Civics 101 / S.3304 update

An amended version of S.3304, the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010” was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. The House passed H.R. 3101 on July 26, 2010. Now the House and the Senate have to reconcile their versions of the bill and come up with something everyone agrees on.

Here’s a section by section summary of what S.3304 does, from the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology. It doesn’t seem like the amended bill will require the provision of captions for live programming and Internet-only programming (which, you know, is kind of a huge deal at this point). It took me so long to figure this out because I am rusty on using Thomas and I got mired in reading the Congressional Record. Honestly sometimes the only thing I feel like I can remember about how government works is what I learned from Schoolhouse Rock (did they really make us watch that in high school?! I hope I’m remembering that wrong).

It appears that the definition of `video programming’ in the bill went from

“programming provided by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by, a television broadcast station, even if such programming is distributed over the Internet or by some other means.”


“programming by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by a television broadcast station, but not including consumer-generated media (as defined in section 3).”.

So. It seems that Internet-only and live programming is left out. (the Caption Action 2 blog says this as well). But there’s still lots of other good stuff in the bill. Three cheers for [some] progress.


The thrill of human/computer/library history

Libraries of the Future by Licklider book cover imageI’ve been reading a little about the history of the human computer interaction (HCI) field, and as always I love reading the prophetic visions of researchers from the early days. It’s really cool that Stanford has made available video clips from Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 public demonstration which featured the online system, NLS, the mouse, hypertext, object addressing, dynamic file linking, and “shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.” No wonder the Human Computer Interaction Handbook refers to it as “sensational”. It’s always surprising how quickly some (if not many) people in the mid-twentieth century realized networked information storage and retrieval systems would be the “libraries of the future“.

This Vannevar Bush quote kinda gives me chills no matter how many times I’ve read it. 1945, people!

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest. The physician, puzzled by a patient’s reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds, and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior.

The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only on the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.

Vannevar Bush. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945.

college student using a clunky computer for word processing in the 80s mayberock on computerz

Hearing on H.R. 3101

There’s an important hearing going on today regarding the “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” (HR 3101), which would update communications laws to “help ensure that individuals with vision, hearing, and other disabilities are able to utilize fully broadband services and equipment and better access video programming devices.”

From the testimony of Jesse R. Acosta, United States Army (Retired), American Council of the Blind:

“H.R. 3101…would require that mobile and other internet-based telecommunications devices have accessible user interfaces and offer people who are blind or visually impaired access to a full range of text messaging and other heavily utilized services that are currently largely inaccessible to us. […]
We are asking you also to reinstate the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) regulations for video description that were struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2002. And we are asking you to expand those rules in two ways. First, to ensure that video description services are transmitted and provided over digital TV technologies, since the previous set of regulations was for analog television only. Those of us who are blind or visually impaired want to be sure we can hear the video description when we watch our favorite TV shows. In fact, we are also asking you to give some authority to the FCC to require video description for more than the simple four hours per week of programming that the old analog rules required. People who are blind or visually impaired watch more than four hours of television a week!
Second, and even more importantly, we are asking you to require that non-visual access to on-screen emergency warnings and similar televised information is also video described so that we too can know where to go in emergencies, what phone numbers to call and what websites to visit. […]
It is imperative that Congress ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired – including the rapidly growing population of senior citizens who are losing their vision – are not left behind as television technologies move more to digital and Internet-based technologies.”

Read the other testimonies and (supposedly? maybe) watch a live stream of the hearing on the website of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. (the live stream didn’t work for me but the downloadable WMV file did. Stuff gets intense at 1:16:00).

Also, a related bill has been introduced in the Senate: S.3304 – “Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act”. (Sponsor Sen Pryor, Mark L. [AR])

Update: I found this site – – where you can sign up for alerts that make it easier to track bills (I didn’t know of any way other than repeatedly looking them up in Thomas?). There’s RSS feeds and email options, along with links to related bills and “issues”, newspaper articles on the bills, and users of the site vote to show if they support the bill or not. Interesting. Here’s the page for H.R.3101.

waking up to Google custom search engines

Maybe I’m the last person to find out about this, but a friend recently told me how he uses Google custom search engines to tailor his searching to sites that he knows contain content that is good and/or useful to him. This is especially relevant when you want to do targeted searching in a specific subject area, or for a specific type of content, like film reviews or recipes. The one million benefits of creating custom search engines were immediately obvious to me, and I’m still wondering why I haven’t really heard of anyone using this before. I’m sure people do. They were probably just keeping it secret?

Anyways, I started my first custom search engine today. It’s called “la France en ligne” and currently searches a number of French cultural sites, library webpages, email list archives, digital exhibitions and online collections hosted at various universities and museums. I’m planning on adding more to it, but I was so anxious to try it out I had to stop after 20 URLs. Still, the results are pretty impressive as far as relevance goes. I did two sample searches, one for “George Sand” and another for “Robespierre” and got pretty great results. Try it and tell me what you think?

I definitely want to create one for recipes, where I can limit my searching just to the blogs I know post good and healthy foods I’m likely to want to make. And I’m also thinking an image search engine could be really great. I would be interested in hearing about any custom search engines others have used and what makes them special!