stuff that’s happening/stuff to do:

  • meetings!
  • i want to apply to be a part of this workshop on work and automation
  • to read: 1, 2, 3

part one: i was originally interested in the overlap i see between open source software projects and grassroots organizing. this now only seems like half of what i’m interested in. we don’t organize just for the hell of it, just like we don’t “build community” for the hell of it. organizing builds collective power. collective power is important to the extent that it results in material improvements to people’s lives. i’m curious about the extent to which the scalability and accessibility of a distributed open source model can be used to expand the reach of and participation in IRL social movements.

part two: everyone’s talking about digital literacy. but to what end? i’m interested in a digital literacy that empowers people as civic participants. i’m interested in a digital literacy that helps activists build tools to leverage power as workers and users of digital platforms. currently, these platforms benefit from intentional information asymmetries, but the reality is that they would not exist without us. how do we leverage this to demand accountability, fair wages, transparency? this looks different in different kinds of cases. in particular, i’m interested in two kinds of recent cases:

  1. instacart strike.
  2. facebook collaboration with police to censor police killing of korryn gaines.

these are technical design challenges. maybe they look like apps or browser extensions or encrypted email lists or a combination of all the above or something else entirely.

so that’s it. those are the things. going forward, i need to work on elaborating what i see as the lay of the land, the problems, and the opportunities here. aside from that, there are some prototypes to be very sketchily sketched and design challenges to think through. everyone’s talking about algorithmic accountability lalala, but what if we never get access to proprietary algorithms? what if, instead, we hack our way around them the way instacart workers did? i’m interested in a digital literacy, a kind of thinking aided by a technical skill set, that makes this possible on a larger scale.

thoughts on 6a68’s thoughts on open product development

jared wrote really interesting posts about open product development and building a community of contributors around test pilot. through emailing him some long rambly thoughts in response, i actually got to think through some ideas i’ve been mulling over around

  • the overlap between grassroots organizing spaces and open source software
  • infrastructure for communities of contributors that enables them continue to grow and learn and build together
  • how to mitigate burnout & other problems

so. ramblings below.

“some things the open product dev piece brought up for me:

– it seems like your “generating and discussing…” section assumes that the test pilot community contains/is made up of people with skill sets that mirror staff mozilla product teams: roughly, ux/ur & dev. so my first question is: is that true? if not, an issue becomes how to improve the pipeline to the test pilot community so that it becomes true. another issue is what if the ratios are off? more ux than devs or vice versa? how can people plug in with different skill sets? or is the test pilot target audience people who can either do user research or dev?

– another thing i’ve seen play out in activist organizing spaces, which actually feel structurally similar to what i’ve seen in open source in some ways, is that people tend to fall into roles. one person always does logistics, one person always writes press releases, the rest of the people always wait to be assigned something, etc. in open source, i wonder if this would play out like: a few people always come up with new product ideas, a few other people always do research stuff, etc. how do you feel about this? should there be an effort for people to try out other roles and build other skill sets? i think there are pros and cons to trying new roles AND really building ONE skill set, so i’m just putting out the question. related: seems like another thing i’m getting at is a power law distribution of labor and credit for contributions. is that sustainable/how will that play out over time? will it lead to burnout in open source in the way it often leads to burnout in activist spaces? if so, is it important to mitigate in some way?

– one last thing! i am not really familiar with different ways mozilla volunteers plug in or how they build community, so take this next part with that grain of salt. in my experience building community IRL, it seems that different kinds of gathering/communicating structures bring different kinds of people together. so i guess i wonder whether discourse forums/forums in general being the primary mode of collaboration means that certain kinds of people will be drawn to or put off by participating? i think you, john, and/or wil actually already brought this up. maybe marketing can help with pitching the collaboration in different ways to different audiences and providing additional/alternative ways to plug in. for example, maybe IRL test pilot hackathons could be a way of reaching folks and bringing people together in a way that the forum wouldn’t.”

coding together at scale

i found a paper i’m really excited about! this finding really sticks out to me: “We find a very low reciprocity of the social ties, which is remarkably different from the findings of studies of other types of social networks.”

this reminds me of another line that’s been stuck in my brain for a few months now: “Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories” from tristan harris’s very insightful article last spring. harris is talking about how so many social technologies hijack our attention and agency. in this context, github’s “low reciprocity of social ties” feels like a positive characteristic. i wonder if there is something here about the importance of weak links in social networks. barabasi talks a little about this in linked which i’m still reading for tom’s class.

i do wish there were more in this study about github projects as nodes for connecting people, even if they’re not exactly collaborators on a branch. i only skimmed, so maybe it actually is in there. either way, excited to have a lead here.

a scientific thing

we are supposed to “Incorporate a scientific layer into your project.”

some scientific layers i’m interested in thinking about are 1. yochai benkler and 2. network theory.

benkler writes and speaks about open source economics, and i want to flip through his book the wealth of networks.

and i’m thinking about network theory because of tom’s class. i don’t necessarily think it’s appropriate to apply mathematical concepts to social worlds, but there may be a dataviz or something in the weak links that are cultivated through open source projects of a certain size.

who are the guantanamo detainees?

do you know? i don’t know. until a few days ago, i’d never taken the time to look through the files that wikileaks published a few years ago. wikileaks has these inmate profiles indexed by inmate number or name.

part of my interest in this is about learning how someone ends up in the atrocious place that is guantanamo without due process. how bad are these bad guys? what kind of bad are they? are they like us? did we have a role in making them? in starting to read these profiles, i’m learning about these men and am particularly interested in the “prior history” section of these documents.

another part of my interest in this data set is something about chelsea manning not being in solitary in vain. if she risked her life to leak this information, we sure as hell better do something good with it, right?


wikileaks.org interface



making a javascript array from ISN and “prior history”



first draft

3 next steps

i see my project in this studio as framing some of the technical things i’m doing outside of class in terms of what it means to build stuff with people; in other words, this project is about collaborative projects as a medium, as process.

3 next steps:

  • sketch out [in words] the main argument/hypothesis that’s floating around in my brain. something something scalable collaboration.
  • pick 3 writers, thinkers, or artists who have said things about this
  • make some wordless gifs or sketches around concepts i learn about

project statement/how i want to spend the semester:

my brain dump/storm raised a bunch of formats, sources, and projects i’m interested in. i’m really interested in the role of the web in producing, revising, distributing ideology and history. that’s too much for one semester. so to narrow things a little: this semester, i’d like to articulate, in words and pictures, something about certain kinds of tech as a medium for collaborative process, and the relationship between collaborative process and ideology.

a funny thing happened on the way to the nsa(.gov)


we talked about traceroute last week in understanding networks. this led me down a thousand rabbit holes, including this instructive powerpoint presentation featuring

Random Traceroute Factoid

•The default starting port in UNIX traceroute is 33434.This comes from 32768 (2^15 or the max value of a signed 16-bit integer) + 666 (the mark of Satan).”


but also more applicable things like address naming conventions and how to notice different possible relationships between network types (p21).


i wanted to see if anything interesting happened when i ran traceroute nsa.gov.

answer: not really. i ran whois on some of these, but they’re just regular ol’ cloud companies in new york and massachusetts and colorado. i guess this makes sense because the nsa probably doesn’t store all of our stuff on the same server that hosts the nsa.gov website.

from there, i tried to find an isis website, thinking that that might be a better way to find an nsa server along a traceroute. it was surprisingly difficult for me to find one via (english) google or twitter. i did learn about a quarterly isis magazine, but it had no web presence to speak of. #printnotdead

googling “nsa traceroute” pulled up a wired article from 2006 which lists the address of the folsom street web carrier hotel in san fran where the nsa was mirroring everyone’s communication. the article said to look for the string tbr2-p012201.sffca.ip.att.net in your traceroute or, really, any att.net string. still no dice. but, per the powerpoint presentation above, i was able to tell that the “sf” in there probably stands for “san francisco”.

it felt like i’d hit a dead end, so i read the manual page for traceroute to see if there were any arguments i could add to my traceroute command to give me more information. -D looked promising:

“When an ICMP response to our probe datagram is received, print
the differences between the transmitted packet and the packet
quoted by the ICMP response.  A key showing the location of
fields within the transmitted packet is printed, followed by the
original packet in hex, followed by the quoted packet in hex.
Bytes that are unchanged in the quoted packet are shown as under-
scores.  Note, the IP checksum and the TTL of the quoted packet
are not expected to match.  By default, only one probe per hop is
sent with this option.”

i dunno, maybe looking at the packet contents could be helpful? here’s a sampling:

from the definition in the manual page, we know the structure of this blob of letters and numbers is

[human-readable(ish) header]

[outbound packet contents]

[inbound packet contents with existing stuff as underscore and new stuff denoted]

so, a few interesting things, although not really what i was looking for:

  • tl decrements every time it’s sent out, and always comes back as 1. this must be the “time to live”!
  • the bytes? bits? under sum always leave as 0 and come back as something slightly different. maybe this is just to notify that it’s a new packet? or maybe the TTL changes the packet a little?
  • the ts always leaves as “00” and comes back as “08”. maybe 00 means outgoing and 08 means incoming? idk, tbh.

eventually, i somehow ended up at what i think is the traceroute spec, which sort of verified pieces of this. hopefully, i can get some more insight during class this week.

see, i told you! rabbit holes…

stupid network & mother earth mother board

the dawn of the stupid network

the difference between smart networks—where scarcity of infrastructure & bandwidth mandated maximizing efficiency of bits, creating services, expansion was expen$ive, endpoints (telco terminals, telephones) were *just* endpoints—to stupid networks—where bandwidth becomes abundant and cheap, bits go in one end and out the other, processing happens at endpoints.

design assumptions of telephone networks: “Theoretically, a local exchange can serve up to 10,000 telephones, e.g., with numbers 762-0000 through 762-9999. The design assumption, though, is that only a certain percentage of these lines, maybe one in 10, are active at any one time. ” when more people use phones, or when the internet happens, this assumption breaks the system.

interesting to note the revenue-generating/value-adding things these companies came up with:

  • call routing
  • caller options (press 1 for…)
  • database lookup based on number you call from

“Stupid Networks have three basic advantages over Intelligent Networks – abundant infrastructure; underspecification; and a universal way of dealing with underlying network details, thanks to IP (Internet Protocol)”

“repertoire of different data handling techniques” makes it possible to handle lots of different kinds of traffic on the same infrastructure.

mother earth mother board

jesus christ, neal stephenson is obnoxious. but once you get past that:

“The cyberspace-warping power of wires, therefore, changes the geometry of the world of commerce and politics and ideas that we live in. The financial districts of New York, London, and Tokyo, linked by thousands of wires, are much closer to each other than, say, the Bronx is to Manhattan.”

“wires have never been perfectly transparent carriers of data; they have always degraded the information put into them.”

“(the distinction between countries and companies is hazy in the telco world)”

“Without rubber and another kind of tree resin called gutta-percha, it would not have been possible to wire the world.”

“Virtually all communications between countries take place through a very small number of bottlenecks, and the available bandwidth simply isn’t that great.”

as opposed to cable over land, where air does not interfere because it’s a bad conductor, cable underwater has this technical challenge: “the ocean serves as the ground wire.”

“Daily and Wall preside over this [FLAG] operation, which is Western at the top and pure Thai at the ground level”

“Nynex and AT&T have their offices a short distance from each other in Manhattan, but the war between them is being fought in trenches in Thailand, glass office towers in Tokyo, and dusty government ministries in Egypt.”

“Cables have always been financed and built by telecoms, which until very recently have always been government-backed monopolies.” privatization of infrastructure was a game-changer.

“In deep water, where the majority of FLAG is located, the work is done by cable ships and has more in common with space exploration than with any terrestrial activity.”

everything goes in a Big Room Full of Expensive Stuff. “Early cable technicians were sometimes startled to see their cables suddenly jerk loose from their moorings inside the station – yanking the guts out of expensive pieces of equipment – and disappear in the direction of the ocean, where a passing ship had snagged them.”

“The first cables carried telegraphy, which is as purely digital as anything that goes on inside your computer. The cables were designed that way because the hackers of a century and a half ago understood perfectly well why digital was better. A single bit of code passing down a wire from Porthcurno to the Azores was apt to be in sorry shape by the time it arrived, but precisely because it was a bit, it could easily be abstracted from the noise, then recognized, regenerated, and transmitted anew.”

cue mr. shannon’s gorgeous drawring:


initial ramblings

this semester, i’m taking a project development studio. i’d like to use the time and structure of this class to think and write about some projects i’ll be working on:

  • the p5-web-editor with cassie
  • a project about networks with surya

these are both very different projects, but i’m interested in thinking about what draws me to them and what they might have in common.

let’s start with the p5 web editor. this is an open-source tool for learning how to code with the creative coding language, p5.js.

the project with surya is different. this is a teaching and advocacy tool meant to make the process of learning about networks engaging and fun. i’ll be working on web episodes and thinking a lot about audience and tbd stuff.

the things that excite me most about any project are 1. the ideas behind the project and 2. who i get to work with. i am totally thrilled to work with both of the people leading these projects because i think they’re thoughtful and creative and kind and really smart.

switching gears. the backdrop of everything always for me is kafka and judith butler and hannah arendt. since i read eichmann in jerusalem a million years ago, i have never stopped being haunted by the idea that what makes people do evil things is a lack of imagination, an inability to think. what leads to this state of affairs? what is the role of bureaucracy here? and ideology? where can i possibly intervene?  what special opportunities does the internet present? demand? what about code? collaborative projects?

both of these projects are open-source or have elements of open-source thinking. i want to use the time in this studio to get specific about the difference between “free” and “collaborative” and “open-source.” they are not all the same. further: i think part of my excitement about open-source comes from a belief in the mcluhan thing that the medium is the message. if we are collaborating, if we are thinking and teaching each other along the way, we cannot be doing harm. of course, this is not always true. i wanna think about when it is true and when it’s not true.