June 30, 2008


Category: Tech — Biella @ 6:56 am


This blog has moved to this address [http://www.gabriellacoleman.org/blog/]
New RSS feed [http://gabriellacoleman.org/blog/?feed=rss2]

June 29, 2008


Category: Geekitude,Humor,Tech — Biella @ 3:34 am

A number of weeks ago, I asked for some help concerning good, geeky web comics and got some nice responses. While in Brazil, Pablo pointed me out to a home-grown strip, Nerdson. Makes me wonder about the other non-English geek comics out there.

June 28, 2008

Barista rants about stupid customers at Starbucks

Category: Academic,Books/Articles — Biella @ 5:14 am

Who knew that rants at Starbucks could be the subject of a seemingly interesting lingustic article.

On Anthropology, Participant Observation, and Non-Places

Category: Academic,Anthropology — Biella @ 2:10 am

When you are in a foreign city, Dakar, Tunis, Tokyo, the spaces and sights are disorienting for they unfamiliar. But there are a few spots (hotels, supermarkets), that bring you back the familiar and these places have been theorized by French Anthropologist Marc Auge as non-spaces. Here is a nice interview with Auge on the difference between ethnology, anthropology, as well as his description of non-places:

I tried to characterize these new emerging spaces by the term “non-places” which empirically makes note of the extension of these new spaces in our world; spaces of circulation giving us the sense that the earth is small, spaces of communication (possibly virtual spaces), or even of consumption, since a large part of what circulates aims to put products into circulation (and possibly the men who produce them) such that the activity of consumption reproduces society itself. Such spaces of circulation, of communication and consumption, including the technical capabilities that make it possible for them to be visited or concentrated (the airport, the supermarket, the freeway, etc.), are what I have designated by the term “non-place”.

June 27, 2008

Dear lazy lazy lazy web

Category: Tech — Biella @ 10:37 am

I think it is time for me to upgrade my digital camera and while I would like a SLR, I think I am going to stick to a small non-SLR digital camera. I am looking for a high quality one, preferably with a wide-angle lens such as with this camera (which is one of my choices). Are there any cameras that folks have that they love?/hate?/recommend? Feel free to leave comments or drop me a line

June 25, 2008

The Cultural Significance of Free Software

Category: Academic,Anthropology,Chris_Kelty,Hackers,Open Access,Tech — Biella @ 6:33 am

When it comes to research and writing, anthropologists are notorious for being slow as molasses. It takes, on average, 9 years to finish grad school and then another 3-6 years before you write and publish your first book. Such is the sometimes frustrating pace of academia. But sometimes it is worth the wait as this new book, Two Bits, the Cultural Significance of Free Software by the anthropologist of science and technology Chris Kelty, makes clear.

I am pretty intimate with the details of the book as ck was one of my dissertation committee members. I have read earlier versions and was fortunate enough to teach the final version to a small group of graduate students last spring. While there have been previous books on the subject of open source or peer-to-peer production more generally, this is the first book to delve deep, analytically and historically, into the cultural significance of free software. And the best part is that ck managed (I am not sure how but he did) to convince Duke University Press to release the whole book under a CC license. So download it to your heart’s delight and if you find it useful, do order a treeware copy (as you can’t beat that for easy and comfortable reading).

For the developers out there, I would suggest starting with the introduction, which provides an initial overview of some of the main themes he develops and then I would dig into part two where the historical chapters reside and then loop back to the theoretical chapters in part one or continue to part three.

Trust me, these will fascinate and surprise even those geeks with a relatively deep historical sense of this world. In fact, my very favorite academic piece on free software exists in these pages: and is the chapter on the history of the actual conflict between James Gosling and Richard Stallman that led to the creation of the GNU General Public License. Here is a small excerpt to whet your appetite:

In brief the controversy was this: in 1983 James Gosling decided to sell his version of EMACS—a version written in C for UNIX called GOSMACS—to a commercial software vendor called Unipress. GOSMACS, the second most famous implementation of EMACS (after Stallman’s itself ), was written when Gosling was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. For years, Gosling had distributed GOSMACS by himself and had run a mailing list on Usenet, on which he answered queries and discussed extensions. Gosling had explicitly asked people not to redistribute the program, but to come back to him (or send interested parties to him directly) for new versions, making GOSMACS more of a benevolent dictatorship than a commune. Gosling maintained his authority, but graciously accepted revisions and bug-fixes and extensions from users, incorporating them into new releases. Stallman’s system, by contrast, allowed users to distribute their extensions themselves, as well as have them included in the “official” EMACS. By 1983, Gosling had decided he was unable to effectively maintain and support GOSMACS—a task he considered the proper role of a corporation.
[ . . .]
Indeed, the general irony of this complicated situation was certainly not as evident as it might have been given the emotional tone of the debates: Stallman was using code from Gosling based on permission Gosling had given to Labalme, but Labalme had written code for Gosling which Gosling had commercialized without telling Labalme—conceivably, but not likely, the same code. Furthermore, all of them were creating software that had been originally conceived in large part by Stallman (but based on ideas and work on TECO, an editor written twenty years before EMACS), who was now busy rewriting the very software Gosling had rewritten for UNIX. The “once proud hacker ethic” that Labalme mentions would thus amount not so much to an explicit belief in sharing so much as a fast-and-loose practice of making contributions and fixes without documenting them, giving oral permission to use and reuse, and “losing” records that may or may not have existed—hardly a noble enterprise.
[. . .]

The story is a lively one, punctuated with some great e-mail “moments,” and gives you a play-by-play sense of how it is that free software become so entangled with the law and how the unwritten norms that guided sharing were violated to then become transformed, explicit, and written.

The other chapter that will also fascinate those who want a deeper sense of this history is on UNIX and its role in creating the technical and collaborative conditions necessary to secure the explosion of free software years later. “The story of the norms of sharing source code is, not by accident,” writes Kelty, “also the history of the UNIX operating system.” This connection has been made by others but not shown in any historical detail as it is done in this book.

For those interested in more anthropological issues, the first few chapters is where this type of more conceptual theorizing is at. Chris Kelty introduces the master trope of his book: the recursive public which is an idea that feeds into a longer academic debate, inaugurated by Jurgen Habermas, on the role of publicity, dialogue, and circulation of ideas and texts in cementing a democratic sphere. Many others, such as Charles Taylor, Michael Warner, and Nancy Fraser have since refigured and rehashed the meaning publics and public debate but there have been few ethnographies on the topic. It is here where Chris Kelty intervenes most forcefully to conceptualize publics in explicitly ethnographic terms and in an arena—technology and the Internet—which is often left undertheorized by cultural theorists. There is a lot more in the book (the third section examines some of the various political modulations of free software, such as Connexions and Creative Commons) but instead of saying any more, I will just leave you with his definition of a recursive public and again urge you to check out the book for yourself!

“A recursive public is a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence as a public; it is a collective independent of other forms of constituted power and is capable of speaking to existing forms of power through the production of actually existing alternatives.”

June 24, 2008

Lost in Translation

Category: Humor,Tech — Biella @ 5:09 am

I bet this rings familiar to many readers of this blog.

June 12, 2008

Free Speech: A Comparative Perspective

Category: Canada,Free Speech,Politics — Biella @ 4:00 pm

While free speech rights are valued and recognized in most liberal democracies, the degree and scope of these rights are by no means uniform. The United States, which has the most expansive free speech protections in the world, actually stands apart as this New York Times article on the subject makes clear.

The article covers familiar ground (at least for those who follow free speech debates) but it does so well and discusses an interesting case now unfolding in Canada, concerning a pretty inflammatory magazine article denouncing Islam. The magazine is currently under trial for violating provincial hate laws.

June 8, 2008

Silent Revolutions: The Ironic Rise of Free and Open Source Software and the Making of a Hacker Legal Consciousness

Category: Academic,F/OSS,IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:12 am

So I am giving a talk this Friday at the University and here is the English introduction to my talk/paper and below is the Portuguese one. It starts at 9 am in Porto Alegre, Brazil and is being streamed.

*O Departamento de Pós-Graduação da Antropologia e a Associação Software
Livre.org convidam:
Palestra com a antropóloga Gabriella Coleman*_
professora da New York University (NYU)

*Quando:* Sexta-feira, dia 13 de junho, às 9h
*Onde:* Auditório do ILEA, Campus do Vale – UFRGS
*Entrada:* Gratuita
*Transmissão web: *tv.softwarelivre.org

_Revoluções Silenciosas:_*
*O Irônico Surgimento do Software Livre e de Código Aberto
**e a Construção de uma Consciência Legal Hacker*

A palestra oferece uma análise antropológica e histórica do
surgimento da comunidade de software livre e de código aberto,
procurando mostrar como, ao longo de duas décadas, hackers e
entusiastas do software livre garantiram para si um domínio de
autonomia legal para a produção de software. Em uma época
marcada por profundas transformações no regime de Propriedade
Intelectual, a comunidade de software e de código aberto se
organiza cultivando uma acentuada consciência das transformações
no âmbito legal. O objetivo da palestra é o de demonstrar como e
quando se cruzaram as trajetórias parcialmente independentes das
transformações nas leis de propriedade intelectual com a
consolidação do “movimento” de software livre, para se tornarem
histórias inseparáveis voltadas à disputa pelo futuro das
tecnologias – especialmente o computador pessoal e a Internet.
Com este foco, será discutida uma nova prática social de
produção de tecnologia que fornece uma nova visão de mundo
insurgente e que desafia as justificativas neoliberais que
animam a expansão das leis de propriedade intelectual. Nesta
discussão, ao invés de oferecer histórico abrangente, serão
apresentados exemplos selecionados da história do movimento de
software livre e da globalização das leis de propriedade
intelectual, com vistas à caracterização da prática de produção,
distribuição e utilização de Software Livre e de Código aberto
nos Estados Unidos.

Anthropologocial Wonders and Myopias North and South

Category: Academic,Anthropology,F/OSS,IP Law,Tech — Biella @ 2:28 am

Four years ago, the last time I was in Brazil, I came as an anthropologist-in-training to attend and give a talk at Debconf4 held in Porto Alegre. I have returned to this city in the south, again in the winter, but this time I have come back as an anthropologist who is giving a talk at the department of anthropology at the UFRGS, based on my research conducted many years ago. This time, thanks to my (really friendly and energetic) hosts, I am seeing far more of the actual city, its beautiful and aaaamaazing sunsets, its outlying neighborhoods, and even its subcultures.

This has been my first foreign trip where I am interacting primarily with anthropologists and this has been really interesting for me. On the one hand, because of the language difference, there is a lot that is strange and hard for me to follow and I am acutely aware of the general and particular economic gulf between north and south and its impact on students (books are expensive, traveling for conferences is very difficult, and even applying to graduate schools in the north can be impossible because it costs so much to apply to each school!) On the other hand, the methods and subjects of study, the style of analysis, and the teaching are all very familiar, making me feel like I am part of a discipline that (thankfully) transcends national borders. Many of the projects I learned about–the tensions between free software advocacy and development, the role of memory among fan’s of a “corny” country/Gaucho singer from this area and the “surgical management” of intersex (hermaphrodite) newborns were some of the most interesting projects I have come across and gobbled as much information about them as I could.

I was also struck, yet again, by the deep myopias of anthropology, north and south. My own project, which focuses mostly on white, American and European hackers, often does not strike as culturally authentic enough because, well, the people I study are white, American and European (and I am slowly coming to see that if you study the so-called white and male or the North American/European elements of technology and the Internet and the law, you are probably white and male yourself and anything having to do with ethnicity/gender is usually the province of female academics, which I find really problematic).

If I had carried out my first project in Brazil, where there is a foreign language, where there is a long tradition of studying various groups, then my project would have been stamped by that mysterious aura of authenticity/approval. On the other hand, two of the students here (those that worked on free software and the country singer) complained that their papers have yet to be accepted by the Brazilian Anthropological Association for being too strange, non-traditional, and it seems in their case, the problem is that they are studying urban Brazilian, popular culture (which for me would have just been “just” the thing to study). We are located far apart but find ourselves in similar positions by virtue of studying something geographically close to where we live, which is confused and misperceived as being culturally close to our world. But if there is something I wish to hammer into my students and other anthropologists is that there is tremendous plurality and multiplicity within our own societies. We can travel far, in the cultural sense, just by staying home and opening our eyes a little wider.

Another nice experience is that I am learning a tremendous amount about free software politics and development from the graduate student, Luis Felipe, who is really responsible for getting me down here. He found me on IRC many moons ago and finally we have been able to compare notes and have long conversations about free software, the differences in how we can gather data due to gender, and a topic close to me, which is the tension between the political and apolitical in free software.

Our relationship is at once based on friendship and also one of mentoring. And it reminds me of others who have also mentored me and how crucial this mentoring was to the development of my own work. One of my most important mentors, Chris Kelty, just published his book on Free Software (and I will soon write an entry about the book but the WHOLE THING IS ONLINE) and so it felt quite nice that we were discussing what I think his one of his most amazing chapters on the creation of the copyleft in our class on Friday. Not only was the topic about the genesis of the first free software license appropriate for a class on IP, but in many ways, because of his mentoring, I have gotten to where I am and so it felt also appropriate to honor and recognize that genealogy in my own work.