Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Tag: Activism

Change Congress

The Change Congress project has been trying to compile a comprehensize database on the positions of members of congress on the subjects of earmark reform, lobbyins money and PAC money. There are two ways people can help.

  1. Pester Your Member of Congress: ask them to tell C-C where they stand on the issues.
  2. TAG a politician: If you find an article or a resource that talks about a particular politicians position on the influence of money in politics, tag them on the C-C web site.

That’s it! It’s a simple, but powerful way to assemble a scorecard.

Our Senate can Tweet

Y2K testedEarlier this summer, I participated in the Sunlight Foundation ran the “Let our Congress Tweet” campaign (here is my possibly meaningless contribution). Members of congress were prohibited from embedding a YouTube video or Flickr album (or Tweet). Well, that has partly changed. As of last week, Senators have the discretion to use whatever third-party Web site they want, as long as it follows the Senate’s Internet Services Usage Rules and Policies.

I, for one, would like to welcome the U.S. Senate in to the 21st century. The House, on the other hand, is partying like it’s 1999.

On Comcast’s New Network Management Policies

intenet-censorship

Comcast has come a long way. Until recently, they were a company that deliberately injected spurious packets to slow down particular applications. They called that normal network management.

Now, comes an official Terms of Service and FAQ that address how Comcast will deal with network management going forward, and they are a huge improvement. Here are some of the key points:

Comcast has legitimate reasons to inspect network activity.
Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way first. Comcast has the right to do the following:

If we didn’t manage our network, our customers would be subject to the negative effects of spam, viruses, security attacks, network congestion, and other risks and degradations of the service. By engaging in reasonable and responsible network management, Comcast can deliver the best possible broadband Internet experience to all of its customers.

The question is, how do they implement it and how do they discriminate?

So how does it work?
This is pretty good- it is closer to a stupid network. If there is no network congestion, no one is affected. During congestion, bandwidth is shared as fairly as possible- except for users who are using the greatest amount of bandwidth. These users will get “managed” temporarily. This management will persist only as long as congestion exists, and will be based on current usage, not monthly aggregates.

How does it discriminate?
Based on high usage during congestion.

It does not discriminate based on protocols, applications, services or content. Any high bandwidth users will be affected, including ones using Comcast’s own streaming services.

Will it target P2P?
No, it is protocol-agnostic. If a P2P user happens to be a (recent) high bandwidth user during congestion, they will be affected. But not because they are using P2P.

Will it target competitors?
No. In fact, Comcast admits it will even affect people using Comcast’s own services.

What about the future?
They say they will participate in IETF and other standards bodies to work out reasonable, standard network management practices. And they will be transparent about new policies through the terms of service.

All in all, it is a tremendous step forward. Thank you to everyone who made enough noise to make this happen- especially Rob Topolski and the EFF. Also, thanks to Comcast for bungling this thing so bad that it got everyone’s attention and then setting a good example for other ISPs with these terms of service.

Airport Security Checkpoint: For Kids!

Is your child growing up with false hope? Never fear, Playmobil has just the toy for you:

From the Manufacturer: The traveler hands her spare change and watch to the security guard and proceeds through the metal detector. With no time to spare, she picks up her luggage and hurries to board her flight!

Presenting, the Playmobil Security Check Point- so your child can fantasize about a police-state before living in one. If your lucky, maybe she can run it! Of course, the best part are the reviews:

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillence society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighborhood Surveillence System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu-Gharib Interogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

Of course, remind your kid to leave the set at home the next time you travel. Never know what will happen if the authorities find a detailed model of their awesome security system in your luggage.

(via Schneier and Threat Level)

John Edwards on Green Living

“No Impact Man”:http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2007/08/interview-with-.html has put together a questionnaire for U.S. presidential hopefuls and John Edwards is the first to have answered. It’s a pretty straight and informed dialogue- I hope other candidates respond.

If you’re not familiar with <em>No Impact Man</em>, then his is a blog worth keeping track of. In his words:<blockquote>No Impact Man is my experiment with researching, developing and adopting a way of life for me and my little family—one wife, one toddler, one dog—to live in the heart of New York City while causing no net environmental impact. To do this, we will decrease the things we do that hurt the earth—make trash, cause carbon dioxide emissions, for example—and increase the things we do that help the earth—clean up the banks of the Hudson River, give money to charity, rescue sea birds, say.</blockquote>

This guy isn’t a nut- he’s doing this for the right reasons. To demonstrate that it can be done. To remove the cynicism and the inertia from the process of reducing our impact on the planet. This guy is the real deal and is an inspiration.

Harry Potter and the Goblin’s Perpetual Copyright

Here’s a passage from page 517 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
(Ron’s brother Bill is warning Harry against trusting a goblin Griphook.)

“You don’t understand, Harry, nobody could understand unless they have lived with goblins. To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin-made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs.”

“But if it was bought – “

“- then they would consider it rented by the one who had paid the money. They have, however, great difficulty with the idea of goblin-made objects passing from wizard to wizard. [...] They consider our habit of keeping goblin-made objects, passing them from wizard to wizard without further payment, little more than theft.”

These goblins sound like our friendly neighborhood MPAA/RIAA lawyers!

Unfree Culture and The Science Fiction Wars of 1978

In 1978, 20th Century Fox studio sued Universal for “stealing 34 distinct ideas” from the then recently, immensely successful film “Star Wars”:http://www.galaxyfaraway.com to create “Battlestar Galactica”. This was one year after the release of _Star Wars_ and an old, hackneyed genre had just been revived. At the time, Universal said that _this is like the first Western movie ever suing the second one_.

George Lucas visited the production of BSG and decided not to link his name with the law suit. 20th Century Fox, however, pressed on. Universal countersued with a claim that _Star Wars_ (particularly R2D2) was lifted from Universal’s own film _Silent Running_. Maybe it’s time for some descendant of the Brothers Grimm (the great-grandchildren Grimm?) to come knocking on Disney’s front doors with legal papers- suing them for every cent they’ve made since _Snow White_.

A few major _Star Wars_ co-conspirators were major players on the original BSG production as well- John Dykstra, Dennis Muren- which also played a major part in the common “feel” to them both.

There is a “fantastic article from 1978″:http://www.battlestargalactica.com/outside_docs/bg_outdoc0049.htm called *ABC’s Multi-Million Dollar SF Gamble: Battlestar Galactica* which closes with these two interesting paragraphs which hint at more issues than just copyright and derivative works:

Once all the charges of copyright infringement and the other legal elbowing have subsided, and once other modern space fantasies like Buck Rogers, Star Trek — The Motion Picture, Starcrash, and Flash Gordon have come out to keep Galactica company, it will be more evident that Galactica was innovative in many ways all its own — not the least of which is its courageous, almost carefree use of funds in the hope of bringing to the public a TV fantasy of unparalleled quality. And some of the daring can be seen in things that neither zoom, blast, flash, or explode.

When, since the days of the Untouchables, have we seen such exciting wholesale slaughter on our livingroom screens? And it happened during the very season when the networks have been bragging that at last they have censored physical conflict from the screen. The full extent of the ramifications of a successful Galactica on TV programming is yet to be seen, but it will certainly be interesting to watch.

Ah, good old 1978. It was the best of time, it was the worst of times. Television bosses were actively censoring TV. Major studios were trying to control the fate of genre media. Journalists were hoping for a future that resembled a rose-tinted past. And beneath the surface, a vast array of creators were waiting to unleash their derivative works that had the potential to change the face of a genre, at the very least, and media in general if we were lucky. In short, it was a time much like today.

Love is Old, Love is New




Lucy in the Sky

Originally uploaded by DevanJedi.

I was in Vegas in April of this year and saw Cirque du Soleil’s Love- a truly magnificent tribute to The Beatles through their music and Cirque’s visual extravagance.

The show opens with one of the last songs The Beatles recorded- “Because” for Let it Be. John Lennon is quoted as having said that the song is based on Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. Listen to both, and you know he’s right.
(“Video of Moonlight Sonata”:http://youtube.com/watch?v=O6txOvK-mAk on YouTube)

This got me to thinking about fair use. Would Lennon (or his lawyers) have risked it if the Sonata was still under copyright? There were “only” about 170 years between Moonlight Sonata and Let it Be, so in modern copyright terms, they were cutting it a little close.

Think that’s a stretch? Remember, Rep. Mary Bono channeling Jack Valenti once asked Congress for “forever less one day” copyright terms.

Note: I know that Lennon’s use would probably be ruled as fair use in a reasonable court of law. That is not the issue. The issue is that fear of litigation may have prevented Lennon (or his producers) from ever releasing “Because” in to the wild and ours would have been a poorer culture for that.

Letter to the FCC on Net Neutrality

The “FCC has solicited comments from the public”:http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2007/db0417/FCC-07-31A1.txt on Net Neutrality. This was my letter:

The growth of the Internet has been during the most productive one-third of my life and the threat to Network Neutrality threatens much of what has fueled my professional, social and personal life.

I have been building small web sites- as a hobby at first and but now growing in to more. The ability to create tiered services on the Internet- an Internet that is increasingly controlled by very few powerful players- would be devastating to small web presences such as mine.

There is a lack of competition in the market. This, coupled with a lack of network neutrality protections, would turn the Internet in to a place where the status quo is maintained and only those new players that play by the old rules (or pay) could survive.

This is further complicated by the fact that the Internet service providers are themselves competitors in the web services space. Thus, they get to control the ‘pipes’ for their competition. This is a frightening landscape in which smaller players have little hope.

You can tell your story to the FCC as well at [Save the Internet]

Geek Activism Questionnaire for Presidential Candidates

I am putting together a questionnaire of issues important to the geek hacktivists for each of the candidates for next years US Presidential Election. Most of the web sites of these candidates do not come close to addressing the issues that are important to us today and will affect society in general tomorrow. Issues of privacy, copyright and fair use, net neutrality, the DMCA, the PATRIOT act will obviously come up, but what are the questions that you would want to put to the people who may have the power to change the rules of the digital game?

One of the central ideas in my “95 Theses”:www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/07/23/95-theses-of-geek-activism/ was of making the political establishment aware of our issues and of making it clear to the non-technical folks how these issues will affect them in the future.

As of now, these are the kinds of things I am thinking about:
* Their stand on the DMCA.
* Their stand on the future of the PATRIOT act.
* On Net Neutrality.
* On free speech rights on the Internet.
* On Copyright, fair use and the value of the public domain.
* Open source voting.
* Maybe video games, regulation and other _save our children_ initiatives that take out innocents in the cross-fire (while keeping “our children” just as unsafe).

I have many other ideas bouncing around and need to present them in a better form, but let me know in the comments what you think.

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