Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

January 30, 2006

Tunisia Trek: Exploring Ksar Ouled Soltane

Filed under: Video — Andy Carvin @ 12:21 pm

It seems that I’ll never run out of cool footage from my recent trip to Tunisia. I just found enough video to put together at least a few more pieces; I may make a series out of it if I have enough time.

tunisia trek

Tunisia Trek: Video from my visit to the Berber granary, or ksar, of Ksar Ouled Soltane. It’s the best preserved ksar in southern Tunisia, and was featured in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

January 28, 2006

Hoder’s NY Times Op-Ed

Filed under: Blogging — Andy Carvin @ 11:28 am

Hoder speaks during a Global Voices panel at the World Summit on the Information Society, November 2005.

As I reported earlier this week, Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan is in Israel to encourage better relations between Israelis and Iranians. This morning’s New York Times features an op-ed by Hoder lamenting how President Bush discouraged Iranians from voting in last summer’s presidential election, which resulted in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being swept into power. Hoder writes

The day before Iran’s ninth presidential elections last June, President Bush sent a discouraging message to potential voters. Iran’s electoral process “ignores the basic requirements of democracy,” Mr. Bush declared, and these elections would be “sadly consistent” with the country’s “oppressive record.” For Iranians, there was no mistaking the American president’s point: he was tacitly sanctioning the call that some Iranian exiles and activists had issued for an election boycott, based on exactly this logic.
An American administration that had called on other Middle Eastern populaces to vote in flawed elections greeted the Iranian electoral process with nothing but open disdain. It is worth revisiting this odd judgment call at a time when Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections has raised even more questions about Washington’s confused strategy of democracy promotion.
That’s right: with what appeared to be the endorsement of President Bush and dozens of American-backed satellite television channels that broadcast in Farsi, the disillusioned young people of Iran effectively took one of the world’s most closely watched nuclear programs out of the hands of a reformer and placed it into the hands of a hard-line reactionary.
Can anyone now doubt that Iranian elections, however flawed, really do matter? When Mr. Khatami came to power, his declared goals were to establish the rule of law, demand equal rights for all citizens and reconcile Iran with the world. He may not have succeeded in all of those endeavors, but Mr. Ahmadinejad has entered government with manifestly opposite priorities.

Congratulations on getting published in the Times, Hoder!

January 27, 2006

Blogging from Death Row

Filed under: Blogging — Andy Carvin @ 2:45 pm

Vernon Lee Evans, as pictured on his blog.

Meet Vernon Lee Evans. He’s a convicted killer. And he blogs from death row.
As noted in a recent Washington Post story, Evans is one of the only known death row inmates to have taken up blogging. He doesn’t have Internet access at prison, so he relies on a relay system: a volunteer manages the website, posting Vernon’s entries after he sends them by snail mail. The volunteer, Activist Ginny Simmons, also passes along questions from the public, allow Vernon to engage as an “amateur advice columnist,” as the Post article puts it.
Evans is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on February 6. His blog had been silent for much of the past year, but the flurry of activity prior to his execution may start things up again. Meanwhile, his blogroll is worth a look: the blog divides the links in three different categories based on whether they’re for the death penalty, against it, or neutral. There are several sites listed as neutral or against executions, but the spot for sites supportive of the death penalty is currently blank. Similarly, comments on the site from the general public are both for and against the death penalty, some being quite scathing against Vernon personally. It’ll be interesting to see if the site picks up more traffic due to the media attention it’s getting… -andy

Remembering “My Kennedy” – In Memory of the Challenger Astronauts

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 12:53 pm

Tomorrow’s the annivesary. January 28, 1986.
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years.
I was an eighth-grader at Hoover Junior High School in Indialantic, Florida. Like so many other kids in my community, I’d grown up with the space program. The launch pads of Cape Canaveral were only 40 miles north of our town, jutting out of Merritt Island, just north of the barrier island I called home.
I’d probably seen at least 20 of the previous space shuttle launches, going back to STS-1 in April 1981, when John Young and Robert Crippen piloted the Enterprise; the local newspaper even ran a picture of me awaiting that first launch, eagerly scanning the sky with my binoculars.
Growing up along the Space Coast, you couldn’t avoid a shuttle launch; if you didn’t happen to step outside to follow the contrail racing through the sky, the sonic boom would rattle the neighborhood so loudly it would set off car alarms. Our community was a part of the space program, whether or not our individual families contributed to it. My elementary school had been named after the Gemini program; our rival high school was Satellite High. The outdoor shots for “I Dream of Jeannie” were filmed just north of us at Patrick Air Force Base. My friend Todd Demetriades even had a life-size mockup of a Gemini capsule in his garage, left over from when a NASA engineer lived in the house; playing astronaut in that Gemini capsule was as good as it gets when you’re a 10-year-old boy.
Sometime during my lunch period at school that chilly morning in January, the space shuttle Challenger was expected to take off. Normally if a launch were taking place at this time, I’d cram down my lunch and wait outside to catch it from the start. Today, though, I wasn’t in a rush. It was ridiculously cold outside, to the point where there had been a frost warning the previous night for the orange crops, and I’d become so acclimatized to Florida weather that I didn’t want to be outside in such frigid temperatures. To make matters worse, I had a big test later that day and wasn’t particularly prepared, so I kept my head shoved in a text book while scarfing down lunch.
As lunch period wrapped up, I figured I’d poke my head outside just to see if the launch had been delayed. Stepping out the front doors of the school, a small group of people was staring upwards facing due north. I looked up, expecting to see the shuttle barrelling towards space, its contrail tracing gently through the sky.
What I saw, though, didn’t make any sense.
The contrail was shaped like a Y, as if two stunt jets had flown up in a tight formation and then parted in two directions. Then the contrails split again and again, a weeping willow-like fractal pattern splitting into hundreds of faint lines, all drifting slowly downward.
I walked back into the school, unable to process what I had just witnessed. Throughout the hallways, students wrapped up the final lunch period and were making their way back into class. There just seemed to be more commotion than usual. I made my way back to Mrs. Deppner’s French class when my friend Dave Wallack stopped me and said, “Someone just told me the shuttle blew up.”
I shrugged and told him it was crazy. My head still hadn’t processed what my eyes had just witnessed.
Sitting down in Mrs. Deppner’s class, I half-expected the period to begin as it always did. Instead, the school principal came over the PA system and announced, with great sorrow, that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded about a minute after takeoff. Most of the class sat there, stunned. A few students began to cry; some of them rushed out, no doubt eager to call home and check to see if their parents – NASA employees – were safe. I asked Mrs. Deppner if I could be excused.
I left the classroom and went straight for the small media lab at the school library. It was probably the only place in school outside the principal’s office that had a television, and I couldn’t sit in class not knowing what had happened. Every channel was covering the disaster non-stop, but it was all chaos – no one knew what caused the explosion or whether the astronauts could have survived. It certainly appeared that it was a fatal accident. I kept thinking of those hundreds of delicate contrails descending to the sea. Which of those weeping willow branches was the astronauts’ chamber?
I must have sat in the media lab for two, three, four hours. Who knows. Time became irrelevant that afternoon. At some point, my American history teacher, Mr. Deppner – my French teacher’s husband – came into the room. Normally a real jokester, Mr. Deppner was very somber, silently watching the TV with me. It must have been his planning period. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the TV. Mr. Deppner then grabbed his things and began to walk out the door. I looked back and we made eye contact.
“This is your Kennedy,” he said, closing the door as he left.

Soon enough, the school day had ended. There was no point in staying in the media lab any longer when I could get on my bike and go home. Stepping outside, I looked one more time in the direction of the weeping willow contrails. Incredibly, they were still hanging in the air, as if the explosion had occurred moments earlier. Normally, a shuttle’s contrail evaporates within an hour of takeoff, if not sooner. But the air was so cold and calm that particular day, it remained etched in the sky, as if to hammer home what had happened to anyone who had doubted it the first time around.
I’ve thought about the Challenger disaster many times since then; the events of that day were so formative to my teenage years that I even wrote my college entrance essay about it. The Challenger explosion was indeed My Kennedy. As the Kennedy assasination had been for my parents, the Challenger disaster one of those rare life-altering events for which you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing at that particular moment – whether you want to remember it or not.
In Memoriam:

  • Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee
  • Pilot Michael J. Smith
  • Mission Specialist Judith Resnik
  • Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka
  • Mission Specialist Ronald McNair
  • Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis
  • Payload Specialist/Educator Christa McAuliffe

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.

January 25, 2006

Searching for R2-D2

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 6:40 pm

Remember last November when I spent a week traipsing around southern Tunisia to put together an article about Star Wars tourism? Well, I’m proud to say that it’s featured as the lead story on the Associated Press asap website. The story grew from a simple article to a photo gallery and a pair of two-minute videos documenting the night I spent in Luke Skywalker’s house. I’m pretty happy with how the whole thing turned out; check it out when you get a chance. -andy

January 24, 2006

One-Man Peace Mission: Hoder Goes to Israel

Filed under: Citizen Journalism — Andy Carvin @ 8:27 am

This morning I got an email from Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan on the Global Voices email list saying he’s getting ready to travel to Israel as a citizen journalist. Hoder, as he’s known online, was born in Iran but is a Canadian citizen, allowing him to travel to Israel. However, the decision may make it very difficult for him to visit his homeland any time soon. Hoder writes

This is huge for me.
This might mean that I won’t be able to go back to Iran for a long time, since Iran doesn’t recognize Israel, has no diplomatic relations with it, and apparently considers traveling there illegal. Too bad, but I don’t care. Fortunately, I’m a citizen of Canada and I have the right to visit any country I want.
I’m going to Israel as a citizen journalist and a peace activist.
As a citizen journalist, I’m going to show my 20,000 daily Iranian readers what Israel really looks like and how people live there. The Islamic Republic has long portrayed Israel as an evil state, with a consensual political agenda of killing every single man and woman who prays to Allah, including Iranians.
I’m going to challenge that image.
There are many Iranian Jews residing in Israel now -including the president and the minister of defense. Many still speak Persian and love where they were born and raised. I’m going to talk to them and show Israel and Iran from their point of view….
As a peace activist, I’m going to show the Israelis that the vast majority of Iranians do not identify with Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, despite what it looks like from the outside.
I’m going to tell them how any kind of violent action against Iran would only harm the young people who are gradually reforming the system and how the radicals would benefit from such situation.

Safe travels, Hoder. I’ll be following your travels with hope in my heart and my fingers crossed. -andy

January 21, 2006

Carpet Waxing

Filed under: Video — Andy Carvin @ 9:47 am

Video of my recent adventure removing cat hair from a rug by covering the entire surface with duct tape and “waxing” it.

January 18, 2006

Fun With Vending Machines

Filed under: Sundries and Such — Andy Carvin @ 1:51 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how creative people can get when it comes to dispensing things from vending machines. Sure, we see vending machines selling soda, snacks and gum all the time, but why stop there?
Here are some of the more interesting vending machines that have come into my email/rss in-box in recent months:
Freedom Toaster vending machineOpen Source Software. Here’s a sweet machine I saw at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis. It’s like a regular old vending machine, except it burns open source programs for you. Called the Freedom Toaster, the vending machine is strictly BYOCD: Bring Your Own CD-Rom. You plug in your blank CD, select which open source tools you want, and it burns them to your disk. Almost a dozen Freedom Toasters have been deployed around South Africa. I imagine it won’t be long before commercially-minded vendors start doing the same thing with proprietary software; wouldn’t it be nice to run down the street and grab a Coke and the latest version of Mac OSX on your way to work?
iPods. Playlist has an interesting article about an iPod vending machine at the San Francisco Argent Hotel. Technically, it’s not a vending machine – it’s a Zoom Shop, according to the company that designed it. But it’s basically a cross between an ATM machine and a vending machine. You swipe you credit card, peruse the available items, and make your purchase. In this particular case, you can select from various iPod models and accessories, including noise-reduction head phones. A nice idea; I wonder if the machine takes coins.
Eggs. Yes, I know it’s not exactly high-tech, but why not? PhotoMann has been keeping track of funky Japanese vending machines for some time, but my favorite is still the egg vending machine. Considering there are vending machines that dispense hot food, I wonder if it could whip up an omelette for you? Just don’t rattle and shove the machine in case your eggs get stuck. -andy

Students Expose Sex Offender Through Wikipedia Research

Filed under: Edtech — Andy Carvin @ 11:01 am
Joshua Gardner

Mug shot of Joshua Gardner, AKA Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, 5th Duke of Cleveland.

Just when you thought there wouldn’t be any more national news stories about Wikipedia, here comes one right out of left field. As reported by ABC News, the WACK-a-Pedia blog and elsewhere. a group of high school students foiled attempts of a registered sex offender to enroll in their school by researching his background on Wikipedia.
Here’s what happened. A young man identifying himself as Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, 5th Duke of Cleveland, visited Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota three times trying to enroll as a transfer student. He had a “spot on” English accent and insisted on being called “your grace.” Students at the school had their doubts, so they began researching him on the Internet. They found Wikipedia citations regarding the Duke of Cleveland had been edited on several occasions by an anonymous Wikipedian – edits that were promptly corrected by other Wikipedians but still viewable in this Wikipedia edit history. They also found that someone named Joshua Gardner had created an entry for Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the person who had visited the school. Subsequent student research exposed Gardner to be their so-called Duke of Cleveland; he also happened to be a 22-year-old registered sex offender.
This case offers a fascinating example of Wikipedia use in the classroom. While many educators may poo-poo Wikipedia, the checks and balances set up for the site allow visitors to explore the detailed history of how an article is created and edited over time; without this data, the students might never have uncovered Gardner’s true identity…. -andy

Kenya’s Parliament Website: Too Embarassing for Public Consumption?

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 10:29 am

Internet users who happen upon the website of the Kenyan parliament will find a near-blank page with the terse message, “Thank you for visiting the Parliament Website. We are currently updating this site. Please bookmark this site and visit us shortly.” One might assume the problem is a hacked database, or merely an attempt to roll out a new website. In fact, the problem is embarassment.
As reported by the East African Standard by way of, the Kenyan parliament website has been shuttered since September because parliamentarians were embarrassed about the information published about them. What content shamed them so? Apparently their education backgrounds, hobbies and ages, among other biographical trivia. According to the article, the site was shut down after complaints that this information was “too sensitive” for public consumption.
The article goes on to compare Kenya’s closed door website policy with that of Tanzania and Uganda. Both countries embrace a more open approach to e-government:

They detail MPs’ employment history, political experience and special skills. The sites also tabulate MPs’ performance in Parliament in terms of questions raised and their contributions. The sites also contain a summary of development funds and ministry activities. Also posted on the sites are proceedings of committee meetings, which are still a closed-door affair in Kenya. The public is also given an opportunity to post comments on the websites.

The article stops short of criticizing the Kenyan parliament for its decision to shut the website. But it seems clear that the policy reflects a skittishness that borders on paranoid. While Uganda and Tanzania are now exploring e-goverment as tools for greater transparency and decreasing barriers between politicians and constituents, Kenya’s parliamentarians remain fearful of acknowledging they’re a few years older (or younger?) than they look, or they didn’t study at Cambridge, or they like to spend their free time reading mystery novels. Such basic biographical information is standard on almost every politician’s website. Even Turkmenistan’s President for Life, head of one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in the world, details his background on official government websites. According to the Turkmen Embassy in Washington, Saparmurat Niyazov was born in 1940, was orphaned at a young age, obtained an engineering degree, has two children and enjoys poetry, history, philosophy and music.
It will be interesting to see what the restored Kenyan parliamentary website looks like. What kind of information will Kenyans be able to learn about their elected officials? Hopefully there will be more discussion about the issue in the Kenyan press and blogosphere; if politicians are too ashamed to acknowledge their backgrounds and qualifications, how can they be expected to engage in open, transparent policymaking?

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