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Invest in what you believe in

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sun 13 September 2009

I just got back from Djangocon, which was pretty awesome. I was once again on the video team, much like at PyCon. Now that I've got traveling and such out of the way I can return to working on personal projects in my "spare time".

And hey, one of those spare projects turned out to be making some contributions to Miro. Pretty much just minor GTK-X11 specific fixes or enhancements thus far. I'm hoping to return to more Miro hacking in a serious way in the future, but of course I'm not working for the PCF full-time any more, and I notice that the kind of things I'll likely be working on will be a bit different: it really will be more scratch-an-itch style development. Working on serious projects would probably require more full-time dedication than I'm able to give at the moment.

Which actually leads me to another point. Free software and free culture projects all require funding. I tend to think that if you reap the benefits of these kinds of projects, and especially if you really believe in them, then you should consider putting your money toward them. Think of it in terms of the Lessig Challenge: how much money do you put toward media distribution companies, proprietary software vendors, etc whose policies and actions you object to? We do live within a capitalist system, and that means the best way to vote toward change is often to vote with your dollar. (There are other ways to vote of course, you can vote with your effort and time too. Generally the best option is to do both.) So putting your money toward things projects you believe in, even when that "purchase" won't result in an immediate result, is something I think everyone should do.

One such project is subtitle translations in Miro. The PCF is trying to raise funds toward this, and I think it's a great opportunity to tackle accessibility in open video, which hasn't really been covered yet... I'd really like to see this bar make it all the way:

Kickstarter

I wouldn't stop there either. What organizations do you really believe in? Various groups could use your support, in especially what has been a terribly difficult year for nonprofits. A sample of groups that I think are important and worth joining or donating to in the free culture / free software sphere: Creative Commons, GNOME, the Free Software Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation... these are all important groups that need your help.

As for media, support independent artists, especially those that use free culture licenses like Jim's Big Ego, Professor Kliq, Brad Sucks, or any one of the many awesome artists on Jamendo or Magnatune. The Blender Foundation is creating a new Open Movie, Project Durian. They're very close to meeting their pre-order goals... of course, they could still use some help, and the more orders the better (at the moment, if you preorder, you can get your name in the credits). That's a great project in particular because it funds Blender development, helps create an awesome movie, and even releases all the source files under free licenses. They have other items in their E-Shop, too. When you buy hardware, try to buy devices that are free software friendly. There's loads you can do in the realm of media and technology.

There's tons you can do outside of technology, too. Morgan and I get all our groceries from the local farmers' market, from our local CSA, and from independent grocers. When we go out to eat, we go to independent restaurants instead of chains. The Eat Well Guide is a fantastic directory for finding ethical sources of food near you (especially consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture program... it's a cheap and easy way to get fresh, local and organic food at your door every week).

Maybe not everything I've listed here meets what you believe in, but probably something does. Just remember that your time, effort and money are all incredibly important resources, and how you use them will change the world, either in ways you believe in or ways you don't. So invest wisely.

Creative Commons Transition

By Christopher Allan Webber on Tue 11 August 2009

If an unchanging life is a boring life, then I certainly haven't had much time for boredom as of late. I've microblogged about these changes plenty, but a blog post of normal length is probably in order.

I've mentioned on here already about getting married and etc. That hasn't been too huge of a change moving from unmarried to married life though. When you live together for long enough, the kind of changes that marriage brings are more in the realm of civil benefits and how you sign documents than anything else. There is, of course, the promise of permanence. Yet that's mostly a seal on a document it felt like we signed a long time ago. It is comforting to have, though.

The other big change has been a change in employment. A budget shortfall means I'm no longer working at the Participatory Culture Foundation. No animosity there... while I was sad to go, I understand that it needed to happen, and I am still on great terms with everyone there. I expect to continue to work on the Miro family of projects. I'm in a bit of a transition period, but I suspect I will simply be returning to the work capacity of a volunteer as I was before being hired at the PCF. Things need to settle again before I can do anything though, so we'll see. (In the meanwhile in PCF land, Paul Swartz took over the work I was doing on Miro Community TV, and it's coming out great. I expect to run a Blender-related instance of it myself soon.)

So, between jobs I did a small amount of contracting. I got positive feedback for the work I did. It is nice to know then that I have the capacity to do this if it is necessary, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't worrying so much. At this point in my life at least, I prefer being employed as part of an organization. Maybe at some point in the future that will change. In the meanwhile, I'm extremely giddy to report that am employed at an organization... and an incredible one at that! I accepted a position as a software engineer at Creative Commons! How awesome is that?

Last week I spent doing "homework", reading up on the various technologies used at CC, the numerous projects in place, and so on. This week I have actually flown in to San Francisco (I am writing this from my hotel right now, actually). I spent yesterday going over this stack with Nathan in person and reviewing what the "glorious future" is supposed to be (read: a cleanup in code and architecture). Today I will begin working toward that glorious future, to which much work has already been done. Exciting!

Anyway, I'm grateful for the fact that I have been able to move from one incredibly awesome and socially positive organization to another without too much of a difficult transition period. To be able to put your daily effort toward something you truly believe in is rather rare, so I consider myself quite lucky. I come mostly from a free software background as in terms of these philosophical issues, but I said often when giving talks on Miro that I am especially interested in the areas where free software and free culture intersect. And now I'll be able to directly work to progress the free culture movement by working with and on free software. Which is several levels of fantastic.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, we are not moving to San Francisco... not in the immediate future, anyway. Early Saturday morning I will be flying back to Chicago so I can do work from our messy, messy apartment.

Speaking of which, I thought San Francisco was going to be all unbearably warm and etc. I was rather incorrect. It appears that in flying out I ducked the worst of a very modest heatwave in Chicago. So, fancy that.

Miro and ChiGlug groups on Identi.ca

By Christopher Allan Webber on Fri 23 January 2009

I mentioned in my last post that I am now using Identi.ca. I'll be honest.. when I first set it up I didn't really think I'd use it. 140 character limit? And why have a microblog when you can just have, you know, a blog? And then I started using it and realized that it was really like public instant messaging or a global chatroom. And now I'm totally hooked.

I've been using it to send out updates on the guide by tagging those posts with #miroguide so that people doing testing can know what kind of changes are happening. Will has also been tagging with #miro quite a bit.

A lot of people have asked me... why Identi.ca? Why not Twitter? Indeed, Twitter does have a significantly bigger community. You can also sync up your identi.ca account with you twitter account, and indeed I do know a lot of people who have done that. But I'm simply not too interested in collecting my information into yet another walled garden. Identi.ca runs off of Laconi.ca, which is free software that anyone can run on their own server. And the people behind it are pushing for a standard that will allow for even further decentralization called OpenMicroBlogging (OMB). Admittedly, I haven't read the standard yet, but what I'm hoping is that this will allow for a setup that is closer to what we have both with email and XMPP/Jabber, where anyone can run a server and send messages to anyone on any other server. So, at this point there are a lot of people being snarky and responding with, "Well, not as many people are using it yet, so it really doesn't matter." Which is what people said about XMPP/Jabber in its infancy, while AIM was the proprietary, de-facto protocol. But now XMPP is the default standard... if you have LiveJournal, Facebook, GMail, you already have an XMPP account, whether you realize it or not. It's not really clear whether it will be the case or not, but hopefully the same will be the case with OMB.

I still think that the 140 character limit is a bit short. Though I could be wrong on that. I still think it would be better if it would be a bit longer, and if it were possible to use named links instead of having to resort to third party servers like bit.ly and tinyurl.com (this is the web after all, and almost any decent communications platform (including xmpp) supports web links). I think the biggest problem is that it might break twitter compatibility, but I guess that really doesn't bother me. If we're thinking of microblogging as like a public chat room, we can have a bit of a higher character limit and still be reasonable. But those are minor complaints.

So today identi.ca released a brand new version of the site running off of a new version of laconi.ca. It looks good, has a few bugs, but most importantly, it now supports groups. Think of it this way: a !group is like a subscribable #tag or a magical collective @person. If you mark a post with your !group, and all subscribers of the group will get that message, regardless of whether they are subscribed to you specifically. It's a great feature, and if I understand correctly, one people have been wishing for for a while... even in twitter land. ;)

So with that in mind, I set up a few new groups... !miro (which three of the miro developers have joined at this point already), !chiglug for the local Chicago GNU/Linux User Group, and of course I had to set up a !blender group. Group avatars aren't working yet apparently, but I'll upload them once they do. Well, what are you waiting for? Sign up! :)

Leaving 2008 and Entering 2009: Reflections and Projections

By Christopher Allan Webber on Thu 01 January 2009

Well here we are, and 2008 is coming to a close. Sitting here between one year and another... I suppose this is a good time to reflect on things. I haven't talked enough about what I've done the last year, so I guess now is a good time to talk about that as well as what I see happening in this coming year. Not resolutions as much as expectations.

So, 2008 was a busy year... at the end of 2007, I proposed to Morgan, and so 2008 involved a lot of wedding planning (admittedly, more of that burden has been on Morgan's shoulders than on mine). Most of the difficult bits are planned now, and at the end of June 2009, we should be married. That's one thing which I'll be working on at the beginning of 2009... the wedding website. I still haven't gotten to it. I have a due date for the end of January. Well, at least I know what I'll be spending my weekends on during that month.

Speaking of which, I project I'll be leaving the shared hosting world and moving to my own virtual server for this website. Webfaction has been great... it was really refreshing to use a shared hosting service that actually felt like it respected developers. But I feel like my needs have outgrown that, and so I got an account on Linode. Not sure if I'm keeping the webfaction stuff for something else yet or not (I'd better decide soon), but I'm really looking forward to not using a control panel any more and to be able to put up whatever services I want, how I want, from the command line.

This last year I've also begun working on my artwork again, after a long hiatus during the three years in which I was both working fulltime and going to school fulltime. There have been some stills I have been working on, most of which I have not bothered to put up yet (I need to really put up a nice, basic image gallery on here). But the real thing I was hoping to work on in 2009 was a series of animations using the animation engine I developed to propose to Morgan. I still think that's something worth working on, but it slowly became apparent to me that I really should get a better sense of how the rest of the software world thinks about doing animation before I return to working on my engine.

Hence, I've had a renewed interest in Blender; I even actually completed my first actually-good-enough-to-be-considered-a-finished-project still image, titled A Fear of Flight (which I suppose I never really mentioned in my blog... ah well). People seemed to like it, minus the fact that I kind of skipped adding a background. They're right... I really don't know anything about creating backgrounds, just characters. So that's something I'll have to work on.

Probably not a big surprise to say that the next project is actually an animation in Blender. I've decided to created an animated version adapted from a reworking of the intro to SuperTux we had talked about while I was actually still involved in that project. I already had enough of an idea of the story and the characters, and it's short enough of a scene that it should be possible. I've begun planning out the project, and I've already storyboarded it. If my time estimations are right, it should be possible for me to get it done sometime between August and September. The wedding website has to be done first though... meanwhile I am waiting for my copies of Creature Factory and Learn Character Animation Using Blender to arrive. I've benefitted a lot from the other blender training dvds, and I think I'm finally coming to the point where I have enough skills to pull a decent animation off, and I think after watching these I'll be fairly ready.

In addition, last year I started paying a lot more attention to my health. I've recently begun focusing on changing my diet quite a bit, and I've actually come to discover that I am really enjoying the changes that I'm making. Someone asked in the comments of my last post if I am a vegetarian... the answer is no, since I do eat meat still, but increasingly less so. That's both for health reasons as well as responding to some pretty compelling arguments about lowering or eliminating the amount of meat in one's diet. But there have been more adjustments than that... I'm also generally just eating a lot healthier. In the last couple weeks I've been weeding fried food out of my diet, and I gave up drinking soda. But I've been eating and drinking so many other interesting (and healthier) things that I don't really regret it. I look forward to returning to outdoor biking again when spring comes around, too.

Lastly, there's no way I can end this post without mentioning the shift in my employment and programming activities. Since I began using Linux in 2001, it has been a dream of mine to be able to work on a significant free software project as my full time job. I didn't expect that to come true, but in 2008 I came on full time working for the PCF. I came on at an exciting time... Miro's architecture has gone through a major overhaul over these last many months. The new release is coming so close, and now it's clear enough how worth it all that work has been. I look forward to being part of all that advancement in the year to come.

So, a lot has happened, and a lot is on the horizon. Life has been a lot of things lately, but boring is not one of them. I'm anticipating that to be the same with the coming year as well.

Goodbye 2008. Hello 2009.

Mushiki Love

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sat 27 December 2008

Miro 2.0 is shaping up pretty fast, but I'm actually working on the Miro Guide presently. New versions of both should be launching pretty close to each other, if not at the same time. I'm pretty confident in a super-awesome-release. But between that, the holidays, the upcoming wedding, and my efforts to improve my Blender skills, things are pretty busy.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with the title of this post. I am going to go on a bit of a random rant.

I've recently been playing with food dehydration, fermentation, pickling, and other forms of food preservation that don't require refrigeration. (No reason other than it's just a really interesting thing to learn about.) In the process of experimenting on how to make my own vegetarian teriyaki jerky using tofu, tempeh, and seitan (the tofu and tempeh turned out to be the most interesting... seitan was a bit too brittle for my taste, though it was the one that looked most like beef jerky) I ended up wandering the aisles of the local asian grocery store to refresh my supply of those ingredients. I ended up impulsively picking up a bamboo steamer (a Mushiki). I didn't know how it worked... I just bought it. It was only 6 bucks. It may have been the best impulsive 6 bucks I ever spent.

I had a pot that it fit perfectly over. I put some water on to boil, chopped up some vegetables, tossed in some extra firm tofu and vegetarian fake duck (really just seasoned, canned Seitan). Put it over the pot to steam for 5 minutes. I was surprised at how fast and effortless it all was. Anyway, put the food into a bowl and poured some teriyaki sauce over top. Mixed it up, dug in.

I was totally astonished at how delicious the vegetables were. I have never enjoyed vegetables so much in all my life. It wasn't a complex meal, it was healthy, and it was totally delicious. And oddly enough, I was full.

The next night I chopped up a banana and an apricot, threw in a raspberry and a cherry, and steamed it all for 5 minutes. I almost fell over. It was the most delicious desert I had ever eaten. No added sugar or anything.. was just fantastic on its own.

Since then I have also steamed and eaten: a leek bun, a red bean bun, and some edamame. All fantastic.

Not really much more to this post than that. I am just astounded that I have never played with this form of cooking until now.