This afternoon I hung out for a few hours at the Occupy Together Meetup. I met some smart developers, made a few tweaks to the code, and spoke to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. I’m hoping to also get this in the Occupied Wall Street Journal, which I’m guessing gets read by more people in Zuccotti Park.
I’ve finally set up a GitHub repository! It also includes some documentation on how to configure OpenWRT to behave like a captive portal. I’m trying to think of a better fake-TLD than “.offline”. Dot-occupy? I’m open to suggestions.
Update: I’ve renamed the project to occupy.here! More soon…
I’ve proposed a course at The Public School: Hacking the WRT54GL.
Lately I’ve been doing some projects that involve serving tiny self-contained websites on autonomous Linksys WRT54GL routers running OpenWRT. That is, websites you can only access by connecting to a specific wifi signal. In a creative sense I like the notion of giving web pages a physical presence, of focusing on a particular audience in a particular place. The technology is also pretty fun to work with.
This morning I stopped by Zuccatti Park and left the wifi router running ows.offline! It seems that weekday mornings are a lot less crowded, and the people I met who were awake and in the park were exactly the people who I wanted to know about the project. I chatted with some folks at the info desk and they were really enthusiastic about the idea! I explained the idea to this one guy who promptly plugged me into the generator and said “you are awesome!”
I’m just going to play it by ear and just drop in for maintenance/backups and promotion when I can.
The label reads:
- Connect to wifi network “ows.offline”
- Visit http://ows.offline/
Code release and promotional flyers coming soon!
Occupy Wall Street
Like many New Yorkers I’ve been observing and processing the occupation of Zuccatti Park with a sense of cautious enthusiasm. It took me a few days to figure out what it’s actually about, and I’ve come around to accept their position that protesting with no stated agenda is legitimate. Here are some resources I’ve found useful, but really the best way to get a sense for things is to walk around and talk to people in the park.
- Ezra Klein’s interview with David Graeber
- “We Are All Human Microphones Now”
- The Public School: Learning From Occupy Wall Street, meeting again next Sunday
- McKenzie Wark on Occupy Wall Street: ‘How to Occupy an Abstraction’
In short, there are two separate things happening:
- The occupation itself (also): a group of activists with a range of leftist politics (plus some Ron Paul supporters) are using occupation as a tactic
- The New York City General Assembly: an experimental process of political deliberation and decision making is being used to guide the occupation
One challenge I’ve been working through is how to best express my sympathy for the occupation without bailing on my existing responsibilities. My Fall schedule has been really busy, which has made it especially difficult to participate.
Of course there are a variety of things one can do to show support and I’m hoping to contribute in a way that plays to my strengths. Below is a project proposal I’ve submitted to the Occupennial art exhibition (more info).
I’ve been working on hacking a Linksys WRT54GL wifi router to run very simple web forum software I developed. It’s part of an art process that I’m calling Situated Net Art. Like other instances of net art it relies on web technologies such as HTML, but is intended to be experienced from a specific physical location rather than adopting the more universal context of the World Wide Web.
The motivation behind ows.offline is that the web offers a fantastic array of communication tools, but often the conversation suffers from certain trade-offs as the number of participants rises. Proximity could be a useful filter for those with the greatest need for better communication tools. The forum is an attempt to complement the existing deliberative process of the NYC General Assembly and offer its constituents a text-based forum to hash out their ideas with greater subtlety.
Another component I’m interested in exploring is how access to the necessary hardware is or is not available to occupiers. I would like to develop some kind of social contract that stipulates the laptop or smartphone being used to access the forum might be lent to those without access. A similar type of arrangement was used in Heath Bunting’s BorderXing database, where users of the site must agree to become internet providers in a kind of peer-to-peer distributed net cafe.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user shankbone
I’m not sure an art context is the best way to pursue this, but at least it’s a process I’m familiar with. I’m still pretty uncertain about the logistics of maintaining electricity and shepherding my little wireless router through the chaos of the plaza. Perhaps inclusion in an art exhibition is a way to keep the hardware safe and dry. The software itself is already written, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to deploy it. I’ll release the software soon on GitHub with instructions on how others might use it with their own wifi routers.
Of course I’m open to feedback, so please feel free to comment below.
This is an essay I wrote for a one-off newspaper published by the Trade School folks. I haven’t found any trace of it online, but I bet a PDF version will materialize at some point.
An unusual book was published in 1974 called Computer Lib/Dream Machines. It has an oversized magazine format and two front covers. The two sides read inward to the center page, each side rotated 180° to the other. On the Computer Lib side, above a crudely-drawn clenched ﬁst, reads the subtitle: You can and must understand computers NOW. I like the imperative nature of the phrase, even all these years later.
The book isn’t written by a computer scientist. Its author, Ted Nelson, isn’t a “technical person” so to speak, he has degrees in sociology and philosophy. He is a kind of über-generalist:
People keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t. EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross- connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly.
Nelson also coined the term “hyptertext” and continues to work on Xanadu, an ambitious (but tragically unpopular) hypertext system technically still in competition with the World Wide Web. I think of him, fondly, as the web’s crazy uncle. I appreciate his open resistance to the conventions of the web, even if my own career building websites is largely based on those conventions.
It’s hard to overstate the ubiquitous role the web now plays in our lives. The undergraduates I teach have grown up with access to Facebook and Google, these things must feel timeless to them. However, the internet as a whole is a fairly recent creation. It’s the result of very deliberate choices reﬂected in infrastructure and code. It’s easy to overlook how that hardware and software actually operates on our data.
As Lawrence Lessig has argued in Code, “we can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to protect values that we believe are fundamental. Or we can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to allow those values to disappear.” Setting aside Lessig’s unfashionable use of the word cyberspace, his point is an important one. It’s echoed more recently by Douglas Rushkoff in Program or Be Programmed:
Throughout the twentieth century, we remained blissfully ignorant of the real biases of automotive transportation. We approached our cars as consumers, through ads, rather than as engineers or, better, civic planners. We gladly surrendered our public streetcars to private automobiles, unaware of the real expenses involved.
Like global warming and urban sprawl, the dangers of centralized, corporate control over our mediated lives might seem daunting, inevitable even. It’s tempting to simply make due with those tools already at hand, to let professionals make the hard decisions about the software we rely on. The principle of intertwingularity suggests otherwise—your individual preferences and knowledge are fundamentally connected to the technologies where they become manifested. The capacity to write code is deeply intertwingled with what that software can produce.
Granted, the progress you can expect to make learning to program computers will be slow. It may take years before you build anything close to useful. Even so, the patterns of thought developed through understanding code will help you better negotiate the strange currents of our hypermediated world. The important ﬁrst step is understanding why so that you will want to ﬁnd out how. The second step is deciding on a project to undertake. The rest is a cyclical process of typing, befuddlement, and exhilaration when you ﬁnally understand how it works.
Here is my slide deck. I’ve also posted some example code and the original Keynote file to GitHub.
Here is some video documentation of Ohm Ω, a performance drawing piece I helped create with the Future Archaeology crew at Splatterpool gallery. It was very experimental, in the sense that we had no idea how it would come together until it was up on the wall. And I think it came together very nicely, the audience really got into participating toward the end!
Here is some video documentation of my photo performance in November for Bushwick BETA Spaces. The piece uses three digital SLR cameras with their flash memory cards removed. It is still possible to take photos, but the resulting images can only be seen on the camera’s preview screen. They’re lost as soon as the next shot is taken.
This is a video I made for our BETA Spaces show.
Well, it certainly has been a while since I posted here. I’ve enjoyed my blog vacation, but I will break my silence to write a little bit about an art show I’m involved in next Sunday.
It’s a group show of some friends and myself, working under the moniker Future Archaeology. We are interested in a pretty wide variety of things, the 6 of us, but we’ve found common ground in this idea of creating a kind of archaeology for the future, an imagined dystopia (this word is probably debatable) of hybridized artificial life. Much like science fiction writing is often a projection of the time it was written, I see Future Archaeology as being about the group’s shared anxiety about technologies losing track of their connection to human needs, about our collective displacement of the ecological basis for life.
Our projects thus far have been about molding simple electronic circuits into artificial insects. This show will be different than previous iterations (see: Canopy Assemblage, Chrysalis). We will have documentation on hand that gives some context for what the group has been working on, but primarily the show is about presenting our individual art practices in a way that isn’t so tightly bound to the group’s constructed narrative. The show is a momentary consideration of the ephemeral present tense, whether it’s literally what’s happening here & now or explores a more abstract treatment of the idea.
The project I’ll be showing involves photography and a simple obstruction (read: gimmick). During the run of the one-day-only exhibition I will be taking pictures with a set of three digital SLR cameras. The obstruction is that I’ve removed the flash memory from each camera, creating a very limited window for viewing each image in the preview screen of the camera itself. At any given moment two cameras will present a screen-based diptych in the gallery space while I’m out taking the next shot to replace the older of the two images. I will spend the day shooting photos and will have no lasting artifact.
The piece has a kind of unwieldy name that tries to explain precisely what’s going on in the camera’s settings: Shoot w/o card: On, Review time: Hold, Auto power off: Off. I like the directness of the title, but I hope it doesn’t give the impression I’m mainly interested in a kind of mechanical exercise. I’m attempting to provoke a specific kind of reaction in viewers. In denying the longevity of the image, I’m hoping that one might come to appreciate more fully what is happening in the immediate place and time. These are photos deeply rooted in the brief span between their creation and destruction. I will attempt to elevate the sense that our shared circumstances are fleeting and precious. My central challenge will be to work effectively with the small screen size, to create images that might tweak — if even briefly — the relationship to one’s surroundings.
Anyway, come see it happen! It will be part of the Bushwick BETA Spaces festival on Sunday November 14th, from noon until 7pm. Our space is on Grattan Street, very close to the Morgan Ave L train stop. You can find more information on our website.
- Future Archaeology — an installation I collaborated on with some friends, installed in my apartment (check out the video from our first project).
- Photos originally intended to be seen online — a selection of photo prints, curated by Ellie, and a larger selection on display as a screen-based kiosk.