Joho the BlogDecember 2016 - Joho the Blog

December 21, 2016

Pushing back against Trump: The techie meetup

I’m at an open meeting held by Maciej Ceglowski, co-hosted by Heather Gold, for techies to get together to think about how we can ameliorate the Trump Effect. It’s being held under the Chatham House Rule. It’s a packed house of 100+ people. Most are programmers. Probably under 15% are women. Almost all are white. We know from a show of hands that a healthy number were not born in this country. Few thought Trump would win. I seem to be the oldest person in the room. As usual.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Maciej says that we have a month before the inauguration and we shouldn’t waste it. “…hear from people from outside of our community who know how to organize”He characterizes the recent meeting of Silicon Valley CEOs with Trump as a knuckling under by the participants. We should be pushing from below, he says. Maciej says we are here tonight also to hear from people from outside of our community who know how to organize and have an effect.

The first speaker is Bruce Schneier, who gave me permission to name him; no Chatham House Rule was harmed with this entry. (Bruce’s comments are drawn from a recent post.) The election was so close that you can’t draw conclusions, but the outcome sure changed the narrative, he says. Bruce talks about four things to do in the Trump years: 1. Fight the fights. That means playing whack-a-mole. We’re going to lose a lot of those battles, but our goal should be to lose as few and as little as possible. 2. Prepare for the fight. “The more we can convince corporate America to disarm, the safer we’ll be.” 3. Prepare the groundwork for the future. 4. Solve the actual problems — the ones that are coming despite or because of Trump. “If things go really bad really fast, a lot of this becomes irrelevant.,” he notes. “The hardest thing is to not fall into despair…The election exposed some really deep problems in society.” We need to address those problems now. “Treat this as if the nation caught cowpox, not smallpox”“Treat this [Trump’s presidency] as if the nation caught cowpox, not smallpox,” i.e. a disease that inoculates us against the fatal version.

The second speaker is a refugee advocate. There are about 400 sanctuary cities/towns/states. “Not Massachusetts. Not yet.” Sanctuaries limit police collaboration with ICE. The fight is at the state level, and many states are ahead of Massachusetts in this. It now becomes more important to provide tuition to any student who graduates from HS no matter their immigration status. Mass. Gov. Baker in June aligned himself with Pres. Obama’s massive deportation policy. There’s a Boston initiative to provide public defenders for people in immigration court. People should contact their local legislators and ask them to support the TRUST act.

The third speaker is a civil liberties activist. S/he agrees with the first two speakers that the action is going to be in the states. Her/His TL;DR: “We’re fucked.” The Mass. legislature is Democratic but conservative. S/he urges us to send messages to our legislators. Especially important: Call them on the phone. “Pick one thing that matters to you a lot. Get people in your neighborhood together, and have a meeting” with your legislator. S/he suggests we support the CCOPS
(“Community Control Over Police Surveillance”) bill that Cambridge is considering. She ends by saying that while federal action will primarily be defensive, we can still build power. Also, support the ACLU.

The fourth speaker is from a domestic workers activist group. S/he has us say as one that we’re ready to fight. “It’s good to remember how mopey privileged people like me allow ourselves to be.”(It’s good to remember how mopey privileged people like me allow ourselves to be. Of course, as a stalwart introvert I could not bring myself to join the chant. But anyway.) S/he works on building alliances between labor and tech. “This is a moment when we can really come together.” Massachusetts has the most advanced bill supporting domestic workers. S/he wants to know how many of us have friends, actual friends, who are undocumented. If so, we should understand the forces that cause people to uproot themselves. “The day after the election, everyone was crying, because hope had been taken away from them.” Over 60% of undocumented workers pay income taxes on their own, with no help from their employers. “We need your help because tech is everything. Also, you’re white.” [Laughter] “It’s really important for tech to lead, and to represent Mass as a kind of liberation zone across the nation. We have to build an alternative to the tech CEOs who normalized Trump. We need to be building alternative leaders and reps and not cede the ground of who is speaking for tech. We need distributed resistance across the country, and where’s the infrastructure for that? “We need you guys to do that.” E.g., How do we make our membership lists and databases secure?“ Should we be talking about sanctuary companies where people feel safe when they come to work?” Should we be talking about sanctuary companies where people feel safe when they come to work?

Maciej: How do we build tools that let people organize without being weapons that can be used against them?

The fifth is a labor lawyer. Three pieces of good news: 1. The national labor laws will survive Trump. 2. Because Trump says he’s a champion of the working class, it will be hard for him to attack unions. 3. Tech workers have more knowledge and power than most workers; it’s harder to replace them. S/he explains how you can form a union. You should be able to have an election within a month of filing. S/he also talks about whistleblowing: If you can find a statute being violated, you can assert that and refuse to do it. “This is a good time for people to start joining unions.”

Now there are lightning talks, introduced by Heather Gold (See TummelVision). I’m not going to try to capture them with any completeness. Some points made:

  • A union organizer says that the only way forward is to have in-person conversations. “We’re motivated by emotions…It’s about the relationships.”

  • “Make sure that the people working on tech in govt are in part of this conversation.”

  • The rubber hits the road with the local immigrant worker groups

  • “Rally to the defense of workers.”

  • Support SURJ
    : Showing Up for Racial Justice. From the site: “SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice.”

  • “A lot of work gets hindered by well-meaning white people who want to help but don’t know how to do it.”

  • Support ActSecure, helping activists learn how to secure their information and communication.

  • “Run for town meeting. Run for town clerk.”

  • Before you build the great idea you have, engage with tech activist communities to learn what they’ve done already. When you don’t, “honestly, it hurts.”

  • Onion Browser
    for iPhone and VPN for iPhone are on the way.

  • Most of the progress in Trans* rights have been done through executive actions and can thus be rolled back. Much of Trump’s cabinet comes from “what I call anti-LGBTQ hate groups.”

  • Most computer systems were designed by people who weren’t thinking about trans people, and it shows in profile choices, etc.

  • Go to a monthly CryptoParty

  • Engineering Activism: Tech training for organizers, and organizing training for techies.

Now there’s open conversation, ably and actively moderated by Heather, which I will not record.

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December 20, 2016

Obama's legacy: A defining president

JFK for my generation — I was 13 when he was murdered — set the image of what a president should be. Whether or not he actually embodied those virtues doesn’t matter as much as the archetype he created.

President Obama has done that for the millennials. That should be a source of hope for us all.

The presidenct as defined by Barack Obama is

  • Engaged. He cares about issues.

  • Smart.

  • Informed.

  • Emotional.

  • Unselfish. Not in it for himself.

  • Patriotic.

  • Incorruptible.

  • Funny.

  • A whole person.

  • A loving parent.

  • A loving, respectful spouse.

  • Dignified in his bearing.

  • Treats all others with dignity.

  • Has a sense of the movement of history.

  • Thoughtful.

  • Unflappable.

  • Fallible.

  • Appreciative of diversity.

  • Appreciative of the arts.

  • Evidence-based.

  • Cool.

  • Hopeful.

  • Not necessarily Yet Another White Man.

We can argue about whether Obama actually embodies these virtues, much less whether he acted upon them sufficiently. That doesn’t matter for a generation that will measure all candidates against this new prototype of a president.

I do well remember that the country elected Nixon twice after JFK’s death, so I’m not saying that the next presidents will live up to this model. But if not, then the next presidents will fail to live up to this model.

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December 18, 2016

NYT Sunday Crossword: Magnificent beast

I’m about to laud the New York Times Sunday Crossword (link to paywall), “Mirror Reflection” by Derrick Niederman, for its cleverness. I am not going to spoil any answers, but I am going to spoil the clues. Except that I’m not going to say anything that you would not figure out immediately simply by reading the clues themselves. No figuring required.

Nevertheless, you might want to avoid the spoiler if you are planning on doing the puzzle.

The Across definitions for mirrored positions are exactly the same, but the answers are different. E.g., the clue for the word in the upper left corner is “One of the blanks in the cereal slogan ‘___ are for ___'”. That’s exactly the same clue for the word in the lower right corner.

I gave that example because those two positions are the easiest to describe, but it is actually one of the weaker clues. Many of them are quite clever. I haven’t finished it yet, so there may be some that are irritating, but the design of the puzzle is audacious.

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December 16, 2016

How hackers became political

Biella Coleman has a terrific piece exploring an excellent question: How did hackers become political actors? I’d say “activists,” but that implies a less hands-on approach to the machinery of politics.

Biella combines the virtues of academic rigor with the skills of a writer who knows how to talk about ideas through narrative … sometimes a conventional story, but also through the gradual unfolding of ideas. I’m a fan.

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December 4, 2016

Trump, Taiwan, and peace through fiction

I have a friend whom I cherish who loathes Donald Trump, but who thinks that Trump’s missteps with Taiwan were actually a good thing. My friend’s sole hope for Trump is that he will follow through with some of his campaign rhetoric and address China’s predatory trade practices. For my friend, Trump’s blunder — and he calls it that — has burst the bubble of “disingenuous and silly” lies that the Chinese have taken advantage of for thirty years.

I don’t know nearly enough about our economic relationship with China to be entitled to have an opinion about it, but even if it was good to pierce the mutual fiction about the relationship of the two Chinas (I’d put scare quotes around one of those two words, but I can’t figure out which), it’s not good to do so with no plan or strategy. Trump sent a strong, consequential signal to China that is only de-stabilizing. In fact, Trump then denied that it was a signal at all when, in the face of criticism, he tweeted that Taiwan “called ME!”. So, the phone call was merely ignorant, pointless destabilization that Trump then destabilized.

My friend likes the idea that the phone call destroyed a fictitious international relationship. But blowing up a relationship simply because it is disingenuous and silly is not necessarily a good thing in itself. The world’s constituencies are so different in their interests and understandings that we often can only maintain a difficult peace by finding language structurally ambiguous enough — each side knows that the other means something different by it — that we are not forced to bring an irresolvable disagreement to an unambiguous resolution.

None of this touches my friend’s larger and more important point about the possibility that Trump could address China’s predatory economic practices. Even Cheeto Hitler might get something right. But not this time or in this way.

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December 3, 2016

[liveblog] Stephanie Mendoza: Web VR

Stephanie Mendoza [twitter:@_liooil] [Github: SAM-liooil] is giving a talk at the Web 1.0 conference. She’s a Unity developer.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

WebVR— a 3D in-browser standard— is at 1.0 these days, she says.. It’s cross platform which is amazing because it’s hard to build for Web, Android, and Vive. It’s “uncharted territory” where “everything is an experiment.” You need Chromium
, an experimental version of Chrome, to run it. She uses A-Frame to create in-browser 3D environments.

“We’re trying to figure out the limit of things we can simulate.” It’s going to follow us out into the real world. E.g., she’s found that “Simulating fearful situations ) can lessen fear of those situations in the real world”simulating fearful situations (e.g., heights) can lessen fear of those situations in the real world.

This crosses into Meinong’s jungle: a repository of non-existent entities in Alexius Meinong‘s philosophy.

The tool they’re using is A-Frame, which is an abstraction layer on top of WebGL
, Three.js, and VRML. (VRML was an HTML standard that didn’t get taken up much because the browsers didn’t run it very well. [I was once on the board of a VRML company which also didn’t do very well.]) WebVR works on Vibe, High Fidelity, Janus, the Unity Web player, and Youtube 360, under different definitions of “works.” A-Frame is open source.

Now she takes us through how to build a VR Web page. You can scavenge for 3D assets or create your own. E.g., you can go to Thingiverse and convert the files to the appropriate format for A-Frame.

Then you begin a “scene” in A-Frame, which lives between <a-scene> tags in HTML. You can create graphic objects (spheres, planes, etc.) You can interactively work on the 3D elements within your browser. [This link will take you to a page that displays the 3D scene Stephanie is working with, but you need Chromium to get to the interactive menus.]

She goes a bit deeper into the A-Frame HTML for assets, light maps, height maps, specular maps, all of which are mapped back to much lower-count polygons. Entities consist of geometry, light, mesh, material, position, and raycaster, and your extensions. [I am not attempting to record the details, which Stephanie is spelling out clearly. ]

She talks about the HTC Vive. “The controllers are really cool. “They’re like claws. I use them to climb virtual trees and then jump out”They’re like claws. I use them to climb virtual trees and then jump out because it’s fun.” Your brain simulates gravity when there is none, she observes. She shows the A-Frame tags for configuring the controls, including gabbing, colliding, and teleporting.

She recommends some sites, including NormalMap, which maps images and lets you download the results.

QA

Q: Platforms are making their own non-interoperable VR frameworks, which is concerning.

A: It went from art to industry very quickly.

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[liveblog] Paul Frazee on the Beaker Browser

At the Web 1.0 conference, Paul Frazee
is talking about a browser — a Chrome fork — he’s been writing to browse the distributed Web.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The distributed Web is the Web with ideas from BitTorrent integrated into it. Beaker
uses IPFS and DAT

  • This means:

  1. Anyone can be a server at any time.

  2. There’s no binding between a specific computer and a site; the content lives independently.

  3. There’s no back end.

This lets Beaker provide some unusual features:

  1. A “fork button” is built into the browser itself so you can modify the site you’re browsing. “People can hack socially” by forking a site and sharing those changes.

  2. Independent publishing: The site owner can’t change your stuff. You can allocate new domains cheaply.

  3. With Beaker, you can write your site locally first, and then post into the distributed Web.

  4. Secure distribution

  5. Versioned URLs

He takes us through a demo. Beaker’s directory looks a bit like Github in terms of style. He shows how to create a new site using an integrated terminal tool. The init command creates a dat.json file with some core metadata. Then he creates an index.html file and publishes it. Then anyone using the browser can see the site and ask to see the files behind it…and fork them. As with GitHub, you can see the path of forks. If you own the site, you can write to the site, with the browser. [This fulfills Tim Berners’-Lee’s original vision of Web browsers.]

QA

Q: Any DNS support?

A: Yes.

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[liveblog] Kyle Drake: Making the Web Fun again

Kyle Drake, CEO of Neocities, is talking at the Web 1.0 conference. His topic is how to “bring back the spirit of geocities for the modern web.” The talk is on his “derpy” Web site

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

“When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability,” said Why the Lucky Stiff. “Remember when everybody created Web sites?” Kyle asks. (He points to a screen capture of Mark Zuckerberg’s homepage, which is still available at the Internet Archive.) In the spirit of fairness, he shows his own first home page. And then some very early 90’s-ish home pages that “highlight the dorkiness of the 90’s Web.”

“They looked bad. But so what? They were fun. They were creative. They were quirky. They were interesting, And what did we replace them with? With a Twitter textbox.” Those textboxes are minimal and the same for everyone. Everyone’s profiles at Facebook has the same categories available.”It seems strange to me that we call that new and Web pages old.”

We got rid of the old Web because it wasn’t profitable. “This isn’t progress. It’s a nightmare. So, how do we take the good things about the old Web and modernize it? How do we bring back the old idea of people creating things and expressing themselves?”

That’s why Kyle founded Neocities. 1. It brings back free home pages. 2. No ads. 3. Protects sites against being shut down. It’s open source, too. It currently hosts 100,000 sites.

“This is not nostalgia,” he says. Web sites do things that social networks can’t. A Web site gives you more control and the ability to be more of who you are, with the confidence that the site will persist. And the good news about persistence is that pages still render, often perfectly, even decades later. Also, the Internet Archive can back them up easily. It also makes it easy to create curated lists and collections.

He’s working with IPFS so that Neocities sites can be community hosted.

QA

Me: How does he sustain it financially?

A: You can be a supporter for $5/month

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[liveblog] Amber Case on making the Web fun again

I’m at the Web 1.0 conference, at the MIT Media Lab, organized by Amber Case [@caseorganic]. It’s a celebration of sites that can be built by a single person, she explains.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The subtitle of Amber’s opening talk is “Where did my data go?” She talks about hosting sites that folded and took all the home pages with them. After AOL Hometown got angry comments about this, it AOL Hometown “solved” the problem by turning off comments“solved” the problem by turning off comments. Other bad things can happen to sites you build on other people’s sites. They can change your UI. And things other than Web sites can be shut down — including household items in the Internet of Things.

She shows the Maslow Hierarchy for Social Network Supermarkets from Chris Messina. So, what happened to owning your identity? At early Web conferences, you’d write your domain name on your ID tag. Your domain was your identity. RSS and Atom allowed for distributed reading. But then in the early 2000s social networks took over.

We started writing on third party platforms such as Medium and Wikia, but their terms of service make it difficult to own and transfer one’s own content.

The people who could have created the tools that would let us share our blogs went to work for the social networking sites. In 2010 there was a Federated Web movement that resulted in a movement towards this. E.g., it came up with Publish on your own Site and Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE
).

Why do we need an independent Web? To avoid losing our content, so businesses can’t to fold and take it with it, for a friendlier UX, and for freedom. “Independent Websites can help provide the future of the Web.”

If we don’t do this, the Web gets serious, she says: People go to a tiny handful of sites. They’re not building as many quirky, niche, weird Web sites. “”We need a weird Web””“We need a weird Web because it allows us to play at the edges and to meet others.” But if you know how to build and archive your own things, you have a home for your data, for self-expression, and with links out to the rest of the Web.

Make static websites, she urges…possibly with the conference sponsor, Neocities.

QA

Bob Frankston: How can you own a domain name?

Amber: You can’t, not really.

Bob: And that’s a big, big problem.

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