Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Graphology, Bill Gates and Tony Blair

The recent Davos World Economic Forum has brought this little strange story to light. The media find some scraps of paper with 'doodles' on which they think were made by Tony Blair. They hired graphologists to have a gander at them, and they found Blair to be "struggling to concentrate" and "not a natural leader". Unfortunately, they weren't Mr Blair's writing but one Bill Gates of Microsoft. From the BBC article, with the reaction from a Downing Street spokesman:

"We look forward with amusement to explanations by a variety of psychologists and graphologists of how various characteristics ascribed to the prime minister on the basis of the doodles, such as 'struggling to concentrate', 'not a natural leader', 'struggling to keep control of a confusing world' and 'an unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure', equally apply to Mr Gates."

"We are astonished that no-one who ran the story thought to ask No 10 if the doodles were in fact Mr Blair's, particularly as it was obvious to anyone the handwriting was totally different."

And it shows, again, how the media are duped by these idiots. ZDNet describe how the Times and the Mirror were taken in by these graphologist idiots. And Slashdot have been weighing in.

Oh, and the Downing Street response would be funny, but it's somewhat hypocritical for those representing the Prime Minister to condemn graphologists, when Mr and Mrs Blair are enjoying Mexican mud-bath rebirthing ceremonies, consulting Carole Caplin (who, according to this report sounds somewhat like a psychopath with a 'detox' addiction) and Lilias Curtin, has interests in various altmed things including ayurvedic, crystals and acupuncture. Those crazy graphologists, eh? Misdiagnosing Blair's instability for Gates'. Good old Tone and Cherie. They don't get taken in by these crazy things like the press do, see?

Richard Stallman talk at Ravensbourne College

Richard Stallman is the founder of the GNU Project, launched in 1984 to develop the free operating system GNU (an acronym for "GNU's Not Unix"), and thereby give computer users the freedom that most of them have lost. Created the GNU General Public Licence and runs the Free Software Foundation.

"Copyright was developed in the age of the printing press, and was designed to fit with the system of centralized copying imposed by the printing press. But the copyright system does not fit well with computer networks, and only draconian punishments can enforce it. The global corporations that profit from copyright are lobbying for draconian punishments, and to increase their copyright powers, while suppressing public access to technology. But if we seriously hope to serve the only legitimate purpose of copyright - to promote progress, for the benefit of the public - then we must make changes in the other direction." - Richard Stallman (quote used in publicity).

What does free software mean? Software that respects the users freedom. (Free as in the sense of freedom)

Four freedoms:

0. Can run it whenever you like.

1. Freedom to study the source code. (The freedom to help yourself)

2. Freedom to make copies. (Freedom to help your neighbour)

3. Freedom to publish modified version (Freedom to build a community)

cf. with non-free software. Designed to keep users helpless and divided: you can't get the source code. A "prisoner of your software".

Non free software does what the developer wants.

Free software puts the user in control.

Gets the benefit of the work of the community.

Not the same as freeware which appeared in the 80's (freedom 0 and 2).

The one thing Stallman claims to be good at is making operating systems. Create a way for people to escape from non-free software by writing an operating system. 1983 - announced GNU, programmers humour (recursive acronym).

By 1991, several parts released. Still did not have system kernel.

1990 - started developing a kernel ("Hurd").

1992 - Linux released under GPL.

People forgetting that GNU/Linux wasn't started in 1992.

Condemns anybody who uses mixed FS and non-FS software.

Objective: not just to have fun and learn.

He wouldn't mind if somebody 'copied' his car. The use of GPL (etc.) in hardware is not then relevant.

History of copyright law and the history of copying:

The ethical decisions of an act depend on the technological context.

Pen and ink: anyone who could read and write could copy about as well as anybody else. Books could be disseminated by anyone who could read and write. No economy of scale - it takes ten times to make ten copies as it does to make one. Compendiums and commentaries were encouraged in the ancient world. Anyone who had a text could make copies - no copyright.

Improvement in copying technology...

Printing press: takes a lot of work to set the type, but once this was done you could make as many copies as you like. Introduced an economy of scale. Specialised and expensive equipment - need to have skills to use.

Copyright in England was set up so that publishers could have monopolies. Later reformed to make them temporary, and to transfer to author. An industrial regulation on publishing - never used to enforce one-by-one copying.

US Constitution rejected a constitutional copyright: not an entitlement to authors, an optional system for protecting progress - the 'Useful Arts and Sciences' clause. Same general philosophical ideal upheld in UK and former colonies.

1900: printing became more efficient. Poor people could afford to get printed books. Copying by hand became rare - people forgot that you could do it. Copyright remained - fairly painless (only restricted businesses), easy to enforce (anybody selling books needs to advertise them) and arguably beneficial. Copyright bargain was beneficial in 1900.

The age of the printing press gave way to the age of the computer network. Changes the context.

Printing press made mass reproduction efficient but the computer made it efficient in the same way as single reproduction.

We are now losing something through the copyright bargain.

No longer 'fairly painless' (restricting everybody), no longer 'easy to enforce' (one has to intrude to find people who are breaking law) and no longer beneficial.

Copyright law is extended in all dimensions:

Time: extending it over and over. The movie companies (record companies etc.) want perpetual copyright. US Constitution doesn't allow perpetual copyright. Every twenty years you extend copyright by another twenty years. There is a nominal public domain date - never really get there because of term extensions.

Breadth: never intended to cover all uses. Publishers want total control over individual's usage of copyright. Two stage plan: (1) take away freedom to do this in e-books (no e-books, no complaints), (2) get everyone to switch from books to e-books (reasoning? Probably practical...).

Time: extending it over and over. The movie companies (record companies etc.) want perpetual copyright. US Constitution doesn't allow perpetual copyright. Every twenty years you extend copyright by another twenty years. There is a nominal public domain date - never really get there because of term extensions.

Breadth: never intended to cover all uses. Publishers want total control over individual's usage of copyright. Two stage plan: (1) take away freedom to do this in e-books (no e-books, no complaints), (2) get everyone to switch from books to e-books (reasoning? Probably practical...).

Digital Millenium Copyright Act: EUCD. Launching a vicious war on sharing.

Publishers buying laws that take away more of our freedom, even though we need more freedom. No longer democratic. Democracy in danger all around the world.

Good copyright policy?

Renegotiate deal that was advantageous in the printing press era - perhaps reduced sized.

Non-uniformity - why does the price we pay in freedom has to be the same in different types of work?

Renegotiate deal that was advantageous in the printing press era - perhaps reduced sized.

Non-uniformity - why does the price we pay in freedom has to be the same in different types of work?

The way that work is used is the way we need to differentiate between works. Three different categories of work:

Functional/useful - use them to get practical functions done (computer programmes, recipes, reference works etc.) If you can't control it, it gets in the way of your life. Must be free. Would these works get written if they were no revenue stream? Functional replacements can be made for them if they aren't free (eg. Wikipedia).

Works that represent what somebody thinks. Scientific reports, memoirs, essays, opinions and offers to buy/sell. Modified versions are not of social benefit. Compromised copyright system: mainly a restriction for businesses.

Art/entertainment - social usefulness in the sensation one gets in viewing or using the work. Raises problems of modified versions - artistic work can have artistic integrity. There is value to society in modificiation process - the folk process. Shakespeare used stories from other plays in his own works. Today that would be a ripoff, they are masterpieces.

1. No need for copyright law for as long as it is. >150 years is too long, RMS suggests 10 yrs. Publication cycles - most books are remaindered (USA) in two years, most out of print by four. Ten years from the date of publication.

2. Less urgency on the restrictions of artistic works compared to functional works.

3. Automatic licencing for modifications.

Compromised copyright system for the use of artistic work which would work at a fraction of the way that it currently does.

Author: Ten years? Anything longer than five is an outrage.

Many authors are in disputes with publishers over contracts and copyright payments.

Musicians: not supporting musicians. Stealing the money from the musicians from record companies? No, the record companies did it first. Only the superstars get money. Most people don't. Very few records sell enough to actually give any money to the musicians. Multiple platinum before any musicians get money. Artists who have complained about: Courtney Love (the music pirates), Janis Ian, Joe Walsh (from The Eagles), Prince (The Artist Formerly Known As Prince - his record company forbid him to release music under his pseudonym).

Record companies getting rich is no reason to restrict freedom. For the sake of the musicians is the reason that record companies give. 4% of their income goes to musicians overall (the superstars are getting 4%+, others aren't). Records publicise artists. Internet music sharing is a much healthier system.

Musicians wouldn't lose any money - they'd get healthier out of it. Superstars wouldn't be as rich, but they wouldn't be poor:

1. Tax that could go to artists.

2. Legalising copying.

3. Distribution of money goes in non-linear popularity - square root curve.

"Click here to send $1.00 to the band" - electronic donations etc.

Any donations that are given is more than musicians get already. Nice promotions!

Doesn't carry a mobile phone - tracking device.

Book publications - Stephen King experiment.

Convenient, anonymous 'pay a small amount' systems would do the job.

Put pressure on the candidates for European Parliament to go against software idea patenting. Developing a substantial powerful programme will be like crossing a minefield if software patenting becomes legal.

Software idea patents are an elimination for free trade - which is why they are being included in free trade agreements. United States government: instead of making problems better in the US, they spread the problems to the rest of the world.

EU Parliament voted against software patenting. Ministers reversed it. Support from a wide range of parties - match party candidates up with existing party members who voted against it.

Ibid for hypocrisy

In yesterday's Independent Sarah Cassidy wrote "Parents and internet help pupils from middle-class families cheat in exams", reporting on a new survey produced on behalf of the NUT. It's basic conclusion was that because middle class pupils have internet access, they are more able to cheat at producing coursework. At risk of simplifying, we have the idea that the more access to information one has (via the Internet or more 'old-fashioned' methods) the more likely someone is to cheat.

Can anyone say 'blinkers'? Surely the basis of any reasonable education, be it the sciences, arts or humanities, is to let people study and understand as much material as possible? Perhaps this idea of empowering people through studying ideas is no longer viable in a world where politicians cream themselves over 'vocational' education (teaching people Microsoft Word and Excel in order to satisfy the market's lust for 'skills'). Because this conclusion would also be applicable to libraries, and if my old alma mater (let's not hide the fact: it was a concrete behemoth that threw away most of it's book-based library in exchange for a pin-striped ICT facility) is anything to go by, books aren't sexy, the internet is only sexy if it's used for totalitarian 'net learning' purposes, while it's distinctly unsexy to have people reading of their own volition. Let's not kid ourselves here. Who wants an army of youngsters running around reading? Surely they are supposed to be driving in to each other whilst drinking Hooch, not fufilling their academic expectations. If they did do well in school, the nation would have nothing to moan about.

To solve this once and for all - make coursework in to a true academic document rather than the glorified homework assignment it is now (especially at GCSE level). Make it so that people have to write footnotes and a bibliography. And you get double the fun because once A-level students have learnt all about writing footnotes this will improve university standards as you'll have students who can write documents with proper footnotes. Huzzah! Teach people about academic honesty. With the carrot of context and the stick of plagiarism, people will not only be able to produce more useful and illuminating essays, but also teach them academic standards. Then again, I'm not sure academic standards are the aim (thank the lord for GNVQ's, VCE's et al.).

There are a lot of things that I blame the middle classes for: mediocrity, mortgages, makeover shows and, worst of all, massive off-road vehicles being used to drive around town centres. When I criticise the middle classes, I criticise the people who think that designer jeans and 'luxury' coffee are a pretty neat idea. Coursework, or at least the idea that because pupils have Internet access they are 'cheating', isn't one of them though. Because on the same basis, we should abolish libraries for fear that some people might have the initiative to go inside them and escape the sub-par education system that this country has spawned.

Freedom inseperable from religion?

World Magazine Blog and Adrian Warnock are claiming that "Biblical faith and freedom have been inseparable in American history" and that "If we fully abandon our faith tradition which is foundational to our liberties, will our liberties eventually diminish and evaporate?". Call me cynical, but do they have different American history books in Christian schools than in their secular equivalent? Because it sure does sound rather different from what most of the founding fathers have said on the topic of religion. I mean, I know that Christianity is a bit 'pick-and-mix', but I'm not sure how it's possible to read Jefferson saying "In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot." or "History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." and think that he supports religion.

The question that is asked in the World Magazine entry with a question from David Limbaugh: "Do you believe, as did many of America's founding fathers, that Judeo-Christian values and freedom are inseparable? If we fully abandon our faith tradition which is foundational to our liberties, will our liberties eventually diminish and evaporate?" Well, what a hodge-podge of complicated questions. For one, most of the founding fathers of the United States didn't believe that Judeo-Christian values and freedom are inseperable in the form of government and therefore that clause of the question is irrelevant. And if you don't think that "faith tradition" is the basis of much of civil liberties, but more the actions of intelligent human beings, then it renders the second question irrelevant as well.

The way that liberties "diminish and evaporate" is if checks and balances are not maintained on the power of government, and if thinking people do not state their opinion frankly, or if that opinion is ignored. Liberties are destroyed when behaviour is outlawed for reasons of moral disapproval rather than for good reason (such as if one persons behaviour infringes on the freedom of another). Ignorance and stupidity is what causes people to get in to power who can cause liberties to be lost. Unfortunately, stupidity does not discriminate. It is in equal measure among those of faith, those without and those who fall neither way.

My qualm is not with what the Bible says. Much of the Gospel provides some reasonably good moral codes, and many sound lessons of jurisprudence and ethical decison making. From "love thy neighbour" to "If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that 'every accusation may be upheld by the testimoney of two or more witnesses'". Even this raving atheist can agree with that.

[Edit: I wrote that? Bloody hell, I must have been really screwed in the head. After further study, my opinion of New Testament ethics is that for it to have any value, it has to be reinterpreted through a process similar to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral approach - whereby Scripture is weighed with equaly alongside Tradition, Reason and Experience. As Dan Barker has written, Jesus "said little that was worthwhile". His lack of discernible and meaningful ethical character is the last taboo. Jesus is a label that people put on their ethical behaviour.]

So, what it boils down to is this. The founding fathers of the United States have many similar values to traditional "Christian" values. But at the same time, so do many people who don't believe in God. It isn't the faith, the belief or the prayer that gives people the power to make righteous decisions, it's the people themselves. If those ethics are decided by a book written two-thousand years ago, fine. If those ethics are decided here-and-now based on your life experience, also fine. But to claim that without faith we are without liberty is to ignore how liberty was created in countries like the United States, and to ignore the context.

Liberty, to me, is the right to think freely and make up my own mind about situations. And liberty also includes the right to choose a faith, or indeed to choose no faith.

[Editor: What pap I wrote back in '03].

Top Ten Commandments

After my recent spacks against Roy Moore, this article at Slate (found at Plasticbag) sums up a lot of my current feeling on the issue. I particularly liked this bit...

One is presuming (is one not?) that this is the same god who actually created the audience he was addressing. This leaves us with the insoluble mystery of why he would have molded ("in his own image," yet) a covetous, murderous, disrespectful, lying, and adulterous species. Create them sick, and then command them to be well? What a mad despot this is, and how fortunate we are that he exists only in the minds of his worshippers.


Until the Fat Lady sings

Bill Thompson asks: is it all over for blogs? Simple answer: no. Is it all over for word processors? No. Is it all over for spreadsheets? No. Is it all over for weblogging software? No.

Things are just about to get interesting with weblogging, and this article smacks of "Ooh! Look at me! I'm so media-disconnected!" which is precisely what I had last summer when on holiday (we didn't have Internet, newspapers or any of that stuff and SHOCK HORROR: WE SURVIVED!).