free software

"Lunatics!" is back - Crowd-funding, Free-culture, and Free-Software

After an additional year of production work, our free-film project "Lunatics!" is back up on Kickstarter. We have a lot more done - some "finished" animation, voice acting and soundtrack mixing, a lot more completed 3D models, including some of the toughest mech modeling, and several characters. We are still 100% free-culture, using CC By-SA license for everything we release, and we're still open-source, making our models and other elements available to the commons. We use only music with By-SA compatible licenses, and we are working entirely with free-software, especially Blender, Kdenlive, and Audacity.

Free software programmers should be paid, too

You've probably heard of this intriguing new crowd-funding service called Kickstarter, right? (If not, how are you getting this website from that cave of yours?). A lot of people are using it to fund all kinds of exciting new things, and it's obviously useful option for free software projects. Properly used, it can allow us to close the gap against proprietary applications that still have more polish or exist in niches that require more capitalization. But the idea that it is somehow immoral to ask for money to work on free software has got to go!

Lib-Ray Video Project Now on Kickstarter -- Let's Make it Happen!

Today is the Free Software Foundation's "Day Against DRM" and it seems like an auspicious time to launch a Kickstarter campaign to support the completion of the Lib-Ray standard for publishing high-definition videos on fixed media. I've been posting my progress on the prototypes here in Free Software Magazine, and it's clear to me that this is now just a matter of being able to dedicate the time and resources to finish the job.

23 years on and still people don't get free software

In 1989 The GNU project introduced the GPL - not the first occurrence of a free software licence but arguably the most important. Yet today in 2012 we still have large sections of the computing industry which just doesn't get free software. I came across a glaring example of this today.

Python Scripting in Blender: A Piece of Pie - Part 1

Since script extensions are going to be a part of our toolchain on creating Lunatics, I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with how scripts are created and run in Blender. As a learning project, I decided to create a script for creating 3D pie charts from CSV data files. My first task is to write this for Blender 2.49 using the API for Python 2.6. This is the version documented in the Python Scripting book from Packt that I recently reviewed, so it's a good place for me to start.

Book Review: Animating with Blender by D. Roland Hess

Among the books I've read to get my head around the process of creating an animated film with Blender, this one is definitely the best. Nowadays you'll probably want to use Blender 2.5 or later, and this book is based on 2.49, but even with this problem, I'd still recommend it. The real win of this book is the way it deals with the synoptic view of the project: how to organize your project, how to break it down into manageable chunks, and even how to store it on disk. It's an excellent resource.

Book Review: Bounce, Tumble, and Splash! by Tony Mullen

Modeling every single aspect of a scene in a 3D application like Blender is hard when details are very fine (as with hair, bubbles, smoke, or a field of grass), and so there are a variety of automated techniques for pseudo-random modeling. It's also hard to animate every behavior accurately and realistically, especially of complex deforming surfaces. Fortunately, Blender can work out the physics -- applying gravity, collisions, and flexible movement for you. This book is a guide to this difficult subject.

Object and Camera Path Tracking in Blender - "Monkey See Monkey Do"

Blender has a useful set of constraint-based animation tools which make it fairly simple to animate motion of objects or of the camera along controlled paths. I expect to use this a lot, so I want to make sure I understand how it works. Here I'm going to work out a simple example using the "Suzanne" monkey meshes in Blender 2.49 to demonstrate simple path and tracking constraints with a mesh and with the camera. Because everything is better with monkeys.

Video editing with Kdenlive: Might be the sweet spot

So far, my favorite video editing app is Kdenlive. I found that it provided a relatively shallow learning curve and a familiar multi-track interface, but it also didn't make it hard to get to the kinds of controls I need for the precise control I want to have on vocational editing jobs.

Video editing with OpenShot: Capable, but lacks some polish

The OpenShot video editor was the easiest to get in Ubuntu Studio's "Oneric Ocelot" release, so we had a chance to try it out recently. It's pretty good -- much more capable than Kino. It provides similar capabilities to Blender's VSE, but without the burden of learning Blender. In fact, the learning curve is very gentle, because the interface is clean and simple.

Bach's Goldberg Variations commissioned for Public Domain Release

One of the responses to my earlier post about the MusOpen symphony recording project mentioned a project I had overlooked: the Open Goldberg project has created new public domain scores for the Bach's "Goldberg Variations" using the MuseScore free software musical notation software and is commissioning a studio recording of piano soloist Kimiko Ishizaka performing the pieces, also for public domain release (with

A company, zero to operational and profitable, in 5 days with free software

Everything started with a simple question my wife asked me: you are so good at teaching, why don't you do it? Given that I will only ever work in my own term, I would have to organize everything on my own: incorporation, web site, stationery, advertising, the lot. Chiara's question was natural: well, you can do all that basically for free with Free Software, right?

Right. So, the adventure begins: the bet is that I will have a company, zero to profitable (that means with customers, bookings, etc.) in 5 days.

Answering a tricky question with the KStars desktop planetarium package

In an earlier phase of my life, I worked as a professional astronomer, and I've loved space and astronomy since before I could pronounce the words. So naturally, I've gotten a lot of personal pleasure from the free software astronomy tools that are included in my Debian GNU/Linux system. But ironically, I haven't written about them much. Recently, though, I was asked a question which I used KStars to answer, so this is a good chance to talk about how to use it. A music sharing site just for free-culture works

You've probably heard of "Last FM", a music playlist site that allows users to track their favorite bands and listen to music streamed over their mobile devices. But you may not have heard of Libre FM, a recent free software project and free culture web application intended to serve this purpose exclusively for free-licensed musical works.

Exploitation? Entrepreneurship, Capitalism, and Making Money on Free Software

Recently, I was directed toward an excellent analysis of commons-based peer production as a phenomenon which separates "entrepreneurs" (who want to get things done and create value in the world) from "capitalists" (who want to get a return on an investment of property without contributing any labor). An observer -- clearly outside of the community of free software developers -- expressed dismay at the example of Mozilla Foundation, which makes money from the open source Mozilla project, but does not pay for most voluntarily contributed code improvements to the Mozilla software. Is he right? Is this exploitation of those contributors?

Why You Should Join Diaspora Now, Like Your Freedom Depends On It

I never really "trusted" Facebook or Google+. That is to say, I never expected them to respect my privacy or keep my secrets. I'm not too secretive online anyway, and what I do have to hide, I just don't post. But it is very clear that there is a great deal of corruption inherent in a business model which is based on concentrating the personal data from millions of users and selling that data to advertisers. At the very least, there must be a free alternative. But for that alternative to be viable, we need to use it. Identica has been around for some time now (and I use it -- I'm "digitante"), and Diaspora is (after a long hard start) finally getting some wind under its wings. I've used it, and it's Good Enough. In fact, you'll find it's pretty similar to what Facebook or Google+ offers, although there are still some rough spots.

Hobby Robotics with Free Software: Part 2 - Arduino

As I mentioned in my previous column, my son and I want to explore robotics as a hobby and a learning experience. We don't have an unlimited budget, so I wanted to do some estimating of what it would cost to do it using different technology standards. In the first part, I explored Lego Mindstorms, but the open-hardware (and free software) Arduino system has been getting better and better. So I want to consider that possibility in this column and make a comparison to see which is a better option for us.

Three Real-Time Animation Methods: Machinima, Digital Puppetry, and Motion Capture

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.

Free Software needs Free Speech!

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.


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