Camera Idea

I just had an idea after seeing something in the Make blog about re-using antique lenses with new cameras. I’m not linking to it. I can’t even believe they took apart such a beautiful old Zeiss. Nicole had one that she got in Germany, but alas, it got “lost” in the mail. Anyway, I think it might be better to go about this in the other direction.

The Zeiss and a lot of other old cameras use medium format film. The film is 6 cm wide and the part exposed by the camera can be 4.5 cm or 6 or some other sizes. This means that any medium format camera can fit in a thin addition of 4.5 x 6cm or larger. So instead of taking apart a beautiful old film camera, why not disassemble a digital camera?
My first thoughts on how to do this are that I would want to avoid modifying the holding camera. So in order to signal to my digital module that it’s time to take a picture, I would use a light sensor as a switch. The shutter opens, the sensor says, “ooh, light!” and snaps a photo.
That doesn’t leave much time for light metering inside the electronic bits. Would this work as a DIY project?
I bet somebody already did this. I just stumbled across a whole bunch of stuff at bamboo cargo bikes tonight. Duuuude, I totally wanted to do that.

Feminism and FLOSS


Let’s start this with some definitions. (No, this isn’t about feminism and gum disease (although that might also be interesting).) FLOSS stands for “Free (Libre) Open Source Software.” As they say, that’s “free” as in speech, not “free” as in beer. FLOSS refers to software projects in which participation is more open. Users can get copies of the source code (this is the stuff that programmers make. you can change it and thus change the program) and do whatever they like with it, as long as what they distribute is also FLOSS. This is what we mean by “free.”
However, to be clear, the distribution model of FLOSS means it is often also available without monetary exchange. Users can go to a website and get tons of cool software for their computer, including an operating system. You can get computer hardware and never pay for any of the programs on it and do this without piracy or stealing. And if you have technical skills and really like a piece of software, you can even add features to it. Or, you can ask for the feature and somebody might even listen to you and do it.

Every piece of software has a certain community aspect. The users are a group of people who care about the software. Thus, all software has some community. But proprietary software owned by big companies can afford to ignore this community or even work against them. Many of the mis-features in the new version of windows were added at the bequest of media companies and are contrary to the needs and desires of the user community. This dynamic is less present in FLOSS software because the user community has direct access to the very essence of the software. If something unpopular gets stuck in, they can take it back out. Thus FLOSS software is inherently democratic, existing squarely within the free marketplace of ideas. The users own the software.
Therefore FLOSS empowers the user. This dynamic tends to have implications in the social dynamic among users. Many FLOSS programs have online resources to help users and the community will often offer help and support to each other. For example a FLOSS thing I use has an IRC group (a chat room). Many users log in and keep it open in the background. If they have a problem, they can ask about it. If they notice somebody else is having a problem that they can solve, they might jump in and help.
Many of the implications and goals of FLOSS have an obvious commonality with feminist goals. In a more concise summary, my internet friend Paula (aka Bastubis) wrote:

I think FLOSS offers better possibilities [than proprietary software] for feminist use because:

  • it’s community owned
  • mutual and self-help model
  • collaborative
  • empowers the user

Women Developers

Despite all the commonality between FLOSS and feminism, it’s still the case that only around 1.5% of FLOSS developers are women. Therefore, we can conclude that while FLOSS has a commonality with feminism, it is not, in and of itself, inherently feminist or women’s participation would be higher.
Ironically, some of the very openness of FLOSS may be part of the issue. All groups have hierarchies and power imbalances. In some groups, hierarchies are formalized and in others they are not. Informal groupings are fine for consciousness raising or within groups of friends, but they can become problematic in groups that are taking more direct action. For example, let’s say a CR group decides to act on a specific issue. One person might have an idea for a protest, but, since this is a new direction for the group, before presenting it to the group as a whole, she runs it by a few friends within the group who offer suggestions. Over time, in-groups and out-groups develop, where a core group of friends discusses things before brining it to the group as a whole. This dynamic can quickly become toxic and it’s why direct action groups often have specific handbooks for how to organize themselves. You cannot try to right a power imbalance unless you first recognize that it exists.
Ironically, sometimes even more oppressive hierarchy can be better for reaching feminist goals. About 20% of corporate developers are women. Corporations invest energy in trying to recruit women and trying to avoid the appearance of sexism (to some extent). This is not because corporations are good, far from it, but because we have been able to use the legal system to force them to be less discriminatory. However, turning the legal system on FLOSS is probably not the best solution to the lack-of-diversity problem, alas.
So, given all of this, what causes women’s non-participation in FLOSS? Well, most FLOSS stuff occurs on the internet. I remember the good old days of “nobody knows if you’re a dog on the internet” and how the invisibility of identity would lead to a truly colorblind, genderblind utopia. There’s multiple problems with this ideal, which can explain where it went wrong. First of all, access issues meant that the majority of (english-speaking) people on the internet were white men. This lead users to assume that anybody they were talking to was a white men. Secondly, anoninimity causes people to act like assholes. A few assholes could spew racist, sexist, classist garbage until populations that were sensitive to this would leave. The answer to this is not to do it in reverse because it’s a terrible model of how to behave and because it just won’t work. White guys are priviliged and this makes them less vulnerable to this kind of attack. So they’re in a position where they can exert this power and have no negative consequences for it. Probably, these are people who don’t feel terribly empowered in their daily lives. In the offline world, most gay bashers are teen boys who are alarmed about their own sexuality.
Informal hierarchies on online forums, coupled with conditions created by institutionalized oppression, therefore can create an environment which is explicitly hostile to women (and other minority groups). Because everyone is equally empowered, nobody is empowered to stop harassers, trolls, and vocal bigots. Indeed, a completely open forum is a situation where a troll (or a spammer) can destroy a community, by creating so much garbage that any meaningful communication is effectively drowned out. The way to solve this problem is to create a more formalized hierarchy, where certain users are granted the power to ban certain users or remove certain posts. These super-empowered users are called moderators. They keep spammers and trolls at bay. There are more refined models of moderation, such as rotating moderatorship or systems where comments are voted on and given certain scores (so users can elect to see only high-scoring comments).
However, moderation is only as good as the moderator(s). If the moderators don’t care about sexism, an informal hierarchy based on sex can still exist. These partially unmoderated portions of the internet are often explicitly hostile to women. The moderated sections are less hostile, but there’s still the nobody-knows-if-you’re-a-dog invisibility. Everyone around you is (apparently) a white man. This does not create a welcoming environment.
So what to do about women in FLOSS? As the hierarchies are most often informal, a legal remedy is probably not the answer. Therefore, I think there are two approaches we should explore. One is to work with prominent FLOSS organizations, like GNU, to put women in high profile positions. I think the Ubuntu group is probably receptive to this. This would create a situation where women FLOSS contributors are more visible.
The other approach is affinity groups. Having groups of women working together on FLOSS creates visibility and an a community which is specifically welcoming to them, potentially attracting more women to become active in FLOSS.
I think there’s also a financial issue Do FLOSS developers get paid for their work? (Frankly, I don’t want to add to the amount of unpaid labor already extracted from women.) Programmers in open source may be living off of donations to their projects. They may be funded by corporations and foundations. Some just do it in their free time. The grass-roots kind of FLOSS that we’re talking about is more in the free-time category of development. I’m guessing that the men who do free time development have some sort of infrastructure to support them. They’re students. Or they’re married and have a woman picking up after them or they have a maid (a woman picking up after them). By contrast, women who are not students usually have to pick up after themselves.


The ideals of FLOSS have a great synchronicity with non-profit enterprises, but if we want women who are in non-profits, and thus already getting low pay, to take up FLOSS development, it needs to be part of their job, not something for their free time. The good news about this is that there is funding out there.
If we want women who are in non-profits to take up FLOSS tools, we need to give them training and support, face to face, through affinity groups. The money they save on software licenses will make it worth their time. Also, we as developers need to make sure that the tools we give them are self-explanatory. If they want to get a volunteer to come in for an afternoon and do something, they want hir to just be able to sit down and do it, without having to spend too much time learning the system.


FLOSS and feminism could and should work together. To ensure that this happens on the development side, we need to push for both visibility and anti-sexist moderation policies. We can create visibility by getting women into visible formally hierarchical organizations that already exist and by creating our own such organizations. On the user side, we should specifically offer support through affinity groups, so that women have an explicitly welcoming environment where they can learn about FLOSS tools. Furthermore, we should specifically reach out to feminist non-profits as a means to help them become more effective and thus advance the cause of feminism in the brick and mortar world, as well as online.


The Gift Economy and Sustainable Music

Daniel Wolf of Renewable Music reported that I was the first person trying to market commissions as e-commerce. There may be some disagreement on that, but I’m pretty sure that I’m the first person who has tried to market a commission on ebay. (Auction 1, Auction 2)

There are a few reasons you should care about this. One is that you might be the first person (or in the first group of 30, since that’s how many I’m putting up in this project) to commission a piece of music via ebay. The other is that this is a proof of concept for the viability of music in the internet age.
What is music but data? Data wants to be free. People love to share. On the one hand, we have the RIAA fighting the future (and the present) by suing all their customers. That business model is not sustainable and has numerous other problems. On the other hand, we have the sharers – people who love music and post their favorite pieces on the internet, via a website or p2p or whatever. And in the middle we have artists – me and others like me. The RIAA hasn’t done much for me lately, but neither has p2p, really. When musicians ask me how they’re supposed to cover the costs of recording if their music gets traded for free online, all I can say is what the blogosphere has been saying. Fans will buy merch. Fans will paypal you donations, like a tip jar. The fans will come through, somehow. But how, really? Merch is a logo on a piece of material. A logo is data. The logos, like the tunes they stand for, want to be free. So all we really have is the virtual tip jar.
Some of us do give virtual tips, but most don’t. Freeing mp3s to your fans isn’t like busking. There’s no eye contact. There’s no presence. This model is not sustainable, either. How many of us actually go and paypal every artist who we’ve downloaded and like? And what do the fans get in return? A moral satisfaction, sure, but not enough to make the model work. In practice, the fans get very little for their efforts.
Artists are left with the problem of how to distribute their music such that it makes it to their fans and they cover their costs and can live. Moreover, the manner of distribution and monetary compensation should capture the zeitgeist of sharing and direct involvement. The fans must get something tangible in return, in a time when tangibility itself is becoming slippery.
I think commissioning is the answer to this dilemma. The commission amount covers costs. The fans get something real in return – their name attached to the work – a credit as an integral part of the creation. Because as the RIAA knows and fears, the fans have been integral all along. This is one answer to the question of how smaller artists can thrive in a direct-to-consumer, sharing sort of environment. The gift economy! The commissioner gives money to the artist who gives music to hir fans. Like other gift economies, the value of the gifts grow as it spreads to more and more people. Instead of fighting the internet economies of data, this model requires it.
I think Ebay is a natural fit for this project. The auction aspect means that minimal costs are covered and the value of the fan’s gift is in proportion to the value in which other fans hold it. In any case, some sort of discrete transaction method is required. A popular artist could get more commissions than s/he could hope to fill otherwise.
If somebody gets this concept to work in practice, then we have the new model. So here’s my trial seeking a proof of concept. Music can be free and artists and fans can cooperate and thrive without leech-like corporations persecuting both.


See for more information

Idea: Am I Trumpet or Not?

Jean-Calude Risset, while he was at Bell Labs, derived the overtone structure for trumpet attack timbres. Then, he made a catalog of available synthesized trumpet sounds. This was in the 60’s I think. There were already hundreds of computer models for trumpets. The number has undoubtedly grown. His catalog is a tape of him saying the number, followed by the sound. But this is a problem. Some of those trumpet sounds are subjectively better than others. But who has time to listen to the thousands of sounds available just to pick one?

The solution: an internet ratings site! People hear a trumpet sound and give it a score. (Or, it could be a contest where two trumpet sounds are pitted against each other.) Soon, one rises to the top of the heap. This is the best trumpet sound! Hooray!
The site should also offer the synthesis algorithm and sample code in C sound or whatever the sound is coded in. Risset’s catalog thus becomes useful to synthesis geeks.
I’m too lazy to do this, but I think it’s a good idea. Also, I can host it.

Learn Language Audio Course

Man, those things are useless. what’s the gender of the noun? who knows? but my suitcase is on the train! (oh no!)
Piece idea: Audio course in esperanto. starts out straightforward with sections you would expect. “Section 1 – Greetings” “Aro Unu – Salutojn” But starts getting progressively stranger. and the “boing” between sections gets more elaborate, until it starts overlapping with the language section and turns into full pieces of music. “boooing zooom bewww bweeee excuse me, my hamster is rabid…” etc. all of this will be microtonal, of course…
I need a fluent esperanto collaborator. i wonder if ed would do it?
wait, maybe i should do it in german, since i’ll have to take a test in it. Verzeihung! Mein Hamster hat die Tollwut. (I wonder if “rabies” will be on the exam…)
Joanna Russ, author of The Female Man, did a funny, short phrasebook for interstellar travellers. It has phrases like, “That is my travelling companion. It is not a tip. I will call the manager.” It would be perfect, especially with “hello”, “goodbye”, “nice to meet you” spliced in at the beginning. The language would have to be Esperanto or Klingon or something, since a national language might be offensive in that context. I wonder if she would go for it.

PgP Chat

One of my old bosses, of whom I am fond, is off on another startup venture. I think startups are like chasing rainbows for gold. Anyway, I was asking another individual about it. Apparently, people work for no money in the hope of getting cash from venute capitalists. It’s nice to know that some thigns never change. I was so tickled by this, that I inquired further about what the company is doing.
They’re making software so that companies can spy on their employees instant messenger, ICQ, AIM, etc conversations.
Venture capitalists are very excited. Now, there is buisiness around in the valley, but it’s all like this. Everything profitable is related to homeland security somehow. Everybody wants to get rich by spying on everybody else. Obviously, this is no more sustainable than the last “new economy.” I think this iteration of struggling startips ought to be called the “big brother economy.” Partly because of all the spying. Partly because the economy stinks.
Well, this is far from the free-spirited adventurism I used to expect from this guy. You can’t go home again, as they say. Anyway, what is needed is PGP chat. PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy. It’s a form of encryption where things are encrypted with somebody’s public key, but they can only be decrypted wit that person’s private key. So you can share your public key with the world and people can use it to send message which only you can read. Don’t ask me how this works, I have no idea. But it’s well suited to chat applications, since you can have secure conversations with anybody else who has PGP. So either Yahoo, AOL and microsoft need to add PGP to their applications, or a third-party product, like Fire, needs to add it. Fire is cool because it can communicate with all of the popular chat networks. One application signs you into Yahoo, AOL, etc. this application could add a PGP encyption layer, so that other users f Fire could have secure chats over existing networks. If your boss wants to spy on your AIM conversations, obviously, the AIM port is open. So use the existing protocol for the existing port, but encrypt all the messages.
someone else gets to write this, but here’s an idea that will make you no money. VCs are not excited about non-big brother projects. Sorry. Maybe your boss would just shut down all AIM if you encrypt it. In my mind, it’s better to lose all AIM rather than be spyed on. My old boss’ product must obsoleted before it gets out in the world and makes trouble. Anyway, anyone who wonders why I would give up a career in programming to do music, here’s your answer. The hands that hold the computer purse strings are evil and I want none of it. Somebody come tell me when the anarchosocialist economy takes over.

Idea – Certified Biodegradable

I’m not just procrastinating or anything…
So almost everything that exists today will one day be garbage. Some of these things are recyclable. Most are not. Pizza boxes, for example are made out of wood pulp (perhaps recycled). Ordinarily, you would expect this to be recyclabale, but it is not, since the food oils are not compatible with recycling. But the pizza box is still biodegradable.
We like to be happy about biodegradable products. They can go into a landfill and not sit there for the next 10K years in their current form. Instead they go to a landfill, biodegrade and get contaminated with stuff that’s dangerous for 10K years and are not reclaimable as fertilizer, dirt or topsoil. This is better (slightly), but it’s not good. Pizza boxes contain nutrients that are useful and could be reclaimed as good compost. Throwing that away is wasteful.
Instead, we could set up a large municipal composter. This could be a large drum that rotates and is titled at a five degree angle. The insides of it contain sharp protrusions, to break things apart. Warm water (think recleaimed water here) is misted onto this thing. Trash goes in. One week later, dirt comes out. There’s a plan for how these things should work in one of my organic farming books.
The problem is, of course, not all trash is biodegradable. Composting all trash before landfilling it might reduce the volume of stuff going into the landfill, but it’s a waste of what could have been good compost. Instead, users could sort out biodegradable trash much the same way they now sort out recyclables. However, it’s hard to tell what is biodegradable. My shampoo bottle says “biodegradable” and “recyclable” on it. It’s clear they intend to say the the plastic is recycable. But does the biodegradable marking refer to the shampoo within the bottle or the bottle itself? Also, if the bottle is recyclable, this is an unusual situation, because normally plastic is not. Clearly consumer education will not be enough for users to sort biodegradable items from non biodegradable items.
Many people are proposing that manufacturers pay for disposing their products. Thus the disposal costs would be factored into the cost of the product and the packaging instead of being a hidden cost at the end and a burden to all tax payers rather than the individuals who purchased the product and all the packaging. This is a good idea, but biodegradable material would still be lost to the sanitary landfill for generations. The solution then is for certain products and especially certain pieces of packaging to be certified as biodegradable. Companies who met certification would have a reduced disposal fee for those items. In exchange, the product or packaging in question would be free of non biodegradable ingredients. If your plastic bottle biodegrades, but your ink is toxic, the compost resulting from it would be unsuitable and hence your whole product would fail certification.
There is no reason for a shampoo bottle to live decades longer than the shampoo it contained. This proposal is a step on the path to sustainability. Under the current capitalistic system, it may work better than an outirght ban on stupid packaging. It gives corporations incentives to fix their problems and to develop new methods for creating intelligent biodegradable packaging. It also gives consumers incentive to pick biodegradable products, since the discounted disposal fee will lead to cheaper prices.
Corporations may try to duck out of this by claiming that plastic is recyclable. Therefore, the disposal fee for non-biodegradable objects should consider what percentage of plastic actually gets recycled and what percentage of actually recycled plastic is re-used as packaging. In other words, if only 20% of plastic bottles are saved from the landfill through recycling, corporations would still have to pay 80% of the disposal fee. This fee would further be increased because plastic bottles do not become bottles again, so virgin material is required for every bottle produced. Manufacturers using glass bottles would pay a much lower fee, since most glass is recycled and it can be turned into glass bottles over and over again indefinitely. Manufacturers using recylable, biodegradable plastic would pay the same fee percentage as normal plastic producers, but they would pay that percentage of the lower biodegradable fee, rather than the sanitary landfill fee.
The compost resulting from tis scheme (once tested to make sure toxins didn’t sneak in) could be used in parks, schools and farms. The use of this compost would add nutrients to the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertalizers, thus leading to healthier plants, healthier food and ultimately healthier people. And less stuff in the landfills. What more could you want?