Older blog entries for slef (starting at number 872)

Co-operatives Fortnight, an interview with me!

For Co-operatives Fortnight this year (finished 7 July I think), I was a guest on the CyberUnions show. It was titled “This is What Democracy Looks Like in a Workplace” and you can download it as a podcast from http://s.coop/q1af

Because it’s an interview, it’s not a comprehensive introduction to co-ops or free software businesses: more like some highlights around topics that interested the trade union activists who present the show. There’s at least two points where chunks of the call seem to have been replaced by road noise (not from my microphone!). The web page for the show does fill in the gaps, give people a chance to comment and ask more, of course.

As mentioned at the end of the show, we recorded it using jitsi, which uses XMPP (Jabber) to connect the calls. It seems OK, but I’m more familiar with the SIP-based linphone which now does conference calling. If anyone has tips on how to get better sound quality from jitsi recordings, I’m sure they’d love to know. We could only get jitsi to record mp3 files and there didn’t seem an easy way for each participant to record only their own microphone, which is better for later editing.

Take a listen and ask on the show notes if you’ve any questions, please. Also, maybe you’ll have some questions for the union activists, or would like to suggest a guest they could interview about creating radical social change?

Syndicated 2012-07-13 05:14:16 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Bibliohack London

Well this isn’t Edinburgh. This is London calling. More from kohacon later.


Today I was at OKFN’s bibliohack . There were several interesting projects there and it was a good opportunity to get back into coding, metadata and APIs after thinking about conference practicalities for too long.

BibSoup and its biblioserver software was my chosen hack. I didn’t really make the most of it because I had to workaround broken wifi drivers that I hadn’t noticed before, and I had to fix a broken java install that I did know about. BibSoup is mostly python and I think web.py, but it uses elasticsearch which is java. Oh and it’s python 2.7 with virtualenv which is, erm, entertaining to get working on debian 6.0, as far as I can tell: I installed python2.7 from testing, backport python-virtualenv and I don’t think anything broke.

The approach to a hackfest was very different to kohacon’s. Whereas people at kohacon hackfest were gathered around tables, moving to the talks table(s) when there was a talk they wanted, bibliohack started off classroom-style and didn’t gather into workgroups until after coffee. The so-called “non-coders” were shunted off elsewhere after the welcome to do I-don’t-know-what (maybe Library Co-op will write about it) and weren’t seen again until the day’s end.

There were some nudging comments about being able to hack late into the night, which I’m not sure is healthy if you’ve done a full day. I left feeling a bit unsettled and disconnected from reality, although I got what I wanted from it – playing with some new tech that we can maybe do good things with: thanks OKFN!

Syndicated 2012-06-13 19:07:08 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

I’m going to kohacon12

Probably by the time you read this, I’ll be on the road to kohacon12. It’s been a fun week or so with the final arrangements on top of our other planned work and some unexpected work too, but I think we’ve done enough and it will all come together. (There are still a few places left if you’d like to register, but not lots.)

The most nerve-wracking bit has been the sponsorship. Kohacons are free to attend and funded entirely by sponsors, which is great in so many ways. It’s a bit scary for the host organisation(s), but I think the community has helped so much that it’ll break even. We won’t know for sure until the final reckoning in a month or so. One unneeded worry was Paypal freezing our account for a couple of weeks and sending us contradictory and absurd demands for information. Why isn’t there an easier way to get money out of the USA (and Australia and NZ, actually) that isn’t either slow (cheques) or expensive (wire)? Once again, I’m left feeling that banks are being a big problem for business.

The best bit has been the spirit of the volunteers. Our co-op couldn’t have done this without them. Some of them have gone a really long way to help – metaphorically, bailing us out while Paypal was chewing up our time, and sometimes physically, flying around the world… I’ll be raising a glass to all of them, whether they’re in Edinburgh or not.

So, next update should be from Edinburgh!

Syndicated 2012-06-04 04:59:27 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

DLT is better than CAPTCHA

Stop using CAPTCHAs. It’s time to switch to DLT: Design, Limit and Trapdoor.

“[a certain website] has the evil bad wrong Google reCaptcha on the edit page to stop disabled users, so screw it. Google’s reCaptcha seems to be spreading again, obstructing more people when accessing more websites. Is there a reason for that? The re in reCaptcha stands for replace with real anti-spam, please!

I wrote the above about two years ago and it’s not getting any better. I’ve written similar things over the last ten years, as have many others, and I’ve always sought to avoid using physical ability tests as a way to cut down spammers.

Why do people keep reaching for the reCaptcha non-captcha or things that use similar bad eyetests like Mollom? So most online messages may be spam, but those physical ability tests do nothing to test for spam. They’re trying to detect computer submissions (the TCHA in CAPTCHA is meant to be Telling Computers and Humans Apart), but that’s really bad when the computer is helping someone with a disability to access the internet.

People from the home of the CAPTCHA describe access for sight and hearing-impaired users as “an important open problem for the project” (Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum and John Langford. Telling Humans and Computers Apart Automatically. In Communications of the ACM). Until that problem is closed, CAPTCHAs should be considered defective and removed whenever possible.

What webmasters should do instead is DLT:

  1. Design it well: Set up sites so the spammers cannot get a quick win in the first place. Configure permissions and things like that so people have to do some work before they are trusted to post links. This is similar to the basic theory behind my Open Activism paper Fighting in the Shadows. This is much easier to do if the system is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), too.
  2. Limit the damage: include rate limits to stop one person causing you lots of work: even with computer-assistance, few people need to post 10 forum messages every minute. Join up in co-operative anti-spam networks like blogspam.net so if they hurt you, others can see them coming. Again, it’s easier to hook into a network if you’re using FOSS.
  3. Trapdoor: keep a way for people to contact you if they are really blocked by your design decisions and limitation and keep a way to exempt them from the limits if needed. Make it welcoming because disabled users are tired of reporting barriers to webmasters who don’t care and will never fix the web. A good multi-step eyetest-free contact form is a basic way to do this.

Have you tried this? Have your experiences been as good as our co-op’s? Are there sites you don’t think it would work for? A comments form is on the original of this article, as ever.

Syndicated 2012-04-10 05:18:52 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Debian Project Leader Election 2012

Voting is open in the Debian Project Leader Elections 2012

So now I need to figure out who to vote for. This year I didn’t take part in the discussions (all my spare time was bought, basically). The platforms are linked from the Debian Project Leader Elections 2012 page above and the key discussions were:

Thanks to everyone who asked these great questions. So, what do you think?

Syndicated 2012-04-05 10:21:39 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Signed the PDFreaders Petition

We, the undersigned, hereby state that we expressly and unequivocally oppose the advertising of proprietary software products on government websites.

Such advertising breaches impartiality and encourages citizens to employ technologies that unnecessarily restrict their freedom. The role of government is not to support certain market participants and not others, particularly when doing so works to maintain the monopolies of global software companies.

In explanations of how to use digital resources that they provide, government agencies should clarify that multiple methods are available, and favour technologies which do not restrict users’ digital rights; by linking to PDFreaders.org, for example.

Free Software guarantees the users right to use (for any purpose), study (without secrets), share (with anyone), and improve the software that they use. Public institutions should publish their documents in formats that can be read with Free Software. Indeed, many Free Software applications exist for reading such documents. Governments should lead citizens to freedom, and encourage them to make use of these applications.


Our co-op and 56 other businesses, 69 organisations and over 2200 individuals so far.

How about adding your signature? Surely it’s time for our governments to stop giving free adverts to Adobe? It was particularly annoying in the Digital Britain report, I thought.

Syndicated 2012-02-24 00:43:34 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Food Co-ops in Bristol

A previous conferenceLast week I went along to the food co-ops networking event at the Southville Centre in Bristol. It was a useful event and very inspiring and informative to meet people from so many other co-ops, as well as attend some useful workshops: the two I went to were Good meetings and communication and Starting and developing a food co-op, while there were also ones on funding and Simply Legal available.

There was some time for networking, as well as a relaxed end to the day which let me catch up with a few more people. I would have preferred a little more time for the workshops and a little less on case studies (every food co-op is different and I don’t think any of the featured ones were quite what I was looking for), but that’s a very minor thing and didn’t really reduce the usefulness of the whole day.

Our co-op is a tech worker co-op and not a food co-op, so I didn’t know that much about how to start one before the event. Now I’ve got a much better idea of what I need to do when I eventually move back out to what may be a co-op desert in King’s Lynn.

Are you a member of a food co-op or buying group? If so, what would you say about it? Were you involved in its start-up?

Syndicated 2012-02-15 01:01:25 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Comments with OpenID

Readers who look at our blog itself (rather than one of the lovely sites that reprint our articles) may have noticed that you can now comment in either the usual WordPress way (Name/Email/Link) or by logging in with a social media profile from one of a large range of providers, including WordPress, Livejournal, Yahoo, Google and many more.

This uses the broadly-cooperative openID system. If you run a website that accepts reader contributions, you should allow comments with openid because it helps people to use their existing social media membership without you having to surrender any control to facebook, twitter, or anyone else (unless you choose to). You also don’t have to ask your readers to weaken their security settings like with disqus (which requires javascript and third-party cookies).

The comment form on our site is powered by the openid plugin, together with our co-op’s version of the comments-with-openid plugin which can be downloaded from our site. Please download them if you’d find them useful for your WordPress site. (I’d love to adopt the official comments-with-openid at wordpress.org because the previous maintainer doesn’t answer – anyone know how to do that? I’m surprised it’s not in the FAQ.)

Do you use some other platform? What tools have let you add openid logins to it? For example, Drupal has some openID support in its core distribution: what else is out there?

Syndicated 2012-02-10 01:08:10 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

SPI Feb 2012

Software in the Public Interest, the mass-membership association that supports some great Free and Open Source Software projects, will hold a public board of directors meeting today, Thursday 9th February 2012 at 21:00 UTC. The day and time of SPI meetings has changed recently, so maybe different people can get to them now.

They’re held online, on irc.spi-inc.org (the OFTC network). The agenda for the meeting is open and available at http://www.spi-inc.org/meetings/agendas/2012/2012-02-09/ and there’s been a bit of discussion of back office support on the SPI email list.

I’ll link to a meeting summary from the comments in this blog post after it happens.

Syndicated 2012-02-09 01:47:32 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

Stop ACTA Marches Map

Further to last week’s blog post that mentioned this Saturday’s (11 Feb) London Stop ACTA march, there’s a map of anti-ACTA marches on Google’s website (thanks to Martin Houston for the link).

There’s also been a new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement factsheet from European Digital RIghts (EDRI), as apparently there are a lot of misconceptions about ACTA. I don’t feel that has been helped by some spectacular misdirection from the European Commission in its latest “10 Myths” paper (linked from the EDRI factsheet) which is almost as interesting for what it doesn’t mention (like sneaking ACTA through the parliament fisheries committee), what it misunderstands (like the near-uselessness of a non-commercial exemption to Free and Open Source Software or Creative Commons users), and the way it fails to rebut the final point that ACTA was done this way to avoid the oversight of the World Trade Organisation! I mean, if they can’t even get it past the usually very pro-enforcement WTO, surely that should tell you something?

If you can, would you please go along and join your nearest march? Recent marchers seem to have been wearing stylised Guy Fawkes masks, but how would that be viewed in London?

Syndicated 2012-02-07 00:11:21 from Software Cooperative News » mjr

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