The Longest Now

24-hour awesome circus brunch bar, free, for everybody
Thursday May 24th 2012, 11:57 am
Filed under: chain-gang,metrics

AFP breaks down her successful kickstarter project to support an album:

it means i’ll probably buy an abandoned church somewhere and turn it into a free 24-hour circus brunch bar for everybody.

we’re all investing, dollar by dollar, pledge by pledge… not just in the future of my little record and band, but in an idea whose time has come.

Copyright failure: terms are much much much too long; solution needed
Monday May 21st 2012, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,international,meta,SJ,wikipedia

David Gerard recently pointed out that despite recent expansion of the global commons of “freely-licensed knowledge”, all license terms still last for much too long. “Free licenses” still rely on copyright laws which impose restrictions on reuse for unreasonably long term lengths: currently “Life of the author + 70 years” in most countries — roughly 10-50x as long as the average commercial lifespan of a new work.

Economists and researchers studying copyright have often noted that copyright terms have been extended with little justification, always on the request of the publishing industry, since the first copyright term (14 years) was set centuries ago.  And that there is no data to suggest that longer copyright terms are good for society or useful in encouraging creative work.

The social memes of “free culture” and “free knowledge” have been shaped in large part by a community that bought into the idea of copyleft in the past decades: a derivative of copyright law which defines the copyrights the author wishes to exercise in a way that lets people reuse their work, as long as they release the result under the same license.

We should figure out a reasonable maximum term for the sort of rights that are currently covered by copyright – say, something no more than 14 years – and embed that term into the most-recommended free culture licenses. That includes all Creative Commons and free-culture and other FOSS licenses. All of these licenses should explicitly transition to the Public Domain before the ultralong default term enshrined in international law.

(In practice this could mean automatically switching to a CC0 license at the end of the shorter term.)

Related discussions about license reform

David’s comments started a recent discussion on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, about whether Wikimedians should help push for a saner copyright term.  Mike Linksvayer noted similar discussions on the Creative Commons licenses list from last December – part of brainstorming how to improve those licenses.

Two people made comments along these lines: “Shortening the copyright term is totally infeasible in the near term; instead we should encourage people to switch to free licenses.

This misses two key points. Firstly, free culture groups are now some of the largest around; they include major content providers and platforms; and Creative Commons itself is a powerful global brand. Secondly, while convincing slow, conservative national governments to change their laws is hard, almost everyone who is not working/lobying for content publishers — including the vast majority of content creators — feels copyright terms are too long.  So this is an obvious place for citizen innovation to come first, and legislation second.

A few publishers are already adopting limited terms.  O’Reilly Books uses a license that switches to CC-BY after 14 years.
Some free culture groups have taken a position here as well: Sweden’s Pirate Party advocates for a maximum term of 5 years.  Richard Stallman of the FSF recommends a maximum of 5 or 10 years (though only for society as a whole; and only if it comes with open source requirements for proprietary software).

What can we do?  Won’t this make free licenses harder to use?

Adding an explicit term after which works become PD should not complicate the “opt-in commons”, to use Mike’s term. This could be implemented with a few simple changes (I am imagining how CC could implement this; as they have great authority to recommend licensing norms):

  • Define “PD-friendly” licenses as those which become PD in at most N years.
  • Define the PD-date of a composite work as the latest of its component sources.
  • Ask people to use a PD-friendly license.

Within that framework, people can use terms that make sense to them; some may want a license with a fixed PD date, so that a large group can collaborate on a shared work which is set to become PD in 2020.  Ongoing collaborations like Wikipedia could use a license set to become PD after 8 years – so the latest version of a project would always be under a CC-SA license, but one from today would become PD in 2020.

Creative Commons and others could then promote the use of PD-friendly licenses.  Collaboratives like Wikimedia communities, and publishers like O’Reilly, could switch to those licenses for their projects and works.  Together we would return to building a true intellectual and artistic Commons — something which in the US has been starved of almost all works produced in the past 35 years.


Wikimedia: Chapters choose two new Trustees for the Foundation
Sunday May 20th 2012, 8:11 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,wikipedia

Via Béria Lima:

The Wikimedia chapters have, by voting, selected the following two people to serve on the Wikimedia Foundation board, replacing Arne Klempert and Phoebe Ayers:

* Patricio Lorente is the current President of Wikimedia Argentina. He had worked as Project Manager of the Association for Social Development in Argentina. At present, he serves as General ProSecretary of the National University of La Plata.
* Alice Wiegand is an IT specialist for system administration in the public sector, and a former board member of Wikimedia Deutschland, the largest Wikimedia chapter. She runs the IT department of a German municipality, and is starting a Master’s program in Public Policy and Governance.

Congratulations to Patricio and Alice, who will join the Board in mid-June; I look forward to working with both of you.

And much gratitude to Phoebe and Arne, who have helped us all to stay focused on what matters, for their amazing work over the past years.

The Chaos: update
Saturday May 19th 2012, 9:34 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,popular demand,Uncategorized

Spurred by a discussion of language learning and pronunciation, I revisited my favorite English-language poem this weekend: Gerard Nolst Trenité’s “Dearest Creature In Creation” (a.k.a. “English Pronunciation”, or “The Chaos”). I cleaned up my composite version, fitting in most of the remaining couplets that have appeared in one of the author’s revisions, marking where the various versions start to diverge, and adding pronunciation notes for a few more words.

If you haven’t read it recently, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. And if someone with a melodious voice feels like recording a reading of it, that would be a boon.
Update: Jacob Rus points me to this recording he made of a different version of the poem. Awesome! A British version would be grand too.

Finally, which rhymes with enough:
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough
Hiccough has the sound of ‘sup‘ …
My advice is: give it up!

Thursday May 03rd 2012, 12:49 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,Rogue content editor

Meteor: The future of web-apps?

Congrats to deberg and others for pulling off an inspiring soft-launch.

Context of the day: Digital Public Library vision and participants
Thursday April 26th 2012, 11:50 am
Filed under: chain-gang,international,popular demand,wikipedia

I am spending most of the day in literacy and library discussions, helping define the audience of the Digital Public Library [of America].  It is a fantastic project.  And I am warmed by the society-spanning groups that come together aound this vision for the evolution of libraries.

We should to bottle this type of shared sense-making, social diplomacy, and brainstorming.  “How do we solve the collective action problem for all of us who share these common goals?”  It must unfold from an institution-managed process to one that is low-cost, almost entirely online, and driven by the passion of its crowds.  That would revolutionize planning for many walks of modern life.

I will be posting discussion transcripts where I can; keep your eye on #dplawest for pointers.

Why and how to build free collaborative services.
Friday April 20th 2012, 10:07 am
Filed under: chain-gang,popular demand,wikipedia

Here is an edited/clarified version of a mailing list thread many weeks ago, in which Wikimedians were discussing starting a Q&A site, or setting up a hosted solution for same.

I drafted a post about this to reprise here, but am just now finishing it off.

It is a disappointment… that Stack Overflow uses proprietary software
(not least because it is so wonderful) because in all other respects, as
a community, they do a great job. I have had wonderful experiences with
them and would urge anyone to get behind them.

I like their spirit and community too. I would be happy to see a StackExchange site for Wikipedia/MediaWiki questions exist. [that was the context of this email thread.] But it won’t contribute to the global free toolchain for collaborative knowledge, which we are part of. So the templates and environments for discussion that we build by customizing those tools will have only limited long-term value.

} Sure, they do things slightly differently — but that doesn’t mean
} they do things wrong.

From the perspective of Wikimedia’s mission, they are indeed doing things wrong. [.From the perspective of running a small business, they may be doing just fine.]

Effective access to collaborative knowledge is important to a harmonious society. As a result, basic knowledge-sharing tools and toolchains should be free, for any sort of use, customization, and improvement. The universal value of a Q&A system is directly tied to the importance that good free tools should be available to set one up.

We want to support these free toolchains, which is why we release all of our own code. This is also why, when there are good free versions of proprietary tools, we should support them and help them grow. That support is one of the ways we contribute to long-term knowledge development, in everything we do.

Whether we host the result ourselves is a totally separate question. Both OSQA and Question2Answer offer hosted services. But any solution we use must be one that we could choose to host ourselves, if necessary.

Thomas wrote:
} the main advantage is that your putting it under a name and community
} who are already experienced at doing really good QA – so your seed of
} volunteers is going to be that much better! SE have nailed that vibe.

I agree that they have a good shared vibe. Quora have as well. It is a valuable thing, and also one deeply rooted in human nature, like wiki editing. 🙂

For precisely the reasons you mention, it is important for us to have a better in-house QA tool. We need a better channel for the people who are in that zone to shine on Wikipedia — beyond simply manning the Reference Desk and similar pages in various languages (which many hundreds of them already do), or removing themselves to other sites where inter-article linking to WM articles is difficult, answers are not directly editable, there is a new framework for logging in, messaging, &c.

We have some stellar community groups to seed such a site with ourselves — and this will offer a place for many more who like Q&A work but not other wiki editing to become involved in a rewarding way.

Taking the Steel Blogger Challenge
Thursday April 19th 2012, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,citation needed

Much of my work recently has been about community creation, capacity, identity, energy, and relation to partnership-building and vision-setting. And how to listen carefully and plan well for that hindsight-enabled possibility-space we call the future. This affects everything from how we define the future we want to live, how we chart our own course in groups of all sizes, to how we raise funds, forge volunteer or sponsor relationships, and enable those around us to do work we’d like to see done.

I got excellent feedback on these ideas at last week’s OER meeting, where most projects wanted to be community-driven or maintained. A few people asked if I was writing a book, with varying levels of arm-twisting. So I’d like to get into better writing shape. Inspired by Cool Cat Teacher’s tireless blog and ideastream, I have been thinking about ways to publish thoughts and essays dozens of times a day. I enjoy writing short essays, and linking them to practical works or implications. I do this in some format – often on email lists or in response to private requests – every day. But I don’t currently do it methodically, publicly, in an archived or editable way. And there is a backlog of practical thoughts in my unintentionally-private tomboy notes about how my current communities could work better / internally and together.

So in the spirit of doing ten thousand times whatever you want to eventually do well, I am taking on a personal Steel Blogger Challenge – publishing a post for every day this year. Retroactively. That gives me a bit of catching up to do. I don’t know quite how to coordinate this with tweeting and writing essays of various lengths – the ideal length here would be 100-200 words to capture the idea, with a few links, but editable. And I’m not sure how to make my writing editable, though I would like to let you all make revisions and post updates and links and cross-references.

And for the first time recently I feel let down by my blogging platform. I want a better way to publish many times a day, in many formats at once. Including quick personal notes, 140-char summaries, blog posts, longer monographs. Preferably with wiki-style versioned editable backend for every format. If you have toolchain suggestions, please let me know.

Hacking Open Education, Take 2
Thursday April 19th 2012, 10:18 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,international,meta,metrics

Hewlett Hack Day last Friday was an energetic stone soup affair. Erhardt Graeff, Andrew Magliozzi and I planned it with Amar and Nathaniel from Berkman, and Josh Gay. Erhardt emcee’d the event, and Meredith Beaton, Una Lee, Becca Nesson, and Matthew Battles all helped make it happen. Some 40 people attended over the course of the day.

The past two days had seen the development of two dozen project ideas, many of them hackable, by the Hewlett grantees. We spent the first hour condensing those and some new proposed hacks down to 10 that seemed compelling and doable. People self-selected into groups to tackle these (in hindsight: we should have set a max team size of ~6). 7 projects were attempted, and 6 produced a hack – a pitch or minimum product that could inspire others to move it forward. At the end of the day, everyone gave 2-minute pitches to a panel of judges (a schoolteacher, a highschool student, and two berkman staff) who reviewed the results for hackability and near-term usefulness for OER.

Result: two new github repositories, a ‘Learning metacognition via Poker‘ course up on P2PU, a mobile app for ‘Free Pencils’, a hackable version of FreeRice for standardized test problems, a plan for a high-profile annual OER Awards, a wireframe for a cleaner student portfolio platform, a new OER WikiProject on Wikipedia, and a draft design for Octocat a variation on github for OER materials. The PokOER concept drew the most attention – almost ten team members and three different ideas merged – and many hackers agreed they would love to take a P2P course on the topic. And a hack to make it easy to generate your own Mozilla-friendly badges made partial progress, including testing and filing helpful bugs against the badges API.

The Free Pencils and OER Awards projects won judges’ awards’. They were specific and partly implemented (Becca garnered the admiration of all for producing a working prototype in 4 hours), and addressing particular needs raised in the brainstorming the day before. Their hackers have free passes to the Open Ed conference in Vancouver, thanks to sponsorship by hackday participant David Wiley.

Ruby for Kids
Monday March 19th 2012, 7:53 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,popular demand

Richly red, complementing the joys of tryruby and the like.

J. B. S. Haldane on Statistical Fraud
Friday March 09th 2012, 6:06 am
Filed under: chain-gang,metrics,popular demand,Uncategorized

From Haldane‘s 1941 essay in Eureka #6 on “The Faking of Genetical Results“, reproduced here with appropriate corrections and hyperlinks.

MY FATHER published a number of papers on blood analysis. In the proofs of one of them the following sentence, or something very like it, occurred: “Unless the blood is very thoroughly faked, it will be found that duplicate determinations rarely agree.” Every biochemist will sympathise with this opinion. I may add that the verb “to lake,” when applied to blood, means to break up the corpuscles so that it becomes transparent.

In genetical work also, duplicates rarely agree unless they are faked. Thus I may mate two brother black mice, both sons of a black father and a white mother, with two white sisters, and one will beget 10 black and 15 white young; the other 15 black and 10 white. To the ingenuous biologist this appears to be a bad agreement. A mathematician will tell him that where the same ratio of black to white is expected in each family, so large a discrepancy (though how best to compare discrepancies is not obvious) will occur in about 26 percent of all cases. If the mathematician is a rigorist he will say the same thing a little more accurately in a great many more words.

A biologist who has no mathematical knowledge, and, what is vastly more serious, no scientific honour, will be tempted to fake his results, and say that he got 12 black and 13 white in one family, and 13 black and 12 white in the other. The temptation is generally more subtle. In one of a number of families where equality is expected he gets 19 black and 6 white mice. It looks much more like a ratio of 3 black to 1 white. How is he to explain it? Wasn’t that the cage whose door once seemed to be insecurely fastened? Perhaps the female got out for a while or some other mouse got in. Anyway he had better reject the family. The total gives a better fit to expectation if he does so, by the way. Our poor friend has forgotten the binomial theorem. A study of the expansion of (1+x/2)25 would have shown him that as bad a fit or worse would be obtained with a probability of 122753 x 2-23, or .0146. There is nothing at all surprising in getting one family as aberrant as this in a set of 20. But he is now on a slippery slope.

He gets his Ph.D.  He wants a fellowship, and time is short. But he has been reading Nature and noticed two letters* to that journal of which I was joint author, in which I might appear to have hinted at faking by my genetical colleagues. Thoroughly alarmed, he goes to a venal mathematician. Cambridge is full of mathematicians who have been so corrupted by quantum mechanics that they use series which are clearly divergent, and not even proved to be summable. Interrupting such a one in the midst of an orgy of Bhabha and benzedrine, our villain asks for a treatise on faking.

“I am trying to reconcile Milne, Born and Dirac, not to mention some facts which don’t seem to agree with any of them, or with Eddington,” replies the debauchee, “and I feel discontinuous in every interval; but here goes.

“I suppose you know the hypothesis you want to prove. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to grow a few mice or flies or parrots or cucumbers or whatever you’re supposed to be working on, to see if your hypothesis is anywhere near the facts. Suppose in a given series of families you expect to get four classes of hedgehogs or whatnot with frequencies p1p2p3p4, and your total is S, I shouldn’t advise you to say you got just Sp1Sp2Sp3 and Sp4, or even the nearest whole number. Here is what you’d better do. Say you got A1A2A3 and A4, and evaluate

\chi^2 = ((A_1 - Sp_1)^2 / Sp_1) + ((A_2 - Sp_2)^2 / Sp_2) + ...

Your \chi^2 has three degrees of freedom. That is to say you can say you got A1 red, A2 green and A3 blue hedgehogs. But you will then have to say you got SA1A2A3 purple ones. Hence the expected value of \chi^2 is 3, and its standard error is \sqrt{6}; so choose your A‘s so as to give a \chi^2 anywhere between 1 and 6. This is called faking of the first order. It isn’t really necessary. You might have p_1 = 9/16p_2 = p_3 = 3/16p_4 = 1/16 and A1=9, A2=A3=3, A4=1. The probability of getting this is (16! 3^24) / (9! (3!)^2 1! 16^16), which is only just under .04.  However, it looks better not to get the exact numbers expected, and if you do it on a population of hundreds or thousands you may be caught out.
“Your second order faking is the same sort of thing. Supposing your total is made up of n families, and you say the rth consisted of ar1ar2ar3ar4 members of the four classes, sr in all: you take

((a_{r1} - s_r p_1)^2 / s_r p_1) + ((a_{r2} - s_r p_2)^2 / s_r p_2) + ...

and sum for all values of r. Your total ought to be somewhere near 3n. The standard error is \sqrt{6n}, and it’s better to be too high than too low. A chap called Moewus in Berlin who counted different types of algae (or so he said), got such a magnificent agreement between observed and theoretical results, that if every member of the human race had repeated his work once a month for 1012 years, they might expect as good a fit on one occasion (though not with great confidence). So Moewus certainly hadn’t done any second order faking. Of course I don’t suggest that he did any faking at all. He may have run into one of those theoretically possible miracles, like the monkey typing out the text of Hamlet by mere luck. But I shouldn’t have a miracle like that in your fellowship dissertation.

“There is also third order faking. The 4n different components of \chi^2 should be distributed round their mean in the proper way. That is to say, not merely their mean, but their mean square, cube and so on, should be near the expected values (but not too near). But I shouldn’t worry too much about the higher orders. The only examiner who is likely to spot that you haven’t done them is Haldane, and he’ll probably be interned as a Red before you send your thesis in. Of course you might get R. A. Fisher, which would be quite as bad. So if you are worried about it you’d better come back and see me later.”

Man is an orderly animal. He finds it very hard to imitate the disorder of nature. In fact the situation is the exact opposite of what the reader of Paley‘s Evidences might expect. But the problem is an interesting one, because it raises in a sharp and concrete way the question of what is meant by randomness, a question which, I believe, has not been fully worked out. The number of independent numerical criteria of randomness which can be applied increases with the number of observations, but much more slowly, perhaps as its logarithm. The criteria now in use have been developed to search for excessive irregularity, that is to say, unduly bad fit between observation and hypothesis. It does not follow that they are so well adapted to a search for an unduly good fit. Here, I believe, is a real problem for students of probability. Its solution might lead to a better set of axioms for that very far from rigorous but none the less fascinating branch of mathematics.

* see U. Philip and J. B. S. Haldane (1939). Nature143, p. 334.  and
  Hans Grüneberg and J. B. S. Haldane (1940). Nature145, p. 704.

Two closing comments by T. W. Körner, who found Haldane’s essay worth reprinting in his brilliant textbook on Fourier analysis:

The reluctance of the scientific community to accept the possibility of fraud is illustrated by the fact that Moewus was still cited in the literature (and even spoken of as a possible Nobel prize winner) until 1953. However, no one else ever succeeded in repeating his experiments…

Unfortunately the statistical war against fraud is now over and the cheaters have won. The kind of tests proposed by Haldane depended on the fact that ‘higher order faking’ required a great deal of computational work. The invention and accessibility of the computer means that the computational work involved has ceased to be a problem for the dishonest scientist. In the physical and biological sciences the possibility that others will attempt to replicate experiments may act as a sufficient deterrent but in purely statistical subjects like sociology and experimental psychology the poblems raised by potential fraud have still to be faced.”

Celebrity Deathmatch: Sendak v. Colbert, Part 2
Saturday January 28th 2012, 10:19 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Blogroll,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory

See also Part 1 … and Part 3.

Act 2

Colbert: What do you think of the current state 
of children's lit?
 Sendak:  Abysmal.
Colbert: There's so much of it though!
 Sendak:  That's what makes it abysmal.

Let's talk about some of your competition.  
Give me your reviews.

Green Eggs and Ham?
Good. Green Eggs And Ham, "Good".
  Everything by Seuss is good.

Give A Mouse A Cookie.
I'm with you on that one.  Cause, 
you shouldn't give a mouse a cookie, 
Mouse should *earn* the cookie.
  You should open the door and say 
  'get the hell out of my house!'
The mouse should be exterminated. 
I'm with you on that one.

Curious George?
Curious George, ok.  
I don't believe in monkeys in the house either.
  You don't like it?
No, no.  they throw their feces.
  They do, they do throw--
Monkeys bite your jaw off, they will bite your face off
  He wouldn't have done that.
No, no, but he could have at any moment.
So have I changed your mind on Curious George?
So you're in favor of children 
getting their faces bitten off.
   I'm in favor of --
ok, you- you've made it clear.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  you know that one?
  Isn't that an adult novel?
That's kind of prejudiced of you, to say that a book 
has to be adult, or a book has to be child.
Someone who's been so ghettoized in their work, would say 
that a child couldn't read a book about murder 
and sadomasochism...
  You trapped me!  you trapped me!  
Checkmate, sir.  Check...
  You're wrong, but you trapped me.
Am i? Am i? 
Oh, so other people can be pigeon-holed, but 
you can't do that to Maurice Sendak.  That's a crime.
  How about that!
H'm!, interesting.
  Don't I deserve that?
Double-standard much, Mo?

Let's shift gears.  Every celebrity is out there 
cashing in on children's books.  
And I want in.   
What does it take for a celebrity to make 
a successful book?  What do I gotta do?
  Well, you've started already by being... an idiot.  
  That is already the very first demand.  
Ok, idiot.  
  First is idiot.
How do you spell that?
  After that, you know the formula.
You just need, like an animal, and... 
something they've lost.
  Well yes, I mean most books for children are very bad.
The Squirrel Lost Its Mittens.
  There you go.
The Buffalo... Lost Its Gun.
  You've just written two children's books!

I've got a story. can I read it to you!
  (winces in pain)  
  Do you *really* have to?
It's called "I am a Pole, and So Can You!"
  Ok, yes! I can't wait to hear it.

== [Colbert reads] ==

I am a pole, that much is clear to me.
But just what type of pole could I possibly be?
I tried to be a pole for vaulting, 
but I couldn't seem to bend.
I would love to be a ski pole, 
but for that I'd need a friend.

I wished I was the North Pole, 
and marked the home of Santa,
Or even just a Gallup Poll calling voters in Atlanta.
I considered fireman's and fishing,
Was a totem for some time.

And even tried to be a stripper pole, 
but I couldn't stand the grime.
But then one day, in my depths of despair, 
Some scouts brought me Old Glory as something to wear.
And while she danced and she waved,
It became clear to me, 
I am the best kind of pole you can possibly be.
I am an American Flag pole.

Now pledge allegiance, or else.

What do you think?
  The sad thing is, I like it!
Can I get that as a blurb?  
  Oh, absolutely!
"The sad thing is I like it..."
  The sad thing is I like it.
"...  --Maurice Sendak."
  That's a good blurb!

  And all you need to do is get a popular illustrator 
  who has a horrible sene of design, no taste for type
  nothing about the aesthetics for 
  what a picture book could look like,
  and you will probably make a lot of money.

Will you teach me how to draw?
Well that is a lovely offer, I accept.
== Cut to Sendak's studio ==

So this is where you do all your work?
  Yeah, I'm afraid so.
Well I'm trying to figure out how to draw a pole.  
I'm not very good at drawing.
Let me draw a pole here...
You ever uh, sniff your marker?  
  No... is that good?  a good thing?
It's a cheap high.  be careful...
  It does, it does!
Go ahead, go ahead.  
I assume you were huffing these things 
when you drew Where The Wild Things Are
  "I remember Pearl Harbor... 
  ta da da da da da da... ya da da da, ya da da da, 
  Ya Da DA DA DA DA DA!"
See how great these markers are?  no really.
  That pulled the song right out of me, 
  right out of my nose!

I got a mountain, got some
and half a sun...
You drew a Polish woman with a pole!  
  Holding a pole
Pole with a pole.  She could be a Polish stripper.
  That's right

Any advice, any advice here?
  No... just, I would leave it alone, because it has 
  a kind of delicacy, and irrationality, and, and... 
  terrible quality of -- ordinariness.
"Terribly ordinary!" - Maurice Sendak
That's another great blurb!  
  Supremely ordinary!

Well, Moishe... I think with my fantastic book idea, 
my words, my drawings and your blurb, 
I think we've got a hit here.
  I've- I know we do. 
Thank you, sir.

== Colbert recaps ==
Folks, once I get a publisher, 
will be available in bookstores everywhere!
In hardcover, paperback, maybe even in ebook.  
what do you say about that, Maurice?

[Flashback to earlier interview]
  Fuck them is what I say!  
  I hate those ebooks.  
  They *cannot* be the future.  
  They may well be, I will be dead, I won't give a shit!

SOPA – PIPA math: 61% >> 28%
Thursday January 19th 2012, 10:41 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,metrics,wikipedia

Three cheers for participatory democracy! The percentage of stated opposition to SOPA and PIPA in Congress changed dramatically over the past two days, from 28% to 61%. [If you count people who are “leaning No”, by ProPublica’s estimate, this goes up to 69%.]

How many politicians announced they would be co-sponsoring or otherwise outright supporting SOPA/PIPA on Wednesday? By our count: Zero.

Update: Harry Reid releases Dems in the Senate to vote against PIPA if their conscience demands. And Chris Dodd, former Senator and current MPAA Chairman, just called for a summit between Internet and traditional ‘content’ companies, convened by the White House, to reach a compromise. (He hasn’t yet realized that major content companies today are Internet companies.)

We are experiencing the growth of social unity and a certain moral sense across the Web, among people who have found something wonderful, worth defending with all their heart. This is a small piece; it is thrilling to be part of it. I hope you feel it too.

Blackout Wednesday wrapup #3: impact edition
Wednesday January 18th 2012, 11:54 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,metrics,wikipedia

Over a dozen Congressmen have changed or clarified their position on PIPA and SOPA over the course of the past 36 hours, towards opposing the bills.   This includes six senators and two representatives who had previously been co-sponsors or solid supporters of the relevant bill in their chamber.  Many more who formerly were neutral about the bills or leaning towards opposing them, are now calling them “misguided”, saying they will “cause more harm than good”, “harm free speech rights”, “weaken freedom of expression on the Internet”, and would “harm Internet innovation and jobs”.  Most agree that the bills as written “need to be stopped”.  It seems that some of them have looked at the bills with a magnifying glass for the first time.

Senator Boozman summarizes: “Over the past few weeks, the chorus of concerns over Congressional efforts to address online piracy has intensified“.  A week ago it looked like there might be a straight 60-vote approval of PIPA in the Senate; now it is losing suppoters by the hour, and may have a hard time getting majority support; making it unlikely to make it to a vote at all.


Blackout impact

Politico and others suggest that much of this movement was a direct result of the strong online statement made by the EFF, Reddit, Google, Wikipedia, and others – and the protest organized by those groups to express their views to every representative and senator in the country.  Wikipedia produced a ‘find your local representative’ widget, to ensure that we encouraged readers to call their representatives directly; Google simply encouraged signing a petition.

Once the blackout launched, it trended worldwide on Twitter, with hashtags such as #factswithoutwikipedia, #SOPAstrike and #wikipediablackout.  At one point, according to Trendistic, #wikipediablackout was used in 1% of all tweets.  Hotspots claims that SOPA (and #SOPA) has accounted for a quarter-million tweets an hour since then.

The EFF reports that by 5pm, over 250,000 1 million people had contacted their representatives through the EFF blacklist site. Wikipedia reports roughly 160 million people have seen their blackout page, and eight million of those have looked up their elected representatives’ contact information through its tool.  (No word on how many made contact; if there is a dropoff rate similar to the first clickthrough, then that would make another 400,000 contacts.)  Google reports gathering 4.5 million signatures on its petition.


Statements today from members of Congress:

Senators noting their disapproval of PIPA yesterday and today: (those who switched away from previously indicated support are listed in bold)

  1. Mark Begich (D-AK)
    I oppose PIPA…Online piracy needs to be addressed, but the current form of the bill isn’t the proper way to do it.
  2. Roy Blunt (R-MO) @RoyBlunt
    I strongly oppose sanctioning Americans’ right to free speech in any medium, including over the internet. #SOPA #PIPA
  3. John Boozman (R-AR) [facebook]
    Over the past few weeks, the chorus of concerns over Congressional efforts to address online piracy has intensified… I intend to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act.  I will have my name removed as a co-sponsor of the bill and plan to vote against it
  4. Scott Brown (R-MA) @ScottBrownMA
    I’m going to vote no, the Internet is too important to our economy
  5. Jim DeMint (R-SC) @JimDeMint
    I support intellectual property rights, but I oppose SOPA & PIPA. They’re misguided bills that will cause more harm than good.
  6. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) [thehill] @OrrinHatch
    That’s why I will not only vote against moving the bill forward next week but also remove my cosponsorship of the bill. #utpol #tcot #PIPA
  7. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) [facebook]
    SOPA is the wrong response from the US Congress.  (also now opposes PIPA)
  8. Johanns (R-NE) [ journalstar]
  9. Mark Kirk (R-IL) [kirk]
    Freedom of speech is an inalienable right granted to each and every American, and the Internet has become the primary tool with which we utilize this right… This extreme measure stifles First Amendment rights and Internet innovation.
  10. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) @SenJeffMerkley
    Thanks for all the calls, emails, and tweets. I will be opposing #SOPA and #PIPA. We can’t endanger an open internet.
  11. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) [adn]
    The bill raises serious concerns about our civil liberties. That’s why next week I plan to oppose the current PIPA bill.
  12. Marco Rubio (R-FL) @marcorubio
    After hearing from people with legit concerns, have withdraw support for #PIPA. Let’s take time to do it right. #SOPA

Senators who changed from support, to advocating a delay in voting for revision and reconsideration:

  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX) @JohnCornyn
    SOPA: better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong… the potential impact of this legislation is too far-reaching to ram it through Congress.
  • Charles Grassley, (R-AL)
    Since the mark-up, we have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ) @SenatorMenendez
    #NJ: I hear your concerns re: #PIPA loud & clear & share in these concerns. I’m working to ensure critical changes are made to the bill.

House Representatives stating disapproval or opposition: (those switching away from previously indicated support or cosponsorship again in bold, but this was harder to ascertain):

  1. Akin (R-MO)
    Copyrights must be protected, but not at this cost. Open internet and free speech!
  2. Baldwin (D-WI)
    I do not believe it is the responsibility of Internet service providers to become the police of the Internet.
  3. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) @RepGusBilirakis
    Piracy should be prosecuted, but I have deep concerns about SOPA’s effect on free speech rights and am opposed to it in its current form.
  4. Blumenauer (D-OR)
    Rep. Blumenauer’s website joined the blackout for an hour: Today I am joining the millions of Americans who are standing with the world’s most innovative websites against the proposed censorship of PIPA and SOPA
  5. Bruce Braley (D-IA) @BruceBraley
    I’ve heard you. I strongly oppose #SOPA.
  6. Courtney (D-CT)
    SOPA as it exists today… should be scrapped entirely. An axe instead of a scalpel, this bill would unacceptably and fundamentally change the architecture of the internet.
  7. DeFazio (D-OR) [facebook]
    Wikipedia, Craigslist and others are dark today to bring attention to the atrocious SOPA bill that will take away freedom on the internet.
  8. DeGette
    I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to contact me about SOPA… Without serious changes I’m not convinced SOPA effectively solves the issue and am concerned about the implications it would have for online innovation.
  9. Keith Ellison (D-MN) @keithellison
    #SOPA would harm internet innovation and jobs. Better ways to fight piracy.
  10. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) @JeffFortenberry
    I oppose #SOPA–it would disrupt the structural integrity of the internet
  11. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) @JeffFlake
    I oppose #SOPA because I’m concerned it will restrict free speech.
  12. Cory Gardner (R-CO) @repcorygardner
    online piracy is a real issue but we must maintain a free & open internet #opposeSOPA #endpiracynotliberty
  13. Gosar (R-AZ)
  14. Graves (R-GA)
    We’re getting a bunch of questions this morning about the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act.’ I wanted to let you know that I oppose the bill.
  15. Grijalva (D-AZ)
    This legislation has moved beyond protecting legitimate intellectual property rights and is now headed down a path that would let companies decide what you get to view online.
  16. Tim Holden (R-PA)
    An open Internet requires that we find a better approach that is acceptable to all sides. [politicspa]
  17. Holt (D-NJ)
  18. Honda (D-CA) [politico]
    The bills as currently constructed, with overbroad definitions, will do much more harm than good, hurting the very people they are supposed to protect.
  19. Hultgren (R-IL) @RepHultgren
    Given the widespread coverage the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has received, I want to let you know that I oppose it in its current form.
  20. Inhofe (R-OK)
  21. Steve Israel (D-NY) @RepSteveIsrael
    I oppose #SOPA. We must protect innovation without weakening free expression on the Internet.
  22. Darrell Issa (R-CA) @DarrellIssa
    83 Internet pioneers: #SOPA & #PIPA would destroy web #DNS system as we know it. LETTER: #SOPA #stopSOPA #PIPA
  23. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) @RepLynnJenkins
    I do not support SOPA, will fight against any efforts to advance it, and will vote against it if it comes to the floor.
  24. Kinzinger (R-IL) [facebook]
    the way these bills are currently written does not ensure an open and free internet and that is not something I can support.
  25. Latham (R-IA)
    I oppose SOPA or any bill abridging freedom of speech.
  26. Lee (D-CA)
    SOPA in its current form is far too close to internet censorship, something I strongly oppose.
  27. Marchant (R-TX)
  28. Jim Matheson (D-UT) @RepJimMatheson
    Oppose SOPA and PIPA; online piracy is a serious issue, but these bills are not the way to go. Complicated issue
  29. McCotter (R-MI)
  30. McDermott (D-WA) [facebook]
    I’ve heard from many of you about the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA). We need to do something about online piracy, but this bill is not the right way to do it.
  31. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) @PatrickMcHenry
    I oppose #SOPA in its current form and have signed on as an original co-sponsor of the #OPEN Act. Check out
  32. Mike Michaud (D-ME) @RepMikeMichaud
    #SOPA need to be stopped. Speak out and make sure Congress hears you.
  33. Jim Moran (D-VA) @Jim_Moran
    I oppose #SOPA. Keep the internet open.
  34. Nugent (R-FL)
    I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people today urging me to oppose SOPA (or PIPA, as the Senate companion bill is called). I do oppose the bill as it’s currently written.
  35. Pascrell Jr (D-NJ)
  36. Price (D-NC)
    I am opposed to the proposed SOPA bill… Today’s ‘black-out’ campaigns by Google, Wikipedia and other major websites echo the voices of the many constituents I’ve heard from.
  37. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) @chelliepingree
    So many contacting me today outraged with #SOPA and I couldn’t agree more. #mepolitics
  38. David Price (D-NC) @RepDavidEPrice
    Release: Price Opposes #SOPA, Calls on Congress to Protect Open Internet #ncpol
  39. Ben Quayle (R-AZ)  [politico]
  40. Dennis Ross (R-FL) 
    “I believe #SOPA is dead.”
  41. Tim Ryan (D-OH) @RepTimRyan
    Web piracy is a an issue that should be dealt with, but I oppose #SOPA bc it does too much harm to innovation & speech @eff @boingboing
  42. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) @JanSchakowsky
    Thank you all for the many calls today to #StopSOPA! I want you to know that I oppose #SOPA & will vote against it #p2
  43. John Shimkus (R-IL)  @RepShimkus
    We can protect intellection property through anti-piracy legislation w/o censoring free speech or stifling innovation. #SOPA is not the way.
  44. Adam Smith (D-WA) [adamsmith]
    these measures, if enacted, would place unacceptable limitations on the accessibility of online information and content, impose undue burdens on small and innovative websites and applications, and would not be the most effective way to curtail overseas illegal piracy and theft of intellectual property.
  45. Lee Terry (R-NE) []
    SOPA, as currently drafted, isn’t the solution.
  46. Joe Walsh (R-IL) @RepJoeWalsh
    Thank God twitter isn’t blocked today so I can tell you that I refuse to vote for #SOPA. #uncensored #StopSOPA
  47. Yarmuth (D-KY)
    Thanks for your calls and emails this morning. I am opposed to #SOPA.
  48. Yoder (R-KS)

A doff of the hat : Much of this data comes from or was confirmed through ProPublica‘s excellent timeline of public statements by Congressmen about SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA suds-off : the first four hours
Wednesday January 18th 2012, 12:01 am
Filed under: chain-gang,indescribable,Uncategorized,wikipedia


Jan 18 Blackouts:

On the WP blackout:

Analysis of WP blackout:


WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake. — R. Tagore

Community comentary:

  • Risker, one of three community authors of the en:wp decision to shutter the site on Jan 18th, in #wikimedia-sopa :
    Folks….thank you all for doing such an amazing job to implement the screwiest decision I’ve ever had to write. You have all done well.
  • Some people are lost without WP, mirrors or no mirrors
  • Well, it’s good for people to learn how to get around the blackout of sites, because they’ll need to know how if SOPA passes.
  • I can search Wikipedia through the mobile sights…. Black that out too!!! QUICKLY (01:00 EST)
  • As I thought when I read Geoff Brigham’s blog post on SOPA, ‘it’s gotta be bad if it makes the DMCA look good.’

Public commentary:

  •  @NatLibrariesDay Wikipedia is closed for business today, but your local public library isn’t!


Mystery Hunt 2012: Romancing The Notes

Every January I spend a weekend in the Land of Mystery, tucked into a facet of MIT: that is, the MIT Mystery Hunt.

It is somewhere between a religious experience, performance art, and an exercise in observation, pattern matching, and problem solving. It is also wickedly tricky, a pinnacle of amateur puzzle contests: teams of 50+ people spend two full days solving a series of interlocked puzzles to find a coin hidden somewhere on campus.

This past weekend I took my annual pilgrimage across Cambridge to MIT for the Hunt, but for the first time my team was running the event, rather than competing. This was our tenth anniversary as Team Codex (we started out the year before as the aduni team, then adopted a proper codename), and producing the Hunt was a fitting way to celebrate. Many of us had a backlog of puzzle ideas that were converted into working puzzles over the course of the past year, with much iteration and satisfaction. Few of us had ever designed Mystery Hunt-caliber puzzles before, though we knew in principle how it was done.

We staged the first musical-themed Hunt on record, in an effort to encourage teams to share their own creativity while solving. Max and Leo from The Producers showed up at MIT, now out of jail and looking to make goo^B^B^B out like bandits, this time for good. They staged a short production of their own to get everyone in the mood, and then invited students to help them research and put on a series of guaranteed musical flops… While this didn’t work out exactly as planned, along the way were fancy cocktail parties with potential stars, swimming-pools full of Sets of ducks, research into the private peeves and longings of theater critics, campus spelunking, video game hacking, and a denouement in which, unbelievably… . . . well, it’s complicated. You’ll just have to explore the Hunt site itself to see how the saga ended.

We had roughly 70 active people on our organizing team, and everyone played multiple roles — writing, testing, and implementing puzzles, software, and skits. Our lead performers, in addition to being fine actors and musicians, happened to be professional puzzle writers and editors, and wrote many of the Hunt’s 107 puzzles as well as the book for our productions. Our lead editor also kept the production team together through stressful moments, providing black humor as needed, and preserving a fast editing pace all Fall without upending our minimal-heirarchy team. Hotshot solvers shifted gears to rewrite swaths of code. When puzzle-lover Neil Patrick Harris declined to MC the awards ceremony, we called on a home-grown rock star instead. Dozens of people joined the cast in the final weeks and picked up their parts without a hitch.

Having been involved with organizing perhaps a dozen events of similar size, I can say without hesitation that this was the most satisfying and life-affirming. We had varied and prolific organizers, an elaborate and dynamic schedule, a completely committed audience, and an extraordinary host-participant collaboration, with continual feedback. While the event ran for only 1500 people, its primary output was a broadly valuable story, told through puzzles: something that may be enjoyed for years or generations to come: a set of curious, colorful, maddening, marvelous puzzles, illustrated and interlinked, free to solve and repurpose. Just one more Act in the perennial romance between creative puzzlers and scientific endeavour.

Here is a sampling of this year’s puzzles, drawn from my favorites. Happy hunting! The average puzzle takes 2-10 person-hours to solve, depending on your experience and how quickly the right insights come to you.

Sounds Good To Me
(my all-hunt favorite)

Slash Fiction
(best casting and music, and the most expensive puzzle production)

Paper Trail
(an elegant, satisfying black box)

Yo Dawg I Herd You Like Puzzle Hunts
(yo dawg, i herd you like herd you like)

Itinerant People Of America
(man, this one is a hodge-podge.)

Picture An Acorn
(the final aha! will make you chump for joy)

The Rainbow Connection
(Now that’s rainbow-bright…)

Google Bodyslam
(“so, we’re working on a pro wrestling puzzle. what should we call it?”)

(the puzzle consists of nothing more than the title)

Coming To A Location Near You
(a wikipedia-based scavenger hunt)


The Wikipedian spirit: Dr. Senghai Poduvan
Saturday December 10th 2011, 5:48 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,international,meta,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Dr. Poduvan is a 75-year old farmer from Tamil Nadu and Wikipedian. He captures everything I love about Wikipedia in a few sentences:

When I purchased my first computer in 2005, just using the mouse was difficult because my hands shake. But by 2009 I had discovered Wikipedia. One day, I created an article about ancient Indian poets. I added about 30 of their names to the page and then I went to sleep. The next morning, I found 473 names on the page. That is what makes Wikipedia work!

So it is. Please remember to contribute to Wikipedia, one list and article at a time. (in Hindi · in Tamil)

Bad Behavior has blocked 474 access attempts in the last 7 days.