The Electronic Frontier Foundation is stepping up its open wireless campaign, which encourages people and businesses to leave their Internet connections open to the public, and offers advice on doing this safely and sustainably. As EFF points out, most WiFi networks are latent for most of the time, and there are a million ways that leaving your network accessible to passersby or neighbors can really help out, from emergency access during disasters to the urgent need to send an email, look up a phone number, or check directions. EFF's Adi Kamdar writes,
We believe there are many benefits to having a world of open wireless. Two of the big ones for us have to do with privacy and innovation.
Open wireless protects privacy. By using multiple IP addresses as one shifts from wireless network to wireless network, you can make it more difficult for advertisers and marketing companies to track you without cookies. Activists can better protect their anonymous communication by using open wireless (though Tor is still recommended).
Innovations would also thrive: Smarter tablets, watches, clothing, cars—the possibilities are endless. In a future with ubiquitous open Internet, smartphones can take advantage of persistent, higher quality connections to run apps more efficiently without reporting your whereabouts or communications. Inventors and creators would not have to ask permission of cell phone companies to utilize their networks, both freeing up radio spectrum and reducing unnecessary barriers to entry.
This movement is just beginning, but in a sense it has always been around. People, businesses, and communities have already been opening up their wireless networks, sharing with their neighbors, and providing an important public good. We want this movement to grow without unnecessary legal fears or technical restraints.
I really enjoyed reading a recent story in The New York Times Magazine about attempts to understand extreme longevity — the weird tendency for certain populations to have larger-than-average numbers of people who live well into their 90s, if not 100s.
Written by Dan Buettner, the piece focuses on the Greek island of Ikaria, and, in many ways, it's a lot like a lot of the other stories I've read on this subject. From a scientific perspective, we don't really understand why some people live longer than others. And we definitely don't understand why some populations have more people who live longer. There are lots of theories. Conveniently, they tend to coincide with our own biases about what we currently think is most wrong with our own society. So articles about extremely long-lived populations tend to offer a lot of inspiring stories, some funny quotes from really old people, and not a lot in the way of answers.
Buettner's story has all those elements, but it also proposes some ideas that were, for me, really thought provoking. After spending much of the article discussing the Ikarian's diet (it's low in meat and sugar, high in antioxidants, and includes lots of locally produced food and wine) and their laid-back, low-stress way of life, Buettner doesn't suggest that we'll all live to be 100 if we just, individually, try to live exactly like the Ikarians do. In fact, he points out that other communities of long-lived individuals actually live differently — Californian Seventh-Day Adventists, for instance, eat no meat at all and don't drink, and they live with the normal stresses of everyday American life.
What these groups do have in common, though, is a strong social infrastructure that ties people to each other emotionally and connects individual choices to a bigger community lifestyle.
Read the rest
While everyone is enthusiastically awaiting the return of NBC's Community this fall, news broke today that the network was delaying its fourth season premiere indefinitely. Now, when I first read this, my first thought -- and many probably thought the same -- was that NBC was screwing over Community, yet again. But, as it turns out, it's the total opposite. Instead of just taking it off the schedule, launching it into further obscurity so it can die a quiet death, the network wants to put the proper spotlight on it and spend more time marketing it.
NBC released a statement saying that their current lineup of new shows is benefiting from their attention, so they've chosen to shelf the premieres of both Community and Whitney, which were originally going to premiere next Friday.
"Without having to launch these comedies on Friday at this time, we can keep our promotion focused on earlier in the week; plus, we will have both comedies in our back pocket if we need to make any schedule changes on those nights. When we have a better idea of viewing patterns in the next few weeks, we will announce new season premieres of Whitney and Community."
So, it's very nice of NBC to spare Community from being overshadowed by all the marketing they'll be doing for their new shows. It's also amazingly ironic, considering how they have had Community on their channel for three years and barely promoted it at all, then wondered why the ratings were so bad, and then banished it to Friday nights next to one of its most reviled new shows. So, now they're going to take the time to promote it? I suppose that if it has to be on Friday nights, it's a good thing they're finally going to give it the attention it deserves. But isn't that like having an aunt who says you never, ever visit her, then when she ends up in the hospital and you realize she might die, you go see her once -- for your own peace of mind?
NBC -- your best fair-weather nephew. Check this space for the new premiere dates.
Photo credit: Trae Patton for NBC
NBC Delays 'Community,' 'Whitney' Returns [The Hollywood Reporter]
The WELL, the online community which started out life more than 20 years ago as the Whole Earth Lectronic Link, has been sold to a company founded by some of its long-time users. It has had many owners in its storied history, but its most recent owner, Salon, is the first public company to own the WELL, which raised numerous questions about whether Salon could legally sell the site to the users without trying to realize greater value for its shareholders, including through the sale of the well.com domain name.
Many WELL users have pledged money for a user buyout, and a group of them negotiated with Salon to make the purchase.
I have been a WELL user since the early 1990s, and have enormous affection and respect for the community there. Though I don't often use it actively any longer, my experiences there were formative to my understanding of the online world. Congratulations to the Well Group folks for navigating these waters. Below the jump I've included the press-release.
On John Scalzi's Whatever, a list of ten excellent rules for being a better commenter -- it's certainly stuff that I'll keep in mind the next time I leave a comment somewhere:
1. Do I actually have anything to say? Meaning, does what you post in the comments boil down to anything other than “yes, this,” or “WRONG AGAIN,” or even worse, “who cares”? A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.” It’s meant to be an addition to, and complementary to (but not necessarily complimentary of) the original post. If your comment is not adding value, you need to ask whether you need to write it, and, alternately, why anyone should be bothered to read it. On a personal note, I find these sort of contentless comments especially irritating when the poster is expressing indifference; the sort of twit who goes out of his way to say “::yawn::” in a comment is the sort I want first up against the wall when the revolution comes.
2. Is what I have to say actually on topic? What is the subject of the original post? That’s also the subject of the comment thread, as is, to some extent, the manner in which the writer approached the subject. If you’re dropping in a comment that’s not about these things, then you’re likely working to make the comment thread suck. Likewise, if as a commenter you’re responding to a comment from someone else that’s not on topic to the original post, you’re also helping to make the comment thread suck. On a busy blog or site, there will be many opportunities to talk about many different subjects. You don’t have to talk about them in the wrong place.
3. Does what I write actually stay on topic? As a corollary to point two, if you make a perfunctory wave at the subject and then immediately use it as a jumping-off point for your own particular set of hobby horses, then you’re also making the thread suck. This is a prime derailing maneuver, which I like to dub “The Libertarian Dismount,” given the frequency with which members of that political tribe employ it — e.g., “It’s a shame that so many people are opposed to same-sex marriage, but this is just why government has no place legislating relationships between people, and why in a perfect society government steps away and blah blah blahdee blah blah.” If you can’t write a comment that isn’t ultimately a segue into topics you feel are important, ask yourself why everything has to be about you.
Reddit user creates lost scene from Community in a video game, brings staff writer and fans to tears
Dan Harmon recently conducted an AMA on Reddit, in which he revealed that in the emotionally charged season finale of Community, "Digital Estate Planning," Chevy Chase didn't show up to film a scene that was partially told via an original 8-bit video game. Since it was the last day of shooting, it was their last chance to do the scene, and they lost it. So one Reddit user, Derferman, of /r/hawkthorne, created the scene and made it downloadable for everyone to play out the scene for themselves. Community writer Megan Ganz was positively verklempt and showed it to the cast this morning.
It is a full-on Community-Harmontown lovefest, kids.
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The always wonderful and thought-provoking Venkatesh Rao has a typically spot-on analysis of the ideology underlying the idea that we are heading for a world of either collapse or abundance. Along the way, he drops all kinds of great thoughts, like the Generalized Godwin’s Law: "Every discussion within an online community converges to a zero-information signal characterized by empty assertions concerning the foundational dichotomy of that community."
A resource gets cheap enough to waste when it is cheap enough that you can leave it out of the strategic cost calculations for most products and services that it is a part of.
This is a relative definition of cheap. Global shipping is an example of a wasteable resource today, for value-added manufactured goods. Relative to manufacturing and other costs, the costs of shipping something from China to the US (say) are so trivial that as a first approximation, you can ignore them. You can think about business models and strategic positioning issues without thinking about transport (your accountants still have to include it in their book-keeping of course). The design space for your business model shrinks in useful ways.
Not all resources are wasteable in all industries. Electricity is something you can waste in many contexts in the developed world, but not in the data center business, where it is a big enough cost component that it pays to locate data centers near cheap power.
This suggests a good measure for development actually. A nation or region is as developed as the resources its economy views as wasteable (in the good+strategic sense).
Coming on the tails of NBC's news that they'd be pursuing "broader" projects for their comedy lineup, Fox has announced that they're moving forward on a possible new sitcom being written by the former showrunner of Community, Dan Harmon. There aren't any details about the show yet, just that they've signed him on to write such a series, but is there a chance that Harmon will find himself more at home here than at NBC? Fox is, after all, the channel that brought us Arrested Development. Then again, they also canceled Arrested Development after just three seasons. But considering the shows they currently have on the air -- like Emmy-nominated quirkfests The New Girl and Raising Hope -- maybe Fox has seen the error of their ways?
And could Community pull a Buffy and find more success at a different network?
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Talk about those times when you really wish you could transport yourself to the opposite coast of a country for the nerdiest thing ever. There was a really fun-sounding panel for NBC's Community today, and it featured a reassuring quote from the new guys running the show, David Guarascio and Moses Port. You might recall that they were brought on when Dan Harmon was fired. Dan Harmon, the person responsible for creating the very specific, quirky voice of this hugely unique show. This show that is being banished to Friday nights following Whitney. Whitney. Whit. Ney. Here is what Guarascio had to say about preserving everything we love about Community:
"A couple of months ago, we were a lot like you: just huge fans of the show who thought it was one of the most special things on television," Guarascio said at the panel discussion. "Suddenly we're here, helping to keep it going. The only thing we care about is keeping it this weird, wonderful gem that it's always been. That's not gonna change."
Joel McHale went on to say that while it was going to be different moving forward with different people in charge of what he called "the greatest show in the history of television," he has confidence in them and vouches for their work.
"They're terrific guys and really good and a lot of the writers are back. So it's definitely like this strange transition time, but I'm still insanely excited to do the show. He [Harmon] will be missed and it's gonna be interesting to see how it all goes, but just talking to the writers -- they're breaking stories and they sound great."
But still -- no pressure. It's only the greatest show in the history of television.
As I mentioned last week, Salon has put legendary online community The WELL up for sale again. WELL users have been rallying around, pledging funds to a user buyout. The major stumbling block appears to be the domain name, which, with its health implications, is worth a large amount indeed. That said, more than $100K has been pledged, most of it in $1,000 chunks (I'm in for $1K). Wagner James Au reports:
A thread called "Would you kick in $1,000 for The Well?" (subscriber account required), has already garnered over 120 members pledging $1000 (some less, many more, with at least one pledge of $10,000), for an estimated total of over $120,000. That's a lot of money, especially coming from so few people, but it may not be enough. Many have pointed out that the Well.com domain name is probably quite attractive to organizations willing to pay a lot to own it. (For example, an HMO who wants turn well.com into a wellness resource.) So at the moment, it's still unclear what this user-driven campaign will do, though I hope the WELL can survive in some form.
In any case, as someone who's been a member of the WELL since the mid-90s (I joined with the Gen X contingent), then went on to write a lot about other virtual communities, chief among them Second Life, it's hard to miss the ironies at play:
For one, Salon was in great part inspired by the WELL, since a lot of its first writers and editors were members of the service. For another, it's an example of how virtual communities can fall into jeopardy, no matter how influential they once were. Read the 1997 Wired magazine article by Katie Hafner (which subsequently became a book), with the sub-head, "The World's Most Influential Online Community (And It's Not AOL)". It's an accurate title. Writers like Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, Howard Rheingold, and Neal Stephenson are (or were) members, as were a lot of writers for Time Magazine, the Washington Post, and other leading media outlets. As I noted, an 80s popstar became a big fan, but where it was Duran Duran joining Second Life, in 2006, in the mid-90s and the WELL, it was Billy Idol. (As you might have guessed by now, I owe a lot of my writing career to the WELL too.)
Wondering why your Facebook breastfeeding image was blocked, but not the image of a deep wound your friend posted? Wonder no more. A leaked document reveals the weird, arcane, and extremely detailed guidelines used to determine which images are Facebook-safe.
Facebook bans images of breastfeeding if nipples are exposed – but allows "graphic images" of animals if shown "in the context of food processing or hunting as it occurs in nature". Equally, pictures of bodily fluids – except semen – are allowed as long as no human is included in the picture; but "deep flesh wounds" and "crushed heads, limbs" are OK ("as long as no insides are showing"), as are images of people using marijuana but not those of "drunk or unconscious" people.
Over the years, I've been really impressed with the stuff I've heard about microfinancng charities like KIVA. The idea of helping people in developing countries launch and support small businesses, changing their lives and the lives of their children, makes a lot of sense. And the personal stories that go with microfinancing are pretty appealing.
I'm starting to re-think my opinions on microfinancing, however, after reading some of the research done by GiveWell.org, an organization that casts an evidence-based eye on what different charities do and whether they actually get the results they claim.
It's not that microfinancing is bad, per se, GiveWell says. It's just that the system doesn't measure up to the hype. And if you've got a limited amount of money to spend on helping other people, there might be more effective ways to do it that produce more bang for your buck.
GiveWell has written a ton on this, but I'd recommend starting with a blog post of theirs from a couple of years ago called 6 Myths About Microfinance Charities that Donors Can Live Without. This piece provides a succinct breakdown of what questions you should be asking about microfinance charities, and provides lots and lots of links for deeper digging. The myth that surprised me the most:
Myth #6: microfinance works because of (a) the innovative “group lending” method; (b) targeting of women, who use loans more productively than men; (c) targeting of the poorest of the poor, who benefit most from loans.
Reality: all three of these claims are often repeated but (as far as we can tell) never backed up. The strongest available evidence is limited, but undermines all three claims.