Category Archives: Technology

Town Forum on Municipal Networking

On Thursday May 18 the Chapel Hill Town Council will host a public forum on Municipal Wireless Networking. The event will be from 7 to 9PM and be held at Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. All citizens are invited to attend.

The event will be moderated by Shannon Schelin, Ph.D. of the Institute of Government at UNC. She will also make a presentation. Other speakers include Casey Lide of Baller Herbst in Washington, DC, Lynda Goff, Executive Director of WinstonNet in Winston-Salem, NC, Ray Reitz, Chief Technology Officer of Chapel Hill Carrboro School System, and Chad Johnston, Executive Director of The People’s Channel. For more information about the speakers please see the Town event webpage. There will be time at the end of the event for questions and answers. If you can’t make it in person you can watch the event on Public Access channel 18.

Mastering podcasts with Audacity

Johnathon Williams has written a good article called Mastering podcasts with Audacity over at Newsforge. He describes in an understandable way some important and complex concepts for voice audio post production. (Great for podcasters.) The article introduces topics like the compressor, waveform, frequency spectrum, decibels (db), the envelope tool, envelope tool, etc. These are all things you need to know to make your podcast sound professional.

All of this can be done with the great software Audacity but the concepts are the same no matter what software or hardware you use. Very valuable information that is quite accessible. I found it an excellent review of concepts that I knew but didn’t entirely understand. Most important to me was his excellent writing style and the step by step explanations. Thanks Johnathon!

Email Congress to Stop the ATandT Merger

Stop the ATandT merger! Goto the Freepress Take Action: Stop the AT&T Merger page and email your Congress people, FTC, and FCC to express your concern. This type of electronic letter writing campaign can achieve results. Go for it! Let yourself be heard!

From the Freepress site:

ATandT and BellSouth plan to merge into a single colossus. This deal must be stopped.

The merger resurrects the Ma Bell monopoly that was busted up in 1984. But it’s far worse today. These companies no longer just control telephone calls. They want to become gatekeepers to all digital media — television, telephone and Internet — at prices that many Americans can’t afford.

The merger is now in the hands of the FCC, FTC and Congress. They’ll rubber-stamp the deal unless the public speaks up. Stop the merger now.

AT&T plans to buy Bell South

AT&T eats Bell South like Pac Man! In a deal reported to cost $67 Billion in stock AT&T is calling its child back home. That’s right Ma Bell lives again!

Wasn’t there a good reason to split up Ma Bell in the first place? Times certainly have changed but duopolies (AT&T and Verizon) are just as bad as monopolies. The deregulation of the telecommunications industry has been a disaster for consumers and the free flow of information. It has lead to the consolidation of corporate competitors who once provided a mediocre amount of choice, service, and pricing. Now our choices could be fewer and worse. (Choice is one of the consumers greatest powers.)

This new corporate giant could make it much harder for our Congressional representatives to resist the privatization of the Internet. A bigger company has more resources to create armies of lobbyist with pockets full of cash.

The effect upon localities could be big too. Having a large multinational corporation breathing down your neck when you try to negotiate any kind of deal for your citizens is going to be hard. Not to mention the notoriously bad customer support AT&T provides. Not just bad for individuals but bad support for towns themselves. (I snagged the graphic from MediaGeeks site. Thanks man!)

This news raises the urgency level even higher. Local communities need to create their own municipal networks. (Voice and Data) Citizens need their cities and towns to provide them equal access to municipal networks now more than ever!

To get much better analysis and links to lots of good info about this merger read MediaGeek‘s blog posts It’s Confirmed — AT&T Planning To Gobble Up BellSouth, Public Interest Be Damned and Recreating a Monopoly.

Interview with Alex Laats of Podzinger

This podcast is an interview with Alex Laats President of BBN Delta. They have a new audio search tool called Podzinger. It allows you to search for key words inside of audio content like podcasts. I wrote more about it in my post called Search for Keywords in Audio. I’ve used a bunch of services that try to do this and this is only one that works well. This type of audio search tech is used by governments why not activists?

In my first post I brought up some concerns I had about the metada created from audio Podzinger indexes. (To get a bit more context read Retaining My Attention Data Part 1 and Part 2.) Alex addresses some of these concerns and talks about how Podzinger can create metadata that can be used in interesting ways.

I encourage activists of all kinds to explore Internet tools that let you create metadata. This information can serve our missions in powerful ways, from investigating injustice, to gathering support for a cause, and making strategic decisions. But remember always be critical of Internet tools. They are powerful and can cut many ways.

Thanks to Alex for letting me interview him. He was very gracious and a excellent guest. 🙂
MP3 20m 12s 9.3MB 44.1kHz 60kbps

Pride in Alan Turing

Apple Logo-A symbol of Gay Pride and remembrance of Alan Turing’s death? Last night I was reading the book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson. (Thanks for lending it to me Justin!) I’m only a few chapters in but I learned something really important about the history of computers. Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, was gay. I mention this not in shock or surprise but in pride. I think it’s wonderful. I’m just really concerned that I’m just now learning this. Maybe it’s because I never researched it. Maybe it’s because people don’t talk or write about it. Well, I’m going to write about it.

I feel that the public history of computer science is incomplete. When we teach the history of computer science or even just talk about it online we need to mention the details of people’s lives. Why? Details inform their work. They give us a fuller image of the men and women we respect and admire. They give us something to connect with. I know that you can be great at what you do no matter your sexual preference, gender, or race – but these things do make a difference. We need to celebrate our uniqueness. Especially freedom loving computer geeks. 🙂

The fact is the majority of geeks online are men – white, heterosexual, men. Not all geeks are men, but a majority are. (Once I have the data to prove this I’ll link to it. But a safe theory I believe.) I happen to be a heterosexual male and am ashamed of this majority I belong to.

The age of hetero male geeks ranges from early teens to senior adults. Sadly many guy geeks where once nerdy teenagers that were uncomfortable with their own sexuality. Young geeks can be pretty immature about sexuality online. Could this contribute to the lack of mainstream discussion of gayness among computer geeks?

While researching the Alan Turing some more I discovered that right before his death he was convicted by Britian’s discriminatory anti-gay law known as,

gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. Turing was unrepentant and was convicted. [Why the hell should he repent?] Although he could have been sent to prison, he was placed on probation, conditional on him undergoing hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted the oestrogen hormone injections, which lasted for a year, with side effects including the development of breasts. His conviction led to a removal of his security clearance and prevented him from continuing consultancy for GCHQ on cryptographic matters.

Via Wikipedia

This is so incredibly sad. Imagine how many MORE wonderful accomplishments for humanity Turing could have given if he wasn’t harassed, tortured, and possibly murdered. How disrespectful it is to have treated him this way. No man or woman should be treated this way – no matter the time or place. But for such a person who has given our planet so much to be treated this way is difficult to comprehend. We need to make sure that all history books discuss sexuality – and other things – relating to historic people while teaching their accomplishments. To hell with don’t ask don’t tell!

More interesting information from Wikipedia about Turing:

In 1954, he died of cyanide poisoning, apparently from a cyanide-laced apple he left half-eaten. The apple itself was never tested for contamination with cyanide, and cyanide poisoning as a cause of death was established by a post-mortem. Most believe that his death was intentional, and the death was ruled a suicide. It is rumored that this method of self-poisoning was in tribute to Turing’s beloved film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His mother, however, strenuously argued that the ingestion was accidental due to his careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Friends of his have said that Turing may have killed himself in this ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. The possibility of assassination has also been suggested, owing to Turing’s involvement in the secret service and the perception of Turing as a security risk due to his homosexuality.

In the book, Zeroes and Ones, author Sadie Plant speculates that the rainbow Apple logo with a bite taken out of it was an homage to Turing. This seems to be an urban legend as the Apple logo was designed in 1976, two years before Gilbert Baker’s rainbow pride flag.

From now on I’ll always think about Turing and his accomplishments when I see the rainbow Apple logo. It’s design may have not been intentionally symbolic but in my mind it is forever repurposed. Here’s to Alan Turing’s accomplishments! Cheers!

Indy Week Gets It

The Independent Weekly has a new website. “So what?”, you may ask, people launch new websites all the time. The difference here is they’re adopting important features other newspapers are not. Features essential to new media websites.

One important feature on the new Indy website is content synchronization. When the Indy paper comes out the Indy website has the same content. Many print publications – like Wired magazine – have websites but delay the content’s online release until days or weeks after the print version has come out. This is wrong. Making already impatient online readers wait is a bad PR move. So bad it may completly prevent the stories from ever being read. It’s true that there are timing issues that can cause this gap but I bet the issue for some print publications is more about making sure the print media continues to have value. After all, “If they can get it online for free why should they bother paying for a subscription?” Wrong.

Another example is persistent links. When the Indy creates content and it goes on their website it doesn’t disappear. URLs to the content persist into the future. Many newspapers hide their content behind a pay wall the day it comes out and sometimes days later. This is a real problem. When you link to something on another website you want the link to work well into the future. It’s real hard for loyal bloggers to drive traffic to your site if the URLs don’t work (aka free publicity).

If newspapers really are the first draft of history they should allow their work to last so we can read it and compare it to other drafts. Preventing unethical rewriting of history demands it.

Oh yeah… the Indy has some blogs too. Dent is for politics and Scan is for music.

One of the competitive advantages the Indy Week has is that its paper is free. Their business model depends on advertising. They already know how to make this work. That’s how a lot of the web works. In other words revienue modles for media are very differnet than they used to me. Newspapers seem to be having a hard time dealing with the fact that the subscription model is dying. In the 21st century if you pay to subscribe to something it better be really special and not become fish wrap the next day.

Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 2

I’ve stopped using Gmail. You probably know about it. It’s a good piece of software that helps you send and receive email in your web browser. Because of AJAX (Javascript) it loads GUI elements quickly. It’s helpful for efficient emailing anywhere you have a computer, a web browser, and an internet connection. Very convenient. (Forgive the super basic description dear geeks. I want everyone to understand this.)

What I’ve done instead is to start using the software Pine. Yep… that old email app you might have used in the 80s or 90s. It’s a terminal application on a Unix server for sending and receiving email. It has a pretty open license that is free as in money and free as in freedom. Plus it’s installed on the server that also hosts my email. This keeps it portable and available any where I have a terminal app and ssh. (You can put Putty, a free telnet/ssh client, on a USB key and make sure it’s with you.) This is where the reasoning comes in.

Just like my post Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 1 my main motivation is retaining my attention data. For me letting Google store all my email communications and sort through them creating what ever metadata they want just isn’t fair. The service and addictive convenience isn’t equal to the money Google makes by paying attention to what I do. Not only do I loose my privacy so does everyone that sends email to me. Multiply the number of people who’ve sent me e-mail – during the time I used Gmail – by itself and you get an idea of the potential number of connections made. Mapping social networks with attention data is powerful.

What’s Attention Data? Data created when you pay attention to something, or ignore it, online or elsewhere.

Then there is trust. I trust my main mail host. I’m pretty confident they aren’t mining it’s users email for metadata. Nor are the profiting fiscally from us. Another plus is the hardware and the network they use isn’t trivial. This equals serious performance.

Everyone who uses email should demand a terms of service that respects our privacy and doesn’t exploit our rights to determine exactly how our attention data is used. Either we all have to host our own email servers or we need to have trustworthy public email servers. The former isn’t such a crazy idea. Imagine if we all sent and received email in a peer to peer manner?

Should everyone use Pine? At this point probably not. It’s taken me years to get used to Unix and the command line. I’m a very visual person. GUIs are the main reason I got into computers. If the Macintosh hadn’t been so easy to use I might never have edited video with it. The educational hurdle that is Linux and other computer software can be overcome. One of my future parental goals is to teach my kids how to use Linux, the comand line, and use scripting languages. I wouldn’t force them… 🙂

I have traded some speed for privacy. But in the short amount of time I’ve used Pine full time I’ve increased in speed. For me it required repetitive use, hitting the same key commands over and over again. I’ve hardly use the mouse while sending email.

What should people use if not Pine? Another good option is secure web mail hosted by a private email host you trust. Make sure they use https. (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) The key is select a free web mail host that isn’t comercial. Find a not for profit group maintaining a email server. A geek friend or family member, a university, or a group like RiseUp.net.

Why not use Thunderbird? True it’s a great GUI email app. It’s free as in money and free in freedom. One potential security problem is copies of emails can be stored locally. My effort to use a terminal email app is based on forcing good habits with myself. A tad hair shirt monk style I know.

I suppose the best way to describe this part of my personal transformation is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Not the movie but the idea that by going back to an old piece of software I’m actually going forward in my safe use of technology.

Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 1

I’ve stopped using Bloglines. It’s a RSS feed aggregator in a web browser. It’s “free” (as in money) and it works wonderfully. I really enjoyed using it. (Though the number of feeds I was trying to read got a bit unwieldy.)

What I’ve done instead is install my own web based RSS feed aggregator called Gregarius. It’s created in php and uses MySQL for the database. All this software is “free” as in money AND free as in freedom. Freedom from corporations watching what I watch aka my Attention metadata.

Fortunately I’m capable of installing a PHP application and MySQL database. I’d guess that a majority of web users don’t want to or have the time to do this. That’s why they take the easy most cost effective choice of signing up for “free” (as in money) web service. (or run it on their desktop)

Why did I do this? Because I am taking back the valuable metadata I create by looking and not looking at RSS feeds on the web. All this time we spend surfing adds up to lots of information that you can learn from. This knowledge can then be applied to a myriad of decisions. Those decisions can make things happen like making money and a whole bunch of other things. I believe this is the core business plan of most web services companies. (Tell me if I’m wrong Bloglines.)

The bottom line is free web apps aren’t enough compensation for my valuable Attention. I’m not special; your Attention is just as valuable. We should all value it much higher. We should renegotiate our agreement with free (as in money) web based services.

This is only the beginning of my personal web interaction transformation. Stay tuned for more change.