The future is brighter than you think

Cheery thoughts from Peter Diamandis.

Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smart phone using Google, he has access to more information than the U.S. president did just 15 years ago. If present growth rates continue, by the end of 2013, more than 70% of humanity will have access to instantaneous, low-cost communications and information.

This is a very big deal. According to research done at the London Business School, increasing the number of cell phone users by 10 among a group of 100 people raises GDP by 0.6%. To quote technology writer Nicholas Sullivan: “Extrapolating from UN figures on poverty reduction (1% GDP growth results in a 2% poverty reduction), that.0.6% growth would cut poverty by roughly 1.2%. Given 4 billion people in poverty, that means with every 10 new phones per 100 people, 48 million people graduate from poverty. …”

Polish democracy grows up

The best news we’ve had in months came from the Polish electorate, which comprehensively rejected the crew who have been ruining the country for the last few years. As the Guardian leader-writer puts it

Polish democracy grew up on Sunday, when the country’s voters rejected the strident, xenophobic nationalism of Jaroslav Kaczynski. The election mattered not just because it was the first time a generation born after 1989 could vote. Nor because the liberal conservative winner Donald Tusk won the strongest mandate of any prime minister in the post-communist era. It was important because it saw a new generation of voters express its impatience with a leadership that saw the rise of Poland exclusively through the prism of 20th-century invasion and occupation. Though Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother Lech still holds the presidency, Poland has turned a corner.

The reaction in European capitals to the departure of the intellectually dominant Kaczynski twin is not the best way to gauge the result of a snap election. But it does show how many countries the twins alienated in their brief but incident-packed reign. There was Germany, which found that the country they had sponsored for entry into the EU was now using membership as a way of settling old scores. There was Russia, whose relationship with the EU was embittered by Poland, retaliating to a Russian ban on Polish meat. There was the EU itself, whose reform treaty was nearly scuppered in the summer by Polish demands for more votes. The election was as much about Poland’s image abroad as it was about the need for more tolerance and liberty at home. If Mr Kaczynski’s model for Poland was a combative, xenophobic country surrounded by perceived enemies, and committed only to a relationship with a dwindling band of US neoconservatives, that model was rejected by the thousands of Poles living in Britain and Ireland who had a calmer, less hysterical view Poland’s place in Europe…

Teaching done right

Cory Doctorow has been teaching an undergraduate course at the University of Southern California called ‘PWNED: Everyone on Campus is a Copyright Criminal’. The class was open to anyone on or off campus, and lectures were podcasted. The students edited a class blog and were expected to improve Wikipedia posts relevant to the class. For the end of semester, each student turned in a final project that related the course material to their lives and major areas of study.

In this post Cory highlights some of the projects. “From the class discussions and one-on-ones”, he writes,

I knew I had a really amazing bunch on my hands, but I was absolutely gobsmacked by the incredible quality of the final projects. From founding a record label to conducting public polls to writing guidelines for journalists to interviews and classroom materials, my students did me better than proud.

I encouraged my students to do work that would be of use to the world at large. I hate the idea of the usual college final paper, which the student doesn’t want to write, the prof doesn’t want to read and no one else wants to ever see. Instead, I challenged them to produce useful work that the world could benefit from, and they met and exceeded the challenge…

Worth reading in full. Wonderful stuff. Cory is a genius.

Joyce aggression finally halted

Hooray! Stephen Joyce, the maniacal enforcer of the James Joyce estate, has finally met his match. His nemesis: one Lawrence Lessig. Here’s the report from Stanford Law.

Last June we sued the Estate of James Joyce to establish the right of Stanford Professor Carol Shloss to use copyrighted materials in connection with her scholarly biography of Lucia Joyce. Shloss suffered more than ten years of threats and intimidation by Stephen James Joyce, who purported to prohibit her from quoting from anything that James or Lucia Joyce ever wrote for any purpose. As a result of these threats, significant portions of source material were deleted from Shloss’s book, Lucia Joyce: To Dance In The Wake.

In the lawsuits we filed against the Estate and against Stephen Joyce individually, we asked the Court to remove the threat of liability by declaring Shloss’s right to publish those deleted materials on a website designed to supplement the book. After the trying to have the case dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Estate gave up the fight. Joyce and the Estate have now entered into a settlement agreement enforceable by the Court that prohibits them from enforcing any of their copyrights against Shloss in connection with the publication of the supplement, whether in electronic or printed form. (The Settlement Agreement is posted here.)

This is a remarkable victory given the Estate’s past aggression. But more are needed in order to make clear and concrete the protections that Fair Use is intended to protect in theory. We hope this is the first in a string of many cases that vindicate the rights of not only scholars and academics, but creators of all manner.

Official press release here.

An open source timeline for Katrina

The first tool for analysing any catastrophe is a detailed timeline. Given the complexity of the Katrina disaster (and the curious myopia of local and federal government), it seemed to me that it was a classic case for an open-source effort. Now Josh Marshall is creating something very like that on his Blog. Brilliant!

En passant, there’s a beautiful piece of Mac software for creating timelines.

Katrina Information Map

This an an astonishingly clever idea — a collaborative map of the disaster area enabling people to enter information about specific building or locations as they reach them. “If you have information about the status of an area that is not yet on the map”, says the blurb, “please contribute by following the instructions below so that others may get that much needed information.”

Software patent bill thrown out

According to BBC online, European politicians have thrown out a controversial bill that could have led to software being patented.

The European Parliament voted 648 to 14 to reject the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive.

The bill was reportedly rejected because, politicians said, it pleased no-one in its current form. Responding to the rejection the European Commission said it would not draw up or submit any more versions of the original proposal.