Current Berkman People and Projects

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

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

November 24, 2014

Bruce Schneier
New Kryptos Clue

Jim Sanborn has given he world another clue to the fourth cyphertext in his Kryptos sculpture at the CIA headquarters.

Older posts on Kryptos.

by Bruce Schneier at November 24, 2014 01:14 PM

Friday Squid Blogging: Cephalopod Cognition

Tales of cephalopod behavior, including octopuses, squid, cuttlefish and nautiluses.

Cephalopod Cognition, published by Cambridge University Press, is currently available in hardcover, and the paperback edition will be available next week.

by Bruce Schneier at November 24, 2014 12:38 PM

Friday Squid Blogging: The Story of Inventing the SQUID

The interesting story of how engineers at Ford Motor Co. invented the superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID.

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 November 24, 2014 06:55 AM

Pre-Snowden Debate About NSA Call-Records Collection Program

AP is reporting that in 2009, several senior NSA officials objected to the NSA call-records collection program.

The now-retired NSA official, a longtime code-breaker who rose to top management, had just learned in 2009 about the top secret program that was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He says he argued to then-NSA Director Keith Alexander that storing the calling records of nearly every American fundamentally changed the character of the agency, which is supposed to eavesdrop on foreigners, not Americans.

Hacker News thread.

by Bruce Schneier at November 24, 2014 03:28 AM

November 23, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Whatsapp Is Now End-to-End Encrypted

Whatapp is now offering end-to-end message encryption:

Whatsapp will integrate the open-source software Textsecure, created by privacy-focused non-profit Open Whisper Systems, which scrambles messages with a cryptographic key that only the user can access and never leaves his or her device.

I don't know the details, but the article talks about perfect forward secrecy. Moxie Marlinspike is involved, which gives me some confidence that it's a robust implementation.

EDITED TO ADD (11/20): SlashDot thread.

by Bruce Schneier at November 23, 2014 11:19 PM

November 22, 2014

Bruce Schneier
The Return of Crypto Export Controls?

Last month, for the first time since US export restrictions on cryptography were relaxed over a decade ago, the US government has fined a company for exporting crypto software without a license.

News article.

No one knows what this means.

by Bruce Schneier at November 22, 2014 04:08 PM

Citadel Malware Steals Password Manager Master Passwords

Citadel is the first piece of malware I know of that specifically steals master passwords from password managers. Note that my own Password Safe is a target.

by Bruce Schneier at November 22, 2014 03:47 PM

Nick Grossman
Half, not half-assed

My favorite book on product development and startups is Getting Real, published in 2006 by the folks at 37signals (now Basecamp).  If you haven’t read it (it’s freely available online), it’s essentially a precursor to The Lean Startup (2011). Back when I was leading a team and running product and OpenPlans, it was like my bible. The copy we had at the office was tattered and torn.

One of my favorite ideas / chapters from the book is: “Half, Not Half-Assed”.  It’s short, so I’ll just include the whole thing here:

Build half a product, not a half-ass product
Beware of the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to web app development. Throw in every decent idea that comes along and you’ll just wind up with a half-assed version of your product. What you really want to do is build half a product that kicks ass.

Stick to what’s truly essential. Good ideas can be tabled. Take whatever you think your product should be and cut it in half. Pare features down until you’re left with only the most essential ones. Then do it again.

With Basecamp, we started with just the messages section. We knew that was the heart of the app so we ignored milestones, to-do lists, and other items for the time being. That let us base future decisions on real world usage instead of hunches.

Start off with a lean, smart app and let it gain traction. Then you can start to add to the solid foundation you’ve built.

This is so important and also so hard to do.  Despite having appreciated this idea since 2006, and having told it to others countless times, I still have not mastered it, and still find myself falling in love with features and ideas that really just end up diluting my efforts.

I’ve been thinking about this because last week I had this exact advice delivered to me on two separate occasions, regarding two things we’re building at USV; once from Brittany and once from Fred.  In both cases they were right, and the advice was important and helpful.

So, there it is. Nearly 9 years later, still important and still helpful, still cleverly-titled :-)

by Nick Grossman at November 22, 2014 11:44 AM

Bruce Schneier
Snarky 1992 NSA Report on Academic Cryptography

The NSA recently declassified a report on the Eurocrypt '92 conference. Honestly, I share some of the writer's opinions on the more theoretical stuff. I know it's important, but it's not something I care all that much about.

by Bruce Schneier at November 22, 2014 02:45 AM

A New Free CA

Announcing Let's Encrypt, a new free certificate authority. This is a joint project of EFF, Mozilla, Cisco, Akamai, and the University of Michigan.

This is an absolutely fantastic idea.

The anchor for any TLS-protected communication is a public-key certificate which demonstrates that the server you're actually talking to is the server you intended to talk to. For many server operators, getting even a basic server certificate is just too much of a hassle. The application process can be confusing. It usually costs money. It's tricky to install correctly. It's a pain to update.

Let's Encrypt is a new free certificate authority, built on a foundation of cooperation and openness, that lets everyone be up and running with basic server certificates for their domains through a simple one-click process.


The key principles behind Let's Encrypt are:

  • Free: Anyone who owns a domain can get a certificate validated for that domain at zero cost.

  • Automatic: The entire enrollment process for certificates occurs painlessly during the server's native installation or configuration process, while renewal occurs automatically in the background.

  • Secure: Let's Encrypt will serve as a platform for implementing modern security techniques and best practices.

  • Transparent: All records of certificate issuance and revocation will be available to anyone who wishes to inspect them.

  • Open: The automated issuance and renewal protocol will be an open standard and as much of the software as possible will be open source.

  • Cooperative: Much like the underlying Internet protocols themselves, Let's Encrypt is a joint effort to benefit the entire community, beyond the control of any one organization.

SlashDot thread. Hacker News thread.

EDITED TO ADD (11/19): Good post. And EFF's blog post.

by Bruce Schneier at November 22, 2014 01:43 AM

November 21, 2014

Willow Brugh
A month in Nairobi

Background of the gig

Pablo and games

I met this guy named Pablo Suarez in a pub in Boston, when our mutual friend John Crowley insisted I leave my introvert-hole. When John insists, I tend to listen. And as always, it was totally worth it. Pablo plays games. As a climate scientist, he got tired of people falling asleep in meetings. He was aware of the direness of the situation, but no one else felt the same urgency. So he started expressing probability and costs and delays through dice, and beans, and objectives. He’s played these games with people who live in disaster-prone areas on through people at the UN who make policy about resource allocation. He’s created actual, connected change through an entire system. We’ve since embarked upon a few event adventures together, and I’m glad to call him friend and cohort.

My experience with KRCS

And so I met this guy named Dr James Kisia, when Pablo suggested I take a gig at the Kenyan Red Cross. In a continuing trend, when Pablo suggests things, I tend to listen. James has become well known as an innovator in the NGO/innovation space. As an example, reframing the understanding and practice of social entrepreneurship in resource-poor settings. Exploring sustainable resource mobilization for an organization whose relevance in disaster-prone Kenya is increasingly becoming apparent. The KRCS runs 3 hotels in Kenya, taking advantage of the fact that conferencing is a major business in Kenya, and in Nairobi particularly. It might seem paradoxical, having a five star facility on the campus of the a humanitarian organization, but the money the hotels make is ploughed back into the humanitarian work of the organization — including non-funded sudden onset disasters.

Based entirely on good faith, shoe strings, and a few well-placed calls, James and I embarked upon a trust fall with each other, based entirely on Pablo’s word. The Web of Trust in real life. I arrived to Nairobi for 4 weeks of work with little guidance beyond to lay groundwork for a Dadaab-focused intern or contractor, as specific to what would be applicable to climate change issues as well.

KRCS in Dadaab

Kenya Red Cross has been incredibly gracious, open, and stimulating. For example, they set me up with an incredibly kind gent named Francis who picks me up at 06:10 each morning, and again at 19:30, so we can avoid the traffic of Nairobi. He insisted I bring the lesson of “we belong to society” back to the states. When I asked for time or materials, such were readily granted. When pushed or indicated discomfort at ideas or practices, the willingness to engage and improve made me feel safe and encouraged. I have the honor to work with a number of wonderful groups, and KRCS and the Climate Centre are now absolutely within that grouping.

Beyond what I was there to focus on, KRCS does a LOT of stuff. But pertinent to the overlap, they got involved with the Dadaab refugee camp in 2011, after some MSF Spain representatives were kidnapped, and a bunch of the responding organizations subsequently pulled back their support. This was at the same time as a 150,000ish person influx into the Dadaab complex due to drought and conflict in Somalia. This knowledge meant my problem statement was emerging: if climate change means more Dadaabs, how do we make better Dadaabs?

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 5.56.10 PM

holy wow this is a lot of text. here is a dinosaur on a skateboard, from one of my evenings Not Working

This is complicated by the following: refugee camps are meant to be temporary, and in part are agreed to by the host community under this assumption. People are fleeing untenable situations, often malnourished and generally in poor health. As infrastructure and response is set up to respond to their current status as well as issues of close proximity (sanitation, gender-based violence issues), living conditions in a refugee camp, while still sub-standard, can still be better than the originating location. Such a difference decreases the likelihood of a departure from the camp back to origin. So improving the conditions towards increased dignity and health in camps is in tension with available resources and welcome of where the camp is located.

What I Did

Desk Study

There are a TON of reports around different aspects of the Dadaab complex, many of which are available via the UNHCR website. While KRCS and other partners understand the interconnected nature of their response, reports are still released along very specific categories. I spent most of my time on Health and Nutrition, in no small part due to the mind-blowing transition from 38% acute malnutrition in 2011 (at the beginning of their involvement) to 14.9% one year later (for the part of the camps where KRCS involved – not the whole camp). It’s now below Sphere standards for emergency, and they continue working to eradicate it completely.

That said, many of these reports are in pretty standard format. By which I mean, 200+ pages per year of “in figure XX.YY you’ll see that ACRONYM_SOUP VERB_ABOUT_DIRECTION by a STATISTICAL_TERM PERCENTAGE.” Not the most entertaining, which is tragic given the time, energy, depth of understanding, funding, and outright care that go into these. How are people supposed to learn… to iterate based on these?


I also got to engage in my favorite way to get to know a topic… talking to people. I sat down with people who work in Dadaab (some via skype, some in person). I couldn’t go toDadaab myself, as security there is still a major issues (IEDs, kidnappings, general violence), primarily assigned to al Shabab. As blatantly mzungu, I could be the target of such attacks, and KRCS is one (if not the only) of the groups that act without security. This is very upsetting to me, and we’ll figure it out when/if I come back. I feel unbased, uncertain, but also trusting in those I interacted with on a daily basis who dospend time in the camps. So interviews were all recounting of people who know Dadaab well – the partnerships around the camps, operations, community engagement, health and nutrition, and management. I typed, I drew, I thought. All of this folded into a codesign workshop to shape next steps for me, and suggestions to the rest of the team.

Workshop Design

I wanted to impart 3 things during a workshop, to the purpose of improving conditions in Dadaab. 1) making information tangible makes it easier to iterate on, 2) there are many ways to make information fun to make and fun to take in, and 3) there are TONs of tools out there that can do both of these, as well as opening up new paths to engagement with a wider community (either through code or through content creation). As anyone, the attendees are busy with meaningful projects, and so making the most of their time was vital. Having James’s support meant those I hadn’t had a chance to bond with still came, so we had a diverse set of individuals at the workshop. I set out with the following objectives:

Long-term objective for this working session: A better curated knowledge base for improving conditions in / responding to needs in refugee camps and informal settlements, especially as extendable to climate change issues. Audience: Refugee response groups, climate change organizations, active citizens.
Mid-term objective from this working session: A thriving platform for the sharing and improvement of information on Dadaab within KRCS. This platform might be technical, process-based, or both. Audience: KRCS Dadaab-focused staff and volunteers.
Short-term objective from this working session: A list of knowledge sets to curate and give to others for streamlined working conditions. Audience: Incoming Dadaab Refugee Operations personnel.

I walked through the workshop a half-dozen times, talked through it with my housemate Danna (with whom I’ve been recording songs), made sure all the backing documentation was done, that the examples of summaries were precise, that the people calling in about their tools were prepared, and that the outline of the workshop was populated with instructions, but not so detailed it wouldn’t allow the conversation to be organic. The language was cleaned up and made accessible by one Lindsay Oliver, who is currently looking for contract work and you should totally hire her. And then I clenched my hands while I slept, nervous as always, anxious to build and succeed. You can see how the workshop went over on the Civic blog (and yes ok maybe here, too) on Monday.

by bl00 at November 21, 2014 10:59 PM

James Losey
Understanding Internt Taxes and Protests in Hungary as Debates over Strategic Architecture

This was originally posted on the blog for the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication, where I am a visiting scholar.

At the end of October, 100,000 Hungarians took to the street to protest a tax on data traffic proposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The proposed tax was cited by protestors as another attempt by the Orbán government to restrict freedom of information. These claims are not without reason. Since taking power and increasing representational power in elections this year, the Orbán led right wing Fidesz government continued efforts to restrict media and information freedom, drawing concern from the European Union and human rights groups. These tensions demonstrate the multi-level tensions between domestic politics and international organizations regarding freedom of expression and the press.

In his forthcoming book Free Expression, Globalism, and the New Strategic Communication, Monroe Price, the director the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication, argues that a necessary condition of the modern Weberian state is the ability to influence legitimate use of information. A critical component of this is the use of strategic architecture: the shaping of media systems and control of underlying infrastructure to control narratives. In context with other changes in media laws, the proposed internet tax illustrates an effort by the Orbán government to influence the media system, resulting in domestic and international tensions.

October’s internet tax proposal, framed as a measure to address budget gaps, continues five years of Fidesz efforts to influence strategic architecture of media in Hungary.  After winning elections in 2010 the Fidesz party began aggressively overhauling media regulations. The Media Services and Mass Media Act introduced vague restrictions on freedom of the press including fines for unbalanced or offensive coverage. The Freedom of the Press and the Fundamental Rules on Media Content granted courts and authorities the power to compel journalists to reveal their sources.

The proposed changes brought criticism from Europe and the US and incited protests at home. The Washington Post called the proposed changes “the Putinization of Hungary” and Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, cautioned that the Media Service and Mass Media Act created a framework for silencing dissent. 1,500 people protested the passing of the 2010 law, and opposition only increased after the laws took effect on January 1, 2011. Népszabadság and Népszava, two Hungarian newspapers, published “Freedom of the press in Hungary comes to an end” in 27 European Union languages on their front page.   On January 5, 2011 websites including the Pirate Bay organized a blackout. A second protest on January 13 drew 10,000 protestors, and a follow-up on January 27 brought 5,000 people to Parliament square.

As the laws were in effect when Hungary took over presidency of the European Union, EU entities promptly critiqued the policies. Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, called for immediate changes to the laws. In March 2011 the Hungarian Parliament voted to amend the media laws. A dominant coalition in European Parliament, however, called for further revisions to harmonize Hungary law with EU directives. Protests continued with 30,000 people taking to the streets to protest the changes as concerns with the law remained.

The Media Services and Mass Media Act also allowed Orbán to influence the Media Council, the national media regulator, through political appointments. In December 2011 Klubrádió, a liberal radio station, announced the Media Council rescinded its spectrum license and that it would have to shut down. This led to protests outside the Hungarian Radio headquarters. It took two years of arbitrary bureaucratic red tape for Klubrádió toregain a long-term spectrum license.

The 2014 internet tax proposal represents the latest Orbán effort to use legal authority to shape the information space in Hungary—one that furthers tensions with Europe and within Hungary itself. Amy Brouillette, director of the European Media Project at the Center European University in Budapest, framed the proposed tax as a “creation of a digital iron curtain around Hungary.” Kroes called the tax a “shame for users and a shame for the Hungarian government” and lent her support to protests. Following 100,000 taking to the streets, seen here in a video from the Good Drones Lab, the proposal was retracted.

Tensions over information control in Hungary demonstrate the multi-level debates over strategic architecture and the mechanisms through which the Orbán government is shaping the Hungarian media system. Hungary’s media and internet in relation to Europe and the world is more than a debate between a state and external actors. It is a tension between domestic politics and international norms for freedom of the press and expression. Increased control over the Hungarian media system is the result of one party’s rising political control placing the Fidesz government in tension with opposition domestically and in Europe. Through this lens, Orbán illustrates a paradox of a modern state: how much can a party in power maintain control over domestic information while also participating in interdependent global networks.

November 21, 2014 07:12 PM

Kate Krontiris
What should our city do with $500,000?

Wouldn’t it be cool if you were the one deciding how your own tax dollars are spent in your own city?

If you live in Cambridge, MA you now have that option!  I’ve joined the Steering Committee of the City of Cambridge Participatory Budgeting project, and wanted to share information about how residents and other collaborators can get involved.

Cambridge has launched an exciting new process asking residents how to spend $500,000 of Cambridge’s capital funds and we need your support!

Capital funds can be used for physical improvements to City-owned property such as improvements to public playgrounds or parks, repairing streets and sidewalks, installing accessibility ramps on public property, installing benches or street lights, creating a community garden, resurfacing a basketball court, etc.

  • Through December, there will be a series of Idea Collection Assemblies and Pop-Up events across the city to solicit project ideas from the community.
  • In January and February, volunteer Budget Delegates will review these ideas to turn them into concrete proposals.
  • Then in March, Cambridge residents ages 12 and older will be able to vote on their favorite capital projects, worth up to $500,000. 

Since this is the first participatory budgeting initiative in Cambridge, we need your help to spread the word!  

Please visit for more information.


 Sign Up For Updates or to Volunteer here

Use Hashtag: #yourbudget on Twitter @CambMA

Watch: What is Participatory Budgeting?  

Visit the website:  


Idea Collection Assemblies are the best place to learn about Participatory Budgeting!  Come share your ideas for how to spend $500,000 and join this new movement for democracy!

 See dates below and please RSVP here if you plan to attend!!

1.       Frisoli Youth Center, Computer Room, 2nd Floor, 61 Willow Street: Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 6:15-8:15pm

2.       Citywide Senior Center, Ballroom, 806 Massachusetts Ave: Saturday, December 6th, 2-4pm

3.       Cambridge Water Department, Cafeteria, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway: Monday, December 8th, 11:30am-1:30pm

4.       Gately Youth Center, Snack Room, 2nd Floor, 70 Rindge Ave: Wednesday, December 10, 6-8pm

5.       Main Library, Community Room, 449 Broadway: Sunday, December 14th, 2-4pm

For more information:

November 21, 2014 07:02 PM

David Weinberger
APIs are magic

(This is cross-posted at Medium.)

Dave Winer recalls a post of his from 2007 about an API that he’s now revived:

“Because Twitter has a public API that allows anyone to add a feature, and because the NY Times offers its content as a set of feeds, I was able to whip up a connection between the two in a few hours. That’s the power of open APIs.”

Ah, the power of APIs! They’re a deep magic that draws upon five skills of the Web as Mage:

First, an API matters typically because some organization has decided to flip the default: it assumes data should be public unless there’s a reason to keep it private.

Second, an API works because it provides a standard, or at least well-documented, way for an application to request that data.

Third, open APIs tend to be “RESTful,” which means that they work using the normal Web way of proceeding (i.e., Web protocols). All you or your program have to do is go to the API’s site using a standard URL of the sort you enter in a browser. The site comes back not with a Web page but with data. For example, click on this URL (or paste it into your browser) and you’ll get data from Wikipedia’s API: (This is from the Wikipedia API tutorial.)

Fourth, you need people anywhere on the planet who have ideas about how that data can be made more useful or delightful. (cf. Dave Winer.)

Fifth, you need a worldwide access system that makes the results of that work available to everyone on the Internet.

In short, API’s show the power of a connective infrastructure populated by ingenuity and generosity.

In shorter shortnesss: API’s embody the very best of the Web.

by davidw at November 21, 2014 02:25 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Partners In Health at the MIT Media Lab – design challenges around Ebola

Today’s Media Lab Conversations involves Ophelia Dahl and Dr. Megan Murray from Partners in Health with Joi Ito and David Sengeh from the Media Lab. The topic is understanding Ebola, and we’re learning about the disease to see if there’s anything the Media Lab can do to help organizations like Partners in Health combat the spread of the disease.

Ophelia Dahl, the executive director, of Partners in Health begins by noting that when she began her work in Haiti decades ago, audiences were less welcoming and receptive to these issues. With Paul Farmer, the organization was designed to respond to situations like the one in Haiti, where there was a complete dearth of health services available.

Partners in Health is not a disaster relief organization. While it addresses the everyday disaster of poverty, which has massive health impacts, and while they are often critical first responders to natural disasters, they are structured very differently. Because they work in countries like Haiti over long periods of time, they had doctors, platforms and a supply chain already in place. “We focus on systems,” she explained, which made them particularly well suited to help with Ebola. The organization has a home in Boston and partners closely with local academic institutions to train and prepare medical researchers and professionals to understand these complex health situations.

Dahl reminds us that Ebola is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that we’ve seen several outbreaks over the years. None of those outbreaks killed more than a few hundred people. This outbreak, starting in Guinea and spreading into Liberia, Sierra Leone has killed at least 8,000 people, and likely many more. A hallmark of this disease is that it spreads from patients to caregivers, and as people in rural areas have moved to urban areas to seek care, it’s moved into large cities.

There’s a tendency to think of Ebola as a death sentence. The high fatality rate – almost 70% – has an underlying cause: the weak, and now collapsed, healthcare system in these countries. Our collective failure to treat patients explains the death rate. Patients who contracted Ebola in the US have all survived – this is a disease that can be survived with proper medical care. That proper treatment is not complicated. It’s about staying hydrated and managing electrolytes. Most critical is good nursing care.

Dahl recently returned from West Africa where she talked to several survivors of Ebola. The survivors were young, had been in good health before the disease, and probably survived due to luck and their strength, not because they received especially good care. Many of these survivors had been caretakers to their families, and watched family members die before they contracted the disease. Hiring these survivors is key to Partners in Health’s strategy. Not only will they have immunities and a deep understanding of the virus, but creating strong healthcare jobs for these survivors is a way to combat the stigma of the disease.

The system that is weak and has collapsed means that more people are dying from the systemic effects of Ebola on the healthcare system, not from the disease directly. There’s not a single place open for women to deliver their children when a country is facing a crisis like this. Countries face a massive set of problems in the wake of Ebola since there’s not a functioning maternal health system, an emergency medical system or really any community care at this point. The resilience of health systems in the face of emergency, like the marathon bombings in Boston, is radically different than the situation on the ground in West Africa.

Dahl shows us a treatment center in tents, and a teaching hospital – Hopital Universitaire de Mirebalais – a hospital Partners in Health helped build in only three years. Linking these treatment centers to these teaching hospitals is a key step we need to take.

She shows us the gear healthcare workers are wearing – it looks like foul-weather gear worn on a ship, and features three pairs of gloves. Imagine finding a vein in a dehydrated patient with those gloves on, sweating – finding better personal protective gear is one of the first steps that needs to be taken.

Dr. Megan Murray, of Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and Partners in Health, explains that the disease is so new to the medical community that people are still working out the proper treatment protocols. In these countries, what’s emerging is a three-tiered system of care. Countries are building tent-based Ebola treatment units, often in major cities, where labs can test samples and perform diagnosis. These centers are expensive to set up, and they’re often far from the communities where patients live.

The second tier of support is community care centers, places where patients are isolated from their communities so they don’t inflect their caregivers. Unfortunately, these have been really bad places, places where people go to and die – they have operational and image problem if they want to serve the populations they seek to help. At an even more grassroots level, community health leaders are working on screening and contact tracking, helping identify the people who are likely to have the disease for treatment at ETUs and CCCs. In terms of innovation, Partners in Health is looking for innovation in diagnostics and treatment at the ETU and CCC level, and in epidemeology and vaccines at the community level.

The fatality rate on Ebola, between 50-70%, is more fatal than anything else we’ve seen in the public health sector. The challenge is improving those rates in the ETUs and CCCs while maintaining personal protection for the caregivers. The care isn’t that hard – it’s about providing IV fluids. But it’s hard to get caregivers to safely put in an IV line, and when people become delirious, it’s hard to get people to stop pulling out those IV lines. Centers end up trying to care using oral rehydration salts, but Ebola patients can lose 10 liters of fluid a day, and that cannot be replaced with oral rehydration.

One path towards technological innovation would be finding better ways to track fluid and electrolyte status. That generally involves frequent blood draws, which puts healthcare workers at risk. One possibility is using a transdermal microneedle sensor, which was initially designed by a US scientist to monitor dehydration in athletes. The inventor has been completely willing to deploy it in new contexts, and Dr. Murray sees this as a great example of moving useful technology into a new context.

Another problem is ensuring dignity and comfort by allowing access to relatives. This is a problem that’s especially acute in treating children. Most children under 12 who’ve contracted the disease have died. It’s very challenging to convince people to pass their sick children off to people in space suits to go off and die. As a result, people hide from the ETUs and CCCs. We need better tools, possibly digital tools, to let parents and children connect.

It’s critical for Partners in Health to ensure rapid learning by optimizing data collection and management tools, Dr. Murray explains. We need to capture all the information from these cases, but it’s incredibly hard to build data collection tools that work with three pairs of gloves on. Right now, systems rely on holding up pieces of paper to windows for transcription – voice activated systems would be a strong step forward.

Stopping the disease will ultimately require accurate and early diagnosis. “If we could diagnose in the field before it was symptomatic, we could stop the epidemic.” Dr. Murray lists some promising directions: immuno-assays using antigen capture and antibodies, tests of nucleic acid amplification, viral culturing, and novel methods, like a single particle interferometric reflectance imaging sensor. Right now, current tests require lab facilities, take 2-6 hours, and might need more blood than you can get from a fingerstick. We need something that requires a finger prick and can be processed at peripheral sites.

There are promising new drugs and vaccine candidates. Three vaccines are in testing – two are single dose, another is double dose and may provide stronger protecting. New treatment protocols include ZMAPP, a cocktail of 3 monoclonal antibodies, originally engineered in tobacco, and being produced now in yeast. One possible treatment is a drug for flu, currently stockpiled in Japan, which has gone through safety and tolerability trials, and can now go into efficacy trials. Most other candidates have not yet been tested for safety and tolerability.

One promising development are BSL4 labs – biocontainment labs – built in shipping containers and delivered on tractor trailers. Unfortunately, most of the roads in rural areas cannot accomodate those trucks, and it can take 13 hours on terrible roads to travel from peripheral sites to a city.

Until we’re at a vaccine – and especially, an aerosol vaccine which wouldn’t require needle sticks – Partners in Health is looking to build a flexible data base and IT platform that captures knowledge, to build a network of partners in industry, research and funding agencies, and to support local research infrastructure through training.

Joi introduces into the conversation the idea that popular response in the US to Ebola has been to suggest locking down our borders. Instead, we need more volunteers to come into these countries and lend a hand. Dahl tells us that more than 1000 people have volunteered to come to West Africa, despite the fact that quarantines mean this could be a 6-10 week commitment. Locking down borders is making it harder for nurses, logisticians and lab workers to volunteer.

David Sengeh suggests we need to think beyond the immediate problems of the disease and into the broader issues that countries like Sierra Leone face. He notes that Sierra Leone has a population where 70% of citizens are under 30, and where young people already have a challenge accessing a quality education. Add to this the closure of schools and Sierra Leonean youth are facing a future that’s short on opportunity. David shows us a video made by a teenager from Sierra Leone that addresses discrimination and ostracizing that often happens to Ebola survivors. Helping people make media and address these prejudices is a key strategy.

We end up in a discussion between the audience and the stage about whether the Media Lab could be a collaborator with Partners in Health on addressing issues around Ebola. Joi pointed out that the lab is trying hard to work on codesign strategies, where we don’t design technology and drop it into communities, hoping it will work, but work with communities to identify problems and design solutions. It’s possible that the Media Lab might work to support hackathons and other efforts in Liberia or Sierra Leone, or that nurses and other health workers who’ve worked in the field could work with the Lab on issues like cooling systems for personal protection equipment or non-invasive blood drawing techniques. Mask fogging, one of the most serious problems with protective equipment, is a problem Joi identifies as well-known to the SCUBA community, and he wonders whether techniques from that world could work for Ebola protection.

The challenge, Dahl reminds us, is not just innovation, but deployment. One of the major tools used to combat Ebola is chlorine bleach, which is used to sterilize surfaces and people who’ve taken off their protective equipment. Someone had the bright idea of dyeing the bleach solution pink, so that people could see where they’d bleached off and where they hadn’t reached. Solving these problems is a first step – getting them widely adopted in the field is the key to saving lives.

The crew at Civic has a great liveblog of the event – check it out!

by Ethan at November 21, 2014 12:04 AM

November 20, 2014

Berkman Center front page
Berkman Community Newcomers: Jack Cushman

Interview with Jack Cushman

Berkman fellow working on digital preservation at university libraries
interviewed in summer 2014 by Berktern Nicole Contaxis

Jack Cushman understands that the library is an evolving institution. Students no longer need to wander up and down corridors of books in order to complete their assignments or explore their fields. More and more material is available online, and the nature of research is changing as information technology advances. As such, the responsibilities and designs of the library are also changing, and Cushman’s project at the Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab situates itself within this dialogue. As an extension of the and Permabox projects, Cushman is attempting to build a network of preservation technologies owned and operated by libraries.

Cushman’s connection to Berkman began when he was volunteering on the project, and eventually his co-workers convinced him to apply as a fellow so that he could continue to help full-time. helps scholars provide permanent links to online works cited in their writings and helps prevent link rot. This service allows scholars to cite a wide variety of materials without concerns about how long those materials will be available online. In other words, it provides the permanence and security to digital materials that have long been afforded physical materials in libraries. Permabox helps extend the network by helping smaller, perhaps underfunded, libraries and universities participate. Cushman’s project builds on this work and will help provide permanent links to online legal materials referenced in judicial decisions.

As Cushman helps libraries implement a preservation network like this one, he heavily considers the present and future form of libraries. With three over-flowing bookcases at his home, he is connected to the physical manifestation of the library and maintains that it should stick around, at least for as long as he does. And while he understands that it is currently important for libraries to provide access to the internet and technology literacy materials, he believes that this responsibility will shrink as technology becomes cheaper and tablets are given away in cereal boxes.

Yet, when discussing the future of the library, Cushman remains focused on the importance of the “alternate universe” that libraries provide. Unburdened by the expectation of financial transactions, the library has a different set of goals and responsibilities that many businesses and institutions. It maintain an atmosphere that is difficult to define but easy to enjoy. More concretely, it may be the only type of institution where your late fee is just fifty cents, and you can pay it “whenever.” The library is a unique community space, and Cushman believes that it is this quality that is most desirable and most important to preserve during and after these current upheavals.

Cushman’s work with libraries is informed by a diverse set of experiences. With an undergraduate degree in electronic arts, a law degree, and experience in film, Cushman ties his interests together with one overarching concern: how to help people grasp and fulfill their potential. He describes a deep passion for humanism and enhancing the human experience, particularly as it exists and is understood online. Drawing comparisons to the goals and intentions of the Founding Fathers as they drafted the Constitution, he believes that the Internet has provided a new space for the creation and proliferation of tools for human growth.

Yet where the Founding Fathers had a history of legal and governmental action to call upon, the Internet is a space that lacks the same sense of history and seems to lack an analogue. Cushman explains one difference: when the Founding Fathers were writing the Bill of Rights, a safe could be broken into with a considerable amount of effort, but now as “safes” currently exist online, they are either terribly easy or impossible to open. The physical limitations that provided the context for the theory and philosophy behind the Constitution do not exist online, and this is just one of the issues that need to be addressed as the Internet proliferates. Cushman understands his work, as well as the work done at Berkman in general, as a way to bridge a humanistic philosophy and new technological platforms. For Cushman, the future of technology is bright and human-centric.

by ctian at November 20, 2014 08:21 PM

Berkman Community Newcomers: Emy Tseng

This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.

Interested in joining the Berkman Center community? We're currently accepting fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year. Read more on our fellowships page.

Interview with Emy Tseng

Berkman Fellow and Senior Communications Program Specialist with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Interviewed in summer 2014 by Berktern Sergio Alves Jr.

After years of work in digital inclusion and broadband policy programs with governmental agencies and public interest organizations throughout the country, Emy Tseng joins the Berkman Center to address the world. Emy will explore how the Internet-­enabled sharing economy can be applied to economic development and poverty alleviation in marginalized urban communities in the U.S. and in newly industrialized countries (such as Brazil, Thailand, and other countries in similar stages of development).

According to Emy, sharing strategies for poverty alleviation have been in place for decades, but they are unevenly distributed and funded across different geographical spaces. In the case of microfinance, she wants to examine whether urban areas are affected by the lack of “trust networks”, which are more typically identifiable in rural communities. She also is interested in whether a perceived “lack of need” leads to fewer opportunities of innovative financial solutions in underserved urban zones.

Inspired by the theory of change and online mechanisms that enable people to participate in sharing transactions (resource sharing, bartering and reuse, peer funding and lending services), Emy will investigate how Internet and mobile technologies can strengthen existing local sharing economies to increase local entrepreneurialism, empowerment and asset building in impoverished populations. Emy’s ultimate goal is to design policies and programs focused on technology for social change.

Berkman is a unique place surrounded by curious people with multiple interests and talents. Incoming fellow Emy Tseng takes this to a whole different level; with an accomplished career in software engineering and technology policy, Emy is also a jazz singer with a particular interest in Brazilian jazz. Ask her where her taste for Brazilian music comes from, and the answer arrives in the jazz and bossa nova style: uncountable names, visceral feelings, inspiring places, and occasional encounters, here and there.

Seja bem-vinda, Emy!

by ctian at November 20, 2014 08:00 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
“Watching Me Watching You” – Hasan Elahi and Josh Begley on the imagery of surveillance

I admire much of the work Open Society Foundation does (a good thing, as I’m a board member), but I have a special soft spot in my heart for the Moving Walls program. Since 1998, OSF’s Documentary Photography program has featured exhibitions of documentary photography about human rights and social issues, choosing new artists to feature every 6-7 months through an open call process. The exhibitions provide support for documentary photographers, and inspiration and insight for the staff and visitors who see the images.

The most recent show features ten visual artists reflecting on the nature of surveillance, historically and in contemporary society. Titled “Watching You, Watching Me”, the show features archival images from the Stasi’s secret archives, curated by Simon Menner, a set of photos of weddings and other celebrations shot using a drone (prompting reflection on the ways US drones are used for targeted killings at Yemei, Afghan and Pakistani weddings), by Tomas Van Houtryve, and a deeply creepy set of photos by Andrew Hammerand, called “The New Town”, which were shot via a web-controllable CCTV installed by a property developer and left unsecured.

“Prins Maurits Army Barracks, Ede, Gelderland, 2011.” by Mishka Henner, from “Dutch Landscapes“, a set of prints of Google Maps imagery of “sensitive” Dutch landscapes with details obscured.

Accompanying the ten sets of images are a set of presentations by the artists. Last evening, Hasan Elahi and Josh Begley reflected on their installations in a conversation curated by Professor Patricia Williams from Columbia Law School.

Elahi teaches at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and points that he lives and works in surveillance country, his campus nearly a midpoint between the CIA, the NSA and the Pentagon. Elahi has had ample reason to think about American intelligence agencies. Not long after 9/11, Elahi – a frequent international traveler – was detained by US law enforcement at the Detroit airport. His name had been put on a terrorist watchlist by an anonymous citizen who “saw something and said something”, misidentifying him as an Arab (he’s not) who “fled” after 9/11. After six months of polygraph tests and interrogation, the FBI told Elahi that he was free to go.

But Elahi notes that “once you’re in the system, you can’t really be released from it.” As Elahi traveled around the world, he worried that other FBI agents might not have gotten the message that he was free to travel. So Elahi got into the habit of calling “my FBI agent” and letting him know where he was going and what he was doing, offering reassurance that he wasn’t planning on leaving the US and emigrating to Afghanistan, for instance. “Over time, this turned into a really asymmetric relationship,” Elahi remembered. “I would write longer and longer emails, sometimes thousands of words, sometimes reflecting on personal matters. The response I got was always the same: ‘Thank you. Be safe.'”

Elahi’s artistic project for the past twelve years has been one of relentless self-documentation. If the FBI was going to watch him, Elahi wanted to demonstrate that he could watch himself even better. Elahi’s website shows his current position on a map and offers a recent photograph. Over the years, Elahi has posted 70,000 photos, some organized by themes – his meals, the toilets he’s used, the beds he’s slept in. Each is timestamped and geocoded. “It’s a form of camouflage through overexposure. The signal to noise ratio is overloaded,” he explains. “I’m telling you everything, but nothing, simultaneously.”

Elahi suggests that we think of artistic movements as responses to the military conflicts a society is embroiled within. Dadaism is a way of making sense of the surreal and hyperviolent world of the first World War, while abstract expressionism can be thought of as a response to WWII. Minimalism and Pop Art, distinctly American movements, can be thought of responses to the distinctly American wars in Korea and Vietnam. “We’re currently at war,” Elahi reminds us. “We declared war on terror. How does terror give up?” The selfie, he suggests, is the art form we should associate with the war on terror, the cultural remnant of this moment of surveillance and project of our own presence.

Reflecting on Elahi’s work, Professor Williams notes how transgressive it seemed a decade ago. “Now your webpage looks like my son’s Facebook feed.” Elahi notes that our phones now create a data trail not unlike the the trail he’s worked to create for a dozen years. “Is it still art if a billion people are doing this?” Elahi asks himself. One possible response is that artists, unlike scientists and engineers, benefit from returning to the same questions that haunt them. “Engineers like to solve a problem and move on. Artists solve the same problem again and again.” The banality of the images Elahi creates may be the point: it’s too much imagery for any human, including “his” FBI agent, to process. The absurdity of the desire to collect every piece of information as exemplified by NSA surveillance may show Elahi’s work to be prophetic.

At OSF, Elahi’s images are shown as a multi-colored, wall hung tapestry, one of dozens of ways the images have been shown throughout the years. The piece is titled “Thousand Little Brothers”

Josh Begley’s contribution to the show, “Plain Sight”, plays with the same questions of surveillance and banality, though the imagery in question is radically different. Begley describes his work as “snapshots of experiments in progress”. A computer programmer and data scientist, Begley interrogates contemporary and historical data sets and draws narratives that are both visually striking and politically provocative out of them. is an exploration of how racial categories have changed over time by presenting the racial identification question presented on the US census from 1790 to the present. examines “carceral spaces”, the 5,393 prisons, jails and detention centers that represent America’s geography of incarceration. Using data on the location of these facilities compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative, Begley wrote a script that captured images from Google Maps for each of these facilities. They are presented as tiles on a vast page, images that look like planned communities or walled cities, but which represent “the landscape of the warehousing of black and brown bodies”.

Recently, Begley created, an API for information the US government has been utterly unwilling to share: information on where and when US drone strikes have occurred. Imagining an API with this information, Begley built a series of applications that use data from the API, including a mobile phone based tool that alerts you when a drone strike has occurred. Using information from the press – not from the US government – the API is live and reports on known drone strikes as they occur. He notes that more people have now been killed by US drone strikes than were killed in 9/11, but the invisibility of their deaths allows American policy to continue unchecked and largely unquestioned.

His contribution to the OSF show is a piece titled “Plain Sight: The Visual Vernacular of NYPD Surveillance”. (Much of the same material appears online at It’s the story of a wing of the NYPD which remade itself in the image of the CIA, becoming an intelligence gathering agency with assumptions about what and who should be under surveillance. The secretive unit, initially called the Demographic Unit, and later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit, monitored the daily lives of people with “ancestries of interest”, people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Albania and two dozen other countries. (“American Black Muslim” was one of the ancestries of interest.)

Armed with census data, plainclothes agents – usually in teams of twos – tried to “blend in” at coffee shops, barber shops and cricket fields, chatting people up. The officers filled countless files with quotidian observations, endless mundane details about Albanian men drinking tea, Egyptian cab drivers picking up lunch, and so on.

These units became notorious for damaging law enforcement relations with Muslim communities (turns out that most people don’t like being surveilled) and for violating civil rights. Photos, maps and other documents were leaked to the Associated Press, and Begley built tools to capture and present that information in different artistic forms. In the exhibit, a photo mosaic made of surveillance photos is layered on top of thousands of one-line observations of utterly banal events. Another wall shows maps of NYC’s boroughs in terms of points of interest to different communities.

“What does this archive say in aggregate?” asks Begley. “It’s completely banal. It tells you everything and nothing.” Despite years of effort, the demographics unit never produced a single actionable lead for the NYPD. Begley notes that it did end up producing a really excellent map of ethnic restaurants, though. “What doesn’t appear in the frame is the entrapment of young men, the pattern of interrogation that resulted from this surveillance.”

His critique is not just of a particularly inept surveillance effort (finally shut down, under pressure from civil rights group), but the broader NSA strategy of collecting as much information as possible. “We’re creating a haystack of useless information.” Here Elahi’s work and Begley’s come together: the visual detritus of surveillance, whether it’s self-surveillance or surveillance by the police, is utterly banal. But, as Professor Williams observes, despite the repetitiveness of the imagery, “there’s nothing neutral about the mechanisms that creates them.”

by Ethan at November 20, 2014 05:10 PM

Berkman Center front page
New Internet Monitor Report: "The Tightening Web of Russian Internet Regulation"

Internet Monitor is delighted to announce the publication of "The Tightening Web of Russian Internet Regulation," the fifth in a series of special reports that focus on key events and new developments in Internet controls and online activity.

The report, authored by Andrey Tselikov, tracks the recent growth of Russian legislation targeted at increasing restrictions on Internet users:

Over the past two years, systematic Internet regulation has increased more in Russia than anywhere else in the world. A series of progressively more restrictive legislative developments between the summer of 2012 and the summer of 2014 have increased the power of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and federal agency Roskomnadzor to block or take down websites for a wide range of alleged infractions. New legislation has also mandated the registration of bloggers with the federal government and greatly increased Russian law enforcement access to user data, among other changes. This paper examines this growing web of regulations and explores how Russian Internet users and freedom of information advocates are responding through online and offline protests, circumvention, and a range of other tactics.

The full paper is available for download at SSRN: The Tightening Web of Russian Internet Regulation

About Internet Monitor

Internet Monitor, based at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, is a research project to evaluate, describe, and summarize the means, mechanisms, and extent of Internet content controls and Internet activity around the world. The project compiles and curates data from multiple sources, including primary data collected by the Berkman Center and our partners, as well as relevant secondary data. The Internet Monitor platform is a freely available online fact base that gives policy makers, digital activists, researchers, and user communities an authoritative, independent, and multi-faceted set of quantitative data on the state of the global Internet. Internet Monitor also provides expert analysis on the state of the global Internet via our special report series and our annual reports on notable events and trends in the digital space.


by rheacock at November 20, 2014 04:10 PM

Bruce Schneier
Pew Research Survey on Privacy Perceptions

Pew Research has released a new survey on American's perceptions of privacy. The results are pretty much in line with all the other surveys on privacy I've read. As Cory Doctorow likes to say, we've reached "peak indifference to surveillance."

by Bruce Schneier at November 20, 2014 04:06 PM

The NSA's Efforts to Ban Cryptographic Research in the 1970s

New article on the NSA's efforts to control academic cryptographic research in the 1970s. It includes new interviews with public-key cryptography inventor Martin Hellman and then NSA-director Bobby Inman.

by Bruce Schneier at November 20, 2014 03:06 PM

James Losey
Uber Hubris: Why We Should Be Asking More Questions About Uber

Uber is in the bad publicity hot seat again with a leading story about comments made by Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael on “digging up dirt” on critical journalists. Sarah Lacy, editor at PandoDaily, writes that she is in Uber’s targets for her critical pieces of the company. Uber’s “God View”, a real time view of passengers, has been used as a party trick, questionable from a privacy perspective, and Business Insider reports that this tool has been used to track a journalist’s position. Alex Howard broadens the implications from journalists to politics noting the popularity of the service among members of Congress. Uber knows, and likes to show off, what the company can do with it’s data. In addition to God View, two years ago Uber used their data to calculate the use of the service for overnight stays, or in Uber’s terms, “Rides of Glory”.

Uber’s aggressive, to be diplomatic, use of data shouldn’t be surprising. The company is ruthless and growing fast with a valuation of $18B this past summer and current press reports suggesting the company will be valued at $30B during the next round of investment. This rapid growth is not just from providing a great service but a combination of savvy and questionable practices. Uber battles local regulations in nearly every city they enter, oftenignoring bans to build their brand and engaging their users as decentralized company advocates. Emails to users fight against bans on their behalf. At the same time as Uber flies flag of competition they undermine competitors through less savory approaches. One practice involved hiring “brand ambassadors” to repeatedly call and cancel rides from competing car service Lyft to reduce the number of Lyft drivers available to users.

Another rising critique of Uber safety and treatment of passengers. Along these lines there have been cases cases of sexual harassment and an Uber driver robbing a passenger at gunpoint. BoingBoing highlights how a driver recently told a rider who cancelled her request to return to her radiation treatment center to retrieve her scarf that she “deserved cancer.” Earlier this year Uber introduced a $1 “safety fee” for UberX rides to cover the cost of background checks driver safety education. This presents an important position for Uber within the context of a network economy service: the value of the company’s brand is in managing trust in connecting a rider to a driver. This trust is undermined through how the company uses data of user trips and the behavior of drivers.

However, additional questions should be raised about the aggressive culture of Uber and how this might impact drivers. Recent stories about Uber relationship to drives should raise questions in relation to negative drive-passenger interactions. For example, drivers are contractors, not employees. They can be fired at will as easily as deactivating their account. Additionally, Uber claims the median income for drivers in New York is nearly $100,000 a year, a number Slate says isn’t based on fact. Uber isn’t just recruiting drivers with claims of high incomes and the polish of a hot brand, the company has also helped drivers purchase vehicles with subprime loans.

Stories about Uber share a common theme in that they illustrate hubris of a rapidly growing company. John Gruber summed up the recent eventswriting: “It’s like Richard Nixon came back from the grave and is running a startup.” Uber provides a popular transportation option that has been welcomed by their growing user base. At the same time, the cutthroat attitude to critics and competitors raises questions. The company’s relation to users and drivers alike should be questioned within the context of the company’s culture and the role of the company as a gateway and gatekeeper between drivers and riders.

From here.

November 20, 2014 03:05 PM

Tim Davies
Do we need eligibility criteria for private sector involvement in OGP?

I’ve been in Costa Rica for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Latin America Regional Meeting (where we were launching the Open Contracting Data Standard), and on Tuesday attended a session around private sector involvement in the OGP.

The OGP was always envisaged as a ‘multi-stakeholder forum’ – not only for civil society and governments, but also to include the private sector. But, as Martin Tisne noted in opening the session, private sector involvement has so far been limited – although an OGP Private Sector Council is currently developing.

In his remarks (building on notes from 2013), Martin outlined six different roles for the private sector in open government, including:

  1. Firms as mediators of open government data – making governance related public data more accessible;
  2. Firms as beneficiaries and users of open data – building businesses of data releases, and fostering demand for, and sustainable supply of, open data;
  3. Firms as anti-corruption advocates – particularly rating agencies whose judgements on risk of investment in a country as a result of poor governance environments can strongly incentivise governments to institute reforms;
  4. Firms practising corporate accountability – including by being transparent about their own activities.
  5. Technology firms providing platforms for citizen-state interaction – from large platforms like Facebook which have played a role in democracy movements, to specifically civic private-sector provided platforms like or SeeClickFix.
  6. Companies providing technical assistance and advice to governments on their OGP action plans.

The discussion panel then went on to look at a number of examples of private sector involvement in open government, ranging from Chambers of Commerce acting as advocates for anti-corruption and governance reforms, to large firms like IBM providing software and staff time to efforts to meet the challenge of Ebola through data-driven projects. A clear theme in the discussion was the need to recognise that, like government and civil society, the private sector is not monolithic. Indeed, I have to remember that I’ve participated in the UK OGP process as a result of being able to subsidise my time via Practical Participation Ltd.

Reflecting on public and private interests

Regardless of the positive contributions and points made by all the panelists in the session, I do find myself approaching the general concept of private sector engagement with OGP with a constructive scepticism, and one that I hope supports wider reflections about the role and accountability of all stakeholders in the process. Many of these reflections are driven by a concern about the relative power of different stakeholders in these processes, and the fact that, in a world where the state is often in retreat, civil society spread increasingly thin, and wealth accumulated in vastly uneven ways, ensuring a fair process of multi-stakeholder dialogue requires careful institutional design. In light of the uneven flow of resources in our world, these reflections also draw on an important distinction between public and private interest.

Whilst there are institutional mechanisms in place (albeit flawed in many cases) that mean both government and non-profits should operate in the public interest, the essential logic of the private sector is to act in private interest. Of course, the extent of this logic varies by type of firm, but large multi-nationals have legal obligations to their shareholders which can, at least when shareholders are focussed on short-term returns, create direct tensions with responsible corporate behaviour. This is relevant for OGP in at least two ways:

Firstly, when private firms are active contributors to open government activities, whether mediating public data, providing humanitarian interventions, offering platforms for citizen interaction, or providing technical assistance, mechanisms are needed in a public interest forum such as the OGP to ensure that such private sector interventions provide a net gain to the public good.

Take for example a private firm that offers hardware or software to a government for free to support it in implementing an open government project. If the project has a reasonable chance of success, this can be a positive contribution to the public good. However, if the motivation for the project comes from private rather than a public interest, and leads to a government being locked into future use of a proprietary software platform, or to an ongoing relationship with the company who have gained special access as a result of their ‘CSR’ support for the open government project – then it is possible for the net-result to be against the public interest.

It should be possible to establish governance mechanisms that address these concerns, and allow the genuine public interest, and win-win contributions of the private sector to open government and development to be facilitated, whilst establishing checks against abuse of the power imbalance, whether due to relative wealth, scale or technical know-how, that can exist between firms and states.

Secondly, corporate contributions to aspects of the OGP agenda should not distract from a focus on key issues of large-scale corporate behaviour that undermine the capacity and effectiveness of governments, such as the use of complex tax avoidance schemes, or the exploitation of workforces and suppression of wages such that citizens have little time or energy left after achieving the essentials of daily living to give to civic engagement.

A proposal

In Tuesday’s session these reflections led me towards thinking about whether the Open Government Partnership should have some form of eligibility criteria for corporate participants, as a partial parallel to those that exist for states. To keep this practical and relevant, they could relate to the existence of key disclosures by the firm for all the settings they operate in: such as disclosure of amount of tax paid, the beneficial owners of the firm, and of the amount of funding the firm is putting towards engagement in the OGP process.

Such requirements need not necessarily operate in an entirely gatekeeping fashion (i.e. it should not be that participants cannot engage at all without such disclosures), but could be instituted initially as a recommended transparency practice, creating space for social pressures to encourage compliance, and giving extra information to those considering the legitimacy of, and weight to give to, the contributions of corporate participants within the OGP process.

As noted earlier, these critical reflection might also be extended to civil society participants: there can also be legitimate concerns about the interests being represented through the work of CSOs. The Who Funds You campaign is a useful point of reference here: CSO participants could be encouraged to disclosure information on who is funding their work, and again, how much resource they are dedicating to OGP work.


This post provides some initial reflections as a discussion starter. The purpose is not to argue against private sector involvement in OGP – but is to, in engaging proactively with a multi-stakeholder model, to raise the need for critical thinking in the open government debate not only about the transparency and accountability of governments, but also about the transparency and accountability of other parties who are engaged.

by Tim at November 20, 2014 12:44 PM

Amanda Palmer




by admin at November 20, 2014 01:54 AM

November 19, 2014

Jeffrey Schnapp
Real time historiography

An interview with Troy Conrad Therrien came out today in issue 2 of the ARPA Journal, a lively public forum for debate based at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The issue in question is largely framed around the question of search engines, past, present, and future; but broader questions of archiving and knowledge design arise in the course of the conversation, which dialogues indirectly with the lead piece in the issue: an interview with art historian David Joselit on the epistemology of search.

ARPA Journal   ARPA Journal is a public forum for debate based at Applied Research Practices in Architecture at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture  Planning and Preservation.

My conversation with Troy ends with a provocation regarding expanded notions of historiography:

What counts as “historical” has always been a matter of contention within the field of history and it’s worth recalling that, up until a century ago, even modern history (not to mention, contemporary history) was often dismissed as unsuitable for historical analysis.

Real-time documentation, data that emerge right at the edge of unfolding events and that surround them like a halo even as events shapeshift, can allow us to excavate and tell stories on scales and from perspectives that were hitherto unthinkable. And the stories in question can be shaped both in traditional ways and in ways that reach audiences that are unlikely ever to pick up a scholarly monograph or read a specialized journal. I call this expanded field of scholarly practice “knowledge design,” a label that I prefer to “digital humanities,” and have recently published a pamphlet on for the Volkswagen Foundation, which can be downloaded online.

By their very nature, traditional archives sculpted “events” into the sorts of sizes and scales that the recording and documentation technologies of a given era could support. We now have the opportunity to do so on other sizes and scales. The craft of the historian, the historian’s commitment to depth, complexity, attention to context, and to standards of evidence and proof, seems to me in no way compromised by writing histories of the present any more than it was by writing microhistories of forgotten phenomena or longue durée histories.

Here’s the cover of the issue and, for those eager to geek out on image sourcing… yes, that’s a Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line emplacement of the sort built in the 1950s along the northern corridor running from Alaska to Greenland, featured in Marshall McLuhan’s turn to consulting via the Human Development Corporation, founded in 1969:

DF-ST-88-03448      McLuhan DEW-Line Announcement_l

by jeffrey at November 19, 2014 10:28 PM

Harry Lewis
Our Anti-Business Pro-Business Conservatives
Josh Barro had a great column in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about how schizophrenic the Republican party can seem about whether it is really the pro-business party or not. He cites the examples of Uber, and the attempt to prevent it from operating in Philadelphia, and of Tesla, which is opposed by the cartel of car dealers, since Tesla wants to sell directly to consumers. Here is the bottom line.
Anticompetitive business regulations are mostly imposed at the state and local level, and they usually have a strong built-in lobby: the owners of the businesses that are being shielded from competition.
The R.N.C. chairman, Reince Priebus, probably doesn’t get a lot of phone calls from taxi medallion owners, or car dealers, or other businesspeople who want to be insulated from competition.
But local politicians do; Republicans may be especially likely to hear from them because small business owners are a constituency that skews Republican.
As a result, in practice, it’s not clear Republicans are any more pro-market than Democrats when it comes to business regulation.
Now this is maybe not the best moment to to be touting Uber as a model unregulated small business, what with an executive seemingly power-mad over his ability to track his customers. But the bottom line stands. You either believe that competition lowers costs and improves services or you don't. If you do, you don't bring the government in every time an existing monopoly cries foul over a new entrant.

In the same vein, the Republican pro-business mantra doesn't seem to extend to the businesses that won't be able to sell their information services abroad if the rest of the world thinks they will just turn everything over to the US Government. In spite of the business arguments for the anti-surveillance USA Freedom Act, Republicans voted overwhelmingly against it. (Including Rand Paul, who, to give him credit, says he opposed the bill because it did not go far enough toward reining in the NSA.)

And the final example of the day is provided by George Leef in Forbes: Copyright Law Is Creating An Information Oligarchy, Not An Information Democracy. As Leef says,
Today, copyright does far more to create an information oligarchy than the robust information democracy the drafters of the Constitution and the first act had in mind.
I probably wouldn't go as far as Leef proposes in dismantling copyright completely, but it is so abused today that it's hard to argue we wouldn't be better off without it than with it under present law. Leef is at the John Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, where I have spoken in the past, a right-leaning education think-tank. I probably agree with what he writes no more than half the time, but he is onto something important here: it's insane how heavily copyright is wielded by the information monopolies to swat down the little guys, whose energies are supposed to be protected and encouraged by the party that allegedly so hates big government. Please explain to me how the progress of science and the useful arts is encouraged by a copyright term so long that Disney's original Steamboat Willie (aka Mickey Mouse) is still protected. (And it wasn't really original in the first place. It was based on an earlier cartoon, but that is a story for another day.)

by Harry Lewis ( at November 19, 2014 08:41 PM

Berkman Center front page
Upcoming Events: Unpacking open data (11/25); The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators and Everyday Intellectual Property (12/2)
Berkman Events Newsletter Template
Open Call for Fellowship Applications, Academic Year 2015-2016: Interested in joining the Berkman community? Find out more about our fellowship program and the application process on our website.
berkman luncheon series

Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

Tuesday, November 25, 12:30pm ET. This event will be webcast live.


Countries, states & cities across the globe are embracing the idea of 'open data': establishing platforms, portals and projects to share government managed data online for re-use. Yet, right now, the anticipated civic impacts of open data rarely materialise, and the gap between the promise and the reality of open data remains wide. This talk, drawing on a series of empirical studies of open data around the world, will question the ways in which changing regimes around data can reconfigure power and politics, and will explore the limits of current practice. It will consider opportunities to re-imagine the open data project, not merely as one of placing datasets online, but as one that can positively reshape the knowledge infrastructures of civic life.

Tim Davies is a social researcher with interests in civic participation and civic technologies. He has spent the last five years focussing on the development of the open government data landscape around the world, from his MSc work at the Oxford Internet Institute on Data and Democracy, the first major study of, through to leading a 12-country study on the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries for the World Wide Web Foundation. RSVP Required. more information on our website>

berkman luncheon series

The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators and Everyday Intellectual Property

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


The book analyzes and elaborates upon a qualitative empirical study of artists, scientists, engineers, lawyers and businesspeople that investigates the motivations and mechanisms of creative and innovative activity in everyday professional life. Based on over fifty face-to-face interviews, the book centers on the stories told by interviewees describing how and why they create and innovate and whether or how IP law plays a role in their activities. The goal of the empirical project was to figure out how IP actually works in creative and innovative fields, as opposed to how we think or say it works (through formal law or legislative debate). Breaking new ground in its qualitative method examining the economic and cultural system of creative and innovative production, The Eureka Myth draws out new and surprising conclusions about the sometimes misinterpreted relationships between creativity, invention and intellectual property protections.

Professor Jessica Silbey's scholarship draws from her interdisciplinary background in the humanities and law. One of her interests is in intellectual property law, particularly in the investigation of "IP communities:" activities, groups and organizations with a particular creative or innovative focus. She studies the common and conflicting narratives within those communities in relation to intellectual property law and legal institutions that purport to regulate them. RSVP Required. more information on our website>


Brad Smith and Jonathan Zittrain on Privacy, Surveillance, and Rebuilding Trust in Tech


One of the enduring issues in cyberspace is which laws apply to online activities. We see this most clearly today in the reaction to revelations about government surveillance: on one hand, individuals are increasingly seeking assurances that their content is protected from government overreach, while governments want to ensure they have access to information to enforce their laws, even if that content is stored outside their borders. We see this same tension in debates over privacy protection for data placed on line by consumers. Brad Smith -- Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president of Legal and Corporate Affairs -- and Jonathan Zittrain -- Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society -- explore the role of law in protecting our rights in the physical world online, the complementary roles of law and technology in achieving this protection, and the need for governments to come together so that companies (and customers) don’t face conflicting legal obligations. video/audio on YouTube>


CopyrightX: Lessons from Networked Legal Education – A Discussion with Professor William Fisher


Professor William Fisher discusses his experiences in designing and teaching CopyrightX, a unique course that combines a traditional law school course with affiliated courses in other countries and an online course open to the public to provide instruction about copyright systems around the world as part of the Third Annual Peter Jaszi Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Property. video/audio on American University's website>

CopyrightX is a networked course that explores the current law of copyright; the impact of that law on art, entertainment, and industry; and the ongoing debates concerning how the law should be reformed. Through a combination of recorded lectures, assigned readings, weekly seminars, live interactive webcasts, and online discussions, participants in the course examine and assess the ways in which the copyright system seeks to stimulate and regulate creative expression. The application for the CopyrightX online sections will run from Oct. 15 - Dec. 15. See CopyrightX:Sections for details.

Other Events of Note

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by ashar at November 19, 2014 06:09 PM

James Losey
Berkman Community Newcomers: James Losey

A Q&A with Ben Sobel on my CA>DC>SE arc and thoughts on policy.

What was your career arc, and how did it lead you to your current graduate study at Stockholm University in Sweden?

I think, like many people that graduated my generation in university and ended up spending our first moments outside of school working on the Obama campaign, my real interest was policy work. From my vantage, there wasn’t a real opportunity to do that through the campaign. So when I found the opportunity, I ended up moving to DC. It’s a crazy story: I just wanted to live in DC and to do public policy work. Everybody tells you it’s about connections—I had none. I hardly had any money; I sold a few musical instruments and some furniture. I ended up living in a hostel for a few days. I didn’t have any friends, a place to stay, or a job. I then crashed in a punk warehouse up in Brooklyn for a couple months until I got an internship on Capitol Hill, which I got essentially by putting on the one nice outfit I had, printing up résumés and cover letters to each chief of staff of the offices I wanted to visit, knocking on doors, and asking if there were any openings.

Continue reading.

November 19, 2014 05:20 PM

Harry Lewis
"Codebreaker" and "Ivory Tower"
I've seen two good documentaries lately, Codebreaker and Ivory Tower. Neither gets a straight A from me, but they're both worth watching.

Codebreaker is the story of Alan Turing, the founding father and patron saint of computer science. Turing died of suicide at age 41 in 1954.

The documentary does a good job contextualizing Turing's achievements and impressing on the viewer his intellectual daring and the massive significance of his work, without getting bogged down in the whole history of mathematical logic (for a light version of which, see Logicomix). It also sets in Cold War context the brutal treatment the unworldly Turing received at the hands of the authorities once his homosexuality was discovered (he was chemically castrated). The filmmaker was able to interview some people who knew Turing -- that number is of course rapidly declining. It's very well done.

The problems with the film are almost inevitable, given that it's a documentary and therefore tries to stick to the truth! (Unlike The Imitation Game, the Hollywood version of Turing's life that is in theaters next week.) There is just not a lot of material to work with -- no films or audio recordings of Turing, few still images, and virtually all of Turing's friends dead now. So a lot of the story is told through Turing's conversations with his psychiatrist. Of course the dialog is reconstructed, but the reconstruction is grounded in solid source material, letters and so on. (The film's creator, Patrick Sammon, answered questions after the showing at Harvard last night. Sammon, I was interested to learn, is past President of the Log Cabin Republicans.) And of course the budget was limited, so there are no fancy animations, though there are quite a few clips of contemporary video to set the general themes in their historical setting.

Codebreaker is showing at Tufts tonight and is available through Netflix and iTunes. If the movie gets you interested, read Andrew Hodges's biography of Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma. (Turing's life certainly provided material for plenty of good titles!)

Also I want to again plug Ivory Tower (see my earlier blog post), the documentary about student debt that portrays Harvard so positively. CNN will air Ivory Tower Thursday night at 9pm, so you can watch it from the comfort of home!

by Harry Lewis ( at November 19, 2014 04:23 PM

Bruce Schneier
Narrowly Constructing National Surveillance Law

Orin Kerr has a new article that argues for narrowly constructing national security law:

This Essay argues that Congress should adopt a rule of narrow construction of the national security surveillance statutes. Under this interpretive rule, which the Essay calls a "rule of lenity," ambiguity in the powers granted to the executive branch in the sections of the United States Code on national security surveillance should trigger a narrow judicial interpretation in favor of the individual and against the State. A rule of lenity would push Congress to be the primary decision maker to balance privacy and security when technology changes, limiting the rulemaking power of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. A rule of lenity would help restore the power over national security surveillance law to where it belongs: The People.

This is certainly not a panacea. As Jack Goldsmith rightly points out, more Congressional oversight over NSA surveillance during the last decade would have gained us more NSA surveillance. But it's certainly better than having secret courts make the rules after only hearing one side of the argument.

by Bruce Schneier at November 19, 2014 04:08 PM

Panagiotis Metaxas
False rumors do not propagate like True ones

On Twitter, claims that receive higher skepticism and lower propagation scores are more likely to be false.
On the other hand, claims that receive lower skepticism and higher propagation scores are more likely to be true.

The above is a conjecture we wrote in a recent paper entitled Investigating Rumor Propagation with TwitterTrails (currently under review). Feel free to take a look if you want to know more details about our system, but we will write here some of its highlights.

As you may know if you have read our Twitter Trails Blog before, we are developing a Web service that, starting from a tweet or a set of keywords related to a story propagating on Twitter (or a hashtag), it will investigate it and answer automatically some of the basic questions regarding the story. If you are not familiar, you may want to take a look at some of the posts. Or, it can wait until you read this one.

Recently we deployed a site containing the growing collection of stories and rumors that we investigate. Its front end looks like this:


This is the “condensed view” which allocates one line per story, 20 stories per page. There are over 120 stories collected at this point. Clicking on a title brings you the investigation page with lots of details and visualizations about its propagation, its originator, how it burst, who supports it and who refutes it.

Note that on the right side of the condensed view we automatically compute two metrics:

  • The propagation level of a story. This is a logarithmic scale of the h-index of a tweet collection that has currently 5 levels: Extensive, High, Moderate, Low and Insignificant.
  • The skepticism level of a story. This is the ratio of tweets with negated propagation over tweets with no negated propagation. It has four levels: Undisputed, Hesitant, Dubious and Extremely doubtful.

The initial quote at the top of this post refers to these metrics.

There is also a more detailed,  “main view” of TwitterTrails:


In the main view there are additional tools to select stories, based on time of collection, particular tags, levels of propagation and skepticism or keywords.

A few weeks ago we gave a presentation of TwitterTrails at the Computation and Journalism 2014 symposium at Columbia University in NYC. There is a video of our presentation that you can view if interested. In this presentation we noted that false rumors have different pattern of propagation on Twitter than true rumors. Below is a graph that shows that difference.


The graph displays propagation levels vs skepticism levels, and the data points are colored depending on whether a rumor was true (blue), false (red) or something else (green) that cannot be categorized as true or false (e.g., reference to an event or a tweet collection based on a hashtag). The vast majority of the false rumors show insignificant to low propagation while at the same time their level of skepticism ranges from dubious to extremely doubtful.

This is remarkable, but it may not be too surprising. As we write in the paper, “Intuitively, this conjecture can be explained as an example of the power of crowd sourcing. Since the ancient times philosophers have argued that people will not willing do bad unless they are guided by irrational impulses, such as anger, fear, confusion or hatred. Therefore, the more people see some false information, the more likely it is that they will either raise an objection or simply decide not to repeat it further.

We make the conjecture specific for Twitter because it may not hold for every social network. In particular, we rely on the user interface for promoting an objection to the same level as the false claim. Twitter’s interface does that; both the claim and its negation will get the same amount of real estate in the a user’s Twitter client. On the other hand, this is not true for Facebook, where a claim gets much greater exposure than a comment, while a comment may be hidden quickly due to follow up comments. So, on Facebook most people may miss an objection to a claim.”

Take a look at and tell us what you think!
We would also be happy to run an investigation for you, if interested.

(This is copy of a blog post on the site.)


by metaxas at November 19, 2014 03:43 AM

Amanda Palmer
SEATTLE DISPATCH! i answer lots of questions (FB round-up), plus a life/tour update….

hola comrades!

greetings from the road….well….that was the first week of Book Tour. seven nights of signing non-stop and a shit-ton of hugs.
i took last night off in seattle – whitney and i crashed at ksenia anske’s house, who’s our seattle tour guest tonight – and borscht and vodka were consumed in quantity:

yesterday on the flight to seattle, i think i took my first real deep breath since january.
i read the entire fucking new york times for the first time in 7 months.
i finally looked at the window and felt calm. thank fuck.

for all of you who are reading the book and loving it, and SHARING it…thank you. my gratitude is deep.

the book tour has been incredible, the stage getting deeper every night as i talk to my interview partners (so far: amy cuddy, thomas dolby, kyle cassidy, brandon stanton, peter sagal, dessa, and kevin kling….). the topics that seem to be rising to the top: compassion, pain, vulnerability, trolling, fear and regret, how art matters…and a smattering of lena dunham, fraud police, trolling, and the real-life/internet divide. it’s been like having an awesome dinner party every single night.

we’ve been filming every night of tour, and will start pummeling you highlight by highlight with the footage…..(if you subscribe to the youtube channel most of the interviews have already been posted)….they’ve been amazing. aaaaaaamaaaaaaaazing. and…i owe you a longer blog about the amazing kambriel crowdsourced kimono….but here’s an amazing picture of Me in It, after the amazing show in chicago at thalia hall.

i look like a unitarian minister in this kimono, for sure. UU ministers on twitter agree. her blog about the kimono is here, and it’s cry-worthy. thank you for sending in fabric. it’s been literally keeping me warm. it was fucking ten degrees in minneapolis.

i made a pitstop that day at the chicago school of rock and we played a short set for a crazy crowd of a few hundred people:
1. in my mind (afp)
2. how soon is now (the smiths)
3. don’t you forget about me (simple minds)
4. mad world (tears for fears, but also kinda the gary jules version)
5. sing (dresden dolls).

the kids KILLED IT. footage coming soon.

and some beautiful shots have been surfacing from the signings (this is from NYC, by jimmy franco):

turns out, found via facebook, that this is Sarah Staalesen….
and then Cyrill Xavier Nikolai Damgård added this response on facebook, which made my day….

and this made my day today….jaime (@wojo4hitz) came to the show in DC and bought two books to hand-deliver the next night to another show she was going to….tegan and sara. mission accomplished:


more soon, more soon.

i love you guys, from the road.

and HERE’S THE Q&A from facebook the other day. thanks to nikki for pulling the relevant material off facebook and organizing it into bits!

On The Book Itself + Tour

Millicent Hughes: Amanda Palmer, were there any rituals, mantras, meditations you did to help keep you focused when you were writing your book?

Amanda Palmer: does three strong flat whites in a row count as a ritual? because i became a coffee FIEND while writing this sucker. in all seriousness: i spent SEVEN SOLID weeks, with no days off, in melboune australia writing this book. not editing: just writing…like daily word vomit pouring out of my mouth. my days went like this: wake up at 10. go to yoga. get out of yoga. pick a cafe. take laptop to cafe. order coffee #1. write 1,000 words. order coffee #2. write another 1,000 words. feel awkward being at cafe #1 too long. move to cafe #2. order lunch. order coffee #3. write another 1,000 words. make a phone call or two. write another 1,000 words. go to bar #1. order wine #1. write another thousand words. order wine #2. watch words getting blurry and my abilty to type decrease. order wine #3. write 200 words. delete 200 words. get sorrwoful. bum cigarette from cute bartender. contemplate not writing a book. give up. go home, go to bed at 1 am. wake at 10. repeat. i did this for seven weeks without a break. wait: that’s not true. i did take one night off to go to white night. that was wonderful.

Kristen Valentine Lepionka: What made you decide to write the book “out of order” with stories moving back and forth in time? It made for a very rich read and I’m curious about what you were thinking when you chose to do that.

Amanda Palmer: it made more emotional sense. and it’s the way i like making art. all the plays i’ve ever written skip around in time – i think it makes for a more visible emotional truth, sometimes.

Leah Culbertson-Fægre: You’ve mentioned that when you started writing the book you had a suitcase full of reading material you thought you’d be working from, but ended up making it more memoir and less research. My question is, can we have your reading list??

Amanda Palmer: ooohhh! YES! thats a wonderful idea. off the top of my head: Daring Greatly, Brene Brown. The Gift, Lewis Hyde. Free Culture, Larry Lessig. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (she’s a big inspiration to me, as a writer). Cyndi Lauper’s memoir. Alexis Ohanian’s book about starting reddit, the title of which i’m forgetting. Kathy Acker’s “blood and guts in high school”.

Jennifer Pierce: I was at the Cedar last night, wonderful! (I am one of the freaks that read the book already.) Did you see the basket of free tampons in the bathroom there? I saw it and thought, how perfect! If Amanda needs one, she won’t have to shout out. All bathrooms should have the Good Karma tampon basket.

Amanda Palmer:  ALMOST ALL YOGA STUDIOS have free tampons in the bathroom. and i’ve seen some restaurants do it. hooray

James Tarraga: Amanda, you mentioned that there were a good number of stories you fought to include in the book, but they still got cut. Are you thinking of releasing these stories in some other way?

Amanda Palmer: that’s a great question, and I’m still not sure of the answer. the book was nearly TWICE AS LONG as the finished draft when I first compiled my two months of non-stop writing. there were a lot of stories cut, but the majority of the stuff cut was “internet stuff”….things about how I use twitter and the blog and so on and so forth. I figured that stuff might even be compilable into a little book of its own. but as far as the cut stories, I may just blog them bit by bit….

Ronald Ghaleb: Will the book be translated to French ? When ? My mother does not read English and loves you ! She saw you at La Boule Noire in Paris in 2008 !

Amanda Palmer: YES! it will be, and german, and portuguese, spanish, and japanese, and many other languages….i’ve sold off rights at this point to about 9 different countries. i have no idea how long the translations will take, but i’m hoping to come to paris to promote the book whenever it’s out. tell your mom to come say hi.

Nadia Elizabeth Tucker: Hello Amanda, Firstly, I’m only a quarter of the way into your book (it’s the first real book I’ve read for a long time other than my university textbooks) and it’s an absolute pleasure to read – and lose myself in – your streams of consciousness and personal philosophies. Truly, thank you for making it so polished and so very genuine and sincere.

Question: You’ve said it’s felt very empowering being able to resist reading the inevitable negative feedback from various sources. I’d imagine it’s incredibly difficult not to – what are your tips for resisting that kind of masochistic temptation?

Amanda Palmer: thank you! i’m glad you like the book…..really, it’s just like resisting anything. wine. cigarettes. drama. when i decide that i need to cut something out (like, say, i decide to go sober for a month, which i did the month before i started writing, to clean my system) then the best way i’ve found, is to announce my intentions to everyone around me. that way i’m beholden to my entire network of friends, and my community, and stepping out of my commitments feels like a breach of trust to them, not just against myself. so when i decided not to read any reviews (which came out of a long conversation with Jamy Ian Swiss, my book doula), i told neil, told my publishers, told my team, and them, lastly, told my blog. and i turned off my google news alerts. and after i did all that, i was like: well, NOW if i click on the link i see on twitter saying “17 reasons amanda palmer’s book is made of pure bullshit” i’m really….breaking my promise, to everyone. so, final advice: announce your intentions. it helps.

On Love & Friendship

Kate Large: When you were talking about getting married you asked “can we both sleep with other people?” Would you describe yourself as having an open marriage, and how does that work? Or did you just feel you needed to ask? And a giant hug on the abortion stuff.

Amanda Palmer: thanks. hug taken. (abortions are hard and lots of people don’t talk about them. but pretty much every girlfriend i have has been through one or more). and our marriage…yes, it’s open. sometimes we close it down if there’s too much going on or it feels like we can’t manage the extra-ness of other people or energy in our lives. but basically, it works, and we have a 100% open communication policy about it. we can do what we want, and there aren’t super-hard-fast rules (and the rules that we do have change as needed) but we need to inform each other of every rollick. we’ve learned a lot about our own preferences and jealous tendencies over the years. certain things really set each of us on edge, and we don’t find out what those things are until we bump into them. it’s not an easy way to do a marriage – in some senses it’s way easier to keep things closed and simple – but neither of us wanted to ban ourselves from intimacy with other people, and it’s been a given since the start of our relationship.

Jacob Schnabel: In your book you said you had never read any Neil Gaiman before meeting him. Do you think it’s important that you read everything he writes and vice versa, he listen to everything you’ve recorded?

Amanda Palmer: actually….no, i don’t. i’ve read almost everything he’s written since we met, but at a guess i’ve only read about a quarter of what neils written. it’s a little lopsided: i’ve only (only??) made about 7 albums. but you can hear them all in one afternoon….

Joanna Shelton: how are you ever going to answer all these questions?

Amanda Palmer: i’m not :)

Whitney Hudson Wright:  How is Anthony doing?

Amanda Palmer: thanks for asking. he’s here, you know, lurking on facebook. (C. Anthony Martignetti). he’s….not great. the bone marrow transplant that he was supposed to get a few weeks ago was delayed because they found cancer in his brain. and his white blood cell count is really low. they drilled a hole in his skull and put a shunt in so they could admister chemicals directly into his brain to defeat the cancer there. he’s in the hospital today getting that treatment, plus his usual chemo for the leukemia, and it’s all a bit scary. he’s been sick for so so so long, but he keeps hanging in there. it’s been hard to be on tour while all this is happening. i don’t want to lose my friend. and if he goes, i want to be around. it’s why i haven’t scheduled any other touring or anything for the next six months. i plan to just be in boston, with him, going through whatever needs to be be gone through.

Christina Stephens Allison: I adore you. Fucking. Adore. You. I don’t have a question, but just wanted to let you know other fans are here watching, supporting, loving. xoxo

Amanda Palmer: thanks xxxx

Laura Day: I found your book really inspirational, just wanted to thank you for writing it

Amanda Palmer: love.

Kat Anderson: How are you doing?

Amanda Palmer: awwww, thanks for asking. i love this question. i’m okay, actually, and so so relieved the book is finally out. the show last night in minneapolis was just INCREDIBLE….they keep getting better and better and deeper every night. having Whitney Moses Bodywork on tour with me is wonderful too….she’s a great road manager and my good friend and a perfect wingman, and this timing is perfect for her because she’s got a wrist injury and can’t work at home (she’s a massage therapist usually). this morning we woke up early and swam and worked out together and talked about life. i just drank a double espresso. i’m flying to seattle in a few hours. life feels manageable.

Liz Simon: Hi Amanda! I actually came to your midnight book signing in Cambridge, and was a little too overwhelmed to think of anything meaningful to say to you when I got my book signed, and then felt really dumb afterwards for missing the opportunity to connect with you in some way since I’d been in love with your music for years. But I realized a question I’m really curious to ask you – I’m about halfway through your book and I love it so much already, so I’m really sorry if this is something you talk about at all in the second half of the book. I struggle a lot with impostor syndrome as well (Just finished my degree in computer science at MIT, and I’m constantly feeling like I’m not really cut out for that field)… I was wondering if you ever struggled at all with impostor syndrome in terms of labeling yourself bisexual (like fears of not deserving that label without proving or justifying it somehow) or how that experience was for you – because that was a huge thing for me growing up that took me until very recently to realize how to deal with. I saw a quote by you on this that I loved but was just wondering if you had any other experience to share. Thanks for answering our questions, I think you’re amazing.

Amanda Palmer: hmmm. not really. that’s one area of my life where i haven’t felt a whole lot of stress. i made out with my first girl when i was probably, i don’t know, 17, and i knew back then that i was attracted to both sexes at different times for different reasons. i came out to my parents back then and they were like “oh look, another cute and teenage phase, like your vegetarianism!” and i felt totally patronized. and look, ma. i’m 38, still making out with girls and boys, and still not eating steak. who knew.

Amy Alcenius: Since you are just out of the shower and still browless, my question is “How do you decide what your eyebrows will look like day-to-day?

Amanda Palmer: i don’t plan them. i doodle according to what i think looks aesthetically pretty. they’ve morphed over the years. you should see what they looked like back in….oof….2001? they were way thicker and ornate. they’ve thinned out, dude.…/uncate…/dresdendolls.jpg

Val Thomas: I absolutely love the part where you make Neil say words with his adorable accent. What other words are your favorite, and can you get him to do a YouTube video saying them ???

Amanda Palmer: HA. you’ll have to make that request of mr gaiman. but honestly….download any audiobook. The Accent pretty much works with any word. one word i left out that i love: massage. he stresses the vowels totally differently. it’s adorbs.

Kori Lloyd: Did you ever expect to be such a large form of comfort for your fans?

Amanda Palmer: no. i didn’t. when i started this, at 25 in the dresden dolls, i had no idea that the relationship would grow into such a family. i didn’t even think to fantasize about it…all i knew is that i was a performer and a songwriter and i wanted to be able to make my living that way. in the book, though, i talk about going to see the legendary pink dots for the first time…and how amazed i was that the crowd felt like a community, like a family. so i knew such things were possible.

Amanda Palmer: wait, i’ll paste that excerpt in….

“You probably don’t know who Edward Ka-spel is.

Edward Ka-spel is the singer of my favorite band, The Legendary Pink Dots. They formed in the early ‘80s in the UK and they’ve been recording and touring for more than 30 years. They still play to crowd of hundreds more often than thousands, and their fanbase resembles a small family. I’m in this family. I joined when I was 14 and my first boyfriend, Jason Curtis, started making me Pink Dots mix tapes. The psychedelic mash of synthesizers, violins, and drum machines, plus the raw emotional honesty of the lyrics, stole me straight out of the clutches of the “standard” alternative music I’d been listening to (The Cure and Depeche Mode, mostly). But along with the music – which we had to hunt down in used CD record shops – came the community.

The first time I saw the band play live was at a small all-ages club in Boston. I was 16. I had barely experienced any live music, and certainly nothing like this: a band I loved, on a stage five feet in front of me. That night changed my life: I was finally experiencing, in person, the songs that had been the soundtrack of my life for the past year, the lyric-images I’d memorized after hours of headphone listening on walks to school, the worlds that had been unfolded into my heart through the channel of my ears—I was hearing them, here, now, in a moment that would never exist again. I was standing in a room with 300 people who seemed to have formed a helpful, warm, connected comradeship by virtue of loving One Thing, and, by extension, one another. It seemed that this whole scene of people had formed a sort of open secret-society around their love of this strange music. I hadn’t even known this was possible. I also hadn’t been expecting to meet the band.

Meet the band? I asked Jason.

Yes, he said, they always do this. And he was right: there they were, selling their own CDs and shirts while holding court in the dim light of the club as the grumpy bar crew dismantled the stage. I stood in line, waiting to meet Edward, trying to think of what I could possibly say that could have any meaning to him whatsoever. And then, for a moment, we were face-to-face.

It’s my dream, I said, looking right into his eyes, to make music as honest as yours.

Edward smiled and took my hand. He was as kind and warm as if I were a long-lost friend. We chatted for a minute, what about I’ll never remember. I was floating.

The conversation was fuzzy, but I’ll never forget that brief encounter. I didn’t feel like a fan meeting a rock star. I didn’t feel like a groupie. I felt like a friend.

Two years later, when I was about 18, the Dots came through Boston again on tour, and I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along to the after-party, being held at my friend Alan’s house, where the band was crashing. Alan ran the fan’s online bulletin board system. After the show, we sat in Alan’s living room, sharing beer and stories. Jon, another member of my trusted Pink Dots family, and who hosted the band’s website, said, out of the blue: Edward, did you know Amanda’s a songwriter? She plays piano. She’s pretty good.

I froze. No no no no no no no, I thought.

Edward actually looked interested.

Really? he said. Do you have any of her recordings?

Alan, do you have Amanda’s demo tape kicking around? Jon asked.

I’d made a four-track tape recording of a few of my piano songs with a few cheap microphones in my parents’ living room, and Alan had one of the twenty copies in existence.

I think so, said Alan, rummaging around in a milk crate. Yeah! Here it is….

No no no no no no no no, I thought.

He popped the tape into the stereo, and I sat there trying not to throw up while Edward and the collected company listened to my singing through the speakers.

Hearing my own voice paralyzed me. Another voice that I knew intimately rose up inside of me:

I can’t write songs. I can’t sing. I have a fucking phony English accent and THESE PEOPLE ARE ENGLISH. How humiliating. And god, my lyrics are so pretentious and stupid and self-indulgent. Who the fuck do I think I am?

I wanted to run. I wasn’t ready to be judged, and certainly not here, in this room, by my hero. After two songs (one a fast-pounding punk rant about my nail-biting habit, the other a dirge about the loss of my virginity set in a metaphorical playground), Alan snapped off the tape player.

There! She’s good, right? Edward and the band nodded affably and the conversation turned back to the show, politics, and other bohemian topics.

I was shaking. I stepped outside to smoke a clove cigarette, and was sitting on the steps in the cold autumn darkness, lighting it, inhaling sharply and trying to calm myself down, when the door rattled shut behind me. It was Edward. He sat down next to me and lit his own cigarette. I’d never been alone with him before.

I want to tell you something, Amanda.

I had no idea what was coming, but I trusted him to be kind. God, I trusted him more than anyone or anything else in the world at that moment. But I was still afraid.

Yeah? I said, nonchalantly.

Your songs are good, Amanda. And I’m not just saying that.

I stared at him in awe.

I get given a lot of music, he continued. It’s like that on the road, you know, we get handed mountains of demo tapes every night. And they’re, you know, not always good. Your songs are good. I don’t know what your plans are. But I hope you keep going. I just wanted to say that.

And he stubbed out his cigarette and went back into the house, leaving me on the porch, feeling an emotion I can only describe as ecstasy. I stayed on that cloud for days, walking around in a daze, thinking that my fate had somehow been decided for me.

Nobody had ever said that to me before. Nobody qualified, at least. Nobody who really counted. I try to recall the size and height of that feeling every time I’m talking to a younger musician who summons the courage to play me their stuff. I bear in mind that I may be the only full-time musician in their life who’s ever said,

Yes. You’re allowed to go do that.

The next time they came through Boston on tour, I was in college, and came back to town for the show. I talked my parents, god bless them, into hosting five English indie rock stars (plus a merch guy and a sound guy) in our suburban house. Some of them slept in the attic, some in the van outside, and I slept over at Jason’s so they could take my bed. Early the next morning, I hurried back to fix them all breakfast before they drove off to the next tour stop. Seeing my favorite band eating in the dining room where my family celebrated Thanksgiving made my brain turn upside-down. I had never put so much love into a batch of scrambled eggs.

I’d learned that it was pointless trying to tell these people what their music had meant to me. It meant everything. Their songs were the soundtrack to my life. I was modeling my style of songwriting after their catalog. But it would just sound trite if I tried to explain it out loud.

But I could make them eggs.”

On Life

Jillian Freund: Was there a moment in your life that was so significant that everything else in your life became defined as either pre or post that moment? What was it?

Amanda Palmer: well, you could look backwards and see a lot of those. meeting brian. meeting neil. anthony moving in next door. but i never had a OH MY GOD HOLY FUCK IT ALL MAKES SENSE moment where everything changed or came into focus. or rather: i HAVE had those moments (usually tripping, or drunk, or deep into day 4 or 5 of a yoga or meditation retreat) and what i’ve learned is that there are degrees of enlightenment. i don’t think you get hit with the magic stick and then it’s all different. or at least; that hasn’t happened to me. and i’m not waiting around for it. i’m perfectly happy inching closer and closer to understanding things every day.

Angel Andrews: I love how you are trying to cover up your breasts… But YOU MISSED ONE!! Hehe

Amanda Palmer: sometimes i move a bit too fast.

Kristin Riedelsberger: Are you afraid of menopause?

Amanda Palmer: afraid? i mean…not really. are you afraid of death? i figure…it’ll happen, and i’ll deal with it then.

Janina Scarlet: Hi Amanda, I’m a psychologist specializing in depression and anxiety. I’m reading your book now, it’s amazing! Thank you for writing it. I was wondering what advice would you give to people struggling with depression/anxiety, who are too held back by it to follow their dreams

Amanda Palmer: i struggled with depression quite a bit when i was younger, and was even on meds throughout most of college, which, in retrospect, wasn’t the wisest idea. they squashed me creatively and turned me into a bit of a survival-zombie, when the truth is that it was my environment more than my brain that was the problem. but i was too young to really have that perspective, at the time. for any of my friends struggling with depression i advise mediation and yoga (it helps me a LOT to stay strong and positive and not dip into the blue depths) and exercise in general. it’s amazing how a jog a day will keep me from getting sad. i’m a fan of therapy as well. i think many people who medicate (legally or illegally) don’t realize that they’re simply masking the symptoms of bigger stresses and sore truths in their lives that really need to be aired out and dealt with. just facing the truth of your self and your life on a constant basis can often be the way out. therapy can get you there, but there’s lots of paths.

Beckie Wooten: I just want to say thank you. Your book is helping to fill some of the awkward cracks and spaces in my heart. I haven’t finished the book yet but I do have a question: Do you still have the Bride dress?

Amanda Palmer: don’t make me cry. that’s a sore spot. it went missing about three years ago and i’m starting to lose faith that it’ll turn up.

Camilla Ortolani: how do you manage anger ?

Amanda Palmer: this quote helps: Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

Gypsy Chasen: Hola, This may or may not be book related. I just received mine but haven’t read it yet. The book is called “The Art of Asking” but what are your thoughts on the “Art of Saying No”. This is a difficult thing for me when I want to help but I just can’t.

Amanda Palmer: ah yes…it’s a crazy flipside. sometimes it feels like they’re really two sides of the exact same coin. i have a really hard time saying “no” as well, and because i get asked so many things by so many people all day, i’ve really learned how to say no. the key, i think, is graciousness and gratitude. it’s the same attitude when asking: ask allowing the no, otherwise you’re demanding. and when it comes to saying no, do it with apology, and grace, and as much recognition as you can muster for the legitimacy of the thing being asked….if it is indeed legit. and sometimes it’s a question of offering what you’re able to, without stretching yourself to the max of what’s being asked. if someone comes asking something of me for something that feels out of line, like “hey! amanda palmer!!! sorry to bother you while you’re eating in this cafe but my sister at home is a huge fan, can you stop eating and make a video for me to send her birthday, and can you hold this sign i just made for you while you do it, and can you also sign my boyfriends pile of sandman comics? he’s next door and i just texted him to come over……?” i usually answer these requests not by saying “wow, you’re demading, fuck off”, but some variation of: “listen. i’m eating. i love you. but this project is too large at the moment. gimme a piece of paper, i’ll write something for your sister. now, go away, i love you….and let me eat” xxxx

On Music

Lauren Thurman: AMANDA. I hope no one’s asked this yet! Do you write lyrics or melodies first? This question is very important to me

Amanda Palmer: they usually arrive together. but it really depends on the song.

Benjamin Walter Hopkins: Yo do u like abba y or n

Amanda Palmer: very funny, ben. you’ve heard my “winner takes it all”. you know me, beyoncé….don’t pretend you don’t. now go hug yourself.

Danielle Yoshihara: Amanda, your music has gotten me through quite a few tough times over the past ten years (thank you). Lately I’ve been overwhelmed with a horrifying, crippling fear of death along with the death of several people in my life. I have never been religious and the thought of potentially disappearing forever is something I cannot comprehend and is starting to interfere with living. I won’t go into the horrible details. This has never been an issue before. I’ve always felt ok with death and very much alive. I don’t know where this came from but the only way I can think of to feel better is to discuss it with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. You’re someone I respect and if you could share your thoughts on death/afterlife with me I would be forever grateful. Thank you again for everything.

Amanda Palmer: i feel you. i think about death a lot. i’ve been dealing for three years with the idea that anthony might die and be out of my life forever. and i dealt with a lot of people dying on me at one time when i was 21: two grandparents, my step-brother karl (who i worshipped), and a boyfriend all checked out on me within 9 months of each other. i constantly remind myself that death is part of life. not separate from it. being too attached to your life can do this thing you’re talking about, where fear of death gets in the way of living. i’ve herd stories of buddhist monks in certain traditions who do this: when a monk in their community dies, they lay the corpse out for a week and while the corpse begins to decay, the monks just sit there and meditate on the passing of this being. that may sound morbid to some, but i think it’s beautiful. the more we look death and the reality of it in the face, the more alive we can feel. we’re so “protected” from real death in this western culture: hospitals and funeral homes and our death rituals are built to keep the ugliness of death out of sight, but i think that often harms more than helps us.

Lauren Hatch: I’m loving the book so far. The part where you described not wanting to get a “real job” after college because you just wanted to be a Rock Star really hit home with me. How did your family react to that and how long did it take them to get used to you being a Rock Star/statue girl? (Maybe you go into this in the book but I haven’t finished it yet)
Also, I’m excited to catch your show in Portland in a couple of days and if you need anything while you’re in town let me know (beer? wine? coffee? scrambled eggs? :D )

Amanda Palmer: hahaha. you know, my family was REALLY wonderful and tolerant when i left college (and QUIT grad school, where i’d been given a full scholarship and stipend for two years!!!) and decided to busk in the street. they didn’t poke me for about three years, and then they had “the talk” with me. i was probably 25. and they were nervously, over dinner, like “sooooo amanda. do you think you’re always going to be a statue?” and i was like, “no. i’m going to be a professional musician, with a band. but i haven’t figured out how to do it. hang on.” and they looked worried. so i appeased them by telling them that i could always just go to massage therapy school. which was, in the back of mind, my life plan B. i loved giving people massages and even had my own massage table in my college dorm room, which was how I earned my spending money while my other friends went and worked in the library or campus cafe. and my parents, i gotta say, are really proud of me. even if they don’t totally understand the lifestyle or the choices, they appreciate that i’m an artist and totally different from the rest of the family. and i don’t take their patience for granted. they could have been real assholes about it.

On Writing

Cori Martinez: I am a sporadic poet. I don’t know how to feel like a legitimate artist. What is the best way to put yourself out there, begin sharing, and attempt to feel “real”? (I also struggle a lot with feeling….pretentious..)
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to ask for, professionally or in your personal life?
p.s. Your book is resonating with me in so many ways. Can’t put it down. Thank you. (p.p.s. I’m the girl who had a tattoo of you in chicago!)

Amanda Palmer: well, i write about this A LOT in the book. here’s a little excerpt, i’ll cut and paste….

“I’ve had a problem feeling “real” all my life.

I didn’t know until recently how absolutely universal that feeling is. For a long time, I thought I was
alone. Psychologists have a term for it: imposter syndrome. Before I knew that phrase existed, I
coined my own term: The Fraud Police.

The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of “real” grown-ups who you believe – at some subconscious level – are going to come knocking on your door at three in the morning, saying:

We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE
DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making
shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything
away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.

I mentioned The Fraud Police during a commencement speech I gave at an arts college, and I asked for the adults in the room, including the faculty, to raise their hands if they’d ever had this feeling. I don’t think a single hand stayed down.

People working in the arts engage in street combat with The Fraud Police on a daily basis, because much of our work is new and not readily or conventionally categorized. When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own hand-made wand. And you feel stupid doing it.

There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to university, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.

When you’ve “made it” in academia, you become a tenured professor. It’s official. Most of the time, though, “outside” appointment and approval (Congratulations! You’re an official
Professor/CEO/President/etc.) doesn’t necessarily silence The Fraud Police. In fact, outside approval can make The Fraud Police louder: it’s more like fighting them in High Court instead of in a back alley with your fists. Along with all the layers of official titles and responsibilities come even deeper, scarier layers of oh fuck they’re gonna find me out.

I can imagine a seasoned brain surgeon, in the moment before that first incision, having that teeny moment where she thinks:

For real? I dropped my cell phone in a puddle this morning, couldn’t find my keys, can’t hold down a relationship, and here I am holding a sharp knife about to cut someone’s head open. And they could die. Who is letting me do this? This is BULLSHIT.

Everybody out there is winging it. To some degree, on some days, of this we can be pretty sure. In both the art and the business worlds, the difference between the amateurs and the professionals is simple:

The professionals know they’re winging it.

The amateurs pretend they’re not.”

if you want EVEN more Q&A reading pleasure….i also did a live Q&A over at the guardian US last week…..

with @kaylaepstein in the beautiful @guardian US offices in NYC answering questions at the SPEED OF LIGHT. head to twitter for links to join the chat #artofasking

and the highlights are HERE.




by admin at November 19, 2014 12:00 AM

November 18, 2014

Tim Davies
OCDS – Notes on a standard

logo-open-contracting Today sees the launch of the first release of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). The standard, as I’ve written before, brings together concrete guidance on the kinds of documents and data that are needed for increased transparency in processes of public contracting, with a technical specification describing how to represent contract data and meta-data in common ways.

The video below provides a brief overview of how it works (or you can read the briefing note), and you can find full documentation at

When I first jotted down a few notes on how to go forward from the rapid prototype I worked on with Sarah Bird in 2012, I didn’t realise we would actually end up with the opportunity to put some of those ideas into practice. However: we did – and so in this post I wanted to reflect on some aspects of the standard we’ve arrived at, some of the learning from the process, and a few of the ideas that have guided at least my inputs into the development process.

As, hopefully, others pick up and draw upon the initial work we’ve done (in addition to the great inputs we’ve had already), I’m certain there will be much more learning to capture.

(1) Foundations for ‘open by default’

Early open data advocacy called for ‘raw data now‘, asking for governments to essentially export and dump online existing datasets, with issues of structure and regular publishing processes to be sorted out later. Yet, as open data matures, the discussion is shifting to the idea of ‘open by default’, and taken seriously this means more than just data dumps that are created being openly licensed as the default position, but should mean that data is released from government systems as a matter of course in part of their day-to-day operation.

green_compilation.svgThe full OCDS model is designed to support this kind of ‘open by default’, allowing publishers to provide small releases of data every time some event occurs in the lifetime of a contracting process. A new tender is a release. An amendment to that tender is a release. The contract being awarded, or then signed, are each releases. These data releases are tied together by a common identifier, and can be combined into a summary record, providing a snapshot view of the state of a contracting process, and a history of how it has developed over time.

This releases and records model seeks to combine together different user needs: from the firm seeking information about tender opportunities, to the civil society organisation wishing to analyse across a wide range of contracting processes. And by allowing core stages in the business process of contracting to be published as they happen, and then joined up later, it is oriented towards the development of contracting systems that default to timely openness.

As I’ll be exploring in my talk at the Berkman Centre next week, the challenge ahead for open data is not just to find standards to make existing datasets line-up when they get dumped online, but is to envisage and co-design new infrastructures for everyday transparent, effective and accountable processes of government and governance.

(2) Not your minimum viable product

Different models of standard

Many open data standard projects adopt either a ‘Minimum Viable Product‘ approach, looking to capture only the few most common fields between publishers, or are developed through focussing on the concerns of a single publisher or users. Whilst MVP models may make sense for small building blocks designed to fit into other standardisation efforts, when it came to OCDS there was a clear user demand to link up data along the contracting process, and this required an overarching framework from into which simple component could be placed, or from which they could be extracted, rather than the creation of ad-hoc components, with the attempt to join them up made later on.

Whilst we didn’t quite achieve the full abstract model + idiomatic serialisations proposed in the initial technical architecture sketch, we have ended up with a core schema, and then suggested ways to represent this data in both structured and flat formats. This is already proving useful for example in exploring how data published as part of the UK Local Government Transparency Code might be mapped to OCDS from existing CSV schemas.

(3) The interop balancing act & keeping flex in the framework

OCDS is, ultimately, not a small standard. It seeks to describe the whole of a contracting process, from planning, through tender, to contract award, signed contract, and project implementation. And at each stage it provides space for capturing detailed information, linking to documents, tracking milestones and tracking values and line-items.

This shape of the specification is a direct consequence of the method adopted to develop it: looking at a diverse set of existing data, and spending time exploring the data that different users wanted, as well as looking at other existing standards and data specifications.

However, OCDS by not means covers all the things that publishers might want to state about contracting, nor all the things users may want to know. Instead, it focusses on achieving interoperability of data in a number of key areas, and then providing a framework into which extensions can be linked as the needs of different sub-communities of open data users arise.

We’re only in the early stages of thinking about how extensions to the standard will work, but I suspect they will turn out to be an important aspect: allowing different groups to come together to agree (or contest) the extra elements that are important to share in a particular country, sector or context. Over time, some may move into the core of the standard, and potentially elements that appear core right now might move into the realm of extensions, each able to have their own governance processes if appropriate.

As Urs Gasser and John Palfrey note in their work on Interop, the key in building towards interoperability is not to make everything standardised and interoperable, but is to work out the ways in which things should be made compatible, and the ways in which they should not. Forcing everything into a common mould removes the diversity of the real world, yet leaving everything underspecified means no possibility to connect data up. This is both a question of the standards, and the pressures that shape how they are adopted.

(4) Avoiding identity crisis

green_organisation.svgData describes things. To be described, those things need to be identified. When describing data on the web, it helps if those things can be unambiguously identified and distinguished from other things which might have the same names or identification numbers. This generally requires the use of globally unique identifiers (guid): some value which, in a universe of all available contracting data, for example, picks out a unique contracting process; or, in the universe of all organizations, uniquely identifies a specific organization. However, providing these identifiers can turn out to be both a politically and technically challenging process.

The Open Data Institute have recently published a report on the importance of identifiers that underlines how important identifiers are to processes of opening data. Yet, consistent identifiers often have key properties of public goods: everyone benefits from having them, but providing and maintaining them has some costs attached, which no individual identifier user has an incentive to cover. In some cases, such as goods and service identifiers, projects have emerged which take a proprietary approach to fund the maintenance of those identifiers, selling access to the lookup lists which match the codes for describing goods and services to their descriptions. This clearly raises challenges for an open standard, as when proprietary identifiers are incorporated into data, then users may face extra costs to interpret and make sense of data.

In OCDS we’ve sought to take as distributed an approach to identifiers as possible, only requiring globally unique identifiers where absolutely necessary (identifying contracts, organizations and goods and services), and deferring to existing registration agencies and identity providers, with OCDS maintaining, at most, code lists for referring to each identity ‘scheme’.

In some cases, we’ve split the ‘scheme’ out into a separate field: for example, an organization identifier consists of a scheme field with a value like ‘GB-COH’ to stand for UK Companies House, and then the identifier given in that scheme, like ‘5381958’. This approach allows people to store those identifiers in their existing systems without change (existing databases might hold national company numbers, with the field assumed to come from a particular register), whilst making explicit the scheme they come from in the OCDS. In other cases, however, we look to create new composite string identifiers, combining a prefix, and some identifier drawn from an organizations internal system. This is particularly the case for the Open Contracting ID (ocid). By doing this, the identifier can travel between systems more easily as a guid – and could even be incorporated in unstructured data as a key for locating documents and resources related to a given contracting process.

However, recent learning from the project is showing that many organisations are hesistant about the introduction of new IDs, and that adoption of an identifier schema may require as much advocacy as adoption of a standard. At a policy level, bringing some external convention for identifying things into a dataset appears to be seen as affecting the, for want of a better word, sovereignty of a specific dataset: even if in practice the prefix approach of the ocid means it only need to be hard coded in the systems that expose data to the world, not necessarily stored inside organizations databases. However, this is an area I suspect we will need to explore more, and keep tracking, as OCDS adoption moves forward.

(5) Bridging communities of practice

If you look closely you might in fact notice that the specification just launched in Costa Rica is actually labelled as a ‘release candidate‘. This points to another key element of learning in the project, concerning the different processes and timelines of policy and technical standardisation. In the world of funded projects and policy processes, deadlines are often fixed, and the project plan has to work backwards from there. In a technical standardisation process, there is no ‘standard’ until a specification is in use: and has been robustly tested. The processes for adopting a policy standard, and setting a technical one, differ – and whilst perhaps we should have spoken from the start of the project of an overall standard, embedding within it a technical specification, we were too far down the path towards the policy launch before this point. As a result, the Release Candidate designation is intended to suggest the specification is ready to draw upon, but that there is still a process to go (and future governance arrangements to be defined) before it can be adopted as a standard per-se.

(6) The schema is just the start of it

This leads to the most important point: that launching the schemas and specification is just one part of delivering the standard.

In a recent e-mail conversation with Greg Bloom about elements of standardisation, linked to the development of the Open Referral standard, Greg put forward a list of components that may be involved in delivering a sustainable standards project, including:

  • The specification – with its various components and subcomponents);
  • Tools that assesses compliance according to the spec (e.g. validation tools, and more advanced assessment tools);
  • Some means of visualizing a given set of data’s level of compliance;
  • Incentives of some kind (whether positive or negative) for attaining various levels of compliance;
  • Processes for governing all of the above;
  • and of course the community through which all of this emerges and sustains;

To this we might also add elements like documentation and tutorials, support for publishers, catalysing work with tool builders, guidance for users, and so-on.

Open government standards are not something to be published once, and then left, but require labour to develop and sustain, and involve many social processes as much as technical ones.

In many ways, although we’ve spent a year of small development iterations working towards this OCDS release, the work now is only just getting started, and there are many technical, community and capacity-building challenges ahead for the Open Contracting Partnership and others in the open contracting movement.

by Tim at November 18, 2014 11:51 PM

David Weinberger
[2b2k] Four things to learn in a learning commons

Last night I got to give a talk at a public meeting of the Gloucester Education Foundation and the Gloucester Public School District. We talked about learning commons and libraries. It was awesome to see the way that community comports itself towards its teachers, students and librarians, and how engaged they are. Truly exceptional.

Afterwards there were comments by Richard Safier (superintendent), Deborah Kelsey (director of the Sawyer Free Library), and Samantha Whitney (librarian and teacher at the high school), and then a brief workshop at the attendees tables. The attendees included about a dozen of Samantha’s students; you can see in the liveliness of her students and the great questions they asked that Samantha is an inspiring teacher.

I came out of these conversations thinking that if my charter were to establish a “learning commons” in a school library, I’d ask what sort of learning I want to be modeled in that space. I think I’d be looking for four characteristics:

1. Students need to learn the basics (and beyond!) of online literacy: not just how to use the tools, but, more important, how to think critically in the networked age. Many schools are recognizing that, thankfully. But it’s something that probably will be done socially as often as not: “Can I trust a site?” is a question probably best asked of a network.

2. Old-school critical thinking was often thought of as learning how to sift claims so that only that which is worth believing makes it through. Those skills are of course still valuable, but on a network we are almost always left with contradictory piles of sifted beliefs. Sometimes we need to dispute those other beliefs because they are simply wrong. But on a network we also need to learn to live with difference — and to appreciate difference — more than ever. So, I would take learning to love difference to be an essential skill.

3. It kills me that most people have never clicked on a Wikipedia “Talk” page to see the discussion that resulted in the article they’re reading. If we’re going to get through this thing — life together on this planet — we’re really going to have to learn to be more meta-aware about what we read and encounter online. The old trick of authority was to erase any signs of what produced the authoritative declaration. We can’t afford that any more. We need always to be aware the what we come across resulted from humans and human processes.

4. We can’t rely on individual brains. We need brains that are networked with other brains. Those networks can be smarter than any of their individual members, but only if the participants learn how to let the group make them all smarter instead of stupider.

I am not sure how these skills can be taught — excellent educators and the communities that support them, like those I met last night, are in a better position to figure it out — but they are four skills that seem highly congruent with a networked learning commons.

by davidw at November 18, 2014 10:10 PM

Justin Reich
Potty Training and the Age-Old Question: Can We Measure Learning?
The case of potty training provides a good example of how we can find simple indicators that give us insight into deeply complex learning phenomena.

by Justin Reich at November 18, 2014 02:29 PM

Bruce Schneier
ISPs Blocking TLS Encryption

It's not happening often, but it seems that some ISPs are blocking STARTTLS messages and causing web encryption to fail. EFF has the story.

by Bruce Schneier at November 18, 2014 01:11 AM

November 17, 2014

Zeynep Tufekci
Keeping Up

I know I haven’t kept up with this blog but it’s not because I’ve stopped writing or blogging. Most of my latest writings have been at “The Message” collection over at the Medium. (Yes, The Message at the Medium.)  Click here for a list of the latest.

I’ve written on a variety of topics ranging from algorithms to Ebola (and networks, institutions and globalization). I’ve also written some more academic articles (many of which are here). You can also track many of them through my Google Scholar page.

My new year’s resolution is to do a better job of keeping a central inventory of all my writing! My other goal is to get more of my PDF publications into plaint-text and HTML formats. My (lame) excuse is that I’m too busy writing! I promise to improve… soon.  In the meantime, drop me a line at zeynep at technosociology dot org for requests of copies of papers (or for press inquiries).

by zeynep at November 17, 2014 11:12 PM

Finding Science in Speculation with Bayes’ Theorem
Image: "Bayes' Theorem MMB 01" by mattbuck (category) - Own work by mattbuck. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsImage: “Bayes’ Theorem MMB 01″ by mattbuck (category) – Own work by mattbuck. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not mathematically inclined, one look at Bayes’ Theorem – a parade of parenthetical A’s and B’s stacked on top of each other — can be a bit intimidating.

However, the theorem can be traced to many different parts of our everyday lives. First conceived around the time that Ben Franklin experimented with his infamous kite and key, it now helps us predict things like the weather, election results, health trends, even locating missing people and things.

Sydney Beveridge’s PRX STEM Story Project guides us through different ways the theorem is used, framing it with how it might be used to help someone find their missing keys.

When asked how she chose the topic, producer Sydney Beveridge responds, “This story was an opportunity to dig into the magic and manipulation behind the numbers that we encounter in our daily lives.” Outside of radio, she works with data at the demographic research and visualization website Social Explorer, which focuses on numbers to communicate trends and ideas. Also, she admits, she lost her keys last year.

“Even though numbers feel so concrete, the way we work with them varies and can be heavily disputed,” Beveridge reminds us. While researching the story, she was surprised to learn that the field of statistics is fraught with controversy; it even has warring factions within the field. No huge surprise there, especially with books like How to Lie With Statistics juxtaposing statistics and dishonesty, and general skepticism around exit polling during elections.

However, Beveridge hopes that listeners come away from the piece better understanding the difference between Bayesian statistics and classical statistics. “In some ways, the theorem is a common sense idea…but it is also conceptually rich in its handling of subjectivity, contradictory possibilities and iteration.”

That said, if you end up listening to the piece, the odds might just fall in your favor.

The post Finding Science in Speculation with Bayes’ Theorem appeared first on PRX.

by Lily Bui at November 17, 2014 07:41 PM

Berkman Center front page
Berkman Buzz: November 17, 2014
Berkman Buzz  November 17, 2014
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The Berkman Buzz is selected weekly from the publications and posts of Berkman Center people and projects. To subscribe, click here.

Apply to be a Berkman Fellow
Interested in engaging in a collaborative, cross-disciplinary exploration of some of the Internet's most interesting and challenging issues? Come join the Berkman community. Fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year will be accepted through December 12th.
Learn more on the fellowship program page.

Congratulations to Library Lab!
Congratulations to the Office for Scholarly Communication, the Harvard Library, and our other partners on the completion of the Library Lab. For the past four years, the Library Lab team has been working to create better services for students and faculty while helping to fashion the information society of the future.
Learn more about the innovative projects at the Library Lab website.

Susan Crawford explains why Obama's message to the FCC was a big deal

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I keep saying that telecom policy is blood and guts stuff - giant principles of equity, speech, and the importance of free markets run headlong into the extraordinary political powers wielded by Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T. All too often the drama is buried in an avalanche of acronyms and incremental influence. Then came yesterday's message from President Obama. Here was our best Obama, telling the FCC in plain language that it should consider acting like a regulator. The message actually brought a tear to my eye. It's the equivalent of the moving part of the war movie when the gruff but effective leader calls his troops to their better selves, reminding them why they're there in the first place.

From hew Medium post, "Obama's Presidential Moment"
About Susan | @scrawford

danah boyd considers the decline of the open Internet

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As I watch these debates unfold, one thing keeps nagging at me... Many of the corporate actors who are gung ho about fighting for net neutrality also provide differential service. Much to my horror, I'm watching the free (as in speech) and open internet crumble in many different forms. Net neutrality is such an obvious pillar that I still can't believe that we're debating it. But what about the broader decline in interoperability? What about the international conversations about creating separate internets? The issue of net neutrality has much more depth than simply talking about whether or not telcos can be trusted to provide a fair service (although that should be obvious by now).

From her post on Medium, "Net Neutrality is sooo much more than access to the "tubes"..."
About danah | @zephoria

Ron Deibert and the Citizen Lab report on digital attacks on civil society organizations

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Civil society organizations (CSOs) that work to protect human rights and civil liberties around the world are being bombarded with persistent and disruptive targeted digital attacks-the same sort of attacks reportedly hitting industry and government. Unlike industry and government, however, civil society organizations have far fewer resources to deal with the problem.

Communities @ Risk: Targeted Digital Threats Against Civil Society, a report by the Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary research laboratory based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, sheds light on an often overlooked digital risk environment.

From the report, "Communities @ Risk: Targeted Digital Threats Against Civil Society"
About Ron | About the Citizen Lab

Kira Hessekiel remembers Mayor Menino's legacy of civic technology


To be in Boston on Thursday, October 30th was to be in mourning for the Mayor who led the City on the Hill for two decades, Thomas Menino. As Boston's citizens paid tribute to the man nicknamed the "urban mechanic" for his attention to the minutiae of city life, many cited ways in which the late Mr. Menino had used technology to make large-scale changes aimed at improving government efficiency, even when he himself was often the least tech-savvy person in the room.

From her post on the Cyberlaw Clinic blog, "Mayor Menino's Legacy of Civic Technology"
About Kira | About the Cyberlaw Clinic

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With @harvartmuseums in the midst of a grand reopening, I'm excited about our project there, looking at art & data
Matthew Battles (@MatthewBattles)

Willow Brugh considers protocols for death in the digital realm


Death is different now. In a time of networks and social media, it's not just having a song remind you of your deceased loved one anymore, it's Spotify suggesting you listen to their playlists. It's scrolling just a bit too far too soon and seeing their last shares on Twitter or Facebook. It's not just figuring out funerals and atom-based belongings granted through wills (or figuring things out there wasn't any pre-planning), it's a faceless mass of internet informing you that your friend has died. It's not just compiling half-finished scrawled songs and old love notes, it's debating cracking the password for a laptop full of memories. Because the internet and technology haven't just changed how we live - it's changed what happens in death. And we can simply be awash in tragedy in these new ways, or we can use those new connections to show our care and values, even through death.

From her blog post, "Networked Mortality"
About Willow | @willowbl00

David Weinberger dispels myths about the Internet


" hogs like Netflix might need to bear some of the cost of handling heavy traffic." - ABCnews

That's like saying your water utility is a water hog because you take long showers and over-water your lawn.

Streaming a high-def movie does take a whole bunch of bits. But if you hadn't gone ahead and clicked on Taken 2 [SPOILER: she's taken again], Netflix would not have sent those bits over the Internet.

So Netflix isn't a data hog. You are.

From his blog post on Medium, Netflix is a Data Hog, And other myths about Net Neutrality
About David | @dweinberger

Forget Ice Water, Take the Indigenous Language Challenge Instead

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Love it or hate it, the online buzz surrounding the Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year brought more awareness to the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Participants filmed themselves dumping cold water on their heads and challenging another person to do the same or donate money toward research for a cure.

Now a similar concept aimed at awareness for indigenous languages is making its way around the internet. In the Indigenous Language Challenge, the one who accepts the challenge must record a video speaking an indigenous language and tap someone else to do the same. The outcome has been a wide range of people around the world who are producing videos, some for the first time, as a way to proudly share their language online and encouraging more to do the same.

From Eduardo Avila's Global Voices article, "Forget Ice Water, Take the Indigenous Language Challenge Instead"
About Global Voices Online | @globalvoices

This Buzz was compiled by Gretchen Weber.

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by gweber at November 17, 2014 07:36 PM

Reveal Coming January 2015 from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

Reveal Logo

Here’s the story.

Reveal will launch officially on a monthly schedule on Saturday, January 24, 2015.

The full hour-long radio show will be distributed exclusively by starting Thursday, January 22, 2015. The radio air window opens Saturday, January 24.

Reveal will be free to all stations regardless of PRX membership. Not sure how to use PRX? – drop us a line at

Reveal launched with three hour-long pilots in 2013 and 2014, tackling multiple investigative stories, winning a Peabody Award and leading to real impact. Hundreds of stations aired the programs.  CIR and PRX created the program because stations told us they wanted a regular investigative presence in public radio. Listeners are showing a hunger for deeper journalism with meaningful impact. Reveal will showcase the best investigative reporting together in one regular, national broadcast.

Reveal is based on a collaborative production model: many of the stories come from CIR’s award-winning newsroom, but excellent stories come from many investigative efforts. The pilots featured work from the Center for Public Integrity and public radio stations including WNYC, Chicago Public Radio, Michigan Radio, KQED and others. The pilots also included collaborations with the PBS NewsHour, various print outlets and websites to extend the reach of their featured stories. CIR and PRX are in conversation with dozens of other news outlets and public radio stations to feature their stories on Reveal.

Reveal is more than a radio program. It also produces stand-alone digital assets – from accompanying text stories, to data interactives, video, animations, and more – offered to stations for their audiences to engage with any time. Plus a Reveal podcast is in production for 2015.

Reveal won a 2014 Peabody award for CIR’s original investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ role in over-prescribing opioid drugs to returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The story put pressure on the VA and, as a result, the federal agency has reformed some of its most egregious prescription practices.

Al Letson, the recipient of multiple journalism awards for his original series, State of the Re:Union, is the host of Reveal. Al’s engaging storytelling style and straight-on questioning will be hallmarks of Reveal.

Reveal will air monthly from January through June. The air dates for the first two quarters are:

January 24, 2015

February 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

April 11, 2015

May 9, 2015

June 13, 2015

The first WEEKLY show of Reveal will be released on July 2, 2015 for broadcast starting Saturday July 4, 2015. It will be delivered to station automation systems through SubAuto on PRX or available by exclusive download through The weekly program will also be free to all stations regardless of PRX membership status.

Questions, comments, concerns? Contact John Barth at or Kathleen Unwin at

The post Reveal Coming January 2015 from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX appeared first on PRX.

by Kathleen Unwin at November 17, 2014 04:03 PM

November 16, 2014

Bruce Schneier
Hacking Internet Voting from Wireless Routers

Good paper, and layman's explanation.

Internet voting scares me. It gives hackers the potential to seriously disrupt our democratic processes.

EDITED TO ADD (11/14): Another article.

by Bruce Schneier at November 16, 2014 09:03 PM

November 15, 2014

Kate Krontiris
portraits-of-america:      “I like to help elderly people and...


     “I like to help elderly people and babies. I clean people’s yards and I babysit.”
     “I thought this was your home.”
     “Oh, no, I’m homeless.”
     “Do you get paid for your work?”
     “Just a little, but not much. They might take me to town if I need to go, or they might give me shelter or something else. I’ve been working like this for years. I help people, and I know that one day, when I really, really need a place, the Lord will help me.”

Whitakers, NC

November 15, 2014 08:42 PM

Weekend Linklings
The Net makes VRM possible. No Net, no VRM. So for this post I’ve gathered a bunch of stuff about the Net, starting with posts about neutrality and structural separation, and then moving on to other Net-threatening topics.
David Reed:Does the Internet need “governance?The short answer is no. The best long answer is here.  And we need it, because “Internet governance” is a hot topic. Pay close attention to what he says about “stakeholders.”
Susan Crawford (who worked for him), gives usObama’s Presidential Moment .

by Doc Searls at November 15, 2014 04:52 PM

Bruce Schneier
Sophisticated Targeted Attack Via Hotel Networks

Kaspersky Labs is reporting (detailed report here, technical details here) on a sophisticated hacker group that is targeting specific individuals around the world. "Darkhotel" is the name the group and its techniques has been given.

This APT precisely drives its campaigns by spear-phishing targets with highly advanced Flash zero-day exploits that effectively evade the latest Windows and Adobe defenses, and yet they also imprecisely spread among large numbers of vague targets with peer-to-peer spreading tactics. Moreover, this crew's most unusual characteristic is that for several years the Darkhotel APT has maintained a capability to use hotel networks to follow and hit selected targets as they travel around the world. These travelers are often top executives from a variety of industries doing business and outsourcing in the APAC region. Targets have included CEOs, senior vice presidents, sales and marketing directors and top R&D staff. This hotel network intrusion set provides the attackers with precise global scale access to high value targets. From our observations, the highest volume of offensive activity on hotel networks started in August 2010 and continued through 2013, and we are investigating some 2014 hotel network events.

Good article. This seems pretty obviously a nation-state attack. It's anyone's guess which country is behind it, though.

Targets in the spear -- phishing attacks include high-profile executives -- among them a media executive from Asia­as well as government agencies and NGOs and U.S. executives. The primary targets, however, appear to be in North Korea, Japan, and India. "All nuclear nations in Asia," Raiu notes. "Their targeting is nuclear themed, but they also target the defense industry base in the U.S. and important executives from around the world in all sectors having to do with economic development and investments." Recently there has been a spike in the attacks against the U.S. defense industry.

We usually infer the attackers from the target list. This one isn't that helpful. Pakistan? China? South Korea? I'm just guessing.

by Bruce Schneier at November 15, 2014 07:31 AM

A Huge Thank You To Our Fans And Backers

We are blown away by what you, our fans, have done.

The Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign brought in $620,412 from 21,808 backers. You made us the most funded and most backed project in Kickstarter’s Radio/Podcasting subcategory as well as the entire Publishing category.

You showered us with money, you showered us with love. We’ve been pushing the dream of a new kind of public radio uphill through uncharted, bumpy terrain. You smoothed that path a LOT.

What the path looks like now:

The party’s over. The party’s just begun.

A huge thank you to our tireless ringleaders Kerri Hoffman and Roman Mars, to PRX CEO Jake Shapiro, to the immensely supportive Kickstarter team, to the Knight Foundation, to MailChimp, and to the entire Radiotopia crew:

Benjamen Walker
Sam Greenspan
Avery Trufelman
Katie Mingle
Nick van der Kolk
Brendan Baker
Lea Thau
Kaitlin Prest
Helen Zaltzman
Eric Mennel
Phoebe Judge
Lauren Spohrer
Jonathan Mitchell
Kerry Kastin
Joe Richman
Sarah Kramer
Nellie Gillies
Neil Katcher
Dave Nadelberg
Andrew Norton
Robert DeBenedictis
Audrey Mardavich
Rekha Murthy
Genevieve Sponsler


The post A Huge Thank You To Our Fans And Backers appeared first on PRX.

by Rekha at November 15, 2014 01:47 AM

November 14, 2014

Berkman Center front page
Berkman Community Newcomers: James Losey

This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.

Interested in joining the Berkman Center community? We're currently accepting fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year. Read more on our fellowships page.

Q&A with James Losey

Berkman affliate and PhD candidate at Stockholm University
interviewed in summer 2014 by Berktern Ben Sobel

What was your career arc, and how did it lead you to your current graduate study at Stockholm University in Sweden?

I think, like many people that graduated my generation in university and ended up spending our first moments outside of school working on the Obama campaign, my real interest was policy work. From my vantage, there wasn’t a real opportunity to do that through the campaign. So when I found the opportunity, I ended up moving to DC. It’s a crazy story: I just wanted to live in DC and to do public policy work. Everybody tells you it’s about connections—I had none. I hardly had any money; I sold a few musical instruments and some furniture. I ended up living in a hostel for a few days. I didn’t have any friends, a place to stay, or a job. I then crashed in a punk warehouse up in Brooklyn for a couple months until I got an internship on Capitol Hill, which I got essentially by putting on the one nice outfit I had, printing up résumés and cover letters to each chief of staff of the offices I wanted to visit, knocking on doors, and asking if there were any openings.

That’s amazing.

Yeah, it was great. I started interning on the Hill for a new congressman out of Louisiana, just to get a different experience from the politics I was exposed to in the Bay Area of California. And then, about a year after I started working on the Hill, I spent some time with a congressional watchdog organization, CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington).

Then, in 2009, I started working with Sascha Meinrath at the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation. There were a lot of different issues I was covering: questions about the digital divide, questions of how to develop policies to increase broadband access to underserved communities in the US, questions around net neutrality, issues of intellectual property…But I wanted to go more international. Again, moving to DC gave me greater political perspective compared with the Bay Area. Moving to Europe would give me a perspective of how the same debates might be approached with different ideals or different interests.

What continental differences do you see in the way internet governance issues are perceived?

The telecommunications issues in the US are defined by business interests. My experience with these issues in Europe, and particularly in Sweden, is that it’s not necessarily the same way. A lot of the framing of policies in Europe seems more based on providing communications and providing openness, and not about the solicitation of profits in the same way that it is in the US.

Is part of the allure of Europe, then, that you can actually focus on what might seem to be more central issues rather than the business interests that bog things down in the USA? Has this opened up your research horizons at all?

The interesting thing is what potential there is to understand US-Europe relations, how the two economies fit in globally, and how these can be used as leverage points to promote more open, secure communications. A great example of that are the tensions from the revelations of US surveillance, which are leading a number of different countries to look into how to localize data as a response. Localization isn’t a great idea for an open internet, but it does demonstrate the relations between the interests, and how domestic debates do have international consequences.

In the long term, do you see yourself moving more towards academia or more towards making and advising on policy? How might the Berkman Center fit in as an intermediate step to whatever that end vision is for you?

I’ve spent a lot of time bridging different communities. In DC, the interface was between governments and society. When I went to Europe, I stayed to be a fellow at the Open Knowledge Institute, and a lot of my work bridged developer communities and policy communities. I wanted to understand how developers working on technologies for secure and unfettered online communications can be better connected with funding communities, college communities, and government actors. I ended up participating in a number of hackathons on most continents during my time as a master’s student, as well as organizing hackathons for the Swedish Foreign Ministry as part of the annual Stockholm Internet Forum. Coming out of the work on my PhD, my interest is to continue bridging academic and policy communities, and to think about where policy is actually going. I'm thinking about how to take advantage of the sometimes slower cycle of academia to target the research towards where policy debates are moving—and how to be more proactive rather than reactive, which was much of my experience in DC.

Being able to be a part of [Berkman’s] community of tremendous interdisciplinary expertise will help me take these ideas forward. I hope to be able to share my experiences in the trenches of the policy world, but also the experience I’ve had on working on these issues from a European perspective.

Are there any things you can point to as signs of heartening progress on this interdisciplinary dialogue between companies, developers, governments, users, and the like? On the flip side, are there any areas that are still particularly lacking?

Over time, debates have gotten more nuanced. There have been more engineers participating in net neutrality debates, and I think we have a much better understanding of how the internet functions and why it necessarily isn’t always a legal question but a technical question. Even for reports I would disagree with on intellectual property protection—proposals that are too strong and constricting and may do more harm than good—they’re still becoming more technically nuanced…

I don’t think that it’s perfect, and I think that I want to see more federal agencies and even committees on the Hill having on-staff technologists to sort out these questions, rather than just having a wealth of lawyers. But the technological aptitude is increasing in some regard. A lot of issues are still long uphill battles, like net neutrality. Still, what was once a very wonky issue receives a lot of public press and a lot of wide responses—over a million comments handed to the FCC, so that’s positive. What the question comes down to is, are policymakers bought out by companies or are they listening to the American people? And I think that’s an open question when we look at US politics. That’s why you see more leaders on technical issues—Larry Lessig and Tim Wu, to name a few—who are starting to look at questions of money in politics, look at the problems with the political system as something that needs to be targeted, rather than just trying to do better full-on policy.

by ctian at November 14, 2014 06:25 PM

Brad Smith and Jonathan Zittrain on Privacy, Surveillance, and Rebuilding Trust in Tech [AUDIO]
One of the enduring issues in cyberspace is which laws apply to online activities. We see this most clearly today in the reaction to revelations about government surveillance: on one hand, individuals are increasingly seeking assurances that their content is protected from government overreach, while governments want to ensure they have access to information to […]

by Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School ( at November 14, 2014 05:51 PM

Bruce Schneier
Friday Squid Blogging: Dried Squid Sold in Korean Baseball Stadiums

I'm not sure why this is news, except that it makes for a startling headline. (Is the New York Times now into clickbait?) It's not as if people are throwing squid onto the field, as Detroit hockey fans do with octopus.

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 November 14, 2014 05:40 PM

Harry Lewis
Can We Find a Better Way to Rank Students?
I have been complaining about GPA for years. I don't care that it's an inconstant measure -- it has been drifting upwards pretty much since the day it was invented, and there is very little reason ever to compare GPAs of today's students against GPAs of students a decade ago since they are almost never running against each other for anything GPA is used to calibrate. I don't even care much that it is compressed; in fact, that has some benefits, is it makes it easier to justify ignoring it to focus on other criteria instead. The problem I have with GPA is that even if it were constant over time, it would be almost meaningless as a measure of academic excellence, much less any of the more important kinds of excellence. 

Giving GPA the official status it has disincentives ambition. It discourages the pursuit of excellence by encouraging the pursuit of grades in a curriculum that is largely elective. When faced with a choice between two courses, the decision strategy that tends to maximize GPA, which we say we value, is clear: take the course from which you will learn less because you already know more of the material it teaches. 

I am in a very fortunate position as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science. I can tell students with complete honesty that they are better off ignoring GPA and not worry about getting Bs and Cs. Unless you apply to graduate school, I say, no one will ever see your transcript. In interviews, tech employers may just give you a problem to work on and see if you can solve it. Whether you can solve the problem is less correlated with your GPA than with whether you took challenging courses. You shouldn't let the pursuit of credentials get in the way of getting an education. And by the way, even if you DO apply to graduate school, a faculty letter praising your senior thesis is going to be more useful than a straight-A record.

I can't do anything about the way law school and medical school admissions committees screen applicants and I am not about to try. But maybe we can do something about the honors the university itself gives to high-GPA students. Just including the GPA on the official student record signals our institutional reverence for it. I can't object to supplying students with that information since we keep using it in the various ways we use it -- for example, in the award of graduation honors (cum laude, etc.). But the stupidity of the metric really hit me this fall as I sorted students for two prizes, one for freshmen and one for seniors, both aimed at rewarding true academic excellence.

These prizes are not given just for high GPA (we do have one of those too, the Sophia Freund Prize, given to the highest GPA summa -- in recent years it has been snared among multiple 4.0s). For the prizes I am talking about, GPA is used to create a pool several times larger than the number of prizes to be awarded, and then the committee reads transcripts, letters, and other supporting material to pick out the real intellectuals. The process works pretty well because the faculty on the committees take the job seriously. But several things have become evident to me.
  • Very high GPA is highly correlated with good pre-college preparation. That is, the vast majority of the pool seems to consist of students who had the good fortune to go to excellent high schools, public or private. The best public schools are either in high-income zip codes, or they are exam schools. Some of the independent school are graduating well-prepared low-income graduates, but you don't see many students in these pools from public schools in low-income zip codes.
  • Because of the compression, any one B will knock you out of contention, so freshman-year grades are among the major criteria on which, de facto, these honors are awarded. Freshman year grades tend to be lower not just because students are adjusting, but because freshmen take more large courses and grades in large courses tend to be lower.
  • Most of the transcripts were pretty easily classifiable as "hard core" or "elementary," with only a few that required more serious scrutiny. By "elementary," I mean some perfectly good course programs -- let's say, Math 1, Ec 10, Spanish A, Expository Writing, and a Freshman Seminar. Nothing wrong with that program if you landed here from one of the many American high schools that does not teach AP math and from a part of the country where they don't think foreign languages are important. But not the sort of program that should win you any prizes for superior intellectual achievement, even if you got a 4.0. The increasing variance in socioeconomic background of the Harvard student body may be making those transcripts more common, I'm not sure.
What do I mean by "hard core"? I got that phrase from Ballmer's CS50 talk. One of several pieces of good advice he offered students was to be hard-driving, intense, focused, hardworking, passionate about things. He talked about Taking Physics 55 (then, as I recall, a physics analog of the legendary super-honors Math 55 course that still exists) and getting a 33/100 on the first exam.

Fact is, the committees looking over student records can judge, reasonably well, which are hard core and which are not. Faculty at least can make that judgment for the courses in their own area. But those judgments are not easily automated. Some courses with graduate numbers are not hard core and some courses numbered less than 100 are hard core. "Everybody" knows that Math 55 is hard core but CS 20 is not. (CS 20 is a great and important and highly educational course. But it's not the course to take if you want to convince me that you are going to win the Turing Award some day.) "Everybody" knows that CS 161 is hard core (that is so well known in the tech industry that even interviewers who didn't go to Harvard listen up when interviewees say they took it) and CS 171 isn't (it's just a hugely educational course that EVERYBODY should take!).

Not every course a hard-core student takes is going to be hard core. In fact one of the blessings of guts at Harvard is that they make it possible for normal students to be hard-core some of the time, and   taking just one hard-core course can be life-changing. So when I see a transcript, I sniff at courses taken pass-fail, but I don't mind seeing well-known guts if the student took something hard core at the same time. 

So my question is, rather than fruitlessly trying to normalize grading (as Princeton just gave up doing) or trying to compute GPAs in a way that takes into account the grading curve in a course or the grades in other courses of the students taking the course, can we come up with something better, that incentivizes ambition as demonstrated by a hard-core transcript -- or even a "beautiful transcript," as Professor Elaine Scarry put it to me once? I don't want to automate the whole process of rewarding students; letters, essays, and so on are important. But I don't like the idea that students with only basic coursework are crowding out of the pool other students who have wound up with blemished records because they really stretched themselves to the max. Can we socially engineer a "hard coreness" rating for courses? What would be the incentive for students to rate courses honestly, for the Lampoon not to troll the rating system, and so on? Would faculty refuse to go along with this because they would find it too stigmatizing to have their courses classified as not-so-hard-core?

Of course the other way to handle this would be to stop giving those prizes. That ain't going to happen, but I'll leave all that for another day.

by Harry Lewis ( at November 14, 2014 05:00 PM

Amanda Palmer
CHICAGO!!!! surprise!! TOMORROW (11/15) i’m playing a FREE concert!

…all that and MORE.

YES, i’ll be in chicago, tomorrow…
…and i’m going to be playing a surprise show…
…which is FREE…

…but ALSO?

it’s going to be filmed by JBTV, and i’ll be with the kids from chicago’s SCHOOL OF ROCK ALL STAR BAND!!!

i picked some songs and the kids are busy learning them and ooohhhhh i’m excited as all get out.

there’s space for about 100 people to watch the filming!!! it’s at 3:45pm, and the first 100 people to have RSVP‘d and line up can get in…
no guarantees, so if you REALLY wanna see this, please take a chance, and try to come early!!!!!!
and for those of you not in chicago: since we’re filming, it’ll be sharable on youtube after hopefully not too long. we’ll let you know.

here’s a clip of these awesome kids doing THE VIOLENT FEMMES if you needed any convincing…

you can RSVP HERE (via JBTV). and should not be able to make it but know someone in chicagoland that could, TELL ‘EM!

p.s. here’s me and viggie a few years back (before he was in the band) doing the same song, down in oz…

by admin at November 14, 2014 04:33 PM

danah boyd
Heads Up: Upcoming Parental Leave

If you’ve seen me waddle onto stage lately, you’ve probably guessed that I’m either growing a baby or an alien. I’m hoping for the former, although contemporary imaging technologies still do make me wonder. If all goes well, I will give birth in late January or early February. Although I don’t publicly talk much about my son, this will be #2 for me and so I have both a vague sense of what I’m in for and no clue at all. I avoid parenting advice like the plague so I’m mostly plugging my ears and singing “la-la-la-la” whenever anyone tells me what I’m in for. I don’t know, no one knows, and I’m not going to pretend like anything I imagine now will determine how I will feel come this baby’s arrival.

What I do know is that I don’t want to leave any collaborator or partner in the lurch since there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be relatively out of commission (a.k.a. loopy as all getup) for a bit. I will most likely turn off my email firehose and give collaborators alternate channels for contacting me. I do know that I’m not taking on additional speaking gigs, writing responsibilities, scholarly commitments, or other non-critical tasks. I also know that I’m going to do everything possible to make sure that Data & Society is in good hands and will continue to grow while I wade through the insane mysteries of biology. If you want to stay in touch with everything happening at D&S, please make sure to sign up for our newsletter! (You may even catch me sneaking into our events with a baby.)

As an employee of Microsoft Research who is running an independent research institute, I have a ridiculous amount of flexibility in how I navigate my parental leave. I thank my lucky stars for this privilege on a regular basis, especially in a society where we force parents (and especially mothers) into impossible trade-offs. What this means in practice for me is that I refuse to commit to exactly how I’m going to navigate parental leave once #2 arrives. Last time, I penned an essay “Choosing the ‘Right’ Maternity Leave Plan” to express my uncertainty. What I learned last time is that the flexibility to be able to work when it made sense and not work when I’d been up all night made me more happy and sane than creating rigid leave plans. I’m fully aware of just how fortunate I am to be able to make these determinations and how utterly unfair it is that others can’t. I’m also aware of just how much I love what I do for work and, in spite of folks telling me that work wouldn’t matter as much after having a child, I’ve found that having and loving a child has made me love what I do professionally all the more. I will continue to be passionately engaged in my work, even as I spend time welcoming a new member of my family to this earth.

I don’t know what the new year has in store for me, but I do know that I don’t want anyone who needs something from me to feel blindsided. If you need something from me, now is the time to holler and I will do my best. I’m excited that my family is growing and I’m also ecstatic that I’ve been able to build a non-profit startup this year. It’s been a crazy year and I expect that 2015 will be no different.

by zephoria at November 14, 2014 03:35 PM

Bruce Schneier
The Future of Incident Response

Security is a combination of protection, detection, and response. It's taken the industry a long time to get to this point, though. The 1990s was the era of protection. Our industry was full of products that would protect your computers and network. By 2000, we realized that detection needed to be formalized as well, and the industry was full of detection products and services.

This decade is one of response. Over the past few years, we've started seeing incident response (IR) products and services. Security teams are incorporating them into their arsenal because of three trends in computing. One, we've lost control of our computing environment. More of our data is held in the cloud by other companies, and more of our actual networks are outsourced. This makes response more complicated, because we might not have visibility into parts of our critical network infrastructures.

Two, attacks are getting more sophisticated. The rise of APT (advanced persistent threat)--attacks that specifically target for reasons other than simple financial theft--brings with it a new sort of attacker, which requires a new threat model. Also, as hacking becomes a more integral part of geopolitics, unrelated networks are increasingly collateral damage in nation-state fights.

And three, companies continue to under-invest in protection and detection, both of which are imperfect even under the best of circumstances, obliging response to pick up the slack.

Way back in the 1990s, I used to say that "security is a process, not a product." That was a strategic statement about the fallacy of thinking you could ever be done with security; you need to continually reassess your security posture in the face of an ever-changing threat landscape.

At a tactical level, security is both a product and a process. Really, it's a combination of people, process, and technology. What changes are the ratios. Protection systems are almost technology, with some assistance from people and process. Detection requires more-or-less equal proportions of people, process, and technology. Response is mostly done by people, with critical assistance from process and technology.

Usability guru Lorrie Faith Cranor once wrote, "Whenever possible, secure system designers should find ways of keeping humans out of the loop." That's sage advice, but you can't automate IR. Everyone's network is different. All attacks are different. Everyone's security environments are different. The regulatory environments are different. All organizations are different, and political and economic considerations are often more important than technical considerations. IR needs people, because successful IR requires thinking.

This is new for the security industry, and it means that response products and services will look different. For most of its life, the security industry has been plagued with the problems of a lemons market. That's a term from economics that refers to a market where buyers can't tell the difference between good products and bad. In these markets, mediocre products drive good ones out of the market; price is the driver, because there's no good way to test for quality. It's been true in anti-virus, it's been true in firewalls, it's been true in IDSs, and it's been true elsewhere. But because IR is people-focused in ways protection and detection are not, it won't be true here. Better products will do better because buyers will quickly be able to determine that they're better.

The key to successful IR is found in Cranor's next sentence: "However, there are some tasks for which feasible, or cost effective, alternatives to humans are not available. In these cases, system designers should engineer their systems to support the humans in the loop, and maximize their chances of performing their security-critical functions successfully." What we need is technology that aids people, not technology that supplants them.

The best way I've found to think about this is OODA loops. OODA stands for "observe, orient, decide, act," and it's a way of thinking about real-time adversarial situations developed by US Air Force military strategist John Boyd. He was thinking about fighter jets, but the general idea has been applied to everything from contract negotiations to boxing--and computer and network IR.

Speed is essential. People in these situations are constantly going through OODA loops in their head. And if you can do yours faster than the other guy--if you can "get inside his OODA loop"--then you have an enormous advantage.

We need tools to facilitate all of these steps:

  • Observe, which means knowing what's happening on our networks in real time. This includes real-time threat detection information from IDSs, log monitoring and analysis data, network and system performance data, standard network management data, and even physical security information--and then tools knowing which tools to use to synthesize and present it in useful formats. Incidents aren't standardized; they're all different. The more an IR team can observe what's happening on the network, the more they can understand the attack. This means that an IR team needs to be able to operate across the entire organization.

  • Orient, which means understanding what it means in context, both in the context of the organization and the context of the greater Internet community. It's not enough to know about the attack; IR teams need to know what it means. Is there a new malware being used by cybercriminals? Is the organization rolling out a new software package or planning layoffs? Has the organization seen attacks form this particular IP address before? Has the network been opened to a new strategic partner? Answering these questions means tying data from the network to information from the news, network intelligence feeds, and other information from the organization. What's going on in an organization often matters more in IR than the attack's technical details.

  • Decide, which means figuring out what to do at that moment. This is actually difficult because it involves knowing who has the authority to decide and giving them the information to decide quickly. IR decisions often involve executive input, so it's important to be able to get those people the information they need quickly and efficiently. All decisions need to be defensible after the fact and documented. Both the regulatory and litigation environments have gotten very complex, and decisions need to be made with defensibility in mind.

  • Act, which means being able to make changes quickly and effectively on our networks. IR teams need access to the organization's network--all of the organization's network. Again, incidents differ, and it's impossible to know in advance what sort of access an IR team will need. But ultimately, they need broad access; security will come from audit rather than access control. And they need to train repeatedly, because nothing improves someone's ability to act more than practice.

Pulling all of these tools together under a unified framework will make IR work. And making IR work is the ultimate key to making security work. The goal here is to bring people, process and, technology together in a way we haven't seen before in network security. It's something we need to do to continue to defend against the threats.

This essay originally appeared in IEEE Security & Privacy.

by Bruce Schneier at November 14, 2014 02:49 PM

Why Hyping Cyber Threats is Counterproductive

Robert Lee and Thomas Rid have a new paper: "OMG Cyber! Thirteen Reasons Why Hype Makes for Bad Policy."

EDITED TO ADD (11/13): Another essay on the same topic.

by Bruce Schneier at November 14, 2014 02:11 PM

Harry Lewis
Great Day for Harvard
Not just for Computer Science at Harvard, but that too. Steve Ballmer has just challenged us to become the #1 place for computer science research and education. We have lots of loyal alums, but not many are so determined to move us forward and so ready to put their money where their mouth is. Ballmer is funding twelve faculty slots, so we will grow from 24 to 36 full time professors. That is an amazing commitment, and I am deeply grateful and deeply humbled, because it's now over to us on the faculty to make it happen. No more complaining that we need more faculty; now we just have to hire them. Speaking of which, we are running a junior search right now. Want to be in on the ground floor? We'd love to hear from you!

This is the 51st year I have been associated with Harvard. I entered as a freshman in the fall of 1964. I fell into computer science before that was the name of anything official here. The bottom of the SEAS web site that was put up following today's announcement has a picture of me fall of my senior year, demonstrating my senior thesis to Applied Math 201 -- I was showing conformal mappings in the complex plane. (I am pretty sure this photo was taken by Bob Sproull, my Harvard classmate and another acolyte of Ivan Sutherland, who went on to be a Sun Fellow.)

By the time I joined the faculty, 40 years ago, Sutherland was gone. Computer Science existed at Harvard, but was not a priority. It was as though the Sutherland experiment had not paid off, and Harvard was going back into its more natural, more cautious mode. The first time I raised in a faculty meeting the idea that we should have a CS major was in about 1978, when I was a nontenured associate professor. Bernie Budiansky, a brilliant applied mathematician and mechanical engineer, snorted, "We've never had a major in automotive science, why would we have one in computer science?" I didn't raise the question again until my personal situation became a bit more secure a few years later. The major must have started in 1983, and I know the first degrees were awarded in 1984. Oren Etzioni, professor of CS at the University of Washington, swears he was the first CS major, which may well be true -- he may have been the first person to walk into my office and declare himself as a CS major in 1983.

Over the years we've produced an incredible series of graduates -- and non-graduates, such as Gates and Zuckerberg. The talent pool is the best in the world, but the "department," though it has improved steadily and has had a few people at the top, hasn't as a whole been at the top. (We have no departments in SEAS, just informal caucuses we call "areas." That is a huge plus for us -- it greatly reduces the amount of internecine warfare, and encourages collaboration in a discipline that is increasingly "outward-looking.")

What a change is happening! We already have a superb group of 24 faculty, brilliant and collegial, devoted to education, spanning the field, and branching into the life sciences, law, economics, and other disciplines. We now set about to change the landscape by hiring twelve more. I feel like the "next wave" just washed over me, because over the past three days I have signed more than 100 sophomores up to be CS majors (the deadline was yesterday). I am engaged in the process of planning our new building in Allston, which will be the center of an innovation hub and the promised land, not just for CS and engineering, but for other (as yet undetermined) Harvard departments that will be moving also, and for an enterprise zone that will grow up around us. CS will be at the heart of it, as it will be in so much else that lies ahead.

We are going to be #1. And the competition is going to make every other department better while we're getting there. And that will be good for Boston, for the US, and for the world.

Look at the slide show at the bottom of the "Catch the Wave" page about the future of CS -- there are a couple more that relate to me, as well as a couple featuring Henry Leitner, and one of Al Spector as an undergrad too. Bonus links: Steve Ballmer hilariously advertising CS50, the way he once advertised Windows  1.0; and Ballmer's CS50 lecture yesterday, with a whole set of good life lessons. Anyone who complains that Harvard students spend too much time on extracurriculars and not enough time in the classroom should watch that class, and then, if they dare, call Steve and tell him that he wasted his time here! And watch the video of the dedicatory program at the i-Lab -- to see Ballmer's inspirational fight-song about Harvard CS, and also to hear the spectacular speech by Harvard CS undergrad Ana-Maria Constantin, who reminds us how important it is to have a program worthy of our students.

by Harry Lewis ( at November 14, 2014 04:07 AM

November 13, 2014

Amanda Palmer
THE WAR WITH AMAZON IS OVER…and now it’s my turn to ask.

just in time for book-release week


you’ll see there are a variety of formats (hardcover, kindle/ebook, audiobook via CD or digital download) and
should you encounter a dreaded message like this, do know that they ARE hurrying to get everything in stock as we speak. or as i type this. or as you read this. or maybe it’s all “in stock” by now. ANYWAY…

this is all to say that finally – awesomely – copies of

are now somewhere in the ocean of amazon-land…

you probably already bought it from your local independent bookstore, because you’re awesome like that (THANK YOU), so i’m going to call this entire exercise a win-win-win for everybody.

here’s the story ’bout it, via the times:

i asked neil if he would include my book in his blog yesterday. and he did. i’ve been asking the people coming to the shows every night to please spread the word once they read (and if they like) the book. and now…people of my blog, people of the internet (and facebook)…i’m asking you. so many of you poured out your stories, your hearts, and your help to get this book off the ground.

so to anyone who shared advice, stories, suggestions here on the blog: i couldn’t thank you all in the acknowledgments (which are already like 8 pages long)….but i know you’re there.


i poured my fucking bloody heart and soul and brain into this book for the past year. i hope, more than anything, to make you guys proud.
a lot of it is the story this community – what i’ve learned from being here. i hope when you read it, you see yourselves there.

you’ve been watching. it was a brutal road to get here.

and……now, i’m also taking a page out of my own book (kinda almost literally) and i’m asking for your help.

PLEASE HELP ME SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THE BOOK. it should be in your local bookstore. if it isn’t: ASK THEM TO ORDER IT!

if you want to order it online: wherever you’re from, we have a list of where to get ithachette made one, too…and if you like ebooks or audiobooks (which i read myself), ALL the info is here on my site.

and most important: if and when you read (or listen to) it, and if it touches you, if you like it: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TELL PEOPLE. all the promoting in the world won’t do what you can do. no amazon, no full-
page ad in the new york times, no giant billboard in times square can do as much as a person telling another person that a book is worth reading. you are my word-of-mouth warriors.

so i ask: write a blog about how it hit you, write a review (and add it to your shelves) on goodreads or amazon, write a tumblr, write a facebook post, tweet the link, instagram photos of you with it (use the hashtag #TheArtOfAsking and feel free to tag me), tell your aunt elanor, give it to your graduating nephew…buy a stack of copies and hide them in your employees bathroom under the maxi pads…i need you guys. you are my word of mouth, and i’ve never needed you more. get creative. there’s no rules about how to promote a book.

i hope, most of all, that the book creates a bigger conversation about love, art, connection, human beings, the internet, and how we can take this bizarre moment in history to help each other fearlessly.

here’s to the extroverted taylor swifts, the introverted PJ harveys, the george bushes, to the dalai lamas, the U2s, and to everybody on earth.

we’re all in this together.

and you……thank you guys, for everything.

here’s to you.
without you, none of this would have existed.


by admin at November 13, 2014 08:57 PM

Bruce Schneier
Testing for Explosives in the Chicago Subway

Chicago is doing random explosives screenings at random L stops in the Chicago area. Compliance is voluntary:

Police made no arrests but one rider refused to submit to the screening and left the station without incident, Maloney said.


Passengers can decline the screening, but will not be allowed to board a train at that station. Riders can leave that station and board a train at a different station.

I have to wonder what would happen if someone who looks Arab refused to be screened. And what possible value this procedure has. Anyone who has a bomb in their bag would see the screening point well before approaching it, and be able to walk to the next stop without potentially arousing suspicion.

by Bruce Schneier at November 13, 2014 05:08 PM

Kate Krontiris
Rethinking International Development: Big Ideas from the Invention Generation - Techonomy
Rethinking International Development: Big Ideas from the Invention Generation - Techonomy:

I sat down with a two young inventors — Bonolo Matchila from South Africa and Leroy Mwasaru from Kenya — who are pursuing some really incredible work on nutrition and sustainable energy, respectively.  Our discussion happened at Techonomy, which should get lots of credit for hosting a panel about development with young people who are actually making it happen in situ.  David Sengeh of Global Minimum also provided some great context and vision for the discussion.

November 13, 2014 04:30 PM

Nick Grossman
I agree with Ted Cruz: let’s supercharge the Internet marketplace

There has been a lot of debate about how to protect Internet Freedom.

Today, Senator Ted Cruz has an op-ed in the Washington Post on the subject, which starts out with an eloquent and spot-on assessment of what we are trying to protect:

Never before has it been so easy to take an idea and turn it into a business. With a simple Internet connection, some ingenuity and a lot of hard work, anyone today can create a new service or app or start selling products nationwide.

In the past, such a person would have to know the right people and be able to raise substantial start-up capital to get a brick-and-mortar store running. Not anymore. The Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We should make a commitment, right now, to keep it that way.

This is absolutely what this is about. The ability for any person — a teenager in Des Moines, a grandmother in Brazil, or a shop owner in Norway — to get online and start writing, selling, streaming, performing, and transacting — with pretty much anyone in the world (outside of China).

This is the magic of the internet.  Right there.

By essentially a happy accident, we have created the single most open and vibrant marketplace in the history of the world.  The most democratizing, power-generating, market-making thing ever.  And the core reason behind this: on the internet you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to get started.

And that “anyone” is not just the government — as we’re used to asking the government for permission for lots of things, like drivers licenses, business licenses, etc.

In fact, more importantly — “anyone” means the carriers whose lines you need to cross to reach an audience on the internet.  A blogger doesn’t have to ask Comcast’s or Verizon’s permission to reach its subscribers.  Neither does a small merchant, or an indie musician or filmmaker.

Contrast that with how cable TV works — in order to reach an audience, you need to cut a deal with a channel, who in turn needs to cut a deal with a carrier, before you can reach anyone.  It is completely out of the realm of possibility for me to create my own TV station in the Cable model.  In the Internet model, I can do that in 5 minutes without asking anyone’s permission.

What we don’t want is an internet that works like Cable TV.

So I agree with Ted Cruz — his description of the internet is exactly the one I believe in and want to fight for.

But where I think he and many others miss the point is that Internet Freedom is not just about freedom from government intervention, it’s freedom from powerful gatekeepers, who would prefer to make the internet look like Cable TV, controlling and restricting the mega marketplace we’ve been so lucky to take part in.

Let’s not let that happen.

p.s., I would encourage any conservatives pondering this issue to read James J. Heaney’s powerful and in-depth case for “Why Free Marketeers Want to Regulate the Internet

by Nick Grossman at November 13, 2014 04:08 PM

Willow Brugh
Networked Mortality

Death is different now. In a time of networks and social media, it’s not just having a song remind you of your deceased loved one anymore, it’s Spotify suggesting you listen to their playlists. It’s scrolling just a bit too far too soon and seeing their last shares on Twitter or Facebook. It’s not just figuring out funerals and atom-based belongings granted through wills (or figuring things out there wasn’t any pre-planning), it’s a faceless mass of internet informing you that your friend has died. It’s not just compiling half-finished scrawled songs and old love notes, it’s debating cracking the password for a laptop full of memories. Because the internet and technology haven’t just changed how we live – it’s changed what happens in death. And we can simply be awash in tragedy in these new ways, or we can use those new connections to show our care and values, even through death.

Today the spontaneity of planning, which makes it possible to search for a place to eat with your incoming friend while already out the door, forms habits making the avoidance of planning for death even easier. But after working through the unexpected deaths of a number of networked friends, I have started explicitly planning for the eventuality of my own death, to ease the burden on others. I’ve set up a living will (detailing things like whether I want to be kept on life support — I don’t), a will (what to do with my corpus and my corpse — open them up and share the contents), and mechanisms for notifying the many communities I inhabit, helping them find each other for support. The compartmentalization of online selves otherwise makes discrete and care-full notifications difficult, and sadly the current viable option is mass broadcast.

Because I’m also from the parts of the internet that care about open access and free software, friends and I have taken my death preparations and formed a guide for the bits of postmortem planning other guides may have missed. Based on ideas from open access and information security, it includes topics like how to deal with passwords, contact lists, plans for account deletion while archiving information, and donating one’s body to science in ways that support open research.

This living documentation is called NetworkedMortality, and I hope it helps others to start thinking about and planning for the inevitable, either privately or in this wiki-based and public place. Just as the internet is about creating, storing, and transmitting knowledge, this guide is about contributing to something larger than the individual. It’s about continuing to build the commons, establishing protocols for death in the digital. The sorrow of death need not also be accompanied by confusion over what intentions would have been or who should know what. Funeral home directors and lawyers have helped guide us through the protocols of death in the better-known world. In this new space those steps are considered by Twitter, Facebook, and Google, but I at least would prefer to trust people I know to deal with my wishes more accurately and with more love. We’ll be hosting a “death drill” to test out these new protocols on December 13th from 2p-5p at the Berkman Center.

Too often, we think only about the short term – this quarter, this school year, this laughably short short life span – when considering how we plan as well as what we build. We must instead intentionally look to the public future, and our responsibility as members of that shared story. We must contribute to freely available knowledge which lasts beyond our brief moments. An unavoidable part of life is death. Let’s care for each other, and hold true to our values, through the entirety. Let’s network our mortality, together.


It is possible to speak about death without fear – I hope you can act from this place.  If you are in danger of harming yourself, please get help, rather than indirectly indicating through things like estate planning.

by bl00 at November 13, 2014 02:04 PM

November 12, 2014

Amanda Palmer
independent day (aka TODAY’S READING…and a check-in from fuck-land.)

hey lovers. about to get on a plane to DC where i’ll be seeing a lot of you tonight…can’t wait. last night’s book release in boston was absolutely over the fucking top beautiful, emotional…perfect. Laurie Penny read from her new book, “unspeakable things”; Jason Webley brought surprise guest rachel jayson (from Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys) up on stage; Amy Cuddy brought her son jonah, who played guitar on “delilah” while she bravely sang with me; neil read a heartbreaking passage from the book about…stuff, and best of all, anthony hobbled onto stage against everybody’s better judgement…he had chemo the day before and today they are injecting the shunt in his brain with yet more chemicals for the cancer they’ve found there (basically, he’s in intolerable cancer hell) and, by request, he read a 20-minute long piece of writing at my request to a rapt audience. there were lots of tears. and Artisan’s Asylum set up a table and took donations and i signed more books till my little arm fell off.

it was the world’s perfect book launch.

i wrote this piece for The Independent (quite an honor to be asked) about two weeks ago while in the midst of tech hell for “The Bed Show”. there’s a couple of paragraphs lifted from the book but mostly it’s new thoughts threaded together. please comment if moved.

Both masseurs Neil Gaiman and Jamy Ian Swiss helped edit it down to to 1,800 words. i’ve got a wonderful fucking bunch of people around me. swimming in gratitude every moment.

i love you guys. all of you.

i can’t wait to hear what happens when the book hits your brains. please tell me. i’m still not reading press reviews.

and keep spreading the word. george bush has got fucking nothing on us.

as i said to the crowd last night: he may have a wider reach, but he doesn’t have a fanbase quite as awesome as i do. no further comment.

by admin at November 12, 2014 06:47 PM

Feeds In This Planet