Category Archives: FOSS

For “free and open-source software”

More thoughts on copyright

I got in a discussion behind the walled garden of Facebook about hymns, copyright and what we (as ministers and content providers) and I’ve brought some of my comments here. In particular, what do we do with hymn texts we think are in the public domain, and thus subject to republication, reuse or adaptation. But the text may seem a little one-sided…

It’s easier to show something is in copyright, than prove that it’s not. The before-1923 date is true, but there are works up to 1977 (when the law changed) that may be in the public domain. And that doesn’t got into the issue of licenture, including permissive licenses; see Creative Commons. It’s a tricky business. A fun place to start: http://librarycopyright.net/resources/digitalslider/

Another thing to keep in mind: liturgical elements that ministers write. Each of us have created copyrighted content. You don’t need to register an item to have copyright anymore. We can give permission each time (a pain), watch our works get cribbed without permission (annoying) or have it left untouched by the skiddish (a waste).

We can be good model of stewardship by providing our own “some rights reserved” licensing, using a Creative Commons model license. I’ve written about it, and license some works, but the Open Siddur people make a strong, maximalist case for licensing creative works, so they get the link. http://opensiddur.org/decision-tree/

Ubuntu Linux for Ministry: a feature for orders of service

So, this hasn’t been a weekly Thursday feature as I intended. Nor is this, properly speaking, a Ubuntu Linux-only feature, as it’s uses LibreOffice Writer, and that’s available for Windows and Mac OS X, too. (It is free and open-source software — FOSS — and you can get it here.)

A small thing — making it easy to put the information in an order of service (or a theater or music program) flush left and flush right respectively. Years ago, I would tab, tab, tab the biblical citation, or hymn name or the anthem composer over. Then I’d shim in extra spaces until the right margin wrapped to a new line…then I’d remove a space to pull the line back. It’s hacky, and never quite even. Here’s the right way.

Let’s start with a 5½ by 8½ inch page, as that’s letter paper folded in half and a common size for orders of service. And, for the sake of argument, half-inch margins. (Click the images to see them full-sized.)

To set the page size, use these menus. Format > Page > Page tab

Page style

Page style

Now, the idea of using tabs to set the left-hand information flush left and the right-hand information flush right isn’t entirely wrong. But the correct tab will be a “right tab” setting on the right margin. 5½ inch width, less a ½ inch margin on each side, and that means the “right tab” needs to be set at 4½ inches.

To add a tab, use these menus. Format > Paragraph >Tabs tab

Tabs tab

Tabs tab

As you see, you can use a “fill character” — like dots — to guide the eye. But that seems a little old-fashioned, so I didn’t; you may feel otherwise.

Which means in this example, you can type in “Opening hymn” and tab once to give its name.

Worked example

Worked example

And here is that file. Something to build on.

Is there something you’d like to see, to improve your church publications?

Serious conference tech

My day job (Sunlight Foundation) colleague, Jeremy Carbaugh, has written a thrilling blog post about the technology Sunlight uses to run our annual big event/unconference, TransparencyCamp, a.k.a. TCamp. Along with masterful planning and execution, engaged group process and careful attention to design, TCamp is a sight to behold.

I’m quite proud of it, and wanted to point out Jeremy’s notes in case you feel inspired. Can’t code? What better way to learn something than to find a project that needs doing? (I’ll point out other new how-we-did-it writings if and as they appear.)

It’s going on right now, learn more TCamp itself at the main page — or better, though the #tcamp14 Twitter hashtag.

Unitarian Universalists: we can make, at least, a hearty Twitter presence at General Assembly, right?

The free and open-source tools I use the most (that non-Linux users can also use)

After the call for tools, what can you get today?

Free software, as defined by the Free Software Foundation — their office is halfway between old 25 and new 24 — is

means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.

Open-source software is software which has code you can review; no hidden “black box” blobs. These aren’t the same thing, even though one often defends the other, and one kind of software is often the other. (But some defenders of one camp will also pick apart the other with a zeal that might be called religious. We won’t be getting into that here.)

In any case, both free and open-source software (together, FOSS) have defined meanings and a set of defined obligations though a family of licenses, the ramifications of which are not particularly clear to newcomers, thus I am suspicious when a non-software project is described as “free and open source” as fuzzy branding and jargon.

Here are the tools.

  • Firefox. Yes, the browser. You may be using it already, and it has developer tools and add-ons (not necessarily FOSS) I use. 
  • LibreOffice. Word processing, spreadsheet, presentation (a la Power Point) and other tools. Makes PDFs natively. I use it daily at work and home. A fork (offhoot project) of OpenOffice.org; the development community seems to have sided with it.
  • VLC Media Player. Plays just about anything you can throw at it, including streams and converts between formats.
  • Inkscape. A vector graphics editor, analogous to Adobe Illustrator. It’s what I’ve used to make the flaming nectarine, the double rings and other oddments.
  • KeePassX. Password creator and manager. Can’t live without it.
  • Brackets. An HTML editor, in rapid development. I’ve not created any sites with it — I don’t write sites from scratch anymore — but I have been noodling with it, and looks promising. A proper review when I use it more.

What’s needed across platforms? (Please comment if you know one that’s cross-platform and free and open-source.)

  • PDF reader (though there’s a plugin for Firefox)
  • a good low-distraction text editor (like iA for Mac; I use UberWriter)
  • FTP client (though there’s a plugin for Firefox) Filezilla, see comments.
  • color themer (can use certain web services)
  • photo manager
  • score editor (for that new hymnal)

We need free and open-source tools for our work

It’s not enough for some of us to sprinkle a handful of digital resources into liberally-licensed common use. I think we should be more demanding about the kind of tools we use to wake them: software that is free to use, free to share and (if we have the skill) free to build upon. Our output should be in formats unencumbered by patents; we need te free to open our files in the future.

This kind of freedom is often expressed as term like “free as in freedom” but they are also usually free of charge. This allows us to experiment with no added financial risk: no small thing.

And it’s not a pipe-dream. I’ve used Linux on the desktop at home and work for almost a decade. But I know the Linux market-share is still pretty small, so I intend to point out tools that are available for Linux (so I can test them) and at least Windows or Mac, but preferably both. (And considering that the still-popular Windows XP is coming to its end of life in April, considering a Linux future for those machines will keep them useful and out of landfills. Like in China. Or Germany.)

I’ll be writing about these tools in the future. But the Hungarian-Transylvanian Unitarians do this today.

What else here has a Creative Commons license?

So, again on Facebook, a discussion about Creative Commons licensing and the problem (both real and imagined) of using another person’s copyrighted work without permission. As I’ve written before, this unauthorized, unlicensed use has a special place in our history (The 1811 “pirate edition” of the Treatise on Atonement), and that our forebears made a similar, liberal license provision almost 80 years ago.

I’ve moved to licensing particular posts and resources to highlight that they are available under that license. Let’s be clear: a lack of a Creative Commons license doesn’t affect your fair use. (Indeed, my “flaming nectarine” is, I contend, fair use parody. I do have a plan when I write.) Or I could make a particular (just to you!) license for the work. Or I could take a request to license something.

But it does mean everything else isn’t objectively and permissively licensed. This is the kind of ambiguity kills innovation and the measure of use the creator often intends. But one licence doesn’t fit all situations.

One example. The CC-BY-ND-NC is the most restrictive “liberal” license; that is attribution, no derivitive works and no commercial use. It is, in essence, “pass around and post” permission. Not ideal, but the de facto standard for most preachers, with the understanding that a CC-BY-ND-NC sermon could be repreached as-is and without pay. (It’s the lack of attribution that I hear caeses grief.) But it couldn’t be translated, the preaching couldn’t be made into a recording or (to stretch the point) not be made into a screenplay under that license.

A make-it-your-own guide, say for an RE program or HR manual, is a derivative work, so the no-derivitives plank wouldn’t make sense. A non-commercial provision would make publishers shy away. And so forth.

It’s interesting. Reviewing by use statistics, the two posts that get regular, evergreen attention are for an image of a seven-pointed star to be use as a non-cross emblem for Christians, and a Sunday-only calendar for worship planning. (I’ll go back and add a public domain declaration, not available then.)

And, oh, I drew up a public-domain flaming chalice image for anyone to use a few years ago. High time to get those licenses set.

I also licensed my deck from my presentation at the UU Christian Fellowship Revival a couple of years ago.

But every once in a while, in UU circles, I run into an ad-hoc semi-permissive license. The intent is good, but confusing and ambiguous.

The rights around the new UUA logo is a case in point, and its ambiguity and tentativeness wouldn’t fill me with confidence if I was in a congregation and was about to commit to a design re-do. Can you remix the logo for congregational (not the UUA proper) use? Or the background wallpaper-like image? What about applying the color scheme or wordmark into an existing congregational design?

The advice — “Congregations are welcome to download and use the new symbol for their own outreach purposes” — doesn’t really help in these cases.

Mozilla style guide inspiring to read

With all the recent talk about the new Unitarian Universalist Association visual standard, it was a pleasure to run across another way of approaching the task. Mozilla, who produces the popular Firefox browser, has its entire style guide available for review on its website. You can also download its open-source standard font, Open Sans. It’s full of interesting design choices, and it just makes me feel better about Firefox.

The whole suite might inspire a design-forward congregation to adopt similar parts of a standard for its own branding. A cmmon font free to share would be a plus, and congregations would also benefit from templates for often-used documents.

A liberal license in a liberal service book

Free-culture and free software advocates easily identify art and technology as fields of interest. Software to share creates common tools for further creativity and interoperability. Riffing on existing films, photos and songs unlocks creativity. Drawing from the public domain preserves human accomplishment and refreshes it. These are easy to see, but worship?

Copyright and liturgy — literally, “work for the common good” — exist (for some sensitive souls) in tension. The bonds on what comes from God, or what is given to God, ought to be loose, if made at all. Since this attitude predates personal printing — think spirit duplicators in the pre-computer ago — little wonder the limits of liberal licensing extend to redistribution or free (that is, sponsored) distribution (one example) and not adaptation. In the United States, the public domain ascription of the Episcopal Church’s prayerbook is the exception that proves the rule: it has been widely adapted and modified. Unitarian Universalists could take this attitude to heart.

Gladly, I can point to one example that should still be effect and, for some, still useful. From the introduction to the 1937 Services of Religion prepended to Hymns of the Spirit (the red hymnal).

All of the services are intended to encourage a larger participation by the people than is sometimes to be found in what is called “Congregational worship,” but which too often is carried on only by the minister and choir with the people as silent auditors. To ensure full participation by the people the printed services should be in their hands, and they should be instructed to respond audibly in those parts assigned to them, which are printed in bold face type. In churches which lack the printed services or wish to follow a simpler form, it is suggested that the order of service, in a sense of the main sequence of events be printed on cards to be placed in the pews or hinged into the hymn books, the minister drawing upon such of the materials included in this book as he finds suitable for the occasion. Ministers wishing to reprint single services on leaflets for use in their own churches are liberty to do so but the words “Copyright by the Beacon Press” must appear in every such reprint and reprints may not be sold.

An imperfect license, but there are better ones today. Might I suggest, like the Open Siddur Project, a free/libre license using their license decision tree? (It refers to these licenses.)

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 OpenOffice.org 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.