The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'free culture'

2008/7/23

A few years ago, a few geeks in the UK, displeased with the Ordnance Survey's hoarding of taxpayer-funded mapping data, decided to do something about it, and so OpenStreetMap was born. Based on the same principle as Wikipedia, it used the power of internet-based grass-roots organisation to allow people to make their own maps, walking roads with GPS units, uploading the traces and giving them names. Out-of-copyright vintage maps and donated satellite data, among other things, helped a bit.

As you can imagine, in the early days, it wasn't much to look at. There were networks of roads, though most of them weren't named, and a lot were missing. You could sort of make out where you were, if you knew the place well. The interface was also somewhat slow and clunky, compared to Google Maps (a variation on whose draggable-tiled-map theme it was).

After a year or two, I looked at OpenStreetMap again today, and the story couldn't be more different. Where once was a slow, unusably incomplete tangle of rectilinear spaghetti, now there are street maps, as comprehensive and neatly rendered as Google and Yahoo!'s efforts, animated with a fast, responsive JavaScript interface (nothing you won't be familiar with if you haven't used Google Maps). Scrolling around the UK and zooming in on London brought familiar street plans, albeit in a new rendering. In fact, the (rather nifty) real-estate search mashup Nestoria even have a parallel version of their site which uses OpenStreetMap; the user experience is virtually identical to the main, Google Maps-based one. (For what it's worth, Nestoria uses something called Mapstraction, a browser-side JavaScript library that allows different mapping providers to be used interchangeably, but I digress.)

And as cool as a free-as-in-libre map of Great Britain might be (to one who lives there: pretty cool; your mileage may vary), that's not the extent of it. The OpenStreetMap project's scope is global; the developers created a canvas the size of the Earth's surface, with land masses and the locations of cities filled in, and allowed volunteers to contribute to it, wiki-fashion. Soon, OpenStreetMap had maps for Europe, North America and Australia like the commercial competitors. More interestingly, places which, to the big boys, are terra incognita often show up (in varying degrees) on OpenStreetMap.

Some are impressively comprehensive; for example, OSM's maps of Reykjavík (and, indeed, Iceland's second city, Akureyri) and Buenos Aires are as thorough as anything you'd expect from Google, were they to bother. Harare, whilst looking quite sparse, is more detailed than on Google's maps, and the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby seems fairly comprehensively drawn. Even Pyongyang has a surprising amount of detail (though one probably can't blame OpenStreetMap for most of the streets being seemingly unnamed); I imagine that as soon as North Korea allows unrestricted tourism, long before the first McDonalds goes up, tourists will be dragging cached OpenStreetMap tiles on their jailbroken iPhones as they negotiate its broad Stalinist boulevards.

Being based on free data, OpenStreetMap has other advantages over its commercial cousins. Each map comes with an Export tab, which lets you grab the displayed area in a variety of formats, from rendered pixmaps to SVG or PostScript to the actual raw data. With it being under the Creative Commons, you are free to do as you like with the data (subject to a "share alike" proviso if you commercialise it). And with it having the agility of the Wiki age, OpenStreetMap is starting to steal a march on its competitors; for example, it was the first map to show Heathrow Terminal 5 correctly.

Of course, OpenStreetMap is by no means perfect. parts of the world are still uncovered (much of the Russian interior), or only covered with major roads (much of Africa). And their rendering algorithm doesn't seem to do Chinese or Japanese characters, rendering most of China's place names as rows of boxes. (If one is picky, one could request transliterations of foreign character sets; perhaps this could be done as user-selectable layers.) There is no route-finding capability (of the sort that Google Maps has). But all in all, OpenStreetMap is very impressive, and a spectacular success.

copyfight free culture geodata open-source openstreetmap web wiki 0

2005/7/17

Free raves have returned to the English countryside, driven by pill-poppers' disaffection with highly commercialised, expensive and increasingly London-centric superclubs. The "free parties" are secretively organised using disposable pre-paid mobile phones (as they are illegal under the Criminal Justice Act, which has not been repealed), are centred around hard house and trance, and are claimed to be more responsible than the raves of yesteryear; though locals and the authorities disagree, and are planning to step up prosecutions.

"You think it would be quite heavy but it's mellow and chilled. You don't see people passed out on the floor. You don't get stupid young girls who drink too much that you get in commercial clubs. They cause the trouble, they cause the fights. You get that in Lynn way too much."
"There were five or six police on duty in south Norfolk that night," he said. "They talked to people at the rave and decided they didn't want any confrontation and let it run its course. What I'd like to see is the organisers being arrested or their equipment confiscated so they can't do it again. If the police don't want confrontation, fair enough, but why not confiscate it at the end of the rave?"
Norfolk police are investigating a number of free party organisers with a view to prosecuting them. Supt Scully dismissed claims the organisers acted responsibly. "If you get 300 cars and 600 people gathering in a site of special scientific interest, how can you say you are being responsible?," he asked. "It's insulting to the local local communities to suggest that."

culture dance music drugs free culture rave society temporary autonomous zones uk 0

2005/4/14

The BBC Creative Archive site is now up. There's no content yet (they're still working on negotiating the licenses), but the details have been officially announced. It's going to be distributed under something very similar to a Creative Commons by-nc-sa-style licence, only with a "no endorsement" clause prohibiting use of material for campaigning or defamation (which presumably stems from English copyright law's concept of moral rights). This licence will be used not only by the BBC, but also by other organisations such as Channel 4 and the British Film Institute for their own online archive efforts. In other details: there will be no DRM whatsoever, though the archive will only be accessible from British IP addresses (though I'm told that the people behind it are pushing to lift this restriction), and peer-to-peer technologies will be used to help distribute it (which, presumably, means that the BBC's download site will act as a BitTorrent tracker/seeder).

While we're on the topic, an article on the push to bring Creative Commons licensing to Britain.

(via boingboing) bbc creative archive creative commons free culture 0

2005/2/18

Tonight, I went along to the Open Knowledge Forum, which Cory Doctorow posted about on bOING bOING. It was fairly interesting.

They had several speakers, most of them originators of various projects to make civic data accessible to and easily navigable by the people who have a stake in politics (read: you and me); there was one of the authors of the genuinely awesome They Work For You and the connected Public Whip project, as well as someone from MySociety, the troublemakers behind FaxYourMP, WriteToThem.com, and the BBC's iCan project. And, toward the end, Cory spoke from behind his sticker-covered PowerBook and recounted his work with the EFF, recent happenings at the World Intellectual Property Organization (which he's in Europe to keep an eye on), new database copyright laws which allow organisations to own facts, and more.

Some interesting points came up: that non-profit projects in the public interest should not ask for permission before using government data (both for tactical reasons, namely, had they done so, they would have been kept waiting for much longer than it took to code the project and subjected to onerous restrictions, and moral reasons, i.e., a permission-based democracy not being a democracy), that such projects are not about "political reengagement" or restoring some lost state, but about reinventing democracy, and that a few Crown Copyrighted data sets, such as the (heavily monetised) Ordnance Survey geographic data and the Royal Mail's copyright on postcodes, are still impeding the ability to make civic information available freely (and free means free-as-in-speech, including the freedoms to syndicate, modify and incorporate information into other things).

copyfight copyright democracy free culture open knowledge forum politics 1

2004/11/18

Last night, I went to Dorkbot). It was a bit of a mixed bag; the presentation on London Free Map (a sort of geospatial Wikipedia, consisting of people with GPS units walking the lengths of streets to build up a GFDL/CC-licensed map of London and break the Ordnance Survey monopoly; connected with OpenStreetMap) was interesting, as were some of the "minidorks", including one by a chap who put a Wacom tablet on a guitar-like mount and used it to make noise with Max/MSP, and one by an American who built a 3D voxel display for Burning Man, using 729 microcontrollers, RGB LEDs and ping-pong balls, and an Ethernet printer server to control them). Others left a bit to be desired; the architecture student who started his with footage of the World Trade Center attack and went on to talk about the acoustics of spaces, sticking microphones into his mouth and filling latex balls with white noise, seemed a bit on the random side, while the presentation about the possibility of a bicycle that folds into an umbrella-sized package had little more than hastily-made Microsoft Paint drawings to it. There was also an intriguing-looking installation on the table, consisting of a brain-shaped set of neon tubes, a red vintage telephone and a Radio Shack speaker box, though the person operating it couldn't make it, and attempts to demonstrate it over the phone proved inconclusive (all it did was flicker, and the mobile phone interference drowned out what the guy at the other end was saying).

computer music digital art dorkbot free culture geek geodata hacks london max/msp 0

2003/7/3

I just picked up the new Mogwai album, Happy Songs for Happy People. I was surprised to find an insert in the album stating that the CD comes with a demo version of Cubase SX and the multitrack audio files of the first song on the CD, required to remix it. The Cubase demo is PC-only, so I don't get to see how the damned thing works under OSX, where most of my plug-ins can't go. The separate files are all .wav files, though, so if you don't mind not being able to load the .CPR Cubase SX project, you can still have a go at them. (Btw, Cubase SX files appear to be a RIFF data type; maybe some penguinhead will reverse-engineer them in due time, at least well enough to import them.)

Anyway, it's an interesting experiment; giving songs for the fans to remix like that. I can't see the copyright-crazed majors allowing their chattels to do something like that (i.e., if Radiohead did that, it'd probably come with a special rights-managed remixing program which ran only on your Trusted PC™ and let you give a few play-once low-bitrate Windows Media copies to a handful of friends before self-destructing), but I think it makes sense for indie artists. Mogwai probably have more to benefit from a fan-made remixes of one of their songs floating around the MP3 nets and being played by laptop-glitch DJs from their Ableton Live-equipped iBooks than most artists; much in the way that Björk has to gain from all the bootleg remixes of her songs floating around.

As for the album: haven't heard the whole thing yet, though it sounds good. It seems that the detour into Radical Jewish Thrash Metal that was My Father My King was just that, and the album is a progression from Rock Action; if anything, it's more introverted and subtle, though in a good way. In places they're starting to sound a bit like Sigur Rós, though.

Speaking of Sigur Rós, I also picked up their Sigur 1 - Sigur 9 single, which came with a DVD of videos. The one for Svefn-g-englar is not bad, and quite apt; it basically has people dressed up as angels moving about in slow motion around an Icelandic landscape, under a volcanic cliff and a featureless off-white sky. (The video was a US import, where they are released through MCA/Universal, which is presumably why it's a Region 1-only DVD.)

(Interesting that Mogwai hail from Scotland and Sigur Rós hail from Iceland. I wonder how long until a post-rock band emerges from the Faroe Islands, a point roughly halfway inbetween.)

copyfight copyright faroe islands free culture mogwai post-rock sigur rós 2

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