TCLP 2015-06-28 My Toothbrush

This is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In this episode, I extemporize for a bit about my toothbrush, having just recently replaced my electric toothbrush with an unexpected upgrade. The experience turned out to be a good opportunity to reflect on certain aspects of how technology improves, or not, and on what time scales.

You can directly download the MP3 or Ogg Vorbis audio files. You can grab additional formats and audio source files from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

Should Mozilla Fork Firefox?

Glyn Moody has an excellent article up at Open Enterprise that summarizes a recent debate between fans and critics of Firefox and one of Mozilla’s co-founders. The issue being hashed over is whether Firefox is losing relevance, having become far more staid than its original vision of a leaner, faster browser. When it was conceived, this goal flew in the face of its then competitors, including the original Mozilla browser itself.

Moody goes on to lay out the heart of the argument and the radical solution.

Mozilla finds itself facing a classic Innovator’s Dilemma, trapped by its own success. Fortunately, the solution to that dilemma is fairly well-established: to prevent others from developing disruptive technology that undermines your success, *you* must do precisely the same, competing against yourself.

As he explains, Mozilla is in a unique position to do so, perhaps spawning a progeny of Firefox that will disrupt it in the same way that browser disrupted its predecessor. Mozilla isn’t motivated by profit so stands to lose little by fork its own golden child to try to re-invigorate its overall mission to open up and advance the experience of the web.

I would advance the argument that Safari and Chrome already are out competing Firefox based on speed and certain features. Firefox may still outweigh both by sheer market share but I believe the acceleration shown by the other browsers paints a concerning picture.

I hear a lot of techies who were advocates for Firefox from the start, like I was and still am, now lamenting its slowness and apparent bloat. Those same folks now dissatisfied with Firefox are some of the strongest advocates for its competitors, most especially Chrome. Personally, I’d rather keep cheering for a project that isn’t beholden to a bottom line and better able to take the sort of principled stands that the Mozilla folks have been able to do over the years.

Explaining the Purpose Motive

Daniel Pink has definitely been making the rounds to promote his new book, “Drive“. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a fascinating read judging by the same speech I’ve heard him give on a couple of podcasts. The speech is an excerpt or distillation from the book and ultimately arrives at open source projects to help illustrate some of his points about non-monetary incentives and motivations other than profit. The underlying idea is not necessarily new, I think it harkens right back to Yochai Benkler’s exploration of peer production in Coase’s Penguin.

The most entertaining presentation of Pink’s talk, though, has to be this RSA Animate video I found via Neal Gorenflo at  Shareable.

This reminds me of the practice of visual note taking, the mixture of cartooning with traditional note taking to make a lecture more immediately memorable and accessible. Even if you’ve heard this speech from Pink before, I think it is worth the ten minutes to see this fun and illustrative take on it.

Effect of the Net on Institutions in the Coming Decade

On BoingBoing Cory points to a newly released survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. This is actually the fourth time this survey has been conducted.

At its heart are five questions.

The survey was targeted to some of the most interesting and prolific thinkers on these topics. In addition to summarizing the responses into simple scores, you can read through the attributed, free form comments in response to each question.

Respondents include, but aren’t limited to:

Clay Shirky, Esther Dyson, Doc Searls, Nicholas Carr, Susan Crawford, David Clark, Jamais Cascio, Peter Norvig, Craig Newmark, Hal Varian, Howard Rheingold, Andreas Kluth, Jeff Jarvis, Andy Oram, David Sifry, Marc Rotenberg, John Pike, Andrew Nachison, Anthony Townsend, Ethan Zuckerman, Stephen Downes, Rebecca MacKinnon, Jim Warren, Sandra Brahman, Seth Finkelstein, Jerry Berman, and Stewart Baker.

Looking Ahead to the Future of Gnome

Ryan Paul at Ars has a good write up of a hack fest specifically aimed at implementing and supporting some long trajectory usability work. Ryan presents an intriguing picture of the sort of free wheeling thought driving much of the work, bolstered by some impressive mockups and design work.

I don’t use Gnome but am impressed by the farther reaching thought this demonstrates. KDE is moving towards more of a social focus, Gnome has the idea of supporting tasks in its cross hairs. I think this divergence is going to drive a lot of interesting discussion.

The Linux desktop draws a lot of criticism for replicating what has come before, this effort demonstrates that such is not always the case. I may just have to give Gnome a run again as Gnome 3 starts to trickle into the bleeding edge repositories.

Vintage Music Piracy Device, The War for the Web, and More

  • Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge
    Michel Bauwens posted this announcement at the P2P Foundation blog. In looking over the site to which he links, the details of the charter reads like my own personal laundry list of ideal goals in this arena. The members so far is a liberal mixture of groups and individuals.
  • The war for the web
    At O’Reilly Radar, the site’s namesake, Tim himself, pulls together some recent and not so recent stories from around the web to continue the discussion of appliancized devices and walled gardens. This is an interesting variation on Zittrain’s hypothesis in his last book, but O’Reilly looks at potentially escalation competitive pressures between giants, rather than the direct constraining of consumers by those same giants in the name of security.
  • Interactive tutorial for advanced JavaScript
    Jon Gruber at Daring Fireball links to this tutorial by John Resig. I am increasingly enjoy these sort of browser based, interactive sandboxes that vastly lower the cost to simply experiment with something new. In this instance, the tutorial is also an advanced peek at Resig’s forthcoming book.
  • Two new projects and a tour for the Web Foundation
    As RWW points out, the well known and respected creator of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is on tour through Africa as part of fund raising for the Web Foundation that he founded last year to work on issues of the digital divide. The two specific partnerships this drive is meant to help are around re-greening efforts and youth education.
  • Vintage music piracy devices
    I really love stories from the history of copyright that can help illuminate the discusses and challenges with which we grapple today, in the midst of this digital revolution. These diagrams that Cory shared on Boing Boing of 19th century record duplicators is genuinely novel to me, showing not just the practice and norms of piracy stretching back but also the technology.
  • Clarifications on Microsoft’s “sudo” patent
    Trusty Ryan Paul has done some excellent investigation, including reading into the body of the patent, something which I wouldn’t have had time. In addition he contacted the sudo maintainer to get his opinion. The results he posted at Ars is that the patent probably has no bearing on the command line tool itself but may on the more recent development of the user interface for PolicyKit and similar GUIs used in the Linux desktop.
  • Service provider backing up source search
    RWW has a pretty good profile of an outfit aiming to become to search what Red Hat is to Linux. Search here however refers to custom search, behind a prospective company’s firewall, not general web search. While the increasing traction of projects like Lucene, of which I am a user and a fan, is excellent news, I was hoping this piece would be discussing a moral successor to Wikia, bracketing Google and Bing in its sights.

Fiber Speed Networks without the Fiber, Considering an Open Cloud, and More

  • New version of O’Reilly’s joint, online bookshelf, Safari
    Tim makes a good point about Safari challenging very early on how people, especially programmers and techies, read books. He also shares quite a bit on what O’Reilly as a publisher has learned from running the service these past few years. I’ve tried the service at various times but the need to be online has also been the limiter as I must want to curl up with a heavy tech book when I am completely offline, like out on the deck or on the Metro. That’s just my personal complaint, otherwise well worth checkingout.
  • Muni fiber prompts telco to roll out 50Mbps fiber
    This Ars story by Nate Anderson is the exasperating end of a long story that begin with Monticello passing a referendum to roll out its own fiber in the absence of a private offering. The infuriating aspect is the info that Anderson got from TDS, that they claim they would have rolled out the fiber sooner had they realized the demand.
  • Remote trojan kill switches in military tech
    This is concerning, if true, which seems at least somewhat credible. Sort of a worse case scenario of tethered appliances. Also reminds me of the panel I was on with Vernor Vinge at Penguicon a couple of years ago.
  • Searching for similar images graduates out of Google Labs
    Jolie O’Dell has the details at RWW. This does seem intensely useful to end users but I can’t help but think about the impact on the debate around filtering for copyright infringing material. If this proves to have a high degree of accuracy, it will considerably change the balance of the argument around whether automated filtering is feasible and cost effective.
  • USAF announces wireless fiber
    Some good, simple details at The Register. They main challenge to using a laser without the fiber are the distortions introduced by the atmosphere. This research borrows from astronomy to combine adaptive optics with otherwise problematic lasers. Line of sight will probably still limit how this is ultimately used, it won’t be a replacement for Wimax and white space devices.
  • A case for an open cloud
    I don’t disagree with Matt Asay’s thoughts on consumer choice and openness in the cloude, especially since he cites Glyn Moody who I think generally had a better grasp of software freedom which Asay usually dismisses. He does so again, here, and the only part of his point I might agree with is an over fixation of device freedom could obscure issues of freedom in the network. Ultimately, why can’t we focus on and improve both as independent and complementary values?

Demystifying Luddism, Help Support Lovelace Biopic, and More

  • What’s inside a cup of coffee
    Just a brief listing up at Wired with a little bit of explanation for each component. I don’t describe myself as a coffee snob, per se, though all things being equal I prefer to drink good coffee rather than the usual drop swill on offer most places. I am also fascinated by those sort of scientific facts around the beverage as well as the lesser known elements of its history.
  • Skepticism of Mozilla’s response to Google Chrome Frame plugin
    At Ars, Ryan Paul not only recaps the comments by Baker and Shaver at Mozilla about Google’s plugin targeted at MSIE, he also deconstructs some of their concerns. I still tend to think getting users off at least the oldest versions of MSIE is a better long term goal but Ryan does offers some good food for thought on how Frame really is a fairly practical compromise building on a tradition of similar work by Mozilla and others.
  • Babbage, Lovelace documentary needs your support
    Cory points out what sounds like a wonderful film project that needs letters of support sent to the National Science Foundation. It sounds like the need is greatest for letters from people with stories of how Lovelace work directly influenced theirs, in particular women in computing related fields, and from folks with a network or organization that can help promote the film.
  • Monty Python turns 40 today
    What more can I say, really? The comedy troupe is a fixture of so many overlapping subcultures, including geeks of many strips and hackers.
  • Debunking modern ideas about Luddism
    Matthew Lasar has a great piece at Ars digging into a historical movement often invoked as a bane of technological advancement. The lessons are still relevant, once you understand what the Luddites were really doing at the time, but has more to do with the risks of unrestrained capitalism, aided and abetted by disruptive technology.
  • FTC approves rules for payment, freebies received by bloggers
    The Globe and Mail was the first place I saw this story, though details are scant. Is this only for bloggers that are paid employees or blogs that are incorporated in some way? I doubt it but I expect many other sites to pick this story up and add analysis and commentary soon.

Cyberbullying Bill’s Chilly Reception, Open Sourcing Publicly Funded Books, and More

  • Preview build of Mozilla’s CSP available
    This is excellent news, direct from Mozilla’s Security Blog. The work isn’t complete but it is far enough along for testing by security folks. I hope this makes it into Firefox 3.7, its good stuff.
  • Cyber bullying bill not well received
    I am very glad to read at Wired that Rep. Sanchez’s bill was not enthusiastically embraced in sub-committee review. Even if this goes forward despite this early stumble, I hope it founders on serious free speech consideration. Bullying is lamentable, yes, but do we really need to impose a limit on speech comparable to defamation for it?
  • Fourth Public Knowledge video in “We Are Creators Too” series
    This time, looks like a slightly different but just as valuable perspective. PK describes Francesca Coppa as an English professor, author and feminist. She is also a videographer, which would be the common thread of the series.
  • Oracle’s ownership of MySQL is about Microsoft
    A plausible theory by Matt Asay. Oracle certainly doesn’t have the same sort of relationship with open source as say Sun or even IBM. Unfortunately, Asay doesn’t consider what the recent developer exodus and dilution of MySQL’s mark might mean for this idea.
  • Bill proposes to require publicly funded books to be open source
    I am strongly biased towards this sort of idea, it seems like a logical extension of our civic contract. If the public ultimately funds the work, they should get unfettered access to the result. I am less concerned with the impact on the market as I doubt this will eliminate the need for privately developed titles and Flat World is already demonstrating how open source can even be compatible with for profit business models.
  • P2P bill goes into markup
    As Nate Anderson explains at Ars, the bill seeks to require some simple rules around files that software may be sharing to help reduce inadvertent. This seems like a reasonable experiment in regulating P2P. The article mentions other regulation in development, though, that is far more aggressive.
  • Experimental mesh for cell phones
    For the stated purpose, to help provide emergency service, this seems like an excellent idea. I wonder how well it would scale and operate in a sustained mode in as an alternate to traditional cells? I suspect not entirely well and attempting it would undoubtedly draw the ire of the mobile operators.

Get Your Personal Supercomputer, Asking Whether New Technology Makes Us Dumber, and More

  • Patent troll defamation case settled
    I was unaware of this case until Mike Masnick mentioned it on Techdirt earlier in the week. He asks the key question now that the case has been settled, whether the blogger in question will keep writing about the tactics and actions of patent trolls, enlightening the rest of us and hopefully placing that much more pressure for reform.
  • SGI to sell personal super computer
    I was skeptical until I saw that the system in question will scale up to 80 cores. While it may be at the personal scale, to effectively use such a machine, you really would need to use super computing tools and frameworks, like MPI to fully utilize that many cores. Maybe OpenCL and similar initiatives will make programming a personal super computer more approachable.
  • Next Ubuntu release will be a long term support release
    Ryan Paul discusses what an LTS release means at Ars. He also recounts the disappointments with past LTS versions and forthcoming changes, in particular Gnome 3, that may cloud the LTS aspect of 10.04, or Lucid Lynx.
  • Industry group sides with Apple over block Pre sync with iTunes
    The question, as the Globe and Mail eventually points out, is over Palm spoofing Apple’s USB vendor ID to make their phone sync. Palm apparently made the complaint to the USB Implementers Forum but they sided with Apple. It makes sense if you think about the effort and rules behind assigning IDs to be able to clearly distinguish host and device makers. It still doesn’t mean Apple closing their ecosystem to Palm is a good or moral move.
  • Microsoft receives patent on peer to peer DRM
    The article linked to by Slashdot at least has the good graces to acknowledge that this patent is now largely moot. I was willing to concede his point about P2P DRM helping grow P2P networks until I realized that the only thing that makes it P2P is how it distributes and serves keys. I initially thought that the DRM would only be effective in the P2P system, which would be a cool compromise, allowing personal use copying. That is clearly not the case.
  • FCC stance on net neutrality may reset the bar for other countries
    This Globe and Mail piece is mostly a backgrounder and concludes with a quote from Prof. Geist where he makes the point about the new US policy setting a different example for Canada specifically. I think the point could easily be generalized to any country fully engaged with the question of an open internet as a value in and of itself.
  • Google launches web site annotation service
    RWW explains how the service is intended to work, largely as a distributed comment system but with a few twists that distinguish it from struggling predecessors like Disqus. The piece also very briefly considers the ramifications of Google collecting yet more data.
  • Greater risks of Google’s Sidewiki
    Jeff Jarvis points out how the new service diminishes value at destination sites, shifting it to Google. He contrasts this to Google’s other services that drive traffic and value to the edges of the network. He has some updates with worthy rebuttals that really just reveal that Google perhaps should have thought through how this offering changes the dynamic with target sites.
  • Ruling upholds legality of GPL in France
    Saw this on Glyn Moody’s blog, a bit of good news in a country that is descending down a scarey rabbit hole with its pursuit of a three strikes regime against copyright infringers.
  • Do pencils make us dumber?
    At Techdirt, Mike Masnick mentions a book I think I need to add to my pile. It contemplates a question that has occurred to me with increasing frequency when hearing industry incumbents struggle to veto or otherwise suppress innovation. Namely that this dynamic is far from new and I really do wonder what we can learn from history to strike better balances.