The UK’s Crowdsourced Coverage Map

A good chunk of my day job is now spent working on Measurement Lab. News of similar efforts to harness end users to generate empirical data on various aspects of the Internet, or in this case the 3G carrier networks in the UK, piques my interest.

An app which is providing data for a BBC survey into the UK’s 3G coverage has notched up 33,000 downloads.

The results will be collated and offered via a clickable map to give the first glimpse of what a 3G UK really looks like.

I am unfamiliar with Epitiro, no idea of their track record and how their survey will stack up against a similar effort planned by the UK regulator, Ofcom, or the existing open project mentioned in the article, OpenSignalMaps. Having more than one data set isn’t necessarily a problem so long as the data is open to all for detailed analysis, the methodologies are clearly explained and, ideally, the source code of the tools used to collect the information are open. (That may also be my bias speaking since all three of these are true for Measurement Lab.)

Regardless, as long as data sets can be correlated to account for differences and for the purposes of confirming the objectivity of each, the more the merrier. In the end the goal should be to ground policy debate on accurate data, to move past bickering over anecdata and others attempts to skew the framing with questionable information.

Thousands download coverage app, BBC

MapQuest to Use OpenStreetMaps Data

This is a big endorsement of the quality of data coming out of the open, crowd sourced mapping project, OpenStreetMaps. As Sarah Perez at RWW explains AOL’s mapping service, MapQuest, will be offering an option to use their newly updated UI with the data generated by the open mapping project. The open version of the map will be available in the UK, first, because of the higher quality of data collected, and later on will cover the US.

As part of the launch of MapQuest Open, AOL is setting up an investment fund to encourage open mapping. In particular, they are hoping to improve open map data already in use with AOL’s local news and listing service, Patch. However the support comes and wherever its focused, this is a case where everyone looking to build on top of open map data will benefit.

I tend to concur with Perez’s conclusion, that this is a highly competitive move by MapQuest rather than a purely altruistic move. License fees for geo data are exorbitant and AOL is undoubtedly able to trim quite a bit of fat with MapQuest Open, freeing up finding to really focus on the value added services, like Patch, that at least partially rely on maps.

What I really like, that Perez doesn’t dig into, is that by supporting a commons for mapping, AOL is making it possible for others to compete against the likes of Google and Big, too.

feeds | grep links > Origin of the Blink Tag, Blocking Political Speech with Copyright, 3D Information Storage, and More

feeds | grep links > Linux Does Scale, Open Government Directive in the UK, Quit Facebook Day Fizzled, and Kids Thumbprinted for Library Checkouts

  • Linux does scale
    In case there was any doubt in anyone’s mind, Glyn Moody shares the latest from a site tracking OS distribution in the high performance computing market. The latest growth, to 91%, thoroughly debunks the notion for two reasons. First is simply the incredible push from an already high fraction of the market to an even higher one. Second is that this hard climb coincided with a renewed pouring of resources into this market by Microsoft which barely registers at 1%.
  • New UK government follows US’s open government direction
    Simon Phipps has news of the memo that came out over the weekend. He also catches out the first problem with the initiative, that the data formats aren’t clearly specified which could lead to a lot of open but still largely useless data.
  • Quit Facebook day flopped
    As The Register explains, not even one percent of Facebook’s users signed up. The group cites the difficulty in overcoming the network effect rather than acceptance of the current state of the privacy controls. I am still on the service for that reason, though for me the number of connections so small but vital.
  • Program uses school kids thumb prints to check out library books
    My youngest son would totally forget a library card but all the same, this program described by Slashdot sits very uneasily with me. Although the school official quoted defending the system said it was entirely voluntary, there are no details in that extended quote of how students may opt out. I have to agree with the criticisms that this sets a dangerous precedent and behavioral norm.

More Completely Applying Open Source Methods to Data

Nat Torkington shares a realization on O’Reilly Radar, that the goal of opening public data can learn more from open source than just how we access the end product. He does a good job of considering both tools and certain social models. From version control to leadership and even changing attitudes to towards the life “after release” of data, there is a lot to think about here. I especially like the implication that working in a manner across the board borrowing much more thoroughly from open source presents a possible solution to data accuracy issues, a common criticism of implementing transparency.

I would have really liked to see much more consideration on the values inherent in open source. Mostly he sticks to how this informs opportunities for sharing credit and managing interactions between contributors and users. Maybe I am thinking beyond his simple proposition, considering the hacker ethic more than the common denominator open source methodology. I think adding that ethos could help address some of the other criticisms of transparency, namely the idea that technology can produce beauty and, more importantly, effect change may help fix focus on outcomes as much as process.

Federal Register Opens Its Data, Apple Reverses on Politically Charges App, And More

  • Apple approves political app if formerly rejected
    Via Daring Fireball. Not much explanation offered from the reversal, the author chooses to believe it was due to public pressure. It seems a bit of a devil’s bargain as one of the updates on their site says Apple insisted that critical statements about the approval process be removed from the app’s description in the store.
  • Federal Register opens up its data
    Google’s public policy blog is just one of those reporting this landmark event. I’ve bookmarked Felten’s discussion of FedThread to discuss further but I expect it will only be the first of many projects intended to take advantage of this new wealth of both current and historic data.
  • Q and A about the Federal Register
    An O’Reilly Radar piece by Public Resource’s own Carl Malamud that gives much more detail about the recent good news. Carl speaks directly to the CIO of the Government Printing Office and the Directory of the Office of the Federal Register.
  • Fear of failure stymying open source in the government
    An intriguing thought shared by Glyn Moody from an event in which he recently participated. The implication, to me, is that commercial, closed software is perceived to be less risky and hence easier to justify to tax payers. I do like that the quote calls out failure as a necessary component to experimentation and innovation. I think it is an interesting challenge regardless of open or closed source, but definitely can see how it fear of failing would chill adoption of open source in particular.
  • Thawte ending its web of trust, personal email certificates
    According to their FAQ, they are citing the cost of continuing to offering personal email certificates backed by their web of trust. I think the implication is clear, that it is also due to lack of interest. Do you know anyone using one of their email certificates?
  • Royal Mail sends nasty gram to Wikleaks
    Glyn Moody does an excellent job following up this almost inevitable story after the postal database was posted a while ago. Glyn also digs into the sui generis rights the EU decided to grant over databases, in particular the near zero net effect doing so actually had.
  • Palm fixes developer program, encourages open source
    I am glad to see my skepticism deflated by this Ars story posted by Ryan Paul. This confirms Sarah’s comments on my link to jwz’s story and includes a lot of positive details like some respectable hires by Palm from the larger community.
  • FSF files amicus brief for Bilski
    PJ has her usual, excellent analysis at Groklaw. With briefs filed by RedHat and the SFLC, it was almost a foregone conclusion there would be one from the FSF, too. The brief adds to the strong anti-patent rhetoric with some compelling examples of software in use by the government that would be adversely affected by a damaging patent claim against free software interests.
  • Eolas files patent claims against big tech companies
    As Jacqui Cheung explains at Ars, Eolas won a much older claim against Microsoft and had that ruling ultimately upheld on appeal. They are apparently now feeling their oats and targeting the likes of Apple and Google.
  • Calling shenanigans on Fox’s coverage of the PATRIOT Act reform
    The EFF has links to some fact checking by the CATO Institute’s Julian Sanchez, including a bit of video covering what the news outlet is getting wrong. The EFF post has links to coverage around the web if you want more information for better context, too.

Cyberbullying Bill’s Chilly Reception, Open Sourcing Publicly Funded Books, and More

  • Preview build of Mozilla’s CSP available
    This is excellent news, direct from Mozilla’s Security Blog. The work isn’t complete but it is far enough along for testing by security folks. I hope this makes it into Firefox 3.7, its good stuff.
  • Cyber bullying bill not well received
    I am very glad to read at Wired that Rep. Sanchez’s bill was not enthusiastically embraced in sub-committee review. Even if this goes forward despite this early stumble, I hope it founders on serious free speech consideration. Bullying is lamentable, yes, but do we really need to impose a limit on speech comparable to defamation for it?
  • Fourth Public Knowledge video in “We Are Creators Too” series
    This time, looks like a slightly different but just as valuable perspective. PK describes Francesca Coppa as an English professor, author and feminist. She is also a videographer, which would be the common thread of the series.
  • Oracle’s ownership of MySQL is about Microsoft
    A plausible theory by Matt Asay. Oracle certainly doesn’t have the same sort of relationship with open source as say Sun or even IBM. Unfortunately, Asay doesn’t consider what the recent developer exodus and dilution of MySQL’s mark might mean for this idea.
  • Bill proposes to require publicly funded books to be open source
    I am strongly biased towards this sort of idea, it seems like a logical extension of our civic contract. If the public ultimately funds the work, they should get unfettered access to the result. I am less concerned with the impact on the market as I doubt this will eliminate the need for privately developed titles and Flat World is already demonstrating how open source can even be compatible with for profit business models.
  • P2P bill goes into markup
    As Nate Anderson explains at Ars, the bill seeks to require some simple rules around files that software may be sharing to help reduce inadvertent. This seems like a reasonable experiment in regulating P2P. The article mentions other regulation in development, though, that is far more aggressive.
  • Experimental mesh for cell phones
    For the stated purpose, to help provide emergency service, this seems like an excellent idea. I wonder how well it would scale and operate in a sustained mode in as an alternate to traditional cells? I suspect not entirely well and attempting it would undoubtedly draw the ire of the mobile operators.

Music Inspired by a Computer Game, Portland Backs Open Data, and More

  • Zork rock anthem
    Thanks, Cory, for sharing this ladleful of awesome sauce. Not only is this a great bit of very listenable nerd core, it works on a whole other level: the lyrics are a walk through of the original Zork text adventure game.
  • Mozilla also objects to Google Chrome Frame plugin
    As The Register explains, VP of Engineering Mike Shaver offers some more considered technical arguments and Mozilla chief lizard wrangler, Mitchell Baker. The issue, in a nutshell, is that the plugin silos security and other data on a site by site basis and can have a net effect of eroding the safety of the browser and definitely will lead to consumer confusion.
  • UK consultation on proposed three strikes rule closes
    The Open Rights Group has a good recap not only of the proceeding but the hard work they are doing to provided well informed, substantiated critique of the proposal.
  • Horrifying details of proposed UK border plan
    Am I missing something? I understand why the scientists are objecting to the methods being proposed as they are flawed, like automated facial recognition and other sorts of fuzzy techniques often are. But what about the very idea, regardless of the means, of conditioning access to the country based on heritage and ancestral origin? This seems like a notion rife for a while different degree and kind of abuse.
  • City of Portland backs open, structured data
    What a coup! As RWW points out, Portland is the latest in an early trend in open up its data and in this instance seems to be banking on the fact that it has a very strong local software industry.

Freeing Locked Down Public Data, Protecting Your Anonymous Online Speech, and More

  • Another suggestion of minimizing IP to foster reform
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt points to a piece by “Against Intellectual Monopoly” co-author David Levine. It is the first in a series of posts by Levine and his co-author Boldren on The Huffington Post. Not surprisingly, while his opinion is well substantiated, it is pretty radical. I am eager to see any reduction in intellectual property to see how well reality would match these very optimistic predictions of the economic good doing so might cause.
  • FCC hearing will reveal whether it can stand by its principles
    Public Knowledge’s Art Bordsky lays out the challenges the FCC must surpass in an upcoming general hearing. At issue is whether the commissioners will stand firm on network neutrality, stemming from Obama’s campaign promise penned by the FCC chair himself of an open internet. Failure to do so will invite industry to continue to make self interested communications policy largely unopposed.
  • How the apology to Turing came about
    A nice O’Reilly Radar post from the very person responsible for the key petition. It also demonstrates how activism can unfold differently in the UK than other places, like here in the US.
  • How to get yourself unmasked online
    At Ars, Jacqui Cheung explores recently failures of anonymous speech through cases and procedures. Counter to the articles title, there is some good advice here if you are interested in preserving the anonymity of your postings online.
  • Pleading for an online, machine readable “The Constitution Annotated”
    The Sunlight Foundation is petitioning the Government Printing Office to produce a full, XML formatted, electronic version of an extraordinary living document that contains analysis of nearly 8,000 US Supreme Court cases. Much like pleas for similar publication of the up-to-date body of our legal code, this seems reasonable and long overdue.
  • Wikileaks posts British postal-code database
    More than just the news of Wikileaks latest data acquisition, Cory gives a fair grounding in what publicly funded information is typically locked up in the UK and how access is controlled through steep licensing fees. He also considers how unusual this sort of institutional double dipping is compared to other models for funding such data entry and processing projects.
  • Massachusetts court allows secret, GPS tracking of vehicles
    This is nowhere near as scary as it seems on first blush. A warrant is still required in a manner that seems consistent with traditional wire tapping. The judges’ ruling also included comments on working to protect citizens’ privacy rights for the sort of ubiquitous, constant surveillance many might fear from granting law enforces this capability.

Hands on with Retro Computing, Experimenting with eBooks, Facebook Opening Sources Voluntarily and Otherwise, and More

  • Facebook required to hand over source code
    Mike Masnick covers this well at Techdirt. Facebook is being made to hand over their sources as the result of a ruling in a patent infringement suit. Masnick correctly points out the problems with this, that it seems wildly inappropriate given that it is patent, not copyright, and that it is their entire code base for such a narrow claim.
  • Hands-on retro computing show
    John Timmer has the details at Ars. Most notable is that the show is requiring exhibitors to be allowed to touch the machines on display. It really drives home that the focus of the show are the first wave of personal computers that boasted a level of interactivity and access that set them apparent from their time sharing, big iron forebears.
  • Nick Cave and his publisher do more with ebooks
    Mick Masnick of Techdirt describes an example of what I think Clive Thomson was discussing in his piece on the future of reading. Also interesting to note that as much as we bag on publishers, in this instance they were the ones prodding the experimentation with the ebook.
  • Apps for America 2 winners
    Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs posted this before heading off to the Gov 2.0 Summit. I am guessing these are ranked, so DataMasher beat ThisWeKnow, the latter being my favorite. Otherwise, this list seems to me to be the same as the finalists, so I am a little confused.
  • Linux Foundation asks MS to stop secret attacks
    A good follow up by Ryan Paul at Ars Technica on the heels of the OIN buying up some Microsoft patents. Read yesterday’s post, specifically the link to Matt Asay’s piece. Zemlin of the Linux Foundation clearly agrees that Microsoft’s patent auction was a move similar to their covert support of SCO, an indirect assault on Linux.
  • Facebook releases some FriendFeed code as open source
    RWW hashes the announcement from Bret Taylor, one of FF’s co-founders. What they’ve done seems reasonable given their needs. I’ve worked with and built non-blocking servers before so appreciate the difficulties involved. The license here is Apache, so I could see some of this code potentially making its way into other Python based projects to the betterment of the whole community.
  • Amazon, Copyright office among those dissenting in Google Books hearing
    According to Wired, Google’s attempts to share revenue with other resellers fell flat with at least Amazon. Further, the Register of Copyrights thinks the courts have overstepped what should have been a matter handled by Congress. I am not sure that is realistic, though I think there may be something to perhaps modeling future agreements after this settlement, if it ever reaches any kind of sustainable compromise.