Archive for August, 2007

algo-wiki-rithms

August 31, 2007

A very interesting development. Via Slashdot.

Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense to me. Wikipedia has a reputation (often blown a tad bit out of proportion) of being the Wild Wild West of information sources not to be trusted because any outlaw can taint its contents in a most biased or blatantly false manner.

Of course, Wikipedia needs to acknowledge valid criticism of its system and further mold its process and infrastructure in an open way to meet such concern. And it has. An algorithmic supplement however, is taking that approach to an entirely different level. This is a perfectly suited job for an algorithm. True, an algorithm is always fundamentally stupid…no matter how complex and apparently clever. But so long as it’s simply keeping tabs on our constructed knowledge and not replacing us as actual constructors of knowledge, it could prove to be a socially useful tool. Furthermore, it must exist of course, as free software if implemented on the client side or free software as a service (more likely) if integrated with the online version of Wikipedia itself. After all, if you’re going to build and maximize a measured level of trust into code, the code itself must be trusted.

So Luca de Alfaro, B. Thomas Adler, Marco Faella, Ian Pye, and Caitlin Sadowski, it seems you are very open regarding the techniques of your work. What are your plans regarding source code?

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Meet the Teachers/Parents and Free Software

August 31, 2007

So I’ve started a new teaching position. I just finished my third week and things are going well. After school today, time was set aside for parents to come meet the teachers. After speaking with the third and fourth grade parents, the room slowly emptied though one Mom and Dad stayed behind. In private, they both approached me with sincerity. “We noticed something and we are concerned,” the father said. “All we see here is Microsoft. Do you teach with any other software? Like Linux?”

They were both very nice though very serious. I sensed that they had waited for everyone to leave so not to “embarrass” or “challenge” the “Microsoft teacher” in front of others with their questioning of the status quo.

Needless to say, after explaining my background, my intention, and that making a shift in that direction will take time (I just got here!), they left the computer lab smiling from ear to ear.

But that was nothing compared to my smile.

more on the beast’s mockery of the ISO process

August 30, 2007

Update: Sweden declares own vote invalid and will now abstain.

Andy has more commentary on Microsoft’s purchase of the Swedish OOXML vote.

Sadly, it seems that, due to the efforts of a single company, ISO/IEC will need to overhaul their good faith based rules to prevent a similar stunt from being perpetrated on the system in the future.

I like “good faith based rules” in general. When relating with others, I tend to deemphasize (though not completely ignore) rules. When things start going awry, people can often communicate their concerns and set things straight allowing reason to reign. A focus solely on rules lacks humanity while encouraging irresponsibility through the exploitation of loopholes. Unfortunately, as Andy reports,

Jason Matusow, Microsoft’s Director of Corporate Standards, has on at least two occasions (there may be more) stated Microsoft’s intention to do everything that can be done within the system without breaking the rules.

Clearly, Jason’s intention is to do his job, not The Right Thing. And doing his job means discarding relationship and social responsibility to pursue the single-minded mandate of profit maximization. Such is the nature of the beast.

Leaked Memo on OOXML Voting in Sweden

August 29, 2007

Update: Sweden declares own vote invalid and will abstain.

Groklaw:

“It costs money to join SIS, registration of around $150 and an additional $1,150 or so to get to vote, so Microsoft is reported to have told partners in the memo that companies that paid the fee and voted appropriately would receive “marketing support” (”marknadsbidrag”) and “additional support in the form of Microsoft resources” (”extra stöd i form av Microsoftresurser”)”

Translated from IDG Sweden.

And the question was raised – “Is this kind of pressure to tip a vote allowed under the ISO rules, by the way?” I don’t know myself but I’m guessing that it is. At best, this will result in a future rules adjustment but the fact is, for what is one of the most important votes in standards history, the damage has been done (see update at top) in Sweden.

The OOXML Vote

August 29, 2007

Andy says:

“As someone who has spent a great part of my life working to support open standards over the past 20 years, I have to say that this is the most egregious, and far-reaching, example of playing the system to the advantage of a single company that I have ever seen.”

That’s what it was born to do.

Free Software: freedom from being monitored

August 28, 2007

One may ask, “Why is this man being forced to use Microsoft Windows?”

The US government says their software used to monitor users does not run on GNU/Linux. What they may not admit though, is that this lack of portability is purposeful. They will not port that software to GNU/Linux because for their spyware to be reasonably effective, it requires cooperation from the operating system. When Scott McCausland runs GNU/Linux, he’s in charge of how his operating system functions making it extremely difficult impossible for the government to ensure that their spyware reports back with accurate information regarding Scott’s behavior. With Microsoft Windows, the public is neither aware of how that operating system functions (while perhaps certain government officials are) nor able to modify it to defend their privacy. Generally speaking, proprietary spyware confined to userland is very weak.

Whether or not Scott deserves to have his freedom forcibly revoked is another debate. Nonetheless, this is a perfect illustration of how free software defends your privacy while proprietary software compromises it.

Skype on GNU/Linux

August 27, 2007

This is not surprising at all…but still disturbing. Unfortunately, Skype is not free software. An effect of this is that users are denied the freedom to modify Skype in order to stop it from snooping. The article indicates that users are installing secondary software in an attempt to combat this. However, the ability to modify your own software is the best defense.

Although the network effect of Skype is strong thus making it inconvenient to ignore, I encourage users to try free alternatives. For example, Ekiga.

another “no” against Microsoft’s OOXML

August 25, 2007

Now China. Andy with details in english.

Brazil says “No” to Microsoft’s OOXML

August 24, 2007

Avi Alkalay lets us know that the ISO fast track process for OOXML received a vote of non-approval in Brazil. He lists several reasons why “no” got the nod, which makes one wonder how any country’s technical standards organization could actually say “yes”…

“[The OOXML specification] is incomplete (does not provide mappings with legacy standards, since compatibility is OOXML goal), too long (6000+ pages), fully tied to a single product, uses deprecated substandards, promotes bad practices (embedded binary objects), has clear proprietary hooks (like “formatAsWord95″ XML tags), reinvents the wheel all around (date and color formats etc), and most of all does not have a standards-grade look and feel required for a universal and (virtually) eternal document format (doesn’t have to be perfect, but can’t be that imperfect).

i’m sad today

August 23, 2007

My two sisters phoned from Canada to let me know that my dad has this. He will likely die within a year. I love my dad. He is a kind and gentle man.