Fighting

I spent yesterday morning drinking amazing coffee out of a sparkle cup, sitting at kitchen table with a Pirate Parliamentarian. We talked about motorcycles (he’s getting ready to ride along the coast of Italy for the weekend), the SOPA/PIPA blackout (it hadn’t started yet, as it was still pre-midnight in America), and me moving to Berlin. Oh man, do I want to. I mean, as much as I care to move anywhere besides Seattle. And then the nail in the coffin – if I only have bases from which I travel, why not just add Berlin into the mix of those bases? Seattle and Berlin. As the plane comes in over these fair cities, I look down and think “I could stay here.”

And then the SOPA blackout unfolded, and I saw my friends laugh and pontificate and fight. Seeing @herderpepedia did it for me the most – the people for whom information has been democratized to such a degree that they don’t even think about it, how they freak out when their oxygen is removed. It made me think about the fights my parents have been a part of, and what sorts of impacts were made. Dad as one of the main organizers against the Vietnam “War.” Mom fighting for feminism. Both fighting for Unions, and Sex Ed in schools, and for alien rights. They did huge, amazing things in Ann Arbor and in Chicago. And then, when those fights were “won,” they went back to the town my father grew up in and are still fighting there. Often for the same things, the news that those fights had been won never reached these “pockets” which are actually most of America.

I began to wonder where I would be most useful in life. Is it better to do great things with the choir, or teach the people who don’t get it yet? The hacker scene in Berlin is amazing. They have a fucking Pirate Party, for fuck’s sake. They have a massive hackerspace community. They have grass-roots ISPs and are actively working on getting Satellites into space so everyone can have free internet. I have dreams here about a (not so strange) future where Berliners wage information wars against other countries while the city is bombed for ensuring everyone has a voice. (I’m wary of using the term “information war” here, as communication is both a human right but also a political act. Bombing is certainly an act of war.) I would do great things here, be amongst amazing people, and completely fail to reach all but the most involved. Sure, our combined impact might create ripples that reach far and wide. But I’m wary of the assumption that things will “get there” without direct involvement.

So I’m going to continue what I do, for now, traveling and evangelizing and throwing my brain and my charm at a Past that is Broken, dragging the Future kicking and screaming into the fray. But later in life. When there are people who are crazier and more energentic and smarter than I am… then I will move to a tiny town (maybe the same one I grew up in – the same place my father was raised and he and my mother live now) and become a teacher. Corrupt the children. Teach them that It Gets Better, because they will make it Better.

Now, let’s extrapolate this idea a bit more. What about organizations? What about groups of people that are from The Past, who are Fat Cats, who are disconnected from reality and humanity? Are they worth talking to, or do we distain them, leave them to wither and die in the dregs of their own morals? Do we talk to them, influence them, bring the Future with open hands and hearts to them? We forget, in our Bubbles of Awesome, that many folk listen to what is said by these (non-awesome-kind-of) Dinosaur Leaders. If we can influence them, we do create ripple effects. Gaining status and the trust associated with it, and Having Things to Say means you are listened to, not just by your own choir. And isn’t that the point?

Think about this in regards to SOPA, and Dan talking to Congress. Think about this in terms of Telecomix talking to Guttenberg. Think about this in regards to DARPA wanting to fund hackerspace projects. These lines are blurry, but it is irresponsible of us to simply take the people who already “get it” and leave the rest in the cold. That is intellectual class war. It is also a more standard class war, as it assumes access to computers, an environment which encourages breaking and learning, and the free time to participate in this culture. No one knows you’re a dog on the internet, but you have to 1) have a computer 2) know how to type 3) know how to get on a social platform 4) know how to not be a dog.

I end this entry sitting with my laptop, listening to music from a member of my Post Geographic Tribe. Stickers are strewn across the floor, shadows are cast on the walls, and tomorrow is full of adventure. Selfishly, I know I’ll enjoy this fight, whether or not we win. But I hope we do. Are you fighting?

What does education mean to you?

As you all likely know, my intent is always towards education. I don’t mean traditional systems, though that works for some folk quite well (myself included). I mean the simple act of learning. The fulfillment and deepening of curiosity. It means an engagement with the world that can only be temporarily dimmed by complacency. It means the survival and prosperity of individuals, their community, and the superorganism we all compose together. But for me it’s one simple idea:

Education is the best possible fulcrum for social change.


Everyone interacts with it, even if it’s explicitly not to. Everyone agrees our current systems are broken. And through the examination of those systems, we come to understand our cultures, and how we are affected by and effecting those cultures.

I’ve gotten into 50-comment-deep threads on Google Reader before (sadface to my recently departed favorite social forum) about this sort of cultural awareness, so let me explain a bit more.
I can support whatever choices someone is making, even if I don’t fully get it or if it doesn’t seat well with my personal world view. I can only do this, though, if they have examined those choices in light of other cultural knowledge. I respect the Catholics of Seattle I’ve met because they have also understood science, Greek mythology, and what they personally get out of religion. They have educated themselves about many aspects of culture and decided what works best for them.

This is what got me into Transhumanism – that we are at a point in our evolution where through awareness, we can become self-determining. It’s why I have “we are the machine” as my first tattoo – our interactions with each other are what set us going in certain directions. That is ultimate compassion and ambition.

So. This brings us to the most recent Brainmeats podcast. It’s me and Lisha; James Carlson, my mentor and founder of Bucketworks; Beth Kolko, awesome education hacker at University of Washington; Pete Hall, another amazing education hacker, though in Auckland; Dale Dougherty of MAKE and various hands-on education initiatives; and Kushal Chakrabarti of education microloan foundation Vittana. I have the absurd pleasure of calling each of these folk “friend,” some even “dear friend” or “partner in crime.”

Kushal is doing a blogger challenge right now for Vittana. You should check that out, plus the student I just supported, and get in on one or both of these extensions of opportunity. Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to choose between if school works for us or not, and how we will pay for it if we do, have a responsibility to offer those same opportunities. How often can you say $25 changed someone’s life? I lose that in the dryer every month.

This blog post is part of the Vittana “Make a Difference” blogger challenge. The contest invites bloggers from around the world to discuss various ways to make a difference in the world, as well as share stories on who or what has made a difference in their lives.

The winning blog post will be the post that drives the most loans to students in need. Please support this cause (and this blog!) by making a loan in my name: “Willow Brugh.” Be sure to type that in when you reach the checkout page (example screenshot) The more loans you make the more educations get funded and the more recognition and traffic my site gets!

Please support this blog and contest by using this special link to tweet about it (You can edit the tweet before it’s posted, but make sure this link (http://bit.ly/s5beTT)and the hashtag #vittanachallenge is part of the tweet or Vittana won’t know you tweeted about me!)

The Right to Get Paid

Paul ScrivenOh man, do I hate capitalism. But I also dislike blanket statements. SO HA.

I like paying taxes (I like roads and schools, don’t you?). I like paying devs. I like it when I have a bit of cash to pay a friend to help me sort through my house or a database. I like indicating my intent with money. I like the simplicity of expressing appreciation of effort and ability that money allows. I also like the ease of transfer of time contributions from my community-building and humanitarian response efforts to, say, the roads I get to ride on.

So here’s the thing – if someone is going to benefit from your efforts in this current system, you better be compensated either via that system or in such a way that is still worth your while. Bartering is awesome. References can also be rad (when needed and you’re just starting out).

“You are trading your life for value. Be sure you get the value.”
at Barcamp Seattle session on Shares in Startups (wish I had caught his name)

I love buying books. I love sending money to musicians. I loved paying for my Burning Man ticket (thanks, Mer, for putting it in a bracket I could afford). I love trading fruit snacks to the coffee roasters for a cup of amazing complicated Stumptown. I love making the introductions that legitimize my gifted laptop.

End point: go watch this.

Ubiquitous Burning Man Change My Life Post

image by adamcecc

image by adamcecc

This past week I learned to sit with my own ineptitude. I went to Burning Man, which the best description I’ve heard to date is “This is where you bring your best ideas of the year to burn them, because they are not good enough.”

I finally came to terms with the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing, where we are going as the human race. That we both need to work on our problems and think about what further problems our solutions will cause. We can both sit with and work on our shit. Think of it like an issue of invasive species introduced to solve a very specific problem which then overruns everything.

I saw both the artists who are so proud of what they’ve built and the people who truly appreciate it, to the people who only attend for the weekend under the false pretense that this is about debauchery with no responsibility. It is about debauchery, but about the decadence you achieve when you have next to nothing. We are digital gypsies, unifying around ideals and identities in post geographies of conferences and camps. Splitting up and reuniting around other ideals in other times and places. We flaunt the things we DO have (joy, knowledge, and yes at times even monies) and laugh at what others rely on (certification, consumerism).

The camp I went with greatly influenced my view of Burning Man, of course. A group of people who are radically self reliant, enjoy helping others, no drama, and just enough fun to maybe get caught. A group that understands the gravity of the world (haha, physics joke!) and that it must be worked on, but in order to do so there must be breaks and self care.

<3 to Saturday Morning Cartoons and our 2-story high blanket fort.

Chaos Camp and What’s the Point?

20+ hours into travel (LAS->TXL), I watch the sun set over German forests. Two new friends sleep hard in the seats next to me, our luggage tucked under the seats. Cellos in my ears. Camp tomorrow.

Sitting in the woods, aircraft from WWII the Cold War (thanks, Skytee!) surrounding us. Chill acoustic music over the quality sound system (likely being played live a short walk away). Mate in hand, disco balls in trees. Every person I have met here is exceptional. Ever talk I have heard has been interesting.

As camp closes down, I feel like I’m doing the walk of shame back home from The Future. Unwashed, same clothes as the night before, the people I pass and I smile knowingly at me.
I’ve been walking and walking and walking. Finding tiny pockets of projects I hadn’t yet seen. The crepe robot. The lamayed fighter jet. The ammunitions bunker tiny rave. I haven’t slept yet since last night: there was a flash mob dance party that lasted 6 hours followed by a celebration party for going so long. There was Chinese tea service and stories in the Metalab tent in the wee hours.
I think it must be the sleep dep – people speaking moon language and wandering around in thongs and with bloodied eyes. There are fighter jets whose bombs have been yarn-bombed and a lounge on top of a tank.

But no.. It’s just Camp.

It’s not all party tho. I learned about electronic waste and more about bitcoins. I learned about my new favorite activist group, Telecomix. A lovely gent walked me through how to use sonar to make me brighter as people get closer to my bike. We’ve cooked, we’ve lugged pallets, bridged politics and hacked badges.

Was asked today what I’m taking away from life. Here are my thoughts on it:
Most mornings I wake up and I have to watch Carl Sagan videos on youtube. We’re all monkeys in clothes with language and illusions of grandeur. We have no purpose, but we can give ourselves purpose. I don’t know what answers are, but I can push to empower individuals in such a way that also makes stronger communities. I don’t think the biggest dangers will come in my lifetime, but I can help prepare for them. Shoulders of giants and all that. Ella and I get in fun conversations all the time about fighting for the survival of the species, or fighting for the advancement of the species, or just fighting for the diminishing of suffering while we’re around.
So.. taking something away? I don’t know about that. I’m learning. I’m fucking up. And I’m meeting amazing people who are far smarter and kinder and powerful than I am. And that’s an entirely enjoyable existence.

Something I love about Berlin and the European hacker scene is that there is an assumption of competence AND people tend to be much more politically minded. Of course you know what’s going on. You have an opinion on it. And you take action about it.

I could get spoiled about this.

Train Station!

even the train stations are awesome


Hackers and Humanitarians

We are geeks who care to use our skills to solve more than just #firstworldproblems. In doing this, we imbue the response tools we build with the values we hold. For instance, crisis mapping is built around the ideas of crowd sourcing and open source. Anyone can post, anyone can edit, and through the trends which emerge, outliers who might attempt to skew the results towards their own ends are swallowed up. Open Source communitites and participants building tools for disaster response means the people in need of assistance also gain some autonomy. The response itself is still a huge logistical and financial endeavor which must be supported by governments and other large organizations. However, the ability for us to connect to each other as *individuals* in OS lends dignity to those most in need. The people building the response tools do so because they care about both the process of tool creation and the purpose the tool will serve. The creators’ values are then hugely manifest in the tools themselves. This then affects the people using the tools.

It’s a matrix of involvement and influence. And once it’s understood, it leads to a deep sense of responsibility and awareness.

This is the reason I’m currently at DEFCON. Also because it’s a totally rad time and I adore the people here. But the culture of hacking in the United States has long been Hacking For The Sake Of Hacking. And we can do better than that – we can Do What We Do *With Purpose*. When people in crisis (or just in crap situations) are requesting help and must declare their whereabouts, name, phone number, and possibly identifying information; they should not have to worry about any repurcusions outside the actual recieving of help.

People in traditional response have this idea of Risk Management. There will always be risk. It is up to us to make the things that *cannot* fail be secure. The last thing someone who has just survived a disaster needs is their life jeapordized in more consciously malicious ways.

This is especially interesting when we get into things like protesters and refugees. I’m not asking people to pick sides (at least not in a public forum associated with my jorb), but I am asking the hackers and security kids of the world to take a look at some of the applications and services associated with humanitarian efforts and explore how they might be improved. Many of these tools have been made by enthusiastic amateurs and/or people who expect the best out of humans. We need your help.

Push your imaginary hats a little more to the #FFFFFF side. Yes, I know it’s an arbitrary term, but it sums up the idea well in this case. Play a game with a tool which will later make response more efficient and effective. Because nothing is more aggrevating than things being on fire and the door being locked from the other side.

I interviwed with NBC this morning about geek social responsibility. I don’t know how they’ll edit me down or what clip they’ll use from our conversation, but I bet it won’t be my response to their question about government organizations hiring on hackers. They asked how people feel about others who approach these recruiters. I told them it’s a relationship that could happen if the government starts doing what it is supposed to, so far as protecting and supporting people. There are some things that are easier to do if you have a long history of knowledge, rigid structure, and lots of money and expertise. But until the government starts doing its job, we’ll be looking out for people instead. “So are hackers good citizens?” she asked. So I tried to explain to someone who is in TV that anyone who takes an active role in their own lives and in their surrounding communitites instead of sitting around doing nothing IS a good citizen. So yes, a hacker is by the very definition a good citizen.
If you want to watch, I’m told it with be on NBC tomorrow for the Nightly News.

the verbage of comfort

There was recently a thread on the Jigsaw mailing list (daVinci) about reclaiming the Monday Math-Meet-Up. Horray! The goal was to have a more approachable set of topics, rather than esoteric and difficult. The first name thrown out was Math Porn. Most people were very into the idea of the event, but there was some back-and-forth about the name.

Just to be clear – I adore both Maths and Porn. But a maker space is not the place for such a name. The argument was basically that the name was very clear about the event being fun, accessible, and enjoyable. It would also be sure to attract a very specific group of people – those who were advanced enough in their understanding of society and the like to find the name amusing.

My response was as follows:

Yes, it would bring in a more specific group. But here’s the thing.

Women and minorities are appallingly underrepresented in geek communities. And it’s in part because many geek men (usually upperclass white dudes) do things like have specific panels for “women in tech” or crack jokes about sex in the openings to their talks. Makerbots are commonly named after women because “they’re full of glitches and problems.” Porn is stimulating, porn is fun, but porn is also a convoluted term to use in the context of larger society.

While I know that you are of the dark-humor persuasion (like myself) and understand that pornography tends to be an indulgence in intellectual wank sessions, the majority of people do not know that.
A pasty-making class is ok. DIY strap-ons are ok. It is very clear what people are signing up for, and it is indicative of subject matter, not the approach. Math Porn is not clear what environment people are entering into, and while I fully invest in the transdisciplinary ideology of Jigsaw, going the route of tried-and-true alienation is not acceptable.

I had also had a conversation with a gentleman today who is designing a new bike (450cc at about 80lbs – get your head around that one) and how it was more accessible to women. He also did a fantastic job of making it clear it wasn’t “For Women,” for that makes female-identified individuals feel pandered to, and men won’t buy it because they are insecure in their sexuality and feminity is seen as a bad thing.

When you make a separate space for us, you alienate us. When you tell us what we want or need, you belittle us. And when you expect all women to be “post-sexism,” you are being blind to what our everyday existance is like. Yes, things are better. But these places that are meant to be inclusive, meant to give people a handle on their own lives, and certainly to be a safe space, to treat exchanges oblivious of history and context is still an asshole move.

Some awesome stuff to imbibe:

of hacks and thons

Random Hacks of Kindness was the first weekend of December, OpenDoor Hack-A-Thon this past weekend. Many amazing things were built, and we’ll be continuing endeavors on both counts. What I’m going to talk about now though is not the code or the implementation, but the social dynamics and what we can Do Better for hackathons.

The thons that I have participated with have, as a default, been intimidating. I hope this is not everyone’s experience, but it certainly is mine. I have limited coding experience, and a time-crunch competition is no time to show up and say “but I can learn!” I often offer to keep track of online communications, do research, layout order-of-use and menus and the like, and brew coffee. On occasion, while someone is waiting for code to compile or someone else to finish a contingency task, they’ll teach me about what they’ve written. I learn a lot and have a great time.

image by @aaronpk

There is a continuing problem of “the n00b and the clue-by-four”. This is happens when someone shows up with some combination of the following two features : arriving late1 and/or having extremely limited ability2. It is an issue I have yet to see addressed well. Incorporating a better way of guiding efforts of the thons would be beneficial to all participants, n00bs or l33t. So, in talking with James and Jordan and Strand, we’ve been thinking about the following solutions:

  • basic document (link to what the event is about, communication channels, documents created for event
  • IRC bots (check-in times, auto-answer basic questions, DM those joining the room with above doc, send log of IRC discussion
  • gamification (points towards what people should be working on, time allotments for each stage, etc)

So… I’m super excited to start the hackathons at Jigsaw third weekends in 2011. What would you do? What sorts of guidance do you need when participating in a group event where the details evolve as everyone works together, and few people know each other? We’re intending on having classes the Wednesday before, so people feel a bit more capable in their skills, or create a new skillset.

1. Problems and their potential solutions are discussed either before the hackathon or during its first breaths. Courses chosen are based on the skillsets of available people – to include a step which involves skills no one present has based on the hope that someone will walk through the door hours into the event with just that skill would be silly. This means arriving early is essential, ESPECIALLY if you haven’t been participating in the existing dialoge.
2. As stated before, time-crunch competitions are no time to pester people to teach you things, and promising you can deliver something you don’t have the skills for can be detrimental to everyone. Come, hang out, learn more, but temper your ambitions with your abilities.

catalyst changes

I’m loaded. Not as in alcohol, or as in a gun, but as in questions.

I wish I had some end point to this post, some next step. The thoughts aren’t even complete. But I do want to get them down, get started on… something.

Past occurrences were necessary to arrive at where we are now, so if you’re happy with where you are, those events must have been ok, right?

I’ve been called a Catalyst for Awesome. Friends have gotten out of bad relationships based on frank discussion, friends have started on that long-dreamed-of project based on passionate discussion, but friends have also gone epic places in their lives because of when I abandoned them. I don’t want to abandon anyone again. Sometimes the catalyst has to change. /thread

I don’t have set boundaries. Constantly in flux to best deal with situations, there are certainly lines that won’t be crossed by anyone for any reason, but those lines are contextual and often more about those I care about than myself. It’s protected me from a lot of hurt, but it’s also unhealthy in the long run – both for me, and those I care about. I miss being a cyborg sometimes. It was certainly easier, though it lacked depth. So… how does one do that? Set boundaries, I mean. /thread

This kind of goes along with boundaries, but I need to know who I am outside of my communities. I have been existing for the communities I’m a part of. Again, not healthy. /thread

I don’t take the sort of time to process things that others seem to. Maybe it’s part of the “get over it” upbringing, maybe I’m actually processing that fast, maybe I’m not processing enough. But I end up seeing where I’m freaked out, why, and going back into the fray to face it head-on. I scream in the face of things. I call out the elephant in the room. With respect, mind you, and with love. /thread

Also need some sleep and a loooong motobike ride.

Hello, LJ. I think you’ll be good for me.

year’s end

I’m taking a moment to further procrastinate on my law school application paperwork reflect on the past year. I’ve done a lot. I’ve learned even more.

Most of the things I’ve learned have been in harsh lessons, and in people caring enough to make sure I didn’t get yet another round of ass kicking. I’ve emerged with my Tribe, and a Home, and the ability to accept my own vulnerabilities.

Where to even start? My life is made of up of regaling stories, of the amazing people I interact with, of experiences and meals and quiet moments. So I guess thank-yous are in order, though who I thank comes in alphabetical order.