Download: Episode 66.
This week Audrey and I chat about the recent raid by German police against a privacy group, how Juggalos help beat facial recognition, and what Tim Berners-Lee is working on now to fix the web.
- [01:39] Devopsdays Portland – SEPTEMBER 11-13, 2018 – RECOMPILERFRIENDS 20% discount
- [02:42] The Recompiler Issue 8: Wildcard
- [04:30] Responsible Communication Style Guide
- [05:17] German police raid homes of Tor-linked group’s board members | ZDNet
- [05:25] Coordinated raids of Zwiebelfreunde at various locations in Germany
- [05:50] Bavarian raids – riseup.net
- [16:46] Juggalos figured out how to beat facial recognition | The Outline
- [18:49] TAHKION is in Vegas on Twitter: “i made a breakthrough…”
- [26:39] “I Was Devastated”: Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets | Vanity Fair
- [35:10] solid/solid: Solid – Re-decentralizing the web
- [39:06] Decentralized Web Summit 2018: Global Visions / Working Code
- [44:55] Social media moderators should look to the oldest digital communities for tips about caring — Quartz
- [47:28] Spiders Use Earth’s Electric Field to Fly Hundreds of Miles – The Atlantic
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CHRISTIE: Hello and welcome to The Recompiler, a feminist hacker podcast where we talk about technology in a fun and playful way. I’m your host, Christie Koehler.
AUDREY: Hi, Christie.
CHRISTIE: We’re running a little bit late today because we were complaining about setting up annoying server apps like Etherpad Lite and Icecast.
AUDREY: Complaining that things are not necessarily straightforward and the instructions may be convoluted or out of date.
CHRISTIE: And I’m annoyed enough with cheap streaming providers. Even as annoying as it is, I’m ready to set up our own thing. So it’s the 6th of July, somehow already, 2018. This is a live broadcast recording for episode 66 of The Recompiled podcast. We’re going to talk about a recent raid by German police against a Tor-related privacy group. We’ll talk about how Juggalos can beat facial recognition. And there’s an article about Tim Berners-Lee and his most recent work on decentralizing the web and Vanity Fair. We’re going to talk about that. But first, we got some announcements.
AUDREY: We do. We are a happy community sponsor of DevOpsDays Portland. It’s happening September 11th through 13th, of course, here in Portland, Oregon. The DevOpsDays events bring together people working across software development and actually the stuff that we were just complaining about, to talk about their work and the ways that they do that work. And we have a discount code for 20% off your registration. I do believe that they will sell out at some point with the tickets. So if you’re thinking about going, I encourage you to register soon. And one of our Recompiler contributors, Heidi Waterhouse is going to be speaking about Disaster Resilience the Waffle House Way: Flat-tops, feature flags, and finite state machines.
CHRISTIE: Cool. Did you already say the discount code? RECOMPILERFRIENDS.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. It’s always good to repeat those things. What else? What other announcements have you got, Audrey?
AUDREY: We have put Issue 8, our Wildcard Issue online. All of the articles are there. There is some great stuff about cellphone networks, about citizen astronomer, frontend developments, the experience of trans and non-binary programmers, and all this is our lovely wildcard. So you can both read online and order a print copy. There’s just a couple left in a box just next to me and I would love to ship you one.
CHRISTIE: Shop.recompilermag.com for that. Recompilermag.com for the online articles.
AUDREY: We also have one more online article that’s brand new. Emily, who contributed that citizen astronomy piece on Tabby’s Star, also wrote about her astrophotography.
CHRISTIE: Which is amazing.
AUDREY: Yes. Her photos are really, really great.
CHRISTIE: I am humbled.
AUDREY: And she wrote about something that I was very curious about which is what does it mean to take a true photo of the stars, like what is real, what is accurate, and how do we perceive it. And it turns out that there’s a fairly complex process that goes into making a photo where the moon sparkles and the stars twinkle and all of that stuff. So she gets into kind of the general theory and philosophy of it and then some tips for how you might start doing it yourself.
CHRISTIE: Cool. So we’ll link direct to that in the show notes. And then, looks like we got one more announcement?
AUDREY: We do. We have been working on a reprint for The Responsible Communication Style Guide. And it’s gone on a little bit longer than I expected because we had some errors in the index that we needed to correct and re-indexing a book takes a little while. So, I am very happy to report that the indexing has been done. I have a copy of it. I’ve been looking at it over trying to make sure that we didn’t miss anything else. So we’re going to send this thing to the printer finally and people will start getting their books. I’ll update again next week, hopefully, something along the lines of, “Yes! It’s at the printer. I’m waiting for them to email me.”
CHRISTIE: And is it too late to buy a print copy?
AUDREY: It is not too late to buy a print copy.
CHRISTIE: All right. First topic. I think this news…I feel like this just hit the news in the last couple of days but it’s actually something that happened a couple of weeks ago in June where German police raided five locations all related to a German Tor-related privacy group, whose name I cannot pronounce. Can you pronounce this, Audrey?
AUDREY: Zwiebelfreunde. It means onion friends.
CHRISTIE: Oh. Nice.
AUDREY: Which is relevant to Tor.
CHRISTIE: Right, because their logo is an onion. And it’s the onion protocol too, right?
CHRISTIE: So it’s zweibel, the German word for onion. Cool. So German police raided private homes of all three board members, the registered headquarters, and the home of a previous board member. What were they looking for, Audrey?
AUDREY: It sounds like they were trying to grab everything they could.
CHRISTIE: So the stated motivation for this was that there’s a German left wing blog with another German word I can’t pronounce, that translates to ruckus tourists.
CHRISTIE: So does that mean the German word for ruckus is krawall?
AUDREY: Yeah. That wasn’t in my vocabulary before.
CHRISTIE: Ruckus tourist is one way I saw it translated and I saw it translated with another word like…I can’t find it right now. Ostensibly, Zwiebelfreunde, is that close?
AUDREY: You need to remember that the W is a “V”.
CHRISTIE: That’s right. Always?
CHRISTIE: Zwiebelfreunde doesn’t have a relationship with this blog but the blog has an email hosted through Riseup. And Riseup is related to Onion Friends, that’s much easier for me to say, because they’re the European fiscal sponsor. So basically, they take donations for Riseup in Europe. And it says, “We spend the money in collaboration with the collective on software development, travel reimbursements, and for Riseup’s Tor infrastructure.” So that’s pretty much the connection. And they took a bunch of stuff.
AUDREY: Well beyond the scope of just trying to get at the email of the Krawalltouristen blog.
CHRISTIE: Which this group in Germany wouldn’t have had access to anyway.
AUDREY: It sounds like they were grabbing donation receipts, financial records. Definitely, it seems like a huge overreach and very problematic. Honestly, I wasn’t clear on what the grounds were even for going after that first blog. It sounded like it was very loose, the way that anti-terrorist law enforcement can be very loose here in terms of the rationale.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. In Riseup’s post, they said, “In this case, the justification was a website created to organize against a rally of an extreme right political party. It seems in Bavaria, you cannot make a website that tries to get people to come protest neo-fascists without also offending the police.” This actually reminded me of the stuff that has been going on here in Portland particularly just last weekend with the…it’s abbreviated P. Is it the Patriot Prayer?
AUDREY: Yeah, Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys is one of the militia type groups. Joey Gibson, who is unfortunately from this region, is part of this and he is running for a Senate seat, I think.
CHRISTIE: The state Senate seat?
AUDREY: No. I think US Senate.
AUDREY: I admit I’ve been trying to [inaudible] that part out. So in a way, this almost constitutes a campaign rally. But really what it was is a bunch of people getting themselves amped up to go beat up the anti-fascists group.
CHRISTIE: The reason it reminded me of it is because in this sort of aftermath analysis and whatnot, it’s really clear that Portland police views Patriot Prayer as more mainstream than the counterpart.
AUDREY: One of our local papers, Willamette Week, has had some reporting on that because of the investigation into some things that happened last year, some violence that happened last year too. And they definitely found a lot of statements from police saying exactly that, that they saw the right wing groups as more mainstream and the left wing groups as more extremist. And so, that affected their policing decisions.
CHRISTIE: And we’ll link to that Willamette Week article. And then It’s Going Down or something like that news had a whole thread about it too, with a bunch of links. I think the one thing to be aware with this is that if you had donated to this group, your information, the police know about it. And if you had been reimbursed by this group, the police also have your personal information.
AUDREY: Yeah. If you had any kind of financial connections to the groups that were raided, they collected not just electronic but paper receipts as well.
CHRISTIE: The group in Germany is fighting this. They’re trying to get their items back, particularly the items that shouldn’t have been taken at all and whatnot.
AUDREY: And there were additional computers and devices that were taken in the raids. That they raided the homes of the board members, I would find personally pretty scary.
CHRISTIE: I mean, who else would they…if you don’t have staff. I mean, that’s who it is. The same would be true here in the United States.
AUDREY: I just mean a police raid, not just like…
CHRISTIE: Like a civil…
AUDREY: Yeah, or…I mean, what happens when you get sued? You get a notice saying that you have to turn over records, you have to collect and turn over records, that they felt the need to send like a forceful group. They made it look like it was a lot more than just paperwork.
CHRISTIE: Right. I wasn’t saying that to minimize it. I was saying that to raise awareness.
AUDREY: Oh, sure. That in the absence of having an office or office staff, then board members do become the primary sources for this stuff.
CHRISTIE: And they even had a registered agent and they still went to the board members’ homes.
AUDREY: One of the things that stood out to me in the ZDNet article is that the folks who were raided talked about getting dropped by their registered agent and the way that other groups might be reluctant to work with them in the future. And also that their desire to maintain tax compliance to be doing everything in a legal and acceptable bureaucratic way meant that they held on to a lot of records that maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to otherwise.
CHRISTIE: That actually and this is a question I’ve had for a long time. I don’t understand how Riseup works. It says: your friendly autonomous tech collective since 1999. So they…are they non-profit?
AUDREY: That would be the most likely.
CHRISTIE: I just don’t know how you…501(c)(4).
AUDREY: Which is a type of social club?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. It’s the same one that PACs use.
CHRISTIE: Political Action Committees. I can’t remember what it’s actually called but I think it’s very hard to maintain complete anonymity when you have that kind of structure, social welfare organizations.
AUDREY: And again, required reporting about donations and about income would be one of the really tricky areas.
CHRISTIE: In the United States, if you go for like c3 which is where the donations are tax deductible, that has pretty much more stringent reporting requirements. You have to report your donors, and I don’t think you do with c4’s. Anyway, I’ve always just…because like if you go to Riseup’s About page, it’s all in pseudonyms. I’ve always found that interesting. Maybe it’s one of the things where…yeah, I’m curious how they managed to do that.
AUDREY: I might have somebody I can ask about that.
CHRISTIE: Okay. Anything else because that’s kind of disturbing.
AUDREY: It is. I saw this originally on Mastodon through some of the people that I follow there who are in Germany and they said that what they personally hoped for here was that people would still continue to use Tor and use Riseup and to continue to mainstream it in these ways that make it kind of ridiculous to target. The moment that you can say, “Oh, only criminals use that, or only terrorists use it,” that’s very vulnerable for privacy projects.
AUDREY: The more mainstream and widespread use they have, the better.
CHRISTIE: I wonder where the tipping point for that actually is. Okay. Juggalos. What are Juggalos, Audrey? I actually knew what Juggalos were but not everyone listening may know.
AUDREY: You’re going to make me explain it anyhow?
CHRISTIE: Well, yeah.
AUDREY: Okay. So they are followers of a group called the Insane Clown Posse which is music…I don’t know how to describe it.
CHRISTIE: I think it’s some…is it rap? That’s what this article says.
AUDREY: I’ve listened just a little of it.
CHRISTIE: Wikipedia says an American hip hop duo composed of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope.
AUDREY: And one of the interesting things about the Juggalos in general and the band itself is that there’s a very strong anti-racist element to it. And so, it’s not irrelevant that the group turns out to be doing something incidentally clever. They have showed up in support of anti-racist and anti-fascist actions. And so, they’ve been good accomplices on some of this stuff. So to find out that their make up just incidentally does not work very well for facial recognition, certain kinds of official recognition software is kind of great.
CHRISTIE: Their makeup, I don’t know the rules of it exactly but it’s usually like white face paint with black regions.
AUDREY: It’s like a certain pattern of clown makeup.
CHRISTIE: Okay. And part of what fools facial recognition with the Juggalo’s makeup in particular is where they put black makeup in and kind of create a different kind of jaw line and that really messes up facial recognition. Twitter user @tahkion, we’ll link to it, tweeted a photo with a couple of…I’m pretty sure Tom Cruise is one of them. And like the overlay of the facial recognition like vectors which really makes people look weird. It’s really obvious that it’s way off of where it identifies.
AUDREY: Those sorts of diagrams have made it a lot easier for me to understand what people are talking about with general facial recognition algorithms. The way that they sort of calculate different parts of the face that are expected to be distinct.
CHRISTIE: And then there’s another photo of someone wearing black and white face makeup but doesn’t have the jaw line and it doesn’t mess up the official recognition. There are other methods that have come up here and there.
AUDREY: Folks have been experimenting with this for quite a while. And depending on the image recognition system, different aspects of it can work better or worse. In general, just regular everyday makeup that is meant to enhance your face, like the shape of it and make your eyes pop out more. That can only make facial recognition easier by more clearly defining the places that it’s looking to identify for the ones that are based around these light dark patterns of seeing the space. Apple is doing something more complicated with depth perception that is resistant to a lot of these things. Also, I think some of the systems like even putting a scarf over your face doesn’t necessarily do enough or certain kinds of masks, you might still be identifiable underneath certain layers. It’s a fairly complicated thing but I don’t know. It’s great that people are experimenting obviously because these things are just so widespread now.
CHRISTIE: To me, it’s also a really cool example of how useful art is which is not the phrase that I want to use but just the value of art, I guess is the same way of saying it. Do you know what I mean? It’s not just interesting things to look at. It has these other ramifications and uses.
AUDREY: And creative experimentation is often part of political activism or resistance.
CHRISTIE: This article in The Outline also had this link about this Russian company that has developed ethnicity recognition tools which is not something I had heard about before which I find very disturbing.
AUDREY: The accuracy of that can’t be great.
CHRISTIE: That’s not even the biggest concern, right? Like we don’t need to automate racial profiling.
AUDREY: No, no, no.
CHRISTIE: I can’t think of a single thing good that can come out of that.
AUDREY: I think more what I’m going for is not only is this a really bad idea socially but it is also likely to have false positives, mixed results and other things that are really problematic as a result of how it could be used.
CHRISTIE: Right. And this has come forward with the things that say they can determine gender. The company even says, “We can determine with good accuracy,” or whatever that means, “Age, gender, and certain emotions as well as if the person is wearing sunglasses or a mustache.” I just pictured you had the Groucho Marx glasses and mustache nose thing you can buy.
AUDREY: There are layers of this. Why would you want to do it and what are you actually accomplishing?
CHRISTIE: I didn’t have the chance to dive into that. There’s a link to an Apple PDF about the face ID security but it’s not using visible light in doing something and depth perception. What is it? How does that work?
AUDREY: I am very curious, too. I’ve been thinking about facial recognition this week anyhow because I’ve been sort of transferring photos that I’ve had on a different computer onto this one, the one that I’m using right now. And pulling them into iPhoto because I find some of the image recognition that iPhoto does pretty useful and I don’t sync it out to any kind of cloud service. So it all stays here. But I have definitely played around with the facial recognition on there and for like a given time period of a person’s face, it can do a pretty good job of spotting them. It gets a lot of false positives about faces in general that are funny. One of my cats on his back has like dark pattern that sometimes gets read as a face by the software. But I’ve also been thinking about…I deliberately pulled almost all the photos I had publicly offline awhile back before I actually started hearing about like what Amazon’s done with all of the photos that it had access to in terms of building out facial recognition or what Google’s done that way. And now, I’ve thought about putting things back online but I feel like maybe I don’t want to ever show photos of people in public, like in a sort of open unlimited public kind of way because I can’t control where that data goes.
CHRISTIE: I don’t ever or I rarely post photos of anybody else for that reason.
AUDREY: And before I just thought about it as like what if people are looking to harass them and what if they’re looking for them specifically. But the idea that anything that Google indexes could eventually be connected to a mug shot database or any other kind of surveillance that ends up being not very awesome.
CHRISTIE: It looks like the true depth thing is you might be using infrared. Anything else with the Juggalos and facial recognition?
AUDREY: No. It’s just that I find Juggalos very confusing when I first encountered them, but I have come to appreciate them a lot.
CHRISTIE: The band is from Detroit. I don’t know if I find that interesting. We talk a lot about Detroit. A lot of music comes out of Detroit. There’s a thing in Vanity Fair – Vanity Fair Hive, I don’t know what that is, about Tim Berners-Lee. I was devastated. Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the world wide web, has some regrets. Berners-Lee has seen his creation debased by everything from fake news to mass surveillance but he’s got a plan to fix it. I had to look up the word Oxonian.
CHRISTIE: It’s described as having an Oxonian wisp of hair framing his chiseled face. I was like, “Does that mean he’s from Oxford?” And yes, what it means. I thought that was a little over rot.
AUDREY: There’s some aspects of this profile where I think it is.
CHRISTIE: Well, you noticed rather than a hair and makeup credit, there was a grooming credit which I think goes along with the Oxonian adjective here.
AUDREY: I’m looking at his photo to a great portrait but I was doing a lot of reading yesterday about lighting for photography. So I’m also looking at him like grooming and light and like what are they doing here.
AUDREY: That’s like the meta stuff.
CHRISTIE: Okay. So, Tim Berners-Lee basically created the World Wide Web and I guess the first browser.
AUDREY: The first hypertext systems.
CHRISTIE: Okay. The article doesn’t really explain…
AUDREY: His technical credit. And there’s a couple of people who all collaborated on stuff in that same time period. I admit I’ve always been a little foggy on which part was which person’s.
CHRISTIE: Okay. So, he’s best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989 and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the internet in mid-November the same year. That’s from Wikipedia. Also, his list of titles: OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS.
AUDREY: That’s a lot.
CHRISTIE: I guess that’s why it’s grooming instead of hair and makeup.
AUDREY: When you have fancy British titles.
CHRISTIE: So the article kind of goes over the context about his background a little bit. It explains that basically he came up with the World Wide Web although it doesn’t really go into technical detail. I was a little bothered by this quote about he is the Martin Luther King of our new digital world.
AUDREY: I didn’t even look at who the author was on this.
CHRISTIE: I mean, if you need a quote, you need a quote, I guess. I don’t know. That was a direct quote from somebody else not the author. So it talks about he’s never profited from the invention because he gave it away for free. Of course, they talk about Oppenheimer. Basically, he created this thing. It’s really cool. He gave it away. It took off. And now it’s being used for all kinds of not good things like Google and Facebook sucking up all of our data, Cambridge Analytica, all the things we talk about in the podcast.
AUDREY: I would say it’s interesting that they sort of frame it around his regrets as a creator because I think this has definitely been a season of regrets. I think if you go and look at the news articles interviewing people from Facebook, maybe less so from Google, but there’s a lot of this right now of people going, “Well, what did we build?”
CHRISTIE: I just had a note. Season of Regrets, that is our episode title. Every now and then, one just jumps out of you. Because the web, it’s been around long enough that we can really see it starting to see some of the impacts. And I think with the election and with this sort of authoritarian neo-fascist wave kind of spreading across the globe like the stakes are higher too.
AUDREY: Sure. And there’s years and years of criticism that’s really finally hitting the mainstream.
CHRISTIE: And one of the things they mentioned in the article is that sometime this November, Berners-Lee estimates half the world’s population, close to 4 billion people, will be connected online. Does that mean we’re approaching 8 billion people? Wow! Another sort of way the stakes are even higher.
AUDREY: Actually that does make it an interesting frame for talking about this. What does it mean when half of the world’s population is all online and all being affected by these systems? I mean, directly personally affected. I don’t think that there is anybody out there that isn’t in some way impacted by the internet. That’s a big moment.
CHRISTIE: Here’s another quote from Tim Berners-Lee. “We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places,” he told me. The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has “ended up producing – with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform – a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.” I mean, this is a strong wording. I know what he means by anti-human. I probably would have said something like anti-humane or something. I think where we are is very human because we created it.
CHRISTIE: And I think that humans can create some pretty awful things.
AUDREY: We’re looking at the outcome of many human decisions.
CHRISTIE: I kind of wish they had talked more about…I don’t know, I guess this is Vanity Fair, not a technical magazine.
AUDREY: Actually, that is a good context.
CHRISTIE: So, he’s working on different ways to decentralize the Web. There’s a project called Solid which they don’t really explain in this article other than to say that it’s about users having control of their data. As I was reading, I was starting to, in my hand, go, “Okay, that’s nice,” but like why are the people that have so much market power and just power right now going to go into this? And the article does talk about how, like this won’t be a willing transformation.
AUDREY: That he has an interesting vision and one that I definitely sympathize with that there’s a space that’s still open to creating something. And if they build something strong enough in that space, then there is some place for people to go.
CHRISTIE: Right. And there’s lots of projects on these lines too like Beaker Browser and other things we’ve talked about that I can’t remember right now.
CHRISTIE: Oh, I just found the project on GitHub.
AUDREY: For Solid?
CHRISTIE: I think so, yeah. Social linked data is where the name comes from.
AUDREY: I know that it’s not a technical article but I do wish that they’d done a little bit more to explain how Solid links into this ecosystem. Is it using the same protocols? Is it collaborating on interactive, like inter-related platforms? Is it just like its thing off on its own? I have a lot of those questions to try to understand like what’s the significance of what it’s working on. Does it act as more of a thought experiment or more of a practical tool?
CHRISTIE: Solid (derived from social linked data) is a proposed set of conventions and tools for building decentralized web applications based on the Linked Data principles. Solid is modular and extensible. It relies as much as possible on existing W3C standards and protocols. And that linked data goes to W3C page. We’ll link to this GitHub. I assume this is the same project.
AUDREY: If there’s two similar things under the same name, that’ll be kind of complicated.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, it is. I went to the MIT site.
AUDREY: I do think it’s really good that this is getting some attention. I think we can all agree that decentralization is probably the strongest direction that we can move in, in terms of countering the current dysfunctions of the internet. But I’m just so wary of the big technical solution. I am just so wary of the theoretical stuff that doesn’t have any connection to non-technical groups of people. There’s this decentralized web movement that’s been happening for quite a while. There’s the IndieWeb movement like the IndieWeb Summit that we had a little bit alongside OpenSource Bridge last week. So, there’s years and years of activity that’s gone into developing protocols and trying them out. But short of just a couple of things like the way the Mastodon’s gotten attention as Twitter’s been just really a mess. Very little of this has acquired mainstream users. And I think that those test cases, those use cases are just really important to understand. Is this contributing something or are we just kind of digging for a way out?
CHRISTIE: Right. There’s a couple of things that came up while you were talking for me. One of them was his comment about where the web took us despite the people’s intentions. I think he was talking about the creator’s intentions. Maybe his and other colleagues of his working on that at the time. But I would argue that some people are perfectly fine with where we’re at and have worked to make that a reality. So that’s that social political aspect we have to work on. And then I was reading about this, I was like, “Oh, Decentralized Web Summit. I’ve heard a couple other people talk about that coming out. Let me see if I can go to that or whatever.” Tickets range from $1500 as corporate, regular rate is $750. And it’s in San Francisco, mind you. So, you got to be able to pay for lodging there, travel. The non-profit rate which they say if you work for a nonprofit advocacy group, public university, or an independent artist, activist, or developer, that’s $400.
AUDREY: Is there food and lodging under that ticket price?
CHRISTIE: I don’t know if it comes with food. I’m fairly certain that it does not include lodging.
AUDREY: Who’s throwing this thing?
CHRISTIE: The Internet Archive.
CHRISTIE: I say this not to pick on anybody.
AUDREY: Are you sure?
CHRISTIE: I mean, in a personal way. I know the challenges of running an event. Yeah, like I would love to get 1500 bucks a pop. Like how many things could we have done easier if we got 1500 bucks a pop for OpenSource Bridge tickets, right?
AUDREY: But we never would have had the people we wanted to attend.
AUDREY: It would not be possible. And I mean, that really does go to my point about what we’re building here. A decentralized web that’s only run by, let’s just say, wealthy technical elites. That’s never going to be something that can be used by everyone else. It just can’t. There’s too big of a gap there.
CHRISTIE: Oh, but they don’t want to turn anyone away. So you can apply for a financial hardship ticket.
CHRISTIE: Well, financial hardship discounted ticket. You have to describe why it’s needed.
AUDREY: Which is really hard.
AUDREY: I mean, I’ve done it lots and I still find those statements hard to read.
CHRISTIE: Is that pretty common that you have to be specific about why?
AUDREY: It varies a ton. The good ones, of course, are the ones where you just say, “Hey, I feel need this,” and they put your name in the bucket and hopefully they have enough tickets allocated for that. Most people can make use of it. But yeah, the bad ones asks for like, I don’t know, a short essay. It feels like going through some kind of school scholarship process and trying to explain both your financial need and the way that you add to the thing’s diversity. I’ll just say that sucks. I don’t know. I’ve had to write those statements a few times and I pretty thoroughly hate it.
CHRISTIE: Well, it shows what they value. They value your ability to pay over your ability to be there.
AUDREY: Yeah. Do a fundraiser that’s a fundraiser and do a work session that’s a work session. And find ways that everybody can come in and learn and contribute that aren’t about your wealth. I can’t take it seriously if they aren’t engaging that.
CHRISTIE: And why do you need to have it in one of the most expensive cities in the country? You know what I mean?
CHRISTIE: I think it’s like trying to join the Slack, join decentralized chat app.
AUDREY: It’s so frustrating, it’s so frustrating. I mean, we care a lot about these technologies. We care a lot about what kind of web we can build that is not under big centralized corporate or government control. And that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about this whole episode. And yet, a lot of the forums that people are creating to work on the stuff are not very accessible. Even the ones that are less expensive, less exclusive by way of that cost, still are expecting a lot of technical expertise, a lot of technical engagement for people to have a meaningful contribution.
CHRISTIE: Is the alternative for people like Tim Berners-Lee to go to things like Allied Media or whatever? Or is the alternative to just have different design of events to bring different groups together?
AUDREY: Some of both. Like we talked about in the previous episode, community internet projects start with the community. And I would love to see somebody who has that kind of history and that kind of credibility sit down with a group and ask them what they want first. Sit down and look at the design possibilities from that perspective.
CHRISTIE: Okay. Even with all the crap that’s on the internet, there are still things that we love. What have you got this week for things we love on the internet?
AUDREY: Mine is a different profile about somebody who’s been running a BBS for a long time and about the social interactions and social engagement around that BBS in terms of creating a kinder space, a better moderated space and a little bit slower pace even for people to meet and interact with each other.
CHRISTIE: Cool. Is the community still going on?
AUDREY: You know, I think so. I actually read this article a couple of weeks ago. So, let me open it again.
CHRISTIE: I love this photo.
AUDREY: I think it’s still active. Stacy Horn, that’s who the profile is about and the BBS is Echo. I do think you can still register but you might have to do something…I’m scrolling for it. I feel like there is something interesting there, like you have to actually write a letter to get your login. Here we go. She never even made the jump to the web, leaving Echo outside of time: It remains Unix-based, a text-only world accessible only to those who have sent away for a login information that Stacy issues, along with a welcome letter, by post.
CHRISTIE: It says probably like accessible via Telnet or something?
AUDREY: Probably. Although it would be awesome if there’s still a phone dial-up system that’s part of this too.
CHRISTIE: I actually have a home line that could…wait a minute. How would I…I was about to be all smug and I’m like, “Wait a minute. How do I connect that to my computer? I don’t have a modem.”
AUDREY: Yeah, you need a modem. You need some other software. The other week, I was working at BBS software a little bit to try to see what’s still out there and there are a couple of different options. It’s still under development which is kind of cool.
CHRISTIE: And are you supposed to dial into them like with a phone?
AUDREY: I think you can still acquire something for dial-up but most of them are Telnet-based.
CHRISTIE: Cool. My thing and I still have to find a link to it. I appreciate spiders. I don’t like it when they’re on me randomly.
AUDREY: You appreciate their function in the universe rather than…
CHRISTIE: Yes, I think they are amazing at a distance. I do not like it when they descend from my kitchen ceiling and land on me randomly or show up when I’m on a video conference with my boss or talking to my mom on the telephone. This is all happening in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if this happens to other people or they don’t notice or I have some weird attraction like they’re attracted to me because I hate them somehow. Anyway, there’s an article in The Atlantic and it’s covering some scientific research came out. Audrey, you probably heard that spiders make webs but they can also send up these little parachutes and then like sail across the world, right?
CHRISTIE: They found spiders. Darwin on HMS Beagle, like their ship got covered in spiders out at sea. Anyway, all the stuff. A lot of people used to think that it worked just on air currents but it turns out that it actually partially works on electricity and that there is electrical differentials higher up in the atmosphere you go. And that’s partly what the spiders are doing, is that the parachutes…I can’t remember exactly how it works but that they take advantage of that differential charge and that gets them lift.
AUDREY: Wow! That sounds a little bit like doing static electricity and sticking a balloon to your hair.
CHRISTIE: Yes, that’s actually one of the analogies that they used because part of what the researchers did was they put spiders in boxes that didn’t have any airflow but had electric current. And they could tell that the spiders respond physiologically to the changes in current. So it was part of their building block in their research.
AUDREY: That’s intriguing.
CHRISTIE: The natural world is endlessly fascinating. So I’ll find that link and put it in the show notes.
CHRISTIE: All right. I think that’s our show. Thanks for joining, Audrey. Thanks everyone for listening. I think we’re back on to most Fridays, right?
AUDREY: Yup. Weekly, Fridays, noon Pacific Time.
CHRISTIE: All right, everyone. Have a great weekend. Signing off.
CHRISTIE: And that’s a wrap. You’ve been listening to The Recompiler Podcast. You can find this and all previous episodes at recompilermag.com/podcast. There you’ll find links to individual episodes as well as the show notes. You’ll also find links to subscribe to The Recompiler Podcast using iTunes or your favorite podcatcher. If you’re already subscribed via iTunes, please take a moment to leave us a review. It really helps us out. Speaking of which, we love your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? What do you want to hear more of? Let us know. You can send email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or send feedback via Twitter to @RecompilerMag or directly to me, @Christi3k. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling 503 489 9083 and leave in a message.
The Recompiler podcast is a project of Recompiler Media, founded and led by Audrey Eschright and is hosted and produced by yours truly, Christie Koehler. Thanks for listening.