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Report Back: The Next HOPE

Submitted by alycia on Sun, 08/08/2010 - 12:32

HOPE was a really amazing conference. The hackers (in comparison to librarians, who I normally conference with) were really engaged and industrious--they gathered data, archived events, created gizmos, and provided not only segway rides but also hammocks throughout the three day's events. I'm dropping my notes here in one gigantic mess, but there's audio and video up over at http://thenexthope.org/talks-list/ if you want to see/hear it for yourself.

---DAY ONE---

The first panel I caught was the tail end of was "GPS-It's Not the Satellites That Know Where You Are." We only heard a tiny bit of this, but there was content about Hamm radios, which were set up on the 18th floor throughout the conference as well.

Next was "Location Privacy and Wholesale Surveillance via Photo Services." Led by Ben Jackson of ICanStalkYou.com, which was fascinating. Jackson talked about how geotags from photos posted online (via twitpic, pipl, spokeo and sexypeek), can lead you to find out where someone lives, as well as lots of other data about them. He also talked about iPhones optionality for geotags (the first time you turn the device on it makes you choose whether to geotag or not, and then keeps that decision no matter what, even as you upgrade devices and software!). Jackson also talked about the dangers of sites like http://gpsed.com/ He said that there was NO reason to use this site unless you want to be stalked--but that it was popular for runners--but don't allow it to track you to your home! Jackson also mentioned a paper just published on this topic: "Cybercasing the Joint" I think this would be a great topic to present to undergrads, and Jackson was a great speaker.

The presentation on ebooks was less about ebooks than I would have liked. More about the amount of [x] data you can fit on [x] hardware. They threw out CDs with the full gutenberg library on them, "giving away half a million books." I think Marilyn Johnson was sitting in the front row...

The next talk I saw was Nina Paley's on Sita Sings the Blues. I think Paley is everything that the free culture movement needs; a great artist who is willing to share her work and the back end of how she has become successful at it. I've watched Paley's talks online and seen Sita, so I had some idea of her story, but there were a few things that really struck me in this talk: one was that she had to pay $50,000 for the Annette Hanshaw songs (her voice is free, but the songs are in copyright) in order to be able to share her work legally under a totally free license. There's a grid of the licenses used in Sita here: http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/license.html She talked about some works that were able to be made from her work since it is open, all of which were cool and she likes (and some that could not have been done had she gone the traditional route), and the creator-endorsed seal. I also liked Paley's visualization of culture as inherited genes. My hope is that Question Copyright and what Paley has done becomes the standard!
And if you haven't seen Copying is Not Theft, you're in for a treat!

I only caught the end of "Tor and Internet Censorship," but it was pretty great. Tor is definitely one of the most socially aware talks/projects of the conference. "Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis." Which can help folks in countries where the internet is locked down.

I should take this moment to note that there were many aspects of this conference that were technically over my head. A lot of back-end explanations of how things work. But it was still enjoyable to hear about these projects!

Gus started out the "Towards Open Libraries and Schools" talk by telling a bit about her dissertation research into "Stupid on the Internet." Despite having once been at a Rad Ref meeting with Jessamyn West, I had never heard her speak, but I can now understand the hype. She was critical of the library technology status quo ("Overdrive is the worst software ever!"), and she knew how to urge us all to use more FLOSS in our schools and libraries. Ellen Meier talked about educators; their fears, their restrictions, the beaurocracy, and how we need techies in schools that can excite (teachers and students) as well as troubleshoot.

---DAY TWO---

I caught a bit of "Video Surveillance, Society, and Your Face," and learned that if I want to keep my face out of a database I would not: "go to vegas, get arrested, or get a driver's license."

The keynote for this year's HOPE was pretty dramatic. The speaker was announced to be Julian Assange, who is wanted by the feds for his work with WikiLeaks. A bit of background on the story is available at Democracy Now!
Instead of Assange, Jacob Applebaum spoke. He started off by warning the federal presence that he had "some money, a copy of the bill of rights, and his ID" in his pocket and nothing else (and as we now know, Appelbaum was retained when he came back into the US after HOPE). Calling "sincerity the new black," he argued that for a better world to exist, we must free information.

  • "What hegemony are you trying to protect with your secrets?"
  • People who hide information are usually those who have the most to benefit from keeping it hidden
  • In terms of media and sharing data: if you print WikiLeaks, then it's a newspaper
  • "Be the trouble you want to see in the world"
  • While Applebaum was talking, I kept thinking about libraries. Of "information wants to be free."
  • You can't redact a document when it's in the hearts and minds of people.
  • "I don't have anything to lose. I want a better world."
  • Audio of the talk is here: http://thenexthope.org/talks-list

I tried to attend "Smartphone Ownage," and did attend "Rummaging Through the Government's Attic," but I don't have very great notes from either of these talks.

"Social Engineering" is a reoccurring component of HOPE, and I was amazed by the forethought of the audio-enabled old school touchtone telephone which Emmanuel Goldstein tried to use to hassle bp. A really great experience, and one that makes me appreciate 2600 all the more.

Saturday night was capped off by a highlight of the conference; Gabriella Coleman and Finn Brunton's "A User's Guide to Lulzy Media, the Pleasure of Trickery, and the Politics of the Spectacle: from Luddites to Anonymous." Biella's presentation was fantastic. As I told friends later that night, her thoughts seemed meticulously crafted and beautifully shared, and although Finn said something about feeling like he was a kite following after a _____ when he presented after Biella, I found Finn's presentation to be just as engaging, thought-provoking and wildly original. I really appreciated the throw backs to Luddites, Stewart Brand and his buttons, and "Ye have not done as ye ought." Definitely a highlight of the conference and a lecture that I think helped give more appeal for the academics (yay!).


Day three actually started for me when I awoke for day two, and so this third report back is clouded by a bit of sleep deprivation and a bit too much Club Mate (which is the HOPE kool-aid. Which I drank).

Fellow CUNY-er C.W. Anderson presented about Indymedia on Sunday, and I was woken up when he started pointing to zines as the "predecessors of the homepage." His presentation was really interesting and important now as I think people have begun to forget about the Indymedia projects. Anderson cited that we need new radical projects that will break through, and I was reminded of just how inspirational Indymedia was only a few years ago (for example, I thought during his talk about whether Radical Reference would exist without Indymedia inspirations). I'm hoping right along with Anderson that we make new, important projects.

Next I attended "Building and Burning Bridges: Hacking the Educational System," led by Christina “fabulous” Pei. Since I am writing these notes a few weeks after HOPE, I can say that my perception of this talk changed over time. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Friends fell out of their chairs over how much they loved it. Perhaps it is because Christina teaches math that there was a block of enthusiasm on my part. Perhaps it was the bit about libraries that turned me cold (when she chose NYPL's 42nd St library as an example of something that could become a tool library once everything goes digital--eek! I'd be with you if you hadn't chosen a major research institution that I hope will never die!). But in the weeks since, a few things have really stayed with me and grown even more central to my views of education. She argued against dumbing things down for students. As an elementary and middle school teacher, Pei has taught true "kids," unlike those of us at universities who simply refer to adults as such. But despite their age, Pei argued for handing over difficult (mathematical) problems to students, allowing them to struggle with them, and teaching them how to find information together with them instead of lecturing, dumbing down, or looking down on students. I think that this perspective is essential. I know that friends and mentors who have taught me a lot have helped me in this way, and I have been thinking ever since about how to involve this perspective in the library classroom. It definitely reminds me of critical pedagogy perspectives, but here's a bit more of my notes about Pei's approach:

  • Inquiry-based learning curriculum
  • Teacher does as little as possible
  • Best students are counselors to others
  • Discover and retain through doing
  • Reject the smart/stupid dichotomy!

I also attended "DMCA and ACTA vs. Academic & Professional Research," in which the importance of FOIA info was discussed with more wonderful implications than I had been thinking of. Lots of talk of the ACTA and DMCA, and DoD.

The highlight of the entire conference for me happened somewhat unexpectedly. I was listening to a panel titled "Informants: Villains or Heroes?" with a few well-known hacker personalities. They spoke for about an hour or more, with each of the panelists presenting ways in which they had all resisted informing against fellow hackers and had served additional jail time due to their refusal to talk. And then they asked the audience if they would be able to be respectful if enemy #1, Adrian Lamo, took the stage. And then he did!
There had been rumors about his attendance at HOPE, and I had even seen the Wanted posters, but it wasn't until he took the stage that I really believed he was at the conference (albeit with bodyguards). I suggest that anyone interested in a plethora of issues--wikileaks, journalism, freedom of the press, government informants, American imperialism, war and peace--take a look at the videos of this event. It was really stunning to be in the audience, cheering on friends, and listening to an unapologetic informant. I'm really amazed by HOPE and 2600 that they pulled it off without major incident. I emailed Democracy Now about it later, and they did cover much of the talk (and interviewed Emmanuel Goldstein--another great piece), and they have been covering this topic far before the latest mainstream coverage (just do a search for "wikileaks" here: http://www.democracynow.org/search). To me, it really felt like a historic event. I am not sure if this kind of thing happens often at this conference, but it was really amazing to witness this conversation (even if it meant listening to someone who I could not empathize with--and even if that person himself is unable to emphathize).

There was a lot more to the conference that I can't possibly recreate. I highly recommend the experience!

How could I forget?

One more thing worth mentioning: gender dynamics at HOPE were interesting. It seemed like the audience was 95% male (again a total switch from library conferences).

I started a tally at one point of how many times speakers mentioned porn. I think it might be safe to say that it was mentioned enough as a joke, or as an example of something you do all the time on the internet, about once per session. Which seemed like a lot to me (and like a joke that really aged over the weekend as each.and.every.person made it).

I HOPE that more radical ladies attend the conference in the future and challenge the status quo.

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