Monthly Archives: September 2015

tinker (and race)

Some kid in Texas got arrested because he built a clock and brought it into school. My side of Twitter is quite upset about this, and tweeting rather furiously.

One of his teachers saw the clock and determined it was a bomb. Authorities were called. Fourteen year olds were arrested. Journalists moved. PR campaigns were started. There are two reasons as to why my people are talking about this. I will get to them in a moment. First, I need to concede that a home made digital clock looks like a bomb–a “movie bomb,” but most people don’t know what bombs look like. I mean, I don’t, though I once played a game of catch with a block of C4.

However, people are taught to fear each other. Teachers are taught to fear students. This is not just through explicit trainings, but through movies and television as well. (My favorite example of this is highlighted in Mary Roach’s book Stiff when she interviews Duncan MacPherson, a ballistics expert, who maintains that people fall down when they are shot because movies tell us that’s what people do.) People think wires and clocks and timers equal bombs because in movies they do.

Now, on to reasons:

The Right to TinkerA screen shot of a headline from "Business Insider" reading "A 14-year old Texas student was arrested at school for building a clock"

Here is the story from the perspective of the tinkerer, the hacker, the person who just likes how things work: The kid built a digital clock and brought it in to school. He was showing off to his teachers. (Hubris might be his greatest crime–but I don’t know if they got to the Odyssey yet in his English class.) Someone thought it looked more like a bomb than a clock and, as teachers are taught to fear students, a morning of craziness ensues.

This is an affront of our right to tinker–our right to hack. These are terms of art communities have taken to using to encompass a particular mindset behind fiddling and building. It is our right to take things apart and put them back together in the same or new ways, or not at all. Every physical object around you comes from someone putting it together. In order to create new things, you need to learn how old ones work.

Most pro-tinkering arguments fit into the following genres:

  • “I tinkered as a kid”
  • “Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Z.”
  • We wouldn’t have things if people didn’t build them

Maybe this kid will become a banker or teacher or statistician for the Boston Red Sox, but regardless of whether they develop into another engineer, technological innovator, or inventor–or something that has nothing to do with any of the above–they need to be able to explore intellectually. Intellectual curiosity is one of the most amazing things a person can have.

Maybe we should work on teaching people the difference between intellectual curiosity and malicious intent. Or at least what real threats look like.

Movies fail to teach us much about actual threats. In them, black people perpetrate shootings, Asians kick your butt, brown people bomb things, and white people save the day. Denzel Washington and Idris Elba are also allowed to save the day, but they will likely have a gun in their hand while doing so.

The Right to Be Brown

A screenshot of a headline from TPM reading "Police in Texas Arrest Muslim Teen Who Brought a Homemade Clock to School"I was torn between this screen shot and one reading “Cops Detain High School Freshman Ahmed Mohamed After Officials Mistake His Clock For A BOMB.” That little bar in the top of the screen reads “Muslim Kid’s Clock Mistaken for a bomb.” I chose this one because above the fold we see a picture of Ahmed Mohamed, the kid spoken of thus far.

For some perspectives, this story is very much about race.

Irving, Texas has had problems with Islamophobia in the past. The Mayor took a stand against sharia, stating that the imams mediating disputes of sharia bypasses the American legal system. So, there’s some background for how Irving approaches race.

Just the way the story is covered in many places–emphasizing that this person is named Ahmed Mohamed, that his parents are immigrants, that he’s Muslim. The people on my side of Twitter are upset because a fourteen year old was arrested because he is brown. My people are upset because one of us had do deal with so much awful because he’s not white. I feel a lot less need to explain why this is a problem. You already know racism is a problem. You already know racial profiling is an issue. You agree that it is not just unfortunate, but a travesty that someone as hardworking, and young, as Ahmed Mohamed was arrested and shamed so publicly, to be denied the presence of his parents, to be interrogated and dehumanized in front of his peers, because he is brown and did something cool.

FSRG: Anarchism in Action

The Free Software Reading Group will be meeting in a few weeks (September 30th) to talk about FLOSS project governance. We’re giving the session the exciting title Anarchism in Action. Spectranaut and I are very excited about Debian after our trip to Debconf15, so we wanted to dedicate a session to Debian related topics.

The main reading for this meeting is Yochai Benkler’s Practical Anarchy: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State (2013). It’s long, so we will be reading the following selections:

Abstract through “Working Anarchies” (pp. 1-5)
Free and Open Source Software through Wikipedia (pp. 8-18)
Peer Production of Public Functions (pp. 23-24)
~15 pages
Skim the rest

Debian Social Contract
~3 pages

Debian Constitution
~13 pages

Poke around Category:Wikipedia administration
No need to read anything here, but it might be a nice addition to some of the stuff Benkler talks about.

(FS) Privilege

A friend was trying to install something on their computer and asked me for help. Being an expert has nothing to do with knowing how to do something well, but just knowing how to do it better than anyone else in the room. In that room, I was the expert at installing things. The only problem was that I am an expert at installing things in Linux, or, more specifically, via shell. This actually means I am extremely competent in typing:

apt-get install

Ninety percent of the time, guessing what goes after “install” works out (icedove or anarchism, e.g.). Sometimes, that doesn’t work and you have to:

apt-get install nethack-console

(as opposed to just nethack). This is easily determined, for me, by searching “[package] debian.”

That won’t actually get you everything you need, but it’s really simple and I know it. I actually think it’s a lot more simple than trying to install something through a graphical interface. When it comes to doing weird things on your computer, I am at a huge advantage.

As my friends have been adopting encrypted e-mails and OTR as their standards, I have had people ask me to help them set up tools, give advice on mail clients, and generate keys (ha!).The thing is, this is all really easy on my system because my system was designed by people who do those things for people who want to do those things. For me, generating a GPG key came down to telling a terminal

gpg --gen-key

and then watching some kpop videos. All things considered, this is a lot easier than the order of operations for Windows, which involves installing Gpg4win. Gpg4win has really great documentation, but, at installation, asks you to make decisions about components to install and than asks you to reboot. (I know there’s this thing called, but I don’t know anything about it yet.)

Sometimes I think of Linux as “easy stuff is hard, hard stuff is easy.” I have the most awful time trying to do things like watch Netflix, but generating a GPG key and getting a mail client to use it was so easy.

I jokingly refer to this a free software, debian, or FLOSS privilege. Some things are just designed to work better with my computer. (Un)fortunately, those things are not Netflix.


I  live in the Greater Boston Area (GBA). I like things like bikes, my band, cooking, plants, free software, where I live, and other related topics. I will probably write about these things. I don’t like parasites, cilantro, or the dark. I will probably not write about these things.

I am writing this because a first post seems important, and launching into something else first seems without context.

I’ve blogged in other places before, and I am trying to Centralize My Digital Footprint and Create A Brand.