Ironically we started a little later as planned due to unforeseen traffic-jams for Yeri and Christophe. Nevertheless we did a great job and I want to start off by thanking all the participants and of course the hackerspace of Ghent.
Decided and discussed:
1. What should be in the API
We decided on 4 maincalls to the API (on picture, 4 black arrows to the right):
How to get from a station to another with realtime information (delays, platformchanges, …), transits, stops, vehicle numbers, and so on. We also came up with the fact the we might want pricing information included, with a url to buy a ticket online, and whether tickets are still available or not (arrows on the left).
Realtime information about arrival and departure of one specific station. A lifeboard contains the same information that you would see on the displays at a station.
A list of all available stations in the API with geocoordinates. We might as well want to give each station a unique id. Someone suggested to use the already existing ID of Open Street Map. Personally I haven’t found any documentation about that yet. If someone can point me to that I would be very glad.
Information about a specific vehicle. For instance the current geocoordinates of a train or plain, the stops a vehicle usually makes, … The most important thing we decided is the vehicle id. There is no such thing as an international ID that’s unique for 1 specific vehicle. Therefore we’re going to specify our international ID as:
would be a valid ID for a Belgian NMBS intercity train.
An important discussion was how we will format the time returned for each connection. We found out that programming languages work with: ISO 8601 or with unixtime. So we will provide both in the way provided on the whiteboard.
3. Name of the project
BeTrains is the client of Christophe Versieux (@Waza_Be) and Jan Vansteenlandt (@coreation) for android. They have a lot of users and they started to use iRail as their content provider. BeTrains is a known name for android people.
On the other hand is iRail a well known name for people who are interested in open data. However the i in iRail is a little dangerous for abcdefghi™jklmnopqrstuvwxyz reasons. That’s why we will not name any broader projects after iRail. That being said project.iRail will be our mainplatform to develop. But clients will most preferably be called after BeTrains.
Christophe Versieux gave a very good presentation about how to write a good user (/mobile) interface. We came up with some guidelines that are posted on project.iRail.be here:
And a page for user feedback
5. Legal actions
As usual, we discussed some legal matters as well. We comforted everyone that what we do is in our opinion 100% legal. We will give everyone an update 1 October. We’ll keep you posted.
You can reach our development API over here:
This API version is not a stable version and should not be used for official releases!
If you want to contribute, our developer habitat is still at project.iRail.be.
- Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
P.S. – If you were at the meeting and I forgot to mention something, do not hesitate to contact me. I will include it asap
I have been thinking and talking about this quite some time now: A «free culture» organisation. So it’s time to get something on paper: I’ve started writing the business-model. As I think for our organisation transparency is a very important value, and as a wise man once said: «Release early, release often. Given enough eyeballs, all mistakes are shallow», I want to share my current view. Hereby I invite you to bring on new ideas, to correct mistakes, to steal my ideas and make an even better organisation.
Currently there is a system of escalating fixed copyright fees. Copyrights are gathered from artists by for-profit companies who will try to use their monopoly on a cultural work to gain more money. The business-model that used to serve as a system to unite artists with consumers changed into one that hires lawyers to ban every case of fair use and reuse to both artists and consumers.
This system where every year new charges on other forms of media are collected is an untenable situation and innovation is required. This should not become a political discussion. It is easy to use the current system to provide artists with a valid alternative. They should not give away copyright on their work, but should be encouraged to manage theirs with support provided by a non profit organisation.
Free culture is defined by two clauses:
§1: Free culture has free artists which are free to do with their work what they want
§2: Free culture has free consumers, which are allowed to share, remix and reuse
Free culture in current legislation has been achieved already. Creative commons licenses are the perfect tools to co-act with current copyright laws.
Our main goal is to provide non-exclusive support for any artist who wants to make a living without relying on fixed fees. A secondary goal is to provide other businesses with music on the fly without having to pay fixed fees. An ambitious but intended side-effect should be that sharing of most files become legalised.
Business form: NPO (not-for-profit organisation)
Initial products :
- mobile band specific applications for android platform: mobile applications for fans to follow their artists. Applications may contain microblogfeed, streaming audio of latest recordings, tourdates, chatbox, etc…
- custom music (~recommendation) for other businesses
- support your favourite artists: become member of our organisation and pay a flat membership fee. By pressing buttons on artist websites, blogs, etc… you can support that artist. At the end of the month this flat fee will be transfered to all the artists you supported that month.
- Free support for artists:
- Assigning to netlabel
- Selling music on itunes, jamendo and other online music stores
Policy statement and vision
We solve a problem
Today if an artist wants to record his music in Belgium/Europe he has a binary choice: or he joins the only copyright management firm, or he doesn’t. We want to be the first of hopefully many organisations that supports artists in a new alternative way that doesn’t want to be evil nor exclusive for both artists and consumers.
The biggest question-mark with culture is to define what it is. Obviously the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is culture. But if we browse with an image search engine through the results of the query «Mona Lisa», few of them are the original work by Da Vinci. Are these remixes of the original work culture?
We like to think they are. Remixing and reusing are both part of our contemporary culture. In the end, all work is in some way derived from other work and by not allowing reuse of your own work you’re blocking cultural innovation.
-Pieter — Follow me on identi.ca
note: If you are a Belgian, SABAM is very similar to the RIAA. Feel free to replace RIAA with SABAM.
RIAA recently showed the Americas and the world some interesting calculation magic. It wants to fine Limewire, a company behind a peer to peer sharing application, 1 billion dollar. In 2008 the RIAA was seeking 13 million dollars from The Pirate Bay, a file-sharing site, but for only 34 cases of copyright infringement (src: this image). That means per file, the RIAA fines $382,353. When we redo the math today (The Pirate Bay links to over millions of copyrighted songs, computer programs, movies, …) the penitence will be so big, there is not enough money in the entire world to pay for it.
I’m not a huge fan of “piracy”, like they tend to call it, though. An author is the first to decide what he’s going to do with his work. He has the copyright. He should decide whether others may use it, hear it, watch it, reuse it… and in what ways. With the current copyright system, anyone else but the author starts with no rights at all. If an artist decides his work should be under such license, there is nothing to bring against that. It’s his work, he is in charge and his choice should be respected.
That’s nice. In theory.
In practice big companies arose who asked artists to give them their copyright, in exchange for some money they would collect from people who listened or viewed their work. As you can see, many artists today don’t think about the consequences before falling for this Faustian bargain. So apparently today, it’s not the «artist» who owns the copyright or «artistsright» (that’s how we call it in Belgium) to their own work anymore. Companies claim to posses this «intellectual property». Any use should be paid for and the system has gone mad: 3 year old kids are criminals, you have to pay an absurdly high amount of money just to cover a song by a band, singing happy birthday is copyright infringement, sharing a song by sending it to a friend is considered highly illegal, etc…
Now it’s time to make a balance: what have we lost? As long as artists give away their rights to copyright firms, we lose the right to reuse that material, until 70 years after the death of the creator. If an artist dies at an average age of 70, and they create their best works at avg. 20 years old, we lose 120 years of culture per artwork. If we multiply this by all art created this century, we might end up with heaving lost 13.9 billion years of culture. Which is indeed how long this universe exists. Interesting theory huh? I think the math is not more absurd than RIAA’s overall monetary calculations.
Fans do not only want to enjoy music. They want to share it with their friends, put it on their website, create derivative works, … Condemning every bit of cultural innovation (CC law: everything is based on something) is not how we want to experience culture in the future. Therefor we need «free artists».
Free artists are themselves free because they can do with their work what they seem is appropriate. They don’t lose their rights. On the other hand, consumers should be free as well. If someone bought your work in digital form, he should be able to use it in a presentation, send it to friends, etc… This can be achieved by a creative commons license.
This however is not a political decision. Artists should become a little more concerned about their rights. Therefor, in Belgium, I’m creating an NPO (vzw) to help such artists getting paid (should not necessarily be less than someone who lost his rights). Any help is welcome. Feel free to contact me in any way described on the about page.
I hope in 1 year our NPO for supporting free artists in Belgium will be able to go live.
-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
Last Friday, as a student software engineering, I had to attend a lecture given by the EPO (European Patent Office). This is a short summary of what the presentation was about.
He entered the second biggest auditorium of our campus and as the buzz, caused by all engineering students, faded, Raphaël de Roeck commenced, as befits any good speaker, his captatio benevolentiae. Out of his pocket the EPO administrator popped a Blackberry and told a simplified version of the NTP-lawsuits (Since wikipedia is more neutral telling this story, I’m not going to repeat it here, please click the link for more information).
I was already satisfied. He was narrating a typical example of an American software patent troll. At the end, I assumed, he would proclaim that this is impossible in Europe because software is not patentable, nor do we support trolling. But no. My expectations shattered when he spoke these words: «So, engineers, apply for as much patents as you can, because you can earn huge money with them!»
After this captatio malevolentiae he went on about technical aspects of patents in general: how can we apply for a patent, what is an European patent (simply: a collection of patents accepted in different European countries), which ideas are patentable, and so forth. The latter was pretty interesting though. His slide was showing a Dutch summary of this page. Since he requested to retain questions until the end of the presentation, I decided to hold my breath.
The first question came from up front: «Isn’t the EPO influenced a lot by lobbyists?». «Good question!» the man responded. He answered this question by saying that he is an official and cannot be influenced by lobbyist. But how close is that to reality?
My question was about article 52 of the European Patent Convention: «Can you give an example of what “as such” means according to 52.3 and can you apply that to FAT?». He answered my question only partially: He had no idea what the FAT-patent was and could not answer to that one. The first part of my question he answered as I expected: he tried to explain the impossible with too much “but”s and “or”‘s, even when not applied to software patents. The part of the audience that was still paying attention got the message: there’s something not right with the current patent system as such. *
Afterwards, when we were leaving the auditorium, I was accosted by the speaker, who told me he looked forward processing my patent applications. I could not help myself informing him, for the second time that day (so he knew), I was a software engineer and I would not be able to apply for a patent in the future. We had a discussion regarding software patents and in the end I think they (as a second spokesman joined him) realized the trouble with 52.3, as anyone can interpret «as such» in his own way, and with software patents in general. The second person concluded with: we are law-enforcers, the only thing we do is we interpret the law and we make money with it. It’s not our call to change the law, even if it is absurd.
The hassle continues…
-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
* As Jan Wildeboer explained to me afterwards, the 52.3 issue has this background:
Before the European Patent Convention was in place, there already were some UK software patents. To make sure these patents would not become invalid, they added the «as such» article to the law, with the intention new patents would not get through the application. That however didn’t work out, because some software patents did get validated. So in 2000 they tried to delete the 52 article entirely, which got a lot of protest**.
Nowadays Japan and the US still want Europe to delete the 52 article. They don’t have it and to unify the world of patents, the EU should just adapt itself to them.
** Software is
- like maths. Luckily Pythagoras didn’t patent a²+b²=c² huh…
- like a book. It is already subjected to copyrights. No need for patents.
The first thing you learn when taking a course in software design is this:
You’re never done developing a computer program
This is a huge contrast with business-models in which we’ll produce hammers: we’ll need a metal bar and a wooden stick; and once you finished designing the production process, on which you will probably want to take a patent because you want to benefit from your great invention, you will have perfect products which do not ask for modification. In this model patents stimulate the quest for better solutions.
The Ones We Don’t Mention (from now on: TOWDM) copy this model to this digital environment, but instead of stimulating improvement they are slowing it down to minimum speed. Patent trolls appear: companies who’s only goal is to register new patents and to sue anyone who’s infringing them.
It becomes a major problem when those companies’ only interest is to sell more copies of their product. They will try to create monopolies through closing down standards, implementing their own closed protocols, closing their source code, patenting their frameworks, … This only leads to bogus software which will require the end-user to pay another sum of money to fix a small problem.
What if the head of our hammer fell off? Right! We’ll glue it on! What if there’s an error in closed proprietary software? You’re not allowed to fix it and should wait for an update which can take for ever, or you’d better buy a newer version.
My father is a famous (at least, that’s what he claims) linguist which has done, and is still doing, very interesting research on computer assisted language learning (CALL). Our Saturday morning chats mostly consist of discussions on how to make even better software designs and coffee. One of his first projects was a program on which people could study French verbs: verbapuces. This program, released 20 years ago, was a big hit, and it was the best software for studying verbs ever. I’m 20 years old, and when I was 12 I studied my verbs using verbapuces. Verbapuces was written in pascal, and it was written so it could fit on one of those large wobbly floppy discs (sure you remember those, but you probably don’t remember them containing 3000 different verb conjugations). I’m not exaggerating: A quick google query returned this forum in which this topic asks in 2009 how to copy verbapuces diskettes from 1995 onto a usb-stick to use the software on the train. This probably won’t work, since the program is written for MS DOS, not longer supported by MS.
What has become of verbapuces? The source has never been released (even I never had a glance at it) and this timeless piece of software (equally timeless as emacs/linuxkernel) is gone. No-one will ever be able to use the software he was using in his youth. Do you call this technological innovation?
I’m afraid the same destiny awaits any .NET application you write. The patented .NET framework is constantly changing to be able to bring new products which could sell more copies of the latest version of visual studios. It is not portable to any other upcoming operating systems you would want to develop for.
There have been attempts to port the .NET framework to other operating systems by implementing the .NET specification: eg mono by novell which is ‘protected’ by microsoft’s community promise. Although microsoft seems to do a great deal for the communities driven software world here it is not a big gift at all. Why would we trust a devil’s promise? They have sued tomtom for implementing FAT in the linux kernel in the end. And… If you read the ‘promise’ a little deeper you’ll notice only the basic packages are protected, but the more advanced packages someone might need are left ‘sueable’.
I do not want to sound disrespectful towards my parents. I look up to my father and when he talks about software design I try to be attentive as possible. He’s the best at finding incredible effective solutions for questions that sound incredibly simple. He taught me programming is much more than typing code into a computer. On the contrary, programming in the open source way is only 10% coding, and 90% thinking without implementing it on modern/old technologies.
Although I’m your son and I’m programmed to disagree with you, you’re right: a software design should be made without thinking about technology at first, but please, don’t make your software depend on patented software. 1% of that 10% consists of choosing which technology you’re going to use and which developing model you’re going to apply. This choice cannot be overrated and it makes the difference between a timeless product and a product that will survive for 2 years.
-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
Back in the old days, when the Internet was only among a very few companies, making music for a large audience was not easy. There were a lot of steps to go through before you finally could have your song on an LP, and each of those steps cost a lot of money. The listener on the other hand had only a few options how he could enjoy music: he could go to a concert, listen to the radio or buy an LP. Obviously, to make things more easy for both the listener and the artist, middlemen were needed. These middlemen had the right amount of money, had the right contacts and they had the noble goal to make life easier for both listener and artist.
Nowadays, things got quite different: sharing music on-line is easy, recording music does not require highly advanced technology anymore, recording has become quite affordable, etc. However, sharing music got this funny name ‘piracy’, given by companies who once were the middlemen with the noble goal to protect consumer and artist. Instead of those protectors they became the consumer’s worst enemy: we can no longer share files with our friends, because sharing became theft, and artist tend only to get a very low percent of their music’s gain. With pitiable words, these middlemen nowadays try to keep doing the same as they were doing in those days.
To those relentless speeches on piracy however, I say «amen». Because that’s what you say when a prayer comes to its end. It’s a reckless effort to keep this business in copyrights alive.
You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now, how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?
Other people’s money, DeVito’s speech
Free culture (as in freedom)
Today I can say with almost no doubt that you agree with my opinion on free culture, since you are already living it. You listen to some music and when you like it you might want to buy a CD, get to attend a concert, or share the music with other friends. I stand for all those things, except, I want to legalize it in a very nifty way. Artists have to realize these middlemen nowadays cause more problems than anyone else. Get rid of these guys who say your fans cannot listen to your music unless they pay. Fans want to promote your music and want to put it on their site without having copyright claims, they want to play it on their birthday-party without being scumbags since they’re promoting your music.
Yes, you got it right, I do not want you to change whatever you were doing. I only want you to realize this can be legal and can exist without all these uncertainties. If you’re an artist then please read about the creative commons licenses. They allow you to make free culture, as in freedom, the freedom to experience your art in any way.
-Pieter – follow me on identi.ca