Current focus: EndSoftwarePatents.org: wiki, mailing list, news, donate

Portrait photo of Ciaran

Ciarán O'Riordan: Homepage

ciaran@member.fsf.org / +32 485 118 029 (<- NEW!)
This is my personal website.
(For the website of IFSO, see www.ifso.ie; For the website of ESP, see EndSoftwarePatents.org)

Current projects: swpat.org - the software patents wiki
and FSF's Bilski brief which I worked on and a transcript of my March 2009 ESP presentation.

On this page:

  1. Introducing my software freedom work
  2. How I do my work
  3. The Ciarán Roadshow: speaking engagements
  4. Articles and my (old) blog
  5. Reading recommendations (books, websites, Wikipedia)
  6. More about me
  7. Bio (short, pictures)

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Introducing myself and my work

I'm a campaigner and a lobbyist. My focus is the rights of computer users to write software and to modify and redistribute the software they use. Maybe a good starting point for thinking about this would be to consider it a very specific part of consumer rights. From another angle, it's protecting computer users from copyright and patent laws that have gone way too far.

In the late 90s, I became concerned with the way computer users are treated by software companies. People's privacy is invaded, software is purposefully incompatible, people are pressured to upgrade software when their current software is fine, etc. These problems exist because companies have no obligations to allow software users to help themselves or each other. Even when a program has a million users, they are still unable to fix these problems.

Then I found there was a movement called the free software movement, and their work was a solution to this. So I started working with them.

The free software movement aims to secure, for all software users, the freedom to help themselves and the freedom to cooperate with others, when they choose, on a commercial or non-commercial basis. The primary way of getting these rights for computer users is by writing software that gives people these rights (which we call "free software") and asking people to use this software instead of existing software that doesn't give them these rights.

What is free software?

Below I've attempted to describe the set of key rights that computer users should have. They are a set because they are not very useful on their own, the combination is necessary.

1. The right to know for sure what the program does

Software is usually distributed in a form which can be run by a computer, but which is all meaningless 1s and 0s to a human. This means that users cannot check for spyware or security issues, users cannot know for certain what happens the data which the public entrusts to them. Generally, people cannot evaluate the software and make an informed decision before using it, and cannot get out of a bad situation. Software users should have the right to see the program's complete corresponding source code - that's the human readable form which can tell you with certainty what the program does.

2. The right to modify the behaviour of the program

When the software is doing something the user is not happy with, or when it crashes, or when it has a limitation, the user should be able to modify the program to fix this. Currently this is prevented by the same means which prevents the software's behaviour from being studied: the source code is distributed in a computer-readable way only, not a human readable way which could be modified.

3. The right to distribute modifications and modified versions

Most people are not programmers, and even programmers will not have sufficient time to review and fix all the software they use. So for these rights to benefit the general public, the minority of software users that do make modifications must be allowed to publish their improved versions and to collaborate with others, commercially and non-commercially. This ensures that non-programmers will benefit from the general freedom of everyone to modify the software.


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My work: What I do

  1. I try to build awareness of software packages that give software users these rights. There is no clear, unambiguous name for software that comes with these rights. Experience has taught me that "free software" is the best name. It has the disadvantage that "free" can be misunderstood as refering to the lack of price instead of the lack of restrictions, but other terms have proved worse.
  2. I work within the political system of the European Union to ensure that the development and use of free software is not hampered by new legislation. The best known example of a legislative project I worked on is the "software patents directive". I've made a webpage about the issue of software patentability: software patents.
  3. Raise awareness of the eighteen month public consultation process for drafting GNU GPL3, this includes making many transcripts.
  4. I try to help coordinate organisations which are doing work similar to mine, and I try to assist collaboration between teams, networks, communities, etc.

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The Ciarán RoadShow

I am available to give talks about free software, about campaigning against software idea patents, and about GPLv3. If you'd like me to give such a talk, please email me. I can give talks in English or French.

Unless otherwise arranged, talks are about 40 minutes in length and I am very happy to take questions at length afterward. I do not give technical talks, but I have a programming/networking background and can take technical questions from audiences.

Upcoming (soonest first)

(Nothing currently scheduled.)

Past (most recent first)

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003


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Articles and my (old) blog (RSS feed)

Below is a selection of articles I've written.

General

2009

2008

2007

2006

2004

2003

Technical HOWTOs

2008

2002

In 2002 and 2003 I put some time into writing a book for learning to write software in the C programming language, but I never finished it: Learning GNU C. More info about that can be found on the c-prog-book page on sv.gnu.org.


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Reading recommendations

The new list (started 2014)

(The older list with more details is further down this page.)

My favourite books

I made these lists because I was trying to work out what kinds of books I like, but when I look at my favourites there's not even two authors that are similar. Joyce and Beckett are connected, but I don't like the books they wrote when they were working together. I like Joyce's earlier books, from before he met Beckett, and I like Beckett's later books, from after Joyce died and he changed to a minimalist style.

Books I liked

Books I couldn't recommend to anyone

I've read a lot more books that I wouldn't recommend, but I'll just list the ones that people are likely to think about reading.

What I plan to read next

Since I'm always trying to practice my foreign languages, I mostly read translations of books I've already read but here are some books I'm looking forward to reading for the first time:

And maybe:

The old lists

These sections were written in 2004, with various updates over the years.

Non-fiction

Fiction

These are my favourite books. (incomplete list.)

This section contains no spoilers.

George Orwell
1984: I read this when I was around 20 and it was one of my favourite books. When learning languages, I always re-read my favourite books in the new language, but since my late-20s I've no interest in re-reading 1984. I don't know why.
Animal Farm: In contrast, I found this book boring when I first read it, but now I find it gets better every time I re-read. Every sentence has meaning. I know very little about the history of Stalin's Russia and how he betrayed Lenin's revolution, but I recognise every detail from modern events in South America or in the campaigns I'm involved in. This book is a condensed encyclopedia of everything that goes wrong, that will go wrong, and that did go wrong in social uprisings. And it's not even an anti-manual for how to do it right, because everything goes wrong.
Other: Shooting an Elephant, and other essays is excellent, and Burmese Days is a nice read. Homage to Catalonia is good too.
Ryu Murakami
In the Miso Soup: I love this book. I read it in 2008, after my trip to Tokyo in 2006. I think I was still learning (basic) Japanese at the time. Tokyo made a big impression on me. I travelled to a lot of cities around that time and I was always disappointed that they were so similar, that they all played the same music on the radio. Tokyo was the only city that was really different, so it made a big impression on me. I'm not sure if it's a great book, or if it just coincidentally combines a few of my interests.
Lines, Ecstacy, and Almost Transparent Blue: Disappointed. Can't recommend these, but I liked Miso Soup so much that I'll read a few more of his books in the hope of finding another good one.
Samuel Beckett
Molloy: Love this book. Very slow. Really, really slow. Precision slow. But then occasionally really funny. I'll definitely read Malone Dies and The Unnamable.
Other: I've read End Game, which was just about okay, and Waiting for Godot which I just found boring. I also read a few short plays which I found boring. I like some of Beckett's short stories though.
I probably won't read any of the first half of Beckett's works. Beckett was a friend of Joyce, and was his assistant in Joyce's dying years. Joyce wanted to pack as much knowledge into his books as possible, and he ploughed further in this direction as he got older. Of Joyce's three most famous works, Dubliners was the easiest, then came Ulysses which was quite tricky, and then Finnegan's Wake which is probably impossible to fully understand. According to what I've read, Beckett's early writings also tried to cram in references to Dante and other pieces of literature. The first half of Beckett's career coincides with the second half of Joyce's, so I guess that's the Joycean influence. I'm not educated enough to understand or appreciate that sort of writing. Joyce died in 1941. Around 1945, Beckett changed course and tried, instead, to put as little knowledge into his books as possible. He wrote mostly in French because, he said, writing in a foreign language makes it harder to make obscure references. That's probably why I like Molloy. It's Beckett, minus the late-Joyce influences.
Liam O'Flaherty
The Black Soul: Love it.
Other: All of O'Flaherty's books are good or great.
James Joyce
Dubliners: Very good. It's a collection of short stories. Some are good, a few are great.

Poems

I don't like poetry, with the exception of Pat Ingoldsby's books. But you can't just read a poem or two and decide if it's for you. A book of poems is like any other book, you have to read twenty, forty pages before you get into it.

Websites

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a set of collaboratively developed, free encyclopedias. The English version is the largest and is very good. It even has audio recordings of some articles.

There is lots of information about free software topics there. A good starting point is the Free Software Portal. Some good articles, or at least good starts are:

And if you would like to contribute to the free software information on Wikipedia, there is a project for coordination: WikiProject Free Software.


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More about me

(How did I get so interested in this software rights thing?)

I was born and raised in Ireland. I became interested in software around 1995. Two things happened around 1998. One is that I encountered the GNU+Linux operating system, and the other is that I started to notice that a lot of the annoying things about computers are intentionally made that way by the software developers. Software companies intentionally make their software incompatible with other software, or intentionally make it difficult for other software to be compatible with their software. Sometimes features or conveniences are left out, to frustrate the user until they buy the more expensive version. Software spies on what the user is doing and reports this information to the software company. For example, because I used an external modem, I noticed that whenever I played a movie or listened to music on my computer using a certain piece of software, the lights would flicker on my modem. This means that the software which I was using was sending some information about me to somewhere on the Internet.

Later, I found it strange that Microsoft Windows didn't come with software development tools. I thought that they should want people developing software for their operating system. A year or two later I realised that they don't want their users to write software, they want them to buy software. Software which does what Microsoft decides.

In the Summer of 2003, I got active in the campaign against software patents. In January 2004 I was a founder of Irish Free Software Organisation. In August 2004 I moved to Brussels. In March 2005 I became an employee of Free Software Foundation Europe. (This is my personal website, it isn't affiliated with those organisations.) I also have an interest in western european and east-asian languages.

In early 1998 I began teaching myself computer programming. Programming bit me, I loved it. This interest lead me to experiment with many software packages. In late 1998, a friend got a copy of an operating system called GNU+Linux. So I borrowed the CD and installed it on my computer along side the Microsoft Windows operating system that came pre-installed when the computer was bought.

GNU+Linux was strange because it didn't come with ads, there was no "click here to buy the full version" - so who was it that had written this operating system and was now giving it away?

This lead me to do some research about GNU, and Linux, and "Free Software", and "Open Source".

When I was programming for fun, I used the software tools I wanted, but working in a company I often didn't have choice of what software I used. Most software is terrible. It's sold like a black box, you use it or don't use it. Fixing bugs is not possible, nor is adding features or making things more convenient for your particular use.

One monopoly dominates most desktop computers, and when competition appears, they threaten patent litigation law suits, or they invent a new secret file format which makes it impossible for users of alternative software to collaborate.

So in 2004 I stopped writing software and become a lobbyist. My biggest project so far has been the EU Software Patents Directive.

Why bother? Because I've found that people can have an effect. Most politicians are not (directly) in the pocket of Big Business. The biggest problem is that politicians are presented with issues that are too complex for them, and our decision-making and legislative processes are easier for wealthy companies to use than they are for the average concerned citizen.

Much of my inspiration comes from Richard Stallman, who has been working since 1983 to give all computer users the right to use, study, modify, and collaborate on the development of the software they use. His biggests projects have been the Free Software Movement, the GNU project, the GNU General Public License (the GPL), and the Free Software Foundation. His work produced the guts of an operating system, called GNU, but which is sadly called "Linux" by most people who use it, so most users don't know they're using the result of his work.

Windows XP sends Microsoft data about what websites you visit, what movies you view, and what data you search for on your computer. RealPlayer does the same. DVD players won't let you fast forward through ads. Then there's spyware, and adware, and malware. And then Yahoo! release an adware remover that leaves Yahoo sponsored adware on your computer. The list goes on. Proprietary software sucks. Free software's the only good thing happening in software at the moment, but Microsoft hates free software. We beat them at the game they say they're playing. We offer better stuff at a lower price and that's called capitalism. And free software can't be bought out or shut down.

Another free (also as in freedom) project I like is the Wikipedia encyclopedia. I started contributing in February 2004.

Other than the above, I enjoy cycling, swimming, and reading non-fiction - although I don't actually have/make much time for those things nowadays. I still do a little programming in my spare time, mostly shell and Emacs Lisp. I'm trying to learn a couple of European and Asian languages, as well as learning about copyright, patents, and the EU legislative process. All the while, I'm settling in to life in Brussels.

I'm trying to build a list of news articles that quote me or that were written by me. Here's what I have so far.


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A bio

Short (109 words)

Ciarán O'Riordan is a software freedom campaigner focussed on software patents, software licences, and community coordination. He currently works on the End Software Patents campaign as Executive Director. He previously worked on the EU software patents directive, the global GPLv3 licence drafting process, the Bilski court case in the US Supreme Court, and many other legislative issues about copyright and patents in software. From 2005 to 2008, he worked for FSFE as representative for Brussels and patent issues, and before that, he worked as a software developer. He was one of the founders of Irish Free Software Organisation in 2003 and has been a board member ever since.

Pictures

Here are two photos I made in a hurry five years ago:


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© Copyright 2014 Ciarán O'Riordan. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved. Distribution of modified versions of all or part of this article are permitted, provided that such works carry three things: (1) this copyright notice, (2) prominent notices stating the that it has been changed, and (3) information for how to obtain the original (such as a URL).