November 26, 2018
What the Hell Is Blockchain, Anyway?

Damned if I know, not really. But at least I have a vague idea now, after puzzling through this explanation given by Edward Snowden to ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner. Read the whole thing here.

ES: It’s basically just a new kind of database. Imagine updates are always added to the end of it instead of messing with the old, preexisting entries — just as you could add new links to an old chain to make it longer — and you’re on the right track. Start with that concept, and we’ll fill in the details as we go.

BW: Okay, but why? What is the question for which blockchain is the answer?

ES: In a word: trust. Imagine an old database where any entry can be changed just by typing over it and clicking save. Now imagine that entry holds your bank balance. If somebody can just arbitrarily change your balance to zero, that kind of sucks, right? Unless you’ve got student loans.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:39 PM
July 17, 2012
The Golden Age of Media

Paul Krugman, at it again:

…Perhaps in a better world we could count on the news media to sort through the conflicting claims. In this world, however, most voters get their news from short snippets on TV, which almost never contain substantive policy analysis. The print media do offer analysis pieces — but these pieces, out of a desire to seem “balanced,” all too often simply repeat the he-said-she-said of political speeches.

Trust me: you will see very few news analyses saying that Mr. Romney proposes huge tax cuts for the rich, with no plausible offset other than big benefit cuts for everyone else — even though this is the simple truth. Instead, you will see pieces reporting that “Democrats say” that this is what Mr. Romney proposes, matched with dueling quotes from Republican sources…

I wish I could say that things were a whole lot better back in the golden age of newspapering. But they weren’t. At least in my day — the 50s and early 60s — they were worse. Then as now, newspapers and television stations were, by definition, owned by millionaires. Apart from a few financially anemic partisan magazines like The Nation and The Progressive and privately financed hobbies like The National Review the print press was even more wedded than today to false equivalency masquerading as fairness. News on radio and TV was pathetic. Anyone who thinks the American media plumbed historic depths in helping to lie us into Iraq is too young to remember how enthusiastically they helped Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson lie us into Vietnam.

It may well be that we are, right now, in the true golden age of news. Enjoy it before the government steps in to control the spigot, as it is already starting to do. For now, though, every man, woman and child, from Ayn Rand Looney Tunes to Nobel Prize winners, can afford his or her own electronic printing press.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:45 PM
August 17, 2008
Left Meets Right

The most important geek news of the week is the court decision (PDF) in the case of Jacobsen v. Katzer, in which a violation of a non-traditional copyright was held to be just like a violation of a traditional copyright, with the same enforcement mechanisms.

The copyright holder in the case is Robert Jacobsen, the lead developer of the Java Model Railroad Interface, a software package used by model railroad enthusiasts. A firm called Kamind Associates downloaded parts of Jacobsen’s project, stripped out the copyright notice and other identifying information, and began redistributing the modified version without Jacobsen’s approval.


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Copylefts, as they’re sometimes called, grant more rights to users than traditional publishing or media organizations have. The Creative Commons Attribution license recently added to our sidebar is the “By” license, the loosest level: anyone is free to redistribute, remix, and make commercial use of licensed material, as long as proper attribution is included.

More restrictive options exist as well. It’s possible to prohibit commercial use, or to allow redistribution only if the redistributed work itself carries an equivalent license, for example. If you want to license your website, you can do it in five minutes: first choose the appropriate license at the Creative Commons site, then copy and paste the HTML that’s provided wherever you want it on your web pages.

This is good news for Flickr users and bloggers and other such folks who want to share the products of their imaginations or skills. But it’s particularly great news for the free software community. I’m thinking there were some glum faces in Redmond this week, out of which Bill Gates, as I’ve said before, hauled ass at a propitious moment.

At the personal computer level, free software is today both more powerful and easier to use (and maintain) than corporate software. What keeps the dinosaurs going is control of the hardware environment, and specialized applications. Linux has to work everywhere, with every language and font and screen and central processor and network interface; Windows systems are much more proscribed, and the Mac is another universe. Macs have cool media-creation and -editing apps, for example; Windows programs in that area are improving, but it’s hard to make a quality product in a Windows environment. I’m not kidding; I’ve built apps on Windows, Mac, Unix, and a couple other OSs, and Windows is the least reliable. Mac is probably the quirkiest; a fair amount of it is there just to be different. Unix is superficially the most obscure, but in fact the most sleekly and reliably designed of the three (though DEC’s VAX/VMS far surpassed Unix).

In the classic critical-mass fashion, state-of-the-art media manipulation software hasn’t yet migrated to Linux. But for the more quotidian operations such as browsing the web, doing email, cataloging, watching, and listening to media, fiddling photos, and doing MS Office-style stuff, the Linux tools are superior in function and ease of use. Plus, they’re almost universally faster at the same operations.

This kind of quality has not always been there in open-source software, it’s true; but then commercial software is no walk in the park either.

Generally, open source has an outstanding record of providing reliable and useful software. If you spend the effort to build something, package it, and distribute it for free, you must actually have some ego invested in it. If you care about it enough to maintain it over a period of years, coördinate assistants in that process, and accept contributions and consider requests from users, it becomes something like your child.

This kind of approach tends to create communities. When the original impulse is to solve a problem, and the first contributors all face that problem and are coöperating on solutions, what emerges has passed all the tests that its designers thought of, which means at least it solves the original problems. Things that work well tend to get adapted to other situations rapidly; if your product doesn’t evolve, it was probably a pretty simple idea to begin with. If users are soon thinking of uses you never imagined, that’s a sign of success.

The court ruled in Jacobsen v. Katzer that copylefts are enforceable as copyrights, overruling a lower court decision that this was not a copyright violation but a violation of contract. Copyright laws are much stricter, so this and some prior, more limited, rulings are clear encouragement to the free software community. Work can be done in a non-capitalist fashion, and distributed, used, and relied upon world-wide, without the capitalists either stealing it or shutting it down.

As ours becomes better than theirs, they’ll go under.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:48 AM
July 06, 2008
Flip Video Camera: a Professor Critically Compares it to the Big Rigs

As you may have noticed, I’ve posted a number of videos here on the first video camera I’ve ever owned, a cheap $120 Flip Video unit. The videos I’ve posted are raw and unedited and it shows, but I haven’t purchased an editing program yet and since I don't own an Apple computer, my selection is limited to lesser Windows-based editing programs.

However, I’d suggest that those attending political events, particularly Democrats who are keeping an eye on the Republicans, lobbyists and similar dark forces, keep one of these handy. There are more Macaca moments waiting to be discovered — “the dark authoritarian forces” are what they are as we have painfully observed these last few years, and they aren’t going to change. The unit I have fits neatly in a shirt pocket. A just-released newer unit is even smaller and has some upgraded features.

As to the potential quality of videos that can be produced by these units, I’ll direct you to an article and video by a professor teaching students the art of making films and documentaries. A short portion of his post follows. But watch the short documentary film he produced for the real scoop on what you can do with one of these inexpensive toys.

When I was in the fledgling stages of photojournalism I would blame my equipment a lot. If I only had this lens, or that camera body, or a certain tripod or whatever, I would be able to create photos like the big guys. As I left full-time photojournalism to live a more balanced life, I found myself drifting back to storytelling. Several years later here I am: a budding filmmaker/storyteller/content creator at the University of Washington. Now that my aim is film, that eternal question comes up again: how important is equipment?

His answer will surprise you.

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Posted by Buck Batard at 06:48 PM