Alright! I'm listening to Neil Young and drinking the last of our christmas coldbrew.
I don't have to be at work for 1.5 more hours, and I've wasted more than a week thinking about and futzing with old computers.
I'm going to talk about priorities and goals for 2018 now. If you're not particularly interested in my goals and priorities for 2018, now might be a good time to mute me for 1.5 hours. :-D
I have four main themes occupying my mind in 2018. I'm using this tootstream to organize my thoughts and solidify them in to an action plan that will carry me through the next few months.
- I'm buying a house and moving 600 miles and might need to find a job and AHHH! Stress! but also exciting and eventually good and relaxing.
- The modern web is a clusterfuck of bad choices. The modern internet is less safe with each passing day.
- Modern computing in general is kind of shitty, compared to even 10 years ago.
- DIY Media. We all gotta make stuff and support one another in making stuff. We gotta archive the stuff we make so that our movement, our history doesn't disappear.
I'm going to talk about DIY Media first, and then work my way backwards, and maybe pull some projects out of the aether.
DIY Media//Archive your shit//It's not just entertainment, it's a movement.
For a few months in 2015, I spent a lot of time trolling through scans of old punk zines and the noise-arch archive and various other sources talking about underground/independent music from the mid 70s up through the mid 90s.
You know what I found? Lots of really great music, and also many empty space.
When I say empty spaces, I mean I would read a review about a band, or an interview in a zine that would pique my interest. I'd start looking for more information about that band, or the members of that band, and build a little spiderweb of references that took me from scene to scene and show to show over a period of two or three years, almost invariably to end with
1) No Music still available through any sources I have access to
or more likely
2) No recordings ever made.
I can't tell you the number of times I'd see an interview with a band I respect the hell out of talking about how they took the majority of their inspiration from this other group.
And then I'd go dig for information on this other group and find 1) rave reviews 2) nothing else.
We owe it to ourselves, and to the future, to keep a physical record of the things that we do and to help one another in recording and archiving and documenting as much of each of our respective movements as possible.
It's not just music, either.
I'm talking about music because I was Close to music, and I watched these things play out in real time through lots of little decisions that seemed like the best idea at the time but that ultimately resulted in even our relatively recent scene being full of Empty Space where music should be.
But it's more than music. I've seen indie films at local festivals that, if you weren't in the room at one of those screenings, you'd never know existed. They're ghosts.
I have only my memories of them, and you don't even have that.
Or think about all the *Amazing* artists you knew on Tumblr who have completely disappeared, and taken their archives with them.
How many of those artists still even have copies of all of that work?
And, unlike in years past when, in order for something to stop existing it had to actually be destroyed, today things can just stop existing with the click of a button.
There aren't any physical artifacts tied to their existence.
This is not me railing against digital creation and distribution. Let me make that clear.
I love digital creation and distribution.
I honestly am growing to resent the oppressive size and weight of physical media. (Moving more than 1500 LPs from one building to another, to another, to another, to another 600 miles away, to another, and then back 600 miles again will do that to you.)
But we need to remember that the digital can be ephemeral, and make efforts to preserve our work.
Alright! So that was a rant about the preservation of DIY media. If this is a topic that you find interesting, I've written about it a lot (http://ajroach42.com/we-are-terrible-stewards-of-history/) and pretty much everything else I say is going to touch on this at least in passing.
But I'm moving on from archiving to creating for a minute.
In addition to all of these empty spaces caused by media which was no longer commercially available, there were also empty spaces caused by media which was never created.
Many bands never recorded even a single song.
Bands that everyone loved! Bands that packed houses! Bands that were called "the next thing" by the bands that actually went on to be the next thing!
In 1985 this was almost excusable, except that 4-tracks were affordable and cassette distribution was better than nothing.
Today, there is hardly an excuse.
If you do something creative, music, acting, writing, whatever take the time to preserve it.
The people like me in future generations will thank you.
If you keep waiting until you're "Ready" you might never release anything.
If the thing that is holding you back is financial, then (depending on your medium of choice) there are probably workarounds.
We set up a "recording studio" for $150 and released 6 or 7 albums out of it. Find some like minded folks, and create the scene.
Because in ten years, the only people that stand a chance of being remembered are the ones that we have proof existed.
If you don't write about your favorite local act, will anyone ever know about them?
If your favorite local act never releases a recording, will anyone ever care once they know about them?
What I'm saying here:
If you create things, release them in to the world. Archive them as quickly as you can. Make sure that those things will still exist in ten years.
If you consume things that other people create, Talk About Them in Public Places. Write those blog posts (and put your blog somewhere that it's archives will still be around in ten years.)
Write some damn Zines. Shamelessly promote the things your friends create.
And, when I watched this play out in real time, I saw people frequently choosing not to archive their content in highly public places out of fear that
- It wasn't good enough
- People would take it without paying for it.
And I guess either of those things might actually be viable concerns the day that you release the content, but I can't tell you how many of those things that folks decided not to make *too* available are just gone now.
This was 3 years ago! in 3 years, half the local music I listened to regularly disappeared.
And the people who made it, mostly, don't care anymore. They are parents with kids now, or they've moved on to other things.
3 years ago it was really important that no one heard their music that didn't pay for it. Now, you can't even pay for most of it.
So DIY media: Release the things and talk about the things and this is so important.
Print the zines. Release the CDs and the Cassettes, even though it's a pain in the ass. Archive that shit. Give it away. Ask people to pay for it, too, but focus on making something that will last first.
(Because for most artists the problem isn't piracy it's obscurity.)
Now, Keep that DIY media stuff in your head. It's going to come up again.
But first we gotta talk about computers.
Modern computers suck.
They do. They do too much, and they do it too fast, and there are so many layers between the user and the hardware that I can do things like boot up a chrome book, switch to a chroot, launch FreeDOS in qemu, launch VICE or PC64 in Freedos and have an emulated c64 running in an emulated x86 running in a guest OS on a real x86.
And it all mostly works! Except for some weird bugs that only exist because what I'm doing is ridiculous.
Plus we've made so many computers, and written so much software for those computers.
What do I do on Mastodon that I couldn't do on usenet?
How is mastodon different in principal than an evolution of the ideas of usenet?
I love mastodon, don't get me wrong! I think it's a nice incremental evolution over some ideas that we had a long time ago and abandoned for bad reasons in favor of centralized services.
But old software suffers from many of the same problems as other kinds of media but amplified by the fact that floppy disks and HDDs are less durable than the traditional methods through which we've distributed music.
And then there are compatibility issues. And then you get in to cryptography and... well, DOS was never meant to be used for more than 18 months, but I installed it in a VM on my chromebook 30+ years later.
There was a huge DIY software movement back in the 80s and early 90s that hardly exists anymore.
You could say that it has been supplanted by FOSS but you'd be partially right at best
Archive your software. Share your source code. Don't let things you've worked on die.
The internet is not the only way to archive things.
The internet is not the only way to distribute things.
The internet is not eternal. It may not last the rest of our lifetimes. It may be replaced. It may die.
Have a backup plan.
So, when I say computers suck, I don't actually mean that computers suck.
I mostly mean that they change too quickly.
I don't mean that modern software is bad, and old software is good as a rule.
I mean that some modern software is great, and some of it is horrible. And a lot of modern software is no better, or is actually worse, than some old software at the same tasks.
Lots of the software I use regularly was written 30 years ago and has hardly been touched since, except to keep it running on current OSs, or to repackage it with some kind of compatibility layer for modern computers.
Heck, there are a few scripts that I use literally every day that I wrote myself on a DOS machine when I was 12.
Some of them are still DOS batch files running in DOSEmu, but most of them were eventually ported over to bash or PHP or whatever.
I consider them the same, though, because they still do the same things.
Now, my software that I wrote for my own use isn't archived anywhere other than in nextcloud on my server and on some DVDs and flash drives stashed here and there.
That's Bad! I'm not eating my own dog food.
Some of that is because the software itself is trivial, or because it was never intended for distribution.
A lot of it is because I'm embarrassed to show the world code I wrote when I was 12 (or code that I wrote more recently that looks like it was written by a 12 year old)
So in the spirit of eating my own dog food, I'm going to start (slowly) releasing the software that I write for public consumption.
I'll self host a git repository somewhere, and put together some web pages about it all, and make sure that the binaries and the sources end up in the internet archive with good meta-data because that's the closest thing we have to a good future proof archival solution at the moment.
My blog is already public and archivable. I'll add it to the wayback machine, too.
The handful of computer games I started and never finished will get a final pass for QA and I'll put them up too.
I'm going to eat my own dogfood.
I'm going to upload PDFs of old issues of the AR magazine, too.
That's scary for me because there are lots of things in that that I wrote, or that @CaptainUnderpants wrote and, while they weren't particularly personal at the time, they are very personal in retrospect.
Lots of the people we talk about in those issues no longer talk to us for various silly reasons (and occasionally for some very good reasons.)
Those magazines are very much a product of the time that we wrote them, and largely no longer represent today.
That doesn't preclude them from being useful or valuable.
Most of the content in them is already archived in various places, but the magazines themselves should be (will be) as well.
That takes me through point 4 (DIY media) and point 3 (computers are bad) and touches point 2 (the internet isn't perfect.)
Let's focus on that for a minute.
The internet has problems!
The web also has problems!
The available replacements for the web (Gopher, DAT, IPFS) also have problems!
Let's talk about these things.
When I say the Web has problems, I mostly mean this: https://www.neustadt.fr/essays/against-a-user-hostile-web/
That's a long article, I'll sum up:
- Centralization is bad!
- Everyone is spying on you!
- You are executing arbitrary code every time you load a URL (Even Mastodon//Especially mastodon, although in Mastodon's case that code is open source and publicly audited.)
I'll add to that: most web browsers now have DRM in them, and that makes it illegal to do certain kinds of security research on them in many countries.
When I say the internet has problems, I'm mostly talking about a lot of technical mubojumbo that boils down to a few points:
The people who give us access to the internet don't always have our best interests at heart,
Further, the internet is used by governments as a tool of surveillance, and centralized identities through platforms like Facebook exacerbate this.
Also! Wired infrastructure is almost always owned or operated under exclusive contract by a big 'ol nasty corporation.
Most of the problems with the internet are super technical, or straight up legal issues.
And the solutions to them will be super technical, and also legislative.
The upshot, though, is that the modern internet is less free than it should be, and we should recognize that it can be abused, and have a backup plan in place in the event that something goes wrong with the net.
For me, the backup plan for the internet is a return to the BBS model (I talk about this a lot: http://ajroach42.com/a-modern-bbs/)
Lots of people, especially in urban areas, have been talking about mesh-net ISPs, which are a good idea, with a whole mess of potential problems of their own. Not the least of which is that they will only really work in populus areas.
Right now, as far as I can tell, there isn't a single solution to the problems presented by an unfree internet and a user hostile web.
But there are a bunch of partial solutions.
I cover a lot of these here: http://ajroach42.com/net-neutrality-the-consolidation-of-american-media-and-you/
But I'll sum up.
To fight Centralization:
- Own your data.
- Archive your data online and off.
- Use decentralized services like Mastodon and Matrix and whatever whenever possible.
- publish to places that aren't facebook or medium (and if you must, only use central services for syndication.)
To fight user hostility:
- Use ad blockers and privacy badger
- If you can get away with it, use no-script or similar when possible.
- Stop using, or reduce your use of, platforms that profit from treating you poorly.
To fight ISPs being shitty:
- Lobby congresspeople to actually do something about net noot.
- Talk to your local governments about municipal fibre
- Consider building networks that don't depend on the internet (Sneakernet! Mail those flash drives back and forth. Intranet! Set up that piratebox.)
I talk about some more of this here: http://ajroach42.com/steps-towards-a-web-without-the-internet/
I mentioned DAT and Gopher and IPFS.
Each one of these really deserves a longer deep dive than I'm going to give it right now.
Gopher was a service that existed before the modern web that used the internet to share files and articles and stuff. Read more here: http://ajroach42.com/gopher-remembering-the-web-that-wasn-t/
It's neat. I like it. It can't spy on you or execute arbitrary code on your machine. It'll work on a DOS machine from 1982.
DAT and IPFS are attempts to make the web way more peer-to-peer.
I don't know as much about IPFS, but I'm learning.
DAT forms the bones of the "web without the internet" project I've been working on (http://ajroach42.com/steps-towards-a-web-without-the-internet/)
Unfortunately, DAT currently only works on (relatively modern) desktops. Eventually, it should also work on mobile devices, but until then... it's not an ideal solution.
Neocities (one of my favorite free hosting companies!) uses IPFS.
When I start writing guides for taking back your digital life, I'm going to include Neocities among the options.
I know it seems weird for me to be promoting a centralized service, but they are free and open source, they make it easy to download your stuff, and they are honestly just a Lot of fun.
DAT isn't without issues. IPFS isn't without issues. Gopher isn't without issues.
Some of those issues are the same issues the web has. Some are unique.
This is a huge topic, that we're going to have to talk about a lot more in the coming months.
We've covered DIY media, Modern computers, the internet.
That leaves me with my personal life.
I'm moving. It's stressful and scary.
I might have to find another job when I get to where I'm going, and I won't know for sure for several more days.
This is pretty stressful. It's going to end up being about $2k more out of pocket than we expected, and there are all kinds of weird rules about where the money can come from and ... it's just a lot.
When everything is said and done, I'll have more freetime to focus on making media and writing code and helping the world be less shitty.
Until then, I have less time to do those things than I otherwise would, because I am planning the logistics of this move, and looking for a job, and making the move happen.
That was a quick rundown of my priorities right now, and a demonstration of why the things that are globally important are globally important.
I'm going to take a few minutes to go through my replies and gather some steam, and then I'm going to talk about my to-do list.
The projects that I want to cover in the next six months that relate back to those four overarching ideas, and the ways in which I need help.
Okay, let's recap:
1. We have to make media
1.5 we have to talk about the media other people make
2. We have to Archive the media we make
3. We have to make software
4. We have to archive the software that we make
5. We need viable alternatives to the web and the internet
6. We need to be smarter about the ways we use the internet
7. I may end up looking for work in the next 6 months, I will be moving 600ish miles. My ability to do The Work will be impacted by this.
Over the next six months, I want to tackle some of these things.
1. I'm working with @CaptainUnderpants and hopefully some others (any volunteers?) on some podcasts.
That is to say, I'm making media directly.
I'm also working to support (socially and/or financially) as many independent creators as I can.
This is a good start towards making media.
IMO it's not enough. I want to see more media. Do you want to make stuff? (Next several posts will be about the podcasts and other media.)
Podcasts that I am planning/actively working on:
1- Jupiter's Ghost: A sem-crowd sourced podcast about a bunch of folks living on a space ship in the future told through personal logs and official mission reports. (I've been working on this one for a long time! It's still in the works, but I want to get it right.)
2- Analog Revolution. This is a successor to the Zine that I used to publish (and will be publishing again.) Two or three people talking about News, DIY Media, Tech, etc.
We have a couple of episodes in the can, but I want to get some more finished before I start releasing (part of this is as a result of the not wonderfully consistent internet connection of my co-host.)
3 - DIYMedia: Needs a better title, but this is people sitting around in a rabbit room watching a piece of CC or PD media. Actual podcast is 5 minutes of historical context followed by a discussion of the thing we've just watched, both as a piece of media on it's own and within the context of the DIY media landscape.
4 - Space Nerds: A sitcom about sysadmins/sysops running BBSs/the internet in space.
I have literally dozens of pages of podcast episode ideas, and a little pocket notebook that's full of mostly ideas for shows and episode formats that I want to play with.
I'm going to need help.
Part of that is going to come from the crew that helped/helps with the magazine, but I'm going to need to recruit (a lot) of additional people to help out. If this sounds like your cup of tea and we haven't already talked about it, reach out.
Beyond podcasts, I'm currently working on layout for the next issue of the Analog Revolution magazine.
I'm pretty pumped about this one, because that was a project that I loved working on.
Making zines is fun! It's also pretty hard.
Again, I'm 100% on the hunt for people that want to help out. I'll come up with some kind of decent system for us to collaborate eventually.
1.5 talk about media.
I blog. I'm going to make DIY media a regular feature on my blog over the next six months. Ideally, with a DIY media spotlight at least once a week.
Beyond that, of course, is the zine.
The zine is the perfect place to talk about DIY media. The DIY Media podcast, if we can ever get it off the ground, is another great place to talk about the things people are making.
2. Archive media
I keep offline archives on DVDs or AVCHD DVDs even though I don't own a thing that can play either.
I also have multiple terabytes of storage at home.
My personal archive strategy will remain largely the same. Nextcloud + hardcopy.
But in addition to those things, I'm going to start putting as much as I can in to the internet archive.
Unfortunately, just archiving the stuff isn't going to be enough without also indexing it.
My plan on that front is to put together a very low resource static website that embeds and/or points to all of the things I have on the internet archive.
I'll probably host that through neocities, although I might put it up on it's own server. Either way, it'll have it's own URL. Gotta figure out what that is going to be.
No reason for that to just be My stuff, though.
(Both because most of the things I consider "mine" are actually communal efforts, and also because I want to highlight DIY media in general even if I wasn't involved with it)
Which means that whatever thing I put together to serve as the index of AR's DIY Media output will eventually grow to include references, links, and embedded files for many of the other lovely things you all are making.
3. We have to make our own software:
I'm working on this. I'm redesigning my workflow from the ground up in to something I actually want.
I am not, unfortunately, doing this: ajroach42.com/a-modern-office-with-vintage-hardware/ but I am taking my cues from that to work towards what I actually do want.
I'm also making an effort to know *Who* wrote the software that I'm using (Hi Gargamel!) when that who isn't me.
This will be a long journey.
4. Archiving software
I'll archive my software the same way I archive my media.
I'll talk about my software the same way I talk about my media.
This is going to be slow going, but if we can all do it, eventually software will become demystified.
It really comes back to making our own software and documenting our own software.
If we do it right, the end result will be our own web.
6. Using the internet better
For me, this means not suing facebook or tumblr for content discovery, and pushing people to my RSS feed and newsletter when they want to keep up with the things I'm releasing.
I'm going to spend more time on Mastodon, on tildes, on neocities.
I'm going to spend more time with adblocker on and scripts off.
As I do that, I'll write about it. Hopefully we can talk some other people in to doing it too.
7. Moving far away
As a result of moving, I may be looking for work. I may not be looking for work.
I may suddenly not have free time, which means I may miss releases or planned goals.
I'm going to have to roll with things as they come.
For as long as I am able, I am going to release as much as I can as often as I can, and document the heck out of it.
8. (This is an 8th, hidden point)
I think that covers all the thoughts I had rattling around in my head, and gets them out in the world in a way that makes sense and is understandable.
My goal is to make as much cool shit as I can, and to help as many people as possible also release cool shit.
Do you also care about these things? Do you want to help me make media or publish zines?
Do you want to release your own zine? or your own media?
As I'm getting my house in order, and releasing my media and my software, I also want to document as much as I can about *how* to do these things.
I'm going to put that together along with the "Andrew Answers your Questions about software and project ops" thing that I'm tinkering with.
So in addition to all the other things I've committed to, I hope to have a basic DIY media school kicking around out there somewhere.
The thing is, most of the web software is open source. We already own the bare bones. We just have to replace the corporate stuff with stuff that guarantees encryption, anonymity, and verified identity. And it has to be tacked on in a decentralized way because the corporations are not implementing this.