Does the software that you use respect your freedom? GNU does. It’s an operating system that is free.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Why should you care? Stop and think about the following information: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 88 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Even more alarming is that this represents a 78% increase in rates of ASD since the CDC conducted its first report on the disorder in 2007. If communication is the essence of being human, we have a responsibility to help those who struggle with ASD.
- difficulties in social interaction
- verbal and nonverbal communication and
- repetitive behaviors.
In addition, autism is much more complex than most people realize. As Dr. Nancy J. Minshew of the Center for Excellence in Autism Research (CeFAR) at the University of Pittsburgh points out, what we think of as autism actually encompasses a number of intricate disorders of brain development. Even more challenging is the need to understand what, at the genetic level, contributes to ASD. Doing so requires an enormous amount of first-hand information from those who struggle with ASD. Fortunately, the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR) and other participating organizations (such as NIMH, NICHD, NINDS, NIEHS, and CIT/NIH ) are safely collecting and sharing information to better understand what causes and how to treat ASD.
- Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center is an interactive, highly visible and central point of quality resources and information for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.
- Apps for Autism (originally broadcast in October 2011 on CBS’s 60 Minutes) explored how tablet computers and special applications allow those challenged by ASD to communicate more efficiently and effectively.
- Picture AAC app (from Hearty SPIN) is an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch app that helps nonverbal individuals with autism and other special needs to communicate effectively using pictures.
The Georgia legislature is currently considering a bill that would effectively make it impossible for any city in the state to provide for high-speed Internet access networks — even in areas in which the private sector cannot or will not.
Why would my state’s legislators (like Senator Rogers) want to prevent local and municipal governments from supplying internet connectivity to their communities? For that matter, I can’t imagine why commercial interests who refuse to provide service to rural areas would actively lobby my state legislature to prevent municipalities from doing it themselves.
Crawford goes on to say:
The Georgia bill is chock-full of sand traps and areas of deep statutory fog from which no local public network is likely ever to emerge. In addition to the ordinary public hearings that any municipality would hold on the subject, a town looking to build a public network would have to hold a referendum. It wouldn’t be allowed to spend any money in support of its position (there would be no such prohibition on the deep-pocketed incumbents). The community wouldn’t be allowed to support its network with local taxes or surplus revenues from any other services (although incumbents routinely and massively subsidize their networks with revenue from other businesses).
Most pernicious of all, the public operator would have to include in the costs of its service the phantom, imputed “capital costs” and “taxes” of a private provider. This is a fertile area for disputes, litigation and delay, as no one knows what precise costs and taxes are at issue, much less how to calculate these amounts. The public provider would also have to comply with all laws and “requirements” applicable to “the communications service,” if it were made available by “a private provider,” although again the law doesn’t specify which service is involved or which provider is relevant.
The end result of all this vague language will be to make it all but impossible for a city to obtain financing to build its network. Although the proponents of Georgia’s bill claim that they are merely trying to create a level playing field, these are terms and conditions that no new entrant, public or private, can meet — and that the incumbents themselves do not live by. You can almost hear the drafters laughing about how impossible the entire enterprise will be.
What makes this whole episode particularly odious is how desperately rural Georgia needs high-speed internet access. I’ve spent two decades–as a classroom teacher, an instructional technologist, a digital content developer, and university professor–trying to help my (non-metro) area of the state improve the quality of education through the meaningful integration of technology. I know rural students who would love to enroll in online classes. I know teachers who would like to be able to digitally connect with and support learners beyond the classroom day. I know small town businesses and citizens who would like to have the same opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. These folks would appreciate high-speed internet access. I think any public figure who would come forward and make that happen would be a hero.
Do we have anyone like that in our legislature in Georgia?
- Kim Severson’s 2011 New York Times article, Digital Age Is Slow to Arrive in Rural America underscores many of the challenges faced by rural Americans who need high-speed internet access.
- Are Rural Broadband Maps Showing Problems Or Opportunities? by Fred Hoot, suggests that bringing high-speed internet access to rural areas might turn out to be an excellent investment.
- Rob Pegoraro’s Discovery News post, Map Shows 3G Dead Zones explains how the Federal Communications Commission has visualized some of the lowest points in our nation’s wireless coverage (areas where no 3G service can be found).
Following up on Pegoraro’s story, the map below was created by the the FCC. It shows the areas identified as potentially eligible for Mobility Fund Phase 1 support. Look at the black spots. Those are areas where there is no mobile broadband service. Specifically, these areas are, according to the FCC
US Census blocks that lack 3G or better mobile coverage at the centroid of the block according to January 2012 American Roamer data and contain road miles in any of nine road categories. Counties that contain any of these blocks are shaded light gray, and as you zoom in and mouse over these counties you will see more information on the potentially eligible blocks, including population, road miles (S1100, S1200, and S1400 categories only), and the name and number of the CMA in which the blocks are located. Further zooming in allows you to see the US Census tracts that contain these blocks.
After trying to convince cyber-citizens that they didn’t need nicknames or internet nom de plumes, Google seems to have applied the brakes on and shifted into reverse. Lance Ulanoff of Mashable reports that Google + users may now use pseudonyms. Well, I suppose that’s good to know.
- Bradley Horowitz, VP Product, Google+ explains the reason for moving “toward a more inclusive naming policy,”
- Google’s decision might well be applauded by privacy advocates especially since CNET’s Declan McCullagh reports that Americans can be forced to decrypt their laptops.
- Speaking of privacy, even though the Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed that the police cannot put a GPS device on one’s car, don’t break out the champagne. The Atlantic‘s associate editor Rebecca J. Rosen explains that the Court’s ruling is no cause for celebration; rather, it actually reveals a much larger privacy-related problem.
- David DiSalvo’s article for Forbes claims that Google Says Bye Bye to User Privacy.
- What’s next? Mass Surveillance by Facebook? Richard Stallman certainly thinks so.
Life is often about tradeoffs. We give up one thing to gain another. This is especially true of when we roam about on the web. We want to gain admittance to a site or its services so we divulge information–a username, a password, our birthday, gender, location–and all sorts of other demographic delights. In doing so, we get something we think we want (access to a forum, a place in a community, connections, expertise, images, audio, video, etc…) and the entity we barter with gets a little sliver of who we are. This routine plays itself out over and over but how often do we think about what we are doing and how it might affect us? What does the online entity do with all of that information. Details of how our personal information will be used sometimes resides in the depths of arcane legalese…if we even bother to look.
Maintaining our privacy involves knowing what happens we agree to share our personal details. Would there ever be a compelling reason to let an online entity know more about us, to not try to hide behind a cyber-pseudonym? Google believes that this is the case. Google’s Good to Know campaign extolls the benefits of telling Google who we are. Even if we disagree with Google’s philosophy, we can still learn a great deal about privacy and security by merely listening to the company’s position.
- Still feel wary? That’s okay. Skepticism is a very healthy and useful trait. Your Spidey sense might be telling you something. Check out Tor. It provides a means of thwarting network surveillance.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense site is an excellent go-to resource for topics related to law and technology of government surveillance in the United States.
SOPA and PIPA were bad enough but now it seems as if government leaders are now hatching a new plot to undermine our civil liberties. How? At first glance, H.R. 1981: Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 seems like a well-intentioned piece of legislation; however, we need only look as far as the name of its sponsor, the infamous Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) of radioactive SOPA renown to feel a sense of skepticism kick into overdrive.
That skepticism is well-founded.
Why? Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, reports that Smith’s newest outrage is a data retention mandate that plants the seeds for a police state that treats internet users like criminals. It’s dangerous legislation that threatens to destroy online privacy and free speech rights of every citizen. There is no language in the bill that limits its scope only to matters pertaining to investigations of child pornography. It’s an excuse to snoop. According to Declan McCullagh of CNET, if the bill becomes law, ISPs (internet service providers) would be required to keep logs of their customers’ activities for an entire year just in case police want to review the logs at a later date. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said H.R. 1981 ought to truthfully be referred to as the “Keep Every American’s Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act.”
As I write this post, ProPublica’s timely Where Do Your Members of Congress Stand on SOPA and PIPA? reports that there are now 122 legislators opposing SOPA/PIPA. Ars Technica notes that both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are backing away from PIPA. Even so, Firedog Lake’s David Dayen explains why Democrats aren’t shying away from SOPA/PIPA as much as their colleagues across the aisle. Daily Kos is a bit more vehement in its assessment of a lesson that seems lost on the Democratic party.
Despite believing that SOPA and PIPA were untouchable, that citizens and other concerned individuals could do nothing to halt their passage into law, Rep. Lamar Smith (R) and other well-lobbied supporters of these odious bills are discovering that these pieces of legislative excrement are quickly becoming untouchable in an entirely new and unpleasant manner. SOPA and PIPA are certifiably radioactive. As I write this post, 35 Senators now publicly oppose PIPA. Last week there were only 5 dissenting Senators. What brought about this change? Internet Blackout Day certainly caught everyone’s attention; however, that’s only part of the story. The real impetus for what we are observing is the people across America who are calling their elected officials.
Guess what Congress? You’ve got our attention. Yes, we are watching you and what see disgusts us. Truth be told, we should have been watching and calling you a long, long time ago. All those voters who didn’t know who you are or how to contact you are getting informed and mobilized. Now that you’ve contemptuously slapped a hornet’s nest, get ready for the Swarm.
I’ve been calling my own legislators here in Georgia. For example, I phoned the office of Rep. John Barrow (D) yesterday. I asked to speak with someone–anyone, really–who works on copyright issues. The person answering the call told me that the person I wanted to speak with was in an important meeting. I thanked the staffer for taking my call in the midst of chaos. I explained that I wanted share my dismay that Rep. John Barrow supports legislation that I and many, many others find distressing. I also explained that I wanted list my reasons for being concerned. I noted:
- In all likelihood, the provisions of these bills would be abused. Emboldened by vague wording in the law, sites could be incorrectly seized and censored.
- These bills go against American principles of freedom of speech. Respected Constitutional scholars and hundreds of law professors have echoed this point.
- The technology sector (the people who know what they are talking about when it comes to the internet) have pointed out that these bills are innovation killers.
- These bills are not do going to do anything to solve the problems they are trying to address.
While quickly and courteously sharing my concerns, the person taking my call began to try to convince me that there was nothing in either piece of legislation that was a cause for concern. I explained that I had not called to debate the merits of the bills, only to register my concerns. I added that I had a great many other legislators to contact and that I would like to finish leaving my message for Rep. Barrow.
I don’t know if my message will be relayed. It may get lost in the collection of other calls that were coming in at the time. Even so, I’ll be calling again…frequently.
- Fax your representative, for free with HelloFax.
- ProPublica shows where your members of Congress stand on SOPA and PIPA–get informed and start calling!
- Be prepared to discuss why you have concerns. Start with TechDirt’s excellent An Updated Analysis: Why SOPA & PIPA Are A Bad Idea, Dangerous & Unnecessary
- Be sure to read Joe Brockmeier’s insightful What I Wish Wikipedia and Others Were Saying About SOPA/PIPA
Finally watch Sal from Khan Academy explain, “What SOPA and PIPA are at face value and what they could end up enabling.”
His ideas changed the world and continue to do so today. Keep his dream alive. Make the world a better place. Serve the cause of peace. Do something noble for others–today and everyday.