Thursday, November 08, 2007

Creative Commons: A New Perspective

Presentation Zen pointed me to a very interesting presentation from Larry Lessig at TED today that made me look at the impact that Creative Commons has on copyright and sharing. If you haven't watched the video, you should. You won't regret the 18 minute presentation Lessig puts on, it really opens up your view on copyright and its effects on creativity. That, and his presentation itself is very informative and well put together.

Copyright and the issue of copyright law has been a greatly debated topic for a very long time now and its apparent that these debates have formed two camps of extreme opposites. On one end you have those who believe everything should be copyrighted, protected, and controlled - that 'its the law.' The other end of the spectrum comes in the form of copyright abolitionists. While I wouldn't say I am a copyright abolitionist, I definitely lean more towards major copyright reform than towards copyright protection.

The main point I got out of Professor Lessig's presentation really comes down the fact that copyright law is outdated. It puts too many restrictions on using content creatively. Because of these frivolous restrictions, generations of children are growing up being labeled as pirates for creating new content from other content. Professor Lessig puts this growing resentment best saying:

A generation that rejects the very notion of what copyright is suppose to do. Rejects copyright and believes that the law is nothing more than an ass to be ignored and to be fought at every opportunity possible.

I agree with that feeling of resentment 100%. I have felt that resentment myself and it springs from reactions on both sides of the extremes. As the extreme copyright camp enables technologies that can automatically remove content that contains copyrighted material whether or not the content falls under fair use. Laws have also remained inflexible towards this new concept of reuse and remixing a work into something new; because of this, it still remains illegal to use copyrighted work for such uses. While this does not stop people from reusing copyrighted material, it keeps them resenting the fact they are labeled pirates or thieves. The fact that they are living against the law has a strong impact on them. Because so many legitimate uses are labeled as piracy, it makes the creators resent all copyright law and they try and fight it at every opportunity.

This really is a tough situation for artists and businesses alike. While many artists would love to see copyright abolished entirely, businesses just aren't ready to handle that proposition just yet, if ever. This is where Creative Commons steps in. Creative Commons acts as a sort of intermediate license that allows artists to skip over all the copyright muck we're in right now and use CC licensed material for remixes freely. Creative Commons license have options that allow you to license your work in a way that suits you best. At the moment, Creative Commons is one of the best licensing options for works because it give you flexibility to let people create more interesting work from what you have without any encumbrances of the older more restrictive licensing schemes. The other great thing about a Creative Commons license is that they are non-exclusive so you can publish your work under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use and then license that work to a business for a fee instead.

Overall, Professor Lessig's talk at TED really gave me a better insight into the reason the Creative Commons licenses were created. The license allows the people who were constantly living against the copyright law to finally do what they've been doing in a legal manner. This also allows business to continue using copyright without disturbing those doing remixes. Hopefully the Creative Commons licenses will begin to make a push towards a more general copyright reform to allow more remixes and reinterpretations on works that aren't licensed under Creative Commons.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Finally, Gmail 1.5

I finally got the upgrade to Gmail's new interface and I'm quite pleased with what they've done. I'm not sure I would call it Gmail 2.0 since the contacts section is what got most of the attention, but it definitely needed some love. Aside from the nice new upgrade to contacts, I'm glad they finally made the mouse hovers more useful. I always thought it was pointless just to show me their email or picture.

The old and useless version:

The new and improved version:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Open Source Phone

After Google's announcement of the Open Handset Alliance, I got to thinking about what an open phone platform would mean to me. The first thought that came to my mind was about OpenMoko and how those two might integrate, because to me, OpenMoko was one of the original open platforms for phone development. What Google has done with the Open Handset Alliance, is take the OpenMoko idea further and used their clout to gain support from industry leaders. This is a good thing.

Enough of my rant and back to what I would like to see from an open mobile device.

Seamless desktop integration

To start, I'll go with something simple that would enhance my phone experience greatly. While many phones sync with the desktop, the one's I've seen/used have always been very clunky and unintuitive. What I'd really like to see in a mobile device is one that seamlessly integrates itself with my desktop. I shouldn't have to make sure my calendar is up to date or if my contact information is synced, it should just do it. It would also be nice to have some synergy between my phone and desktop where photos captured on my phone are geo tagged and displayed in order of where I took them. It would be fun to see where and when I took pictures or sent texts throughout the day. Basically, I don't want to have to fumble with syncing my phone and apps, it should just happen automatically.

Increased location awareness

GPS is one of the most fun aspects of modern mobile devices. Almost all cellphones have GPS and many other hand held devices do as well. This could lead to some really interesting uses of the technology. It would be nice to be able to have a location aware todo list available. For example, when I'm near the grocery store, my phone could remind me that I needed to pick up groceries. Another example I got from a teacher of mine was to place the phone in theater mode so that within a certain distance of the theater, the phone automatically goes into silent mode.


I'd also like to allow people to see my availability status using their phone. Much like messengers have away, busy, available, etc... this would be a great way to remind people I'm in a movie or in a meeting and to leave a message instead or call later. This could also be tied into my personal calendar to automatically put me as in a meeting or unavailable at the scheduled time. Phones, much like IM can be very disruptive and by adding presence to my phone I can help remind people I'm not available all the time.

Anything I want

Ultimately, what an open platform offers me is the ability to do what I want with the phone and my data however I choose to. This is a huge step forward from locked, proprietary phones where only your service provider was special enough to access the phones full capabilities. With this increased openness we can begin to explore the full potential of our phones and mobile devices hardware. We will truly begin to see a second 'social web' forming with the interactions of thousands of interconnected mobile devices. I for one, am very excited at this push for openness and I am excited to see the new uses for our mobile devices.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tools of the Trade

A programmer's tool set and work bench are meant to help them leverage the full range of their skills on the code they are working on. I've been learning the power that a solid workbench and a few sturdy tools can put in your hands when they are used properly. One of my favorite books The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master has this to say about a programmer' tool set:
Tools amplify your talent. The better your tools, and the better you know how to use them, the more productive you can be. Start with a basic set of generally applicable tools. As you gain experience, and as you come across special requirements, you'll add to this basic set... Let need drive your acquisitions. (Hunt & Thomas, ch 3 para 3)
One of the most important tools a I can use as a programmer is a solid command shell. I knew many students back at Neumont that never touched the command shell. To be honest, it is sad that they have never been taught how to use this powerful asset. When I say command shell, I don't mean Window's meager cmd, but a full featured shell such as Bash or Ksh. Fortunately for Windows users, Cygwin allows the full usage of the Unix tools.

One of the first things I do to set up my development workbench for Windows is to install Cygwin and the tools that it offers me such as: ls, find, which, grep, sed, cron, tail, and the Bash command shell. It's amazing to me how much more productive you can be when you begin to learn the real power these tools have. I personally had been raised in a Windows environment where many people rely on gui tools and very few people knew how to do much at all on the command line. During my time in college I began to realize how inadequate the gui is when you need to do more advanced commands. For instance, it is not easy to find out what *.java files had been modified in the past week to include a reference to the swing libraries.

While I'm no expert yet at using these tools, I can tell you that they do indeed make your life much more productive when you are working with code. I have gained quite the appreciation for tail and grep when it comes to looking through log files to find what I need. Since I'm in the test world these two commands alone have saved me considerable amounts of time looking for errors and stack traces. One of the greatest things about the Unix tools though, is the philosophy of making tools that do one job well and allowing them to be chained together for even more powerful results. This allows you to use the tools in ways their creators never even imagined. I can search through files, sort them, remove duplicates, etc... all by piping a few simple commands together. It is definitely worth your time to learn how to use these tools to your advantage.

After you've had some time to get used to the command shell, you should look into working with a solid text editor such as Vi/Vim, or Emacs. While many people rely on an IDE to edit any source code, I find that with a good text editor at my side like Vim I can edit text much more quickly. I'll admit, I still use Eclipse for my projects, but I definitely use Vim for any text that I need to edit such as XML, properties files, config files, etc... What I would really like to find, is a good Vim plugin for Eclipse because now that I've gotten used to Vim's keybindings, I try to use them everywhere. It's hard to deny the power of a good text editor, and Vim allows me to work with text faster than I ever was able to before.

In the end, if you haven't given the command shell or a good text editor a try, you need to spend some time trying them out. I definitely suggest that you try multiple shells and editors and find one that is comfortable to you. Once you do that try to use them as much as you can, and as you start getting better at them you will see your productivity increase considerably.

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