Terry Hancock's articles

Save "Sita Sings the Blues" from the Flash format: can you convert FLA?

Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues" is becoming a huge critical success, and may even succeed financially, which is unusual for any independent film, but virtually unprecedented for free culture films ("Sita" was released under the CC By-SA). There's only one sad thing about this for free software fans, and that's that "Sita" was made using proprietary software, and the "source code" is in a proprietary format: Adobe Flash's "FLA" format, to be precise. Paley has posted these files on the Internet Archive, but she doesn't know how to translate them into any free software friendly format (and neither do I). Can you help?

Question Copyright's "Minute Memes" challenge copyright rhetoric

How do you deal with an entrenched content industry that tries to pump its twisted values down your throat with ludicrously illogical emotional appeals? Well, one way is to fight fire with fire by making your own emotional appeals, and trust to the viral amplification of free culture distribution to get the message out. This is the essence of the "minute meme" idea from Question Copyright, and animator Nina Paley has fired the first volley with her one-minute animation "Copying Is Not Theft."

Mastering a DVD using QDVDAuthor

There are not a lot of free software options for mastering DVDs. One of the more complete solutions is QDVDAuthor, although it still has a number of rough spots. It's a front-end to a collection of command-line free software tools that do each of the individual steps involved in going from a collection of digital video files, audio files, and images to a DVD with menus. As such, it's quite complicated, and not as stable as some software. Still, it is a rewarding experience if you stick with it. Here I'm going to walk through creating a DVD for a collection of animated videos by my new favorite free-culture artist, Nina Paley (partly because the CC By-SA 3.0 license eliminates any questions about copying the material here, and partly because they're pretty cool in themselves).

Response to Sam Tuke's Response to "Is free software major league or minor?"

Thanks to Sam Tuke for a well-written and constructive response to my article Is free software major league or minor?. Tuke refers to my post as a "dismissal" of free software, however, which is ironic at best. There is no such dismissal in my article. Instead, there is a challenge: "Can we raise our game?" Furthermore, I would argue that classifying that challenge as a "dismissal" stems from a fundamental lack of faith in our ability to succeed -- which is ironically, the accusation Tuke levels at me. Where does this disconnect happen?

Keeping score in test-driven development with Python, PyLint, unittest, doctest, and PyRate

Programming is more fun when you keep score. The extreme programming (XP) development model popularized the idea of test-driven development (TDD) with professional programmers in mind. But TDD turns out to be even more useful for lone amateur programmers, because it provides much needed motivation in the form of more visible rewards for your work. This is true even when simple test runners are used, but I decided to make things a little snappier by including a couple of other types of measurement and generating a "scorecard" for the present state and progress of my Python software projects. Here's how it works, and a download link for my script, which I call "PyRate".

Discovering "Sita Sings The Blues"

"Sita Sings The Blues" by self-taught animator Nina Paley, may be the first feature-length animated film released under a free license (the Creative Commons By-SA). Presented through a variety of animation styles and narrative tones, it fuses apparently disparate ideas and sources into a unified whole. An ancient Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is retold largely through the songs of a 1920s American singer, Annette Hanshaw. The mode of storytelling also mirrors aspects of the world-wide collaborative potential of twenty-first century art, reflected also in the film's real life controversies, including copyright entanglements and censorship concerns.

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.

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.

Free-licensed art for free software games: OpenGameArt.org

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.

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).

Durian is Coming: Blender's Third Open Movie Project

Blender third open movie project, code-named "Durian" is ramping up to production, and time is running out for the pre-sale campaign if you want to get your spot in the credits. This time the project is focusing on an adolescent audience with an epic-fantasy setting and a female protagonist (my son aptly dubbed this the "Chicks in Chainmail" genre). The only art yet available from Durian itself is the series of banner ads (by concept artist, David Revoy), but an impressive creative team has already been announced.

Debian: contempt for "end user" values has to stop!

Three recent problems with packages in the last stable release of Debian GNU/Linux ("Lenny"), brought me face-to-face with what is still a major obstacle for acceptance of free software on the desktop: contempt for the values of the people who use it. Despite all the accusations of unfair trade practices or other excuses, this remains as one solid reason why free software is still perceived as "geeks only" territory. If we want to progress further, we've got to improve our attitudes.

Howto: A Theme for KMahjongg

There are a number of simple games I like to play when waiting for a package to download or compile. Often the available themes don't really suit me, and in any case I like to make themes or skins when I can. One of the easier packages to create an alternate theme for is KDE Mahjongg (kmahjongg), which I will demonstrate here using Inkscape and Gimp. With the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing coming up, a space exploration theme seems appropriate.

The Bittersweet Facts about OLPC and Sugar

Recently, I had to fact-check some older articles I wrote about One Laptop Per Child in order to bring them up to date. This meant digging through the controversy in 2008, and what I found was some pretty appalling human behavior. That's the "bitter". The "sweet" is that both OLPC and Sugar (now separate projects) are both doing a lot of good in the world. Sugar, in particular, is doing a better job of connecting with the community. That's a challenge for us in the community to step up and do a much better job connecting with Sugar. We need to make it the best thing ever, and that's going to mean more than lip service. So we all need to get it installed and start contributing.

Rule #5: Be Bold!

One of the first rules that entrepreneurs learn is that investors don't like revolutionary new ideas. Even when they work, the reasoning goes, they won't make you any money. Instead, investors want to see "innovative" ideas: ideas that push the existing envelope a little further, but don't totally change the map. With free culture projects, however, the situation is precisely inverted: people don't get as excited about contributing to merely "innovative" projects, they want to make "revolutionary" change in the world. High ambitions attract good company, and free licensed projects will do better not to set their sights too low.

Inkscape: one essential vector graphics application

Inkscape is my vector graphics application of choice. It can do a wide variety of vector drawing tasks with relatively little effort. It uses the now-standard SVG vector format as its native format, and it has become very extensible through a simple "stream-based", language-agnostic scripting system. On modern systems, it is reasonably responsive (though not the fastest), and the interface layout is well-balanced and fairly intuitive.

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