Monday, April 12, 2021

software as government

I’m sketching an incomplete thought here. For context:

  • GitHub eating open source, Microsoft eating GitHub. Google eating e-mail, the web, corporate communications. Apple with its infinite dollars and stranglehold on a class of users with deep, identity-defining emotional attachments to its stuff. All the usual monopoly-and-aspiring-monopoly stuff.
  • The totality of cloud computing’s ideological and conceptual triumph in the space of a decade, to the point where people tend to view a business that owns servers and runs stuff on them instead of renting them from an approved megacorporation as aberrant and maybe kind of offensive.
  • RMS and the Free Software Foundation’s apparent ongoing collapse
  • A few years' experience working for a technical nonprofit embedded in a large community.
  • The way most of the general-purpose computers are phones now, and how much less general purpose they’re looking these days.

So, the recurring thought: A lot of the things that people gravitate towards or become dependent on in software are effectively governments.

That is, partly, things which:

  • Build and maintain infrastructure
  • Create / enforce standards
  • Police at least some kinds of bad actor
  • Extract rents / taxes
  • Provide employment to a class of technocrats
  • Provide frameworks for cultural affiliation
  • Express or enact aspects of the civic religion

While often what a lot of us in FOSS / digital rights / free knowledge circles are striving for is some combination, depending on priors and priorities, of:

  • Software anarchism - things that don’t require government, operate outside of it, or actively defy it
  • Mutual aid
  • Certain kinds of resource sharing and cooperation between entities that are effectively (and sometimes literally) competing governments
  • Better governance

There are thus contradictions that arise:

  1. Within those aims
  2. Between those aims and the dominant forms of power
  3. Between those aims and the needs / wants / habits of users

#2 is sort of a given, though we could do with a lot more self-awareness about just how much our work is the foundation of now-dominant powers. #1 and #3 bear more thinking about.

There’s nothing new here, and I suppose it rhymes with stuff I’ve been saying for a while. The frame, though, feels like recognizing something I’ve been bad at looking at directly.

p1k3 / 2021 / 4 / 12
tags: topics/free-software, topics/idealogging, topics/politics

Sunday, April 11, 2021

observations on gear nerdery & utility fetishism, 2021 edition

  1. In most settings, a big van covers about 70% of the utility afforded by a pickup truck, plus you can sleep in it and the stuff inside won’t get rained on.

  2. Before you buy or gift a synthesizer, remember that owning a synthesizer is like having a little robot voice whispering in your ear about how cool it would be to own more and better synthesizers and synthesizer accessories. (The voice isn’t necessarily wrong, but it will never be satisfied.)

  3. However many audio cables you think you’re going to need, double it and add one for good measure.

  4. Whatever comes after USB-C, I’m already mad about it.

  5. In 2021, the primary determinant of what power tool you’re going to buy is usually whatever brand of lithium batteries you already own a bunch of.

    It took concerted effort by some very smart people to create a situation this thoroughly stupid. I’d boycott the whole market if I didn’t already own a bunch of tools encased in yellow plastic and dislike messing with extension cords.

  6. My Casio G-Shock still works great.


p1k3 / 2021 / 4 / 11
tags: topics/synthesizers, topics/usb

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The RMS thing has come up again. I wrote at some length about this back in October of 2019. I felt messed up about it then, and I still do. If anybody wants or needs my opinions, they haven’t changed much since I wrote that piece.

Anyway, I signed the open letter. I could quibble with aspects of the demands there, but I guess this feels like a necessary push right now. A lot of friends and colleagues are on that list, and it seems like for the right reasons.

I don’t want to see the Free Software Foundation destroyed. I would very much like to see it saved from some of the worst impulses in this scene. If that can’t happen, then we as a community probably need to stop treating the FSF as a useful proxy for the radical libre software position and put that effort, time, and money into less damaged undertakings.

At any rate: I won’t personally renew my membership with the FSF until, and unless, meaningful changes are made.

p1k3 / 2021 / 3 / 23
tags: topics/free-software, topics/richard-stallman

Sunday, March 14, 2021

reading: a desolation called peace

A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine, Tor Books, March 2021.

The followup to A Memory Called Empire, which I read in November of last year. More overtly Space Opera in its plot mechanics and fantasy physics, but digs deeper into the first novel’s most interesting ideas, and pays off all over the place. Doubled themes of memory, language, theory-of-mind, small cultures surviving at great cost in the face of larger ones, cultures and polities transformed by what they attempt to subsume.

I have marginal notes like “this is so fucking good” in a couple of places. If this is a kind of thing you enjoy, you will very likely enjoy this instance of it.

p1k3 / 2021 / 3 / 14
tags: topics/arkady-martine, topics/books, topics/reading, topics/sfnal

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

We loved computers: That’s a simplification, almost a category error. What happened is we found computers, we got on the network, and before long we lived as much inside the possibility space of computing as we did anywhere else.

Maybe what we got wrong is this: From the beginning, computers appeared to us as a kind of liberation. Because we were young and our horizons were close, we mistook the ways they opened the world to us for their most important quality. What we couldn’t see then was that they were born as instruments of the oppressor, and would help us become the same.

Even when we grasped that the scaffolding of computation came from power, when we were running free around those systems we felt like we understood their real purpose in a way that the institutions that built and purchased them couldn’t. Nevermind that they couldn’t exist without an industrial economy, ranked tiers of exploited workers, and a relentlessly degraded environment.

Computation was a power that we could see how to take for ourselves. It unfolded in front of us in a way that the authorities in our lives could, for the most part, barely even perceive. Sometimes they’d glimpse it and lash out in fear or contempt. We mistook their fear for a sign we were on the right track.

And maybe some of us were, for a while. But we didn’t understand that what power serves is usually power itself.

p1k3 / 2021 / 3 / 3


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