book review: new moon

Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon has no lovestruck vampires. Instead, it’s the story of a dynastic Brazilian helium mining company/family on the moon, three generations into the colonization. I loved this book mostly because it doesn’t just deal with family power plays (the matriarch, the scheming brother, the loose cannon brother, the brilliant lawyer sister, the outcast, the fashionable next generation) but the economics of living in a harsh harsh world.

On the moon, there is no law, only contract. You pay for every bit of carbon you consume, every drop of water, your bandwidth, every breath you take. It’s AI-mediated anarchocapitalism with lawyers (and lawyer AIs) negotiating everything. Which sounds hellish to live in if you aren’t one of the people on top of the society. McDonald does a good job of if not romanticizing the economic concept, at least leavening it with some perspective of the working-class.

I couldn’t help but liken the resource-extraction hellpit that the moon is in this book (with nice bits for the rich) to Alberta. But the moon is socially libertarian as well. All sorts of sexual diversity is normal, the powerful aren’t all white people, there are ways to help one another. So while the plot was interesting enough, it was the bouncing around between ways of organizing people differently I really liked.

All in all, it’s a very good social science fiction book, and only wish it wasn’t the first in a series (I loved the ending and wish it actually was one).

book review: only one thing can save us – why america needs a new kind of labor movement

Only One Thing Can Save Us is a book about organized labour in the United States. Thomas Geoghegan, the author, is a labour lawyer in Chicago and thinks labour is the biggest thing facing the US. This was written in 2014, so before the spectre of Trump, and focused more on the technocratic bullshit of the Obama administration rather than the existential terror circus we’re all dealing with today.

His main argument is that people need to be paid more, not just by raising the minimum wage. Investing more in workers that are not replaceable widgets through professional development and the like is what he thinks the US economy needs, not just more people going to university. Actually being mentored in your job was something that used to exist within organized labour but has been destroyed in the name of replaceable workers. He also draws attention to the fact that a future labour movement makes sense to be built with nurses, and would look fundamentally different from the remnant white dudes of the automotive industry.

My main issue with the book was disappointment with how US-focused the book was, very focused on Democrat vs. Republican party fighting rather than wholesale class issues.

orange all-caps text of the word "review" on a black background

book review: game-day gangsters

I don’t read a tonne of nonfiction books. I tend to leave that to internet articles and blog posts and maybe some professional stuff. But generally short bits. Game-Day Gangsters (PDF link) by Curtis Fogel is longer than a blog post but it’s a short book and one I quite enjoyed.

See, the thing I like about journalism in general is the feeling that you’re dipping into another world that actually exists. In good nonfiction you might even understand a bit more of it. Game-day Gangsters‘ subtitle is: Crime and Deviance in Canadian Football, and that was a world I only knew the tiniest bit about.

In the book Fogel examines legal issues in football, specifically around violence, hazing and performance-enhancing drugs. The key idea he uses to pull these issues together is consent. What does it mean to consent to risk to have your legs broken at work? How do players see consenting to being humiliated in order to bond with a team?

It was a very clear book for dealing with legal issues. Fogel interviewed players and administrators from junior, university and professional levels of Canadian football (identified by position – this is not a tell-all book of who’s juicing) and for an outsider like me it seemed well-argued. The realities of capitalist exploitation and the precarious labour situation of the professional (or aspiring professional) football player solidified my appreciation (possibly by appealing to my own biases, selah).

I’m working on a fiction project that deals with violent sport, so this was a bit of a research material book for me, or I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s good though, and if you have any interest in the area, it might be worth your time. I got mine from the library but it’s Creative Commons licensed and the PDF is available from the Athabasca University Press website.

Broken Hard Drive? by purplemattfish on Flickr https://secure.flickr.com/photos/29601732@N06/3188379971/ - Licensed under a CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 license

snowden and miranda and the guardian’s destroyed hard drives

As I’m sure others here have been doing, I’ve been keeping up with Glenn Greenwald’s coverage of Snowden’s leaks about the NSA. I’ve been kind of disgusted by the fact that this stuff appears to be legal even though it’s terrible. And that so many politicians have lied about the procedures, though that surprises me not a huge amount. I’m also not fool enough to believe this kind of surveillance doesn’t affect those of us north of the 49th.

But it seems like this weekend the progression of that story got much worse. It seems to me that holding the partner of a journalist under anti-terror laws for his role in supporting journalism is pretty heinous to those of us who believe in intellectual freedom.

It also seems that the UK government going to a news organization’s headquarters and making them destroy hard drives containing information they disapprove of is also fucking terrible.

These are laws created in a democracy designed for one thing being used to attempt to intimidate people who want to get information about our various democracies out there. This is legal but abusive. Gah. Fuck. More cussing.

To me this is clearly an intellectual freedom issue. This is the government telling someone what they are and are not allowed to talk about. This is bullshit.

As a librarian it might not be hitting where I live… yet. I mean, our government isn’t telling librarians what we are and aren’t allowed to have in our libraries, so maybe this isn’t our fight? But the fact that journalists are being disallowed from publishing certain stories is a big problem, and one that will spread. As librarians we can celebrate how we deal with cook challenges in various Bible Belts, but I think we should be doing more.

I would like to suggest that this year when Banned Books Week comes around, us librarians reach a bit further. I’d like to see us celebrating wikileaks cables and articles about Snowden in our libraries instead of merely pointing at the challenged books we have in our collections in a collective fit of smugness.

Books are fine. I love books, but I think celebrating our victories over past challenges is just another way to celebrate the status quo when there’s more we can do. Although, as a friend of mine said today, the baseline in libraries is a bit better:

If the status quo still includes intellectual freedom, mitigating income inequality, etc…sign me up.

Consider this a co-sign.

Pirates on Display by Justin Unrau cc-by-nc-sa-3.0

your friendly neighbourhood wretched hive of scum & villainy – a presentation

This is a slightly modified version of the text (and slides) from my talk at Oh, the Places You’ll Know, a part of SFU’s Public Square on September 19, 2012. We were encouraged to put practical considerations aside, hence the “damn the lawyers; full speed ahead!” approach advocated within.

My big idea for public libraries is that they should embrace the role of “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy.”

To begin, and to situate us here, I agree with R. David Lankes when he says “the mission of librarians is to facilitate knowledge creation in their communities.” That’s a great mission, but I think it is very easy for us to mis-define our communities. I want my library (and this is a hypothetical library – I’m not representing anyone’s views but my own here) to serve the community it’s in and not the rules of publishers, movie studios or lawmakers.

In short,

Pirates on Display by Justin Unrau cc-by-nc-sa-3.0

I want librarians to talk like pirates. See, September 19th is “internet traditionally” known as International Talk Like a Pirate day. It’s a stupid internet thing, but I couldn’t pass up the connection. I want libraries to make it easier to share all sorts of electronic content and integrate better with how people actually use the internet. And that includes breaking all sorts of rules.

I’ll be talking about collections, programming and philosophy for the next four minutes.

PirateBoxPark1 by David Darts http://daviddarts.com/photos/data/PirateBox/PirateBoxPark1.jpg cc-by-nc-sa-3.0

First we’ve got the plunder of libraries, our collections. When we talk piracy I mean I want libraries to buy material and then share it as widely as possible instead of treating digital content like it’s physical. This is the kind of behaviour that content-providers don’t want from us so we are saddled with 26-checkouts-then-self-destruct kinds of ebooks or 3 downloaded songs per week. I want us to buy ebooks and crack the DRM on them so they can be used on any device. When we buy CDs/DVDs/Blu-Rays I want us to rip them to hard-drive arrays and seed the torrents ourselves. If we’re serious about “facilitating knowledge creation,” giving away electronic files is way more useful than making them hard to use.

The picture here is of a PirateBox and a model of what I want libraries to encourage. In that PirateBox is a battery-powered WiFi router (you can see the antenna on the right) and a USB stick full of download-only media (there’s also the more library-specific project based on the Pirate Box called LibraryBox which is what my project would be more directly based on). You can put that anywhere and someone can connect to its network and get information, connecting local space with electronic content. I love these things. They’re the electronic equivalent of Little Free Libraries.

Place to go by leg0fenris, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/legofenris/5297917346/ cc-by-nc-nd-2.0

But we’re here to talk about community. One of the things about internet media piracy is the isolation aspect of it. We know we’re not supposed to be downloading complete seasons of Clone Wars and feel a little ashamed, doing it by ourselves in the dark.

When I show people how easy it is to make their Kindle books readable on a Kobo, or strip the stuff from digital library content that returns it, people are amazed. We’re taught that we have to follow the rules, but when you talk about breaking the rules, you’re engaging people with a different kind of illicit connection.

I want the library to be a place where you can talk about this stuff freely, that it’s not some back-alley of information usage you should never mention to a fine upstanding librarian. I want librarians who are comfortable with 4chan and torrenting and can help their community members navigate some of those parts of the internet to have some fun or learn something or bring down an evil empire.

And here I like the parallel to sex education. You can teach a pirated media abstinence only policy and let your members pick up their knowledge piecemeal (from downloading porn and getting viruses), or you can say “downloading TV shows is fun, and here’s how to do it safely, thoughtfully and have a better experience.”

So my library project does programs teaching people about the processes and ethics of seeding and leeching torrents, about how to use Tor to hide what exactly you’re doing from people who might be of a mind to prosecute you, and using VPNs to get around location restrictions so we can watch shows on Hulu in Canada goddamnit.

Because I love the PirateBox thing we’d run workshops on how to build them and share their own content (stuff they’ve stolen or created themselves) outside of the library ecosystem. Because really, libraries aren’t the point here. We’re trying to facilitate knowledge creation, not pump up our circulation stats.

Highway 61 Re-Revisited by nekosoft, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/nekosoft/234580858/ cc-by-nc-sa-2.0

Establishing trust within your community that being an outlaw doesn’t make you a bad person plays into the whole idea that to live outside the law you must be honest. (I couldn’t find a Lego version of the Blonde on Blonde album cover, sorry.)

When we teach our community about those tools people use to engage in piracy we also get to talk about intellectual property rights and why people do Creative Commons and privacy and all that good Electronic Frontier Foundation stuff. We get to discuss the difference between giving money to record labels versus supporting local artists. And we get to do this not from a position of on-high false moral rectitude but from down in the muck, in a “we’re all in this together” kind of way. Loads of people aren’t going to buy media anyway, but that doesn’t mean the library can’t be a place to get them to share their knowledge.

Crushed by the empires elite by leg0fenris, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/legofenris/4348837729/ cc-by-nc-nd-2.0 / Han shot first by leg0fenris, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/legofenris/4334761094/ cc-by-nc-nd-2.0

So our final choice is to let people be bound by terrible rules *koff koff Access Copyright* enforced by publishing empires or we can become outlaws. At the opening gala last night Larry Beasley talked about how the law is a manifestation of us and we should be crafting new laws to build what we want.

I think librarians should be allying themselves with the upstarts in their seedy cantinas who might do some crappy things and occasionally shoot first, but end up changing the galaxy.

Thank you very much.

bc library conference recap

I spent Friday and Saturday at the BC Library Association conference at a hotel in Richmond, which was kind of a shame because the weather’s been beautiful, but worked out all right since the sessions were interesting.

On Friday I attended a session on Vancouver Public Library’s First Nations Storyteller in Residence program (which won an award on Saturday – the program not the session). This one was interesting as a case-study of how a community-led library program gets developed in collaboration with the communities it’s serving. Originally it was going to be a simple port of the Writer in Residence program but it turned out that what worked for one actually needed significant revamping through lots of question asking and changing behaviour based on the answers.

I also attended a 12 Lightning Talks on Open Access, which was pretty good. The most interesting thing I got out of it was the idea that public libraries could be doing more things with Massive Online Open Courses (like Udacity and others). Then in the afternoon I went to a panel on LGBTQ YA literature which was interesting, especially since it had a couple of authors and an Orca editor on the panel (along with Rob Bittner, organizer of UBC’s Children’s Literature Conference from a couple of weeks ago).

Then I was on the “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List” panel, which had a pile of librarians talking about indie/hard-to-find/frequently-challenged books for 90 seconds a pop. There were books about Dead White Europeans, miniature painting, combining sex & drugs, dropping out of school, butt-plug art, and roleplaying games. Guess which of those was mine.

Saturday I had less freedom in my panels because I was convening a couple of sessions. (Pro tip: if you want to go to BCLA for free, convene rather than volunteer. We got a way sweeter deal than the people working registration desk.) I went to the BCLA AGM, and then convened a session on in-class feedback tools, such as paper-response, clickers and PollEverywhere, which allows for texting in answers that get embedded live into websites. Very cool stuff.

In the afternoon the session I convened was Phil Hall’s talk on Libraries finding a Plan B once the future arrives and the current model of “Libraries are places with information resources” is ruined. He had a lot of interesting things to say about technology trends and the takeaways were that we have to be thinking about this and adapting to it, without being scared that libraries will be gone in our lifetimes.

Finally, Ingrid Parent and Michael Geist gave closing keynotes. Michael Geist talked about copyright and the internet, and how SOPA in the States was stopped and what bill C-11 was like up here in Canada. It was a really good talk.

By the end of the two days my brain was fried and I had to spend the last two days reading X-Men comics to recuperate. I had a good time though. I met some librarians I didn’t know and had a whole bunch more see me booktalk for a crowd (and got some compliments on my performance, which is always nice). Who knows if I’ll be in Vancouver next year, but if I am I’ll go again.

ifla indigenous knowledges conference response/reflection

I got to attend the IFLA Indigenous Knowledges Conference because of the research project I’m working on about IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), and there was a lot of good stuff.

One of the big issues I find myself thinking hard about when thinking about aboriginal information issues and especially Traditional Knowledge is the notion that there’s some information that people just shouldn’t see (because it’s sacred stuff, and if you aren’t a priest you don’t have the proper context, to simplify it down a lot). Not being religious and being a Creative Commons/Open Access loving kind of guy, my hackles go up at the idea that communities would obstruct the free flow of information I see librarians as being instrumental in (I commented on this a little bit last year after attending a colloquium on Digital Repatriation). But I’m also a big fan of Community-Led Library issues, learning from the communities you’re serving instead of coming in with solutions in search of problems (the whole “improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” new librarianship deal works really well in this context). So I came into this conference ready to learn stuff that we don’t talk a lot about in our more traditionally focused courses.

And learn stuff I did.

Val Napoleon talked about the way oral cultures and knowledge representation is gaining legitimacy in the Canadian legal system as law, not just a cultural artifact. She also talked about how lofty principles are kind of meaningless without application and consultation. Community Consultation and Informed Prior Consent were recurrent themes throughout the two days.

Another recurrent theme was the situation of knowledge in place. This is one of those ideas that’s completely foreign to me. I don’t have any deep connection with any place, and for me the digital future is interesting because of its disconnection from a location, that I can go anywhere and bring all my stories with me. But that’s not the only way to think of things. Recordings are a crutch and they separate the stories from the people and without stories you become the walking dead, said Cry Rock, a video that was presented.

On Friday afternoon people were talking about indigenous training methods and indigenous subject heading and knowledge organization which was very interesting, but a bit annoying that the guy on the panel spoke about his (admittedly neat) online dictionary for as long as the three women did combined. On Twitter I referred to him as a white guy, but that was an assumption on my part, since I didn’t hear how he self-identified. The self-identification of where everyone was from and who they were was fascinating throughout the conference. And the thanking of the Musqueam nation for hosting the conference on their unceded land. I can’t remember ever hearing that kind of acknowledgment of land issues back in Winnipeg, but it happens a lot at UBC and did in Sydney too.

Oh, thinking of Sydney, on Saturday Alana Garwood-Houng was talking about Traditional Knowledge and copyright issues in regards to WIPO, but while there were some good things happening in that realm, there are also terrible human rights abuses going on in the Northern Territory. It was an emotional issue (check Stand for Freedom for the video she showed us) and she stressed that protecting cultural knowledge is important but protecting people and their human rights needs to come first.

I’m going to give my favourite part of the conference its own post, but in general, that was my experience with it. There were some boring parts, and I think IFLA missed the point of conversation about intellectual property issues in its Guiding Principles document they presented. Grand Chief Ed John called them out on their “respect for human rights so long as… access to information is unimpeded.” I’m all for access to information (remember, I’m a CC-loving info-sharing librarian) but I think serving the community has to come first. Harald von Hielmcrone did say there’s no human right to look through someone’s private papers, but the Guiding Principles bury that sentiment (if it’s there) in bureaucratically hellish clauses and doublespeak. I am not a fan of policy documents, I guess.

I am a fan of this conference and the information I came away with. I didn’t network as much as I should, but I was tweeting and taking notes. Hopefully this response was useful. It was only the first conference of a bunch this summer, so expect more of these writeups. I hope the rest will spark such cool shifts in perspective.