STRIKE AGAINST SOPA and PIPA, Do Not Stand for Internet Censorship

Today, we are striking against censorship. Join us in this historic moment: tell Congress to stop this bill now!

Go to the website by clicking here to send an email to your representatives in Congress. While it only takes a moment of your time, you will see continuing rewards from helping to maintain a free and open Internet experience for yourself, your friends, your family, and all other netizens.

UPDATE: Below are screenshots of some of the protest home pages by companies against SOPA/PIPA:

Firefox Start Page

American Censorship Day, Tell Congress that You Don’t Want the Internet Censored!

Today is the ad hoc American Censorship Day. Why? A committee in the House of Representatives has stacked their deck of experts 5 to 1 in favor of the SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act. Even though this law could radically change the way the Internet works in the US (so that it can be restricted in the same way that it is restricted in China, Iran, and Syria), many congressional members support this law and they do not want public dissenting voices to be heard during committee. Techdirt has coverage of the hearing today here.

SOPA and Protect-IP are intended to put the thumbscrews on online discussion, fair use, and entrepreneurship. This infographic explains the potential effects of the bill if made law.

This is another example of our elected officials catering to outmoded big business. Big media wants to consolidate its control over the Internet, because those companies are unwilling to adjust their business models to the here-and-now. Instead, they want to flex their money-muscle and reconfigure the Internet so that they remain on top. I suppose this is the logic of capital. Increased regulation helps diversify the market, which leads to benefits for consumers. Conglomerates and virtual monopolies do not want this. Instead, they want to solidify their own position by hijacking the democratic process and putting laws in place that not only gives them added control over the primary medium of discourse but also further criminalizes previously non-criminal acts.

Go to the American Censorship Day website here, and send an email (or even better–call them!) letting your representatives know that you are against SOPA/Protect-IP.

I’m Not Sure Mark Millar Gets the Whole Internet Thing

After Frank Miller wrote some nasty things about OWS and other things on his blog [something that I wrote on yesterday here], a lot of folks went on the attack. Fellow comic book writer Mark Millar responded on his website:

It’s strange to watch your favourite writer getting strips torn off him for a couple of days.

Politically, I disagree with his analysis, but that’s besides the point. I wasn’t shocked by his comments because they’re no different from a lot of commentators I’ve seen discussing the subject. What shocked me was the vitriol against him, the big bucket of shit poured over the head by even fellow comic-book creators for saying what was on his mind.

Obviously, it’s within their rights to exercise the First Amendment as much as it was within Frank’s to make the original point. But there’s something so distasteful about that cyber-mob mentality that revolts me.

[via Millar’s messageboard here]

Disagreeing with Miller’s analysis is the point. We all take a risk posting things to the Internet–on our blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc. When we do put our thoughts on the Internet, they are recorded in a public space where there are others who read and respond to the things that we have written. This isn’t a mob–this is just the way the Internet works. The Net is a medium of discourse where people can exchange ideas and engage the ideas of others. From Millar’s perspective, the responses to Miller’s thoughts might be harsh, but it is exactly the right of others to call someone out when they say something boneheaded.

Of course, this calls me out for holding a certain politics, but this is one of the reasons why I run this blog. It is an expression of myself and my thinking about a variety of subjects including politics. Others have certainly called me out on my views, and I have responded to those criticisms. The Internet is a medium where these kinds of discussions, those I would consider constructive as well as those I would consider discouraging, can take place. It is a fascinating experience engaging others through the Internet.

In Miller’s case, I believe that he knows what he is doing with his hyper-conservative talk. Millar, on the other hand, should recognize that the Internet enables something deeper than a mob–at least people have to write their thoughts down rather than expressing their views with sticks and stones. There may be radical responses like calls for a boycott, but at least these responses develop through conversation.

TechCrunch Explains the Big Problems with PROTECT-IP

Now that the terribly draconian and Internet-breaking PROTECT-IP bill has made its way to the floor of the House, TechCrunch offers an explanation of the real problems with the bill here: Kill Switch. If you care about an open Internet, you should share the link to TC’s story with others. If you aren’t sure what this all means, it only takes a few minutes to scan TC’s article. If you want a broken Internet that gives corporations unfettered control over what is said and posted online, perhaps you should leave the Internet to us adults and go some time here.

xkcd Nails the Cloud on Head, Behind the Scenes of Cloud Computing with Black Hat

In Randal Monroe’s recent xkcd comic, The Cloud, the infamous Black Hat is the sysadmin of the “Cloud,” the catchall term for the distributed storage and computing resources now available on the Internet. Monroe posits Black Hat as the end product for all of the supposedly vast computing resources that comprise the great and mighty cloud.

The cloud used to denote the vast network of connections between the end user and distant computing resources such as a ftp server or web server. Now, the Cloud refers to massively distributed computing across dispersed data centers that provide computing time, storage, and online services [read more on Wikipedia here, and Ars Technica provides an excellent summary here]. In both cases, the cloud/Cloud refers to seemingly complex systems that “just work” for the end user to perform tasks or store off-site data. Before, it was about connecting two end points together via the cloud, and now, it is about computing that takes place “out there” in the Cloud.

Monroe’s comic reflects the danger of placing too much trust into the supposedly “too big to fail” Cloud. With resources bought and sold between Cloud providers, how do you know where your data is being stored? With these complex systems becoming increasingly complex due to technology and capital transactions, how do you know that your data is protected? And the appearance of Black Hat as the beginning and end of the Cloud also points to the fact that the Cloud has no allegiance. For example, there have been cases where Amazon EC2, a popular Cloud computing service, has been used by hackers for criminal exploits [read more here and here].

I am a proponent of local storage and personal backups. I augment this practice with distributed backup storage, but I do not want to give my computing storage over to a third party that can do down, lose data, or be unreachable for whatever reason. There are also privacy concerns about the safety of my data and questions about what third parties may do with your data (e.g., data mining, or ferreting out supposedly copied mp3s and deleting them).

Be careful about the terms and conditions of any Cloud computing service that you choose to use. I am interested in Apple’s iCloud service, but I want to do more research about their terms and conditions before I begin sending my data over.

I suggest taking a balanced approach to your own use of Cloud computing. Whether it is business, research, or personal, the stakes today are higher than ever if your data can be somehow commoditized by computing providers or hackers.

A UN Report Slams Democratic Countries for So-Called Three Strike Laws That Cut Access to the Internet for Supposed Copyright Violators

Ars Technica provides commentary on a recent UN report that comes down hard on democratic countries such as France and Britain that have punitive laws against online file sharers. These so-called Three Strikes provisions permanently cut an offender off from the Internet as a result of violating those nation’s copyright laws. The UN report calls these laws excessive. Read more here. Read the UN report as a PDF here.

‘World Wide Mind’ – Total Connectedness, and Its Consequences –

After reading Katherine Bouton’s review of Michael Chorost’s newest book, World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet, I think that this has to go on my reading list. According to the review, Chorost’s book is about the convergence of human minds through technological mediation. Read the full review here:  ‘World Wide Mind’ – Total Connectedness, and Its Consequences –

Online Plagiarism and Cybercheating Still Strong – 61.9% | Thoughts of a Neo-Academic

I found a link on this morning here to a blog post by Richard N. Landers titled Online Plagiarism and Cybercheating Still Strong – 61.9%. Landers does an admirable job discussing some of the recent findings by Neil Selwyn in his article “‘Not necessarily a bad thing . . .’: a study of online plagiarism amongst undergraduate students.” Landers notes the evidence in the article of undergraduate cheating facilitated by the Internet while raising some questions about the definitions used in the study. Nevertheless, Selwyn’s study appears to have produced useful information regarding the way students use the Internet to cheat as well as pointing to student attitudes about cheating.

Landers summarizes some of the results by the type of offense and then cheating by students in the major disciplines:

So how bad was it in Selwyn’s sample?  61.9% (757 students) admitted to engaging in online plagiarism.  59% copied a few sentences, 30% copied a few paragraphs, 12% copies a few pages, 4% copied entire documents, and 3% purchased essays.  22.3% admitted to engaging in such behaviors regularly.

Cybercheating rates were higher for males and for poor students.  Contrary to prior research, rates were higher for more experienced students.  Perhaps most interesting to me was the rate breakdown by field of study.  Here they are in rank order of prevalence of at least a few sentences copied:

  1. Engineering and technology (72%)
  2. Computer sciences and mathematical sciences (71%)
  3. Social studies (64%)
  4. Business and administrative studies (63%)
  5. Law (62%)
  6. Creative arts and design (61%)
  7. Architecture, Building and Planning (60%)
  8. Medicine (58%)
  9. Natural sciences (57%)
  10. Humanities (46%)

The amount of undocumented and uncredited copying is alarming to me as a teacher in the humanities. According to some of the anecdotal remarks by students in the survey, there appears to be little concern that those students who cheat are doing anything substantially wrong and that there is little chance of their getting caught.

I am not only concerned about the results of Selwyn’s study. I am also concerned about the discussion about his study on If you read the comments on linked above, many commenters do not see a problem with copying the work of others–particularly in classes that are not in their major. I would assume that most readers of would fall into the first two groups of the study with the greatest prevalence of cheating: engineering and technology and computer sciences and mathematical sciences. Furthermore, their comments seem to be anti-interdisciplinarity: i.e., there does not appear for many commenters any benefit from their work in non-major courses. They do not realize that all of these classes do in some way contribute to their overall development as a professional. All of our experiences do things to our brain, but only if we engage those experiences directly. If some subjects are largely ignored thanks to cheating in one form or another, then the student isn’t getting the developmental benefits derived from that course. Perhaps the meta-work done by non-major courses isn’t always directly addressed by all teachers, but those things take place regardless. Simply knowing how to code or design an IC does not make someone an ideal candidate as a programmer or electrical engineer. This is even more true for those students at Research I institutions that primarily produce candidates aiming for management and upper-level management positions. There are a variety of skills that are needed by these students, and their major coursework is only one aspect of the total package that their future employers will be looking for. In addition to raw skill development, the translateability of skills and experiential development on the brain may lead to unquantifiable changes in the individual’s brain that gives her or him an edge in their field of work and life in general.

I believe that Selwyn’s article and the discussion on Lander’s website and are pointing to larger issues than just cheating facilitated by the Internet. Perhaps there are systemic issues in the University that need to be addressed, and perhaps the interdisciplinarity of the humanities needs to be more fully developed and discussed so that students are more aware of why they need those extra classes and why it is important for those who cheat to participate in them rather than offload their responsibility through theft.

The Oatmeal’s “This is the web right now” Webcomic is Spot-On

If you haven’t kept up with what is going on in the tech world recently, you should read The Oatmeal’s latest set of comics linked below. This compact, graphical guide will get you up-t0-date on Facebook, Apple’s Ping, Tumblr outages, Groupon, Netflix, HTML, and the AT&T vs. Verizon drama. My favorite is the Tumblrbeasts, which have been kindly adopted by tumblr (see here).

This is the web right now – The Oatmeal.

Notes from Taiwan, postaday2011 is Difficult When Technology Strikes Back

Having no Internet access makes this whole postaday2011 thing rather difficult. However, we just got Internet access restored at Y’s parents’ house in Taiwan.

There is a reason why the Internet stopped working. Yesterday, Y and I wanted to clean up the computer desk by the front door of their house and we wanted to throw out an old ethernet cable that snaked from the first floor to her second floor bedroom. The ethernet cable was problematic to remove, because her parents had telephone work done in the house since Y was here last. The telephone installers took it upon themselves to zip tie Y’s self-installed ethernet cable to every fixture, plant, and other impediment to easy removal. Luckily, I had my Gerber tool with me, so I hacked and slashed my way to getting the cable removed.

Next, we had to clean around the computer desk area. This is by the front door of the house where they pull their car inside the front business area of the house. It is more dusty here, and there were many ethernet cables, loose power cords, and power bricks that led to nothing. There was also an extra power strip supporting these vampiric go-to-nothing power cords. I began pulling things out that weren’t needed, but apparently, I made a mistake by switching the ADSL modem’s power brick with another. Unfortunately, it was so close in size, power connector, and power output that the wrong power brick permitted the ADSL modem to turn on without alarm and indicate everything was normal except no link to the wide area network over the telephone line. We did successfully clean up the computer area, but we have been without Internet access since then.

We called Ba’s Internet service provider Hinet, and they sent out a repair technician this morning. He was very friendly and quickly discovered the problem after eliminating the line as an issue. He installed a new ADSL modem, and took the old one away with the wrong power brick. After he left, I hooked up our Netgear wireless router so that we could get back online with our iPhones and iPads. All is well again.

I find it hard to believe that a power brick incompatibability would cause the problem that the technician described. Also, I find it hard to believe that I would carelessly swap power bricks. However, I was covered in black, grimy dust (the humidity here turns dust into a thin mortar-like substance), so I could have slipped up while I was rewiring everything under the table. So, it may not really be the technology’s fault–just human error.