The blotter: Week ending 29 May 2011


Square demoed the two missing pieces — an iPad-based cash register and an iPhone-based app, Card Case — from its ecommerce system at TechCrunch Disrupt. The cash register is an iPad app complete with analytics. The Card Case iPhone app is configured with the user’s credit card information. Upon entering a coffee shop, for example, the user will be able to browse a menu and place an order from her iPhone, giving the cashier only her name.

I’ve been getting asked a lot about my MinneBar shirt. MinneBar is Minnesota’s (mostly) internet/web/design BarCamp. But it’s also for business startups and it’s now the largest BarCamp in North America. This year’s MinneBar was held at Best Buy’s world headquarters on 7 May 2011 and was sold out. I learned a good bit and made contact with a lot of folks that I haven’t seen for quite some time. Here, watch this. Chuck Olsen does a much better job of letting MinneBar attendees explain MinneBar than I ever could. See you at MinneBar 7 next year (and at UnSummit 5 on 18 June 2011). In case you were wondering, I haven’t been to a traditional conference in more than 10 years. Dave Winer explains why. The last conference I attended was one at which I spoke and was probably either Interop or Macworld Expo. I’ve never paid to speak, but I can’t speak for my publishers who generally arranged the gigs.


Medical professionals aren’t happy about reviews by their patients. A trend is emerging whereby doctors are asking patients to sign over ownership of any public commentary via a “mutual privacy agreement.” Medical professionals are already bound to privacy by federal law — the HIPAA Privacy Rule in the US — so it’s clear this is a move to censor patients. Timothy B. Lee, writing for Ars Technica, reports on his brush with this on a recent visit to a new dentist.

Intellectual property

Talking Points Memo ran an image of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor accompanying an article about an insider trading case. That was last November. This week, the online publication received a takedown request from the exchange’s lawyers. Presumably this would be a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request, but it’s peculiar in that in references “trademarks.” So maybe not. Talking Points Memo’s founder, Josh Marshall’s response was swift, calling the action “yet another example of how many large corporations have given way to IP-mania, trying to bully smaller companies into submission with inane and legally specious claims of intellectual property rights.” He then published the image again. Hey trigger-happy lawyers: Fair use in the US is real, study up on it.

US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the only intellectual property realist in the US Senate, has promised to put a hold on the PROTECT IP Act (S. 968) that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with unanimous support this week. Nate Anderson, writing for Ars Technica, reports receiving an email from Wyden’s office saying, “Senator Wyden plans to hold the bill. We will have a longer statement shortly.” Last year Wyden placed a hold on a similar bill.


Cisco helped the Chinese government track Falun Gong members for persecution. That’s the allegation contained in a lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Law Foundation on behalf of Falun Gong members. The main contention is that Cisco helped design the “Golden Shield” firewall used by the Chinese government to censor the internet and track dissidents.

The wet dream of just about every national leader is an internet favorable to big business and the copyright cartel while allowing respective electorates to be surveilled. No one exemplifies this more precisely than French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his talk of “civilizing” the internet. Sarkozy kicked off the e-G8 Forum — an event organized by industry with the blessing of governments to strategize how to get this internet thing under control — by preaching about the “responsibility” attendees share with their governments and calling on everyone to be “reasonable.” Cory Doctorow, for one, was invited but declined, writing, “I believe it’s a whitewash, an attempt to get people who care about the Internet to lend credibility to regimes that are in all-out war with the free, open net.” Jeff Jarvis challenged Sarkozy to take “A Hippocratic oath for the internet” (first, do no harm). John Perry Barlow let the assembled members of the cartel have it: “I may be one of very few people in this room who actually makes his living personally by creating what these gentlemen are pleased to call ‘intellectual property.’ I don’t regard my expression as a form of property. Property is something that can be taken from me. If I don’t have it, somebody else does. Expression is not like that. The notion that expression is like that is entirely a consequence of taking a system of expression and transporting it around, which was necessary before there was the internet, which has the capacity to do this infinitely at almost no cost.” Barlow stated his interest in incentivizing creativity in creators, not talking about the institutions who continue to prey on them, closing by pointing out that “you can’t own free speech.”

Twitter has acquired TweetDeck for something around US$40 million (the final price wasn’t disclosed) solely to keep it away from UberMedia. Twitter is, frankly, struggling desperately to put the genie back in the bottle after releasing an open set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that third-parties were actually using. It looks like Twitter’s attempts to regain control of its platform will be successful through acquisitions like TweetDeck and its OAuth requirement for third-party access to direct messages fiasco. Josh Bernoff, writing for AdAge, nails the problem: “This is yet another step in a trend we call the splinternet. The open, standards-based Web experience that we’ve embraced for the last 15 years is becoming a set of platforms that people love, but that are controlled by companies (like Apple, Facebook, and now Twitter).”


One of President Obama’s core values during his campaign was a promise of transparency in government. Why then has he proved to be more obsessed with secrecy and whistle-blower crackdowns than any president in at least three generations? The US Department of Justice this week subpoenaed James Risen, a reporter for the New York Times, in an effort to force Risen to disclose his source for his story (and subsequent book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration) about the CIA’s plot to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.


President Obama got up early in France to sign a four-year extension of three controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, something he pledged to revisit during his campaign. Teabagger Republicans and left-leaning Democrats resisted the move, but the deal was made in the leadership of both parties to limit debate on the issue. “Roving wiretaps” that allow individuals (rather than specific communications channels) to be surveilled under court order and the section allowing “any tangible things” to be seized in an investigation were both extended. Additionally, the “lone wolf” provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act allowing investigations of individual suspected terrorists unconnected to any state was also extended. The US Senate voted 72-23 with four Republicans joining 18 Democrats and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) voting against the measure. In the US House of Representatives, the vote was 250-153, with 122 Democrats and 31 Republicans voting against.

US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) tells Spencer Ackerman, writing for Wired, “We’re getting a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” with regard to the USA PATRIOT Act. Wyden can’t explain what he means by that without disclosing classified information, but seems to be particularly upset about the “any tangible things” section of the law. Wyden and US Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) proposed an amendment to the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization that would compel the US Attorney General to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act.”


In 1964, Ken Kesey wrote a letter to the New York Times defending the realism of the Broadway adaptation of his One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Kesey’s letter is positively stunning.

User experience

Jakob Nielsen revisited iPad usability after a full year and while his findings are not surprising, they’re important. Touchable areas in a lot of apps remain too small; accidental activation is still a problem, as is discoverability; and users avoid typing on the device. Nielsen’s latest study found that swipe ambiguity is a problem when there are multiple swipable items on a single page.

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