)

Some of the surviving nations in North America have tried Casinos and call centers. Others have tried meat packing for freedom. Yet, unemployment remains high, over 80% for some communities, such as on the Lakotah reservations. Similarly, per capita income often remains below the poverty line. On the Lakotah reservations, per capita income is less than $4,000 annually. The exact story is of course different for each nation, but the overall results of these efforts have usually been rather bleak.

Could free software change things?

Secure VoIP, GNU SIP Witch, and replacing Skype with free software

For the last few years I had occasionally been working on what is called the GNU Telephony Secure Calling initiative. The GNU Telephony Secure Calling initiative was itself originally formed specifically to make passive voice communication intercept a thing of the past using free software and public standards, and came out of ideas from and work of the New York City civil liberties community and New York Fair Use in the early part of this decade.

The results were great: a free infrastructure for secure calling. Here is how it all happened.

An Open Letter to Michael Dell: Why I have no choice but return my Ubuntu Inspiron Mini 10

UPDATE: as it turned out, I was shipped a faulty item by Dell. They changed the motherboard, and things worked smoothly. However, at the end of this exercise I learned that the selection of machines available with Ubuntu is still quite small -- hopefully they will extend it soon

Dear Michael,

I have been a fan of yours for many years -- since I was a kid in fact! I watched as you created Dell, one of the first ("the" first?) companies that sold computers by mail order. I watched you become wealthy, successful, and then retire, only to come back to Dell to remind its managers what they seemed to have forgotten: listen to your customers. I watched you embrace GNU/Linux; I remember thinking: I wonder if people realise what this will actually mean. I am sure he does.

So, here I am: I bought an Inspiron Mini 10. I have no choice but return it. And now I can't stop wondering: how could Michael Dell get it just so wrong?

How Free Software Magazine overcame the 3FN disaster and switched to CariNet

A couple of months ago, Free Software Magazine went through what you'd call a "rough patch" in terms of hosting: 3FN, which hosted FSM, was effectively shut down by the FTC in the United States. Many companies had their backup servers on 3FN's networks -- and therefore lost everything. We were lucky enough to have a full backup over in Europe. So, we quickly moved everything to CariNet. What's the aftermath of this adventure?


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