But licensed in how many dimensions?

My boss came in this morning to gripe about how a media service, Mixcloud, wanted her to upload her media to their service, rather than link to where it’s currently hosted. As always, the reason was in their Terms and Conditions (snarky emphasis mine):

11. User Submissions

b. Grant of Rights. You shall retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Mixcloud, you hereby grant Mixcloud and its affiliates a non-exclusive, fully paid-up, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable, and transferable license, throughout the universe, to use, reproduce, distribute, modify, adapt, prepare derivative works of, display, perform,** and otherwise exploit your User Submissions** in connection with the Mixcloud Platform, including, without limitation, for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Platform (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

I love that “throughout the universe” part. Harvard Law’s Berkman Center used to have a project parsing Licensing Agreements, but I can’t find it. So here’s a recent report on how Charitable Foundations could benefit from more freely licensing their publications and those of their grantees. An excerpt:

Thoughtful and intentional decisions about how to license foundation-supported works currently happen only in a limited number of cases. The status quo prevails, often for no reason other than inertia, and generic contract language regarding copyrights is often used in place of genuine consideration or conversations about best practices between foundations and their grantees and consultants or within foundations.

Intellectual activity

Only those who have power, for example, can define what is correct or incorrect. Only those who have power can decide what constitutes intellectualism. Once the intellectual parameters are set, those who want to be considered intellectuals must meet hte requirements of the profile dictated by the elite class. To be intellectual one must do what those with the power to define intellectualism do. The intellectual activity of those without power is always characterized as nonintellectual. I am auditing a class this semester on Quantitative Reasoning with Prof. Marilyn Frankenstein offered through the College of Public and Community Service at Umass Boston. The above quote was mentioned in our first class and taken from Literacy: Reading the World & The Word by Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo (who is also on the UMass Boston faculty). Connect this to the oft criticized communications of today’s youth despite the slowly emerging recognition of a New Literacy: > … young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

My use of the comma

I have been reflecting on self-deceptions in my writing. A fine analysis can be found in Noah Lukeman’s excellent A Dash of Style: The art and mastery of punctuation under the subheading “What your use of the comma reveals about you”:

The writer who overuses commas tends to also overuse adjectives and adverbs. He tends to be repetitive, won’t be subtle, and often gives too much information. He grasps for multiple word choices instead of one strong choice, and thus the choices he makes won’t be strong. His langugae won’t be unique. Commas are also used to qualify, offset, or parse, and the writer who frequently resorts to this tends to be reluctant to take a definitive stance. He will be hesitant. His characters, too, might not take a stand; is plot might be ambiguous. It will be harder for him to deliver dramatic punches when need be, and indeed he is less likely to be dramatic. He is interested in fine distinctions, more so than pacing, and is likely to write an overly long book. He writes with critics in mind, with the fear of being criticized for omission, and is more likely to have a scholarly background (or at least be well read) and to consider too many angles. This writer will need to simplify, to take a stronger stance, and to understand that less is more.

In my defense, an Amazon reviewer says these sections are “presumptuous and insulting”.

Technology 2.0: Mapping Presentation

On Saturday I presented on Mapping at the Technology 2.0 community summit convened by the Organizers Collaborative (I’m chairperson of the board), Boston Neighborhood Network (the local cable access TV station) and the John O’Bryant African American Institute. I had 10 minutes to…

  1. introduce the technology (mapping) with a very short description and reference to particular brand names (if that helps)

  2. say how they use it and why it works for their purposes (“I use  google maps to…”)

  3. demonstrate online (if this helps)

  4. provide a sense of how this technology is changing or has changed the world (i.e. why people should care about learning this tech).

  5. wrap up

I shared a panel with Curtis Henderson (BNN), Denise Moorehead ( Third Sector New England) and Gabriel Fishman ( Open Air Boston); it was moderated by Suren Moodliar of Massachusetts Global Action and the Organizers Collaborative. The presentation will be cablecast eventually, but I posted some pictures on Facebook and despite my attempts to tamp down the enthuisiasm, people were very interested. So here’s what it was (only lacking in my dynamic physical presence).

  1. I introduced my relationship to the others on the BNN panel. Most people think of a map as geographic tool to get somewhere; I wanted to break people out of that mode of thinking and instead think of a map as a way to quickly show relationships and information visually. If I had to explain the same information using text, it would be much longer, more complicated and might not have the same impact.

Mapping Relationships

  1. I showed the excellent Boston Chinatown map from Paul Niwa of Northeastern University which explores social linkages and the flow of news and information in a community.  This type of visual representation allows us to very quickly see relationships and make inferences from what otherwise would be a very complicated explanation.


  1. So much of the formal knowledge we have about the world around us is tied up in spreadsheets. While it’s information rich, it can be difficult to analyze, or, from a community building perspective, it’s difficult to motivate people towards action by just showing them a chunk of text. To contrast, I first pulled up the Boston city website, which showcases the Boston neighborhoods as a uninspiring drop-down list.  I then showed the awesome Boston Neighborhood Map by Cosmo Catalano that was built using data from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and probably equal amounts of guesswork. The map provides much richer information than any amount of text could.



  1. Now that the audience was thinking more about the power of maps, I wanted to show them that mastery of technology wasn’t necessary. To do that, I brought up the East Somerville Community Mapping Project. This was done entirely with pens and markers on paper before it was scanned and put online. The project used mapping as a focal point for dialogue about community issues and community building. The map is also cool too because they collected basic community information that most people ignore or overlook, like where the postal boxes are, yet still shape the community. The act of creating a map can be a powerful tool in itself.


  1. To continue talking about mapping community resources, I showed the  Social Capital Incorporated Lynn Community Guide (the SCI Dorchester website was down at the time). The guide provides good contrast because it allows you to both show a list of services and their addresses as well as those services on a map, clearly demonstrating how a map can make information more accessible to questions like “which location is nearest to your home?” (as an aside, I helped the late Paul Hansen develop the original MyDorchester website that has been used as a template for their other community websites).


  1. Returning to the idea of building maps together, I showcased the City of Boston’s Bike Map project, which asked people to share their bike routes using paths on Google My Maps. The city then took the more than 200 submitted routes and used them to create a printed map (PDF) of the cities best bike thoroughfares.



  1. Since I had been talking a lot about using maps for directions, I showcased the I Love Mountains campaign website. This website uses maps to show visitors the coal powered generators near them and then draw a line to where the fuel coal is mined. This is to raise awareness that issues of environmentally damaging mining practices (like mountain-top removal) are linked to all of us. Maps can be a great tool for finding commonalities between people that might not otherwise think of themselves as connected. The world (or even a neighborhood) can be made much more intimate through a map.


  1. Lastly, I gave people a quick hands on demonstration of how easy it can be to create a map using Google My Maps. Using the (extensive but ungainly) list of Boston Community Gardens from Boston Natural Areas Network, I quickly ran through how to create a map and begin adding points to it. A map like this could begin any number of neighborhood dialogues about acting upon and improving the world around you.



I was pretty satisfied overall with the presentation and I think I only went over by a minute or two. A few community members spoke to me afterwards and said that the presentation had inspired ideas for their neighborhood association and for starting a campaign to increase the number of benches at bus stops in the city.

My featured dead cockroach


A photo I took in the halls of UMass Boston was featured in a _Wired Magazine _(well, on the website) in “ Universal ‘Death Stench’ Repels Bugs of All Types”.

Image: Flickr/bensheldon. Note: This photo was chosen from a disturbingly large volume of dead cockroach images on Flickr.

There is a tiny bit of controversy though: I was made aware the photo was being used when a good samaritan emailed the author saying Wired had not respected the Creative Commons Attribution–Non-Commercial

–Share-Alike license under which the image had been posted to Flickr. We’re currently awaiting a response from the article’s editor.

[REMOVED] Boston Subway in Vector Format (SVG)


I’ve started working on my Christmas gifts for this year. Last year it was buttons, this year it will be t-shirts. I’m going contemporary, so one of the elements I needed was a nice map of the Boston subway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much other than the poor-quality images from the MBTA and perhaps a smidgen of inspiration from Boston Magazine.

So I had to copy by hand. The map is actually quite a piece of work: the lines have funky uneven curves, the Green Line changes width as it splits and some of the stations aren’t well-centered on the line. My map does not take any of that into account… so perhaps its better than the original.

Should anyone else run across the need, please feel welcome to use my evening’s work. Download the Boston Subway in SVG Format.


Anxiety Reading

Fiction writer Dawes Green was on Studio360 on Saturday night and he made mention of how people have changed since he last published a novel 14 years ago:

People aren’t reading books so much. They text and Twitter and Google a lot—anxiety reading—but they’re too jumpy for books.

(I slightly lie: that quote above is from a Publishers Weekly interview, via Literary License blog, but it was close enough to what he said on the radio)

Drupal: Adding a geocoding failure message to Location Module

One of the coolest pieces of Drupal is how simple it is to quickly enter a street address and have it show up on a dynamic map on your website using Location and GMap modules. To make it happen, a lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, in typical Drupal fashion, when something goes wrong, you aren’t provided much information to fix it.

A big issue if you’re having regular users enter information into your website is malformed addresses that can’t be automatically converted into latitude/longitude coordinates (geocoding) for display on a map. Out of the box, the Location module doesn’t give you a warning if it’s unable to geocode an address. On my website MappingAccess.org–a community maintained directory of Cable Access Television stations—I average about an email a week from a visitor saying “I added my station but it’s not showing up on the map”. Usually it’s a simple matter of using a PO Box or wacky abbreviation, but the website itself should be telling them there is a problem, not me.

So I whipped up a simple module that checks everytime a new station is submitted to see if the address was properly geocoded. If not, it displays a message with some tips on how to correct the issue.

Geocode Warning Message

You can download the module for Drupal 6.x by clicking here.

To be nitpicky, I’d rather the message show up during the validation stage—before the node is submitted—with the option to say “Please edit the address or press submit again to publish with the understanding that it will not show up on the map.” Unfortunately, in Drupal 6 you can’t make changes to node form during the validation stage—which I would use to set a flag in a hidden form element so that the validation message only gets triggered once. The current implementation calls a drupal_set_message in hook_nodeapi’s insert/update operations. It can be enabled on a per-content-type basis (on the Content Type Configuration screen).

Religion and individualism

Douglas Rushkoff thoroughly investigates the self-indulgent role of individualism and choice as it is used to justify consumption and corporate control. Karen Armstrong in A History of God, explores the emergence of this through the eyes of religion. The following is about Sir Mohammed Iqbl (1877-1938) “who became for the Muslims of India what Ghandhi was for the Hindus” (emphasis mine):

From such Western philosophers as Nietzsche, Iqbal had imbibed the importance of individualism. The whole universe represented an Absolute from which was the highest form of individuation and which men had called “God.” In order to realize their own unique nature, all human beings must become more like God. That meant that each must become more individual, more creative and must express this creativity in action. The passivity and craven self-effacement (which Iqbal put down to Persian influence) of the Muslims of India must be laid aside. The Muslim principle of ijtihad (independent judgement) should encourage them to be receptive to new ideas: the Koran itself demanded constant revision and self-examination. Like al-Afghani and Abduh, Iqbal tried to show that the empirical attitude, which was key to progress, had originated in Islam and passed to the West via Muslim science and mathematics during the Middle Ages. Before the arrival of the great confessional religions during the Axial Age, the progress of humanity had been haphazard, dependent as it was upon gifted and inspired individuals. Muhammad’s prophecy was the culmination of these intuitive efforts and rendered any further revelation unnecessary. Henceforth people could rely on reason and science.

Unfortunately individualism had become a new form of idolatry in the West, since it was now an end in itself. People had forgotten that all true individuality derived from God. The genius of the individual could be used to dangerous affect if allowed absolutely free rein. The breed of Supermen who regarded themselves as Gods, as envisaged by Nietzsche, was a frightening prospect: people needed the challenge of a norm that transcended the whims and notions of the moment. It was the mission of Islam to uphold the nature of true individualism against the Western corruption of the ideal. They had their Sufi ideal of the Perfect Man, the end of creation and the purpose of its existence. Unlike the Superman who saw himself as supreme and despised the rabble, the Perfect Man was characterized by his total receptivity to the Absolute and would carry the masses along with him.

Good advice to live by

Douglas Rushkoff wraps up _Life, Inc. _with the clearest conception of “act local, think global” I’ve read (and usually seems to be misinterpreted).

Instead of fighting corporations with corporations of our own [like nonprofits–Ben], or working through corporations to reduce their negative impact on society, we’re better off reinventing ourselves as humans. We live on a terrain and in a dimension they can pollute but to which they will never belong. By working on this human-scaled landscape instead, we can create changes in our own lives and communities that stand a chance, in aggregate, of trickling up and changing how the big world operates as well.

We can’t look for those kinds of changes overnight. The grand expectations we have for ourselves and our achievements are really just the false promises of consumerism, brand culture and the politics of revolutionary change. This is the ideological heritage of the Renaissance, and what brought us into the cycle of utopian hopes and alienated cynicism we’re churning through today.

We’d each like to launch a national movement, create the website that teaches the world how to build community from the bottom up, develop the curriculum that saves public schools, or devise the clever anti-marketing media campaign that breaks the spell of advertising once and for all. But these ego trips are the artifacts of the strident individualism we were taught to embrace. The temptation to save the whole world—and get the credit—comes at the expense of steps we might better take to make our immediate world a more fruitful, engaging, sustainable, and satisfying place. A successful movement depends on getting attention from media and institutions that are dead set against recognizing our ability to create value ourselves, and for its own sake. The minute they find out what we’re up to, it’s their job to dash our hopes and return our attention to the false idols they’re selling us.