We're putting the finishing touches on our initial Kickstarter campaign for our free-culture science-fiction web series "Lunatics", which is being made with free software tools in a process very similar to free software development. This is an experiment in commercial free culture, using the platform that has quickly come to be the standard for this kind of project fund-raising. Is Kickstarter all it's cracked up to be? I think it is, and for this installment in my "making free movies with free software" series, I'd like to explain why.
There are times when I think that there is a special, darkened room at Microsoft peopled by a bunch of guys who seem to have nothing better to do than sit and think up some new wheeze to nobble the opposition. The rap sheet is an inditment in itself: trusted computing, internet driving licenses, DRM, bullying hardware vendors and attempting to strong arm sovereign nation states. You wouldn't think the list could get any bigger. It just has; but then, recidivism in incurable.
An Open letter to Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Matt Cutts, Vic Gundotra
Subject: So, does Google look into their users' private, non-shared files, and might close accounts if an AI decides that there is something illegal there?
Dear Sergey, Larry, Matt, and Vic,
Something sad happened to the world of cloud computing over the last week. I have followed with great interest the events of the now-celebrity @thomasmonopoly about Google closing his account.
Here is the short story: @thomasmonopoly had a bunch of (non-shared) images in his Google account. A program at Google flagged some of them as child pornography. His account was suspended. He complained loudly. He went viral. Google first ignored. Then backed their actions. They finally relented and apologised as there was no child pornography there, just an arts project -- a real one.
The Free Technology Academy  is one of those incredible initiatives that spring out of the free software culture, and create something that goes way beyond free software.
Unfortunately, the FTA has recently lost their European funding. I talked to David Jacovkis, one of the people behind this innovative project, to know more about their situation and what needs to be done so that their project can keep on thriving.
One of the most irritating myths promulgated by the entertainment industry is the idea that copyright is an ethical imperative because it's bad to "steal other people's ideas". This is frequently combined with an illustrative story of plagiarism -- in other words, a situation in which someone fraudulently claims credit for someone else's work. Of course, this is nonsense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are two completely different things. Although they sometimes occur together, there are many examples of either without the other. And if your eyes just glazed over -- no problem: Nina Paley has made it easy with her new Minute Meme for QuestionCopyright.org, called "Credit is Due".
In planning the production of the Lunatics series, the most obvious challenge is simply how to do that much animation on such a low budget. Conventional "key frame" animation (which is what Blender excels at and is what familiar 3D movie studios like Pixar use to create their blockbuster films) is beautiful, but it's also painstakingly slow work. Animators live for this stuff, but for me, it's a mountain that just might crush my project. Fortunately, it's not the only way. There are methods for making animation more like acting -- creating a performance in real-time and capturing it in a simulated world. These can be broken down into three basic methods (although they can be used together, creating many overlapping variations): "machinima", "digital puppetry", and "motion capture". Each is a "bleeding edge" area for free software development, but tools do exist.
It seems like an age ago since Google first announced ChromeOS and certainly there's been a lot written about it, including a fair bit in this magazine. Now that the launch of Chromebook models from two manufacturers is imminent, it might be worth reminding ourselves of some of the issues around a "Cloud-based OS" generally, and this one in particular.
You might think that a good program is all about good programming. But for a number of applications, the barrier to success isn't programming at all. Some of the most interesting projects nowadays -- speech recognition, for example -- rely on machine-learning from databases of information. It's not enough to write free software for these applications, we have to also provide that software with the right data. Contributing to these projects is needed from a much larger group of people, but it also can be very easy to do.
This magazine has voiced several concerns over the almost de-facto state of vendor lock-in in the mobile market and with good reason. What is the point of free software if the hardware locks your access to it? This premise was one of the driving forces behind v3 of the GPL and as far as I can tell the OpenPC project and other open hardware projects. But most of these hardware projects relate to the desktop PC model. Where is the equivalent commodity hardware for the mobile market, the tablet "market" or even the laptop one?
This year seems to been continuing where last year left off: Oracle/Sun, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Ubuntu and Wayland/Xorg. Now, it's the turn of Nokia and Microsoft. When I heard the news that Nokia was switching from the Symbian OS to Windows 7 for their smartphones my first reaction was: "another Microsoft patents land grab" but this article is not about the proverbial beast of Redmond but about why Nokia chose it over Android and more importantly, given the increasing convergence of laptops, smartphones and tablets, answering the question: just how free is Android and what is the relationship with GNU/Linux?--and I suspect that I'll be needing my asbestos delicates.
Classical music itself, by virtue of being old, is mostly public domain, but recordings of performances are usually under copyright, and not many are available for use in free culture works. An emerging new resource, aiming to resolve this problem is MusOpen -- a repository of public domain recordings of public domain music, available in Ogg Vorbis and FLAC formats.
Ogg Vorbis and Ogg FLAC (the Ogg stream version of the Free Lossless Audio Codec) are popular free-licensed and patent-free codecs for handling sound. These are the formats I'll be using in a complex Ogg Theora video file that I am creating as part of my "Lib-Ray" experiment in creating an alternative format for distributing high definition video. In order to do this, I'll need to solve several technical challenges using the FLAC command line tools, Audacity, and VLC, which I'll demonstrate here.
Some of us want to be able to release high-definition video (possibly even 3D) without evil copy protection schemes. I've been avoiding Blu-Ray as a consumer since it came out, mostly because Richard Stallman said it has an evil and oppressive DRM scheme. After my first serious investigation, I can confirm his opinion, and frankly, it's a pretty bleak situation. What can we do about it? Here's five ideas for how we might release high definition video.
Never let it be said that the Debian project does not listen. For some time there has been growing dissent about the presence of non-free binary blobs in the Debian GNU/Linux kernel. Identi.ca and other public arenas became almost hunting grounds for some of the more fanatical freedom advocates within the community. Recommendations for using gNewSense and other 100% free distributions became more prevalent as the concerns over the non-free Debian kernels grew. The Debian project has now announced that from the release of Squeeze (Debian 6.0) their GNU/Linux kernels will be available without the non-free blobs.
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.
The Open Desktop communities Open-PC project is now offering three different models of open computers with turn-key GNU/Linux and KDE installations based on OpenSUSE (or Ubuntu). These systems could provide real competition with pre-installed Windows or Mac computers, overcoming some of the most frequently-cited problems with GNU/Linux on the desktop. The systems are now available from vendors in Europe and the USA.
Well, Christmas 2010 is over, and all the little tech toy devices have been connected, installed, and played with (or returned to the store from whence they came if they didn't clear those hurdles). This year was an amazing success. Three major computer-linked devices worked on the first try without a hiccup. And I have to at least say a word or two about Mattel's new Computer Engineer Barbie -- a purchase I must admit was a little silly, but my daughter does play with it.
All has changed utterly and a terrible stupidity has been born
I've always been a great fan of the law of unintended consequences. It takes you places. Unexpected places. Sometimes good, sometimes bad but never a dull moment. The recent kerfuffle over Pirate Bay is too well known to require detailed recounting here. What is really interesting though is where it might just eventually take us in terms of internet freedom. This article describes the one fallout of the legal judgements against Pirate Bay and how its response may unintentionally help to protect and promote internet freedoms.