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A Twitter conversation with Marc Andreessen re Snowden, Silicon Valley

In a long and eventually convoluted conversation on Twitter today, I asked Marc Andreessen some questions about his assertion on CNBC that Edward Snowden is a “textbook traitor” and that the Obama administration left the NSA “out to dry.” What began as a two-way conversation quickly become multidirectional. Here’s everything I could find from the exchange(s), though it went off on a number of tangents not captured here. (I’m updating…) The author of each tweet is the first person on the line (Twitter doesn’t offer threaded views, so it’s a bit of a mess): (UPDATE: GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram parsed the back-and-forth and came up with this take on it.)

@dangillmor @pmarca: Puzzled by your logic, @pmarca — are you more upset that US is hacking US-based companies to spy or that it was revealed to the world?

@pmarca: @dangillmor I’ll answer questions but not spring-loaded ones. 9:28 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca OK, one at a time. Does it bother you that NSA hacked US companies’ networks?

@pmarca: @mgalicki @dangillmor I don’t even know what that means. 9:33 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor That part doesn’t thrill me. 9:33 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca How do you feel about NSA sabotaging encryption?

@dangillmor @pmarca Is it OK for US to secretly modify US-made hardware being sent overseas (and, most likely, being delivered inside US as well)?

@pmarca: @dangillmor NSA has been dual mission: protect US infrastructure + spy on foreign communication. That’s obviously not sustainable. 9:35 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor As you know, at Netscape we were a big part of the fight with the NSA to overturn export controls on strong encryption. 9:36 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca If NSA secretly hacking US companies’ networks is a bad thing, why is revealing it a bad thing?

@pmarca: @dangillmor I am an unconditional fan of unlimited strong encryption worldwide and always have been, as demonstrated by us creating SSL. 9:36 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor And I think the “protecting US infrastructure” part of the mission needs to increasingly dominate between the two. 9:37 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor The vast majority of the Snowden leaks have nothing to do with US citizens or US infrastructure. 9:38 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca Netscape did important work to overturn export controls. But NSA’s response was partly to sabotage crypto for everyone.

@pmarca: @dangillmor The comprehensive leaking of US intelligence operations globally are treasonous by definition. 9:38 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor If Snowden and his allies had only revealed issues specific to US citizens & US companies, that would be one thing. 9:39 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca Even though countless US citizens are being caught up in the dragnet surveillance, and all phone records being collected?

@pmarca: @dangillmor But that is very much not what has happened. 9:39 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor Snowden fans have cognitive dissonance, are ignoring all of his leaks that have nothing to do with US citizens: most of them. 9:40 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca It would still, by the definition you used today, be traitorous, would it not?

@pmarca: @dangillmor I think phone record metadata is a very difficult and complex edge case. I don’t think it’s black and white. 9:40 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor The whistleblower case could be legitimately argued, in my view, for issues specific to US citizens. 9:40 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor There is no whistleblower case for revealing foreign intelligence operations not involving US citizens. 9:41 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor Which is the majority of what has happened. 9:41 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca The “protecting US infrastructure” mission, done right, will make spying harder everywhere, will it not?

@pmarca: @dangillmor To just ignore that or say it’s OK is a whole new definition of OK from all US legal norms and precedents. 9:42 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Some folks hold bulk surveillance of the comms of an entire country is a human rights issue. Antithetical to free press. 9:42 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor Yes. That’s why NSA fought encryption so hard in the 1990s (which, again, I was fighting for :-). 9:43 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor That’s the conflict in the NSA’s current dual mission. 9:43 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Fair enough, but revealing foreign intelligence operations is literally, definitionally treason. 9:44 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca We keep learning that foreign intelligence programs are creating mass collection of US info, or have domestic implications.

@pmarca: @octal @dangillmor Yes, that has become a very big problem. 9:45 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor That I do not like one bit. 9:46 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca Still not clear on how White House, which has neutered the NSA “reform”, has left NSA “out to dry.”

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Indeed. So how can or should vast, secret programs secure the consent of the governed, especially in an endless war? 9:48 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @digiphile @dangillmor: okay, so separate question: is treason of that sort ever justified — Pentagon Papers etc.? 9:48 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Three branches of government providing a matrix of oversight; two of them directly elected by the people. 9:49 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca Secret courts making secret rulings after hearing only govt’s case are hardly “oversight”. Congressional “oversight” has been nil.

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Representative democracy, not unilateral direct action or mob rule. 9:49 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor I read the Pentagon Papers as different: they were a historical study, vs current US intelligence activities. 9:50 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca still top secret, and govt argued would have current impact (Vietnam war wasn’t over at that point) @mathewi

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Congressional oversight of secret programs & laws is how that’s supposed to work in our republic. How’s that working? 9:50 AM

@mathewi: .@mims: Well, some of the questions that @dangillmor is currently asking of @pmarca, like is treason worse than mass surveillance? 9:50 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Right. Founders were quite clear about that bit. Not sure Jefferson would be down with secret laws & interpretations. 9:51 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Should it therefore be up to one 29-year-old analyst to make a different decision on all our behalfs? 9:53 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca that is precisely how a lot of misdeeds by government have come to light over the years. imperfect but vital. @digiphile

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor If Congress & @WhiteHouse extended whisteblower protections to national intel contractors, perhaps next one won’t do so. 9:54 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @mathewi Easier to have perspective 40 years later, for sure. 9:54 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Of course. 9:55 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor And that then justifies an unlimited pass for treason? 9:55 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca i think that greatly overstates it. 9:57am

@digiphile: @pmarca @mathewi @dangillmor Pentagon Papers published by @NYTimes in 1971, *during* the Vietnam War. Showed admin lied, war scope expanded. 9:56 AM

@pmarca: @prestonrhea @dangillmor No, those aren’t national secrets. 9:56 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor What has the administration does to support them? 9:56 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor So a limited pass for treason? 9:57 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca whistleblowing

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Could an act of treason revealing secret programs / laws be warranted if SCOTUS or Members of Congress kept in the dark? 9:58 AM

@mathewi retweeted: @pmarca still top secret, and govt argued would have current impact (Vietnam war wasn’t over at that point) @mathewi 10:00 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor I think there is such a thing as whistleblower actions but I think in nat’l sec they have to be carefully defined. 10:01 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca whistleblowing about grossly abusive foreign intelligence practices not treason, then? how do we refine it? @digiphile

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor So operations vs US citizens not properly disclosed to oversight, there’s a strong pro-whistleblower argument. 10:01 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor But the vast majority of what Snowden has done is way beyond that. 10:02 AM

@pmarca: @adikamdar @dangillmor Probably so :-). 10:02 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile I think you’re confusing “operations vs US citizens” and “operations that violate US law.” 10:05 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: treason may be a crime, but mass surveillance of US citizens is also a crime — is the former justified by the latter? 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @tcarmody @dangillmor @digiphile Indeed, the difference between those two concepts itself is interesting and important. 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor The vast majority of what Snowden has done has nothing to do with surveillance of US citizens. 10:06 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca not arguing for zero secrecy, but what our govt does with our money and in our names is highly relevant to US citizens. @mathewi

@sarahjeong: @pmarca @dangillmor I’m not a US citizen and I think I’m a person with rights 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor His supporters give him a complete pass on all of that and I just don’t understand it. 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @sarahjeong @dangillmor Indeed you are, but every country legally differentiates between their own citizens and foreigners, including yours. 10:07 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile Operations against noncitizens that violate US law are a real concern in this case. 10:08 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: Okay, but you didn’t answer my original question :-) 10:08 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @digiphile I think revealing foreign intelligence operations is the very definition of treason. 10:08 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @digiphile I don’t even know what’s controversial about that statement. 10:08 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Support for whistleblowers is key component of representative democracy, as we think of it today. http://t.co/pS6Of9hXFi 10:09 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile the problem again is when foreign intelligence operations violate the laws of your country. 10:09 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @mathewi Of course. Which is why we have three branches of government, two directly elected, to maintain oversight. 10:09 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile If you swear an oath to the Constitution, unconstitutional operations could themselves be considered treason. 10:09 AM

@pmarca: @tcarmody @dangillmor @digiphile Most of the operations Snowden has revealed are not in violation of US law. 10:10 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca most haven’t been ruled on by courts other than the rubber-stamp FISA court, if even that @tcarmody @digiphile

@dangillmor: @pmarca …and key members of Congress have said White House has grossly expanded interpretation of laws they passed @tcarmody @digiphile

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Operations vs the foreign nationals of other countries are also rightfully subject to oversight & disclosure to Congress 10:10 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Yes! 10:10 AM

@sarahjeong: @pmarca @dangillmor In the United States, many constitutionally guaranteed rights (inc. 4A) apply to non-citizen residents as well. 10:10 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Yes, but that is not an unlimited pass to leak every government secret. 10:10 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @tcarmody @dangillmor U.S. law also once allowed slavery, denied women the vote or minorities rights. Not all that’s lawful is just. 10:11 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Which one? 10:11 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Many shades of gray. Most #OpenGov advocates acknowledge Snowden’s path to disclosure suboptimal: http://t.co/8z1UknV60b 10:12 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @tcarmody @digiphile Your opinion that the FISA court is meaningless is neither uniformly shared nor based on any law. 10:12 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: whether Snowden’s act of treason is justified because it revealed a much larger crime, i.e. mass surveillance 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @paleofuture @mathewi @dangillmor It was literally a historical study. 10:13 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor There are no unlimited passes to leak every secret, even for POTUS. 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Snowden has committed many acts by revealing many secrets. 10:13 AM
390697 is your Twitter login code. 10:13 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Reasonable people acknowledge the need for some government secrecy, especially on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor The majority are self-evidently treason as they reveal foreign intelligence operations not involving US citizens. 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor There are a handful involving US citizens that may deserve whistleblower status. 10:14 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: okay then, a hypothetical: if he had only revealed surveillance of US citizens, would his treason be justified? 10:14 AM

@digiphile: RT @michellequinn @pmarca @dangillmor Traitor or not, Snowden could have picked another path – conscientious objector http://t.co/Y3V6iPoryo 10:14 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor But even those are complex, and not just slam dunk black and white “he’s a hero”. 10:14 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca We differ on this, but IMO Snowden has done more to honor oath to “defend and protect the Constitution” than the others @mathewi

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Like I said, for example, I don’t think phone metadata is a black and white issue the way it’s being portrayed. 10:15 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Another example, the early PRISM reporting was spectacularly wrong, which has stuck. 10:16 AM

@mathewi retweeted: @pmarca …and key members of Congress have said White House has grossly expanded interpretation of laws they passed @tcarmody @digiphile 10:16 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca but that’s on the reporters, not snowden. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:16 AM

@pmarca: @vhokstad @mathewi @dangillmor Every country legally differentiates between citizens and non-citizens. 10:17 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor A lot of people think that he revealed US Internte companies voluntarily giving NSA unlimited access. 10:17 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca we still don’t know how voluntary US companies’ cooperation has been. part of the problem. @mmasnick @mathewi

@mmasnick: @pmarca do you may any distinction between snowden and the reporters? @mathewi @dangillmor 10:17 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor Which is not actually true. 10:17 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca i know. i’ve written exactly that. but, still, that’s the reporters. not snowden. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:18 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca also, can you explain what’s “gray” in the phone metadata? @mathewi @dangillmor 10:20 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor But it has really affected what people think Snowden has revealed and whether he’s a hero or a traitor. 10:20 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor It’s within NSA remit to monitor SIGINT into and out of the US involving foreigners. 10:21 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor So how to fulfill that mission when one person in the communication chain is an American citizen? 10:22 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor It’s a very complex issue. Smart people in government have grappled with it for decades. 10:22 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor I’m not saying surveillance of US citizens is right. I’m saying this particular issue is complex. 10:22 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca not that complex. 4th amendment is kind of there for a reason. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:23 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor Well, I disagree. 10:23 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @mmasnick @dangillmor: I agree it’s a complicated issue — which is why calling Snowden a traitor isn’t all that helpful 10:24 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca does 8 years of the program not being once useful in stopping anything clarify it? @mathewi @dangillmor 10:24 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @mmasnick @dangillmor Do you think that revealing foreign intelligence operations not involving American citizens is treason? 10:24 AM

@mmasnick: @dangillmor reporting mistakenly thought it was access across all servers, rather than responsive to 702 orders. @pmarca @mathewi 10:25 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @dangillmor @mathewi Correct. 10:25 AM

@mmasnick: @dangillmor big difference and @pmarca is right that it has influenced discussion. but still… @mathewi 10:25 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @dangillmor @mathewi Internal NSA analyst training slides were misinterpreted both by Snowden and by WP/Guardian. 10:26 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca not clear that snowden misinterpreted. where do you get that from? @dangillmor @mathewi 10:26 AM

@froomkin: .@dangillmor grilling of @pmarca over Snowden turns into neat Twitter colloquy: https://t.co/Hh0t7WaJGZ 10:26 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @dangillmor @mathewi On that note, enough on this topic for now from my end :-). 10:26 AM

@mmasnick: @ChaseTheTruth 4th amendment is against unreasonable *search* and seizure. not just criminal prosecution. @pmarca @mathewi @dangillmor 10:27 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @mmasnick @dangillmor: Sure it is, because it meets the technical definition of that term. But parts of what he did were justified 10:27 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @mmasnick @dangillmor: No, wait — don’t go! I have more questions :-) 10:29 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca treason requires *purposely* aiding enemies. revealing intelligence does not necessarily do that. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:29 AM

@mathewi: @mmasnick @pmarca @dangillmor: And at least some in Congress have tried to argue that leaking to the press fulfills that criteria 10:31 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca more to the point, he revealed intelligence to US reporters. and they to the public. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:33 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca he did not reveal to the “enemy”, which is a key part of treason. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:33 AM

dangillmor: @Hey, all — give @pmarca a lot of credit for directly and publicly discussing this stuff. A lot of other folks wouldn’t have done that.

@mathewi: Agreed MT @dangillmor: give @pmarca credit for directly and publicly discussing this stuff. A lot of other folks wouldn’t have done that 10:43 AM

@digiphile: @BradMossEsq @pmarca @dangillmor it’s relevant to any other number of American laws, strategic interests, and it’s worth noting, values. 10:47 AM

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Did my father write first about malware?

After World War II, my father was a writer and editor in New York. His byline was “Dan Gillmor” (I’m Dan Jr.), and one of his favorite publications was the Nation magazine, a prominent progressive journal (then and now) to which he contributed for many years.

Recently, my nephew Daniel Kahn Gillmor (sometimes known as Daniel Gillmor; sorry if this gets confusing), forwarded a clip from the magazine that his mother, my sister Mickey, had sent him. (Update: It may have been his father, Henry…) I hadn’t seen it before, and (like Daniel) was delighted by it.

I showed it to my friend John Markoff, the New York Times journalist who now writes primarily about  robotics and artificial intelligence, and he said, “That has to be the first thing ever written on malware.” I’m not positive about that (let me know if you know otherwise), but the piece was definitely way, way ahead of its time — consider how today’s and especially tomorrow’s robots and AI truly do threaten to erase employment on a mass scale — and a fond reminder of how smart my dad was, not to mention his acute sense of the absurd.

Anyway, here’s that piece:

Mechanical Brain Era

By Dan Gillmor
(The Nation, 16 July 1949, p.62)

Little would we suspect, were it not for Louis N. Ridenour, dean of the Graduate College, University of Illinois, that we are standing on the threshold of the Second Industrial Revolution. In an article in the May issue of Fortune Dr. Ridenour explained the significance of “mechanical brains” or “automatic digital computers.” Heretofore, he said, we have had to control machines by the regrettable device of “inserting a man” — in a steam shovel, for instance. Thanks to the new electronic super-gadgets, this era, the Era of Inserted Man, is  about to end. The automatic digital computers will take over.

The a. d. c.’s can do arithmetic a thousand times faster than men. They can remember what answer they got, compare it with the answer to another calculation, decide what to do next, do it, and type out their conclusions on a “suitably modified teletypewriter.” They have only two drawbacks, says Dr. Ridenour. The more complex they become, the more likely they are to make mistakes. Engineers try to get around this by wiring them so that whenever any little thing goes wrong, the whole machine goes crazy, thus warning its human masters that there is a bat in the electronic belfry. Human brains behave differently: “If a part fails [in ithe human brain],” says the Dean, “every effort is made to conceal the fault…” As electronic brains become more complicated, engineers will probably have to rig them so that they will not rationalize their neuroses.

The second problem is apparently to get rid of that teletypewriter on which the operator still must tell the machine what to do and vice versa. When that happens, we shall have “progressed far enough to complete the control organization of the machine–its sense organs and nervous system… While the First Industrial Revolution involved substitution of machinery for man’s musculature, the second will replace by inanimate devices man’s senses, nervous system, and brain… Though certain men at certain times perform superlatively in controlling machines, the over-all performance of a satisfactory automatic-control system Is likely to be preferable, since a machine cannot be frightened, distracted, bored, or unionized as readily as a human operator can.”

The Illinois savant has not overlooked even more desirable attributes of the a. d. c.: it doesn’t eat, sleep, switch to Calvert’s, or, best of all, get wages. “The present activities of certain labor organizations,” the Dean says, “seem calculated to encourage the trend [toward replacement of men by the new machines] as rapidly as our technology permits…. Rising wages put a premium on high productivity per worker and thus on fewer workers.  Any acts of capricious irresponsibility or malicious obstructionism on the part of labor unions put a premium on as complete an elimination of the human worker as possible.” In parentheses, Dr. Ridenour remarks, “And some union activities must have this aspect to employers.”

Strikes, contract negotiations, and demands for higher wages and shorter hours do indeed “have this aspect to employers.” But such acts of malicious obstructionism are soon to become part of the bygone era of the First Industrial Revolution. Nothing would seem to stand in the way of “productivity per worker” reaching a numerical value of infinity. Of cause a few obstructionist workers may resist such a trend, since it will eventually put them out of work. The C.I.O. [labor union] may even form a Automatic Digital Computers’ Organizing Committee. The capricious fellows may vote an assessment to buy an a. d. c themselves. For a while second-order differential equations will pour out of the C.I.O. a. d. c., as Mr. Murray and his colleagues try frantically to find a solution for the rapidly spreading obsolescence of the human brain. But the N.A.M., well in the lead with a new super-a. d. c, produced by International Business Machines, will blandly reply with a third-order equation. Hearst headlines will thunder:

taft declares nation, Taft declares.”

The Automatic Computer Subcommittee of the Un-American Activities Committee will bare a plot, hatched by Soviet agents trained on red a. d. c.’s, to wire subversive circuits into the United States Steel master-control a. d. c. Witnesses will be asked, “Are you or have you ever been have you ever been nation

The employers, who pioneered in a. d. c.’s will be one jump ahead all the time; and finally peace will settle over the land, with the Second Industrial Revolution predicted by Dr. Ridenour in full swing. Mankind will have achieved that perfect society in which there are only employers and eagerly cooperating a. d. c’s.

——
DAN GILLMOR is a feature writer on the New York Compass.

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Conference on World Affairs, an amazing week

At the University of Colorado in Boulder, the weather is fine and the speakers are finer at the annual Conference on World Affairs, a week-long series of panels (some 200 in all) at which folks discuss all kinds of topics.

I’m on seven panels this week, on topics ranging from the future of journalism to media monopolies to technology’s impact on reading. In the two I’ve done so far, especially a session on control of media, the university students have asked the best questions; they’ve obviously done some homework. It’s their future we’re talking about, after all.

The volunteers — program hosts, moderators, students, panelists, and more — are a joy to work with. And fellow panelists are teaching me things I didn’t know, even as we all make new friends in a busy week.

It’s hard to get me to commit myself to a full week of anything, but this tends to be worth it.

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Why I don’t force my students to buy an expensive textbook

In the online “digital media literacy” courses I teach for Arizona State University’s online program, the required reading includes my 2009 book, Mediactive. Most of the students don’t buy it.

The reason? I’ve published the book under a Creative Commons license that lets them, or anyone else, read it online (or download it) at no cost. Some buy it anyway — it’s not expensive, especially the ebook edition — and to those of you who do, thanks, I appreciate it.

My use of Creative Commons licensing is mostly about my objections to the draconian “All Rights Reserved” mentality our current copyright system engenders. My goal is to be heard at least as much as to be paid; but being heard is a prerequisite in any case in a world where the traditional ways of making and selling books have undergone such change.

Another reason I’m glad to be making the book available this way is my growing disgust at the academic publishers, which have pushed textbook prices into the stratosphere. It is a greed-infused ecosystem, where publishers rip off students in ways that should shame everyone involved.

Students are beginning to push back, in part by choosing courses with lower book costs. A good strategy — in part because it’s forcing the textbook industry to rethink the outrageous overpricing it’s gotten away with for so long.

Teachers and administrators are pushing back as well. The “open textbook” initiatives we’re seeing in K-12 schools and universities are evidence that people have had enough of the publishers’ greed. For example, a school district in Arizona is saving a lot of money by providing material created through this system, aiming the course reading at mobile devices. Maryland’s universities are moving in this direction with a pilot program. Foundations, recognizing a profound market failure, are moving into the field as well.

Textbook pricing is a classic bubble. It will burst. Harvard professor Gregory Mankiw should enjoy the ridiculous royalties on his grossly overpriced economics textbook while he can. Supply and demand will be arriving in what has been a rigged market, sooner than he may think. Those crashing revenues will be a nifty case study for an open economics text a few years from now.

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“Journalism innovation” teaching job open at U-Oregon

The University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication has created what sounds like a fantastic job for the right person. It’s looking for:

a leader who is dedicated to creating the future of journalism and civic engagement as the inaugural Chair in Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement. Candidates should be committed to enhancing democracy, public knowledge and civic life while exploring new approaches to and pushing the boundaries of journalism and communication. The Chair will join a faculty in SOJC’s Portland and Eugene locations. The Chair will play an integral role in the development and operation of SOJC’s new Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement.

I predict that some excellent people will be lining up at the door for this one. Oregon is a terrific place, and Portland is one of the most liveable cities in the U.S.

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Pat McGovern, R.I.P.

In the late 1990s, I think it was 1997, International Data Group invited me to interview the late Pat McGovern, founder and CEO of a company that published technology journals and did some of the best research in the field. We met at a Silicon Valley restaurant for breakfast. The conversation ranged all over the place, from technology (of course; I was a business and tech columnist at the time) to policy to global trends.

He dazzled me, then and in subsequent conversations over the years. He dazzled almost everyone. He combined a first-class mind, vision and temperament to literally create, and for many years dominate, an industry around bringing information about technology both to the tech industry and to a wider audience. IDG did research. It published trade journals. It created popular magazines like PC World and the “…for Dummies” series, and so much more. Later in life, Pat worked on improving the human condition, in particular by funding brain research.

Pat died yesterday in Palo Alto, California. Read this fine remembrance by Time’s Harry McCracken, who worked with Pat for many years, to understand what a multifaceted person — and rare kind of corporate leader — we’ve lost.

Calling Pat a visionary doesn’t begin capture his business acumen. And calling him a good person doesn’t capture what a gentleman he was.

At the end of our first conversation that morning in California, Pat told me that if I ever had an idea for a new publication he wanted to be the first to hear it, because he liked starting new things. I replied that I would do that, but hoped he realized that I couldn’t write a column about him now, because we  had created a potential conflict of interest. No problem, he said, it was still worth the time.

I never did start something with his company. I did almost work for him — twice, in fact, though neither deal ended up coming together for a variety of reasons.

Over the years when I was a tech journalist, we ran into each other many times. He’d long since become a billionaire, yet was always affable and happy to chat; and I always felt fortunate to learn what he thought was new and important. We’ve lost one of the greats in the tech and media worlds.

R.I.P.

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Education, Etcetera, Liberty, Media, Policy

I want to create “The Open Internet MOOC” — and you can help

The Knight, Ford and Mozilla Foundations are collaborating on the latest edition of the long-running Knight News Challenge. This one asks, “How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation?” — or risk losing the Net to the ever-more-powerful players that want to re-centralize (i.e. control) speech and, ultimately, innovation.

As you’ll see when you read the entries, folks are coming up with some terrific answers. I hope you’ll take a look at mine — I call it “The Open Internet MOOC” — and offer support if you like it. (Hint: There’s a little “Applause” button on the side that you can click.)

More important, I hope you’ll recognize the threat we all face, and get involved in saving/restoring the open Internet we all need.

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Etcetera

Lunch with RMS: Don’t use the word “open”

I met up with Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, for lunch today in San Francisco. Two people passing our table recognized him. Both used the word “open” in their brief chats with him. Needless to say, he told them they were using the wrong word — that “free” (as in freedom) was the only one that will do to describe his work and philosophy.

Our conversation was also about freedom, in the context of who controls our technology and communications. Hint: For the most part it’s not the users of technology and communications tools.

Stallman is relentless, and sometimes abrasive, in his approach to making things happen. He describes himself as pessimist by nature, yet he sees some signs of progress. Yes, there are constant encroachments on our liberties by governments, corporations and the metastasizing plutocracy that  seeks dominance of the economy and culture in service of wealth and power. But the often-tentative progressive movement is also starting to gain some strength, he said, even if it’s outmatched for now.

As I’ve said before, I deeply admire Stallman and his work, even if I don’t fully buy his prescriptions. Yes, I have decided that sometimes convenience outweighs absolute freedom; I recognize that makes me hypocritical in some ways, and I’ll live with that.

But I am determined to help people understand the consequences of using technology that others control. If we don’t realize what we’re doing, even when it’s costing us dearly in terms of our liberty, we can’t possibly make wise choices, whether they’re easy or difficult.

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