February 24, 2003

E.T. in Tahoe

Category: Personal — Biella @ 12:06 am

Sometimes it is just so so nice to get out of the complexity of the city into the simplicity of colors, lights, and patterns of the outdoors. I just got back from another snowshoeing adventure, probably my last of 2003, which was completed on very little sleep. The coolest part of the trip was a sighting of my favorite alien friend. I am not sure if he was really there or a hallucination due to lack of sleep…. But which ever the case, it was a pretty cool sighting!

February 22, 2003

Bush Is A Loser!

Category: Personal — Biella @ 9:37 pm

From the protest last weekend…

February 20, 2003

My Public Self

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 12:32 pm

My department as do many, have grad students go through this curious yet extensively effective (and somewhat tortuous) ritual of compiling a HUGE bibliography of works (about 100 pieces) for your qualifying exams. They tell you that compiling the list and reading it is way more important than the test itself, and damn those advisers of mine were SO on the money. You have about three categories (Theory with a capital T, mid-level theory, and then ethnographies or works in your particular subject matter). So, the reading process is magical and I mean magical in that sense that special things happen and it is not because you get to spend all this time reading but because all these unexpected connections congeal and form as you slog your way through all these seemingly different works. When you read some postcolonial reading of western science in India such as Another Reason by Prakash, alongside Bakhtin, Weber, Sombart, and Sherry Turkle, you get, some Weird Science. You are inspired in these strange ways to make connections that well, otherwise, would be impossible to forge in independence of each other.

I have not been in such a luxurious reading phase of my academic career but more in the nitty gritty phase of collecting data and mining for information that I am supposed to take back to the hordes of books that sit behind me and in storage, books that almost feel like forgotten relics to me now. One keeps reading while doing fieldwork but not with the same fervent intensity as when one is taking classes or reading for exams or residing at the University of Chicago, where everyone reads more than you do, believe me, it is sick there.

Anyway, just recently I had a Weird Science Reading Experience as I intersected 4 different books and pieces: The Transparent Society by David Brin, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, Hacker Culture by Douglass Thomas, and Why nerds are unpopular.

I can’t really get into the vast particles of intersecting themes between these works but one has really taken my fancy because and through these works is the relationship between privacy (or a private self) and accountability (or the public self). I had finished reading Brin who makes a pragmatist argument that privacy can only be secured through freedom and especially openness and accountability in a democratic society. For him, openness, free information flows, and accountability are the chief means to keep a society healthy, that is free and democratic and only when we have such a free, open society can we thus have the luxury of demanding and ensuring privacy. A lack of openness = no privacy for Brin. As he notes:

While free speech seems an indivisible, immiscible right that must be preserved with absolute clarity for liberty’s sake, privacy appears to be more like a liquid, a delicacy that free people can pour for themselves, as much or as little as they choose. Privacy is a wonderful, highly desirable
benefit of freedom…. On the other hand, there can be few compromises when
it comes to protecting the underpinnings of liberty. Those foundations will
crumble unless they are guarded with fervent vigilance. Without both
individual freedom and distributed sovereignty, all of our modern vaunted modern privacy would vanish into legend…


February 18, 2003


Category: Personal — Biella @ 1:54 pm

Just in case you don’t read Slashdot (yeah, yeah, not cool but I still like it :-) ), this looks like an interesting read about being treated as nerd in high school. Looks interesting and I hope to get to it sometime today.

I was for sure tagged a nerd although it was more a middle school phenomenon that for the most part dissapated by high school probably because I went to a really small school where it was easy just to find your niche. People just finally tagged as eccentric and unusual. Just in case you don’t read Slashdot (yeah, yeah, not cool but I still like it :-) ), this looks like an interesting read about being treated as nerd in high school. Looks interesting and I hope to get to it sometime today.

I was for sure tagged a nerd although it was more a middle school phenomenon that for the most part dissipated by high school probably because I went to a really small school where it was easy just to find your niche. People just finally tagged me as eccentric and unusual. That little wacky Biella….

February 17, 2003

Da AnTi-War Movement(s)

Category: Politics — Biella @ 11:06 pm

So, so, so, I have spent the last few days with my sister and niece romping around SF, mostly walking and protesting and it has been really fun! I have always considered my sister more on the conservative side but after spending some time with her this weekend, I have decided that if she had grown up in the 60s or 70s here in the Bay Area, she would have been one heck of leftie hippie. She was like giving me the scoop on Martin Luther King and the FBI, corporate slime-balling, and other such delicacies. I was surprised given some of the things she had told me in the past, like that eating with chopsticks is uncivilized so of course, I had to eat chopsticks for the week she was visiting my dad and I when I was 15. Anyway, it was great to hang with her before she moves to France.

The protest in SF was pretty large this weekend, with a heavy and colorful representation of signs, even more signage than last time. But the coolest thing about the protest this weekend was really “the protest(s).” There were a ton of them, worldwide with some very large numbers. In Italy there were like two million protesters. Can you imagine, TWO MILLION ITALIANS?!!! The collective passion must have been colorfully oozing through every inch of the city . But some of the smaller protests like the one in
Antartica also spoke a thousand words.

But really, I think that soon we will realize just how significant this world wide, coordinated, pouring of anti-war protesting is. The numbers are not to be taken lightly especially given that the US has not even gone to war yet. I think the world is also taking this opportunity to collectively say to the US, “we are sick of your meddling ways,” and I just hope that this country will start to listen. Also, how about this: we just might turn what is a “preemptive strikes” into a preempt the war through protests….

Check out protests pictures from around the world.

February 14, 2003


Category: Personal — Biella @ 12:37 am

I have so much to write about but little time on my hands these days but soon, soon, I promise really to write some really great entries but I am so excited about this little idea of mine that I must broadcast it to the world!!!

So, there is a war protest this Sunday here in SF, among other places in the US and across the world and one of the things that I thought would be really COOL is to have everyone wear the color Orange, you know to make a colorful point about the high security alert (aka orange) that we are now under.

The second best option is to dress like a pirate! I am not sure quite yet why this is an act of protest but, it just strikes me is appropriate… You know, I know pirates are not anti-violence but they do have a sort of screw you cultural and political sensibility which is so needed right now…

February 7, 2003

Interview Questions

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 1:51 pm

Do anthropologists harm the communities they study?

This is a large, loaded, smoking-gun, hot-pistol sort of question that requires a verbose answer that I can’t write up right now but there are these moments when you feel good about being an anthropologist, knowing that you did influence things in a positive sort of way. This happened recently when a Debian developer asked if he could post his answers to my email interview questions on his website. I have to keep all my research material confidential (here is the consent form that interviewees have to sign unless they want to go ahead and make it public. And I guess this fellow developer liked his answers and thus posted them here.

When he asked me whether he could post them, I asked him why he wanted to do this, to which he replied:

Since I sent in those answers, I have continued to inform myself with
regard to these issues. However, I am definitely grateful for having sat
down and sorted out all of thoughts about intellectual property, patent
law, free software, Debian and how each of these things relate to the
others. Now when I read something new, I have a sort of “base” of
coherent ideas from which I am working.

The reason that I want to post my answers on my web site is that I am
quite proud of the synthesis work that I did when I completed the
survey. In the spirit of the free software community, I would like to
post my answers online so that others can read them and perhaps benefit,
or even suggest a comment or two in order to further a point (or debate
a point) that I made.

Can’t complain too much about the process of injecting some reflection and reflexivity… So don’t run away right away when an anthropologist comes knocking at your door although more on the perils of anthropology later!

February 5, 2003

More Science and Tech Studies Resources

Category: Research — Biella @ 10:40 pm

There are some nice geek and free softwae/open source compliations out there! Check em out and please add to them:

Echo Science and Technology
Confronting Technology
Free and Open Source Bibliography
All Things Hackish and Geekish, A Bibliography

Not bad…. Keep on adding, adding, adding, adding where you see fit!

Language is a battlefield

Category: Research — Biella @ 7:28 pm

I read mailing lists a lot for research and to tell you the truth, I am not too fond of them even though from time to time there is a gem of a thread with some insightful statements that go beyond the “OPINION ORGY” that so often characterizes mailing list chatter. I recently stumbled across such a jewel on the Debian legal list.

The intention of the original post was to urge people to use caution and deliberation when using certain words and terms when talking about copyright issues, especially related to infringement. It states:

Some people might feel that punishing the
infringement of a legal fiction more harshly than we punish violations
of universally accepted human rights reflects a priority inversion in
the legal system. Some people also feel that the very large media
corporations that now control most published, copyrighted works in
existence have ample resources to pursue tort claims against
infringer. If you share either of these perspectives, then you might
also wish to help restore sanity to modern discussions of intellectual
property law by not referring to allegedly infringing materials or
actions as “illegal”. Instead, simply call them “infringing”. Better
still, don’t even call them “infringing” unless you’re confident they
actually are — and keep in mind that even today, the standard in the
U.S. for *criminal* copyright infringement requires 1) the existence of
a valid copyright in the work being distributed; 2) infringement by the
defendant; 3) *willful* infringement by the defendant; 4) infringement
by the defendant for commercial advantage or private financial gain.
Some jurisdictions also that the government prove absence of a first sale in the allegedly infringing works. After all of that, acts
undertaken in the exercise of Fair Use provide for an affirmative
defense, meaning that you should know that there is no Fair Use
exception for the activities in question. If you don’t know all of
that, perhaps you’re better off not telling people what they’re doing
is “illegal”.

Pat Benatar wrote that “love is a battlefield” but I think she really meant that “language is a battlefield” the battlefield where such things as love and the nuances of intellectual property get fought. I like Branden’s post a lot because it fully recognizes how important the politics of language is in this whole debate, a politics that requires the transformation of everyday language usage as well as much tougher language battles in which common society-wide perceptions and definitions that are propagated through powerful and mainstream economic and social institutions must be altered too.

I love pirates but the media industry in concert with the government is making pirates of hackers and common citizens which then helps to define what the legal nature of copyright is. And this is accomplished through many means but it always has to function through the web of language. Hence the power alone of a word like copyleft is that it, among many other things, denaturalizes the term copyright, cracking it open to scrutiny and possibly opening a path for change… Branden in his post argues that copyright is not a natural right but a socially bound privilege that is quite mutable. People forget this and a collective jog of the memory is a good thing to undergo. Playing around with the even the minutiae of language helps to free certain terms and concepts from what we think they are… We have to be reminded from time to time that language is not a disembodied thing but a tool whose contours and shape should change depending on the work at hand.

The thread had many other interesting points but it ended with another powerful statement:

Perhaps we need to be thinking about alternative ways to uphold the
“protection of the moral and material interests resulting
from…scientific, literary or artistic production[s]“?

Surely existing copyright, trademark, and patent regimes, to say nothing
of “work-for-hire”, “paracopyright”, and “trade secret” concepts, are
not the only ways to give Article 27 force and meaning.

In other words, I don’t think it *necessarily* follows from Article 27
that we must have a global oligarchic hegemony of media corporations
dictating to us what we shall and shall not read, watch, perceive,
write, and share with our fellow human being.

I found this statement quite exiting. I guess in some ways, I have always thought about the current IP system as inadequate, the solution being a variation of an already existing scheme (as the copyleft does). But why not, why not, come up with a radically different incentive scheme? In some ways this seems to obvious but often some eloquent powerful statement is what is needed to inspire a new plane of thought… Ahhhh the beauty, the power of language…

February 2, 2003

Movies, movies, and more!

Category: Personal — Biella @ 11:42 pm

I watched many movies this last week, I believe a total of five, all of which were quite distinct: Bowling for Columbine (for a second time), the Business Software Alliance “pirating is for losers (and illegal) educational movie, American mullet about the rare but never obscure haircut, a documentary on the Kali Mai churches of Guyana, and a very heavy and long Soviet made production of Cuba before and during the revolution, I am Cuba. It was a bit painful to sit through the 140 minutes of “I am Cuba” after so many movies mostly because it was long, all in black and white (which bothers my eyes) and was so unsubtle, that it was like they had huge banners of “THIS IS WHAT IS GOING ON” waving about for every scene. Nonetheless, an interesting movie that you must be in the mood for (by the way, does anyone know of a good Soviety movie?). I also played galaga my favorite childhood video game and I discovered that I still have a knack for it. All those hours may be in my past but part of them still remain with me……