GPLR – a niche topic?


It looks like Government Purpose License Rights is a bit of a niche topic. Got this referral through Google search today. I think it’s my first “top of return” search result.

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Search is Broken?

Attended Jimmy Wales talk on Wikia search today at OSCON.

One of his slides stated:

“Search is part of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet. And, it is currently broken.”

I think there is a lot to worry about with Google – concentration of data, hidden algorithms, etc., and I understand the free culture political incentives for building an open and transparent search engine; but I think Wales will be hard pressed at this point to get the average search user to agree with the assertion that search is broken. On the contrary, it seems to me that it is better than it has ever been. Will the audience care?

Btw, the grub project’s use of latent cycles and bandwidth to do crawling seems really cool.

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The Power of Brand: OSI?


I attended a talk the other day at OSCON that has stuck with me; it was a discussion of naming and branding around open source called “who gets to decide what open source means?” As a corallary to this discussion, the OSI was selling (giving away with donation) tee shirts complete with a nice logo and naturally, there was a lot of discussion of their crackdown on abusers of the open source nomenclature.

On one hand I agree with the basic premise here, that if you call your stuff open source and then never actually open the source bad karma is in your future. But on the other hand, there is something a bit quesiness-inducing about all of this.

First off, there is at least a subtle irony in seeing a group of copyright libertarians using trademark and copyright to protect their brand. Not that there isn’t value in it, but it seems a bit like a gangster rapper, after a career of singing “$%## the police”, starting to make angry calls to the local precinct demanding increased neighborhood patrols once he has a nice house.

The other thing that is weighing on me is this idea. If the OSI is successful in developing this brand, it will be really valuable. Valuable things attract attempts to influence (think Congress). Couple this with a vote-based subjective decision process for OSI vetting against the criteria; and you have a system that seems idealistic and good now; but will most likely be subverted later. These self-appointed holders of the brand will have to be very careful to incorporate mechanisms and incentives for protecting the brand that are better and more powerful than the very strong incentives to subvert it.

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Finally saw an OLPC, they exist (but still not for sale)


I’m here at OSCON and finally got to see a real working OLPC laptop. The OSU Open Source Center (I think that’s what it was called) has been developing a media player for it and was showing off their efforts (cool stuff). First impressions,… it’s really tiny, fun looking with it’s little ears, and is really light.

However… you still can’t buy one. I just can’t understand this (maybe it’s changing?). It’s leveraging open source software but you have to be a member of a traditional developer network to get one (you can get the emulator, but if you can’t get the device why would you want to?). I just don’t understand how those in charge can really expect to develop a vibrant community when the device isn’t available to the people most likely to tinker with it and create stuff.

I haven’t been closely following all the discussions of the economics of this softa $100+ machine, but it seems to me like retail sales of any magnitude would 1) enhance the bulletproofing of the device 2) increase production runs to reduce costs 3) enhance the viability of the open source communities around the device and, perhaps most importantly 4) prevent the unsavory but inevitable news story of Nigerian kids selling their laptops to re-sellers who then see them turn up on ebay. If there is no where to get one, this will happen.

This isn’t a solution. It’s a cheap machine,… so what; that’s not the point.

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Hacking Hardware for Software Control


I attended a really interesting session by Jonathan Oxer at OSCON yesterday. The focus was on connecting the virtual with the physical; hacking hardware and controlling it from the virtual world.

Jonathan is apparently the McGyver of cyber/physical mashups and seems to have automated everything in or near his home: mailbox, lighting, blinds with motors, sprinkler systems (that check the weather and sample soil moisture before starting up), and etc.

What he demonstrated in the tutorial was a Second Life avatar actuating a real world appliance something like this… a scripted object in Second Life initiates an outbound HTTP connection when “touched” by an avatar. That outbound HTTP initiates a script on a remote webserver that talks to that machine’s USB serial port (that is a slight simplification, because he couldn’t get a fixed IP at OSCON there were actually two web servers involved). Connected to the serial port is an open source / open hardware Arduino ( board.

The Arduino board was programmed so that one value on the serial port would actuate an attached relay, and a second value would actuate a second attached relay.

The relays were in turn connected to a busted open and hacked radio remote control to a cheap appliance store appliance controller. (this chain of Arduino to relay to appliance controller was all about pushing up the voltage and current that could ultimately be controlled – analogous to a remote controlled power breaker).

When it was all said and done, the Arduino board served as a virtual to real world “impedance matcher” (that is an analogy fraught with problems) and when the avatar touched the object (now a virtual light switch) the light on the desk went on or off depending on its previous state.

Seems like tons of things that could be done with this kind of connection. Some Arduino examples are here.

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What to read?


I woke up this morning to this article on CEO libraries. It was interesting that none of the people profiled are reading business books, they are reading history, philosophy, literature, and even poetry.

It got me thinking about my post from a while back on reading business books. I’m still reading far more literature and non-fiction than “business reads” but I’m afraid, since that post, I have fallen into the trap of reading more industry stuff.

Business books like The Ten Faces of Innovation, which I really enjoyed, are worth reading. But in the big scheme of things, I continue to feel like I get more out the other end of my bookshelf where recent reads (or re-reads) like Life and Fate, My Life, and The Complete Works of O’Henry rest.

By the way, I have only a very small part of my library listed so far (and I started at the wrong end of the bookshelf), but Shelfari is a fun way to catalogue your library and then incorporate it into social networks to make connections based on common reading interests.

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Design School

I’ve always believed that design matters. My degrees are in engineering but my bookshelves are filled with books on architecture, design, information design, fonts, layout, etc. If you see your role in this world as gathering requirements and implementing them, enjoy your stay at the bottom of the commodity heap. The best systems happen at the intersection of understanding “requirements” and design with a point of view.

I ran across this post today on design with its great embedded links. Thought I’d pass it along.

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Because of a last minute change to my schedule I’m going to be attending OSCON in Portland in a week or so. If you are going to be there and want to meet up let me know.

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