How Far Is Too Far?

A simple question: how far would you travel to attend meetings of a FLOSS user group (for example, a Linux User Group [LUG], BSD user group [BUG?]) or a maker-type group (building with Raspberry Pi, BeagleBoard/BeagleBone, Arduino, 3D printers, etc)?

I was looking around my local area in SoCal, and I realized that the nearest such groups meet a little distance away (~55 miles or longer). Would you still make the trip? Or would you skip the event unless you had another reason to be nearby at that time?

[Meta] Moving The Furniture … Soon

There were some transitional things that happened during our recent move from Dreamhost to the present hosting. Primary among those was adding a new subdomain (ospblog). Originally, this was so that we could complete the move without losing the original site, which was using the blog and www subdomains.

Sometime over the next month, I hope to move this blog completely onto the  blog subdomain, and completely off of the ospblog subdomain. For those who may not know what a subdomain is, the address bar of your web browser probably says http://ospblog.opensourceplayground.org/ right now. It could also say http://blog.opensourceplayground.org/ since they both point to the same content. After this move, the ospblog subdomain will no longer point to this WordPress site. (Well, I'm thinking of having it forward, so users will still get here.)

Also, during the move, I did not point the www subdomain here. I'm inclined to stand up a separate site for that one.

Caveats:

  • $EMPLOYER may place me on an extended-schedule assignment, removing any time I may have for these moves.
  • I'm also standing up a couple of things for family members. Obviously, these have to take precedence.
  • I may be moving soon. I am not sure whether that would be across town or across the country. Either way, it could be an extended process.

As these things get closer, I hope to post further announcements.

The Future of Free Software Gaming II

Doug wrote an article about the future of Free software gaming that is going to be sort of a jumping off place for this one. Remember that free software is not about price. Free software is about the freedom that the user retains when obtaining, installing, and using the software.

I agree that open source engines, while always a good thing, are not going to be what moves FLOSS gaming into the mainstream. A good engine is likely to result in better gameplay, but only if game creators utilize all of the engine’s capabilities to implement better concepts and designs.

I want to look at it from more a business standpoint, because I don’t play many games. In fact, I bought myself a PlayStation 3 in 2008, but it immediately disappeared into the youngest’s bedroom where it sat next to his XBox 360. He and the XBox are out of state, attending college, but my PlayStation is still in his old room. [Update: We're a PS4 family now. The Xbox 360 and PS3 are gone. I have a PS4. The oldest and the youngest each have PS4s.]

Core to the business of gaming is the idea that if you don’t lock the system and software down, the customers will copy and distribute the product (games) and the developers will go out of business. There is plenty of precedent for this. In the 1980s, I lived near a facility that handled products for Mattel’s game business. At the time, Mattel’s Intellivision was a distant second place to Atari’s 2600 VCS, but Intellivision had some really interesting games. There was a plant employee who would come to a certain store about twice per month and offer stolen game cartridges in the parking lot for $5 each. Eventually, Mattel ported many of its games to Atari’s platform, selling them under the “M Network” name, and this employee started offering them as well.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but I think I bought about 60 cartridges from him. I think I had about 35 cartridges that I paid full price for. (I had both game systems.) This means that 2/3 of my game cartridges were not legitimately purchased.

One of the selling points when the PS3 came out was that you could install Linux on it and dual-boot with the original OS. Later, Sony released an update which removed that capability. They claimed that having an open, configurable system made the PS3 insecure. After you remove the technobabble and PR-speak, they were afraid that game software companies would abandon the PS3 unless Sony could guarantee that users could not use Linux to copy, alter, and distribute their wares.

I said all this to say that X11 is far from perfect, but X11 with the newest OpenGL could produce very acceptable graphics, if graphics card vendors like Nvidia and AMD/ATI would produce equally-functional drivers for Linux-based (or even BSD) operating systems. X11 is not the reason there have not been many quality games for Linux in the past, and I do not believe that the introduction of Wayland or Mir to the general Linux-using population will substantially change the quality or the number of games available.

Steam began producing games for some GNU+Linux based operating systems (primarily Ubuntu, I believe) in the past year or two. They did this despite Ubuntu’s still-existing dependence upon X11, simply because they view GNU+Linux as the only viable future for PC gaming. The Windows 8 experience is quite different from, and I would say quite inferior to, the traditional desktop operating system experience. As a consequence of this (as well as the popularity of mobile devices such as tablets), PC sales are sharply down. I’m not afraid to state my observation that Windows 8 is killing the PC market upon which Steam depends.

[As an aside, I upgraded my Windows 8 laptop to Windows 8.1. If you're on a laptop  or desktop system without a touchscreen, Windows 8 is not very usable. Windows 8.1 offers little improvement. It is almost as though Microsoft is afraid to let people experience a non-touchscreen-centric Windows. I can see why Steam is trying to establish their brand on non-Windows systems, because Microsoft is heading towards being the company whose software is on "the work computer" but not anywhere else.]

From the standpoint of a business, TUR (technological usage restrictions), often euphemized as DRM (digital rights management or digital restrictions management), is often believed to be essential to preventing unpaide and unlicensed distribution of games. This, rather than any specific issues with X11 or desktop GNU+Linux distributions, accounts for the lack of available games.

Steam may be implementing its own TUR system. Whether they do implement TUR or choose not to do so, Steam’s success will prove to other PC games companies that GNU+Linux is a viable platform for their products. (Yes, I hope the GNU+Linux port of their proprietary game system successfully gains widespread adoption. And yes, I hope that is achieved without relying on technological restrictions.)

Game companies will have to figure out ways to utilize unpaid distribution and gamers who did not pay for the games to make their products ubiquitous. When “Game A” is so widely distributed and used that its availability becomes a selling point for the platform, the company that produces that game will benefit, even if not every player is a customer.

From a business standpoint, a successful Steam without TUR will create a rather large opening for free software gaming. I do not think a free software engine, in the absence of a breakthrough game that proves that TUR-free gaming is profitable on GNU+Linux, is enough to make free software gaming popular. I do not think that spectacular graphics will be enough, either. The key is to get game companies producing both FLOSS and proprietary games for the platform.

Now, free software games may also exist on other platforms. But on Windows they may have to overcome the negative experience of many freeware and shareware games in order to become popular. Also, just as on GNU+Linux, the key is still to prove to game developers that TUR-free applications can still be profitable.

 

 

Free Culture Baltimore and Baltimore/Maryland 2600

File:BaltimoreC12.png
Image licensed under CC BY-SA

 


I'm still on hiatus, but this is related enough to my work at Hopkins that I should take the time to do it. This is mostly a repost of my post on the Music Manumt Lawcast, but I thought I should post here because I truly believe free culture incorporates free software and because 2600 is really more of an OSP than Music Manumit thing anyway.

I. Free Culture Baltimore is an organization I am starting to bring my local community of free culture thinkers together. The intent is to become a local chapter of the Free Culture Foundation. My last day in my current position at Hopkins is April 24th, and it has been clear for some time that there is not a go-to person here (other than me) for free culture issues. It is not that there aren't people at Hopkins that couldn't figure it out. In fact, the JHU School of Public Health decided to release some course materials under a CC BY-NC-SA before I was here. [I personally disagree with the -NC part of that decision, but they are following the example set by MIT and this is not really the place for a general post about OCW (though I'm happy to do a longer post if people are interested). If you want to look at some data about OCW, I encourage you to look at and contribute to the spreadsheet I have started.]

As with all of my projects, I try to be realistic and not take on too much. Considering my current list of projects (NEF, MEFSportazine, Music Manumit, OSP), I don't realistically see Free Culture Baltimore as becoming anything more than a mailing list. I certainly hope I'm wrong about that, but I will need strong participation from others. Part of my hesitance on predicting more for the organization is that I could find out in October that I am leaving Baltimore in July 2015. If I don't leave then, I almost certainly will in July 2016. I'm sure I'll post on the site when I move, because I'll immediately start looking for free culture opportunities in the next city. While their is a list of cities, I don't think it makes much sense to speculate right now (although, again, if people are interested, I'm happy to share).

I do want to take a moment to think big about Free Culture Baltimore, because very few people are going to be excited about a mailing list. I think almost everything I'd like to do is a local implementation of things I'd like to do with NEF, but since not everyone reading this will be familiar with NEF, it is worth mentioning some explicit goals:

1. Get more people using federated social media, such as mediagoblin, which is currently running a funding campaign.
2. Get more people using free software generally.
3. Help creators understand both in- and out-licensing.
4. Help creators with crowd-funding campaigns.
5. Help creators with live exhibitions, shows, talks or however one might present material in physical space.

On the free software side, it'd be great if we could help local schools and non-profits move to free software. I'm new to the area, so my local connections are limited.

II. Maryland 2600, which appears to have also gone by the name 2600 Group Baltimore, seems to no longer exist. Their twitter and LiveJournal are no longer maintained and both the .org and .net websites no longer exists. Strictly speaking, this isn't a music project, but I'd really like to find some answers and I know a lot of our audience are tech people. Specifically, I'd like to know if the meetings still take place, because they are still listed in the quarterly meeting list. I tried to go last Friday, but I couldn't find any group at the Barnes & Noble that looked like a 2600 group. Of course, since I've never been to a meeting, I didn't really know what I sought. In case you're wondering what 2600 is, you should check out the global 2600 website.

I was interested in this before the heartbleed bug, but I have a suspicion that InfoSec groups are going to see an uptick in attendance in coming months. I should say, if anyone is interested in any of the potential legal fallout from heartbleed, let me know, and I'll see what I can do.


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Re-post of interview with Robert Douglass on MuseScore

This interview isn't entirely about software, but I think the issues raised about software for the blind are important enough to report. If there are any updates to the original, you can find them at Music Manumit.

Open Goldberg


Audio
mp3 audio | ogg audio | torrent

In this episode:
We talk with Robert Douglass from Open Goldberg

Continue reading

Migration, New Podcast and Hiatus

Migration

We are currently migrating away from Dreamhost to save money. There may be some down time in the future. We will try to keep you posted as details become available.

New Podcast

We may have a new Linux podcast! There’s nothing official to announce yet.

Hiatus

I will be taking a hiatus from writing until I have a post-graduation job secured (I graduate in May). This should not affect writings by anyone else, or the potential for a new podcast.

Patent Claiming 1: Potential Topics?

I’ve received no feedback on my proposed patent claiming series, other than Walt’s initial suggestion that I continue the project, so I wanted to propose some potential topics for people to pick. Some of these aren’t specifically patent claiming topics, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about them in another series. Please leave a comment or find me on a social network.

  1. Types of Software Patent Claims
  2. Types of Patent Claims
  3. University Tech Transfer
  4. IP in the Developing World
  5. Review of the Patent Practice curriculum at UNH Law
  6. Padlock versus Patent
  7. Patent First Principles
  8. Why Technologists Should Go To Law School
  9. Claim Strategies
  10. 35 US 112
  11. Patent Basics
  12. Important Upcoming IP Cases
  13. Introduction to the AIA
  14. Non-obviousness vs Novelty
  15. Why a patent isn’t always what it seems
  16. Designing Around a Patent

If people want to know about some of these, I may have professors willing to do a guest blog. I will look into that, but I don’t want to tell you which ones those might be and sway any decisions.

We are leaving up the Dreamhost donation button on the right for the time being, but we are looking to move away from Dreamhost, so if you want to donate, please use Flattr. Also, you can help me out by sending me something off my Amazon wishlist.

Patent Drafting 0: Why Patent Drafting?

Image from 1910 in the Public Domain

Walt suggested that I write a little about patent drafting and claiming. On a day-to-day level, patent law, rather than patent practice is more important for general understanding the patent system. Feel free to look at our back catalog of patent coverage.

However, I think it important as a policy matter to keep in mind the intellectual aspects of patent claiming. There is a certain hacker mentality that comes with patent claiming. Since patents are on the cutting edge of technology, describing every element of every claim is much like solving a puzzle. It’s intellectually challenging and stimulating. What I think we as a community need to figure out is how we steer computer engineers away from the intellectual challenges of patent claiming and into intellectual challenges that will benefit all of humanity. I hope giving some insight into the intellectual challenges of patent claiming will help the policy makers in the free software community decide how best to deal with challenge. Ultimately, it might just be a matter of money, but I’m not going to purport to know how to solve the problem, whether it be money or otherwise.

Before moving on to work on a more substantive article about patent claiming, I recognize that my audience is likely to be skeptical about software patents, if not downright hostile to them, and that feeling may go toward patents in general. Certainly exclusion runs counter to the stated goals of the free software movement, whatever the movement’s actual problems with inclusion may be. It is easy to talk about patent law in the context of invalidating patents or in the context of what should and should not be patentable subject matter. It is a much more difficult task to talk about patent drafting in the context of being anti-patent. I’m not sure if I’m going to attempt to keep that face on during the series. Ultimately, patent claiming is about getting patents and that’s the rhetoric I’ll be forced to use. I am, of course, always open to suggestions on rhetoric and on topics, so if you think there are better ways to spend my time, feel free to let me know. I’m not a hard person to find.

 

 

We are leaving up the Dreamhost donation button on the right for the time being, but we are looking to move away from Dreamhost, so if you want to donate, please use Flattr. Also, you can help Doug out by sending him something off his Amazon wishlist.

The Rest of this Semester, Next Semester, and Beyond

Well, it’s the same title I gave over at Sportazine, but it’s not the same content. Presumably, no one cares about TINT or Sports Law here.

The Rest of the Semester

I have mentioned this before on the blog, but my courses are Patent Practice, Sports Law, Administrative Procedure, Technology Licensing, Writing for Practice and an Independent Study getting NEF up and running. I’d like to get something out of those for the blog, but realistically I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I’m starting to get my reading done for the semester, so soon I’ll have some time to sit down and try to synthesize some things. I just can’t say for sure yet. In a couple of my classes, we don’t get our assignments except a week in advance, so it’s really hard to plan ahead.

Next Semester

This is the main reason for me writing. The announcement is that I’ll be living in Baltimore and externing at Johns Hopkins University next semester in their Tech Transfer department.

I don’t know what that means yet for OSP. I don’t know what I’ll be at liberty to say due to attorney-client privilege, but I’ll bring as much to you as I can. I do know they are interested in having me do some copyright work and probably some patent work, so there might be something I can bring to the blog. For now, don’t expect anything next semester.

Beyond

At this point, there’s not much to say about beyond. I can assume that once I get a job, output will be much like things were before going to law school. However, it will be a different job in a different city, and I’ll be living with Wendy. Whether living with Wendy will help or hurt output is hard to say. She often has work to do at home, so maybe that will keep me on task. Once I have a job, I’ll probably draft another road map email like this. Until then, stay tuned for the posts from Walt!

Why Open Source?: Control

This is part one of what I hope will be a series of articles that give some reason for choosing free software (also known as open source software) and devices built upon free software. I believe that you and I, along with our friends, families, neighbors, employers, schools, and government agencies, should prefer (and maybe even require) free / open source software and devices built upon such software.

I cannot hope to improve upon the rationales written by such people as RMS, ESR, Simon Phipps, or Bradley Kuhn, but perhaps I can formulate something that you will consider.

Today’s topic is CONTROL. Who controls your computer, your tablet, your smartphone, your vehicle, your medical implants? Is it you or the vendor? Why does it matter?

I recently mentioned that I had a computer that I could not boot because the computer had no Internet connection, so the software vendor’s license-checking process that could not call home. That experience revealed to me that this particular vendor (and software produced by said vendor) could not be trusted to protect my interests, so I should seek software that does.

You have probably also encountered lots of trial software and other unwanted garbage added to your computers in the past. Vendors do this because the companies behind these applications pay them to do so. What happens, then, when you buy a mobile device, and some of those unwanted applications are not removable?

Likewise, you may have encountered an application that you use regularly, which then gets a “mandatory” upgrade that makes it much more difficult to use for your purposes. The classic examples, of course, are the proprietary office suite that has incompatible changes in its file format in the next version. Once any of your frequent contacts upgrades to the new version, you are forced to do likewise. The other classic example is the operating system that has an “emergency update” to install anti-infringement technologies (see my story linked above).

All of these things happen primarily because closed source (“proprietary”) software developers are always in a position to do things that are not right for the people and organizations that use their products.

Now, I do not want to give the impression that the freedom-respecting software we call “free software” or “open source software” is automatically immune to someone wanting to make user-unfriendly changes. I often mention that I used (and showed others how to use) AmaroK to automatically subscribe, download, and queue podcasts, but when KDE4 came out, it lost the ability to subscribe and download. Years later, it is still useless for my purposes.

But with AmaroK, as with other free software applications, I could either edit the code myself or pay someone else to edit it on my behalf to restore lost functionality. Who are you going to pay to edit $BIG_CORPORATE_SOFTWARE_APPLICATION to make a previous file format the default with no pestering? Who are you going to pay to cause $BIG_CORPORATE_OPERATING_SYSTEM allow you to use the computer you paid for?

When certain  corporations refuse to support .ogg/.ogv, .opus, .spx, and .webm in their browsers, who are you going to pay to modify that? But if you are using a browser that is free software, you could conceivably add (or pay someone else to add) the desired functionality.

You have a computing device that cost you a lot of money. That “free” smartphone actually cost you hundreds of dollars. Likewise your tablet or laptop cost hundreds of dollars. Why would you choose to run software on your expensive device which intentionally acts to restrict how you use the device you paid for? Take control of your devices by choosing free software.

Does your opinion differ? Do you wish to discuss how you feel empowered when proprietary applications restrict your use of your devices? Comment!