Why is Launchpad Easy

Do you have a launchpad account? How easy was it to get? Have you used ground control and effectively tied your desktop development more effectively to your launchpad account and the branches and bugs therein?

I find the process a little difficult when it comes to ssh keys, and maybe the openid stuff could be made prettier. But over all it’s a very inclusive process that wants as many users as possible, doing as many things as possible.

Compare this to FreeDesktop.org: Process for FreeDesktop.org Registration

Holy Cow! You have to make a bug report to ask for an account, attach your public ssh and gpg keys (make sure the gpg key is visible from a specific server.) and then wait for a real person to process it. Made worse is the gratuitous use of BugZilla, which design wise is a candidate for what _not_ to do when making a complex user interface. I can’t imagine many people going through these hurdles in order to get involved with development, I certainly can’t imagine writing a front end desktop interface for it.

No wonder projects spring up on launchpad, with all it’s faults. It’s better than most other development services by virtue of having processes designed and some thought put into how to make sure it’s as simple on the outside, but still complex on the inside as possible.

Anime Boston Posters

I’ve made some relatively quick (I spent all day on them) posters, most are using existing drawings, some stuff is new drawings.

There are five posters to be hung on the walls of the booth we have at Anime Boston and one sign inviting people to take a CD. Although I’m not sure if we’ll need the sign since there at 17,000 attendees and only 400 CDs. We will see how these CDs go and if they all disappear pretty quickly, then next time we’ll have to get our own printed instead of going to Canonical’s ship-it service. But we do have 3,000 manga and the 1,000 flyers we have available and 100 special aluminium case badges.

I think it’s going to be a really great event.

I can still change these tag lines, so your thoughts and ideas are welcome in comments below.

Bruno on Economics

Bruno Girin today wrote a very comprehensive comment about my previous blog post about Free Culture.

I thought it was good enough to post as a full post and also add my own reply at the bottom:

It’s all down to the concept of scarcity, which is the corner stone of market economy. Market economy works something like this: when a resource is scarce somewhere, you will look for a provider than has a surplus of that resource and is ready to exchange it against something you have that he wants. For example, Argh went hunting and has a lot of meat but no fruit. Urgh went collecting fruit and has a lot of fruit but no meat. Argh and Urgh agree to exchange meat against fruit to address their respective scarcity problems.

Money is the same, it’s just a resource that’s easier to carry and exchange than a wheelbarrow of strawberries. But it only works because of its scarcity. If everybody became a millionaire overnight, money would lose its value. And here lies the rub in buying over the net. You can’t buy with virtual money because it can potentially be duplicated so you have to come up with payment mechanisms that can link a virtual buyer and a virtual seller to a real buyer and seller that have real money and goods. The infrastructure to do this is far from simple and doesn’t cross borders easily. It is also hampered by the fact that on the net you are anonymous. Interestingly enough, payment is lot easier on a mobile phone because your phone is linked to a SIM card, that has a number, that is administered by a network operator that allocates it to a real person that is billed every month or has pre-paid for usage of the mobile. So payments engines have a way to link the purchase to a real person and therefore real money: bill the network operator and the operator will forward the bill to the buyer. You can’t do that on the net because you don’t have this chain so you have to devise ways to re-construct the chain for every single payment.

The other aspect about the net and computing that scuppers all economic models is the fact that it has completely changed the concept of scarcity. In the real world, duplicating an object takes time and effort, whether it’d be a pencil or an aircraft carrier. This gives you automatic scarcity and you can attach a price to it. In the virtual world, constructing an initial prototype (whether it be a computer program, a song, a book, a 3D aircraft carrier) is time consuming but duplicating it is easy and virtually free. So there is no scarcity on the objects anymore, there is scarcity on the skills required to build the original prototype. So if you follow standard economic principles, once a digital object is built, its price falls to 0 because it costs nothing to duplicate and there is no natural scarcity; the only possible scarcity is artificial and enforced through things like licenses, DRM, etc.

So free culture isn’t killing our culture or economy, it’s just applying the scarcity principle in market economy to digital goods. The problem is that all standard economic models are based around physical goods where there is a cost associated with duplicating them and don’t work anymore in a situation where duplication is free. In particular, the real world depends a lot on middle-men who can source a particular scarce resource, whether it be grocery retailers or music shops. They add real value to the supply chain in the real world but that value drops significantly with digital goods. So they basically find that they are out of a job in the digital world and aren’t too happy about it, which is probably where this accusation that free culture destroys our culture and economy stems from.

I can tell you what is scarce: people’s time. If someone can work out an economic model where people are paid for the work they perform and not for the copying of that work. We’d probably have a better argument for all kinds of Free Culture including Free Software.

“Free Culture is Killing our Culture”

If you watch the BBC you may have seen a recent episode of “It’s only a theory” where they had as a guest Andrew Keen, author of “The Cult of the Amateur”. His theory was that The internet (and in essence Free Culture) is killing our culture and our economy.

I won’t go into the narcissist arguments, we could all be better at considering others and being more humble. I’m also going to ignore the irony of writing a blog post which is a part of the problem in Andrew’s eyes.1

The theory managed to squeak by on a change of vote from Reginald D Hunter. His argument was very interesting though, he said that Andrew was afraid of the changes and that we hadn’t learned how to “make money” from the internet yet. That there changes were good and that killing the old culture was a good thing and we just need time to figure it all out.

Of course I was hoping to see the fear-inspired conjecture thoroughly rebuked. But after seeing why it was passed, I’m actually more impressed with Mr Hunter.2

Big media needs to die because it’s just an inefficient and too centralised way to make media. I find myself more and more simply enjoying content online and trying to pay for it. I have no problems with paying for content of course, but I’m altruistic, so of course I’m going to pay for content as much as I can, I actually commission plenty of artworks for Free Culture.

Free Software is sort of like the older brother of the free culture philosophy. Software has the advantage that it has a few extra advantages to being participatory, the fact that more of it can be compartmentalised and mixed together with other code without having to consider context as much. But just as much as Free Software has to find it’s way from the proxy funding of support contracts, Free Culture has to find it’s way from the proxy funding of advertising.


1 I write this blog to get better at writing, it’s nice to get readers, but it’s not why I do it.
2 Of course recent episodes of Andy Hamilton’s overruling and general incompetent silliness has reduced my respect for the guy, so I was expecting him to vote silly.

MicroCenter: The Hunt for Working Computers

I was at MicroCenter in Cambridge, Massachusetts yesterday. I was helping one of my students find a new laptop that would work well with Ubuntu. Of course this needed my personal assistance because the staff are not trained with anything other than Windows. But that’s an easily remedied problem in my eyes.

The sales staff did kindly let us test Ubuntu Karmic CDs in computers, to see how they worked. I got to see some of the problems in up and coming hardware and what we still have to work on.

One of the big problems was getting machines with Intel HD graphics chipsets to function at all. After grub the screen would go black and stay that way, the CD would be doing things but that’s about all it would do. Other laptops with nVidia and ATI hardware all booted up fine, but had no 3D support.

WiFi was a bugbare for most of the machines with Realtek and Broadcom devices featured heavily. Both requiring extra firmware which is easy to get when your online, but not easy to get when testing on a tied down machine with no Ethernet.

It’s was very hard to test webcam support, I couldn’t find anything in the karmic default install that could grab an image and since most of the wifi chipsets didn’t work, I couldn’t grab a copy of cheese. The sane scanner plugin for webcams still detects a device but fails to grab images (long standing bug). I settled for looking for /dev/video0 which is a good sign that there is something there. Surprisingly every webcam looked like it worked (or was detected at least).

These problems and more are why I strongly advise people to buy machines from vendors that sell pre-installed Ubuntu machines and not buy Windows 7 machines and hope for the best.

The story at Microcenter about why they have such bad consideration towards Ubuntu is mostly an upper management issue. Like a lot of computer sellers they’ve heard the promise of the FOSS ultimate control and ultimate customisation that you get and ran with it. They did try and sell a machine with “Linux” on it, but apparently it was an in-house effort with their cheapest components and their own distro.

Nothing about making your own distro and packing it with the cheapest desktop box is going to sell well. In order to sell Ubuntu (and FDs in general) you need to upsell it on expensive hardware, nice looking laptops and lovely looking cases. It needs to be “wow! what’s that” not “Oh god I have to put up with that”. MicroCenter would be better placed to think of Free Software as materially better software written by professionals and not just an cheap knock-off of substandard coding by volunteers.

As for people wandering around Microcenter: I did a test of leaving the Ubuntu LiveCD booted on a couple of machines and stood from a distance watching people’s attention and what they were looking at. Very rarely did anyone ever become interested in the Ubuntu machine, and why should they when the Windows 7 machines sitting right next to them have all their whiz bang crazy bubble effects, strong contrast backgrounds that shift from one amazing photo to the next and nice looking widgets. In comparison the Ubuntu computer looked like a reasonable but drab office computer, something that the staff were using but that wasn’t very attractive to anyone hunting for a computer.

Perhaps we need a point of sales design, something so outlandish that you wouldn’t want to use it on your desktop, but that would certainly catch the customer’s shallow eye and drag them in to see what it actually was.


DVD Playback, how to advise

At the SETC where we do installs of Ubuntu onto old machines to refurbish and on newer machines on request, we have a whole set of stuff the server does to get Ubuntu behaving correctly. Including installing java, restricted extras and libdvdcss. Normally we’ve been doing this via medibuntu.

The problem comes when we give someone a CD and let them install it themselves at home. Usually we can show them how to install java and the restricted extras via the software center. But libdvdcss? It’s like explaining fractals.

You got your script method and then you’ve got your medibuntu method, both are sub standard. Both require use of the command line, both are difficult to explain especially considering how unreasonable it is for the law to make it illegal to play your legally bought DVDs on your legal bought computer with your legally made software. The laws an ass in this regard.

So how do you explain to patrons how to install encrypted dvd video support in Ubuntu?

Tea Party Drive is Good

I read today a fascinating interview with some Tea Party politicos about how they were perhaps planning on taking over the Republican Party. For those not in the USA, the Tea Party movement is a ultra far right wing group dedicated to authoritarian ideals of increasing the police and army, the destruction of social services and economic anarchy in at attempt to get a free market.

All rather silly and naive since the people in the party are the very people such policies will hurt the most, but what is interesting is their want of taking over. This is interesting because the traditional Republican philosophies are not present in the modern day republican party and I believe are missing _because_ of the move towards the exact authoritarianism that the Tea Party personifies.

If the tea party can purge the ranks of moderates (normal conservatives to me and you) then it will futher pressure the USAs ridiculous federal two party system. Since there will then be a whole set of conservatives without a party. Perhaps then they can remake the Republican party with it’s original, less destructive, more distrobutionist ideals.


Ubuntu Manual – Time for Testing

According to OMG! Ubuntu the Ubuntu Manual project is looking for testers, people who can read the manual and find errors.

They’re going to freeze it at the end of the month so the community needs to get cracking in making sure it’s all good to go, I think everything should be able to give one chapter a brief read over and to report problems.

Report Problems here