Berkman Center Launches Planning Initiative for Digital Public Library

The link is to the press release directly from the source.

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society today announced that it will host a research and planning initiative for a “Digital Public Library of America.” With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Berkman will convene a large and diverse group of stakeholders in a planning program to define the scope, architecture, costs and administration for a proposed Digital Public Library of America.

Dave Ferriero, Archivist of the US, has already offered to host an initial plenary session. That will be followed by five tracks of intensive workshops. The model sounds very similar to the work that Carl Malamud did at the start of that project. Here is hoping that this new effort is at least as successful.

Speaking of Carl, he is on the steering committee alongside other academics, librarians, and leaders from various not-for-profits. I volunteer on the FedFlix project run by Carl’s He is responsible for quite a few projects for getting public information online and if the other names, only a few of whom I recognize, are of similar caliber, that also bodes well.

The focus here seems to be at the federal and national level. I’d love to see this expand to include recommendations for local libraries to evolve to embrace the network and remain lively parts of their respective communities.

Berkman Center Announces Digital Public Library Planning Initiative

Help Carl Malamud Convince Congress of the Value of Public Domain Video

What Carl describes in the message Cory posted to Boing Boing on his behalf is admittedly gaming the system. If you watch the recommended videos between now and his testimony on December 16th, you’ll be helping to bulk up the statistics he will be citing to advance the case for public access. To be fair, the system as he describes it seems unfairly stacked towards pushing you to buy these videos on DVD rather than exercise what seems like it should be a more substantial public access right.

If you want to watch videos from the National Archives today, they try to talk you into buying a DVD from the official government partner, Amazon.Com. The government web site has a 320×240 2 minute preview, using an old Microsoft codec, and all the search results encourage you to purchase from “our partner, Amazon.Com.”

So let’s call this hacktivism, specifically targeting a considerable and immediate public good, and spare a few minutes here and there in the next two weeks to help Carl out.

Vintage Music Piracy Device, The War for the Web, and More

  • Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge
    Michel Bauwens posted this announcement at the P2P Foundation blog. In looking over the site to which he links, the details of the charter reads like my own personal laundry list of ideal goals in this arena. The members so far is a liberal mixture of groups and individuals.
  • The war for the web
    At O’Reilly Radar, the site’s namesake, Tim himself, pulls together some recent and not so recent stories from around the web to continue the discussion of appliancized devices and walled gardens. This is an interesting variation on Zittrain’s hypothesis in his last book, but O’Reilly looks at potentially escalation competitive pressures between giants, rather than the direct constraining of consumers by those same giants in the name of security.
  • Interactive tutorial for advanced JavaScript
    Jon Gruber at Daring Fireball links to this tutorial by John Resig. I am increasingly enjoy these sort of browser based, interactive sandboxes that vastly lower the cost to simply experiment with something new. In this instance, the tutorial is also an advanced peek at Resig’s forthcoming book.
  • Two new projects and a tour for the Web Foundation
    As RWW points out, the well known and respected creator of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is on tour through Africa as part of fund raising for the Web Foundation that he founded last year to work on issues of the digital divide. The two specific partnerships this drive is meant to help are around re-greening efforts and youth education.
  • Vintage music piracy devices
    I really love stories from the history of copyright that can help illuminate the discusses and challenges with which we grapple today, in the midst of this digital revolution. These diagrams that Cory shared on Boing Boing of 19th century record duplicators is genuinely novel to me, showing not just the practice and norms of piracy stretching back but also the technology.
  • Clarifications on Microsoft’s “sudo” patent
    Trusty Ryan Paul has done some excellent investigation, including reading into the body of the patent, something which I wouldn’t have had time. In addition he contacted the sudo maintainer to get his opinion. The results he posted at Ars is that the patent probably has no bearing on the command line tool itself but may on the more recent development of the user interface for PolicyKit and similar GUIs used in the Linux desktop.
  • Service provider backing up source search
    RWW has a pretty good profile of an outfit aiming to become to search what Red Hat is to Linux. Search here however refers to custom search, behind a prospective company’s firewall, not general web search. While the increasing traction of projects like Lucene, of which I am a user and a fan, is excellent news, I was hoping this piece would be discussing a moral successor to Wikia, bracketing Google and Bing in its sights.

Philadelphia Public Libraries Saved

I saw Cory’s post on Boing Boing reporting the happy news. The linked article doesn’t have any details on the contents of the funding bill, just thanks for all of the public action that helped draw attention to the city’s libraries’ plight in particular.

Hopefully my source will have some details about the broader ramifications of the bill both for Philadelphia and the state’s broader budget concerns.

Philadelphia Public Library Closings Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg

A friend who lives in Philly contacted me in response to my post about the possible public library closings. It seems like my gut was closer to correct on this being an outward sign of political squabbling, in this case between the Democratic governor and the Republican majority legislature. My friend suggested that there is pretty systemic corruption but didn’t offer any specifics. It probably wouldn’t be fair in a quick correspondence to try to itemize a list that steered clear enough of libel to be worth sharing.

The closing of the public library is just the latest outward sign of these troubles. My friend has it on good authority that at least one city official working in a department that receives state funding knew full well this was coming, back in July when the latest round of budget squabbling flared up.

What is probably safe to say is that the governor, Rendell, is desperate to fix some of the budgeting problems as he sees them. Unfortunately, he seems to have a history of inflicting pain on the state and state funded programs as a brute force negotiation tactic.

Last year, when Rendell didn’t get the budget he wanted passed, he furloughed workers. They were out for one day and then got paid. This year – he just plain didn’t pay people that were paid out of the General Fund.

Pressure tends to limit how long such maneuvers can be sustained, though.

They eventually paid a stop gap budget to pay workers, but in the mean time – they aren’t paying bills to state contractors, [they] aren’t allowed to make any purchases, and if something breaks, unless it’s under warranty, [they] can’t fix it. Rendell is out next year, so this is his last chance to pass the budget that he wants […]

It is not surprising that neither side sees a budget that is in anyway compatible with the other’s. The whole thing seems like an exercise in squeezing a water balloon. To pay the deficit and fund critical services, other programs have to suffer or citizens feel the pinch in increased tax rates. Unfortunately, it sounds like programs already are and have been suffering. While corruption is no doubt sapping some of the budget, it is more likely chronic mismanagement is a worse problem. If neither side can come to any sort of agreement on exactly where to squeeze the balloon, then everyone is going to get drenched.

The situation is amplified by how the city of Philadelphia relies partially on state funding.

If Philly doesn’t get the money that they normally do, the Mayor has threatened Armageddon, cutting police and fire, and they are already planning to cut trash and recycling in half.

Part of my interest here, other than my friends who live in a city that is seeing basic services like sanitation diminished and may see other services completely go dark even if only temporarily, is wondering how transparency may have helped this situation. Corruption certainly is threatened by the disinfecting glare of sunlight, as the saying goes. More constructively openness may allow more minds to work the budget problem. It certainly wouldn’t hurt in helping everyone understand that there simply isn’t enough funding to go around. Ignorance only fuels back biting, recriminations, and accusations of favoritism.

My friend bolstered my comments about the temporary nature of the library closings if they do indeed come to pass.

But I have a feeling the moment they know that money is coming in – the libraries will be back open. They are a grassroots favorite, and if Nutter wants to stay popular, he’ll do what he can to open them quickly.

But I think that Cory’s article made it seem like the libraries are going away for good, and that they were disposed of on some crooked polititians whim. It’s not that. It’s just that if there is no money coming in…well the City of Philadelphia doesn’t have good credit. But if they have to pick and choose what they are going to pay for – essential services required for public health and safety need to come first. And it’s so much more complicated than what he reported.

I know I am not getting all of those complications my own self. Hopefully I am able to give a better sense of them. If you, dear reader, follow the local law and budget making where you live, you’ve no doubt seen some of this before, if not quite to this degree. Hopefully you also understand my interest in expanding transparent government beyond the federal government, down into states and municipalities.

It may not directly make these sorts of problems that much easier to solve. It is still a tough economy and that will impact tax revenues and other publicly fund programs even with the best management. It is however always better to argue for and make public decisions based on the best and most complete information available.

Quick Links for 8/27/2009

  • Now the US Courts are fine with RECAP
    According to Masnick at Techdirt, the Deputy Chief of for Policy and Budget at the Administrative Office of the US Courts not only claims to be fine with the Firefox extension to free court documents, but also has spoken with Professor Felten who oversaw its development. The Deputy Chief and Felten have apparently been on the same page throughout the project, suggesting the nastygram was a bit of bureaucratic indigestion.
  • Federal appeals court’s ruling enhances computer privacy
    According to Wired, this is as much a win for privacy as it is a contentious ruling. The dissenting judges point out the problem, the lack of supporting precedents. I expect this will be re-hashed and quickly as a consequence.
  • Holographic rendering GPU
    Some excellent details at Ars from Chris Lee on some recent research in Japan. The feat of rendering a hologram with essentially a pair of beefy FPGAs is impressive though the results are limited in the depth of the hologram and the frame rate possible for animations. Undoubtedly with what is essentially just a proof of concept at this stage, performance will improve rapidly given the ultimate result of true holographic projection.
  • ACLU sues for records around border laptop searches
    The suit is under the Freedom of Information Act and is intended to assess the risk to Fourth Amendment rights posed by expanded search and seizure powers at US borders. No news other than that the suit has been filed.
  • Google Sumer of Code efforts in open government
    Dana Oshiro at RWW describes to projects at Sunlight Labs receiving interns from Google’s project. One is focusing on local government, which I think is an excellent next step beyond transparency in the federal government. The other aims to better support citizen engagement and congressional discourse with constituents.
  • Facebook updates privacy policy for the bettter
    According to this Bits article by Claire Cain Miller, the changes fall into roughly two groups. The first, largely at the behest of the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, improve data retention and transparency into policies. The second address a disturbing gap that has been drawing a good deal of attention, private data handling for 3rd party applications.
  • Was Obama image removed from Flickr for a fake takedown?
    According to this RWW piece, this may be the explanation, considering all of the plausible rights holders have denied issuing the take down.

Quick Links for 8/24/2009

I meant to post these last night. I have been trying to get on top of my reading and research during the week to share things more quickly, in easier to digest chunks rather than with one massive post per week. I am hoping if I can get into the habit of regularly posts, even if not daily, it will also better spread out my production work for the weekly news show.

  • First European ISP to flagrantly break network neutrality
    It’s unclear whether UPC has its own video services that are getting preferential treatment. What I can glean from the article, it looks like they are targeting P2P and newsgroups. They are implying that users of those services are abusive.
  • New open source Python binding for Qt UI library
    Ryan Paul has details at Ars on the bindings being developed by Qt’s new owners. The project, PySide, is too early for much in the way of technical details. Really, the good news is Nokia’s move to roll their own rather than try to hash out a deal with Riverbank on their existing bindings, is the resulting license will be much more liberal.
  • Swiss privacy commissioner blocks street view for inadequateprotections
    Eric Bangeman has the relevant details at Ars Technica. He explains how much of the negotiation with local governments around the privacy aspects of Street View is pretty normal. In the absence of more details around the commissioner’s complaint, I tend to sympathize with Google’s surprised reaction.
  • Legal battle over blogger’s anonymity
    Wired has the detals on another defamation suit that has prompted a counter suit over the outing of an anonymous blogger. While the core facts may seem trivial, the free speech issues are important and as this is appealed, it could set critical precedents for expectations of anonymous speech online.
  • Multitouch support may be coming to Firefox
    WebMonkey has the details as well as a compelling little video demo. The addition of this support makes a huge amount of sense with the latest generation of smart phones and internet appliances. If only I could run Firefox or Fennec on my iPod Touch.
  • Federal court responds to Princeton CITP’s hack of PACER
    Mike Masnick hits the nail on the head, how the federal court is trying to characterize this bit of hacktivism as a security risk. Especially to point out (incorrectly) how the open source nature of the extension may make it more dangerous. Once again, I am disappointed that of the two responses, they chose not to cooperate.