2015-10-17 The Command Line Podcast

This is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

This time, I chat about some recent news stories that caught my attention, including:

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.

You can directly download the MP3 or Ogg Vorbis audio files. You can grab additional formats and audio source files from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Video About the EU Hackathon

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.

House.Resource.org Launches

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

Convening of New Congress to be Streamed on Facebook

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

feeds | grep links > Holographic Video Displays, Univac’s Electoral Prediction, Patent Database is Up and Running, and More

  • 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

feeds | grep links > In Praise of CLIs, ISPs Resisting Mass Copyright Demand Campaign, Recycling Rare Earth Metals, and More

feeds | grep links > Scribd Surprises Users with Paywall, An Open Source Low Bandwidth Codec, More on the IP Enforcement Bill, and More

  • 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
    HT @glynmoody
  • 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

feeds | grep links > Broadband as Voting Issue in Australia, CERN’s Changing Patent Policies, More on European Police Raids of ISPs, and More

FCC Opens Up APIs for Key Databases

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.

Calling all developers! FCC releases APIs for key databases, Ars Technica

Defending Transparency

Quinn Norton had an excellent post today serving two purposes. First she undertakes a quiet defense of transparency for its own sake. There has been a lot of criticism of so-called naked transparency, the most constructive part of which is making sure there is a role for action as well as mere data. I think there is something to Quinn’s thinking here, that the act of uncovering information is not as passive as many assume. She also points out how different folks are going to receive and use that data differently–where some may be complacent, others have urgent, external pressures to act but need data, even raw, unfiltered data to do so to any effective degree.

My least favorite argument about transparency is that it breeds complacency. This is an argument from a position of tremendous privilege that comes from forgetting why we fight corruption in the first place. It is always the case that corruption costs; right now it is taking a terrible price on a real and growing segment of the population which the corrupt entity is meant to serve. You can only forget the proximate hurt if you’re someone in a position to forget it, someone with money, health insurance, the right travel options. Someone with good schools, and probably, it’s easiest to forget the day to day cost of corruption in America as someone with white skin. Without transparency threatened populations have to take up common myths about why they are in the situation they are in. In short, they blame themselves. Not only are they the victims of corruption, but when it’s not discussed, they’re the victims of believing they’ve brought the situation on themselves. If you want a complacent population, ruining their lives and then getting them to believe they did it themselves is a pretty good way to start.

The second purpose of her post is to remind us that Wikileaks isn’t an acceptable substitute for transparency. The site serves a critical role when the protections for whistle blowers, in the form of shield laws, are uncertain when stories break and evolving largely online crossing the jurisdictions within which these laws currently operate. It doesn’t absolve us of the need to demand information disclosure from our government in the first place.

This is very much like the ministers in the Canadian government, on being criticized for failing to live up to transparency about the ACTA negotiations referring critics to Michael Geist’s web site. An activist gathering and curating leaks is not equivalent to a government acting in a transparent way in the first place, not by a long shot.

Go read the whole post. It isn’t very long and both points are well worth bearing in mind when considering the space of open government, transparency and the role of third party actors like Wikileaks and Professor Geist.

Wikileaks: No Substitute for Transparency, Quinn Said