The nymwars are the struggle to maintain online safe havens for pseudonymous free speech, for people who don't feel safe linking their opinions with their real names (for fear of religious persecution / sexual predation / current or future job prospects / whatever else) in the face of attempts by Facebook, Google, and others to force everyone to cross-link all their personal information. Soon after its launch in 2011, Google+ took a strong stand that only people willing to post under their real names would be welcome on the site, and (as one very minor consequence) I stopped posting there. Now, finally, Google+ has relented and will allow arbitrary user-chosen identities. They could have been more apologetic about it, but it's enough for me to return there.

I don't intend to change my Livejournal posting habits much, as I've been using my Google+ account for a somewhat different purpose: posting brief links to web sites that catch my attention and that I think might be of interest to my (mostly technical/academic) circles of contacts there. Here's a roundup of a dozen or so links I've posted so far (skipping the ones where I linked back to my LJ postings).

14 September 2013 @ 03:34 pm
Johns Hopkins violates academic freedom of faculty blogger, backs off when called on it. I knew there was a reason I kept this thing off-site...

Nationality-based blacklisting from academic publishing. Via Gowers. Given that I apparently live in a rogue surveillance state that tortures people, conducts undeclared cyberwar against the French, etc., this sort of collective punishment for government misbehavior troubles me. I suppose it's better than bombing them, though.

And, to make up for all that seriousness:

PingFS: keeping your data in the cloud by juggling raindrops.

You know how I recently posted that attaching labels to the things they label by curves or slanted lines would be better than axis-parallel polylines? This isn't what I meant. And many more bad ideas in information visualization, via MF.

Hexadecimal metric system. Complete with a new method of writing hexadecimal numbers, using a system of syllables for digits in which the consonant of each syllable tells you the digit value (in the obvious ordering q, b, p, v, f, z, s, d, t, j, c, g, k, y, x, w, h) and the vowel tells you what power of 16 it should be multiplied by.
23 August 2009 @ 04:49 pm
While I'm waiting for my flight back to California in Calgary airport (YYV), I've been taking advantage of the free (as in free beer) internet here (yay, thank you Calgary!). But it's not exactly free as in free speech: even Wikipedia is censored. While viewing biographical articles recently nominated for deletion on Wikipedia (as I often do) I was unable to view one of the articles that (judging from the censorship message and the deletion discussion) was for an actress of the adult variety. Because of this, I was prevented from taking part in the deletion discussion, a highly legitimate use of internet services. I suspect that whatever filtering is happening is keyword based rather than url based, because I can't imagine that someone has set up url-based filters for every deservedly obscure Wikipedia article on off-color topics.

In the US, I suspect that such censorship in a government facility couldn't legally continue if challenged, but I have no idea how the corresponding Canadian laws work. And in this particular case, I suspect I could have broken through the censorship with my campus VPN if I really cared to, and it's unlikely I would have cared to participate in that particular discussion, so it's more a question of principle than practicality to me. Regardless, I see it as a bit of a worrisome sign: in a future in which non-paid wireless internet is ubiquitous, will we still have free speech?
23 April 2008 @ 03:05 pm
Three long but interesting posts showed up today on Crooked Timber regarding academic freedom.

First, can anyone play this game? Or, is academic freedom really something different from free speech? Also covering why it might be a bad idea to have a lawyer who specializes in the First Amendment and calls it "a robust marketplace that will marginalize extremism" as Ivy League university president.

Second, some propositions. Moving from the east to the west coast, what is the philosophical basis for academic freedom? Is it a self-evident right? Is it a societal contract, in which academics receive quid (freedom) for quo (some other benefit to society that arises from free academics)? Is it just good management on the universities' part, to keep their employees happy? And what does this all have to do with whether Berkeley should continue to employ war criminal John Yoo?

And third, some resources. Less in-depth than the other two posts, but a useful list for those who find the blog coverage of this issue too shallow and want some real reading.
03 April 2008 @ 06:09 pm
From the link below:
The world’s largest database on [scientific field], containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports ... has been changed so that one can no longer search the term [XXX] ... As the representative from [the database] states, “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”
See this link (or these earlier ones) for details. And don't tell me I'm censoring anything for leaving out those details here: I've left out the key words describing exactly who at Hopkins runs this database and what they censored, deliberately, not as a matter of censorship but because I think this is appalling no matter the field and I'd prefer to focus more on issues of academic freedom and less on any emotional reactions people might have to the specific topic. It's a term that is relevant and likely to be searched within this field of scientific inquiry. It's still present in its uncensored glory if you follow the link.

ETA: Wired, /., BB; C+L update, NYT, JHU.
08 March 2007 @ 06:17 pm
When a person is removed from a totalitarian regime's history, face erased from past news photos, etc., he becomes an unperson, right? So what do we call it when it's a whole species?
12 October 2006 @ 01:27 pm
Interesting discussion on Slashdot regarding the policies different university campuses have for blocking access to web content. The general concensus seems to be that many universities impose bandwidth limitations but very few impose content limitations. This seems to me the right place to draw the line...
01 August 2006 @ 10:58 am

From the comments to this post regarding a new law that mandates rote learning in place of critical thinking in Florida schools:

All education is intended to serve the purpose of the educator. The Puritans taught reading so people could read the Bible; the 19th century saw schools go to an hourly schedule for the purpose of training future workers to be slaves to the clock.

To that end, I conclude that public education today has not failed at all, but has produced exactly what its government creators wanted to create: a semi-literate, docile workforce, susceptible to manipulation and untrained in critical thinking.

14 June 2006 @ 07:28 am
Via pharyngula: Michael Bérubé on academic freedom. What it is, what it's good for, and how the political right is attempting to subvert and destroy it. As one of the comments says, this should be required reading for anyone in academia.
New Jersey legislature proposes to outlaw anonymous comments on internet sites.

Actually, LiveJournal doesn't seem to require accountholders to provide legal names and addresses (or anything more than a nickname and a valid email address) so even most non-anonymous comments here would likely be banned...

I would say something here about how fortunately it's obviously unconstitutional, so we can trust our courts to prevent us from having to worry about the disruption this would cause, but I'm no longer very trusting in our rights being upheld by any branch of the government...
05 November 2005 @ 11:26 am
Heh. The topless peace protesters I photographed in this year's Mendocino July 4th parade have made The LA Times and Fark after being prevented from doing their thing again in Sacramento. Apparently, according to the judge, "being topless is not inherently expressive". Which I'm happy to agree with — sometimes it could just be for the purpose of getting a nice even tan — except that I'd expect the standard for whether this counts as free speech to be, not whether it's necessarily expressive in all cases, but whether it's expressive in this case. Which it clearly seems to be. I suppose there's a reason I'm not a lawyer...

ETA: Now on Pandagon too.
ETA2: BNB's own blog on the topic.