phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer is an Internet enthusiast based in Troy, NY

American police

Three links about American police. (One essay and two radio segments.)

  • Central Booking by Keith Gessen
    What it’s like to get arrested as a (white privileged) Occupy Wall Street protestor.

    Sitting there, with the stench from our filthy toilet filling the room, and with the filth in our filthy sink making me less eager than I ought to have been to drink from it, despite being thirsty, I became angry—really, honestly, for the first time. I thought for the first time, with genuine venom, of the hypocrite mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, who shut down the Occupy Wall Street encampment for reasons of “health and safety” but has not deemed it worthwhile to make sure that the toilets in facilities that he has control of meet even the most minimal standards of health and safety, such that, while I watched, about forty men, eating a total of a hundred meals, over the course of a day and a half, refused to perform a single bowel movement. This was its own form of civil disobedience, I suppose, and if I’d had my wits about me maybe I could have organized a meeting of all the inmates at Bloomberg’s residence, on East Seventy-ninth Street, so that we could all take a giant shit on his front stoop.

  • A police whistle blower story from This American Life, first aired in September 2010

    For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do.

  • An interview with David M. Kennedy, author of Don’t Shoot, earlier this month on Fresh Air

    Kennedy has devoted his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence. He started going to drug markets all over the United States, met with police officials and attorney generals, and developed a program — first piloted in Boston — that dramatically reduced youth homicide rates by as much as 66 percent. That program, nicknamed the “Boston Miracle,” has been implemented in more than 70 cities nationwide.

OWS at two months

Today marks the two month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests in NYC. I’ll be joining the rally at Foley Square, 5pm to celebrate. Here are a couple links I recommend to get a sense of what’s been happening:

  • Occupy in October, a documentary radio piece from KCRW’s Unfictional covering the period leading up to the rally in Times Square
  • Beyond Liberty Plaza, a summary of articles by Khujeci Tomai (whose blog has been a great resource) describing more recent events and an appeal for growing beyond the occupation of a single park

We need to be reflective, celebratory, practical, forward-looking, and inspiring — all at once. So let us start on a macro and micro, holistic and granular level. Find a project, an affinity group, an alternative art space, a progressive organizing space, a classroom, an immigrant rights group, a trade union; anything, everything, somewhere in your neighborhood, in your city. Start building something specific, tangible– linked to the larger Occupy project of economic justice and resisting corporate control over democracy. All in preparation for spring, when people will start coming out in large numbers again. Don’t be afraid to go against some of the fetish of horizontalism; the movement needs some leaders as well. Time to move to the second phase.

The first rule of Sky Watch is…www.alternet.org

Do not ask about Sky Watch. Nick Turse on Alternet:

“We’re just gonna take your name down. That you’re a reporter and that you’re asking questions about our Sky Watch. Don’t worry. No summons,” Torres said.

A bad phone camera shot I took on October 5th

See also: Wall Street Firms Spy on Protestors in Tax-Funded Center

Wall Street Isn’t Winning It’s Cheatingwww.rollingstone.com

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:

Success is the national religion, and almost everyone is a believer. Americans love winners. But that’s just the problem. These guys on Wall Street are not winning—they’re cheating. And as much as we love the self-made success story, we hate the cheater that much more.

And also this part:

The banks borrow billions at zero and lend mortgages to us at four percent, or credit cards at twenty or twenty-five percent. This is essentially an official government license to be rich, handed out at the expense of prudent ordinary citizens, who now no longer receive much interest on their CDs or other saved income. It is virtually impossible to not make money in banking when you have unlimited access to free money, especially when the government keeps buying its own cash back from you at market rates.

Your average chimpanzee couldn’t fuck up that business plan, which makes it all the more incredible that most of the too-big-to-fail banks are nonetheless still functionally insolvent, and dependent upon bailouts and phony accounting to stay above water. Where do the protesters go to sign up for their interest-free billion-dollar loans?

Violence and video in the Occupy movement

There’s a grim undercurrent, following the Occupy Oakland eviction on Monday night, that Scott Olsen may be America’s Mohamed Bouazizi. If you haven’t seen the following video already, I urge you to take a moment and watch it. It really hits me in a visceral way, it fills me with dread and anger and nausea.

Video

Last night’s march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland in New York City produced a similar video showing police clashing with protestors. Both videos use slow motion to help explain what’s happening, while elevating the emotional stakes.

Video

In the second video police are swarming against singular individuals. But I also see a police force that’s outnumbered, that’s barely holding their own. While protestors are not responding violently, per se, this is clearly outside the bounds of effective nonviolent protest. Aggressive yelling is not the same as tackling and pinning somebody, but it’s going to increase the likelihood of escalations in violence.

The only way the Occupy movement can achieve meaningful change is through nonviolence. Similarly, the use of video to mobilize the public in solidarity must not overstate the case that police are wielding an inappropriate response against protestors. We only need to look to Oakland for evidence that current police tactics are dangerous and unwarranted. Or to Staten Island.

Goading on a conflict between police and activists, either as a release valve for built up frustrations or for the sake of damning YouTube case studies, is bad for the OWS movement. Obviously it’s bad for police. But it’s also bad for everyone else who are watching from a safe distance hoping that something transformative can come out of all this.

ows.offline in the (non-Occupied) Wall Street Journalblogs.wsj.com

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.

ows.offline code releasedgithub.com

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…

Hacking the WRT54GLnyc.thepublicschool.org

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.

ows.offline is um… online!

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:

  1. Connect to wifi network “ows.offline”
  2. Visit http://ows.offline/
  3. Profit! Revolt!

Code release and promotional flyers coming soon!

Proposal for ows.offline

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.

In short, there are two separate things happening:

  1. 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
  2. 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).

ows.offline proposal

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

What next?

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.

Why you should learn to program your computer

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.

Intro to JavaScript

This afternoon I gave a very short introduction to computer programming at Trade School. I focused on JavaScript as a language to start with, mainly because there’s essentially nothing to install and there are many practical uses to knowing a little JS.

Here is my slide deck. I’ve also posted some example code and the original Keynote file to GitHub.

Download presentation PDF

Incidentally, it looks like the last presentation I posted here was for last year’s Trade School workshop on WordPress.

Ohm Ω at Splatterpool gallery

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!

Shoot w/o card: On, Review time: Hold, Auto power off: Off

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.