The Longest Now

OLPC in Ethiopia: Testing Child Literacy
Thursday November 15th 2012, 9:14 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,gustatory,international

An excellent piece on OLPC’s tablet-based literacy experiments in Ethiopia, via the BBC World Service.

!!!!! Move over, Makmende! Aki Ra is Love
Tuesday September 25th 2012, 5:26 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,indescribable,international,null,Too weird for fiction

Love and death and hope. Here’s wishing him a fruitful and productive year.

Society memepool – how different societies define norms for life
Thursday September 13th 2012, 1:00 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Uncategorized

On sworn virgins, and other recurring social rules and accomodations.   A beautiful blog.

Sexiest github: White House’s We The People
Tuesday September 11th 2012, 10:07 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice

Both code and roadmap!

Peter Sunde Pleas: ‘Pardon the Swedish people from court corruption’
Tuesday July 10th 2012, 12:40 am
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,international,Not so popular

Peter Sunde, public face of The Pirate Bay during its publicity and trial over the past six years, recently published a long personal essay about the experience.

It is a hair-raising story of judicial manipulation, international arm-twisting, and companies offering jobs to prosecutors in cases affecting them… breaking the design of the legal system in a few places. The result, for Sunde, has been a ridiculously punitive and overwhelming sentence and fine with, in his case, only circumstantial evidence. (he is asked to pay more in fines than he is likely to make in a lifetime.)

Thanks to Rick Falkvinge for translating the essay; and to Sunde for sharing it. Please read it.

Librarians v. interdisciplinary existential threats
Friday June 22nd 2012, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,fly-by-wire,poetic justice

Existential threats don’t scare us.  We’re librarians.

Bethany Nowviskie on the arc and glory of digital humanities, interleaved with modern creative work.

via Jacob Rus

Adapt Now Or Be Disintermediated, says @FakeElsevier

Reed Elsevier’s received a scathing critique by The Street’s Jared Woodward this week, who bets heavily against its stock [RUK] :

We regard the common stock as an implicit naked short put option because, while the upside potential from the publishing division is limited, the downside risk from any revolt by its customers (libraries), laborers (academics), or funders (governments) is not.

Woodward incisively covers everything from the academic-run The Cost of Knowledge campaign countering the Elsevier-backed Research Works Act, the Federal Research Public Access Act proposal to enshrine Open Access as a requirement of all government funders, a similar EU mandate, the UK recruiting Jimbo to help draft a similar policy for all UK-funded research by 2014, Harvard’s faculty memo on deep and broad Open Access support, the stunning successes of PLoS One and Rockefeller University Press, and @FakeElsevier‘s tweets and blog.

@FakeElsevier is a pseudonymous academic who has been sharing satirical posts and tweets about Elsevier since February. The subject above is from one of the more popular blog posts: “Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier.

Take a look at Woodward’s report: It’s an exhausting and exhilirating read.

Federal Research Public Access Act

Graffitors beware: counter-vandalism patrol has come to Brookline
Friday May 25th 2012, 7:47 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,indescribable,Too weird for fiction

Graffiti is being wiped out across the city of Brookline by a wave of hyperrealist art. If you’ve ever wanted ‘tattoo removal’ for that Banksy your overpass got when it was young and carefree, or want to know which bricks match Textured Rusted Umber, this Tumblr’s for you..

It’s like The Man Who Planted Trees for a smooth, unblemished urban landscape.

Tracking local news: a case study
Saturday May 12th 2012, 9:46 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,null

I passed a burning Bolt Bus this morning. I wanted to learn more about it, so I trolled some local news sites.
Then some hyperlocal news sites.
Then The Internetz, via various search engines.


Twitter? Came through after a fashion: people passing it, like me, on the NJ Turnpike. Some had cameras to match their rubber necks. (HT to LilianeHaub)

Someone also tweeted from another Bolt Bus that whose driver commented on the fire to them.
But no word from people on the bus, or involved with the event; and no actual coverage.

It’s locally newsworthy;
Are there any alternatives to find out more?
Alternatives that focus on certain subgenres?

If you really can’t find any information online, writing down your own interest and what information you’ve gathered is a poor second option. That at least gives others interested in the same topic a place to talk about it.

Britannica goes digital: the 2010 Edition will be the last
Wednesday March 14th 2012, 12:13 am
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,indescribable

Quoth Editor-in-Chief Dale Hoiberg:

In 1994 we launched the first encyclopedia on the Internet. Today, with the end of the Britannica print set, we complete the transition from print to digital. Although we continue to produce some high-quality print products, Britannica is proudly in the digital camp.

They highlight some of their digital milestones, though they don’t point out the amazing plans around 1994 (not implemented) for a futuristic visualization of knowledge and automatic citation hyperlinks – called Mortimer in honor of legendary EB editor-in-chief and author of the Syntopicon, Mortimer Adler – to complement Britannica Online and make it a central part of the fledgling Web.

Those links are drawn from Bob McHenry’s lovely “The Building of Britannica Online“. Rereading it I note I need to update my essay on disambiguation, as he uses it here in 2003 not two years after it was first used casually on Wikipedia; so I assume that it was in already in regular use in encyclopedic and authority-file contexts in 2001.

2020 update: Bob’s site is now offline, alas.  I’ve rerouted links above to the Wayback Machine; unfortunately some of the images of EBO are lost as a result.  Hopefully others who worked on the project can provide them for archival purposes. I also note Bob describes this zoomable exploration as ‘underlay[ing] the third of the imagined extensions of Britannica Online, the notion of Gateway Britannica‘ !]

Celebrity Deathmatch: John Pike v. John Hancock
Sunday November 20th 2011, 10:58 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,Not so popular,null

Wall Street protests swell, close Brooklyn Bridge for two hours
Saturday October 01st 2011, 9:02 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,popular demand,Uncategorized

Occupy Wall Street, a protest calling for “human rights over corporate rights“, and stating that “the 99% are fed up with the greed and corruption of the 1%”, has been in force for three weeks now. After drawing roughly 1000 people in its first week, well under expectations, last weekend police around Union Square used tear gas on a group of female protestors – during the process of arresting 80 people. The use of such force has led to a surge of coverage, support, and participation. The movement has since built momentum, and today 400  700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, after they took over one side of the bridge, to the supportive honking and waving of many drivers.

Coverage of these protests has been slim until today. The protests are loosely organized, and the organizers such a they are did not have particularly strong cnonections to independent or mainstream media reporters. Some suggest that mainstream media had reasons to bury the story. Others suggest the lack of an obvious message and target for the protest made it hard to grasp what was going on. There have been no clear spokespeople for the protest, actual marches have been chaotic and much smaller than projected, and the only places occupied were parks and other public spaces, limiting the notability of the effort.

But all that has changed in the past two days. Earlier this week, a movement web site was set up, including a blog, calendar of events, press contacts, and a donation link – which goes (controversially) to movement supporter AFCJ. They area also publishing minutse of all meetings of the movement General Assembly, which is the governing mechanism for movement-wide decisions. Yesterday the protest (“the movement”) published its first official statement, coming out of a general assembly. In it they promised three related statements to come – listing demands, principles, and guidelines for starting your own local occupation.

Today, they took over Brooklyn Bridge, something of a first, and the 700 ensuing arrests is the largest police response to a protest in a very long time. The last time something similar happened in DC, it ended in a successful class lawsuit.

Community reporters have also been honing their work and getting picked up in Intenet memes and in mainstream media reposts. For instance, Wikipedia shutterbug David Shankbone snapped a popular photo of the protestor vibe on Thursday.

This weekend, the total crowd was up to 6000 protestors – and other smaller protests (like an anti-rape protest elsewhere in NYC) have started to claim affiliation or at least kinship with OWS. Mid-afternoon, the main protest unexpectedly moved towards the Brooklyn Bridge, and observers reported a mile-long line march of protestors.

Hundreds made it onto the bridge and occupied the car lanes in one direction, before being split from the rest of the crowd by police. (The bulk of the crowd then moved to Liberty Plaza.) They shut down traffic for at least two hours. The police were not prepared for this, nor were the mainstream city media. It took them a while to bring in paddy wagons and buses, to make hundreds of arrests, and to get more than trivial coverage of what was happening on the blogs of New York papers. Despite the ambient fears of excessive force, I had the impression that many police were not unsympathetic to the protestors — something reminiscent of the WTO protests over a decade ago.

Some good reads to get a feel for the march and protest:

  • The NY Daily News had solid ongoing coverage, and recently reported there were a smaller number of protestors on the Manhattan Bridge as well.
  • Army vet Ward Reilly has been curating messages and actions of support from US military personnel from all branches of the armed forces. After last weekend’s tear gas incident, groups have been attending the rallies to protect the protestors. A message that a group of 15 Marines said they were heading down to today’s NYC protests was picked up from him and spread as a rallying cry that the whole country was behind the protest. Similar shows of support and protection have been shown for smaller satellite rallies being planned or held in DC, Boston, LA, and other cities across the country.
  • Evan Fleischer, representing from Boston, curated some of the best Twitter pics and comments on his blog. Via Newyorkist, who was on the scene:
    • No attempt to prevent taking of bridge; no units to do so. #occupywallstreet. Matter of fact, one officer laughing at the absurdity…
    • There was a surprising amount of honking, yelling and waving from vehicular traffic on BK Bridge as marchers marched…
  • And Micah Sifry put this into context in a timely article this morning, just before the day’s protest got underway. (Micah: Encore!)

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s coverage and followup, and to being back home in Boston soon.

Dylan M v. Google : what to do when you are erased online
Monday July 25th 2011, 11:43 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,fly-by-wire,metrics,popular demand

Dylan M. (@thomasmonopoly) is a real person from New York.  He writes a bit of music, has a personal website, and generally uses a lot of Google services.  Whoops —  or at least he did, until he was G!unpersoned last week.


A week ago, Dylan had an active Google Profile,  a Gmail account, and his website was set up through Google Sites. Then, for an unspecified Terms of Service violation, all of these were suspended or deleted.  Google reps did not specify which, nor did they explain the TOS violation to him.

Here is his initial raging post to a community help forum on Jul 16; a followup the next day.  Customer service, such as it is, has not been kind.  Here are two examples of a “deserved what you got” mentality.  (If you’re a true customer-focused org, noon ever deserves a bad experience!)  On the other hand, here is a lovely note from Google social czar Vic Gundotra, just the sort of thing everyone wants to hear: “You bet on Google.  We owe you better.  I’m investigating.”  (update: DM reports getting a call from VG on July 25, with more info to come)

Naturally, Dylan wanted to know why he was banned.  (Even more naturally, he wanted a copy of his email and addressbook, and some minimal duration of email forwarding.)


What’s happening here

Since the US Post Office has given up on providing digital mail and addresses for people, we have all lost most of the civil rights that used to apply to our mailing address — the right to maintain an address over time, the right to a system of mail delivery that could not be spied on by other citizens…


Aaron Swartz vs. United States

(echoes of a broken system)

UPDATE: Aaron committed suicide on January 11, 2013.(!) More on his life here.

Aaron Swartz is a friend and Cambridge-area polymath whose projects focus on access to knowledge, open government, and an informed civil society.  He has worked as a software architect, digital archivist, social analyst, Wikipedia analyst, and political organizer.  Last year he co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the non-profit political advocacy group Demand Progress.

He is also currently charged with computer fraud by the US Attorney’s office, in what appears to be the latest example of “a sweeping expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction” based on the broad applicability of wire fraud and computer fraud statutes.  An overview:



Aaron has studied institutional influence and ways to work with large datasets.  In 2008, he founded, “the good government site with teeth“,  to aggregate and visualize data about politicians – including where their money comes from.  That year he also worked with Shireen Barday at Stanford Law School to assess “problems with remunerated research” in law review articles (i.e., articles funded by corporations, sometimes to help them in ongoing legal battles), by downloading and analyzing over 400,000 law review articles to determine the source of their funding.   The results were published in the Stanford Law Review.  Most recently, he served for 10 months as a Fellow at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, in their Lab on Institutional Corruption.

He contributed to the field of digital archiving, designing and implementing the Open Library, which serves as a global digital resource today, and as a foundation for any digital libraries in the future.  And he collected 2 million  public-domain court decisions from the US PACER system — a system that nominally makes all such decisions available to the public, but in practice keeps them hidden behind a paywall — to add to Carl Malamud’s collection at  (That work in turn gave rise to the crowdsourced RECAP project.)


The Case of the Over-Downloader

Last week, Aaron was charged by a grand jury with computer fraud [1], for allegedly downloading millions of academic articles hosted by the journal archive JSTOR, and exceeding authorization on MIT and JSTOR servers to do so.

JSTOR claims no interest in pursuing a legal case.  However they are not part of the prosecution, and Aaron faces a possible fine and up to 35 years in prison, with trial set for September.  You can support his legal efforts online.

The Association of College and Research Libraries notes that both the prosecution and Swartz’s supporters have characterized the trial with “superficial, and deeply incorrect, messages about libraries and licensed content“.

So how did this come to pass, and what does it mean for the Internet?

Details of the case and public reactions it inspired, after the jump.


Lovely interview with Stewart Brand in The European
Monday June 06th 2011, 10:44 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,international,metrics,popular demand

Brand has a lovely interview in The European this week (auf Deutsch) on his ideology and thoughts on language preservation and nuclear power.  Worth a read, even if only in translation.


Movement Roles: Understanding roles and responsibilities in a broad Movement
Monday June 06th 2011, 6:25 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,international,popular demand,wikipedia

As Wikimedia has grown as a movement from a website and cool idea to a family of sites and a network of national and international non-profits, we have developed many ways to engage partners and the media, raise funds, and make large-scale decisions.  National chapters have become significant non-profits in their own right, and collaboration between chapters and the global Foundation has become more intricate.  For instance, chapters today run and support international events, offer scholarships and grants to community members, raise significant funds directly through the annual sitenotices, and run branding initiatives — including the global campaign for “Wikipedia as World Heritage Site” organized recently by Wikimedia Deutschland.

In 2009, during Wikimedia’s strategic planning process for the coming five years, a task force focused on movement roles was set up.  Its task was to research how individual contributors, Chapters, and the Foundation currently interact, and how they should ideally work together, and how this happened in other global organizations.  This was the most abstract part of optimizing operations, which included discussions of how we  guarantee financial sustainability, build partnerships and infrastructure, and influence public  perception and policy.

This group tackled questions of how the different parts of the movement develop strategy, make decisions across the movement, and communicate with one another.  A few initial recommendations were made, but these issues required more detailed discussion.[1] So a Board working group was created to continue the work.

This group chose to focus for its first year on the roles of formal organizations in the movement — the WMF and its Committees, Chapters, and other structured groups that should have similar formal recognition.  We tabled the equally complex issue of the roles of individual contributors, wiki projects, and other informal groups to a separate discussion.

The result of this work will be a set of recommendations to the movement as a whole – expressed in a movement charter that all formal parts of the movement can endorse, to the WMF, and to chapters.  The project and its recommendations are being developed on the Meta-wiki.  All are welcome to participate in the working group and discussions (or simply browse our meeting notes).   By Wikimania this year, the group aims to have recommendations on new models for organizations that the WMF should recognize (Associations and Partner Organizations),  on movement standards for transparency and auditing, and more.

I will post a series of updates about the project over the coming weeks, leading up to in-person discussions at Wikimania.  If you have questions about the project or any of its targets, suggestions about important issues we aren’t yet considering, &c – please let me know on my talk page.


Update: Google plans paid version of Translate API
Saturday June 04th 2011, 11:59 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,fly-by-wire,popular demand

A week after announcing the Translate API would be shut down in December, Adam Feldman updated his earlier blog post with this brief note:

In the days since we announced the deprecation of the Translate API, we’ve seen the passion and interest expressed by so many of you… I’m happy to share that we’re working hard to address your concerns, and will be releasing an updated plan to offer a paid version of the Translate API. Please stay tuned; we’ll post a full update as soon as possible.

So: no specifics yet, and no explanation of the abuse they’ve encountered, but a paid API should be available eventually. Definitely a step in the right direction; this has received some warm responses from developers.  It is interesting that they still seem surprised by all of this attention; and it was a healthy reminder to everyone of how fragile a non-free ecosystem is (no matter how cool its APIs are).

Bad Behavior has blocked 429 access attempts in the last 7 days.