"Life of de Benneville" for download

Unitarian minister and blogger Andrew Brown today posted a scanned PDF of the only in-depth biography of Universalist pioneer George de Benneville. I feel a bit bad because I’ve owned a copy for years — he paid dearly for his — and I never put it up.

He alludes to the problem of copyright — it was copyrighted in 1953. Now, since it was of that vintage, if it was never renewed, the work is in the public domain, and has been since 1981. That’ll take some research, but I think it’s a safe bet.

But if it was renewed and a copyright owner cannot be found, then this handy booklet becomes an orphan work and becomes good for nobody: not the unknown owner of the intellectual property and not good for historians, students or the general public who could not republish it. This is a serious intellectual property issue, and needs a remedy.

Until then, do download the book. (Again, I’d bet it’s in the public domain.) And I’ll scan my collection of mid-century Universalist imprints to see if there’s anything also orphaned but likely out of copyright.

World's Fair Use Day

The concept of fair use of copyrighted intellectual property is probably under more strain now than ever before. The long term effects on a free, creative people are not known, but I can’t think it’ll be anything good.

Public Knowledge is producing World’s Fair Use Day tomorrow, January 12, to draw attention to this issue. A good idea worth examining (and I like them, plus they’re Day Job’s upstairs neighbors.)

Not in D.C.? You can download a DIY guide from the World’s Fair Use site.

Without free software, there would have been no Web

And open — that is, non-proprietary — standards, too. No secret blend of herbs and spices here. We’d certainly no Web as we know it. Not even close.

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the deed of software by CERN — “the supercollider people” — for the software that makes the Web work.

Here’s the “birth certificate“.

The BBC marked the anniversary last year. I think that observation bears repeating.

Bible for Android?

No, I’m not preparing for a robotic mission. But after years of rejecting having a cell phone, I gave in — and did so with an Android phone. (After reading how a significant plurality of homeless persons have a cell phone, and how it is a leading entry-point for Internet technologies for persons in developing countries, I decided it was OK for me to have one, too.)

It’s a so-called smart phone distinguished by its Linux-based and largely open-source operating system. I love both the hardware and software to bits.

I do not love the available Bible applications for it. Poor user interfaces, thin in features. Bahai’is and Muslims are much better served (it seems) in their Android needs.

  1. Does anyone have a favorite Bible text and biblical research Android application?
  2. Are there some people out there who care, should I (and others) review the available options?

Priestley the open-sourcer

Word of a Sunday book review in the New York Times (January 23) floated around the office a few days ago. I was sure it would hit the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere, but didn’t.

The book? The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson. Its subject? Joseph Priestley: the discoverer of oxygen (disputed) and carbon dioxide and Unitarian minister. I noted this last point, and that we lived in the bounds of a denominational subdivision named for him.

What interested some of my peers is that the reviewer, Russell Shorto, found in Johnson’s work

One reason Johnson seems to have been drawn to Priestley is because of his style; Priestley was irrepressibly open, sharing his data and observations with whoever was willing to listen. This may have cost him some credit in discoveries, but to Johnson it makes Priestley the godfather of the open-source era. And this may be where Johnson’s genres blend together most fully. As a “compulsive sharer,” Joseph Priestley believed wholeheartedly in the free flow of information: in letting insights from science flow into the streams of faith and politics, in trusting in the human mind as the ultimate homeostatic system, able eventually to find its internal balance no matter how large the disruption.

Priestley knew disruptions in his own life, some violent. But not weak consolation if, at end, his approach opens doors to the mixed worlds of science, politics and devotion.

(Oh, that workplace is the Sunlight Foundation, and if you care about government transparency you should give us a look.)

Watching GA from a Linux machine (and open formats)

(Please read to the end; I have something to ask you.)

UU Mom was looking to watch tonight’s opening session of the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (UUA GA) online, but it is only available in a proprietary Windows format. She noted:

It would be nice if they’d use an Open Source program. We missed part of the banner parade due to a streaming problem & we didn’t see our banner (if it is there). We’re now watching it with the audio & visual out of sync.

I took a post-work and by the time I roused myself, got to the computer, checked GA, and tried to both feed myself and make a work-around to see the stream on my computer, it was over. (I’ll try again tomorrow and put up as comprehensive a set of directions as I can.)

But her point about the proprietary format isn’t avoided. It seems strange that there’s only one way to see this media and that we have to go through a single company’s technology to use it. And there’s a good free and open source option.

As it happens, I spoke to an advocate in this field a few weeks ago — I run in a fun crowd at work, but too recently for this GA — and to the technology lead at the UUA. We have a meeting penciled in for July.

I hope to make an airtight case why the UUA ought to have plural streams and why one should be in a free and open-source format. Until then, if you’re interested in seeing this, leave me a note in the comments.

Download Firefox 3, break record

The Mozilla Foundation is try to break a 24-hour software download world record — or rather, establish a mark — with its release of the newest version of its browser: Firefox 3. Having used it a while, I really like it.

Ubuntu Linux users have been getting updates of the preliminary versions (release candidates) and these have been available for other operating systems, so perhaps this is not news. (I’ve read that the only version that’s changed from the most recent release candidate is for Mac OS X.) But for those of you who have been using a Firefox 2.x version, you’ll note some great features, including being able to browse by title and bookmarking from the address bar. (So if you were looking for this blog, you could just type “bands” and it would come up. Then click the star to bookmark.) It also seems faster, which is a welcome improvement. And for Internet Explorers, don’t even look back. . . .

Either way, start your leap into Firefox 3 here.

Open media formats for Unitarian Universalists

Are there any Unitarian Universalists — or keen open codec advocates who read this blog — who use Ogg Vorbis (audio) or Ogg Theora (video) to play, share, stream or store media? These are free and open-source media formats.

I may have a project.

In related news, I bought a refurb digital audio player (“MP3 player”) that supports Ogg and am enjoying it much. Of course, it takes a bit of work with Linux, but I hope to tell all once I have a successful workflow.

NYT: Lessig on orphan works copyright

Stanford Law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig had an opinion piece in the New York Times today worth reading, even if copyright issues aren’t your first concern. (“Little Orphan Artworks“)

The problem is that there quite a few mature works that are not old enough to be in the public domain but where the intellectual ownership is unknown. But there’s no registration and the proposed federal standard — to make a “diligent effort” to find the owner — is, in Lessig’s opinion, too much of a burden for those who might make use of a work that would other be lost to society. He proposes, within limits, a simplified, inexpensive and competitive registration system. I agree.

This matters for people in church life because so much of our soft culture — including songs, meditations, graphic images, recordings, sermons, liturgical elements, printed articles and the like — is of unknown or apocryphal origin. Can it, ought it be used? Or do we just turn a blind eye? An orderly system of rights maintenance makes for good boundaries and better practice.