September 28, 2005
If you are into hacking and conning (as in going to conferences), the European hacker cons are about as good as they get and the CCC annual Congress is one such con. They are looking for submissions so if you can make it, well make it happen.
The 22nd Chaos Communication Congress (22C3) is a four-day
conference ontechnology, society and utopia. The Congress offers
lectures and workshops on a multitude of topics including
(but not limited to) information technology, IT-security, internet,
cryptography and generally a critical-creative attitude towards
technology and the discussion about the effects of technological
advances on society.
The Chaos Communication Congress is the annual congress of the Chaos
Computer Club e.V. (CCC). The Congress has established itself as the
“European Hacker Conference” assembling people from all over the world.
Even more important, the Congress is a great party bringing together the
brightest heads of a variety of cultures and interests strengthening the
idea of cross-culture inspiration and borderless networking. 22C3 is fun.
September 25, 2005
Well I have pretty much moved and am settling into life in New Jersey. Lately, I find myself at my computer for it is the ritual time of grant/job applications. On the one hand, like any application-process, it can be incredibly frustrating and drab. Nothing like having to encode yourself on paper, over and over again.
On the other, it gives academics as chance to revisit aspirations, and make them more tangible by putting them into a string of words that must capture the interest of a range of academics. Thus, we only lightly butter our proposals in jargon, making them a little more accessible than our other work. Without all that heavy grease of disciplinary jargon, it helps me learn what I really want to do and I find this quite enlivening.
That said, I am working on proposing an entirely new project, one that examines the politics of such anti-psychiatry groups like mindfreedom. Unlike proposing work on free software, I struggle to find the right words and phrases for, in reality, there is still so much that lies beyond my comprehension. In the case of F/OSS, most of the knowledge is contained in my brain, thanks to years and years of writing and thinking of the subject. I find myself a child again, confronted with having to learn vast new amount of information so that I can begin to make larger sense of the meaning enfolded within this world of politics, suffering, and the law. With a new project comes some freshness and excitement that I may have lost and some frustration at stumbling over lack of ethnographic knowledge, which makes the writing process much easier.
Given these time constraints of job applications, conference papers, and readings for my postdoc, I have had to make some serious choices about what constitutes extracurricular reading and the winner this year is The Economist.
Those who know my political sensibilities probably find my desire to read the voluminous Economist, every week, suspect. But I actually like reading the periodical for many reasons. Foremost, I learn a lot about the world when reading their articles. They don’t assume you know anything about the subject at hand and give you enough background information so you can follow the article intelligibly. They never skimp of providing some good numbers, a decent political analysis, and wide breadth of subject matter. Second I simply love the clarity of writing. In fact, I think their style is a wonderful basic template for grant/application writing because it is so clear and crisp. They also cover news from all over the world, including protests that supposed liberal newspapers like the NYTimes will rarely cover. And finally they rarely mask their free market/conservative politics (making it easy to seperate the chaff from the kernel of news I want to learn about, for example by saying things like:
“No country but America explores such a wide range of subjects (including some dubious ones such as GBLT—gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies)).
Who knows maybe a year of reading The Economist will transform me into a stodgy British conservative type with lackluster Victorian sensibilities . I hope not but if I do, I hope, if nothing else, their good writing does rub off on me too.
September 22, 2005
When I was in the Netherlands, I had the chance to have dinner with a fellow anthropolgist who studies geeks, Drs. Dorien Zandbergen , who I had met years earlier, briefly, really briefly in fact, while attending an ascii workshop. I gave her my email address just in case she ever wanted to talk shop. She emailed me years later, and by then I forgot I ever met her and just figured she found my name and address online. So I hooked her up with my pals in SF, found out that he was a she, and that I met her. Now there doing research as part of much larger project on spirituality and computers led by a bunch of Dutch researchers. Looks like good stuff and look forward to reading about her findings…
One of the interesting elements about software projects like debian is that developers often take the step of researching the sociological and organizational dynamics of their project. This paper, in particular, titled Evolution of Volunteer Participation in Libre Software Projects, examines how the nature of volunterism as well as length of committment in Debian affects the technical upkeep the project. It has a lot of great quantitative data and some good insight on the nature of volunteer committment on Debian.
I know one of the paper’s authors, Martin Michlmayr , is a Debian developer and as his website states, his doctoral work is in quality management in free software projects. Then there is Martin Krafft also a PhD student who recently (actually after a Debian developer con) decided to switch his doctoral topic to study, in the hopes of improving, the workflow of Debian devlopment. He has already published a book on Debian and imagine his research, soon to begin, will produce more material for more books and more articles.
So, again, what is notable about many of these projects is precisely the self-reflexive interest in them as a site of academic study and managed improvement. This is not unlike the recursivity that Chris Kelty discusses in his Recursive Publics piece, although instead of tweaking technolgy, they are tweaking social organization and technological methodologies in order to better tweak the tech.
September 15, 2005
The folks at the Paris IMC translated and published an IMC piece I wrote a while ago. They have added a nifty translation notes section where they tackle those words that are difficult to translate from one language to the next, among other things.
I finally got around to signing up on SSRN where I published my dissertation chapter on Debian in article form. It was remarkably easy to do, which is always a nice +++ when throwing stuff online.
Now that I am nearly settled down, I think I will have time this coming week to put the whole dissertation online..
September 12, 2005
Joseph Reagle, a PhD candidate at NYU researching the Wikipedia community, recently wrote a blog post that asks a set of methodological and theoretical questions about the nature of his work, questions relevant to anyone that studies online communities: is it an ethnography of a current phenomenon, a set of oral histories, how does one portray and (or not) anonymize the people he works with? He raises my chapter on Debian (as well as some other work I would love to check out), in part, to address these questions and in particular, my strange treatment of sources. While I anonymize interviews as well as irc conversations (by changing names, for example), I use the names of the real developers when referring to public events and quote email mail lists but without the url. I think the lack of the last choice was indeed strange and perhaps not the wisest one. I think I made it clear that the source was a mailing list but for some reason I did not provide the URL to give it some visual consistency with the interview quotes, knowing that if someone wanted to find it, they could type a small section in google and retrieve the message. In retrospect, I should have just used the URL and when I post the paper on SSRN I will add them.
I had a really tough time deciding whether to anonymize everyone, just those folks that asked to be anonymized, or do something all together different. I have read material on F/OSS where even the names of projects were changed but the instant you googled the mailing list quote provided in the chapter, you could find out who wrote it and for what project. It just seemed silly and antiquated to try to make people and messages anonymous when they are in reality totally public documents and figures. If one wants to truly keep those elements anonymous, it is possible but it requires abstaining entirely from using mailing lists quotes verbatim, and using hefty paraphrasing. But for the ethnographer, who tends to make ample use of direct quotes, mailing lists represent such a pristine and succulent source of data, it would be almost sacrilegious to paraphrase instead of quote directly.
Internet Relay Chat is a bit tricker due to its semi-public nature. On the one hand, anyone can join a channel but on the other hand, most channels are not publicly logged. So I treated the source as private and changed the names of folks unless people published sections of conversation on a quote file (common for jokes).
I found probably some of the most interesting conversations and events on IRC because of its synchronous, realtime nature that was at once playful yet very intense. On IRC, the tongue seems a little looser, people often say what first comes to mind because there is no palpable reaction except text, which does not always sting as sharply as a facial gesture combied with a sharp reaction. This looseness makes for some interensting, raw conversation that was often entertaining and otherwise essential to my research. IRC was as important to my research as mailing lists and was perhaps the most important vehicle for making my presence in a routine sense, known. Over years and years of being on IRC, chatting in the wee hours of the morning, I became a more or less semi-permanent fixture. More than anywhere else, I became embedded the routine social life of the project via IRC, a place I have yet to leave and I doubt I will anytime soon.
He also raises the question of history and I have always given a lot of attention to how historical can and should we be. In my thinking, so much work on virtual communities strikes as a-historical, describing social organization without adddressing the local and perhaps more global event that were at the basis for organizing, change etc. History, even if is something we tend to think of as neatly in the past, I guess is always ongoing, in the sense that the history is always (in the) present, always in the making, even if it is only with time that we can actually see what what going on with more clarity.
I look forward to Joseph’s ongoing research on Wikipedia and I imagine the comparisons with F/OSS (which he is already mapping), will bring into stark relief that which is unique to F/OSS and what it may share with other collaborative, non-software communities.
September 11, 2005
While at what the hack I had the good fortune of meeting a geek of unusual stripes: Douglass Carnall a medical doctor, free software enthusiast and avid cyclist, all in one. To attend the con, he actually biked to the Netherlands from England, which in itself is pretty darn neat-o. So of course, at some point, we started talking bikes and he mentioned some really interesting social histories about the venerable bike. Since then, he wrote some comments on this blog summarizing what is nothing short of a fascinating history.
Here is a short excerpt but it is worth reading the summary (and it looks like the social history too):
By 1896 250 major cycle factories had produced well over a million bicycles, and the League of American Wheelmen was a formidable force in civic politics. Its leader, a cycle manufacturer called Colonel Pope, fought for smooth roads and pavements in America’s developing cities. Cycling was an urban movement, but of the privileged and affluent: a typical bicycle would cost the average factory worker six months salary.
Cyclists’ silent, speedy approach was popular neither with pedestrians or horsemen. Women cyclists wore bloomers and you could see their ankles! Shocking! Cyclists could go anywhere, faster than anyone else. Speed without rails? Now there’s an idea. Out in the country, the bumpkins sneered at the city dandies and let their tyres down if they left the machines unattended. Sears sold collapsible “Bicycle Rifles” (for retaliation?)
Cycle racing on high wooden tracks was instantly popular for its speed and danger, and very soon, the selfsame cycle manufacturers were experimenting with adding engines to their machines, buoyed by the profits of their human-powered businesses. A list of former bicycle manufacturers: Opel, Peugeot, Morris, Rover, the Wright brothers. William S. Knudsen, production head at Ford, later president of General Motors, started out as a bicycle mechanic.
So, this email was posted on an english grad list at the University of Chicago. Now that is some serious dissertating!
Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2005 11:19:54 -0500
Subject: [Annc-enggrad] Little Kittens Need Homes
An odd thing happened this summer: a cat we don’t know had a litter
of kittens in our bedroom closet. We discovered them when they were
about 5 weeks old. (This should indicate the kind of focus finishing
your dissertation can bring: 5 kittens not 5 feet away & I had no
They are now about 10 weeks old and ready for new homes. There are 3
that don’t have homes as I write this. They have not had shots, but
seem very healthy and robust. Let me know if you want one! I have
attached a photograph, jpeg style.
September 6, 2005
Ozma over at Savage Minds is looking for suggestions for a fantastic looking course on alternative economies:
“Anthropology of Alternative Economies”: a course considering the theory and ethnography of marginal, secret, and even magical economies in the contemporary world.
While in recent decades we have heard much about the emergence of a “new” global economy, many members of the world population have access to neither this “new” nor to the “old” (wage-labor) economy. Instead, they enter informal, paraformal, and/or illicit economies: providing goods and services outside of (and often in spite of) legitimate frameworks. These workers realize that the economic systems in which they live operate according to strange logics, and they sometimes develop surprising cultural theories to explain them. Such processes are generating exciting new theorization in economics and anthropology. They also present special ethical and methodological challenges to researchers. The course will cover theoretical and empirical readings, from globally diverse contexts and interdisciplinary perspectives, on these multiple sets of issues.