If we knew what she knew, we’d stop too.

Pamela Jones founded GrokLaw in 2003, and for the last ten years it has provided invaluable analysis on legal issues concerning intellectual property, the DMCA, open source software, and digital privacy. The site has won countless awards from The EFF, Google, The FSF, and was selected by the US Library of Congress for inclusion in its internet materials collection.

Last week, the creator of Lavabit, an encrypted email service, shut down the mail service without warning, implying that he had received requests from the US government which would have forced him to become complicit in crimes against the American People. We don’t know what actually happened, because he can’t tell us:

There’s information that I can’t even share with my lawyer, let alone with the American public.

A few days later, Phil Zimmerman’s crypto communications company shut down their secure email service. And today, Pamela Jones has announced that she’s shutting down Groklaw:

The owner of Lavabit tells us that he’s stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we’d stop too. There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum. What to do?

What to do? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure it out. And the conclusion I’ve reached is that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw, not long term, which is incredibly sad. But it’s good to be realistic. And the simple truth is, no matter how good the motives might be for collecting and screening everything we say to one another, and no matter how “clean” we all are ourselves from the standpont of the screeners, I don’t know how to function in such an atmosphere. I don’t know how to do Groklaw like this.

Groklaw is a collaboration, existing only because so many people have come together to shed light on what’s happening in the courts. Without the ability to confidentially discuss legal issues with experts, plaintiffs, lawyers and journalists, Groklaw can’t exist.

And so now, it doesn’t.


A selection of Groklaw articles by filthy light thief, via Metafilter:

  • The Grinch Who Stole Linux (November 7, 2003)
  • J’accuse! French bus service Transports Schiocchet Excursions is suing a group of ten women who carpool to work every day, alleging unfair competition with their bus line. (July 12, 2005)
  • Economics of death – How should right and wrong be measured? (July 14, 2005)
  • I fought the linux, and the linux won… SCO got a delisting notice from Nasdaq (April 28, 2007)
  • Rock and Rule – Virgin v. Thomas, the first RIAA backed lawsuit to make it to a jury trial looks likely to proceed early in October in Duluth Mn. (September 28, 2007)
  • The software patent cold war is getting less cold – Sun Microsystems announced a counter suit against Network Appliance, wherein they will draw on their “defensive portfolio” which is “one of the largest patent arsenals on the internet”. (October 26, 2007)
  • Monopoly is as monopoly does – Why Is Microsoft Seeking New State Laws That Allow it to Sue Competitors For Piracy by Overseas Suppliers? (March 24, 2011)
  • Battle at Troll Bridge – Apple has adopted new tactics in its patent war against the handheld industry (December 11, 2011)
  • Aaron Swartz’ 14,500 page Secret Service file – The U.S. Secret Service has begun releasing their roughly 14,500 pages on Aaron Swartz in response to a FOIA lawsuit against the DHS by Kevin Poulsen (August 14, 2013)

An insult to my constituents

Toronto has released preliminary results for the 2013 Street Needs Assessment, and it doesn’t look great:

  • One in five homeless youth are gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer.
  • Half of the homeless are on a waiting list for subsidized housing.
  • Vets make up 15% of the homeless population.
  • The number of homeless senior citizens has doubled in the last three years.
  • The homeless population in women’s shelters has doubled in the last seven years.

What has to happen before people get as upset about homelessness as they do not being allowed to drink in a park?

If you have ‘Peace’, you simply haven’t yet seen the thing that’s trying to kill you.

Let me tell you about Star Control II.

ur_quan_kzer_za_wallpaper_by_dczanik-d3k1nmt

Star Control II is the best game. Like, actually the best game. If you’ve played it, you know how good it is. If you haven’t, don’t take it from me. There’s no shortage of publications who agree with me on this one.

Gamespy:

Star Control II is the best game ever made. Not the best classic game, not the best sci-fi game. Not even the best PC game. The best game. Ever. This is the kind of addicting game that invokes euphoria and will leave a great hole in your life after you’ve won. You’ll wet your pants in anticipation to play this game after you’ve had a taste of it. For those of you who have played the game and do not agree with these statements, I feel genuine sorrow for all three of you.

Gamer Theory:

Star Control II was easily the best open world game of its time. It’s really rare, even today, to find a game that offers the same level of freedom, non-linear progression, and sense of scale that Star Control II has.

Gamespot:

Simply put, Star Control II had everything. It was challenging, rewarding, open-ended, fun, and highly replayable. It’s a genuine classic that’s still unsurpassed, and it’s so original that it hasn’t even been imitated. And even though the game is more than 10 years old now, it still holds up extremely well, and most of today’s sci-fi-themed games can’t hold a candle to it. From playing Star Control II, you clearly get the impression that the game was a labor of love. Yet it’s just as evidently a work of incredible talent and creativity.

Star Control II is easily one of my all-time favorite computer games, and one of those games that makes me feel privileged having played it–I felt like I’d dug up a chest full of gold doubloons when I discovered that game, it was so unbelievably good. It’s just an amazing work of fiction, not to mention a really fun game. Long after I’d finished the campaign several times, my friends and I would still play the super melee mode for hours and hours. I never would have imagined that my favorite shooter and my favorite RPG of the era would be part of the same game.

There aren’t any other games like Star Control II. The only other game that compares in the slightest with SC2 in ambition and scope is Mass Effect, and while the resemblance isn’t coincidental, SC2’s open-world and non-linear gameplay is on another level. And it was made over twenty years ago.

In 2002, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III’s company Toys for Bob released a partial source port of Star Control II under an open license, and over the next ten(!) years the fan community worked to transform it into a near-perfect port that is downloadable and playable on modern systems. (There’s also a great-looking fan effort to remake the game in HD that I’ll be downloading once I get home. If you start downloading it now, it’ll probably be done by the time you’re finished reading this!)

There was a sequel produced in 1996, but the creators (Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III) weren’t involved and its existence is generally ignored by most SC2 fans. For years, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III have talked about how much they’d love to make a proper SC3, but they couldn’t get the trademark rights from Accolade.

Fans have been checking in with Toys for Bob every few years, but it didn’t look like there was ever going to be another Star Control.

UNTIL NOW:

Stardock Entertainment has acquired the rights to the Star Control franchise in the ongoing sell-off resulting from Atari’s bankruptcy filing. Stardock, producer of the popular space strategy games Sins of a Solar Empire and Galactic Civilizations I & II, has announced that it intends to use the rights to produce a new Star Control game, reviving a series that hasn’t seen a proper sequel since 1996. According to a press release issued by Stardock, the company will begin work on the game “this year,” with a release date to be determined.

The Star Control series—and Star Control II in particular—is an enormously important part of the PC gaming canon. The games are the reincarnation and true successors of the earlier Starflight series, and most modern space adventure games take at least some of their gameplay and humor elements from them (including Mass Effect, which director Casey Hudson has directly attributed to Starflight). At first blush, the news of Stardock’s acquisition seems to be excellent for fans of space exploration games.

At first blush! But it’s complicated, and there are big problems:

First, the sale was for the Star Control 2 trademark, and not the intellectual property of the games themselves. Toys for Bob own SC2 (which is why they were allowed to release the source), and any new Star Control game made by Stardock would need to negotiate with Toys for Bob to use any of the alien races or plot points from SC2.

Second, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell is a total asshole. He has a history of sexual harassment, and when he was politely asked by one of his employees to stop touching her hair (seriously) and to not make sexist jokes in the office, he replied that her request

is not acceptable to me. I am an inappropriate, sexist, vulgar, and embarrassing person and I’m not inclined to change my behavior. If this is a problem, you will need to find another job.

(Seriously!)

Third, Toys for Bob should be making this game. Stardock won’t get it right. EA couldn’t get it right. And it is for sure possible that even Toys for Bob wouldn’t get it right — but they’re the only ones who know what ‘right’ should look like.

SC2, more than almost any other game I’ve ever played, has a personality. The same way games like Portal, Thomas Was Alone, A Boy And His Blob, or Limbo have personalities. I wouldn’t want to see Portal 3 made by EA, or Limbo 2 made by Bioware. Those games were brought to life as labors of love, and no amount of homage or respect by third parties can be expected to do them justice.

In a perfect world, Stardock would make whatever game they wanted to make, and then gift a license to the trademark to Toys for Bob so that they could make the game they’ve wanted to make for the last twenty years.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a perfect world, and we’re likely going to have to live with another imperfect followup to a perfect game.

But (quite fortunately), Star Control 2 is still out there, free to play, for any of us to dive into and discover all over again.

I can’t wait.

On a sparkling evening in July

+ Audra and I have been working together as Townhall Communications!
+ I’m also working on a redesign of a major staffing firm website.
- I have not been working very much on my own projects.
- This is in part because my apartment flooded.
+ But it’s fine now!
± I have been making a proper budget again instead of being rich for a week and then broke for a week every time I get paid.
- This means I am not rich twice a month.
+ It also means I am not broke twice a month.
+ I am having friends over tonight to watch Godzilla movies.
+ I am hosting an event at the Academy of the Impossible next month about music in a post-scarcity world!
+ There are a lot more plus signs than there are minus signs in this update.

lifetime fan rapport

I could write a dozen different pieces about The Album That Changed My Life and each would be different, each would be a perfect cross-section of who I was, where I was, and how everything changed. Coil. Front Line Assembly. NWA. Tori Amos. The KLF. Haujobb.

This is about Fixed, by Nine Inch Nails.

I was young. Fourteen? I had a copy of Pretty Hate Machine, the Head Like A Hole single, Broken, and Sin. I loved Broken. It had all of the tearing guitar aggression of The Offspring’s Smash but with a kind of obsessive nihlist production that I had never heard anywhere else.

I remember borrowing Broken from a friend. Picking it up at her house. I remember her roommate’s performative dismissal when she learned what I was borrowing. “Nine Inch Nails? They’re shit now. Past their prime.” It was 1994.

When I heard about Fixed, I thought it would be like the Sin single. Or Head Like A Hole. A few clubby remixes, a few quiet remixes, maybe an extra track.

It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like anything I had ever heard.

The remixers on Fixed include:

  • Butch Vig (Garbage)
  • J. G. Thirlwell (Foetus, frequent collaborator of Lydia Lunch and Marc Almond, currently the composer for The Venture Bros)
  • Bob Flanagan (Subject of the documentary “SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”)
  • Peter Christopherson (Co-founder of Industrial Records, Psychic TV, and Coil)

I had heard albums before that changed the way I thought about music. Albums with sounds on it that I didn’t know it was possible to make. Songs about the personal, the occult, and the psychotic. What I hadn’t heard before was an album where I wasn’t sure that it was music at all. Vocals chopped up and syllables rearranged into a violent glossalia. Songs suddenly crashing in on themselves, reduced to a half-second of guitars and drums looping absurdly on a stuck needle you can’t reach. Walls of noise cutting out to cheery commercials and back in again before you’re sure what it is that’s happening.

I didn’t listen to anything else for at least four months. Likely longer. I played that tape until all of its sharpness was lost and my walkman had been closed so long the rubber seal had started to fuse.

From that album I discovered Coil. Foetus. Industrial Records. Can. Cabaret Voltaire. Swans. William Burroughs. JG Ballard. Godflesh. NEU!. Neubauten. Test Dept. Gary Numan. Ministry. Stockhausen. Killing Joke. Brian Eno.

Everything.

Years later, Trent Reznor took some time between winning a Grammy and winning an Oscar to personally say “fuck you” on my Facebook after I said I missed the old Nine Inch Nails sound.

There’s no substitute for that kind of lifetime fan rapport, friends.

In which our hero misses his train home

I am very tired.

I’m also in Ottawa! I came down Saturday for the Ottawa Industrial League festival, and stayed a few extra days so that I could DJ at my old industrial night. The festival was a blast. I got to play live with good friends, and I got to see a ton of new talent perform. Two of the acts had never played live before. And they were great! My first show was a disaster.

DJing last night was even more fun than the OIL festival. A ton of people came out to see me play that I haven’t seen in forever. People who haven’t been to Zaphods in years. Years! I played a ton of new music, and somehow also a ton of old music. Is there anything I enjoy doing as much as DJing?

It’s actually quite emotional to go back and be the guest DJ in a place you spun weekly at for close to ten years, which I’m sure is surprising to no one but me. The place seems nicer. When I saw my old book of CDs — my book! — it seemed so surreal that I didn’t live there anymore, that I left all my music behind, that I wasn’t there every week. It wasn’t an “oh my god what have I done” moment; it was more like looking at home movies and thinking it’s so insane that you used to be seven years old and lived in that house and now you’re a grownup with grey beard hairs who has to file taxes and consider intersectionality and whatever else grownups do.

I miss Zaphods a lot. I miss the venue and the community and the everything. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a music community like that again. Probably not, right? It took almost ten years to build that one, even if you ignore everything I did before I started DJing there. If I started a weekly night tomorrow I’d be forty-five before I’d have ten years of history behind me. And the idea of starting a new weekly night in Toronto that lasts ten years is hilarious.

I miss Toronto too. I miss my house, and Josh, and Audra, and Blinky and Mothra, and the Jamaican woman who sells me my beef patties and everything else. I should be home right now, in fact. Except I ended up trapped in Orleans and wasn’t able to make my train home. So now it’s the 1 AM greyhound for me, which completely fucks everything up because there was a ton of work I wanted to get done on the train before I ran out of steam. And I’ve got Things To Do tomorrow from 10 AM onwards, including a job interview that I am going to be wiped for. Not to mention buying the extra ticket wipes out all the cash I made from selling merch, which is depressing. The only saving grace of the whole fiasco is that a May Day protest rolled past the bus station when I was buying my ticket, and I got to spend the next couple hours marching and chanting with young punks and old commies.

Aside from missing my train, which has resulted in me being that weird guy in a sports bar wearing nail polish and writing journal entries at midnight, it was a fantastic trip.

I’m looking forward to coming home.

Badass of the Month: Martyl and the Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock first appeared in the June 1947 issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a newsletter-turned-journal for the discussion of science and policy related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Bulletin included this statement on the inside of the back cover:

When the bomb fell on Hiroshima, it broke a six-year silence which security imposed on the atomic scientists. It also shattered the scientists’ “ivory tower” of detachment from the social and political implications of their discoveries. For the scientists — who had six years to consider the implications of atomic warfare before these implications exploded on a stunned world — recognized that they had a responsibility to see that this force would be used for the benefit and not the destruction of mankind.

One of the greatest works in all of information design, The Doomsday Clock was a brutally visceral symbol of how the world was now (and possibly forever) near to nuclear war. With the hour hand near midnight and the minute hand only seven minutes away, the clock cut through all the rhetoric and hyperbole of nuclear politics with a clear and clinical measurement: This is where we are. This is how close we are to the end of everything. We are seven minutes away.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Cover, June 1947

Two years later, the clock moved forward four minutes after the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Three minutes to midnight.

We do not advise Americans that doomsday is near and that they can expect atomic bombs to start falling on their heads a month or a year from now; but we think they have reason to be deeply alarmed and to be prepared for grave decisions.

The designer of The Doomsday Clock was Martyl Langsdorf, an accomplished visual artist with a fondness for landscapes. Known to the art world by her first name, by the age of 25 Martyl had sold a painting to George Gershwin at a private showing, painted a now-iconic New Deal mural of African American history, and beat classmate Tennessee Williams in a playwriting contest.

Martyl Langsdorf

Her husband Alexander was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project only a few years earlier. They once took a train through Japan that stopped in Hiroshima, to allow all the passengers to step off the train and spend a moment at the Peace Memorial. He stayed in his seat, crying.

Road Ink, Martyl

The Langsdorfs bought a landmark Paul Schweikher home in 1953 and never moved out, drawing the constant attention of the CIA, FBI, and State Department through their activism for peace.

Martyl died March 26th. She was 96 years old.

Flash and Thunder

I don’t know exactly where the line is between history and experience, between something that happened and something that’s still happening. Is an explosion still happening while the shockwave is racing towards a building? While you can still hear echoes of it across a river? Is it still happening when you’re dreaming of it, years later? When all you can hear on a still night is the ringing in your ears that you’ve heard since the first flash and thunder?

I think a lot about family. I struggle with it. I struggle with the challenges that family has left me, with sacrifices family have made for me, with the hole in my experience where family should have been. I live with Josh, my brother, who I grew up with. We lived together for eleven or twelve years as kids, and now again for the last two. It’s comfortable. It’s friendly and loving. It has all the things that you should have in a home.

I’ve never lived with my father (not for any meaningful value of ‘living’, at least), but he was always there in one way or another. He was the reason we would be followed home, or why we had to move, or why some of us had so much more than others. When we spent time in the same space, we would inevitably end up at a nightclub, at a recording studio. The music was always loud, painfully loud. I’d yell and ask him to turn it down, my hands over my ears. I could never hear myself yelling. He would never turn it down.

Part of me remembers him telling me to toughen up, to not be such a baby; those memories are cloudy and suspect, just as likely to be a projection of what I assume he’d say as they are to be a recalling of fact. When we would leave the studio and step into the street, everything was bright, muffled, and far away, my skull stuffed with cotton and sawdust.

No matter how hard we try, we’re all defined in some way by him. From my own hypervigilance to my brother Oliver getting locked up at Fenbrook. (It’s his birthday today. He’s 28.)

And now we all try to figure out our own damages, try to find answers where we know there aren’t any. A kind of ritual therapy for blood relatives.

No matter how many years and miles separate me from the boy stepping into the street with a head full of dust, on a still night all I can hear is ringing.

I am not good at following advice

I’ve been thinking a lot about Other Jairuses. (Other Jairii?) If I had made different choices, focused my energy on different things. What would I be doing now. What would I be good at.

Eight years ago I was trying to decide where I should put my creative efforts. In design and visual art, which I had done professionally off and on — In writing and storytelling, where I felt very confident and capable — or in music, where I had been DJing for a while but I had no idea if I had any of the necessary skills to put together a song that anyone might want to listen to.

I asked a lot of people which they thought I should focus on, and almost everyone said writing. It was my ‘strength’. A few people said design. No one said music.

Eight years later and I have a couple of releases out, I’ve done a lot of touring, and I am for sure Jairus The Electronic Musician to a lot more people than I am Jairus The DJ. I haven’t been writing regularly or doing any design that isn’t paid work. I didn’t realize it while it was happening, but I traded those outlets in to make music.

One of the things that happens when you don’t do something for eight years is you stop being really good at it. Or you stop being good at it on demand, at least. I can still write things that I feel good about, but that’s the exception rather than the rule, and oh my god is there anything less interesting than someone writing about how challenging they think writing is.

Eight years later and I feel the hole left in me where I used to tell stories. Eight years later and I remember how good it felt to be up late creating something beautiful in photoshop that wasn’t for anyone but me. Eight years later and I’m not a writer, or an artist, or even really a DJ anymore.

Eight years from now, what I am going to wish I had spent more time doing? What am I going to wish I had gotten better at? What art am I going to wish I felt comfortable making?

That’s what I need to work on today.

#MP3Tribute

I think Aaron Swartz’s death hit us all differently. I felt like we weren’t just dealing with the loss of an incredibly talented and driven mind, but also with having our collective future robbed of all of the things Aaron had yet to do. People wouldn’t have the same access to music that they do today if it wasn’t for Aaron, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I’ve had as an artist if it wasn’t for Aaron. I want to celebrate what he’s given us.

I’m asking artists to join me in making 100 albums free to download in Aaron’s memory.

Things I Have Been Enjoying Lately, Third in a Series

Front Line Assembly – AirMech

FLA - Airmech

Front Line Assembly changed my life.

They were the first industrial band I ever heard, way back when a friend gave me a tape of Tactical Neural Implant in 92. I remember putting it in my walkman, hitting play, and listening to Final Impact completely stunned. I had been listening to Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, and N.W.A — nothing that prepared me at all for what I was hearing. I didn’t know music like that existed. I didn’t even know it was possible to make those kinds of sounds. The same friend clued me in to Delerium, Noise Unit, Intermix, and the rest of the FLA side projects. (Synaesthesia has always been my favourite of those, and their Ephemeral record is one of my desert island disks.)

Tactical Neural Implant was twenty years ago, and FLA’s still releasing albums. They’ve got new blood in the band, and whatever combination of people and equipment it took to make AirMech should probably be flash-frozen and preserved for future generations.

Fair warning: AirMech is completely instrumental. It’s also a video game soundtrack, and not a club record. And, like a lot of FLA records before it, the production is heavily influenced by whatever was blowing up in electronic music when they made it (which in this case is dubstep, so get your haterade ready).

The thing that makes this album amazing isn’t the wubs or the lack of vocals. This album is great because the diversity in the production spans very nearly the entire FLA discography. There are sequences that sound like they could have been taken off of Tactical Neural Implant, next to parts that could have come from lost Delerium or Synaesthesia tapes. There are elements of it that are unmistakably modern, and without any vocals in the mix the electronics shine in a way they aren’t often allowed to.

I don’t know if I’d say that this is FLA’s best record since the classics — I think Artificial Soldier is as good as anything else that got released after Millennium, and it’s hard to compare a heavy club record to a soundtrack — but I’ve been listening to it more than I’ve listened to any other FLA record since the 90s, and I’m not putting it down anytime soon.

If you were ever a fan of FLA’s less aggro material, you should listen to Airmech.

[soundcloud url=”https://soundcloud.com/jeremy-inkel/12-prime-empiricism” params=”” width=” 100%” iframe=”true” /]

Yukon Ho!

When I was ten or eleven years old, I had a Pennysaver paper route. It was the worst thing. Every Sunday morning they drop off a bundle of papers (98 in my case) and a dozen bundles of advertisements. So you open up all the bundles and separate out all the different advertisements. Then you open up a newspaper and put one of each of the dozen different flyers inside of it. Stick the finished newspaper in your little newspaper cart, and repeat 97 times. I actually cannot even begin to describe how miserable this is. It takes hours, and there’s a crazy amount of paper strewn everywhere and it is a total disaster zone from start until finish.

It was through this weekly process that I first learned to recognize the emotion we call ‘dread’.

After you’ve got your little newspaper dolly full of the freshly-stuffed papers, you wander around the neighbourhood and drop them off in people’s mailboxes, often while people inside yell at you about how they don’t want more junk mail. Because who does, right? Also, the dolly doesn’t fit 98 stuffed newspapers, which means that you need to go back home in the middle of your route at least once to re-up. Eventually you deliver all 98 newspapers to all 98 homes, you get back home hopefully before the sun sets, and you phone them to let them know that it’s all finished.

This is all a lot of responsibility for someone in grade 5.

Once a month or so, we’d get these ‘specials’ where there’d be a full-on second newspaper to deliver along with the first. So you pack your cart with the stuffed newspapers and the special newspaper (which takes up twice as much cart space, which means you need to re-up twice as often) and try to jam both of these things in people’s mailboxes while they yell at you.

One snowy and grey Sunday morning, I opened my front door to get the papers and saw we had a ‘special’ that week: Phone books.

There was a hill I had to climb on my route, and I remember trying to drag my stupid cart full of soggy phone books through this thick wet snow, crying all the way. My hands were red and raw from trying to pull the cart, and completely numb from the cold. I ended up leaving the cart there and going back home to ask for help. My mother’s husband drove me out to the cart, picked up the phone books, and delivered them all himself — probably the nicest thing he ever did for me in the many years we lived together.

The worst part about all of this is that you make something like thirty cents per paper delivered. Not lucrative. After fees and whatever else, for a full day’s work I would get a cheque for twenty-odd dollars. (Years later, I worked as a delivery boy for the Citizen and got cheques ten times that amount for a route a fraction the size. This is how I learned about ‘exploitation’.)

But, at the time, twenty-odd dollars was a lot of money. And it was the first money I had ever earned myself. I took my first cheque across the street to the mall, cashed it in my TD Bank Junior Savings Account, and went to the bookstore where I bought the Calvin and Hobbes Yukon Ho! collection, mostly because I saw the title and thought it was cool that a comic might be about Canada.

Buying that book changed my life. I read every strip and bought every book after that. Calvin and Hobbes is a fucking subversive comic, man. Sexism, racism, environmentalism, war, death, friendship, bullying, love, an existential crisis, labour issues — they were all in those books. Before I learned about any of that stuff from Asimov or Aristotle or anywhere else, I learned it from Calvin and Hobbes.

I got a Calvin and Hobbes tattoo when I turned 19 because I was terrified of not being a teenager anymore. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be as the same kind of person as I got older, and I wanted to leave a reminder to future-jairus that ‘growing up’ means whatever we want it to mean. And to leave myself something like a litmus test:

If, when I got old, I didn’t like Calvin and Hobbes anymore — then I was right to be afraid as a teenager, because it would mean I had become someone else entirely.

We’ll never have to clean a plate
Of veggie glops and goos.
Messily we’ll masticate
Using any fork we choose!

The timber wolves will be our friends.
We’ll stay up late and howl,
At the moon, till nighttime ends,
Before going on the prowl.

Oh, what a life! We cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we’ll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that’s grand!

No more of parental rules!
We’re heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up ghouls!
We’re leaving! Yukon Ho!

We can do better.

It has been a very long and unlikely week.

Last Thursday Nick and I got on stage at Kinetik and played the best set either of us have ever played — a 50 minute performance, but it’s the last five that everyone’s talking about.

We had a message we wanted to deliver, and we did it. And a week later, the conversation about it is still going strong. It’s funny, before Nick and I went on stage we were talking about what could happen. We thought maybe a few people might get behind it. We also thought maybe we might get booed off stage. Worse yet, we thought maybe no one would notice or care.

Seven days, hundreds of shares, and 10k+ views later, people are still talking about misogyny and racism in industrial music. We’ve had hundreds of people get in touch to tell us how much they appreciate what we did. I’ve lost count of the number of women who’ve told us that this kind of imagery is exactly why they left the scene. And if I told you how many people (men and women alike) cried when they spoke to us about it, you wouldn’t actually believe me.

So, it’s a week later. The message is as clear as I could make it. Andy and Thomas have both said their piece on it. There have been articles, interviews, and editorials. And people are still talking about what it all means. About sexism, about racism. About art, communication, and community.

What does it say about our scene, that this resonates so strongly with so many people? What does it say about the conversations we haven’t been having? And what will happen if more people continue to say: We demand better.

I hope we’ll get to find out.

I don’t believe bad things come in threes (except when they do)

(…or, Why I Haven’t Answered Your Email Yet.)

1: Leslie

Leslie, with whom I spent almost a decade attached at the hip, nearly died a couple of years ago when a couple of her vertebrae collapsed. She was in the hospital for a long time, and surgeries and months of intravenous antibiotics left her severely immunocompromised. A couple of weeks ago I got a call saying that she contracted an infection which went septic. Her heart valves were infected, her liver and kidneys were in serious trouble, and she was in a coma, on life support.

After a couple of days of her getting worse, I packed a suit, made a few phone calls to people who needed to know, and headed to Ottawa. The first few days were brutal. A lot of sitting around with other friends of hers and talking. A lot of thinking about what the funeral would look like. Much to everyone’s surprise and great relief (including the doctors), things slowly started getting better.

Leslie’s illness (and my visit) also coincided with the Zaphod Beeblebrox 20th anniversary week, which means that I filled in for Leslie as a guest DJ for the 20th anniversary edition of Industrial Strength Tuesdays. I’ve been part of Tuesdays for about ten of those 20 years, but it was really fucking tough to be in that booth without Leslie.

All told, I was in Ottawa about a week before I headed back home.

2: Graham

A few days after I got back to Toronto, I got the call that Graham had died. (My bag from Ottawa was still packed, suit untouched.)

I don’t even know how long I’ve known Graham. I met him at the first couple of 2600 meetings I ever went to, which means it was a loooong time ago. Mid to late 90s. We were teenagers. Not only does the cafe we had them at (Cafe Wim) not exist any more, but neither do the next two cafes it moved to after the first one closed.

The meeting I remember most vividly from those early 2600s (aside from the meeting where I was congratulated by Graham and Mike on how my ‘Hack of the Year’ had hit CNN and thinking “CNN. Well, I’m going to jail.”) is when we ran a telephone line from our table at Cafe Wim down to the payphone in the basement. We stripped the payphone wiring with a lighter, got some alligator clips, and one hastily assembled beige box later we were ringing up the payphones at the 2600 meetings happening in California or wherever the fuck it was we called. They couldn’t understand Paul’s accent (“No, I said Canada. CANADA! WE’RE CALLING FROM CANADA! WHERE SANTA LIVES!”) and Graham took the handset and became our ambassador for the rest of the meeting.

But the reason losing Graham is excruciating isn’t because we were hackers. It isn’t because we were going to the same raves as teenagers, or DJing the same raves a few years later. It isn’t because of the roadtrips we took, or the terrible movies we watched, or the fact that we always had each other’s backs when one of us was calling someone out for sexism/racism.

This is why losing Graham is excruciating: When you put all of those things together, when you’ve shared so many important and formative environments, you end up with the rarest of friends — someone who understands you. Not just someone who understands what’s important to you, but someone with an intuitive sense of who you are, someone shaped by the same things that shaped you.

I don’t have much in my experience to compare that feeling to. It’s a bit like how I feel about my siblings. It’s more like when I read about people who have been through a disaster (or a war, or a cult, or…) and they describe the experience of running into someone who has been through the same disaster/war/cult/whatever. They’re a kind of family, because they understand so much about each other.

Graham was that kind of family. We understood so much about each other. And I’m having a hard time coping with the idea of a world where I don’t share with someone the experiences that Graham and I shared.

3: Jairus and Joshua

I don’t believe bad things come in threes. Still, I said to Audra when I got back from Graham’s funeral that even though I didn’t believe bad things came in threes, I was still anxious, I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A couple of days later, it did:

Please consider this your notice to Terminate the Tenancy at the End of the Term for Landlord’s Own Use as per the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act. Once you vacate the premises, we will be renovating the property and moving in after the work is complete.

Now I get that it may seem weird for me to post about having to move in the same category as people dying and almost dying, but if I’m going to be honest here, I actually find moving more stressful than people dying and/or almost dying. I’m not being hyperbolic, either. I can’t deal with things that threaten the security of my living situation. All of my life’s most-stressful-events involve my living situation being threatened. (I was going to add an exception for ‘being kidnapped as a child’ before I realized I should probably pencil that in under ‘security of living situation’ anyway.)

So now we’re looking for somewhere new to live.

Postscript

I don’t want to write an entry that is all doom and gloom, so I’ll end with this:

Every day this week, I have eaten my lunch outside in the sun, reading. Spring is here.

I’m avoiding a ‘Topp’ related pun here. Be proud.

I just got a friendly call from Brian Topp’s campaign! I wasn’t expecting much, but it was a shitshow right from the start.

First the dude told me that Brian was the only “pan-canadian” candidate. When I asked him what pan-canadian meant, he said “um, I’m not sure…” — #scriptfail

I said I was concerned about Topp, because he doesn’t have any elected political experience. The dude then proceeded to tell me that Mulcair “wants to move the party to the right”. When I asked him why he thinks that, he said Mulcair “wants us to become right wing”. I asked him again what he was basing that on, and he put me on hold.

A minute or two later, someone else picked up the line to tell me about how Mulcair doesn’t support the NDP policies which will prevent rich bankers from being taxed less than their secretaries, and how terrible Mulcair’s environmental policies are compared to Topp’s.

I mentioned that I thought it didn’t go well when the Liberals elected someone to opposition leader who hadn’t had political electoral experience. They helpfully pointed out that Peggy Nash’s experience as an MP (“only 3 years, not even a full term”) didn’t give her the experience at the top of the party that Topp had! That (former NDP President) Nash “doesn’t have a lot of experience with party brass”, and how you don’t need to be particularly well-qualified to be an MP anyway.

After pointing out that Peggy had been party president (“You might be right about that, I’m blanking right now…”) I said I wasn’t interested in voting for someone who was running such a negative campaign against other candidates (“Well I’m just a volunteer, I don’t know everything…”), and they tried the jedi-mind-trick tactic of saying that Topp would never stoop to Harper’s level and run a negative campaign.

It would be comical if it wasn’t really, really important.

Who wants to knit?

Who wants to knit?:

How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts:

In late 2009, Lynn Zwerling stood in front of 600 male prisoners at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland. “Who wants to knit?” she asked the burly crowd. They looked at her like she was crazy.

Yet almost two years later, Zwerling and her associates have taught more than 100 prisoners to knit, while dozens more are on a waiting list to take her weekly class. “I have guys that have never missed one time in two years,” Zwerling says. “Some reported to us that they miss dinner to come to class.”

Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 after 18 years of selling cars in Columbia, Maryland. She didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. No one came to the first meeting, but the group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and I saw a zen quality about it,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and these people feel so good. What would happen if I took knitting to a population that never experienced this before?’”

Her first thought was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down repeatedly. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in a traditionally feminine hobby and worried about freely handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars was born. “I [wanted to teach] them something that I love that I really believe will make them focus and happy,” Zwerling says. “I really believe that it’s more than a craft. This has the ability to transform you.”

The men were reluctant at first, complaining that knitting was too girly or too difficult. But Zwerling assured them men had invented the craft, then gave them a five-minute knitting lesson she swears can teach anyone. Suddenly, Zwerling says, the men “found the zen,” and got hooked. Now, every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., they come to class, leaving their crimes and the hierarchies of prison life behind.

They started by knitting comfort dolls, which they gave to children removed from their homes because of domestic issues. Then they moved on to hats for kids at the inner-city elementary school many of the prisoners attended, Zwerling says. “If you look at them, they’re covered with tattoos, they’re rough looking, and many of the young guys don’t have all their teeth,” she says. “But it doesn’t feel rough. They’re very respectful and grateful and very happy to knit.”

The prison’s assistant warden, Margaret Chippendale, believes the men involved with KBB get into trouble less often. “It’s very positive because you can see when you go into the room, the dynamics of their conversation; very calm, very soothing,” Chippendale says. “It radiates even when they leave the room and go out into the institution.”

Richy Horton, 38, served almost four years at the Pre-Release Unit and reluctantly joined KBB about 6 months before he was released. “I was like, I’m not going to that thing,” Horton says. “And then I went, and you were actually speaking to real people. People can’t really understand [that in prison] you’re completely separated from anything normal or real in the world. You’re always told what to do and when to do it, so to have people come in and treat you like a human being means so much. They came in and they were like my mom.”

Horton and the other men formed deep friendships with Zwerling and her fellow volunteers, Sheila Rovelstad, 61, and Lea Heirs, 58. “They tell us their stories and dreams,” Zwerling says. “And some of them lie to us. They don’t want us to know the really terrible things they did.”

Each week the men eagerly await the women’s arrival, then promptly get to work. “It takes you away a little,” Horton says. “You have to watch what you’re doing, otherwise your stitches will become loose or tight or you’ll skip stitches. It almost makes you feel like you don’t have to be anything. You’re all sitting there knitting. You can just be yourself.”

Horton was released from prison last December and now works in construction. He believes his involvement with KBB helped him get out of jail and onto parole, showing the parole interviewers his small but positive effort to help the outside community. He continues to keep in touch with the women of KBB and is currently knitting a beaded scarf. “They’re not normal people,” Horton says of Zwerling, Rovelstad, and Heirs. “They’re almost like saints.”

To donate to Knitting Behind Bars, visit their Etsy shop, or contact Lynn Zwerling at lynnzwerling@verizon.net.

Photos courtesy of Lynn Zwerling

Via the Baltimore Sun

(Via fragmentsshoredagainstmyruin)

Guideline for Digital Oblivion

The Government of Canada has released their long-awaited social media guidelines, titled “Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0“, and oh my god it is a complete disaster. Just like the infamous Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0 standards, these new guidelines are so heavy that they handcuff the public service.

Now, I developed the social media guidelines at the Bank of Canada, and was responsible for getting the Bank onto Twitter, Flickr, and such. So I know how hard it is to do this kind of work in these kind of institutions. And while I’m not going to do a point-by-point breakdown of the twelve-thousand word document, we’ll take a look at some highlights.

The language of the document is terrible. Really, totally, inexcusably terrible. A case study in design-by-committee terrible. Let’s take the “Benefits of use” section:

Government of Canada departments are encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools and services as an efficient and effective additional channel to interact with the public. A large number of Canadians are now regularly using Web 2.0 tools and services to find information about, and interact with, individuals and organizations. For many Canadians, Web 2.0 is increasingly becoming a primary channel for sending, receiving and generating information. Because of the participatory nature of Web 2.0, it can help facilitate interactive and rapid communication and engagement between government departments, their partners and their clients, with some common uses including:

  • Recruitment;
  • Risk and emergency communications;
  • Services to the public;
  • Stakeholder outreach and education;
  • As a collaborative tool; and
  • Consultation.

I can feel my eyes sliding off the screen every time I try to read that. For comparison, let’s look at the benefits section of the UK gov’s guidelines, titled Engaging through social media:

Good use of social media can help government to better understand, respond to and attract the attention of specific audiences. It enables real two-way communication with people in the places where they are already engaging with their interests. Social media can:

  • increase government’s access to audiences and improve the accessibility of government communication;
  • enable government to be more active in its relationships with citizens, partners and stakeholders;
  • offer greater scope to adjust or refocus communications quickly, where necessary;
  • improve the long-term cost effectiveness of communication;
  • benefit from the credibility of nongovernment channels;
  • increase the speed of public feedback and input;
  • reach speciic audiences on specific issues; and
  • reduce government’s dependence on traditional media channels and counter inaccurate press coverage.

Look at the difference here. The GoC doc talks about how these tools can help facilitate interactive and rapid communication and engagement; the UK doc talks about helping government to better understand and respond. These are worlds apart.

There’s also virtually no guidance on actually communicating with the public. The UK guidelines list these “basic principles”:

  • Be credible. Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
  • Be consistent. Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
  • Be responsive. When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
  • Be integrated. Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
  • Be a civil servant. Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your Department or Agency.

From this list, you get a strong sense of what social media communications should look like. You get a sense of the voice that government wants to have, of their desire to respect public spaces. They want to actively encourage constructive criticism, which is mindblowing. The closest we get in the GoC guidelines is something along the lines of

When using Web 2.0 tools or services for official use, compliance with relevant legislation and Treasury Board and departmental policies is required. The appendixes of the TBS Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 provides specific advice as to how to comply with existing legislative and policy requirements governing interactions with external audiences through Web 2.0 tools and services and should be followed at all times.

Riveting! But by far the worst offenses committed by the GoC guidelines aren’t the pervasive use of unenthusiastic robot language, the craaaazy length, or even the likely-to-be-totally-unmanageable requirements for handling social media use in both official languages. It’s how much work it is to get involved in social media under these guidelines. Here are some of the steps you need to take if your government department wants to use The Web 2.0. I am not making these up. In fact I have edited them down to make them less bulky and crazy-sounding.

  • Develop an overall departmental strategy for social media which takes into account business value, governance structures, recommended procedures, and lessons learned by other departments.

  • Develop rules of engagement which outline moderation criteria, response time expectations, intellectual property, privacy, accessibility and official languages notices (which include links to the corresponding legislation), and consequences for violation of the rules of engagement.

  • Provide legal counsel with information about the proposed use(s) including information about the Web 2.0 initiative’s oversight plan, the particular Web 2.0 tool or service under consideration and the relevant terms of use.

  • Designate a senior official accountable and responsible for the coordination of all Web 2.0 activities as well as an appropriate governance structure. It is recommended that the Head of Communications be the designated official. This designate should collaborate with departmental personnel who have expertise in using and executing Web 2.0 initiatives, as well as with representatives from the following fields in their governance structure: information management, information technology, communications, official languages, the Federal Identity Program, legal services, access to information and privacy, security, values and ethics, programs and services, human resources, the user community, as well as the Senior Departmental Official as established by the Standard on Web Accessibility.

  • Develop a plan with input from departmental communications advisors which outlines:

    1. Business drivers
    2. How this use is aligned with overall project objectives
    3. Delineation of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities;
    4. Considerations of the target audiences
    5. The authorities for project ownership and approval
    6. A risk assessment and management plan;
    7. A communications plan to:
      1. Outline the expected nature of the interactions;
      2. Respond to stakeholders when responses are critical
      3. Ensure that messaging aligns with GoC themes
    8. Allocation of appropriate human, technical and financial resources
    9. Training required to ensure that personnel understand how to use Web 2.0 tools within the government policy framework
    10. An approach for program evaluation
    11. A proposed timeline for evaluation
    12. A continuous improvement process

     

  • …and in case you’re thinking about paying a few bucks to get that Flickr Pro account up and running, a contracting risk assessment must be undertaken for each initiative that has a cost associated with it.

The amount of work you need to do to open a Twitter account is unreal. It’s enough work that you will need to spend time and money to figure out how much time and money it’ll take to do. You can’t try out a YouTube account to see if it’s useful for your content, or put up a Facebook page to see why people are interested in your project. This process is so heavy that the only initiatives which will make it to production are the ones that the public was already tired of five years ago.

Canada is so far behind other countries in our use of web technologies and social media that it is actually embarrassing. How long will it be before we have something like 10 Downing or We The People? And how can we expect to grow web expertise within our government when we’re making it impossible to experiment with social media tools?