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January 01 2014

Four short links: Jan 1 2014

  1. Witracktracks the 3D motion of a user from the radio signals reflected off her body. It works even if the person is occluded from the WiTrack device or in a different room. WiTrack does not require the user to carry any wireless device, yet its accuracy exceeds current RF localization systems, which require the user to hold a transceiver. It transmits wireless signals whose power is 100 times smaller than Wi-Fi and 1000 times smaller than cellphone transmissions.
  2. A Linux Christmas — Linux drives pretty much all of Amazon’s top-selling consumer electronics.
  3. Techno Panic Timeline — chart from Exposing the War on Fun showing the fears of technology from 1493 to the modern day.
  4. Best Paper Awards in CS Since 1996 (Jeff Huang) — fantastic resource for your holiday reading.

October 14 2013

Four short links: 17 October 2013

  1. PencilAn open-source GUI prototyping tool that’s available for ALL platforms.
  2. lmctfyopen source version of Google’s container stack, which provides Linux application containers.
  3. ASCII WWDC — searchable full-text transcriptions of WWDC sessions.
  4. Cryptogeddon — an online infosec wargame.

October 10 2013

Four short links: 10 October 2013

  1. ActiveLit — interactive fiction as literacy tool. (via Text Adventures blog)
  2. Your Car is About to go Open Source (ComputerWorld) — an open-source IVI operating system would create a reusable platform consisting of core services, middleware and open application layer interfaces that eliminate the redundant efforts to create separate proprietary systems. Leaving them to differentiate the traditional way: ad-retargeting and spyware.
  3. The Digital Networked Textbook: Is It Any Good? (Dan Meyer) — “if you were hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth, in a concrete bunker without any kind of Internet access, is the curriculum any different?”
  4. Full Screen Mario — web reimplementation of original Mario Brothers, with random level generator and a level editor, source on github. (via Andy Baio)

September 19 2013

Four short links: 19 September 2013

  1. How Jim Henson Turned His Art Into a Business (Longreads) — When Henson joined on to the experimental PBS show Sesame Street in 1968, he was underpaid for his services creating Big Bird and Oscar. Yet he spent his free nights in his basement, shooting stop-motion films that taught kids to count. If you watch these counting films, the spirit of Henson’s gift shines through. I think any struggling artist today could count Henson among their ilk. He had all the makings of a tragic starving artist. The only difference between him and us is that he made peace with money.
  2. Probabilistic Programming and the Democratization of AI (YouTube) — talk by Brian Ruttenberg, examples in Figaro, a Scala library which is apparently open source despite hiding behind a “give us your contact details” form.
  3. Linux Panel — love the crossflow of features: “Embedded today is what enterprise was five years ago,” Kroah-Hartman said. “You have a quad-core in your pocket. The fun thing about Linux is all the changes you make have to work on all the things.” The advances in power management driven by mobile devices initially weren’t that interesting to enterprise developers, according to Kroah-Hartman. That quickly changed once they realized it was helping them save millions of dollars in data center power costs.
  4. A Drone’s View of the Colorado Floods (DIY Drones) — some amazing footage.

September 08 2013

Four short links: 9 September 2013

  1. How Google’s Defragging Android (Ars Technica) — Android’s becoming a pudgy microkernel for the Google Play Services layer that’s in userland, closed source, and a way to bypass carriers’ lag for upgrades.
  2. Booting a Self-Signed Linux Kernel (Greg Kroah-Hartman) — procedures for how to boot a self-signed Linux kernel on a platform so that you do not have to rely on any external signing authority.
  3. PaperscapeA map of scientific papers from the arXiv.
  4. Trinket — Adafruit’s latest microcontroller board. Small but perfectly formed.

August 21 2013

Github, die GPL und die Wirren der Open-Source-Lizenzen

Ein Großteil an Code wird von Entwicklern ohne Lizenz ins Netz gestellt, etwa bei Github. Das birgt bereits Probleme, doch dahinter steckt eine weitere Entwicklung: Auch Copyleft-Modelle wie das der GPL setzen ein starkes Urheberrecht voraus. Beides ist für viele Entwickler zu unflexibel und damit nicht mehr attraktiv, so Armin Ronacher.

Die General Public License (GNU GPL) war lange der Eckpfeiler der Open-Source-Bewegung – zumindest konnte man diesen Eindruck gewinnen. Bei genauerem Hinsehen bestand die Open-Source-Welt seit jeher aus vielen Lizenzen, die GNU GPL war nur ein kleiner Teil davon. Doch in den letzten Jahren ist immer deutlicher erkennbar, dass viele Entwickler aus verschiedenen Gründen einen offenen Hass für diese Lizenzen aufgebaut haben.

Erstaunlich ist, wie wenig heutzutage über die Lizenz diskutiert wird. Für mich ist das Thema durch Github wieder relevant geworden. Als Quelltext-Hoster ist Github momentan ein Zentrum der Open-Source-Bewegung, doch zugleich findet sich dort mehr zweckwidrig als zweckdienlich lizenzierte Software. Github hat versucht, das zu ändern und eine Lizenzauswahl eingeführt. Ich halte das für eine sehr schlechte Idee – besonders weil es das Thema GPL und alle Folgefragen wieder aufrollt.

Hier geht es daher um die Geschichte der Open-Source-Lizenzen, was sich zu verändern scheint – und darum, was wir tun können, um die Situation zu verbessern.

GPL: Was bisher passierte

Bevor die General Public License in der Version 3 (GPLv3) veröffentlicht wurde, war die GPLv2 die am weitesten verbreitete Copyleft-Lizenz. Copyleft und GNU GPL galten als eine Einheit. Die General Public License ist eine sehr restriktive Lizenz, da sie nicht lediglich eine handvoll Bedingungen festschreibt und den Rest erlaubt, sondern Rechte nach Art einer Whitelist aufführt. Aus diesem Grund wurde die Kompatibilität der GPL stets diskutiert. Bei der Frage der GPL-Kompatibilität geht es darum, eine Lizenz per Downgrade mit der GPL kompatibel zu machen. Bei den meisten Lizenzen war das möglich, aber einige Lizenzen enthalten Klauseln, die es unmöglich machen. Weit bekannt ist das Beispiel der Apache License 2.0, die durch zusätzliche Restriktionen für Patente als GPL-inkompatibel angesehen wurde, ähnlich einige Versionen der Mozilla Public License.

Als 2007 dann eine Version der GPL erarbeitet wurde, gewann die Frage der GPL-Kompatibilität ein weiteres Mal an Komplexität: Durch die Funktionsweise der GPL-Lizenzen sind verschiedene Versionen untereinander nicht kompatibel. Das ist nicht sonderlich überraschend. Sieht man sich aber an, wie das Ökosystem eigentlich funktionieren sollte und wie tatsächlich lizenziert wird, hat es enorme Auswirkungen.

Denn es gibt eine Menge Code, der je nach Betrachtungsweise entweder unter GPLv2 oder GPLv3 steht. Der Grund ist, dass Code bei GPL unter einer bestimmten Version oder „jeder späteren Version” (any later version) lizenziert werden kann. Und wie wird definiert, wie eine spätere Version aussieht? Durch die GPL selbst. Wenn ein Entwickler festlegt, dass für eine Software eine bestimmte Lizenzversion „oder jede spätere Version” gelten soll, haben Nachnutzer die Wahl: Sie können den Bedingungen der jeweiligen Version oder denen der späteren folgen.

Drei Lager in der GPL-Welt

Momentan gibt es daher drei Lager: Das erste, das bei der GPLv2 geblieben ist. Das zweite, das auf die GPLv3 hochgestuft hat. Und das dritte, in dem je nach Kontext entweder die GPLv2 oder GPLv3 genutzt wird. Ärger über die GPLv3 war am stärksten bei Linux und Busybox zu vernehmen: Beide entschieden, dass die einzig anwendbare Lizenz die GPLv2 ist. Auf der anderen Seite wurde ein Großteil des GNU-Codes vor ein paar Jahren auf GPLv3 überführt.

Das Ergebnis ist, dass GNU und Linux inzwischen in verschiedenen Welten leben. Ironischerweise steht „GNU/Linux” jetzt für einen Lizenzkonflikt. Da die meisten der GNU-Projekte unter der GPLv3 stehen und Linux immer bei GPLv2 bleiben wird, kann es kein Codesharing mehr zwischen diesen Projekten geben.

Das vermutlich größte Problem mit GPLv3 für Unternehmen ist ein Bestandteil der Lizenz, der als „Anti-Tivoisierung” bekannt ist. Ein zusätzlicher Abschnitt mit Bedingungen für den Fall, dass Software Teil eines Geräts im Consumer-Bereich wird. Im Kern wird gefordert, dass modifizierte Software auf einem unmodifizierten Gerät laufen muss. Die Lizenz verlangt, dass die Signaturschlüssel offengelegt sind und die Bedienungsanleitung Informationen darüber enthält, wie modifizierte Software installiert werden kann. Und es muss sichergestellt sein, dass modifizierte Software überhaupt auf dem Gerät läuft. Immerhin verlangt die Lizenz nicht, dass der Hersteller die Garantie dann aufrechterhalten muss.

Im Allgemeinen sind die Lizenzbedingungen damit ein großes Problem für Unternehmen. Apple zum Beispiel verkauft mit dem iPad und iPhone Geräte mit einem gesicherten Bootloader. Somit wäre es Apple unmöglich, den GPLv3-Bedingungen nachzukommen, ohne die Sicherheitssysteme komplett entfallen zu lassen. Es betrifft aber nicht nur Apple: In keinem Appstore wird man Software unter der GPLv3 finden. Die Lizenzbeschränkungen sind bei Googles Play Store und ähnlichen Vertriebssystemen ebenfalls inkompatibel zur GPLv3.

Die Anti-GPL-Bewegung

Neben diesen Entwicklungen in der GPL-Umwelt gibt es weitere. Nicht alle hatten vergleichbaren Einfluss, aber sie haben dazu geführt, dass die GPL von vielen Entwicklern in anderem Licht gesehen wird. Android und weitere Projekte versuchen mittlerweile, das ganze System der GPL loszuwerden. Android geht dabei sehr weit und bietet einen GPL-freien Userspace an. In den Lizenzinformationen wird im Grundsatz die Apache License 2.0 bevorzugt, ausgenommen davon sind etwa Kernelmodule.

Warum also gibt es plötzlich so viel Angst vor GPL? Zum Teil liegt es daran, dass GPL schon immer eine radikale Lizenz war, vor allem weil eine Rückübertragung der Rechte fehlt. Es gibt etwa eine Klausel, die als „GPLv2-Todesstrafe” bekannt ist. Sie besagt, dass jedem, der die Lizenzregeln verletzt, automatisch die Lizenz entzogen bleibt, solange nicht ausdrücklich eine neue vergeben wurde. Ohne verbindlichen Rechteinhaber aber hieße das, man müsste jeden, der am Code mitgewirkt hat, nach einer neuen Lizenz fragen.

Darüber hinaus ist mittlerweile deutlich geworden, dass einige sogar der Meinung sind, man könne der Free Software Foundation nicht trauen. Es gibt hier zwei Fraktionen: Erstens diejenigen, die an die Ideologie Richard Stallmans glauben; zweitens diejenigen, die die GPLv2 Lizenz in Ordnung finden, aber nicht mit der Richtung einverstanden sind, in die sie sich entwickelt. Linus Torvalds ist eindeutig ein Vertreter der letzteren Fraktion. Sie existiert, weil die Free Software Foundation stark in ihrer eigenen Welt gefangen ist, in der Cloud Computing Teufelszeug ist, Smartphones nichts anderes als Ortungsgeräte und Android etwas ist, dass durch die GPL verhindert werden muss. Es gibt GPL-Unterstützer, die nicht die aktuelle Sichtweise der Free Software Foundation unterstützen. Selbst einige GNU-Projekte widersprechen den Zielen von GNU und der Free Software Foundation. Das Projekt GnuTLS etwa hat sich im Dezember 2012 von GNU gelöst.

Code ohne Lizenz

Nach einer – nicht wissenschaftlichen – Untersuchung durch Aaron Williamson vom Software Freedom Law Center sind nur bei 15 Prozent aller Repositories Lizenzdateien enthalten; nur etwa 25 Prozent erwähnen die Lizenz in der Readme-Datei. Williamson untersuchte dafür 28 Prozent der ältesten Github-Repositories – nur ein Drittel aller Projekte hatte eine Copyleft-Lizenz. Von den lizenzierten Repositories stand die klare Mehrheit entweder unter MIT/BSD- oder Apache-2-Lizenz.

Das sind keine zufriedenstellenden Ergebnisse: Der Trend, Code ohne Lizenzerklärungen ins Netz zu stellen, ist bedenklich und wirft Fragen auf. Er zeigt aber weniger, dass Entwickler nichts von Lizenzen wissen als vielmehr, dass sie sie für unwichtig und vernachlässigbar erachten. Deshalb sehe ich Githubs neues Lizenzauswahl-Werkzeug als problematisch an. Beim Erstellen eines neuen Verzeichnisses erscheint jetzt ein Lizenzwahl-Dialog; nur ohne Erklärung, was die Lizenz bedeutet. „Apache v2 License”, „GPLv2” und „MIT” werden hervorgehoben. Zwei dieser Lizenzen aber – Apache und GPLv2 – sind nicht untereinander kompatibel.

Screenshot: Lizenzauswahl bei Github

Screenshot: Lizenzauswahl bei Github

Wenn aber Entwickler zuvor keine Zeit damit verbracht haben, eine Lizenz zum Repository hinzuzufügen, dann wird es jetzt dazu führen, dass sie nicht über die Konsequenzen ihrer Wahl nachdenken. Angesichts all der verschiedenen Versionen von GPL und den rechtlichen Implikationen, die mit ihnen einhergehen, fürchte ich, dass das neue Lizenzauswahl-Werkzeug die Lage nur schlechter machen wird.

Wirren der Lizenzkompatibilität

Wenn die GPL ins Spiel kommt, hört der Spaß beim Lizenzieren auf: Zu viele Dinge und Wechselwirkungen sind zu beachten. Bedenkt man die unterschiedlichen Interpretationen der Lizenz, wird es noch schlimmer.

Das aber ist nicht nur ein Problem der GPL: Auch die Apache-Softwarelizenz ist ein ziemlicher Brocken. Ich bin mir sicher, dass nicht jeder, der Code unter die Lizenz gestellt hat, die Implikationen kennt. Die MIT-Lizenz dagegen umfasst gerade einmal zwei Paragraphen und einen Gewährleistungs-Auschluss, doch hier sind die Wechselwirkungen mit verschiedenen Jurisdiktionen nicht jedem klar.

Die implizite Annahme ist, dass irgendwie amerikanisches Recht Anwendung findet, was nicht immer der Fall ist. Open-Source-Entwicklung ist international und nicht jedes Land ist gleich. Deutschland und Österreich etwa haben wenige Bestimmungen zum eigentlichen Urheberrecht und keine Mechanismen, um es zu übertragen. Stattdessen werden Nutzungsrechte übertragen, die der Rechteinhaber unterlizenzieren kann. Da das in den Lizenzerklärungen nicht vorkommt, frage ich mich manchmal, ob mir aus solchen Formalitäten noch einmal jemand einen Strick drehen kann.

Lizenzen für die Mashup-Generation

Ich glaube, zur Zeit passiert etwas Neues in meiner Generation. Und das ist vermutlich der wichtigste Grund, warum es mit der GPL bergab geht: Meine Generation will ein eingeschränkteres Urheberrecht als bisher und kürzere Schutzfristen. Interessanterweise möchte Richard Stallman genau das nicht. Ihm ist schmerzhaft bewusst, dass auch Copyleft auf Copyright basiert und daher nur mit einem starken Copyright im Rücken durchgesetzt werden kann.

Wer Software unter BSD- oder MIT-Lizenz stellt, den würde es vermutlich nicht stören, wenn das Urheberrecht abgeschafft oder stark eingeschränkt werden würde. Richard Stallmans Welt würde zusammenbrechen. Er meinte etwa, dass sich die Piratenpartei als Bumerang für die freie-Software-Bewegung herausstellen werde.

Die neue Generation aber hat eine veränderte Sichtweise auf sharing und auf Geld. Sie will das Teilen von Inhalten und Software einfach machen, aber gleichzeitig eine unabhängige Monetarisierung ermöglichen. Es ist die Generation, die Remixe bei Youtube hochlädt, die kommentierte Walkthroughs für Computerspiele erstellt und auf viele andere Weisen mit den Inhalten anderer zu arbeiten gelernt hat.

Ein Erste-Hilfe-Kasten für Lizenzen

Wir sollten darüber nachdenken, unsere Softwarelizenz-Umwelt zu vereinfachen – weil wir sonst nicht abschätzen können, was in ein paar Jahren auf uns zukommt. Die Implikationen von Softwarelizenzen zu verdeutlichen und Hilfe zu geben, um die für die jeweiligen Ziele geeignete Lizenz auszuwählen, das wäre ein interessantes Vorhaben. Dazu würden zum Beispiel Grafiken gehören, die auf Kompatibilitätsprobleme hinweisen; die klarmachen, wie sich fehlende Erklärungen von Mitwirkenden an Software auswirken; und was passiert, wenn Rechteinhaber sterben oder nicht mehr auffindbar sind.

Ich bin sicher, dass ein guter User-Experience-Designer es schaffen würde, die Lizenzgrundlagen in 10 Minuten einfach erfahrbar zu machen. Die Informationen müssten von einem Rechtsanwalt und Mitgliedern der Community kontrolliert werden, um die Folgen für das Ökosystem fundiert einzuschätzen. Im Moment glaube ich jedenfalls, dass die Lizenzauswahl bei Github eine sehr schlechte Lösung für das Problem ist, dass Code ohne Lizenz veröffentlicht wird. Womöglich ist sie sogar schädlich, solange die Auswirkungen der jeweiligen Lizenzen nicht klar sind.

Dieser Artikel ist eine gekürzte Fassung von Armin Ronachers Posting „Licensing in a Post Copyright World”. Übersetzung: Anne-Christin Mook. Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA.

July 17 2013

AutoMySQLBackup

AutoMySQLBackup
http://sourceforge.net/projects/automysqlbackup

AutoMySQLBackup with a basic configuration will create Daily, Weekly and Monthly #backups of one or more of your #MySQL databases from one or more of your MySQL servers.

Other Features include:
– Email notification of backups
– Backup Compression and Encryption
– Configurable backup rotation
– Incremental database backups

quelqu’un connaît ? ça semble aussi simple que `apt-get install automysqlbackup` et ça remplacerait mes scripts persos

#linux

Four short links: 17 July 2013

  1. Hideout — augmented reality books. (via Hacker News)
  2. Patterns and Practices for Open Source Software Success (Stephen Walli) — Successful FOSS projects grow their communities outward to drive contribution to the core project. To build that community, a project needs to develop three onramps for software users, developers, and contributors, and ultimately commercial contributors.
  3. How to Act on LKML — Linus’s tantrums are called out by one of the kernel developers in a clear and positive way.
  4. Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter (BoingBoing) — Bruce Sterling’s speculative short story, written for the Institute For The Future. “Stephen Wolfram was right about everything. Wolfram is the greatest physicist since Isaac Newton. Since Plato, even. Our meager, blind physics is just a subset of Wolfram’s new-kind-of- science metaphysics. He deserves fifty Nobels.” “How many people have read that Wolfram book?” I asked him. “I hear that his book is, like, huge, cranky, occult, and it drives readers mad.” “I read the forbidden book,” said Crawferd.

September 28 2012

Four short links: 28 September 2012

  1. Mobile Content StrategyMobile is a catalyst that can help you make your content tighter without loss of clarity or information. If you make your content work well on mobile, it will work everywhere. Excellent presentation, one I want to thump on every decision-maker’s desk and say “THIS!”.
  2. Math at Google (PDF) — presentation showing the different types of math used to build Google. Good as overview, and as way to motivate highschool and college kids to do their math homework. “See, it really is useful! Really!” (via Ben Lorica)
  3. Tizen 2.0 Alpha Released — Tizen is the Linux Foundation’s mobile Linux kernel, device drivers, middleware subsystems, and Web APIs. (via The Linux Foundation)
  4. Explaining WebMaker Crisply (Mark Surman) — if you’ve wondered wtf Mozilla is up to, this is excellent. Mozilla has big priorities right now: the web on the desktop; the web on mobile; and web literacy.

August 28 2012

Seeking prior art where it most often is found in software

Patent ambushes are on the rise again, and cases such as Apple/Samsung shows that prior art really has to swing the decision–obviousness or novelty is not a strong enough defense. Obviousness and novelty are subjective decisions made by a patent examiner, judge, or jury.

In this context, a recent conversation I had with Keith Bergelt, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Invention Network takes on significance. OIN was formed many years ago to protect the vendors, developers, and users of Linux and related open source software against patent infringement. They do this the way companies prepare a defense: accumulating a portfolio of patents of their own.

According to Bergelt, OIN has spent millions of dollars to purchase patents that uniquely enable Linux and open source and have helped free software vendors and developers understand and prepare to defend against lawsuits. All OIN patents are available under a free license to those who agree to forbear suit on Linux grounds and to cross license their own patents that read on OIN’s Linux System Definition. OIN has nearly 500 licensees and is adding a new one every three days, as everyone from individual developers to large multinationals are coming to recognize its role and the value of an OIN license.

The immediate trigger for our call was an announcement by OIN that they are expanding their Linux System Definition to include key mobile Linux software packages such as Dalvik, which expands the scope of the cross licenses under the OIN license. In this way OIN is increasing the freedom of action under which a company can operate under Linux.

OIN’s expansion of its Linux System Definition affects not only Android, which seems to be in Apple’s sights, but any other mobile distribution based on Linux, such as MeeGo and Tizen. They have been interested in this area for some time, but realize that mobile is skyrocketing in importance.

Meanwhile, they are talking to their supporters about new ways of deep mining for prior art in source code. Patent examiners, as well as developers filing patents in good faith, look mostly at existing patents to find prior art. But in software, most innovation is not patented. It might not even appear in the hundreds of journals and conference proceedings that come out in the computer science field each year. It is abstraction that emerges from code, when analyzed.

A GitHub staffer told me it currently hosts approximately 25 TB of data and adds over 65 GB of new data per day. A lot of that stuff is probably hum-drum, but I bet a fraction of it contains techniques that someone else will try to gain a monopoly over someday through patents.

Naturally, inferring innovative processes from source code is a daunting exercise in machine learning. It’s probably harder than most natural language processing, which tries to infer limited meanings or relationships from words. But OIN feels we have to try. Otherwise more and more patents may impinge (which is different from infringe) on free software.

April 06 2012

Developer Week in Review: When giant corporations collide

The days of the April Fools' web joke are over, or should be. It's gotten too old, to institutionalized, and it's so widespread these days that serious news can slip through the cracks because everyone assumes it's a joke. If people want to pull hoaxes, pick a random day in the middle of the summer and do it then; you'll get much more bang for the buck because no one will be expecting it. I used to like a good fake article as much as the rest, back in the days when they would be buried somewhere in the pages of a magazine's April edition, but now it's just lame. Be assured, all the items in this edition of Developer Week in Review are 100% prank-free and were supervised by the American Humane Association.

Gentlemen, start your lawyers!

Like a large radioactive reptile, the lawsuit between Oracle and Google over the improper use of Java has been sleeping quietly in a courtroom in San Jose. But now, the slumbering monster is about to awake, potentially leaving a trail of broken companies scattered from California to Asia. After all attempts to broker a settlement between Larry's House of Java and the People's Autonomous Car and Search Engine Company failed, the judge involved has ordered the two parties to start sharpening their long-knives, in an unusually candid opinion.

It's hard to overestimate the potential impact that a ruling against Google could have on the smartphone industry. If Google was required to remove Java from Android phones, Android would essentially become useless because the entire stack that Android apps use is built on top of Java. More likely, Google would be required to shell out a significant license fee to Oracle, which added to the ones it already pays to Microsoft and (potentially) Apple, could make Android phones less and less profitable to the handset makers who actually end up paying the fees. Of course, given the glacial pace at which these proceedings move, Android may have already moved on by the time any such judgement actually comes down ...

Linux has a friend in ... Redmond?

In the past few weeks, we've made several references to Microsoft's increasing support of the open source model, and this week brought even more evidence of the sea change out of Washington state. For a technology that Steve Ballmer once described as akin to cancer, Linux is certainly getting a lot of love from Microsoft these days. The software behemoth is now in the top 20 corporate contributors to the Linux Kernel, committing more than 1% of all new lines of code last year.

It is worth bearing in mind that most of that code is in support of Microsoft technologies, such as Hyper-V, but even still, it's clear that Microsoft doesn't treat Linux like an ill-behaved street urchin anymore.

The art of game cheats

I'm not much (if anything) of a game programmer; I've always gravitated more to the web side of the force. But I certainly play my share of games. I'm currently racing my 17 year old to level 80 on "Call of Duty MW3" on the Wii (I'm [MLP]TwilightSparkle if you want to ally with a mediocre player who likes Akimbo FMG9 a bit too much for his own good ...). If you play enough multiplayer, you'll eventually come to recognize the players who have an almost psychic knowledge of where everyone is. They're the ones who always seem to come around the corner already sighted in on you. You know, the cheaters ...

Now, one game developer has stepped forward to explain some of the hacks that cheats use to become Chuck Norris clones and how they are implemented. Even if you are never going to get within 1,000 yards of a z-buffer, it's worth reading to see just how easily games can be tweaked to give unethical players an unbeatable edge.

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

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April 03 2012

Four short links: 3 April 2012

  1. Why Our Kids Should Be Taught To Code (Guardian) -- if we don't act now we will be short-changing our children. [...] their world will be also shaped and configured by networked computing and if they don't have a deeper understanding of this stuff then they will effectively be intellectually crippled. They will grow up as passive consumers of closed devices and services, leading lives that are increasingly circumscribed by technologies created by elites working for huge corporations such as Google, Facebook and the like. We will, in effect, be breeding generations of hamsters for the glittering wheels of cages built by Mark Zuckerberg and his kind. (via Karl von Randow)
  2. The Pwn Plug -- $770 gets you a wall-wart full of network attack tools and wifi for remote access. Plug and Pwn. (via Ars Technica)
  3. Mobile Phone as Companion Species (Matt Jones) -- They see the world differently to us, picking up on things we miss. They adapt to us, our routines. They look to us for attention, guidance and sustenance. We imagine what they are thinking, and vice-versa.
  4. 8-Bit Linux -- Ubuntu 9 ported to an 6.5KHz 8-bit CPU (running a 32-bit emulator because Linux itself requires at least a 32-bit system). Takes 2 hours to boot up the kernel, four more to get to a login prompt. Moore's Law for the win: I've seen more than 1000x improvement in speed from my first computer (1MHz C64) to current (1.7GHz i5). (via Slashdot)

March 12 2012

O'Reilly Radar Show 3/12/12: Best data interviews from Strata California 2012

Below you'll find the script and associated links from the March 12, 2012 episode of O'Reilly Radar. An archive of past shows is available through O'Reilly Media's YouTube channel and you can subscribe to episodes of O'Reilly Radar via iTunes.



In this special edition of the Radar Show we're bringing you three of our best interviews from the 2012 Strata Conference in California.

First up is Hadoop creator Doug Cutting discussing the similarities between Linux and the big data world. [Interview begins 16 seconds in.]

In our second interview from Strata California, Max Gadney from After the Flood explains the benefits of video data graphics. [Begins at 7:04.]

In our final Strata CA interview, Kaggle's Jeremy Howard looks at the difference between big data and analytics. [Begins at 13:46.]

Closing

Just a reminder that you can always catch episodes of O'Reilly Radar at youtube.com/oreillymedia and subscribe to episodes through iTunes.

All of the links and resources mentioned during this episode are posted at radar.oreilly.com/show.

That's all we have for this episode. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you again soon.

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

February 23 2012

Developer Week in Review: Flash marginalization continues

I got a rude reminder of how dependent we've grown on ubiquitous telecommunications, as AT&T decided to take a sick day, cell phone service-wise. The outage only lasted an hour or so, but I suddenly found myself on the road with no way to call into a scheduled scrum standup (can it be a standup when you're sitting in your car?) and no way to email to let them know what was going on.

Total outages have been pretty rare, but it wouldn't take much from a solar storm perspective to knock everything offline, something I wrote about several years ago. Try to imagine modern society with no power, telecommunications or GPS navigation for a few days, and losing cell service for an hour gets put into its proper perspective.

Now that I'm back at home with a nice reliable fiber connection, I can give you the news of the week.

Tux can only flash people wearing chrome, now

As was reported previously, Adobe is starting to gracefully put Flash out to pasture in favor of HTML5. The deathwatch took another step forward this week, with Adobe announcing that only Chrome will be able to run Flash under Linux in the future.

One could argue that Linux never was much of a market for Flash anyway, but following on the heels of the announcement regarding mobile support, it should be clear that Flash is on the way out. Flash was once considered the last best hope for seamless integration across desktop and mobile platforms, held back only by Apple's intransigence. Now, all eyes are on HTML5.


Getting laid off doesn't sound so bad now, does it?

In the "developed world," software professionals spend a lot of time worried about intellectual property, career viability, privacy issues, and the like — our version of "first world problems." Once in a while, however, we get harsh reminders of the kind of real problems that can face a software developer in less-friendly circumstances.

Such is the case of Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born engineer and Canadian resident, who is currently facing a death sentence in Iran, accused of creating a pornographic network. According to most sources, the only thing that Malekpour actually did was to create a program that could be used to upload photos to websites, and that code had been incorporated into pornographic websites without his knowledge.

Malekpour confessed to running a pornographic network after a year in custody, a time when his supporters claim he was frequently tortured. What is certain is that very soon, if nothing is done, he will be executed, likely by being beheaded.

It's easy to write this off as a symptom of extremist ideology, but it should also serve as a wake-up call to open source and freelance developers who never plan to venture outside so-called "developed" countries. It is far too easy to imagine some hapless developer being dragged off to an undisclosed location because his or her software was found on the laptop of a jihadist. The problem with writing software is that you never know who may end up using it.

Putting Apple's labor issues in perspective

I just watched the "Nightline" report on Apple's production facilities, run by Foxconn in China. I'm sure that there's lots of righteous outrage afoot about the low wages (starting at $1.80 an hour) and cramped living conditions at the facility. I thought it was worth putting things in perspective, however.

To make it clear at the outset, I'm not in any way an apologist for China's government or social system. But I suspect you could find lots of people living in the U.S. willing to work for that wage, provided with lodging for $17 a month and a meal that cost about an hour's wage. As the report pointed out, the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually below the average in China, at 1.7 suicides per 100,000. For comparison, U.S. police officers experience 18 suicides per 100,000. And lest we become too indignant about factory accidents at the Foxconn facilities that killed more than two dozen in the past few years, we should remember that the U.S. doesn't have a shinning record in this regard either.

The point I'm making is that Apple makes an easy target because of its size and because some people want to make trouble for the company whenever they can. However, if we're going to attack Apple, let's do it for the right reasons. By most accounts, Apple is doing a much better job ensuring worker rights and safety than the industry as a whole.


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October 10 2011

September 19 2011

Promoting Open Source Software in Government: The Challenges of Motivation and Follow-Through


The Journal of Information Technology & Politics has just published a special issue on open source software. My article "Promoting Open Source Software in Government: The Challenges of Motivation and Follow-Through" appears in this issue, and the publisher has given me permission to put a prepublication draft online.

The main subject of the article is the battle between the Open Document Format (ODF) and Microsoft's Office standard, OOXML, which might sound like a quaint echo of a by-gone era but is still a critical issue in open government. But during the time my article developed, I saw new trends in government procurement--such as the Apps for Democracy challenge and the data.gov site--and incorporated some of the potential they represent into the piece.

Working with the publisher Taylor & Francis was enriching. The prepublication draft I gave them ranged far and wide among topics, and although these topics pleased the peer reviewers, my style did not. They demanded a much more rigorous accounting of theses and their justification. In response to their critique, I shortened the article a lot and oriented it around the four main criteria for successful adoption of open source by government agencies:

  1. An external trigger, such as a deadline for upgrading existing software

  2. An emphasis on strategic goals, rather than a naive focus on cost

  3. A principled commitment to open source among managers and IT staff responsible for making the transition, accompanied by the technical sophistication and creativity to implement an open source strategy

  4. High-level support at the policy-making level, such as the legislature or city council

Whenever I tell colleagues about the special issue on open source, they ask whether it's available under a Creative Commons license, or at least online for free download. This was also the first issue I raised with the editor as soon as my article was accepted, and he raised it with the publisher, but they decided to stick to their usual licensing policies. Allowing authors to put up a prepublication draft is adroit marketing, but also represents a pretty open policy as academic journals go.

On the one hand, I see the decision to leave the articles under a conventional license as organizational inertia, and a form of inertia I can sympathize with. It's hard to make an exception to one's business model and legal process for a single issue of a journal. Moreover, working as I do for a publisher, I feel strongly that each publisher should make the licensing and distribution choices that it feels is right for it.

But reflecting on the academic review process I had just undergone, I realized that the licensing choice reflected the significant difference between my attitude toward the topic and the attitude taken by academics who run journals. I have been "embedded" in free software communities for years and see my writing as an emerging distillation of what they have taught me. To people like me who promote open information, making our papers open is a logical expression of the values we're promoting in writing the papers.

But the academic approach is much more stand-offish. An anthropologist doesn't feel that he needs to invoke tribal spirits before writing about the tribe's rituals to invoke spirits, nor does a political scientist feel it necessary to organize a worker's revolution in order to write about Marxism. And having outsiders critique practices is valuable. I value the process that improved my paper.

But something special happens when an academic produces insights from the midst of a community or a movement. It's like illuminating a light emitting diode instead of just "shining light on a subject." I recently finished the book by Henry Jenkins, Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Media Consumers in a Digital Age, which hammers on this issue. As with his better-known book Convergence Culture, Jenkins is convinced that research about popular culture is uniquely informed by participating in fan communities. These communities don't waste much attention on licenses and copyrights. They aren't merely fawning enthusiasts, either--they critique the culture roughly and demandingly. I wonder what other disciplines could take from Jenkins.

July 28 2011

Developer Week in Review: Linux turns the big 3.0

I have been informed by the contractors, currently starting in on bathroom renovation No. 3 at our house, that my official designation is "Houston." This is because, pretty much every day, they call me at work and say "We have a problem." If you think patching bugs in legacy code written by someone who has left your company is bad, try getting work done on a 215-year-old house.



While the rest of the O'Reilly family is out cavorting in the wilds of Portland at OSCON, a few of us must tend the fires back East, and keep the rest of the world informed on what's going on. Such as ...



The new Linux is out, the new Linux is out!

LinuxIt used to be, when COBOL developers roamed the Earth, that a new release of the Linux kernel was a cause for much excitement, especially something as momentous as a new major version. Can anyone every remember when Linux 1.x became Linux 2.0? Here's a hint, it was 15 years ago.



But times have changed. Very few people install a Linux kernel directly anymore. Most get them through the distribution they have chosen. And for people who have embedded versions of Linux, they may not have the slightest idea what version of the kernel they're running. Ask a random sampling of HTC Android users what kernel is installed, and you'll probably get a blank stare (here's a cheat sheet, if you're interested.)

Adding to the ho-hum nature of the 3.0 release is that fact that there's really nothing special in it, by Linus' own admission. He just figured it was time to stop endlessly adding to the 2.0 version tree, and get a clean start on the 3's. With the 20th anniversary of the famous Linux Letter coming up in late August, now is probably as a good a time as ever to put the terrible twos to bed for good.

Here's a fun question to ponder, though: How many build scripts that assume "2.6.X" or "2.X.X" as a Linux version number are about to break?

Hoist with their own petard

It behooves people to remember, in this day and age, that the things they say and write may come back to haunt them. Thus, when trying to make the case that the Android operating system is an unholy misuse of Java, it would have been good for Oracle to remember that there was a letter floating around from 2007 in which Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz offers Google a warm greeting, and pledged to work aggressively to cooperate with Google on Android.



There's a certain sweet symmetry in Oracle's battle against the search engine giant being potentially derailed by material from deep in the web's archives. It was legal eagles at Groklaw who uncovered the letter, but I'm sure there was much Googling involved in finding it.



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You have to admire Lodsys' ambition

Not content with suing the smaller fry of the iOS and Android ecosystem, patent "leveragers" (I'd use a less kind word there, but my editor would just change it ...) Lodsys has taken their patent fight to some truly big fish. In new legal action, Rovio (the makers of "Angry Birds"), EA, Take Two Interactive ("Grand Theft Auto") and Atari have found themselves in the defendant box.



The continuing suits, which revolve around in-app purchases, could prove an interesting line in the sand. Apple has licensed rather than litigated in the past, but the signs so far are that Apple (which already paid Lodsys once for the use of the patents) has decided that enough is enough. By dragging big players such as EA into the fray, Lodsys may be making the same mistake that SCO did when they dragged IBM and other large corporations into their Linux litigation. Big companies have large legal teams, and at some point, Lodsys may find themselves worse off than if they had just taken their money and run.


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June 09 2011

Four short links: 9 June 2011

  1. Optimizing MongoDB -- shorter field names, barely hundreds of ops/s when not in RAM, updates hold a lock while they fetch the original from disk ... it's a pretty grim story. (via Artur Bergman)
  2. Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism? -- focus is absolutely necessary if we are to gain knowledge. We will be ignoramuses indeed, if we merely flow along with the digital current and do not take the time to read extended, difficult texts. (via Sacha Judd)
  3. Trend Data for Teens (Pew Internet and American Life Project) -- one in six American teens have used the Internet to look for information online about a health topic that’s hard to talk about, like drug use, sexual health, or depression.
  4. The Guts of Android (Linux Weekly News) -- technical but high-level explanation of the components of an Android system and how they compare to those of a typical Linux system.

May 08 2011

Feeding the community fuels advances at Red Hat and JBoss

I wouldn't dare claim to pinpoint what makes Red Hat the most successful company with a pervasive open source strategy, but one intriguing thing sticks out: their free software development strategy is the precise inverse of most companies based on open source.

Take the way Red Hat put together CloudForms, one of their major announcements at last week's instance of the annual Red Hat Summit and JBoss World. As technology, CloudForms represents one of the many efforts in the computer industry to move up the stack in cloud computing, with tools for managing, migrating, and otherwise dealing with operating system instances along with a promise (welcome in these age of cloud outages) to allow easy switches between vendors and prevent lock-in. But CloudForms is actually a blend of 79 SourceForge projects. Red Hat created it by finding appropriate free software technologies and persuading the developers to work together toward this common vision.

I heard this story from vice president Scott Farrand of Hewlett-Packard. Their own toe hold on this crowded platform is the HP edition, a product offering that manages ProLiant server hosts and Flex Fabric networking to provide a platform for CloudForms.

The point of this story is that Red Hat rarely creates products like other open source companies, which tend to grow out of a single project and keep pretty close control over the core. Red Hat makes sure to maintain a healthy, independent community-based project. Furthermore, many open source companies try to keep ahead of the community, running centralized beta programs and sometimes keeping advanced features in proprietary versions of the product. In contrast, the community runs ahead of Red Hat projects. Whether it's the Fedora Linux distribution, the Drools platform underlying JBoss's BPM platform, JBoss Application Server lying behind JBoss's EAP offering, or many other projects forming the foundation of Red Hat and JBoss offerings, the volunteers typically do the experimentation and stabilize new features before the company puts together a stable package to support.

Red Hat Summit and JBoss World was huge and I got to attend only a handful of the keynotes and sessions. I spent five hours manning the booth of for Open Source for America, which got a lot of positive attention from conference attendees. Several other worthy causes in reducing poverty attracted a lot of volunteers.

In general, what I heard at the show didn't represent eye-catching innovations or sudden changes in direction, but solid progress along the lines laid out by Red Hat and JBoss in previous years. I'll report here on a few technical advances.

PaaS standardization: OpenShift

Red Hat has seized on the current computing mantra of our time, which is freedom in the cloud. (I wrote a series on this theme, culminating in a proposal for an open architecture for SaaS.) Whereas CloudForms covers the IaaS space, Red Hat's other big product announcement, OpenShift, tries to broaden the reach of PaaS. By standardizing various parts of the programming environment, Red Hat hopes to bring everyone together regardless of programming language, database back-end, or other options. For example, OpenShift is flexible enough to support PostgreSQL from EnterpriseDB, CouchDB from Couchbase, and MongoDB from 10gen, among the many partners Red Hat has lined up.

KVM optimization

The KVM virtualization platform, a direct competitor to VMware (and another project emerging from and remaining a community effort), continues to refine its performance and offer an increasing number of new features.

  • Linux hugepages (2 megabytes instead of 4 kilobytes) can lead to a performance improvement ranging from 24% to 46%, particularly when running databases.

  • Creating a virtual network path for each application can improve performance by reducing network bottlenecks.

  • vhost_net improves performance through bypassing the user-space virtualization model, QEMU.

  • Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) allows direct access from a virtual host to an I/O device, improving performance but precluding migration of the instance to another physical host.

libvirt is much improved and is now the recommended administrative tool.

JBoss AS and EAP

Performance and multi-node management, seemed to be the obsessions driving AS 7. Performance improvements, which have led to a ten-fold speedup and almost ten times less memory use between AS 6 and AS 7, include:

  • A standardization of server requirements (ports used, etc.) so that these requirements can be brought up concurrently during system start-up

  • Reorganization of the code to better support multicore systems

  • A cache to overcome the performance hit in Java reflection.

Management enhancements include:

  • Combining nodes into domains where they can be managed as a unit

  • The ability to manage nodes through any scripting language, aided by a standard representation of configuration data types in a dynamic model with a JSON representation

  • Synching the GUI with the XML files so that a change made in either place will show up in the other

  • Offering a choice whether to bring up a server right away at system start-up, or later on an as-needed basis

  • Cycle detection when servers fail and are restarted

April 26 2011

Abmahnkanzlei verlangt Unterlassung des Uploads von Debian 5

Die für die massenhafte Abmahnung von Urheberrechtsverletzungen bekannte Anwaltskanzlei Negele, Zimmel, Greuter, Beller mahnt offenbar im Auftrag eines holländischen Unternehmens das öffentliche Zugänglichmachen der Linux-Distribution Debian5 über P2P-Netzwerke ab. Eine hiervon betroffene Nutzerin zitiert das Schreiben der Rechtsanwälte dahingehend, dass deren Auftraggeberin Media Art Holland die Nutzungs- und Verwertungsrechte an der Software Debian5 habe.

Nachdem es sich bei Debian Linux bekanntlich um Open Source Software handelt und im konkreten Fall noch dazu eine vom Debian-Server stammende Distribution verwendet worden ist, ist die Behauptung, die holländische Firma Media Art würde über Nutzungs- und Verwertungsrechte an Debian5 verfügen – sog. Verwertungsrechte stehen allein dem Urheber zu – mit Sicherheit falsch.

Sollte die Abmahnung nicht gefälscht sein, wie z.B. der Kollege Ferner vermutet, dann liegt ein Fall einer rechtsmissbräuchlichen Abmahnung vor.

Update: Die Abmahnung scheint tatsächlich eine Fälschung zu sein, wie die Angemahnte gerade berichtet. Nachdem aber offenbar eine Ermittlung der Anschlussinhaberin über eine reale IP-Adresse stattgefunden hat, bleiben hier doch einige Fragen offen.

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