September 23, 2007

Kaltura, lowering the bar

Category: F/OSS,Kaltura,Tech,Video_editing — Biella @ 2:20 pm

I have a number of friends who are finishing PhDs and then I have those “special” friends who are wrapping up their dissertation and manage to do something else quite extraordinary right at the same time. Shay David is one such friend who is currently wrapping up a fascinating dissertation on the social implications of openness and collaboration in various contexts (software, biology) but is also pushing the boundaries of what we mean by collaboration by helping to create a new vision, platform, medium, tool, and site, Kaltura.

As you can read about more on their about page, Kaltura basically lowers the technical bar for video editing bringing the power of editing to anyone, at least anyone who registers for an account. Kaltura provides an easy-to-use tool kit that allows you and others to hack away to create, edit, & mashup videos. In lowering the bar, they are significantly expanding the mind (and actual space) for video collaboration.

Some more good news is that Kaltura is soon going to GPL its technology, and they are looking for developers who want to contribute to this exciting project. The project is in PHP and Flex/ActionScript3, if anyone is interested, they should email !

Happy (video) hacking…

Decoding Liberation, Book Launch Party

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,F/OSS,Hackers,Politics,Travel — Biella @ 7:33 am

I am helping to kick off the Decoding Liberation Book Launch Party at the Brecht Forum in NYC. If you are in the area, and are into the politics of free software, do come along. Details also pasted below as their webpage is a little bit of an aesthetic jumble.

The Brecht Forum invites you to celebrate the release of Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software, by Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter, published by Routledge in their New Media and Cyberculture Series.

October 3rd, 7:30 PM
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets, New York, NY 10014.
(212) 242-4201

Suggested Donation: $6/$10/$15
Free for Brecht Forum Subscribers

Featuring commentary by Gabriella Coleman and discussions with the authors
and audience.

A reception will follow.

September 15, 2007

Save the Arecibo Observatory

Category: Observatory,Radiotelescope,Tech — Biella @ 10:57 am

There are many amazing things in Puerto Rico and one of them is the technologically (and I would add, aesthetically) stunning Arecibo Observatory, which was featured prominently in the Jodi Foster movie, Contact. Due to massive funding cuts, its future is threatened. This is a site of great scientific and cultural importance for PR, so I really hope they manage to find the funding that will make it survive far into the future.

There is a facebook group
(by the name of “Do NOT close the Arecibo Observatory: Earth’s largest radiotelescope”) opposing the closure but I don’t yet know of any other site for halting the cuts. I will post one once I do.

And if we lose the observatory, we might sadly lose another fine creature, the mysterious chupacabra who apparently was first called into his goat sucking action thanks to the great observatory of ours, which does send signals to find alien life.

So sans Arecibo, we lose a great scientific instrument and may lose the beloved mascot of goat terror, the Chupacabra :(

September 12, 2007

Fair Use and the Economy

Category: Academic,Fair Use,IP Law,Tech — Biella @ 5:33 pm

Fair use is a small oasis in copyright law that allows you to quote, copy and engage with small bits of copyrighted information usually in the service of education, learning and critique. Despite what I think of as an oasis that is far too small, the economic impact is far reaching, at least according to this report, the first of its kind.

September 10, 2007

When you are holding the moon for ransom

Category: F/OSS,Humor,Tech — Biella @ 1:50 pm

Since I am now running Freedom on a MacBook, it reminded me of one of my favorite Internet videos of all time. It is nice to re-visit the classics from time to time.

September 9, 2007

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Category: Documentary,Games,Tech — Biella @ 5:40 am

I spent much of my early childhood at the video arcade. I was fortunate enough to have a best friend who 1) Lived in the old quarters of San Juan where you could walk everywhere 2) Had three older teenage sisters who would take us when we were still quite young to the arcade, which also doubled as a fantastic ice-cream parlor.

My favorite game there was galaga, and I played it incessantly (and had to use a foot stool too!!) As a result of all that childhood gaming, I am still pretty half decent at it. For example, I more often than not beat my partner (except under less than auspicious conditions, like being sleep deprived), which is pretty unbelievable as he is much more of a video game wizard than I and otherwise beats me in everything.
Back in my first year in grad school, a cohort of us would play Galaga after our large theory class, and I would also always win (and by a lot and then get crushed at foosball).

So of course when I heard that there was a documentary on the very genre of arcade games that consumed so much of my early childhood, King of Kong and a movie that was rumored to leave you at the edge of your seat (which seemed like an impossibility to me), I decided to fork over the cash and check it out in the movie theatre last night.

And it was well worth every penny. The movie somehow managed to capture a story and set of subjective experiences that I think are incredibly hard to portray via film: the individual and social intimacy that comes with machine interaction. The story lines revolves around two very different characters who are masters at conquering one of the hardest video games in the world, Donkey Kong and are trying to clinch the world record. The tale of rivalry between them is really good in and of itself and probably without this drama, the movie would have not worked. But what I also found amazing was how the movie conveyed the persistence of the (older) game. They live on in the lives of individuals and collectives, despite the rise of a whole, new class of games that are much more popular today. I am not sure how much longer they will live on, or if the movie was also inadvertently portraying the rise and slow decline of an era that will, in another 50 years, become part of the archive of dead history.

Whatever the case, if you had a loving relationship with these games (or your friends or parents did), check out the movie. It really has some incredible footage and moments and will make you want to run to that old arcade, once again.

September 3, 2007


Category: Academic,Liberalism — Biella @ 12:17 pm

In the last week, I have been witness to and part of many conversations and probably one of my favorite ones was about coffee. My friend reasoned that coffee is as wonderful as it is because of its dependability (unlike, for example, your relatives). You know that for a moderate sum of money, you can drink a drink that makes you happy, alert, and, for some of us, allows us to face the rest of the day on an even keel. It is pure comfort that derives from a form of almost ritualistic dependability.

This morning, as I was sipping my coffee, I came across a short blog post by Stanley Fish who certainly does not make me as happy as my morning cup of joe, but I do admire him for his dependability and consistency when it comes to reporting on matters of liberalism. For over 20 years he has dependably written on the quandaries and limit of liberal political ideology and his most recent installment, which focuses primarily on a new book by Paul Starr, is no different.

Well, his conclusion strikes just a little differently than the tone of some of his previous works.

In the past (or perhaps in some of his longer academic works), Fish’s solution to the problem of competing ideologies is that there are no solutions, just incommensurable ideologies and you gotta sort of duke it out, and the strong man/woman/group wins (see Terry Eagleton for this characterization of Fish’s work. But the ending to this piece is subtly different, a tone and stance I rather prefer:

“So again, what to do? Lilla’s answer is pragmatic rather than philosophical (and all the better for that). All we can do, he says, is “cope”; that is, employ a succession of ad hoc, provisional strategies that take advantage of, and try to extend, moments of perceived mutual self-interest and practical accommodation. “We need to recognize that coping is the order of the day, not defending high principles.” Now there’s a principle we can live with, maybe.”

What I like about his ending is that it acknowledges there are times when compromise is possible, where a common meeting ground can be forged, however provisional these may be. As someone interested in the politics of consensus and accommodation, I think it is important to recognize that human beings are not simply molded by one set of values but are are often dwelling within various systems (of sometimes contradictory) values. And it is because of this multiplicity that forms of accommodation and consensus emerge and can emerge, signaling a more hopeful politics that derive not from abstract adherence to precept such as tolerance, but from the far messier realm of actual life experience.