My most recent post focusing on the open source software alternatives available to heritage organizations can be seen over at the Active History Group Blog. The post focuses primarily upon the benefits of using open source exhibit design and photo manipulation tools such as Google Sketchup, GIMP, and Inkscape.
I recently participated in a ‘Past Perfect User Group’ session. This group is composed of a number of museums in southern Ontario, all of whom are small to medium in size and use Past Perfect in their museums. I was invited to sit in on their most recent meeting by the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA), where I have been a volunteer and user of Past Perfect for the past three years.
I was thoroughly impressed by the support network these museums have created to assist them in the use of the software. The group meets at least twice a year and are very supportive of museums who are new to the software. During their most recent meeting they shared experiences, discussed the release of version 5.0 of Past Perfect, outlined training methods, and explored new ways to utilize the tool. It was great to see these museums working together to gain the most out of a software package and to see their enthusiasm over using technology to assist in collections management. Support networks not only provide much needed assistance, but also help forge collaboration and sharing, both of which are ideal in the heritage field.
A recent Spark program on CBC radio focused on David Cope and his exploration of the role of artificial intelligence in the creation of music. Cope began working on a similar program Experiments in Music Intelligence(EMI) in the 1980s. This program took existing styles of music and created music based on those styles. For example, the EMI software could ‘listen’ to a number of works by Beethoven and then creates a unique piece of music based on the musical styles of Beethoven. The use of artificial intelligence to create music based on the style of famous composers in my mind seems like taking historical reproduction to the next level. Instead of merely reproducing existing work EMI rearranges and builds upon existing works. It is not merely repoducing but re-framing and reinterpreting past works. Not exactly a look into the past, but maybe a look into a kind of alternate version of the past.
More recently Cope created an AI program called Emily Howell, which has the ability to ‘independently’ compose new music. This machine created music has been met with mixed results (here, here, here). Some have criticized Cope with destroying the last human element of music composition, while others have praised his ingenuity. The music created by Emily Howell has its own unique style. Additionally, Emily can take instructions and modify ‘her’ music based on the preference of the user. The software breaks music down into mathematical and scientific formulas and creates music based on assigned algorithms. The moral merit of the music created by Emily Howell aside, the use of AI based software to create classical music is pretty both creative and an interesting step towards a new branch of music.
Open source is finally gaining some governmental approval. From January 20th to February 19th 2009, Public Works and Government Services Canada is accepting submissions of “no-charge licensed software”, also known as open source software. Some open source advocates are hoping this new found acceptance of open source software, is a sign of a movement towards a more universal acceptance of open source resources.
Despite some resistance to open source software, apparently the Canadian government already makes use of some open source software. One of the obvious reasons for using open source software is the financial benefits. If the Canadian government, which is one of the best financed institutions in Canada is using open source software, smaller underfunded institutions (such as many museums) should be readily accepting open source alternatives. However, despite the growing use of open source popularity in some fields, many businesses are still wary of using something free, as they fear the quality will be inferior quality. In fact sometimes an open source version is just as good or better than a costly one. Maybe the more publicized use of open source products will encourage more organizations to try some open source software…it is free to try after all.