How I'm celebrating Facebook's IPO

I'm "celebrating" by offsetting my Facebook use with greater use of Diaspora, an alternative that let's you keep strong control over your data. I don't know many people there, but it's more lively (about things I care about anyway) than I've heard described, and I've found some interesting people I wouldn't have otherwise fonnd.

Sign up here and if you're a member, seek me by name.

I can't stand Facebook, but I use it to keep up with a few friends and family members. I don't like the low regard its management has for privacy, or for the presumption of a inevitable (but invented) good it provides. But it's easier to do without it if there's a partial alternative. Partial because there's no point replace an invented good with another.

Document Freedom Day 2012

If you create documents in closed or proprietary formats, at a basic level you do not control them. I wrote about it at length last year.

Document Freedom Day 2012

Consider, please, saving and sharing your documents in an open format. LibreOffice and are two (related) mature and robust office suites that are both free (libre) and open source software, and can be had free of charge.

Or even just using more plain text.

A good (humanistic?) "sermon" with fish and loaves

Software Freedom Law Center executive director Eben Moglen lays it down about the freedom of ideas and the stewardship of human minds and the free access those minds need to information. Also, a fascinating review of the development of United States copyright law with respect to early immigration and religious freedom. (Made me think about proto-Universalist George de Benneville.)
Eben Moglen

"Eben Moglen on Origins of Copyright and Patents" (Oggcast, 2009) You may jump past the prolog and start listening at 4:13.

Do listen: a model of visioning for religious humanists and food for thought for producers of cultural goods (like preachers.)

The language of faith cries to be free

In the open-source software world, advocates make a distinction between "free as in beer" and "free as in freedom." While free (of cost) beer is nice, the freedom to share, modify, extract and even profit from (depending on the license) is truly precious, and has allowed an ecosystem to develop around not only software but cultural and (a favorite) other projects. Even beer.

But Christians I've read, looking towards the same phenomenon have used another similie: "free as in grace." This suggests an alternative to free in economic, practical, intellectual or utilitarian terms. If something is compellingly true, and has its origins apart from human initiative -- let me put that out there tentatively -- then that truth demands cooperation of those who hear it to liberate it for the sake of liberation. So, I think of evangelistic tracts which long before free culture movements have been distributed "free as the Lord provides." (Free here being largely financial, but the fact the sponsor comes from the Free Churches isn't lost on me.)

But see also of the Jewish liturgical Open Siddur movement. Or the DVD I picked up yesterday at a Chinese grocery -- and is the proximate reason for this blog post -- from a Buddhist mission. (Alas, the videos seem to be of a monk speaking one language I don't understand, and subtitled with a different language I don't understand.)

There's not much English on the case. But I can read "For Free Distribution -- No Copyright."  And that's a good enough reason for me to take it back so someone else can profit by it.

I've written on this subject several times, please consider reading

Liberate your documents by choosing a better format

Microsoft owns the ideas around word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. "I want it in a .doc" "Put it Excel" "Look, another PowerPoint!" But it need not and should not be that way.

I'll cut to the chase: if you create content in proprietary format, you will always depend upon the company that supplies the company to access your work. And as the saying goes, "if you can't fix it, you don't own it." So much more for simply opening what you've created.

Or inherited. I'm thinking about documents in the long game. Proprietary document formats are a dead end. I have files from the 1980s and 1990s I can't open; what the chance that a church archivist will open your membership list in a hundred years?

You can (and should) use plain text and comma-separated values for simple documents. I have a fun, easy and public-domain resource for presentations that I'll write up in about a week. Perhaps some will use (La)TeX for graduate theses and dissertations. (Right, mathematicians?)

And for more complex, but everyday tasks of word processing, spreadsheet and presentations, please use the Open Document Format. The world of open format advocates are celebrating Document Freedom Day today.

You can participate by considering how your casual document format choices have limited your access -- like sending or having been sent one of those .docx files -- and considering your options. The Open Document Format (ODF) is used in Google Docs, and the mature and free (both in licencing and cost) office suites and its continuing spin-off LibreOffice. (These can also read the proprietary formats, so I'm not setting you adrift.)

Use those formats, please -- and I'll make the pledge. If I need to put a word processing document or spreadsheet on my blog, I'll make it available in ODF.

And learn more at the Document Freedom Day site.

Later. Jeremy Carbaugh, a colleague in the Sunlight Foundation Sunlight Labs team, was the one who told me about Document Freedom Day, and he also wrote about it. Sunlight makes a similar pledge about publishing these kinds of documents additionally in ODF.

Even later. Another member of the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere has gotten in the act: The Prayerful Sceptic, linking to another self-written blogpost at Intuitionistically Uncertain.

What I'm reading; all nonfiction

I have four three-ring binders on my desk. Each with a print-out of a book in it.

I shuttle them in turn between home and work, since peculiarly, they touch both on my work and personal -- that is to say, church -- life, and I thought you might be interested in these four nonfiction reference works which take up my lunch hour and early evenings.

The first two deal with organizing data and people in nonprofit settings. More or less.

The other two deal with accounting, and while referring to software systems, are useful for reinforcing accounting concepts.

All sound too dull? I've also got "Frederic Henry Hedge: Unitarian Theologian of the Broad Church," the spring-summer 1981 number of the Unitarian Universalist Christian journal. But that's for kicks, and -- alas -- not online.

Hymnals should be open

Long-time readers will understand why I carp on hymnody, and why I return to the subject now.

  • Hymnals have been practical works of theology in churches in the modern era; hymnals shape our religious vocabularies.
  • Unitarian Universalists are theologically plural -- in theory anyway. So why is there a lone denominational hymnal? Even the British Unitarians have current choices and there are scarcely more of them that show up to General Assembly.
  • The current (but not new; 1993) hymnal is a disaster for Christians, meaning Christians use it but have to supplement heavily; use extra-denominational hymnals; or (most commonly) use hymnals two or three generations old.

Add in my own conviction that such foundational ideas of worship need to be commonly controlled, liberally licensed or in the public domain and it's clear that we need some options. But without deep pockets or a deep talent pool, the best I can offer is the bits and pieces I pick up along the way.

One of the most interesting projects I've found is the Open Hymnal Project, operated by Brian J. Dumont. It's active, and what you will find there is a fine selection of public-domain Christian hymns -- with a bent towards the Lutheran, which I hardly mind -- downloadable as PDF or GIF scores, MIDI (and some MP3) sound files, and the ABC notation files that allow for adaptation. And this looks like a labor of love; there's no evidence of a staff behind this work. And it's so active that there's a new (December 17) omnibus version that has come out since I started researching for this blog post. Thank you Mr. Dumont!

There is -- and this pleases me -- evidence of open-source software (particularly in how the file were originally edited and transformed for publication) and standards behind this work, my love of which coming from my belief in the liturgical commons.

Like the Hymns of the Spirit list yesterday, I've noted which of the hymns he's worked on are on the Consultation on Ecumenical Hymnody list, below the fold, in bold.

Lastly, Mr. Dumont has created some derived resources, including a Lenten pack, a Christmas pack (topical, no?) and the most interesting, a service book for visitation. And there are MP3s which you can "put . . . on a cell phone or MP3 player with a little speaker when you visit the sick." Brilliant.

Continue reading "Hymnals should be open"

CiviCRM a try

I'll be a bit quiet for a few days -- busy time at Day Job, Thanksgiving, plus much of what I'm doing is behind the scenes. Planning and preparation. (Be sure to follow me at Twitter at 2udc; anything short and timely will come out there.)

I want to start off right, so I think I should keep good records and use constituent relation manager (CRM) software from the start. (If you use Salesforce at work, you know what I mean, but I don't have that kind of money or established infrastructure.)

The days of "fill out this card" -- I hope -- are over. I'm trying out CiviCRM, on Drupal content management -- not Joomla; it doesn't have the user controls I need -- at Absolutely no content or styling yet, nor am I ready to accept well-wishers' or inquirers' info, but I offer it at the early stage as a possibly appropriate first step for other church starts. (I'll also be reviewing what other religious organizations do with CiviCRM and Drupal.)

He're the guide I'd use to train people on CiviCRM, if you want to learn more. If you can install your own WordPress, you can do this. And pointers to people who are already doing this appreciated.

Church Tool try-out

There aren't that many church-focused free- and open-source content management systems. Perhaps I should be happy there are any, but each of them has its quirks.

I found kOOL -- even the name is a quirk -- at I found it because I was looking for church-related uses for the typesetting language LaTeX, which kOOL claims to support, and which I think has untapped possibilities to make church-related publications easier to produce and more beautiful.

We shall see. It took me quite a bit of time and some expert help just to get an instance of it installed on my home machine. So as I play with it, I'll see what it does well and not so well, with a particular eye to complex family systems.  Any features or bugs I should watch out for?  And screenshots you'd like?