May 4, 2009


Category: Tech,Tools — Biella @ 12:03 pm

This looks like a handy tool for wading through mailing lists. Has anyone used it with impressive/unimpressive results?

March 30, 2009

Pure Data: FM Sprint in NYC and Berlin

Category: Events,New York City,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 5:32 am

FLOSS Manuals is proud to announce a three day book sprint for the Pure
Data FLOSS Manual. This sprint will take place simultaneously in New
York City and Berlin from Saturday 4 April to Monday 6 April.

The Pure Data FLOSS Manual:

There are possibilities to participate in person by coming to one of the
locations below, or remotely via the IRC interface built into the FLOSS
Manuals editing interface. Video conferencing may take place between the
venues as well.

To participate, create a login at the PD FLOSS Manuals page:

Discussion may also take place in the Pure Data mailing list:

If you are in New York or Berlin, please join us at these locations!


* Contact:

Hans-Christoph Steiner: 718 360 4872

* Location (bring ID, you’ll need to sign in):

ITP/NYU Conference Room
721 Broadway, 4th Floor
email me or call in case you can get past security: 718 360 4872

* Schedule:
Saturday: noon-midnight
Sunday: 10am-midnight
Monday: 9am-5:30pm (if we go later, we’ll be in a different room)


* Contacts

Derek Holzer: +49 176 2812 5845
Adam Hyde: +49 15 2230 54563

ElsenStr. 52 (2.Hof)
Berlin, Germany
+49 176 20626386

* Schedule:
Saturday: noon-late
Sunday: noon-late
Monday: noon-late


March 16, 2009


Category: Academic,F/OSS,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 4:24 am


A little over a week ago I participated in a camp/event/conference/ that threw together 12 different networked based-groups/phenomenon/organizations. They got to do what many often can’t do: spend some time working face-to-face as well as thinking about about questions of un(organizational) growth/ungrowth. Some of us spent some time learning about the nature of networked coordinations and organizations from these groups. There is a lot I could write about but, in part because I was in Amsterdam for a week, I am now playing serious catch up, but there are a few things that really struck me both of which relate to expectations, which I thought worth jotting down.

Generally present were the following types of groups: open source projects (such as Blender), tech-oriented activist projects (Dyne), non-tech oriented projects (such as Free Dimensional), artistic-tech projects (such as GOTO10), artistic projects (Upgrade), academic-activist (Edu Factory) and others which are harder to classify (such as Gender Changes, and FLOSS Manuals).

One thing that came out during the plenary sessions, which is when we got together as a large group to debate and discuss, is that technically oriented open source projects are at times singled out for not being “inclusive.” That is, people pointed out that most projects expect you to contribute technically in order to participate (and don’t necessarily offer people the training/capacity so you can participate). I have heard a version of this many many and many times before and find it to be a curious (and generally unproductive) accusation, though I understand why the confusions arises.

I say confusion because most of these projects are not overtly set up to be inclusive/technically pedagogical, and this is perhaps the key point —they don’t purport to be though many folks think this is part of their overall message/mission. Because these free software projects are open source, this, for some, somehow automatically translates into the political projects of inclusivity (that is, training folks so that they can become part of this world). And yet some other projects, such as Edu Factory and GoTo10, which are run as tight-knit of collectives, are rarely accused of not being inclusive. Why should this be?

I raise this mostly because I find it interesting, pointing to the way certain terms or phrases (Freedom, Openness) combined with the visibility of FLOSS projects, automatically generate other expectations and meanings even if they don’t actually exist. I also raise it because I think it is an unfair expectation to have of these communities only in so far as most of them are full of folks busy hacking up technology and this in and of itself, as I have written about before is worthwhile politically. And yet If one wants to make them more inclusive, then one can go ahead and bring into being such a project for most of them are quite open to various initiatives to enlarge the scope of participation. These projects can be internal to projects or external to them. That is, self-initiative goes a long way in this world, and has helped changed the terrain of participation and inclusivity and I am sure will continue to do so.

Which brings me to my second point about expectations. Many people complain that open source is not easy to use. While this was entirely, 1000% true prior to 1998, every passing day makes this statement harder to stand by. I imagine in another 10 years, there will be many many programs that are as usable for the novice user as proprietary software. They had to play serious catch-up and I think have done a decent job. In some regards, all that was and is needed is time because time has already shown that usability has improved leaps and bounds. And yet there is still something odd about the accusations, which my friend tulpje but in the following way “One would never accuse the Zapatistas for not having their military might/shit together like the US army, so why accuse open source for not being the mightiest software our there?) While I actually think that free software has already and will continue to give proprietary firms a run for their money in a way that a rag-tag guerrilla army can’t do with a national army, it is nonetheless important to couch one’s responses and accusations in terms of the constraints and realities of these projects.

That said, I still think such expectations reflect important hopes and desires. They show us just how profoundly free software/open source has, simply by virtue of its existence, inspired many to follow suite politically, turning to FLOSS as a beacon of possibility.

December 23, 2008

The Prosaics of Micro-writing

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 3:44 am

Recently much ink has been spilled on the forms of micro-writing (Twitter, Facebook status updates, micro-blogging) that have captivated the hearts, minds, and especially keyboards of those, like me, who spend a lot of time in front of the blue screen (whether a computer or a phone). Lately, perhaps in part because I was home bound for days, I went on a status-update frenzy, updating my Facebook feed like there was no tomorrow and checking in as often to read the short nuggets left by friends.

Despite this recent bonanza, I don’t admit to all my friends of this addiction as some of them seem to really dislike–no the more accurate term is detest–this linguistic genre. Generally, it seems to me, there are those that love these messages, and then there are those who disparage them for being inane, short blasts of egotistical information that reflect and worse, reinforce the rampant, raw, unfiltered American love with self, performing the individual, and all that related jazz. I am sympathetic with the haters and at times, I admit I feel nothing but the hate (and perhaps this is why I have yet to Twit) but after thinking about it I have decided I am not really in their camp. Why?

Well, something I do when I am thinking through phenomenon is ask: What Would Bakhtin Think (WWBT) as he is a theorist that I adore for he avoids so many of the traps, mostly of binary thinking, that befall most academic theorists. The answer to WWBT, at least from the way I read him, would be that he would dig and find something quite significant about these linguistic ephemera. Bakhtin, who was a Russian literary critic and thinker , thought highly of the novel as a genre for, unlike poetry, it provides a window into everyday life, into the depths and heights of the prosaic, which, however prosaic, is actually where all the extraordinary stuff of life resides. For in the humdrum of life is where he locates wonder, magic, suffering, laughter, mystery, love, oppression, and joy even if its significance often slips right on by our awareness, our perceptual world, until it is unearthed by such genres as the novel (and I would add film).

You really can’t get more mundane than these micro-statements, though albeit they can be fantastically funny, frustratingly opaque, devilishly satiric, and in rare occasions, poetic; and it is for all these reasons that I find them personally enjoyable and analytically valuable. So much of our life is seeped and steeped in the mundane and yet it is whizzes by us without much reflection. We certainly don’t have much of a window into the mundane lives of others, especially in any real time sense. These updates are short pauses, like a temporal parenthesis (which any reader of this blog can I tell I am fond of) or a pleasant hiccup. While many say that they are egotistical blasts, I experience them otherwise, especially when I find myself smiling, laughing, wondering not at what I say but what others throw out there. For with the short update, I am transported, however ephemerally and momentarily, to your mundane world and share in the pleasures of life as is.

And for those that remain unconvinced, at least take my word that Bakhtin is worth paying attention to (that is, if you pay attention to academic theory), here is a review essay that might convince you (subscription required but I will try to post a full copy later)

December 16, 2008

If Programming Languages Were Religions and What is Up with Ruby on Rails?

Category: F/OSS,Humor,Politics,Programming Languages,Research,Tech — Biella @ 5:22 pm

I am sure this is making the rounds but this seems like an appropriate place for this list: If Programming Languages Were Religions. My favorite description:

Lisp would be Zen Buddhism – There is no syntax, there is no centralization of dogma, there are no deities to worship. The entire universe is there at your reach – if only you are enlightened enough to grasp it. Some say that it’s not a language at all; others say that it’s the only language that makes sense.

Speaking of computer languages and projects and religious holy wars, in the last few weeks I have been totally intrigued by the culture being built by the Ruby on Rails “guys.” As a researcher of Free and Open Source Software, I, like others, actually tend to see the similarities more than the difference between these two poles (in part because I focus on practice, not on the purist ideologies or two ideologues, you know who I am taking about) but it seems to me—-and I could be wrong here but I suspect I am not—-that Ruby on Rails is producing a unique Open Source culture, one that really diverges from some of the core principles of Free Software, much more so than other Open Source projects like Apache.

The rail guys as I have heard, are Open Source evangelists of a certain stripe, who are quite “cultish” (you know, it is “weird if you don’t use github, a Mac, TextMate).

What do you think of Ruby on Rails? Are the attacks fair? Are they a bunch of douchebags, as this (very incisive) post argues? Is it where Open Source meets and marries, for better or for worse, the Web 2.0 craze?

If I could clone me, this is definitely one line of research, I would love to dive into right now but since I can’t, your opinions would be greatly appreciated.

October 24, 2008

Hacker practice: Moral genres and the cultural articulation of liberalism

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Hackers,Tech — Biella @ 3:02 am

So I usually don’t announce my publications on my blog and for various reasons. The main one is that I am more than a little embarrassed that some of them are behind walled gardens (but being I am a junior prof, I am not in a position to negotiate otherwise). Otherwise, some of my pieces are semi-jargony (in the academic sense) and may not be of interest to readers who I think are more geek than academic. Finally, the process of publishing is so slow, so long, and so painful, I try not to think about it, much less write about it, if I can help it. But I decided to announce this
piece , which is on hackers (surprise surprise) as it might be of interest to some readers and because people can download it for free here for the rest of the month (but registration is required )

Co-written with Alex “Rex” Golub, I am pretty happy to see in print although it is far more “academic” in its tone, argument, and language than most of everything else I have written. This is in part because the article is more theoretical than ethnographic (hence the journal, Anthropological Theory) and tackles the question of liberalism alongside hacking. It seeks to demonstrate that these can be talked about 1) together and in cultural terms 2) that we we can identify some cohesive elements to hacking and liberalism, in part by placing them in conversation with each other 3) and yet we can also locate plurality and diversity within liberalism and hacking as well. This is a lot to tackle and cover in one piece under 35 pages and I am sure it could have been pulled off better but I think it is is a decent start to thinking about these questions. If you are interested but are allergic to academicalese, sticking to the Introduction, the Hacker Ethical Practice: Three Examples section, and Conclusion, will give you a taste of the arguments while avoiding most of the jargon.

The irony of this article is that even if it hits at some pretty theoretical issues, it was provoked by a mundane conversation and disagreement I had with one hacker, Karl Fogel, over another hacker, Kevin Mitnick. After returning from the hacker conference, HOPE, I had dinner with Karl and told him about Kevin Mitnick’s keynote speech, which I found particularity enjoyable and entertaining. After calling Mitnick a hacker, Karl responded with the following: Kevin is not hacker. He is a cracker.” Though I think I convinced him that cracker may not be the best word for him (and he convinced me there are differences between hacking, noting perceptively that “his primary motivation seemed to be getting access to something he wasn’t allowed to have access to—that is, it was more about breaking the rules and the thrill of crossing a social line, than about learning a technical system.“), I decided that I wanted to write a piece that squarely addressed tensions and differences among hackers instead of whitewashing them away as most authors, journalist, and even some hackers do.


September 27, 2008

Zuing Zotero

Category: IP Law,Tech — Biella @ 6:34 pm

I am a big fan of zotero as it has helped me manage my research, especially collect, tag, time stamp, and keep web pages that are likely to vanish. I can’t recommend it enough. I have yet to use its bibliographic functionality and apparently it is this functionality which has made it the subject of what what looks like a pretty questionable law suit.

It has been a while since a IP lawsuit has really caught my attention (only in so far as it was the same old thing, not because it was not important) but this one definitely has caught my attention (and caught me off guard as well as I never really associated End Notes with Zotero, in so far as they seem to work pretty distinctly). I am eager to see how an academic institution, George Mason in this case, will react. I just hope they stand firm and also get some great legal team to help out.

September 19, 2008

If I were in Manchester, I would go

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 3:24 am

To this…

(and I know there are readers of the blog in Manchester and close by who just may be interested in the a one-day seminar and evening lecture on the 1858 cable and later transatlantic communications link). Full details below.

2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the first communications link laid beneath 1600 nautical miles of the Atlantic Ocean. That telegraph cable was the first in a series of cutting-edge technologies enabling fast and accurate communication between Britain and the United States of America, linking the old and new worlds.

To mark the occasion, the IET in conjunction with the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, are holding a one-day seminar and evening lecture on the 1858 cable and later transatlantic communications links, including wireless and satellite, on Tuesday 28th October 2008. Both events are open to the public and admission is free of charge, but pre-booking is a must.

The programme is given below. Both events will be held in the Cardwell Theatre, MOSI and there will be a small exhibition on the history of transatlantic communications to accompany the event. To register for the seminar and/or the lecture, please contact Anne Locker (details given at the end of the email).


1000-1030 Arrival and coffee

1030-1045 Bob Martin-Royle :Chairman’s welcome, introduction and overview

1045-1115 Neil Barton: First steps to transatlantic – crossing the Irish Sea 1852-1854

1115-1130 Donard de Cogan: Background to the 1858 telegraph cable

1130-1145 Pauline Webb: John Pender and Manchester’s contribution

1145-1215 Donard de Cogan: Insights into the landing of the 1858 cable

1215-1230 Pat Wilson: Lord Kelvin’s contribution to submarine telegraphy

1230-1300 Questions and discussion

1300-1400 Lunch

1400-1430 Bob Martin-Royle: Marconi and the first transatlantic wireless links

1430-1515 Phil Kelly: TAT1 (includes film) – the first telephone cable

1515-1545 Tea

1545-1615 Des Prouse: Telstar – the birth of transatlantic satellite communications

1615-1630 Transatlantic communications: the present and future

1630-1700 Questions, discussion and closing remarks


1800-1830 Light refreshments

1830-1930 Nigel Linge: An interactive public lecture on “The Transatlantic Telegraph Cable – the birth of global communications”

1930- 2000 Questions and closing remarks


Anne Locker
IET Archivist

The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Savoy Place
United Kingdom

September 12, 2008

Phreaks and Geeks

Category: Academic,Hackers,Phreaking,Tech — Biella @ 9:02 am

My class has started with the “reportage” of our class with this excellent post and overview, which covers our initial comparison of the early phone phreakers and the early MIT hackers. I am excited to see the blog develop.

September 9, 2008

STDIN, My Hacker Class Blog

Category: Academic,Hackers,Tech — Biella @ 6:41 am

So, I am pleased to announce that my course on hackers, which has already started, will be hosting a class blog, STDIN.

Starting next class when we address phone phreaking, we will have one entry summarizing in some details each class readings and discussions. There is one student in charge for every class and then anyone else can post as they wish. I am also making an effort to post various definitions and examples of hackers, hacking, hacks and compile a master list at the end. I am not sure it will produce anything interesting except a list of definitions, but sometimes you see new associations and meanings when with such a comparative potpourri.