Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why I want to teach in the Failure Program

The school I teach for now, like all the schools I've taught for, has a boatload of "Student Success Programs." Clever pedagogical experiments designed to prepare students to succeed, to lead, to excel.

I wish them luck, but I don't want to work for them.

I want to teach in the Failure Program. I want to look students in the eye, and say, listen, competitive systems, they have losers. I'm glad that you are all planning on being winners, I am, but you do realize there is a good chance that, well, that won't work out for all of you? Statistics, you know...

I've tried compassion. I've tried saying, well yes, but what about those losers, over there, shouldn't we be nice to them? Compassion doesn't work. The other always deserves what she gets.

I tiptoe around my relatively moderate anti-property authors. I preface everything with, "well, this author says." I suggest, mildly, that maybe there might be some trade off between community good and individual riches. They shake their heads. They look confused. I am not preparing them to succeed. Haven't I heard? They are all going to be rich. Why trade that for some lousy public good? Don't I know? "Public," means "crappy," like "public school," "public housing," or "public park." Why mingle with the riffraff?

I want to shake them. I want to shout, "Listen!!!!!" and then whisper, "you're dying." We all lose to death in the end, children, compassion is self interest. What you would visit on the least among you will be visited upon you, soon enough.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Timmy the Tiny Turtle Learns to Swim

I got a great offer from my twitter friend, Kerstin, who PROMISED to illustrate a children's book for me. So, here is my AMAZING children's book manuscript that I in no way wrote just now because I had a cup of coffee and still can't figure out how to revise this page of my dissertation.

Timmy the Tiny Turtle Learns to Swim

Page One: Timmy is a Tiny Turtle [image of tiny turtle's face and head]
Page Two: He's just hatched! [now we see timmy has just pushed his head from an egg in a large nest]
Page Three: He knows he shouldn't stay on the hot, hot sand. [hot looking sand]
Page Four: Where should he go? [puzzled looking Timmy]
Page Five and Six: The Sea! [Full two page spread of the sea, with gulls, surf and happy clouds]
Page Seven: But first, he has to scuttle past the Ravens [Scary Raven]
Page Eight: And the Coyotes [Scary Coyote]
Page Nine: Go, Timmy, go! [Timmy scuttles with great vigor]
Page Ten: He made it! [Timmy enters the surf]
Page Eleven: Now he has to swim! [Timmy immersed in water]
Page Twelve: He's never done that before. [Timmy pushed back by a wave]
Page Thirteen: First he pulls with his left flipper. [Timmy paddles into the wave with his left flipper]
Page Fourteen: Then with his right. [Timmy uses his right flipper]
Page Fifteen: Timmy's doing it! [Timmy zooms past a fish]
Page Sixteen: And just in time [Timmy surfaces for air]
Page Seventeen: He has a long swim ahead! [Distance view of Tiny Timmy bobbing in the vast ocean, as he swims off into the sunset]

Couch to 5k

The official Couch to 5k Running Program:

Week 1: Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Week 2: Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.


The Andy Couch to 5k Running Program:

Week 1: Walk around the neighborhood to get a lay of the land

Week 2: Forget the whole thing

Week 3: Decide to start again. Walk briskly to the gate of the apartment complex. Reflect on the fact that you live in a gated apartment complex. How the fuck did that happen. Walk to the telephone pole. Stretch. Walk to the bus stop. Notice they are cutting bus service to this stop, the bastards. Decide you better start running. Run to the end of the block. Hey this feels pretty good! You can do this! Keep running. Oh wow, it kinda hits you all at once. That hurts. Walk for awhile. Not too long. Maybe to where that white car is parked. The end of the car. Ok, the driveway after it. Run again. Oh, you got this. Run to that telephone pole. Run to the next one. Run up that hill! Oh man, lungs! Lungs are burning! Walk again. Walk down the hill. This part is flat, you can run on this part. Keep going. Ok, ok, walk. There is a crosswalk up there so you might as well walk up to it. Run again. Up the hill, you can make it! Oh man, is your ass supposed to hurt like that. You'd better stop. Wait! You can't stop in front of this woman running down the hill. She's kind of cute. Don't stare! Keep going until you are past her! Keep going! KEEP GOING! Ok, ok, she's past. The tricky part now is to stop without falling down. Just go from a run to a walk gracefully. Well, you caught yourself, so that's whats important. She had earbuds in right? She didn't hear that. Shit. She's right there. You didn't even make it out of her field of vision. Good one. She'll probably get a good laugh out of that with her boyfriend tonight. Hell, she's your age: her husband. Probably tell her kids a joke about it. Whatever fat boy! Walk it off. Ok, you always run this hill, so go ahead and run it now. Up you go. Why doesn't it feel like you are going any faster when you run? Ok, go ahead and stop. Just remember, you aren't running to look better, you are running to feel better.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life during wartime

I've taken to walking the mile or so down to a local coffee shop in the afternoons to work and watch world cup. Atlanta is hot this June, well above ninety by mid-day most days. I am almost always the only one moving about outside. The air is heavy with damp, I can see it, hazy and blue, hanging between me and the tops of the tall pine trees that trace the property lines in this upscale suburb. The haze mutes the grey-green lines of the military cargo planes, rendering them smudgy and seemingly insubstantial as they rumble by, languid and pregnant, on final approach to the Air Force plant in Marietta.

They are a reminder that, all these years later, the war is still hiring. I have two friends with the occupation now, both civilian contractors. I got a birthday card from Kuwait. A product of Hallmark Dubai festooned with rainbow camels and minarets. My department chair sent around a request for people to work on a data visualization job that looks to be connected to the Human Terrain System. I'd love for her to ask me to participate, so I could say something like "I'm afraid my conscience doesn't permit me to participate in the war effort," and feel brave but I'm sure she won't. They will get volunteers. Really, I'm not at all certain my refusal would do anything but lend me an undeserved sense of moral purity. I drive a car. I pay my taxes. I voted for Obama. I'm as complicit in this thing as anybody.

Not sure I'm going anywhere with this. Just saying hello to my two remaining readers.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sneaky Peak

Here is a sneak peak of some diss content. I picked this because it speaks to some issues raised at a recent conference:

Thus, we can see how the adoption of the GFDL was a Wikipedia policy choice guided by the need to secure and retain free labor. Wikipedia's most important content policy, the Neutral Point of View (NPOV), was shaped not only by the need to recruit this labor but by its collective nature as well. The NPOV was one of the first Wikipedia policies to be put in place, and was based on Nupedia's "Non-bias" content policy. However, a comparison of early versions of the NPOV to the Non-bias policy shows how the NPOV quickly evolved to meet the particularly collective needs of labor on Wikipedia. The Nupedia Non-bias policy images lack of bias as the function of a single article author erasing his or her own particular bias in the interest of writing an objective article. It reads, in part, "This question is a good (albeit not infallible) test of a lack of bias: 'On every issue about which there might be even minor dispute among experts on this subject, is it very difficult or impossible for the reader to determine what the view is to which the author adheres?'" ("Nupedia Editorial Policy Guidelines"). From a very early stage, the NPOV reflects Wikipedia's need, not to erase or obscure the bias of a single author, but rather to build consensus and enable cooperation among multiple authors. The earliest revision of the NPOV still retained on the English Wikipedia, dated to November 10, 2001, reads in part: "The neutral point of view attempts to present ideas and facts in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree. Of course, 100% agreement is not possible; there are ideologues in the world who will not concede to any presentation other than a forceful statement of their own point of view. We can only seek a type of writing that is agreeable to essentially rational people who may differ on particular points" (
Furthermore, textual evidence from later versions of the NPOV, as well as early Wikipedia press releases, demonstrates that this consensus building feature of the NPOV was seen by Larry Sanger and others as a key to ensuring Wikipedia would attract, retain, and use collective labor effectively. By December of 2001, the NPOV had been extensively updated and expanded. In a large edit dated December 24, a Wikipedia user known by the alias The Cunctator, who had been a vocal advocate for decentralized processes in Wikipedia governance and against the editorial authority exercised by Sanger, revises the NPOV to remove policy discussion from the page itself (Wikipedia had included discussion of content on content pages, prior to the creation of separate talk pages for discussion) while adding extensive language explaining the policy and what he sees as the reasoning behind it to the page. Among the added content is a section entitled, "Why should Wikipedia be unbiased?" which reads, in part:

Wikipedia is a general encyclopedia, which means it is a representation of human knowledge at some level of generality. But we (humans) disagree about specific cases; for any topic on which there are competing views, each view represents a different theory of what the truth is, and insofar as that view contradicts other views, its adherents believe that the other views are false, and therefore not knowledge. Indeed, Wikipedia, there are many opinionated people who often disagree with each other. Where there is disagreement about what is true, there's disagreement about what constitutes knowledge. Wikipedia works because it's a collaborative effort; but, whilst collaborating, how can we solve the problem of endless 'edit wars' in which one person asserts that p, whereupon the next person changes the text so that it asserts that not-p? (

The Cunctators addition to the language of the NPOV shows how the policy was understood as a means to ensure that Wikipedia was able to recruit the labor needed to build and maintain the site from a diverse pool of potential contributors, and that "collaborative effort" needed to build Wikipedia functioned smoothly, and was not wasted in "endless 'edit wars'." Sanger, who had clashed with The Cunctator frequently and sometimes bitterly in discussions on the Wikipedia-L list and Wikipedia itself, effectively endorsed this language when he proceeded to make an extensive set of copy edits to the page over the course of December 27 without substantially changing the content. Furthermore, Wikipedia's first press release, dated January 15, 2002, quotes Sanger as saying: "If contributors took controversial stands, it would be virtually impossible for people of many different viewpoints to collaborate. Because of the neutrality policy, we have partisans working together on the same articles. It's quite remarkable" ( Like The Cunctators additions to the NPOV, Sanger's language here shows how the policy helped Wikipedia attract, maintain, and coordinate its labor supply. Together, the GFDL and the NPOV helped to ensure that Wikipedia enjoy the large pool of collective "free labor" it needed to grow and thrive, and thus addressed the clear anxieties about attracting and retaining volunteer labor that both Wales and Sanger express in their interventions in the GNUpedia and Spanish Fork incidents.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Buffer overflow

I kicked myself off Facebook to try to get myself to finish my damn dissertation. Maybe I'll post on here occasionally, just as a way to clear the buffer, get a few spare thoughts out of my head.

I've fallen into listening to the new The National album on heavy repeat as I write. This is good because I like it and its mostly faded to background so I can work to it. Its bad because they are the sort of band that smolders, the sort that makes me think of girls with dark eyes a size-and-a-half too big for their heads, makes me wish I'd spent my youth learning to speak French and smoke, so that when I met one I could mutter sweepingly beautiful obscenities at her while dangling a gauloises impossibly from my lower lip.

See that sentence ain't gonna fit in my dissertation... should have written about Godard instead of Wikipedia.

If anyone's reading this, prepare for more inane digital telegrams in this genre. You have been warned.

now we'll leave the silver city
cause all the silver girls gave us black dreams
-The National, "Conversation 16"

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


According to Alexa the warrior forum is the 486th most visited site on the internet. Not sure what its deal is... possibly a community worth investigating!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Frederick, Maryland

it is an 11 hour pull from Maryland to Atlanta. I am driving a dead man's car, so his spirit is riding with me (a man's spirit gets into the things he maintains with his hands. if you had some fantastic steampunk contraption you could read back the intent behind each uneven spot in the fender he hammered out, pull synaptic state from the torque on the spark plugs)

the car sings his spirit as we ride. it is a cool strength, like a deep pool of still water.

this is not the only ghost along for the ride. the ghosts of the not yet born, our digital children, seep in through the cell phone. the antenna they ride is a mandelbrot set, each fold contains the whole. they whisper to us and tell us where to go.

we are no longer on internal guidance, spirit. we are a beam-rider now. we are the missile they called sparrow.

I am running with the windows open, since the AC is busted and I can smell the country better this way. it is molecular communion. smell the dogwoods, spirit. smell the taut heat of the mid-day sear. smell the cool rain as the anvil thunderheads break against the blue ridge mountains. smell our constant companion, the asphalt, its low bouquet here waxy, here earthy, here funky and almost human, like a lover's sweat.

it is a long golden evening in the mountains, spirit. it is almost june. the thing about june is always the knowledge of august. summer has become indian summer in America, spirit. august will be here soon.

when the light fades we are riding down a river of embers. taillights and flashers, the glowing rivers of the firefly american empire. the asphalt breathes moist, giving back the day's heat

behold, spirit, the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. 85 erupts from two lanes to six, downshifting from William Faulkner to William Gibson without engaging the clutch. there is low overcast. the sky is actually the color of a television, tuned to a dead station, a dull concrete phosphorescence.

spirit, we are some fantastic steampunk contraption. we are running down the groove in the record of America. listen, can you hear it? we are singing its ghost.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why Software (might) be better than Service for Social Networking

Ok, one more concern folks have had about this Diaspora thing. Some folks don't seem to understand what the big deal is, won't Diaspora just end up evil, the same as Facebook? Didn't we all migrate to Facebook because Myspace was owned by Fox news and going to evil-land? Why will this be different?

The logic behind why Diaspora won't be evil is this: Diaspora is software you run on a computer that you own. This matters for two reasons:

1. You retain control of your own data. If you use Facebook or a similar social networking service, you send them all your photos, status updates, likes and dislikes and they host them all on their servers. This makes it both technically and legally easy for Facebook to do whatever the heck they want with your data (you sign over your rights to it in exchange for use of their servers! I'll explain why Diaspora won't do this in just a minute). With a distributed system, like Diaspora, you keep your data and share it only with your friends. This makes it much harder (again, both legally and technically) for someone to aggregate and data-mine vast quantities of consumer information using a system like Diaspora (at least as it is currently designed). For security, all data traffic between your computer and your friends' computers will be encrypted.

2. No business model motivation for spying and data mining. Facebook HAS to monetize its users, it is the only way for them to stay in business! That means they have to snoop on you. Diaspora is being developed by a team of volunteers, supported by donations! Because it will be software you run on your own computer, there will be no overhead costs to be paid. The software will be released under a Free Software license (a variant of the GPL, if you're into that sorta stuff) so it can be maintained by the community. This is a very well understood means for maintaining software, and it works (examples include the GNU/Linux operating system, Apache webserver, GIMP image editor and many, many, many more).

Anyway, that's the logic... I actually think this is a vast experiment to see if this will actually work... but an important one, one that deserves the best possible effort.

Responses to comments on my earlier post

I posted a link to my last post on Facebook and Diaspora to Facebook (IRONY!) and some folks there raised some concerns in comments. I'd like to respond to their concerns here:

1. The name "Diaspora" is offensive because it trivializes the real human suffering of actual, historical Diasporas.

Ok, you might have a point here. See my suggestion #1 in the previous post where I urge Diaspora developers to take input from as wide a public as possible. I think this is important advice for the Geek community, which can be insular and misunderstand the needs of the larger culture. If they had followed this advice at the name stage, they might have chosen something else. Then again, they might not have. A project like this, I think, needs a name with historical and political implications bigger than itself, and by definition, any such name will connect it to historical events far more immediately dire than Facebook. As such, it risks trivializing said events. In any case, the name is set and abandoning it now would mean a massive loss of publicity and social capital. I hope that, if this is your only problem with this project, you will be able to set this aside and not, as George Lipsitz would say keep "waiting for the perfect bus." As I hope my next couple of paragraphs will explain, this is an important moment when something like Diaspora is very much needed.

2. I'm not concerned because Facebook is only interested in mining data for marketing and advertising, not censorship.

I have two responses to this one. First, a system without any oversight or accountability, like Facebook, really can't be trusted to keep behaving in a benign way. Now, with the recent implosion of Myspace etc. looming over them, Facebook clearly has some reasons to use a relatively light hand on their users. However, as time goes by and people commit more and more of their data to Facebook, the system may well become much harder to leave, and thus, Facebook may feel like they can get away with more active interventions in site content. Like, say, if BP decides it doesn't like its ads popping up next to commentary on the (next) oil gusher. Lets not forget the compromises that a variety of supposedly libertarian tech companies (Google included) made in exchange for entry in to the Chinese market.

Second, I can't believe that I'm hearing people who I know have read Raymond Williams argue that just collecting data for advertising and marketing purposes is harmless. The feedback loop that couples lives lived in increasingly private spaces subject to increasing levels of corporate surveillance to an economy of systematic over-consumption is incredibly destructive. They get us to buy too much as it is, how much worse will that get when they can glean our anxieties and our desires from the traces we leave in our digital lives? Yes, advertising and over-consumption is much older than Facebook, but Facebook is a recent and particularly egregious example of a space of corporate surveillance. For those who want this argument made in more detail, see Mark Andrejevic's excellent iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era

3. I'm not concerned because I don't really use Facebook all that much

Again, I have several points of rebuttal. First, the place where this discussion started WAS ON FACEBOOK. You could have commented on my blog itself. You could have sent me an email. But clearly you thought the public space afforded by a Facebook comment thread was the best place to discuss this issue. That's fine! That's actually one of the great things about Facebook, it provides a space where debate can happen in the open, among friends, where people can jump in and out of the conversation. That's a valuable resource, which is exactly why I think we need to make sure that resource isn't wholly owned by an unaccountable corporation with a business model that requires that it carry out constant surveillance of all of us. Second, the use of social networking to contact people and organize events is, in my anecdotal experience, already becoming the norm for many people. That tends to make the use of Facebook much less optional, unless you don't want to get invited to any social events or hear from any of your friends. Additionally, you give away more data than you are aware of on a network like Facebook. Some data points are obvious, like what you "like" or become a "fan" of. Others are less obvious, like your clicks on profiles, pages, etc (all of which, testimony by Facebook employees has indicated, Facebook records). Still others are totally out of your control, like actions that your friends might take that data miners could use to derive information about you (statistically, for example, they might be able to guess that someone who has a larger number of friends "liking" Barack Obama is a Democrat).

Finally, and most crucially, this is a key moment if we want to insure that we retain control over the software we use to keep in touch with people and share information via the internet. Facebook is only part of a much larger trend that seeks to "close" the once "open" architecture of the web and subject it to control by large corporations. Think of the Apple iPad, which is no longer a general purpose computer, able to run any software you want, but rather a sort of tethered device, only able to run applications pre-approved by Apple. If we don't build a Free social network now, we may lose the ability to do so at all.

I hope this has spoken to everyone's concerns! It is good to talk about and think about these issues, and I'm happy to continue this debate here, on Facebook, Twitter, wherever...

Diaspora and the future of the internet

So, by now, most folks have probably heard about Diaspora, the distributed replacement for Facebook. Basically, the idea is to replace the web-based Facebook service with a piece of software you would run on your own computer, which would allow you to share information with you friends. This radically distributed solution, the thinking goes, would allow users to control their own data and protect their own privacy.

The notion recently came in for some criticism on the download squad blog,  in a piece that suggested expecting users to run individual servers would lead to Diaspora's failure. The authors seem to feel that server maintenance is beyond the ability of the average computer user.

It is not immediately apparent to me that this is necessarily so. Napster, after all, asked users to serve music files to one another, and it succeeded until the music industry intervened.

However, it is important to take the warning against putting too much responsibility on individual users seriously. We have to understand that machines and people always exist in communities. To that end, I would make several concrete recommendations:

1. On the technical side, the Diaspora team should solicit the advice of a wide variety of computer users, and design their software to be accessible to everyone. Geeky config options are great, but keep them out of the way. Out of the box, it should just work, and power users can tweak later.

2. On the social side, people interested in migrating from Facebook to Diaspora should organize. A Facebook walk out day, for an en masse migration would work. People get value from the social connections on a network, so we'll want to move as many of those all at once as possible. More technically savvy users should stand ready to help novice users make the transition.

What to people think? Should we start organizing the Facebook walk out?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The iPad and the "Geek Civil War"

Just a quick comment on the debate over the socio-political implications of the new Apple iPad currently the matter of some contention.

On one hand, Cory Doctorow warns that the iPad is a dangerously "closed" device that restricts the rights of it users, encouraging them to consume rather than create. He points out that the much lauded Marvel Comics app for the iPad prevents users from sharing or reselling comics, potentially destroying a great deal of fan culture, which has revolved around these activities. At one point he asserts, referring to the sealed nature of the device itself "if you can't open it, you don't own it."

On the other hand, Joel Johnson of Gizmodo attempts to refute Doctorow in an article appropriately titled "Cory Doctorow, You are a Consumer Too." He complains that Doctorow's article purports to "sneer at everyone who is excited about the iPad, warts and all, and explain to us that we're dupes." Ultimately, he suggests, Doctorow's commitment to open systems puts too much of the responsibility for maintaining and repairing computers and software onto users themselves, who would rather be spending their time using computers and software to accomplish other tasks. He concludes that, despite sharing many of Doctorow's concerns about issues like DRM and content lock-ins, "But I don't want to use shitty computers with shitty operating systems, just like I don't want to drive cars that come with their own schematics. Instead I want to drive beautifully engineered machines that scream with precision fury. And if they break, I want to take them to a shop and have them fixed. You keep the 3D printer; I'll take AAA."

These two approaches to the iPad demonstrate fairly common discourses about computers, computer mastery, and computer ownership. Doctorow's anti-iPad critique is typical of a hacker position I call "cyborg individualism," that stresses the need for individuals to master and control the computer hardware that they own. "If you can't open it, you don't own it," is a telling line, as it reveals that the ideal Doctorow wants to defend is that of ownership. Ironically, the desire to own hardware totally leads to various forms of commons systems for managing software, as a means of preventing software owners from establishing "illegitimate" control over devices.

Johnson's rebuttal points out the failure of Doctorow's position to spread beyond a very small elite technical community, but I think it suggests the wrong reasons for this failure. It isn't that people just want to be consumers, and have their needs met by nearly unaccountable corporations, its that the model of self-sufficient individual as an alternative to this consumer relationship is a failure. We should not all be expected to write our own drivers, build our own computers, install our own operating systems, and we are certainly not capable of actually supplying ourselves with the necessary inputs to run a contemporary technological society. However, I don't think that means that we should accept consumerism as a necessary condition. Instead what we need to be doing is exploring and attempting to build new forms of community that might really meet those needs, and that is something the acceptance of individualism and individual property as ideal conditions by Doctorow and others like him too often precludes them from really embarking upon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tonight, tonight

I went to the IJ brewery, on account of Stross mentions 'em in Accelerando. Ended up sitting with some computer science from Finland. He didn't speak dutch either, so we were a fun pair of ex-pats.

Somewhere around our 3rd beer, this American classic car pulls up on the sidewalk. A convertible with the top down, maybe a Camaro or Mustang of late 60s pedigree, I couldn't tell. The boys inside hopped out of the car, plugged speakers into a post onto the exterior, set up a drum set in the back seat. One stood on the hood with a guitar, the other on the trunk with a base. They wore leather jackets and sunglasses. Their hair was perfect. They started a rambling dutch introduction I couldn't catch a word of. The crowd seemed amused though. Then they started their first song.

It was an electrified version of "Love the One You're With," they were a cover band.

Two songs later they launched into "Country Roads," and the whole bar sang out the refrain. They played a short set, maybe 8 songs. The lead singer came through the crowd with a little red pail, collecting Euro coins. A waitress brought them beers and left them on the hood.

When they were finished they gunned the engine and roared off down the street, an act that, given Dutch gas prices, must have set them back at least 5 euro.

Amazing. Like something out of Godard. So strange to see "American-ness" in the funhouse mirror of New Europe.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reboot the Reboot - First Thoughts on Amsterdam

Ok, so maybe I want a personal blog. I need a "professional" blog somewhere, but the concavity should be for, shall we say, creative non-fiction.

I've been in Amsterdam for about, oh, 4 or 5 hours now... managed to stretch a conference visit into a 5 day trip! I'm almost delirious from lack of sleep, I never sleep on planes, but I know I have to keep going, if I fall asleep now I'll be back up at midnight and all out of whack tomorrow.

When I get to someplace new, I like to walk a wide circle around the place where I'll be staying, like a cat turning circles before laying down to sleep. I like to do this for several reasons. On the practical side, it orients me to the area, helps me learn north from south and keep from getting lost. However, what I really like is the thrill of strolling through ordinary neighborhoods in an ordinary way thousands of miles from my home, like an extraordinarily unlikely extra in someone else's movie. Guy on street #234, Amsterdam exterior day, is just an ordinary guy with no significant role to play in this movie, oh, but he's 6,000 miles out of place.

Oh and you are in a cast of thousands on the street here. Not like Atlanta where you are rarely, if ever, in a cast of dozens on the street. Bicycle friendly cities are awesome. I was enjoying a Heineken at a cafe near my hotel when school let out, and families and knots of children of various ages came bustling down the (subtly marked! careful about that!) bike paths, laughing and chattering in dutch. It felt deeply right somehow, the mix of people of different ages riding together, the discussions between riders... like a proper, living community.

Oh and I'm sure I'm not the first to notice that the simple, upright design of what seems to be the default bike here is awesome. You are almost in a standing position riding it. Looks comfortable and easy to maneuver. I wouldn't want to do 30 miles on one, but that's not what they are for.

Pics from my trip on Flickr at

Thursday, February 04, 2010

David Graeber Defines "Ethnography"

And explains how it may provide a model for radical scholarship. From Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

When one carries out an ethnography, one observes what people do, and then tries to tease out the hidden symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logics that underlie their actions; one tries to get at the way people’s habits and actions makes sense in ways that they are not themselves completely aware of. One obvious role for a radical intellectual is to do precisely that: to look at those who are creating viable alternatives, try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are (already) doing, and then offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities—as gifts.

File under "Things I read a year and a half ago but did not recognize the full significance of." In the sense that Graeber defines it here, I would call my work "ethnography," even though it is probably an ethnography performed by someone learning the ropes of the method as he goes along, and trying to adapt to the strange "field environment" that is an online wiki community. What I like most about Graeber's definition is the concrete sense of purpose it gives to academic work. Reading this while reviewing Fragments for a class reading really made me feel more confident about academia as a whole.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Return of the Concavity

Hey everybody. I'm going to try to revive my blog after a long hiatus. I'm also going to try to refocus what I'm writing here, away from random personal and political stuff (Facebook and Twitter will keep anyone who wants to be up to date on my personal and political rants) and toward a crtical examination of what's called been called Free Culture, Peer-to-Peer culture, or Peer Production. Basically, all of these terms refer to the mode of producing culture that we find on Wikipedia, in which many loosely organized collaborators work together to produce a larger text without a strictly hierarchical organization.

I think it is also important to explain what I mean when I say I intend to take a "critical" take on this method of production on this blog. I do not come here to bury Wikipedia (or YouTube, or Hacker spaces, or what have you). These are some of my favorite things. I think that these projects, and the people involved with them, are often animated by a tremendous idealism, and a wonderful sense that they are working together to build a better future for all of humanity.

I think that idealism is real, in fact I'm banking on it. What I'd like to do here is to argue that some of the cultural assumptions Peer Production brings with it from capitalism may serve to undercut the very idealistic goals that its practitioners embrace. My hope is that their genuine commitment to a better, fairer, human future will motivate them to move away from these assumptions and towards a new vision for Peer Production based on a broader understanding of human equality and shared responsibility.

A tall order for a blog, I know, but I might as well try. At the very least, I'm hoping writing these vignettes on a regular basis will keep me current on the bleeding edge of the discourse about peer production as I slog through the backlog of Wikipedia data that is my dissertation.