ReAllocate Inspires Hacking for the Social Good

Photo credit: Josh Wolf

Photo credit: Josh Wolf

With a mission to leverage technology for the force of good, the San-Francisco-based non-profit ReAllocate has organized HACKtivation for the Homeless, a weekend-long hackathon uniting techies with San Francisco’s 7000-person homeless and at-risk community.

In typical hackathon fashion, the weekend began with pitches, this time coming from local non-profits and city agencies. Participating techies joined teams that resonated with their passions and areas of expertise.

Gathering on a rainy Saturday at the Yammer HQ in the Twitter building, teams plugged away on a wide range of projects, each designed to have a lasting impact.

One group I spoke with is redesigning the website for St. Francis House, which serves the homeless elderly population. Another group, working for Larkin Street, is building an SMS-based reservation service for emergency beds, bypassing the need to check-in at the building itself. A third group, led by volunteers from Salesforce, is digitizing the Homeless Prenatal volunteer sign-up form, which they estimate will save 20 minutes per applicant.

The hackathon organizers, Kyle Stewart and Ilana Lipsett, organized a groundswell of support from across the community. Participating groups, along with those listed above, include tech organizations like General Assembly, Code for America, and Spotify, along with community-driven allies like Project Homeless Connect, St. Francis Living Room, Hospitality House, and the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.

Today’s Best Post in Gaming

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*Sigh* Gorgeous men are so hard to come by in video games these days.

Original poster: Raise Up. HT Matt Conn:

“In time, the mainstream game publishers will wise up and realize that they’re leaving LGBT money on the table.

In the interim… you don’t have to sit by and wait for someone to develop the games you want to play. You can use the following tools to make and promote your own:

Blender: free, open-source 3d asset-creation software.
GiMP: free, open-source image-editing software.
Audacity: free audio editing software.
Unity: game-development engine there’s a free version of this as well.

Both Codeacademy and Khan Academy offer free video programming tutorials.
…and don’t forget about Indiegogo and Kickstarter (once you’ve developed your brand).

**This is your opportunity. Seize it.**!!!”

Original story: “Where are all the gay characters in video games?”

First They Came… Internet Edition

Curtailing your liberties in the name of freedom.

Curtailing your liberties in the name of freedom.

First they came for torrent trackers, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t downloading from them. (Often, anyway.)

Then they came for MegaUpload, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t storing files in the cloud.

Then they came for Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Aaron Auernheimer, and Barrett Brown, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t a hacktivist.

Then they came for Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Microsoft, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t working for Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, or Microsoft.

Then they came for LavaBit and Secret Circle, and I did not speak out, because I use unencrypted email.

Then they came for GrokLaw, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t a legal activist.

Then they came for me, and no one spoke out, because I was the only person left on the internet.

Three Strikes Against the Open Web

From Texas to New Jersey to the United Kingdom, this week has seen a host of troubling developments threatening both the right of the web to stay open, and the right of its users to remain private.

From Lavabit, With Takedowns

lavabitThe web lost a valiant email host today in Lavabit, whose Owner and Operator, Ladar Levison, shut down the site in the face of unspecified United States governmental pressure. Lavabit was known a privacy-focused mid-sized email client serving 350,000 customers, most famous of whom is Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who remains in Russia on temporary asylum. Levison chronicles his decision, writing,

After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this…

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

Technology and legal blog TechDirt provides extensive coverage of the Lavabit incident, with founder Mike Masnick commenting,

Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

Servers on Trial in New Jersey

The internet has facilitated prostitution about as long as it’s facilitated flamewars about Star Trek — which is to say, since pretty much forever (aka. 1994). Meddling governments have since attempted to curtail such interactions (particularly the former), seeking to criminalize not only the trafficking of sex workers, but the very hosts and sites where such conduct might be initiated.

Tomorrow, the EFF will take the stand in New Jersey on behalf of the Internet Archive, joining the law firm representing local classifieds site Backpage. At issue is a New Jersey statute that “attempts to impose criminal penalties on not only sex traffickers who post online prostitution advertisements but also on service providers who carry or disseminate such advertisements.”

Such restrictions conflict with section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. CDA 230 bars enforcement of state criminal laws that attempt to place criminal blame on providers for illegal user-generated content. Courts in Washington and Tennessee have already struck down similar statutes on CDA 230 protections, but a larger battle appears to be brewing.

On July 24, forty-nine state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to repeal CDA 230, a move that would leave internet regulation in the hands of state and local law enforcement officials, forcing service providers into self-policing entities legally liable for the actions of their users.

Tea and Scones, Dryly Unaccompanied by Double Penetration

David Cameron

The British Prime Minister reacts to the 2 Girls, 1 Cup video.

From the hallowed halls of David Cameron’s United Kingdom government emerges a massively restrictive new set of regulations dubbed the “War on Porn.” The laws would implement a “default-on” provision that restricts British internet users from accessing porn unless opting into a government-run list indicating that, yes, in fact, they would rather enjoy a bit of nasty after all.

In addition to restricting porn from people’s homes, the War would impose blanket restrictions on public WiFi and mobile networks, preventing salacious content from lighting up the glowing rectangular devices of any any user deemed a minor.

If taken to full effect, the War on Porn could have drastic and massive unintended consequences, from teenagers unable to find resources on safe sex and homosexuality, to women unable to find information about breast cancer.

More to the point, it won’t work. Tom Meltzer, writing for The Guardian, sums it up rather well:

Any default-on system needs to be simple enough for a stupid adult to navigate, and, if it is, any web-savvy kid should find their way around it in no time. To work, the filters would need to prevent users from asking search engines “How do I turn off these porn filters?” And then the question “How do I turn off the filters for questions about turning off filters?” And so on, for ever.

Not to mention, one ought to consider the potential embarrassment triggered by the opt-out box in light of the particular British temperament: “The fact is, people like pornography,” said Alan Thomson, a London website designer, speaking in a comment via TheDailyBeast. “Forcing people to explain to their mother, wife, or roommate why they want the porn filter off is hardly going to be a vote winner.”