There are a number of good reasons for installing a virtual machine on your computer -- as a way to run software that isn't compatible with your primary operating system, as a sandbox for development, or as a place to test package installations, new distributions, or new server configurations. Setting one up with VirtualBox OSE is quite easy.
Previously, I demonstrated creating an animatic using Kino. That was an interesting exercise, but Kino is not really up to that kind of job. Blender, on the other hand, has a very nice "video sequence editor" built into it, and it turns out to be very well adapted for this kind of task.
In the end, whether you like what Wikileaks has been doing lately or not, your freedom and mine hangs direly on defending its right to do it. Powerful people have been embarrassed, and have claimed the right and necessity to 'do something about it' -- yet curiously they have not even attempted to deny that what has been said is in fact the truth. Indeed, their most solid defense so far has been to claim that what Wikileaks does "isn't journalism", because it only provides access to the raw, unadulterated, unspun truth. It's a pretty sick state of affairs when the wealthy and powerful can try to convince the masses that an organization should be crushed for committing the crime of telling the truth about them -- and be taken seriously.
There's a reason they're called "movies." They're supposed to move. Your eyes are keyed to follow motion, and the constant revelation of new information in a moving shot holds your interest longer. Thus, while four seconds might be about the maximum comfortable length for a static shot, shots in which the camera or subject are moving extensively can often last more than a minute without feeling slow at all. Storyboards made entirely from static images make it hard to judge active shots. It's useful, therefore, to be able to insert some movement at the storyboard phase by panning and zooming a drawing. Here I'm going to demonstrate such an animated storyboard using Inkscape and Blender.
My DVD set for the Blender Foundation's latest open movie, "Sintel," arrived this month. Considering the size, expense, and duration of the production, it's a truly amazing short film. There's much more emotional weight here than in "Elephants Dream" or "Big Buck Bunny." More of interest here, though, is the huge amount of supplementary material included in the set. This is more than just the sources for the movie. There's also a lot of tutorial information for Blender users and of course, an array of personal commentaries on the production process.
There are lots of options for creating 3D characters for animation, and they are often made from scratch by mesh-modeling artists. But it's obviously a very often-needed task, using a lot of common elements, so you'd think someone would come up with a tool to make it easier. And you'd be right. The free-software tool of choice for this task is MakeHuman. I had looked into a much earlier version of the software before, but today it is rapidly approaching the first real release, version 1.0 (currently it's at 1.0-Alpha 5, with plans to go through several more alphas still). The progress is remarkable, and this is going to be a really important tool for 3D modeling in the future.
Having established the motivations for fair payment on a "commercial free culture project" in the previous column, I'm still left with the question of what exactly "fair" means. The problem is that there's more than one way to determine fair shares on a project like this. The organization is necessarily loose, and so there's no really clear and unambiguous way to determine fairness. Nevertheless, some plan has to be chosen, and in a way that is at least defensible.
In a recent blog, Nina Paley, the animator behind the free-licensed animated film, "Sita Sings the Blues", complained of the enormous confusion caused by poor differentiation of the Creative Commons licenses. In particular, there's a great deal of confusion over the difference between "NonCommercial" and "ShareAlike" licenses. Maybe the Creative Commons licensing system is still too complex? I'd suggest that only three licenses are really needed: "Attribution" (CC By), "ShareAlike" (CC By-SA), and "NonCommercial" (CC By-NC), and that the others are essentially deadweight that's holding the movement back.
I've been trying to zip together what I know about free online collaborative projects (like free software) and commercial free culture projects (like the just-released "Sintel" from the Blender Foundation or "Sita Sings the Blues" from Nina Paley). It's easy to get lost in the logistics of such a production. One of the questions I'm bound to be asked is "How do I know I'm going to get paid?" Artists have a strong fear against being "exploited", though they're often less clear on exactly what that means. A little bit of examination, though, shows this may be a strength of the "Creator Endorsed" free culture approach to marketing a work -- it makes fair payment a matter of personal financial interest to the publisher, as I hope to explain here.
Rote learning of "math facts" is one of the really dull aspects of grade-school mathematics. But if you can't recall them quickly, it can really hold you back even in higher mathematical disciplines, because it just slows you down. My son's been struggling with this for some time now, with traditional solutions like flash cards just not working very well. With "Tux of Math Command", otherwise known as "TuxMath", though, he's making considerable progress at overcoming his "wall" with math. Homework times are getting shorter because his recall speed is getting much better with just one or two games a day -- an easy goal to reach because the games are actually fun (Seriously. I play it myself now and then).
Counting your blessings is good for the soul -- not to mention for convincing yourself and any investors that your project will succeed. Free culture is highly conservative, because it's possible to simply reuse ideas (and sometimes actual artifacts) with little to no cost. Here's seven things I'm really glad I don't have to worry about in designing the production model for our free culture animated series Lunatics.
My partner (and wife) Rosalyn and I have needed a way to collect our work on Lunatics in a way that is easily maintained and allows for collaborative editing and for collecting all of the media and notes that we have created for the project. It may seem a little like overkill for just two people, but there are a number of advantages to installing a wiki for this purpose, and the MediaWiki software is the best I know for this purpose, since its development has been so motivated by the needs of Wikipedia.
One of the most controversial freedoms of free software is the right to simply take the code and go make your own competing project -- what is popularly called a "fork". It's controversial because it seems like a betrayal of the original developer; because it distributes resources into competing groups, which may waste effort; and because it may create confusion in the marketplace of ideas that is free software distribution. But it is a critical freedom to have, and the recent fork of LibreOffice from OpenOffice.org, like the fork of X.org from Xfree86 years ago, shows why it's so important.
I don't know how many times I've run into this particular mistake, but free software developers keep making it, so I think it's worth a brief post. Free software is based on contact between users and developers. Without that, it's just not very efficient, and any free software project that breaks that bond is going to flounder for the same reasons that so many proprietary products flounder -- total disconnect with the users.
What is this "Free Culture" thing? What is "Free Software"? And how do I get my work out there? If you're looking to participate in the "Commons", you'll need to get comfortable with the idea of free, public licenses and how to use them for your works. This won't be hard at all, especially with this short guide, but there are different traditions that have sprung up around different kinds of works.
It's been a long time since I really designed a webpage, and the web -- or rather users' expectations of the web -- has changed a lot. "Craft" web pages constructed largely for fun by individual users, designed from the ground-up in simple HTML, went out sometime in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, the web was all about "content management systems." Later, specific forms of content like forums, wikis, and blogs began to take over.
Try ZenOSS, free monitoring software
Today, even blogs are too content dense for most viewers, and "microblogging" and "social networking" are the new buzzwords. Static images were replaced by kitschy animation and then by full-motion video as most of the viewers are not only using fast machines that can handle the rendering, but are also connected to the server by "pipes" that would've shamed a university computer center back in the 1980s.
Sometime back I gave a pretty strong pan review of a couple of "toys" that were not compatible with GNU/Linux -- with open standards really, since the community ensures that free software is compliant -- and were therefore nothing more than a disappointment to my kids. Recently, I fully expected to repeat this depressing experience when my brother-in-law gave my son a "Flip" digital video camera, but I was pleasantly surprised: it works exactly as it should. That seemed worth a column in itself.
This is my story about searching for Japanese pop music under a free culture license. It's a little tricky, because the best sites for this are of course, in Japan, and not well advertised on the English web. I discovered how to use Python's XMLRPC library to run searches using the web API for a Japanese music sharing site called "Wacca". The results were very interesting -- I found some of what I was looking for, though not all.
Manufacturing has been getting smaller, cheaper, and more flexible for years. It's now possible to make products as sophisticated as smart cel-phones, PDAs, toys, clothing, books, and even houses in almost any shape or form you want down to very small numbers. The mass production barrier has fallen, so that today, it's possible for a home inventor, hobbyist, or crafter to create almost anything by assembling one-off manufactured components, either from a service or from affordable home-fabrication equipment (or a combination of these).
People have been talking about "micropayments" since the early days of the world-wide-web, so I'm always skeptical of micropayment systems. Flattr is an interesting variation on the idea though. It's a voluntary system, without the overhead or chilling effects associated with "pay walls" and it puts donors in control of how much they spend, allowing them to split their donations among beneficiaries based on a monthly "pie" model. The greatest asset of Flattr is its simplicity of use -- similar in many ways to the various social networking services that abound on the web today. Flattr may well succeed, and it may fill a niche of financing small projects from free software to online videos.