Friday, October 16, 2009

Let the Jihad Continue

I’m a Windows guy, I must admit.  I realize that Microsoft is a flawed company, and in some very big ways in certain criteria.  Likewise, Windows has some serious flaws.  But Without Microsoft, and Windows, the personal computer industry, if it survived at all, would be a two-player game, IBM and Apple.  Where would open source be now if that had held true?

Now, having said that, there’s some good reasoning behind the Crusade of Open vs Closed source.  Some of it even shows up in this editorial at Ziff-Davis.  Like when Dana Blankenhorn states:

In many open source companies, especially early stage open source companies, programmers have enormous power. Getting a project committer onto your team is a real coup for an open source company trying to monetize that project with support contracts.

Some of the best open source companies out there are led by project leaders. And some programmers do drink Jolt Cola.

But just because salesmen wear alligator shoes and some programmers wear Crocs does not mean that open source is being run by hippies. Mario Batali likes Crocs and he’s as serious a businessman as you’ll find.

OK, fair ‘nuff.  There’s some stereotyping in play among the analyst press.  But, wait, are we really going to complain about straw men when this very same editorial tries to tell us:

It costs nothing to try open source, so instead of selling you’re converting users into buyers of service.

Open source is also a big enemy of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), which often defined success in the 1980s. It’s hard to talk about what you might offer when everyone can see what you do offer and add to it if they want.

It costs nothing?  Wrong.  It takes time, effort, learning, training, and sometimes, as with the Vyatta open source router I’m trying to implement, it takes searching through informal user forums and waiting 24+ hours for email responses to make progress.

There’s a cost, alright.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t tell me it doesn’t exist.  And try not to complain about straw men while positioning a few of your own.

And so the Jihad continues.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Relying on Tech to Save a Life

A story out of Iowa recounts the experience of a woman who lost her husband to a heart attack.  A sad outcome, a sad story.  I feel for her.  But…

[The woman] claims instead of going to the Cerro Gordo County Dispatch Center, the call was routed to a 911 call center in Cedar Rapids.

The lawsuit claims valuable time was lost getting Rick Poole to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa due to the rerouting of the 911 call.

Minutes *do* matter in times like this.  Seconds, even.  So I can appreciate this woman’s situation, and her feelings.  As I understand Iowa, Cedar Rapids is about 150 miles from where her husband had his heart attack.  I don’t think this counts as a frivolous lawsuit, though I equally an unsure she deserves to win, just based on the merits of her argument.

See, I think we forget sometimes just how huge the United States really is.  We pick up this tiny piece of electronics, press a few buttons, and we are speaking with someone who may more than a thousand miles away.  And we’re used to that.

But the technology that goes into making that happen is very complex, and it’s not all a technical issue, either.  Decisions have to be made in a way that everyone agrees is a proper method for splitting this entire country up into appropriate routing zones (CSA’s and MSA’s).  Most of us now never grew up in a system where the distance over which your call was sent played a role in the cost of that call.

And in this case, another part of the problem is that it’s not just up to cell phone carriers to get this right.  The 911 centers are run by state and local authorities that have to make the necessary upgrades to participate in this kind of technology.  Was the “Cerro Gordo County Dispatch Center” configured with the necessary systems?  This might all come out as this proceeds.  IF it proceeds.  US Cellular just might choose to settle rather than fight it out in court.  And maybe that’s not unreasonable.

But maybe it *is* unreasonable that we take that kind of technology for granted like that.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Copyright Isn’t Just About Filesharing

When I first went online as an AOL newbie, one of the first discussions I got into was about copyright.  It wasn’t a long discussion.  3, maybe 4 posts back and forth with someone.  A person had written something to one of the discussion boards on AOL, and I said I was going to steal it.  I was reminded that AOL Terms of Service at that time reserved copyright to anything posted to their boards.  Only the person who wrote the item had license to use it beyond that board.

That got my attention.  I’m no lawyer, and I couldn’t even begin to start citing all the legal precedents surrounding copyright law.  But that wakeup served as a kind of “shot across the bow” to me, made me realize that this wonderful online world of sharing information was also going to be a hotbed of controversy around the idea of “owning” ideas.

While I think the “battle” between music listeners and the recording industry, and movie watchers and the movie industry both provide clear illustrations of this, I’m much more concerned with the ownership of the written word.  Everyone’s written word.  At issue is what right you have to (potentially or actually) profit from, and retain ownership of, the ideas and opinions that you express.

Some time ago, US Copyright Law was changed such that you didn’t have to actively obtain the registered “license” known as a copyright to have copyright ownership of the materials you produce.  Here’s a link that provides some good explanation of the how’s and why’s of registration.  If copyright infringement comes to a lawsuit, that’s important information.  It affects what you do and don’t get even if you win such a suit.

But, more important, I think, is an associated concept called “Fair Use.”  This is not a clear-cut and easily defined right.  As a layman advocate for Fair Use, I generally use the US Copyright Office, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for guidance.  Fair Use rights give us some limited rights to borrow a bit of someone else’s published work for the purposes of education, discussion, and debate.  But the right has limits.  We cannot use the entire work.  Not even if we provide full reference (ISBN number, URL/Web Link, etc).  And we have to… well… to discuss it, talk about it.  We can’t simply paste it somewhere cite the source, and that’s it.

And this is something we the users, the talkers, have to discuss.  In many ways, Web site operators with user discussion forums, they’re shielded by something called the Digitial Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).  There’s a “Service Provider Exemption” (my term, not theirs) that protects the forum operator, as long as the operator has a policy and a system in place for dealing with copyright violations.  So the original publisher isn’t going to sue Delphi Forums, or Howardforums, or  They are going to sue you.  If it gets to that.

Fair Use isn’t a well-defined legal code.  How much of a published work can you use, for example?  From what I understand, the law is all over the place on that.  There isn’t a percent, or number of words standard for it.  Just realize that the more you cite of someone’s work, even if you give them proper credit, the closer you come to violating this.  And Web site operators who ignore this run the risk of losing that DMCA shield I mentioned above.  So it’s worth everyone’s effort to at least be familiar with Fair Use, and gain an understanding of what it clearly does, and does not, permit.