Run your tech into the ground

Every once in a while I get obsessed with getting a new piece of tech. If I just buy that lense I’ll shoot more, if I get this NAS I’ll finally sort my data storage out, etc. This is just me internalizing the consumer culture promise of finding solutions by spending money instead of thinking, and it’s sooo alluring. So anyway, I was thinking of getting a new laptop, and then I came across a post about just that very thing on Lowtechmagazine.com and now I’m feeling consumer shame.

Although capitalism could provide us with used laptops for decades to come, the strategy outlined above should be considered a hack, not an economical model. It’s a way to deal with or escape from an economic system that tries to force you and me to consume as much as possible. It’s an attempt to break that system, but it’s not a solution in itself. We need another economical model, in which we build all laptops like pre-2011 Thinkpads.

Low Tech Magazine, Kris de Decker: How and why I stopped buying new laptops

And although I’m just now writing a post about using my tech until it breaks or really can’t fulfill a necessary function, I just now opened up a new tab to see if I ought to buy a new tablet. Even though I already own a Sony tablet which works. Granted, it’s slow, and I’d like to get something which allows me to use a pressure sensitive stylus – but still, I’ll mostly use it for reading PDF:s so I can actually live with the shortcomings and there’s no reasonable reason for me to look at new ones right now, only unreasonable reasons and procastination.

To my surprise, a young western couple was sitting on the edge of the roof with their legs dangling. I told them it was unsafe because a sniper could pick them off and they also brought attention to Kirk and me. The two ignored us and kept swinging their legs. In the hazy distance, I could see dozens of tanks and support vehicles, but the scene was too far away even for a 400mm lens.

Jeff Widener: Tank man

The back story of the most iconic photograph from the Tianamen square massacre is sobering, but also an inspiring take on what technology allows us to do. Much of what was dangerous to Widener when he took the photo and delivered it to AP and then the world, is today a non-issue (assuming that you have a working cellphone with Internet connection); but at the same time we are nowhere near the same level of control of our technology as he was then, as determined state and private actors can intercept everything digital that you do. (How the NSO group enables state terror) Also, there’s just something impressive with people who know their shit – I mean, I can’t set camera exposure by eye, so am impressed that he did.

MateuszRun your tech into the ground

Pfizer gave my feet blisters!

Yesterday, after weeks and months of waiting, I finally got my chance to get vaccinated against Covid-19. One of the side effects unfortunately turned out to be blistered feet, who would have though! Mind, the blisters were most likely caused by me being late and having to run a couple of kilometers in slippery sneakers, but still!

Today I have a sore arm and a light headache with photophobia – much like the first stages of a cold. Sara had similar symptoms, and if I follow her trajectory I’ll be fine in a day or so. But today I’m spending in bed, catching up on reading.

I came down with Corona a couple of months ago, and it left me really ill for two weeks. I’ve been in worse pain before – nothing matches the agony of a proper stomach bug – but never as prolonged as this. My O2 levels never dipped below 90% but my fever was spiking terribly – at one point I got to 39.5°C and then dropped to 35.5°C in less than an hour, a whirlwind tour of cold sweat and violent shivering, an interesting albeit freightening experience. My breathing was laboured and I got winded just by standing up, not to mention the general fatigue, racking cough and all the other small miseries. Even after the acute symptoms subsided, my lungs felt broken for months afterwards – as if covered in sticky goop – and my sense of smell is still weak and limited in range (the other day I sniffed turpentine – nothing).

I’ll rather suffer any side effects of the vaccine than risk that again, and given that most people seem to tolerate it well I take comfort in the statistics and use this occasion to stay in bed, reading and closing down some of the 150+ browser tabs that I’ve been promising myself I’ll get to shortly…

MateuszPfizer gave my feet blisters!

Curbing the network effect

Imagine that Facebook was only allowed to have 5% of citizens of any given country signed up for their service. Or Google could only track 10% of all google.com search users in any given ad-demographic. The remaining users would be divied up by me-to companies who would just copy the innovators, but it would also allow for other companies to actually innovate service and revenue models – allowing for greater diversity of services and conditions for services; some would be pay-per-use, some would be ad-driven, some might sell you and your family to the secret police, or be funded by state grants. But there would a higher democratic reduncency in a world where no one company can be gamed for unproportional gains.

This could be regulated by government oversight – which is fraught with it’s own problems – or perhaps internationally traded like a carbon credit, with exponential cost increase per user once you reach a limit. I’m sure there are existing systems and ideas out there which could be used, and the deliniation is tricky: Should email be included in such a limit, to curb gmail? How about the iPhone with the iOS / icloud walled garden – is that garden a “social media space” in itself, and should Apple be forced to open up their phone for other app stores, or should there be a limit on phone market share per territory?

There’s an ongoing discussion about the human / ecological costs of large scale farming practices and factory farming – zoonotic diseases, single point-of-failure monocultured crops – so the analogy to societal ills maybe is useful here: If we’re all a bunch of cloned sheeple, reared for our wool and meat by Facefarm, we’re more vulnerable to a coordinated campaign which will give us political worms. The way forward isn’t then to replace one giant farm with another, but rather encourage small farms to flourish by regulating/outlawing the large ones. You’d have to keep a watchful eye on efforts to subvert this – large holders maskerading as small actors – but it will always be the case the people will try to work around either the letter or the spirit of the law.

I was listening to The Vox discussion with Steven Feldstein, author of The Rise of Digital Repression, and the topic was to what extent social media is a net boon or bane for liberal societies, looking at the examples of how Duterte used Facebook to come to power in the Phillipines, Trump in the US etc. Not having read the book I’m uncertain if I share the participants optimism that social media in the end will prove to be a net good – the argument being that with an an accelerated and more all encompassing Internet it will become too difficult for repressive regimes to find a balance between giving people access to communication and restricting the sedicious activity. (I imagine a hand on a throttle, constantly trying to keep the train of technological progress within a narrow band of acceleration.)

But as it’s presented in the podcast, the argument seems a bit naive and the conclusion not at all obvious: People and companies seldom have qualms about making money off of immoral activities, often by equating legality with morality – “if it’s immoral, make it illegal.” There no necessary connection between democratic ideals and social media companies – Apple blocking apps used in Hong Kong demos come to mind – and there’s no mechanism which automatically leads the companies down a democratic path; as the successful dictatorial capitalism of China (and the bustle of Western companies to establish a foothold) should prove.

The argument for a laissez-faire approach to software and social media is that by allowing unfettered access to the public, services are created which then battle it out in the marketplace, and once a platform reaches a critical mass of users the network effect comes into play and their success is self-fulfilling; You are on Instagram because everyone is on Instagram. For the company, what follows is a re-evaluation of what your business model is, and since the only thing you can sell is your audience it’s only natural that what you are developing is ways to package and sell your audience in as many ways possible. You’re not in the business to offer your users new functions –  that’s just part of your costs – you are in the business of selling your members to your customers, who can be advertisers, politicians or governments (repressive or otherwise). As long as the social media space is unregulated, this will alway be the outcome because it will always be more profiteable to make more money than making less money, and if you’re making the most money, you win.

So I’m thinking about how the damage could be limited, without curbing the possibilty of actual innovation and making a living off of online social stuff. How about setting a hard limit on how big services are allowed to become, while at the same time enforcing interoperability to allow people to move their data? We can look at the history of how monopolies were broken up (when governments still cared about that) but the point of breaking up companies here would not be because they’re stifling innovation or (unavoidably) use unfair tacticts to keep competitors down, but that they’re bad for societies and bad for people. We don’t want to replace a hegemonic system with another, we don’t want them to appear in the first place.

My assumption is that social media, and in extension any free online services, are overall detrimental to society the more users they have. I’m unsure where to draw the line of which services should be included, and I certainly don’t have any pat suggestions for how to regulate them, but it seems a better approach to have a discussion on “what in society is worth preserving and promoting, and how would a framework look that regulates companies based on that?” rather than “Lets ask Facebook to be nicer”.

MateuszCurbing the network effect

A more evenly distributed future

Johnny Mnemonic: Fake head controlled by hand movements

Unemployed and making $300 per month on Twitch, she could no longer afford her apartment. But just before Miko was forced to pack it in, she had a breakthrough: Viewers, she discovered after three months of slow progress, would happily pay to murder her.

Kotaku, Nathan Grayson: CodeMiko Is The Future Of Streaming, Unless Twitch Bans Her First

It’s fitting that the post title is a Gibson quote: My first memory – outside of comics and such – of someone doing a real-time video conferencing face replacement is from Johnny Mnemonic. Perhaps peak “even distribution” was reached by cat lawyer and we’re not as easily impressed anymore, but the article shows that you can’t automate talent and how much work is required to get by if you want to innovate.

He wasn’t prepared to name what the experience pointed to: that he had been visited by my sister’s ghost. Like other secular North Americans, he is aware that we must uphold a certain paradigm and say “this cannot be.” After all, Doug considers himself a rationalist: the son of an engineer, himself an amateur astronomer. Nevertheless, the sensed presence mattered deeply to him. “It was,” he said, “a remarkable, indelible experience.”

The Walrus, Patricia Pearson: Why do we see dead people?

I’m very much of the “this cannot be” persuasion, but there’s something to be said of accepting your experiences as meaningful even if they’re not “real” in a measured sense. I’m not sure if I can mention any examples that I myself follow, but I wish that I’d be more open-minded and see what the consequences of an experience are, rather than get stuck on a notion of “this is imaginary.” This comes up when I and Sara discuss supernaturan stuff, since she’s much more open to those notions than I – I’m fine with not knowing why something is happening, while Sara is closer to taking something as read, so it ends up as a stalemate if all we’re concerned with what something is, rather than what it can mean or how it effects us.

It’s a lovely thought, but the problem is that if a fact checker had a go at this book and removed all the howlers, there would be absolutely nothing left. As I said in the beginning, Wolfe’s goal in this book was to smash one or two of our intellectual icons, and an icon did end up smashed to pieces. The problem is that Wolfe is that icon.

3:AM Magazine, E.J Spode: Tom Wolfe’s Reflections on Language

Spodes review of Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of speech is a fantastic breakdown of an apparently poorly researched critique of Chomsky’s theory of language. It’s rejuvenating to read a text where the reviewer actually has put time into tracking down faults and fact checking statements, not taking them on authority.

The review also struck a chord with me more intimately: Occasionally when I write about things or discuss them with my friends, I have a tendency to view the discussion as a posturing more than an exchange of ideas. There are always ways of talking within a group which has more to do with positioning yourself socially and reinforcing a communal behaviour or belief than with anything else – and that is fine and good and how discourse works – but when there’s too much of that, when banter is not just the mortar but also the bricks and beams and windows of our metaphorical communal house, it makes for a crappy house.

Or to put it another way: I get tired of myself when I realise that I’m talking shit, and have to remind myself to stop.

MateuszA more evenly distributed future

What is this place / This is the place

There’s a clearing in the forest close to our allotment garden which I like. A picture, even a stitched panorama as below, doesn’t make it justice since the cliffs are enveloping you where you stand – very imposing.

I’m trying to map it from as many different perspectives as possible – as an art project, since I don’t have the qualifications to call it cultural geography – and I threw up a project site here: mmm.page/monocultured. So far I’ve done some drone video with Hendrik Zeitler and some tracing / photography work at the site. It’s fun, but the project keeps branching and now I’m looking into getting police heli footage and orienteering maps of ths site. I’m not sure where it’ll end up, but right now I’m just collecting materials. As always, my work veers towards a book of some sort, but this time around I’m actually tempted to do an exhibition. I made a timelapse of this site a couple of years ago, and whenever I’m up here I keep thinking of how to make the place justice

As a side note I can really recommend mmm.page as a DIY pagebuilder – I haven’t had this much fun doing a homepage for years. Compared to the pained existence of the portfolio part of this domain – monocultured.com – the mmm pages take seconds to update and the playful process is so far removed from doing UX sketches and flowcharts as can be. Great fun!

MateuszWhat is this place / This is the place

Something funny just happened

I used some free time this evening to wash all the windows in our apartment, and I once again cursed our shitty squeegees – twice a year we complain that we have to get a proper one – while soaping the glass and doing my best not to fall out. We only have six medium windows, and what with clearing the plants and stuff off the sills it took maybe two hours.

So imagine this: I’ve walked around the house with a bucket and stuff, cleaned the windows – one pair I did twice because the streaks bothered me – and once I’m done, I’ve put everything away, and I’ve put all the plants back on the sills, and literally the last thing I put back on the sill in our bedroom is a spray bottle we use for soaping the plants when they get bugs, and I put it back so hard that I spray soapy water on the window, where it starts to dribble, leaving streaks.

I actually laughed out loud. Isn’t that just the funniest thing?

MateuszSomething funny just happened

Master of this realm

There’s a post on a UFO book where the reviewer discusses the uses of belief in the paranormal, cryptids & conspiracies.

By treating the iconography of the weird as an equal-opportunity bin of elements to be combined with postmodern abandon, the artist of the weird rebels against what passes for expertise in cryptid and UFO research. What results is a collage that cheerfully announces the meaninglessness of its subject. Sontag’s response to Greenberg was that he missed the fact that, well, kitsch can be fun, especially when rendered as camp. True enough, but we should nonetheless be careful: all bumper stickers purport to offer equivalent truth claims.

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft: Why look at flying saucers

In the end, the camp eats itself and is presented as non-camp. At some point you’ll start to actually enjoy italy-disco, the initial irony forgotten. It doesn’t take more than to read the comments to the above post.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version. […] The theories that didn’t work, disappeared while others got up-voted. It’s ingenious. It’s AI with a group-think engine. The group, led by the puppet masters, decide what is the most entertaining and gripping explanation, and that is amplified. It’s a Slenderman board gone amok.

Reed Berkowitz: A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon

The analysis of how Q is similar to an ARG, and the process by which ideas are generated and used/discarded rings true, and it makes a compelling case for why it’s easier to drive a conspiracy forward than dispelling it – the driving force is a stream which will simply flow around any objections you put in its way.

In the hours following the Arizona call, a paranoid conspiracy theory spread rapidly on Parler and in other right-wing online forums: Voters in conservative counties had been given felt-tip pens that supposedly made vote-counting machines reject the ballots that they marked for Trump. The following night, Trump supporters protesting what came to be called #SharpieGate gathered outside the Maricopa County ballot-counting facility in Phoenix. In a development previously unthinkable to liberals who have long dismissed Fox as state media for the Trump administration, the Arizona protesters began chanting, “Fox News sucks!”

Renée DiResta: Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Its Divorce From Reality

The worlds fascination with the Trump government and US elections is odd. Granted, Trump is a walking insult to humanity and the intellectual trainwreck that is US politics has reached new lows, but I’m uncertain what the takeaway is. A warning of things to come? A sliding into authoritarianism or even fascist world politics? The balkanization of discourse?

The fallout of Wednesday’s events will continue to echo for months, perhaps years to come. For all their seeming partisan difference, the center-left and center-right of US politics have a shared response for dealing with the crisis: it is to demand a greater number of cops and the removal of the social media accounts of the worst perpetrators. But neither strategy is in the interests of the majority of Americans or in particular of the US left.

[…]

In the face of a growing far-right, these are going to be the issues that will dominate the next four years: whether to depend on the state and social media platforms to take on Trump’s supporters, or whether we as anti-fascists need to build our own strength.

David Renton: More cops, fewer platforms: the risky fallout of the Capitol riot

Back when I was living in London, collaborating on the periphery with Indymedia, there was a guy who’d made a name for himself by using his personal wealth to travel the world helping progressives/revolutionary orgs setting up online infrastructure. Back then most homepages were cobbled together by people in the movements – there was no social media beyond bulletin boards and such – but once we got smartphones, the mobile ecology lowered the threshold to connect and we got complacent: If I’m tossed from Facebook I’ll just sockpuppet myself back, no biggie. But what to do when most of your movement is banned? How do you get in touch with folks when your address book is full of nonexistent street names?

I’m more and more coming down in a tech negative camp, where I’m unsure if the past 15 years of Internet developement is a net good or not. Sean Carrol had Cory Doctorow on his podcast a while back, and while Doctorow is partial to purple hyperbole, he is knowledgeable and makes good points – the episode is worth listening to if you’re thinking about the world as envisioned by monopolistic tech and the rise of authoritarian states as functioning alternatives to democratic rule.

1. (THREAD) So, it seems like the deplatforming debate is once again kicking off, so I thought I would introduce some of the earlier work that was done in this area back when ISIS was buck wild on social media. What have we learned over the last six years might be useful today:

Amarnath Amarasingam Twitter thread

Amarasingams thread is a good resource on the discussion on deplatforming in general, with how it affected ISIS efforts. But deplatforming isn’t necessarily a good practice in itself, even if the effects in this case are good – it basically changes the progressive struggle to be one of wielding the Twitter TOS as a banhammer; but that hammer is only as useful as Twitter chooses to make it, and the step from banning extreme right-wing speech to extreme speech in general doesn’t seem very large nor difficult; just look at the chilling effect of Patriot Act on radical environmental groups which suddenly are bunched together.

Deplatforming might be a good thing, but for the wrong reasons: The act of being thrown out of polite society might radicalize you. From my point of view it might be good for creating more militant progressive movements; but that goes both ways and will radicalize fascists and religious nuts as well.

Getting suspended is also an important way for members of the Baqiya community to know that you are trustworthy, that you have paid your dues. “There was a time when everybody wanted to get suspended. Even I thought, ‘ah must be cool to get suspended and receive all that support from friends,’” Umm Hafida tells me. “When I got suspended, lots of people were saying, ‘welcome to the Baqiya family!’” She went on: “It is considered as a kind of shahada [martyrdom]. That’s why we say, my Twitter account just got shahada, Alhamdulillah! Suspensions show others that we are on the right path, and spreading the truth.”

Amarnath Amarasingam: What Twitter Really Means for Islamic State Supporters

It’s not the main point of the article, but in the quote above the Twitter TOS has become the arbitrer of what is fought against. “If Twitter banned me I must be right” as a substitution of “If voting changed anything it’d be illegal.”

Facebook has shut down the accounts of one of the biggest left wing organisations in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) (1). The Socialist Workers Party Facebook page – as well as account of local pages – have been removed from Facebook with no explanation given. Those targeted say it amounts to a silencing of political activists.

swp.org.uk press releaseHackernews discussion
MateuszMaster of this realm

Spittle and snot in the age of Corona

Just like most other people I’ve done my best to keep my distance to others, wash my hands and refrain from licking doorknobs, but yesterday I got a positive PCR-test for Covid19 so I’ve officially lost the game. Like one of those “whoever keeps their hand on the car the longes wins it” competitions, I accidentally wiped my nose and was disqualified.

As for symptoms, it’s like a shitty flu so far. My body aches, I’m caughing and sneezing, I get winded easily – it’s shit. But O2 levels are Ok and my lips aren’t blue, so I just have to suck it up for a week or however long it’ll take. I’m hoping long-Covid will pass me by, but it’s scary to listen to TWIV and hearing how diverse and unpredicteable the consequences can be for some. Statistics are on my side, but I still occasionally buy a lottery ticket so that’s only partially comforting.

When I was hurting the most the other day, a comparison struck me: That feeling of all muscles aching, of all joints complaining, of laboured breathing and brainfog – it’s basically how I feel after I’ve done a couple heavy squat or deadlift sets: All wrung out, confused and achey. But to reach that level of exhaustion I need to try hard and here I am, getting the same feeling from a teensy-weensy virus.

It’s possible that others in my household have got it – so it’s throat swabs all around, and schedules thrown into dissarray. Should it prove that we all have it, assuming that we get through it alright, one upshot would be that we have a certain level of immunity and thereby lower risk of passing it on.

But more than the disease itself it’s the sensation of being contagious and dirty that’s different – I feel polluted in a way I don’t when I have a run-of-the-mill flu. We’ve been huddling at home, protective runes inscribed in alco-gel on hands and foreheads, but we forgot to burn the correct amount of sage or whatever and now it’s like everyone knows I’ve been deepthroating lepers.

MateuszSpittle and snot in the age of Corona

Show me what you got!

This here blog is the most active part of my online stuff. I occasionally buy domains thinking that I’ll use them for something awesome but I never get it off the ground. The reasons are as multitudinous as the faces of God in an oilspill, but there’s a regression of realisations each time: I have an idea, I need to draw the idea, I need to design the homepage of the idea, I need to code the site for the idea, I haven’t done any coding since before CSS hit puberty and the www has become frightening and I feel inadequate.

But I have a small project gearing up, and once again here I am. Looking at static site generators (Hugo, 11ty, Jekyll) on the one hand, and website builders on the other (Nicepage, Coffeecup, Sparkle) and I’m like that starving ass stuck between two haystacks. The SSG:s seem nice because they offer an analogue to what I remember of the web – fast code, no fluff, all content in a folder structure I can keep in my head – but my ageing brain doesn’t like Markup, and the smallest snag in the command line makes me sigh heavily. The website builders look nice, but me still remembers the bad old days of Frontpage and Dreamweaver and the resulting abominations which worked differently in different browsers; and of course I harbor a snobbish resentment towards anything WYSIWYG, because what part of my personality indicates I wouldn’t?

The upside of website designers is that I could focus on the actual design and get stuff done. Going the SSG route would force me to dip–the–tip into html/css/JS again and learn something new, perhaps giving me some ideas and useful skills. Haystack 1, haystack 2.

Currently, monocultured.com uses Koken which is a lightweight CMS for photography portfolios, but it hasn’t been updated in four years and I’ve had some trouble with image caching and slow loading – so instead of fondling the current site into shape I’m thinking of redoing it from scratch. Is that a stupid approach? Should I by now realise that the thought “this time I’ll get it right” is an excuse for bike-shedding?

Another step in my lets-get-started regression is that I don’t know where to find info on this kind of stuff. I can find occasional reviews or best-practice articles on Hacker News, or more in depth stuff on A list apart, but I’ve spent two–three hours searching for evaluations of site builders but all I find are posts & videos by annoying shits comparing features in order to earn affiliate kickbacks. I’m sure the information is out there somewhere, but it’s just become too darn difficult for me to find; Google has been SEO’d to shit and is unhelpful, and I don’t where else to start. Reddit? Mefi?

MateuszShow me what you got!

On writing and lifting

Malcolm Gladwells suggestion that it takes ten thousand hours before you’ve mastered something has been discussed, shat upon and praised – which is a testament to how good Gladwell is at getting attention, if not to the value of what he’s saying – but it seems a trivial thing; if you do something conscientiously for a longish time you’ll get better at it.

When I was a kid I was so sure of my literary merits that when I began writing a Stephen King style novel I started with the acknowledgement page. Then I gave up on the novel twenty pages in, because – obviously – I found out that writing can be a slog, requiring revisions and research and thought and knowledge that I only pretended to possess. With time I left messy piles of chewed sour grapes on the floor, and moved on to ambitions which were more directly rewarding.

With that preamble out of the way, hopefully properly presenting myself as a chastised adult with realistic expectations, etc etc, here’s a short announcement that I’ve signed up on a course of “creative writing” at Umeå University, and it’s bloody terrifying. I’ve become so used to being the teacher – or collegue – discussing the texts of others, that I’m really uncomfortable for putting my own writing – nay, the draft of my typing – on display for group discussion. This will be an interesting experience. We will be writing poetry, for goodness sake, and I can already hear the avoidance cogs of my mind shuffle into gear – “I’ll do a cut-up experiment” or “let’s paraphrase a famous poem” – anything but something which might bruise my fragile ego…

I have a clear goal with the powerlifting I’m doing. I’m hoping to deadlift 200kg at some point, and with the wind at my back and a nosebleed I might be able to do 155kg right now. But that’s Ok, I don’t have anything to prove to anyone else, I just want to reach that round number, and in the meantime I’m training (sometimes just exercising) because it feels good. But what are the criteria for succeeding with my writing? How do you weight 200kg in writing, and who will judge whether the lift was well executed?

MateuszOn writing and lifting