Inside the machine

I have to say the upside of having bloggers at the DNC is that I’ve learned the ropes of how these conventions go, through their eyes. I didn’t know about speech embargoes until a few people posted about speeches before they happened.

While watching Fox news for a few minutes tonight (to see O’Reilly take on Michael Moore), I noticed they don’t show speeches in their entirety like the other networks, but simply cut to certain sections. Knowing about these embargoes, it becomes clear why they choose to cut away to live, in-progress speeches — they know exactly what’s coming up and they can highlight the most offending sections, and just those sections, out of context from the rest of the speech.

Legal, schmegal

The intersection of photography and the law has always interested me. I just got the strangest note from a museum, reading me the riot act over a few photos I posted online that I took of their collection. I explained I wasn’t selling my photos on my personal site and they eventually called off the hounds, but I’m still taken aback whenever I go somewhere with fine print on the tickets that lets you know commercial photography is a strict no-no.

Any lawyers in the audience care to tell me why these things are enforceable? I can see how taking a photo of a painting, then making lots of prints and selling it would be harming the museum (that might have prints for sale in the gift shop). But taking a photograph of an object within the museum, or a strange view of a sculpture there, how does that harm the museum aside from them merely wanting a financial cut of the action? Is it legal for them to demand you can’t sell a photo if you are at a private, non-profit museum? How about at a public one?

Personal Radio?

I’ve long been a fan of Audioscrobbler and a user there, but I’ve been waiting for them to do cool stuff with the data.

I don’t know exactly what the relationship is with audioscrobbler, but Last.FM appears to be everyone’s audioscrobbler data (like mine), but with mp3 streaming of the music. I just tried it out and heard my own collection streaming back at me, as a virtual radio station. It will even let me hear all my friends’ music in streaming form.

Something makes me think this can’t possibly be legal or last for any length of time, but it is a cool use of Audioscrobbler’s data.

update: Since I posted this I’ve learned that audioscrobbler and are working together off the same data, share the same programming teams, and are housed in the same building. I’ve also heard that unlike the case in the US, under UK law, the site is legit and legal the licenses the company has are a-ok on internet streaming, which is great to hear. I’d hate to see either useful, cool service go the way of the original napster dodo.

On being filtered

I wasn’t going to write any more about the hotel net blocking thing since the head of IT over at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel promised they’d remove the employee proxy from the guest wireless network, but it’s still in place a day later. But this isn’t about that. I woke up a bit early this morning and decided to surf around a bit more to see who and how stuff is blocked in the SiteFilter proxy software.

I tried all sorts of blogs, both new and old, political and tech, but the ones that were blocked were completely random. Like I said before, is blocked (screenshot), but similar sites are not. Gawker is blocked (screenshot), but no other gawker media site is (wonkette and gizmodo are fine). Acts of Volition seemed strange to block (screenshot), since it’s a pretty tightly focused tech/design blog. On the purely humorous side, Oliver Willis is considered not a “Chat” site like the rest of the blocked blogs, but a “Sex” site (screenshot). I bet the #joiito army is not going to be happy when they hear that Joi Ito’s site is blocked (screenshot).

When I found another random blog blocked, Girlhacker in this case (screenshot), I tried her main domain, but that worked (screenshot). So it seems they are putting in specific URLs in some cases (like this one), but in other cases (like MetaFilter), I can’t get to, as the entire domain is blocked.

Of blogging services, the only one blocked is Blogger (screenshot), and just for a lark I tried Orkut, but that was blocked too (screenshot), dubbed a “Dating” site.

Those last two are a bit more interesting than simply blocking one person’s daily thoughts. I’ve been told this system is in place in every public library in Georgia (internet filters are currently required on a federal level or they lose their funding if I remember correctly). I know libraries have a longstanding problem with random folks viewing porn at free kiosks, but I think blocking a major blog service like Blogger is taking this too far. We’ve already seen examples of voices only heard through blogging, like the Homeless Guy and Salam Pax. They use their blogs as their secret channel to communicate to the world, and it’s not hard to imagine someone with an unique perspective on life that was limited to free internet use at a library.

I’m often jokingly comparing bloggers to pamphleteers of yore, but within blogging there are definitely some significant cases where people have a message to get out that can change the world. To find out that an institution of democracy like a library might be barring someone from sharing their perspective with the world saddens me. The irony that I had to go to significant means to even post this entry (my blog software has a * address) isn’t lost on me.

What you can do about this: use this smartfilter tool to see if your site is being blocked, and you can request removal or reclassification. Seth also has a bunch of great info on filter software.

How to treat your customers like children

Every few weeks I get email from folks blocked from viewing metafilter at work, asking for my help. I’d never experienced it, so I usually tell folks that if they don’t know the right IT person to ask, maybe they shouldn’t browse the internet on the job.

I’m staying in a hotel in San Francisco right now and they offer free hotel wireless, which is nice. What isn’t nice is that they’ve got a proxy server set up, just like a lot of large workplaces. You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s what I get when I go to any site that ends in

And just to show you how lame the system is, it thinks Glassdog is mature. A quick scan of the average day’s posts there shows you just how catty and immature Glassdog can be.

There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. BoingBoing works fine, but doesn’t. Why on earth should a hotel wireless network care if you want to visit “chat” sites? Why insult your own guests?

update: Cory asks where it is, and it’s the Villa Florence, which is a Kimpton Hotel. The network is surprisingly controlled, as I couldn’t VPN around the block, but ended up using a public proxy to get to all the sites I wanted to. I contacted their proxy czar (he’s listed on the error pages) to see why they do this.

A friend came up with a possible explanation: they might put the proxy up to block employees from goofing off, and didn’t bother to build a separate employee network from the hotel customer network. If that’s the case, I sincerely hope the same employee computers used to browse the web aren’t the same computers that capture my credit card info during check-in. Seems like a bad security problem waiting to happen.

It’s not a bad hotel, I’ve got a bed with surprisingly high thread-count sheets for a lowball Priceline offer. But if you’re a internet type person traveling through SF, you might want to skip the Sir Francis Drake and Villa Florence hotels while they have this network control in place.

update #2: I heard back from the hotel IT lead and they had added the proxy for employee surfing, which they never intended to apply to the hotel customer network. He said they are working on lifting the proxy for guests today.

I also found out that the software “SmartFilter” that ran the hotel proxy apparently uses the same database nationwide, since as of now, you can no longer access from any public library in the state of Georgia. Terrific.