Why I love #fscons

For an academic, conferences are a way of life. At their best they are crossroads and meeting places between academics working either on the same topic or with the same method or theory. In the worst case they are an event where you meet the same people, talk about the same things and re-draw familiar battle lines. Don’t get me wrong even these “worst case” scenarios conferences are still valuable as they are all about meeting people.

But then there is FSCONS.

Once a year for five years my own workplace is transformed into the conference for free software and free culture. The participants are not their because they have papers to present but because they have ideas they want to spread. The audience are not there because they are working on developing their position in an academic hierarchy, but because they believe in the importance of the fundamental premise of the conference.

This is not to say that this is all about preaching to the converted. The audience is very dedicated, and knowledgeable about their topics. Take for example the first talks in the first session:
Karsten Gerloff “The Water in Which We Swim: Policy issues around Free Software”
Jeremiah Foster “Embedded Free Software/Open Source in your car”
Fredrik Gladhorn “Accessibility for Qt and KDE”
Daniel Berntsson “Bitcoin: Decentralised Currency”

And the whole conference continues in this way. The hard hackers meet and mingle with the digital rights activists.

In addition to this it’s all about the people. The relaxed social event to this evening was filled with a breadth of discussions. We had comparisons between 1984 & Brave New World, the cult of leadership & superstar CEOs, penicillin and yoghurt, hardware hacking & aduino, the role of royalty in free culture NCOs… Everywhere you turn their is a passionate group arguing intently on everything from the gender of Jabba the Hut & Admiral Akbar to the purpose, meaning and ability of democracy.

In a moment of strangeness a discussion turned to walls: their meaning, construction, definition and more importantly how to differentiate between walls and wall-like structures. Everyone had opinions and the light-hearted discussion continued for longer than such a question normally would or could last.

When I next checked on twitter I had been challenged to hold a lightening talk entitled: What is a wall?

How could anyone not love FSCONS?

Stallman lecture in Göteborg

Next week its finally time for the annual FSCONS conference. This year is the fifth year running and it keeps getting better all the time. This year brings an additional bonus as  Richard Stallmanwill give  a presentation at Runan in Gothenburg the day before the conference begins “for real”

About the talk: Activities directed at including” more people in the use of digital technology are predicated on the assumption that such inclusion is invariably a good thing. It appears so, when judged solely by immediate practical convenience. However, if we also judge in terms of human rights, whether digital inclusion is good or bad depends on what kind of digital world we are to be included in. If we wish to work towards digital inclusion as a goal, it behooves us to make sure it is the good kind.


Nomination period open for Nordic Free Software Award

The Nordic Free Software Award is given to people, projects or organisations in the Nordic countries that have made a prominent contribution to the advancement of Free Software. The award will be announced during FSCONS 2011 in Gothenburg.

Send an email to award [AT] fscons.org (moderated mailing list) with the following information:

* Name of nominee
* Bio of nominee
* Website
* Contact info
* Motivation

The nomination period ends October 22

Join the award committee
Send an email to award [AT] fscons.org (moderated mailing list) with the following information:

* Your name
* Your email
* Motivation why you want to join the award committee

List of nominated 2011
Will be presented in October

Previous Award winners
* 2010 Bjarni Rúnar Einarsson (more info)
* 2009 Simon Josefsson and Daniel Stenberg (more info)
* 2008 Mats Östling (more info)
* 2007 SkoleLinux (more info)

Open is nothing new

At times I feel that I am forever discussing openness. Mainly – but not exclusively – Creative Commons, Free Software & Open Source. Often I am arguing the basics of the idea with people unfamiliar with the concept and I need to overcome a great deal of skepticism. The skeptics argue that now way can it be a good idea to give away material and they are rarely convinced with the growth of modern examples. They lean back as if to say: just you wait, it will go terribly wrong.

This is why it is nice to present the skeptics with established, old examples. And recently I came across an excellent new old example.

Can you name an eighteenth century furniture designer? Most of us cannot, but all the same many of us are familiar with the name of Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) and not because of the dancers. Thomas Chippendale was the first furniture designer to become famous – before Chippendale furniture was known by styles, monarchs or famous buyers, but not the designers.

So what did he do?

After working as a journeyman cabinet maker in London he became the first cabinet-maker to publish a book of his designs. The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director is still available in print today. The amazing thing about the publication was that it created open source furniture and allowed other furniture makers to make copies of his designs. Of course he may have lost a few commissions but going open source ensured that his fame lasted long after his death. Which is more than can be said of his contemporaries.

Sharing is caring – sharing is good business.

FSCONS 2009 part 2 Free Software and Feminism

Sunday morning begins at nine with the keynote Free Software and Feminism given by Christina Haralanova. Despite the party last night, the earliness of the hour and the difficulties in getting to the venue on a Sunday there is a good audience which shows the dedication and interest of this public to their cause. Haralanova asks why are there still so few women into technology. One answer is that they are discouraged and opposed. Boys have first contact at 12, girls 14.5 their first own computer boys at 15 girls at 19.

The social aspects of technology prove to be the key. The introduction to technology as toy for the boys provides them with a reason to interact with technology and share & discuss them with their friends. But since women begin later they do not have the confidence and the space to share and discuss. Naturally this then develops and is reinforced within the groups of tecchies and non-tecchies alike. Women are often subjected to jokes/insults and their contributions to projects are subjected to a more scrutiny.

As in many other aspects of life the contribution of men and women are not valued equally. This means that men are the coders while women are the documenters, teachers, promotors, gui-designers etc. We may have computers and Free Software but we still have not left the caves and hunting mammoths with rocks and sticks! The role of women is marginalized and made invisible – a role which re-inforces the negative position. By this we all lose.

Its here! FSCONS 2009

The greatest local event of the year is upon us. If you did not already know its time for the annual Free Software and Free Culture conference. The event is organised by two tireless friends of mine Jonas Öberg & Henrik Sandklef and this years FSCONS is an excellent example of why they really are the dynamic duo. The software and culture tracks appear in a nice mix (see schedule) and offer a wide range of intellectually challenging seminars and talks by pirates, politicians, aktivists, hackers, coders, geek girls, creators and the occasional academic.

My “must see” list is long but the highlights include: Edmund Harriss on Street Maths, Mikael Nordin on Cultural Transmission from an Archaeological Perspective, Christina Haralanova, on Free Software and Feminism & Christopher Kullenberg on Citizen’s Agenda: Net Neutrality, Surveillance and how to Re-build Politics

There will also be an event by the Julia Group (Tools for Determining Net Neutrality – An Activist Perspectve) the Nordic Free Software Award and lets not forget the social event of the year!

What can I say? its going to be a good weekend, so get over here and join in! There is always room for more Free Software/Free Culture nerds…

Advanced Free Software Tools

My friend and colleague Henrik Sandklef will be offering a really cool course at Göteborg University. Check out Advanced Free Software Tools:

Advanced Free Software Tools prepares you, theoretically and practically, for working in a distributed FLOSS development environment.

So, if you want to learn about motivation behind FLOSS, basics of copyright and other legal concepts, licensing, code evaluation, code coverage, profiling, coding practices, development infrastructure, release management, version control, test environments, communication with projects and developers … and much more?

Send an email to sandklef@ituniv.se to get more information

The 2009 idea award

The Foundation for Free Culture and Software (“Föreningen fri kultur och programvara”) is a local initiative whose goal it is to “spread awareness about free culture and free software, as well as support organisations, individuals and projects with the same goals.” We’re organised around our many activities, which are run by the members of the foundation. Oh, and disclosure I am a board member.

Anyway, in order to promote creative thinking and to show that results can be achieved even with limited resources the foundation has now announced its Idea prize for 2009. We will be awarding two prizes of 10 000 kr each for innovative ideas.The prizes will be judged on doability, innovation, relevans and creativity. The money will be awarded to enable the project to be carried out.

The Quality of Code, Law and Journalism

In the IT newspaper Computer Sweden a Swedish IT/IP lawyer (Malin Forsman) is quoted as saying that proprietary software is of “better quality” than Free or Open Source software (my translation):

She recommends against Swedish software providers from going ‘open souce’. According to her using licensing costs is a much better method.
– You need a carrot to exert yourself properly. If the large source of income is dependent upon the quality of the code then I believe that you will try harder.

My first problem is with the journalism and the article itself. Like many other short newspaper articles it does not seem to have a point. What is the newsworthiness of this article? That an individual has an opinion? So what? We all have opinions but this does not make them newsworthy. Mind you if this had been my only complaint it would not have been worth blogging about.

My second problem is with journalistic integrity. By simply blogging the lawyer we arrive at the law firm where she works and her brief bio, where under Memberships we see that she is a member of: Board member of the IT group of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, Board Member of the Association for IT and Law, Member of the Swedish Copyright Association and Member of the International Technology Law Association. Her main legal experience outside law firms was working for Microsoft Corporation. Shouldn’t this maybe have been indicated in the article? If the journalist is presenting an opinion as news then shouldn’t some sort of critical analysis be added? I know that journalists are supposed to be objective but this article is hardly reporting the news as it is.

The next problem is with the lawyer herself. I have no doubt that she is a qualified lawyer and an expert in the IT/IP field but what is wrong with her statements? Unless of course this is simply a case of journalistic misquote she is a legal expert speaking of the quality of code. She does not attempt to define quality even if such a definition was at all possible. By her logic an Open Source project that makes it’s code proprietary immediately improves its code and a proprietary software project that releases its code under an Open Source license immediately deteriorates the quality of its code. Obviously these are ridiculous statements. But when the IT/IP legal expert says them we are supposed to nod our heads in agreement.

So who would be the right person to make such a statement? Well that person would need to have a vast experience of code not law. This imaginary person would need to have a vast experience of both open and proprietary projects and be able to define the concept of quality in a way that will enable these projects to be measurable and comparable. In addition to this the person would need to be free from suspicions of bias. I doubt whether such a super person exists.

But what may be said about quality? Here are two quotes:

Peter Drucker: (Innovation and entrepreneurship, 1985) “Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. “ISO 9000: “Degree to which a set of inherent characteristic fulfills requirements.”

Now lets complicate the issue even more:

While both these definitions are relatively common neither takes into full account the nature of software quality. The problem arises from the fact that software is a mix of product and service. The actual code is not what customers buy – they buy a function. Who cares what the software of a word processor looks like? It’s function is what the customer believes he/she has bought. If this is true then the customer has also bought an expectation of support in the case of software failure.

This was just meant as an illustration of the complexity of software quality and why neither a journalist nor a lawyer can deal with such a question in the space of a 350 word article. What they are really doing is pure advertising in the form of journalism. Advertising a personal, political and business stance on software while puffing up their own egos.

Important changes to license

In what is in the “sounds boring but is incredibly important and influential” category of news: The Free Software Foundation has released the GNU Free Document License version 1.3.

One of the main important changes is in Section 11 which now enables wikis to be relicensed under the from the earlier GNU Free Document License to the more flexible Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (v3.0) license. The condition is that such relicensing is completed by August 1, 2009.

That means, the Wikipedia community now has the choice to relicense Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license. Check out the FAQ for this change to the license.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of this change to the Free Culture community. A fundamental flaw in the Free Culture Movement to date is that its most important element — Wikipedia — is licensed in a way that makes it incompatible with an enormous range of other content in the Free Culture Movement. One solution to this, of course, would be for everything to move to the FDL. But that license was crafted initially for manuals, and there were a number of technical reasons why it would not work well (and in some cases, at all) for certain important kinds of culture.

This change would now permit interoperability among Free Culture projects, just as the dominance of the GNU GPL enables interoperability among Free Software projects. It thus eliminates an unnecessary and unproductive hinderance to the spread and growth of Free Culture.