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Five things I plan to do in 2007

This is sort of a New Year's resolution... In no particular order:

  1. Write a book.
  2. Learn at least one new programming language.
  3. Donate money to (or become member of) either the EFF, the FSF, the CCC, or another similarly important organization.
  4. Make use of my rights as a citizen and write letters to elected politicians, urging them to promote certain topics/issues/laws (privacy, democracy, transparency) and to combat others (software patents, voting computers, data retention, mass surveillance and lots more comes to mind).
  5. Work on and support selected Free Software projects in my spare time, especially projects which are of a greater importance to the Free Software movement (or the Free Culture movement; or freedom; or privacy; or anonymity; or democracy) than the 158th IRC client or the 276th tetris clone. Some examples: LinuxBIOS, Nouveau, Tor, Gnash, and Democracy Player to name just a few projects. General motto: Choose your battles!

Oh, and one more thing: Do the most important duty as a citizen of any democratic country — help to save democracy by killing voting computers.

Yeah, so that makes six things I plan to do in 2007. Sue me.

Donations for a good cause

You still got some money left after buying all those Christmas presents? How about donating some of it for a good cause:

  • Wikipedia

    Wikipedia is entering 2007 as one of the 10 most visited websites in the world. That's a great proof of our success. However, with this success comes a new set of challenges and responsibilities. As we plan for the future of Wikipedia and all of the Wikimedia projects, our two most important goals now are the reliability of our content and the long-term sustainability of every project in which we are involved.

    To meet these goals we have a lot of work to do, so I am asking for your help. In the coming year, the Wikimedia Foundation anticipates dramatically increasing spending to keep up with server and traffic capacity demands, add new staff on the organizational level, improve our software and develop methods to better ensure high quality content, all while making progress toward our goal of giving free knowledge to everyone.

    -- Florence Devouard, Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation

  • Creative Commons

    It's once again time to show your support for Creative Commons. Digital technologies are connecting people in ways that were never before possible – but that network is fragile. Creative Commons needs your support to help enable a participatory culture – a culture in which everyone can actively engage in the creativity that surrounds us. We need your support to assure access to cultural, scientific, and educational content that has been pre-cleared for use by its authors.

  • Free Software Foundation (FSF)

    Freedom is more precious than anything else we have and we need to protect it while we still can.

    -- Eben Moglen in his FSF year end video appeal (OGG, 24 MB)

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

    EFF is a nonprofit group of passionate people — lawyers, technologists, volunteers, and visionaries — working to protect your digital rights.

  • Tor: anonymity online

    Tor is a toolset for a wide range of organizations and people that want to improve their safety and security on the Internet. Using Tor can help you anonymize web browsing and publishing, instant messaging, IRC, SSH, and other applications that use the TCP protocol. Tor also provides a platform on which software developers can build new applications with built-in anonymity, safety, and privacy features.

Or how about some organizations not directly related to Free Culture or Free Software?

  • Amnesty International (AI)

    Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights. AI’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

  • Red Cross

    The International Red Cross (and Red Crescent Movement) is an international humanitarian movement whose stated mission is to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for the human being, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering, without any discrimination based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

Free Ryzom Campaign now supported by the FSF [Update]

The Free Ryzom Campaign that I have mentioned earlier is now officially supported by the Free Software Foundation with a donation pledge of $60.000 (which now makes a total of ca. 134.000 Euros together with the contributions by many other people).

The Free Ryzom campaign was established to purchase the online game and universe known as Ryzom, property of the now bankrupt Nevrax company, and release the entire game as free software.

As stated by Peter T. Brown, Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation, the FSF considers the Free Ryzom campaign "a high priority project for the free software movement". The aim of the campaign is to publish the source code to the entire game under the terms of the
widely-used GPL, as well as publishing all of the artwork and other content under similar free licenses.

The Free Ryzom campaign represents a unique opportunity for the free software movement and the emerging free gaming field. A fully free MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) engine and client/server architecture would allow the development of a myriad of universes, each one evolving its own philosophy and unique content - but sharing in general technical improvements. If successful, this campaign would allow any user to create their own universe and produce their own content based on the Ryzom/Nevrax architecture.

The new goal is now to reach 200.000 Euros in order to increase chances to convince the judge to choose the Free Ryzom project as the new owner of the code and game data.

Pledges must be made within the next few days, since the deadline for the final bid is expected sometime before Wednesday, December 19th, depending on when the judges make their decision.

Good luck to the project!

Update 2006-12-14: Fix the numbers (Euro vs. Dollar messup). Thanks Ward Vandewege!

FSF/UNESCO Free Software Directory

It's strange that the FSF/UNESCO Free Software Directory project has managed to remain hidden from my eye until today...

The Free Software Directory is a project of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). We catalog useful free software that runs under free operating systems — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants.

The main difference to similar software directories (Freshmeat, SourceForge, ...) is that "licenses are verified for each and every program listed in this directory", which is a good thing.

If you've got too much time on your hands, here's an idea how to get rid of it and at the same time help the Free Software community...

Help prevent software patents! Again!

Speak up on Software Patents

Oh great, the software patent debate is back.

After a long and disgusting campaign where pro-software-patents lobbyists employed all kinds of semi-legal and undemocratic filthy tricks in order to introduce software patents in the EU behind our backs, the European Parliament decided by a large majority to reject the directive "on the patentability of computer implemented inventions" (a.k.a. software patents) in July 2005. Rightly so.

It is beyond my imagination how a certain pro-software-patents commissioner (Charlie McCreevy) dares to restart the whole debate after such a clear defeat.

Consultation and "public hearing"

He has organized a "Consultation and public hearing on future patent policy in Europe" which pretends to collect your views on the software patent issue (which he's trying to introduce through the "Community Patent" backdoor).

Alas, the "questionnaire" is inaccessible (it's only available in 5 languages, instead of all 25 (+2) languages of the EU member states), biased towards software patents, very obfuscated and unreadable for the general public. There's no independent working group which conducts or oversees the consultation, no independent studies and reading materials, no mentions of the negative implications of software patents, no public debate, nothing. Now, who would have expected that?

The FSF Europe has published a response to the Patent Consultation Questionnaire, which highlights many of the problems.

Similarly, the FFII has questioned the validity of the consultation procedure, and gives a very detailed explanation of all the serious flaws of the process.

What can I do?

  • First things first: the DEADLINE for answering the questionnaire and expressing your views is April 12, 2006!
  • Answer the questionnaire! The FFII has prepared a short How to answer guide which you can use as a basis for your answer (per email, snail mail, or fax).
  • Raise your concerns about the validity of the consultation process!
  • Write your MEPs! Tell them what you think.
  • Spread the word! I'm under the impression most people don't even know about this issue, yet!
  • Put up banners. I know you all like pretty banners ;-)

Software patents suck (in case you didn't already know)

Let me quote Donald Knuth on this:

I strongly believe that the recent trend in patenting algorithms is of benefit only to a very small number of attorneys and inventors, while it is seriously harmful to the vast majority of people who want to do useful things with computers.

(via MJ Ray)

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