Archive for March, 2009

Hackerspaces make Wired, Digg frontpage

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Way to be late to the party, guys. The world’s least cutting-edge tech media source, Wired, has a decent overview of the hackerspace scene as it exists today in the United States, which this morning made the front page at Digg. I don’t have any major bones to pick with the article, except for the general tone that “Hey, this scene didn’t really matter until it started happening in the United States!”

There’s some acknowledgment of German and Austrian hackerspaces, but we get sentences like, “German and Austrian hackers have been organizing into hacker collectives for years, including Metalab in Vienna, c-base in Berlin and the Chaos Computer Club in Hannover, Germany”

The author of this article is lumping together Metalab, founded in 2006, c-base, founded circa 1995, and CCC, founded 1981(ish?) as though they’re all similar sorts of places. Metalab is relatively recent and operates on a model very much like the American hackerspaces: it’s a platform, with dues-paying members and resources for projects, but nothing in the way of its own agenda or ideology. c-base is much older, predating the late 90s tech boom, and with a great deal in the way of history and self-created mythos surrounding it. CCC predates even the World Wide Web, transcends any one specific location or space (with chapters active in several German cities) and probably belongs alongside institutions like 2600 as founding members of the 1980s hacker culture.

It’s great to see hackerspaces getting mainstream exposure, but it would also be nice to see more recognition of the long history and broad geographic reach of the scene. Say, for starters, a specific mention of any hackerspace outside of the United States, Germany, or Austria. I’ve definitely encountered grumbling from some European hackers about the US-centric nature of coverage of hackerspaces, or of groups ( sometimes included) pushing an “American” model for hackerspaces. This model includes a rented or purchased space, relatively expensive membership dues (Wired quotes $40 per month as the “starving hacker rate” at Noisebridge, while some of the more anarchist European hackerspaces either have no “members” at all, or charge dues on the order of €15 per year) and fancy equipment (NYC Resistor has their own high-powered laser cutter—which is, admittedly, totally awesome).

I realize that Wired is a US-based media source, so it makes sense that they’d go to American hackerspaces to do interviews and get quotes. I guess it’s just that, as an American traveling abroad, I’m quite sensitive about trying not to fall into the American stereotype of bungling into a situation I don’t understand, and telling people to do it my way. Americans are very much latecomers to the hackerspace scene. In fact, even at the point when I was first proposing this project, in late 2007, most of the American hackerspaces mentioned in the Wired article did not exist yet. During one of my Watson interviews, I was asked, “Why do you need to leave the United States to do this project?” and I answered (at the time, honestly) “Because the kinds of places that I want to visit simply are not in America.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to see these types of places springing up across my home country, I just think the Americans would do well to remember that they are essentially re-inventing wheel, here.

EDIT: Also, since this is pretty much the first time I’ve ever specifically written about hackerspaces in the United States, I think it’s appropriate to throw out a plug for the newly-founded Pumping Station One, in my hometown of Chicago. My friend Dave recently interviewed Eric Michaud, one of the founders.

Download Free Buenos Aires Audiotours

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Alright, so this post is probably more of a service to the internet at large than to anyone who reads this blog regularly. The local Buenos Aires government has thoughtfully prepared twelve different free audio tours covering various neighborhoods in the city, in Spanish, English and Portuguese. I can vouch that the English-language ones are quite nice, and charmingly accented as well. I’m planning on taking the Spanish-language versions for a spin later this week to practice my Spanish-listening skills, so I’ll get back to you on that.

You can download the tours for free in mp3 format to play on any portable audio player. Alternatively, if for some reason you hate having money, there’s a phone number you can call to listen to any of the audioguides on your mobile phone at the touch of a button. Mobile phone rates here in Argentina are not nearly as obscene as they were in Europe, but a 40 minute call still starts to add up. Plus, if the choice is between “no cost” and “cost”, I’m guessing most people will opt for the former.

However, the BA government has done a rather poor job of promoting their audioguides. If I hadn’t been tipped off to their existence, I probably never would have found them. Google searches (at least on English-language for Buenos Aires audiotours turn up mostly a variety of commercial sites and blogs, not the governmental site. Consider this post my meager bid to try to improve the Porteños’ PageRank.

Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Tuesday was a national holiday here in Argentina. March 24th, 1976 marked the removal of Isabel Martínez de Perón (Juan Perón’s third wife [after Evita] who succeeded him as President) by a right-wing military junta that ruled Argentina until 1983.

It’s actually a brand-new holiday, first celebrated in 2006, intended to commemorate the memory of the victims of that regime, especially los desaparecidos. It seemed to be pretty popular, though. There was a huge parade and street demonstrations. It was an oddly festive atmosphere for such a somber occasion.

There were a ton of people out in the streets

There were a ton of people out in the streets


New Continent, New Look

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Don’t worry, you’re (probably) not a victim of DNS spoofing. As you may have noticed, the site looks a bit different. To celebrate my arrival on a brand-new continent, I’m relaunching this blog with a brand-new, custom, WordPress theme. All of the design work, and the lion’s share of the PHP/CSS work, are courtesy of Monica Joyce. As you might expect, given the nature of this blog, the theme is GPL-licensed and you can download it from her site if you’d like to use it on your own blog.

I’m pretty pleased with the new design, I think it’s very clean and modern-looking without being too gimmicky. It does have some fancyness like transparency, and rounded corners and so forth, so if anyone out there is running into weird glitches (things overlapping, sections disappearing, etc.) I’d appreciate hearing about them. You can leave a comment, or email me. Please include your operating system and browser, too.

Observations from the first week in Argentina

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

It is warm here. It hasn’t been below 21° C (70° F) since I arrived, even in the middle of the night. During the day, it’s quite humid and sticky, and the sun is all up in my face in a way it hasn’t been the entire time I’ve been in Europe. I think I need to buy a pair of sunglasses and something SPF >30.

Many people in Europe told me that Buenos Aires is the most European city in South America. South Americans I’ve met refer to BA as “the Paris of Argentina”. This is the first South American city I’ve ever been to, so I can’t really comment on how “European” it feels relative to the rest of the continent, but I will say that it doesn’t remind me very strongly of Paris, and I was in Paris a couple weeks ago. The place Buenos Aires reminds me most strongly of is downtown Los Angeles, which I suppose just demonstrates that if you take a First World city and infuse it with a heavy dose of Latin culture, or take a city with a Latin culture and infuse it with a First World (or near-First World) economy, you wind up in roughly the same place.

From all appearances, there is a great deal of money floating about in Buenos Aires. There are many high-rise buildings, (one of several ways in which BA does not resemble Paris) I’ve walked past several places where significant construction and road repair works seem to be underway (I wrote my initials in wet cement yesterday!). The towering office buildings appear to house local offices for many major multinational firms, including everyone’s favorite Bob developers (P.S. I promise not to rip on Redmond in my next post).

The world's cuddliest evil empire comes to America del Sur

The world’s cuddliest evil empire comes to America del Sur