Monthly Archives: November 2007

Manifesto 2.0

I’ve mentioned before that this blog is part of my graduate coursework for Design and Implementation of Web-Based Information Services. This class focuses on Web 2.0 and by extension library 2.0 and all the other 2.0s out there. The real change from web 1.0 to web 2.0 is the move from static, authoritative content to dynamic, collaborative content with no clear authority. One example of web 2.0 is Wikipedia which is a collaboratively edited encyclopaedia with no clear authority control, but which produces surprisingly authoritative content. Foksonomies are another interesting web 2.0 phenomenon. I see this same phenomenon in OSS development where the community drives a project. That is, the community of programmers and users influence the direction of the project and if a project goes in a direction that some don’t like, it branches. This is the exact opposite of the proprietary model where software is created and controlled by a company – an authority and can live or die under that authority.

Web 2.0 is not magical, it is not utopian, it is really just an evolution in the way we connect and communicate. We are empowered by tiny things like posting a comment on a blog or forum and we feel heard when we post a review of a product. Web 2.0 gives us a sense of participation. It may give us a forum to share our particular knowledge or a blog to express our opinions. It also allows for something else: organic authority – a kind of wisdom of the masses. So what does this mean for things like political movements or citizen action? One possibility is that we are heading or evolving toward a time of a leaderless society – that communities may organically move together without a clear authority or leader.

This really seems impossible to me, but I think the paradigm of a generation raised on the Internet may be different than mine. At the ALA (American Library Association) Conference this year, I heard the term “information agnostic” to describe teens and tweens who did not see any particular information as more authoritative than another. For example, something in an email was just as valid as something seen on the news. At first, I was horrified by this idea, but with more thought, it seems to be reflective of a move away from authority. Add to this the 2004 Pew study that found that a high percentage of these young people preferred to get their news from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on Comedy Central and you find yourself scratching your head more. But, is the parody program actually a good source of information? A more recent Pew study prompted this headline on Think Progress: SURVEY: Daily Show/Colbert Viewers Most Knowledgeable, Fox News Viewers Rank Lowest. Perhaps this reflex of a younger generation reflects the ability to adapt and change quickly based on the flow of information, or a natural skepticism about what they are being told by any authority.

This really brings me to the title of this piece and an excerpt from a discussion in the Guardian with Naomi Klein about the nebulous nature of what she hesitates to label as the anti-corporate movement.

The movement, with its hubs and spokes and hotlinks, its emphasis on information rather than ideology, reflects the tool it uses – it is the “internet come to life”. This is why it doesn’t work well on television, unlike the anti-Vietnam protests of the 60s with their leaders, their slogans, their single-issue politics.

When people say that the movement lacks vision, believes Klein, what they really mean is that it is different from anything that’s gone before, that it is a completely new kind of movement – just as the internet is a completely new kind of medium. “What critics are really saying is that the movement lacks an overarching revolutionary philosophy…” But the movement should not, says Klein, be in a hurry to define itself. “Before they sign on to anyone’s 10-point plan, they deserve the chance to see if, out of the movement’s chaotic, decentralized, multi-headed webs, something new, something entirely its own, can emerge.”

Manifesto 2.0?

LCG

Blogstats and web analytics.

I’ve posted previously about the interesting blog statistic regarding this blog. In particular,I find the search terms which bring information seekers to this site quite interesting. But, I have noticed another interesting factor today, and that is a referring link from a forum in Estonia and a link from a news article in the Wall Street Journal. The Estonian forum links to my piece about opening MS Office .docx in Linux OpenOffice and I can’t really tell (since it is in Estonian) whether the forum poster is saying something good, bad or other about the blog post. The WSJ links to my blog mentioning Price Tower in a link to related blogs (though it doesn’t seem related.)

I hadn’t realized all along that I had been doing web analytics.

LCG

CopyWright (Frank Lloyd) & CopyLeft (RMS)

What do Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard M. Stallman have in common? Well, I see an interesting connection. Let’s see if it makes sense once I commit this vision to my blog:

Price Tower
(Copyright © 2006 Price Tower Arts Center)

I recently returned from a two-day visit to Bartlesville, OK full of enthusiasm for idealism but wondering how to balance that with pragmatism. Bartlesville is the home to the ONLY Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper. One gets the sense of the vision of Wright while touring the building especially considering it was built fifty years ago (the original design was from the 1920s, but was not realized because of the Great Depression.) The entire space is a work of art and it is quite literally like walking inside a sculpture. Wright was prolific in the area of design and managed all details of the space including furniture, fixtures and wall paintings. The building and the interior design reflect the idealism of Wright who thought that buildings should be more organic and infused this structure with his idealism. He called Price Tower “the tree that escaped the crowded forest” because it was originally designed for New York, but also because it incorporated a design borrowed from nature. He modeled the skyscraper after the structure of a tree. Price Tower has a strong center support structure with a tap root base and the floors are suspended by cantilevered extensions of the trunk much like branches on a trees. Our tour guide told us that Wright made many buildings which leaked and I thought perhaps that was because nature leaks so much. It was really due to the fact that when the building was designed with glass windows meeting at edges, there was no silicone to seal those joints.

I was a bit disturbed because our camera was confiscated before the tour because pictures are not allowed due to copyright. ARRGH! Funny too, because there is a Whitman poem in the lobby which Mr. Wright changed to his own liking… changed quite a bit.

Then, I realized (strictly my own speculation) that perhaps the restriction of the cameras and the enforcement of copyright of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations was that of those who are now the keepers of his artifacts and not what Wright would have desired himself. Perhaps he did not have this same view of copyright and ownership of ideas. It does seem evident that he shared his vision and taught many students, shared his creations with them and they, in turn, built on those ideas. This is consistent with what Wright did to Whitman’s poem. He took Whitman’s creative work and built upon the basic idea it expressed.

Wright could have easily patented his cantilevered design and kept anyone else from using it, but his students made many structures based on this design, his idea lived and grew. In fact, it could be argued that his design would have never been realized if not for those students he taught. The main reason that Price Tower was the only sky scrapper built (though many were designed) was likely (though I am no expert) linked to the eccentric and idealistic Wright who was often at odds with the person financing the building of his design. He often held to his idealistic view even when it was pragmatically wrong. An example from our tour was that supposedly Wright didn’t want to install a phone in the penthouse office because there are no phones at the tops of trees. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it is quite idealistic.

It actually reminds me of some of my studies of another great idealist and luminary from the same time period: Buckminster Fuller. He had some incredible idea, but his idealism often got in the way of the pragmatic work of actually manufacturing his concepts for the public. One of these was the Dymaxion home which people were lining up to purchase, but which he continued to argue with the financiers of the operation because he wanted it to be perfect.

OK, so how does this relate to Richard M. Stallman (RMS) the father of Free Software? RMS came up with the idea of copyleft – the legal codifying of the four software freedoms. RMS suggested that just as copyright protected creative works, there might be the opposite which he called a copyleft. The mechanism for this was the GNU General Public License .
(Now at version 3.)

GPL logo

Before this, the only method for releasing code to the public was to release it to the public domain which would allow access to the source code, but which contains no means to prevent someone from making that code proprietary software.
The GPL insures that the source code is made available and also that any modifications remain under the license, thus insuring that it will remain free.

RMS is quite the idealist and does often butt heads with others over said idealism, but I’m glad to count him in a class with Bucky Fuller and Frank Lloyd Wright. We need idealist visionaries. Those of us who are more pragmatic can keep things moving from day to day, but those idealist can shine a light.

LCG

Name Game

I have been reading Free Software, Free Society: selected essays of Richard M. Stallman to get a better understanding of OSS. In the process, I’ve found a whole new level of understanding (and appreciation) for how OSS came into being and also acknowledging the fine line between idealism and pragmatism.  His work and words test this line often and create much debate in the community.

Stallman founded the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and defines free software as:

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

There is some disagreement about this term and some in the movement wish to de-emphasize the word “free”. The real problem comes in the ambiguity of the word “free.” Stallman notes this and makes the distinction between free as in “free speech” vs. free as in gratis or “free beer.” Some choose to use the term Open Source Software which emphasized the open source code. This is a minor fissure in the movement as the basic goal remains the same, with a minor difference in terminology. The term F/OSS or FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) is a later introduction as well as FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open-Source Software). I personally prefer this term as it covers all the bases quite well, but the most common term used is OSS and we can read whatever meaning we choose into that term. In fact, the meaning does change as we learn more about it.

Words and thus names are important. Stallman points out that Linux should really be called GNU/Linux because of the contributions of the GNU community. The truth is “Linux”, like “OSS,” is the term which is most commonly used and it may prove futile to change the name that has caught on in an attempt to have it more accurately describe the reality or the idealism behind it.

Anyone who seeks to learn more about OSS will quickly find Stallman’s fingerprints all over it. he arguably started the entire movement. He also created the concept of copyleft and the GPL under which most OSS (or Free Software as Stallman would prefer) is licensed. It could be argued that OSS wouldn’t  exist without this well-though-out concept.  Stallman is also stalwart in his fight against Digital Restriction Management (as he cleverly renames it).

He is definitely acknowledged by the community even though his name and GNU are not as recognized as Linux and Linux Torvalds. It can seem at times that Stallman’s emphasis on words and seemingly credit cloud the true debate about what it means to have software freedom. It may appear that Stallman is worried about brand when he advocates GNU/Linux over Linux and “Free Software” over OSS. While I can understand the arguments for calling free software free, I have more trouble with calling Linux anything other than Linux. What’s odd to me is that the spirit of OSS / FOSS / FLOSS / Free Software / GNU / GNU/Linux / Linux / slash / (get my point?) …. anyway, the community seems to be the point, no monolithic leaders, but a community of developers and users. The brand is less important to those who take the time to learn, but words, names, brands are important sooo….

Here’s my modest proposal: LiGNUx.

LiGNUx

And, don’t even ask me HOW to pronounce that!

Update: OK, I should have known this one was way too obvious. Apparently this was suggested over a decade ago (perhaps by Stallman – see footnote on this essay) and has been debated from time to time. There’s even a website with this name.

LCG

Give 1, Get 1 starts November 12.

OLPC logoOLPC (One Laptop Per Child) will begin taking orders for the xo laptop starting on November 12 with a nice twist: You pay for two (around $400), one is shipped to you and the other to a needy child in a third world country.

Another interesting news item: EA donates SimCity to OLPC.

I still have mixed feelings about this project, but am increasingly persuaded that it is a good idea to insure that this technology is available. It is really quite amazing that OLPC has been able to create a durable, functional laptop computer though a bit over the original $100 per mark. One major aspect of this being the dependence on OSS and the creation of a unique OS called sugar. The modified RedHat Linux is really quite amazing. You can try it out yourself by downloading the live ISO. As I mentioned in a previous post the OS is really important on a low-end system, and GNU/Linux does this well. This is the same with the Nigerian decisions to purchase Intel Classmate PCs with Mandriva Linux installed instead of Windows. This, despite some last-minute meddling from Microsoft. Add to the ability to run on low-end resources, the ability to customize the Linux OS depending on the use and you have a uniquely pliable system that can fit many uses.

LCG

Gettin’ Gutsy (Gibbon, that is)

I have worked with personal computers since the days of DOS. I’ve loaded and upgraded every incarnation of the Windows OS, worked with a number of Mac OS versions and have been tinkering with GNU/Linux for about half that time. That said, I have NEVER seen an upgrade of an OS as smooth as my recent upgrade from Ubuntu Linux 7.4 (Fiesty Fawn) to 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon). The steps are detailed on the Ubuntu site. And, they are just as easy as shown.

In my case, I was plugging away at my tasks utilizing the multiple desktop feature of Ubuntu which allows you to place different applications on different virtual desktops and switch between them. My update manager popped up with the message that new updates were available. I saw this notice:
image of updates available message box

I clicked on the Upgrade button and continued working on the various applications I had opened. A few times I had to approve some action, but everything downloaded in the background as I worked away. After some time (I really don’t know since I wasn’t keeping track of time) I was notified that updates were complete and after a reboot I was there. I have never seen an easier upgrade. Kudos to the the Ubuntu community.

LCG

$199 Green PC (or is it the Google PC?)

How is Walmart able to sell a $199 PC ? I mentioned this briefly in a previous blog. This is a very low end machine, of course (and you will note the monitor is not included)

Hardware Specifications
1.5GHz, VIA C7®-D Processor, 512MB DDR2 533MHz, SDRAM, 80GB Hard Disk Drive, DVD-ROM/D-RW Optical Drive, VIA UniChrome Pro IGP Graphics, Realtek 6-Channel Audio, (1) 10/100 Ethernet Port, (1) DB 15-Pin VGA Port, (6) USB 2.0 Ports, (1) RJ-11 Port, (1) Headphone/Line-Out Port, (2) Microphone/Line-In Ports, (1) Serial Port, (1) Parallel Port, (1) Keyboard, (1) Mouse, (1) Set of Amplified Stereo Speakers

 

It’s really about the OS

Lower level hardware (though this is a respectable system) does help account for the low price , but a good deal of the savings is in the use of a GNU/Linux OS rather than an MS Windows based OS for two reasons.

  1. The price would increase 50% (or more) with a Windows OS license.
  2. Windows XP would barely run on this low-end system and forget about Windows Vista – it would crawl. It is the OS that really makes this system possible:

gOS screenshot

 

This $199 PC manufactured by Everex utilizes the gOS (pictured above). (You can even download it yourself and try it .) This is a customized OS based on Ubuntu which uses the enlightenment windows manager. This creates an OS that is lean, fast and designed to run without using a great deal of resources. And speaking of resources, this computer uses less of them from (from the Everex site):

Green

Imagine a computer that averages just 2 Watts of power consumption and operates at a whisper quiet 28dB.

Wow, a Green PC that saves you some green.

Another noteworthy mention is that for this price you also get most of the productivity tools (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, image editing software etc.) you would have to pay extra for, plus you do not have the added expense of anti-virus and anti-spyware software (nor the time spent fighting these nasty threats.) Check out the user reviews on the Walmart site for some interesting comments.

Update: here’s a great review of gOS .

I downloaded the live iso and played with it a bit and it is definitely Google-centric with links to virtually every Google web-based service out there. It really is quite smooth. I was really impressed that it was as fast as it was running from the cd. This is definitely a very easy interface, one well suited for someone unfamiliar with computers because it is so clear and easy to use.

One comment about the size of the case should be attributed:

Even at the low end, however, image is everything. The gPC is built using tiny components, but put inside a full-size case because research indicates that Wal-Mart shoppers are so unsophisticated they equate physical size with capability.

This from a wired blog.

LCG