Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Month: July, 2007

FBI Employees Face Criminal Probe Over Patriot Act

According to an article at Wired.com, “FBI personnel who used misleading emergency letters to acquire thousands of Americans’ phone records are the subject of a criminal investigation […] The privately disclosed investigation would mark the first time government officials have faced possible prosecution for misuse of Patriot Act investigative tools.”

Also- you can “help out the EFF”:http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/005349.php go through the documents received via Freedom of Information Act requests regarding the FBI PATRIOT ACT abuses.

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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.

10 Years of The Cathedral and The Bazaar

In May 2007, that seminal work by “Eric S. Raymond”:http://www.catb.org/~esr turned ten years old. _The Cathedral and the Bazaar_ is a book about the simple notion that in software development _given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow_. Six years after Linux came on to the scene and 14 years after Richard Stallman gave birth to the GNU project, Eric Raymond put an intangible, untested concept in to words and has arguably had a phenomenal impact on software and geek culture.

When I wrote my “95 Theses of Geek Activism”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/07/23/95-theses-of-geek-activism/ last year, I put in CatB as a required reading as thesis #12 (the order meant nothing!). It could well have been #1, because it was the book that, for me, transformed the open source model from a touchy-feely philosophy to a practical, viable and achievable ideal for software development.

When Richard Stallman introduced the GNU project, it was a philosophy. You stuck with the GNU model because you believed in truth, liberty, freedom and justice. The BSD and other licenses were less philosophically rigid and have hence been taken advantage of by companies. Apple based their operating system OS X on BSD but were not obligated to share their improvements with the BSD community. They could take, but did not have to share. The GPL aimed at changing that- sharing was a many way street.

Linux brought the truly bazaar-style development in to the (geek) mainstream- where every user was a developer and the code was _released early and released often_. These facets of Linux development were part accidental, part consequences of the GPL and part Linus’ genius. Of course, Raymond was the first to test and formally describe the theories behind the success of Linux and how to apply them to future projects. Raymond tested the bazaar philosophy on his own _fetchmail_ project and the book tracks his success with it.

* *CatB as a Manifesto*: This book changed the geek language. Phrases such as the one above about eyeballs and bugs or the fundamental ideas about how to treat your beta testers are now treated as obvious. Indeed, even Yahoo and Google use the idea of treating their users as insider beta testers for many of their products.
* *CatB and O’Reilly*: _The Cathedral and the Bazaar_ was the first book published in print (by O’Reilly) with an open source document license. This allowed the book to be copied and modified as long as the resulting work had the same license- a precursor to “Creative Commons”:http://www.creativecommons.org licenses.
* *The Open Sourcing of Netscape*: The open sourcing of the Netscape browser and the start of the Mozilla project at the end of the browser wars in the late 90s is largely attributed to this book. At the time, CTO of Netscape, Eric Nahn told Raymond, “On behalf of everyone at Netscape, I want to thank you for helping us get to this point in the first place. Your thinking and writings were fundamental inspirations to our decision.”

Eric Raymond first presented _The Cathedral and the Bazaar_ at the “Linux Kongress on May 22nd, 1997”:http://www.linux-kongress.org/1997/ in Würzburg, Germany. Ten years later, Linux is more powerful than ever, Ubuntu is ready for the desktop (says me) and the bazaar model is alive and thriving.

* Read “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”:http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/
* About the “Netscape decision”:http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/ar01s13.html
* Raymond’s ever-growing archive of “notes, comments, rebuttals and more”:http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/ on CatB.
* Read Linus Torvalds’ fun, light and frothy autobiography about the heady young days of Linux “Just for Fun”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0066620732/galaxyfaraway
* And of course, there is the “The Circus Midget and the Fossilized Dinosaur Turd”:http://fringe.davesource.com/Fringe/Computers/Philosophy/Cathedral_Bazaar/Parody.html (don’t worry, it’s satire and it has a point)

The Indian Climate Change Tipping Point (update)

For the second year in a row, “the ice stalagmite of immense importance to Hindus- the Shivalinga of Amarnath- has melted”:http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=88957 completely at the beginning of the pilgrimage season.
Shivalinga at Amarnath taken by Mr. Gangadhar Tambe

Scientists say the melting is due to increased temperatures due to climate change and to the heat generated by increasing numbers of pilgrims flocking to the site, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres.

Last year, elements in the _Shri Amarnath Shrine Board_ had “replaced it with a crude fake”:http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/003495.html but “did not get away with”:http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1036492 it. “Sepia Mutiny”:http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/003495.html has great before and after photographs from last year. Read the rest of this entry »