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Sunday, February 01 2015 @ 04:17 AM CST

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Digitization and the (Vanishing) Arts of the Book

Standards and Society

ome of the most beautiful artistic treasures created during the millennium we refer to in the Western world as the Dark Ages are books — usually of a religious nature, they were transcribed by hand in sumptuously precise calligraphy, illuminated with wonderfully colorful and imaginative borders, and graced with elegant inset illustrations that were themselves jewels of inspiration, meticulously set down with pen, brush and burnisher in inks, tempera and gold leaf on laboriously stretched and scraped sheets of parchment. When complete, these beautiful pages were bound in volumes large and small, from enormous folios that were easily read in the pulpits of candlelit cathedrals, to breviaries that nestled comfortably in the pocket of a monk's cassock. Lovingly preserved through many centuries, they are as wonderful to observe today as they were when they were fresh from the standing desks of the monks who gave them birth.

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The Constantine Code and the Missing Standard!

Standards and Society

One of the realities that every standards professional must deal with is the sad fact that everyone else in the world thinks that standards are…

     [start over; no one else thinks about standards much at all]

Ahem. One of the things that standards folks must come to terms with is the fact that on the rare occasions when anyone else thinks about standards at all, likely as not it's to observe that standards are…


[There. I've said it]

But really, now, this perception has got to change. And with the recent release of Dan Brown's latest pot boiler, The Lost Symbol, I believe I've figured out how to make standards really, really exciting. Really.

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It's Time for Obama to Come Out for FOSS

Open Source/Open Standards

People in Congress have it tough.

They're expected to deal with every new topic that comes down the pike, from regulating securitized credit swaps to beefing up cybersecurity, whether they've had any previous experience with it or not. Of course, there's never a shortage of people who want to educate them, but the "educators" with the greatest access are likely to be lobbyists. And when one paid advocate is promoting one action, political physics dictates that another highly paid individual in somebody else's pocket will be promoting an equal and opposite action. Soon, all potential solutions become obscured by a fog of business propaganda.

What's a poor legislator (and her staff) to do?

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Further Reflections on the CodePlex Foundation: The Glass Half Full

Open Source/Open Standards

Two weeks ago, I wrote a critical analysis of the governance structure of the CodePlex Foundation, a new open source-focused foundation launched by Microsoft. 

But what about the business premise for the Foundation itself?  Let’s say that Microsoft does restructure CodePlex in such a way as to create a trusted, safe place for work to be done to support the open source software development model.  Is there really a need for such an organization, and if so, what needs could such an organization meet?

As with my last piece, I’ll use the Q&A approach to make my points.

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The CodePlex Foundation: First Impressions (and Recommendations)

Open Source/Open Standards

Well, it’s been a busy week in Lake Wobegon, hasn’t it?  First, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Microsoft had unwittingly sold 22 patents, not to the Allied Security Trust (which might have resold them to patent trolls), but to the Open Inventions Network.  A few days later, perhaps sooner than planned, Microsoft announced the formation of a new non-profit organization, the CodePlex Foundation, with the mission of “enabling the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities.”

Not surprisingly, more articles were written about the apparent snookering of Microsoft by AST and OIN than about the new Foundation.   But while the tale of the 22 patents is now largely over, the CodePlex story is just beginning.  Microsoft says that its goal for the new Foundation is to create an open and neutral environment, and that the formation documents posted and governance structure described at the CodePlex Foundation site can provide a foundation for such an organization.  The CodePlex site also makes clear that the Bylaws you can find there are just a starter set, stating, “Our governance documents are deliberately sparse, because we expect them to change.”  

That’s good to hear, because I’ve reviewed all of the material at the CodePlex site, and I think that quite a bit of the governance structure will need to change before CodePlex can expect to attract broad participation.

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Open vs. Closed: the iPhone's Future or Folly?

Open Source/Open Standards

Steve Jobs is a genius of design and marketing, but his track record on calling the right balance between utilizing proprietary arts and public resources (like open source and open standards) is more questionable.  Two news items caught my eye today that illustrate the delicacy of making choices involving openness for the iPhone platform - both geopolitically as well as technically.

The first item can be found in today's issue of the London Sunday Times, and the second appears at the MacNewsWorld.com Web site.  The intersecting points of the two articles are the iPhone and, less obviously, openness.  But the types of openness at issue in the two articles are at once both different, and strangely similar.

The Sunday Times piece recounts the (unsuccessful) efforts of Andre Torrez, the chief technology officer at Federated Media in San Francisco, to switch from the iPhone to an Android-based G1 handset, because he objects to the closed environment that the iPhone represents.  But after just a week, Torrez reverts to the better app-provisioned iPhone.  The Sunday Times author concludes in part as follows:

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Technology's Reach and Security's Grasp

Standards and Society

Modern society harbors many bad habits. One is its penchant for enthusiastically embracing the benefits of new technologies before considering their less desirable side effects. Whether we look at the development of automobiles (first) and safety features (much later), or industrialization (first) and environmental protection (much, much later), the story is always much the same: we reach for the candy before we grasp the reality of the cavities. Only after the problems become too great to ignore do we investigate the unintended consequences, realize how difficult and expensive they are to address, and grudgingly start to rein in our appetites and exercise a bit of prudent self-discipline.

Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that the U.S. government is only now becoming alarmed over the vulnerability to which we have become exposed as a result of our whole-hearted embrace of the Internet. With the operations of government, defense, finance, commerce, power distribution, communications, transportation, and just about everything else now dependent on the healthy operation of the Internet, that alarm is well-justified. And with the creation and storage now of virtually all data in digital, rather than physical form, exposure of our financial as well as our most intimate personal and health information is only a hack away as well.

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The North Dakota Badlands and the Making of a President

Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal

Man's ability to affect the land is all too evident in these times of climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.  Happily, the landscape can change man as well.

The weather finally broke last night, dropping 30 degrees by dawn, and thanks be for that.  The night before I had camped in the Sheyenne National Grasslands, heavy with heat and humidity.  But the next day it was pleasantly cool (upper 60s), albeit overcast rather than sunny.

Nor was this the only change.  It took over 2400 driving miles to finally leave the Eastern, and then Midwestern terrain behind, but today I reached the beginnings of what I think of as the West.  More than anything else, in my mind that means “dry.”  For the last 800 miles, the landscape had been primarily flat, lush - and transitionally post-glacial.  That last factor means an area where the great ice sheets completed their periodic southward pulses, dumping rich, black earth born of thousands of miles of ice grinding down stone, some deposited by glacial steams, and other as windblown “loess” – very fine mineral particles.

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So What About Those XML Patents, Anyway?

OpenDocument and OOXML

Mea Culpa.  I am uncharacteristically late in commenting on the XML Wars of August, 2009, which have already received so much attention in the press and in the blogs of the technology world.  The wars to which I refer, of course, broke out with the announcement early in the month that Microsoft had been granted an XML-related patent.  The opening of that front gave rise to contentions that patenting anything to do with XML was, in effect, an anti-community effort to carve a piece out of a public commons and claim it as one's own.

The second front opened when a small Canadian company, named i4i, won a stunning and unexpected remedy (note that I specifically said "remedy" and not "victory," on which more below) in an ongoing case before a judge in Texas, a jurisdiction beloved of patent owners for its staunch, Red State dedication to protecting property rights - including those of the intangible, intellectual kind.

So if this is war, why have I been so derelict in offering my comments, as quite a few people have emailed me to tell me they are waiting to hear?  Here's why.

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How Safe is your Credit/Debit Card?

General News

Cybersecurity is an increasingly frequent topic in the news, and this week brought word of the indictment of someone who must be the leading contender for the title, Master Cybercriminal of All Time (Payment Card Fraud Division):  Albert Gonzalez.  More recent press reports point to additional conspirators who Gonzalez's attorney contends were there real masterminds. Top honors aside, government prosecutors contend that the team are responsible for all of the most high profile data breaches publicized to date: Heartland, Hannaford, TJX, and more - gaining access to information relating to an astonishing 130 million credit and debit cards or more.

With so many breaches in the news, you might understandably be wondering how safe your own financial information is, and whether anyone is doing anything to protect you.  Happily, the answer is "yes," and as it happens, the organization that has been tackling this problem is a client of mine, PCI Security Standards Council, which creates and enables a global, end to end ecosystem of standards, certifications, auditors and more to secure payment card data from the moment that your card gets swiped on a reader to the time it reaches its ultimate destination.