Meet New People! Learn to Code! Eat Snacks!


As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve started attending OpenTechSchool workshops to get a better understanding of computers, and to meet other people starting out in this field. It has been wonderful and I’d recommend anyone else to give it a go as well. Check out the video above to find out some more about the workshops and how OTS operates.


My experience with OpenTechSchool also got me thinking. Could their techniques work in other subject areas? Why not OpenScienceSchool or OpenMusicSchool, for example?

It doesn’t appear immediately plausible. Programming seems uniquely ideal for this kind of environment- the programming tradition stems from self-taught programmers offering their advice and experience (and occasionally their brutal smackdowns) to newbies who are also learning through books, websites, forums, and good old-fashioned ‘trying things out’.

CC-BY toolmantim on Flickr

On the other hand it seems to me that OpenTechSchool works, not because of its subject matter, but because it makes the best use out of both technology and people. There’s less pressure on a single teacher to create their own materials, and there’s no need for expensive textbooks. The curriculum is developed collaboratively and shared online. Once the initial core curriculum is written, coaches can spend more time focusing on the learner. Online version control means it’s easy to collaborate, adapt and improve the material, and the open license (CC-BY-SA) means it can be used by anyone, anywhere, sparing redundant creation of similar material.


Allowing each student to choose their own pace also seems an important aspect to this approach. In a traditional teaching environment, the teacher’s pace may be just right for some students, but others may be bored, confused or lost. With OpenTechSchool, the learner sets the pace and the coaches are proactive in offering support where needed.

Surely for any subject area, it would be worthwhile getting as much one-on-one teaching contact as possible, for the student’s confidence and comprehension and for the teacher to get a better understanding of each student’s progress and the effectiveness of the material.


The first prospective subject to enter my mind was language learning- my parents were both English language teachers and they speak multiple languages, so growing up, my house was always full of dictionaries and languages, and I’ve picked up some along the way. My Spanish is rusty, but I’ve hacked away at German for long enough that it will finally behave. What high school French I have left sounds like an offensive impression of a Frenchman choking on a baguette. My language abilities are nothing compared to a real European, but by now I’ve at least got a good feel for the learning process, and I think an OpenLanguageSchool could definitely work.


The social environment of these workshops is a great advantage for learning programming languages, and it’s also an absolute necessity for spoken languages. You can’t learn a language in isolation. Like programming, it’s through practical application (SPEAKING) that you really learn – the theory is good for filling in gaps, improving technique and expanding your understanding.

I told you there were snacks. CC-BY toolmantim on Flickr

It’s already common for people to meet up in the real world to learn and teach languages together, via language exchange or tandems. Mostly this is an entirely offline activity (though sometimes facilitated through online sites).

Where I see an opportunity is in the enhancement of this offline community by working together with online tools and activities, by using open educational resources like video, audio, texts, lessons or software together.


There are certainly many people who would be interested in such an idea, and there is a huge wealth of language-learning resources online already. The real work and the real opportunity is in curating and managing such resources, and building a structure for this kind of learning. Organisations like P2PU and Wikiotics or the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning are all interesting initiatives to watch for the future, or better yet, get involved with now. As the number of language learning resources grows, and the organisation of these resources improves, the opportunity for more effective mixing of on- and offline learning becomes greater.


Language learning is just one of many areas where this approach could be effective. It would be wonderful to see the OpenTechSchool-style learning environment ‘go mainstream’ and become a regular part of the learning experience in many different fields. Not as something that replaces schools, university or independent study, but a way to enhance the learning experience and provide support and encouragement to learners of all backgrounds, income and interests.

Having no cost or barrier to entry makes it as easy as possible for people to join in. It brings education to people who would never normally have sought out or signed up for an evening class or traditional course. And it encourages people to continue educating themselves throughout their lives, not just for their career’s sake but for their own enjoyment and empowerment.


On that topic, If you want to improve your language learning with useful online tools and free software, check out this intro to Learning With Texts and Anki, or contribute to the Tatoeba translation project. Or if you want to help out the free and open source software community, you can contribute translations with Zanata.

My music library desperately needs updating…

Got any favourite long-dead bluesmen, or Creative Commons music?

There are so many enjoyable things about trying to live without patents and traditional copyright – learning about developments in open hardware, open education, learning to make things myself or meeting people doing crazy projects. And I’m happy to give up most of the consumerist/proprietary lifestyle. I wasn’t much of a serious shopper anyway… most of my money went on camera equipment. With some changes, I’ll never look back – I was never a Mac fanboy – I chose Apple not because I particularly liked it, but rather because I particularly disliked Windows, and Final Cut Pro was an Apple product. In 2008, when I bought this computer, I hadn’t even considered Linux.

But when I backed up my computer for the change of operating system, I had to bid a sad farewell to my music library. I transferred all of my music files to a hard drive, not to be touched for a year. I started with a fresh music library. My music this year will only be  music in the public domain (without copyright) or released with a Creative Commons (some rights reserved) license. Everything else, the vast majority of my collection, was under ‘All Rights Reserved’ copyright, so it had to go.

I dug through my collection to haul out any public domain / CC music that I could find… the only music there that I knew was Creative Commons licensed are two artists from Wellington, New Zealand: the sublime Urbantramper and the gloriously ridiculous Disasteradio. There may have been others I missed, but there’s no handy ‘copyright status’ metadata for ordering and searching music, so I wasn’t able to find out easily.

You probably have a good idea of what kind of music is public domain: Old music. No problem, I like old music! I listen to a lot of old Piedmont blues and spirituals from the 20s, so I thought I’d be able to keep them. In order to find out which music is public domain, I first had to find out the length of a copyright term in Germany. Here, and throughout the EU, music copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author*. So a composition like ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, (even if you don’t know the name, you definitely know the tune) written by Richard Strauss in 1893, is not able to be used without a license because the inconsiderate bastard didn’t get around to dying until 1949.

The artist has to have died before 1942 for me to include their music in my collection. So my research was a perverse Wikipedia exercise in which I would whoop for joy upon discovering that a favourite blues artist was stabbed in a bar brawl aged 24, or died a syphilitic, penniless death in 1937.

It was a huge relief to find that Robert Johnson was deliberately poisoned in 1938. Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death in 1929, thank buggery! Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and Son House, unfortunately for me (but very fortunately for the rest of the world) survived long enough to be rediscovered and have a revival in the ’60s. Aliens outside of our solar system are able to listen to Blind Willie Johnson, but he died in 1945, so I’m out of luck.

Bessie Smith is OK! (car crash, 1937)

Not everything public domain is old, however – many governments, including the United States, release works, documents, files and information as public domain or the Creative Commons equivalent (Creative Commons Zero). So I still get confused. Can anybody clarify what the copyright status of, say, Alan Lomax‘s Library of Congress recordings might be? Are the recordings public domain, but not the compositions?

I can listen, share, and use public domain compositions and recordings in any video I like. But the other Creative Commons licenses are more specific – they’re designed to allow a copyright holder to specify what use he or she explicitly permits, and I’ll be buying, downloading and listening to music with Creative Commons licenses this year. Things get tricky when I want to include a track in a video and post it online, as I am creating a derivative work and redistributing it. So I need to check which license the music track uses (more info on licenses at

Attribution (CC-BY): I can listen, share, and use the track in any video I like – as long as I attribute the copyright holder in whatever derivative work I make.

Attribution-Sharealike (CC-BY-SA): Same terms as above, but I have to release derivative works under the same license. My videos are all CC-BY-SA anyway, so that’s no problem for me!

I can’t use music under the following non-free licenses in my videos:

Attribution-Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC): I can listen, and share with friends, but I can’t use it in my videos unless they are also released under a Non Commercial license or standard All Rights Reserved copyright.

 Attribution-Non Commercial – Sharealike (CC-BY-NC-SA): (eg. Urbantramper’s music) I can listen, share with friends, but I can’t use it in my videos unless I attribute the copyright holder, and release the video under the same license.  I could not release a video including CC-BY-NC-SA music as CC-BY-SA (the license I use) or any other free license, or even as all rights reserved.

Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND): (eg. Disasteradio) I can listen, share, but I can’t use the track in a video – it would constitute a derivative work of the original song.

So now I find myself in the strange position of starting to discover music again from scratch, but unlike when I was 13 and first started buying CDs, this time I’m discovering new music with years of experiences, prejudices and opinions already burned-in. You meet a lot of people who, when asked what music they like, you get: “Oh, I like all music. You know, anything with a beat, man.

Not me. I’m the first to admit that I don’t like most music. I actively dislike the majority of music. I tolerate a minority. Even within the genres I do like, there’s plenty of crap. But there’s 0.000756% of the music out there in the world which I utterly adore, obsess over, and listen to over and over again – frantic, clattering, rolling, beating music – songs that slip unexpected thoughts and ideas into your brain, squeeze humour into darkened places, whether thrown-out half-ideas or epic, complex, opuses (opi? opese?). I love musicians whose self-expression, individuality, honesty, and creativity smash the lens of production value, style and technical prowess with which so much music is viewed.

It’s tough finding exciting new music when you’re a whiny old critic. So I need a little help…

I often like:

Post Punk – Krautrock – Soul (particularly NOLA/Memphis) – ‘folktronica’ – Pre-War Blues / Gospel – Indie – Surf – Afrobeat – Rocksteady – Funk (but easy on the slap bass there, fellas) – Rockabilly – Bluegrass – Jazz/Bebop/Hard Bop – Political hip hop – Garage – Alt Country.

I sometimes like:

Punk – Reggae – Electric Blues – Classical – Folk

I don’t like:

Grunge – Metal – R’n’B – Dub – Western – Trance – Reggaeton – Techno – DnB – House – Dubstep – Lounge – anything preceded by the words ‘Smooth,’ ‘Heavy’, ‘Deep’ or ‘Euro’.

Some music I love, and already miss dearly:

Nick CaveThe CleanFour TetHans UnsternNina SimoneTom Waits  – Jonathan RichmanCharlie Mingus  – The Velvet UndergroundSkip JamesBaby Huey & the BabysittersKing KhanChromaticsOrchestre Poly-Rythmo de CotonouVioleta ParraEddie BoMoondogNeu!Phosphorescent

So that should give you an idea. It’s time to refill my music library! Do you make music and release it under a CC license? Or do you know of other musicians who do? If you think I might like it, send me a link in the comments! Actually, even if you think I won’t like it, I’m just curious about what’s out there. As I mentioned, my mind may not be totally open, but in this situation I’ll leave it slightly ajar, ok?

While on the subject of Creative Commons music, how about you check out the video I made about the Cultural Commons Collecting Society?

Good places to start looking for libre music, if you’re interested, include:



Free Music Archive




I’ve had a few suggestions already via Creative Commons on facebook:
50ft Wave (
Bomb Boy (
Daniel Bautista (
Roger Subirana (
Father Figure Records (
Samuel Lockridge (
Town Hall (

*¡CUIDADO! in many countries, copyright terms are even longer than in the EU. In Mexico, as Carlos points out in the comments, copyright lasts for 100 years. It’s best to look into your own country’s term length, and also check if your country conforms to the rule of the shorter term.

Cultural Commons Collecting Society

[Video] A transparent, democratic collecting society for music under CC licenses

Leading up to the Summit of newthinking in November, I’m making a few short videos about interesting developments in the areas of open strategies in Berlin. Newthinking is supporting me in this project and helping me hunt out cool projects and people along the way. This week I’ve been discussing music under Creative Commons licenses, and at the all2gethernow workshop a couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of discussion of the changes within the music industry in recent years, and how internet culture and technology is changing traditional business models for musicians and record labels. There I met Wolfgang Senges and m.eik michalke, who are part of the team trying to start a music performing rights collecting society for artists who use Creative Commons licenses.

Music that is licensed to be sampled, remixed, and used in videos (without having to ask express permission) is sometimes called ‘libre’ music – free as in ‘free speech’, not as in ‘free beer’. Musicians still need to support themselves and earn money from their music, and that doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with using more open licensing methods. I’ll let m.eik and Wolfgang tell you more (make sure captions are turned on for English subtitles)…

You can find out more about how the society will work for musicians, and how to get involved at

Serve Cold, with a Heated Licensing Discussion

 This post originally appeared on my blog on

A few weeks ago I was thirstily on the hunt for open source beer – and I’m pleased to report that I’ve found one! Two, even.

One was right under my nose here in Berlin, and the other, a little further afield: My brother came to visit this week, bringing a bottle of Yeastie Boys Digital IPA all the way from New Zealand – it’s a craft beer which provides the link to the recipe on the bottle. It’s also notoriously tasty. Knowing my brother’s penchant for hoppy brews, I do suspect that he may have originally set off with a 6-pack, and lightened the load en route.

I also went to see Fabricio Do Canto at the Meta Mate Bar across town, where they sell their Mier, a beer with the caffeine buzz of Yerba Mate brewed into it. Once again, the beer label includes a QR code leading to the recipe.

What I find interesting, and what distinguishes a recipe for Mier or Digital IPA from normal online recipes (or from the open source Free Beer project) is that it is the recipe for an actual commercial product. You can buy a beer, enjoy it and inspect the recipe used to make it. It’s an element of transparency which gives the user a clear understanding of the product. Wondering how they add the Mate to the beer? What kind of barley Yeastie Boys used? Read the recipe. If you’re a brew guru, and you want to change or improve the recipe, then by all means, do whatever you like. Or if you’re a novice brewer and just want to see how close you can get to ‘the real thing’ then it’s a great project to try out.

These beers are basically open source, in that a recipe process can’t be copyrighted. The actual writing of a flowery, wordy recipe could be copyrighted. But the bare-bones formula is free for any use you like – a brewer could adjust these online recipes to her own taste, and sell the beer as her own, as long as it was not branded as ‘Mier’ or ‘Digital IPA’.

One interesting conversation I had on Twitter* with Edmunds Sulzanoks covered the issue of Mier’s Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike-Non Commercial license, which is proudly stated on the bottle.

Creative Commons has a range of licenses available which provide a ‘some rights reserved’ copyright, and these allow books, films, music, and products to be remixed, adapted, or built upon by others. For example, my videos are available for anyone to use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

I saw Mier’s choice of their license as being a statement of intent – encouraging people to make and modify the beer themselves, and call it Mier. The Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license means that anyone can produce Mier according to the recipe, and use the Mier branding for non-commercial use. They just have to attribute Mier to its creators and release any modified version under the same license.

But Edmunds’ point was this: what is the difference between releasing a brandname under a Non-Commercial license, and a normal licensed franchise? What is non-commercial use of a brand? Why would you need branding if you’re giving the beer away?

Certainly Mier’s intentions are good, and their franchising method is very much hands-off, allowing others to change the recipe and create a very different product, but this example is exactly the kind of situation which makes the Non Commercial license difficult to work with, and a little vague.

There are considerable differences of opinion as to whether Non Commercial means ‘no monetary transactions involved’ or simply ‘not-for-profit’. What if I wanted to sell my homebrewed, branded Mier at a bake sale, raising money for a non-profit charity? Donating the proceeds to cure malaria, perhaps? Or raising money for the deportation of Simon Cowell and the world’s wasp population to an island in the mid-Atlantic? It wouldn’t be for profit, but rather the benefit of all humankind. Is that non-commercial?

I promised myself when I started this project I would try not to get embroiled in pedantic licensing discussions, but look at me now…

The reason I’m interested in the Non Commercial license is that, even if it still restricts use of a product or artistic material, it often acts as first step away from traditional copyright. There are areas where it makes a significant difference – using Non-Commercial licensed music in an educational video, for example, rather than having to officially license the use of each track.

Depending on your point of view, the Non Commercial license is either the methadone that can wean copyright junkies off their all-rights-reserved habit, or it is a gateway drug to the psychedelic and dangerously addictive world of open source and free culture.

This week there’s been an awful lot of talk about it: the Students for Free Culture made a call for Creative Commons to drop the license altogether, and Creative Commons themselves made the very difficult decision to retain it. It’s a turbulent debate but if you’ve got opinions on this issue, read the discussions, jump in and share your ideas with the Creative Commons community.

So I guess that means for now, I’ll just be brewing these beers for my own purposes. No bake sales for me.

UPDATE: Yeastie Boys have now stated that Digital IPA (name & recipe) is Attribution-Sharealike! Brew away!

Unknown ObjectCheck out the video of my visit to the MetaMate Bar.

*what? Twitter’s not open source! For personal use, I’ve jumped from Facebook to Diaspora. But there is still a Year of Open Source Facebook page and @YrOfOpenSource Twitter to spread the word to people outside of the more niche open source networks.

Meta Mate Mier is a very fine beer

This week has been a Mate-soaked, highly caffeinated one – not only do I have an Uruguayan friend visiting, but I visited Fabricio do Canto, a Brazilian living in Berlin, who runs the MetaMate bar. He and his friend Malte, both members of the Pirate Party, told me the story of Mier’s development and the interesting results of making their recipe public and their branding available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike-Non Commercial License (not a free culture license but more open and permissive than traditional copyright).

(it’s a bit of a multi-lingual mess – turn on captions for english subs)

Correction: it is not Fabricio’s Pirate Cave but a communal Pirate Cave put together by many different people, particularly the Hedy Lamarr Pirate Crew!

Well, actually Mier is a very fine ‘alcohol-containing beverage’ according to the German Purity Law of 1516,  a document even more highly revered than the constitution. The law says that real beer contains only malted barley, hops and water. (they didn’t know about yeast in 1516)

For more information, check out the links to:


Liquid Democracy

Creative Commons

German Pirate Party (wikipedia)


Technical Stuff or, How I’m Getting My Ass Handed to Me by a New Video Workflow:

Kdenlive has edged ahead in the Open Source NLE stakes… it is more forgiving of different codecs, though due to its crashy tendencies I have now developed a nervous tic – even when making dinner I reach instinctively for the ‘save’ shortcut after slicing each vegetable. Just in case my salad crashes.

You will have noticed that this time the video’s on YouTube. not ideal, but doesn’t seem to accept my videos, Vimeo doesn’t do captions, so that makes shooting anything in Europe basically impossible. I’m working on a solution with JWPlayer – it’s open source, allows captions, and I can upload in WebM, an open format. But it’s not quite working for me yet.

In other pathetic struggles, I spent a good hour fumbling around working out how to export a screenshot, before good old VLC came to the rescue! It’s a piece of free software that everyone should have, whatever operating system they use. So much more than just a media player.


Another month, another hunk…

Next up in the 2013 Open Source Calendar (Swimsuit Edition)

Law professor, anti-corruption and transparency advocate, initiator of the free culture movement, and one of the founders of creative commons, it’s… Lawrence Lessig!

Lawrence Lessig drawn by Judith Carnaby for the 2013 Open Source Calendar (Swimsuit Edition)

What’s Creative Commons, you say?

Also, here’s Larry explaining a few of the problems with current copyright law.

Thanks so much to everybody who has donated so far, and I’ve had plenty of offers of help too – the past few days has been wonderful for meeting interesting people doing amazing work in various fields of openness. Also things are ticking along with the crowdfunding, we’re almost at $5K, and I’m currently backing up all important documents and photos etc for the big switch to Linux on the 1st of August. 2 days to go til the project kicks off! Anyone who donates over $25 to the project gets themself a digital download of the calendar, and $60 or more will get you a real paper version to stroke lovingly!

A couple more interviews this week: here’s one with Kay Alexander on EDUKWEST. EDUKWEST is an educational partner of IndieGoGo and they’ve chosen Year of Open Source as a campaign worth supporting, so now you’ll see a little ‘PARTNER’ tag for EDUKWEST on my IndieGoGo page.

Also, if you were in New Zealand and you and the family were gathered around the wireless on Saturday, you may have heard me on This Way Up on Radio NZ. I may be back on later on in the year, talking about, amongst other things, my snuggly successes or blistery failures in creating open source socks.