Terry Hancock's articles

Impossible thing #5: Open Hardware

So far, I've identified examples of free, commons-based production of just about every category of pure information product which exists. And that leads to the next question: what about the material marketplace? Can community methods be used to design, prototype, and manufacture physical products? The answer, according to a growing group of open hardware developers is a resounding "Yes!" From computer hardware to automobiles, the open hardware revolution is on.

Impossible thing #4: The Blender Foundation and Movies

The bazaar development model turns out to be amazingly versatile: it seems that most software, even things you wouldn't think would be feasible, can be developed using such an approach. But there has to be some working core software before the community will have enough interest to contribute to a project, and there are some projects where that is really too much work for one person to do.

One such area is sophisticated 3D graphics applications, like Blender (and also Computer Aided Design applications, like BRL-CAD). Such projects typically need some sort of seed project in a "cathedral" mode in order to get started. Other projects, such as creative endeavors, are simply not going to be as successful in the committee atmosphere of a community-driven project.

In such cases, there's a need to simply accumulate capital and pay people for their work. But surely this is impractical for a loosely-bound group like the free culture community? Let's look for some counter-examples.

Getting the login right: moving from xdm to gdm or kdm

For years now, I have been clinging to xdm as my display manager; years ago, I spent several days tweaking the configuration files of xbanner and xdm to get it to look "just so", and I didn't want to change it. But no more! After my last upgrade predictably broke my xdm and xbanner configuration, I decided to spend a little time trying to get each display manager to look "right" with my original login screen design. Pleasantly, both gdm and kdm are much easier to customize, and I had something tolerable with each in less than an hour. I found that kdm was more flexible and gave me much closer to what I was looking for, while gdm was quite obstinate about appearances, though it may be slightly more capable technically.

Impossible thing #3: Free art and the Creative Commons culture

A new conventional wisdom began to spring up around free software, led in part by theorists like Eric Raymond, who were interested in the economics of free software production. Much of this thought centered around service-based and other ancillary sales for supporting free software. Based on this kind of thinking, it's fairly easy to imagine extending free licensing ideas to utilitarian works. But what about aesthetic works? The Creative Commons was established in 2002, largely to solve the kinds of licensing problems that aesthetic works might encounter, and it has been remarkably successful, pushing the envelope of even this newer wave of thought. Today, Creative Commons licensed works number in at least the tens of millions. And more than a quarter of those are using the free "Attribution" or "Attribution-ShareAlike" licenses.

Impossible Thing #3: Free Arts

A new conventional wisdom began to spring up around free software, led in part by theorists like Eric Raymond, who were interested in the economics of free software production. Much of this thought centered around service-based and other ancillary sales for supporting free software. Based on this kind of thinking, it's fairly easy to imagine extending free licensing ideas to utilitarian works. But what about aesthetic works? The Creative Commons was established in 2002, largely to solve the kinds of licensing problems that aesthetic works might encounter, and it has been remarkably successful, pushing the envelope of even this newer wave of thought. Today, Creative Commons licensed works number in at least the tens of millions. And more than a quarter of those are using the "Attribution" or "Attribution-ShareAlike" free licenses.

Promoting the Public Domain with Creative Commons' CC0 Initiative

It used to be that you could safely assume a work was public domain unless there was a highly visible warning printed on it, containing both the copyright owner and the date of copyright (at least in the USA). This system also ensured that, when the work's copyright expired, you could tell from any copy that this was so—by simply adding the duration of copyright to the date printed in the work's copyright notice. The Berne Convention, however, changed all that by replacing the assumption of freedom with the assumption of monopoly, and it now takes extensive research to be sure a work is public domain.

The Creative Commons' new CC-Zero initiative, instigated largely as an adjunct to the Science Commons' "Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data" is designed to make things easier.

Impossible thing #2: Wikipedia

Wikipedia is the largest and most comprehensive encyclopedic work ever created in the history of mankind. It's common to draw comparisons to Encyclopedia Britannica, but they are hardly comparable works—Wikipedia is dozens of times larger and covers many more subjects. Accuracy is a more debatable topic, but studies have suggested that Wikipedia is not as much less accurate than Britannica as one might naively suppose. Project Gutenberg is a less well known, but much older part of the free culture movement, having been started in 1971. Today it contains over 24,000 e-texts.

Impossible thing #2: Comprehensive free knowledge repositories like Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg, started in 1971, is the oldest part of the modern free culture movement. Wikipedia is a relative upstart, riding on the wave of success of free software, extending the idea to other kinds of information content. Today, Project Gutenberg, with over 24,000 e-texts, is probably larger than the legendary Library of Alexandria. Wikipedia is the largest and most comprehensive encyclopedic work ever created in the history of mankind. It's common to draw comparisons to Encyclopedia Britannica, but they are hardly comparable works—Wikipedia is dozens of times larger and covers many more subjects. Accuracy is a more debatable topic, but studies have suggested that Wikipedia is not as much less accurate than Britannica as one might naively suppose.

Group interview: a graphic view of the open hardware movement. Part 1: motivations

Excitement in the Open Graphics community is quite high as it approaches its first production run of the FPGA-based "Open Graphics Development" board, known as "OGD1". It will be available for pre-sale this month with the first units expected to ship soon thereafter. The board is targeted at hardware developers, with the specific goal of supporting development and testing of designs for a fully-documented consumer Open Hardware Graphics Card to be implemented using an ASIC (thus resolving one of the biggest obstacles to free software on the desktop).

Why can't free software GUIs be empowering instead of limiting?

It's one of the more popular culture wars in the free software community: GUI versus CLI (graphics versus the command-line). Programmers, by selection, inclination, and long experience, understandably are attracted to textual interactions with the computer, but the text interface was imposed originally by technological limitations. The GUI was introduced as a reply to those problems, but has undergone very little evolution from 1973 (when it was invented at Xerox PARC) to today. So why can't we do better than either of these tired old systems?

Purchasing free-software-friendly hardware

Many people have complained about the lack of pre-integrated computers running GNU/Linux or the lack of fully free software drivers for important hardware. Ultimately though, it's up to you, the consumer, both to satisfy your own requirements and to send a message to vendors that supporting free software pays. You can do this fairly easily by integrating your own computer from its major components, and selecting only components that have free software drivers. It's certainly possible, and even if you've never built a computer before, it's not all that hard!

Red Hat packagers dance around frivolous music game software patents

Sadly, there's nothing genuinely new about this story, but a recent discussion on the Fedora Games mailing list demonstrates the sort of chilling effect on innovation and impoverishment of the intellectual commons that occurs today because of a broken, outmoded US patent system and its misapplication to software. I'm at a loss for words to express how absurd these "patents" are.

Impossible thing #1: Developing efficient, well engineered free software like Debian GNU/Linux

With any paradigm shift, it is difficult to see the new world from the old one, even though it is glaringly obvious once you've crossed over. Empirical evidence is one way to bridge the gap. To that end, I want to show some solid evidence for the "impossible" things that commons-based peer production (CBPP) has already accomplished—things that the old conventional wisdom would tell us "can't be done". This week, I'll look at what is probably the most obvious case: free software.

Impossible thing #1: Debian GNU/Linux

With any paradigm shift, it is difficult to see the new world from the old one, even though it is glaringly obvious once you've crossed over. Empirical evidence is one way to bridge the gap. Let's look at some solid evidence for the success of what is probably the most obvious "impossible" achievement of commons-based peer production: free software, as exemplified by the Debian GNU/Linux distribution.

Book review: Design Concepts with Code: An Approach for Developers by Stanko Blatnik and Kelly Carey

A bit of a departure from our usual fare, Design Concepts with Code is an artistically focused book which talks about the problem of designing the look and feel of websites (or web applications). It’s free software friendly in that it focuses on code and standards rather than specific design applications.

Design Concepts with CodeDesign Concepts with Code

One message that came through very strongly was that if you rely too closely on the tools, they will stunt your creativity

The contents

Thrills, chills, and pictures from PyCON 2007

I’ve come back from day two of PyCON, exhausted and red-eyed, but also really excited. I’ve learned about several different ways to integrate C libraries into Python, including ctypes which, though an old library, has only entered the standard library in Python 2.5 (released earlier this year). I’ve heard the story of modern cyberpunk heros braving the wrath of the information police, patching code on the fly to evade the notice of the oppressive governments they are exposing for their censorship practices (that is so cool).

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