Every Open Tab a Curiosity Beckons

I’ve mentioned it more than once here, but maybe the best thing I have done to put some serendipity wonder into the daily web browsing experience is installing the Library of Congress Free to Use extension.

What it does is simple- each time I open a new tab in Chrome, rather than the white screen of nothing, I get a random public domain image from the Library of Congress.

I just noticed on the extension page (was it there before?) that it credits Junior Fellow Flynn Shannon as the creator of the extension, and better yet, there is an old fashioned blog post where Flynn shares the back story of where the idea came from, and how it was made (and just for grins Tony Hirst, Flynn made use of Jupyter Notebooks). And even better was reading that Flynn is a student at Kenyon College, where I will be doing a June workshop.

Quite often I stop in curiosity at the expressions on old time photos, or the interesting scenery, or just a wonder about what was happening in that photo. I learned early if I do not click the bottom bar that links to the LOC page, the image disappears, and you cannot find it again.

So I’ve had a few sitting as open tabs for weeks now. Like this one, I just wondered what the story was.

Who was Becky Edelson, and what kind of criminal was she? From the LOC entry page:

Photograph shows Rebecca Edelsohn (c. 1889 or 1892-1973) after her arrest for attempting to hold an open air mass meeting in Fountain Square, Tarrytown, New York on May 30, without a permit. Edelsohn and fellow I.W.W. members were protesting labor violence in Ludlow, Colorado and went to Tarrytown to denounce John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Becky Edelson [i.e., Edelsohn] taken from jail (Library of Congress)

As usual I find way more interesting things in the Flickr Commons entries for these images, because of the comments people share to add to the information about the photo. Becky was noted as going on a 50+ hour hunger strike as part of this Labor dispute.

This other image in the series adds even more interest, with the expressions on the observers and imagining the verbal abuse likely being tossed her way:

A commenter on the photo stated 8 years ago he has started a Wikipedia article on her; it’s rather filled out now. Apparently Becky Edelson was the first female hunger striker. She railed against John D. Rockefeller in his home town, calling him a mass murder in court:

She denounced the charges as politically motivated, and scornfully dismissed the court as illegitimate: “This town is owned by John D. Rockefeller. We don’t expect justice here.

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Becky_Edelsohn

She’d not think much of justice these days in Washington, D.C. eh?

This was some winding rabbit holes from just a random image in an open browser tab.

That’s just one.

The stern look of the guy driving this boat made my step and wander down the click hole too.

How could you not be curious about a picture titled “Pugh of the ‘Disturber'”? But here’s the thing, the metadata info from the LOC entry is a bit… boring. All it shares is that “Photo shows James A. Pugh in his motorboat Disturber III”.

But in the flickr image, the comments lead to a story of how Pugh took this thing to court to get a boating prize. But even better, in flickr someone added hotspots with labels that made me spit coffee:

But also, on the right side, one more hotspot indicates the date of the negative as September 5, 1911.

I wondered how Pugh of the Disturber would look with color, so see the different applied by the ColorizeSG site

black and white photo of stern captain of boat, on the right is false color version created by an algoritm
Comparison before and after using https://colourise.sg/#colorize

Does Pugh look ever more of a Disturber in color?

A different kind of curiosity came in one of today’s open tabs- I knew the location as Venice of course

Library of Congress Public Domain image

The entry dates the image as 1890-1900 but also curiously (and without any more story) “Image shows two Italian Carabinieri soldiers in a boat, possibly accompanying detainees.”

I had a different thought here- could I possibly locate a modern image of this same location? I did a search on Street View Venice, and found one of those lush Google sites. and where the map interfaces were darkened and covered with “for development purposes only”. I’ve seen this on my own project sites that once used the Google Maps API; if you do not five them a credit card now, they limit your use and stiff you with this effect. It seemed, well ironic.

It’s pretty bad when Google cannot load its own maps, right?

If Google clicked on the Do You Own This Website? link they might have to figure some **** out. Maybe Google’s credit card is busted?

Under certain circumstances, a darkened map, or ‘negative’ Street View image, watermarked with the text “for development purposes only”, may be displayed. This behavior typically indicates issues with either an API key or billing. In order to use Google Maps Platform products, billing must be enabled on your account, and all requests must include a valid API key.

I was able to get a screenshot of what looked like the same tall church tower in the background:

Ghosty image from the broken Google Site

I picked that name of what I thought was the church from the map ( on that site (I was wrong, it was not Frari), but spent my lunch running up and down the canals in Streetview, and darned if I did not find the location (the dome is new since 1890, but the buildings on both sides of the canal match):

View of a canal with the same tower in the old image above/

I consider this a match! The church is actually Chiesa di San Geremia.

Now let’s see if I can align them….

Not exact, but close enough for this dog.

I have more open tabs, but maybe I will save them for another time. But having the the Library of Congress Free to Use extension in my daily routine gives me just enough things to chase down the rabbit hole and save me from making angry gifs about politicians.

Give it a try, if only for coming across public domain images you likely won’t see elsewhere.

Featured Image: Appropriately I opened a new browser tab hoping to find something to use for a featured image and found the Library of Congress public domain photo Erie Foreign Car Parts multi-statue sign, angle 1, Mohawk Street, Whitesboro, New York. I decided to edit the ERIE letters into my own.

crafted from Library of Congress public domain image

Openness, Not Just Licenses, Can Take You There

I just popped a CD of blues music into the player. How it got here is a story with being in the mix of other True Stories of Sharing. Why? Well, that’s my own photo printed on the back cover.

If the bass player (and also art producer) of the Blue Crawdads had followed the most typical interpretation of a Creative Commons (CC0) License he would not have had to bother even contacting me, much less asking how I want to be credited, much less mailing a CD to me in Canada.

Almost every way I hear CC0 explained is something like “you can use it any way you like, and you do not even have to provide attribution” or “just grab it and go.” Like I’ve Blabbed in The Road to Sharing is Not Paved With Licenses, this is the most minimalistic, machinestic interpretation, completely devoid of the simple act of human grace.

Rewind to last October when I got this flickr message:

I’m a member of a 4-piece Blues combo from Barbourville, KY called The Blue Crawdads.

You have a photo listed in the public domain at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/15152251297

We have an EP coming out soon named ‘Take You There’, and I’d like to credit you properly, since we intend to use this photo as part of the cover art. In addition to your name, would you want to have a website link or something along those lines?

Also, we’d like to send you a copy by way of thanks once it actually hits. You can check us out at www.bluecrawdads.com.

This is leaps and bounds above the terms of a Creative Commons CC0 license.

This is the photo:

This was among a series of playful photos I have done by literally laying down in the middle of a road. There’s a bit of nervousness about it that I enjoy. This particular one was on the main road where I previously lived in Strawberry, Arizona. I crossed it every day to get my mail at the boxes on the left; its recent paving suggested a laying down photo would be fun.

This began a series of email messages from Jesse about what I wanted for attribution (which again is not required by CC0!), some apologies because production was taking longer (I think they all have day jobs).

I asked him if I blogged about it, what could I say about why he chose this photo? His response:

 I found the photo when searching through various public domain photos, I don’t remember exactly what site it was posted on.

The Blue Crawdads got together back in 2014, and all of us are either from the mountains in this part of the country, or have a close connection to the region.  Those ties factor strongly into the lyrics of our music.

When conceptualizing the art direction for ‘Take You There’, I had several ideas – but the theme of this recording pushed us toward images of the open road and the mountains we love.  As such, your photo was a perfect thematic fit AND kept me from having to crawl around on a busy road with a cheap camera trying to get a low-angle highway shot that wouldn’t have ended up looking half as great.

More than licenses, eh? This is included in the nice letter that came in the mail today, with not only the new EP with my photo on it, but 2 of their other CDs.

Look what came in the mail today! A letter from the Blue Crawdads, 2 previous CDs, and the one on the right, “Take You There” with my photo on the back!

I’ve got “Take You There” in my player now- its got a low ZZ Top like shuffle blues to it, and some gritty electric guitar riffs on the four tracks. Next, I’m listening to the rest.

Thanks again Andy, Derryl, Keith, and Jesse for finding my photo, going above the minimums for reading the license, giving me another story about the value of sharing openly, and also for just some great music.

There is much more to openness and sharing that licenses, which to me, are the least interesting aspect.

Check them out! Buy their music!

Blue Crawdads band members, from their web site

(and yes, the guitarist on the left has a bit of Bavatuesdays going, eh?).

Featured image: My photo of “Take You There” in my hand, tonight it will go to flickr, and carry another CC0 license with it. You know what that means, right?

The Slimy Sideshow of Public Domain

Among a list of topics in our field that I am least interested in is the seemingly endless bickering about one Creative Commons license versus another.

It’s more that the details of licenses always seems to cast the largest area of attention in talking about open education sharing. After the array of licenses are tossed out in some pretty infographic, the train moves on.

The statement that “grinds my gears” is nearly always how public domain / CC0 is described:

You do not have to provide attribution.

Yes, that is technically true if you literally follow the license. But is that all it means? I prefer the spirit of it explained as dedication, of being offered to be shared in the most widely way possible:

Copyright and other laws throughout the world automatically extend copyright protection to works of authorship and databases, whether the author or creator wants those rights or not. CC0 gives those who want to give up those rights a way to do so, to the fullest extent allowed by law. Once the creator or a subsequent owner of a work applies CC0 to a work, the work is no longer his or hers in any meaningful sense under copyright law. Anyone can then use the work in any way and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, subject to other laws and the rights others may have in the work or how the work is used. Think of CC0 as the “no rights reserved” option.

CC0 Frequently Asked Questions (Creative Commons)

or better yet, this phrasing:

CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law.

Creative Commons CC0

Again, it’s technically true that the flickr photos I license under CC0 can be used for any purpose, commercial or not, and people do not have do anything, they need not attribute, they need not share the same way, the can make derivations, they can even make money.

So while many people see licenses as some way to “protect” their works, my switching from CC-BY to CC0 was my own test to see what would happen, just because people do not have to attribute and because they can do what ever they want, how badly would it hurt me?

As far as I know no one has made a ton of money from my photos, nor have I lost any. In fact, in that time:

  • A blues band is using a CC0 photo on an EP cover, they attributed me anyhow, and they are sending me a copy.
  • Someone used two photos taken on the day her great nephew was born in a self published book of “on this day”
  • A filmmaker asked for use of an image in a documentary, and asked how I’d like to be credited.
  • A professional photographer asked to use one of my photos in the banner image for her contact form “I realize I could totally go and take a photo myself, but if you don’t mind me using it, I’ll use it with that text overlay so you have photo credit. Thank you and let me know either way.”
  • An author of a Polish travel site used a photo in their travel guide“Your pictures on Flickr are very good. Beautiful compositions and interesting places. I used one of them with attribution and link to your Flickr account on my site which promotes the U.S. overseas”
  • An author of a book about dog statues asked for one to use in their self-published book, “I am very interested in your lovely picture of Toto and would love to use it in my book. The book will initially have a small print run of 200 and then be print on demand and I am self financing a large part of it. I would of course fully credit you and link to your flickr account. “

That’s just about 2 pages worth of more than 24 pages of flickr mail. Each one a story.

“That’s the good stories, where is the slime?”

Good question.

There’s an increasing raft of web sites out there offering collections of open licensed photos. Previously they used CC0, but now each seems to offer their “own” flavor. I am not quite sure why the world needs to sort through what makes a Pixabay license, and Unsplash license, or a Pexels license different from CC0 (there are subtle differences, and the license mavens can help you fine tooth comb why they are no pure open licenses, but I could not give a hoot).

So usually it’s described as… “you can use it for free and not provide attribution.”


I like Pixabay a lot- it’s my go to often for metaphors. And in a yet to be written posted, they are pretty darn picky on what they pick ( have had lots rejected). I know lots of people like Unsplash.com and they do have stunning photos- sometimes to me a bit too stunning.

But there’s worse. There are some shadier outfits out there that rather than be places where photographers share photos, they go around and scrape images from other sites to put into their collections- and those scraped ones are often CC0 licensed ones, because technically, the license allows a scraper slimeball to do so.

Recently my dog pal Martin Weller spotted one of my photos out there

Of course that’s my dog! And my photo. The site it is on just gives credit to Pixabay (no link)- and the only contact the site has is a Facebook page. Dead-endville for me to send them a message.

With some reverse image searching, I did find my photo of Felix on Pixabay… uploaded there by someone else. And used on a whole raft of other sites (if you see the link, you will also see my comment, informing “skeeze” that he got the breed of the dog wrong).

So by the letter of the license, that’s ok. But is it the right thing to do? I did find on Pixabay a place in the forums where someone else had this issue, and there is a way to report the account who did this.

Ahhhhh but there is worse, the scourge of a site called “Maxpixel”- the URLs change every now and then, for a while it was maxpixel.greatfreepicture.com now maybe it is maxpixel.net. Their results come of very often in Google Image search results with filters set to license for free use.

And you find there some beautiful pictures, like


There it is a CC0 license Public Domain image. But here is a trick- take any maxpixel URL like https://www.maxpixel.net/Scenic-Lake-Landscape-Sky-Sunset-Water-Reflection-1802337 and just change out the www.maxpixel.net for pixabay.com — and wow, oddly familiar


Now if that does not feel slimy, well try the mackerel ice cream.

The entire MaxPixel site is a wholesale theft copy of Pixabay. Again, because of public domain licenses, it’s not quite anything that breaks the letter of the license… but it sure seems smelly (Pixabay knows of this, I have seen it discussed, it’s hard for them to fight).

I am rather disgusted that Do Not Evil Google just let’s this stuff slide in their search results. For more, read Just Say No to Maxpixel.

Here’s another fish smelling site. Tonight, while adding a regional travel link to one of my Arizona web clients, I noticed on the Discover Gila County site a photo that I recognized.

Yep, that’s my photo!

Even before seeing my name on the credit, I saw my red truck from a series of photos I did a few years for the Fire on the Rim Mountain Bike race. It is odd that this site identifies it as “All Rights Reserved” because my photo has a CC0 license:

And if I was dithering to the letter of the license I could complain, because you cannot add an All Rights Reserved to a CC0 license image. But I don’t really care.

But without a link to my original I first tried a Reverse Google Image search, and landed to a swath of my CC0 flickr photos on pxhere.com (it’s not the exact photo but is one and the ones running down the page are all mine from the same event)


While I see in some places pxhere does provide attribution, here they don’t… because by the letter of the license they don’t have to, right? But they scavenged my photos, even lifted my entire caption, and stuck it on their site. What happens is other people land here bby search, and they just follow along the crowd that says, “I’ll take this, and I do not have to attribute.”

Okay, so if you have not said it already; the obvious question is, “Alan if you care that much about attribution why do you not license them CC-BY?”

It’s because I do not see the license as protection or enforcing, and again, this is my experiment. I am more interested in the people that do attribute and say thanks when they do not have to, than the people who just care about the minimum, letter to the license interpretation.

As rule, I do not use photos from sites like pxhere.com and others that do not give credit to the photographers who share photos. I have a search shortcut set up in Chrome where I can type gcc search-terms – it not only does an image search filtered to ones licensed for use, but I also remove maxpixel and pxhere from the results (example) For a lesson in doing this, see The Gift of Time.

Please, please, for the sake of all open licensed cute puppies do not explain public domain / CC0 only as “use freely and you do not have to attribute.”

That may be legally and technically valid but from a human, sharing, what would your mom say perspective, a bit morally stinkyfish. My suggestion is always, always attribute, even if you do not have to. It’s more about gratitude than license nibbling.

The flipside of not attributing, also is it sends a signal to every person who looks at your stuff, to do the same, because “that’s what everyone else does.”

Don’t be that person.

Featured Image: Hah, sometimes you search for slimy and you find it! I modified the Geograph UK image Slimy purple ice-cream by https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3368229 by  Peter Barr and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons CC BY-SA Licence. I changed the top text to read “PUBLIC DOMAIN” and sprinkled some CC0s around. So I share as Peter did under CC BY-SA.

Yum, slimy ice cream and CC0 served here…

There is Joy in Flicker CC-Attribution Helperville, The Mighty Firefox No Longer Strikes Out

With no apologies to Casey

One of my favorite home-spun projects that joys me to see in the world is people using my Flickr CC Attribution Helper, a tool I really built for me to make it easy to quickly form well-constructed and consistent attributions from open licensed flickr images.

It’s a simple browser bookmarklet tool that is able from a flickr photo page to request info via the flickr API (all through public javascript calls, do you need to know why flickr’s API is the bomb when other services repeatedly cripple their own API https://later.com/blog/instagram-api/).

I can often see it used in other people’s posts and projects because of the way their attributions are stated. And this is not 100% self-congratulating back-slapping, just seeing more attribution of open content is the real joy.

But one of the pain points has been that for a year or more I’ve had to tell people it won’t work in Firefox. Because they changed security levels on what the browser can do, any one like mine that opened a new browser window via javascript was walled off. Dead.

Until yesterday.

And the best part?

It was a student who figured this out.

Ken Bauer did flag me in a private channel that this was coming, and he was eager to see his student push the change to the GitHub repo.

There was proof!

The proof is even better because the flickr image used is one from my photo pal Michael Coghlan.

And sure enough the commit came in this morning from José Carlos. It’s not even a code fix I have to do; installing the the Bookmarklets Context Menu Extension enables your bookmarklets to be run as “content-script” which I infer means it has fewer restrictions.

Regardless of how, this means that Firefox users can again use th Flickr CC Attribution Helper. What happens with this new Extension is that all your existing bookmarklet tools are now available via a contextual menu (right or control click in a flickr web page, then select your CC Helper tool).

The flickr cc attribution helper is available in Firefox under the Bookmarklets contextual menu (after installing the Bookmarklets Context Menu Extension).

And boom, here it is!

Flickr CC Attributions working in Firefox, I should have done better to screen cap the whole browser window. Trust me, it works

You can also get to the bookmarklet via the button for the Bookmarks Context Menu extension on the browser bar.

This is really good news. I do have longer term hopes of redesigning the tool as a proper Firefox Extension (and maybe for Chrome). But even bigger, I think the attribution tool can be expanded to work on other services such as WikiMedia Commons, Pixabay, maybe Unsplash. Technically, it should work on any site that has a public JavaScript API for getting info about the photo from the page that contains it.

And beyond that, I’d like the tool to be more flexible from the results window to offer different size, and/or attribution options.

This will take some time and effort to do (wedged between the “real” work); but if any group, organization, filthy rich person wants to sponsor the development, contact me and/or click the begging buttons below.

But thanks to José Carlos (and Ken for encouraging his CIS students to take on real projects) we have a short term fix for the Mighty Firefox Users to now strike out on doing one click flickr attributions.

Featured Image: Added the Firefox icon, an “F” and screenshots from the flickr cc attribution helper (those are mine, I give myself permission) to Casey at the Bat pg 21.jpg a WikiMedia Commons image by Ernest Lawrence Thayer shared into the public domain cause it’s pretty old and Sono Bono could only extend copyright so many decades back.