This a video of an excellent lecture from Professor James Boyle on the Public Domain: enclosing the commons of the mind. He points out how today's automatic copyright system ("death plus 70") is a "cultural disaster of incredible proportions".

It's not only highly relevant and insightful even for people slightly less geeky than me, it is also highly entertaining due to his references to Internet realities ("hundreds of thousands of bloggers -- several of them sane! -- could use it!"), and therefore all of you should watch it -- especially if it's been awhile since you last listened to an interesting lecture ;) .

(via BB)

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I am happy to announce that starting this week, April 1, (and no, that's not an April Fool's joke) I am working full-time on the Mozilla WebDev team. I have been involved with the Mozilla project since 2006, and I have since been able to experience just how great all of the Mozilla community is. I am looking forward to working with the many awesome people who make Mozilla what it is, and who are as excited about the future of the Open Web as I am.

mozilla Logo

There is a lot in store for us: Firefox 3.5's release is rapidly approaching, and the Web is concerning more people in the world than ever before. Though it is not all "smooth sailing", and there are a lot of dangers for the Open Web and for the people who use and rely on it, I am still, or maybe all the more, excited to make a contribution to the development of the Web landscape, for the good of millions of Firefox users, and 1.5 billion Internet users as a whole.

Let's do it!

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When I was working with User Agent strings today, I made the unfortunate discovery that Opera claims to be MSIE (according to their knowledge base site, this is the default -- or used to be, until version 8 according to this website and a friendly commenter here).

That is, of course, unpleasant, if a developer wants to display content to specific users based on their user agent. Unlike the current, ugly GeoIP epidemic (which I shall blog about another time), there are fairly good reasons for doing this -- all of which are negatively impacted by claiming to be a specific browser if you are not. Let me just name three of these reasons, off the top of my head:

  1. Relevance. Some content (pictures, instructions, warnings) may simply not apply to people outside a specific user group.
  2. Workarounds. Particularly MSIE 6 was/is infamous for numerous bugs and inconsistencies, some of which can be worked around. There is little reason why anyone else would like to see these "hacks" applied to the page they are visiting.
  3. Differences in technology. Some people produce browser extensions for, for example, both Firefox and MSIE. They may want to serve appropriate instructions to these users, and maybe a third page to everyone else.

I am not only convinced some Opera users would be outraged to be served Internet-Explorer-only content. I also assume that through Opera's claiming to be MSIE, Opera users can report numerous cases when the false user agent triggered some quirks on websites that were installed by the website author only to handle MSIE's abundant bugs at the time. Why anyone would want this setting to be the default, I cannot understand: Claiming to "be somebody else" should be the exception, not the rule.

People have blogged before about the near-uselessness of the User Agent string (in connection with Google Chrome's football-field-long UA string), and they have probably done a much better job than I would. From a developer perspective though, this is frustrating. So I twittered:

Uhm, why does Opera claim to be MSIE in its User Agent string?

followed by:

To be fair, only old versions of Opera do that.

and soon thereafter, I got this interesting answer from a friend:

... they were hoping to be accidentally bundled with Windows.

I must say, in the light of Opera being the initiator of the ongoing antitrust investigation of the European Commission against Microsoft, this answer does not fail to convey a faint notion of irony.

Update: Commenter Eric points out that Opera's knowledge base article that I am citing on the top is outdated and the default user agent string used by Opera is much simpler. Well, excellent.

Update 2: Another commenter points out that Opera's impersonating MSIE has historic reasons dating back to the pre-Firefox era. -- Now that these reasons are not present anymore, the UA has been adapted.

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Today I looked at this blog's usage statistics and as it turns out, a whopping 54 percent of my visitors use Firefox, followed by Internet Explorer, then Safari, Opera, Chrome.

fredericiana Browser Statistics

It's interesting to see how much difference the "clientele" of a page makes for its statistics. The overall market share of Firefox has topped 20% a few months ago, but since this blog has a lot of tech content, a higher number of Firefox users is probably not surprising.

By the way, almost 80% of my Firefox visitors surf with Firefox 3.0.5, followed by only 5% of users and a long tail of various other, outdated, browser versions.

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Oh, oh, I got hit by an Internet meme. Both Rey and Wladimir demand my participation, and by the laws of teh Internets™ I shall comply.

The rules:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they've been tagged.

Seven things:

  1. I am slightly color blind (my uneducated guess would be "deuteranomaly", or mild green weakness). It's apparently the most common form of colorblindness, affecting about 6% of males, and I have no considerable problems because of it. Except it may make me not the ideal person to ask about the color combination of clothes (which may arguably be a blessing). I've known since the medical exam before elementary school, yet at the military exam, the woman testing my eyes thought she was making a great discovery and shouted out "you are colorbind!!!" -- I yawned.
  2. I learned to read well before attending elementary school while I was still in kindergarten. (Don't know how others do it, but in Germany, at least at that time, it wasn't taught before first grade). I picked it up out of curiosity from my brother who is two years older and went to school already.
  3. I took Latin all the way from 5th through 13th grade. It was one of my two advanced courses for graduation (the other one was Math), and I am unsure how, but I got an A+ for both the written and oral exam. Needless to say it didn't end up being particularly relevant in college, nonetheless it was fun and I'd do it again. And no, I cannot actually speak Latin.
  4. I have been playing the trumpet since I was 14 years old. It's one of my favorite things to do yet I got to do it way too little lately due to writing my master's thesis. I've played in a number of groups: orchestral, big band, and in a trumpet quartet. Some of the most fun but also most exhausting gigs were at the yearly congresses of the Association of Catholic Fraternities in Germany, with hundreds of attendees.
  5. I do not have a particular accent in German: While I have lived in south-western Germany all my life, my parents are not from there, and theirs isn't very strong, so I didn't pick up a particularly distinct accent. Nonetheless up until this day, I still get asked "you are not from here, are you?" at home sometimes, particularly by the elderly. The closest I have to a dialect however is indeed from south-west Germany, which I sometimes notice when I use apparent localisms too freely elsewhere in Germany and earn question marks in return (food items seem to differ the most!).
  6. I have more than only remotely considered studying law. I ended up studying information engineering instead, as it looked like a great middle ground between law and my big hobby, computers (with some business thrown in, for good measure): It's 40 % computer science, 40 % business and 20 % law. And in fact, I loved studying this, and the law classes were my favorites, hands down. What I didn't realize until later is that as opposed to real future lawyers, we got the interesting topics only. Awesome!
  7. I attended three universities: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Oregon State University and Carnegie Mellon University, all to finish this one degree. Curiously, the only one I paid tuition for was/is KIT, luckily also the cheapest.

Seven harassees:

  1. JP, who needs to blog more, for his PageRank to recover
  2. Freya, who I am secretly hoping will actually vlog this meme
  3. Justin, who I always get confused about living in the same time zone with
  4. morgamic, who I already got to work with in two places
  5. clouserw, who we all want to know more about, don't we?
  6. Polvi, for being one of the most creative people I know
  7. Brian King, for being an awesome add-on magician

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There's been a nice little meme going on in the Mozilla blogosphere during this last week: Running your blog through the wordle "word cloud" generator, then posting it. Here is mine:

Wordle on fredericiana

Comes to no surprise that "German" and "Germany" are two of the most-used words here -- I sure hope I am not boring my readership to death by giving them intercultural lessons here :)

Anyway, if you post yours, feel free to send a ping to this article, or leave a comment with the link to your blog. I am looking forward to seeing how others' word clouds look!

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The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) are donating about 100,000 pictures to the Wikimedia Commons, all under a Creative Commons 3.0 by-sa (Germany) license. From the wiki page:

Starting on Thursday Dec 4, 2008, Wikimedia Commons will witness a massive upload of new images. We are anticipating about 100,000 files from a donation from the German Federal Archive. These images are mostly related to the history of Germany (including the German Democratic Republic) and are part of a cooperation between Wikimedia Germany and the Federal Archive.


To our knowledge the donation of 100,000 images is single largest one to Wikimedia Commons so far and we are very hopeful that this is only the start of a long lasting relationship that might serve as an example to other archives and image databases.

As noted elsewhere, in Germany this almost counts as the "hell freezing over": When it comes to availability of historic documents created by the government, Germany has so far had a lot to be desired.

Among the photos uploaded so far by the import script are already some nice little gems of German history, for example: "Feierabend", or "calling it a day" in the GDR. The slogan at the gate reads: "100% of our staff oppose re-militarization" (one and a half years later the East German government proclaimed the need for a new national army and founded it another four years later, in 1956) and on the factory wall: "Fünfjahrplan -- Friedensplan", or "Five-Year Plan -- Peace Plan".

How about this one: Water cannon at the border between east and west berlin, right at the Brandenburg Gate (note its pillars in the background), only a stone's throw away from the modern-day German national parliament building. The sign reads: "Warning! You are now leaving West Berlin!" -- a similar sign can still be seen at the historic "Checkpoint Charlie".

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The famous British comedy group Monty Python was sick of finding bad-quality uploads of their comedy sketches on YouTube, so they decided to do something against it.

It is unknown if they considered calling Metallica for advice on how to start a proper crusade against the Interwebs, but what is known is that they started their own YouTube channel, publishing their works in high quality for everybody to see. And the best part, it's free.

In their video about starting the channel, they explain some of their reasoning and ask for one thing in return: to buy their products.

And this plan may just work: Watching such classics as the "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" scene (below) is making me want to pick up a copy of the Life of Brian right now, that's for sure!

On a more serious side note, it is good to see that there is an improvement how some authors work with the Internet. Monty Python went down this road, by offering older content for free, yet asking the viewers to consider their higher quality DVD box sets and similar products, and lately also HD BluRay discs. A similar approach was taken by Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog which was shown for free online before going on sale on iTunes and similar channels -- many people bought it from there (and still are); the same goes for the soundtrack, which I bought on Amazon MP3 just recently.

Another example is, a website (unfortunately yet again only available in the US) streaming recent TV series for free (with some ads) -- a system that will, I believe, encourage rather than discourage viewers to spend money on their favorite TV shows once they come out on DVD.

Compare that to the aforementioned Metallica, who were scared off their socks when they realized people were enjoying their music over a distribution channel they had failed to consider before--and instead of calling their record company and asking "what on earth are we paying you so much money for, why are we not using the internet right?", they decided to sue a file sharing company along with three major universities: A step that consequently (and rightly) brought them an honorable spot on the list of "the biggest wusses in Rock" as published by "Blender" magazine in 2006.

Now, as promised: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

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The "One Laptop Per Child" laptop ("XO-1") is due to go on sale in Europe tomorrow, November 17:

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organisation is planning to sell the devices via online store Amazon's European outlets from 17 November. The machines will be sold under the Give One, Get One scheme that the OLPC organisation has already run in the US. Under that scheme, buyers get one machine for themselves and the other is donated to a school child in a developing nation.

The OLPC laptop is a fabulous little device and I had a chance to play with it a little--both with its interior only at the OSL, as well as a full-blown device at Mozilla--and I really liked it.

Let's see how it picks up during the holiday season. The article says, only 600.000 items were sold so far, less than the makers had hoped. But maybe Europe is just the market for it? Of course, at an expected price of about 300-something Euros, it has to compete with a lot of the new mini-notebooks on the market (Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE, for example), most of which are much more "beefy" than the small OLPC. Nonetheless, it's a great "first computer" for the little ones -- and since each bought one will give a child in a developing nation one too, the whole concept is very "Christmassy" indeed, so let's see how it sells during the holiday season.

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I just implemented a little eye candy for my blog: Language icons in front of links.

Actually, it's only one language so far, German. The reason I am doing this is because on occasion I link to German articles that are no use clicking on for people who don't understand a word in German -- or at the very least it makes them aware of that behind this link, they'll find a German page.

I left English hyperlinks unmarked so far, but if you guys like it this way, I will do it the other way around as well, marking English links as such when I blog in German. Obviously, there's no use flagging links that have the same language as the article itself.

For the geeky readers, I used a CSS32 selector in order to "flag" only the links whose "lang" attribute I set to "de". Consider me a fan of CSS (2 and 3, alike). Now it can only take a decade-or-so until its features are available in Internet Explorer as well. In fact, any reader out there who cares telling me if my language icons work in IE? Leave a comment :)

Update: As a few commenters point out (thanks!), this is a CSS 2, not 3 selector. Nonetheless, it won't work with IE 6, but with IE 7. That's fine with me.

Update: In the comments, Michał notes that the hreflang attribute would be more appropriate than lang, as it denotes the language of the link target, not the language of the link text itself. He's right, so I changed it. Thanks!

Update: Some commenters pointed out a better way: Taking the hreflang attribute and displaying it behind the actual link text. That removes possible confusion about the flag icons, and hopefully doesn't disturb the reader. I found the approach very nice so I adapted it instead. This is how it looks:

On a side note, even IE 7 users won't see this. Sorry.

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