NASA proposes free software exception for contractors

NASA just submitted a proposed update to its acquisition regulations, specifying that contracting software developers may request to retain their copyright in order to release their software as part of a free software project. This is a good update, and parallels earlier language that allowed contractors to request to retain their copyright to use in commercial software projects—obviously more choice for free software is nice.

Here’s the language of the proposal:

[1827.404-4(b)](2) The contracting officer may [...] grant the contractor permission to assert claim to copyright, publish, or release to others computer software first produced in the performance of a contract if:


(ii) The contractor has identified an existing open source software project or proposes a new one and states a positive intention of incorporating identified computer software first produced under the contract into that project, or has been instructed by the Agency to incorporate software first produced under the contract into an open source software project or otherwise release the software as open source software;

Of course, in the absence of such a provision, NASA could get assigned the copyright and choose to release it into the public domain or under a free license itself. But a developer interested in continuing work on the project would probably do a better job, so it’s good to see they now can request the right to do so.

This proposal is open for comments for the next 60 days, in case anybody is interested in weighing in.

Berlin’s Fernsehturm and Sutro Tower

I realized today that despite spending a lot of time looking at each of them, I didn’t know which was taller: Berlin’s Fernsehturm or Sutro Tower. Quick answer is the TV Tower is quite a bit taller if you don’t take into account the elevation of Mount Sutro, but in order to visualize it better I stuck them next to each other, at scale.

sutrovberlinfixedIn order to do that, I had to first find silhouettes of the two structures. Fortunately there’s a public domain version of the TV tower available on Wikipedia as an SVG. I simplified and vectorized the version that Sutro Tower, Inc. uses in its antennae diagrams.

Chalking “STOP NSA SPYING” on Snowden’s old street

IMG_20140825_133947While I was on vacation in Hawaii, my friends and I took a trip to Edward Snowden’s former house in the Waipahu area. Not much to see—it’s just a house in a residential neighborhood—but we were nearby and thought it’d be fun to make the trip. Here’s a picture of the five of us posed out in front (from left to right, that’s me, Sarah Jeong, Marcia Hofmann, Kashmir Hill, and Trevor Timm).

We hatched an idea to come back with sidewalk chalk, and on the day I left for the airport we stopped by and I took to the street. Here are the results.


Rick Perry, meet Warby Parker

As I just announced on Twitter: it turns out the mugshot from Rick Perry’s recent indictment works just fine in the Warby Parker virtual glasses try-on tool.

Media literacy and #Ferguson livestreams

I’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri all this week. There is a movement growing as a lot of ugly forces in American life are becoming impossible for a certain mainstream to continue ignoring. At the same time, it’s been really remarkable from a media perspective: a lot of the story built on social media, and in a lot of ways that continues to be the most thorough and timely source of information.

Media literacy is more important than ever with a story like this. A lot of the most important sources of info don’t have the traditional trappings of authority; people are independent or reporting from previously unknown organizations, they’re livestreaming or posting photos to Twitter, articles are interspersed with a constant stream of updates.

Readers and viewers need a command of media literacy not just to evaluate what news is timely and important, but also to contribute to the conversation where necessary.

I pulled this clip out of a livestream from Argus Radio. I’m not sure most people can do that with the tools they know how to use, which is a real shame. Being able to copy and paste from video like from text is an essential part of media literacy in 2014, and will only get more important.

I use a tool called youtube-dl to download videos, and then edit with a combination of different pieces of software. If you don’t know where to start, look at the software that comes with your operating system. On Mac OS X, for example, Quicktime Player has some basic trimming and clipping functions to allow for basic editing right out of the box.

It goes beyond video, of course. One journalist, a sports editor in DC, used a Google Maps screencap and what appears to be OS X’s Preview app to make an annotated map of the areas in Ferguson where the major news stories are taking place.

And late last week, as many were upset about a proposed Day Of Rage coinciding with an earlier and more community-driven initiative called the National Moment of Silence, my friend Sarah Jeong did a very basic image edit that drove that point home. These things don’t have to be complex; a simple image got this point picked up by major media outlets.

Different people will find different things that work for them. But if you can’t interact with the media you’re observing, it can be hard to have a voice.