Monthly Archives: November 2009

The iPhone and toilet paper freedom

Geoffg is playing a lawyer in declaring his interpretation of the GPL as the truth, lambasting the Free Software Foundation for not updating some old articles, accusing them of spreading FUD and declaring the iphone as a missed marketing opportunity.

He makes the mistake however of reading the GPLv2 as a definition of freedom, rather than an implementation of it. As this fine person pointed out last year, it’s no good being able to change software if you can’t run it. This is the freedom to change software and use it as toilet paper.

Fine, maybe you can run GPLv2 software on your iphone, but you can’t exercise all the freedoms which the FSF campaign for. According to them, GPLv2 software in closed DRM is exploiting a loophole which GPLv3 was in part written to close.

I can see it’s difficult for people to reconcile their love for free software and their love for Apple products, but maybe it’s best to be mindful of the fact that you’ve bought a computer that you can’t run software on without the permission of a large corporation.

There’s a lot of weirdness in the computer music community around this. RJDJ is a port of the free PureData language to the iphone. Many of those involved are free software developers, but have to give up all their rights to RJDJ, a venture capital funded company. RJDJ in turn license the code back to them under the GPLv3. This means they are free to change and run the code under open operating systems, but not on the iphone. This is weird, using the GPLv3 as a firewall to protect commercial interests on a closed platform, while exploiting the work of a free software community.

Just to clarify; I’m not saying that people shouldn’t run open source software on the iphone, particularly when a permissive license like MIT or BSD is involved. I’m just objecting to ignorance of the FSFs definition of software freedom, which I happen to subscribe to and which is incompatible with the iPhone. I find the RJDJ case weird, but while I know of at least some cognitive dissonance in the RJDJ team, I don’t know that any of the authors are otherwise unhappy with the situation.

UPDATE: Michael from RJDJ contacted me to point out something I got wrong. RJDJ don’t release their whole iphone port of PureData, just part of it — rjlib. This is indeed released under a GPLv3 though; if you want to contribute towards rjlib, you have to transfer your rights to RJDJ or fork the code.

BTW they are also releasing a rather nice looking cross-platform gui-less version of PureData under the LGPLGPLv3 and LGPLv3 called zengarden.

Patterns of Movement in Live Languages

I’m giving a paper at the CHArt conference in Birkbeck tomorrow. I’ll edit it a little after the conference for publication, but here’s a draft of the paper, here’s the presentation (which I’m currently editing) and here’s the abstract:

Programmers do their work by writing — a piece of software is a structure made from words. These structures are generally too big to comprehend in their entirety, so programmers instead focus on small detail and overall plans; zooming in to find parts to combine and simplify and zooming out to find places to build. But this is not architecture: these structures are more like machines than static buildings. A programmer’s work is set in motion by a program interpreter, with information flowing in and around processing units before being directed outward in response.

Usually a programmer will write some text, and then step back to start it up, watch it work and decide upon the next edit. Live coding programmers however work on their software while it is running, as if they were modifying a machine without switching it off first. Because software is built from words, this is done by editing it as text, adding new routines or changing the character of an existing one. Such a change takes immediate effect, allowing fast creative feedback.

Where a written novel exists to describe human activity, written software exists to simulate it. Therefore the live coder can take the role of an artist, constructing simulators in order to generate patterns of movement, either as music, video animation or both. This can be done in front of a live audience, so that the process of writing software becomes the process of improvising music or video in performance art.

Programmers are finally taking to the stage. Introspecting and encoding their musical thoughts before an audience. A tradition of live coding has quickly formed where computer screens are projected, making the programmer’s reactions to their work visible. Questions of authorship disappear; the performance is live, the programmer improvising through the medium of written language.

Acid sketching

I’ve been thinking about visual languages and the morphology of symbols (as opposed to words) for a while. I had the opportunity to start putting some of these ideas into code at a really excellent openframeworks workshop this week, run by Joel Gethin Lewis and Arturo Castro.

Here’s what it does:

Makes the point nicely that symbols and spaces can intertwine.

Using opencv blob detection, the regularity, direction and area of the shapes map to envelope modulation, resonance and pitch. The drawing is then sequenced into a melody using the minimum spanning tree (from the boost library) of the shape centroids, where distance maps to inter-onset interval.

It also has a mode for projecting the red circles and highlights back on the drawing surface which worked well.

This is only the second thing I’ve made with openframeworks, and while I don’t really get on with the codeblocks editor recommended for linux, I’m impressed with how accessible it makes opencv and all that.

Update: open frameworks sourcecode

Another update (1st August 2013): I ported this to Python, get the source here