Regarding The Passing Of Aaron Swartz

As a testament of how much my job has been running me into the ground over the past several months, my recent appearance on Out Of Continues Episode 59, as much of a technical mess as it was, was where I found out about what happened to Aaron Swartz, a very passionate technologist and outspoken advocate for internet and information freedom who took his own life earlier this month.  I never really ran in too many of his types of circles techwise, but the minute I found out about his ties to RSS, that was something to tip my hat about.  RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, was one of those things that revolutionized the Internet by allowing for so many things that have made the Internet into a successful form of mainstream entertainment, such as podcasting, vidcasting, blogging, etc., to work.

For those who aren’t all that geeky, what RSS does (and this blog has an RSS feed) is allow you to use an RSS reader to subscribe to stuff, which flips the traditional model of the World Wide Web in reverse and makes things much easier.  In the early days of the web, you had to know what you wanted and know where to look to find the information you were looking for, usually accompanied with a ton of long page loads because things were via dialup back then.  🙂  I vividly remember those bad old days of trying to look online for stuff on my high school library’s clunky old computer with its 28.8k modem (not even 56k lol) that kept cutting me off with no message whatsoever so suddenly my Netscape Navigator web browser would just stop working (yeah – that long ago lol) and I’d think the Internet had broke.  😀

Search engines such as Google helped change that a bit but you still had to know what to search for, so the process still began with you, plus you had to know how to Google really well to get decent results.  RSS on the other hand finished that switch by allowing people to subscribe to stuff online and then have the option of having stuff delivered to them instead of having to go look for it every single time, so with news for example if I really liked XYZ News reports I could subscribe to their RSS and see the stories every time I opened my RSS reader instead of having to constantly go to their website and see if there were any new stories.

This alone gives me reason to tip my hat to the late Mr. Swartz, but his defense of internet and information freedom only multiply that several times over.  He was a big defender of things like Net Neutrality, opponent of things like SOPA and PIPA with their “chew the meat spit the bones” style of combining internet-crushing regulation with noble-sounding ideas like protecting US trade secrets.  So what happened to him?  Here’s Hak.5’s report on it.

What we had here was grey area on both sides.  Was what Aaron did with JSTOR right?  Was what the government did in response the right thing to do?   Depends on who you are in both cases.  One thing that I hope everyone can agree on though is that there is a war on to crush the freedom of information even in this so-called “Information Age.”  Our schools are infected with these philosophies and worldviews today that discourage critical thinking and thinking for oneself and even the concept of objective information, rights/wrongs, etc., instead focusing far too much on people’s subjective internal feelings and expression, until of course someone breaks a law and gets arrested, at which point their own feelings on whether certain “wrong stuff” is right goes completely out the window.  😛  We have legions of people, including politicians and other people who can vote on things, who don’t think for themself and can’t even debate a simple point.  Meanwhile also in society today are legions of lobbyists, other politicians, people with money, etc., who seek to take advantage of the aforementioned folks who don’t think for themselves or can’t articulate a point in civil debate to twist things in their favor.  …and in the middle of this?  Information – and its freedom – constantly in the crossfire.

I mentioned on Out Of Continues that if the state of internet and information freedom contributed to Swartz’s suicide I can see why.  Broadband, after a decade of progress going from dialup to broadband and limited to unlimited access is now under siege from power-hungry and money-hungry interests all over the place who want to limit what information can be seen online while squeezing every last penny out of people’s already near-empty pockets.  It’s almost like these people want this decade to undo the last decade or two and bring us back to the bad old days.  Will anyone stop them?  Depends on how many people out there know what’s really going on versus the bobbleheads who don’t think for themselves who get fleeced and patronized by the people causing all of these problems.  In any event though, with how things are today, if Swartz was in any way further depressed by this sort of stuff it’s rather easy to see why.

The only hope that any geek can have right now is that this man’s death won’t be in vain, and that the discussion of the old saying, “Information longs to be free” will fire up even more following these events.  =(

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Reputation Reputation Reputation…

Awhile back during the SOPA/PIPA debacle I was getting involved and even took part in the Blackout Day that Wikipedia and other big sites took part in, but one thing I didn’t do was post any of those Mike Mozart/Jeepers Media videos that were going around YouTube at the time.  Why?  Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it.  Prior to suddenly deciding to get all political on everyone, Mozart’s Jeepers Media channel was all about goofy toy reviews and rather lighthearted comedy videos like this.

How much did his style change when the issue changed from silly “fail toys” to the very serious issue of large companies possibly gaining widespread ability to censor the Internet?  Not at all.  Quite frankly, I think TotalBiscuit’s SOPA videos blew Mozart’s videos out of the water, and TB kept the tone civil when arguing against the sloppy censorship provisions of SOPA and PIPA.

So, if this guy is known for being chuckly and silly no matter what he talks about, what should I or anyone else think about that?  Just something to consider.  Sometimes how someone says something or who says it matters as much as what’s said to begin with.

The Price Of Recognizing The Value Of Individuals… =(

The aftermath of the SOPA/PIPA protests on Wednesday have served to galvanize the bleak reality that if you give a darn about the well-being of individuals odds are you’re going to wind up as an Independent in America’s political system.

Traditionally I come from a conservative background emphasizing individual merit, doing your best, working hard, making something of yourself, getting things done, and recognizing individual achievement over collective labels, not burying individual accomplishments in a mess of bureaucracy and collectivism and recognizing that human beings should be more than just another number in the system.  Sadly, the tech issues that have landed in Washington over the last decade have seen to it that people like me have no place in any predefined political group.

Let’s take the Democrats for example.  I should theoretically hate everything they do because I hail from a more conservative background right?  After all they’ve traditionally been big fans of social engineering and collectivist stuff in America, BUT the pro Net-Neutrality stance of tech-savvy Democrats helps individuals out against those large collective organizations known as the Telecom industry (or Tele-con industry as I like to put it) that has been out there squeezing more money out of people and stagnating broadband development in America for years.  Plus some of the green tech initiatives out there basically represent the implementation of various individuals’ good ideas and putting science to work, such as LED house lighting, power-saving flat panel TVs, and solar cookers, so why should I as a fan of technology auto-hate any green tech stuff just because it’s green?

Then there’s the Republicans, a party that for the past decade has drifted more and more into Identity Crisis Mode.  The loud GOP voices on C-SPAN nowadays are talking about “smaller government, controlling spending, helping create private sector jobs, letting Americans keep more of what they earn” etc.  Sounds good right?  Except what private sector jobs do they hope to create besides crappy McJobs so long as money keeps moving out of this country like water from a burst pipe?  Not to mention the Republicans can boast of having some of the biggest corporate shills (a.k.a. collectivists who value collectives over individuals) I’ve seen in the Net Neutrality debate who blatantly act like they’re paid off by Big Telecom companies so heck with the individuals they’re supposed to represent.  Then you have Lamar Smith who was one of the big pushers of SOPA, blatantly coming up with anything he could to keep pushing for it even though under his own piece of legislation he could’ve ended up liable for the very things the bill opposes.  Plus the Bush years in the 2000s showed us that Republicans can spend money we don’t have all over the place too.

The recent surge in Libertarianism is probably the worst.  Just take the problems with the Republicans and jack them up even more, especially the trend to ignore real world results in favor of theoretical rhetoric.  For example, check out this recent article from an Institute Of Justice blog which tries to frame the SOPA/PIPA debate as a matter of whether corporations have rights or not.  What?!  Then compare it to this posting from the Electronic Frontier Foundation which catches MPAA head honcho Chris Dodd (and one of my state’s former senators) framing SOPA/PIPA as a mere dispute between different types of corporations.  On one hand, making everything all about collective organizations and ignoring the individual part of it.  On the other, a supposedly pro-individualist Libertarian group doing the exact same thing in one of their blog articles by skipping any discussion of how SOPA/PIPA is about individuals.  One of the critiques of the Libertarians is that they’re just a bunch of paid-off fringe extremists who want corporations to be able to run amok by shrinking the government until it becomes helpless to stop private sector corruption.  I’d like to think that’s not what it’s about but these eerily similar gaffes between these allegedly very different folks isn’t helping any.  :-\

For the record, the uproar about SOPA/PIPA is not about collective entities of any kind.  It’s not about corporations having or not having rights or the government censoring the Internet.  It’s about INDIVIDUALS!!!  Even the tech industry companies who oppose SOPA/PIPA are ultimately doing so because INDIVIDUALS are who they do business with and why they even have a growing business in the first place.  Google is what it is because lots of INDIVIDUALS have made Google the huge search engine that it is, as well as using Google Docs and other cloud applications they’ve come out with, plus Picasa, Google Earth, Google Chrome, etc.  YouTube’s also under the Google umbrella – another site that owes its existence and popularity to INDIVIDUALS.  Reddit, eBay, Craigslist, Wikipedia, Social Media sites, and various other Web 2.0 companies are what they are because of INDIVIDUALS.  It’s individuals that have benefitted from the free and open information that has created these industries and driven the Information Age to become what it is.  It’s individuals that were the reason why the Founding Fathers gave a darn about individual rights and created a nation centered around the value of individuals as opposed to the social strata of the Old World.  That’s not the way things are nowadays though.  There’s so much collectivism sneaking into both major parties these days that I might as well just register for parties to vote in primaries and that’s about it.  :-\

I give a darn about people, and I give a darn about technology.  Unfortunately, with how things are today, not only is giving a darn about people and technology a liability instead of an asset, but it makes you an outsider in America’s political system.  So be it then.  =(

January 18, 2012 – Take A Stand Against SOPA and PIPA

The YouTube channel has gone dark in solidarity with various other sites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Stop The Cap, etc., as well as various other YouTubers who oppose abuse-friendly legislation such as SOPA and PIPA, along with other sites like Google and the Consumerist that have remained operational but are still protesting.  I’m thinking for my specific blackout I may even go longer than 24 hours and not start putting everything back online until I get up on Thursday morning.

The reason so many sites are doing this is to paint a picture of what the Internet could end up looking like if these bills were signed into law.  The biggest problem I have with SOPA and PIPA is they’re written so badly that no doubt the minute they’re signed into law some attorneys for the large companies that are supporting them will no doubt spring into action using them to the companies’ advantage.

A badly-written law is a tyrant’s best friend because sometimes everything comes down specifically to what’s written in it.  We’ve seen this on YouTube with the abuse of the DMCA that some malicious individuals have engaged in where they either pretend to represent a company they’re not affiliated with or come up with a fictitious company name in order to get someone’s videos taken down or a channel shut down.  Sure there’s systems in place to combat abuse, but the system royally favors the accuser over the accused, and the website admins have a compelling interest to treat the accused as guilty until proven innocent because of the terms of the law and that’s usually what happens.  Nevermind the fact that it’s a federal crime to abuse the DMCA’s takedown provisions, some people and/or organizations will abuse this sort of stuff because the whole guilty-until-proven-innocent thing makes it so easy to abuse.

SOPA and PIPA will pick up where the DMCA left off where sites can be held accountable just by being accused of hosting or otherwise linking to infringing content.  If you think this sounds like some kind of techno-legal witch hunt you’re absolutely right.  The very concept of “innocent until proven guilty” that we Americans tie to the proper rule of law essentially goes out the window with easy-to-abuse laws like this.

Another thing I’m fanatically opposed to is felony streaming provisions that have shown up in these laws whereby streaming copyrighted content constitutes a felony punishable by prison time.  The question is, what is streaming, and how easily can a well-meaning citizen accidentally do it?  There’s enough leeway in there to include even what most folks wouldn’t consider unlawful streaming of copyrighted content.  For example, let’s say someone’s singing a pop song into a hairbrush to show off their singing skills on YouTube.  The song is copyrighted, so even though the person’s singing it and not the individual artist, copyrighted material is technically streaming over the internet without the owner’s permission.  Then there’s background music like if someone recorded their kid opening a Christmas present on Christmas morning with the radio playing songs in the background.  Even though it’s blatantly not someone maliciously copying music via the internet, that song’s still copyrighted, so the video uploader has just streamed copyrighted content.  Something else to consider is graphics, like if someone used a smartphone cam to videotape their friend cheering a baseball team at a baseball game and their friend was wearing a baseball cap with the team logo on it.  Logos are copyrighted, so that counts as streaming copyrighted content too.

Now imagine if any of the people in these examples were arrested and sent to prison under this law because after all they’ve engaged in unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content.  Now because they sang into a hairbrush, had a radio going in the background, or videoed their friend with the baseball hat on, they now have a felony and a criminal record and now have to explain that for the rest of their lives anytime they try to get a job and the application asks if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.  It’s hard enough to get a job in this country as it is with our horrendously broken economy despite people saying the recession ended in 2009.  Now imagine what that would be like if you had to explain that you got thrown in jail because way back when you were 16 you sang a song on YouTube.

Does this sound like America to you?  Most certainly not.  Americans who want to do the right thing should not have to live in perpetual fear of a technicality in some law landing them in boatloads of trouble that affects the entire rest of their lives.  Then of course you have the naysayers who’ll say, “Well if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.”  No.  That’s not America either.  Plus we’ve already shown here how “just behave yourself” won’t work because some people can inadvertently end up having done the wrong thing if the law’s written badly enough.  The kind of power these bills would give to the industries that support them would go completely against America’s traditional stands for individuals.  You don’t give massive power to people on top and then hope and pray they never abuse it.  Our Constitution was designed to limit those in power over us and hold them to only what they were authorized to do.  The private sector should follow suit and not be given carte-blanche authority to engage in a corporate witch hunt that ruins people’s lives.

Badly-written laws are a tyrant’s best friend.  Let us remember that as these protests continue on this day and any future days as well.

This will be the only blog entry I type until the YouTube channel is brought back online.