Friday, September 27, 2013

Link Mashup

For the last few years I've been doing a link blog called Three Good Links. I post short snippets from stuff I've been reading along with a link. Recently I've been feeling a little bit chatty, wanting to draw some connections and make observations about these links. But it doesn't really fit the format of the blog, so I thought to write here today.

1 Boring Old Man is a fascinating blog written by a retired psychiatrist.  Over the past few years he's written about the state of psychiatry today and reflections about the profession over his career.

I'll more or less follow my link format at my other blog, so here's a snippet from a recent post:

  • This falsely inflated market doesn’t have the steep lead-in of a financial bubble, and that graph up there just keeps on rising and taking a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. And back to Psycritic’s question, it doesn’t burst or pop like financial bubbles. It seems to grow unaffected by those usual market forces economists so love to talk about. What do you call a market like that – a falsely inflated market that is unopposed by any apparent forces to hold it in bounds? I personally think it’s called a Monopoly , and I don’t think we’ll be able to do anything about it until we come to grips with what that means. I wish it were a financial bubble, but it’s not. The medical analogy for an economic Monopoly is cancer – something that grows without restraint until it destroys its host. That’s a real possibility with the Healthcare Industry.
Mickey at 1 Boring Old Man. a bubble?

Ivan Illich wrote about radical monopoly. There's a pretty good chance that Mickey has read a bit of Ivan Illich's oeuvre, but I think he's making a point about monopolies in a more conventional sense.  In 1976 Illich wrote a book, Medical Nemesis. The book is no longer in print and rarely cited, nevertheless the critique is penetrating and Illich's observations are quite relevant if we locate the problem as monopoly. He writes:

Ordinary monopolies corner the market;9 radical monopolies disable people from doing or making things on their own.10 The commercial monopoly restricts the flow of commodities; the more insidious social monopoly paralyzes the output of nonmarketable use-values.11 Radical monopolies impinge still further on freedom and independence. They impose a society-wide substitution of commodities for use-values by reshaping the milieu and by "appropriating" those of its general characteristics which have enabled people so far to cope on their own. Intensive education turns autodidacts into unemployables, intensive agriculture destroys the subsistence farmer, and the deployment of police undermines the community's self-control. The malignant spread of medicine has comparable results: it turns mutual care and self-medication into misdemeanors or felonies. Just as clinical iatrogenesis becomes medically incurable when it reaches a critical intensity and then can be reversed only by a decline of the enterprise, so can social iatrogenesis be reversed only by political action that retrenches professional dominance. 
Ivan Illich in Medical Nemesis.

danah boyd has a post thoughtfully responding to the news about a California school district hiring a firm to monitor student's online behavior. She asks some pertinent questions:
  • So here’s the question that underlies any discussion of monitoring:  how do we leverage the visibility of online content to see and hear youth in a healthy way? How do we use the technologies that we have to protect them rather than focusing on punishing them? We shouldn’t ignore youth who are using social media to voice their pain in the hopes that someone who cares might stumble across their pleas.
danah boyd at apophenia.  eyes on the street or creepy surveillance?

This summer there was a FBI "rescue" of 105 sexually exploited children resulting in the arrests of 159 alleged pimps. I put scare quotes around  the word rescue because at least one of the minors in my state of Pennsylvania was charged with prostitution and jailed! This punitive approach is good example of what danah boyd urges we avoid.

I was heartened by a piece in Indian Country Today by a former FBI special agent, Walter Lamar:
Some states, like Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon, are working to change that by knitting together networks of providers to help these exploited children. Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Initiative increases the opportunities for young people to walk in off the street, a method called “No Wrong Door.” Under new laws in these states, children who have been prostituted cannot be charged with juvenile delinquency and are instead treated as victims of a crime.
Walter Lamar in Indian Country TodayNative School Girls Should Not Be for Sale on the Street

I'm very much in favor of this approach, but I want to highlight Lamar's use of "knitting together networks" as a way of tying these varied links together.

Mickey points to monopoly as the cause of the steep increase in medical costs in the USA. The ordinary solution for monopoly is to introduce greater competition. Heaven's knows that policy makers have tried, but such policies haven't slowed the increases. Illich's construct of radical monopoly maybe one reason why not. Certainly the punitive approach helping kids in trouble is informed by radical monopoly too. 

Radical monopolies in psychiatry -and the healthcare industry more generally-- preclude, or at least make it difficult to incorporate networks of people outside the system in care.  A similar dynamic is involved when law enforcement charge sexually exploited children with crimes. There's an internal logic to it that makes no sense at all. 

Weaving networks together offers offers a more sensible approach, but radical monopolies are "radical" precisely because they exclude the competencies of ordinary people. Some worthwhile initiatives like Safe Harbor may emerge on the edges, but without the critique of radical monopoly, it's difficult for me to see such initiatives moving to the center.   

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Middle Fingers in the Digital Age

Serra Swinging Plates from Daily Serving on Vimeo.

I don't really have a clue,but I try to figure stuff out. Stuff like copyright, stuff like obscenity, and stuff like identity. You know, that stuff isn't easy.

Last night hanging out online, and mostly in the evenings I've got my Facebook page open, Juxtapoz linked to an article, Richard Serra's "Sequence" at Cantor Arts Center, Sanford. The article is really a shorter version of an article at Daily Serving, a best of 2011 article, revisiting and essay by Rob Marks first published in September Recovering Site and Mind: Richard Serra’s Sequence Arrives at Stanford. I didn't click through to the article last night, but I did watch the videos.

Little boys often like trucks and heavy equipment, along with guns, puppy dog tails and stuff like that. Watching these videos sure brought the little boy out in me. I watched them with rapt attention, and identifying with the workers in hard hats, wondering what it would be like to be one of them.

Something good that can be said about the city of Pittsburgh is there are a great number of public sculptures. There's a Richard Serra sculpture Carnegie that's very well known, because it's big and at a prominent intersection in town. I decided to search for a picture of the piece online, so I entered "Carnegie Museum of Art Richard Serra" into Google. I was surprised to discover at the link that an image of the work was not available due to copyright. Of course for those of you who use Google for search, you know that prominent in the results is a link to Google Images, so a picture was just a click away.

Facebook is going to a new timeline format for profiles there. I haven't jumped on that particular bandwagon, hoping to put off the effort involved. But moving to the new profile is causing consternation among the people I know on Facebook. Most of us probably have stuff on our Facebook we probably ought to have deleted, but haven't bothered to reasoning: "Who could find it anyway?" The trouble with the new timeline is that stuff becomes easier to find. Then again, just what's stuff I don't want people to find? I'm not sure really? Something I keep hearing in re the frustration with the Facebook timeline is the intention to pack it up and head over to Google+, Google's social networking software.

I never know what to post to my Google+ profile. So far, what I've posted seems pretty boring. I've never given any overall thought to things I "like" in Google's "+1" jargon, but I do click that +1 button here and there on the Internet. So far the running tally of +1's seems somewhat useful to me. If nothing else, another place to look for stuff I think I ought to be able to find but am not finding right at the moment. News travels in a network, and so I had heard about M.G. Siegler's middle finger run-in with Google+. Profiles showing extended middle fingers are not allowed.

Mostly I try to behave, I think most of us do. Sure, some of the impulse is to avoid getting in trouble, but primarily people just want to be good because we are good folks; kind to children and old people and stuff like that. No, really, we want to be fair and kind. Copyright is a matter of law, and as a matter of law is backed up with coercion and the very real threats of legal consequences. It's not that most of us don't think about that, but mainly when it comes to copyright we think in terms of fairness rather than in terms of law. Nowadays it's very easy to share copies of things, to share copies of copyrighted works. How easy it is to share makes negotiating matters of copyright both as a matter of fairness and as a matter of law not so easy.

I started posting posting to a Tumblr blog last spring. Tumblr is a site that makes collecting stuff you encounter online quite easy. Actually Tumblr makes publishing on the Internet quite easy in general. Tumblr makes it very easy to reblog posts. Something good about that is attribution becomes somewhat automatic. Among my creative friends Tumblr is viewed as copyright violation machine and they're leery about putting anything they make on Tumblr. Once copyrighted material is improperly posted, the ease of re-blogging makes it quite a difficult matter to rectify.

My Tumblr blog is really quite simply a link blog. I post three links to stuff I've read during the day. I read multiple articles online most every day. But to make the links useful to me, if for nobody else, I copy a brief snippet of text from the articles and post it with a link. Finding a sentence or few which can somehow stand alone and still make a bit of sense, turns out to be harder than I expected at first. I'm quoting from articles, but not everything I post is really a quotation which fits with Tumblr's template for posting quotations.

Stowe Boyd wrote a piece for his Tumblr blog, We Need a Manual of Style for Tumblr. Boyd makes some very good points about attribution at Tumblr. I thought I was being pretty good with the way I was aggregating content there. I was only copying brief bits of published work for education and discussion purposes and I was providing a link. Still, Boyd's article was enough to make me see that the way I was offering links wasn't enough attribution for the Tumblr ecosystem where sharing is so easy. I've tried to improve on what I was doing. It's probably not especially good style as far as style manuals go--there isn't so far as I know a Tumblr Manual of Style--but it is a good-faith attempt not only to properly attribute work but to make sure that attribution survives recopying.

I want to post a picture of Richard Serra's sculpture Carnegie here.

The license for the photo is Some Rights Reserved by Raquel Camargo. I haven't asked Raquel Camargo if I could use the photo and asking is always good form. I am happy that she's made the photo available. But I feel a little creepy about using the photo because of the people in it, especially the guy in the blue jacket in this photograph. I see from other photos in Carmargo's Flickr pictures the same fellow shows up. He looks like a cool guy, and I don't mean to take his privacy away.

It turns out there are a couple of very good photographs of Serra's work on Flickr which do not show extraneous people in them. There's a very good article about the photographers who to those pictures at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Web site, Why You Should Know Hanneorla. Hanneorla are a husband and wife team and have published over 40,000 photographs at Flickr, many of them of art works in museums around the world. I love their work. But their pictures are available by license with Getty Images. Getty Images is well-known on the Internet for purveying FUD. Getty Images doesn't serve take down notices when a unlicensed work is found on a Web page, they simple send a bill and let bill collectors handle the rest.

Some of my creative friends know about and use Creative Commons licenses for some of their work. Most of my creative friends think CC causes more harm than good. I'm not trying to make money from content I put up online, so CC makes sense for me, but I do understand the reservations my friends have. Copyright is hard and Creative Commons licenses are no panacea. But it's hard to think that Getty Images licensing work at Flickr is an unmitigated good either.

The Carnegie Museum of Art owns Richard Serra's work Carnegie. It's one of the most important pieces of sculpture in their collection. It's a site-specific work and so the relationship of the sculpture to the museum building is an integral part of the sculpture's visual meaning. One of Hanneorla's photos captures this relationship very well. Nice work! But it's interesting to note that the Carnegie Museum allows photographers to take pictures of Serra's work, but Richard Serra's assertion of copyright prevents the Carnegie Museum of Art from showing a photograph of the work on the museum Web site, or making an image of the work which the museum owns available to scholars and teachers without a lengthy contractual process. I'm not sure how Hanneorla has addressed Serra's copyright on the work, except that they offer to take down any image they're asked to. I am uncertain whether they know that their arrangement with Getty Images means that same courtesy isn't extended to people who use their work without license from Getty Images.

I forget what atrocity was being protested one day when I was visiting New York City, but something was being protested and I found myself in the middle of it. I'm a lousy protester, I'm shy and timid. The protest was in front of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building. I wasn't adding anything to the protest, and frankly when I saw a line of police cars arrive on the scene, I thought the better of being involved at all. So I headed around to the back of the building. I was curious because I knew that in the plaza one of Richard Serra's most famous sculptures Tilted Arc had once stood. One of the judges who worked in the building did not like Tilted Arc and after its installation set about getting it removed. The judge literally made a Federal case about it.

Tilted Arc is no more, it wasn't there when I went to see the place it had once stood. Issues of copyright were featured in the trial over the destruction of the work. I only have a vague idea about all of this, but I do get that ideas are of the essence. Because I'd been to a place where Richard Serra's Tilted Arc was removed, and sort of understood what that piece meant because of the hullabaloo over it's removal, I had a little appreciation for why Serra asserts copyright claims preventing the Carnegie from making photographs of his sculpture Carnegie available. Still, the prohibition of photographs of it over copyright claims mostly seems ridiculous to me.

Getty Images is privately owned. An incredibly large number of photographs are under license by Getty Images,including a surprising number of pictures on Flickr, notably most of Hanneorla's pictures. The ownership of Getty Images was acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman in 2008.

Here in the USA the 2012 presidential elections are heating up. The Republican front-runner is Mitt Romeny. Mitt Romney is a very wealthy man. He has been reticent in releasing information about concerning his vast assets. When pressed for perfunctory information his campaign responded by demanding that president Obama release his birth certificate and grades. Inside the USA the response is an obvious racist "dog whistle." Anyhow the fortune that Romney has amassed comes from his partnership in Bain Capital a private equity firm with over $65 billion in management.

Romeny's partnership in the firm is notable in that it was structured so that the young Mr. Romeny did not put any of his own money at risk or into the pot. Nice work, if you can get it. Bain Capital is involved with some of the most odious firms in the USA. The other day Numerian at The Agonist blog made a very good point:
Wherever you see compound growth rates of 5% - 10% per annum in the US economy, you are sure to see active federal government subsidies for that industry.
Maybe my using the word "odious" was a bit harsh, perhaps safer to say that Romeny's firm has sought out industries which depend on government subsidies. Oh hell, I do think Hospital Corporation of America and Clear Channel Communications odious.

Intellectual Property is one of the chief ways that our government delivers financial subsidies to corporations.

I do go on. Ownership, intellectual property, government coercion, copyright, fairness, and decency, these are all hard to sort out and to stay on the side of the angels about.

One last link is to an article by Randy Kenny in The New York Times, Apropos Appropriation (NYT has a modified paywall). Kenny writes about a lawsuit against artist Richard Prince over copyright violations. I found it a very interesting and well-made article. Among the comments posted to it, several of them accuse Kenny of being biased in favor of copyright violation. I didn't get that impression myself, but then again, I'm of the opinion that issues around copyright are difficult. It's not something which matters only to successful artists, these issues touch all of us.

And pretty much, that's the point of this post. But there is also the matter of M.G. Siegler's picture showing an extended digit. Matthew Igram has some smart things to say about that. I'm not so smart as Igram. Still I'd hate to loose the use of my middle finger, especially in times like these, times of The assoholcracy. So while I'm all for being nice, on balance Google banning Sieger's picture seems a dick move to me. These issues are hard, man.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hard Drive Replacement

Recently my computer hard drive went bad. Well, or at least that's what I think, I'm not at all sure how good my diagnosis was. In any case I ordered a new hard drive and installed it.

Computers are complicated and I don't know much about them. And what I know about using computers is what I've picked up on my own and listening to what other people say online. Many people get to watch other people use computers, but I've had few opportunities on that score.

Anyhow I feel dumb when it comes to computers.

Along with the hard drive I ordered a SATA/IDE to USB adapter. Using this cable allowed me to recover files from my "broken" hard drive. This also allowed me to look at the files on broken older computers I have. As I say, my grasp of technical aspects of computing is pretty feeble, but this whole undertaking made me reflect on my experience of discovering the Internet from circa 1998 or 1999.

The orange-colored logo is for Ubuntu, a flavor of the free and open source operating system called Linux. The current computer I'm using runs Ubuntu. Previously I had computers using various Microsoft operating systems. Were I still using a MS operating system, it's unlikely I would have attempted to change my hard drive.

We live on top of a hill and over the years lightening strikes have reeked havoc on electronic appliances and our telephones. My last computer didn't work after a lightening strike. As chance would have it, I was preoccupied with other matters and didn't really attempt to fix the computer. A friend lent me a Dell Mini netbook computer which happened to be running Ubuntu. After using it for about a month, I was convinced that I wanted a desktop computer running Linux.

The netbook seemed surprisingly capable to me, so I felt like I didn't need to go in for power when looking for a computer. In fact lower electricity usage seemed like a positive attribute. I've got expensive tastes and little money. That combination in my case often leads to muddled purchasing decisions. Sometimes I pay too much for too little. One of the first computers I looked at was System 76 Meerkat Ion NetTop. I looked at plenty of alternatives and debated the matter internally for a couple of weeks. I ended up getting a bare bones model of the Meerkat, half-way thinking the only reason was because I saw it first. As far as specs go, there were cheaper alternatives, but I've been very happy with it.

Using computers running Microsoft operating systems over the years had brought a bunch of problems and going about solving them always was frustrating. Oddly the memory of those frustrations kept me from adopting Linux earlier. I thought you had to know a lot about computers to use Linux. Any of you who tried to figure out Microsoft issues using their six-digit entitled articles are sure that knowing a lot about computers is a daunting undertaking. Some of the Linux articles are no less daunting, but there is also a rich ecosystem of peer to peer information sharing that comes with adopting Linux. I've found it's been much easier to find out stuff about Linux than Microsoft.

A friend of mine in an incredible act of generosity bought me a computer and an AOL Internet connection in November of 1998--it could have been 1999. I had used computers before that, but mostly as a sort of glorified typewriter. I had also read about the Internet, but nothing prepared me for my real encounter with the Internet. I recall having dinner around my birthday around this time and being bleary-eyed having stayed up late the night before wallowing down some rabbit hole online. I asked at the table if others had found the Internet so addicting. A friend told me at first yes, "but the novelty wears off." It didn't wear off in my case.

Everyone always says to "back up" your computer. It seems easier said than done. None of my multiple backups to CD using software that came with computers running Microsoft software ever worked. When I suspected the hard drive on my latest computer was going I tried to backup to online storage, but came up with errors which made those attempts failures too. I haven't gotten to the bottom of those issues yet, but with Linux I think I can. Anyhow I haven't had, and don't have now a system for doing back ups. Over the years I have put photographs onto CDs. So running my old hard drive.on the bench was a bit like opening time capsules.

Mostly what I've found on my hard drives are a digital version of disorderly shelves of papers and magazines which I have in my own room. I've got to learn to be better about throwing stuff out.

I was intrigued to look at my documents on my ten-year old computer. The first thing I noticed was several file folders of letters. I used to write a lot more letters than I do today; letters I would print and send in the mail. The second thing was the absence of a Photo file folder. I was sure that I had photos saved. I did, but discovered them in various files, for example among the saved correspondence in folders marked with friends' names. I was surprised to see how much my use of the computer then was premised on analogy to the world of paper, and it's astonishing to think about how many of the files there I actually printed out to read back then.

When lightening struck I took that computer around to repair shops. The thing weighs easily four times what my current computer weighs. The repair shops all told me it was better to think in terms of replacing the computer. The primary reason for that was upgrading to Windows XP as an operating system.

I went ahead and bought a new computer, opting for as much power as I could afford at the expense of installed software. I got a shop-built computer with only the Windows XP operating system installed. Within seconds of connecting the computer to the Internet to download Microsoft updates the computer was infected by the Blaster worm. Drat! I stayed up all night trying to fix that. There was some problem with the computer that showed up a month or so later. The technicians told me it was a virus, but it was not. I had it in the shop for a couple of week-long repairs, which apparently had only consisted of their running anti-virus software. The third time I returned to the shop they sent it away and whatever electrical problem was resolved. The whole repair sequence took over a month.

XP was a great improvement over Windows 98. And since I didn't have Microsoft Office I used Open Office instead. That was my first introduction to FOSS software. I used a proprietary email client software which doesn't seem to be around anymore, although Chaos Software is still around. The main selling-point to me was it kept the contact list in a document file so was very hard for malware designed for Microsoft's email client which send out emails from the address book .

The main impression from looking around the documents on that hard drive is how my thinking had shifted from the analogous world of paper and print to a digital view. My saved photos are all in a single file. I'd purchased a digital camera so there are lots of photos too. There's still a file of "Letters to the Editor" but most were sent online anyway. I no longer saved email in friend's files, just let the email software save them. There is music on this drive, mostly it's copies from my CDs, so there's nothing I've been missing, but I was using the computer for music listening whereas I hadn't been before.

The Internet has changed the way I attend to music quite a lot. It's strange that I haven't gotten the knack of making mixes to burn to CD as so many of my friends have. I still like to make mix tapes on cassette, but nobody is interested in those anymore. CDs seem a clunky way to share music, it's the lists that matter most in sharing nowadays. It just seems more natural to share online than with a CD.

While it's clear that this transition to a digital view happened before getting a DSL instead of dial-up Internet connection,the shift to faster Internet cemented it.

There are many good reasons that people might want a computer running Apple's OS X operating system or one of Microsoft's operating systems. The big reason, of course, is that they want to run a proprietary piece of software or service which requires one of those operating systems. But for many people almost everything they want a computer for doesn't require proprietary software installed on the computer. That's hard for many people to believe, but it's certainly been my experience.

The years of using Microsoft products certainly left a bad taste in my mouth, and I know I'm not alone in that feeling. Recently several of my friends have gone to Macs for precisely this reason. For one friend the Apple Store was a big factor in her decision, as she can make an appointment to have questions answered for a year. Apple products have always been too expensive for me to consider, but I don't lust after them. The walled garden makes me skittish. Even if I had lots of money I'd use Linux now. It's silly to think too much about what one would do with lots of money, I'm very happy with the computer I have.

When my operating system didn't boot, I simply plugged a flash drive with the operating system on it into a USB port. I was able to check out the hard drive that way. Even for people using MS or Mac having an Linux operating system on a flash drive can be handy. When I replaced the hard drive I simply plugged the flash drive back into the USB and installed the operating system. Once my computer was up and running, I attached the SATA/IDE to USB adapter to the old hard drive and was able to copy my home file to the new drive. It all was quite easy, and something I'd never attempted to do if I were running a computer with a Microsoft OS. I didn't have to worry about entering streams on numbers as a Microsoft ID. Or that one of Microsoft hidden rules would come into play, for example, since the hard drive was replaced Microsoft might decide I was trying to install the operating system on another computer. And I didn't have to worry about encountering an endless loop of Microsoft demanding I insert CDs--my computer doesn't even have an optical drive. I didn't have to worry about Microsoft breaking my stuff.

As I look back over the ten or so years I've been online, I feel very grateful for the many people and ideas the technology has has allowed me to connect with. Now that I like the Internet so much, it's easier to pay attention to threats to the whole ecosystem. A root problem is that so many people are dumb about computers like me. Using a Linux operating system on my home computer has not been a hardship, to the contrary it's been a relief. Open source software is a key reason for the Internet we have and key to protecting the Internet. There's little chance that I'll ever become computer smart. But in all likelihood I'll get smarter and I think most of the rest of us will too. Using Linux over the past year or so has made me smarter. It's a small step, but one many others can take too.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


soul music

Koowall is a new online site that I like. I'm in love with the idea of online collaboration. As it turns out reality is quite different from my imagination of it. For example I think wikis are wonderful for collaboration, but over the years I haven't been successful in convincing anyone or any group to contribute to a wiki I've made--I've made plenty. I'm not sure what creeps people out about wikis.

As sort of a negative example of how collaboration is hard to master, I'd point to my bad habit of "blogging" on other people's blogs in their comments. I'm not too hard on myself about that because I think we're all trying to figure out what sorts of customs make sense for online communication. And I'm surely not alone in wanting to collaborate online.

A friend asked me a while back what the easiest way was to put up some links and resources to a workshop she was presenting. I told her that Tumblr and Posterous were super easy. I was pretty sure that was true, but at the time I hadn't actually used either of them. So I tried them out just to make sure.

Tumblr uses a Dashboard, which is a little like the newsfeed at Facebook and a little like the Twitter feed. I thought to get a handle about what Tumblr was like I needed to have a Tumblr blog and subscribe to a few Tumblr blogs to see what it's about. Without thinking much I thought to post three links. Setting up a blog is incredibly easy, at least if you don't try to customize things. Honeslty in fifteen minutes I'd set up a blog and provided my first three links. Here's a link to my blog Three Good Links.

My blog is solo, but my experience of Tumblr is through the dashboard so the experience of Tumblr feels quite social and collaborative. Part of the success of it as a platform is how easy it is to control your space. I don't have to contend with jerks like me leaving long and ponderous comments on my blog. But another reason it's so successful is it provides easy ways to engage with other Tumblrs through the dashboard.

At Facebook, well, I'll use myself as an example, I put up some political stuff. As it turns out people disagree. It's funny how strongly I react when someone disagrees with me on my Facebook page: fiercely. There are lots of places online where fierce arguments are appropriate. For example arguments in Facebook groups might be quite acceptable, and arguments on Twitter seem so to. Of course everywhere arguments are acceptable only to a point. But I don't think I'm alone in not wanting arguments to go on too long on my Facebook page. Part of the reason for that is what I put up is something of a personal profile. People can look at my links, find them interesting or boring, still it's something of a profile of me that I want to maintain a higher degree of control than in other settings. Tumblr makes this sort of control pretty easy without shutting down channels for communication.

Koowall is more than a social bookmarking site, but it has that capacity. They call it a "Collective Jamming platform." I think it has that potential. When I first found the site I contributed to a few Koowalls and made a few Koowalls myself. I tried to choose subjects for the Koowalls I made that were of general interest so others might contribute to them. Musical genres seemed a safe bet. The first widget is Soul Music, I think you may be able to click the arrows to see more of the wall. (Update Yes indeed, you can scroll on the wall by clicking the arrows. And clicking on "Shout Here" will take you to the site.

I love soul music. While I have posted mostly older songs, I had it in mind that younger people would post Neo-Soul. At least that was what I was hoping. The trouble with the platform is that in most cases people seem to treat the Koowalls as the possession of someone--that the Soul Music Koowall is mine. The good manners was the opposite problem from what I expected. I expected the walls might be like certain telephone poles which get plastered with every damn thing and with a slight intention of vandalism.

The Koowalls that show collaboration from many people seem mostly ones from conferences. I've seen pictures where the Koowalls are being projected on to real walls in physical space where people are congregating. That's very cool.

I made a Koowall that seemed silly enough that I thought it would engage some collaborators. I named it Creative Hairstyles. It seems to have garnered so little attention to have disappeared. But it still can be found by searching "hairstyles."

creative hairstyles

My Monster Music Blog wall has had a couple of posts by others and is up front and easy to find. But I'm not sure what will spark mass collaboration there. Perhaps when more people sign up that will happen. I anticipate that when people do start posting on walls, when the spark light a fire, then there will be some epic battles of wills. I don't really look forward to that, but think the social rules for online sites mostly come about from an organic process where a few people testing the limits are important.

Tumblr isn't perfect. There's Spam, which I'll hasten to offer Tumblr does address. But it is impressive how the developers embedded a few technical barriers to keep bickering to a minimum.

The social aspects of online social networking sites are not simple. It's nice to see that various approaches to making online social engagement possible. I think Koowall has some kinks, but is a useful new tool.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Think Different

Sometimes I wonder why my thinking and writing always rambles so, and often tries to connect things that probably don't belong together. It's probably a symptom of undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder an my extremely undisciplined character. I like blogs because they don't matter very much. I can't feel too bad about rambling on and on here when with a click of the mouse or tap of a finger the post can disappear for the reader.

While I am writing this post and the previous post because some friends were talking about ideas and because I was invited in on the conversation online, the fact of the matter is I doubt my friends will read any of this.

The discussion focuses on a particular neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and so what they're interested in are specific responses. Meanwhile my thinking veers off to bigger picture concerns. And in my last post I mentioned other friends who don't live in the same neighborhood this conversation is about. Everyone involved in these distinct conversations knows one another, but I'm obscuring their names as posting on the blog is public.

René Dubos is an author of the popular Baby Boomer maxim:
Think globally, act locally.
Part of the reason for going off onto the subject of Occupy! is to think globally. From what I've been told the discussion about a neighborhood me is really about trying to respond to the very hard economic circumstances that are especially acute among young adults living there. Because nobody involved in these discussions is flush with money the attention turns to alternative economic schemes. Globally, at least so far as Occupy! is global, one of the messages of the movement is the current economic arrangements aren't working out so good.

Here are two links that probably don't belong together, and which are far afield from the neighborhood discussion, but about Occupy Wall Street: First Matt Taibbi Wall Street Isn't Winning – It's Cheating. And second Slavoj Žižek Nobody has to be vile. Taibbi nails the popular sentiment in the piece. Loads and loads of people are feed up with the cheating. Žižek's piece where he talks about "liberal communists" rubs more people the wrong way, even those down with the Occupy! movements.

Žižek reproduces Olivier Malnuit 's he liberal communist’s ten commandments. The slogan of Occupy! is "We are the 99%." "Liberal communists" are probably in the ranks of the 1% yet still enjoy broad support. Žižek singles out George Soros and Bill Gates as perfect exemplars of liberal communist. It would be easy to find many who'll praise their good works. Žižek will have none of that approbation. I'm not terribly consistent so am inclined to support good works, and less inclined to single Soros and Gates out as enemies. But I appreciate his caution about their views.

In my last post I suggested that bubbling up in conversations with my friends is a realization that we've not so much facing problems to be solved as faced with a predicament we somehow need to respond to.

I'm bemused in conversations that responses to me would seem to imply that my interlocutors think me a Marxist. I'm far too lazy to be a Marxist, or even an acknowledged leftist. My friends probably know that and are just arguing from a kind of template. Noam Chomsky is a leftist many Americans love to hate, of course many other Americans love him. Love him or hate him it's difficult not to pause with his observation:
Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.
We're heading into an off-year election in early November. I hard watch TV or listen to the radio, but I feel beseiged by elections ads by Clean Coal urging citizens to resit "Obama's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)." The ads want to protect antiquated electric power plants from necessary upgrades as well as to keep the depletion of Marcellus Shale gas fracking operations unfettered.

Take a musical interlude and watch John Prine perform Paradise if you care too.

I'm not really sure, but I suspect that my reaction to these ads is not so different from many. I know I'm complicit in exactly conundrum business leaders face: "If I don't someone else will." I'm sure anthropogenic global warming is no hoax and the consequences of it boggle my mind.

The trouble with Bill Gates and George Soros isn't them so much as their hubris that solutions to big problems are right around the corner. I'm also filled with righteous indignation about the cheating by financial titans, but I'm much less convinced by the prevalent consensus Taibbi suggests that everything would be alright without all the cheating.

Thinking about a particular neighborhood it's patently obvious that the solutions to big global problems are going to be found. Instead local responses can make things a little better rather than less. But thinking globally is necessary to figure out what sorts of responses are desirable and possible. And local actions can be and ought to be actively engaged with others acting locally in their own communities.

As usual I veered off with a bunch of useless words. Starting out, before setting anything down, I thought to juxtapose two links. One to a wiki page by Phil Jones on NetoCracy. Thinking about theories of networks is a sort of global thinking that's important and relevant. But I rather quickly find my thinking going around in circles about the subject, so it's not surprising not to get around to it this time. The other link is to the Ghana Think Tank. That one seems worth a few words.

The Ghana Think Tank may be a bit artsy, but it's not a joke. One reason I encourage my friends to try to make friends with Africans online and to pay attention to news happening in Africa is that I think there are ways people in the West can be of service to them. But the other side of collaborations is that African people are coming up with all sorts of innovative responses to living in these interesting times and there's so much to learn and copy from them. The Ghana Think Tank isn't limited to Ghana but rather is a world-wide network of think tanks.

It probably busts a hole in my harping about the distinction between problems and predicaments, but the way the Ghana Think Tank solicits Western problems for the think tanks to address is quite genius.

The participants that I know of engaged in the discussion about neighborhood responses are Boomers and GenXers. But central to the discussion is the condition of the GenY folks in the neighborhood. I notice that in responding to a question about accessibly and reading that the Think Tank of Incarcerated Boys weighed in. The conversation my friends are having would certainly be enhanced by finding out what the GenY neighbors think. Of course one way to go about it is to ask them. The Ghana Think Tank provides a model for soliciting concerns of a particular group--in this case affluent Westerners. But perhaps the better fit is to take the model of networks of think tanks as an example for collaboration. I'm not sure how to go about convincing groups to start think tanks. The conversation between my friends seems a spontaneous formation of a think tank--not that they know it yet.

I Know of a perfect spot to set up something like the Ghana Think Tank's custom trailer. I would suggest a duct taped hexayurt. I don't think it would be too difficult to connect with hexayurt enthusiasts to get one made. It would be nice to have as a way to engage with other neighborhood think tanks around the city. I'm sure there are discussions going on in every neighborhood, probably nobody's calling themselves a thinktank yet. But I suspect there's a good pattern involved in naming these discussion groups as such.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Community Thinking

I really haven't gotten the hang of Google+ Mostly the way I've been using it so far is to send links to individual people, an attempt to share links in a fairly innocuousness way. So there's hardly anything in my public stream. However the other day I reblogged a link from Howard Rheingold to spacebank. It was Howard Rheingold's tag that caught my attention:
Don't hate banks, become the bank.
A friend responded saying that he'd been talking with friends about his neighborhood community and the link was barking up the same tree.

He gave me just enough encouragement for me to try to put together a few thoughts and a few links. Of course I'm so spacey that's easier said than done!

I was having dinner with another group of friends the other day and the subject of Occupy Wall Street came up. I was very surprised how negative my three friends were. One of them was down on it because she thought it was turning off--scaring--somewhat liberal professionals like her brother. As chance would have it, I had an opportunity to spend some time with her brother planting spring bulbs in his mother's garden yesterday. I was curious about what he thought and got him talking about it. One of the reasons I was so interested to hear his views is there's about ten years difference between us. I'm firmly in the Baby Boomer generation, and he's in Gen X. While Occupy! is a multi-generation movement, Gen Y seems to be getting most of the credit or blame for it. The names for generations are a bit fishy, indeed the whole construct of generations seems suspect, but painting with a broad brush there's something to it.

My fellow Baby-Boomer discomfort over Occupy Wall Street seems more her own than what her brother thinks, although there's discomfort all around. In any case the issues of Social Security and Medicare are beginning to have great salience for us Boomers. Most of the plans to "reform" Social Security and Medicare are premised on a generational divide and conquer pretext: Boomers will get theirs and screw the rest. But most Boomers aren't so far removed from Gen X to think we don't care about them. And having lived through so many years, it's hard to escape that Gen X has been dealt a bad hand. Generation X Doesn’t Want to Hear It is an eloquent lament and has a epic comment thread. So if Boomers and Gen X can find common cause, the best hope for divide and conquer is to gang up on Gen Y. Alas, this seems all too prevalent and gets my knickers in a twist. Perhaps the more obvious coalition is between Gen X and Gen Y against us Boomers, and that's frightening.

I scared myself in my conversation with friends because I swore like a drunken sailor. One of the messages of Occupy! is that the economic system which only benefits the 1% isn't working out so well for the rest of the 99%. That seems glaringly obvious to me, and the tenor of the conversation seemed to be along the lines that protesting isn't going to do a damn thing. So I found myself saying the F-word or variations about every other word in polite company. I know that's no way to win hearts and minds! I managed not to say much at all to my friend's brother and listened. Strange that he found me convincing in our conversation about Occupy Wall Street!

Early in September I had been ranting to one of the other friends at dinner about the Keystone xl Pipeline protests. What had me wigged out that evening was the largest civil disobedience action in front of the White House since the Vietnam War protests had garnered practically no press. My friend hadn't heard about it and quipped that she was terribly out of touch with the news. But I've know my friend since college and knew that she buys both the New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and reads them every day. That seemed a winning point to make about the discouraging the absence of coverage. My friend also had not heard about the Alberta Tar Sands. I told her that if she did nothing else to do a Google Image search for Alberta Tar Sands.

Anyhow at the more recent dinner, between my profanity strewn ranting, my friend pointed out that she had done some research about oil sands. Another friend interjected that nothing is gonna make a big difference in our lifetimes. But in the context of other stuff we had been talking about at dinner, especially concerning some children he's close to, I think this line of argument seemed weak even to him.

Vinay Gupta got some pushback for his post Templars of Earth but there was something of the message of the Templars of Earth oath which came up in our dinner conversation when my friend mentioned the tar sands. Here's the oath:
I understand and accept fully that the human race is harming the natural world by driving species to extinction, releasing long-lived pollutants, changing the climate and poisoning nature.

I understand and accept fully that the human race makes many suffer horribly and die in war, famine, injustice, poverty and oppression, and that we are not choosing to provide a good life for all of humanity.

I understand and fully accept that my own efforts appear unequal to the task of changing these facts.

I swear by the bones of the earth, the roots of the mountains to always treat those who understand and accept fully these Three Truths with dignity and respect, myself included.
Out of habit, I'm tempted to add the coda: We're fucked. The problem with that is profanity is disrespectful. I've got to mind my words better.

John Micheal Greer makes a very useful distinction between Problems and Predicaments. It seems what happened in our dinner conversation with all the contentiousness about Occupy! was thinking in terms of problems, but once the subject of oil sands was broached we made a turn towards predicaments. Now most of my friends are proudly not slackers like me. They don't like to think about predicaments. They go to work to solve problems and do the best they can. It seems to feel as if that should be enough. A common taunt directed at the Occupiers is: Get a Job! Still, sometimes most of us grok there's a gap; Here's Greer:
The difference is that a problem calls for a solution; the only question is whether one can be found and made to work, and once this is done, the problem is solved. A predicament, by contrast, has no solution. Faced with a predicament, people come up with responses. Those responses may succeed, they may fail, or they may fall somewhere in between, but none of them “solves” the predicament, in the sense that none of them makes it go away.

My friend talking with his friends about their community are probably talking in some sort of hybrid mode between problems and predicaments. They all know it's a problem that so many young people not only can't find work, but have little chance to. It's a problem that so many dwellings in the neighborhood are abandoned and decrepit. There's even a sense there's a solution along the lines of putting the unemployed to work on the dilapidated structures. Alas, the devil is in the details. And it's when we begin tumbling around in those damned details that solutions begin to seem remote and alternative responses more promising. Indeed as community members the heart of the discussion isn't so much how to solve problems, but how to respond constructively in these dire circumstances we're facing.

Among the damned details--ha and I said I'd watch my mouth--is money. Besides the point, the Flying Lizard's rendition of Money is compelling. Yeah, money is such a strange topic. Bazungu Bucks was a lame attempt to create a special purpose alternative currency. While the experiment didn't work in any way, shape or form, it did pique my interests about alternative currencies. I do think that alternative currencies can be appropriate in many situations. As strange as alternative currencies may seem, good old money is seeming strange these days too.

Julian Assange says Wikileaks is starved for cash. Here's a link to a New York Times article about that. The article of course is subject to the Times's wimpy paywall. You can't give money to Wikileaks without having the banks do it for you and the banks refuse. Back with the legislative arguments about banking reform, Dick Durbin in a fit of candor said: Frankly, the banks own the place. Meaning the government is hamstrung to regulate them, but it rather holds for the Wikileaks financial woes too. People want to give Wikileaks money, but the banks tell them they may not. It's a bit obscure, and perhaps far afield, but Louisiana has made it essentially illegal to sell secondhand items in the state using cash. The law requires sellers accept payment only through banks. Old assumptions about legal tender are falling by the way. Increasingly in order to pay for some good or service or to give money away, we're being told that first we must ask a bank: "Mother may I?" Like they own the place!

Well, the sorts of responses my friends are imagining for their community are the sorts of things one can be reasonably sure that banks will say "No!" to. That negative answer stops thinking in terms of solving problems dead, but has the advantage of opening up a range of responses if instead we're trying to respond to a predicament.

I have more to say but I've blathered on too long as it is, so I'll put it to rest now and will write some more tomorrow or next.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Internet Identity

Sometimes it seems to me that "identity" is over-rated. At least when it comes to filling out those online forms which say, "Tell us about yourself" I'm at a loss to know what to put down. I rather admire young digital natives encountered online who seem to know what sort of performance online will say a little something true about them. It used to be that women and girls were the ones who knew what to do in front of a camera lens, that is, had a sense in advance what the picture would look like and what they could do to look good in it. Nowadays this sort of knowledge seems much more widespread. And it seems much more noticeable that I don't get it.

When commenting at blogs I often leave the address for this blog. The thought behind it is so a person could get a glimpse of my identity. I'm afraid the messages this blog leaves about me is an identity crisis, especially so because I update so infrequently these days.

I have meant to get around to posting here. One reason was to try out Blogger's new interface. Holy smokes! The first thing I notice is the blog stats, which I've managed to ignore over the course of blogging here. I was surprised to discover people land on the pages. I wonder why? I guess I'll have a look at that feature later.

Another reason I've wanted to post is because of Google+ and the new additions to Facebook. Both of these places are calling themselves "identity services." Apparently there's an algorithm to say what I have such a hard time saying: Who am I?

Algorithms are powerful, witness Google. Ha, Google has turned 13 which seems an impossibly short amount of time for something which seems so necessary I would have thought it's always been around. When I go to Youtube for a song, I always look for the suggestions because almost always find something remarkable. Still, I'm lacking enough imagination to think an algorithm will really do a good job telling others who I am.

Nowadays when first going to a new Website we're often encouraged to "Sign in with Facebook" or to sign up with an email. Whether or not Google or Facebook are good at serving up our identities, it's certainly true they hold the keys to lots of places online we'd like to hang out and participate. And if my imagination isn't so good about how well these services will do in re my identity online, it's not at all hard for me to worry about what would happen if Facebook and Google decide to "disappear" me. The consequence seems not limited to Google and Facebook, but rather extends to the many sites which they hold the keys for me.

For years I've been reading Dave Winer and other tech luminaries who warn about corporate silos online. I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to technology. I could see the point being made, but was pretty much unwilling to do anything about it, even too lazy to worry. I rather like walled gardens. Over the years I've put stuff up that's nowhere to be found anymore. It is true in a way that the Internet doesn't forget, that nothing which is put up is ever completely lost. The warning back in the old days in school, "That will go on your permanent record!" has got more weight these days with so much stored in digital files online. Still there's lots of writing of mine posted online which I wouldn't mind a copy of, but its retrieval beyond me now. So stuff does get lost, lots and lots of stuff. Mark Brown points out about Geocities:
Within months of announcing the site's closure Yahoo had evicted its tenants and bulldozed more than 38 million user-built homes.
Digital archaeology is a burgeoning field.

Barely computer literate, it still seems to me I ought to pay more attention to the ways to keep the Internet a distributed system. I like open source software, even though my contribution to it hasn't gone beyond using it. Likewise I haven't set up a node with Diaspora but I did sign up for it tonight. It will probably take me a long time to find some utility for it. Terry Handcock's article in Free Software Magazine, Why You Should Join Diaspora Now, Like Your Freedom Depends On It convinced me it was a good idea to sign up.

Meanwhile I've been busy putting my stuff up into silos. I've got a link-blog on Tumblr called Three Good Links. It really consists of me copying quotes and links I put on a neat service I was worried about disappearing one day. I figured that Tumblr probably had a greater likelihood of being around for a while. Tumblr's search function isn't anywhere as good as search on my bookmarking service Pinboard. I copied my bookmarks from Delicious when it leaked that Yahoo was trying to sell it. To my surprise Yahoo did manage to sell Delicious. Not only did they manage to sell it but Chad Hurley and Steve Chen the founders of Youtube bought it! I'm really happy that they saw the potential of Delicious. I'm so lazy that I haven't begun to save bookmarks on Delicious again. But I do check in to see where things are headed over there.

My bookmarks at Pinboard are a mess. I really am never quite sure what I will want to find again one of these days, so I liberally save bookmarks to the place thinking possibly one day I might want to find the page again. Wow, it's a big help to me. Pinboard's funny tagline is "social bookmarking for introverts." It really is a strong and fast service. But the extroverted bit about Delicious is a strength, at least a part of it that interests me. What my Tumblr blog experiment has shown me is that there really is something to the idea of online curation. Ideally I'd like to more or less dump bookmarks on Pinboard and then curate them at Delicious.

A friend recently started a Website where he talks about music called Musicasaurus. Every two weeks he puts up a playlist with great commentary. As an unauthorized activity I've been taking his playlists and matching them as best I can to videos at Youtube. You can see my playlists there if you're interested. I don't think my friend approves, but I've asked him point blank and he hasn't told me not to do it. Something I would do if he approved was to add the tag "Musicasaurus" but that seems his so I don't. Anyhow there's no worry because most of the playlists have exactly zero views. I started out doing this just as a way to hear my friend's playlists. But the addition of video to the music adds something and makes the list different. Even though nobody else is enjoying it, it still seems like a worthwhile activity, an activity that adds some little bit to the common good.

The photo is a screenshot of a wall at Koowall. That particular wall is the Monster Music Blog wall. I don't have any music blogs in my RSS feeds, but I do run across links to pieces at music blogs. And lately when I do I've put a link to the blog over on the Monster Music Blog wall. So far there are almost 150 links to a wide variety of music blogs. The idea of Koowall is people can add text, photos, and videos to walls. Each entry is tagged and there are buttons to send a link to the particular entry to Facebook or a notice via email. The idea is that people who've signed up for Koowall can add content to the various walls and support (like) various entries on the walls. It seems a pretty cool way of sharing and encouraging social production. So far I don't see much sharing, and it doesn't appear to me that unregistered users can see the walls. For all of that the sort of curation I do at Koowall seems worthwhile. I look forward to more people sharing. If anyone wants an invitation send me an message by email and I send you one.

The point of this long ramble is it appears those in the know think that online identity is the big thing. But it seems to me that people sharing, peer to peer production is what seems more important to me. Many of the online silos do facilitate P2P interactions and I use them enthusiastically. But the recent focus on identity over what people produce online is a pretty clear signal that my interests and the interest of large corporations aren't perfectly aligned. It's not that I don't think their algorithms capture a glimpse of my identity. Rather it's that I don't want, and can't really imagine, my identity limited to their algorithms. I guess that means I'll have to start paying a little to support more open and distributed platforms.