the use of Aaron Swartz photographs

After Aaron Swartz committed died by suicide in January, and in the months since then as issues of internet freedom and his own tragic story have continued to make news, there’s been a lot of demand for photos of Aaron. I had three photos of him up on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, from a 2009 Wikipedia meetup.

(I went back to my archives and found several more from that meetup.)

When I got contacted by photo editors who wanted to use these photos, I tried to get them to follow the terms of the CC-BY-SA license. In two cases, Rolling Stone and New Republic, I got a chance to explain how to use a Creative Commons license in print. For most photo editors, free licenses are a big unknown, but lately (in my anecdotal experience) they’ve been more willing to use and follow the licenses than in years past. Here are the spreads.

Top: The New Republic, 11 March 2013. Bottom: Rolling Stone, 28 February 2013

I’ve tried to follow how these photos have been used online, as well, to understand how–and how well–freely licensed images are used by news websites. Of the 42  uses I’ve looked at there are:

  • 6 that follow the license, or come close enough. (If they include a link to the original on Commons or Flickr, I count it as close enough, since others will be able to find all the attribution and license info, even if the reuser isn’t following the license to the letter.)
  • 9 that provide attribution to me, but do not follow the license (ie, there’s no indication that the file is freely licensed).  Among these is the long Slate profile that is also sold as a Kindle ebook… but with no attribution in the ebook that I can tell.
  • 9 (most of which credit me) that add an illegitimate attribution to photo agencies: DPA/Corbis, DPA/Landov and such. Among them: Business Week, New York Magazine, New Scientist, and Two from did not initially credit me, only the photo agencies, but the credits were updated after @wikisignpost contacted them. A few others still don’t. I’m not sure how the photo got appropriated into (I assume) DPA’s collection, but they seem to be distributing it widely and internationally.
  • 18 that provide no attribution. In addition to the Amazon ebook version of the Slate piece, the more significant places that don’t use any attribution include the Boston NPR station, Democracy Now, and a Fast Company piece by the project lead of Creative Commons Brazil.

Probably the most interesting use is this mixed media derivative (unattributed, and with no free licensing that I can tell) from a Hungarian website. If anyone knows the language and wants to try to get them to release it under a free license, please do.


The writer put me in touch with their photo editor, who sent me a screenshot from the Landov website, showing how my photo appears in the photo licensing database.The last part of the Caption section reads:

Photo: Sage Ross (Editor’s note: usable only under consideration of Creative Commons Lizenz CC-BY-SA 2.0 and will full reference) DPA/LANDOV

But the Comments/Restrictions section is blank, and the Photographers/Source line that news orgs would typically use just says SAGE ROSS/DPA/LANDOV. So basically they are charging news organizations for this photo and hiding away the fact that it’s not their photo to license in the normal way, and that if their customers want to use it, they actually have to follow the same rules as everyone who gets it for free from the original source.

I would ‘preciate that

I had an adversarial relationship with Brighton all morning. He’s been a little whirlwind of destruction.

I turn my back for one minute…

I finally drew a line and insisted that he pick up the cards and pieces of Candyland that he’d scattered through the hall.

“Can I have some mango?”

“No, not until you pick up Candyland.”

“I’m not hungry.”

And so on. After extensive pouting and pretending to nap and semi-voluntary confinement to his room and plenty of whining, he comes up to me.

“Daddy, would you help me pick this up? I would ‘preciate that.”

Aaron Swartz

I didn’t know Aaron well, but I admired him deeply. The remembrances at Remember Aaron Swartz give a picture of just how much he meant to so many people.

These photos are from the last time I saw him, at a small wiki meetup in Boston in 2009. In my favorite, he’s huddled around a screen with SJ and Mako, and they’re all geeking out over these videos of procedurally generated educational games and and books that are written with Word macros. His passion was infectious and beautiful.

Use a spare Android phone as an always-on IRC connection.

I ordered a Raspberry Pi (which should arrive in a few weeks), and my first project was going to be to set it up as an always-IRC connection using quassel. I use IRC regularly, usually from my desktop, but I don’t like leaving my 200w computer running all the time. (The electricity cost adds up quickly!) . If not for IRC, I’d set it to hibernate after 10 or 15 minutes of inactivity. Then I realized, why wait until I get the Pi? I’ve got my old Android phone (a Droid Incredible), which could serve just as well. Now I’ve got a quassel-core that I can leave on all the time, which runs on about 2 watts! It’s pretty easy, if you’ve got a rooted android phone you aren’t using.

First, install a standard Linux distro on the phone. I did this using Debian Kit, which let me put Ubuntu 12.04 on without much hassle. Just follow the instructions.
Then, within your Linux terminal, run:

apt-get install quassel-core

That should get you everything you need. To start it, just run:


Then plug in your phone and turn off the screen, and it’s ready to set up as your always-on IRC connection. (You need to be connected to your wifi network, and the phone should be set not to sleep, so that it maintains the connection.) You probably also want to follow these instructions to set up SSL, especially if you run an open wifi network at home. They worked for me verbatim; just run this before starting up quassel-core:

openssl req -x509 -nodes -days 365 -newkey rsa:1024 -keyout ~/.config/ -out ~/.config/

Find out the local IP address of that phone, and then you can run a quassel-client (not a quassel monolithic build, which combines the core and client into one program) on any or all of your computers on the same network. You’ll need to use one of the desktop clients (Linux, Windows, or Mac) to begin, and at the first connection it’ll let you set up an administrator account. Once you’ve created that account, you can also log in from other Android phones using Quasseldroid. (It can’t set up the initial account, though.)

After that, as long as quassel-core is running, you can use whatever computer you have handy to chat on IRC, everything that happens while you are offline gets synced each time you connect to the core. This is how IRC is supposed to work!

UPDATE: 2013-06-04

I used quassel-core on my Droid Incredible for almost six months. Most of the time it worked pretty well, but at times the lag (for my own messages to reach IRC, and for others to reach me) was a problem. I recently tried setting it up on my Raspberry Pi (running it in the background on a Raspbmc system), but I experienced the same severe lag as noted on the RPi forum (actually, worse in many cases).

I’m now running it on an MK808B Android stick (which I also use for Netflix and other media on my TV), using the same method as above. This dual-core Android stick has been really snappy with quassel; backlogs load very quickly (on both the desktop client and Quasseldroid) and there’s no noticeable lag.

One thing I didn’t note above is that with Debian Kit, dpkg may report a problem when quassel-core is installed, but it will still work. (I didn’t notice this during my first installation, although it may have happened. But I tried recently on several different Android devices with both Debian and Ubuntu installations, including using other methods than Debian Kit of running Linux, and I get an error every time.)

lens attachments part 2: 60x microscope

After becoming enamored with the pair of cheap phone lens attachments I bought, I decided to try out the common “60x” microscope. Although it doesn’t use the same magnetic ring attachments and is supposed to go with iPhones (it uses a form-fitting case to attach), I saw a review where someone mentioned gluing the ring magnet from another lens onto it to make it work with other phones. So I ordered one to give that a try.

A bit of superglue and a spare ring magnet makes it quite usable on my HTC One XL. Here are the same pixels from my television, shot with the microscope and with the macro lens. The fine structure of individual pixels resolves a little better with the microscope.

Here is an ink and paper drawing (a closeup of this) illuminated with the LEDs that come with it.

The main downside with this lens is that the visible area makes up only a small portion of the sensor. The shots above are “zoomed”; the visible area is actually about 1/3 the width of an uncropped image. Still, the design of the barrel along with the built-in lights makes it easier to get a good, well-lit image than it is with the macro (which creates disruptive shadows over the subject in most lighting). So, $5.23 well-spent.