Archive for March, 2013

What to do about democratically elected terrorist regimes?

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

For example, the United States.

Massive amounts of analysis and punditry has been offered regarding what do about non-elected terrorist regimes and non-state terrorists.

But what of democracies that engage in terror? Is analysis lacking because would-be analysts are too caught up in the mythology of the same regimes, or because coercion is off the table and imagining non-coercive solutions isn’t fun? Why should coercive solutions be off the table anyway? A criminal organization with fair internal governance is still a criminal organization. Those who commit and authorize crimes should be brought to justice, their organizations brought under supervision (one idea involving more democracy: extra-jurisdictional franchise), and laws to deter and penalize such crime strengthened.

Or we could leave the solution to the market, assuming that democratically elected terrorist regimes will eventually bankrupt themselves.

Every post and category in 2005q1 on lite fizzle mode

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Previous quarter, 8 year refutation start.

Year in Prediction Markets. None of the highlights matter 8 years later. Also see a previous refutation re what I did care about.

Infoanarchy, DRM and Celestial Jukebox. Cutesy post closes with “It is on this point [claim that strong intellectual protectionism drives economic growth] that Gates must be rebutted” but fails to offer anything. Self-rebutted.

Semantic Web Oligopsonies. One could argue that supports the post. But, adoption by sites does not seem impressive, and consumption by search engines and browsers, of near zero importance. The oligopsony trumped by that universal quality of metadata: it’s all crap!

Not following tags tries to have it n-ways but is willfully confused: “metadata as a side effect of useful work versus metadata as spammy make work.” Tagspam has utility for web publishers; it is categorization for navigation that is useless make-work: recency and search rule, metadata is crap.

A lie halfway fulfilled. Lie? Politicians can’t predict the future either. They have to protect their jurisdiction. Massive overruns in war spending are justified by even a tiny chance that barbarians sack the land, in which case all is lost! Our protectors realize that the people want defense on the cheap and have to state that it will be cheap and suffer criticism when it is not. The bravery of our leaders!

Faith. The threat of barbarian regimes that will not be lured by a good example is real and this post is in denial.

Mass Destruction of Software Patents. Though still hyped, software patents have turned out to be weapons of attrition. “WMD” is typical of delusional fear-based talk in the free/open source software space. Make and more importantly promote better software, move on.

Shallow thinking about filesharing. As Creative Destruction wrote: “I find it funny when I read technologists arguing that downloads of movies aren’t a problem because they’re slow. When do technologists talk about how technology sucks and isn’t going to improve? When the improvement of that technology hurts their public relations effort!”

Decision Markets, Quantum Computers, Blogs, Longevity mentions many things, none of which have been pertinent in the last 8 years, except perhaps in speculative fantasy, which is what the post amounts to, with references to other bloggers blogging substituting for a sorry plot.

CodeCon Friday, CodeCon Saturday, CodeCon Sunday consist of mere talk summaries, but in sum reveal a romantic attachment to particular kinds of decentralization, leading to blindsiding by Cloud.

he is HE. A class act in two parts: disrespect for recently deceased, imply posession of positive attribute of same.

Use [the] force. See “Faith” above.

Open Source and Free Software non-Reciprocal Trivia. “Only” might be inaccurate, but “trivia” is generous, so I’m not going to bother.

Technorati DeepCosmos. Fragile, confusing, useless: pick all three! Conversation doesn’t need to be presented as a tree. Heck, it doesn’t even need computers.

Bitcollider-PHP. I’m doubtful anyone successfully downloaded or completed other action from a link generated by this code, except to test that such could possibly work.

Open Source P2P: No Malware, EULA. The claim made is ridiculous in theory, supported by anecdote in a narrow domain. It’s clearly wrong today, and probably was wrong then as a practical matter for many people: though offical distributions of open source filesharing clients may not at the time have included malware, many secondary distributions did.

SXSW & Etech. Oh, how cool. I’m going to smarmy faux-tech conferneces.

SemWeb not by committee. True, one can experiment without joining a committee, but it’ll be pretty useless, unless deployment is for self-consumption (in which case why impose such fragile technologies on yourself?). True, joining a committee, even paying for a committee with other oligopsonists, is not sufficient for usefulness. Basically it is imposible for upper, lower, or some other case semantic technologies to be useful, outside of some niches that none of us were or are in.

Snap Associative Decision Recall. Oh, how cool. I’m at a smarmy faux-tech conference that spent a lot of money to have an entertaining faux-intellectual flatter us.

Collective Market Intelligence. See “Decision Markets…” above.

SemWeb, AI, Java: The Ontological Parallels says “the web is one huge heterogenous data integration problem.” Fundamental misunderstanding of the web. Instead, it presents infinite data integration opportunities. Almost none of which are worth acting on, and almost none of those have anything to do with formal metadata.

H C. There does not exist a copyright license compatible with “every cell and fiber in my body on heavy sizzle mode.”

Economic Neanderthals. Trite complaint about superfluous use of word free, trite pejorative use of neanderthal. Self-refuting.

BlogPulse Conversation Tracker. See “Technorati DeepCosmos” above. BlogPulse redirects to one of countless social media marketing firms. Blogs never generated such a mighty industry!

Realize Document Freedom Day

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Open formats and open standards are excellent causes, but without free/open source software implementations and widespread adoption thereof, the causes are uphill battles, at best. So I’m appalled that the Document Freedom Day (which is today, March 27) website information and suggested actions are merely conceptual.

Let’s fix that, here’s the deal. Download, try, become an expert:

LibreOffice. If in 2013 you’re still using Microsoft Office, you’re either in an organization/industry with extreme lock-in through custom business automation or similar that is built exclusively on Microsoft tools, or you’re actively contributing to the destruction of freedom and equality in the world. If you’ve never tried LibreOffice, or if you’ve tried one of its predecessors (OpenOffice) more than a year ago, try LibreOffice (again) now. It’s excellent, including at reading and writing non-free document formats, a necessity for adoption. But most of the value in software is not inherent, rather in many people using and knowing the software. Network effects rule, and you can make a huge difference! If you can’t be bothered, make up for it with a large donation to The Document Foundation, LibreOffice’s nonprofit organization.

As the DFD website explains, document freedom isn’t just about word processor and spreadsheet documents, or even just about storage formats, but any format used to store or transmit data. Thus I put Jitsi as the second most important application to use in order to realize document freedom. It implements open standards such as XMPP and SIP to provide all of the functionality of Skype, which is completely proprietary in its formats and implementation, willing to work with oppressive governments, and increasingly castigated as bloatware or even malware by people who don’t care much about freedom. Jitsi recently released 2.0. If in the unlikely event you’ve tried it before, it’s definitely worth another look.

Probably everyone knows about Firefox, but not everyone uses it, and it does have the best support for open formats of the top browsers. Also, Firefox has progressed very nicely the last years.

Praise for Document Freedom Day

DFD has missed an opportunity to promote the realization of document freedom, but that would be good in addition to, not in place of their existing messages. Direct use of free software that implements open standards is incredibly powerful, but not the only way to make progress, and despite my mini-rant above The free software movement attaches too much political significance to personal practice. People should demand their governments and other institutions adopt open standards and free software, even if people cannot do so as individuals, just as people should generally demand adoption of good policy even if they cannot personally live wholly as if good policy were already in place.

DFD does a reasonable job of raising awareness of good policy. I strongly encourage doing a bit to realize document freedom today, but sharing a link to on your social networks helps too. Just a little bit, but what can you expect from clicktivism?

I expect pro-free/open clicktivism to promote the realization of freedom!

I have similar complaints about Defective By Design campaigns. Speaking of which, their No DRM in HTML5 campaign is highly pertinent to DFD!

Putatively “open” advocates and organizations sending around .docx files and such, above mini-rant applies especially to you.

April (a French free software organization) has some nice posters explaining open formats.

10 years

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

2003-03-19 you did not stop the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Don’t feel bad about not going to protests if you didn’t. Those are bullshit spectacle. Stopping war takes years of good politics; I don’t mean whatever you think constitutes goodness on petty “domestic” and “economic” issues.

You are responsible for mass murder and torture of some hundreds of thousands.

That will cost you not the $50 billion estimated by U.S. regime supporters, nor the $700 billion estimated by some in 2005. No, nearly $4 trillion. Not the usual 10x underestimate of financial war costs, but nearly 100x:

Total US federal spending associated with the Iraq war has been $1.7 trillion through FY2013. In addition, future health and disability payments for veterans will total $590 billion and interest accrued to pay for the war will add up to $3.9 trillion.

I haven’t written about the steady progression of these numbers for years because they cease to be news, I have purposefully followed current news less and less, and the non-financial tragedies you’ve inflicted are far more outrageous.

But a 10 year anniversary seems an occasion to raise the issue again, even if I missed it by several days due to aforementioned not following the news.

What have you done to exonerate yourself of the crime of mass murder? A martyr won’t absolve you, so the least you could do is to help save Bradley Manning.

“You” is not limited to U.S. citizens. The world, including its states, is highly interdependent, and voter/elected politician only one channel of responsibility.

Oppose “your” and all security states and all their theater and propaganda, including hate of people in other jurisdictions. All lies and delusion. This has to be the beginning of what I referred to as good politics above.

“Circulations of culture” in Poland and everyland

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

My comments on/included in The Circulations of Culture. On Social Distribution of Content. (PDF), an English translation of Obiegi kultury. Społeczna cyrkulacja treści.

Thanks to researcher Alek Tarkowski for asking for my comments. I enjoyed reading and thinking about the report, and recommend it to all.

A top-posted postscript to my comments:

I’ve been slightly keeping my eye out for offline circulations since reading the paper. I recently chatted with some people who live in the middle of the US outside a small city and found that people there swap artists’ recorded output on DVD-R. These are elderly people who have a poor understanding of how email or the web works, are on satellite or dialup, and wouldn’t be able to use a filesharing program at all, if they knew what one was. Of course just an anecdote and maybe I’m seeing what I’m looking for.

With respect to informal cultures: document, understand, predict; policy last

This report is an important contribution to the all too new genre of research treating informal circulations of information as socially interesting phenomena to be accurately described rather than exploited for policy advocacy, whether pejorative or apologia in nature. Such accurate descriptions may help society understand what constitutes good policy, but are still problematic to the extent they are created and consumed for policy reasons rather than as social research.

Even with accurate descriptions, these at best provide indications, but not proof, of extent to which informal circulations substitute for and complement formal circulations. Nor are such questions, the bait of so much writing on the subject of filesharing, the most interesting for either policy or the study of culture. One of the most enjoyable and informative aspects of this study is its focus on the nuances of the culture and market in a particular country, and its historic context. If I may grotesquely exploit this context a bit: would anyone consider the most interesting social and economic aspects of informal circulations during the communist period to be the extent to which these circulations impacted the output and employment prospects of state propagandists?

I submit that the anthropology of informal circulations, in either context, is more interesting and challenging, than conjecture about their effect on “industry”. But this anthropology may help build intuitions about what are the first order questions important for policy to consider, even if not providing proofs of effects on entities that deeply influence policy. For example, access and freedom.

It is my hope that the genre of this report will continue to grow rapidly, for informal circulations are changing rapidly. As they are hard to study, every temporal and cultural context not surveyed is a crucial link in the history of human culture that is lost forever.

Consider three observations made in this report:

  • “sharing digital content outside of the Internet is negligible”
  • “over the age of 50 the percentage of [active Internet] users in the population drops dramatically and we thus did not include them in the sample”
  • “the data collected in our country clearly points out that the development of new communications technologies has not resulted in a radical increase in bottom-up creativity”

Each of these will certainly change in interesting ways, e.g.:

  • “All culture on a thumb drive” each day comes closer to reality, with capacities increasing and prices falling quickly enough that differences in cultural context and infrastructure could swamp a 3x or even greater difference in wealth; in other words, physical sharing of digital content may become pertinent again, and it could easily happen first outside of the wealthiest geographies.
  • The current generations of active Internet users will continue to use the net as they age; will even younger generations be even more connected? And don’t discount slow but steadily increasing use by long-lived older generations. How will each of these effect and create new informal circulations?
  • Bottom-up creativity may well increase, but also we have to consider, especially with respect to informal circulations, that curation is a form of creativity. What is the future of peer-produced cultural relevance (popularity) and preservation?

Relatedly, if I may close with questions that may be interpreted as ones of policy: How does and will informality affect bottom-up production, including of relevance and preservation? How does informality affect the ability of researchers to document and understand the development of our culture? For it is impossible to fully escape the underlying social policy question by characterizing an activity with the relatively neutral term of “informal”: should this activity be legalized, or crushed?

Free Bassel, with apologies but no caveats

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Agile. Secure. Fast. Free Bassel.Since March 15 a year ago free software developer and colleague Bassel Khartibil has been imprisoned in Syria. The #FREEBASSEL campaign says “We will not stop campaigning for him until we see him as a free global citizen once again.”

Sign a petition on and participate in events (eg, one in SF) and take other action especially on March 15, Free Bassel Day.

As an American, I am somewhat uncomfortable calling for the Syrian regime to do anything, without at a minimum apologizing for the terror the American regime has for decades unleashed on the region, and continues to do so. I apologize, vow to redouble my efforts to stop my jurisdiction’s murdering and torturing ways, to obtain justice for all who bring such to light, call on all to do the same … and demand freedom for Bassel Khartibil.

As a global citizen, I demand to see Bassel Khartibil as a free global citizen once again. FREEBASSEL!

Audio/video player controls should facilitate changing playback rate

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Listening or viewing non-fiction/non-art (eg lectures, presentations) at realtime speed is tiresome. I’ve long used rbpitch (but more control than I need or want) or VLC’s built-in playback speed menu (but mildly annoyed by “Faster” and “Faster (fine)”; would prefer to see exact rate) and am grateful that most videos on YouTube now feature a playback UI that allows playback at 1.5x or 2x speed. The UI I like the best so far is Coursera’s, which very prominently facilitates switching to 1.5x or 2x speed as well as up and down by 0.25x increments, and saving a per-course playback rate preference.

HTML5 audio and video unadorned with a customized UI (latter is what I’m seeing at YouTube and Coursera) is not everywhere, but it’s becoming more common, and probably will continue to as adding video or audio content to a page is now as easy as adding a non-moving image, at least if default playback UI in browsers is featureful. I hope for this outcome, as hosting site customizations often obscure functionality, eg by taking over the context menu (could browsers provide a way for users to always obtain the default context menu on demand?).

Last month I submitted a feature request for Firefox to support changing playback speed in the default UI, and I’m really happy with the response. The feature is now available in nightly builds (which are non-scary; I’ve run nothing else for a long time; they just auto-update approximately daily, include all the latest improvements, and in my experience are as stable as releases, which these days means very stable) and should be available in a general release in approximately 18-24 weeks. You can test the feature on the page the screenshot above is from; note it will work on some of the videos, but for others the host has hijacked the context menu. Or something that really benefits from 2x speed (which is not at all ludicrous; it’s my normal speed for lectures and presentations that I’m paying close attention to).

Even better, the request was almost immediately triaged as a “[good first bug]” and assigned a mentor (Jared Wein) who provided some strong hints as to what would need to be done, so strong that I was motivated to set up a Firefox development environment (mostly well documented and easy; the only problem I had was figuring out which of the various test harnesses available to test Firefox in various ways was the right one to run my tests) and get an unpolished version of the feature working for myself. I stopped when darkowlzz indicated interest, and it was fun to watch darkolzz, Jared, and a couple others interact over the next few weeks to develop a production-ready version of the feature. Thank you Jared and darkowlzz! (While looking for links for each, I noticed Jared posted about the new feature, check that out!)

Kodus also to Mozilla for having a solid easy bug and mentoring process in place. I doubt I’ll ever contribute anything non-trivial, but the next time I get around to making a simple feature request, I’ll be much more likely to think about attempting a solution myself. It’s fairly common now for projects have at least tag easy bugs; OpenHatch aggregates many of those. I’m not sure how common mentored bugs are.

I also lucked out in that support for setting playback rate from javascript had recently been implemented in Firefox. Also see documentation for the javascript API for HTML5 media elements and what browser versions implement each.

Back to playback rate, I’d really like to see anything that provides an interface to playing timed media to facilitate changing playback rate. Anything else is a huge waste of users’ time and attention. A user preference for playback rate (which might be as simple as always using the last rate, or as complicated as a user-specified calculation based on source and other metadata) would be a nice bonus.