Tuning Into History

Interested in the history of the adoption of and integration of technology in society and media? If so, an examination of how our government reacts to emerging technologies can be quite enlightening. Take a look at the United States House of Representatives. Why? The House’s Office of the Historian and the Clerk of the House‘s very nifty Office of Art and Archives collaborate to preserve the House’s institutional memory and make it available to the public.

What might we discover? A simple search reveals that the first live television broadcast coverage of an American congressional proceeding happened on this day in 1947. That’s right: TV came to call on Congress. The House Chamber telecast the opening of the 80th Congress.

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Public Domain Day

Did you know that January 1st of every year is Public Domain Day? The Duke Law School‘s well-respected Center for the Study of the Public Domain is replete with information legal matters pertinent to intellectual property and the Public Domain.

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Reaching Out: World Autism Awareness Day

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.

According to the AutismSpeaks.org, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, ASD disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by:

  • 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.

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Something’s Rotten: The Research Works Act

The Research Works Act StinksPrivate interests are attacking the public good. How? Big-monied journal publishers (like Elsevier, the target of an interesting boycott) have convinced two members of Congress, Darrell Issa (CA) and Carolyn Maloney (NY) to shepherd a bill called the Research Works Act into law.

The whole affair stinks.

Here’s why: the Research Works Act’s purpose is to restrict public access to publicly-funded research. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though the public is funding research, journal publishers do not want the public to have access to the resulting research.

Presently, the our government appropriates something to the tune of $30 billion of funding each year for health-related research. That money is dispensed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because the funding is made possible through the cooperation of taxpayers, the NIH currently follows an open access mandate, stipulating that all NIH-funded research be made freely accessible 12 months after publication. As it stands, that 12 month time frame (a paywall) is a good thing for journal publishers. It gives the publishers an opportunity to recover costs incurred. No one is particularly upset about that. After the 12 months is over, the public has its opportunity to access the research.

However, the objective of the Research Works Act is to effectively reverse the current open access policy. If the RWA becomes law, all publicly-funded research would remain locked away behind publisher paywalls in perpetuity. Why should US taxpayers have to pay for research twice–once to fund the research and then again, a second time to read it?

The answer is simple: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to!

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Internet Access: Rural Georgia NOT Included

Bloomberg View columnist, Susan P. Crawford, lays out a good case for publicly owned internet service. The author notes,

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?

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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.

If S1100, S1200, and S1400 categories don’t mean anything to you don’t feel embarrassed. At first, they didn’t mean anything to me either. A little digging into the 2009 TIGER/Line Shapefiles Technical Documentation yielded a helpful pdf document:
  • S1100: Primary roads are generally divided, limited-access highways within the interstate highway system or under state management, and are distinguished by the presence of interchanges. These highways are accessible by ramps and may include some toll highways.
  • S1200: Secondary roads are main arteries, usually in the U.S. Highway, State Highway or County Highway system. These roads have one or more lanes of traffic in each direction, may or may not be divided, and usually have at-grade intersections with many other roads and driveways. They often have both a local name and a route number.
  • S1400: Generally a paved non-arterial street, road, or byway that usually has a single lane of traffic in each direction. Roads in this feature class may be privately or publicly maintained. Scenic park roads would be included in this feature class, as would (depending on the region of the country) some unpaved roads.

CMA refers to (I think) Census Metropolitan Area.

SOPA, PIPA and Now H.R. 1981: How Much Do You Value Your Privacy?

Big Brother is Watching YouSOPA 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.”

What A Difference A Day Makes…

SOPA/PIPA Protest in NYC Yesterday

Andrew Dallos captured this at a SOPA/PIPA Protest in NYC Yesterday

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.