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Showing posts from January, 2012

Dr. Karen Ramey Burns

A Guest Reflection by Dr. Patrick Ball, Benetech's Chief Scientist

I am terribly sad to learn today of the untimely death of a friend and mentor, Dr. Karen Ramey Burns. Kar was a forensic anthropologist who specialized in human rights cases, and she was a founder of our Colombian partner organization EQUITAS). Over the last 17 years, Kar and I crossed paths in Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia, and many times at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS. She did amazing work, from dressing pigs in human clothing and leaving them on Colombian hillsides to measure how dogs and other animals disturb human remains, to putting uniquely identified titanium screws in human bones to learn how crabs move remains on Pacific islands. Every time we met, she had a story that taught me a little more about scientific ingenuity, integrity, and persistence. The Benetech Human Rights Program will greatly miss her warmth, wit, and guidance in the application of science to human rights.

Guatemalan National Police Archive Goes Online

Guest Beneblog by Ann Harrison

In 2006, the Benetech Human Rights Program was asked to participate in one of the most important human rights data projects in the world. The Guatemalan government human rights ombudsman invited the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) to analyze the contents of the estimated 80 million documents in the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive or the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). HRDAG designed a process to randomly sample the Archive and the archivists began using Benetech’s Martus software to organize and secure information generated from the samples. Just last month, the University of Texas at Austin made a large portion of the Archive available to the public unveiling a digital repository that contains 12 million of these critical records. This repository is an important step forward for the people of Guatemala and those seeking information about human rights abuses that occurred during the country’s 36 years of ar…

Why We're Blacking Out Sites: PIPA and SOPA

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In November, I wrote a blog post entitled: Why I’m Scared of the SOPA bill. Part of my objective was to show the unintended consequences of Internet censorship bills like SOPA and PIPA (SOPA's Senate buddy bill), responding to alerts from organizations I trust like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Copyright Alliance had the courtesy of engaging with multiple comments in favor of the proposed bills, but they failed to directly address (either a deliberate omission or because it was a robot) my major concerns about two of our main technology programs: the Bookshare online library (largest in the world for people with print disabilities) and our Human Rights program.

Today, we're joining what is probably the largest online protest in history, by blacking out significant portions of the Benetech website, as well as our Martus and HRDAG human rights websites. We're not alone: far larger sites like Wikipedia and Google and hundreds of others (if not thousands).

Copyright …

Engineers Without Borders Canada

I greatly enjoy talking to students, and I am now in Ottawa, Canada, just having spoken to an incredible group of students, Engineers Without Borders Canada. Now, I had heard of EWB before, but I hadn't grasped how large, sophisticated and ambitious an organization this is!

I'm at the annual Canadian EWB conference (each of the EWB country groups is independent of the other), and there are hundreds and hundreds of students here. Mainly engineering students, but as EWB Canada has grown and matured, they've increased the size of their umbrella and welcome non-engineering students. Oh, and at least half of the engineering students here are women. Hint to the profession: if you link engineering to helping people rather than gadgets, women seem to be more interested!

Dr. Pamela Hartigan, head of the Skoll Centre at Oxford University's Said Business School, noted in her keynote that EWB was the largest single source of Skoll Scholars at Oxford. That made me realize how impo…