Terry Hancock's articles

Introducing the Open Graphics Project

One project that I’ve been following quite closely lately is a project started by chip-designer Timothy Miller, called the Open Graphics Project. His goal, along with the rest of the project, known as the “Open Graphics Foundation” is to make a 3D accelerated video card which is fully documented, free-licensed, and open source.

Two free open-source movies

This week I finally learned how to use Bit Torrent, and I downloaded two free-licensed open-source movies: Elephants Dream by the Orange Project and The Boy Who Never Slept by Solomon Rothmon (who is credited as Producer, Writer, Director, and who plays the title role). Both are interesting as first ventures into free-licensed open-source filmmaking, but the contrasts are more striking than the similarities, both technically and aesthetically.

The Boy Who Never Slept

Book review: Python How to Program by Deitel & Associates

Python How to Program is a textbook for a basic course in programming based on the increasingly popular programming language, Python.

Python How to Program is a very complete textbook for learning Python.Python How to Program is a very complete textbook for learning Python.

This book is truly a textbook, right down to the duotone red and black printing, which takes me back to my school days. I had expected it to be more of a self-study book as published by other technical publishers, but this book is clearly meant to be used in a classroom environment.

Seeking independence?

For Americans, yesterday was an important holiday. It’s the commemoration of the United States’ Declaration of Independence. There are many countries around the world that declared independence from European colonial powers, but the United States was the first, and the language of that declaration was perhaps the more strident and high-minded because of it. It’s a beautiful revolutionary document, both in its language and its ideals. It’s not the first declaration of freedom, nor will it be the last.

Structured writing with LyX

In the hubbub over the Open Document Format and competing “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) word processors, a long-standing alternative model of word processing systems, with much deeper roots in the free software world, has been mostly overlooked. The author of LyX, Matthias Ettrich, calls this approach “what you see is what you mean” (WYSIWYM). However, it’s a philosophy that you will find in many “native” free software text-processing systems everywhere, from online “content management systems” to book publishing.

Was BRL-CAD the tool I was looking for?

It seems like it’s been almost half a year since I wrote TFME4: Tools of the Trade in which I explored the serious options for 3D CAD on GNU/Linux, and didn’t think we had much. I advocated building something on top of Blender, which may still be a decent idea.

But I’m starting to think I gave really short shrift to the US Army Research Lab’s BRL-CAD, which has recently released a new version (7.8.0) with support for Windows and a number of user interface and modeling tool improvements.

Just a thought: free distributed search?

Every once in awhile, I just get a hare-brained notion. Today's was, why do we use a central website for doing internet searches at all? Why Google?

Consider the success of the Planetary Society's distributed SETI project, and the distributed computing architecture that resulted from it. Consider the success of swarming download technology like BitTorrent. Consider how simple a basic web spider could be. Consider the efficiency of spidering networks locally. Consider the architecture of DNS.

See a pattern?

Free software game favorites

Midsummer seems like a perfect day for a posting on GNU/Linux games! I decided to talk to my family about their favorites. My sons play these things for hours at a time, and spend more hours creating new game levels for them (a favorite activity, which free software games are particularly suited to, since level editors are almost always included). So, it seemed like a pretty natural thing to ask them, as the local expert game testers, what they liked the most. Afterwards, I decided to figure out my own favorites, and my daughter's (she's too little to answer for herself, but it's not hard to figure out what she likes to play with).

(Screenshots!)

DRM, guardrails, and the right to be stupid

I’m a big believer in rights. I believe in the right to speak your mind, the right to act however you want, as long as you aren’t interfering with others’ rights; I even believe in more controversial rights like “the right to die”, and one of my favorites is the right to be stupid.

What do I mean by that? Well, I think that if people want to jump out of airplanes, down cliffs, or free-climb El Capitan, like Captain Kirk, they should be allowed to do that—even though it’s very clear that they may be stupid things to do that are likely to get them killed. One of the more powerful and hard to refute arguments for Digital Rights/Restrictions Management (DRM), though, is that it can be used in life-critical systems to prevent failures due to users’ own modifications—and it seems to me that this is a sticky case of balancing the right to be stupid with the right to be ignorant.

Towards a free matter economy (Part 6)

This article explores the legal problems that will be faced by free-design communities developing hardware for space.

I have learned that distributed problems require distributed solutions—that centralization of power, the first resort of politicians who feed on crisis, is actually worse than useless, because centralizers regard the more effective coping strategies as threats and act to thwart them.—Eric Raymond

DRM, guardrails, and the right to be stupid

I'm a big believer in rights. I believe in the right to speak your mind, the right to act however you want, as long as you aren't interfering with others' rights; I even believe in more controversial rights like 'the right to die', and one of my favorites is the right to be stupid.

What do I mean by that? Well, I think that if people want to jump out of airplanes, down cliffs, or free-climb El Capitan, like Captain Kirk, they should be allowed to do that -- even though it's very clear that they may be stupid things to do that are likely to get them killed. One of the more powerful and hard to refute arguments for Digital Rights/Restrictions Management (DRM), though, is that it can be used in life-critical systems to prevent failures due to users' own modifications -- and it seems to me that this is a sticky case of balancing the right to be stupid with the right to be ignorant.

Broadband, standards, and a web of little white lies

One of the frustrating things about standards is that so few people really follow them. Engineers, of course, like to stick to standards, and they understand the importance of explaining things in terms of standards and interfaces. “Documentation” to an engineer is descriptive—it tells you what the thing is, what standards and interfaces it conforms to, and (unfortunately), it usually relies on jargon to accomplish this. Of course, the nice thing about jargon is that it turns up pretty well on a Google search (for example, when I wanted to figure out if I was wiring my home network correctly, I got really good hits by typing: '"cat 5e" TIA 568A network "color code"'—all jargon I pulled from the diagrams that came with the tools).

“Documentation” for newbies, however is imperative—it just tells you what to do, and doesn't bother explaining. That means that instead of relying on technology standards about the thing you're actually doing, the documentation relies on platform standards. In short, it just assumes you're using Microsoft Windows, and ‘what a troublesome person you are’, if you aren't using it. Of course, we all pretend we're conforming to standards, but the truth is that the ISPs tell a few little lies (‘384kbps dn/128kbps up’—but they only have a T1 connection!), as does the manufacturer of the modem and the firewall, and me of course, who had to quietly ignore any questions about operating system in order to evade the standard ‘Oh, we don't support Linux’ response.

The case for a Creative Commons 'sunset' Non-Commercial license module

Creative Commons is jumping on the license-rewrite bandwagon and planning to publish a draft of version 3.0 of their license modules. This has occasioned some discussion of the ways in which CC licensing can be improved (I hope to write more broadly about this later). For me, it suggested re-treading an idea that CC failed with -- the so-called "Founder's Copyright", and giving it a bit of new life via a better implementation and a little cross-pollination with free software business models. After much pounding on the mailing list, I think I've got a good idea of the shape this ought to take, and I'd like to make a condensation here of my case for "Sunset NC/ND" modules for Creative Commons.

2000 was the “year of the GNU/Linux Desktop” for me

I still see people arguing about whether GNU/Linux is “ready for the desktop”. The truth is, it really depends...

For me, I switched almost “cold turkey” from Microsoft Windows 3.1 to Debian GNU/Linux 2.1 “Slink” in about 1999 or 2000 (at the time, I liked to say I “upgraded from Win 3.1 to Linux”).

Is Microsoft bracketed by GNU/Linux?

An interesting thing is about to happen to home computing—the “Desktop” that GNU/Linux never seems able to liberate from proprietary Windows may be just about to become irrelevant. Three independent, ultra-low-end computing platforms are being released—platforms that, like the first “desktop PCs” will be mostly owned by people who’ve never owned computers before. Every one of them will run GNU/Linux!

Book review: The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source by Martin Fink

An introduction to the open source community targeted at business managers, this book by Martin Fink offers members of the free software and business communities glimpses of each other’s world view. It also includes a lot of practical advice for businesses interested in cashing in on the success of free software.

An older book, but still very relevantAn older book, but still very relevant

Reports from PyCON 2006 (Python Conference)

Recurring themes at this year’s PyCON2006 Python conference, in Dallas, Texas, included quality control techniques for Python (testing methods), and interoperable content management systems. Guido van Rossum presented some previews of features to be expected in Python 2.5 (to be released later this year), and Jim Fulton presented the “State of Zope”, with some musings on where to go from here with Zope 2 and Zope 3.

Book review: Zope 3 Developer’s Handbook by Stephan Richter

Like its subject matter, the Zope 3 Developer’s Handbook, has benefited from the mistakes of its predecessor, “The Zope Book”, and is a finely-engineered work. It is written in an extremely concise and carefully thought-out style, to make the immensely complex machinery of Zope 3 understandable to the reader in a mere 456 pages. It's easy to imagine a less-well-written book needing three times the volume to cover this material half as well. As a result, however, it is not a very casual book—you will need to read slowly and pay attention, if you want to get the most out of it.

Towards a free matter economy (Part 4)

A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.—Freeman Dyson

Imagine where free software would be today if it weren’t for the GNU C Compiler! Just as free software depends heavily on free compilers, so does free design rely on having free computer aided design and authoring tools.[1]

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