Locking the Web Open: A Call for a Distributed Web

Locking the Web Open: A Call for a Distributed Web
By Brewster Kahle
Aug 11 2015

Over the last 25 years, millions of people have poured creativity and knowledge into the World Wide Web. New features have been added and dramatic flaws have emerged based on the original simple design. I would like to suggest we could now build a new Web on top of the existing Web that secures what we want most out of an expressive communication tool without giving up its inclusiveness. I believe we can do something quite counter-intuitive: We can lock the Web open.

One of my heroes, Larry Lessig, famously said “Code is Law.” The way we code the web will determine the way we live online. So we need to bake our values into our code. Freedom of expression needs to be baked into our code. Privacy should be baked into our code. Universal access to all knowledge. But right now, those values are not embedded in the Web.

It turns out that the World Wide Web is quite fragile. But it is huge. At the Internet Archive we collect one billion pages a week. We now know that Web pages only last about 100 days on average before they change or disappear. They blink on and off in their servers.

And the Web is massively accessible– unless you live in China. The Chinese government has blocked the Internet Archive, the New York Times, and other sites from its citizens. And other countries block their citizens’ access as well every once in a while. So the Web is not reliably accessible.

And the Web isn’t private. People, corporations, countries can spy on what you are reading. And they do. We now know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that Wikileaks readers were selected for targeting by the National Security Agency and the UK’s equivalent just because those organizations could identify those Web browsers that visited the site and identify the people likely to be using those browsers. In the library world, we know how important it is to protect reader privacy. Rounding people up for the things that they’ve read has a long and dreadful history. So we need a Web that is better than it is now in order to protect reader privacy.

But the Web is fun. The Web is so easy to use and inviting that millions of people are putting interesting things online; in many ways pouring a digital representation of their lives into the Web. New features are being invented and added into the technology because one does not need permission to create in this system. All in all, the openness of the Web has led to the participation of many.

We got one of the three things right. But we need a Web that is reliable, a Web that is private, while keeping the Web fun. I believe it is time to take that next step: I believe we can now build a Web reliable, private and fun all at the same time. To get these features, we need to build a “Distributed Web.”

Imagine “Distributed Web” sites that are as easy to setup and use as WordPress blogs, Wikimedia sites, or even Facebook pages, but have these properties. But how? First, a bit about what is meant by a “distributed system.”

Contrast the current Web to the Internet—the network of pipes on top of which the World Wide Web sits. The Internet was designed so that if any one piece goes out, it will still function. If some of the routers that sort and transmit packets are knocked out, then the system is designed to automatically reroute the packets through the working parts of the system. While it is possible to knock out so much that you create a chokepoint in the Internet fabric, for most circumstances it is designed to survive hardware faults and slowdowns. Therefore, the Internet can be described as a “distributed system” because it routes around problems and automatically rebalances loads.

The Web is not distributed in this way. While different websites are located all over the world, in most cases, any particular website has only one physical location. Therefore, if the hardware in that particular location is down then no one can see that website. In this way, the Web is centralized: if someone controls the hardware of a website or the communication line to a website, then they control all the uses of that website.

In this way, the Internet is a truly distributed system, while the Web is not.

Distributed systems are typically more difficult to design than centralized ones. At a recent talk by Vint Cerf, sponsored by the California Academy of Sciences, Cerf said that he spent much of 1974 in an office with two other engineers working on the protocols to support a distributed Internet system, to make it such that there are no central points of control.

Here’s another way of thinking about distributed systems: take the Amazon Cloud. The Amazon Cloud is made up of computers in Amazon.com datacenters all over the world. The data stored in this cloud can be copied from computer to computer in these different places, avoiding machines that are not working, as well as getting the data closer to users and replicating it as it is increasingly used. This has turned out to be a great idea. What if we could make the next generation Web work like that, but across the entire Internet, like an enormous Amazon Cloud?

In part, it would be based on peer-to-peer technology—a system that isn’t dependent on a central host or the policies of one particular country. In a peer-to-peer model, those who are using the distributed Web are also providing some of the bandwidth and storage to run it.

Instead of one Web server per website we would have many. The more people or organizations that are involved in the distributed Web, the more redundant, safe, and fast it will become.


The Arab Spring was a revolution of the hungry

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jock Gill.  Jock’s comment:’As the climate changes where and what we can grow for food, the politics of food will be ever more important. Some nations, China for example, are painfully aware of the role food security plays in political stability.’.  DLH]

The Arab Spring was a revolution of the hungry
The Arab world can’t feed itself, and that’s how the region’s dictators like it.
By Thanassis Cambanis
Aug 22 2015

Early in the Tahrir Square revolution, a group of retired Egyptian generals sat poolside at Cairo’s Gezira Club and worried about whether the country’s ruling elite could survive a popular uprising. It was February 2011, a week before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Millions of freshly politicized Egyptians had already taken to the streets. And yet, some of these career security men were unfazed.

“The only thing we really need to worry about is a revolution of the hungry,” said one, a retired Air Force general. “That would be the end of us.”

As it turned out, it took less than four years for Egypt’s dictatorship to reconstitute itself, crushing the hope for real change among the people. In no small part, the regime’s resilience was due to its firm grasp of bread politics. The ruler who controls the main staples of life — bread and fuel — often controls everything else, too.

Nonetheless, the specter of a “revolution of the hungry” still worries authoritarian rulers today, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Roughly put, the idea is shorthand for an uprising that brings together not only the traditional cast of political and religious dissidents but also pits a far greater number of poor, uneducated, and apolitical citizens against the state.

Look across the region, and regimes have good reason to be afraid. Even in countries where obesity is widespread, people suffer from low-quality medical care and malnutrition due to a lack of healthy food.

The basic equation is stark: The Arab world cannot feed itself. Rulers obsessed with security have created a twisted web of importers and bakeries whose aim is not to feed the population efficiently or nutritiously but simply to maintain the regime and stave off that much feared revolution of the hungry. Vast subsidies eat up the lion’s share of national budgets.

So far, the bakeries haven’t run out of loaves in two of the region’s biggest bread battlegrounds, Egypt and Syria. But the sense of plenty is only an illusion. Food is expensive, people are poor, and repressive regimes rely on imported wheat financed through foreign aid. It’s an unsustainable and volatile cocktail.

“You have a system where access to food is a primary mechanism of social control,” said journalist Annia Ciezadlo, author of the book “Day of Honey,” who has written extensively about food subsidies, unrest, and the use of food as a weapon in the Middle East. “The moment something happens to that supply of subsidized food, everything can go out of control.”

The Arab uprisings of 2010 and 2011 offered only the most recent glimpse of what it would look like if people got hit where it hurts the most: at the dinner table.

In 1977, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt managed a feat that had been considered impossible when he broke with the entire Arab world and initiated a peace process with Israel, even traveling to Jerusalem to address the Knesset. The bread conundrum, on the other hand, proved much more intractable.

Sadat tried in January 1977 to cancel Egypt’s expensive wheat subsidy at the urging of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Riots swept nearly every major city, and in two days Sadat caved. He restored the bread subsidy that has remained in place ever since, and the Egyptian military took control of many crucial bakeries to ensure that the government could control the bread supply in a crisis. That awkward status quo prevails to this day. The government’s bread economy is inefficient, unstable, and nearly entirely dependent on foreign imports. But any attempt to tinker with bread prices or subsidies still terrifies the country’s rulers and enrages its citizens.

Regimes took heed. Hafez al-Assad, the dictator of Syria, extolled peasants in his rhetoric and made food independence a central pillar of his regime. For decades, Syrian officials constantly bragged they didn’t need to import wheat.

Dictators in the Arab world learned that one of the best routes to dominance runs through the bakery. Rulers the world round usually deploy some variant of pocketbook politics, rewarding their loyalists with perks like community centers, jobs, and payola — and punishing opposition areas by scrimping on their basic services like roads and schools. In many Middle Eastern countries, the level of control was more basic: Without the government, citizens would starve.


New theater season once again shows lack of diversity on Broadway and Off

New theater season once again shows lack of diversity on Broadway and Off
The new Broadway season includes no new plays by women or writers of color, and last season less than a quarter of plays produced in America were by women. While the internet is finally beginning to react, the problem stems from history.
By Alexis Soloski in New York
Aug 22 2015

The new Broadway season includes no new plays by women or writers of color. No old ones either.

The picture for musicals is a little rosier. But not a lot. 

Off-Broadway is somewhat better, though nothing like parity. 

Plenty of seasons have looked like this. But what is new, relatively, is the reaction on the internet. After an outcry on Twitter, Manhattan Theater Club, one of the few major non-profits run by a woman (artistic director Lynne Meadow), fast-tracked the announcement of a new play, The Ruins of Civilization, written and directed by a woman, Penelope Skinner. 

Roundabout has a season similarly low on women and minorities, as does MCC theater. 

The Atlantic and the Public, theaters that in recent years have had problematic records, seem to be making some efforts toward greater diversity.

Complete statistics are hard to get a hold of and there are more available reflecting disparities in gender than those in race. 

As reported in American Theater, last season less than a quarter of plays produced in America were by women, despite women making up a preponderance of the theatergoing population. 

An accounting of the previous three seasons showed only 12% of American plays were penned by writers of color. 

The Guardian recently reported a study based on ten major theaters in England, which concluded that men and women are employed in all aspects of production at a rate of 2:1. That may be better than the proportion of female CEOs, but it is still far from terrific.

Why does theater have such a problem in terms of gender and race? Much of it may have to do with history. Shakespeare remains by far the most produced playwright and still informs our vision of what a playwright should look like and be. (Really, it’s remarkable more men don’t sport fluffy hair and an earring.) It’s plays by white men that fill the syllabi for our theater history and literature courses, from the Greeks on. Most revivals are of plays by white men because most previous plays were written by white men. And many theaters make the assumption, right or wrong, that those are the plays audiences want to see. Paula Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, describes a culture of “unintentional and unrecognized bias” favoring white male playwrights.

As Victoria Myers, who runs the Interval, a website that offers in-depth interviews with female theater artists, notes: “We don’t talk about women and their work the same way we talk about men – and we don’t celebrate it the same way. We don’t call women geniuses, we don’t call them cool, we don’t call them important. We call them hardworking and we call them nice.”

While this persists, women and people of color may not see playwright or director (or sound designer or music director) as viable careers for them. As Jeanine Tesori, the award-winning composer of Fun Home, said at this year’s Tony awards: “Girls, you have to see it to be it.” Of course the Tonys declined to broadcast the winners of the best book, music and lyrics awards. So while Tesori and Lisa Kron made history as the first female writing team to win for a musical, almost no one saw it. If Broadway and major theaters continue to produce hegemonic seasons, future girls won’t see it. Boys won’t either.


The war-hungry women written out of photographic history

The war-hungry women written out of photographic history
Lee Miller was famous for her shots of the second world war, but there were many other women in the line of fire whose photographs have faded into obscurity: meet Gerda Taro, Catherine Leroy and Françoise Demulder
By William Boyd
Aug 22 2015

Photography is the most patently democratic of all the art forms. Give us a camera and we are, each one of us, capable of producing (with a lot of luck, admittedly) a really fine photograph – maybe even a great one. We can’t all write symphonies or choreograph ballets but the invention of the camera put a machine in our hands that has allowed us to become an artist, of sorts; a machine that allows us to create an image that will move, intrigue, startle, disturb and satisfy – that will resonate in some way.

Perhaps that very democracy – all may apply, and all will be admitted – has also prompted a parallel egalitarianism between the sexes when it comes to being a professional photographer. Only the novel is the equal of photography when it comes to such non-discrimination. Men and women practise their art and excel (or not) accordingly. Interestingly and tellingly, one of the first great photographers was a woman – Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79). It was almost as if the embryonic art-form was setting out its stall. Cameron is famous for her formal posed portraits of the late 19th-century great and good (Tennyson, Darwin, Rossetti) but she also took more informal shots – as informal as her rudimentary equipment allowed – of her children and a friend, Julia Prinsep Jackson (Virginia Woolf’s mother). These images, I would argue, represent the first great liberation of the camera. It was as if Cameron understood what the camera could do, uniquely. No need always to parody or try to approximate to the standards of beaux arts classicism (landscape, portrait, historic tableau, still life, nude and so on) though she happily did that. With a camera, what you had in your hands was a stop-time device: press the release button and you had a moment frozen forever. None of the other arts could do this and certainly not with such astonishing detail – all you needed was the wonderful machine, and the relentless march of time was halted.

There are many famous female photographers, but most of them have been recognised in the second half of the 20th century (Margaret Bourke-White, Gerda Taro, Berenice Abbott). What happened between Cameron and, say, Lee Miller (1907-77) or Diane Arbus? My new novel has a fictional woman photographer as its protagonist (Amory Clay, 1908-83), one whose working life occupies a large swath of the 20th century and, in the course of my research into the profession, I uncovered what seemed to me like a forgotten sorority of female photographers. In the first half of the last century such photographers were legion – they flourished and happily made their living and reputation alongside their male counterparts, and it was something of a revelation to discover these names and look at the images they made. I say “forgotten”, but no doubt if you’re a curator or a historian of photography or a specialist in the development of the art form then the names of these female photographers will be familiar – but they weren’t to me and, as I looked and read and dug deeper into their world, I became more and more astonished at the work I discovered.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the best evidence of the emancipation occurred in Vienna before the first world war – the city that was the fizzing sociological and cultural cynosure of the early 20th century. In 1906 the Graphische Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt fur Photographie und Reproduktionsverfahren (a kind of photographical technical college) allowed Dora Kallmus, a young woman with ambitions to be a photographer, to attend the classes where photos were developed and printed, as an “observer”. Chemicals were not for women. But this seemed to be the tipping point. By 1908 women had equal status with the male students at the college. Kallmus soon opened her own studio, the “Atelier d’Ora” and began a highly successful career as a studio portraitist. In 1925 she opened another studio in Paris – by this time she was taking fashion shots as well. Female photographers began to flourish in Vienna between the wars. Other names worth noting were Trude Fleischmann and Grete Kolliner and, one of the most intriguing, Edith Suschitzky.


Global Warming Worsens California Drought as July Becomes Hottest Month on Record

Global Warming Worsens California Drought as July Becomes Hottest Month on Record
Aug 21 2015

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report Thursday showing that July was Earth’s hottest month on record. Nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005. Climatologists also expect 2015 to be the hottest year on record. This news comes as scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory released a report that shows that global warming has worsened the California drought, now entering its fourth year. This new study is the first to estimate the extent to which rising temperatures are affecting the loss of moisture from plants and soil, and suggests that within a few decades continually increasing temperatures and resulting moisture losses will push California into a permanent drought by 2060. We discuss the report and the impact of the findings with the study’s lead author, Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Park Williams, bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and lead author of a new report showing that global warming has worsened the California drought by up to 27 percent.


Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Study: <http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/warming-climate-deepening-california-drought>

Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff

[Note:  This item comes from friend Doc Searls.  Doc’s comment:’Might be worth sharing. If so, be careful to note the concrete recommendations at the end, which are likely to fall below the snip.’.  DLH]

Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff
By Doc Searls
Aug 12 2015

Advertising used to be simple. You knew what it was, and where it came from.

Whether it was an ad you heard on the radio, saw in a magazine or spotted on a billboard, you knew it came straight from the advertiser through that medium. The only intermediary was an advertising agency, if the advertiser bothered with one.

Advertising also wasn’t personal. Two reasons for that.

First, it couldn’t be. A billboard was for everybody who drove past it. A TV ad was for everybody watching the show. Yes, there was targeting, but it was always to populations, not to individuals.

Second, the whole idea behind advertising was to send one message to lots of people, whether or not the people seeing or hearing the ad would ever use the product. The fact that lots of sports-watchers don’t drink beer or drive trucks was beside the point, which was making the brand familiar to everybody.

In their landmark study, “The Waste in Advertising is the Part that Works” (Journal of Advertising Research, December, 2004, pp. 375-390), Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier say brand advertising does more than signal a product message; it also gives evidence that the parent company has worth and substance, because it can afford to spend the money. So branding was about sending a strong economic signal along with a strong creative signal.

Plain old brand advertising also paid for the media we enjoyed. Still does, in fact.

But advertising today is now also digital. That fact makes advertising much more data-driven, tracking-based and personal. Nearly all the buzz and science in advertising today flies around the data-driven, tracking-based stuff, which now comprises a massive industry that would have CMOs, the press and publishers all assume that the best advertising is the most targeted, the most real-time, the most data-driven, the most personal. And that old-fashioned brand advertising is hopelessly retro.

In terms of actual value to the marketplace, however, the old-fashioned stuff is wheat and the new-fashioned stuff is chaff.

To explain why I say that, let’s start with tracking-based advertising’s two big value-subtracts: 1) un-clarity about where any given ad comes from; and 2) un-clarity about whether or not any given ad is personal.

For example, take the one ad that appears for me, in my Firefox browser, in this Washington Post story:


This electric car battery could charge in just five minutes

[Note:  This item comes from friend Shannon McElyea.  Shannon’s comment:’Here’s something that will hopefully boost the sale of electric cars – and more renewable energy awareness’.  DLH]

This electric car battery could charge in just five minutes
By Jane Mountain
Aug 20 2015

An Israeli startup is setting its sights on creating a battery for electric carsthat charges in just five minutes. If they meet their goal, the battery would be able to power a car for hundreds of miles in a single charge. StoreDot, founded in 2012, has already developed the FlashBattery for Smartphones that can fully charge in less than a minute. The startup has raised $66 million which it plans to use to get their FlashBattery technology into electric cars.

The relatively slow growth of the electric car market is often blamed upon the inconvenience of recharging. The best batteries currently available can last up to 250 miles, but take several hours to fully charge using a standard charger. Tesla’s high-speed charger takes 30 minutes to give their batteries about 170 miles of range, while Toyota’s Rav4, which takes longer to charge, can only go around 100 miles per charge. A fast-charging, affordable battery with long range, like the one StoreDot has proposed, could be the key to making electric cars more popular than their gas-powered competitors.

StoreDot describes their battery as a sponge, which soaks up electricity like a sponge soaks up water. The technology is based on peptides that have been turned into energy-storing nanotubes. The nanotubes, affectionately named Nanodots by the company, can soak up huge amounts of electricity all at once. Using around 7,000 of these Nanodots, they have promised to create an EV battery that goes the distance.