Open sauce

I am a fan of Open Source – I use Ubuntu Linux at home, Open Office, Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email client, I host websites that use MediaWiki, Joomla, WordPress and webtrees all written in PHP that runs on Apache web-servers. I have also written my own applications in PHP and provide access to it free of charge but do charge for support – all in keeping with the Open Source initiative.

On Saturday I went to the Bradford Media Museum to look at the Life Online exhibition. The main reason for going was for the [open source] mentioned in the blurb. After looking round the displays on both the ground floor and the 7th floor I have to admit to being disappointed. Perhaps if I had gone with a different purpose I may have been more open to its other aspects, but I have another blog brewing about that too. To me Open Source has a particular meaning and I feel that the exhibition was dumbing that down and confusing it with collaboration and content management.

An attempt was made to take the two words separately and give a definition which I think was sort of correct but phrases don’t work that way, when you put more than one word together to name something it often tightens the meaning of the individual words. And you also have to take into account the history of the phrase. Then other areas of the exhibition started to confuse things even more.

There were several interactive displays one of which showed collaboration – someone had done a graphic design which had then been translated into small enough steps so that one or more people could reproduce the design using coloured blocks. Those using the blocks did not need to see the overall design nor did they need to know where their work fitted within the progress of it. The fact that you were free to put the blocks anywhere (instead of where instructed) made it open but the same can be said of most collaboration attempts – constraints are needed for it to succeed. For the outcome to be considered a success when there are no constraints then it is probably art you are producing, or anarchy. There are a couple of ways I can link this to computers. One where you take simple building blocks (either electronic components or individual bits of computer code) and build things that can perform incredible tasks. Another where you break a job (software development) down into small manageable tasks/pieces and then put them all together to make something unique.

Another screen tried to explain open source and I was amazed to hear people saying that Facebook and Wikipedia were open source. Facebook is quite definitely not open source, it can only be changed by adding to it. If I add something to Facebook then no one can change what I have put on there. They might be able to force others to put a different interpretation on what I have said by adding their own comments, but my words can not be changed – that is not very open. It is perhaps open in the way a shop can be, but even that is stretching it.

Wikipedia gets a little more interesting in this respect in that if I put anything on there it can be added to or changed by others, and I can change their words, or I can cause the images they uploaded to no longer be displayed and mine to be visible instead. This is collaboration that is made available to anyone who wants to create an account. I have to agree that this fits with a reasonably open definition of open. Wikipedia also keeps a record of all the edits that have been done so that they can be reverted to as required – is that open?

If we now include the word source then we start to look at a whole different area. Source can mean the place where something started so I am not sure how it can be applied to Facebook or Wikipedia but it can refer to the computer program that someone wrote to perform a particular task. Computer programs are written in many different languages and with some of them, when you read through the program, you can often get an idea of what is happening with each section. Before these programs can do anything on the computers they get translated (compiled) into code that the computer can eventually work with. The code that the programmer wrote, before it is compiled, is called the source code. This is the source being referred to in the phrase open source.

Before Bill Gates came along people with computers often had the source code for their operating systems and applications and would tailor them to suit their particular use. They had their own copy of the source code. Usually you were not allowed to pass the source code on to others, it was only open to you.

With Microsoft this changed. Microsoft translated (compiled) their source code to make the files that the computer worked with and it is these files that Microsoft distribute. These files are often called binary files in that they are much closer to the 1s and 0s that the computer works with and are very, very difficult for people to work with and change. To reinforce the idea that you are not supposed to make any changes to Microsoft code you only get a licence to use the software, you never actually own it. This model is quite definitely not open or dealing with source code.

Some people carried on with providing the source code to their customers and some of the licences became more open. You could share your changes with others.

There are several recognised licence agreements with open source. One common licence allows you to get hold of the code and change it but you must not remove any acknowledgements of the people who have worked on it. If you want to make your changes available to others then it must also be under the same licence agreement. You are not allowed to charge for the source code. Though you can charge for the media, packaging, printing or your time working for the purchaser.

Your changes can be supplied in addition to the original source or if your changes are significant you might want to create a separate identifiable product. This splitting off is called a fork. Forks can happen for many reasons.

I don’t know the details of how it evolved, or which applications were the first, but as people made changes to the source code to suit their needs it would have been noticed that others had similar needs and so the changes that had already been made could be incorporated into the original source code, still under the same name, so everyone could benefit. There are many programs where the source code is freely available and, as I have said, people can get hold of it, use it and change it to suit their needs. If the person making the changes is suitably competent and confident they can then contact the group developing the software and let them know about the changes so that they can be incorporated in the original.

Many open source applications have lots of people working on different parts or aspects of the source code and it is possible to get involved. Individuals with particular skills or knowledge can become part of the group and contribute. You don’t even have to be a programmer. Big projects need testers, quality control, co-ordinators, project managers etc. This is when it really becomes Open Source.

The licensing of Open Source can be a mine field to companies that want to make money out of their labours. This is one of the reasons why many keep away from it. Let’s say you are building some software for your product and some of that software is unique to your product. If the source code got into the hands of your competitors you might lose some of your competitive advantage. If, as part of that software, you included some code that was released under one of the open source licences then you may be legally obliged to make your source code available under the same licence. I am trying to work out whether this is restrictive Open Source or open Open Source. You are forced into being open.

I will finish by going back to WikiPedia because another interesting thing about it is that it uses open source software called MediaWiki. Anyone can download the MediaWiki source code and use it to host a wiki of their own. You can make changes to your installation to suit your needs and many of these changes can be achieved with configuration, this has nothing to do with open source. The more adventurous of you can change the underlying code to suit your particular requirements, this is customisation and then falls within open source. You can also contact the group looking after the MediaWiki source code and get involved. Now that’s Open Source.

Perhaps I am missing the message at the Media Museum? There was a section that mentioned providers wanting to charge for content. Open Source works within the laws of copyright as does Open Commons and creators of content are free to choose the framework that they want the content to be available in and this should be considered at the time of creating the content, or at the latest at the time of release.

Feel free to post comments.

 

Move on please, photography not allowed

Well I have read about it in the press but today was the first time that I have been asked to stop taking photos and move on.

On the way into Bradford today I was walking towards Forster Square station when I heard Kestrels calling. Of course I had my binoculars with me, as you do, and used them to find the Kestrels on the building that I think is called Broadgate House. The building is on Manor Row and backs onto the railway line. It is much higher than the station.

The best vantage point was on the end of the platform between two of the lines. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed that my first few shots had got both the male and female. He is looking straight at me. I had only noticed the female on the end of the hoist.

Male and Female Kestrel

I then noticed the male on the window ledge, obviously after it left the hoist.

Male Kestrel

He then flew off to the roof of the neighbouring building where he landed and then almost immediately took off to swoop on his mate.

Male Kestrel

Where they spent a few seconds mating and calling.

Mating

Mating

So, by being reasonably quick I had got my photos. Just after that though I was asked by a very pleasant chap with a litter picker to stop taking photos and move on. Some person inside the station building had asked him to ask me to move on. Apparently I need permission to be allowed to take photos on the station. Does that mean that people should not take photos of people they are seeing off at the station unless they have permission?

I was told that the management at the Interchange were the ones to ask for permission. After spending a couple of hours taking photos in Citypark (doing what I have since been told is abusing the right to privacy of those out in public) I went to see the station supervisor at the Interchange to ask for permission to take photos on Forster Square station. Apparently he knew someone had been taking photos at the station and I got the impression that he was the one that had said I should be asked to leave.

Unfortunately he said he was unable to give permission, not because permission was not to be granted, but because I needed to ask someone in York. I have her name, phone number and email address so I will be contacting her for the official response.

I was told that I was not allowed to take photos on the station because of where I was. This had me baffled until it was explained that the people responsible for the bombings in London had “come from round here”. He admitted that I was therefore a potential terrorist. But obviously I was more likely to be a potential terrorist because I was acting strangley with a tripod and 500mm telephoto lens pointing up in the sky in full view of drivers, conductors, passengers and members of the public walking through from Forster Square retail park to Bradford.

I was then asked if I knew how to fix printers because the other person in the office was having trouble. Perhaps he thought I had some experience of handling toner cartridges?

Did you know that during a Prince Charles visit by train that many of the surrounding buildings have police in them – so I had better not take photos of buildings?

I tried to find out what basis the refusal had in law and was told that it was on the Northern Rail website and that it was related to security and also preventing the infringement of the right to privacy of people out in public. It would be a lot more logical if the reason was that I was too close to the platform edge and that using a camera makes me more likely to cause an obstruction to passengers. (Edit: I have since read pages from rail companies where they encourage enthusiasts who are extra eyes and ears but lay down rules about photography based on safety – don’t cause obstruction, keep tripods away from platform edge, don’t photograph what might be their security systems e.g. CCTV equipment and no flash. All very sensible.)

During the afternoon I took lots of photos of people out in public and would have been more than happy to delete any if people had asked. The only requests I had were for taking posed photos. This then led to an exchange of email addresses because my camera does not have bluetooth, Wi-Fi or 3G.

In Citypark I met someone I used to work with when I worked at Croft Gear Works No 1 in Thornbury. This would have been before I moved to Croft Gear Works No 2 at Dudley Hill so it would have been in the late 1970s or very early 1980s – that’s too long ago to be able to do the sums.

He told me that he had taken photos at Forster Square station at least twice. Once he was asked to stop taking photos. There were no trains and no passengers but it was still “not allowed”. Someone being near him meant he was unable to continue because he needed to be quiet and still, however he had the photos he needed. Being quiet and still meant that the rats in the pipes under the platform started to venture out to get the scraps of food on the track. Any movement and they disapperaed. The member of staff did not seem interested in what he was taking photos of.

On another occasion he turned up early to get a good vantage point for taking photos of Prince Charles on one of his visits. This time he was told it was ok to take photos as long as he made sure he didn’t get in the way of Price Charles or his entourage.

I have now had a look at the Northern Rail website and searched for “photography”. The only result that is returned is for a photography competition they are running.

Edit: A few informative links
Urban75 on Photographers Rights including at rail and tube stations
A page with a PDF download re: Photographers Rights

I don’t know if it would have been any different if I went into the station building beforehand and let them know what I wanted to do. I might then have missed my opportunity.

If I do want to take photos, other than just point and click, on a station again I will call into the building first and hopefully have a conversation where we are both happy.

Edit 2: April 18. It is now a few weeks later and I have yet to have a response from the people at York. I thought the email I sent was straightforward enough but still no answer. I do know that it arrived successfully because I had an Out of Office response.

Automated shooting

Note that each photo is a link to the flickr stream, except the remote release which is a link to Amazon. 🙂

On Sunday morning I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker from our bedroom window. Of course, by the time I got downstaires it had gone. I had things to be doing so I set my camera up in the conservatory with the big lens on a tripod and the wireless remote release.

My wireless remote is very similar to this one.

I put two legs of the tripod on the window ledge and one leg on the arm of the sofa. I then zoomed in and focused on an appropriate part of the feeder, switched it to manual focus, and set the interval timer on the remote release. I set it to take one shot every minute for 120 shots and then went to make a coffee. After the coffee I got on with the various things I needed to do.

The camera was happily firing away every minute. Whenever I looked out of the window there was nothing on the feeder so I had no idea if I would finish up with anything worth keeping.

Later on I took everything down and then headed off for a walk along the river and through Denso Marston Nature Reserve. I met several people and one of their first questions was “Have you seen it?” After finding out that they meant the Black Bellied Dipper I tried not to look smug (honest) when I said “Yes. I have seen it. I took some photos of it in October last year.” I then directed them further down the river where I could just pick out the dipper on the other side. I know the photo is a bit (a lot?) dark but lightening it makes a lot of noise on it. Clicking on the image will take you to my flickr photostream.

Black Bellied Dipper, Denso Marston Nature Reserve

After spending a while along the river without a great deal of bird activity I decided to start heading back. However, after watching a Kingfisher fly up river I stopped to take some photos of the river itself. I thought the reflection of the sky in the river looked nice. I took this photo using a Hoya 58mm Circular Polarizing Filter that helps add some contrast to the clouds and changes the reflection on the water.

River Aire, Denso Marston Nature Reserve

Anyway, to cut the story short, I finally got to see the photos taken by the camera in the morning. There were a few blurred photos of a female blackbird on the feeder. As I was going through them – next – delete – next – delete – I almost deleted the one shown below, which would have been a shame because it made it all worthwhile.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, our garden

Clouds

We probably all remember learning about the water cycle at school. How water would evaporate, how it would be then form clouds, rain down on us on the hills and flow down rivers to the sea.

Wind Turbines

We have all seen clouds, rain, rivers and sea but it is only recently that I have watched clouds forming in any volume. I have seen a blue sky suddenly get whispy clouds that get bigger and bigger until clouds fill the whole sky. But the other weekend I was up on Baildon Moor near Glovershaw when I saw clouds being formed in, for me, a different way. It fits with what I learnt at school but had simply not noticed.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7195/6823046654_e059d46e34_z_d.jpg

I had gone out (reasonably early for a weekend, hence the sunlight on the wind turbines) and was watching Lapwing, Golden Plover and Starlings The wind was freezing cold so I kept sheltering behind a stone wall. There was quite a lot of cloud cover but occasionally a bright sun shone through a gap for a few seconds. Looking West I could see the edge of the clouds and thought that with the strong wind I would soon have clear sky above with bright sunshine. I crouched down behind the wall again and watched a Curlew fly back and forth a couple of times across parts of the golf course. A horse and rider made quite a good silhouette on the skyline. I was looking forward to feeling the sun on me in a few minutes.

Horse and Rider

Looking over the wall again I got some more photos of the birds. I could see the grey and white cloud bank being pushed over my head very quickly by the wind. In the distance I could see lovely blue sky. But still, at about 45 degrees, there was the edge of the clouds, still there, unmoving. With the speed that the clouds were moving I should have been in bright sunshine.

I looked at the edge of the clouds through my binoculars and could see them moving fast towards the East but the edge was not moving. It was as if some invisible pipe was leaking along its length and spraying out the clouds.

Clouds

As I said, we all know about how clouds are formed, but this is the first time I have actually stopped and watched it happening in such volume and with such a noticeable stationary edge. These clouds were being formed already wind-swept and rushing across the sky.

Quick Resolve. Another attempt at a scam

My Facebook contacts may already be aware of a phone call I had today but there is no harm in making a more permanent record of it.

I had a call from someone with a heavy Asian accent who gave his name as Edward. Sorry, even if an Edward had an Asian background, I am sure their accent would not have been as heavy. Irrespective of who they are, or where they are calling from, any attempt at getting on a personal level really winds me up. “Hello Paul, how have you been today?” may get me going on a recap of inane things that had happened during the day and an attempt to draw the same out of them. We may then go on to talk about how nice it is to have a conversation with someone who is not trying to sell anything. I haven’t worked out whether this happens when I have had a good day or a bad day. Usually I quote the telephone preference service and hang up.

Anyway, to get back to today’s call. According to Edward, Windows computers in Shipley are at risk of being infected with all sorts of nasties and their R & D department had identified mine as being in danger. What’s more he could prove it. Up until then my morning had been quite pleasant – I had tweeted about the selection of birds I had seen as I drank my coffee. I didn’t attempt to have a “pleasant” conversation with him. I told him that he was deliberately lying, not just mistaken, and that I believed his company was committing a crime. I would have carried on a bit longer but he was very rude and hung up on me. So there I was, in a reasonable mood prior to the call, not responding with a pleasant “string along” conversation nor saying “Go away.” and hanging up. It looks as though I need to make a few more records of my responses before I can say good mood or bad leads to a particular type of response. However I do know that at meal times my response tends to be quite abrupt.

After the call I Googled “Quick Resolve” and came across this Coras blog page, this saves me the bother of going into more detail about how the conversation could have gone if I had been in a gullible mood – aka stupid for someone who works in IT.

I am afraid you are pretty much on your own when it comes to protecting your computer. No one else is going to do it for you. Properly installed software, up to date browsers (preferably Firefox or Chrome) and common sense is what is needed. You could possibly hear from your ISP if something very unusual was going on. Other people might let you know that your emails included viruses. But, apart from that, anything else that is happening on your computer is your responsibility.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people were looking out for you in a nice way though. Just think, if someone with a bit more knowledge could have phoned me up about the noise my car was making, if they had then that holiday in France might not have been so expensive when the engine finally gave up. But if someone had called I wonder what I would have said? Good mood? Bad mood? String them along with idle pleasantries until they gave up, or “P**s off you money grabber”?

Blogging? My new SDHC card

Towards the back end of last year I changed my site from phpNuke to WordPress with the intention of posting stuff here. I have not been very good at that so far.

I need to get into the habit.

A few weeks ago I tried a different memory card in my camera. The one I had was supposedly a fast one but the one Michael had was faster. I shoot only in RAW now and it is noticeable that the frame rate is a lot slower than shooting just JPEG. But once the buffer in the camera was full I was having to wait longer between shots. With my card I could only shoot 3, or perhaps 4, frames before it slowed down. With the one I borrowed from Michael I seemed to be able to shoot 6 or 7 before it slowed down, and it did not slow down quite as much. Anyway, I have now bought the card shown below. With this one the frame rate does not slow down AT ALL. At least I didn’t during a trial of 25 shots. As digital SLRs go mine is probably one of the slower ones so other people with faster cameras may still experience a slowing down with this card but it will be no where near as bad with cards that are older than this one. The first thing I noticed about its speed though was during the simple task of formatting the card. The progress indicator just flew across.

Feel free to click on the link to buy your own from Amazon. Or click on the link to then go and find the 16GB card.