Public domain shot of the NSA Utah Data Center

Although the main point of my airship trip over the Utah Data Center was to announce the launch of Stand Against Spying, I did have a pretty great view of the facility. Inspired by Trevor Paglen’s efforts to supply a new “visual vocabulary” to the conversation about national intelligence, I got EFF to release one of the photos I took under a completely free CC0 waiver.


This is a low-res version. Click through to EFF or Wikimedia Commons to see the full high resolution version.

Valerie Simpson on sampling and creativity

I tuned in to an older episode of the public radio show “Song Travels” on a drive the other featuring performances and a discussion with Valerie Simpson. Simpson is a musician and with her husband made up the legendary married Ashford & Simpson songwriting duo, behind “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and a million other tunes.

I thought her comments on other artists sampling her recordings was interesting. Here’s a clip from the show, and a partial transcription:


I always think of it as a separate entity. I don’t, you know, I don’t get hung up on it. I’m glad that these young performers, you know, hear something and want to create another piece of music. I call it another piece, because usually they use so little of whatever was yours in their new thing, and then you claim a sizeable portion of it, so you have two things now in existence. And so, I’m cool with that.

…like I say, it’s another baby born.

She also talks in the clip about how different record deals throughout her career means she some sampling deals can be done without her input, but that artists often seek it anyway.

Of course it helps that Simpson gets paid for samples. But it strikes me as really cool that she sees artistic creativity as a positive sum effort, and that other people sampling her work doesn’t diminish that work at all.

Illegal spying below: my trip over Utah

I flew in an airship over the NSA’s Utah data center yesterday, as part of a joint action organized by Greenpeace and EFF. It was really a remarkable experience, and we were lucky enough to get it covered by a pretty wide range of media. Here’s a small sample:

The airship itself looked pretty incredible. EFF has more photos taken from the helicopter, but here’s one, credit to Greenpeace:

Utah Airship Flight

I also got some photos from in the airship itself. The obligatory selfie with me and Sim, the pilot for Greenpeace:

And of course some of the data center itself (here in the background):

More to come, both in terms of story and images. Follow the EFF blog to keep up!

“Come Take A Trip In My Airship”

Here’s a quick ukulele version I recorded of the old tune “Come Take A Trip In My Airship,” originally written in 1904 by George “Honey Boy” Evans and Ren Shields.

My cousin Chris

This weekend my dad and I dug through the family tree and determined that former senator and current MPAA chief Chris Dodd is his third cousin—and so my third cousin once removed. To be precise: my great-great-great-grandfather Michael Higgins is Chris Dodd’s great-great-grandfather.

The Senator and I.

Michael Higgins was born in Knockanore, County Waterford, Ireland in 1814, and had some four or five children with his wife Margaret Geary. Between about 1865 and 1870, the couple and their children (separately) sailed for the US and settled in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.

One of their sons, Michael C. Higgins, married Mary Ann Burke in Connecticut. They had a son, C. Leo Higgins, who married Marie Rose Henry. Their son John Higgins was my grandfather. His eldest brother Leo died earlier this year, and there was a nice obituary in the Westerly Sun with some information about the pharmacy they ran.

Another of Michael Higgins’ sons, William Higgins, married twice. With his second wife, Mary McDonald, he had a daughter named Helene “Nellie” Higgins. Helene married John Murphy, and together they had a daughter Grace Murphy, who married Senator Thomas Dodd. Chris Dodd is their son.

My dad had indicated before that there was some familial connection, but I didn’t expect that we’d narrow it down like this. It feels a little more concrete to know that Chris Dodd’s grandmother’s maiden name was Higgins!

Given how frequently our organizations views differ, especially on copyright issues, it’s surprising to know we’re related however distantly. I guess I can see the resemblance, though.