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.

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October 01, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Medical Records Theft and Fraud

There's a Reuters article on new types of fraud using stolen medical records. I don't know how much of this is real and how much is hype, but I'm certain that criminals are looking for new ways to monetize stolen data.

by Bruce Schneier at October 01, 2014 04:55 AM

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Fishing Moves North in California

Warmer waters are moving squid fishing up the California coast.

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 October 01, 2014 04:16 AM

NSA Patents Available for License

There's a new article on NSA's Technology Transfer Program, a 1990s-era program to license NSA patents to private industry. I was pretty dismissive about the offerings in the article, but I didn't find anything interesting in the catalog. Does anyone see something I missed?

My guess is that the good stuff remains classified, and isn't "transferred" to anyone.

Slashdot thread.

by Bruce Schneier at October 01, 2014 02:58 AM

Detecting Robot Handwriting

Interesting article on the arms race between creating robot "handwriting" that looks human, and detecting text that has been written by a robot. Robots will continue to get better, and will eventually fool all of us.

by Bruce Schneier at October 01, 2014 02:52 AM

Harry Lewis
Against Concentrations
I have been puzzling about how Harvard could get resolve the big problems in undergraduate education. I have a modest proposal.

Of course, the first step is to define what problem, or problems, you are trying to solve. Here are a few.

1) Students are too grade-conscious. This drives them to make anti-educational decisions, taking courses that are graded softly or don't teach them much they don't already know, rather than taking courses they might learn from.

2) Honors, being based largely on grades, reward conservative course choices and punish risk taking. They are also enormously socioeconomically biased, since the people who get good grades on average over four years are the people who were already very well educated before they arrived at Harvard. (I have never seen data on that, but I would love to see a scatterplot of high and highest honors, or GPA, against family income. I'd guess that most of the outliers, the students with low incomes and high GPAs, came from independent schools with aggressive financial aid policies.)

3) Declaring a concentration is seen as a moment of truth, a crisis in identity formation, no matter how much we preach that it's what you know rather than what credential you bear that will determine your future success.

4) The Humanities are terrified that they are not attracting enough enrollments or enough concentrators.

5) The General Education program, a source of pride in theory, is treated with some derision by more talented students, and as game of hopscotch, with some excellent courses and a lot of strange ones, by the bulk of students.

6) We are losing our identity as a liberal arts institution because so many students are concentrating in Engineering and Computer Science.

Pardon a somewhat lengthy digression here. I think #6, though widely bruited, is nonsense, because as far as I am concerned applied science is perfectly consistent with liberal education. The notion that a liberal education is one divorced from utility -- learning for learning's sake, as we like to say -- is a crock. It is just an etymological confusion, where "art" is construed as something other than "science" and "liberal" is taken to mean free from utility.

The liberal arts are neither useless nor artistic. They are called "liberal" because they were the arts taught to the free people of the Roman republic, the citizens as opposed to slaves. They were the arts of citizenship. And of course they included mathematics, since that was among the skills, the useful arts, that Roman citizens were expected to have to take responsibility for their nation. And while I am at it, and while we are still buzzing about the naming of the School of Public Health in honor of the Chans, I have always wondered why the School of Engineering is not already named for Gordon McKay and described properly as a "School of Art." After all, McKay's will is quite explicit:

I am sure there is a good reason; I haven't fought my way through all the codicils. The point is, the campaigning for the Liberal Arts is not just about the Humanities. It is equally about techne.

But back to educational reform. Here is a proposal to deal with all these issues.

I hate "secondaries," what Harvard calls minors. As presently constituted, hey seem to bring out the worst inclinations of Harvard students, their tendency to seek credentials rather than learning. I think students would do less of that if left to their own devices -- but we actually incentivize them to seek secondaries and guts that will raise their GPAs rather than studying the things they would most like to learn. We do this by giving them gold stars for secondaries and giving them honors for GPA, at the same time as we disdain the inevitable consequences of rewarding these things and not others -- students too busy and too competitive to stop and think about who they are and where they are going.

But what if there were ONLY secondaries? Get rid of concentrations. Have departments, and interdepartmental committees, offer "secondaries," and require students to earn at least two, but allow students to earn several. (Of course "secondary" is no longer the right term if there are no concentrations. I'll use it just to convey the idea of a small cluster of courses with some disciplinary coherence and a bit of depth.)

Now that defining moment -- am I going to be an English major or a Computer Science major? -- disappears. You have to be more than one thing, or you don't get a degree.

Well, of course there are damned good reasons why we wouldn't simply do this. We think you are not well educated if you don't know something in depth. We want to produce top scholars too, and that required incentivizing, if not requiring, undergraduates to work at an advanced scholarly level.

Though frankly, we are pretty unclear about the purpose of concentrations. We react with mock horror when students overspecialize, even if they have satisfied all their Gen Ed requirements. We actually reduced the maximum size of concentrations a few years ago; they are not supposed to be mini-PhDs, was the battle cry. But of course the top students are always the ones who do the most advanced disciplinary work. Those are the ones who graduate summa.

So how do we incentivize a deeper education, and the engagement of students in advanced scholarship and research, while not requiring every graduate to have a concentration?

Well, first of all, having two or three secondaries, say in CS and biochemistry, might be more of an intellectual investment in the future than having a concentration in one or the other. Lots of fields are evolving out of the friction between existing disciplines. A few courses in each of CS and sociology might have been perfect for Zuckerberg.

And secondly, we could incentivize depth by basing honors mostly on senior theses. A department might well decide that the "secondary," which would require only a few courses, was not nearly preparation enough to write a thesis; to be eligible for that you would need several more courses, with some specificity about which courses. When it came time to award honors a department or committee could look at the entire program and give some weight to GPA, but the idea would be to judge people on the depth of their knowledge, as evidenced in part by the quality of the thesis they were able to write. Honors would become more subjective, but also less consequential.

I'll bet we'd get more humanities enrollments if people felt that they did not have to assume the identity of a humanist. Of course, the humanities courses would still have to win in the marketplace of ideas. But there would be less eye-rolling, by parents and peers, when a student announced that one of her secondaries was in English if another were in something more "useful." We could credibly argue, as we cannot today, that the ideal graduate really is broadly educated. (The CS concentrator who does as instructed, and takes one Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding course, one Culture and Belief Course, and one Ethical Reasoning course, may well not wind up with a credibly liberal education, but if she had a secondary in Philosophy or the Classics, I bet she would.)

And by limiting the size of secondaries, we would make more credible that what makes you liberally educated is not what the scholars in your department think of your academic expertise, it is your facility with thinking and reasoning and analysis and argumentation and presenting well considered solutions to actual problems of the world in all their complexity. Of course those would be rooted in the academic traditions of the disciplines. Educated people are expected to bring the full arsenal of their learning to bear on their problems they confront. Our education would get linked back to our civic purposes, without some childish required civics curriculum.

Now I'd love to know what's wrong with this idea. One thing that is possibly "wrong" with it is that it would end some of the risible cries of "turf warfare." In the politics of higher education, turf warfare is advantageous to those losing the battles, as it is a way to call for the battleground to be leveled artificially, for a shift in resources to make it a fair fight. If we simply acknowledged that the curriculum is largely elective and let students take the subjects in which they were interested -- within the parameters of the regulated marketplace I have argued for -- we would all have a greater incentive to meet students' needs rather than complain about the unfairness of the fight in which we are engaged.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 01, 2014 01:52 AM

September 30, 2014

Why doule-entry bookkeeping is actually cool

The subject of double-entry bookkeeping has entered the ProjectVRM conversation.  As it happens I have some source material for that conversation, in the form of a chapter of The Intention Economy that didn’t make it into the book. The reasons: too academic, too off-topic, too boring. And, in spite of all the work I put into it, I still didn’t know enough about what I was writing about.

Still, I did a lot of research on the subject, and my sources at least knew what they were writing about. So, rather than let my last draft of the thing languish any longer, here it is. Hope it’s useful.

— Doc


Books should be closed each year, especially in partnership because frequent accounting makes for long friendship. —Luca Pacioli


Networked markets connect two ways: between businesses and people, and between the functional parts of companies. These connections have long been facilitated through double-entry bookkeeping, the deep virtues of which have mostly been ignored or forgotten in our digital age. If we recall what double-entry bookkeeping did, and can do again, we may have another useful path toward The Intention Economy.


Modern banking is seven hundred years old. It was invented in early Renaissance Italy, and modeled at its start by the Medici bank, which lasted from 1397 to 1494.[ii] One fo those early Italian banks, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena S.p.A., founded in 1472, is still around.

Modern double-entry bookkeeping was also established in that time, though it dates back farther. The first major published work on the subject was Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Venice: 1474), a textbook by Fra Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk, doctor of divinity, and mathematician on the faculty of several universities [iii]. Within Summa is a Tractatus de Computis et Scripturis: the first complete description of double-entry bookkeeping, a system of mathematics which Pacioli treats as equal to Euclid’s in relevance to the everyday world.

Summa was Pacioli’s second published work. Da_Vinci_Vitruve_bw-imagonlyThe first, Tractatus mathematicus ad discipulos perusinos, is a six hundred page textbook in which sixteen sections are devoted to “merchant arithmetic.” [iv] In 1509, Pacioli published both Geometry (a Latin translation of Euclid’s Elements) and Divina proportione, illustrated with sixty drawings by Pacioli’s student and friend, Leonardo da Vinci [1]. Although Pacioli and Leonardo did not begin working together until 1496, it is likely that da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (on the right), drawn in 1487, was informed by Summa de arithmetica, a copy of which da Vinci possessed.[v] (Pacioli also applied the divine proportion (better known as the golden ratio) to typeface design. The “M” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art logo is Pacioli’s[vi])

In The Printing press as an agent for changeElizabeth Eisenstein calls Pacioli “a pioneering public lecturer and science-writer whose work was ransacked by others for a century or more”[vii], and “probably the most wide-ranging, influential and forceful advocate of mathematics for the layman during the first century of print,”[viii] with influences on DürerKeplerPascal and others. She continues,

Less often noted is the way this fifteenth-century encyclopedic work linked double-entry bookkeeping and business arithmetic with Pythagorean harmonies and the music of the spheres… Pacioli’s Summa represents something of a landmark. Within the covers of this one book can be found all the varied between schoolmen and mysteries of double-entry bookeeping for mechants, so too he underlined the importance of the study of Euclid for Surveyors, architects and other ‘universal men.’ [ix]

In “The Beauty of Double-Entry Bookkeeping and its Impact on the Nature of Accounting Information,” (written in celebration of Summa’s 500th anniversary), Yuri Ihri writes, “the essence of double-entry bookkeeping is not just a contrast between balance sheet accounts and income statement accounts, but, more generically, a contrast between state accounts and explanatory accounts, with the latter explaining changes in the former.” Note that these are two different things. Ihri continues,

This essence, which is stated here in the form of axioms of double-entry bookkeeping are done not globally but myopically and incrementally, which is of double-entry bookkeeping on the nature of accounting information is analyzed accounts. Turning somewhat philosophical, “difficulty, efficiency and originality” are regarded as being the three ingredients of intellectual beauty. Double-entry bookkeeping is found to have all three and to be a “thing of beauty” indeed, as stated by Goethe, Cayley and Sombart, whose quotes are given at the beginning of the paper.[x]

Those quotes are,

“What a thing it is to see the order which prevails throughout his business! By means of this he can at any time needing to perplex himself in the details.What advantages does he derive from the system of bookkeeping by double-entry! It is among the finest inventions of the human mind.” (Goethe, 1824., Vol. I, Book 1, Chapter X. p. 28, translated by Thomas Carlyle). “The Principles of Book-keeping by theory which is mathematically by no means uninteresting: it is in fact like Euclid’s theory of ratios an absolutely perfect one, and it is only its extreme simplicity which prevents it from being as interesting as it would otherwise be. (Cayley, 1907).

“Double-entry bookkeeping is bourne of the same spirit as the system of Galileo and Newton… With the same means as these, it orders the phenomenon into an elegant system, and it may be called built on the basis of mechanistic thought. Double-entry bookkeeping discloses to us the cosmos of the economic world by the same method as, later, the cosmos of the stellar universe was unveiled by the great investigation of natural philosophy… One can scarcely conceive of capitalism without double-entry book-keeping: they are related as are form and context. It is difficult to decide, however, whether in double-entry book-keeping capitalism provided itself with a tool to make it more effective, or whether capitalism derives from the ‘spirit’ of double-entry book-keeping”. (Sombart, 1928. Vol. II, Part I, p. 118-9).[xi]

In spite (or perhaps because) of these cosmic qualities, nothing in Summa reads strange to a businessperson today. Pacioli describes journals, ledgers, inventories, accounts receivable and payable, trial balances, income, expenses, trades and exchanges, salaries, duplicate receipts, “sales for cash or on time with brokers’ commissions,” profit, loss and other concepts and practices that have hardly changed in most of a millennium. His instructive tone is also familiar:

He who wants to know how to keep a ledger and its journal in due order must pay strict attention to what I shall say. To understand the procedure well, we will take the case of one who is just starting in business, and tell how he must proceed in keeping his accounts and he may find each thing in its place. For, if he does not put each thing in its own place, he will find himself in great trouble and confusion as to all his affairs, according to the familiar saying, Ubi non est ordo, ibi est confusio (Where there is no order, there is confusion).

Central to bookkeeping — then and now — are its three books: the memorandum, the journal and the ledger. Here is a compression of Pacioli’s teachings, taken from a series of chapters in Summa:

The memorandum book… is a book in which the merchant shall put down all his transactions, small or big, as they take place, day by day, hour by hour. In this book he will put down in detail everything that he sells or buys, and every other transaction without leaving out a jot; who, what, when, where, mentioning everything to make it fully as clear as I have already said in talking about the Inventory, so that there is no necessity of saying it over again in detail.

…The bookkeeper will put everything in order before he transcribes a transaction in the journal. In this way, when the owner comes back he will see all the transactions, and he may put them in a better order if he thinks necessary. Therefore, this book is very necessary to those who have a big business.

…After you have proceeded on this way through all the accounts of the Ledger and Journal and found that the two books correspond in debit and credit. It will mean that all the accounts are correct and the entries entered correctly.

…After you have finished checking off the Journal, if you find in the Ledger some account or entry which has not been checked off In debit or credit, this would indicate that there has been some mistake in the Ledger… and you shall correct this error.

Throughout Summa, Pacioli invokes the context of balance. Balancing books also balances a functioning business in the world. It is an exercise as normal and necessary as walking upright on two feet.


In 1913 Charles M. Van Cleve self-published Principles of Double-Entry Bookkeeping. His purposes were to “to explain the principles which underlie the art of accounting by the double-entry method,” and to solve “the problem of placing double-entry bookkeeping on a rational basis”:

As a rule, the study of a useful art has a certain value as mental discipline; the art of accounting is the one exception to the rule. Aside from the so-called occult sciences, there is nothing which so tends to bewilder the mind and to dull the faculty of reason as the study of double-entry bookkeeping in the form in which it is customary to present it.[xii]

In our time, double-entry bookkeeping has fallen out of favor after a six century run. Today accounting is done on computers, with software packages, the most popular of which is Quickbooks, which boasted a 94.2% share of retail units in the business accounting category in 2008. [xiii]  Quickbooks is built for single-entry bookkeeping. Yes, you can get it to do the double-entry kind, though not in ways that make sense to double-entry stalwarts. One of those is Jim Reverend, who blogged this in 2006:

A few years ago, just for fun, I taught myself Double Entry Accounting. I found the whole process very interesting and was intrigued by the fact that so many people would go through so much trouble to learn what amounts to nothing more than a hunk of theory and procedures developed over 500 years ago that have changed very little since then. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the system and the obvious nature of its rules.

I assumed that keeping track of my business’ finances using accounting software would be a relatively straight-forward task, so I set out in search of this software. Quickbooks came highly recommended by almost everyone I asked so I purchased the “Pro” version. $150 later and 10 minutes into using the software and I found myself angry, confused, and sitting in a pile of my own hair.

While Quickbooks may indeed perform Double Entry Accounting in the background, using it is nothing like the simple system of checks and balances that I learned. Quickbooks breaks everything down into common business aspects and concepts and takes the accounting out of it as much as possible. This is great if you don’t know accounting and your business doesn’t deviate too far from the norm. However, if you intend to make even the slightest curve away from a “normal” usage pattern, you’ll find that the software gets in your way more than anything. So I’ve found that my knowledge of Double Entry Accounting isn’t nearly as useful as I thought it would be and, instead, I’m now giving myself a profanity-studded crash-course in manipulating “Quickbooks” into doing what I want.[xiv]

When we go back to Van Cleve, we begin to see why Reverend got so frustrated with Quickbooks’ new double-entry conventions:

The whole difference, and the only difference, between the two systems of accounting is in the fact that single-entry bookkeeping always uses literal language, while double-entry bookkeeping always uses figurative language except when speaking of persons. As soon as one understands the figurative language which it uses, double-entry bookkeeping is just as simple as single-entry bookkeeping — and much more compact.

In single-entry bookkeeping, cash means cash. Merchandise means merchandise. Interest means interest. Expense means expense. But in double-entry bookkeeping cash does not mean cash; it means the imaginary person who owes the amount of the cash. Merchandise does not mean merchandise; it means the imaginary person who owes the amount of the merchandise. Interest does not mean interest; it means the imaginary person who owes or is owed the amount of the interest. Expense does not mean expense; it means the imaginary person who owes the amount of the expenses. Net Capital does not mean net capital; it means the person (real in the case of an individual owner, imaginary in the case of a firm or a corporation) who is owed or owes the amount of the net capital.

This kind of abstraction may seem to detach meanings, but instead they are useful generalizations. Quickbooks insists on a specificity that loses the virtues of abstraction. Here’s Reverend again:

If you want to “pay a bill” (an annoying feature of Quickbooks that you are all but required to use) you will be annoyed every time you do unless you have a “Credit Card” defined. I don’t have a business credit card. I don’t really need one. Despite this, I ended up making a fake “Credit Card” account just to get it to shut up.

You can only pay bills by “Check” or “Credit Card”. You cannot use “Cash”, “Accounts Payable” or “Owner’s Equity” to do so. Oftentimes, I “pay bills” with my personal funds which are not tracked along with my business accounts. So, in order to work around this, I had to create a “Credit Card” account for myself at the “Bank of Daniel”. Any expenses that are paid with personal funds are treated as charges on the “Bank of Daniel” “Credit Card”. Every now and then (once a month, probably) I’ll submit a transaction to pay off the debt on this “Credit Card” with funds from “Owner’s Equity”.

Van Cleve’s case was for all-rational double-entry bookkeeping: “What this treatise has accomplished is to prove that double-entry bookkeeping is a rational process and therefore does not involve the necessity of using irrational language.” [xv] His final paragraph is a Victorian huff:

When accountants learn to use words in their proper sense, when they learn to say asset when they mean asset, liability when they mean liability, and net capital when they mean net capital, they will be surprised to find how much higher a place their occupation will hold in public esteem.

Van Cleve won. Pacioli lost. In place of double-entry bookkeeping’s well-abstracted “irrational” language is an all-literal vernacular, formalized in Quickbooks. Gone also is what Van Cleve failed to appreciate, even if he understood it: that bookkeeping isn’t just about keeping books, or recording profits and losses. It’s about the business’s own narrative. That narrative maintains the integrity of the business itself and its connection to the world. It’s also a way to maintain the form of coherence we call sanity. We have, as they say, lost it.

This was an observation made by Dan Palanza more than three decades ago.


I first met Dan Palanza in September 2010, when I was in Woods Hole with friends. One of those was Andy Maffei, a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Andy had pulled together a small group to hear Dan share what he had learned about bookkeeping, a subject Dan had studied intensively over the last three decades. In recruiting me, Andy wrote, “Dan has convinced me that Book-keeping is actually a language that is used to describe energy transfers between two entities where there are two paired components, one physical and one intellectual. It is a way both to describe that transfer and to analyze and represent the balance inherent in such transfers.”

While Dan’s topic is book-keeping [2], his subtopics include thoughts and works by Einstein, Lewis HydeDenise Schmandt-Besserat’s history of counting and writing, four kinds of arithmetic, computing, software, linguistics, the construction business, and the financial meltdown. The list is actually much longer, but that gives you a sense of Dan’s scope. Dan’s story begins in the 1950s, when he worked at General Electric:

In those days the company had a well-refined double-entry book-keeping framework. It ran a complex manufacturing operation building steam turbines, generators and ship propulsion systems. These manufacturing operations were run by a book-keeping journal that used mimeograph business cards as control. The control cards carried production operations as shop work-orders and were returned with accounting data telling which pieceworkers completed each operation.  When the journal data was used to generate ledger reports, those reports were detailed to treat each shop foreman as an individual business within the business. The technical term for this level of book-keeping is “cost accounting.” Note that cost accounting and production operations were connected in this system, which was still the one Pacioli described. What GE also had was a network business architecture. The pieces were all functionally connected, and these connections transcended corporate hierarchy.

For many years after leaving GE, Dan didn’t give book-keeping much thought, beyond remembering with admiration how it worked. By the 1970s he had returned to his family’s construction business, and by 1979 was specializing in energy-efficient homes. The first personal computers were in the world then, so Dan decided to get an Apple II and a book-keeping program, in faith that he would find in the program the same deep cost accounting methods he had learned at GE twenty years earlier. “I assumed that book-keeping was book-keeping,” he said, “even if it was done on a PC. But it didn’t work out that way.” What Dan found was that accounting systems on early PCs were flawed:

Essential pieces were missing. There no cost-accounting, no network architecture. I saw problems not only for my own business, but for the whole financial system that would be built on top of inadequate programs like the ones I saw at the time, and on through the 1980s. Even though these were business applications, they were built to serve isolated needs: filling out checkbooks, paying taxes, putting stuff in lightweight databases and spreadsheets. None of them implemented the journal | ledger pattern, which is fundamental to a proper book-keeping framework. They skipped the journal entirely, posting transactions directly into a relational database, which was fine for doing what databases do, but what databases don’t includes double-entry book-keeping.

In 1985, when Dan’s daughter Laureen opened a small business in Falmouth, Dan decided to learn programming, and developed his own full cost-accounting system with a network business architecture. Laureen’s place became Dan’s own little General Electric. Then, after Laureen’s was sold in 1995, Dan set about re-constructing book-keeping’s universal framework of rules. Like Pacioli, Dan mission was to understand and codify the fundamentals of an applied science. Unlike Pacioli, Dan was operating in a world where the science was no longer applied. So Dan got a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation in 1998, and competed his project in 2003. He did this alone, since there was no peer group for his work, and no standing interest in what otherwise looked like an utterly mundane subject. Since then Dan has been studying Einstein, Gödel, von Neumann, Heisenberg and other Deep Dudes, making connections between their work—both finished and unfinished—and book keeping, plus three other subjects that explain why this chapter is here: the market, the Internet and the commons.

If we want the Internet’s commons to function fully as a marketplace, Dan says, we’re going to need double-entry bookkeeping. Put more simply, business will need to become sane again. We don’t need Dan to tell us business is insane now. But it might help to report that Dan saw the loss of double-entry book-keeping writ large in the dot-com and housing industry meltdowns, both of which he predicted years before they happened.

He doesn’t blame business leaders or governments for not getting it. He blames a lack of tools. Business without double-entry book-keeping is like mathematics without calculus. You still can do a lot, but you’re crippled if you want to look at—say, change. Not that Dan is a pessimist. He sees the lack of book-keeping tools as an opportunity. “If we bring back double-entry book-keeping—to business, to the commons, to the Internet, to the marketplace, and to our everyday lives—we’ll start another renaissance.”


The expression “supply and demand” was first coined as “demand and supply” by James Denham-Steuart in An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, written in 1767. [xvi] In his Inquiry, Denham-Steuart says of demand, “it must constantly appear reciprocal. If I demand a pair of shoes, the shoemaker either demands money, or something else for his own use.” He goes on to describe seven qualities of demand, the sixth of which is, “The nature of demand is to encourage industry.”

In The Wealth of Nations, published nine years later, Adam Smith wrote, “The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” What these two bright bulbs of the Scottish Enlightenment both illuminated—the necessity for strong connections between customers and companies—fell into darkness in the Age of Industry. As the mass market replaced the literal one, the importance of individual customers to large businesses diminished. Actual conversation between company and customer was a cost to be minimized, rather than a source of intelligence and discipline.


In recent years we have seen many ways in which bridges between customers and companies can be built, some of which we reviewed back in the Asymmetrical Relations chapter. But none of these are more than partial systems. And none of them take full advantage of the Net’s nature as a commons, and as a marketplace. Which means there are many opportunities ahead of us—especially if we take a few lessons from our Italian and Scottish teachers.


[1] Pacioli was also the first to note Leonardo’s left-handedness. In De viribus quantitatis (Ms. Università degli Studi di Bologna, 1496–1508), Pacioli says his buddy “wrote in reverse, [his script] is left-handed and could not be read except with a mirror or by holding the back of the sheet against the light.” (Carmen C. Barnbach, “Leonardo, Left-Handed Draftsman and Writer.” Special Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2003.)

[2] Dan prefers the hyphenated spelling, which is the original form, though less widely used today. So, when referring to Dan’s background, thinking and work, I use his spelling.


[i] John B. Geijsbeek, Ancient double-entry bookkeeping: Lucas Pacioli’s treatise  (A.D. 1494 — the earliest known writer on bookkeeping). (Denver: self-published, 1914)

[ii] Raymond De Roover, The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank—1397-1494, 2nd Ed. (New York: Beard Books, 1999.)

[iii] Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979.), 547.

[iv] Albrecht Heeffer, “Algebraic partitioning problems from Luca Paccioli’s Perugia manuscript (Vat. Lat. 3129).” Sources and Commentaries in Exact Sciences, (2010), v.11, 3–52.

[v]Carmen C. Barnbach, “Leonardo, Left-Handed Draftsman and Writer.” Special Exhibition. (New York: Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2003.) (Accessed June 12, 2011.)

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Eisenstein, Loc. cit. 547.

[viii] Ibid., 550.

[ix] Ibid., 549.

[x] Yuri Ihri, “The Beauty of Double-Entry Bookkeeping and its Impact on the Nature of Accounting Information,” Economic Notes, Volume 22, No. 2 (1993). Reprinted in Proceedings of the Conference Accounting and Economics: In Honour of the 500th Anniversary of the Publication of Luca Pacioli’s Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Propotionalita, Siena, 18-19 November 1992 (Garland Publishing, Inc., New Works in Accounting History by Martin Shubik, January, 1996), 266.

[xi] Ibid., 266.

[xii] Charles M. Van Cleve, Principles of Double-Entry Bookkeeping. (New York: James Kempster Printing Company, 1913)

[xiii] “Intuit Hits 50,000-member Milestoene With QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program.” Intuit, Inc., 2008. The number quoted is from NPD Group. (Accessed June 9. 2011.)

[xiv] Jim Reverend, “Quickbooks != Double Entry Accounting.”, April 20, 2006. (Accessed June 9, 2011.)

[xv] Van Cleve., loc. cit., 204.

[xvi] James Denham-Steuart, An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy (London: Printed for A. Millar, and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1767). Online there are three good sources: Google Books , McMaster University  and  (Accessed July 19, 2010)

by Doc Searls at September 30, 2014 10:05 PM

Bruce Schneier
Lesson in Successful Disaster Planning

I found the story of the Federal Reserve on 9/11 to be fascinating. It seems they just flipped a switch on all their Y2K preparations, and it worked.

by Bruce Schneier at September 30, 2014 08:49 PM

Nasty Vulnerability found in Bash

It's a big and nasty one.

Invariably we're going to see articles pointing at this and at Heartbleed and claim a trend in vulnerabilities in open-source software. If anyone has any actual data other than these two instances and the natural human tendency to generalize, I'd like to see it.

by Bruce Schneier at September 30, 2014 08:45 PM

aestetix on NymRights: Protecting Identity in the Digital Age [AUDIO]
Do you have a name? More than one? Does it matter to you who knows it? As digital systems become more integrated into our lives, these questions are becoming very important. We’re in the midst of a literal identity crisis where your identity is quickly becoming, rather than something you define, a social construct that […]

by Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School ( at September 30, 2014 07:53 PM

Bruce Schneier
Security Trade-offs of Cloud Backup

This is a good essay on the security trade-offs with cloud backup:

iCloud backups have not eliminated this problem, but they have made it far less common. This is, like almost everything in tech, a trade-off:

  • Your data is far safer from irretrievable loss if it is synced/backed up, regularly, to a cloud-based service.

  • Your data is more at risk of being stolen if it is synced/backed up, regularly, to a cloud-based service.

Ideally, the companies that provide such services minimize the risk of your account being hijacked while maximizing the simplicity and ease of setting it up and using it. But clearly these two goals are in conflict. There's no way around the fact that the proper balance is somewhere in between maximal security and minimal complexity.

Further, I would wager heavily that there are thousands and thousands more people who have been traumatized by irretrievable data loss (who would have been saved if they'd had cloud-based backups) than those who have been victimized by having their cloud-based accounts hijacked (who would have been saved if they had only stored their data locally on their devices).

It is thus, in my opinion, terribly irresponsible to advise people to blindly not trust Apple (or Google, or Dropbox, or Microsoft, etc.) with "any of your data" without emphasizing, clearly and adamantly, that by only storing their data on-device, they greatly increase the risk of losing everything.

It's true. For most people, the risk of data loss is greater than the risk of data theft.

by Bruce Schneier at September 30, 2014 05:36 PM

Kill Switches for Weapons

Jonathan Zittrain argues that our military weapons should be built with a kill switch, so they become useless when they fall into enemy hands.

by Bruce Schneier at September 30, 2014 04:54 PM

David Weinberger
[d'oh] CSS alpha makes me happy

After all these years, I just found out about CSS alpha as a way of adjusting the opacity of the backgrounds of elements on a Web page.

In the past, I’ve used the opacity setting to do the job. So, if you have, say, a div that’s overlaying another element, setting its opacity to, say, 0.7 will make the entire thing 30% transparent. Opacity, in other words, is inherited by all of an element’s children without the children having any way of contesting the will.

But yesterday the opacity setting wasn’t working on an element for some reason. So I googled around and stumbled upon the alpha setting, which did what I wanted even better. Alpha sets the opacity of the background of the element while leaving the text and border opaque. This is great if you’re putting a label with text over other elements.

Here are two divs that are exactly the same in all their settings except one has its opacity set to 0.5 and the other has the alpha of its background color set to 0.5.


Notice that the alpha setting has left the text and border un-alpha’ed.

To set the alpha, you have to specify it as part of the rgb color setting, using the keyword rgba. For example, here’s the relevant portion of the CSS of the alpha-ed box in the screen capture above:

border: 6px solid #FF8000;
background-color: rgba(255,111,207,0.5);
color: black;

And here’s a site that will convert your hex colors into rgb colors.

So, I’m hereby giving myself a giant D’oh slap n the hope that you won’t have to.

by davidw at September 30, 2014 02:10 PM

Berkman Center front page
NymRights: Protecting Identity in the Digital Age

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Do you have a name? More than one? Does it matter to you who knows it? As digital systems become more integrated into our lives, these questions are becoming very important. We're in the midst of a literal identity crisis where your identity is quickly becoming, rather than something you define, a social construct that is granted to you. This talk will explore the philosophy of names and identity, the digital systems we've created over the past decades, and the challenges that arise when the systems come into conflict with individual safety and freedom. We'll take a look at the current state of name-related policy within both companies and government, and introduce ongoing efforts to make sure your identity is not just a number in a computer.

About aestetix

After being suspended twice by Google Plus during the nymwars fiasco of 2011, aestetix helped created NymRights, focused on empowerment and education of digital identity. He's spoken on this topic at events in Germany, New York City, San Francisco, including hacker conferences, digital rights events, and even a few universities. He's also been involved in the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), an Obama strategy to try to solve identity related challenges in areas like medicine and social security.


by candersen at September 30, 2014 02:10 PM

Harry Lewis
Is this what they mean by "running a university like a business"?
When a university is "run like a business," the implication is that wasteful redundancy and costly inefficiency should be eliminated. But of course determining whether you are being efficient about the way you are running your business, or cutting the soul out of the enterprise, requires defining what business the university is in. My previous post about the marketplace of ideas notwithstanding, I don't want a system that eliminates Egyptology so Computer Science can grow. In fact, Egyptology is holding its own in the marketplace of ideas at Harvard; Peter der Manuelian teaches a cool Gen Ed course to captivated students, including some I have directed to the course. (Interesting fact: der Manuelian took an intro CS course from me while he was an undergraduate here. You can do a lot of things with a little CS, as I keep saying.)

The question of the day is, given that executive compensation in the private sector has grown out of proportion to the wages of the labor force, and (as Paul Krugman details today) the disproportion at the upper end of the executive hierarchy has grown to a degree few of us can imagine, should the same hold for non-profits? After all, the same forces that justify paying big salaries to the op executives of for-profit companies -- competitive pressures, the value returned by top talent, etc. -- justify paying them in charitable non-profits. Don't they?

There is something that doesn't feel right about that, given the commitment these non-profits make to serve the public good -- and to have taxpayers underwrite their operations, if in no other way, by exempting them from taxation.

Which brings me to the article I received today that got me thinking about all this -- about not Harvard, but the University of Chicago. It's written by David Mihalyfy of the Harvard class of 2002, now a graduate student at Chicago. It documents the amazing run up in compensation for several top administrators at that university.
New analysis of tax data from publicly available IRS 990 forms shows that eight high-level UChicago administrators have received more than $7.6 million in compensation increases since 2007-2008, even as the school moved toward and suffered a credit downgrade.
Over five years, administrators enjoyed pay increases of between 40 percent and 135 percent, and as a result each received $450,000 to $3.3 million from cumulative increases by the end of 2012-2013, the most recent year for which tax data is available.
UChicago thus ended up paying $2.5 million more annually for the combined services of these eight people — an increase from $3.4 to almost $6 million per year.
And we wonder why the public is skeptical that we have done everything we can to hold down the cost of our product.

Bonus links:

A fascinating Bloomberg piece on the history of fundraising for endowment, an art first developed into a science by none other than Harvard's greatest president, Charles William Eliot.

A lovely Bryan Marquard obituary for one of the all-time great marketers of ideas, Irven DeVore. And a terrific David Warsh column giving a nod to the marketing skills of David Malan, and pitching an important idea about computer science education.

I will have to return to say more about Homi Bhabha's citation of Deresiewicz's epistemological dogma ("a subjective perspective," -- "subjectivism should not always be confused with solipsism"):
“We ask of a scientific proposition, ‘Is it true?,’ but of a proposition in the humanities we ask, ‘Is it true for me?’ ”
(Deresiewicz actually attributes this formulation to Lionel Trilling.) It does not take the "willful ignorance" that Bhabha attributes to me to wonder what this means or where it will take us.

Here, by the way, is the full video of Deresiewicz's appearance at Harvard, complete with Bhabha's introduction.

by Harry Lewis ( at September 30, 2014 01:32 AM

September 29, 2014

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
100kin10 Launches “Blow Minds Teach Stem” Campaign

BMTSOur friends at 100kin10 have launched their innovative “Blow Minds Teach STEM” campaign, geared toward promoting science, technology, engineering, and math teaching! 100kin10 maintains a unique network of 150+ partners that aims to support the goal of providing America’s classrooms with 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by 2021.  The “Blow Minds” campaign urges science, technology, engineering, and math majors to consider teaching careers and enroll in teacher training programs.  The multimedia campaign — developed in collaboration with the creative team at Cultivated Wit — includes a Tumblr dedicated to development and curation of “science-tainment” and a set of resources directed to STEM majors who are considering teaching careers.

by Clinic Staff at September 29, 2014 02:50 PM

Stuart Shieber - The Occasional Pamphlet
Inaccessible writing, in both senses of the term

My colleague Steven Pinker has a nice piece up at the Chronicle of Higher Education on “Why Academics Stink at Writing”, accompanying the recent release of his new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, which I’m awaiting my pre-ordered copy of. The last sentence of the Chronicle piece summarizes well:

In writing badly, we are wasting each other’s time, sowing confusion and error, and turning our profession into a laughingstock.

The essay provides a diagnosis of many of the common symptoms of fetid academic writing. He lists metadiscourse, professional narcissism, apologizing, shudder quotes, hedging, metaconcepts and nominalizations. It’s not breaking new ground, but these problems well deserve review.

I fall afoul of these myself, of course. (Nasty truth: I’ve used “inter alia” all too often, inter alia.) But one issue I disagree with Pinker on is the particular style of metadiscourse he condemns that provides a roadmap of a paper. Here’s an example from a recent paper of mine.

After some preliminaries (Section 2), we present a set of known results relating context-free languages, tree homomorphisms, tree automata, and tree transducers to extend them for the tree-adjoining languages (Section 3), presenting these in terms of restricted kinds of functional programs over trees, using a simple grammatical notation for describing the programs. We review the definition of tree-substitution and tree-adjoining grammars (Section 4) and synchronous versions thereof (Section 5). We prove the equivalence between STSG and a variety of bimorphism (Section 6).

This certainly smacks of the first metadiscourse example Pinker provides:

“The preceding discussion introduced the problem of academese, summarized the principle theories, and suggested a new analysis based on a theory of Turner and Thomas. The rest of this article is organized as follows. The first section consists of a review of the major shortcomings of academic prose. …”

Who needs that sort of signposting in a 6,000-word essay? But in the context of a 50-page article, giving a kind of table of contents such as this doesn’t seem out of line. Much of the metadiscourse that Pinker excoriates is unneeded, but appropriate advance signposting can ease the job of the reader considerably. Sometimes, as in the other examples Pinker gives, “meta­discourse is there to help the writer, not the reader, since she has to put more work into understanding the signposts than she saves in seeing what they point to.” But anything that helps the reader to understand the high-level structure of an object as complex as a long article seems like a good thing to me.

The penultimate sentence of Pinker’s piece places poor academic writing in context:

Our indifference to how we share the fruits of our intellectual labors is a betrayal of our calling to enhance the spread of knowledge.

That sentiment applies equally well – arguably more so – to the venues where we publish. By placing our articles in journals that lock up access tightly we are also betraying our calling. And it doesn’t matter how good the writing is if it can’t be read in the first place.

by Stuart Shieber at September 29, 2014 02:00 PM

Bruce Schneier
Julian Sanchez on the NSA and Surveillance Reform

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute has a lengthy audio interview on NSA surveillance and reform. Worth listening to.

by Bruce Schneier at September 29, 2014 01:10 PM

Nick Grossman

I got this in the mail:


It’s an ad for an extended warranty, disguised as an urgent extension of existing coverage.

This makes we want to throw up.  A business blatantly based on tricking people. 

"Immediate response to this notice required…. Our records indicate that you have not contacted us to have your vehicle service contract updated."


Implying that I have an existing service contract with them.  

My wife saw this and thought it was something we neglected and needed to pay right away.  Imagine if you were 80 years old.

"immediate response to this notice required":


In the tiniest print on the page: “this is an advertisement to obtain coverage”:


The disgusting company behind this is Endurance Warranty Services:


Remind me and anyone I ever come in contact with never to do business with them.

September 29, 2014 11:18 AM

September 28, 2014

Benjamin Mako Hill
Community Data Science Workshops Post-Mortem

Earlier this year, I helped plan and run the Community Data Science Workshops: a series of three (and a half) day-long workshops designed to help people learn basic programming and tools for data science tools in order to ask and answer questions about online communities like Wikipedia and Twitter. You can read our initial announcement for more about the vision.

The workshops were organized by myself, Jonathan Morgan from the Wikimedia Foundation, long-time Software Carpentry teacher Tommy Guy, and a group of 15 volunteer “mentors” who taught project-based afternoon sessions and worked one-on-one with more than 50 participants. With overwhelming interest, we were ultimately constrained by the number of mentors who volunteered. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to turn away most of the people who applied. Although it was not emphasized in recruiting or used as a selection criteria, a majority of the participants were women.

The workshops were all free of charge and sponsored by the UW Department of Communication, who provided space, and the eScience Institute, who provided food.

cdsw_combo_images-1The curriculum for all four session session is online:

The workshops were designed for people with no previous programming experience. Although most our participants were from the University of Washington, we had non-UW participants from as far away as Vancouver, BC.

Feedback we collected suggests that the sessions were a huge success, that participants learned enormously, and that the workshops filled a real need in the Seattle community. Between workshops, participants organized meet-ups to practice their programming skills.

Most excitingly, just as we based our curriculum for the first session on the Boston Python Workshop’s, others have been building off our curriculum. Elana Hashman, who was a mentor at the CDSW, is coordinating a set of Python Workshops for Beginners with a group at the University of Waterloo and with sponsorship from the Python Software Foundation using curriculum based on ours. I also know of two university classes that are tentatively being planned around the curriculum.

Because a growing number of groups have been contacting us about running their own events based on the CDSW — and because we are currently making plans to run another round of workshops in Seattle late this fall — I coordinated with a number of other mentors to go over participant feedback and to put together a long write-up of our reflections in the form of a post-mortem. Although our emphasis is on things we might do differently, we provide a broad range of information that might be useful to people running a CDSW (e.g., our budget). Please let me know if you are planning to run an event so we can coordinate going forward.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at September 28, 2014 05:23 AM

September 26, 2014

Berkman Center front page
Berkman Buzz: September 26, 2014

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

David Weinberger writes about the future of libraries


The future of libraries won’t be created by libraries. That’s a good thing. That future is too big and too integral to the infrastructure of knowledge for any one group to invent it. Still, that doesn’t mean that libraries can wait passively for this new future. Rather, we must create the conditions by which libraries will be pulled out of themselves and into everything else.

The future used to be simple enough that simple coping strategies sufficed. For example, we might foresee that in the future we would make good use of a stool, so we built one in the present. In the Information Age, we built massive accounting systems and missile controls, but the strategy remained constant: project a need, create a tool, use that tool until it breaks or is no longer needed.

From The Digital Shift,"Let the Future Go"
About David | @dweinberger

Zeynep Tufekci considers civic tech and climate politics


You’d think a death sentence for thousands of people would be pronounced with a little more weight and solemn ceremony. Some ritual or a moment marking the occasion, perhaps? A judge wearing robes, or a pen to be broken in regret? There was none of that. He was such ordinary man, not really short or tall, neither thin or stocky, wearing nondescript clothes, sipping a cup of tea.

“I built this one strong,” he said, “as I’m going to live here, too, on the top floor.”

I was a small child, and I would understand decades later the mass death sentence he had just passed, and how all “natural” disasters are simultaneously disasters of justice.

From Zeynep's blog post, "People’s Climate March: Can We Scale Up the Politics of Humanity?"
About Zeynep | @zeynep

Quotation mark

Also, check out the awesome vizthink illustration @willowbl00 @berkmancenter made as a teaser to my new paper @CACMmag
>—Axel Arnbak (@axelarnbak)

Sara Watson writes about subverting fitness tracker defaults


The day after my hip surgery, I took a total of 48 steps from the couch, to the bathroom, and back.

Compare that to my 5,423,095 total lifetime steps on Fitbit over the last 628 days. That averages out to about 8,600 steps a day, a little shy of the recommended 10,000.

That first week after surgery, Fitbit emailed me what was meant to be a motivating weekly report full of downward-pointing, red-pixel arrows. I wasn't discouraged, but relieved that my weekly total was so low. I had managed to successfully rest and recuperate.

From Sara's piece for The Atlantic, "Stepping Down: Rethinking the Fitness Tracker."
About Sara | @smwat

John Palfrey reflects on 25 years of the Internet and what lies ahead

Quotation mark

The Web turns 25 years old this year. What has changed since Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN in Switzerland, released this gift to the world in 1989? The easier question to answer might be to ask what hasn’t changed. The widespread use of the Web in communities all around the world has touched virtually every aspect of human existence, mostly for good and sometimes for ill. The way that we operate our businesses, the functioning of our democracies, how we relate to other human beings – fundamental aspects of society and welfare are different than they were a quarter-century ago for those people who have access to the Web. To create an exhaustive list of these changes would be nearly impossible – a testament to the extraordinary power of this invention.

From John Palfrey's blog post, "The Web at 25: Looking Ahead to What Might Be"
About John | @jpalfrey

Harry Lewis shares thoughts on CS50 and departmental cultures

Quotation mark

CS50, Harvard's introductory computer science course, is now the largest undergraduate course at Harvard. That is, it's the largest course in undergraduate enrollments, not even counting its enrollment from the professional schools, nor its Extension School and HarvardX cousins. That news was picked up by Fortune and by Business Insider. When I comment, I try to fight back against the lazy angle that Harvard students are just seeing CS as a way to make a quick buck--because for most students, I don't think that's the rationale at all. It's a very well-taught, fun, and empowering course. And as I said, "[Harvard students] have figured out that in pretty much every area of study, computational methods and computational thinking are going to be important to the future." As I told Business Insider, the "course enrolls students from other disciplines who realize that computational thinking and skills are valuable in their own discipline, whether that’s economics or biochemistry or music or even the Classics." (I went on to plug the release of the Loeb Classical Library in an online edition, but somehow Business Insider didn't print that part.)

From Harry Lewis's blog post, "The (Regulated) Marketplace of Ideas"
About Harry | @harryroylewis

Quotation mark

Field Guides, Games & Adventure Cards for museums! Our friends @metalabharvard report from their Beautiful Data event
>—Berkman Center (@berkmancenter)

Egypt’s Escalating War on Gays Just Landed 6 Men Behind Bars for 2 Years

Quotation mark

Six men accused of “committing debauchery” have been sentenced to two years in prison by an Egyptian court today. The men, who included a Moroccan national, were accused of using their apartment for homosexual activities, promoted through Facebook, reported AhramOnline.

The six were among eight men arrested last month after a video featuring what looked like a gay wedding went viral. While Egypt doesn't have a specific law to prosecute same-sex relationships, the government has been vicious in its crackdown on gays under vague laws such as committing “indecency” and “debauchery.”

From Amira Al Hussaini's post for Global Voices, "Egypt’s Escalating War on Gays Just Landed 6 Men Behind Bars for 2 Years"
About Global Voices Online | @globalvoices

This Buzz was compiled by Gretchen Weber.

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by gweber at September 26, 2014 08:54 PM

Bruce Schneier
Friday Squid Blogging: Colossal Squid Dissected in New Zealand

Months after it was found in August, scientists have dissected a colossal squid. There's even video.

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 September 26, 2014 08:08 PM

A Rainbow of Noise

This post is part of the STEM Story Project series.

There is a rainbow of noise out there. We just don’t usually see it.

Most people know white noise as the static on old analog TVs, but there’s pink noise, and blue noise and black noise; enough to recreate a scientifically accurate audio rainbow. Marnie Chesterton tells some of the stories of the different kinds of noise.

In her PRXSTEM 2.0 piece, we meet Shelley, who uses pink noise to drown out the constant ringing in her head (tinnitus); Professor Trevor Cox at the Acoustic Engineering group at Salford explains why engineers need to classify different frequencies this way; and Cyrus Shahrad, electronic music producer, whose love of brown noise filters through into his work.

Chesterson came across this story idea after having heard about pink noise. She began an investigation sparked by her own curiosity about the spectrum of sound: “I started unpicking the stories of different colours of sound, mainly by talking about this topic to everyone I could think of,” she recounts. “After a few chats with various academics, I came to Professor Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer at Salford University, who is obsessed with qualities of sound – reverb, echo. “

Through Trevor Cox, Chesterson got a first-hand look at an anechoic chamber, a whole room constructed to deaden any type of sound whatsoever. She describes the room as the most bizarre one she’s been in for a while: “The walls and ceiling are covered with these meter-long, dark grey foam spikes, and the floor, if you can call it that, is a mesh a bit like that of a trampoline. Through the holes in the floor, I could see down into darkness, maybe more foam spikes.”

Imagine a room that is so silent that the sounds seem to come from your own head. Chesterson explains, “The brain’s response to that kind of silence is to fill it with something, anything. And that’s what tinnitus is.”

If you’re interested in exploring the different bands of sound described in Chesterson’s piece, you can play with the piece’s companion interactive rainbow of noise. Listen to which bands are used to treat tinnitus, to describe regime shifts in climate, to help sirens cut through background noise, and more. Click the image or here to interact with the rainbow.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 2.14.43 PM

The post A Rainbow of Noise appeared first on PRX.

by Lily Bui at September 26, 2014 06:57 PM

Loose links float ships

Closing a bunch of open tabs. Here goes:

VRooMy news


by Doc Searls at September 26, 2014 04:07 PM

Podcasting is Back. Did it Ever Leave?

There has been a lot of talk about podcasting lately in the news. We’re not surprised, we’ve got a podcast network of our own! But, it’s good to see podcasting get some love and make its mark in mainstream media.

Because we know how many of our producers are also podcasters (or budding podcasters) PRX is giving away a ticket to a week-long podcasting workshop. Take your podcast from zero to HERO in five days at UnionDocs in New York City.


Now, a roundup of some Friday podcasting reads of note:

The post Podcasting is Back. Did it Ever Leave? appeared first on PRX.

by Audrey at September 26, 2014 02:39 PM

Bruce Schneier
iOS 8 Security

Apple claims that they can no longer unlock iPhones, even if the police show up with a warrant. Of course they still have access to everything in iCloud, but it's a start.

EDITED TO ADD (9/19): Android is doing the same thing.

EDITED TO ADD (9/23): Good analysis of iOS 8 and iCloud security.

by Bruce Schneier at September 26, 2014 04:03 AM

Harry Lewis
You're kidding, right? Carlyle tracked its LPs at their annual meeting?
The huge global asset management firm The Carlyle Group, at its annual meeting, issued ID badges to its limited partners--its investors in other words, the people who make the business happen--so it could track their comings and goings at the meeting. These are not employees who imaginably signed away all their privacy rights when they agreed to work for the firm. As the story explains,
Carlyle Group has more than 1,650 investors from 78 countries, according to its website. And hundreds of those investors show up at Carlyle’s annual meeting, which according to one LP is something like the Burning Man festival of the private equity industry.
The LPs who learned about it -- there was apparently no advance notice given -- were furious. One guy thought about giving his badge to a woman LP for the night so whoever was sleuthing their movements would have some fun analyzing the data.

After the infamous email privacy scandal at Harvard a couple of years ago I should not be surprised by anything. How could anyone at Carlyle have thought this was a bright idea? I get it at one level -- some wizard realizes something is possible, nobody ever told him anything about not doing stuff like this, and he might learn something, so why not?

But it's bizarre. It demonstrates a shocking myopia about the big picture. What information did they hope to get that would be more important than the outrage and mistrust a disclosure would precipitate? If your LPs don't trust you in this business, you are cooked. Why would anyone trust Carlyle with anything now?

by Harry Lewis ( at September 26, 2014 02:04 AM

September 25, 2014

David Weinberger
BoogyWoogy library browser

Just for fun, over the weekend I wrote a way of visual browsing the almost 13M items in the Harvard Library collection. It’s called the “BoogyWoogy Browser” in honor of Mondrian. Also, it’s silly. (The idea for something like this came out of a conversation with Jeff Goldenson several years ago. In fact, it’s probably his idea.)

screen capture

You enter a search term. It returns 5-10 of the first results of a search on the Library’s catalog, and lays them out in a line of squares. You click on any of the squares and it gets another 5-10 items that are “like” the one you clicked on … but you get to choose one of five different ways items can be alike. At the strictest end, they are other items classified under the same first subject. At the loosest end, the browser takes the first real word of the title and does a simple keyword search on it, so clicking on Fifty Shades of Gray will fetch items that have the word “fifty” in their titles or metadata.

It’s fragile, lousy code (see for yourself at Github), but that’s actually sort of the point. BoogyWoogy is a demo of the sort of thing even a hobbyist like me can write using the Harvard LibraryCloud API. LibraryCloud is an open library platform that makes library metadata available to developers. Although I’ve left the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that spawned this project, I’m still working on it through November as a small but talented and knowledgeable team of developers at the Lab and Harvard Library Technical Services are getting ready for a launch of a beta in a few months. I’ll tell you more about it as the time approaches. For example, we’re hoping to hold a hackathon in November.

Anyway, feel free to give BoogyWoogy a try. And when it breaks, you have no one to blame but me.

by davidw at September 25, 2014 11:15 PM

Justin Reich
Towards a Pedagogy for Tablets: From Consumption to Curation and Creation
Tom Daccord and I have recently published a new ebook, iPads in the Classroom: From Consumption to Curation and Creation, from the newly formed EdTechTeacher Press, immediately available on Amazon and soon to be available through iBooks. The first chapter...

by Justin Reich at September 25, 2014 04:13 PM

Sara M. Watson
On Hip Surgery and Personal Data

Friends and family may know that I had hip surgery at the beginning of the month. It was relatively minor surgery, 1.5 hours of arthroscopic poking around. I've healed up pretty quickly, and I'm off crutches after three weeks. But during that time I did a lot of thinking about how I ended up needing the surgery for my Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI) and torn labrum, and the defaults of the fitness trackers I've been experimenting with as part of my quantified self research. The Atlantic put out a call for stories about technologies of addition and subtraction, so I wrote up my cyborg hip experience:

I have a record of all the ways I wore away at my soft tissue, in those 18 hours and 32 minutes of yoga I did in the month leading up to my wedding, in those averaged 8-minute-mile jogs that started out with characteristically inconsistent 7:31-minute first mile splits. I see those record-breaking days wandering Paris and Venice. I see where I tried and failed to train for a half-marathon. I see where I injured myself, stopped running, and started physical therapy. These moments are marked by step counts and workouts, but the narrative that explains the numbers is overlayed like a personal journal.
— Stepping Down: Rethinking the Fitness Tracker

Read more.

I also wanted to share that I'm really grateful to friends and family who helped me out during my recovery visiting and sending flowers and love. Especially Nick, for waiting on me hand and foot while I was laid up for the first week on the couch, even while furiously writing his dissertation. And also to Dr. David, my own personal physical therapist brother who first looked at my hip years ago and walked me through every step of the process. He even adjusted my crutches so they finally felt right. I'm pretty lucky to have both of these wonderful people watching out for me.

by Sara M. Watson at September 25, 2014 03:25 PM

Bruce Schneier
Terrible Article on Vernam Ciphers

If there's anything that confuses wannabe cryptographers, it's one-time pads.

by Bruce Schneier at September 25, 2014 11:37 AM

Security for Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a report titled "Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications: Readiness of V2V Technology for Application." It's very long, and mostly not interesting to me, but there are security concerns sprinkled throughout: both authentication to ensure that all the communications are accurate and can't be spoofed, and privacy to ensure that the communications can't be used to track cars. It's nice to see this sort of thing thought about in the beginning, when the system is first being designed, and not tacked on at the end.

by Bruce Schneier at September 25, 2014 07:08 AM

Harry Lewis
The (Regulated) Marketplace of Ideas
CS50, Harvard's introductory computer science course, is now the largest undergraduate course at Harvard. That is, it's the largest course in undergraduate enrollments, not even counting its enrollment from the professional schools, nor its Extension School and HarvardX cousins. That news was picked up by Fortune and by Business Insider. When I comment, I try to fight back against the lazy angle that Harvard students are just seeing CS as a way to make a quick buck--because for most students, I don't think that's the rationale at all. It's a very well-taught, fun, and empowering course. And as I said, "[Harvard students] have figured out that in pretty much every area of study, computational methods and computational thinking are going to be important to the future." As I told Business Insider,  the "course enrolls students from other disciplines who realize that computational thinking and skills are valuable in their own discipline, whether that’s economics or biochemistry or music or even the Classics." (I went on to plug the release of the Loeb Classical Library in an online edition, but somehow Business Insider didn't print that part.)

As I told Business Insider for a different story, "most of the people who are majors are converts from other fields, people who are switching over from all disciplines. This course is really kind of a conversion experience for a lot of people." I used the same metaphor in the long piece the Crimson published about CS50: “We are evangelical about our subject. … We want to compete for students. We want to take all the students who thought they couldn’t do computer science. We want them to understand that it’s going to going to be hard and fun. .... We’ve been doing the shenanigans for years.” (See this earlier blog post for the Confi Guide description of an ur-CS50 course I taught in the 1970s, if you think that David Malan invented clowning in CS at Harvard. And I didn't invent it either, I just picked up where Bill Bossert and Chuck Prenner left off.)

Departmental cultures run very deep, I have learned over the years. The idea that professors are supposed to be evangelical about their subjects is not universal. In some departments the attitude seems to be "We will teach, however reluctantly, whoever shows up, and complain about it if they are not intellectual enough"; in others it is, "I want to teach the students I want to teach; why should I teach students who don't want to be in my classes?" I wish I knew how many of the course "lotteries" (in scare quotes because they are often not based on random selection) are secondary admissions processes driven by faculty desires to select among the select. It is as though the limited concentrations, which were officially banned pursuant to Paul Martin's report on concentrations around the time the Core Curriculum came into being, are being recreated piecemeal as a nexus of limited-enrollment courses. Enrollment limits may be inevitable in some cases, but they are far too prevalent now, with no rules of which I am aware about when they are appropriate. Surely the most bizarre lottery story I have heard is that for Humanities 10, a brand new gateway course designed to draw students to Humanities concentrations and reverse the gradual decline in Humanities enrollments. It sounds like an absolutely wonderful course, vaguely resonant with the first term of the old Hum 5 course I took in the mid-1960s. Humanities 10 drew several hundred students--but was capped at 75. I wonder how many of those turned away took Ec 10 or CS50 instead, and will never return to the humanities except to satisfy their unattractively named "Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding" requirement?

I think departmental cultures are actually not Harvard cultures so much as cultures of the various academic guilds. That would make sense--economists draw their norms from economists elsewhere, for example, not from the norms in the English department. One of the consequences of the unwinding of the faculty community at Harvard--I am old enough to remember when lots of us went to the Faculty Club to drink before heading home, something unthinkable today--is that we learn less from each other about how to behave. We learn from our departmental colleagues, and that's it. Given the self-perpetuating nature of departments, and the way junior faculty are groomed within the department before the department awards them tenure, these norms become very ingrown.

The variation in norms really hit home when I attended the Mahindra Humanities Center's event surrounding the publication of William Deresiewicz's book Excellent Sheep. I had published a dialog with Deresiewicz in the Chronicle of Higher Education in August. I was startled when Homi Bhabha, head of the Center, opened his introduction of Deresiewicz by quoting from that dialog. He first claimed that the unnamed author had drawn a cordon sanitaire around his own discipline and cast the social sciences to the wind (or words to that effect). He then began to quote me, identifying me only as an "amiable colleague":
It seems to me that the process of promotion and tenure has had a particularly noxious effect on the humanities. We used to count on the humanities faculty to open students’ eyes to what it means to be human. Now that is not why humanities professors are hired, incentivized, or promoted. Their social conscience, when they feel called to exercise it, is manifested mostly in normative political posturing that is divisive and chilling to discourse on campus, and of no great civic, educational, or maturational value to students. Isn’t the so-called humanities crisis, the declining numbers of students choosing to study the humanities even at the top institutions, really part of the picture you paint in your book—of institutions that provide lots of freedom, and lots of busyness, but little support for self-understanding? 
"With friends like these," Bhabha sonorously rumbled, "who needs enemies?"

Except that Bhabha quoted only the italicized sentence, not the surround, the argument that the tenure process, desiccating everywhere, has bled the soul out of the part of the institution where we should most hope to find it.

I made a similar argument in Excellence Without a Soul, but it seems to have stung more here, perhaps because the humanities faculty feel so much more beleaguered now. In that book I wrote "We have forgotten that we teach the humanities to help students understand what it means to be human," and I quoted a humanities editor as saying "The demands of productivity are leading to the production of much more nonsense." The reference to politics as a proxy for the more traditionally humanistic values was written at a moment when a leading question among humanities scholars was whether their conferences should follow the lead of the American Studies Association in boycotting Israel. Is that really an instructive issue for those ruing the decline in interest in the humanities among undergraduates? 

By contrast, when my colleague Fawwaz Habbal, tried to explain that engineers deal with questions of value all the time--he gave the example of a course in which students have to "solve" the problem of Fukushima, including deciding on a triage protocol when only a limited number of people can be evacuated--Bhabha seemed to draw his own cordon sanitaire, suggesting that the engineers would build the tools but only the humanists dealt with questions of value.

What was amusing about the projectile Bhabha launched in my direction (I am sure he did not realize I was there) was that a few minutes later Deresiewicz accurately quoted me as arguing that not all subjects were equally important to college education, adding, correctly, that I thought that the humanities were more important than Computer Science. The humanities, as he and I understand them, not necessarily the weird humanities courses constructed for the Gen Ed curriculum.

Though I appreciated Deresiewicz quoting me accurately there, I found the whole event pretty disappointing, as a showcase for the humanities or even for the kind of "critical thinking" the humanists keep telling us their teaching trains students to do. When challenged about his habit of sweeping overgeneralization, Deresiewicz had three kinds of responses.

  • Yes, there are exceptions, the students are not all excellent sheep. But it's true generally.
  • Other people have said the same thing, so it must be true.
  • After I said it, a lot of people wrote me to say I was right, or gave me other examples to support my argument.
There is a name for the fallacy behind the last one: Confirmation bias. You say something, a lot of people agree with you, some people disagree with you, you hear more of what the first group has to say, and you conclude that you were right.

Overall, I just don't think Deresiewicz is a nuanced thinker. He seems not to recognize that he has serious Oedipal issues--his book's way-too-much-information confessional about breaking away from his father was embarrassing to read. His Freudian conflicts have now turned patricidal. He is striking a dagger into the heart of the hated academy that gave him breath. The news one learns from the book that his father was a professor just makes the the transference more obvious.

To loop back to where we started. The Harvard curriculum is largely elective. It is not quite elective enough, in my opinion, because the lines between Gen Ed categories were drawn too finely, as a compromise in a complex turf war among disciplines. So some good courses that are "general education" by any normal person's standard get rejected as Gen Ed courses, and some Gen Ed courses are on topics of dubious general value even though they fit the Gen Ed guidelines. Still, students generally have a lot of choice of what courses to take, and they are not eager to make those choices. So they wind up looking for metrics--easiness, grading softness, time of day--that make choices possible with little thought about the underlying educational values.

One of the marvels of CS50 is that nobody would choose it by easiness. Most students choose it because it is fun and it is empowering and it is useful (not as a way to get a job, but to make a better Loeb Library, etc.). But what information do we generally offer students about exercising their freedom of choice? The Q (student evaluation) guide, which is all but worthless as a course selection tool.

So I ask myself: Why shouldn't we have an actual free market competition for enrollments, with some rewards to departments for building their enrollments? Well, one good reason is that faculty would be incentivized to use dishonorable means to build enrollments -- grade inflation, light workload, etc. Well, guess what -- that happens already. A certain ethical reasoning course has gotten extraordinarily popular lately, with everyone from  overstressed seniors writing theses to members of our athletic teams. 

So I don't believe in a totally free market -- the controls on how we teach and how we grade should actually be stronger than they are. But a regulated, competitive market, with rewards for gaining market share, would improve teaching across the board. If the workload and grading were regulated, why shouldn't there be market incentives to teach courses that inspire students, and to lift the enrollment caps on courses like Humanities 10? It would be a way to break through the logjam that my amiable colleague Professor Bhabha blasted me for pointing out, that the nature of humanistic scholarship these days makes teaching such courses very difficult and unrewarding, even when they the faculty would love to carry their enlightenment to a broad swath of undergraduates. The folks who do it, and they certainly exist, are heroes. Helen Vendler. Greg Nagy. Michael Sandel. There are others, too. There is a reason why students adore them, and it's not because their courses are guts. It's because they speak to students' souls.

by Harry Lewis ( at September 25, 2014 02:46 AM

September 24, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Fake Cell Phone Towers Across the US

Earlier this month, there were a bunch of stories about fake cell phone towers discovered around the US These seems to be IMSI catchers, like Harris Corporation's Stingray, and are used to capture location information and potentially phone calls, text messages, and smart-phone Internet traffic. A couple of days ago, the Washington Post ran a story about fake cell phone towers in politically interesting places around Washington DC. In both cases, researchers used security software that's part of CryptoPhone from the German company GSMK. And in both cases, we don't know who is running these fake cell phone towers. Is it the US government? A foreign government? Multiple foreign governments? Criminals?

This is the problem with building an infrastructure of surveillance: you can't regulate who gets to use it. The FBI has been protecting Stingray like it's an enormous secret, but it's not a secret anymore. We are all vulnerable to everyone because the NSA wanted us to be vulnerable to them.

We have one infrastructure. We can't choose a world where the US gets to spy and the Chinese don't. We get to choose a world where everyone can spy, or a world where no one can spy. We can be secure from everyone, or vulnerable to anyone. And I'm tired of us choosing surveillance over security.

by Bruce Schneier at September 24, 2014 10:13 PM

Nick Grossman
Wanted: Streetsblog for civic innovation
Wanted: Streetsblog for civic innovation:

Frank Hebbert throws down the gauntlet.  Make it happen!


(thx to @nickgrossman for the pithy headline)

We’ve come a long way with this civic tech thing, building great tools for great cities. But word still travels way, way too slowly. Most of the impact we imagine is still only… imagined.

And we’re imagining something big: tech in cities has the potential to profoundly change how citizens experience government and life. Big, powerful changes that create new economic opportunities and new lives for many people. Done right, dramatic changes to benefit and driven by people who have been marginalized and powerless.

How big? Think change at the scale of the interstate system + mass auto ownership + suburbanization (but much more beneficial). That’s about the right order of magnitude, maybe underestimating a little.

So why, given where we want to be, are our voices so quiet, our visions so weak, and our messages so puny? Changing tech in cities can’t be done with jargon about standards, tame lists of tools, and nerdy guidance on open data. We’re failing everyone this way, failing to put tech to work fixing urgent challenges now.


But hold on, what’s the problem? Isn’t there great stuff coming from _____________ (insert your favorite CfA fellows, incubatees, open data leaders, Brigades, etc)?

Yes, there are amazing new tools, necessary data work, smart people, and new businesses. Good stuff all over. Necessary but not sufficient. The civic tech diaspora is still too inwardly focused (exhibit A: this blog post). We’re doing a bad job of communicating beyond the lightning talk/blog frenzy echo-sphere. Consider:

  • Despite big efforts around cataloging (Civic Commons * )  and local guidance (e.g. Sunlight’s nascent local work), there still aren’t good resources available for municipalities to get started. Where resources exist, our crowd tends towards completeness over clarity, enormity over editorial. And that makes it hard for new people to get up to speed.
  • Standards are wonderful but we can’t lead with them. Lead with need (or need + standards in parallel, but that doesn’t rhyme).
  • Focused work like the incredible Smarter Chicago by definition has to keep that focus in their backyard. Same with Reinvent Albany, the NYC Transparency Working Group, others. Too busy to be the Appleseeds of civic tech.
  • New startups are going to sustain this revolution eventually, but they need some help now. Capacity building and awareness raising will prepare cities to be ready (in all aspects — mindset, $$, process, legal).
  • And finally, although Code fellows and the peer network are great, they’re tiny compared to the challenges ahead.

No silver bullet, but here’s a missing component that is within reach: high-quality, informed guidance for cities. Stories about previous successes, briefing notes about areas of opportunity, best practices to follow, local peers to learn from. Not cherry picking highlights that may be hard to replicate, but solid, reliable expertise. Not marketing disguised as guidance. Talking in a language cities also speak. Sounds a little dull, but we have such a story to tell, it’ll be anything but.

This is a fixable problem. Funders could support this story telling very easily in a new or existing organization. It would be cheap (no software developers). This could be a regional or national effort. 

It should be easy to measure impact. And it will have quite the impact: sharing stories and building capacity empowers and activates existing civic and good gov groups, planners, etc, for them to pick up the song and add their voices. Perhaps there’s a bus that goes from town to town, a rolling roadshow of the future… And crucially, this is short term, going out of business within a few years, having catalyzed new energy and thinking in city halls and gov offices all over. A bright light that starts many fires.

It’s easy to throw stones. Demos not memos **, always. But I am disappointed that this emerging sector still has so far to go before it really emerges and makes an impact. Otherwise, what are we doing with our short lives?


* lots more could be said about Civic Commons. Benefitting from hindsight, I see the primary failure as not serving a clear user need — it would have been better to build up guidance based on the need cities have. Nobody really needs a catalog.

** “demos not memos” is the perfect tech-minded civic activist tattoo. With “be good or be good at it” on the other bicep.

(Here’s a use case for this new effort: I chatted last week with a town, thinking about their options for 311 - service request tools, etc. Open311 sounded interesting but was completely confusing. This town wants to get it right. So we chatted about the various aspects of standards, tools, open data vs internal management, etc. I suggested some vendors (SeeClickFix, Public Stuff). Afterwards, I went looking for more to send. And it turns out, we lack well written, accessible guidance in digestible forms. And for 311, you can substitute almost all others of city government work)

September 24, 2014 09:44 PM

metaLAB (at) Harvard
Sharing Beautiful Data with the World

In June, thanks to the support of a grant from the Getty Foundation, we had the remarkable opportunity to bring nearly two dozen curators, technologists, and scholars to Cambridge for two weeks of coinvention, discovery, and reflection on the possibilities of putting data and media to work in museum collections. Although conceived as an engagement in digital-humanities “training,” we thought quick-and-dirty tutorials in javascript and topic-modeling would be less useful than the chance to discover ways of collaborating “in the wild” around questions of computation in art history, museums, and collections-based scholarship. And so the Beautiful Data workshop played out less as a training session than a design charette and summer camp for museophiles. Participants built data visualizations out of Legos and Post-It notes; they toured local museums with sets of wild provocations in mind, prompting them to see collections from novel perspectives; they engaged in conversation with designers, technologists, and neuroscientists as well as colleagues in core museum disciplines.

Out of all that work, a troika of publications have emerged—at once playful and practical, documentary and polemical—to reflect those explorations and share them with a wider community. With the intention of “open-sourcing” the elements and processes that came out of the workshop, these publications complement the material available on the Beautiful Data website, offering routes for exploration of this material that are meant to be applicable in diverse contexts. We hope that you will activate whatever elements seem useful to you, fostering the continuing evolution of Beautiful Data.

The field guide documents the concepts and flows of information that came out of the Beautiful Data workshop, linking critical discussion with invitations to experimentation and making. Using a range of modes, including case studies, maps, activities, and prototypes (and linking to online documentation of these elements), the guide aims to serve as a resource, providing various entry points into the dialogue surrounding Beautiful Data and promoting further experimentation around this material.

The prototyping game provides a set of raw materials for remixing and rethinking the ways in which we design experiences with objects. This playful framework, drawn from institutional missions and contexts, offers springboards for discussion, ideation, and project development.

The provocation cards, drawn from the work of participants in Beautiful Data’s weekend workshop component, provide prompts for adventures in museums, lightly provoking users to engage with these spaces in new and generative ways.

While these documents are the product of the entire Beautiful-Data community, they’re richly the result of considerable invention and energy on the part of two of our summer interns: Laura Mitchell, who provided editorial direction; and Ebru Boyaci, who furnished creative direction. Of course that very dichotomy—the editorial and the graphic—is an instance of the sort of thinking we wanted to break down and remix in the Beautiful Data workshop—and Ebru & Laura’s work constitutes a wonderful example of the kind of collaborative performance of thinking, dreaming, and doing that all of us present at the workshop saw glimmering in our exercises and iterations. So let’s extend that dialogue: take these documents, apply them in new contexts, and tell us what you make!

by Matthew Battles at September 24, 2014 07:33 PM

Berkman Center front page
Upcoming Events: NymRights: Protecting Identity in the Digital Age (9/30); The Evolution of Internet Governance (10/2)
Berkman Events Newsletter Template
berkman luncheon series

NymRights: Protecting Identity in the Digital Age

Tuesday, September 30, 12:30pm ET, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 23 Everett St, 2nd Floor. This event will be webcast live.


Do you have a name? More than one? Does it matter to you who knows it? As digital systems become more integrated into our lives, these questions are becoming very important. We're in the midst of a literal identity crisis where your identity is quickly becoming, rather than something you define, a social construct that is granted to you. This talk will explore the philosophy of names and identity, the digital systems we've created over the past decades, and the challenges that arise when the systems come into conflict with individual safety and freedom. We'll take a look at the current state of name-related policy within both companies and government, and introduce ongoing efforts to make sure your identity is not just a number in a computer.

After being suspended twice by Google Plus during the nymrights fiasco of 2011, aestetix helped created NymRights, focused on empowerment and education of digital identity. RSVP Required. more information on our website>


The Evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosystem

Thursday, October 2, Network of Centers Event in Turin, Italy. This event will be webcast live.


On October 2, 2014 the Global Network of Interdisciplinary Internet & Society Research Centers will host an academic symposium on “The Evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosystem” as part of an ongoing Network of Centers (NoC) events series on the future of Internet governance. The event will mark an important milestone in the NoC’s globally coordinated research effort aimed at examining existing and potential models of decentralized and collaborative governance with the goal of informing the evolution of - and current debate around - the Internet governance ecosystem in light of the NETmundial Roadmap and the work of various forums, panels, and committees.

The public conference is being held to discuss both research in progress and, more broadly, the role of academia in the debate about the next generation Internet governance ecosystem. We will present findings from case studies, discuss the overarching themes, and identify directions for future research.

The symposium will serve as the conclusion of the first phase of a global, collaborative Internet governance research effort within the NoC and is also intended as an initial contribution to the NETmundial Initiative -- a partnership between the World Economic Forum, ICANN, and key governmental, industry, academic, and civil society stakeholders. In addition, the event marks the two-year anniversary of NoC’s operation. At this point, in accordance with the foundational principles, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) hands over the administrative leadership of the Network to the Nexa Center for Internet & Society.

Please register here: Registration (for in-person attendance) Required. more information on our website>

berkman luncheon series

The Great Firewall Inverts

Tuesday, October 7, 12:30pm ET, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 23 Everett St, 2nd Floor. This event will be webcast live.


In the last few years, usage of the mobile messaging app WeChat (微信 Weixin), has skyrocketed not only inside China, but outside, as well. For mainland China, Wechat is one of the only options available, due to frequent blockage of apps like Viber, Line, Twitter and Facebook. However, outside of China, fueled by a massive marketing campaign and the promise of "free calls and texts", overseas Chinese students and family, Tibetan exiles, and Bollywood celebrities also use the app as their primary mobile communications service. It is this phenomenon that might be called an inversion of the Great Firewall. Instead of Chinese users scaling the wall to get out, people around the world are walking up to the front gate, and asking to be let in.

Combined with the rise of attractive, low-cost mobile handsets from Huawei and Xiaomi that include China-based cloud services, being sold in India and elsewhere, the world is witnessing a massive expansion of Chinese telecommunications reach and influence, powered entirely by users choosing to participate in it. Due to these systems being built upon proprietary protocols and software, their inner workings are largely opaque and mostly insecure. Like most social media apps, the WeChat app has full permission to activate microphones and cameras, track GPS, access user contacts and photos, and copy all of this data at any time to their servers. Recently, it was discovered that Xiaomi MIUI phones sent all text messages through the companies cloud servers in China, without asking the user (Though, once this gained broad coverage in the news, the feature was turned off by default).

The fundamental question is do the Chinese companies behind these services have any market incentive or legal obligation to protect the privacy of their non-Chinese global userbase? Do they willingly or automatically turn over all data to the Ministry of Public Security or State Internet Information Office? Will we soon see foreign users targeted or prosecuted due to "private" data shared on WeChat? Finally, from the Glass Houses Department, is there any fundamental diffence in the impact on privacy freedom for an American citizen using WeChat versus a Chinese citizen using WhatsApp or Google?

Nathan Freitas leads the Guardian Project, an open-source mobile security software project, and directs technology strategy and training at the Tibet Action Institute. His work at the Berkman Center focuses on tracking the legality and prosecution risks for mobile security apps users worldwide. RSVP Required. more information on our website>


John Kaag on Drone Warfare and the Public Imagination


In 2012, U.S. drone strikes occurred most often in which nation? If you don’t know, you’re not alone. 27 percent of Americans reported they had no a clue and another 60 percent got it wrong. What should the media cover when it comes to drones and military robotics? And what responsibility do journalists have to focus in on the most pressing moral and legal questions when it comes to drone technologies? John Kaag -- Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and co-author of the recent "Drone Warfare" -- discusses how the American and international public think about drone warfare, and poses pressing ethical questions about drones in military and civilian use. video/audio on our website>

Other Events of Note

Local, national, international, and online events that may be of interest to the Berkman community:

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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 September 24, 2014 06:50 PM

Nick Grossman
So good #Programming in movies vs. programming in real life...

So good

#Programming in movies vs. programming in real life with @m_janko. #hacker

/via @libovness

September 24, 2014 03:45 PM

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Clinic’s Managing Director Receives CCTV’s “Leading Role” Award

AwardThanks to Cambridge Community Television for recognizing the Clinic’s Managing Director Chris Bavitz with CCTV’s “Leading Role” award at last week’s Backlot Barbecue event. Chris accepted the award — which recognizes “advocacy in promoting social justice in media and technology” — on behalf of the Clinic students who have worked with CCTV over the years. Cambridge Community Television has been a terrific client and collaborator, and we look forward to doing many more great projects together in the future!

by Clinic Staff at September 24, 2014 06:18 AM

Bruce Schneier
The Full Story of Yahoo's Fight Against PRISM

In 2008, Yahoo fought the NSA to avoid becoming part of the PRISM program. It eventually lost the court battle, and at one point was threatened with a $250,000 a day fine if it continued to resist. I am continually amazed at the extent of the government coercion.

by Bruce Schneier at September 24, 2014 03:46 AM

Jeffrey Schnapp
Beautiful Data: a field guide

One of the major outputs from metaLAB’s 2014 summer Getty workshop has now become available in pdf: a “field guide” to working with collections data sets. Developed by the entire metaLAB team and, in particular, our interns Laura Mitchell (editor) and Ebru Boyaci (designer), the field guide documents the concepts and flows of information that came out of the workshop, linking critical discussion with invitations to experimentation and making. Using a range of modes, including case studies, maps, activities, and prototypes (and linking to online documentation of these elements), the guide aims to serve as a resource, providing various entry points into the dialogue surrounding Beautiful Data and promoting further experimentation around this material. Feel free to share.

by jeffrey at September 24, 2014 02:02 AM

September 23, 2014

Rebecca Weintraub on Digital Badges for Global Health Delivery Skills [AUDIO]
Healthcare professionals worldwide often have extensive non-clinical skills in management, public health, policy, or other fields which are not officially recognized through a degree. In this talk, Rebecca Weintraub, MD — Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Faculty Director of the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University — introduces the concept of digital […]

by Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School ( at September 23, 2014 06:21 PM

metaLAB (at) Harvard
Library Bridge

This fall, the Knight Foundation issued an open call for ideas in the form of a new News Challenge. (In 2011, metaLAB and Media and Place Productions were lucky enough to win such a challenge in support of development of Zeega.) The foundation is seeking an answer to the question: how might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities? The challenge reads:

We view libraries as key for improving Americans’ ability to know about and to be involved with what takes place around them. The library has been a vital part of our communities for centuries—as keepers of public knowledge, spaces for human connection, educators for the next generations of learners. While habits are changing, those needs have not. We want to discover projects that help carry the values of libraries into the future. We don’t have specific projects in mind, and you don’t need to be a library to apply. This contest is open to anyone, from public libraries to universities to businesses, nonprofits and individuals. We believe passionately in the role libraries have played in helping people learn about and participate in the world around them, and want to support the next generation of that essential endeavor. What captures your imagination about the future of libraries?

Building on it longstanding interest in reimagining the library and on several years of work within our ongoing design studio Library Test Kitchen, metaLAB has submitted the following proposal for a device we are calling LIBRARY BRIDGE:

As the notion of the library expands to encompass the world of web repositories and electronic documents, much of the work of culture, education, social exchange, and civic action that was traditionally carried out in brick-and-mortar libraries becomes invisible or gets lost in the sea of the World Wide Web. The global grows but at the expense of local forms of knowledge and memory. Library Bridge is designed to physically instantiate, feature, and share such local knowledge and memory.

Library Bridge assumes the form of an inexpensive popup station designed to tie together local libraries across the analog/digital divide. Designed to broadcast otherwise invisible content creation, curatorial work, and programming carried out on the local level, it serves as a bridge between branch libraries within and across local library systems, as well as a bridge to national and international libraries such as DPLA, Europeana, and Google Books.

Library Bridge is composed of a quick scanning station, a battery of e-Ink displays, receipt printers, and a pair of webcam-enabled exhibition cases. Its content stream is “tunable” to local needs and interests, but draws its content from THE LIBRARY CHANNEL, a www broadcasting platform that collects, curates, and communicates library-based content, working in collaboration with local librarians and citizens.

Library Bridges can be “chained” together at a library site to feature different content streams. They can be deployed not only within libraries, but also in local historical associations, schools, and civic spaces.

The comment period on this and other proposals is now open, so feel free to check in on the News Challenge at


by jschnapp at September 23, 2014 05:45 PM

Claire McCarthy
Don’t Panic About Enterovirus D68

McCarthyClaire_201108_047With all the news about Enterovirus D68 sending hundreds of children to hospitals, it’s easy to panic when you hear about a case in your neighborhood—or, even worse, if your child starts coughing.

But please, don’t panic.

This virus has certainly caused trouble. Enteroviruses are incredibly common, causing 10-15 million illnesses a year—but usually, those illnesses are minor. This one, for reasons we don’t fully understand, is stronger, and is worse for kids than for adults.

I can hear you saying: so why shouldn’t I panic? Here’s why.

Enterovirus D68 is just a monster of a bad cold. Yes, it can make kids sick, and some kids very sick. But it’s nothing we can’t handle. Most cases can be managed at home, with lots of fluids and TLC. And should kids get sicker and need to come to the hospital, we know what to do. We have medications that help them feel better, as well as fluids and oxygen if they need it (and we help parents with the TLC, too). Kids who get this virus get better; we’ve just had our first confirmed case here at Boston Children’s (it takes a while for the testing results, as specimens have to be sent to a special laboratory) and that child is home and fine.

Instead of panicking, here’s what you absolutely should do to prevent getting sick (from this and other illnesses, including flu):

  • Make sure everyone in the family washes their hands often. Using plain old soap and water and washing for 20 seconds (about the time it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday”) is perfect. Carry hand sanitizer for those times when you are away from a sink.
  • Teach children to cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of the elbow, not the hand
  • Don’t share cups or utensils, and wipe down shared objects and surfaces (toys, doorknobs, countertops) regularly.
  • To the extent that you can, stay away from sick people.
  • Get your flu shot! It won’t fight off enterovirus, but it will fight off the flu.

Because this virus seems to be particularly tough for children with asthma, it’s really important that children with asthma take all of their medication as prescribed—especially their “controller” or preventative medication.  Sometimes when kids are well families slack off a bit on those meds, wondering if they are really necessary; please, give them regularly now. If you aren’t sure what to do, or if you need refills, call your doctor.

Speaking of which…it’s really important that you be watchful of your child if they have cold symptoms, (whether or not they have asthma) and call the doctor (or go to an emergency room) if your child:

  • Has a worsening cough that isn’t responding to home remedies or medications
  • Has any trouble breathing (rapid or heavy breaths, sucking in around the ribs, having trouble talking, looking pale)
  • Won’t drink, is urinating much less than usual, or seems much sleepier than usual
  • Has a fever of 102 or higher (for babies, or if your child has a health problem that makes them more prone to infection, your doctor may want you to call for a lower fever—check with the office for instructions)
  • Worries you in any other way—it’s always better to give a call if you are worried.

Remember: it’s just a monster of a cold. Chances are it won’t happen to you—but if it does, you and your family will get through it. And we’re here to help.

To better prepare families, Boston Children’s Hospital has created an educational sheet that outlines what EV-D68 is and what families should do to avoid exposure. The information can be found here on our website.

by Claire McCarthy at September 23, 2014 04:56 PM

Tim Davies
Creating the capacity building game…

Open Development Camp Logo[Summary: crowdsourcing contributions to a workshop at Open Development Camp]

There is a lot of talk of ‘capacity building’ in the open data world. As the first phase of the ODDC project found, there are many gaps between the potential of open data and it’s realisation: and many of these gaps can be described as capacity gaps – whether on the side of data suppliers, or potential data users.

But how does sustainable capacity for working with open data develop? At the Open Development Camp in a few weeks time I’ll be facilitating a workshop to explore this question, and to support participants to share learning about how different capacity building approaches fit in different settings.

The basic idea is that we’ll use a simple ‘cards and scenarios’ game (modelled, as ever, on the Social Media Game), where we identify a set of scenarios with capacity building needs, and then work in teams to design responses, based on combining a selection of different approaches, each of which will be listed one of the game cards.

But, rather than just work from the cards, I’m hoping that for many of these approaches there will be ‘champions’ on hand, able to make the case for that particular approach, and to provide expert insights to the team. So:

  • (1) I’ve put together a list of 24+ different capacity building approaches I’ve seen in the open data world – but I need your help to fill in the details of their strengths, weaknesses and examples of them in action.
  • (2) I’m looking for ‘champions’ for these approaches, either who will be at the Open Development Camp, or who could prepare a short video input in advance to make the case for their preferred capacity building approach;

If you could help with either, get in touch, or dive in direct on this Google Doc.

If all goes well, I’ll prepare a toolkit after the Open Development Camp for anyone to run their own version of the Capacity Building Game.

The list so far

Click each one to jump direct to the draft document

by Tim at September 23, 2014 04:30 PM

Berkman Center front page
Digital Badges for Global Health Delivery Skills

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
23 Everett Street, Second Floor, Cambridge, MA  02138

Healthcare professionals worldwide often have extensive non-clinical skills in management, public health, policy, or other fields which are not officially recognized through a degree. The Global Health Delivery (GHD) Project aims to introduce digital badges, a credentialing mechanism for healthcare professionals to showcase their skills and experience to potential new employers, grant-giving organizations, and others. GHD is investigating how other industries internally and externally reward professionals and aims to be the platform that health care delivery professionals use to track their professional development activities.

About Rebecca Weintraub

Rebecca Weintraub, MD is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Faculty Director of the Global Health Delivery (GHD) Project at Harvard University. She is an Associate Physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in the Division of Global Health Equity and practices medicine within the Department of Medicine. The GHD Project has published over 30 Harvard Business School case studies with Harvard Business Publishing, available online at no cost to the public. Weintraub is a co-faculty lead for the Global Health Delivery Intensive at Harvard, a joint HMS and HSPH training to introduce key principles in global health delivery to providers and implementers. In 2008, the GHD Project launched, a network of virtual professional communities that connects global health implementers from over 182 countries and 4,000 organizations. Weintraub graduated from Yale University, Stanford Medical School and completed her medical training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


by ashar at September 23, 2014 02:14 PM

September 22, 2014

James Losey
Who publishes Transparency Reports? Here is an updated list of...

Who publishes Transparency Reports?

Here is an updated list of the ICT companies currently publishing transparency reports with a high-level guide to the type of data being reported.

  1. AOL
  2. Apple
  3. AT&T
  4. Cloudflare
  5. Comcast
  6. Credo
  7. Dropbox
  8. Deutsche Telekom
  9. Facebook
  10. Google
  11. Internet Archive
  12. LeaseWeb
  13. LinkedIn
  14. Mapbox
  15. Microsoft
  16. Pinterest
  17. Posteo
  18. Rogers Communications
  19. Silent Circle
  21. SpiderOak
  22. TekSavvy
  23. TeliaSonera
  24. Telstra
  25. Telus
  26. Time Warner Cable
  27. Tumblr
  28. Twitter
  29. Verizon
  30. Vodafone
  31. Wickr
  32. Wikpedia
  33. Wordpress
  34. Yahoo

* TeliaSonera includes secret police requests for Finland and Sweden but aggregates the numbers with total law enforcement requests.

Edit 1: Added Telus to the list, thanks @RonDeibert!

Edit 2: @Patrik_Hiselius clarified that secret police requests are included in TeliaSonera’s report

September 22, 2014 07:13 PM

David Weinberger
The future of libraries won’t be created by libraries

Library Journal has posted an op-ed of mine that begins:

The future of libraries won’t be created by libraries. That’s a good thing. That future is too big and too integral to the infrastructure of knowledge for any one group to invent it. Still, that doesn’t mean that libraries can wait passively for this new future. Rather, we must create the conditions by which libraries will be pulled out of themselves and into everything else.

by davidw at September 22, 2014 05:50 PM

September 21, 2014

Ethan Zuckerman
Williams Convocation Address: “Bibliolarceny and the Size of the Universe”

My alma mater, Williams College, begins the academic year with a convocation, a ceremony for seniors, faculty and a small number of alumni who are being honored with the college’s Bicentennial medal, an award for “distinguished achievement in any field of endeavor”. I was honored to be one of those medal recipients this year, and the college asked me to address the students. My remarks follow below. (Should you want to see me deliver the address, here’s the YouTube video.)

If the job of a commencement address is to offer students thoughts on how to exit college and enter the world, a convocation address can urge students to make the best of their remaining time in college. I wanted to try to connect my time at Williams more than twenty years ago to my professional life, to talk about the college’s new library and connect the year’s academic theme – The Book, Unbound – to my own work.

I’m posting the speech here at the request of a few faculty and students who were kind enough to ask. It may not make a ton of sense to my regular readers, who don’t know about the rivalry between Williams and Amherst, two fine colleges in Western Massachusetts that have lots of similarities and a long-standing rivalry. I’m not above playing to the hometown crowd, so most of the laugh lines here are digs at Amherst and Lord Jeffrey Amherst, British Army commander and all-around nasty piece of work.

I’m honored and thrilled to be with you today for the Williams 2014 Convocation, for the dedication of the extraordinary and beautiful new Sawyer Library, and for this year’s conversation about “The Book, Unbound”. Given the circumstances, I’ve been thinking back to one of my favorite Williams origin stories. You know it, I’m sure: how in September 1821, Zephaniah Swift Moore, the second President of Williams College, skulked out of town in the dead of night, leaving the wilderness of western Massachusetts to build Amherst in the tamer lands of the Pioneer Valley, taking with him not only 15 students but key volumes from the Williams College library.

It’s a fantastic story, just the sort of thing to justify our centuries-old rivalry with our neighbors to the east. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Yes, President Moore left, and yes, fifteen students left with him. And there’s a lack of clarity about where the 700 books that constituted Amherst’s original library came from. But there’s no evidence that Amherst’s library was seeded with purloined volumes, only records of votes by student societies not to move libraries along with the students who left the college.

It’s possible the story began as an excuse for the poor quality of the Williams library in the 1800s. In 1821, the library wouldn’t have been that hard to steal – at that point, Williams had two buildings, two professors, two tutors and 1400 volumes, ot a huge expansion from the school’s original library, 360 volumes in a bookcase in West College. And students complained bitterly of the quality of those books, most of which were dusty theological texts – if you wanted to read non religious literature at Williams for much of 1800s, you would do better to turn to student-run literary and scientific societies.

It’s likely that the legend is much more recent, probably forming in early 1960s. In an essay about the legend, Dustin Griffin points out that early histories of the college discuss President Moore’s departure and rivalries with Amherst, but not the story of the books, and that the story of the books wasn’t one his contemporaries knew in the early 1960s. But by the mid 1960s, there’s record of John Chandler, then dean of the faculty, visiting Amherst’s new library in 1965 cracking a joke about coming to take our books back. When I was here in the early 1990s, the theft of Williams’s library was presented as fact, a simple explanation for the inherent moral superiority of our institution over our rival… which was helpful, as many of us had applied to Amherst as well and needed solid grounding for our contempt.

So we have a myth that’s fairly recent, but which has some powerful explanatory properties and enduring power. It’s worth picking at the myth and asking what it says about us as a culture that this is one of our origin stories, an explanation for our place in the world.

When I’ve heard the story, the theft of the books is always presented as the final straw: Yes, Amherst took our president and took our students. But can you believe they had the nerve to take our books! Bibliolarceny is somehow a more serious crime than other forms of theft – not, perhaps, as serious as proposing the extermination of native Americans with smallpox blankets, but worthy of special consideration nevertheless.

Books have a special, symbolic meaning in our culture. The burning of books – whether by the Mongols when they sacked Baghdad in the 9th century, the burning of “degenerate texts” by the Nazis in the 1930s or American extremists burning the Quran today – isn’t just about the destruction of an object. It’s the symbolic destruction of a people, a culture and a way of thinking. Whether we’re banning books from library shelves, burning them or stealing them, we’re talking about shrinking the universe of cultural possibilities, limiting the number of different ways we can look at the world through the eyes of the authors.

I think that’s why this story has special significance in the context of a college. Even before 1965, when this story gained its currency, college was a place to expand your worldview. The process of packing up, leaving your hometown and going to live with a new set of people is constructed not just to give you access to a different set of teachers, but to a different and broader set of friends and influences. In 1965, when this myth took root, colleges themselves were shifting. In 1964, the civil rights act mandated access to public schools for African Americans and for women. Williams became coeducational in 1970. When this myth arose, we were right on the cusp of the college experience changing: from one which exposed students to a world of mostly white men, to one which served as a bridge to a much wider, multicultural international world. Against that backdrop of the widening world, we have a story about part of a college’s community giving up, finding the challenge of building a community out in the wilds to be too difficult, and shrinking the horizons of those who stayed by taking their books.

One of the reasons I wanted to think about this story is that I wonder whether it has as much currency now as it did in the 60s, or even in the 90s. We’re at a very different moment in our relationship with books, our relationship with information, than we were even twenty years ago. The story of the stolen books is a story from the days of scarce information. Now most of us feel like we’re inundated with information, possibly drowning in it. How do we think about losing part of our library when we have an apparent infinity of information online?

I published a book last summer, Rewire, that looked at the question of how having access to an abundance of global information is changing what we know about the world. I had been a cyberutopian, someone who believed that the internet was going to make the world a smaller, more connected and more understanding place. This seemed pretty obvious to me – it used to be really hard to get news from Sub Saharan Africa or Central Asia – now you can read a Nigerian newspaper online or make a Skype call to Kazakhstan.

But a strange thing has happened as we’ve gotten access to more information from around the world – most of us are choosing to encounter less of it. We have to make thousands of decisions a day about whether we read a story about Ebola, a tweet from Ferguson, or a Facebook update from a high school classmate. In aggregate, most of us are getting much less international news than we did in an era of the daily newspaper and three television stations.

When we’re faced with a wealth of choices, we tend to opt for the familiar, for what we already know to be important. It’s a basic human tendency to pay more attention to members of “our tribe” than people we’ve never met and don’t have a reason to care about. This was a fine coping strategy for a world of disconnected villages, the world almost everyone lived in 500 years ago, but it’s deeply maladaptive for the connected world we live in today. We may not know anyone in Liberia, but it’s a pretty short plane flight from Monrovia to New York – problems that were distant have a way of become our problems very quickly.

Much of my work at MIT looks at questions of how we maintain a broad view of the world when we’re faced with an avalanche of information. It’s directly parallel to the problems librarians have today now that the problem isn’t expanding from 360 volumes to 1400 – the problem is engineering serendipity. It’s making the library – or, in my case, the internet – both a place where you can take a deep dive into a subject you care about, and also a place where you can discover something unexpected and life changing.

One of the things I’ve learned in my research is that it’s much easier to pay attention to people than to places. If there’s someone you care about who’s from Haiti, if you’ve had the chance to travel there and meet people from Haiti, you’ll watch the news differently. You’ll have a connection to that place, a context for a story you hear. The events will be more real to you because Haiti is more real to you through the people you know there.

For ten years, I’ve been helping run a website called Global Voices, which uses citizen media – blogposts, YouTube videos, tweets – to bring readers news from around the globe. The reason we use citizen media is that it gives you a connection to ordinary people writing online as well as to the events they’re describing. For our readers and our community, the Arab Spring wasn’t just the story about a political upheaval – it was the story of our friends who were in the streets, in and out of prison and then in and out of the new governments.

I started working on Global Voices because I wanted to read more news about sub-Saharan Africa in the newspaper. That’s because I spent five years in Ghana helping Ghanaians build internet service providers and other technology businesses. And I started doing that because I spent a year in Ghana on a Fulbright grant studying xylophone music. What got me interested in that was Sandra Burton, who I believe should be considered a national treasure as well as one of our colleges’ greatest heroes. Along with Gary Sojkowski and the late Ernest Brown, Sandra founded Kusika, the African dance ensemble, which was the center of my community when I was at Williams. The strange and wonderful path my life has taken, from starting an early web company to building internet businesses in Africa to working with media activists and journalists around the world, to teaching at MIT leads directly back to the dance studio and to the computer labs, to the professors and students who were passionate about a world wide enough to include both Africa and the internet.

The next time you visit Sawyer Library, I’d ask you to think about the ways in which it’s carefully curated, designed to make it possible to get lost productively, to discover something unexpected but wonderful. Possibly the only thing at Williams more carefully curated is the class you are a part of. We’ve got an almost infinite capacity to put information on shelves physically or virtually, but the opportunity to be in this place, with these people for four years is decidedly finite. I’m grateful for the effort that went into giving me a universe of a couple thousands people who challenged me and invited me to discover new ways of looking at the world.

This is something the college does very consciously, for the simple reason that who we know is going to help determine who we are. I don’t mean this in the narrow sense that, if the person sitting next to you founds the next Facebook, maybe you’ll get some stock options. I mean it in a much broader sense: that who you know, who you care about tends to determine how you view the world, what you pay attention to, and ultimately will shape your path through the world.

Like the library, like the internet, the class of 2015 is too big to know. But if the challenge of a really great library is not just to explore what you already know, what you already care about, the challenge is the same, to challenge yourself to expand your picture of the world by expanding who you know and who and what you care about.

Here’s what Zephiniah Swift Moore took from Williams when he left for Amherst: he took 15 students, 20% of the student body. We can think of those mythical stolen books as shrinking the universe, what we could learn from those volumes. But we should think of losing those students in the same way, as losing the opportunity to see the world through a different set of eyes.

We’re always going to have to make choices about who we know, what we read, what we care about. We never get to read every book, even when there are only 360 on the shelves, and we’re never going to know the people around us as well as they deserve to be known. But we can make decisions to choose a wider world. In ways I never expected, Williams launched me into a world that’s wider than I had imagined. I am eternally grateful for this and I hope the same for you.

Writing this address was a great chance to read up on the early history of Williams and its library. Here are some of the sources I benefited from:

Dustin Griffin (Williams ’65) wrote a terrific essay, “The Theft of the Williams Library”, which I drew from heavily. I’m especially grateful to Griffin for the term “bibliolarceny”.

Steve Satullo (Williams ’69) has been researching the history of Williams libraries as the college has built and moved Sawyer library. His essays have been very helpful for understanding the early days of the Williams library and its shortcomings.

In understanding the state of Williams College and the reasons Zephaniah Swift Moore and others believed it was important to move Williams from the wilderness toward the more settled Pioneer Valley, the 1895 “A History of Amherst College” by William S. Tyler is very helpful.

by Ethan at September 21, 2014 11:47 AM

September 20, 2014

John Palfrey
The Web at 25: Looking Ahead to What Might Be

The Web turns 25 years old this year. What has changed since Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN in Switzerland, released this gift to the world in 1989? The easier question to answer might be to ask what hasn’t changed. The widespread use of the Web in communities all around the world has touched virtually every aspect of human existence, mostly for good and sometimes for ill. The way that we operate our businesses, the functioning of our democracies, how we relate to other human beings – fundamental aspects of society and welfare are different than they were a quarter-century ago for those people who have access to the Web. To create an exhaustive list of these changes would be nearly impossible – a testament to the extraordinary power of this invention.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify one thing: the “Web” is not the same as the “Internet.” Allow me please to retreat a few decades in time, to share a bit of history. Communications networks long predate the advent of the World Wide Web. One could begin the story in many places; the invention of the transistor at Bell Labs in 1947 is a plausible starting point. The development of packet-switching networks in the late 1950s led to breakthrough work by the academic and government researchers who developed ARPANET and related designs in the late 1960s and 1970s. These networks led to the Internet as we know it. On this firm technical foundation, Berners-Lee developed the Web: a system to link hypertext documents that can in turn be accessed via the Internet.

There are many ways the invention of the Web could have gone. Those who worked with it early on might have imagined the Web merely as a way to organize and share information within an organization, an advanced document management system. Or, the invention of the Web might have been patented, with a goal toward creating a massive business and long-term revenue stream for Berners-Lee and perhaps for CERN.

Neither of these things happened. In the spirit of a true scientist, Berners-Lee described and released his work publicly. He did not seek intellectual property protection for his ideas with a goal of monetizing whatever came next. He – and others who helped to promote the Web early on, including Robert Cailliau – recognized it as an invention that could help connect people well beyond the researchers at CERN. A global system of hypertext links could connect people as well as information in the form of text, video, audio, and plausibly any other format we might dream up. This open, public conception of the Web, as opposed to a narrow and proprietary view, has had enormous consequences

The impact of the Web is felt so broadly today because of the capacious, open vision that Berners-Lee brought to his work — and to the way he released the invention to the world. Its impact is a consequence of the brilliance of the design, how it builds upon other networks, and how it allows for others to build on top of it through new ideas.

As we celebrate twenty five years of the Web and what it has meant to societies around the world, we ought also to consider what we might accomplish in the next twenty-five years. Consider three institutions that have already been changed by the Web and which will no doubt change more in the coming two and a half decades: education, libraries, and journalism. Each of these institutions is essential to healthy democracies and relies upon a web that remains free, open, and interoperable. In an increasingly digital world, the importance of these institutions is going up, not down. And yet, in each case, the Web is too often perceived as a threat, rather than as an opportunity, to these institutions and those who work in them. And if the Web itself becomes closed down, controlled by private parties or by government censorship, we will curtail opportunities for extraordinarily positive social change. With great imagination, compelling design, sound policy, and effective implementation, each of these institutions might emerge stronger and better able to serve democracies than before the advent of the Web.


In many countries around the world – certainly in the United States – to bring up “the current state of education” is to bring on a conversation characterized by a lot of sighing and hand-wringing. If you mention the Web in this context, it tends to grow more negative still. We fear declension: this generation of students is “dumber” than previous generations, if Emory professor Mark Bauerlein is to be believed. We tend to fear that students have shorter attention spans than they did when they tended to read longer-format works (mostly, books, but perhaps even essays such as this one that go on for more than a page or two). If the Web comes up in such a conversation, it is commonly blamed for one or more of these problems.

Certainly, we do need to teach students to sustain their attention beyond Tweets and Facebook status posts; certainly, we need to do a better job of helping them to learn to discern credible information from less credible information on the Web. But instead of just worrying about what we are losing, we ought to consider what is newly possible. In a world characterized by the Web, there is no shortage of interesting, important, and fun things that we can do to improve education.

The future of education will come about through the application of new technologies to the very old art of teaching and learning. Since the days of Socrates and Plato, teachers have debated the best way to convey ideas and skills to the next generation. What, in a way, could be more important than a society’s ability to prepare its young people to create a bright future for themselves and for the world at large?

As a field, education has not been especially threatened by technology so far. Nor has it been transformed radically. Consider what has happened to the business of recorded entertainment such as music and movies, and most recently the field of book publishing, book stores, and libraries in the era of the Web. The change in related fields is coming on fast and furious. Education is about to get its share of this kind of transformative change.

The easiest place to see this transformation is in higher education. The Web is today often associated with the explosion of free, online courses being offered by top-tier universities. Call this phenomenon “MOOC Mania.” MOOC stands for Massive, Open, Online Courses. The most famous of these initiatives are spin-outs from Stanford – Coursera and Udacity – which are for-profits, funded by venture capitalists, and edX, a project started by MIT and Harvard, as a non-profit. These ventures offer hundreds of courses to millions of students around the world – so far, largely for free – via the Web. Just to be clear, there is no way that interactive courses of this sort could be made so freely available, at relatively little cost, without the advent of the Web.

There is raging, global debate about whether these MOOCs are a good idea. Some think that these courses can solve the vexing problem of rising tuitions – making education much more affordable for students in the process. All of us who run educational institutions know that the rate of increase in tuitions outstrips inflation each year. Why? We are essentially businesses comprised of people. Even if we increase pay in line with inflation, the rate of increase in benefits is much higher than the ordinary rate of inflation. (Other problems, including bad management decisions, contribute to rising costs of tuition, too, to be sure.) Some people think a world in which MOOCs proliferate can help us to reset our models in a more sustainable manner. It’s possible – but it won’t happen without reducing the number of people we employ or how much we pay them. Hence, the controversy.

In some fields, MOOCs offer enormous potential for improving the quality of education. Set aside the business model implications for education for a moment. If we can replace less-good lectures with better, more engaging lectures; if we can replace less good text books with better, more engaging, interactive ones; and if we can put classroom time to better use, the net effect for learning can be fantastic. Here, data can be our friend: we can use analytics to understand better what’s working and what isn’t. Student mastery can rise as teaching methods improve across the board. These gains are much easier to see in some fields – such as math, science, computer science, statistics, and economics – than it is in others, like the visual arts, performing arts, and much of the humanities. But there is very interesting work underway across the academy to understand how we can improve our work as teachers and learners through these models.

There’s another model of online education that holds special promise, which involves an extraordinary teacher named Sal Khan and his web-based service, Khan Academy. Sal Khan is without a doubt the most popular educator in the world right now. Every month, he and his team of a few dozen people reach many millions of students, of all ages, from around the world. Through online videos on a wide array of topics, from computer science to history to art, Sal Khan has reached hundreds of millions of people. These learners have completed over a billion exercises at Khan Academy, on the Web, to test their mastery. They can practice what they learned on the videos, often over and over again. Khan Academy is free and open to anyone.

There’s a big difference between the kind of education someone can get free, online, from the Khan Academy (or on Wikipedia, for that matter), and the kind of education one can get at a great public or private residential school. There are enormous benefits to residential education and to face-to-face encounters with teachers. But there is also a benefit to the ability to watch a well-taught lesson over and over again when you didn’t really understand what your algebra teacher was explaining to you. There’s great value in having exercises to check yourself as you do your homework or as a class is proceeding on a hard topic.

What’s exciting to me is the connection between the experimental, innovative online teaching and learning work being done at places like Khan Academy and the classic, time-proven approaches at our traditional schools. A successful approach to education reform, I believe, will bring together the best of the “classical” with the best of the new “jazz” in education.

One of the knock-on effects of this change is the development of new systems, some technological, that offer a way to understand much better what is working and what is not working well in education. It is exciting to see projects that bring technology into the classroom that can collect a great deal more data about how kids learn and allow us to test various approaches, refining them over time. Think of it as the concept of “big data” supporting education in a promising way. One of the things that education can learn from the Web is the spirit of innovation and experimentation. Through the growing field of educational assessment, we are better able to test approaches, improve upon those that seem to be working, discard those that are a failure, and scale the best of them.

The connection between what young people are learning in formal educational settings and outside the classroom holds enormous untapped potential. Consider a student who can benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of a great teacher, both in the classroom and when they are at home doing their homework. Think of the possibilities of figuring out which forms of teaching work the best for that student in any given course and being able to personalize her education. Think about our ability to connect her passion with the resources that we have all around us – in libraries, museums, and cultural centers of all types, all around the world, some of which are increasingly digitizing their holdings for anyone to use, anywhere, for free.

Students are increasingly exposed to interdisciplinary courses and projects during their schooling and are asked to combine the things that they have been learning. Sometimes these activities take place at a young age, (say 6 or 8); other times, these activities take the form of a capstone experience at the end of high school (age 17 or 18). These experiences teach problem-solving, deep research, teamwork, presentation skills, the building of lateral connections between and among ideas, and the ability to think creatively. Think of courses not called Biology but focused instead on water resources or the ecology of the city or town in which the student lives; think of courses not in just one aspect of the arts but on the importance of cities as cultural centers; think of experiences that bring students into settings where they can hone skills as entrepreneurs and as community servants. These learning experiences are deeply connected to the classroom, but they extend far beyond them – into communities, museums, libraries, businesses, into the “real world.” These ways of teaching and learning mirror the hypertext quality of the Web itself.

Put another way: think of what we could do if we were to apply to the world of education the same energy, the same innovative spirit, and the positive collaboration that we’ve brought to creating the Web and all that rides on top of it, from Google and YouTube to Twitter and Facebook. We should bring together the people, the science, and the expertise from the private sector with the public sector to improve our systems, our methods, and our results. We should hold ourselves to the standards that we have for the highest performing enterprises in our country. The possibilities for schools at all levels could be astonishing. Our children and grandchildren deserve no less.


The world of the digital – often characterized by the existence of the Web itself – exacerbates a sense of uncertainty that hangs over libraries. Why do we need libraries, many people ask, when we have the Web? What good is a librarian when we can just ask Google or Apple’s Siri from our handheld device?

For a child born today, the first experience of a broader world of knowledge than she has known before, is increasingly likely to be mediated by a screen of some kind. Over the past two and a half decades, access to the Web, mobile devices, and digital media has increased at a rate far more rapid than the spread of any major information or communications technology in the history of the world. While it took centuries for Gutenberg’s books to reach masses of Europeans, the spread of the Internet and digital media has taken only a few short decades to spread across the globe. Nearly two billion of the world’s 6.8 billion people have access to the Internet. Through mobile devices, well over three billion people can connect to the World Wide Web.

The expansion of the mind can be experienced by a child through a computer screen or through the tiny interface of a mobile phone or in a game, now that we have the Web. But she may also walk into that same library that her mother entered and gain insight and special memories in an inspiring physical space. In today’s world, these digitally-mediated experiences are interwoven with experiences in physical space that complement, confirm, and sometimes challenge what they are learning online. The Web is not a competitor to libraries; it is a complement. The Web should be part and parcel of the future of libraries, not the killer of libraries.

The spread of the Web brings with it many wonderful possibilities for library patrons of all ages. Unprecedented access to knowledge and written material is perhaps the most important benefit. For the first time in human history, people anywhere in the world—including those without access to physical libraries—can access an extraordinary array of knowledge virtually without cost. Schools and universities can make available knowledge and information to their students in ways that were not possible just a few decades ago. The world can open up to children through new interfaces and experiences that will expand their minds, connect them to people elsewhere around the world, and offer them a chance to participate in the making and sharing of knowledge.

Via their patrons, libraries can be drivers of economic development and social innovation. The benefits of far-reaching digital technologies extend beyond learning to aspects of life like creativity, entrepreneurship, and activism. In communities around the world, children are using Web-based technologies to create identities, videos, audio recordings, games, and media of all stripes as they learn and express themselves. As they become teens and young adults, some create inspiring political movements, watchdog groups, and new modes of organizing, and others invent new businesses and technologies that create jobs and opportunities. They teach one another as they build out into the global environment made possible by the Web. Libraries are central to each of these activities, in small towns and large cities. Without libraries as access points and educational settings, these positive aspects of the digital age are unavailable to many kids whose parents cannot afford broadband or personal computers, even in the richest parts of the world.

The Web also makes possible new kinds of libraries. One major new direction for the Web has been advanced by Berners-Lee himself: the notion of the semantic web. In countries around the world, communities are building national digital libraries. In Europe, the collaborative project Europeana is making digitized collections from dozens of nations available freely online. In the United States, the Digital Public Library of America is making the scientific, historical, and cultural record available, free to all, via the Web. In the era of the Web, libraries can take the form of platforms, on which all manner of innovation and learning can flourish.


Alongside education and libraries, journalism is a field in crisis in the world of the Web. The driving forces behind the crisis in journalism are not precisely the same as those in the library environment, but they are related. The increase in readers who come by their news and information on the Web has led to a challenging environment for journalists across the board. The advertising revenue that has made print newspapers and magazines good businesses to own in the past has been declining as attention shifts to the web and to mobile environments. It might seem easy just to switch over to a digital publishing environment, but it isn’t. First, the skills required of journalists are different online than they are offline, in respects that parallel the shifts in skills needed for librarians. More troubling, the “analog dollars” that paid for advertising in the print world are being traded for “digital pennies.” Put another way, the amounts that can be charged for advertising by a digital publication are lower, so far, than the amounts that can be charged for similar exposure online.

The culprits for these threats to journalism will sound familiar: they are services built upon the Web. Many of those advertising dollars have gone not to competing journalism outfits, but to the new intermediaries of the Web. In classified ads, much of the revenue has flowed to start-ups like Craig’s List. In the world of news, Google has found ways to profit from highly targeted advertisements to people who begin their searches online or via a mobile device. Social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, are getting a growing cut of the revenues that once sustained newsrooms, foreign bureaus, and the many expenses associated with running first-rate journalism outfits.

A comparison of the crises facing schools, libraries and journalism in a digital age makes for an interesting analogy, but it’s more than that. Yes, journalists, like teachers and librarians, are figuring out what it means to operate in a networked environment. Each of these institutions needs to answer the question of the role that they serve in a world where the Web – often, Google – is a first port of call for those seeking to become informed about something.

The more important connection among them is that schools, journalism and libraries are bedrock institutions in democracies. We need to support these institutions more in an era of the Web, not less, than we did before. We rely upon journalists to unearth and to contextualize stories that matter to our lives in a free and open society.  High quality journalism is essential to our ability to choose those who represent us or to vote on a direct referendum. The work of journalists helps to inform social movements, protest actions, and groundbreaking research. The work of the beat reporter covering City Hall keeps those in power (at least somewhat) honest. The months and months that an investigative reporter devotes to an in-depth story on the impact of fracking is as important as the months and months that a policy-maker might spend wrangling over an energy bill.

Democracies can’t afford to lose substantial numbers of journalists, teachers, and librarians. In an information-rich world, we as citizens need trusted guides and interpreters of the extraordinary array of facts and opinions that we can access digitally via the Web. Journalists, teachers, and librarians have every reason to make common cause – between and among themselves, but also with the next generation of technologists – during this transition to a digital age.

* * *

At its twenty-fifth anniversary, it might be tempting sit back and celebrate what the Web has given the world. The answer would be much, indeed, and it is worthwhile to acknowledge all that. I am deeply thankful for what it has made possible in terms of economic growth, human interconnectedness, and the development of new knowledge.

I prefer, though, to look ahead, in the spirit of the invention itself, to the challenges that lie before us. Those challenges include preserving the openness and the interoperability of the Web and the essential networks on which it rides. Those challenges are to use this tremendous gift to improve core democratic institutions, such as education, libraries, and journalism, in the public interest. In so doing, we will be creating institutions that will enable our youth – coming to age in a digital era – to build a brighter future for those who will follow.

The effect of our good decisions today could be to launch a generation of young people who use the Web to accomplish positive social change. The Web is a tool that can be used for ends that are pro-social or ends that are destructive. As we build out the next iteration of the Web and the institutions that rely on it, we ought to aim to inspire and enable young people to be innovative, creative, and engaged in civic life around them. In its best form, the Web can be a tool that conveys a sense of agency and possibility to those who have come to learn its ways and are facile with its use. The benefits for economic growth, cross-cultural understanding, and vibrant democratic institutions could be a powerful force for good, world-wide.

[This essay was published in Spanish in Politica Exterior (Foreign Policy) No. 161, September-October 2014.]

by jgpalfrey at September 20, 2014 08:31 PM

Bruce Schneier
Friday Squid Blogging: 200-Pound Squid Found in Gulf of Mexico

A 200-pound dead giant squid was found near the coast of Matagorda, Texas. This is only the third giant squid ever found in the Gulf of Mexico.

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 September 20, 2014 04:34 PM

September 19, 2014

Berkman Center front page
Berkman Buzz: September 19, 2014

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

Sara Watson launches "Living with Data" series on Al Jazeera America


I'm really excited to share that I launched a new series this week with Al Jazeera America, based on my Berkman lunch talk last April about personal data stories. It's called Living with Data.

The series consists of two parts: articles about the uses of data all around us, and a regular column—The Decoder—that looks into reader-submitted questions about personal data and algorithmic encounters.

I’m really excited to work with Al Jazeera on this project, given their dedication to being “with the people — we tell real stories.”

But I need your help! This series starts with you.

From Sara Watson's blog post, "Living with Data and The Decoder launch!"
About Sara | @smwat

Northeastern University profiles Andy Sellars


Advising clients on these frontier issues requires embracing the complexity and nuance of the world. As one of my old teachers once said, “if you come to easy answers to questions like these, you just aren’t thinking hard enough.” I’m lucky that Northeastern taught me to think critically and deeply about these policy choices. We saw a lot of watershed events for the music industry in the five years I was at Northeastern – Dangermouse’s The Grey Album, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) lawsuits against college kids, and countless others. With each, my classmates, professors, and I sought to understand what it could mean for the future of the industry and how we conceptualize the relationship between artists, fans, and intermediaries. This delicate balancing is the hallmark of all online policy debates today.

From Northeastern University, "Working on the legal edge of cyberspace"
About Andy | @andysellars

Quotation mark

Berkmaniacs @zeynep and @judithd on geek culture going mainstream in today's @nytimes
>—Berkman Center (@berkmancenter)

Dan Gillmor discusses U2 and Apple's forthcoming digital music format


Uh-oh. Here we go again.

According to Time magazine, Apple is working with U2 on a “secret project” aimed at ensuring that we’ll all pay for the music we listen to in the future. Says the magazine, U2 frontman and doer of good works Bono “hopes that a new digital music format in the works will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music—whole albums as well as individual tracks.”

From Dan Gillmor's piece for Slate, "Bono, Apple Creating 'Irresistible' Music Format. Prepare to Buy the White Album Again."
About Dan | @dangillmor

Ethan Zuckerman reflects on pop-up ads, civics, and fixing broken things

Quotation mark

About a month ago, I wrote an article about a simple idea. I asked whether anyone really believed that advertising should be the main way we supported content and services on the internet. Given how poorly banner advertising on the web worksGiven that nobody likes banner ads, and given that the current system puts users under surveillance, which in turn seems to inure us to government surveillance, I wondered whether there might be a better way.

Initially, the piece did what I hoped for – it sparked a lively conversation about business models for the web, particularly about business models for news. My friend Jeff Jarvis, whose faith in Google inspires envy in leaders of the Catholic Church, reassured me that once advertising got a little better, I’d like the ads I was reading online, really! I heard pitches for ethical advertising, for different approaches to subscriptions and to micropayments. I’d gotten something off my chest, had sparked a good conversation and was learning from the responses. As a blogger and a media scholar, life was good.

But something unexpected happened halfway through my day in the sun. For a brief and uncomfortable time, I became the most hated man on the internet. Here’s how that happened.

From Ethan Zuckerman's blog post, "A public apology — on screwing up by not questioning assumptions — my talk at #BIF10"
About Ethan | @ethanz

Kate Krontiris explores how to make government visible

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It would seem that Americans do not confidently know how to recognize our government in our daily lives. Out of the many services, experiences, exchanges, pressures, and opportunities we encounter in the course of a day, we cannot pick out the ones that stem from government authority and resources.

From Kate Krontiris's blog post, "Uhhhh, Government?"
About Kate | @katekrontiris

Quotation mark

Scotland, Social Data and McRussians: Fantastic @digg original by @gilgul packed with social data insight on Scots.
>—Andrew McLaughlin (@McAndrew)

Ebola Hasn't Reached the Gambia, and People Are Working to Keep It That Way

Quotation mark

Efforts in the tiny West African state of the Gambia, which hasn't been affected by the devastating Ebola outbreak, are being intensified to protect the country from the deadly virus.

A coalition of civil society in the Gambia have launched Ebola Free Gambia to try and keep the country Ebola free. Its Facebook page, created on the 30 August, has over 2,900 likes.

From Demba Kandeh's post for Global Voices, "Ebola Hasn't Reached the Gambia, and People Are Working to Keep It That Way"
About Global Voices Online | @globalvoices

This Buzz was compiled by Rebekah Heacock.

To manage your subscription preferences, please click here.

by rheacock at September 19, 2014 08:26 PM

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Northeastern University Profiles Andy Sellars of the Clinic

imagesNortheastern University has published a profile of the Cyberlaw Clinic’s own Andy Sellars, calling attention to his great work at the Clinic and at the Berkman Center’s Digital Media Law Project. Andy — a 2008 graduate of Northeastern’s College of Arts & Sciences – describes his interest in the intersection of creative arts and technology and the ways in which Northeastern faculty members like Dave Herlihy and Jim Anderson influenced his decision to study law. Congratulations to Andy on being one of Northeastern’s “Featured Alumni”!

by Clinic Staff at September 19, 2014 05:48 PM

Bruce Schneier
Identifying Dread Pirate Roberts

According to court documents, Dread Pirate Roberts was identified because a CAPTCHA service used on the Silk Road login page leaked the users' true location.

by Bruce Schneier at September 19, 2014 04:32 PM

Two New Snowden Stories

New Zealand is spying on its citizens. Edward Snowden weighs in personally.

The NSA and GCHQ are mapping the entire Internet, including hacking into Deutsche Telekom and other companies.

EDITED TO ADD (9/18): Marcy Wheeler comments on the second story, noting that the NSA uses this capability to map MAC addresses.

by Bruce Schneier at September 19, 2014 03:45 PM

Berkman Center front page
Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: A Conversation About National Security Letters

Friday September 19, 2014
12-1PM, WCC 3019
Lunch will be served
Hosted/Co-sponsored by the Cyberlaw Clinic

Several federal statutes authorize the Federal Bureau of Investigation to issue National Security Letters -- administrative subpoenas that require companies to disclose customer information relevant to national security investigations. In March 2013, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that gag order provisions in the NSL statute violated the First Amendment and that judicial review procedures violate separation of powers, declaring the entire statute unconstitutional. The court stayed its order pending the government’s appeal. The unnamed ISPs challenging the statute are represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In the wake of recent leaks on national security activities vis a vis major online service providers, non-disclosure provisions in NSLs have come to the forefront of the national conversation on transparency for service providers and due process for their customers. Kurt Opsahl, a Berkman Center Affiliate and EFF attorney who is arguing the NSL appeal, will explore these issues in an interactive format.

by ashar at September 19, 2014 01:44 PM

Bruce Schneier
Tracking People From their Cell Phones with an SS7 Vulnerability

What's interesting about this story is not that the cell phone system can track your location worldwide. That makes sense; the system has to know where you are. What's interesting about this story is that anyone can do it. Cyber-weapons arms manufacturers are selling the capability to governments worldwide, and hackers have demonstrated the capability.

by Bruce Schneier at September 19, 2014 11:06 AM

September 18, 2014

Nathaniel Freitas
Google Online Security Blog: Security for the people

Over the coming months, Simply Secure will be collaborating with open-source developers, designers, researchers, and others to take what’s there—groundbreaking work from efforts like Open Whisper Systems, The Guardian Project, Off-the-Record Messaging, and more—and work to make them easier to understand and use.

via Google Online Security Blog: Security for the people.

by nathan at September 18, 2014 08:29 PM

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