Swartz vs Snowden OR Resist Restrictions that Seem Arbitrary or Capricious

MIT released its report on Aaron Swartz (.pdf) this morning. It is interesting to read about the amount of energy and concerted effort around Swartz, in contrast to Edward Snowden. Swartz’ prosecution and MIT’s “neutrality” to that effort seem sad when taken in the context of President Obama’s comment on June 27th where he said “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”

In the report the authors pose questions to the MIT community, including: “How can MIT draw lessons for its hacker culture from this experience?” The answer includes:

MIT celebrates hacker culture. Our admissions tours and first-year orientation salute a culture of creative disobedience where students are encouraged to explore secret corners of the campus, commit good-spirited acts of vandalism within informal but broadly— although not fully—understood rules, and resist restrictions that seem arbitrary or capricious. We attract students who are driven not just to be creative, but also to explore in ways that test boundaries and challenge positions of power.

This raises the question of whether the MIT community is sufficiently aware of what the hacker culture is meant to be about, of the risks inherent in crossing lines as part of hacking, and the roles of faculty, staff and administration in responding to what might or might not be a hack.

Yet in the computer context, unlike as in the physical world, “unauthorized access”—ill defined as it may be—can be grounds for a major federal felony prosecution. For Swartz the end result was calamitous. The entire episode may create a chilling effect for those students contemplating exploits that may push the bounds of their and society’s knowledge, but will also take them to places where conventional rules say they are not supposed to be—“coloring outside the lines” so to speak, punishable by criminal records rather than mere forfeiture of crayons. [emphasis added]

I can’t help but think of the recently exposed removal of President Obama’s promise to “Protect Whistleblowers” from Change.gov. Which read:

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.

Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process. [emphasis added]

Later, in the answer to the above question, the MIT report asks “Are we misleading students and community members by advertising one kind of community and enforcing rules more appropriate to a different kind of community?”

This seems to be the question not just for the MIT community, but for all Americans.

A “New Chapter” on Climate Change

Barack Obama recorded a video that was shown today at the Governors’ global climate summit currently taking place in California at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  I am so happy and proud that my President is pledging these commitments in such a clear and outspoken manner.My favorite part:  

 ”…I promise you this: When I am President, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.”     

Video after the jump. Continue reading

My Journey With Barack Obama

Despite my passions for software, live music and clean technology, which I regularly blog about here, I’m privately a civic minded person.  This post serves as a record of the effort I’ve put in for Senator Barack Obama and concludes with an endorsement of the man as our next President of the United States.  The journey begins over two years ago.

Peering into my Gmail history for the keyword ‘obama,’ I can see the first time I talked about him was in a chat session with my friend Ala on 10/16/06 at 10:35 AM PST:

me: goodmorning
Ala: good morning
me: how are you this morning?
Ala: fine, and you?
me: fine.   obama huh?
Ala: made the cover of Time

And that’s how it started.

In November of 2006, I did phone banking in Portland for the Oregon Democrats, and took to the street like a crazy person, holding up my Vote sign on Burnside. About 11 months later, I was living in Boston, starting work on my MBA at Babson College.  Politics are a little more interesting for Democrats on the East coast and by then I was looking to get a bit closer to the candidate, in an email to my brother on 10/19/07 I wrote:

Continue reading

Nationalization or Expropriation? Independent Facebook Application Developers Continue to Face Uncertainty

There is some interesting discussion going on in the Facebook Developer’s forum. The gist is that Facebook has made changes that are causing some developers to feel disenfranchised. A few developers are upset enough that they are speaking of creating a union of independent Facebook application developers.

What might the goals of a union of Facebook application developers be? It would help to look at what has stirred the pot recently. About two weeks ago someone posted a complaint that Facebook had unfairly bent the rules to give CBS’s Sports NCAA bracket application advantages for faster viral spread across the Facebook user base. Adding insult to injury, the thread also pointed out that the CBS Sports NCAA bracket application had a poor user rating.

Two days ago another developer posted a thread titled, “Facebook has stolen my idea!” which describes the recently added “Do you know these people?” page on Facebook. The developer suggests he feels “cheated” because the new Facebook page duplicates his own application’s functionality. The developer’s application was forced to comply with platform development rules that required an obstructive approval process in order work correctly.

Facebook’s “Do you know these people?” page circumvents this approval process because it is not subject to the rules independent application developers must follow. Facebook made a better version of the application a part of the Facebook experience by bending the rules that crippled the original developer’s work. Continue reading

Fair-Weather Leaks Serve as a Strategic Method of Media Control

radiohead in rainbows label leak political leaksRyan Grim at The Politico wrote an article about the political leaks in Washington D.C. that also offers insight into how and why leaks happen just about everywhere, from bands to business to family secrets.

The article separates the types of leaks into three categories: the malevolent, the benevolent and the accidental.

Grim’s article includes eleven leak sub-categories each with a different intention. If you are plan to communicate with or be a part of the fourth estate, you should probably take a moment to read them each in detail. Instead of touching on each sub-category here, I would like to highlight how fair-weather leaks are used as a method of strategic media control.

Fair-Weather and Bad-Weather Patterns

“When an organization is being run well, people tend not to look at things as leaks, but they tend to look at things as information specifically being put out for some strategic purpose. When things are not well, the information getting out there is perceived as leaks.

-Chris Lehane, of the ’92 Clinton campaign and later the White House.

This seems like a subjective impression to me, and I wonder how it could be quantified without defining exactly what it means for an organization to be “run well.” And Lehane’s idea seems to create a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: a well run organization incorporates strategy into leaks, while strategic leaks also seem to be the hallmark of a well run organization. Continue reading

Disney Takes A Stronger Position on Health

Walt Disney has become the first Hollywood studio to take smoking out of all of its films.

Smoking Rats Ratatouille MPAA RatingI didn’t notice any smokers in Ratatouille, and I couldn’t see them in a new traditional film from Disney either. But the FT article goes on to state that Bob Iger’s position is that “the company would also ‘discourage’ depictions of smoking in films made by its other studio labels.”

Disney’s owns Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films which has released a ton of adult-oriented features including Tarantino’s, Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs. Quentin Tarantino makes including cigarettes in his movies a recurrent presence. Iger goes on to say that argueing with filmmakers working under his roof about excluding cigarette smoking is a “confrontation we are certainly willing to have.” Continue reading

Lobsters, Terrorism, Fishing and Putin

The White House LogoSome of you may have read my last post and given a quick “who cares” about the RSS feed. Following releases by RSS from the White House means that you can sometimes get a jump on news. Sometimes you just get a reminder of what it is like to be hearing from our President each day.

This morning a transcript of “Remarks by President Bush Before Arrival of President Putin of Russia” was released which was a entertaining until that he managed to sandwhich the instillation of fear that has been the hallmark of his administration: “But it just goes to show the war against these extremists goes on. You never know where they may try to strike.”

Here’s a link to the full text, my favorite part is where he describes a potential fishing trip on his coming day with Vladimir Putin “Maybe today. It’s pretty casual up here, as you know, unstructured.” Continue reading

The White House RSS Feeds Are Poorly Implemented

I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds coming out of our great nation’s White House. However, I can’t help but continue to notice that these feeds are really poorly implemented. Often they come with only a headline and no body whatsoever.

Presidential speaches usually include a link to an MP3 of the speach in the RSS item body–which means that Google reader embeds a flash player so I can listen to the speach right from the syndication. This is actually quite good.

However, for White House News RSS items, important information is left out of the syndication making the items worthless. I finally found the time and nerve to let them have it. Here is my letter to the United States White House web site technical team: Continue reading

Celebrate the Election With Firefox Extensions (Add-ons)

rob banagaleA hearty congratulations to the democrats in successfully channeling public discontent with the war in Iraq, political corruption, our nation’s economy into votes. I made over a hundred calls on behalf the party from the headquarter off NE 9th and Burnside, and stood on the corner of the street with a go Vote sign on election day. I only wish more people in my age group would register and vote! Anna Urban is awesome.
Anyway–since we have plans to get out to the bars for a few celebratory drinks this evening, I thought it might be nice to treat myself to a self-expressive technological blog entry on my favorite Firefox extensions aka Add-ons. Since Firefox 2.0 came out many of my perfectly configured FF 1.5.x extensions (plugins) have broken so I’ll share what’s working in 2.0:

Fission

Fission is a little extension that gives you a visual indicator of the progress of web pages loading. It draws a colored progress bar across the URL entry text area which is way better than just waiting for web pages to load which is really boring. Try it, you’ll like it.

Tab Mix Plus

Tab Mix Plus is probably my favorite FF Add-on, extension, plugin, what-have-you. This thing has all kinds of features, but most having to do with tab behavior within the FF window.
TMP also offers a great session manger and recovery tool, that is way better than the junky-no-good one that comes with FF2.0. This is particularly handy for projects that require a dozen webpages to work on. For instance, my current Drupal conversion on Weekly Davespeak often needs the Drupal forums, technical documentation, the old Weekly Davespeak page, the new testing version, Gmail, and perhaps kexp.org open. Saving this session as my New WDS backend means that I can restore and get back to work quickly and efficiently.

Clone Window

I like my tab duplication (ctrl-t) to also duplicate the current tab’s page and the browsing history. FF 2.0 does not offer this as an option, which is pretty weak. This is an essential extension.

Mouse Gestures

Mouse gestures are a really handy way of accomplishing common navigation and browser requests without taking your hand off the mouse. While I prefer to use keyboard and menu shortcuts at all possible moments in a program like Adobe Dreamweaver, you can’t really surf the web easily without a fair amount of mousing about. Also, you get to draw little lines and things which is kind of fun.

Mouse Gestures also supports mouse rocking, which is like clicking the left-mouse button then the right in sequence, as if you were rolling your fingers across the top of the mouse. This lets you go forward and back in your browser really really easily. Once you modify your surfing behavior you’ll never look back and always get annoyed on your unsavy friend or partner doesn’t have the extension installed on their laptop.

Web Developer

I’m pretty new to the Web Developer Add-on, but it has been instrumental in my most recent design activity. While there are many features and options, my favorite is that you can edit the CSS for a webpage in a browser panel on the left (hit ctrl-h in FF to see the history panel) and see the changes on-the-fly in page display on the right. Though Dreamweaver is supposed to have oh-i-don’t-know the most advanced WYSIWYG html/css renderer in the whole wide world, nothing beats seeing it for yourself in the world’s best browser, Firefox!

Adsense Notifier

Adsense notifier displays your current daily earnings from Google advertisements you display in the bottom on your browser. (see screenshot). This is really handy, as you can right-click the statistics and bypass the Adsense login screen. I’m not actively developing sites running Adsense at this time, but it is nice to know how all my old stuff is doing.

If you don’t run any Adsense campaigns, you should. It is incredibly easy to create web content that turns up search results, and as my friend Scott Dunlap can testify, creating only eight pages in a single week or so can turn out to you finding between 10 cents and a few dollars on the street every day for months and months at a time.