Category Archives: Personal

Anniversaries and New Roles

This morning I woke to a few “remember the day” emails that I thought were worth marking here on the blog for future reference. The first was that it was almost exactly 2 years ago that I officially left my position at UT-Chattanooga, walked away from an associate professorship and tenure, and went out on my own to try to start an independent business. So far, I’ve been very lucky and able to continue in this self-employed mode, although the downside is that it means I’m always looking for a job. 🙂 If you have a consulting need, workshop or training need, or are organizing a conference and want a great keynote….feel free to contact me. I’d love to work with you.

The second is that one year ago I became a Fellow at the Berkman Center, and spent the academic year 2015-2016 mostly living in Cambridge and enjoying the intellectual fruits of Harvard and MIT. I cannot speak highly enough of the amazing group that I was a part of…I learned so much from everyone there, and they are the most caring, careful, and thoughtful group of academics and scholars that I’ve ever been affiliated with.

And now, today, I can say that I am overwhelmingly pleased to be included in the 2016-2017 Berkman Klein community as an Affiliate. This means I get to continue my association with this amazing, wonderful community of learning…although from a distance, as I’ll not be in residence in Cambridge. I am going to be visiting as much as I can manage, though, because I have to get my 23 Everett Street fix occasionally. I’m also really pleased to be in the “transitional” class, the last to be Berkman Fellows and the first to be Berkman Klein, and to see how the Center evolves under the new nom de guerre .

To those in the incoming class at Berkman Klein: buckle up, you’re in for an amazing trip. I hope to meet all of you in September at the opening of the Center for the year.

And to everyone in the library community: I’ve got big things brewing this year. This Fall will see (finally) the launch of Measure the Future, and while I still can’t share all of my news about the project….it’s gonna be big. I’ll be doing some announcements about that over the next couple of months, including information about how your library can get involved. Soon!

 

SXSW 2016

I attended my first SXSW conference this past week, and have been struggling about how to describe it. On one hand, I was able to find interesting things and have a great time. On the other, the conference felt so very desperate, like a marketing team and a brogrammer had a kid. It was a non-stop barrage of things that were really-well-known being well-known (Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot) and things that weren’t well-known trying desperately to be so.

Libraries and librarians were, as always, the saving grace in the midst of the chaos. I spent time with the Library IdeaDrop house this year, and all I can say is that they run a tight ship, full of interesting people and awesome events. I would be a part of it again in a heartbeat.

I wrote up my experiences for American Libraries, here’s the three-part story:

And here are all the interviews that I did with IdeaDrop this year:

SESSION 6 from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Jason Griffey @ #IdeaDrop from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Knight News Challenge from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

SESSION 8 from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Copyright and Creators: 2026 @ #IdeaDrop from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Digital Content and the Legality of Web Scraping from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

LibraryBox & Google Summer of Code

I am thrilled to be able to announce that The LibraryBox Project has been invited to be one of the projects included in the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Google Summer of Code.

If you aren’t familiar with the Google Summer of Code, it is a program that gets undergraduates connected to open source projects via mentor organizations. The goal is to give the students experience working on useful open code, while projects benefit from their skills to set and meet development goals. Google pays the students a stipend, and the whole open source community wins.

The LibraryBox Project has a few different goals in mind for the summer, and is looking for awesome students who want to make a difference in the world. If you’re a student that is interested in working on an international open source project that is being used in more than 40 countries and on all 7 continents, one that makes a difference in education in developing nations and acts as a tool for activism and social change in repressive countries, come join us.

Applications open March 14th, and close March 25th.

If you know anyone that’s applying, send them our way.

State of the Union 2016 Tag Cloud

Every year since 2007, I’ve done a weighted word cloud as a visualization of the State of the Union address by the President of the United States. Here’s the 2016 version, with all of the previous versions linked for comparison. Hard to believe I’ve been doing this for a decade at this point!

State of the Union 2016
State of the Union 2016

 

Libraries in the Exponential Age

In late summer of 2015, I was invited to take part in a gathering at the Aspen Institute for a discussion that revolved around the general theme of how libraries can be more innovative and can drive innovation in their communities. It was one of the best groups and conversations that I have ever had around the general topic of the future of libraries, and I’m thrilled that the work we did is coming out in the form of some great writing and tools.

First up, on the Knight Foundation blog, is the post that explores the work that I was a part of, including a video I did talking about one of the things I’m most concerned about for the future of libraries.

From this and other gatherings, the Aspen Institute has built out a website and an action guide that:

…leads you through a variety of strategic activities and provides worksheets that evaluate the current level of support for your library and the resources needed to plan and convene your own community dialogue.

I’d recommend that libraries and librarians take a good look at these resources. The reports coming out of this work are among the best that I’ve read about the future of libraries, and I’d highly recommend that you take the time to look at both Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries and Libraries in the Exponential Age. The latter is the one I was a part of, and I have almost no complaints about the way it approaches the future of libraries.

LibraryBox recognized in the 2015 Nominet Trust 100

I’m very happy to announce that The LibraryBox Project has been named among the 2015 NT100 – Nominet Trust’s annual celebration of 100 inspiring ‘tech for good’ ventures from around the world. Among this year’s companies selected for inclusion are Google X’s Project Loon and Open Street Maps…I’m gobsmacked that LibraryBox can be included in a list with those amazing projects.

The included projects all use digital technology to tackle the world’s social problems from lifesaving health tech to knowledge sharing via SMS text messaging.

Following a global call for nominations earlier this year The LibraryBox Project was selected by ten judging partners from the tech and charity world in recognition of our work. The judges included such companies as Comic Relief, Creative England, Facebook, Latimer, Nominet, Oxfam, O2 Telefonica, Salesforce and Society Guardian.

Thank you to everyone involved in The LibraryBox Project, especially Matthias Strubel, without whom it wouldn’t be as amazing as it is. Thanks also to the Kickstarter backers that made the v2.0 possible, and to the Knight Foundation Prototype Grant for enabling the development of the v2.1. If you’d like to learn more about The LibraryBox Project, a good place to start is the talk I did at Harvard Law School for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society earlier this year.

Learn more and and explore the 2015 NT100 here: socialtech.org.uk/nominet-trust-100/2015

Estonian E-Residency


IMG_2720

On August 26th, 2015, I applied to be a digital citizen of the country of Estonia. On November 18th, 2015, I took the train from Boston to New York City, walked to the Consulate General of Estonia, and I officially became an Estonian E-resident.

IMG_2735

What does that even mean, and why would I do it?

Estonia is one of the very first countries to implement a robust electronic identity card system for their citizens. The ID card is a smart card that has a chip embedded in it that enables a robust public-key encryption implementation that allows the owner of said card to legally sign documents electronically. Estonia has been building out their infrastructure for electronic signatures and digital identity for over a decade, and Estonian citizens can do a vast amount of interaction with their government through this system, including things like the DMV, registering for governmental programs, and even voting in elections. The system is being overseen by Taavi Kotka, the CIO of Estonia and founder of Skype.

The E-Residency program is an extension of this system to non-Estonian citizens. In its current state, the card allows me to open and run a business in Estonia if I would like (completely remotely), to set up a bank account (not completely remotely, but the banks are promising that soon), and to interact with a handful of companies that recognize the card as a legal identity document. While I don’t currently need to do any of these things, I am intrigued by the potential for robust digital identities to conduct business and interact with agencies in the real world, and right now Estonian E-Residency is the only way to do that as an American citizen.

According to the Estonian dashboard that tracks these things, I am one of 443 applicants from the US, but only 239 of us have actually picked up our cards. So somewhere in the US there’s 238 other people that are interested in playing around with this technology.

esotnia numbers

Becoming an E-Resident involves applying, paying a 50 Euro processing fee, and if accepted, picking up your E-Residency kit at an Estonian Consulate. The kit comes with your smart card, as well as a USB card reader and instructions for using the two together to interact with online portals securely.

IMG_2739IMG_2740

IMG_2742

IMG_2741

Once you have these in your possession, you can log in to the Estonia E-Residency portal, use your card for authentication, and access the currently-available services through your browser.

I’m doing this partially because I am very curious about the future of the program, and hope that this might enable some interesting things over the next few years. If I’m honest with myself, it’s also because I read far too much cyberpunk literature as an impressionable youth, and the concept of digital citizens of a physical nation-state thrills the hell out of me.

The other aspect of this program that I find interesting is that they are opening the platform for developers to use their cards as an authentication method. Obviously there isn’t enough uptake for that to be useful yet, but systems like this one may well become standards over the next decade and knowing how to use them now will only be an advantage.

As I find interesting uses for my E-Residency, I’ll post about it here. For now, I’m just happy to be one of the first in the US to have the opportunity to test this authentication and identity platform.

TSA Master Keys, Threat Models, and Encryption

Earlier this year, someone noticed that the Washington Post had published a story with the following picture:

TSA Master Keys

Once that photo was noticed, a few intrepid hackers began a search for higher resolution photos, which weren’t long in coming. From those photos, they reverse-engineered CAD files of the keys, and the results are STL files for the 7 Master Keys that the TSA has for luggage locks in the US. Here are two different Github repos with the downloadable files.

On Saturday, Oct 17 2015, while testing the setup of a new 3D printer, I decided to see how easy it would be to use one of these keys on a TSA approved lock. There happened to be a luggage lock laying around the Berkman Fellows room that no one knew the combination of, so I had a test subject within easy reach. Within about 15 minutes, I had a key printed. I spent about 2-3 minutes cleaning it (smoothing edges and picking off rough spots in the printing). Maybe 2 minutes after that, I had the lock open.

This is the perfect illustration of why security that has backdoors for law enforcement isn’t actually security. Once there is an intentionally created hole in your security strategy, you should assume that anyone that you are attempting to prevent accessing your luggage/email/passwords will ALSO have access to your intentionally created security hole. This is the same concept that Cory Doctorow uses in his condemnation of DRM (you can’t lock something up with a key and then give the key to the person you are trying to prevent accessing your thing) as well as the argument against giving backdoor access keys for encryption algorithms to governmental agencies. It is simply impossible to have security, whether that term is used for physical objects, communication, storage of information, or anything else, and also to have holes intentionally added to the system for the benefit of “the good guys”. Once the key exists, anyone can make their own copy of it.

printing key

With government around the world arguing for technology companies to build in “golden keys” for encryption used on phones and other digital devices, we need to be wary of anyone that believes that such access would only be used for good, or only by the right groups.

Why is strong and reliable encryption so important?  I think Bruce Schneier said it most plainly:

If we only use encryption when we’re working with important data, then encryption signals that data’s importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country’s authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal. No one can distinguish simple chatting from deeply private conversation. The government can’t tell the dissidents from the rest of the population. Every time you use encryption, you’re protecting someone who needs to use it to stay alive.

This is why the Library Freedom Project and their work to put Tor Nodes in Libraries is so important. It’s why libraries should be moving all of their services to encrypted channels. In many ways, this isn’t just about protecting our patron’s information (although that is a good and sufficient reason to use these services and to be worried about electronic security).

Encryption is like vaccination…we shouldn’t be driven to do it because it helps us. We should be driven to do it because it helps the world.

There is also an argument for libraries to use and support strong encryption for free speech reasons, but that will take another post and a more subtle argument.

EgoPost: Two articles about me

This was my first week as a Berkman Fellow, and there were a couple of articles that came out about my time here. The first was a very kind article by my Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science. The second was from Berkman themselves, an interview with me about what I’m working on while here.

From the UNC-SILS article:

“I’m most excited about connecting with the people associated with the Berkman Center, and by extension the library community in the Boston area,” Griffey said. “Berkman has a history of supporting the mission of libraries, but I’m really excited about the opportunity to spread the word about the amazing work that libraries are doing and make connections between them and the other fellows. I’m also looking forward to finding people to collaborate with on my own project, and see what new voices and minds can bring to it.”

and from Berkman:

“I am interested in the rise over the last several years of what I am calling the “hyperlocal webserver”. A number of projects are attempting to provide access to digital resources  to users through the use of inexpensive, low-powered offgrid and offline webservers, including my own open source project LibraryBox. Others in this space include PirateBox, the RACHEL project servers, occupy.here, The IDEAS Box project, the OLPC project’s School Server, and many more. These projects have in common that all are designed to allow for local connectivity without access to the broader Internet. The power of localized digital delivery is only now being realized, especially in areas where there is insufficient infrastructure to support the demand for information access.

My interest is in the potential for these technologies (and possibly others) to allow for shadow networks to arise quickly where needed and wanted. The ever-shrinking costs of hardware capable of supporting these sorts of hyperlocal micronetworks drive the overhead for building one down to trivial amounts, but the technical knowledge needed to set up and manage one is still more than the average Internet user can handle. I want to reach out to the projects above, hardware makers, UX designers, and network engineers to try and develop a process and project that makes it as easy as possible for anyone to create or assist in community-based networks that allow for digital sharing and communication even when offline or offgrid. I am interested in what happens when communities are given the tools that can allow for unmediated and uncontrolled sharing and communication, and what sort of emergent behaviors and services might arise from those tools.”

Inclusive vs Safe

I was listening to an episode of Accidental Tech Podcast, Not a Cactus in Sight, (one of my favorite podcasts, mostly because I’m a total John Siracusa fanboy), and during their discussion of the Reddit community John mentioned two tweets by Laurie Voss that totally made my brain explode with thought:

(here I think Voss is using “inclusive” in a legalistic/law oriented way, not in a norm or cultural sense…inclusion means “the ability to be a part of a community regardless of any aspect of your identity”…a lack of exclusion of any type)

Prior to the World Wide Web, I was an avid Usenet user, falling deeply into any number of alt. and rec. subgroups. Usenet was, in retrospect, where I learned so many things about “being online”, including tone, behavior, expectation….the entire culture of many parts of the social web were preceded and predicted by Usenet. Reddit is one of these spaces, as the concept and execution of a site that’s basically many user-driven bulletin boards is, in abstraction, just a modern execution of Usenet.

Reddit has been in the tech news a lot lately, and while I’m not interested in debating the pro and con of the decisions that have been made there, I think it’s fairly obvious that there’s a lot of terrible things on Reddit and that the response to said terrible things has been horribly blundered. I agree with the ATP guys above in their analysis…if you want to build a horrible place, keep doing what you’re doing Reddit…but that’s not a place that non-horrible people will choose to continue to hang out. I think there are lots and lots of other online communities that have been ran very well and have managed to be smart and useful places to have discussions online…the premiere example of this is probably Metafilter. It isn’t clear if Twitter and Facebook will do as well over time dealing with their respective issues.

There is, however, another social space that includes text based information resources that I am very attached to and fond of: the library. And in thinking about the axes of “inclusion” and “safety”, I realized that the rhetoric of the library world is very much the same rhetoric that is often used in the online spaces to justify what is usually horrific behavior. The oft-used quotation is Jo Godwin’s fantastic turn of phrase “A good library contains something in it to offend everyone.” Library collections are constrained by collection development policies that are driven by their local boards and communities, while calling back to the ALA Library Bill of Rights:

  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

In a way, a library collection is a conversation between the librarians and the community, written not letter by letter or word by word, but book by book over the course of decades or even centuries. That conversation is under the same tensions that online conversations are as it relates to safety and inclusivity. When someone challenges a book, they are in effect saying “this is a kind of speech that makes me feel unsafe.” And as Voss notes, the library gets to decide who to side with: those that feel unsafe, or those that make them feel unsafe. In the library, that answer is almost always the latter.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t limits…each library draws its own limits of the things they are willing to collect. In my personal opinion, not collecting particular items is not problematic; for example, I would have no trouble as a librarian not purchasing nor shelving anything published by the KKK.

I’m intentionally trying to frame this in the most difficult way, because I think it’s a difficult thing to navigate. Let me state my own position, straightforwardly: I think that the Library Bill of Rights is a positive document, and that the library providing access to material that the majority of their patrons would disagree with is absolutely fine. I also think that individuals deserve to be protected and feel safe in their activities and surroundings. The tension between these two positions puts me in a disharmony…I dislike being contradictory in my positions.

It has been pointed out by those much smarter about these things than I that librarianship has inclusivity issues written deep in its core. While our collection development statements tend towards inclusivity of multiple perspectives on social issues, once purchased those collections are often described and presented to the community using a grammar that is anything but. For many public libraries, the Dewey classification system is massively problematic, and Library of Congress subject headings are no better. We have inclusivity issues baked into our classifications (indeed, it’s likely epistemologically impossible to categorize without exclusion of some sort).

I don’t know how these issues get reconciled. How do you square inclusion and safety of spaces, both real and virtual? What are your thoughts on that dichotomy? Is it a false one? I’d love to hear from the library community about these seemingly opposing perspectives.