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Brave GNU World - Issue #57
Copyright © 2003 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to another issue of the Brave GNU World, which will again spend some of its time on the UNO summit on the Information society. Given that the summit is supposed to create the framework conditions for the years and decades to come, it seems useful and helps to document the process on the way to the summit.

However, in order to not totally neglect the technical side, two projects are to be introduced first.


The first project of this issue was suggested via email [1] by Thomas Teußl and is called JaxoDraw. [5] JaxoDraw is a project to interactively create Feynman-Diagrams.

Since the majority of readers may not be familiar with the American physicist Richard Feynman or the diagrams with have been named after him, here is a short introduction. Richard Feynman was one of the most influential phyisicists of the 20th century. In 1965 he was awarded the Nobel prize along with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger for his work on Quantum Electro Dynamics. Physics students usually first come in contact with him through his "Feynman Lectures on Physics," one of the best and most comprehensible works to deepen physical understanding.

Feynman diagrams are commonly used in the area of Quantum Field Theory and allow, reducing some rather complicated calculations in particle physics to mere amplitude differences. Also, they help comprehending the interactions between particles.

By using the Axodraw [6] project by J.A.M. Vermaseren, for which JaxoDraw provides a graphical WYSIWYG user interface, JaxoDraw allows graphical, mouse-oriented creation of such Feynman-diagrams. Naturally, fine adjustment of such diagrams with the keyboard is also possible.

The internal data representation and storage of JaxoDraw is done by means of a XML based format and output can be formatted as (encapsulated) Postscript, which allows conversion to PDF, as well as LaTeX [7] code. The output facilities to LaTeX were one major motivational point for Daniele Binosi and Lukas Theussl, the authors of JaxoDraw, since this allows easy incorporation of the diagrams into scientific papers.

Because of its flexibility and efficiency, the LaTeX typsetting system is very popular in the scientific area in general and Physics in particular. When working on diagrams, its non-WYSIWYG approach can make it more difficult to achieve one specific result, which makes JaxoDraw most likely a very useful addition for LaTeX users.

As the name suggests, JaxoDraw was written in Java. This brings the advantage of relatively good platform independence, but unfortunately it is dependant on the proprietary Java implementation by SUN, which brings the usual problems. JaxoDraw itself is published as Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Although the authors very clearly state that it is not mandatory to do so, they encourage users of JaxoDraw to cite the related scientific paper. [8] This is a very interesting connection to the thoughts on Free Software and science of issue #54, [9] since it shows in practice how Free Software itself becomes a scientific publication.

The next project, at the moment more or less a sleeper still, also deals with typesetting and publication, but it is specifically geared towards non-scientists.


The most common contact of users with GNU groff [11] is most likely for formatting the manpages, which provide help for most commands of a Unix-like system simply by calling "man <command>."

Few realize that groffs is indeed a full text typsetting tool close to TeX or lout, with which typographically professional postscript documents can be created, for instance the O'Reilly Perl introduction. For this, groff only required a fraction of the resources needed by LaTeX -- groff can be used on a 386 with 8 megabytes of RAM and 250 megabytes hard disk without a problem.

For Peter Schaffter, a Canadian writer who -- according to his own words -- lives in the same penury that many of his colleagues find themselves in, this resource friendliness of GNU/Linux and groff was a major factor in his decision. His computers are usually a couple of generations behind the state of the art, "resource challenged" machines that have been given to him.

Unfortunately, groff is not very easy to learn for most users, since commands tend to be terse, not always typographically intuitive and (according to Peter Schaffter again) "über-geeky." That is why he started working on Mom. [12]

Similar to LaTeX building upon TeX, Mom provides a macroset for groff, which defines a simple syntax. At the same time, it allows for very fine typographic control of generated documents that is comparable to other DTP solutions without requiring knowledge of the cryptic troff/groff syntax.

Mom's target audience are typesetters that have been discouraged by the troff/groff syntax, writers that simply want to write their texts and make them look good, and beginners that seek a well-documented solution.

In fact Peter Schaffter has been dedicating significant work to the documentation, as he is convinced that good documentation is an essential part of good programming. A sentiment that cannot be repeated often enough. The documentation is available as Free Documentation under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) in HTML format and many cross-references as well as the lack of optical ballast make it comfortably accessible with any browser.

Florian Cramer, who filled out the Brave GNU World standard question for Mom, highlights three reasons that are strongly in favor of Mom. First the unique combination of structured document processing in combination with an outstanding manual layout control. Second the low resource hunger and third the significantly lower complexity in comparison to LaTeX, which makes individual modifications easier.

Limits of the project are that it -- other than LaTeX -- is not very fit for scientific use, since it does not support cross-references, indices or numbered figures. Also the amount of output formats is limited. Mom is dedicated to produce PostScript (and therefore also PDF), theoretically, "grotty" and "grohtml" also allow outputting raw text and HTML, but the project doesn't pay attention to these.

Originally written by a Canadian writer for his own needs, Mom offers exactly what Peter Schaffter needed: an easy yet fully featured way of letting text look good.

Florian Cramer goes even further and also poses the question why XML/SGML systems all exclusively use TeX and not groff for print output; according to his opinion, groff would provide a great output format for XML based formats, as O'Reilly already demonstrated with "Programming Perl" by using DocBook SGML and groff.

In his eyes, Peter Schaffter is one of the unsung heroes of Free Software, and he was particularly impressed how friendly and quickly his suggestions (automatic generation of a table of contents) was picked up. By the way: if you also want to contact Peter Schaffter, you should make sure that your email contains the words "groff" or "mom" in the subject, otherwise it won't survive the spam filter.

Even though a few more additions may be added to Mom upon request, Mom is considered stable and Peter Schaffter would like to leave it up to the other users to decide which expansions are useful or necessary.

Based upon a very conscious decision, Mom is Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL). Not only as a gift in return and to say thanks, but also because he feels close to the social values of Free Software.

Study about "Hacker Ethics"

There are in fact an increasing amount of "classical" approaches trying to understand the phenomenon of Free Software. In quite different faculties from economy to sociology diploma and PhD theses are conducted on this topic. Such as the dissertation "Hacker-etik - en filosofisk undersøgelse" ("Hacker Ethik - a philosophical study") [12] by Aputsiaq Niels Janussen.

Although he was already familiar with Free Software and GNU/Linux, he hadn't thought much about the background until summer 2003. During that summer his interest for the philosophical background of the GNU Project [13] was raised -- specifically by the articles of Richard Stallman.

Based upon the book by Stephen Levy ("Hackers", 1984) he began serious studies on the phenomenon and also included constructive controversy with "The Hacker Ethic" by Pekka Himanen in his dissertation.

The paper was turned in July 7th 2003, so it is finished, but available as free documentation under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) and if someone was willing to help with this, Aputsiaq would explicitly welcome a translation from Danish into English. Since began working and will most likely move to Greenland in 2004, he probably won't find the time himself.

His favorite anecdote for the dissertation is that during his discussions with Richard Stallman, Richard voiced scepticism as to whether a hacker ethics exists as such. The final word on issues of the knowledge and information society has certainly been spoken yet.

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

Issues #53 [14] and #56 [15] of the Brave GNU World already informed about the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), but now the summit is about to close its first preparatory process and climax in Geneva. And even though Chancellor Schröder, who originally announced his presence, now had to delegate this task to the ministry of economics and labor because of internal German affairs, the questions discussed at the summit are at the highest international level.

Not unexpectedly, the quickly called-for PrepComIIIa didn't bring a solution for the critical issues such as human rights, financing, limited intellectual monopolies (in particular Copyrights and Patents) and Free Software. In the area of Free Software, a compromise seemed imminent, but the USA made their acceptance of that paragraph dependant upon the acceptance of the limited intellectual monopoly paragraph by other countries.

The group on this issue had several "open ended" meetings starting at 19:00 and usually had to close without result around 22:30. During these 3.5hrs of closed negotiation after a long, tiring conference day without sufficient food or fresh air, there was little will to compromise.

The second night was opened by statements of the "Motion Picture Association of America" (MPAA), before its representatives, just like the representative of the "World Intellectual Property Organization" (WIPO) had to leave the room.

The German ministry of justice quickly flew in an expert on the issue for consultation and a consensus was sought in bilateral as well as multilateral discussions. This will most likely take the shape of highlighting the importance of a balance between monopolization and accessibility of knowledge without implying whether that balance exists or does not exist today.

According to last information, the negotations are revolving around that point. The suggestion of Civil Society, which in fact did achieve this tricky point wasn't officially brought forward by any government as everyone feared bringing in new text might end up confusing the situation more.

Also potentially interesting in this context is the article "Fighting Intellectual Poverty -- Who owns and controls the information societies?" [16] which was written for a WSIS publication by the Heinrich Böll foundation.

Essential Benchmarks

Civil Society, so the part of the summit that is neither government nor economy or organization close to the UN, increasingly focussed on getting their own vision forward. In particular the time at PrepComIIIa was used to improve the document that was originally dubbed "non negotiables of Civil Society."

On four pages this document -- now called "Essential Benchmarks of Civil Society" [17] -- addresses the central issues and shows how these can be significantly improved. This is the most compact and encompassing document so far -- and the Civil Society "Visionary Declaration," which is about to be written as a counter-vision to the governmental declaration, will also have to benchmark itself against these.

But even within Civil Society there is still substantial need for discussion and the lines of conflict permeate all areas.

In internet governance there is still a discrepancy between the North, which seeks more independence from governmental control, and the South, for whom governmental control seems to provided the desired stability.

Questions of limited intellectual monopolies are also still in need of discussion; while some organizations seek to protect the rights of indigenous peoples by increased monopolization, this is in conflict to the largest part of the world, where a readjustment of monopolies is needed to allow access to information and help overcoming the digital divide.

And even for generally uncritical questions within Civil Society there is still need to talk amongst South/North, women/men, young/old and the different areas. Within Civil Society there are also many who for instance have not yet understood software as a new cultural technique and realized why Free Software provides answers to fundamental social questions.

My personal favorite for this is a quote from the PrepComIIIa workling group on the "Free Software paragraph" when one of the delegates in the U.S. governmental delegation said that the choice between proprietary and Free Software was indeed a political, not a technical one to make, but this forum (the summit) is not the right assembly to make political decisions.

Coin slots in hotel rooms?

As a final word I'd like to say something about an absurdity that has seen massive spread recently, particularly in hotels and airports: wireless internet access at ridiculously high charges.

Installing a simple wireless access point in the lobby of a hotel or the lounge of an airport (within most Northern countries) usually requires no more than an investment of up to 500 EUR and monthly fees of about 30 EUR (DSL flatrate).

In fact there are more and more hotels and airports offering wireless networks. But usually these come at 3-10 EUR per half-hour of internet access. But even when a traveller is in bad-enough need of internet access, payment usually creates the next barrier.

Usually these networks are designed as open networks with the first HTTP access being rerouted to a specific page for payment. Fortune smiles when this allows direct payment via credit card -- because often the system only works with prepaid-cards, which can be bought at the lobby.

But these have often run out or are not available at all. Personal experience says that at a specific Swiss airport two services are competing with each other. As a result, finding the sales point for the right network is a quest.

Should one be able to get one of these cards, that is usually not the end of all troubles, because most of the services seem unable to create stable web pages that work with all browsers. Javascript is the least proprietary technology encountered. It can therefore happen that pages are not available despite having entered the correct code or that prepaid cards quickly discharge themselves.

In one case -- this time Torino, Italy -- turning off the counter only worked by means of a popup window, for which the browser had to accept any popup and cooky from any site. Independent from using the service depending on opening security holes in your computer, there was of course no information provided about this before the user finds this out the hard way.

Given the microscropic costs of installing and maintaining a wireless internet access point in comparison with installation and maintenance of water and sanitation, should you expect to find coin slots next to the toilet, shower and each faucet in your hotel room?

These slots would of course not accept common currency, but special tokens, which are sometimes to be bought at the reception -- and sometmies only at the gas station across the street that unfortunately closes around 8pm.

But we already do live in the "sanitation age" -- it is the information age that still seems very far away given such developments.

Good New Year

Alright, enough Brave GNU World for 2003, I wish all readers a good year 2004 and hope you won't hold back on comments, questions, ideas, criticism, praise and project suggestions sent to the usual address. [1]

[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] JaxoDraw Homepage: http://altair.ific.uv.es/~JaxoDraw/home.html
[6] Axodraw Homepage: http://www.nikhef.nl/~form/FORMdistribution/axodraw/
[7] LaTeX Homepage: http://www.latex-project.org/
[8] "JaxoDraw: A graphical user interface for drawing Feynman diagrams" Studie: http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0309015
[9] Brave GNU World - Ausgabe #54: http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-54.de.html
[10] GNU GROFF Homepage: http://www.gnu.org/software/groff/groff.html
[11] Mom Makroset: http://www.ncf.ca/~df191/mom.html
[12] "Hacker Ethics - a philosophical investigation" (Dänisch) http://www.hacker-etik.dk
[13] GNU-Projekt: http://www.gnu.org
[14] Brave GNU World - Ausgabe #53: http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-53.de.html
[15] Brave GNU World - Ausgabe #56: http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-56.de.html
[16] "Fighting intellectual poverty" http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wsis/issues.html
[17] Civil Society Essential Benchmarks: http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wsis/cs-benchmarks.html

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Last modified: Thu Jan 15 14:48:06 CET 2004