FLOSS and Tech Geek BoF III at Balticon 45 – Updated

(Updated to correct the obviously wrong date.)

For the past two years at Balticon, the annual convention run by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, I’ve organized an unofficial and largely ad hoc gathering of FLOSS and general technology enthusiasts. (Here’s my announcement from last year.) Turnout has been small but dedicated and I enjoy doing it as a bit of a warm up before getting into the con proper.

I will be convening the birds of a feather again this year, in the same place around the same time. Instead of two hours, I’ve decided to simply offset it by half an hour from the official schedule and hang around for an hour. Why offset it? For the same reason I scheduled it for 2 hours in years past, so folks can join even if they have other commitments. If enough people show and want to keep the discussion going, there is no reason we cannot continue the conversation.

What: Birds of a feather, a term from technology conferences that simply refers to an off schedule or unofficial gathering driven by mutual interest rather than a specific topic or event

Where: The Paddock Bar (You cannot miss the hotel bar, even if you’ve never been to the Hunt Valley Marriott, it is straight through the lobby. Also it is a public space so if you are in the area but not attending the con you can still join us.)

Who: The bald hacker (me) with the Tux table sign and small, bean bag penguin

When: Friday, May 27th from 9:30PM to 10:30PM (longer if there is interest)

Why: Because there is a not surprisingly high proportion of FLOSS and tech geeks amongst the usual con going crowd

Hope to see you there!

feeds | grep links > Circumventing Chinese Censors on a Kindle, Open Flash Tool Now Closed, Faced Detection for Web Apps, and More

  • Kindle allowing bypass of Chinese censoring firewall
    Slashdot points to an interesting use for the otherwise not very freedom friendly device. Apparently, however the 3G service is provided locally in China, it isn’t being subjected to the same censorship as regular net access. I tend to agree with Professor Kwan’s interpretation, that those in charge of the firewall simply don’t realize the Kindle can be used for anything other than buying and reading books.
  • Adobe temporarily closes their Flex SDK
    According to a conversation with the product manager initiated by The Register, the public source code repository and patch submission for Flex will be closed for a couple of releases. This stems from the fact that while the tool itself, used for creating Flash and AIR apps, is open, the platform is closed. In order to build against the un-released new versions of closed platform components, it is necessary to also close Flex. This demonstrates one considerable risk of working with a set of tools that isn’t all open.
  • Face detection with HTML5 and JavaScript
    Klint Finley at ReadWriteWeb describes a new library that the developer sees as helping with automatically tagging photos online. Even if it doesn’t evolve from face detection to full on recognition, you could easily see how a distributed, in browser trick like this could be effectively coupled with crowd intelligence to allow web applications to offer almost as good identity based tags. I think it is far more interesting to consider how the library might open up compelling, novel interactions with web applications based on a user’s movements and orientation in space. That avenue of thought is less concerning from a privacy perspective, too.
  • Publisher sells DRM-free ebooks to libraries , BoingBoing
  • OpenBSD 4.8 released, Slashdot

Quick Security Alerts for the Week Ending 10/17/2010

feeds | grep links > Chrome Loses Pirvacy Feature, Google Introduces Image Format, Microsoft Sues Motorola over Android, and More

feeds | grep links > Scribd Surprises Users with Paywall, An Open Source Low Bandwidth Codec, More on the IP Enforcement Bill, and More

  • Xerox PARC turns 40, The Register
  • Scribd quietly moves users docs behind a paywall
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt shares the realization by law professor Eric Goldman of this little publicized change. This action by the document sharing service defies reason. Goldman articulates how undoubtedly most of the users caught by this change must feel, used and trapped. Once again, this isn’t an issue with open or closed but moving from one to the other after a bargain was offered and a promise made. Even a much more clear shift would have been more tenable, if almost as unpalatable.
  • Is Facebook turning on online activists it used to support?, ReadWriteWeb
  • An open source, low bandwidth voice codec
    Slashdot points to a project whose main developer also worked on the Speex codec, another effort tailored to efficient coding of just voice. Mainly Codec2 looks to be focused on replacing a current, proprietary codec used in amateur radio but its capabilities are compelling, almost 4 seconds of clear speech in just over 1 kilobyte. It would be nice of some of the unencumbered ideas might find application in high quality voice encoding, too, perhaps to help fuel an open alternative to Skype with similar sound quality. Of course, that’s just the podcaster in me thinking out loud.
  • Mozilla joins Open Invention Network as licensee
    HT @glynmoody
  • Wendy Seltzer discusses new IP enforcement bill
    In this post on the Freedom to Tinker blog, Seltzer places the bill firmly in the context of piracy as a legal pretext for censorship. I didn’t touch on the issue of potential abuses but the point dovetails with what I explained yesterday about lowering friction. It simply becomes too easy to press a claim of infringement, legitimate or not, for the correct purpose or some lateral one such as suppressing dissenting speech.
  • EP votes on controversial anti-piracy report, TorrentFreak
  • Bill Tracker launched for legislation in the UK, BoingBoing

Hack Your Own Mind Machine Interface

Yesterday’s post about cyborgs has not surprisingly brought all things cybernetic top of mind. This post by Cory at BoingBoing about an open source library for programming a proprietary but arguably affordable EEG headset neatly fits the filter. If I’m lucky, maybe I can find a story a day for the reminder of the month to honor September’s theme as noted on Slashdot yesterday.

From the developer’s github site:

I’ve been interested in the Emotiv EPOC headset for a while; a $300 14-sensor EEG. It’s intended for gaming, but it’s quite high quality. There’s a research SDK available for $750, but it’s Windows-only and totally proprietary. I decided to hack it, and open the consumer headset up to development. Thanks to donations I got some hardware in hand this weekend.

That announcement page also has a good overview of where development is at and where help is needed. The license is essentially a public domain dedication with an exception for some code borrowed from elsewhere. Emokit is written in Python which may turn off style snobs but does make the library accessible and portable. A C library is planned which will undoubtedly broaden the project’s appeal.

H+ also has an in-depth interview with the person responsible, Cody Brocious. It provides some good context, explaining that while there are other options for open source EEG hacking, Emokit plus the EPOC headset lowers the cost and makes it more accessible.

Free/open library to talk to brain-computer interface, BoingBoing

feeds | grep links > More License Options at Google Code, Piracy as an Excuse for Censorship, Gaming Does Rewire Your Brain, and More

feeds | grep links > Open Source Cell Network, Chrome 7 Sports Hardware Accelerated Effects, Gmail Gets a Priority Inbox, and More

Today, the blogging has definitely slowed as I anticipated yesterday. I haven’t started packing for my trip in earnest but later on tonight I will.

Library at the Heart of Linux is Finally Free and Open

A nice bit of software archeology by Simon Phipps. Not just digging up the history of this old Sun code that was up until this month still under a restrictive license, but the challenges and Phipps’ own part in correcting that situation after a few attempts.

This may come as a shock, but all GNU/Linux distributions to date have been built with essential software under a licence that clearly meets neither the Open Source Definition nor the Free Software Foundations’ requirements for a Free software licence. The tenacity of a Red Hat hacker has finally solved this problem for everyone, however, and I’m proud to have played a part too.

The code in question is the original SUN RPC code, buried in the guts of Linux’s, and other OSes’, networking code. The most fascinating aspect is how the original, informal licensing terms purely as a function of time evolved from seeming liberal to quite conservative. As Phipps notes, this code well predates the GPL so didn’t benefit from the kind of legal theorizing and scrutiny that came to software licensing later on.

GNU/Linux – finally it’s free software, Computer World UK

feeds | grep links > Distributed Computing Spots Astronomical Rarity, Search Engine Runs a Tor Enclave, and More