Older blog entries for salimma (starting at number 64)

On the separation of license grant and physical artifacts

I’ve been pondering the issue for a while, but have yet to put it in writing, until Frédéric Filloux wrote about it on Monday Note:

We’re now in 2015. I read books-related contents on a number of different devices: my smartphone, my high definition tablet, and even my PC some times. (I personally do not believe in TV for such products). I want spend a long weekend in Rome. Instead of buying a couple of books – one to organize my trip and another to use on location – I will buy rights to both.

My digital rights are also transferable: I can loan or give the book by simply transferring the rights attached to the digital files. In retrospect, this feature makes 2010 digital bookstores look primitive. For instance, in the Apple iBooks Store, I was forbidden to offer a book to anyone or even to access to a iBooks in a foreign country – thus negating key advantages of dematerialized contents.

Some of these are already possible nowadays — tech-savvy publishers such as O’Reilly and The Pragmatic Bookshelf already let you regenerate your digital content in the format of your choice, though normally limited to PDF, ePub and Mobi/Kindle only. But the ePub format should be flexible enough to display differently based on available screen size and multimedia support. There are free self-publishing options with sites such as FeedBooks. There are music sites that sell music files in multiple formats — though so far, only Magnatune (which has shifted entirely to a subscription model) allows redownloading while the others (Pristine Classical, HDtracks, iTunes) make you commit to the format of your choice at purchase time.

There are several limitations with these sites that might prevent more widespread adoption, though:

  • Reliance on customers’ ethics: for example, The Pragmatic Bookshelf uses an easy-to-remove watermark; O’Reilly does not use any DRM or watermark; likewise with Magnatune, Pristine Classical and HDtracks. While admirable, and I personally find it a moral obligation not to distribute digital products entrusted to me in such a manner, many publishers would likely balk at the idea.
  • Conversely, overly-restrictive DRM: the Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks and B&N nook stores fall in this category. B&N innovated the ability to lend books but in a very restricted fashion: you can only lend to a unique user once, and only for two weeks. Why? Physical books can be passed around without constraints. Amazon, sadly, chose to copy this model without any change. It’s sad, when public libraries that offer DRMed ePub lending do not have such restrictive conditions; the problem is not technical but commercial motivation.
  • Inflexible purchasing model: with the non-DRMed publishers you normally commit in advance to buying the rights to a work in digital-only form, or in a paper+digital bundle. You can’t “upgrade” from digital-only to paper+digital (though upgrading in the reverse direction is sometimes possible). You can’t order a replacement physical media if yours is damaged (though, again, software games publishers used to offer this). You can’t, of course, “upgrade” from a DVD to a Blu-Ray edition of your favorite movie without paying the full purchase price.

The solution, as I see it, is to separate right of use from the physical artifact. Publishers should be able to sell the two independently from each other (though obviously there is a dependency of the latter on the former). You should be able to permanently deactivate your rights license code on an artifact (for reselling), or temporarily deactivate it (for lending), and set a time limit on the latter. After all, in the information age content is getting increasingly Platonic: living in pure digital form, only to be instantiated into tangible physical forms — we should focus less on the latter and more on the former.

Syndicated 2010-11-10 14:06:45 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

New fedoraproject.org site

Maírín’s website redesign has gone live! It’s a gorgeous, user-friendly look — congrats to her, the design team, and everyone who worked on this.

Syndicated 2010-10-28 07:09:53 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

FUDCon: travel notes

Typing this on the train coming back from FUDCon. Amazon’s Kindle has free unrestrained 3G access in Switzerland (though Google curiously geo-located me as being in Ireland), as I discovered on the first day of FUDCon, while killing away time waiting for the bunker to open (I’m glad to discover, later, that the consensus is that the Wired Dreams party indeed was a disappointment).

The train just left Switzerland, so I’m back on my netbook, but data coverage is still a bit spotty. For a while the phone actually picked up Austrian cellular networks!

It’s the first time I’ve been to FUDCon, and I’ll definitely be coming back. Though alas, the next one in Tempe, Arizona would be rather hard to squeeze in, so it might be a full year wait. It’s a wonderful energizing experience. The north American folks are great presenters (unfortunately I missed out on Jesse’s dist-git talk), and luckily one of my preferred Barcamp topics (Peter Robinson’s Fedora Mini Mobility) ended up on the morning slot, since I regrettably had to board the train right after lunch, missing all the afternoon sessions. Some ideas came up that I’ll try and follow-up on fedora-de{sktop,vel} as soon as I get back.

Oh, and for anyone thinking of visiting Red Hat’s Czech office — or Novell’s Czech office, for that matter, beware: they’re all party animals! The bunker was well stocked with beer and stronger stuff (including Swiss absinthe, which I was informed has the highest thujone content in the world, Switzerland happily not being part of the EU). ’80s Czech music is awesome, and MIsha regaled me with a Russian narcissus/Father Christmas tale, that surprisingly had a happy ending. Not many photos, unfortunately, but between Maírín and Nicu I think the event was well-covered.

Syndicated 2010-09-19 15:35:29 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

Attending FUDCon Zurich for the weekend

Got in here late last night by train — amusingly, of the three legs of the journey (Erlangen-Nürnberg-Buchloe-Zürich), the only late train was the Swiss train from Buchloe. Uncharacteristic, but hey. Took a detour of 15 minutes walking to the hotel due to mistaking a canal for the river that was shown on the map, which afforded some amusing sights: from someone climbing out of the Botanical Gardens, after hours, over the fence, to someone skateboarding backwards… to a Valley-esque girl outside a bar whose vocabulary appeared to be limited to “OMG” which she repeated ad nauseam.

No Internet on the train (I could have used my phone as a modem until the Swiss border, but between a paper, an eBook — Peter Hamilton’s Pandora Star), no Internet in the hotel, so I had to wait until I arrive at the conference venue for my Internet diet. Finally got the liboauth/bti EL-5 updates finished.

Adam’s just starting his talk so it’s time to sign off now.

Syndicated 2010-09-17 09:16:29 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

Android : flashing :: programming : ?

Your editor will confess that he still feels a certain childlike joy at the prospect of reflashing an expensive device that he depends on, possibly bricking it, then painfully restoring all of the settings and discovering all of the new bugs which have been added. It’s the sort of adrenaline experience that others, perhaps, seek through horror movies, bungee jumping, investing in equities, or PHP programming

Jonathan Corbet, The end of the road for the Nexus One, Linux Weekly News

Syndicated 2010-07-22 09:21:40 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

iTunes feed extractor

The downside of Apple’s iPod/iPhone being so popular is that so many podcasts only publish iTunes links, instead of the more standard RSS/Atom feeds. And I know of OS X and Windows users who detest iTunes — imagine how Unix users feel!

Well, the feeds are still there, but hidden from plain sight — turns out, though, that if you pretend to be iTunes, you can actually trick the iTMS server into giving you the raw data. And with Python 2.6′s built-in support for Apple’s property lists, extracting the feed is a trivial matter.

#!/usr/bin/env python

import plistlib
import urllib2
import sys

ITUNES_VER = '7.4.1'


def get_props(url):
    request = urllib2.Request(url)
    request.add_header('User-Agent', USER_AGENT)
    response = urllib2.urlopen(request)
    return plistlib.readPlistFromString(response.read())

def get_feed(url):
    next_url = get_props(url)['action']['url']
    props = get_props(next_url)
    return props['items'][0]['feedURL']

if __name__ == '__main__':
    for url in sys.argv[1:]:
        print get_feed(url)

Syndicated 2010-07-15 01:59:18 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

On (not) reinventing the wheel

I used to dual-boot Moblin and Fedora on my old netbook — but when I had it replaced due to battery and SSD failures, I stopped doing it on the new netbook, instead exclusively booting Fedora, and relegating MeeGo to a USB stick with persistent overlay. Thankfully, MeeGo’s image creation tool (mic2) is derived from Fedora’s livecd-tools, so I can simply use the latter to burn the MeeGo image to USB with overlay, without messing with the image by hand.

(as an aside, the only way to flash an image to a partition, instead of wiping the entire disk, is using Fedora’s tool, and by extension MeeGo’s — but with the latter, only if one used the Fedora-derived command-line tool, mic-livecd-iso-to-disk instead of the recommended ones)

There are several reasons for this, in no particular order:


Moblin supports ext3 but not ext4; MeeGo adds btrfs to this mix but there’s still no ext4 support. I buy the rationale that ext4 is the SVN of file systems, and that we’ll eventually all migrate to btrfs anyway. But on the other hand, btrfs is not quite there yet — I switched back to ext4 after the SSD failure, when I realized that btrfsck does not yet handle bad sectors properly, unlike e2fsck. With other Linux distributions increasingly switching to ext4 — which can be easily migrated to btrfs later on — the trade-off (slight disk usage increase vs easy access to other Linux partitions) is surely in favour of supporting ext4.

Moblin/MeeGo also does not support LVM, which is used by default by Fedora’s installer, but this is a minor issue — someone deciding to use MeeGo and Fedora can just partition the disk without using LVM.

connman vs NetworkManager

I used to be agnostic as to how my network connections are configured — as long as it just works. This is why my new netbook is a Sony — because unlike other vendors (shame on you, especially, Dell) it does not use a Broadcom WLAN chip with a proprietary, badly-documented, buggy Linux driver (shame on you, Canonical, for helping develop it). Instead, it has a nice Atheros chip.

The same is true when it comes to the software stack. At the beginning I did not pay much attention to the connman vs NetworkManager controversy — prior to version 0.7, NetworkManager had its warts, and connman happened to work just fine on the home wireless networks I tried. This changed when I try connecting to a work network that uses 802.1X security. The MeeGo GUI does not support this, and the developers don’t consider this important at all. The command-line tool is badly documented — documentation is non-existent — and throw cryptic error messages. Makes one wish Java-style checked exception is more widely used; that way, at least developers have to *think* about the exception propagation, instead of just exposing them by neglect to the users.

GNOME 3.0, Fedora MeeGo stack

Fedora 13 already comes with a preview of GNOME 3.0′s shell, and work is in progress on having  MeeGo available. There are some annoying integration issues — the network-manager-netbook applet that integrates the Moblin/MeeGo desktop with NetworkManager is not as well supported as the default connman-based applet, and MeeGo’s window manager has some incompatible modifications that has not been merged back upstream. But, like NetworkManager’s Dan Williams, I believe that the way to improve the Linux desktop is to improve the existing tools that work across all sorts of devices, rather than reinventing them to solely target mobile devices, and in the process having to solve the same technical issues over and over again.

Syndicated 2010-07-11 11:45:04 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

Worrying trend in open-source graphics drivers

It is not so long ago that one could get high-end notebooks with integrated Intel graphics — not the most performant hardware, but with decent[1] open-source drivers directly supported by the manufacturer. Yet when I did a precautionary replacement purchase for my laptop a few months ago, the situation has changed — unless you opt for the business laptops, you either get Intel on the low-end (no Core for you) or AMD/nVidia on the higher end. There are exceptions, but not many. Dell, the company that previously allows you to tweak virtually anything, now does not offer graphics card options for its Studio line-up, at least in Germany. The Sony Vaio E-series, which I purchased, is no longer produced with an Intel card.

Open source drivers for AMD (née ATi) and nVidia cards are improving — and one is grateful for AMD to actually cooperate with open-source developers with documentation and technical help, but at the moment one is caught in a three-way bind: buy Intel and be stuck on the low end (or very limited vendor choices), buy nVidia and get great proprietary drivers and good open source drivers, but supporting the company with the most FLOSS-unfriendly business practices, or buy AMD/ATi and have good-ish proprietary drivers (provided one downgrades one’s Linux install or at least the X components) and so-so (but improving) open source drivers. Being stuck in the latter camp, I was running the open-source Radeon driver, which currently has no DRI support for the Radeon HD 5400 series (no gnome-shell. Not even gthumb, nowadays!) — but then noticed that an older problem might be resurfacing itself — that my graphics card is not being throttled down, contributing to the awful (~ 1 hr) battery life on Linux. That’s about the last straw one can take: my old netbook has snazzier graphics and better battery life[2] than my new notebook!

Going to try the newly-updated proprietary Catalyst driver, coupled with a downgraded X installation from Fedora 12, and see how it goes. Will report my experience here — and recuse myself from submitting X and kernel bug reports until the next version of X comes out and hopefully make the situation less painful.

First time in many, many years using proprietary graphics drivers, but I’m not killing my battery and my hearing (the fans are rather loud) over this.

[1] ports to new APIs tend to introduce periods of instability and performance regressions, but overall the impression is positive
[2] after close to two years, battery capacity just dropped precipitously to ~ 30% of the original, so it’s now getting a new — and higher-capacity — replacement. This is probably the last upgrade — there better be a dual-core, 2 GHz+ netbook out by the time the new battery fails (or a well-supported, affordable ARM smartbook), and it better has SSD options (Dell, what happened to your great Mini 9 SSD deal?)

Syndicated 2010-06-01 11:46:11 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

FSFE and the cross we bear

I’ve been a fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe for just over a month, and recently a visiting friend commented on a point that, until then, I’ve only noted to myself: that the fellowship logo is rather similar to the Christian cross.

FSFE is certainly not a Christian organization. One could argue that it is a by-product of a traditionally Christian civilization, but one could equally argue that it traces its heritage to Greco-Roman philosophy! The green cross, with a slit on the bottom so that the entire shape looks like an icon representing a person standing with open arms, is probably closer to the Red Cross in iconography than to Christianity. That being said, being a fellow does have some similarities to being a committed Christian.

  • The cross we bear: Joining has a price, whether financial, in time commitment, or other means
  • A mission: we bear this price gladly because we believe in what the respective organizations stand for. In case of the FSFE, it’s freedom. Freedom to learn. Freedom to innovate. Freedom from unreasonable restrictions imposed on you by software patents (at this point, I’d like to extend a special welcome to any budding cinematographer who just discovered that by recording your video in H.264, the MPEG-LA consortium owns your soul — er, I mean your work)
  • Diverse voices: just as Christianity is represented by a myriad denominations, some with higher profile than others, some with a more tarnished reputation than others, yet all based on the same foundation — no matter how garbled in the transmission (we are all humans!), the same is true of the Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) community. There are differences between the free and open source camps, between the copyleft and liberal-license camps, etc. But deep down we believe in sharing our works with others, whichever way we justify it to ourselves and others.

The struggle against the anti-commons nature of overly-restrictive intellectual property will be with us for a long time. We have made huge technical leaps — FLOSS software is competitive in diverse fields including server operating system (Linux, the BSDs, OpenSolaris), instant messaging (Jabber, standardized as XMPP), audio codecs (FLAC, Vorbis, Speex), and are catching up in video (Theora, Dirac, and thanks to Google, WebM, née VP8). Even users still locked into proprietary systems can thank FLOSS, and open standards, for the Web they surf (served mostly by Apache), their web applications (often built on top of the Java platform), and further down, the network protocols they use, all developed in collaboration instead of in proprietary isolation.

Yet the road ahead is a long and winding one. Flash is still omnipresent on the Web, Apple is proving a huge disappointment (after contributing to, and sponsoring, so many open source projects, now they’re starting to shrilly attack any competitor to their iPhone/iPad lines — be it Android, Flash, Theora, or WebM). To quote Benjamin Franklin,

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety

I’m not giving up my liberty, and neither should you. It’s true that it is hard to completely give up proprietary software — don’t be discouraged, many free software advocates are not there yet either. But you can start by following these simple guidelines:

  • Favour open standards — does your calendaring solution support the ICAL format? does your mail provider provide IMAP and POP3 access? is your instant messaging platform XMPP-based (e.g. Google Talk), or are you locked onto a proprietary protocol?
  • Vote with your wallet — if a company has a history of abusive behavior (sadly, Apple is now there), attempt to discourage this kind of behavior. Don’t buy the products they’re trying to protect by this behavior, tell them why you’re not buying, and tell other people why too.
  • Be aware of your rights — you have the right to make a personal copy of your music and movie collections. Yet the RIAA and MPAA tries their hardest to make this impossible — in case of DVDs and Blu-ray, to the point of making it illegal

I highly recommend reading Against Intellectual Monopoly and Gridlock Economy; both are accessible and highly illuminating accounts of the damage our current legal IP regime is doing to our societies. The solution is not anarchy — copyleft licenses *are* legal copyright documents — but to work for reform; if you agree, consider donating your time — or money — to organizations such as the Free Software Foundation, its affiliates — including FSFE; the Open Invention Network; your favourite free/open source project (whether in code, documentation, useful bug reports or donation); or projects that enrich our cultural commons by making public domain information more accessible — e.g. Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg.

I thank you. Future generations will thank us too, for whatever little we can do for them today.

Syndicated 2010-05-23 19:44:16 from Intuitionistically Uncertain » Technology

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