Post Blogs

8 year Refutation Blog

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

I first posted to this blog exactly 8 years ago, after a few years of dithering over which blog software to use (WordPress was the first that made me not feel like I had to write my own; maybe I was waiting for 1.0, released January 2004).

A little over two years ago I had the idea for a “refutation blog”: after some number of years, a blogger might attempt to refute whatever they wrote previously. In some cases they may believe they were wrong and/or stupid, in all cases, every text and idea is worthy of all-out attack, given enough resources to carry out such, and passing of time might allow attacks to be carried out a bit more honestly. I have little doubt this has been done before, and analogously for pre-blog forms; I’d love pointers.

The last two Februaries have passed without adequate time to start refuting. In order to get started (I could also write software to manage and render refutations, and figure out what vocabulary to use to annotate them, and unlikely but might in the fullness of time, but I won’t accept the excuse for years more of delay right now) I’m lowering my sights from “all-out attack” to a very brief attack on the substance of a previous post, and will do my best to avoid snarky asides.

I have added a refutation category. I will probably continue non-refutation posts here (and hope to refute those 8 years after posting). I may eventually move my current blogging or something similar to another site.

Back to that first post, See Yous at Etech. “Alpha geeks” indeed. With all the unintended at the time, but fully apparent in the name, implication of status seeking and vaporware over deep technical substance and advancement. The “new CC metadata-enhanced application” introduced there was a search prototype. The enhancement was a net negative. Metadata is costly, and usually crap. Although implemented elsewhere since then, as far as I can tell a license filter added to text-based search has never been very useful. I never use it, except as a curiosity. I do search specific collections, where metadata, including license, is a side effect of other collection processes. Maybe as and if sites automatically add annotations to curated objects, aggregation via search with a license and other filters will become useful.

Counterfeiting against inequality and addiction

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

When I read articles blaming advertisers for the bad behavior of (especially relatively poor) people who want advertised products (quoted material below mostly from linked story) I tend to think:

  1. To the extent “corporate pushers have made us addicts”:
    1. As a letter-to-the-editor from Michael Slembrouck says “You can ask your dealer to stop selling you dope because you have a problem, but if you keep giving him money he’s going to keep giving you the same dope.”
    2. It seems to me that being able to ignore/forgo potentially addictive messages/products is an important survival skill.
  2. More [free] speech (broadly speaking) is the answer:
    1. What is the hidden role of patent and trademark? In other words, what is the role of lack of cheap copies? Cheap copies would reduce incentive to advertise in the first place, and also reduce “the dreary feeling many get from walking by store windows knowing society offers no legal path for them to ever possess what is inside.” Is bad behavior supposedly related to lack of access to fashionable items reduced where counterfeit goods are plentiful? That’s a serious question, though of course answers will largely be swamped by cross cultural confounders.
    2. Regarding addiction and other adverse things characterized as such, I still think one of the best messages trusted figures (friends, ministers, the famous, etc) can convey is how totally unacceptable it is to follow spam — and I consider advertising to include a continuum from spam to useful information, with that critiqued as solely “manufacturing desire” tending toward the spam end.
    3. If advertising is so powerful, why not use it more for counter-addiction-and-other-adverse-messages? In the link above, I wished for the Ad Council to run a don’t-click-on-spam campaign. Maybe too close to its membership for comfort. Fortunately, access to media has improved greatly, including access to organizing for access to media. Hopefully things like LoudSauce (crowdfunded advertising) will help make that happen.

As indicated by the title, I mostly blogged this for 2(a). I think the contribution of intellectual protectionism to inequality is woefully underexplored and underexploited. I made a new category on this blog, Inequality Promotion, to remind me to attempt further exploration and exploitation.

Faded sidebar

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

I’ve occasionally mucked with my blog’s theme with a general aim of removing superfluous crap that makes reading posts harder. A couple weeks ago something Parker Higgins wrote inspired me to try a little harder:

How awesome is @niemanlab’s “faded” sidebar? And zen mode? That’s a site that cares about its readers.

You can view an archived version of the Nieman Lab site should their design change. The top of the sidebar isn’t faded, but overall I think the fading there is makes it a little easier to concentrate on a post without switching to “zen” mode (removing all navigation).

For my theme, I made the sidebar always faded except when hovered over, and float to the right as far away from the main content area as possible. All “header” content is in the sidebar so that there’s nothing preceding a post’s title.

I intended to remove anything hardcoded* for my blog, anything I don’t understand or not used, and anything that doesn’t validate, but I didn’t get very far on any of those. I doubt this will be useful to anyone, but patches welcome.

*Yes it is also a little ironic I’ve never bothered to published modified source used to run this blog until now.

CSS text overlay image, e.g. for attribution and license notice

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

A commenter called me on providing inadequate credit for an map image I used on this blog. I’ve often seen map credits overlaid on the bottom right of maps, so I decided to try that. I couldn’t find an example of using CSS to overlay text on an image that only showed the absolute minimum needed to achieve the effect, and explained why. Below is my attempt.

Example 1

The above may be a good example of when to not use a text overlay (there is already text at the bottom of the image), but the point is to demonstrate the effect, not to look good. I have an image and I want to overlay «Context+Colophon» at the bottom right of the image. Here’s the minimal code:

<div style="position:relative;z-index:0;width:510px">
  <img src=""/>
  <div style="position:absolute;z-index:1;right:0;bottom:0">
    <a href="">Context</a>+<a href="">Colophon</a>


The outer div creates a container which the text overlay will be aligned with. A position is necessary to enable z-index, which specifies how objects will stack. Here position:relative as I want the image and overlay to flow with the rest of the post, z-index:0 as the container is at the bottom of the stack. I specify width:510px as that’s how wide the image is, and without hardcoding the size of the div, the overlay as specified will float off to the right rather than align with the image. There’s nothing special about the img; it inherits from the outer div.

The inner div contains and styles the text I want to overlay. position:absolute as I will specify an absolute offset from the container, right:0;bottom:0, and z-index:1 to place above the image. Finally, I close both divs.

That’s it. I know precious little CSS; please tell me what I got wrong.

Example 2

Above is the image that prompted this post, with added attribution and license notice. Code:

<div style="z-index:0;position:relative;width:560px"
  <a href=";lon=-122.2776&amp;zoom=14&amp;layers=Q">
    <img src=""/></a>
  <div style="position:absolute;z-index:1;right:0;bottom:0;">
      © <a rel="cc:attributionURL"
           href=";lon=-122.2776&amp;zoom=14&amp;layers=Q">OpenStreetMap contributors</a>,
        <a rel="license"


With respect to the achieving the text overlay, there’s nothing in this example not in the first. Below I explain annotations added that (but are not required by) fulfillment of OpenStreetMap/CC-BY-SA attribution and license notice.

The xmlns:ccprefix, and even that may be superfluous, given cc: as a default prefix.

about sets the subject of subsequent annotations.

small isn’t an annotation, but does now seem appropriate for legal notices, and is usually rendered nicely.

rel="cc:attributionURL" says that the value of the href property is the link to use for attributing the subject. property="cc:attributionName" says that the text (“OpenStreetMap contributors”) is the name to use for attributing the subject. rel="license" says the value of its href property is the subject’s license.

If you’re bad and not using HTTPS-Everywhere (referrer not sent due to protocol change; actually I’m bad for not serving this blog over https), clicking on BY-SA above might obtain a snippet of HTML with credits for others to use. Or you can copy and paste the above code into RDFa Distiller or checkrdfa to see that the annotations are as I’ve said.

Addendum: If you’re reading this in a feed reader or aggregator, there’s a good chance inline CSS is stripped — text intended to overlay images will appear under rather than overlaying images. Click through to the post in order to see the overlays work.

Federated Social Web Status[Net]

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Evan Prodromou just published his Federated Social Web top 10 stories of 2010. It’s a great list, go read — readers who aren’t already familiar with Prodromou, StatusNet,, OStatus, etc. probably will have missed many of the stories — and they’re extremely important for the long-term future of the web, even if there are presently far too few zeros following the currency symbol to make them near-term major news (just like early days of the web, email, and the internet).

I suggest the following additions.

Censorship of dominant non-federated social web sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) occurred around the world. While totally reprehensible, and surely one of the top social web stories of 2010 by itself, one of its effects makes it a top story for the federated social web — decentralization is one of the ways of “routing around” censorship. I’d love to have mountains more evidence, but perhaps this is happening.

Perhaps Evan did not want to self-promote in his top 10, but I consider the status of his company, its services, the software they run (all called ), and the community around all three, to be extremely important data points on the status of the federated social web, and thus inherently top stories for 2010 (and they will be again in 2011, even if they completely fail, which would be a sad top story).

I hope that Evan/StatusNet post their own 2010 summary, or the community develops one on the StatusNet wiki, but very briefly: The company obtained another round of funding and from the perspective of an outsider, appears to be progressing nicely on enterprise and premium hosting products. The StatusNet cloud hosts thousands of (premium and gratis) instances, and savvy people are self-hosting, mirroring the well-established pattern. The core StatusNet software made great strides (I believe seven 0.9.x releases), obtained an add-ons directory, and early support for non-microblogging features, e.g., social bookmarking and generic social networking (latter Evan did mention as a non-top-10 story; of course any such features are federated “for free”). By the way, see my post Control Yourself, Follow Evan for the beginning story, way back in 2008.

2010 also saw what I consider disappointments in the federated social web space, each of which I have high hopes will be corrected in the next year — perhaps I’ll even do something to help:

StatusNet lacks full data portability and account migration.

Nobody has yet taken up the mantle of building a federated replacement for Flickr.

Unclear federated social web spam defenses are good enough.

Nobody is doing anything interesting with reputation on the federated social web — no, make that, on the social web. This is a major befuddlement I’ve had since (2002), at least. had an excuse as the first “social network”, (1999) innovated, then nothing. Nothing!

Far too few people are aware of the challenges and opportunities of maintaining and expanding software freedom/user autonomy in the age of networked services, a general problem of which the federated social web is an important case.

Finally, a couple not-yet-stories for the federated social web.

Facebook and Twitter (especially Facebook) seem to have consolidated their dominant positions in nearly every part of the world, having surpassed regional leads of the likes of Orkut (Brazil and India), Bebo (UK), MySpace (US), Friendster (Southeast Asia), etc. and would-be competitors such as shut down (e.g., Jaiku and Plurk) or considered disappointing (e.g., Google Buzz). However, it seems there are plenty of relatively new regionally-focused services, some of which may already be huge but under the radar of English-speaking observers. An example is ,’s microblogging service, which I would not have heard of in 2010 had I not seen it in use at Sharism Forum in Shanghai. It’s possible that some of these are advantaged by censorship of global services — see above — and cooperation with local censors. Opportunity? Probably only long-term or opportunistic.

Despite their high cultural relevance and somewhat ambiguous status, I don’t know of many © disputes around tweets, or short messages generally. Part of the reason must be that Twitter and Facebook are primarily silos, and use within those silos is agreed to via their terms of service. I’m very happy that StatusNet has from the beginning take precaution against copyright interfering with the federated case — notices on StatusNet platforms are released under the permissive Creative Commons Attribution license (all uses permitted in advance, requiring only credit), which clarifies things to the extent copyright restricts, and doesn’t interfere to the extent it doesn’t. (Also note that copyright is a major challenge for the social web in general, even its silos — see YouTube, which ought be considered part of the social web.)

All the best to Evan Prodromou and other federated social web doers in 2011!

As demonstrated above, I cannot write a short blog post, which puts a crimp on my blogging. Follow me on StatusNet’s service for lots of short updates.

Collaborative Futures 5

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

We finished the text of Collaborative Futures on the book sprint’s fifth day and I added yet another chapter intended for the “future” section. This one may be the oddest in the whole book. You have to remember that I have a bit of an appreciation of leftish verbiage in the service of free software and nearby, and seeing the opportunity to also bundle an against international apartheid rant … I ran with it. Copied below.

I’ll post more about the book’s contents, the sprint, and the Booki software later (but I can’t help noting now that I’m sad about not getting to a chapter on WikiNature). For now no new observations other than that Adam Hyde of FLOSS Manuals put together a really good group of people for the sprint. I enjoyed working with all of them tremendously and hope to do so again in some form. And thanks to Transmediale for hosting. And sad that I couldn’t stay in Berlin longer for Transmediale proper, in particular the Charlemagne Palestine concerts.

Check out Mushon Zer-Aviv’s great sprint finish writeup.


There is no guarantee that networked information technology will lead to the improvements in innovation, freedom, and justice that I suggest are possible. That is a choice we face as a society. The way we develop will, in significant measure, depend on choices we make in the next decade or so.

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom


Catherine Frost, in her 2006 paper Internet Galaxy Meets Postnational Constellation: Prospects for Political Solidarity After the Internet evaluates the prospects for the emergence of postnational solidarities abetted by Internet communications leading to a change in the political order in which the responsibilities of the nation state are joined by other entities. Frost does not enumerate the possible entities, but surely they include supernational, transnational, international, and global in scope and many different forms, not limited to the familiar democratic and corporate.

The verdict? Characteristics such as anonymity, agnosticism to human fatalities and questionable potential for democratic engagement make it improbable that postnational solidarities with political salience will emerge from the Internet — anytime soon. However, Frost acknowledges that we could be looking in the wrong places, such as the dominant English-language web. Marginalized groups could find the Internet a more compelling venue for creating new solidarities. And this:

Yet we know that when things change in a digital age, they change fast. The future for political solidarity is not a simple thing to discern, but it will undoubtedly be an outcome of the practices and experiences we are now developing.

Could the collaboration mechanisms discussed in this book aid the formation of politically salient postnational solidarities? Significant usurpation of responsibilities of the nation state seems unlikely soon. Yet this does not bar the formation of communities that contest with the nation state for intensity of loyalty, in particular when their own collaboration is threatened by a nation state. As an example we can see global responses from free software developers and bloggers to software patents and censorship in single jurisdictions.

If political solidarities could arise from the collaborative work and threats to it, then collaboration might alter the power relations of work. Both globally and between worker and employer — at least incrementally.

Free Labor

Trade in goods between jurisdictions has become less restricted over the last half century — tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade have been greatly reduced. Capital flows have greatly increased.

While travel costs have decreased drastically, in theory giving any worker the ability to work wherever pay (or other desirable quality) is highest, in fact workers are not permitted the freedom that has been given traders and capitalists. Workers in jurisdictions with less opportunity are as locked into politically institutionalized underemployment and poverty as were non-whites in Apartheid South Africa, while the populations of wealthy jurisdiction are as much privileged as whites in the same milieu.

What does this have to do with collaboration? This system of labor is immobilized by politically determined discrimination. It is not likely this system will change without the formation of new postnational orders. However, it is conceivable that as collaboration becomes more economically important — as an increasing share of wealth is created via distributed collaboration — the inequalities of the current sytem could be mitigated. And that is simply because distributed collaboration does not require physical movement across borders.

Workers in privileged jurisdictions will object — do object — to competition from those born into less privilege. As did white workers to competition from blacks during the consolidation of Apartheid. However, it is also possible that open collaboration could alter relationships between some workers and employers in the workers’ favor both in local and global markets.

Control of the means of production

Open collaboration changes which activities are more efficient inside or outside of a firm. Could the power of workers relative to firms also be altered?

Intellectual property rights prevent mobility of employees in so forth that their knowledge are locked in in a proprietary standard that is owned by the employer. This factor is all the more important since most of the tools that programmers are working with are available as cheap consumer goods (computers, etc.). The company holds no advantage over the worker in providing these facilities (in comparison to the blue-collar operator referred to above whose knowledge is bound to the Fordist machine park). When the source code is closed behind copyrights and patents, however, large sums of money is required to access the software tools. In this way, the owner/firm gains the edge back over the labourer/programmer.

This is were GPL comes in. The free license levels the playing field by ensuring that everyone has equal access to the source code. Or, putting it in Marxist-sounding terms, through free licenses the means of production are handed back to labour. […] By publishing software under free licences, the individual hacker is not merely improving his own reputation and employment prospects, as has been pointed out by Lerner and Tirole. He also contributes in establishing a labour market where the rules of the game are completely different, for him and for everyone else in his trade. It remains to be seen if this translates into better working conditions,higher salaries and other benefits associated with trade unions. At least theoretically the case is strong that this is the case. I got the idea from reading Glyn Moody’s study of the FOSS development model, where he states: “Because the ‘product’ is open source, and freely available, businesses must necessarily be based around a different kind of scarcity: the skills of the people who write and service that software.” (Moody, 2001, p.248) In other words, when the source code is made available to everyone under the GPL, the only thing that remains scarce is the skills needed to employ the software tools productively. Hence, the programmer gets an edge over the employer when they are bargaining over salary and working conditions.

It bears to be stressed that my reasoning needs to be substantiated with empirical data. Comparative research between employed free software programmers and those who work with proprietary software is required. Such a comparison must not focus exclusively on monetary aspects. As important is the subjective side of programming, for instance that hackers report that they are having more fun when participating in free software projects than they work with proprietary software (Lakhani & Wolf, 2005). Neither do I believe that this is the only explanation to why hackers use GPL. No less important are the concerns about civil liberties and the anti-authoritarian ethos within the hacker subculture. In sum, hackers are a much too heterogeneous bunch for them all to be included under a single explanation. But I dare to say that the labour perspective deserves more attention than it has been given by popular and scholarly critics of intellectual property till now. Both hackers and academic writers tend to formulate their critique against intellectual property law from a consumer rights horison and borrow arguments from a liberal, political tradition. There are, of course, noteworthy exceptions. People like Slavoj Zizek and Richard Barbrook have reacted against the liberal ideology implicit in much talk about the Internet by courting the revolutionary rhetoric of the Second International instead. Their ideas are original and eye-catching and often full of insight. Nevertheless, their rhetoric sounds oddly out of place when applied to pragmatic hackers. Perhaps advocates of free sotftware would do better to look for a counter-weight to liberalism in the reformist branch of the labour movement, i.e. in trade unionism. The ideals of free software is congruent with the vision laid down in the “Technology Bill of Rights”, written in 1981 by the International Association of Machinists:

”The new automation technologies and the sciences that underlie them are the product of a world-wide, centuries-long accumulation of knowledge. Accordingly, working people and their communities have a right to share in the decisions about, and the gains from, new technology” (Shaiken, 1986, p.272).

Johan Söderberg, Hackers GNUnited!, CC BY-SA,

Perhaps open collaboration can only be expected to slightly tip the balance of power between workers and employers and change measured wages and working conditions very little. However, it is conceivable, if fanciful, that control of the means of production could lead to a feeling of autonomy that empowers further action outside of the market.

Autonomous individuals and communities

Free Software and related methodologies can give individuals autonomy in their technology environments. It might also give individuals a measure of additional autonomy in the market (or increased ability to stand outside it). This is how Free and Open Source Software is almost always characterized, when it is described in terms of freedom or autonomy — giving individual users freedom, or allowing organizations to not be held ransom to proprietary licenses.

However, communities that exist outside of the market and state obtain a much greater autonomy. These communities have no need for the freedoms discussed above, even if individual community members do. There have always been such communities, but they did not possess the ability to use open collaboration to produce wealth that significantly competes, even supplants, market production. This ability makes these autonomous organizations newly salient.

Furthermore, these autonomous communities (Debian and Wikipedia are the most obvious examples) are pushing new frontiers of governance necessary to scale their collaborative production. Knowledge gained in this process could inform and inspire other communities that could become reinvigorated and more effective through the implementation of open collaboration, including community governance. Such communities could even produce postnational solidarities, especially when attacked.

Do we know how to get from here to there? No. But only through experimentation will we find out. If a more collaborative future is possible, obtaining it depends on the choices we make today.


Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Visualizing density of places I’ve lived in 256x256px Open Street Maps

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I enjoyed Tim Lee’s post contrasting the density of various places he’s lived, so I’m reproducing the same for me below. I’ve used the same scale, but the maps are from , a very cool and good project that I hope to contribute to, or at least use and write about, more in the near future.

Knox Knolls (62704), an early (built 1960s?) subdivision on the west side of Springfield, Illinois:

EastWest of the UIUC campus (68120), mostly student housing in Champaign, Illinois:

Sort-of (a block north would be definite) Hayes Valley (94102), mostly subdivided victorians and some later apartment buildings in San Francisco, California:

Lower Haight (94117), commercial hipster and crack addict district a few blocks southwest of previous in San Francisco, California:

Far eastern block of the Castro (94114) before becoming the Mission, mostly subdivided victorians and some later apartment buildings in San Francisco, California:

West of a small Silicon Valley downtown (94086), mix of single family and apartment buildings in Sunnyvale, California:

College Park (95126), mix of single family style homes, some subdivided, many turned into “compounds” with smaller units on same lot, west of downtown San Jose, California:

Western SOMA (94103), almost all multi-unit buildings in San Francisco:

Golden Gate district (94608), mostly subdivided victorians and later, some later apartment buildings in Oakland, California:

Unsurprisingly the second to last is probably my favorite location so far, though I’d prefer much higher density. I also wouldn’t mind more contrast, as Tim Lee’s post exhibits, and I’m sadly lacking non-U.S. locations (unless one counts a few months in Minabe, Japan, which isn’t covered well by OpenStreetMap yet).

Conveniently I seem to have lived nine places, making for a nice square:

Actually I omitted at least three — one or two places in Collinsville, Illinois and one in Springfield that I don’t remember at all (we moved to the first mapped above when I was three) and a dorm in Champaign, Illinois only a few blocks from the mapped location above.

I hope some other people in my feeds create posts like this for my eyes to enjoy. Jon Phillips’, for example, would have some great contrasts I bet.

5 years of posts as wordles

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Composition of wordles / CC BY

Unsatisfying, or perhaps this blog is just that uninteresting. Code used to produce yearly wordlists. Some possible improvements:

  • Rewrite as WordPress plugin OR abstract from WordPress
  • Case insensitivity
  • Suppress common words (used Wordle menu for this, but it isn’t very aggressive), perhaps using a word frequency dataset
  • Use free software alternative to Wordle to generate wordclouds (suggestions?)
  • Automate generation of wordclouds (very difficult using Wordle, would involve browser automation, thus previous bullet)

I started doing this in part to see five years of topic changes on this blog, but mostly because if it worked well, I’d use it on the Creative Commons blog, which is a 6+ year mass of around 2,500 almost completely uncategorized/untagged posts. In that vein, I intend to look into automated term extraction and user tagging code.

October and beyond

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Friday (tomorrow) I’m attending the first Seasteading conference in Burlingame. I blogged about seasteading four years ago. Although the originators of the seastead idea are politically motivated, I’d assign a very low probability to them becoming significantly more politically impactful than some of their inspirations (e.g., micronations and offshore pirate radio, i.e., very marginal). To begin with, the seasteading concept has huge engineering and business hurdles to clear before it could make any impact whatsoever. If the efforts of would be seasteaders lead to the creation of lots more wealth (or even just a new weird culture), any marginal political impact is just gravy. In other words, seasteading is another example of political desires sublimated into useful creation. That’s a very good thing, and I expect the conference to be interesting and fun.

Saturday I’ll be at the Students for Free Culture Conference in Berkeley. You don’t have to be a student to attend. Free culture is a somewhat amorphous concept, but I think an important one. I suspect debates about what free culture means and how to develop and exploit it will be evident at the conference. Some of those are in part about the extent to which political desires should be sublimated into useful creation (I should expand on that in a future post).

October 20-26 I’ll participate in three free culture related conferences back to back.

First in Amsterdam for 3rd COMMUNIA Workshop (Marking the public domain: relinquishment & certification), where I’ll be helping talk about some of Creative Commons’ (I work for, do not represent here, etc.) public domain and related initiatives.

Second in Stockholm for the Nordic Cultural Commons Conference, where I’ll give a talk free culture and the future of cultural production.

Finally in Gothenburg for FSCONS, where I’ll give an updated version of a talk on where free culture stands relative to free software.

In December at MIT, Creative Commons will hold its second technology summit. Nathan Yergler and colleagues have been making the semantic rubber hit the web road pretty hard lately, and will have lots to show. If you’re doing interesting [S|s]emantic Web or open content related development (even better, both), take a look at the CFP.

More than likely I’ll identicate rather than blog all of these.