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March 02, 2008

Bazaar Sprint

Canonical and the Bazaar guys have been kind enough to invite me to the Bazaar sprint happening in London this week. So I head off tomorrow morning, and should be getting back Saturday afternoon.

I should still be contactable by phone, email and/or IRC if I’m needed especially urgently for anything.


February 28, 2008

Free Software vs. Open Hardware

Writing about web page http://rowetel.com/ucasterisk/

I watched the video of a talk from Linux.Conf.Au yesterday, “How To Build An Embedded Asterisk IP-PBX”.

Within this, David Rowe talks about how he got interested in starting such a project, how it was realised, and what future plans are (all of which was very interesting). The IP04 is the primary product produced thus far, which is based entirely on open hardware (much of it designed by Rowe himself). What was most interesting, for me, was the motivation for the project that David talked about when mentioning open hardware, that he wanted to drive the market price of VoIP hardware down.

Coming from someone who was talking a lot about liking FOSS (though using the O more than the F), this seems like an unusually capitalist argument. The economic argument for it is obvious: if I can design my hardware for free (by using the open hardware designs) then I can still make a decent profit while massively undercutting any of my competitors.

From the limited results that have been seen so far (production of the open hardware is still being ramped up), this model works for hardware. So, why is it that we don’t see the same results with Free Software? Is it because the economic model for open hardware is massively different from that for Free Software? I don’t believe so.

I believe it is because the markets in which the vast majority of Free Software competes are much broader than the market in which the IP04 and it’s forthcoming friends compete. The open hardware, in this case, has a very specific purpose, it is meant to connect phone calls (and, in fact, Asterisk, on which it is based, is one of the more successful Free Software projects in commercial terms). Free Software, however, rarely strives merely to replace proprietary software but instead tries to improve it.

Improvement obviously requires change. Once the Free Software has changed from what it was originally intended to replace, it is no longer a direct competitor. It may fulfil all of the functions that are really important to certain applications of it (normally those that the developers, be they paid or otherwise, are most interested in) but inevitably supports some use cases of the original in a worse manner0.

And, of course, a lot of Free Software was never written to replace proprietary software (i.e. Rhythmbox was intended to be a media player, not necessarily a direct replacement for Windows Media Centre), which means it has even less common ground to compete on. In fact, projects that started like this often require a complete paradigm shift, which means that differing parties are arguing at complete cross-purposes.

I’m not sure how to conclude this post, other than to suggest that Free Software projects that aim to replace a proprietary project tend to do better, within traditionally proprietary markets, than those that attempt to truly innovate. How does this reflect on what projects individuals choose to start and what projects companies who are competing in those markets choose to contribute to?

[Footnote 0: This, naturally, leads to the problems with benchmarking competing software products, each camp chooses the 10% of their project which is unique and better than the other, and spends time trying to convince people that that’s what’s really important.]


September 09, 2007

Vim Omnicomplete Awesomeness

I just discovered, through jerbear in #python, the omnicomplete feature in Vim 7. This is something that I’ve been idly in hope of for ages, and to discover it actually exists in Vim already is awesome (hence the title).

omnicomplete searches through any files you’ve imported (including Python library modules) and completes names you might possibly want to use:

To do this requires the rather awkward0 key combination of Ctrl-X, Ctrl-O. After much effort1, I rebound the key combination so Ctrl-Space will work as well. This requires the addition of the line “inoremap <Nul> <C-x><C-o>” to your .vimrc2. This doesn’t work for the graphical Vim, where you will probably want ‘C-space’ instead of ‘Nul’ (though I can’t be sure).

Everyone may already be aware of this, but for those who aren’t, check it out!




0 And strangely Emacs-y.

1 Thanks again to jerbear, as well as \amethyst and Heptite in #vim.

2 Or the use of the command “:inoremap <Nul> <C-x><C-o>” when within Vim.


September 01, 2007

Conduit

Follow-up to Syncing Evolution Contacts/Calendars from The Utovsky Bolshevik Show

In my search for a synchronisation solution for Evolution, I’ve stumbled across Conduit . This is basically an application designed to synchronise data from a data source to a data sink. It’s pluggable, so the general definition holds.

It’s still fairly basic, early in development as it is, but it looks like it could be very cool. Even more exciting, it’s written in Prothon. \o/

On a side note, having just checked ‘svn log’, there is one ‘jonnylamb’ who has just got commit access…


August 31, 2007

Syncing Evolution Contacts/Calendars

I’ve recently started using the Calendar and Contacts features of Evolution. However, I regularly use three different systems1 from which I’d want access to whatever I add as part of these. I’ve asked in #wuglug on irc.uwcs.co.uk and the general outcome was that I should use LDAP or somesuch. However, LDAP is several orders of magnitude more complicated than should be necessary2 for this. I’d appreciate it if anyone who has any ideas (even if they were suggested in #wuglug previously, I’ve probably forgotten by now) could either drop me a comment or an email or somesuch.

Also, it should be noted that I hate PlanarPlatypus for this .

1 My desktop, my laptop and the DCS machines.

2 And I have an unpleasant past testing it.


May 24, 2007

Regarding Ubuntu and Naked People

Writing about web page http://robitaille.wordpress.com/2007/04/14/the-naked-people-artwork-in-ubuntu/

It occurs to me that Firefox and all other web browsers should probably be removed from Ubuntu. People might use them to look at bad things, which would offend them. While we’re at it, lose the email clients, people might received bad things, which would offend them. Text editors or really anything involving text should probably go too, as people might write bad things and read them, which would offend them. Same goes for graphics programs really…


November 27, 2006

What is Advocacy?

Follow-up to Advocacy from The Utovsky Bolshevik Show

One of the entries on Dictionary.com tells me that advocacy is

The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.

This is all well and good, but doesn’t really tell me anything more than I assumed in my first post on Advocacy.

One key point to note, however, is that advocacy is an ‘act’, it is ‘active support’. As Advocacy Officer of the Warwick University GNU/Linux User Group, I can’t just sit around shouting at people about the WUGLUG, GNU/Linux and Free Software, I need to get off my arse and do something to demonstrate to them why I believe that these three topics are worth my time and, hence, theirs.

In the hopes of finding a fuller definition of Advocacy, I turned to Wikipedia, which, having redirected me to an article about political advocacy, tells me that

Advocacy is an umbrella term for organized activism related to a particular set of issues. Advocacy is expected to be non-deceptive and in good faith, though it is sometimes tainted by use of propaganda. It is almost always organized into or by an advocacy group or special interests.

This is a much meatier definition, so I will address the various issues brought up here in greater detail.

Organised Activism

Advocacy is an umbrella term for organized activism related to a particular set of issues.

I don’t intend to talk about the particular set of issues to which the WUGLUG’s advocacy is related in this blog post, as it deserves a fuller investigation.

What I do want to focus on is the fact that advocacy is ‘organised activism’. According to one definition on Dictionary.com, activism is

a policy of taking direct and militant action to achieve a political or social goal

However, before we start breaking out the AK-47s on Wednesday evenings, an understanding of what this definition means is required. Another definition on Dictionary.com is largely identical but replaces “direct and militant action” with “vigorous action or involvement”.

It, therefore, seem to me that Advocacy is, in part, the organisation of ‘vigourous action or involvement’ in issues that the WUGLUG is interested.

Non-Deceptive

Advocacy is expected to be non-deceptive and in good faith, though it is sometimes tainted by use of propaganda.

This is an extremely important point and little explanation of the overall meaning should be needed.

Propaganda, however, needs to be more carefully defined. My ever-present friend (ResNet permitting), Dictionary.com tells me that propaganda is

information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

This definition suggests to me that the author of the Wikipedia article has misunderstood the nature of propaganda and is using it in a purely negative sense. I would argue that the WUGLUG should be deliberately spreading information and ideas (though probably not rumours) widely to help our group and/or the Free Software movement.

I would, in addition, argue that, to hark back to the Wikipedia definition, the aforementioned information and ideas should not be deceptive nor should they not be in good faith.

So, my role as WUGLUG Advocacy Officer also seems to involve the dissemination of non-deceptive information and ideas, in good faith.

Advocacy Group

It is almost always organized … by an advocacy group or special interests.

Despite some interesting grammar (removed from the above quotation), the Wikipedia article also states that Advocacy is almost always undertaken by an advocacy or special interest group.

Up to this point, I have been talking about how I, as Advocacy Officer, should be advocating the WUGLUG, GNU/Linux and Free Software. It seems to me, however, that the WUGLUG is defined as a special interest group within CompSoc, which fits the above definition of an advocacy-organising group.

As such, it’s important that I recognise my role as one of co-ordinator, not single-handed performer. The WUGLUG as a whole needs to be advocating the aforementioned issues and it is simply my job to facilitate this.

Conclusion
To pull together all the parts of this post, Advocacy, in this context at least, would appear to be
  • the organisation of ‘vigourous action or involvement’ in issues that the WUGLUG is interested;
  • the dissemination of non-deceptive information and ideas, in good faith

by the whole of the WUGLUG, not just their Advocacy Officer.


November 26, 2006

Advocacy

As recently elected Advocacy Officer of the Warwick University GNU/Linux User Group, I have had to start thinking about what ‘advocacy’ in the context of the WUGLUG actually means.

There are a number of things I know it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean I should correct people every time they incorrectly say Linux or LUG, which is a habit I need to get out of. It doesn’t mean saying “ZOMG, Windows is teh suxx0r” because that immediately alienates a key part of the advocatees of a GNU/Linux User Group (which, for the time being, I will assume is people not using GNU/Linux). And finally, it certainly does not mean I have any right whatsoever to bitch about anyone, be they WUGLUG’er, Exec member or CompSoc’er.

In trying to divine what my role should be, I have asked myself three questions:

Meaning

What does ‘advocacy’ mean?

What
It seems to me that there are two main subjects which the WUGLUG Advocacy Officer should be advocating:
  • The WUGLUG itself, so the group flourishes and is able to better perform its functions, whatever they are decided to be.
  • GNU/Linux or, more generally, Free Software. The WUGLUG is a group for GNU/Linux users, by GNU/Linux users (to coin a phrase) and the majority of these users will spend a great deal of their time using and, to a lesser extent, developing Free Software. It will not be uncommon for the latter to take place within the bounds of the WUGLUG.
Who
There are three main groups of people to whom I should be advocating the WUGLUG and Free Software, to differing extents:
  • Members of the WUGLUG.
  • Members of CompSoc.
  • Other technically minded people.

I will expand on all these under-explored topics in future blog posts, when I am not about to drop dead of exhaustion.


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