2013 04 01

From TheCommandLineWiki

Jump to: navigation, search

Contents

Feature Cast for 2013-04-01

(00:00:17.947) Intro

(00:02:32.640) Listener Feedback

(00:05:14.434) My Talk from NELF 2013

  • Hello, I'm Thomas Gideon
    • Among other things, I am the host and producer of The Command Line Podcast
    • All the work I do on that podcast is done on Linux
      • Using all free and open source software
    • I could talk to you about the experience of podcasting
      • But I am not going to, there is plenty of information
        • On my web site about that
    • Almost two years ago, I started what I fondly call my second career
    • After years of activism and volunteering around copyright and FLOSS
      • I finally made the transition to working full time on open technology
    • I am the director of technology at the Open Technology Institute
    • OTI is an operational think tank
      • Using a multidisciplinary approach that includes technology development
      • With traditional policy advocacy and field operations
      • To lower or remove barriers to access to networks and information
    • I could talk to you about my work there, too, but I am not going to
    • I'll go a little further to make clear I am not speaking
      • In a professional capacity today
    • What I do want to talk about today
      • Falls somewhere between the worlds of a technologist and a think tank
  • I want to start with a bit of a thought exercise
    • Imagine a system, if you will, what you may recognize as a legacy system
    • It is positively ancient, written in a fairly obscure language
    • None of the original authors are still around
    • Since its creation, it has accreted a great deal of patches
      • Thankfully though in includes a fairly robust system for handling those
    • The size of the code is immense and it is in several different repositories
    • While there are some APIs, they are inconsistent
      • And in some cases, the only way to work with it
        • Is to become or hire an expert code wrangler
    • There are several dedicated sets of people using and hacking on this system
    • To a one, each has passed some non-trivial barrier of education, experience or both
      • In order to secure read-only access let alone to get commit rights
    • All of the practitioners versed in this system
      • End up perpetuating the obscure practices and arcana of the system
    • I am not talking about COBOL or MUMPS
    • I am talking about our government
    • I am being a bit tongue in cheek but I am also serious
    • A lot of the technologists I know who try to work with or on aspects of our government
      • Like even one of the most relevant areas of law to technology lately, copyright
        • Find it inscrutable and take for granted it is both broken and immutable
    • However, viewing it as system reveals that there are a variety of ways to hack it
    • I don't mean DDoS an agency with a crummy policy
      • Or something even more sinister
    • Rather I mean the aspect of hacking that leads enthusiasts
      • To understand some set of rules and mechanics
        • In order to surpass them, to make them do surprising things
    • Consider for a second the copyleft condition of many software and even media licenses
    • There is a common misperception that GPL or CC surpasses or obliterates copyright
    • In actuality, free and open software licenses require copyright or contract law to be enforcable
    • The better crafted licenses were written and refined by legal experts
      • Who hacked for instance copyright to yoke it to an obligation to share changes reciprocally
  • I want to convince you this system is worth grappling with at least on some level
    • I ran the DC area CopyNight for years
    • Before that, I attended and thanks to many folks who are now good friends
      • People who were more expert, many of them actual lawyers
        • I learned a good deal about the subtleties of the legal systems of copyright
        • And in particular how they relate to FOSS licensing
    • When I first started coming, I was astounded by how broken things seemed
    • They still seem broken, to me, but now in entirely more complicated ways
    • As with a lot of the technologists who came to that CopyNight after me did
      • At first I thought we should just abolish copyright, figure something else out
    • When it comes to source code, by contrast, I have had enough professional experience
      • To resist the temptation to throw out legacy code
    • At the time, I didn't think of our code of laws as legacy
      • But as my thought experiment hopefully demonstrated, it isn't much of a stretch
    • When it comes to software, as a veteran technologist of a couple of decades
      • I don't think NIH is particularly mature
    • Legacy code encapsulates a great deal of operational knowledge
    • At the very least it illustrates what things not to do
    • In the case of our government institutions
      • We cannot and should not ignore them
    • As SOPA and PIPA demonstrated all too clearly
      • And CISPA is likely to demonstrate again, they do not ignore us
    • We cannot outwait legislators, judges or administrators
    • I asked danah boyd about this often shared notion
      • After the movie Hackers which she selected as part of a film series
    • After that film, while explain her choice, she spoke, as she has before, about the power dynamics
      • Between the authorities and those who feel disenfranchised
    • I introduced myself afterwards and shared my worry
      • That the real hackers who are often legitimately baffled by our institutions of power
        • Will remain so unless we find a way to overcome that gap
    • I explained how John Perry Barlow stood up in an audience at a CCC a few years ago
      • To make this very point, let the old guard die, to Larry Lessig
    • She disagreed, that these power structures are self renewing
    • There is a world for when you throw out and replace a government, revolution
    • It is a bit more of a dire proposition then scrapping some codebase
      • In order to re-write it from scratch, even for well justified reasons
    • In the absence of easy solutions, we need to make asking questions easier
    • That's what I liked about CopyNight
    • It created a space where folks of different backgrounds
      • Could better learn from each other
    • It wasn't specifically formulated for technologists
      • And if I hadn't been stubborn at the beginning, it probably would have driven me away
        • As I saw it do to many other technologists who stopped by only once or twice
    • I think we have a lot of great spaces for civic minded hackers already
      • But what about the ones not yet convinced?
  • I tend to admire Ben Franklin for many reasons
    • Not the least of which because I think he was the first American hacker
      • As well as a brewer and an early copyright pirate
    • In addition to his insatiable curiosity and scientific collaborations and demonstrations
      • Kind of like early colonial versions of hacker spaces and conferences
      • He believe very strongly in public life
    • He espoused this idea that once one took care of the needful
      • They had an obligation to give back to the republic
    • In this sense, he meant res publica, things of and for the public
    • This doesn't have to be a big thing, like an anti-SOPA campaign
      • Or an onerous thing, like jury duty
    • As it was with me and in initial interest in copyright
      • Arising from just wanting to better understand the mechanism of FOSS licenses
      • It can be continuous with the rest of our interests and pursuits
    • So much of what we do is political without us perhaps even realizing
    • I think this is true of our common choice to use Linux
      • A choice that in some way or another brought each of us here, today
    • Coming together in a public setting, to share our common values
      • Is another way that perhaps we don't think about
        • That has as much in common with a civic mind life
        • As with just celebrating our joint passion for Linux
    • It isn't hard to take that next small step
      • To get involved on some local level, like a school board or county seat
    • No doubt many of you already volunteer at schools and libraries
    • The value in doing so is just in offering knowledge and experience
    • That is and listening and observing is really all that is required
      • To spot policies that may hurt our ability to use technology as we choose
      • And help overcome the ignorance of technology from which they often arise
    • Remember how I described our government as a system?
    • The first rules to learn are ones of etiquette, really
    • Those who represent us observe certain forms that once learned
      • Can make interacting with the system smoother and more effective
    • It may seem odd, but representatives and their staff
      • Still far more value paper mail and phone calls to emails and online petitions
    • Regardless, when too observe these forms
      • You may be pleasantly surprised at the conversations you can have
      • The effects you can produce
    • One extreme example is the call in campaign that Reddit catalyzed in the face of SOPA
    • It is still more rooted in a techie's world than a Congress Critters
      • Having an effect like a DDoS where relenting required coming around on the proposed law
    • Day in and day out, those who offer their expertise, especially as constituents
      • Have a more sustained and sustainable effect
    • Like any office, a representatives is often understaffed and over worked
    • If you have valuable knowledge and experience and the patience to share it
      • You may find your locally and federally elected officials highly receptive to doing so
  • Geeks are already hacking democracy
    • In the last handful of years, we've seen Open Government as a thing appear and flourish
    • The idea is that the inputs and outputs of government are really just information
    • Code can be written to put this information to more efficient or even novel uses
    • Code for America is a great, concentrated example of this sort of work
      • But it happens at all levels, from local governments having hackathons on their 311 systems
      • To Obama's open government directive and the work following on from it
    • These don't fully address when I think we need
    • They do understand government as a system
      • But don't seek to change it directly
        • So much as sticking to second order effects
        • Like automating bus schedules, pot hole reporting
          • And making government data more accessible
    • We do need to understand government as it is, to change it profoundly
    • The risk with what is generally described as civic hacking
      • Is that actions on data overlook far more critical issues, like SOPA and CISPA
    • I'll offer a couple more examples of people directly tackling the system
    • Carl Malamud is an early Internet pioneer who in the early days
      • Inhabited orbits similar to Jon Postel and Vint Cerf
    • The focus of Carl's work these days is to free all of the information produced by government
    • By all, I mean all, from codes and regulations to case law and the very text of legislation
    • Freedom here is in practical terms, in electronic, open formats
      • That allow any citizen to access this information, for any purpose
    • Unlike the typical civic hackers, Carl often works very closely
      • With agencies, departments and bureaus
        • To change their very DNA when it comes to this data
        • So that open publication is part of how government is enacted not an after thought
    • My experience of Carl's work is that when he does it right
      • He also eliminates the need for his his efforts in the first place
    • Another example with whom I became familiar only recently is Darcy Burner
    • She is one of the rare techies to tackle the system head on
      • Going to law school after a career in tech
        • Including a stint at Microsoft for which she seems appropriately apologetic
      • Then leaving her law studies to enter several Congressional races from 2006 to 2012
    • It was during Darcy's talk at Freedom to Connect a couple of weeks ago
      • That she shared a quote from Aaron Swartz
    • "When there’s a problem, you shouldn’t get angry with the gears — you should fix the machine."
    • Darcy knew Aaron better than most and like many who worked with him
      • Is still clearly processing his passing earlier this year
    • The context of his quote was talking about grappling with institutions
      • Ones made up of people, people with whom we may lose patience
        • Or blame for the ills of the institution
    • Aaron tackled the system as it was, finding it fascinating
    • Darcy's was one of many remembrances I've seen or heard since late January
    • I want to share Aaron as a last example for this reason
    • When you hear his colleagues at DemandProgress, the organization, he founded after he left Reddit
      • They describe someone who came back from his trips to Washington not defeated
        • But energized, reading and studying and learning the system as he found it
    • As with everything he accomplished, he clearly held some cause for optimism
    • I think it is in how each of us can channel that curiosity in some small way
      • To take on this massive legacy system as it is, understand it, and make it just a little bit better
  • Thank you

(00:38:13.068) Outro

Personal tools