March 3, 2014
February 20, 2014
I highly recommend watching the whole video, but here are a few interesting things I took away:
- The NSA and other intelligence services as a kind of high tech secret police, and how fascist mass surveillance is somehow not as bad as the surveillance marketing of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Why is mass surveillance not as bad creepy advertising? I guess because while we as individuals are never sure if we are under active surveillance by government agents, we are all certain that we are under surveillance by Google, Facebook, and Amazon. It’s also funny when surveillance marketing gets it wrong. After buying books for my daughters for Christmas one year, Amazon thought that I was a 12 year old girl who loved computer hacking. A few years ago, Facebook mistakenly thought that I was African American for like 6 months, and would display these shockingly racist ads about being a father and getting help with child support litigation.
- The west coast student socialist radicals might have grown up to become our high tech capitalist landlords, thereby living long enough to become the villain.
- Instead of hacking art out of the high tech debris, the Internet of Things is going to enable artists to build their own new things. This is a fundamental change in the digital art world order. Instead of scavenging beauty and creativity from recently deceased or discarded commercial merchandise, the artist has the potential to be first to market.
- Casting off the Googles and Apples of the world and surrounding yourself with physical open source could be a fulfilling way of life. This is a sort of stark contrast to Sterling’s criticism of an environmental policy of martyrdom which he succinctly describes as “hairshirt green.” It’s also sort of in keeping with Sterling’s call to reduce the physical and commercial clutter in your life and replacing it with beautiful, meaningful, and highly functional objects.
I find this all to be very compelling, especially after my rant about The New Yorker piece on the maker movement.
January 22, 2014
I have expressed a kind of disappointment with our President in other posts on this blog. I am not certain that this is entriely Obama’s fault. I wish that he would be honest with the American people about why all this Stasi-NSA crap is so important, but I think that We The People simply overestimate the capabilities of the office of the President of the United States. Whomever is in the office just doesn’t have the power to change things in the manner that the American people have been led to believe. You can vote for Ron Paul all day long and it’s just not going to make a difference. That may be by design since the office of the President was seen as ripe for abuse by the founding fathers, but it also may be due to corruption of the office by monied interests. Congress plays a significant role, for better or worse, but so do government agencies which are not always under the control of either Congress or the President yet similarly vulnerable to influence by monied interests.
EDIT: I forgot that I had this GIF.
January 15, 2014
My friend Dave shared this New Yorker piece with me. It’s a nice intellectual exercise to conflate the maker movement with a political or social movement, but the exercise reveals how little the author understands the hacker ethic that is so central to the maker movement.
Before I dig into just how misinformed I think the author is, I want to share the two basic tenets of the hacker ethic:
1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible.
2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.
The first tenet is what powers all things open source, from software, to hardware, to documentation. It sets up the gift economy that is the essence of hacking, and now of making. Because the community gives you tools and knowledge for absolutely nothing, you have an ethical duty to share what you have learned and to create new tools and knowledge. All hackers start off the same way: with little or no knowledge and equipment, yet rich in terms of time and energy. Over time the hours spent reading, getting flamed for asking stupid questions, and above all else, hours spent trying and failing all give way to expertise. That expertise leads to confidence, camaraderie, sometimes to employment opportunities, and possibly even a certain small amount of fame. All along your journey the community supports you, not often in a loving way, but it supports you none the less. It provides you with documentation, it answers your questions, it makes fun of your failures, and it challenges you. Along this journey, it’s your duty to be part of the discussion. You have to share what you have learned, and to answer (and possibly flame) those same stupid questions that you once asked. In time, you will find yourself so busy that you don’t have time to be part of the discussion as much, and you give back in other ways. My work with Hive13 and Cinci2600 is how I give back to the hacker, maker, and open source communities that have taught me so much and helped my career in such a meaningful way.
The second tenet is equally important and is paradoxically linked directly to the first. In the dark ages of computing, computers were very expensive and owned only by big businesses, big universities, and the government. This meant that if you wanted to learn about computers but you didn’t work for a big business, university, or government, then you either did without access or you accessed a computer system without permission. In either case, however, shared what you learned. If you found a flaw or vulnerability in a system, you shared it with the system owner so that it could be remedied before a less ethical person made use of it. If you found a vulnerability in a piece of software, you shared it with the software maker so that everyone who used the software benefitted. The act of cracking something is not in itself unethical, failing to share and disclose your findings is. Undisclosed findings are what give zero day vulnerabilities so much power.
Today, computers are cheap and ubiquitous, but the spirit of the second tenet is stronger than ever. Every day we come into contact with systems with strict rules about what you can do with them. Even though we own computer controlled telephones, game systems, cars, and household appliances, they are not ours to do with as we please because of these terms and conditions. Manufacturers, service providers, and media companies force us to agree to strict terms in order to use these devices that we have paid money to own or services that we have paid money to subscribe to. Tinkering with an electronic device or digital file that you own may very well be a violation of numerous agreements that you have made with some company. It is now possible to be a criminal system cracker on your own computer.
The second tenet is why we fight. We fight for access. We fight for privacy. We fight for control. We fight for freedom to make our own apps, to do our own repairs, and to force innovation from the outside. We fight to be able to make an object do something it was not meant to do.
The New Yorker article compares the maker movement to a 100 year old failed labor movement and craftsmanship renaissance known as the Arts and Crafts movement, where everyone was supposed to stop toiling away at corporate drudgery and pursue a philosophical life of mastering the creation of artisanal objects. According to the article, economics drives people to value utility and low cost over aesthetics. This trend toward consumerism is supposed to doom the maker movement as well. While it is possible that consumerism may run afoul of Marxist labor reform, hacking is not about socialism, nor is it about consumerism. The author clearly does not understand the two tenets of the hacker ethic. He conflates the maker movement with a kind of nouveau Marxist labor movement, and then criticizes tech entrepreneurs for getting rich by capitalizing on consumerism. No where in these two tenets is there a call for a socialist labor revolution, nor is there a call to reject capitalist consumerism.
The New Yorker article irks me by basically calling the maker movement a distraction from social and political activism. It basically accuses makers of being tool worshippers rather than people interested in meaningful action, as if engineering and social change are somehow mutually exclusive. Not only is that unfair because social and political philosophy is outside the scope of the maker movement, it’s also completely wrong.
Seeking salvation through tools alone is no more viable as a political strategy than addressing the ills of capitalism by cultivating a public appreciation of arts and crafts. Society is always in flux, and the designer can’t predict how various political, social, and economic systems will come to blunt, augment, or redirect the power of the tool that is being designed. Instead of deinstitutionalizing society, the radicals would have done better to advocate reinstitutionalizing it: pushing for political and legal reforms to secure the transparency and decentralization of power they associated with their favorite technology.
I can tell you from experience that getting hacker and maker types to be socially engaged can be an insurmountable challenge, but that is not the fault of the tools, nor of the tool creators. It is the fault of the people who have access to the tools of social change but do nothing to make it happen. It is also the fault of those who desire social change but do not make effective use of the tools that can make change happen. While we in the west distract ourselves by using Facebook and Twitter to talk about football and celebrity mating habits, people in the Middle East used them to foment the Arab Spring. With that said, if you are interested in starting a movement of any kind, you are going to need tools, things like secure communications and strong crypto for storing sensitive documents. For that, I recommend at least one hacker, preferably a cipherpunk. You also need music, because you can’t have a revolution if the music isn’t right.
To be completely honest, the preoccupation with tools as things that cause evil is, in my opinion, a real failing of the east coast liberal intellectual establishment. In the case of this article it’s technology causing sociopolitical malaise. In other media outlets of similar geo-political affiliation it’s guns causing murders. The preoccupation needs to stop. Stop letting your irrational fear of something that you don’t understand lead you to blame an inanimate object for something caused by an individual’s poor decision making. This is no different than the religious right’s crusade against gay marriage, which is also based on irrational fear. Letting your rhetoric be dictated by fear and misunderstanding undermines your message. It makes you look stupid, like those d-bags that oppose gay marriage. A tool can no more create a movement than a gun sitting on a table can commit murder. In both cases, a live body has to stop browsing Reddit, take their hand out of their pants, and actually do something.
If you are reading this and are suddenly inspired to do something, might I suggest starting with the Electronic Frontier Foundation?
There choice bits of history and philosophy throughout the article, but this paragraph towards the end really sums up the conflation issue:
A reluctance to talk about institutions and political change doomed the Arts and Crafts movement, channelling the spirit of labor reform into consumerism and D.I.Y. tinkering. The same thing is happening to the movement’s successors. Our tech imagination, to judge from catalogues like “Cool Tools,” is at its zenith. (Never before have so many had access to thermostatically warmed toilet seats.) But our institutional imagination has stalled, and with it the democratizing potential of radical technologies. We carry personal computers in our pockets—nothing could be more decentralized than this!—but have surrendered control of our data, which is stored on centralized servers, far away from our pockets. The hackers won their fight against I.B.M.—only to lose it to Facebook and Google. And the spooks at the National Security Agency must be surprised to learn that gadgets were supposed to usher in the “de-institutionalization of society.”
Sure, everyone is on Facebook and GMail, but the real work gets done using tools like Tor, PGP, TrueCrypt, not to mention BitTorrent. They have their flaws, but they keep a good deal of your conversations and data out of the view of oppressors and provide a virtually unstoppable method for distributing your movements’ media. If you do not agree with the Google or Facebook stack, you can always run your own servers and use your own tools. Again, if you don’t want to do it yourself, I recommend getting a hacker to help you.
The hacker ethic and the maker movement are about sharing tools and knowledge, full stop. If all you’re interested in is social change, you’ve joined the wrong movement. Making and hacking are about enabling and empowering people to do things. The hacker ethic focuses on computer hardware, software, and networks, while the maker movement focuses mostly on mechanical and electrical engineering, but both disciplines don’t really leave much room for philosophy, politics, religion, or economics. Political, social, or economic issues might motivate you to hack or to make things, and the things you hack or make might support or your social or political activism, but the disciplines themselves don’t really feature much philosophy. I know hackers who are randian objectivists, bay area campus liberals, man hating feminist lesbians, transgendered, Scientologists, Sikhs and Muslims. They are free to organize or evangelize any cause that they want. That’s the great thing about being a hacker: none of your personal crap matters as long as you have something cool to share.
But don’t take my word for it, read the end of the Hacker Manifesto:
This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.
Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.
I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.
November 12, 2013
As much as I love regional hip-hop, what little I have seen come out of Texas from the likes of Mike Jones and Bun B really underscores what I dislike about mainstream rap music. I’ve been listening to dudes brag about being pimps and gangsters since the 80′s. While it was pretty original when NWA did it like 25 years ago, today it’s been done to death, especially in Texas. Those dudes are incapable of shutting up about candy paint, wood grain, and 4-4′s. I get that this is what moves albums and gets people to watch videos, but at the end of the day, music doesn’t last unless it says something real. This is why I am drawn to independent music and underground artists, like DualCore.
A sub-genre of hip-hop that came out of London, England that piqued my interest was Grime. Lyrically, the words are basically British lads bragging about being gangsters, but they do it in their own vernacular, and they do it by blending elements of dancehall and drum & base. The samples are unique (no gangster whistle), the delivery is fast and raw, and the slang is like no other. The music captures something that I, as an American, haven’t had seen much of, life on the streets of London. In my youth, I assumed that everyone in England was rich, snooty, and incredibly white.
Dizzee Rascal is easily my favorite grime artist, and “The Boy In Da Corner” is easily my favorite album of his. Here’s one of my favorite tracks:
So like all good things from Britain, Dizzee learned that he can go to The States and make a lot of money. Actors do this, but the practice was pretty much invented by musicians. In hip-hop, you can get an unknown on the charts by having someone known do tracks with them. This is how Dr. Dre put Snoop Dog and Eminem on the map (not to mention Warren G). So Mr. Rascal packed up his trainers and came to the good ol’ U. S. Of A. and did some tracks with Bun B. I have no idea if he’s a thing in America now, but I kinda hope it blew up in his face:
I try to imagine the video shoot, with everyone unable to understand Dizzee Rascal when he talks. If you watch the video, Bun B mentions Dizzee and London exactly once, and then launches into the usual, candy paint, etc.
July 4, 2013
A while back I posted a video by Vinay Gupta about economic change that got pretty scary. In light of the whole NSA Prism thing, Gupta’s writing has gotten even scarier. Suddenly, being enamored with strong crypto doesn’t make me feel like a delusional paranoid like it used to.
Gupta’s recent blog post links to a Guardian article that ought to scare the bajeezus out of you. It touches on the idea that climate change, energy security, and the economy could be stitched together. According to the article, all of this surveillance state crap is our military-industrial complex attempting to reign in a kind of activist uprising against events pertaining to climate, energy, and the economy:
Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.
This reads kind of like an extension of The Master Meme that I have mentioned here before: the US cannot maintain its current way of life and our corporate overlords are pushing the government to abuse its military might in order to prop it up, despite the toll that it has taken on our climate, our energy stores, and the global economy:
FBI documents confirmed “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector” designed to produce intelligence on behalf of “the corporate security community.” A PCJF spokesperson remarked that the documents show “federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
Before you dismiss this as a conspiracy theory, consider the fact that this sort of thing has been happening since at least the mid 80′s via events like the Private Sector Bust. Also, consider the tremendous lengths that the film and music industries have gone to, in order to combat what they believe to be the threat of piracy, when they are really fighting against the end of an age. Film and music were profitable as large scale industries due to a 70-odd year fluke of production and distribution technologies. Once consumer technology evolved to enable cheaper production and distribution, those big industries become outdated and inefficient. The same may be true for post WWII America: the 100 year fluke that was the industrial revolution – cheap energy directly translating into economic growth with few if any ecological consequences – may well be at an end.
The threats of climate events, energy shocks, and economic crises are scary enough on their own, so the idea that they could become (or may already be) a unified front, an axis of upheaval if you will, ought to ratchet the fear up at least another notch.
In my mind, the fear associated with energy and climate being stitched to the economy is that each individual issue is very polarizing from a social and political standpoint. To a casual observer, these issues all sort of scream for progressives or conservatives to take action, which just isn’t a solution any more in this age of political partisanship and crony capitalism. Conservatives can’t fix the problem because progressives will violently oppose any solution proposed or backed by a conservative ideologue. The reverse is also true, progressives can’t fix anything because conservatives will fight to the death to stop anything proposed or backed by a progressive. What’s worse, is that these sociopolitical philosophies are not even the right tools for the job. The state of our nation is such that there isn’t anything left to conserve (so tax cuts won’t help), and there isn’t anything left to progress toward (so government programs won’t help). Even worse, both political approaches have contributed, in whole or at least in part, to these problems. I liken it to watching two sports teams tackle/scrum over a ball that has been moved to an empty field. If you take that political gridlock, and put it up against the three issues bundled together, the situation goes from bleak to apocalyptic.
Bruce Sterling describes our political and business leaders as “cheer leaders, not leaders” meaning that political leaders like Barack Obama, and business leaders like Steve Jobs have put themselves at the center of all discussion, but are unwilling or incapable of actually creating any actual infrastructure. Really, the answer to the triple threat of climate, energy, and economy is an overhaul of the American Dream to require significantly less infrastructure: less energy, less money, and having less ecological impact. Unfortunately, despite massive deficit spending by our government, the only new infrastructure that has been created is a military-industrial surveillance state aimed at propping up the great suburban ponzi scheme
Instead of being fearful, however, we should do what hackers do best and really dig into the problem in spite of the challenge it poses, in order to spite those who are making these problems worse. As in, we should be building the necessary infrastructure ourselves in a deliberate act of defiance. Gupta talks about the cipher-punk response to the surveillance state, and I think is a good first step to get “regular” people thinking and acting outside of the corporate/government/media machine. The cypher-punk response is only a start. The long term hack should be to get people to understand and embrace a life of civil disobedience by needing and using less centralized infrastructure. Decentralizing, economizing, and building new infrastructure without support from government institutions, and with minimal support from large corporations and mass media. It means living a life with a much smaller foot print, not just on the environment, but also on the global economy and your local energy grid and watershed.
I think that the main reason for enforcing this Master Meme with such vigor is that Joe and Jane Undecided Voter are likely to see a zero-growth/small-footprint/super-urban lifestyle as reduction in their quality of life. This is where we as hackers can really shine: by making the small-footprint-lifestyle look edgy and rebellious. We have already convinced people that computers and networks are edgy and cool and that greedy 20th century industries like record labels, big box retailers, and newspapers deserve to wither away. We’ve done such a good job of this that people are carrying computers around in their pockets in order to update their own webpages. People are even considering wearing computers. We made compute power and data distribution sexy, it’s time to make low impact life sexy as well.
I see the small footprint world as something like Bruce Sterling describes in his Reboot 11 talk (from 2009 no less):
I wish I could sum up the important points, but I really think it would be faster to just watch the video. The first half of the video is a bit of the doom and gloom that Gupta and Kunstler talk about, but the second half is some life-altering advice for how to fix the environment, the energy situation, and the economy by shifting our lifestyles away from consumerism and toward something more like real meaning. He wants us to stop buying tons of cheap crap and start buying small amounts of high quality things made by real craftspeople. Sterling wants us to prune the physical and metaphorical clutter from our lives, and in doing so, we can reduce the amount of light, heat, and space that the American lifestyle calls for.
Sterling also mentions that the wreckage of the unsustainable is our only heritage. I think that this is a tremendously important idea. As institutions of the 20th century continue to collapse over the next decade, their remains will hopefully serve as the raw materials for a new age. I liken it to the way a sunken ship can serve as the foundation for a new coral reef, or how bees can chew up wood and plaster to make the paper for their hives.
This is where elements of the Internet of Things and IR2 come into play. It will mostly be retrofitting our new low-impact infrastructure into the skeletal remains of the 20th century, but it could also mean enhancing those efforts with smart designs and new technology with an eye for sustainability. Hopefully one of the smart technology enhancements will be building strong crypto in the roots of everything, because I can’t imagine a 20th century institutions like oil and telecommunications companies (and by proxy their government enforcers) would let this sort of thing happen without a very dirty fight.
June 19, 2013
This is a great track. It’s a great example of Turtablism, or a Hip Hop track with no lyrics. In Turntable tracks, it’s all about the beats, so breaks and scratches replace MCs.
The track is based on some Rocksteady samples. I’m not positive, but I think at least one sample is cut from “One Step Beyond” by Prince Buster (not to be confused by with the more popular cover by Madness).
Another clever use of Ska samples is this Big Beat track by Lion Rock:
A classic turntable track that is probably the best use of breaks, scratches, and samples instead of an MC, to the point that you almost don’t notice that there isn’t one, is “The Motorcade Sped On” by Double D and Steinski:
There is a better mix of this track out there, but I haven’t found one on YouTube that doesn’t have significant audio problems.
May 23, 2013
I have made a few posts over the years about reggae and how much I love not just the music, but the music’s unique ability to fuse with other music. Sometimes this forms sub-genres like rocksteady or dancehall and sometimes it leads to new forms of music, like 2 Tone or ragga.
Reggae and Dub are the original remix culture. In England, it draws many parallels with hiphop in the US. Reggae is the original protest music and the original rebel sound. The video below is pretty long, but it’s well worth watching.
May 4, 2013
When I read this blog post about Assata Shakur being added to the Most Wanted Terrorist List, I noticed her story isn’t much different than those told by hackers that have been imprisoned. I also noticed that her criticism of the United States is summed up nicely by Mos Def.
“Beef” is a pretty harsh criticism by Mos Def of not just institutional racism in the U.S., but also of the hip-hop community and the people who look up to rappers. The track has powerful message about the hardships faced by the working poor. The track’s slower tempo means a lot of mixes use beats without much energy in them, which undermines the song as a form. Fortunately Max Tannone shared my concern and mashed up “Beef” with “Johnny Too Bad” by The Slickers. The result is a powerful mashup that is reminiscent of a dance hall/ragga protest song..
Technically, “Johnny Too Bad” sounds more like rocksteady than reggae, but unless you are a ska nerd like me, the difference between the different genres of Jamaican music is fairly academic.
Here is one version of “Beef” that sounds like a freestyle on a radio show:
Mos Def has done “Beef” in a bunch of different places, including The Dave Chappelle Show, so it’s not a freestyle.
Here is The Slickers version of “Johnny Too Bad”:
And here is the mash-up, known as “Johnny Too Beef”:
April 1, 2013Older Posts »
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