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Brave GNU World - Issue #56
Copyright © 2003 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
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Welcome to another issue of the Brave GNU World, this time being written in a train from Zurich to Lausanne just before PrepComIIIa, about which more will be said later. The start for this issue will be an interesting project for film freaks.


Screenhack [5] was started 2000 by Michael Wouters, who later handed project maintenance over to Artur Skura so he would have time to work on a version with graphical user interface. A project without graphical user interface for film freaks? Yes, that's true.

Screenhack is a commandline tool for Unix and Windows, with which animations can be created. As such it is usually used as part of a tool chain between modeller and renderer.

Most other project for modelling, for instance Ayam3D or the Moonlight Creator, output RenderMan files, but don't allow doing animations. Closing that gap was what Michael Wouters had in mind with Screenhack -- so users of 3D modelling could also do animations.

RenderMan [6] itself is a standard format for realistic animations and according to Artur is also used professionally in high-budget movies. Therefore the output format of Screenhack is also RenderMan and can be transformed by a rendering program into the final movie with the desired quality. According to Artur Skura, the best Free Software RenderMan rendering program currently available is Aqsis. [7]

A typical user of Screenhack would be everyone seeking to do a movie with animation. Or, as Artur wrote: "Imagine you are shooting a commercial."

If you can live without graphical user interface, Screenhack does that job well and reliable. Working with 3D modelling and spatial imagination are definitely still prerequisites for full use of Screenhack.

On the positive side, it provides all the advantages of a commandline tool, especially for use in scripts. This allows the creation of whole fleets of spaceships, which are traversing space with different flight patterns. Or a whole hurd of GNUs, passing over a savannah.

Screenhack was written in C and it originally runs on GNU/Linux and other unix like systems, but a Windows port also exists. It is published as Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The development is essentially finished, since Artur takes the healthy perspective to not overburden Unix tools with features. But adding a few other tools to work with Screenhack would be a good idea.

For instance a tool that could insert a single frame between two other frames. This wouldn't have to be done by Screenhack necessarily, but would be very useful. Anyone willing to help is quite welcome.

Call for help from Bangladesh

Kim Neunert sent a call for help from Bangladesh. Close to the capital Dhaka he is working on a three month stipend of the ASA [8] as the first "computer volunteer" at a non-governmental organization called "Centre for the rehabilitation of the paralysed" (CRP) [9], the only center of its kind in Bangladesh.

The situation he describes doesn't look very good. In contrast to India, Bangladesh is technologically very weak, only in Dhaka, the capital, is technology used in significant amounts which is hindered by daily blackouts; and 99% of the computers run Windows 98.

The local GNU/Linux User Group [10] foundet itself as early as 1999, holding local meetings. The mailing list has a traffic of about 5-15 messages a day, most requests being requests for help with problems and how to obtain distributions.

Fortunately, there are also an increasing amount of development initiatives that also benefit Bangladesh even though they usually happen in the Bengal speaking part of India. There is for instance a project for free bengal founts [11] or a project to create a Morphix based LIVE-CD with Bengal GNOME, man pages and so on. [12]

With regard to the political, strategical and national-economic issues of Free Software there seems to be very little knowledge available in Bangladesh. Kim reports that even when people can follow and agree with the logic, they don't see the necessity to do something about it.

But the first steps have been taken, good signs are for instance the article "How Microsoft will kill Bangladesh (unless Linux saves us)" which was published in 2002 in a Bengal daily newspaper or the first political articles about the topic, [13] so the intellectual process has apparently begun.

Financial database in Bangladesh

Back to the concrete case of Kim. When he arrived, he found a rather badly set up financial database, based upon a single installation of a proprietary product without installation disk. The provider of that solution has been out of business for a while now. The problem was only seen when Kim explained them that he would not be able to modify that database to fit their needs.

Also a big database for medical research was in its test phase when he arrived. Although MySQL was mentioned in the offer, a proprietary database was used -- possibly because the system analyst had visited multiple Microsoft courses overseas. Interestingly enough, for this installation, the frontend was sold without the backend.

Unfortunately, Kim didn't succeed to convince the responsible people to not throw good money after the money badly spent on proprietary software in order to come to a solution that would provide more perspectives for the future. The much higher consequential costs don't seem to be understood or taken into account. Experience tells that often the facts are not everything there is to such situations, especially when the job of one of the people involved depends upon that project.

But for the financial database there is concrete potential and need for action. Therefore Kim is now trying to save the organization from binding itself to any particular proprietary technology for years to come. So he doesn't only document the existing proprietary solution, he also seeks to reimplement it with a similar structure based upon LAMP.

He started this work recently and is seeking volunteers who would like to help him in a rather clearly defined time scope.

Currently, the project is still in pre-Alpha state, for which he in parts built upon the GCDB [14] codebase while the table structure is predefined by the non-free prior solution. As license he'll use the GNU General Public License (GPL) and he hopes for help with code review, the reports and complicated forms.

This provides the chance to help people on the other side of the digital divide with rather simple means. If you would like to do more, you could get in touch with ASA [8] or get in touch with the "Digital Bridges" association [15], which is one outcome of Ganesha's Project [16] that has been introduced in issue #32 [17] of the Brave GNU World.

UNO summit about the Information Society

From this topic it is only a small step to the World Summit on the Information Society, which, among other things, tried to address the question of digital divide. The summit itself was presented already in issue #53 of the Brave GNU World [18], but a lot has happened since the Intersessional Meeting in Paris.

From September 8th until 26th 2003, the third preparatory conference (PrepComIII) took place in Geneva, Switzerland. Hundreds of delegates, economy representatives and civil society people came together to finish the documents for the summit itself, which is to take place in December in Geneva. They weren't entirely successful.

In fact, towards the end of the second week, the situation became so static that constructive discussion seemed impossible and some delegates were resting on their positions without any sign of compromise. This may in part have been caused by insufficient authorization of the delegates in Geneva, which added difficult and time-consuming synchronization with their governments to the process. But that wasn't the only reason.

In the question of internet governance, governments of the North and the South are strongly taking positions that are mutually exclusive. Within the area of security, the typical conflicts take place. While the USA suddenly found themselves side by side with China, both fighting for "Information Security," a common euphemism for censorship, Civil Society was arguing strongly for "Network Security," which asks for security and reliability of the networks.

And although the call for open standards is common among all govrnments, the documents are satisfied with terminology that accepts proprietary pseudostandards. As the Civil Society working group on Patents, Copyright and Trademarks (PCT) [19] explained, standards can only be fully open when they are "freely implementable" and "publicly documented."

In regard to Free Software, the situation is also difficult and highly dynamic. By using terminology such as "technological neutrality," some people try to suggest that a decision between proprietary and Free Software was a technological decision and not an issue of politics. This has been adopted rather uncritically by some governmental representatives, although it effectively means giving up democratically legitimated power in the areas of national economy, science and society.

The "freedom of choice" is another pseudo argument against a clear statement for the advantages of Free Software; as if it wasn't the the job of politics to further socially useful activity and not reward socially harmful activities.

During PrepComIII it also seemed that even within Civil SocietyFree Software and its impact on the summit wasn't fully understood. Therefore I used the last day of PrepComIII to start writing an article, which especially Karen Banks of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), one of the most active Civil Societies in the summit, provided extremely helpful feedback on, that is online by now [20] and might also prove useful in other activities.

More PrepComs

After it became certain on the last Friday of PrepComIII that there would be no agreement, two more preparatory conferences were hastily called for, dubbed as PrepComIIIa and PrepComIIIb as continuation of PrepComIII so the formalities of PrepComIII could be used without further discussion.

PrepComIIIa takes place November 10th until 14th 2003 (just after writing this column), PrepComIIIb will be just before the summit from December 7th until 9th 2003. Since -- among others -- the German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been confirmed for the summit, one can only hope that the documents will be ready by then.

Also good news

But there are also good news. The cooperation between Civil Societies worked better than ever -- even though the UNO might have achieved this with spending less resources and fewer governmental representatives.

Especially in Europe it becomes possible that the summit will also lead to new forms of dialog between governments and Civil Society. In particular the European Caucus of Civil Society has worked more closely with the EU during PrepComIII than ever before. And there is reason to hope this will be continued during PrepComIIIa.

In general, it makes sense to take a look at the FSF Europe project page on the summit, [21] which not only links to the mailing lists for th European Caucus and the PCT working group, but also other sources of information, such as the excellent page of the Heinrich Böll foundation which is maintained by Ralf Bendrath, and the statement of the PCT working group for the UN plenary.

Towards the end a few more thoughts on the topic that has been addressed as "industrial information control" before, the so-called "intellectual property."

Limited Intellectual Monopolies

The term "intellectual property" is quite problematic and should really only be used in sentences to explain why the terminology is bad and shouldn't be used.

For any critical human being, the notion of "possessing" a thought and what this might mean automatically leads to a problem that bears similarities to Schrödingers cat or the question whether a tree that falls in a wood really makes a noise if noone is there to hear it.

Amazingly, the terminology is uncritically and widely accepted. People use it naturally and without reflecting, although the terminology not only carries an ideology of thoughts and ideas that suggests treating them like property. It also puts those who share their knowledge with others on the same moral grounds as violent criminals and murderers ("pirate copy", "software pirat").

Also, the term offers no scientific advancement, since it lumps together very different areas of law and suggests treating all these equally.

But from the way it is used, it appears there is need for one summarizing term and there is one thing all these areas usually referred to as "intellectual property" have one thing in common.

Each of them by purpose and function establishes a limited monopoly on something intangible. The justification of that monopolization has always been the benefit of society.

Therefore I suggest to avoid "intellectual property" (IP) and -- if you feel that you need to use a summarizing term and cannot address the areas directly -- to speak of "intellectual monopolies" (IM) or "limited intellectual monopolies" (LIM).

These terms are not only refer to them by what they are and do, they are also no more complicated or longer than the terminology currently in use and do not transport such questionably ideology.


Enough for this month, as usual I hope to receive numerous questions, comments and suggestions via email [1] -- especially project presentations, because without the cooperation and support of readers and authors the Brave GNU World would not be possible.

Until next time.

[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <column@brave-gnu-world.org>
[2] Home page of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
[3] Home page of Georg's Brave GNU World http://brave-gnu-world.org
[4] "We run GNU" initiative http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/rungnu/rungnu.de.html
[5] Screenhack home page http://www.ies.waw.pl/~arturs/screenhack/
[6] RenderMan http://www.renderman.org
[7] Aqsis home page http://www.aqsis.com
[8] ASA home page http://www.asa-programm.de
[9] CRP home page http://www.crp-bangladesh.org
[10] BDLUG home page http://www.bdlug.org
[11] Free Bengal fonts http://www.nongnu.org/freebanglafont
[12] Bengal GNU/Linux localizations http://www.bengalinux.org
[13] Free Software articles http://www.liberalislam.net/linux.html
[14] GCDB home page http://sourceforge.net/projects/gcdb
[15] Digital Bridges http://www.dbev.de
[16] Ganesha's projec http://www.ganeshas-project.de
[17] Brave GNU World issue #32: http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-32.en.html
[18] Brave GNU World issue #53: http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-53.en.html
[19] Civil Society PCT working group http://www.wsis-pct.org
[20] Free Software reference http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wsis/fs.html
[21] FSFE WSIS project page http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wsis/

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Last modified: Wed Jan 14 15:34:24 CET 2004