October 10, 2007

Good Copy, Bad Copy

Category: Academic,Documentaries,F/OSS,Tech — Biella @ 3:09 am

If you are in NYC, check out the Free Screening of Good Copy, Bad Copy hosted by NYU’s Free Culture chapter.

Good Copy Bad Copy Screening
Followed by Q&A with Co-Director Henrik Moltke and Fritz Attaway, MPAA
Tuesday, October 16th 2007
9:15pm – 11:15pm
NYU’s Courant Institute
251 Mercer Street b/w Bleecker and W. 4th
Room #109
Free and Open to the Public (bring ID if non-NYU)

October 9, 2007

Rage against the Machine

Category: Politics,Tech — Biella @ 2:03 pm

Actually, granny rage against the machine….

October 7, 2007

Open another coffee shop in PR with free wireless, please

Category: Puerto Rico,Tech,Wireless — Biella @ 9:29 am

Somewhat unbelievably (to me at least) there is still wireless in my mother’s backyard and it has only gotten better and stronger. But let’s face it, writing in garden lounge chairs among the frogs, birds, sun, rain and wind are sub-optimum for thinking and writing, so I am always looking for good and, most especially, gratis wireless.

I was pretty psyched to find a new cafe, Camilles Cafe that had decent looking food and proudly advertises Free WiFi. So I went there this afternoon, ordered my cafe con leche, sat down, and ran dhlcient to get my IP address and it served me one in a jiffy. I opened my xchat, said hello to my fellow chatters, and then proceeded to login to my email and I never got further than that because they disabled access to any page that requires a password.

I went up to the counter to ask why and the answer I got was “porque un hacker nos ataco.” It is totally retarded that the can’t reenable whatever they turned off after adding some basic security measures. They are losing tons and mean tons of business. One quick visit to the “other” cafe down the street with free wireless Me. Starbucks shows there is much business to be made if you provide free wireless.

It is Sunday and there are 12 people here with computers and people of all stripes and backgrounds and they come because the wireless is cheap and fast.

Be warned: logging on to the wireless here is totally non-obvious. When you try to log in, you are routed to a corporate Centennial web page that asks for an user-id/password or asks you to create one. So you of course think that it will cost money to do so. But in fact you just create a name, password etc. and then the site never asks you for mullah (nice). There is no sign, instructions, giving you these instructions. You gotta know or you gotta ask one of your neighbors.

This odd system has been in place for years and I just wonder when the only free wireless in a coffee shop (at least that I know of) will be snatched away. Hopefully never and hopefully someone else will get the bright idea that if they open another coffee shop and also provide free wireless, they will make a killing. This place is always always, and I mean always, packed.

p.s.: make sure to bring headphones/music too unless you are great at working with plently of background noise, which includes the usual starbucks music (about as good as its coffee, not), people chatting, people video-chatting sans headphones, and people watching shows like South Park. It is downright cacophonous..

October 5, 2007

On Traveling, Airports, and Thinking

Category: Academic,Puerto Rico,Tech — Biella @ 8:00 am

After 6 weeks of teaching and over 2 months in my new apartment, I am making a short escape from NYC to visit my mom and sister in PR. In my Impacts of Technology class, we just finished a week on large-scale and complex technological systems, with a focus on industrial farming. We read a few sections of Micahel Pollan’s fanstastic book, The Ominvore’s Dilemma, which combines the odd qualities of being seductively alluring (thanks to his exquisite writing) and repulsive (thanks to the content, well at least the part on factory animal “farming”). I can’t recommend it enough and look forward to reading the rest, when I find the (magical) time to do so.

Now that I am at the airport, I am struck at how little I know about this place, which is also a large and complex technological system and I bet revealing its technological and cultural innards would provide as fascinating (although not quite as gross) of a story as that of factory animal farming.

There are many questions I would love answered: How exactly is coordination secured and what are the toughest elements to airport coordination? Where are the lines of cooperation and those of competition between airlines? What factors and values go into the design of the airport? (I know that for one thing, in American airports, there rarely seems to be enough electrical jacks; I am now sitting under the telephones, the only place with jacks in terminal 8 at JFK, and the funny thing is that there are a row of 7 unused phones and only one jack and I am sure it would be more useful to have 1 pay phone and a row of 7 jacks, instead). What sorts of airport technologies have put people out of jobs? What technologies have created new job opportunities? What sorts of social hierarchies are there in airports? Like who runs the big show? Is it a CEO? Or is something more like a university provost? What is standardized by the FAA, and what elements are more flexible, and thus different airport to airport? Is there a sense of camaraderie among airport employees, or are loyalties built primarily among employees of one airline or among the classes of workers? Given that unions are quite strong among airport employees and from the top (pilots) down (food workers), what is the political culture of airports/employees like? (I remember once overhearing a group of machinist and ground crew talking about the ugly face of globalization and NAFTA over coffee and I was dumbfounded and pretty psyched too). Are airports one of the few last remaining places in th US that provides for decent job security? Why do so many of the ground crew have such athletic, bulging calves? :-) Is it a result of the physical demands of the job? Or is it that the type of job (“outdoors” with lots of heavy lifting), attract the athletic types? Do they have to pass certain physical standards as to pilots? Was there always first class seats? Or did that come about when flying became cheaper? Are employees trained to deal with irate passengers? In what ways do pilots bitch about the long waits/delays they also have to endure? What can they do when they are waiting, as we did for an hour last night, during the massive traffic jams that are especially noxious in NYC-area airports? Do pilots have any say in the way airports are run? Why do they consistently provide less chairs than are needed in lounges, even in new terminals, as the one I was in tonight? Do air traffic controllers ever meet face-to-face with pilots or do they largely have a virtual relationship? Are programmers who patch, improve, and build traffic control systems housed in the airports, or elsewhere?

Airports are not only fascinating for technological and sociological reasons but I reckon there is a lot of interesting psychological work that must happen in airports. I imagine that during those long, endless waits in the lounge, on the security lines, on the tarmac, people must often take the time to reflect, on where am I going, where am I coming from, and not in the literal sense but the metaphorical one. I know that I have spent many hours in airports letting my mind wander to places and thoughts in ways that don’t happen as easily or often elsewhere. And in many instances, I don’t think that this propensity to indulge in some reflective thinking, is a matter of time, that is waiting. For me at least, it is the fact that many times when I fly, I am moving between worlds.

While I have flown hundreds of times, I never have been shed of the sense of awe I feel about planes and their ability to shrink space and time so quickly. For me, it is less the act of flying itself (that feels boring, tiring, annoying, mostly because of the insane waits and delays and I never seem to get the right amount of sleep the night before) but the visceral contrast it brings. In the morning my life is of a particular tone and rhythm, currently situated in NYC and by evening, I am back at home in PR, surrounded by thick humidity and the loud sound of coquis. Once there, my as currently configured in NYC, has little direct bearing to those around me. Planes don’t just transport, they shift and convert your inner and outer world…

So, if anyone (who got this far) knows of a good social history of the airport, do tell. I would love to read it.

October 3, 2007


Category: Academic,Books/Articles — Biella @ 3:54 am

I love Susan Sontag for her crisp and biting writings. I like that she takes risks and in the process takes you for a ride through her beautiful imagery. I just finished reading Illness and Metaphor and think that her opening is probably one of my all-time favorites

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerious citizenship. Everyone who is born hold dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves citizens of that other place. I want to describe, not what it is really like to emigrate to the kingdom of the ill and live there, but the punitive or sentimental concocted about that situation: not real geography, but stereotypes of national character.