reBlog

Current Reblogger: Chloë Bass

Chloë Bass is an artist, curator and community organizer based in Brooklyn. She is the co-lead organizer for Arts in Bushwick (artsinbushwick.org), which produces the ever-sprawling Bushwick Open Studios, BETA Spaces, and performance festival SITE Fest, which she founded. Recent artistic work has been seen at SCOPE Art Fair, CultureFix, the Bushwick Starr Theater, Figment, and The Last Supper Art Festival, as well as in and around the public spaces of New York City. She has guest lectured at Parsons, the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, and Brooklyn College. Other moments have found her co-cheffing Umami: People + Food, a 90 person private supper club; growing plants with Boswyck Farms (boswyckfarms.org); and curating with architecture gallery SUPERFRONT (superfront.org). Chloë holds a BA in Theater Studies from Yale University, and an MFA in Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA) from Brooklyn College.

http://chloebass.wordpress.com


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In my last post I told a story about the Level 3/Comcast dispute that portrays Comcast in a favorable light. Now here's another story that casts Comcast as the villain.

Story 2: Comcast Abuses Its Market Power

As Steve explained, Level 3 is an "Internet Backbone Provider." Level 3 has traditionally been considered a tier 1 provider, which means that it exchanges traffic with other tier 1 providers without money changing hands, and bills everyone else for connectivity. Comcast, as a non-tier 1 provider, has traditionally paid Level 3 to carry its traffic to places Comcast's own network doesn't reach directly.

Steve is right that the backbone market is highly competitive. I think it's worth unpacking why this is in a bit more detail. Let's suppose that a Comcast user wants to download a webpage from Yahoo!, and that both are customers of Level 3. So Yahoo! sends its bits to Level 3, who passes it along to Comcast. And traditionally, Level 3 would bill both Yahoo! and Comcast for the service of moving data between them.

It might seem like Level 3 has a lot of leverage in a situation like this, so it's worth considering what would happen if Level 3 tried to jack up its prices. There are reportedly around a dozen other tier 1 providers that exchange traffic with Level 3 on a settlement-free basis. This means that if Level 3 over-charges Comcast for transit, Comcast can go to one of Level 3's competitors, such as Global Crossing, and pay it to carry its traffic to Level 3's network. And since Global Crossing and Level 3 are peers, Level 3 gets nothing for delivering traffic to Global Crossing that's ultimately bound for Comcast's network.

A decade ago, when Internet Service Retailers (to use Steve's terminology) were much smaller than backbone providers, that was the whole story. The retailers didn't have the resources to build their own global networks, and their small size meant they had relatively little bargaining power against the backbone providers. So the rule was that Internet Service Retailers charged their customers for Internet access, and then passed some of that revenue along to the backbone providers that offered global connectivity. There may have been relatively little competition in the retailer market, but this didn't have much effect on the overall structure of the Internet because no single retailer had enough market power to go toe-to-toe with the backbone providers.



A decade of consolidation and technological progress has radically changed the structure of the market. About 16 million households now subscribe to Comcast's broadband service, accounting for at least 20 percent of the US market. This means that a backbone provider that doesn't offer fast connectivity to Comcast's customers will be putting themselves at a significant disadvantage compared with companies that do. Comcast still needs access to Level 3's many customers, of course, but Level 3 needs Comcast much more than it needed any single Internet retailer a decade ago.

Precedent matters in any negotiated relationship. You might suspect that you're worth a lot more to your boss than what he's currently paying you, but by accepting your current salary when you started the job you've demonstrated you're willing to work for that amount. So until something changes the equilibrium (like an competing job offer), your boss has no particular incentive to give you a raise. One strategy for getting a raise is to wait until the boss asks you to put in extra hours to finish a crucial project, and then ask for the raise. In that situation, not only does the boss know he can't lose you, but he knows you know he can't lose you, and therefore aren't likely to back down.

Comcast seems to have pursued a similar strategy. If Comcast had simply approached Level 3 and demanded that Level 3 start paying Comcast, Level 3 would have assumed Comcast was bluffing and said no. But when Level 3 won the Netflix contract, Level 3 suddenly needed a rapid and unexpected increase in connectivity to Comcast. And Comcast bet, correctly as it turned out, that Level 3 was so desperate for that additional capacity that it would have no choice but to pay Comcast for the privilege.

If Comcast's gambit becomes a template for future negotiations between backbone providers and broadband retailers, it could represent a dramatic change in the economics of the Internet. This is because it's much harder for a backbone provider to route around a retailer than vice versa. As we've seen Comcast can get to Level 3's customers by purchasing transit from some other backbone provider. But traffic bound for Comcast's residential customers have to go through Comcast's network. And Level 3's major customers—online content providers like Netflix—aren't going to pay for transit services that don't reach 20 percent of American households. So Level 3 is in a weak bargaining position.

In the long run, this could be very bad news for online businesses like Netflix, because its bandwidth costs would no longer be constrained by the robust competition in the backbone market. Netflix apparently got a good deal from Level 3 in the short run. But if a general practice emerges of backbone providers paying retailers for interconnection, those costs are going to get passed along to the backbone providers' own customers, e.g. Netflix. And once the precedent is established that retailers get to charge backbone providers for connectivity, their ability to raise prices may be much less constrained by competition.

Conclusions

So which story is right? If I knew the answer to that I wouldn't have wasted your time with two stories. And it's worth noting that these stories are not mutually exclusive. It's possible that Comcast has been looking for an opportunity to shift the balance of power with its transit providers, and the clumsiness of Level 3's CDN strategy gave them an opportunity to do so in a way that minimizes the fallout.

One sign that story #2 might be wrong is that content providers haven't raised much of a stink. If the Comcast/Level 3 dispute represented a fundamental shift in power toward broadband providers, you'd expect the major content providers to try to form a united front against them. Yet there's nothing about the dispute on (for example) the Google Public Policy blog, and I haven't seen any statements on the subject from other content providers. Presumably they're following this dispute more closely than I am, and understand the business issues better than I do, so if they're not concerned that suggests maybe I shouldn't be either.

A final thought: one place where I'm pretty sure Level 3 is wrong is in labeling this a network neutrality dispute. Although the dispute was precipitated by Netflix's decision to switch CDN providers, there's little reason to think Comcast is singling out Netflix traffic for special treatment. In story #1, Comcast is be happy to deliver Netflix (or any other) content via a well-designed CDN; they just object to having their bandwidth wasted. In story #2, Comcast's goal is to collect payments for all inbound traffic, not just traffic from Netflix. Either way, Comcast hasn't done anything that violates leading network neutrality proposals. Comcast is not, and hasn't threatened to, discriminate against any particular type of traffic. And no, declining to upgrade a peering link doesn't undermine network neutrality.

 
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Thanks so much to David Jimison for reblogging with us these past weeks, it's been great! Come check out his Native Tekno at X-Lab.

We're now turning the reblog over to current X-Lab resident Hans-Christoph Steiner, he'll keep us up on the latest for the next two weeks!

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Hans-Christoph Steiner
 
People: David Jimison, Hans Christoph-Steiner
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spoofing-magnetic-swipe-card-project_2



Magnetic Swipe Cards are used everywhere, probably the most common one that we all have in our wallets is the one that is built into our bank and credit cards. Craig from the Flashing LEDs blog was had a reader that was sitting around with no purpose. He swiped his University ID through it and found that the only thing on track 2 was university ID number, this card system is used for lots of systems around the university. He built a system that was able to simulate the card being swiped. Turns out there might be more to the card than what is living on track 2 since it was not able to fool the card system but I am betting if all of the tracks were analyzed the security that the card provides might come crashing down.

Read the full Spoofing Magnetic Swipe Card Project article here.

“The features I wanted were:

  • Should be as small as practical so I feel more like an awesome spy. Lots of surface mount components, and a professionally made PCB (from batchPCB.com)
  • Needs a powerful, compact battery to run the coil. Also needs to be something I have hanging around. I went for a 9V, and designed the PCB to have the same outline as a 9V battery so it could sit on top of it.
  • Should be able to store card sequences in memory and let me select which sequence to generate
  • Should be able to interface to a card reader so I can record a new card just by swiping it instead of needing a computer
  • However if I do have a computer handy, I should be able to use it as an RS232 adapter for the card reader and display decoded info on a terminal.”


spoofing-magnetic-swipe-card-project

 
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A generation of political activists have been transformed by new tools developed on the internet. Here, a leading net commentator profiles seven young radicals from around the world

On Christmas Day, 1990, in a lab at Cern in Geneva, Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee finished building the tools to create the world wide web. This act, 20 years ago, set the agenda for far-reaching transformations in the political sphere, in economies everywhere, in social interaction, even in concepts of our own identity. And Berners-Lee succeeded in doing so for one reason: he released the technology for free.

This simple decision, taken by a computer scientist used to working in environments that promoted openness and transparency, eclipses any hype about subsequent Twitter revolutions, Facebook campaigns or political protests ascribed to the platform since. The invention of the web is comparable to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450.

Like the printing press, the web has already been credited with ushering in an age of enlightenment; it is hailed, too, as the most powerful harbinger of social change the world has ever seen. But this isn't the first time such claims have been made. Tom Standage, author of The Victorian Internet, has argued that the telegraph, in the 19th century, inspired rampant technophilia. "The telegraph was the first technology to be seized upon as a panacea," he has written. "It was soon being hailed as a means to solve the world's problems.

"It failed to do so, of course – but we have been pinning the same hope on other new technologies ever since."

So is the web over-hyped? In the 90s, when it still was in its swaddling clothes, revolution meant building a website brandishing the word "REVOLUTION!" in flashing red Comic Sans capital letters on a bright yellow background. Unfortunately, e-radicalism required a degree of technological capability. And political protests online were derivative, often no more effective than a giant billboard that people might drive by on the way to work or the shops. But everything did change in 2003 with the advent of a new crop of publishing platforms, blogs and social networks, that net pundits described as an entirely new phenomenon.

Stripping the hype away, this version of the web gives a new crop of cyber-revolutionaries access to a printing press, a radio station, a cable TV channel and more. Rather than virtual pamphleteering, they are developing technologies that take seed in grassroots communities. The power, as 20-year-old blogger and political activist Jody McIntyre puts it, is with the people.

In particular, there has been an explosion of technologies to circumvent censorship in countries where panic-stricken regimes have tried to stem dissident information. For example, Walid al-Saqaf developed an encryption technology called alkasir when the Yemeni government closed down his news aggregation site, YemenPortal.net. As the son of a campaigning journalist who died in mysterious circumstances, al-Saqaf felt that it was important that he use both his journalism and IT skills to get around the blockade, "because I felt it would have been a betrayal to my own profession to simply manipulate what people see".

"Information freedom is essential if you're really going to live a dignified life," he argues.

The Chinese government is the most infamous of web censors, but there is evidence that even its Great Firewall is collapsing at its foundations. The country's most popular blogger is Han Han, a 28-year-old author (and professional rally car driver) who posts treatises openly critical of the government, but because he speaks in the youth vernacular and enjoys such a tremendous following, his personal politics are generally overlooked by the powers that be.

As Han told me: "Although the internet is controlled, when compared with traditional media, it better reflects reality."

Other political activists I spoke with are using the web's hyper-connectivity and plug-and-play capabilities to crowdsource action. Kenyan-born Ory Okolloh helped create the website Ushahidi in the aftermath of her country's disputed presidential election in 2007; it collected eyewitness reports of violence sent in by email and text-message and placed them on a Google map, and the open-source software has since been released freely and used elsewhere for similar projects. Tom Steinberg is the founder and director of mySociety, a company that builds digital tools to provide a direct pipeline between individuals, local communities and local government.

Despite traditional media's fears that they are fast becoming obsolete, there is great respect among the modern cyber-radicals for the scale of attention that newspapers and TV can bring. "If I was running an election campaign and I had £10,000, I would still spend it all on TV ads, leaflets and posters," Steinberg says. "The internet is good at all sorts of things, but shoving your message down the throats of people who don't care — which is what it takes to win a campaign – it's not particularly great at." But on the web, he says, "you can make things that say, 'Go on, just have a go.'"

In some instances, the political impulse is almost an afterthought. Christopher Poole is the American creator of 4chan, an image-centric bulletin board that he set up to discuss Japanese anime – but now its users, or some of them at least, are making use of the anonymity that the site affords them to campaigning ends.

By contrast, Peter Sunde is the co-founder of the Pirate Bay, a site that allows for the peer-to-peer sharing of computer files of any kind, but one that was set up with an explicitly political purpose. Sunde now has a jail sentence hanging over him.

What today's crop of cyber-radicals demonstrate is that power does reside in the hands of the people, thanks to the foundations laid by Tim Berners-Lee 20 years ago. And a new generation of social activists are exploiting the technological tools available to them for their own agendas.

CHRISTOPHER "MOOT" POOLE – 4CHAN

Created the site 4chan in his New York City bedroom at the age of 15 in 2003, subsequently posting on the site using the pseudonym "moot". He intended the site to be a place to discuss Japanese comics and anime, but it soon morphed into something far bigger. The Wall Street Journal revealed moot's real-world identity in 2008.

What is 4chan?
4chan is an image-centric bulletin board. It's based on a Japanese site called Futaba. Their code was publicly available so I downloaded a copy of their source code and translated the text from Japanese to English from an online resource. It's me, a handful of volunteer moderators and a part-time developer. For a site that has more than 10 million users and 700 million page impressions, most people are shocked to discover that it's not a company, it's not an operation, it's our hobby.

How has it evolved?
All of its growth has been organic. We've never advertised the site; it's been word-of-mouth. Now our traffic is about 12 million unique visitors per month. Part of the way it spread is because the images that are posted lend themselves naturally to be shared via IM [instant messaging], chat or email. People see a funny or provocative image, send it to their friends, and their friends come to 4chan. The community has a very distinct culture and language, and it's responsible for creating and propagating internet memes like lolcats [amusing pictures of cats] and Rickrolling [a prank involving the video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up"]. As that started to trickle out into the mainstream… all of a sudden, it's not just something spread as word-of-mouth by 18- to 25-year-old video game nerds; it's hit mainstream consciousness.

The site is distinctive because users can post material anonymously, and some users have also organised themselves as a collective, using the name "Anonymous". What does that actually mean?
As recently as six years ago, people were used to forums where you could lurk, you could view, but in order to post and participate, you had to register. Because you didn't need to register on 4chan, people started to appreciate it, and realise how radically different it was. We began to see anonymity not just as an aspect or feature, but as a thing, as a principle, as an idea that we are one, we are a collective, we are Anonymous. People then came to the site who not only saw Anonymous as a principle, but started to exploit anonymity as a new platform where they could be rebellious and no one knew who they were.

"Anonymous" started a protest movement against the practices of the Church of Scientology two years ago. Were you complicit in their activities?
I didn't start 4chan as an outlet for dissenting voices and freedom of speech. At first the community was so tame. But as it became less tame, I felt there was something there worth protecting. The rise of social networking is an assault on the free, the open, the anonymous web. I started to appreciate that 4chan is one of the last bastions of freedom online. Anonymity – including anonymous posting – is something to be protected. 4chan is very privileged to be one of the last places for this type of discourse, for this type of interaction. That's important. That's why I've decided to be hands-off and to protect it as a place, and to deliver a platform.

Why?
Anonymity allows you to express and view opinions, images you wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with elsewhere. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be negative. It's not about, "You can't say fuck on Facebook but you can on 4chan." Services where you have a persistent, registered identity such as Twitter and Facebook – in many cases it's your real identity – limit what users want to say and read. But you can on 4chan. It is an outlet. I was invited to speak at Facebook to provide an alternative and opposite perspective to theirs. Mark Zuckerberg's point of view is that anonymity and monikers and pseudo-identity represents cowardice. He said that if you have nothing to hide, what's the big deal? Why would you be concerned about putting all this stuff on your profile? Well, I'm not a zealot and people like what Facebook is doing. But there is a place for both. They both offer powerful utilities for different needs. The world still needs a Google, and Facebook. But it also needs the anonymous, ephemeral, open 4chan.

Are there any rules?
There is a set of codified rules and we do enforce them: don't break the law or post anything illegal. Past that, the users are left to their own devices.

ORY OKOLLOH - USHAHIDI

Kenyan activist, lawyer and blogger, and co-founder of Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing technology. She is 33 and now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

What is Ushahidi?
It is a non-profit technology company that specialises in developing free and open-source software for crowdsourcing and interactive mapping. We build tools for democratising information and increasing transparency – we're lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. It started out as an ad hoc group of technologists and bloggers hammering out software in a couple of days, trying to figure out a way to gather more and better information about the post-election violence in Kenya in January 2008. Since then, the platform has gone open-source, and it's free so it's now being used by organisations big and small all over the world.

How did digital technologies best meet your needs, rather than the traditional avenues of publication and dissemination?
Digital technologies offer the ability to get up and running in a low-cost way, and the possibility of reaching a much wider audience.

What is it about the web that makes it such an effective platform?
Its accessibility and the low barriers to publication of information – plus the ability to be who you are.

What can't the web do to change our attitudes and behaviour?
The web can't change our behaviour – it can influence us, but it's individuals who change.

Where will the web have its greatest effect over the next 10 years?
No question: Africa.

JODY McINTYRE – LIFE ON WHEELS

A 20-year old British blogger and author of the site Life on Wheels, Jody was born disabled and campaigns worldwide for justice in Palestine.

Where does Life on Wheels come from?
The site was born out of anger and frustration – as with the birth of every revolutionary movement. Essentially, I was going to college every morning and bus drivers wouldn't let me on the bus because I was in a wheelchair. So in response to these feelings, I began writing the blog, detailing my experiences.

Why use the web?
If you're not given a platform by others, you'll make your own. If your form of resistance is writing, then you will find any means necessary to get that writing out into the public consciousness, even if you have to write it on a piece of paper and pin it up on walls around London – [but] the way I saw it, everyone I knew was going on the internet.

What is it about digital tools that make them effective in galvanising people?
I don't think the internet is some kind of grand solution that will solve all our problems, but it helps because of its capacity to reach people across the world. A lot of revolutionaries talk about the necessity of encouraging revolution and resistance in any context around the world. If we're writing on the internet, the hope that someone in Kashmir or Palestine or Iraq can read what you're writing is a good one. With the web, people in power can't edit or co-opt what we've said. I can publish whatever I want to say. They can't censor our voices any longer. You can say whatever you like about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, but you can't change the video or the images that a million people saw in one day of American soldiers eager to kill Iraqi civilians. People see those images and know the truth is in front of their eyes.

What are its shortcomings?
We need to realise that most people in the world don't have access to the net. The internet is just the first step. The movement we want to build, the revolutionary movement for equality for all people, can only happen through direct action, and direct action on the streets. The internet can play a role in our political education, raising our political consciousness, but as long as people remember that this is a way to plan action, to organise ourselves, to connect people, but not the solution, then we'll be OK.

HAN HAN – BLOGGER

The 28-year-old Chinese professional rally driver, bestselling author, singer, creator of a literary magazine and China's most popular blogger – indeed, possibly the most popular blogger in the world.

What are your greatest criticisms of the Chinese government and the current political climate there?
The Chinese Communist party puts keeping their political position first above everything. Of course, this is the wish of many political parties around the world. For the Chinese government, the reality is that regardless of whether the people are satisfied or unsatisfied, the party's position will always be secure. However, they are sometimes nervous, sometimes arrogant and this attitude has caused many tragedies.

What impact do you hope your web activity will have on the political system?
Although China has many idealistic journalists and media figures, the media are still controlled and censored. Although the internet is controlled, when compared with traditional media it better reflects reality. Rather extreme views or false information may sometimes appear on the internet, but it's only because traditional media fail to take the responsibilities they should take. The government might think the internet is really annoying, but I think it actually helps the government.

How do you think internet-based social change is different in China?
The only difference is English-speaking countries treat the internet as technology, while Chinese-speaking countries treat the internet as medicine.

How did you decide the internet was the best mouthpiece for your views? You already had a profile in traditional media, so why not use them?
It's faster and more direct. It's almost impossible to publish sensitive articles in traditional media. Even though others might delete your writing online, at least you can publish your opinion completely. I don't write articles to oppose a specific party or government; my articles could criticise any party. I'm a writer. How can I call myself an intellectual if I can't write and publish words as I wish?

Why do you feel you can get away with statements against the government that other people wouldn't?
The atmosphere is not as terrifying as people in the west may think. Sometime my articles do get censored, but besides those who advocate policy changes and democratic reform, the government actually doesn't often control or censor writers. The writers here have become smarter: they know what to write and what not to write.

How have you dealt with resistance from your detractors, in particular the Chinese government?
They can only censor my articles, not my thoughts. I can accept this type of censorship. It's a game, and I'm playing by other people's rules. I don't think the government disagrees with the ideas in the articles that were censored; they are afraid of the ideas spreading.

What effect do you feel you are having on the political psyche of China's youth?
I can't really influence them in any way, but I hope that when the country is one day in their hands they will remember the past and take good care of this nation. In that world there is no capitalism, socialism, communism or feudalism; there is also no westernisation or easternisation. There is only right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, good and evil.

Where will the most radical change brought about by the web be felt in 10 years?
I'll answer this question in 2013, when we have confirmation that the world still exists. Otherwise my answer now will be rubbish.

PETER SUNDE – THE PIRATE BAY

The 32-year old Swedish co-founder of the Pirate Bay, the world's leading file-sharing site, allowing users to exchange music, games, videos and more. Found guilty, along with his colleagues, of assisting others in copyright infringement in 2009; lost his appeal last week (after this interview took place) and now faces eight months in jail and a fine shared with his colleagues of £4.1m.

What is the Pirate Bay?
The Pirate Bay was a project developed as part of an "anti-anti-piracy group" started in Sweden called Piratbyrån. Pirate Bay blew up because other file-sharing sites were being shut down because of legal pressure from Hollywood. Most of the other sites were run by 16-year-old guys, and when you're that age and you get a letter from a Hollywood attorney saying they're going to sue you for all the money in the world, you shut down your site. We wanted to make a statement and take on the fight. The internet is based on the idea that everyone can share whatever they want. If you start having gatekeepers you have a consumer-and-producer relationship. We didn't like the idea that corporations would take the internet and turn it into cable TV.

What philosophy lay behind your attitude?
We were influenced by Public Enemy and the KLF. And by traditional French philosophers, rather than by any US west coast libertarians.

What makes you think that the free sharing of files online can be right?
I grew up with computers. I got my first computer when I was nine, and everything I learned about computers was from copies. I wouldn't be able to program if it wasn't for illegally copying my first programming language compiler.

How did your attitude develop?
I started reading academic papers about file sharing that said it is good for the community; it's good for the artist. The only people who lose are the record companies and the studios. Copyright is based on the notion that there are certain companies who should be able to profit from culture. It's not based on the idea any more that people who create things should be able to benefit, or get money for it. Copyright is boring, so no one really wants to get to know it. It's such a big legal field, so the companies who can profit from it have a free arena to dictate terms. But the internet removed the middleman. I don't understand why that's a bad thing. I see the situation in the same way as discovering a car that runs on water and the oil companies forbidding water to be used in cars.

Why is the web important?
It means there are no gatekeepers any more. You have the power to influence people as quickly as you can connect with the internet. With Twitter and Facebook you don't even need to create your own publishing platform. You just have to have an idea. In Sweden, after the recent election, a 17-year-old immigrant girl created a Facebook group calling for a demonstration against the [rightwing, nationalist Sweden Democrats] who were voted into office. Ten hours later, 6,000 people showed up and started demonstrating.

WALID AL-SAQAF – YEMEN PORTAL

The 37-year old Yemeni activist is the creator of Yemen Portal and of software used to circumvent firewalls.

What is Yemen Portal?
YemenPortal.net is a news aggregator. More than 90% of the content is in Arabic. It gathers information or news articles released on official news websites and through dissident and independent sites, and puts them together to present a comprehensive view of what's happening in Yemen. This feature has allowed a lot of people to look into dissident content they didn't know about.

Why was this necessary?
The traditional media in Yemen are very restrictive, and the broadcast media are monopolised by the state: you wake up in the morning in Yemen and turn on the news on TV and you find that all the news is about the president's meetings and the government's meetings.

How did the government respond to the fact that an increasing readership was discovering dissident content through Yemen Portal?
They simply blocked access to it, to the whole site from within Yemen. So I had three choices: give way and let the government control what did and didn't appear on my site; shut it down altogether; or keep the controversial content and find ways to allow people to access the site. I chose the latter, because I felt it would have been a betrayal to my professsion to manipulate what people see. I developed a piece of software called alkasir. If you were browsing the net and wanted to open your Gmail, your Gmail would go through the regular internet service provider. But when you open a blocked website, it activates itself and changes into the encrypted proxy mode. That's better than anonymising everything because if you do that, you give the impression to the monitors at the ISP that there is a fishy connection.

TOM STEINBERG – MYSOCIETY

The 33-year old founder of mySociety, which has developed websites in the UK including TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem, aiming to bring greater transparency to government.

What is mySociety?
MySociety builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and democratic parts of their lives. We run various democracy and transparency sites in the UK that do things like make it really easy to find out how your politicians voted or, on a more local level, help you report problems to the council, such as potholes and broken streetlights, or get information out of government that you might want via the Freedom of Information Act.

How can the web be used as a tool to influence people?
The internet enables you to help people to achieve things they might want to get done in their lives and in their communities on a scale that is not possible unless you are using such a cheaply scalable digital technology.

How has it transformed the political process?
There is no one thing that is "internet politics". There really are two worlds: partisan campaigning to exert power and to beat your opponents into a pulp; and the creation of what you might call empowering platforms using general-purpose tools that let people communicate, act, exert power or achieve goals like requesting information out of the government. These two really different things often get bundled together. There's actually quite a big difference between the way that Barack Obama used what was essentially an extremely good credit card form to raise $500m through his website, taking that money and using it to buy TV adverts and posters to beat the Republicans, versus services like those that we run. We build platforms so that people can achieve potentially smaller things that are not so single-minded in purpose.

What it is that you want to change by building these platforms?
We get people who've never tried to campaign on anything, they've never written to a politician, but if you make the barrier low enough and give them a reason, you'll push them over the edge.

Is the best way to influence the public to give them the tools or the messages?
If I was running an election campaign and I had £10,000, I would still spend it all on TV adverts, leaflets and posters. The internet isn't massively good at making people think things they don't currently think. It's very good at helping people to do things when they decide that they want to. I think that TV and adverts on the side of buses will be playing a dominant role in politics for a long time to come. But I'm a great believer that the internet will strengthen the community on your street because it can bring together people who care about an issue who didn't previously have a voice, so that they can then shout loudly enough to make political bodies and organisations pay attention.

Are you trying to transform local politics?
It would be lovely if measurably more people in the future felt they could realistically be part of the solution if there was some problem in their community, that it's not just something unimaginably over their heads that's dealt with by another class of people that they never meet. I am out to give as many people as I can a better experience of dealing with the democracy they live in and the government that rules over them.


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An amazing artist and human. He was one of the most wonderful people I met.

http://brainwashed.com/common/images/people/christophersonp.gif It is with great sadness that Brainwashed has learned of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson's passing.

Reports have come in this morning of November 25th, 2010, that Christopherson passed away quietly in his sleep at his home in Bangkok.

Peter Christopherson wrote, on July 31, 2010, in response to his interview in The Quietus:

"we are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so ALL the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do, but will be just starting and new (and hopefully even better) adventure...

If we don't get to meet in this Life, maybe in the next you can buy me a beer! ,-)"

 

Sleazy will be remembered for his fruitful music career with Throbbing Gristle, Coil, SoiSong and The Threshold HouseBoys Choir as well as his visual work as a music video director, photographer and his stint with design company Hipgnosis. His work frequently was outside the bounds of normality and indeed challenged the very idea of normality. His art touched us all and his innovative and free approach to music cannot be denied.

Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti simultaneously announced his death this morning on twitter:

"Our dearest beautiful Sleazy left this mortal coil as he slept in peace last night.words cannot express our grief."

 

cover imageHowever, as sad as his death is, it is impossible to not be affected by Sleazy's optimism and his music in recent years strove towards happiness and positivity. After the loss of Jhonn Balance and the end of Coil, Sleazy's relocation to Thailand gave him the spiritual and emotional boost he needed to create new, even more personal music. His performances as The Threshold HouseBoys Choir celebrated life and living just as his work with Coil celebrated a life less ordinary and the freedom to be your own person. Most recently, SoiSong and X-TG (the remains of a divided Throbbing Gristle) seemed to be opening new avenues to his music, his creative energies never seeming to dim (even if he got easily sidetracked).

In an interview with The Quietus earlier this year, Sleazy reflected on his own life and work:

"I just try to continue to live my life honestly and happily, helping local people where I can, bringing when I can, any new found knowledge or insight to the western public via music or art. If sometimes this means sticking your head over the parapet, or even "going over the top", I try to do so when it's safe (and legal) but we owe it to the people who were in this foxhole before us, to do our bit for our comrades in arms."

Former Coil contributor Danny Hyde told us:

"I just keep checking the net as if the news will change. In all my life of working in studios Pete was without exception the most positive, creative and all round great person to be around when making music, and equally when recieving non-judgemental life coaching I will not underestimate his worth to me, and from this day on, it would not be overstatement to say that for me nothing will ever be the same again.

I spent yesterday afternoon replying to a long email I received from Pete dated 24/11 talking about various things including finishing TG's take on Desertshore album, something we had started in 2006 and had slowly been updated by TG, it seemed it was at last to see Life. I replied back to him, and for the first time was really honest about how much his help to me had been, I awoke this morning to discover he was dead, I have no way of Knowing if he read my reply.

What can I say that hasn't been said by others, but for me an exceptional human being has passed on."

David Tibet told Brainwashed:

"Sleaz was one of the kindest, gentlest, funniest and individual people I had ever met. I met him in 1982 as part of the fledgling PTV/TOPY grouping, when Genesis took me round to his house in Chiswick, West London. Geff Rushton had just moved in. Sleazy was incredibly open and welcoming to me. He remained a friend for all these years; he was especially sweet to me when Sebastian Horsely died.  Of his remarkable art and utterly individual vision, I must write later."

David Tibet also made this statement on his own Coptic Cat website:

I am immensely saddened and shocked to hear of the passing of Peter Christopherson early this morning at his home in Bangkok. I am too upset to think clearly of what to write, but I thought I would put up this email that Sleazy sent me 23 June 2010 after Sebastian Horsley went on. Not only does it show Sleaz’s immense kindness, humour, love and generosity of spirit, but what he said about Sebastian’s leaving his body and us also sums up what I would like to say about Sleazy. Peace and Love always to you, beloved Sleaz, now with beloved Jhonn, at play in Æon. I will never forget you and your kindness and your love. I miss you deeply.

David Tibet, Hastings, 25 XI 2010

Hi David

Commiserations about Sebastian Horsley.

Although you and I are probably both physically and scholastically many many miles apart, I hope you feel as I do that the part of him that made him so wonderful – his Soul if you like, although the words are different here – is not lost in the same way our temporarily custodianed bodies cease to useful any longer when we die.

In whatever way or whatever form or on whatever “bardo”, the spark that really made him so special will continue to beautify and enlighten future generations somehow.

I know it’s horrid to have someone you love, and love the company of, snatched away (especially unexpectedly) but to quote one of Geff’s improvised lyrics “I am not here… I am here!”

You will always be able to bring the Sebastian that was, to mind… unless you are gaga, in which case it won’t matter for long ,-)

Don't forget there will always be a spare room for you here in Bangkok, should you feel like a break from the UK – well a comfy and private houseboy-free sofa (unless you’ve changed more than I thought in which case, the houseboys can be provided also!).

Why not “be here now”? :-)

Allmylovesleaz

Robin Rimbaud warmly recalls his friendship with Sleazy:

"I met Sleazy just at the release of the first Coil album. I remember the fondest moments with him and one aspect that always stood out was his generosity and gentle nature. He would always offer time to talk and respond. At the release of the first Scanner CD in 1992 he told me it was the first album he'd listened to all the way through at the time! His final words to me last month in London at the last TG show were in a conversation about airport security and he told me 'there's nowhere left to hide anymore' - I wonder where he's hiding now though."

Friend and collaborator Marc Almond wrote on his website:

"It is with great sadness we have to tell you that Peter Christopherson, affectionately known as Sleazy, passed away in his sleep last night. As well as being a member of iconic experimental and highly influential band Throbbing Gristle. He was also one half of Coil who I worked with and contributed vocals to their albums on a number of occasions. Peter also directed a number of my earlier videos, some of my best such as Ruby Red, Melancholy Rose and Mother Fist. We had lots of fun seeing how subversive, ironic and mischievous we could be in a pop arena though in the case of Ruby Red it just got us an outright ban! He was also a good friend as was John Balance, the other half of Coil who also sadly passed away a few years ago. We kept contact throughout the years and this news gives me great sadness. Peter was much loved and we have lost a great creative person."


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John Kealy writes:

When I met him at Brainwaves in 2008, I found even in his jetlagged state that he was never less than a perfect gentleman; his quiet demeanor betrayed by a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. His live show as The Threshold HouseBoys Choir that weekend was unlike any other performance I had seen, it was more like an informal chat with Uncle Sleazy than a concert. In contrast, seeing Coil's final performance in Dublin in 2004 was a white hot blast to the mind. Again, unlike anything else but world's apart from that night in Boston.

 
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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

Every day from 29 August to 27 September, Mexican artist Damián Ortega has worked on a new artwork that responded directly to a news item, a photography, a cartoon or graphics he had found that day in the press. The sculptures and installations are now on show in The Curve, an exhibition space which as its name indicates, is shaped like a long, narrow arc. I can't think of any space more challenging to curate and fill in.

The pieces of news that aroused Ortega's curiosity ranged from the dramatic and international (the BP oil spill, the ordeal of Chilean miners, border crossing in Mexico, floods in Pakistan), to mundane stories (Ryanair boss professing that global warming is a myth, a football match, even an advert for men's leather shoes) and science columns (an essay on gravitational wave.) Ortega had to work like a journalist, responding fast to the dramas, scandals, and local oddities that hit the news day after day. A method clearly at odds with the lengthier gestational and production time an artist is used to.

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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

A picture illustrating the plight of Pakistan flood survivors in The Independent...

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inspired this sculpture:

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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

Although the items of news are only two months old, you can feel that the anxiety and urgency they used to carry have started to fade away. Such is the speed and volatility of the news.

Some of the works are the exploding structures we've come to expect from Ortega. After having see the image of a house in New Zealand damaged by an earthquake, he built this installation in which furniture hang above our head.

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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

The dismantled drums and tyres responds to a scientific article on gravitational waves.

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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

Although most of the news Ortega picked up come from British newspaper The Independent, the artist kept on following what made the headlines in his own country. One of the first works you meet in The Curve is Immigrant Song (10 August 2010), a 2 metre high by 7 metre long zigzagging wall whose sculptural form gives a heavy and powerful 3rd dimension to a graph recording the number of unauthorized migrants living in the US.

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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

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The artist in front of one of his works. Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

I'll end up with a quote from an interview Ortega had with Alona Pardo (available in the small newspaper distributed in the gallery) because i couldn't agree more with his opinion:

Ironic as it is, I think it's important to stress that i'm not a huge fan of political art. I think it is too demagogic. Of course there are some very strong overtly political work, which is key to certain moments in history. I particularly like prints and graphic propagandist work. Work which is strongly rooted in political activism and seeking out real social change, such as the leaflets and flyers produced by the Black Panthers during the late 1960s.

But i think political work seen in the context of a gallery is completely neutralised and overprotected.

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Damian Ortega, The Independent. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

I was not allowed to take pictures, alas! Otherwise i'd have more to show you.

Damián Ortega, The Independent is open through 6 Feb 2011 at The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, in London.

 
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Fig leaf underwear shields you from TSA nudie scans

There's been a lot about the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) full body scanners at U.S. airports in the news — the ones capable of seeing your private bits and pieces. Of course, for every problem there's a product: special "underwear" that protects you from the gaze of pervy TSA officers.

 
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Hopefully this will have some influence on policy.



London's Cultural Strategy: Invest in Creativity
The mayor of London recently published "Cultural Metropolis," a vision championing the need to invest in the ideas, innovations, and culture found in the city.

 
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112110fb.jpg From the braggadocio files: NYPD are now regularly monitoring Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube to try to catch big-mouthed criminals who like to brag about their illegal activities. They caught Manhattan thief James Roberts that way; he boasted about his new bling on MySpace days after mugging a man at a Chelsea bus stop, and even put pictures up wearing the watch and ring he stole. Police called Facebook "instrumental" in busting up a ring of drug dealers who sold coke, ecstasy and dope at nightclubs like Rebel and the Roseland Ballroom last year, and gangs regularly have their own MySpace pages with easy-to-identify pictures. "It's almost become unfair. Facebook and MySpace are killing these guys," said one law-enforcement source.





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An hour-long video looking at use of small urban spaces. People tend to sit where there are places to sit. As simple as that.

 
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