Command Line

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Archive for the ‘Hacktivism’ Category

EFF Call to Action on NBC, Microsoft Broadcast Flag “Mistake”

Posted by Thomas Gideon on June 1, 2008

The official response from both companies is highly unsatisfactory. The questions around why Microsoft chose to make Windows MCE compliant with the over-the-air broadcast flag remain unanswered despite the EFF’s victory in the case that allows all device manufacturers to effectively ignore the flag.

In the spirit of hacktivism, the EFF posted a request for help in getting to the bottom of Windows MCE’s real behavior in the presence of the broadcast flag. They are looking to capture actually ATSC stream data, not just screen captures of the recording error. There are detailed instructions for users who use HTHomeRune alongside a Windows MCE system.

Success in this endeavor will require another “mistake” by NBC which makes me a bit skeptical. At least in the near term, the broadcaster is likely to stay on its toes and behave. If you have the required pieces to help the EFF, bookmark the story and try to keep it top of mind in the coming months. The EFF has been successful with similar collective hacking investigations in the past. If they are able to reproduce that success in this case, it could tell us a lot about what really happened in the first case and arm consumers on how to better protect their rights to time shift.

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Is OLPC Making Itself Irrelevant?

Posted by Thomas Gideon on May 18, 2008

I have been a fan of OLPC since before I heard Ivan Krstić speak at Shmoocon last year. His breathless explanation of the principles of the constructionist approach to learning pioneered by the likes of Alan Kay and Seymour Papert left a lasting impression and fostered an optimism about the future of education if such principles could truly be realized.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of static coming out of the project of which Krstić was formerly a member, OLPC. I previously shared my notes on this blog from a presentation by Benjamin Mako Hill and a roundtable he also attended, both at Penguicon 6.0. He was charitable in his characterization of OLPC’s recent struggles and the whole question of running some flavor of Windows on the eponymous devices.

That question, at least, has been unequivocably answered. Regardless of the philosophical questions of freedom this raises for the intended device owners, there are some meaty technical questions about whether such a custom laptop will support a useful experience with Windows. Then there is the unescapable reminders that Microsoft is perfectly willing to throw its weight around to try to make an incipient market behave as it wants rather than serve then original idealistic ends Negroponte espoused when launching OLPC.

The same person who cemented my interest in the project, despite these recent concerns, has given me much to think about. It would be easy to dismiss this essay as disgruntled mutterings. But it is pretty coherent and I am sure much of the historical evidence he cites is reasonably verifiable.

Even setting aside his criticism of Negroponte’s past failures and recent shifts in focus that seem to be abandoning what made OLPC so astonishing and daring, he deftly deconstructs what I think is really important. The question is whether a constructionist, one-to-one program works and his answer simply is no one knows. He has some good constructive ideas of how that question might be answered that recast the operating system question as irrelevant and I think even makes sense of some of the concerns over the Sugar effort that others have also raised recently and that Negroponte seems eager to simply brush under the carpet.

What I, personally, am left with is a need to re-focus on the questions and evaluate what people are saying and doing much as Krstić has done. It is not about any one person or organization. It may not even be about the merits of one approach over another, regardless of whether there is evidence to support it or not. It is about advancing the cause of education in a world where the demand for ever more well learned global citizens is only increasing.

I hope others take the time to read this essay. Read it a few times before setting hands on keyboard and making yourself more a part of the problem rather than actually considering what is at stake, here, and what is really in the best interests of furthering education, especially in developing countries, but everywhere traditional approaches have failed.

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OLPC Restructuring and Consequences

Posted by Thomas Gideon on April 28, 2008

I had the great fortune of meeting Benjamin Mako Hill at Penguicon 6.0. We exchanged cards but didn’t get a chance to speak. His Laptop Liberation presentation was good and re-inforced a lot of the philosophy of the project that I had initially learned at the plenary session on OLPC at last year’s Shmoocon. I didn’t get a chance to ask about the departure of Ivan Krstić who was part of that plenary session or about their content chief also resigning.

There was another OLPC event at which Mako showed up, what the program formally called a roundtable but was conducted more like a birds of a feather session. Some of the other attendees asked the questions I had in mind about the departures and restructuring as well as some of the rumors and issues around Windows support on the XO1.

Mako characterized the changes as a consequence of now having thousands of laptops effectively in production. This has forced a shift in focus to maintenance and other production concerns. He feels that this requires more of a focus on product and project management. This echoes some of the sentiments that Negroponte himself has voiced. Mako went further to suggest that the more innovative personalities key to the project’s early development are at odds with this change in focus. He stressed this was not a personal judgement, just an observation of what the organization now needs and how the two skill sets are largely non-overlapping.

Make also commented on the question of supporting Windows. He cited the driver here being possibly custom education software. There is apparently a fair amount of such code out there and it is unrealistic to expect schools to port it to Linux, in fact asking them to do so would be a pretty distinct barrier to getting OLPC’s laptops into many school systems. This also resonates with some of Negroponte’s own thoughts about making Sugar more operating system agnostic. He ceded that the hefty requirements of running Windows were a challenge but could not comment on much else on the technical issues involved as it is outside of his work with the project and his areas of expertise.

He also emphasized a point I first heard Krstić make in response to a similar session put to that plenary session. OLPC is about child ownership and user freedom. As counter intuitive as it may sound this leads to a position where if the laptop owner needs or wants to run a closed operating system it is not the project’s place to prevent that. In fact such lock in would actually be reducing the freedom the owner would be able to express. It may be a bit of a slipper slope, though, as this doesn’t necessarily suggest that OLPC will expend a great deal of its own resources supporting closed software, just that they will not get in the way.

In response to some of the dire predictions made in the wake of the recent departures.

[It] is in transition [continuing from his earlier remarks on the re-organization]. OLPC is actually hiring aggressively.

Mako was repeatedly positive about the project and its supporting foundation. The extent of his concern seemed to be making that transition into production sooner than they were perhaps ready for. He suggested this is likely an unanticipated consequence of the give one, get one program. In addition to some legitimate issues with the laptop itself, the nature of the charitable participants in this program has taken the XO1 into places where the project wasn’t focusing originally like corporate networks and small offices/home offices. They’ve been working to separate out issues unique to those environments as opposed to what is strictly needed by educational systems, for example WPA support and direct printing capabilities.

I have been of the recent opinion that succeed or fail, OLPC has succeeded in challenging technology manufactures to rethink some things. As Mako pointed out in his main presentation, technology is entering the developing world no matter what. The problem is that without a system like the OLPC’s laptop, that technology is mostly closed, like cell phones and portable media devices. Questions of sustainability are unaltered by adding the XO1 however its presence gives these nations a chance to control and program the rest of the cheap technology with which they are being inundated and that has got to be worth the effort alone.

Posted in Hacktivism, Programming | 3 Comments »

Consumer Tools for Auditing ISPs

Posted by Thomas Gideon on March 29, 2008

While the discussion of network neutrality has definitely gotten murky, it is still important. Today players like Comcast and Verizon may be trying to find ways to play nicely with certain P2P applications and protocols, but since they are unhindered in competing in the application provider space, who knows whether this current and past wins will translate to future good faith on their parts.

It is one thing for researchers to be able to perform in depth analysis of ISP traffic handling. The opportunities so far for an active and interested consumer have been few and the bar to entry high, not for lack of technology but because few have undertaken the daunting task to make such technology simpler to use.

EFF just posted a decent round up of the current and near future offerings that may change this. I like especially that they give a little more explanation on different approaches in addition to a well considered laundry list of ongoing efforts. (Full disclosure, I am on the Net Neutrality Squad mailing list but have not contributed to the software development by Lauren Wienstein’s group of hacktivists mentioned in the article. I also interviewed Lauren when he first started discussing possible technologies to help assess ISP performance relative to a meaningful definition of neutrality.)

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Sunshine Week

Posted by Thomas Gideon on March 18, 2008

I saw on EFF’s Deep Links Blog that this week is sunshine week.

According to the Sunshine Week site:

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. [...]Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

A laudable goal and one that is top of mind after hearing David Robinson’s brief presentation at USACM’s recent gathering on Civics in the Cloud. It also coincides with the formal launch of Change Congress, Professor Lessig’s new political initiative to address the corrupting influence of lobbyist money in Congress.

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Lessig’s Decision Not to Run

Posted by Thomas Gideon on February 25, 2008

Professor Lessig has just posted another video announcing his decision not to run in the special election for the vacancy left by the passing of Congressman Lantos. I am disappointed but understand his reasoning. My own support was for whatever decision he ultimately felt was the right one. It is not like the decision not to run affects his commitment to working on the problem of political corruption.

Given Lessig’s criticism of pollsters in Code 2.0, I am curious however about which one he utilized to help make his assessment and the details of the work. Not that it matters and I am not entirely surprised given the huge investment of time and self that even a special election would involve. I also had some concerns about how if successful his duties as a congressman would divert him from the newly launched Change Congress movement.

On the upside, he has promised more information in the coming weeks on that same movement. If you go to that site you can sign up to receive a direct announcement as details become available.

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Two Announcements from Prof. Lessig

Posted by Thomas Gideon on February 19, 2008

Head over to where Professor Lessig has posted a video discussing two very important announcements.

The first is a commitment to act. The site for this movement is a stub, I don’t know how rapidly it will develop once it launches. This was one of my frustrations as an activist when I spoke with Professor Lessig. It now looks like we will finally have an opportunity and a means to act on his ideas for changing the ethic and the norms that he has identified as being so fundamentally broken in our legislature.

The second is his consideration of participating in the special election for the open Congressional seat in his locality. I am encouraged that he is considering it. The points he makes about the difficulty of this decision are worthy of serious thought. I will support him no matter what his decision and I honestly cannot say whether I think it would be better if he did or did not run.

Lessig is a powerful thinker and speaker. He has crafted a very fine project in Creative Commons that is still alive, vibrant, and evolving. Change Congress has similar potential with his thought and leadership. The demands of a Congressional office may leave very little time for just organization and research. On the other hand, I am intensely curious to see how he rises to that challenge. How would be built an effective staff, as I believe that is just as critical as the person themselves.

Check back at the Lessig08 site at or around March 1st, he has committed to having an answer on the second point by then.

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Data Protection Day in the EU

Posted by Thomas Gideon on January 28, 2008

Saw this on the Open Rights Group. A nice reminder that at least when it comes to the question of privacy in the market, Europe seems a bit more progress. The ORG poster did call some attention to recently, noteworthy issues, but the basic standards seem better than here in the US. Of course, there does also seem to be a double standard when it comes to standards for privacy between governments and individuals.

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Support Dobbs Against the new FISA Wiretapping Bill

Posted by Thomas Gideon on January 27, 2008

Boing Boing has the story which includes a list of possibly key senators. Dobbs has been filibustering to stall or stop outright this bill that will grant amnesty to the telcos that were complicit in the executive branch’s domestic wire tapping activities. It sounds like he could use the support from any or all of these senators.

Ben Cardin, who is apparently still somewhat on the fence, is one of my senators, so I will try to make time to call his office if it is not too late. You should see if one of your senators is on the list and plan to do the same.

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Amazon Rolling Out MP3 Store Internationally This Year

Posted by Thomas Gideon on January 27, 2008

Saw this on Engadget. Details are few and the time frame is vague, but another step towards applying stronger competitive pressure on Apple.

I also wonder if this will strengthen the push by some countries in the EU to make Apple allow for better device portability with their DRM’ed offerings? Ideally, it would suggest a better path, that Apple needs to expand their own DRM free offerings much more quickly than they are.

Does anyone else feel like they made a big splash then have done very little else since?

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RFC from Australian Attorney-General’s Office on Copying for Private Use

Posted by Thomas Gideon on January 24, 2008

Boing Boing has the story. I inferred from the comment about the Minister being required to review exceptions after two years that this is similar to the DMCA exemption process. The Boing Boing piece also has information for Australians wishing to submit comments, which I also highly recommend. Is there an Australian counter part to Professor Geist? There should be.

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Routing Around Pandora’s Country Checks

Posted by Thomas Gideon on January 13, 2008

I can’t say this surprises me, there’s already what looks like an easy way to bypass the new Pandora US only checks. If the non-US collecting societies had found a lesser but still agreeable rate for Pandora, they’d get a piece of those streams. Now, though, they are putting the remaining legal, US streams in jeopardy. Ah, well, enjoy Pandora in whatever form you can before the collecting societies shut it down completely.

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Lehman on Search Engine Discussing US DMCA

Posted by Thomas Gideon on December 11, 2007

I mentioned that Bruce Lehman, architect of the US DMCA, was on search engine. The tease text at their site made it sound like Lehman was copping in some way to the DMCA being a failure. This is understandable since the discussion was about the forthcoming Canadian DMCA specifically about criticizing it.

Unfortunately, after listening to Lehman’s brief comments, it isn’t as nice a piece of the commentary as the tease makes out. While he admits the law did not meet certain of its objectives, he still considers it a success. When the show’s host, Jesse Brown, pushed him about the objectives he felt the law had not met, Lehman’s comments turning a bit chilling.

Basically, he apparently feels that the DMCA should have stipulated that ISPs actively filter for infringement. I guess this is not too surprising given all of the bills that have attempted to do so since. However, neither Congress nor the courts have successfully sustained any such laws.

Thinking about it further, I realize there is a latent ambiguity exposed by Lehman’s thinking here. In traditional media, there is a publisher and/or distributor that can be held liable in the case infringing material is produced. These stake holders exclusively produce and/or distribute this content. They are involved in editing or reviewing it, retain legal advisers for any number of purposes, including plagiarism. They are already actively involved in the very process of putting works out.

What is their counterpart with digital media published online? There are digital publishers and distributors, sure, and obviously the same standards can apply. But it is clear that Lehman and others who want active filtering believe ISPs are directly comparable. The problem is that they are not, no matter where you stand on issues of common carriage or network neutrality. ISPs are not actively involved in producing or distributing content. We pay them to be entirely passive, to simply provision for the shuffling of bits.

On what basis can they be expected to act as editor and legal adviser when their role in online distribution is so different? In the cases of file sharers or other, new individually driven infringements, even assuming complicity is overreaching. Put this way, the extra burden of filtering is clear. And automation doesn’t help, as it strains the analogy further and only highlights the ignorance of those who propose such a policing role for service providers.

I am not espousing anarchy, rather that new problems demand new solutions, not straining old, inappropriate solutions beyond their breaking point. Of course, this never really has been about solving real problems, it has always been about stifling innovation and propping up business models in the midst of being made obsolete.

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Canadian DMCA Moving Forward

Posted by Thomas Gideon on December 7, 2007

Both Boing Boing and Michael Geist have been covering this proposed legislation in depth. I noticed that the legislation has taken its first step towards law over on Boing Boing. This article also republished a link Cory posted earlier for Canadians who wish to act against this law. Its looking pretty bad, as I’ve discussed on the podcast, this appears to be worse than its predecessor, the defeated C-60.

We already knew that it would not have the request and review period for exceptions to the anti-circumvention measures. Even worse, Industry Minister Prentice is apparently tabling consumer concerns for up to a decade. Rather than address them as part of the legislative deliberation itself, it looks like he wants to establish some sort of review board after the fact. This panel would propose amendments in the form of new legislation and Geist speculates this could take up to a decade to have any effect, based on the frequency of past copyright legislation and the pace of similarly constituted review boards.

This seems pretty consistent with Prentice’s refusal to face criticism and concern over the legislation. If Prentice is convinced this legislation is in Canada’s best interest, then he should be ready to face open deliberation, eager on fact. Perhaps he already fears what Lehman, the architect of the US DMCA observed on the same program Prentice ducked. Namely that the US DMCA has not met its planned objectives.

I haven’t listened to the Search Engine episode on which Lehman spoke and in the interest of fairness, this is the first I have heard of anyone involved with or responsible for after the fact the US DMCA questioning its efficacy. Quite the contrary, I have criticized the Copyright Register, Mary Beth Peters, for unreservedly considering it to be a success as written and executed.

Regardless, I think the important point is one Geist raises in his criticism of Prentice’s plan for a review board to consider consumer issues. Discussion and debate of the balance of consumer rights is critical, it should simply happen as part of the original law making, not as an after thought.

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Relevance of Copyright Reform to the Layman

Posted by Thomas Gideon on December 2, 2007

John Tehranian has published a short paper I’ve seen linked in many of the usual places for discussions of copyright issues and reform more generally. The paper is well substantiated and imminently readable for anyone, not just activists intimately familiar with the scope and depth of copyright law and history.

In some ways, this paper serves as a history of activism in this area. It identifies some of the same elements I mention in the introductory comments I use when running the copyright panel I have been repeatedly invited to moderate at a number of cons. Copyright reform is increasingly a less esoteric concern and more something about which everyone needs to be aware. This is a direct consequence of digital media and network technology. Despite the cries of many luddites and critics of “user generated content”, this is a situation is not only unlikely to reverse but seems to be accelerating.

Tehranian goes further, highlight how these technologies have affected our norms. Others have hinted at how our everyday, unconscious activities, such as copying substantial portions of other people’s email content in forwards and replies, are often at odds with the letter of the copyright law. He does beyond the usual treatment of these examples, constructing a worst case scenario thought experiment. He provides a running tally of the statutory damages starting with the usual email exchanges but moving through the day of a notional Law professor.

Some of the examples may seem forced. But remember that this past year has seen cases of trade associations bring suit against individuals playing their music too loudly and hence unwittingly infringing as a form of public performance. This sort of stretching by copyright maximalists is not as far fetched as it would seem.

He neatly ties this though experiment to the change to a default of permission and the way digital technology has allowed for further and further penetration of licensing and control, well beyond its original scope with traditional, analog media. This resonates strongly with Cory Doctorow’s piece How Copyright Broke that also looks at this shift from formerly non-discoverable uses to a drive to maximalism or what I have taken to referring to as perfect control. It also dove tails neatly with Lessig’s discussion of latent ambiguities, in Code 2.0, and, again, how the change to digital technologies raises previously unasked questions about the values inherent in our traditional copyright regime.

This paper was apparently the keynote for a symposium of legal experts. The conclusion, ultimately, is an exhortation to more closely consider this gap between law and norms or as he characterizes legal theory and practical reality. This is a point about which I have been frustrated for some time. I am pleased to see legal scholars tackle this particular disconnect but skeptical about how it will affect industry and legislation without a direct involvement of key legislators and judges.

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