Archive for February, 2006
undermining google.cn

Like most people I know, I was saddened, but not surprised, by Google.cn. I get the official corporate reasoning, although it smells more of justification than reason. But even if I understand the reasoning/justifications — some information is better than no information; someone else (China?) will do it if we don’t; engagement is better than isolation; blah blah blah — Google.cn is, unquestionably, not the principled thing to do. Lay as much as you want on the Google.cn side of the scales, but here’s what’s on the other side: Google set up a censored version of a database, with the intent to keep information away from 1.3 billion human beings, at the behest of the few thousands of people in the government who are responsible for this decision. There’s a four-letter word to describe that and it starts with “e” and rhymes with “bee-vil”.

If Google truly believes its own rationalizations, and if the company’s decision-makers are truly committed to not being evil, then I have a suggestion for them: Large donations to peacefire and other groups working to defeat censorware, now.

As long as I have been watching censorware [aka "filterware"] arguments — since the mid/late-90s, actually, on library listserves — Bennett Haselton (Peacefire) has been out there doing research on the issue and developing tools to route around censorship. One such tool is the Circumventor program. It’s a sort of peer-to-peer router option to help provide uncensored access to the Internet. (Hey Bennett and other developers: a mac version would be nice. I bet a nice big check from Google would help develop some new versions of the software.)

I’m not familiar with all the organizations below, but they’re worth checking out, and if you like them, support their work.

today is his birthday … happy birthday to him

pharyngula posts the funniest portrait of Chuck that I’ve seen. (I’ve been told that my sense of humor is obscure.) Compare with his earlier mutton-chop look over at Wikipedia. The iconic image is still available in ready-to-stick form @ Swarthmore’s Chaz Has a Posse.

Go forth and evolve. (Or, at my house in Boston, surrounded by two-foot snow drifts, stay in and surf.)

the kindness of strangers

So, tonight I was in a NYC restaurant with a dear friend, when I got a call from an unknown number in Boston. The unknown number turned out to be a library science professor at Simmons College, whom I have never met, and he wanted to know if I’ve lost my wallet. I found this very peculiar, since although I live in Boston, I’ve been in New York for the past few days, and I’ve definitely been using my wallet — in fact, I used my wallet just a couple of hours ago to buy groceries.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, “unless you’re in New York.”

“Well, I’m not in New York, I’m in Boston, but I got a call from New York a couple of hours ago while I was teaching, from someone who says he found your wallet. Then I looked you up on the Internet & got your number. You have an interesting resumé.”

I’m really pretty amazed, but thinking back I realize that I last used my wallet about three hours ago, coming out of the grocery store and crossing the street to my friend’s apartment building — literally, probably only about a hundred feet. It turns out that in my wallet I had a scrap of paper with this professor’s contact information on it, from a chance meeting with one of his students at a cafe a couple of days ago. The student thought the professor and I should talk, and since I hadn’t had a chance to write him yet, his email was still on the scrap of paper in my wallet. I hastily explain this, not very clearly, and the professor, a bit bemused, gives me the New York number of the person who claims to have found my wallet, and I ring off, to call the New York number.

“Hello?”

“Umm … my name is Laura Quilter; are you the person who found my wallet?”

“Yeah, I did — where are you?”

“I’m at the Trattoria Dante at [somewhere nearby].”

“I’m right around the corner; I’ll be there in two minutes. I know what you look like from your driver’s license.” He paused. “Umm, I’m not a detective, so I had to go through your wallet; I hope you’re not pissed.”

“No, no, of course not — just amazed that you’ve taken all this trouble.”

Two minutes later, indeed, he was there. I said I was extremely impressed by New Yorkers; it turns out he was actually from San Diego (but is apparently a New Yorker now). He wouldn’t take any money; wouldn’t even let me buy him a drink. He had spent god knows how much time trying to find me. My wallet wasn’t exactly very helpful, I realized afterwards, looking through it with a stranger’s eyes. Zipcar membership, health insurance, Trader Joe’s gift certificate, bar membership cards, picture of my spouse from a photobooth, espresso club card … My driver’s license — which I blush to admit is still a California license, even though I’ve been in Boston for almost a year — turned out to be more confusing than helpful since he thought perhaps I still lived near Berkeley. But he saw a Boston Public Library card, and the phone number of the professor in Boston.

Then, the professor in Boston, who also had never heard of me, and had no idea why his name might be in my wallet, spent who knows what amount of time looking me up on the Internet, tracking me down, and talking with me. It turns out there were only a couple of degrees of separation between him and me — my friend that I’m staying with knows several of the professor’s colleagues. The unknown benefactor, however, remains unknown. But greatly appreciated.