Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Tag: Miscellany

The Continuing Adventures of WorldCat: Conditions, not Restrictions

I won’t blame you if you haven’t been following the librarian/blogosphere coverage of the new OCLC/WorldCat use policy. Long story short: OCLC, the non-profit that controls the database of books that most libraries use and contribute to just released a new policy that makes reuse a lot more restrictive. There has already been a lot of Orwellian, corporation-like and pre-Internet thinking from the OCLC. Now for some more.

The OCLC released the newest version of the policy, but only as a PDF. Library-bloggers had already run ‘diff’s on previous HTML versions to see how each successive version changed, but now with the differently formatted (and harder to manipulate) PDF, the OCLC must be clicking their telegraphs in joy at how they foiled the new-age blogger librarians. Not so fast.

There’s already a ‘diff’ with the new version- and it gets more Orwellian. Instead of any change in actual policy, the newest version simply replaces every occurrence of the word ‘restriction’ with ‘condition’. Oh, that makes it so much better.

ALSO: the OCLC policy is nothing like Creative Commons, so I would advise them to stop making that comparison. CC does not require approval for reuse.

icanhazworldcat

UPDATE: I can haz Worldcat?!?

Avast! It be Anti-Pirate Technology!

pirate ship and dragon

Maybe we can blame it on the three Disney movies, but pirates are back in full strength– these days off the horn of Africa.

Nick Davis who, for $30,000, will arrange a team of private guards to travel on your boat and scare away pirates. Without any lethal weaponry.

He runs a company called APMSS- Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions (Non-Lethal). I would have thought they would have gone something cooler, like “Avast Ye Lilly Livered Scallywag“. Alas!

While I don’t know what technology APMSS uses specifically, these are the kinds of things that are used against pirates.

  • Long Range Acoustic Device
    This is a crowd-control device that can emit high frequency and high volume sounds that are capable of permanently damaging hearing.
  • Magnetic Audio Device
    This can be used as a modern version of the bullhorn in its simplest capacity- to notify, direct or warn the enemy.
  • Thermal Imagers
    To see in the dark, through smoke and so forth.
  • Night Sun Torches
    Not sure what these are, but they sound like something I’d want.
  • Anti-Boarding Systems
    Things like 9000 vole electrifying fences and alarms that will activate floodlights and a siren on detecting pirates. The shock is supposed to be painful but not fatal.
  • Finally, knives
    On NPR, when confronted with the possibility that a pirate may get on board, Davis admitted that they may resort to knives. And they are trained Marines and former Special Forces types.

And then, there are the lethal variety of technology. Of course, as Davis said, if they fire first, they are the pirates.

Change Watch: A National CTO is not a Fairy Godmother

Everybody seems to have a wish-list for the incoming president. Some organizations have even put together humongous documents with recommendations for the new administration. I’ve been covering some of them here– when they seem interesting and within my areas of interest– but the sheer volume of “what I really want from the new president” is astonishing. Many on the left are already disappointed with Obama, 60 days before his inauguration.

One position that everyone on the Internet seems to have an opinion about is the mythical Chief Technology Officer that Obama had promised the nation. ObamaCTO.org has been formed– not by the campaign- to solicit ideas for a CTO agenda.

Jim Harper makes an excellent point. A CTO can’t undo legislation or executive orders or court orders. Says Harper:

I’ve got some news or you: These are policy proposals that would be beyond the purview of any CTO. Policy proposals go through Congress and the President, advised by his policy staff. They do not go through a CTO.

If the Baltimore Ravens asked the team physician to kick field goals, the results would be about what you’d get from asking a federal CTO to carry out these policies.

Excellent point. The CTO cannot repeal the DMCA or the USA Patriot Act or mandate Net Neutrality. What the CTO can do is shine sunlight (thanks Jim Harper). A CTO can open up federal government data with portable and open data formats. RSS, XML, APIs– ways for people and machines to process, visualize and analyze the governments (our) data.
Obama’s official agenda says the following:

  • Open Up Government to its Citizens: Use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens.
  • Bring Government into the 21st Century: Use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure the safety of our networks and lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

UPDATE: I’ve added this as a suggestion on the ObamaCTO.org web site- “bring expectations for CTO in check. CTO is not Santa.”

A CTO will not have power over courts, legislation and executive orders. A CTO will have power over how government uses technology- so bring your expectations down to earth, and ask for things like more transparency in Federal government and use of open standards in federal communications, documents, etc.

Vote for it! Use the system to change the system.

Monty Python’s Online Circus

montypythonyoutubespam_med.jpg

The question for a 70s era comedy group is not so much “how do we squash all these kids pirating our work”. It’s more along the lines of “how do we remain relevant in the modern media culture”.

There are many that choose to go the route of “sue our fans” so that they buy our DVDs, CDs and nifty merchandise. Thankfully, Monty Python are not one of them. They have launched the Monty Python YouTube Channel. With all the clips from their shows and films already freely available on YouTube, they only had two alternatives.

They could either try to sue every video off the Internet, which is a losing battle against your own fans. Or they could choose to become the first result on every search page any time anyone ever searches for their clips– thereby taking control of the path their fans take on the Internet. If the content is going to be out there anyways, why not put it up yourself, at high quality, stay relevant and make a buck by reminding people of who you were (and selling CDs, DVDs and nifty merchandise). Read the rest of this entry »

King Barack Obama

A funny way to position the words, via CNN’s Political Ticker-


kingobama.jpg

Change Watch: The YouTube President

First, he was outed as a fanboy. Then he used Flickr on his transition web site. And now he pledges to use YouTube for weekly addresses.

And here I thought our similarities ended with our pan-national childhoods. Former President Roosevelt, who began the fireside chats in the ’30s, was quoted as saying, “What’s a you tube?” More such changes will undoubtedly follow, as the Obama campaign morphs in to the Obama presidency.

In other news, if you want to be part of the Obama team- expect to disclose Facebook and MySpace pages, embarrassing emails/texts and aliases/handles you’ve used online. If they take these things too seriously, no one who has ever been 17 will be hired.

UPDATE: And Chris Soghoian asks Obama to put the videos up in open formats using BitTorrent. Fantastic idea.

Google Books Vs. OCLC and WorldCat

Slashdot has a story about the non-profit OCLC trying to tighten its control over the database that libraries around the world use:

“The main source of the bibliographic records that are carried in library databases is a non-profit organization called OCLC. Over the weekend OCLC “leaked” its new policy that claims contractual rights in the subsequent uses of the data, uses such as downloading book information into Zotero or other bibliographic software. The policy explicitly forbids any use that would compete with OCLC. This would essentially rule out the creation of free and open databases of library content, such as the Open Library and LibraryThing. The library blogosphere is up in arms . But can our right to say: “Twain, Mark. The adventures of Tom Sawyer” be saved?”

Of course, the real story here might be the recent resurgence of Google Books as a force to be reckoned with; how they might start competing with OCLC by collaborating with libraries. From the OCLC FAQ about the new policy:

My library has been contacted by a commercial search engine company about contributing our catalog for use in the search engine’s system. Does the Policy permit the transfer of WorldCat-derived records from our catalog to the search engine company?

Since the search engine company is a commercial organization, there must be an agreement in place between OCLC and the search engine company prior to the transfer of WorldCat-derived records. OCLC can let you know if it has an agreement with the search engine company in question. Please submit a WorldCat Record Use Form to OCLC or ask the search engine company to submit a WorldCat Record Use Form to OCLC and we will reply within five business days.

UPDATE: It seems I am not the only one who had this thought. Here at the Disruptive Library Technology Jester blog there is some parsing of the new policy to reach the same conclusion. Also, here is a set of reactions from the librarian community. They’re a passionate bunch.

Change Watch: Privacy, Innovation and a side of Transparency

EFF-logo-trans.gif

Tim Jones at the EFF has just finished his three-part series outlining how the new leadership in Congress and the Executive branch can restore what has been lost over the past eight years.

There are two aspects to how privacy has deteriorated over the past eight years. On the one hand, claiming war time needs, the government has increased warrant-less surveillance of Americans by alarming proportions. Jones highlights the flawed FISA Amendments act which granted immunity from litigation to telcos, the States Secrets Privilege, which allows the executive branch to shield itself from judicial review. The abuse of National Security Letters to acquire data from Internet service providers has also been increased. On the other hand, corporations have much more control of user data than ever before and the balance is decidedly against the consumer. In Jones’ words, “the privacy of personal data should not depend on how long an ISP has stored that data or whether the data is stored locally or remotely. “

Innovation is an area that most directly affects consumers and technologists. Jones suggests- and I agree- that balance should be restored to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and that serious patent reform is required. Both issues, as they currently stand, favor the incumbents over consumers and inhibit innovation.

On transparency, the government should resemble the Sunlight Foundation– if you haven’t already and take a look at how they are working on making data about the government available in formats that are easy to parse, process, analyze and visualize. Obama has promised much in this direction- and Change.gov is certainly a refreshing web site- but the post-January reality will be determined by his administrations response to Freedom of Information Act requests and opening up the data of all branches of government.

Until inauguration day on the 20th of January, I will be covering some of the aspects of the transition to the Obama administration that affect technology and open government in a series called Change Watch .

Change Watch: ACLU’s Wish List

Like I said earlier, everybody’s got a wish list for the new President. Not everyone provides a timetable the way the ACLU has.

They divide up their “Actions for Restoring America” in to things to do on the first day, the first 100 days and the first year. The first day includes things like stopping torture, closing Guantanamo, and ending extraordinary renditions. The next 99 days are more interesting from a geek policy standpoint.constvoter_button2.gif

  • Warrantless Spying: Yeah, no kidding. ACLU wants an executive order recognizing the president’s obligation to comply with FISA and prohibiting the NSA from warrantless spying. Hurray!
  • Freedom of Information Act: Under something called the “Ashcroft Doctrine”, the current administration chose not to release info for all FOIA requests if there was a “sound legal basis”. Translation: if we say so. The ACLU wants that to go away.
  • Real ID: They want Homeland Security to suspend the regulations for the Real ID Act- again, hurray if it happens.
  • Scientific Freedom: To remove political control of scientific and academic inquiry.
  • Media Consolidation: To urge the FCC to address the growing problem of media consolidation. I’m not sure what the FCC can do (other than reverse its rule loosening cross-media ownership), but it’s a noble goal.
  • Network Neutrality: To mold the FCC to enforce these principles. This was part of Obama’s technology policy paper, but it remains to be seen how much he involves government in enforcing it.
  • Online Censorship of Soldiers: “Those who would fight and die to defend our freedoms abroad should not be denied those same rights themselves.” Well said.
  • Fleeting Expletives: At times over the past 5 years it has seemed that the only purpose of the FCC has been to make sure that anyone who says a naughty word on television gets fined in to oblivion.
  • World Intellectual Property Organization: The negotiations that the US has had with WIPO have been restrictive of free speech and fair use of data. Must change.

All valid points. What remains to be seen is how much of a priority these concerns remain in such harsh economic times. In some cases, making the right kind of appointments to FCC and other positions should take care of concerns.

Until inauguration day on the 20th of January, I will be covering some of the aspects of the transition to the Obama administration that affect technology and open government in a series called Change Watch.

Change Watch: Everybody Has a Wish List

Everybody has a wish list for the new President, including the Government Accountability Office. It’s strange how one arm of the legislative branch has a ready list of things they need from the next President. Do they know they have a President in office right now?

In any case, there are two points in their list that are of our interest:

  • Retirement of the Space Shuttle: To get this done, they want the administration to fill key leadership positions in NASA, which should be interesting. Leadership in NASA has recently had a contentious relationship with the scientific community over climate research.
  • Digital TV Transition: Not sure what they want the next President to do here, but basically they want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to be more proactive.

Again- they already have an FCC, an NTIA and President Bush, and yet they are willing to wait until the end of January for “urgent” action.

Until inauguration day on the 20th of January, I will be covering some of the aspects of the transition to the Obama administration that affect technology and open government in a series called Change Watch.

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