Issue 6

Free software to produce art: let’s be pragmatic

I have my kids to blame, that is certain. There I was, last Christmas, in this auditorium, listening to the crunching of popcorn from my son on my left, and the slurping of soda from my daughter on the right, trying to behave like a responsible father. The lights had dimmed and we were being inflicted with the inevitable advertisements and trailers. When, at last, the fan fair that accompanied the main feature at the cinema trumpeted out of the speakers an anticipating hush spread around the audience. Even my daughter took a break from her munching.

Remix culture

The free culture movement is growing, from its inception in the free software movement to the relatively recent establishment of Creative Commons. Across the world, localised teams are adapting CC licenses to their particular legal systems. Record labels, indie film studios and well over 10 million web pages are using CC licenses. Are we on an inexorable ascendency? Well, not quite. In this article I will show that we still have a lot of issues to iron out.

Guerrilla marketing

Interviews are a mainstay of the media. For journalists, they’re an excellent way to check facts, get some nice quotes or structure an article. For free software projects looking for coverage, they’re an easy way to write your own article and get it published. But getting the most out of an interview can be a fine art; journalists can misunderstand or even misrepresent what you say, and you can ruin or make your image in the eyes of the audience. The third article in this series suggests some strategies to adopt to make every interview a marketing success.

Opportunities and hazards

Freely available structures: XML Document Type Definitions you can use today

Organizations of all sizes are beginning to realize how content and its reuse across the enterprise can improve productivity—and the bottom line. The need for change is driven by the desire to better manage information assets (documents, creative ideas, illustrations, charts, graphics, multimedia, etc.) and eliminate costly processes that fail to facilitate the effective and consistent re-use of content. At the heart of managing content for re-use however lies the job of exposing the underlying structure of that information.

Art, creativity, intellectual property and the commons

Let us begin with a story about art. In this story, art produces aesthetic works of durability and stability — things that “stand up on their own". The act of artistic production doesn’t come from nowhere; neither is it born in the heads of private individuals. It doesn’t dwell in a social nothingness. Nor does it start with a blank canvas. Any moment of production involves the reassembling and rearranging of the diverse materials, practices and influences that came before it and which surround it.

Skinning XMMS with BuildImage and Skencil

XMMS is a very nice program for playing music, but the default skin that comes with it is, well, “functional". Fortunately, though, the program uses the same skin files as WinAMP 2.0 (several other programs use these skins as well, which I’ll call simply “AMP2 skins"). A “skin" is just a collection of images used to create the appearance of an application such as a music player (Figure 1).

Figure 1: XMMS unskinned (left) and with the default BuildImage Skin (right)Figure 1: XMMS unskinned (left) and with the default BuildImage Skin (right)

XMLStarlet: a Unix toolkit for XML

XML is everywhere. A quick Google search shows more than a 100 Million articles about the subject. The XML proponents gush about its ability to provide structure and yet remain human readable. The XML critics are quick to mention that XML is so verbose that being human readable does not necessarily make it human comprehensible. Both sides are correct. Yet, despite the ongoing arguments, XML is already integrated into many software products and the rate of adoption is still on the rise. And that means that you need to learn tools and techniques that will allow you to use XML effectively.

The fine art of computer programming

The free software and open source communities are changing what it means to write code. Specifically, they are extending its audience from a few fellow employees to, theoretically, anyone in the world who wants to read it. Code isn’t just for computers and colleagues anymore and, gradually, we are seeing the beginnings of a body of literary critics and an appreciative readership for source code.

A chat project: back from the unknown

Some weeks ago I (Marco) was looking for new things to learn in Perl. I took a look at my library and reviewed the titles of the books I read less, and after some consideration found two topics: GUIs and threads. But since I hate the “hello world" kind of programs, I decided to start this exploration of the (for me) unknown parts of Perl with a somewhat meaningful application: a chat.

The chat project

Free software and digital rights management

In recent years, digital rights management technology (DRM) has become an important issue to free software users and developers. Free software users first experienced this issue when they discovered that they were unable to legally play their DVD discs on their Linux and BSD computers. In recent months, users carefully observed a technological arms race between Apple Computer and hackers working to circumvent the FairPlay system used to protect digital files purchased from Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

You needn’t eat spam (or worms)

Many who would cure us of spam look in the wrong place—technology—for the answer. These well-intentioned analysts rightly see this menace as resulting from a state machine that can be tweaked, but they should look to the I/O relationships of human behavior rather than communications protocols for the solution.

Interview with Robert Fanini @ GroundWork

The world of free software and the world venture capitalism don’t seem to have much in common. However, they are not as far from each other as it seems. Venture capitalists are getting more and more interested in free software. Robert agreed on answering a few questions to shed light on this issue.

TM: Please introduce yourself, tell our readers who you are and what you do.

Book review: High Performance Linux Clusters by Joseph D Sloan

Like distributed computing, clusters are a hot topic in the current computing climate. The reason is simple, with the explosion of Linux and cheaper components it’s actually become quite simple and inexpensive to put together a relatively high-powered cluster. Driving the cluster production is an increased need for computing power as applications are developed for different situations.

Interview with Miguel De Icaza

Miguel is one of the founders of the GNOME project. His enthusiasm and leadership have been crucial for the development of GNOME. He also started the MONO project, which is one of the key technologies behind GNOME at the moment. Miguel kindly agreed on answering some of our questions about MONO.

TM: Miguel, first of all I’d like to ask you a personal question: are you enjoying yourself at the moment? How are the United States treating you?

Book review: Practical Subversion by Garrett Rooney

Version control is—or at least should be—a critical part of thedevelopment process. As Garrett Rooney explains right at the beginning of PracticalSubversion (published by Apress), using version control can help you recover that fileyou accidentally deleted, or put your code base back into the position it was in, whenit worked, before you introduced that latest bug.

Why I’m not a programmer today

My exposure to computers began at about the age of seven. This was probably mostly thanks to my grandfather being a member of the New Zealand Computing Society and my father always being keen on the latest technology. In the mid eighties, I got my first computer, a Sinclair ZX Spectrum; I recall transcribing code from a book and then recording it to tape so that I could play the games I had produced. I used to love it, and even in those early days it was clear that I had a predisposition to problem solving and an analytical mind.


Inaccuracies in “Promoting free software on non-free platforms"

Dear FSM,

Chris J. Karr’s article, “Promoting free software on non-free platforms" makes several mistakes which I feel deserve a response. I am one of those who believe that free software is fundamentally about human freedom, so the question of whether or not to port free software to non-free platforms depends only on whether doing so would promote human freedom or not.

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