Tagcyberculture

More on Decentralizing the Web: My Interview with Unhosted’s Michiel de Jong

Unhosted

I’ve followed up my interview at ReadWriteWeb with CouchOne‘s J Chris Anderson with an interview with Unhosted‘s Michiel de Jong.

de Jong takes Richard Stallman’s critiques of cloud computing seriously. But, he says, “People want to use websites instead of desktop apps. Why do they want that? I don’t think it’s up to us developers to tell users what to want. We should try to understand what they want, and give it to them.”

de Jong acknowledges the many advantages to running applications in the cloud: you can access your applications and data from any computer without installing software or transferring files. You can access your files from multiple devices without syncing. And web applications have better cross-platform support.

So how can you give users web applications while keeping them in control of their data?

The basic idea is this: an Unhosted app lives on a web server and contains only source code. That source code is executed on a user’s computer and encrypts and stores data on another server. That data never passes through the app server. Therefore, the app provider doesn’t have a monopoly on your data. And since that data is encrypted, it can’t be exploited by the data host either (or at least, it probably can’t).

The data can be hosted anywhere. “It could be in your house, it could be at your ISP or it could be at your university or workplace,” says de Jong.

“We had some hurdles to implement this, one being that the app cannot remember where your data lives, because the app only consists of source code,” he says. “Also your computer can’t remember it for you, because presumably you’re logging on to a computer you never used before.”

The Unhosted team solved the problem by putting the data location into usernames. Unhosted usernames look a lot like e-mail addresses, for example: willy@server.org. Willy is the username, server.org is location where the data is stored.

ReadWriteWeb: Unhosted: Breaking the SaaS Monopoly

Decentralizing Twitter – And the Rest of the Web, Too

CouchDB

I just interviewed J Chris Anderson, the CFO of CouchOne, for ReadWriteWeb. CouchOne is the corporate sponsor of an open source database and programming language called CouchDB. Anderson recently started hosting a demo/proof of concept app called Twebz – a decentralized Twitter Client – built with CouchDB and node.js. Anderson explains how CouchDB could be used to decentralize not only Twitter, but most other web applications as well. It’s pretty geeky but could have big ramifications: This tech could help build a more resilient Internet in the face of disasters, cyberwarfare and censorship.

The aim is to allow you to interact with Twitter when Twitter is up and you are online. But if Twitter is down for maintenance or you are in the middle of nowhere, you can still tweet. And when you can reach Twitter again, it will go through.

If lots of folks are using it, then they can see each other’s tweets come in even when Twitter is down.

Mostly the goal was to show the way on how to integrate CouchDB with web services and APIs.

So if you did release this, and people started using it, and then one day Twitter decided “We’re done. We’re going to go raise pigs in the Ozarks,” Twebz would actually still be up and running fine basically forever and everyone could keep reading each other’s Tweets.

Yep. And as a side effect you have a complete personal Twitter archive of the folks you follow.

There’s even a feature to pull in the complete history of a user, so you can get the back fill of your closest friends if you want. […]

Could CouchDB and Node be used in conjunction to create some sort of decentralized darknet? Something along the lines of Freenet?

Node is a good fit for CouchDB because Couch encourages asynchronous background processes, but people also use Ruby / Python / Java for the same purposes. But yes, eventually the plan is that CouchDB will make web applications a lot more robust because they will no longer depend on a centralized point of failure. E.g., even if Twitter goes out of business, people can continue to share messages.

The turnover of Web 2.0 startups is so fast that I think users get discouraged from signing up for services. Why bother with a new photo share if there’s a chance it won’t be around in a year? But when those are CouchApps, users can continue to use them even if no one is maintaining them, which makes it more rational to invest time in using them. Imagine if Pownce or Dodgeball were still being run by fans.

ReadWriteHack: CouchOne’s J Chris Anderson On Decentralizing Twitter – And the Rest Of the Web

I asked him about “darknets” but what this really seems useful for is mesh networks.

For another example of how CouchDB is useful in low-connectivity settings, check out this case study on how Better Health Outcomes through Mentoring and Assessments is using CouchDB in rural Zambia.

For another example of a decentralized social network built on CouchDB, check out CouchAppspora, a port of Diaspora to CouchDB.

Update: Trevor reminds me that I should mention FidoNet for some historical context. PODSnet (Pagan Occult Distribution System Network) may be of particular interest to Technoccult readers.

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

I’m helping make you stupid:

In a Science article published in early 2009, prominent developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of various types of media on intelligence and learning ability. She concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

We know that the human brain is highly plastic; neurons and synapses change as circumstances change. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity. That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.

Wired: Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

As I said during my interview with Ashley Crawford (Pay attention here! Don’t click that link yet!), I’m that reading off more limited mobile devices like my Blackberry and my iPod touch is helping me concentrate on reading longer, more substantive material. Reading on my computer, with its tabbed browser, has a tendency to destroy my attention span.

I’m trying to discipline myself to browse first, read later – find stuff of interest by scanning through feeds, Twitter etc, and then go over the stuff I’ve flagged to read before I go back and find more stuff.

Do you have any strategies for navigating the web without destroying your attention span, or do you think that the transformation of our brains could actually be a good thing?

Participatory medicine with Jon Lebkowsky – Technoccult interview

Jon Lebkowsky

Jon Lebkowsky is a social media consultant and cofounder of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He was also the co-founder of FringeWare, Inc. and EFF-Austin, co-edited Extreme Democracy, and is a regular contributor to WorldChanging. You can read his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

Klint Finley: Let’s start off by defining what “participatory medicine” is.

Jon Lebkowsky: There’s a good definition on Wikipedia:

Participatory Medicine is a model of medical care in which the active role of the patient is emphasized.” It can be patients coming together in communities dedicated to a specific disease or condition, or it can be patients being considered peers within treatment teams that are treating their conditions.

The Internet makes it more possible, in that patients can find much more information about their conditions online, and they can find each other.

You’ve been involved with online communities for many years, how did you get involved with participator medicine?

Through my relationship with Tom Ferguson. Tom was a participatory medicine pioneer. He had edited the health section of the Whole Earth Catalogs, and published a magazine called Medical Self Care. We started talking and hanging out in the early 90s – he found me via EFF-Austin. He could see the potential for the Internet to provide patients access to more and more information, and he had always advocated for patients to be as informed as possible, and to have a role in treatment… and do as much for themselves as possible.

He had a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to do a white paper on e-patients (See e-patients.net), and he knew that blogs and social technology would be relevant. He wanted me to join his team of physicians and others because I was involved in the evolution of social technology, what some now call social media.

I started working with the e-patients working group and became a founding member of the Society of Participatory Medicine.

How long this movement had been afoot? I’ve read that things like this were going on as far back as the 80s in places like the WELL.

Yes, there’ve been a lot of patient conversations and communities over the years in various contexts. The WELL has always had an active health conference, and patient communities like ACOR have been around for a while.

Other than there being a lot more people involved now that the Internet has become mainstream, is there any big difference between what’s going on now and what was going on way back when?

In a way, yes. With higher adoption of the Internet, you have so many more patients getting active online. And the tools are evolving so that it’s easier to create contexts for conversation. Also, partly thru Tom’s work and the Society, and other orgs like PatientsLikeMe and the Health 2.0 conference, you have a lot more interest, activity, and potential for innovation. And there’s more information coming online, so patients can theoretically be better informed. There’s also new tools for people to manage their health records online, and track aspects of their health. More hospitals and healthcare professionals are starting to use social media to connect with patients and for community engagement.
We have a whole movement forming around patient demands for access to their complete health records.

Can you give any examples of “success stories” in participatory medicine – anything that really stands out? Like a situation where you could say “Wow, that recovery could never have happened otherwise.”

Dave deBronkart. He had 4th stage terminal cancer, is now in remission. If he hadn’t been an e-patient, he might never have found the treatment that made him so much better.

Here’s what the Wikipedia article about him says:

His kidney was removed laparoscopically and he was treated in a clinical trial of high-dose interleukin-2 (HDIL-2), ending 7/23/07, which was effective in reducing the cancer, although his femur ultimately broke from damage caused by the disease. Visible lesions on follow-up CT scans continued to shrink for a year and have been stable since, and are presumed dead.

He learned of the treatment through his e-patient activiites and research. No one had told him about it. If a healthcare provider can’t offer a treatment, they don’t necessarily know about it or tell you about it.

ePatient Dave
Dave deBronkart aka E-patient Dave/em>

Is there a downside? Increased “cyberchondria,” or decreased trust in physicians?

Jon L. Part of the power of participatory medicine is in patients collaboratively researching and discussing various treatments. More powerful than a single source of information. There’s a potential down side – a physician has a different context for assessing information, and may make different judgements. But it’s good for patients to be more informed. For the physician, there can be an issue of having to spend more time with patients explaining why something they’ve found online might be inaccurate or inapplicable.

Physicians who believe patients should be empowered can be pretty good about that, though.

And there are physicians who don’t assume they necessarily have the answers, and are very willing to listen to patients who’ve been researching, and consider what they have to say.

The patient has a strong vested interest in outcomes, and will sometimes dig more deeply and thoroughly than the healthcare professional has time to do.

Here’s another downside to consider: some patients may become more knowledgeable about their conditions than their doctors. There’s a tendency for people, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, to sort of double-down on their position if their expertise is questioned- especially if that expertise is questioned by an amateur. A physician might not want to admit they were wrong about something and their patient, who might not have ever even been to college, was right.

Yes, that’s definitely a concern. The solution is to create a culture where patients can be seen as peers. (Though not all patients will want that… many will.)

Not to be too personal, but have you been an e-patient yourself?

Jon L. Yes, but not with anything life-threatening, at least no so far. I have psoriasis and have researched it online, and was on a psoriasis email list for a while. I left it. My general sense was that the list was dominated by people who had strong feelings about what would or wouldn’t work – e.g. would vehemently oppose other patients who felt there was a potential to see results through changes in nutrition. I had a feeling they were being defensive – didn’t want to change their eating habits. So not all communities will be functional, or will work for all members.

I also had a problem with arrhythmia that seems to have been treated effectively by cardioversion and a round of drugs. I researched the drugs and decided I felt they were too toxic to continue, so I stopped after a year and a half. The cardio would have preferred I continued at least another six months.

Do you have any recommendations for potential e-patients for finding resources and communities, or places to avoid?

I would counsel proceeding with caution until you’ve felt your way into it, and got a good sense of the online landscape for your condition. It’s so easy to be misled, to get the wrong info. There are some communities that are well-established, and are the best places to go for specific conditions – like ACOR for cancer.

Also in researching your condition, remember that you’re not a physician or health researcher, so you don’t have the same context for assessing the information you find. Don’t assume your physician is wrong if you find contradictory information online.

You can get a sense of the landscape by reading e-patients.net and Journal of Participatory Medicine (the latter is the journal that the Society for Participatory Medicine started). There are also a lot of bloggers and tweeters in the e-patient space. Here’s a blogger on patient advocacy: Every Patient’s Advocate

Ed Bennett has resources for healthcare professionals.

Is there anything of note in the recent health care overhaul regarding participatory medicine?

It’s more of an insurance overhaul than a healthcare overhaul. I don’t think it has a lot of impact on what we’re talking about.

One thing specifically mentioned on the Society for Participatory Medicine’s web site is a need to address the digital divide’s impact on participatory medicine. Do you know of anything being done, or do have any ideas for solutions?

I don’t think there’s a specific project to address digital divide in this context. In fact, the community network / digital divide efforts in general seem to lack steam. Part of that is because Internet adoption is so high, it seemed that the issue was resolving as we had more and more ways for people to get online, and more incentives for them to do so. However I know there’s a significant number of adults who don’t have the kind of access they should, especially considering that so infrastructure for services is moving online.

State and smaller governments, for instance, are moving services online for the efficiency.

It’s not just a matter of access either, there’s also a matter of online literacy.

And when we get to the point where all healthcare data for everyone is available digitally, not just as an electronic health record but as a personal health record, only those who have the right degree of digital literacy will be able to have that as a factor in managing their health. To me the digital divide is more about knowing how to use computers than actually owning the hardware, so I’m with you 100%.

augmented reality medical app
Metaverse One’s augmented reality anatomy education app

Bruce Sterling, in the State of the World conversation you moderated, suggested the possibility that individuals, informed by various web based instructional materials, could start doing amateur medical operations. It was clear that what he was talking about wasn’t what you were talking about in terms of participatory medicine at the time, but have you thought anymore about that scenario?

I think it’s pretty unlikely – he was seeing that as the ad absurdum where participatory medicine could go, but I think that’s a real misunderstanding (and I don’t think he seriously believed it would go there). That’s really not what “participatory medicine” and “empowered patient” is about… when we talk about being better informed and being part of the conversation about your own health, it doesn’t follow that anyone would necessarily want to be an amateur surgeon.

Maybe not in the global North, but I can imagine it happening elsewhere, where access to professional health care is worse. Or even here in the States if economic conditions worsen.

You have a point there, but it’s not really what participatory medicine is about.

I could imagine someone learning how to do just one or two particular procedures really well and just doing doing those.

We are near a point where only the elite can afford adequate care. Yes, very possible.

Right, so the “participatory” in participatory medicine means more participating in the decisions, not doing surgeries.

Right… participating in the knowledge, and in the decisions.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. Do you have any closing thoughts?

My focus has always been on the Internet and its impact on culture, so participatory medicine is just one of a set of related interests. I’m still thinking about what’s really happening and how what’s happening in various sectors relate – participatory medicine to the changes in journalism and in politics, for instance.

William S. Burroughs’s computer artworks – “Cybernetic Cut-ups”

Roger Holden and William Burroughs Cybernetic Cut-up

William S. Burroughs was known to have an anti-computer stance. According to William Gibson:

When our paths finally crossed, I asked Burroughs whether he was writing on a computer yet. “What would I want a computer for?” he asked, with evident distaste. “I have a typewriter.”

However, it turns out Burroughs DID do some computer art. Roger Holden writes at Reality Studio:

I am privileged in this life to have been a friend of William Burroughs and also a collaborator on his visual art — using the medium of the computer. In 1995 I worked with Burroughs on a series of three-dimensional computer-generated stereograms (similar to the Magic Eye images of the 90s) based upon sampling his paintings. William guided me in the process of what to select for input into the computer so as to obtain results that he thought would be appropriate for this visual holographic cut-up collaborative experiment. […]

Our collaboration was a true “all into cyberspace” experience for both of us. These images allow for a direct altered state of visual perception just as the Magic Eye images do. However, rather than simply entice you with just a dolphin or 3-D heart, the cybernetic cut-up images can be used to experience directly certain information processes of the mind — specifically, those processes that can form our visual sense of the 3D outside world from the input of even the simplest of sampled information.

William was extremely enthusiastic about this collaboration and equally enthusiastic about the results. In essence, samples of his paintings were input as viral info elements into a 3D computer stereoscopic process. The 3D Cybernetic cut-up output resulted in complex holographic-like landscapes and objects. Our collaboration, including studies, involved more than a dozen images. Like all such attempts in art, some worked out better than others. A special few seemed to demonstrate some intriguing synchronicities. I hope to publish someday a compendium of these studies and completed images.

Reality Studio: Collaborating on the Computer with William S. Burroughs

Virtual reality veteran FSK1138 talks about his new low-tech lifestyle – Technoccult interview

FSK1138

Electronic musician and artist Donald Baynes, aka FSK1138, spent 10-12 hours a day exploring 3D virtual worlds in 1996 and 97. But now he spends less than 3 hours a week online. He spent an hour of his weekly Internet time chatting with me from a park to tell me why he decided to unplug.

Klint Finley: You say you were “addicted” to virtual reality in the late 90s. How did you get started with VR and what were you doing with it?

FSK1138: During that time – I was what you would call cyberpunk – I spent days plugged into a body suit, data glove, and HMD [head mounted display]. I explored virtual worlds and was surfing the web in 3D. Searching, always searching, for others and A.I out there in the sea of information.

What sort of equipment were you using?

Virtual io HMD, Nintendo Powerglove, dual cpu pPRO.

Did you have broadband back then or was this on dial-up?

I was using dial-up but I moved to Toronto because there was faster Internet – this thing called ISDN.

I remember ISDN. Basically it was using two phone lines to achieve faster speeds, right?

Yes. It was a dream – so much faster. It made 3D surfing VRML [Virtual Reality Markup Language] a reality.

So you were surfing VRML sites then? What were those virtual worlds like back then?

Low rez – like Quake or the first DOOM but at the lowest settings. There was a whole underworld of VRML BBS sites at the time.

And what did you typically do on the BBSes? Chat, socialize?

Chat, socialize, share data – much like what people are doing right now but like the Sims or SecondLife.
FSK1138

Are you still using VR?

No – I think it is a very bad thing. Even back then 3D was considered bad for your eyes and brain. I don’t think we were made for this type of input.

What makes you say that?

The reaction of any one who has seen avatar – when people who have seen it talk about it they always seem to have a smile on their face – the same smile…

He later sent me this article mentioning health concerns surrounding prolonged 3D gaming in children

FSK1138

You say now use the Internet for less than 3 hours a week and do not own a TV, phone, or stove. What brought you to the point that you decided you had to unplug like that?

I lived in Guyana for 4 years. You can have days when you have no power, and I survived. I feel that people think that the Internet will always be there. I feel it will not and the day is coming soon. I have seen the Internet change over the years – it has changed alot. The day is coming, I feel, that the can not remain a free utility.

Life really is not hard without technology if you learn to live without it. But if you’re addicted – what then?

When did you decide to cut back your use of technology?

When I realized it was taking up so much of my time – 2007 – I started closing down websites that I was using. I cut back to Myspace and YouTube – there were so many. And I cut my surfing – I use RSS now, I do not surf. By 2008 I did not have a landline or cell or Internet at home.


Above: Video FSK1138’s “Catch the Man,” a cover of Front 242’s “Headhunter.”

It looks like you use a lot of technology to make your music – have you thought about going towards a more low-tech approach to making music?

I am in a way back to where I started with making music. When I could not get a sampler or computer I used found objects – metal and glass and things you could bang together to make noise.

So you’re not using computers for music music any more?

I am using computers still – I just did a track for The 150-Years-of-Music-Technology Composition Competition.

Do you have any opinions of augmented reality? Have you used any AR applications?

I think is a cool concept. I just hope it doesn’t become the next form of spam.


Above: Video for FSK1138’s “Digital Drug”

21C Magazine is back with Apocalypse Noir

21C

21C is back with new material, plus archival material by or about Hakim Bey, William S. Burroughs, Erik Davis, Philip K. Dick, Ashley Crawford, Mark Dery, Verner Vinge, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Jack Parsons, Richard Metzger, Genesis P. Orridge, Kath Acker, JG Ballard, John Shirley, Robert Anton Wilson, Iain Sinclair, Terrence McKenna, Buckminster Fuller, R.U. Sirius, Timothy Leary, Bruce Sterling and more.

Sadly, in 1999, the company went bust, somewhat ironic given that 21•C in that form never made it into the Century after which it was named – the 21st. 21•C stalwart Mark Dery and I made some attempt to resuscitate the title early in the new millennium to no avail.

Yet many of the ideas and issues raised in the original magazine continued to arise, and with them perpetual queries as to how to get copies of the original articles, a nigh impossible task. With the prompting of two other 21•C stalwarts, Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich, it was decided to resurrect a core selection of articles in an archival on-line format. With Mick Stylianou’s wizard like help this was fairly painless. It didn’t take long to decide to add new material and it is hoped that new issues will be posted at semi-regular intervals.

This inaugural on-line issue takes as its theme Apocalypse Noir – the trend toward the apocalyptic, or at the least extremely dark – in contemporary writing. If earlier 21•C’s tended toward the darker aspects of cyberpunk, then the newer crop of writers have given up any pretense of a happy ending. Good luck!

21C Magazine

(via Alex Burns)

MONDO 2000: An Open Source History

MONDO 2000: An Open Source History is a web project and a book. All those who touched directly upon the history of the scene/magazine (including the earlier versions, High Frontiers and Reality Hackers) will be invited to write — or, in some cases, speak on video or audio — their stories and perceptions. Additionally, small groups of people will be encouraged to get together and record conversations. These will be posted on a private page available only to other participants. Participants will have the opportunity to insert comments into the text or add fresh entries.

At the end of the process, estimated to take approximately two years, a collaboratively-edited electronic document will be released on the web. A more closely-edited print book composed of selections from this process — edited by Ken Goffman aka R.U. Sirius (that’s me!) with Morgan Russell — will be published. Finally, the video footage might be rolled into a Mondo 2000 film documentary.

I will be a major participant in this process, essentially writing my own full and complete memoir of this time and posting most of these in fragments on the collaborative site.

Mondo 2000’s history is an exhilarating and weird tale of early digital culture, drugs, sex, surrealism, gonzo anthropology, death, digital culture, media hype, conspiracy paranoia, celebrities, transhumanism, irresponsible journalism, appropriation, hackers, pranks, theft, fun and desktop publishing. This mostly true article from the SF Weekly tells only part of the story. http://www.suck.com/daily/95/11/07/mondo1995.html

Many extraordinarily talented writers, artists, scientists, and outsider philosophers participated in the Mondo 2000 experience and there are marvelous tales to be told. If we can get even 20% of them to participate, we may have final proof that collaborative narratives don’t have to suck.

Cybersyn – the Chilean socialist Internet of the 70s

Cybersyn control room

In Chile in the 1970s, Stafford Beer attempted what Technocracy Inc. and Buckminster Fuller advocated:

Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to “implant” an electronic “nervous system” in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before – a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time.

When the Allende administration was deposed in a military coup, the 30th anniversary of which falls this Thursday, exactly how far Beer and his British and Chilean collaborators had got in constructing their hi-tech utopia was soon forgotten. In the many histories of the endlessly debated, frequently mythologised Allende period, Project Cybersyn hardly gets a footnote. Yet the personalities involved, the amount they achieved, the scheme’s optimism and ambition and perhaps, in the end, its impracticality, contain important truths about the most tantalising leftwing government of the late 20th century.

The Guardian: Santiago dreaming

The article claims that the system was impractical in the end, but its life was cut short rather early. It sounds like they were beginning to have success with it.

The Wikipedia article has many links

(Both via Theoretick)

Cyberwar Hype Intended to Destroy the Open Internet

Michael McConnell on the right

Above: that’s McConnell on the right.

The biggest threat to the open internet is not Chinese government hackers or greedy anti-net-neutrality ISPs, it’s Michael McConnell, the former director of national intelligence.

McConnell’s not dangerous because he knows anything about SQL injection hacks, but because he knows about social engineering. He’s the nice-seeming guy who’s willing and able to use fear-mongering to manipulate the federal bureaucracy for his own ends, while coming off like a straight shooter to those who are not in the know. […]

He’s talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation if the U.S. government doesn’t like what’s written in an e-mail, what search terms were used, what movies were downloaded. Or the tech could be useful if a computer got hijacked without your knowledge and used as part of a botnet.

Threat Level: Cyberwar Hype Intended to Destroy the Open Internet

© 2022 Technoccult

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑