Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Category: Tech Page 1 of 10

Transparency Camp 2012

Just finished a weekend at Transparency Camp 2012.  As with lots of these types of conferences (PrivacyCamp and Freedom2Connect come to mind), I approach these as something of an outsider – I’m tech-curious, but by no means experienced.  In the end, I’m just a lawyer, and my expertise in methods often feels a world away from from the folks focused on APIs, datasets, and the latest visualisation tools.  They say API, and I’m all APA!  One of the big to-dos I came away with was to come to next year’s event prepared for a “I am not your lawyer, BUT . . . ” session.

Still, I felt it an incredibly worthwhile expenditure of my time.  I feel like we’re hitting the hook on the hockey stick graph, with progress shooting up as we get more people that “get it” in government* and as we simply get more quality work out of those working with the datasets.   CivicCommons.org?  Sweet.  OpenPlans?  Yes, please.  MapBox?  Wow.

One of the biggest things?  I was blown away by the amount of personal time and effort put into making tools for better government.  All sectors benefit, to some extent, from the personal contributions of people involved with them.  But there were people who had flown from the other side of the planet, on their own dime, to participate in a conference so they could invest yet *more* personal time in something that would ultimately benefit more people than would ever be able to thank them.  I’m not sure that’s sustainable, but damn is it encouraging.

Finally, I want to give some shouts to some local gov’t folks that showed up to this.  Montgomery County’s Hans Reimer led a great session on day one.  Alexandria’s Craig Fifer not only killed it with chicken, but did a great job in presenting on the myths and truths of pushing for transparency in local government.  There were also some DC .gov folks there, but I sadly didn’t get too much of a chance to interact with them.  And really, I regret not roping any Arlington County folks into this, but you can be sure I won’t make that same mistake twice.


*I don’t have enough experience that I could honestly defend challenges to this premise that went more than a few rounds, but . . . man, the gov’t folks I see attending this conference now?  Exponentially more with it than the folks I encountered in my municipal broadband days (’03-05).


Space Shuttle Discovery in DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flies Over DC

Took the morning off to shoot the DC fly-by of the Space Shuttle Discovery on its way to Dulles.  I’d originally planned to head to DUlles, but changed my mind at the last minute, deciding that the Air Force Memorial would be the perfect spot.  Here’s a slideshow of the results.

Shot it with a 70-200 f/4, which gave me some nice pictures like the above.  Still, if I’d really wanted to manage some better context to the photos, I should have gone with something wider right under the Air Force Memorial, and perhaps rented a 400 prime to get it as it passed the Washington Monument & Capitol.  In the end, my favorite shot of the day from others?  Is a silly little Instagram photo.

So. We Need to Talk.

Remember the last time we got together, you and me? Yeah, I’m a little fuzzy on the details, too. And . . . man, this is an awkward conversation I never really wanted to have. I’ve always been careful, and want to be up front about things. But, well . . .

Look. Someone else I know kind of had a weird experience recently, so I decided to get checked out. Turns out I had a bit of a problem.

Now, there’s no guarantee that you’ve got a problem, too. I was just a carrier, and never suffered any symptoms. But you should probably get yourself checked out.

I’m sorry. I really am.

Now let’s never talk about this again.


[I really hope that it’s clear that I’m talking about this site having been compromised by an iframe attack, and that it has resulted – in at least one instance – of a reader getting a virus. So really, make sure you’re all scanned up. And please accept my sincere apologies if this caused a problem for you, too.]

“Free Public Wifi”

Heard a similar story on the radio this weekend, and found it such a lightbulb moment that I thought it was worth passing along:

If you travel a fair bit, as I do, you’ve noticed at almost every airport that there’s an “ad hoc” (i.e., computer-to-computer rather than computer-to-WiFi) option called “Free Public WiFi.” It seems to be everywhere. I’ve never connected to it, because I know enough not to connect to an ad hoc offering, but I was always amazed at the fact that I see it in pretty much every airport I’ve been to. I had wondered if it was a honeypot scam for a while, but I couldn’t believe that scammers would be able to set up such honeypots in so many airports worldwide and no one would catch them and take it down. So how could there be such “Free Public WiFi” (which obviously was not what it claimed to be) in so many places?

The answer? Well, it’s all Microsoft’s fault.

Read on for the details.

Travel Bits (Bite-sized!)

I don’t like checking luggage.  At all.  And I don’t see why 90% of the people that do it, do it.  No need to check a thing, with a bit of planning, willingness to absorb astronomical hotel laundry charges (or – my usual choice – do your own damn laundry), and purchase of quality clothes in the the first place.  As my kitchen-sink packing friends can attest, I’m quite proud of multiple-continent-multiple-week trips accomplished with a laptop backpack and a medium duffel.  So, all that out of the way, these guys are nuts:

In what is potentially the most minimal “technomadic” experiment ever, Rolf Potts (author of one of my favorite travel/lifestyle books Vagabonding) has set out on 6-week, 12-country, round-the-world trip without a single piece of luggage.

That’s a bit of a promotional gimmick, but this guy appears to be serious:

How to take as much as you like in your hand luggage from Matador Network

He’s also a great illustration of the tragedy of the commons – his carry-on antics squeeze out  folks who would just like to put their bags in the overhead.  On the other hand, if you’re flying Ryan Air, you’re just asking for this kind of company.


Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you pack, but what you pack:

The Immigration Officer swiped my passport, glanced at his computer screen and almost immediately stamped me back into the country. But just before I started to walk away he asked, “So you went to Afghanistan and Pakistan. How was it?” The only reply that I could muster up was a quiet, “Very interesting.”

He then called the next person in line and I turned away, relieved beyond belief at how well that had gone. Of course, that relief lasted a mere six seconds, right until the moment when a Customs Officer approached and asked me to step over to one of the inspection tables.

The following hour and a half of my life is a period of time that I will never forget and truthfully, never really want to endure ever again.

It’s a funny read.  If you’re into black humor.


Speaking of jokes, everyone hates the TSA.  Everyone.


A long long time ago, I used to be a WorldMate user on my Palm Treo.  At some point I decided it wasn’t worth upgrading, and stopped using it.  I just gave it another look, in Android version, and wow.  Good stuff.  Recommended.

Watching the Watchers? Not in Maryland

Gizmodo (of all places) does a good job of summarizing a creeping trend by law enforcement to use wiretapping laws go after citizens with the temerity to capture wrongdoing by law enforcement.   Gizmodo explains:

The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

Need an example?

A recent arrest in Maryland is both typical and disturbing.

On March 5, 24-year-old Anthony John Graber III’s motorcycle was pulled over for speeding. He is currently facing criminal charges for a video he recorded on his helmet-mounted camera during the traffic stop.

The case is disturbing because:

1) Graber was not arrested immediately. Ten days after the encounter, he posted some of he material to YouTube, and it embarrassed Trooper J. D. Uhler. The trooper, who was in plainclothes and an unmarked car, jumped out waving a gun and screaming. Only later did Uhler identify himself as a police officer. When the YouTube video was discovered the police got a warrant against Graber, searched his parents’ house (where he presumably lives), seized equipment, and charged him with a violation of wiretapping law.

2) Baltimore criminal defense attorney Steven D. Silverman said he had never heard of the Maryland wiretap law being used in this manner. In other words, Maryland has joined the expanding trend of criminalizing the act of recording police abuse. Silverman surmises, “It’s more [about] ‘contempt of cop’ than the violation of the wiretapping law.”

3) Police spokesman Gregory M. Shipley is defending the pursuit of charges against Graber, denying that it is “some capricious retribution” and citing as justification the particularly egregious nature of Graber’s traffic offenses. Oddly, however, the offenses were not so egregious as to cause his arrest before the video appeared.

Here’s the video:


Now, there’s a longer video which shows exactly why this rider deserved to get a speeding (and perhaps Riding Like a Dumbass) ticket.  But wiretapping?  Seriously?  What an absolutely ridiculous abuse of the law.   Some in Maryland want to change the law, but so long as it’s accepted as a defensive weapon for the police, I don’t think we’ll be seeing that happen anytime soon.  Interest in more about this?  Go check out Photography Is Not a Crime.

Digital Due Process

For reasons quite related to my previous post, this Digital Due Process effort is a step in the right direction:

As part of a broad coalition of privacy groups, think tanks, technology companies, and academics, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today issued recommendations for strengthening the federal privacy law [the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986] that regulates government access to private phone and Internet communications and records, including cell phone location data.

It’s an interesting coalition of rights-advocates (who are focused on the privacy of the individual) and businesses (which would benefit from more clarity in the law insofar as it 1) reduces their costs in dealing with legal uncertainties, and 2) creates more confidence in cloud-based services). Specifically, they want to:

The group’s four recommendations focus on how to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law originally passed in 1986 before the World Wide Web was invented and when the number of American cell phone users numbered in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of millions. The group recommends that the legal standards under which the government can obtain private communications and records be clarified and strengthened in order to:

* Better protect the privacy of communications and documents you store in the cloud

* Better protect you against secret tracking of your location through your cell phone or any other mobile device

* Better protect you against secret monitoring of when and with whom you communicate over the telephone or the Internet

* Better protect innocent Americans against government fishing expeditions through masses of communications data unrelated to a criminal suspect

This is going to be a long-term project, and I think we can expect a lot of pushback from law enforcement (both declared and those in the intelligence fields who would rather exploit the existing grey areas).  But it’s a positive move.

Just Trust Us

This is just one of many reasons why you should be contributing to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

A couple weeks ago, Sen. Rockefeller partnered with Sen. Olympia Snowe to introduce a major revision to the bill that, among other things, made changes the emergency “kill switch” provision. The revision was adopted by the committee last Thursday and the bill was approved. It’s now ready for consideration by the full Senate.

The revised bill would require the President to develop an “emergency response an restoration” plan with the help of private industry and other government agencies, but it is vague enough that it does not actually limit what the plan can include. The President would still have authority to declare an emergency and implement the plan without first seeking congressional approval, though he would have to report to Congress within 48 hours after declaring an emergency. The revised bill also doesn’t require the plan to be made public, so it could potentially give the President the same authority to restrict internet access as the original bill did, just without being explicitly and publicly stated in the legislation itself.

I’m sure people like former DNI Mike McConnell will trot out their cyberscare stories (see this great piece on how anyone using “cyber” is usually full of it.) declaring just how essential it is that we lock down the Internet.  Not too long ago, McConnell was out pushing this line:

We need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace, identify intrusions and locate the source of attacks with a trail of evidence that can support diplomatic, military and legal options — and we must be able to do this in milliseconds. More specifically, we need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment — who did it, from where, why and what was the result — more manageable. The technologies are already available from public and private sources and can be further developed if we have the will to build them into our systems and to work with our allies and trading partners so they will do the same.

Wired’s Ryan Singel helps clarify that:

Re-read that sentence. He’s talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation if the U.S. government doesn’t like what’s written in an e-mail, what search terms were used, what movies were downloaded. Or the tech could be useful if a computer got hijacked without your knowledge and used as part of a botnet.

Yeah, I think I’m going to pass on the advice of industry players that have devoted their lives to concealing the truth from the public.  I just fear that they’ll be as successful with this effort as they have been before.  That is, they never do manage to actually conceal the truth.  All they need to do is convince enough of the generally-uninterested public to trust their version, and the public will go along with it.  And, for the most part, that’s been a massively successful strategy.   I used to think the Internet would help put an end to that.  But more and more it looks like that might help put an end to the Internet.

Bing’s Mapping Projects

I really had no idea that Bing was doing any of this.

I’m in awe. It makes me want to create a million things.

World’s Fair Use Day

It’s World’s Fair Use Day! Err, what’s that?

World’s Fair Use Day (WFUD) is a free, all-day celebration of the doctrine of fair use: the legal right that allows innovators and creators to make particular uses of copyrighted materials. WFUD will take place at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday January 12, 2010, and will be organized by Public Knowledge (PK), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit, consumer-advocacy group. PK works to ensure that communications and intellectual property policies encourage creativity, further free expression and discourse and provide universal access to knowledge. As part of its campaign to return balance to copyright law, PK hopes to use WFUD to educate the public about the importance of fair use in an information society.

That’s where I’ll be all day. Sound interesting to you? You can watch the proceedings below, and participate via the connected chat and Twitter hashtag (which I expect will be projected behind the speakers for most of the day).

(moved embed to the flip b/c it’s autoplaying)

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