This is my first post.

I’ve been thinking about using ikiwiki for some time now. I don’t exactly know what I’ll do here, but I suspect I’m moving away from wordpress-powered http://blog.hugoroy.eu. The main reason is that I’m fed up of using the wordpress admin interface when all I want is to publish something I’ve written on my machine.

And git history.


I know I haven’t started writing yet, I’m already worried about technical issues. How can I handle writing in different languages here? I’ve seen the po plugin but it requires me to set a “Master language” for the whole system. Rather, I want to be able to set different master languages for each post.1 Because sometimes I start writing in French, some other times I start writing in English. Most of the time I don’t translate myselft. So translation isn’t really what I’m looking for.

If you’ve got any suggestion on how to solve this, you’re very welcome. Until then, I’ll just stick to tagging.

  1. You might wonder: what for? I’d like to add a lang="en|fr" attribute for each post, that would allow me for instance to enable hyphenation at line-breaks. ↩


Time to stop talking about the free/open Internet?

Last week, instead of working on the bar exams, I spent some time on Twitter discussing with Ryan Heath, spokesperson for EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes who’s pushing for a new law on telecommunications. The draft is drawing some criticism right now, as it’s said to defeat network neutrality (Bits of Freedom points out that the current draft could be incompatible with the Dutch law on network neutrality).

But I wasn’t interested in the discussions on the bill itself, rather I saw that Ryan Heath claimed to “♥ open internet” on Twitter and so it triggered my curiosity. What does “free/open internet” mean for a EU commissioner spokesperson? So here’s what he wrote:

“open Internet” means a network everyone can access affordably and without restrictions on content, with room to innovate

When I asked what he meant exactly by no restrictions on content, he replied:

Zero restrictions essentially. Of course not extending 2 content such as child pornography(punishable as serious criminal offence)

(I have to say it’s amazing for a spokesperson that he was able to contradict himself in less than 140 characters.)

I think this illustrates that the term open internet is to be avoided. It is clearly meaningless and does nothing to help frame the discussion.

So I think I’ll add this to my list of buzzwords that I try to avoid: Cloud computing, Big Data, Open Web, (add yours).

On a side note, the argument of the EU Commission spokesperson that evenining was: if you fight against us on this, that means you’re against enabling internet-innovation for hospitals. Because you know, if your hospital does not have the right surgeon, there’s an app for that…

This kind of thinking must be avoided. Laws that regulate internet intermediaries should not be made solely on the basis of market regulation; because the internet is an important infrastructure for all of us, it’s more importantly a matter of freedom and human rights.

BTW, if you apply that market approach to the examples of hospitals in need of prioritized internet access, that also implies that you allow telecoms to charge hospitals more money for the privilege of prioritized access. Well done.

PS: I’ve always disliked the expression “open Web.” Not so much because I prefer the term Free Software over Open Source because it refers to freedom, which I think is more important and less ambiguous than “open” but also because the expression itself implies that there is such a thing as a “closed Web.” Then, what would that be? A website with Flash? I don’t even consider flash as part of the web, but just some proprietary blobs served over http. I don’t think that everything served over http is necessarily part of the web.

Thinking of patents as property?

There’s a constant debate when it comes to patents and copyright laws. Do they fit in a general category of property rights? Are they like property at all? [+]

I can’t hide that my opinion has been influenced by the writings of Richard Stallman, who’s been challenging the status quo for over two decades. I’ve summarised in French some of his publications on the subject. [hide]

Current developments in patent law, especially in the US, have given rise to concerns about the harm they might do to innovation which they seek to guide incentives. This has been more than obvious in the case of software and patent trolls.

Some people, instead of fixing what’s inherently wrong with patents, are trying to find some minor fixes. Recently it has been proposed to make the patent fees vary depending on how much the patent is “practised” by the holder.

I stumbled upon this article (which might be a good idea, although I think it misses the larger picture) while reading patentlyo this afternoon:

Post-grant patent maintenance fees offer an easy mechanism for shifting patentee behavior. In the US, patent holders must pay a maintenance fee three times during the life of an issued patent. I think of the fee as akin to property tax. When a real-property owner fails to pay the property taxes, the state forecloses. In the patent system failure to pay the maintenance fees similarly results in the property right be taken from the non-payer.

I couldn’t resist to take this opportunity to give a small excerpt of how little value I think this analogy to property bears with thinking about patents.

Earlier this year, I attended a small seminar on “comparative perspectives of patent laws” which introduced itself with some American literature on general theories of property. [+]

Apart from the criticism that follows, I have to say it was a very interesting seminar and comparative legal studies are often good ways to self-questioning one’s views. The introduction also featured Barry Field, “the Evolution of Property Rights” (1989) worth reading as a whole for explaining patterns of emergence of property rights, but maybe also for the historical account of UK patent hero James Watt. [hide]

We were given to read Harold Demsetz, “Toward a Theory of Property Rights” (1967). This is not the only attempt at trying a general theory of property law that encompass patents and copyright. But this one is interesting for some of the analysis it brings regarding the interaction of individuals, the law, and the State; which is at the centre of patentlyo’s thinking of patent fees akin to property taxes.

In this theory, patent laws aim at modifying behaviour by internalising externalities. Yes, this is an economic theory… Later in the text, about the concept and role of property rights, the author outlines two ways for enrolling people in the military. In the first one, where people are free to join or not, the State tries to buy people in with providing for education, salaries, etc. In the second one, people are drafted by default, so they can only buy a way out of the army. For the author, there’s a kind of dynamic from no-property to property, once we have a system that creates benefit of internalising that’s higher than the cost of excluding people of the benefit. (In the second system, the State gets all the benefit).

Property and rights

This thinking in terms of property theory is nonsense to me, just like saying the patent fees are akin to property tax. What’s the connection exactly? Is anything the State is creating a tax for to be understood in terms of a property logic? Then, I’ll say that the patent fees are like the tax on cigarettes. Just like taxing cigarettes try to discourage people from smoking, the patent fees try to discourage the patent holders from keeping on their patents too long instead of unleashing the benefits of the invention to everyone.

That’s absurd, just as absurd as Demsetz’s theory of thinking as military drafting in terms of property. Who’s owning what exactly? When I was trying to answer that question while reading Demsetz, my conclusion was that Demsetz thought of a property right in owning oneself. But you don’t “own yourself” in the sense that most people give meaning to the verb owning. You are free to do things, you are responsible for your actions.

There’s some kind of confusion between having the freedom to do something that impacts other people, and having a right of property on something. It’s usually much more helpful to think in terms of rights and freedoms in general and try to think what’s the subject/object of a “right”. [+]

If you don’t know what I mean here, because this is just a blog post and I’m not thinking it through, I’m trying to draw from the distinction made by Kant between personal rights and “real rights” (I’m not even sure this is how it’s translated in English). [hide]

This is to me the original flaw that’s also inherent to thinking of patent fees akin to property tax; not acknowledgeing the fundamental difference between the objects of a right (a patentable invention, a house) for which there are rights as such (a patent, a property right).

The patent fees do not serve the same purpose as the property tax. The first one is a reminder that patents are privileges granted by the State in exchange for everyone else’s freedom to use the patented invention; while the property tax is not designed to put an end to the property right when it is too costly for society’s benefit.

Thinking of patent law in terms of property brings confusion.

I stumbled upon a Wired article on Hacker News this morning, explaining how bitcoin could help homeless people:

The bitcoin system could become an equalizer for the country’s homeless, a place where the stigma of living on the streets isn’t as pronounced.

The article shows three persons sitting on the floor with dogs and laptops.

I started reading Morozov’s “To Save everything Click Here” and I thought it was kind of sad that this article wasn’t published before the book was released. I’m sure Morozov would have had some brilliant way to depict how insanely absurd this is. ↓↓↓

I had to stop reading it when I really had to focus on the bar written exams which was this week. So far, I liked it a lot and I really recommend it. I suppose I’ll write a short review soon.

The article was featured on Hacker News. I find this website less and less interesting. It has its own cycles. For some time, I think the website should really have been renamed “Startup News.” But now, I don’t even think that’s what it is any more. I can’t really tell.

Needless to say, I feel that I really lost interest in it. I started enjoying RSS again when I discovered Feedbin.me (which was recently published as free software ☺ on github) but this is a very different kind of source for reading than communities like hacker news can be.

So I feel like somebody should start a replacement for hacker news. Maybe something more focused on actual hackery. Why not something else more focused on political and technological discussions, on software freedom and larger subjects related to technology and freedom (which are both at the centre of what hacking means to me).

I had a look at Lamer News, a hacker news clone based on ruby using redis for handling data. I tried deploying it to heroku but it didn’t work for me ☹. I will investigate this later. If you’re interested, please get in touch.

PS: In case you didn’t know, there’s a way to get the best out of Hacker News. First, go to your profile settings and enable the noprocrast option which prevents you from procrastinating too much (the feature is explained in the FAQ). Second, change your bookmark and go read the best: https://news.ycombinator.com/best and eventually leave the rest. (The fact that the “best” of HN is so bad these days is a sign that the overall quality has really degraded IMHO).