March 31, 2006

Wonderfully Geeky

Category: Debian,F/OSS,Tech — @ 2:24 pm

I try to go to at least once hacker/developer conference per year and when they are in Latin America, it is just impossible to resist. So this year I am going to Debconf6 being held just outside of Mexico City in mid-May. Along with presenting a paper, I may do a little filming too of the event.

Today someone pointed me to this uber-geeky set of graphs that offers all the essential stats:

* Participant’s accomodation requirements.
* Confirmed Participants
* Participant’s countries.
* Participant’s food requirements.
* Participant’s laptops details.
* Participants by gender and type
* Proposals by track, status and type
* Participant’s shirt requirements.
* Participants who request sponsorship.
* Sponsorship for participants travels.

Now most of these stats are essential for the organizers and they are attacking a conference’s unwieldy ways with the help of technology. They are also great for a researcher like me as they have done a good chunk of really interesting and important statistical data. And while technology is usually never an easy panacea to social ills or hurdles, if used tactically and well, like these organizers use it (and know how to use it), it can help quite a bit, at least judging from the last Debconf I went to, which was simply wonderful.

March 23, 2006


Category: F/OSS,IP Law — @ 2:04 pm

So it seems like in the world of free and open source law and politics at least every 8-10 weeks there is a fresh controversy to hit the press. And the current one is over Lessig’s endorsement of DRM:

“In a world where DRM has become ubiquitous, we need to ensure that the ecology for creativity is bolstered, not stifled, by technology. We applaud Sun’s efforts to rally the community around the development of open-source, royalty-free DRM standards that support “fair use” and that don’t block the development of Creative Commons ideals.”

Already on Lessig’s blog there are a few attacks and others are starting to manifest.

For now I will just display the controversy. I see this as possibly an interesting turning point for the acceptance of Lessig’s politics in the wider world of free (note not open source) politics. In my work, I characterize Lessig as the Pasteur of the open source movement, at least as described in the work of Bruno Latour . He took what was a pretty esoteric and geeky world, and initiated a series of events, projects, and translations, that helped bring free software to a wider world and audience.

Now that this domain has been unleashed, there are now responses back and as part of these, we see stronger pockets of resistance and opposition to a Lessig-like politics. I imagine they will cohere even more strongly in the coming years, reshifting, yet again, the poltics of free and open source software.

Reputation and Reviews Online

Category: Books/Articles — @ 8:26 am

Have you ever wanted to know more about the inner workings of online reviews and how they may weave with questions of repuation and plagarism? If your answers is a yes, then look no futher, as Shay David and Trevor Pinch from the STS program at Cornell University have published Six degrees of reputation, which addresses some of these questions:

This paper reports initial findings from a study that used quantitative and qualitative research methods and custom–built software to investigate online economies of reputation and user practices in online product reviews at several leading e–commerce sites (primarily We explore several cases in which book and CD reviews were copied whole or in part from one item to another and show that hundreds of product reviews on might be copies of one another. We further explain the strategies involved in these suspect product reviews, and the ways in which the collapse of the barriers between authors and readers affect the ways in which these information goods are being produced and exchanged. We report on techniques that are employed by authors, artists, editors, and readers to ensure they promote their agendas while they build their identities as experts. We suggest a framework for discussing the changes of the categories of authorship, creativity, expertise, and reputation that are being re–negotiated in this multi–tier reputation economy.

March 21, 2006

Beware of chat before a big game!

Category: Tech — @ 7:08 am

Life online sometimes is productive of very funny and strange things because it is so easy to fake and feign things like identity. And this story about a prank, code named victoria, is perhaps one of the finest examples of the great gulf that exists between one person and the other online, a gulf that is productive of deception. Of course, deception is not unique to packets and bytes. But packets and bytes are a channel that can augment the chances for such deception. The post is written my the eminent security expert and writer, Bruce Schneier who ends with this amusing assessment:

Security morals? First, this is the cleverest social engineering attack I’ve read about in a long time. Second, authentication is hard in little text windows — but it’s no less important. (Although even if this were a real co-ed recruited for the ruse, authentication wouldn’t have helped.) And third, you can hoodwink college basketball players if you get them thinking with their hormones.

Finally, make sure to check out the picture that captures the fleeting but very real moment when the player under the prank attack understood
that he was the target of a prankish joke , meant to disarm him and this game!

For those who know of this world of faceless chat, you may want to check out The Parlor. I use it for teaching and now it is there for viewing on google video.

March 14, 2006

Weak vs Strong Leadership in Debian

Category: Debian,Ethics,Hackers — @ 5:43 pm

The topic of styles of leadership in Debian is ongoing and surfaces a little more strongly during the election period, which is happening now. tbm, a past DPL posted a blog entry on the limits of strong-one-person leadership in Debian, thoughts that followed this irc discussion with a long-time developer joey hess. I don’t really have time to say much but for those who work on leadership in larger virtual projects, this discussion may be of interest.

March 13, 2006

Expanding the Pie Of Freedom

Category: Ethics,F/OSS — @ 9:26 am

Alchemical Musings has mused some very interesting thoughts on the implications of “free” (as in beer not in speech”) webservices:

Considering Google’s stated ambitions to “house all user files, including: emails, web history, pitcures, bookmakres, etc” the freedom movement better wake up to the fact that there is more to freedom than free software, and we are being outflanked.

Free software is only one corner peice of this puzzle – to complete the jigsaw we need the corners of free data, in a free format. Anything else?

March 10, 2006

The Development of the Self in the Era of the Internet and Role-Playing…

Category: Psychiatry,Tech — @ 4:36 pm

So I get a daily ‘google’ email with the day’s psychiatry news. Rarely is there any news that touches on my hacker/Internet material but this article stuck out like a sore thumb as relevant: The Development of the Self in the Era of the Internet and Role-Playing Fantasy Games in the American Journal of Psychiatry. But I have to say there is one heck of a lot of slippery argumentation that goes on in there, an article whose progtagonist is “Mr. Aâ??s” whose “internal world had been colonized by what are termed “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” or MMORPGs for short (11). Sometimes termed “heroinware”…”

I will just let interested parties read the rest (if you have access to the journal, which requires some sort of subscription or University access)

“Fixation on Words”

Category: Anthropology,Politics,Tech — @ 10:53 am

Anne Galloway, as usual, has a nice discussion on her blog, this time around, using Bruce Sterling’s recent keynote at the Emerging Tech Con, to get at the question of power, empowerement, and dispowerment of words

Bruce Sterling has posted his Emerging Tech talk and I’m still fixated on his fixation on words. This whole rationale behind coining neologisms interests me, and particularly how he understands terms like ‘internet of things’, ‘spimes’, ‘theory objects’, ‘everyware’, ‘thinglinks’ etc. are being mobilised to replace (with varying successes) what he considers to be no-longer-adequate terms like ‘ubiquitous computation’. I think he understands perfectly well how much this is all language games and image wars, and he’s playing for all it’s worth.

March 9, 2006

Courses on Liberalism

Category: Anthropology,Liberalism — @ 10:54 am

So one fun part of being on the job market is that you delve into some serious course constructions. I have come up with 4-5 courses and I will soon start to put some online to get some feedback. Since most of my recent posts here have been on liberalism and neoliberalism, here is one of the my proposal courses, called The Cultural Life of Liberalism. It is still under development though I like the overall structure of it. I would appreciate any suggestions.

Yesterday I had the chance to briefly meet Rutgers Anthropologist Angelique Haugerud who is doing some really fascinating work on paraody and protest (on, for example on the The Yes Men). And I just noticed that she is teaching a graduate seminar on Globalization and Neoliberalism, so of course, I will mine that syllabus when I have a chance to look at it.

March 8, 2006

The Dibbell Strikes Back

Category: Books/Articles — @ 4:51 pm

Yesterday, Julian Dibbell (whose site is down) gave a talk at Rutgers on his forthcoming book Play Money and participated in our weekly seminar at the CCA (which has a nice new website). Thanks to his various presentations, he has convinced me, not that I needed much convincing in the first place, that his forthcoming book is going to be as fanstastic as My Tiny Life . And if there is one book on cyberspace sociality, ethics, and embodiement that has had some serious staying power, it is this one. It is assigned, with good reason, in nearly every class that has to do with cyberspace, and the packed room of undergraduates there to see Dibbell talk just confirmed his broad influence. If you have a chance to see him talk, do so, his dry wit combines with the material of money, economies, and gaming, quite nicely.