Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Month: November, 2008

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.

Good Times: HuffPost and Drudge Agree on Headlines

Aah, bipartisanship– where will you rear your pretty head next? Both Drudge and Huffington Post can agree- bailouts are a crazy thing. Both of them scream on their front page (a version of):

Mayors of Philadelphia, Phoenix seek bailout share

Good times.

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.

Geek Guide: Will the Digital TV Transition Affect You?

A lot of our readers here must already be aware of the DTV transition in February 2009, and whether it will affect them. But in case you are not sure or if you have friends/family who may not know of the consequences, we’ve put together a nifty guide. Tell the guide how you get your channels and what kind of TV you have and it will tell you your next step.

Guide to the Digital TV Transition

Change Watch: Privacy, Innovation and a side of Transparency


Tim Jones at the EFF has just finished his threepart 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 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 . Community Funded Citizen Journalism

Via Dan Gilmor, we hear about the launch of the nonprofit, funded by the Knight Foundation. It is a novel idea-

Through Spot.Us the public can commission journalists to do investigations on important and perhaps overlooked stories. […] It’s a marketplace where independent reporters, community members and news organizations can come together and collaborate.

This has real potential. Think about a local government problem that needs investigating- you can get your neighbors together to fund a citizen to work on it. Think about the (many) issues that traditional media chooses to ignore- either due to a perceived lack of audience, corporate interests or political implications. You can fund the stories you believe should be covered, and so can traditional news organizations.

As founder David Cohn notes, “The process of journalism should be participatory – and perhaps one way it can be made participatory is if the public has the opportunity to commission the journalism they want to see.” Go make a pitch or fund a story today.

Will the Web Kill the Two Party System?

Via Julian Sanchez and the newly launched Law & Disorder journal at Ars Technica, here’s an excerpt of David Carr’s piece in the New York Times:

More profoundly, while many people think that President-elect Obama is a gift to the Democratic Party, he could actually hasten its demise. Political parties supply brand, ground troops, money and relationships, all things that Mr. Obama already owns.

It’s a novel idea, but Sanchez is rightly skeptical- the system and its participants have a strong interest in maintaining the status quo. The way the electoral college works- where one candidate needs to get more than half- means that a simple plurality of votes is not sufficient and this is not going to get resolved any time soon. People are more likely to vote for a lesser of two evils who might actually win, than the better candidate who will not.

The Internets Hijack Online GOP Rebuilding Efforts

It started out as a good idea, but how long could it have lasted? Well, less than a week.

Last week, a few young, forward-thinking Republicans launched Rebuild the Party– a web site that would allow the community to suggest and vote on ideas to rebuild the Republican party. It went well for a couple of days, while suggestions ranged from “Small “c” conservatives” to “Be more inclusive”.

Pretty soon, the progressive masses of the Internets and the Ron-Paul-ers learned of the site. Look at it now. The top suggestion with more than four thousand votes is to “Give all Red Blooded Americans a pair of Truck Nuts for their F150’s!” Not a bad idea if you’re a funny trucker. A horrible idea if you’re trying to rebuild a party. Ron Paulers have taken the next few slots, though the liberal hoi polloi have managed to sneak in “Scratch backwards B into own face; teach themselves a lesson”.

Once the liberal blogs took notice, this was bound to happen. Remember, liberal blogs are more popular than conservative. Of course, as Wikipedia has taught us, trolls tire faster than a sincere community- so the web site should survive once the masses find a new toy.

UPDATE: And now all the “spam” has been deleted, but the RonPaulers remain.

Change Watch: Aggressive Rules Against Lobbying

Here are new rules put in place by the Obama transition team:

  • Federal Lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.
  • Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.
  • If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.
  • If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the Transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.
  • A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

In all, good news. [via Jonathan Martin]

Change Watch: President Fanboy

A few facts about the next President, from

  • He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics.
  • He has read every Harry Potter book.
  • His favorite films are Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  • He says his worst habit is constantly checking his BlackBerry.
  • He uses an Apple Mac laptop.
  • He drives a Ford Escape Hybrid.
  • His favorite fictional television programmes are Mash and The Wire.

And that’s just the (mildly) geeky stuff.