This summer marked the 8th annual Battle of the Mesh in beautiful Maribor, Slovenia at the foot of the Swiss alps. Each year, folks from around the world who work on open source mesh networking protocols (schemes for routing packets across a network) and community wireless networks converge to deploy a testbed mesh network, running different protocols on top of it and analyzing which of them perform the best.
Mount Pohorje in Maribor, Slovenia, site of BattleMesh v8!
This year, the conference agenda also included a wider variety of topics, from decentralized and secure file systems and applications to political discussions about the future of open hardware and firmware in the face of imminent federal regulatory lockdown measures.
The first day was largely spent socializing and setting up the topology of the network:
Topology of the testbed network built at BattleMesh v8
Five actively maintained and deployed routing protocols were tested over the course of the week:
* Babel, a distance-vector routing protocol for IPv6 and IPv4 largely developed by Juliusz Chroboczek in France;
* Batman-adv, an implementation of BATMAN [Better Approach to Mobile Ad-hoc Networking], spearheaded by the Germany-based Freifunk community;
* BMX7, an experimental protocol designed to bridge Layer 2 and Layer 3 routing;
* OLSRd1, short for ‘Optimized Link State Routing’ and widely utilized in many of community networks due to its stability, scalability and active development community,
* OLSRd2, a new iteration of OLSR designed to be more modular and flexible, published by the IETF in 2014.
Day 2 started out rather chaotically, as a dozen wireless hackers attempted to fix the internet they’d borked. The afternoon’s talks featured an excellent presentation by Julius, the lead developer of Babel, entitled ‘babel does not care.’ You can watch the talk (with accompanying slides) here. Julius’ talk was followed by a presentation of GNUnet, a free-as-in-freedom alternative and privacy-conscious network for peer-to-peer filesharing, VOIP communication, and peer discovery that works over a variety of transport mechanisms. Watch the full talk with slides here. Next, Elektra of Freifunk gave a presentation on the current state of TV whitespace spectrum and the potential future applications of UHF. I highly recommend watching the talk, as Elektra concludes with a stirring call-to-action for the community to engage with the political struggle over spectrum allocation, one unfairly slanted toward powerful telecommunications companies over free and open community network usages.
Day 3 kicked off with a presentation by Mathieu Boutier on source-specific routing in Babel [Video]. Next came a presentation on cjdns, a distributed and end-to-end encrypted p2p IPv6 meshnet project better known as Hyperboria. They have just begun collaborating with a fascinating project called IPFS, the Interplanetary File System, which combines ideas from Git, Bittorrent, and the web to enable such applications as peer-to-peer filesharing through creating a distributed content cache accessed through a hashed URL. Check out their talk, which appropriately followed the cjdns presentation. Folks from Battlemesh are using IPFS to store media content uploaded by conference participants!
An easy-to-assemble, open hardware plasma cutter from Irnas.
We celebrated the mid-point of the conference by spending the afternoon and evening in Maribor, first with a tour of KreatorLab. KreatorLab is home to a bevy of inspiring open hardware projects, including a plasma cutter, a 3D printer, and Koruza, Musti’s brainchild enabling gigabit wireless optical links.
After our visit to KreatorLab, we headed over to the GT22, a self-described “transdisciplinary laboratory in real space with transnational guerilla art school institutes” hosting space for theater rehearsals, a radical library, a photography museum, an indoor skating ramp and a party space populated by a VJ projection screen and a DJ booth. While the DJ played dance music, our true-to-form hackers proceeded to gather outside and along the walls not dancing
Thursday, Day 4 of the conference, began with a presentation of Cake (Comprehensive Queue Management Made Easy), a project that works to make wifi faster by reducing network latency. The following presentation by Dave Taht provided an excellent overview of the current insecurities in Internet of Things devices outlined across 11 layers of the network stack, culminating in a rousing call-to-action for hackers to build more and better open hardware. I highly recommend watching this talk!
Dave’s talk was a fitting antecedent to the subsequent presentation and discussion of the FCC’s recent proposal to lock down wireless routers by requiring vendors to “ensure that only properly authenticated software is loaded and operating the device.” This has huge implications for community networks in the US, with similar rules being discussed for the EU and Canada. After a heavily animated discussion, folks continued to discuss the issue over lunch, with many inspired by Dave’s talk to create our own hacker-friendly hardware down to the chipset level. We created a mailing list to collaboratively compose letters to the FCC, the comment period for which has recently been extended to October 9th and is open to everyone.
Unfortunately, I missed the entirety of Thursday afternoon’s talks as I literally sat in the same spot at our lunch table conversing with new friends into the evening.
Friday kicked off with a presentation from Demos to consolidate and test various decentralized applications with the aim of supporting a more decentralized web. She was followed by Nemesis presenting, NetJSON and Nodeshot, projects working to build node databases for network monitoring and administration. After lunch, Paige gave an impressive presentation on MaidSafe, a secure and decentralized storage and communications platform.
On the last day, a few of us set up a video camera and did short interviews with representatives from as many community wireless networks as we could gather. The focus of the interviews was to explore the various motivations and unique challenges faced by a diversity of community networks, with the aim to inspire and guide the development of many more to come. Watch this blog for updates once the videos have been edited and posted to the web!
So… which protocol won?
Given the complexity and variety of tests and analytics, the ‘winner’ is difficult to determine. Check out the beautiful (and nearly complete!) documentation, including detailed graphs and links to git repos of the software used to test the network here.
Please drop me a line at jenny [at] sudomesh [dot] org if you’d like to help plan for the very first ‘BattleMesh West’ at the Omni Commons next year!
Months of many hands working to launch our IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign finally paid off, and we ended our campaign with over $41,000 raised, plus $40K in direct large donations. Thanks so much to the 569 people who contributed to the campaign, and everyone who shared it with their communities!
Check out the amazing video tour of the space, directed by Omni’s own Optik Allusions and with no small amount of credit to over two dozen community members:
This initial capitol campaign funding will be used toward necessary building improvements to get the space up to code and ready for hosting public events. If you missed the opportunity to support the project during this campaign, we’d greatly appreciate any contributions toward our next campaign: buying the building!
Last Saturday marked the final day of the Bay Area Public School’s weeklong Summer School, the theme of which was Information. We started the day with a Cryptoparty – hands-on workshops to assist folks in generating key signatures, using encrypted and off-the-record chat, and other tools such as Tor and Redphone – this went really well, with lots of folks leaving having learned new skills or solved a particular problem, and all culminated in a delightfully geeky key-signing party.
There were a bunch of great talks:
* My housemate, Craig Rouskey, gave an amazing presentations on his citizen science project to eradicate gonorrhea using phage therapy.
* Marc Juul and I presented on our project to build a mesh network in Oakland!
* The lovable Danny O’Brien spoke about the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s work in fighting for digital civil liberties and why privacy and digital security are important.
The day culminated in a panel with Moxie Marlinspike (of Whisper Systems), Danny, Bill from the EFF, Marc and myself, with the attendees participating in a Q&A.
THEN WE PARTIED. IT WAS AWESOME.
Notes and link to the livestream (mad props to JC!) are here: https://sudoroom.org/wiki/Cryptoparty/2013/August
We’re having the first of what will become monthly digital security workshops at Sudo Room this month. I’m excited to co-facilitate with some hella smart friends and learn along the way. Hoping to increase digital literacy through raising awareness of basic digital security hygiene.
Here’s some of the topics we’ll cover through hands-on workshopping:
* Why digital security is important
* Email encryption and GPG key-signing
* Mobile phone security
* Hard drive encryption
* Anonymous web browsing
* Network security
As we develop our workshopping skills, we’d like to tailor future Cryptoparties to various at-risk communities such as journalists and activists.
Link to the first event is here: https://sudoroom.org/events/digital-security-workshop/
See you there!
Hyperlocalism seeks to bridge the physical/digital divide by focusing on the use of information to create technology tools and media oriented around a well-defined area and inspired by the needs of local residents. Maps and mesh networks are tools that can be particularly leveraged to enable hyperlocal connectivity and information flow; I’ll briefly unpack the latter (mesh) and then demonstrate the possibilities for hyperlocal mapping.
510pen as conceptualized by Mark Burdett is based on the principles of the Open Wireless Movement: that by sharing our wifi with our neighbors, we contribute to increasing access to the internet while simultaneously creating more positive relationships with our local communities. This premise is clearly the most obvious benefit of mesh networking and is enthusiastically supported by the folks I’ve been talking with in Oakland, who see the lack of widespread internet access in their neighborhoods as a very present and real issue.
Then there is the application layer – which is the level at which TidePools is working to create software for hyperlocal neighborhood mapping. Beyond internet access, a resilient communications network endeavors to create point-to-point networks that mesh the barriers between physical and virtual space. What kinds of data and landmarks define the available resources and value of a physical community?
It might look something like this:
…in which the skills and resources of your neighbors are made visible and available to others on the local network.
Or perhaps like this, visualizing the history of a neighborhood through a timeline-based photographic montage:
Alternatively, we could use hyperlocal mapping to depict a more realistic sense of the cultural characteristics of various neighborhoods, rather than the oft-arbitrary borders drawn by state governments:
As I continue interviewing and chatting with folks about things they’d love to see on local maps, a few themes have emerged:
Environmental activists seeking to visualize pollution data, park locations, local wildlife, etc;
Unemployed and homeless folks seeking to map out resources such as public computers, food kitchens, excellent dumpsters for food foraging, and crisis centers for various demographics.
Long-term residents wishing to map out and connect local businesses and organizations in their neighborhoods.
Community organizers interested in mapping their community to strengthen awareness of existing resources and publicly accessible spaces.
Hackers and techies interested in creating decentralized networks and alternative telecommunications (eg; mesh networks, low-bandwidth software radios, etc;) – which necessarily requires mapping line-of-sight on rooftops and potential barriers to connectivity (such as raised highways)
Open government folks mapping open civic data such as crime, foreclosed / blighted properties, city legislative initiatives, and historical information.
Here are some projects I’ve been working on with some other hard-working, socially-conscious people that are tackling these needs:
Tidepools – Hyperlocal neighborhood mapping software.
510pen (Five One Open) – Creating an East Bay mesh network.
Open Oakland – Volunteers mapping out open civic data in Oakland.
OpenOakland Digital Divide – Mapping out existing Oakland efforts addressing the issue of access to technology.
Oakland Wiki – A site all about Oakland, with over 2,000 articles written by community members.
Mycelia – A decentralized database I’m working on with my partner for mapping tools/inventory, skills, and projects between and among hackerspaces, intentional communities, and other self-organizing spaces.
I welcome and encourage further suggestions and use cases in the comments below!
Among technologists, for whom information and communication flow at hyper-speed and social bonds are increasingly interest-based, developing relationships with people and communities outside of your comfort zone of easy compatibility can feel frustratingly slow. The world of software development does not typically attend to the kind of bottom-up, community-based research process I’m accustomed to as an anthropologist – rather, rapid iteration is prized over emergent design and humans (who have a tendency to wield tools in unexpected and surprising ways) are reconfigured as ‘users’ of software that provides a ‘service.’ What follows is an attempt to articulate the process of doing anthropological research for developing technological tools, in the hopes of inspiring technologists to rethink the process of software development in a more human, culturally accountable manner.
Ethnographic research is the art and science of becoming attuned to the cadence of a culture. Largely, this entails the anthropologist’s direct engagement in a cultural milieu, the everyday observations of which are recorded as field notes. Field notes based on the anthropologist’s observations are accompanied by semi-structured interviews (typically recorded, transcribed, and coded) and occasionally surveys to incorporate the variety of roles, activities and perspectives that make up the cultural phenomena under study. An ethnography tells the story of a cultural group – incorporating field notes, interviews, historical research and critical analysis – and is the product of field research that relies on participant-observation as the principal methodological approach. Recent developments in the field of anthropology explore and experiment with new techniques for writing the ‘other’ that often entail treating the self as an other, first and foremost. Reflexivity is crucial for engaging in critical thinking about one’s own role and bias in cultivating cross-cultural understanding.
Multiple methods of analysis are employed in order to understand the complex dynamics of building technological tools for communities from the ground up. Semi-structured interviews are a primary source of the data and information gathered in the process of building tools responsive to community needs. Personal interviews allow community members to voice their opinions and share their biographies in a safe space of confidentiality and empathic listening, while group interviews encourage collaborative storytelling about the community’s origins and history, present issues and projects, and reveal collective visions and goals (as well as anxieties and fears). Focused discussions with community members are also a primary planning and implementation space, including sit-down brainstorming sessions aimed at raising issues and needs that could be addressed by the project.
Of further relevance is what’s known as Community-Based Participatory Action Research. Community-based participatory action research is a methodology that reorients authority horizontally. That is to say, the final product of community-based research is designed to facilitate alliances between local organizations that have vested interests in the community under study, rather than research designed to fulfill an institutional, governmental or corporate agenda. As such, community-based research tends to blend academic and activist agendas, ultimately producing something of value to the research “subjects” that is at once collaborative and politicized.
Always a fan of mixed methods, I’ve been working with the Open Oakland Digital Divide group to reach out to organizations that are already addressing access to technology in Oakland. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we thought it prudent to endeavor toward creating a hub of existing efforts by researching and documenting them on OaklandWiki. Providing such a service ideally demonstrates to the groups we’re reaching out to that we respect and appreciate the work they’ve been doing, enabling us to more effectively request their time for visiting and asking questions about what they need that we could potentially provide. It furthermore creates an opportunity for us to serve as bridges, building a coalition of those committed to addressing the digital divide by making them visible to each other.
The purpose of this post was not in any way intended to condemn the culture of open source communities. The collaborative research process of the Digital Divide group embodies the DIWO (Do It With Others) ethos that I so dearly adore about hacker culture – though it’s doubtful that many members of the group self-identify as hackers. Tidepools, the open source neighborhood mapping project I’ve been working on, was developed under the direct input of the Red Hook community through a unique hybridization of technological development rooted in ethnographic process. I’ve become ever more passionate about the intersections between cultures, the power and potential of fusing worlds. That excitement and fervor has found me racing between spaces, places, communities and meetings – constantly in action, constantly iterating an idea into refinement without allowing it to grow. Borrowing from the best of both open source culture and anthropology, I’m committing this blog to being a living testimony to transparent documentation, reflexivity and critical thinking – but for that to happen, I have to learn to slow down and allow thought to crystallize into language. Here’s to slow dev! 😉
As I launch into week 5 of my work with the Open Technology Institute, I’ve begun to collaborate with a variety of groups, organizations and actors who constitute part of the emerging network of activity around developing community mesh networks and mapping applications in Oakland, California. The idea is to facilitate the grassroots (bottom-up) development of community mesh and mapping initiatives already ongoing in the East Bay, while playing a supporting role in documenting progress and connecting communities of interest.
sudo room is a young hackerspace in uptown Oakland dedicated to transparency, social justice and the creative application of technology. Sudo room is an open, inclusive space for free education and access to tools, as well as a venue for hosting local civic hacking, technology and learning initiatives. The groups and projects detailed below meet at and work regularly out of sudo room, which serves as an ongoing hub for events ranging from 72-hour hackathons to meetings between city projects and local hackers.
510pen Network Map, with currently-inactive sudo room node information displayed.
510pen is an East Bay community mesh network started by Mark Burdett in 2009. Currently, most of the nodes that were set up between 2009 and 2011 are inactive and in need of tech support. As of last week, we’ve begun meeting weekly at sudo room to discuss basic hows and whys of community mesh networks; wireless network hardware and software; how various community wireless efforts can cooperate and collaborate; models for organic growth, organization, support and sustainability; and how we can join forces with local residents, small businesses, non-profits, municipalities and anyone else to build a ubiquitous community mesh network.
Oakland Wiki is a LocalWiki repository for documenting the infrastructure, communities, and history of Oakland. Oakland Wiki hosts weekly edit-a-thons at the Oakland History Museum, where older residents / historians meet with the Oakland Wiki team to document the history of Oakland. Oakland Wiki is also hosting a civic data session at Open Data Day on February 23rd. The goal of this session is to provide a qualitative focus to an otherwise quantitatively-focused event, encouraging the contribution of information about city council, city policies, politics, and key figures in the city – essentially creating narratives around the past, present, and future of the city in an accessible and historically-rich manner.
Oakland Wiki: Mural Lane
The Open Oakland Digital Divide Group is a collaborative effort to coordinate the various organizations and individuals working on digital divide issues in Oakland. Spawned out of a session at CityCamp Oakland last December, the group consists of local citizens, technologists, and community change workers interested in creating solutions for effectively addressing the digital divide in Oakland. At our first meeting, held on January 24th, we articulated a few tangible goals to work on: individually reaching out to preexisting groups addressing digital divide issues to assess their needs and available resources; group field trips, visiting for instance a local swap meet where broken computers are donated to a group that turns them into working machines; and creating a central directory of digital divide resources for the city, including for instance a map of local, free tech meetups.
These are just a few of the most prominent players and projects as we move forward in developing relationships with community organizations and neighborhood groups. I will continue to transparently document my ongoing research progress at the Tidepools Wiki, and welcome your comments and contributions in the comments of this post!
Last month, I spent several days staying with some friends in Brooklyn, New York who’ve been working full-time with Occupy Sandy‘s relief/rebuild efforts. While the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy has been heartbreaking and the lack of federal response infuriating, the kind of connectivity and mutual aid that has emerged in the resulting months is nothing short of inspirational. And profoundly educational.
Here are the meeting minutes from the network-wide Occupy Sandy meeting I attended right before the December solstice. It was the most well-facilitated meeting I’ve ever participated in, with the focus primarily being upon sharing updates from representatives of the disparate groups organizing Sandy relief efforts in the Far Rockaways, Red Hook, Coney Island, Staten Island, Long Island, and beyond. As Christmas was approaching, the core issue revolved around the many thousands still without heat or electricity. In the Far Rockaways, over 20,000 residents were still without power as freezing temperatures approached. FEMA, overwhelmed and underprepared, had all but handed over its limited resources to the Occupy Sandy camps that had popped up within days of the superstorm. Only this week – more than 75 days after the storm – did Congress approve a bill to send long-overdue federal aid to Sandy victims.
Occupy Sandy, the central hub of which was the amazing Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew (pictured above) in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, sprung to work less than 48 hours after the storm. Tens of thousands of volunteers have since coordinated donations, trained new volunteers, cooked meals for masses of people, scraped mold off of buildings and homes, and assisted residents in completing the paperwork needed for securing governmental aid and navigating insurance claims. There is still a good deal of work to be done to rebuild the neighborhoods destroyed by Sandy, instilling in me a resurgence of passion to develop human and communications infrastructure in preparation for the kinds of crises that can arise when the infrastructure we typically depend upon falls apart.
My experiences in New York were concomitant with the exciting news that I’d been accepted for an internship with the Open Technology Institute sponsored by GNOME’s FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) Outreach Program for Women. Specifically, I’ve been tasked with the work of designing use cases for community wireless mesh network applications such as TidePools, a neighborhood mobile mapping platform. TidePools was designed around the particular needs of residents in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn: reporting civic issues such as broken street signs; adding nicknames for the areas around the neighborhood; sharing information about local events; and creating an alert system for the often-spotty public transportation schedules. The potential uses of the platform are too numerous to mention and very much contingent on local context.
Post-Sandy, a TidePools node (pictures above) was deployed for mapping out local needs, sent by residents and volunteers via SMS text messaging for use by first responders seeking up-to-date information on where supplies such as food, water, gas and generators were needed.
You can learn more about my ongoing work for the Open Technology Institute by stopping by the TidePools wiki, where I’m collating ideas, use cases and research surrounding community mesh networking and mapping applications. I’ll also be blogging regularly about mesh applications here, focusing on stories that demonstrate how we can use this technology to facilitate coordination and communication in our local communities. For the latest updates on the Occupy Sandy relief efforts, please visit the online hub at InterOccupy.net.
Below are crib notes from my 4th American Anthropological Association meeting. Enjoy!
I’d like to begin by putting my story right on the table: I’m an anthropologist without an academy – a decision I made halfway through my Ph.D program for a variety of reasons that could be clustered under a personal inability to be complicit in a system that financially exploits young people for the purposes of paying off its debts to Wall Street.
Six months before Occupy began, I took my first leave of absence from my program, having befriended a group of wonderfully weird, idealistic brains up in the Bay Area. They were all super active at Noisebridge, a hackerspace in the mission open to the public. We were working on creating a live/work hackerspace in Oakland when I got pulled into working on OccupySF’s website at Noisebridge. I took my second leave of absence in the fall, swept headlong down the rabbit hole of revolutionary fervor.
Hackers and academics share a common challenge in contemporary culture: walled gardens. While internet freedom fighters rally against the walled gardens of Google and Facebook, activist-academics fight similar battles over the literal walled gardens of the Ivory tower and closed-access journals. From my vantage point, the solutions are the same in both instances: creating decentralized networks devoted to self-sufficiency, autonomous learning and grassroots, DIY community-building – making the very blueprints for such endeavors open source, aka freely available to the public.
To rewind a bit and cover any confusion over the oft-misunderstood term “hacker,” allow me to clarify: A hacker is not necessarily someone who maliciously breaks into computer systems – as mass media portrayals would have you assume. A hacker is a learning enthusiast, someone who is so curious as to take something apart completely in order to discover the fundamental components of a system. To “hack,” then, is to learn the process of creating something through doing it, and through modifying it to do what you want it to do. Put simply, in the words of McKenzie Wark (author of The Hacker Manifesto): “The slogan of the hacker class is not the workers of the world united, but the workings of the world untied.”
What I’m proposing, then, is “hackademia”. Hackerspaces and Occupy, like anthropology has always done, have created bridges for moving between worlds. It’s my adamant belief that the role of an anthropologist is simply that of storyteller. The very best we can do is transmute the mundane and otherwise hidden into vibrant and visible poetry; the worst we can do is keep our stories contained from those who have ears to hear.
So last night, I’m at the weekly meeting for the Oakland hackerspace I’ve been co-creating with a hodgepodge array of changemakers for the past year. I’d sent a callout for a ‘meta-organizational hacking’ meetup to take place an hour before the regular meeting. The goal was to identify where we could possibly refine our process, assisted by a Danish Kaos Pilot (the Kaos Pilots being a program focused around social entrepreneurship and leadership).
[SHOW SOME SLIDEZ]
This month marks the one-year anniversary of Sudo Room’s first meeting. Drawing from prior experience as well as the Hackerspace Design Patterns guide, we set up a mailing list, wiki, and IRC channel. We take notes together using an etherpad shared document, and post them on the wiki after each meeting. We decided to run by consensus without fastening ourselves to a binding agreement; iteration is invaluable, and we wanted to leave room for growth and change.
As a subculture, or even a ‘class’ according to Wark, hackers are remarkably meta-aware. Rather than genetic reproduction, hacker culture reproduces itself memetically. The hacker ethos of open source collaboration provides a roadmap, replete with tools for multi-maker storytelling. Our dedication to “copy / paste culture” means we have been committed from the first to the active practice of openness, transparency and collaboration – making this community an ideal laboratory for experiments in collaborative ethnography and multimedia storytelling. No confidentiality agreements needed when everyone is down to open source all the things!
While Sudo Room embraces an inclusive model of “hacking” that goes beyond hardware and software – to wetware, wearables, and even culture itself – there is certainly reason to resist confining ourselves to hacker culture alone. While not disregarding the admirable ethical core of lifelong learning, decentralization, and collaboration, the term is also connotative of an elite culture consisting of a privileged class of internet savants.
So I started hanging out in the #geekfeminism channel on IRC to get feedback on how we could create a more inclusive space. In turn, some geeky feminists started hanging out in the #sudoroom channel and contributing to some of the truly epic conversations we’ve been having around access and diversity.
There is something truly exciting about the interconnections between subcultures and the value of their hybridization in the spirit of creativity. What happens, for instance, when you combine botany buffs and hackers? You might get something like BioBridge, the amorphous DIYbio contingent of Noisebridgers, working on experiments in oyster mushroom growing and developing Arduino-controlled sensors for monitoring temperature and pH levels in kombucha brews and sourdough starters. Here you would also find overlap with Tastebridge’s Vegan Hackers night and perhaps some friendly Food Not Bombs volunteers.
While ‘collaborative ethnography’ as a form of ethnographic co-representation is not new – the idea was introduced in Writing Culture well before the turn of the millenium – the current milieu of rapid technological progress combined with what appears to be an earnest and timely revival of the commons is well-positioned for new experimental approaches to co-creating ethnography.
As resident cyberanthropologist (or, as others have called me, “that anthropologist who went rogue”), I find my skills uniquely situated to the task of creating replicable, transparent documentation, facilitating cross-cultural communication (particularly with groups representing marginalized voices), and providing meta-analysis of the culture we’re creating.
Some of these projects include:
-IRC bot, which anyone can contribute to, that logs channel conversations and enables bookmarking by participants in the chat.
-Autodocumentation Stations established in hackerspaces across the globe
-Connecting maker culture through a decentralized network of nodes denoting places, people, tools, projects, and blueprints.
One year ago, I stood up on a podium much like this one, making a callout to all the anthropologists present to take themselves down to the Occupy Montreal camp two blocks away from the posh convention center in which the AAAs were happening – closed to those without tickets costing somewhere between $200 and $500 – and to share their knowledge through outdoor teach-ins.
A lot has happened since that fateful weekend when I found myself more excited and welcome out there, sharing stories with haggard, weary occupiers, rolling cigarettes in the blustery wind not even thinking about just how cold my fingertips were. I remember walking through the publishing hall afterwards, in the polished corridors of the convention center, and being angry at how much everything cost, how it all just goes to the publishing companies anyway, how inadequate academia’s response has been to the liberation of information enabled by the internet and its dogged defenders
My aim in this talk is to illuminate a kind of “posthuman ethnography” that incorporates multimedia archives and community documents, the social organization of networked space, web-based communication tools and collaborative projects alongside the stories and shared experiences of individual members. In this sense, the end “product” is as collaborative, dynamic and diverse as its subject.
Originally posted on Shareable.
It's a sunny Saturday in downtown Oakland, and I'm touring a potential new space for Sudo Room, a DIY/creative/technical hackerspace I've been co-creating with a hodgepodge array of changemakers for the past year. As we're exploring the space, faces both familiar and fresh continue to trickle in. Ryan tells me we'll have to add air-filters to the common room. We could leave them out for now, but the fumes from soldering stations and laser cutters will make for a toxic hangout space and could contaminate the GMO bacteria growing in the next room over, causing a feud between the hardware hackers and wetware hackers: Carbon vs. silicon.
With visions of a federation of Bay Area DIY communities dancing in our brains, we'd invited nearly a dozen ethically aligned groups and individuals to check out the other rooms available for rent that surround the common space in the building we will be moving into this week. As such, our group today includes representatives from LOL, Ace Monster Toys, Noisebridge, and the Anarchafeminist Hackerhive.
To rewind a bit and cover any confusion over the oft-misunderstood term “hacker,” allow me to clarify: A hacker is not necessarily someone who maliciously breaks into computer systems – as mass media portrayals would have you assume. A hacker is a learning enthusiast, someone who is so curious as to take something apart completely in order to discover the fundamental components of a system. To "hack," then, is to learn the process of creating something through doing it, and through modifying it to do what you want it to do (a more detailed explanation can be found here). Put simply, in the words of McKenzie Wark (author of The Hacker Manifesto): “The slogan of the hacker class is not the workers of the world united, but the workings of the world untied.”
Among our group today, I count at least two biohackers, three writers, half a dozen software developers and web geeks, and a bevy of folks with interests ranging from 3D printing to building robots to starting a cooperative business. What unites us is a shared passion for citizen science and open access to tools and education – as well as a strong desire for community.
Events in the Life of Sudo Room
This month marks the one-year anniversary of Sudo Room's first meeting. From the beginning, we committed ourselves to the active practice of openness, transparency and collaboration. Drawing from prior experience as well as the Hackerspace Design Patterns guide, we set up a mailing list, wiki, and IRC channel. We take notes together using an etherpad shared document, and post them on the wiki after each meeting. We decided to run by consensus without fastening ourselves to a binding agreement; iteration is invaluable, and we wanted to leave room for growth and change.
The first Sudo Room meetings were held at an Oakland technology salon, Tech Liminal, every Wednesday night for more than 6 months. There, we incubated at somewhere between 5 and 12 folks per meeting, regularly overlapping with local techie non-profits who showed up to meet, organize, and hack on innovative civic projects. During this time we also created a collaboratively written mission statement:
Sudo Room is an open, non-hierarchical, collaborative community of humans, including tech developers, citizen scientists, activists, artists–and all combinations in between and beyond!–who are interested in and working towards social change. Our goal is to create the first inclusive, dedicated hackerspace in downtown Oakland, to share ideas and projects in citizen science, digital citizenship and literacy, environmental sustainability, community engagement, and self-government.
Sudo Room is committed to access, empowerment, transparency, and public/social good. Sudoers have a great diversity of interests and we emphasize respect and solidarity among ourselves and with others.
In May, we had a kickstarter/fundraiser (calling it a 'kickraiser') featuring a panel of Bay Area hackerspace representatives, including BioCurious (a DIY biotech space in Sunnyvale), HackerMoms (a hackerspace for moms in Berkeley) and The Crucible (a fine and industrial arts education space in Oakland) as well as the aforementioned (Noisebridge, LOL and Ace Monster Toys). Participants spoke on the topic of “Hackerspaces: The Necessity for Community Spaces Here and Everywhere.”
Come summer, we'd moved into a space – of sorts – an eclectic building also home to a psychic, an improv theater group, a nurse's training organization and a gun security instructor. We rented the box office and a tiny orange closet, giving us access to the large classroom space and two smaller back rooms. For better or worse, the improv theater folks hold auditions in the classroom every weekday evening. We have our meetings in the back room, but the open ceilings prevent any possibility of privacy – our voices often straining to be heard over the raucous hollering and silly sounds of the actors.
Despite the limitations of the space, we made the most of our momentum: We worked together to develop a governance structure, get a bank account, and forge a compact.
We also made the most of our location in uptown Oakland by hosting events for the monthly First Friday Art Murmur. For August's Art Murmur, we took the opportunity to stage a public announcement declaring our Intent to Exist – a requisite for obtaining a bank account without a federal tax ID – followed by an attempt to see how many hackers we could fit in our small box office space (the answer? 42.)
Sudoer Tracy declares our Intent to Exist.
Sudo Room has also been in a courtship with Coyote Counter Collective, an Oakland-based workers' cooperative workshop and retail space for fashion designers, leatherworkers, and other kinds of functional, sustainable artistry. Our clothes-hacking night during September's Art Murmur featured electronic conductive thread and LEDs sewn onto donated clothing and homemade hats.
Just this week, Sudo Room voted unanimously to move into the larger space at 2141 Broadway St. We intend to hold a series of fundraisers throughout Oakland throughout the end of November and the first week of December to ensure we keep member dues as low as possible.
Toward a Federation of Bay Area DIY Communities
Our kickraiser helped us raise the funds we needed to get our initial space, but more importantly, it brought together other Bay Area hackerspaces in a spirit of cooperation, camaraderie and support.
From left, Praveen Sinha (LOL), Jen-Mei Wu (LOL), David Rorex (Ace Monster Toys), Elisheva Sterling (Hacker Moms), Joe Jackson (BioCurious), Steven Young (The Crucible) and Mitch Altman (kneeling on the far right, Noisebridge) speak to the topic of “Hackerspaces: The Necessity for Community Spaces Here and Everywhere” at Sudo Room's first kickraiser at Tech Liminal.
There is something truly exciting about the interconnections between subcultures and the value of their hybridization in the spirit of creativity. What happens, for instance, when you combine botany buffs and hackers? You might get something like BioBridge, the amorphous DIYbio contingent of Noisebridgers, working on experiments in oyster mushroom growing and developing Arduino-controlled sensors for monitoring temperature and pH levels in kombucha brews and sourdough starters. Here you would also find overlap with Tastebridge's Vegan Hackers night and perhaps some friendly Food Not Bombs volunteers.
While Sudo Room embraces an inclusive model of “hacking” that goes beyond hardware and software – to wetware, wearables, and even culture itself – there is certainly reason to resist confining ourselves to hacker culture alone. While not disregarding the admirable ethical core of lifelong learning, decentralization, and collaboration, the term is also connotative of an elite culture consisting of a privileged class of internet savants.
Jen-Mei Wu, co-founder of Liberating Ourselves Locally, wrote the following in response to our invitation for Saturday:
“I really liked the way you called the proposed federation a DIY federation and not a hackerspace federation. Often when I talk w/ hacktivists, I get the feeling they think everyone should hack, that hacking == DIY. But … there's this whole amazing universe of DIY groups that live outside (sometimes waaaay outside) hacktivist circles, and they are doing great things.
I think hackerspaces really could learn a lot from each other, but that they could gain even more by being part of a larger community of DIY organizations.”
LOL, short for Liberating Ourselves Locally, is an Oakland maker space founded and run by people of color. The group works closely with other local grassroots organizations dedicated to fostering self-sufficiency and community-based commerce. Their events have ranged from weekly carpentry classes to yoga classes, meditation sessions, Decolonize study groups and political co-education (with pancakes!), demonstrating the wide swath of possibilities for creating an inclusive community education model.
Considerations Toward the Future Network Economy
As we move forward into the future of increased access to technologies, citizen science, and DIY engineering, we'd do well to be wary of those who would seek to co-op and capitalize off of this movement. Maker Faire's announcement early this year that they are now accepting funding from DARPA – who are also sponsoring 'makerspaces' in high schools nationwide – has introduced some deep questioning over the ethical responsibilities of hackers and DIY enthusiasts. Are we still DIY if dependent on funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency? Do we want to support military-funded and run projects in our schools?
The solution may well be to foster the kind of grassroots coalition-building that would connect DIY spaces and tools with neighborhood community organizations, worker-owned business cooperatives, local investors, and new opportunities for crowdfunding. The JOBS Act, which passed through the House earlier this year and comes into action in January, would allow the public up to $1 million in shared equity through crowdfunding platforms – bypassing the typical route through Wall Street by which companies and investors were previously obligated to navigate.
These are a few of the matters we are trying to hack in our efforts to manifest solutions in the spirit of collaboration. Have any ideas or questions? Make them shareable! We'd love to hear your thoughts and impressions on the potential of community creative spaces and how best to align our highest dreams with our deepest principles.
Sudo Room meets every Wednesday evening from 7-9pm at 2141 Broadway St, two blocks from the 19th St Oakland BART. We are currently campaigning to raise funds to cover the costs of our new space, and would be deeply grateful for your support. You can donate here.