tianjara.net | Andrew Harvey's Blog

Entries from January 2009.

31st January 2009

Here is a bash script I wrote to backup some of my user preferences and configuration for my Ubuntu 8.10 installation and some of my apps settings.

#!/bin/sh

#will put all backups in ./backups/YYYYMMDD_HHMM/
DATETIME=date +%Y%m%e_%H%M
DEST="backups/$DATETIME" mkdir "backups" mkdir "backups/$DATETIME"

#computer setups
cp /boot/grub/menu.lst $DEST/menu.lst cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf$DEST/xorg.conf
cp /etc/fstab $DEST/fstab #user files/profiles ##files cp /home/$USER/.gnome2/stickynotes_applet $DEST/stickynotes_applet cp /home/$USER/.gtk-bookmarks $DEST/.gtk-bookmarks ##folders tar -cvvf$DEST/purple.tar /home/$USER/.purple/ tar -cvvf$DEST/mozilla.tar --exclude-tag-all='_CACHE_MAP_' --exclude='urlclassifier3.sqlite' /home/$USER/.mozilla/ tar -cvvf$DEST/Templates.tar /home/$USER/Templates/ tar -cvvf$DEST/gconf.tar /home/$USER/.gconf/ tar -cvvf$DEST/gnome2.tar /home/$USER/.gnome2/ tar -cvvf$DEST/gnome-color-chooser.tar /home/\$USER/.gnome-color-chooser/
Tags: ubuntu.
22nd January 2009

"On 26 November 2008, the Federal Attorney General, Hon Robert McClelland MP, launched the report Making the intangible tangible: the economic contribution of Australia's copyright industries at Parliament House, Canberra. The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by the Australian Copyright Council, assesses the contribution to the economy of Australia's copyright industries."

You can get a copy of the report here, http://www.copyright.org.au/bcepv04.pdf. The report says,

"The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has identified four classes of copyright industries:
• Core – industries that exist only because of copyright and are primarily involved in the creation, manufacture, production, broadcast and distribution of copyrighted works."

The report repeats this concept again, "Core...These are industries that would not be in existence if not for the copyright subject or matter". The report then lists some of these core industries,

I wouldn't go so far as saying these industries (Motion picture and video production and distribution, Authors, writers, Magazines/periodicals, etc.) would not exist without copyright laws. Though they would not doubt be less profitable, but that is not my worry here. I am not commenting on these industries (film, music).

My concern is that this report claims that Newspapers, Libraries, Artists, would not exist were it not for copyright laws. I fail to see this. I'm not an economist, but don't newspapers make money from selling the news. Its only valuable right when its breaking. Libraries would still be there to store information, people will still borrow books. Artists would still exist, I'm guessing most people make art for fun as a way to express yourself, not for the money. Picture framers; people will still take digital photos or produce art that they want framing, if anything the picture framing industry would go up if there were no copyright laws because anyone could take someone else's image that they like and can manage to copy and print it/frame it without worrying about legal consequences.

I'm not saying we should abolish copyright laws, nor have I given this a full economic analysis, but think yourself, use some common sense. Do you really think these industries would be non-existent? But surly a multi-million dollar economic firm would know best, much better than just some kid like me who knows little about economics, wouldn't they?

22nd January 2009

In a recent memo from US President Obama to The Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies:

"The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely." http://s3.amazonaws.com/propublica/assets/docs/2009foia%20mem%20rel%20_2_.pdf

... lets hope this gets pushed more and more into Australian Government. Actually I don't really know how open our government is but I think it could do better. Just a thought, I shall look into this some more.

No tags
22nd January 2009

In the past week (more like a month now) or so I've had a few requests asking me how I got access to my exam scripts (i.e. my exam responses) and how they (having just completed their HSC) could access theirs. In light of this I thought I would explain why I think exam scripts should be accessible to the student.

About a year ago I made a request for my HSC examination scripts under the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (NSW). The process for submitting a FOI request is documented by the Board here. I was granted copies of these documents[my exam scripts]. In the past people have requested things such as raw marks, I did request those too but that was denied for me. You should note that the Board may or may not grant access to these documents in the future.

Now to why I think students should have access to their scripts, which is mainly because it makes the whole process more transparent (even US President Obama is pressing this with his recent FOIA memo). There should be nothing to hide, students should be able to check what they wrote in the exam. They should be able to publish this along with how their response was marked so that it can be scrutinised and studied by future students. I'm not convinced that this is the best study approach in the long term but that is no excuse for disallowing access to scripts. It would also be great if students could also find out how their questions were marked on a question by question basis.

However I can see reasons why the Board would not want to release exam scripts. It is time and money consuming. Even if the process is automated it still costs money and some time. For this I would accept why the Board would charge a reasonable fee for giving you your scripts.

The Board of Studies is doing the right thing here, they did allow my FOI request so I cannot argue that they are hiding them. Kudos to them for this. I hope two things to happen now, more people become aware that they can get their scripts, and the Board continuing to allow these requests.

Tags: board of studies nsw, education, hsc, law.
17th January 2009

I'll begin with the article by Ian McDonald (who is a Senior Legal Officer for the Australian Copyright Council), titled "Creative Commons licences for visual artists: a good idea?".

One of the reasons I use and like Creative Commons licenses is that the law is too restrictive for my liking but Creative Commons is (at least to me) the only well known widespread license that breaks down this restrictiveness.

McDonald says,

"Indeed, the one licence which a community-arts-oriented practitioner might be willing to grant—a licence to permit copying and modification only if their work is transformed or utilised in some new, creative way—is simply not available as a CC licence."

Yes, I can see occasions where an artist or creator may want to allow use of their works only for remixing whereby something new with additional value is created. But short of writing up your own license I am unaware of any respected licence which grants this. For reasons I argue later on we need to try to avoid duplicate license and try to limit them to a few common ones. The way I see it is Australians cannot license material in this way because there exists no license to do it (why doesn't the ACC write a set up?)―we are not all lawyers. We have to choose between all rights reserved and the few CC ones. I'm sure many will oppose this view but that is how I see it.

The article goes on,

"Under US law, copyright owners have a separate right to authorise the making of derivative works, but under Australian law, they do not: owners of copyright in musical, dramatic and literary works do have a tightly defined right of 'adaptation', but there is no equivalent right relating to artistic works. In other words, having given people permission to use your work under a CC licence, you couldn't generally stop them making 'derivative' versions even if you chose one of the 'NoDerivs' licences."

Well then, according to this, if they use a CC license or not it will not change the underlying derivative right for artistic works. Hence in this respect all rights reserved and CC NoDerivs are the same, so what's the big deal? Sure some people may have a false sense of security but they would be no better off with all rights reserved in this respect. At least now the ACC has pointed this out. Its good to know but from what I just read it doesn't change anything.

"Further, when it comes to the 'NonCommercial' licences, the prohibition relates only to uses of the relevant work 'in a manner that is primarily intended or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation' (my emphasis). This wording still allows—without payment—any business or corporation to use your work in items such as corporate gifts, calendars, publications and websites, and in any other way that might only secondarily achieve a commercial advantage. Nonetheless, in each of these situations, I can see no reason in principle why, as a general rule, practising artists would want to volunteer effectively to subsidise such commercial uses of their work."

Again, thank you for pointing this out, its good to know. It would be good if there was a licence that covered this.

• Not all creators are layers. In fact (in almost certainty) every living person on this earth is a creator, even if it were only a drawing they did in kindergarten. However not everyone has experience and knowledge in copyright law. So someone may write a license but it may have legal loopholes that they are unaware of. There needs to be solid licenses that normal people who don't speak in legal terms can understand, both for the creator and the user of the work.
• They then become less machine readable. For instance if I want to search works that allow verbatim copying, if every work had a different license I would have to read through each license to work out if it did allow this. However if there were a set of common well known licenses I could just search for the set that allow this, eg. "Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia, ...".

What makes the CC licenses work in my opinion is much like what trademark laws do. When people see "Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia", they instantly know what they can do. But if however everyone makes their own licenses people will have to try to decipher the legal mumbo jumbo.

"For example, if you offer written material under a CC licence, you won’t be entitled to receive any of the payments made by governments and the education sector to collecting societies for use of your material; if you offer music or songs under a CC licence, you won’t be entitled to a share of the payments made to APRA by broadcasters and, for example, businesses using background music."

People who license under CC should already know this, it's good for letting them know. Not that this information sheet implies otherwise, but most people would be aware of this and they license CC because they want to make it easier for their work to be spread. They may not want money generated from their work going to a collecting society which you may not have bothered to join just for one photograph you put on the web. As a side note, I did not know what "collecting societies" like CAL (together with NEALS) were before now (though I had heard of them), but I'll look into it and write a post about it.

"You should also note that the CC licences generally take away your ability to actively manage your copyright, because they allow people to use your works in all sorts of ways without having to contact you. Of course, this is also the case where you allow a collecting society, or an agent, a publisher or a producer to deal with your work on your behalf."

This can also be a benefit, as you don't have to reply to usage requests, it also means that your work can be used how you wanted it to be used after you are no longer contactable or passed away. Also I'm guessing people are more willing to use your work if it is licensed then and there, rather than going to the effort of telling you their planned usage and asking for permission. This is better for society on a whole, see the Free Culture movement (I'll leave my arguments for this to another article).

At the end of the day, CC license are great for anyone who wants to release their work to the public allowing anyone to build upon it freely. The deed or human readable summary is just that a summary. I still love Creative Commons for both it's licenses and for its vision in what it aims to achieve. Minus the negative views thank you ACC for shining some light on the technical details of the legal code, but that won't stop me from using CC license all together.

I have used all quotes for the purposes of review and criticism.

17th January 2009

I see two ways (they can even be combined so that both methods are used) to allowing use or granting rights to a copyrighted work. Those two being licensing the work with a copyright license when the work is published, and/or opting for "All rights reserved." and granting rights on a case by case basis when contacted.

Let's say an organisation uses the latter method for licensing a work. If you were an individual who wanted to use say a small portion for non-commercial purposes then that organisation may for instance grant you those usage rights for free. But if you were a commercial company who wanted to use the work say as part of a commercial feature film the organisation may for instance charge a fee for the usage rights. This is the approach that anyone who wanted to use a copyrighted work which does not have a license would need to take (or if the license does not meet their needs).

I oppose this approach for several reasons,

• What if the original copyright was vested in a company that goes out of business. The work becomes an orphan work. (I'm not exactly sure what provisions in the laws allow for this though) A license allows these decisions that the organisation once made to continue to be made.
• It leaves all discrimination transparent to the public and hence more reachable to the Anti-Discrimination Act. For example the latter effective allows an organisation to grant rights to say a girls school to exhibit a film to its students for free but may demand a similar boys school to pay. This kind of discrimination would be difficult to notice. However with the former approach of a license at creation time it is clear from the license what can and cannot be done and by who.

Sure I can see why a company, organisation or individual would want to do it, because it gives them more control over how their work is used, and the latter method is probably better suited where the copyright owner would charge money for any use. I personally haven't used the latter approach, though I do favour the former more.

15th January 2009

In the past month or so I have been using the Dvorak keyboard layout along with the Qwerty layout although the ratio of my Dvorak to Qwerty use has increased over this time. I'm nowhere as fast typing on Dvorak than Qwerty so far but I hope to get better. So I went into learning Dvorak with little idea how it would fit in with my existing typing skills and I had a one main question (or perhaps even a worry). Would I be able to type in both layouts much like someone who is bilingual where they can be fluent in both languages where learning a second language would not diminish their fluency in their first language? I have not become experienced enough to answer that question though I can still type in Qwerty but I make more typo's than I used to. Mostly I seem to sometimes get just one key mixed up. I'll repost when I have a more definitive answer.

Though there was another main thing I wanted to get across in this post. Using the Qwerty layout I would usually type by remembering not only where keys were but by the sequence of keys for common letter sequences, hence whilst I can type any word I am even faster at particular letter sequences such as the, them, they, etc... any common short word. I'm guessing most people are like this. After you've been typing for a while you learn where the keys are, but you also learn key sequences for common words. While I was learning to type in Dvorak I went through several stages. At first I would just look all over the keyboard for the key and then press it. Then gradually I began to know where the common letters were (those being a, o, e, u, i, d, h, t, n, s) so I didn't always have to look for these ones. This is the stage I am at the moment. Once I can become faster at these common key seqences I should be all set, at the moment I am beginning to notice this for "the" and "rea". Practices makes perfect, though I will try to not loose all my Qwerty layout skills.

Tags: dvorak.
14th January 2009

So I decided try out the Microsoft Windows 7 Beta. Up until March 2008 I used Windows XP full time, at which point I switched to Ubuntu Linux full time so some of the things I will comment on here may have been introduced in Windows Vista not necessarily new in Windows 7.

The Installation

Scan Disk

I wouldn't say the installation was lightning fast, in fact I thought some parts were particularly slow, though I did not have to intervene much, there were not many settings to choose. One of the things I really liked was it found one of my NTFS partitions was corrupt and repaired it as best as possible. My previous attempts at using XP tools to repair it were unsuccessful, however now Windows will let me access the files on that drive where it previously had not. Even better, because this file system repair took so long I was not around when it completed but to my delight Windows had put the computer in standby for me.

Master Boot Record

An unfortunate but expected downside to the installation was it wiped my master boot record and replaced Grub with Window's boot loader. It would be better if it had asked me if I wanted my MBR overwritten, but it did not.

I was happy though that I was given a chance to turn off automatic updates. I don't think that any operating system or program (though I think the operating system should allow the user to choose if a certain program can access the internet and you should also be able to set a speed cap) should start downloading before you get a chance to decide if you want these automatic updates (some of us have download limits and an OS that uses it all on updates may leave the user with capped internet because of it).

First Glance

Silly Popups

The most annoying thing I have noticed so far is this silly pop up that keeps repeating the same message every 10 minutes or so. It keeps telling me that one of my hard drive partitions is running low on space. Dear Windows 7, I already knew this, it is not the drive that Windows is installed on, you have already told me this numerous times tonight, please stop annoying me with popups that never go away untill you click on them! Sure I can go into the settings and turn it off but its annoying to have to do that and it took me about 2 hours of closing these popups before I went in and disabled it.

An Unmounted Hard Drive Partition

One of my partitions was not mounted. I'm not sure why this happened by I had to go into the Computer Management tool to assign it a drive letter.

A Slightly Closer Look

Although I like being able to search the start menu, I'm not sure I like the compressed nature. I liked it when the list of programs filled the whole screen.

Window Management

Windows still seems to be lacking some of the cool and efficient window management features that Compiz Fusion offers.

• Sticky windows - windows snap to other windows and the screen boarders when the window's edges come close enough (I can't find this feature in Windows).
• Wobbly windows - this just looks cool (I can't find this feature in Windows).
• Extend - using some keyboard shortcuts I wish you could extend a window to stretch it to the X or Y extent. This feature is in Windows but I can only seem to get it to work for the vertical direction and only using the mouse instead of the keyboard.
• Transparency - Alt+Scroll should change the window's transparency (I can't find this feature in Windows).
• Always on top - Although this can be done at an application level, you can still only do it if the application has it built in.
• Drag and Resize anywhere in the window - In Compiz Fusion you can Alt+Click anywhere on the window to move it and Alt+Middle Click to resize the window. This is much faster and easier sometimes than moving the mouse to the window bar to drag or to the edges to resize. (I can't find this feature in Windows)