feeds | grep links > Still More on P and NP, Google Responds to Oracle’s Java Suit, Touch is Coming to Ubuntu, and More

  • Eight signs a claimed P != NP proof is wrong
  • P vs. NP for dummies
    I don’t always follow Scott Aaronson’s explanations of quantum computation and classical mathematics and computer science but not for want of clarity and accessibility in his posts. If you’ve been swimming in deep water following the proposed P != NP proof, his lay explanation of the underlying concepts and problem are required reading.
  • World’s first voice call with a free GSM stack
    The project in question, OsmocomBB, not surprisingly has been targeting the now defunct OpenMoko phone as well as a limited number of Motorola phones. Slashdot links to a mailing list message marking this critical milestone. The cellularl modems have been a pretty consistent holdout even for phones, like those under the OpenMoko project, designed to be as open as possible.
  • Google responds to Oracle’s Java lawsuit
    As the H describes it, there isn’t much to their comments other than accusing the claims of being baseless and promising to “strongly defend open-source standards”. The H quotes some of the other responses to the suit from around the web, including James Gosling, one of Java’s inventors, and outspoken software patent critic, Florian Mueller.
  • Google chief suggests future norms may include name change privilege on reach adulthood
  • Linux distribution Debian turns 17
  • Next Ubuntu to include software stack for touch, gesture interfaces
  • Tab Candy to become standard feature in Firefox
    I had already just assumed this would be the case, but Wired’s WebMonkey confirms it. Chris Blizzard tweeted just the other day that both Tab Candy and Sync, formerly an extension but already on the road map for conversion to a proper feature, had landed in the nightly builds. We may see both show up as soon as the next beta. I intentionally don’t use a lot of tabs in Firefox, I think having a lot open is a symptom of poor focus. I may have to re-think that view after some time with this new way to organize tabs, even saving groups of them for later work or switching between groups to pursue different tasks.

Deputizing Patent Trolls to Defend Free Software

I wrote a bit ago about DPL, a patent license to help defend free software and open source projects from those exploiting patents to suppress innovation and competition. Even though DPL is still at a very early stage in its development, outspoken anti-software patent advocate, Florian Mueller, doesn’t think it is aggressive enough. He suggests we need an “offense is the best defense” strategy, trying to convince some patent trolls to accept the DPL, protecting other signatories, then turning their attentions to non-DPL protected projects and companies.

This general idea is not new, trying to co-opt an otherwise bad actor to try to re-focus them to a more constructive end. The example I see pop up every few years is that of re-writing a computer virus to deliver some inoculation or fix. I seriously doubt the DPL is set up with this in mind and following through on Mueller’s idea could trigger a potentially disastrous early test of the license. The unintended consequences are usually what forestalls trying this sort of harnessing of dubious tactics for good ends.

I understand the frustration he expresses in his explanatory post, I do. I still don’t think this idea is a good one, one that will achieve the intended effect. He wants to increase the difference between standing within the safe circle of the DPL and acting on the outside, where predatory patent claims and interlocking, high cost licensing deals are more the norm than peaceful cooperation. I think there simply has to be a better way to produce that gradient between membership and non-membership than through deputized and endorsed trolling against non-DPL members.

New Patent License for Free Software, Open Source

Slashdot links to a good explanation of how the Defensive Patent License will work. It is not the same as the GPL’s traditional patent clauses which have much in common with defensive patent pools. Both are used more to execute a sort of mutual patent litigation approach, rather than conditioning use or access.

It does have some aspects in common with a patent pool, ones distinct from the approach in the GPL or the W3C rules around royalty free grants for any patents involved with a recommendation. It sets up sharing rules, though, more similar in spirit to the GPL’s and other licenses’ conditions on copyright that create a shared commons in their execution.

The DPL is still a work in progress. But so far, Schultz and Urban have worked out the following rules for the DPL:

  • Members of the DPL would make a business decision that they are obtaining patents strictly for defensive purposes and not because they want to sell licenses or go on the offensive with lawsuits.
  • Members of the DPL contribute all of their patents in their patent portfolio – they don’t pick and choose (and this is what differentiates it from other defensive patent pools).
  • Members of the DPL allow all other members to use its patents without royalty and without fear of patent infringement lawsuits from other members as long as a member does not file offensive lawsuits or remove their patents from the DPL.
  • Members may choose to leave the DPL but cannot revoke the royalty-free license from members who used it during the time the company was a member.
  • Members that join after a company leaves would not have royalty-free access to a former member’s patent portfolio.
  • The royalty-free cross licensing applies only to members of the DPL. Members are free to pursue royalties or lawsuits with companies outside the DPL.

This is clearly aimed at FLOSS projects where it would be practical for them to go all in with their patents. As the article notes, many projects hold back from patent applications for a variety of reasons. The primary effect of this project may be to change that, to give projects an ethical framework in which to acquire patents and make them available widely.

Adoption is going to be key, something the article doesn’t touch on. I think a single high profile project committing to this, perhaps even the Linux kernel itself, could do a world of good for jump starting this commons which really is long overdue.

feeds | grep links > Moving ACTA to WIPO and MMORPG Released as Free Software

  • EU resolution calls for Canada to support moving ACTA to WIPO
    Professor Geist comments on Canada’s relative silence of ACTA lately. I was surprised to see the European Parliament crafting such a resolution, though it matches well with the desire of many activists and is consistent with the EP’s earlier resolution threatening legal action if negotiators didn’t release an open draft of the agreement.
  • MMORPG released under AGPL
    This is good news, to be sure, but once again raises an important question. What are the requirements in terms of resources, time and skill to run an instance of Ryzom? If any or all are too high, what is the likelihood of someone running their own? I’d really like to know and will keep an eye out for stories of folks spinning up their own services.

Diaspora Proposal: Open Source, Distributed Social Network

I’ve seen a couple of people link to this, including EFF. Diaspora proposes to build a distributed, open source social network following a model that is very similar to WordPress and StatusNet. In fact the project, which is seeking funding with their proposal on KickStarter, makes an explicit reference to running a hosted service exactly like WordPress.com. I am a big fan of both of these existing projects for the fact that they provide both the open software for those with the means and inclination to run their own instance and a service for anyone else who trusts them to do that heavy lifting. Further, StatusNet is one of the most prominent projects using the AGPL, so it is the very definition of a high value, free as in freedom web service.

Diaspora will also be released, as it happens, under the AGPL so no one running an instance can make any of their improvements proprietary. More importantly, no one can use any modifications that would be hidden from scrutiny, changes that might threaten the security and trust the project is trying to build.

Each user will be able to host their own server, or seed, and all the end points will be able to share data securely, leveraging strong open source encryption, Gnu Privacy Guard. The core idea is to put identity and discretion in who to trust back in the hands of the user. I am all for this idea, even if it doesn’t gain as much traction as the existing proprietary systems, it at least gives us a choice. My experience of the community at Identi.ca, the original hosted StatusNet instance, makes me optimistic as the people on such open services tend to be much more dedicated to the underlying principles.

I will also be curious to see how Diaspora will compete with Facebook and others. StatusNet has played a very cagey game with Twitter compatibility that seems to be paying off. If Diaspora can interoperate with the applications people use with Facebook and keep the migration cost low, that could prove key. Facebook’s privacy depredations could fuel interest in Diaspora the same way Twitter’s early outages drove folks to alternatives, including StatusNet.

It is unclear if the team, four students in New York, will continue on some scaled down version of the project without funding. Right now, with just over thirty days to their funding goal, they are over halfway there. I pledged support, it is risk free (other than registering for yet another site). If they don’t reach their goal, none of the pledges are charged. Given the potential gain, it seemed worth it.

Catchy Video Promoting Commons

Shareable has a link to this video, produced by On the Commons and The New Press. It is a catchy work, mentally sticky and short enough to make an excellent self contained meme. It pulls quotes from three books put out by The New Press, including David Bollier’s “The Viral Spiral“, a book on my ever increasing list of titles to read. The other two books are “Blue Covenant” by Maude Barlow and “Unjust Deserts” by Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly.

It doesn’t just discuss the intellectual commons, like free software and Creative Commons, but also touches on more traditional commons, in this case water as a natural resource. The binding thread of the work is social justice. It is as much an easy introduction to the idea of the commons as it is a thoughtful framing of the threat of enclosure of commons.

TCLP 2010-04-11 News

This is news cast 211, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, thanks to new donor this week, David.

This week’s security alerts are a new site collecting privacy and security info on apps and services and a vulnerability in WebKit’s handling of the blink tag.

In this week’s news reverse engineering facial recognition to develop dazzle camouflage (a story I also wrote up on the web site), asking whether IBM broke its open source patent pledge with their response and clarifying commentary from a couple of knowledgeable folks, a new memory management technique that could boost performance for multiple cores, and contending format shifting a book you own is ethical with supporting and dissenting responses.

Following up this week court rules against FCC in Comcast case barring neutrality regulation on ancillary authority but not through other means and the Digital Economy Bill has been passed including what we should do now.


Grab the detailed show notes with time offsets and additional links either as PDF or OPML. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

The Framing Issue with RMS on SaaS

I am seeing some thoughtful commentary on RMS’s latest essay on the SaaS problem and even had some friends ask for my opinion. In brief, what Stallman is objecting to is software that performs some operations of value on your behalf but denies you access to the source code, or even a binary, to exercise your freedom to modify the software’s operation. I’ll concede this is a troubling loophole for getting around copyleft but it is one that has been exploited for some time by software makers and service operators.

Personally, I think Stallman is bogging down too much in the particulars of where computation takes place and at whose behest. Computation is ephemeral, once complete what do you have to judge where the actual work took place? I put far more stock in the efforts of autonomo.us and even Google’s Data Liberation Front that are working to ensure the durable information that persists regardless of when and where computing takes place can be free.

I think this oversight also leads to Stallman giving collaboration focused network services too much of a free pass. The co-opting of my intensively cultivated social network shouldn’t be exempt from expectations of data and software freedom. I’ll concede that the problem begs far more difficult technical challenges, ones that simple adoption of the AGPL won’t easily solve.

I am all for free alternatives to what Stallman calls “SaaS”, a re-definion to laden the term with connotations similar to “proprietary” in his parlance. I am irked that he is doing this to a term already in use rather than suggesting a new, more evocative label. I guess I am just more moderate for thinking I shouldn’t have to work as a full blown sysadmin and run my own GPL/AGPL compatible copy of a service to exercise my freedom. I am not sure his vague thoughts on trusted operators and the implications that arise suggesting yet another web of trust make much more sense.

As long as I have the possibility of moving my data where I choose and strong expectations around trusted handling of my data, I consider that sufficiently free. Again, I am not suggesting that these problems are any easier to solve, but I think they are where we should be focusing our efforts first and foremost.

Wikipedia’s Notability Requirement Fails for FLOSS

Jason Ryan sent me a link to his quick write up about the article for dwm, an early window manager, being flagged for removal under Wikipedia’s guidelines for notability. The notice appears to have gone up just within the past day or two. Sifting through the talk page for the proposed deletion is informative, even after factoring out the inevitable trolling and meat puppetry.

The main problem is that most free software and open source projects never get significant coverage by the kinds of sources Wikipedia would like to consider. It doesn’t mean those projects haven’t made significant contributions to software as a whole or the underlying computer science. According to the commenters on the deletion notice, dwm pioneered a particular technique for laying out out program windows that was directly adopted by many subsequent projects.

I don’t think it would be hard to come up with exceptional rules for free software and open source projects based on availability of sources, depth of version control history, or any number of other metrics in terms of adoption and support. However, how do you sustain this sort of exceptionalism for the next article representing a class of things for which the notability guidelines so thoroughly fail.

I don’t know the answer to this conundrum but I also have to wonder how widespread this problem is. I suspect that the frequency of such deletions may be small enough for the time being that the case-by-case deliberation may work just fine. I’d like to see a broader analysis before I agree with the practical need for exceptions or even more systemic changes to Wikipedia’s guidelines, as much as I agree with the objections in this case solely on principle.

FSF Asking Google to Freely Release Newly Acquired Codec

In the wake of Google finalizing their acquisition of On2, the Free Software Foundation has wasted no time, according to The Register, in appealing to Google to release the VP8 codec under an irrevocable free license. This isn’t necessarily far fetched, Christopher Blizzard discussed this very outcome as a possibility.

It is hard to see a downside to Google in doing so. YouTube generates revenue from ads and licensing deals so the codec choice would seem to be orthogonal. Google has a roughly even track record with choosing to foster open platforms when there is no obvious downside.