Category Archives: technology

Synthesizers in motion: Bastl instruments documentary

This is a very enjoyable trip to Bastl instruments in the Czech Republic. Host Cuckoo is a charming interviewer and Bastl instruments showcase a people-oriented business.

My anticipation is that we’ll meet a lonely Eastern European modular maker, but what unfolds is a robust community has grown dramatically. Includes the boss describing how to avoid “poop face,” a woman modulating with a baby strapped on, Bastl’s boutique coffee plans, and a business where everyone is a musician. No really, it seems like *everyone* is a musician at Bastl.

Best part of the video is a chance to get some perspective from Peter Edwards (Casper Electronics) a circuit-bending scientist whose website has inspired a lot of people, including myself.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under art, capitalism, do-it-yourself, documentary, humor, music, synthesizers, technology

Big Money: Robert Mercer and Trump

Jane Mayer is a national treasure.  A thoughtful investigative journalist for the New Yorker, Mayer has authored books on torture (The Dark Side) and on the Koch brothers funding the Tea Party uprising (Dark Money).  Mayer is scholarly, relentless and enthusiastic for details.

Her new essay in the New Yorker is a great write up on Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund financier (and his family) who helped to create and sustain Donald Trump.  The essay has a number of vital arguments to archive:

  1.  The Mercer family has been the money behind the rise of Breitbart and Steve Bannon.

“In 2011, Bannon drafted a business plan for the Mercers that called for them to invest ten million dollars in Breitbart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Breitbart site was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers signed the deal that June, and one of its provisions placed Bannon on the company’s board.

Nine months later, Andrew Breitbart died, at forty-three, of a heart attack, and Bannon became the site’s executive chairman, overseeing its content. The Mercers, meanwhile, became Bannon’s principal patrons. The Washington Post recently published a house-rental lease that Bannon signed in 2013, on which he said that his salary at Breitbart News was seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Under Bannon’s leadership, the Web site expanded dramatically, adding a fleet of full-time writers. It became a new force on the right, boosting extreme insurgents against the G.O.P. establishment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman. But it also provided a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

2.  Those seemingly innocent “personality tests” on Facebook may have been part of the data-mining and political work of Cambridge Analytics.

“In 2012, one area in which the Republicans had lagged badly behind the Democrats was in the use of digital analytics. The Mercers decided to finance their own big-data project. In 2014, Michal Kosinski, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge, was working in the emerging field of psychometrics, the quantitative study of human characteristics. He learned from a colleague that a British company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, wanted to hire academics to pursue similar research, for commercial purposes. Kosinski had circulated personality tests on Facebook and, in the process, obtained huge amounts of information about users. From this data, algorithms could be fashioned that would predict people’s behavior and anticipate their reactions to other online prompts. Those who took the Facebook quizzes, however, had been promised that the information would be used strictly for academic purposes. Kosinski felt that repurposing it for commercial use was unethical, and possibly illegal. His concerns deepened when he researched S.C.L. He was disturbed to learn that the company specialized in psychological warfare, and in influencing elections. He spurned the chance to work with S.C.L., although his colleague signed a contract with the company.

Kosinski was further disconcerted when he learned that a new American affiliate of S.C.L., Cambridge Analytica—owned principally by an American hedge-fund tycoon named Robert Mercer—was attempting to influence elections in the U.S. Kosinski, who is now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s business school, supports the idea of using psychometric data to “nudge” people toward socially positive behavior, such as voting. But, he told me, “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”

It is unclear if the Mercers have pushed Cambridge Analytica to cross that line. A company spokesman declined to comment for this story. What is clear is that Mercer, having revolutionized the use of data on Wall Street, was eager to accomplish the same feat in the political realm.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

The rest of Mayer’s article is a great read.  Useful to keep a list of the right-wing funded “research” organizations that are thinly-veiled research firms designed to dig up (or create) dirt on an opponent.   It is also interesting how small the circle of funders, activists and decision-makers appears to be from this essay.

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, media, propaganda, representation, rhetoric, technology

DIY synthesizer inspirations: Peter Blasser and Chris Beckstrom

I continue to learn about digital noise-making.  I’ve been soldering and bread-boarding synthesizers and noise-boxes for the last year.  Along the way I’ve found a few cool motivations and inspirations.

1. I found Peter Blasser and his musical wizardry through an essay he wrote about making electronic instruments for a small child for econtact.   At first I thought he was mocking the reader, and then I realized that the essay was deeply creative, fluid and inspiring.  I spent as much time exploring the links as reading the text.  This led me to Peter’s astounding limited edition home-made instruments: Ciat.lonbarde.net

Here is Blasser with a workshop about his Shnth I found enjoyable.

Blasser offers some really interesting DIY projects at his website: Peter B.  I’m collecting the parts to make some paper circuits.  I find his approach, openness and creative inspirational work to be sublime.

2.  Since I’ve been making my own instruments I often run into disappointment.  I finish something and plug in a battery and it doesn’t work.  Finding motivation to keep creating when projects flop takes a little intellectual inspiration.  I often turn to look at the pictures and read the notes by Chris Beckstrom.  As he puts it:

My admittedly lofty goal was to build a modular synthesizer, from scratch, using basic components (no kits), with zero electronics experience. Turns out, it’s possible! I’m sharing circuits, designs, pictures, and code to help other folks realize their dream of building a modular synthesizer for themselves.

Source: DIY Modular Synthesizer | Chris Beckstrom

I really like that uses bolts as cheap connections instead of the costly cables for most systems.  I appreciate that he lists that some of his modules aren’t working at the moment.  At points where I struggled to move forward it is really gratifying to see a home-made system that seems accessible.  In fact seeing creative people who aren’t deterred by lack of money or parts is helpful as I put together my machines.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, do-it-yourself, learning, music, synthesizers, technology, vulnerability

Sexism and corporate beef riding: Drake vs. Meek Mill

I have the faint sense that the Drake / Meek Mill ‘beef’ is a pre-planned public relations stunt.  Meek is dating Nikki Minaj a long time collaborator of Drake (via Young Money / Cash Money).   Both rappers have gained massive media attention and tons of new social media followers.  But I don’t know, it’s possible it started as a funny joke and then turned into a fight.  It’s also possible that this is a real scrap.

Given that the daily beef updates are worldwide news (CNN, New York Times, and dozens of ‘serious’ news outlets grabbed the story and have been breathlessly posting gossip and re-posting tweets).   It is worth checking out some of the themes that make this scrap significant.

  1.  Everyone sort of expected Meek Mill to do better against Drake.  It’s no secret that Drake is respected among hip hop folks, but seen as a johnny-come-lately former actor who sings his hooks.  He is a pop rapper, with the sales numbers and teenage fans to prove it.   This isn’t to take anything away from Drake, because in that formula has been a world dominating path to rap success.  In some ways beating Meek has been vital for his image.   His previous meme struggles had been the unerring connections of his rap career with his acting career.  Witness the Degrassi memes which swim around online Drake discussions.

2.  The key argument which seems to have ‘won’ Drake the battle against Meek Mill was just sexism.   Witness the lines from “Back to back:”

Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?/ I know that you gotta be a thug for her/ This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more/ Yeah, trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers/ Yeah, you gettin’ bodied by a singin’ nigga/ I’m not the type of nigga that’ll type to niggas/ And shout-out to all my boss bitches wifin’ niggas/ Make sure you hit him with the prenup

via Drake – Back to Back Lyrics | Genius.

Cheap sexism — the idea that opening up for Nikki Minaj’s Pink print tour is too feminine to be legit for a real tough guy rapper.   Add in the suggestion in “Charged up” that Drake had sex (or never could) with Nikki Minaj and you’ve got perhaps the most over-used trope in rap.

I also think it is a clear insult to Nikki Minaj who is a phenomenal rapper and a stunning internet strategist.   That her success is an insult to Meek is also sexist.   The result was some ugly photo shop work to create images like this:

To mark the bodies as distinctly female and male with roles associated.  It is gender policing to suggest that any violation of these roles is unmanly or unfeminine.

3.  For some pitiful corporate social media coordinators, this beef has been an opportunity to interject their product.  Crappy corporate fast food chains have posted snarky jokes about beef and attempted to connect their brand to something current and edgy.   It seems trite to me, but the re-posts by passionate fans suggest that this branding strategy of riding the coattails has some significance.

I would call it trolling.  Corporations mock either Drake (usually Meek Mill) in a semi-related tweet hoping that fans will respond.  But that isn’t that far away from the origins of this beef — Meek attacking a target that seemed vulnerable at the time.

Much of the enthusiasm for the beef might come from the comeuppance of traditionalist rap sources (MMG, tough-guy rappers, Funk Master Flex (who has failed to emerge with much promoted Meek Mill responses) in favor of the new power in hip hop (pop media, savvy social media stars and mockery memes).   In some ways the internet makes this an accessible fight — one that encourages a certain amount of piling on.

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, gender, hip hop, media, representation, rhetoric, sexism, technology

Technology extending activism #blacklivesmatter

1.  Thanks to Feministing for the best framing of the uprising in Baltimore.  I appreciate the foregrounding of gender, class, and the juxtaposition of Wholefoods feeding the National Guard and community members organizing (through technology) to feed local kids.

2.  The New York Times seems to think that activism documented through the internet focusing on police violence is a new thing.  It isn’t, but Jay Caspian Kang’s write up of the radicalization of the leaders of this movement is a useful connection point.  Here Kang outlines the articulation of long-standing injustices into first-person experiences of tear-gas saturated outrage in Ferguson.

Mckesson was radicalized that night. “I just couldn’t believe that the police would fire tear gas into what had been a peaceful protest,” he told me. “I was running around, face burning, and nothing I saw looked like America to me.” He also noticed that his account of that night’s tear-gassings, along with a photo he took of the rapper J. Cole, had brought him quite a bit of attention on Twitter. Previously, Mckesson had used the social-media platform to post random news articles that interested him, but now he was realizing its documentary power. He quickly grasped that a protester’s effectiveness came mostly from his ability to be present in as many places as possible: He had to be on West Florissant when the police rolled up in armored vehicles; inside the St. Louis coffee shop MoKaBe’s, a safe haven for the protesters in the city’s Shaw neighborhood, when tear gas started to seep in through the front door; in front of the Ferguson Police Department when shots rang out. He had to keep up a steady stream of tweets and carry around a charger so his phone wouldn’t die.

via ‘Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us.’ – NYTimes.com.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under colonialism, communication, do-it-yourself, human rights, juxtaposition, media, memorial, police, protest, representation, resistance, technology

Gamergate, autoblocker, anti-trans violence and sea lions: Katherine Cross for the win

One of the most productive commentators about so-called gamergate is Katherine Cross.  Her recent post on Feministing is so on point that it deserves some archival / expansion work.

1.  There is an autoblocking program for twitter that removes most of the posts from gamergate trolls.  For anyone out there interested in civil space, this is a big improvement.  Cross describes it this way:

What offends GamerGaters about the autoblocker, aside from the fact that a woman found a technical solution to a social problem, is that it denies them the ability to impose themselves on targets. The idea that the women, people of colour, and queer folk who’ve comprised the majority of GG’s targets might be able to curate their online spaces and have certain discussions only with those of their choosing is repugnant to many GamerGaters. In the absence of genuine legal recourse, the worst thing you can do to a bully, harasser, or troll is ignore them after all.

via Revenge of the Sealion: GamerGate’s crusade against blocking.

2.   Underscoring much of the gamergate vitriol is a toxic anti-trans politics.  Much of the visibility of the violence seems to have a direction.  Again Katherine Cross gathers enough targeted tweets and message board quotes to rile me up.   For those who are trans-inclusive, trans-positive, or simply kind human beings, it is worth marking gamergate as a particularly anti-trans moment in time.

3.  Katherine Cross introduces me to the idea of “sealioning” — a refined bullying tactic.  Cross explains:

“Polite” GGers, defined as those who do not explicitly swear or use slurs, nevertheless harry the people they target because they do not take no for an answer and come in packs. The phenomenon of “sealioning”– barraging a target with politely worded but interrogating questions asked in bad faith– gained a name under GamerGate because of how common the tactic was.

via Revenge of the Sealion: GamerGate’s crusade against blocking.

Also provided is this nice comic!

Sealion-Comic

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, communication, feminism, Gay, hacking, human rights, intersectionality, protest, representation, resistance, sexism, Surveillance, technology, video games

Mimi Thi Nguyen: punk and resistance

There are a lot of smart insights in this Bluestockings interview with Mimi Thi Nguyen.  Feministing shared the link and gave me the heads up that there was some discussion of guilt and professional expectations in the essay.  Nguyen seems persuasive to this punk professor when she writes:

The disjuncture then comes when I consider how we are encouraged to carry ourselves in the academy. I feel a lot of pressure to professionalize, and the prescriptions for professionalization often run counter to my way of being in the world. I also struggle with the directive that I am supposed to professionalize my students. I don’t hold with the idea that I should train students to be better workers, because the content of “better” — more obedient, more efficient, whatever — runs counter to what I want to teach. In my feminist theories courses, I say, “Yeah, I just gave you assignments with deadlines! But I also want to say to you, what’s so great about work? Why do we believe work is supposed to be edifying? Should we always have to be productive? Why do we imagine work as something that gives us dignity? What if it’s just wearing us down?” My history in punk totally informs these attempts to practice other ways of being in a classroom, and other ways of being a professor.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

Like Nguyen I was a reader of Maximum Rock and Roll since my teens.  I was deeply informed by the DIY spirit and raw love of music and counterculture that ran through MRR.  Along with that inspiring freedom were some toxic interview discussions and columns that also were a big part of MRR.  I remember a particularly racist / sexist sex column, perhaps from Mykel Board?  Nguyen as a young punk writes MRR and challenges the columnist for MRR and gets a hateful column in reply.  The scrap with MRR inspires her to create her own zine Race Riot.

The impetus for Race Riot came when a columnist at Maximum Rockandroll wrote about his Asian fetish, suggesting that Asian women’s eyelids look like vulva, and that their vulva might be also horizontal. It is an old imperial joke — there are all kinds of imperial jokes about how racial, colonial women’s bodies are so inhuman that their genitalia might reflect this alien state. I wrote a letter to Maximum, cussing and citing postcolonial feminist theory. He then wrote a lengthy column in response about how though I’m Asian, because I’m an ugly feminist, he wouldn’t want to fuck me anyway. There was a discussion at the magazine about whether or not to publish this column because the magazine had a policy — no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But the coordinator and founder of the magazine decided that this column qualified as satire, and so it was acceptable.

It was really infuriating for me to be 19 years old, totally invested in punk and politics, to be attacked under the guise of racist cool in the punk magazine. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m quitting punk.” But I figured I should do something, to leave something behind as a practice and as a document, to reach other punks of color who might feel as isolated as I did in the aftermath.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

I know a lot of punks who saw the academy as a reasonable place to continue thinking about punk praxis.  Or more particularly, many of us go to an academic job and are reasonably punk in that and other parts of our lives.  Many of the punks I knew are still working with intentional collectives, creating media, hosting shows, playing music, creating alternative spaces and doing-it-themselves.  I’ll give a shout out to my friend Zack Furness and his book Punkademics.  I think you can read the whole book at Minor Compositions.

I’ll note my appreciation and agreement with Nguyen’s analysis of internet communications and the need for pauses for reflection.   She argues:

New technologies have produced expectations that we now have more democratic access to more knowledge, and that we must accommodate ourselves to an accelerated sense of time. But I am wary of this internalization of capital’s rhythms for continuous consumption and open-ended production. I hate feeling obliged to produce a post or tweet on a timetable. It makes me anxious. There is value in being about to respond quickly to an object or event, of course, but I also want to hold out for other forms of temporal consciousness, including untimeliness and contemplation of deep structures, sitting with an object over time to consider how it changes you, how the encounter with it changes the nature of your inquiry.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

Good interview and strong arguments.

Leave a comment

Filed under academics, capitalism, communication, do-it-yourself, feminism, media, music, punk, race, representation, resistance, sexism, technology