internet

Everything is a Remix and politics

Today I watched the fourth and last part of Everything is a Remix. It is a brilliant video series which explains the problems of intellectual property and much more. It is very well made and effective in communicating its message. The fourth part explains how the rules of intellectual property no longer protect the inventions of artists and inventors, but harm the common good. With that statement made, the fourth part ends, without any suggestions on how we could solve the problem. Maybe the creator of the series, Kirby Ferguson, didn’t have a desire to comment on solutions.

Recently we have witnessed the death of SOPA and ACTA being the subject of much criticism. I have already written a post about it on my Dutch weblog. I observed in that post that there are politicians who are willing to take action against these corporate attacks on the public domain. But even then, it seems we are merely defending ourselves and stopping the attack, but we don’t counterattack. While stricter intellectual property legislation may have been averted for now, it is still possible for film studios to cash in for eternity on films under their copyright, even if they are more than half a century old.

But we do have the power to make change happen with our vote. We have the Pirate Parties for example. I have not studied the political program of the Dutch Pirate Party, but if my own party the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy continues to tread on privacy and other parties don’t do enough I might be tempted to vote for them in protest.

By the way, a much longer documentary film on intellectual property I’d recommend is RiP!: A Remix Manifesto which can be watched here.

Helping with the Commit Digest

By now I have been writing for the KDE Commit Digest since the end of last year. The KDE Commit Digest is a weekly publication which reports on all the commits (changes to software code) made to the KDE software made in the last seven days. News of new Commit Digests is also posted to the KDE.news website, which is read quite often by those interested in the KDE community and software. In October 2010 the KDE Commit Digest was revived by Danny Allen after a period of dormancy. Previously he worked on the Digest all alone, and understandably it was too much work for one person. He worked on a platform called Enzyme to make producing the Digests easier and sent out a call for help to volunteers who could help him with the job. Even though the KDE Commit Digest is a very popular publication, Danny reported that he didn’t have enough volunteers yet. I really wanted the relaunch of the Digest to succeed so I decided to apply myself. So far I had always been testing free software and reported bugs, I made a failed (incomplete) attempt to rewrite the old documentation for Abiword and I translated the biblatex LaTeX package to Dutch. I felt I should contribute more to return the favour to the great KDE community which produces the software I use so often.

Over the course of the last few months I have collaborated with the other volunteers helping Danny over the mailing list for the Digest. I’m quite satisfied with how the collaboration is going even if not everyone, including me, has enough time to contribute an equal amount of work every week. Even if we can manage the workload right now, I think a few more volunteers who could help out would be very welcome. Even though I have been collaborating with these people for months it’s a pity I barely know them, but that might change when some of us could possibly meet at this years Desktop Summit in Berlin. Working on the Commit-Digest itself isn’t a very satisfying experience because it’s not work I enjoy, my motivation is rooted more in a sense of duty than enjoyment. It’s primarily the idea that I can return the favour and contribute back to a great organisation producing free software, aid in it’s promotion and the fact that the Digest is read by many people with much interest that is rewarding.

Improved a Wikipedia article, annoyances with Wikipedia’s editing process

I finally got around to doing what I should have done much earlier, editing the Wikipedia article of Phryne. A year ago when I wrote my bachelor’s thesis for Research Seminar 3 I found out that the information given by Wikipedia on Phryne was not accurate. Ancient biographers tell us that during her trial she disrobed to convince the judges of the Areopagus of her innocence, who ten acquitted her of the charges. I even included Phryne’s case as the exception to the rule in my presentation of the preliminary results of my research. Everyone, including my teacher (not specialized in Classical Antiquity), listened with interest to my presentation, but gladly (or unfortunately, depending on my perspective) they were unaware of the arguments against the veracity of the event.

Fortunately as my research progressed I found the article ‘Hyperides and the Trial of Phryne’ by Craig Cooper. He argues that there is convincing certainty that the event was a fabrication by a biographer who was the source of Athenaeus’ information. He also notes that a lot of scientists do not question the authenticity of the disrobing scene, so I guess Wikipedia isn’t entirely to blame for this mistake or misrepresentation of information.

Finally I included the information on the authenticity of the event in the Wikipedia article today. The current revision can be found here and the version before my edits here. I’m still not happy with the article however, the other sections obviously need more work to improve them.

Besides that, one of my annoyances with Wikipedia is that footnotes create so much blank space between the line where the footnote is located and the preceding line. This is not obvious in the article of Phryne, but it is clearly visible in articles which contain a lot of footnotes, such as the article on Alexander the Great. I have only seen this strange behavior of footnotes on Wikipedia, and nowhere else. The blank space created by footnote seems to be identical by the blank spaced used to designate the end of a paragraph and the start of the new paragraph. So it is not only bad layout, but it is also confusing.

Another issue I have with Wikipedia is that it does not demand it’s editors to use a specific citation style. The only rules are that the an article uses the same citation style throughout the article and that the citation style used by the first editor should continue to be used. That’s not good, the Wikipedia community should agree on some standards. The standard could possibly depend on the subject of the article, for example it could be decided that all articles related to social science should use the APA style. However, as I study History I use and prefer a citation style employing footnotes because they aren’t as distracting as styles that don’t use them. Considering that this style is already used almost universally on Wikipedia, the rules should demand that every editor uses this style. All that remains to be done then is to fix the layout problems with blank space caused by footnotes and to specify how the bibliographic information in the footnode should be formatted.

What I’d also like to see improved is an English version of the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus of Naucratis, which is frequently referenced in the article of Phryne, in the Perseus Digital Library. Currently it only has a Greek version, so a translation of the Deipnosophistae from elsewhere on the web had to be used for the article.

The hegemony of Twitter and Facebook: is it real, is it positive?

A search revealed that I’ve written about micro blogging and Twitter specifically before, but today I wished to write something about the subject again. This news caught my attention. It’s Dutch, so let’s translate for my English audience. It says that the Dutch Bloggies foundation has decided to abolish itself after it has held it’s last award ceremony for the best Dutch weblogs tonight. It’s founders think the use of weblogs has been overtaken by social media, specifically mentioning Twitter and Facebook.

I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, social media and Twitter and Facebook have become very popular and hyped. I’m not saying the founders think the opposite, but I think weblogs will not die. Anyone who has read my weblog systematically will probably know me quite well, my weblog posts are quite detailed and transfer a lot of information. What do the short messages on Twitter and Facebook tell us? With them, we can merely get to know the person writing them superficially. The messages are too short to go in any kind of details or depth. Most of the time on Twitter or Facebook (not necessarily so on Facebook because that doesn’t impose a such a low limit on the amount of characters to use for a message) messages are in the following form: I’ve done this, been there, this happened or I think X was good or bad. Well, at least I know what the person is doing or thinking, but why are they doing what they do or hold certain opinions? The ‘why’ question is barely ever answered on those media.

A specific gripe I have with Twitter is that many persons using it simply have nothing interesting to say. Many organisations who use it don’t use it in a valuable way either. For example see the Twitter account of the VVD, the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. Most of the messages are a dialogue between certain users and the person responding for the VVD, which concern quite specific questions not interesting for the general public. It’s extra annoying in this regard that you have to use the ‘in reply to X’ link to see which message is replied to, rather seeing something like a threaded/topical view. The useful messages mention news on the website of the VVD, but for those a web feed is a better solution. Another example is the Twitter account of the White House, to stay within the character limit they use all kind of ridiculous abbrevations like POTUS and SOTU, while the meaning of these is probably not immediately understood by every reader. The account has to spam messages because they can only include one quote of the State of the Union in a single message.

And of course, Facebook and Twitter own these services. No one seems to realize they are better off with using identi.ca in the case of Twitter or the upcoming Diaspora in the case of Facebook. Both are open source and distributed, so they can communicate with other services using the same protocol. Simply put, that means you’re not tied to the companies behind Facebook or Twitter, you own your data. With weblogs that is already the case. If you don’t like the company providing you with a weblog, you can back up your data and migrate. I’m glad to have my own website and be able to do with it what I like to a great extent. Using Facebook and Twitter requires submitting to vendor lock-in.

Yes, I have a Facebook account myself, but that’s more because I want to keep up to date with what other people are doing. I’d be more happy if they all switched to identi.ca or Diaspora when that’s ready, I simply feel forced to use Facebook because that’s what others use. But even then I’m tempted to trash my Facebook account. I like all the people I’ve added as friends over there but I don’t speak most of them frequently. Close friends don’t need a social network to keep each other informed, they can have a good conversation in person instead, something which I value much more.

Removed all tags

A while ago I wrote about adding tags to my posts. The tag cloud certainly looked cool, but using tags was tiresome because a lot of them were so specific that they could only be applied to one post. I’m a person with perfectionistic tendencies, so I tried to choose tags very carefully, which required too much of my time. I think categories will suffice. On the other hand, maybe if I’d use more generic tags which can cover the subjects of multiple posts while still being more specific than categories, I could give it a try again.

Addings tags to my posts

So far I have only used categories on this weblog, but today I’ve created tags for all posts on this weblog. I’ve also placed such a cool tag cloud widget in the sidebar. The difference between categories and tags might not be evident, I didn’t understand it either until I read this document on the WordPress.com website. In a nutshell, they are supposed to be used to describe posts in a more specific way than categories, and tags are supposed to be many and ad-hoc while categories are fewer and planned. Even though there are no advantages for search engines, I think tags could be useful for organising posts.

However, I’m not sure how far I should take them. Initially, I created tags for every place I visited in Rome for my two posts covering Rome. Some places have a name which is quite long for a tag, and the list of tags became quite long this way. I also thought the tags were too specific, and I got rid of them. How do others handle tags?

Struggling with the distraction of web feeds

I use the Feed Sidebar extension for Mozilla Firefox, which makes it easy to follow all the web feeds you’re subscribed to. It uses the built-in Live Bookmarks feature of Mozilla Firefox, but presents it better by displaying all feeds in a sidebar, so you can quickly see all new content in the blink of an eye. I like this extension because it saves me so much time, no longer do I need to visit every website individually to read news, but I can simply view the sidebar.

However, this convenience also has it’s shadow side. I find myself spending way too much time on reading web feeds. I’m subscribed to the following websites, in the Dutch language as well as in English:

All those websites produce quite a of lot new content each day, but to satisfy my curiosity I read most of it. Sometimes I can spend many hours a day just reading web feeds, especially if I want to catch up because I didn’t read my feeds the day before.

I want to spend my time more productively, procrastinate less and prioritize the tasks I should execute better. Reading less web feeds immediately crossed my mind. I think I should take certain measures to reach this goal.

  • Check web feeds only once a day, not multiple times.
  • Stop being too curious, only decide to read content if it’s really interesting.
  • Consider to cancel some subscriptions, there seems to be quite some overlap between the three hardware news websites and the two generic technical news websites I’m subscribed to.

I was wondering if others recognize this behavior? Do you think you waste too much time on web feeds as well?

The uselessness and hype of micro-blogging

Micro-blogging and specifically the service Twitter are quite a hype these days, which is not justified in my opinion. Let’s describe what Twitter allows you to do in one sentence. With Twitter you can write posts of no more than 140 characters in length which are displayed on the user’s profile page and sent to other Twitter users who wish to receive them or only the user’s friends.

So in fact it’s nothing more than ordinary blogging with a restriction that you can’t use more than 140 characters. There isn’t much difference with ordinary blogging, is it? I can start writing posts on my weblog which don’t exceed 140 characters, and everyone who wishes to read my posts can use the RSS feeds or visit my weblog. The only noticeable difference would be that posts on Twitter don’t allow comments, replies to other users’ posts constitute a post on their own. Twitter allows restricting posts to friends, but so does WordPress allow password protecting posts. Maybe the single advantage of Twitter is the feature to send and read posts via SMS messages, but for me personally this advantage is void because I never send SMS messages. I don’t want to spend money on sending SMS messages. I don’t know if SMS is a serious advantage for others?

So it’s nothing special, isn’t it? If you disagree, then at least read about Twitter’s policy regarding privacy, which could concern you. And Twitter is not an open system, it doesn’t work together with other micro-blogging services, Twitter locks their users in. So why not migrate to identi.ca or another open micro-blogging service?

My first large contribution to Wikipedia

Until know I had only contributed a few small changes to Wikipedia articles, but today I finally created a large addition to Wikipedia. The article which I modified is A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. During the last quarter of the academic year I followed a course about 18th Century British literature, which required reading three novels: Gulliver’s Travels, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, and either Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded or The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. I looked up all four of them on Wikipedia, and noticed that the article on A Sentimental Journey was by far the least developed article. Because it didn’t give me enough information, and because I gained enough knowledge of the subject after I read the book, I decided to improve the article. The subject doesn’t genuinely interest me, however.

My contribution consists mostly of the plot summary. Compare the revision of 17 December 2008 with revision of 30 January 2009 to see my changes. I also added some comments on the article’s discussion page. I think the plot summary I added is adequate, even though it probably leaves something to be desired. What annoys me slightly on Wikipedia is that there are no uniform guidelines for citation. When I searched for the footnotes policy and the citation policy, I read that Wikipedia does not require adherence to a single citation style. The way I see it, this only contributes to chaos. Fortunately Wikipedia does have the citation templated page, which listed the “cite book” template. It’s quite convenient because it allows you to give the citation data without worrying about the format, so I used that in my contribution.

Maybe I should also ask an expert to take a look at the article and judge what can be improved. Hopefully I will be able to contribute to other articles as well in the future, most of the time I’m reluctant to contribute because I don’t think I have quality knowledge. I’m slightly perfectionist after all.

I’ve started using OpenID

My collection of user accounts for various websites has grown a lot during the years I’ve been active on the Internet. I estimate I have more than 30 user accounts, and I need to keep track of user names and passwords for all of them. Fortunately, technology has been developed to solve this problem, it’s a shared identity service which is called OpenID. If you have an OpenID, you can use your OpenID to authenticate your identity with every website which supports OpenID.

Apparently I already had an OpenID when I read the OpenID website. I already had a WordPress.com account registered, because using the Akismet plugin for WordPress requires an API key which is provided to you when you register an account. Somehow using the OpenID associated with my WordPress.com account didn’t work, when I tried to authenticate with my OpenID WordPress.com told me I had to log in to my account, when I already was logged in. So I decided to register an OpenID at another OpenID provider, myOpenID. This is my OpenID identity page now.

I downloaded the WP-OpenID plugin for WordPress and installed on my English and Dutch weblog. Now I can use it to log in to my administrator account, and visitors can use it to place comments. It works quite nicely, but I think OpenID support should be included out of the box in WordPress so it is more accessible. As you can read on the OpenID website, several important websites provide OpenID’s or support them. Unfortunately most of the websites I visit still don’t use it, I hope this will improve because OpenID makes your life on the Internet a lot easier.