Current Berkman People and Projects

Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

August 01, 2014

Bruce Schneier
The Fundamental Insecurity of USB

This is pretty impressive:

Most of us learned long ago not to run executable files from sketchy USB sticks. But old-fashioned USB hygiene can't stop this newer flavor of infection: Even if users are aware of the potential for attacks, ensuring that their USB's firmware hasn't been tampered with is nearly impossible. The devices don't have a restriction known as "code-signing," a countermeasure that would make sure any new code added to the device has the unforgeable cryptographic signature of its manufacturer. There's not even any trusted USB firmware to compare the code against.

The element of Nohl and Lell's research that elevates it above the average theoretical threat is the notion that the infection can travel both from computer to USB and vice versa. Any time a USB stick is plugged into a computer, its firmware could be reprogrammed by malware on that PC, with no easy way for the USB device's owner to detect it. And likewise, any USB device could silently infect a user's computer.

These are exactly the sorts of attacks the NSA favors.

by Bruce Schneier at August 01, 2014 10:58 AM

Friday Squid Blogging: Build a Squid

An interactive animation from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

by Bruce Schneier at August 01, 2014 08:55 AM

Debit Card Override Hack


Parrish allegedly visited Apple Stores and tried to buy products with four different debit cards, which were all closed by his respective financial institutions. When his debit card was inevitably declined by the Apple Store, he would protest and offer to call his bank -- except, he wasn’t really calling his bank.

So, the complaint says, he would offer the Apple Store employees a fake authorization code with a certain number of digits, which is normally provided by credit card issuers to create a record of the credit or debit override.

Now that this trick is public, how long before stores stop accepting these authorization codes altogether? I'll be that fixing the infrastructure will be expensive.

by Bruce Schneier at August 01, 2014 06:24 AM

The Costs of NSA Surveillance

New America Foundation has a new paper on the costs of NSA surveillance: economic costs to US business, costs to US foreign policy, and costs to security.

News article.

by Bruce Schneier at August 01, 2014 04:20 AM

July 31, 2014

Harry Lewis
The Internet and Hieronymus Bosch
Three years ago I blogged that I had published an essay by that title (that blog post reproduces the artwork that was the inspiration). I never got a single comment about the essay, probably because the collection in which it appeared did not get much circulation or publicity. Recently Peter Neumann came across the essay and loved it so much that he included a micro-review in his RISKS newsletter. Peter's post links off to a copy of the essay -- I like it too, and like much of the material in Blown to Bits, it seems remarkably fresh today (the essay is based on a lecture I gave in my now-defunct Bits course five years ago).

by Harry Lewis ( at July 31, 2014 11:09 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
How do you write a biography about collaboration?

A friend recently posted a video on Facebook, a 1997 news story from ABC’s Nightline about Tripod, the social media company I helped build in Williamstown MA from 1994-1999. The video sparked a wave of reactions in me: nostalgia for those past days, pride in the accomplishments of the friends I’ve kept up with, regret for losing touch with others, and bafflement that I would choose to wear flannel and overalls to show off our company to the world. (Perhaps my favorite moment in watching the video was discovering that we’d been interviewed by Deborah Amos, NPR’s Middle East reporter, who has subsequently become a respected friend.)

I’m not proud of all of the emotions that I experienced traveling 17 years into the past. Seeing Bo Peabody, our co-founder and CEO, skateboard into the office and declare that we sold “eyeballs” gave me a wash of anger, envy and frustration that characterized much of my time at the company. Bo playing CEO – something he did splendidly – was often intolerable to me when I was in my twenties, and surprisingly uncomfortable for me to watch in my forties.

Like many companies, Tripod was run by a team of executives who worked closely together – Tripod was somewhat pioneering in that our executives were mostly in their mid-twenties, often working our first serious jobs. (I realize that all promising tech companies now recruit VPs from middle school and issue them standard-order Zuckerberg hoodies in kids sizes, but this was still pretty radical in 1997.) Our company succeeded to the extent it did (never profitable, but sold at a good price for our investors, and still survives as a service almost twenty years later) because we had a small, close-knit team of smart people with complementary skills, (One of those people now directs product design at Facebook. Another became chief marketing officer for and Rubicon, two pioneers in online advertising.)

I saw the team, its strengths and weaknesses as core to Tripod’s success. But whenever a journalist did a news story, it became the story of Bo, the founder, the solitary entrepreneurial genius who’d built our company.

I hated this. I thought it misrepresented our company, disrespected not only the contributions of the management team but the work done by the 60 smart people who built our products and served our users. Hearing me rant about this one too many times, Kara Berklich, our head of marketing pulled me aside and explained that the visionary CEO was a necessary social construct. With Bo as the single protagonist of our corporate story, we were far more marketable than a complex story with half a dozen key figures and a cast of thousands. When you’re selling a news story, it’s easier to pitch House than Game of Thrones.

Bo, to his great credit, understood that it was his job to play this role and was good about separating the character and the reality – his reflections on Tripod, Lucky or Smart?, make clear that Bo knew he was lucky enough to assemble a smart team and smart enough to let the team make the important decisions. Having taken on that visible visionary role at nonprofit organizations, I also now understand how often that job sucks, how being the avatar for a vast project forces you to try and manifest qualities that the company has and which you, personally, lack.

I was thinking of this ancient history last week as I worked my way through Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. (In defense of my choice of beach reading – I read several better books on paper that week. But Audible’s selections are a lot more limited, and I wanted something to “read” as I walked on the beach.) Isaacson’s biography, written with Jobs’s cooperation and hundreds of interviews with Jobs, his family, friends and colleagues, is an enjoyable and uncomfortable read. I found it enjoyable because it’s another personal time machine of sorts – reading it, I remember my first time using Apple products, from the venerable Apple II through the laptops and phones I use today. It’s uncomfortable because it becomes increasingly clear that Steve Jobs was an angry, manipulative asshole who slashed and burned his way through the lives of most people he encountered.

Sue Halpern reviewed Isaacson’s book for NYRB and does a better job than I could ever hope to, raising uncomfortable questions about Jobs’s attempts to be both corporate and counterculture, reminding us that Apple’s “Designed in California” is made possible by being “Assembled in China” under often troubling circumstances. My favorite of her observations is that Isaacson manages both to canonize Jobs while revealing his most damning flaws: “.. it is possible to write a hagiography even while exposing the worst in a person.” Jobs saw himself as an artist, Isaacson reminds us, and artistic geniuses are often too strange and pure to peacefully coexist with us lesser mortals.

When Jobs chose Isaacson to write his biography, it’s fair to assume he was aware of the author’s previous subjects: Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger. The first two are routinely cited as exemplars of genius, and Kissinger may have his own dark claims to genius. It’s not hard to read Jobs’s selection of Isaacson as a way of inserting himself into the Pantheon.

Isaacson is happy to assist. The book was rushed into print when Jobs died, and Isaacson wrote a coda, excerpted in the New York Times, to cover Jobs’s death, funeral and legacy. In the New York Times excerpt, Isaacson makes clear that he saw Jobs as a genius, even if he wasn’t always conventionally smart. It was Jobs’s ingenuity and creativity, his ability to see a brilliant technical idea and turn it into something that consumers wanted that characterized his genius, Isaacson argues. One of the major themes of the book is the intersection of the sciences and the humanities – Jobs saw himself as standing at that crossroads, using his acutely honed sense of taste to predict the technical future and inspire the technicians to invent it.

This unusual form of genius, if that’s what it was, makes Jobs a particularly accessible role model for the tech industry. Many people who work on technology for a living are not Wozniak-level programmers. We flatter ourselves that we can contribute to the industry by helping those more gifted at writing code understand the needs of users, the importance of usability, the applicability of technical breakthroughts to unexpected new markets. Perhaps, like Steve, we can “put a dent in the universe” by connecting someone’s technical innovations with new markets.


People who can bridge between engineers and end users are important, necessary and often hard to find. It’s harder than it might appear to build these bridges in ways that respect and appreciate all those involved in building and marketing new technologies. In finding ways to bridge constructively and respectfully, Jobs is a lousy role model much of the time. The answer to “What Would Steve Jobs Do” is often “bully someone” or “throw a tantrum”. Unfortunately, it’s often easier to emulate Jobs’s less attractive personality traits than it is to replicate his design sensibilities.

Taking a break from Isaacson’s book, I read a thoughtful essay by Joshua Wolf Shenk, a preview of his new book, Powers of Two. Shenk argues that the myth of the solitary genius has dominated much of our thinking about creativity and obscures the fact that many people we know as geniuses worked in pairs or in larger teams. Shenk is particularly interested in creative pairings, pointing out that Einstein worked through the theory of relativity with Michele Besso, that Picasso invented Cubism with Georges Braque and that Dr. Martin Luther King co-led the civil rights movement with Ralph Abernathy and others.

There’s a way to read Isaacson’s biography in support of Shenk’s argument. Jobs was most productive as a serial collaborator, and was often disastrously unsuccessful when he wasn’t challenged by a strong partner or a team he respected. Jobs built Apple Computer on the brilliance of Steve Wozniak’s Apple computer, led Pixar to dominance over Disney’s animation business by hitching his star to filmmaker John Lasseter, and reinvented Apple as a music and phone company by partnering closely with Jony Ive. (Search for any of these men and you’ll find a wealth of articles and books declaring them geniuses.) Jobs has been good about crediting these collaborators and, occasionally, teams of collaborators – he saw the Macintosh as a team effort and honored team members at subsequent Apple product launches until his death.

When he didn’t have a strong collaborator or team, Jobs was often lost, as he was when Woz disengaged from Apple after the Apple II, when Jobs founded Next, or during the years Jobs dumped tens of millions into Pixar as a technology company, before Lasseter’s films demonstrating Pixar hardware took the company out of obscurity. In retrospect, this is obvious – Jobs didn’t write code or build prototypes. Instead, he shaped and guided the work that others did, making it better. Without a worthy collaborator, Jobs’s deeply impressive skillset was insufficient and often irrelevant.

It doesn’t lessen Jobs to recognize that creative genius comes from collaboration. Letting go of the idea that Shakespeare was a solitary genius writing masterworks in an attic without outside input and accepting that he was a member of a popular theatre company, incorporating the influences and feedback of other writers and actors into his creations makes him more fascinating to me, not less. Since we don’t have much access to the historical details of Shakespeare’s life, it’s easier to see these collaborative dynamics in modern biographies. Jobs may be one of the best examples of the collaborative genius idea, as the solitary genius narrative simply makes no sense in considering his history. We can imagine Shakespeare alone in a garrett or Einstein puzzling out equations alone at a blackboard, but Jobs alone is just an angry vegan too picky about design to furnish his own mansion.

In writing a biography, it’s natural to lionize the protagonist, if only to explain why she or he merited the author’s attention. Isaacson is better than some in featuring Jobs’s collaborators and influences, but the form ultimately dictates that the book is about a single individual, not pairs and teams of collaborators. The narrative arc is that of Jobs’s life, not the life of the companies he built, the products they created or the industries they influenced.

How do we tell the stories of partnerships and collaborations? Shenk’s book promises to tell the stories of creative pairings, both visible ones like Lennon and McCartney and invisible ones like that of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov. But his essay hints at the intriguing problem of telling stories of more complex collaborations, like the one I experienced at Tripod. How do we tell a story about creativity and collaboration at Wikipedia that doesn’t become a biography of Jimmy Wales? Is there a story about Linux that’s not a portrait of Linus Torvalds, an examination of Free Software that isn’t a character sketch of Richard Stallman? Not only are humans creatures who think in terms of stories, we are social beings, which means there is nothing we are so attuned to as the life stories of successful people.

Nathan Matias, a brilliant poet, literary scholar and software developer (who happens to be my doctoral student) has been working on better systems to acknowledge and credit the dozens of collaborators he’s worked with on his various projects. His personal website features almost a hundred collaborators – clicking on the icon for any of us reveals projects we’ve worked on with Nathan. It’s a first step towards a broader effort at designing acknowledgement on the web, and a key part of Nathan’s research on collaboration that leverages cultural and cognitive diversity. If we want to encourage diverse collaboration (and the end of Rewire makes a case for why we need to do so), we need to figure out how to recognize and celebrate people who work as creative teams, not just those who demand to be celebrated as geniuses.

Steve Jobs changed the world, or at least some highly visible corners of it. The story of his life, his successes and his failures is an important one for anyone who designs products and tools for large audiences. It would be a shame if the message we took from Isaacson’s book were that success comes from arrogance, self-certainty and cruelty. Until someone discovers a better way to write biographies of collaboration, that’s a message many readers will take away.

by Ethan at July 31, 2014 07:37 PM

Wayne Marshall
YouTubology Summer 2014 Edition

For their 4th etude of our summer adventures in technomusicology, my students produced their own YouTube montages (as I’ve discussed here and there), and, as usual, I’m smitten by the results. I even shed a few YouTubeTears in class as we screened them together. I’ve rounded them up in playlist form, but allow me to embed here several examples that are well worth a watch.

Many students did the mega-montage thing, and they selected quite a range of songs and routines to explore this way. Their subjects run the gamut from predictably enduring songs such as “Imagine” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to more recent upstarts such as “Let It Go” and “Thinking Bout You” to such YouTubey phenomena as “Canon Rock” and routines inspired by K-pop and the collectively-sourced cultural products built around Vocaloid software to tango warhorses. Wow!

A few videos merit a little more contextualization, so here they are with the students’ explication:

This is a video montage of “Bar Bar Bar,” the popular song by K-pop band, Crayon Pop. K-pop is largely characterized by bubble gum tunes and catchy lyrics, and “Bar Bar Bar” is no different. However, the song has somehow managed to rise above the rest of the K-pop scenery, taking Korea by storm and causing a multitude of different dance covers to surface in the past year . The various groups shown here range from Korean police departments to taekwondo teams in Korea, and this montage attempts to offer a vivid perspective into one aspect of the pop culture minutiae that permeates through Korean life today.


Kokoro x Kiseki is an original Vocaloid mix of two versions: Kagamine Rin’s and Kagamine Len’s. In Len’s version, he usually sings over a recording of Rin, but not vice versa. In some parts of this montage, it is possible to hear just Rin’s version, just Len’s version, as well as the mix of the two versions.

Due to the nature of this being a Vocaloid song, there is heavy emphasis on the accompanying video. Though there are some vocal and instrumental covers of the song, the majority creative works kept the original song but changed the video. In the different videos, people got creative with using their own drawings to make an animation, making slideshows of pre-existing art and playing with timing, cosplaying and acting out the story of the song, translating the song, and playing with camera angle and various other features of the Miku Miku Dance (MMD) program. There is an official dance for this song, so the dance is the same in the videos that use the dance, but the smoothness of the dance, the camera, and the backgrounds and costumes are noticeably different.

In this video montage, I focused on showing the different videos that people have uploaded onto Youtube. The song’s lyrics tell a linear story, so I wanted to keep the flow of the story of the song. I achieved this by keeping the video clips with their respective section of the song and by giving the videos their own space in the limelight. The only video that I showed multiple times throughout the montage was the Official Live version. The Live performance of a Vocaloid song is impressive, and I felt that letting it flit through the montage follows the story of Kokoro x Kiseki.

Since the majority of videos used the original song, it was not very difficult to sync the videos to make a smooth song. The difficulty in creating this montage was choosing which frame to switch videos because this song is riddled with pickups. Depending on what followed the pickup, I alternated between changing videos on pickups and on downbeats. The instrumental/vocal covers also used the original song, so even if they weren’t perfectly synced 100% of the time, they always met back at the start of new phrases. I decided not to forcibly sync the covers with the original song because it would be destroying the artistic license of a human musician.

Aside from the videos with creative animations, MMDs, cosplays, and covers, there are some videos there that are more featured for the translation. The few that I incorporated into this montage are Vietnamese, Spanish, and English subs, which give a small view at how popular and widespread this particular song is.


The seeds for this Etudé were actually planted last summer. Specifically though, the La Cumparsita (“The Little Masked Parade”) obsession of mine erupted last November during a minor email contention between my friend and teacher, a tango expert from Buenos Aires, and her teaching partner, a US born tango expert. During the discussion the original snapshot of the lyrics caught my fancy because they revealed to me the dark internality that is the thread running through Argentinian/Uruguayan Tango. While Uruguay claims the song as its own and has made it their national anthem, it is intrinsic to traditional Tango as practiced worldwide. Tango was an expressive outlet for the lower classes dwelling in the underside of Buenos Aires and Uruguayan society. It was not a fashionable or high brow entertainment to begin, and this song, La Cumparsita, really exemplifies a rather destitute and bluesy pastime originating from a night life and its creative expressions of peoples of color in Argentina and Uruguay.

In the pre-WWII era, the song was recorded throughout the world by classical, jazz, opera, and popular music artists, swing bands, and orchestra’s. I have tried to pull from my own research into the song: the ripped collection of videos as well as those recordings and amusing or exciting interludes that best exemplify most of the era’s this song has run through, as well as some really old Tango dancing by Rudolf Valentino (who was really quite passionate about Tango dance) from the film, The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse and taken from a video that mashed up Rudy’s moves with the Italian pop singer Mina’s over the top production of the song from 1968.

I also include some very nice dancing by Tango artist Chicho, dancing with a lot of ornamentations with his partner to a recording of a live band. A little later in my clips, I cut in Mina’s production film as she is singing the last verse of lyrics from the popular version, an ending to the effect of, to paraphrase: “the sun no longer shines the same on the abandoned bedroom, and even our dog stopped eating because you left and finally ran away from me, on seeing me so miserably alone.” An amusing farce indeed! Since it matched up to the Mina versions eventual cheesy guitar passage, I added Gene Kelly’s solo stepping to the song, from Anchor’s Aweigh. On a humorous note, I close it out with a scene from Some Like It Hot, when Daphne (Jack Lemmon disguised as a woman) forgets and starts taking the Tango lead from his/her would-be suitor and the orchestra plays an interesting version of La Cumparsita.

I took advantage of the many pauses and lurches inherent to the song and made single audio layer with plain cuts of the phonographs playing 78′s and a 45 rpm of the song. I did the same with the cuts between the live Tango orchestra’s of Alfredo De Angelis and Juan D’Arienzo. I did not need to do any fading or layering until at the end of Mina singing the farcical passage after which the song starts again with a real twanging 60′s guitar and a rock beat. That is when I fade it out and in comes Gene Kelly dancing a relatively soft shoe tap dance to the song. I enter the song from that scene of Anchor’s Aweigh since it matches with Mina’s rock passage, and that then easily lends to the rather interesting version from Some Like It Hot.

And I’ll close with an example that departs from the collages above as one student was inspired to take a page from Kutiman‘s book and create his own YouTube sourced jam session that opens with an overture of sorts, revealing the sources of his palette:

by wayneandwax at July 31, 2014 05:07 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Free Zone 9 Bloggers

Once upon a time, there was a blog.

It was written in Amharic, the dominant language in Ethiopia, by a team of young journalists and thinkers who wanted to have an open, public conversation about the future of their nation.

Pictures of some of the Zone 9 bloggers

It’s not especially easy to talk about these issues in Ethiopia. Africa’s second largest country has been ruled by a neo-marxist government (EPRDF – Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democracy Front) which overthrew a brutal military dictatorship in 1991, instilling one-party autocratic rule in its place.

Part of EPRDF’s strategy of control is the silencing of dissent. When students protested rigged elections in 2005, the government blocked all SMS traffic for two years, claiming that opposition activists were using SMS to plan their campaigns. (They were. The real issue is that Ethiopia saw opposition political activity as a threat to regime stability.) Ethiopia briefly had a thriving and energetic blogosphere, but government censorship and harassment of bloggers quickly silenced many of those voices. The country’s independent press has been crippled by Ethiopia’s strategy of imprisoning the strongest journalistic voices, including PEN prizewinner Eskinder Nega, in the country’s notorious Kaliti Prison.

Tens of thousands are held in Kaliti prison, in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Journalists and other political prisoners are held in Zone 8 of the prison, and they jokingly refer to the rest of the nation, itself in a prison of sorts, as “Zone 9″. Thus the name of the blog: the Zone 9 bloggers are writing from the outer ring of the prison, the nation itself.

Zone 9 member Endalk explains:

In the suburbs of Addis Ababa, there is a large prison called Kality where many political prisoners are currently being held, among them journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu. The journalists have told us a lot about the prison and its appalling conditions. Kality is divided into eight different zones, the last of which — Zone Eight — is dedicated to journalists, human right activists and dissidents.

When we came together, we decided to create a blog for the proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live: this is Zone Nine.

Ethiopia sees itself in danger of splitting into rival, warring parts. This fear is not unfounded – Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a thirty-year war, taking Ethiopia’s seacoast with it. (Sadly, Eritrea is also a one-party state notorious for jailing journalists.) Ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden region and ethnic Oromo have been seeking independent states – their armed movements, the ODLF and the OLF are seen as terrorist organizations by the Ethiopian government.

The Ethiopian government does face a real threat from armed militants. But it has a disturbing tendency to label anyone who expresses dissent as a terrorist. Consider Eskinder Nega. Nega’s crime was to report on the Arab Spring protests and to point out that Ethiopia could face similar protests if the government did not reform and open up. He was charged with “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of terrorist acts and is now serving an 18 year prison sentence.

The Zone 9 bloggers were understandably scared by Nega’s arrest and prosecution, and the blog went silent for over a year. This spring, they decided they could not remain silent any longer. On April 25th, the government responded by arresting 6 members of the blogging team, and three journalists the government saw as “affiliated” with the bloggers.

The charges against the bloggers give a sense of what the Ethiopian government is fighting: dissent, not terror. Much of the charge sheet focuses on accusations that bloggers traveled out of the country to receive training in encrypting their communications, specifically through using Security in a Box, a package of Open Source software compiled by Tactical Tech, an organization that helps free speech and journalistic organizations protect themselves from surveillance. The Ethiopian government accuses the Zone 9 bloggers of using these tools in an attempt to “overthrow, modify or suspend the Federal or State Constitution; or by violence, threats, or conspiracy.” In fact, the bloggers were using such tools to coordinate their reporting work, hoping to avoid detection and arrest by a paranoid government.

These charges give a sense for how hard it is to work on free speech issues in repressive countries. Global Voices worked with Zone 9 in 2012 to create the Amharic edition of Global Voices. (That edition hasn’t been updated recently due to the imprisonment of our partners.) Four of the bloggers held in Kaliti are Global Voices volunteers. Other members of the team who work with Global Voices are in exile and would be arrested if they returned home. Knowing how dangerous it is to report from Ethiopia, we helped our volunteers find resources like Security in a Box. Our attempts to help create a safer environment for free speech in Ethiopia are now part of the case against our friends.

Obama and Zenawi share a laugh

Compounding the sadness and frustration we at Global Voices are feeling is the fact that Ethiopia is a massive recipient of foreign aid, hosts the headquarters of the African Union and is a key military ally to the US, seen as a stable, Christian bulwark against Somalia. Meles Zenawi enjoyed a warm relationship with the Obama administration (the President’s statement on Zenawi’s death included a cursory mention of human rights after praising Zenawi’s focus on food security), and there’s been little evidence that the State Department has any plans of getting tough with Ethiopia on issues of free speech or human rights.


At Global Voices, we are trying to call attention to the plight of the Zone 9 bloggers, hoping for action from the US State Department to seek their immediate release, and an easing of Ethiopia’s war on independent media. We are asking friends to join in using the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag, and to direct tweets to @StateDept.

This is a hard time to call attention to this situation, we know. Ellery Biddle, writing for Global Voices, notes that her Twitter client autofills the hashtag #Free____ with half a dozen choices, many of them our community members. It’s an appropriate time to tweet the State Department to demand Israel protect the safety of civilians in Gaza, or to demand that news media cover the ongoing catastrophe in Syria. In asking for help, I don’t want to lessen anyone’s outrage about other injustice, but to ask for help bringing visibility to the plight of our friends who are otherwise likely to be forgotten in international diplomatic circles.

by Ethan at July 31, 2014 03:25 PM

July 30, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Russia Paying for a Tor Break

Russia has put out a tender on its official government procurement website for anyone who can identify Tor users. The reward of $114,000 seems pretty cheap for this capability. And we now get to debate whether 1) Russia cannot currently deaonymize Tor users, or 2) Russia can, and this is a ruse to make us think they can't.

by Bruce Schneier at July 30, 2014 10:58 PM

Jeffrey Schnapp
The Accumulibrary in context

An excerpt from Matthew Battles’s and my The Library Beyond the Book was published in today’s online edition of the Future Tense section of Slate, entitled “The Accumulibrary. Forget the Dewey Decimal System, Libraries Should be Lawless.” (The neologism is ours; the title is of Slate‘s devising.) The chapter in question, far from providing a cross-section of our book’s larger argument, stands apart as a willfully speculative, fictional, and  polemical scenario, preceded and followed by a diversity of other not-so-speculative, historically grounded scenarios, regarding the library’s future as a socio-cultural institution. This in a book whose overarching theme is the need for a variety of innovative, well-designed, imaginative, sensorially rich physical environments for knowledge sharing, pleasure, rumination, and research.

The Slate online comments stream, somewhat inevitably, rises to the chapter’s polemical bait and fails to intuit the book’s broader claims: that browsing and serendipitous encounters remain fundamental to processes of discovery; that social reading in shared spaces is just as important today as it was in the respective eras of Cassiodorus and Erasmus; that every scheme of organization, from Callimachus to Dewey and beyond, is a historical construct shaped by a given set of cultural and social beliefs; that data are not simply given or disembodied, but constructed and embodied.

In short, The Library Beyond the Book is engaged in advocacy on two overlapping fronts: for innovation as regards the need for new library typologies based upon those that history has provided us; and for continuity as regards affirming the library’s enduring value as a place of gathering and communion between people, space, and information.

The Accumulibrary  Modern libraries should be as big and chaotic as Amazon’s warehouses.

by jeffrey at July 30, 2014 07:38 PM

danah boyd
Goodbye Avis, Hello Uber

Only two hours before the nightmare that would unfold, I was sitting with friends sharing my loyalties to travel programs. I had lost status on nearly everything when I got pregnant with my son (where’s parental leave??), forcing me to rethink my commitments. I told everyone about how I loved the fact that Avis had been so good to me, so willing to give me hybrids when they were available. I had been in an Avis car for 20 of the 28 days that month and I was sad that I didn’t have a hybrid in LA but the customer service rep was super apologetic and I understood that it was a perk, not a guarantee.

When I got into my car at 10PM that night, I discovered I had a flat tire. Exhausted and jetlagged, I called Roadside Assistance and braced myself to begin the process. I didn’t give it much thought given that I was 7 miles from LAX where it’d be easy to exchange a car. And it’s LA, land of cars, right? I had gotten stuck in much worse situations, situations without phone service. When I got the rep on the phone, we went through the process and I said that I didn’t feel safe driving significantly on a spare, especially not in LA. I asked how long for an exchange because we were so close. He said it’d be longer. I asked how long but he didn’t know; he said he’d text me when the order was placed. I figured go ahead and I can always call back and shift things. It was dark, I was falling asleep, and time passed.

An hour later, I still hadn’t heard anything. I called back, now much more frustrated. They told me that they still didn’t know. I pushed and pushed and they told me it’d probably take 4 hours. WTF? Are you serious!?!? How long for a spare to be changed I asked? Another 90 minutes they told me. They wanted me to wait until 12:30AM to get a spare tire on my car or until 3AM to get a replacement. I told them that this wasn’t safe, they asked if I was in a life-threatening emergency. No, it just wasn’t safe for me to sleep in my car in the middle of Los Angeles. I asked if I could just take a cab to the 24/7 LAX counter and hand over the keys. No, I couldn’t get a new car without giving up the old one and they wouldn’t receive the keys without the car. They reminded me that I was liable for the car. At one point, he recommended that I just leave the keys in the unlocked car. At this point, I knew the rep knew zero about the context in which I was in. Los Angeles. Late at night. In the dark. I was furious. Luckily, I have friends in Los Angeles. One is a late night owl and agreed to take the keys and do the exchange. I got driven to the hotel, angry as hell.

They texted us that they’d arrive at 4AM to pick up the car. They didn’t show up. At 9:30AM, I called back furious. They blamed the towing company and said another 30 minutes. Eventually they showed up at 11:30AM. Luckily, my friend was amazingly awesome and managed to make it work even though she worked and had to juggle. At 4PM, I called Avis to make sure they had the car. Nope. And they couldn’t close the account or look up the repair information. Roadside assistance told me to call customer service, customer service told me to call LAX rental directly, LAX rental sent me to his manager who went straight to voicemail. Not surprisingly, they didn’t return that phone call. I tweeted throughout and the only response that I got from the Avis rep was a polite note to say that they hoped everything worked out. I wrote back that it absolutely had not and got zero response. I wrote to the Avis customer service and the Avis FIRST email. No response. So much for being a valuable customer. Luckily I had done all of this through Amex Business Travel who was just awesome and leveraged their status to push Avis into taking care of it and giving me a refund.

I know lots of people have horrible customer service experiences with companies like Avis, but I’m still stunned by the acceptability of what unfolded. The way in which such treatment is considered acceptable, normative even. The absolute lack of accountability or recognition of how outright problematic that experience was. It all comes back down to markets and “choice,” as though the answer is simply for me to go to another company. Admittedly, I will walk away from Avis and my status now but it’s not simply because I think that a different company will be better. It’s because the entire experience soured me on the very social contract that I thought I had with Avis.

What if I was in a city where I didn’t have friends? What if I had been in a more remote setting (like I had been for 14 of the 20 days of rentals this month)? What if I had a plane to catch? I thought the whole promise of roadside assistance was that Avis would be there for me when things went haywire. Instead, they passed the buck at every turn, making it clear that they refused to take responsibility for their vendors. One of the phone reps eventually went off script and noted that some of the company policies are disturbing. But he was clearly resigned to it.

As customer service has become more automated, more mechanized, companies create distance between them and their customers. We aren’t people. We are simply a pool of possible money, valued based on our worth to the company. They do enough to keep us from going elsewhere if we are valuable, but otherwise do everything possible to not take responsibility. They don’t want us calling in so they pass the buck to keep their numbers and they stick to their scripts. The low-level employees have no power and they know darn straight that when we ask for their managers, we’ll never reach them. This is what Kafka feared and the reality of it is far more pervasive than we acknowledge in a market economy.

Old industries rage against new startups who are seeking to disrupt them, but what they don’t take account for is the way in which customers are fed up being beholden to the Milgram-esque practices of these large companies. When all goes well, working with big companies can be seamless. But when it doesn’t, you’re on your own. And that’s a terrifying risk to take. Cars break down, flights get delayed, hotels get oversold. The risks are more upfront with new disruptors but, above all else in peer economy stuff, you often get to interact with people. It’s not perfect – and goddess knows that there are incidents that are forcing the peer economy companies to develop better protections – but somehow, it feels better to know that you’ll be interacting with people, not automatons.

I rent cars for work travel mostly because I like listening to NPR when I’m moving around. I like being able to explore when I don’t know where to eat and this has historically made it easier. But I’m reassessing that logic. I never want to have a repeat of the hellish night that I went through this week. I don’t trust Avis to be there for me. I have a lot more faith in the imperfections of the network of Uber drivers than the coldness of the corporate giant. When they leave you stranded, they leave you *really* stranded. As for my non-urban car rentals, I need to figure out what’s next. I am very angry at Avis. Truly, overwhelmingly offended by how they’ve treated me this week. Also, scared. Scared of what happens the next time when the circumstances aren’t as functional.  But are any of the other companies any better? Do we really have market choice or is it a big ole farce?

by zephoria at July 30, 2014 06:56 PM

Bruce Schneier
Conference on Deception

There was a conference on deception earlier this month. Sophie Van Der Zee has a summary of the sessions.

by Bruce Schneier at July 30, 2014 04:46 PM

Harry Lewis
Is the MOOC Bubble Bursting?
I believe firmly that the Internet is going to change education for the better. I am much more skeptical that Massive Online Courses (Open or Otherwise) are going to do to colleges and universities what digital photography did to Kodak. As I previously suggested, Ivory Tower does a good job deflating the Udacity hype, and making the case for human intervention in teaching, at least for those students who are not 100% self-motivated and self-assured (that is, those students who actually need to be educated, rather than left to educate themselves). Two relevant notes of today.

Janet Napolitano (now President of the University of California) seems to be the first big-time college or university president to say that enough is enough with the MOOC mania. (President Faust was too polite to do that to Larry Summers's disruptive utopianism, see A Disappointing Discusion of Disruption.) The full speech is on Youtube but the LA Times has a summary.
For higher education, she said, "It's not a silver bullet, the way it was originally portrayed to be. It's a lot harder than it looks, and by the way if you do it right it doesn't save all that much money, because you still have to have an opportunity for students to interact with either a teaching assistant or an assistant professor or a professor at some level." 
As for preparing the courses, "if they're really going to be top-quality, that's an investment as well." Taking aim at the dream that online learning might be most useful for students needing help in remedial courses in subjects like English and math, Napolitano said: "I think that's false; those students need the teacher in the classroom working with them."
Good for her. I think a lot of university leaders know these things are true but are afraid to say so, because they don't want themselves or their institutions characterized as Luddite, and because they are afraid of deflating donor interest at the same time as they are making big investments without a workable business model for repaying them.

In the New York Times today, David Leonhart documents the ways in which the cost-of-college panic has been stoked by the federal government. What the data mostly show in fact is that public institutions have gotten a lot more expensive -- as a percentage increase over what they used to cost. This is not big news, because we know that state budget expenditures on higher education have been in sharp decline. This leads to such bizarre practices as State A limiting in-state enrollments so the remaining beds can be filled with State B students paying higher tuitions.  Of course if State B does the same thing to attract State A students, the net effect is that taxpayers in both states are being indirectly taxed to support higher education -- but instead of paying taxes directly to support their own university systems, they are paying in tuition dollars being sent to the other state.

In any case, given that the argument for MOOCs is largely based on the spiraling-out-of-control cost of college, the foundational premise for the allegedly coming big disruption is destroyed if college is not so unaffordable after all.

I'll just close with a comment I posted in a followup to an earlier blog post, since it is part of the same puzzlement I have about whether the economic premise for the coming MOOC revolution is oversold. (There are other good arguments for online education; here I am just challenging the thesis that a collapse of the old system of colleges and universities is at hand because they have priced themselves out of business and information will shortly be free as air.)

At Harvard and a handful of other schools, nobody graduates with any debt (unless they have intentionally borrowed so they could avoid making money in the summer, etc., and even then the amounts are likely < $10K). The question of whether those who can afford to pay the high prices at Harvard will continue to think it is a good investment is on the table of course, but I don't think it's a major public policy issue in the way the student debt problem is. 
And I don't doubt that there will be interesting experiments such as Ecole 42 and some of them will succeed. Maybe Minerva will too. My main observation on all this is that it gets us back to talking about what college is actually for. That conversation needs to happen in something other than economic terms. 
But here is a puzzle about the economic argument. I can barely balance a checkbook so forgive me the following dumb analysis. This should be a subject for another day, but I am puzzled about the student debt crisis. There are certainly ways to get yourself in ridiculous amounts of debt going to college, and many people, like the poor woman in Ivory Tower, are in deep trouble. But the average student debt for a college graduate, according to the most recent figures I could find is $29,400, while the median starting salary of people with college degrees is $46,900, and the median starting salary of people with only a high school diploma is $30,000. So you "lose" four years of your life, but in less than two years, you earn back in increased salary an amount equal to your debt. If there is a problem, and I don't deny that there is, it sounds to me a lot more like a problem of personal financial management than a cost-of-college problem.  
Sorry for the quick and dirty analysis. I know I am matching means and medians, some people are unemployed, the data aren't for the same year, and so on. And none of this is to suggest that institutions with very high prices and very little scholarship aid aren't going to collapse. They will. And there may well be more people who get smart and if they fail in their effort to shoot high, go to a lower priced school rather than to the unaffordable "best" school they get into. But again, that sounds to me more a problem of counseling and educating people to make sound decisions, than like the death of Eastman Kodak.

by Harry Lewis ( at July 30, 2014 02:05 AM

July 29, 2014

Berkman Center front page
Democratizing Ideologies and Inequality Regimes in Digital Domains

July 29th, 2014 at 12:30pm ET

Internet studies tends to conceptualize groups as collectivities anchored by shared ideas, interests, and information. Sociologists understand groups as also anchored by identity, social location, and power relationships. It's a tension between groups of affiliation versus ascription. The difference is meaningful for how we understand inequality across digital domains. How can we theoretically and methodologically understand both concepts of group in social media generally and specifically in a case study of informal learning spaces on Facebook and Twitter?

About Tressie

Tressie McMillan Cottom is completing her PhD in the Sociology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

As a stratification scholar, Tressie considers what inequality means both experientially and empirically when corporations are people, supranational corporations like Facebook and Twitter shape the public square, and education is increasingly privatized. Her research primarily mines organizational arrangements and structural processes to better understand inequality across rapidly changing social domains. Her current work examines for-profit college credentials and inequality. She also has a developing research agenda that examines the political economy of emerging “new” media organizations.


by ashar at July 29, 2014 12:54 PM

Dan Gillmor - Guardian
Is the internet now just one big human experiment? | Dan Gillmor

It's not only Facebook treating us like lab rats. Dating sites can manipulate our emotions, too and blame it on user testing. The possibilities are endlessly scary

If you thought the internet industry was chastened by the public firestorm after Facebook revealed it had manipulated the news feeds of its own users to affect their emotions, think again:, the dating site, is now bragging that it deliberately arranged matches between people whom its algorithms determined were not compatible just to get data on how well the site was working.

In a Monday blog post entitled Im not making this up We Experiment On Human Beings! the sites co-founder, Christian Rudder, essentially told us to face the facts of our modern world ... at least as he sees them:

[G]uess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, youre the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. Thats how websites work.

To test this, we took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match.)

To me, this resignation to online corporate power is a troubling attitude because these large corporations (and governments and political campaigns) now have new tools and stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams. These tools are new, this power is new and evolving.

Continue reading...

by Dan Gillmor at July 29, 2014 10:15 AM

Bruce Schneier
Building a Legal Botnet in the Cloud

Two researchers have built a botnet using free anonymous accounts. They only collected 1,000 accounts, but there's no reason this can't scale to much larger numbers.

by Bruce Schneier at July 29, 2014 09:58 AM

July 28, 2014

Harry Lewis
More Responses to Deresiewicz
As noted in a comment on the previous post, Jim Sleeper reviews the Deresiewicz book in Book Forum. The review is well worth reading. Jim has some further thoughts about Excellent Sheep in Salon. Two other good short notes posted recently are by Chris Lehmann and by Jim Marino (an English professor at Cleveland State).

by Harry Lewis ( at July 28, 2014 04:39 PM

Joseph Reagle
Why OkCupid ≠ Facebook

In the cheeky and candid way that those who follow OkTrends have come to love, Christian Rudder recently declared "We Experiment on Human Beings!".

We noticed recently that people didn't like it when Facebook "experimented" with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work. Here are a few of the more interesting experiments OkCupid has run.

Rudder then summarized three intriguing experiments from OkTrend's past. However, OkCupid (of which I'm a fan) is not Facebook (of which I'm not).

  1. OkCupid became well-known because of the intriguing and accessible analytics it writes up at OkTrends. At FaceBook, who knows what they are doing.
  2. People who use OkCupid likely know about OkTrends and have other choices. Resentful Facebook users like myself often feel like we have to use it to stay in touch with some friends. (And I've been disappointed in the recent spate of colleagues advocating that we use Facebook to discuss research interests. Uggh.)
  3. OkCupid's research can actually be of use to its users, like what are the best questions for a first date? My impression is that Facebook's research furthers its interests first-and-foremost, users be damned.

That's just some of my quick intuitions, what other ways is OkCupid not like Facebook on this issue?

by Joseph Reagle at July 28, 2014 04:00 AM

David Weinberger
[eim] Alphabetical order explained in a mere 27,817 words

This is one of the most amazing examples I’ve seen of the complexity of even simple organizational schemes. “Unicode Collation Algorithm (Unicode Technical Standard #10)” spells out in precise detail how to sort strings in what we might colloquially call “alphabetical order.” But it’s way, way, way more complex than that.

Unicode is an international standard for how strings of characters get represented within computing systems. For example, in the familiar ASCII encoding, the letter “A” is represented in computers by the number 65. But ASCII is too limited to encode the world’s alphabets. Unicode does the job.

As the paper says, “Collation is the general term for the process and function of determining the sorting order of strings of characters” so that, for example, users can look them up on a list. Alphabetical order is a simple form of collation.

Sorting inconsistent alphabets is, well, a problem. But let Technical Standard #10 explain the problem:

It is important to ensure that collation meets user expectations as fully as possible. For example, in the majority of Latin languages, ø sorts as an accented variant of o, meaning that most users would expect ø alongside o. However, a few languages, such as Norwegian and Danish, sort ø as a unique element after z. Sorting “Søren” after “Sylt” in a long list, as would be expected in Norwegian or Danish, will cause problems if the user expects ø as a variant of o. A user will look for “Søren” between “Sorem” and “Soret”, not see it in the selection, and assume the string is missing, confused because it was sorted in a completely different location.

Heck, some French dictionaries even sort their accents in reverse order. (See Section 1.3.)

But that’s nothing. Here’s a fairly random paragraph from further into this magnificent document (section 7.2):

In the DUCET, characters are given tertiary weights according to Table 17. The Decomposition Type is from the Unicode Character Database [UAX44]. The Case or Kana Subtype entry refers either to a case distinction or to a specific list of characters. The weights are from MIN = 2 to MAX = 1F16, excluding 7, which is not used for historical reasons.

Or from section 8.2:

Users often find asymmetric searching to be a useful option. When doing an asymmetric search, a character (or grapheme cluster) in the query that is unmarked at the secondary and/or tertiary levels will match a character in the target that is either marked or unmarked at the same levels, but a character in the query that is marked at the secondary and/or tertiary levels will only match a character in the target that is marked in the same way.

You may think I’m being snarky. I’m not at all. This document dives resolutely into the brambles and does not give up. It incidentally exposes just how complicated even the simplest of sorting tasks is when looked at in their full context, where that context is history, language, culture, and the ambiguity in which they thrive.

by davidw at July 28, 2014 12:22 AM

July 27, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Dissection

A six-hour video of a giant squid dissection from Auckland University of Technology.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

by Bruce Schneier at July 27, 2014 06:36 PM

Amanda Palmer
techdirt’s beacon on net neutrality (and more from the We Are The Media desk)

from the We Are The Media desk: i posted about beacon reader here a while ago. i think it’s a revolutionary and important new internet tool – a rolling/sustaining support system (unlike the one-time one-project nature of kickstarter) for writers and journalists – much like Patreon is becoming for musicians and web comics and video-makers.

these guys, Techdirt, are fighting the good fight. i’ve been reading mike masnick’s thoughts about the internet, net neutrality, digital content, etc, for YEARS. hell, i’ve written a few guest posts over there (you can find ‘em here and here). we are really aligned in terms of WHAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING on the net to keep it a beautiful tool of connection and love and helpfulness to humanity instead of a black hole of doom.

they are NOT a big-media company, they are not the type to sell out and turn into part of the internet megaplex by joining a larger company. they are true, awesome independants.

they’re turning to Beacon to do a subscribership model and they’ve already raised 64% of their goal – they’re at almost 40k – and they currently have $420 (dude!) of recurring funding.

go help these guys exist. by funding their writing and journalism and research, you’re doing one of the best, concrete things you can do to keep the internet a good place. and we need that right now.

one last (awesome) thing worth noting: for their whole campaign, techdirt’ve getting MATCHING FUNDS from a few generous startups and entrepreneurs.
in short, every donation we make is automatically doubled.
very cool.

*this* is how we be the media.


find more at

by admin at July 27, 2014 12:32 AM

July 26, 2014

Harry Lewis
"Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" (where I went and then taught)
About ten people have sent me William Deresiewicz's article "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League," published in the New Republic. It's part of the fun being had by people who went to great universities, making money telling other people that going to a great university isn't worth it. As this gloss in the Washington Post notes, others writing in the same genre have included William F. Buckley, Jr. [Yale], and Ross Douthat [Harvard]. In Deresiewicz's case, it was Columbia, before teaching at Yale. And we might as well throw Peter Thiel into that group, since he is using the the wealth he accumulated after his Stanford education to try to persuade smart kids that they don't need any college education at all.

It's a pretty disappointing piece, full of cheap zingers like "Not being an entitled little shit is an admirable goal." Which is not to say it's all wrong. But Deresiewicz doesn't seem to quite get the idea that with the collapse in support for the great public research universities, the Ivies and a few brethren privates like Stanford and MIT are now very often the cheapest places for low-income students to attend. It's another question whether families that actually can afford to pay the high sticker prices at these institutions will continue to think it is worth doing. There is no sign that they are changing their minds, and I doubt Deresiewicz's writings will lead to a mass desertion.

And then there is the problem that Deresiewicz's prescriptions for change don't make a lot of sense when you penetrate more than a millimeter below the surface. I know he is far from alone in thinking that universities should "stop cooperating" with US News, for example. "Cooperating" of course just means making available to US News the sorts of data that universities should be making public so people can make well informed decisions about college choices, rather than relying on … ranting headlines in the New Republic. Would Deresiewicz really prefer that universities keep the data secret? Or perhaps release it only to publications that had met the standards of some board of censors? Are universities really responsible for the downstream use of the data they release?

It feels like Deresiewicz's haymakers are wild swings because of the weight of some huge chip on his shoulder. He is capable of better. I thought The Miseducation of America, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, was a much better piece. It's an essay on related topics cast as a review of the film Ivory Tower, which I blogged a few weeks ago. As I predicted, that movie disappeared from Kendall Square pretty quickly, and the list of upcoming bookings is not encouraging.

Both the New Republic and the Chronicle of Higher Education pieces are teases for Deresiewicz's book, Excellent Sheep, to be published on August 19 (just in time for back to school! and for getting down to work on those college applications after the US News rankings come out!). Interesting title! I haven't read the book but two people who have tell me that Excellence Without a Soul is quoted more than once. (Sounds like maybe a lot more than once.) I suppose I can conclude from the fact that I'm generously quoted that the book is also not all wrong, and that the author and I have related criticisms. I can say only that even when I have been most disappointed, I have always been hopeful, and have seen the great universities as a glass half full; Deresiewicz seems more like a glass-half-empty kind of guy.

Added later. The New Republic has posted a thoughtful commentary in response to the article, making some clear factual as well as cultural points. And no list of critiques of higher education would be complete without mentioning Allen Bloom's Closing of the American Mindwhich to my eternal shame I neglected to cite in Excellence Without a Soul.

by Harry Lewis ( at July 26, 2014 04:47 PM

David Weinberger
Municipal nets, municipal electric power, and learning from history

The debate over whether municipalities should be allowed to provide Internet access has been heating up. Twenty states ban it. Tom Wheeler, the chair of the FCC, has said he wants to “preempt” those laws. Congress is maneuvering to extend the ban nationwide.

Jim Baller, who has been writing about the laws, policies, and economics of network deployment for decades, has found an eerie resonance of this contemporary debate. Here’s a scan of the table of contents of a 1906 (yes, 1906) issue of Moody’s that features a symposium on “Municipal Ownership and Operation.”

Scan of 1906 Moody's

Click image to enlarge

The Moody’s articles are obviously not talking about the Internet. They’re talking about the electric grid.

In a 1994 (yes, 1994) article published just as the Clinton administration (yes, Clinton) was developing principles for the deployment of the “information superhighway,” Jim wrote that if we want the far-reaching benefits foreseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (and they were amazingly prescient (but why can’t I find the report online??)), then we ought to learn four things from the deployment of the electric grid in the 1880s and 1890s:

First, the history of the electric power industry teaches that one cannot expect private profit-maximizing firms to provide “universal service” or anything like it in the early years (or decades) of their operations, when the allure of the most profitable markets is most compelling.

Second, the history of the electric power industry teaches that opening the doors to anyone willing to provide critical public services can be counterproductive and that it is essential to watch carefully the growth of private firms that enter the field. If such growth is left unchecked, the firms may become so large and complex that government institutions can no longer control or even understand them. Until government eventually catches up, the public may suffer incalculable injury.

Third, the history of the electric power industry teaches that monopolists will use all means available to influence the opinions of lawmakers and the public in their favor and will sometimes have frightening success

Fourth, and most important, the history of the electric power industry teaches that the presence or threat of competition from the public sector is one of the best and surest ways to secure quality service and reasonable prices from private enterprises involved in the delivery of critical public services.

Learn from history? Repeat it? Or intervene as citizens to get the history we want? I’ll take door number 3, please.

by davidw at July 26, 2014 02:21 PM

Kendra Albert
Guest Editing Five Useful Articles

This week, I co-edited the intellectual property newsletter Five Useful Articles (one of the six most popular email newsletters on Tiny Letter) with my friend, Parker Higgins.

Continuing my trend of linking out to cool things I’ve done, it’s available here. Once you’re done reading, you should subscribe - it’s great every week, even when I’m not co-editing. 

July 26, 2014 02:01 PM

David Weinberger
Why I have not been blogging much: it’s my book’s fault and more

My blogging has gone way down in frequency and probably in quality. I think there are two reasons.

First, I’ve been wrapped up in trying to plot a new book. I’ve known for about three years the set of things I want to write about, but I’ve had my usual difficult time figuring out what the book is actually about. For example, when I was planning Everything is Miscellaneous, I knew that I wanted to write about the importance of metadata, but it took a couple of years to figure out that it wasn’t a book about metadata, or a book about the virtue of messiness, or two dozen other attempts at a top line.

I’m going through the same process now. The process itself consists of me writing a summary of each chapter. Except they’re not summaries. They’re like the article version of each chapter and usually work about to about 2,000 words. That’s because a chapter is more like a path than a list, and I can’t tell what’s on the path until I walk it. Given that I work for a living, each complete iteration can take me 2-3 months. And then I realize that I have it all wrong.

I don’t feel comfortable going through this process in public. My investment of time into these book summaries is evidence of how seriously I take them, but my experience shows that nineteen times out of twenty, what I thought was a good idea is a very bad idea. It’s embarrassing. So, I don’t show these drafts even to the brilliant, warm and forgiving Berkman Book Club — a group of Berkfolk writing books — not only because it’s embarrassing but because I don’t want to inflict 10,000 words on them when I know the odds are that I’m going to do a thorough re-write starting tomorrow. The only people who see these drafts are my literary agents and friends David Miller and Lisa Adams, who are crucial critics in helping me to see what’s wrong and right in what I’ve done, and working out the next approach.

Anyway, I’ve been very focused for the past couple of months on figuring out this next book. I think I’m getting closer. But I always think that.

The second reason I haven’t been blogging much: I’ve been mildly depressed. No cause for alarm. It’s situational and it’s getting better. I’ve been looking for a new job because the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that I’ve co-directed, with the fabulous Kim Dulin, for almost five years has been given a new mission. I’m very proud of what we — mainly the amazing developers who are actually more like innovation fellows — have done, and I’m very sorry to leave. Facing unemployment hasn’t helped my mood. There have been some other stresses as well. So: somewhat depressed. And that makes it harder for me to post to my blog for some reason.

I thought you might want to know, not that anyone cares [Sniffles, idly kicks at a stone in the ground, waits for a hug].

by davidw at July 26, 2014 01:38 PM

Dan Gillmor - Guardian
Google doesn't want you to limit its ability to follow you around the internet | Dan Gillmor

Behind our screens, tech companies are racing to extract a price for what we read and watch on the web: our personal information

Every now and then, when I try to read an online article, I see nothing but a blank space where the article should appear. Because I run software to block third-party tracking cookies, the publication blocks my access to the article. When I give such sites and there are a number of them full permissions on my browser, the articles become visible.

My inability to read one article isn't just annoying it's part of a global effort to end internet users' "free lunch" of content. Behind our screens, there is a technological race to extract a price for what we read and watch on the web: our personal information and browsing habits. And as Silicon Valley and the advertising industry continue to merge, the incentives to collect and use that information will only grow.

Continue reading...

by Dan Gillmor at July 26, 2014 11:00 AM

July 25, 2014

Amanda Palmer
SUMMER FILM LIST! all the shit i think is currently awesome out there.

if you’re in the states and the summer’s wearing you down, take a break and take in some film at a (hopefully) nice cool, dark theater.

i pimped “the dance of reality” a few weeks ago…if you missed my pimp, read it HERE, get out there and see it while you can, and get your dome-piece blown…seriously. i’ve never recommended a film more in my life.
except maybe the other movie i wrote about that week…i’d shared the trailer how i stumbled across its existence, but i was able to attend the NY premiere the other night.
and it’s amazing.
it’s just as good – if not more – than i expected it to be, so now i bring it to you.

it’s called “ALIVE INSIDE” and it’s a documentary by michael rossato bennett. in short, it’s about the power of music and how it can bring those suffering from dementia and alzheimer’s to a state of connectedness and joy that NO medication or other treatment/therapy can do. but it’s also a *profound* statement about the problem with culture and society these days, and how we view the elderly and medication.
it talks about a lot of things, but shines a bright light on how the system is just plain fucked.
BUT it’s not just doom and gloom. there’s a ton of hope, too…it’s a 3-cry film.

some of the characters and imagery will melt your brainheart, and will inspire great conversation. i got into a discussion afterwards with a few musicians and, given everything i’d been writing about in my book (including the Fraud Police), this film is HEAVY ANTIDOTE for any artists out there wondering if their work will ever make even a little practical difference in the world. the answer is a resounding FUCK YES.

so, verdict: this is going to be one of the most powerful films of the summer.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. especially for musicians.
but really, everybody. go. go. go…it’s in about 70 cinemas around the globe. all listed on their website.
this is a teeny indie film that needs all the help it can get to push it into the world so if you go, spread the word.
here’s their facebook, and their twitter’s @aliveinsidefilm.

here’s the trailer:

while i’m at it, here are TWO OTHER FILM THINGS…!!!!

tomorrow afternoon at the brattle theatre, SATURDAY the 26th, there’s a documentary about martin bisi’s recording space in brooklyn, BC studio (as well as a Q&A with martin once you see it).

the doc’s titled “SOUND AND CHAOS” and is a look back on the 30-year history of where we recorded the first dresden dolls’ record. when we went in there, it’d already seen luminaries like swans, sonic youth, and feotus to name a few, and a lot’s happened in the 10+ years since. i haven’t seen it yet but i’m told there’s some CLASSIC dolls’ footage in there.

the trailer (featuring mr. BRIAN VIGLIONE!!!)…

…and here’s the facebook event and where to get your tickets.


BONUS: later that night, martin’s performing at the lilypad with black fortress of opium. info at facebook.


another film i caught the premiere of recently is “THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY” which was produced by my friend juliet blake from TED and co-produced by steven spielberg and oprah. DYYAAMMMMM!!

it’s based on the novel of the same name, and follows a family from india who relocate to the rural south of france and open a restaurant…a restaurant right across the street from a michelin-star old-skool place where dame helen mirren plays the snotty-as-fuck head chef.
and, you guessed it: love, hilarity, and lots of really sexy shots of food ensue.
plus, the acting is suPREME.

the trailer

let me know if you go see ANY OF THESE and what you think. maybe we could have some discussion in the comments here…especially in regards to “alive inside” (as there’s SO much to talk about).

before i go, let’s take a hop skip and a jump from film over to the stage for a moment. TWO of my friends are doing some good old fashioned THEATER and both are using kickstarter.

firstly, there’s grand theft drummer & director MICHAEL MCQUILKEN, who’s bringing some radness to NYC with his company, OldSoundRoom. they’re working on a project based on short stories by…NEIL GAIMAN. they’re already at a little over $13k (of a $15k goal) and it’s a great way to support local theater and a motherfucker who puts his heart all in. go go go and behold some wonderful rewards…

then we have jason…
i don’t think a kickstarter pitch video has ever made me tear up, but this one does.
i’m also in it, and part of the story, but that’s not why at all.
this is one of my best friends, JASON WEBLEY (who many of you will know if only as my twin sister, evelyn), and he’s amazing. and the connector of all things. and THIS thing he’s worked on and embarking with is a really noble one.
please take a moment to go here and take in this beautiful project that will make a lot of music happen from a lot of people. (including grand theft bass wielder jherek bischoff!!!)

he just launched it the other day and has already tripled his initial goal of $11,111 but that just means more and more good will happen. GO HELP.

i guess that’s a lot of homework for y’all.




but it’s the good kind of homework.
the best kind.
the kind where you’ll hopefully connect with people and feel good and be inspired and DO ALL OF THE THINGS.

see you in the comments.

p.s. one final note while we’re talking about stage and screen. “twin peaks” lovers, your definitive blu-ray boxed set has finally come.

it’s remastered with tons of bonus shite including 90 minutes of deleted “fire walk with me” scenes that david lynch dug up and restored into a video-collage called “the missing pieces”.
i am so getting this.
watch the trailer and “unboxing” complete with an eerily upbeat voiceover:

by admin at July 25, 2014 11:11 PM

Bruce Schneier
Hackers Steal Personal Information of US Security-Clearance Holders

The article says they were Chinese but offers no evidence:

The intrusion at the Office of Personnel Management was particularly disturbing because it oversees a system called e-QIP, in which federal employees applying for security clearances enter their most personal information, including financial data. Federal employees who have had security clearances for some time are often required to update their personal information through the website.

This is a big deal. If I were a government, trying to figure out who to target for blackmail, bribery, and other coercive tactics, this would be a nice database to have.

by Bruce Schneier at July 25, 2014 07:34 PM

Berkman Center front page
Berkman Buzz: July 25, 2014

The Berkman Buzz is selected weekly from the posts of Berkman Center people and projects.
To subscribe, click here.

Rey Junco explains why more kids—and girls especially—should play Minecraft


Parents are constantly being warned about the dangers of too much screen time. And while the total amount of screen time is an important factor to consider, we don’t consider the quality of the games kids play. Some digital activities have much better educational value than others. A recurrent finding in my research as professor of education and human computer interaction is that technology use in and of itself is not related to learning outcomes, it’s the ways in which a technology is used that makes a difference.

Some technologies offer opportunities because of the way they are designed. The gameplay in "Minecraft" focuses squarely on building and is better suited to teach visuospatial skills than a first-person shooter, for instance (sorry "Titan Fall" fans).

From Rey Junco's post for, "Why Your Daughter Should Be Playing 'Minecraft' Right Now"
About Rey | @reyjunco

Sara Watson reflects on the human characteristics of big data


We have to remember that big data is always made up of individuals. It might be our personal purchasing habits, our interest profile, our friends list, the collection of our published thoughts, or perhaps all of the above. On a macro scale, each of those data points allow researchers and firms to categorize populations or segment markets. But it takes work at the micro scale to grasp a contextual view of the individual. Research efforts and funding support must keep this in mind—big data methods can answer some questions, but certainly not all.

From Sara Watson's blog post, "Big Data with Human Characteristics"
About Sara | @smwat

Quotation mark

If this does not happen, then philosophy does not happen.
>—Berkman Wisdom (@BerkmanWisdom)

(This week, Berkman Fellows Nate Matias and Sara Watson created Berkman Wisdom, which tweets out a random sentence from the Berkman Planet group of RSS feeds. The code is on Github.)

Ethan Zuckerman explores the globalization of sumo wrestling


I have enormous respect for Osunaarashi, who not only is showing himself as a magnificent athlete, but is introducing the Japanese public to the dedication, intensity and beauty of the Muslim faith. Sumo wrestlers are not just competitors, but celebrities and cultural figures. Osunaarashi is emerging as an ambassador for the Muslim world, appearing as a guest lecturer in university classes and on TV to talk about differences and similarities between Japan and Egypt, between Islam and Shintoism.

I also have great admiration for Otake Oyakata, who has broken some of the traditions of sumo to make it possible for Osunaarashi to compete. Life in the sumo beya is highly ritualized – simply giving Osunaarashi time to pray five times a day is a break from sumo routines. Rikishi eat a rich, pork-heavy stew called chankonabe to pack on weight – the Otake stable now offers a fish-based chankonabe to Osunaarashi so he can gain weight while eating halal. These sound like minor changes, but they’re a big deal for a sport that is deeply rooted in Japanese tradition and extremely slow to change.

From Ethan Zuckerman's blog post, "Egyptian sumo wrestler bests a grand champion. Twice. While fasting for Ramadan."
About Ethan | @ethanz

Tim Davies shares 15 insights about open data

Quotation mark

I’m back living in Oxford after my almost-year in the USA at the Berkman Center. Before we returned, Rachel and I took a month to travel around the US – by Amtrak. The delightfully ponderous pace of US trains gave me plenty of time for reading, which was just as well, given June was the month when most of the partners in the Open Data in Developing Countries project I coordinate were producing their final reports. So, in-between time staring at the stunning scenery as we climbed through the Rockies, or watching amazing lightening storms from the viewing car, I was digging through in-depth reports into open data in the global south, and trying to pick out common themes and issues. A combination of post-it notes and scrivener index cards later, and finally back at my desk in Oxford, the result was a report, released alongside the ODDC Research Sharing Event in Berlin last week, that seeks to snapshot 15 insights or provocations for policy-makers and practitioners drawn out from the ODDC case study reports.

From Tim Davies' blog post, "Fifteen open data insights"
About Tim | @timdavies

Quotation mark

Overheard on the bus yesterday: "People in New York don't use web browsers anymore."
>—Andy Sellars (@andy_sellars)

Russia Offers 4 Million Rubles to Crack the Tor Network

Quotation mark

The Russian government is offering almost 4 million rubles (about USD $100,000) to anyone who can devise a reliable way to decrypt data sent over the Tor anonymity network. A mounting campaign by the Kremlin against the open Internet, not to mention revelations in the United States about government spying, have made Tor increasingly attractive to Russian Internet users seeking to circumvent state censorship.

From Kevin Rothrock's post for Global Voices, "Russia Offers 4 Million Rubles to Crack the Tor Network"
About Global Voices Online | @globalvoices

This Buzz was compiled by Rebekah Heacock.

To manage your subscription preferences, please click here.

by rheacock at July 25, 2014 07:11 PM

Bruce Schneier
Securing the Nest Thermostat

A group of hackers are using a vulnerability in the Nest thermostat to secure it against Nest's remote data collection.

by Bruce Schneier at July 25, 2014 02:07 PM

Fingerprinting Computers By Making Them Draw Images

Here's a new way to identify individual computers over the Internet. The page instructs the browser to draw an image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, this can be used to uniquely identify each computer. This is a big deal, because there's no way to block this right now.

Article. Hacker News thread.

EDITED TO ADD (7/22): This technique was first described in 2012. And it seems that NoScript blocks this. Privacy Badger probably blocks it, too.

EDITED TO ADD (7/23): EFF has a good post on who is using this tracking system -- the White House is -- and how to defend against it.

And a good story on BoingBoing.

by Bruce Schneier at July 25, 2014 09:32 AM

July 24, 2014

David Weinberger
Michelle Obama on working parents

In case anyone has forgotten what honesty sounds like:

by davidw at July 24, 2014 10:21 PM

Christian Sandvig, Karrie G. Karahalios, and Cedric Langbort Look Inside the Facebook News Feed [AUDIO]
Our online lives are organized by computer algorithms that select and recommend advertisements, search results, news, and online social interactions. These algorithms are often closely-guarded secrets kept by Internet companies. But researchers, users, and the public might legitimately need to know how these algorithms operate. In this talk, Christian Sandvig (University of Michigan), Karrie Karahalios […]

by Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School ( at July 24, 2014 07:32 PM

Willow Brugh
Adventures in Government Grants

Over at Geeks Without Bounds, we’re working on filing some grants, including with the USG, and that involves a convoluted process of website registrations, number assignations, and security nightmares.

The site you use to register for your DUNS-number (which stands for Data Universal Number System. What I don’t event.) emailed me my password in plaintext.

The next site in this process asked for a password to act as my sig – exactly 9 LETTERS long, in plaintext. I made that password “plaintext” just for kicks. You might as well know, because it’s just hanging out there anyway. And it’s far more complicated to figure out which address they’re asking for at any point on a form than it would be to crack.

That same site called me the executor of consent, which is pretty badass, and makes me hope the USG might be starting to consider enthusiastic consent from the governed.

I was then asked to enter my CAGE. Which I did not consent to.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 10.19.21 AM

by bl00 at July 24, 2014 02:25 PM

Nick Grossman
"Second, this model unbundles the existing financial system into layers run by independent companies...."
“Second, this model unbundles the existing financial system into layers run by independent companies. To see the value of this, contrast with the US mobile carriers, who used to own the entire stack. They owned the handsets, the operating systems, the applications running on the phone, and the service. This meant that most of the stack never had anything pushing it to get very good, and there were even incentives to hold it back in order to preserve legacy revenue-generating facilities like SMS. By enabling competition at individual layers of the financial system, each one should improve.”


Another point on the importance of layering to innovation:

Bitcoin: the Stripe perspective

July 24, 2014 01:14 PM

Jeffrey Schnapp
About a monument and a ring

BZ ’18-’45 was inaugurated on July 21, 2014 in the presence of the Italian minister of culture Dario Franceschini. Built around the crypt that lies beneath Marcello Piacentini’s 1926-1928 Monument to Victory, it consists in a center documenting the turbulent history of Bolzano and the Alto Adige region between the ends of World War I and World War II. BZ ’18-’45‘s subtitle is: one monument / one city / two dictatorships (see the gif below crafted by my collaborators at Gruppe Gut Gestaltung).


DSC_3126     MaV_180x150px

The documentation center’s historical rooms are 15 in number. They are preceded by two immersive environments: an entryway in which ghostly wreaths of historical keywords in German, Italian, and English dialogue with a no less spectral acoustical backdrop made up of electronically remixed archival sounds; and the empty crypt itself, complete with its original frescos by Guido Cadorin and Latin inscriptions from Cicero and Horace placed in the service of fascism’s civic religion of nationalism, here reinterpreted “dialectically” by means of a sensor-activated system that superimposes counter-quotations by the likes of Hannah Arendt and Thomas Paine over their Roman predecessors.

entryway 1     crypt 2

There are two intertwined routes around the historical rooms that radiate outward around the crypt. Both are chronological in sequence. An “internal” route reconstructs the (micro)history of how the Monument to Victory was built. An “external” route runs along the outer periphery and documents the key events and transformations of the years between 1918 and 1945, the region’s macro-history. Four corner rooms confront overall questions such as: What is a modern monument? What are the elements that compose the Monument to Victory? Who was Marcello Piacentini? And what exactly do we as citizens demand of monuments today?

idee konzept MaV_08.07      scheme

Funded by various public entities, BZ ’18-’45 represents an exemplary effort to reintegrate a controversial monument, that has long served as the focal point of battles over politics, culture, and regional identity, into the fabric of contemporary Bolzano. It was carried out through the collaborative efforts of a talented team of historians, archivists, designers, and producers (on which I had the honor of serving as chief consulting curator and scientific advisor). The team included Andrea di Michele, Hannes Obermair, Christine Roilo, Ugo Soragni, Silvia Spada, and our terrific collaborators from Gruppe Gut Gestaltung: Alfons Demetz, Uli Prugger, and Werner Stampfer, who, among their many contributions, first developed the concept of the LED ring (see below).

scheme5      scheme2

The controversy surrounding the Monument to Victory serves as the fulcrum of the visitor experience that my colleagues and I designed for BZ ’18-’45. Even for visitors who know little about modern Italian history, the controversy becomes readily understandable, at once legible and visible. Piacentini’s Monument was built at the direct behest of Mussolini, displacing an Austrian monument to the Austrian war dead erected on the same site. In a very real sense, it stands as the founding fascist monument, making inaugural use of a new columnar order–the lictorial column–that became pervasive in later fascist architecture. Planted like a stake in the heart of the capital of a newly conquered region, it commemorated Italy’s victory in World War I over Austro-Hungary in imperial terms. One of the two Latin inscriptions on its pediment, crafted by the Latinist Ettore Paratore, read: “Here at the fatherland’s border, plant the banners! From here we enlighten others with language, law, and the arts”; (the “others” in question were at once the local German-speaking population and the Germanic peoples to the north). Busts of the “martyrs” of Italian irredentism Cesare Battisti, Damiano Chiesa, and Fabio Filzi, accompanied by Libero Andreotti’s resurgent Christ, sit atop the main platform. The Monument to Victory is a monument with an attitude.

A documentation center (and not a museum), BZ ’18-’45 lurks humbly and invisibly beneath the monument’s imposing masses of white marble and gray granite… with one exception. From the outset, the design team sought to render its presence visible to the public through a modification of the monument itself that is fundamental to the project’s overall drive to recontextualize, reframe, and alter the monument’s meaning. The modification in question is simple: to attach a three-banded LED ring, a kinetic wedding band, to the third column from the right of the monument’s façade which faces the Talvera Bridge and the city center.

Yes, the ring in question serves as a billboard for BZ ’18-’45 and public address system. But there’s a deeper function, at once aesthetic and symbolic: to unbalance the façade with its neoclassical symmetries–not to mention, the ideology embedded within those neoclassical symmetries–in the name of post-fascist-era balance. The LED ring marks the difference between the totalitarian then of the monument’s construction and a now characterized by cultural pluralism and tolerance. In so doing, it re-weds the monument to the city of Bolzano at the very site where, on the 18th of December, 1935, the “day of the wedding band” (giornata della fede) local women traded their golden wedding bands for state-supplied iron ones in support of Mussolini’s colonial adventures.

In short, by unbalancing, the ring rebalances; by defamiliarizing, it refamiliarizes. It performs a symbolic reversal that gives a state monument (and the history that it stands for) back to the local citizenry and renders visitable a site that has been fenced off for over a half-century.

In devising this intervention, my collaborators and I were well aware that preservationists on the right, center, and left (irrespective of whether they believe that the Monument to Victory is a significant piece of 1920s architecture–most don’t) would rise up at the time of BZ ’18-’45‘s inauguration to criticize a gesture that breaks with the norms that are conventionally applied to the restoration of historical monuments.

We believe that they are wrong and ask them to stretch their minds before leaping to negative judgments, not to mention issuing hasty calls for the ring’s removal. We also ask them to be aware that, subversive or not, the gesture in question was informed by a sustained, well-informed, critical, and creative engagement with the stuff of history.

AA_sgarbi_23.07.14 (1)    ggg_MaV-hofer_rebus


A philological note: the placement of the LED ring over the sculptural representation of the band that occurs on the lower third of the each lictorial column is symbolically significant. In antiquity the fasces was a key symbol of imperium with the rods that make it up sometimes understood as peoples, the red leather band as the force of Roman law or the Roman state, and the single-headed axe as the icon of the magistrate’s powers of decision over the life and death of citizens. BZ ’18-’45 replaces the Roman band with a dynamic, ever changing band, whose law is not the eternal power of the state over its citizens but rather the power of citizens over the state in shaping a public sphere defined by participation and perpetual change.

Some links:

An interview with the art historian Ugo Soragni, regional director of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali of the Veneto region, author of a fundamental work on the Monument to Victory and a key member of the team:

An interview with another key team member, Hannes Obermair, from the Stadtarchiv Bozen:

The architectural historian Paolo Niccoloso on the LED ring:

Vittorio Sgarbi expresses his views regarding the LED ring:

The inauguration with Dario Franceschini:

The beginnings of the polemic:

The German language press presents a favorable view:

by jeffrey at July 24, 2014 02:51 AM

July 23, 2014

Justin Reich
Results from the 2017 Khan Academy Study
Predicting the results from a recently awarded three-year grant to study the implementation of Khan Academy in community colleges.

by Justin Reich at July 23, 2014 08:14 PM

Wayne Marshall
Gone Farmin’

It’s been *crickets* here on the blog for a while, and the main reason is that I’ve been spending more time behind a tractor and less in front of a laptop. And loving it.

I don’t spend very much time on the tractor, actually, because the work I do at Belmont Acres, a 5 acre farm 5 minutes from my house, is always a varied mix of seeding, weeding, transplanting, watering, harvesting, and other forms of ongoing and ad-hoc maintenance. I’ve learned tons about farming in the process, and spending so much time doing physical work, outdoors, with simpatico people, all the while attending and responding to the forces of nature — and gnoshing on fresh vegetables — has made me substantially healthier and happier. I’m pretty sure humans were made to do the kinds of work that farming involves. In its way, agriculture simply seems like a particular (sedentary) approach to hunting and gathering.

But I’m sorry for the silence in this space, especially since I have continued to publish things about music that may be of interest here — and to teach my favorite class in the world, Technomusicology. And I intend to share a bunch of that stuff here very soon. (Famous last words, I know. Also: the sorriest sort of blog post is the apology for not blogging, so enough already.)

A bit more about Belmont Acres: the farm is run by a lovely family who live down the road, and the farmer, Mike, has turned the operation at this long-farmed plot of land — allegedly since the 17th century, though you wouldn’t know it by the rock load — from an oldschool corn-stand into a place that grows a great variety of vegetables without the use of pesticides or other “conventional” farming methods. (Belmont Acres is not certified organic, but our growing practices are concerned with sustainable, food-web-friendly agriculture.)

Last year, Mike and crew grew over 120 varieties of vegetables, and this year we’re on par for a similar showing. (And people say the farm looks as good as it ever has. You can judge for yourself.) This week alone you’ll find the following at the stand: beets, bib lettuce, new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, artichokes (!), green peppers, green beans, faro and caraflex cabbage, garlic, scallions, sage, parsley, oregano, chard, and Tuscano kale. (For those who are local, you should come check the place out, pick up some of the freshest food you’ll find in the vicinity, and say hi. The stand is open Tues 3-6pm, Fri 2-5, & Sat 1-5, and we’re located just across Blanchard Road from Fresh Pond.) They even let me indulge my enthusiasm for abundant, delicious “weeds” like purslane, which has now appeared in shares as well as on the stand.

Though I haven’t written much about it on this blog, I think that supporting small-scale, sustainable agriculture like that practiced at Belmont Acres is one of the most important ways of nourishing our food system and our families and communities, and I’m just delighted to be so directly involved, getting my hands dirty in a way that feels so wholesome. I haven’t blogged much about it — or anything, recently — but I hope to find the time to share a lot more from this new realm of fascination and commitment. I suspect some of you may see a kinship between my work on music ecologies and my interest in food webs.

To whet appetites, or at least give a glimpse, allow me to present a convergence of sorts — a farmey soundscape I cooked up last month as a brief demo for my class. It’s not an accomplished work, or even a finished one, but it does offer a sense of the sights and sounds of the place (the smells I’ll have to leave to your imagination):

belmontacrescape from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

by wayneandwax at July 23, 2014 08:11 PM

Rey Junco
Social Media and Student Identity Development

Social Media and Student Identity Development Rey Junco Chapter It’s here! The first (free) chapter from my upcoming book, Engaging Students through Social Media: Evidence-Based Practices for Use in Student Affairs. The chapter covers how youth’s interactions online help them develop their identity, or a stable sense of self. Download the chapter here. The Kindle version of the entire book is now available on, hardcover will be released on August 18th. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this chapter (which happens to be my favorite) and the rest of the book. 


by reyjunco at July 23, 2014 07:17 PM

Sara M. Watson
Big Data with Human Characteristics

Due to sudden illness this past week, I am not able to travel to Beijing to attend the Tencent Internet and Society Institute Summit on Big Data on July 25, 2014. I'm grateful for the invitation from the Oxford Internet Institute, Renmin University, and Tencent and I am sorry to miss what promises to be a fascinating event. I recorded this brief video to share my work and thoughts on "Big Data with Human Characteristics" and the importance of maintaining the subjectivity of individuals in when we look at humanity through an otherwise "objective" big data lens. I'm including the full text of the script below. And huge thanks to my husband, Nick for helping me with the Chinese. It's been a while!


I am thankful still to be able to be able to join you by video today, and I wanted to share some of my work on big data.

Big data is becoming a dominant paradigm for making sense of the world around us. It promises novel insights and knowledge at scale. But the power dynamics of big data privilege those with the consolidated information and with the tools to analyze and interpret at that scale. This power has the potential to go unchecked and unquestioned because of its reliance on the authority and objectivity associated with "data" and because of the black box processes that obscure big data practices.

Of course, we came together today to discuss the potential power of big data because we are interested in what it might tell us about humanity. To be sure, there is great potential. But there is also something about operating at this scale that makes us susceptible to forgetting the individuals that collectively make up big data sets. We risk missing the trees for the forest.

We have to remember that big data is always made up of individuals. It might be our personal purchasing habits, our interest profile, our friends list, the collection of our published thoughts, or perhaps all of the above. On a macro scale, each of those data points allow researchers and firms to categorize populations or segment markets. But it takes work at the micro scale to grasp a contextual view of the individual. Research efforts and funding support must keep this in mind—big data methods can answer some questions, but certainly not all.

My work has focused on the lived experience of data, using qualitative interview methods to understand approaches to thinking about data. I look at data as a medium for personal knowledge creation, interpretation, and meaning making. I have closely studied the Quantified Self, a community in which individuals use mobile applications and wearable sensors to create data about our bodies and behaviors. The technology companies building these tools have interests in aggregate insights, but there is much to be learned from individuals about what our data means to us at a personal scale. 

So what do we need to do to avoid the potential biases and dehumanizing effects of looking at individuals through a big data lens? As those who are developing and supporting big data methods, we need to actively seek out means of preserving the subjectivity of the humans to which this data refers. I urge researchers, designers of internet platforms, and those in the business of data, to keep the humanity of data in mind. Remember to look at a small scale alongside large scale interpretations. This approach is sure to keep us in touch with what big data means across scales of humanity: from the globe, to national populations, to the user base of large internet platforms, to local communities, right down to the individual. 

I realize that Western thinking tends to privilege the position of the individual above the collective. And in turn, eastern traditions tend to privilege the collective over the individual. But we all share a common interest in humanizing our policies and interventions based on big data. In China this is embodied in 以人为本, as a principle of human-centered policy. I argue that we need Big Data with Human Characteristics. Figuring out what that means across cultures will be hard work, but uncovering and engaging with the commonalities and differences in the way we think about humans in big data will be revealing. This is an important step in what is sure to be a fruitful collaboration, as we work together to grapple with what big data means to us all.


by Sara M. Watson at July 23, 2014 05:26 PM

Bruce Schneier
GCHQ Catalog of Exploit Tools

The latest Snowden story is a catalog of exploit tools from JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group), a unit of the British GCHQ, for both surveillance and propaganda. It's a list of code names and short descriptions, such as these:

GLASSBACK: Technique of getting a targets IP address by pretending to be a spammer and ringing them. Target does not need to answer.

MINIATURE HERO: Active skype capability. Provision of real time call records (SkypeOut and SkypetoSkype) and bidirectional instant messaging. Also contact lists.

MOUTH: Tool for collection for downloading a user's files from

PHOTON TORPEDO: A technique to actively grab the IP address of MSN messenger user.

SILVER SPECTOR: Allows batch Nmap scanning over Tor.

SPRING BISHOP: Find private photographs of targets on Facebook.

ANGRY PIRATE: is a tool that will permanently disable a target's account on their computer.

BUMPERCAR+: is an automated system developed by JTRIG CITD to support JTRIG BUMPERCAR operations. BUMPERCAR operations are used to disrupt and deny Internet-based terror videos or other materials. The techniques employs the services provided by upload providers to report offensive materials.

BOMB BAY: is the capacity to increase website hits/rankings.

BURLESQUE: is the capacity to send spoofed SMS messages.

CLEAN SWEEP: Masquerade Facebook Wall Posts for individuals or entire countries.

CONCRETE DONKEY: is the capacity to scatter an audio message to a large number of telephones, or repeatedely bomb a target number with the same message.

GATEWAY: Ability to artificially increase traffic to a website.

GESTATOR: amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube).

SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE: Perfect spoofing of emails from Blackberry targets.

SUNBLOCK: Ability to deny functionality to send/receive email or view material online.

SWAMP DONKEY: is a tool that will silently locate all predefined types of file and encrypt them on a targets machine

UNDERPASS: Change outcome of online polls (previously known as NUBILO).

WARPATH: Mass delivery of SMS messages to support an Information Operations campaign.

HAVLOCK: Real-time website cloning techniques allowing on-the-fly alterations.

HUSK: Secure one-on-one web based dead-drop messaging platform.

There's lots more. Go read the rest. This is a big deal, as big as the TAO catalog from December.

I would like to post the entire list. If someone has a clever way of extracting the text, or wants to retype it all, please send it to me.

EDITED TO ADD (7/16): HTML of the entire catalog is here.

by Bruce Schneier at July 23, 2014 04:06 PM

A partial VRM FAQ

I want to do two things here.  One is to get going on a long-form FAQ for ProjectVRM. The other is to address some of the questions about VRM that have come up, both on the ProjectVRM list, and on the recent Respect Network launch tour.

Q: How can VRM succeed when the Average Joe shows no interest in it?

A: First, there is no Average Joe. Difference is a fundamental human quality. All of us have different faces, voices, thoughts, flaws, aspirations, phobias and the rest of it. Even identical twins, both grown from the same split egg, can have radically different souls and lives.

Second, inventions mother necessities. The world is full of things that nobody wanted until they saw them, and what they could do. And, once they started using them, those things became ordinary.  Here’s Louis CK on how this happened with aviation. What began as the Miracle of Flight is now a subject of constant complaint about bad service to crowds speeding across the stratosphere.

If all future progress was based on what an average Joe would do with present technology, there would be no progress. In fact, we had exactly this with stone tools, which on the whole failed to advance — or advanced only in small ways, every few dozen hundreds or thousands of years. (For more on the present evolutionary picture, see Race Against the Machine  and The Second Machine Age, both by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.)

Step back from history, look across the decades, and ironies abound. In Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” — a song about a kind of average Joe, with the chorus “… something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?” — the final line is “you should be made to wear earphones.” Dylan wrote that at a time when earphones were worn only by audiophiles and people whose work required them. Today in a subway car, you’ll see a lots of riders wearing earbuds or headphones that look like wood clamps. All of them are plugged into devices in purses or pockets that crunch more data and run more applications than anybody working on a Univac could imagine with the tech of their day.  And at trivial costs.

The tide of tech history, over the last four decades, has been one of personal empowerment, and of corporate and government opposition to it, followed by widespread realization that personal empowerment is good for everybody.

We saw that with personal computing in the 1980s, worldwide personal internetworking in the 1990s, mobile devices that provided both in the 2000s, and now with personal clouds (aka stores, vaults, PIMS) in the 2010s. (I also spoke about this two weeks ago at Amplifyfest in Sydney.) For partial lists of early work going on in the mid-2010s, see the ProjectVRM developments list, PDEC’s startup directory and the Respect Network Founding Partners list.

Q: A lot of VRM seems to be about people managing their own data. Who wants to go to the trouble and why?

A: Everybody with a laptop or a smartphone is already managing data. They may not think of it that way, but they are. All emails, calendars, contact lists, photo albums, movies and files created with office applications (spreadsheets, text documents, drawings, financial reports, whatever) are data people manage for themselves, or with help from companies that provide the means. “Personal cloud” is a term for the place where we manage and put to use the data that’s most useful to us in various market spaces. For example:

  • fitness and health data
  • automobile performance, maintenance and service data
  • intentcasting data (what we intend to buy, but in our own space rather than in some company’s sales and marketing space)
  • usage and service data (for household appliances, utility providers — anything we own, use, care about and occasionally need support for)

Today that data is isolated in silos. Even fitness data, produced by wrist bands and phone apps, is fractioned off into many silos over which we have littler or no control. Personal clouds are where we will integrate that data and decide how best to use it. Some of those will be self-hosted, others will be provided by services. Those, ideally, will be substitutable.

Q: What about legal hurdles? Vendors and service providers seem to still be holding all of the legal cards, and the “agreements” we make are always one-sided. How can that change?

A. On this one we are still at Square Zero. But it will have to change. Inevitably. (See chapters 4 and 20 of The Intention Economy.) And work is being done on it already. Watch this space for more on that.

by Doc Searls at July 23, 2014 03:49 PM

Berkman Center front page
Upcoming Events: Democratizing Ideologies and Inequality Regimes in Digital Domains (7/29)
Berkman Events Newsletter Template
berkman luncheon series

Democratizing Ideologies and Inequality Regimes in Digital Domains

Tuesday, July 29, 12:30pm ET, Harvard Law School, Wasserstein Hall B10. This event will be webcast live.


Internet studies tends to conceptualize groups as collectivities anchored by shared ideas, interests, and information. Sociologists understand groups as also anchored by identity, social location, and power relationships. It's a tension between groups of affiliation versus ascription. The difference is meaningful for how we understand inequality across digital domains. How can we theoretically and methodologically understand both concepts of group in social media generally and specifically in a case study of informal learning spaces on Facebook and Twitter?

Tressie McMillan Cottom is completing her PhD in the Sociology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. As a stratification scholar, Tressie considers what inequality means both experientially and empirically when corporations are people, supranational corporations like Facebook and Twitter shape the public square, and education is increasingly privatized. Her research primarily mines organizational arrangements and structural processes to better understand inequality across rapidly changing social domains. Her current work examines for-profit college credentials and inequality. She also has a developing research agenda that examines the political economy of emerging “new” media organizations. RSVP Required. more information on our website>


Melissa Gira Grant: w4m - The End of the American Red Light District


The history of the American red light district is quite brief –- from railroad signal lights to hotel bathroom selfies -– and clouded in myth. Soon it may be lost. In this talk, Melissa Gira Grant -- freelance journalist and author of "Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work" (Verso, 2014) -- reconsiders how communication technologies shape sex-for-sale, proposes that sex work has merged with the network, and discusses what we can learn from how sex workers have remained a step ahead. video/audio on our website>

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See our events calendar if you're curious about future luncheons, discussions, lectures, and conferences not listed in this email. Our events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

by ashar at July 23, 2014 02:34 PM

Nick Grossman
parislemon: A sort of strange ad for Apple. But not a bad one....


A sort of strange ad for Apple. But not a bad one. Quite fun. Nice Heisenberg shout-out as well as old logo throw-back at the end. Do I smell a comeback?

This is quite good. I am constantly amazed at apples ability to build products that connect w people and become iconic, either instantly (iPhone, iPad) or slowly (macbook air)

July 23, 2014 12:10 PM

Bruce Schneier
US National Guard is Getting Into Cyberwar

The Maryland Air National Guard needs a new facility for its cyberwar operations:

The purpose of this facility is to house a Network Warfare Group and ISR Squadron. The Cyber mission includes a set of capabilities, expertise to enable the cyber operational need for an always-on, net-speed awareness and integrated operational response with global reach. It enables operators to drive upstream in pursuit of cyber adversaries, and is informed 24/7 by intelligence and all-source information.

Is this something we want the Maryland Air National Guard to get involved in?

by Bruce Schneier at July 23, 2014 05:45 AM

July 22, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Risks of Keyloggers on Public Computers

Brian Krebs is reporting that:

The U.S. Secret Service is advising the hospitality industry to inspect computers made available to guests in hotel business centers, warning that crooks have been compromising hotel business center PCs with keystroke-logging malware in a bid to steal personal and financial data from guests.

It's actually a very hard problem to solve. The adversary can have unrestricted access to the computer, especially hotel business center computers that are often tucked away where no one else is looking. I assume that if someone has physical access to my computer, he can own it. This is doubly true if he has hardware access.

by Bruce Schneier at July 22, 2014 07:03 PM

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Applications for 2014 i-Lab Venture Incubation Program Are Live!

Harvard Innovation LabApplications for the Harvard Innovation Lab‘s 2014 Venture Incubation program are live!  The Program offers a great opportunity for current Harvard students (including students throughout the university, from the Law School and beyond) who are looking for space and related community resources as they try to build out a venture in the upcoming fall semester.  Information about the program and the application process is available at the i-Lab website.

In the words of the i-Lab:

The Venture Incubation Program is a 12-week program designed to help current Harvard students make progress on their entrepreneurial ventures. Students committed to building their venture among an engaging community at the i-lab are encouraged to apply. Selected teams will have access to VIP-only workshops, mentoring, resources and dedicated space at the i-lab.

Applications must be submitted by matriculated, degree-seeking Harvard students. The lead Harvard student team member must have a presence at the i-lab on a regular basis.

Applications will be accepted until Sunday, August 17 at 11:59 PM.

Awarded space will be for the period of September 29 through December 12. Decisions will be announced the second week of September.

Teams will be chosen by a panel of evaluators. We are encouraging students and teams from across the University to apply. Special consideration may be given to teams already formed around a venture and focused on implementation and growth. Please note that any awards of space to team(s) will be subject to agreement by the team to the i-lab’s Terms of Use” agreement.

The Harvard Innovation Lab launched in November 2011 and serves as a resource for students across Harvard interested in entrepreneurship and innovation. Programming offered by the i-Lab is designed to help students grow ventures at any stage of development and covers a wide variety of disciplines.

by Christopher Bavitz at July 22, 2014 06:44 PM

Justin Reich
The Ethics of Educational Experiments
Considering how the ethics of educational research might change in an era of expanding online learning.

by Justin Reich at July 22, 2014 02:06 PM

Berkman Center front page
Uncovering Algorithms: Looking Inside the Facebook News Feed

July 22nd, 2014 at 12:30pm ET

Our online lives are organized by computer algorithms that select and recommend advertisements, search results, news, and online social interactions. These algorithms are often closely-guarded secrets kept by Internet companies, but researchers, users, and the public might legitimately need to know how these algorithms operate. In this talk we will use the Facebook news feed as an example to ask: How do we go about knowing these algorithms from the outside? This includes a discussion of potential research designs that investigate algorithms and also research on how users think about these algorithms.

About Christian

Christian Sandvig is Steelcase Research Professor and Associate Professor in Communication Studies and at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, where he specializes in research investigating the development of Internet infrastructure and public policy. His current research involves the study of information infrastructures that depend upon the algorithmic selection of content. Sandvig’s work has examined such topics as wireless Internet design and use, expanding broadband access, the difference between rural and urban Internet users, and the role of government in the provision of broadband service.

About Karrie

Karrie Karahalios is an associate professor in computer science at the University of Illinois where she heads the Social Spaces Group. Her work focuses on the interaction between people and the social cues they emit and perceive in face-to-face and mediated electronic spaces. Her work is informed by communication studies and visualizations of social communities. Of particular interest are interfaces for public online and physical gathering spaces such as twitter, chatrooms, cafes, parks, etc. Research projects range from studying tie strength between people to encouraging vocalization through visualization. A major theme in the work is to create interfaces that enable users to perceive conversational patterns that are present, but not obvious, in traditional communication interfaces.

About Cedric

Cedric Langbort is an Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and a member of the Information Trust Institute and the Decision and Control Group of the Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois. Langbort is a game theorist whose research focuses on distributed decision and control theory and its application to large-scale public infrastructures and “smart” infrastructures. His previous work investigated game theoretic approaches to cyber-security.


by candersen at July 22, 2014 12:09 PM

Tim Davies
Fifteen open data insights

ODDC Phase 1 Report - Cover[Summary: blogging the three-page version of Open Data in Developing Countries - Emerging Insights from Phase I paper, with some preamble]

I’m back living in Oxford after my almost-year in the USA at the Berkman Center. Before we returned, Rachel and I took a month to travel around the US – by Amtrak. The delightfully ponderous pace of US trains gave me plenty of time for reading, which was just as well, given June was the month when most of the partners in the Open Data in Developing Countries project I coordinate were producing their final reports. So, in-between time staring at the stunning scenery as we climbed through the Rockies, or watching amazing lightening storms from the viewing car, I was digging through in-depth reports into open data in the global south, and trying to pick out common themes and issues. A combination of post-it notes and scrivener index cards later, and finally back at my desk in Oxford, the result was a report, released alongside the ODDC Research Sharing Event in Berlin last week, that seeks to snapshot 15 insights or provocations for policy-makers and practitioners drawn out from the ODDC case study reports.

These are just the first stage of the synthesis work to be carried out in the ODDC project. In the network meeting also hosted in Berlin last week, we worked on mapping these and other findings from projects onto the original conceptual framework of the project, and looked at identifying further cross-cutting write-ups required. But, for now, below are the 15 points from the three-page briefing version, and you can find a full write-up of these points for download. You can also find reports from all the individual project partners, including a collection of quick-read research posters over on the Open Data Research Network website.

15 insights into open data supply, use and impacts

(1) There are many gaps to overcome before open data availability, can lead to widespread effective use and impact. Open data can lead to change through a ‘domino effect’, or by creating ripples of change that gradually spread out. However, often many of the key ‘domino pieces’ are missing, and local political contexts limit the reach of ripples. Poor data quality, low connectivity, scarce technical skills, weak legal frameworks and political barriers may all prevent open data triggering sustainable change. Attentiveness to all the components of open data impact is needed when designing interventions.

(2) There is a frequent mismatch between open data supply and demand in developing countries. Counting datasets is a poor way of assessing the quality of an open data initiative. The datasets published on portals are often the datasets that are easiest to publish, not the datasets most in demand. Politically sensitive datasets are particularly unlikely to be published without civil society pressure. Sometimes the gap is on the demand side – as potential open data users often do not articulate demands for key datasets.

(3) Open data initiatives can create new spaces for civil society to pursue government accountability and effectiveness. The conversation around transparency and accountability that ideas of open data can support is as important as the datasets in some developing countries.

(4) Working on open data projects can change how government creates, prepares and uses its own data. The motivations behind an open data initiative shape how government uses the data itself. Civil society and entrepreneurs interacting with government through open data projects can help shape government data practices. This makes it important to consider which intermediaries gain insider roles shaping data supply.

(5) Intermediaries are vital to both the supply and the use of open data. Not all data needed for governance in developing countries comes from government. Intermediaries can create data, articulate demands for data, and help translate open data visions from political leaders into effective implementations. Traditional local intermediaries are an important source of information, in particular because they are trusted parties.

(6) Digital divides create data divides in both the supply and use of data. In some developing countries key data is not digitised, or a lack of technical staff has left data management patchy and inconsistent. Where Internet access is scarce, few citizens can have direct access to data or services built with it. Full access is needed for full empowerment, but offline intermediaries, including journalists and community radio stations, also play a vital role in bridging the gaps between data and citizens.

(7) Where information is already available and used, the shift to open data involves data evolution rather than data revolution. Many NGOs and intermediaries already access the information which is now becoming available as data. Capacity building should start from existing information and data practices in organisations, and should look for the step-by-step gains to be made from a data-driven approach.

(8) Officials’ fears about the integrity of data are a barrier to more machine-readable data being made available. The publication of data as PDF or in scanned copies is often down to a misunderstanding of how open data works. Only copies can be changed, and originals can be kept authoritative. Helping officials understand this may help increase the supply of data.

(9) Very few datasets are clearly openly licensed, and there is low understanding of what open licenses entail. There are mixed opinions on the importance of a focus on licensing in different contexts. Clear licenses are important to building a global commons of interoperable data, but may be less relevant to particular uses of data on the ground. In many countries wider conversation about licensing are yet to take place.

(10) Privacy issues are not on the radar of most developing country open data projects, although commercial confidentiality does arise as a reason preventing greater data transparency. Much state held data is collected either from citizens or from companies. Few countries in the ODDC study have weak or absent privacy laws and frameworks, yet participants in the studies raised few personal privacy considerations. By contrast, a lack of clarity, and officials’ concerns, about potential breaches of commercial confidentiality when sharing data gathered from firms was a barrier to opening data.

(11) There is more to open data than policies and portals. Whilst central open data portals act as a visible symbol of open data initiatives, a focus on portal building can distract attention from wider reforms. Open data elements can also be built on existing data sharing practices, and data made available through the locations where citizens, NGOs are businesses already go to access information.

(12) Open data advocacy should be aware of, and build upon, existing policy foundations in specific countries and sectors. Sectoral transparency policies for local government, budget and energy industry regulation, amongst others, could all have open data requirements and standards attached, drawing on existing mechanisms to secure sustainable supplies of relevant open data in developing countries. In addition, open data conversations could help make existing data collection and disclosure requirements fit better with the information and data demands of citizens.

(13) Open data is not just a central government issue: local government data, city data, and data from the judicial and legislative branches are all important. Many open data projects focus on the national level, and only on the executive branch. However, local government is closer to citizens, urban areas bring together many of the key ingredients for successful open data initiatives, and transparency in other branches of government is important to secure citizens democratic rights.

(14) Flexibility is needed in the application of definitions of open data to allow locally relevant and effective open data debates and advocacy to emerge. Open data is made up of various elements, including proactive publication, machine-readability and permissions to re-use. Countries at different stages of open data development may choose to focus on one or more of these, but recognising that adopting all elements at once could hinder progress. It is important to find ways to both define open data clearly, and to avoid a reductive debate that does not recognise progressive steps towards greater openness.

(15) There are many different models for an open data initiative: including top-down, bottom-up and sector-specific. Initiatives may also be state-led, civil society-led and entrepreneur-led in their goals and how they are implemented – with consequences for the resources and models required to make them sustainable. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to open data. More experimentation, evaluation and shared learning on the components, partners and processes for putting open data ideas into practice must be a priority for all who want to see a world where open-by-default data drives real social, political and economic change.

You can read more about each of these points in the full report.

by Tim at July 22, 2014 08:01 AM

July 21, 2014

Nick Grossman
"we need to think big because the stuff our present national governments are doing generally amounts..."
“we need to think big because the stuff our present national governments are doing generally amounts to spending a fortune on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”


Continuations: Unabashed Utopia 

hear, hear

July 21, 2014 12:09 PM

Bruce Schneier
Legal Attacks Against Tor

Last week, we learned that the NSA targets people who look for information about Tor. A few days later, the operator of a Tor exit node in Austria has been found guilty as an accomplice, because someone used his computer to transmit child porn. Even more recently, Tor has been named as a defendant in a revenge-porn suit in Texas because it provides web-porn operators with privacy.

Here's the EFF: "Seven Things You Should Know About Tor."

EDITED TO ADD (7/16): It seems that article about Tor in Austria was wrong.

by Bruce Schneier at July 21, 2014 08:17 AM

July 20, 2014

Bruce Schneier

Long article on a sophisticated hacking of the NASDAQ stock exchange.

by Bruce Schneier at July 20, 2014 11:55 PM

Ian Bogost
The Opposite of Good Fortune is Bad Fortune

At Chronicle Vitae, full-time adjunct professor Lori Harrison-Kahan writes “Blaming the Victim: Ladder Faculty and the Lack of Adjunct Activism”. The piece addresses tenured faculty’s apparent (or at least relative) silence in the ongoing debate over adjunct labor in higher education. Harrison-Kahan rejoins such faculty for failing to extend their ongoing defenses of marginalized communities to their own community:

Why do established scholars, who speak openly about other social and economic injustices, refrain from allying themselves with those of us who are denied academic freedom by virtue of our identities as adjuncts? How are we to explain this silence?

…and she presents tenured faculty’s unconcern as a type of victim-blaming, one that often, in Harrison-Kahan’s account, involves judgements about the quality of precarious faculty’s research and/or teaching:

In order to justify discriminatory attitudes and treatment, too many ladder faculty chose to blame the victim rather than the system, convincing themselves that adjuncts deserve, or have willingly submitted to, their own exploitation.

In a discussion of the article I happened upon on Facebook, two non-contingent, senior faculty (I’m not naming them by name because it wasn’t a public post) reflected on the fact that it’s sometimes hard for tenure-track and tenured faculty to accept that their situations have arisen largely through good fortune rather than purely through hard work and inherent talents.

It’s a great point. Indeed, it’s profoundly inconsistent for someone to hold the standard liberal progressive position that cultural, economic, social, and related factors largely account for fortune and misfortune in the world, but then to take up the party-line conservative position that hard work and ability accounts primarily for success in academia.

I’ve tried and, I think, succeeded in reminding myself almost daily that good fortune is largely responsible for the considerable professional comfort I have managed to eke out of the universe. But that result is also not entirely the result of a “lottery,” either, to invoke a term that came up in the Facebook discussion. Rather, it’s largely being able and willing to find an opening in the fabric of one’s situation (itself determined largely by chance) and then to have fate smile upon the results. There’s much more to say about the complexity of this part of the matter (particularly in the humanities, which are still confused about the balance between total intellectual freedom and the reality of marketability, even for scholarship), but I’ll resist going into greater detail for the time being. I’ll also resist saying much about Harrison-Kahan’s romanticization of liberal scholars’ political aspirations…but the truth is, politics in the academy is mostly a self-reflexive rather than an interventionist practice.

That said, here’s a puzzle for us all: accepting that tenure-track (TT) success is largely related to good fortune requires accepting that non-tenure-track (NTT) misery is also largely related to bad fortune. That is to say, given the abhorrence of NTT working conditions, the same logic that would allow humility vis-à-vis TT good fortune would also allow comfort of accident regarding the bad lot of NTT life. In fact, this is precisely the opposite of the victim-blaming approach that concerns Harrison-Kahan.

However, anytime anyone brings this up (gulp) they are sure to be accused of elitism and gatekeeping and entrenchment. Of concluding, as does Harrison-Kahan, that TT faculty ought to “take action” or else they effectively adopt the default position, namely that adjuncts “deserve, or have willingly submitted to, their own exploitation.” Indeed, the obvious counterpoint to the paragraph above is to argue that I am just a privileged, out-of-touch senior professor looking to find an excuse to wrest myself from the broader academic labor situation. One can also easily imagine a party-line moralist responding to Harrison-Kahan with that particular brand of righteous admonishment so common to academics: “How can you compare professoring to race or gender disparity!?”

But it’s possible to believe that adjuncts do not deserve their situation while also contending that they have in fact willingly submitted to it, at least in part. Without going to extremes, it is very unpopular to hold the position that one option for NTT scholars involves opting out, finding something else to do. After all, there are not many worse paying jobs than cobbled-together adjunct professorships (insofar as there are jobs at all). And indeed, as a labor tactic, opting out might be a more successful approach than attempting labor reform in an era in which labor reform has become almost impossible. Perhaps such a position risks reversing the moralist’s stand into its opposite. The stoic economic rationalist could make appeals to the sunk-cost fallacy as a justification for abandoning an unsuccessful career in academia, ignoring the fact that our profession entails substantial affective attachment.

And to be fair, many do hold the position that shutting off the supply of exploitable scholars is the answer to adjunctification. But the commonest versions of this position are either to discourage the pursuit of graduate education, or to develop so-called “alt-ac” jobs as suitable, sustainable alternatives to adjuncting. Arguably, both of these approaches represent two sides of the same coin: burn it all down on the one hand, and build it back up in the library instead of in the lecture hall on the other.

But among the surely many alternative positions, one might involve all of us admitting that the tenured professorship is a high-risk career pursuit, and that we’d do well to treat it as such. While we often compare professors’ lives to other kinds of white-collar professionals, in truth our profession might be better compared to small business entrepreneurs or pro ballplayers. The possibile rewards are substantial, but they come with an attendant high risk.

It seems to me that we could hold this position while still moving to make corrections to the profoundly unacceptable rise in adjunct labor in higher education today. Put more simply, perhaps one vital, missing ingredient in academic labor reform is a willingness to give up on academia without the self-contradictory scorn of the knee-jerk “just don’t go” position, but with greater possible outcomes than the few exceptions represented by alt-ac optimism.

Near the end of Harrison-Kahan’s piece, she tells the story of attending a roundtable on “Advancing Academic Careers,” in which she and a colleague advance a question about advancement. Given a list of reasonable factors contributing to the lack of mobility among contingent faculty, the pair requests response: “We would like to hear the panelists address these basic inequalities in the academic structure that limit the advancement of contingent faculty.” After a long pause, a senior panelist says “I really don’t have an answer for that.” Harrison-Kahan intends this story to serve as evidence for TT faculty’s complicity in academic labor exploitation through indifference and ignorance.

But I wonder, what answer would have been acceptable to Harrison-Kahan? Probably not “We should stand in solidarity at the university gates!” but likewise, neither would “The structure of your position precludes advancement; perhaps you should reconsider.” I can already hear the torches being lit as I say so, but the latter response seems far more virtuous, more tactical, and more promising than the former.

by Ian Bogost at July 20, 2014 06:42 PM

David Weinberger
If I were Shakespeare…

Well, here’s what I would do if I were Shakespeare & Co., a theatre company in Lenox, Massachusetts of which I am inordinately fond, as consistent readers of this blog know (hi, Mom!).

Yesterday my wife and I went to an open rehearsal of a scene from Henry IV, Part 2, Scene 2. For about an hour we watched Malcolm Ingram (Falstaff), Kevin Coleman (Shallow), Ariel Bock (Silence) and Michael F. Toomey (Bardolph) being directed by Jonathan Epstein, who has abridged and combined the two Henry IV’s. The rehearsal started out fascinating and got even better from there.

The actors in Shakespeare & Co. rehearse before they’ve learned their lines by being shadowed by someone who whispers their lines to them. That way (as Kevin Coleman explained) they can rehearse while looking at the person they’re talking to instead of looking down at a piece of paper. The result is an early rehearsal in which the actors can act together and experiment.

Jonny Epstein is an actor and a highly collaborative director. He interceded occasionally to punch up a reading, and always kept an eye on the audience’s interests: We need a gesture to understand what “bona-robas” are (high quality courtesans — literally “the good stuff”); Falstaff should turn to the left while pointing to the right so that both sides of the audience are involved, etc.

But as the scene came to a close, it took a turn towards the awesome.

It’s a short and humorous scene in which Justice Shallow is greeting his old friend Falstaff. There’s funny business about rounding up men for Falstaff, which in this abridged, small-cast version had the actors pointing into the audience. Very amusing.

The scene ends with Shallow inviting Falstaff to dinner. They’re about to wander off, in a convenient scene-closing way, when a memory from fifty-five years ago pops into Shallow’s mind. “O, Sir John, do you remember since we lay all night in the windmill in Saint George’s field?” This becomes a chat about old acquaintances who now are old or dead.

The first time through, the actors played it lightly: a bunch of old folks remembering their lusty youths. But Epstein then suggested that they stop their funny business. Just stand there and talk. Without further direction, the actors changed everything: posture, cadence, expression, diction, interaction. And it became a scene about age and youth that touched me deeply.

It was, in short, a moment of transcendence. I got yer magic of the theatre right here.


Shakespeare & Co. is a great company, but it rarely plays to full houses. If I were them, here’s what I would do:

1. Video every lecture they give and put it on the Web for free. In fact, do more lectures, at least one for every play they produce. These lectures have been consistently fascinating. I want people to get used to looking up the Shakespeare & Co. lecture before going to see a Shakespeare play performed by any group.

2. Video a performance of each play presented, and post it for free on the Web. Have some of the summer interns do it. No one who comes would have stayed at home if they could have watched a video of it, especially since the company doesn’t have the resources to do studio-quality video production.

3. Post a second version of these videoed performances with a director’s track. Have the director and some of the actors explaining both the play and their decisions about it. We want teachers to play these scenes when introducing students to Shakespeare, and we want people who just saw a performance to then see the thinking behind it.

Now, there may be Actors Equity rules that prevent this, which would be a shame because videos like these would help expose the actors’ talents more broadly. And I suspect that Shakespeare & Co. may have reservations about posting content that’s not of the highest professional quality. If so: get over it! It’s the Web! Trust comes from imperfection.

In any case, when you’re in the Berkshires, do come. And bring the kids.

by davidw at July 20, 2014 06:15 AM

July 19, 2014

Amanda Palmer
i did back-ups on the new Weird Al record! now I can die.

the player was having problems for a while, but NO MORE!!!
HERE IT IS!!!!!! THE SONG I DID WITH WEIRD AL YANKOVIC! (bonus song backstory from al, here)

how bucket list is this on a scale from one to ten? it’s like an 8.9, honestly.
the fact that the song is a spoof of the PIXIES creeps it up towards a 9.4.

weird al and the pixies are the soundtrack of my youth – though al covered more of 4th grade through 9th and then the pixies took over.

it feels like no coincidence that this song is getting released at the very moment i am sitting in my apartment in boston with john congleton going through all of my old recordings and tapes…we are trying to figure out WHAT TO DO WITH ALL OF MY TEENAGE RECORDINGS…there’s hundreds of hours of stuff…

and what do you know…i JUST unearthed my copy of weird al’s “polka party” on cassette. everything happens for a reason.
weird al vinyl from my collection in the background for emphasis.

remember my judy blume eureka moment, when i realized i’d been shafting her as an influence in my life and felt so foolish i had to put it in a song? i had a similar realization with weird al. funny enough, it was jason webley (connector of all things) that made me realize how much of an influence he’d had on me, my songwriting, my way of thinking about What’s Allowed in music. in the early days of touring together, jason and i were comparing favorite records and artists and where we had venn diagram overlap and where not. our biggest overlaps: tom waits, robyn hitchcock, elliott smith and…wait for it…weird al. it was then, regarding my friend/soulmate, that i realized: weird al is a force not to be taken for granted.

there is nothing and nobody like weird al. yes: he does parody songs, but if you were a devotee of his records (as we were) it was so much fucking more than that: he wrote originals that were basic genre parodies and sometimes the best songs on the records (i was a huge fan of the country-western song “one more minute”, featuring the lyric: “o’d rather rip my heart out of my ribcage with my bare hands and then throw it on the floor and stomp on it ’till I die…than spend one more minute with you”. if you can’t see the deep amanda-palmer-influencing factor in that, i don’t know. i was also addicted to al’s MTV-hosted hours, AL TV. some of my favoritest moments of television happened there. i recorded some of the episodes onto VHS tape and watched them over and over again. i memorized his overdub of madonna’s “open your heart” video more closely than i memorized the madonna lyrics. it was so irreverent without being cold-hearted or mean. it was love.

i was also introduced to a lot of songs via AL-parody. i knew “yoda” before i heard “lola”. i knew about most of classic 70s rock via weird al polka medleys. weird? who knows.

i do know that a lot of my early songs were genre parodies with fresh lyrics – i wrote a doo-wop song when i was 16 called “the coffee connection”, and later, at age 18, rewrote it as “starbucks” when the coffee connection chain of coffee stores was purchased by starbucks, about how fucking cool you were if you hung out there.

“oasis” from “who killed amanda palmer” is pure weird al.

take ingredients, make new song.

sometimes you gotta get forwards to look backwards to see all the things that make you who you are.

i got the call from al about a year ago about doing this song and had to keep it SECRETTTTTT….we had already met. he knew my music and came to a show of mine in LA at the troubadour a few years ago, and i got to have the full childhood-head explosion. he was so NICE.

here’s me, neil, weird al, and jason at one of al’s shows near boston recently. he KILLED IT live, if you ever have a chance, go see him.
he’s an entertainer in the old-school way i love. he brings the thunder.

after we first met, al would send me his fresh releases, and CHRISTMAS CARDS. that made me glow. and made me feel guilty i have never done christmas cards. maybe it’s time. anyway.

after that, jason and i invited al to sing on the “evelyn evelyn” record (on the “i just want my space” song)…and he did.
i just returned the favor, though it hardly felt like a favor, singing on “first world problems”.

if you love the pixies, the song will make so much more sense to you…as will my vocal part.
if you want to understand and get a pixies flavor…i suggest listening to all of “surfer rosa” and “doolittle“, you should anyway.

i won’t even get INTO how much i love the pixies. soundtrack of all of 10th grade, people. life-changing as well.

i was supposed to be bringing my best kim deal to the table.
i tried. do i sound totally flat and affectless?

al offered to get me to LA to record this with him live in his studio, but i was stuck on the east coast for some reason, so he skyp’ed in and i did the vocal in a studio in boston while he coached. TECHNOLOGIE!!! SCIENCE!!!!! SEXY GERMAN MICROPHONES!!!

here’s virtu-AL, ME, and the engineer, benny grotto where we laid the vocal down at mad oak studio in allston, MA.
and al’s beautiful tweet.


my favorite lyric, by a long-shot: “MY SONICARE DIDN’T RECHARGE AND NOW I’M GONNA HAVE TO BRUSH MY TEETH LIKE A NEANDERTHAL.” winningest. i told al this and he sent me a special thank you gift. i’ll let you guess. also, upon re-listen, i also love that he left the little laugh in at the end.

in closing:
if you wanna support al, DO IT. don’t take anything for granted. BUY THE RECORD. all of your options are here on the site. that would be wonderful, especially because he has never had a number one record but is currently VYING FOR THE TOP SPOT!!
thank god for weird al.
he never stops bringing joy to the world, and this is a good, good thing.

life = GOOD.


by admin at July 19, 2014 09:42 PM

Ian Bogost
My Phone is Dying

Everyone knows that iPhones are manufactured with planned obsolescence built in: processors and RAM allocations that can’t keep up with operating system upgrades purposely designed not to account for earlier models. Apple makes too much of its profits from hardware sales, so handsets have become akin to fashion seasons.

Hardware upgrades entail power and capacity. The new activities made possible by new silicon. But there’s another kind of planned obsolescence, that of degradation.

I’ve reached the point in the life of my iPhone when the home button begins failing. It’s not as bad as some have been; my iPhone 4 button stopped working completely. This time it’s just a sign of the device’s inevitable end. The degeneration mostly exhibits in the form of an overly eager Siri. Like an elderly relative at a family gathering.

“What? What did you need?” With that shrill bee-beep you can’t disable, the one that doesn’t even respect the mute switch.

No, I wasn’t talking to you, Siri. You can go back to sleep. But even that takes time. She has to settle back into the unseen background of the OS, as if creaking back into a plastic-covered davenport (that’s what she’d call it). We say “my phone is dying” when it needs to be charged. “Sorry I didn’t call; my phone died.” But our phones also die for real. Apple sees to it. They count on it.

It’s upsetting to be lured into personifying a smartphone. It’s a burden we shouldn’t have to face. A dull knife or a failing vacuum can’t perform their jobs either, but at least they don’t incite guilt or anger. Apple’s three decade-long project to make computer technology friendly and personable has been too successful. Maybe we’d be better off if we returned to the inhuman honesty of simple machinery.

by Ian Bogost at July 19, 2014 03:55 AM

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