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

Had an intersting chat with a guy earlier about reputation systems at the What the Hack Speedgeek. Now we've got thunderstorms and the rumbling of the railway providing the background for WTH.

The Kitten Eating Idiot User From Hell: "I must say that while everybody on the list is gushing about how easy this tool is, honestly that has not been my feeling. Just saying." I'd say it has a few minutes where you realise how it all works, then after that it becomes natural. Then you get the 'this hasn't got the features I need' syndrome. Which is all fine and natural. Let's help Dave by asking smart questions, poking the right holes and generally making things nice.

My meta-prayers are answered: there is a wiki for the OPML editor, where I can post lots of requests. (Aside: I cannot take the blame for 'meta-prayer', Google informs me that this story got it first, but they don't seem to use it correctly. A meta-prayer is a prayer which enables other prayers to happen or eases the location of prayers for the recipient - in this case, Dave Winer - to answer. Of course, true omniscience eliminates the need for meta-prayer in anything but the sissy type of prayer that reasonable people who don't want to admit to being atheists talk about.)

Matt Mead: "Maybe the disinterest in RSS, at least from people I try to inspire, stems from their ambivalence to the world around them. Personally, I want to know as much that's going on in the world that I find interesting that I can digest in a day. That's why RSS is so important: it's like adding 10 stomachs to your body so you can eat 10 times as much in the same amount of time. Wow, that's a horrible metaphor, but I think you get the point."

I wish there was a way so that I could click 'new blog entry' and it would create a new item at the TOP of the outline. Blog posts should be assignable to categories that have children (for instance, I have an OPML and an OPML Wishlist category. I want to assign some entries to the OPML category, and some to the Wishlist category. Hmm, this is definitely ponder-worthy.

Dave answers, and he answers before I post: "...right now you have to accept my dorky view of how a weblog should be arranged. It's something that has to be done slowly and carefully, because we'll be living with the design basically forever. I don't have time right now to do it slowly and carefully."

Tom Ligda: "Interesting. Why in some cases does the "#" show up and other times the [arrow] shows up?" The # shows up when it's a simple entry like this (just one top-level item), but you don't get it when you have a titled entry (ie. a top-level item followed by subsidiary items). My opinion? That's wrong. You should have a # after every piece of content. And I know that since I run a Wordpress blog, my criticism is exempt from being taken seriously. Just kiddin'.

Lisa gets it right: " "Can't I just get it anyway through my browser?" Well, yes, you can, I'd say. And then the person would tune out -- as if someone with a horse and buggy just didn't want to hear about this "car" thing. Syndication is FASTER. It's a difference in number that creates a difference in kind. Like a car, it dramatically expands your reach."Exactly. Next thing, people will be confusing podcasting with streaming audio, despite the fact that the difference between podcasting and streaming audio is exactly what makes podcasting what it is. It's not podcasting for nothing. It's designed to go to places that ordinary streams don't, like me while I'm slouched in a state of semi-consciousness on the commuter train to London.

So, here's how it is. I like the fact that everything is an outliner. I don't like the way it's laid out. Though I respect the fact that Dave thinks that this is the best way to lay out a blog, I don't. The delineation between title and non-titled blogs is non-existent. I don't know how you would add comments. This isn't criticism, it's just an observation. I think this tool is totally badass, but it's limited by the fact it's only for Windows. There's no way I'm moving exclusively to a Windows software-based solution. It's impractical. That said, there is a glorious simplicity to it, something which I have to say I admire Dave's work on greatly. Simplicity is a rare beast and should be congratulated. This editor forces you to adopt a very different style from the one that Wordpress does. I do like the fact that software places these limitations, but I would like it more if we could find a way of emulating what's good about different pieces of software in their native environments. For me, I'm not going to change blogging software because I prefer the creative limitations that Dave's software provides over the creative limitations that Wordpress provides. It's easier for me to just change my habits to blog in a more Wineresque manner (and before anybody says anything, that's a good thing!) than it is for me to change my software, and lose some of the things I value about blogging (like, for instance, being able to hop on to a public terminal, type in my blog's URL, log in and post stuff). The OPML Editor is great software, but it's great software that should be backed up with a great backend and great customisation. For instance, the blog template currently just has %body% representing the whole of the blog. Sorry, but that's not enough customisation.

I suppose what you really need is a way of just clicking 'new post' and it'll take you to the top part of the outliner.

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.