Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

August 29, 2004

Coming Soon: Blogging from Technology Review Confab Next Month

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 10:49 am

I’ve just received the news that I’ll have a press pass to Technology Review magazine’s 2nd Annual Emerging Technology Conference at MIT. The conference, to be held in Cambridge on September 29-30, will bring together bleeding-edge technologists and entrepreneurs. They’ve got quite a roster of speakers, including Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; Ethernet inventor and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe; and Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE Genetics (which is developing new medicines based on DNA samples from half the population of Iceland). Sessions will cover topics including next-generation search engines, nanotechnology and location-aware computing. I’m particularly excited to see “Emerging Technologies that Will Change the World” and the announcement of the TR100, the list of 100 young innovators to watch over the next decade.

Given the fact that the conference is at MIT, I should have no problem blogging live from the conference. So stay tuned and be sure to visit my blog at the end of next month to follow along!

August 27, 2004

Diluting Digital Divide Discourse?

Filed under: Digital Divide,Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 10:50 am

When the New York Times published an editorial yesterday entitled A Digital Divide, I was quite interested, given the fact that a lot of my work is in this area. When I got to the editorial, I was surprised to see that the essay was actually about the feud between Apple and RealNetworks over RealNetwork’s desire to compete with Apple’s iTunes service by providing downloadable music for Apple’s popular iPod MP3 players.

What does this have to do with the digital divide? Absolutely nothing, of course. The editorial is taking a position on a digital copyright dispute, not the gap between communities regarding Internet access and ICT skills. The editors at the NY Times label the dispute between Apple and RealNetworks as “a digital divide,” but is this type of editorial license watering down public discourse on the traditional notion of the digital divide?

The term “digital divide” has been around for about a decade. Policymakers and technology activists involved in universal service discussions during the first Clinton administration used the term quite often, though general amongst themselves. (Interestingly, one of the oldest references I’ve been able to find on the Internet about “the digital divide” dates from a December 1995 post to a Grateful Dead USENET group regarding switching from analog to digital tape recorders to capture Dead concerts. But since this pre-dates common use of the term, I won’t begrudge the Deadhead.)

Meanwhile, writers such as Amy Harmon of the LA Times, Andrew Poole of the NY Times, and author Dinty Moore started to pepper their work with the phrase as well. By 1996 Clinton and Gore began using it in their speeches on the issue. (Gore actually beat Clinton by six months when he rreferred publicly to the digital divide on May 29 of that year in a ceromony for blue ribbon schools:

We’ve been working with them, and we’ve tried, at the president’s
direction, to make certain that we don’t have a gap between information
haves and information have-nots. As part of our Empowerment Zone Initiative,
we launched this Cyber-Ed truck, a Bookmobile for the digital age. It’s
rolling into communities, connecting schools in our poorest neighborhoods
and paving over the digital divide.

By the late 90s, the term reached its peak in terms of usage by the media and by politicians, but it’s been used less and less in recent years, particuarly by US politicians, in no small part because the concept of a digital divide runs counter to certain policymaking priorities. In other words, if you’re the president and you acknowlege there’s a digital divide, it makes it a lot harder to propose cutting federal digital divide initiatives like the CTC Program and the Technology Opportunities Program, as has been the case several years in a row. So if you try to visit www.digitaldivide.gov, which used to be the US government’s virtual homebase for digital divide policy, you now get, well, nothing.

Today, the term “digital divide” is still used quite actively outside the United States; when you search for the term on Google News, most of the stories nowadays are connected to activities in the developing world. You’ll still find domestic US stories, of course, but not in their previous numbers.

This brings me back to my original question: when media outlets like the New York Times use the term “digital divide” in a way that’s totally irrelevent to issues of technology equity, poverty, literacy and civil rights, are they doing the “digital divide movement” a disservice?

In the last year or two I’ve seen news stories use the term to describe things related to the use of electronic signatures, adoption of smart cards by banks, copyright disputes, MP3 player cross-compatibility and other issues that generally have nothing to do with the digital divide.

Of course, one single editorial by the New York Times won’t suddenly turn the rhetoric of digital divide activism on its head, but I worry that the more we see the phrase being used to talk about iPods, credit cards and other things, the less meaning the term will have for the general public, for policymakers, donors and others who are in a position to help all communities gain access to technology and ICT skills, no matter their income, education level, ethnicity, location or ability…. -andy

August 25, 2004

JibJab Fans Rejoice: “This Land” Was Made for You and Me

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 11:04 am

According to a story from Wired News, the folks who created the popular JibJab parody of President Bush and John Kerry are no longer under threat of lawsuit for using the Woody Guthrie song, “This Land is Your Land.”

JibJab, whose Flash animation of Bush and Kerry mocking each other became the talk of the cybertown last month, found itself being sued by Ludlow Music, which owns the Woody Guthrie catalog. Now, though, it seems they’ve reached a settlement, possibly due to the small fact that “This Land is Your Land,” apparently, lapsed into the public domain years ago when Ludlow failed to renew its copyright properly. Woops.

The Ludlow execs stand by their ownership of the song, but settled with JibJab nonetheless. JibJab can keep using the song to their heart’s content while agreeing to donate a portion of any profits generated from it to the Woody Guthrie Foundation.

Even if fact-finders at the Electronic Frontier Foundation hadn’t found the evidence establishing the song’s position in the public domain, I simply don’t see how Ludlow’s lawsuit could have stood much of a chance. The creative team at JibJab had argued, quite reasonably, that their song was an obvious political parody, and thus was not held to the same copyright standards as if they’d taken someone’s song and sampled it for profit, Vanilla Ice-style. Meanwhile, the Ludlow lawyers took the position that “This Land” needed to be licensed for use because it was satirizing Bush and Kerry, not the song itself.

“You can’t just take someone’s copyright and use it for some other purpose,” Paul Licalsi told Wired last month. “A true parody is a work that uses a portion of a copyrighted work in order to criticize or comment on that work. It’s the same principle under which you can quote a book, if you’re writing a review of a book, without getting a license. Something is not a parody when there is no function of critique or comment on the original work. I think it’s clear here that that is the case in the JibJab version of This Land.”

I find this argument ludicrous. The publishers were taking the position that “true” parodies could only critique the original song in question — using only a portion of the song at that — while parodies that used a song as a vehicle for satirizing something else needed the song owner’s permission. The whole point of parody is to take something – a song, a story, a photo, and represent it another way to offer social commentary. Considering that I can’t think of any songs in our popular repetoire that laud either Bush or Kerry, satirists would be hard pressed to find a Bush or Kerry song in which to parody in the first place.

Even Woody Guthrie himself would have sided with Jibjab, it seems, assuming the following quote attributed to him is legit: “This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Either way, though, it appears the issue is settled. Jibjab’s parody of the song will live on — not that it could have ever been totally removed from the Internet.

This land may be your land, but the public domain was made for you and me. Oh, and for Dick Cheney, too… -andy

August 17, 2004

A Capital Decision by Wired’s Grammar Posse?

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 11:05 am

It’s official, folks: the Internet is no longer the Internet.

According to Wired.com, the Internet is actually the internet. And the Web is the web and the Net is the net.

In an editorial published yesterday, Wired copy chief Tony Long writes that it was high time for these terms to lose their capitalization. “The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words,” Tony explains. “Actually, there never was.” Essentially, words like Internet, Web and Net have become a part of our mundane lexicon, so changing them to internet, web and net shows that the medium is being brought down to earth like media of the past.

Tony continues:

But in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.

I did a double take when I read this paragraph; when he refers to moveable type, I immediately thought of the blogging tool. No, wait a sec – he must mean movable type, as in the Gutenberg Bible. (Oh… That movable type….)

I totally see what Wired is trying to do. But the problem with “Web” and “Net” is that both of these words have other meanings that predate the Internet by hundreds of years (as in spider’s web, fishing net, choose your favorite).

Capitalizing Web, the Internet and Net always made sense to me, but perhaps because I’m old enough to remember life before the Net or the Web, and still see them representing a new kind of place — perhaps not a geographic place, but a virtual place nonetheless. It’s everywhere, it’s nowhere, but it still strikes me as a place. And if Newark or Hollywood or Yeehaw Junction, Florida still merit being capitalized, why not the Web, the Net and the Internet? (Even Wired still plans to continue capitalizing the World Wide Web, which suggests there’s something about it that makes them feel it’s a proper noun.)

The Internet may feel like it’s been around forever, but it’s still a growing, evolving medium. De-capitalizing the words to describe it suggests that the revolution is over — let’s revel in its normalness. But we’re just beginning to figure out the true impact of the medium, and there still are millions of people who’ve never even experienced it in the first place. For people on the wrong side of the digital divide, the Internet is still a capital concept. (Which raises the question, should “the digital divide” be capitalized or not? But let’s save that for another day.) And as my doubletake with “moveable type” in Tony’s editorial shows, capitalizing proper nouns, including brands and places, can help avoid confusion over words that have different meanings depending on whether the context is the virtual world or the physical world.

Perhaps we need a compromise: capitalize them when preceded by an article. The Web. The Internet. The Net. But when they’re adjectives, we could keep them lowercase. A web page. Engaging in internet commerce. My net provider. Why? Why not? If Wired magazine can choose to capitalize World Wide Web but not web, then I can write, “I have a website on the Internet” and feel not a wit of grammatical shame.

Then again, maybe it’s just that I like the Web as the Web and the Net as the Net, no matter where I put it in a sentence.

My blog, my grammar. Call it blogitorial license if you must — and feel free to capitalize it…. -ac

August 16, 2004

Warner’s Lame Foray into the MP3 Blogosphere

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 11:06 am

Today’s NY Times has an interesting article entitled “Warner’s Tryst With Bloggers Hits Sour Note” which offers a important lesson for big corporate record labels on how not to ingratiate themselves with the blogging community.

Last month, the suits at Warner Brothers Music decided to reach out to MP3 bloggers — bloggers who specialize in sharing and discussing music — as a way of promoting a band.

“We are very interested in blogs and I was wondering if you could post this mp3,” a Warner staffer emailed the bloggers. “It’s by one of our new bands – The Secret Machines. They are an indie rock band and we would love for people to hear the band’s music from your site.”

Most of the bloggers ignored it, skeptical about the parley, particularly since the recording industry is actively suing the pants off MP3 file swappers. Other sites like music (for robots) posted it, hoping it was a sign that the industry was finally recognizing the importance of mp3 bloggers. “We’re glad that mp3 blogs are being recognized as a next step in the marketing ladder,” blogger Mark Willett posted on the site. “This is also exciting because big labels like this don’t commonly post mp3s — they sometimes have streams, but rarely downloadable content. So this is a new thing for everybody, and it’s pretty exciting.”

The story might have ended there, but then people started to post comments to the blog. Many of the comments questioned Warner’s methods and motives, but several anonymous comments supporting the record label stuck out like sore thumbs. An example:

“This track is amazing!! Thanks for letting us listen to it!! I never heard these guys before, but theyre awesome. I went to their website and you can listen to a lot of ther other stuff, very cool andvery good!

The teeny-bopper style and almost forcefully mistyped words were inconsistent with the comments usually posted to the site, so Mark Willett looked at their IP addresses, which identify the location of the computers that posted them. Soon enough, Willett realized the anonymous, pro-Warner comments were coming from the same computer that had contacted the blog about promoting the band in the first place – a computer at Warner Music.

The suits at Warner, apparently, had been caught red-handed, posting anonymous messages in defense of themselves. And now they’re doing their darnedest trying to put a positive spin on the situation, saying the anonymous comments simply may have been posted by employees enthusiastic about the band. “We’re not sitting here typing in message boards that the band is great,” a Warner rep explained. “But if somebody in the building loves the band, I can see them doing it. People at record companies are also huge fans.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out on music blogs in the coming days and weeks. The fact that the NY Times is covering it at least shows that some big media outlets revel in watching other media outlets fumble through the blogosphere like a middle-aged guy desperately trying to sound hip with a bunch of teenagers. Reminds me of the ’92 presidential campaign, when Bush 41 tried to connect with young voters by telling them how “far out” Clinton was. Still makes me shudder with embarrassment…. -andy

August 15, 2004

Yahoo Joins the RSS Aggregation Bandwagon

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 11:06 am

For those of you who have an account on Yahoo, you can now take advantage of a free RSS aggregator on your My Yahoo! page. If you’re not familiar with My Yahoo!, it’s a personalized Yahoo homepage that lets you receive your own selection of news, weather reports, etc. Now that they’ve added an RSS aggregator, you can add your favorite blogs to your personal Yahoo page. For example, you can add my blog to your Yahoo page. Clicking on the previous link will let you do this, as will clicking on the Add to My Yahoo! button in the left column of my blog’s homepage. The site will let you add as many blogs as you want to your personal Yahoo page, so it saves you the trouble of registering with other aggregating websites or using software to do it.

Of course, I could raise the question of why it took Yahoo so long to add a feature that could have been added five years ago, but hey, the Olympics have put me in a charitable mood today… -Andy

August 13, 2004

TechSoup’s Online Discussion on Nonprofit Blogging

Filed under: Blogging — Andy Carvin @ 11:07 am

Next week, August 16-20, the nonprofit online community TechSoup will host a week-long online discussion about the role of blogging in nonprofit organizations. It looks like it’ll be a really interesting event, and hopefully I’ll be able to participate for the first few days before heading down to Tampa for a long weekend. (And no, I’m not going there to gawk at the Hurricane damage — my cousin Serena is having her Bat Mitzvah…)
As part of their prep work for the event, TechSoup has published an interview with me about the history of my blog and the role of blogging in civil society. Check it out if you get a chance…. -andy

August 12, 2004

Quoted in Chicago Tribune Article on the Digital Divide

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 11:08 am

In today’s issue of the Chicago Tribune I’m quoted in the story Hispanic Market Targeted by AOL. The article talks about a new AOL business endeavor to sell low-cost computers bundled with Internet access, with a particular emphasis on Spanish-speaking households.

The reporter had contacted me to ask if cost was the only barrier for Latinos going online. I said it’s often a major factor, but not the only one. In particular, I talked about the challenge of finding culturally- and linguistically-relevant content; while Spanish-language content has increased dramatically in recent years, English is still the dominant lingua franca on the Net. For Latino households with limited English proficiency, this can be a major drawback. I also discussed the broader challenge of improving ICT literacy amongst Latinos and other minority groups; if you don’t know how to use a computer, having one available for a few hundred bucks isn’t necessarily very enticing.

Unfortunately for me, not much of the conversation made it into the article. That’s okay, though; a quote is a quote, as long as it’s not a misquote…. -andy

August 10, 2004

Kobe Bryant’s Accuser, Privacy and the Internet: No Harm, No Foul?

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 11:09 am

Tonight I was watching Anderson Cooper 360° on CNN; he interviewed a woman from Court TV who gave an update from the Kobe Bryant case. She talked about the accuser, saying she’d blown her chance of getting justice in criminal court by filing a civil law suit today. But what I found remarkable was how the reporter was so dismissive of the release of the accuser’s name. The Colorado court accidentally revealed her name on a website, then took it down; the reporter from Court TV described this as a “minor” mistake, adding dismissively, “No harm, no foul.”

It seems she’s under the impression that releasing a rape victim’s name on a court website for a brief period is not a big deal. But thanks to that one virtual indescretion, people ranging from fanatic Kobe Bryant supporters to porn peddlers to unscrupulous bloggers have all gone out of their way to advertise her name everywhere.

As I watched the interview on CNN, I jumped on my computer and googled a few obvious keywords. Within 10 seconds I had the woman’s full name, along with half a dozen pictures of her staring at me. I then went to yahoo and searched for her name: I came back with 24,000 hits. That’s not a minor breach of privacy, folks; the levee has broken and a flood of humiliation has engulfed the Internet.

No harm, no foul? From a jurist’s point of view, perhaps, but from a privacy advocate’s point of view, it’s a travesty. In an age of 24-hour news channels clawing their way to the top and bloggers (including myself) publishing whatever they feel like, rape shield laws and the privacy they offer are more important than ever.

No harm, no foul, says the pundit? My foot…. -andy

August 9, 2004

Geosphere: An Interactive Spinning Globe with a World of Possibilities

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 11:10 am

This weekend I discovered a fascinating interactive globe generator called the Headmap Geosphere. Geosphere will display a globe on your website, which you can spin in any direction by clicking on the globe and dragging your mouse. You can set your globe to display markers all over the globe; for instance, I’ve set up a personal travel globe to display places around the world for which I’ve published photo galleries or travel journals. If you click on a place marker, it’ll open the Web page you associate with it — so in my case, the links are to my galleries and travelogues. If there are several markers very close to each other, when you click on the group, the map will zoom in and give you a more detailed look, until you’re close enough to select one of the markers individually. Check it out below:


You need Java to see Globe Applet.

The Geosphere is currently being developed by a guy in California named Dav Coleman. It's an open source project associated with the developer website, Sourceforge.net. Dav has used the geosphere in some interesting ways; for example, he's created a globe mapping out anti-war protests last year. He wrote a perl script to extract the photo URLs and the cities from a website listing the protests.

Setting up the map was very straightforward. I know a bit of HTML, and I'm not a programmer, but I still managed to figure it out without too much effort.

First, I had to upload two applet scripts to a folder on my website -- in this case, my blog's home directory. These two scripts are normally available on the Geosphere page at SourceForge.net, but at the moment one of them appears to be missing, so if you want to get a copy of them, you can find them here:

http://www.andycarvin.com/GlobeApplet.jar
http://www.andycarvin.com/sjg_xml.jar

Save a copy of each of these scripts, saving them with their original names, then place them together in a directory on your website. These scripts will be used to generate the globe.

Meanwhile, you'll have to create a text file that lists all of the places you want to plot on your globe. This text file is basically an XML document with some very simple coding in it; if you view the source of my geocoding file you'll see a long list of latitude and longitude points, each with a URL and a title associated with it. For example, here's my geocode text file.

To make your own geocode file, create a text file called geocode.xml and paste the following into it:

<headmap>
<site latitude="x" longitude="y" href="LocationURL">LocationName</site>
<site latitude="x" longitude="y" href="LocationURL">LocationName</site>
<site latitude="x" longitude="y" href="LocationURL">LocationName</site>
</headmap>

The two <headmap> tags are used to identify the start and end of the data list. In between are three <site> tags, each used to plot an individual marker on your globe. In order for each <site> tag to work, you'll have to fill out the latitude, longitude, Location URL and Location Name. For example, here's the tag I used to link to my wedding photo gallery:

<site latitude="39.25" longitude="-76.43" href="http://edwebproject.org/wedding /gallery.html">Our Wedding, Stevenson, MD (2003)</site>

You then repeat the <site> tag as many times as you want, depending on how many points you wish to place on your globe. Be sure to type a carriage return after each tag, so they're all listed on their own separate lines. So if you run a project with team members in 10 different cities around the world, you'd have to repeat the <site> tag 10 times, each time adding the appropriate latitude/longitude, URL for the person and their name. A handy tool for identifying a city's latitude and longitude can be found at Astro.com. Interestingly enough, it's for horoscopes, but it's got a sizeable city database.

When your're done, your geocode.xml file should be saved in the same directory holding the two script files.

One last step: Cut and paste the source code from my globe page and save it as an html file. You can tinker with the code to change the title, the colors of the globe, background, markers, etc. The only required change is to update the line that says "codebase." This should point to the directory on your website where you're storing the two script files. In my case, the line says this:

codebase="http://www.andycarvin.com/"

because the two scripts are stored in that particular folder. But you'll have to update it; otherwise it'll display the markers on my globe, and how useful would that be? Once you've saved your HTML page, place it on your website and open it in your Web browser. If all goes well, you'll see your own private globe, with hyperlinked markers to your heart's content.... -andy

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