Monday, May 30, 2005

Rethinking DRM

I have my own open source projects and I release major works of my own under Creative Commons licenses. Think I am against all Digital Rights Management (DRM)? No, think again.

First, some good uses for DRM:
  • Apple's Music store - I am a happy customer and the DRM seems fair.
  • Some movies distributed on the Open Media Network require obtaining a free DRM access cookie from the publisher - why not? Most material on the OMN don't seem to use DRM, but I have enjoyed watching several Indy films that required a DRM cookie.
Sure, there are bad uses of DRM, for example:
  • Proposed PC hardware/bios changes that might make it impossible to install Linux.
I believe that owners of content should be allowed to release their own stuff under whatever license they choose. I do wish that more musicians, film makers, etc. would utilize the internet to distribute their works - but only if it makes sense for them individually. BTW: I would like express real respect for George Lucas for allowing Indy producers to create a very good non-commercial Indy Star Wars movie ("letting them play in his back yard") - check it out on OMN.

Friday, May 27, 2005

How Open Media Network differs from BitTorrent, etc.

One more thing not mentioned in my last post: material distributed (for free!) on Open Media Network is authorized for public use by the producers. Open Media Network recommends that distributed material be licensed under one of the Creative Commons licences.

With BitTorrent, there is a mixture of legal material (e.g., Linux CDROM images, music distributed by music groups, etc.) and material under copyright that prohibits free distribution.

Open Media Network: very cool

The Open Media Network is similar to what I was talking about in my blog a few months ago: a way to use distributed content delivery to inexpensively deliver video on the internet. I was thinking about low cost "TV shows" (Internet shows?) that would be like low cost Indy films, distributed for free (almost) using BitTorrent, and producers could fund themselves by including commercials. Think: end run against the very few media corporations who control almost everything that most Americans can easily see.

Open Media Network is similar, but looks like it will specialize in distributing specials from PBS, etc. Since the Bush administration would like to terminate PBS news (too factual for a regime that requires a pliant corporate media to further their agendas), this is a great thing for a free and democratic society. Everyone but the most radical republicans would like to see a well educated populace with access to accurate news, etc.

Open Media Network is just not about politics: lots of technical material, etc. I just downloaded an educational special about a recent excavation of a well preserved mummy in Egypt. Amazing video of the mummy being brought up to the surface.

Great technology!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Matt Raible's AppFuse - good stuff

After getting turned on to Prevayler last year, I have kept looking for ways to simplify web app development. I have largely stopped using struts unless customers specifically want it (after a few years of using it - still use it for of my own web sites that have not changed in a while). Similarly, I have done little EJB development in the last two years.

I have been using Spring and SpringMVC recently, and I generally like it. I like SpringMVC and JSF better than struts, and I somewhat arbitrarily decided to use SpringMVC (since I don't use Java Studio Creator). I noticed that Matt Raible had an AppFuse (his 'fast start' web application kit) specific for Spring and SpringMVC. The way he lays out the structure of a web project is nothing short of elegant. Cool stuff!

Microsoft's Visual J# 2005 edition

Years ago, I wrote a fun little book "Java Programming for Windows" that covered all things Windows, using Microsoft's free Java development kit. Just as the book was in final production and being printed, Sun and Microsoft started suing each other. I was OK (I got a nice advance), but my publisher took a hit on poor sales, which was a bummer.

So, what do I now see on Slashdot? Microsoft advertisements for free betas (seem to last for 1 year) for "Express" products (aimed specifically at C#, J#, Web dev, C++, VB, etc.)

Actually, since I do sometimes have to do Windows specific development, J# looks interesting - however, I am wondering if C# is a safer choice for the (very) occasional Windows specific projects.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Working for money vs. working on stuff we love

I saw a reference to a book "Die Broke" the other day on Slashdot. The idea is to maximize earnings and look at work as only something to support your lifestyle. When you can get away, take lots of vacations and time off periods.

I have been a little swamped by work lately, but remembering the dot-bomb aftermath, I have only reluctantly been turning away work. Anyway, as I have lately been missing hikes with my friends, and other fun stuff, I have been thinking about the time split between life and work that sustains life.

I get different kinds of positive feelings doing research (semantic web, NLP stuff, etc.) than solving problems for people (consulting!). Since I make only a modest bit of money on research and a good living solving problems, this really is an issue of money vs. spending time on intellectual persuits. Actually, solving problems for people is fun - I am not knocking it :-)

Now, I did not read "Die Broke", I only read several Amazon.com book reviews (ah, the new Reader's Digest). I was going to order the book, but it was published almost 7 years ago. From the reviews, a key idea is to not really ever retire - but control the amount of work time vs. enjoying life time. Well, good advice for people expecting corporate and state pension plans to hold up over time.

Other advice offered up in the reviews (and hopefully the book :-) is for people to live beneath their means: always spend a little less than what you make, averaged over time. Pretty obvious sounding advice - except look at the statistics on consumer debt in the US (what are people thinking! or not thinking :-( )

Anyway, I have been probably been working a little too hard lately but I get to go hiking on Thursday and fishing Friday. And about that retirement: I am in my early 50s - I always thought that stopping work would be great - now I am not so sure. Balance in life between work, play, exercise, doing errands, family, friends, etc., etc. is what makes things interesting.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I am working on the Jaffa LGPLed project

Jaffa (a web application framework) is at what I call the "high end of the web application framework food chain". I have also been getting into the Spring framework lately. Spring and Jaffa could not be more different: Jaffa is one large integrated framework that provides "out of the box" user management, administration functionality, and a fairly rich set of web app building widgets. When you use Jaffa it is a total commitment. Spring (using the dependency injection pattern in a light weight container, with a handy presentation framework called Web MVC) is very light weight - more for building up applications from scratch.

I have been also getting into Ruby on Rails lately - to me, using Spring is a little like RoR in the sense that it seems agile and is good for quickly and efficiently building small applications (yes, I know that other people use Spring for huge projects). Jaffa seems more tuned to maintaining dozens of linked corporate web applications in a controlled and modular fashion.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Yahoo and iTunes online music stores

For $60 a year I am tempted to try Yahoo's new beta music service. A lot of people bitch and moan about DRM, but that is the only way we will get a wide variety of online music in the near future. For about 20 cents a day, I can listen to any music I want while I work, and for 79 cents, I can buy a song that I can legally copy to an audio CD. Seems reasonable enough to me. I can still listen to purchased music when booting to Linux via the audio CDs.

I have enjoyed the iTunes music store a lot the last couple years - good value for my money. It seems reasonable, especially since I have a new Windows PC, to also give Yahoo's music store a try.

It is all about giving the customer value: Apple's music store has done this, and I believe that Yahoo's music store will also.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Sun expanding overseas

The CS Monitor has an article about Sun keeping R&D staffing (fairly) constant in the US, but expanding in Bangalore, Beijing, St. Petersburg and Prague.

While I was in San Diego on business the last 5 days, I took a quick trip to LA on Saturday to meet up for lunch with other customers who I had never met face to face. We talked a little about outsourcing in general. My take is this: I don't worry so much about outsourcing. What does concern me more is what I believe to be a "dumbing down" of America. Too many students are staying away from science and technology. Too many religious extremists are pushing schools to teach kids in school that god created the world 6000 years ago (BTW, I am religious, but I think that god created the universe about 13 billion years ago as a singularity that lead to the big-bang). Education is both painfully underfunded in our country and also money is not spent wisely - we will pay for both errors in the future.

Back to Sun investing in offshore R&D centers: why shouldn't they? Large corporations are no longer "US companies" - they have already paid off (so called soft money) Presidents Clinton and Bush and most of the Congress to let corporations off the hook for paying their fair share of taxes. Did you and your friends notice a higher tax bill this April 15? Well get used to it suckers - richer and more powerful people than you and I have rigged the game to their rules. It's a done-deal, so don't even worry about it.

My expectations are that corporations will continue to do what is in their own best interests, and I don't think that I will be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

OASIS Open Document Standard

I have been using OpenOffice.org 2.0 beta this week (wrote an article for DevX on Ruby) and it is spectacularly good. I own a Word 2000 license, but I don't even have it installed. I did use Word for two recent books - but only to save out files created by OpenOffice.org for sending to my publishers. OpenOffice.org uses the new OASIS Open Document Standard. Perhaps comparing Word 2000 to a 2005 version of OpenOffice.org is not so fair, but so it goes...

Open Document standards are such a good thing for so many reasons. The world would literally be a better place without proprietary document formats (especially Microsoft's because they seem to go out of their way to make their document formats incompatible and difficult to work with).

I think that one "killer application" of open document formats will be web based content management systems. Last year I designed and wrote a web based CMS system and dealing with Microsoft Document formats was a pain until my customer licensed dtSearch which handles a variety of document formats. For "rolling your own" support for handling a variety of document formats, see my DevX article last month on Lucene that included support for indexing and searching Microsoft, OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, etc. I also have support for this in my KBtextmaster open source project.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Strange advantages of using Windows XP

Because my new PC is so very much faster than my old dual G4 Mac, I find myself using the PC - go figure. Although OS X is clearly the better 'user experience', and better I would argue for general software development, there are a few programs that I am now enjoying under Windows XP: The Triple20 Semantic web tool available at the Swi-Prolog web site and Google's Desktop Search.

The one thing that I would like to get for Windows XP is a better command window utility. When working, my approximate work breakdown is:
  • IntelliJ - 50% (includes occasional use of Eclipse and Netbeans)
  • xterm or command window - 25%
  • FireFox - 15%
  • OpenOffice.org - 10%
All is well, except for the command window. I would like to buy an alternative command window shell - I use bash from cygwin, but I would like something better.