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Have typography, will travel

Howdy!

I realize that I’m a bit late in publishing this news but, to be honest, I never was great about the blogging regularly anyway.

In any case, this post is a bit of a public announcement: I’m happy to say that I recently completed an extremely busy year working on my Master of Arts in Typeface Design (MATD) degree at the University of Reading. Consequently, I am now back out in the real world, and I am looking for interesting and engaging employment opportunities. Do get in touch if you have ideas!

For a bit of additional detail, the MATD program combines in-depth training about letterforms, writing, non-Latin scripts, and typeface development with rigorous academic research. On the practical side, we each developed a large, multi-style, mutli-script family of fonts (requiring the inclusion of at least one script that we do not read).

My typeface is named Sark; you can see a web and PDF specimen of it here at the program’s public site. It covers Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Bengali; there is a serif subfamily tailored for long-form documents and there is a sans-serif subfamily that incorporates features to make it usable on next-generation display systems like transparent screens and HUDs.

My dissertation was research into software models for automatic (and semi-automatic) spacing and kerning of fonts. It’s not up for public consumption yet (in any formal way), as we are still awaiting the marking and review process. But if you’re interested in the topic, let me know.

Anyway, it was a great experience and I’m glad to have done it. I’m also thrilled that it’s over, because it was intense.

Moving ahead from here, I am looking forward to reconnecting with the free-software community, which I only had tangential contact with during my studies. That was hard; I spent more than thirteen years working full-time as a journalist exclusively covering the free-and-open-source software movement. I did get to see a lot of my friends who work on typography and font-related projects, because I still overlapped with those circles; I look forward to seeing the rest of you at the next meetup, conference, hackathon, or online bikeshedding session.

As for what sort of work I’m looking for, I’m keeping an open mind. What I would really love to find is a way (or ways) to help improve the state of type, typography, and documents within free-software systems. The proprietary software world has typefaces and text-rendering technology that is determined by things like sales figures; free software has no such limitations. The best typesetting systems in the world (like TeX and SILE) are free software; our documents and screens and scripts have no reason to look second-best, compared to anyone.

So if I can do that, I’ll be a happy camper. But by all means, I’m still going to remain a camper with a lot of diverse and peculiar interests, so if there’s a way I can help you out in some other fashion, don’t be shy; let me know.

I have a few contract opportunities I’m working on at the moment, and I am contributing to LWN (the best free-software news source in the dimension) as time allows. And I’m gearing up to tell you all about the next editions of Texas Linux Fest and Libre Graphics Meeting. Oh, and there are some special secret projects that I’m saving for next time….

So that’s it from me; how are you?

Big List of NGO & Public-Good open project feeds

Here’s a list of news feeds I’m following that fall into what I generally call the NGO/public-good/nonprofit space.  Essentially, that means open source / open data efforts that cover education, medicine, humanitarian needs, civic involvement, and just a whole bunch of other things that don’t revolve around sales, software engineering itself, or Internet infrastructure.  They’re only partially sorted.

Did I leave any off? Send me an email, or post a comment, if the robot-filter is feeling friendly today.

It seems like there ought to be more, but for some reason a lot of the groups that are active in this space FAIL dramatically at RSS.  Take Open Source Ecology (http://opensourceecology.org/), for example.  They do some amazing stuff with construction and tooling for economically-struggling communities. You’d think they’d want to publish their news, but their “blog” page (*their* name for it, mind you) has no RSS or Atom feed of any kind.

Don’t believe me? Check it out: http://opensourceecology.org/blog.php

I’d suggest you write to them and say “hey, I’d really like to follow your organization, but your news site offers me no way to do that. What gives?” Except that I’ve already done that, and they didn’t even reply, much less fix the site.  On the plus side, the Freedom Of The Press Foundation was in exactly the same situation up until a few days ago (well, the same except for the added irony); when I notified them via Twitter, they also did not reply, but they did silently fix their site.

Anyway, I hope you’ll find some interesting sites and projects on this list.  I may re-post to add to it later if I get a significant chunk of new feeds.  But it’s a refreshing set of content to browse through, since all of it is focused on helping people, one way or another.

[ed. note: I did try making this available as a “Google Reader bundle” which is a new feature, but sharing it is tightly bound to keeping it inside of Google Reader itself, which kills most of the value]

Traffic

Are you a satisfied OpenStreetMap user? You should be; OSM has user-generated and user-maintained data, and provides a service equal to that proprietary software companies have been charging exorbitant rates for … based solely on the scarcity of the free, public information at the service’s core.

Which got me to thinking about real-time traffic data.  The situation is exactly like the pre-OSM map situation: the “data” is public and free, and consumers have to pay to see it because there is no free alternative.  Ripe for change.

It’s a complicated subject, but in broad strokes there are two major ways to determine traffic information: listen to public Traffic Message Channel (TMC) information on the radio, and aggregate individual user motion culled from participating GPS devices on-the-road.

TMC is a form of Radio Data System (RDS) broadcast and is a published standard. RDS is a sideband of FM radio, and is also used to broadcast song titles by participating FM stations, emergency alerts, and a few other information types. The trouble is that so few devices pay attention to the RDS channel — only a handful of car radios do, and expensive in-vehicle navigation systems do, and that is about it. So the free RDS-TMC data is flowing right past all of us, doing no good.

Making use of it means getting it into the computer, and that seems to have some prerequisites: first, an FM tuner; second, that FM tuner must provide raw access to the antenna, not something hardware-converted directly into a stereo audio stream; third, something to decode the RDS-TMC data stream itself; and fourth, a database to look up the highly-abbreviated hexadecimal TMC messages and convert them into useful stuff like place names.

As near as I can tell, there is exactly one GPL software package capable of reading RDS: srdsd. Unfortunately, it is built to be hooked up to external tuning equipment, perhaps because the authors are as interested in RDS encoding as decoding. There are a few hardware adapters out there specific to RDS, bluetooth and USB, but they are all from one company, GNS, and naturally there are not free drivers. So the big question is how many FM tuners in Linux boxes can actually receive RDS signals?

Scratch that; a better question is how many FM tuners in cell phones can receive RDS signals? Supposedly many can, and suposedly many GPS devices are also capable of RDS decoding, but so far I have not turned up a definitive list.  Apparently some HTC devices can, because there is a shareware project to support them. The Dash Express and TomTom dashtop devices have RDS-TMC built-in or available as add-ons.

Anyway, to sum up, here is what I think would be required to build a crowd-sourced free traffic data source: daemons running on mobile (or desktop) devices that receive RDS-TMC data from nearby FM transmissions, and report what they hear to the central database. Of course, each device can utilize the local data for its own routing purposes; the aggregation would benefit users who don’t have a device and assist in route planning by showing a broader picture. The good news is that “real time” data here is far slower than with GPS tracking; on the scale of one update every few minutes, let’s say. Stationary devices could participate, too, since relaying the information is helpful to everyone even if you yourself are not on the move.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how many FM or GPS devices are out there that can pick up RDS-TMC, so I can’t even begin to speculate on what the coverage would be like. It would require each device owner to run specialized (albeit unobtrusive) software on their device. The other big option would be to have GPS-capable devices simply phone in their position and speed (anonymously, hopefully), then aggregate that.  Far more devices could participate, no RDS-TMC drivers or decoding needed, but it would still involve widespread participation to provide meaningful traffic updates.

Any thoughts?

The pot calls the kettle proprietary

Laugh factory of the weekend: Miguel de Icaza complaining about Apple’s vendor lock-in and anti-freedom behavior — http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2007/Sep-15.html

For a more detailed explanation of why this is hilarious, read either an analysis of the situation or brush up on some recent background information.

[ed. note: this doesn’t mean that De Icaza’s observations are incorrect, only that they are funny]

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