Install the OpenDyslexia font and tell us how it works for you

I’m interested in doing a little science experiment. I’ve read that a commercial font designed by a dyslexic university student apparently didn’t help reading speed, but does help with certain classes of reading errors. Readers of any Freethought Blogs would certainly classify as folks who read a lot on the internet (yeah, yeah, get the “because you talk too much” jokes out of the way now). So, if there are any dyslexics among our readership — and I’m sure there are — I’d like to collect your anecdata on how a similar, open-sourced (read: free) font helps or hinders your reading.

Font demo of OpenDyslexic

A demo of the font provides a good example, in case you’re skeptical about how well this will work in practice. You can download the font for free from this page, because as an open-source project, it is community-driven rather than profit-oriented. Made by dyslexic users, for dyslexic users.

So, if you are dyslexic, and you’d like to participate in giving this font a trial run, I’d love to hear your stories — success or otherwise. FtBloggers primarily generate text, as opposed to other media, and many if not most of our bloggers are interested in accessibility (by extension of being interested in how privilege intersects with our various struggles). So I’d like to know, from people who might benefit from this, if it’s worth my campaigning to get a custom theme based on this font for FtB. The fact that the studies of the commercial offerings are less than ironclad makes me wonder if it’s worth our time.

Cory Doctorow on SOPA: “The Coming War on General Computation”

This is vital information for those of you who understand what the American Stop Online Piracy Act actually means for the sovereignty of the global internet. Go make some coffee, and start this video. By the time the video is done, an hour later, go reheat and actually drink your coffee.

I have three words for you.




Unpacking the Astrology Vs Computers lawsuit

The title to this post is grossly reductionist, but it amused me. Regardless, I’m not planning on taking on astrology yet again, just the particular astrologers who are engaged in what I view to be a money-grab along the same lines as the now defunct SCO Group.*

No, no, this is the GOOD kind of astrolabe.

A company called Astrolabe was founded in 1979, the same year I was born (this is probably portentious). It’s an eight-astrologer outfit headquartered in Brewster, Massachusets. In 2008, this company bought from the then-failing Astro Computing Services the ACS PC Atlas, a computerised database of latitudes and longitudes for American cities with some historical time zone data.

On September 30th, Astrolabe decided the open-source Olson time zone database (a.k.a. tz, tzdata, or tzinfo) infringed on the copyrights they owned, and filed a lawsuit against Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert (complaint as text) resulting in the database, which is relied upon by every computer running pretty well any variant of Unix including Linux and BSD for providing time-accurate historical data, being pulled and replaced with a stub with only data from 2000 onward. This includes a huge chunk of internet servers and services, and means any display of historical times pretty well anywhere on the internet is now potentially specious.
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Astrologers pick a fight with open-source software and history itself

Via a pingback ostensibly made by Astrology-X-Files (and maybe even Curtis Manwaring himself, no less!), this news about Astrolabe at Tech Dirt, where they’ve just filed suit against the maintainers of the public-domain Olson time zone database that is used in just about every open-source time zone related project imaginable:
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MS’ duplicitous “olive branch” to Linux is aimed at the backs of our collective skulls

Recently, Microsoft got a good deal of press for having open-sourced its Hyper-V drivers for Linux, releasing them under the GPL v2 even. To anyone paying attention to Microsoft’s earlier rhetoric about the GPL being “un-american“, this is surprising news. To those of us who know what’s actually going on underneath the finely crafted patina of a sudden change of heart, this move is every bit as cynical as every other Microsoft has ever taken.

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The smoking gun that came in the form of a chicken

Dana Blakenhorn was at a convention in Taiwan, and after noticing only one device preinstalled with Linux in the whole show, cracked the Asus / Windows / Linux story wide open with one simple question: “what happened to all the Linux?”

“In our association we operate as a consortium, like the open source consortium. They want to promote open source and Linux. But if you begin from the PC you are afraid of Microsoft. They try to go to the smart phone or PDA to start again.”

Blakenhorn framed it as a chicken-and-egg problem where not only does the chicken come first, but the chicken is owned by Microsoft.

View the whole Netbook maneno in light of this admission, and you have a pretty good idea what happened to the Linux. PJ at Groklaw realized this is the smoking gun, and I agree with her 100%. It’s truly sad that Microsoft is so afraid of proper competition that they have to shoot the other horse in the starting gate.

Some Canadian news

Here’s quick round-up of a few news tidbits salient to us Canucks.

Former PM Brian Mulroney might be lying about his having represented Karlheinz Schreiber’s business interests in a trip he made to China in October 1993. The scandal is that he took three hundred grand from Schreiber to lobby for a project to have German-made tanks built in Canada; Mulroney says he was paid $225,000 to peddle Schreiber’s tanks internationally. Beyond that, due to a tax loophole, Mulroney was taxed on only half of $225,000 for his back taxes which were voluntarily filed in 2000. That halving-back-taxes process was discontinued only last year. No matter which way you slice it, Mulroney is in for a shitstorm — either he used his influence to peddle wares of a very dubious military nature to the Chinese, or he took money to have tanks built in Canada and mis-declared his taxes, and either way he used a loophole to pay for only half what he should have, a loophole I certainly wasn’t aware of personally until reading about this. I’m of the opinion that everyone should pay taxes equally according to their means if you expect to reap the benefits of public education, roads, doctors, emergency services and military protection. If you’re making about ten years’ worth of the average Canadian’s salary just for making one measly lobbying trip, then you have the means to pay your damn taxes.

In Calgary police are holding an internal inquiry about a fatal shooting wherein a drunk man man with a sawed-off shotgun held a neighbor hostage for several hours over an alleged theft of a whammy bar. Like, for a guitar. Dude’s obviously unstable, and he has an illegally modified weapon that’ll do a fuckload of damage if he even points it moderately close to being in the right direction; far as I’m concerned, winging or tasing this guy isn’t an option. Good on them. Shameful loss of human life, but it’s better than the dead one being a guy who may not have even stolen a guitar part.

A pair of Canadians will be making a rendezvous in space, at the International Space Station, marking the first time in history two Canucks are in space simultaneously. No, I’m afraid Bob and Doug McKenzie will not get to finally “take off”, it’s actually going to be Bob Thirsk and Julie Payette. And they’re going to celebrate with, no joke, a picnic consisting of “smoked salmon pate, salmon jerky, maple butter, maple leaf cookies, bison pemmican, beef jerky and maple syrup.” There is so much awesome in this news bite I don’t even know where to begin. So I won’t.

More good news: the city of Vancouver has gone fully open-source, open standards! This is a huge win for people who consider this movement more than viable and important for individuals’ access to the data produced by government, but being vital to the continued prosperity of the computer industry as a whole. One councillor tried to water the bill down, and voted against a number of parts of the bill, but the bill passed in its entirety. Said Andrea Reimer, city councillor and proposer of the motion, regarding the members of the public in witness of this meeting:

“The only sort of negative [comment] was ‘Can’t you go further? Can’t you do more?'”

She added that some felt open-source software should be favoured, rather than just be put on equal footing with proprietary software.

“But I think the city would want to know how it works first before it jumps into that.”

That’s pretty well the only problem I’d have, too, is that if you’re going to respect open standards, you have to consider open source software first, because Microsoft’s track record with open standards of embrace-extend-extinguish is well documented. Being that Microsoft’s pretty well the only competition when it comes to office suites, and the “open formats” law affects mostly office documents, it’s only logical to consider Microsoft as being hostile to the goals in the proposal and so they should be looked at last, not equally.

And finally, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled on Monday that Radio Canada’s “Bye Bye” comedy program which aired on New Year’s Eve was wrong in airing a sketch suggesting that Obama’s skin color would make him easier to assassinate, and suggesting that blacks all look alike and that you should hide your purses. Yet they claim they’re not racist. Fuckers. Radio Canada is due to apply for a license for renewal in 2011, and stuff like this doesn’t slide off.

And that’s everything in my feed readers that pertains to Canada and interested me directly. Jason Thibeault, news aggregator extraordinaire.

Sony Pictures CEO admits to gross ignorance

Via Slashdot: Michael Lynton is a guy who “doesn’t see anything good having come from the internet, period“, because of the piracy that has apparently eaten into his profit margins.

I contend that what has eaten into your profit margins is the fact that casual movie-watchers are now better equipped thanks to new technology to identify stinkpiles of movies BEFORE shelling out big bucks — between movie-goers texting others to warn them away, and people “trying before they buy” (Note to self: check out Zeno Clash), now fools and their money have a chance at sticking together a while longer. At the risk of self-incrimination, I personally have a library of legally bought DVDs made up of movies that I felt were worth my money, every one of them having been watched prior to purchase — either by watching at a friend’s when they owned or rented it (when will THIS be a crime? Or does it fall under “public performance”?), or having (*horrors!*) downloaded it prior. Movie pirates are made up generally of two groups — people who had no intention of ever buying it to begin with, and wouldn’t have watched it if the option wasn’t free, and people who like to know ahead of time whether they’re buying something worth more than one viewing.

Copyright laws are coming to a head in North America, and this is one picture I can’t wait to see. The old world, outmoded business models of the RIAA/MPAA crew, versus the new digital era where duplication and redistribution of data costs so close to nothing as might as well be free, for both parties. Entrenched and paid-for interests in government will likely side with the old world model, because that’s where the money is, so that side can afford the fight. I always tend to root for the unfunded underdog in these things.

Green Day Blank CD-Rs -- bloody brilliant, guys!

Green Day Blank CD-Rs -- bloody brilliant, guys!

I see it as a fight along the same lines as open source vs proprietary software; save for the fact that the copyright example is dealing with the same base component on both sides of the fight (e.g. the movie or song), they both have differing ideas as to where the monetization of the product should be made. OSS / new copyright model proponents see the monetization of the product coming from supplementaries — for OSS, manuals, support, and physical distribution; for the copyright fight, concerts, paraphernalia like t-shirts, or even blank CDs with printed labels. (Never mind their great music, I love Green Day just for doing this.)

Never mind that blank tapes were going to destroy the industry, television and VCRs were going to destroy the industry, then blank CDs and DVDs were going to destroy the industry, and now the internet is going to destroy the industry. Adapt or die, guys. Either keep coming up with technology or law based ways to keep your old model on life support (at the risk of causing your audience to desert you), or figure out new ways to make money off the product.

Open-Source Software Shout-Out


Here’s two great bits of code that’ll never get attribution from my workplace, as they’re being used on internal-facing projects, so I wanted to give them shout-outs here where someone might actually notice.

First is a pure DHTML-and-Javascript date picking applet, simple but efficient and well-documented for any beginner Javascript programmers, which I’ll be grafting into a helpdesk type ticketing system. It’s a wheel that gets reinvented over and over, but I particularly like this implementation, as it’s rather low on resources, themeable to match your site, and does exactly what it should do and nothing more. A number of open-source products have that ethos: do one thing, but do it extraordinarily well. The end product, if done extraordinarily well, can be reused by other components in the operating system. In fact, if you’re running Linux, almost all of the apps you use daily are mere GUI frontends to command-line utilities that predate them.

Secondly, there’s a great chat applet I’m implementing at work presently built out of — get this — Javascript (AJAX), PHP, MySQL, Flash, and Ruby. I’ve already hacked out quite a few features in it, such as the ability to private message, in order to prepare it for widescale use in the office. That’s another great thing about open source software — if it doesn’t suit your needs, you’re free to modify it, as long as when you redistribute it (*if* you redistribute it — if you keep it within the company, you can turn it into spaghetti if you want!), you include the source code and changelogs indicating who did what.

I actually had a fight with one of my higher-ups over that fact once — and I went to the mat for OSS. His stance was that a business could not rely on open-source software without exposing itself to liabilities, and thus we should only be using BSD code. I countered that we weren’t redistributing anything, and the only requirement is that we deliver the code as well upon redistribution of the program, and we could even sell modified forks if we chose, with impunity. I don’t think I necessarily won the debate, but I know people who actually know the law about this stuff would side with me — if not with every nuance of the argument I made, which honestly I can’t remember any more. I do know that my stock in the company is up (lately at least), and I’m not hurting for having argued on the side of the long-haired smellies, so I’d consider it a victory.

One true time I hold to, MySQL will always go on

I just quoted Celine Dion. Oh my. On behalf of all of Canada, I apologize for her existence.

The prognosis is much less grim than it once might have been for MySQL, in the wake of Sun being bought out by rival database company Oracle. Monty Widenius, who is to MySQL what Linus Torvalds is to Linux, has founded the Open Database Alliance with a handful of MySQL-based companies, in a move that will insure against any Oracle underhandedness that might come up (though that is obviously not their stated goal).

These are the guys you’re going to look to for a fork of MySQL, if Oracle decides to squash it. And that is the beauty of open source software. No matter the intentions of a business toward a piece of software, that software will live on.