Archive for October, 2008

How to Scare Your Users, by Flickr

Posted in Flickr on October 24th, 2008 at 13:05:58

A friend of mine recently had his account ‘restricted’ by Flickr for “potentially offensive content”. His comments on Flickr’s treatment of the issue are concerning to me: as he describes in his entry:

They still haven’t gotten around to telling me what this content IS or why it is potentially offensive. … “There are millions of people visiting Flickr who may not see the world the same way you do” is certainly true, but a dangerous way to run a community.

I understand Flickr’s needs for the adequate use of controls on users accounts in order to make the site they want it to be, but threats of account termination on a service like Flickr are very concerning to me. I’ve invested a lot of work in my photos on Flickr, and although I’d like to continue to use the service, the feedback of anonymous users being able to lead to account termination with no human feedback in the loop is a scary prospect.

I’d love to hear that this is an oversight somewhere, but if I don’t see Dan get some feedback on his issues, maybe I should consider abandoning Flickr as the primary place to host my photos. Convenience isn’t really worth the possible risk of having an account terminated — presumably taking all its content with it — without even having feedback from a human on why. Clearly, that risk always exists with the Terms of Service that exist on the site — almost every site I’ve seen which has lawyers behind it has some sort of “We can do whatever we want, and in that case, you’re screwed” clause in their terms of use — but to have it become clear that they follow this path in something that seems a routine matter to resolve is a somewhat scary precedent.

Flickr Authentication API Documentation Bug

Posted in Flickr, Web Publishing on October 18th, 2008 at 08:54:17

In the Flickr authentication API documentation regarding their Authentication Specification, the example in section 9.2 seems to have an invalid value.

They provide the following:

  • API Key: 987654321
  • Parameters: method=flickr.auth.getFrob
  • Secret: foobarbaz

According to section 8, this should result in taking the md5sum of:


Which is 91216d07a9e945a8e2bf2b2660e7ba86 . Hoewever, the md5sum used in the api_sig parameter in the example is 5f3870be274f6c49b3e31a0c6728957f. (I’ve tried several different combinations, and been unable to figure out what this value might be based on.)

This yws-flickr post also confirms that the documentation appears to be incorrect.

I couldn’t find the appropriate place to put this given a short search, so I’m publishing it here in hopes that it will remind me to inform someone who might be able to fix it. (There are 5 authors listed on the spec: Emailing all five of them feels like overkill, especially since I’m pretty sure that not all of them still actively work on flickr.) If you know anyone who might be involved, feel free to pass it on…

Flickr’s Interestingness Patent

Posted in Flickr, Photography on October 16th, 2008 at 06:02:07
Easter Sunday at First Parish
My most ‘interesting’ photo

One of the things that has always confused me is how Flickr’s ‘interestingness’ score worked. It’s clearly not based directly on views — my most ‘interesting’ photos have ~500 views, while my most popular ones have ~5000. The same is true of comments, tags, groups, etc: Some of my most interesting photos are, all in all, the least obviously ‘popular’ ones.

However, reading through the patent on Interestingness, I see:

[0027] The statistics engine generates statistics and other metrics based upon aggregated metadata. In one embodiment, the statistics engine determines the popularity of metadata (e.g., tags) within a grouping of media objects over a predetermined time period. For example, the statistics engine may determine the number of different users that have assigned a particular tag to one or more media objects within all groups on the system, within a single group, or within a set of media objects, over the last 24 hours. The aggregation engine may determine (and display) a histogram of the tags, and may determine the most frequently assigned tags (at any point in time or over a predetermined time period) by determining those tags either having a frequency exceeding a minimum threshold frequency or belonging to a predetermined number of the most popular tags.

The patent application doesn’t directly claim that this is used in the interestingness calculation, but this type of time-period based tag aggregation/valuation is clearly a non-obvious metric that can’t be calculated by looking directly at user-visible information on a single photo.

Still, none of this really changes the fact that I wish that flickr had a per-person ‘most interesting this week’ sort: my ‘eastern bunny’ photo above has been at the top of the interesting list for ages, and I want new interesting photos, damnit!

FOSS4G Post-mortem

Posted in FOSS4G 2008, Locality and Space on October 10th, 2008 at 05:36:36

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about FOSS4G this year is the lack of information coming out of the conference. As far as I’m concerned, that’s down to one simple fact: being held in a developing country leaves much to be desired with regard to connecting to the rest of the world in any number of ways.

Whether it be the lack of SMS (too costly to use idly — messages ending up in the US at a service like Twitter end up being $0.25 apiece, even with a local SIM) leading to less Twitter activity, limited internet bandwidth making even getting to a website — much less updating one — far more difficult, lack of decent hotel internet, and paying an arm and a leg when it does exist… the end result is a situation where simply getting online to chat on IRC was far more than many people had an opportunity to do during the conference, and the more regular ‘datastream’ that comes flowing out of most conference attendees during a conference in a more well-connected part of the world was simply nonexistent.

A slightly less technical and more social aspect to this may be the fact that Cape Town bars stay open til 4am, and I know I wasn’t the only FOSS4G attendee they were kicking out at closing time every night.

Combine that with the distance of the trip, and right now, I bet a lot of people are still either here in Africa (as I am: Posting from a Cape Town hotel) or still recovering from their trip, and haven’t had the opportunity to do the detailed breakdowns that people had hoped for.

My take on the conference is that it was great for the people who attended. There was a huge crowd of people who had limited or no experience with Open Source software, or had just recently heard about it and were not really understanding what it meant, or how it worked, or why it mattered. I think that there were a number of people who were interested who were able to learn more — even people who work in communities which are not traditionally open to that kind of solution.

There were a number of presentations on many things that I don’t think we would have seen at a more software developer oriented conference. The uses of GIS — to track water pipeline breakages, to visualize the spread of malaria, to track the best places to plant grapes for growing better wine — are something that we saw much more of at this conference than at previous conferences. I think that this was directly tied to the fact that this conference was clearly a merging of two generally distant groups, and I think the end result was productive for both groups.

The attendance was, from what I heard, 50% ‘locals’, from around South Africa and the rest of Africa. There were many new faces who clearly would not have been able to attend a conference in the US or Europe, and for that alone, there was a benefit to the community as a whole to have the conference in Cape Town.

The organizers did a great job arranging the event: the venue, activities, and sessions were, on the whole, well set up. Also, the food that was provided was some of the best I’ve ever had — at a conference or anywhere else.

Overall, the conference was educational, helped to establish Open Source GIS software in a new location, helped to spread the worldwide knowledge and usage of Open Source software, and introduced the concepts that we in the OSGeo world would like to push onto others wherever appropriate. There was a huge cross breeding of information and cultures that wouldn’t have been possible in another setting, and — despite the distance, cost, and other possible pitfalls that could have befallen the conference — I think that placing the conference in Cape Town was a huge success. There have been a number of doubts voiced as to whether this was really the right decision — certainly, it made attending more difficult for a number of people who would have been at a North American or European event. These doubts and complaints are not to be ignored: It’s true that FOSS4G is meant to be a meeting of the tribes of OSGeo, and that aspect of it was more limited this year than in the past. However, the end result is that hundreds of people who would have had absolutely no chance of making it to an event in the Northern Hemisphere did so, and a number of them have been introduced to and hooked on Open Source software in a way no other event would have been able to.

Placing the conference in Cape Town had a specific goal of spreading Open Source software to someplace that it had not been as successful as possible in the past. With that in mind, this Cape Town conference succeeded in more ways than I can count, and that’s a big win for the conference and for OSGeo as a whole.

Finished FOSS4G Photo Uploads

Posted in FOSS4G 2008, Flickr on October 10th, 2008 at 05:13:26

I finally finished uploading all the photos I took at/around the FOSS4G conference.

FOSS4G 2008 Set

Includes photos from:

  • Various nights hanging out at the bars/hotels during the conference
  • A trip up Table Mountain with OpenLayers/OpenGeo folks
  • GeoDjango Workshop
  • Sessions, exhibition hall, etc.
  • Pictures from the Gala Dinner at Moyo
  • Closing Session
  • OSGeo AGM
  • OpenLayers Workshop
  • GeoServer Workshop

Photos that are taken at the conference center/of conference proceedings are also tagged with foss4g2008:

foss4g2008 tagged

And most photos of people who I recognized are tagged with first name in the title, and with a username (as used on IRC or other unique identifier) attached as a tag:

Photos of Arnulf
Photos of Steven

Photos of the OSGeo AGM are also tagged as such:

OSGeo AGM Photos

I’ve made my tagging settings as open as possible, but I believe you still need to be a contact on flickr in order to add notes/tags to photos: simply add me as a contact, and I’ll add you back.

Any names I got wrong, please let me know, either via email or by simply commenting on the flickr photo.

Thanks to all for helping to create such a photogenic conference.

Dangers of “Service Level” based internet

Posted in default on October 10th, 2008 at 01:41:52

So, the hotel I’m currently staying in uses a classed system of internet access: you can pay $n for so many hours of internet at a certain ’service level’.

After some experimentation, it seems that what this actually does is put you in a QoS bracket for your HTTP traffic, where you’re apparently grouped with other people in the same bracket. “Bronze” gets 30k downstream, “Silver” gets 60k downstream, and “Gold” gets to max out the connection. Only HTTP traffic is limited in this fashion: other traffic simply falls into the Gold bucket by default.

What does this mean for me? Well, currently someone else in the hotel in the ‘gold’ bucket is using up all the bandwidth. As a result, I can’t use the web while in the Gold bucket. I can, however, get perfectly usable bandwidth when using the Silver and Bronze buckets.

The worst part of this is that most of my traffic that I care about goes through ssh — and ssh isn’t monitored/blocked, so it doesn’t get into a different QoS bucket. The end result is that I can use the web — but not if I use the highest service level. And no matter what I do, I can’t use ssh at all.

What a pain. I’m *so* looking forward to being back in the states in another day and a half and having usable internet again…

OL Sessions at FOSS4G

Posted in FOSS4G 2008 on October 1st, 2008 at 02:15:38

Just watched Bart’s presentation on his employer’s use of OL + ExtJS: to see a map customized so thoroughly that I can no longer recognize it as OL is kinda neat.

Now watching Tim Schaub explain Vector Styling; “So new many developers don’t even know how to use it.” I’ll state that I think this is equal parts ‘new’ and ‘lack of effort into documentation’ :) Showing a *really* cool styling demo tool, which lets you put in code, run it, and executes the JS and creates a map. Totally need to get that into the website.

Showing the addUniqueStyleRules stuff; just keeps reminding me we really need graduated symbolizer convenience methods. Maybe I can convince him to do that at the code sprint this weekend.

We need to get these style rules in SVN somewhere; Tim’s clearly done a lot of work very recently on this, and getting this into the documentation and website sounds like a great thing to me.