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Opinions

What do we know?

I’ve always been interested in how our brains work. The brain is a very powerful computer, and we still don’t really know just how it really works.

As a writer and a programmer, I sometimes experience a “wow” moment. Today, I had one of them.

I am a proud Ruby programmer; Ruby saved me from Perl, and I can only be extremely grateful to Matz for creating it. I can say now that I “know” Ruby (even though I don’t really know it as well as I would like). And yet...

And yet, I don’t. At all.

Completely lost in wikimedia - part 2 (getting started)

Last time we talked about the phenomena that is Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects associated with it. In this blog I walk through my first steps as I try to contribute to a Wikimedia project.

I went to the Wikipedia main page, and registered to become a contributor. After searching for topics that interested me, I found an entry that could be improved by adding an image that I had made. So I decided to start by adding this image to the site.

Should we limit the terms of free software operating systems to GNU/Linux, GNU/Hurd, xBSD, OpenSolaris and the likes?

These days, when one talks about free software, the first word that comes to mind is Linux—be it the kernel or a distribution based on it (which would then be a GNU/Linux operating system, and its flavour marked by a brand name: Red Hat, SuSE, Mandriva, Debian, Ubuntu, Slackware...)

At one time, there was another project worthy of note: BeOS. It wasn’t POSIX-compatible, but it was neat. But now, only free *NIX prevail... really?

Enter ReactOS.

User interfaces should teach, not hide

Today, I finally decided that my gVim editor needed a smaller font, and the process of getting it to work right has made me notice a fundamental flaw in the way we think about user interfaces. It’s not an innovation that you’ll get on the proprietary side of the line, because it’s an innovation required for the digital middle class of ‘user-developers’ that I mentioned last week.

Essentially it’s just this: GUIs should teach, not obfuscate or hide the underlying mechanism.

Free software and politics in Yankeetown

The picturesque village of Yankeetown on Florida’s Nature Coast has been the recent target of a large time-sharing resort condominium development proposal. Several townsfolk looked into the development and discovered what appeared to be corrupt practices in the town government. A loosely organized group of citizens decided to coordinate and share information via a web presence. Beyond any expectations, the picture albums, message boards, and mailing lists they used have been the catalyst for gaining state-wide attention and have led to direct intervention from the Governor’s office.

Transparency, principles, and the Microsoft way...

In its short but illustrious history the FOSS movement has been accused of being akin to communism. And while the bad old days of the McCarthy era are over, this view still makes people a bit antsy. Not many people want to be seen internationally as the reds under the bed, and using the communist label is still a convenient way of writing off somebody you don’t like. However, there have been some interesting new developments with Microsoft saying things recently that suggests a couple of things: Microsoft have decided that they will begrudgingly admit that there are some merits in open source (previously referred to by their illustrious leader as “communism”); and that Microsoft are softening in their old age and have decided that being all powerful is no fun if everyone thinks you’re the school bully.

The secret of GNU/Linux desktop adoption

Having been engineering director at one company that became public, and a founder and CTO of another, as well as a long time professional software engineer working at such companies as Matushita Electric (Panasonic), and even Rand McNally, yes, the people that make maps, I must admit, in all those occupations, I have at most rather infrequently encountered these Microsoft Windows operating systems I hear so many people talking so much about.

Completely lost in wikimedia - part 1

Who doesn't know about Wikipedia by now? It is probably the largest collaborative free-licensed project on the web. Now a wiki is basically a web page that many people write and edit. The whole idea sounds a bit dubious really, but when the distinguished journal NATURE published an article comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica online, they found that Wikipedia was pretty accurate although Britannica was more accurate overall.

Travel and work

I am writing this blog entry in Nicaragua. I could stay with my friend Phil, in a nice western house close to the town centre with water, 24/7 wireless internet, hot water shower, my own bathroom and toilet, and a modern kitchen. Or, I could stay with my friend Dora and her four children, who live in the outskirts of Esteli, with... well, put it this way: none of the above.

Microsoft acknowledges value of open source

Ever wonder how Microsoft feels about open source? You probably remember Gates' comparison of FOSS to communism, and how the FOSS movement was threatening to undermine the vast IP empire that America depends on to keep itself on top. Needless to say, then, I was surprised to see the following statement on one of the Visual C Express about pages: "Learn from the pros by looking through – and modifying – the source to commercial games such as Allegiance and Quake."

Insecure by design

CALEA (Computer Assistance Law Enforcement) is quietly in the background of current news again, because the FBI is pushing congress to mandate that all future routing equipment manufactured will include back doors for law enforcement. Like in CALEA mandates for telephone switching equipment, such back doors require no warrant to activate, and hence can be secretly enabled at will.

Keyboards of the future

Well, I know what I want for Christmas!

I actually imagined this board a long time ago, and spent many hours brainstorming how it could be built. I imagined a single LCD or LED screen with fiber-optic lenses to carry the changing keycaps through to the surface without interfering with the key action. I had a lot of uses for such a beast if only I could figure out how to make one. Too bad it was just technically unfeasible.

Fortunately, materials science moves on! The Optimus Keyboard by Art Lebedev will be both simpler in mechanical design, and amazingly progressive in its electronic design. The keycaps will each carry their own “Organic LED” display panel, allowing digital keycaps to be downloaded for each key.

Pay a little now, pay a lot later

Freedom of choice is an ideal. It’s also increasingly obvious that it’s almost always the most pragmatic approach, whether involving economic issues that affect billions of people or comparison shopping for a pair of jeans. Unfortunately, the people who voluntarily give up their own are the ones who can least afford to do so.

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.

Development tool availability and the rise of GNU/Linux

The issue of open source languages and the availability of development tools is a thought process I was having the other day. One of the key tools in the GNU space is the GNU C compiler. Up until its availability on Unix (long before the Linux kernel came on the scene), developing on Unix was limited to whatever tools were made available by the Unix vendor.

Let’s get Ron Gilbert on our side

Ron Gilbert can’t find any support for his new game project. Who’s to blame? Well, Gilbert cites unimaginative publishers who are too short-sighted to appreciate his concept. Perhaps it’s time that Gilbert considered the alternative to proprietary game development. Perhaps it’s time we offered him this alternative.

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