Happy GNU Year

[simulpublished across all my blogs]

Happy GNU Year Card

This virtual card is the best gift I can give my readers and online friends this holiday season. Not just because its the best and most awesome Happy GNU Year card you’re likely to find online, but because I created it entirely using free culture and free software.

The Free Software Foundation‘s GNU operating system led to the adoption of the gnu as its symbol. Free software is incredibly important for a host of reasons, and yet I very much suspect it wouldn’t exist at all any more but for the efforts of Richard Stallman and the FSF. I highly recommend that you use free software as much as possible, not just because it’s usually free of charge (gratis) but far more importantly, because it respects our personal freedom (libre).

The penguin “Tux” is the mascot of the Linux kernel, is the heart of the free and open source software operating systems we use today. (MacOS and Windows are the non-free software used in personal computing devices (computers, cell phones, tablets, PVRs &tc.)

Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)) LicenseIf you click on the card, you’ll find a higher definition version suitable for printing. And you are allowed to print it, because this card carries a free culture license, specifically a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License This license gives you the freedom to use this creative work in any way you like, even commercially, with only 2 restrictions.

  1. The “Attribution” restriction means you must credit the creator(s) as specified.
  2. Second, whether printing it out and selling physical copies, mailing it to you your friends, or modifying it to create something completely different, it must carry the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License, or a similar license that requires attribution perpetuation of the license terms.

Attribution is simply giving credit where credit is due. I try to provide attribution for everything I use, even work in the public domain. The “share-alike” part of the license exists to prevent creative works from being removed from free culture and locked behind copyright.

Below you can see the steps that led to this card. Click on any of the images below for a larger/printable version.

Happy GNU year Green draft

The green one is my first try, which I like a lot. It could make a good poster, but it’s too difficult to see and read in small formats because it’s too cluttered.

free software wallpaper

Next is the “wallpaper” background I devised. I modified the Powered by GNU-Linux sticker set originally created by deviantdark and published on deviantArt under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License. There are many free software operating systems not included, so I added Trisquel and centOS when I made up the wallpaper background. You can download the printable sticker sets from the deviantART Powered by GNU-Linux page and make your own sticker for your computer.

Happy GNU year stencil Red

The last red and white image is the first draft of the red card. I loved the simplicity of Rasmus Olsen‘s gnu meets penguin titled GNU/Linux licensed Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) that I found on Flickr. I altered the image by bringing the penguin close enough to touch noses with the gnu, and stood them both on the lettering. In the final version, I changed the lettering because it was hard to read when the wallpaper was added.

CORRECTION: Rui Damas is the originator of the GNU/Linux artwork I reused, and it was actually released under the GNU Public License. I’m not entirely sure what that does to my licensed usage. [Thanks to Mike Linksvayer for pointing that out!]

Free Software & Free Culture

It’s no harder to learn to use free software than it is to learn to use a windows computer or a Mac. Many Apple and Windows users are already using free software with Firefox or OpenOffice (I prefer LibreOffice). The coolest and best ebook conversion software is called Calibre (it comes with a good e-reader so you can read eBooks on your computer). And of course my favorite blogging software, Wordpress is free software. Wikipedia runs on free wiki software (which is why there are wikis popping up all over) and if you’re into video production, you could so worse than the amazing Blender 3D animation software or Kdenlive for video editing. You can use social networking with GNUsocial and Friendica. If you do switch to free software, the biggest difference you’ll notice is that you don’t have to pay for things again and again and again. Other advantages include better security and a much lower incidence of spyware and other malware.

It was difficult for me to unlearn Photoshop so I can learn to use GIMP, but I keep trying. I still look for a lot of the features where they would be in photoshop, but its getting easier. I have yet to find anything Photoshop can do that can’t be done in GIMP; the challenge is finding out how to do it. That’s why I’m so pleased I made this card entirely with GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) on my computer, which is currently runs on Linux Mint in a MATE desktop environment that has the Ubuntu Studio plug-in.

As the copyright maximalists successfully lobby to lock up more and more of our culture for longer and longer terms, the importance of free culture has become more apparent. Sites like the Flickr photosharing site and deviantArt make it easy for users to give their work Creative Commons licenses, so they are often the easiest places to find images licensed to share.

All versions of my GNU year card are licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License. If you’re interested in finding out what free culture is out there, I’ve been growing a list of Free Culture resources. And if you have some spare cash left over from last year, please consider making a donation to the two non-profit organizations that have been instrumental in ensuring the continued existence of free software and free culture:

The Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons.

And have a Happy GNU Year!


Tonight I was listening to a terrific song, and so I posted it to the Fediverse group !Listening, one of the first groups I joined on Identica in 2009. Way back then, I was told the proper netiquette when announcing the name of the song you are listening to is to link to the song. That way anyone who was curious can listen to the song as well.

I discovered Ranee Lee when I bought a couple of albums from her at the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival last year. She was amazing. Sadly, her music isn’t released under a free culture license, so when I went looking for a link my options were limited. I tried a few of the links that offered the song, but was unable to play it on any of them.

This might be because I use Free Software and so don’t have Adobe Flash installed, or maybe because I use NoScript, Ad Block and Ghostery for security. The only link I could get to play the song was the one on Amazon. I don’t link to sites that only give partial song previews, but this was the only website where the song would play. So I posted:

!Listening to Ranee Lee “When A Woman Loves A Man” http://ur1.ca/g05sq !amwriting !NaNo

I was surprised to find myself attacked for posting this. This is not the first time I have been attacked online by someone who I hadn’t realized was an enemy.

what was the attack?

I don’t understand why someone who claims to care about privacy would link to amazon.

It doesn’t look like much of an attack, does it? But that’s the point. It almost sounds reasonable.

Until you look at the language.

The phrase “someone who claims” implies that the claim is dishonest.

By taking a step further, saying “someone who claims to care about privacy” he passes judgement. This is a statement that I am lying about what I care about.

“I don’t understand why someone who claims to care about privacy would link to amazon” says that because I posted a link to amazon I must be lying about caring about privacy. It is an attack, all right.

What did I do wrong?

WWII war propaganda - quiet

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used a URL shortener.

Maybe I shouldn’t have posted at all?

But it isn’t as if I posted the link to the !Privacy group.

But it isn’t what I did at all, really.

On the basis of one link, he has cast aspersions on anything and everything I have said about privacy online. He also maligns my personal credibility.

What gives him the right to tell me what I care about?

He has no more right to decide what I care about than I have the right to decide what his favourite colour is, or what hand he writes with.  He is entitled to disagree with my choices but certainly doesn’t have the right to use them as the basis of an ad hominem attack.

Privacy is a huge issue, and trying to maintain privacy online is not an easy thing to do. We are assailed on all sides. Certainly amazon has issues, but pretty nearly every website on the Internet has issues.  Particularly now that the Snowden revelations have made it clear that the Internet is under surveillance 24/7

Everything we do on the Internet has a cost in privacy.

Even before we heard about Prism, someone I know refused to use the Internet at all, ever, because that was the only way to be sure to avoid Internet surveillance.  I know other people who use the Internet sparingly, but never in their own homes, just as I know people who post their most personal information on Facebook.

Adults get to decide for ourselves what we are comfortable doing.  We need to make informed choice: we make our own decisions about how we will live our lives.  In a free country, other adults don’t have the right to decide for us.

What gives him the right to decide that posting a link to amazon negates any concerns I  have about privacy?

I answered his ostensible question with a question:

How can you possibly care about privacy if you use the Internet?:

His answer was

If that’s your justification, then you shouldn’t take issue with anything related to privacy.

Why does he think I need to justify myself to him?

Even if I had made some horrific inadvertent privacy gaffe, it would not then deprive me of the right to “take issue with anything related to privacy.”

Poppycock.  Suggesting that is as illogical as saying if I loan someone my car, I can’t complain if they burn my house down.

I often have strong opinions, and I am not hesitant about voicing them.  One valuable thing I learned growing up in a large family is that discussion and argument can inform; I have been known to change my opinion when shown another side or proven wrong.  I have been told some men have trouble with women with opinions.  Over the years, there have been instances of people attacking me online. When this has happened in the past, I’ve tried to resolve things through discussion.  But sometimes that isn’t possible.


Ironically, not so long ago someone asked me if the person who attacked me just now was an Internet troll, and at the time I said no, we were just having a discussion. Apparently I was wrong.

Sometimes people just don’t like you. Nothing you say will change it. Nothing you do will make you friends.

And of course, sometimes people just attack you because.

There doesn’t have to be a reason.

He might be bullied because he’s too smart, or not smart enough, she might be bullied because she’s too tall or too short. That’s how bullying works.

The ostensible reason for bullying isn’t actually a reason, its an excuse. Rational arguments just bounce off when someone is determined to attack you.

Apparently it is very easy to bully people online. The consequences have been fairly horrific in some cases, but mostly it is comparatively mild — unless of course you are the person being bullied.

The fediverse is largely peopled by tech folks at this point.  Mostly men at present. Thinking back, I’ve probably had one or two of this type of attack a year. I’m wondering how many of the women that used to be regulars there have disappeared precisely because of this type of attack? A growing number of people I speak with on Twitter — mostly women — block the people who harass them, or “protect their tweets.”

If the bullies have a problem with women in general or me in particular, they don’t have to stick around in the places I frequent.  They can leave.

Dear Bullies:

If you don’t like me, send me a message and I’ll make sure to unsubscribe from your feed, and I certainly won’t go so far as to converse with you any more.

Because I am not going to change. I am not going anywhere.  I will continue my online activities, including posting to Fediverse groups I belong to, like Privacy and Listening. If you have a problem with this, go somewhere else.

Feel free to leave the groups I am in.  Start your own groups; I won’t join.



Help Stop Bullying

One of the best ways to stop bullying is to speak against it when you see it.

If you see someone being bullied, stick up for them.

If you don’t, they might not stick around.

And then your world will be that much smaller.

Image Credit:

The American government’s creative works, like the pictured War Propaganda Poster “Quiet” are released directly into the public domain.

Acceptable Ads

Add Block Plus logoI generally use the Firefox Browser when I want to surf the Internet.  Unlike proprietary browsers (like Internet Explorer), Firefox will work with any Operating system, whether Microsoft Windows or any Apple or Linux varieties. Because it’s free software, one of the great things about Firefox is the catalogue of free add-ons available to users.

One of the add-ons I’ve been using longest is called “Ad Block” which does a terrific job, not only of blocking annoying intrusive advertising, but of helping keep my computer secure. If you want it to, Adblock Plus can also:

  • Malware Blocking Block domains that are known to be infected by malware to make browsing the internet more secure.
  • Remove Social Media Buttons Remove social media integration such as the Facebook Like button that track your browsing habits.
  • Disable Tracking There are hundreds of ad companies tracking your every move, but you can easily disable all tracking to browse privately.

Advertising in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help support the content we want to see. It’s only when it does things we don’t want it to, either by using a lot of bandwidth for flashy video ad animation, compromising our security, invading our privacy or simply annoying us by interrupting the article we want to read that it goes too far.

Which is why Ad Block Plus actually allows some advertising. I’m one of the 75% of AdBlock users who don’t object to reasonable Internet ads. The hope is that advertisers will limit website ads to those that follow these guidelines.

Do you think advertisers will learn users will block their expensive, invasive and dangerous advertising, instead opting to follow Ad Block’s guidelines?

If they don’t, more and more of us will never see their ads.

Free Software Day celebrations in Kitchener, Ontario will be taking place this Saturday at Kwartzlab, on Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Privacy: Facebook Lockout

When I was in another city today, I tried to log in to Facebook with my netbook.

But I couldn’t. Not because I don’t know the password or user name or email address. According to Facebook,

Facebook: Your account is temporarily locked.  We don't recognize the device you are using.  Please answer a few questions to keep your account safe."

Q: How can it not recognize this device? I’ve been using this computer a lot lately. I even logged into Facebook from it earlier today.

A: Facebook isn’t being strictly truthful here, because it isn’t really looking at the device (computer) I’m using. What it is actually doing is looking at the IP address my computer is using to log in. It isn’t my regular IP address.

Even so, I have logged into Facebook from this IP address, within the last month, in fact, but not often.

But what the hey, I wanted to check something, so I clicked “continue.”

But Facebook didn’t actually ask me to answer any security questions. There was a captcha which I answered correctly. But that wasn’t all. I was given two options:

  1. I could log in from my usual device. Well, as I said, I was using my usual device. But my usual IP address was in a different city, so that wasn’t an option at all.
  2. Or I could tag people. Facebook showed me several screens of photos, a few of people I know on Facebook, but most that I didn’t recognize. Some included minor children.

I declined to tag people, because that is something I never do. Well, almost never. I’ll tag someone who is promoting something I support.

When I got back today, Facebook allowed me to log in on this computer, because I am again connected via the usual IP address.

Q: Why does Facebook want us to tag people?

A: Before the Internet, marketing companies used to hire people to be focus groups, and to take surveys. Today they buy information about our socio-economic status, preferences, who we know, and what we do from websites like Facebook.

Our personal information is valuable, and not just to marketing departments who want to sell us things, but insurance companies, who might decide we are high risk, or potential schools or employers.

And we know, too, that this information is made available to government agencies, very often without even a search warrant.

Some people don’t think having the government looking over our shoulders is a problem. After all, we’ve done nothing wrong, we’ve nothing to hide, right?

Well. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know just how insidious NSA is. Funny thing, it isn’t just the emergence of Big Brother that is worrisome. Computer error is far more probable, and possibly even more devastating.

When the NSA sucks up everything on the Internet, it is far too much data for human beings to analyze. What happens is that automated processes will use face recognition software to identify bad guys, but instead of mug books, they use photos on the Internet. Photos on Facebook, for instance. And it is doubtful their robots are as clever as my bot friends @X11R5 and @question. Mistakes will be made.

Any science fiction fan can tell you just how insane it is to give machines dominion over human beings. The idea that machines get to decide whose door Homeland Security or GCHQ or CSIS decide to break down is pretty scary.

And if Facebook is going to lock me out because I won’t tag people, so be it. As a self publishing author, I give up lots of personal information online, but it is my choice, and my information. If I tag people I don’t know, or know only peripherally, it is their privacy I’m jeopardizing.

I don’t give out any more personal information than I absolutely have to. If this was really a security thing, my not tagging people should have proven my identity. I think what Facebook really wanted to find out was whether I knew the friends and families of my Facebook friends.

And that is none of Facebook’s business.

Post Script:
I’ve been asked to explain “tagging” for people who don’t use Facebook.

Tagging in Facebook is the act of identifying and naming the people in a photograph posted on Facebook. When tagging, you hover the cursor over a part of the photo, and then type in the name of the person. You used to be able to type any name, but they have changed it so that it has to be a name on a Facebook account. However, you can tag a photo with a wrong name.

When you tag a photo, the person whose name you use receives a notification. Because of this, a lot of people tag photos with the names of the people who they want to see the photo. If you’re an environmentalist, you might tag a photo of the Tar Sands with the name of your environmentalist Facebook friends. Or you might tag a photo of a rock star with the name of your friend who is a big fan. If you mis-identify someone, they know about it, and presumably can complain.

There are so many ways this information can be misinterpreted or abused.

My Open Letter to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium

connectivity (cc by laurelruswurm)

Dear Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium:

Re: Keep DRM out of Web standards — Reject the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal

As a middle aged mother, I’ve been learning (and sharing what I’ve learned) about net neutrality, the importance of free software, free culture, nd an open Internet, ever since I began hand coding my own HTML web pages and participating on the Internet in 2009. As a creator from a creative family, as well as publishing my own content online, I run a blog for my eighty three year old father. I have come to consider myself a netizen.

One reason DRM is dangerous is that it can hide all manner of spyware and malware from users. Another is that most people don’t even know what it is, or if they do, how to recognize it. While governments have allowed large corporations and media conglomerates to cripple digital products with DRM, there is no requirement anywhere in the world to to inform customers or computer users of such application.

I have avoided DRM wherever possible, but even with the absurd extension of copyright laws, I have been certain that free culture will win out eventually. But that confidence presupposes a free market.

In Canada where I live, our new Copyright Act makes it illegal to circumvent DRM for any reason at all, even if the the circumvention is allowed under our “fair dealing” exemptions, or if the DRM is applied inappropriately. I consider the application of DRM to freely licensed or public domain creative works to be inappropriate.

This is a huge concern for me, both as a cultural consumer and as a self publishing author. Existing copyright law has prevented me from even seeing the finished production of one of my own works.

Independent creators and Internet users are already at a huge disadvantage, because the large media special interests have the wherewithal to successfully lobby governments around the world into maximizing copyright laws and the attendant copyright monopoly to their own great benefit, at our expense.

These large and powerful special interest groups have long had a seat at the W3C table. But where is there representation for Internet users?

Most of the public does not even know W3C exists, let alone how to comment on an issue such as this. Although I am passionately interested in the subject, until I read Harry Halpin’s Guardian article last week, I had no idea there was any way for Internet users or creators to express our dismay beyond signing the Defective By Design’s “Keep DRM out of Web standards — Reject the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal” Petition. But Mr. Halpin pretty much implies that petition wasn’t enough.

Although Canada has been a world leader in Internet adoption, most Canadians are still not online. For most of those who are, participation on Facebook signifies the height of technical prowess. Certainly most Canadians haven’t even heard of the Guardian, and so will not have even read the article.

Mr. Halpin essentially gave me the weekend to get the word out. This weekend Identi.ca, the social network of choice for a great many people who are aware of these issues, is undergoing a massive migration from a backend of StatusNet to pump.io software. Many users like myself have been consumed in setting up our own federated status net instances. As well, those of us with privacy concerns have been caught up in the NSA Prism news story. For myself, I’ve had two major family happenings this weekend in addition to those online issues.

Maybe a few people who understand the issue will have read the blog post I wrote, but a weekend is not much time. Especially considering that the special interests that want DRM written into the Web Standard have been at the table for so very much longer.

Until the W3C holds a widely publicized meaningful consultation process, that Free Software Petition must be given at least as much weight as the opinions of any other group of stakeholders. Perhaps more, since the inclusion of DRM in the standard panders to the direct benefit of a specific special interest lobby group. Internet Users are easily the largest group of stakeholders, and our exclusion from the process means that the W3C must look out for the public good.

Keeping even a whiff of DRM out of the Web Standard will not harm the corporate special interests who lobby so effectively for it. They can just continue on as they have been, locking their own content behind DRM. Allowing the DRM toehold EME provides will lead to DRM becoming the default.

DRM exists to break interoperability. If DRM is allowed into the W3C Standard, it will become the W3C Standard. If W3C supports this, it will sacrifice the free and open Internet, not just for us, but for generations to come.

Please don’t do this.

Laurel L. Russwurm

Privacy vs. Telemarketers: Canada’s “Do Not Call List”

Although I still have misgivings, I am about to register my telephone number on Canada’s National Do Not Call List (DNCL).

I know, you are wondering: if this can stop telemarketing calls, what’s not to love?

In order to register on the National Do Not Call List (DNCL) personal information will be collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator in order to register, verify and de-register residential, wireless, fax or VoIP telephone number(s) on the National DNCL. The numbers registered by consumers on the National DNCL will be disclosed to telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to prevent telemarketing calls to those numbers. The numbers may also be disclosed, on a confidential basis, by telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to another person involved in supplying the subscriber with services to enable compliance with the National DNCL Rules.  In addition, personal information will be collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator, the CRTC and/or its Complaints Investigator Delegate in order to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules, to administer and enforce these rules, and for audit and quality assurance purposes. Personal information may also be disclosed to Canadian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation.

The catch 22 is that I must first allow my personal information to be “collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator in order to register, verify and de-register residential, wireless, fax or VoIP telephone number(s) on the National DNCL.”

If that isn’t bad enough, the National DNCL will then “disclose my registered phone number to telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to prevent telemarketing calls to those numbers.”

“The numbers may also be disclosed, on a confidential basis, by telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to another person involved in supplying the subscriber with services to enable compliance with the National DNCL Rules.

In addition, personal information will be collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator, the CRTC and/or its Complaints Investigator Delegate in order to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules, to administer and enforce these rules, and for audit and quality assurance purposes. Personal information may also be disclosed to Canadian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation.”

National Do Not Call List

So the deal is, to stop telemarketers from abusing my privacy, I must first give up my privacy by handing my phone number over to an absurdly long list of faceless people and agencies:

  • National DNCL Operator
  • telemarketers
  • clients of telemarketers
  • other subscribers to the National DNCL
  • another person involved in supplying the subscriber with services
  • the CRTC
  • CRTC Complaints Investigator Delegate
  • Canadian law enforcement agencies
  • Foreign law enforcement agencies
Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

Canada has been a world leader in the field of Privacy Law, with both federal and provincial privacy commissioners.  Recently I heard Ann Cavoukian talk about how we deserve to have our privacy protected, and that corporations need to implement “Privacy By Design.”

Still, handing over personal data feels like the opposite of personal privacy protection, particularly for someone whose only “loyalty” membership is with my bank that knows how I spend my money.  What is the point of protecting personal information from Facebook and the like if I hand my data over to a government agency that promises to pass it to the very telemarketers I wish to discourage?

Why Now?

Today, I just had a call from a telemarketer who curtly informed me that they “have no list.” When I started to explain the “Do Not Call List” he hung up on me at “Canadian Law.” The alacrity of his hangup suggests the DNCL might actually work. 

So maybe it is time to give the DNCL a shot. If it works, the only disadvantage I can see is that my husband will lose out on the entertainment value he currently derives from telemarketer baiting. When he has time, he makes them work hard, answering questions, providing information, and generally toys with them for as long as possible. The theory is that the best way to make them stop is to cost them money, but the problem is that there are just so many of them — for every company you teach not to call, hundreds or thousands of new ones pop up every day.


These days it seems as though I’m getting a handful of telemarketer calls every day. Total strangers are calling me up and very often asking for me by name, so they already have some of my personal information. For the past few years I’ve interrupted telemarketer pitches at start with the instruction to “remove me from the list”. I can’t really say whether or not if that helps, because the number of telemarketing calls seems fairly constant, but that’s just an impression; I don’t have any hard data.

Telephone modele U43 MGR Lyon (Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr Rama)To frame this adventure as an experiment, beginning tomorrow, on May 21st, 2013, I will start making a log of all the telemarketing calls we get. A month later, on June 21st, I will register with the DNCL and log the telemarketing calls we get over the following month.

I’ll let you know how it comes out. :)

Image Credits:
Screen Capture from Canada’s National Do Not Call List (DNCL) website

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian at the 2013 #GOopendata Conference by laurelrusswurm licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Telephone Photograph by Rama, found on the Wikimedia Commons, released under a Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr License

CC is for Creator’s Choice

[reprinted from Laurel L. Russwurm: CC is for Creator’s Choice]

I am amazed at how quickly technology has progressed to the point where we have the tools to inexpensively create and share all types of media. I think we may be at the point where the most expensive aspect of creating a piece of artistic media is the human labour. When I went to school for Media Arts (film, video, audio, a/v) that certainly was not the case. The equipment was expensive: we could sign out Nagra sync sound recorders that I recall cost a great many thousands of dollars, particularly for struggling students. And the cost of Film stock was very very expensive.


Which is why I was so incredibly impressed with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez‘ Cinderella tale of becoming a feature film director. His ingenuity allowed him to make El Mariachi for much less than the going rate if making a movie trailer.

film maker Robert Rodriguez in stubble, camo & a baseball cap at a press function

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player was terrific. Not just because the book is as well written a “making of” as you’re likely to find, but because young Rodriguez figured out how to become a feature film maker by thinking outside the box. He bypassed the crushing weight of the most expensive part of film making: the cost of film stock and prints for distribution.

[Even cooler, Rodriguez was willing to talk about it and share his insights with other filmmakers in an attempt to help those coming after.]

As it happens, the digital revolution which followed substantially lowered the barriers to entry and today digital imaging is the next thing to free. Movie theaters are switching to digital transmission for the same reasons.

[Note to filmmakers: You can still learn lots about film making from Robert Rodriguez’ Film School Shorts.]


The singers squeezed into the control booth dominated by a massive mixing board, manned by sound technicians.

It used to cost tens of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outfit a music recording studio. So naturally cutting a record was a pricey affair.

Once all the tracks were laid down and mixed you had the associated costs of artwork, pressing and distribution. An expensive proposition.

But just like the film world, media technology has gone digital and today, if you’re organized, it is possible to cut a full length commercial CD in a professional studio for around a thousand dollars. A tech savvy musician can DIY commercial quality product in their basement for next to nothing.

the written word

Big changes are afoot in the world of newspapers and magazines. It used to be that the only market for short fiction and nonfiction articles used to be newspapers and magazines (with the occasional second life collected in book form). Like the music and movie industries, magazines and newspapers were in business by virtue of owning the infrastructure (print facilities and distribution).

Syd Field Screenplay ORIGINAL cover artThe same was true of book publication. Certainly publishers have editorial staff. They employ readers and editors and typesetters. One of the best books I’ve read on screenwriting was written by Syd Field, a Hollywood reader who distilled what he learned as a reader into practical writing advice in a book called Screenplay.

The editorial staff edits and assembles the product. One important function they have traditionally provided was to filter out the very best material. And never forget that the addition of editorial input often improved the work. Traditionally there has been lots of expertise in the publishing industry, but the bottom line was always that the guy who owns the presses and the distribution network is the guy in charge. The most brilliant book editor could always be over ruled by the publisher. (Or the publisher’s girlfriend.)

There is great deal of turmoil in all types of publishing today as the entire world has been altered by the Internet and the accompanying technology.

media evolution

In real terms this media revolution– not just for film or music but photography, writing, software and art– really anything that can be digitally reproduced — has made it possible for pretty much anyone to be a media creator. The monetary costs involved boil down to the initial outlay necessary for equipment and digital storage. After that the outlay is minimal

I remember when a blank video tape cost $20. That could hold one movie you taped off TV. Of course that was back in the day when the cable companies encouraged Canadians to use this new technology to “time shift.” Today that’s one of the many diverse activities that are lumped together under the umbrella label of ‘piracy.’

The Nightengale and the Rose - One of the many public domain books preserved in a digital format and released without restriction by Project Gutenberg

About ten years ago or so I remember my sister had an unimaginably huge hard drive – far and away the largest of anyone I knew — on her computer. Today that 2 gigabyte drive is laughably tiny. At this point 2 gigabyte flash drives are routinely used to transport assignments between school and home (and probably at the low end).

And now I just read Michael Hart‘s observation about his seventy five dollar “terabyte pocket drive” (for books digitized by Project Gutenberg) that is:

no larger and not much heavier than a book, and it will hold 2.5 million such books in .zip format.”

Project Gutenberg: Timeline Events

One of the interesting things I’ve learned about recently from Wayne Borean’s excellent series on Copyright in his Through the Looking Glass blog, where Wayne describes this kind of revolutionary technology that changes the way the world functions as a “Disruptive Technological Change“.

Add the Internet to the mix and you have a perfect distribution medium that’s virtually free.   [With the proviso that net neutrality is protected Internet access won’t be degraded via ‘throttling’ and and carrier/ISPs won’t be able to price it out of the range of ordinary people with Usage Based Billing.]

This means we’re living in a world where we can all create.

Under Canadian copyright law any art we create is automatically protected under copyright law.

Since we all have the ability to be both content creators and distributors as well as content consumers, every citizen needs to have a say in the copyright debate and the eventual revision to our copyright laws.

Copyright = All Rights Reserved

copyright symbol - letter c in a circle

all rights reserved

The thing about art and culture is that it is for sharing. I can’t think of any art in any medium that is created out of a vacuum. Everything is built on something else. This has been going on since the beginning of time. Before we had written words, verbal histories were handed down.

We are all informed by our culture; all creators are influenced by others. Everything we learn, everything we see, hear, feel and touch goes into our experience pool and will have an effect on our creations. Shakespeare’s plays are re-mixes of other works, and today we would call the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale aggregators. In their day they had to physically travel all aver Europe to gather up all the best stories. Today we just need a good search engine and enough bandwidth to get it done.

Teacher Raffaella Traniello holds up some movie making tools A standing joke firmly rooted in reality is that the only way to sell a movie idea to Hollywood is by comparing it to another.

And have you ever noticed that an overwhelming majority of Disney theatrical feature films are based on stories in the public domain?

Corporate agendas have been pushing for increasingly rigorous copyright law, detrimental to creators. What’s good for a corporation that controls copyright is not necessarily good for the artists who created the copyright work. As a creator I think copyright terms we have alone in Canada are seriously detrimental to creators.

Creative Commons logoWhich is why I am extremely grateful for the development of Creative Commons Licenses that offer creators a variety of alternatives.

Creative Commons licensing is a marvelous tool that allows creators to get around the detrimental and restrictive aspects of copyright law. Creators can release their work in the way that they want to.

The reason I love Raffaella Traniello’s film so much is because it does such a good job getting the message across. Every song I’ve heard, every movie I’ve watched, every picture I’ve seen, every bit of art I’ve ever been exposed to, everything that has danced across my senses has been absorbed and makes me who I am. The creativity of others has become part of my life experience, and as it’s distilled through my unconscious and forms the basis of my own creativity. No art comes out of a vacuum; it collaborates with a culture. Art needs to share and be shared, which is why I believe that the current copyright law has already gone too far.

Creative Commons License = Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons logo: cc inside a circle

Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright and the public domain. From all rights reserved to no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while allowing certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.

What is CC

Copyright terms constrain other creators.

I try to generate all the images for all my own blogs, but sometimes that simply isn’t possible. At this point with everything that’s happening in copyright law around the world, I’m less inclined to want to use “fair dealing” images; particularly as what is covered may well change. So any time I do an image search, I search for Creative Commons licensed Images. When searching either Google Images or Flickr Images you can select “advanced search” and choose “labeled for reuse”. Most if not all images in Wikimedia Commons are released under a CC license. And now the Creative Commons search page can direct your searches as well.

Creative Commons Attribution Symbol

Attribution (cc by)

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike Symbol

Attribution Share Alike (cc by-sa)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Boy Mouse says to Mouse girl who is fixing equipment, Hallo Fräulein, könnten Sie mich wohl zu einem Techniker bringen?

Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives

Attribution No Derivatives (cc by-nd)

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.


Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial

Attribution Non-Commercial (cc by-nc)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

CD cover art - bearded guitar playing caricature

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Sharealike

Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (cc by-nc-sa)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

Plaster heads of 7 world leaders assembled on the grass

Creative Commons Button indicating Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivative License

Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (cc by-nc-nd)

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Creative Common Licenses don’t replace copyright law, they work in conjunction with existing copyright law.

A Creative Commons license allows creators to tailor the license to balance their comfort level with the needs of their project.

The greatest thing about CC Licensing is that it gives choices back to creators.

Image Credit:

Robert Rodriguez photograph under a Attribution Sharealike (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/) by Thomas Crenshaw

Lynn Russwurm‘s photograph “The Laurie Bauer Singers in recording studio – circa 1970s” used with permission

Raffaella Traniello video under an Attribuzione 2.5 Italia license

Charles Robinson illustration of Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightengale and the Rose” is in the public domain; one of many great works preserved via digitization by Project Gutenberg

Cory Doctorow” photograph by Joi Ito under a CC attribution (cc by) license

Sita Sings the BluesNina Paley – Creative Commons CC BY-SA

“Hallo Fräulein” cartoon oreillyblog cartoon (CC) BY-ND dyfa 2009

Ahead Stop image by XKCD. CC BY-NC 2.5

Performous Songs: Jonathan Coulton Collection available for legal download ZIP file (240 MB)under Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike License (cc by-nc-sa) via Performous Songs

“Big Heads” aka The Oxfam G8 Big Heads at Big Letters Performance by Oxfam (by-nc-nd)

G+ Censorship

In spite of misgivings about Google’s domination of the Internet, a little while back I decided to give g+ a chance. But at the moment it looks like g+ doesn’t really want my content.

When I decided to start an “Author Page” I determined to post the same content across three platforms (on Facebook, on g+ and self hosted on the open web). Like all such pages, my “Author Page” exists to promote my personal “brand” as a self-publishing author. I do that by talking about writing. Today’s post is on my self hosted page and on Faceboook, but g+ has slapped a filter on it, and is “holding it for review” … is it because I have too many links? Or is it because some of them link to Facebook?

G+ post is under review

I’ve been putting effort into incorporating as many links as are appropriate in every blog post I’ve written since I began blogging in 2009. It’s a lot of work, but hyperlinks are one of the things that make the Internet so valuable. If Google is going to penalize me for this, what good is it?

If you want to see what the fuss is about, you can read my post on Faceboook or on the self-hosted page, just *not* on the g+ Author Page.

I clicked the button saying I want thie post reviewed. It’s all up to some Google staffer to decide whether I can publish my work there. Some faceless total stranger will determine whether or not my work gets published in Google’s proprietary space. One click is the only self defense plea I get. Is it worth it to me to fight for this?

This is a shining example of why we need an open Internet. Because if the day comes when Google controls the Internet, there won’t be any alternatives.

UPDATE: I’m pleased to announce that Google+ has released my article from purgatory, and it’s now publicly avaialble on g+.

Although the speed of the turnaround is gratifying, it is disturbing that web platforms like Google+ wield such power over the users who provide such valuable content. Corporations should not have the power to censor people.

Know Where The Links Go

The Internet exists to make sharing easy, and very often that is a good thing. But before you share, you should be aware of where you are sending your family and friends. If there are links to click on the thing you are sharing, you should click them first, so you know where they go.

A friend of mine just shared a security video montage showing all kinds of nice things that were accidentally caught on security camera footage.

Does that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

surveilance camera (cc by laurelrusswurm)

Not me.

Me, well, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. A little bit creepy. Knowing that the world is filled with security cameras recording our every move.  Big brother is watching you. (Now would be a very good time to read or re-read George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eight Four“)

Security cameras are deliberately placed as inconspicuously as possible.  The law requires signs posted telling us they are there, but they are usually pretty inconspicuous too.   The idea, of course, is to catch crooks in the act as they rob the store or paint the graffiti or break the window.  If the crook knows its there, they would very likely put the camera out of commission. And, naturally, security cameras only catch stupid crooks.

But security cameras also show ordinary people going about our ordinary lives.

Before a professional photographer can publish photos of models, or even ordinary people walking down the street they need to get permission from the people they are photographing. The model must sign a release form. Even newspapers get permission from their subjects. Without it they can face legal challenges. Because people are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

If I rob your store, it’s a different situation. I’ve broken the law, and my reasonable expectation of privacy doesn’t extend to the store’s security video. So the video can be used by law enforcement to identify me and bring me to justice.

But if my boyfriend kisses me on a park bench, what right does some guy with a security video have to put that moment of casual intimacy into a film?

Do you think any of the people in the video gave permission?

Do you know what a video camera looks like? There are many different kinds.

ceiling mounted survellance camera

Are you aware of the cameras pointed at you in so many places? Anonymous cameras we often don’t even see.  Cameras that secretly record us at work or play.  Walking down the street, buying gas, paying a untility bill.

And who is behind these cameras?

Who is recording you as you walk your toddler past the camera?  Who knows? I don’t.

If we don’t know who they are, how can we know what they do with the video? Who is watching the watchers? After the video is made, do they get rid of it if nothing untoward happened? Or is the footage being used in different ways… as the film in this video so clearly was. People had to pore over an awful lot of security video to discover the bits that have been edited together to make this film.

So is it okay if they make a nice “feel good” short film that shows all the nice things unsuspecting people were caught doing on “security video”?

The only credit at the end of the video is for a website called Love Everybody. So I looked there, and although it has a page of videos, this one is not displayed. Very probably because it was made without the permission of the subjects, and maybe even because using the song for the soundtrack is copyright infringement, which would result in a DMCA copyright takedown notice.

Why is this particular video floating around on Facebook?

Well, if you click one of the links, it takes you to the person who posted it, the person who is using this video. This person doesn’t have any problem with using a video made without the permission of the people in it. Or to copyright infringement. Because this person has no qualms at all about getting my friend to send her family and friends on Facebook to his real reason for posting the video. He is earning up to $237 Per Day because he’s getting her to work for him for free.

Every time this video is shared, it sends the unsuspecting to his ads: “FREE VIDEO! Discover How I Earn Up to $237 Per Day from Home Using Just My Facebook Account…”

facebook logoWhenever you share anything on the Internet, even on Facebook, you should consider whether you have been fooled into selling your friends eyeballs.

Update: I decided to check YouTube for “security video” and found the film there. Turns out that this is actually a Coke commercial (although the facebook user who is using it to drive customers into his lair seems to have done away with the advertising logos).

Presumably Coke did in fact shoot this video to make it appear to be security video. If they didn’t, and you happen to be the guy dancing in the aisle but have never signed a release, you can probably sue the company. If you’re Coke you can certainly squash the guy who is using your film to drive business his way on Facebook.

There are, alas, an awful lot of security videos making it to YouTube.

Coca-Cola Security Cameras


There is a huge uproar going on in the tech community just now.

Email delivery company SendGrid has fired developer evangelist Adria Richards after she tweeted her annoyance at sexual jokes made by developers during the Pycon conference. One of the joking developers was also fired.

Some men are vociferously defending their right to free speech.

But Adria Richards didn’t suppress their free speech, she replied with free speech of her own. If you’re going to make the Free Speech defense, you have to grant her the right to free speech. Otherwise its a double standard.

Others complain she was eavesdropping. But if the gentlemen were speaking loud enough for her to hear them in a public place, that doesn’t exactly fly.

Some women are absolving the men, and bashing Adria Richards, who they think is making it worse. For them. But turning a blind eye to sexism or racism may give an illusion of safety, but it helps entrench the inequity of the “gentleman’s agreement” that allows it to persist.

The ensuing storm of insult, acrimony and threats simply proves to illustrate the point:

lewd jokes have NO place at a PROFESSIONAL tech conference.

what was so wrong?

Two men were sitting in the second row of a professional conference, making jokes during a presentation. They were clearly speaking loudly enough for people in the front row to hear their commentary during the presentation. [Although the intention of the comments has been defended, it has been acknowledged that the comments reported were actually made.]

Putting the gender issue aside, making jokes during a presentation is disrespectful to the presenter and the audience around you. Most people attend such presentations because they want to hear the presentation, not the class clown heckling in the audience. Running commentary may be fine in your livingroom, but not a movie theatre or conference because it interferes with the presentation.

The behaviour itself is inappropriate, unprofessional and juvenile.

Some people think she should have confronted them then and there. But this was happening during a presentation. Had she asked them to stop, would they? Or would it “make a scene” and disrupt the presentation even further?

It is also very clear that women in tech are very much in the minority. It can be physically dangerous to speak out when you are physically surrounded. The fact that Adria Richards has subsequently received physical threats against her person indicates this was in no way an unreasonable concern.

There is no doubt Adria Richards was particularly disturbed by the sexual nature of the conversation behind her. She felt attacked, so she struck back in self defense. It would have seemed a reasonable course of action to photograph the culprits and publicly shame them on Twitter.

two wrongs

Yet it appears that the men intended no offense.

The thing is, that doesn’t matter. Because Adria Richards felt victimized. When people feel attacked, it’s human nature to defend ourselves. She struck back with the tools at hand. Even if she may have over-reacted.

Very often people accustomed to being bullied become more sensitive. A word or action can feel like an attack even if that isn’t how it’s meant. Humans may misinterpret the situation, but it doesn’t make our feelings less real. She was right to stand up for herself.

What I do have a problem with is that Adria Richards published identifiable photographs of people on the Internet without their permission. Even if they are in a public place, it seems to me to be an invasion of privacy. Which is why I think her response was in the wrong.

I made a similar argument some time ago about the Reddit creepshots issue. Reading mr. hank’s apology, it is easy to see that he, too, feels victimized. Most particularly because she smiled when she took the photograph. That would have made him feel she was laughing at his jokes. Yet smiling is often defensive.

don’t make a right

Still and all, I don’t think either of them should have been fired. This is a conversation we need to have, because there should be more women in technology. Both parties made mistakes. The clever ones learn from our mistakes.

But problems don’t get solved by agression and polarization. Attacking people for speaking up won’t change anything, it just makes it worse. It’s like running into a wall. We don’t need a gender war, we need to stop villifying and start understanding.

Perhaps everyone needs to take a deep breath and read the The Code of Conduct adopted late last year by the Python Software Foundation precisely because attitudes need some adjusting. Because people do need to feel safe. Sexual innuendo can be a way of flirting, or male bonding, but it simply has no place in the workplace.

Even when the workplace is a software convention.

red brick wall