Tag: free software

The Grateful Dead and Creative Commons

Image by: Lisa Padilla – CC BY-SA

Could the Grateful Dead have been using Creative Commons principles decades ahead of time? This Matthew Helmke article from opensource.com makes the connection.

Although many bands at the time allowed fans to record shows, the Grateful Dead took the idea a step further. Fans who purchased “tapers’ tickets” were given access to a special area located near the soundboard. The band even encouraged tapers to share their recordings, as long as no profits were made on the sale of their tapes.

Creative Commons took inspiration from the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and its GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). Their goal is to find ways to use private rights for public good and to set creative works free, but only for certain uses.

Creative Commons has come up with a set of licenses that keep the power over creative works in the hands of creators while also freeing the content to be used in ways that modern copyright law forbids, much like the Grateful Dead did with their creative ticketing and taping permissions.

In the end, we get a legal means of fulfilling the freedom that the Grateful Dead allowed its fans, without gray areas that could lead to problems such as those that the Internet Archive had with the soundboard recordings of Grateful Dead concerts. This legal murkiness blocked access to those recordings for some time, although they are now available.

So the Grateful Dead has maintained a long and successful career using principles of openness and freedom that didn’t get formalized until much later in the Creative Commons licenses. I think it’s safe to say that the band would have used a CC license if they had been available at the time.

via What the Grateful Dead have in common with the Creative Commons | Opensource.com

rjb

Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia

I have cited Wikipedia in many of my posts, and I’ve done it with no shame. Not everyone has shared my enthusiasm, though. Many people have used Wikipedia as an example of what is wrong with getting your information from the internet. They have disparaged its reliability, saying that anyone can contribute to it, so it can’t be a trusted authority. School teachers and college professors have even been known to ban and/or penalize its use, threatening to lower grades of offenders.

Teachers in middle school, high school and college drill it in to their students: Wikipedia is not a citable source. Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and articles can change from day to day — sometimes by as little as a comma, other times being completely rewritten overnight. “[Wikipedia] has a reputation for being untrustworthy,” says Thomas Shafee, a biochemist at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

I remember trying to tell some of those people that they were being too negative about Wikipedia. That its accuracy rivaled that of traditional encyclopedias. Typically, I was rebuffed, sometimes angrily. Not even comparisons to the democratizing effect of the printing press could bring them around. I gave up trying to convince them, but I never gave up using Wikipedia. Now it looks as if those of us who support it will be vindicated.

With hundreds of thousands of scientific entries, Wikipedia offers a quick reference for the molecular formula of Zoloft, who the inventor of the 3-D printer is and the fact that the theory of plate tectonics is only about 100 years old. The website is a gold mine for science fans, science bloggers and scientists alike.

But even though scientists use Wikipedia, they don’t tend to admit it.

… the site’s unreliable reputation may be unwarranted. Wikipedia is not any less consistent than Encyclopedia Britannica, a 2005 Nature study showed (a conclusion that the encyclopedia itself vehemently objected to). Citing it as a source, however, is still a bridge too far.

Academic science may not respect Wikipedia, but Wikipedia certainly loves science. Of the roughly 5.5 million articles, half a million to a million of them touch on scientific topics. And constant additions from hundreds of thousands of editors mean that entries can be very up to date on the latest scientific literature.

The linked article describes studies that explore the influence science has on Wikipedia, and the influence Wikipedia has on science in return. There appear to be very good reasons why scientists and scholars and educators should try to get over their prejudice against the online encyclopedia.

It’s a good reason for scientists get in and edit entries within their expertise, Thompson notes. “This is a big resource for science and I think we need to recognize that,” Thompson says. “There’s value in making sure the science on Wikipedia is as good and complete as possible.” Good scientific entries might not just settle arguments. They might also help science advance. After all, scientists are watching, even if they won’t admit it.

via Wikipedia has become a science reference source even though scientists don’t cite it | Science News

Books Now in MOBI

After a very patient education by my friends on MobileRead, I have decided to make the books available in the mobi format. Contrary to my expectations, given its association with the Amazon Kindle, the mobi format has been freed, along with associated software. From Wikipedia:

Mobipocket SA is a French company incorporated in March 2000 that created the .mobi e-book file format and produces the Mobipocket Reader software for mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDA) and desktop operating systems.

The Mobipocket software package is free and consists of various publishing and reading tools for PDAs, smartphones, mobile phones, the e-readers Kindle and iLiad, and applications on devices using Symbian, Windows, Palm OS, Java ME and Psion.

This is a great relief to me because I no longer have to rely on external sources to provide Kindle users with copies of my books. I don’t have a Kindle, but I understand that they are able to use files encoded in the mobi format, so they aren’t completely tied to the Amazon book store. Now my readers who only have a Kindle ereader can get their copy with the least fuss possible.

I think that covers all the major formats now, for both the ebooks and the audiobooks.

rjb

Audiobooks Now in MP3

MP3 file structure – CC-BY GFDL – If you want to read this tap for larger

When I started recording readings of these books, I chose to offer them in OGG Vorbis format because it’s a free and open standard. That meant there would be no encumberances on the audio files due to patents or any kind of imaginary property (IP.) That’s important to me. I have licensed my novels with Creative Commons enhancements to their copyright, to ensure their freedom. They are not weighted down with digital restrictions management (DRM) because I want readers and listeners to be able to enjoy my books without having to restrict themselves to any single device or place. I use Free Software to write the books, and to convert them to useful formats, which are also free and open. I use Free Software to produce the audio recordings, and I use open standards to present them. For the audio, that meant OGG Vorbis, the best choice for the lossy compression needed to make the file sizes reasonable for downloading. At the time, the more popular format, MP3, wasn’t free or open. It was locked in a proprietary web of patents. I couldn’t insult my listeners by offering them something like that. It’s possible that this choice has meant fewer downloads of the readings because many people only recognize MP3 and might be unwilling to download something with a strange name like OGG. I was willing to take that risk because freedom and openness are important to me.

Vorbis trademark – Credit xiph.org – CC-BY

Lately the patents on the MP3 format have run out. Well, as far as I can tell. There were a mess of them held by a mess of people and organizations and I don’t have the training or experience to sort that all out myself. I rely on other sources for that, and they’re all saying that, once the patents finally ran out in the US, MP3 became an open standard. They hedged a little on that, apparently unwilling to commit themselves fully in the face of the the, uh, complexities of IP. I was hesitant too, but I decided to take the plunge and accept MP3 as an open standard. This meant that I could finally offer people the readings in a format that they recognized. This is good because, even though all modern operating systems and devices should be able to handle OGG, it sometimes requires the extra step of installing some necessary software to do so. People don’t like extra steps. After paying, sometimes quite a lot, for their operating systems and devices, they shouldn’t have to take extra steps to get them to handle a simple open standard like OGG. That’s annoying, and now I can finally make it a little less annoying for them by offering my audiobooks in MP3 format.

Public Domain

You’ll find them on the downloads page. Along with the direct links to the OGG Vorbis-encoded files hosted at the Internet Archive, there are now links to MP3-encoded versions. Don’t hesitate. Download them now.-)

rjb

Volkswagen Not the Only One Cheating

I think I’ve settled down enough from the hectic exercise of publishing The Francesians to lift my head up and post about something else. How about nefarious cheats?

Cory Doctorow opens his article, Demon-Haunted World, with “Cheating is a given.” That sounds cynical, until you think about it. When corporations are said to be responsible only to their shareholders, and their directors pander to those shareholders to protect their bloated incomes, it becomes less cynical and more clear-eyed.

what happens when the things you own start to cheat you? The most famous version of this is Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, which has cost the company billions (and counting): Volkswagen engineered several models of its diesel vehicles to detect when the engine was undergoing emissions testing and to tilt the engines’ performance in favor of low emis­sions

In 2015, HP pushed a fake security update to millions of Officejet owners, which showed up as a routine, ‘‘You must update your soft­ware’’ notification on their printers’ screens. Running that update installed a new, secret feature in your printer, with a long fuse. After six months’ wait, the infected printers all checked to see whether their ink cartridges had been refilled, or manufactured by third parties, and to refuse to print with any ink that HP hadn’t given its corporate blessing to.

The mobile phone industry has long been at war with its customers. When phones were controlled primarily by carriers, they were designed to prevent customers from changing networks without buying a new phone, raising the cost on taking your busi­ness elsewhere.

What began with printers and spread to phones is coming to everything: this kind of technology has proliferated to smart thermostats (no apps that let you turn your AC cooler when the power company dials it up a couple degrees), tractors (no buying your parts from third-party companies), cars (no taking your GM to an independent mechanic), and many categories besides.

In the face of all that, it’s a good thing we can audit the software and see whether it’s trying to cheat us, isn’t it? Well, it would be if the software was open, but it’s not. It’s proprietary software and it has all kinds of protections in place to prevent that. In addition, it has the government creating laws that make it a crime to even try.

What’s worse, 20th century law puts its thumb on the scales for these 21st century demons. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (1986) makes it a crime, with jail-time, to violate a company’s terms of service … Then there’s section 1201 of the Digital Millen­nium Copyright Act (1998), which makes it a felony to bypass the software controls access to a copy­righted work.

We have some allies. I’ve written before on the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and iFixit. These people and others work tirelessly to expose and counter the abuses of cheating corporations and bad laws. They need to because the cheating corporations work tirelessly to get bad laws enacted and to find ever more ways to cheat their customers, from farmers who aren’t allowed to fix their own tractors to cars that clean up their act when they’re in an inspection facility. Last word to Cory Doctorow.

Cory Doctorow – photo by Paula Mariel Salischiker

Making better computers won’t solve the world’s problems, but none of the world’s problems are ours to solve for so long as the computers we rely on are sneaking around behind our backs, treating us as their enemies.

via Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: Demon-Haunted World

rjb

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