CNN freeing debates

As Lessig reported, "CNN [US presidential early] debate coverage will be made available without restrictions at the conclusion of each live debate". The details of what this means are not yet known, but regardless this is a great step in the right direction, both for the election and for free content. This comes following his letter to the Democratic and Republican national conventions asking them not to officially sanction any debate unless it is released to the public domain or licensed by the Creative Commons (Attribution) license. Additionally, Senator and Democratic candidate Barack Obama made headlines with a similar letter to DNC chairman Howard Dean.

So what's it mean? Well, first off it means that people are noticing the restrictions placed on content, and spreading that awareness. Additionally, especially with the emphasis in Obama's letter, some are able to distinguish between appropriate circumstances for legal restriction and cases where content should be entirely free, in the best interest of the public. That alone is a step forward in informing the public about licensing issues and pushing for more reasonable terms.

Politically speaking, it again means that many more people will be much more informed, and it will be legal for them to be so. The extensive reach of sites like Digg, Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace on the internet to spread content, ideas, and open discussion is phenomenal, and being able to use those as part of the political process is something we are still only beginning to see the power and value of.

One aspect that has not received a lot of attention yet (but hopefully will now) is the file formats to be used when the videos are released on CNN's own site. While what is common for major news sites is to publish media in what they see as the most common format (ie, the Microsoft Windows default ones), resulting in WMV, MP3, and similar files, which are restricted by copyright, patent, or other licensing issues such not not all people, machines, or software are able to use them. If CNN is to live up to its promise of "without restrictions", this will need to change. I sent a note through their online feedback form raising the issue, and would encourage you to do so as well. The automatic reply I received noted that they do not generally respond individually, but their contents will be provided to the news division the next business day, so perhaps we'll see a public response if enough people ask. The text of mine is below:

I recently read a copy of your press release declaring that "CNN debate coverage will be made available without restrictions". First, I wanted to congratulate and thank you for taking that step. Second, I was wondering if you could provide details of what that means. Will the debates be declared in the public domain, licensed under some form of Creative Commons, or some other free license, and if so which one? Also, which media formats will they be made available in? In order to live up to your statement, at least one option should be a free format such as Ogg Theora, as described on https://help.ubuntu.com/community/FreeFormats, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_file_format, and http://www.theora.org/theorafaq.html; otherwise there will be restrictions on who can watch them from the file format licensing issues alone.

Looking forward to details, and again I applaud your move for openness.

[Edit: I have now found that Obama has been joined by John Edwards and Chris Dodd, who have written similar letters.]

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Store traffic

So we were pondering this at work today:

It's a bike shop, so it makes sense that it would be busy in summer and not much in winter. That much is true. While we (the mechanics) would prefer that more people brought their bikes in for service over the winter while they weren't using them and the shop was slow, most people just don't think that far ahead. However, the day to day weather dependency seems a bit backwards. When it's sunny and nice out, and people should be out riding, instead the store is swamped with people...shopping. Then when it's rainy and it would be gross to ride in, so you'd think you'd get your silly errands out of the way, nobody comes.

Why is that?

(People coming in for quick fixes like riding in with flat tires are exempt - they make sense still.)

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I own a hammer

I also know how to make maps. In fact, I have been known to instruct others on how to make and use accurate maps.

I also collaborate with others over the internet for my projects on a regular basis.

You may take me away now.

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/02/1839251
http://www.fortbendnow.com/news/2847/chinese-community-rallies-behind
   -student-removed-from-clements-over-pc-game-map

http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=local&id=5263782
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/4766843.html

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The big break?

Today we received word from various sources that the OEM giant Dell would be pre-loading Ubuntu on some of it's machines. It started with rumor, which got attention on its own, then a reasoned look at plausibility, and finishing with a credible source. Additionally, Dell's own web site began offering official support info. While I'll believe it when I see a page to order them on Dell's site, things look very promising.

So what?

Clearly, some of us get excited merely by the prospect of a significant news story involving our distribution of choice. However, some stories go beyond just having the media spotlight for a day. This, I believe, could be one of those. Since many of the usability, feature, and software availability issues in Linux have been taken care of in recent years, one of the largest things holding potential switchers back has been hardware, both the compatibility of Linux with their current hardware, and the ability to buy hardware with Linux already on it. Dell preloading would do a great deal to solve both.

By offering systems, Dell to some extent agrees to support them, at least to the extent of having fully functional hardware, which means there will be more big-brand machines that work fully after an initial installation. The pre-loading aspect could do wonders for bringing in the fringe groups, people who have somewhat considered Linux of some kind, but don't want to put a lot of effort into it. Buying a new computer, placing a ShipIt request, waiting for the CDs, and then walking through the installation, while not difficult, it more than many people would prefer to do. If properly marketed, pre-loaded computers from a highly recognizable source could be the thing that tips a lot of people over the edge to say, "Hey, why not?", and give Ubuntu a try. However, if Dell's "offering" of these machines is anything like Lenovo's of SuSE-loaded laptops (where you have to hunt all over the site only to find that you have to special-order them over the phone), little is likely to happen other than satiating a few geeks of the world. So, Dell, please display all options you offer prominently. Everyone reading this, if they do, link to the relevant pages so people become aware. Leave a link in the comments here too while you're at it.

To the frustrated computer users of the world, Linux has matured, and in my opinion, Ubuntu is one of many fantastic distributions to see for yourself with. Now the only matter left is how you will get your hands on it. It seems Dell will be adding one more possibility to the list.

Note that Dell is not the first to offer Ubuntu-loaded systems - it is notably simply by virtue of its size and market share. I would also like to draw your attention to the smaller, but more focused company System76, which specializes in Ubuntu desktops, laptops, and servers, and has been gaining a very positive reputation throughout the community.

[Edit: It seems Canonical changed its mind or something about whether this is public yet and has taken some actions to keep it quiet longer; Jono is asking around to figure out why that happened. Hopefully there will be official clarification and rectification of the censorship soon, but this is what we have to work on for now.]

[Edit 2: We have the clarification now: http://www.ubuntu.com/news/dell-to-offer-ubuntu and http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/2007/05/01/13147.aspx are the official announcements.]

[Edit 3: The news got picked up by the BBC - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6610901.stm]

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What free speech isn't

I've seen a number of instances of people throwing the phrase "free speech" around more loosely than an AOLer with "LOL". While it's great that the concept receives so much attention, it seems that it is getting more and more of the wrong kind of attention, which could cheapen the idea and confuse the populace to the point of it becoming meaningless as far as its original intention.

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