Jan 152013
NOAH BERGER/REUTERS -  Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008

NOAH BERGER/REUTERS – Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008

Even if you didn’t who Aaron Swartz was before his suicide the other day, you probably do now. A tech prodigy (co-developer of RSS code and the website Reddit) and thoughtful young activist who fought to fulfill the real potential of our communications revolution – who Lawrence Lessig called an “incredible soul” – Swartz was facing up to 35 years in jail and millions in fines for taking documents via MIT’s network from the non-profit JSTOR repository. JSTOR was willing to settle; it seems that MIT was not. Clearly the Department of Justice was determined to prosecute this case to the bitter end.

I didn’t know Aaron but have followed his work for years. Some of the tributes by those who knew him can be found at the Guardian site.

Whether or not Aaron’s suicide is directly attributable to the legal case against him is hard to say – I tend to think that it is is but we never truly know the source of the inner demons in someone else’s mind. The family feels strongly that the court case is to blame.

What is truly frightening in all of this is the disproportionality of our intellectual property and copyright law. Mind you, Aaron was facing far more time in jail than if he had gone out and shot someone, robbed a bank, trafficked slaves, or threatened the President. Think Progress has a summary of the time you face for these crimes – if we learn anything from Aaron’s tragic death, it should be that the fear (largely from the corporate world) of the incredible ability to share ideas and resources in the digital age has spurred to a profound overreaction to protect intellectual property. Whatever Aaron did – even if one does draw the conclusion that it was outright theft – it does not measure up to the following.

Here is some of the list from Think Progress:

To put these charges in perspective, here are ten examples of federal crimes that carry lesser prison sentences than Swartz’ alleged crime of downloading academic articles in an effort to make knowledge widely available to the public:

  • Manslaughter: Federal law provides that someone who kills another human being “[u]pon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if subject to federal jurisdiction. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only six years.
  • Bank Robbery: A person who “by force and violence, or by intimidation” robs a bank faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. If the criminal “assaults any person, or puts in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device,” this sentence is upped to a maximum of 25 years.
  • Selling Child Pornography: The maximum prison sentence for a first-time offender who “knowingly sells or possesses with intent to sell” child pornography in interstate commerce is 20 years. Significantly, the only way to produce child porn is to sexually molest a child, which means that such a criminal is literally profiting off of child rape or sexual abuse.
  • Knowingly Spreading AIDS: A person who “after testing positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and receiving actual notice of that fact, knowingly donates or sells, or knowingly attempts to donate or sell, blood, semen, tissues, organs, or other bodily fluids for use by another, except as determined necessary for medical research or testing” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • Selling Slaves: Under federal law, a person who willfully sells another person “into any condition of involuntary servitude” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, although the penalty can be much higher if the slaver’s actions involve kidnapping, sexual abuse or an attempt to kill.
  • Genocidal Eugenics: A person who “imposes measures intended to prevent births” within a particular racial, ethnic or religious group or who “subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part” faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, provided their actions did not result in a death.
  • Helping al-Qaeda Develop A Nuclear Weapon: A person who “willfully participates in or knowingly provides material support or resources . . . to a nuclear weapons program or other weapons of mass destruction program of a foreign terrorist power, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years.”
  • Violence At International Airports: Someone who uses a weapon to “perform[] an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that causes or is likely to cause serious bodily injury” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if their actions do not result in a death. . . .

May his passing help us rethink our priorities and ensure that the Internet is a place of freedom.

Jan 132013

Yes, I understand the hectic pace of life in NYC. New York is a crazy place with seven million hyperactive people packed together in too little space with too much to do and not enough time. And yes, I understand that in this setting people can easily lose site of what’s going on around them – like the people who left their cars in underground garages a block from the Hudson River when Hurricane Sandy rolled ashore with a 13 foot storm surge the other month.

On the other hand, with Sandy people were at least reacting to a prediction of a storm that the City had not experienced in literally decades. What’s harder to fathom is when the circumstances are in your face and you still persist in the task at hand.

So yesterday, there is a fire in Whole Foods down by Houston and Bowery. Not a major blaze. No billowing smoke or flames shooting out the windows. No one screaming to be rescued by a hook and ladder ruck as they dangled from a windowsill six floors up. No, this wasn’t a huge deal as far as urban fires go. But when the fire alarms go off in a building and the fire sprinklers start spraying water from the ceiling, it’s probably time to get out to the street – quickly.

Seriously – the people at the bottom of the screen are standing in line, unfazed by the equivalent of a light rain and the smell of smoke, hoping to still check out before they are forced to leave. Yes, I could have shot some video, but honestly, I think I’ll watch my fires from the sidewalk. Video via The Gothamist.

Oct 232012

MemotoTake a look at Memoto. A long look as this may just be a game-changer.

Lifelogging has been around for some time – at least two decades if you look at the work Steve Mann with his “wearable computer” and “reality mediator” inventions. I remember watching Mann walk through the streets of Florence, Italy in the early 90′s and thinking this is just too cumbersome to be practical. But you knew the technology would shrink and with the advent of Smart phones and the pending Google Project Glass, we’ve gone from chest-mounted cameras and batteries to the latest innovation that may put lifelogging firmly on the map – Memoto’s lifelogging camera.

Memoto is a Swedish company and their new product is an incredibly small and beautiful camera (think Apple here) that you wear around your neck or clip on your shirt or blouse. The device is postage-stamp size and drop-dead simple:

The Memoto device measures 36x36x9mm and contains a five-megapixel camera, a GPS unit, an accelerometer and 8GB of storage – enough for two days’ worth of photos, seeing as the device takes a photo every 30 seconds. It will cost $279, or nothing for early backers who give $199 or more.

The user will need to hook the device up to their computer every couple of days, both to upload the photos and recharge the battery. The photos will go onto Memoto’s servers and be made accessible for time-lapse-style playback through Smartphone apps. (Gigaom)

They launched the project on Kickstarter today and reached their $50,000 goal in five hours. At this point, they’re over $131,000 with 37 days to go. And they’ve stretched the goal to $150,000 and will allow backers to crowdsource the color of one of the models. $199 now gets you one when it comes out at a serious discount to the retail cost.

On one level, this kind of stuff might freak you out; but on the other hand, it is deeply fascinating. Every moment of one’s life can be recorded, and paradoxically, your own life will be embedded as the recorded moments in the lives of others. The very fact that you wear the device, that it’s designed to face outward, to record without a conscious decision makes it entirely different than the pocket camera (or the now ubiquitous ones in our Smart phones). In truth, this is much more than a miniature camera and an App.

It’s a game-changer.

And yes, I put my money in so I’m a backer. Here’s the nicely done video from Memoto on the device and the possibilities of lifelogging:

And here’s an overview of Steve Mann’s cameras over the years. Looking at Mann’s devices, you can see how far we’ve come in the past few decades. But this is only the beginning. I have no idea what lies at the end of this road from a social or cultural perspective but Memoto is opening the door to an entirely new way of seeing and relating to your own life and the lives of those around you. Fascinating.

Steve Mann - wearable computers over three decades

Oct 212012

A visualization of Facebook activity and how a photograph goes viral. The short video below reproduces the acts of hundreds of thousands of individuals on Facebook as they share a photograph, Famous Failures, first posted on Star Trek actor George Takei’s Page.

Each visualization is made up of a series of branches starting from a single person. As the branch grows, re-shares split off on their own arcs, sometimes spawning a new generation of re-shares, sometimes exploding in a short-lived burst of activity. The two different colors show gender, and each successive generation becomes more and more white as time goes by.

The data is taken from a three-month period from July to September 2012 and utilized  Facebook news feeds. Our activity appears almost fractal in the video, or perhaps we are collectively like a budding flower in what we do.

You can see two other videos on the Facebook Stories site; all three were done by Stamen, an art and design studio based in San Francisco. If you are interested in the details of how the project was completed over a two-week period, Stamen has an account on their blog at Facebook: Evolution of the Flowers that is worth reading.


Oct 192012

Great video on copyright law, remix and free culture. Disney was one of the great mashup artists of his time and ahead of many of his contemporaries in the use of technology to remix culture. But through corporate lobbying, the concept of copyright went from supporting creativity to a situation where a new generation of digitally literate kids are in regular violation of the law. This isn’t about stealing music and down downloading movies illegally; it is about fair-use and that the law needs to adapt to the new landscape of the digital revolution.

I’m not that hopeful in the short term, but perhaps down the road, Lawrence Lessig may be the inspiration for kids to effect change. After all, it’s the world they are inheriting and right now it’s a contradictory mess between the forces of creativity and innovation on the one side and legal codes that were written for a wholly different era.

Oct 172012

Twitter icon upside downApologies for the lack of posts but I’ve been traveling and did a lengthy talk at the Sloan Conference on Online Learning on the potential of Twitter to reinvent the traditional paradigm of learning and foster a new mode of academic discourse. I’m fascinated by Twitter – and by the resistance to it by so many faculty in higher education. It seems acceptable for their own professional development but far less use it in learning environments for students.

I’ve also been playing around with Dalton Caldwell’s project App.net, a user-supported platform that was funded through KickStarter a few months back. App.net is similar to Twitter with many of the same features but has a minimalist interface and space for 256 character messages. More importantly, it is a fee-based service designed to avoid the dilemma that Twitter finds itself in – having begun with an open API and now pulling back and limiting access to developers as it becomes more commercial. Twitter is still in the throes of an internal debate about its future but seems to be shifting toward an ad-supported model. As Caldwell argues, that means developers and users come last.  Not good.

There are too many issues to cover here but the talk may be republished later. If not I’ll throw it up it here after I get through a backlog of posts.


Oct 052012
Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga

Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga

You knew this was bound to happen – a politician linked to online gaming and their virtual persona. In a way, it’s odd that it took so long given the number of people playing World of Warcraft (WOW) and other online games as some might decide that being a politician is a useful real life role. But as people live part of their lives in online games, political opponents will try to turn their online personas against them in elections.

This instance involves Maine Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz who clearly spends a little time in World of Warcraft. But she talks a lot about her life online and how it differs from the “real” world. That’s all it took for the Maine GOP to do a quick attack mailing with quotes of her life as an orc assassin. Actually Lachowicz, aka Santiaga, sounds pretty good at WOW – not sure I’d want to meet her on the battlefield with a level of 85.

Whether this has wings or not really depends on how savvy Maine voters are in her district. It’s only a game, and a popular one at that, but for those uncomfortable with the digital revolution it just might resonate. For others, it just might get them to take a second look – hey, I can vote for an orc assassin – well, actually, I can vote for someone who has a life online. Only problem is that the younger generation does not go to the polls nearly as much as the older crowd. You can see the GOP attack site on Lachowicz at colleensworld.com.

The other problem for Lachowicz – and it’s one that many politicians trip over – is that she let her online world bleed into the broader political environment. The Maine GOP seems to have pulled her quotes from discussion areas on the popular DailyKos site and if you’re there talking about killing people online, someone is going to come across it. Had she kept her World of Warcraft in the game itself, chances are no one would have noticed. One can’t blame her for the spillover, but if you’re planning on being a public figure, misinterpretation and attacks come with the territory. Just like murderous orcs in World of Warcraft.

Like I said, we’ll see more of this in the future. But it’s a good URL, actually. Lachowicz should buy it from the GOP once the election is over.

A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft

A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft

Sep 292012
Pussy Riot - Nadya Tolokonnikova enters the courtroom vowing resistance.

Pussy Riot – Nadya Tolokonnikova enters the courtroom vowing resistance. (GQ Magazine)

GQ magazine has a fascinating interview with two of the three jailed members of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk collective in Russia. Charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”  - an absurd charge – for a guerrilla performance in a cathedral, a sham trial resulted in a two year jail sentence despite international protests.

Michael Idov was able to get questions to Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, and Yekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich through their lawyers. Katya’s responses were discovered but the answers of Nadya and Masha were smuggled out and they talk about the challenges of daily life in a Russian prison and the influence they have now that they are behind bars.

Just a small segment here – it’s worth reading the full interview:

GQ: This is perhaps an insensitive question, but what’s more useful for the progressive movement in Russia right now: Pussy Riot at large or Pussy Riot in jail?
We will know the answer only after the next wave of protests. I would love to see that, even imprisoned, we can still be useful and inspiring. In any case, I’m happy I got two years. For every person with a functioning brain, this verdict is so dumb and cruel that it removes any lingering illusions about Putin’s system. It’s a verdict on the system.

Masha: At large, of course. That’s why the authorities don’t want to let us out. But we still have things to say, and we still want to say them. And even locked up, we’re not doing too bad of a job.

“We couldn’t even imagine that the authorities would be so dumb that they would actually legitimize our influence by arresting us. Sure, they tried to intimidate us constantly. But unlike Putin, we’re not chickenshit.” 

Back on February 21st, they stepped into an area outside the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and sang an anti-Putin protest song. The lyrics included:

“Holy Mother, Virgin, drive Putin away
The KGB head, their (the Orthodox Church priests’) chief saint
Takes protesters to prison under convoy
Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit
Patriarch Gundyai (Kirill Gundyaev) believes in Putin
The bitch had better believe in God.”

It was less than two weeks before the elections of March 4, held during massive street protests, where Putin was returned to power. It was a provocative performance, an expression of a younger generation and growing middle class increasingly connected through the digital revolution and wanting change. Russia is not much in the news this month, but the undercurrents of change are still swirling through the country.

They should not be forgotten.


Sep 162012

Webcam Blackmail in FranceWith everything new that technology offers, someone figures out a way to scam people out of money – the latest being webcam dating blackmail. This involves using a webcam to record a video of someone disrobing and threatening to post it online. Definitely an upgrade over the old Nigerian 419 scam (which most of us still probably receive but automatically route to the delete folder).

Usually, it’s a young woman coming on to a man and recording him as he takes off his clothes. With the increasing prevalence of webcams, expect this one – apologies for the pun – to take off.

Here’s one person’s account in BBC News of how easily he was taken in:

She sent me a message and I was happy because normally the girls don’t take the first step,” he says.

“She said she was French, living in Lyon, but was on holiday in Ivory Coast. We then chatted for a bit on MSN and I could see a video of her. She was a very beautiful French-looking girl, very pretty.”

“She was dressed to begin with and asked whether I would be interested in going further. I asked what that meant and she said she wanted to see my body… everything.

“She put on another video and started to undress. I was completely taken in. I had no idea this was a video. I thought it was real.

But her real intentions soon became clear.

“After five minutes she sent me a message saying: ‘Have a look at this video I’ve taken of you. I am going to put it on YouTube unless you send me some money.’

“I looked at the video – you could see my face… you could see everything.

Throw in an allegation of pedophilia and suddenly, one is in a very difficult position. According to French police, there appears to be several of these attempts everyday and since it’s a very public form of blackmail, many of the instances are probably going unreported. The money requested seems to be low, anywhere from $1400 to $4000 which is paid into a Western Union account. But like scammers everywhere, they apparently come back with subsequent demands, and since your webcam moment turned out to be a video . . . well, you get the idea.

Probably the only protection one might have is the difficulty of connecting the webcam moment to one’s actual identity online; but the very fact that it’s out there would be enough to get some (many?) to acquiesce to the demand for payment.

How this impacts online dating and the evolution of personal relationships online is anyone’s guess. Once again the Web undermines the boundaries between reality and illusion or, perhaps better said, the boundaries the authentic and the inauthentic.

Sep 052012

surveillanceThe hacker group Anonymous announced on Pastebin that it had acquired 12 million iOS user IDs from an FBI agent’s computer. Yes, one agent; one computer. Anonymous has released 1 million of the IDs along and the corresponding personal information.

So the answer is: maybe a lot more than you like.

Anonymous obtained the unique device identification numbers (UDID) from the laptop of Supervisor Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl through a known Java vulnerability. And the associated information? It includes things like user names, street addresses, zip codes, and cell phone numbers. Maybe we should ask what don’t they know about us.

According to ReadWriteWeb:

If the Anonymous list of UDIDs is real (and it looks like it is), the most pertinent question is what the FBI, and Stangl in particular, were doing with those numbers. Knowing the UDID of an iOS device could lead to tracking of that device and the credit card or social accounts it is tied to. Earlier this year, Apple shut off UDID access to App Store developers because of the potential abuse of privacy that UDIDs afford. The use of UDIDs could allow marketers and advertisers to track user location and other activities on the user’s device. That information could be very lucrative for advertisers and marketers. Apparently, it could also be useful to the FBI. 

Aldo Cortesi, a coder and security consultant in New Zealand, has been preaching about the dangerous use of UDIDs for several years. He has long expected a dump of millions of UDIDs by enterprising hackers. 

“I’ve often been asked ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ My response was always that the worst case scenario would be if a large database of UDIDs leaked … and here we are,” Cortesi wrote on his personal website. 

Anonymous agrees with Cortesi that establishing UDIDs was a bad idea from the beginning. “[We] always thought it was a really bad idea. That hardware coded IDs for devices concept should be eradicated from any device on the market in the future,” Anonymous wrote. 

For all its loud and disjointed rhetoric, the data leak put an exclamation point on the issue of FBI tracking and Apple’s use of UDIDs. Anonymous released the 1 million UDIDs to attract attention of the FBI, Apple, federal governments and large corporations. It is safe to say that the group has their attention now. 

The FBI denies that anything like this has happened and they issued a press release and tweeted the following:

FBI Tweet

Don’t know about you, but I find this to be TOTALLY NOT REASSURING.

Sep 012012

An article on technology to consider over the long weekend ahead – okay, yes the beach, the mountains, etc. are much better than reading online on the last days of summer but some have had their activities curtailed from the endless rain brought by Isacc or the sightings of all-too-many sharks along the New England coast.

You would think this question about technology is not one we need to ask in the middle of a seemingly endless technological revolution, but there are many factors holding us back. The article from Tech Radar, “10 Worst Enemies of Tech: Who’s Holding Us Back?”  is well worth reading. I’ll simply list the ten points here:Obstacles

  1. Copyright industries
  2. For-profit pirates
  3. Patent trolls
  4. Network operators
  5. Cheapskates
  6. Facebook
  7. Politicians
  8. Spammers
  9. Toothless regulators
  10. Us
I wouldn’t do the exact same list, but definitely copyright issues, patent trolls, network operators (phone companies and the like) and politicians would be high on my list. Some of the things here just come with the territory – in an open, distributed network with no central authority or regulation, there will be problems like spam. But I don’t see them as insurmountable. But copyright (and some others here) have the potential to do us in.
The one item glaringly missed here that would be in my list? The compulsive need (and the technology solutions fueling it) for surveillance by organizations and governments. Just ask anyone in the global community who has faced police interrogation (or worse) for a Skype call or Facebook post. Take a look at the recent news on FinSpy, espionage software that is already being used in over a dozen countries and probably more. How did this first surface? From Egyptian protesters who raided the state security building in March 2011 and discovered offers by the Egyptian government to purchase it. The Sidney Morning Herald relays the account of other researchers now tracking the spread of FinSpy:

Morgan Marquis-Boire works as a Google engineer and Bill Marczak is earning a PhD in computer science. But this US summer, the two men have been moonlighting as detectives, chasing an elusive surveillance tool from Bahrain across five continents. What they found was the widespread use of sophisticated, off-the-shelf computer espionage software by governments with questionable records on human rights. While the software is supposedly sold for use only in criminal investigations, the two came across evidence that it was being used to target political dissidents. The software proved to be the stuff of a spy film: it can grab images of computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The two men said they discovered mobile versions of the spyware customised for all major mobile phones.

Scary stuff. I’m not paranoid, just realistic. Power corrupts and with near impossible to detect spyware tools like this increasingly available, they will be appropriated by those in power to maintain power. That needs to be high on any list of what’s holding us back in technology. The Internet is a powerful enabler of freedom; but in some ways it is the best tracking device ever invented.

FinSpy is part of the FinFisher surveillance software suite

FinFisher and FinSpy Surveillance Software

More on this later. For now, enjoy the last moments of summer and the long Labor Day weekend if you’re in the States. More posts this weekend from somewhere off the Connecticut coastline.


Aug 312012

Eastwood Debates ObamaThe Invisible Obama. An empty chair. This is why I love our era – a disjointed-never-should-have-happened convention speech by a well-known actor, an “interview” with an empty chair, and within an hour of the convention’s close, there is a Twitter account, @InvisibleObama, with over 30,000 followers (and probably more by the time you read this). And Internet memes? You know the invisible chair is popping up everywhere.

From Mashable:

Clint Eastwood Talks to Empty Chair.” That might just be the biggest headline to come out of the final night of the Republican National Convention.

Eastwood’s ten-minute conversation with an “invisible Obama” had social media buzzing and meme generators working overtime.

Despite rousing speeches from Florida senator Marco Rubio and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook could not stop talking about Eastwood’s exchange with the chair. 

It takes only a minute in our highly visual society for everything to backfire on the intended purpose of an event. And now the Internet memes will come fast and furious. Here’s one with no doubt more to follow:

Eastwood and Chair

And as you might imagine, the Obama campaign wasted no time striking back with a twist on the invisible chair theme. From Business Insider:

Obama Chair Theme on Twitter in Response

One thing we know: Eastwood’s speech will be the only one that is remembered ten years from now. And while it is common wisdom to say that political conventions are completely scripted presentations, this just proved that sometimes things can go badly off track.

Aug 292012

Sun Front Page of Prince Harry - Heir it isIf you’re a fairly regular reader of Margin Lines, you’ll know I’m fascinated by images and Internet Memes and Prince Harry has turned out to be a god-awful easy topic. But this story is of particular interest as the event, the images, and the derivative memes all have a life of their own.

Much like Prince Harry, perhaps.

In the end, the entire story has gone full circle, images spreading virally beyond Las Vegas, evolving into memes and then returning to be used as an oblique reference in text ads by the city’s tourist bureau. What is so fascinating here is that we have the ability to drop a Mars rover almost dead on target millions of miles from earth, but have absolutely no idea where an event that gets on the Web will land. It’s like launching an out-of-control rocket that turns around and plows back to earth.

Again and again.

First, the nude Prince was all over the Web, to the point that the British press was in near rebellion over U.K. restrictions on printing the images. The Sun finally does a mock-up using a reporter and intern and then caves in and publishes the now famous image. But it’s done so late that they had to subtitle their front page: “Pic of Prince Henry you’ve already seen on the Internet.” A fascinating acknowledgement of traditional media’s relationship to the digital environment. Again, we’re late to the party.

Then the memes followed – there’s a small collection at EOnline but the best one plays on the movie Hangover. You’ll get it if you’ve seen the movie and if not, it’s Todd Phillip’s best work and is definitely worth watching (more so now that Harry has brought Vegas to life for us in new ways).


Prince Harry Internet Meme using Hangover

But while the event itself begins to recede a little (yes, there are other things going on in the world), the city of Las Vegas tourist site picks up on the images and is now running  a series of large text ads at the airport. No images here, but once in the public’s consciousness, none are necessary.

As Pop2It notes, ever since social media took off, the old Vegas tagline of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is, well, pointless. With camera phones and social networks, nothing will stay in Vegas or anywhere else for that matter. So, the new campaign is titled “Know the Code” which the Vegas official tourism commission helpfully explains – we are not to use our cell cameras to post images of what friends do here. And the VisitLasVegas.com/KnowTheCode site gives you a chance to make a pledge to honor the code (click here!) and report violations on Facebook – paradoxically using social media against social media. The code is as follows:


And poor Harry’s misfortune? The story comes full circle and the images are now back in Vegas, not printed, but lurking in the lines of a tourist bureau ad campaign with display ads for all to see at every gate in the airport.

Prince Harry Ad in Las Vegas Airport

(Image: http://blog.zap2it.com/

Indeed, Harry, carry on.

Aug 222012
Prince Harry talks to gold medal-winning rower Sophie Hosking at the London 2012 Games. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Prince Harry talks to gold medal-winning rower Sophie Hosking at the London 2012 Games. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Dear me, Prince Harry nude in Las Vegas (no surprise there, I suppose). But the problem here is that the photos (trust me, they’re not the highest quality images and probably taken without his knowledge) are not being published by the UK press. This is not simply in deference to the Royal Family (which has probably swallowed enough Valium over this latest crisis) but due to the current situation with the Leveson inquiry. But here’s the challenge in a global, digital community: the images are published elsewhere and the UK press is now asking itself how can it compete if it’s not allowed to do the same. From the Guardian:

Each of the major British newspapers chose not to use them in online stories by late on Wednesday, although they were published by the Ireland-based Westminster gossip blog, Guido Fawkes.

The reticence of the British media is likely to be interpreted by some in the industry as further evidence of a chilling effect caused by the Leveson inquiry into media ethics. Tabloid executives, including the Sun editor Dominic Mohan and the Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke, have complained to the inquiry that they could be forced out of business if they are unable to publish material that is put online by media organisations in other countries and widely available on the internet.

There’s no easy solution here as readers will just go wherever the images happen to be online. And the same holds true for articles that might not be published in the UK due to libel laws but are published elsewhere. Digital media knows no boundaries – or at least the physical borders that once seemed so impenetrable - and news organizations find themselves competing with across different sets of publication standards. This can continue for a while only because print media still plays a (albeit declining) role. It won’t be all that far in the future where the issue has to be resolved. Otherwise readers will simply resolve it for you.

In the meantime, Harry, you may want to keep your pants on while your bar buddies have their cell phones out . . . for a host of reasons – the least of which is the unfair competition for the British press.

Aug 202012
Apple and Twitter

(image: Grind365.com)

With debate raging over the new Twitter API, here’s a provocative perspective from Forbes on what might be going on behind the scenes. To recap: Twitter moved last week to sharply limit API calls for an App without a specific agreement and narrowed the display guidelines for the Twitter timeline which will hamper developers. Now add in the fact that Apple is a control freak, has done poorly in the social networking arena, and the rumors flying a while back about Cupertino taking a significant stake in the popular social media platform. None of this is concrete evidence for a firm conclusion, but listen to the speculation by Anthony Wing Kosner in an article “The Anti-IPO: Is Apple Grooming Twitter for an All-Out Acquisition?“:

Twitter is now integrated in iOS and OS X Mountain Lion, and I would guess will be in the next version of the iTunes and App Stores and Apple TV, as well. But does Apple really want to do all of this with a company it doesn’t own? What if Twitter turned around and did to Apple what it is now doing to developers?

If my theory is correct, that won’t happen, because Twitter’s API policies have been seriously coached by Apple. Twitter has had API changes before, but nothing like this. The timing of Apple’s supposed negotiations with Twitter were just as Apple’s previous deal with Facebook was falling apart. Facebook wanted to go public and would not subsume its interestes to Apple’s.

So why would Twitter subsume its interests to Apple’s? To beat Facebook.

There’s a further reason, other than owning a social network, why Apple might be interested in Twitter. User experience. Twitter has done a great job of taking a simple product and, for the most part, keeping it simple. Even its sponsored tweets and the introduction of “cards” has not really bogged the system down yet or shifted the balance too far in the direction of marketing.

Apple, the user experience leaders, is actually in danger of losing the “it just works” simplicity that has been a big part of its appeal to consumers. So Apple can make Twitter bigger and Twitter can, perhaps, help Apple stay simple.

I wonder if it’s already a done deal. 

Hard to say, but with Apple’s known penchant for secrecy and Twitter surely being aware of the backlash that the new API policy would create, some sort of agreement is entirely plausible. We’ll know for sure in a couple of months and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Apple make the acquisition. One nice point about this (from Apple’s perspective): Twitter is not a publicly traded company so there’s no issue with an offer for stock that shareholders want to bid higher. It would all be done through a agreement with the current stakeholders. And if it’s worth roughly $10 billion or so at the moment, Apple could still buy the entire enterprise for a tenth of its current stash of cash and resources. More likely, Apple would just take a sizable stake in Twitter – enough to ensure that the integration was complete.

Aug 132012
Self portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover, released by NASA

Self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover, released by NASA. REUTERS/NASA/JPL/Handout

The landing of Curiosity on Mars is a stunning achievement, but here’s an interesting side note about the technology aspect and what it says about the speed of innovation – it’s incredibly out of date. It was built years ago and the pace of innovation has continued unabated and perhaps accelerated, resulting in a processor that is less powerful than what you have in an iPhone.  The processor in the iPhone? Ten times faster than what is powering Curiosity. According to the LA Times:

NASA said the rover is going through a four-day “brain transplant.” During this time, engineers are  updating Curiosity’s software, currently primed for its flight stage, to prepare it for its operations on the surface of Mars. The update will add two crucial functions — the ability to use the geochemistry lab’s sampling system, and to drive.

The update had to wait until after the rover landed because its processor, built years ago to withstand the harsh environment of interplanetary space, is limited compared with today’s consumer technology, said senior software engineer Ben Cichy. 

My phone has a processor that is 10 times as fast as the processor that’s on Curiosity and has 16 times as much storage as Curiosity has,” Cichy said. “And my phone doesn’t have to land anything on Mars. 

So now it’s in the midst of a digital transplant, dumping the landing software and replacing it with control software for driving around on Mars. Perhaps someday processors will rebuild themselves, but for now, a project like this ends up vastly out of date with what we carry around in our pockets.

Jul 292012

evil Apple As a multinational corporation Apple is many things – a firm that designs and sells consumer electronics, software, personal computers and it’s the largest distributor of digital music. They are also a growing force in eBook sales though a recent action to ban a book due to its mention of Amazon reveals a astonishing degree of unprofessional behavior. It resulted in Doctorow pulling his own works from the iBookstore and for a content distributor their behavior is simply unfathomable .

It’s worth reading Doctorow’s full explanation in boingboing:

Author Holly Lisle has a series of online writing guides that she sells. One volume of this, “How To Think Sideways Lesson 6: How To Discover (Or Create) Your Story’s Market” was rejected by Apple’s iBooks store. At first, Apple told Lisle that she wasn’t allowed to have “live links” to Amazon in her books. So she removed the links and resubmitted the book, and then Apple rejected it again, telling her that they wouldn’t sell her book because it mentioned Amazon, a competitor of its iBooks store.

But I also will not deal with this sort of head-up-ass behavior from a distributor. You don’t tell someone “The problem is the live links,” and then, when that person has complied with your change request and removed the live links, turn around and say, “No, no. The problem is the CONTENT. You can’t mention Amazon in your lesson.

This is not professional behavior from a professional market.

And cold moment of truth here—you cannot write a writing course that includes information on publishing and self-publishing and NOT mention Amazon. It’s the place where your writers are going to make about 90% of their money.

So I’m pulling ALL my work from the iBookstore today. I apologize to iBookstore fans. I tried. Hard.

But I’m done. 


Jul 292012

Google Glass is on its way, but here’s a project by two students, Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo, at the Bezaleal Academy of Arts. Completed as a graduation project,  it depicts a fully head-up display (HUD) through the use of contact lenses. Your entire world is overlaid with data and suddenly becomes highly interactive.

Honestly, this is both fascinating and scary. Yes, it would be very cool to just lay on my apartment floor and interact with a 3D environment. And maybe I could use better data from my refrigerator – though given my eating habits, it’s never very well stocked and living in NYC, grocery stores are only a few blocks away. But no, I really do not want to live in a world where I need a HUD to help me cut up a cucumber. I don’t want to sound old fashioned, but really, a virtual guide to slicing my vegetables?

Google Glass isn’t quite ready yet, but you know full well that someday down the road (in the not too distant future) it will seem primitive and quaint. I’m not sure how close this vision comes to what we’ll get, but I have a feeling it’s where we’re headed. I’m happy to get there, but please, make the vegetable slicing and other useless information optional.

From Gizmodo.

Jul 292012

Google Lawsuit Over YouTube mp3 Conversion Site

A 21 year-old German student is fighting a cease and desist order from Google that he take down his YouTube video conversion site which rips YouTube videos to mp3 format. The site’s owner, Philip Matesanz, did a petition through change.org and has now collected over a million signatures that he intends on delivering in person to Google (interesting how in the age of everything digital there is still much power in the face-to-face statement). His argument is that the site does not violate YouTube’s terms of service since users are only making personal copies and there is legal precedent for making personal copies of video from a public broadcast.

Not surprisingly, Google will see this differently, pushed no doubt by corporations such as Viacom that do not want to see users making any copies at all. Of course, there is nothing new here in that people have been able to rip YouTube videos through online conversion sites for some time. Matesanz is simply making it easier for the end-user and when copying becomes easy, you move dead-center into the the target sight of corporations bent on controlling every aspect of their content delivery. From ReadWriteWeb.

Jul 122012
Shark for sale on the subway

Shark for sale on the subway

It seems like you see everything in NYC, but this is bizarre and – from the standpoint of the shark, incredibly sad. According to a report and photos in Gothamist, someone was trying to sell a live baby shark at 1:00am on the subway, saying he had caught it in Coney Island and that it had bitten him in the ass – this was on the J train to be precise. The article goes on to say:

This looks like a baby sand shark, which have been spotted in Coney Island a lot. The guy was asking $100 for it, but no straphangers took the bait (at least when our tipster was on board—he boarded at Essex Street and was headed towards Brooklyn).

We’ve reached out to PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. for comment.

UPDATE: PETA has sent us their official statement, saying, “This guy may get bitten in the ass again after PETA reports to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that he is illegally selling a shark on the New York subway.”

And Patrick Kwan, the NY State Director of the HSUS, tells us, “the shark appears to be a young smooth dogfish shark,” and adds, “This is not only cruel and inhumane; peddling animals on the subways is alsoagainst the law. Anyone who witnesses such behavior should alert a police officer, train operator, or other MTA personnel.” 

Hard enough for the natural world to survive in the City, but this is going too far.

Jul 122012
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of SOPA and now the IPAA

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Sometimes it seems that bad things never die; like zombies, they rise from the grave . . . again and again. Yes, a new version of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act that was killed off earlier this year is now back as a new bill in the House of Representatives, titled the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA).  Dust off those Guy Fawkes masks as it appears to just be SOPA under another name – it was even introduced by the same author, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Good grief, this man must hate the Web – at the very least, he doesn’t understand how it functions.

Like its predecessor, under the IPAA a user would only need to accuse another website of a violation of copyright.  Search engine results, payment and advertising systems would then have to be terminated within five days. Even more troubling, the IPAA has significantly broader support in the House of Representatives, with many of those opposed to SOPA in favor of the latest reincarnation. In other words, we have another fight on our hands.

Here are the details from Readwriteweb:

A new bill is about to be officially introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives that would resurrect some unsavory aspects of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that sparked widespread protests last winter.

The bill, which the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up as soon as today, is titled the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA) and is primarily designed to expand the powers of so-called IP attachés within a new agency inside the Department of Commerce, even to the point of establishing a new Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.

This is a very deliberate shift within the bureaucracy that’s designed to expand the powers of the intellectual property enforcement agents who work within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The primary mission of these new IP attachés would be, according to the bill, “to achieve potential benefit by reducing intellectual property infringement in the United States market and globally.”

One way to interpret this mission? Giving members of the diplomatic corps more powers to enforce intellectual property violations around the world.

What’s the Problem This Time?

Given that IP violations are against the law, where’s the problem? Opponents of the SOPA and PIPA bills from late 2011 and early 2012 will recognize this expansion of powers as part of the SOPA act, though at the time the provision got very little attention.

Those bills gave a number of new powers to copyright holders who found content on a website that they believed infringed on their copyright:

  1. They could ask any vendor providing revenue to that site to stop. For instance, the request could go to advertising or credit card providers for the allegedly infringing site, and they would have five days to cut their ties with the site.
  2. The bills would have enabled the U.S. Attorney General to send court orders to DNS server operators ordering them to stop resolving the domain names of allegedly infringing sites to their matching IP addresses – making it impossible for Web browsers to reach the sites by name.
  3. Search engines would also be required to remove or block links to these sites.

Protesters were incensed, particularly because all of these actions could have been set in motion by private corporations, with no requirements for legal proof.

A copyright holder need only accuse a website of infringement, and the search engine, advertisement and payment systems would be cut off in five days. DNS filtering would need the involvement of the Department of Justice to get a court order, but again, there would be no need to prove anything to obtain such an order from a judge. . . .

. . . . Clearly, Hollywood and other intellectual property holders would love to see IPAA passed: It actually expands on some aspects of SOPA/PIPA. And government agents with more power to enforce private intellectual property rights both domestically and globally is a taxpayer-funded dream for copyright holders. 

You can read an alternative – and less critical – view of the implications of ITAA over at Digital Trends, but having read through some sections of the legislation, I sense trouble.

May 302012

Momentum BooksA welcome bit of good news on the DRM (digital right management) front from Momentum Books,  Pan Macmillan’s digital-only imprint in Australia. All Momentum titles will be DRM-free by the end of the summer. According to Momentum Books’s blog, the imprint was setup to experiment and try out innovation delivery solutions. And as everyone who has read an eBook knows, DRM gets in the way of legitimate uses of digital texts despite the reality of piracy.

Momentum is connected to Tor in the United States and the United Kingdom, the latter company having made the same move. From Momentum’s press release:

John Birmingham, who will be publishing a series of novellas with Momentum in late 2012 said, ‘Every book I’ve ever published in electronic format has been pirated. Every single one. And they all had DRM. It didn’t protect me from piracy and it won’t protect publishing in general. The best protection is to make your work as easily accessible as possible, everywhere, all at once, at the same, reasonable price. Is it possible? Nobody really knows, but we’re gonna give it a hell of a shake to find out.’

Nathan Farrugia, whose bestselling novel The Chimera Vector was released by Momentum in May, said, ‘One of the main reasons I signed with Momentum was their willingness to ditch DRM – something that very few other publishers would do. But I think if pirates are better at distributing your ebooks than you are, then you’re doing it wrong. The best way for publishers to fight piracy is with convenience. I’m excited to see Momentum HULK SMASH DRM. 

Part of that quote is worth repeating  - indeed, it should become a mantra for those in the publishing industry:

. . . if pirates are better at distributing your ebooks than you are, then you’re doing it wrong. 

I’m not sure what the ultimate solution will be but I do know that the current arrangement does little to stop piracy and a lot to limit the use of eBooks. This is a breath of fresh air in an industry that too often seem incapable of innovation. One can only hope the experiment works.

May 222012

Waterstone's bookseller Cuts Innovative Deal with AmazonThere’s been no letup in the pressure on bookstores with the continued growth of eBooks, but Waterstone’s, the largest bookseller in the UK is taking a different approach. Cutting a deal with Amazon, Waterstone’s will refurbish stores, create dedicated areas for digital books, add cafes and free wireless access and - sell Amazon Kindles.

You might wonder if this is a last gasp of a dying business/delivery model, or if Waterstone’s is pursuing an innovative approach that acknowledges the future omnipresence of eBooks in a highly digital environment. According to BBC News:

As well as selling the Kindle device, Waterstones will allow Kindle users to digitally browse books and take advantage of Waterstones’ special offers.

In a statement, James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said: “The best digital readers, the Kindle family, will be married to the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and chief executive, said: “Waterstones is the premier High Street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers – a dedication that we share deeply.”

Analysts say that Waterstones has little choice but to ally itself with Amazon.

“If readers are increasingly downloading books, then it is better for Waterstones to embrace that behaviour than to try and work round it,” said Douglas McCabe from Enders Analysis, told the BBC.

“Kindle has a massive market share of digital book reading in the UK, and Waterstones will start to take a cut of it.

“However, for all its success, Amazon does not have a solution for ‘discovery’ in physical or digital [books] that even comes close to the merchandising skills inside a branch of Waterstones,” Mr McCabe added. 

No choice or a creative move? To me, the most striking part of this project is not the word “eBook” but the phrase: “the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.”  The idea that the selection offered within the physical spaces of Waterstones is “curated” is important – we don’t often hear that term used in the context of a bookseller.

Like traditional print media, bookstores need to rethink what they do well and what they can offer in a highly digital environment. What is the value of the physical space? What might you sell that the eBook reader cannot deliver within its current technology?  Perhaps you might sell eBooks, coffee, space for conversation, and a unique selection of physical books. Don’t sell – curate.

Of course, once you head down the path of innovation, you also need to rethink what your employees should be doing. For a bookseller, you want a well-read staff with people skills because you’re now hiring curators. And maybe they should get something more than minimum wage. And do something other than stand behind the cash register. Waterstone’s may have taken an initial innovative step, but they probably should take a stroll over to an Apple store and look at their self-checkout process. Break the mold if you want to survive.

May 082012

twitter logo_word bubbleTwitter filed a motion in a New York State Court to quash a court order that would force it to hand over data on Malcom Harris, an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protester being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan. Harris, arrested for disorderly conduct during last year’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge has been pursued by the DA’s office which is requesting all his tweets over a three-month period.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union:

Law enforcement agencies—both the federal government and state and city entities—are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet. And while the individual Internet users can try to defend their rights in the rare circumstances in which they find out about the requests before their information is turned over, that may not be enough. Indeed, even though Twitter provided notice to the Twitter user in this particular case, and even though he was able to get an attorney to file a motion seeking to quash the subpoena, the court found that the Twitter user did not have legal “standing” to challenge the D.A.’s subpoena.

The Court ruling that Harris did not have legal standing puts users in the position of having to rely on private companies to protect their Constitutional rights – even in the case as with Twitter where the company explicitly states that you own your own data. As you might imagine, Harris was understandably pleased with Twitter’s latest action:

Malcom Harris Tweet

Good for Twitter, which hardly has a spotless record in this area. But where this goes is anyone’s guess. In its filing, Twitter referred to a case where the courts ruled that attaching a GPS device to someone violates the Fourth Amendment standard against unreasonable searches:

If the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies merely to surveillance of one’s location in public areas for 28 days, it also applies to the District Attorney’s effort to force Twitter to produce over three months worth of a citizen’s substantive communications, regardless of whether the government alleges those communications are public or private. (from Mashable)

However, in a world where technology use is unevenly distributed and society’s understanding of it often borders on the dysfunctional, one would not be surprised to see the Court uphold the District Attorney’s position. That will send it to a higher court where, hopefully, commonsense and an understanding of liberty and individual rights in the digital age will overturn the decision. If the State can demand to see your communication with others – which you don’t even have in your possession by the time the demand is made – we are in trouble, indeed.