August 29, 2002

The Inner Workings of Time

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 10:58 am

Time seems so timeless. And that is precisely the problem with empty, equal time as we have come to experience it in the modern industrial world. Equally spaced out, each unit supposedly the same as the next, we experience our time as if it were the universal, that is the only, means by which to move ones life through that hard-to-pin-down, yet very real, very durable concept of time. Yet, there are times, moments in your life, when the emptiness and equality of time crumbles down, making it known that our most commonsense categories like time and space are to some degree socially constructed. The last few months have been a series of photographs resulting in a montage of different ways that I have experienced time (and all amazingly enough without the aid of any hallucinogenic substances).

Although the calendar as we know it has existed for a long time, the application of coordinated time across space in which minutes, hours, days, and now seconds are the same across space and really matter for socio-economic reasons, did not truly emerge and solidify until the rise and use of new technologies and institutions like the factory, railroad, and the telegraph. For example, before the railroad, each European city kept its own time while the pace of business and other related activities were slower than they are today because information traveled much more slowly through space and time. Conceptions of time and space don’t simply vary across cultures but have varied within our own society, in our case I think, marching towards an ever more rigid

I have been traveling around lately, going up and down the west coast, then back east, back west, mixed in with a lot of time on irc and late nights. Time measuring labels such Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, morning, afternoon, and evening have not seemed to matter much these days as I don’t have to follow any schedule except that which I have imposed on myself. I am moving in a space in which the events of my life are determining the means by which I experience time. It is a daily reminder that not all time is created equal or experienced equally. Travel too denaturalizes our cultural sense of time both by exposing us to places where time is organized distinctly as well as one usually follows a rhythm that is not determined by the routine work week. I think for similar reasons that is why the act of ritual is so compelling and important. Ritual is often though of as being “set in stone” as indeed ritual is usually tightly prescribed usually driving against spontaneous movement and expression. Yet, among other things, ritual activity is one in which there is an explicit recognition of the specialness and especially malleability of time and place, a border put around an activity, marking it off from the routine. The here and now of ritual is meant to be distinct, more special than the ordinary rhythms of daily life. As such, special and unusual events can unfold through ritual space.

I had time and space on my mind more than usual this past weekend in Seattle where I went for a tech activist meeting. This was partly due to lack of sleep which is disorienting, as well as to the nature of my time in Seattle, and because of my introduction to some revolutionary new time system xtime which parses out time in decimal units. I am not sure if I got the gist of the new system of time but I appreciated the desire to come up with a new means by which to undermine the current system of time we live through.

In some sort of overarching level, the meeting in Seattle, reminded me that the supposed unilateral nature of time in which it moves forward in little, teeny chunks [ ----> tick, tick ----> forward into future] is simply not the case, or at least not the way that I would like to conceptualize and feel my time, here on earth. Though the meeting, which was a discussion about federating different tech activist groups under one umbrella, was not very ritualistic (although there were still elements of ritual), the meeting for me collapsed the past, present, and future. Most of the group had met nearly 2 months ago in Northern California during another meeting and there, planned to meet to further discuss ideas about a federation. So, in Seattle, we were together in the present because of what happened in the past, planning for something that we would like have exist in the future. Links between past, present, future abound but I don’t think people often enough experience the continuity and circularity of this cycle and experience what happened before as the past in the sense of having it be gone forever. But maybe it is actually the passing of something that forever lives through the rippling of its effects.

August 21, 2002

Childhood cartoons

Category: Personal — Biella @ 9:00 am

I came across one of my long lost favorite cartoons while following some random links this morning. It is the amorphous but lovable Barbapapa. I recall very little about the cartoon itself except that it was one of the more “magical” ones to me. I had this hierarchy of cartoons and shows, some of which were like really, really special (maybe because I could only see them in the states, like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) or very “real” (like Sesame street, because, well, look, they lived in a real neighborhood in NYC and Oscar the grouch was my bedside companion till I ruined him by pouring an entire bottle of dishwashing detergent on him), or just ones that were with me as a daily fact of life till I was 17 years old, like the Muppet Show. I must have only watched Barbapapa a couple of times but the blobs of color obviously left a mark on me as I was in total glee this morning when I found those sites.

The other day one of my friends asked me for my definition of “muppetational” as I had invented the word and definition as a sinister ploy, to get rejected from my father’s alma mater, a school that I did not want to attend (and he would have never forced me to go but it would have been like tense in the house for a couple of months). So the college application asked for your favorite word and I put muppetational and provided my own definition. Although I don’t remember it exactly, it was something along the lines of:

it is the essence of each muppet character and the means by
which this essence is brought out in interaction with life and others
brining smiles, gusto, and joy to our world. This can thus be extended out
“the muppet show” to signify the act of brining forth
the essense of ones self to the plate of life with sincerity,
love, and enthusiasm…. It might be Monster playing away at the
drums, Gonzo flirting with the chickens, Kermit philosophizing about
life, or Sato, roaming.

Needless to say, my tactic worked. (Biella wonders if her father is now learning of this deep, dark secret as he reads her blog: Sorry Papi, I just had to do it).

These cartoons really used to effect my day-to-day emotional state, which is probably why I was in such a good mood as a kid. But I remember being really sad about the fact that no one believed in Big Bird’s imaginary friend, Snufalufagus. I was always wanting to run into the show, and let the truth be told. And I think it has.

Yesterday, during an OPG meeting about the Online Community Forumwhich we are trying to develop, when I heard for like the millionth time, that “zope” which is a programming platform, “is supposed to be really great, powerful, robust, blah, blah, blah…” but “I have never used it…” I realized it was the Snufalufagus of programming, existing out there as some mythical technology. Has anyone actually used it : )

And btw, this little excursion into my childhood has really been a shameless pitch to give a certain someone some birthday present ideas. Aheemmm, I would love to see to see some of Barbapapa again : )

August 19, 2002

Party photo

Category: Personal — Biella @ 1:20 am

There was a party at the Schoen and Brown household the other night to celebrate free software, GNU/Linux and such. We watched Revolution OS and heckled a lot! Tammy was nice enough to take a picture of the group This was a great way to end the week.

August 18, 2002

Every rope gat two ends (or why IRC is like Caribbean yard culture)

Category: Anthropology,Research — Biella @ 12:50 pm

Lately I have been spending a lot of time on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) mostly talking with my friends that I have met during my recent travels. I have enjoyed it tremendously, in part because I have been able to maintain and deepen certain relationships but also there is just something about the medium itself that I really love. I was not sure how deep my relationship to IRC ran until about a week ago when something happened to me before I feel asleep that revealed that IRC has had a huge impact on my psyche So, often before I go to bed, my mind just wanders into this space of special imagery in which fond memories will just randomly appear. Basically any moment that I hold a special fondness for might pop up during this period of limbo before I fall asleep. So, the other night, my IRC GUI client just made a cameo appearance in my nightly field of memories and to tell you the truth, this almost jolted me out of my sleepy nebulous state with great concern. I was like “shiiit, IRC has begun to leave a serious imprint on my self.” And since I have spent a lot of time mentally digesting what it is that I love so much about irc and why so many people in the past and present fall prey “the addiction.” Below are some very unsystematic thoughts about the way I have come to think of IRC….

When I first began to think about why IRC was so compelling, my mind wandered to a set of memories that I have not thought about it a very, very long time. It took me to the endless hours I spent riding the morning school van, which I did every year for about 10 years growing up. So, starting at the age of 4 while living in San Juan, the van driver, “Ana” picked my sister and I up at 7:00 am in a banged up Dodge van that fit about 16 people. So, I don’t remember the early years too much but as I got a little older , I used to, believe it or not, *love*riding this beat up van operated by superbly cranky driver with a group of people who were not really my friends in the sweltering heat of the tropics . Caged for 1.5 hours a day in a moving vehicle was fun?? Well, what I liked about it were the conversations especially the ones in the afternoon after everyone was pumped on high doses of sugar. In the van, we had nothing else to do but sit and talk to each other and since we did this 5 days a week, the group developed a dynamic in which these crazy conversations about whatever topic would unfold. Conversation was often rowdy, playful, grotesque nearly always passionate, and meandered every direction, in part because we were all coming from different perspectives thanks to age, religious, and some class differences. None of us would probably elect to voluntarily get together and talk but the forced proximity made for some surprisingly great conversations. Some days I would sit back and chill and listen while other days, I would offer a mouthful, while other days, I would selectively interrupt with a comment here and there. The group style of conversing, the unexpected twists and turns, the multiple conversation, and the playful nature of talking all reminded me of my time on IRC.

Although everyone is usually doing something else on their computer and IRC is often used for practical stuff like organizing, software development, and user forums, IRC conversation also made me think about some other similarities beyond my personal experience riding a school van. It has most reminded me of Caribbean street or “yard culutre” which is characterized by a lot of playful and clever linguistic exchange in a space (the street, the yard, the alley) where people (primarily men) gather to basically shoot the shit and talk a lot of smack.

Though certainly this is not a really adequate historical comparison, this metaphorical comparison can yield some very interesting similarities between some types of IRC chatter and Caribbean “yard” culture and talk. Yard culture designates street or urban street culture in the Caribbean, especially the British Caribbean like Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad, a space and form of lived experience that has many different dimensions related to language, status, identity, politics, etc. What I am most concerned about here is the linguistic play and the space of the yard as a means to bring out some of the unique characteristics of IRC.

Present day yard culture and talk is captured nicely in this poem which I will reference in the section that follows. The structural context of yard talk goes back to colonialism and the brutal regime of slavery. Stripped of everything but their bodies, the formation of Caribbean society among slaves, indentured laborers, and their descendants grew from a heterogeneous mixing of various cultural elements based on the bare bones elements of memory and the adoption and especially dynamic refashioning of symbols and the few material resources that were available to slaves and their descendants. And the noteworthy element is that very little was materially available. Slaves were forced over across the Atlantic with materially nothing. Cultural elements were continued and refashioned though such avenues as music, talk, food, religion to produce the heterogeneous and dynamic character that now stamps Caribbean culture. The quality to readily innovate in the face of structural constraints, cultural heterogeneity, and very little access to material resources conditioned the unfolding of Caribbean cultures to be very dynamic, playful, and especially clever. Language and linguistic word play also became an important element given the constraints on bodies, spatial movement, and time that slavery forced upon people. Talk was one cultural resource that could not be stamped out by the colonial masters and thus creole dialects developed and elevated to a poetic art form. These creole dialects not only served as a form of communication and entertainment, but also played into dimensions of political resistance, if only in a lightweight and everyday ways. Creole filled with puns and riddles was a skillful means to create a new regime of meaning and story telling that was not easily accessible to colonial masters. The puns, riddles, and proverbs speed of critique of the powers that be while the act of spending hours and hours talking instead of “working” was and is a means of foot dragging that is not mere laziness but a choice not to engage in the dominant economic system of production.

August 17, 2002

Hacker Fashion

Category: Humor — Biella @ 9:27 pm

So, can you spot the fake?




August 16, 2002

Inspiring Volunteers

Category: Personal — Biella @ 11:31 pm

So, I help coordinate the volunteers and interns at the EFF. People apply online and I receive this web form as an email with all the relevant information. These forms and the answers, are, sorry to say, boring, just like any modern form is supposed to be. But the other day, I finally laughed reading one of the answers to the following question:

How did you hear about EFF?

Usually, the answer is Lessig, Barlow, the Web, or just the fact of being a programmer. But the answer in this case was:

Friend: No
Email: No
Web: Yes
School: No
Employer: No
Other: Yes
Other: met Cory Doctorow at Disneyland in 1998

Cory is the outreach person here as well as one of the main bloggers for and he is, well, obssessed with all things Disney.

Who knows, maybe the next form will be by some bear-hugging, tree-loving hippie who will write:

Other: met Seth Schoen camping at Sequioa National Park

Disclaimer: You must know Seth to see the humor in this

Quotes indirectly about blogging

Category: Personal — Biella @ 1:05 am

“Whatever you do [blog] will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

Reading maketh a full man;
conference a ready man; and
writing [blogging] an exact [wo]man.
–Francis Bacon

August 15, 2002

Lift your skinny fist like antennas to heaven

Category: Politics — Biella @ 12:13 am

I am once again listening to”Lift your skinny fist like antennas to heaven” by Godspeed you Black Emperor. It goes without saying that I like it and am currently too lazy to change the cd from my player. But I think the real reason that I have such an affinity with this album is that for some weird reason the tone, the melody and the unfolding of the two songs seem to match the quality of my life as I travel through the world of software conferences and cons. In the last 5 weeks I have attended 5 hacker con or trade shows. This has punctuated my life with a series of intense intense days of incredible sensory overload and socializing with short lulls of stillness back in SF when I catch up with laundry. The lull is interrupted with the frenetic pace of errand squashing and next thing you know I am gone out the door. If you listen to “Lift your skinny fist like antennas to heaven” there are these very intense periods punctuated by slower noises and melodies that build up and crescendo. It resonates with the pace and flavor of my life.

Tonight, I just got back from a FSF fundraising event where Lawerence Lessig spoke to a room full of geeks about the need to, Goddammit get political. Though his talk was not as impassioned as the one that gave at OSCON, he was quite adamant about the need for technologists to get more traditionally political and not just through technology as Declan suggested yesterday in his, I hate to put it this way, asinine article, but through good old fashioned politics. I liked it when Lessig said:

“I am here to plead with you to resist the Declanization of the movement.”

I have seen Lessig speak over 6 times in all sorts of different contexts, from talking to khaki-wearing uptight, intellectual-property-loving law students at the University of Chicago (who thought that his perspective in Code and other Laws of Cyberspace was a sick, sick, blasphemy) to computer scientists at Stanford, to events like the one tonight. He spends nearly half the year talking to all sorts of audiences and he has had a strong impact on shifting political orientations, at least in the hacker and free software community. It is quite often that I hear either in informal conversation or during one of my formal interviews, that Lessig has shaped the way that x person thought about politics, a shift which has yielded a more explicit political consciousness. One though that is still in its infancy, which is why Lessig is reacting so strongly to Declan’s piece which is trying to shift the orientation back to 1′s and 0′s. He does not want to see his hard work thrown to pieces.

You see, among other things, what is bothersome about Declan’s piece is that he presents a vision of community politics in which hackers can only specialize in one area, which in this case is politics though technology as with Phil Zimmerman and PGP. What he fails to acknowledge (and I don’t know how such a smart guy could have so ignored these facts), is that some of the most hard core technologists, like Richard Stallman and John Gilmore have hacked up some of the most clever and non-technological institutions of political action: the the copyleft and the EFF (it is ironic and almost embarrassing the Declan cites the cypherpunks as an example for why geeks should just chose a technological path for political action given that John Gilmore was one of the original members). As much as PGP is one of the most valuable political tools, the cultural, ethical, and practical world of hacking would be a much much more barren and bleak place if it were not for the the legal craftiness of the copyleft and the institutional force of the EFF.

And speaking of barrenness, that is what Declan’s vision of politics is (at least in this piece). You see, I have really been quite excited about the more outwardly political wanderings of technologists not because it might replace the technological imperatives that have a strong political impact and import but it could add to and enrich an already existing form of cultural politics (I mean cultural politics in this case to be politics achieved through technology driven by an ethic of information sharing and privacy). Strength of political action not only emerges through numbers, vision, message, etc. but by the embodiment of distinct political tools at hand to fight. So, first it is much harder to undermine a political field of action if the field is composed of distinct domains and practices. One might have a lull or setback but then there are others to keep in going. Second, the diversity political tools also might translate into an expansion of who will be attracted into that space. Finally, there is a form of cross-pollination that can occur between different types of political action if there are placed together within close proximity. I think we see that well with the copyleft which is a legal tool that used the principles of hacking (cleverness and refashioning) to hack the legal system for a new ends. Brining together traditional activism within the domain of technological activism might indeed not compromise the supposed “purity” of one or the other but cause a flourishing of novel forms of political action.

So, going back to the start of my rant, with Godspeed You Black Emperor, it is a good idea to get pissed, get political and “Lift your skinny fist like antennas to heaven.” Though skinny from all that typing, raising them might yield some interesting results.

August 14, 2002


Category: Other — Biella @ 1:39 am

So, when building a web site, a Christain might ask: wwjd?? And here is the

I just don’t know what else to say but this is so very very strange. Please, please whatever you do, DON’T bathe with this man. You will actually feel dirtier, not cleaner.

August 13, 2002

From Linux World

Category: Research — Biella @ 5:41 pm

I have been at Linux World all day hanging out at the Debian booth having a great time talking to the developers. I can’t believe that this is my third Linux World here in the Bay Area. Anyway, a couple of the Debian guys were talking to me about this article by Declan M on Geeks and Activism

"Instead, technologists should be doing what comes naturally: inventing technology that outpaces the law and could even make new laws irrelevant."

Huh?? SInce when were coding and activism mutually exclusive? I don't agree with this at all, although my full will just have to wait till later. I am off to the Free Software Foundation BOF (Birds of a Feather) which is a reminder why geeks should not just use technology as a means for politics.