A New Easter Tradition

The Water Of LifeWhen the children were small, Easter eggs were a repeat of the excitement of Christmas. But now they are adults, I’ve decided we need a new Easter tradition that’s safer than all that sugar and more authentic than eggs.

There are two data points I’ve considered. First there’s the evidence of Dr Robert Lustig’s research on the effects of sugar. You can watch the video (which is probably the most important hour of video I have watched recently) but the relevant advice in this context is to treat sugar as if it were alcohol – in moderation and knowing it will harm you otherwise.  Second, the Gaelic expression for “water of life” is uisge beatha, which has given us the English word whisky.

Joining these together, it does no more harm to drink whisky than to eat chocolate; in fact, since it’s easier to detect the effects of whisky on your body, it may well be safer than chocolate. Whisky is also sufficiently symbolic of the message of new life at Easter to make an ideal token. As a consequence, I’ve decided on a new tradition for the adults in our extended household who consent. Instead of chocolate eggs, they each have 200ml bottles of single malt whisky.

This year it’s Caol Ila, and we’ll be toasting new life with the water of life a little later. Happy Easter!

Migration Needs A Plan

Homeward BoundHave you ever thought of migrating your company to an open source desktop productivity suite? You don’t switch just to save on license fees; think that way and the differences in the replacement package – which can never be a drop-in replacement – will kill your migration like they did Freiburg’s.

While the saving on Microsoft license costs seems like the biggest motivation, actually the most important outcome is changing everyone’s behaviour. Among the goals of this change are reducing the rate of change in the tools and file formats and thus making documents accessible for the longest time and ensuring that the features in use across your company’s ecosystem are as interoperable as possible. One simple but big win is to get people to stop distributing editable document versions of any format. open or not. Hybrid PDFs are the first step to freedom.

With that reduced rate of change and a cross-platform interoperability that allows use of Linux, Mac and Windows, flexibility is enhanced and you’re given much more control over your IT environment as a result. It’s important to invest rather than skimp on the migration; the cost savings come later as the flexibility takes effect

Achieving these outcomes can only happen with planning and purposefulness. Continuing their practice of creating resources and “letting the work do the talking” The Document Foundation issued a white paper explaining how to conduct a successful migration. I’ve read through it and summarised it for you in my InfoWorld column this week, along with a few tips of my own.

TDF naturally use LibreOffice as the open source suite to install, but other open source alternatives work just as well with the same ideas. Hopefully the paper will evolve as the community adds its experience – it’s a hybrid PDF after all, anyone can edit it and this would make a great focus for the cross-community collaboration some folk are calling for.

Tina Dico at Union Chapel

Tina Dico at Union Chapel, originally uploaded by webmink.

We had an evening out last night in London at Union Chapel, an excellent venue for acoustic gigs. We saw & heard Tina Dico, who has a wonderful voice and writes strong, reflective songs.

Reader Reminder

My Infoworld Open Sources article for this week is now live. It takes the demise of Google Reader as a reminder that without open source software processing open standards, we have no freedom to “rehost and carry on”.

Leveson Collateral Damage

Now I am clearer on the details of the press hacking regulation that’s being railroaded through the UK Parliament, I just sent this to my MP.  Feel free to borrow from it.

Dear $MP,

I’m one of your constituents ($postcode), as well as being a pro bono director of Open Rights Group and a writer on digital rights issues.

I am extremely concerned about the way the Leveson response is being railroaded through Parliament. I see all the main decisions have been made without Parliamentary scrutiny and are about to be introduced with a nod & wink in the Crime & Courts Bill discussion in the Lords on Monday (see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0137/amend/pbc1371803m.pdf). I’m contacting you directly as time is very short for you to act by expressing concern over the lack of due process and the risk of collateral damage.

I’ve discussed this with my colleagues both in my own consulting practice and at ORG. We believe that serious conceptual flaws exist in the language of the amendments, and that unwittingly the Leveson responses – nominally targetting large media corporations – will end up introducing new rules that regulate internet publishing by much smaller entities which were never targetted by Leveson.

As an example, Apple could use these new provisions to chill disclosure of newsworthy product leaks such as http://www.macrumors.com/2011/12/26/2011-biggest-apple-product-leaks/. A company like Monsanto could use them to discourage public criticism of its strategies. Energy companies could use them to threaten and chill coverage of climate change. Perhaps even whalers could use them to silence Greenpeace supporters.

From reading amendment NC29, pretty much any web site with adverts or run by someone with a consulting activity could be construed as “in the course of a business” and many bloggers have guests, co-writers and translations that plausibly qualify as “written by different authors”. It’s entirely feasible that a corporation could threaten litigation under these measures to chill discourse. Amendment NS5 offers no comfort.

These corporate repurposers don’t have to be right, and it doesn’t even need to go to court to have a chilling effect. With such high stakes, most of us would just fold rather than risk such enormous penalties. As drafted, the amendments create new weapons for corporate litigants that worry me and others greatly.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but the whole response is being railroaded by very narrowly-focussed non-experts with no concern for the collateral damage they are doing. The last time I recall this sort of panic – over the Terrorism Act Section 44 which started out as “preventing terrorism” – we ended up with “random stop-and-search powers being exercised by the Met on any motorist they felt like bothering”.

Please can you consider the matter and if you agrees urgently express my concerns? I am available for discussion by phone.

Update: ORG now has an easy form to help you write to both your MP and the party leaders.

Demand A Proper Consultation

The UK’s Home Office continues to push for maximum surveillance powers with minimum accountability in the latest adjustments to the Communications Data Bill. I decided to find out just how much consultation with non-corporates there had been before the Bill was introduced originally.

See the FOI request I placed and the response I received – there were a total of four, and no meetings worth keeping records of the content were held.  Although the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee said consultation with civil society organisations was needed, by all accounts the meetings since then have been worthless too, with just notification and talk rather than true consultation. One small note for any BCS members listening to their claims they represent you; they are not listed in the response.

Open Rights Group now has a form for citizens to ask for a proper consultation to be held. They would welcome both individuals and organisations completing the form to show demand for a proper consultation.

Python Trademark Safe In Europe

Seems all that community pressure worked. The Python Software Foundation confirmed that the UK hoster that was threatening their name has withdrawn its trademark application. More at InfoWorld.

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