Archive for category interesting articles

Wired: Open Source Hardware

In Wired’s latest magazine, there was an article on open source hardware: “Build It. Share It. Profit. Can Open Source Hardware Work?”. Massimo Banzi, co-founder of the Arduino project, posts all of the design files, schematics, and even software online, so that anyone can build their own Arduino board. It is a chipmaking robot, and 50,000 Arduino boards have been sold in the past two years. Arduino controls the brand, and this is part of the reason that they still sell any boards at all: anyone can make one, but only certain companies are allowed to use “Arduino” on their product, and they in return do have to pay a small fee. Surprisingly, this has actually helped Arduino. When other manufacturers make low-quality boards, with flimsy wiring and soldering, word gets around and Arduino sales increase.

As always, the question of money comes up. Software doesn’t cost much to make, but hardware? Arduino, like many others, sells their expertise. The boards cost $35, and Arduino makes very little off that–a few dollars, maybe. “But the serious income comes from clients who want to build devices based on the board and who hire the founders as consultants.” As far as the entire company is concerned, working for firms who want Arduino products can be relatively easy: “For example, one client wanted to control LED arrays. Poking around online, Banzi found that someone in France had already published Arduino code that did the job. Banzi took the code and was done.”
Wired really covered a lot with open source this month; online the article is 6 pages long. It has a lot of neat ideas and is really worth a read for all. Alert to bigtime hardware manufacturers: you may have to change your business style.
View article here.


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“Open Source” Prank?

The New York Times is reporting an elaborate spoof that has all the elements of the open source development model. With the headline “Liberal Pranksters Hand Out Times Spoof,” the times reported that millions of copies of a spoof edition of the Times at subway stations in New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities. The spoof is dated July 4, 2009 and portrays a liberal utopia, with the end of the Iraq war, a national health system, a recovered and green economy, and apologies and war crimes indictments for members of the Bush administration. The hoax includes a web site that almost perfectly mimics the look of the real Time’s site.

What’s interesting about this prank, is the way it was pulled off.

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Grace Hopper Conference

October 1-4, 2008: Keystone Resort, Colorado

Day 1 began at 5:15AM on Wednesday. A taxi picked up Trishan and Myles, and then came to Trinity for Rachel and I. After we piled our stuff in the trunk, we were on our way to Bradley Airport. We got some breakfast and ran into Professor Ingrid Russell, who would be joining us on our panel discussion. She was taking a later flight, and we’d see her in Colorado. The flight there was fairly uneventful: we had a pit stop in Philadelphia, where Myles happily got a Philly Cheese Steak, and then landed in Denver. We took the shuttles to the rental car place, where we saw many other Grace Hopper attendees—women, in groups, some with posters. We got our trusty GPS and a car, and off we went to Keystone.

The resort, with mountains in the backgroundLet me just say how amazingly beautiful it was. Jagged mountains already snow-capped, tall aspens all around, and a nearby lake to top it all off.  We got to the (huge!) resort and waited in line with all the other women at the front desk (oh, poor Myles and Trishan). We got all our keys and then checked in at the Conference Center, where we got small computer bags filled with goodies: about 20 different pens, pads of paper, a hand-powered flashlight, some cheap binoculars, a post-it-note booklet, 4 different kinds of chap stick, a water bottle, and Facebook mints, to name only a few. Then we checked out the condo: wow. We had a kitchen, dining table, gas fireplace, living room, 2 bathrooms, and 3 bedrooms.
But to the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Problem Solving as a Mashup

An article titled If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone in yesterday’s NY Times describes a new business model for what might best be called “open source problem solving”. Example: John Davis, a chemist from Bloomington, Ill., knows that you can keep concrete from hardening by keeping it jiggling (vibrating). He proposed using devices that keep concrete vibrating as a way to stop oil from freezing and the Oil Spill Recovery Institute of Cordova, AK paid him $20,000 for his idea. The problem and its solution were mediated by InnoCentive, a company that

links organizations (seekers) with problems (challenges) to people all over the world (solvers) who win cash prizes for resolving them. The company gets a posting fee and, if the problem is solved, a “finders fee” equal to about 40 percent of the prize.

To use a hip-hop (and increasingly web-centric) metaphor, we might say that the solution in this case was a mashup.

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FOSS as an ACM “Hot Topic”

The latest issue of ACM’s Computing Reviews contains a “hot topic” essay on open source software: Open Source: The Dark Horse of Software? Written by Phillip A. Laplante of Penn State, the essay provides a brief overview of the open source movement, mostly from a business perspective, and provides a very brief summaries of seven current research areas, including:

  • Open-Source Adoption Decision-Making and Business Value Proposition
  • Legal Issues (Licensing and Intellectual Property)
  • Qualities of Open-Source Software
  • Open-Source Community Characteristics
  • Source Code Structure and Evolution
  • Tools for Enabling OSS and Applications
  • Philosophical and Ethical Issue

The article provides some useful links to papers, books, and other resources on FOSS. About the closest it comes to “humanitarian” applications is this:

Clones of many well-known desktop and enterprise applications are available in open source, and these have become important to small businesses, nonprofit entities, and even governments of small and poor nations.

I doubt Richard Stallman will be happy with the following characterization of the relationship between GNU and Linux:

In 1983, Richard Stallman created a Unix-like operating system called GNU (a recursive acronym for “GNU is Not Unix”) and released it under a license that provided certain rights for use and redistribution—an open-source license. Eight years later, a graduate student at the University of Helsinki, Linus Torvalds, created another Unix-like operating system, Linux, which he also made available for free. Both Linux and GNU are still widely available, and their evolution spurred the creation of many other open-source software (OSS) programs.

Shouldn’t that be FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) or better yet F/LOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software?

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Outsourcing Academic projects

Came across this post,”UK students outsources IT coursework to India” on Cnet News (UK), which discusses recent findings showing that UK students at the high school and university level were contracting out some of their programming assignments. Is this simply the globalization of cheating, or a more sinister trend.   According to the article even final dissertations are being outsourced with milestones being met by the off site developers. Be it at a shockingly low rate of around $200 (100 UK pounds). One would think a college final dissertation/project would be worth more than that.

This would be a disturbing trend if left unchecked.  Aren’t these individuals robbing themselves of the joy of actively engaging in trying to solve the problem, or what about those long hours spent hunting for that illusive bug.   Some might argue that going out and hiring a programmer in India or Romania, is solving the problem. It is a practical solution to some extent, and depending on the type of work you do after graduation, it’s probably what you will end up doing anyway.

It might be a  small fraction of individuals who stoop to such lengths to weasel out of an assingment, however wouldn’t this behaviour have a knock on effect of negatively impacting both the overall value and perception of a Computing education.

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Open-source Fashion!

I was very excited to read this article on fashion design under the Creative Commons.

Open-source is a revolutionary idea that originated in CS circles, but definitely has far-reaching impact. CS educators must spend energy on bringing out the fundamentally new contribution of open-source as a different co-operative way to think about development of ideas (and not just code). The more we equip our students (especially non-majors) to understand this idea, the lesser Wikipedia looks like a “non-authoritative” information-base and more like a social revolution. Maybe some very creative student will come up with the next cool thing to go open-source?

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