Archive for politics

Personal Telco, your 15 minutes of fame await…

Posted in City Hall, customer service, open government, politics, WikiWay with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

Personal Telco is one of Portland’s coolest non-profits. Back in 2001, they envisioned a community-owned alternative to telephone and Internet connectivity. But the tech world has evolved. In 2008, Personal Telco is a local — and maybe international — leader in advocating and building a “share-and-share alike” system for traditional Internet connectivity.

The theory is simple: lots of people have broadband Internet these days, and many of those same people like having Internet connections for their laptops when they’re out on the town.

So if all those folks would just open their home or business connections to the public, easy access fromjust about anywhere would become a reality, pretty quick. In fact, the project’s already well on its way; Personal Telco has a number of live hotspots, or “nodes,” all over town, with lots of Portlanders using them on a daily basis.

MetroFi, a for-profit company, tried to provide a similar, ad-supported service in partnership with the City of Portland over the last few years. But that project just went belly-up this summer. So with a rising number of Portlanders still seeking ubiquitous wi-fi, it’s Personal Telco’s turn to step into the limelight, and deliver the kind of service that may really only be feasible through voluntary collaboration, rather than an ad-driven business model.

Key to Personal Telco’s plan, in my view, is a shift in its emphasis. In the early years, Personal Telco sought to draw in a small number of really motivated and intelligent people, to take on the significant technical hurdles to deploying lots of free wireless. They were successful in their efforts; lots of geeks stepped up, and lots of free wireless has been delivered in the last few years. Their system works, and it’s ready for significant expansion.

But for that, what Personal Telco needs is a little different: with their elite squad of propellerheads in place, what is needed now is a rising tide of do-gooders willing to pitch in just a little, without the need to get all technical, attend monthly meetings, or the like. Lots of people doing a little bit of work is the order of the day. Get your node set up, and leave some time for an evening stroll; your node will serve friends and neighbors for years with little or no maintenance.

In order to achieve that, I think Personal Telco needs a new “elevator pitch.” Their web site, any printed materials, any contact with the press, etc. should reflect a very clear, very simple message: “our work brings you free wireless, and we’d love you to pitch in a little and help us deliver more free wireless.” 

To that end, I have written a draft of text for a new front page for their web site. Please read on, and if you’re so inclined, offer any feedback in the comments below. Many in the Personal Telco community have indicated general approval, but I’m sure there are lots of wrinkles to iron out.

Portland has a unique chance to build an invaluable free network, through community collaboration; let’s get it right this time! Continue reading

Open house: Mt. Tabor Central Yard & Nursery Planning Group

Posted in City Hall, open government, politics with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

The Mount Tabor Central Yard & Nursery Planning Group is a collaborative effort between concerned citizens and City employees, developing a plan to redesign Portland’s central parks maintenance and support facility. Our mission is to enhance the facility’s ability to support all Portland parks, and provide a safe and efficient work area for the various Parks employees who use the site.

We’ll be hosting our second major open house this weekend, to present our work to date and solicit feedback. Our architect, Opsis, will be showing several drafts for a redesign of the site.

There will be a couple of other opportunities to see the plans as well, listed below; and hopefully we’ll be able to get them online as well.

The process is beginning to take shape recently, now that we’ve completed the “homework” phase, held one open house, and hired Opsis. We recently took a straw poll of participants, exploring our priorities for the site. We found a significant lack of support for bringing much of the Urban Forestry department’s operations into the site, or for moving a large piece of equipment for making wood chips from the park into the yard. Other projects, such as enhancing the existing maintenance, horticultural and community garden services, had much more support from the group.

There have been some changes in the City’s facilitation team for our project. Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong, who worked with us last fall but left for some maternity time, has returned; and Jon Makler, one of the two project managers and the primary facilitator of our meetings, has resigned. His steady hand will be missed.

Going forward, of particular concern is that one group member’s research and questions don’t seem to be getting answered. The zoning and land use aspects of our project are somewhat unclear, and yet will have a strong impact on what we’re able to do. The two major questions are what property the Water Bureau owns (since the Water Bureau has some interests that are likely to conflict with other parties — see below), and also the land use designations of various parcels, which will impact where we can locate certain services. Continue reading

Open messaging

Posted in Wikipedia with tags , , , , , , , on July 29, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

It seems to me that the most exciting new form of communication is “open messaging.” (If somebody’s coined a better term, let me know.) I’m talking about messages and notes that are directed at a specific person, but are posted publicly, inviting input from anyone else who might be interested.

For instance:

  • A wiki “user page”: This is a page associated with a certain member of a wiki community, but (usually) viewable and editable by anyone. People can be contacted without disclosing any personal information; and the public nature of discussions enhances collaboration. This works really well on Wikipedia, where editors working closely together often chime in on one another’s projects.
  • A MySpace “comment”: Often used for comments like “happy birthday” or “sorry your cat died.” It’s a nice way to keep up to date on what’s going on in your friends’ lives.
  • The Facebook “wall”: essentially the same thing as a MySpace comment.
  • Twitter messages directed “@” somebody: This is distinct from a “direct message,” which is private. If I type “@BobSamplename Have a nice hike!” it will be visible to Bob, but to anyone else, as well. If I type “d BobSamplename Sorry to hear about the genital warts”, nobody else sees it (oops.) Having the easy choice between public and private is very convenient. Continue reading

If it ain’t free, it ain’t the Internet.

Posted in open government, politics, WikiWay with tags , on July 12, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

This might be the most concise argument I’ve heard for the need for net neutrality legislation.

Simply put…there would not be an Internet today if it wasn’t free from the beginning.

—Tim Berners Lee (the guy who brought us this Internet thing) testifying before a Congressional committee.

Courtesy of our new friends at Public.Resource.Org.

We are intelligent because we are social

Posted in WikiWay with tags , , , , on June 22, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

I submitted a couple talks to this month’s Ignite Portland event. This is a really cool series of events — basically, a bunch of people are chosen to give 5-minute presentations, accompanied by a slideshow, on any topic of their choosing. The topics vary widely, with topics like origami, how to buy a used car, and an excellent crash course in nuclear physics.

Thankfully, I wasn’t selected this time — what with the Oregon Revised Statutes issue I got embroiled in, I don’t know where I would have found the time to get a presentation prepared!

So I got to attend as an audience member, which was much more my speed. Here’s my favorite of the 5-minute presentations I saw, by Jenny Andrews:

MetroFi installed a great municipal wireless network. Seriously.

Posted in City Hall, open government, politics with tags , , on June 18, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

Or at least that’s how it looks to me — from my experience in the last few days.

The background: MetroFi built an extensive wireless network for the City of Portland. It didn’t work often, and when it worked, it didn’t work well. So the City opted out of the contract paying for bandwidth for core services. There’s lots of chatter in the blogs about the bad decisions made along the way, the cost to taxpayers, etc. Lots of gazing at trees.

But in the last few days, I’ve had what may be a remarkable glimpse of the forest.

I’ve connected to MetroFi nodes in numerous parts of town, and noticed two new things each time:

  • There were no advertisements, and
  • The connection WORKED.

Has anyone else had this experience? If you’re gonna check, do it quick, because the scuttlebutt says the whole thing’s getting shut down Friday. After that, who knows — sold for scrap?

But as we Portlanders contemplate what to do next, what about this possibility:

Was MetroFi’s network killed by a flawed technical approach to advertising? Did they shut it off after the contract was voided, only to reveal a perfectly functional municipal wireless network under all the junk?

And as we think that over, keep in mind that municipally-operated Internet access has been proven to work, with enormous benefits to citizens as ‘net consumers and citizens as taxpayers, alike. Since the late 1990s. In Kentucky.

Oregon Law: owned by The Man.

Posted in open government, politics with tags , , on June 17, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

Some of you might not know me, but we work together. That’s right, we legislate. We pass laws by proxy through the legislature, and directly too, when we vote on ballot measures.

But according to the Legislative Counsel Committee (LCC), we don’t own the laws we make; they do. And they get to decide who can and can’t publish them.

They’ve been saying this, apparently, since 1953, but it came to a head last April. That’s when when the LCC — a committee of several prominent legislators — issued a “takedown notice” to, ordering them to stop publishing the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) on the web. Justia is a company that publishes laws from various U.S. states, in a standard and well-indexed format. (Here’s an example from another state.)

Public.Resource.Org (P.R.O.), a non-profit partner of Justia, took exception, and made the case for a change — both out in the blogosphere, and by retaining counsel and challenging the decision on legal grounds.

P.R.O. got the committee’s attention; this Thursday, June 19, the LCC will hold a hearing, and will consider their arguments. I’ll be giving the case on behalf of Oregon Wikipedians and bloggers. Here are two key points: Continue reading

Keep the text of Oregon laws in the public domain

Posted in open government, politics with tags , on June 16, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

The powers that be have determined that Oregon’s laws are NOT in the public domain, and that web sites republishing them are in violation of copyright. There’s a hearing about it this Thursday morning.

In my view, this is a massive misunderstanding of the role that the Internet can and should play in advancing the public discourse, and general knowledge about the laws that we write through democratic processes.

Please take a look at my blog post about it (at the WikiProject Oregon blog), and do something to get this reversed. There’s a hearing this Thursday morning; attending and testifying would be great if you can, or writing your legislators would be a big help, too.

How to write a Wikipedia article

Posted in Wikipedia, WikiWay with tags , , , on June 12, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

I just posted some suggestions for getting started on writing a Wikipedia article, on the WikiProject Oregon blog. Check it out!

Elsewhere: Columbia River Crossing

Posted in City Hall, open government with tags , , , , , on June 3, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

Interstate BridgeThe “Columbia River Crossing,” a plan for an expanded replacement for the I-5 bridge over the Columbia, is a hot policy topic these days. The big local media and business interests are united behind a plan for a huge, expensive replacement; but several local officials have gained some traction advocating for a more affordable, more incremental, and greener approach.

This project will have a massive impact on the development of the Portland metro area, and on the kind of taxes we pay in years to come. It touches on innumerable other issues, including the Mt. Tabor Yard & Nursery planning process I’ve recently blogged about.

Former Willamette Week publisher Ron Buel published a good overview of their plan at BlueOregon. I’m turning comments off here, so we can join the bigger discussion over there.