Archive for December, 2011

End of the 2011 world

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I took the above photo near the beginning of 2011. It has spent most of the year near the top (currently #2) of my photos hosted at Flickr ranked by their interestingness metric. Every other photo in the 200 they rank (sadly I don’t think anyone not logged in as me can see this list) has some combination of being on other people’s lists of favorites, comments, or large number of views. The above photo has none of that. Prior to this post it has only been viewed 33 times by other people, according to Flickr, and I don’t think that number has changed in some time. Their (not revealed) code must find something about the image itself interesting. Is their algorithm inaccurate? In any case the image is appropriate as the world of 2011 is ending, and in 2012 I absolutely will migrate my personal media hosting to something autonomous, as since last year someone (happens to be a friend and colleague) has taken on the mantle of building media sharing for the federated social web.

My employer’s office moved from San Francisco to Mountain View in April, contributing to a number of people leaving or transitioning out, which has been a bummer. I’ve been working exclusively from home since May. Still, there have been a number of good developments, which I won’t attempt to catalog here. My favorites include agreement with the Free Software Foundation regarding use of CC0 for public domain software, small improvements in the CC legal user interface, the return and great work of a previous colleague, retirement of two substandard licenses, research, and a global summit/launch of a process toward version 4.0 of the CC licenses, which I hope over the next year prove at least a little bit visionary, long-standing, and have some consideration for how they can make the world a better place.

Speaking of which, I’ve spent more time thinking about social science-y stuff in 2011 than I have in at least several years. I’ll probably have plenty to say regarding this on a range of topics next year, but for now I’ll state one narrow “professionally-related” conclusion: free/libre/open software/culture/etc advocates (me included) have done a wholly inadequate job of characterizing why our preferences matter, both to the general public and to specialists in every social science.

Apart from silly peeves, two moderate ideas unrelated to free/libre/open stuff that I first wrote about in 2011 and I expect I’ll continue to push for years to come: increasing the minimum age and education requirement for soldiers and tearing down highway 980.

I haven’t done much programming in several years, and not full time in about a decade. This has been making me feel like my brain is rotting, and contributes to my lack of prototyping various services that I want to exist. Though I’d been fiddling (that may be generous) with Scala for a couple years, I was never really super excited about tying myself to the JVM. I know and deeply respect lots of people who doing great things with Python, and I’ve occasionally used it for scripts over the past several years because of that, but it leaves me totally non-enthused. I’ve done enough programming in languages that are uglier but more or less the same, time for something new. For a couple months I’ve been learning and doing some prototyping using the Yesod web framework (apparently I had heard of Haskell in 2005 but I didn’t look at it closely until last year). I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like, mostly due to unrelated distractions. The biggest substantive hurdle has not been Haskell (and the concepts it stands for), but a lack of Yesod examples and documentation. This seems to be a common complaint. Yesod is rapidly moving to a 1.0 release, documentation is prioritized, and I expect to be really productive with it over the coming year. Thanks to the people who make Yesod and those who have been making Haskell for two decades.

This year I appreciated three music projects that I hadn’t paid much attention to before, much to my detriment: DNA, Moondog, and especially Harry Partch. I also listened a lot again to one of my favorite bands I discovered in college, Violence and the Sacred, which amazingly has released some of its catalog under the CC BY-SA license. Check them out!

Finally, in 2011 I had the pleasure of getting to know just a little bit some people working to make my neighborhood a better place, attending a conference with my sister, seeing one of my brothers start a new job and the other a new gallery, and with my wife of continuing to grow up (in that respect, the “better half” cliche definitely applies). Now for this world to end!

Things that bring all the classes and cultures in a community together

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Death of famous locals
Mass transit
Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils
Year-end cheer

Oh yes, and let’s not forget gladiatorial matches:

Best from Jean Quan: Working to keep the Athletics, Warriors, and Raiders in the East Bay. For all the bad that comes from mega-sports teams, they are one of the few things that bring all the classes and cultures in a community together.

No, merely one of the stupidest things written in the East Bay Express (an excellent weekly, my favorite long before moving to the east bay) this year.

The more than a few items listed at the top are off the top of my head things that bring all classes and cultures together at least as much as do professional sports teams, and for the most part without the lies and direct transfer of wealth from the 99% to the 1%. The characterization of society as comprising those two groups popularized by the Occupy movement may or may not be generally useful, but regarding the relationship of the masses to professional sports team owners, could not be more accurate (except that a decimal point or two is probably called for). There is almost no U.S.-based big league professional sports team owner that is not extremely wealthy (exception is probably the Green Bay Packers, which have dispersed ownership) and no such team that does not transfer wealth from the masses to the team — even mostly privately funded facilities are tax subsidized through dedicated infrastructure improvements at a minimum.

For a supposedly progressive activist such as Oakland mayor Jean Quan to stake a political comeback on collaboration with wealthy team owners to extract wealth from the masses… shame! Perhaps she ought be recalled, after all (not really, such over the top hypocritical pandering is precisely in line with my expectations for mayoral behavior).

Also, what about this bringing classes and cultures together? There is a high price to attend professional sports events in the first place, and the overwhelming trend is for facilities to include skyboxes that completely isolate the wealthiest attendees from others. Not only are mega-sports teams not one of the “few” things that bring all classes and cultures together, mega-sports teams aren’t even one of such things at all.

Good riddance to the Athletics, Raiders, and Warriors and their anti-intellectual, pull-the-wool-over-our-own-eyes, violent, and bland scams. The only disappointing thing is that they all seem to be moving elsewhere in the Bay Area, as opposed to someplace more benighted, say Sacramento, or Las Vegas, or better yet, out of business entirely.

Addendum: Now you know why I didn’t include a stadium in my fanciful list of uses Oakland residents ought dream of for land recovered through demolishing highway 980.

Namecheap’s savvy anti-SOPA marketing

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I’m impressed by how much gratis publicity and advertising has gotten via its anti-SOPA marketing (including the Wikipedia article I linked to; it didn’t exist 3 days ago), and completely unimpressed by the failure of approximately every other company to take advantage of the opportunity, which strikes me as easy social media gold. Communications department heads ought roll.

* pro-SOPA marketing failures made Namecheap’s action straightforward relative to companies not directly competing with Go Daddy. However, there are lots of other domain name registrars, none of which has done anything with Namecheap’s marketing savvy. Another registrar, (which I’ve used and recommended for some time, and has supported Creative Commons and other good causes), like Namecheap is donating a portion of domain transfers to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but doesn’t seem to be making a big deal of it, and their anti-SOPA blog post is rather tepid. Compare to Namecheap’s anti-SOPA blog post, which isn’t all that much stronger in terms of substance (contains genuflection to “intellectual property”), it is much more strongly worded and simply more effectively written.

One other company has a support-EFF-against-SOPA tie-in. That company, Zopim, provides website chat services, and doesn’t seem to compete with Go Daddy at all. I’m not interested, but never would have heard of them otherwise. Any company could do that.

(I see that sometime today two other small domain registrars have added support-EFF-against-SOPA deals. Good for Suspicious Networks and Centuric.)

What inspired to me write this post is that Namecheap isn’t only taking gratis publicity. They’re also running presumably paid ads as part of their anti-SOPA marketing campaign:

While trying to get the above ad to load again (noticed out of the corner of my eye but didn’t register until sometime after — I’m oddly trying to recover from ad blindness), I noticed another Namecheap ad, which if you’re already really tuned in, illustrates nicely the imperfect options available from a software freedom perspective for domain registration and other nearly commodity services.

Check out more anti-SOPA and pro-freedom actions.

*Isn’t the name “Go Daddy” ridiculous? That, coupled with a super cheesy website and company logo led me to disregard them long before they started shooting sexy elephants at gladiator events, or whatever got people upset before they supported SOPA.

Oakland civics recall

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Efforts to recall Oakland mayor after less than one year in office are pathetic charades. Lots of people on the “left” and “right” are angry with Quan. But does anyone have a good narrative as to why a recall will lead to long-term superior outcomes for Oakland? Note I didn’t vote for her (not as my 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice) and have low expectations for the remainder of her term. But:

  • Evidence lacking that she is more corrupt and incompetent than the average mayor.
  • Her please-nobody equivocation on Occupy Oakland is a fine caricature of political behavior, but more or less how mayors behave.
  • One of the recalls motivated by appointing someone to the Port Commission other than the incumbent, preferred by some group — a ridiculous rationale for recall.
  • Anyone likely to successfully run to replace Quan in 2012 would also be deeply problematic.
  • Far too much focus on a singular “leader” (the mayor) to make Oakland better.

It seems to me that at the level of district- and city-wide politics, the civic culture of Oakland is impoverished. Residents should put their efforts into building that from the ground up rather than helping cargo cult recall campaigns. Sure, a lot of that will involve “fighting city hall” in all of the ways that can be done without another election. Perhaps this can lead to future mayoral and council elections that do not solely feature a rouge’s gallery of idiots, liars, and stooges as candidates.

A complaint I’ve seen in a number of articles is that Quan “has not specified the areas of focus in her 100-block crime-fighting plan”. But they look clear in a map excertped from a presentation on the plan.

Note that the area labeled “2” is immediately adjacent to highway 980, which ought be demolished.

Invitation systems and the Federated Social Web

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Notes prompted by a conversation, but not in direct response to anything therein.

I have not seen obvious for web sites used much recently, but that could be me not looking for web applications to try. I note three three overlapping purposes when they are used:

  • Promotion. The entity that has set up the invitation system hopes for viral spam; some people have a strongly negative reaction to invitation systems as a result.
  • Rationing. For example, to keep a system usable while resources added.
  • Exclusivity. For purposes regarded as wrong for non-state actors (e.g. discrimination based on birth location) to the suspicious (supposed cabals) to the practical (privacy, working group size, keep out bad actors).

My impression is that at the web site/application level, invitations are used mostly for promotion, a little for rationing, rarely for exclusivity. But invitations are ubiquitous in human interactions, and it seems to me that exclusivity is their main purpose (though I’m ignoring many communications and social purposes independent of the three mentioned; e.g., in some situations a polite communication takes the form of an invitation). One doesn’t even need to step away from “social network” web applications to see this, just into the applications — consider “connection requests” and similar actions among users.

Invitations could be a useful part of the federated social web mix, as the challenges faced by federated sites are at least a little different than those faced by silos in all three of the aforementioned areas, but especially with regard to exclusivity. Consider that bad actors can set up their own federated sites, and that federated sites often represent single users or small communities — roughly requiring the same functionality of a community or individual user of a silo, including the functionalities of the entire silo.

Also, just remembered On The Invitation, a chapter from Collaborative Futures.

Mozilla $300m/year for freedom

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

More Mozilla ads by Henrik Moltke / CC BY

Congratulations to Mozilla on their $300m/year deal with Google, which will more than double current annual revenue. I’ve always thought people predicting doom for Mozilla if Google failed to renew were all wrong — others would be happy to pay for the default search position; probably less since Microsoft, Yahoo, and others make less than Google per ad view, but it’d still be a very substantial amount — and the link article hints that a Microsoft bid drove the price up.

There’s always a risk that Mozilla won’t spend the money well, but I’m pretty confident that they will. Firefox is excellent, and in 2011 has gotten more excellent, faster, and I think many of the other projects they’re doing are really important, and on the right track (insofar as I’m qualified to discern, which is not much), for example BrowserID. Even in small and hopelessly annoying things, like licensing, I think Mozilla is doing good. (Bias: Mozilla has donated to my employer.)

I’m no longer enthused about the possibility of huge resources for progress toward Wikimedia’s vision from advertising on Wikipedia. Since I was last on that bandwagon, it has become even less of a possibility in anything but the distant future: Wikimedia’s donation campaigns have gone very well, adequately funding its operating mission, and lack of advertising has become even more part of Wikimedia’s messaging; I’ve also become more concerned (not in particular to Wikimedia) about the institutional corruption risks previously blogged by Peter McCluskey and Timothy B. Lee. (Note these objections don’t apply to Mozilla: its significant revenue has always been advertising-based; very roughly its revenues are already 10x those of Wikimedia’s; and it is also building up an individual donor program, which I agree is often the healthiest revenue for a nonprofit.)

But I still very much think freedom needs massive, ongoing resource infusions, in the right institutional framework. I celebrate the tremendous benefits of the FLOSS community achieves without massive, concentrated, ongoing resource infusions, but I also admit that the web likely would be much worse, much less webby, and much less free without concentrated resources at Mozilla over the last several years.

Thank you Mozillians, and congratulations. I have very high expectations for your contributions over the next years to the web and society, in particular where more freedom and security are obviously needed such as mobile and software services. Such would be just a start. As computation permeates everything, and digital freedom becomes the most important political issue, the resources of many Mozillas are needed. More on that, soon.

Encyclopedia of Original Research

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

As I’m prone to say that some free/libre/open projects ought strive to not merely recapitulate existing production methods and products (so as to sometimes create something much better), I have to support and critique such strivings.

A proposal for the Encyclopedia of Original Research, besides a name that I find most excellent, seems like just such a project. The idea, if I understand correctly, is to leverage Open Access literature and using both machine- and wiki-techniques, create always-up-to-date reviews of the state of research in any field, broad or narrow. If wildly successful, such a mechanism could nudge the end-product of research from usually instantly stale, inaccessible (multiple ways), unread, untested, singular, and generally useless dead-tree-oriented outputs toward more accessible, exploitable, testable, queryable, consensus outputs. In other words, explode the category of “scientific publication”.

Another name for the project is “Beethoven’s open repository of research” — watch the video.

The project is running a crowdfunding campaign right now. They only have a few hours left and far from their goal, but I’m pretty sure the platform they’re using does not require projects to meet a threshold in order to obtain pledges, and it looks like a small amount would help continue to work and apply for other funding (eminently doable in my estimation; if I can help I will). I encourage kicking in some funds if you read this in the next couple hours, and I’ll update this post with other ways to help in the future if you’re reading later, as in all probability you are.

EoOR is considerably more radical than (and probably complementary to and/or ought consume) AcaWiki, a project I’ve written about previously with the more limited aim to create human-readable summaries of academic papers and reviews. It also looks like, if realized, a platform that projects with more specific aims, like OpenCures, could leverage.

Somehow EoOR escaped my attention (or more likely, my memory) until now. It seems the proposal was developed as part of a class on getting your Creative Commons project funded, which I think I can claim credit for getting funded (Jonas Öberg was very convincing; the idea for and execution of the class are his).

A Toolkit for Anti-SOPA Activism: #13 (or #0?)

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent checklist of 12 things you can do to fight the U.S. Congress’ attack on the Internet. Most of them are tiresome rearguard actions against this particular legislation (though most can have secondary long-term effects of educating policymakers and the public about the harm of attacking the Internet). All this is necessary, please take action now.

Action #12 is long-term: contribute financially to the EFF so they can continue “leading the fight to defend civil liberties online, so that future generations will enjoy an Internet free of censorship.” Indeed, please do this too. I’ve recommended becoming an EFF member in the past, and will continue to do so. Actually I’m even more enthusiastic about donating to the EFF in 2011 than I was in 2005. In addition to playing an absolutely critical role in fighting SOPA, PIPA, and their ilk, the EFF’s small technical staff is working on some of the most important technical challenges to keeping the Internet open and secure. They are awesome!

There’s one more item that needs to be in every responsible digital freedom activist’s toolkit: the digital commons, meaning free and open source software and their analogues in culture, knowledge, and beyond. Using and consuming free software and culture is crucial to maintaining a free society. There are many reasons, some of which I mentioned recently at OWF, and with a bit more focus in a FSCONS 2008 presentation (slideshare, .pdf, .odp), but here’s one: imagine a world in which most software and culture are free as in freedom. Software, culture, and innovation would be abundant, there would be plenty of money in it (just not based on threat of censorship), and there would be no constituency for attacking the Internet. (Well, apart from dictatorships and militarized law enforcement of supposed democracies; that’s a fight intertwined with SOPA, but those aren’t the primary constituencies for the bill.) Now, world dominationliberation by free software and culture isn’t feasible now. But every little bit helps reduce the constituency that wishes to attack the Internet to possibly protect their censorship-based revenue streams, and to increase the constituency whose desire to protect the Internet is perfectly aligned with their business interests and personal expression.

Am I crazy? Seriously, I’d like to make the case for the commons as crucial to the future of free society more compellingly. Or, if I’m wrong, stop making it. Feedback wanted.

Relatedly, the English Wikipedia community is considering a blackout to protest SOPA. Here’s the comment I left at the request for comment:

Support doing something powerful. I blackout would be that. I do have some reticence though. Making the knowledge in English Wikipedia and maybe other sites inaccessible feels a bit like protestors who destroy their own neighborhood. Sometimes necessary to gain attention and perhaps justice in the long run, but always painful and with collateral victims. Sure, visitors to Wikipedia sites can come back later or find a mirror, but just as surely, the neighborhood will recover. Maybe. Admittedly the analogy is far from perfect, but I wish there were something the Wikimedia movement could do that would have power analogous to a mass physical action, but avoid costs analogous to the same. Long term, I think fulfilling the Wikimedia vision is exactly that. In the short term, maybe a total blackout is necessary, though if there’s a a way to equally powerfully present to viewers what SOPA means, then let them access the knowledge, I’d prefer that. UI challenge? Surely some A:B testing is in order for this important action. I’d hope that at least some messages tested convey not only the threat SOPA poses to Wikimedia, but the long-term threat the Wikimedia movement poses to censorship.

Occupy 980

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

I’m in agreement with Timothy B. Lee’s posts a month ago that urban freeways are not needed and harmful, but whether any particular urban freeway ought be actively taken down depends. (Of course no more ought be built and nearly all existing ought not to have been built.)

Lee’s posts got me thinking about which of Oakland’s freeways ought be torn down first.

The map above gives a pretty good idea of Oakland freeways. Clockwise from the top there’s 80/580 going north into Berkeley, 24 into a tunnel through the hills, 580 and 880 continuing on for a long way to the southeast and into San Leandro (there’s also 13 in the hills connecting 24 and 580, the only segment completely off-map), and 80 across the bay to San Francisco. Then there’s 980 connecting 24 and 880. 980 is the obvious segment to go:

  • Traffic volumes on 980 are less than any of the others (excepting 13).
  • 980 cuts West Oakland off from downtown, and causes the former to be completely encircled by freeways.
  • Despite being relatively low traffic, the real estate used by 980 is a city block wide. About 29 core city blocks could be freed for other uses.
  • 980’s primary purpose is apparently for providing access to downtown Oakland. A freeway through downtown is not needed for downtown access. Drivers wanting downtown access need to drive on downtown streets, and can do so just a tiny bit sooner. Downtown Oakland streets have lots of capacity and are rarely congested.
  • In the next decades, autonomous vehicles will push “not needed” to the extreme, as such will enable much, much higher capacity on the same roads. Oakland, like all cities, ought to be planning for autonomous vehicles now.

Before last month, I had not realized that 980 was not completed until 1985, which by itself does not strongly support my understanding of the local narrative (which I must have heard by 1995) concerning the extent to which 980 negatively impacted West Oakland. But apparently construction started in 1964. Planning was underway in the 1950s. I’m don’t know when about 29 blocks were destroyed to make way for 980 (I’d appreciate pointers), but it could have been 20 or more years before completion, and even if not, the knowledge that they would be destroyed must have contributed to isolation.

Perhaps Occupy Oakland ought move to some of the greenery along 980, or Grove-Shafter Park, which is more or less under the interchange where 24, 580, and 980 meet — more than symbolic, a physical barrier separating the poor from the powers that be. They wouldn’t need to make any specific demands about what would come after destroying the segment of the system that is 980. 29 blocks of vertical hemp farms? Mixed income housing? Art studios? “Occupy Park”, a grand urban park named for the movement? Skyscrapers? Ironically nostalgic monorail line? No need to decide now, dream on!

Mozilla Public License 2.0 and increasing public copyright license compatibility

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Incompatibility among public copyright licenses dampens their potential for reducing underlying friction caused by copyright. Increasing compatibility among public copyright licenses is one of the successes of the free/libre/open source community, or so I think. Without long-term, distributed collaboration among license stewards and projects released under public licenses, it would have been easy to obtain a world in which it usually isn’t legally possible to use code from one project in another. (A shared understanding of what constitutes “free” and “open” really helps — the scope for incompatible-in-spirit licenses is greatly reduced, and distributed collaboration facilitated by everyone sharing broad premises.)

I’ve been watching from afar development of the Mozilla Public License version 2 (going for nearly 2 years, I believe about the right amount of time to version a widely used public license) almost exclusively because I was eager to see it become GPL compatible, and how it would achieve this.

Luis Villa explained most of the “how” three months ago. To make sure I understand, here’s my summary:

  • MPL 1.1 is not GPL-compatible. MPL 2.0 will be, but with a few caveats to ensure that projects released under the MPL won’t become GPL-compatible unintentionally, and that there’s a way for new projects under MPL 2.0 that really, really don’t want to be GPL compatible, don’t have to be.
  • Code from a project is released under MPL 2.0 (and not multi-licensed), it can only be made available under the GPL* when incorporated into a larger project that is already GPL licensed, i.e., there has to be a good reason.
  • The entity doing such incorporation in the point above has to offer the MPL code under the MPL and additionally the GPL. A downstream entity can choose to only use the GPL. In other words, people who want to use the original project’s code line under the MPL have ample opportunity to do so, until it is truly forked into a GPL-only version.
  • MPL 1.1 projects (1.1 has a “future versions” clause) modified and released under MPL 2.0 are not GPL-compatible in the manner above unless the project was already multi-licensed under the MPL and GPL (the most important MPL 1.1 licensed projects are multi-licensed), i.e., the intent to allow for use under the GPL is already established.
  • Projects that want to use MPL 2.0 and really don’t want to be GPL compatible can include an “Incompatible With Secondary Licenses” notice.

I think the last point is an unfortunate complication (such projects could stick with MPL 1.1, for instance), but I trust that there are good stakeholder use cases for it. But that’s a minor nit. Villa and other people who worked on MPL 2.0 did a great job and get congratulations and thanks from me.

One of my dreams for Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 is that it be one-way GPL compatible, as MPL 2.0 will be. MPL 2.0 demonstrates mechanisms for achieving GPL compatibility without upsetting current licensor expectations, which ought be a useful perspective from which to evaluate options for CC BY-SA 4.0. Though CC licenses should not be used for code, it’s easy to see a future in which most “culture” includes “code” and it is an unnecessary pain to keep their licenses separate in all cases. Also, there is some demand for a source-requiring copyleft license for non-software works (BY-SA does not require adaptations to provide source, which is often OK for cultural works, but not always) and it doesn’t make sense to create another source-requiring copyleft license in addition to the GPL.

*Actually LGPL 2.1 or greater, GPL 2.0 or greater, or AGPL 3.0 or greater. MPL has a weaker copyleft than any of the GPL-family licenses — MPL’s copyleft is scoped by file, LGPL’s by library, GPL’s by any linked code, AGPL adds requirement for source distribution to network services.

Addendum 20120103: MPL 2.0 is released today. FSF has added MPL 2.0 to their free licenses page with a GPL compatibility explanation.