I admire Carl Malamud immensely and have had the good fortune to help his efforts over the years. Joe Mullin explains Carl’s latest efforts, to free access to Georgia’s legal code from a $1000+ price take, efforts that have netted him a lawsuit. The article is worth a read for the clear explanation of the basis of the state’s case, a claim that annotations on the code are copyright protected even if the text of the law is unencumbered. This is a difference without distinction since the only available text is the one with the annotations. I don’t see Carl backing down, this is a case worth following.
This time, I chat about some recent news stories that caught my attention, including:
- A Good Vimrc
- Her Code Got Humans on the Moon-$And Invented Software Itself
- Open Source Micro-purchasing: An experiment in federal acquisition
- Geeks vs. Suits: What’s the Real Difference between 18F and USDS?
- Aurous, the Popcorn Time of music, is already being sued
- Whatever You Think Of The RIAA’s Lawsuit Over Aurous, Shouldn’t We Be Concerned That It’s Pretending SOPA Is Law?
- How is NSA breaking so much crypto?
- How to Protect Yourself from NSA Attacks on 1024-bit DH
And a special shout out for listener Kevin who just launched a Kickstarter campaign for Trans*Geek Movie. Please help spread the word and consider becoming a backer.
You can subscribe to a feed of articles I am reading for more.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
I shared this already on my social networks but thought I’d take a moment to highlight it here as I’ve mentioned in my recent travel updates my trip to Brussels last week. This is a seven and a half minute video about the EU Hackathon, event on which I worked as a speaker and organizer. Thanks to the hard work of my fellow organizers and the awesome efforts of the participants, the event far exceeded everyone’s expectations.
The crew responsible for this video did a great job capturing the purpose, outcomes and experience of being involved with this first group of hackers to anchor a hackathon in the halls of the EU Parliament. They produced a couple of accompanying videos focusing on the start and end of the hackathon, both of which were the portions that took place within the Parliament building in Brussels.
As Caroline de Cock explains in the video, the hackathon was organized around two goals, internet quality and government transparency. I helped organize the work on the former, working to select the participants and staying up as much as I possibly could through the 24 hours of hacking and attendant activities to offer my expertise on the source code of the network measurement experiments hosted by Measurement Lab. (Yes, that is the project I’ve mentioned as being a large focus of my current day job.)
We are already talking about next year. Stay tuned, there may be related activities between now and then working on these same two fronts, sponsored and organized by those of us behind the EU Hackathon.
When I was writing my critical thoughts about the Facebook streaming videon of the opening of the next session of Congress, I will admit I had Carl Malamud and his efforts to get the US government to include digitization and access as a built-in part of how they do business. The news that one of his many projects has launched couldn’t be better timed, to drive the point further home.
Today, we are announcing a new site, House.Resource.Org. This site contains today over 500 hearings we obtained from C-SPAN from the proceedings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Under an agreement reached with Chairman Darrell Issa and Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, we are now in receipt of several hundred more high-resolution files from 2009 and 2010 hearings that will be loaded on the site. In addition, the Committee has agreed to furnish us with high-resolution files from all hearings in 2011, which we will be posting on a weekly basis. Note that this is not a real-time service, we are posting big files after-the-fact.
Carl’s efforts are admittedly more focused on archiving and access than necessarily live broadcast but he does have a solid background in real time streaming. The efforts here also span YouTube, the Internet Archive and C-SPAN, clearly enough combined capacity to provide for live events as well as after the fact access.
I don’t want to further minimize Carl’s achievements by continuing to dwell on the inadequacies of the Facebook arrangement. Clearly what Carl has done is much more comprehensive, not just garnering support on both sides of the aisle but also tapping engineering talent at YouTube to make these congressional committee videos as valuable to librarians, archivists and the general public as possible.
The second hack is something we are doing that leverages some amazing work being done by the YouTube engineering team. In many cases, we’ve been able to take the video of a hearing and mash it up with the official GPO transcript.
Please read Carl’s announcement for an example of the transcription mashup and along with all the other details of this great project.
House.Resource.Org, Carl Malamud at O’Reilly Radar
Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb has the details, which are fairly scant. He raises all of the questions that occurred to me when considering this announcement, especially how deeply you’d have to participate with the hosting page (i.e. liking it or not) and whether other sites could share and embed the video.
The response from Facebook doesn’t offer much clarity on these points.
Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s Manager of Public Policy Communications, got back to us by email and had this to say. “Hundreds of members of Congress use Facebook to communicate and connect with their constituents in an official capacity and we’re excited to see Facebook being used prominently as the 112th Congress gavels into session this week.” It turns out that Rep. Boehner, the new Republican Speaker of the House, is leading the effort with his new media team. Facebook is, however, one of very few 3rd party services that Congress has approved for official use, something that was a subject of controversy when the US government started using YouTube prominently.
I suppose given the gap between the capabilities of the public sector and the private it is unreasonable to expect the offices of our governing bodies to come up to the scale and distribution offered by Facebook and YouTube in such short order. I am still not happy that this isn’t being done on a platform that is relatively more open like, oh, say, just about any of them. I’d be happier still if the approved third party sites were used like metaphorical overflow seating in addition to whatever meager streaming resources the IT folks on the Hill could throw together on their own.
Facebook to Live Stream US Congress Opening Tomorrow, ReadWriteWeb
- First glimmerings of holographic video displays
John Timmer at Ars Technica discusses some pretty impressive research considering how little holography has advanced for anything other than trivial applications. The system these researchers are building may seem crude but most of the equipment being used, including the network connection, are pretty close to consumer grade. The potential is enormous though I have to imagine free standing holography is a further horizon beyond these re-writing but otherwise fairly constrained displays.
- History of computing and elections from 1952
Wired has re-printed an article from around the time of the last US elections by Randy Alfred. In it, he explains how Univac, one of the earliest computers, was tasked with predicting the presidential election in 1952. The forecast put together by the machines and its operators was remarkably accurate but the TV folks they initially approached were too skeptical to air it at the time, only admitting to discounting the computer’s results well after they were obviously correct.
- Patent database is up and running
Rogue archivist, Carl Malamud, has the good news at O’Reilly Radar. The joint effort between the USPTO, the White House and Jon Orwant at Google has resulted in a new, open database that supplants feeds that formerly required substantial subscription feeds. As Carl explains, this was no easy chore given vested interests in the revenue streams from the old, closed system. A huge win for restoring a critical piece of our informational commons here in the US.
- Five years of Linux kernel benchmarks, Slashdot
- Group trying to get back scatter airport scanners banned, Techdirt
- Google and Facebook to face tougher EU privacy rules, Reuters, via Groklaw
- New beta of Firefox 4 mobile released, Mozilla, via Hacker News
- Vodo sets up currency to encourage promotion , Techdirt
- Criticism of GUIs over CLIs for sys admin tasks
Slashdot links to a post by Paul Venezia at Infoworld that not surprisingly matches my own views quite well. I am not a sysadmin but have to deal with enough systems as a programmer to appreciate both his points about reproducibility and conservation of effort. I would throw in that notion that scripting command line interfaces also makes testing and unexpected tasks easier than graphical user interfaces.
- RedHat settles patent case, Slashdot
- BT seeks a moratorium on internet piracy cases, Slashdot
- UK ISPs band together to fight IP lookup requests, Ars Technica
- UK government to release works under open license, Techdirt
- Japanese mining company starts recycling rare earth metals from electronics
Slashdot has the details which are not as laudable as we might like. Dowa, the mining company in question, is responding to a Chinese trade embargo not to concerns over sustainable manufacturing. However if they develop cost effective, even profitable, means of recycling these metals that are highly toxic and in every increasing demand, that would be a pretty significant silver lining as others might follow for reasons besides trade pressure.
- ABC unofficially partners with StatusNet, ReadWriteWeb
- IE drops below 50% market share worldwide, ReadWriteWeb
- Xerox PARC turns 40, The Register
- Scribd quietly moves users docs behind a paywall
Mike Masnick at Techdirt shares the realization by law professor Eric Goldman of this little publicized change. This action by the document sharing service defies reason. Goldman articulates how undoubtedly most of the users caught by this change must feel, used and trapped. Once again, this isn’t an issue with open or closed but moving from one to the other after a bargain was offered and a promise made. Even a much more clear shift would have been more tenable, if almost as unpalatable.
- Is Facebook turning on online activists it used to support?, ReadWriteWeb
- An open source, low bandwidth voice codec
Slashdot points to a project whose main developer also worked on the Speex codec, another effort tailored to efficient coding of just voice. Mainly Codec2 looks to be focused on replacing a current, proprietary codec used in amateur radio but its capabilities are compelling, almost 4 seconds of clear speech in just over 1 kilobyte. It would be nice of some of the unencumbered ideas might find application in high quality voice encoding, too, perhaps to help fuel an open alternative to Skype with similar sound quality. Of course, that’s just the podcaster in me thinking out loud.
- Mozilla joins Open Invention Network as licensee
- Wendy Seltzer discusses new IP enforcement bill
In this post on the Freedom to Tinker blog, Seltzer places the bill firmly in the context of piracy as a legal pretext for censorship. I didn’t touch on the issue of potential abuses but the point dovetails with what I explained yesterday about lowering friction. It simply becomes too easy to press a claim of infringement, legitimate or not, for the correct purpose or some lateral one such as suppressing dissenting speech.
- EP votes on controversial anti-piracy report, TorrentFreak
- Bill Tracker launched for legislation in the UK, BoingBoing
- Broadband access becomes a voting issue in Australia
Nate Anderson at Ars Technica has the details of how the issue shaped the new coalition government. Where majorities are more contentious and often require this sort of alignment, the story makes sense. Here in the US, I still doubt that broadband access or similar tech policy concerns will ever have this kind of impact.
- Android, Linux kernel fight continues
- CERN looking to leverage patents where it hasn’t in the past
I am kind of saddened by this New Scientist article to which Groklaw linked. It mentions MIT actively managing a considerable portfolio, what I would consider a positive example of a regarded research institute balancing the drive to reap the benefits of its efforts directly. The idea of the web being bound up in patents, had CERN taken this approach from much earlier, is troubling to say the least.
- More details on yesterday’s police raids in Europe
TorrentFreak has more on the coordinate efforts by police, of which outages at the Pirate Bay may have been incidental. It is tough to judge as they’ve withheld or redacted some information to protect their sources. Claims are still being made by others, not by TorrentFreak, that the Pirate Bay and WikiLeaks were being targeted.
- Single atom setup acts as transistor for photons, Scientific American
- Civic Commons code sharing initiative looks to lower government IT costs, O’Reilly Radar
Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica not only shares the news but includes some more crunchy detail on the APIs themselves. His article actually serves as a pretty good survey of what is possible with the APIs. It also hints that more data will be accessible in a similar manner soon.
“The release of these APIs marks an important day for us at the FCC,” Byrne says. “The FCC has long published many data sets. Now we are allowing developers direct access to our data via live queries. Your feedback on these APIs—what you think, how you are using them, what needs to be improved—helps us continue in this direction.”
This is an encouraging development from such a high profile agency beyond the broad and often frustratingly vague commitment to open data under the Obama administration. Information at this detail is key to enabling and encouraging the kinds of analysis and mash ups promised by mere transparency. Getting projects hacking is key to moving past the reactionary criticism of transparency solely as an end and reinforces its nature as a means to generating interest and actual knowledge.