All Hail the Royal Mail

A few years back, like everything else, the RoyalMail got privatised – can’t exactly remember when, since I wasn’t really paying attention, and they did it in stages. Anyway since privatisation things haven’t always gone well, but there is at least something they are doing right – you can buy postage online!

Just weigh and measure your letter or parcel, enter the address, and pay (either from a prepay account or on a credit card) and presto a pdf label in a choice of formats (DL envelope, quarter, half, or whole A4) is created. Print, stick, and then post in any postbox. I don’t think I’ve sent as much mail in the last 5 years as the last couple of months – partly because now I’ve discovered this service, putting DVD’s and books on Amazon is a lot less daunting and friends and family have benefited from my new found postal renaissance. It’s easy to work out the postage beforehand (to see if the item is even worth selling) and then no mad rush to the post office to get the parcel sent once it’s gets sold.

Now, despite all this gushy gushy stuff, the service is far from perfect. The doesn’t appear to be a developer API, so no direct integration with Amazon, Ebay, Evo Addressbook, or other service is possible (yet). Hence lots of annoying copying and pasting. It would be useful to be able to build up a page of labels to avoid wasting paper printing each label in the top left corner. Also they use some layer feature on the pdf’s that doesn’t work (yet) in Evince, so I had to install the official Adobe reader.

Now if they can just stop losing mail (and money) things will be golden.

LinuxFoundation Collaboration Summit Recap

Continuing my mission to have the latest news, the minute it happens, I bring my random thoughts from the Linux Foundation collaboration summit in Austin, Texas.

I arrived down from Dallas on the 7th and met up with Dave for some beverages. We braved the patchy provision of footpaths and made away to the one and only bar sort of close to the hotel, just as the last 2, dramatic, minutes were ticking down in NCAA Basketball finals. Clearly my Ego told me that the cheers were for my, and to a lesser extent Dave’s, entrance into the bar. Sadly it was because Kansas had come from behind to tie the game, on a 3 point shot, with only seconds left (luckily for us Kansas would go on to win it in overtime, so everyone in the bar was in a GoodMood™). We got chatting to the locals a bit – one conversation with a pair of guys who’d build a mobile marketing product on Linux and JBoss and ‘lots of other open source stuff’ and another slightly circular conversation about theology, education, and the differences between Europe and the US (circular in the sense that Dave and I wanted to talk about the differences between Europe and the US or, to be honest, anything other subject, whereas our somewhat intoxicated friend only wanted to ramble about theology and education).

The first day of the summit I think was very much for those people who are new to open source style community development and practices. So while from my point of view it was slightly preaching to the converted there were still some useful nuggets here and there.


There was a spirited panel on the ‘State of Linux Mobile’ – it was good to have a panel where the panelists didn’t entirely agree with each other. The conversation was a little overly corporate, but this is understandable given the market. However I think the panel was a little too focused on mobile == phones, whereas open source is being used across the ‘mobile device industry’ (for want of a better term).

The evening event was in a nightclub that had a sharkpool under the clear dance floor – no sign of a Bond villain style trap door anywhere. J5 took us all on a mission to find one of the few bars in Austin that do flaming Dr. Peppers, a drink performance that really needs photos and video to fully appreciate – I would definitely recommend it as a spectacle, although I can’t image it tasted that great (as I was driving I didn’t partake). On the subject of photos, I completely failed at remembering my camera after the first day, but there were plenty of photos taken, so please point me to them in the comments (Dave, are yours on flickr yet?).

(Photo by kernelslacker licensed under CC by-nc-sa)

On day two there was a dedicated mobile track, where we were able to delve deeper into the Android, LiMO, and Moblin stacks. While none of these folks escaped unscathed, I think Android was under heaviest fire, not least because they seemed to have a rather antiquated view of how to engage in community development (despite the rather substantial experience within Google as a whole).

Day three, for me, was dedicated to a GNOME Mobile meeting, where we dealt with a variety of topics around the upcoming Mobile platform release. Nothing spectacular to report here, just steady progress towards the release, and further building the platform beyond that.

As I have done at past events, I did a little unscientific laptop census. It was pleasing to see that most folks where running Linux on their laptops (including a MacBook Air running Ubuntu), with the Windows and OSX users being the tiny minority. However it was noticeable that a significant percentage of the audience are iPhone owners, and also a higher percentage of treo / blackberry / other smartphones than I’m used to seeing in the UK. Certainly there was much peer pressure with many people I know raving about their iPhone (at a particularly dangerous time for me as I’m completely fed up with my N70 and seeking a new phone + contract).

Travel tip for anyone visiting Austin – don’t stay at the Marriott Fairfield Inn if you’re a light sleeper. It’s delightfully placed between the freeway and a freight rail track (with trains roughly every two hours day and night). My phone didn’t really capture the noise,

Luckily, once I got used to it, I slept through.

Overall it was a great week in Texas, a well run and useful summit, and great to catch up with lots of folk (too numerous to mention everyone without forgetting someone, so you all know who you are).

BTWwe’re hiring. Lots of exciting positions for developers and designers.

Pony Up!

Last week I was lucky to be in Dallas for the SMU Mustangs Red and Blue scrimmage on the 5th. Later on Jeff Reinebold was kind enough to spend some time with me running through some of the history and key concepts of the Run & Shoot offense.


It was a fantastic experience and there is a great energy and excitement at SMU as they start their rebuilding program under June Jones.

Many thanks to Matthew for letting me travel out a couple of days early for LinuxFoundation summit which gave me time to attend the scrimmage, and also the Jeff and and the other SMU staff who where so generous in sharing their time and knowledge with me.

Open Source Trademark Definition

Simon Phipps has been on a bit a roll lately, first posting Adoption-Led as a Force of Nature last friday, and then Software Freedom: More Than Copyright.

The current Open Source Definition doesn’t actually define Open Source – rather, it defines a subset of the requirements that protect software freedom, in this case the copyright license. I actually think renaming it (“Open Source Copyright Definition”?) would be good since there’s more to Open Source than just the copyright license. I then suggest we explore creating an “Open Source Patent Definition” and an “Open Source Trademark Definition”.

I’d agree with Simon in that most business and government see Copyright, Trademark, and Patents and the 3 foundations of what gets called Intellectual Property (I really don’t like that term). One of the undervalued benefits of the OSD and the mainline approved licenses is that it helps to frame an understanding of copyright licensing for non-lawyers like me.

The whole GPLv3 process where a collection of legal experts and technology experts were able to debate and discuss and ultimately create a new Free software (and OSD compliant) license was partly enabled by the implicit education in licensing that the OSD and the major licenses (L/GPL, BSDMPLMIT/X11) have given us.

Most of the OSD compliant licenses are short (or at least no longer than necessary) and clearly written, and broadly understandable without the need for a law degree (granted there will be some nuances in the interaction of the provisions of the licenses with local law and case history that require legal expertise). Compare to any proprietary EULA or collaboration agreement and the difference is stark.

Trademarks in particular seem to be an area that could do with some illumination from the light of an Open Source Trademark Definition. For example, if you look into trademarks, then one of the things you will see repeated again and again,

Never use a trademark as a noun. Always use a trademark as an adjective modifying the noun.

Correct: Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® operating system performance is incredible.
Incorrect: Red Hat’s performance is incredible.

this is from the RedHat Trademark Style Guide – yet the very first sentence of the style guide is,

The trademarks of Red Hat, Inc. not only represent the quality, innovation, and excellence of Red Hat’s products,…..

I’m not trying to pick on RedHat because this is something repeated all over the place and the two usages are not entirely equivalent. However, when I’ve seen the advice ‘Never use a trademark as a noun’ I’ve always wondered how it’s possible to trademark a company or product name without using it as a noun – the advert is ‘Drink Coca-cola’ not ‘Drink Coca-cola caffeinated beverage’ after all. Sadly I’ve never had the grammatical knowledge or confidence to break the advice down. Thankfully the folks over at the Language log know what they’re talking about,

Notice also that INTA International Trademark Association says a trademark must always be used as an adjective. What they mean actually has nothing to do with adjectives. Adjective are words like good, big, soft, reddish, etc. They are often used as attributive modifiers of nouns: good reasons, a big company, etc. But other things can be used as attributive modifiers. Proper nouns can: when we talk about London fog, we are using London (a proper noun) as an attributive modifier of the noun fog. That doesn’t mean London is an adjective. It isn’t. It’s the name of a city. Adjectives never name cities. And adjectives are virtually never trademarked. When we use the expression a London Fog raincoat, we use London Fog (a trademark, with the form of a nominal construction, consisting of a proper noun attributive modifier and a common noun) as an attributive modifier of the noun raincoat. What INTA is saying is that it wants you to always use trademarks as attributive modifiers.

But what the INTA people mean is more subtle than they know how to say, so they get it all wrong. The enemy they are laying defenses against is the danger that a trademark might fall into the public domain. For fear of this (and it can happen), they want to forestall the conversion of certain proper noun trademarks into common count nouns. The worry is that the next stage after writing “Tic Tacs” will be writing “tictacs”, and soon people will be referring to some other company’s little white mints as tictacs, and soon the trademark might become unprotectable and its value be lost. It would just be a two-syllable word in the dictionary, with a small t, meaning little hard white mint candy.

But notice, none of this is relevant to other products, for example, cars: Porsche is surely very happy for you to praise Porsches as much as you like, calling them Porsches. INTA’s intent is clear, but what is actually stated about grammar on their website and in their brochure is nothing like what it is trying to say.

Sadly Porsche don’t seem to have a Trademark style guide for us to confirm that they don’t mind us calling them Porches, but the point is well made.

It’s worth noting that there is already some great advice for open source projects on the subject of trademarks in the SFLC’sA Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects which doesn’t repeat the whole noun / adjective misnomer or include a long technical grammatical discussion,

Using a project’s name in place of its function or general class increases the risk that the name will become generic and thus unprotected. A common example of this is “Aspirin”; formerly a trademark of Bayer, the name was used so frequently as a noun in place of “acetylsalicylic acid” that it became generic in the United States. Because software is functional by nature, there is a particular tendency for users to substitute a program’s name for the function it performs (i.e., to use the mark as a verb, as in “grep”). You should avoid using your mark this way.

and also contains a simple, easy to understand, trademark policy for open-source projects.

40% market share!

Asustek are predicting a 40% market share for the Linux desktop on their EeePC line. Nice! I’d be interested to know what the actual sales figures are in 3,6, and 12 months, and also how that figure compares to sales of Dell, HP, and Lenovo Linux machines (my guess: it’s much higher).

Aside: Sadly I think you probably have the ‘counting Linux installations’ problem in reverse here. I fear that a proportion of the Linux machines sold will have a (probably illegal) copy of XP installed.

Aside2: Is it just me, or is it weird that they are planning to sell a machine with an OS whose end of life is only months away? I know Microsoft will support XP until 2014, but it still seems weird.

My brother in law picked up an EeePc before christmas, after trying several stores because everywhere was out of stock – a little birdie told be that the main UK distributor has 10,000+ on back order, and cant get stock into the UK quick enough.

In some ways the EeePc made me think of the ZX Spectrum. Like the Spectrum the EeePc is wrong in so many ways (screen, keyboard, and storage are bit too small) but it’s an open playing field for hardware and software hacks, and the price point is just right. Plus, Asus are bringing out new models which will (supposedly) fix the issues with the first EeePc – now if they can just get the next two attempts utterly wrong (Spectrum+, and 128K+) and then sell out to Amstrad, then we’re onto something.

Asking for directions

Karl, I’d suggest your friends definition of a police state but perhaps a best a correlation.

As a definition it seems rather arbitrary, why not a state aid lawyer and a junior doctor, or a prison warden and a teacher? Also you have to remember the boolean logic is a strict mistress – are you really suggesting that if P is the salary of a police recruit, and N the salary of junior nurse that if N = P + 1p then we’re suddenly is a police state?

The implied meaning is that if the state values entry level police officers over nurse then that an indication of a police state. Seems like their might be correlation but you’d have to find some other definition of a police state and apply it to various countries around the world to confirm the correlation (also if there was historical data for before / during / after police state that would provide further evidence).

However the sticker price doesn’t capture the total value of the job.

First up, the figures you quote aren’t normalised – it’s not clear from the links provided but it seems that the police have a 40 hour week, but nurses a 37.5 hour week, which means nurses have a slightly better hourly wage (yay, no police state!). Also you’d have to factor in holiday entitlements, overtime rates, pensions, shift patterns and flexitime, etc. All the tangible facts you could create a formula to assign an monetary value to get P, the total value of a police office, and N the total value of a nurse, to have a fair comparison.

Anyway I do have my own little anecdote that doesn’t itself provide a definition of a police state, but does give an example of the difference of living a police state for those that have never had the pleasure.

My parents fled South Africa in the late 70s. This was the height of the Apartheid regime and while neither of my parents were in any immediate danger, a number of events forced them to realise what kind of (police) state they were living in (for example, an acquaintance of my Dad’s disappeared for a month into internment and came out mentally and physically wrecked).

After we’d settled in, living in Oxford at the time, we went on our first day trip, to Salisbury as I recall, but could be anywhere. While trying to find a museum from a guide book, we got lost. My Dad popped into a news agent to ask for directions, but the the person didn’t know where the museum was, however they noticed, and pointed across the road, suggesting to my Dad “Why don’t you ask that Policeman”. Dad returned from the shop looking somewhat bemused, and after some consultation with my Mum, plucked up the courage to ask the Policeman who cheerily pointed us in the right direction.

My Dad later recounted how in South Africa people never voluntarily made contact with the Police, even people from the privileged white middle class. The Police were there to enforce the regime, were generally antagonistic, and randomly aggressive, and ultimately had extreme powers, all the way up to interning people more or less on a whim.

Now I don’t have any grand conclusions to make from this – it’s just the first thing I think about whenever someone mentions police state. Sadly many people have much worse stories to tell about the apartheid era police, and some people in this country wouldn’t exactly feel comfortable approaching the Police for directions, and, as Ade so graphically pointed out, we arguably have internment here in the UK.