Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A letter to David Lowery at Trichordist, Carbon-Copied to Emily White

Dear Mr. Lowery:

Thank you for your well-thought-out reply to Ms. White’s blog at All Things Considered.  As you correctly point out, “fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices.”  As an amateur musician of little repute and a listener of great passion, this question is a double-edged sword.

It really sucks to be on the “destruction” end of creative destruction, but I think that’s where artists are finding ourselves.  We’re just on the same end of the stick as opera singers and vaudeville performers were when records and movies came out—and I can assure you, it’s not the clean end.  Opera stages and vaudeville theatres made money because the number of seats in the house was, by definition, limited.  They could sell a scarce product, just like fair-trade coffee is scarce.

Their business model was killed off because recording technology allowed the song to be carried outside the walls of the theatre.  And it wasn’t just the people on the stage losing jobs—my grandmother’s nonagenarian friend Polly lost her sweet gig playing piano for the silent movies, too.  The recording industry made money off of recording and distributing tracks, assembled into albums.  But the track is the reification of the song.  The track is not the song.  And while you’re correct that “file sharing sites could get the same license if they wanted to, at least for the songs,” they don’t want to bother because they know that they’re paying for vapor.  File sharing has rendered tracks about as scarce as water.  

Your reasoning is strong, and you are making an important plea for us to recognize the plight of the artist.  But yes, I am asking us “to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change,” because the proverbial cat is out of the bag.  However, you jump right back on the correct-train when you point out the Cloud not being the solution.  The Cloud is siphoning off profits while offering very little, other than convenience.  I say we cut them out of the picture as well.

We as a listening community should share and share alike, burning CDs, e-mailing .torrents, and popularizing our favorite musicians to the best of our abilities.  And then we and our peers must bear the responsibility of supporting the artists.  Instead of relying on corporations to make the bets on musicians, we need to be doing so ourselves, through crowdsourcing platforms (which, although they do skim profits off the top, also provide a credit-card processing feature that I don’t have the knowledge myself to emulate) and through attending shows and tipping the band.  I’m excited to learn about SweetRelief, and that’s another great way to help out. 

As for musicians, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves: the idea that we can buoy ourselves off our past recordings is a thing of the past.  We’ll need to practice music im derech eretz and find some other things to do to get by in the world.  But the best songs we’ve ever written are the ones we haven’t written yet, and as long as we can convince our audiences this is true, I think we’ve got a shot.

Monday, June 18, 2012

40GB and a "Data Mule"

I finally stumbled upon the preferred term for the sort of transfer I'm looking for in this network, and it's not exactly elegant: a "data mule."  Coined in an article about underwater environmental research, the problem of rapid radio frequency die-off underwater was solved by a robotic "mule" traveling to sensor nodes and waking them up briefly to transmit their data before moving on down the line.  The mule could be recharged and sent back and forth, but power on the independent nodes was then conserved until it was needed.  The model closely resembles the opportunity-passing ring topology discussed earlier on this blog, so I'll take the term if it's already in use.

But let's face it: "data mule" carries with it some unpleasant connotations of rubber balloons full of heroin or cocaine jammed in uncomfortable places.  And it appears that the Flame virus may be capable of doing the same sort of thing on airgapped machines, riding along invisibly on a host USB until it can reach its target.  Seems pretty clear that if you have highly-secure data, you should basically just weld shut the USB ports on that machine... but then again, don't forget that "the most secure computer system is one encased in five feet of concrete, powered off, disconnected, and at the bottom of the ocean."  

The mule idea, though, also lends itself to a hardy animal that can reach the most remote of locations.  Through a service called DakNet, villages far off the beaten path in India and Cambodia are able to get access to Internet communications via a data mule.  Still, the implemented solution was on a village-wide level, and required mobile stations located on motorcycles or buses as well as local data kiosks.  That level of implementation, though far cheaper and negligence-tolerant than stringing up telephone wire hundreds of miles, is still a bit pricey for the attempt I'd like to make with our project.

So now we at least have a term for our vehicle of transmission, regardless of the connotations.  And I don't think I'll blush too much about muling data with painfully-slow connections-- I'll just be hiding the USB in my pocket.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Levinas and the Face-to-Face Network

To answer a few questions about the rationale for schlepping data from place to place by foot, I'm going to go off in a radically different direction than just talking over tech specs.  Part of the philosophical underpinning of the entire programme is rooted in Emmanuel Levinas's notion of the "face-to-face" encounter.  Peer-to-peer and friend-to-friend networks seem to have some of the same elements, but that actual encounter of the human being on the other end-- the Other, so to speak-- is a profoundly alienating experience.  Not only do I not know from whom I'm getting the music or movie that is being shared, but in most cases it is in my best interest not to know.

The first batch of mp3s I ever received came before I'd ever installed Napster.  A friend of mine was something of a whiz when it came to magically finding music, and he handed me a CD he'd burned.  I believe most of the White Zombie music I currently may or may not have on my computer is descended from that CD.  There is a moment of vulnerability in sharing files via the Sneakernet, but that's part of the point: I know that the person sharing with me actually values me enough to see my face and not kick my ass.  Indeed, Levinas states that the face protests to the observer, "Do not kill me."

The face-to-face is an ethic that comes before morality or taste.  It is the agreement that we will have a discussion, that we will form a network, that we will agree to at least keep talking.  I might share files p2p, but face-to-face I'm sharing an experience.  So the point of this network is not so much its efficiency (though it can be far more efficient than using the Internet) but instead the connections it forms with data.  I still know where all my White Zombie came from, and that's a layer of fun that I don't have with so many other files.  In the same way, I should also thank Aunt Linda for that 3.5" diskette of Tetris clones way back in the day.  Tetris will always be connected with you in my brain because of that.

Sharing should mean caring, no?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

So You Want to Start a Sneakernet

I'm hoping some of you have followed this blog because you actually want to put this whole Sneakernet idea into practice.  So what will you need?  Well, at a bare minimum, you'll need a USB drive and a friend for a point-to-point network.  But let's look in a bit more detail into the two configurations I mentioned in an earlier post, the RING and the STAR.


You'll need:

  • a small group of friends (say 3-6)
  • one USB drive per person
  • a time to meet up regularly (say, Friday at the pub)

On Friday at the pub, everyone in the group meets up and passes the USB drive to the next person.  You can make a list if you like to keep things straight:

1. Mike
2. Steve
3. Lexi
4. Chris

And then Mike always passes to Steve, Steve to Lexi, Lexi to Chris, and Chris to Mike.

The week or so each person has with each drive should give enough time to find or create some interesting content for other members of the network, and since you won't get the drive back for a month, there should be some surprises waiting there for you each time.

SETTING UP A RING SNEAKERNET (Opportunity passing)

You'll need:

  • a small group of friends (say 3-6)
  • one USB, period
With just one USB drive, the meetup time is not quite the same incentive.  Instead, the USB drive travels in the same pre-determined order, but whenever we see each other to pass it off.  So if I'm seeing Steve this evening, I'll just give it to him then, and he can pass it on to Lexi when he gets the chance.  Latency is likely to be much higher on this sort of network, especially if someone spaces for a few weeks that they were the one left holding the drive.  Still, if you've only got one USB between you, this might be the way to go.


You'll need: 
  • a group of friends of most any size
  • anywhere from a few to a handful of USB drives
  • a mug, bowl, box, or bin located in a safe but open place
This form of the Sneakernet is likely to be the most welcoming to outsiders.  Anyone who wants to can come grab a USB drive from the mug or can drop one off there; we browse whatever content we pick up and share whatever we feel is worth sharing with anyone who decides to pick it up next.

The key to this topology is finding a good place for that mug.  Suggestions include the counter at your favorite coffee shop, the desk in the dorm room of wherever everyone ends up hanging out all the time (you know there's always one room), or behind some books in the library in a section no one ever browses (the Westlaw journals can provide an ironically amusing location, and I've never seen anyone take one off a shelf).  You could put them all in a box and store them out by the woodpile.  You could even register them as a GeoCache and wait for the fun to start rolling in.

These are just a few ideas, but I'm sure you all will have others!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Money on the Sneakernet


It's kind of an ugly word, and it makes me think of those Gordon Gekko types sitting around, cigar in mouth and feet up on desk-- you know, the ones who greenlight productions like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Troll II, and any movie starring Jean-Claude G-d Damn I Can't Act.

But let's be real: money really does make the world go 'round.  That's not saying I'm an anarchocapitalist, but we need an abstract representation of the value of labor and commodities.  And rather than reinvent the wheel, why not use money?

Here's the problem, though: money is scarce (for most of us... if it's not for you, please, hook me up!), but the types of things we can schlep around the Sneakernet aren't: movies, books, music, etc.  These things were scarce when you had to have a physical copy of the book, or the physical piece of vinyl record, or the actual copy of the VHS tape.  But now that everything can be copied a bazillion times... how do we determine the value of something?

Perhaps "scarcity" can be replaced with "difficulty of acquisition."  It's pretty easy to get a Kim Kardashian sex tape anymore, but much harder to acquire, say, a Moldovan passport in 48 hours.  (Not that you'd need one.)  But the same thing holds true for, say, people looking for music on the Sneakernet-- while something can be infinitely copied, we still have to get a copy of it first.

That's actually a boon for indie artists, and let me tell you why: if you're a talented person, I want your music.  And I want it badly enough that I want to be one of the first people to get ahold of it and listen to it. So when one of my favorite bands, The Shondes, needed help getting a new van after theirs was stolen, I was more than happy to give them money.  Why?  It's not just because I want the music that they've already produced.  It's also because I am investing in the music that they will produce in the future.  Because that's the scarcest commodity of all!

However, it's a bit tough to support every Kickstarter project that I like.  (Believe me, THE WOMAN would for some reason rather eat than have a new copy of random indie albums.  I don't get it.)  So what if, rather than basing a system of exchange on sharing scarce resources (like markets in gold and BitCoins), we based exchanges on obligations to other people?

Enter RipplePay.  It's a system built on IOUs, but you can trade the debt of people to be able to pay other people.  You know that scenario: I owe you $10, but you owe our friend Bill $10.  The most direct way to pay that off is for me to hand Bill $10.  Ripple automates this, and allows us to, in a way, create currency out of nothing.  So perhaps I'm broke as heck and want to thank you for the USB drive full of folk music you gave me... instead of just promising you some housecleaning services, I put an IOU out, and then you can trade that IOU to other people just like it was cash!  It has to be a trusted network, but if you're already in the Sneakernet, hopefully you're meeting people who you can trust.

Because you're creating a currency out of nothingness, you can actually reward your friend for creating new music by giving him an IOU that he can spend with anyone else who would value your IOU.  If he publishes enough music, you might be willing to give an item you might have put on eBay to someone else that he owes something to.  Savvy?

Anyway, just thoughts.  Hopefully they're slightly-liberating ones.

How Networks Are Born

--Charley Kline
10:30 pm, 29 October 1969
Boelter Hall 3420, UCLA

If there were an "In the beginning," for the Internet, this would be it-- or to be more precise the first pair of characters transmitted on ARPAnet, one of the main predecessors to the Internet.  Mr Kline was actually attempting to send the phrase "login" to a waiting computer at Stanford, but the system crashed two characters in and they had to try again an hour later.  By November 21, a persistent connection was up and running between the two schools, and by December 5, a four-node network was running between UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.

Before the Internet was this monstrously large network, it was four computers strung together.  If you're anything like me, you are totally excited by this concept and want to read all about it on your own, which you can in the collection of all Request for Comment (RFC) memos ever published.  Some of my favorites include the very first one, the first cut at Telnet protocol, and a curious one discussing some undisclosed criticism that the contractor, BBN, didn't want to publish for fear of embarrassing the researchers involved.  Much later, of course, we get RFC 1149, which details the transmission of IP datagrams on avian carriers-- i.e. sending data via carrier pigeons.

ARPAnet grew and grew, reaching 213 nodes by 1981, but it was eventually pared back down, and was finally decommissioned on February 28, 1990.  Pioneer Vint Cerf wrote the following poem in memorium, entitled "Requiem of the ARPAnet":


It was the first, and being first, was best,
but now we lay it down to ever rest.
Now pause with me a moment, shed some tears.
For auld lang syne, for love, for years and years
of faithful service, duty done, I weep.
Lay down thy packet, now, O friend, and sleep.


A touching moment, after which Al Gore invented the Internet.

But back to lo and that infant network.  In the beginning, ARPAnet really just consisted of those four network nodes passing information back and forth.  That's about all it would take to establish one in your hometown, too-- just find three or four other people who are interested in file sharing and maybe browse through a couple of network topologies to plan out how you're going to pass the drives around, and what you're all interested in sharing.  My suggestion is music you've recorded yourself!

Lo and behold, you'll have your own Sneakernet!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Facebook is Not The Network

I wanted to tackle one of the more basic issues with the Sneakernet pretty early on: how do I route a message to someone?  I mean, normally sending e-mail, I know the persons's e-mail address and host name, so I just send a message to, and presto!  All the little automatic switches and routers magically make the message appear at his end of the Internet.  (Okay, it's not quite that simple, but to most of us the Internet is a Black Box.)  On the Sneakernet, it's a little more complicated.  And because of that, we're going to go old school on this one.

Forget Web 2.0-- this is more like Web 0.2.

See, the thing is, computers used to have to connect directly to each other to share information over UUCP.  That's fine if I'm sending something directly to someone else, but sometimes I want them to PSST!  PASS IT ON.  And the way I would explain how to pass it on was by sending the mail with a BANG PATH.  Essentially the notation inserts a ! (bang) in between each node on the network that the message has to go through.

Let's say I wanted to send a song I recorded to my friend Steve.  Since I know how to dial his home, I'll hook up my dial-up modem, set the headset in the cradle, and we're off at a rocket speed of 150 baud.  Like I said, old school.  And at 150 baud, grab some coffee, because this is going to take a while.  There's really no reason to construct a bang path for this scenario, but here it is:


Steve shares the song with a friend.  Because my music is so awesome, now Steve's friend Chris wants to send something back to me for critique.  The bang path now becomes the following:


Pretty simple still.  But let's say I have Lexi over to my house, and she has some comments for Chris?  For me to contact Chris, I just needed to be able to pass something by way of Steve.  But for Lexi to do so, she's got to go through two people.  Even more problematic, where both Chris and I knew Steve, Lexi doesn't know Steve or Chris, and Chris doesn't know me or Lexi.  But if we document a path between each other, the feedback can get there.


Now let's say Lexi's father-in-law Abe has a friend named Dan whose sister Karen knows a guy in Hollywood named Kevin who wants to use Chris's song in an upcoming movie.  Oy gevalt.  It's a pretty tenuous connection, but with the bang path, we at least have a chance of the message getting from Chris to Kevin:


Now let's assume that the Kevin in question is none other than the illustrious Kevin Bacon.  Can we count the degrees of separation here?  While bang paths were intended to pass messages between computers, they also are remarkably useful for describing a particular route through a social network.  And as described here, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is essentially a graph problem, using the social network as a big graph.

It also turns out that people are already adapting mathematical graph theory into analysis of the social graph.  I'll give you one guess as to who is making a killing off of this analysis...  FACEBOOK!  And good for them-- they jumped on a neat idea and are getting rewarded with the moneys.  No hard feelings.  But Facebook is not The Network.  Facebook analyzes and displays The Network for easy observation and use, but Facebook is not The Network.

We are.

And that's the key of the Folk Sneakernet-- just finding out ways to utilize our own person-to-person connections (Yes, P2P) to begin sharing things with a handshake rather than with a pulse of electrons.

So my message me!you!yourFriends is this: the social network is ours already and always has been.  We just need to adopt practices that let us use The Network in any way we choose.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Anarchism vs. Idiocy

Welp, at least this young woman wasn't chewing anyone's face off, eating her roommate, or flinging her own intestines at the police.  What she did allegedly do admit to ATF officials that she had made six plus-or-minus one pipe bombs, that she "has a passion for it," and that "detonating them for recreation was her 'hobby.'"  (Though to be honest, who doesn't enjoy a good exploding toilet now and then?)

What bothers me is the report that, on the all-mighty Facebook, she described her political views as "anarchist," and later it is reported that she said, "I despise all law enforcement and any governing authority. I am not one for selective targeting but mass destruction."


From now on, I will be discussing a hypothetical type of person who builds pipe bombs and thinks that makes them an "anarchist."  I truly hope Ms. Savage is the nice girl her family claims her to be, albeit a nice girl with a perhaps unwise pyrotechnical bug.

Remember how we all used to make fun of the AOL script kiddies for thinking they were real 1337 #4><0Rz?  I mean, according to this article they were dangerous enough to be reported to the DoD, but... they were also jackasses.  Jackasses who made anybody interested in poking around a bit to see how the parts work look like a threat.

I'm not arguing that people building pipe bombs isn't dangerous, or that the most awesomely-named department in the government, the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, isn't justified in quashing this type of behavior.  What I'm arguing is that the hypothetical kind of jackass who does something like that and calls themselves an anarchist is...

...well, hell.  It's not like I have a right to kick anybody out any club.  The sort of baby-step lifestyle anarchism I'm promoting on this blog has been ridiculed before, and the criticisms about it not taking a purposeful enough stance against Statist power is not without merit in its own right.

But I think we can also agree that violent propaganda of the deed not only has failed to curb oppressive power before (such as Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, which set into motion a few World Wars, a few hundred million peoples' deaths, and decades of two-world hegemony over most of the globe), but also that it's been the tool of religious terrorists since Guy Fawkes.

I know we've all taken a hankering to those pretty awesome masks since V for Vendetta, but let's not forget that Fawkes's propaganda of the deed was motivated by his religious fanaticism.  People link him with anarchism because he wanted to destroy something, and that says something about the image of anarchism, no?  I mean, I think it basically says that people view anyone who is a reckless idiot who wants things to explode as an anarchist, right?

Since when were anarchism and wisdom mutually exclusive?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bitcoin and Anarchism

Was reading an article about Bitcoin and came across a wonderful, wonderful quote:

Cypherpunks assume privacy is a good thing and wish there were more of it. Cypherpunks acknowledge that those who want privacy must create it for themselves and not expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant them privacy out of beneficence.

--Eric Hughes

Reminds me a bit of that Malcolm X quote about how "nobody can give you freedom or equality or justice or anything."  How Bitcoins are worth money still sort of baffles me, but it's a good kind of baffled.  While this article (I believe mistakenly) suggests that anonymous transactions are good only for tipping the stripper, I think the anarchism brought about in the discussion can actually be a positive and liberating thing.  To me, at least, it's not about destroying the system.  It's about revealing our true freedom in the most creative ways possible.

Which makes me go back to my go-to woman, Emma Goldman.  (Go-to woman for anarchist writings.  Don't worry, LOVE OF MY LIFE.)  In her 1911 essay "Marriage and Love," Ms. Goldman has the following to say about that most free of feelings:

Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root.

She goes on to continue to bash marriage, but that's not my point here.  (I mean it, LOVE OF MY LIFE.) This freedom is just a natural base state upon which regulation is built.  So neither Bitcoin nor the Folk Sneakernet operate outside the law so much as they operate in a space in which the law cannot intervene.

Of course, to the hegemons, that is an even more daunting prospect, more akin to heresy than crime.  But that's a story for another time.  Probably next time, actually.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Towel Day!

From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meet the Real Boss

Just saw a very well-written (and long-as-hell) article go up on Slashdot by Cracker guitarist David Lowery entitled "Meet the New Boss, Worse than the Old Boss."  In the article, he points out that while the recording industry was looking for talent to boost up and then take advantage of monetarily, they assumed a lot of the risk in promoting new acts.  The "new boss," companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, etc., cares very little for who it is that is making the trends at the moment-- they skim their built-in percentage off the top and go on regardless.  As he says in his abstract,

I’m not advocating going back to the old record label model,  to an industry dominated by the big three multi-national  labels. This is a bit of hyperbole intended to make us all think about this question:  Is the new digital model better for the artist?

Later on, he answers that question with a pretty definitive NO:

Artists have seen their most important assets collectivized by file-sharing.  They no long control the distribution and exploitation of these assets. If this were happening to practically any other group of Americans there would be mass outrage and civil unrest.  Other than Ted Nugent and John Popper most musicians are not heavily armed. Hence the lack of armed standoffs.

And later still (seriously, this is a long article.  like, for serious.) he makes his key point:

The crucial difference between the old boss and the new boss is that the old boss-- the record labels-- saw that it was in their interest to invest in the creation of music.  Further they knew success in the music business was highly unpredictable.  Therefore they spread their investment around.  They didn’t do this out of the kindness of their own hearts,  they did this cause it was a in their long term interest. And it was the surest way to make money.  So up until the early 2000s record companies essentially overpaid the 9 “losing” artists and underpaid the one “winning” or hit artist through their system of advances for each album.  It was a semi-socialist system.  A system in which the superstars revenue subsidized all those new and developing artists.  The destruction of this revenue and risk sharing system is another important reason why artists are poorer now.

So if we are going to "steal" each other's music, why let the "New Boss" in on the game at all?  Why not do so on our own network?  Why not show them who the real boss is?

Black and Grey and White

Terrorism and kiddie porn.  There, I said it.

In looking over some of the black/grey/white uses of an off-the-Net network, I'm going to start with the big scary ones that people are going to raise red flags about and say, "Why are you doing this?  This is SCARY!"

So terrorism and kiddie porn.  One of the most common stories you'll see if you research Sneakernet on Google is Osama bin Laden's use of the tactic to avoid detection for years, even when he was living in a pretty nice neighborhood and his front-men (posing as brothers) were handing kids payoffs rather than returning their stray baseballs that came in over the compound walls.  Couriers would take bin Laden's e-mail drafts via Sneakernet to another location and send them from outside, obfuscating the trail.  In fact, the lack of telephone and Internet connection to the compound was one of the tip-offs that something was up.

I mention kiddie porn because it's the other great bogeyman of our age.  Any time you talk about any sort of sharing that isn't wide open for everyone to see, people bring up the idea that "wait, couldn't a CHILD PORNOGRAPHER be using this?  Where are all the PEDOPHILES?"  Well, let's get real.  I'm sure terrorists and child pornographers are way ahead of indie and folk musicians when it comes to setting up their own networks.

But it's the CONTENT that is black, not the network setup.

A person-to-person Sneakernet is also going to be useful for swapping around a lot of grey content.  By this, I mean pirated media.  Some people would rate this as the blackest of the black (i.e. the RIAA and MPAA), and some people would say there's absolutely no problem with it.  I'm more in the lightish-grey realm as a low-grade content provider and a medium-grade content viewer.  I'd like to eventually get paid for something I create, yes, but I also know that most people I want to share things with a) don't have the money to buy an album from me if they don't know it's a quality production (it isn't), and b) would be more likely to pay to get into a place to see me play the guitar live.

So let's acknowledge that both black and grey content can be shared on ANY network, and then put that behind us.

Why would we want a Folk Sneakernet?

More and more often, educational institutions and Internet service providers are being pressured into throttling traffic that could be involved in piracy.  In the "six strikes" plan, those who repeatedly are pointed out by the RIAA/MPAA for suspicious activities will  have their download privileges cut off in stages as part of a collusion with major ISPs.  This is not government censorship, mind you-- this is all under the aegis of copyright protection.

But what if these copyright magnates find your torrenting of your own new hit album suspicious?  Well, the burden of proof is on you, according to these policies, and for a $35 processing fee, they might consider letting you go back to sharing what you've created.  It's white content, but the entire file-sharing network is labeled as black because it's competition.  (By the way, did you know those pirates could be terrorists sharing kiddie porn?)

In another time, I hope we're able to see this through the appropriate anti-trust lens.  But until then, let's use the Internet for everything it's good for-- e-mail, Web browsing, all that good stuff.  And when our audience is within sneaker-distance, let's use the Sneakernet.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Network Topologies

Okay, I'll start off with the boring stuff (i.e. the stuff I've been geeking out to the past few days).


According to the Wikipedia article, there are a total of eight recognized topologies for a network:

  • Point-to-point
  • Bus
  • Star
  • Ring or circular
  • Mesh
  • Tree
  • Hybrid
  • Daisy chain

I can't say that I totally understand all of them, but I recognize a few of them as less-than-great for a community effort.  Point-to-point networking occurs between two people and happens every time a USB drive gets passed from one person to another.  But there's not much else to say about that.  Line- and Tree-style networks remind me far too much of obnoxious chain letters where you have to pass on the information to a certain number of people or else your Aunt Myrtle is going to die.  In reverse, they have a hierarchy that makes me uncomfortable.  I don't want to have to report my activities to a direct supervisor when I'm not at work!

Full connection is an ideal, but not likely in a hectic everyday schedule.  So I want to center in on three possible topologies for a Folk Sneakernet: bus, ring, and star.

"Are you on the bus, or off the bus?"

The bus topology reminds me the most of the fifth floor of Rhoads Hall at ISU.  If one of us found content we really liked, such as an entire season of Invader Zim, we all piled into that person's room and watched the show.  All of us received the content at the same time.  While that's not totally possible with just one USB drive, a single drive can be passed around to multiple people in a single sitting, each of them downloading the content off the "bus."  Then other people issue their packets (i.e. share their content) to everyone else all at the same time, and we all go home happier and Zim-mier.

PROS: It's a party!  A wild content-downloading nerd party!

CONS: Everybody has to show up all at the same time.  If you miss the bus, you're out of luck.

"If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it."

The ring topology is much more like passing a magazine around with friends.  (For some of you it might have been Penthouse or Guitar World, but for me it was Dragon Magazine.  *cough*)

I find content I like, and then I pass a packet of it to a friend (i.e. hand them a USB drive).  That person passes it on to another friend, who adds or removes information, and the USB packet goes all the way back around the circle until I get it again.

PROS: We can pass the packet around when we've got the time to do so.  No all-night nerd parties here.  (Though the lack of all-night nerd parties could also be considered a con.)

CONS: Latency, especially if Broseph takes the USB drive and then leaves it at home when he goes to Australia for the month.  One break in the connection breaks the entire ring.

"You could be my lucky star..."

The star topology reminds me, oddly enough, of the rack of shoes in the bowling alley.  You take one down when you need it, and then return it to the central storing facility when you're finished.  It's also much more like a library than the other systems.

This configuration could be executed as easily as keeping a coffee mug full of USB drives at your favorite bar or coffee shop, or even as a centerpiece on your kitchen table.  People upload media when they find it, and then return that media to the central facility once they're done.  People can then browse through and find what they like.  (This is also a lot like an FTP server.)

PROS: A central hub where everyone knows they can go to access resources.

CONS: A central hub where EVERYONE knows people can go to access resources.

These are just some musings on the subject, and I'm sure some network analysts could rip me a new one on my use of the terminology.  But this is a working set of definitions for the project.

Why Sneakernet?

Why Sneakernet?

You're asking a good question.  As the trend is to move more and more data into THE CLOUD for safekeeping and easy access, THE SNEAKERNET is not only dying off but also is being damned to the fiery pits of digital hell.

And the Cloud has a lot of benefits.  It's less prone to catastrophic failure than your hard disk is (or so you hope), and it floats out there for you to tap into at any time.  Personally, I really like the Cloud a lot.

But I don't own the Cloud.

And not only do I not own the Cloud, there has been off-and-on discussion as to whether or not the Cloud owns the data I upload to it.  Take, for example, the legitimate data-holders caught up in the fall of Megaupload.  I'm guessing a SWAT team was not the sort of catastrophic data retrieval failure they were considering when they signed up.

SWAT Team raid in progress <Abort, Retry, Fail?>
SWAT Team raid in progress <Abort, Retry, Fail?>
SWAT Team raid complete <Abort, Retry, Fail?>

The Internet, and through it the Cloud, is a wonderful thing.  But I believe there's a folk version of the Internet we can put together in our own communities.  Check out how rural villages in Cambodia get access to a wider network by men on motorcycles coming around to pick up their data.

I propose we accomplish the same thing, only by ferrying USB drives back and forth between each other in an organized and interpersonal network, a "folk sneakernet" of sorts, with greater possible interconnectivity and person-to-person contact than the Internet allows us.  In the coming posts, I'll elucidate some thoughts on the political, technological, and practical reasons behind this project.

Happy file-sharing!