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Hacker, 2013

For Allen Ginsberg and Aaron Swartz

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
The angry fix they sought was far different from that of Ginsberg's friends.
These hipsters were typing something other than 'starry dynamo' into the search engines.
They were Google mapping the seats of power at midday, not the negro streets at dawn.
They were fighting a in new revolution, a revolution that would take their life and liberty.

A junkie with a knife can be scary. He'll take the cash in your pockets and rush off for his fix,
leaving you shaken as you walk home. But a hacker with a mission, now that is dangerous.
He will shake the very means of production and distribution, the economy you depend upon
to get that cash into your pockets.

It's all well and good when they take down an Arab dictator.
It's tolerable when they change the news media and political process, as long as it can be co-opted by the press and politicians.

But when they start threatening the profitability of the legal and academic presses in the greatest democracy of the world, they must be hounded, driven underground, labeled hacker and felon, until they kill themselves.

Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz, Lanny Breuer and the Digital Revolution

Yesterday, as I wrote about institutionalized racism in America, I asked the question, "Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?" Perhaps part of the answer is that we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and sometimes heroes die during revolutions.

Typically, people talk about the digital revolution the way they talk about the industrial revolution, moving from one mode of production and distribution to another. Yet with any revolution, there is upheaval. There are winners and there are losers. Are we seeking to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible? What happens to the losers? How do they fight to avoid losing any privileges they had prior to the revolution?

I think these are all important questions to ask as we think about Aaron Swartz, for it seems that much of what he fought for was to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible. How do we make information as accessible to all people as possible?

If we look at PACER or JSTOR, we see similar patterns. There were means of production and distribution that made sense in the time of the printing press. Much of the information in court papers and academic journals was produced using taxpayer money and should be available to everyone for little more than the cost of production. Prior to the digital revolution, there was one cost structure for producing and distribution information in systems like PACER or via JSTOR. As the cost of production and distribution of electronic reports plummeted, some people were benefiting from the cost differences and others were being left out.

The prosecution of Aaron Swartz was an effort by the losers in the digital revolution to cling to power. The idea of Aaron Swartz as the epitome of the digital native, confronting U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, an up and coming political figure defending the status quo as the epitome of the digital immigrant is a compelling narrative.

And, it has played out in the digital political battlegrounds. The online petition site, We The People, set up by the Obama Administration, has a petition calling for the removal of United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. In the first three days it received over thirty thousand signatures, more than the threshold of twenty-five thousand signatures necessary for the administration to consider it.

The battle continues on, online. This afternoon, the Boston Globe ran the article, Reports: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s husband attacks Swartz family on Twitter.

The article shows images of tweets, alleged to be from the husband of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, where he goes after some of the thought leaders in the digital revolution such as Mitch Kapor and Dan Gillmor. Yes, the battle lines have been drawn and President Obama is caught right in the middle.

Meanwhile, another blog post says, OK, But Can We Also Fire Lanny Breuer?. Perhaps U.S. Attorney Ortiz was just an ambitious foot soldier caught in the cross fire. Perhaps the General that needs to be taken out is the Department of Justice's Criminal Division head, Lanny Breuer.

We are seeing Congressional approval rates plummet, the approval rating of the Supreme Court slip, and one has to wonder what happens to the approval ratings of the Justice Department as the Swartz affair just adds more damage to a tarnished agency.

Yes, we are in the midst of a digital revolution. It is about changes in the modes of production and distribution, but it is shaking up power structures and real people, good people, are getting hurt in the cross fire.

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RIP Aaron

"Some days it seemed like all there was was gray". With those words, Aaron Swartz started off a blog post about his relationship with Quinn Norton. This morning, I started off my blog post about driving to a funeral with, "It was a grey January morning as I climbed into my black 1997 Nissan Altima and headed north".

It seems appropriate that my RSS feed is full of posts about Aaron Swartz who help with the creation of RSS. The posts are by some of the bloggers I respect most, David Weinberger, Ethan Zuckerman, and Larry Lessig to name a few.

I don't have stories of meeting Aaron when he was 14 or of him staying at my house at some point. I'm not sure if I ever met him, but given our mutual friends and mutual interests, I suspect we probably met somewhere along the way.

Yet Aaron's death hits me hard. Perhaps it is because of the recent death of my mother and of my cousin. Perhaps it is because now, more than ever, we need people like Aaron fighting for open access to information on the internet, in the courts and in our government.

There is not much more to say than I am so sad.

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SuperCollider, Middletown Remix and Raspberry Pi

At work, I've been speaking with people involved with Middletown Remix. As part of the project, I met with Ron Kuivila, who teaches electronic music at Wesleyan. His biography on Wikipedia mentioned SuperCollider, "an environment and programming language for real time audio synthesis and algorithmic composition". So, last night, I downloaded Supercollider and started playing with it.

I downloaded the Mac OSX universal image version 3.6.2 and started it up. It comes with documentation built in and it was fairly easy to get started. On my Mac, I had to use Shift-Return to kick off snippets of code. The server didn't appear as described in the documentation, but using s.boot; did the trick. The instructions saying to use Cmd-. to stop the sound weren't exactly clear. That's the command key and the period key.

Once I got that far, things started to come together really nicely, and I had my computer making some interesting sounds. Another bit of documentation that I found very interesting was How to Program in SuperCollider. It explained PBind which gave me the ability to play some tunes.

It took a little bit of remembering music theory, to get a scale that sounds half way decent.

(
Pbind(
\freq, Pseq([ 1/1, 9/8, 5/4, 4/3, 3/2, 5/3, 15/8, 2 ] * 440, 5),
\dur, Prand([0.2, 0.4, 0.3], inf)
).play
)

The next subject it looks like I need to explore is SynthDefs.

With all of this coming together, the next obvious question was, what other devices could I run SuperCollider on? There is a great blog post on SuperCollider on the Raspberry Pi. I plugged in my Raspberry Pi, loaded the SuperCollider program on it and tried to get it to run. It seemed to run okay, but the instructions talked about using Overtone to control the SuperCollider server, and I haven't gotten that far. Nor have I done anything with Synths yet, which is what I read about in the SuperCollider 3 Server Tutorial.

It does seem like an exciting project would be to use a large number of Raspberry Pi's running SuperCollider, and perhaps some sensors to make them react to what is going on around them. This could be used to create a sound installation, perhaps similar to what Ron spoke about with his rainforest installation.

I also started playing with SuperCollider for Android. I got it to start and make a sound, but not do anything subsequent. Their page, How to control SC Android remotely didn't seem to work with my Android. and server remained listed as inactive. However, using the same commands to my Raspberry Pi, I did manage to get indication that the Raspberry Pi SuperCollider server is running properly.

That pretty much captures where I am with SuperCollider, Middletown Remix and Raspberry Pi this morning. It's time to get about my chores. If've you're playing with SuperCollider and/or Raspberry Pi, let me know what your up to.

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Playing with the Raspberry Pi - Part 1

For Christmas, I got a Raspberry Pi. This is a $35 computer that you can do all kinds of interesting things with. I'm just starting to explore the device. Here some of the things I've done, or am thinking about doing:

To start off, I bought four different 8 Gig SD cards so I could put different builds on each card. The first card is currently running Wheezy (the default Linux distribution). It is great to get a feel for the machine. I've added Pianobar and use it as a Pandora Box. I haven't started adding much else yet.

I've been downloading distributions and then installing them using the RPi Easy SD Card Setup. Yes, it is very easy to set up cards this way. The one downside is that you end up using small partitions, depending on the image you start with and whether or not there is any automatic repartitioning.

The second card has OpenELEC. A very nice XBMC distribution. I've used it as my media center, similar to how I use my Roku. Very simple. Works great. A little slow at times.

As I was loading pictures off a camera today, and it struck me that I could probably load OpenElec on an SD card in a camera. Then, when I popped the card out of the camera and into the RPi, I could view the pictures. So, I loaded OpenELEC on a 16 Gig card I have for one of my cameras. Sure enough, the pictures are then viewable in XBMC. The video, which my camera saved in .MOV format, however, did not play, although I could hear the sound. The bigger issue, was that it created an initial partition of 125Meg. I haven't found a nice way of resizing. I'll save that for another day.

However, a better approach may be to use Raspbian. That would allow me to install XBMC as well as GIMP so I could take a card out of the camera, load it in the Raspberry Pi edit the pictures, view them on XBMC or share them via Raspbian to social networks.

I also want to play with other operating systems on the RPi. I have a Nokia N900 and I'd love to get some of the development from that community on the RPi. There are instructions for loading Mer on the Raspberry, which provides a good framework for exploring Tizen as well. Likewise, I'm interested in Android on Rpi, and when Ubuntu mobile comes along, that as well.

I like virtual worlds, so I'm wondering if I can get OpenSim running on an RPi, perhaps even with a viewer loaded as a great game machine. Or, since Scratch seems to be working, can I get Croquet or Open Cobalt running.

I also read about a project to Build Your Own Google Glass-Style Wearable Computer. I started looking around and found a promising looking head mounted display, the Vuzix Corp. Wrap 920. It looks like it should connect easily to the Raspberry. For even more fun, it should be possible to connect the The PEREGRINE Wearable Interface - Medium Glove. This would make a great gaming set up.

A possible related project includes AR, Kinect, Head mounted display project which has led me to OpenKinect

So many great projects possible!

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