Digital Disobedience


I am helping to organize and host an event called Digital Disobedience on cyberactivism and culture jamming this Friday with Harvard Free Culture. The event will explore the interplay between technology, activism, and cultural critique. Here are the details if you are local to Cambridge/Boston and would like to drop by:

Digital Disobedience
Cyberactivism and Culture Jamming
Friday, December 1, 18:00
Science Center 110, Harvard University

The event will feature talks by:

The format will be interactive with short presentations from the speakers and then break-out groups to discuss thoughts and questions with the presenters. A few people have voiced a desire to do some culture jamming of our own afterward. My birthday is the next day so maybe we can have that turn into a little bit of a celebration.

iRony RockBox Installer

In my blog post yesterday I described iRony, an install party I helped organize for iPods. In the post, I pointed folks to some resources for holding similar parties.

To help with mass installs at our party, I wrote a simple installer for RockBox in Python that would run on GNU/Linux. With a few modifications, the script could be relatively easily converted to also run on Mac OS X.

While an unofficial installer exists for Windows, my installer, simply called the iRony RockBox Installer, seems to be the first installer for GNU/Linux.

Of course, the installer is still largely rough and untested and is definitely unsupported by the RockBox team. If you get around to trying it, please send me feedback, advice, or and patches. You can grab it (and future version) here:

iPod Liberation!

About a month ago, I announced an iPod liberation party (i.e., an install-fest for free/open source software onto iPods). The summary, now several weeks after the fact, was that the party was a total success. More than fifty people attended and several dozens iPods were liberated. Pictures and information on the event are now online.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been polishing a RockBox installer that I wrote for the event, writing up an article published on NewsForge today, and documenting the process for those that want to hold their own similar events.

If you are unconvinced on the subject of iPod liberation, read the NewsForge article written with others from my research group and Harvard Free Culture. Most of the rest of the information on our party and information on throwing your own party exists in sub-pages from the iPod Liberation page in the Free Culture wiki.

I’m looking forward to seeing a whole string of similar parties run by LUGs and other interested groups. It’s a great way to get out a message about software freedom, DRM and about freedom on devices other than computers.

Software Freedom Curriculum

About a year ago, I was working on OLPC during most of the time and thinking a lot about software freedom in the context of the project. My blog post on OLPC and Charges of Technological and Cultural Imperialism from last December is a great example of my thinking out loud about some of the issues.

The attractive thing to me about OLPC was the idea of students getting a real, free software, free hardware, truly open platform unlike phones, calculators, and eBooks: closed paternalist platforms that seem to be the only real alternatives. This is a goal that OLPC has not achieved yet but has already come quite close to.

People say that because modifying technology is often difficult, only a small percentage of users — especially young users — will take advantage of the malleability or "hackability" of a product. They are probably right. But part of why this happens is because when computers are employed in education, we use them as tools to accomplish predefined and preprogrammed tasks. Even when students learn to program, it’s in a window (quite literally in a box) separate from the rest of the things that the computer does.

And for someone working on a project in part so that they can spread technological freedom, this is a problem. Consider the fact that with only a small number of exceptions, the only advocates of software freedom I know are programmers or hackers. I don’t think that this is because of some "programmer’s sensibility" but rather because programmers understand a set of things about the malleability of software and the nature, effect, and context of computation that gives them perspective to understand how a concept like freedom might apply to something like software. In other words, to understand software freedom, you must first understand — really understand — what software is and what it is not, how it makes things possible and impossible, and how changing it can have important effects.

The mentality I’ve described is currently a "hacker’s sensibility" but I don’t believe that you need to be a hacker to understand why software freedom is important. Proof, I think, is the fact that people think that a free press is important even if they don’t publish or write very well.

As an exercise, I took it on myself to write the beginning of a curriculum that teachers could use to teach students about software freedom and the concepts that I think are key to understanding it. It tries to come up with models for framing discussions and a series of activities to help teachers teach relatively young (i.e., middle school students) about issues of computation, information goods, and ultimately about software freedom.

I wrote the curriculum about a year ago, showed it to a few teachers and colleagues, and then sat on it because I wasn’t sure what to do with it and because I was concerned by my own lack of experience teaching outside of Universities. I’m still not entirely sure about incredibly basic things like what form a curriculum should take for this age group.

I noticed recently that Wikiversity launched in August and it seems like the perfect place to put my curriculum for consumption by the world and for collaboration, discussion, and further development. You can see what I’ve got from this page and the pages linked from it:

The project still needs lots of work. It needs to be threshed out on its own terms and it needs to be broken down and integrated into Wikiversity as a series of learning projects, learning activities, etc. I’ve looked at the documentation around Wikiversity and I can neither understand how to do this nor find examples of large curricula in Wikiversity to which this has already been done. If you have experience on Wikiversity, your help would be welcome.

If you are interested in using part of the curriculum, I would love to hear from you and to see your edits on the wiki.

The Official Ubuntu Book

Any Day Now, The Official Ubuntu Book will show up in stores. I have a rubber-banded-together copy of the folded and gathered sheets and the the first batch of books should be bound (or being bound) right now. Those who have pre-ordered it from Amazon or elsewhere should have it in their hands quickly.

In addition to my own name on the author page is (future Ubuntu Community Manager) Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, and Ivan Krstić. Many more members of the Ubuntu community and many editors at Prentice Hall deserve credit as well.

I’m proud of the book. I sense that it’s more consistent, better organized, and of a higher overall quality than my last book. Even better though, is the fact that the book is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Several chapters are already being shipped by default on the Ubuntu desktop and several translations are underway.

You can read more about the book on the publishers site and order it from any number of places online. Books under such licenses are economically risky for publishers so please support the project by buying it if you end up finding the text useful!


My friends Marcell and Tomislav organized a show called System.hack() that aimed to highlight many of the last half-centuries greatest "hacks" as a means of celebrating the hacks themselves while exposing them, and the idea of hacking and hackers, to a larger audience.

As part of their show, I procured an original circa-1960’s Cap’n Crunch whistle (the one that emits 2600 Hz when one hole is covered) and wrote a short essay for a book published along with the show. You’ll have to track down Tomi and Marcell in Zagreb if you want to find my whistle but you can read about the hack in either English or Croatian on the exhibit’s wiki. You should also check out the whole System.hack() wiki because there’s some other good stuff up there from other contributors.

Defining Free Content and Expression

(This is mostly reposted from an Advogato article I just submitted).

About a year ago, I posted an article on Advogato entitled, Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software Movement. In it, I argued that Creative Commons and the free culture movement were struggling to build a cohesive freedom movement in the way that free and open source software had succeeded in doing by never stopping to define the ground rules of the commons movement.

I argued that Free Software built a movement around calls for essential freedoms and against the actions of software producers who failed to live up to this standard. On the other hand, Creative Commons has argued for "some rights reserved" but never explained which rights were unreservable. In the process, they’ve done the invaluable service of creating a stable of powerful, internationalized licenses. But they failed to build the type social movement that some of us wanted. While this was never their goal, it left some people unsatisfied.

In a later version of the essay published in Mute Magazine, I concluded by stating:

Whether in unison or cooperating in separate groups, it is time for those those of us that feel strongly about freedom to discuss, decide, and move forward with our own free information movement built upon a standard of freedom. When we have defined free information in terms of essential freedoms, a subset of Creative Commons works and a subset of Creative Commons licenses will provide tools and texts through which a social movement can be built.

I’m thrilled to say that that day is now within sight.

A few weeks ago, Larry Lessig introduced me to Erik Möller, a Wikipedian who had read my article and was planning on launching the same project that I had been planning. It only seemed sensible to collaborate.

Today, we have launched a draft of a Free Content and Expression Definition online at The website is a wiki and we welcome feedback, suggestions, and alternative versions of the document.

So far, we’ve have decided to stick closely to the freedoms of free software but are actively interested in updating these to be more relevant for other types of creative works. Of course, anything, even the name, can be changed at this point.

To guide us through the project of debating and further refining a definition are four moderators who will ultimately be called upon to resolve disputes and disagreements about what the definition should and will say. These moderators are myself, Erik Möller, Creative Commons General Counsel Mia Garlick, and Wikimedia Foundation Trustee Angela Beesley.

You can view the announcement of the definition, please take a look at:

To view the definition itself, please visit:


Authors who name their software using a one-word combination of the language the software is written in followed by a word that describes functionality are advertising their own unoriginality. Such names are slightly more acceptable when describing libraries where the language might actually matter.

Then again, I might just be trying to rationalize RubyVote. RubyVote, of course, is the very descriptive, accurate, and uninspired name of a new election methods library I’ve just written and released in on RubyForge. Here’s the short description:

An election methods and voting systems library written in Ruby. It provides a simple, consistent and well documented interface to a number of preferential, positional, and traditional election and voting methods.

Yes. Condorcet and Cloneproof-SSD are supported.

The homepage and project pages, both of which are also descriptive, accurate, and uninspired, can be found here:

The software is distributed under the GNU GPL.

No Price Is Too Much

This article from Access North Georgia’s Newsroom describes how there is a investigation in Cobb County into allegations that, "the bidding process for the 100 million dollar laptop program was slanted in favor of apple."

Making a laptop for 100 million dollar hardly seems that difficult. Some of us are more ambitious.

If you haven’t seen it, the first demo of the laptop was unveiled in Tunis and is totally green. Congratulations to everyone else who put in long days (and nights) on making this demo shine.

The Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 Bible

So, I suppose it deserves mentioning here with my other projects. I recently helped write a book and the finish product ended up with my name on the top. The book seems to be selling quite well and has received good reviews so far. It’s been in stores for over a month but I first saw it a couple days ago. It looks nice!

The book was a very collaborative effort and the real credit goes to all of other great folks who helped out with the writing, editing, and tech review. I wrote a few chapters and chunks and then acted a sort of conductor for most of the homestretch. Within the Debian community, the list of contributors included David Harris, Jaldhar Vyas, John Goerzen, and Micah Anderson. Jim Keogh and Kurt Wall also contributed chapters. Many editors, Sara Shlaer in particular, helped immensely.

The book is designed as an introduction to Debian and would be most appropriate for users with no Debian experience and even for folks that have never used GNU/Linux at all. That said, I learned things reading the other authors’ chapters and have no trouble recommending it to more technical users.

You can buy the book at any number of places online.

To Fork Or Not To Fork: Lessons From Ubuntu and Debian

At LinuxTag, Libre Software Meeting and What The Hack, I gave different versions of a developer-oriented talk on the way that Ubuntu is developed and the reason folks from a wide range of different Free Software projects might be able to learn something from it. I will export and post the slides and notes for those talks in one big lump at some point in the next week.

However, the best way for those that missed the talks to get informed on the issue may be to read the article titled To Fork Or Not To Fork: Lessons From Ubuntu and Debian (the same as the talks) which was published in the LinuxTag conference proceedings.

In the essay I explore the experience of the Ubuntu project in building a distro on top of Debian. I argue that the scale of certain free software projects are forcing developers toward a new kind of forking using technologies like distributed version control and host of other technical and social tools and processes and look at some of the early successes and failures of Ubuntu in this regard. I also describes some of the techniques in question and argue for the techniques’ applicability and importance in a wide range of free software projects.

If others think it’s a good idea and if I can find somewhere appropriate, I may be interested in publishing a version this article in a magazine or journal. If you know of a place where this article might be welcomed, please contact me.

You can can currently pull the article down in the following formats:


I received an email last week with the subject, "woops…attached this time," and decided that enough was enough. How many times I have read (or written) emails referencing the file "attached below" that is nowhere to be found.

I’ve heard people joke about creating a program that would remind people to actually attach their attachments but Googling only came up with two Outlook specific scripts. So I wrote one myself.

The only tough problems are interface issues. Since I send through Mutt, I figured the best, least invasive, and least MUA-specific way to set it up was a MTA wrapper that could fail and spit out warnings on STDERR (which Mutt and most MUAs will then show you) when the program expects attachments but find them missing.

The user then needs the ability to either confirm that they really want to send the message sans attachment or they need to go add their forgotten file. The former example is the tricky one from an interface perpsective. Since you can’t depend on being able to ask "Y/N", the program currently looks either for an added header or a CONFIRM command in the subject that it will then strip out before actually sending. This should make it work with just about anything that sends mail using /usr/sbin/sendmail.

At the moment, the program is smart enough to ignore attached PGP signatures but not smart enough to understand any languages other than English (and a super limited vocabulary at that). Patches and suggestions are welcome.

You can grab the script and the necessary Mutt configuration to make it painless at this little web page I put up for it here:

Unhappy Birthday

Because a birthday that involves copyright infringement is an Unhappy Birthday…

In a fit of copyright high-protectionist fervor, I whipped up Unhappy Birthday last night. Many thanks to Seth Schoen who helped save me from my own atrocious spelling, grammar, and thinkos.

The site is a commentary on the fact that the song Happy Birthday To You is under an actively enforced copyright held by Time Warner. This site gives folks the tools and information they need to report unauthorized public performances of that work wherever they may occur.

If educating people and upholding the principle of copyright means risking a DoS of ASCAP’s licensing enforcement infrastructure, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Please join me and spread the word! Unhappy Birthday is more fun when more people play.

The site is online at:


The Gates is a massive art installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park, New York City. It’s only going to last for a little over two weeks. As a result, Central Park has been packed. Most of the people packing the park have come with cameras in hand.

Today, Mika and I went to visit central park to see it under some freshly fallen snow. Rather than take pictures of the gates, which everybody does, we decided to (sneakily) take pictures of the people taking pictures of the gates.

We’re calling the resulting photo-documentary Picturesque: Picture of Pictures of the Gates.

Many people are worried about the nasty privacy implications — realized and potential — of supermarket and chain store "loyalty" cards. As RFID chips are introduced, things get even more scary.

In an attempt to attack supermarkets’ data-mining operation and to gain a new shopping identity in the process, many people have taken to swapping cards with each other. Over the last few years, I’ve been among these people.

A couple years ago, a few friends and I came up with the idea of creating a sort of online loyalty card swap-meet where people could come and exchange their supermarket or chain-store loyalty cards with total strangers from the privacy of their own homes. Some other people have arranged to swap numbers for particular stores but our idea was to swap the actual cards from any store that uses a card. We actually built most of it but got hung up at the last minute on a couple of details and with writing some of the explanatory text.

Last night, I made the final push and finished the code and set everything up and seeded the database with the lists of as many supermarkets that I know use loyalty cards as listed on CASPIAN’s supermarket list.

If you’ve got an extra card (and maybe if you don’t), go ahead and sign up to swap! This is one of those things that works better when more people do it so tell your friends and spread the word.

Information and the card-swapping apparatus is all online at: