Monthly Archives: December 2008

Mixwit shutting down

There was a mixtape revival in 2008, and it looks to be over. Firstthere was Muxtape, which provided acassette tape interface for audio playlists. Then there was Mixwit, doing basically thesame thing. Then Muxtape shutdown under threat from the music labels, and judging by the tagline on the new Muxtape website, “relaunching soon, in the serviceof bands”, founder Justin Ouellette hopes to go legal. Now comesnews that Mixwit is closing its doors as well, saying

We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’ttakenlightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simplythat we boldly marched into in a position best described as “between arock and a hard place.”

Filling the void now, Opentape.fmstands alone. And fittingly so. Opentape is software that allows peopleto host their own mixtapes. And it’s open source. That combination offeatures will make it very hard for the music industry to shut down dueto their copyright concerns. And if Mixwit donates their code toOpentape assuggested on their blog, Opentape will only get better and stronger.

Updates to the Canadian Copyright Term Flowchart

I made two updates to the Canadian copyright term flowcharttoday and thought I would push them out there to others working onsimilar projects.

We were at version 4 of the flowchart before. Two similar problems wereseparately identified and fixed, so we’re at version 6 now.Here’s the latest version of the chart:

Public_domain

Basically,the spine of the flowchart goes down the left side identifying specialcases. In the first two special cases (photographs and “CrownCopyright”), the chart dealt with the special cases but then neglectedto identify the subset of special cases that should be handled like thegeneral case. These were formerly piped to the end of the chart,but should be piped back into the spine to run through the remainingspecial cases.

Hard to follow? So, for example, photographs are a special casefor copyright term calculation in Canada, but only if they havecorporate authors. If their authors are “natural people” (notcorporations), then they should be handled the same way as any otherwork. The flowchart now sends those back to the spine so we cancapture the special case of, say, photographs that are anonymouslypublished.

So photographs were one special case. The other special case isCrown Copyright, a quirk of Canadian law that gives a specialcopyright term to works created or published by the Crown (i.e. thegovernment). But it was pointed out that if a work is co-authored bythe Crown and by one or more other non-Crown authors, then the termof copyright for the work may depend on the non-Crown author. Thesecases are now piped back to the spine. Having made that change, we cannow accommodate works published jointly by the Crown and pseudonymousauthors!

So that puts us at version 6 of the flowchart. To open thesource file, install the open source program Dia. And feel free to use theseand modify them: They are licensed under a Creative CommonsAttribution 2.5 Canada licence. You can attribute them to me, AndyKaplan-Myrth. Thanks!

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HBO’s Recount, now in Minnesota?

My attention waned in American electoral politics after election day, but the dregs of that election are still floating around in coffee cups in Minnesota. Al Franken and Norm Coleman are locked in a recount fight over a US Senate seat for Minnesota. I gather they are in the depths of a long recount and the lead keeps flipping back and forth. This article from Time discusses the contrast between Florida’s hurried, litigious recount process in 2000 and the more civilized process going on in Minnesota in 2008, where officials have chosen not to set deadlines and fight in court, and instead are simply counting the votes.

 

What if the 2000 presidential election had hinged not on a diverse, messy, weird and slightly creepy hick state like Florida but on the most organized, practical and cordial one in the Union: Minnesota? What if, instead of going to court after court over hanging chads and butterfly ballots and whether a recount should happen, election officials had just calmly looked at each ballot and tried to figure out what the voter wanted?

 I watched HBO’s Recount last night. It brought back memories of the 2000 recount and Bush vs. Gore at the US Supreme Court (MP3). That whole episode looks pretty sad now, and I’m relieved to know that the recount for a similarly close vote is happening in a more thoughtful manner.

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Continuing adventures in command lines

I have a confession to make. As much as I like customizing the graphics and functionality of my desktop, I mostly like typing commands and not using my mouse. But using the keyboard and obscure commands goes much further than navigating my desktop. These days, I can send commands to services all over the internet via Twitter, something I’ll write more about when I have more time (but for an idea of what I’m talking about, check this out and notice the footnote about Twitter).

In particular, I use Ping.fm to send status updates and the like to most of the services I use. Instead of going around to my Twitter, identi.ca, Facebook, LinkedIn and other accounts, I can make one visit to Ping.fm and update them all, or whichever ones I choose.

On my desktop, I use Launchy, an extremely useful, extensible launch bar that indexes my files, programs and folders for quick launching with a few keystrokes. This evening, I worked out how to send messages to Ping.fm from Launchy. It took some tweaking, but the result is that no matter what I’m doing I can very quickly send and post a message to any combination of online services I want.

Here’s how it worked: Ping.fm doesn’t seem to have an http API, which would be the most straightforward way to do this and would make use of cURL, which I already use to post messages straight to Twitter. But Ping.fm does provide a unique email address to every user, and any message going to that email address is treated as a Ping.fm command.

To send an email to Ping.fm from the command line, I set up Blat. Blat is a public domain utility that sends over SMTP from the command line. One problem stood in my way: Since I use a laptop and often use different networks, I need one SMTP server to use all the time to avoid frequent changes to my email settings. For a long time now I’ve been using Google’s Gmail SMTP service which not only lets me send mail from anywhere on the internet but also indexes the email I send in my gmail account as though I had used the web interface to send it.

The difficulty with Google’s servers is that they use encrypted connections, and Blat doesn’t support encryption. Not to worry though, because sTunnel provides the missing link. sTunnel can be set up to listen to a particular local port and send it encrypted to a remote port. I set it up as a Windows service listening on Localhost:259 and forwarding anything on that port to smtp.gmail.com:465. Here is my stunnel.conf file:

client = yes

[ssmtp]
accept  = 259
connect = smtp.gmail.com:465

That’s it. With sTunnel running under that configuration, I have Blat send commands as emails addressed to Ping.fm, but destined for one of my accounts in the cloud. To install Blat, I ran:

Blat -install 127.0.0.1 myaddress@mydomain.com 1 259 – username password

I suggest copy-and-pasting that command if you’re using this as a guide: That dash before the username has a space after it. If you set this up, you’ll obviously change that to your own email address, username and password. I use Google Apps with my own domain name so the username is actually my whole email address. It works just fine.

Summing up then, I pop open Launchy and type a command that goes from Launchy to Blat through sTunnel to GMail to Ping.fm and finally to one of the many services I use that Ping.fm can connect to. Sound complicated? Maybe it is, but it will make things fast and easy for me.

Next up: Improved sending from the command line to Twitter, which can then send to calendars and todo lists. Maybe there will even be a command line way to create Google Tasks before too long! (And speaking of that, is it just me or is it surprising that Google decided to make Tasks a part of GMail instead of part of Google Calendar? Aren’t Tasks inherently more like events or appointments than they are like communications? Or is Google taking a page from the Chandler Project and orienting everything around communications?)

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Facebook protests affecting government policy

In his daily Internet Law Newsnewsletter today, Michael Geistreports:

The Ontariogovernment has withdrawn a plan to restrict drivers aged 16 to 19 after150,000 people joined anonline protest and members of the legislature were inundated withcomplaints. Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said the 150,000 peoplewho had joined a Facebook protest against the teen driving restrictionsclearly had an impact on the government’s thinking. [TorontoStar]

I can’t help thinking that at least some of the perceived legitimacy ofFacebook and social networking to governments is derived from the Obamacampaign’s successful continued use of the technologies.

OpenDNS keeps the kids (mostly) safe online

My 8 year old uses a drawing program at school called Kid Pix. It’s installed on their computers, but so many of the things he does on computers is online that he can’t really tell the difference. He thought it was in the cloud, I guess. He came home a while ago and wanted to show it to me, so he loaded up a browser, typed “kid pix” in the Google search bar, and waited to see what would come up. Firefox being as helpful as it is, decided we felt lucky and started sending us to the first search result…

Now, that doesn’t seem to return anything nasty anymore, but when he did it that day I had one of those “Nnnoooo!” moments and I quickly shut off the computer. Yes, I had forgotten to set his Google search preferences, but I needed a more complete solution to make sure he doesn’t end up in the internet’s vast NSFW zone.

I tried a few net nanny type clients on his computer, but settled on a

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more robust solution. OpenDNS.com is a free service that provides a DNS server that is customizable to filter and block different categories of sites. I pointed my router to their servers instead of to my ISP’s default servers, set up an account, and set it up to block just the categories I wanted it to block. OpenDNS makes it easy to pick one of the preconfigured filtering levels:

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I started with the Moderate filtering level and customized it, so now my filtering categories look like this:

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You can see how many categories you can block — it’s pretty flexible.

Finally, you can configure settings for individual domains, like this:

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I’m not sure why, but the prediction market site intrade.com was blocked, possibly under OpenDNS’s Gambling category. I wanted to see it, especially during the US Presidential election, so I set it to never block that particular domain.

I have found OpenDNS to be easy to configure, and very effective at keeping my kids safe from and happily ignorant of the more salacious bits of the internet. We’ve been using it for a few months at home, and intrade.com was the only site I’ve encountered that was improperly blocked — and even that is arguable!

UPDATE: Well, not really an update, but just a note to say that I was not sponsored in any way to write this post. I’ve heard some bloggers are paid to write about products. This is a glowing review, but just because I like it.

Sandy to be rehired — and liberated

When the personal productivity site I Want Sandy announced thatit was shutting its doors, customers on the support site Get Satisfaction wentnuts. They were upset that Sandy was being laid off because they hadcome to rely on her. And while many former Sandy customers wentlooking for otherservices to replace Sandy, a group of users learned a lesson fromSandy’s demise: even online services need to be run by their users.

That’s the traditional approach to productivity and personalinformation software like calendars, email and address books. Manypeople are hesitant to move their calendar to the cloud because theyneed it to be always accessible and, ultimately, they’re concernedabout what would happen if they built their workflow around aparticular online calendar service and then that service went offline.

But there are benefits to using services in the cloud instead of onlocal computers. It means having those services accessible from anycomputer, it frees up local resources for other tasks and, if all goeswell, data is likely better protected in the cloud than it would be ona local machine, given how few people do regular backups.

So what is the best way to use online services but know they’re notgoing to shut down? By making sure the services you use are opensource services. When software is licensed under the popular GNU GPL, the sourcecode must be available when the program is distributed. However in thecase of online services like calendars and I Want Sandy, nosoftware is distributed. Even if I Want Sandy were built onopen source software, nothing would have required its owners to makethe source code available to the community.

That problem was the motivation behind the establishment of the latestaddition to the pantheon of open source licences, the GNU AfferoGeneral Public Licence. Software licensed under the AGPL is subjectto similar distribution requirements to the GPL, even though softwareis not distributed, but run as a network service.

The AGPL reached a milestone last week when it was declaredto be Freeunder the Debian FreeSoftware Guidelines. Services by Evan Prodromou including laconi.ca and identi.ca(microblogging platform), ur1.ca (urlshrinkifier) and Pligg socialbookmark manager, are all licensed under the AGPL as far as I know. Andthat is part of their success, more so I believe than for open sourcesoftware on the desktop.

I may choose to run an open source mail client on my desktop, butthat’s not because of an urgent operational need, other than my desireto have better features than most proprietary email clients can have.Either way, the content is stored on my computer and if I care to go tothe trouble I could switch to another client easily enough.

But it’s different in the case of online services. When I WantSandy announced that it was shutting down, that group of customersrealized that they had made a mistake by relying on a service that theyhad ultimately no control over. It is arguably more important touse open source software for online productivity services than itis on the desktop.

And that’s why this group of programmers is trying to resuscitateSandy, via their blog Sandy’sBack. Their plan? To build an open source service like Sandy. Allthat while knowing that Twitterhas purchased the IP assets behind I Want Sandy and willpossibly launch it to their huge customer base. Why face down Twitter?The same reason laconi.ca and identi.ca did it, and came out with adecent user base: by going open source in the online service space, youprovide stability and consistent service.

Social media is a conversation

Here’s a great slideshow by Lee White that is getting some attention as an introduction to and explanation of social media. I’ve found that it can be hard to explain social media to a person who has no understanding of the power of RSS or even experience reading good blogs. But this slideshow takes a step back and explains social media as primarily a real world conversation that is enabled by the technology. I like that perspective.

Social Media Is…

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: socialmedia enterprise2.0)

I Want Sandy is shutting down!

One of my favourite web 2.0 startups, I Want Sandy is closing its doors at the end of this week. guess this is what happens when you rely on free startup services, but it’s still pretty devastating. I don’t have an assistant in my current job and I’ve gotten used to forwarding mail to Sandy and using the service’s natural language interface to add tasks to my todo list or events to my calendar.

I was never particularly comfortable with the gender stereotype on the site: the always-available, always chipper female secretary drawn as a perfect young woman in the 1950s.

But the service was so good, I was willing to overlook that. The best thing about it was that I could communicate with it by email and didn’t need to adjust my own work habits to get more done. I could just forward an email to my private address, use some easy to remember natural language commands in my message (“remind me to bring the car for an oil change next thursday”) and it would automatically go into my calendar and todo list, and I would get reminders by email and Twitter. It was brilliant.

Now I need to find another service to replace Sandy’s place in my workflow. I’ve seen two suggestions: Keepup and PingMe. Do you have any other suggestions or ideas?

Update: I opened a PingMe account, and the first thing they show on their page once you sign in is a link to instructions for former Sandy users!

Creative Commons Survey on "NonCommercial"

The concept of NonCommercial use of copyrighted works has always beencontroversial in the alternative copyright licensing community. Now,Creative Commons has launched a survey to find out about users’expectations and understanding of the concept of NonCommercial in thecontext of copyright licences. Read about it in their blog,and find the survey here.

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