September 11, 2011

Raymond Williams on the masses

Category: Academic,Quotables — Biella @ 1:43 pm

Given his theory of the masses, critical theorist Raymond Williams would probably have not liked or believed in the concept of social engineering: “The are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses.”

September 10, 2011

How to secure revolution in Silicon Valley

Category: Academic,Internet — Biella @ 9:07 am

This is the best response (from someone on IRC) to this (simplistic) claim about net access and revolt in Egypt featured in the New York Times:

[m] “In a widely circulated American Political Science Association conference paper, Yale scholar Navid Hassanpour argues that shutting down the internet made things difficult for sustaining a centralized revolutionary movement in Egypt. But, he adds, the shutdown actually encouraged the development of smaller revolutionary uprisings at local levels where the face-to-face interaction between activists was more intense and the mobilization of inactive lukewarm
[m] maybe we’ll have some more fiber optic cable cuts in silicon valley and then the revolution will happen

August 29, 2011


Category: Academic — Biella @ 12:04 pm

I sorely need to update this blog with some real content and news as there is some big news. In the meantime, I did redesign my main website (finally) and you can see what I have been up to there

June 14, 2011


Category: Academic,Programming Languages — Biella @ 2:12 pm

It is about time I get back to this blog. It has been way way too long and there are a few things I want to say (a lot to report). But I will start with something small, a mother of a programming manifesto. Enjoy.

April 9, 2011


Category: Academic,Travel — Biella @ 6:38 am

I am going to Berlin to give a talk at Re:Publica and will be there from Monday through Thursday (11th-14th of April). I am interested in getting together with Debian developers so please contact me if interested. Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite things to do in Berlin as well as I might have a day or two to check out the sites.

January 15, 2011

Gazed deeply into the abyss

Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 4:56 pm

Someone by the name of “lobster” described my recent work in terms of its potential and damaging psychological effects (on me):

As for Ms. Coleman, I appreciate the work she’s doing but I would not want to be locked in a room with her. She has gazed deeply into the abyss. Who knows what horrors have taken root in her mind, and lie sleeping, waiting to unleash unfathomable nightmares for the lulz?

(Yes I loled; captures beautifully a bit of the trauma that can ensue from working on the abyss)

November 28, 2010

The Existential Philsophy of Procrastination

Category: Academic,Advice — Biella @ 10:16 am

out of cous

The New Yorker has a very nice piece about the follies and foibles of procrastination. I really identified with it, especially the ruminations of multiple/divided selves (I do feel more like Biella’s instead of Biella especially during moments of extreme procrastination).

The heart of the piece has to do with the existential face of procrastination, which the author nails with this quote by Mark Kingwell:

““Procrastination most often arises from a sense that there is too much to do, and hence no single aspect of the to-do worth doing. . . . Underneath this rather antic form of action-as-inaction is the much more unsettling question whether anything is worth doing at all”

This reminds me of another one of my favorite (and kinda distributing but also kinda liberating) quotes by Henry Miller:

“Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning”

Finally, the most humorous bit in the article had to do with Victor Hugo, who apparently, to stave off distraction, would write in the nude and then make what sounds like his man servant hide his clothes so he could not go outside. Reminds me that prior to the Internet, there were certainly other ways to “squander” time.

For now, I encourage some procrastination: read it and you might get some insight as to this habit, which seems to afflict so many.

November 27, 2010

If I could have, I would have

Category: Academic,Digital Media — Biella @ 10:56 am

As I previously blogged about, I wrote an Annual Review of Anthropology on digital media last year. About a month ago, I found out that anyone can download it thanks to a link provided by the ARA, which we are allowed to put on one institutional web page. So go here (and go to the citation for the link) for those who are interested in a way too short review of some of the ethnographic literature on digital media.

Writing the piece left me many psychological wounds and scars, one of which had to do with the fact that I probably overlooked some folks. I have been left out of review type essays and honestly, it sucks. I tried to be as comprehensive as possible: I chose not to massively whittle down the scope (which was an option) and was able to smuggle in more citations than originally allowed and yet I still cut out 200 citations. But in the end I overlooked some folks as I found out about them too late. If I could go back in time, this is who I would include (well there are others but I have chosen these for now).

So Shaka McGlotten: not only does he have a cool name, he studies some cool stuff like DIY online porn, race, and zombies. He has published a bunch of articles and a book is forthcoming. Check out his work here.

I missed this book Online a Lot of the Time: Ritual, Fetish, and Sign by Ken Hills which looks quite pertinent and a great read.

Jonathan Marshall is an anthropologist in Sydney who has been working on digital stuff for a long while now and recently published Living Cybermind, which covers in detail modes of interacting and communicating in a detailed examination of a mailing list by the name of Cybermind.

Although this book is not out yet, it will be soon and looks fascinating: Digital Jesus (great cover). From what I understand, and one of the reasons I want to dive into the book , is because it is so longitudinal, at least when measured in Internet years. Rob Howard has studied Christians online since the days of Usenet to the present and thus this ethnography promises to have some real meat to it.

I am eagerly anticipating the forthcoming book by Beth Coleman . I had a chance to read a chapter recently and it looks fantastic. While in some respects grounded in virtual worlds, it is far more expansive than that topic, addressing a range of issues from desire, experience, emotion and race. Can’t wait.

I cite four dissertations in the ARA mostly because I read them, thought they were great, and material based on the dissertation is en route to being published in some form in the next future. The one dissertation I wish I had read is Jenny Cool’s thesis on cyberorganic.

November 23, 2010

An unlikely story about a pit bull attack, free software, and a New York Times reporter

Category: Academic,F/OSS,New York City,Pit Bulls — Biella @ 6:43 am

If I told you that in the last two days, I have been caught in a vortex of coincidence, a vortex composed of pit bulls, free software, diaspora (the software), mold, and a New York Times reporter, I bet you would think “not likely.”

So the story started on Jet Blue, which offers snacks, lots of them, and Direct TV. Since I don’t have TV I kinda go on a binge, watching all sorts of shows as I make my way home. I watched a pretty distributing but interesting documentary on Jim Jones on CNN and a show on Animal Planet on pit bulls and parolees. When I rolled into my my current digs in northern Manhattan (I am currently banished from my downtown apt due to mold, but that is a whole other story), there was a dinner party well underway. At some point in the evening prompted by me, we talked pit bulls as my friends want to get one but their family has issued a threat of disavowal if they do.

The next morning, I was scoping out the website for the Animal Planet show as I was intrigued by it and frankly I kinda like pit bulls (maybe less now although I think they are unfairly maligned). Five minutes into pursuing the site, I hear screeches from hell. It sounds like a woman is being attacked. And she is. A woman right outside of my window was being attacked by… a pit bull.

So I am staying with a friend, an open source developer, Karl Fogel and good soul that he is, he runs out to help the lady (since I have been subject to 5 weeks of sickness due to mold—or so that is what we think it is—was enough for me; I could not stomach the idea of getting bit so I played the role of concerned spectator). It took minutes upon minutes, really just too many minutes to get the pit bull off, even a brick pounded against his head failed (apparently, a cigarette or match held to the throat does the trick, which I found out later). Eventually, the dog was extracted, a huge team of cops showed up, the dog was whisked away, the victim taken to the hospital, and life returned to calm and quiet.

So the next day, I was being interviewed by a New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer who wrote a story about Diaspora for the New York Times back in the summer, helping to propel it from relative obscurity to near insta-fame (one of the Diaspora developers, Max, was my student). We were running out of time (I had another appointment) so I asked him if he lived in northern Manhattan as that is what his bio page indicates. He confirmed, I explained I was up there and that we could meet up there later to finish up. He inquired what part, I told him roughly where I was, he remarked he was near there, and so naturally I told him about the crazy pit bull attack I witnessed from my window as I can’t shut my trap when it comes to things like that.

Well yes you know what is coming next next: he was there, helping Karl (and others) deal with the pit bull attack. He lives nearby and heard the shrieks of agony and came out to aid. All and all it was pretty horrific. He also “met” Karl in so far as Karl gave him his phone number and email just in case he was needed as a witness (Karl had to dash off to catch a plane). Well, the “funny” thing, or as you also might guess: Jim, who is doing some more writing on tech, free software etc, should really talk to Karl given his key role in the community, so they already met, although under odd and terrible circumstances.

I am not sure if I am more wigged out by the fact that I was reading about pit bulls when the attack happened or whether the reporter I was interviewed by was there along side with a free software developer he really needs to interview. Whatever the case, I kinda hope the vortex of coincidence now leaves me to hit someone else (sans any horrible attack). Or else, as Karl noted in the blog comments, I will have to be very careful about what shows I watch:

Amen to that! Enough with the coincidence vortex. As I said to Biella in IRC later: “Do us a favor — don’t watch any shows about nuclear attacks on New York, okay

November 1, 2010

The Anthropology of Hackers

Category: Academic,Hackers — Biella @ 12:45 pm

I meant to blog about this a long time ago but it slipped past me. Here is my course on hackers described in The Atlantic . I ma not teaching it this year but will do so next year. I actually include a lot more than what is in the syllabus (much to the chagrin of my students).